Transmissions and entanglements

Posted on | April 23, 2013 | 1 Comment

This month the ISTC-Social hosted Nina Wakeford and Kat Jungickel from Goldsmiths College, London for a discussion called Transmissions and Entanglements: Uses of inventive methods. Both Nina and Kat are interested in presenting research in non-textual forms, and creating methods that are crafted to the problem under consideration. Kat’s phrase to capture this epistemology – ‘Making things to make sense of things’ – is key to many of the projects underway in the ISTC, from critical design to theorising hackerspace and studying maker communities.

Our workshop discussed ideas introduced in Nina’s recent book with Celia Lury. A key quote is this one:

It is not possible to apply a method as if it were indifferent or external to the problem it seeks to address, but that method must rather be made specific or relevant to the problem…

Inventive methods are ways to introduce answerability into a problem… if methods are to be inventive, they should not leave that problem untouched (Lury & Wakeford, 2012, p3).

In her talk, Nina gave examples to illustrate alternative ways of transmitting research findings, including a sound installation she produced for Said Business School. Here Comes Experience (2008) used a parabolic speaker with multiple translations from Mandarin to reflect the social and economic conditions underpinning the Business School itself. This example enacts what Andrew Abbott calls ‘lyrical’ rather than ‘narrative sociology’ with its emphasis on ‘present-ness’ and intensity.

Nina also described previous exhibits – e.g. work on bike couriers, which Intel funded – where ideas were brought ‘inside Intel’. Quotes and objects from a bike courier’s typical day were placed in and around office cubes and work spaces. This helped to convey the feeling of being a courier for those who may not be used to the narrow streets of London let alone riding a bike. Meeting desks were covered with visuals of tools in the courier’s kit, juxtaposing different infrastructures for labor. Life size cut-outs of buses that couriers squeeze through were installed to create a sense of compressed mobility and temporality. A phenomenological experience is here suggested if not necessarily experienced.

Kat presented examples of her previous work such as the 73 Bus project and her PhD research on wireless activists in South Australia. She described a backyard BBQ held with research participants as another inventive method: photos from the study were pegged around the party to facilitate responses, reflections and engagements. In this case the researcher and the researched each ‘hang out’ with the data.

For Kat, ‘Making Things to Make Sense of Things’ means being faithful to experiences of mess, ambivalence, elusiveness and multiplicity (Hine 2007: 12). Embracing mess (Law 2004) does not mean ‘just adding pictures’ to traditional research. It means asking what new forms of knowledge production are needed.

Kat’s work follows others who are interested in thinking against the narrative, linear path for writing results. Latour and Yaneva (2008: 80-90) discuss how the work of research is rendered invisible in the end product. Kat encourages a process of ‘journeying through the data’; actually entering in to the research – including being with the objects and taking bits home. Her innovative approach plays on the punk/hacker ethic of DIY to describe a process of DIT- or doing it together.

These methods attract people in to the research – people who might not otherwise be involved. This preference for involvement overcomes the solitary nature of the writing process. But welcoming others also means risk as questions are raised or installations collapse in the course of display. In these ways the research becomes ‘annoyingly human’ (Les Back 2004).

More notes from the afternoon’s discussion are below, including contributions from Geof Bowker, Tom Boellstorf and other staff and students affiliated with the ISTC. I’ve linked to some of the references – but there were many more I missed. I would love to keep a bibliography here in comments, if anyone can help.

The impressionistic style is acknowledgment of the main point and revelation I took from the workshop – that there is value in transferring knowledge in all of its mess 🙂

    Inventive methods introduce answerability to a problem

    An installation might be seen as the creation of a ‘situation’ (referencing Berlant in Cruel Optimism: ‘we have a situation here’).

    On art installations – see Claire Bishop (2005)

    Clough (2009) and the empiricism of sensation (not of the senses) – the inexpressive of the reaction

    Methods are about changing a problem as it performs itself

    Generalization which is not universalism

    Mike Michael – on anecdotes

    The consultant’s duty to industry: ‘just give me the nugget’. Nina, remembering a conversation with Kris: What kind of nugget? A gold nugget? A chicken McNugget?! What about instead of a nugget, a piece of lego?

    Research that is hard to do in text

    You can’t do one without the other. You can’t have new technologies without new forms of developing and engaging and bringing new knowledge in to the world.

    As much complexity in the model as in the world itself

    Why do we need to contort it into a form that is a shadow of the original when we can go directly from one to another?

    Radical multiplicity of what it means to be in the world

    The story/the anecdote that allows a jump shift. Michel de Certeau: the revolution begins with telling the story

    Creating a situation vs. participating in a situation already happening

    Methods carry on the disciplines.

    Method is the last (only?) gift of sociology!

    What do disciplines still have to offer?

    Interdisciplinarity is mining for methods

    Validity after poststructuralism

    What are the normative effects of the term ‘inventive’? Methods are formulaic; methods are used as recipes (except people often use recipes inventively!)

    Vulnerable to being transformed by the field site in every way

    Writing and ethnography: capturing more data than you realize you are capable of

    Recognising that the world is messy is an analytical choice.

    The labor of installation

    ‘tactical orthodoxy’

    online analysis is ‘temptingly accessible’ – the problem of ‘weekend ethnography’

    traditional forms of reward, status, reception

    Nina’s retraining/ MFA: aesthetic form actually works to discount the register of the sociologist.

    How a university – or a bus – becomes a ‘world’.

    You hit someone with impact. Entanglement is involvement.

    What is the labor of rigor?

    Validity in excess.


One Response to “Transmissions and entanglements”

  1. Anti-social computing – some keywords on subjectivity : home cooked theory
    June 5th, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

    […] meetings I’ve been in lately. Most of them won’t make sense, but in the interests of transmitting entanglement, I want to record how much amazing thinking is happening around me, if not necessarily by […]

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