Fiction & Research

This is a very exciting time for proponents of fiction as a research and teaching tool. Just a few days ago yet another scientific study revealed the unique effects fiction has on us. Two psychologists at the New School conducted five experiments comparing the effects of reading literary nonfiction, popular fiction, nonfiction and reading nothing at all. Reading literary nonfiction increased participants’ emotional intelligence, self-awareness, empathy and more. I was not surprised as this study affirms what those of us using fiction as a research tool understand to be so. I was delighted to see this groundbreaking study, published in the journal Science, get so much public attention (from the New York Times on)

For me, it has been clear for a long time that fiction has great potential as a research tool across the disciplines. In my book Fiction as Research Practice I call this “fiction-based research” an adaptation of the term arts-based research. I can say that my experiences publishing nonfiction academic articles based on interview research with women about their relationships, body image and identity struggles as compared with my experience publishing two novels loosely based on those same interviews, have forever changed the way I see fiction and research. Through the novels I have been able to reach broad audiences– research shouldn’t circulate among a few “experts” but should be available to the public. The reactions to the novels have also been very revealing– people connect with the characters, develop empathy, experience emotional responses and ultimately engage in self-reflection (often sharing or critically examining their own experiences), and many engage in social reflection too, considering how our culture shapes us.

I was recently interviewed by Michelle Arana of examiner.com about Fiction as Research Practice and you can read that interview here:

http://www.examiner.com/article/a-must-read-by-patricia-leavy-ph-d-for-researchers-and-writers-everywhere

One thing that I rarely hear discussed is the impact of writing fiction-based research on authors. For me, it has been indescribably rewarding. Seeing the impact the fiction has had on others and learning how they use it as a springboard for reflection in their own lives has been extraordinary. Since Low-Fat Love and American Circumstance came out I have also had many people email me, stop be in hallways after presentations or come see me at book signings to tell me their own stories, brought forth by one of the novels. I believe this has all made me more sensitive to the stories of others similarly to how Carolyn Ellis has explained writing autoethnographically about her own life has made her more sensitive to the stories of others (which she talks about as “relational ethics”). Finally, the joy I have experienced during the writing process and also the process of sharing the writing with others, has affirmed for me the important role of pleasure in our work lives. Off to write… aka: have some fun.

Love and Light,

Patricia

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