Cousins Post 10: Creation-as-research-as-Pedagogy

Chapman and Sawchuck’s article, “Research-Creation: Intervention, Analysis and ‘Family  Resemblances’” defines research-creation projects as those which “integrate a creative process, experimental aesthetic component, or an artistic work as an integral part of a study” (5). As such, the focus of their article is “how this practice contributes to the research agenda of the digital humanities and social sciences” (5, emphasis mine). The role of creative practice as an intervention or as knowledge production in humanities scholarship has been on my mind for weeks now, but with a different orientation—what happens if we apply these same interventionist modes of scholarship to pedagogy?

The traditional “argumentative form(s) that have typified much academic scholarship,” the “firmly established protocols and practices for what constitutes valid scholarship” and the “normative frameworks for modes of presentation” are not exclusive to the research produced; those same values are reified in the pedagogical practices through which we demand that scholarship (from graduate students, but also from undergrads) (6). The same values that push traditional scholarship toward the monograph shift pedagogy in the humanities to act in service of the “regime of truth”;  even in the more creative-leaning academic disciplines (literature, art history, etc.) we often construct courses that value individual product over collaborative process and emphasize singular, standardized interpretation that has been solidified by experts on the canon. “Learning” as a messy, process-based and constructive process is often subordinated to “knowing” as a concrete, stable harmony with “formulaic representations of the academic genre” (6). When it comes to student learning (and perhaps to graduate research, as well), I think something crucial is lost in the consistent push to comply with “normative frameworks” – a sense of ownership over one’s learning. Apologies if this sounds like fluff; I hate to be vague, and there’s nothing less useful than undefined buzzwords. When I say “ownership”, I don’t mean confidence, or pride—those are things you can get from learning (knowing) the right answer as prescribed. Ownership, I think, comes only from making something when there is no single answer to be given or single standard with which to comply; as such, it requires creativity, and that creativity engenders a sense of power. Ownership is a position from which one can create truly original, innovative work, since the work is not oriented toward someone else’s norm.

I can certainly see how all four iterations of “research-creation” can destabilize traditional research agendas—can they also change how we teach that research?

I’m especially interested in creation-as-research, perhaps because it is “the most controversial” of the four categories; it also seems to be the most aligned with my own interest in creative project as a form of ownership. According to Champan and Sawchuck, Creation-as-research “involves the elaboration of projects where creation is required in order for research to emerge…while also seeking to extract knowledge from he process” (19). The end-game for such projects is research, but:

“It is about understanding the technologies/media/practices that we discuss as communication scholars (for instance) by actually deploying these phenomena, and pushing them into creative directions. It is a form of directed exploration through creative processes that includes experimentation, but also analysis, critique, and a profound engagement with theory and questions of method” (19).

The prolific use of the forward-slash points to the mutability of the phenomena that can be deployed and analyzed; the do-to-engage methodology of creation-as-research is applicable, perhaps, to all areas of learning. With some adjustment, it could be creation-as-research-as-pedagogy. Such a practice would involve the use of “projects where creation is required” as a pedagogical tool, making students into constructive producers as opposed to solely receptive interpreters (21). Ideally, following Chapman and Sawchuck’s reading of Heidegger, it would employ creation as a form of knowledge production as well as reflection on that creative process, bringing literature, art, etc. into “greater degrees of ‘unconcealment’ by being employed in ‘hands-on’ situations, in addition to being analyzed and interpreted” (21).

This semester, as part of the English department’s Teaching English: Uniting Pedagogies of Literature & Writing course, I tried experimenting with such a creation-as-research-as-pedagogy method…whether or not my attempt lines up with what a creation-as-research-as-pedagogy could be, or even with my own hopes or expectations, I’m not sure…but it was really interesting to try and see where my hopes for “interventionist” practice hit the brick walls of standard protocol, and where my own normative habits and values as a humanities scholar undermined the project.

The goal of the unit was to explore Graphic Literature (comics, graphic novels, graphic short stories) as literature, diving into the high-art / low-art distinctions and traditional standards for what “counts” as work worth analyzing. The final “paper” for the unit, then, was a collaborative attempt by the students to create their own piece of graphic literature. They were also asked to submit a reflective paper articulating the motivation behind their choices for the piece, drawing on examples from works we’d read during the semester and ideas discussed in the course re: method, medium, cultural value, etc.


The final product was one of the coolest pieces of scholarship (can I call it that?) that I’ve ever received from students: the choices were deliberate and informed, the process was collaborative (though not without its pitfalls), and the students were engaged – but all of these things are true only in a range. Even with a small number of students, the project impacted some more than others. The sense of “ownership” seemed directly proportional to the amount of work put in by each (which wasn’t necessarily equal); reflection became somewhat secondary since most effort was put into the creation of the work itself. Does that mean that less analysis was taking place, since I didn’t see it all on paper? Does that mean that less learning was taking place?

