In this presentation Chiara gave at the Congresso de Humanidades Digitais em Portugal held at the Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa (8-9 October 2015), we focus on “digital scholarship”, which has been the central notion of the first line of work of the research project “The importance of Being Digital”. I introduced the notion and some of the debates surrounding it and then referred these debates to our research experience, leaning on data coming from the transcripts from the workshop we had in Portugal with Martin Weller (Open University, UK), the focus group we held at the end of these workshops and the interviews with participants to both events. We propose two provocations. The first one is a political one: is digital scholarship a luxury for the few? The second one is an epistemological one: is digital scholarship old wine in new bottle?
In the social sciences there has been a recent but growing interest in experimental cultures and on their affordances in re-shaping social methods and knowledge. The experimental is going “live” (Marres 2012) by being approached as a process rather than as a site (Corsín Jiménez 2013). Open-endness, practice/material-orientedness, the incorporation of failure, the transformation of informants into counterparts, the abandonment of a representationalist paradigm, knowledge as craft, are some of the characteristics of experimental ‘ways of knowing’.
Drawing on a set of digital practices such as hacking, prototyping, open sourcing and on experiences of intense collaborations with different communities of expertise or practice – designers, artists, architects, bloggers – a group of scholars coming from anthropology and/or STS have been exploring new ways of producing knowledge based on experimental cultures. Among them, Alberto Corsín Jiménez’s explorations of prototyping as a cultural and epistemic form (2013; also Corsín Jiménez, Estalella & Zoohaus forthcoming), Adolfo Estalella and Tomás Sanchéz-Criado’s proposal for re-functioning of traditional ethnography through an exercise of experimental collaboration (forthcoming); Wendy Gunn and colleagues’ methodological proposal for Design Anthropology, an interdisciplinary proposal for doing anthropological research through design and design through anthropology (2013); and Matt Ratto’s pedagogic and methodological experiments with “critical making”, “a mode of materially productive engagement that is intended to bridge the gap between creative physical and conceptual exploration” (2011: 252). Although heterogeneous and not necessarily related to each other, what these proposals have in common is an approach to the process of knowledge as a process of becoming, as something transformative – practiced explicitly as “a technology of question formation” (Faubion in Marcus 2013: 400).
To discuss what “epistemic cultures built on collaboration, provisionality, recycling, experimentation and creativity” (Corsín Jiménez 2013: 382) could bring in terms of political innovation within academia and beyond and to elaborate on the new models of scholarship that experimental cultures could foster in the social sciences, we are organizing a seminar in Coimbra for the next 29th of June. Are experimental epistemic cultures and practices re-designing the current infrastructures of knowledge – and academia as we know it? And if so, in which ways? How does the ‘experimental’ articulates with the current structures of research policies and funding? How does it combine with the actual academic organizational ecosystems? The seminar aims at reflecting on what kind of ‘political’ do these experimental practices perform – what kind of ‘political’ do they bring-into-provisional-being – or, as Corsín Jiménez & Estalella (2010) put it, what kind of hope do they prototype?
To that aim, the seminar will foster a dialogue between different ways of experimenting and bringing the ‘political’ into being in the making of social knowledge.
29 of June 2015
10 am – 17 pm
Introduction [presentation available]
Urban pedagogies in beta: emplacing Free Culture in the city [presentation available]
Response-able experimenting: response-ability and the politics of experimental knowledge
What artistic methodologies do to the ethnographic method? Fieldwork roles, modes of register and the politics of fieldwork
Arts-based research and teaching [presentation available]
Design and free culture: meaningful interactions [presentation available]
Full programme with bios and abstract here
Corsín Jiménez, Alberto, Estalella, Adolfo and Zoohaus. 2013. “The interior design of (free) knowledge”, Journal of Cultural Economy 7(4): 493-515.
Corsín Jiménez, Alberto. 2013. “Introduction: The prototype: more than many and less than one”. Journal of Cultural Economy 7(4): 381-398.
Corsín Jiménez, Alberto, & Estalella, Adolfo. 2010. “The prototype: a sociology in abeyance”. Prototyping prototyping, ed. Christopher Kelty. Accessed November 8, 2014. http://limn.it/the-prototype-a-sociology-in-abeyance/#ftn5.
