Wednesday, 23 February 2011

CBM Research Methods Spring 2011 Final Assignment

Write a three page research plan about the topic you have chosen. Preferably use the topic you are working on as your final thesis or in the final thesis seminar context. This time write about an approach or method you can see yourself using, that you would be likely to use, that you would like to use.

I want to see by 31.3.

1. A title.
(You can use the three steps of the "name your topic exercise" to nail a working title. It does not have to be the final one, just a title you feel comfortable with and that expresses what your research would be about.)

2. Keywords, 3 - 5
(The title will give you one or more. You can also think of words which you'd like to fidn your published book in a google search...)

3. Abstract 250 words.
(Write this last... and try to put all the most important info about your work here - the things you'd want people to know about it.)

4. The plan.
What is your research question? Why is it an important question?
What kind of background material are you going to use? Does your work already have some definite theoretical framework? What kind of benchmarking will be needed? (Use the assignment you are doing for final thesis seminar)
What kind of approach will you use? What kind of data will you have? How are you going to get it?
If it involves a work/ production, what will that be like? And, what will be the relation of the written part to the production part?

I do not think it is necessary to write about what kind of results you expect, but you can if you feel that will forward your work.

5. Draft a timetable

6. List the main literature sources.
(Again, here use the final thesis assignment.)

We have agreed with Marjo that we will go through the plans in the last final thesis session 6.4. But remember the deadline is a week before 31.3.

Ask and ye shall be answered!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

15.2. Visual methodologies

Reijo talked about some approaches to studying visual objects/ data. Here is a link to his full ppt presentation:

Assignment for next time 22.2.:

I suggest you try to think of an aspect of your topic from the "visual" point: to analyze e.g. scripts for documentaries, red-cross advertisement, photographic data as visual object/ data. And choose one of the approaches - and write half page of how to conduct a research on it. I'm listing here three possibilities, others could be found too.

1. Look for a mythology in the sense of Roland Barthes - what kind of "dominant ideologue of our time" would you see reflected?

2. Look at slide 13. and the list of angles for studying images from a cultural perspective.

3. Look at "the social semiotics" of your topic, identify the ideational, intrapersonal and textual spheres.

Next time we will discuss the assignment, look at what you have been getting from the course, and talk about making research plans. Final assignment will be to write a full research plan out of your topic.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

8.2. Artistic Research

Going first through most of the ideas for an ethnographic research or a design probe. Next time artistic ideas!

Artistic research is an actual issue. A lot that it written seems to be written from the perspective of legitimating artistic research, especially works for doctoral thesis, which consist of an art work and a written part. This is clearly visible in many books on the matter, such as versions of Artistic Research (eds. Mika Hannula, Juha Suoranta & Tere Vaden, Artistic Research. Theories, Methods, Practices. Gothenburg University/ArtMonitor & University of Fine Arts, Helsinki, 2005.; or eds Satu Kiljunen & Mika Hannula. Academy of fine Arts 2002, suomeksi Taiteellinen tutkimus. Kuvataideakatemia 2001.), also Basics of Artistic Reserch by Juha Varto. University of Art and Design Helsinki B94. Gummerus 2009.

There is also a need to establish a common ground for artistic research, as explained by Michel Foucault in his preface to The Order of Things:

This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that
shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought
- our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our
geography - breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with
which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things,
and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our
age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes
a ‘certain Chinese encyclopedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are
divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame,
(d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in
the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a
very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water
pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’. In the wonderment
of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing
that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another
system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of
thinking that. ...

What has been removed, in short, is the
famous ‘operating table’; and rendering to Roussel1 a small part of what
is still his due, I use that word ‘table’ in two superimposed senses: the
nickel-plated, rubbery table swathed in white, glittering beneath a glass
sun devouring all shadow - the table where, for an instant, perhaps forever,
the umbrella encounters the sewing-machine; and also a table, a
tabula, that enables thought to operate upon the entities of our world, to
put them in order, to divide them into classes, to group them according
to names that designate their similarities and their differences - the table
upon which, since the beginning of time, language has intersected space.

And, on the basis of this common ground then, to arrive at a set of rules for artistic research. But it is my claim that even this table upon which the rules may be perceived and followed in artistic research need always to be established, and cannot be taken for granted in the way it can be done in most other disciplines. 

I'll only refer to two other sources, to be found on internets: 
A guide to sc "practice-based research" by Linda Candy of University of Technology of Sydney.
The functions of the written text in practice-based PhD submissions  by Katie MacLeod - who has also written a book on the subject.

Mostly I base my views on Esa Kirkkopelto's text, however: Kirkkopelto, Esa (2008) New Start: Artistic Research in Finnish Theatre Academy in Nordic Theatre Studies. The Artist as Researcher.

