Embodied Research: A Methodology

By Spatz, Ben | Liminalities, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Embodied Research: A Methodology


Spatz, Ben, Liminalities


The possibility of embodied methodologies is increasingly prevalent in the social sciences (Chadwick 2017), cultural studies (Francombe-Webb et al. 2014), and psychology (Brown et al. 2011). These proposals draw on a wide range of theoretical frameworks, from phenomenology to cognitive studies to qualitative research and beyond, and occasionally make reference to artistic research or performance/practice as research in the arts. As far as I know, no proposal for embodied research in the social sciences, humanities, or performing arts takes seriously the idea that areas and disciplines of embodied practice might constitute substantive epistemic fields in their own right.

The following methodology is based on the argument for embodied research put forward in What a Body Can Do: Technique as Knowledge, Practice as Research (Spatz 2015). That volume includes a range of scholarly, artistic, and practical references for the ideas discussed below. Here I attempt to offer a compact and accessible introduction to embodied research to support its implementation both inside and outside the university. The methodology is written in an accessible, second-person style. It is intended for embodied researchers at all levels and especially for hybrid practitioner-researchers and artist-scholars who come to aca-demia with a strong background in embodied practice. I believe it offers an important complement to more discursively oriented proposals.

The methodology is organized in five sections:

1. Introduction to embodied research

2. Framing your project

3. Working with people, space, and time

4. Archives and documents

5. Criteria for assessment

1.Introduction to embodied research

What is embodied research? Both words require a bit of explanation-let's start with research. Research is a kind of search. The "re" indicates not just repetition but intensity and thoroughness. To research is not merely to look for something but to conduct a focused and systematic investigation. Research is a balancing act, poised on an edge between the specific and the general, the concrete and the abstract, the repeatable and the unique. It can be figured as a kind of art, or even a dance, and in the examples considered here that is more than a metaphor. There is craft in research, and artistry. To be a researcher is to trace a new and narrow path. To find something new, one must be willing to encounter the unknown. But the unknown of research is not the unknown of everyday life. If I do not know your name, and I ask you for it, that is hardly research, even though I learn something I did not know before. If I am not sure when Frederick Douglass was born and I look up the date using a Google search, that can only be called research in a very limited sense. There are, in other words, different levels of research. When a student in primary school writes a research paper, the process involves at least a bit of the intensity and thoroughness mentioned above. But when a graduate student writes a doctoral dissertation or thesis, it has to involve research in a stronger sense. Making a contribution to the knowledge of an individual is no longer enough. Research in a strong sense contributes new knowledge to a larger community, an international network, a discipline or field of knowledge.

We have all heard of scientific research and the scientific method. If you are reading this article, you are probably aware of other research methods such as those used in the humanities and social sciences. Actually we are witnessing today an explosion of research methods and methodologies (theories of method). One of the reasons for this is that the university system, a hugely important institution for the support of research, is changing. Attendance in higher education has expanded massively over the past century. Universities are both more expensive and more diverse than ever before. The question of what the university needs to be in the twenty-first century is the topic of hundreds of books and articles. …

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