[iDC] re: "Praxis-based" Ph.Ds

Margaret Morse memorse at comcast.net
Mon Jan 15 23:14:01 EST 2007

Dear IDCs, we've have more substantive posts 
since my last response.  May I say that everyone 
is at least somewhat ambivalent about the 
practice-based Ph.D. and some are totally 
opposed.  However, there are also acknowledgement 
of possibilities that could be kept in mind in 
bringing this knowledge format to realization:

--Pamela is truly in a interdisciplinary 
situation  "a joint position between a very
traditional school of art and traditional human computer interaction
institute in a school of computer science at a tier 1 research university
in the United States.  These departments/schools/institutes represent
vastly different species in the landscape of 
higher education."  She goes on to identify 
specific differences between teaching practices 
and student status in MFAs versus PhDs.  I find 
her practical comments and her final comments 
"To conclude, I see the purpose of the praxis - based PhD (of which the
arts is not the only praxis-based Ph.D.) as the following:

To close the gap between a type of discipline practice that refuses to
"mind the gap" and dive deep into its crevices.

For programs to gain access to the university power and resources
infrastructure that place emphasis on the PhD model of research and pedagogy.

To work with students in a hybid model that is both mentorship and

To support transdisciplinary scholarship in a hybrid practice that extends
beyond the individual walls of the university into a larger
internationally recognized community of practice."

--Chris raises several issues, but the one I want 
to highlight here is her conclusion:
"lets simply acknowledge the constructed dynamics 
and parameters of the educational marketplace in 
which we are operative  Š. and let's see if we 
can envision, grant ourselves agency  and work 
our way / a way through it  ( talk about a 
utopian notion! )  Perhaps those working their 
way through these newly formed PHD  research 
programs will make significant contributions in 
this direction.  Certainly, this discussion is 
one of the most positive step I've witnessed."

--Henrik's longer post has other points,  but he 
is definitely against benchmarking.  Further:
"Just with its [the Ph.D's] very structure it 
reproduces a growing institutionalization of the
society. The way art organises knowlege has'nt 
got anything to do with an academic knowledge 
system." Nontheless he is excited to watch the 
academic sausages being made, along with the 
power struggles involved.  "Quite similar to art 
and style discussion. Fascinating, as Spock would 
say. (((-:"

I responded to Danny Butt's most recent post 
already and perhaps too harshly (I asked for more 
specifics about the inevitable process of 
destruction the practice-based Ph.D. brings about 
he suggests) since it is a clear expression of 
his stance, which I hope I am fair in 
characterizing as strongly opposed.

I posted an appreciative addition to Simon's 
comments on artists without degrees.

--Kathy expresses a number of pragmatic concerns 
she has as a chair of a department instituting a 
practice-based Ph.D.  I think her "off-wall 
concern" about collective Ph.D's is good to 
think.  She concludes:  "I do appreciate a 
combined synergistic approach to theory(research) 
and practice and have learned much from the 
filmmakers/video artists who have worked to make 
clear their engagement with the tools they work 
with, thus clarifying their questions THROUGH 
their work. So, if this "practice" of working and 
theorizing can be made clearer through this 
process of PhD work, then more power to it. I 
hope that on each of our departments we can make 
room for any and all of these approaches, and not 
succumb to the limitations of professionalism and 
certification that lives well in academia. 
Artists need to write and articulate their own 
processes these days and I am excited by this 

--Thanks to Jack for referring us to James 
Elkin's "Theoretical Remarks on Combined 
Creative and Scholarly PhD Degrees in the Visual 
Arts."  I have to admit I don't have it and it 
appears to be crucial reading.

--Kembrew's educational corporate sponsorship 
prank is delightful.  Like many others, I teach 
about tactical art in my courses and this example 
is a warning to us to watch it.  One of my 
students last quarter, Jessica, did a similar 
stunt for a more limited audience re the campus 
Information Technology.

--Saul's longer post concludes: "The real 
question do we believe that purpose of the arts 
is to propose critical models capable of 
resisting the instrumentality of positivism and 
pragmatism of industry or are we to become an 
integral component of the culture industry in 
which our own products will be determined by what 
the market will support.  .....- It seems to me 
that it continues to be in our interest as a 
society to sustain the creative tension the 
distinction between commercial and critical 
culture generates - I believe that any program 
committed to educating artist at this time must 
be one capable of producing students committed to 
critical rather than functional ends."
	I haven't dealt enough with the structure 
and content of the specific courses we teach in 
my department(s) here or I wouldn't have to 
explain this: I can safely say that I and all my 
colleagues teach and do their research using 
critical, not merely formal and definitely not 
corporate approaches.  One strand of research 
represented by two colleagues has a direct 
relation to social participation and cultural 
change and others employ a variety of critical 
and independent approaches.  Being in a public 
educational system means that many of our 
undergraduate students have never seen or known 
about art before they reach our doors--"street" 
smarts are hard to acquire in suburbia and the 
urban streets can be deadly. We eschew commercial 
purposes in all our efforts--we belong to a 
research university for a reason.  If I have ever 
seemed to convey otherwise, I wish you to know 
that no such message was intended.  If we succeed 
in our collaborations with sciences and 
engineering, it will not be because we are 
furthering a corporate agenda.

--Kevin's describes the state of teaching in the 
arts as "non-discursive plurality." The 
challenges he outlines suggest a deplorable 
situation in the arts.  Mark's research seems 
apropo as one remedy in identifying the "hidden 
agenda" of art practice as a whole, bringing a 
latent discourse to life and offering a coherence 
that is currently lacking. I can't speak directly 
to Kevin's experiences because I come out of film 
studies, a highly discursive discipline with a 
(perhaps too strongly) defined methodology.  I 
find Kevin's post moving and will keep his 
closing comment in mind:
"In the same way that art or design research must 
struggle to protect autonomous, exploratory, 
accountable research, it has to find ways of 
using any newfound credibility to protect other 
practices, other models that may not be able to 
justify their existence within a research 
university structure. Traditional crafts or 
individualized work MAY find shelter under 
lingering institutional desires for a visible, if 
marginalized, arts domain to aid in the 
construction of cultured citizens. But if these 
or other practices express critiques of the 
founding principles of a university's dominant 
practices, there will be little understanding, 
and possibly hostility. Those who can find ways 
to practice as art researchers and support 
themselves and their departments need to build in 
protection for others.

--Mary Anne (co-moderator) has commented on 
several of the above posts in her last email. 
She ends her post in defense of the positive 
outcomes one might expect from a practice-based 
"...having Arts Ph.D.s would change/influence the 
confines of what is academic knowledge/practice, 

Many traditional and text based fields are now 
using multi-media formats as means of 
expressing/articulating ideas, which is more 
representative of our multimedia social landscape 
and the different kinds of literacies we practice 

Trebor has set the 20th of January as the date 
this moderation will end on.  In a way, we have 
come so far, I don't know what more will be said 
in the remaining time, but I might be surprised.

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