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Visual-Journaling as Diffractive Ethnographic Method: Reimagining ways of doing ethnographic data collection through adopting an arts-based educational research practice

Visual-journaling is not a traditional research method in qualitative research, however, drawing has long been used by natural and social scientists along with ancient and First Nations cultures as a legitimate form of recording information, and since the 1990s, has been increasingly accepted as a research tool (Grauer & Naths, 1998; Messenger, 2016; Scott Shields, 2016). Over the last decade there has been a notable increase in the validity of using visual-journaling in qualitative studies as part of the a/r/tography movement (La Jevic & Springgay, 2008). Visual-journaling is commonly utilised as a mechanism for (re)connecting pre-service teachers with arts-based theory and practice in an approachable, enjoyable and non-threatening way to support critical and relational meaning-making (La Jevic & Springgay, 2008; Sanders-Bustle, 2008).


Visual-journaling as applied in research supports reflexive practice and knowledge generation through a process of connecting senses, feelings, thoughts and actions (Messenger, 2016). In particular, visual-journaling focuses on the sense of vision – as is common in arts practices and arguably, the world more broadly – as a sense-making mechanism to assist in meaning making in the world (Eisner, 1992; Sanders-Bustle, 2008). Sanders-Bustle (2008) argued that this kind of meaning making requires critical engagement in a subject and that this kind of critical engagement does not happen in isolation but relationally with creative engagement. The purpose of the visual-journal in the context of this study is to document participants’ experiences beyond their immediate interactions with me in a way that allows their ideas and unfoldments to percolate and the expression of these to be recorded (Sanders-Bustle, 2008); it is not a finished product of research, but evidence of the research process (Scott Shields, 2016).


Scott Shields (2016) relates the scientific process of diffraction to her experience of visual-journaling which has “the potential to create these same ripples of analytic and reflective thought” (p. 6) and is fittingly applied to this study. Moreover, this process of diffraction enables the participant to engage in a practice that demonstrates both process and product. The product provides visual context to allow the participant and audience to move through their developing understanding together while also demonstrating the process the participant went through in creating their product (Scott Shields, 2016). This process-product relationship of the visual-journal is suitably applied in transqualitative research for its creative and non-interpretivist approach (Scott Shields, 2016).


On commencement of my study, I began creating a visual-journal to support me with the processing of concepts and ideas and to provide a space for abstract thinking and knowledge generation. This practice continued throughout my study when I engaged in thinking about a topic or intra-action with the data and thus constitutes part of the data entanglements. In addition to my visual-journal, each participant in the study was supplied with a visual-journal ‘pack’ consisting of a visual-journal and some art-making materials (see figure below). Similar to the purpose for myself as a researcher, the purpose for the teacher participants is to enable them to have a space to document their thinking and knowledge generation processes that is intentionally creative to support greater engagement with critical and creative thinking (La Jevic & Springgay, 2008; Sanders-Bustle, 2008). Teachers were supplied with visual-journals and art materials (figure 4.4 and figure 4.5) on their first lesson participation and the visual-journals were collected in a follow-up conversation with teachers in term 4, 2020, as part of the data entanglements in Turns 5 - 8. There were different levels of engagement by the teacher participants with this form of data making, and this is evident in the data Turns.

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