When it comes to research, especially after reading Champan and Sawchuck’s article, the answer seems to be no—following Chapman and Sawchuck’s reading of Garis, “one valuable way ‘to know’ is ‘to do’” (14). When it comes to pedagogy, which is so tied to assessment and the “deliverables” of proof of knowledge, the practicality of creation as scholarship becomes more suspect—can such practices actually intervene in a system that (in my opinion) overvalues assessment and proof of knowledge (8)? That might be a question for another post; for now, I’ll satisfy myself with its potential. As Chapman and Sawchuck state, “paradigms are mutable and have the potential to grow, shift, or even be overturned when alternative technologies, practices and anomalous discoveries accumulate to the point where new epistemological and ontological foundations present themselves in flashes of insight” (24). Perhaps, then, the “open-ended goal” presented for research in the digital humanities and social sciences could expand, acting as a destabilizing force for pedagogy and the humanities as a whole.

4 thoughts on “Cousins Post 10: Creation-as-research-as-Pedagogy

  1. georgie a says:

    Hi Erin, thanks for the fantastic post! I love the way you have applied the research-creation model to pedagogy, and am interested in how this has played out in our course this semester. Most obviously, I think the freedom of the final project falls into this category, and am hugely excited to see everyone’s work on our demo day next. It sounds as though class members are working on projects as varied as DH tool design, data mapping, digital archives, and virtual tours of lab space. These ideas seem to fit most readily into Chapman and Sawchuck’s categories of “research-for-creation” and “creative presentations of research;” I’m trying to imagine a DH project that would purely fall under the “creation-as-research” bracket, and it’s difficult, likely because the authors acknowledge that all of the categories overlap; typically you require some type of preliminary research to pull off the creation-as-research model. Anyway, super looking forward to seeing the many facets of research-creation in action in our final week!


  2. emiliesth says:

    Hi Erin. I’d love to know more about the research-creation project you undertook with your students. How did you find the process in assigning and assessing the work? I found your points relating research-creation and pedagogical practice rich and insightful. Your model of research-creation-pedagogy reminds me of critical pedagogy in many ways. Within the context of Darren’s course I’m interested in how research-creation relates to media labs. It seems there are some productive overlaps between the digital humanities, critical pedagogy, research-creation, and contemporary art as well (social practice, specifically). I won’t attempt to examine all of these intersections here but what follows are some thoughts you’ve inspired on research-creation and pedagogy.

    In my experience part of the challenge in assigning creative work is in determining assessment criteria. I think Chapman and Sawchuk offer some helpful points when they describe how peer review would work for research-creation projects: “the “ideal” peer reviewer is aware of the stakes at play within a particular intervention, and can reflexively respond to how well or poorly a project articulates itself vis à vis those stakes.” (22)

    As a current student in Owen Chapman’s doctoral seminar _Media Technology as Practice_ I paid close attention to his evaluation criteria for our final project which can include a creative component in accompaniment to a written paper. The paper is required to lay out the groundwork for the artistic piece, allowing the class to think about how well the creative work accomplishes what the artist-researcher hoped to have it do/model/communicate. This approach is similar to art school “critiques” I’ve participated in countless times and moderated as a drawing instructor in a university setting. Getting students to think about what it is they’re trying to do (and how they can do it better) promotes discussion among peers and helps the artist understand how their work is received by an audience. Going through critiques helps students develop their artistic vocabulary, gain perspective on their assumptions and biases, and understand why clichés are clichés. I offer this anecdotal summary of art school practice for two reasons. First, given the limitations of a single course where the primary emphasis is not art production, students may feel overwhelmed at the idea of producing an art work. This anxiety may be remedied by my second caveat – an emphasis on process can yield interesting projects and lead to beneficial discussions about success and failure. In addition to being somewhat easier to assess, projects that critically reflect on process can be pedagogical in and of themselves.

    I agree with your statement “Ownership is a position from which one can create truly original, innovative work, since the work is not oriented toward someone else’s norm.” Ideally students have the freedom to pursue their burning questions within a given area of research and are given tools for doing so. In the same way that we’ve been shown a variety of methods and approaches to research in our humanities seminar class with Prof. Darren Wershler (including, for example, looking at infrastructure, strategies and tactics, articulations and assemblages), leaving room for the student to determine what the content of their research will be enables the kind of ownership you accurately describe.

    On a brief side note I’ve known students in computing science who pursue thesis topics that were largely determined by their supervisors for which they have little interest – I don’t know where they find their motivation.

    Reflecting on process brings research and creation work to life and highlights areas where critical interventions can be most useful. A fundamental part of research-creation as I’ve encountered it in the past few years has always included reflection on process and critically defining research-creation methodologically. As Chapman and Sawchuk state: “By the same token, projects that do not problematize or question their own methodological presuppositions and choices, and/or which are largely “illustrative” or overly focused on deliverables as stand-alone justifications for research-programs are likely poor models of research-creation.” (23)

    Highlighting process and allowing students room to explore their interests brings me to now include some content from theories of critical pedagogy.

