Inventive Enactments of the Social’, the second event in the project ‘Transmissions and Entanglements’, was held in London 13-15th June. It built on the half-day symposium/ workshop held at ISTC in April on ‘Uses of Inventive Methods’ that was concerned with the many issues and challenges surrounding making, representing and distributing knowledge. A core group of faculty and students from ISTC and Goldsmiths participated in both events – the aim being to develop a network of interdisciplinary scholars exploring this critical area of enquiry.
The London event was spread over three days, starting with a public lecture of two invited keynotes and a respondent at Goldsmiths, followed by drinks and a group dinner. The next day featured a full day symposium/ workshop. A brunch the following day at a local cafe provided a more relaxed opportunity to talk about the event and discuss future collaborations and projects.
In total, the London event featured 28 participants of which 21 were presenters from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and institutions – sociology, computer science, library and information science, medieval studies, anthropology, film, art and design. Presenters delighted the audience with a range of multi-media knowledge in the form of talk, performance, film, sound and objects. The event was supported by Intel, ISTC and studio INCITE (Incubator for Critical Inquiry into Technology and Ethnography) at Goldsmiths, University of London.
The following overview/write-up is an attempt to capture some of the many ideas shared, generated and discussed during the day while remaining mindful of ‘staying with the trouble’ (a key theme of the event) by not presenting polished/finished documentation. It is also quite detailed in keeping with the idea of rendering visible the processes by which knowledge is created, the mechanisms of production and modes of circulation.
Feedback, ideas, suggestions, criticisms or thoughts about potential collaborative experiments welcome!
Inventive Enactments of the Social
Friday 14th June 2013
The full day Inventive Enactments of the Social symposium/workshop was held at the aptly named Centre For Creative Collaboration (C4CC) in Kings Cross. The C4CC is an initiative of the University of London, working in collaboration with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Goldsmiths, University of London, and Royal Holloway, University of London. It provided a central London flexible space for a group of people to get together to talk, present and perform ideas. Although the structure of the day was largely comprised of site specific multi-media knowledge transfer in the form of talk, performance, film, sound and objects, the nature of the space (the centre is built directly over the tube) meant that the urban context was an active participant as well.
The day was divided in four sections. There were three key themes sessions of talks I. Entanglements with Knowledge, II. Atmospheres and III. Learning by Doing. Each was made up of three speakers: two talks and a response. This was followed by a speed ‘Knowledge Transmission’ session comprised of seven x eight minute presentations qhich provided a dynamic end to the day. In total, the symposium/workshop featured 17 speakers and 28 participants.
ENTANGLEMENTS WITH KNOWLEDGE
James Leach – Professor of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen
– ‘What is a body? Digital technologies, choreographic thinking, and the knowledge economy’
In the first talk James presented in-progress research about the body, technology and methodological practices in relation to a interdisciplinary collaborative HRC funded research project – Enhancing Choreographic Objects (EChO). He started by critiquing the idea of ‘knowledge producers’ and how this shapes and is shaped by ideas of economic value. Then, from an anthropological perspective he described (and visually illustrated via a dynamic website) an interest in the body in the context of choreographed dance.
He asked the audience to consider the richness of the body in the production and transfer of knowledge – What is a body? What is body intelligence? What is bodily responsiveness? How is our body always thinking, solving problems for us? What judgements and calculations are being made by bodies in the same space all the time? How can we not think with and through the body?
James agued that we can never catch all this richness, yet art can come closer to this task. One tool is the Choreographic Language Agent (CLA), which is software used by Wayne McGregor and his dancers as a creative tool in the studio to generate and investigate movement ideas in the studio. James discussed the challenges of bringing to life the emotional and kinaesthetic response of the body in dance, which goes beyond what is on the screen and the larger aim to ‘make something beautiful, to make something compelling to be with’.
In addition to critique, the project involves an exhibition of choreographic objects at the Welcome Trust, which aims to reveal to a broader audience some of the ‘thinking involved in dance making’. The aim is not an ‘instrumental outcome’ but rather one that is ‘relational and processual’ and that ‘informs and draws people into the process of knowing in this way’ and ‘shares something of our practice’.
