Monash University
20170414-White-Hancock-Thesis.pdf (3.16 MB)

Innovation and arts practice: Work, learning and transgression

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posted on 2017-04-20, 00:05 authored by Lorraine White-Hancock
Governments in Australia and around the world identify innovation as a key to national economic prosperity and wellbeing (Cutler, 2008). The emphasis in innovation policy is mostly on science and technology, with growing acknowledgment of the significance of business organisation and management. Innovation in the arts is recognised at intervals but tends to be linked to creativity. Policies identify the creative industries and the contribution that ‘creatives’ make to economic returns but mostly without considering how creatives and innovation are linked. These policy discourses raise the questions, what is the contribution of creative arts practice to innovation? And how does this occur?

In this thesis, I use the concept of ‘transgression’ to understand the workplaces and people’s ways of ‘learning-through-working’ that produce innovation. I draw on Donna Haraway’s discussion of transgression to capture the human dimensions of innovation where transgressive practices disrupt established knowledges, moving ways of thinking and doing in new directions. I extend this idea of innovation as transgression by drawing on the field of workplace learning research that identifies learning as both a form of work and a practice that unfolds through working in particular workplaces (Felstead, Fuller, Jewson & Unwin, 2009). This conceptual framework suggests innovation is a particular kind of transgressive learning-through-working that is contingent on the organisation and culture of workplaces and how authority relations permit or regulate transgressive practices.

The research design examines creative arts practice as a form of work and learning that realises innovation to address the gap in Australian innovation policies. The study reports on Synapse artist-in-residence projects that support artists to work in collaboration with scientists as a means of encouraging innovation. The empirical data collection documented the trajectory of three scientific research programs to identify effects of innovation. Interviews with the scientist and artist collaborating in each of the three Synapse projects provided data on the experience of collaboration across the disciplinary boundaries of science and art, and how this collaborative work and its effects were embedded in the relationships, terms and conditions, and the culture of each cross-disciplinary workplace. The analysis of these data show how the artists disturbed the scientists and their work, and how the collaborative cross-border workplace that emerged with the Synapse project enabled the relationships that developed between the artist and scientist. The effects of the cross-disciplinary collaboration disturbed the taken-for-granted understandings of scientists and also created a space for innovation, where the artists challenged workplace, disciplinary, and organisational orders in ways that materialised as innovations.

I argue that learning-through-working becomes transgressive when prevailing cultural and social boundaries are disturbed. Innovation only materialises when workplace terms and conditions that resource the participants and endorse learning-through-working combine with a culture-order that permits rule breaking. On this basis arts practice is an under-recognised resource in innovation.


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Principal supervisor

Terri Seddon

Additional supervisor 1

Scott Bulfin

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education

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