    Some students will resist non-normative assignments and teaching models. As bell hooks describes in _Teaching to Transgress_, her attempts at turning her classroom into a learning community were met with resistance from students who did not want to be in “a classroom that differed in any way from the norm” (hooks, 9). Others (as I’ve seen in my drawing classes) hope that a class with a creative component translates into an “easy A”. Open, honest and transparent discussion can help students understand alternative pedagogical methods and/or research-creation projects. Highlighting the value of the skills and experience students already have can promote personalized approaches to projects that ideally forgo the potential anxiety of a research-creation project. Musical ability, experience in the corporate world, various kinds of labour, personal passions, social skills, et cetera can provide students the feeling of “being in the game” (Barrett, as quoted in Chapman & Sawchuk) and students may thus have a greater investment in their work.

    Expanding the learning environment among peers, breaking the hierarchical role of the teacher, and valuing the knowledge and experience that students bring to the classroom are strategies that can encourage them to use their existing knowledges within research-creation projects. Ideally they then feel a greater sense of ownership over their research, the importance of which you stated so well.

    Works Cited

    Chapman, Owen, & Sawchuk, Kim. (2012). Research-Creation: Intervention, Analysis and “Family Resemblances”. Canadian Journal of Communication. 37(1), 5-26.

    hooks, bell. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.


  3. Cristina says:

    First of all, I would like to thank you for your post on Chapman and Shawchuk’s article “Research-Creation: Intervention, Analysis and Family Resemblances.” Incidentally, both scholars are housed at the same university (Concordia University) where I am currently pursuing my PhD studies in Humanities. Not only did your writing give me very good insight into what this particular article is about, but it also introduced me to two ideas about which I would like to speak in a more elaborate manner:

    Creation-as research-as pedagogy
    The first one deals with the concept of ‘creation-as research-as pedagogy,’ in other words, with the ways in which one’s creative output may be linked into a greater research agenda and which can also serve as a tool for teaching. I find this approach very plausible, primarily because of the way in which this can promote collaboration among parties involved, creativity and, last but not least, hands-on experience of producing something novel.

    It is the fostering of novelty which I think has the greatest weight among the three consequences (if I may refer to them as such) of employing such an approach. Despite its vague meaning, innovation, for example, is demanded in most spheres of the workforce, from medicine to engineering, from teaching middle school biology to being an entrepreneur. Annual reports of NGOs and businesses use this concept to convey a sense of purpose, vision, progress and leadership. To innovate or to introduce something novel and purposeful in the way in which one functions or operates seems to be part of everyone’s goals these days, and yet how much do we learn to innovate while being students in a university classroom?

    It is here where I think the idea of ‘creation-as research-as pedagogy’ may play an important role in allowing students to create in a novel manner, or, in other words, to be innovative. This reminds me of Mark Sample’s article “What’s Wrong with Writing Essays”. In it, Sample makes a convincing case for using more creative approaches in producing scholarship and questions, as a result, the ability of the traditional essay format to foster one’s creativity.

    This brings me to another idea mentioned in your post, namely, that pertaining to ‘ownership.’ You define ownership as that which is derived from “making something when there is no single answer to be given or single standard with which to comply; as such, it requires creativity, and that creativity engenders a sense of power. Ownership is a position from which one can create truly original, innovative work, since the work is not oriented toward someone else’s norm.”

    This definition, I find, reflective of a great deal of truth. Indeed, ownership, in the context discussed here, and creativity are irrefutably codependent in the process of making or creation. Ownership, as you suggest, means empowerment. In this case, I argue, power is directed unto oneself and metamorphoses into self-trust, or confidence in one’s ability to produce further meaningful, beautiful, worthwhile works of art, any art. As I write this, I am also thinking of my own assignments due for this semester, which will attempt to embody some of the concepts you discussed in your post: creativity, ownership, collaboration and why not self-empowerment. I thank you for this post and for making me reflect upon these ideas.


  4. Alison Bowie says:

    Hi Erin,

    This has been a huge sticking point for me as well. As a theatre maker and scholar studying in the PhD Humanities program (an interdisciplinary program) I am constantly trying to negotiate ways that my artistic creation can be seen as research, and how to fit that creation into the actual structure of pedagogical practices within the university system. Twice now I have presented papers looking at applying dramaturgical techniques (I am a dramaturg and translator in the theatre community in Montréal) to pedagogy as a means of intervention. Dramaturgy and theatre are creative practices and offer an alternative form or power dynamic to the traditional mode of study.

