In his 1959 lecture The Two Cultures, the scientist and author C. P. Snow outlined the two camps into which he felt intellectual life had been divided. The gap between the arts, on the one hand, and the sciences, on the other, is now somewhat of a cliché. Indeed Snow’s fear, that this gulf was hindering the scientific and technical progress of the UK, has been roundly debunked by historians, for example David Edgerton.

However the legacy of the split between academic disciplines, with a related inability to properly connect to one another, continues in a variety of ways. This gulf is not just across the arts and sciences, but can be felt keenly between areas of scholarly life that are seemingly closely related, such as sociology, economics and psychology. 

This is one area in which Dementia and Imagination is particularly pioneering, as it crosses a whole range of academic boundaries. This is true of its collaboration across social sciences and the arts, and also true of its collaboration within the arts and the social sciences themselves. 

One thing that has come out of my role on the project, as an academic working across different disciplines to produce research on cultural policy, is how often the difficulties of crossing disciplines can be under estimated. Disciplines are not only characterised by their own ways of thinking about what counts and what doesn’t count as knowledge, but they also have their own ways of describing the world. They also have their own ways of representing those descriptions. 

For example, for a psychologist, attempting to understand an individual’s inner thoughts, feelings and experiences, might be done using questionnaires. For an artist, this process of understanding experiences may take on a very different form. It will almost certainly be represented differently, even if the artist is working though some of the visual methods that the psychologists might use, such as graphs or charts.

So far the process of bringing these different, but potentially complementary, worlds together has taken place in our general meetings, as well as within the interventions themselves and the work of our three research artists. As a team we’ve begun to discuss dissemination and event plans at the moment as it’s here where a different type of work begins, to bring together the differing practices and perspectives of those who are part of the project.

In other areas of Connected Communities academics have used the idea of translation to account for working across academia and public policy. I think we can take this further based on the experiences of Dementia and Imagination. It is not just that psychologists must translate the work of the artists, nor is it simply that a gallery must speak the language of the economist. Rather all of the elements of the project need to participate in creating a shared, new, culture, which opens up the possibility of not only producing research that is seen as robust and credible within individual disciplinary contexts, but is also something emergent and innovative. It is in this slow and often uncertain process that one aspect of the value of Dementia and Imagination lies. 

Dave O'Brien


by Dave O'Brien

Added on: 22 January 2015

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