Framework, Contribution or Both?: The Question of Methodology

Research is always involved in the articulation of methods. How do you approach a given question, seek new knowledge about something, and go about the careful act of looking into an activity more deeply? The assumption is often made that one sets up a research question/s, works out a methodology through which to answer that question and designs the research project – after which the research can proceed. Creative practice research will rarely, if ever, proceed in this way.

Rather, it tends to turn that assumption on its head, engaging in the production of creative practice work through which questions arise and a methodology becomes articulated. Often, the contribution to knowledge arises through understanding methods of practicing more acutely – and in this situation the contribution can become the articulation of a methodology pertinent to particular values, goals, traditions and innovations of creative practice.GRCConcept

Method can be understood, quite simply, as how you do something. Add ‘ology’ to end of it and it refers to an area of knowledge about method  (‘-ology’ being a suffix used to refer to areas of knowledge). Methodology, then, refers to the discourse, concepts, theories and systemisation of method. Methodology, inasmuch as it is developed in order to produce knowledge, has an epistemological dimension, where epistemology is theories about knowledge. Methodology is deeply tied into ideas about what is knowable and worth knowing – and therefore always intertwined with epistemological positions. Some, for instance, take an epistemological stance about knowledge as inseparable from words – an untenable position for creative practice research. Others would broaden concepts of knowledge to, for instance, tacit, embodied and implicit knowledge – ways of knowing that are not tied to words and can be hard to articulate through them. Professor David James, from Cardiff University, offers a useful outline of the difference and relationships between method, methodology, epistemology and ontology in this lecture (watch between 59 seconds and 22 minutes), characterising these four terms as building upon one another. James’s lecture offers a particularly clear and nuanced description of relationships between these terms. As he is addressing students in the area of social science the account does not move into the particularities of creative practice, but his lecture and/or slides may be useful prior to engaging with the three videos offered as material  for this module: lectures by Professor Peter Downton and Professor Lyndal Jones, who are directly concerned with creative practice research, and a symposium discussion about creative practice research methods from the perspective of a range of notable practitioners from different creative practice fields. Prof. Lyndal Jones, Prof. Martyn Hook, Prof Jeremy Diggle, Dr Marcelo Stamm and Prof. Leslie Duxbury. A lecture by Marcelo Stamm, Measures of Distance – Fighting Close to the Bull, offers a much more detailed and expanded account of the PhD by creative practice process via the notion of ‘fighting close to the bull’ that he talks about in that group symposium context. A new lecture for this module is from Professor Paul Carter, who has just published a new book, Places Made After Their Stories: design and the art of choreotopography [sample chapter here], and sequel to his previous Material Thinking: the theory and practice of creative research. 

Peter Downton’s book, Design Research offers a detailed account of the acts of creative production as a way of producing knowing and knowledge  ‘Preface to the Kindle edition’ and ‘1. Introduction: some conceptual basics’ in the available sample here – or purchase the book, print or kindle). This book can be read alongside his Studies in Design Research: ten epistemological pavilions (available via RMIT library). Downton is concerned with ‘design research’, but his discussion is relevant to all forms of creative practice research.

All research candidates are inherently working with ontological, epistemological and methodological positions, beliefs and standpoints, and to some extent you need to develop an awareness of these dimensions of your research. Method and methodology are particularly and unavoidably pertinent and you need to become clear about your research in those terms. However, unless you are aiming to make a contribution to epistemology and ontology in particular, you don’t need to get caught up in locating your research in a philosophically nuanced account of the epistemological and ontological. It is helpful simply to be aware of these terms, how they are used and why they might be relevant to what you doing.

In creative practice research a key methodology often referred to is reflective practice, which can be referred back to Donald Schon’s The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action (1983). However, the way in which you frame, articulate and develop the methodological aspects of your research will depend very deeply on the kind of creative practice project work you are doing, the research culture you are part of, the model of research candidature you might be engaged in and/or the approaches your supervisors are comfortable and familiar with. It is best to discuss this with your supervisors in order to reinforce or develop a shared understanding with them about method and the methodological aspects of your research.