|Queensland University of Technology|
This paper was delivered on 24 November 2006 as the Keynote Address for Perilous Adventures: Creative Writing Practice and Research in the Higher Degree and Beyond, the Eleventh Annual Conference of the Australian Association of Writing Programs, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 23-26 November 2006.
For a number of years now I have been aware of the fine work that creative
writers and those who run writing programs in universities have been doing
around research, higher research degree candidature, effective supervision
and, of course, in teasing out the relationship between creative work
and its accompanying exegesis. You have been among the leaders in problematising
and clarifying the relationship between your creative practice and research.
While I do not come from the ranks of professional creative writers (my
heartland discipline is drama and performance), it is clear to many of
us in the other arts that you are serious-minded and sure-footed when
it comes to auditing your field, mapping its growth and critiquing emerging
positions. TEXT has been a major source of nourishment and inspiration
for myself and my colleagues from across the arts, media and design for
many years and we have been challenged and inspired by your innovative
poetic forms, reflexive creative processes and exegetical words.
So it came with some surprise to read in the editorial of TEXT
in October 2005 that 'We have not been terribly successful
in achieving formal acknowledgement of writing's identity as a research
discipline as well as a creative practice' (Webb and Krauth
I do wonder whether that assessment is a little too harsh, although I
suspect many across the creative arts would share a similar view; but
maybe we are being too hard on ourselves. For amid all the change in the
higher education sector it is easy to forget that barely seventeen years
ago the Dawkins Reforms created the unified higher education system in
Australia, and it was only twelve years ago that the first research publication
data was collected. During that time academics across the creative arts,
media and design have struggled to meet the evolving challenges of research
in the new culture, and it is easy to underestimate how much has been
However we characterise the challenges and successes of the past, all is about to change as the RQF, the new road map for research in Australia presents itself to us (or imposes itself upon us). I agree with the position John Dale sketched in the Higher Education Supplement:
There will be uncomfortable challenges with the RQF, but I believe it represents the best chance ever to place the creative arts, and design and the built environment, inside a national research framework that recognises our distinctiveness as researchers. There remains uncertainty about this for your discipline - perhaps you will want to be part of Panel 11 with its category of Professional Creative Writing - but for me you clearly belong in Panel 13 along with the performing arts, the visual arts and crafts, cinema and the electronic arts and multimedia. I believe we need you in Panel 13 to contribute to the creative arts enterprise, to collaborate and perfect this research game along with the other art forms. For you clearly show that you have your finger on the pulse and a clear understanding of what is required if we are to be successful in the RQF. Once again from the TEXT editorial of last year this prescient observation:
To my mind this is the fundamental and pressing challenge, not only for
creative writing, but for all Panel 13 disciplines. How can creative practice
be a mode of research that has sufficient traction not only for creative
writers but for all creative practitioner researchers across the Arts,
Media and Design? This mode of research also needs to bite with the research
industry itself - it needs to be recognised and accepted as a legitimate
approach to research, and able to take its place at the research funding
tables of all countries.
This paper seeks to address the place of creative practice within the established research traditions before setting out my view of five creditability tests creative practitioners must meet if they wish their work to be classified as research. I will conclude the paper by suggesting how, in meeting these 'credibility tests', artists/researchers across the arts, media and design are challenging research orthodoxies so that we can now identify a fresh, distinctive and new research paradigm - Performative Research.
Practice and the Established Research Traditions
Traditional research paradigms are unable to have a comfortable or completely
honest relationship with practice in the creative arts, media and design.
In their quest to investigate and understand what Donald Schon calls 'the
situations of practice - the complexity, uncertainty, instability,
uniqueness and value conflicts which are increasingly perceived as central
to the world of professional practice' (Schon 1983: 14),
quantitative researchers believe it is sufficient to undertake research
on practice by counting and measuring aspects of the phenomena of
practice. Qualitative researchers try to be more useful, attempting to
engage with the complexity of practice through a range of practice-based
research strategies. These strategies, which include action research,
grounded theory and reflective practice approaches, commonly place the
researcher in the thick of the action, not only observing but also participating
in the object of study, the practice, and the theory building that accompanies
Yet this is not enough. The orthodox research strategies, even those
most congenial qualitative strategies, are unsophisticated and hamfisted
tools for undertaking research 'in' creative writing; that is using the
methods and practice of writing to 'create new material
and cultural outcomes that transform understanding of the possibilities
of the disciplines' (Redmond 2004: 104).