Estalella, Adolfo & Criado, Tomás Sánchez (eds.), Forthcoming. Ethnography as experimental collaboration. EASA Book Series, Berghahn.
Gunn, Wendy, et al (eds.) 2013. Design Anthropology: theory and practice. London & New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
Marcus, George. 2013. “Prototyping and contemporary anthropological experiments with ethnographic method”. Journal of Cultural Economy 7(4): 399-410.
Marres, Noortje. 2012. “The experiment in living”. In Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford, eds. Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social. London and New York: Routledge, 76-95.
Ratto, Matt. 2011. “Critical making: conceptual and material studies in technology and social life”. The Information Society 27: 252-260.
In late May I went to Covilha to present a paper – developed with Tiago Santos Pereira – at the International Conference “Communicating Science: Emerging Publication Models“. The paper aims at exploring to what extent different notions and approaches related to digital technologies that are gaining relevance in the social sciences identify different scholarly communities and to pinpoint the role of “Digital Methods” in the bigger picture. This work represented a preliminary attempt to apply some of the tools we have been experimenting during the Oficinas Digital Methods in late 2014 – we played in particular with Sciencescape, OpenRefine and Gephi. We decided to use the tools in an explorative and inductive fashion. This was a choice not only motivated by our recent engagement with these tools, but also a way to cope with the classical problem of “experimenter regress” (Venturini et al. 2014, p. 16): because of the novelty of these methods, the claims are difficult to ground and both concepts and results appear “unclear”. There is a risk that visual artefacts aesthetically appealing or intuitively convincing self-validate themselves. Finding stable criteria to evaluate the artefacts is particularly difficult for novice of the field. As a way out, Venturini et al. (ibid.) suggests to compare the results of the tools with results obtained in traditional research, hoping to find a consistency among them. We follow this advice: the considerations we propose in the paper are the result of the triangulation between visual network analysis of the scientific fields around digital methods and a more traditional literature review, enriched by our personal experience with leading scholars of the field. Rather than as “evidence”, we used the visual artefacts as “hints” for our investigation, questioning if and how they resonate with our knowledge of the literature, approaching digital methods as a partner in knowledge co-production.
We participated to the Conference Changing Worlds. Ideologies, Utopias and Ambitions in Science and Technology, held at the Department of Science and Technology Studies of the University of Vienna on 20–22 November 2014. We presented a paper entitled “Digital ways of knowing: the digital turn in social sciences and their epistemological utopias”, as a first attempt to give a more structured shape to an ongoing reflexion about the potentialities and challenges of digital technologies for research purposes. The empirical work in progress that is being carrying out in the project, as well as the variagate collection of scholarly “pieces of reflexions” published on personal/collective websites and blogs that we have been collecting so far, stimulated us to reflect on expectations and utopias – but also of anxieties and disbeliefs – regarding the contributions of the digital to academic work and to knowledge creation.
In this presentation we focused our attention on spaces such as the ‘media-labs’, that are not defined by academic disciplinary cultures but explore new forms of knowledge production, offering an interesting perspective on the reconfigurations enabled by digital technologies and tools. The research project is giving us the possibility to approach – to some extent to interact with – the epistemic cultures of two medialabs, the Medialab Prado in Madrid and the Medialab-SciencesPo, in Paris, whose reconfigurations are modelled by imaginaries and particular utopias associated to the digital. While depicting the epistemic culture of Medialabs is far beyond our scope, we attempt to follow the associations/links between ideas, people, spaces, activities through which these utopias circulate and/or are generated. To some extent, it seems to us that following these associations can give us access to how particular utopias related to the digital are shaping different practices of knowledge production – including our own.
UPDATE! The article has been accepted for publication and will come out in late 2015.
In October and November 2014 we finally had a series of workshops we planned for experimenting and discussing the potential of digital methods for social sciences and humanities. Digital methods are a set of methods aimed at supporting researchers’ ability to explore and display data or objects that can be collected through the Web (Dutton-Jeffreys, 2010). As Richard Rogers (2009) made clear, these methods could not exist or even be conceived without the web, as their mode of operation is based on objects/content/devices/environments that are natively digital, or born in the new medium, as opposed to the ones that simply “migrated” into it. According to other scholars, such as Venturini and Latour (2010), the potential of digital technologies for social sciences research could lie in allowing for the overcoming of the traditional micro/macro dualism, making possible to track both the actors and the interactions among them while collective phenomena emerge, and to develop analyses of social phenomena that achieve at the same time “breadth and depth” (ibid., p. 2).
