My methodology of research is, broadly, creative practice research. But the research also finds precedence in the methodology of ‘carnal sociology’, developed by sociologist Loïc Wacquant, and in the ‘situated’ knowledge of feminist epistemology. Wacquant’s incarnate sociology stresses that properly representative research results must come not from the body as an observed ‘sociocultural object’ but from the lived body acting, acquiring skills, feelings and memories; in other words, the body itself is a seat of knowledge, of ‘sociological acumen’5.A theory of the human agent as a ‘sentient and suffering being of flesh and blood'6 undergirds Wacquant’s methodology. In practice the researcher situates herself ‘not above or on the side of action but at its point of production.7' A spectatorial viewpoint is disavowed, treated with suspicion only because its very objectivity may in fact mask a reality that only bodily experience can manifest. The methodology is also present-tense, rather than past-tense, in that it researches action-in-the-making, not action-already-accomplished. Action-already-accomplished – as for example the frozen action captured in a photograph – is symbolic; the inertness of the accomplished action suits the body-absent mind. Action-in-the-making is openly and ambiguously affective and corporeal, critical of the received meaning of read symbols. Wacquant used carnal sociology to study boxing subcultures in Chicago, ‘incarnating’ himself into the milieu of the boxing gym and its tournaments. His interest was the body knowledge of the human agent in the social milieu. While the social agent of research is traditionally ‘disincarnated…constituted of an active mind mounted on an absent, inert, and dumb body’8, Wacquant reasons that the human agent, as well as being a ‘wielder of symbols,’ is also ‘sentient, suffering, skilled, sedimented, and situated.9'
Wacquant’s research method potentially provides tools for interpreting the unique methodology of creative practice research in general, especially creative practices where making activities are present. Creative practice research for photography and video, especially where the artist’s body itself becomes a part of the investigation, is perhaps a kind of carnal sociology by default. The movement about a studio or location, the living presence and interaction of bodies, the curating of space, the relationship between the artist’s body and the model’s body – all of these features suggest a fundamentally ‘incarnate’ research activity. In any case, my research ‘incarnates’ my body in the research object I analyse, the subject’s embodied experience of body-correcting practices. I have not observed a kind of feminist sociology of waxing, shrinking, bleaching and cleansing; I have waxed, shrunk, bleached, and cleansed myself. Hierarchies, of researcher and researched for example, are broken down. My research field is such that the ‘spectatorial viewpoint’ can be seen affecting an objectification of the body, compelled to undergo these practices to attain normativity. It also normalises their effects on the female body. Since observation, in the sense of the gaze of the camera observing, is here a political act, selecting an incarnate methodology is critical. Such a methodology does not foreclose on the affective states of the body being objectified in commercial photography. This also links to my critical use of photography, and to the use of self-portraiture. To put oneself before the lens is to also break down the hierarchy implied by gazer/gaze. I will expand on this further in the next section.