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Revisualizing data: engagement, impact and multimodal dissemination

Mannay, Dawn 2019. Revisualizing data: engagement, impact and multimodal dissemination. In: Pauwels, Luc and Mannay, Dawn eds. The Sage Handbook of Visual Research Methods (2nd Edition), London: SAGE Publications,

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Contemporary culture can be defined as ocularcentric (Rose, 2016), for we are surrounded by visual and multimodal materials in our everyday lives that both represent and create our understandings of social worlds. Consequently, the field of visual studies is continually expanding, and it has much to say about the use of images and creative artefacts in research, whether these are found images, researcher initiated materials or participatory productions (Pauwels, 2011). While there is significant attention to the construction and analysis of visual images, arguably there is less interest in dissemination. Where the sharing of images is considered, this is often in relation to ethical debates around whether to reveal or conceal the identities of participants in photographic data (see Clark, 20XX (this volume)), or the conventions of publishing visual data in academic articles (see Newbury, 20XX (this volume) and visual essays (see Heng, 20XX (this volume). This chapter moves beyond discussions of presenting visual data, and instead explores the possibilities for revisualization, that is transforming research data, visual or otherwise, into new multimodal creative outputs that can attend to the requirements of participant confidentiality, where necessary, and promote engagement, wider impact and a potentiality for change, beyond the academic article. For Becker (2007: 285), ‘there is no best way to tell a story about society… the world gives us possibilities among which we choose’. However, strategies of dissemination often follow a traditional path. Typically research project completion involves the writing-up of the findings and recommendations in a final report, which may be restricted to a ‘small audience who are closely associated with the research project’ (Timmins, 2015, p. 35). The publication of a report is often followed by related peer reviewed journal articles and other scholarly publications; but the audiencing of these standard outputs is necessarily restricted to academia (Barnes at al., 2003). The narrowness of this dissemination strategy may mean that the implications of research studies often have little impact on practice, policy or communities, limiting opportunities for change and improvement (Finfgeld, 2003; Troman, 2001). As Keen and Todre (2007: n.p.) contend, ‘research, done well, is worth disseminating’, so why do we routinely follow pathways of dissemination that are restricted, standardised and often inaccessible? The commonality of the report to academic article procedure suggests that Becker’s notion of ‘choice’, is not a straightforward one. In academia, it may be more useful to consider ‘obligatory choices’ (Bennett et al., 2009), where ideas of personal agency are constrained and ‘choice’ is essentially rationalised and accepted in relation to wider circumstances. Researchers are generally concentrated within the sociocultural and political context of institutes of higher education, which have increasingly moved to a mathematical model where the number of publications credited to an academic become a measure of their competency. Reflecting on this quantification of competency, Rawat and Meena (2014) argue that the immense pressure to publish, mean that the phrase ‘publish or perish’ [1] has become a harsh reality for researchers; despite the fact that the majority of academic journal publications are uncited and underused. The institutional structure, cultural technologies of intellectual activity and external market contingencies continue to stress the business case for research output (Mannay and Morgan, 2014). Therefore, researchers are expected to write and to publish at speed to keep their accounts relevant before they become obsolete and void of economic value. Of course, it is important to publish but there needs be less rigidity, as Vale and Karataglidis (2016: n.p.) caution ‘research and publishing is the oxygen of academic life. But the regimes of control that surround contemporary approaches to publishing are choking creativity and, with it, the profession itself’. In addition to the pressures to publish frequently in conventional ways, the conventions of the journal article itself can be problematic for researchers hoping to creatively engage wide and diverse audiences. There is a dense, dry, flat prose that forms a ‘linguistic armour’ in much academic writing (Lerum, 2001), which can stifle the affective elements of research findings, and distance the reader from the voices of participants (see also Wilson, 2018). Images have the capacity to move us and by including these in publications there may be an opportunity to better communicate research findings to the reader/viewer, and engage them in participants’ worlds. However, restrictions of publishing in many journals, and ethical issues around revealing participants’ identities (Clark, 2013), mean that often researchers need to publish about their visual research without the pictures. Visual researchers have made attempts to achieve ethical, impactful dissemination that can communicate the depth of identifying visual images when these are at risk of being silenced by their absence. For example, Carroll (2015) has employed the epistolary genre to communicate observations and conversations, which were recorded in textual and visual forms, including video recordings, as part of her the fieldwork on human milk donation and the use of donated breast milk for hospitalised, preterm infants. Carroll created a series of letters from a donating mother and the recipient mother. Although these were constructed by Carroll, they acted as a representation of the intimate thoughts, affective sentiments, and labours that surround the provision and use of donor milk. Similarly, in my own work with women utilising photoeliciation, mapping and collage, I have drawn on found poems (excerpts from interviews reframed as poetry) to represent their accounts of domestic violence and abuse (Mannay, 2013). In the same way, researchers in health studies have translated the accounts of women with breast cancer into poems, arguing that these accounts can be understood more intensely and profoundly through poetry, offering a richer, more meaningful, and potent evocation of themes than traditional written forms (Reilly et al., 2018). These approaches have attempted to negotiate the tension between concealing identity and giving participants a voice; and also to engage audiences at an affective level and achieve impact. However, these forms of dissemination are still bound by text, and published in journal articles that may stipulate fees to view, making them inaccessible to a wide audience base, and the language of the wider articles themselves that surround this more creative presentation, may still make these outputs unattractive to audiences outside of academia. Despite the centrality of traditional academic publications, there have been shifts that have opened up opportunities to disseminate research findings in different modes. For example, there has also been a growing emphasis on the potential for research to ‘change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia’ (REF, 2011). This imperative for impact can be seen as another pressure for researchers, and ‘we are increasingly subject to a range of administrative processes that demand that we can demonstrate that the research that we carry out, and the outputs that result from it, possess some utility to non-academics and that they possess causal powers to influence the world in some way or another’ (Knowles and Burrows, 2014: 242). On the one hand, there is an argument that these demands for impact can put pressure on academic staff, contributing to an audit culture where researchers are already continually measured and evaluated is an important one (Strathern, 2000). However, on the other hand, as academics we are often personally invested in contributing to positive changes in the areas that we study, and the impact agenda does offer opportunities and funding for creative projects of engagement that can include revisualization. The following sections will explore the ways in which revisualization can be useful for researchers for two reasons. Firstly, in terms of retaining anonymity where this is essential to the project, and secondly as a tool of engagement with diverse audiences. Researchers regularly have to negotiate decisions about what is ‘the unsayable and the unspeakable’; ‘who to represent and how’ and ‘what to omit and what to include’ (Ryan-Flood and Gill, 2010: 3); and the examples presented will illustrate how revisualization can provide an alternative option for representing sensitive accounts. They will also demonstrate how researchers can draw on visual and creative outputs to increase the impact of their work, and attend to the question ‘what impact does voice have if no one is listening?’ (Alexandra, 2015:43). Revisualization will be examined in relation to multimodal visual and creative approaches including theatre, film, music and artwork.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: In Press
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
T Technology > TT Handicrafts Arts and crafts
Uncontrolled Keywords: dissemination; impact; visual methods; creative methods; film; theater; art; revisualization
Publisher: SAGE Publications
ISBN: 9781473978003
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2019 10:15

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