[iDC] The Future of the Humanities

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Wed Jul 13 16:56:16 UTC 2011

Commenting on Florian's observation that the arts and humanities are
disconnected from one another - what is generally true of continental Europe
is not entirely true and not the case in the UK. Norway has creative writing
programmes within humanities departments, as does the UK. Austria is
starting up creative arts PhD programmes. The Swiss have been at it for a
decade. Holland has initiated its first practice based PhD programme. Most
UK art colleges are now in universities and are funded to undertake creative
arts practice based research. This is becoming the case in Australia and
Canada as well and I am aware of some instances in Norway, Denmark and
Holland. There are also moves in Austria, with the Austrian Science
Foundation funding creative arts practice as research.

In the UK we have the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) which not
only funds creative arts research but seeks synergy between that and the
humanities, as well as with other research domains through Research Councils
UK. Within Europe there is the Humanities in the European Research Area
programme, substantially modelled on the AHRC, which funds creative arts
research along with humanities. That programme will be sustained for the
foreseeable future. The FP8 Social Sciences and Humanities strategy document
has niches within it that will allow creative practice to be funded as
research, with creativity a major theme. This is all good news and a reason
why the arts and humanities should work together. They strengthen one
another. It was not that long ago the humanities were not considered as
serious domains for research either and received very little money (usually
consequent to social science funding).

The down side is that to get research funding you do need to be doing
research. You will not get funding to make art. Your project needs to fulfil
the basic requirements of research, which are the same for the arts as for
the sciences. It is the methodologies and the form of the outcomes that
differ. The argument now is not whether creative arts practice can be
research but what new insights can be developed through it. Stephen
Scriveners foundational writing on this is thoughtful.

The other negative is that as art colleges realise that they can double or
triple their income by focusing on research (in the UK teaching is often
undertaken at a loss to the institution) they are requiring staff to be
research oriented. Part of that is requiring them to have PhD's. Most UK art
colleges, dance academies or theatre schools expect this. For artists who
want to make art and teach, as they have for decades, this is bad news. For
those who are keen on blurring the boundaries of what art can be, seeking
cross-over activities with other knowledge domains, it is an exciting time.
It also creates a new revenue stream for those institutions ahead of the
curve in developing research capacity, as it is these that teach the PhD
candidates who will be the next generation of artists, arts researchers and

This debate is also underway in the US, asking what should be the terminal
degree for a professorship in the creative arts. James Elkins' book on the
subject has some useful insights, although his core argument is problematic
(compared to Scrivener's) and particular to the States. Smith and Dean's
Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice, written by people in
institutions with established creative arts research programmes, offers more
embedded views.



On 13/07/2011 13:56, "Florian Cramer" <flrncrmr at gmail.com> wrote:

> My perspective is even more bleak. In continental Europe, university
> humanities have almost no connection to artistic practice, and never
> had. Everything related to contemporary artistic practice strictly is
> a domain of the art schools. An artist can't become a professor in a
> humanities department unless s/he has a traditional academic education
> and Ph.D.. Creative writing programs, for example, hardly exist
> because they're not considered academic research. Programs with
> cultural events - literary readings, poetry festivals, concerts, art
> exhibitions - that are normal for U.S. American campuses don't exist
> (or only in very small niches), since they are the domain of
> tax-funded arts institutions.
> The function of university humanities in continental Europe is to
> study and preserve cultural heritage, (in case of the literature and
> language departments) to train middle and high school teachers, and to
> produce research that matches the criteria and organization of science
> research projects. [I.e. a literature department can create a research
> project on metaphorology, obtain grants, but has to form research
> groups and produce research results in a similar manner to a research
> project on particle physics. This is particularly true for
> German-language academia]
> The connection of university humanities to contemporary arts is mostly
> indirect: Most art curators have studied art history, most editors of
> publishing houses literature etc. To work in these fields, a Master's
> or Ph.D. degree in the humanities often is a job requirement.
> For these reasons, hybrid humanities disciplines such as cultural
> studies and media studies [unless they're journalism/communication
> departments] never gained a serious foot in Europe. Many if not most
> Europeans that are known as writers or theorists in the new media
> field don't teach at classical universities, but in art schools or
> even more often work outside academia. Geert's Institute of Network
> Culture, for example, formally isn't an institute, but an applied
> research program of a polytechnical school/vocational college. (I work
> in the same kind of construction.)
> In some ways, the European humanities are protected that way, as long
> as governments see the continued necessity of  having philological
> text editions of classical writers and providing museums with the
> expertise of how to preserve their Rembrandts. A temporary boom
> followed by a collapse in the humanities was created by the boom of
> poststructuralist and postmodern theory since the 1980s. In a European
> perception, it promised to stimulate new ways of creative
> cross-disciplinary thinking, from business consulting to fusing
> hermeneutics with chaos theory. It is not widely acknowledged, but the
> Sokal affair destroyed much of that credibility and ever since had the
> humanities humbled in front of the sciences. (It's interesting that
> "Social Text" is a partner of Mobility Shifts, btw.) Particularly in
> the German-speaking countries, this has led to a boom of scientism in
> the humanities. (Most of my former colleagues at the Peter Szondi
> Institute of Comparative Literature now work in a research cluster on
> aesthetics and neuroscience.) Kittlerian media studies were a vital
> part of this, and very quickly moved from new media studies to
> discursive history of science with zero engagement with contemporary
> new media culture.
> The question for me is whether the humanities are worth defending as a
> discipline, aside from their truly important core function of
> providing a few years of intellectual education to young people.
> It would be interesting, btw., to reread David Lodge's 1990s campus
> novels as the documents of a bygone era [that nowadays only lives on
> in contemporary art curator symposia]. I can't say though that I miss
> this era, especially in the vanity excesses as described there.
> Florian

Simon Biggs | simon at littlepig.org.uk | www.littlepig.org.uk

s.biggs at eca.ac.uk | Edinburgh College of Art
www.eca.ac.uk/circle | www.elmcip.net | www.movingtargets.net

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