(F07)
Methodography of data practices in STS's ethnographic collaboration and participant observation
Location Bowland North Seminar Room 4
Date and Start Time 26 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Ingmar Lippert (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin) email
  • Julie Sascia Mewes (Humboldt University Berlin) email

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Short abstract

How does STS ethnography meet what it researches? Not prescriptive methodology - we invite methodography, describing how methods shape data. We focus on data infrastructures and practices in participant observation and in collaborating with other actants in & around the field, across difference.

Long abstract

STS now build on and critically engage with a tradition of carefully scrutinising how natural scientists pursue their research - in the field, the laboratory, at desks and conferences. Recognising that textbooks' presentations of methods cannot be mirrored in their "applications" or "implementations", STS have questioned how to author STS accounts "after method"; and we may attend to "inventive methods" to pay attention to the various material and semiotic tools and devices (a) that configure research objects and (b) through which the researcher's data are achieved. Enacting our own STS ethnography's data involves a range of performances of "decisions", explicit and implicit assumptions and politico-normative inscriptions, contingent unfoldings and clashes with, potentially unruly, humans and non-humans (ANT's actants); we have to "manage" our data as much as our relations within the research assemblage. Interestingly, however, STS have not yet developed a strong tradition for studying how our ethnographic participant observation is shaping its generation and transformation of data. We call for studying the relation between participant observation and its data as it is configured in negotiations of different worlds, in collaborations across difference between the researcher and other actants of the research assemblage. Who and what is accountable to what else and in what way in assembling researcher, our partners, subjects, objects, our devices and our data? How do these relations effect and shape not only data but also the objects we study? Ethnographically describing and analysing our method's data practices - this we call methodography.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Inciting infrastructural inversion: modes of engagement in the ethnography of data-intensive science

Authors: Charles Hahn (University of Washington) email
Sarah Inman (University of Washington) email
David Ribes (University of Washington) email
Stephen Slota (University of California, Irvine) email
Andrew Hoffman (University of Washington) email
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Short abstract

We reflect on a recurrent feature of our ethnographic studies of the sciences that we call "inciting infrastructural inversion" (3I). 3I is the symmetrical reflection of the invisible and marginal aspects of actors' work back and forth between actor and analyst in ways that shape and entangle both.

Long abstract

This paper characterizes a pattern of interventionist engagement with our ethnographic field sites that we call "inciting infrastructural inversion." As ethnographers of infrastructure, we study the historical, invisible, marginal, and processual dimensions of data-centric scientific. We have found that our "inversions" (following Bowker, Star and Edwards) of these infrastructural aspects of scientific work often incite our subjects to reflect upon and change their work practices. These incitements also result in collaborations between our work and theirs that blur the lines between and entangle our projects. In the spirit of recent interrogations of research methods in STS (Law, Mol), we analyze this recurrent feature of our ethnographic research and show the symmetrical way in which both our projects and theirs are shaped by these engagements. We analyze three instances of inciting infrastructural inversion from two ethnographic projects, the first a study of a data-integration initiative around Alaska's pacific salmon systems, and the second a study of the development of a data interoperability framework and toolset for the field of proteogenomics. Inciting infrastructural inversion, we contend, is both a finding and an approach - it is a product of elective affinities between our work and those of our subjects and a result of a commitment to actor-analyst symmetry and openness to collaboration.

From hospital to code and back again. Data transformations in interdisciplinary cooperation

Authors: Cornelius Schubert (Universität Siegen) email
Judith Willkomm (Universität Siegen) email
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Short abstract

We offer insights into ongoing interdisciplinary research between neurosurgery, computer graphics, and sociology. We show how ethnographic data from a hospital ward is transformed in the research assemblage and how it is brought back to the hospital as systems design and sociological reflection.

Long abstract

We present a media ethnography of an ongoing interdisciplinary project between neurosurgery, computer graphics, and sociology. The project addresses clinical cooperation on a hospital ward and seeks to develop novel modes of visual information integration through an augmented reality application. In the course of the project, we conducted ethnographic fieldwork in order to gain a deeper understanding of the cooperative tasks and problems, the use of media and visualizations, and the relevant patterns of clinical knowledge. This data is used to inform systems design which, in the long run, is supposed to be integrated into the hospital's data infrastructure.

