The Aftermath of the ‘Social’

An attendee reading the programme for Inventing the Social

An attendee reading the programme for Inventing the Social

Martin Savransky has written a commentary to Inventing the Social symposium for CSISP Online. The page on CSISP Online also includes audio recordings of the symposium sessions (thanks to Joe Deville) as well as photos taken by Laura Cuch as well as myself.

Here’s some more photos from the event.

Carolin Gerlitz presenting her paper: Detecting the Socials: Mapping Privacy with Twitter

David Oswell summing up the first day.

David Oswell summing up the first day.

Ignacio Farias: Reprogramming The Urban Social: Experiments In Post-Neoliberal Governmentality

Ignacio Farias presenting his paper: Reprogramming The Urban Social: Experiments In Post-Neoliberal Governmentality

 

Lisa Blackman responding to a question from Andrew Barry

Lisa Blackman responding to a question from Andrew Barry

The audience participating in Dan Neyland's 'social' experiment

The audience participating in Dan Neyland’s ‘social’ experiment

Fabian Muniesa presenting his paper Against The Behavioral Shibboleth

Fabian Muniesa presenting his paper Against The Behavioral Shibboleth

The audience and participants at the Orangery, Goldsmiths.

The audience and participants at the Orangery, Goldsmiths.

Lisa Blackman responding to my paper on Speculative Method.

Lisa Blackman responding to my paper on Speculative Method. Photograph © Laura Cuch 2014.

Questions during the publics session

Questions during the publics session

Daniel Lopez responding to Will Davies, Michael Guggenheim and Judith Kröll

Daniel Lopez responding to Will Davies, Michael Guggenheim and Judith Kröll

Posted in Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process, Conference, Events, Goldsmiths | Comments closed

Speculation in Social Science

Last Friday I participated in a conference session at the British Sociological Association entitled ‘Speculation in Social Science: Novel Methods for Re-Inventing Problems’. The session was organised by Marsha Rosengarten, Michael Halewood, Jennifer Gabrys, Martin Savransky and myself as part of the Unit of Play.

University of Leeds Roger Stevens Building, designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon

University of Leeds Roger Stevens Building, designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon

Here’s the session blurb from the conference handbook:

“In this panel members of a research cluster within the Unit of Play, Goldsmiths, will collectively discuss and develop approaches to speculative research and practice. Speculative approaches to research and practice are emerging across multiple fields as a way to develop not simply descriptive engagements with topics, but rather to make propositions that invent new possibilities for research and practice. Speculation may be considered a fitting response to a dynamic world that cannot be held, observed and acted upon without effect. Relatedly, its intention to engage with the dynamic and, hence, transformative nature of ‘things’, including the way in which distinctions between ‘things’ are situational, contingent and, therefore, always in process invites us to consider what we might seek in our research effect/s. In this session, we present some of the methodological premises for devising a mode of speculative research and, through reference to a series of empirical ‘problems’, offer a series of context specific illustrations of what novel methods – textual, visual, aural, digital – might do. In contrast to the usual order of selecting methods, it is their prospective doing that will be discussed as the guide to their design. Our key concern will be to address the question: What might a speculative research approach offer to the re-inventing of otherwise seemingly near intractable ‘problems’?”

Speculation in Social Science session at the 2014 BSA.

Speculation in Social Science session at the 2014 BSA.

And here’s the titles and abstract, in order of presentation at the conference:

Creatures of Thought: Speculative Thinking and Inventive Knowledge
Savranksy, M.
Speculation is, in its most general sense, a fight against probabilities. Insofar as Science, and more specifically, the Social Sciences, have traditionally been invested in producing forms of knowledge that might be capable of making probable and plausible claims about the world, at first sight it would seem that speculation cannot but remain excluded from all those practices of knowledge-production we call ‘scientific’. As I will argue in this paper, however, the opposite is the case. Indeed, by drawing on authors such as John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead and Isabelle Stengers, I will suggest that speculative thinking is not only central to the production of scientific knowledge but also, and crucially, a creative means to reconstruct scientific modes of inquiry whenever their habitual practices have brought them to stalemates and situations of crisis. The risk of speculation, I will propose, concerns the production of what I call ‘creatures of thought’. Creatures of thought are neither theories nor methods. They behave like troublemakers. They are intellectual instrumentalities whose job is not that of providing a solution to pre-existent problems. In contrast, they operate by ingressing into a practical stiuation as a concern that might force the inquiry to hesitate and thus, to refrain from explaining the situation away by imposing ready-made solutions. In so doing, creatures of thought infect practices with novel possibilities so that scientific problems may be developed in inventive ways, thus allowing them to resist an otherwise likely future.

Speculative Method and Twitter: Bots, Energy and Three Conceptual Characters
Wilkie, A. & Michael, M., Plummer-Fernandez, M.
This paper aims to contribute to recent innovations in social scientific methodology that aspire to address the complex, iterative, and performative dimensions of method. In particular, we focus on the becoming-with character of social events, and propose a speculative method for engaging with the not-as-yet. This work, being part of a larger project that uses speculative design and ethnographic methods to explore energy-demand reduction, specifically considers the ways in which energy-demand reduction features in the Twitter-sphere. Developing and deploying three automated Bots whose function and communications are at best obscure, and not uncommonly nonsensical, we trace some of ways in which they intervene and provoke. We draw on the ‘conceptual characters’ of idiot, parasite and diplomat to try to grasp how the Bots act within the Twitter to evoke the instability and emergent eventuations of energy-demand reduction, community, and related practices. We conclude by drawing out some of the wider implications of this particular enactment of speculative method.

