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

By Sanders, James H., III | Studies in Art Education, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

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


Sanders, James H., III, Studies in Art Education


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.

Prologue

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). In Art Practice as Research, Sullivan considers ABER one of three visual research strategies: (1) "visual means of gathering and interpreting data.... [drawing on] sociology, anthropology and cultural studies; (2) art historical inquiry, literary-based interpretive strategies and postmodern critical perspectives; and (3) arts-based educational inquiry... that helps broaden the way we understand things and ... expand how information is gathered and represented" (p. xiii). While agreeing that "research methods... grounded within the practices of the studio... are robust enough to satisfy rigorous institutional demands" (p. xiii), I will expand on Sullivan's call, considering ABER performances through dance, music, theater, and visual art forms.

Four sensorial clusters structure ABER's methodological parameters. First are research methods situated in the body and ways of knowing through touch and movement (Arnold, 2005; Blumenfeld-Jones, 1995; Snowber, 2002; Springgay, 2003) involving actors in epistemological exploration. Second are forms of dramatic play that work through, produce, and re-enact our sense of interpersonal and intrapersonal relations (Diamond & Mullen, 1999; Norris, 2000; Sanders, 1998, 1999a, 2000; Sears & Cooper, 2003), and acknowledge how subjects and researchers shape/are shaped by the inquiring performance (Finely & Knowles, 1995; Finely, Morgan & Konzal, 2000). …

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