Monday, May 05, 2008

clarifying the terminology: research involving (design) practice

After a meeting on Friday, my focus at the moment is the methodology chapter and in particular the issue of rigour in practice-led research. It's not something I'm too concerned about but I do need to articulate very clearly the sources of rigour in my project. Over the weekend I was updating my readings on the area and came across this very helpful paper by Kristina Niedderer and Seymour Roworth-Stokes: 'The role and use of creative practice in research and its contribution to knowledge'. The table on page 10 is particularly helpful in clarifying the terminology, much of which is currently used interchangeably, perhaps erroneously. The timing of reading the paper was somewhat serendipitous as only on Thursday I had a minor epiphany in regards to my project, while reading about someone else's.

I don't know that practice-led is the correct term to describe my project. On Thursday I actually wrote at the beginning of the chapter: "My project: not practice-led research but rather, a project that includes research-led practice". This realisation came about whilst reading about Maarit Mäkelä's project in the book she co-edited with Sara Routarinne: The Art of Research. Research Practices in Art and Design. (The website has the subheading different to the book I'm looking at right now.) The chapters covering various projects, including Mäkelä's, focus mainly on art rather than design, although the closing chapters by Stephen Scrivener and Michael Biggs do bring the book back to design somewhat. Anyway, Mäkelä's project to me reads very much as 'practice-led' but as a result, my project does not. For a start, my project includes an exhaustive (and exhausting) literature survey of garments that waste little or no fabric, both historical and contemporary. As the literature survey both precedes and informs the practice, I'm not sure 'practice-led research' is the correct term for my project - the practice does not lead the research but does contribute to it significantly.

Going back to Table 2 in Niedderer and Roworth-Stokes's paper, and the first category, 'Research Involving Practice', I do identify with the context and purpose. In my project, "practice plays a lead role in the investigative process", and "informs theory building within research to gain new insights, knowledge or understanding". (And this reminds me why it was so easy to embark on a misadventure to the world of Grounded Theory more than two years ago... It made sense, even if inappropriate.)

Next, using objectivity, reliability and validity as the criteria, identifying the sources of rigour in the project should be a breeze. Or so I always (optimistically) believe.

As an unrelated aside, I haven't entertained the thought of designing within the Australian industry for some years now - not much or seriously anyway. Yesterday, a friend asked if could bring in my portfolio to the company she's working for, as there are signs of imminent expansion. I could, I replied, if I had one. The closest equivalent I have is my press book. I had my first look in about three years last night (I should have taken a photo of the dust) and it was almost as if I was reading about someone else. And how things change. Exactly 18 months after this was written, I was applying to do a PhD and got on the road I'm on now. No regrets, of course, but it's strange to even think of myself as a potential designer again. Sure, I am designing as part of the project but it's in my little academic ivory tower, not in the real world where things actually have to sell. Not in the real world where designers have to churn out hundreds of styles every year. Not in the real world where what always seem to ultimately matter, at the expense of everything else, is profit. Anyway, I'm taking the book in; if nothing else, my friend and I can have a giggle at how young I looked. Oh, and I'm still exhausted.

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