Pollution Sensing and the Shadowy World of Things: An Opening into Speculative Research and Practice
Gabrys, J.
In what ways might speculative research and practice be understood not as an individual habit of mind, but as something that is undertaken collectively and through distributed experiences? Speculation, this paper will suggest, is not simply about humans speculating about futures, but about how the potential to speculate is distributed through things. Things are propositions and potentialities for feelings and encounters: they lure us into ways of being. In this sense, any account of ‘the social’ would necessarily need to attend to the things that are continually drawing us into encounters, feelings and occasions. How might speculative research attend to the collectives constitutive of–and even cultivating–specific modes of speculation? In relation to social science research and practice, this paper considers how a collective speculative approach might further change approaches to communities, citizenship and participation– undertakings that are apparently political but proceed from more epistemic and rational-categorical starting points. How might things, more-than-humans, or a distributed range of subjects that flicker in and out of presentational encounters to recede into vague inferences reconfigure political encounters, and make openings in the social that create potentials for new encounters? This presentation will consider these questions in relation to citizen science projects concerned with pollution sensing, and will develop an account of the entities that are drawn together within pollution sensing to speculate about environmental events, politics and futures. The paper will finally consider how a speculative and collective approach to pollution sensing might help to articulate environmental politics–and citizenship–differently.

The Re-invention of Research Subjects as a Lure for Novelty
Rosengarten, M.
Lauding novel speculative methods may prove to be an isolated affair unless those who make up a significant proportion of the sciences learn, Isabelle Stengers suggests, ‘to shrug their shoulders’ at the authority of theory, its presupposition to know in advance and its pursuit of a world without the provocation of difference. Here I ask what might enable such a ‘shrug’ or, indeed, if there may be another source—a lure—for extending the perceptible of research? On the basis of a series of discussions with those responsible for conducting what is regarded as the ‘gold’ standard for prediction and generalization, that is, the randomized control trial (RCT) in HIV and their accounts of unexpected effects from research subject participation giving rise to RCT ‘failure’ or ‘flat results’ (no demonstration of efficacy), I’ve come to wonder whether the research subjects, themselves, might be reconceived as a lure. If RCT ‘failure’ is indicative of a transformative capacity, it may be that possibilities for extending the perceptible depend not so much on learning to shrug but that the learning process, itself, might come from a more direct exposure to research subjects unencumbered by the endeavor for generalization.

Speculation as a Constraint on Thought: Whitehead, Stengers and the Role of the Future in the Present
Halewood, M.
If ‘speculation’ is taken to refer to ‘conjecture without complete knowledge of all the facts’ (as the Collins dictionary defines the word), then we are in dangerous territory. Speculation could seem to be an invitation for mere guesswork where the absence of facts allows for unsubstantiated claims to be made. At the same time, how many sociologists (or scientists) can really say, or would want to say, that they are in complete possession of all the facts? So, in a more positive sense, speculation could be seen as a useful tool which recognizes the incomplete and processual character of the world and invites us to develop approaches to thinking and research which bear witness to the inherent dynamism of existence. In this paper, I will attempt to outline how speculation could be a productive tool for social research but will insist that any invocation of speculation must be wary of falling into the trap of allowing for mere conjecture. Following Stengers, I will argue that openness always places a limit and a responsibility on thought or, as Stengers puts it: ‘Keeping the doors and windows open is a constraint on thinking’ (Stengers 2009, 18). The substantial argument that I will make will outline and assess two key concepts. The first is that of speculation as set out by A. N. Whitehead in the first pages of Process and Reality. The second is Whitehead’s various descriptions of the role of the future in the present. Through these analyses, I will argue that speculation can be an important aspect of social research but as long as a limit is put on the operations of thought within such speculation. Furthermore, in order to avoid notions of determinacy and to allow for novelty within the social world and social research, the future must be inscribed within the present as a limiting but productive form of what Whitehead calls ‘conformation’.

Lunch at the BSA 2014.

Lunch at the BSA 2014.

Posted in Conference, Goldsmiths, Method, Performativity, Sociology, Speculation, STS, Unit of Play | Comments closed

Inventing the Social

With Noortje Marres and Michael Guggenheim, I’m organising the 10th anniversary event for the Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process.

Here’s the poster for the event, drawing on past poster design and listing a sample of events that the Centre has organised and hosted over the past ten years. The names give an indication of the richness of the Centre’s activities and intellectual mileau.

