Event 2: Public panel
Event 2: Transmissions: Inventive Enactments of the Social
Day 1 – Public Panel and Conference dinner
I opened the lecture by welcoming the audience to the public lecture for Transmissions and Entanglements (there were about 40 people in the room, which was a great turnout). I set about framing the event, saying that this event ‘Inventive Enactments of the Social’ was the second in a series for the project. The first ‘Uses of Inventive Methods‘ was held in April at UCI, Irvine.
The overall project is concerned with inventive methods and modes of knowledge exchange. It sets out to explore the potential of new digital technologies and material practices in qualitative research and the potential they hold for maximising knowledge exchange.
I talked briefly about how it is premised on the idea that far from operating as a point of closure, how people make, curate and represent knowledge offers new ways of understanding the social world. I also asked one of the core questions: What happens if we consider the ways in which we represent our research as being as critical as how we do it? What happens when we invite people into the process of making knowledge?
I introduced the speakers and the structure of the event:
– Larissa Hjorth: Associate Professor and co-director of the Digital Ethnography Research Centre in the School of Media & Communication, RMIT University, Australia.
– Kristina Lindström and Åsa Stahl: Artists and researchers at the School of Arts and Communication, Malmö University, Sweden.
– Response: Nina Wakeford: Reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths and director of studio INCITE.
I finished by thanking the interdisciplinary collective supporters of the event: Intel Corporation’s Interaction and Experience Research Lab (Portland, Oregon), Intel’s Science and Technology Centre for Social Computer at University of California, Irvine and the Sociology Department here at Goldsmiths.
Larissa Hjorth – Associate Professor and co-director of the
Digital Ethnography Research Centre, School of Media & Communication, RMIT University, Australia
– ‘The Place of the Mobile: Mobile media’s stories of emplaced methods and other cartographies’.
For over a decade Larissa has been researching the gendered and socio-cultural dimensions of mobile, social, locative and gaming cultures in the Asia–Pacifics. What attracts me to her work is not only her topics of research but also how she innovatively curates her process and findings across multiple media and cultural forms and invites others to enter into it in the process of doing it. In her talk she discussed how mobile media has become an embedded part of everyday life, focusing on the ‘messy’ nature of ubiquitous media (Dourish and Bell 2011) and the convergence and entanglement between social, locative and mobile media which remind us of the endurance of place as a series of ‘stories-as-far’ (Massey 2005).
Over the decade in which mobile communication has developed into mobile media, the ways in which the mobile phone—as a set of practices, artefacts and research tools—has grown to envelope new social, technological, material and immaterial cartographies.
Using vignettes of her projects, she explored some of the many ways in which mobile media has shaped, and been shaped by, methods as a vehicle for knowledge transmission.
Åsa and Kristina discussed ‘inviting and being invited’ as an inventive method. They who have been collaborating on innovative and inventive projects for over a decade and their collaboration explores their interest in storytelling, participation and everyday communication using an eclectic range of modes of transmission such as answering machines, embroidery, text messages and other often mundane objects. I find their work compelling not only for how they engage ideas in multiple socio-material ways but also for their ongoing interdisciplinary collaborative entanglements (- they are doing a PhD together).
In short, we see the formulation of an invitation both as a formulation of a problem space, or area of interest, and as a proposal for how to engage with it.
These invitations, such as embroidering an SMS or handing over a discarded mobile phone, at times also becomes an opportunity for others to invite us, and thereby also perform the problem space that we invited to and engage in, but in slightly different ways.
Importantly our invitations are not only done in words, although we pay a lot of attention to the words. But, our invitations are also carved out together with materialities.
Nina talked about the process, performance and participatory nature of inventive methods and knowledge exchange. She talked about the ‘ecology of projects’ presented in both talks that ‘really speak to a potential overlap between some of the social research projects about media and technologies with links to new media art and participatory objects’.
She argued that this speaks to a ‘renewed interest in process, performativity and enactments’ and she welcomed the ‘careful consideration and use of materials’ which offers and interesting opportunity to explore to what extent ‘this transfers to social research’.
She drew attention to the difficulty of separating the projects from the outputs, asking can transmission be separate from research? Do we want to ‘force a staging of a moment of dissemination as a thing or whether let that go and acknowledge those processes are more difficult’?
Nina drew on previous work to argue that new media artists over the last decade were ‘answerable to three spheres and one of those was the conventional art world’. Also problematic were links with technological spheres (engineering, comp sci etc) and links to other subcultures, such as hacking and activism (which Nina points out did not emerge in the two talks). She points out how new media art is becoming linked to research processes and data and then raises further questions for discussion.
– The importance of place emerged strongly in both talks. Many modes of knowledge transmission are site specific – what happens when they move?
– What generic features of entanglement might be transferrable as a method/methodology?
– What formations of entanglement get stuck (or should be stuck?) in one discipline, and what can become mobile? What kind of ethics adhere to these?
Nina also raised a key theme in both talks about institutional context, asking – how critical is it to understand how institutions shape, enable, recognise, value and support this kind of work?
Q. What is being destabilised in the search for alternative methodological configuration? Is it a destabilisation in regard to our own disciplines? Is it a destabilisation with our relationship with field participants? What kinds of claims to power are going on in doing these kinds of methods that present themselves to our disciplinary colleagues and our field participants as mysteries?
Larissa responded by saying that the shift in the mobile from a communication tool to a new media tool means the rhetoric of participation is coming back into the research and role of the researcher. ‘It is not like the researcher has more knowledge of the tool than the participant, actually most of the time the participants have more knowledge’. The circuit of culture of dissemination has shifted also in response – ‘participants do not have to wait to get the book to read, they can read it on the internet’. She says, ‘it creates new dilemmas about the dynamics’ and how she ‘thinks about it all the time’.
Åsa raised the issue of who is the research now, suggesting it is the role of the researcher that is destabilised. ‘What collective does research?’ ‘It includes all the pthers who participate in our project’. She also tlaked about how may of thier participants ask quite indeoth and sophisticated questions – ‘What is your question’. ‘What is your research problem?’ ‘What is your hypothesis’. Many of their participants write to them on Facebook to follow up on their work. They also read related papers and offer reference suggestions. She said ‘there are many ideas about the research going on at the same time and many want to join us in the search and others want to know what the answer is’. So, identities, power dimensions and also temporalities are destabilised.
Kristina raised extra issues in terms of nomenclature. It was important for funders to call their work an ‘exhibition’ whereas many participants thought of it more as a ‘workshop’. One of the organisations called it a ‘study circle’ but this was not understood by others in the same way. She says that ‘it has been a challenge to balance all of these different things’.
Q. What kinds of ‘social’ are being enacted? Can mobile technologies really affirm the social? What ‘version’ or ‘versions of the social are being enacted? How do you see your role as researchers in this? To endorse or enable ot problematise particular versions of the social?
Larissa responded by saying that these are ‘compressions of the social’, ‘fleeting’, ‘micro-narratives’ and she sees her role as ‘trying to unpack and put them into context’. She said that she does not see herself ‘selling mobile media’ just because she is using it. Larissa shares an example of a viewer of the ‘CU Project’ who said that that her participants seemed ‘lonely’ which she interpreted as the result of ‘taking the compressions, putting them into a series and making them into a movie’ creating an experience and representation that can only ever be partial and ‘a limited version of the social’.
Q. What is being rendered visible/knowable and what is compressed/lost?
The group headed into the atrium of the New Academic Building for drinks where we became entangled with the Department of Media and Communication’s end of year show.
The group dinner was organised at Taz, an Anatolian Turkish restaurant in Borough which involved catching a tube to London Bridge.
Good thoughts need good food and conversation flowed well with the meze. People told me later that meeting up the night before a day long symposium helped create connections (and entanglements) across experience, disciplinary backgrounds and training.
Though the evening did get a bit much for some….