Considering the performativity of our own research practices
Location 119
Date and Start Time 03 September, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 4


  • Juliane Jarke (University of Bremen) email
  • Lisa Wood (Lancaster University) email
  • Lucas Introna (Lancaster University ) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

What happens if we take Barad's call for ethico-onto-epistemology seriously? How can we perform STS 'by Other Means', open the black box of ethnographies, and participate in their performative enactment more reflexively and creatively? Paper presentation and discussion facilitated by a respondent.

Long Abstract

STS has a strong history of reflecting on the epistemic practices of others. Yet, in spite of a strong methodological focus, STS scholars often only partially consider the performative conditions of their own research practices—not always acknowledging that their own epistemic practices are not merely 'capturing' the world, but rather enacting it. As Barad (2007) argues '"each of us" is part of the intra-active ongoing articulation of the world in its differential mattering' (p.381). Through our methods we make particular cuts and we need to acknowledge that these cuts are performative, and that other cuts are possible. How we practice our research is constitutive of what becomes enacted as knowledge (Whitehead, 1978). This has important ontological and ethical implications. Barad asks us to consider an 'ethico-onto-epistemology' which appreciates this intertwining of ethics, knowing and becoming.

We invite empirical or theoretical papers relating (but not limited) to the following themes:

● The performative conditions of methods and methodology in STS;

● Production and entanglement of subjects and objects through methods;

● The performativity of ethnographic work (also, reconsidering ethnographic work in terms of alternatives such as autoethnography or digital ethnography). What does doing ethnography differently enact, and why does it matter?

● Ethical, policy, practice and dissemination implications of the performativity of epistemic practices;

● How and what do epistemic practices such as participant observation, interviewing, transcribing, coding, and qualitative analysis enact, and why does it matter?

● What do enactments of epistemic practices offer in relation to everyday practices?

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Un/Re-making method: Enacting a posthumanist performative social science

Author: Natasha Mauthner (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper suggests that enacting a posthumanist performative social science requires un-making humanist representationalist, and re-making posthumanist performative, social research methods. The argument is illustrated through a case of a feminist method of narrative analysis.

Long Abstract

This paper suggests that enacting posthumanist performative social science world/knowledge-making projects and practices requires un/re-making social research methods: undoing their humanist representationalist enactments, configurations, and genealogies; and assembling posthumanist performative enactments, configurations, and genealogies. At the same time, the un/re-making of method demands un/re-making the very practices of un/re-making method. This paper is a contribution toward this project (see Mauthner, 2015, 2016a, 2016b). It enacts a posthumanist performative approach to knowing/enacting (the un/re-making of) social research methods through the articulation of two proposed material-discursive practices: "diffractive genealogies" and "metaphysical practices." These practices are posthumanist performative ways of knowing/enacting social research methods as both objects of study (that can be un/re-made) and agencies of observation (that can be un/remade). They are "diffractive" (Barad 2007; Haraway 1992, 1997) in that they account for the posthumanist performative metaphysics they embody and enact. This posthumanist performative un/re-making of social research methods is illustrated through a case study of Lyn Brown and Carol Gilligan's (1992) Listening Guide feminist method of narrative analysis, a method I have been engaged with for over two decades.


Author: Lisa Wood (Lancaster University)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I present both a traditional ethnographic and an autoethnographic case study relating to the expansion of medical visualisation. In juxtaposing the two, I explore questions relating to knowledge production and perception to uncover how subject and object are produced through method.

Long Abstract

It is widely accepted that reflection on researcher integration and interaction within ethnographic sites and encounters, enables recognition of partial and perspectival knowledge production. Accordingly, in all forms of ethnography, acknowledging the personal through reflexivity is vital and the embedded nature of the researcher is widely extolled (Hammersley and Atkinson, 2007, Clifford and Marcus, 1986). However, there appear to be limits to the acceptability of the personal in ethnographic accounts, with some autoethnographic accounts derided; considered to lack rigour or finesse, as self-indulgence unwelcome in academic writing or as 'sloppy sociology' (Delamont, 2009, Soyini Madison, 2006, Anderson, 2006, Buzzard, 2003, Letherby, 2002).

