Media of Cooperation: Towards a Digital Praxeology
A. Results and advances during the first phase of the CRC 1187
The Special Collaborative Research Center (CRC) 1187 “Media of Cooperation” focuses on the developments associated with the creation and spread of digitally networked media, which have resulted in an overlap between digital production, distribution and reception. This means that digital media are no longer viewed as “individual media”, but require praxeological consideration to do justice to the cooperative constitution of the media. Based on the prioritization of cooperative media practices over the media they consolidate, that has been undertaken by the CRC, all media appear as cooperatively developed cooperation conditions, the practices and techniques of which arise from the mutual production and provision of common means and processes. Since being set up, the CRC is therefore based on a media and sociotheoretical research design that highlights the mutual production of Infrastructures and publics (Schüttpelz 2017a). To date, this cooperative creation, exploitation and maintenance of infrastructural and public media has been historically and ethnographically pursued along the lines of research and design of media practices. To this end, a practice-theoretical revision of interdisciplinary media research was successfully worked on during the first funding phase, which extends far into the participating disciplines (Ghanbari et al. 2018; Gießmann 2018a, 2018b; Wulf et al. 2018; Thielmann 2018b, 2019; Schubert/Röhl 2019; Bergermann et al. 2021; Bergmann/Meyer 2021).
An explicit aim of the practice turn that is oriented toward infrastructural and public media was and is the consideration of digitally networked media through a sustainable research design, which counters the current public controversies that are shaped by a pressure to remain up-to-date, for example surrounding social media platforms, big data, algorithmic accountability and machine learning. In contrast to public and academic discourses on digitization, big data and artificial intelligence, the CRC situates itself by focusing on the underlying media and practices, situating popular discourses within the historical context and conducting research into them using situated analyses with a methodological focus on the microlevel, as well as a critical-reflexive design. This applies, in particular, to the media-ethnographic projects that are dedicated to everyday digital practices and address the pervasive nature of digital media technologies in all areas of work and life. The CRC’s perspective on the history of infrastructural and public media, which extends back into the 18th century, emphasizes the mediahistorical continuity of cooperative practices in the light of media technologies that are undergoing constant change.
This micrological and historically interwoven perspective on current and historical processes of digitization has proved particularly productive. This is because the development of digitally networked media since the CRC was set up confirms the flexible nature of the research design, which takes all media to be media of cooperation. For example, a feature of recent infrastructural media developments, in particular, is their cooperative character – be this in the case of new assistance systems, sensor networks, the Internet of things, machine learning or blockchains as databases with a simultaneous infrastructural and public dissemination. The public controversies surrounding, for example, data privacy, fake news, cryptocurrencies and the power of algorithms have also demonstrated the extent to which public practices have disengaged themselves from a foundation in mass media (Baringhorst 2019).
In turn, the permanent stress test through scandalization, manipulation, test and examination (Potthast 2017a) has sparked negative cooperative dynamics in newer media publics (Nieland/ Hoffmann 2019). Awareness on the processes of a largely automated, algorithm-based and data-oriented background cooperation that underlies the newer, disseminated and dispersed media publics has also increased significantly. Overall, media developments in recent years are characterized by their genuine new interleaving of infrastructural and public media (Korn et al. 2019) and have clearly revealed the fruitfulness of the conceptual distinction between public and infrastructural media and the focusing of their interplay.
During its first phase, the CRC started with media and sociotheoretical premises which were to inspire and modify historical, sociological and ethnographic research. This included the assumption that the bulk of observable and malleable cooperation takes place in the form of “cooperation without consent”. This premise links to that of Susan Leigh Star and James Griesemer (1989), in particular, moving the working and production media into the focus of consideration, which make non-consensual mediation possible in the first place. The term “cooperation without consent” includes the media-praxeological concept of boundary objects. To this end, the CRC initially reconstructed and translated the internal differentiation of the boundary objects mediating between heterogeneous social worlds, put forward by Star, in their scientific-historical depth – with the aim of making these productive for the current media-ethnographic, historical and design work (Star 2017).
