Choreography as Research: Iteration, Object, Context

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There is great interest these days in applying scientific research methods to dance and other embodied practices (for example, see Schmalzl and Kerr 2016). That is hardly surprising, given how important the discoveries of technological science are to the world we live in. In this essay, I explore a different pathway. How does science work? Through what processes do the sciences generate new knowledge? Arguably, if we want to understand how science works, scientists are not the people to ask. Scientists can tell us how molecules and particles and chemicals work, but who can tell us how scientists work? I have argued (Spatz 2015) that social analyses of science — the field of social epistemology — have as much to offer our understanding of embodied practice as science does. When technoscience looks at embodied practices like dance, it follows its usual approach of reduction and division: It sees bodies and body parts, heart rates and brainwave patterns, muscles and tendons, statistics and other quantitative measures. This is very different from what social epistemology sees when it looks at embodied practice. Social epistemology (Schatzki et al. 2001) studies how practice is structured by knowledge. When it looks at dances and dancers, it sees styles and schools, practices and techniques, social processes of transmission and innovation, invented traditions and traditions of invention. Above all, social epistemology sees dances and dancers as epistemic, as knowable but never fully known, constantly unfolding. Rather than trying to pin down a dance, social epistemology treats it as a field of knowledge that increases rather than decreases in complexity the more we study it. A social epistemology of dance would examine the objects that interest dancers rather than those that interest scientists. It would do so in a way that brings a particular kind of rigor to those objects, accounting for both their corporeality — what social epistemology calls realism — and their social construction. In this chapter, I begin to develop such an account.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContemporary choreography
Subtitle of host publicationA critical reader
EditorsJo Butterworth, Liesbeth Wildschut
ISBN (Print)9781138679979 , 9781138679986
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2017


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