Performing Arts-Based Education Research: An Epic Drama of Practice, Precursors Problems and Possibilities

Article excerpt

Metaphorically and physically structured as a drama in seven scenes, this article characterizes the contested theories, internal tensions, and conflicts across disciplinary practices of arts-based education research (ABER). The drama contributes to the field of art education by providing an overview of ABER theories and the varied manifestations across dance, drama, music, and visual arts disciplines. The author's transdisciplinary review begins by examining risks and challenges that ABER poses to traditional education research. Citing multiple performances, this article illustrates how ABER methodologies are grounded in specific sensibilities, aesthetic traditions, and social commitments. The author imagines 20th-century artists' works that might serve as precursors to contemporary ABER productions and differentiate community-based research performances from object(ive) researching and producing traditions. After examining obstacles arresting ABER's development, the article closes with a discussion of changing academic technological practices impacting ABER's potentialities and offers recommendations for additional research.

This essay, in the form of a one-act drama in seven scenes, explores arts-based educational research (ABER) by reviewing some of the disciplinary distinctions in its conceptualization as a methodology, and in reviewing how its methods are used and performed. Unavoidably, this examination runs the risk of portraying ABER as a fixed and stable concept, when it might be better considered a process, or an emerging tendency. The drama examines ABER through a queer theoretical lens, considering it a reiteratively reflexive representational strategy, and an intentionally open performance that seeks to engage its viewer/participant(s) in building meanings that may, at times, exceed the researcher's own intentions. I will argue that ABER challenges fixed notions of research representations, systematically demanding an ongoing re-imag(in)ing of knowledge claims, media deployment, and research methods, while questioning the limits of its own intelligibility (see Plante, 2000).

This one-act drama contributes to the literature by exploring the range of disciplinary performances in arts-based education research (ABER) of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The article's format metaphorically and physically structures the research narrative. The drama searches for ABERs ancestry, defines its disciplinary deviations, characterizes its contested theories and internal tensions, explores how it functions in community-based settings, and considers its challenges, possibilities, and potentialities across shifting sites of production and performance. The drama opens with a prologue that sets the discursive stage-providing an overview of varied ABER theorists' work in the field. In Scene One, I establish the dramatic tension by examining the risks and challenges that ABER poses to traditional education research. Scene Two further discloses the history of these tensions by defining divergent disciplinary discourses and discussing how ABER proponents have built on disciplined traditions to develop new performances. Scene Three then re-searches for ancestral roots-reclaiming historic 20th-century artists as precursors to contemporary ABER production. In Scene Four, the drama turns to talk of ABER as a community act. The dramatic tension reaches its climax in Scene Five, as obstacles arresting ABER's development are confronted and cross-examined. A short Scene Six dream sequence replays the dramatic tension, as ABER possibilities and limitations are re-explored in institutional settings. The seventh and concluding Scene reaffirms ABER's potentialities and calls for additional research that might move the field forward.


Arts-based education research (ABER) is a term often (in)appropriately used to name those studies that may examine one, or more, of the multiple arts disciplines. It is more aptly characterized as a methodology involving multiple methods of social science inquiry (Sullivan, 2005). …


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