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Borders of Qualitative Research: Navigating the Spaces where Therapy, Education, Art and Science Connect

Leigh, Jennifer S (2023) Borders of Qualitative Research: Navigating the Spaces where Therapy, Education, Art and Science Connect. Bristol University Press, Bristol (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:101619)

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I am an interdisciplinary researcher. My passion is utilising embodied and creative qualitative research to capture transient evocative moments and authentic stories of people’s lives (Leigh and Brown 2021a). I am particularly interested in exploring and sharing the subjective experiences of those who are marginalised and highlighting these testimonials in order to effect change. The life I lived beyond academia as a scientist, therapist, teacher, and artist taught me lessons about intention and impact imperative for all qualitative researchers; particularly those using creative and embodied methods. It showed me how art, education, therapy, and qualitative research share borders and lie adjacent to science. A naïve or unwary researcher, artist, or educator can easily get lost, or even harm themselves and their participants if they find themselves in unfamiliar therapeutic territory. Researchers, artists, therapists, and educators are trained to navigate in different lands.

I am a researcher. However, before I became a researcher I was a scientist , and I accepted that there was an objective and absolute truth, and purity in the scientific method. Before I became a researcher I was a therapist. I worked therapeutically with a humanistic and person-centred ethos using movement, words, and creative outputs such as drawing or mark-making in the service of others to help them process difficult experiences. My work facilitated others to learn from and take what they needed from their own lives and their relationships with the world and others around them, and to let go of what they no longer needed. Before I became a researcher I was a teacher. I trained to teach children aged 11-19 in science, and worked with children aged four and older with and without special educational needs across the curriculum in the UK. Before I became a researcher I was an artist; using movement and fibre to capture ephemeral moments of creativity in a spinning web for others to notice and play with.

So why am I writing this book? What am I saying that is unique, or, more importantly, do I feel needs to be said yet has not been shared so far within existing literature?

Scientific researchers are trained to fervently and unquestioningly trust in the scientific method and the myth of objectivity. For research like mine to be effective and give voice to others there must be an acceptance of the subjective other and their experience. If the moments under investigation are sensitive, personal, or traumatic as is often the case with those who are marginalised due to any reason, for this process to not be exploitative or damaging to either party there has to be trust and a relationship between the researcher and the participant.

Therapists are trained to build rapport, and to establish relationships and trust with others, while safeguarding themselves and their client from harm as they talk about the most painful aspects of their lives. Researchers are not, though the conversations that they have with participants may elicit stories and reminiscences of pain or trauma, particularly when using embodied or creative methods.

Teachers and educators are trained to facilitate others to learn from experiences, to observe, to manage group dynamics, and to support and guide their students’ development. Researchers are not, though they may find themselves running focus groups, conducting an ethnography, interventions, or working with children or vulnerable adults to gather research data.

Artists use their work to evoke emotion in or a reaction from their audiences. Researchers are trained to produce outputs that meet externally imposed criteria of excellence and academicity.

It is rare to be a qualitative researcher who has training and experience across therapy, education, art, and science. It is only through working in and across them all that I have been able to see what is missing from current research mores and texts and trainings and the potential for harm to both researchers and participants. This potential for harm is magnified with the use of the embodied and creative methods that I treasure, because of their capacity to build rapport and relationships, and take people beyond the conscious, surface layers of their experiences and expose their hidden, unconscious, richer truths.

Item Type: Book
Uncontrolled keywords: qualitative research; methods; embodiment; therapy; education; art; science; ontology; body
Subjects: A General Works
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
L Education
Q Science
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Jennifer Leigh
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2023 13:11 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2024 09:37 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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