We had the pleasure to have Tommaso Venturini, Paul Girard and Benjamin Ooghe Tabanou as our instructors for two two-days workshops in which they showed us the tools they are developing at the Medialab Paris and guided us in applying them to a wide set of research questions.
Opened by a lecture for CES PhD students held by Venturini, the workshops involved 15 researchers from several Portuguese university that applied some of the methods to a wide set of research in progress, such as the case of the Portuguese memorandum during the recent economic crisis in the country, the EU discourse about scientific mobility, the development of the new European Data Protection Act.
The slide from the lecture and the workshop are here.
Tuesday, Oct 28
Wednesday, Oct 29
|Morning session9.30-13.00||Working with data and networks:|
|Afternoon session14.30-18.00||Tommaso Venturini, PhD seminar (lecture, CES, Sala 1; 14.30-17.30) Escaping the Great DivideHow actor-network theory, digital methods and network analysis can make us sensitive to the differences in the density of associations||Extracting data
Workshop projects’ presentation:
Thursday, Nov 13
Friday, Nov 14
|Morning session9.30-13.00||Projects advancement presentation:
||Work under the guidance of the médialab team|
|Afternoon session14.30-18.00||Work under the guidance of the médialab team||Results presentation:
Del 27 al 29 de Agosto del 2014 se llevó a cabo la escuela de verano del FORCCAST, (Formación para Cartografía de Controversias y el Análisis de las Ciencias y las Tecnologías) proyecto de Science Po y de otras catorce universidades y centros de investigación. Se realizó en la Ciudad de París, en un salón de la École de Mines desde cuyas ventanas podía disfrutarse una vista excepcional de los Jardínes de Luxemburgo. Yo estuve ahí y a manera de bitácora comparto mis mayores impresiones.
La primera fue sentirme como la invitada de otra invitada a la fiesta, lo que se conoce como “colada”. Mi distancia teórica y empírica con el tema central de la escuela me aisló de muchas discusiones pero esa distancia me permitió tener una perspectiva muy abierta. El grupo de 35 personas estaba formado por el staff, un grupo de participantes pequeño con experiencia de docencia en el tema; otro de investigadores independientes que parecían haber asistido al curso a resolver cuestiones muy puntuales y otro grupo, en el que me encontraba yo, de estudiantes curiosos. Esta heterogeneidad fue uno de los mayores desafíos para poder profundizar en todos los intereses ahí reunidos. Las actividades propuestas por el – por cierto, muy amable y efectivo comité organizador – fueron muy útiles para algunos participantes pero para otros, como fue mi caso, no resultaron actividades estimulantes.
Mi segunda gran impresión fue la de estar en el laboratorio de una idea revolucionaria: el investigador híbrido sumará su inteligencia a la de su máquina para construir nuevo conocimiento. Estuve frente a científicos sociales audaces, comprometidos con empujar los límites de la producción científica, y por ello me sentí afortunada. Sin embargo, confieso que no siempre resultaron cómodos sus planteamientos. Mi antropocentrismo fue provocado repetidamente al punto de revelárseme cuán reducido era mi concepto de “ser humano”. En este sentido, aunque hubo muy poca discusión filosófica, los planteamientos generales de estas nuevas metodologías de investigación socio-tecnológica responden a muy progresistas –casi futuristas – concepciones de lo humano y de sus relaciones con seres no humanos.
Por último, mi tercer mayor recuerdo fue el de estar frente a creativos que festejan el descubrimiento de errores. En el tercer día pudimos conocer herramientas digitales para graficar, mapear, interpretar, leer datos, textos, prevalencia en internet; conocimos desde las más antiguas hasta las recién “salidas del horno”. Así conocimos las nuevas potenciales y sofisticación hasta ahora alcanzada. Los diseñadores de estas herramientas, programadores, filósofos, antropólogos y sociólogos, no parecen estar buscando una versión final de las aplicaciones que diseñan. En cambio, parecen apostar por un programa de análisis de código abierto permanente para estar siempre en constante innovación.
En suma, puedo decir que fue una experiencia que promete una lenta y afortunada digestión intelectual.
