Practice Research may start from several beginnings. It may be speculative, unconventional, or, if funded, may mean having to produce a ‘work’ by a certain date. Each practice project is the result of different ways of working, different traditions, paradigms, methods and contexts (so producing a painting is not the same as producing a dance work). Notwithstanding the challenge of evidencing the research in Practice Research where no tangible object can be produced (of the ‘research’ itself) the researcher can’t afford to wait until the ‘after’ of the practicing to produce the artefact that evidences the research. The practice is emergent, iterative, often multiple, and put bluntly, unless documented along the way of the making, might already be too late to put forward for REF as Practice Research (in a way that makes it reviewable). The opportunity to ‘reverse engineer’ the output that may not have intended to be research but becomes researchful in how it develops is what often happens (analogous to writing the papers once the ideas have been formulated, consolidated and tested) but the many elements that might constitute the ‘work’ might already have disappeared if not collected and organised along the way. This is not to get into complex debates about what a ‘work’ might be, and the ontological conditions that determine an art work as being this, or that, but it is important that we acknowledge that practice is not always research, and that doesn’t mean that the practice isn’t good practice (or to suggest that practice appears out of nowhere with no thoughtful process driving it) but Practice Research has to make clear why it is just that, research. The questions that are driving the researcher need to be articulated, the methods of production need to be considered and understood, and the ‘output’, however multiple or ephemeral, needs to be ‘published’ so that there is evidence that it exists, it has form and can be encountered, contemplated, even if it demands a different mode of attention or engagement by the viewer; and when it comes to exercises such as REF, reviewed accordingly.Continue reading
Learning how to make films changed the way I practiced cultural history. Initially, I used film to record lectures and make simple documentaries as a supplement to my PhD scholarship. Over the next few years, I grew a company called Smart Docs that worked (and still works) with institutions like Imperial College, London, the V&A, and Nature. The business produced legacy, impact, and engagement projects, reconciling the capacity of film with the demands of modern higher education institutions. I used to see my academic work as entirely separate from this professional film production. My thesis was, after all, a fairly conventional written document about the cultural history of eighteenth-century transplant surgery. But over the next five or six years, cultural history and film-making gradually intertwined to the point they’re now inseparable for me.
One of the unintended consequences of the combination of research assessment exercises and the contemporaneous expansion of Creative Writing in the university sector has been the belated recognition of the research potential – and, indeed, the research function – of creative writing practices. In the last REF there was a significant quantity of practice-based research in various forms submitted to various panels. If REF 2014 (and my experience of reading work for 2021) is anything to go by, the English Language and Literature Panel this time can expect to receive a wide variety of practice-based research ranging from Young Adult Fiction and genre fiction to experimental forms of literary fiction; from conventional page-based poetry to visual and digital poetries, and poetry using performance, video and installation; from stage-play scripts to radio-scripts; and probably forms of writing practice not yet foreseen.Continue reading
If we are ever to solve some of the major challenges facing society then it will take all of the intellectual and creative resources at our command to do so. In response to this challenge, conventional models of research have proved to be inadequate. If, for example, rising ocean levels are to be controlled we first need to understand global warming and then invent a way to re-freeze the melting polar caps. This will take knowledge and imagination — indeed, our future will depend upon such a capacity for radical innovation being born out of a partnership between discovery and creativity. Without the power to imagine future scenarios we will be constrained by the chains of incremental development that never quite deliver the game changing solutions or radical innovations that are so badly needed. In this context we still have to overcome barriers that stand in the way of knowledge being made accessible across all of the research domains, from discovery to creativity, so it can be effectively, and widely, shared. Achieving this will be a key to our future.
Head of Research Development, Royal College of Art and Co-Champion of the Arts & Humanities Special Interest Group for ARMA
I have been thinking about the best way to support practice-based and practice-led research since 2011 when I joined the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Creative and Performing Arts team. Since then, I have had the opportunity to work with practice researchers as well as a wide range of people who provide research support for practice research and researchers.