Posts Tagged ‘research practice’

Near Enough is the Measure

As part of my current research leave I have committed to completing an application to the Australian Research Council for a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA). They are prestigious, valuable, and now rarer than hen’s teeth. As I try to write a project, which revolves around creating what I hope will become computational or procedural nonfiction, I find I simply can’t write funding applications. The issue is one of genre, and at this stage I just don’t grok what is required. The feedback I continually receive is that I do not outline or propose a project, but instead what I write always comes out as an essay. So I’ve surrendered and taken the sensible, pragmatic view of writing what I write and then handing it off to colleagues who will critique it. The second advantage of this is that the deadline for the proposal is a long way off, and this is the sort of writing that so easily becomes interminable. Write, rewrite, change that paragraph again and again and again. It swallows your time like some sort of lexical black hole. So, draft it, get it near enough, hand it off. Otherwise I can see a month lost to ten pages for a proposal that I has about a 2% chance of receiving funding.

Strategies for me: scale it back, calling it already computational nonfiction already assumes an understanding of what the computational and procedural is, and why it matters. Similarly calling it nonfiction (because I’m interested in things beyond documentary and its film and video heritage to include forms of life writing and how social media can become modes of documentary practice) also probably generates too much abstraction, too many leaps and gaps, for the assessors. Wind it back, just call it computational documentary for now. (Particularly since the people who will probably assess this are likely to be much more familiar with media studies and cinema studies than they will with code, software, materialist media studies.)

Knowledge Claims and Research

In Creative Arts Research (CAR), which should not be about how artist’s do research (everyone does research, including my eight year old daughter into her Smiggle purchases), but about how creative practice becomes academic research, that is research recognised as research within universities. There are a couple of things to get your head around here.

The debate is not whether art is research, or not, or whether I can write ‘differently’ or not (you can), but whether and how it constitutes academic research. Academic research is instrumentalised knowledge that contributes to an identifiable academic community of practice (yes, that is tautological, as all academic fields are, the field does define itself). The question or problem then becomes one of how to instrumentalise what I am claiming as knowledge in my creative practice or artefact. It is instrumentalised knowledge because, in the context of CAR, knowledge needs to be extracted/contextualised/made explicit from the implicitness of material thinking and making so that its specific knowledge claims can be recognised and used by others. This lets CAR then move from an argument or discussion about aesthetic merit of the work (which is not and can’t be an academic research claim in itself) to one about knowledge claims. Research knowledge claims need to be evidenced, contestable, and to be propositional (they make claims about something else, not just themselves) to be a research knowledge claim. Art does not need to do any of these things to be art (in can do these things, but it doesn’t have to), whereas academic research has to do each of these three things, every time, to be research.

The problem of how knowledge becomes visible so that it can be used by others in academic contexts is a different problem than whether or not something contains knowledge.

Desert Island, Robinson Crusoe, or Wallflower?

i-Doc 2014 Conference

This is complete reprint for an email announcement, just helping to get it out there.

We’ve received a lot of requests for an extension to the call – so by popular demand it’s now official. The new deadline for submissions to i-Docs 2014 is Monday, November 25th.

** i-Docs 2014 Call For Participation **

Following the success of the i-Docs Symposia in 2011 and 2012, we are delighted to invite you to participate in i-Docs 2014, two full days devoted to considering the expanding and rapidly evolving field of interactive documentary

The Symposium is convened by Judith Aston, Sandra Gaudenzi and Mandy Rose, and hosted by the Digital Cultures Research Centre@UWE Bristol. The event will be held at Watershed on Bristol’s Harbourside – Thursday 20 and Friday 21 of March 2014.

Keynote speakers confirmed so far: Kate Nash (University of Tasmania), Hank Willis Thomas (Question Bridge), Francesca Panetta (Firestorm, The Guardian Online) and William Uricchio (MIT Open Documentary Lab).

Further additions to what promises to be an extraordinary line-up of talent include Nathan Penlington and Sam Smail from Choose Your Own Documentary..much more to come so…keep an eye on

This year’s symposium will focus on three pressing themes:

Production Models
Engagement & Evaluation
New Territories
We welcome proposals for papers, panels, presentations of work and alternative forms of debate – The full call for participation for more details on these themes, and potential areas for discussion can be downloaded at

Proposals should be sent to: by MONDAY 25th of November 2013. The proposal should clearly outline your intentions in no more than 300 words. Links to further visual materials may be provided, where appropriate. Proposals for alternative formats and themes are very welcome.

