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Network Entelechy: Critical Writing on Contemporary Art in North-West England

Dickinson, Robert Douglas (2019) Network Entelechy: Critical Writing on Contemporary Art in North-West England. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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My research investigates the production of critical writing on contemporary art in northwest England. My methodology employs Actor Network Theory (ANT) in proposing connections between humans and non-humans - in this case writers, editors, artists, and curators, along with non-human actors including artworks, institutions, galleries and workspaces. Combining this with the concept of entelechy - the actualisation of potential – has enabled me to describe the way writing emerges, as well as the way writers develop. The aim of my research was to construct an experiment that revealed entelechy manifesting in the networked experience of a sample of regionally-based critical writers. Key to gathering information on this was my fieldwork, which involved interviewing a group of writers who also agreed to keep diaries describing their work patterns over two separate months in 2018. I discovered that the activation of actor networks not only produces texts but also contributes to an individual writer’s learning process, partially by enabling interaction with editors, artists and fellow writers, and partly by what I call “self-fixing” and “selfmonitoring.” My research highlights in detail the way the writing process is marked by a rhythmic alternation between closeness to the text and distancing, and that for every writer all texts emerge from a different network. My analysis of the way writers speak about the writing process furthermore reveals “multi-subjective” instances surrounding difficulties that concern network function. Thus, my research not only describes how networks enable entelechy, but it also describes how potential can sometimes falter. This leads me to the conclusion that critical writing is produced through difficulty and not just despite it, and that the consequence of underpaid or “free” writing, where training is informal and sporadic, and “self-monitoring” and “self-mending” play important roles, is network entelechy.

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