My husband is presenting at his faculty’s speed research day today – a fact which has spawned a number of conversations. He’s doing a creative practice doctorate (more info here for the confused), and his research today is presented entirely in musical form (a performance of one of his compositions). Watching this process evolve for him has highlighted how unsatisfactory traditional research is for me.
Composition is perhaps one of the purest forms of research. It is exempt from the administrivia and extreme processing of traditional text-based research. One is able to explore and digest the theories, ideas and works of others, draw new connecting threads and produce an original product as a result. One does not stop every 5 bars to reference an influencing composer in correct APA 5th style. One is not criticised if the writing style is not sufficiently formal, or if too many original ideas are had without quoting a source. A research product is produced for the sheer joy of creating something new as a result of exploration.
This is what I want for my research. I want to trade in big ideas. I want to make things happen. Make things. I want my energy to be devoted to the creation of something new and exciting, not to ensuring that commas are correctly placed and a sufficiently high number of quotations have been taken from existing papers. Steve’s comment here was that ‘people don’t want new and exciting. New and exciting isn’t measurable’. This is where research comes undone. Commas and citations are quantifiable. Ideas are not. And yet the exploration of new and exciting ideas should be a fundamental definition of the concept of research. Instead, we have the concept of ‘rigour’. I am beginning to suspect that so much is lost to ‘writing about doing’ instead of ‘doing’. Where do the big ideas go that don’t fit into traditional research paradigms?
Consider Heston Blumenthal. The amount of research that goes into the creation of each of his experimental dishes is astonishing. He makes completely original connections in his exploration and as a result creates crazy things that challenge people’s concept of food, but are still satisfying to eat and really engage people in the eating process. If he were to seek a traditional qualification for this research, though? It would be a 100,000 word print thesis entitled something like ‘From Ancient Rome to Adria: a gastronomic journey through the history of culinary innovation’ and not involve the creation of any food at all. He’s chosen the route that does, in all fairness, result in people calling him a crazy bastard, but it carries the satisfaction of true synthesis of research, rather than the text synthesis of a rigorous and systematic approach. I would certainly prefer to garner the term ‘complete nutter’ than ‘rigorous scholar’.
Steve pointed out that perhaps I should be doing a creative practice degree rather than a traditional research degree. My response was that it wouldn’t happen; education is not considered a creative discipline. And therein lies the problem – if ‘creation’ and ‘creativity’ are restricted to the performing arts, and the rest of us must engage in text-based theory grounded in methodology, where is the scope for true innovation? As long as we continue to deal in words rather than products, I don’t know what the answer to that is.