Diffractive analysis for creative pedagogy – a blog from BERA Conference.

Heather Wren, research assistant for Digital Innovation in Project-based Learning, explores the concept and practice of diffractive analysis for creative pedagogies. 

Our presentation was the final one of three in a symposium at the British Educational Research Association Conference in Manchester 2019 discussing how we can approach research on creative pedagogies. One of the main points put across earlier in the symposium was: we need to approach creative pedagogy in different and complex ways in order to find new ways of understanding what it is today.


We began by explaining to the audience how we approached the Incubator project (a project run by the University of Exeter that invests in cultivating pedagogic innovation and collaboration through the Education Incubator) by combining Project-Based Learning with Creative Pedagogy and Digital Technology in order to allow the students to take ownership of their work and to move away from traditional methods of teaching and learning.

As part of their summative assignments, students were allowed to create a project of their choice to demonstrate their learning in this module on gender, sexuality and violence in Israel/Palestine. The students could use any materials/methods/approaches they wanted to create their projects for example: Performance poetry, short stories, experimental films, paintings, sculptures, Instagram pages, blogs, photo essays and radio journalism.

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Katie’s module on ELE

We explained that we used a diffractive analysis of our data so that we could also move away from traditional methods of researching creative pedagogies. As part of the analysis we constructed an assemblage using wool to connect each piece of data which had ‘glowed’ to us.

We performed this assemblage construction for the audience and then ‘cut’ through the data with two theoretical texts, one from Avery Gordon on hauntings and invisibility titled Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (2008) and one from Rosi Braidotti on ethics titled The Posthuman (2013)

We asked the audience to join us at the table while we constructed the assemblage and then showed them our second assemblage which was a film developed using diffractive principles shot and directed by professional film company, Preston Street Films.

The audience were engaged in both activities and interesting discussions took place after the presentation. The main themes from the discussion were around the methodology we used and the complex ways of doing research into creative pedagogies.

Audience reactions

Some of the more practice-focused researchers were concerned about how this type of methodology will be viewed in academia particularly using creative practices such as film to express our research processes. Our response to this was that this way of working has been around for some time as a legitimate qualitative methodology, which is now growing in education. So journals are accepting film as part of submissions.

Another participant was interested in how the thinking process is created through this type of methodology, and how space and time changes through the creation the assemblages. This is the point of the diffractive process, that the research is organic and changes with new spaces and temporalities and is ongoing and never-ending. It allows for thoughts and knowledge to be constantly organic.

The same participant also commented on how affect within this methodology is felt in the moment and how it can be both beautiful and frustrating depending on the situation. She was referring to a moment in our assemblage construction performance where Kerry bound a book closed to capture it solidly within the assemblage, but by doing so, she closed down thoughts from other researchers who wanted to access pages within it.

This to me highlights the differences and complexity of using this methodology compared to traditional empirical research approaches –that you have to leave things to be and become without overly-interjecting to change its flow. The only thing is, once you’ve used a diffractive process it makes you see traditional research in a very different light. Essentially, we have all felt that there is no going back…..

You can contact Heather for more information on this project here.


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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

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