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

Danny Butt db at dannybutt.net
Tue Jan 16 21:58:36 EST 2007

Dear Margaret, all

Just a quick response Margaret - I am not at all strongly opposed to  
practice-based Ph.D programmes - in fact the reason I am studying  
them for my own Ph.D :) is that I believe they have the potential to  
illuminate certain limitations in Euro-American disciplinary research  
traditions. As you have already pointed out, the new media  
environment and other dynamics are already showing some of the  
constitutive tensions of these traditions (research and  
dissemination; knowledge and expression; what constitutes a "field of  
knowledge" to which the Ph.D contributes; etc.)  So the erosion of  
these historical disciplinary binarisms is something I support fully.

The issue I was trying to raise is about strategy and institutional  
realities as raised by Simon. The creative practice PhD seems to me  
to be likely to have a large strategic impact on the larger research  
environment, and the position of art schools in the university  
sector. Further, many traditional institutions and people have much  
to lose and little to gain from opening up to the incursion of the  
practice-based research into the Ph.D. as such, and so there are high  
levels of risk to organisations and to disciplines including art and  
design in this move. In New Zealand and Australia I have seen a  
number of quite negative reactions which have begun to call into  
question whether such practices should legitimately gain research  
funding (previously, some practitioners have done so "under the  
radar", disguised as "real research"). In light of such responses, we  
can expect new forms of managerial oversight and pressures for  
regulation, and (for example) traditional RS&T folks having measures  
of control over how creative practitioners undertake their work. We  
know how this works in institutional and policy environments :)

So I just think for those of us taking on this fight, it's bigger  
than even the very large struggles I know people like yourself have  
made just to get programmes off the ground in institutions and  
legislature. There is a need for more discussion about the effects  
and an opportunity to build some much-needed solidarity in agenda  
setting internationally (let's be clear - the hard science research  
agenda is set internationally), so I greatly value this discussion  
which is contributing to that shared understanding - and I'm learning  
a lot here too :)


On 16/01/2007, at 2:14 PM, Margaret Morse wrote:

> 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 encouraging:
> "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
> apprenticeship.
> 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 approach."
> --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 Ph.D:
> "...having Arts Ph.D.s would change/influence the confines of what  
> is academic knowledge/practice, ect.
> 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 daily."
> 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.
> Thanks.
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Danny Butt
db at dannybutt.net | http://www.dannybutt.net
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