Dancers

photo: Jon Green

GUIDELINES FOR BEST PRACTICE IN AUSTRALIAN DOCTORAL AND MASTERS BY RESEARCH EXAMINATION DISTINGUISHING FACTORS FOR DANCE

Below is a summary of disciplinary specific recommendations for dance studies, encompassing both the more traditional written theses as well as theses directly involved in practice (multi-modal research). There are many variants to research which involves material practices in the arts---practice-led research, practice-based, performance as research and artistic research---but for the purposes of this document multi-modal research embraces all those variants on the understanding that candidates will articulate the specificities according to their particular research design framework/methodological approach (refer p.15).

DANCING BETWEEN DIVERSITY AND CONSISTENCY:

While consistency is a staple requirement for formulated codes of practice, the researchers are mindful that consistency must work in partnership with diversity. The recommendations are an attempt to underline this crucial partnership, constructing guidelines for candidates, examiners, supervisors and research personnel without foreclosing alternatives which may arise in the processes of discovery in, through and about the practices of dance. Our intention is to be inclusive of all research theses pertaining to dance, however, the relative newness of multi-modal forms and the challenges that they pose to examination procedures present specific issues for attention. This emphasis is a response to current circumstances and does not, in any respect, privilege one mode over another.

FUNDAMENTAL FORMATS FOUND IN HIGHER DEGREE RESEARCH STUDIES IN DANCE:

Multi-modal theses whose principal output is creative practice (choreography/performance): (refer p.17) These studies in and through the practices/materiality of dance usually culminate in a performance (or series of performances or digital/rich media art works) together with a contextual/conceptual written component.

Multi-modal theses whose principal focus is process/es: (refer p.21) These studies in and through the practices/materiality of dance will usually culminate in a demonstration of the process/es in question either in ‘live’ or documented formats (or a combination of both) together with a contextual/conceptual written component.

Written theses grounded in the discipline of dance: These studies about the practices of dance principally focus on dance and the theoretical tenets of its physicality and may also make use of the methodologies and theoretical underpinnings of a specific practice approach or a mixture of approaches with and from related disciplinary areas.

Written theses grounded in another discipline but featuring the presence of dance in some way: These studies will vary in the degree of attention given to dance/dancing and usually be grounded firmly within the methodologies and theoretical underpinnings of the other discipline/s.

 

DISTINCTIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF DANCE RESEARCH ARTISTIC CREATIVITY

One of the most difficult aspects of assessment for dance studies located in artistic practices is the issue of creativity. Here, diversity inevitably rules, at least within those layers of the study in which imaginative processes operate.

CHARACTERISTICS OF ARTISTIC CREATIVITY INCLUDE (BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO):

'Singular knowledge’: Creative practices are emergent and present single rich studies contributing to knowledge;

Open-ended, paradoxical and ambiguous: While the artwork may be characteristically open-ended, the researcher needs to articulate the value of resultant multiple or undefinable outcomes;

Metaphorical and inter-textual: the encoded and embodied nature of creative outputs provides its own discourse. Textual ‘translation’ through metaphor and allusion may be used to illuminate the practice;

Practitioner mastery projecting forward: in contrast to retrospective analysis (written), the artist researcher projects forward through ‘transformative events’ in the production of knowledge (practice); and

Dynamic creative intellectual endeavour: Theory occurs across/arises from all modes of research whether in practice/s or in writing (refer p.17).

 

POINTS OF EMPHASIS FOR DANCE STUDIES A THESIS IS:

a substantial and intellectually coherent product or products in one or more media; comprising of a written dissertation or creative work/s and integral text for submission to external examination. The dance discipline conforms to the Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Graduate Studies’ (DDOGS) recommendations for best practice and highlights the following as specifically appropriate to the discipline.

 

GENERAL ELEMENTS OF THESIS PRESENTATION INCLUDE:

Different voices/languages, including kinetic languages, to convey the intention or argument of the investigation providing the language/s appropriately convey the conceptual level of disciplinary knowledge;

A level of technical delivery/mastery of performance, process demonstration or artwork that is coherent with the medium/media of presentation; and an articulated research design framework of the study;

A final documentation of performance and/or process of sufficient quality for examiners to recall the ‘live’ thesis components or to be the artefact in itself (refer p.28);

Collaborative investigations where roles and responsibilities must be clearly delineated; and

Only those artefacts and processes produced specifically for the MA/doctoral degree can be examined.

 

A THESIS IS SHAPED BY ITS RESEARCH DESIGN (refer p.15).

