Breaching digital media | Respecifying ethnomethodology
CRC Mixing Methods Summer School I
26-30 July 2021
How to disrupt the routines of digital media practices in an uncanny — yet heuristic — way? How can users interpret and try to cope with provocative events breaking usual flows of digital interactions? What does it mean to interrupt the “backend systems” of our day-to-day computational infrastructures? The first Mixing Methods Summer School of the Collaborative Research Centre 1187 “Media of Cooperation” invites graduate students to a series of methodological experimentations and creative explorations in the study of digital media practices. Following the established media-theoretical insight that the work of media becomes visible when they break down, our instructors will lead the participants through a number of productive ruptures, crossovers, and reconfigurations, in the encounter with digital technologies. To this end, resources from the ethnomethodological toolkit will be revisited, creatively adapted, and in part reinvented in two parallel tracks that combine theory inputs and presentations of materials with individual and group work sessions. Several general keynotes by prominent researchers in the fields of (digital) sociology, media studies, and Human-Computer Interaction bring the participants together and provide stimulating perspectives on the history, present, and prospects of ethnomethodology (Anne Rawls), experimental methods in digital sociology (Noortje Marres), and methods of critical (un)making (Kristina Lindström/Åsa Ståhl).
Track 1: Towards Digital Breaching Experiments (Loup Cellard)
In everyday life, we navigate through situations where attributes about us and the world are tracked, ordered through information architectures and enriched by personalisation methods. Our worry regarding the power of computational devices is justified by many critical studies rightly pointing to their roles as pervasive background instruments participating in the scripting of interactions, the constant optimisation of experience, and the risks of a mundane infrastructural surveillance. The approach of track 1 of the Summer School consists in reclaiming a pause to inquire and reflexively intervene in the normative and routinized enactment of digital media. To borrow a method of american sociologist Harold Garfinkel, we will ask the participants to conduct “breaching experiments”: interventions that break expectations and conventions, therefore revealing the latent organisation of our digitised life. Moreover, our aim is to envision what “digital breaching experiments” could look like: the disruptions of familiar behaviours, socio-technical norms and regular flows of information in digital media contexts. Respecifying breaching experiments for digital media studies brings a number of empirical and methodological challenges we will explore based on two case studies: the data traffic infrastructures of (A) mobile apps and the scripted interactions of (B) social media and conversational agents (e.g. Alexa, Google Home). If two groups are already formed to work on the mentioned case studies, participants are invited to either join one of the groups or think about how “breaching experiments” or similar types of “norm breaking” experiments can be performed in relation to a case study of their choice (e.g. drones, chatbots, urban sensors, user interfaces…). Loup is at your disposal before and during the workshop to provide some methodological guidance. No specific knowledge about ethnomethodology is needed to follow the Track.
Loup Cellard (PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies, Warwick, UK) is an ethnographer and design researcher working in the tradition of science & technology studies (STS) and materialist approaches to media studies. His research focused on algorithms, public sector digital transformation, data visualisation and inventive methods compounding science, art, design, and tech sensibilities. In June 2021, he joined the ADM+S Centre at Melbourne Law School as a postdoctoral research fellow, he is currently planning an ethnography on the ecological impacts of AI.
The guest of Track 1 is Robin de Mourat, designer researcher at Sciences Po médialab (Paris, FR), Robin’s work can be consulted here: https://medialab.sciencespo.fr/en/people/robin-de-mourat
Track 2: “Critical Technical Practice” Revisited: Of Materials, Methods, and Montage
In his 1997 paper “Toward a Critical Technical Practice”, Philip E. Agre passingly remarked upon “computing […] as a kind of imperialism [aiming] to reinvent virtually every other site of practice in its own image” (p. 131). Track 2 of the Summer School returns to Agre’s passing remark, and his project of “critical technical practice” more broadly, to reflect upon, reconfigure, and/or reorient that project in the light of contemporary developments in ethnomethodological analysis, and its distinctive notion(s) of “respecification” in particular. For this purpose, the track invites its participants to select from their “materials” and ongoing inquiries a discourse fragment, video recording, physical object, and/or computational artefact for which they wish to deepen and discuss its empirical analysis. The jointly investigated “perspicuous setting(s)” (Garfinkel 2002), in addition to explicating the “methods” involved in situ, will invite participants to tease out, if not tinker with, the normative implications of their empirical analysis, be it in the light of the notion of “montage” (e.g., Stalder 2016) or related notions (such as “assemblage” or “entanglement”), all of which have gained traction in and across media studies, current digital sociology, as well as science and technology studies. Track 2, in other words, brings together workshop participants and current practitioners in ethnomethodology, upcoming and established, to work out what “critical technical practice” could actually look like today (conceptually, analytically, interactively, aesthetically, etc.). Therefore, participants are invited to “bring their own materials,” whatever they may be, team up and/or do solo subprojects, whilst taking inspiration from the Track’s and its guests’ (ethno-)methodological inputs. Participants may join one or the other case study launched by the convenor, too. Designed as reflexive endeavors, these case studies explicate various AI assemblages and robotic systems (e.g., “DIY AI” kits, “AV” prototypes) from within their multifaceted montage and tricky performance(s) in situ and in vivo.
