Children's engagements with visual methods through qualitative research in the primary school as 'art that didn't work'

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This article considers the implications of using visual methods in research with primary school aged children. The research explored the meanings children made of reading at school. Visual methods, through drawing, were part of the research design. The children resisted drawing in a range of ways, including ripping pages out of books and leaving pages blank, or they used drawing to make meaning of their lives outside the context of the research topic, in particular indicating an adherence to normative gender identities. Through initial analysis these methods were framed as 'art that didn't work'. It was only through treating everything as data- thinking about silences and absences, as well as what the children did draw, that it was possible to reposition the data as useful for understanding the impact of drawing as a method. The article argues that whilst in previous research, visual methods have often been hailed as straightforwardly positive for working with children: they increase participation, access to research, and promote pupil voice; in this research a far more complex set of power relations emerged around drawing. Findings indicate drawing does not work as a method to enhance children's participation in the research process. While the paper is methodological in nature, it also contributes to our knowledge of children's agency, and agency as resistance. The article disrupts assumptions that such methods are 'good' at providing a mouthpiece for vulnerable groups such as children, to explore their identities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2016


  • Visual Methods
  • Participatory Research
  • Research with Children
  • Children
  • Primary School
  • the Agentic Child


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