Pushing methodological potentialities in research: using collaborative drawing to consider supercomplexity

Social and cultural shifts have diminished the university as a primary knowledge repository. Social media, online news sites and web-based sharing often have far greater audience reach than most scholarly journals or research reports. This shifting, calls for research that pays heed to the supercomplex systems of global communities as well as the challenge of deregulated knowledge and dissemination. Contemporary social and cultural shifts have left the university unsure of its role in holding/producing knowledge, being at once relied upon to produce expert, empirical, scientific truths while also losing status in a postmodern era of mass access to free digital-based information. Researchers must become highly strategic and look farther afield conceptually, pragmatically and methodologically to conduct their research to continue to refine what is known and theorised on.

Researchers must shift their usual researching practices to pay attention to this supercomplex world. What new methodologies can researchers consider in their work, to attend to global supercomplexity?

Drawing can be a research activity outside the fine art and design disciplines. Research based/prompted drawings might not work to the same criteria as fine art drawings, which might be concerned with aesthetic or technical refinement. Drawing for research can encompass ways of drawing that incites affective and corporeal communication between a researcher and a participant. In drawing for research, the researcher (who might not usually draw) undertakes corporeal, physical activity that leaves a sensorial imprint that lingers in the body and the mind. Physically drawing exposes the researcher to things not available to an observer, including the pressure needed to make a mark, the feel of a drawing tool being dragged across the drawing surface, the movement of the arm, wrist and hand, the interplay between surroundings, tools, ideas, actions and gestures. The corporeality of drawing is deeply affective and fundamentally essential to the production of a finished drawing, and it is only through actually physically drawing that this essentiality is fully understood. Drawing for research exposes researchers to the sensorial imprints brought on by drawing and how the corporeality of drawing affects what, how and why people draw.

Drawing collaboratively is a highly effective and democratic research method because it raises critical awareness of the politics and power of image-making. ‘Drawing’ as an act and as an object can be loaded with pre-established pedagogic, discursive, and corporeal conventions and prone to a habitual or commonplace production: sitting in a certain configuration, drawing particular symbols, using particular drawing actions, and engaging in familiar dialogic exchanges.

Methodologically, drawing is political because the act of drawing collaboratively with others can jolt drawers to pay attention to such conventions, the intersubjective agency of themselves and others as drawers, the materials used and the contextual mediations that often occur. Intersubjective homogenisation and neutralisation of researchers and participants can be interrogated and purposefully resisted.

Drawing collaboratively embraces supercomplexity through the multiple entanglements of ideas, materials, surroundings, atmospheres, actions, and discussions that occur. Crucially, the act of collaborating on a drawing is what can expose researchers to the ideas and conceptions others might have which can prompt a seeking out of complex and diverse ideas that are meaningful to the researcher as well as the participant. Greater awareness and curiosity about supercomplexity and superdiversity, can incite a willingness in researchers to trial new methodologies that address the politics of research methods and the conventions around researching acts.

Rigorous research processes, which foreground corporeality and affect promote authentic exposure to the complexities and experimentations that go on during drawing. Drawing with others aids understanding about the relationships between gesture, action, ideas, and sensations in drawing, as well as the diverse ways people participate in the world.

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