If research = “thinking, reading, writing”, then practice-as-research = thinking, reading, writing, making.
- Berg, Maggie, and Barbara Karolina Seeber. 2016. The Slow Professor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p.64 ↩
Collini reminds us that scholarship is “a human activity, and so is inseparable from the people who do it … the possibilities of extending our understanding depend not just on what we already understand, but also on what sorts of people we have become” (English Pasts 237). Scholarly “findings” depend on who is searching; and the searcher in turn is constituted by what she finds.
– Maggie Berg and Barbara Karolina Seeber. 2016. The Slow Professor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p.59
There’s no surer sign of a field with an inferiority complex than having a bunch of different names for processes and approaches that essentially describe the same thing.
In 2004 Sarah Rubidge tried to clarify the differences between the terms practice-led and practice-based, and recently a PhD student I am working with – Carol Breen – showed me some writing by Linda Candy in which Candy describes essentially the same processes but with the names switched.
Last month Caitlin Shepherd (a PhD candidate at the University of West England) wrote a thoughtful and detailed blog post about practice-as-research.
In it, Shepherd writes:
There are nuanced distinctions between the terms Practice led Research, Practice on the Arts and Practice as Research. It is important to tease out the different meanings, as it helps us better understand the difference between terms, and exercise a more critical examination into practice based research.
I’m not sure I agree with Shepherd’s concerns about the terms.
My worry is that the distinctions are often more about researchers staking claims than they are about the messy, flawed, complex, uncertain, and nuanced experiences of artist-researchers working in the Academy (at all levels, whether students or faculty). These are experiences that are all versions – or iterations – of principles of practice-as-research, rather than experiences that can easily be aligned to terms that are described in oppositional (and colliding) ways.
Furthermore, the differences between the terms are often based on geographic differences more than nuanced differences in approaches. For example, the difference between practice-led research and practice-as-research has more to do with the former happening in Australasia and the latter in the UK then any distinction between the methods (whereas Artistic Research happens in continental Europe). That is, geographical differences > methodological differences.
Is there a way we can just drop the anxiety about what to call it so that we can just get on with developing approaches based on principles that are appropriate to our research concerns? My sense is that the far more important concern is how we might recognise which practice-as-research trajectories or strategies are most appropriate. This is a problem that has to do with the nature of our practices, their histories and contexts, and their potential epistemological value.
Joanne Scott has had a book published called Intermedial Praxis and Practice as Research: ‘Doing-Thinking’ in Practice, which seems to be based on her practice-as-research doctoral research at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. There is also a companion website at intermedialpraxisandpar.wordpress.com.
I still worry about how few examples of practice-as-research there are for current MA-level and PhD students so I’m delighted that Joanne has taken the time and care to make this happen.
The blurb on the publishing site says “Provides first hand observations of theory in action”. Is this what practice-as-research attempts to do?
Joanne’s personal site is at joanneemmascott.com
To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.
– George Orwell, Collected Essays, Vol. IV. In front of Your Nose
In his blog post The Unbearable Whiteness of Mesearch Victor Ray describes the situation where the work of scholars of colour is dismissed as being “me studies” or “mesearch”. He then says:
White scholars do mesearch all the time. In many disciplines, that is simply called the canon. Claiming that mesearch is a particular issue for scholars of color demonstrates a profound lack of self-awareness on the part of researchers in the social sciences and humanities.
I’d never heard the neologism mesearch before but it strikes me that practice-as-research lends itself to mesearch both elegantly and terribly. The elegant part is that practice requires commitment and (self-)absorption (particularly if the practice is a solo one); it demands profoundly critical reflection on what is happening; it is a constant struggle to see something that is so close.
The terrible part of mesearch – and I understand this to be a common problem in practice-as-research – is a failure to engage deeply with the community of artists and scholars within which one is working (either directly or indirectly). It is a failure to acknowledge that research – by definition – happens in relation to others. A key task for any practice-as-researcher is to readily acknowledge how their work is participating in these various communities of practice and scholarship.