June Boyce-Tillman


RESEARCH QUESTIONS 1. If you use Performance as Research (PaR) in the context of your doctoral programmes, how do you use PaR? If you don’t why not? 2. What kinds of data can be generated by PaR in the context of your doctoral programmes? 3. How do you document PaR in the context of your doctoral programmes? 4. Is PaR a method, methodology, neither or both? 5. What are the values of PaR with regards to the kind of knowledge that you generate? This is with respect to 1) the subject community; 2) the wider society? 6. Is creative practice an example of embodied cognition? If it is, is PaR relevant? 7. What do you think the role of virtuosity is in PaR?

DESCRIPTION This is a presentation of agrounded theory project based on a series of interviews with a variety of institutions in the UK based on these questions, which was funded by P A L A T I N E (Performing Arts Learning and Teaching Innovation Network), the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Dance, Drama and Music (2000–2011) and the University of Winchester. It will briefly examine the implications of this work for other areas – such as applied arts projects, liturgy in the area of practical theology, sports studies, leisure management and the relationship of the development of this area with the area of Professional Doctorates in the UK.


This paper will interrogate the field of performativity in the context of doctoral work in the performing arts in the UK. It is based on a grounded theory methodology using the Atlas-ti analytical programme to reveal how doctoral practitioners are navigating the complex landscape of practice-as-research (PaR). It is based on a series of interviews with a variety of practitioners from a variety of institutions in the UK. These are based on a series of questions drawn from preliminary research in this area.  The report was funded by P A L A T I N E (Performing Arts Learning and Teaching Innovation Network), the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Dance, Drama and Music (2000–2011) and the University of Winchester.  It will briefly examine the implications of this work for other areas – such as applied arts projects, liturgy in the area of practical theology, sports studies, leisure management and the relationship of the development of this area with the area of Professional Doctorates in the UK.

Outline of the report on which this is based

The report starts with an overview of the landscape in which the report fits. (Allegue et al. 2009;  Arlander 2008.) It acknowledges the developing nature of the area, which despite regular calls for standardisation has remained varied in its philosophies and regulatory procedures. As the theorisation of PaR progresses in academic journals and debates in theatre conferences this is a developing area in doctoral studies as artists of various kinds see their work as having the characteristics of the traditional thesis. (Smith and Dean 2009; Frayling 1997; Freeman 2010; Kershaw and Nicholson 2011; Haseman 2006.) The field has, in general, not developed in a structured way as various HE institutions (universities, conservatoires, art schools and so on) have adapted the structure of the traditional PhD thesis to include creative practice.  There were few precedents except music doctorates involving the submission of musical scores (Schippers 2007; Draper and Harrison 2011). This area was helped by the development of an internationally recognised notation system and audio-recording techniques. The field is not so easy for the other performing arts because of the inadequacy of the DVD in capturing the totality of the experience.

The report examines the variety of different names for doctorates in this area – practice-led(1)Practice-led research concerns the nature of practice and is concerned with originality in the understanding of practice in a particular area. These theses are usually expressed in text form although the methodology will normally include practice and often take the form of an action research methodology or ethnography of some kind. These include the Arts as social intervention where questions such as the efficacy of the Arts as social intervention, the role of arts in social projects, and community building, the relationship between activism and action and the artistic processes in transformation and transgression may be addressed; these can also draw easily on social science methodologies. Projects in the Arts as well-being can also use both quantitative and qualitative methodologies from Social Science (Clift, Hancox, Morrison, Bärbel, Stewart and Kreutz 2001). They would also include the arts as pedagogic tools (Saxton and Miller 1998). These are distinguished from practice-based doctorates, which include a practice element in the final submission., Practice as Research, Performance as Research, studio-based, arts-based and so on. It will show how practice-based doctorates relate to the general criteria for doctoral study:

  • The undertaking of systematic research.
  • The ability to relate this to the chosen field (which here means relating it to other practitioners in the chosen field).
  • The requirement for originality.
  • The ability to articulate this, which can be in written or other form.

It will examine different modes of knowing (Birdsall et al. 2009) and the valuing of embodied knowledge. (Knorr-Cetina et al. 2000.)

Chapter Two entitled Defining an (In) Discipline by Dr Yvon Bonenfant constitutes an overview of how authors have interrogated knowledge that is generated by means of creative practice and the developing field of theorising PaR.

