Harvard Educational Review
  1. The Art and Science of Portraiture

    By Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot and Jessica Hoffmann Davis

    San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997. 294 pp. $29.95

    In The Art and Science of Portraiture, sociologist and portraiture pioneer Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot and cognitive developmental psychologist Jessica Hoffmann Davis map out the history, purposes, and dimensions of the qualitative research methodology known as portraiture. Portraiture shares some features with other qualitative research methods, and the book places portraiture within this larger field of inquiry. However, it does not take long to realize that there is a dimension to portraiture that separates it from traditional ethnographic research. The authors have managed to capture the artistic and deeply personal aspects of portraiture that make it a unique form of social science inquiry.

    The structure of the book exemplifies these unique aspects of portraiture. A casual glance at the table of contents reveals what one might expect from a standard book on research methodology: “Chapter One: A View of the Whole: Origins and Purposes . . . Chapter Two: Perspective Taking: Discovery and Development . . . Chapter Three: On Context . . .” etc. The topics taken up in these chapters are central to the development of good qualitative research and therefore necessary for any book that is methodological in intent. However, a closer examination of each chapter reveals a text that is as discerning, original, and informative as the portraits for which Lawrence-Lightfoot has become famous. Each chapter is divided into three sections: “Illumination,” “Implementation,” and “Artistic Refrain.” In the “Illumination” section of each chapter, Lawrence-Lightfoot delineates the unique manner in which the concept under discussion is explored in portraiture, comparing it to the ways it is used in other research realms. In the “Implementation” section, Davis describes practical structures for engaging in the process of collecting and interpreting data, and creating the product, the portrait. Finally, the “Artistic Refrain” of each chapter, written by Davis and illustrated with the drawings of children and professional artists, is just what the title implies — a moment to reflect artistically upon the discussion contained in the chapter.

    The Art and Science of Portraiture
    is an immensely important resource for the researcher interested in portraiture specifically and qualitative methodology more generally. While it is filled with practical information on strategies and techniques, as well as the history and origins of portraiture, it also holds a unique place among books on methodology in that it is actually a pleasure to read.

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