Spark (Paperback)

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Professor Peyton Wilde has an enviable life teaching sociology at an idyllic liberal arts college--yet she is troubled by a sense of fading inspiration. One day an invitation arrives. Peyton has been selected to attend a luxurious all-expense-paid seminar in Iceland, where participants, billed as some of the greatest thinkers in the world, will be charged with answering one perplexing question. Meeting her diverse teammates--two neuroscientists, a philosopher, a dance teacher, a collage artist, and a farmer--Peyton wonders what she could ever have to contribute. The ensuing journey of discovery will transform the characters' work, their biases, and themselves. This suspenseful novel shows that the answers you seek can be found in the most unlikely places. It can be read for pleasure, is a great choice for book clubs, and can be used as unique and inspiring reading in qualitative research and other courses in education, sociology, social work, psychology, and communication.

About the Author

Patricia Leavy, PhD, is an independent sociologist, novelist, and former Chair of Sociology and Criminology and Founding Director of Gender Studies at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. She is the author, coauthor, or editor of over 35 books, and the creator and editor of 10 book series. Known for her commitment to public scholarship, she is frequently contacted by the U.S. national news media and has blogged for The Huffington Post, The Creativity Post, and We Are the Real Deal. She is also co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of the journal Art/Research International. Dr. Leavy has received numerous awards for her work in the field of research methods, including the Distinguished Service Outside the Profession Award from the National Art Education Association, the New England Sociologist of the Year Award from the New England Sociological Association, the Special Achievement Award from the American Creativity Association, the Egon Guba Memorial Keynote Lecture Award from the American Educational Research Association Qualitative Special Interest Group, and the Special Career Award from the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. In 2016, Mogul, a global women’s empowerment platform, named her an “Influencer.” The School of Fine and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at New Paltz has established the Patricia Leavy Award for Art and Social Justice in her honor. Dr. Leavy delivers invited lectures and keynote addresses at universities and conferences. Her website is

Praise For…

"I just finished reading this breathtaking book in one sitting, pausing only for a much-resented phone call interruption. This is the perfect book for first-year students for so many reasons. It's a story about arriving at a place that you think is awesome but possibly too big for you, judging everyone's outsides against your insides, and finding the power of community, context, and perspective. It's about becoming more aware of how you typically understand (or misunderstand) others--and learning to listen, to tolerate uncertainty, and to try new things (some of which won't work). This is a sensational book that should be everyone's freshman read."--Eve Spangler, PhD, Department of Sociology, Boston College

"Spark shows how we can think differently yet connect through understanding. Reading about a group of people with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints who come together as the story unfolds is captivating in such a polarizing time. Leavy’s characters and their journey show that sometimes the question is more important than the answer. This novel truly has something for everyone."--Corey P., undergraduate, Fairfield University
"This compelling, highly original novel from an internationally renowned sociologist and author brings us to a meeting of people with radically different perspectives and life experiences who are asked to collaboratively answer a question. We eavesdrop on their lively discussions, explore the beauty of Iceland with them, cheer as we see them help each other conquer personal fears, and rejoice as they bond into a caring community. People with very different ideas can learn to learn and care for each other. Kindness matters. We need each other’s ways of knowing. Spark is perfect for any group--class, family, community--where differences need to be respected and commonalities affirmed. If I ran the world, I would make this book required reading."--Laurel Richardson, PhD, author of Seven Minutes from Home; Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Sociology, The Ohio State University
"Leavy’s work has profoundly affected the graduate students in my program. Spark will surely have a deep impact. I can think of no better way to launch discussions about the research process, and to expose students to fiction as a social research practice. I was captivated throughout as I, too, pursued an answer to 'the question.' Spark is brimming with insightful reflections, not only about research, but also about life. I plan to use it in all of my research courses as a required text."--Ricardo D. Rosa, PhD, School of Education, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
“Patricia Leavy’s Spark is, you guessed it, a story that you can’t put down, so plan on staying up until you finish. The novel shares an incredible story of difference, purpose, friendship, and collaboration during a life-changing seminar in Iceland. One of Leavy’s many talents is transporting her readers to a place. She is adept at creating a book that captures both the essence of place and the humanity of the lived experience. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say this: read this book. You’ll think about it for the rest of your life--it’s that good."--Jessie Voigts, PhD, Publisher,

"Award-winning author Patricia Leavy has done it again--written an arts-based research novel that I couldn’t put down! Amid breathtaking Icelandic landscapes, the characters and the challenge they are grappling with come to life. This book should be used in sociology, psychology, communication, and other classrooms, touching on themes including methodology, small groups, diversity, and leadership. Students will love Leavy’s creativity, skill in character development, and ability to take them where they may not have previously journeyed, both geographically and interpersonally. Thought-provoking, intriguing, and clever, Spark left me wanting to live in the world that Leavy has created--a world of beauty and possibility."--Robin Patric Clair, PhD, author of Zombie Seed and the Butterfly Blues; Department of Communication, Purdue University
"This intriguing novel illuminates the blinding force of presumptions--about one’s own capacities, about other people, and, not least, about the 'requirements' of legitimate intellectual inquiry. Perhaps more fundamentally, it is about the possibility of transcending oneself, seeing people for who they truly are, and thinking beyond disciplinary silos. By freeing the creative imagination from its too-tight borders with the help--and even love--of others, this novel suggests, we can fashion new worlds of meaning and value."--Mark Freeman, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Society, College of the Holy Cross
"I have often utilized Leavy’s books in my graduate social work courses. The characters in her novels expand the thought processes of new social workers on topics related to race, sexuality, and privilege. Spark has surpassed expectations. One of the strengths of this novel is how it promotes conversations about intersectionality as it relates to privilege. I am eager to share this remarkable work with my students."--Renita M. Davis, LICSW, Interim Chair, Troy University School of Social Work