Chapter Three entitled Managing the Field: An Overview of Regulations by Dr Inga Bryden and Dr Rohan Brown survey various institutions offering practice-based doctorates and the regulatory procedures used by them. The eleven institutions to be covered in the final report have been selected to represent a range of institutions. They include conservatoires in music, dance and drama, smaller and larger institutions and those with recently acquired research degree awarding powers and those dependent on another institution for their regulations, along with more established institutions.  It looks at how the field is controlled by Regulatory Procedures and Practices.  These are broken down into the areas of Admissions, Progression procedures, Supervision practices, Submission formats, Examination protocols and Archiving systems.

Navigating the Landscape

This paper is concerned with Chapter Four by the author and Tiago de Faria. It is an analysis of the data from the interviews conducted as part of the study and shows how a variety of practitioners are negotiating the terrain set out in the preceding chapters. Current research candidates and people with recent experience of doctoral study were involved in these interviews, which were analysed with a Grounded Theory methodology. Some sessions were videoed and the edited DVD is included in the Report.

The interviews

We took a structured approach to these based on preliminary work in the field. They shared the set of questions, which had been generated by the literature and the experience of the group of researchers:

  1. If you use PaR in the context of your doctoral programmes, how do you use PaR? If you don’t why not?
  2. What kinds of data can be generated by PaR in the context of your doctoral programmes?
  3. How do you document PaR in the context of your doctoral programmes?
  4. Is PaR a method, methodology, neither or both?
  5. What are the values of PaR with regards to the kind of knowledge that you generate? This is with respect to 1) the subject community; 2) the wider society?
  6. Is creative practice an example of embodied cognition? If it is, is PaR relevant?
  7. What do you think the role of virtuosity is in PaR?

Participants were given opportunities to develop their ideas freely in a more unstructured or semi-structured way. Some were conducted by telephone and these tended to concentrate on particular areas like Assessment/validation/examination and Regulations. The videoed interviews were more rhizomatic in character and tended to veer towards the more unstructured. They tended to look outside of the HE context to the wider issues.

The Analytical Tools

Since the initial developments of Grounded Theory, in the late 1960’s, diverging understandings and perspectives have come to light addressing the problematic relation between data and theory. The founding fathers of Grounded Theory, Glaser and Strauss, after an initial suggestion for a peaceful coexistence of the two conflicting if not paradoxical notions of “data emergence” and “theoretical sensitivity” (Glaser and Strauss 2006) diverged in the way that each understood and consequently advanced with methods for reducing the problems in the field of Grounded Theory.

In line with the critique of Udo Kelle on the empirical problems of Grounded Theory and the summary of its recent developments (Kelle 2005) and Glaser and Strauss’ further publications (Glaser 1992; Glaser 2002; Strauss and Corbin 1990) and given the specific aspects of this project, namely its diffuse nature and diversity of approaches, we decided to use the theoretical review in Chapter Two as a way of bringing together the first analysis into a more grounded hypothetical inference. We devised a complex coding system borrowing from Glaser’s “family coding” and Strauss’s “axial coding”. Both coding systems where used at the same time eliminating all the redundant codes while keeping contradictory ones. Contradictory codes helped reveal the weakness of hypothetical inferences by bringing to light different explanations for the same phenomenon. They figured in the final theoretical network, as “empirical research can never provide a final proof for theoretical propositions but only cumulative and always provisional evidence.”(Kelle 2005.)

The analysis was carried out using the programme Atlas.ti.5.5 designed to assist the coding process. The first set of codes was produced from the interviews producing its own network of relations. These were discussed and revised and more codes generated as the processes of transcription and analysis progressed.  These were further revised when the text of Chapter Two was coded which gave greater depth to the analysis. There is a great deal of cross-referencing within the codes. The quantity of this reveals the fluidity of the field. Examples of this can be seen in the differences between the codes “PaR different approaches” and “PaR different roles”. The first appears more regularly in the material than the second; but there appears to be some confusion surrounding this subject and its relation to the wider academic community. Similar confusion appears around PaR as method or methodology, or to embodied philosophy or cognition; here contradictions abound in the data and reveal the variety of conceptual views among the participants in this research.  “Complexity” and “Dissemination” are both characteristics that are part of “Assessment / Validation / Examination”, which in turn is associated with “What is relevant for PaR PhD”.

The rest of this paper will concentrate on looking at the codes more carefully by using quotations from the interviews. They are ordered hierarchically, the first codes being those, which are most evident.

PaR as a Tool for Generating New Knowledge through Innovative and Fresh Outcomes

The generation of new knowledge is clearly central to doctoral study.  The nature of this varies considerably. In this interview it concerned the relationship between professional musicians and educational contexts:

[How] the use of professional concerts within school education can bring professional musicians closer to the student, and thereby the student can identify what it means to be a professional musician or what Performance means, what it is. By bringing issues of education into the concert hall the idea is to break down effectively the false wall, break down the barrier between the audience and stage in disseminating something about style, context, or an invitation for the audience to participate in some way. … The end new knowledge might be (we are still working on this) a new educational model, a strategy or suggestion of how Performance might be better integrated within the education system in high school. (Dr Helen Minors, Kingston University, Senior Lecturer in Music from now on referred to as HM.)

