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An Historiographic Perspective on Practice as Research

Angela Piccini (last edited June 2002)


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This is a working paper in process. Although Angela Piccini wrote its current format, it is intended that this becomes a group-authored document. There are many gaps in its current formulation, many of which we hope to fill in through the PARIP communities’ feedback process. However, it does not attempt to trace either specific film and television or dance histories, although much of what is discussed has been applied across all the disciplines in the creative and performing arts.

Please e-mail any suggestions, contributions, corrections and critiques to

PARIP — Practice as Research in Performance — is a five-year AHRB project directed by Baz Kershaw and the Department of Drama: Theatre, Film, Television at the University of Bristol. Angela Piccini and Caroline Rye are the project’s postdoctoral research associates and are responsible for the day-to-day running of the project.

PARIP’s stated objectives are to investigate issues raised by practice as research in performance. It should be noted that performance is defined, in line with both published RAE and AHRB terminology, as performance media: theatre, dance, film, video and television. As a result of PARIP’s investigations and in collaboration with colleagues, educational institutions and professional bodies throughout the UK and Europe PARIP is developing frameworks to facilitate performance practice within broadly academic contexts.

In this paper we will construct a contingent historiography of the project and trace its activities so far in an attempt to create a reflexive account of what is undoubtedly a politically charged attempt to speak about practice as research, per se — a speaking about that creatively problematizes academic notions of ‘worthiness’ (Melrose, 2002).


The pursuit of practice as research / practice-based research (PAR / PBR) has become increasingly important during the past ten years to the research cultures of the performing arts (drama, theatre, dance, music) and related disciplines involving performance media (film, video, television, radio) as the contribution of the arts and cultural industries to national health and prosperity has climbed up the political agenda. Practice as research (PAR) and practice-based research (PBR) — and ‘research through practice’, ‘research by practice’, ‘performance as research’ — are, however, contested terms that resist close definition. Very simply, practice as research and practice-based research are frequently used interchangeably to suggest a relationship of research between theory and practice.

Most commonly, practice-based research has been understood as referring to ‘research into performance practice, to determine how and what it may be contributing in the way of new knowledge or insights’ while practice as research is thought of as ‘research through performance practice, to determine how that practice may be developing new insights into or knowledge about the forms, genres, uses, etc. of performance’ (Kershaw, 2000). Whether such distinctions are helpful, however, is a point for further discussion (PARIP meeting documentation, 5 March 2002). It is perhaps more useful to think of practice as research as formalizing an institutional acceptance of performance practices and processes as arenas in which knowledges might be opened. Practice as research acknowledges fundamental epistemological issues that can only be addressed in and through practice — that practice ‘can be both a form of research and a legitimate way of making the findings of such research publicly available. No necessary connection is assumed between the apparatus of research and the written word' (Painter, 1996).


To sketch a very brief history of this institutional validation of practice as research we should perhaps turn to the first full Research Assessment Exercise of 1992. [N.B. All published documentation to do with both the RAE and AHRB are held on their respective websites.] Notions of how practice might be submitted to the RAE focused initially on the concept of ‘equivalence’ to publication, which prioritized writing as the medium of production and dissemination. By focusing on research ‘output’ the implied notion that the practical exploration leading to that output represented the basis of the research ‘process’ was not widely accepted (White, 2000).

To mediate the problematics of the outcomes-orientated RAE with a view to the 1996 exercise, in 1994 the Standing Conference on University Drama Departments (SCUDD) organized a small working group to inform and influence the assessment panel. Working with SCUDD’s suggestions, in 1996 the RAE defined research as

‘...original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding. It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce and industry, as well as to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances and artefacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction...’

With specific reference to practice as research, the following statements were included in the 1996 RAE criteria for assessment:

  • The Panel aims to give equal value to practical research outcomes.
  • This is a research assessment exercise. Those submitting practice as research should be prepared to make available, on request, a succinct statement of the research content of the practice (see Part I: General Statement). Over-elaborate supporting documentation is unlikely to benefit the submittor or the submitting department. The Panel is contractually committed to a quest for parity of evidence as well as evenness of judgement.

