The Mars Bar model of research: a state of work, rest and play

Conference kicks off this week with a motley gathering of arts based researchers at BERA, the international education conference at the Institute of Education, London. But what’s arts based research? Surely that’s an oxymoron?

ABER: early moments and awakenings

The foundations for arguing that arts practice contributes in new and valuable ways to research methodologies can be traced to Elliot Eisner amongst many significant others. His presence at the first ABER conference in Queens University Belfast in 2005 marked perhaps a ‘Spring Awakening’ moment for many young researchers who had started to  explore this area of research which had challenged and inspired many of their more mature colleagues over recent years.  It led, amongst other intended and unintended consequences, to the establishment of the BERA ABER SIG in 2010, convened by Dr. Nick Owen of the Aspire Trust, the Merseyside based Arts Education specialists. Lesley Saunders summarised the arguments for Arts based research in 2009 thus:

  • ethics:  the researcher gives up claims to objectivity and the particular kind of expropriation of others’ identity and experiences to which that leads  and lays claim instead to imaginative sensuousness or to passion as more plausible forms of authenticity;
  • life-likeness: narrative, images, evocations, recollected memories, dance, group drama and so forth are much more like the lives people lead than are purely rational prose accounts or numerical data;
  • epistemology: we need representations of knowledge which themselves enact and make manifest – through ‘bricoleurship’ – the provisionality and ‘fuzziness’ of knowledge in the social sciences;  and we also need to recognise that the arts create a different kind of knowledge – ‘not the goal of curiosity but the fruit of experience’[1] perhaps – with which we can enrich social, particularly educational, research;
  • expression: the language of academic research should divest itself of the ‘managerialist’ and ‘performative’ discourse which has infected it, and be more like poetry in its sensuousness and felt emotion;
  • the unconscious: the gifts of the non-rational mind – memories, dreams, reflections – should be welcomed as part of the cognitive project of inquiry for understanding
  • education: these modes of engaging in inquiry are in themselves educative, artistically and socially

The BERA ABER SIG: 3 acronyms upon we rest our work

The BERA ABER SIG (or British Educational Research Association’s Arts Based Educational Research Special Interest Group for the unitiated) aims to provide new opportunities in Arts Based Educational Research  by supporting and advocating rigorous,  and inter-disciplinary arts research practice which connects theory, research, practice and policy on local, regional and international stages.  We aim to provide connections within and across these constituencies in order to:

* Provide expertise and guidance in arts based research, practice and theory for universities, teacher training and arts organisations;

* Develop, lobby and advocate for practice which is built on principles of social justice, innovation, challenge, collaboration, rigour, scholarship, excellence and purpose;

* Encourage new conversations and dialogues between diverse agencies and organisations.

* Provide a platform for  theoreticians and practitioners working in arts, education and other fields to discuss, share and reflect on research practice and outcomes, both illuminating and problematical.

Whilst these aims are necessarily aspirational in nature, they are also presented within an overall spirit of ongoing challenge and enquiry:  ‘inclusiveness’, ‘rigour’ and ‘social justice’ are all terms for example which the field constantly contests and this dialogue will be encouraged and stimulated through the activities of the SIG.

THE ABER BERA SIG: playing for influence, change and recognition

Whilst the work of ABER is variously playful, challenging and sometimes bewildering, we are highly serious in our intentWe have been working together to

* Explore, support develop and critique  arts-based educational research theory and practice across differing educational contexts through a series of annual seminars which are held inbetween annual BERA conference;

* Co-ordinating and lobbying for publication in significant educational journals, presentation at international conferences;

* Advising on training and developmental opportunities for artists, researchers and other practitioners who wish to extend their expertise in the field.

For further information on arts based research and how it relates to other research disciplines please have a look here:

Watch out for those shaking research foundations!

(Adapted from Research Intelligence, Summer 2011)

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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