Kip Jones

KIP JONES, an American by birth, has been studying and working in the UK for more than 15 years.
Under the umbrella term of 'arts-based research', his main efforts have involved developing tools
from the arts and humanities for use by social scientists in research and its impact on a wider
public or a Perfomative Social Science.

Jones is Reader in Performative Social Science and Director of the Centre for Qualitative Research
at Bournemouth University. Kip has produced films and written many articles for academic
journals and authored chapters for books on topics such as masculinity, ageing and rurality,
and older LGBT citizens. His ground-breaking use of qualitative methods, including
biography and auto-ethnography, and the use of tools from the arts in social science research and
dissemination are well-known.

Jones acted as Author and Executive Producer of
the award-winning short film,
RUFUS STONE, funded by Research Councils UK.
The film is now available for
free viewing on the Internet and has been
viewed by more than 11,000 people in 150
countries over the past year alone.

Areas of expertise
• Close relationships, culture and ethnicity
• Social psychology, sociology
• Ageing, self and identity
• Interpersonal processes, personality,
individual differences,
social networks, prejudice and stereotyping
• Sexuality and sexual orientation
• Creativity and the use of the
arts in Social Science

Media experience
His work has been reported widely
in the media, including:
BBC Radio 4,BBC TV news,Times
Higher Education, Sunday New
York Times, International
Herald-Tribune
and The Independent.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Embracing Serendipity

I am getting old enough now that I finally realise that certain times/moments in my life were pinnacles, not predictors of things to come.

I recall the dizzying heights of firsts: the initial film that spoke to me personally, the foundational book that changed my thinking, that earliest piece of music that clutched my heart and made me cry. I thought that such moments would continue through life ad infinitum. Never mind a love that I thought would last forever, a body abused that I assumed would always recover, the promise of undying friendship that simply withered away. Indeed, I now find myself no longer astonished when people lack integrity, but am surprised that I still have some. Today, that fetching glance from a stranger is more about what might have been, a beautiful idea is no longer a grand painting, unnumbered days are now more finite, but nonetheless their numbers ignored as they always were.

I write these things down because I think about them. I know that simply thinking up a grand idea, plan or work of art is a half measure and I have grown more and more suspicious of those who think their lives away instead of living them productively and creatively. Roddy suggested that I do something with the first sentence of this piece when I first wrote it. So I have, because it is the nature of the artist to do so. Art is action.

So many people seem unaware of what art is about. What it is about is, in fact, constantly changing. The art of today is often amorphous, gaseous and without formal structure. Some grasp habitually at a definition of the ‘self’, mistakenly constructed outside of community. Much of today’s art proposes a naïveté unavailable to a Western eye, a Western experience. It becomes, therefore, a pre-art-historic pantomime. As art always has, however, it simply reflects the time in which it is made. Within this peculiar parameter (historicity) and with some relief, at least we can call it art.

I felt sorry for the art students at Goldsmiths documented in a recent television programme (Goldsmiths: But Is It Art?) that I watched . Skill seems no longer a requirement for admission or even taught. (Contemporary musicians still learn to play their instruments, thankfully). The study of art seems to have abandoned such practice. This is a pity, because much of producing visual art is about seeing. To become skilled at seeing better, learning to draw helps. The Goldsmiths students were more concerned with ‘concepts’ and the ideas that occupied their heads. They thought about them and made grimaces and worried most about the competition, but in a business-like way. The problem seemed to be that they had little skillfulness to execute their ideas. A shame, really, because some of them seemed talented.

I have been revisiting Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies and other arts-based generative processes to rethink our School’s structure and roles within that structure. Every member of staff has been invited to express their vision (‘ReThink’) for the School in Moleskine Japanese-style sketchbooks. An exhibition of the books will then be held at the end of the exercise.

I love that there is buzz around this project
at community level ⎯in some ways, an unexpected one. The unanticipated can be one of life's pleasures, particularly when it is positive. The project proceeds bottom-up rather than managerially top-down, stimulated by creative encounters within the interface between materials and concepts, and a notion quite new to most of the people engaged in this ‘product as the process itself’. Colleagues who are somewhat deadened by systems and structures, formats and formulas are being asked to reinvest the personal in their workplace, be creative and produce an object that documents, even stimulates and expands, their own ideas for a better School.