And on the subject of assessing practice:

The Panel accepts that there is a range of media in which practical work may be published, including performance, film, video and audio-tape. The Panel will only be able to decide how to evaluate electronic or other non-literary publications, for example, when it has had the opportunity to view submissions. The Panel may be aided by the succinct statement of research content (see paragraph 4) but may also wish to have access to other material.
(RAE, 1996)

With these statements it is clear that the RAE, in attempting to facilitate the assessment of practice, set up a number of problematic dynamics which remain subjects of intense debate today: namely, the supposition of a research content of practice that can be outlined through recourse to text and the assertion that practical work can be ‘published’ through the medium of performance. Unspoken in the latter is the requirement of documentation such that the performance is made ‘available’ to the RAE Panel, which then chooses an ‘opportunity to view submissions’ separate from the scheduling of the performance itself. While the tensions resulting from such conflation of live performance with its documenting apparatuses have been well rehearsed elsewhere most notably by Auslander (1999), Phelan (1993) and Rye (2000; 2001), they lie at the heart of the PARIP project’s remit to address documentation issues surrounding both live and mediatized performance forms. In particular, the notion of parity as it extends out of the conflation of performance and documentation is problematic. It is against this backdrop that the idea of PARIP began to be discussed within the Department of Drama: Theatre, Film, Television at Bristol.

In 1998 the second SCUDD working group was convened and proposed:

  • That while it should be acknowledged that high-quality creative work (including professional practice) is undertaken that might qualify as research, there is other work, however, ‘well researched’ that might not;
  • That individuals may find it useful to judge whether a project is creative work that has a definite ‘research imperative’ or has a predominantly ‘creative’ or ‘professional’ imperative;
  • That practice submitted as research should be seen to be part of an individual’s coherent research programme;
  • That any creative practice may qualify as research when the practice can be shown to interrogate itself, it locates itself within its research context, and to give rise to other forms of discourse;
    (SCUDD, 1998)

Yet, as Martin White has argued, if quality is to be assessed, then ways in which projects might be ‘stored’ and ‘retrieved’ for purposes of dissemination or assessment had to be developed. How, then, ‘could the often-ephemeral practice maintain itself as a, perhaps the, key element of the research rather than be subsumed in the medium of print?’ (White, 2000).

While the impetus to facilitate the inclusion of practice within the academy is clear the subtexts of ‘worthiness’ (Melrose, 2002), the concern that practice be made to ‘work’ like writing-as-research and the marked resistance to interrogating what might be meant by dissemination of practical projects (whether by print or digital video) could be seen as a misplaced, logocentric attempt to legitimate practice. Also, the vagueness of the first SCUDD bullet point carries with it more than a suggestion of unaccountability. This is not to suggest that SCUDD produced this report in a self-conscious, conspiratorial manner. Rather, the well-meaning and self-serving (because of course practice as research equates with more money for departments) intention to shake up the RAE runs into difficulties because of the de facto institutional acceptance of practice running ahead of the various institutions’ attempts to quantify, set up guidelines and develop best practices.

In October of the same year the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) came into being. In the documentation published at the time, the AHRB confirmed that research processes and their outcomes in the form of performances or other artefacts would be considered in their own terms, and not merely equivalent to those in more traditional modes, accepting the principle that in some areas of research they were the only appropriate modes of investigation.

The AHRB’s definition of research remains primarily concerned with a definition of research processes, rather than outcomes. The definition is built around three key features and applications for funding must fully address them all in order to be considered eligible for support:

  • one must define a series of research questions that will be addressed or problems that will be explored in the course of the research. It must also define its objectives in terms of answering those questions or reporting on the results of the research project
  • one must specify a research context for the questions to be addressed or problems to be explored. You must specify why it is important that these particular questions should be answered or problems explored; what other research is being or has been conducted in this area; and what particular contribution this particular project will make to the advancement of knowledge, understanding and insights in this area
  • one must specify the research methods for addressing and answering the research questions. You must state how, in the course of the research project, you are going to set about answering the questions that have been set, or exploring the matters to be explored. You should also explain the rationale for your chosen research methods and why you think they provide the most appropriate means by which to answer the research questions.
    (AHRB FAQs,

Like the SCUDD report, the AHRB definition of research makes a distinction between research and practice, per se. Creative output can be produced, or practice undertaken, as an integral part of a research process as defined above; but equally, creativity or practice may involve no such process at all, in which case they would be seen to be ineligible for funding from the AHRB. How any creative process undertaken by either academics or established professionals could not be understood as research (as measured against all established research criteria) is a significant question being explored by PARIP, and poses a radical problematization of the notion of an academy discrete from other creative and performing arts communities. As the AHRB itself acknowledges (Michael Jubb, AHRB Seminar Series, 18 January 2002) it is ‘context’ that is the most significant of the assessment criteria — how the practitioner situates the work.