Conference proceedings will be published on the i-Docs conference website.

The full two-day delegate fee including lunch and refreshments is £175. Early bird tickets at a reduced rate will go on sale in November.

Please contact if you have any further questions.

Abstracts are, Well, Abstract

Am writing an abstract for the upcoming Placing Nonfiction: politics, poetics and practices symposium here at RMIT in December. (December, it was bad enough that Visible Evidence was held a week before Christmas last year, but scheduling significant academic activities in December is, well, wringing every last drop of labour out of the year, isn’t it?) Slowly crafting my 150 to 200 or so words. Abstract writing is pleasurable and difficult. Difficult because right now I’m trying to sort out the terms of the argument I want to begin exploring (it represents a certain small evolution in my research and practice), and distilling this into the rarefied form of the abstract. Before I’ve done the research. Pleasurable in that it lets a series of speculative ideas begin to take shape. I realise that near enough will be good enough for the abstract, but also that as some connections come to be formed that I need to hang on to them, because when I come to write this essay, which might not begin for another month or so, these nascent connections will be lost if I don’t add some flesh to them. This is another of the ways in which it is difficult, as I just tootled out a couple of hundred words of possibly interesting thinking out aloud writing as I recognised the sort of speculative idea that really matters in the essay. A writing that is loose, quick, just a bit mercurial. All qualities that the abstract needs to divorce itself from.

Peer Review, Nonfiction, Video

Interesting presentations about academic research and the video essay at the ASPERA conference at RMIT on Tuesday. Debate here gets convoluted quickly, but the principles are simple. No one in the academy says a video essay cannot ‘count’ as research. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch and in Australia research from the point of view of the university is defined quite specifically for us as:

the creation of new knowledge and/or the use of existing knowledge in a new and creative way so as to generate new concepts, methodologies and understandings. This could include synthesis and analysis of previous research to the extent that it leads to new and creative outcomes. (2013 Higher Education Research Data Collection guidelines – go on, get the PDF it’s rivetting.)

The emphasis here is very specifically on knowledge, not aesthetic experience (or anything else you might want to use to judge creative outcomes) and so all academic work needs to contribute knowledge to knowledge. This is reasonable, we are in universities, significantly funded by the public purse, and the role of the university is knowledge work. In addition, there are numerous, robust and accepted ways in which creative practice is validated and recognised, through exhibition and curatorial economies and the like, so that specific system of evaluation and value does not need to be remade in the university context, though more importantly this economy does not have to be about the production or value of knowledge – I can make art that makes knowledge claims that meet the above criteria, but this is not what makes it art, and so similarly I can make art that makes no such knowledge claims. (I’ll leave to one side the whole argument raised by Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy? that clearly separates art, science and philosophy as undertaking different tasks as one way to articulate these differences.) As it ought, the intrinsic value of creative practice lies somewhere other than the specific intended creation of new knowledge.

The second requirement is that all work must be peer reviewed. This is the traditional threshold to determine merit in academia (see Mark Bernstein’s discussion “Reviewing Conference Papers” for one of the best guides), and the only threshold, again mandated for us in Australia, is:

an acceptable peer review process […] that involves impartial and independent assessment or review of the research publication in its entirety before publication, conducted by independent, qualified experts. Independent in this context means independent of the author

Pragmatically frank, it is, like research, hard to quibble with.

The key points are that this is about research, not creative practice, and so with work that likes to consider itself as research it is the creation of knowledge that qualifies it as research. This contribution can be to practice, but it is not enough for it to be merely practice, after all any research can be easily conceived of as a practice (it is much harder to imagine how it could not be).

So for work in time based media to be considered research it needs to create new knowledge, and for the quality and significance of this knowledge to be verified through peer review. That’s it, you’d think, wouldn’t you?

Unfortunately, it seems not. There are two points, one reasonably significant the other I think trivial. The first is that peer reviewers routinely suggest, or require, changes to a work for it to be publishable. In the context of time based media this is problematic. First of all, like much creative practice or work that lies close to creative practice, it seems questionable at best to give a peer reviewer the right to change the work. Question it, certainly, but change it? This seems to me to be the academic equivalent of the studio cut, and if we think that’s a troubling practice in film making I’m having a very hard time to see why it would be imported uncritically into the university. However, in the case of the sorts of things being discussed I think it would be very interesting, valuable, and quite legitimate, to require peer review of what in film we call the ‘rough cut’. This is work that is nearly finished, much like a good draft in the context of writing, and this would seem to be an ideal time to provide critique, make suggestions, and to intervene to indicate what may need to happen for it to become research. The finished work would also receive review, though at this point I suspect it would be more in line of how the work has responded to the peer review. This, after all, is the same thing as we do in writing if we accept that what is submitted for publication is done so on some sort of assumption that you’re going to need to edit it some more before it is accepted.

