Exploring online research methods - Incorporating TRI-ORM

Performative social science

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Image from 'The one about Princess Margaret'

 

 

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Title: Rough talk and chocolate brownies (This is a reworking of a story originally posted on the Autoethnography newsgroup:
[External Link - opens in a new window]http://groups.yahoo.com/group/autoethnography/)

Author: Kip Jones

Affiliation: Bournemouth University

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“I am big. It's the pictures that got small”—Norma Desmond

Kip Jones from Bournemouth University talks, in his particular tangential way, about how he came about writing and producing “The one about Princess Margaret” for the World Wide Web

 

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[Open/close heading]Aims

“The one about Princess Margaret” is an audio/visual production uploaded to the Internet. The purpose of the project was to test if auto-ethnography could be used to circumvent the ethical questions involved in performing the stories of others. Emerging spaces for knowledge transfer, such as the World Wide Web, were explored as outlets for this example of "Performative Social Science". Contemporary thinking in aesthetics was investigated in order to answer questions of evaluation, supporting the collective elaboration of meaning prescribed by Relational Aesthetics and also test whether principles of Relational Aesthetics could be used to evaluate Performative Social Science. The conclusion was reached that the free and open environment of the Internet sidelines the usual tediousness of academic publishing and begins to explore new answers to questions posed about the evaluation and ethics of Performative Social Science.

 

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[Open/close heading]Methodological Innovation

Methodological innovation includes the use of humour and a personal story to convey a sense of time and place. Scholarship is back grounded in order to fore ground the more immediate experience of being a member of an audience, sitting in the dark without the usual academic expectations and with suspended disbelief. This approach produces possibilities for the reduction of the inter-personal distance typical of scholarly outputs by the development of a sensibility for the intuitive and associative aspects of communication. (These innovations are discussed further in Jones, 2007a.)

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Open/close headingDiscussion

What follows is a discussion in a performative format that recalls the creative problem-solving involved in writing the script and producing the audio/visual production for the web.

# # #

When I used to paint pictures, (I would say 'for a living', except that there is not much of a living to be made from painting pictures), the thing that always amazed me was how viewers would/could put themselves into the pictures' stories and relate to the paintings personally. These narrative canvasses usually chronicled something from my private life-and this created the irony of this phenomenon. A second fact of making these pictures was that, although the paintings represented my narrative, the real story was about painting itself and getting to the bottom of the painterly struggles of a particular canvass. In fact, while viewers often wanted to talk about the subject matter of the paintings, I really became animated when asked about the problem-solving involved in making a large narrative picture.

[VISUAL: FLIPPING CALENDAR PAGES LIKE IN AN OLD BLACK & WHITE HOLLYWOOD MOVIE]

(THE YEARS PASS)

[SOUND: TRAINS AND BOATS AND PLANES . . .

(BUT NOT THE BURT BACHARACH VERSION)]

(AFTER SOME TIME...)

I create audio/visual productions based on my narrative interview work. Sometimes I am asked about the ‘ethics’ of ‘performing’ someone else’s story without their knowledge or specific permission for its performance. [This sort of criticism ignores the assumed god given right of researchers to ‘interpret’ as long as it is textual and buried in academic journals that no one reads much anyway]. Seemed like a BIG question, nonetheless. I needed a creative answer to it.

BACK STORY: (VERY POSTMODERN HERE, LIKE THE TV SHOW, “LOST”)

[SOUND: “WHOOSH!” SOUND EFFECT THEY USE ON “LOST”

TO INDICATE A TRANSITION TO BACK STORY]

Years ago, when I would go out dancing several nights a week, I stopped myself for a moment of self-reflection and examination, questioning: "Are you going out dancing too many nights a week? Should you limit the number of nights?" I thought about it for a day or two. Then the answer came to me: If I go out dancing every night, then there is no longer a question of how many nights I should go out dancing. And so I did, I went dancing every night of the week. I think for about five years, give or take.

