Practice as research: a cybersemiotic overview of knowing

Cobley, Paul ORCID: (2018) Practice as research: a cybersemiotic overview of knowing. In: Introduction to Cybersemiotics. Brier, Søren and Vidales, Carlos, eds. Biosemiotics . Springer, Dordrecht. . [Book Section] (Accepted/In press)

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The rise of science in the last 400 years, in the academy and in socio-economic life in the West, has culminated in a crisis in the human endeavour of ‘knowing’. Western policy makers have promoted the upgrading and uptake of science in the name of short-term economic goals by way of downgrading forms of ‘knowing’ that do not demonstrate immediate applicability to problems inherent in capitalism (Cobley 2014). Thus, pursuits such as those associated with the arts and humanities have been marginalised for their supposed failure to conform to standards of applicable knowledge, while mathematics and other ‘theoretical’ disciplines are increasingly yoked to the demands of producing new technologies. Partly in response to this crisis, the last two decades has seen the growth of a considerable amount of theorising and a vibrant field concerned with ‘practice as research’ (PaR) or ‘practice-led research’. This field treats artistic practices as forms of ‘knowing’ which can complement, supplement, enrich and provide alternatives to scientific ‘knowing’ without being subordinate to it. Arising from early observations on reflective practice (Schön 1984; Kemmis 1985; Boud, Keogh and Walker 1985), work on PaR and practice-led research, has gone some way to establishing a more explicit understanding of practice in the arts and elsewhere as fixtures in the academy, through, for example, validating practice-based PhDs.

To a great extent, the work in this area during the last 20 years – in relation to practice in general (Schatzki et al 2001; Borgdorff 2007; Smith and Dean 2009; Barrett and Bolt 2014) and in relation to specific practices such as creative writing, performance, dance, experiment, community arts, etc. – exemplifies a philosophy of knowing. Yet, in doing so, this work struggles with various theoretical perspectives that have usually arisen out of traditional conceptions of disciplinary boundaries. Possibly the most sympathetic philosophy of knowing in relation to the cause of PaR and practice-led research – a perspective that is absent from the literature on the topic - is offered by cybersemiotics (Brier 2008; 2010). As cybersemiotics has long contended, the emphasis on knowing as an ‘engineering problem’, addressing a “syntactic-structural aspect in cognition, thought, and communication”, has led to “a decreased interest in the cultural-societal and historical dimensions of the meaning of human cognition and communication” rendering “the social sciences, humanities, and arts much less important in finding the processes of the construction of meaning than most researchers within these domains themselves believe” (Brier 2008: 56-7). Cybersemiotics proposes a thorough transdisciplinary approach to this problem, comprising a marriage of evolutionary perspectives on cognition and biology with a formulation on self-referring autopoietic observership derived from semiotics and second-order cybernetics. This paper introduces a cybersemiotic perspective on the capacity of arts and other practice for knowing, suggesting pathways for developing PaR and practice-led research, as well as reviewing the literature of this new configuration in cybersemiotic terms.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Media
Item ID: 25115
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Depositing User: Paul Cobley
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2018 14:55
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2021 00:04

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