Also in 1998 further refinements of the RAE’s definitions of research were sought by the RAE administration. In items 49 and 50 of RAE 1/98, Research Assessment Exercise in 2001: key decisions and issues for further consultation it states:

  • There was unanimous support in the consultation for a broad and inclusive definition of research, encompassing all academic research and work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce and industry, public and voluntary sectors. Equally, however, we are urged not to dilute the definition by including essentially non-research activities. Analysis of responses that said the definition of research excluded essential activities showed a dissatisfaction not with the definition itself, but with its interpretation by some panels in the 1996 RAE. In particular, respondents urged that panels' criteria should specify exactly how they will treat research outputs whose status may be unclear such as scholarly translations and creative writing. It was also suggested that panels should specify what credit they will give to activities that contribute to long-term collaborative work to develop and maintain the intellectual infrastructure of research.
  • A large majority agreed with the assertion that there should be no additional credit given in the RAE to the utility of research. However, many pointed out that in some subjects and UOAs, the question of relevance or utility is integral to any understanding of research quality. Therefore, these panels' criteria should articulate what recognition will be given to usability or application as an indicator of research quality.

We suggest that such qualifying statements serve in the main to cloud what submitters might expect. What are ‘essentially non-research activities’? And if the utility of research is not to be a significant criterion, then could that by extension feed in to arguments against the creation of texts that speak alongside practical work for the purposes of RAE submission? If research need not be widely useful, then could engagement between audience and performance/viewing/broadcast be enough to testify to the research and to the dissemination of knowledges to the community?

In December 1998 the Bristol PARIP team submitted its first application to the AHRB to fund the five-year project, with a projected budget of some £450,000.

Between 1999 and 2001 the RAE published a number of circulars that subtly inflected previous statements about the nature of research and the relationship of practice in the performing arts to research assessment. In item 2.21 of RAE Circular 5/99 it states that:

The definition of research output is deliberately broad. In principle any form of publicly available assessable output embodying the outcome of research, as defined for the RAE, may be cited. HEIs must have confidence that any output cited will be fully and properly assessed: panels may not regard any particular form of output as of greater or lesser quality than another per se. In addition to printed academic work, research outputs may include new materials, devices, images, products and buildings; intellectual property, whether in patents or other forms; performances, exhibits or events; and work published in non-print media. The only exception to the requirement that outputs must be publicly available is where they are confidential…

Briefing Note 4 (RAE, 1999a) provides further clarification on the information requirements for research outputs in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise. In addition to the above definitions of research outputs, the publication detailed the additional information required for each item of research output listed: title/description of output; type of output; year of publication/output. Types included:

  • Authored book
  • Edited book
  • Chapter in book
  • Journal article
  • Conference contribution
  • Patent/ published patent application
  • Software
  • Report for external body
  • Confidential report for external body
  • Internet publication
  • Internet publication (via subscription only)
  • Performance
  • Composition
  • Design
  • Exhibition
  • Artefact
  • Scholarly edition
  • Other form of assessable output

Alongside the required information fields listed above was an ‘Other relevant details’ field in which additional brief relevant information could be given, such as in the case of non-text outputs, in order to give further information as to the present whereabouts of a work or to note that a photographic, electronic or other record exists.

Again, the problem of what to do with live performance vis a vis research output comes to the fore. Although the RAE seemingly signals performance as a valid output form it demands that it somehow be made available. Although we will come back to these questions later in this paper, it would appear impossible to do both. Yet, when assessing the research quality of a research output the RAE also states that panels may take into consideration evidence that the item has already been reviewed or refereed by peers as one measure of quality. This would appear to allow for an element of peer assessment in the spirit of that fostered by the arts councils and provided for in most undergraduate and some postgraduate training. However, such provision would undoubtedly impact on institutional resourcing; there is a real question hanging over the willingness of HEIs to fund such an extension of external assessment structures. How that HE resourcing might be restructured has been the subject of some debate within the PARIP project, will be discussed at the 2003 PARIP conference and will be included in the project’s final reporting period.