In the area of musical composition we see the notion of newness explored in relation to a creative submission:

I would have to say in terms of Composition, about a very beautiful set of piano pieces, “what is this piece exemplifying in terms of new knowledge, new understanding, new experience?” It may be very pretty, but unless there’s something driving it intellectually it is not in itself PhD worthy. (Professor Nicholas Till, University of Sussex, Professor of Opera and Music Theatre from now on referred to as NT.)


There is a real challenge in the area of examining theses including artistic work:

They might include theoretical writing; they might include analysis of materials; they might include fieldwork; they might include Performance Practice; they might include other forms of Creative Practice. In any particular PhD they would have to make a case for the balance of the different elements, how they contribute to the argument, how they are presenting them. (JK)

There is often a requirement that examiners attend a live performance of some kind either close to the viva or at some distance before it:

It is not always possible to have identified an examiner and got him or her along at an early enough stage, as it were, to see work that is being presented. But that is an issue. (NT)

This presents the problem of the inclusion of material that is essentially ephemeral in a doctoral submission:

Where things have to be able to stand up to being tested in some way and in order to be able to stand up to be tested; in our discipline that’s difficult because things disappear and whatever’s left are ghosts and traces and remnants – you never have the thing anymore. (Dr Joanna Bucknall, University of Portsmouth, Lecturer in Creative Arts, from now on referred to as JBu.)

So the submission may include a variety of elements including some that may be ephemeral and require examiners to attend live events. This also presents considerable problems in the area of archiving.

PaR as a Tool for Generating and Interpreting Data

Data can be generated in an embodied way and this offers the possibility of completely new forms of data:

I think when you decide to use Practice as Research it’s as a method for you to generate more data for your research. (Tiago de Faria, University of Winchester, Research Candidate, from now on referred to as TF.)

Practice as Research … challenge[s] the very notion of what data is … [It can] make us, force us, to explore what else we can know. (Dr Yvon Bonenfant, University of Winchester, Programme Leader of MA Devised Performance, from now on referred to as YB.)

This means that we need explore new ways of presenting, analysing and interrogating data.

PaR as Embodied Cognition

More people used this term than embodied philosophy and it reflects where data is generated and received:

It’s neither solely intellect through which I receive data, nor solely through the body, but it is in fact through the two; it’s the body/mind and the mind/body. (Charlie Broom, University of Winchester, Research Candidate, from now on referred to as CB.)

It may mean the validation of more orate ways of knowing alongside the literate. (Ong 1982.)

The value of literacy is that the mind of the person can be separated from the body of the person and of course we do that in examining [traditional] PhDs. …When it comes to examining Performance as Research, we can’t do that, our body, the body of the examiner has to be in some sort of relationship with the body of the person who is being examined. We have to have that interface. (The Rev Professor June Boyce-Tillman, University of Winchester, Professor of Applied Music, from now on referred to as JBT.)

This is a developing field and writings from other areas are exploring the need for a society governed by the Cartesian split to restore the body to the area of cognition (Damasio 1994; Claxton et al. 2010; Lakoff and Johnson 1995; Hintikka 1975; Fischer-Lichte 1997).

PaR as Embodied Philosophy

Here a current research student talks about what she calls “cellular philosophy”, which she relates to cultural conditioning:

I am also coming to understand, through my process, that philosophy doesn’t just apply to intellectual philosophy, but there is kind of cellular philosophy, a corporeal philosophy as well, as a product of culture … I also interface with that philosophy through tactile senses. (CB)

In this example from an experienced supervisor we can see how the embodied philosophy is reflected in the submission, which sees a philosophy of embodiment enacted in an expansion of the traditional format of the PhD as a bound book:

There’s one [thesis], which I can see where the actual form of the PhD is a box of materials, of discreet elements, it’s like an artist’s object. … So, we have here a whole set of cards, visual elements; there is a lot of actual performance work that was done. Duration Performance is here documented in still images and whole sets of traces, and then there are large substantial theoretical essays presented as micro-books and instructions for performing, for the renewing of the event for the future. (JK)

From the field of dance there are an increasing number of helpful texts in this area. (Pakes 2003, is one example.)


