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Interpreting Undergraduate Understanding of Irish Politics Through Freehand Drawings


Abstract and Figures

This paper forms part of an ongoing research project using the technique of freehand drawing to study how students entering university in Ireland perceive the state of Irish politics and the wider society. By sidestepping the cognitive verbal processing routes through the use of freehand drawing, we find that students tend to present a more holistic, integrated and clearer understanding of the pertinent issues from their perspective.
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Interpreting Undergraduate
Understanding of Irish
Politics Through Freehand
Sharon Feeney, John Hogan & Paul Donnelly
College of Business
Dublin Institute of Technology
October, 2013
Jumping in…
!Politics education – build a just society
!Multiple ways to understand/challenge
!Question perspectives
!Critical reflection
!Freehand drawing
!1st year introductory Irish Politics module
!"What is Irish Politics?" (Donnelly and Hogan, 2013).
!Process of visualization/non-verbal interpretation of question
!1,000+ drawings (2010- present) illustrating how young people perceive
Irish politics
!Interpret a sample to understand how students conceptualize
their answers
Irish Context
!Celtic Tiger (1998-2008)
!Symbiotic relationship – state/bankers/developers
!Crisis (2008+)
!Property/banking/soverign debt
!EU-IMF bailout - 85 billion (38% GDP) economic sovereignty
!Socialization of vast private debts
!GDP down 21%
!Unemployment at 14.7% (24% for 18-24 year olds)
!Edelmans Trust Barometer (2010-13) shows lack of trust in business/
!Transparency and accountability?
Visual Representation
!Visual holds cultural centrality in western societies
!Yet, absent from political science classroom
!Academic orthodoxy sees images as a subjective, inferior or eccentric form of
data vs. words/numbers (Stiles, 2004: 127)
!Dynamic exploration/challenges conventional wisdom (Parker, 2009)
!Allows participants open up (Slutskaya, et al, 2012)
!Creates a ‘third space in classroom (Parker, 2009)
!Facilitates a whole brain approach to understanding
!Drawing a discourse that constructs meaning (Page and Gaggiotti,
2012: 82)
!Offers a new medium for critical inquiry (Page and Gaggiotti, 2012:
Freehand Drawing in the Classroom
!Images encode significant quantities of complex information
(Ridley and Rogers, 2010: 2)
!Freehand drawing an elicitation technique that
!Represents a hands-on mode of knowing
!Provides data that might otherwise be inaccessible thanks to limitations of
language (Raggl and Schratz, 2004)
!Facilitates ability to see how we understand topic + there are multiple
ways of understanding
!Facilitates questioning / challenging theories, orthodoxies and truths
!Facilitates identifying / scrutinizing assumptions
!Facilitates pondering other possibilities
!Focus students attention on critical self-reflection (Donnelly and Hogan,
!Plus, enjoyable and revealing
Freehand Drawing in the Classroom
!Liberation of mind – non-traditional expression
!Dialogue creator / interpreter – content + metaphor
!Clearer and more holistic than words – universally
!Meaning assigned by
!Audience who interpret
!Interpretation of drawing – psychology / art psychotherapy
Data Collection
!Introduction to Irish Politics module
!Provided A4 sheet to each student, with instructions:
!Through a drawing answer the following question: What is Irish
Politics?(10/15 mins)
!Now, in your own words, describe/explain what you have
drawn(10 mins)
!Divided students into groups of 4 / 5 for discussion (25 mins)
!Look at drawings and note what struck them
!Discuss each drawing in turn
!Rapporteur to record discussion for feedback to entire class
!Collected drawings and reviewed before next class
!Facilitated debrief of class
!Rapporteur accounts noted on flipchart sheets
!Opened floor to reflection / discussion
What the Drawings Tell Us about Irish
!Students personal understandings / experiences
!Some written explanations
!Bridge gap between intended message and interpretation by observer
!Avoids misinterpretation / over-interpretation
!Two approaches to analyzing drawings:
!Focus on content –used here, assisted by written explanations provided by
!Present sample of drawings, along with:
!Written narrative of student
!We should seek to gain a description of the creations to understand intentions
(Davis, 2005)
!Our interpretation
Our interpretation of drawing:
Strong emotions; economy/politics inextricably linked; metaphor of toilet – Irish money
being flushed to Germany; Bertie – political corruption (?), storytelling + pattern and
Figure 1
narrative for
Bertie – Rich;
Brian Cowan –
Dead; Enda
Kenny – Prisoner;
Germany –
control; Ireland –
ruins; Michael D.