At the same time that the RAE was making its refined criteria available to panel members and institutions the originating PARIP team was informed that the application to the AHRB had been rejected. Following a period of refinement and rebudgeting to a more modest £350,000, a second application to the AHRB was submitted in November. It was this application that set out the stranding of the project into field research (Strand A), theoretical research (Strand B) and practical research (Strand C). Strand A was to cover identifying in detail the full range and major types of approach to PARIP in the UK. Strand B was to investigate the key theoretical issues raised by PARIP and to develop knowledges about appropriate types of criteria for evaluation. And Strand C was to mount a series of creative projects in order to investigate and develop advanced uses of new digital technologies for documenting and disseminating practice as research.

Other significant events between 1999 and 2001 could include the launching of the AHRB’s Fellowships in the Creative and Performing Arts and, in 2000, a pilot scheme to fund practice-based doctoral research — although this move clearly lagged behind the UK Council for Graduate Education’s 1997 report on practice-based doctorates in the creative and performing arts and design. However, the AHRB initiatives contextualize the setting up in 1999 of the UK Council for Graduate Education’s working party to explore specific training needs. The final UKCGE report was published in 2001 and in it research is defined as referring to ‘the activity pursued and the procedures followed in the PhD in toto and presented either by means of practice or by means of recognised text-based methods of inquiry in the humanities, or both these means’ (UKCGE, 2001: 8). Although the UKCGE’s concerns are focused on the postgraduate sector, the issues to which the working group paid particular attention are extremely significant to the advanced researcher and it would be useful to rehearse some of the more relevant points:

  • The relationship between practice and critical or theoretical discourses and the concept of reflective self-criticism;
  • The need … to place any creative practice in its research context;
  • The equivalence in the creative and performing arts and design of ‘new knowledge’ and its relationship to artistic quality and innovation;
  • The interpretation of the concept of ‘research question’ in the field of CPAD [Creative and Performing Arts and Design];
  • The relative merit of the term ‘method’ against ‘methodology’;
  • The appropriate relationship between the written and practical component of a research degree in CPAD;
  • The function of any written component;
  • The role and status of an exhibition or performance in the examination and its relationship to the permanent reference for subsequent scholars;
  • The special issues facing collaborative research in areas of CPAD.
    (UKCGE, 2001: 13–14)

These are points have been the subject of much debate throughout the community, particularly within recent conference and symposia settings.

Stepping back a year from the publication of the UKCGE booklet, two conferences during 2000 set a certain tone to work being done on practice as research per se. The American Society for Theatre Research Conference, held in New York, hosted Phillip Zarrilli’s seminar on practice-based research. Speakers included Emilyn Claid (‘Engaging Bodies’), Tracy Cruickshank (‘The Language of Plays’), Baz Kershaw (‘Performance, memory, heritage, history, spectacle — The Iron Ship’), Jessica Naish and Alison Oddey (‘Paper or Practice?’) and Martin White (‘Practice-based Research in the UK — an Overview’). The Intensities conference, organized by Robin Nelson and Manchester Metropolitan University, addressed, in the main, issues surrounding practice as research and the UK postgraduate community.

Also in 2000 the Journal of Media Practice was launched to ‘articulate the distinctive qualities and achievements of practice-based media studies in post-school teaching, research and professional contexts; it will encourage relevant pedagogic, institutional and industry-centred debates, and help raise awareness of the scope and substance of such work’ (Adams, 2000: 2). Although there are not the locations of archived debate in the fields of media practice that there are in theatre and drama it is clear from recent gatherings of the Association of Media Practice Educators that practice as research — as distinct from practice-based teaching — in media practices requires significant unpacking and discussion within the specific communities.

With the launch of the formal 2001 RAE research was framed as an original investigation undertaken in order to gain knowledge and understanding:

It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce and industry, as well as to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship*; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances and artifacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction. It excludes routine testing and analysis of materials, components and processes, eg for the maintenance of national standards, as distinct from the development of new analytical techniques. It also excludes the development of teaching materials that do not embody original research.
* Scholarship for the RAE is defined as the creation, development and maintenance of the intellectual infrastructure of subjects and disciplines, in forms such as dictionaries, scholarly editions, catalogues and contributions to major research databases.
(RAE, 2001)

PARIP’s researchers began work in November 2000 and January 2001, respectively. Thus the project was launched in the thick of RAE activity. Clearly the RAE will continue to contextualize the work that PARIP does, but while the assessment is now complete, with ratings made public, we await the more detailed information to be published: number of PAR submissions; panels in which submissions were made; institutions that submitted PAR; relative success rates of PAR submissions. Once this information is publicized later in the year, it will become an important focus of PARIP’s work. We will now turn to the specifics of PARIP’s remit.


