Punking practice-led research

It has frustrated me for a rather long time now that in general research is about writing about doing stuff, cf actually doing stuff. Obviously things are done that generate data, but the focus is generally not on building a ‘product’ as the output itself – you can build something, but only the writing about it is counted as research output. This frustration came to a head recently as I just could not justify fitting what I want to do with the University of Awesome into a traditional 50K word model. I’ve always been about ‘doing things’ and can’t reconcile this with traditional research output, however open, fluid and web-based that is.

Enter the practice-led research model. In HDR terms this currently manifests itself as PhDs/Masters in Creative Practice or similar, and is offered almost exclusively in creative arts disciplines – art, design, music, theatre, creative writing etc. The model focuses on ‘researcher as practitioner’ and considers the creation of a ‘product’ the majority research output. For HDR purposes an accompanying exegesis is required, but this is effectively a reflection on the building process and relevant issues. It’s an excellent model that focuses on ‘doing’ – building and creating things – but until recently has been a bit of a sideline model of research (this year is the first year ERA has acknowledged the products of practice-led research as ‘countable’ output).

But. It is COMPLETE MADNESS that creative arts seem to be the only disciplines in which this is the norm. On doing a quick lit trawl, it seems that there is virtually no precedent for products themselves to be considered research output in other disciplines. Everywhere else, we focus on the ‘writing about’ being the research output. Any form of doing isn’t part of the word count and isn’t published. It’s indicative of an academic culture of favouring observation over action (which tbh doesn’t win us any fans outside of academia). It’s an issue in HDR and it’s an issue in academic publishing, and it needs to change.

So – I’m calling punk. Practice-led research should be a norm, not an exception in every discipline. Ditching word count and valuing creation gives us all sorts of possibilities to play around with. It’s where I’ve been going with the University of Awesome – a change in the game of edu research. It’s not about collecting the data any more – it’s about building it.

16 Replies to “Punking practice-led research”

  1. If you check out a/r/togaphy there are some interesting examples of educational research, done differently… Stephanie springgay and the PhDs she supervisors are examples….. But coming from an art ed focus

  2. I know I’ve banged on about this before, but this is what Design-based research is all about. Making stuff as research. It has lots of Hackerspace resonances yet still claims to build theory as well as improve practice.

  3. Hold on. Can you clarify something:

    are you suggesting that your research should be focussed on improving practice through making stuff and then writing that up, or

    are you suggesting the the stuff that you make is a replacement for the research write-up?

    1. From a higher degree perspective, the latter, ish. Generally, creative practice degrees consist largely of an examined work or set of works, plus an exegesis of, say, 20K words. This is cf the standard 100K word thesis. So yes, the ‘stuff’ itself functions as a research output, rather than something that just informs a research output.

        1. Been thinking more about this. For me ‘Making as knowing’ is different to the ‘Artefact as knowledge’. This places an emphasis on capturing and representing the design process as well as deferring to the finished product…

          1. It’s an interesting distinction. I suppose it’s where the exegesis fits in, capturing and representing the process…

  4. I’ve also been thinking lots about ‘making as knowing’ and what this might look like in the world of research. Rather than collecting and analysing data, is hacking around in collectives a better way to advance knowledge and practice? If so, why? Because of the pace of change? Of the uncertainty of knowledge in our digital age?

    1. I think this is where edu could really stand to look at business and industry for models of ‘making as knowing’. I think it’s partially to do with the level of abstraction and the production of tangible results. Academia trades on knowledge but outside of academia there’s a certain level of derision for the concept of knowing but never doing/making. Money where your mouth is etc etc. Although maybe it’s an entirely capitalist notion, who knows.

      1. ‘Academia trades on knowledge’ predominantly in textual form. It can be represented equally as an artefact. You’re right, that’s what industry do. We can do it better.

  5. YES!
    I’m currently working out a methodology for my PhD on creativity in higher ed. I so don’t want it to be standard issue academic blah. I’m thinking along the lines of – participatory action research, praxis based research, investigating teaching as creative practice, narrative research using digital storytelling – and have likewise been thinking why can’t non-creative disciplines (as if there’s any such thing …) have creative artifacts as research outputs. Some of my thinking is here: http://creativebecoming.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/walking-the-talk-creative-praxis-as-research/
    Love your work Sarah 🙂

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