Reading theory, thinking, questioning and writing is challenging intellectual work. Capturing and articulating thoughts in words as they emerge is a delicate process: committed too soon they may break the flow of ideas, and too late allow vital threads to be lost. For me self-censorship too – even as I actively work against it – frequently trickles in uninvited to derail my writing process. One day when I was feeling particularly despondent about a month into my PhD candidature I decided to take a break from writing on my computer to doodle my thoughts with a bold black pen in a small visual art book.
I found the process surprisingly freeing and generative and now deliberately use doodling as a making/thinking method to shift focus and take a break from my writing brain when I’m blocked. These doodles or accidental mind maps can become significant steps in my understanding and progress of my thinking about my research. I see them as accidental because I’ve never found sitting down intentionally to create a mind map as particularly productive for me. Perhaps materiality and intention are the key here.
Thinking with Koro-Ljungberg (2016, 60) about film and media making as an emergent method (pen on paper) © Prue Adams 2020
When I turn the textured pages of my art book to a fresh crisp white sheet and pick up a strong jet black ink pen I feel a tactile pleasure and sense of freedom, and importantly, the permission to play. Using the Procreate app with iPencil and iPad feels similarly liberating: I love that I can achieve painterly qualities of gouache and watercolour, overlay colours without waiting for inks and paints to dry, change opacities, erase and change and wander wherever my doodling thoughts take me. In each case, the materiality of the experience is inviting and my expectations are focused on play – on process rather than outcome.
Using my hands to think visually and conceptually with image, colour and word fragments rather than well-formed sentences allows me to explore my thoughts through making, intuitively and uncensored. The awareness that this play is for me alone and need never be seen by an audience of supervisors, peers, reviewers, examiners or anyone is significant in freeing me to experiment through play, and through play to make and think – akin to Gray and Burnett’s judgement free environment to support ‘serious play’ for making and thinking (Gray & Burnett, 2014, 216). Ironically the effectiveness of this method often leads me to want to share the results with others as the doodles become integral to both documenting and communicating my thinking.
The mind map above was born out of exasperation. I was trying to articulate my conception of an emergent ‘intra-active’ (Barad) data collection and analysis process using words in a linear table and couldn’t make it work. Putting writing aside to doodle/think in Procreate2 helped me not only to understand what I was thinking but also to make sense of how the process could work. As a result, I was able to translate my newfound understanding into a text table as required for my Confirmation of Candidature document. I also included the visualisation however, as I felt it more clearly and accurately communicated the intra-active iterative process.
As I’m working with making/thinking as a conceptual framework (Hickey-Moody, 2013, 86-87; Manning, 2014) for filmmaking as research method, it should be of no surprise to me that my doodles could be a making/thinking process. I think because I initially saw them as separate and peripheral to the real work of academic writing, it took me a while to see that this form of play was in fact a valid part of my research writing and thinking process.
1 ‘PhEmaterialism’ stands for Feminist Posthuman and New Materialisms in Education and was created as a hashtag for the 2015 network conference, Feminist Posthuman New Materialism: Research Methodologies in Education: ‘Capturing Affect’ and has become a collective term for those working with posthuman and new materialist theories in education (Renold & Ringrose, 2019).
2 The Procreate app also has a time-lapse video function that allows you to export an Mp4 video of your drawing process and gives you further insight into how and what you are thinking through making. I love this feature!
Gray, C., & Burnett, G. (2014). Making sense: exploring materialist pedagogies through imagination, collaboration and criticality. In E. Barrett & B. Bolt (Eds.), Material inventions: applying creative arts research. London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.
Hickey-Moody, A. (2013). Affect as method: affective pedagogy In R. Coleman & J. Ringrose (Eds.), Deleuze and research methodologies (pp. 79-95). Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.
Koro-Ljungberg, M. (2016). Reconceptualizing qualitative research: methodologies without methodology: Los Angeles : SAGE, 2016.
Manning, E. (2014). Against method. Paper presented at the Aesthetics of the humanities: towards a poetic knowledge production seminar, Centre for Disruptive Media, Coventry University, United Kingdom. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEUZ6PWzJqU
Renold, E., & Ringrose, J. (2019). JARing: making phematerialist research practices matter. MAI: Feminism & Visual Culture, (4 file). Retrieved from https://maifeminism.com/introducing-phematerialism-feminist-posthuman-and-new-materialist-research-methodologies-in-education/
My thinking about filmmaking as an affective, emergent mode of inquiry to explore experiences of gender in secondary school with young people through doctoral research.