– spectator, no
wishes left, no
Our interpretation of drawing:
Insights into student view of relationship between Ireland and EU; enlarged image of
government v. tiny citizens being squeezed; EU as a middle-sized person – taking
citizens money
Figure 2
Student narrative
for drawing:
Irish government
pillaging citizens for
every cent
Our interpretation of drawing:
Public image of Ireland and euro coins – interesting in context of question; 3rd + 4th
images – debating, asking questions – text reads - blah bla + ?” “? – negative view
of politicians?; final image – increasing burden of tax; no one is blamed for the situation
Student narrative
for drawing:
1 = Ireland’s image
in media; 2 =
money, need help
from the euro; 3 =
debate on different
topics to find
solutions; 4 = make
decisions; 5 =
taxation and a lot of
unhappy people -
tax on everything
Our interpretation of drawing:
Politician (?) - I want your moneeey! – declaration, not request: why is unclear; closed
doors – lack of openness, transparency + accountability (?); money and polling box - link
between scarcity of money in economy and election (?) – or something more sinister?
Student narrative
for drawing:
Politicians – only
want your money;
closed doors –
secrets and LIES;
money, voting
Figure 4
Student narrative
for drawing:
Irish politics is
about how the
government help
our country and
innocent Irish
people are craving
food, water, shelter,
etc. whilst the
Government waste
wheelbarrows of
workers money
Figure 5
Our interpretation of drawing:
Clear representation - government is wasting the publics money while citizens are in
need of both food and shelter
Our interpretation of drawing:
!Numerous/serious questions directed to our politicians
!Questions posed by people to sides of drawing – representing faceless masses
impacted by crisis (?)
!But no answers
Student narrative for
This is an illustration of
an endless story of
questions to our political
leaders with no answers
in return
Our interpretation of drawing:
!Represents government (large person) holding a box of money and the other (small)
person, possibly on knees, putting money into it
!Reversal of traditional idea of the poor person begging – taking from the poor
Figure 7
Student narrative for
Government (rich people)
taking poor peoples
money through different
What emerged…
!Strong emotions
!Loss of economic/political
!Loss of wealth – boom to
!Powerful government v.
small, thin, or faceless
!Politicians uncertain,
powerless, corrupt
!Lack of transparency and
!Sense of societal
!The real Ireland v. the media
!Heavy taxation – repay debts
– citizens hungry
!No direct assignment of
What emerged…
!Seeing different, negative, perspectives on politics
!Sense of powerlessness/inaction, reflecting mood of the time
!Protest largely absent
!People seem to accept status quo – weak and small
!Raise questions about
!Conservatism of society
!Elitism/cronyism in upper echelons of society
!Political accountability and openness
!In whose interest society functions
!Questioning through images – stimulates reflection
!Students display significant understanding of political economy
!Many drawings display
!Cynicism / ambivalence
!Images of life experience
!Visual elicitation
!‘Power of image in perceptive, interpretive and reflexive
processes (Slutskaya, Simpson and Hughes, 2012: 17)
!Through ambiguity, visuals add complexity and generate richer thinking /
expression (Davison, McLean and Warren, 2012)
!Freehand drawing
!Invites engagement with alternative perspectives
!Studentsexperience of Irish politics that is available for reflection /
sensemaking by themselves and others
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