Many of us are recoiling these days from the tsunami of “business management style” that has washed over academia in the UK. It has resulted in universities that are managed for management’s sake, some calling it ‘a confident, businesslike approach’ (Beer, J. Oxford Brookes University). Once the many meetings have been held, the strategies imposed and the management structures layered with more tiers than a wedding cake, the administration sees the job as a fait accomplis. Except for the counting; there will always be counting.

The actual work of facilitating learning and discovery seems almost abandoned in the need to mimic a management style that would itself be more comfortable in the 1980s. In fact, it is the equivalent management approach that was superimposed upon many not-for-profits in America at that same time. The identical omission is being made again: managers are forgetting that these organisations are about people first and that they will always work best when loosely structured and even a bit messy.

The irony of finding a business academic talking about using oblique strategies or ‘obliquity’ as he calls it, then, came as quite a surprise to me. John Kay, a visiting Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, defines obliquity as ‘an extremely useful strategy for getting the most out of life: stop pursuing your goals and you are far more likely to achieve them’ . It’s like love: we never find it when we are looking for it. Once, it was just standing there, next to a popcorn machine. It took me about 45 minutes to realise it.

Kay believes ‘that most of the challenges we face involve too many intricately connected factors to ever be fully understood. It is only by embracing this fact that we can learn to make better decisions’. He continues that the most profitable companies in the world are not dedicated to profit; the best cities in the world are not the planned ones .

According to Eno and Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies, linear thinking is not the best way to find creative solutions. Mixing it up, serendipity and even chaos all contribute to eliciting ideas that promise freshness and innovation. ‘Breath more deeply’ and ‘Do nothing for as long as possible’ are two of my favourite suggestions from the Strategies. Mash-ups in music and on television (Glee, for instance) demonstrate that freshness and innovation can be accomplished by combining two or more often-old ideas or forms, creating new ones that are more than the sum of their parts. These are all processes that we are suggesting in our School’s ‘ReThink’ project.

When I was writing my PhD thesis, I used to keep a notebook near the television. If some phrase or word caught my attention, I would enter it into my notebook. When I was in the throws of writing the 80,000-word thesis and words escaped me or my language had simply become tediously repetitive, I would flip through my TV notebook and find a fresh bon mot or phrase that would either stimulate my writing or work directly on my page. In fact, I used philosopher Alain de Botton’s clever word that I heard on TV, ‘Proustifications’, for one of my Chapter titles. Later, when I met him, I confessed and sheepishly apologised for stealing his word.

“Wasn’t that plagiarism?” someone once naively asked me.

“No” I responded, “It was art”.

I still keep a TV notebook. For your pleasure, I end with a few entries:

A new language requires a new technique” ⎯Philip Glass

“This isn’t the kind of job you do to send out precise messages. You do television if you want to send out precise messages” ⎯Italian artist

You don’t have to be watching a story to feel something” ⎯George Balanchine

I would rather wear out than rust out” ⎯Dolly Parton

My contribution to my School's ReThink project using Eno's Heroic Strategies and a Moleskine Sketchbook.

18 May 2010

You can now view photos of our School's sketchbooks and exhibition.

5 comments:

  1. Dr.Jones. I appreciate your post on the QUALRS-L@LISTSERV.UGA.EDU list. I'll enjoy reading your posts. I hope that you will visit my new blog at http://QualitativeInquiry.com. I'm a newbie at blogging and would love your feedback.

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  2. "I am getting old enough now that I finally realise that certain times/moments in my life were pinnacles, not predictors of things to come."

    I think that those pinnnacle moments are actually moments of grace where you are fully present, aware, and engaged in what is going on in front of you. I think that it is difficult to identify these moments and many times we realize they have happened later, or we may realize there is something special in the moment. We need a Serendipity Approach to business to help connect people with these moments and the other intense moments of creativity that result in the evolution of ideas, projects, products, etc. Even Einstein said there is chaos before organization...

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  3. Bloody brilliant. Come and teach on Psyche and Soma.

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  4. "Universities pursue ideas because they are interesting and important, not because of their ideological origin or policy consequences. That is what distinguishes universities from religious institutions and political parties." John Kay,economist

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