One of the final activities of the virtual ethnography collaboratory of the Virtual Knowledge Studio was the visit of TL Taylor. During her time in Amsterdam, TL focused on a book project, on ethnographic methodology for the study of virtual worlds, in which she is involved with other colleagues. She presented on part of this project in our research meeting, in a talk entitled ‘Ethnography as Play’.
Another part of the visit consisted in the preparation of a session on Fieldwork as Method and Process for Artful Encounters: on ethnography, art and conservation. TL and I had a great time interviewing each other, and we were very pleased at how generously the audience reacted when we turned the interview questions on them!
At a workshop on e-research organised by Nick Kankoswki in the framework of NCeSS 2009, we are presenting on the topic on ethics of e-research. This work is based on the experiences of the VKS in the past 3 years and on two workshops on ethics organised by the VKS in June 2008 and June 2009 (with KNAW). We have given our contribution a somewhat unusual form, putting forth our insights as a set of ‘frequently asked questions’. These FAQs can be found here. Reactions to these are very welcome, whether on the blog, face to face or via email.
We marked this anniversary with an installation presented by the VKS at the 8 May celebration at the Beurs van Berlage. The installations was developed around the work entitled Poser, by Constant Dullaart.
The installation articulated a fascination with social interaction and the possibilities of digital and networked media that is shared by the VKS and Dullaart. It emphasized practice and performance in relation to digital media, to social roles and to cultural rules.
In this installation, group photos, retrieved via Flickr were projected in a studio setting in such a way that the artist (and numerous participants to the evening) attempted to take on roles in these images.
This project was aimed at exploring new forms of interactions and of communication about the work we do at the VKS. Unlike a paper, a publication or even a poster session, this was very much an ‘event’, a concentrated period of interaction around the technological infrastructure of the installation and around the social gathering of the employees of the KNAW at the Beurs. This intensity was quite distinct from the usual way of communicating around our work, much more like a performance than the usual scientific communication. This made for an unforgettable evening, which left me with new insights about what we are doing at the studio and about various unsuspected talents of colleagues (there are some budding actors, talk show hosts and roadies in this building). Oh, and also with an aversion to the colour green, which I had unwisely been planning to wear.
This event came together through the generous contributions of Constant Dullaart, Dafna Maimon, Jeannette Haagsma, Charles van den Heuvel and colleagues of the VKS and Trippenhuis.
Bags as boundary objects
Dina’s generous interest in this project is multisided, and we started our conversation with her suggestion to think about bags as ‘boundary objects’. We returned to this issue at the end of our conversation. For Dina, this association between a concept that is very important for her dissertation and our request to participate in our bags project was a very stimulating one. In a small, concrete way, it gave a new dimension to her connection to work going on at the Studio. Reflecting on ‘bags as boundary objects’, Dina suggests that this might be a useful way to think about the work that bags do, as helping to move between social worlds. But, she also wonders, is the concept of boundary object useful when the boundaries are being crossed by a single person? Is the concept most useful when the work to be done involves multiple actors?
Dina’s Big Bag
The first thing that one notices about Dina’s bag is that it’s big and bright. We tried to make a photo that would capture the full volume of the bag and its huge potential for expansion.
It’s a bag that gets used for carrying work attributes, like papers and books, and a laptop (when it’s working) but also serves to carry water bottles or purchases, or to transport groceries bought on the way home. For Dina, this is THE bag—it accommodates all bag needs. Anything fits in there, and she therefore doesn’t have to bother thinking through which bag to use. This is it!
She bought her bag (like Ernst) in the US, during a stay of a few months there in 2005. This may explain why the bag seems to be a bit of a hybrid between a work bag and a piece of luggage. This bag was something of an ‘investment’ and the quality of this bag is much higher than the succession of cheaper bags she had before. She enjoys that it is a backpack, rather than a sling/shoulder bag. If the bag is especially heavy, she may strap it on to her bicycle, but otherwise she carries it on her back. It doesn’t bother her that she has to take the bag off her back to access its contents (for example to grab a bus ticket).
Dina is working at the Studio for a few months, writing her Masters dissertation. This also affects how the bag is used. In Denmark where she was a student, she didn’t have an office and therefore didn’t carry things to an office, but only to classes. Sometimes things remain in the bag and make ‘extra’ trips before they get unpacked at the appropriate location.
Posted in bags, ethnography, experiment, material culture of digital work, methods
Tagged bags, bicycle, big, boundary object, Dina Friis, dissertation, travel, volume
The next postings will be derived from a second set of conversations Sally and I have been having with colleagues about their bags. Although it is still early in this project, we have already had some very interesting experiences about the relation between ‘raw fieldnotes’ and these posts, about ‘voice’, and about how to articulate authorship. We are also still learning how to address the materiality of these bags-descriptions shift to function and seem to depart from materiality very quickly in conversation. On the other hand, making photos, and the discussion about how to do this, seem to help focus on the attributes of the bag. And of course we still need to think further about what we mean by materiality.