Ximena Peredo, CES’s PhD in “Democracy in the XXI century”
Credits: photos from MediaLab equipe
The way humanists use digital media is a topic in which we are very much interested in the project “Being Digital”. Apparently, academics in humanities use the digital “to do their same things”, that is, they tend to use the digital for the purpose of digitization of content – this is an aspect that we could observe from the comparison between two groups of researchers doing the Digital Scholarship Workshop that we recently organized, where we had an heterogeneous group in Lisbon with people coming from different areas whereas in Coimbra we had a group mostly composed of people in humanities. The way these groups reacted to the exercises done in the workshop suggests differences in use of the digital that seem to point out to the ‘digitization of content’ kind of approach by the humanists. I suppose that’s because humanists live in a (human-centric) world where society is one thing and technical things are another one, and so they use the digital as just another media – as if a neutral vehicle of their work. A few days ago we had a session in CES where interns in several projects presented their work. Ana Rui Fonseca was one of these interns who have been working with us in the project “Being Digital”.
Ana Rui Fonseca is an undergraduate student of Anthropology in her second year at the Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia of the University of Coimbra who accepted the challenge of exploring the analytical possibilities of digital methods for social research – an aspect that is largely to be explored. This required a big effort from Ana Rui because of the technical difficulties related with these tools. In this respect, Ana Rui really put her hands on the technical stuff and did the ‘dirty work’ that humanists usually don’t like doing and she really explored the technical use of digital instruments. She focused her work on Gephi, a software for visualizing networks, and prepared a tutorial for the use of this tool and uploaded it on Youtube.
I had the pleasure to comment Ana Rui’s exploration of this instrument. She used her facebook network to explore the potential of this tool in terms of data visualization, which was surely a good starting point for exploring the functional potential of the tool, however, I had the feeling that other possibilities may have been explored – I commented it would be interesting to see an exploration of Gephi for “real” networks or controversies; it would be interesting to have seen her experimenting how to move from the “chaos” of networks and controversies to the “clean” version of a graphic connections between nodes – although, to be fair, engaging in such complexity would be better done in a different kind of context – a masters’ thesis, for example. I also suggested that it would be interesting to have seen her reflecting on some of the aspects that such a visual representation of networks leaves behind – Gephi seems to “reduce” interactions to the connections between dots – but what to do with all the stuff (all the qualitative, maybe phenomenological dimensions) in socio-technical controversies that doesn’t go in that representation? In case she is interested in following that thread in the future, I pointed out a book called “Lines”, by Tim Ingold – apparently nothing to do with this, but specially of interest for this purpose are his explorations about mapping and his idea that there is more in interactions/relations/networks than just the junction between the dots – I think there are a lot of ideas there that can be inspiring and particularly challenging if put in contrast with Latour’s networks and especially Venturini’s ANTA, literatures that she also explored.
The point is that I realise afterwards that myself (being somehow a humanist living in a human-centric research world – I am an anthropologist, by the way) was caught in my own human-centrism: what I could have suggested her, and this would perhaps be more interesting – now it’s too late!, would be exploring how does the digital mediates social research – I believe this would be an enormous contribution in respect to what scholars in digital humanities are doing. Virtual ethnographers are not doing this; cyborg anthropology is not doing this; digital ethnography is not doing this (“Like a traditional anthropologist, the main concern of a digital ethnographer is locating the field site and learning the language of the natives. The difference is that the anthropologist may be able to access the field site without physical travel”); people in visual anthropology and media studies are not doing this : what they are doing is the traditional stuff but through digital media – some do online ethnographies others study the relationship between people and digital technologies. All of these examples couldn’t be a better example of ‘digital humanism’: research with digital means. The tools that Ana Rui engaged with are good opportunities for exploring the potentials of the digital as mediators of social research – but she definitely could have gone further in that respect; the point is that even myself missed that point when suggesting her to look at other ways of ‘mapping’ the social – which is not irrelevant – but I was maybe entrapped in my own disciplinary human-centrism and therefore reproducing humanist concerns such as: where is the phenomenological stuff? Anthropologists are usually good in identifying all sorts of parochialism – except their own disciplinary ones, which is something I learn by working in an interdisciplinary project as this one. Humanities, for a start, is an obsolete term: what we need is maybe post-humanities explorations of the digital.