As stated in PARIP’s successful AHRB bid, three interwoven strands of activity will be undertaken during the course of this project in order to address the key questions surrounding practice as research. PARIP seeks to:

  • identify the range of PARIP in the UK and selected European Union higher education institutions and produce a database of PARIP activities in UK HEIs;
  • investigate key issues raised by PARIP and develop knowledges about appropriate criteria for evaluation;
  • consult on a series of creative projects — focusing on fields of concern which engage with questions of historiography — to advance potential uses of new digital technologies for the documentation and dissemination of best practices.

The stated outcomes associated with these aims and objectives include:

  • A survey, taxonomy and database of practice as research in all UK HEIs;
  • A website and / or electronic journal to broadcast the database and case studies and promote debate.
  • Working papers on the key issues in performance arts and media relevant to PARIP to initiate debate about the various critical frameworks that might best inform practice and analysis;
  • A seminar series with leading practitioner-researchers in the field;
  • Regionally based inter-institutional working groups that will develop the theoretical frameworks in the light of selected practices in their areas;
  • A continuous on-line symposium geared to map out the relationships between theories and criteria, to form the first comprehensive account of the interaction of scholarship and creative achievement in PAR [Practice as research] and PBR [Practice-based research] in UK Higher Education.
  • Collaboration with a series of creative projects in key areas of concern to PARIP, to provide a practical platform for investigation into advanced uses of new digital technologies for the documentation and dissemination of processes and outcomes;
  • Innovative applications of video-based recording for simultaneous multi-viewpoint documentation. The aim is to create digital documentation frameworks for PARIP that will be transferable across institutions;
  • Case studies of selected representative practices from a range of HEIs, aimed to investigate the most effective approaches to documentation / dissemination.


Initial web-, email-, and conference-based surveys have produced a directory of researchers (currently numbering around 200) spread throughout the UK. These practitioner-researchers form a PARIP research community with whom contact is maintained via regular communication. Their details, including current practice as research activities have been collated in a first-stage database that will be built on for the next 3 years and be made public towards the end of the project in May 2005.

PARIP has also organized a national Advisory Group, with membership drawn from across the cognate disciplines at the universities of Bournemouth, Exeter, Middlesex, Manchester Metropolitan, Nottingham Trent, Royal Holloway and Bristol. Regional groups have also been formed and coordinators volunteered. The first regional event took place at University of London Goldsmiths in May 2001, and was organized by representatives from both drama and FTV and comprises a half-day seminar.

In consultation with the Bristol department, with the Advisory Group and with the Regional Group coordinators, PARIP organized its first event, a weekend symposium held in November 2001. The symposium focused on four central themes:

  • What is practice as research?
  • Questioning practice as research in ‘live’ media (drama, theatre, dance) and ‘recording’ media (film, TV, video).
  • Relating documentation, research practice and the performing media: how do we re/present practice AS research?
  • How the academic contexts of practice as research affect how it is pursued and evaluated.

These themes were explored through a selection of presentations representing the various disciplines and through an afternoon of 4 workshop interrogations of the symposium themes in the context of individual presentations. The final plenary discussion attempted to bring together the conclusions of the workshops with a view to setting the PAR agenda in the short term.

What is practice as research?

The first group sought to explore how might we construct practice as and practice-based research in terms of ‘originality’ and ‘a contribution to knowledge’. What constitutes a ‘substantial new insight’? Does it reside in new performance modes or in the research imperatives informing the work?

The group concluded that to preserve the value and meaning of the notion of research, it was important to define practice as research. It was clear from the group that it is not acceptable to say that something is research simply because one believes it to be the case. The group also thought that there is an important distinction between practice as research and practice. One of key distinctions was felt to be governed by university norms and that the practitioner-researcher should fit in with what the academy demands of research. Traditional research is an original contribution of knowledge, and originality is demonstrable within the research through the academic apparatus of bibliography, abstract, literature review, citations, etc. All of this is made manifest in traditional research but not necessarily made manifest in performance or other forms of practice. The group felt it necessary to insist that making the decision that something is practice as research imposes on the practitioner-researcher a set of protocols that fall into: 1) the point that the practitioner-researcher must necessarily have a set of separable, demonstrable, research findings that are abstractable, not simply locked into the experience of performing it; and 2) it has to be such an abstract, which is supplied with the piece of practice, which would set out the originality of piece, set it in an appropriate context, and makes it useful to the wider research community.