Kirkkopelto claims first of all, as a hypothesis, that "artistic research is carried out in an art Institute. I'm not sure if I agree in the literal sense. However, the arguments for this have a point to make:
- to make artistic research a community and a context is needed - as research is always reflexive. Not just a community of art and artists, but also of a scientific community.
- and a community of varied disciplines and approaches
- practical and intellectual resources
- and a pedagogical link - context

I think one could argue that the context and the community does not to be a recognized institution... of course, who then sets the rules - why do we need a "written part" for an artistic research to qualify as research etc...

The really intersting claim Kirkkopelto makes is to differentiate between artistic research and art research. Art research questions art, looks at art, from the perspective of other disciplines. Artistic research takes art for a given fact. "The starting point is the assumption that nature, the world, reality and society can be studied from the point of view or level of art, not only "artistically", but also in relation to the fact of art and its mode of existence, its practices and technique. ... Artistic research, by contrast, looks from art towards society and our idea of reality, questioning their existence, and sets them demands according to its own mode of existence. Consequently, artist research is, I venture to claim, ultimately more interested in reality than in art."

And furthermore on art as the technique of reality: " is obvious, that the skill or technique to be acquired by making art is to some degree different from the craftsmanship on which making of artefacts is based. it is the technique of representing, describing, observing and perceiving, and as such, is more fundamental than any manufacturing or production. Art externalizes and makes conscious processes on which meeting with reality in general and our conceptualization of reality take place. is the technique of reality. it created shared reality as some commensurably sharable dimension and not only a collection of conceptions and conceptual systems. The "aesthetic" is a shared perception."

And still: "How to define artistic research is often less an epistemological question (What is knowledge? What is artistic knowledge?) as it is political: Whose knowledge or what knowledge should we value and consider meaningful? Whose voice or what voice should we listen to in society?"

"Artistic research is in this respect supported by a typical aspect of modernism in art: the desire to become reality and participate in reality."

As a conclusion Kirkkopelto suggests that artistic research could be seen to have three parts or approaches - not in any consecutive order, but intertwined:
a. Invention: something abstracted from one's own artistic activity
b. Theoretical part: theoretical dimensions of the practice
c. Artistic part: one artistic application of the invention

but he does say that the relation between art work and written part presents epistemological problems, indeed a double bind, where one oscillates between generalizing one's own experience and purposes, merely imitating theoretical discourse: theory becomes art; and reducing artistic activity to some particular interpretation, so that theorizing is reduced to the author's intentions: art is mercifully killed by becoming knowledge. To get out of this double bind one has need of the community and its critical reflection!

Assignment for next time, 15.2.:

So, take you topics - preferably use the same, to see how it changes with use of approach and method. This time, try to ideate an artistic research. Use as a base an artistic practice you feel yours. Discuss your ideas in the smaller teams, among other students. You can think of any genre you wish - performance, installation, painting, photography, movie... oh yes, try to think up the half page of text explaining your idea - but you can also bring a picture or something visual etc...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

1.2. Ethnography and Design Probes

First we went through the assignment from last time, discussing everybody's topics. We really have to get more efficient about this - time runs out - but it is also important. Dilemma. I'll think of a solution.

The methods of the day were ethnography and design probes.


On ethnography there is a lot of literature and sources, but I recommend this concise and practical summary: Michel Genzuk: A Synthesis of Ethnographic Research. See also how classics in the field define what is ethnography.

 Ethnography is the simplest research approach and method: it is about data the researcher gathers in person - interviewing people, observing people and their environment, gathering documents. Ethnographic research does not proceed from an elaborate hypothesis or set of questions defined in advance, to be verified by collected data - it is more about approaching your object with an open mind, being sensitive and attentive, trying to hear also things you were not expecting.

Ethnography comes from anthropological studies. It focuses on a small scale object, a group of people, a single setting. It studies people in their everyday settings trying to understand the way people themselves see things and the way things are meaningful to them.

One can interview sc. "key-persons", or the target group people themselves. Interviews are often carried out on site - choice of place affects things that come up, the way they come up, and other things the researcher might notice. Interviews can be documented by taking notes or recording them.

Observations are made on site too. An important question to decide is the degree of involvement: how much the researcher wants to participate in the action and situations, affect or cause something - or try to merely be an onlooker. Observations can be recorded and documented in a variety of ways - notes, photos, videos, GPS tracking...

Documents are also a varied item, and cannot be reduced to official and filed stuff in A4 form. Anything relevant and adding to the understanding of the target: e.g. sms-messages people exchange might form a body of documents if they throw light on a subject on is interested in studying like how a group of people negotiates choice of spending an evening.