This is an extraordinarily complex problem.  In conservatoires in particular traditionally virtuosity in a particular art form is highly prized and indeed seen as the main marker of the success of the institution.  However, in areas like performing arts, where innovation often exists in the original combination of the elements this concentration on the virtuoso capabilities of the creator/performer becomes lessened.  As various disciplines develop in different ways, the place of virtuosity and how it is defined can be very different in the context of different institutions.  The interviews present a number of differing definitions of virtuosity – some concentrating on the traditional techniques of performance artists but others on new ways of using and developing techniques around these.  Here is one that sees virtuosity situated in techniques for audience involvement:

In order to get the audience to participate, I had to build a level of excellence in the nature of that kind of performance … a point where I could create an environment where the audience were comfortable in participating; but to do that I had to be excellent at performing, I had to have technical skills to get them to do that. … But within that space, I had to operate in a way that would make the audience comfortable, so I had to have virtuosity in both of my fields to even pull that off. (JBu)


This theme links directly to the role of virtuosity and concerns the location of originality.  Johannes Birringer sees it in the combination of new elements and is working with the designer Michele Danjoux to create wearable suits that can both create and receive sound or be exhibited. Yvon Bonenfant sees that one of the main functions of PaR in the Academy is to be speculative – to explore new areas of knowledge. This, however, can challenge the standards hallowed by traditional aestheticians:

PaR can produce art that is not very interesting in the area of aesthetics but is very interesting in its conceptualisation. (Professor Johannes Birringer, Brunel University, Chair in Drama and Performance Technologies, from now on referred to as JB.)

This presents a real fracture between the place of the creative work in the wider community and the academic community (see below).  For practising artists in the wider community this is an area for considerable debate and is a potential area for division between what is required for a Professional Doctorate and a PhD.

Mature Critical Thought

The risk in the inclusion of the body in the philosophy and cognition of doctoral submission is the developing of criticality in this area when traditionally critical methodologies have been developed in relation to verbal argument (Schön 1983; Zarrilli 2002):

Even if Art is an embodiment of philosophy, it is not always a rigorous critical embodiment of philosophy and that is what knowledge demands – that we ask how and why those things work in the way that they do. (JBu)

It is clear from the interviews that the crucial element of criticality is associated with maturity in two areas – as an artist and as a philosopher.  These need to be manifest in any submission. It is often in the area of criticality that examiners’ reports base their judgement of doctoral worthiness of a submission.  Opinions vary about how far examiners comment critically on the more “embodied” elements and how far they stay within the more familiar area of argument within a written text (Martin and Sauter 1995):

The tricky bit of that is that it is usually very difficult to ask people to revise practical work, whereas it’s quite easy to ask them to revise theoretical work. (NT)

PaR PhD regulations

Chapter Three of the report concentrates on this area and the interviews revealed a variety of strategies by which supervisors and students navigated their way through the maze generated by the regulatory procedures and practices. It is clear that some supervisors find their particular regulations difficult; this is often more so when an institution is validated by a different institution and they do not feel they have control of the regulatory procedures; they fear that the validating institution has no grasp of the practice-based doctoral world and wants to make it conform to expectations in other areas. The meeting of musical composition PhDs and regulations developed in the context of the other performing arts present challenges in the area of equivalence between various doctorates:

The requirements for Composition really don’t specify that any substantial theoretical, critical theoretical work has to be undertaken in relation to a composition project. Whereas [it is required] for the Music Theatre, and indeed, for all of the other practical-based [areas] … I’m also looking after filmmakers and Media-practice students who are working various areas of digital media production. For all of those, there is a requirement for substantial theoretical, critical theoretical, component and therefore a fairly substantial thesis, which is, broadly speaking, given that a full-length PhD thesis would be 80,000 words, for a practice-led project it is 40,000 words. So it is kind of a half and half, in other words, half theory and half practice. (NT)

What becomes clear is that supervisors are finding ways to negotiate the world of PhD regulations and ideally are being given a place in debates around them.

What is Considered Relevant for a PaR PhD

It became clear that what was required at the entry point to various programmes varies:

There are people who finished their BA, go on to do an MA and then decide they want to do a PhD. So that’s one model. Then … there are the other people who have maybe got sometime a quite substantial amount of professional experience under their belt, who then want to do a PhD … and they not only have to submit a proposal, a fairly well developed research proposal, but examples of work. (NT)

Joe Kelleher identifies how practice varies in various countries:

To an extent we don’t have such a thing as Practice as Research. I think sometimes that I’ve moved beyond it. … I went a lot the Netherlands over the last year, where for example they’re having to have the argument because it is unrecognised as what you can do in a PhD. … I’ve externally examined PhDs in this country where there is a so-called Practice portfolio element, and I’ve had problems with it when it is designated as being something separate. When for example, there is a 40% or whatever practice element, and it stands alone, and you’re thinking, “well, stands alone as what?”(JK)

