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Queer Practice as Research: A Fabulously Messy Business


This short piece highlights a current spurt in queer researcher–practitioners doing practice as research (PaR) in higher education and explores potential reasons why PaR is so vital, appealing, useful and strategic for queer research. As a starting point, we offer the idea of messiness and messing things up as a way of describing the methods of PaR. Queer mess is to do with asserting the value and pleasure of formations of knowledge that sit outside long-standing institutional hierarchies of research. The latter places what Robin Nelson calls ‘hard knowledge’ above tacit, quotidian, haptic and embodied knowledge. The methodological and philosophical impulses of PaR make space for a range of research methods inherently bound up with the researcher as an individual and the materiality of lived experience within research. Yet, in our experience, although each PaR project is individual, PaR projects follow certain shared modes evolving largely from embodied and heuristic research methods adapted from social sciences, such as (auto)ethnography, participant observation, phenomenology and action research. PaR methodology in theatre and performance is composed of a bricolage of these openly embodied methods, which makes PaR, as an embodied resistance to sanitary boundaries, somewhat queer in academic terms already. It is unsurprising, then, that PaR is so attractive to queer practitioner–researchers bent on queering normative hierarchies of knowledge.

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1 As encountered by the writers in their positions at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London (Farrier), and the Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne – and formerly at Queen's University Belfast (Campbell).

2 Nelson, Robin, Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p. 60.

3 See ibid.; Barratt, Estelle and Bolt, Barbara, eds., Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007); Freeman, John, Blood, Sweat and Theory: Research through Practice in Performance (Faringdon: Libri Publishing, 2010).

4 Botting, Fred and Wilson, Scott, eds., The Bataille Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), p. 13.

5 Freeman, Elizabeth, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 96.

6 See Farrier, Stephen, ‘It's about Time: Queer Utopias and Theatre Performance’, in Jones, Angela, ed., A Critical Inquiry into Queer Utopia (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), 47–68.

7 See Joseph Mercier, ‘Take It Like a Man: A Collaboration with Jamie Lewis Hadley’, at, last viewed 16 July 2014; Dani Ploeger, ‘ELECTRODE (2011)’, at!electrode/c3kk, last viewed 16 July 2014.

8 Nelson, Practice as Research in the Arts, p. 60.

9 For example, Carson, Anne, ‘Dirt and Desire: The Phenomenology of Female Pollution in Antiquity’, in Porter, J. I., ed., Constructions of the Classical Body (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), pp. 77100.

10 Jones, Stacey Holman and Adams, Tony E., ‘Autoethnography Is a Queer Method’, in Browne, Kath and Nash, Catherine J., eds., Queer Methods and Methodologies Intersecting Queer Theories and Social Science Research (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), 195214, here p. 197.

11 For example, Cook, Tina, ‘The Purpose of Mess in Action Research: Building Rigour through a Messy Turn’, Educational Action Research, 17, 2 (June 2009), pp. 277–91; Heddon, Deirdre and Milling, Jane, Devising Performance: A Critical History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 192.

12 Nando Messias, ‘Towards a New Sissiography: The Sissy in Body, Abuse and Space in Performance Practice’, unpublished PhD thesis, RCSSD, University of London, 2012.

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Theatre Research International
  • ISSN: 0307-8833
  • EISSN: 1474-0672
  • URL: /core/journals/theatre-research-international
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