Mel Gregg – Principal Investigator & Researcher in Residence, ISTC, UCI
– ‘Finding Composure’
Mel presented a self reflective piece that started with the interweaving of a discussion about a new skillset required for her new position as Researcher in Residence at Intel’s ISTC and previous training in literary studies. She raised the issues of ‘sharing terms in common’ and ‘an understanding of what we want language to do’ in the organisation and in broader research. There are tensions to overcome not only in these contexts but also in relation to her training in sociology and cultural studies. She talked about the first ‘Transmissions and Entanglements’ event at UCI in April and how a conversation with Nina and I shaped her talk today. She revealed how she wants to be ‘entangled in the moment’ of research but that it feels necessary to be ‘free of the entanglement in order to transmit, to say what I did, to make the research palatable, consumable or understandable’. She also wants to learn ‘new ways to talk to different audiences’. This is the tension – usually we think we should be clear of entanglement in order to transmit knowledge. Yet, from the last event she learned that ‘the point it to transmit in the process of being entangled’. In response, she has tried to do ‘things differently. She gives ‘a paper that is not a paper’. She shows ‘things that are in progress’ and reveals the ‘way that I do research’.
Mel drew on two works-in-progress: her blog Home Cooked Theory, which she explained is an important part of how she ‘practices her research publicly’ and her current research around time management. She talked about a ‘split self’ – the desire to show and tell but also to keep it ‘to myself until it is ready’. She discussed how these methodological approaches ‘impact on the forms of scholarship available in public and also the kinds of scholarship I think we should be fostering and allowing people to experiment with’. Mel then drew on her project ‘Counterproductive: A short history of time management’ which focuses on time management manuals post the 70s and the repeating patterns of recommendations – such as the ‘critical apparatus’ of the list. She also revealed her own time management list of notes confessing that she is a ‘failed subject of my own research’ which she argues ‘is the point because you have to reform yourself’. Ultimately she argues that she is ‘trying to enact what the earlier conversation taught me about the messiness of the research’ and also the ‘point of the research’. Rather than staying in the ‘realm of pure critique’ she instead drew on what Meaghan Morris has called ‘the practice of sympathetic criticism’ where ‘you try in the moment of the encounter with the object to see it as criticism of your automatic presumptions’.
Mel: “In adopting the principles of this project about transmissions and entanglements what I am trying to do is take on the moment of the encounter as a serious way of confronting my own prejudices and ideological position.”
So what has changed? Mel argued that the critic and the reader are not in a ‘hierarchical situation’. This is what she calls ‘lateral research’ which is more about participation and less about observation.
Michael Guggenheim – Senior Lecturer, Sociology Department, Goldsmiths
Michael took the floor tasked with responding to the first two talks in the session: Entanglements with Knowledge. He told the audience that he ‘prepared a list to keep his composure’ and proceeded to entangle insights, quotes and references from both talks – namely ideas about choreography, the body and dance with time management, lists and academic knowledge exchange.
The ‘list’ numbered 1 though to 33 and Michael performed each task – a response that involved not only a piece of paper, but also his body, voice, right shoe, sock, pen, a volunteer, a collaborator, phone… and of course the avid attention of the audience. Much to our delight, his response inventively performed, enacted, adressed and commented on both talks.
A sample of the points on the list:
Point #1. Do a list
Point #2. Manage the list
Point #3. Manage the list later
Point #4. Do violence to the list
Point #5. Re-organise the list, now
Point #6. Switch on the choreography tool and engage in real change
Point #26. Step outside of academia (which involved a choreographed bodily move) – ‘Balance on your right and relax. Balance on your right and relax.
Point #27. Was point #26 an enactment of sociology? If so, why not? Discuss and not: If not, why not.
Point #28. Disseminate the insights on point #26 and #27. How?
Point #32. Cook your theory!
Point #33. Never talk longer than your allocated time slot.
James, Mel and Michael took chairs at the front of the room to answer questions and comments about the session.
Q. How do we keep the multiples alive? How do we stay with the trouble? Knowledge travels, how do you keep it embodied and flesh like and yet accept that at time that it has to be travel and it is productive to travel?
James talked about the opportunity to distribute knowledge brings potential benefit but can also obscure what we value and do. Acknowledging that means finding ways to find value through objects that might be abstracted but the idea is to provide a critique of that process.
Q. Where is your body in the study of the body? How do you think about your own body in your research?
James talked about how he has become aware of bodies/physical presence in a new way. He drew on his research in Papua New Guinea where people ‘explicitly put bodies together’ and ‘make them appear’. In the new dance project, he said that he thought he was going to learn about new digital technologies by spending time with expertly skilled digital artists and choreographers but ‘what they taught me was about the body’.
Mel talked about productivity app developers who interact on her blog and asked:
– ‘What would be the appropriate response if I was going to take their practice to learn from too? Make an app? Keep blogging to attract more app designers and talk to them? Create a public event?
– Should all research about making, make something as a way of understanding the communities they are talking about?’
– What is the researcher’s responsibility? How do we create opportunities for people to have critical literacy when they are not naturally distributed evenly?
Q. What kinds of knowledge work did Michael’s performance enable/produce?
Nina commented on the theoretical act of ‘just in timeness’ of the academic response. She noted how in James’ talk about dance we didn’t see any dancers; we saw inscriptions of dance in software. Michael used his body to interpret ideas and Nina talked about how her imagination operated in a way to see what was absent in the software – the richness, the viscerality of the body.
Craig Martin – Senior Lecturer, Design Context, University of Edinburgh
– ‘Between the Digital and the Elemental: Placing Atmospheric Immersion’
Craig outlined his general interest in atmospheres in terms of the relationship between vernacular design and elemental forces and in particular, architectural forces in the outer Hebrides and the role of weathering on traditional Black Houses (as well as other ruins). Today, however, he focused on cultural atmospherics and relation to the digital and made two key points: ‘the spatiality of atmospheres critiques the geometries of separation’ (see Sloterdijk’s work) and how the ‘oncoming power of weather based atmospheric phenomena is akin to the immersive power of the digital’.
Craig: “This paper addresses the potential relationships between digital space and atmospheric phenomena, specifically the ‘weather world’. It does so by firstly articulating the role of atmospheres in conceptualising new forms of spatial awareness, notably in relation to forms of immersion and entanglement. It then directly addresses the affect of elemental experiences, including the constant presence of weather conditions, be this a stilled moment or tumultuous force.”
The aim of the paper was to ‘try to utilize the notion of the atmospheric as an intermediary for understanding the complexity of contemporary digital spatialities’. Craig considered atmosphere as a ‘form of feeling’, ‘sense of place’, ‘environment and built space’ and ‘feeling of sensational experience’. He talked about the use of the intermediary as an important methodological tool to navigate through contemporary spatialities (see Michel Serres).
Nina Wakeford – Reader in Sociology, Goldsmiths
-‘Here Comes Experience! Making atmosphere out of sociology’s ‘raw’ materials’
Nina began by blocking the projector lens with a book and telling the audience about the structure of the piece. Like the film Momento, where the story is told in reverse, Nina started with a 9min audio piece featuring a woman speaking in English and Cantonese and finished with a story about how/where the project began. She framed her talk about arguments of ‘certainty and knowledge’, starting with how sociological texts in the 60s ‘exuded an air of confidence about the validity of concepts and methods’ and the ‘degree to which sociology could adequately analyse and explain social phenomena’. Drawing on Savage (2010), this could be seen as ‘the moment of sociology’. A shift in sociology is marked from a focus on subject (deviance) to methods (objective). Nina argued that while the 60s were about epistemic optimism’, the 80s in contrast where marked by a ‘profound scepticism’ which still exists today. Now, the ‘moment of sociology’ is being considered the ‘moment of digital sociology’ and draws attention to how attitudes towards the production of knowledge by sociologists ‘are highly variable’.
Nina: “There are broad changes in sociological moods over time. If we can work out how certain we want to be our ideas about sociology having this level of certainty we can perhaps get a better grasp on how open, ongoing and even ambiguous our sociological enterprises might be (which starts to gesture towards the inventive agenda that I have been working with).”
Nina talked about the sound piece as an ongoing investigation in terms of ‘luring’ (see Fraser 2009) and an ‘affective contagious form of transmission between worlds’ (see Sloterdijk’s ideas of foam – a multiplicity of spheres and their relationships to each other). She also drew on Kathleen Stewart’s (2009) ‘atmospheric attunements’.
