Choreographing research : supervising the dancing thesis

Stock, Cheryl F. (2009) Choreographing research : supervising the dancing thesis. TEXT Special Issue Website Series No. 6 Supervising the Creative Arts Research Higher Degree: Towards Best Practice, 13 (Special Issue Number 6), pp. 1-15.

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The dancing doctorate is an interrogative endeavour which can but nurture the art form and forge a beneficial dynamism between those who seek and those who assess the emerging knowledges of dance’. (Vincs, 2009)

From 2006-2008 three dance academics from Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne undertook a research project entitled Dancing between Diversity and Consistency: Refining Assessment in Postgraduate Degrees in Dance, funded by the ALTC Priority Projects Program. Although assessment rather than supervision was the primary focus of this research, interviews with 40 examiner/supervisors, 7 research deans and 32 candidates across Australia and across the creative arts, primarily in dance, provide an insight into what might be considered best practice in preparing students for higher research degrees, and the challenges that embodied and experiential knowledges present for supervision. The study also gained the industry perspectives of dance professionals in a series of national forums in 5 cities, based around the value of higher degrees in dance. The qualitative data gathered from these two primary sources was coded and analysed using the NVivo system. Further perspectives were drawn from international consultant and dance researcher Susan Melrose, as well as recent publications in the field.

Dance is a young addition to academia and consequently there tends to be a close liaison between the academy and the industry, with a relational fluidity that is both beneficial and problematic. This partially explains why dance research higher degrees are predominantly practice-led (or multi-modal, referring to those theses where practice comprises the substantial examinable component). As a physical, embodied art form, dance engages with the contested territory of legitimising alternative forms of knowledge that do not sit comfortably with accepted norms of research. In supporting research students engaged with dance practice, supervisors traverse the tricky terrain of balancing university academic requirements with studies that are emergent, not only in the practice and attendant theory but in their methodologies and open-ended outcomes; and in an art form in which originality and new knowledge also arises from collaborative creative processes.

Formal supervisor accreditation through training is now mandatory in most Australian universities, but it tends to be generic and not address supervisory specificity. This paper offers the kind of alternative proposed by Edwards (2002) that improving postgraduate supervision will be effective if supervisors are empowered to generate their own standards and share best practice; in this case, in ways appropriate to the needs of their discipline and alternative modes of thesis presentation.

In order to frame the qualities and processes conducive to this goal, this paper will draw on both the experiences of interviewees and on philosophical premises which underpin the research findings of our study. These include the ongoing challenge of dissolving the binary oppositions of theory and practice, especially in creative arts practice where theory resides in and emerges from the doing as much as in articulating reflection about the doing through what Melrose (2003) terms ‘mixed mode disciplinary practices’. In guiding practitioners through research higher degrees, how do supervisors deal with not only different forms of knowledge but indeed differing modes of knowledge? How can they navigate tensions that occur between the ‘incompatible competencies’ (Candlin, 2000) of the ‘spectating’ academic experts with their ‘irrepressible drive ... to inscribe, interpret, and hence to practise temporal closure’, and practitioner experts who create emergent works of ‘residual unfinishedness’ (Melrose 2006) which are not only embodied but ephemeral, as in the case of live performance?

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ID Code: 28806
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: dance practice-led research , postgraduate supervision, embodied knowledges, HERN
ISSN: 1327-9556
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING (190000) > PERFORMING ARTS AND CREATIVE WRITING (190400)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Past > Institutes > Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2009 Cheryl Stock.
Deposited On: 24 Nov 2009 04:53
Last Modified: 29 Feb 2012 14:05

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