Collage as an arts-informed methodology: Engaging academics through images and text to reveal the work they do

Year: 2016

Author: Selkrig, Mark

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

As universities undergo profound and rapid change the traditional work role of academics has fractured (Bexley, Arkoudis, & James, 2013). The diversification of institutional missions, casualisation of the workforce, and decreasing research funding are realities. Corporate values, the era of measurement and the all-pervasive language of neoliberal managerialism (Davies, 2010) dominates higher education discourses. As a consequence academics are experiencing growing disconnections between how they see their professional identity and that prescribed by their institution (Billot, 2010). What academics feel and experience is stark in contrast to managerialist discourses that are devoid of any human emotion (Davies, 2010). Similarly new accounts of the world are proliferating in this era of supercomplexity (Barnett, 2000), where the concepts of ‘contestability, challengeability, uncertainty and unpredictability’ have become common features of work in universities. When these features are combined with ‘change, turmoil, turbulence, risk and even chaos’, Barnett (2000) argues a sense of ‘emotional insecurity’ can emerge (pp. 415-416).As a way to [re]present the views and the emotional aspects about the work our academic colleagues do within a turbulent university environment, we (I and two colleagues) elected to undertake an arts-informed (Butler-Kisber, 2010) research project. Academic staff in the College of Education at Victoria University were invited to provide a series of images and short accompanying texts about their teaching, research and community engagement work. Responses were collated into postcards and posters, making their understandings visible. The academics involved in the project were also invited to participate in the analysis of the visual and textual data that were gathered. The notion of Collage continued to surface within the arts-informed methodology we adopted to work with our colleagues. We were able to consider the work we do through sensual ways of knowing and an aesthetic mode of imagery and text where the emotive journey of being an academic was legitimised. Collage involves elements of layering, juxtaposition and pastiche. It also involves pushing analysis further and deeper, while making explicit tacit aspects of the process and developing understandings (Butler-Kisber & Poldma, 2010). In this presentation I will discuss how applying the metaphor of collage (Butler-Kisber, 2008; Butler-Kisber & Poldma, 2010; Weber, 2008) offered a way to think about, articulate and conceptualise our methodological framework. The collage metaphor also assisted us to grapple with the complexity (and at times competing) collaborations, perspectives, interpretations and representations that emerged during the project.