Ruth Benschop2


Ruth Benschop is a researcher at the Research centre Autonomy and the Public Sphere in the Arts / Zuyd University in Maastricht. She finished her PhD (with honors) at the University of Groningen in 2001. Her thesis Unassuming Instruments: How to Trace the Tachistoscope in Experimental Psychology analyzes the role of technology in visual psychological experiments. In this thesis, she developed a ‘method of inattention’ to create an historical ethnography that was able to detect the role of the ordinary. Later, at Maastricht University, she did postdoctoral research into the role of genetics in the workplace, and the role of recording technology in sound art. In her current work at the Research centre of the Arts she has been involved in a variety of research and educational projects practicing and reflecting on artistic practices of research and documentation.


Exposition: A Work on Progress (01/01/2011) by David Overend
Ruth Benschop2 21/11/2011 at 17:22

I think the exposition was intellectually interesting. The theatre project that is described is situated theoretically as well as practically. It engages with debates about (post)modernity and theatre. It draws on these debates in the artistic creation of a theatre space which is then examined and related back to the theoretical debates. It also relates to recent debates within contemporary art and theatre, in particular to attempts to retain or create a critical, yet non-naïve position for theatre.


I would have liked to see some reference to literature outside of the arts or art theory. For if, as the exposition argues, the traditional role of audience and performer is collapsing, and thus audience members can become users, the question of whether what is made remains art, seems relevant. And if not art, other theoretical debates about users and how to entice them to act, move, use become relevant.


Also, the manner of documenting and the theory used does not allow the researcher to speak beyond a framework of freedom of users vs. determination of those creating/pre-configuring the event, while such a vocabulary seems exactly what the researcher is looking for. Lots of that going round in STS, particularly in work inspired by Bruno Latour + Isabelle Stengers. As a reader, that I feel invited to think of other relevant theoretical contexts, is in itself evidence of the intellectual quality of the submission.


The project has a clear aim, which is described coherently and contextualized. The aim is both explorative and analytical. I thought that the methods used to observe and document (and thus inform the analysis) could have been more extensive and have been reflected upon more. Moreover, I thought that the amount of empirical material (the two day event that is described and the ways in which these two days were observed) was not balanced with the theoretical interpretation of the material: In sum, I thought it was a little over theorized.


The research is well-contextualized — the reader gains a clear sense of the kinds of choices made for what kinds of reasons. The submission does not so much create new knowledge as describing an example of how theoretical knowledge may be applied. Which is fine.


I thought it was a shame that the exploration that is discussed is largely a theoretical affair. The project might have gained in strength if the experimenting with finding ways of (critical) engagement by users would have been done during and in interactive response to the theatre event itself. Now the research is more a thinking about before and after the event, rather than during, with and via. That in my opinion would have made the project even more Practice as Research.


The exposition was clearly organized and easy to navigate. It did not use the Research Catalogue software in any extremely innovative way, but that’s fine. I was a little surprised how unreflective the text was about being exactly that: a textual residue of a situated event. Especially given that the project attempted to engage people in theatrical, and technological mediated ways, that is other than textual/verbal ways. Also the research methods (e.g. focus groups, that is: talking about) seem to have this bias. I would have liked to see some more use of and focus on other (e.g. visual, auditory) ways of documenting as well as ‘writing about’ the research.



I liked the submission. It seems well thought out and theorized. I also felt the questions asked are important and relevant. I do think that the event described was over theorized and that the research seemed to take place mostly before and after the theatre event itself. The methods of observation seem somewhat basic and were moreover focused on people and their interaction. Methods of observing and describing user-interaction, and technology-user interactions from Science and Technology Studies (STS) might be helpful here for two reasons: They allow a way of seeing/documenting much more precisely and symmetrically addressed to what actually happens in situations when people are doing things not only with (or without) one another but also with things like technology etc. Secondly, they may provide a way of getting out of the dichotomous manner of theorizing about the influence of the created, material environment vs. the freedom of the user to do what she wants. Now, a problem in the exposition is that the author seems not to be able to describe (and theorize) much more than the way people either engage with the offered materials/technologies or do not. A lot of theory within STS attempts to find ways to describe how practically, empirically things may happen, people may become interested, people start to do stuff, etc. without having to resort to these two, quite uninformative, extremes.