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:
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.