I’ve been thinking further about Munday’s ideas about the classroom as a site for problem-solving or mystery, and realise how these link with the reading I’ve done in connection with my interest in practice-based research, and the ideas of Paul Carter in particular.
Carter is an Australian artist and writer, who has written widely about practice-based research, and also introduced the concept of ‘material thinking.’ According to Carter “ … creative knowledge cannot be abstracted from the loom that produced it. Inseparable from its process, it resembles the art of sending the woof-thread through the warp. A pattern made of holes, its clarity is like air through a basket. Opportunistic, it opens roads.” (Carter 2005: 1)
Carter develops these ideas further in his essay ‘Interest: The Ethics of Invention’ (2007), where he describes practice-based research as a form of creative inquiry that builds on a “double movement of invention” – from “decontextualisation,” during which “found elements are rendered strange” to “recontextualisation” whereby “new families of association and structures of meaning are established” (Carter 2007: 16). Carter describes a method of inquiry that is open-ended, spontaneous and fluid. This characterisation chimes with Munday’s advocacy of ‘mystery’ in the creation of learning environments that are immersive and exploratory, rather than focused on solving particular problems: classrooms that “become a living breathing organism or “space for a more vital and immersive understanding of existence.” (Munday 2012: 8).
Carter also writes about how practice-based research emphasises the process of inquiry above the final result of that process. The process of exploration has value as an end in itself, an act of “invention” with the “primary purpose” to “study, document and valorise these periods in which the usual logic of combination is suspended.” (Carter 2007: 22). According to Carter, “the distinct focus of creative research, is located neither after nor before the process of making but in the performance itself … “ (Carter 2007: 19) This also resonates with Munday’s thinking, especially in the passage where Munday quotes the philosopher Marcel (out of whose work Munday’s ideas grow), describing “a mystery” as “something in which I find myself caught up, and whose essence is therefore not before me in its entirety. It is as though in this province the distinction between in me and before me loses its meaning” (Munday 2012: 8).
Marcel’s description of the learner’s total immersion in their object of study is surely comparable to Carter’s concept of performance. Based on these connections and resonances between the ideas of Munday and Carter, it seems as if practice-based approaches to research and learning offer one way to unlock the potential of ‘mystery’ as a pedagogic tool.
Carter, P. (2005) Material Thinking: the theory and practice of creative research. Melbourne: University of Melbourne Press
Carter, P. (2007). ‘Interest: The Ethics of Invention.’ In: E. Barrett and B. Bolt (eds), Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry, 1st ed. London: I.B.Tauris
Marcel, G. (1949) Being and Having. London and Glasgow: A & C Black
Munday, I. (2012) The classroom: a problem or a mystery? Oxford: Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain (Conference paper)