Rather than continuing to struggle with these traditional paradigms,
creative practitioners across the arts and design are now developing their
own preferred research strategies. Of particular significance is practice-led
research, which enables practitioners to initiate and then pursue
their research through practice.
Carole Gray has been a principal architect in this, defining practice-led research as:
More work can be done on this definition but, for a good decade now,
we have seen writers, artists and designer/researchers in a state of 'methodological
churn', developing a range of research strategies that incorporate and
value the research processes and outcomes of practice. Known by many terms
across the arts, media and design - creative practice as research, practice
as research, practice-based research, studio practice as research, and
so on - these strategies have been increasing in popularity and sophistication.
I have had an abiding interest in the possibilities and problems of practice-led
research for about three years, feeling it is best placed to capture effectively
the nuances and subtleties of all these emerging research strategies.
I also believe that practice-led research is a reasonably serviceable
term to capture what most of us do as artist/researchers, as well as identifying
the distinctive characteristic of our research method for research funding
bodies - namely that our research is led by practice.
In advancing practice-led research as a sensible strategy for us, I am not saying we should follow it slavishly across the whole sector and use it as a 'cookie-cutter' methodological template across all disciplines.
The 'Research Frame': The Five Credibility Tests
However, proclaiming a 'new' research strategy involves more than a definition
and a defiant glint in the eye. To make this claim convincingly we must
show how practice-led research conforms to the broad protocols of all
research; how it is able to meet the credibility tests adopted and enforced
by the research industry and learned bodies which define what stands as
research and what does not. In doing this we will also show how practice-led
research operates differently from the research strategies that belong
to the quantitative or qualitative research stables.
Practice-led research in creative writing (in fact, for all of the creative
arts, media and design) needs to meet five fundamental credibility tests.
Of course to have bite, as your TEXT editors remind us, these credibility
tests need to be couched 'in the language, that research management will
understand (Webb and Krauth 2005: 3).
While these tests exist to ensure the quality of research, they alone do not guarantee quality research outputs. It is possible, for example, for a piece of research to meet the five credibility tests, but fail to impress as 'good' research.
1. That there is a clearly established problem which drives the study,
usually made clear through a 'research question' or 'an enthusiasm of
However, many practice-led researchers do not commence a research project
with a sense of 'a problem' that has to be answered. A problem may be
set or come with a commission, but many are led by what is best described
as 'an enthusiasm of practice': something that is exciting, something
that may be unruly, unmanageable or mysterious, or indeed something that
may be just becoming possible as new technology or networks allow (but
of which they cannot be certain). Perhaps it is just fun to do. Practice-led
researchers construct experiential starting points from which practice
follows. They tend to 'dive in', to commence practising to see what emerges.
They acknowledge that what emerges is individualistic and idiosyncratic.
This orientation of the creative artist/researcher is echoed by Henry
Moore who wrote, 'I sometimes begin a drawing with no preconceived problem
to solve ... But as my mind takes in what is so produced
a point arrives where some idea becomes conscious and crystallises, and
then control and ordering begins to take place' (James
This is not to say these researchers work without larger agendas or emancipatory
aspirations, but they eschew the constraints of narrow problem setting
and rigid methodological requirements at the outset of a project
This absence of problem, especially early in the research process, can make particular difficulties for practice-led researchers. Take the case of PhD candidates, for instance. Across the higher education sector we find a key milestone within the first six to twelve months of candidature asking candidates to describe:
In effect these frame Problem-led Research and my key point is that our
'major milestones' can impair progression when they impose the protocols
of problem-led research on practice-led researchers.
So around this 'problem about the problem' it is important not to claim that practice-led researchers do not have a problem and do not need to articulate one. If you get to the end of a PhD or research grant and cannot identify the problem you've been addressing, then something is badly awry! So yes, practice-led researchers do meet the first test of all research - there is a 'problem' (often several problems) - but its definition will emerge during the research and it may well be that it is only in the final stages that a practice-led researcher will articulate and explicitly connect the problem with the trajectory their research has taken.
