Last semester, i took the first core PhD class in performance studies at Berkeley. This semester, i’m taking the second one. The structure of these core classes is brilliant and i’m still in awe of how valuable they are; i also admit that it’s making me addicted to that discipline. Performance studies, like information sciences, is a field defined by its interdisciplinary. It is still trying to define itself, express its meaningful contributions to knowledge and define its methodology.
Structurally, what they have done at Berkeley is set up a core methods + theory requirement. In the methods class, an overview is given that conveys how you address topics in performance studies methodologically. Attention is given to critical analysis, ethnography, oral histories, etc. The theory class throws you deeply into the roots of the discipline, asking you to constantly challenge the assumptions and terms put forward. From the onset, you’re asked to question the field and in doing so, define it.
The assignments prepare you to be an academic. You are required to do a book review (the typical first publication in the humanities) and a conference paper. You do a project built on a key methodology. You write a course syllabus for freshman. Finally, you define a term that is central to performance studies. (Note: defining a term is not as easy as it seems… this includes documenting its history, usage, applications, etc. Think 20 pages.)
What intrigues me about this process is that performance studies is doing an amazing job of asking its students to really define the field, to really think through the intellectual projects of the discipline and to come to terms with what it means for them. In essence, the discipline is active, constantly reflexive and redefining on a generational level.
This seems to me to be a brilliant way to actually indoctrinate students and i’m hoping to see this approach applied more broadly to interdisciplinary spaces. As a student of information, i’m still not entirely sure what we mean by information. Or more accurately, i’m not at all aware of what the different discussions are and have been. And the more time that i spend at CHI, the more i’m concerned that HCI isn’t entirely figuring out its identity either. And i never did figure out what the unifying knowledge projects of the Media Lab were. [I kind of wonder if performance studies is partially successful since it defines its discipline based on an active process rather than on a site / noun (performance vs. information).]
How do other interdisciplinary disciplines begin the process of scoping theory, methodology and site? Are there other good models out there that one should look to?