Graphic vignettes: A new arts-based research method to detect bullying
Even though bullying is a perennial problem, there are still signiﬁcant gaps in our understanding of it. Moreover, numerous intervention programmes yield only modest results. This could be related to the fact that spotting and addressing bullying presents a serious challenge, as schoolchildren often avoid reporting cases of bullying due to the fear of retaliation and further escalation of peer aggression against them (Spence, 2013; Wiseman & Jones, 2018).
Arts-based research methodologies were born out of psychological therapy and counselling, which makes them powerful tools in sensitive research as they help participants to feel safe in facing and working through negative emotions, unpleasant memories and even trauma. Creative activities facilitate the exploration of non-linguistic dimensions, expression of the unsayable and the uncovering of new layers of meaning. With this in mind, we decided to create a new method that would facilitate creative reflection, helping participants not only with locating deep-seated thoughts and realising unexpressed feelings but also with articulating them. We called that tool ‘graphic vignettes’, designed as a set of incomplete problem-focused comic strips that are given to participants for creative completion and are further used as individualised interview prompts.
‘We decided to create a new method that would facilitate creative reflection, helping participants not only with locating deep-seated thoughts and realising unexpressed feelings but also with articulating them.’
When designing graphic vignettes we analysed the most common types of school bullying situations such as physical, verbal and relational as well as cyberbullying, which is emerging as the newest distinct type of peer aggression (Slonje & Smith, 2008; Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009) and presented them as simple graphic episodes that formed the basis of the vignettes. Each participant worked with the set of vignettes individually for 20 minutes during which they could write and draw anything in order to create their own unique stories. Following this creative work, participants were then invited for an in-depth interview. Most participants easily went back and forth from discussing the vignettes’ characters and abstract ideas to revealing deeply personal experiences and feelings. With the help of graphic vignettes, participants were able to share bullying situations that took place in their schools, discussing their nature and how students and teachers dealt with them (See Episode 1 from female respondent: Vignette 1, and Episodes 2 and 3 from female respondent: Vignette 4).
Episode from Vignette 1: translation: But why! OK, we don’t have a choice here.
Episode 2 from Vignette 4: translation: Wrath, Fear, Anger, Animals, Hurt, Despair.
Episode 3 from Vignette 4: translation: Indifference (wavy word above the bystanders). OK (above respondent)
In the episode from Vignette 1 the respondent depicted characters who on the surface seem to have accepted their situation while the background drawing speaks of their deep frustration. Through vignettes, participants highlighted that, in their experience, people usually grin and bear it in such situations. The respondent in Vignette 4 (in Episode 2) illustrated how a person feels when being hit in the face and how (in Episode 3) this person feels later after seeing that witnesses are completely indifferent. Episode 3 shows an important contrast – the character communicates being OK, but at the same time emanates a dark cloud, which indicates the actual inner state of mind.
Graphic vignettes proved to be a useful tool for comparative research highlighting how differently bullying can be understood and perceived by different people. In view of this, the new method could make a particularly valuable contribution to cross-cultural and international research. So far, graphic vignettes have been successfully piloted in Russia and Switzerland. Our arts-based creative and, most certainly, inspiring research journey called Graphic Vignettes started in 2017 and is well documented by the International Journal of Qualitative Methods (Khanolainen & Semenova, 2020) and the journal Pedagogy, Culture & Society (Khanolainen, Semenova, & Magnuson, 2020).
The new methodology has the potential to enrich our understanding of sensitive topics. The findings of this study indicate that the process of co-constructing graphic vignettes gives participants an opportunity for articulating what is important to them personally. The developed methodology helped us ensure that participants could talk openly with researchers and share their concerns and unpleasant memories. Most participants easily went back and forth from discussing the vignettes’ characters and abstract ideas to revealing deeply personal experiences, reflections and feelings.
Khanolainen, D., Semenova, E., & Magnuson, P. (2020). ‘Teachers see nothing’: Exploring students’ and teachers’ perspectives on school bullying with a new arts-based methodology. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 1–23, https://doi.org/10.1080/14681366.2020.1751249
Khanolainen, D., & Semenova, E. (2020). School bullying through graphic vignettes: Developing a new arts-based method tostudy a sensitive topic. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 19, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406920922765
Slonje, R., & Smith, P. K. (2008). Cyberbullying: Another main type of bullying? Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 49(2), 147–154.
Spence, L. K. (2013). Bullying hurts: Teaching kindness through read alouds and guided conversations. Language Arts, 90(6), 451.
Wang, J., Iannotti, R. J., & Nansel, T. R. (2009). School bullying among adolescents in the United States: Physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Journal of Adolescent health, 45(4), 368–375.
Wiseman, A. M., & Jones, J. S. (2018). Examining depictions of bullying in children’s picturebooks: A content analysis from 1997 to 2017. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 32(2), 190–201.