TEXT review


Bringing up baby: nurturing creative research in an academic context

review by Susan Taylor Suchy

 

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Old and New, Tried and Untried:
Creativity and Research in the 21st Century
Jeri Kroll, Andrew Melrose and Jen Webb (eds)
The Learner Book Imprint, Common Ground Publishing, Champaign IL 2016
ISBN 9781612298412
Pdf 176pp USD15.00

 

Born of a humanities colloquium in Madrid, Old and New, Tried and Untried: Creativity and Research in the 21st Century addresses the challenges of nurturing the creative disciplines in an educational environment that has come to require academic scholars and research outcomes from what was once a practical and craft-based atelier approach. The contributors are creative arts academics from Australia and the United Kingdom who have witnessed the changes in the educational landscape and who seek to address the relationship of creative practice to creative research. Importantly, the authors aim to clarify ways in which creative academics can most effectively work and how the work done by researchers in creative disciplines can be classified and valued.

Jen Webb and Paul Hetherington present a call for change in the opening chapter ‘“Research Active” vs “Practice Active”: Re-imagining the Relationship between the Academy and the Creative Arts Sector’. In order to ‘interrupt the dominant discourse’, art for art’s sake must be differentiated from art as research (11). They assert that ‘it is not much more than a game of language that differentiates practice from research’ (5). For example, most traditional types of research do not precisely fit with the Frascati or Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) guidelines of research anymore than arts research does (6). Webb and Hetherington object to the terms ‘research equivalent’ or ‘practice active’. The terms are invalid and relegate the practitioner-researcher to an inferior status (7). Further, the dominant discourse supports a problematic worldview that devalues significant and human aspects of research in all fields. The current, flawed view will not produce effective research because it ignores emergent aspects that allow for broader discovery that is not easily categorised by present narrow classifications. Webb and Hetherington recognise the need to value discovery, surprise, and imaginative work, and not just for those in the creative arts but also for all researchers in any field of practice, even if not every act of practice is research.

Other chapters also address the issue of the terms and language we use. Julian Meyrick, in ‘“Practice Active”: Reconsidering Research Equivalence in Research Assessment Indices’, presents a view of how the relationship between creative arts and tertiary education might be better managed (143). At the heart of the discussion is the term ‘practice active’ which Meyrick defines as ‘individual academics being creatively active in research-equivalent areas defined by practice-based norms and practice-based assessments of the results’ (145). He addresses Australian universities and encourages the view that staff must be actively practising in their industry in order to prepare students, and, importantly, that practice needs to be recognised and rewarded by the university even if not in the same way as traditional research.

The term ‘collaboration’ is addressed in ‘Creativity, Research, and Practice Working Together: Collaborating with the Past, Present and Future’. Andrew Melrose draws from Lev Vygotsky’s ideas on the self and other in relation to creativity, to move away from the ‘Romantic’ myth of the isolated writer and toward understanding the impact of the historical and cultural environment, and the artist’s interdependence. By examining a wide range of creative works and creators’ and critics’ perspectives, he argues for new ways of looking at ‘collaboration’. Melrose contends that cultivating new ways of looking at and talking about collaboration and interdependence will be helpful in elucidating the process of knowledge exchange that occurs between practice and research.

Many of the articles draw out the unique qualities of creative writing as part of a plan for helping creative writing in academia to adapt and change. For example, Jordan Williams offers useful strategies for dealing with the ‘climate of accountability’ that exists (21). In her chapter ‘The Higher Degree by Research’, she examines recent policy and research documents as well as issues of public criticism, in the UK and Australian context, to uncover the most significant accountability measures that need to be addressed. Then, by focusing on the unique qualities of creative writing, she draws out a range of tactics including: maintaining relevance for the discipline by encouraging work on the new forms of writing (such as web series, multimedia storytelling, and apps), and recruiting doctoral candidates for that purpose; developing additional new narrative forms (34); supporting multidisciplinary work and supervision (35); innovating approaches to the doctorate itself; and developing remote models in online and distance learning to extend the reach and diversity of doctorates (36).

