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Methods@Manchester

Practice as Research

Johannes Sjoberg, Centre for Screen Studies and Jenny Hughes, Drama/Centre for Applied Theatre Research

The term ‘practice as research’ carves out a territory for arts practice in academic environments, and refers to a broad range of research activity. Practice as research might denote a research process that leads to an arts-related output, an arts project as one element of a research process drawing on a range of methods, or a research process entirely framed as artistic practice.

Research might start or end in arts practice, draw on arts practice as a part of its process, or be wholly integrated into the shifting forms and outputs of an arts project. Practice as research is therefore not a ‘method’ as such.

Arts practices draw on a variety of creative methodologies that might be incorporated into interdisciplinary research projects as methodological innovations, providing new perspectives on and extending existing knowledge as well as materialising a different kind of knowledge practice.

Drivers

There are a number of philosophical and political drivers here. Perhaps most importantly, if we are to understand the role, processes and function of cultural practice more generally, it is important to be able to explore through doing.

Making art is an important means of understanding art and other kinds of cultural practice. Furthermore, an art-making process can generate new insights and perspectives relevant to understanding a diverse range of social and cultural phenomena – identity, community, narrative and testimony, transformation, space and time … and so on.

Practice as research, in any disciplinary area, privileges action as a methodological imperative. In the arts, practice as research involves artist-researchers exploring, testing and extending a diverse range of creative methodologies and working across diverse contexts – exploring the relationship of creative interventions to both making and understanding the world.

Outcomes

The outcomes of practice as research are multiple – insights into arts processes, understandings of a range of social and cultural phenomena, new kinds of artistic products, outcomes or relationships.

Importantly, practice as research may never include the action of writing anything down – it may never clearly articulate a research ‘question’, it is open to and uses sense, sensation and intuition as part of knowledge making, and may not lead to academic publication in the conventional sense.

What is... talk

The talk on 15 April provided some context for the term ‘practice as research’ as relevant to a theatre, performance and screen academic context. It will briefly present examples of ‘practice as research':

  • ‘A Letter from Home’, a participatory musical performance made with refugees and asylum seekers in Manchester, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • ‘Ethnofiction: genre hybridity in theory and practice-based research’, Practice-based PhD in Drama exploring 'ethnofiction' - an experimental ethnographic film genre created by Jean Rouch in which the participants collaborate with the filmmaker to act out their own and others' life experiences in improvisations
  • ‘Queer Giving: An audio-visually guided shared ethnography of the Wotever Vision’, Queer Giving is the material realisation of a practice-led doctoral research project into contemporary radical queer ways of being.

Further information

Online resources

PDF slides

Download PDF slides of the presentation 'What is Practice as Research?'