PaR as Method

Yvon Bonenfant asks a fundamental question about the development of the idea that PaR is a method in its own right and does not need to use methods drawn from other disciplines:

Is it just an attempt at justification in a potentially hostile academy used to a certain defined set of methods linked to and validated by various disciplines? (YB)

Some people elaborate on all the strategies they use, (Haseman and Mafe 2009) including journaling, photography and reflective writing:

It’s like whisking egg whites is a method and you get meringues, but there are several different ways in which you can get meringues; there are several different ways in which you can research and there are different methods, and Practice as Research is a method of achieving that same goal. (JBu)

Richard Cuming comments on the use of the action research spiral:

In Melissa Trimingham’s article (Trimingham 2002) she … proposes her “Hermeneutic Interpretive method” – a methodology for Practice as Research itself. It’s almost like a Russian doll, where you get practice inside practices and you get reflections on that. So, the point I’m making is that I think it can be both a method and a methodology, but I think it’s also broader in the sense that it maybe the appropriate way to think about the project. (Dr Richard Cuming, University of Winchester, Lecturer in Performing Arts, from now on referred to as RC.)

PaR as Methodology

PaR is more often found as a method (Leavy 2008) or strategy amongst others under the umbrella of another methodology (Cahnmann-Taylor and Siegesmund 2007) than as a methodology in its own right. (Bannerman et al. 2006; Barrett and Bolt 2007.) Nigel Osborne sees how the process is apparent in the product itself:

This particular candidate was very interested in using the human body as a sound generator and as a surface, and so that’s apparent from the scores and recordings that we had. So, we were in a very interesting discussion as to what, as in method, “how do you access that material?” “What is it?” “What is that material?” “How do you use it and process it?” And methodology, in terms of “how does that fit into a broader compositional aesthetic?” … for example using the sound of rubbing of the skin, of hitting the flesh, things like that. Now, that all sounds very primitive but the composer concerned, they’ve gone very very profoundly into this, and including recording the inside of the body, the surface of the body in very scientific ways, and so in other words there is a whole part of the method and methodology that here is a scientific one; “which mini-microphones were you using?” “How did you attach the amplifier to the stethoscope?”, and all these sorts of things that become as it were implicit in the creative material. The point I’m driving towards is, that we don’t necessarily need to have long essays about this, the material itself, if it is done well and professional, will declare its method and its methodology and open it up for discussion and scrutiny. (Professor Nigel Osborne, Reid School of Music, Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, Reid Professor of Music, from now on referred to as NO.)

It is clearly an area where the composition PhD’s that do not have an accompanying written component felt the need to justify themselves:

I think it depends how it is framed. I think that a purely intellectual notated composition project can be, could be, a methodology if it is being guided by very clear research questions… I think the crucial thing for me always, what are your research questions and what is the necessary methodology for those research questions?! To some extent methodology is always something that has to be apt to that project. I don’t think there are, certainly in the area of Creative Practice, I don’t think there are pre-packaged methodologies. (NT)

Yvon Bonenfant sees a parallel in the “found” data of Grounded Theory.  The author links it with her composing processes:

So, I have no problem because that’s the way the artist works, but I found myself asking about Musical Composition, ”how far is a symphony and the creating of a symphony a methodology?” and I think there’s an interesting parallel here. One of the methodologies used for practice-led research … is Grounded Theory; what you do in Grounded Theory, you collect a whole load of data from a variety of sources and gradually you pull the main threads out of it to create a theory which is the end of the process … I’ve got little ideas forming in my head and in my own mind I’ve got a mass of data flying around my head including, what size the orchestra is, how many children there’s going to be, all of that’s data in the same way the Grounded Theory is, and in a sense the Titanic piece [that emerges from the composing process] is the theory, out of that mass of data I have constructed a coherent piece, or if one wants to have a parallel, it’s a very good parallel that you have loads of data and often far more data than you’re ever going to use in the piece, and you’re selecting and rejecting stuff to produce and you could say that a work of art of some kind is a theory. (JBT)

This is clearly an area, which needs further theorization.

Different Approaches to PaR

The discussion on the last theme clearly reveals the different approaches that different art forms are taking:

I have a huge disagreement with my colleagues in Composition about aspects of a Composition PhD because of this question about submitting different modes and things. Our Composition PhD is extremely conservative, it is a score, it’s as exemplified craft, and skill and technique. (NT)

The report applauds the presence of a variety of approaches so that applicants have a variety of possibilities; the fluidity enables philosophy to emerge from practice rather than be imposed from above. It is an approach to the field affirmed by Yvon Bonenfant: “Consensus” he says “could be dangerous”.

