Practice as Research, Research as Practice, Practices of Research

The discussion of practice as research at today’s LCDS research group got me thinking about its relation to “traditional” academic research. In particular, this converged with a thought that echoed Judith Butler’s discussion of the place of philosophy in non-philosophical disciplines, explored in her Undoing Gender (2004). So, I thought I’d sketch out a couple of ideas.

Butler, in her chapter on ‘Can the “Other” of Philosophy Speak?’, suggests that philosophy transformed into something other in its influence beyond (what I will crudely paraphrase as) “philosophy proper” – that is, what happens in philosophy departments, what happens within the conventionalised boundaries of philosophy as an academic discipline conceived narrowly. She points out that some of the most productive and probing philosophical thinking happening is taking place within departments other to philosophy: within comparative literature departments, to cite one example. (I would add music departments to her list; these have added a great deal to philosophical thought – and not only about the aesthetics of music.) This other philosophy now doubles back onto its its presumed “source”, institutionalized philosophy; it is conceived of in relation and tension to it and, ultimately, renders the concept of philosophy as dialogic and polyvocal. The other persists in its problematization and destabilization of the presumed disciplinary norm: ‘Institutionalized philosophy has not been at one with itself for some time, if ever it was, and its life outside the borders of philosophy takes various forms. And yet, there is some way that each is haunted, if not stalked, by the other.’ (Butler, 2004, p. 242)

Does practice as research, I asked myself – in some sense at least – echo this other that is beginning to speak? Does it produce a notion of “research” that is not ‘at one with itself’? For me, someone who undertakes “traditional” academic research, I find this idea tantalising. I am cast in the position similar to that of the (disciplinarily conventional) philosopher to whom an other philosophy speaks; I am a researcher to whom other researches speak. Returning to the source, from which it formerly divided itself, this other research engages it dialectically. In so doing, in the attendance of practice as research to the notion of practice as such, it marks out that (“conventional”) research is itself a practice: research as practice. Put another way, by coming out of itself, into practice, it seems that practice as research could potentially change the model of academic research from which it originally grew, and from which it formally articulated itself in terms of oppositional difference. ‘Practice as research’ is hence not merely an additional way of doing research. A dialectical conception of research lets us consider if the very notion of research has been changed by a doubling that could destabilize and change the practice of research as such.

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