methodology and method

It’s Friday night and I’m reading the wikipedia page about methodology. I know I know – Friday! Wikipedia! #desperatetimes

I’m reading this because I’ve had a lot of conversations recently (with colleagues and students) about methods and methodology in practice-as-research.

Two statements on the wiki page catch my attention:

The methodology is the general research strategy that outlines the way in which research is to be undertaken and, among other things, identifies the methods to be used in it.

Methodology and method are not interchangeable. In recent years however, there has been a tendency to use methodology as a “pretentious substitute for the word method”.

And here’s a great little summary from Aotearoa of the distinction between method and methodology in relation to decolonisation methodologies:

Practice-as-research finds itself at an interesting moment in its development. I feel confident as an artist-scholar that when I write a practice-as-research methodological statement (say, for a proposal) I am calling on a set of methodological principles, and a particular history. I understand such a position statement to be a critical framework that makes sense of why a practice-as-research methodology is most appropriate for that particular research. In other words, it is a methodological rationale. This means I do not have to defend practice-as-research methodologically (that work has already been done), but I do have to make a clear methodological case for the specific project I am proposing or doing.

However, methodology is not the same as method and it is certainly not the same as creative process.

The research methods that I work with in practice-as-research often overlap heavily with creative processes. These might include group devising, task-based development of ideas, workshopping, improvisation, video editing, etc. They are the basic tools (or methods) with which I do the research.

I would argue that under most circumstances there is little that is exceptional or unusual about these research methods/creative processes. The trap in practice-as-research (particularly at PhD level) is to provide a blow-by-blow description of research methods/tools/creative processes as if they are special. There are (rare) circumstances in which creative processes are unique and might make an important contribution to, for instance, our understanding of choreographic, film or theatre-making processes. In such (rare) cases, then it would be important to provide access to these processes for the reader/viewer. They could watch rehearsals (or documentation of rehearsals), read reflections on the processes, etc.

For practice-as-research PhDs I’d suggest that in most situations students could write a methodological rationale (to help the reader understand why their research questions are best addressed by this approach) – maybe 3–4k words, but even as few as 2k? – that would include a brief outline of the methods/tools/processes used. The exception would be in cases in which the methods/processes are the object of the research investigation. That is, in which there is something special about these processes that demands attention and that would potentially contribute to how we understand artistic processes.

Any thoughts?

transmission interruption: hard drives fail

Hard drives fail.
They do.
This of course has nothing to do with practice-as-research but I’ve heard so many cases recently of people working in the academy who have lost hours, days, even weeks of work simply because they have the (very mistaken) belief that hard drives are infallible.
The worst thing about hard drive failure is that often you get no indication that it’s happening. One moment all is good, the next all is not good.
There is nothing you can really do to stop hard drives failing.
But, you can have a simple backup system that builds in redundancy in case of theft, fire, digital fuck-ups, document corruption[1] or of course hard drive failure.
Here are some backup basics courtesy of the NY Times:

Other thoughts/ideas:
– make a copy of the main document (or documents) you are working on (e.g. PhD thesis) every day and then archive the old version (which will get backed up using your awesome automated backup system), give the new version today’s date and get started
– use automated backup (e.g. Time Machine on Mac OS)
– use cloud based syncing software (e.g. Dropbox) as a fall-back backup system. Services like Dropbox are really for syncing, not backup
– use at least two external hard drives for different backups (i.e. external hard drives fail as well!)
– it will happen to you (some day)

Normal practice-as-research service will resume next week.

  1. Documents get corrupted all the time, but my experience is that it is more likely the more complex (and more precious) the document is (e.g. PhD thesis)!  ↩

traces of practice

I led a workshop with C-DaRE PhD students the other day and we looked at ideas and questions to do with documentation in practice-as-research projects. One of the things that we didn’t get to was a solo activity about the traces of practice. Here it is:


Collect an (exhaustive) list of the various traces or parts of your research to date. These might be images, conversations, writings, scribbles, notes, images, videos, formal writing, audio recordings …

Reflection and questions

  • what are the traces of your practice(s)?
  • how might they be organised? (un/obvious)
  • what kinds of relationships exist between them?
  • what ideas might they be serving other than your practice?
  • what kinds of writing might make sense of and/or with these traces?
  • how might they help to change or evolve your practice?
  • what is missing?
  • what are others doing that you might steal?
  • what is un/necessary?
  • what is most/least clear?
  • who else has handled, organised, or developed similar traces?
  • what becomes available to you?
  • how do the other traces function? What if they are not other? How might a singular proposition, work, or iteration emerge from your practice?
  • how might you understand or rethink loss, gain, documentation, liveness, and originality in relation to your traces?

making the news and advocacy

On 5 March 2017 Times Higher Education published a brief article [1] about whether or not a film can be research.

It’s rehashes two old issues in practice-as-research:

  • can artistic work present (or be) an argument? (when I would think a more interesting question is should it?)
  • what are the possibilities and limitations of peer review in practice-as-research submissions?

I was frustrated at just how little we have come since the heady days of PARIP, but the article was also a useful reminder that much important work remains to be done in advocating practice-as-research at the level of HE management, in policy, and (perhaps most importantly) how its value (particularly in relation to epistemology) might be communicated outside of its bubble.

Interesting to see the Journal of Embodied Research getting a plug when it hasn’t yet published its first volume. Screenworks (that was initially distributed through The Journal of Media Practice) has been cracking on since 2006, and to a lesser extent the International Journal of Screendance (which I co-edit with Harmony Bench) are current platforms for publishing moving-image-as-research.

I particularly like the use of quote marks around the word “published” in the last sentence.

Any thoughts?

  1. Here is a PDF version of the article: film-as-research

borgdorff – unfinished thinking

Henk Borgdorff’s open access book The Conflict of the Faculties: Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia is comprehensive, thoughtful, and provocative.

In the chapter on The Production of Knowledge in Artistic Research he writes:

artistic research seeks not so much to make explicit the knowledge that art is said to produce, but rather to provide a specific articulation of the pre-reflective, non-conceptual content of art. It thereby invites ‘unfinished thinking’. Hence, it is not formal knowledge that is the subject matter of artistic research, but thinking in, through, and with art.[1]

I particularly like the feeling of ‘unfinished thinking’: it seems to resonate with my experience of what practice-as-research does. At the same time, his tantalising suggestion of the thing that “art is said to produce” alludes to deep-seated scepticism about the epistemological limitations (and possibilities) of practice-as-research.

  1. Borgdorff, Hendrik Anne (Henk). 2012. The Conflict of the Faculties: Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia. Leiden: Leiden University Press., p.143.  ↩

if then statement

If research = “thinking, reading, writing”[1], then practice-as-research = thinking, reading, writing, making.

  1. Berg, Maggie, and Barbara Karolina Seeber. 2016. The Slow Professor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p.64  ↩

who is searching

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

smelling as sweet

  • practice-as-research
  • practice-research
  • practice-led research
  • practice-based research
  • artistic research
  • practice on the arts
  • creative research
  • artistic practice creative research in the arts[1]

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[2], and recently a PhD student I am working with – Carol Breen – showed me some writing by Linda Candy[3] 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[4] 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[5], 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.

  1. OK, OK, so I made this one up.  ↩
  2. I’m sure she wasn’t the first but here’s that conference paper:  ↩
  3.–1.1–2006.pdf  ↩
  4. I’m probably falling into the same trap.  ↩
  5. I only use the term practice-as-research out of time and familiarity, not because I think it’s the most apt.  ↩

abulhawa and documentation

Dani Abulhawa has some writing up on that looks at questions of documentation in relation to her performance practice. The paper covers a lot of ground, but gives a useful précis of ideas to do with documentation in practice-as-research. She then discusses knowlege and documentation as they relate to issues (including authority, productivity, and discipline) emerging out of her practice.

Here’s the link:

If you have any trouble accessing the document, let me know.