Both terms and concepts – “cooperation without consent” and the specific types of “boundary objects” that are fundamental to the former – have proved to be highly compatible with the research being carried out by the CRC and are therefore to be further developed by adapting them to recent media developments and using them for the re-perspectivization of media history during the second phase. In this process, boundary objects make clear that cooperation at a fundamental level not only often takes place without consent, but is also characterized by an antagonism, avoidance, breaks, termination and imposition (Gerlitz/Rieder 2018; Englert et al. 2019; Gießmann et al. 2019). Boundary objects evolve their socio-technical mediation performances on a temporary and situative basis, may break up or move into the background. In addition, instead of pronounced objects, more and more data that are cooperatively produced, processed and used are currently coming to the fore. Like boundary objects, these can be interpretively acquired in a flexible manner from multiple perspectives and translated between numerous actors (many-to-many translation). However, the processing of data generates an entirely new mobile dissemination of Infrastructures and publics which no longer requires a common center, unlike the situated and situating boundary objects. As part of this, media practices are increasingly emerging as data practices that produce data as a result of mutual processing. Decentralized, disseminated, data-driven publics correspond to the generally non-transparent infrastructural dissemination of data, such as is made clear by the partial project B06 “Un/requested observation in interaction“.
The cooperation term, on which the CRC is based, has also developed further against this background. Unlike the German-language discussion on practice theory, the CRC practice term is not based a priori on existing processes, routines, habits, or similar, but moves its mutual production to the fore, as has become common primarily within the scope of AV-supported analysis in the fields of developmental psychology, interaction analysis, but also the analysis of computer-aided interactions (cf. Meier zu Verl 2018). This interplay resulted in the appearance of “co-operative action“, the legacy of Charles Goodwin (2018), which places the emphasis on incremental production, as was demonstrated in the CRC Book Review Symposium (Wiesemann/Amann 2018). Goodwin describes the micro-interactional event as a historical event in his meticulous analyses. He demonstrates that incremental means are created and used in each interaction between the parameters that are involved (including people), which may outlast an interaction or also disappear again (Meyer/Schüttpelz 2018). Goodwin’s description of cooperation places the emphasis on the co-operative, a term coined to highlight this incremental quality: “[C]o-operative action […] builds new action by reusing with transformation materials inherited from predecessors” (Goodwin 2018: 20).
Goodwin’s interpretation of co-operation is already outlined in Garfinkel’s Sociological Theory of Information (2008 ), which, in its examination of game theory, assumes that “inferential information” acts incrementally on social relationships as this strengthens the community character of communication and stabilizes networks (Thielmann 2016; Borbach/Thielmann 2019). In this sense, the international sociotheoretical cooperation research corresponds to the research carried out by the CRC and also to the media-theoretical operative term (Schüttpelz 2017b), as mutual processes that are turned into common means must be understood incrementally or historically by the those involved, exactly as put forward by Goodwin, in order to transition from mutuality to commonalities that are codified and formed on an ad hoc basis (Schüttpelz/Meyer 2018). What is also essential based on Goodwin and the research carried out by the CRC is that this cooperation term has no scale, i.e. it can be applied to all scales of processes and actions. Cooperation not only takes place in micro-events, which can be captured on video, transcribed and analyzed, but also exists at non-observable scales that can only be traced based on their data tracks or their historical documentation. For example, Thielmann (2018a) shows how implicit local knowledge became universal cartographic knowledge based on the historical praxeology of commonly produced route guides in around 1900. The cooperation term can be used as a mutual production of common aims, means and processes at any scale, from micro-events through to intercontinental history – also based on the “heterogony of purpose” (Wundt 1896) and the “non-intentional consequences of intentional actions” (Merton 1995). This will be demonstrated below from a media-historiographical, a contemporary-analytical as well as from a methodological perspective. In particular, the historiography of digital media that is pursued at the CRC brings to account the incremental cooperative constitution of both Infrastructures and publics, in order to reconstruct their infrastructural practice and public justification.
