Do not isolate the method

Beware of isolating or ‘orphaning’ the method by writing a well argued method chapter but then making only passing reference to methods in subsequent chapters. It is easy to get excited by the fieldwork or studies and to overlook the importance of making detailed reports and research journal entries during the course of those studies.

This is a common mistake during the progress of arts and interdisciplinary PhD research and is revealed in early drafts of chapters that detail the studies. Practice writing up how you have used theories and methods in your practical work and field work. Do this as you go along. Connect the method to the the practice explicitly. Show the examiner how you used the method, step by step.

Weak method, or weak application of method is also often cited as the reason that academic grant proposals are rejected. It may also contribute to why curators and commissioning bodies don’t feel confident in supporting art proposals. You need to show that you know ‘how’.

Reflexive Practitioner. Overview

We discuss the role and position of the researcher, the way we, as researchers, influence the research process and our findings. We will consider ourselves as “Reflexive Practitioners”. This is a road view of ‘practitioner’ that includes, but is not limited, to creative practitioners, workshop leaders and teachers, software engineers and video ethnographers. The reflexive practitioner becomes usefully ‘self-conscious’, makes themselves aware of the baggage they bring to the research. This is not to suggest that we can simply rise above the baggage and become ‘objective’ but we can become aware our preconceptions, how our backgrounds influence us and account for some of that influence when we plan, conduct and evaluate our research.

We also consider how to be reflexive ‘in the moment’ of research, how to develop theories of our practice under real-time conditions, as we conduct research, in real-time. This includes being mindful of surprise, puzzlement, or confusion during real-time research – these often signal of valuable to our research theories but are easily dismissed as ‘noise’ in our data or process.

We analyse cyclic models of reflexive research and compared those models to Action Research and Participatory Action Research cycles and spirals. We note the various ways that we can capture data of our use of these methods while we are doing the practice, from text and image-based research journals in sketchbooks and blogs, to programmers’ comments, to video and audio recordings of workshops, rehearsals and performances.

The Reflexive Practitioner

Image by Lernert & Sander for the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant.

Developing Reflexivity in Research. For this post see texts by Dr Christina Hughes from Warwick University

Developing Reflexivity in Research: The ‘reflexive turn’ is well documented in social science. Dr Christina Hughes provides an overview of the term reflexivity as it has been developed within various literatures (social science methodology, adult and organisational learning). An analysis of ‘four moments’ of reflexivity is given, together with practical discussion of developing reflexivity in relation to research.

Hughes discusses the relevance of:

Biographical aspects of researcher
personal status’s
issues related to the key social divisions of age
ability as they specifically apply to the research

All knowledge produced through social research is imbued with these aspects of a researcher’s biography.

Class exercise: think about your biography. How might it impact and be part of your approach to your research. How does your biography affect how you see yourself and others, and how others wee you? Are you a black sheep? Does everyone see you that way or do they look at your haircut and see a poodle?


Work-based Practice

The key to practitioner success is “developing one’s own continuing theory of practice under real-time conditions” (Argyris and Schon, 1974: 157).

This requires “the practitioner to be able to reflect on his or her own microtheories of action (that is, contextually specific ideas about what works in the real world) and to relate these microtheories to institutional norms and to client expectations’ (Brookfield, 1986: 245).

The process of reflection-in-action is essentially artistic, that is, the practitioner makes judgments and exercises skills for which no explicit rationale has been articulated but in which she nevertheless feels an intuitive sense of confidence’ (Brookfield, 1986: 247).

Understanding and facilitating adult learning: A comprehensive analysis of principles and effective practices

Brookfield, Stephen. Understanding and facilitating adult learning: A comprehensive analysis of principles and effective practices. McGraw-Hill Education (UK), 1986.

The challenge of  real-time conditions

But, there is a problem, around time – “when time is extremely short, decisions have to be rapid and the scope for reflection is extremely limited” (Eraut, 1994: 145)

“…looking to our experiences, connecting with our feelings, and attending to our theories in use. It entails building new understandings to inform our actions in the situation that is unfolding.

The practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique.

He reflects on the phenomenon before him, and on the prior understandings which have been implicit in his behaviour.” [My emphasis]

How do we prepare if we know our research will be in real-time? Will there be time for note-taking? Might we forget key moments? What techniques can be used to help capture and record these scenarios so that we can analyse them and reflect on them later ? Video or audio recordings? A colleague who takes notes, with, or, for us?

It is easy to gloss over surprise, puzzlement, or confusion, to dismiss them as ‘noise’ in our data. However, often these feelings, however fleeting are signaling to us that something important is taking place. Try to make note of them. Will they help you pinpoint, after reflection (see PAR) the need for an adaption of your research plan? If you look more closely at your confusion does it show you that you may need to read another text, ask a new question?

‘Thinking on our feet’ – Donald A. Schon

“He carries out an experiment which serves to generate both a new understanding of the phenomenon and a change in the situation. (Schön 1983: 68)

We test out our ‘theories’ or, as John Dewey might have put it, ‘leading ideas’ and this allows to develop further responses and moves.

Significantly, to do this we do not closely follow established ideas and techniques – textbook schemes.

We have to think things through, for every case is unique. However, we can draw on what has gone before.”

Action Research (AR) and Participatory Action Research (PAR)

Image: Action Research Protocol after Kemmis (cited in Hopkins, 1985)

Key text: Carr, W. & Kemmis, S. (1986), Becoming Critical: education, knowledge and action research

Stephen Kemmis has developed a simple model of the cyclical nature of the typical action research process.

Each cycle has four steps: plan, act, observe, reflect. Carr and Kemmis (1986) describe action research as:

  • the improvement of practice
  • the improvement of the understanding of practice
  • the improvement of the situation in which the practice takes place

The notion of improvement can be problematic when viewed from the outside. One person’s improvement can be another person’s deterioration. It depends on the beliefs and values underpinning the individual’s perspective. Paradoxically, however, this uncertainty is perhaps the one truth of professional practice. Practice is contingent upon the practitioners’ intentions, values and beliefs and the situation in which those elements are given form.


See more on PAR and AR by Valsa Koshy. Action research for improving practice: A practical guide. Sage, 2005. A useful chapter is available here.