Saturday, 17 January 2015

Creativity as a Research Method

Creative writing as a research method has been already established within critical theory and, of course, literary studies. Nevertheless, I still wonder how findings from the process of creative writing can contribute to other disciplines, like social sciences, politics, cultural studies, or film studies. A recent TVAD talk by professor Michael Biggs regarded the complexity of practice-based research within creative arts, and one of the discussed case studies was a novel, submitted as a PhD, being itself a final result from the research process and the documentation of that process. A novel by proxy represents creative writing. For a PhD it still needs to be accompanied by some form of reflective documentation which subdues to the nature of PhD argumentation. The same with dance, film, or a piece of art 'submitted' as a PhD. The relationship between the 'intellectual' part versus the 'creative' part must be explained in a classical - non-creative form of writing. As professor Biggs admitted this situation is changing as much as our disciplines are changing. the borders between intellectual and creative are more and more blurred. I am very interested in the process of writing per se across different academic disciplines, especially, in how our style of writing represents a particular research paradigm. Although novels and poems are accepted as practice-based research more commonly than not these days (a different question is how they are evaluated by REF), it is not so common to see creatively written articles within non-creative disciplines. There are some interesting examples of creatively-inspired publications within social sciences, like Les Back's famous The Art of Listening and his creative diary online, or a widely awarded novel by Slavenka Drakulic, 'A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism', or Mitchell Duneier' Sidewalk, engaging with the authors' social and political research in an entertaining and compelling way. We are all encouraged to engage our audience (impact) through more emotional and personal means, so our writing becomes more individual and unique, thus breaking through the patterns of classical academic argumentation, inherited from natural sciences, and opening to experimentation. Yet we do not have many pieces out there, which would reflect creatively on non-creative matters. If our research to change the world and especially if it is going to be funded by taxpayers' money, we need to explain ourselves clearly and with no doubts. Policy makers would not like to read novels and poems instead of traditional reports. But why not? Maybe policy makers would benefit from creative writing workshops, singing workshops or reading poetry together? Such a proposal would need to be explained first and predict the outcomes clearly, so no taxpayer's money is wasted. It may happen one day (maybe even is happening somewhere now), that the language of disseminating research findings will have to be based on stanzas and creative narratives, involving sounds and images which are not embedded in Power Point, but produced by a researcher communicating with the audience on more than one - verbal level. It must be happening to a certain extent in communication with audiences and stakeholders with disabilities. How much effort academia undertakes to 'translate' academic books and reports for deaf people or blind people? Such translation deploys non-verbal 'signs' and in that sense encourages creativity. Yet signing and Braille reflect the systematic organisation of words and letters derived from the dominant discourse, so, although not languages but codes, they are verbalised in the intellectual manner analogous to language. Creative articulation of research findings, which takes my attention, would abandon the system of sense and unfold on the level of the senses. For example, an experimental film projected as a final outcome of a project on aging of the current population, or an exhibition of smells as a way of disseminating finding from a project on...pottery, or using colour as a method of identifying our sensitivity to ...urban design. There are project like that, of course, applying creative methods of research and dissemination across all disciplines (it is quite fashionable, in fact), but how such projects engage with writing their findings? Is that writing as creative as the methods applied? How to write about smells and colour and experimentation without falling into total solipsism and unverified subjectivity? Whose experience would we represent when writing? How to articulate what our senses are going through? Using synesthesiae to capture multisensoarial experience seems a bit dated. How else can we capture the impact of non-verbal stimuli in academic writing? I would like to see those smells and colours and images submitted instead of writing. To communicate, would they need to reflect our current intellectual coding like signing or Braille? or could they serve as a trigger releasing some form of 'the unknown', surprise, or even shock. I am not promoting Romanticism with its Platonic methods of truth discovery and sublime, but rather the studies of affect, in which mind and body are working together on equal rights, but not with equal intensity. I suppose I would like to see a new measure in place for the next REF: the ratio of affect. Why? To open to new modes of communication and new modes of impact, which do not know the borders of disciplines or the patterns of thinking traditions. How would such impact be evaluated? Do we need to establish new 'affective norms outside of normativity which affect denies? It will take us some time to answer this question, and while trying we are already discovering new knowledge. PS. I would like to add an avatar with some fragrance representing my intellectual approach here, but my keyboard does not have one (yet).

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