Opening space for creative research methods (Sarah Houseman)

Figure 1: Creative exploration of NGO governance dynamics.
Photo: Houseman 2017
I am preparing for the forthcoming Creative Research Methodologies Practicum (hosted by La Trobe University), and I am excited.

There are a decent bunch of us from La Trobe, Melbourne University, the MIECAT Institute and RMIT University who are coming together to share our creative methodologies in scholarship.

I laugh to myself when someone outside Australia tweets: “Maybe something similar will be held in Europe or North America!”

It enlivened this tweeter, too. Yet such explorations are not ordinary occurrences in academia. If we consider that our methods of engagement in/with the world reflect how we make knowledge, and also what is deemed knowable, this is a worthwhile inquiry.

I bring ‘creative’ and ‘research methods’ together to facilitate different kinds of knowing, beyond ‘propositional’ knowing ‘about’ the world (Heron & Reason, 2008). The intent of creative methodologies is open up and ‘harvest’ new layers of understanding and knowing ourselves and our world. This is crucial especially if the knowledge is social in orientation (that is, relating to the complex realm of people in relationship in society and culture).

What Heron and Reason describe as “radical epistemology” begins with an experiential, embodied encounter. Here, the facilitator/researcher might create opportunities where participants have the space to feel, perceive and distinguish their sense of an experience.

Once imaginations are alive to our inquiry, the appropriate method is selected that enables us to capture (document) and engage more deeply with our response. This is often a combination of image and narrative methods, such as yarning, exploring narrative viewpoints, art, diaries, photography, soundscapes, video, music, dance/movement, and play with images, objects and artefacts. Now we are ready to concentrate our mental facilities and move into intellectual meaning-making, or theorising. Hopefully, our theoretical understanding will lead to new practical action or outcomes in the world!

Even in the social sciences, this layered process of engagement with the whole person integrating our emotions and imagination with abstract thought, might still be considered ‘unnecessary foreplay’. For participatory researchers, these are the conditions that facilitate respectful and meaningful engagement.

We are conditioned to think that creativity happens in the art room and academic research is undertaken in the university. Does that sound like a familiar educational division? Imaginative and scholarly ways of being have been intentionally separated in design, architecture and curriculum. This is not surprising because creative states that are embodied, unbounded, messy, open and emotional have for centuries been isolated and reduced hierarchically from mental operations that are considered rational, neat, logical, ordered and disciplined.

Bringing together these two words, then, is potentially cataclysmic.

When joined in co-creation, the separation between mind and matter, which is foundational to the Cartesian tradition underpinning Western institutions, is epistemologically challenged.

I’m looking forward to the practicum and its subsequent conversations, and its intellectual and collegial outcomes, with great interest.

My full post on thinking through my contribution to this workshop is here: 


The Creative Research Methodologies Practicum is proudly sponsored by the Intellectual Climate Fund of the Graduate Research School. The convenors are Sarah Houseman, Aidan Craney, and Caitlin Finlayson.


Sarah Houseman is a PhD candidate at La Trobe University exploring governance models, NGO leadership, paradigm shift, consciousness, and integral ecology. She has a background as an educator and organisational leader. 

Sarah is passionate about big picture, strategic, long-term thinking, and she loves the play and the tension between theoretical concepts and the action of living. 

She tweets from @housemansp.