Reflections on the Leed’s event of ‘Language Research, Performance and the Creative Arts’

In this reflection, I want to share my experience of presenting and participating in the one-day event on Language Research, Performance and the Creative Arts at the University of Leeds. It was one of my most enjoyable academic experience as the event provided a rich space of critical discussions. I have got inspired from the researchers of different fields who are interested in using creative-arts as a research method. The discussions with them enabled me to reflect on my experience of using creative-arts methods, and to look at these methods, and my understanding of these methods, from different angles of views. By absorbing insights in and around such intensive and resourceful occasion, I have developed my working-understanding of Visual-Creative-Arts (VCAs), which will shape my practice of using them in my data-generation.

Below, I share some of my learning-experiences in this event:

1. Tailoring to the Audience: 
It was not my first time to present my use of VCAs in understanding students’ inter-cultural experiences. However, it was my first time to present it to an audience of Language Education researchers. So when I was preparing for this event, Richard recommended me to be more attentive to the audience’ interest and identity by subtly shifting the anchors of my talk. For example, from the outset, I first prepared the audience’s mind that I am from a different field (not Language Education); and then, suggested that there may be connections and implications between my topic and Language Education research.

2. Interactive Presentation:
The second thing I learnt was to understand the nature of the ‘presenting-occasion’ before deciding the style of presentation. The occasion in Leeds was first recognised to be a ‘scoping event‘, meaning that it intended to provide interested researchers a space for explore around the possibilities of using Creative-arts/performances in and related to Language Education research. With the vision of presenting in an ‘exploratory’ event, Richard encouraged me to make my talk more interactive by providing some quick activities. In the event, I played ‘Blind Self-Portrait’ with the researchers, which put them in the participatory position of ‘the researched’. This has allowed me to learn very rich insights from their stimulated- reflections and understandings of using creative-arts as a research method.

3.  Being Defensive? Or Being Thoughtful?
One of the most important things I have learnt from the event was to NOT being defensive in academic exploration. This learning experience shades into two layers of meanings to me:

Firstly, it was challenging for me to recognise my defensiveness. During the discussion in the day event, more than one of the researchers (such as Lou and Gameli) has indicated me to embrace the thoughts dedicated in the method rather than to take a defensive position on its conversation to researchers from other fields or epistemological stances. I could not recognise these signs as I thought it is necessary to bridge this inter-epistemological conversation and to articulate the credibility/validity of the method. It was not until my supervisors (Richard and Juup) clearly pointed it out to me, I then, started to realise the possible dangers behind undertaking such approach.

So the second layer of the meanings I learnt was that being defensive in academic exploration makes a researcher ‘blind’ (not in a good way as in being ‘blind’ in the self-portrait activity). When taking a defensive position, one can only see a limited angle of the matter. The drive of exploration become goal-oriented rather than understanding-oriented. It distracts the researcher to argue against/articulate towards a particular point of view, rather than developing thoughtful understandings throughout and around the whole. The defensiveness may also usually leads to pre-mature and incomplete articulations of the matter. So instead of talking about why Creative-arts is a valid and credible method (indicating it might not be?), it will better if I focus on discussing the thoughts I put behind every decisions I made, and justifying how these steps of thoughts and decisions has leaded into insights to my research inquiry.

This is a quick reflection of the Leed’s event I made in-between my data-generation workshops. Whilst writing this blog-post, I do hope it will help reminding me to be open for understanding in my journey of life and academic study. 




  • Zhuomin Huang

    Thank you for the comment, Susan!
    It’s great to know that you find it useful in practice already. I would be very keen on hearing more details about your young group’s reactions to the activity.

  • Susan Dawson

    Thank you for these reflections, Min.
    As someone who was there and who very definitely comes from a language teaching background, I thought you did a great job of making it relevant. In my first small group discussion, there was a lady who very much identified herself as a teacher rather than a researcher, and your presentation was the one she most seemed to connect with. In fact, I think it was the one that provoked the most discussion in our group. The presentation itself was super – it was very engaging as well as informative, and I think this was why she was able to see affordances for her in the classroom. Also, you didn’t use the sort of academic discourse that distances practitioners, and that was another reason for her being able to connect.
    Just so you know – I did ‘blind’ self portraits with a group of 11-14 year-olds last Sunday. Very amusing, as well as insightful, so thanks very much for the idea! It wasn’t research – more of a warmer/get into the theme sort of activity, but good fun, and just shows how it can be adapted as a teaching activity as much as a research one!