In early September I was invited to come and talk to PhD candidates and post-doc researchers affiliated with the ‘Knowing from the Inside’ project, led by professor Tim Ingold at the University of Aberdeen. The project aims to reconfigure the relation between the practice of academic inquiry in the human sciences and the knowledge it generates. It also allowed me to catch up with the wonderful Judith Winter, who is doing her PhD in this interesting context.
To quote the project outline: ‘Conventional research protocols expect the scholar to treat the world as a reserve from which to draw empirical material for subsequent interpretation in light of appropriate theory. Against this, we will establish and trial an alternative procedure whereby theory is not applied after the fact, to a corpus of material already gathered, but rather grows from our direct, practical and observational engagements with the stuff of the dwelt-in world. Theoretical thinking, then, is embedded in observational practice, or knowing in being, rather than vice versa. This way of knowing, by studying with things or people instead of making studies of them, has long been key to anthropology. It is also, however, central to arts practice, as it is to the contingent disciplines of architecture and design. All four disciplines offer paths to knowing-in-being which challenge the division between data gathering and theory building that underwrites normal science. By bringing them together, this project will customise this general approach to knowing to specific contexts of practice including landscape management, craft heritage, environmental conservation, building and restoration, drawing and notation. Our method will be distinguished by observation and experiment, the outcomes of which will be not just written texts but works of art or craft, performances and installations.’
I was invited to talk about my experience in arts publishing, so I travelled up with a suitcase full of books and examples that I thought in one way or other explored the presentation of embodied knowledge. The group I encountered was very diverse, and comprised artists, curators, anthropologists and architecture historians, all using the lens of social anthropology for their individual research projects. One of the topics that came up in conversation was the pressure of peer review validation in academia, which seems far removed from the perceived freedom of artists, arts organisations and others in their publishing activities, which can by some – who look at it from a more academic perspective – be considered vanity projects. I came away thinking that one of the big tasks for academia may be to proactive explore how the notion of peer review can be challenged, stretched and reinvented in such a way that the research done does not end up being available to, and read, valued and validated by the – often tiny – niche the new research tries to position itself within, but is allowed to be presented in such a way that it also appeals to wider audiences.
The image shows the interior of the university’s new library building with a wonderful off-kilter stacking of its seven floors, and with amazing views over Aberdeen and the surrounding countryside.