2. That, just as the research problem and its content are under scrutiny,
so too will the process of research be scrutinised. It is necessary for
the study to articulate its methodology convincingly and so make it available
In this task of articulating methodology I believe the pivotal research
strategy we have to deploy is practice-led research. As mentioned earlier,
Carole Gray gives us a serviceable starting point by introducing two conditions
that help to define practice-led research. The first of these is that
the research questions, or enthusiasms of practice, arise out of the needs
of practitioners as they practise. In this Gray is acknowledging the primacy
of practice in the research process - these are not researchers who think
their way in and out of a problem. Her second condition, that the particular
methods of practice already in use by skilled practitioners can be used
as appropriate research methods, gives important power to practice-led
researchers. However, it does mean practitioners need to be more explicit
in identifying their existing methods of practice, and probably discipline
them somewhat to make them the spine of the practice-led research process.
This means practitioners don't have to turn only to the arsenal of methods
from other traditions in order to justify their research. Of course there
is a strong alignment with some research strategies and methods from the
qualitative tradition; for example, the reflective practitioner, the enquiry
cycle from action research, grounded theory and participant-observation
methods. But practice-led research is not these approaches; it is its
own distinctive research strategy with its own methods - drawn from and
inflected by the long-standing and accepted working methods and practices
of disciplines in the arts and design.
I think the pressing methodological task facing us is to formulate and refine the theory and practice of practice-led research by examining how our techniques of practice can be re-purposed into rigorous and specific research strategies and methods for use and scrutiny by others.
3. That the research undertaken is located within its field of enquiry
and associated conceptual terrain.
Within the traditional research paradigms this is done through 'the literature review' that is defined as:
In order to do this the literature review typically comes early in a
study for it helps define the question by identifying gaps in the field,
thereby ensuring the study has significance and merit. Not surprisingly,
it does not work this way for practice-led researchers.
Instead the literature review, or in our case 'the contextual review',
builds not from a sense of the problem but from the sense of the practice.
As the researcher practises, a web of connections and links become evident
to build a layered and rich analysis of the contexts of practice within
which the practice-led researcher operates. In this way, undertaking a
'contextual review' appears to follow the principles of intertextuality
rather than the screening and review methods that would give rise to a
deliberate and systematic map of the field.
What I am proposing here, to misquote Umberto Eco from his introduction
to The Name of the Rose, is that 'books always
speak of other books just as every story tells a story that has already
been told' (Eco 1983: 20). Because texts necessarily
refer beyond themselves and to other texts, a contextual review for practice-led
researchers builds through intertextuality, capturing perspectives that
flow from the interdependence that exists between a present practice and
the intersecting and ever-expanding web of references and quotations that
have preceded it.
So even though it works differently, this credibility test is met; practice-led researchers are able to locate their research within its field of enquiry and associated conceptual and aesthetic terrain.
4. That the knowledge claims made from the study be must be reported
to others and demonstrate the benefit of the study in social, cultural,
environmental or economic terms.
We have known the basis of this argument for a long time; it is an argument
with a fine pedigree. We can trace it from Kant to Schopenhauer to Cassirer
to Langer to Nelson Goodman to Howard Gardiner and so on.
On the other hand I applaud Paul Magee's recent call for writing academics
This enthusiasm for new and engaging ways of reporting research is being reflected not only across the arts, media and design but also in the Social Sciences.
5. That what becomes known is made available for sustained and verifiable
In traditional research, of course, text-based publication is the spine
of the system. Researchers' ideas, conclusions, findings and truth claims
can be represented in numbers or propositional writing. They can be published,
ping around the world and be reviewed by peers everywhere. Consequently,
research and its protocols for assessing quality, are built around publications,
peer assessment and citation.
Of course, and creative writers are among the fortunate ones here, your
outputs - your novels, short stories and poems - can be circulated widely
and easily for peer review and refereeing.