"Delightful and thought provoking, Spark is a compelling read, whether in or out of the classroom. The novel follows the meeting of a very diverse group of people, with very different opinions and ideas of the world. It’s through these characters and ideas that Leavy encourages the reader to leave all biases at the door."--Taylor D., undergraduate, Raritan Valley Community College
"Leavy brings all of her creativity, craft, and insight to a novel that not only is an enjoyable read but also truly sparks layers of meaningful conversations. A diverse cast of characters is brought together to dive into answering one question. Through this process, readers are invited to explore the intellectual terrain of their own assumptions and biases. What is significant about Spark is how it so beautifully brings each character--and reader--to comprehend how we all arrive at answers that truly matter. Here is a novel that can accompany any class in research methods; it is exemplary of what it means to be multi- and transdisciplinary while celebrating each approach with deep respect. Be prepared to have your ideas spark and grow!"--Celeste Snowber, PhD, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada
“In this clever and captivating novel, Leavy shows us how a research project is collaboratively developed from the spark of an idea to research purpose to execution. This is more than a textbook--it is the story of how a group of artists and intellectuals with different skills become a cohesive research team. They must learn how to work with their differences and across research paradigms to see new ways of thinking and to trust in the research process. Spark represents the best of arts-based research from a master of fiction-as-research-method. I will be teaching this book in my undergraduate and graduate classes."--Sandra L. Faulkner, PhD, School of Media and Communication, Bowling Green State University

"Leavy, one of the leading voices in arts-based research methods, has penned an engaging novel that illustrates for new scholars the different ways that diverse people come to understand the world--and understand it together. Spark does as its title suggests, kindling readers’ openness to other people, other ideas, other ways of seeing and being. Modern societies need this skill set more than ever. Through archetypal characters you’ll recognize--either in yourself or in people you have met and worked with--and a richly described setting at once alien and familiar, Leavy teaches key research processes that might be used to tackle even seemingly intractable problems. Students will find the novel to be a gentle, entertaining introduction to the research mindset, with vivid characters, dialogue, and scenes that can serve as springboards for deeper, more grounded discussions than those afforded by a traditional textbook. The suggestions for creative writing, classroom use, and research activities provide hours of follow-up opportunities to help turn the novel’s spark into a burning excitement for cooperative research."--Marcus B. Weaver-Hightower, PhD, Professor of Educational Foundations and Research, University of North Dakota
"A thoroughly enjoyable and thoughtful read! Seven brilliant thinkers from diverse disciplines and countries have just five days to answer a deceptively simple question. This beautifully written novel, set in Iceland’s magical landscape, draws readers into a puzzle the group must solve, while simultaneously exploring characters’ personal struggles. The gradual peeling back of layers, intriguing premise, realistic dialogue, and abundant food for thought make Spark not only a page turner, but also an intellectual treasure that will stick with me."--Christine Sleeter, PhD, author of The Inheritance; Professor Emerita, College of Professional Studies, California State University, Monterey Bay

"Spark by Patricia Leavy is a buoyant social research novel about collaboration and creativity….Spark is an innovative work of social fiction that offers attentive and relatable insights into the motivations for and challenges of designing and doing research. This novel opens up the complexities of undertaking mixed method, participatory, and interdisciplinary research through key characters’ motivations, expertise, and points of view. Spark will help teachers to engage and challenge their students in the classroom to actively consider the nuances of epistemological tensions and paradigm debates. For those interested in engaging fiction in their research, through writing or literary analysis, Spark is an excellent example of how to bring social research and fiction together in a creative, lively, and poetic way. Leavy skillfully exercises literary devices, most notably characterization and the use of recurrent motifs, to progress what social fiction can achieve as its own developed form of sociological analysis. Spark contributes to the development of social fiction and fiction-based inquiry as more than a novel tool for illustrating the results of ‘real’ research.”
— The Qualitative Report

"[A book] that will actually be read, that will be learned from, that will change minds, that will make a difference. Leavy’s writing and advocacy has completely changed the publishing landscape for those who do this work. Spark presents academic ideas at their most accessible: a book that anyone who has a propensity for thinking might enjoy, while drawing attention to some of the crucial issues of our time, for academia and for the world.”
— Art/Research International

"For those interested in the role of fiction in social science, or who undertake and teach interdisciplinary and mixed methods research, this novel will be a valuable addition….Leavy’s pioneering engagement with arts-based research means her creative skills are well developed in scholarly and artistic terms. Her extensive methodological work, as well as her broader feminist sociological scholarship, provides a rich foundation for the narrative….Spark offers important insights into the challenges and possibilities of collaborative, participatory, interdisciplinary, and mixed-methods projects. The emphasis in the final chapters and the accompanying prompts for further engagement make this text highly usable for teaching undergraduate students, particularly in social research methods courses.”
— Cultural Sociology

Product Details
ISBN: 9781462538157
ISBN-10: 1462538150
Publisher: The Guilford Press
Publication Date: March 1st, 2019
Pages: 154
Language: English