The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential of participant-created comics as a research method through a project to investigate the life stories of British–Bangladeshi women.
The author worked with a group of ten women through a series of workshops exploring their personal and community histories. Each of the women produced a digital comic that represented her story using text in any languages, photographs and drawings.
The experiences of the Graphic Lives project suggest there is considerable unexplored potential for the use of comics creation as a research method when working with community groups that may be considered “hard-to-reach”. A crucial difference between the comics created for the Graphic Lives project when compared to many other visual methods is that they do not seek or attempt to represent a verifiable truth. The project acknowledged and accepted the presence of fictional elements of autobiography and the difficulty in drawing boundaries between fiction and non-fiction. Indeed, this was seen as a strength of the stories as the use of imaginary elements offered participants a way to express emotional truths that they may otherwise have found difficult to convey.
Whilst interviewing participants could be one way to analyse participant-created comics in certain circumstances, this should not simply be the default. In the Graphic Lives project, it was important to accept that participants had already voiced their story in a certain way – using words and images – during the creative process. The project needed to accept and respect their voices as they had chosen to present them and not expect the participants to transform this into something that was more aligned with what the researcher might want to hear. A limitation of this method is the time and resourcing required to undertake such a programme of in-depth work, in addition to the need for close collaboration with community partners.
The paper questions the appropriateness of research interviews when working with many “marginalised” groups. It suggests that alternative methods, such as the comics creation method described, may be a more effective way to engage “hard-to-reach” groups in research.
This research has implications for the involvement of groups who, for a variety of reasons, are often excluded from research. It outlines a method that may be more socially acceptable than more established methods such as interviewing for some groups.
To date, exploration of the potential of comics as method of participatory knowledge construction has been limited. In addition, the use of comics to engage communities in research, especially adult groups who may be more reluctant to participate via traditional research methods, has received relatively little attention. This paper addresses these issues through a discussion of the use of comics creation as the research method adopted in a project working with a group of British–Bangladeshi women in the UK.
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