Books: 3
Chapters: 16
Reviewed Articles: 40
Invited Articles: 14
Proceedings: 8
Reviews: 83


International Keynote: 1
International Artist Talks: 3
Reviewed International: 40
Reviewed National: 39
Workshops: 17


International Exhibitions: 35
International Broadcasts: 23
Recordings: 5

John Barber > Scholarship

Action/Practice-Based Research > Transformative Practice

My scholarship is guided by action research, practice-based research, and transformative practice. Use the menu tabs below to learn more.


My scholarship follows an Action Research+Creative Practice=New Approaches to Knowledge approach with a focus on digital humanities and sound+radio art. I believe combining research with creative practice for the purpose of investigating new approaches to knowledge is crucial to informed literacies in the technologically complex 21st century.

In this regard, I follow Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunefeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp, who say that by making things we conduct research. Resulting cross-media artifacts, interactions, and critically informed literacies are as valuable, and compelling, as more traditional text-based analysis, commentary, narration, and critique (Burdick, et al. 10).

Action Research

As a foundation for my scholarship, action research, advocated by Stefano Vannotti, combines design/creative practice with critical academic research to promote a "systematic enquiry conducted though the medium of practical action, calculated to devise or test new, or newly imported, information, ideas, forms, or procedures and to generate communicable knowledge" (Vannotti 2008, 55). Action research is a way to unite "practical work in the field . . . with academic research" (Vannotti 2008, 51) and teaches students how to think critically and theoretically about their practice. As Vannotti notes, all "theories, principles, and ideas reside in the artifacts we create" and "build the ground for further investigation" (Vannotti 2008, 56).

Historically, researchers have tended to distance themselves from their work, as if to distinguish their results as more plausible, credible, scientific. But action researchers contend that the researcher stands at the center of his or her life space and that any understanding of that space can only come from understanding the perspective of the individual involved in the practice, the making of that space. The researcher must then attempt to do something, to make something, learning from the effects of this doing on the solving of real world problems.

Action research offers three different approaches
* Research into/about design
* Research for design
* Research through design.

Action research allows me to position design at the center of my research endeavors and suggests that digital media, for example, is not merely the object of study, but rather the reason for my exploration. This focus comes from the product of specific material, social, and historical circumstances that produced the practices, and by which they are regularly reproduced through social interaction in the particular setting.

In short, action research is a systematic inquiry conducted via practical action, calculated to devise or test new information and communicate knowledge.

Practice-Based Research

Practice-based research (PBR) takes a similar approach. Where traditional research prescribes objective methodologies and insists on results that can be quantified and verified as part of best practices for a preconceived agenda, PBR also encourages experimentation and iteration and learning from failure. The researcher (or research-practitioner) is fully invested in the subjective process of discovering outlying or random information that may provide further research opportunities. In this regard, one's ideas and position are in constant discussion and translation with each other.

This translation process promotes rupture and distortion, and alternatives to fixed positions and pre-built interfaces. As Paul Feyerabend notes, by moving through or against knowledge, we not only critique research tendencies, but as well we throw ourselves into the process of seeking results based on knowledge gained from repeated failure (Feyerabend 1975).

In this regard, PBR might be seen, according to sociologist Andrew Pickering, as a "goal-oriented practice [that] takes the form, I think, of a dance of agency" (Pickering 1995, 10, 15).

Transformative Practice

Both action research and PBR encourage alternative and transgressive approaches to research by embracing risk. Risking failure promotes iterating (rapid creation), prototyping (testing), and versioning (reworking), which, in turn, encourages experimentation and further risk-taking.

This focus comes from the combination of specific material, social, and historical circumstances that produced the practices, and by which they are regularly reproduced through social interaction in the particular setting. From such in situ situations, knowledge can be created. If open to construction, then the same efforts must be open to reconstruction and extend beyond the realm of traditional solutions, including the potential for borrowing and remixing. From this perspective, the action researcher is an insider, part of the fabric of the inquiry in which everything and everyone is interacting. Additionally, the creative practitioner can uncover tacit knowledge that theoretical studies alone cannot reveal.

Works Cited

Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, and Todd Presner. Digital_Humanities. The MIT Press, 2012.

Feyerabend, Paul. Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge. New Left Books, 1975.

