Arts-Based Research in Social Work

Brief background to the area of Special Interest:

Being central to human functioning, the arts contribute to the individual's ability to remain oriented in the world that gains coherence and meaning when described or reflected back through symbolic productions. In other words, the arts are a central and culturally contextualized vehicle for understanding how people make meaning and experience their world, and what solutions they propose to their problems.

Researching and practicing social work with the help of the arts as method, subject, data, or end product of the research, can help to create participatory and co-produced data that help to provide an embodied voice to those that are powerless- based on spatial and experiential rather than academic knowledge structures. Dybiks, (2012) describes how service users in social work tend to create symbolic narratives of their lives, constructing central themes and organizational metaphors, rather than giving a minute by minute description of the issue or defining it through an abstract concept. Shotter describes the "another, more embodied, more situation-specific way of understanding in the course of our active, living involvements" (Shotter, 2010. p 8). The arts situate phenomenological experience within a specific social reality. This is especially relevant when working with marginalized and silenced population's characteristic of social work research from diverse cultural and power backgrounds. On this level, images can be understood as opening up different ways of thinking about the connection between personal identity and society (Devi 1984; Freire & Macedo, 1987; Joughin s& Maples. 2004; Soja, 1989; Emerson et al., 2002; Harrington, 2004; Pink, 2004; Huss, 2008). This is the premise of arts-based research in education and of visual culture and visual anthropology in the social sciences. However, while the arts are used a lot in social work practice, they are only now being integrated into the mainstream of social work theory. Within the literature of social work, the word 'arts' is more often used as a general metaphor for humanistic or creative practice than as a relevant methodology for research.


Overall, the aim of this SIG is to work together to canonize, theorize and disseminate a body of knowledge about the use of arts within social work research and practice. This adds to the current knowledge base in social work theory, and research methodology, and offers clear meaningful implications for social work research.

Activities (past, planned):

Participants will be able to raise their research, questions and thoughts concerning using the arts in social work research based on their research dilemmas, and to network with a group of people concerned with this somewhat marginal but promising area of social work research methods.


Kalia Kaparounaki,
Susan Levy,
Nesrien Abu Ghazaleh,