Tag Archives: network ethnography

Co-presence as ethnographic approach

Much of the ethnographic work that goes on at the VKS has been shaped by the tradition of ethnographic lab studies from Science and Technology Studies. These past couple of years, as the VKS has explored the humanities and e-research, these ethnographic methods have been adapted. A number of conference presentations and publications (this one and this one, among others) on this topic have been the result.

An upcoming contribution in Social Studies of Science is called from From Co-location to Co-presence. Here’s what it’s about:

As STS scholars increasingly study forms of knowledge production where the space of the lab (or similar locale) is much less central, other ways of conceptualizing the field may be especially useful for ethnographic research. In particular, ethnographic approaches must loosen their grip on co-location as a necessary requirement for ‘being in the field’, if they are to consider important issues about knowledge production that arise in fields, such as those in the humanities or e-research. Key STS topics, like new forms of authoritative knowledge, the changing shape of scientific work, and dynamics of innovation can be explored through ethnography. But in order to do so, the ethnographic approach must adapt in order to study these fields in which research practices are not concentrated in lab-like spaces.

By using co-presence rather than co-location as a starting point to conceptualise and articulate fieldwork, new aspects of knowledge production are foregrounded in ethnographic studies. This research note proposes and discusses co-presence as an epistemic strategy that pays close attention to non-lab based knowledge production; that can embrace textuality, infrastructure and mediation; and that draws into relief the role of ethnographer as author, participant-observer and scholar.

Because it does not assume the centrality of shared space, the notion of co-presence can be useful in ethnographies of e-research, as well as of other fields in the sciences and humanities that involve highly mediated forms of research or where the lab does not figure so prominently.

This work was discussed at the workshop In the Game, held in Copenhagen last October as an AoIR pre-conference workshop.

Network Ethnography

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…