From Grounded Theory to Saucy Tales

I started my part-time PhD eighteen months ago, with subject interests in the philosophy of the sublime regarding perceptive experiences, and how this fed into a crossover of interior and exterior landscapes as regards architecture, electromagnetism and the home. Looking back, one main concern was the amount (or lack of) of value that was placed on individual experiential research. As an artist, I encountered many problems in the understanding of methodology, as the outcome of my studio-practice was still the art object. For individual practitioners, the move to the current research framework from a working method that encompasses studio-practice, can become problematic, as for many, the methodological process is bound up with intuition and resides in the object of production as a somewhat unexplainable quality. Artists that follow the premise that their research is practice, and therefore the outcomes are art objects, then face a kind of ‘Backward Thinking’ that can be counter-productive and goes against the momentum of practice itself.

Backward Thinking occurs when a researcher is forced to stop the flow of their study, to reflect upon and theorise about the intuitive methodologies contained in the object artwork. This is not to say that reflection and theorising are not palpable to an artistic PhD, but that the staccatory movement and removal of focus from a mainly forward journey is. To really question my methodological approach, and to try to understand the experiential aspects of research on a much deeper level, it made the utmost sense to incorporate my swimming habit into my study. By placing myself in this performative position and becoming on occasion, the artwork so to speak, I was able to view my methods and methodology (ie: making and production of artwork) as a process rather than an outcome. The situating of research within the particularity of a life is rather, in the most rigorous sense of the term, improvised around an experientially-rooted set of themes that are intensified over time through a combination of affirmation, concentration and repetition. This in turn, leads to a mode of research that is radically unmethodological while, at the same time, being almost obsessively methodical.Peters, G, The Aestheticisation of Research in the Thought of Maurice Blanchot, International Journal of Education and the Arts, Vol 4 No 2, 2003

This was the first step in releasing my shackles from a seemingly restrictive research framework. With a greater understanding of methods and categories, the placing together of seemingly opposing or random methodological approaches, could actually allow me to produce a creative study that gave freedom from the massively textual heavyweight of the theoretical thesis, rather than restrict it. In my explorations of HMS Saucy, a sunken wreck in the Firth of Forth that will be the focus of my study, I can by contextualising myself within methodological approaches rather than a history of art or philosophy, play the role of the expert whilst maintaining artistic freedom. The thesis then takes the form of data such as graphs, interviews, measurements, recordings and creative writing, rather than an ‘academic’ text. By combining methodologies such as Grounded Theory and Reduction, I am using the generation of theory from data to open up my exploration, yet making experiments and frameworks that can reduce it respectively. In effect I will produce a myth of my own making, a unique version of truth in relation to one specific site. The actual physical thesis then is a methodology in itself, and will take the form of a Frame-Tale, a collection of books that individually tell a story, but collectively show a bigger picture. The contextualisation will thus be my transfer report, and will appear as the guide-book or instruction manual for the less technically inclined.

In my short presentation at Taxi to Praxi I will talk more about my subjects of study, my interest in categorisation and how this led to Saucy Tales. I will also talk about how in producing data for research, a platform like TNL is an essential method in my process. I will end with a question, over whether or not a categorisation methodology such as Grounded Theory (which means a theory uniquely intrinsic to the subject) would be of any use in working out a generalised theory of Open Source.