But the time-based disciplines really suffer. The opportunities for peer
review of dance or theatre, for instance, are severely restricted. Only
those present at the performance can engage in peer review - when the
performance is over, so are the possibilities for peer review. What these
disciplines desperately need is a system for commenting on and annotating
works, some citational infrastructure, a digital platform that allows
peer review and artists to interact and exchange views and interpretations
As we examine how these five credibility tests of all research are being
met by practice-led researchers I believe it is glaringly obvious that
something fundamental is happening here. While we can recognise that this
approach to research does meet the necessary requirements to be called
research, it does so using quite a different physics from the orthodox
paradigms of quantitative and qualitative research.
In fact, to my mind, those differences are evidence of a pivotal moment in the development of research - as important a moment as when qualitative researchers noted that the physics of their research was different from the physics of their quantitative colleagues. At that moment they had to claim a new space, to mark it 'qualitative research', and then get on refining its protocols and procedures. One pivotal difference centred on the way the two represented their knowledge claims. As Schwandt makes perfectly clear, quantitative research is 'the activity or operation of expressing something as a quantity or amount - for example, in numbers, graphs, or formulas' (Schwandt 2001: 215), while qualitative research, with its concern to capture the observed, interpreted and nuanced properties of behaviours, responses and things, refers to 'all forms of social inquiry that rely primarily on [ ] nonnumeric data in the form of words' (Schwandt 2001: 213).
Reporting Research: Beyond Words and Numbers
Before developing this argument further it is essential to make a crucial distinction between words, and words - those words (and numbers) used in texts which constitute the discourse of traditional research reports. In her well-known study of symbolism, Philosophy in the New Key, Langer identifies a particular category of symbols that she names the discursive or propositional. She acknowledges that they are analytical in nature and sequential (linear) in movement. They work through precision and reference and when represented in the symbolic language of mathematics look something like this:
Perhaps you'll remember this from high school maths - it's a polynomial
equation that allows us to determine the sum and difference of cubes.
Such discursive forms of knowledge gravitate towards the abstract and
general - their power lies in their ability to generalise. Such symbolic
statements can be translated without a loss or change of meaning, for
meaning is transferred in their discursive or determinate concepts. These
discursive or propositional symbolic systems are the characteristics and
necessary symbolism of the operational mind that is the dominant mode
of thinking in our technological society. It is the preferred symbolism
of science, humanities, organised research and all rational enquiry.
It is important to acknowledge that the conventional symbols of mathematics
and the words of a language may be objects of aesthetic appreciation.
We may appreciate the elegance of an equation or the metaphorical power
of a perceptive written image but our main interest lies in what we can
do with these symbolic orders, in the way we can use them.
Langer explains discursiveness in verbal language as the 'form which
requires us to string out our ideas even though the objects rest one within
the other; as pieces of clothing that are actually
worn one over the other have to be strung side by side on the clothesline'
(Langer 1942: 81).
This metaphor of wearing clothes rather than stringing them out on the
clothesline, points us to Langer's second category of symbols - the non
discursive or presentational. Following Kant, Langer argues these symbols
do not work through the linear connectedness of their determinate concepts.
Instead they animate us, move us and are not meant to be read literally
and these symbol systems include religion, myth, the arts. They work through
intuition, feeling and sensuality, and they cannot be translated. Music
cannot be literally translated, for example; the meaning is the sound.
Non discursive or presentational symbols bear conception of feeling and
sentience and engender a very different kind of reflection than do discursive
symbols. The symbolic orders of art and creative writing serve to bring
emotion, feeling and aspiration to consciousness.
In attempting to understand the role words play in research it is important
to recognize that words can be used within both the discursive and non-discursive
symbolic systems. In the West we know only too well the power the discursive
symbolic orders (especially mathematics and logic with their ability to
create 'objective' evidence) to frame our world and drive policy. In the
West we still live in the shadow of Socrates, who together with Plato
and Aristotle so emphatically embraced the discursive and propositional
and set to one side those makers of the non-discursive and presentational.
After all, Plato burnt his poetry and in my discipline, theatre, we performers
were banned from the Republic - 'with a garland of wool upon our heads,
we shall be sent away to another city' (Plato 1970: 165).
