EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Working in the between: theoretical scholarship and applied practice

Location M-342
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Tom O'Dell (Lund University) email
Vaike Fors (Halmstad university) email
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Short Abstract

The objective of this session is to investigate the relationship between theoretical and applied research. It will provide a vital discussion about the ways in which theoretical scholarship is stimulated by and interwoven in applied & public research practices in the social sciences and humanities.

Long Abstract

Applied, public and activist scholarship is becoming an increasingly significant part of mainstream social science and humanities practice. In a contemporary context academics across the globe are being urged by universities and research councils to do research that has impact in the world beyond academia. Yet to date there has been very little reflection amongst scholars and practitioners in these fields concerning the relationship between applied practice and theoretical scholarship. This means that the relationships and the potential cross-fertilisations between theoretical and applied research often go with out being acknowledged and a theory/applied dichotomy tends to persist across fields of disciplinary and interdisciplinary research practice. In a context where new researchers are increasingly aware of the need for and drive towards applications of social and humanities research, there is little to build on. This session offers a new way forward for scholars and researchers seeking to develop their own research agendas that are at once theoretical and create impact and interventions in the world.

The central aim of this session is to fill this gap by advancing our understanding of and ability to effectively and ethically engage relationships between theoretical and applied research in the making of interventions. It will provide a vital investigation into and commentary on the ways in which theoretical scholarship is becoming interwoven in recent applied and intervention practice in the social sciences and humanities.

Discussant: Sarah Pink (RMIT University)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


An ethical engagement? Practising between 'truth' and utility

Author: Sarah Buckler (Robert Gordon University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork in West Africa - a research project funded by an INGO and an international bank - I examine the production and uses of a theoretical approach geared towards maintaining and building productive relationships and the ways this drives a search for personal, ethical coherence.

Long Abstract

West Africa, July 2013, I am in an office in Accra, in conversation with a colleague discussing the various relationships involved in our project - a complex web we are expected to negotiate to come up with some meaningful findings and recommendations regarding development to ensure best outcomes for farmers.

My main concern is on building and maintaining productive, effective relationships; relationships that will enable us to achieve something. Without those relationships the work won't get done, nothing will change, no greater understandings will be reached - although some greater misunderstandings may be.

It is perhaps not surprising given the recurrent position in my life as an applied anthropologist that I focus on building relationships as these are the pivot on which all of my work turns. I choose theoretical approaches which help me understand the ways these relationships are formed - they fit the way I want to understand my work rather than provide some bedrock of theoretical and methodological surety; hermeneutics, phenomenology, Jungian analysis - they feel right.

But I am haunted by uncertainty… it's an old argument, an old debate - "is anthropology art or science?" No big deal any more, surely. Yet I continue to ask myself what about the ethics of applied practice if we give up on a notion of truth and rest in an exercise of persuasion? How can we judge whether what we do, what we recommend is ethical? Am I Machiavellian and manipulative? How do I judge when judgement becomes a subjective exercise in personal-social aesthetics?

Extended access to information: how the digital changes learning experiences

Author: Christian Ritter (Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU))  email

Short Abstract

My paper addresses digital strategies to facilitate adult learning in the workplace. Drawing on ethnographic data, I suggest that the use of digital technologies enables greater access to information at the cost of impersonal communication.

Long Abstract

My paper addresses digital strategies to facilitate adult learning in the workplace. Drawing on ethnographic data, the aim of the case study is to examine the use of digital technologies enhancing learning experience. This paper provides much-needed insights into the relationship between the digital and the human, which has barely been explored in the context of adult learning. The digital, defined as a set of immaterial entities that can be reduced to or are developed by the binary code, has considerably shifted everyday life and ways of communication. The study is primarily based on a series of semi-structured interviews with employees from various companies in Ireland (Wengraf 2001). This material is complemented by observation records as well as online data provided through forums and online courses (Angrosino et al. 2003; Murphy 2008). Building on andragogical theories (e. g. Knowles et al. 2005), my study sheds light on how digital technologies have changed learning experiences and points towards opportunities for applied research in digital society. In doing so, I discuss the theoretical approaches of the new subdiscipline digital anthropology (e. g. Horst 2012) and make a case for applying such assets to facilitate the social changes prompted by the ubiquitous implementation of digital technologies. The main findings of this case study suggest that the learning experience of the employees under investigation was more satisfactory as previously because of greater access to relevant knowledge. However, discontent was also voiced due to impersonal feedback reports.