Paul Munden also seeks out the unique qualities of creative writing.  For example, in ‘Writing and Education: The Value of Reconciling Teaching and Research’, Munden argues that one value of creative writing is in increasing diversity, and he presents three ways in which this occurs. Munden also claims that research is a form of human activity that occurs at all levels, and regardless of a government’s shortsighted actions, ‘we should perhaps look forward to a new, subversive age of experiment, writing and research’ (81). Munden calls for practitioner-teacher-researchers to understand their ways of knowing and to share that understanding with the cultural industries and wider economy to demonstrate impact.

Ideas about sharing are also presented by Jeri Kroll in ‘Researcher and Practitioner: A Refreshed Model of Supervision in Creative Writing Doctorates’. Kroll examines the terms ‘research active’ and ‘practice active’ to ‘explore the challenges raised by hybrid degrees’ (42). She considers how institutions can develop strategies for evaluating staff and their contributions to doctoral candidate supervision (56). She contextualises the challenge within the European, UK, and Australasian agendas and recognises the difficulties of supervision in meeting standards presented in government and stakeholder documents, for example the pressure to ensure that candidates of variable ages and backgrounds be ‘career ready’ (45). After presenting the qualities of an effective supervisor as: holding a relevant doctorate, having supervisory experience, and being ‘research active’, Kroll proposes that a shortage of well-qualified supervisors could be addressed with a ‘refreshed model’ – a supervisory panel or team, each with experience in different areas, who would address the range of skills the candidate needs to acquire as creative practitioner-researchers. A ‘qualified’ supervisor would lead the team. Among the benefits that Kroll describes of this shared workload approach is a situation that allows ‘qualified’ supervisors the ability to oversee more students and / or balance and fulfill research, teaching, and publication demands. Also the ‘refreshed model’ would provide students with more supervisory and mentorship experiences. Foregrounding this approach, as Kroll recommends, would help to gain recognition for the complexity of both supervision and training (57).

New methods for uniting research and creative practice are explored in some of the chapters, and two articles address the issue of replicable results. Sue Joseph’s ‘The Exegesis, Autoethnography and the Ethical Management of Enactive Practice’ argues that the practice-led research model presents problems in terms of recognition and understanding by government funding agencies (107). Joseph seeks to specify the term ‘enactive methodology within autoethnography’ (110), an approach that she claims is analogous to a traditional scientific approach of offering replicable results (107). Drawing from Haseman’s work in defining ‘a third species of research’, Joseph’s research examines techniques in the practices of four research students who were conducting their own creative research into trauma narratives (111). Each case demonstrates how the creative writer might examine one’s own experience as part of a research process. For example, one case considers writing within a scientific experiment. Another case examines an event by using writing techniques such as point of view. This second example involves writing about an experience in 1st person, interviewing or presenting the perspective of others (3rd person) who were also involved in the experience, and then analysing memories. Usefully, Joseph also takes the time to address issues of ethical conduct and presents some ways for protecting those working with traumatic memories.

Nigel McLoughlin also addresses the issue of replicable results in ‘Being Gone: A Text World Analysis of Ambiguity in Eavan Boland’s “Suburban Woman: A Detail”’.  McLoughlin first provides a useful overview of Paul Werth’s Text World Theory which emerged from Werth in the 80s and 90s (128). Next he pairs the approach with Peter Stockwell’s cognitive model of literary resonance, that is, a way of examining ‘attentional focus’ on a particular world (129). The Text World Analysis approach can help writers consider where a reader’s attention is focused and how subtle shifts occur with linguistic cues and tropes. McLoughlin’s analysis of Boland’s work demonstrates this method of cognitive poetic analysis in action and its replicable nature.

In the 1938 screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby there is a meeting of energies between the harried researcher who needs funding (Cary Grant) and the high-spirited Susan (Katharine Hepburn) and her pet leopard, Baby. At the end of the film, academic research and funding can’t be without the wild creative spirit; but things are never going to be easy, and that describes the situation for creative disciplines and higher degree research. As Meyrick suggests, for creative arts to thrive in academia ongoing re-negotiation of the relationship is necessary (149). This book plays an important role in helping negotiate the terms for ‘baby’ to thrive.

 

 

Susan Taylor Suchy is an author and academic working at the University of Western Australia. She is currently researching the relationship of the discipline of creative writing to the digital marketplace and how the creative writing student creates within that space.

 

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Vol 20 No 2 October 2016
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