Inventing the Social

Click here to see the PDF version of the Poster: Inventing the Social

Here’s the blurb:

“There has been talk of a ‘return of the social’ now that social media, social innovation and social design present and push themselves as objects, instruments and contexts of research and engagement. Social and cultural researchers might be tempted to recognize in the ‘social’ a ‘ghost from the past,’ as important and customary questions about the nature of collectivity and the relation between social stability and change – endurance and invention – are posed with renewed urgency. At the same time, to seek refuge in these questions would surely provide us with a false sense of security and result in missed opportunities.

Crucially, the return of the social should not be mistaken as a return to ‘the human’. Practices of social innovation, design and media stand out precisely insofar as they attribute distinctive capacities for sociality to technology, settings and things. Empirically, this also seems to be significant, as ‘bots’ turn out to be the most active users on Twitter, and a plastic island in the Pacific ‘brings us together’ in ways that no politician seems capable of doing.

In this symposium, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of CSISP by exploring renewed efforts at the socialisation of technology, the environment and implicated entities, both as a phenomenon to be investigated and as a challenge to savour and respond to. We are especially interested in the question of whether and how the ‘return of the social’ involves a radicalization of the ‘performativity’ agenda in social and cultural research and theory. It has long been recognized that sociality is ‘performed’, ‘accomplished’ or ‘enacted’, but technological and environmental practices raise the further possibilities that sociality can also be activated, generated, created and produced. Here, we seem to be faced with a further de- naturalization of the social.

The issue of the ‘social’ also has major implications for the practice of sociological research itself, for example, how social research, broadly defined, might participate in the invention of the social. What if sociology adopted the agenda of the invention of the social? Is this possible? Indeed, can sociology ask more ‘inventive’ questions or explicitly engage in ‘problem-making’? These are, of course, risky and tricky questions, which require a suitably experimental and ludic approach. In this symposium, we take up these questions in a symmetrical fashion, as ‘problems’ pertaining to the conceptual, methodological, empirical, bureaucratic, and stylistic devices that participate in the practice of social research.”

We’ve organised a fantastic line-up of people, many of whom who have played a part in the centre over the past ten years.

Speakers
Lisa Blackman (Goldsmiths)
Nigel Clark (Lancaster University)
Will Davies (Warwick University)
Maarten Derksen (Universiteit Groningen) Ignacio Farias (WZB, Berlin)
Michael Guggenheim (Goldsmiths)
Carolin Gerlitz (University of Amsterdam)
Bernd Kraeftner/Judith Kröll (Vienna)
Fabian Muniesa (Mines Tech, Paris) Noortje Marres (Goldsmiths)
Alex Wilkie (Goldsmiths)

Respondents and Chairs
Andrew Barry (UCL)
Rebecca Coleman (Goldsmiths)
Michael Halewood (Essex)
Daniel Lopez (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)
Anders Koed Madsen (Aalborg University Copenhagen)
Linsey McGoey (Essex)
Liz Moor (Goldsmiths)
Dan Neyland (Goldsmiths)
David Oswell (Goldsmiths)
Marsha Rosengarten (Goldsmiths)
Manuel Tironi (Catholic University of Chile)

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments closed

Experience as Evidence?

I’m participating in the symposium  ‘Experience as Evidence? – Sciences of Subjectivity in Healthcare, Policy and Practice’ at St Hughes College, Oxford in October 2014. I’ll be presenting a paper, co-authored with Mike Michael, entitled ‘Doing Speculation to Curtail Speculation’.

Here’s a description of the event:

‘Experience’ has long been referenced as a valuable, if ‘subjective’, resource in a variety of fields. Especially in healthcare, highly personal, embodied understandings of illness have been studied as an alternative to ‘objective’ biomedical knowledge and are often used to critique biomedical reductionism. In the wake of this critique, as well as burgeoning patient activism and health consumerism, over the last fifty years an industry has emerged that aims to capture, process and distribute the patient ‘experience’.

Participants include: Samantha AdamsMadeleine AkrichSusannah FoxHavi CarelTrisha GreenhalghTiago MoreiraJeannette PolsJohn PowellVololona RabeharisoaGlenn RobertTanja SchneiderNatascha SchüllPaul WicksSue ZieblandNeil ChurchillLouise LocockJames MunroSteve WoolgarMalte Ziewitz

Posted in Conference, STS | Comments closed

Enquiring into Modes of Existence

Noortje Marres and Bruno Latour working on the specification of new political entities.

Noortje Marres and Bruno Latour working on the specification of new political entities.

On Friday, I participated in Bruno Latour’s  ‘An Enquiry Into Modes of Existence‘ project, through a one-day workshop organised by Noortje Marres and Bruno’s project team from SciencesPo Medialab. The aim of the workshop was to work with Bruno and his team to detect and specify new political entities and their modes, or tone, of existence. In the language of the project, this meant using empirical description to better know the proposition of ‘Pol’, or, in other words, to diagnose new political becomings.

Michael Guggenheim responding to Noortje's talk on digital sociology.

Michael Guggenheim responding to Noortje’s talk on digital sociology.

Lisa Disch, from the School of Political Science, at the University of Michigan.

Lisa Disch, from the School of Political Science, at the University of Michigan.

Analysing the content and form of political speeches.

Analysing the form and content of political speeches.

For a more in-depth account of the workshop, by David Moats, click here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments closed
%d bloggers like this: