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Creative risk and ethics: the pedagogy of media practice and the visual arts within UK higher education

Spencer, John Maurice (2016) Creative risk and ethics: the pedagogy of media practice and the visual arts within UK higher education. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This study makes an original contribution to knowledge, by an examination of the relationship between ‘creative risk’ and ethical appraisal within media and visual arts pedagogy at a higher education level. A central aim was to explore a new discipline-­‐specific model for ethical appraisal for use by visual arts researchers and students. ‘The ethical dimension is an important aspect of research governance’ (De Wet, 2010:301), however, Hedgecoe, (2008:874) argues that ‘underpinning the sociological critique of ethics review is an alarming methodological lacuna’. The observation that ethical issues implicit in visual research are different than those derived from purely textual sources, (Wiles et al., 2008), together with the recognition that quality assurance may hinder creative approaches, (Hargreaves, 2008), necessitated the need to seek better solutions. A second allied aim of the study considered the role of ‘creative risk’ and how this might affect the ethical decision-­‐making of visual arts researchers and staff? Finally, by analysing data assembled during the study, the research explores the creative and ethical risks associated with the display of problematical images. The study identified that within the visual arts an overwhelming majority of respondents considered creative risk-­‐taking to be important yet exhibited a nuanced relationship to ethical regulation. Furthermore, whilst creative risk was greatly overlooked in the literature, a factor noted by Ellis and Meneely, (2015); creative risk may help us better understand the processes of teaching, research and making. The study proposes a series of recommendations for improved systems of ethical appraisal including the need to differentiate between a research context and art practice operating outside of the academy. The findings also statistically assess the incidence of ethical issues highlighted by postgraduate visual arts researchers and advance a new definition for creative risk. It is hoped the study’s original interpretation of creative risk and recommendations for improved systems of ethical appraisal will assist others in the field.

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