Exploring Research as Craft: A Workshop Series to Promote Cross-Discipline Communication by Examining Processes of Creating
Cydney Seigerman, , and Alden DiCamillo
Exploring Research as Craft (ERAC) collaboratively engages seemingly disparate disciplines through craft, material meaning-making, and critical response. Across the sciences and arts, people engage with their material and social environments to craft meaning about the world. However, academic siloing and the prioritization of jargon over communication endorse narrow understandings of science, art, research, and craft. Developed by an anthropology PhD student and an MFA at the University of Georgia (UGA), ERAC is a three-part workshop series to promote cross-disciplinary communication by conceptualizing research and practice as craft. This series culminated in a public exhibition at ATHICA, a non-profit gallery in Athens, Georgia. ERAC uncovers commonalities in how students, researchers, and faculty from diverse disciplines engage with questions about the world. In this way, traditional disciplines are deconstructed and research itself is promoted as an expression of cultural values and individual experience.
Since October 2018
Sites and Institutions
|University of Georgia|
Craft Process Critical Response Research Art Meaning Making Cross Disciplinary
Natural Sciences Social Sciences Fine Arts Ecology Forestry Anthropology English Microbiology Environment And Design Pottery Performance Arts New Media
problem SPACE AND CONTEXT
Addressing complex global issues requires collaboration among traditionally disparate academic disciplines and the broader public. However, cross-disciplinary research is inherently challenging due to divergent perspectives, discipline-specific jargon, and unfamiliar methods [1, 2].
In acknowledgement of the importance of cross-disciplinary work, various tools have been developed to increase communication between social and natural scientists. Philosophers [1, 3] and interdisciplinary groups of scientists  have devised strategies to overcome the challenges to communication that are posed by differences in the views of collaborating scientists. Efforts toward improving cross-disciplinary research illustrate the vitality of communication for effective collaboration. Yet, these efforts often focus on the interactions between different sciences rather than also involving the humanities or arts.
Initiatives such as the University of Georgia’s (UGA) Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE) bring to the forefront the role of the arts and design in collaborative research. ICE supports cross-disciplinary projects through various programs, including its Mini Grant, which funds student-proposed initiatives. The workshop series “Exploring Research as Craft” (ERAC) received a 2018 ICE Mini Grant to foster communication within cross-disciplinary collaborations and to connect researchers, artists, and the broader community.
ERAC successfully carries out its objectives to cultivate transdisciplinary engagements through its conceptualization of research and practice as craft, following Ingold and Becker. Ingold defines craft as the gathering and transformation of material according to cultural and scientific presence . The application of Ingold's definition of craft to research helps to uncover commonalities among the processes of inquiry of diverse researchers and artists (collectively “craftspeople”) and brings attention to the researcher’s intimate knowledge of the materiality of the objects being transformed. For Becker, a craft consists of a body of knowledge that can be used to produce useful objects or activities for others, requiring virtuoso skill that typically takes years to master . For the researcher as craftsperson, this skill is not limited to the expertise developed using specific methods—such as conducting a literature review or setting up cameras to track animals. Rather, the process of research also fosters intimate knowledge of the materiality of the objects used in research—the click of the keyboard with which the researcher conducts their literature review or the gentle torque required to focus the camera to capture animal movements. Noticing the breadth of materiality of research tools expands both Ingold’s focus on the material transformations of craft and Becker’s definition of craft as a process of skilled work. While the methods and materials of researchers can diverge greatly from one field of study to another, all researchers foster a specialized skill through their work. Conceptualizing research as craft evinces this underlying commonality among researchers and the processes of conducting research.
Additionally, ERAC’s use of multimedia and Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (or CRP, a method for facilitated group dialogue around works in progress)  challenges the tendency to view art exclusively as a research-communication tool. Through ERAC, visual languages act as research methods that cultivate greater understanding of process and materiality. The concept of research was expanded to include arts-based methods and diverse media were used in active knowledge-exploration. The culmination of the first ERAC series in a public gallery show in Athens, Georgia broadened conversations to include the general public.
Process and materiality form the foundation of ERAC and support the integration of arts into the craft of research. Cydney Seigerman and Alden DiCamillo (“the organizers”) developed ERAC to deconstruct disciplinary divides and explore how different craftspeople’s materials form part of dynamic compositions. Rather than prioritizing published articles as the product of research, ERAC promotes the in-depth exploration of the compositional aspects of research as a process. Furthermore, definitions of studio and lab work become de-essentialized when material is understood as a negotiation of intention. There is the intention of the craftsperson, but the outcome is a conversation of that intentionality with space and material.
ERAC asks how the reconceptualization of research as craft can promote collaboration across the sciences and arts. To explore this question, the organizers developed three workshops during which participants were challenged to engage with the process and materiality of their research as elements of a refined craft.
Thirteen UGA researchers—nine graduate students, one post-doctoral researcher, an ICE student liaison, and the two organizers—participated in the series. A call for participants was distributed through various UGA listservs to reach a diverse student population. The first workshop included presentations by the organizers and brainstorming sessions to explore one’s work by examining process or the roles of the researcher and material. For the second workshop, the organizers used Lermon’s techniques to lead CR sessions that fostered a constructive space for feedback on the craftspeople’s in-progress projects. The final workshop consisted of a one-day, free-of-charge exhibition of the thirteen multimedia pieces at ATHICA, a non-profit gallery. Fifty-five people from UGA and the greater Athens community visited the exhibition.The participants attended a follow-up meeting with the organizers and were sent an online, qualitative survey to reflect on their ERAC experience. Participants valued the sense of community fostered among different disciplines through the discovery of commonalities across their work. However, some noted that the experience could be improved by increasing communication among participants outside of the scheduled workshops. There was a consensus that the structure of CR established a common way to effectively solicit and provide feedback within a diverse group of people. For participants, ERAC opened up new discussions and made space for fun within the act of research.
