Art, research and sociology’s promiscuity

I’ve just come back from two days talking, thinking and occasionally getting frustrated by the question of the relationship between art and social research. This is something I’ve been curious about for ages. Here are some reasons why:

  • I think the communicative repertoire exhibited by most sociologists is profoundly limited and I think of performance, in the broadest sense of the term, as something which deserves serious consideration to this end.
  • Dialogues with artists about their practice (as well as about art more abstractly) can be incredibly helpful in recognising non-linear creativity and incorporating this recognition into ongoing practice.
  • An engagement between art and sociology can help drive innovation in methods, particularly in relation to the sensory and the possibilities which ubiquitous digital devices afford for mobile social research.

These dialogues might involve an exploration and renegotiation of the boundary between sociology and art. However I find the possibility that some might deliberately or otherwise collapse the boundary rather worrying. Social research ≠ art. Artefacts of art practice ≠ data. Exploratory liminality ≠ research questions. Conflating these things precludes the creative exploration of the differences and commonalities between them. It does a disservice to both sociology and art. My concern is that what Andrew Abbott describes as sociology’s difficulty with excluding things – its lack of any intellectually effective means of expelling topics which have come to occupy sociological attention – might, in time, lead to a slide from considering the relationship between art and sociology to an enthusiastic attempt to conflate the two.

2 thoughts on “Art, research and sociology’s promiscuity

  1. ‘Moving our work to arts-based procedures is not a series of isolated acts; it requires an adjustment in how we approach everything in which we engage—including writing for academic publication. …My current writing, which is continual, reminiscent of my blog, and isn’t afraid to allow motifs to develop across publications and over time through a body of work [is but one example]. In terms of structure, its composition is influenced more by the arts (frequently music, but also painting), than academic writing. The ever-present constant is that it allows room for the reader to participate [following Bourriaud’s (2002) relational aesthetics]. I expect the reader to have questions, even doubts. As a writer, I leave a trail or clues to some of the answers, rather than routinely relying on argument or debate’. – Jones, K. (2012) “Short Film as Performative Social Science: The Story Behind “’Princess Margaret’”.
    Ch. in Popularizing Research, P. Vannini, Ed. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

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