Emergent Methods

The two theories we have compared for this discussion – ethnography and grounded theory – both derive from social sciences. I have fond that this is considered the closest field art practice as research draws methodologies from. But this has at least one great disadvantage – artists’ methods do not often include ‘collecting data’ as such. My practice in particular is not focused onto observing a subject, but on acting as one and interacting with other subjects.

From this point of view, I find it quite difficult to derive ways of working from ethnographic methodology. Moreover, it seems to me that this approach to art practice as research might be more relevant for artists who believe that art is an autonomous field, as opposed to being integrated with everyday life. Perhaps an autoethnographic method – as an aspect of self-reflection – might be more useful in the context of my research, as I mainly ‘use’ myself in my works, and this encompasses a certain level of self-discovery.

Grounded theory offers the advantage of already being attuned with many artists’ way of working – mine in particular. Many works develop from a desire to ‘see what happens’. I feel more comfortable at the idea of an emergent theory and methodology as a way of describing the growing conceptualisation of a body of work.

One sociological approach that I have found very fruitful is Actor-Network-Theory, particularly as developed by Bruno Latour. This approach shares with Grounded Theory the intent to “help the people in the situation to make sense of their experience and to manage the situation better.” (Bob Dick, grounded theory: a thumbnail sketch). In other words, I think that art making as research has a bigger constructive and performative function than ethnographic or grounded theories can account for.

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4 Responses to Emergent Methods

  1. cinzia1 says:

    I have been reading Jose Esteban Munoz “Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics”. Chapter 3 is about autoethnographic performance. I cannot make a link here, but it is on Google Books. Munoz makes the point that ‘… the two regimes of ethnography and pornography share a similar discourse of dominance. Both discourses are teleologically cognate insofar as they both strive for the achievement of epistemological utopias where the ‘Other’ and the knowledge of the ‘Other’ can be mastered and contained’. This helps me to clarify my methodology in contrast to ethnographic methods – the relationships my works offer function as performatives that position both me and the viewer as shifting subjects, which cannot be ‘mastered and contained’. (see also on Google Books: C Hansen, C Needham and B Nichols “Pornography, Ethnography and the Discourses of Power”, in B Nichols “Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary”, 1992, Indiana University Press)

  2. liligrana says:

    I agree when you say that art is an autonomous field (even though sometimes it is related to daily life) and that art research goes beyond ethnographic or grounded theory. Concerning the issue of relationships and Actor-Network Theory (material-semiotic method) and the performative aspect of your practice, I think maybe the HOUSE OF GLASS (Daniela Tobar,2000,Chile), even though it uses a different interface, might be of your interest.

  3. cinzia1 says:

    Lily, sorry for the misunderstanding, but I meant to say that I do NOT think art is autonomous from life. This is my main criticism with using ethnographic methods (even terminology!) to art practice. We are in the middle of the life we try clumsily to comment on. That’s why I think that perhaps auto-ethnography moves in the right direction. But does not really satisfy me.
    Thank you for the tip. I’ll look up the work you suggest.

  4. Pingback: weaving ethnography/art « ThInking Practices

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