In this paper I present two case studies, both relating to the expansion of medical visualisation practices that could be considered 'unregulated gluttony' in a 'technological feast', as Haraway described visual expansion in culture more widely (Haraway, 1988: 581). The first account is a traditional ethnographic story generated from a project exploring the emplacement of imaging technologies into cancer treatment. It describes the decadent expansion of radiotherapy imaging, where techniques expanded beyond the capabilities of practices they aimed to progress. The second is an autoethnographic account detailing imaging practices during pregnancy. It describes visual gluttony in relation to myself and my then unborn daughter, and how these practices created a 'techno-monster' (Haraway, 1988).

In juxtaposing the two accounts, I explore questions relating to knowledge production and perception through ethnography and the potential impact of ethnographic representations to uncover how subjects and objects are produced through methods.

Interviews and Focus Groups as Ethnographic Sites for Studying the Enactment of Bodies and Selves

Author: Michael Penkler (Technical University of Munich)  email

Short Abstract

Arguing for a performative reading of interviews and focus groups, I show how they can be analyzed as experimental sites for ethnographic studies of the enactment of bodies and selves. As model public spaces they offer insights into how such processes play out in public settings more generally.

Long Abstract

Traditionally, interviews have been regarded as a method that can - avoiding bias - give unproblematic and transparent insights into informants' genuine and authentic experiences. This view on the interview as a method for 'harvesting' knowledge on what people do and feel has been also increasingly problematized in the past decades, especially through and within STS. Critics have argued that interviews and their derivatives like focus groups do not report on a separate reality, but constitute their own objects and realities. This has led some scholars to discard interviews as a research method altogether. In this paper, I propose a different methodological strategy. Drawing on a study of bodyweight and obesity practices, I show how interviews and focus groups can be understood as ethnographic sites for studying how bodies and selves are performed. We can view them as model public spaces where social realities are enacted according to specific rules. Observing these processes in action we might gain insights into how such processes play out in public settings more generally. As contemporary societies have become saturated by interviews, these methods can be regarded as privileged situations where subjects and bodies are not only performed, but where these performances are also negotiated, reinforced, contested, and resisted. Analyzing interviews and focus groups as ethnographic sites thus allows studying widely dispersed practices that are otherwise difficult to observe. It also allows raising the question of the ontological politics of interviews and group discussions and the realities we enact as researchers.

Displacing Meanings of Early Childhood Literacy: A Praxiographical Fieldwork?

Author: Lena Aronsson (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

What are the methodological implications of the concepts of 'researcher' and 'fieldwork' when conducting a praxiography? Drawing on a thesis project fieldwork in preschools the concepts will be discussed as theoretically extended when used in addition to the traditional ethnographic context.

Long Abstract

This presentation will discuss the concepts of 'researcher' and 'fieldwork' by extending traditional ethnography with a praxiographic methodology (Mol, 2002). Cases drawn from a multi-sited fieldwork in three preschools will explore the relation between what, how and where knowledge about Early Childhood Literacy is produced, when entangling neuroscience within the framework of the preschool educational practices. The fieldwork is organized in periods of alternately participation in the preschool practices and the teacher meetings; producing observations and documentations that will be discussed with the preschool teachers, interwoven with examples of brain research, in order to discuss and develop the daily preschool literacy practices.

Consequently, in this presentation of research situated in praxiography, data cannot be "collected" but rather be seen as generated in the intra-actions that arise and where the researcher is also included. Praxiography is based on the assumption that reality is relational-material and thus multiple, which methodologically displaces the researching gaze from the distantly observed to the relationally produced (Law, 2004). By that, the producing researcher is always already involved and foregrounds the networks that co-constitutes human, material and discursive actors and practices.

