King’s Researcher & LPRC Board Member advocates for arts-based methodologies

Dr. Bharati Sethi, Assistant Professor of Social Work at King’s University College at Western, and LPRC Board member is advocating for the inclusion of methodologies and tools that are designed to pick up nuances of people’s experiences in Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR).

One such tool that advanced her own work was Photovoice, a visual arts-based research methodology based on the principles of empowerment education and a research tool that was borne out of the principles of CBPR. Dr. Sethi is eager to share her experiences with Photovoice and CBPR at an event on March 8 from 9:30am to 4:00pm (Dr. Sethi to present at noon), in the Darryl J. King Student Life Centre at King’s University College (free parking available).

Community Based Participatory Research, a research approach adopted and promoted by the LPRC, involves engagement and full participation of community partners at every stage of the research process from question identification, to analysis, to dissemination. CBPR requires a shift in traditional research approaches in that it demands an equitable partnership between the academic and the community members where mutual respect is fostered. CBPR involves producing relevant research in real-time that is relevant to the life circumstances of the people residing within communities (Hacker, 2-4). As such, Photovoice is a CBPR tool aimed at building skills within disadvantaged and marginalized communities. Photovoice utilizes innovative participatory photography and digital storytelling methods that enable individuals to represent themselves and create tools for advocacy and communication.

Sethi, new to the London community, is eager to share her research study  “Do you see what I see?”, a CBPR study that explored the employment-health association for immigrant/refugee women from Korea, Asia, Africa, Japan, Arab countries, and Latin America in Brantford and Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk Counties with hopes that this methodology can be employed in similar studies in London & Middlesex. When studying the relationship between work and health for immigrant/refugee women, Sethi recognized that it was difficult to truly capture experiences using typical quantitative or qualitative methodologies, citing difficulties translating feelings from one’s mother tongue to a second language such as English, leading her to use arts-based approaches such as Photovoice. Photovoice allows a woman to accompany her stories with a visual to portray their postmigration experiences. Sethi, alongside the immigrant/refugee women she worked alongside for her study, first brought her work to an exhibit at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2014 where it was well received, her PhD work earning her the Governor General’s Award.

“As a researcher I have lived with the haunting ache that the methods that I have utilized in the past (survey questionnaire and interviews) are limited in yielding a holistic and contextual understanding of the participants’ experiences;” Sethi described, “this method has allowed me to gather a holistic understanding of participants work and health experiences post migration.” Sethi, in her arts-based approach recognizes the power of a photograph to tell the stories the data simply cannot when looking to shed light on people’s experiences.

Sethi recognizes her own experiences as a South-Asian immigrant woman have influenced her decision to use arts-based methodologies such as photography to capture peoples’ experiences, as Sethi knows that image-based methodologies have “the potential to empower the marginalized and vulnerable populations by giving them voice and visibility.”

An example of a powerful use of Photovoice in Sethi’s work occurs as a woman describes her postmigration experience: “They call me Nigger”, the words describing her experiences accompanied by a photograph of a toilet, capturing the sense of disembodiment the woman feels. The toilet chosen to represent a place of the filthiest excretion, accompanied by the sting of the word “Nigger” – an insult, a humiliation. By employing these methodologies, Sethi hopes to gain the attention of employers, service providers, and policy-makers so they cannot look away from the experiences of immigrants and refugees.

Sethi acknowledges that being a Community Based Participatory Researcher can be time consuming and has the potential to be costly, however, the outcomes of Sethi’s project, which she will describe on March 8, make the extra work justified. Through this project, Dr. Sethi saw how women were empowered through learning about photography and setting up an exhibit, and that was well worth her efforts. Dr. Sethi encourages academics to consider using Photovoice in their community based research projects and sees at as a very useful tool for poverty research in London.

More information on Dr. Bharati Sethi’s work can be seen through the following links:

Do You See What they See?” Expositor interview can be seen here.

Innovative Research Project Gives Immigrant Women a Voice, Brant News Interview can be seen here.

More information on Dr. Bharati Sethi’s March 8 talk can be found here.


Hacker, K. (2013). Community-based participatory research. Sage.