II. Historiography of digital media
The use, design and maintenance of digital Infrastructures and publics, as well as media-historical research on their genealogy, have undergone dynamic further development since the Special Collaborative Research Center was set up (Balbi/Magaudda 2018). The CRC has made contributions toward this in three interdisciplinary fields of research, in particular, which (1.) focus on digital media as infrastructural and public, mutually produced media (Schüttpelz 2017a; Thielmann 2019a), (2.) pursue a new social history of digital media (Gießmann 2018c, 2019a; Henrich-Franke/Neutsch 2018; Haigh 2018, 2019) and (3.) write data histories that are both historical and related to the present (Burkhardt 2015; Gerlitz 2016, Gerlitz/Rieder 2018).
In this process, firstly, the infrastructural-logistic approach pursued by the CRC “Media of cooperation” has become broadly established internationally – in a variety of combinations of Historical Studies, Media Studies and Science and Technology Studies. This can be seen in the more recent Infrastructure History (Ambrosius/HenrichFranke 2016; Dommann 2017; van Laak 2018; Henrich-Franke 2019), Business History (Yates/Murphy 2019) and the Platform Studies (Plantin et al. 2016; Helmond et al. 2019), as well as in the research into logistical media (Peters 2015), media Infrastructures (Parks/Starosielski 2015) and format theory (Volmar 2017). From a methodological perspective, “Infrastructuring”, developed in the Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) (Pipek/Wulf 2009), is coming to the fore, through which digital media Infrastructures become an integrative component of cultural practice. infrastructural services and conditions associated with digitally networked media are also of increasing interest in German-language Historical Studies, which have been reconstructed for the USA (Gugerli 2018), for German-German computer history (Schmitt et al. 2016; MiA 2017; Bösch 2018) and for the history of administration techniques (Fleer 2018; Koller 2018). The long-term Infrastructure research conducted on “Tensions of Europe” is now increasingly also oriented toward digital media (ToE 2019).
Simultaneously and secondly, a new social history of digital media has developed, mainly in North America, which also illustrates large-scale media-technical innovations, like the ENIAC, based on their concrete working environments, institutional settings, legal controversies, data processing and equipment (Haigh et al. 2016; Lauer 2017; Haigh 2019; Kline 2019). The ‘hidden figures’ in computer and network history are also currently of broad interest, whether through the enhancement of technical implementation and repair work, a series – sometimes popular representations – on the role of women in the history of computing (Shetterly 2017; Hicks 2017), studies on the history of access and freedom from obstacles in digital media (Petrick 2015) or also the new assessment of the effect of civil society initiatives and the computer as a cooperative teaching and learning medium (Dear 2017; Rankin 2018). Likewise, the complex interactions between computing and working practices are – once again – being taken seriously (Ensmenger 2016; Ekbia/Nardi 2017; Gießmann 2019b) and the computer services industry that processes data and makes software available is being acknowledged in relation to the economic and technical importance of its largely invisible infrastructural work (Yost 2017).
Thirdly, affected by the boom in big data, Historical Studies, in particular, have presented historicizations of data practices and their Infrastructures (Aronova et al. 2017; de Chadarevian/Porter 2018; van Es/Masson 2018). This research highlights the material-infrastructural requirements of data acquisition, collection and analysis and focuses on the concrete practices of generating and processing data, a critical distinction from the revolutionary rhetoric of big data. This emphasizes the fabricated nature of putative “raw data” (Gitelman 2013) as well as the relativity of the category ‘big’ quantities of data. Historical Studies remain skeptical with regard to such quantification promises and dynamics that no longer only pertain to scientific data, but also to a data-based digital lifestyle in general (e.g., in the context of the quantified-self movement):” So when thinking about data, instead of marveling at its size, one might ask such questions as, How did data become a measurable quantity? What does quantification do to data? “(Strasser/Edwards 2017: 337). Accordingly, historical research on data-based quantification regimens insists on the qualitative dimension of data. This applies, in particular, to large scientific research Infrastructures, for example in climate research, where the acquisition and analysis of data is necessarily carried out co-operatively (Edwards 2010). The historical reworking of social statistics also pursues the question of how statistical measurement is jointly producing and forming, what it is attempting to describe and thereby contributing toward the constitution of social formations or standards (Desrosières 1998). However, in spite of a few pioneer studies, a technical-historical revision has yet to be undertaken: Digital data processing in action and a qualitative data term remain a desired field of research that the CRC will focus on from a historiographic perspective during its second phase, for example, based on intranets (A01), the phenomenon of “average data technology” (A02) and methods of mechanical data recovery (P01).
