Kip Jones

KIP JONES, an American by birth, has been studying and working in the UK for more than 19 years.
Under the umbrella term of 'arts-based research', his main efforts have involved developing tools
from the arts and humanities for use by social scientists in research and its impact on a wider
public or a Perfomative Social Science.

Jones is Reader in Performative Social Science and Director of the Centre for Qualitative Research
at Bournemouth University. Kip has produced films and written many articles for academic
journals and authored chapters for books on topics such as masculinity, ageing and rurality,
and older LGBT citizens. His ground-breaking use of qualitative methods, including
biography and auto-ethnography, and the use of tools from the arts in social science research and
dissemination are well-known.

Jones acted as Author and Executive Producer of
the award-winning short film,
RUFUS STONE, funded by Research Councils UK.
The film is now available for
free viewing on the Internet and has been
viewed by more than 13,000 people in 150

Areas of expertise
• Close relationships, culture and ethnicity
• Social psychology, sociology
• Ageing, self and identity
• Interpersonal processes, personality,
individual differences,
social networks, prejudice and stereotyping
• Sexuality and sexual orientation
• Creativity and the use of the
arts in Social Science

Media experience
His work has been reported widely
in the media, including:
BBC Radio 4,BBC TV news,Times
Higher Education, Sunday New
York Times, International
and The Independent.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Jane (I S S A) sounds worried ...

is it just vanity?

why do the justifications about the value of 'ART' feel at odds with what is 'in the air'?
why do i feel like I should get a real job?
why would a 'real' job make me feel more part of humanity?

meanwhile, if i could, i would book a studio tomorrow
and create music and musicals and operas and design beautiful public spaces and humming temples and zen-like elder homes and films.

--I S S A Open Letters

Dear I S S A,

A while ago, Mary Gergen emailed and asked me to contribute to a presentation that she was giving by discussing my experience of “being on the margins”, how this may have affected my career over time, how I have felt about this status when it is happening, about how I define marginality at all and changes over time in my experiences of marginality.

I don’t think I ever really answered her question. When someone brings up a topic, particularly one that excites me, I tend to think tangentially. That is, the question leads to other questions, then to other places, concepts and ideas, spawning creative connections, reminding me of experiences and stories, and sending me reeling into the outer spaces of the unknown. If Mary had been with me in the room, she might have tried to “reel me in”, get me back “on message” and perhaps extracted a more precise answer to her question. Left alone, I was left to my own devices. Instead, I started thinking about “the edge” and “going to the edge” and what that might mean.

Tangential thinking is, in my estimation, the basis for the development of the World Wide Web and its popularity. Take a subject, do a search and eventually you will end up in some interesting place you never planned to go in the first place. This is the nature of discovery (and social science research would benefit from more of this approach too). There are people “going to the edge” on the web without even knowing what is happening to them, participating in French educator Pierre Lévy’s concept of a web that does not have a unique centre and no right place to start. The ‘web has permanently various centres that are mobile luminous pointers, jumping from node to node. Each centre creates an infinite network around it, defining an instantaneous map’ .

What is marginality or the edge? The cutting edge or the abyss? It is probably a bit of both, in my estimation. Having spent my life (creative and academic) exploring the boundaries in order to map out new territory, I am aware that dissatisfaction with the status quo compels us into unknown territory, which, in turn, often creates misunderstanding around our activities—the price we pay for going to the edge. Much of my working life has been guided by the principle that creativity is the uncanny ability to change boundaries while, at the same time, working with them. Creative efforts push and shove at the edges. Like a child’s first wonderment at her/his artistic use of excrement, these explorations and products need to be shared. There is a compulsion to return from the edge or margins and convince others of our great discoveries/creations. Often, like the creative child, they are received with horror or embarrassment.

Thinking about this, I remembered George Kubler and his Shape of Time (1962), required (suggested?) reading when I went to art school. Kubler was the art historian and archaeologist who described the history of art as a vast mining exercise with innumerable shafts, most of them closed down long ago. Each artist works on in the dark, guided only by the tunnels and shafts of earlier work. We arrive at our work on the continuum or series of works extending beyond us in either or both directions. When a specific temperament (edginess?) interlocks with a favourable position, the fortunate individual uncovers forward movement in the field. This achievement is sometimes denied to others as well as by others.

An artist can not/would not/should not paint the Mona Lisa in the 21st Century just as, hopefully, social scientists would not want to retreat to mid-20th Century “laboratory experiments” and studies that used college freshmen (sic) as guinea pigs. Both the artist and the social scientist are, first, recorders of the time in which they live and must reflect their place on a historical continuum of work. It may be painful at times to be where we are, but that is all we have. We cannot go back (and shouldn’t want to, either). That’s why I often respond to negativity around or distrust of the post-modern with, “That is all we have. This is where we are”.

Does it “hurt”—this going to the edge? Being misunderstood is probably what hurts most. I was part of a dinner party recently where the participants were criticising contemporary art (the “a child could do it”’ argument). Because one of the dinner guests was a former chorister at Covent Garden, I reminded her of Bizet’s experience with the premiere of Carmen and how reviled this now extremely popular opera was in its time. In fact, Bizet died six months after the opening, disappointed in the extreme and exhausted from his misunderstood efforts to produce a masterpiece. The chorister seized upon my argument and followed with an animated discussion of the Bizet’s plight and death. I am still not sure that she got the connection to the earlier discussion, however.

As frustrating as these conversations can be, we must have them. We must come back from “the edge” and begin to incorporate our “data” from the perimeter into the fabric of community dialogue. This is where relational art/relational scholarship begins. Creativity is a process of invention, but the knowledge gained from these ‘uncovered forward movements’ (Kubler 1962) is a negotiated discursive construct that is created between people and agreed locally, opening up one or two obstructed passages (Bourriaud 2002), and connecting our discoveries from the margins back to the very community that motivated us to explore.


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