The picture of the contents of my bag becomes sharp exactly at the level where the blister pack with tablets are located; they are headache tablets mostly in the sense that their lurid colour is likely to trigger one. Surrounding it are all manner of no doubt commonplace technical paraphernalia for running the laptop: extension cord and transformer, a little remote for slideshow presentations (logically it doesn’t work with Powerpoint) and an adapter to connect the Mac to digital projectors. There is a cool 1Gb USB stick that is so small I mostly forget I am carrying it. Writing implements are things I have a close affinity with. There is a nice pen I got as a present from my girlfriend and which reminds me of the neat row of pens my father carefully kept in his suit-jackets. And there are also two pencils, containing 0.5 and 0.3 mm leads-I cannot think of many things more simply satisfying (and therefore exacting) than the smell of graphite and the feel of pencil stroking the surface of paper. In similar vein the calligrapher Gerrit Noordzij recognised in calligraphy (in translation) ‘god’s water washing over god’s fields’. Then there are business cards and the usual personal documents: passport, driver’s licence, car ownership and insurance documents, and a fancy gadget (looking like a calculator) used for ordering goods and banking online. The laptop itself is obviously there, a 17″ whopper that is wonderful to work with but very big and heavy to carry around. I don’t mind that, since it seems to me a laughably economical representation of the incredible amounts of stuff that can be stored on a drive, including in my case a home-grown database of all the articles and books I have read since starting my study of sociology in 1993 on a British Council scholarship. Today it contains 3025 entries. But there is also an endless stream of sign language movies used in past sign linguistic projects of one kind or another and a developer database containing all 24,000 educational achievement records for a national population of deaf pupils. But on it are also some 20 photo-albums, one among which now includes the photo of the contents of my bag.
And finally, there are my unfinished ‘projects’, the stuff made of words that can only in part be put in a bag-the heavier part of it fills my thoughts mostly without making much sense, which is why I need the external part that I can carry in a bag. Below an edited volume of essays by Isaiah Berlin, now out of print and purchased second-hand through Amazon, The Proper Study of Mankind (1998) is a book by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot, On Justification (2006). The two books clearly interrelate in a way that matters to me. The texts are telling me something that straddles and conjoins all the projects I am working on, from educational tracking systems to corpus linguistics, and from e-philology to interventionist tactics in science and technology studies. One of these projects is represented in the pile of papers below the two books. That pile is a series of barckground reading, notes and drafts for an article that was running to version 8-at which point I made the almost sickening decision to start the whole thing over (hence probably the garish tablets). Below my pile of notes is a black A4 notebook in which, starting March 2005, I have recorded my personal notes of all the meetings I attend. It looks good inside, very tidy and each entry carefully dated, but in practice the notes reveal much about my own personal sense of the nature of meetings: I rarely find reason to return to the notes, but neither can I desist from the habit of taking the notebook into meetings and writing a further entry.
(back to the picture)
Berlin, I. (1998) The proper study of mankind: An anthology of essays. New York, USA: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Boltanski, L. and Thévenot, L. (2006) On justification: Economies of worth. Princeton, New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press.
Posted in ethnography, experiment, material culture of digital work, researcher's bags
Tagged Berlin, Boltanski, books, computer, drugs, home, notes, work
I have just had a good time taking the picture that accompanies my contribution to this project. While checking out the result on my laptop, I am aware of at least two simultaneous trains of thoughts. One train of thought is about the contents of my bag and the other — more persistently visual and therefore in need of more incisive translation — is about the picture of the contents of my bag.
The taking of the picture, one might suppose, has least to do with the contents of my bag (more about this to follow), except perhaps that the camera itself has also come from a bag. For a wee while I did indeed carry that camera-bag inside the other bag, but the camera proved too bulky in due course. The digital camera was meant to replace a much larger non-digital camera I had used to record the 2,000-odd photographs in my PhD project, and I went digital in an ill-conceived desire to return to the remembered pleasures of ‘photographic posturing’, a reference to Durham sociologist David Chaney’s (1988, 1993) work on popular photography.But I am after another, deeper connection between the photo and the contents of my bag. Photography involves performance of a specific kind, an act of communication not any less complex, nor less subject to social order, the durable structuring of human relationships, than the act of telling a story or writing a scientific article, both with respect to the act of taking pictures as with the (anticipated, implicit rule-governed) pleasures of looking at pictures. One of the first academic books to live in my bag would have been Pierre Bourdieu’s Photography: A Middlebrow Art (1990), in which he elucidates that very point — in much better words than mine here. I could perhaps be berated for starting a story that seems to have no relationship to the contents of bags; but to assert that irrelevance would be to mistake the general of object categories with individual history, the integrated coherence of rich experience that we call meaning and without which the contents of the bag can be listed but not understood. Somewhat lost in the rational conceptions of a scientific logic that isolates, dissects and classifies phenomena considered relevant is exactly the interpretative stance of the social sciences and humanities, the supposition that rich stories not only interconnect different objects and different activities, but is what gives them meaning on a human scale of experience. There is of course notable influence of Isaiah Berlin’s essay The Concept of Scientific History in developing my understanding of the scholarly art of photographing the contents of my bag.
Bourdieu, P. (1990) Photography: A middle-brow art. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.
Chaney, D. (1988) ‘Photographic truths’, in Discourse social/social discourse. 1:4, 1988.
— (1993) Fictions of collective life: public drama in late modern culture. London, England: Routledge.