Bricolage: random chaos, a live link and a 3Dimensional jigsaw puzzle

“Creative research methods can help to answer complex contemporary questions, which are hard to answer using traditional methods alone. Creative methods can also be more ethical, helping researchers to address social injustice.”  (Helen Kara)


my notebook, one of many

A 3D Jigsaw

I spent the last few days reading up on bricolage. I have investigated this area before but it just seems to have more purpose now. It had me hooked pretty much for hours. Some months ago my main supervisor sent me off to investigate and see if I could make a case for using it in my research. Today I think I’ve found it.

Before I continue I must relay that I am NOT an expert and I understand that to become a true bricoleur is a lifetime endeavour. I do not presume to know it all but am willing to begin the journey.


my 3D bricolage

For me, bricolage is like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, where some pieces fit snuggly while others leave a space and others still seem not to be from the same puzzle at all.  This special puzzle can be assembled in multiple ways; some pieces may be placed on top of one another, adding another perspective to the image. It remains an active task just like we leave the puzzle on a coffee table or a board that can be easily taken from room to room as we slowly put the puzzle together over time. Similarly, bricolage takes on not one but many different shapes (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000). It is a creative combination of theoretical narratives made up of diverse media, genres, forms and styles (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002). Bricolage allows for multiple layers of interpretation, is not monological knowledge but more an eclectic process that highlights the relationship between the researcher’s way of seeing and the social location of personal history (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000).

My eclectic bricolage

Reminds me a little of my favourite coffee shop, decked out with different tables and chairs,  a diversity of light fittings hanging down over the room, lamp here and there to add a lovely warm glow, interestingly framed little snippets on the stressed pale blue/green wall reminiscent of the life and times from the owner family, a mix of second hand crockery and mismatched cups and saucers. The water bottles once filled with other liquid, or decanters that have since been separated from their fancy stoppers.

Bricolage – a research design that takes on not one but many shapes. This is what I plan …

Random chaos

For most of my teaching career I have had others desribe my classrooms as ‘ordered chaos’. They are loud, moving, engaging, fun and happy environments. I’m not lying. Today I decided that ‘random chaos’ is pretty cool too. I’ve decided that I want to tell a different story.

I had three questions to ponder:

1. HOW will bricolage work for me?

2. WHAT will my research look like if I use bricolage?

3. WHY it can bring its research perspectives to my work?

Bricolage could be a way of researching human acivities, relationships and cultures (Berry, 2006) and has lots of potential for post modern research that requires new methods, new questions, new tools, new processes and new ways of reporting. It allows one to move away from the linear, step-by-step methods usually employed in research. In a way it really reflects how I think and feel about research and my methods, or rather how I have been thinking but never really shared it, as self-doubt trickles in constantly and I often wonder if I’m on the right track at all.

I’m very passionate about my research -about what I want to do and for a little while I nearly gave it up altogether but then like I said, I’m passionate about it and I never give up -not without a fight anyhow. Kincheloe (2004), recognised the power of bricolage and set off to teach a summer course in 2002 on the bricolage and research. How I would’ve loved to have been a student in that course! Introduced as a new form of rigour in research, it was “offered as a practical way to construct a critical science of complexity” (p. X).

I really relate to the idea that bricolage gives the researcher an opportunity to ‘become’ a part of the phenomena they are studying. As a 30 year veteran in teaching and a lifetime of learning it would be impossible to sit on the peripheries of anything educational, especially that to do with teaching and learning students and more particularly, the professional learning of staff. I am, in Kincheloe’s (2004), words, “embedded in the world” (p. xi). I hold strong beliefs about education, about learning and about teaching and I am always striving for what it could be rather than what is should be (Berry 2004). Needless to say I get into a lot of trouble for it.


expect the unexpected

Bricolage will work for my research as I am constantly re-working and adding or taking away ideas dependent on the situation. I spend copious amounts of time listening and thinking and learning my students before applying teaching strategies to suit, and am always ready and willing to take risks. Nothing is really how it seems and sometimes we never really know but are willing to try to review and reflect to add richness and depth to what we do. Bricolage is how I think.

So why use bricolage in my own research? It will allow me to embed myself within the task. I can reflect on my own experience while allowed the privilege to listen and make sense of others’ experience. It will allow me to employ several theories and use a variety of methods to collect and analyse the data. I won’t have to be stringent in keeping to a set path but instead can swerve and turn and loop around in order to make sense of my participants’ experiences.

It will bring to my research a more complex and rigorous platform that will allow a defence of what I know and how I know it but also allow my participants through a participatory action research methodology to do the same. I don’t want to be limited in what I can and can’t do.I want to disturb the staus quo and I want my participants to employ enough courage to do the same. We shall begin from what we know and where we are and together seek new knowledge and insights to drive our passion to amass not only new knowledge but one that transforms and sustains change. This is action research.

A live link

Bricolage allows the bricoleur to justify, to defend what I know and how I know it. It allows me to break the phenomenon into the now, the before and the after and it will allow me to loop around and position myself within the action research. I don’t want to stand back and watch; I want to be in it. I want to be like a live link such as that we put into a blog or a tweet, and that when clicked takes us somewhere else. These links take us away from the linear to seek multiple perspectives. In action research different methods only give light to a particular aspect and none divulge the whole picture, therefore we must look at different perspectives as each illuminates the other. This is bricolage. For me it’s like a teaching moment, let it go and you lose the attention of your students. Using bricolage will allow me to sieze that moment and to collect from different parts, to live with anticipation, to be creative and to be unique – there is no blueprint for that.

Problemitise everything I was told.

Berry (2015), explains problematising to be important to social action research and therefore important to bricolage. To problematise is not to fix but to transform into many different ways and on many different levels, situations and times that are encountered in our everyday lives. Problemitising is done to re-think and re-see not necessarily solve and this adds to the rigour of bricolage as it allows the researcher or bricoleur to decide when and which particular tools to use.

So here we go…I’m going to write myself in…stay tuned.

Thanks for reading 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Bricolage: random chaos, a live link and a 3Dimensional jigsaw puzzle

  1. Hi Jo,
    Bricolage is not a term I am familiar with, although there seems to be quite a few of your comments that I can relate to strongly. I too had a classroom that was full of busy noise and often described as ‘organised chaos’, where everyone knew where they were heading but prepared to alter paths to get there. With my early childhood classes I was always ready to adapt to their needs to ensure the attainment of goals.
    I like how you are placing yourself within, Hannabuss, (2000, p. 404) had a great quote that I use to describe my role in my research, as I’m – ‘like Jonah in the whale, acknowledging the problems of objectivity and independence’.

    Foucault makes mention of the benefit of being from within when it comes to researching areas of political complexity. Manovitch (2013) also discusses the advantage of those who are within as they are in a position to ask the questions that others may not, as they are more aware and have an understanding of information and data.

    Looking forward to following your journey


    • Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for taking the time and for the references. Foucault & Manovitch I had but Hannabuss is very relevant -will follow up. I love the Jonah in the whale image!
      Go PhD Owls! 🙂

  2. I like the idea of bricolage. A friend of mine used it in her Phd research. As I, too, am used a mixed methodology, I will look into as a way of organising my research.

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