The second intersects a little with the first issue, and is from the ‘practice is sufficient’ school. I am deeply sympathetic to this but remain also sceptical and, to date, unconvinced. I believe some writing to contextualise a work is essential, and while I don’t think I’ll engage the specifics here, it is easy to see that if I make a film and write something accompanying it, then it is much easier to accommodate peer review through writing. Whether the writing changes, or I just respond directly to the questions or concerns of the reviewers, this can be done within the contextual writing that sits alongside the work. Pragmatic? Absolutely, yet if the problem is getting the work recognised as research, then I can’t see much problem with a pragmatic system that facilitates that.

However, if the problem is not really about the work being research, but the more idealistic belief that the work is sufficient in itself as research, then the invitation to write to the work is generally met with hostility, derision, or some belief that the integrity of practice is now diluted. We’ll put aside the earlier observation that all research is a practice, though will note that it is the reporting or dissemination of the research that is actually the issue, not whether or not it is a practice, and use a couple of examples to indicate why it is not “self evident” (to quote a comment in the session) that the film is “obviously research”.

Example One. Imagine a film that is shot, and edited, on a mobile phone. It is a documentary. It records the same moment, every day, for a month, informally using a free app and hand held. The work is partly about place, but also just as much about the sorts of mobile, informal (yet informed) making that things like the iPhone now enables. In this example the decision to use an iPhone is part of the research question or problem being explored and investigated in the work and the practice. The maker could have used other equipment, other methods (set up a very good camera, in a water proof box, with a digital intervalometer and automated the process) and has access to such resources. The decision to use an iPhone matters not just aesthetically but as part of the research project. Looking at this work (lets imagine it uses HD) it is hard to know that it is from a mobile phone, and you think the slight tremor in each shot is a problem and a tripod would have been better.

Example Two. Imagine a film that is shot, and edited, on a mobile phone. It records the same moment, every day, for a month, using a free time lapse video app. The maker wanted to see what would happen doing this, and happily set up a spare phone on a little GorillaPod stand. It looks pretty much the same as the film in example one.

The first one is undertaking research. The second one isn’t. Looking at the films does not tell you this.

Example Three. Imagine someone who is investigating no-budget film making. This is the research investigation and intent. To do this they make two films (with no budget). Both are dramas. The first uses extensive improvisation techniques with the cast. The second is scripted and storyboarded in great rigour. The researcher wanted to see the differences in the quality of the experience of making the film, for the actors, when they aren’t being paid. Did the opportunity to improvise mean they had a more positive experience than having a script? Why?

Each is undertaking research. Looking at either of the dramas in no way tells you what the research they undertake, is. The differences in the way they were made might not even be apparent.

In all cases the films require a supplement to contextualise and ground the research. Yes, they could have some how included this within themselves, but that seems to me contrived and not really the point (of the works or the research). Once you insist that the artefact itself is the only thing that is necessary to communicate the research the complexity of the artefact is risked. Its labour, as knowledge, is not necessarily self evident, nor in many circumstances does it need to be. This does not mean it is not knowledge making.

I reckon a journal that can accommodate all this is the model. Got a didactic video essay that makes explicit knowledge claims, that’s fine. Got something more essayistic, then that is probably good too but please, let’s peer review the rough cut. Something more poetic, or marginal, or something creative that is used as the basis for knowledge work. That too, but you’ll need to use something else to make these claims explicit (heck, a didactic video if that’s what rocks your boat). The issue really isn’t practice but is the visibility of the new knowledge. Let’s make this visible and just get on with it.

Industrial Video and Professionalisation

Draft extract from a brief essay I’m writing to accompany the publication of a collaborative mixed media iBook I’ve worked on:

In the case of industrial video an economy of socialised practices of professionalisation created particular assumptions that became fetishised into a technocratic mantra of ‘quality’ which generally referred to little more than the explicit technical felicity of the artefacts made to these internalised norms of a sophisticated craft practice. This produces a tautological circuit, most visible in the annual spectacle of the Academy Awards where the industry awards itself statuettes for excellence within the terms of this own small definition of technical excellence, yet remains the benchmark by which industrial media resolutely defends itself against the technical vulgarity of the postindustrial. This is not only to state that now anyone can make a film, if they desire, but to point out that as scarcity of access to all three facets of media (production, distribution, consumption) has declined so too has the previously clear distinction between a professional class and its others. This relation is now ambiguous, at best, and the response of the industry, of the professional class, has been to insist ever more forcefully on the significance of its own standards of excellence and technological scarcity – using ever more expensive cameras, effects, and stars. Except apparently everyone is happy to watch it on YouTube, in spite of the low resolution and questionable production standards.