Different Roles in PaR 

The development of PaR has clearly increased the range of roles that both student and supervisor have to embrace:

I felt ill equipped really to take on the complexity of the role. … It’s so different from tutoring an Art History student where in a quite a straightforward way, certainly the Art History students I work with you expect them to have comprehensive knowledge, and from that comprehensive knowledge you carve out a little area where [you have] either discovered original source or you’ve got an original contribution to make within a field that’s very well demarcated, and you simply use the tools that you’re very well equipped to use, the libraries and research archives and you plough away, in a way that lends itself to a particular kind of methodological structure. (Dr Katy MacLeod, Kingston University, Reader in Fine Art, from now on referred to as KM.)

Helen Minors identifies the different roles her student had to play:

His different identities … are quite important, the performer, the educator, the composer, the musicologist, the umbrella one: the researcher with the question. (HM)

Katy McLeod links these with the complexity of the process:

Whereas, what I found when I was allotted an MPhil student in Fine Arts, was that process was thrown up into the air because what he wanted to do was to really examine the context appropriate to what he had made, and so each time he came to writing he had to start from zero; he really couldn’t build up an accretive bank of contextualisation because the work had to freshly address what he was formulating in artistic terms, and I still think that that kind of process is still not fully understood. (KM)

The conservatoires that do not yet have control of their own research degree awarding powers are often forced into the position of having two supervisors with differing roles:

The supervisory team consists of, ideally, a Primary Supervisor at RNCM [Royal Northern College of Music] and most likely a Secondary Supervisor at RNCM, and a Director of Studies at MMU [Manchester Metropolitan University] which validates the PhDs at RNCM. (Professor Jane Ginsborg, Royal Northern College of Music, Associate Dean of Research and Enterprise, from now on referred to as JG.)

Differences in Weighting PaR’s Written Element

What became clear in Chapter Three of the report is that the regulations vary considerably here:

I think that as the PhD by Practice evolves, I think that there will be a clear dividing of the ways between project and enterprises that will benefit greatly from reflective written texts and those that don’t. In my experience of supervising Composition PhDs, there are sometimes occasions when a written text is a very good thing. I would encourage that, and have done in the past when that is suitable … I don’t know … having to write sometimes about things that carry profound messages within themselves, or should, and that have sophisticated languages of their own, it can sometimes be a dumbing down exercise, I find. …There’s too much time wasted for those that don’t, we need that for the art itself. I mean, Mathematics is the one quoted; you don’t have to write an essay about your discovery in Mathematics or even in physics for that matter, so why should inventive and creative work in Music always have to have an essay written about it? (NO)

As we have seen above, the division between the two is often blurred:

Within the application he applied to say that the performance would be part of a DVD that’s becoming a documentary, and I think (if memory serves) that’s 60/40; sixty is the written component and forty is the documentary. (HM)

This is where the division in the regulations becomes problematic.


This is clearly linked with some of the arguments already developed: 

How do we hold the body up to rigour in that doctoral structure? … For example, I document experiences using a website and people’s own personal recording of experience of what’s happened and that can be pictorially, orally, it can be memories, all sorts of things, and put them together to make something performative, but then that becomes, in itself, a new primary document that has to undergo the same rigour in analysis as the Practice as Research did before it began in the first place. (JBu)

Rigour involves understanding critical practices in a variety of fields – such as the analysis of embodied practices like dance as well as auto-ethnography and practices within sociology and psychology.

Interdisciplinarity – The area of originality

For most performing arts PaR PhDs interdisciplinarity is significant and causes many of the developments we have already seen.  It poses dilemmas both for supervisor and research training with the problems of keeping abreast of developments in a variety of disciplines. Katy McLeod identifies the problems here and also some solutions:

With a PhD, I do feel that there has to be a very exact formulation of the work, because otherwise what are we doing? Are we producing sub-standard Art Historians or Critical Studies theorists who haven’t quite grasped the Critical Studies they’re addressing or examining? Or are we producing people who are attempting to go into some interdisciplinary field, where the disciplines haven’t been sufficiently interrogated? … I think what we all want from our PhDs is depth. … It’s hard enough in one discipline … it just occurs to me, that something very simple that one could recommend … which is if you work within a faculty, as my Director of the PhD Research Programme does, and go to all the research meetings and take an active part, and you start to negotiate very vividly over the generic programme and then trans-plan your monitoring, your mock vivas, submission, examination and follow-up and all the rest of it, you get that interdisciplinary input. (KM)

A student skilled in the visual arts sees her use of techniques from a variety of sources expanding as she progresses through her study:

The universe, living it, leaving marks behind – with Practice as Research I have become more aware and employ more techniques, more methods, to register the line of thoughts and lines of understanding that I come across. (Parvaneh Farid, University of Winchester, Research Candidate, from now on referred to as PF.)

