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.