This study follows how the researchers first mutually constructed their research question, which had to address the interests of the neurosurgeons, computer scientists, and sociologists and, in a second step, how they managed to make and keep ethnographic design-data relevant to all three parties. First, the data must generate original insights into hospital cooperation and produce a scientific surplus for STS. Second, it must be transformable into algorithmic code used by computer graphics. Third, it should offer novel insights into the daily cooperative practices for neurosurgery beyond systems design.

From a media ethnographic meta-perspective we will show how the data is represented, configured and negotiated in this collaborative process and how it serves not only for descriptive, analytic and critical purposes, but how it is transformed and used in a constructive manner for systems design and informing neurosurgical practice.

"Life of Things Project": being useful as a way of knowing

Author: Alexandra Endaltseva (EHESS\ Linköping University) email
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Short abstract

This paper reflects on the practice of taking seriously the sensitivities encountered in ethnographic fieldwork within the patient organization in Russia. It introduces 'being useful' as a mode of research engagement that provokes the neglected work to come into being and knowing

Long abstract

This paper is grounded in ethnographic work in Moscow within the patient organization of people, suffering from multiple sclerosis. It introduces, how public relations repertoire of doing and making a public event can be used to provoke a situation for collective knowing. In this paper, I reflect on the work, the materiality, and the context of "Life of Things Project", an experiment with art-based research intervention, aiming to co-create a space for a collective inquiry into the living with a chronic illness and disabilities. To do so, I, first, introduce the sensitivities of knowing(s) chronic illness and disabilities in Russia. Secondly, I reflect on the practicalities of 'being useful' as a mode of research engagement that provokes the neglected work to come into being and knowing.

Making landscape in ethnography: the multiple role and vision on Svalbard Archipelago

Author: Eva Kotaskova (Masaryk University) email
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Short abstract

In the ethnography of guided tours on Svalbard, the Arctic landscape revives both as a tour site and as a subject of research. In the paper, I discuss those two (overlapping) forms of "doing landscape" and the relations which emerges during the guided trip and the ethnographical fieldwork.

Long abstract

This paper is based on an ethnography of a guided trips to the ice cave on Svalbard Archipelago. Being simultaneously an ethnographer and a tour guide, I discuss the process of generating data and the practices of "doing landscape" as both a tour site and as an ethnographic field site. I argue, that the multiplicity in ethnographer-guide role is not only producing tensions but also allows to see, voice and silence different things, practices and relations and as such allows to make two different but also overlapping forms of the Svalbard landscape. Firstly, I show how is the landscape done on a guided trip: as the group is moving through, observing surroundings, the guide is telling stories and the landscape is brought alive as both humans and non-humans interact together and relate to each other. Secondly, I show how is the landscape done within the process of ethnographical construction of the field of research, and how is the guide´s attention to the world of non-humans and their agency used in the ethnographical "doing landscape".

Environmental Impact Assessment through ethnography: disentangling or negotiating slippery subjects?

Authors: Sofia Bento (University of Lisbon) email
Raquel Carvalheira (Universidade NOVA de Lisboa) email
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Short abstract

Ethnography in Environmental Impact Assessment opens a door to slippery subjects for engineers. Through this experience, we look at different situations during and after fieldwork when techno-scientific knowledge and ethnographic work are debated.

Long abstract

For many of the engineers working on the Portuguese Environment Agency, techno-scientific knowledge is crucial for controlling inherent uncertainty and risk related to Environmental Impact Assessment. However, according to many studies (Callon, 1986; Latour, 1988, Law, 2002 and Boltanski & Thévenot, 1991), our empirical research shows the political and moral dimensions of technical work. Based on a five month fieldwork conducted within the Impact Assessment Department of the Portuguese Environmental Agency, this paper looks at how concrete negotiations about the definition and frontiers of techno-scientific knowledge took place during and after the fieldwork. Engineers working on a state environmental agency use rigid bureaucratic procedures and quantitative knowledge and techniques to fend from public accusations about the political and economic dimensions of their work. When discussing our data with them, we were often criticized for putting too much "politics" on their work or of expressing our opinions instead of producing objective analysis. But also they highlighted how Impact Assessment was a complex endeavour, not anchored on "pure science" and where subjectivity was inevitable. Even though, our ethnography, was often perceived as highly subjective and dependent on workers worldviews. Leaderships questioned the process of data collection and the weight of informal conversations in our ethnography.

Different epistemologies were being negotiated; roles and frontiers between us and them were constantly built. This process opened a discussion of how collaborative ethnography should impart from a more insightful discussion among engineers and social scientists and how future projects should foresee this path.

