Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: In this seventh and final post in a series on Arts-Based Research in the Anthropocene, series editor Amrita DasGupta reflects on the importance of arts-based research and what inspired her to organize this series.
The traditional research methods are so widely accepted, to the extent that there is rarely any space for innovation or introduction to new methods. Such constraints rise from disciplinary rigidities. What is an acceptable method of data collection for one stream is unacceptable for the other. This results in curiosities about the authenticity of everything published and produced around us. To be specific, the process of data collection in history through archival research is often held higher than anthropologic fieldwork and oral history collection. The discipline seems to need to fall back on archives to support the ethnographic evidence or counter them. Yes, through such negotiations you can also prove the colonial archives to be wrong, malnourished, and manipulated. However, I believe, it is urgent to question the traditional ways of doing research, but better late than never. I also espouse the need to break down the disciplinary barriers and move towards an interdisciplinary approach. It cannot hurt to have many perspectives to solve one issue at hand. Several perspectives only enrich the research. These ideas inspired this blog series on Arts-Based Research in Anthropocene.
Each piece in the series was carefully selected to reflect the range of work being done within the scope of arts-based research. There are many other variations of the method that the blog series could not showcase, but my hope is that the series will start the much-needed conversations of what is and can be considered ethical methods of research.
I would like to propose some food for thought to explain why we need arts-based research methods. It is often advised and considered to be the best practice to detach oneself from their research communities (i.e. to be as unmoved as possible when collecting data from communities one works with). Before I explain the problems with this approach, I want to underline my grave distaste in using the word “on” when referring to research communities. I assert, we do not work on people and their lives, we can only work with them. If our research communities do not welcome us and make us a part of their lives and homes, we will be incapacitated. Human relations need more effort than what our research methodologies teach us during a theoretical coursework. Human relations, I want to make clear, is not limited to what is practiced between humans. It stretches its ambit to include the non-humans and the environment too. In this context, I am tormented by a few questions, how often is it possible that the researcher does not get affected by the emotions of her research participants? Is it true human nature to be able to remain unmoved? If narratives of trauma leave you unmoved, are you human at all? What is the inevitable necessity to convert qualitative data to quantitative? Because removing emotions is something that takes you to being more “objective” or “rational,” which makes the quantitative word “statistics” to ring in my ear. I am also not in favour of using words like “data”. Data sounds like “numbers”. It is not okay to reduce people to just numbers. It is not okay to find people in the archives who are recorded and remembered as numbers. This is inhumane. To be researchers do we need to be inhumane? The questions did not evolve from the void. They evolved while I worked with the marginalized and ostracized sex workers of Bangladesh for my PhD research.
My research community are trauma victims. It would be inhumane and unethical for me to put them through the same trauma of narrating their life experiences by taking interviews. Going against the norm of accepted research practice of taking structured or semi-structured interviews, I proposed arts-based research. In a six-month long workshop, the sex workers drew their life experiences. They explained their drawings to me. Those explanations were the stories of their life and psyche. The sex works of Baniashanta, live on the cost of Passur River. Their land is being gnawed off by the escalating river water. In their paintings, they draw their present and future. In Figure 1 you see how the water engulfs all and in the Figure 2 you see how everything is just a green field. Drawing their life experience and fears of the future, gave them the space to do something other than their occupation—a method where the research participants had all the control. They had the time to think about what story they wanted to tell and how. They were not contracted to reply to what was specifically asked of them.
Our relation to the world at large is not statistical; we cannot convert everything to numbers. We have been living the “big data” life for long and have been doing a grave disservice to our research environments. It is time to think differently and provide respect, care, and compassion where it is due. I believe each piece of the blog series offers new ways to think about how we can do it differently.
Covering the name of the artists in black pains me. But ethics of research calls for it. My research community should not live in darkness, because they have done nothing to deserve such marginalization. It is us, the people of the gentlemanly society that push them to obscurity. I do not want to reduce them to just colours, so as a part of arts-based research I leave with you their voices taken from the recorded ethnographic theatre they did as a part of my project. Their voices talk of life, joy, fear, pain, and hope. I can only hope we start the conversations about breaking down the rigid methods of doing research, as soon as possible, and not at our leisure!
Feature image: The arts workshop in Baniashanta Brothel. Photo by Amrita DasGupta.
Latest posts by Amrita DasGupta (see all)
- A Step Forward in Methods for Arts-based Research in the Anthropocene: A Series Reflection. - July 19, 2023
- CFP: Blurring the Lines between Research, Theory, and Action: Arts-Based Research in the Anthropocene - February 6, 2023
- Unearthed: Amrita DasGupta - December 21, 2022