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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Aaron Finbloom, Humanities

Talking to Transform - Aesthetic Experiments in Conversational Inquiry

Date & time

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
11 a.m. – 2 p.m.


This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Mary Appezzato


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve W. Room LB 649

Wheelchair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This dissertation is an investigation into conversation practices of transformative inquiry examples of which lie across philosophical, therapeutic, spiritual and pedagogical disciplines and include: Socratic dialogue, Community of Philosophical Inquiry, Philosophy for Children, Psychodrama, Psychoanalysis, Authentic Relating practices, Quaker Meetings, confessionals, dialogic pedagogies. My central claims are that these practices contain linguistic and paralinguistic techniques which: 1) perform functions of transformative inquiry 2) can perform these functions apart from the institutions, communities and ideologies typically tied to these techniques 3) can be aesthetically re-combined and re-deployed within artistic formats to expand the scope of these performative functions.

I begin this study by a close investigation of a singular practice – Socratic dialogue – arguing how it was a live, performative practice which relied on techniques of questioning, clarifications, brachylogia, facilitation and role-play, and showing how these techniques moved in and out of play through interlocutory negotiations of power, desire and investment. The focus widens as I create a glossary of conversational techniques of transformative inquiry drawn from dozens of conversation practices. This glossary arranges techniques by their linguistic, paralinguistic and non-linguistic functions and analyzes how each technique performs transformative inquiry through the following variables: noticing, affective and conceptual clarity, opening and closing, expressivity, and focus. What follows is an analysis of Tino Sehgal’s This Progress which draws on the performative functions of the glossary to show how a contemporary work of art can utilize conversation techniques of transformative inquiry. I then conduct a more systematic analysis of how artworks can utilize techniques of transformative inquiry by examining: how conversation is deployed in artworks, how semantic determinacy or indeterminacy is negotiated, how determinate aspects can be notated or scored, questions of audienceship and witnessing, and how the transformative inquiry itself changes when conducted within a work of art. This leads into an extended study of my own art practice of developing conversation pieces for transformative inquiry, a practice which expands the reflexivity and reflectivity of transformative inquiry itself.

I conclude with a brief investigation into how my own practice is para and pata-philosophical by examining key concepts of philosophical inquiry – expertise, techne, poiesis, eidos, immanence, logos, repetition.

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