During discussion of the group’s conclusions it was argued that such protocols are not fixed. They are institutionalized and the practitioner-researcher communities must recognize that. The group’s conclusions were felt to rest upon a number of themes that required further unpacking, namely originality, usefulness, and the academic demands of research. Interestingly, the points that were interrogated more broadly corresponded with the tensions outlined in the first part of this paper.

Questioning practice as research in ‘live’ media (drama, theatre, dance) and ‘recording’ media (film, TV, video)

The second group’s task was to explore the differences / similarities between the production of practice as research and practice-based research in respect of ‘live’ and ‘mediatized’ performance. The group began its report by recognizing that the situation of defining terms has been brought about by the politics of funding, and that there is a problem with these media being used to document practice. Also acknowledged was the issue of judgement in terms of the aesthetic of a film object being very different to the aesthetic of media being used to make a document. The group sought to distinguish between film, television and video as an art form and the use of all of those to document live performance. The process of making film, television and video was seen to be a self-documenting process where the outcome can be expressed in the outtakes, which is different to the use of these media to document live practices. The group conclude with a final statement that argued that there is no such thing as an unmediated document and that there is a difference between practice as research and practice-based research and the differences are about artefact and potential pathways by which the research is developed. There is a sketch of work that might come from film, television or video that will lead to a practice-based continuum, which might then lead to practice as research.

Unfortunately, the group did not address the specifics of the question to draw out what the differences might be and how they might inflect the work of a project such as PARIP that is charged with surveying both live and recorded practices. PARIP acknowledges that all ‘translations’ of practice are mediated, in that to mediate is to act as a medium that transfers something from one place to another, to be between two stages, ideas, times or things. Indeed the simplest formulation of the perception of an event involves that event’s mediation through the gaze. We were also concerned with the reproduction of an uncritical conflation of mediate and mediatize. If to mediate is to act as a medium that transfers something from one place to another or to be between two stages, ideas, times, or things, to mediatize speaks to that which pertains to ‘media’, most frequently, if narrowly, defined as the various means of mass communication thought of as a whole, including television, radio, magazines and newspapers, together with the people involved in their production.

The word ‘mediatize’ was introduced popularly in Jean Baudrillard’s ‘For a critique of the political economy of the sign’ (1990); is used extensively by Philip Auslander (1999); and is discussed in greater detail in Caroline Rye’s Living Cameras: A Study of Live Bodies and Mediatized Images in Multi-Media Performance and Installation Art Practice (2000). ‘Mediatize’ extends beyond the media ‘industry’ cited above to reference ‘the image-orientated technological machinery by which “the media” originates its mass communication specifically video, film and photography’ (Rye 2000: 11).

‘Mediatize’ suggests the recording of images in association with camera technologies, by which they enter into economies of exchange (Phelan, 1993). While ‘live’ performance may mobilize that which is mediatized (the use of various camera images in the live event, etc.), the ‘live’ performance may perhaps be taken to be that event/series of events that take place in a temporal and often spatial relationship with an audience, whereby the performance is not given meaning specifically through the production of image-orientated artefacts.

If, as group 2 suggested, film, television and video practices are self-documenting, then how does that impact on the assessment of practice as research where PAR also encompasses those practices that are not self-documenting? Was the group suggesting somehow that film, television and video practices could be submitted without other material to evidence the research? If so, how does that problematize live work in an HE context?

Relating documentation, research practice and the performing media: how do we re/present practice AS research?

Group 3 sought to interrogate processes of documentation vis a vis the production of research in both ‘live’ and ‘recorded’ contexts. If videoptaping a live performance is understood as a form of documentation then where does the documentation of film/video practices lie? If the performance ‘itself’ cannot stand on its own without some other form of critical document, then can a film or video stand on its own? If film-, video-, and television-making, like performance-making practices, have complex ecologies, then can their recorded outputs serve as documents of their own making?

Again, the group veered away from the set topic to develop four fields of comment. Firstly, the group suggested that new paradigms for new PhDs should be developed to account for the problems PhD students face with practice as research, examiners and assessors. New structures should be set up by which the work is talked about. The PhD remains a benchmark of academic research as it is at PhD level that we have to articulate how practice as research stands up against the fixed set of paradigms of traditional research. Secondly, the group questioned attitudes to documentation and memorialization: notions that involve fragmentation. There has been a recurrent undercurrent of feelings of loss and nostalgia with documentation as the memorialization of work. Technology and plenitude make us think we can begin to get at the originary moment, but there are clear and well articulated problems associated with this (Rye, 2000). Thirdly it was suggested that there is a need to develop modes/examples of documentation appropriate to practice as research, that PARIP could establish networks of people who are redefining the boundaries. Fourthly it was argued that we need to negotiate the status and function of the document, that different kinds of document have different kinds of status attached.

