SiOE Doctoral Conference 2016 Comic Abstract

Very much looking forward to presenting at Sheffield Institute of Education’s Second Doctoral Conference on 5th November. As well as the text only version of the abstract I also put together the following comic strip version, which seemed appropriate given the focus of the talk.


The conference website is here:

Expanding the Limits of Participatory Analysis: Forthcoming Workshop

Expanding the Limits of Participatory Analysis: New Ways of Seeing and Knowing.

I will be be discussing comics as a participatory methodology as part of a workshop at the Royal Geographical Societies International conference on 31st August – more details below:


On Wednesday 31st August, at the 2016 Royal Geographies Society Annual International Conference, I will be jointly conducting a Participatory Geographies Research Group (PyGyRg) sponsored workshop on the use of visual, participatory methods at the conference with colleagues Larissa Povey (2) and Kiri Langmead (3). Details below:

Abstract: Discussing their use of participatory visual methods, Guillemin and Drew (2010, p.184) suggest that ‘participants, as producers of the image are the most […] appropriate persons to give meaning to the image.’  While aligning with the reflexive epistemologies of participatory methods, how to engage participants in analysis and how to balance this engagement with researchers’ own analytical endeavours demands further investigation.

Understanding analysis to be woven through the whole research process, the session will discuss and critique three approaches to participatory analysis: (1) the use of comic strips in the analysis of children’s engagement in collaborative video game play; (2) the use of photo-elicitation in analysing women’s experiences of conditionality and punishment; and (3) the use of narrative and ‘resonance response’ in the analysis of cooperative members understandings of work and economy.

In the spirit of PyGyRg, and recognising the need for critique and debate, the session will be structured to ‘promote openness and fluidity and not to ‘police the boundaries’ (Wynne-Jones, 2015) around what is and what is not participatory analysis.  To this end, the session will follow the format of the third approach, enabling attendees to reflect on past and lived experiences of participatory analysis through direct engagement.

Session outline: In the first 30 minutes of the session, the three researchers will present their experiences of participatory analysis as outlined in the abstract.  Attendees will be asked to listen and note down on post-it notes: any points that resonate with, challenge or contradict their own experiences; points they find interesting or problematic; and any questions.  Attendees will then be asked (as a whole group or in smaller groups of 10, depending on attendance) to share and group their notes into themes.  These themes will form a framework of a 30-40 minute discussion, exploring the challenges and potential of participatory analysis.

Comic Explorations Presentation

I had a great day yesterday at Sheffield University’s Literacies conference, which is always a brilliant event full of fascinating and generous people. Looking forward to the second day today. Here are (most of) the slides from my presentation…



Comic Explorations: Representing data and visualising complexity in multi-sited, multimodal research


In this presentation I relate a number of ways in which comic strips were used as methodological tools during an ethnographic study of a children’s after-school Minecraft club. This longitudinal research project sought to examine the ‘lived experience’ of a group of participants engaged in collaborative videogame play using this popular world-building game; this included a focus on how players’ identities were explored and expressed in a complex space that enabled multimodal and multi-sited interactions. As the children played and worked collaboratively to construct a ‘virtual community’, a range of visual and participatory methods were used to generate data; this included participants’ use of a GoPro action camera, discussion sessions where players talked whilst constructing virtual ‘identity models’, screencasts of gameplay on multiple screens and photographs of the action in the room. Faced with the dilemma of how to represent this complex data in a way that felt ‘true’ to the original context, comic strips were employed as a medium that enabled multimodal transcription; using a combination of data from the multiple on- and off-screen sources, theses constructed narratives allowed me to take account of the children’s actions as well as their spoken interactions.

Drawing on the rich data generated during this project, I show how these comic strip transcriptions were constructed and how they contributed to an emerging process of data analysis. In addition, building on recent work around the affordances of visual methodologies in literacies research, I explain how I also used illustrated comic strips as a means of developing thought and illuminating ideas. I will demonstrate how these different types of comic strip were included in the final account of the project, helping the reader to visualise the data, whilst also revealing the process of analysis that led to the project’s findings.  As well as considering how this methodological approach helped to explore and represent the identities of participants, I also show how this process of experimentation with emergent visual research methodologies helped to expand my own thinking, therefore reflecting on how this approach impacted on my own identity as a researcher.

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Comic Explorations: Comic strips in qualitative research

This short post was written for the blog for the Literacy Research Centre at Lancaster University, following my recent presentation there. 