But, as Elliott Eisner reminds us, 'Each symbol system,
like each sensory system, is non-redundant. What one can say for one is
not literally translatable for another' (Eisner 1979:
14). Years later he expressed it this way: 'Not
everything can be "said" with anything. Poetic meaning requires
poetic forms of thought and poetically treated form' (Eisner
However, excluding 'poetically treated' forms from 'legitimate' means
of representation, like banning us to another city, can only result in
an impoverished understanding of what it is to know, what it is we can
say and what it is to be human. Nietzsche recognized
this when he wrote, 'Only in the dance do I know how to speak the parable
of the highest things' (Nietzsche 1997: 77).
Peter Abbs, who leads the creative and critical writing course at Sussex University, chooses not to write about this same issue in the discursive forms expected of all academics and organised researchers. As a major British poet and researcher he understands it this way:
However, over the past decade a number of qualitative researchers have
felt constrained by the capacity of discursive and propositional text
to capture the nuances and subtleties of human behaviour. This has resulted
in some qualitative researchers turning to presentational symbolic forms
such as poetry, fiction writing, theatre, performance,
dance, music and the visual and graphic arts to represent their claims
to knowledge (Norris 1997).
Denzin and Lincoln applaud this development and relish the instability
created by these messy forms of research, arguing they have 'reshaped
entirely the debates around "appropriate" scientific
discourse, the technical and rhetorical conventions of scientific writing,
and the meaning of research itself' (Denzin and Lincoln
I believe they are correct in assessing the impact of this move; understandings and assumptions about research are being reshaped, and radically. But to contain these impulses to a radical fringe of qualitative researchers seriously understates the significance of innovations introduced by creative writers, designers and others who have been researching in and through their practice. These methodological developments have implications for the whole field of research, for they represent fundamentally different research procedures from those that operate in both the quantitative and qualitative orthodoxies. In fact, there is evidence enough to recognise that we stand at a pivotal moment in the history and development of research. Practice-led researchers are formulating a third species of research, one that stands in alignment with, but separate from, the established quantitative and qualitative research traditions. I believe this shift is as significant as was the development of qualitative research.
A Third Paradigm: Performative Research
But what should we call such a research paradigm -
one that asserts that the dance, the novel, the design is an outcome of
research? One clue is provided by JL Austin's (1962)
notion of performativity. For Austin, performative speech acts are utterances
that accomplish, by their very enunciation, an action that generates effects.
His influential and founding example of the performative is: 'I do (sc.
take this woman to be my lawful wedded wife)' which enacts what it names.
The name performs itself and in the course of that performing becomes
the thing done. So in this third category of research - alongside quantitative
(symbolic numbers) and qualitative (symbolic words) - the symbolic data,
which may include material forms of practice, of still and moving images,
of music and sound, of live action and digital code, all
I have written more fully about this concept of performative research
(Haseman 2006, 2007), arguing
that when research findings are presented as performative utterances,
there is a double articulation with practice that brings into being what,
for want of a better word, it names. The research process inaugurates
movement and transformation. It is performative. It is not qualitative
research: it is itself - a new paradigm of research with its own distinctive
protocols, principles and validation procedures.
And for me, this is your most pressing challenge from the RQF. How do
you develop your own distinctive protocols, principles and validation
procedures for creative writing (given those five credibility tests) and
how may they be aligned with those of the other creative arts and design?
We all need to be busy now, thoroughly investigating our practice-led endeavours and engaging in the scholarly reporting so necessary to develop our field and our preferred research methodology. And that's where you come in. With the RQF you are needed as writerly seiltanzers - tightrope walkers, fearlessly balanced high up there, continuing to take our breaths away, but moving systematically forward.
List of works cited
Brad Haseman has worked as a teacher and researcher for over thirty years pursuing his fascination with the aesthetics and forms of contemporary performance and pedagogy. As Assistant Dean Research for the Creative Industries faculty at Queensland University of Technology, he has been a strong advocate for practice-led research . Most recently he has edited Innovation in Australian Arts, Media and Design (2004, Post Pressed) and been the Creative Practices section editor of Creative Industries (2004, Blackwell). He served as guest editor for a themed issue around Practice-led Research for Media International Australia (February 2006). In 2005 he co-covened the national conference Applying Practice-led research in the Creative Industries at QUT and during 2006 has given keynote presentations about practice-led research and the impact of the RQF at national conferences involved with drama and dance, design and creative writing.
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Vol 11 No 1 April 2007
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb