Philosophy of Improvisation : Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Theory and Practice book cover
1st Edition

Philosophy of Improvisation
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Theory and Practice

ISBN 9780367540210
Published June 11, 2021 by Routledge
226 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This volume brings together philosophical and interdisciplinary perspectives on improvisation. The contributions connect the theoretical dimensions of improvisation with different viewpoints on its practice in the arts and the classroom.

The chapters address the phenomenon of improvisation in two related ways. On the one hand, they attend to the lived practices of improvisation both within and without the arts in order to explain the phenomenon. They also extend the scope of improvisational practices to include the role of improvisation in habit and in planned action, at both individual and collective levels. Drawing on recent work done in the philosophy of mind, they address questions such as whether improvisation is a single unified phenomenon or whether it entails different senses that can be discerned theoretically and practically. Finally, they ask after the special kind of improvisational expertise which characterizes musicians, dancers, and other practitioners, an expertise marked by the artist’s ability to participate competently in complex situations while deliberately relinquishing control.  

Philosophy of Improvisation will appeal to anyone with a strong interest in improvisation, to researchers working in philosophy, aesthetics, and pedagogy as well as practitioners involved in different kinds of music, dance, and theater performances. 

Table of Contents


Improvisation: The Competences of Not Being in Control

Susanne Ravn, Simon Høffding, and James McGuirk

Part I: Reconsidering Improvisation

1. The Birth of Planning out of the Spirit of Improvisation: The Iceberg Model

Beth Preston

2. Improvisation as Online Planning

Raul Hakli

3. Towards a Wide Approach to Improvisation

Joel Krueger and Alessandro Salice

4. Improvisation as a Social Process

Nick Crossly

Part II: Specific Aspects of Improvisational Practices

5. Taking Responsibility by Letting Go: The Improvisation of Responding to the Call

Bruce Ellis Benson

6. Dance Improvisation and the Metaphysics of Force

Philipa Rothfield

7. Joint Improvisation as Interaction Ritual

Mikko Salmela

Part III: Improvisation in Practice

8. Improvising Affectivity – Kitt Johnson’s site-specific Performances

Susanne Ravn

9. Inner & Outer Ears - Enacting Agential Systems in Music Improvisation

Simon Høffding and Torben Snekkestad

10. Improvisation in the Classroom: Towards an Aspectual Account of Improvisatory Practice

James McGuirk


‘Yes, and…’: Having It All in Improvisation Studies

John Sutton

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Susanne Ravn is Professor at the Department of Sports Science and Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark. Her research focuses on movement practices in sport, dance and health and the interdisciplinary challenge of combining phenomenology and qualitative research methodologies. Her latest publications include ‘Investigating dance improvisation – from spontaneity to agency’, Dance Research Journal (2020)

Simon Høffding is Associate Professor at the Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics at the University of Southern Denmark and affiliated researcher at the RITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion, University of Oslo.

James McGuirk is Professor of Philosophy and former Director of the Centre for Practical Knowledge at Nord University, Norway. His research focuses on themes in phenomenology, practical knowledge, and the interface between philosophy and professions research. He is the author of Eros, Otherness, Tyranny: The Indictment and Defence of the Philosophical Life in Plato, Nietzsche, and Lévinas (2017).


"We do not just improvise sometimes and in some domains but all the time, in multi-modal, online, and interactive ways. Or so this wonderful book claims in ways that are fully persuasive. This book on improvisation in thought, in life, in action, and in interaction in a wide variety of everyday, artistic, and social domains is a breath of inter- and transdisciplinary fresh air in a field that continues to grow and expand. It is required reading for improvisation scholars in philosophy, in the arts, in pedagogy, in sports, and in creativity studies in general."

Aili Bresnahan, University of Dayton, USA

"Improvisation is the defining feature of human social life and is the essence of creativity. This fascinating book contains chapters on music, dance, planning, the classroom, and social life. The unifying insight is that improvisation is always present in our everyday lives. This book will be essential reading for anyone concerned with improvisational action, collaboration, and creativity, including scholars in the arts, in sociology, and in philosophy."

Keith Sawyer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA