Accepted Paper:

The decentered and unfolding object: Methodological challenges  


Jesse Hoffman (Utrecht University )
Francisca Grommé (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Paper long abstract:

An extensive body of literature reflects on how the situatedness of fieldwork affects our research outcomes. Yet, surprisingly, while covering the many dimensions of 'how' research is done, the 'what' is usually not discussed. Few studies reflect on the craft of constructing units of analysis, on the co-creation of the matter of concern and what problems of method the researcher might run into.

This paper aims to make a methodological contribution to the follow-the-actor approach in both interpretative and material-semiotic studies of politics. The argument is developed by reflecting on the authors' engagement in two research projects. These projects studied real-world experiments in crime control and sustainable development. Experiments are sites par excellence where objects of interest are instable. We discuss three methodological problems we encountered: 1) informants were not always fully committed to their projects. This had consequences for the motivations and rationalities we attribute to them; 2) the projects we studied shifted, beginnings and endings changed, and various sub-projects seemed to develop; 3) doing real-time research had consequences for how we made our objects hang together.

In both cases, units of analysis changed meaning and form as they became subject to contestation, reconfiguration and revision. Rather than brushing aside these uncertainties and power conflicts, we argue that uncertainties and conflicts experienced by the researcher might be productive in re-constructing the agency of informants and their emotional upheavals when they reconsider their involvement in the experiments under study.

Panel C4
Non-concerns about science and technology and within STS