2014-09-26 / People

Sociologist selected for national award

By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


Patricia Leavy was presented with the American Creativity Association Achievement Award in Philadelphia earlier this month. Leavy, a resident of Kennebunk, was the first sociologist to receive the honor and was recognized for her artsbased research. 
(Courtesy photo) Patricia Leavy was presented with the American Creativity Association Achievement Award in Philadelphia earlier this month. Leavy, a resident of Kennebunk, was the first sociologist to receive the honor and was recognized for her artsbased research. (Courtesy photo) KENNEBUNK — A local author and sociologist was honored earlier this month as a recipient of the 2014 American Creativity Association Achievement Award.

Dr. Patricia Leavy studied at Boston College, where she earned her PhD in 2002. She has since served as a tenured associate professor of sociology at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, where she was the founding director of the gender studies program and chairman of the Sociology and Criminology department. She also taught at Northeastern University and Curry College.

Historically, the award has been given to recipients across all fields of creative study from education to medicine, and to notable individuals and organizations, including John Glenn and Pixar Animation Studios. Leavy is the first sociologist to receive the award.

“I was deeply honored and humbled to accept the award as a representative from my home discipline,” Leavy said. “I think that, historically, sociology has been undervalued as compared with the natural sciences. Sociology has wonderful tools for helping us understand society and our own human experiences. I am thrilled to help shine the spotlight on the work of those in my field and I am grateful to the ACA awards committee for giving this recognition to sociology and artsbased researchers.”

Leavy’s arts-based research, which helped her earn the high honor, combines scholarly research with creative arts to increase public accessibility.

“So, a health care researcher, psychologist or education researcher may use an art form to communicate their research findings. For example, one might use visual art with sociological research and present their research as a series of paintings, photographs, collages or another kind of art,” Leavy said.

Another example used by Leavy includes turning convoluted healthcare research into a theatrical play that is performed for a community.

“This has been done on many topics. For instance, there are researchbased plays about medical ethics issues like genetic testing and about living with certain illnesses, such as schizophrenia,” Leavy said.

Leavy is spearheading the integration of arts-based research as the founding editor of “Social Fictions,” a book series dedicated to publishing books rooted in scholarly research about social or scientific issues, but written in a variety of literary forms.

“It all began because after nearly a decade of interviewing women about their relationships and other aspects of their lives, I felt like my work wasn’t reaching actual women because academic journal articles are out of reach,” Leavy said. “So I wrote a novel called ‘Low-Fat Love’ that was loosely based on that research. I wanted to publish the novel as research with an academic press, but no one published that kind of work. So, I came up with the idea for the Social Fictions series.”

Leavy’s second novel in the book series, “American Circumstance,” was published in 2013 and “explores appearance versus reality in people’s lives and the things we say and don’t say to each other,” Leavy said.

Leavy has also written several books detailing this method, including “Fiction as a Research Practice: Short Stories, Novellas and Novels,” published in 2013 and “Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice” in 2009.

She regularly contributes to “The Huffington Post” and “The Creativity Post.”

Arts-based research is quickly growing as a tool to help bridge the gap between academic or scientific convolution, Leavy said, adding, “It’s important that people have access to information and ideas that may impact them, so it has to be understandable and engaging.”

“Another related reason that people do this work is because it has the potential to make a bigger impact on people,” she said. “For instance, we know that music engages the entire brain. Fiction, as compared to other kinds of writing, engages more parts of the brain, including those that are involved with the senses. So when you read a good novel and feel immersed in the story, there is a real physiological thing happening.

“When you think about all of the ways that the arts can reach people and make a deep impression, you realize that the potential to use art to share knowledge is huge.”

Currently, Leavy is in the midst of working on new research methods in hopes of releasing a new book and expanding the anniversary edition of “Low-Fat Love,” which will be released in the spring.

“I hope I will continue to push the bounds of how we conduct research and how we teach research practices to the next generation,” she said.

For more information about Leavy, visit www.patricialeavy.com. To order a book and to receive a 25 percent discount, visit www.sensepublishers.com.

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