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[ Backstage ]


In this thesis, I attempt to occupy the academic environment in a similar way to in which the birds occupy the postbox in Sara Ahmed’s What’s the Use? (2019), by queering its use or the way that we as artists and audience members use it. Ahmed’s description of the postbox highlights an alternative use of structures, as it was originally designed to help circulate letters and parcels but has been re-utilized as a home by nesting birds. As a result, this ‘postbox’ becomes overlapped with the notion and practice of ‘nesting’ that disrupts the postal system for which it was meant to function.

Use is usually restricted to some uses and users, nevertheless Ahmed perceives that alternative encounters with the heterogeneous can create possibilities – such as the nesting postbox. We have two potential users using this postbox, human and bird. The postbox in this situation has become useless for humans because it cannot be implemented in its original function, as the birds have occupied the postbox and it became a nest which is suitable for them to use. If the postbox is now used for posting it would disturb the birds, so one use had to be decided upon and it appears that the bird's use has been respected by the postal system. Through this analogy, Ahmed is showing that an object or system being used is reliant on the user, so the user can either restrict or open the possibilities of use. Only when the user introduces an alternative use, will the system then have an opportunity to become other or different from its previous workings.

Following on from my approach to making art and Ahmed’s analogy of the nesting postbox, I am utilizing the format of a thesis but towards different ends because I try to use the thesis as a process not just an end-product. For the examiner, this thesis will be the first object for them to encounter. Therefore, it is important to clarify that the thesis is not an end-product, but a continuum and interdependent medium that is interconnected with my practice. I position the thesis as a bridge or node that builds up an interdependent relation, a relation that interacts with the reader and formulates a growing network. A practice-based thesis format is still often trapped in adhering to the formal academic dissertation model. I aim to challenge the ‘uses of use’ in my practice and research and, therefore, this methodology is also integral to the thesis format. The ‘uses of use’ that I set out in the thesis are also required to enable alternative pathways for the reader to be a part of the network of meaning making. The method I produce for the use of my thesis, should not be a strict guidebook for the reader to follow but a process that can be used personally and interpreted/deployed differently. I see my practice, research and writing as being on a continuum. As a result, in my Practice Based PhD, I have integrated and interwoven them, to reveal my process to the reader.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-21), the format of submitting a thesis has been impacted by health and safety guidelines. Previously, the requirement for the thesis submission was three printed copies of the thesis that were distributed to the examiners, but this has since been suspended. Instead, we have been asked to only upload a pdf or digital file to the university and examiners. This format has provided me with an opportunity to visualise an alternative path of writing and reading, or a different network of actors. Therefore, I have provided one thesis that follows the instructional and institutional submission requirements in pdf format for submission to the university. Even though I am undertaking a Practice-based PhD, I am still required to obey the institutional rule for academic written submission. According to the normative PhD submissions at the University of Reading, the following is requested: formatting citation styles and printing out in a A4 paper (20 cm x 21 cm), front size between 11 to 12 point, sufficient space between each line, with a margin of 35 mm at the side and correctly bound. This is a pre-designed guideline for the written aspect of the PhD that was set-up before practice-based PhDs came into existence and this well-used path moulds this different form of submission as opposed to the other way around. These thesis guidelines are designed towards a general use but no matter how wide the rules that have been set-up are, a general rule could block new research paths. In order to facilitate the academic system, the institution still encourages users to follow their designed well-used path. In this instance, in order to ensure the school awards a PhD certificate, research and practice students have been asked to fulfill their requirement of a specific thesis format.

-Screenshot of  University of Reading’s 
Rules for Submission of Theses for Research Degrees, 2019- 

In contrast to general use, Bellacasa asserts the importance of a situated care, ‘transforming things into matters of care is a way of relating to them, of inevitably becoming affected by them, and of modifying their potential to affect others.’[1] In order to provide a glitch in this general thesis format, I will be presenting another thesis in a website format that I will refer to as the web-thesis. The address links for the web-thesis are inserted into the first page of the formal thesis file, which provides the reader with an alternative path to choose from before starting to read the formal thesis. The web-thesis will provide the reader with different ways of navigating and interacting than that of the formal thesis. A formal thesis provides a well-used and familiar approach to its content, and this makes it accessible, but it also binds the thesis into a set format. The reader’s path through a formal thesis’s format is fixed, which helps the reader to more easily focus on its content. However, this constructed use of the path (reading thesis) may be easier but should not be seen as the only correct path. For the latter would mean that we become passively compelled to follow paths rather than finding new opportunities for paths to begin.

In contrast, the web-thesis provides more flexibility for my methodology to also be explicit within this format of the thesis. For instance, as a dyslexic writer I find following textual rules difficult and I am more comfortable in writing and reading in intersectional ways; producing points of contact between areas of my writing and practice that can be read and interpreted in a less chronological format. As an alternative for both myself and the reader, the web-thesis is one embedded with the reader’s choices. For example, the web-thesis is plastic in its chronology (or lack of) so the reader can jump between sections, creating their own path. This second online format of the thesis enables me to take advantage of not being restricted to the traditional book binding form of a thesis. Its form allows the user to navigate the pages in accordance with their choices and you can continuously scroll up and down the screen. Classifying each section and dividing up the thesis into separate pages, enables the reader to take control of the text and forge their own paths through the research and practice.

The above plastic format does not surrender to the well-used path but has taken care in finding alternative paths and processes for its interpretation. A general format that is well-used does not necessarily equal a suitable form for all researchers/readers. In this sense, the academic standards for a PhD link to the infrastructure space as described by Keller Easterling, ‘like an operating system, the medium of infrastructure space makes certain things possible and other things impossible. It is not the declared content but rather the content manager dictating the rules of the game in the urban milieu.’[2] Often these designs of use, are using well-used rules and re-produce the same uses within their programmed environments. Those that do not fit or cannot access these general systems of use are alienated from the environment.


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