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Improvisation, Text and Media: Research Questions

At the final meetings of the research team for the “Improvisation, Community and Social Practice” research initiative, held on Monday September 2, 2013, at the University of Guelph, we had an opportunity to divide into our various research streams and interest groups, and to reflect on achievements and outcomes over the past six years of the grant, around the establishment of the interdisciplinary field of Improvisation Studies. (Co-ordinators for each of the seven clusters were invited to present at a panel during the upcoming colloquium, on Wednesday morning.) Rather than catalogue books, performances, courses, etc., what many of us elected to do — to reflect the on-going and open-ended aspect of research on and around improvisation — was to produce and hone a set of research questions that had come to inform the work being done by our group.

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Here are some of the questions we collectively arrived at, in the “Improvisation, Text and Media” stream, for which I have served as co-ordinator.

How do improvisatory practices affect the production, dissemination and reception of new media art?

What are the impacts of electronic and social media on poetry, literature and other textual practices? How is the study of print culture impacted by a critical emphasis on improvisation?

How can methods and approaches that have emerged from improvisation studies be deployed to assess the velocity of information, and the pace of the transformation of the human archive? What are the emerging temporalities of writing?

How do new media offer a means to investigate the permeability of the academic and non-academic worlds?

What are the key tropes around which inquiry into text and media in improvisation takes place? (Some of the tropes we mentioned included membrane, network, fractal, pod, articulation, mix, polyphony, voice, texture, ear.)

How does improvisation both expose and re-instantiate inherent social power structures, especially around concepts of authority and expertise?

How do social and electronic media influence reading and reception?

How do text and media studies articulate with improvisational pedagogy across the disciplines?

What does the study of improvisation, text and media bring to the understanding of canon, of expertise, genius and orthodoxy? How are we to accept or to resist the tendencies for improvisational tactics to becomes orthodoxies or ideologies?

How are practices of appropriation, borrowing, imitation, representation and revision managed through improvisation?

Our hope was that these questions, and others, might serve as contingent focal points, both to understand the work that has been ongoing in this sub-field and to provoke and urge the development of new work.