internal goods | external goods

1.

THOUGHTS ON THE PRACTICE-LED RESEARCH SYMPOSIUM / PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT:


Hi G, B and others


I can't attend today's planning meeting, and I've been thinking a bit about these issues in wake of the last planning meeting (which we pretty fun, thanks G) and the B's posted document on the aims of the symposium.

The planning has been orientated to the key issue of 'good practice-led research', exemplified in what the literature says, other people we think are good examples, and personal experiences too.

My overall thought however is that I'm still unclear what 'good' we are talking about, which I think it worth un-packing -- whether or not any of you read or reply to this is going to be a test of the optimism expressed at the last planning meeting by C that we do have a culture of sharing ideas on practice-led research in our faculty, versus my expressed pessimism that we don't -- and whether the long-form email is a genre with any currency these days!

Hope you realise I'm not being smarty-pants semantic about this. If I didn't write it down carefully here, I'd just sprout it half-baked at next planning ameeting or symposium itself. Here goes:

EXTERNALLY VS INTERNALLY GOOD ?

Are we talking about "external goods" or "internal goods" of practice-led research (to use terms of Alasdair MacIntyre and subsequent theorists of social practices and institutions). Internal goods means all the good things that come from engaging in the practice itself (internal satisfaction, social bonding, advancement of what is considered excellent within the practice domain), whilst external goods means all the things that come from the practice existing in the wider world, awarded and degreed by various institutions (financial and social status etc). In short, internal goods come from cooperative practice whilst external goods come from positioning within competitive (hierarchical) institutions. The idea of 'for love or money' in sports discourse captures this dynamic well I think, so does the difference between 'spirituality and religion', as does Berstein's re-use of Durkhiem's 'sacred and profane' in his analysis of higher education. Might seem like internal goods and practice are somehow 'purer' than external goods and institutions, but actually we can't have one without the other, and there is always going to be a tussle between them.

This can easily apply to higher research issues of course. What is 'good' for the researchers in a field, is different to what is 'good' from the perspective of the institutions within which the researchers operate. The question of what makes good science practice (as judged by scientific peers), is different from what makes good scientific research (as judged within the university system). What makes good science practice would be advancing scientific understanding, contributing to an ethical peer community, collaborating well in teams, even working on scientific problems that have humane impacts, and keeping up the standards of excellence as understood in that field. What makes good science from perspective of institutions would be publication rankings (status of publishing outlet, quantity of publications, number of citations), grant income (competitive research grants, other grants, consultancies, in that order), HDR completions (retention and speed of completion as quantity measure, with graduate pathways to high status academic and industry postings as quality measure) and possible the nebulous notion of 'social impact' of one's research.

Same goes for research in and through creative practice in art, design and media (ie what we call 'practice-led research' as short hand). What makes good creative practice (as a research practice, contributing to new knowledge in some ways rather than replaying customary practices which are no more than tradition, cliche, standard tools or known solutions) is going to be advancing understanding in one's field, contributing to an ethical peer community or practitioner networks, working on things we think of our humane importance, and being and contributing to what is considered excellent and rigorous (trustworthy) in that field of practice. And what makes good practice-led research from an institutional perspective is status of public creative outputs, grant and other income, HDR completions and possibly some form of ratified 'social impact'.

The short form of all this could be that we could gauge whether practice-led research is 'internally good' based on local research culture for practice-led researchers at CIF, and gauge whether practice-led research is 'externally good' based on our ERA rankings (current and prospective). ERA after all has down the wonderful job of making the institutional game clearer.

So, how does this relate to professional development of CIF staff around practice-led research?

EXTERNALLY GOOD

I think actually any CIF focus has traditionally been on the external goods of publication and HDR completion -- publication of practice-led research methodology papers (where number of papers seems weighted over publication rankings and citations) and improving HDR completion through attempts at better supervisory practices and appropriate research methods unit content. The count of staff creative works output turned up for the ERA round (after firstly via the scrapped RQF trial) and I haven't seen a focus at all on grant income at any level.

Publication of practice-led research methodology papers and HDR completions still seems the focus in the current process that includes G's roundtables and B's aims for the symposium. Is that really what we are aiming for? If so, surely any leadership in the field of practice-led research we had (high point I think was SPIN conference and MIA special issue both in 2005) is going to wane further!

Other questions could be asked:

* What about the development and presentation of creative work by staff?
* And what about grant income now especially that ARC is looking like removing the ban on creative practice, and also because some universities are already planning in the ARC game which do include significant chunks of contemporary arts and design practice/production?

Both of these questions have little connection to HDR supervision (time-wise, HDR supervision gets in the road of staff's own creative production and grant writing etc -- and I've seen little evidence yet of supervisors getting HDRs to work as teams to lighten rather than weight down the work load – K’s recent MA research cluster a promising exception!) And they also have little connection to publication/ideas on research methodology (because research methodology writing in our faculty, and also around the world, has almost entirely been caught up in determining the appropriate protocols and formats that HDR practice-led research should take -- concerning the exegesis, assessment, supervision, relationship of exegesis to creative output, research questions/methods/strategies etc -- although the field might start writing about how creative practice can fit the formats and protocols of ERA accounting and ARC grants). 

INTERNALLY GOOD

Alternatively, we might want to ask about what is good in practice-led research in terms of internal goods. This would have to shift gear away from anything that could be accounted for by ERA, and a move to a discussion of research culture -- ie, what is needed for us to become better creative practitioner-researchers? At a faculty-wide level is this at all possible, because the resourcing pressures (staff workload allocation versus proof of research activeness and grant income as workload buy out) surely are always going to crash over any discussion of creative practice as practice, at the faculty level that is. The fact that one of the most beneficial forums for building creative practitioner-researchers, in my humble opinion -- the 'revealing practices' sessions -- has folded this year makes me wonder if anything like this ambition of faculty-wide culture building for practice-led research could expect faculty support. This is definitely no a criticism of the faculty, just a matter of working out how faculty-wide processes can enable the external and/or internal goods of research through creative practice.

Also, internal goods are shared and developed in a community of practice, and I wonder what staff clusters could self-organise around research through creative practice. Clusterings seems like a good idea, and have been raised as part of the RIG review and also the forums on the research-teaching nexus, but there were roadblocks in some follow up meetings between various creative practitioners, despite our general good will to each other and interest in each others' practices: as soon as we started naming our core interests and creative-social goals, which might then excite us enough to cluster around it, we diverged rather than converged, and it seemed any clustering ideas with which we held any enthusiasm about were orthogonal, not overlapping. How to cluster when we come from so many different disciplines and media, and with such different goals and topics?

Clusters around practice-led supervision and practice-led research methodology seem more likely (because our needs as supervisors, and practice-led research methodology, all pass through the same institutional filter so we share many commonalities here), and definitely something to consider I think, but I'd just note that this would just be to throw back to what I've said above: that traditionally we have focused on HDR completions and HDR-orientated practice-led methodologies, and these don't to me seem like the sites of potential national leadership in the field.

TO SUM

When G has asked us about what makes good practice-led research, are we talking about internal or external goods? Hopefully internal and external goods could benefit the other (that sensitive creative practices can be enabled by institutional frameworks, and that institutional frameworks can be enriched because of creative practices) but they are pretty different things. What's the core concern, G and B? Ie, what are we hoping is being professionally developed?


L