This presentation will discuss how the role of the researcher must be revised in order to elaborate on the questions of how different network enactments will frame and shape the field that the fieldwork is carried out in. Furthermore, a core question is how significance is displaced when interest is paid to how practices are constituted and produced, not to a defined context or place?

Ethico-onto-epistemology: some reflections on performative epistemic practices

Author: Lucas Introna (Lancaster University )  email

Short Abstract

What exactly does it mean for epistemic practices to be performative? We tend to do the same epistemic practices as in the representational paradigm—observing, describing, and narrating. How are they different; what do they enact; and, what constitutes good/valid performative epistemic practices?

Long Abstract

Social scientists have studied the epistemic practices of 'natural' scientist, in their laboratories, but have not turned their gaze towards their own epistemic practices, in any significant way. For example, we do not have a Latourian type study of 'ethnographic life'—in the idiom of the now famous 'laboratory life.' Indeed, there are many scholars in STS that claim to use the theoretical apparatus of the ontology of becoming, but still present their research methodology, and enact their epistemic practices in the language of the representational paradigm, more or less.

For example, as ethnographic practitioners, we collect, order, and describe—indeed, Latour (2004) admonishes his students to 'describe' without really attending to this very practice as such—as if it is natural and self-evident. What are the practices that enact 'describe'? What does the practices of 'describing' do or enact? It is surely not just a description. Latour suggests that we, as researchers, "are in the business of descriptions." If that is so, what is the status of these descriptions that we do, or enact, and how would we know if we are doing it well? Latour suggests that we simply 'describe', and that if it is a 'good' description then it will act (or be an actor). However, we would suggest that 'bad' descriptions could also act—indeed, they may be much more powerful actors (as the Sokal (1999) hoax has shown). This paper is an attempt to reflect on what/how our epistemic practices might become, more creative.

Considering the performativity of our own research practices: diffraction in practice and as practice

Authors: Davide Nicolini (University of Warwick)  email
Annouchka Bayley (Warwick University)  email

Short Abstract

We discuss how the notions of apparatus and diffraction can be operationalised in practice using example form video research (camera angle and movement as a performative apparatus) and performance-as-research (generating diffraction through theatre performance in an institutionalised settings).

Long Abstract

In our paper we address the issue of the performativity of our research practice through the notion of notion of apparatus and diffraction. Barad (1997) utilizes the idea of apparatus to argue for the ontological "inseparability of what is observed from the practice of observation" (p.147). Barad also suggests that because apparatuses are inherently constituted by specific arrangements of material-discursive practices we need to replace the traditionally discursive idea of methodological reflexivity with that of diffraction.

The starting point for our argument is that while apparatus and diffraction have captured the imagination of a large number of researchers they are used mostly at theoretical level, something that runs against Barad's intentions. Our aim in the paper will be to illustrate how these concepts can be operationalised and observed in the practice of research. We will do this in two steps. First, we will provide an illustration of the affordance of idea of apparatus in practice by showing how in video-based research specific arrangements of camera movement, positioning and angles have a performative effect as they actively constitute the phenomenon that they are supposed to (passively) capture. In the second step we will illustrate how the idea of diffraction can be pushed further and used to design interventions that produce understanding through the intentionally creation of patterns of differences. We will exemplify our argument building on our experience with the use of (theatre) performance as a way to explore the nature of a business education organization.

Manifold roles in researching, doing and promoting Technology Assessment

Author: Benedikt Rosskamp (University of Liège)  email

Short Abstract

This paper reflects on the ambiguities and shifting subjectivities of doing research within and besides a European Science-in-Society project.

Long Abstract

In her ethnography of witchcraft in the French bocage, Favret-Saada (1977) found that she could only produce meaningful knowledge about the phenomenon if she allowed to be "affected" by or "caught up" in it. Her book broke with ethnographic conventions of the time and opened new venues for research that overcome the classical approach of participant-observation and its necessary position of exteriority.

