This presentation draws upon my experience of interdisciplinary research practices, exploring the challenges, costs and values of collaborations between arts and science. The allusion in my title to A Tale of Two Cities and the ‘two cultures’ dualisms refers to the perceived differences between these academic communities and the obstaclees encountered in working across and between boundaries of knowledge and understanding in terms of languages, methodologies and outcomes.
In my discussion of how we value ‘better’ or ‘worse’, the ‘wisdom’ and ‘foolishness’ of the happy accidents that lead to interdisciplinary discovery and the serendipity of how studies happen, I make particular reference to a project based at the University of Kent, in which psychologists evaluated the efficacy of a drama intervention for children with autism (www.imaginingautism.org). Informed by cognitive neuroscience, the project involved a series of multi-sensory installations, puppetry and interactive digital media to facilitate communication, social interaction and imagination with 7-12 year olds across the spectrum.
The ‘value’ of this project has been measured in terms of its benefits on the participants (children, families, schools). My paper questions the role of the arts in such collaborations, the relative costs (academic and economic) of interdisciplinary ways of working, and the risks of applied theatre being devalued as a soft methodology in the service of hard science. Negotiating the tensions between disciplinary practices, languages and values, I consider the tools and criteria for assessing outcomes to question what is meant by better or worse, the losses and gains of these approaches, the value of preserving some disciplinary boundaries and the processes and risks involved in crossing them.
Nicola Shaughnessy’s recent books Applying Performance: Live Art, Socially Engaged Theatre and Affective Practice (Palgrave, 2012) and Affective Performance and Cognitive Science: Body, Brain and Being (Methuen 2013) have done much to extend the possibilities of an interdisciplinary dialogue between theatre/performance studies and the science of cognition.
Respondent: Dr. Emma Gowen (Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, and co-director of the Body, Eyes and Movement (BEAM) lab