It’s easy to undervalue the role of intuition in research processes. Perhaps though in practice-as-research it is more common for people to work with their intuitive thoughts and actions in ways that are difficult to substantiate or justify. After all, it’s a creative process right?

Here’s Tim Ingold on intuition as a form of knowledge:

In his recent study of reindeer herders and hunters of the Taimyr region of northern Siberia, David Anderson (2000: 116–17) writes that in their relations with animals and other components of the environment, these people operate with a sentient ecology. This notion perfectly captures the kind of knowledge people have of their environments that I have been trying to convey. It is knowledge not of a formal, authorised kind, transmissible in contexts outside those of its practical application. On the contrary, it is based in feeling, consisting in the skills, sensitivities and orientations that have developed through long experience of conducting one’s life in a particular environment. This is the kind of knowledge that Janáček claimed to draw from attending to the melodic inflections of speech; hunters draw it from similarly close attention to the movements, sounds and gestures of animals.

Another word for this kind of sensitivity and responsiveness is intuition. In the tradition of Western thought and science, intuition has had a pretty bad press: compared with the products of the rational intellect, it has been widely regarded as knowledge of an inferior kind. Yet it is knowledge we all have; indeed we use it all the time as we go about our everyday tasks (Dreyfus and Dreyfus 1986: 29). What is more, it constitutes a necessary foundation for any system of science or ethics.

Intuitive understanding, in short, is not contrary to science or ethics, nor does it appeal to instinct rather than reason, or to supposedly ‘hardwired’ imperatives of human nature. On the contrary, it rests in perceptual skills that emerge, for each and every being, through a process of development in a historically specific environment.

– Tim Ingold, 2000. The Perception of the Environment. London: Routledge, p.25

It falls on us as practice-researchers to keep searching for ways to be critical of one’s own thinking and practices (including the intuitive aspects), and to adopt some kind of balance between doubt and intuition.


3 Replies to “intuition”

  1. The very fact of needing to document and in some sense account for many stages of the research process can potentially inhibit intuitive approaches, though. I do not believe this is necessary, but have encountered this, certainly in musical contexts where practically every note composed or expressive nuance performed needs to have a footnote.

    This may be a problem when dealing with those who have difficulty viewing the practice itself as research, rather than documentation of that practice?


    1. Thanks Ian. Yes, I would imagine there are instances where an *obsession* with documentation might indeed get in the way of intuitive processes. How to strike a balance between allowing processes to happen, recognising moments when it might be worth noting or documenting something, and ensuring readers/audiences have different kinds of access to these moments/instances is a demanding scenario.


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