Critical Portraiture: Research That Challenges the Status Quo


Critical portraiture is a qualitative research method focused on representing the lives of the participants within the contexts in which they live. Portraiture is well established in qualitative research; making portraiture critical involves increased sensitivity and responsiveness to issues of power, position, race, gender, class, socioeconomic status, age, religion, culture, sexual orientation, and other critical issues that may be difficult to identify because of the regularity and constancy with which participants (and researchers) live with them. Critical portraiture grows out of critical literacy (Freire) and demands the inclusion of the research participants in forming the research questions, collecting data, interpreting and analyzing data, and identifying themes and theoretical implications of the work. Participants’ struggles are honored and addressed as part of the work. In the study described here, critical portraits led to two overarching ideas. First, official portraits carry with them the weight of the oppressor and those in power; second unofficial counterportraits are composed with research participants and include descriptions and discussions of data they collect, conclusions they reach, and actions that they take as a result of their participation in the research. Although the study is focused on the work of fifth and sixth graders at an economically poor school and the literacy activities in which those students engaged, critical portraiture is widely applicable in many different settings. Composing the actual portrait may fall to the individual researcher or be a collective effort; either way, participants’ voices are present throughout the work.

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