I attended Alke’s workshop, Thinking through Writing and Making and it really inspired me to think differently about my research. I am a PhD student in the Geography department at Staffordshire University and my project is about mapping creative networks in Stoke-on-Trent. As part of my field work I asked 30 participants to make a map of their network while narrating the story of what they were doing over the five year period 2007-2011. They had one flip chart size piece of paper and four pens. I was surprised at how easily people took to the exercise and how little I needed to direct or prompt which meant that I was doing a lot less talking than if I had gone down the more orthodox qualitative route of semi-structured interviews. I found the process of map-making seemed to lead them naturally to reflect on their processes and to uncover their own insights. When I heard about the workshop I thought it might give me a few ideas of how I could integrate the map-making side of the data into the thesis. I wasn’t sure exactly how it would help but I was very keen to think about it creatively.
Although I found all the exercises very enjoyable the most important thing I took away from the workshop was Sarah Williamson’s presentation on ‘the value of making for thinking’. In my research I had seen the practical value but I didn’t know how I was going to validate this in my methodology. Sarah provided a list of references that backed-up my intuitive leaning towards these sorts of techniques. I was aware of the literature on participatory methods but before the workshop I would have said that my understanding was academic. As I made my own art-book and reflected on my learning journey, I had both the experience and realisation that what was going on for me would have been going on for the participants in the map-making exercise. After the workshop I felt that ‘research-making’ opens up a much more creative world for thinking about and doing research.