Not addressed were the different registers of documentation. There are, of course, integral documents — the mass of heterogeneous trace materials that the practice process creates. These materials may be of similar kind/order in both live and mediatized performance practices: eg script drafts, notes, call sheets, camera reports, continuity notes, costume designs, laboratory reports, treatments, set designs, choreographic notation, sound scores, etc. It is this form of documentation that regularly finds its way into RAE boxes and funding reports.

External documentation clearly has more resonance in live performance practices. While screen media practices always already produce some form of object outcome(s) or artefact(s) that can be revisited (albeit in different ways and not necessarily in perpetuity), live performance by definition is ephemeral. ‘The’ performance exists through only one space and time with no possibility of object repetition. External documentation (whether photography-, audio-, video-, text-based, etc.) therefore suggests the documenting of the performance ‘event’ in such a way as to reference the possible contents of the performance moment, while acknowledging it cannot unproblematically ‘stand in’ for the performance itself.

As explored by Caroline Rye in her presentation, ‘Incorporating practice: a multi-viewpoint approach to documentation’, the interrogation of documentation is a focal concern within practice as research for two paradoxical reasons:

[O]ne because the research may be concerned with exactly those qualities of the live encounter and the production of embodied knowledges which can not, by definition, be embedded, reproduced or demonstrated in any recorded document. And two …if one wishes one’s research to have a life beyond its original live manifestation, and thus be available to a broader research community, the practitioner/researcher has to engage with the creation of appropriate performance documents (Rye, 2001).

The performance/documentation dilemma with respect to ‘the live’ and ‘the recorded’ creates significant problems for practice as research as applied equally to both: performance frames time and space as singular and unrecoverable whilst time and space are constructed as fixed and repeatable within recording practices. As Rye argues, the problematic within the recording of live events lies within the realm of accessibility, whereby an ease of consumption is produced such that the record all too readily becomes a substitute for the live event it re-presents, a substitute which cannot evidence exactly the thing it purports to record (2001).

It is one of PARIP’s central tasks to grapple with the paradox that to pursue this line of thinking must result in a acknowledgement of the impossibility of producing an effective record of performance in the face of the fact that we require of practice that it functions as research on a level beyond those that witness it in the immediate performance. One of the ways the project does this, of course, ss through ‘innovative applications of video-based recording for simultaneous multi-viewpoint documentation’ (see above).

How the academic contexts of practice as research affect how it is pursued and evaluated

The fourth symposium workshop group addressed what characterizes appropriate research contexts for practice as and practice-based research and what implications those research contexts carry for the development of best practices. It asked why there has been relatively little progress with interrogating practice as research in media practice and looked at the role of the RAE, academic grant-funding bodies such as the AHRB and professional funding bodies such as the Arts Councils?

The group identified five different concerns. It was felt that there is a need for the adequate provision for practice as research to feed into teaching and a need for guidelines for the involvement of undergraduates in practice as research, both in connection with funding and also in connection with student assessment. The problem of reinterpretation for postgraduates was also identified whereby the group stated that it would like to wrestle with the wording laid down institutionally rather than accept the status quo. The group was also concerned about excluded practices, those that are not framed as research and are not addressing current academic trends and fashion. Specifically, what about practices that are dealing with cultures not represented within the academy? The group also sought to clarify assessment methods in order to encourage appropriate evaluation. This was seen to need to relate to process but emphasize the responsibility of the practitioner to make methods clear and in so doing make the examiner adopt appropriate evaluation methods. Finally, the group identified the need to debate the criteria presented to us by funding bodies and the criteria presented by such authorities as SCUDD, PARIP, SCODHE (Standing Committee on Dance in Higher Education), etc.

The first part of this paper dealt with these institutional contexts in more depth than was practical at the PARIP symposium, but the need for an expanding historiography of practice as research is clear due to the political and economic dimension of this still new field.


The November symposium represented a significant milestone for the project as it brought together over 100 practitioner-researchers to survey the current state of play and set the agenda for future work, including ideas for the 2003 PARIP conference (11-14 September). PARIP’s network of practitioner-researchers was expanded and the critical base of practice as research was developed. Because so little has been written about practice as research the interrogation of practice as research, per se, can only occur through an engagement with specific practices, a series of conversations with practitioner-researchers throughout the UK HE sector and the various cross-overs into the professional realm.

