Insights through art reward social scientist with dual celebration

Dr Michele Jarldorn had double the cause for celebration last week, graduating with a PhD at Flinders’ September Graduation Ceremonies, and also receiving the news she had been shortlisted for the 2018 Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) Student Prize.

The CHASS Student Prize is awarded for a student project, performance or exhibition that best exemplifies the contribution of HASS to the understanding of Australia. Only three candidates have been shortlisted for this year’s national honour, which comes with a $500 cash prize.

Dr Jarldorn, who is also a lecturer in Flinders’ College of Education, Psychology and Social Work, based her paper on a photovoice project she completed for her PhD. The project asked participants, who were female ex-prisoners in South Australia, to take photographs to help communicate their answer to the question “If you had fifteen minutes with a policy maker or politician, what would you want them to know about your experience?”

Following the unexpected contribution of a powerful poem that accompanied nine photos from one woman, who chose to remain anonymous under the pseudonym ‘Deer’, Dr Jarldorn decided to focus the paper on this participant.

Dr Jarldorn notes in her paper (listed as co-authored by Deer) that photovoice methodology has the ability to produce “rich, thick accounts of lives and experiences that cannot be adequately captured by quantitative research”, but the unexpected gift of poetry on this occasion “added a deeper dimension to research findings.”

Her paper is a fascinating demonstration of how qualitative, arts-based research methods can uniquely capture the complexities of people’s experiences.

The project has been displayed at a number of community functions and conferences, with Dr Jarldorn’s post-graduate and under-graduate social work students also benefiting from the insights and connections it contains.

For Deer, who has written poetry since childhood, incorporating this art-form enabled her to think and communicate at a deeper level, encompassing the relevance of a childhood framed by discrimination, alcoholism and violence, and imparting her empathetic, positive perspectives on her previous peers and their complex, unique situations.

Dr Jarldorn’s paper is available to view online through this Action Research link.

The CHASS Australia Prizes honour distinguished achievements by Australians working, studying or training in the humanities, arts and social sciences and seek to attract international attention.

Winners of the 2018 prizes will be announced in Melbourne on 29 October.

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