John F. Barber, PhD

Scholarship ↔ (Teaching+Creative)


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Action/Practice-Based Research > Transformative Practice

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


My scholarship seeks to combine research and creative practice to promote new approaches to knowledge making. Also known as research-as-practice, action research, and/or practice-based research, this approach seeks to find ways of understanding things and experience outside representation, text, code, and other formal systems associated with the ways "meaning" has been traditionally approached. This approach seems crucial to developing 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. 2012, 10).


I am inspired by Brian D'Aquino, et al., who contend that by making we can promote knowing, that making something through creative practice leads to potential new knowledge, or new ways of knowing (D'Aquino et al. 2017).

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.

D'Aquino, Brian, Julian Henriques, and Leonardo Vidigal. "A Popular Culture Research Methodology: Sound System Outernational." Volume!, vol. 13, no. 2, 2017. See also

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 Arts and Humanities Scholarship > Transformative Potential

Based on my Action Research+Creative Practice=New Approaches to Knowledge approach to scholarship, one research focus is digital arts and humanities scholarship.

Digital arts and humanities scholarship, in my practice, refers to the use of computer/information technologies to visualize, analyze, compare, or critique issues in the arts and humanities in order to generate new knowledge and ways of understanding the world, its people, and their artifacts. My work is largely guided by the research question "How might digital scholarship 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).

Two examples of my work in digital scholarship are American Dust: The Life and Works of Richard Brautigan and The Brautigan Library.

American Dust: The Life and Works of Richard Brautigan

American Dust is 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 American Dust 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 American Dust 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, American Dust 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, American Dust 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 American Dust 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.


Radio Art+Performance+Research

Based on my Action Research+Creative Practice=New Approaches to Knowledge approach to scholarship, one research focus is Radio Art+Performance+Research (RAPR). I research and create sound+radio art as scholarship, performance, and creative expression. Each informs the others. As a creative producer, my work is jury selected for international radio art broadcasts and/or sound art installations and exhibitions. As a performer, my work provides the basis for community engagement in art and culture. As a scholar, my efforts are validated through traditional peer-reviewed publications and/or presentations.

My RAPR research focus has three parts: research and inquiry (Radio Nouspace), production and performance (Re-Imagined Radio), and my own sound explorations informed by my research and production (creative works of sound+radio art).

Research and inquiry

Research and inquiry is undertaken under the umbrella of Radio Nouspace. Activities include researching, collecting, curating, and sharing resources for radio art, radio drama, audio drama, sound poetry, soundscapes, and other forms of creative/experimental sound-based narratives in the sonic space(s) between sound and voice. Outcomes include both traditional scholarship (essays and conference presentations) and a dedicated website with curated listening opportunities, Radio Nouspace. LEARN more.

Production and performance

Re-Imagined Radio provides a channel for my efforts as producer and performer. Specifically, Re-Imagined Radio is a multi-layered partnership with several community organizations to experiment with live performances of classic and contemporary radio dramas as multimodal storytelling in the 21st century. These performances, featuring community voice actors, Foley artists, and sometimes the audience, are conceptualized as engaging, immersive use of the radio medium, technology, and ecology to provide shared community art and culture experiences. This shifts inquiry from the printed monograph or reviewed essay to participatory engagement, a co-narrative of doing the research as a way of making and documenting culture. The result: old medium, new opportunities. Radio art, or transmission art. Radio as never before seen, or heard. LEARN more.

Creative works of sound/radio art

In addition to traditional outcomes like print essays and professional conference presentations, informed by my research and performance, I present my scholarship through a creative practice with radio+sound art. These efforts are realized as international radio art broadcasts and sound art exhibitions and installations. Information about these works is available through my creative practice portfolio. LEARN more.


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

Works Cited

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