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  • Jonathan Isserow

Using Whimsy to Subvert Dominant Narratives, with Comic-based Research: Sally Pirie, UMass, Amherst



Visiting UMass Amherst was an unexpected delight and wonder. It has its fair share of brutalist buildings which are softened by period-buildings interspersed across its vast campus. Their Students' Union is rather enviable with multilayered social spaces for students to hang-out or work alone. They seem to have a variety of canteens, vegan and veggie friendly options, and along with a plethora of LGBTQI+ flags, makes this space feel very inclusive. Added to this was the experience of meeting Sally Pirie, who is as warm and friendly as she is bright and quick witted. Dr. Sally Pirie is an anthropologist, visual artist, and qualitative methodologist. Her research interests include the anthropology of childhood and family, arts-based and comics-based qualitative and ethnographic research methods, gender diversity, and labor force feminization. I had the chance to discuss the use of comic-based research that may use humour and whimsy to subvert dominant narratives. It also offers a guerrilla approach to disseminate text and potentially move beyond academic circles. This makes for rich potential for a playful form of visual masculinity to find expression and I hope it will also connect with my visit The Animation Project in New York City. While visiting Sally, I also had the opportunity to attend her arts-based research class at UMass, School of Education, Graduate Research Program. We took a deep dive into visual research, participatory video along with the ethics. I was deeply impressed and moved by the seven students' articulation of their research projects and how they are managing and making meaning of their life events both through and alongside their research. Thank you Sally and all the students for your generosity.




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