Pickering, Andrew. The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. The University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Vannotti, Stefano M. "Let Us Do What We Can Do Best: But How Can We Produce Knowledge by Designing Interfaces?" Interface Cultures: Artistic Aspects of Interaction. Christa Sommerer, Laurent Mignonneau, and Dorothée King, eds. Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick, NJ, 2008.


Digital Humanities

Digital Humanities > New Forms of Scholarship

Digital Humanities refers to the use of computer/information technologies to visualize, analyze, compare, or critique issues in the humanities, especially those that might be difficult to impossible to effectively investigate without the use of such technologies. My work in digital humanities is largely guided by the research question "How might digital technologies facilitate the collection, organization, and presentation of information and narrative structures?"

One answer is curation, defined by Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp as a "fundamental activit[y] at the core of Digital Humanities" (Burdick, et al. 2012, 17). Their list of curatorial activities that can be assessed for scholarly impact include "creat[ing] . . . commentary, record[ing] and display[ing] relevant debate trails generated by objects, creat[ing] a public forum in which these debates are edited or represented for study" (Burdick, et al. 2012, 67).

Three examples of my work in digital humanities include
* Radio Nouspace
* Brautigan Bibliography and Archive
* The Brautigan Library

Radio Nouspace

I created and maintain Radio Nouspace as a curated exhibition gallery, virtual museum, and interactive installation inspired by the radio medium and its emphasis on sound.

This research proceeds in different ways. First, Radio Nouspace archives and curates exemplary examples of radio-audio drama, radio+sound art, and sound poetry. Radio drama highlights the use of scripted dialogue, sound effects, music, and silence to portray dramatic situations. Audio drama also provides narrative, but often without the use of human voice. Radio+sound art includes found sounds, phonography, field recordings, and soundscapes, meant to provide acousmatic listening experiences, often broadcasted using radio technologies. Sound poetry, an artistic form bridging literary and musical composition where phonetic (sounds / acoustic properties) aspects of human speech are foregrounded rather than semantic (meaning) and /or syntactic (process of constructing sentences) values. The word sound acknowledges the initial presence of text, but the result is voice without words, intended primarily for performance.

Brautigan Bibliography and Archive

An example of my work with digital archiving and curating is Brautigan Bibliography and Archive, an online, interactive information structure noted as the preeminent bio-bibliographic resource on the life and work of American writer Richard Gary Brautigan (1935-1984).

Brautigan, a novelist, poet, and short story writer, is often called the one author to best capture the zeitgeist of the challenging social, political, and cultural changes emanating from the epicenter of the so-called counterculture movement: the North Beach and Haight-Ashbury neighborhoods of San Francisco during the late 1960s-early 1970s.

Brautigan's body of work includes eleven novels, ten collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, an album of spoken voice recording, and uncollected non-fiction writings. He remains popular, especially abroad, where most of his works have been translated and remain in print.

A dynamic methodology . . .
The intent of Brautigan Bibliography and Archive is three fold.
* Collect in one place all available bio-bibliographic information about Brautigan, his life and his works.
* Make these resources accessible to researchers, scholars, and readers.
* Provide access to information about the context from which Brautigan emerges: counterculture politics, cultural change, historic biography, new historicism, beat poetry, literary criticism, ethnography, etc.

Traditionally, such research would culminate in a large reference work, peer-reviewed, and then published.

A more dynamic methodology is to conceptualize The Brautigan Bibliography and Archive as an actively curated web-based "bibliopedia" regarding Richard Brautigan, his life, and his works. Immediately and always available, and responsive to continual updating, this research project collects and connects the scrambled, disparate, and hard to find scholarship and other assessments of Brautigan's literary bibliography and continuing legacy.

The ability to overlay and connect previously dispersed, hard to find, and in some cases inaccessible information sources provides the ability to tease out heretofore unknown knowledge about Brautigan's life and works. The result is a larger knowledge base, and an enhanced understanding or appreciation of the research subject. Learn more.

New form of publishing scholarship . . .

Realizing that I am exploring a new form of publishing scholarship, I am concerned with information organization, and findability. A web-based information portal, like a book, without benefit of well designed tools, can be a difficult context in which to find specific information. In response to this challenge, I created and maintain genre-based catalogs of Brautigan's works and their translations, an A-Z Index, and ubiquitous search capabilities. These resources provide for known item searching, even while facilitating discovery through browsing.

There are also opportunities for input from people who have lived experience or actual engagement with Brautigan. This resulting network of social, collaborative, intellectual interactions provides a new culture where the researcher is at once the information expert and a guide for the continuing creation of knowledge regarding the research subject.