Research design involving dance practice is an emerging field and frequently stems from approaches specific to the practice. Each multi-modal project therefore should present a developed and comprehensive research design, which clearly defines the use of practice in research.

FOR ALL THESES, A RESEARCH DESIGN FRAMEWORK SHOULD INCLUDE:

A clear articulation of the role of dance practice in the generation of new knowledge in relation to the study;

Conceptual understanding of the methodology/ies employed, whether drawing on extant theory such as phenomenology, feminist readings, action research, grounded theory and so forth or constructing a hybrid methodology to frame a specific study; and

Cohesion of interdisciplinary relationships wherein the role of dance is aligned with the conventions of the related disciplines be they historical, anthropological, medical and so forth.

 

ADDITIONALLY ‘EMERGENT’ MULTI-MODAL RESEARCH DESIGNS SHOULD INCLUDE:

A demonstration of the interrelationships between dance performance/process and written text in developing the findings of the research; and

A clear articulation of the status and intrinsic theoretical position of examined artefacts and/or processes which may involve a bricolage approach but is required to be consistent with the practice concerned.

 

RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PRACTICAL AND WRITTEN COMPONENTS FOR EXAMINATION

Practice and writing are integrated and interdependent components of a single thesis as such coherence, rather than designated weightings, is the guiding principle of the relationship;

Theory and creativity may arise within both practice and writing (refer p.23);

The writing should reflect upon, contextualise and conceptualise the thesis work pertinent to the disciplinary specific methodology/ies employed; both components are likely to reference professional, as well as academic, conventions (refer p.24);

Subject to institutional variations, a reasonable time lapse between exposure of examiners to the two components is considered to be up to six months to avoid disadvantaging the candidate; and

Candidates are encouraged to include process traces or ephemera such as choreographic notes, design sketches, digital documentation of pivotal rehearsal experiences, music scores/notes, journal excerpts etc, situated to indicate the directions/decision-making of the research journey (refer p.28).

 

PERFORMANCE ENVIRONMENT - SPECIAL CASE MULTI-MODAL EXAMINATION

It is recommended that audience presence is a natural environment for performance and thus crucial to examination (refer p.25);

A ‘framing’ document, outlining the research questions or area of investigation, intentions and processes of the study is crucial to the performance/process examination. Interpretations/ideas may shift in intervening reflective processes - and be articulated in the writing - but the ’original premise’ of the research in practice plays a vital role in the examiners’ initial assessment of the effectiveness and significance of the ‘live’ component/s;

All examiners are expected to attend the performance if ‘liveness’ is integral to the study; and

To overcome resource limitations, high quality (digital) documentation may be acceptable as a representation of the ‘live’ component/s for one international examiner on a case-by-case basis.

 

EXAMINER ATTRIBUTES INCLUDE:

Ability to be fair and assess work against the work’s stated criteria; and with regard for the local/global contextualisation of the work;

Capacity to be conceptually discriminating and intellectually flexible;

Expert knowledge of the practice/s and/or area of research;

Demonstration of a collegially supportive attitude and enthusiasm for innovation and risk-taking;

Time and self-reflexive commitment to consider the work thoroughly;

Commitment to independent assessment and professional etiquette especially in live performance/process viewing contexts; and

Multi-modal degrees highlight the relationship between academia and the professional dance industry, making a case for the integration of expert practitioners from the industry to examine in parallel with doctoral or masters-qualified examiners (refer p.27).

 

CRITERIA FOR THE AWARD OF THE DEGREE

While maintaining the principle of independent assessment without direct contact with candidates, supervisors and examining colleagues, examiners are encouraged to play a dynamic role within the process of evaluation. Each thesis should present a unique demonstration of diversity-in-relation-with-consistency and an examiner’s role is to recognise and evaluate the interplay of those relationships against the multiple facets of disciplinary knowledge (refer p.17).

AT A MASTERS LEVEL, BREADTH IS THE GUIDING PRINCIPLE. CRITERIA FOR THE AWARD INCLUDE:

Demonstration of comprehensive disciplinary knowledge/mastery across all modes of the thesis;

Engagement with the literature and/or the work of others as is coherent for the study;

Conceptual grasp of methodologies and/or processes of creation;

Capacity for independent, coherent and critical thinking;

Coherence of its experimental design, arguments/interrogations, production style and conclusions (multi-modal);

Research process and outcomes are perceptible within the practice/s (multi-modal);

Quality of presentation, its technical accomplishments taking into consideration the limits of production resources and extra-ordinary features (multi-modal); and

Evidence of embodied experiential investigation and communication (multi-modal).

