Creativity and giving up on knowing it all


Knowledge is said to be cumulative. We accumulate knowledge throughout our formal education. We become more learned. The logic of studying is to get more knowledge. By the time we have completed a doctorate we know a lot. Right? The purpose of doing more and more formal education is to know more. That’s why we wanted to do a doctorate in the first place. So we would know more.

The acquisition accumulation or procurement approach to knowing and understanding is pretty common. And perfectly understandable. It’s also something we expect doctoral researchers to be able to talk about.

But how about the contrary view? What if we were to say that the point of doing scholarly work is also not to know? Or to ask why this particular bit of knowledge is accepted. To query why this kind of knowing came to be. To demonstrate that taken for granted knowledge is problematic. To speculate that there might be other ways of thinking about the same thing. To consider that some things are not worth knowing.

Once you’ve considered the possibility that knowing, certainty, is not the only thing that matters, you open up space for thinking and knowing in other ways. For half knowing. For grasping at something not quite yet formed. For accepting something slightly out of reach. For recognising that a lot of the time our research feels as if we are coming in or out of a fog. For unknowing.

Creative practice generally – and absolutely the case in research – means accepting the in-between, the space between what we thought we knew and what we might know in the future. And if we aren’t disoriented or alarmed by the state of not knowing, then we are positioned to be open to possibilities. Academic life in uncertain spaces can lead to surprises, transformations, to that something unexpected.

To see research as creative then is embrace the liminal, the fumblings and rumblings, the side shoots, the apparently tangential and the bumpy transitions. To cling to the certainty of knowing is to abandon the promise of getting to know and the pleasure in play, risk, experimentation and doubt.