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Reviewed by:
  • Practice-as-Research in Performance and Screen, and: Mapping Landscapes for Performance as Research: Scholarly Acts and Creative Cartographies
  • Ben Spatz
Practice-as-Research in Performance and Screen. Edited by Ludivine Allegue, Simon Jones, Baz Kershaw, and Angela Piccini. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009; pp. 260 + DVD. $130.00 cloth.
Mapping Landscapes for Performance as Research: Scholarly Acts and Creative Cartographies. Edited by Shannon Rose Riley and Lynette Hunter. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009; pp. xxiv + 274. $75.00 cloth.

This pair of beautiful books marks the arrival of an emerging field designated by an ever-growing multiplicity of names: Practice-as-Research, Performance as Research, Practice-based Research, Practice-led Research, Studio Research, Research/Creation, and so on. The diversity of PAR (by which I mean all of the above, although there is no consensus on this abbreviation) is well represented in these volumes, which focus primarily on the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively. Readers impatient for PAR to take hold in the United States will find much in these books to bolster their arguments; those who are skeptical of PAR may also find support for their misgivings. As the two publications are complementary in content and intertwined in authorship, it makes sense to read them together.

Practice-as-Research in Performance and Screen (PARPS) is a thorough multimedia plunge into the theory and practice of PAR in the UK, along with one chapter each on France, Canada, and Australia. Grounded in the six-year "Practice as Research in Performance" project led by Baz Kershaw at the University of Bristol (2000-2006), it comprises ten print chapters, eight color plates, a DVD documenting forty-four PAR projects, a comprehensive bibliography and index, and a note on "How to Use This Publication." (Despite the similarity in titles, this book should not be confused with Practice as Research, edited by Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt. The latter is an Australian book, also part of the PAR landscape though not comparable in scope or depth to those reviewed here.)

Mapping Landscapes for Performance as Research (MLPAR), with thirty-seven chapters in three sections, provides both a broader and narrower view of PAR than Practice-as-Research. The first section gives a panoramic portrait of PAR's diverse manifestations in Britain, Wales, South Africa, Australia, Canada, China, and Finland, as well as in theatre, dance, ethnomusicology, and visual art. The third section tackles the United States, which, according to editors Riley and Hunter, has "lagged behind" other countries in instituting PAR, because of differences in its higher education structures (xv). Less successful is the middle section, organized around a set of emergent keywords, such as "embodiment," "environment," and "situated knowledge." Although this section does not, despite the editors' claim, "give the reader a basic toolkit for studying, conducting, and implementing PAR projects" (xxii), it does include some thought-provoking meditations on current terms (e.g., Riley's piece on the physical spaces associated with university research). Overall, the geographical and methodological diversity of its coverage makes Mapping Landscapes an excellent reference text for a broad-based discussion of PAR.

The editors of both volumes are not hesitant to make strong claims about the significance of this movement. "By the twenty-first century," writes Kershaw, "it became clear that practice-as-research had the potential to trigger fundamental and radical challenges to well-established paradigms of knowledge making, inside the academy and beyond" (PARPS 2). The editors of Mapping Landscapes state that the various forms of PAR "constitute part of a revolution in how we look at knowledge today" (xv). Undoubtedly, the emergence of PAR accompanies profound epistemological questions in academia, related to a broader turn to practice and to the development of qualitative research in the humanities and social sciences. Both volumes aim to strengthen the position of PAR, and schematic analyses of the emerging field are offered throughout. Neither, however, can ultimately satisfy Simon Shepherd's call for a "full-on analysis" of a field that remains "under-theorised [and] a bit too slippery" (PARPS back cover).

A close reading of these works reveals two very different ideas of PAR. The dominant view, evident in both volumes, understands...