Art, research and sociology’s promiscuity

I’ve just come back from two days talking, thinking and occasionally getting frustrated by the question of the relationship between art and social research. This is something I’ve been curious about for ages. Here are some reasons why:

  • I think the communicative repertoire exhibited by most sociologists is profoundly limited and I think of performance, in the broadest sense of the term, as something which deserves serious consideration to this end.
  • Dialogues with artists about their practice (as well as about art more abstractly) can be incredibly helpful in recognising non-linear creativity and incorporating this recognition into ongoing practice.
  • An engagement between art and sociology can help drive innovation in methods, particularly in relation to the sensory and the possibilities which ubiquitous digital devices afford for mobile social research.

These dialogues might involve an exploration and renegotiation of the boundary between sociology and art. However I find the possibility that some might deliberately or otherwise collapse the boundary rather worrying. Social research ≠ art. Artefacts of art practice ≠ data. Exploratory liminality ≠ research questions. Conflating these things precludes the creative exploration of the differences and commonalities between them. It does a disservice to both sociology and art. My concern is that what Andrew Abbott describes as sociology’s difficulty with excluding things – its lack of any intellectually effective means of expelling topics which have come to occupy sociological attention – might, in time, lead to a slide from considering the relationship between art and sociology to an enthusiastic attempt to conflate the two.

Categories: Committing Sociology

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2 replies »

  1. You may find some of my writing helpful in untangling this binary.

    Jones, K. (2012) Connecting research with communities through performative social science. The Qualitative Report, 17(Rev. 18), 1-8.

    Jones, K. (2012) “Short Film as Performative Social Science: The Story Behind “’Princess Margaret’”. Ch. in Popularizing Research, P. Vannini, Ed. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

    Gergen, M., Jones K. (2008) Editorial: “A Conversation about Performative Social Science”. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(2), Art. 43.

    Jones, K. (2006) “A Biographic Researcher in Pursuit of an Aesthetic: The use of arts-based (re)presentations in “performative” dissemination of life stories”. Qualitative Sociology Review, April 06.

    The Chapter in the Vannini book particularly addresses some of your questions and concerns.


  2. I am curious to know if research methods in sociology can become the modes of research for artistic practice ?

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