Lydia Wysocki

Research Associate, Education, Communication and Language Sciences

Please describe your current research interests/projects. 

I'm interested in sociocultural theory of learning, specifically the role of cultural products in people’s construction of understanding. How do the things we read help us make sense of the social world?  

My work focuses on comics as a medium of words and pictures in sequence. How does the sequence in panels of comics, for example, affect how people process information? also use comics as a method in a variety of ways, for example in interviewing, as questionnaires, as an exploratory participatory process or workshop, and as dissemination of research. There are not many people doing such work and it’s often solely as a dissemination tool, whereas my work uses comics as a method at multiple stages right the way through research processes. 

In my PhD work I focus primarily on race and class in comics. This includes ways to identify harmful stereotypes and examine the nuance in the way people consume, learn and read these themes within comics – and exploring the connections between what people read, and how they understand the world. There are so many forms that comics can take! For example, editorial cartoons, humour comics, news reportage, patient information, short strips, and longer books etc. 

Why did you choose this field? 

I have always been interested in drawing and creating things. educational research Having previously worked as a TEFL teacher in the UK and in China, that helped me appreciate the value and breadth in using images and visual tools alongside words to enable and elicit teaching. And that led to an interest in the broader field of education. 

Can you tell me how you got into research? 

I moved back to the UK to do a MEd in (Master’s in Education), and it is here that I began to align research with my interest in visual arts and comics 

What are the main methods you use, how and why? 

I have been interested in learning how different readers read the same comics. In projects that evaluate a specific research dissemination comic, I have used comics as questionnaires and then coded quantitative and qualitative data. I also develop creative arts workshops, as it is really important to have space for participants to have a go at making and interpreting their own comics. 

My main method at the moment is Critical Discourse Analysis as part of an audience studies approach to working with readers. So, for example, I did an interim stage of content analysis of comics, looking at how many times a character speaks and how many times those characters appear in a comic, to help navigate large samples of texts. I then interviewed readers of comics to explore their interpretations of the comics, which gave me quite targeted interview transcripts to use in CDA. Because the focus of my work is race and class, I’ve found a pedagogy of discomfort approach useful. 

Which methods excite you and would you like to further explore? 

That’s a tricky question. On the one hand I can see potential in new digital tech such as AI or machine learning. This could be used for counting elements within comicswhich takes days weeks and months to do manually in large samples! But there are huge ethical issues still to be addressed in AI, for example, facial recognition in particular is being used in such a repressive way here is real racial bias built into that software already and the risk is providing a dataset that further trains it in that direction. 

There are different directions where I think there’s potential for digital tech in comics, though. A lot of people now use digital creation and web comics, though I tend to stick to traditional physical printmaking, pen and paper. So, for me, I think it’d be about exploring digital tools as part of collaboration in making comics, rather than in the analysis of data.  

Who inspires you methodologically? 

Prof. Melanie Nind, co-director of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods, whom I met at an NCRM Annual Conference. Melanie is incredibly precise about the uses of research methods especially in participative projects I think precision when thinking about/using methods is really important, even where projects are about having a first try at creative methods those underlying questions need to be addressed. There’s also Dr Pen Mendonça at the University of Arts London who does graphic facilitation. Returning the data to participants is a key part of her work in comic studies as values-led cartooning, and I like how she states those ethical issues at the forefront of her work. 

What, about methods, did you wish your younger self had known? 

That there is so much to be uncovered! There is value in detail and richness and that you should always try to go further and dig deeper. I would also say not to toss out old methods just because they’re old or traditional, as there’s still much to be learned. Thinking about which methods are useful at which stages is incredibly useful too. 

Have you had any memorable methodological blunders? 

The other day I thought I had lost a 2-hour video of data for an interview! I was catastrophising and sat down and tried to write down everything I could remember from it! After reaching out to my supervisors for reassurance I eventually re-checked the files and there it was, saved with a weird file name in a subfolder of a memory card 

Which upcoming ECR or PgR should we look out for? 

Chris Bailey at Sheffield Hallam. He has used Minecraft and comics as transcription techniques – it's so interesting, and his PhD was an ethnography of a Minecraft club with primary school children. He looks at the interactions within that digital world of the game, but also in the classroom as they're playing this game – that idea of spanning the in-person and digital interactions is really timely. 

If you could recommend students read just one text on methods (book or journal article), what would it be? 

An article by Nancy Larrick from 1964 which was published in a Sunday newspaperIt examines representations of Black characters in children’s literature: her headline finding is about pointing out underrepresentation, then she goes on to highlight issues of uncertainty around of representations of difference, which for me really speaks to the importance of finding out how readers read texts. It’s interesting to read a librarian’s take on this, not an academic researcher - I think Larrick really opened up an interesting place for where methods could go in exploring visual representation and how you make sense of an image. The field hasn't moved on that far in relation to these issues of complexity, there is much more critical work need to be done. 

Related Resources 

Comics as a method throughout an empirical research process