Nina: “I want to suggest that sociology might think more about the kinds of ambiguity and openness which such an output embeds which transforms what I will call tactically but controversially its raw material. I want to argue for a reconceptualisation of sociology’s materials in line with work done by colleague Michael Guggenheim (and his sock!). In particular the need to think about how the discipline might better understand and how it constructs the rawness of materials that are generated in the course of research….. what might this rawness have the capacity to enact.”
Nina’s sound piece fits with what is termed a ‘non-traditional output’ in sociology. It was produced using materials from interviews, ethnography and secondary research.
Nina: “For me, for sociology to be inventive it must be more materially innovative. That is for all the concern with performativity, enactment and entanglement there is actually very little on how we pay attention to the affordances to treating our data as raw material that they may be inventively transformed.”
Goetz Bachmann – Senior Lecturer, Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths
Goetz responded to the session by drawing on Nina’s reversed presentation style, starting with an immediate personal story and ending with his prepared response to the papers. His story comprised a personal narrative about his response to Nina’s audio piece, raising memories of past emotional entanglements. The atmosphere generated for Goetz from the session was such that he felt his body commenting as much as his mind.
Goetz highlighted key ideas emerging in the session – the idea of rawness and of developing a methodology around digital atmospheres – and how both have strong yet opposite narratives around atmospheres. He identified four layers of thinking around digital and atmospheres:
1. How do we research atmospheres? (while avoiding the flaneur)
2. Using atmospheres to understand other things (a way into other things)
3. Using atmospheres as a means of encountering something more than comms… something affective
4. Putting atmospheric conditions in all of this (framing atmosphere)
Goetz talked about these might appear simple steps but complexity emerges when combined and entangled.
He then showed his original notes in his notebook (drawing inspiration from Mel) and talked through extra references and ideas (Sloterdijk, Schmidts, Bollnow, Bermer(?)).
Craig, Nina and Goetz took chairs at the front of the room to answer questions and respond to comments. Many thanks to Mel for chairing this session, as I had to check on lunch!
Q. What does it mean to insert power, oppression, access and reach into the vocabulary about atmosphere? Does it matter if we lose some of those words, or the meaning of those words? (Mel talks about how affect is often used in a way that avoids discussions about power, structure and oppression).
Craig agrees that this absence is part of the weakness of affect and why Kathleen Stewart’s book is so useful because it addresses everyday affect. Drawing on Lovink’s work, the ‘cultural familiarity of weather’ is always there and always oncoming – another reason why it needs investigating. This is the ‘centrality of affect’.
Mel pointed out that the digital is not omnipresent for everyone (re: Stewart’s communities that had not access to digital tech). ‘How much does the language of omnipotence buys into the same imperialism?’ ‘Is it reaching over everyone, touching everyone?’ ‘Do we need to resist that?’
Goetz suggests the need to ‘spell out these questions a little more’ and ask ‘what actually does change?’ He thinks we need to ‘shift out ideas about atmosphere’ and tells us about the Japanese translation of a similar concept – 雰囲気 Fun’iki – as being ‘possibly closer to the digital atmosphere’ and ‘a richer semantic level’, ‘what should happen next at the moment’, ‘you constantly negotiate’ and ‘that which is between us that tells us what to do next’. It always changes. Although debated at length in Japan and elsewhere, it provides access to new ways of thinking about atmospheres that are more ‘temporal’ and ‘semantic’.
Q. In transdisciplinary research you become aware of all the potholes in method – how do you not turn back to certainty?
Nina responded with a story about a large pothole in her street that the local council refuses to mend. When it rains, the residents put rubber ducks in it and it has become an installation. So, ‘sometimes you do not have to fill in the holes with tarmac’.
A vegetarian buffet, featuring locally sourced produce, was provided by Leon Lewis.
LEARNING BY DOING
Matt Ratto – Assistant Professor and Director of the Critical Making lab in the
Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto
– ‘Critique and the Textual Doppelgänger: Critical making and the academic enterprise’
Matt could not join us in London, so he did the next best thing – he and his team produced an impressive single-take video featuring a tour of the Critical Making Lab, introductions to the aims and objectives of the group, theoretical framings and current projects. The structure of the talk – what matt called it’s ‘seamfulness’ – was highly appreciated by the group for its material critique of knowledge exchange. ie. Powerpoint ‘slides’ of key quotes and titles were stickytaped around the Lab. The video also added another multi-media dimension to the palette of representational modes throughout the day.
Matt talked about how the group were ‘engaged in making as part of a scholarly practice of critique where the making is there to serve as a resource for unpacking and understanding concepts and not as a creating of objects for exhibition or for display, so it is a very process oriented type of thing’.
The lab includes space for four postdocs, faculty offices, computer equipment, critical gaming and critical making lab. Critical making provides a way of ‘geting past some of the determinisms that are associated with technological work’ and realised he ‘need to get closer to the technologies themselves’ and started to see ‘the role of making as an under utilised part of critical reflection on technology and society’.
He and colleagues talked about ‘geting back to the moment of making’. This is not about making things critical, ie for exhibition and making objects to speak for themselves but rather is about ‘thinking through critical making’ and ‘using material properties to support that work’.
Drawing on Schon (1987), Matt made reference to institutional structures that enable and limit different kinds of methodological approaches. Ie. the separation of linguistic and making work that is built into different academic enterprise. He talked about the challenges of getting others to recognise and legitimise the work of making as part of the humanities and social sciences and for resources to reflect and support this practice.
Bernd Kräftner – Principal Investigator Shared Inc. &
Senior Lecturer University of Applied Arts, Dept. Science & Art / Vienna
– ‘Best regards from the Syndrome Archipelago: Excerpts from a family album’
Bernd talked about research into the syndrome ‘Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome’ (a state of prolonged coma that calls for 24 care attendance) – a project that brings into focus a range of larger socio-technical entanglements in the Austrian health care system. He described Shared Inc’s ‘long-term ethnographic and artistic research that investigates the question of how to contribute unusual and experimental practices of care’.
Bernd tells us that he attempts to ‘depowerpointificate’ his presentation which involves subverting the linear slide system and layering pages instead. He introduces the ‘Muragga’ as a means of explaining this approach. The Muragga is a persian word for ‘a patched garment traditionally work by sufi’s that consists of a patchwork of imagery.
Bernd: “During the years we gathered many materials and fragments of knowledge. We are currently attempting to stitch together our version of the syndrome.”
Bernd discussed how this ‘stitching as a practice could enact alternative versions of what it means to be a “family”‘. The ‘family album’ interweaves the family of participants (patient, family, nurses, doctors, researchers), the family of methods (observing, representing and intervening) and the material form of research (drawings, collage, photos, maps, fables, objects such as the ‘Squirrel Pillow’).
Bernd: “A collection of heterogeneous materials form various times and places representing and intervening. We currently try to make from those nine years of collecting materials with different methods to put together a kind of a Muragga. We don’t know yet if this is a book or something which is electronic or more dispersed.”
Beckie Coleman – Sociology lecturer, Lancaster University
Beckie started by telling the group that although she would respond to Matt’s and Bernd’s presentations, her response would also touch on key themes emerging throughout the day:
– a process of getting closer to the object, technology and how we do that through making
– the creation of objects not for an exhibition but as a means of process
– the complexity of finding out and mess
– how objects gets entangled with ways of knowing and ways of doing
– what is this relationship through thinking and making
– idea of immediacy, ‘or what Craig or Nina might call ‘immersion with experience’. The idea of process is about being in the midst of something
So how do we think about this? How is this a method? How does this allow us to think about relations and inter-relations in new ways? For example in Bernd’s work, Beckie asked about what this meant for the family. She saw it as an opening up of the family, not just traditional kinship networks but of the researcher and others involved in daily care as part of the family
Beckie raised the question of ‘how the idea of getting close to something is a move away from the discourse to the making’ and if this was a ‘shift from writing to making’ which opens up productive ideas about the differences between ‘discourse and matter’. How much can we think about writing as making? Is it the same as making physical objects? This has links to how interdisciplinary projects happen.
– How might these be considered to be getting closer to a research question in a way that writing perhaps isn’t?
– How might writing be considered a distancing from a research problem?
– What is the distinction between materials and materiality?
– How do we think about are things that are in the making?
– Critique, critical making, critical thinking – what does this mean in different contexts/disciplines
– How does critique get the researcher closer to something, not distancing them, but emerging in the process?
– Do we need to rethink critique?
– What are the institutional challenges/difficulties? How is making valued in different places?
After placing the laptop open to Skype on a chair between the speakers, I invited Bernd and Matt to respond to Beckie’s questions. Bernd started by talking about the ‘family’ in the research, how it involved a family of syndromes, ‘living’ with a group of people and making a range of materials. He discussed the challenge of avoiding instrumentalising others as well as themselves in the process – to put it back into an art system and to ‘leave it like it is’. He talked about a reluctance to go back into ‘big institutions and get eaten up with how these things are processed’.
James said he thought there was something ‘quite honorable and admirable’ about the two pieces of work. Referencing a conversation with Nina in the break, he said they had discussed how she was:
James: “…attempting to hold open the space where knowledge does not become one thing or another, that does not easily slip into either being artistic expression of something or scientific instrumentalised version of it. And to hold open that space requires effort, a conscious effort and I think I am getting out of this day are examples, different as they are, of what Matt and you are doing is that you are putting the effort into holding that space open and its difficult and therefore its honorable. You are both fulfilling some sense of obligation….and not allowing that to collapse into something that is instrumental or an expression of something and that is a way of honouring it.”
Matt responded by saying he appreciated that comment. To him, holding open is the move he is trying to with his work, even more so than getting closer to it. He talked about a deliberate discursive move in his work to ‘distance it from art and design’. He does that because of the easy way it closes down the significance… the role of it, the position of it in society’. He said that he thought the initial issue in this kind of work was going to be how ‘making very easily gets situation in values of technology, the instrumental technical rationality or what Bill gaver talks about management of work, optimisation rhetoric’ but he has also found the ‘aestheticization of it, from an artistic ad design perspective to be equally problematic . To respond he ‘pushes back on overly structural ways that doesn’t do credit to art of technical work but is an attempt o hold open a space to operate’.
Q. How easy/ hard is it to get funding re: institutional structures? Does this contradict the very spaces you are attempting to critique? What does it mean in terms of your daily work?
Matt says that the difficulty is less about funding and more about what work it does, ensuring that it doesn’t reproduce the standard rhetoric around making. By this he means pushing on the idea that making is a universalising force for transforming everyone into a maker. He articulates the challenge that lies in communicating how making is legitimate not because it creates new makers but because it ‘helps people resolve a deep anxiety of having to do with an out of control feel they have’. He positions it in terms of developing ‘critical socio-technical literacy’:
Matt: “In the same ways we needed media literacy in regards to the highly constructed images and soundscapes and so forth of a previous generation and we needed textual literacy to deal with issues of bias in printed works, we now need a socio-technical literacy to deal with the ways in which code and technology impacts on us, not just in terms of the ways in which we experience and understand the world but like architecture structures out everyday lives. I position this work and critical making more generally as having an outcome of socio-technical literacy that is seen as necessary for the functioning of democratic society. And that seems to resonate.”
– ‘A knowledge transmission proposal, process or problem’
The brief for each presenter of this session was to speak for 8 minutes only on a research topic and methodological challenge in relation to the mode of knowledge transmission of their work (actual or anticipated). They focused on a current problem/impasse they are tackling, with regards, for example, to data collection/analysis, connecting with respondents, sharing, communicating, making, presenting or circulating results. Given the theme of the workshop, speakers were encouraged to explore the possibilities of re-imagining ‘inventive’ modes of transmitting knowledge.
1. Lara Houston, PhD Candidate, Sociology Department, Lancaster
– Ethnographic study of mobile phone repair practices in Kampala, Uganda
Lara set up her talk by asking how her work could join conversations about repair. She started with a short repair story, pointing out the tools and materials of a repairer’s work space, then moved to an analysis of the discourse about making and repair, remixing manifestos of this movement and finally outlined her concern with ‘the things that get lost in the telling of repair stories’ and how they might be explored in knowledge exchange.
Lara: “I want to think about how we can produce an outcome, a text (such as a PhD), that invites repair. What might that mean when my examiners are sitting down with my thesis? Can I ask them to use a toothbrush and some petrol to sweep across the page to reveal the text? Could I ask them to take two wires and plug them into a battery as the technicians do to boot up my thesis? What kinds of other material ways of interacting with this textual objects might be generative and interesting? What might it mean to obscure and invite the reader to reveal?”
2. Nerea Calvillo, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths
– ‘ In the air’
Nerea offered the audience two options for her presentation. She started by showing images and video and asked “So, what is it about?” A participant suggested the images were of ‘carbon monoxide pollution’. Nerea said, “Ok, great Number 2” and started her presentation. The performance of choice signalled alternate ways of presenting knowledge. She then talked about an international interdisciplinary project that set out to ‘test in what ways we could visualise the air’ and ‘what are the specificities of the mediums that allow us to say different things’. She talks about the development of visual tools to represent data and the contrasting responses when they took it to various stakeholders such as policy makers, scientists, artists, citizens and activists etc. She questions why it did not find purchase – is it an aesthetic problem? Is it transmission? Entanglement? Disciplinarity? Nerea concludes by asking:
How does one account for the affordances of the device to make a difference in the world?
How can we account for the atmospheric attunements that the object produces?
Do we have to?
Are we responsible?
3. Alexandra Lippman, PhD Candidate, Cultural Anthropology, UCI
– ‘ Entanglement with Collaboration: Sound ethnography project’
Alexandra talked about her research about funk carioca from the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. She showed how maps of the area often ‘silence’ this soundscape – favelas are often erased from the city to look like a hill or park. This ‘visual erasure’ however does not stop favelas, where mobile sound systems and thousands of people combine to creates an ‘acoustic community’. She played music and talked about her sound ethnography project whereby she publishes pieces of her own sound project and also invites people to submit contributions to her website – www.soundethnography.com
Alexandra: “What kinds of new results, theories, methods can be generated when anthropologists listen and also incorporate sound recordings into their work that is different from the typical use of sounds recordings. ie.interview, field recordings and write about it?”
4. Silvia Lindtner, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Intel’s Science and Technology Centre for Social Computing
– ‘Making with China’
Silvia talked about collaborations in her fieldsites in China (across six cities) in the area of DiY, hacker and making communities. In particular she is interested in how ‘making goes together with manufacturing’. Partnerships initiated by DiY makers include collaborations with local Governments, local manufacturers and foreign and Chinese venture capitalists. She talked about how makers publish their work in similar spaces to researchers such as conferences, public lecturers and journals, are funded by similar institutions and frame their approaches and arguments with similar theoretical framings. Silvia drew on what Mel talked about earlier in the day – ‘the lateral move’ of working alongisde fieldsites and subjects and how she responds by organising workshops as method, being part of a collective of scholars and makers and producing an art exhibition.
5. Felipe Palma Irarrazaval, PhD Candidate, Visual Sociology
– ‘ Magnitude’
Felipe makes a single point about the ‘problem of translation in the social sciences’ – magnitude – in the context of his research into the copper mining industry. Using images of mines and how the industry visualises the future through the scale of the infrastructure, he asks, ‘How can you understand the size of it?’. He argues that a way of dealing with the complexity of magnitude is to ‘use other kinds of supports’. He shows a short film. The wall fills with a golden visual of the sun setting through the web of steel of mining architecture The lens pans up and down the structures, zooming in and out to reveal the scale of humans in this socio-technical assemblage. He explains that his hand-made film is attempts to ‘explain the scale of these processes’.
Felipe: “To express, configurate or translate a complex phenomenon it is useful to use several mediums, to over lap them and see how they recreate a configuration of the scale you are working with.”
7. Youngsuk Lee, ISTC Researcher and Research Assistant,
School of Informatics and Computing, IU, Bloomington
– The ‘Suicidal Object’ and the ‘Hatching Scarf’
Youngsuk is an artist and Human Computer Interaction designer researcher and presents some of her recent work in these interdisciplinary fields. She presents short videos of her work – abstract, kinetic sculptures that combine interactive and digital art: The ‘Suicidal Object’ and also the ‘Hatching Scarf’. Her aim is to create everyday computational objects and explore art and design as a medium to communicate ideas between artists, designers and viewers.
7. Bonnie Mac, Assistance Professor, Medieval Studies, University of Illinois
– ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’
Bonnie started by positioning herself as an interdisciplinary scholar in an interdisciplinary program (Medieval Studies, School of Library and Information Science). She works with a collaborator, Julia Pollack, to explore ‘what a humanities publication might look like if it is not embodied in the conventional form of prose?’ For the past year they have been experimenting with ‘communicating a scholarly argument’ in new ways. Challenges emerge not only in relation to this task but also how this kind of work is ‘shared, peer reviewed and indexed’. The project she focuses on is ‘A Cabinet of Curiosity: The Library’s Dead Time‘.
