I mentioned last week that I was planning to read Creative Research Methods:  A Practical Guide by Helen Kara.  The updated second edition has been recently published.  This post will focus on Kara’s first chapter: Introducing Creative Research.

Kara begins by categorising creative research methods into five key areas:

  1. arts-based research
  2. embodied research
  3. research using technology
  4. multi-modal research and
  5. transformative research framework.

She also makes clear that creativity in research should not be limited to methods relating to data gathering or dissemination but can be applied to all stages in the research process.  Kara makes an important distinction between methods and methodology which are often words used interchangeably.  Methodology is the contextual framework of the research whereas methods are the tools used by researchers to gather data, analyse data and to present findings.

Kara explains that the prevailing type of research undertaken in the western world is qualitative rather than quantitative and the boundaries between the two are blurred.  However, it is important to stress that qualitative research is not necessarily creative nor quantitative research without creativity.  Indeed, creative research methods are used in quantitative, qualitative and multi modal research across a wide range of disciplines.

Good research practice should begin with framing the research questions.  Something I did as part of my initial PhD proposal, but I am sure these will need refashioning as I work through my original ideas.  Once I am clearer about these then I can make more appropriate decisions and judgements about the best methods to use.  Kara emphasises the need to be clear about the questions and not to favour a particular method and then make the questions fit.  Creative research is not an excuse to abandon normal expectations in terms of methodology, methods or ethics.

While research methods began largely in the sciences and continued to prevail, in the late nineteenth-century social studies, such as psychology and sociology, attempted to use physical science methodologies and subsequently renamed themselves as social sciences.  During the early twentieth century qualitative methods were developed and from the 1970s arguments were made that this type of research might forge its own methods – these included mixed-methods research, usually spanning quantitative and qualitative methods, and today the terms and methods used are ‘multi-modal’.

In 2012, Gergen and Gergen wrote:

“It is entirely possible that, if we could get past the idea of art and science being poles apart, the two approaches could inform and sustain each other as they evidently used to do.”  (Gergen and Gergen in Kara 2020: 11).

Alongside this type of thinking, questions are being asked about the compartmentalising of academic disciplines.  More research is crossing disciplinary boundaries.  Phenomenologists for example consider their research as both an art and science.

Qualitative research and multi-modal models have often been considered less worthy than their scientific or quantitative counterparts and so too have creative methods of undertaking research.  However, more researchers are turning to creative approaches in order to answer the research questions they pose.

Kara is at pains to emphasise that creative research is not synonymous with innovation.  The latter often being overstated in research bids in an effort to gain funding.  She argues that some methods are creative and innovative, but it is equally possible to be creative using more conventional methods.

As an example Kara cites the work of Colleen Campbell who is a scientist and artist and whilst she undertakes traditional fieldwork in the Rocky Mountain by capturing, recording, tagging and tracing grizzly bears, she also draws the animals she works with, not only as an additional recording method, but as a means to her work being more accessible.

Creativity is difficult to define and measure according to Kara and others, although the terms is often used to describe an act of putting things together to achieve a particular object or output.  Some subscribe to the view that creativity is about being original and effective in its delivery.  The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the process of creativity as follows:

“Creativity occurs when a person, using the symbols of a given domain such as music, engineering, business, or mathematics, has a new idea or sees a new pattern, and when this novelty is selected by the appropriate field for inclusion into the relevant domain.  The next generation will encounter that novelty as part of the domain they are exposed to, and if they are creative, they in turn will change it further.”  (Csikszentmihalyi in Kara 2020: 14).

Some describe creativity in two ways – small c creativity and big C creativity.  The former being an everyday occurrence and the latter of historical significance over time.  While Necka categorises four levels of creativity in terms of duration – fluid (small problem-solving activities), crystallised (larger scale problem solving), mature (creating new texts, ideas) and eminent (ground-breaking new concepts).  This is positive in the sense that may be research such as mine might move through these various stages to a limited extent!

In terms of creativity in research Kara questions whether humans can be truly objective in their research.  We all have our own world view made up of biases and prejudices, however hard we try not to, and these impact upon our fieldwork, writing and research.  Of course, the methodology and methods are designed to contribute to this being minimised, however we all make decisions about how much we include from an interview, to what research and readings we include in our literature review.  And this holds true in the physical sciences too.

I liked in particular, Kara’s reference to Sullivan 2009:

“The processes involved in making art can be surprisingly similar to the processes involved in making research.  ‘Higher level thinking (as we like to call it) demands connections, associations, linkages of conscious and unconscious elements, memory and emotion, past, present and future merging in the processes of making meaning.’”  (Sullivan in Kara 2020: 18).

For me, this brings together nicely how the simultaneous act of undertaking research and making photographic images is a similar process that for me seems to be complementary.  Other research such as that by Smith and Dean (2009) who refer to ‘mutual reciprocity’ between the creative arts and research and Gauntlett (2011) who refers to ‘thinking’ and ‘making’ as aspects of the same process.  And, Judith Davidson, a fibre artist:

“I think, analyze, dissect, and write, and this leads to an idea that becomes an art piece . . . in the making of an art piece, I am also thinking, analyzing dissecting and creating a new interpretation.  This process and its produce then become fodder – experience, material, understanding – for yet another wave of work on the project in its academic form.”  (Davidson in Kara 2020: 19).

I have found this chapter very helpful at this early stage of my reading and writing for my PhD.    Whilst I remain cautious about ensuring my research questions, methodology and methods are rigorous I am conscious of a need to bring my research and photographic practice together in a meaningful way.




CSIKSZENTMIHALYI, M. (1966/2013).  Creativity:  the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.  New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

DAVIDSON, J. 2012.  The Journal Project.  Qualitative Inquiry 18(1), 86-99.

GERGEN, M and GERGEN, K.  2012.  Playing with Purpose:  Adventures in Performative Social Science,  Walnut Creek:  Left Coast Press.

KARA, Helen.  2020.  Creative Research Methods:  A Practical Guide.  Bristol:  Bristol University Press.

SULLIVAN, A. 2009.  On Poetic Occasion in Inquiry:  Concreteness, Voice, Ambiguity, Tension, and Associative Logic.  In PRENDERGAST, M, LEGGO, C, and SAMESHIMA P, (eds). Poetic Inquiry:  Vibrant Voices in the Social Sciences.  111-26.  Rotterdam:  Sense Publishers.

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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