Caffeine and Writing


I’m in the Design Hub with some colleagues come collaborators for our weekly research catch up for the Circus Oz Living Archive project. We now use part of this time as a shut up and write session. It’s latish in the afternoon. I’m tired from the heat. I realise that I cannot concentrate very well for the level required to edit my writing without a coffee near to hand. I need the caffeine as much as I need the habit. I always have a coffee when I write, even if I don’t drink it. This is a necessary habit seems.

Emerging Documentary Practices

This is the accepted abstract for the ’emerging documentary practices’ session I’m on this coming week in Canberra at Visible Evidence:

The availability of ready to hand video technologies for recording, editing, and publishing ‘everyday ephemera’ has seen an explosion of content online, from the low brow populism of YouTube through to the sophisticated observational post produced work of Robert Croma. These technologies of recording, editing, and distribution provide documentary practice with an everyday, quotidian apparatus for the creation of informal, reflective, observational and autoethnographic work. This paper will examine the use of ready to hand video technologies in concert with the use of the Korsakow interactive video authoring software, to create small scale, ‘ready to hand’ or ‘dirty media’ documentaries. This provides a model to investigate and develop alternative modes of making nonfiction video online material that falls outside of the economy of spectacle that dominates YouTube or the ‘personal broadcasting channels’ of Vimeo . The problem investigated is how to contextualise and author in these systems so that work created is outside of the unstructured banality of aggregative platforms and the serialised limitations of the blog. Emerging software models such as Korsakow require a creative practice of making that involves the critical curation of video ephemera into complex, emerging and multilinear constellations and clouds of associated material that let these works lie between the personal documentary, essay film, home movies and broader poetic traditions. More significantly the use of systems such as Korsakow allows for an autoethnographic methodology of personal, informal and everyday observation to produce a ‘soup’ of material that is then structured through the elucidation of emerging or unveiled patterns of relation amongst shots and sequences. These patterns create affective and poetic “lines of flight” for both maker and user and their value lies in the possibility of poesis amongst otherwise unremarkable moments.

As I finish the presentation it increasingly looks like this is where the talk will finish at. I seem to be beginning from:

There is a variety of digital nonfiction practice that are being invented that is facilitated by ready access to means of making and distributing, and increasingly systems that leverage the qualities of the minor, observational, intimate, distributed and emergent.

From this we can see some of the attributes that documentary tools need in digital networked contexts. We can also see that such ‘tools’ can be thought of as systems to allow the creation of affective assemblages.

I will look at some current online services and the Korsakow system to argue this.
The work is grounded in a sophisticated theory driven critical practice of networked making.

Aside from the specific argument and things I’m wanting to investigate, I think this is also a consequence of sketching the argument in Keynote. It encourages (like PowerPoint) a particular sort of propositional style. If I’d written originally as an essay, then it would have a very different shape to what it now has. At the moment I like sketching it like this, it forces me to unpack the assumptions that the first abstract relies upon.

Sketch Writing and Keynote as Outliner

For the recent series of conference presentations I’ve done I’ve realised that Keynote works very well for me as an outliner. I have an abstract, I start writing slides (often quite text heavy), but having to have the connection between slides really helps make sense of what I’m wanting to do, and the terms of the argument. From this I’ve realised I can use the Keynote presentation as a template to then sketch the key sections straight into Scrivener. It is a nice workflow for writing.

On the other hand I used Tinderbox for the Textobjectext presentation, quite deliberately. However, as I lost concentration before presenting (partly being so interested in the prior papers), and also because I had not yet resolved just what specifically I really wanted to say, or even realising that the circularity was a potential interesting position to take up in relation to what I wanted to argue, the presentation was very ordinary. There it probably would’ve been better to write in Tinderbox to get the ideas and connections out, then sketched that with a particular ‘line’ using Keynote, and then think about writing two versions of the work, the Tinderbox hypertextual one and the more constrained linear one.

Perhaps next time I should sketch write in Tinderbox, get it all in there, then from there present via Keynote, and then think about appropriate publication pathways? First reaction is I like this idea….