Qualitative Health Research Network


Nicole Brown

Creative and arts-based approaches within health research

Nicole Brown was our May 2019 seminar speaker.


In this seminar, Nicole will draw upon her research “The construction of academic identity under the influence of fibromyalgia” to present opportunities and challenges of employing creative and arts-based approaches within health research.

In this seminar, I explore the challenges and less successful aspects of the making processes and creative methods from data collection through to analysis. In my research “The construction of academic identity under the influence of fibromyalgia” I attempt to uncover the marginalised voices of the unheard and underrepresented academics diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a complex, contested syndrome characterised by widespread pain, chronic fatigue, sleep problems, psychological disorders and cognitive dysfunctions (White and Harth, 2001), and is on the cusp of the physiological, psychological and somatic. To encourage participants to reflect on, make sense of and express their experiences, which are usually difficult to express in words, I use making and doing. Participants complete an identity box, which requires them to find objects representing their responses to questions such as "Who are you?", "What affects you?" or "How do others see you?". Whilst the identity box has allowed non-academics to engage deeply in reflective tasks they are not necessarily used to, academics are reticent to embrace creative methods and approaches. This experience of academics struggling with the participatory elements as research participants is in stark contrast to the increased trends towards these approaches. Additional challenges for using creative methods are issues around time and commitment leading to high drop-out rates, which is also due to the disabling and unpredictable nature of fibromyalgia. At the level of analysis, the materiality of the identity boxes also lends itself to draw on artistic elements for the purpose of making sense of experiences as well as disseminating findings. I will explore analysis as a very personal, subjective process that is coloured by the researcher’s biases, experiences and knowledge. To this end, I will show photographs of an art installation and an illustrated poem that I created in response to my data and in collaboration with my participants. I outline the processes and practical steps involved in the creation of these analytical outcomes. I will conclude with a summary of benefits and challenges of employing creative and arts-based approaches.



Nicole Brown is Academic Head of Learning and Teaching and Lecturer in Education at IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society. Her research interests relate to identity and body work, physical and material representations and metaphors, the generation of knowledge, and advancing learning and teaching within higher education.

Contact details: nicole.brown@ucl.ac.uk Web site: www.nicole-brown.co.uk Twitter: @ncjbrown @FibroIdentity @AbleismAcademia