The London Black Cab and an epistemiological crisis in the making. Number 1 in the series: Knowledge, traffic and arts based research.

What’s up with London cabbies? Yesterday I wanted to go to the annual BERA conference at the fabulous Institute of Education.  Its such an obvious drive from Euston, no-one on earth who was working as a taxi driver would have claimed ignorance of its existence.

But not the taxi driver who picked me up.  He claimed he’d never been to the Institute of Education in Bedford Way, that he’d never heard of it and had no idea how to get there.   Apparently,  black taxis no longer know everything about London’s streets. There is no longer such a thing as ‘The Knowledge‘ apparently: the collective wisdom and skills supposedly held by all Black Taxi cabs since time began.

This is alarming in the short term – what will they all do during the Olympics? The idea of London full of black cabs perpetually getting lost is dire. You expect it of the minicabs – they’re full of guys who have a satnav with attitude and have seen too many de Niro films – but the loss of the knowledge by these seemingly unchanging parts of London’s make-up is more worrying in its implications for the rest of us.

What if we all found that the knowledge we learnt 24 years ago was useless?  That whilst we might have taught particular subjects one way, we were to  just throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders and say, well, that’s the way it was, and I have no idea what we should be teaching any longer. What if we were civil engineers and took the view that because bridges were once built on stilts, that any new technologies were now beyond us?  We’d all resort to the SatNav equivalents of our trade – and we know what that leads to when it comes to trying to get anywhere in the world.

The knowledge-less taxi driver is of course a problem when it comes to negotiating the streets of London; but the knowledge-free zone that teachers are turning into, that doctors are becoming and rocket scientists seem to be blindly accepting is a poor state of affairs for all of us.

The question is of course, what kind of knowledge really matters?  We’re working within the relatively new research field of arts based research and are working within BERA to establish new ways of understanding the world, and using the arts to develop new forms of knowledge.  The next BERA conference in Manchester will see the results of our next endeavours: we may even be able to help taxi drivers find their way around the capital cities of the world!

Number 1 in an the series: Knowledge, traffic and how arts based research can help the modern driver.

More travel knowledge here.

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: http://content.yudu.com/Library/A1szjh/BERASummer2011/resources/index.htm?referrerUrl=http%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.yudu.com%25252Fitem%25252Fdetails%25252F364631%25252FBERA-Summer-2011

Watch out for those shaking research foundations!

(Adapted from Research Intelligence, Summer 2011)

It’s Conference Season! How to avoid the worst of conferences

Its that time of year again!  Time to pack our bags, brush up our papers, remember how to work powerpoint remotely and steel ourselves for mass produced sandwiches in ecologically friendly cardboard boxes.  Yes, the joys of the conference and all it entails.

i’m really looking forward to conferences that don’t build on their content, aren’t a mix of practical and theoretical, are technologically unreliable, are unrigorous, provide a platform for the wrong kind of speakers, aren’t chaired well, don’t offer chances for dialogue, have the same old same old people on the panels and  provide too many spaces for axe grinding: and particularly those educational conferences which have little in the way of artistry and preach the educational message in an utterly non-educational manner.  Conferences with a pay-bar on the opening night are also low on the list.

But hope springs eternal and i’m looking forward to a better experience of meeting old colleagues, making new friends and confering – the whole point of the conference experience of course.  As Mohammed Arif said at our first All Our Futures conference, I came to England alone; and leave the conference with new friends’. So here’s to new friends, new ideas, new challenges and with any luck, new solutions to feeding the conference frenzied masses.

If you’re at BERA at the Institute of Education, London next week, the Transformative Difference Conference at Liverpool Hope University the week after, the PASCO Conference in Belgrade next month or the ISBE (Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurialship) Conference the month after, please feel free to come and strike up a conversation.  Who knows, we might have some ideas on what constitutes the best of conferences!