Transdisciplinary Approaches to Doctoral Arts Practice Research: Benefits and Challenges of Transdisciplinary Research

By Barbara Hawkins.

Published by The International Journal of the Arts in Society: Annual Review

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Proponents of arts practice research at the doctoral and postdoctoral level have long acknowledged and encouraged its postdisciplinary tendencies and methodological openness, and in particular, its ability to develop more generative research pedagogies and methodologies beyond narrow disciplinary confines. In a period of increasing interest amongst early career arts researchers in the potential crossover between the arts, humanities and sciences, we envisage an evolving landscape in which preparing students for working in such transdisciplinary modes becomes an integral part of the doctoral research education experience. This can be a challenging task for academic supervisors involved, and for institutions, which still unwittingly tend to erect territorial barriers within teaching, mentoring and examination team structures in both taught postgraduate programmes and doctoral supervision. Successful inter- and transdisciplinary research activities require an acknowledgement of the need to review traditional partitioning of knowledge, a willingness to examine new ideas and experiences from other disciplinary perspectives, a desire to add value to a collaborative venture through communication and reflection, and an ability to work with a higher than usual degree of ambiguity and uncertainty without sacrificing investigative rigour.
This paper sets out the benefits of transdisciplinary approaches to arts-based, practice-led research and examines possible pitfalls facing early career artist researchers starting off down that path. It presents important criteria for successful negotiation of transdisciplinary research activities within what is still largely a discipline-specific academic environment, and highlights ways in which academics and their institutions can better support these exciting and productive ways of working.

Keywords: Transdisciplinary, Arts Practice Research, Project Dialogue

The International Journal of the Arts in Society: Annual Review, Volume 7, pp.1-11. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 291.004KB).

Barbara Hawkins

Postgraduate Degrees Coordinator, Department of Art and Design, Faculty of Creative Arts, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK

Barbara Hawkins is an arts educator, responsible for coordination and development of postgraduate research degrees in the Department of Art and Design at the University of the West of England, UK, following several years’ service as the head of Faculty Graduate School. She has held a number of senior management roles involving institutional teaching and learning, curriculum and research committees, and frequently serves as a panel member on new course validation events, curriculum reviews and research training audits. Her increasing interest in transdisciplinary modes of teaching and research led to the co-founding of the research group Project Dialogue, working to stimulate novel approaches to interdisciplinary art and science research and practice. She organises regular research training events for the department’s PhD cohort, has responsibility for research degree governance, and has supervised a number of doctoral studies to successful completion.