Exploring arts-based research

It has already been a decade since Gary Knowles and Ardra Cole’s (2008) edited handbook of the arts in qualitative research was published. Patricia Leavy’s Handbook of Arts-Based Research (2018), published by Guildford Press, provides an updated overview of the incredible variety of arts-based research currently undertaken.

The Handbook of Arts-Based Research adds to Leavy’s prolific output, which includes volumes of fiction (Leavy, 2011; Leavy & Scotti, 2017), and several methodological texts on arts-based research, research design, and emergent methods (e.g., Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2008). In the Handbook of Arts-Based Research, thirty-eight chapters are organized in eight parts followed by a conclusion. The book provides an abundance of new scholars, along those who are already well-known, including Kenneth and Mary Gergen, Liora Bresler, Norman Denzin, Tony Adams, Stacy Holman Jones and Jerry Rosiek. Numerous authors, many of whom are accomplished performers, artists and scholars, include Rita Irwin, Celeste Snowber, Peter Gouzouasis, Joe Norris, Anne Harris, Susan Finley, and James Haywood Rolling Jr. The parts include:

Part 1: The field

  • 7 chapters that cover philosophy, how arts-based research is used in social sciences, and a view from Europe, Finland and Spain.

Part 2: Literary genres

  • 5 chapters includes chapters on narrative inquiry, autoethnography, creative non-fiction, ficion, and poetic inquiry.

Part 3: Performative genres

  • 4 chapters includes chapters on music and poetry, dance, ethnodrama and ethnotheater, and playbuilding.

Part 4: Visual arts

  • 5 chapters that examine visual research, drawing and painting, collage, installation art, and comics.

Part 5: Audiovisual arts

  • 2 chapters that discuss film, and ethnocinema and video-based research.

Part 6: Mixed method and team approaches

  • 2 chapters examines community art and multimethod arts-based research.

Part 7: Arts-based research with the disciplines or area studies

  • 5 chapters that situate arts-based research in the fields of education, sociology, anthropology, and psychology, the health sciences, the natural sciences, and business.

Part 8: Additional considerations

  • 7 chapters that cover a diverse array of topics, including criteria for evaluating arts-based research, translation, arts-based writing, the influence of new materialisms on arts-based research, pedagogy, publishing arts-based research, and “going public”. Leavy concludes the handbook with a chapter that discusses the promise of arts-based research, and what is needed for it to reach its potential.

In her introduction to the volume, Leavy (p. 4) defines arts based research (ABR) as “a transdisciplinary approach to knowledge building that combines the tenets of the creative arts in research contexts.” Leavy includes a “partial lexicology” of terms used for arts-based research that includes no fewer than 29 terms (although Laurel Richardson’s (1999) term “creative analytic practices” is missing from this list).

One of the challenges of presenting such work in a handbook is the difficulty of conveying the art form described. There are numerous black and white images included in the book which go some way to dealing with this problem. For example, Peter Gouzaouasis’s chapter on music and poetry include the musical score and lyrics; Joe Norris’ chapter on playbuilding includes links to videos from presentations; Victoria Scotti and Gioia Chilton’s chapter on collage includes numerous images and links to copyright-free images that readers might access; Anne Harris’s chapter on ethnocinema and video-based research includes a list of resources with URLs that provide exemplars; and Paul Kittner, Nick Sousanis and Marcus Weaver-Hightower’s chapter on drawing comics includes examples from their work. The text and images serve to point to the work of arts-based work, and provide paths for readers to follow to ensure further interaction with the art form described.

Taken together with the sources included in the lengthy reference lists and resources included in each of the chapters, this handbook is a rich resource for anyone wanting to explore artistic and performative ways to conduct and present qualitative research. This field shows every indication that it will continue to expand as artists and qualitative inquirers employ new approaches to understanding the social world, and continue to innovate with how social inquiries are conducted and represented.

Kathy Roulston


Hesse-Biber, S. N., & Leavy, P. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of emergent methods. Guilford Press: New York.

Knowles, J. G., & Cole, A. L. (Eds.). (2008). Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Leavy, P. (2011). Low-fat love: Sense Publishers.

Leavy, P. (Ed.) (2018). Handbook of arts-based research. New York & London: The Guilford Press.

Leavy, P., & Scotti, V. (2017). Low fat love stories. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Richardson, L. (1999). Feathers in our CAP. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 28(6), 660-668.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s