 

AT A DOCTORAL LEVEL, DEPTH AND ORIGINALITY ARE THE GUIDING PRINCIPLES. CRITERIA FOR THE AWARD INCLUDE:

Originality of the contribution to knowledge in the field: its aesthetic insight, publishability, performative-ness, applicability, and (potential) impact;

Deep and nuanced engagement with disciplinary literature and/or works of others as is coherent for the study;

Incisive conceptual grasp of investigative methodologies and/or processes of creation (multi-modal);

Capacity for independent, critical thinking shown through the work’s insights into the conceptual and/or theoretical underpinning of the discipline;

Coherence and innovativeness of its experimental design, arguments/interrogations and conclusions;

Research process and outcomes are perceptible within the practice/s as appropriate to the high level, depth and nuance of the investigation (multi-modal);

Quality of presentation, its technical accomplishments, detail and dynamics taking into consideration the limits of production resources and extra-ordinary features (multi-modal);

Evidence of original embodied investigation and communicative sophistication (multi-modal); and

Evidence of disciplinary leadership attributes in the resourcefulness of the research. [Please note that the time duration of artwork/s and word length of the written components in multi-modal theses should be consistent with the different duration of masters and doctoral candidatures. However, while taking into account reasonable relationships with an institution’s maximum specifications, duration and length should be gauged primarily on demonstrating the significance of the study (multi-modal).]

 

EXAMINERS’ REPORTS:

Examiners are encouraged to address the formative as well as summative functions of their reports;

While mindful of resource constraints, the examiner may, on clearly justified grounds, suggest revisions to the practice component/s as is the case with fully written theses, to ensure that the standard of the practice is commensurate with other components of the thesis (multi-modal); and

In multi-modal degrees, examiners should be encouraged to devote equal attention and reportage to the practice/s and to the candidate’s integration of practice and writing for conceptual purposes (multi-modal).

 

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EXAMINER TRAINING:

Training and/or in-service programmes for examiners be provided as part of on-going supervisor training programs;

Examination effectiveness be developed through strategies like local and national symposia for dialogue and expertise sharing between examiner/supervisors and postgraduate candidates, particularly in regards to multi-modal degrees; and

Strategies to involve expert industry practitioners in examination processes in multi-modal degrees.

 

ONGOING CHALLENGES TO ADDRESS

Embodied knowledge of a practice provides the kinds of insights (from the ‘inside’) that cannot necessarily be gleaned from solely theoretical investigations (from the ‘outside’). The advantage to PhD/post doc research undertaken through practice is that the embodied knowledge gained through practical research can give rise to new insights that can both lead to new directions in theoretical investigations of a practice, and give new ‘colour’ to any theories under investigation. The latter is recognised by neuro-scientists/physiologists as a viable way of researching ideas. (research director/supervisor/examiner interview - QOt01) Although cognisant of the fact that financial resources are shrinking rather than expanding, and understanding that the proposed guidelines will work best as a relatively pragmatic document, it is nevertheless essential that we highlight some of the current impediments to successfully implementing certain significant guiding principles of this code of practice. These include, but are not limited to, the following (some of which are discussed in more detail in other sections of this publication):

Alternative entry pathways for multi-modal theses (refer p.22);

Allocation of - or assistance to locate - discipline-specific resources such as suitable and available studio space and equipment, production resources and collaborating artists and performers of the required standard and experience. This may occur through partnerships with industry as well through research funding;

Resources to enable examiners to travel nationally to see live performances where this is an essential part of the study and high quality digital documentation as alternative solutions for international examiners;

Development of examination panels through depth of knowledge (industry) as well as through breadth and interconnectedness of knowledge (relationships with complementary disciplines):

Validation strategies to enable industry examiners to contribute as part of an examining team in multi-modal studies; and

Where applicable, experts in related fields to assess in order to develop diversity within the panel structure and to incrementally disseminate dance knowledge/s within broad academic perspectives.

Protocols for professional distance to be observed where total anonymity of examiners may not be possible in attending a live performance;

Acceptance of embodied and discrete, but overlapping, epistemologies of knowledge, both established and emergent, in the field of dance and performance;

Ongoing attention to linguistic limitations in the articulation of practice-specific ideas/concepts/theories (refer p.23); and

Maintaining a constant openness to change in relation to all aspects of this code.