Ben Highmore - Writing vs. Research - The de Certeau remix

Ben Highmore's most recent book Michel de Certeau: Analysing Culture adds to his already impressive output (see also Everyday Life and Cultural Theory: An Introduction and his edited volume The Everyday Life Reader).

There are too many useful ideas in the book to address here, but he argues that de Certeau offers more than a series of catchy terms (tactics vs. strategies, poaching texts, etc.) for application in cultural studies/theory, but articulates a "metamethodology," or an exemplary practice of cultural analysis.

Of particular interest to us is Highmore's discussion of university research. He notes, "...research is encouraged as long as it follows a prescribed pattern." This pattern, of course applies to nearly every liberal art discipline, "...'research' is a euphemism; what it really means is 'publication' - production..." Writing, and a very specific form of writing at that, becomes the only way to explore ideas, the only embodiment of research. Highmore argues de Certeau shows that "writing works antagonistically to the business of research." Highmore quotes de Certeau: "While research is interminable, the text must have an ending, and this structure of finality bends back on the introduction, which is already organized by the need to finish..."

This writing vs. research concept provides further context for why LeisureArts operates within the domain of art so frequently - it is merely the most flexible arena for conducting research. It also points to our problem with so much project-based work which itself tends to possess the same "need to finish" of writing and quickly leads the exploration of research to its own structural demise.

As Highmore puts it:

Here writing isn't simply a constructivist architecture that produces the past; it is more characteristically directed against research, interning the past in variously ornate mausoleums:

Writing speaks of the past in order to inter it. Writing is a tomb in the double sense of the word in that, in the very same text, it both honours and eliminates. Here the function of language is to introduce through saying what can no longer be done...[Highmore quoting de Certeau - edit not in original]


Highmore goes on to caution against any absolutist stance relative to all this. He says that de Certeau is not seeking a "pure writing," but looking to develop writing as an operation, seeking to engage the practice of research within an ethic of commitment and sees this as an "invitation to participate in world-making."