The Challenges of Arts and Humanities

Volume 13 October 2016

Gunhild Agger, Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Antje Gimmler, Falk Heinrich, Tytti Soila

During the past few decades, a spectre has emerged, which is now haunting the Arts and Humanities in the Western world. The question posed by this spectre is: What is the usefulness of studying Arts and Humanities? This has manifested itself in a decreasing acknowledgment, which again has re¬sulted in considerable downsizing and diverse forms of crisis man¬agement. In this political realm this volume provides an alternative story about Arts and Humanities through the more constructive phrasing of the question: Which needs in society do the Arts and Humanities respond to and accommodate? The volume is divided into two sections. The first section addresses the “Historical positions of Arts and Humanities in society: Criticism, control and collaboration”. Here, the overall question is discussed at a general level. The aim of the second section “How to reinvent the Arts and Humanities: Defining disciplines and cross disciplinary developments” is to discuss a possible renaissance of the arts and humanities, focusing on different disciplines and cross disciplinary developments.

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A Failed Response?
Anders Ekström

This essay discusses the changing role of arts and humanities research and education in the context of continuing transitions in knowledge politics and society at large. It argues that a conflicted history of both expansion and marginalization has conditioned the humanities for reactive critique in ways that limits its influence. This calls for a rearticulation of the role of humanistic knowledge in a time when society’s most challenging transitions are connected by their cultural dimension, understood in its most basic sense of the influence on society of human action, communication, cultural routines and value formation. To scale-up the impact of the humanities, and sharpen its knowledge claims, a development towards integrative and plural forms of knowledge environments is suggested.

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Practicing Humanities
Antje Gimmler

In contemporary societies, the humanities are under constant pressure and have to justify their existence. In the ongoing debates, Humboldt’s ideals of ‘Bildung’ and ‘pure science’ are often used to justify the unique function of the humanities of ensuring free research and contributing to a vital and self-reflective democracy. Contemporary humanities have adopted a new orientation towards practices, and it is not clear how this fits with the ideals of ‘Bildung’ and ‘pure science’. A possible theoretical framework for this orientation towards practices could be found in John Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy. Contrary to Humboldt’s idea that the non-practical is the most practical in the long run, philosophical pragmatism recommends to the humanities to situate knowledge in practices and apply knowledge to practices.

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Validating Arts Research
Robin Nelson

This article reflects on the worth of the arts in an academic context partly in the light of the author’s experience of formal UK research audit as a sub-panel member (RAE 2008; REF 2014). First the article outlines the emergence and development of UK audit culture, bringing out its upsides and downsides as perceived from different points of view. It proceeds to consider the formal acceptance of practice-based arts inquiries as knowledge-producing within the academy by relating the protocols of UK research audit for handling Practice as Research. Intelligent, investigative arts and media practice may well constitute research but the articulation, evidencing and dissemination of research inquiries and insights pose several challenges. Thirdly, it briefly explores a case for the value of Practice as Research as knowledge-producing in the broader context of interdisciplinary approaches to research within the Arts & Humanities and beyond. It challenges the historic divide between the Arts and Sciences.

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The Affordances of Arts and Humanities in Multidisciplinary Projects
Falk Heinrich

The theme of this article is the role of aesthetics in providing one affordance of the arts and humanities in multidisciplinary research projects. The premise is that sense and sensemaking processes (as described by Weick (1995) and Luhmann (1984)) are at the core of multidisciplinary projects. This article discusses the potential of fiction and fictionalisation in multidisciplinary sensemaking processes and does so on two levels: the procedural level of the research project, and the level of a project’s subject matter. On the process level, aesthetic contributions to sensemaking serve the multilayered and creative interaction between the meaning-producing participants. On the level of the subject field, aesthetic competences generate spaces of potentiality by means of observational participation that restrains applications of existing concepts and creates intermediary spaces of non-sense. These spaces are inevitable for the emergence of novel solutions to complex social challenges. The article illustrates its assertions through discussion of a research project.

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Specialized Languages
Birthe Mousten and Anne Lise Laursen

Across different fields of research, one feature is often overlooked: the use of language for specialized purposes (LSP) as a cross-discipline. Mastering cross-disciplinarity is the precondition for communicating detailed results within any field. Researchers in specialized languages work cross-disciplinarily, because they work with both derivative and contributory approaches. Derivative, because specialized language retrieves its philosophy of science as well as methods from both the natural sciences, social sciences and humanistic sciences. Contributory because language results support the communication of other sciences. Take for instance computational linguistics: its derivative part uses the competences and methods from computer science and couples them with linguistics; its contributory part is the lexicographical, terminological and syntactical results within a specific domain or genre that help science fields communicate their findings. With this article, we want to create awareness of the work in this special area of language studies and of the inherent cross-disciplinarity that makes LSP special compared to common-core language. An acknowledgement of the importance of this field both in terms of more empirical studies and in terms of a greater application of the results would give language specialists in trade and industry a solid and updated basis for communication and language use.

