situated position and questions, answers and methods

A central theme of Biggs and Büchler’s article Eight Criteria for Practice-Based Research in the Creative and Cultural Industries is that practice-research ought to adopt what they call a Situated Position. That is, there should be equal conditions for all types of research, and they are interested in these commonalities. They describe the opposing position — that practice-research should be “granted special criteria and regulations”(p.6) — as the Isolationist Position.

Their Situated Position becomes clear in their discussion of the third of four criteria for academic research: method.

In this diagram Biggs and Büchler reveal the inter-relational nature of questions, methods and responses (or answers):

if one is interested in this particular question, then a particular route would be appropriate in order to find out something or develop the interpretation of this issue and precipitate a meaningful outcome.

– Biggs and Buchler, p.10

In other words, there is an iterative or cyclical nature between questions, method and answers. Certain conditions and types for each afford certain possibilities in a research project.

Their Situated Position is represented by the placement of knowledge in the diagram, and how it traverses both specialised (small rectangle) and general (large rectangle) academic audiences. In other words, the conditions for research in practice-research ought also to be recognisable to researchers working in other (non-artistic research) fields.


Biggs, Michael, and Daniela Büchler. 2008. “Eight Criteria for Practice-Based Research in the Creative and Cultural Industries.” Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education 7 (1): 5–18.

orientation to a future

There is a particular future-orientated character to all ambitious research, which has the form of an anticipation: an anticipation that that which is not known may yet become known; that the as yet un-thought may become thought; and that new modes and styles of sense, perception, expression and subject construction might yet emerge and re-shape our worlds. Whether at the level of the first tentative framing of a research proposal or at the level of planning institutional and sectoral research agendas, activities rooted in enquiry necessarily require that we act in the present through an orientation towards near and not-so-near futures. Of course, the temporalities of research have many more folds, nuances and displacements than this simple orientation to a future. However, a speculative future horizon characterises research activity and operates either implicitly or explicitly.

— Mick Wilson and Schelte van Ruiten
Wilson, M., van Ruiten, S. (Eds.), 2013. SHARE: Handbook for Artistic Research Education. ELIA, Amsterdam, p.265

dissemination, accumulation and originality

In Biggs and Büchler’s Eight Criteria for Practice-Based Research in the Creative and Cultural Industries they adopt a single axiom in their approach: that research is cumulative. They suggest this axiom is a “fundamental assumption that cannot be explained and for which our system cannot give any justification”.[p.8]

If research is cumulative, then what is done simply for the personal advancement of the individual is not research.[p.8]

Biggs and Büchler’s criteria mean that in order for research to be part of a process of accumulation it must be disseminated. They suggest that when work is disseminated it “demonstrates, through the possibility of comparison, whether the work is original or not.”[p.16]

In my experience the role of dissemination in PaR has come to signify an end point; that, once shared, the work’s role in the community of research grinds to a halt. But if research is cumulative — and I agree strongly with Biggs and Büchler that it is — then what is profoundly lacking in practice-research are the conversations that happen between different artistic-research projects after they are disseminated. These are conversations of comparison, of disagreement, of possibility …

reference: Biggs, Michael, and Daniela Büchler. 2008. “Eight Criteria for Practice-Based Research in the Creative and Cultural Industries.” Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education 7 (1): 5–18.

a case for writing?

In Chapter 8 of Strange Tools (called See Me if You Can!) Alva Noë takes on the idea that art should or can not be explained; that if you do so (or attempt to do so) somehow that art work is reduced or spoiled, or its spell is broken. He uses jokes as an anology for the problem (something he does a lot in the book) — that there is a distinction between getting a joke, and a conversation about that joke:

The question Why is this funny? is always appropriate, even if it can be difficult to answer adequately. And even if comprehending such an explanation is no substitute for the spontaneous achievement of the understanding in which getting a joke consists. The point is, the explaining, the talking, the laying out of the logic of the joke is not in direct competition with getting it and laughing. You don’t make someone laugh through explanation. And so, for these reasons, you can’t ruin a joke by talking about it.

— Alva Noë, Strange Tools (Chapter 8, See Me If You Can!, n.p.)

Perhaps this analogy also holds for the role of writing in practice-research? That the words are not able to do any of the work of the art practice itself, but rather are there to draw it into conversation, to build and communicate discursive understandings.

I wonder if this might account for how practice-research can exist both as ‘artwork + writing’ and ‘artwork alone’. That there are two epistemological actions or premises in play (but that they are distinct). What I suspect is key with the ‘artwork + writing’ version is that it is much more able to directly engage in conversations in the research community

reference: Noë, A., 2015. Strange Tools, Art and Human Nature. Hill and Wang, New York.

information, reflection and insight

Guy Armstrong’s book — Emptiness: a practical guide for meditators — is a look at understanding conceptually and practically the idea of emptiness in Buddhist thinking and philosophy.

In his introduction to the book, Armstrong describes the Buddha’s Dharma (“truth” or “the way things are”) and how there are three paths or avenues to learning the Dharma. He writes that each of the avenues “have differing degrees of power in their ability to transform us”.

The three avenues are: understanding from hearing, understanding from reflection and understanding from meditative insight.

It struck me — as I was reading Emptiness — that a version of these avenues might also be a way to understand the core methods of new insight through practice-research:

– Understanding from information (reading, listening, watching, etc)
– Understanding from reflection
– Understanding from artistic practice (that is, insight from doing)

I suspect also that each of these avenues similarly have differing degrees of power in their ability to help us develop new understandings (or, if I push the analogy a bit further, to be epistemically transformed).

reference: Armstrong, G., 2017. Emptiness: a practical guide for meditators. Wisdom, Somerville, MA.

know how and responsiveness

The entry for knowledge how in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is by Jeremy Fantl. He describes the Greek concepts of epistêmê (knowledge) and technê (craft or art). These terms, more or less, map onto the difference between knowledge-that and knowledge-how.

Fantl’s overview of know-how is detailed. For the purposes of this post I’ll mention one thing that caught my eye:

For Ryle, then, to know how to do something is to be disposed to behave in certain ways, and it’s going to be very hard to specify in advance what those ways are. It will depend on the situation and on what the goals of the knower are.

— Jeremy Fantl

I’m drawn to the fluidity here of know-how because it creates some tension for me in how I’ve previously described know-how as something we all share before research even happens.

Perhaps though my thought would be that in such responsive circumstances in practice-research the important thing would be to somehow capture or communicate that responsiveness or adaptation. In other words, if the sense of one’s know-how has changed, then the nature of this change is critical.


Fantl, J., 2012. Knowledge How [WWW Document]. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. URL (accessed 23 January 2017).