Edinburgh Napier University
Thirty five colleagues from eleven institutions reflected in June on methodologies we use in practice research during a symposium at Edinburgh Napier University. Those showcasing a diverse range of approaches agreed on one point: Practice is a form of knowledge generation. Production is a process of enquiry. There is – and should be – no hierarchy amongst disciplines in the quest of knowledge.
Numerous nuggets of wisdom, gained through hands-on experience with practice research, were shared. A safe and intimate context for contributors to the Northern Ireland Prisons Memory Archive oral history research project is enhanced through one-camera set-ups, confidentiality and counselling for camera crew. Whilst emotions are in danger of being erased in written accounts of the Chiapas rebellion, the audio-visual medium of documentary film brings alive testimony that makes the cultural unconscious apparent to a wider audience in A Massacre Foretold.
Do filmmakers and island communities of the Outer Hebrides collude to construct an ideal of the Gaelic homestead? What are the practicalities of capturing a first-ever anthropological study of multilingual childhoods in Zambia on film? What is the benefit of involving hospice patients in the process of documentary production – and allowing them to sing their contribution rather than talk? How should a complex web of relations and representations be mediated when one engages in production-ethnography research, related to participatory community based media? Do we allow our original research question to evolve from ‘how does one make a film about an invisible object’ to ‘what can film do to transform people’s understanding of where they live’? And what about the “p” word? How are practice academics perceived, and how do they contextualise their practice and their role as practitioners within the wider field of academia? These all were questions discussed by Symposium contributors.
A debate towards the end of the day highlighted the passion and long-term commitment practice researchers have for their research topics. Whether these examples of research contribute to post-conflict reconciliation, promotion of social justice, creation of community oral histories or individual legacies – a particular strength of these specific examples of practice research is the impact they have in the wider community.
Practice research does not take place in an ivory tower. One repeated recommendation was not to forget the after-life of production. Screenings in the community, engagement with audiences and systematic collection of feedback data all contribute towards a body of evidence that can be used for REF-able impact studies.
Thanks to Cahal McLaughlin, Nick Higgins, Kirsten McLeod, Alastair Cole, Amy Hardy, Alistair Scott, David Archibald and Diane MacLean for sharing the highs, lows and secrets of your passionate, tenacious and inspiring practice research with us! Thanks also to John Casey for introducing us to Clipper, a tool that will make practice researchers’ life that little bit easier. As Symposium participants all agreed, your practice research is absolutely ‘impactastic’! It was fabulous to celebrate the cultural and intellectual reach of our work and to reflect on the rich diversity of approaches to practice research.