giving up on par

In 2013 I wrote and presented a paper at Roehampton Dance called “Giving up on practice-as-research”. I thought some of the ideas might be interesting, provocative or even just plain useful. A lot of the latter part of the paper (which is where it gets a little more interesting) came out of reading Issue 14 of TEXT.

Here’s an exercept:

One of the key questions in traditional practice-as-research is what it is that is known as a consequence of doing it. But what if this is the wrong problem? In other words, if artistic research is stripped of the assumption that we ought to be addressing questions, then perhaps we are freed from the container of knowledge-building and can get back to the work of doing what it is that artists do.


“If a concept can be captured clearly in academic writing as a question, what would be the point of making art with it?” – Lachlan MacDowall [1]


What if, in the context of artists developing and making work within the academy, we were to abandon (research) questions altogether as a flawed idea and inappropriate practice?


I find this hard to fathom or imagine. I’ve long used processes of questioning as a means not only to bolster my standing, but also as a means of delaying taking a stance on understanding. How could research be research if it didn’t involve research questions? What kinds of outcomes might be developed if they are not the result of some kind of questioning?


Writing about the art of the exegesis, Danny Butt, describes what he calls the worst situation of all as:


“interesting practices (de)formed into ‘research questions’ that the works are then supposed to answer. Duchamp did his best to dissuade such thinking, believing that ‘there is no solution, because there is no problem.’ Now the need to find problems to satisfy a demand for academic rigour seems to be the problem.” – Danny Butt[2]

Here’s a link to the entire paper: Giving Up on PaR

  1. MacDowall, Lachlan. 2012. “Art and Knowledge Systems: Teaching Research Methods.” Text. October.  ↩
  2. Butt, Danny. 2012. “The Art of the Exegesis.” Mute. April 10.  ↩

5 Replies to “giving up on par”

  1. I really love this post and in some kinda phd meta narrative …I really wish the question could be expressed differently, sometimes I feel that ‘inquiry’ softens that kind of black and white, question answer….binary completions….if I start to develop an inquiry ….could I be practicing research I don’t know I am researching …in my practice for sure I think this is the case..I speak from a place where structure is not prelim but evolves out of forming the work..I think that this is the hardest thing in an academy that is haunted by academic process that is structured to meet trad outcomes ie. intro, lit review, methodology, discussion/ analysis/ argument conclusion with deadlines that adhere to this. In fact that has been my biggest phd battle that the inquiry is continually evolving. It has been my fight ‘where will you go from here?’ I will go there …but then this arrives….I find myself back here again……but someone advises me this is less of a concern….so I skirt around ….or I make like it didn’t happen….then I find it again and then someone advises you need to answer this and I know the answer is not one….but a further dig at why it should be a question at all…..

    ‘Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.’

    ‘Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’

    Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a young poet…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’ve heard stories of that ‘run around’ you describe. I suspect this is often about insecurity on the part of supervisors in relation to regulations and status. Not that this makes it any easier to experience. However, for a start, there are plenty of examples of practice-as-research that don’t follow the IMRAD format you describe, and others that go way beyond that structure. For my part I think it’s entirely feasible to follow IMRAD in a practice-as-research project while still picking at the seams of the epistemological and ontological assumptions inherent in that structure. It is, after all, only a structure; a guide for support (!).

      Questions and answers assume a particular way of acknowledging how human beings understand the world. We are limited by our capacity to imagine questions, and even more so by our capacity to conceive of how to respond to such questions. I tend to think of it more broadly:

      – this the terrain of my work
      – these are the aims of the project
      – this is what I understand to be different (or to have changed) as a consequence of the research
      – this is why that matters

      I like the Rilke a lot.


  2. Just a postscript to this…. Not having an answer to defend with or put more precisely when defending a position of no answer with enough rigour to sink a battle ship….you put yourself at most risk….I am not sure it’s one you can make a case for in academia…


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