[BACK TO THE PRESENT]

[LIGHTING ALWAYS GETS LESS ‘DREAMY’ in the PRESENT in “LOST”]

Eventually, I got to auto-ethnography. In a similar homage to creative problem solving, I decided that if I used my own stories as the basis for my A/V productions, then I could circumvent this particular ethical question about ‘permission’. Since I had experienced using my own personal stories (painful ones, usually) for my ‘art’, I had no problem returning to that resource in a new medium.

I began to read about auto-ethnography and joined an email discussion list. After a while of scanning postings to the list, I started seeing a lot of talk about ‘sad’ stories. Now, as I have said, I am not unfamiliar with sad stories in my painting and in my narrative research and I have put a lot of energy into telling other people’s sad stories in order to engage audiences. But, I thought at the time, can you do auto-ethnography and tell a funny story or an amusing story? Will it still work and have the same impact?

Thus, “The one about Princess Margaret” was born—an audio/visual production about one night in my life in 1965. I remembered having just told that story to a friend and I thought it would work well as a test case of this particular question. In the process of writing it, I did a lot of the self-examination that any story (or painting) based in our own experience requires. I confronted the tendency to gloss over small misrepresentations in order to put myself in a better light. I think I overcame that natural inclination.

After several months of writing and rewriting, I then began the process of turning the script into an audio/visual presentation; that took another three months time. It has now been shown at four universities in the UK to receptive audiences. It has had over 1250 viewings on the Internet. After I show it, audience members come up to me and start talking about where they were or who they were in the 1960s. Younger audience members excitedly relate it to their parents’ generation—as though they have been given a special insight into their parents’ pasts. This need to personalise a narrative is a familiar response, similar to my experience with my paintings. What still pleases me most, however, is when someone wants to talk about ‘production values’, software programmes, etc.—the ‘craft’ of making it and some of the more subtle cultural references embedded in the piece. Yes, same as with the paintings.

[SOUND: “LOST” BACK STORY ‘WHOOSH!’ SOUND EFFECT AGAIN]

When I was painting canvasses, I had this friend Carol, a painter whose work was well known. A bullish lesbian and proud of it, Carol always made herself available for long discussions with me. The premise of these consultations was art, but our tête-à-têtes usually turned into long monologues about my disastrous love life. Carol loved to cook and bake and always had a chocolate cake or brownies to fuel my pouring out of my soul (chocolate and love, traditional co-stimulants). When I would finish my sad story, she would usually sum up my tragic complaint in her rough voice, “Yeah, but did you get a painting out it?”

[CUT TO PRESENT]

I have never forgotten her admonition. So it is with my auto-ethnography (and painting and A/V production for the World Wide Web): the product of my labour will outlive any pain that inspired it. My personal story is simply one of the raw materials used to produce my product. What I construct stands alone for what it is (a story, a painting, an A/V production), but comes to life when it engages with the response that it instils in the reader/viewer/audience, “… those wonderful people out there in the dark!”

# # #

 

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Open/close headingLinks

Jones, K. (2006) The one about Princess Margaret (Film) is available for viewing at:
[External Link - opens in a new window] http://vimeo.com/4339217

Jones, K. (2007a) How Did I Get to Princess Margaret? (And How Did I Get Her to the World Wide Web?) Forum: Qualitative Social Research Special Issue on Virtual Ethnography 8, 3.
Available at: [External Link - opens in a new window] http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs-texte/3-07/07-3-3-e.htm

Jones, K. (2007b) The one about Princess Margaret (Script) Forum: Qualitative Social Research Special Issue on Virtual Ethnography 8, 3.
Available at: [External Link - opens in a new window] http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs-texte/3-07/07-3-3-e_app.pdf

You can see more of Kip’s A/V work on his website: [External Link - opens in a new window] http://www.kipworld.net/

 

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Author of this page: Kip Jones - Year of publication: 2008 - Affiliation: Bournemouth University
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