The BERA Researching Gender & Sexuality in Educational Settings event for early career researchers provided an important opportunity to take a few reflective steps back and think about an aspect of my Master of Research study. From the outset I had been keen to ensure that creative methods played a significant part in my project, and I felt that my chosen creative method would help to shine a light on unexplored areas and offer a deeper understanding of participant experience. However, after submitting my dissertation I had this nagging feeling that the data collected through creative methods had played only a supporting role, and that the in-depth interviews had been positioned centre stage as the overarching and central means of data collection and analysis.
In order to explore the lived experiences of gender diverse teachers, I undertook a small case study project. This involved four case studies with each case study comprising: one in-depth interview, object research and the use of school policy documents to validate and triangulate data. The data was subsequently analysed thematically drawing on Braun and Clarke’s (2020) reflexive thematic analysis approach. Alongside the in-depth interviews, the study drew on Brown’s (2018) ‘identity box’ work and made use of participant-created data in the form of artefacts that participants would place in a metaphorical identity box at interview. Prior to the interview, participants were asked to select three artefacts that would reflect their gender identity, teacher journey and their workplace experience.
Using this ‘identity box’ method was important to me. My research had revealed that the selected objects had the potential to act as a stimulus for revealing greater detail and could potentially facilitate a richer examination of participant experience through the possible elicitation of emotional responses (Mozeley et al., 2022). During fieldwork, participants were able to delve into their storied experiences and use their artefacts to support them in doing so. The three-tiered approach of ‘reduction–representation–elaboration’ (Brown, 2018, p. 6) was used to facilitate participants in reducing their experiences or identities to their simplest form by representing them as an object. The object was then used by them to probe deeply into their histories. The method supported participants in their meaning-making and increased the reach of the interview through supporting participants in ‘expressing the inexpressible’ (Brown, 2018, p. 6) and steering the interview in directions that might otherwise have been overlooked. The objects produced what I perceived to be rich and nuanced data that helped to highlight the possibilities and vulnerabilities experienced by these gender diverse teachers.
‘Using the “identity box” method … revealed that the selected objects had the potential to act as a stimulus for revealing greater detail and could potentially facilitate a richer examination of participant experience through the possible elicitation of emotional responses.’
The dominance of the in-depth interview
However, despite the richness of the data collected, my analysis tended to forefront the in-depth interview as the primary data source. This, in part, was to do with my lack of experience in tackling this kind of data beyond drawing upon the spoken explanations. It was also to do with a familiarity and comfort in analysing textual data drawn from interviews. The favouring of the in-depth interview over the object research led to the following outcomes:
- an overemphasis on the in-depth interview where the data collected through object research was employed largely to validate and triangulate data
- objects were primarily used for elicitation of experience and as stimuli for discussion rather than data in its own right
- there was an invisibility of the materiality and agency of the objects shared
- overlooking significant insights and the possibility of this leading to alternative findings.
Preparation for this event provided me with space to pause and reflect on how I might recalibrate my relationship with my data collection methods as I move into the next stage of my professional doctorate and start fieldwork and analysis. Working reflexively, at both the point of data collection and data analysis, will be essential if I am to take advantage of the unique opportunities offered by each method and remain conscious of the degree to which specific data collected contributes to subsequent findings. In order to inform this reflexive approach, I will endeavour to stay focused on the following questions:
- What are the strengths and limitations of each method?
- Do my methods offer different and creative ways of eliciting participant experience?
- Do my findings favour data collected through one method over another?
- Can I interrogate my data in different ways to ensure that I am not overlooking important findings?
The following resources were recommended by attendees at the event:
Using dramatic methods – Neelands, J., & Goode, T. (2015). Structuring drama work. Cambridge University Press.
Listening for the materiality of the objects – Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Duke University Press.
The concept of dartaphacts – Renold, E. J., & Timperley, V. (2021). Re-assembling the rules: Becoming creative with making ‘youth voice’ matter in the field of relationships and sexuality education. In D. Lupton & D. Leahy (Eds.), Creative approaches to health education (pp. 87–104). Routledge.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2020). Thematic analysis: a practical guide. SAGE.
Brown, N. (2018). Video-conference interviews: Ethical and methodological concerns in the context of health research. SAGE Research Methods.
Holmes, H. (2020). Material relationships: Object interviews as a means of studying everyday life. In H. Holmes & S. M. Hall (Eds.), Mundane methods (pp. 66–83). Manchester University Press.
Mozeley, F., Judge, S. K., Long, D., McGregor, J., Wild, N., & Johnston, J. (2022). Things that tell: An object-centered methodology for restorying women’s longing and belonging. Qualitative Inquiry, 29(5). https://doi.org/10.1177/10778004221114125
I am grateful to EJ Renold, Joshua Heyes and those who attended this event for the thoughts, advice and feedback that were shared post presentation. Feedback from other Sexualities and Gender special interest group members was extremely useful and signposted me to a range of ways that might support bringing creative methods to the fore in the final stage of my doctorate.