During my recent LRDG talk I shared data from my ethnography of an after-school Minecraft Club in comic strip form. Here I will briefly elaborate on how comic strips came to form an integral part of this project. My adoption of the comic form was not a case of me bringing an existing skill to my project; rather it arose as a need that emerged from the project itself. I use comic strips in two main ways: as a form of transcription, and as a means of exploring theory.

Comic Strips as Transcription

My first use of comic strips followed the funeral of a virtual horse. During their Minecraft play, children role-played a funeral for a horse that had ‘drowned’. This was captured using video (in the room) and a screencast of my screen (in the game). When I attempted to produce a multimodal transcription of this episode, using text alone, I felt that my written output did not represent the nature of the events I had observed; it felt like a reduction of what I had seen. As I gradually added visuals to my written account I realised that I was creating a form of comic strip. Rethinking my approach to transcription led me to produce around 25 more such comic strips, based on episodes from the club, identified by me and the participants.

horse funeral comic

Comic strip transcripts have been used by others (Plowman and Stephen, 2008). My particular take on these combine visual data relating to the on- and off-screen action seen in the club, alongside the children’s speech and additional scene-setting comments. The ‘Horse Funeral’ comic uses mainly on-screen visuals, whereas some of the other comics draw more heavily on action in the room; an additional example of this technique can be found in Bailey (2015).

Comic Strips as Methodology

My use of comic strips spread beyond transcription to the development of my methodology. The pages below begin a longer exploration of Deleuze and Guattari’s (1980) image of thought, ‘the rhizome’, using my own staged screenshots from the game itself. The rhizome was fundamental to my methodological approach, which I called ‘Rhizomic Ethnography’.


Where Minecraft screenshots felt insufficient, I turned, nervously, to pen and paper. Drawing did not come naturally, however the process helped me both to exemplify and expand my thinking. This chimes with Sousanis’ (2015) assertion that such techniques can lead to an ‘unflattening’ of ideas. The act of drawing pushed me well beyond my own comfort zone, also giving me an unexpected emotional attachment to the ideas I was seeking to explore.



These comic strips were produced with the help of the application Comic Life:

Bailey, C.(2015) ‘Free the Sheep’. Literacy, Early View[online]:

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F.(1980) A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Plowman, L. and Stephen, C.(2008) ‘The Big Picture? Video and the representation of interaction’. British Educational Research Journal, 34 (4)541 – 565.

Sousanis, N.(2015) ‘Unflattening’. Cambridge. Harvard University Press.


Reflecting on the Power of MOOC

I was recently pleased to be invited to contribute to a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called ‘Exploring Play’, created by Sheffield University and hosted by Futurelearn. What was initially proposed as a written contribution turned into a short video segment. Whilst initially (internally) reluctant about appearing on video, I figured that I needed to overcome this aversion – partly as I had actively relied on my participants allowing me to film them, and also as it provided an opportunity to showcase some of the visual data I have collected during my Minecraft research.


I named my contribution ‘The diversity of social play in a Minecraft club’. This drew upon three examples of the children’s play (in fact, the same three examples present in a recent poster – below)  in order to act as an overview of the kinds of play the children engaged in during the year-long Minecraft club that I ran last year, as a means of exemplifying the kinds of activities that are possible in such contexts. My contribution formed part of week five’s focus on virtual world play and, aware of the negative press that is often generated around such pursuits, I suppose I also saw this as a good opportunity to dispel the myth that video game play is necessarily isolating or anti-social – not by arguing a point but simply by presenting examples of children’s creative play that arose in and around the game.

banterbury tales poster

The comments generated during the course this week have been brilliant, and these alone have convinced me of the value of MOOC participation, both as a contributor and a learner. There are currently more than 125 comments posted in the discussion thread related to my video, from a wide range of participants from different backgrounds (academic and non-academic), from across the globe. As a means of broadening engagement with my research, therefore, it has been excellent. The MOOC’s open nature, and its wide focus on play in general (rather than on virtual play specifically) means that the video has been seen by many people for whom videogame play was an unfamiliar or even negative concept, with a number of the comments reflecting that their own views had been challenged or changed by what they had seen. Some were even quite emotional about the content of parts of the video, and the (very) few voices dissent were considered, considerate and open to discussion (the polar opposite of the usual comments stream I have seen on many other online sites, in fact!).

You can view the course (and my small contribution in Week 5) by signing up (for free) here:

The Banterbury Tales: Social Play in an After School Minecraft Club Poster

Here is my poster for the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences Research Showcase event, taking place on November 11th at the Winter Gardens in Sheffield.

banterbury tales poster

(And if you spot any typos please don’t tell me as it’s gone to the printers now!)

banterbury tales poster