Painting with data: Alternative aesthetics of qualitative research

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In this paper I outline an original creative method for qualitative research, namely the painting with data technique. This is a participatory methodology which brings creativity and participation through to the analytical phase of qualitative research. Crucially, I acknowledge but also challenge the dominant aesthetic that currently shapes qualitative research and renders life in a monochromatic palette. The painting with data method evidences an alternative aesthetic to the predominant one and I argue that we can understand this methodology by adapting Jennifer Mason's concept of ‘layering’ to conceptualise how different aesthetics help us to see the different shapes, forms and moulds that make us, our relationships and our worlds. The process moves away from traditional ways of treating transcribed data, and prioritises addition above extraction; juxtaposition over thematization; and collaging rather than ordering. This alternative aesthetic for qualitative research offers an evocative form and a conceptual schema through which to interpret the world, providing a route to novel insights, that enlivens the interpretative work of the analyst and offers opportunities to make and witness potent connections.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Sociological Review
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 16 Dec 2020


  • qualitative methods
  • creative methods
  • aesthetics
  • transcript
  • dementia
  • care
  • caring

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Dementia@Manchester


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