Using new creative visual research methods to understand the place of popular media in people's lives
The new Centre for Creative Media Research at Bournemouth Media School has been exploring new qualitative approaches to ‘audience’ research, in which participants are asked to create media or artistic artefacts of their own as part of the process. This work, we hope, points towards a significant ‘turn’ in our understanding of the ways in which people consume and make use of popular media: a turn towards creativity, the visual, and the imagination. Rather than treating people as ‘audiences’ of specific parts of the media, this approach acknowledges that most people in contemporary modern societies are bombarded with a range of media material, and then have to deal with this data using what is often a considerable level of intelligence, creativity, and knowledge regarding popular communications institutions and strategies. In our qualitative research projects, individuals are asked to produce media or visual material themselves, as a way of exploring their relationship with particular issues or dimensions of media. Examples include research where children made videos to consider their relationship with the environment; where young men designed covers for imaginary men’s magazines, enabling an exploration of contemporary masculinities; and where young people drew pictures of celebrities as part of an examination of their aspirations and identifications with stars. (Website: www.artlab.org.uk). The paper will discuss this approach, and some findings; and will consider the benefits – and some methodological problems – of using this approach. The paper connects with the theme of ‘Communication and Democracy’, by proposing a more democratic form of communications research, as well as offering a way of exploring the democratic potential of media participation.