Philippe Sormani (PhD in Sociology) is a Senior Researcher and Co-Director of the STS Lab at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Developing and drawing upon ethnomethodology, he has engaged in and published on experimentation, scientific or other, in and across different fields (e.g., Practicing Art/Science at Routledge, 2019). Currently, he is experimenting with “DIY AI,” robotic systems, and critical inquiry. He is affiliated to the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris and Co-Editor of Ethnographic Studies.
Guests of Track 2 include Jakub Mlynar (Prague) and Wes Sharrock (Manchester).
Jakub’s work can be consulted here: https://ufal.mff.cuni.cz/jakub-mlynar
Wes’ work is partly made available via: https://www.sharrockandanderson.co.uk/the-archive/
Keynote July 26, 10 – 11.15 am
Noortje Marres: For a situational analytics: An interpretative methodology for the study of social life in computational settings
Situational analytics extends to computing-intensive settings an interpretative methodology developed by Adele Clarke, Situational Analysis (2005), which uses data mapping to detect heterogeneous entities in fieldwork data to determine ‘what makes a difference’ in a situation. In this talk, I will review the case for a specific set of modifications of situational analysis to enable the study of situations in platform- and other computing-intensive settings at scale. I will concentrate on examining different understandings of what makes a situation, in order to ascertain whether and how the testing qualities and/or disruptive capacities of situations can be rendered detectable with automated methods of interpretative data analysis.
Noortje Marres is Professor in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick. Her work investigates issues at the intersection of innovation, everyday environments and public life: the role of mundane objects in environmental engagement, intelligent technology testing in society, and changing relations between social life and social science in a computational age. She also contributes to methodology development, in the area of issue mapping, and more recently, situational analytics. Noortje studied philosophy and sociology of science and technology at the University of Amsterdam and will be a Visiting Professor at the University of Siegen from October 2021 onwards. She published Material Participation (2012) and Digital Sociology (2017) and with Michael Guggenheim and Alex Wilkie edited Inventing the Social (2018). She recently published the paper “For a situational analytics” (Big Data and Society, 2020) More info at www.noortjemarres.net
Keynote July 26, 5 – 6.15 pm
Anne Rawls: Revealing Order through Disorder: Garfinkel’s Breaching Tutorials and Studies of Difficulty and Difference
Because most people take for granted the media of cooperation that we use to make self, sense and social facts together – the everyday practices and media we use to do that – it is necessary to develop ways of creating awareness of how we do these things. Garfinkel focused on both what he called “natural experiments” and classroom “tutorials” for examining breakdowns in social order that reveal the way order and meaning are “normally” achieved. These have come to be referred to as “breaching experiments”. It is important to remember that Garfinkel did not consider them “experiments” and did not rely on them outside of classroom exercises – focusing in actual research on finding instances of natural breakdowns and difficulties that could shed light on the normal ordinary achievement of self/identity and order/meaning.
Anne Rawls is Professor of Sociology, Bentley University, Professor of Socio-Informatics, Siegen University and Director of the Garfinkel Archive. Teaching social and interactional theory for over forty years Professor Rawls has also written extensively on Durkheim and Garfinkel, explaining their argument that equality is needed to ground practices in democratic publics, and showing how inequality interferes with the cooperation necessary to successfully engage in complex practices. She has documented the latter point through research on interaction between race/cultural groups.
Keynote July 27, 5 – 6.15 pm
Kristina Lindström and Åsa Ståhl: Un/Making Matters, Practices and Imaginaries
In this presentation design researchers Kristina Lindström and Åsa Ståhl from the Un/Making Studio will present their enquiries into un/making matters, practices and imaginaries. Their work builds on an understanding of design as always being both creative and destructive, and draws on methods, approaches and perspectives from feminist technoscience and participatory design that deals with public speculative engagements with science and technology. Based on their practice-based research they will discuss three different orientations of un/making: un/making in the aftermath of design, un/making preferable things, and un/making futures.
Åsa Ståhl is a senior lecturer in design at Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden. Kristina Lindström is a senior lecturer in design at the School of Arts and Communication at Malmö University, Sweden. In 2014 they defended their collaborative PhD thesis, across the disciplines of Media and Communication Studies and Interaction Design at Malmö University. Since then they have also done a joint postdoc at Umeå Institute of Design, Umeå University as well as conducted artistic research in the project HYBRID MATTERs, where they explore past present and future imaginaries of plastics. Ståhl and Lindström currently run the Un/Making Studio with the aim of exploring alternatives to progressivist and anthropocentric ways of thinking and making within design. With a base in participatory and speculative design in combination with feminist technoscience their work engages with publics throughout their research process and exhibition makings.