The very endeavour of my own PhD research on the institutionalization and de facto re-making of Technology Assessment in three European countries (Portugal, Czech Republic and Belgium/Wallonia) also took place in a setting of necessary engagement with the community, the practice and even its advocacy. I identify a series of shifting, assigned and assumed roles in a system where normative, scientific and action elements are constantly interwoven. I argue that being "caught up" in this project, in these multiples roles, in this normative-action-research setting and my own process of insertion (Robinson 2010) also allowed me to gain original insights into the institutionalization and the re-making of TA in the European periphery.

More particularly I will focus on a constitutive tension between a deficit discourse on institutionalization (seen as a dichotomist national property setting apart countries having TA and others that do not) and an inclusive and open approach aiming to extend the community of practice to new spaces and actors. The way this tension unfolds in each of my three case studies redefines the practices of TA, its institutionalization and the understanding of this very process.

Touch as ethico-onto-epistemology

Author: Eva Svedmark (Umeå University)  email

Short Abstract

Strongly influenced by feminist technoscience this paper suggests touch as method in a ethico-onto-epistemology taken seriously. Using empirical cases of emotional dirt and digital life narratives touch - as method - turns out to lead the way for a new critical understanding of our posthuman becoming.

Long Abstract

"Dirt is matter out of place" Douglas stated (1966), pointing out how meaning and matter always are entangled in systems of culture, politics and ethics. This paper builds on a 5-year ethnographic study of digital dirt (matter out of place), focusing on the growing practice of self-disclosure online. My compass has been set on norm-breaking material in the search for unknown diffraction patterns (Barad 2008, 2011; Haraway, 1997) reveling posthuman entanglements and systems of desire.

By swimming in the phenomenon of online sharing I have not only dipped my toes in a sea of a heartbreaking material, I have also become one with the phenomenon per se, submerged in silent participation in the construction of materialized emotions and bodies. Touch is physical, marking the matters involved, re-shaping our relational bonds in new becomings, new knowings and new futures (Barad 2008, 2012).

By putting myself in touch I´ve become entangled in the meaning and matter of the phenomenon I´ve studied by feeling, not just reflecting - and by hurting before healing. Figurations, re-figurations and entangled diffraction patterns can only be understood from this kind of movements within. Touch I claim, offers knowledge that exceeds reflexivity and moves far beyond the already known. Touch as method in ethico-onto-epistemology offers a posthuman ethics, taking responsibility for the knowledge produced and the future to come (Barad 2012).

Performing sociomaterial research, enacting sociomateriality?

Author: Juliane Jarke (University of Bremen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses ethico-onto-epistemological commitments of and for sociomaterial research. I argue that we need to consider the performative conditions of our methods and attend to the limitations of terms such as observation that distally suggest that we are looking at something.

Long Abstract

The methodological approach any research project takes cannot be separated from its conceptual and empirical dimension or its research aims. It provides the grounds on which a researcher constructs and produces a field and navigates in it. The methodological approach includes ontological considerations about the world, the researcher and the ways in which they 'intra-act' (Barad, 2007). It also comprises epistemological considerations about what can be known about the world and subsequently how this knowledge may be acquired and conveyed.

Mol (2003) argues that research methods are not 'a window on the world, but a way of interfering with it' (p.155). We hence need to consider the performative conditions of our interferences with and in the world, our research practices. For example, we talk about how we have observed something. Yet what does that mean? What may be a unit of analysis for a study that attends to sociomateriality and aims to take it seriously? The paper will discuss—based on a 3-year ethnographic study—how terms such as 'observation' (or 'seeing') are in themselves problematic as they 'distally' (Cooper & Law, 1995) suggest that we are looking at something which is out there. I argue that methods not only produce empirical data but also a number of other subject- and object-positionings including informants, a research setting and the researcher themselves. So far, sociomaterial researchers find it difficult to develop a suitable language for overcoming assumptions associated with distal terms such as observing and analysing yet are produced—as researchers—by and through these practices.