Bonnie: “For this exhibition we made a series of sculptures that explored how the materiality of information affects the transmission of knowledge.”
Further to explaining this fascinating project, Bonnie focused on the mundane practical mobility of the artefact, asking: ‘How were we to circulate it and share it with others in the same way that a journal article or a book might be shared and circulated?’
Bonnie and Julia built a portable version in the form of a box (the size dictated by ‘carry on luggage’), and it was filled with miniaturised objects – a translation of their argument on a different scale. However, there were various ‘banal, real world’ issues; it was heavy and awkward to carry, it was made of wood so it wasn’t allowed on some planes, it required taxis and postal services etc. Bonnie also interwove experience of writing about the box in the talk, describing how excised arguments and words from the peer-review process feature in the newest instantiation of the box.
Paul Dourish, Professor Informatics, Information and Computer Science, UCI
– End of day response
Paul was landed with the unenviable task of responding to/ synthesising the event in some way and he did it with his typical aplomb and trademarked ‘productive grumpiness’ which was expansive, generous and much appreciated.
– What is the studio? What is the laboratory?
– What happens when we recognise the romance of the studio and the romance of design when we engage in trying to do other things?
– What is produced and for whom?
– The problem of scalability? Cultural differences? The challenges of producing more than one-off objects is harder in some places than in others (see Silvia’s talk – here the notion of ‘scaling up’ looks radically different).
– Circulation? The notion that we sometimes fall into is that design is somehow inherently open and engaged with large audiences unlike traditional outputs. Yet, some kinds of design only touch one person. Sometimes academic design papers reach more people about design than the designs themselves.
– What can engagement with design practices be? Also objects, where do they go? Looking beyond the romance of studio. What happens to the stuff afterwards? How does it touch people?
– What is it that we are doing through a variety of mechanisms available for us in communicating our experiences, our insights?
– As academics we make things (see Bonnie’s talk). While we celebrate art and making practices, it is important not to erase the making that we do, the making of arguments, papers, publications, the crafting of analysis alongside other kinds of making that we are bringing into the frame.
– Responsibilities? We often hear talk of the responsibility a designer/artist has to their materials. We also have a responsibility, a particular and heightened responsibility in communicating and critique (See Matt’s video). Here, the design is something you use and engage on the way to something. It’s not the result.
Paul: “The ideas that we have been exploring today, and also other work that comes from other places that has lead to this moment is deeply concerned with instrumentalisation of academic practice with the closing down of broad examination through the traditional languages in which we talk (paywalls etc). It is absolutely important and critical that we find alternatives that both allow for a greater degree of provisionality, that leave open to question their own meaning and significance, so we focus on showing rather than telling, we focus on inviting rather than forcing upon people, we focus on evoking rather than communicating. But at the same time it is important to recognise what we as academics can do, what we have a responsibility to do.”
“What is it in the tremendously interesting and evocative mode that we’ve been talking about through today that opens up opportunities for doing what Laura Nadar calls ‘studying up’? Not just in speaking truth and power but in taking the operation of power as an ethnographic object, an ethnographic site and actually looking at the processes, regulation, control and so forth that doesn’t partner with the subjected in order to show the plight but rather explicitly goes in and examines the systems of status of domination and power as ethnographic objects themselves.”
“This raises questions of participation. We have been very interested in the opportunities for ‘non-traditional ouputs’ to potentially invite people to participate in new kinds of ways, in an open inclusive gathering. It is important to recognise that a lot of this starts from a position of scepticism and should do. It might be interesting to ask what it might be to consider non-traditional forms of engagement in work that not only does, but must, come from a position of scepticism and sceptical enquiry.”
“To try to open up some questions about how the kinds of inventive methods we’ve been discussing live alongside concern with the sort of critique and politics of critique within the academy. We’ve seen many compelling examples of ways in which inventive methods can open up new areas for discussion and can provide people with alternative ways of thinking about them and create new kinds of conversations. But I what to try to think about how we do that not only incorporates what is inherently designerly about design practice, or inherently artistic about art practice, but retains what is inherently academic about academic practice.”
THE PUB !
– Thank you to everyone for making the event