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New encounters between arts and research
Karl Erik Schøllhammer

Discussing the work of artists like Patrício Guzman, Rosângela Rennó and Teresa Margolles this article addresses the challenges that contemporary history poses for Latin and Central American artists who articulate their engagement by means of experimental expressive specificity. An attempt will be made to redefine the borders between critical research and artistic creation and realization within the proposal of a forensic aesthetics. The article will discuss how a commitment to social and cultural content amplifies the reach of scientific engagement and stimulates its search for a performative impact through enhanced visualization and sensible materiality.

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Studying the Complexity of Craftsmen’s Creativity
Chunfang Zhou, Lene Tanggaard Pedersen and Hui Zhang

Creativity has been given much attention by researchers in various areas, but recent studies lack particular discussions on craftsmen’s creativity. This article presents an analysis of craftsmen’s creativity as a complex phenomenon that indicates the need for a cross-disciplinary research to enable creativity research to reach its full potential in the future. We regard craftsmen’s creativity as a contextual-based activity, involving a range of socio-material aspects in practice.

This underpins the need for a holistic and cross-disciplinary view of craftsmen’s creativity that is built upon a hybrid of insights gained from diverse fields including psychology, cognition, arts, humanities, design, and learning, etc.

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Humanities and the future notion of societal impact
Bolette Rye Mønsted

In this article, the author relates various areas such as Higher Education, social media, educational politics, society and humanistic research in regards to comment on the challenges faced by Humanities and its future notion of societal impact. It is argued that in order to identify and understand the future impact of the Humanities, it is necessary to develop a methodologically and theoretically based mapping design in which the complexity of the development can be understood and explored. The article draws upon the PhD thesis Ad nye veje (Mønsted 2015) in which a specific study programme in Higher Education in Denmark is explored as an educational example of both the development and future of Humanities and its notion of impact. The specific study programme in question is a humanities-based Higher Educational programme called Humanistic Informatics at Aalborg University. The collective purpose of the article is therefore to look upon the recent development within this specific Higher Educational programme as an important and unique type of humanistic societal impact.

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Students’ pondering
Frederikke Winther and Thomas Duus Henriksen

The purpose of this article is to address the educational aspect of pondering in terms of the reflection and reconsideration that the arts and humanities are both known and renowned for. While arts and humanities have, for many years, been under political pressure to adopt the more solution-oriented attitude of hard science, our students were quick to adopt this trend, too, and they are requesting classes and tools for quick-fixing, rather than activities that facilitate deep learning. Instead we argue for a two-sided approach, where critical reflection through pondering is in dialogue with and mutually supportive to problem-orientation. We discuss some perspectives and possibilities of learning that can enhance the reflective dimension of academic practice among students and report on an experiment that employs learning portfolios as a student-driven tool for facilitating the reflective pondering necessary for developing a professional identity that is focussed not only on solutions and presentations, but also on a deeper understanding of issues.

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A Consilient Approach to Horror Video Games
Mathias Clasen and Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen

In response to the crisis in the humanities, some scholars have proposed consilience as a solution. They argue that humanists should build on recent findings in the sciences of mind, including cognitive and evolutionary psychology. We discuss the benefits and pitfalls of such an approach, illustrating our discussion with an analysis of the horror video game Amnesia: The Dark Descent. We argue that recent theoretical and empirical developments in the evolutionary social sciences can make sense of how and why horror games so effectively foster immersion and predictable psychophysiological responses. They target evolved survival mechanisms and are structured to reward vigilance and persistence in the face of fear- and anxiety-provoking stimuli. Finally, we discuss and refute a number of common criticisms of the consilient approach.

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Liberating methodological thinking in human sciences from grand theories
Nikita A. Kharlamov and Einar Baldvin Baldursson

Many humanistic and social disciplines are naturally inclined to seek for human-, person-, self- centered focus, and develop a holistic theory of such. Such disciplines continually engage with philosophical, metaphysical and meta-theoretical perspectives. This engagement often leads to a singular focus on the necessity of a “grand unified theory” at the expense of any and all alternative perspectives. Properties of grand theories are discussed on the examples of Giddens and Bourdieu. It is argued that grand theories hamper a more productive focus on concrete phenomena. Robert Merton’s focus on “middle range” theories is revisited and its continuing relevance is highlighted. The level of abstraction characteristic of such theories, as well as the way they engage with the empirical social reality, are discussed. The article concludes by considering the paradoxical reductionism that can be observed in presumably the most anti-reductionist grand theories.

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Opening up the Humanities
Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld

Despite humanistic knowledge and methods are vital in many relationships and societal contexts, humanities are struggling to get its messages out. This article addresses the development of new and engaging ways of opening up the humanities by investigating how art can serve as an experiential humanities exploratorium. The article probes how a concrete project, Camping Women, becomes a boundary object which bridges across people, art and humanities communities. The findings from the study confirm that this kind of art works well as a boundary object in ways of knowing, sensing, reflecting and doing, and offers new features to serve as a humanities exploratorium and engage volunteers to reach out to the public.

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