The PARIP researchers have developed a schedule of practice as research activities from their contact base and a number of visits to practitioner-researchers have been undertaken. The field is so varied, however, that it is difficult to say what conclusions may be drawn from such an overview, beyond the significant statement that practice as research is alive and well in the UK HE sector, despite restricted budgets and institutional barriers. The heterogeneity of the field precludes a hermetic system of cross-discipline best practice. Within that perhaps lies its strength. If we take on board the fundamental argument that to practically train under- and postgraduates to the highest standards, then the professional development of practitioners within the academy must be paramount and, therefore, the work of practitioner-researchers within the academy must be facilitated. Perhaps practice as research is not the best description of all such activities, but we hope that PARIP will continue to push forward the thinking around these issues to help to bring the practice base to the top of funding agendas.

If the project is to have a radical effect on the development of practice as research in the academy, then PARIP needs to continue to interrogate current assumptions informing the relative status of text-based knowledge-production and other types of knowledge-production (e.g. sensory, embodied knowledges) and continuing assumptions in/between the specific disciplines of the project (theatre, dance, film, etc.) about the relationships between text-based and other types of knowledge production. In the field of live performance PARIP continues to explore how certain types of research/knowledge-production are located in practice, and probably only in practice, hence the impulse to address certain questions through practice and not through archive- and text-based research. The translation of these knowledges into other media — the videotaping of the live performance, the written treatise on the video documentary — is clearly something distinct from the practice as research, although it may well be decided that such material accrual around practice is deemed necessary for the academy. But the knowledges generated can only be different.

It could be argued that there is a range of different relationships between practice/knowledge-production per se and methods for dissemination. Within the PARIP team there has been debate around whether some knowledges created through practice may only be accessed through direct experience of the live event (that directness may involve the audience being in another country, but the idea is a contiguous relationship of time between performer and audience), while others may be available to effective translation into another medium. It has been suggested that the possibility of a range of such relationships raises issues of how knowledge that can only be accessed through attendance at the originary moment of liveness might be assessed and how other types of knowledge produced by practice as research might best be translated into other media.

The above gives rise to two important questions. How, then, is this type of research best identified, evidenced and disseminated, if we accept that the academy will continue to demand such activity? And when these research knowledges are translated into other media what are the best ways to indicate, in the translation, what knowledges are lost or gained? This is where PARIP’s work on documentation practices is crucial. PARIP is developing — through its exploration of multi-camera shoots and multi-screen interactive DVD records (Rye, 2001) — ways to construct ‘evidence’ of the practice as research that will on the one hand satisfy the academy’s hunger for the archive-friendly single object and the clear need to refuse the conflation of document and performance. Such multi-screen DVDs allow for the compilation in digital format of a variety of heterogeneous elements for use in practice as research in all the cognate disciplines. The potential for use can span anything from multi-camera and multi-mic recordings of theatre in the round to allow a focus on different sound and vision perspectives to a multi-media treatment of the documentary film making process, which could comprise ‘the film’ appearing in one screen, interviews with the film maker and participants in another, rushes in another screen, etc. Because DVDs also record data, all manner of text-based information can also be held on the same disk as document files.

At the heart of PARIP is the need to negotiate the real risk that we all forget about the practice itself because of the need to translate the knowledges that we seek to create through practice into some other form that satisfies the criteria imposed on text-based research. Of course, if a practitioner-researcher’s practice centres around questions of audience-performer interactions or the fragmentation of narrative or cross-genre filmic conventions it is clear that such themes can be textualized and the practitioner-researcher may even find it beneficial to undertake textually reflexive exercises in this way. But the question surely must be is that practice AS research, or simply the undertaking of practice to provide material for research within established modes? If the latter, then the concept of practice as research allies itself with science practices whereby the practice base, while important cannot stand on its own as a valid mode of enquiry. The real challenges that PARIP continues to face circulate around how we meaningfully embrace practices of all kinds as ‘worthy’, to return to Susan Melrose (2002). The confusion, concern and consternation with attempts to make practice work in the academy are understandable. Over the next three years PARIP will work with the practitioner-researcher communities to develop these issues in order to foster an environment that is properly resourced and intellectually structured to enable a fuller realization of practice within higher education.


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