It is always a good thing to keep a research-diary, where one jots down impressions from interviews and observations.

Ethnographic data needs to be analyzed, and interpreted. Advice is these two should be kept apart - but sometimes that is impossible. However, this is still research, so every choice and interpretation one makes should be based on reflection, and one should be able to give arguments for it.

Finally it all leads to reporting - and this in general will mean "narrative description": telling the story. A lot has been written about the storytelling character of ethnographic research. Nowadays also visual means have been added to the accepted ways of narrative description - photos and videos can be part of the story.

Design probes

I strongly recommend Tuuli Mattelmäki's Design Probes, it is a good introduction to the subject. If I understand correctly this link will directly download you the whole book in pdf.

I liked Tuuli's concept of "designerly way of thinking", which goes to introduce and argue for the "probes" as a method. Design in about problem-solving, but design is solution oriented - understanding a situation, a set of needs, requirements of some materials etc is done to be able to change something, looking for alternative ways of doing things, for some completely new approach to it all. Thus covering all aspects of an issue is not the real aim, nor gathering comprehensive data in order to see a problem in its entirety. "Design is the ability to imagine that-which-does-not-yet-exist."

Designerly thinking is also inherently linked to ways of visualizing, of concretizing issues. "The thinking is simultaneous with the drawing." Visual tools make it possible to put together things and make unexpected connections, which are harder to come by in verbal/linear thinking.

Designerly thinking, and probes, also have a playful side that is important to it. Choices and ideas are not necessarily based on rational analyzes. Design ideas are reflective, but playful.

"Probes" are ways of gathering data from a group of users, in a definite context, that will give the designer insight into the users' experience. Probes are not research data, one does not expect to be able to understand a phenomenon or a situation as a whole, to get systematic information. In fact, William Gaver invented cultural probes with his design team after they had accumulated a heap of background information on three villages and their inhabitants. What they wanted to find was details of everyday life,  an empathic understanding of the people.

Probes are based on user participation by means of self-documentation. They look at the user's personal context and perceptions. Probes are exploratory, playful, creative. They constitute of a designed kit and a task, give by the designer to a group of users. How this is done, how the users are motivated, and how the task is explained, how instructions are designed, are all important and integral parts of the probe. The probe kit has to be pleasant and inspiring - the aim is to produce also visual material for the designerly thinking afterwards. Again, how the probe material is returned or collected by the designers, and how the users get feedback from their task are important steps. Especially as probes are always part of a user centered if not co-design process.

Assignment for 8.2.

Take you topic, and draft a plan for conducting either an ethnographic study or a design probe within your topic. Write min. half a page about the plan, considering following items:

1. Ethnographic study:

about what would you want to get better understanding about some concrete setting?

- who is your target group/ situation?
- who would you interview - where - about what?
- or observe? participatory observation - to what degree would you want/ need to participate?
- with what method: pictures, notes etc?
- documents?
- what precisely could you find out with an ethnographic study - what side of the topic could you cover? - what side would profit from an ethnographic approach?

2. Design probe

what would you like to get an insight into?

- again, who is your target group - people - and why?
- what task would you want them to do?
- think of the kit: what would it look like? feel like? what would it make people do - what would they need to do?
- how would you motivate people - hand the kit - get the results - give feedback?

don't be too rational - you can focus on some detail - be playful!

Friday, 21 January 2011

18.1. Research questions

We discussed the assignment: to find a concept in use in Kathrin Wildner's article, reflect how it was used, what if it had not been there, and if the concept made any sense from the point of one's own experience. An interesting amount of concepts were mentioned - collective innovation, negotiation, togetherness, social space, public sphere... with a clear use identified for them. Thank you, really good work everybody!

The topic for the day was "research questions":
how to get from interest - to topic - to questions and problems. 

The short lecture was drawn basically from "The Craft of Research".

To find a topic for your research, first advice is to start with what interests you. For an interest to become a topic you have to specify the interest, "state it specifically enough for you to become a (local) expert on it". To narrow a topic into a research question you'll have to ask questions from it. A good research begins with what you don't know but what you would like to know:

Who, what, when, where, how and why?

The other tool to define your research topic is to name it in order to be able to explain to others what you are doing:

From topics to questions:

Practical problems -> motivate research questions
Research questions -> define research problems
Research problems -> lead to research answers
Research answers -> help solve practical problems

A problem describes a condition or state of affairs - which has some consequences or "costs"

Practical (research) problems are caused by some condition of the world.
Conceptual research problems mean trying to understand something better.

The "cost" of a practical problems is always some degree of unhappiness.
The "cost" of a conceptual problem is not understanding something important.