    In my first paper, I looked at employing dramaturgical tools and techniques to course creation and classroom dynamics. To me, teaching (and the learning process as well) is essentially the capacity, or possibility, to effect change. In her article entitled “Critical Performative Pedagogy”, Elyse Lamm Pineau explains that “Within the classroom, this commitment to action [change] might mean developing inclusive curricula, encouraging critical thinking, decentering teaching authority, facilitating interactive and peer-oriented learning, and ensuring that all students have equal access to instructional resources”. (Pineau, 43) Learning is a collaborative process especially suited to the theatre – which is inherently collaborative – between the students and the teacher in which both parties are responsible for the change or action required to produce the desired outcomes. Dramaturge Eleonora Fabião explains that when working as a dramaturge she “had the opportunity to emphasize a connection between artistic practice and theoretical thinking; through the dramaturge’s viewpoint, practice and theory are emphatically experienced as complementary references, as different appearances of a unique matter. However, it is important to stress that the dramaturge is alchemically combining these references to make the scene richer in terms of dynamics and meaning…” (Turner and Behrndt, 149) This idea of practice and theory having a reciprocal connection, and this idea of alchemy seems to relate to your conception of creation-as-research as well as my view of the classroom and course creation: as humanities students and teachers, we need to look at the context of what we are studying or teaching and create a dynamic in the classroom or in our research that serves our work. This means avoiding the common tendency to place theoretical research above creative practice. It also means reevaluating our understanding of the traditional model of the classroom with the teacher as the director and the students as simply sponges. It’s certainly not easy; there is a sort of comfort in the known. But by investing in collaboration – in whatever form that may be – and remaining flexible, we can begin to demonstrate the multitude of ways of creating knowledge and not having to rely solely on one particular way of thinking when it comes to proof of that knowledge production.

    In my more recent paper, I looked at the two types of dramaturgical work on production, traditional and devised, as means to develop our own strategy and tactics (as per de Certeau) to negotiate the interdisciplinary nature of our program and place creation as a central part of our work. De Certeau defines a strategy as “the calculus (or the manipulation) of relations of force which becomes possible whenever a subject of will and power (a business enterprise, an army, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated. Strategy postulates a place susceptible of being circumscribed as a propre and of being the base from where relations can be administered with an exteriority of targets or threats…” (De Certeau, 5) A strategy has power, or in other words a sphere of influence, and is visible; it takes up space. It also occupies temporal and theoretical space. Tactics, on the other hand, are defined by the absence of power, or the lack of space and time. De Certeau says that a tactic “operates blow by blow… It poaches there. It creates surprises. It is possible for it to be where no one expects it. It is wile.” (De Certeau, 6) Tactics are reactionary actions, whereas strategies are planned and visioning. I see the traditional model of production dramaturgy, which is more structure and based in contextualizing an already-created play, as the way the HUMA (the shorthand for our program) students create the structure of the program based on the university’s requirements and the expectations of the academic community. On the other side, I see dramaturgical work as is done in devised theatre as tactical and a way to challenge the system that we (along with the university) have created. Devised theatre dramaturgy is responsive and flexible. There is no script to start with; it is created through the process. For example, we are required to sit area exams for each of our three fields of study. Personally, I am not sure that answering a question and writing a huge essay based on the dozens of books that I have read is the best way to test my abilities as a scholar or a theatre artist. So, I am employing a dramaturgical tactic, changing the course of the narrative, by requesting that one of my area exams (that for translation) be an analysis of a translation that I will do over the course of next year. The creative portion of my work (the act of translation) would no longer be in addition to, or on the outside, of my academic research, but instead would be a step that I would have to get through in order to move on to writing my dissertation. That is so important to me.

    I am going to leave you with one of my favourite quotes about dramaturgy, one that sums up what I feel is my job – and one that relates to humanities students and to what you wrote:

    “Perhaps above all, the dramaturg asks how to be a juggler of paradoxes in an uncertain, unpredictable, and ultimately unmasterable terrain. For the dramaturg sits astride the hyphen between both-and. She is ‘innocent’ and ‘experienced’; and idiot savante, ‘in the know’ and ‘ignorant’; in intimate proximity (in close-up) and at a distance (in long shot)”. (Williams, 202)

    ~ Alison Bowie
    PhD Humanities Candidate, Concordia University


    De Certeau Michel, Frederic Jameson and Carl Lovitt, “On The Oppositional Practices of Everyday Life”, Social Text No. 3 [Autumn 1980].

    Pineau, Elyse Lamm, “Critical Performative Pedagogy” in Teaching Performance Studies, eds. Nathan Stucky and Cynthia Wimmer, (Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002).

    Turner, Cathy and Synne K. Behrndt, Dramaturgy and Performance [New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008].

    Williams, David, “Geographies of Requiredness: Notes on the Dramaturg in Collaborative Devising” , Contemporary Theatre Review Vol 20(2) [2010].


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