AN ARTS-INTEGRATIVE PROCESS
Process and materiality form the foundation of ERAC and support the integration of arts into the craft of research. Rather than prioritizing published articles as the product of research, ERAC promotes the in-depth exploration of the material aspects of research as a process.
ERAC asks how the reconceptualization of research as craft can promote collaboration across the sciences, humanities, and arts. To explore this question, the organizers developed three workshops during which participants were challenged to engage with the process and materiality of their research as elements of an ever-developing craft.
ERAC organizers Cydney Seigerman and Alden DiCamillo distributed a call for participants through various UGA listservs to reach a diverse student population. Thirteen graduate and post-graduate UGA researchers from disciplines including forestry, anthropology, fine arts, English, and epidemiology participated in the series. The first workshop included presentations by the organizers and brainstorming sessions to explore one’s work by examining process or the roles of the researcher and material. For the second workshop, the organizers used Lerman’s techniques to lead CRP sessions that fostered a constructive space for feedback on the craftspeople’s in-progress projects. Discussions during the CRP sessions focused on evocations of the works, insertions of personal narrative, and where works exited essentialized discipline definitions. It became possible to speak across boundaries or to break down those barriers altogether.
The final workshop consisted of a one-day, free-of-charge exhibition of the thirteen multimedia pieces at ATHICA, a non-profit gallery. Fifty-five people from UGA and the greater Athens community visited the exhibition. The ERAC exhibition oriented the purpose of the gallery toward conversation; it became a composition that literally set disciplines across from and next to each other, putting the visually poetic statements of diverse research practices in dialogue. For example, the piece “waterhole music” by Max Farrell provided new insight into ecological research through music, while “reproduction through digital caress” by Alden DiCamillo explored political questions of gender and sexuality through digital media and was informed by critical social theory. Pieces, craftspeople, and visitors interacted through open discussions, surpassing the traditional academic boundaries that can hinder mutual understanding.
The participants attended a follow-up meeting with the organizers and were sent an online, qualitative survey to reflect on their ERAC experience. Participants valued the sense of community fostered among different disciplines through the discovery of commonalities across their work. However, some noted that the experience could be improved by increasing communication among participants outside of the scheduled workshops. There was a consensus that the structure of CRP established a common way to effectively solicit and provide feedback within a diverse group of people. For participants, ERAC opened up new discussions and made space for fun within the act of research.
Tracking the process: “waterhole music"
Over the course of ERAC, craftsperson Max Farrell applied the skills and concepts he uses in his research to the creation of an artistic piece. Farrell identifies as a biologist and musician. His piece “waterhole music” consists of a musical score and time-lapsed video that translate a two-week recording of a watering hole in Kruger National Park, South Africa. For Farrell (personal communication, September 21, 2019), “waterhole music” challenges the ways in which scientists present data and the ways in which audiences interact with information.
Brainstorming for Farrell began upon reading the initial call for participation, and he arrived at the first workshop with an idea of what he might explore. During the workshop, ERAC’s conceptual framework—particularly the invitation to focus on the materiality of research, and the concept that the methods used in research are often hidden in the end product—resonated strongly with Farrell. He endeavored to use these ideas to create a conceptual piece that could synthesize the important roles that the translation of information played in his scientific and musical endeavors.
As the CRP sessions approached, Farrell was struggling to push the execution of his concept to its extreme. He expressed his biggest concern—whether his piece successfully conveyed his idea–during his CRP session. A key moment for Farrell during his session was when he observed the other participants arriving at the understanding that the sound in the video mirrored the video image. In that instant, Farrell realized, “[I]nterpretation is a process of discovery in itself.” Reflecting on the CRP, Farrell noted he benefited most from the diversity of perspectives during discussions on how to display his work. The importance of the physicality of the musical score to interpretation, in addition to visual and sound-based experiences of the video, became salient through the CRP process.
At the gallery show, visitors watched Farrell's video projected onto a large screen while listening to the video's music through headphones. A physical copy of the musical score lay next to the headphones for visitors to hold and read. Farrell observed that his piece “[...] brings an added meta-narrative to the concept by itself challenging the ways in which scientists present data and the ways in which audiences interact with information. Science is largely a ‘flat’ discipline: the main outcomes of pure research are academic papers, with visual depictions of models and data being the most common currency for information communication [....] This process let me explore ways in which data can be sonified.” Farrell plans to further explore the translation of information into diverse media and potentially facilitate workshops akin to ERAC at his new position at the University of Toronto.
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- Morse, W. C., et al. (2007). Bridges and Barriers to Developing and Conducting Interdisciplinary Graduate-Student Team Research. Ecology and Society, 12(2).
- O’Rourke, M., & Crowley, S. J. (2013). Philosophical intervention and cross-disciplinary science: the story of the Toolbox Project. Synthese, 190(11), 1937-1954.
- Winowiecki, L., et al. (2011). Tools for enhancing interdisciplinary communication. Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 7(1), 74-80.
- Ingold, T. (2013). Making: anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture. London: Routledge.
- Lerman, L., & Borstel, J. (2003). Liz Lerman's critical response process: a method for getting useful feedback on anything you make, from dance to dessert (First ed.): Liz Lerman Dance Exchange.
- Becker, H. S. (1978). Arts and Crafts. American Journal of Sociology, 83(4), 862-889.
Exploring Research as Craft is graciously supported by Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE) and ATHICA: Athens Institute for Contemporary Art. ICE is an interdisciplinary initiative for advanced research in the arts at the University of Georgia. ATHICA is a non-profit gallery providing collaborative and community arts space within the Athens, Georgia community.