Skills in Using Methods Employed in Research

Methodological skills are identified in criteria of assessment at the examination stage but the variety of skills required can present problems particularly if PaR is regarded as a methodology or a method as we have discussed above:

We need to see that they have a good level of skill and a good idea of where it is they’re going with their own creative practice. I think that anybody who is not able to satisfy us on either of those counts … we’re probably not going to accept them … we are expecting them to develop their Creative Practice; it’s part of what I do anyway. (Professor Peter Nelson, Reid School of Music, Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, Professor of Music and Technology and Head of Music., from now on referred to as PN.)

Producing Knowledge Relevant to the Wider Community

The question about the relation of work to the wider community, as many of the works are publicly performed, is clearly a significant one. Some work is in applied performing arts:

We have a student who is completing now, who is working on questions, let’s say of sound (it’s quite specific), and … deafness and tinnitus, … He makes performances but for the PhD it’s not so much making performances, but making workshops … ways of using sound to reorient people’s relationship to space, particularly when they might be hearing impaired through, for example, visual use as well, such as drawing. So you have a thing here where somebody at day one might have thought they were going to make a bunch of performances and instead what they’ve done is constructed a series of workshops, documenting those workshops as a set of pedagogical techniques, which have a transferable use. (JK)

It is clearly an area where practice-led PhDs often have a clearer relationship to the wider community.

Producing Knowledge Relevant to the Subject Community

Nicholas Till sees it as a problematic area and the possibility of some “ivory tower” approach within a subject community as academia establishes practices that may not have a great deal of relevance for the wider community:

I do think that one should make a claim that practice can produce knowledge about the world, can actually be a mode of intellectual enquiry about the world, and not just a mode of enquiry about his own processes. But an awful lot of the questions that are asked about Practice as Research tend to be questions about, you know, documenting the moment when you realised how to achieve this particular gestural effect or whatever it is. It is very much about a sort of self-reflexive thing, and so that’s one area I think still has to be tackled a little bit. (NT)

However, the development in the UK of the IMPACT agenda means that there will or is likely to be more of a meeting between these two areas in the future in the UK.


The previous theme is clearly related to the wider issue of dissemination of doctoral work. Dissemination has been a problematic area in PhD study. Institutions range in their requirements in this area between advising and insisting that candidates at least present papers to the wider academic community during their period of study to leaving it till after the doctorate is completed. Publication is often a topic in vivas; but in the PaR area there is more possibility that the practice has already been disseminated in some form (even if this is the trialling of ideas) as part of the process.

PaR as Creative Research Documentation/Score

This is clearly linked with regulatory procedures and practices and we have already seen earlier how the notion of PaR can lead to imaginative documentation. (Melzer 1995.) This is a highly contested area in the literature (Andrews et al. 2012) and practice ranges from control by regulations and control by candidates on whom the responsibility rests for deciding on and justifying the shape of the thesis. Live performance is desirable but also sometimes not attainable and many places require a digital form of embodied performance for storage and archiving. Yvon Bonenfant is very critical of what he calls “Archive Fever” and draws attention to the links into curatorial practice. This is undoubtedly an area, which will change rapidly as technologies change:

My work has engaged with documentation for many different reasons… I’m interested in attempting to talk about Art in the languages of Art and not in the languages of Language, and so not all, but some of my documentation tries to find ways to embody, or document, or regenerate for a listener or a watcher, the sensations, or distil some of those targeted sensations and the complexities of those sensations that my live works attempt to evoke. (YB)

This is an area, which is developing creatively and is closely related to the development of digital technology.


This is clearly linked with the arguments around virtuosity above.

There is a lot of obvious innovation in my work, for example, from an interdisciplinary perspective, you can look at what it’s aesthetically trying to do and that would be a simple way of saying: “this PhD contained a lot of data or findings that were analysed.” You could look at the aesthetic boundaries that were pushed; you could look at psychosomatic components of the work and the balancing of the kind of emotional somatics that I bring to the work. … Generally, it is the troubling nature of my work and the complexity of that troubling nature that argues for its PhD level validity. (YB)

Nigel Osborne sees it as academic concern that may be inappropriate in this context:

I do think there has been a sort of a fetishism in the British academic world … about complexity, and about worthy detail, and that’s not what Music’s about, and it’s not what deep reflective thinking is about, embodied thought; things can sometimes find their way into the world in very direct and simple ways, and we should be ready to recognise the knowledge value of that, and the creative value of that as well. (NO)

