Doctoral School, Sheffield Hallam University, 2017

Entanglements: Exploring the Use of Self as a Research Tool – Debbie Michaels in conversation with Jonathan Michaels

This presentation takes the form of a performance of an edited transcript of conversations with Jonathan Michaels in which we discuss my practice-based PhD. An outsider in the field of Fine Art, I have a background in art psychotherapy and an interest in the application of psychoanalytic ideas to thinking about unconscious processes in organisations. My enquiry is concerned with the use of reflexive art practice as a method for investigating aspects of organisational culture - specifically unspoken tensions between the individual and the institution. I am particularly interested in how personal narrative, given form through art-making, may illuminate aspects of social and cultural life that are usually hidden from view. Important to my professional and art practice, and the development of this practice-based enquiry is the dialogue between myself and others, including on-going conversations with Jonathan. As part of our methodology, we recently began to record some of these.  

The presentation explores particular issues that have emerged through the early stages of an enquiry which involves different aspects of my ‘self’ (art psychotherapist, artist, researcher) being immersed in a reflexive conversation with the emergent nature of the situation. I explore the rationale for situating myself and my enquiry within Fine Art and for using myself as a research tool, as well as the challenges involved in undertaking an investigation that is both by and of me and my process.  

The conversation seeks to highlight some of the complexities and tensions that arise when different ‘bodies’ (personal, theoretical, material, professional, institutional) encounter each other, and when methods of research are also an important aspect of the research subject. The conversation also opens up discourse around some of the difficulties encountered in crossing disciplinary boundaries and point to the potential value of dialogue itself as a research method.