This project addresses a pressing problem for contemporary research: how to synthesise methods from the arts and social science to develop innovative methods of research. Interdisciplinary methods are increasingly considered necessary to understand the bodily, visual and aspects of people’s everyday worlds, particularly within the context of contemporary technology-rich environments that foreground bodily actions in new ways: a complex topic that connects arts and social science research.

The project brings together a team of experts from the arts and social sciences to take an innovative inter-disciplinary approach to this methodological challenge, and will include experimental environments, deep exploration of practice-based research, and a holistic approach to the body in digital-physical environments. Although challenging, working across this frontier has considerable value for research: opening up different perspectives, generating imaginative questions, and enabling access to a wider range of research tools, and a deeper holistic understanding of embodiment.

The project will investigate methods used to research notions of embodiment in different disciplinary contexts, identify connections and synergies, and seek methods to exploit and evaluate these synergies. It will achieve this through an in-depth exploration of 6 inter-connected cases studies: 3 in the arts (performance, fashion, design) and 3 in social sciences (e.g. virtual learning environments, video supported simulation, ‘embodied’ digital learning experiences). Each site is a hub of methodological innovation, engaging in research on the body/physical interaction, and advanced digital technologies (e.g. body scanners, motion capture, programmable interactive 3D environments). Routine research practices will be observed in situ (e.g. studios, meetings) to reveal the ways research methods are used and communicated, the kinds of objects made, and the principles that shape method practices in the arts and social sciences. Field-notes, photographs, and occasional video recording will be used to document these. Data will be analysed to understand the different ‘methods world’ of each site attending to all communicational forms (i.e. multimodal ethnography). The analysis will inform methodological experimentation across the project to combine, extend and develop methods and evaluate their applicability. Experts will attend a series of workshops to explore themes, perspectives, experiences, and contribute to the development of future methods.

The project will produce online resources to promote interdisciplinary methods across the arts and social sciences, a public event, performance and exhibition on innovative methods for researching the body/physical-digital interaction. These methods have wider relevance for a wide range of topics across the arts (e.g. museum studies) and social sciences (e.g. disability, security) and contribute to enhancing the quality and range of research in the UK and globally.

Research Questions

The research questions below will inform methodological approaches to embodiment that exploit synergies across the arts and the social sciences:

  • Embodiment (Body/Digital)What approaches to researching embodiment are used in each disciplinary context? How are these used and embedded in institutional/researcher practice on embodiment? Which approaches are shared and how are they articulated and utilized in different disciplinary contexts? How is embodiment conceived in each of these disciplinary sites and what is it made to do?
  • MethodsHow can methodological connections and synergies be identified? Which methodological aspects provide possible points of connection (e.g. literature, concepts, theories, methods) for researching embodiment? What are the generative potentials of practice-led research methods for investigating embodiment (e.g. thinking through making)? What are the barriers and challenges?
  • Methodological SynergiesWhat methodological approaches can be used to exploit and evaluate these synergies? What effects do these methods have when newly adopted or used in new syntheses? What new questions are generated that provide more traction on embodiment? What are the potentials, tensions and limitations manifest in combining methods and perspectives here? How might these new combinations balance imagination with rigour? How might social science utilize methods of the arts (e.g. performance) for dissemination?