On Process: of Lost Moments and Possible Worlds
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada mas;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
– Antonio Machado –
Allow me, to introduce this blog post, to ask you some personal questions, and lead you to recall some (maybe painful) moments of your life as a practitioner, as researcher and as a learner:
Whenever you were designing a new project, how many scribbles and sketches did you throw into the bin before reaching a workable roadmap?
Whenever you engaged in aesthetic practice or fieldwork, how many details were either simply lost in the mess that is real life, or filtered out by whatever grid you were evaluating your own activity through?
Whenever you are writing about your endeavours, through how many iterations of your thesis/article/paper/project did you go before finally reaching publication?
How did you feel in all of those moments?
…And all those moments (aside from those “immortalised” in your final, published work) will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
While I am still what you would call an “early career researcher”, the number of my above discussed “lost moments” is already beyond my ability to count them. The “theme” of Processual Research developed within the Disrupted Journal of Media Practices is an effort toward saving at least some of this moments, but first we must ask ourselves: why we let them get lost?
Is it because we want our practice/research to be “relevant”?
Is it because we want to “rigorous” in our methodologies?
Is it because we want to adhere to the standards of “academic writing”?
While it is undeniably true that the richness of lived experience is borderline impossible to convey and preserve in writing, all the above reasons, I want to argue here, are slippery and dangerous slopes, as they are oriented toward shaping and privileging the mere outcome of our work above all. It is indeed one of the most fundamental things for us as researchers, practitioners, teachers and learners, to preserve spaces to reflect on processes (on wanderings, on mistakes, on explorations, on writing itself) as, under the current culture of managerialisation and quantification that pervades all private and public spaces, outcomes (be them business outcomes, research outcomes or even learning outcomes) have more and more came to dominate public discourse.
We compile big lists of our successful outcomes: papers, business cases, university exams, the implicit message being “This is what I am”, and we leave aside our struggles, our stories, the paths we ourselves traced, like the wanderer in Machado’s poem.
As Walter Fornasa, an Italian educator and psychologist, taught me, this single mindedness is the deepest kind of ecological damage: one that has repercussions way beyond our actual environment, destroying entire alternative constructions of living, entire possible worlds. Likewise, anthropologist and system thinker Gregory Bateson warns us against our own capacity for “conscious purpose”, in that, probably unique in the world of living things, we human being are able to consciously excide all contextual factors, focusing on “what to obtain now” at the expense of its wider systemic ramifications. This is not an appeal to a regression into a pre-conscious “state of nature” (itself an ending, and a narrative), but again a call to embrace the complexity of historicity and narrative, resisting the inexorable push to consider only the here and now, and complexifying our criteria for evaluation beyond mere performance and profit, to embrace the richness (and messiness) of our lived histories.
Research, in many ways, can indeed be equated with the act of creating a story, under very specific constraints of rigour, verisimilitude, methodology and theory. However, this act is a story in itself, and in the same way rigour, methodology and theory are not fixed, transcendent qualities, but have themselves emerged through a plurality of social and historical contexts. They are themselves stories, they are processes. And when we realise this, we can also see how the main difference between the stories we call “fiction” and those that constitute our scientific, aesthetic, cultural and politic discourse is that we can’t be looking for an ending in the “real world”, happy or otherwise. Outcomes, particularly in research and education, are a lie we invent to simplify (and therefore try to manage) the world: there are only processes.
All the contributions hosted here, being practice based research, contribute, through a variety of different lenses, to a rethinking of the centrality of processes, and our ongoing discussion through this website works on a meta-level to highlight their shifting, ever evolving nature, and the artificiality and provisionality of any “final state” they might reach when published. Some of the contributions, however, tackle this theme directly and explicitly:
Creating Future Memories: A Dialogue on Process, shows us very directly and concretely how to engage with this quandaries, by both explicitly reflecting on the processual nature of creating memories (that is, histories and narratives), and by thoroughly, multimodally documenting the reflexive process itself.
Knowing Sounds: Podcasting as a Disruptive Academic Practice tackles specifically the act of academic writing as a fixed, rigorous and standardised outcome, juxtaposing and reflecting on the opportunities brought on by the processual nature of podcasts as informal, open, flexible discussions.
Co-Writing ‘Subject Media’ whilst framing Employability (Transferable Skills) aims to reflect on the process of shaping an academic subject itself through self-authorship, widening its considerations to embrace the difficult state of HE and FE when market imperatives seems to dictate the boundaries of scholarly identity.
Performative Publications focuses on making explicit the process through which we use and access academic writings, highlighting both the experimental opportunities and the political potential of moving away from “fixed” academic monograph toward more democratic, dynamic modes of discussion.
Assembly, finally, questions the position itself of the author in the process, revealing and deepening the dialogue between all the research participants as subjects, and explicating the process through which all of the actors’ voices are made to be heard, and the paths of their aesthetic positionings are made visible.
To conclude, I want to again encourage you to actively engage with these works through our website and the hypothes.is platform. The more these works are embraced as a community, they more we weave our histories through them, the less they will be reduced to their mere outcomes, and the less precious moments of discussion, reflection and research will be lost.