I'd been looking forward to this book for some time, having first encountered Gauntlett's Lego based research on the Art Lab website. It was great fun to read but I was surprised by how little of the book is actually dedicated to Gauntlett's research.
I've read a lot of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi recently so it was interesting to see him pop up in Creative Explorations, and even more so as it was alongside other famous names of my academic and professional life e.g. Karl Popper, Daniel Dennett, George Lakoff.
At least the first 50% of the book is to some extent a tour of human knowledge, ranging through sociology, philosophy, psychology, science and art. Even Stephen Hawkings makes an appearance. It is fascinating stuff once you accept that the book isn't going to launch straight into the Lego research and theories.
Having bought into the arguments of the first half of the book (and having bought it because of my interest in the Lego identity models) I felt that the actual methods could have been covered in a great deal more depth. I look forward to more!
The book is organised as follows:
Chapter 1 - Introduction Chapter 2 - The self and creativity Chapter 3 - Science and what we can say about the world Chapter 4 - Social science and social experience Chapter 5 - Inside the brain Chapter 6 - Using visual and creative methods Chapter 7 - More visual sociologies Chapter 8 - Building identities in metaphors (introduces the Lego-based Constructing Identities research) Chapter 9 - What a whole identify model means Chapter 10 - Conclusion
With the publication of Creative Explorations, David Gauntlett and his colleagues at the Art Lab at the University of Westminster establish themselves as leaders in the advancement of methodological approaches to the study of contemporary identity. Superbly written and masterfully interdisciplinary, this book speaks to a broad swath of practitioners and researchers seeking to gain deeper understandings of people and the way local and global forces influence, and are influenced by, expressions of self.
By moving beyond the role of researcher as fly on the wall and subject as local informant, Gauntlett challenges us to investigate processes of self-representation through art and video, even Lego building, in order to explore identity under much more authentic contexts than interviewing and observation alone. It is no longer the case that our subjects are actors within closed social systems where the researcher bewares of poisoning the local culture, but rather are part and parcel of the same local and global forces as the researcher. It is no longer enough simply to be reflexive, but rather to engage our subjects with tools of modern media and to view the process of personal creative expression as fertile ground for gaining understandings of identity development anywhere in the world, even in the most remote places or under the most dire circumstances.
While contemporary researchers of Visual Anthropology/Sociology and Visual Culture keep the tools of media production in the hands of the researcher and locate their subject of study in the products of self-representation, Gauntlett advocates a truly visionary, and long overdue, methodology that puts these tools in the hands of our subjects and locates the site of our research in the process, rather than the product, of creative exploration.
As an educational researcher and teacher, I consider this book a landmark and essential text for anyone interested in qualitative research and the study of identity.
David Gauntlett's 2007 book is both interesting, inventive and accessible for a range of audiences. It introduces readers to important concepts about identity, experience, self expression and representation and makes good use of relevant concepts, research and useful illustration. David's honest and unpretentious style reflects his genuine interest in the subject - this is not a 'dry and distant' academic book, but is a journey through a series of relevant questions around the theme. Early sections introduce readers to key concepts from the literature and set the scene for fascinating look at visual methodologies and identity models. I found myself saying "yes, that's right!" on regular occasions.
If you want an insight into some important sociological themes about identity and representation (whether you're an 'everyday' reader, student, researcher, or academic) and are interested in 'hands on' work with individuals and groups about these themes, it's worth a buy. You'll find your own inspiration in there.