Queen’s Cultural Studies offers a Research-Creation option at the MA and PhD levels for students who combine, in a deliberate way, scholarly/intellectual inquiry and artistic production.
Research-Creation is invested in process as much as product, and is often experimental in both art making and in forms of analytical writing.
In a foundational 2012 article, Kim Sawchuk and Owen Chapman state that:
Research-creation ‘theses’ or projects typically integrate a creative process, experimental aesthetic component, or an artistic work as an integral part of the study. Topics are selected and investigated that could not be addressed without engaging in some form of creative practice, such as the production of a video, performance, film, sound work, blog, or multimedia text... In research-creation approaches, the theoretical, technical, and creative aspects of a research project are pursued in tandem, and quite often, scholarly form and decorum are broached and breeched in the name of experimentation.
For its part, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, a major funding source for our faculty and students, defines Research-Creation as:
An approach to research that combines creative and academic research practices, and supports the development of knowledge and innovation through artistic expression, scholarly investigation, and experimentation. The creation process is situated within the research activity and produces critically informed work in a variety of media (art forms). Research Creation cannot be limited to the interpretation or analysis of a creator’s work, conventional works of technological development, or work that focuses on the creation of curricula. (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, 2015)
In Cultural Studies at Queen’s, we use a hyphen in Research-Creation to signal the essentially integrative and relational aspect of the practice. Nonetheless, projects emerge in different orders and from different foundations, and may have various foci. One might consider research-creation on a continuum framed by the following two modalities (themselves possibly outside the bounds of Research-Creation):
- Research-for-Creation — in which research into a topic or skill is necessary for the production of an art work. In general, our program only supports this practice if the nature of the output is not predetermined and is deeply informed by the research process as well as research results.
- Research-from-Creation — in which an artist/researcher produces an artwork which they then analyze and draw findings from (perhaps via reception interviews, surveys, auto-ethnography, etc.). This is sometimes called “practice-led research.” Note that this approach may not fit within the SSHRC definition, and can also often be difficult to do within the time and resource constraints of a graduate degree.
Another related practice is
- Creative Presentation of Research — in which a particular mode/voice of presentation is chosen in order to engage particular audiences, draw on particular cultural knowledges or discourses, or illuminate, in its medium or mode, central findings or dimensions. We encourage all students in Cultural Studies to practice this fit of content and delivery, but we may or may not consider it Research-Creation as such.
Before applying to the program, those planning to practice Research-Creation should consider the following:
- Applicants who come from a primarily art background ought to be aware that the program expects rigorous academic writing.
- Applicants who come from a primarily academic background ought to be aware that we do not provide graduate-level artistic training and thus we expect art experience and training before arrival.
- A Research-Creation PhD is not the same as a Fine Arts PhD, where the creative component is the main object. Your application should clearly articulate the relationship between the scholarly/intellectual aspect of your project and the creative one.
- PhD applicants must name a faculty member who has agreed to supervise them, and are also encouraged to approach and list potential committee members at this time. Some committee members may not be involved in arts practice but may have expertise in relevant content matter, theory, or methodology. It is wise though not required for for MA applicants seeking to do a 2-year “thesis” MA also to locate a supervisor before applying.
- While we can offer some access to digital production facilities (specifically, studios for sound design and mixing, video and animation, 3D printing, AR and VR, and digital editing) we cannot offer any “analog” studio space, nor the technical resources some students may require.
- We cannot provide funding for expenses or materials. Some funding for production elements may be available through the Dean's Award for Project and Portfolio PhD Research & Research Creation/Community-based Research for MA.
Generally speaking, Research-Creation is an approach available to cultural producers with an established practice, and/or academic qualifications in relevant disciplines.
That said, Cultural Studies as a practice foregrounds agility, integration, and experimentation. All of our students are encouraged to match their methodologies and communicative modes to their research goals, and it is not uncommon for students to include a component in a creative mode (sometimes as part of a thesis formatted as a Portfolio). Such a component may or may not put the work as a whole in the category of “Research-Creation” per se (see “Creative Presentation of Research” above).
Research-Creation practitioners are required to make apparent the ways their artistic work addresses research questions — and to show awareness of the work’s theoretical frameworks, methodologies, conditions of production, academic and artistic inspirations and interlocutors, and implications for academic scholarship or public understanding. It is likely that this will be done throughout the work, in whatever modes and formats you have chosen, but we follow SGSPA rules (see formatting FAQ below) in expecting R-C theses to also include an introduction, literature review, and reflection/discussion in written form following established academic format and citation practices. Note too that it is possible to present the process of development or conceptual design of a project as part of a Research-Creation thesis (see “Research from Creation,” above).
Different students require different forms of support. Some students may need to be assisted in the development of clear research questions. Others may need ideas about bringing art production to the fore as a driving element of the project, not merely a form of display of findings. The ratio and relation between the production and the critical/analytical component will be determined in consultation with the supervisory committee. Students and supervisors are encouraged to think about ways to practice and include integrative Research-Creation methodologies at all research stages, from conception through qualifying exam, proposal, formal defenses, and final output. Art production components are not to be considered as an “add-on” to academic components.
Supervisors should work closely and early with students on feasibility, timeline, and logistics – all of which should be addressed in the thesis proposal, along with a plan for documentation of the artistic work and a clear statement of its relation to scholarly and critical contexts. See below for SGSPA formal parameters — which are well worth looking into at an early stage in the process.
SGSPA provides for two formats for submission of graduate research at the time of completion: "traditional" (generally a linear argument divided in chapters, often known as “monograph” format) and "manuscript, project, or portfolio" (full SGSPA info on formats here: General Forms of Theses). A Research-Creation project or portfolio might consist of a collection of creations and interventions in varied formats, media, or voices. They do not need to be of equal size, and it is up to you how to order them. Insofar as design elements may be integral to the research process or method, you may include graphic and image elements throughout the text. Keep in mind, however, that for the purposes of committee review before and at the thesis defense, students must present text elements in an editable format (normally, MS Word). After you pass your thesis defense, audio and multimedia elements will be submitted separately as "supplementary files" in formats listed in the General Forms of Theses document linked above. Not all media formats are supported; while others may be added, decisions will likely prioritize best digital archiving practices above full functionality.
For a sense of possibilities, students and supervisors will find it useful to look at Research-Creation theses by previous students in the program.
Unlike Creative Arts PhD or MFA programs, Cultural Studies at Queen's does not provide studio space or production facilities. Limited support may be available through the departments of Film and Media, Fine Art, and the Dan School of Drama and Music. Some funding for production elements may be available: see Dean's Award for Project and Portfolio PhD Research. See here for information on Student Initiative Funds in SGSPA and FAS and the in-house CUST Research-Creating/CBR Fund for MA Students.
Examples of Research-Creation projects done in our program (for more examples, see Student Research):
- Eluned Jones, Abolitionist Intimacies (PhD 2021)
- Lib Spry, Unsettling Settlers' Colonial Privilege Through Performance: Movement, Sounds, Participation, Play, Laughter. Phase One (PhD 2020)
- Sarindar Dhaliwal, From The East And West Indies To The Mother Country: The House of Daljinder Kaur And Out Of Left Field (PhD 2019)
- Amanda White, Talking Plant (PhD 2019)
- Maite Simard, The Shelter of Prophets: A journey within autonomous migration networks (MA 2022)
- Carina Magazzeni, (Re)Imagining Relationality: Brad Isaacs and The Map of the Empire (MA 2016)
by Laura Murray and Dorit Naaman in consultation with Matt Rogalsky and Dolleen Manning, 2023