Discussing interests 

Which we did, to try and find some interest or glimpse of it for each. We also had a good discussion about finding forced interests and doing research for some external pressure. I agree: unless at least YOU are passionately interested by your own topic, why the hec will anybody else be? Therefore, once more: even if formal requirements demand you to make a final thesis that necessarily will involve some degree of research perspective - even if it is based on a production, artistic or otherwise - it is practically necessary that you do it within a topic you care about.

And we managed to name some interests, and find small teams within which everybody can discuss and work on their own interest/topic/research questions - or form a joint one, if they want.

Assignment for next time i.e. 1.2:

Narrow the topic by asking it questions. Name you topic, using the scheme above. Do some initial background research on the topic - history, what is being discussed, what/who is the classic in the field, what aspects have been well researched - is there something that you could be looking into etc. In case of an artistic interest: think of exemplary works and their history and context. Find at least one article dealing with the topic, and go through it. How does it affect how you see and define your topic?

For next time please bring the "name your topic" exercise in writing, for each topic you or your team will be working on.
Make also half page of notes from the article - not necessarily a summary of the contents, but a point that gets you and makes you think.

If in doubt or feeling lost, come and ask!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

CBM Research Methods course Spring 2011: 1. meeting 11.1. "What is research"


This course is about research and research methods. My main point is to convince you that research is a craft, with all this implies; and to look at research from a pretty practical and pragmatic point.

First task: take a piece of paper and a pen, and tell me what comes to your mind - word, image - when you hear the word "research"?
We got already: knowledge, complexity, time-consuming, a laptop, something within your mind, a pile of books... and more.

So, what is "research"? Most definitions tell us it is a systematic study - with an open mind - to find something new. Nothing wrong there, and we did look at the various angles this definition covers in more detail.
Interesting addition can be had from sociological classic Emile Durkheim, who in his "Elementary forms of Religious Life" claims as a conclusion that instead of being something opposite, religion and science are fundamentally related in that both
- refer to a shared and common understanding and making sense of the world
- see something that is not there - see causes and meanings which do not appear directly to observation
- give explanations that, for a given time at least and within the community that shares the meanings, work.

1. What is the course all about?
As said, to look at research as a craft, and get started on learning the tricks of trade.

You need this course to get your MA degree - and not only formally. An MA should have some basic skills, how to conduct a research being one of those. It might come in handy when you do your final MA thesis. In case you'd want to continue your studies and do a dissertation, it is good you have been exposed to what research is and how it is done before.

We are also surrounded by research in various ways - at quite everyday-level of our lives. Thus it is again good to have some understanding what research is and what can be done with it.

We also claim that our both MA programs and the department in general to be "research-oriented" or "research driven". We think that we include a research orientation in the artistic and other productions and projects - curating, media-projects, producing events etc. What do we mean by that?

- we mean that all work we do involves systematic reflection. We do not merely set to do productions, but we reflect what we are doing. The reflection is also systematic.
- doing systematic reflection means that we reflect our work within a wider community: we look at work done before; we look at the context were we do our productions, and reflect how our own current work is related to them.
- we also reflect on our work when it is done: we document the work, and we communicate our reflection within the community and within the context.

These are also characteristics we demand of an MA thesis.

2. Course Program

11.1 What is research?
18.1 Research questions
1.2 Ethnography and design research
8.2 Artistic research
15.2 Studying visual culture
22.2 Research Plan

There will be lecturing - but please ask all the questions you have in mind! There will be assignments; and hopefully a lot of discussion.

3. Research is both easy and tough!

a. Research is a craft

It is easy - because it can be learned!
It is easy - because there are various guides about the sets of rules you need to observe.

It is tough - because it has to be learned! there is no immediate mastery of a craft!
It is tough - because you only learn by doing it - even if you cannot be a master the first times.

Note: method does not do you research: you will have to do it!

b. Research implies conceptual thinking

It is tough: there is no research without conceptual thinking: systematic reflection

It is easy: it is so damned interesting!

4. What are concepts?

A concept is not a word
A concept is not a thing neatly corresponding to a word

A concept names a phenomenon - and by naming "creates" the phenomenon. Using a concepts means precisely "seeing something that isn't there".

Assignment for next time:

1.Read the following article: Kathrin Wildner: La Plaza - Public Space and Space of Negotiation    I have some extra copies of it too, and will put the prints in my blue mailbox.

2. Take one concept used in the article - preferably something relatively central to the article.

3. Reflect
- how is the concept used? what is explained with it?
- what if the concept was not there?
- does the concept communicate with your experience - could you see some event or situation or phenomenon from you experience through that concept?

4. Write max half page text with your reflections. Print it and bring to the next meeting.

Next time we will try to find research questions - so bring along any interests you have!