Professional practices and the materiality of knowing and making biodiversity in the Black Forest

Author: Ronja Mikoleit (University Freiburg) email
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Short abstract

How can we methodologically engage with the materiality of knowledge, performed by bodies, dealing artefacts and natural elements? I approach this question by focusing on the shaping of biodiversity through professional knowledge practices and multiple intra-actions in the forest.

Long abstract

How is biodiversity being shaped by multiple intra-actions in the forest? What knowledge practices are linked to the social worlds of forest biodiversity research on the one hand, and on-the-ground forestry practice on the other? I deal with these questions through 'observatory participation' with foresters and forest biodiversity researchers in the Black Forest, Germany. I proceed from the idea that the larger share of (expert) knowledge, including my own, is rather experimental and non-reflexive, performed by our bodies dealing with artefacts/instruments and natural elements. Thus, I juggle with translating bodily impressions into scientific communication by analyzing the research situation itself. Since affects play an important role in motivating practices, directing attention and developing sensibilities for identifying relevant differences, I understand my researcher's body as a "personal recording apparatus" (Hirschauer/Amann 1997), which witnesses and shapes sensory styles of knowing the environment. Being part of an interdisciplinary research training group of 12 PhD students from different environmental disciplines, in my own daily work, whether in my shared office, or in meetings, lunchbreaks, field visits and the like I can't help but observing and contributing to boundary making processes, which continue to shift definitions of my field and my focus of attention in the ethnographic data production process. Through sliding back and forth on the continuum of being an insider and outsider in different situations, the construction of my research subject is continuously re-shaped. My understanding of relevant data is defined by shifting researcher positions, which become my focus of attention.

Co-laboration as an analytical tool for the ethnographic study of infrastructures in organisations

Authors: Catharina Lüder (University of Kassel) email
Jonas Müller (Kassel University) email
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Short abstract

We discuss methodological issues in STS research with regard to participant observation of infrastructures which are elaborated in two small case studies. The interest here is with infrastructures in specialised work places and co-laboration may be used as an analytical tool.

Long abstract

During ethnographic field research infrastructures are hard to follow although they are everywhere around us. How to research with and in infrastructures is changing with every field and every time. In this paper we discuss two case studies of ethnography in public authorities. Our aim is to show how in fields were the structure of the organisation guides how participant observation is possible infrastructures surface beyond breakdowns and how researcher-field entanglements can be analysed by looking at emerging para-sites. We argue that the notion of co-laboration helps us to see those para-sites and to analyse both our own knowledge practices and those in our fields.

Composite method: experimenting with the absent presence of race in film and facial composite drawing

Authors: Ryanne Bleumink (University of Amsterdam) email
Lisette Jong (University of Amsterdam) email
Ildikó Plájás (University of Amsterdam) email
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Short abstract

The authors produced an experimental setting in collaboration with two forensic artists to study how race comes to matter in police facial composite drawing. This methodographical paper combines written text with experimental montage to analyze the enactment and slipperiness of race in practice.

Long abstract

This paper is about ways of knowing how race comes to matter in the practice of police facial composite drawing. Researching technologies of vision in the setting of criminal investigations, we encountered a mundane problem, namely limitations to use visual material collected in the field due to its sensitive nature. In order to advance our analysis of technologies of vision and the production of (visual) differences in the context of facial composite drawing, we developed an experimental film project in collaboration with two of our interlocutors. We produced an experimental setting in which we worked together with the forensic artists. In this setting one of the authors operated the audio-visual equipment, another was present as the ethnographer taking field notes and the third acted as the witness collaborating with the composite drawer to produce a facial depiction of an unfamiliar person that she had seen on a photograph. We recorded the process using different technologies, as such producing different materializations of the event: written text, audiotape, film, drawing, sensorial experience. The experimental setting opened up a reflexive space for all participants, albeit not necessarily in the same way. Tinkering with the generated materials allowed the authors to carefully analyze the enactment and slipperiness of race in practice. The resulting methodographical paper combines written text with experimental montage to address three different practices through which race seems to take shape in the process of making facial composite drawings: 1) haptic vision; 2) layering and surfacing; and 3) overlooking the normal.

Collaboration in and beyond the ethnographic field: overcoming epistemic asymmetries through collaborative practices in and beyond residential care settings

Authors: Leyla Safta-Zecheria (Central European University) email
Julie Sascia Mewes (Humboldt University Berlin) email
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Short abstract

The proposed paper looks at how personal files in residential care settings solidify epistemic asymmetries between file producing staff and file object residents and the ways in which these epistemic asymmetries can be overcome through acts of collaboration in and beyond the ethnographic field.

