Filmmaking workshops: an arts-based proposal for exploring migrant students’ worlds

Author: Silvia de Riba


Arts-based research with migrant students

In the last decades, several proposals of arts-based research have arisen. This approach refers to the use of the artistic process to conduct research, collect data and enable a knowledge exchange. It can be implemented transdisciplinary and combined with other methods (Barone and Eisner, 2011). In contrast to artistic research, which explores the creative process itself, in arts-based research, arts are triggers for exploring further topics, such as social, cultural, political, educational issues.

Its potential is that the methodological approach “is rich, complex, often unpredictable, and mostly unspeakable, leading researchers to areas of knowledge that have not yet been classified and restricted by words and logic” (Suominen et al, 2017, p.103). It is to say, it goes beyond the limits of language, exploring subjective experiences and reflections and embracing sensorial, affective, and embodied knowledge.

This is especially significant when talking about research with migrant students. Language can be a boundary for them, so this approach can promote inclusiveness (VV.AA, 2017). By fostering participative and relational encounters and enabling a safe space, arts-based methods can be less invasive than other traditional ones: participants have more time to reflect on the topic proposed, they can organize their thoughts and ideas visually and they are invited to be part of slow conversations based on what they are creating (Moskal, 2017). This allows students to engage with the methodological proposal. It also embodies an ethical position. In arts-based approaches, participants are understood beyond research subjects: they are considered research partners. This means that hierarchies between researchers-participants are blurred, promoting a horizontal dialogue that embraces the multiplicity of each person’s experiences. With it, researchers and participants can “problematize those devices that stigmatize and homogenize realities, to build new visions of the relationships, transits, and multiplicities involved in the subjectivities of young migrants” (Riera et al, 2021, p.187). Hence, the research experience can be a learning experience itself, both for participants and researchers:

This approach seems to serve as not only a meaningful educational tool for teaching art concepts but also a practical and meaningful method for building intercultural communication, dialogue, participant self-knowledge, exchange of information, and a direct means toward both personal development and cultivating social relations inside and outside the class context (Viadel & Ramírez, 2008; Viadel & Ramírez 2010, cited in Suominen et al, 2017, p.114)

Thus, arts-based research is a useful approach for exploring migrant students’ worlds in a collaborative way. Through the artistic process, it is possible to visualize their realities and experiences. This proposal also enables conversations and creations that come closer to other dimensions of migrant students’ life. Dimensions that can be harder to explain if only language or numbers are used. With it, and through the use of reflexivity, the knowledge generated is situated in the artistic process and embraces the heterogeneity and creativity of every student (Riera-Retamero et al, 2021).

The potential of filmmaking workshops

Being aware of the potential of this research approach, TEAMS aims to carry out knowledge exchange proposals based on arts-based methods. Specifically, filmmaking workshops. These events have the goal of providing a creative experience for migrant students. It will be implemented in 6 schools from Sweden, Finland and Scotland and the participants will explore ways to narrate visually their daily life in and out of the school, their integration into the community, and feelings of belonging.

A large amount of research claims that filmmaking practices in educational research are useful as they enable students, teachers, and researchers to establish a critical conversation, connecting their day-to-day life with social, cultural and political worlds (Harris, 2014). Since the democratization of the new technologies, at the beginning of the century, researchers and educators have started to explore this methodological strategy. For instance, Buckingham (2002) investigated how filmmaking tools could reflect on migrant children’s experiences. The research produced new knowledge about the ways the students created, exchanged and interpreted video productions. It allowed pedagogical events where different forms of communication were shown at the aesthetic and meaning level, being able to make the children’s experiences expressed.

Following Hernández-Hernández (2005), producing films not only helps to visually reflect the participant’s life experiences but also its relation with social, gendered, raced, class embodiments. It is to say, it helps to promote collective experiences that “challenge, problematize and generate new meaning of experienced sensations” (Just, 2016, p.294). The creative process makes unexpected conversations and new thoughts appear. Images help with it and are a trigger for it, as they can reflect feelings and sensations that cannot be shared easily through other ways. Moreover, this enables a sense of engagement and responsibility of the students, as they can share their experiences and visions of the world with their friends, teachers, family, and the broader community.

Hence, the creations can help researchers, teachers, and school staff to approach the personal visions, embodied and felt experiences, and needs of migrant students, helping to reflect on how to support them. This is precisely one of the main goals of the research project TEAMS, so we think this proposal can bring new opportunities to keep working and thinking about how to improve migrant students’ experiences at school and in their community.



Barone, T., & Eisner, E. W. (2011). Arts based research. Sage.

Buckingham, D. (2002). Children and Media. UNESCO. 

Just, E. (2016). Daring to Dare. Theoretical Experiment for Pedagogical Practices and Body-Brain-Embedded Subject. Creative Education 7(2), 293–301.  DOI: 10.4236/ce.2016.72028

Harris, A. (2014). Ethnocinema: intercultural collaborative video as method. SAGE Publications. DOI:

Hernández-Hernández, F. (2005). ¿De qué hablamos cuando hablamos de cultura visual? EducaÇao & Realidade, 30, 9-34.

Moskal M. (2017) Visual Methods in Research with Migrant and Refugee Children and Young People. In P. Liamputtong (Eds), Handbook of Research Methods in Health Social Sciences (pp. 1-16). Springer.

Riera-Retamero, M., Hernández-Hernández, F., De Riba-Mayoral, S., Lozano-Mulet, P., & Estalayo-Bielsa. (2021). Los métodos artísticos como desencadenantes de subjetividades en tránsito de la infancia migrante: un estudio en escuelas públicas de Barcelona. Antípoda. Revista de Antropología y Arqueología (43),167-192. https://doi. org/10.7440/antipoda43.2021.08

Souminen, A., Kallio-Tavin, M. & Hernández-Hernández, F. (2017). Arts-based research traditions and orientations in Europe: Perspectives from Finland and Spain. In P. Leavy. (Eds). Handbook of Arts-Based Research (pp. 101-120). Guildford Press.

VV.AA. (2017). Investigación (educativa) basada en las artes. Materiales para el Mooc Tendencias emergentes en investigación educativa. La Laguna: Universidad de La Laguna. 


Published 3 June 2021