While science, technology and media research have rendered the “rupture talk “(Hecht 2002) on big data and the associated epistemological cesura problematic, recent developments in digital media are still characterized by significant shifts. Both infrastructural and public media have newly regrouped over the past ten years, primarily in relation to their data intensity and algorithmic scrutiny. The catalysts for this development are (1) economic and technological changes that have gone hand in hand with the (renewed) rise of cloud computing and the option of correlative big data analyses, (2) the combination of data-driven platform capitalism through the further proliferation of social media and (3) the industrial realization of an Internet of things that is progressively integrating ever more data flows into sensor networks, transport and wireless technology. Against this background, which also characterizes the current boom in machine learning and ‘intelligent’ assistance systems, some of the numerous cooperative media practices that are the focus of research by the CRC have become data intensive practices. The public is increasingly reacting to this infrastructural change by viewing its data-based nature as problematic, which regularly gives rise to controversies, e.g. with reference to copyright (cf. Media in Action 2/2017), data privacy or network neutrality (Gießmann 2019a). In the second phase of funding, the CRC is reacting to this profound change in the socio-technical fabric by placing a particular emphasis on the virulent agency of data practices that are linked back to the history of digital media. While the application to set up the research center was based on the assumption that media cannot be understood without media practices, in turn, the fact that media and media practices cannot be conceptualized without data and data practices has been demonstrated over the course of the first period of funding. This has consequences for the analytical, methodological, theoretical and design-related penetration of the interfaces between infrastructuralization and publication, which are fundamental elements of research at the CRC.
Infrastructures and publics
For one hundred years, infrastructural working media, on the one hand, and public mass media and telecommunication media, on the other, appeared to exist in two separate worlds and only the aspect dedicated to the product and public service was treated as the ‘media world’. Only once it was in publicly accessible form did a medium become a means of mass communication and this means that its non-public production and sociotechnical interleaving have generally not been researched to date. However, it is only once infrastructural media and public media are jointly historicized that the genealogy of digitally networked media becomes more plausible from a historical perspective, especially the all-pervasive presence and digital ubiquity of identification and registration techniques, which make clear that the socio-technical foundations of digital platforms exist in the production of anonymizable and collectivizable documents and data (Haigh 2019). The CRC is therefore divided into two complementary research areas that supplement and overlap each other: “Infrastructures” and “Publics”. This division is based on the assumption that technical “cooperation without consent” can be expected in “Infrastructures” and processes of finding consent and dissent in medial ‘publics’ – and that Infrastructures and publics mutually constitute each other (Schüttpelz 2017a; Korn et al. 2019; Gießmann 2019b).