The Self-Reflexive Tendency in PaR

Some interviewees were concerned with the emphasis on process (Mock 2000) that self-reflexivity represents:

I have a sort of concern that in some areas of practice-led, practice-based research, there is a tendency for the investigation to be very self-reflexive, to sort of suggest that the only kind of knowledge that we can produce is about our processes. (NT)

The adoption in the area of methodologies such as Action Research placing the artist at the centre of the thesis (Knudsen 2003) lay themselves open to charges of being too subjective and generating knowledge only relevant to a particular artist’s story. The development of well-defined criticality in the area of auto-ethnography has started to balance these tendencies within the area of PaR but there is much work to be done.

PaR as Idiosyncratic Practice

The fact that this is a developing field opens up the possibilities for idiosyncrasy and also rapid changes in focus and direction:

I have actually worked with a student who, I think, has done a fascinating study of a series of encounters with an archive, it happened to be the Martin Luther King Archive; it’s highly prestigious and seductive, and he got a library of congress residency to look at that, but chose to approach it as a series of encounters and distractions, as a form of institutional critique, and I suppose what I really wanted to say, not to you because I hadn’t envisaged it would go this way, but I do have quite strong reservations about how we might move too soon to give a theoretical explanation to PhDs which are very complicated. When we use a word like embodied, all sorts of theory flashes into my mind, I’m sure it does to yours, and you think very much, I do, of gender specific theory: Butler, Écriture féminine, which I think has lent hugely to ways of writing about embodied creative work. But it still doesn’t quite get at what I think happens. (KM)


This paper has shown how there are a variety of strategies for negotiating the complex landscape of PaR in the UK. The approach on which this paper is based celebrates and commends the diversity. The rise of practice-based doctorates represents an attempt to validate embodied ways of knowing in the Academy. This paper has shown that in the increasing literature in the area there may be some level of common consensus emerging about what is problematic about PaR. However, there is much less consensus about almost every other aspect of it, ranging from consensus on the rules that might govern PaR practices, to the ways that PaR alters examination practices for PhDs, to the ways in which PaR might evidence rigour and originality.

Rather than being ‘a’ methodology, PaR is an artistically derived space, inclusive of poetics and metaphor, within which unique, and sometimes idiosyncratic methodological frameworks dance. The choreographies that result from these dances both excite and challenge traditional knowledge generation systems, and the surveillance to which they are subject. These choreographies are syntheses of methodological viewpoints that help researcher-creators go where the other methodological standpoints cannot go: into the artistic space. This space is valued by institutions and examiners.

The motivation to value PaR by including it in doctoral awards remains very strong and this will enable creative solutions to some of the dilemmas presented in this study. The developments in this area may have exciting implications for other areas of academic study such as liturgy in theology, museum curation in the areas of Museum Studies or the embodied aspects of sport and leisure studies. All of these include embodied cognition in their practice but not within their doctoral submissions except in descriptive and narrative forms.  It also opens areas of dialogue with the developing area of Professional Doctorates (Fell and Haines 2011) who also have professional practice at their heart. Above all, performativity restores a holistic dimension to academic ways of knowing that includes the body and its relationship to the environment in doctoral work including, importantly, in the final submission.



Dr June Boyce-Tillman MBE, Professor of Applied Music, University of Winchester, UK.

June Boyce-Tillman read music at Oxford University. She has published widely in the area of education. Her doctoral research has been translated into five languages. She is a composer, exploring the possibilities of intercultural/interfaith sharing which she has written about in Music and Conflict Transformation. Her large-scale works have been performed in British cathedrals and her one-woman performances have been performed in three continents. She was Director of Postgraduate Research revising the regulatory practice to include Practice-based research. She runs the Research Centre for the Arts as Well-being. She was awarded an MBE for services to music and education.


1) Practice-led research concerns the nature of practice and is concerned with originality in the understanding of practice in a particular area. These theses are usually expressed in text form although the methodology will normally include practice and often take the form of an action research methodology or ethnography of some kind. These include the Arts as social intervention where questions such as the efficacy of the Arts as social intervention, the role of arts in social projects, and community building, the relationship between activism and action and the artistic processes in transformation and transgression may be addressed; these can also draw easily on social science methodologies. Projects in the Arts as well-being can also use both quantitative and qualitative methodologies from Social Science (Clift et al. 2001). They would also include the arts as pedagogic tools (Saxton and Miller 1998). These are distinguished from practice-based doctorates, which include a practice element in the final submission.


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