Pre-eminent information resource . . .
As an online three dimensional information resource, The Brautigan Bibliography and Archive makes the leap from a traditional text-based research project to one overlain with various computational technologies. This online information portal draws from traditional forms of humanities scholarship, but the collaborative and generative aspects firmly situate it in digital humanities. In the end, this project provides a repository for information about Brautigan's life and works that heretofore was not readily available, and certainly not as accessible. As a testament to its success in providing the most complete information regarding Brautigan, his life and works, The Brautigan Bibliography and Archive attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year, and is acknowledged as the world's leading resource for information about Richard Brautigan.

The Brautigan Library

An offshoot of my work on The Brautigan Bibliography and Archive is The Brautigan Library (2010-present). The Brautigan Library archives unpublished manuscripts with no real hope for publication through traditional channels and makes them available to interested readers worldwide. The Brautigan Library follows the vision of Richard Brautigan by providing a home for "the unwanted, the lyrical and haunted volumes of American writing" of all varieties without passing judgement as to content or technique. I led the negotiations to move this library of nearly 300 manuscripts and associated papers to the Clark County Historical Museum where it is now a permanent, interactive exhibit.


Action research suggests communicable knowledge. Please see my Curriculum Vitae, and the Creative section of my website for specific examples.

Works Cited

Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, and Todd Presner. Digital_Humanities. The MIT Press, 2012.



Sound and Listening as Participatory Practices

As an action and/or practice-based researcher, I create sound art and radio art as both scholarship and creative expression. One informs the other. As a scholar, my efforts are validated through traditional peer-reviewed publications and/or presentations. As a sound artist, my work is jury selected for international radio art broadcasts and/or sound art installations and exhibitions.

Sound art
signifies sound(s) conveyed in installations, exhibitions, festivals, and concerts, all often site specific.

Radio art
(or "transmission art") speaks to interaction with the transmission technologies of the radio medium. Radio art is not sound art, but rather radio created by artists using the radio medium as their art form and channel of distribution. Radio art utilizes relationships between listeners, producers, and the radio medium to address the imbalance of sight over sound, how the visual overly influences the way we relate to and think about our daily lives.

is a medium based on sound, especially the sound of the human voice, speaking. Radio subsumes and extends speech (McLuhan). As one of the most significant (perhaps the most significant) technologies of the 20th century, radio has long been considered either an art form in its own right, or a medium with which one can create art from sound. The radio artist is one who uses radio to make art. This interplay provides an intermedia framework and prompts a multiplicity of practices. As a result, the relationship(s) between artist and audience, transmitter and receiver, can be redefined, along with the telecommunications airwaves as the site for its practice. See my Radio Nouspace project.

Conceptual Framework

My scholarship and creative activities are based on the following conceptual framework.

  • Sound was the original and remains a fundamental sensory input and communication channel for human culture.
  • Sound conveys deep, rich information; is capable of providing immersive, interactive contexts for listeners.
  • Sound transforms space to place.
  • Sound is the phoneme for speech (verbalization of abstract thought).
  • Sound is the central component of narrative (the recounting of a sequence of events and their meaning).
  • Sound is the driver of storytelling (the addition of setting, plot, characters, logical unfolding of events, a climax).
  • Sound is the basis for literature (written works considered to possess lasting artistic merit) and the various practices and cultures associated with its production and consumption (reading, writing, and listening).
  • Through the act of careful listening, listeners can derive a great deal of information about the world they inhabit.

Based on this framework, radio (transmission) art and sound art provide opportunities to create and sustain new narrative strategies and subvert historical media conventions. To get at these opportunities, Michael Bull and Les Back advocate for "deep listening as a way of attuning our ears to listen again to the multiple layers of meaning potentially embedded in the same sound." Deep listening, they say, also involves "practices of dialogue and procedures for investigation, transposition and interpretation" (Bull and Back 3-4).

Sound and listening as participatory practices
My interest in radio + sound art considers sound and listening as real and concrete participatory practices involving aural experiences across a wide range of theory and practice.


Action research suggests communicable knowledge. Please see my Curriculum Vitae, and the Creative section of my website for specific examples.

Works Cited

Bull, Michael and Les Back, eds. The Auditory Culture Reader. Berg, 2003.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McGraw Hill, 1964.


Current CV

My current Curriculum Vitae is available for online reading, or download.