Scores & Improvisation as Results Presentation Methods in Information

Angela M. Schöpke Gonzalez, School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Collaborators: Former participants from a study conducted in Fall 2020; Dr. Libby Hemphill (Advisor), Associate Professor of Information & Digital Studies, UMSI & College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; Dr. Gabi Marcu (Advisor), Assistant Professor of Information, UMSI; Dr. Clare Croft (Mentor), Associate Professor of Dance, Associate Professor of American Culture, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies

In a study that I conducted in Fall 2020 for my doctoral pre-candidacy project, I investigated how movement scores and improvisation – well-established methods in Dance – can support Information researchers in learning about often understudied aspects of information. Specifically, I explored movement scores and improvisation as data collection and analysis methods. My study showed that movement scores and improvisation can support researchers in engaging with a widespread need for critical reflection about the role of the researcher in shaping research outcomes, and how these in turn can reinforce socially constructed and harmful behaviors like racism or sexism. This project builds on these findings in a second study exploring how scores and improvisation can further support Information researchers’ work as a results presentation method.

I propose to engage with participants from my first study to develop a score-based results presentation, maintaining rigorous documentation of our practices in order to later articulate the type of knowledge that our score-based work allowed us to generate and share. This project will contribute to my anticipated doctoral dissertation work, which investigates (1) Information epistemologies and how they shape what Information researchers are able to study and know, and (2) how Performance Studies and Dance methods and epistemologies can offer ways of thinking about and studying currently understudied information topics. In the sections that follow, I define concepts central to this work, and details of my proposed three-part project.

The term “improvisation” is one of rich history and many meanings. Here, I understand improvisation as attending to and engaging in reflective conversation with the patterns our bodies are thinking. While other similar concepts like intuition or somatic knowledge might approximate what I mean by “patterns our bodies are thinking”, I select this phrase from choreographer Jonathan Burrows’ writings about improvisation (Burrows 2010, 27) for a few specific reasons. First, this phrase draws attention to bodily experiences producing meaning. Second, it emphasizes the notion of “patterns”, calling to mind ways in which our bodies have learned to do things through repetition, and which we may not necessarily be conscious of. Meanwhile, I draw the idea of “reflective conversation” from philosopher Donald Schön’s description of reflection-in-action, or engaging in “reflective conversation with” situations of uncertainty through physical action (Schön 1995, 268). This idea frames reflective conversation as something that happens through physical action, or the body moving. It grounds reflection in bodily experiences. Finally, this practice is distinct from the improvisation of everyday life (arguably all of our lives are improvised), in that it implies conscious attention to the patterns that our bodies think, an attention which we may not often engage in our everyday lives.

Scores, or what I here understand as an invitation to engage in improvised action, can offer a helpful mechanism with which to shape improvisation opportunities. Scores in movement improvisation emerged as a named technique around the 1960s in the U.S. as “artists working in theater and dance as well as visual arts explored a multitude of methods for reorganizing the creative process to make room for extemporized action in the final presentation” (Foster 2002, 44). Born in collective efforts across disciplines to engage with a common challenge, artists sought to set up performance structures that allowed for some type of spontaneity in execution or audience participation. These structures were called scores. People continue to use scores to structure movement-based performances and research. For example, two choreographers facilitated a workshop in 2018 in which participants collectively developed and performed seven scores to imagine “the future of the internet and consider what care means for a technologically-oriented future” (Kresge and Choi 2019). Contemporarily, scores emerging from this tradition take on many different shapes. Combining aspects of these varied approaches, I understand a score here as an invitation to engage in improvised action.

In my Fall 2020 study, I showed how by improvising or attending to and engaging in reflective conversation with the patterns our bodies are thinking during data analysis, researchers may be able to engage with critical reflection grounded in bodily experiences about the role of the researcher in shaping research outcomes. I am thrilled to be developing a paper for publication on this topic, and am excited to pursue next steps of this research through the project that I propose here. Where in my first study I explored using scores and improvisation in data collection and analysis phases of research, I propose a second study which explores how scores and improvisation can further support Information researchers’ work as a results presentation method. This second study will continue to engage with principles of participatory consciousness (Heshusius 1994) in which both I and other participants are all participants, and will build on the first study’s findings.