Now that speakers and participants in the session are more or less back at home base (some also took part in AoIR in Vancouver), it is high time to thank them all for what turned out to be a real highpoint of the 4S conference.
It was an intense session in which speakers focused on the intersection of ‘networked’ aspects of their fieldwork and their conceptualisation of the social and cultural forms they are studying. Speakers addressed tensions between epistemically diverse representations of networks, positioning of the researcher (outside the network and then being taken up into it), mediation of the researcher’s presence, unexpected modulation and granularity of networks and combinations of data.
And though the room was crowded and time was short, questions from the floor led to further insightful exchanges. Bart’s contribution as discussant was especially appreciated for the way he formulated the need to expand on positions in an individualised way–rather than across the diversity of work. It was indeed very much in this spirit that TL and I had conceived of a set of papers in which the specificities of problems in relation to the study of/in networks would be central, rather than programmatic or methodological pronouncements.
Part of the discussion also further added to my sense that it is urgent to have a meeting on ethics of fieldwork in mediated settings. (On this topic, the paper by Estallela and Ardevol, discussed a couple of weeks ago in relation to the IRB and summer school, has now appeared.)
In the course of my own paper, I also fit in an aside on the use of tools and the notion of ‘black box’ and my discussions with Johannes von Engelhardt (for his version, see his report on his research internship) and the need to push these discussions. It is not so much a question of whether some tools are black boxes, but rather that working together can lead to a greater, more careful and precise awareness of the kinds of transparency we require of our methods. Through these collaborations, we come to better understand what it is that we do not want black-boxed, while acknowledging that some aspects of our research always will be…