The "Breaching Question" as a Performative Research Method

Author: Meritxell Ramírez-i-Ollé (University College London)  email

Short Abstract

The "Breaching Question" is an ethnographic method that I initially used to generate sociological knowledge about science; however, it inadvertently affected the very same epistemological practices I sought to study and the relations with my research subjects.

Long Abstract

To generate ethnographic data about the roles of trust and scepticism in the making of scientific knowledge about climate, I adopted the strategy of asking "Breaching Questions". This approach was inspired by the "breaching experiments" conducted by the sociologist Harold Garfinkel with his students (Garfinkel, 1967: 35). Garfinkel designed these experiments to show students the risks associated with the practice of distrust in everyday affairs and the trust-dependency of our relations with others. For instance, one student asked the bus driver, "Does this bus go down to Morgan Street?", and after the bus driver answered, "Yes", the student would then ask, "How do you know?". Similarly, in my research I asked breaching questions to a group of climate scientists in order to unveil the taken-for-granted aspects of their epistemological practices. For instance, whilst observing one scientist carrying out a task, I asked why he trusted that method and whether he ever considered doing the task in a different way. As our trust relations grew stronger, the climate scientists understood that my breaching questions were part of my methodology and the effect of such questions on my research subjects and our relations changed, and hence so did the sociological knowledge I generated. In this talk, I will illustrate with empirical examples the performative effects of the method of the Breaching Question on ontology, epistemology and research ethics. References: Garfinkel, Harold (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Writing research as ethico-onto-epistemic practice

Author: Mariacristina Sciannamblo (Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute)  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to unfold the performative character of research and the ethical concerns such character implies. Drawing upon 2 years of ethnography in a telecommunication company, I will present two versions of one particular story to underline the process of writing as onto-epistemic practice.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I would like to offer a creative example of my engagement with field research through the powerful interrogative suggested: what happens if we take Barad's call for ethico-onto-epistemology seriously? Drawing upon 2 years of ethnography in a telecommunication company, I will present two versions of one particular story. I have tooled and re-tooled such story — concerning the struggle of a newcomer to fit in her new community of practice — according to some sensitizing concepts and theoretical frameworks that inform my research, namely STS and workplace studies (first version) on the one hand, and feminist technoscience studies (second version) on the other.

With such proposal, I aim to unfold the performative character of research practice and the ethical concerns such productive character imply. (Law and Urry, 2004). I shall specifically discuss the situated position of the researcher in the field as well as the character of methodologies as "thinking technologies" (Lykke et al., 2008) and scientific practice as a "story-telling practice" (Haraway, 1986). Theoretically speaking, the enactive moment of making knowledge through writing marks out a shift from empiricist realism (the assumption that there is a single reality "out there" to be described) to ontological multiplicity (Mol, 1999), namely the understanding that reality is done and enacted rather than simply observed. Such understanding of writing as onto-epistemic practice solicits ethical concerns and, therefore, it matters for its power of accounting for — thus producing — multiple realities that differ in terms of power, knowledge, gender, location and visibility.

Science out of Comfort: Slow Science, Contact Zones and Intra Activism

Author: Anna Croon Fors (Umeå University)  email

Short Abstract

The call for ethico-onto-epistemologies in STS research generates new ways of knowledge and reality production. Slow Science, Contact Zones and Intra Activism are here explored in order to shift into a different register where the performativity of research are articulated, sensed and questioned.

Long Abstract

The evolving complexity in global, digital, multicultural, diverse societies put increased pressure on viable ethico-onto-epistemologies. Alternative frameworks, theories and educations are needed in order to equip researchers with different strategies for coping with responsibilities for futures to come.

Slow Science is here suggested in response to our need of exploring other possibilities. Slow Science is an academic respond to the pressure to ''publish or perish, and allows questions of responsibility and accountability to appear. We need to build stronger ties with specific communities; slow ways of talking, thinking and exploring together. In Slow Science, new Contact Zones need to be enacted.

