field review

The purpose of reading the literatures is to ascertain what is known about a particular topic. We read to see the categories that are used by others to sort, sift, foreground and background the field. We look to see what previous work has been mobilized and what has been ignored. We evaluate the methods used to generate the data and the argument; we might ask, for example, who are the research participants – how many, when, where and how were they involved? We also look to see what view of knowledge underpins each text. Taken together, these and similar questions allow us to compare and contrast, and to develop a view of the ‘clumps’ of literatures which share common characteristics or approaches.

– Pat Thomson,

In practice-as-research the same goes for placing one’s creative work within an appropriate field (or fields) of practice. The literature review is instead a field review which in itself might include various forms of practice: writing, text, installation, film, performance, etc.

reporting back on talking about practice

What is clear is that many more PhDs are being undertaken through practice, and many of these students are being supervised by academics who undertook their own doctoral studies through practice. The landscape is slowly shifting as confidence in the value of practice as a means to generate knowledge grows.

Lee Miller reports back on the Talking about Practice Symposium at Plymouth University in February 2016.

knowledge production and entangled events

I was given a little book called La Danza Del Futuro by Jaime Conde-Salazar and in it he writes:

The dance of the future has to do with the idea of the ‘project’, i.e. a research that is conducted throughout time and that assumes the typical uncertainty of any process of knowledge production. it is built as a net of entangled events, questions, experiences and contexts that form a kind of living organism that is constantly transforming. This is why it increasingly refers to and feeds off the specific circumstances in which it takes place and the ways in which life and the work crystallize in a specific time throughout a given time. In this way, dance expands its limits beyond the typical performance settings, beyond the authorized work contexts, and beyond the spaces that the bourgeois capitalist cultures have assigned to art and culture.

This blog isn’t about dance per se, but if you were to trade the word dance with whatever it is that is at the heart of your practice (theatre, dramaturgy, reading, whatever) then Jaime’s thinking (inadvertently) does a pretty good job of describing the possibilities and limitations of practice-as-research.

Other related reading that is possibily related, both by Bojana Kunst:

politics of citation

This is not specifically practice-as-research related but it seems vital to be consider the politics of citation, and how who we cite (and who we don’t cite) influences and shapes the politics of in/visible discourses and practices.

I wanted to re-orientate my writing by what or who I was not citing. I have always been conscious of the politics of citation. I have always been aware of how worlds are built around citational habits; of how a body of work acquires consistency by which bodies are left out from that body.

– Sara Ahmed

Thanks to Rajni Shah for the initial link (via twitter @rajni_shah)

processes and documents

On Sunday I participated in a discussion about practice-as-research as part of the Classical music hyper-production project at the University of West London. The discussion was chaired by UWL’s Simon Zagorski-Thomas, and included Ian Pace, Kristen Kreider and me.

The practice-as-research component seemed tacked on to the main part of the conference (we were definitely the graveyard shift), as if it remains something that is up for grabs – or in need of debate – in any project that has an element of artistic practice. It was also clear from the discussion and questions that practice-as-research remains a source of tension, confusion and perhaps even anxiety.

As part of the main project there is an online conference with practice-as-research relevant panels here:

My understanding is that a video of the practice-as-research discussion will be online in the next couple of days [1].

There are three things from the discussion that I’d like to comment on:

  1. Is all practice research?
  2. What does process have to do with anything?
  3. Researching and documenting

Is all practice research?

This question still surprises me. The short answer is no.

Yes, all artistic processes involve elements of research. That is, finding things out in order to inform the development of the artistic work. What we call research and development phases always exist when humans go about making things (whether we call these phases research and development or not). But I don’t understand this to be research in the sense of building on – and questioning – the nature of how and what we understand or experience as human beings. This latter kind of research involves being explicitly in relation to – or dialogue with – the circulation of ideas and practices in the community or field within which one is working. With students I’ve talked about this – as has Anna Pakes – as the difference between little r and capital R research. Not all practice explicitly engages with communities of ideas and understandings, although of course there are many many examples of practice outside of the academy that knowingly do this kind of capital-R research (Deborah Hay, William Forsythe, Tehching Hsieh spring to mind).

 What does process have to do with anything?

There’s no doubt that practice-as-research seems to emphasise process at the expense of other aspects of the work we do. The trap here is in assuming that just because one has been through a process that artistic-scholarly research has occurred. Processes are only important when there is something explicitly distinctive about them that contributes to how we understand and discuss making particular things. In other words, if the subject of one’s research is a particular aspect of artistic process, then process is important. In such cases (and they are rare, certainly in dance), the critical – and often difficult – aspect of practice-as-research is figuring out how best to give the community access to these processes that reveal the understandings and developments.

Artistic outcomes – that is what is performed or presented – do not necessarily have a direct relationship to the processes that made them possible. I understand the relationship between process and outcome to be slightly paradoxical, but it is (another) trap to believe that certain processes lead to certain kinds of outcomes (or that if we see the outcomes we know anything about the processes).

 Researching and documenting

During the discussion I heard how often these two words – researching and documenting – are placed together when people talk about practice-as-research. It is as if one is able to replace the other: “I document, therefore I research”. In practice-as-research we are obsessed with modes of documentation (I know this in part because my PhD was one big crash of documentation [2]). With documentation, it’s as if we as practice-as-researchers think, “If less is more, think how much more more will be”. The key consideration – in my opinion – is when particular aspects of a practice-as-research project demand some form of documentation because that documentation is able to reveal the specifics of those experiences or understandings (or potential for understanding). Less really is more.

Thanks to Simon, Kristen and Ian for the invitation and conversation. I hope these comments might serve to continue the discussion.

  1. I’ll add this to the post when it turns up.  ↩
  2. A key argument of my doctoral research was that documentation is not the right word for what happens as part of practice-as-research. Instead I talked about rememberings (and the possibilities of slippage, error and fallability associated with memory), but since then I understand the various aspects – or modes – of a practice-as-research project as being akin to the various surfaces of a diamond. I’ve adopted/adapted the term surface from Laurel Richardson’s seminal article (book chapter) called Writing: A Method of Inquiry. The basic premise is that practice-as-research involves creating a single research project that might be thought of – or “three-dimensionalised” – as a crystal. This crystal is singular, but it has many surfaces that are part of its suchness. The crystal looks and feels different to others depending on which perspective or surface they see or feel. The term surface might also be thought of as the various modalities and re/presentational possibilities of a practice-as-research project.  ↩