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3/4 Luke it's a trap! Or: Naccaratos artistic practice-as-research

“Why would artistic practice not be considered research? Further, why would practice-as-research not belong in a university?” (Naccarato 2018: 436)

Naccarato addresses the processes of exclusion through which the discourse of practice as research [PaR] is constituted and sustained.

Luke, it's a trap: The request to explain how artistic practice is related to research is a trap. To describe how practice and research interact reinforces the assumption that they are initially independent processes that can be observed or even shaped in contact in an observable or even designable way. But this is not the case: "What might be considered practice and research 'become' together, in context, and are ontologically and epistemologically bound" (436)

There is no research without practice, because the doing of research is itself a practice. In research practices, the motives and methods of the researchers are entangled with the knowledge produced.

Proponents of PaR at universities need to account for what constitutes knowledge in practice PaR and what knowledge is excluded from it.

→ Barad demands for an appreciation of the intertwining of ethics, knowledge and being, because every inner action has meaning and becoming in the world is a profoundly ethical matter (437)

What is (not) practice? → For PaR, one must engage in a practice. However, there are no clear lines here from or until when a practice is considered as such.

Any judgement of what it means to "having or falling out of a given disciplinary" (438) is very subjective and situated, due to the disciplinary effects of power and attitudes-against-attitudes. It also varies depending on location.

Simply put: through practice, we apply theory - not produce it (439).

Descartes has doubts about subjective, sensory perceptions and suggests that the mind and soul are used to try to overcome the deceptive nature of mortal matter in search of certainty, truth and ultimately God.

-> The doubt raised by Descartes about experiential knowledge has consequences in relation to embodied practices - which are all practices - as meaningful forms of inquiry. If phenomenal processes such as vision, memory, body and movement cannot be trusted, what is the relation of these processes, if any, to constructions of knowledge? (439)

"In emergent and hybrid processes of discourse - which may involve reading, writing, discussing, moving, making, or even stillness and silence - it is critical to remember that '[discourse] is not what is said; it is that which constrains and enables what can be said. Discursive practices define what counts as meaningful statements,' and likewise, what constitutes a meaningful contribution to knowledge within a given frame of reference." (441f)

In order to deconstruct the functioning of disciplinary power, "Foucault argues that 'in contrast to the phenomenologists' that the constitutions of knowledge cannot be explained solely 'through the historicisation of the subject', i.e. through the positioning of the researcher as producer and transmitter of situated knowledge" (442). Rather, a process of genealogy is needed, i.e. a form of history that can explain the constitution of knowledge, discourses, etc. without having to refer to a subject. (ibid)

"In Foucault's account of knowledge, practices and theories are regulated from within by the disciplinary effects of power, which regulate the boundaries of the limits of disciplinary discourse. The disciplining of ways of speaking and seeing is not a matter of determinism and prohibition, but rather involves continuous processes of discursive constraint through which particular practices contribute to the salient knowledge of a discipline - thus acquiring the status of a practice, or even a practice that is a practice Research" (442)

What is (not) practice-as-research?

-Since the 1960s in the UK and internationally, practitioner-researchers have advocated for the value of alternative methods of knowledge production in an academic context. → Sometimes called the 'practice turn'.

→ characterised by a post-binary commitment to activity (rather than structure), process (rather than fixity), action (rather than representation), collectivity (rather than individualism), reflexivity (rather than self-consciousness) and much more.

The discourse of PaR is not exclusive to the arts: "Indeed, practice is precisely the thing that artists have in common with other forms of scholarship and research. (Ellis 2013)

In an attempt to reconcile artistic PaR with academic research Robin Nelson outlines three categories of research: personal, professional, and academic, and argues that while all of these types of research "involve investigation, finding things out and drawing conclusions", only the academic requires a gain in knowledge.

What do we hope to achieve as disciplined artists when we insist that artistic practice is or can be research? Conversely, what do the academic communities hope to gain by convincing artists to pursue their activities to be pursued and presented within the framework of PaR? → Foucault ponders the motives - and consequences - when researchers (Marxists in his example, but this also applies to artists), attempt to equate their practice with scientific methodology and discourse.

Evaluating PaR

In recent years there has been much debate regarding how to demonstrate and evaluate rigour in PaR.

On a blog titled 'The Future of Practice Research,' Ben Johnson outlines three key pressures faced by practice researchers:

1. "the pressure to demonstrate value for money;"

2. "the pressure to align

practice-based research with institutional strategies;"

3. "the pressure to identify and engage with a wider research 'standard' or 'definition' that

comes from practising in a university context." (Johnson 2015)

In a certain regard, positioning artistic practice as a form of research has potential to challenge institutional and cultural notions of 'what gets valued as knowledge' and therefore, to expand the scope of which endeavors receive life-sustaining resources. In another regard, the concept of PaR can be understood as a regulatory device employed within communities of practice in order to standardize practices of research within and across disciplinary cultures, in service of establishing 'common ground' and 'shared knowledge'. (447)

PaR as/and Research

To this purpose, the concept of practice as research can function as "a strategy to recruit outlying practitioners into the frame of dominant and centrist discourse, such that these new ‘allies’ – including many artists – willingly reinforce, rather than destabilize, the status quo of what counts as knowledge." (447) However, this does not mean that artistic practice should not be linked to research, or that artistic practice is not situated by science.

From an ideational point of view, the encounter of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies with critical and counter-methodologies, such as feminist, indigenous and artistic practices as research, has the potential to destabilise the boundaries of research cultures.This destabilisation, in turn, can lead to unfamiliar ethical-onto-epistemological entanglements - in other words, to "new worlds" in which other(s) knowledge becomes visible.

Transferring criteria for rigour and excellence from one disciplinary culture to another does not take into account knowledge that is excluded and invisible from the frame of reference of a particular evaluative framework

“Resisting the transposition of disciplinary norms across practices is not a matter of

Artistic Practice-as-Research: A Genealogical Account critique, at least not exclusively; rather, it involves continual processes of mutual destabilization of disciplinary boundaries, in order to shift the frames of reference within which different knowledges come to matter differently for different people.” (448f)

Again: “Why would artistic practice not be considered research? Further, why would practice-as-research not belong in a university?” -> “a means to enter into a genealogical account of ‘the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects, etc.,’ which continually differentiate conceptions of knowledge in PaR from other ‘forms of knowledge that circulate about it.’“ (450)


Naccarato, Teoma (2018). Artistic Practice as Research: A Genealogical account. In A World of Muscle, Bone and Organ: Research and Scholarship in Dances (pp. 435-455).

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