“Is this session going to be interactive?”
My colleagues and I were in the process of rearranging the conference room from the traditional arrangement of chairs-in-rows in order to give the room the feeling of a black-box stage when she asked the question. How do we answer that? Isn’t every conference session interactive in some fashion? Yes you will be asked to participate in the session, but no you won’t be asked to do anything you’re not comfortable doing. Maybe “invited” is a better word. You will be invited to contribute and participate and share in the work of arts-based research.
I understand why she might be worried. When I was first introduced to the world of Arts-Based Research (ABR) through a Performative Inquiry project, I was completely intimidated. I don’t belong here! I’m not one of you! I don’t even like going to see CATS in the theater because the characters come into the audience! It sounds complicated, but eventually I felt welcome in the ABR community once I allowed myself to be uncomfortable. I realized I did not have to know the seven movements of dance or what a flatback is in order to collaborate with performative or movement researchers. Another important part of my discovery of who I am as an arts-based researcher is that it’s not all dancing and participating awkwardly and practicing mindfulness (although it is all of that, sometimes); while many think of performing or fine arts when thinking of The Arts, there are infinite ways to do ABR, including mediums that allow you to perform in solitude.
When we hear the word remix, many of us immediately think of music. It makes sense since the music industry was the first to utilize this term, but we all do remix every day. When we re-mix, we combine materials to form a new substance again. Think about baking: flour on its own is generally inedible, but add butter and powdered sugar and you have shortbread cookies. In an academic sense, remix is “what happens when we fill in the gaps with our experience in order to create something new and extend the life of the original product” (ABR CAN, AERA 2019). This approach to remix is not very different from making cookies. Jenkins et al (2013) tell us that remix is what happens when we weave together separate elements in order to create meaningful artifacts. Rather than flour, butter, and sugar, these elements could be a set of field notes, coded interview transcriptions, and a narrative; suddenly we have a distinct and definitive representation of one person’s engagement with a text. In other words we have a new academic substance. If the researcher includes their own attitudes and feelings as they mix these ingredients together, the final product may assist the reader in finding personal connections. Remix relies on the relationship between author and audience to strengthen these connections. When we allow feelings that are typically guarded or private to be exposed, we construct a resilient bond with our audience.
Using Bodily Writing
One (or another) way we can start to see our research differently is through Bodily Writing (Foster, 1995; Buono & Gonzalez, 2017; Buono, 2018). Based in part on Bagley (2008) who conducted an ABR project that was both collaborative and danced, Bodily Writing is a performative method researchers use that engages somatic dance and other forms of choreography to use the body as an interpretive tool “capable of generating ideas” (Foster, 1995). Bodies are literally used to compose in this process.
Later, Gonzalez and Buono (2017) used this technique in order to create a performative inquiry; the text-on-a-page data of one participant (Tiffany, a pseudonym) was transmediated through Bodily Writing. The “moved queries” (Foster, 1995) initiated from the Bodily Writing allowed the researchers to be aware of what Tiffany’s experience was while also being cognizant of their own experiences as researchers. This process utilized the techniques of dance and movement, but the final composition was more than a dance routine. The final product was a new view of Tiffany, something that could be analyzed and interpreted. A year later, Buono (2018) took this process a step further when she not only used Bodily Writing to analyze her dissertation data, but also to compose her public defense.
Composing with Digital Video
The act of writing tends to have an analog or traditional text-on-a-page connotation to it and so the term composing is something that gets closer to what is happening when we arrange and organize our thoughts in an arts-based way. This is especially true when researchers use non-conventional modes such as digital video, music, or photography to present and reveal their multiple intersecting identities through their academic work. Researchers—and people in general—are “constantly in the process of identifying and making meaning of identifications” (Moje & Luke, 2009, p. 433). The fundamental features of these mediums allow the researcher to humanize their work by layering or combining their intimate and individual experiences with those of their participants, their data, or their scholarship while creating a new and unique composition. This composition is able to be both academic and accessible at the same time, which has not always been the case with scholarly work.
It’s About Access
To answer the woman who wondered about our session being interactive, yes it includes interaction, but it also includes interpretation and ingress to be an entrant audience member (Buono & Gonzalez, 2017). At the end of the day, at the end of the process, at the end of the paper, it is all about access. We in academia are notorious for producing work for ourselves where we cite each other and are read only by other academics. But all the while, we are writing about the outside world. We are observing K12 classrooms; we are interviewing and working with teachers and students in struggling schools; we are finding ways to encourage or correct the people and the policies we encounter in these public realms. It is often significant and essential work we’re doing, but often the people who we do this research for are not reading it. We need to ask ourselves if our final products are accessible to the public that we are working so hard to support.
The form our work takes will allow multiple entry points to the people who need it the most. For example, along with professors and students, who typically attend dissertation defenses, Buono (2018) hosted dancers, members of the community, and other artists – some who attended virtually via video streaming platforms. When we allow our research to include more personal qualities and when we present our work in a less isolated or secretive form, we allow the public more access to this important work.
NOTES:  These processes are both their own entity and a part of others modes simultaneously; both a composition genre and a sub-genre at the same time.
Bagley, C. (2008). Educational ethnography as performance art: Towards a sensuous feeling and knowing. Qualitative Research, 8(1), 53-72.
Buono, A. & Gonzalez, C. H. (2017). Bodily writing and performative inquiry: Inviting an arts-based research methodology into collaborative doctoral research vocabularies. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 18(36).
Buono, A. (2018). I Feel My Heart: Facilitating Bodily Experiences with Young Children through a Mindfully Somatic Pedagogy (Doctoral dissertation, State University of New York at Buffalo).
Foster, S. L. (Ed.) (1995). Choreographing History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Jenkins, H., Kelley, W., Clinton, K., McWilliams, J., & Pitts-Wiley, R. (Eds.). (2013). Reading in a participatory culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English classroom. Teachers College Press.
Moje, E. B., & Luke, A. (2009). Literacy and identity: Examining the metaphors in history and contemporary research. Reading Research Quarterly, 44(4), 415-437.