Long abstract

The proposed paper focuses on collaboratively researching the social life of files as epistemic agents in residential care settings as a pretext to render visible collaborative practices in and beyond the ethnographic field. The authors argue that personal files in residential care settings can act in different ways reconnecting the institutionalized person with their pre - institutionalization past, as well as solidifying epistemic asymmetries between file producing staff and file object residents. Acts of collaboration can work to overcome these asymmetries.

In the first part of the paper, we explore files as enablers and disablers of connection to the pre-institutionalized past and the ways in which networks of relationships and forms of knowing are enacted through files making absences present in the everyday life of institutionalized people. Furthermore, we look at how the production of files solidifies epistemic asymmetries between professionalized staff and residents by enabling only professionalized staff to produce relevant file-able knowledge regarding the residents.

In the second part of our paper, building on the first, we propose to tell two stories of collaboration: the first is the ethnographer's story of collaboration with residents, professionals and files in trying to overcome epistemic asymmetries - in the form of epistemic partnerships. The second is a multi-vocal dialogic tale of rendering visible and explicit scholarly co-laboration between two ethnographers, one that has been in the field and one who is making sense of the practices of collaborating with ethnographic data from afar.

Material practices of establishing ethnographic presence

Author: Stefan Laube (Technische Universität Dresden) email
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Short abstract

The paper focuses on two material practices of shaping ethnographic data: 'changing costume' and 'jotting notes'. It argues that these practices might establish 'ethnographic presence' and, in doing so, enable ethnographers to generate rich data.

Long abstract

Different from a positivist understanding of science that assumes the possibility of representing reality independently from the researcher, recent debates on 'explicit' or 'strong' reflexivity question the viability of this methodological ideal. Most contributions to explicit reflexivity have been focusing on the positionality of the researcher, that is, how his or her position in terms of gender, education, ethnicity, etc. influences the data collected or the way in which it is interpreted. At the same time, there is only little knowledge on how the material practices of ethnographic research influence the collection of data. In order to describe how ethnographic methods actually shape ethnographer's data, I focus on two material fieldwork practices: 'changing costume' and 'jotting notes'. Both practices might be necessary for ethnographers to get access to a field and to collect data; but they are also ways to establish their social presence as ethnographers in the field. Reflecting on my own STS-inspired fieldwork in financial markets and politics, I show that establishing ethnographic presence by jotting notes and by dressing in open ways indeed affects participants and influences the collection of data. This alterations, however, do not 'bias' ethnographic observations and thereby legitimize positivist concerns about 'objective' science. Instead, I argue that establishing ethnographic presence maximizes ethnographer's possibilities to generate useful and rich ethnographic data.

Being reflexively ethnographic in the face of an opaque Internet of Things

Author: Christine Hine (University of Surrey) email
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Short abstract

STS ethnography of the Internet of Things in use faces the tendency of "users" to forget the technologies until it goes wrong, and uncertainty on all sides on what the technology actually does. This paper explores strategies for reflexive ethnography in the face of this silence and ambiguity.

Long abstract

The Internet of Things and the proliferation of smart technologies pose some interesting challenges for an STS ethnographer. Many aspects of these technologies remain opaque in operation and "users" can only guess at what algorithmic processes and data flows are going on behind the scenes. In fact the term "user" becomes somewhat problematic, since those affected by a technology such as a smart home may largely forget on an everyday basis that their environment is being mediated in this way. In such circumstances the ethnographer may be tempted to educate and reveal, setting themselves up in a position of knowing more and better than those whose lives they observe - but to do so transgresses the traditional ethnographic commitment to studying beliefs as we find them. The ethnographer seeking to collect data may find themselves having to take a troublingly active role in bringing discussions to the surface, as the experience from a user perspective comprises an ethnographically opaque silence, passivity and and lack of engagement punctuated by moments of activity largely occasioned by something going notably wrong (but often nobody knows quite what). In such circumstances a range of reflexive strategies come into play: symmetrical scepticism to all claims to know what the technologies does, including the ethnographer's own beliefs; autoethnographic engagement with how the technology feels both in times of notability and times of being ignored; embrace of uncertainties surrounding the technology as an inherent part of what the technology is, rather than a deficit to be overcome.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.