Who is the author?
Patricia Leavy earned her Ph.D. in Sociology from Boston College. After earning her Ph.D., she taught at Stonehill College for ten years while also serving as the Department Chairperson and even the Founding Director of the Gender Studies Program. Shortly after her tenth year of teaching and conducting research at Stonehill, Patricia decided to leave the academic world and pursue a career as a full time writer. Not only is she a full time published writer now, but she is also a Book Series Editor, Commentator, Speaker, Blogger for the Huffington Post, and Co-Author. She has appeared on television and radio including The Glenn Beck Show, and Lou Dobbs Tonight.
What is her book about?
PL: Method Meets Art is the first comprehensive introduction to arts-based research (ABR). Arts-based research is when researchers across the disciplines (communication, education, health studies, psychology, sociology, etc.) adapt the tenets of the creative arts in order to address social research questions. So, researchers draw on the expressive arts in order to conduct their research or present their findings. Arts-based research has many advantages, such as making the research more interesting, engaged, provocative and accessible to the public. Traditional research reports are filled with jargon and highly specialized knowledge and circulate only among a few elite “experts” whereas arts-based research can make social research findings available to the public. Method Meets Art reviews the emergence of ABR, the advantages to researchers and the major genres in which ABR occurs including: narrative, poetry, music, theatre/performance, dance and visual art.
Who should read this book?
PL: Researchers, students, artists and anyone interested in the merging of art and science, how we think about knowledge or the power of art to teach. The book is written accessibly for broad audiences and contains six stand-out examples of published research using the different methods described in the book which could be of interest to anyone.
What inspires you as an arts-based researcher and author?
PL: I am committed to advancing the arts-based research movement because I think it is vital that we acknowledge and legitimize different ways of knowing. Arts-based research may be different than traditional scientific research but that does not make it any less rigorous, useful or valid. I think there is a false polarization between science and art and I want to help erode that artificial divide. My desire to advance ABR stems from a few things. I believe in public scholarship. I do not think research findings—knowledge—should only be available to those with highly specialized education. I think there is a moral imperative to make research available and useful in different communities. Arts-based research is a way of doing this. I also believe in the power of the arts as a storytelling device and as a trained sociologist I really think I am a story gatherer and teller. It’s so important to tell our stories and the stories of others. This is how we learn, develop empathy and connect with one another. ABR is a powerful storytelling tool. So, for example, I have conducted hundreds of interviews with women about their relationships and identities. Instead of just writing a dry scholarly article which will only be read by a handful of people, I have taken what I have learned from my interviews and transformed it into fiction and written two novels that aim to express the stories that have been shared with me. Since the release of Method Meets Art I have also been inspired to continue because of the emails, letters and comments from readers, especially students. I have had so many graduate students in particular email me or seek me out at conferences to tell me that they had felt stuck, frustrated, dissatisfied or isolated until they read MMA and that it opened a new world of possibilities for them in which they could envision enjoying the process of doing their work and actually hoping to do work that would impact people. I read things over the years by my favorite scholar-writers that had done the same for me, like books by Carolyn Ellis and Laurel Richardson, without which MMA would not exist. So I know the sincerity with which those comments are made and I take those words seriously. There is nothing more fulfilling than carving your own path and helping others to do the same.
PL: Well, it’s very special to me. I’m grateful to be a part of the arts-based community and proud of my contribution to the field. I also learned so much during the process of writing the book. There was so little out there at the time that really chronicled what was going on in the field. I had to expose myself to as much as I could find in order to put the book together. So in that respect it was a wonderful learning experience. It also changed my career and my life. The book afforded me opportunities to meet scholars and artists around the world who are merging different ways of knowing. It’s been an extraordinary ongoing learning experience and ultimately this path allowed me to give up teaching in order to become a public speaker and full-time author. So really, everything that has come since Method Meets Art would not have been possible without it. The book was a vital precursor to developing the Social Fictions book series, writing my research-informed novels, Low-Fat Love and American Circumstance, and my recent non-fiction works Fiction as Research Practice and Essentials of Transdisciplinary Research. They all connect back to MMA. I was very fortunate to work with Guilford Press on Method Meets Art. From the owners to marketing to cover design, they were a pleasure to work with. For years I have said that my editor for this book, C. Deborah Laughton, is responsible for my career, which is not an exaggeration. She guided the development of the book and provided enormous insight along the way. She’s been such a champion for the book, and I would say a visionary. At the time, it was not clear that the field was going to grow so rapidly and she and the entire Guilford team took a chance signing the book.
The arts-based research movement has grown enormously since MMA came out. MMA is considered a landmark book but since several books have since been released. How do you feel about the growth in the field?
PL: I am absolutely delighted to see both the growth and increased legitimacy the field has experienced. There are so many conferences, journals, books and classes now devoted to arts-based research. I am deeply committed to advancing the movement so with an eye towards that, these changes are wonderful. The outpouring of new books is one important indicator of the success of the movement. I read as much as I can in the field to keep up and Guilford recently asked me to write a second edition of MMA which I am currently working on, so I have just read several more books and journals. What concerns me though is the way the authors of a select few of those books have chosen to approach things. I am concerned to see two trends. In some cases, authors begin their work by critiquing other books in the field. In other cases, authors do not acknowledge any of the other major books in the field, as if they are not out there, which is sort of astounding. A colleague in the field whom I respect said it’s because some of these folks are posturing to be “the expert” in the field. But really it’s all so misguided and derails the progress of the movement. Arts-based research is very challenging to many commonly held conceptions about the nature of art and science which guide research institutes and universities. Just as arts-based research is gaining momentum and increased visibility and legitimacy we in the community should be coming together. This does not mean there won’t be differences of opinion or approach, but it’s so important to acknowledge and document all of the work being done—that gives it power greater than the sum of its parts. I hope people who may be integral to advancing the movement don’t lose sight of the big picture and how we are all a part of it. When I wrote MMA I intentionally did not critique anyone’s work and I made a concerted effort to give nods to earlier work. I have no doubt I missed some works, but I made a good faith effort to acknowledge and praise the work of others in the field—they are trailblazers and have made meaningful contributions. For example, there is a wonderful volume Dancing the Data edited by Carl Bagley and Mary Beth Cancienne that came out years before MMA. I am well aware that MMA would not have been the same without that key text, perhaps it would not exist at all. I saw my role writing MMA as that of chronicler more than anything else, and I still do. When I travel to conferences and universities to speak about the arts-based research movement I highlight the work of many innovators in the field, whom I respect, and I intend to do the same in the new edition of MMA.
What’s in store for the new edition of Method Meets Art?
PL: I plan to stay true to the original book but update it. I want to document where the field has gone and include new examples, voices and approaches. It’s funny because when I first wrote the book I was truly learning so much that I hardly even had choices to make; I just included what I was aware of. With the enormous growth in the field comes more decision-making which is challenging but I will do my best to synthesize and chronicle where the field is.
Any advice for arts-based researchers and writers?
PL: Stay true to your vision. There can be a lot of resistance when you’re trying something new or blurring genres so whether it’s difficulty publishing your work, getting funding or critiques from people who don’t understand or care for it, you have to stay true to your vision and voice and be prepared to advocate for yourself. It’s also important to support others in the field and when you can, create spaces for them to share their work.
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