In search of good participatory practices: design workshops for ageing citizens as negotiations of agency, knowledge and power

Author: Tiina Suopajärvi (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

The presentation discusses how participatory design practices, ethnographic analysis and the theoretical perspectives of agency, knowledge and power meet in anthropological study. The entanglement is scrutinized through the workshops that confronted the problems between ageing citizens and the city.

Long Abstract

The design of the "smart city" of Oulu in northern Finland has neglected the use of participatory methods; and therefore the public ubiquitous technology has mainly been designed for younger city dwellers. Regardless how the usefulness of ethnographic methodology in participatory design processes has been acknowledged in technology studies across disciplinary borders. In my current study, I consequently look for good participatory practices with ageing citizens in the frameworks of applied anthropology, participatory action research but also through the theoretical concepts of agency and knowledge. I thus follow Paul Sillitoe's (2007) notion that applied anthropological study should include macro-scale analysis and theoretical understanding of the studied phenomena.

In order to respect the original idea of participatory design, i.e. that design should start with the needs and interests of prospective "users"; I have organized open-ended "Oulu of ageing citizens?" workshops. Together with the city dwellers aged 64-89, city officials, and computer scientists we have looked for the crucial elements related to the everyday lives of the aged, as well as to the relationship between them and the city as the provider of public services. In my presentation, I will discuss how the practices of design process meet both the descriptive ethnographic analysis and the theoretical concepts I'm working with. Lucy Suchman (2002) underlines how knowledge and knowing are situated in social positions and orders, we know from certain location. Accordingly, I will consider how power travels in our workshops through knowledge produced in them.

Moving over to participatory-engagement

Author: Raminder Kaur (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

With a focus on digital media, and (audio)visual reproductions, this paper examines the scope for collaborating in movements for a people-orientated and safe, nuclear-free planet.

Long Abstract

With a focus on digital media, and (audio)visual reproductions, this paper examines the scope for collaborating in movements for a people-orientated and safe, nuclear-free planet. The main case study in question is a small and remote fishing village on the southern tip of India that since 2012 has found itself at the epicentre of an anti-nuclear movement drawn into regional, national and international spheres of communication and networks. Located next to the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu, Idinthakarai is home to fishing communities who have been pulled into an anti-nuclear movement, a campaign that at one point even managed to stall the construction of a nuclear power plant for five months. In this presentation, I discuss my involvement with the local residents and assess to what extent their activities, both participatory and mediated, enhanced their politics and poetics of protest. Whilst anthropology has been conventionally associated with the sanctioned practice of participant-observation for the last hundred years or so, I make a case for participatory-engagement in a context in which 'sitting on the fence' becomes no longer a feasible option.

The best of two worlds or worlds apart?

Author: Esther Peperkamp (International University of Applied Sciences Breda)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents case studies where effort were made to combine applied and theoretical scholarship. Although hitherto the question may have been how to ‘translate’ fundamental research into practice, the paper will examine how data collected in applied contexts can be used for academic purposes.

Long Abstract

Social engagement, but also funding opportunities -at least in the Netherlands- have taken social researchers to the domain of applied research. On the other hand, for parties receiving government funding, 'evidence' about effects of their efforts are of value to prove their subsidy-worthiness in times of declining subsidies. For policy makers, it has become increasingly important to involve citizens in policy-making, which often results in an action-research-like approach. In both cases, increasingly social researchers are involved.

Although hitherto the question may have been how to 'translate' fundamental research into practice, this paper will address the question how data collected for applied purposes can be used academically: for knowledge development and theory building.

The paper takes a practical approach presenting case studies where an effort was made to combine applied and theoretical scholarship. In a governmental project about playground development, policy makers adopted a co-creative approach in which children were consulted. In the case of event evaluation, evidence had to be gathered on the customer experience. Researchers were involved in different roles.

Important issues when exploring fruitful cross-fertilisation comprise dilemmas about methodological rigour versus usefulness and the need for quick results, and about realizing objectives of very different nature (retrieving information versus citizen involvement).

The paper will investigate these dilemmas as well as possibilities for bringing applied and fundamental research together. What are factors for success? In what way can we design a research project to not only meet the expectations of the applied part, but to also secure knowledge development?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.