In Contact Zones we meet and share our concerns, we clash and grapple with each other. Within Contact Zones there are plentitudes of asymmetrical power relations, but there is, no one expertise that determines the conditions of particular concerns or responsibilities. Rather, collaboration across traditionally distinct disciplines and realms of expertise is imperative. Situated knowledge and partial perspectives rule.

Slow Science and Contact Zones are concepts with an ambition to approach the real differently in an intra-active manner. In intra-Activism close attention is paid to diffraction patterns, noticing differences in how we relate to each other and to the world. Faces, cuts, screens, marks on bodies and identities to name a few. Intra-Activism is an epistemic practice that at the same time is dispersed and connected; dispersed by transversal stories, connected by learning by-doing, making, thinking and seeing the real differently; always paying attention to power, differences and others.

Resonance Momentum: Mobilities of Making and Social Research

Authors: Samuel Thulin (Concordia University)  email
Jen Southern (Lancaster University)  email
Monika Buscher (Lancaster University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper develops the concept of methodological resonance in interdisciplinary practice-based research. We draw connections between physics and the social world, focusing on how methods amplify and productively interfere with one another as understandings are negotiated and performed collaboratively.

Long Abstract

Interdisciplinary research requires a methodological flexibility and a capacity to tune in to different ways of knowing. In this paper we develop a concept of resonance as an approach to practice-based research across three case studies. Resonance describes materialities and practices which amplify each other when they come together; consonance involves 'points of arrival, rest, and resolution' " (Kamien, p. 39); and dissonance describes instabilities that disrupt and become expressive of unevenness, provoking a further movement towards resolution. Drawn from the study of sound, each of these elements are explored as aspects of collaborative practice. Like Barad's work on diffraction, the concept of resonance draws connections between physics and the social world, operating as a way of rethinking our engagement with research practices by focusing on how different methods and disciplines amplify and productively interfere with one another as understandings are negotiated and performed collaboratively involving consonances and dissonances.

The three cases that we use to elaborate these ideas are informational disaster mobility futures, mobile and situated sound composition, and collaborative GPS technologies in transdisciplinary art practice. Each case combines making, whether artistic or design-oriented, and social research through resonant processes that require careful listening and the ability to 'play' ones' tune clearly. Through the mutual amplification of certain materialities and practices that are central to our research projects, resonance creates momentum and we participate in the emergence of the phenomena that we seek to study. This productive resonance between research and practice both defines and makes 'better' futures.

Reconsidering the performativity of methods in STS research from a constructive design research perspective

Authors: Sissel Olander (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts)  email
Tau Lenskjold (University of Southern Denmark)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the performativity of methods in STS research from the position of material-experimental practices in constructive design research. The paper seeks to highlight and reconfigure what seems to somewhat underexposed relations between ethics, knowing, and becoming in much STS research.

Long Abstract

In one way it seems the STS research community subscribes to a deeply rooted performative understanding of how technology, science and socio-material collectives are brought into being. Human and non-human actors perform worlds as they collide, negotiate and translate into new realities. The very general observation that research takes part in these formations is broadly acknowledged within the STS community. At the same time however, most STS researchers rely on very particular technologies of observation, tracing and description to generate knowledge. These technologies, it seems, are rarely scrutinized as part of STS research projects, yet they both settle and circumscribe what we can know about the world. Entering this discussion from the field of constructive design research, a field that is increasingly informed by ideas from STS and ANT, we suggest that an exploration of the research process as a series of forged yet not always controllable experimental events (Rheinberger 1997, Lury & Wakeford 2012) may open a richer discussion of methodologies in STS.

In the design processes we recount in this paper, such epistemic events are characterized by continuous (and sometimes uneasy) attempts to simultaneously capture and construct worlds. We may say that this kind of epistemic work is always directed by an engagement with change, where the ongoing un-packing of the methodological apparatus becomes the very condition for generating knowledge. This focus on the performativity of methods offers an opportunity to highlight and reconsider the relations between ethics, knowing and becoming in STS.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.