Texas Tech University

Not So Ordinary: Project Uniting Dance, Social Sciences Wins National Award

Heidi Toth

August 2, 2016

Professors Elizabeth Sharp and Genevieve Durham DeCesaro created “Ordinary Wars,” a project in which choreographers analyzed Sharp’s social sciences data on single and newly married women to create a dance performance.

Genevieve Durham DeCesaro
Genevieve Durham DeCesaro

Two Texas Tech University professors are being honored for their groundbreaking approach to transdisciplinary collaboration.

Genevieve Durham DeCesaro, a dance professor, and Elizabeth Sharp, a feminist human develop and family studies professor, are the creators of “Ordinary Wars,” a performance that used kinesthetic analysis to mine Sharp's datasets on young women's choices related to singlehood, marriage and motherhood. DeCesaro choreographed the work from Sharp's raw data, and Flatlands Dance Theatre, Lubbock's professional dance company, has performed the concert several times throughout the United States.

The two then gave methodological papers at national and international conferences and published several articles, followed by a book, about the process of creating “Ordinary Wars,” highlighting the good, the bad and the challenges of taking diverse research methods and products and creating a collaboration that melded disparate disciplines into a project accessible to many people. The project was featured in the London School of Economics blog, and Sharp discussed “Ordinary Wars” as the keynote speaker at a British conference.

The award-winning article, which was published in the December 2015 Journal of Family Theory and Review, won the 2016 Anselm Strauss Award for Innovation in Family Qualitative Research, sponsored by the Qualitative Family Research Network of the National Council on Family Relations.

Elizabeth Sharp
Elizabeth Sharp

The committee solicited nominations of qualitative articles published in 2015 from a large number of journals and narrowed the field to 22 articles for further consideration. The decision to select Sharp and DeCesaro's paper was unanimous.

“As one reviewer noted: ‘not only is this innovative for family studies, but it pushes performative methods forward in a way that has not been done,' said Justin Hendricks and Megan Haselschwerdt, co-chairs of the award committee. “Indeed, the authors point out performative research often lacks collaboration between artists and scientists, consisting instead of social scientists reworking performances for their needs. Their paper provides an example of the potential and importance of social researchers collaborating with trained artists and encourages increased transdisciplinary work while highlighting some of the difficulties and challenges it presents.”

The researchers were careful to highlight differing epistemologies, methodologies and analytical techniques as well as the struggles and benefits of working alongside a collaborator who teaches and researches such a contrasting subject. DeCesaro, who also is the associate vice provost for academic affairs, said they focused on the need in academia to give attention and weight to the processes, as well as the products, of transdisciplinary research.

“We are particularly interested in the ways in which transdisciplinary research projects can identify and make use of innovative methodological practices to inform, in some really new and interesting ways, our more standard disciplinary practices,” DeCesaro said, adding she was thrilled when she learned they had won. “Perhaps most exciting was the statement from the award committee spokesperson that the committee felt our paper was a ‘tremendous model for future innovation in qualitative methods.' That is, after all, what we are about: creating transformative change.”

Ordinary Wars
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Sharp said “Ordinary Wars” originated in response to a call from the Office of the Vice President for Research for innovative transdisciplinary projects. The two wanted to create a project that pushed the boundaries of their respective fields and within traditional academics, and she's honored an organization in her field recognized the value of the transdisciplinary nature of “Ordinary Wars.”

“This award is prestigious in my field; it is named after one of the most renowned qualitative researchers in the world,” she said. “To be given an award named after Anselm Strauss is truly an incredible honor and privilege.”

Sharp and DeCesaro will present their paper, as well as “Ordinary Wars,” at a conference in Colorado on Thursday (Aug. 4). Read more about the research and creation of “Ordinary Wars” here.

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