Wednesday, October 24, 2012

practice based research: policing the borders of knowledge

Practice based research is not only a methodology, but is also tied to a metric, and, for you to be successful according to a metric, you need to play the game.
When I first encountered the term ‘practice based research,’ it promised to forge an academe that was more inclusive, border crossing. With creeping corporatism, however, practice based research instead became a way to solidify borders.
We all play the game. A (successful) practitioner outside academia knows to discriminate in their networking; to remember to, say, ask the Important Person at a concert about their family, to compliment the right people at a gallery, to have the right guest performer on their record, etc. And academia—with its bureaucratic pressures, need for peer esteem, to demonstrate ‘value’—is perhaps no different. As universities become knowledge/degree factories, as they are constantly asked to justify every penny, the metric, and the game, exists to reenforce the value of inside over that outside. This leads to some of problematic work and behavior written about elsewhere, and Bob Ostertag makes a similar point in regards Computer Music:

A phenomenon seen time and time again in academia: the more an area of knowledge becomes diffused in the public, the louder become the claims of those within the tower to exclusive expertise in the field, and the narrower become the criteria become for determining who the ‘experts’ actually are. [Read the rest…]
I’ve been to enough academic conferences/performances to encounter glazed eyes and interrupted conversations when someone discovers that I’m unaffiliated or semi-affiliated. No coincidence that this happens most often with junior academics as—with hostile job markets and promotion systems—they feel the greatest pressure to play the game.
I know academically affiliated researcher-practitioners who try their best to cross borders, but face an uphill struggle because the game rewards exclusivity. Academia should be a privileged space in which researchers, like arts practitioners outside academic borders, imagine and explore alternative modes of thought, interaction and sociality. However, for many unaffiliated practitioners who value what is offered by a conversation—an exchange of ideas and methodology—with academic practitioners, practice based research has not helped that conversation happen.