The Cut-up Technique

Researchers in the Centre for Qualitative Research are pursuing novel and innovative methodologies that draw upon multiple influences and epistemologies from philosophy, the arts and the humanities. An example is the Cut-up Technique, inspired by Prof Fran Biley, CQR member and recently deceased.

With origins in the work of Tristan Tzara, Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, Fran’s Cut-up Technique takes a radical approach to dealing with text and image-based research data. It uses a variety of mechanical and computer-based techniques in order to present altered text and images that offer a “radical critique of the habitual structures of Western language” (Ingram, 1996; page 95) and aims to, according to William Burroughs, “make explicit a psychosensory process that is going on all the time anyway”. It detaches the word from the author, the context and its signifying function. As Burroughs stated “one’s range of vision consequently expands” (Burroughs, 1978, page 4). When experimenting with using the technique, Arthur Frank stated that it “describes how to cut up transcripts and then rearrange the fragments into a new text. The ordering of fragments is random, with random repetitions. Biley’s own example endows an interview transcription with a quality I found haunting…Using the technique, we paid attention differently in ways that were not entirely rational, but again, the point was to stretch our boundaries of rationality. Stretching boundaries of what we can hear, and what we are willing to hear, has always been a core task of qualitative methods…” (Frank, 2006).

Burroughs WS (1978) The Third Mind. Viking, New York

Frank A. (2006) At the Margins of Health: Qualitative Methods. Qualitative Sociology  29 (241): 251.

Ingram D (1996) William Burroughs and Language. In: The Beat Generation Writers, editor AR Lee. Pluto Press, London.

Further Reading

BILEY FC (2004) The literary poetics of experience: cut-up technique as a new form of inquiry. In: New Qualitative Approaches to Health Care Research, editor F. Rapport-Maggs. Routledge, London.

BILEY FC (2000) Tracey’s story and the postmodern literary poetics of experience: developing a new research methodology for Rogerian science.

Visions: the Journal of Rogerian Nursing Science 8: 1, 68-73.