The work carried out within the scope of the respective case studies in the two partial projects that are involved has reconstructed how publics are based on infrastructural media and are generated by them and vice versa. This research program will be pursued further in the second phase of funding. Technical Infrastructures and media Infrastructures give rise to public controversies relating to their regulation and design; public media are based on technical Infrastructures and their institutional negotiation. The mutual constitution of medial infrastructures and publics was demonstrated in the research carried out into the historical precursors and the incremental development of digital technologies, such as video telephony (A01, Volmar 2019), the credit card (A01, Gießmann 2018c, 2019a), but also the standardization of telephony in the context of ISDN (A02, Henrich-Franke 2019). Digital platforms, such as social media, political participation platforms, but also working platforms, occupy a specific role in the CRC, which can only be understood through their specific interleaving of publics and Infrastructure. While some of these are public media (social media platforms in B06 and A03, activistic platforms in B03 or fan fiction platforms in B07), others are better understood as logistical and infrastructural media, such as the company-internal platforms for controlling malfunctions (A04). What is common to all of them is that their Infrastructures are used and developed further by different publics or stakeholders (Keating/Cambrosio 2003), namely, often without consent and along the lines of heterogeneous assessment systems (Röhl 2019; Gerlitz et al. 2019; Englert et al. 2019). Put differently, infrastructural platforms permit specific publics to be reached, monetarized or governed by data practices (Gillespie 2010; Gawer 2014). For example, commercial platforms such as social media (B06), platforms for drone videos (A03) or political concerns (B03), fan fiction websites (B07) or social navigation apps (A03), calculate which contents will be made visible to whom in feeds and streams, thereby creating “calculated publics” generated with algorithms (Gillespie 2014: 188).
In addition, it became clear across all partial projects that were involved that data potentially also assemble numerous publics with a variety of interests in their exploitation. Whether these are activists in the context of political platforms, developers who are using platform data to develop new applications, or road traffic departments who are repurposing cycling maps for Infrastructure planning: data generate heterogeneous publics, called “data publics” (Birchall 2015; Ruppert 2015). In contrast to the “calculated publics” that are produced by and through media, the concept of “data publics” refers to the stakeholders and users who are using the data for purposes for which they were not originally created (Gray et al. 2018). Empirical media research forms its own data public that is characterized by a specific relationship to Infrastructures: the current attempt to make this public infrastructurally accountable through standardized research data management gives rise to numerous conflicts in relation to standardization, sustainability, and the public nature of research, which are being investigated and negotiated in the INF project (Strauch/Hess 2019; Mosconi et al. 2019). The CRC has therefore developed an increasingly reflexive perspective on the publics of its own research practices. The mutual integration of users and other stakeholders has a long tradition in socio-informatic and CSCW research (cf. partial projects A05, A06, B04 and INF). However, the ethnographic projects are also characterized by a mutual relationship between the researchers and their publics, in that they incorporate categories and the language of the field or expand their stakeholders through effective public events, such as the exhibitions “Different eyes: a drone art exhibition” (A03), “That’s you! Early childhood goes digital” (B05) and “From the letter to the digital network: from the victorious country into the world “(A02), which were carried out in conjunction with “Public Infrastructures” (Ö).
Furthermore, a particular emphasis was placed on the practices of making public, the ‘issuefication’ in the partial projects and investigations carried out to assess how issues contribute toward the production of publics and Infrastructures. The media practices of the infrastructuralization of issues draw on both specialized and generalist media technologies and are often interleaved with offline practices. While B03 focused on the acquisition of Infrastructures for public mobilization relating to topics such as food sharing and social agriculture, other projects investigated Infrastructures as the object of public controversies, for example, in relation to questions of copyright (B07) (MiA 2018) or research data management (INF) (Mosconi et al. 2019). The question of an algorithmic accountability, in particular, has developed into a societal cause, whereby the algorithmic rule and infrastructural formation, including through machine learning, is to be made public: data-driven platform media are currently increasingly being subjected to a socio-technical examination, also with regard to considerations relating to data privacy. Business models for platform media that are designed to capture data have also become socially suspect (B06) (Couldry/Mejias 2018; van Dijck et al. 2018; Zuboff 2019), based on which the call for public-legal financing of digital media Infrastructures is getting louder in Europe (Passoth 2019). Access to the monetarization of data that are controlled by only a few actors, the constant, but opaque background cooperation, and the increasingly restrictive policies surrounding access to platform data for non-economic research purposes emphasize the fact that cooperation processes with platforms are inherently asymmetric (Helmond et al. 2019). Likewise, the (re)distribution of societal decision-making processes by machine learning is a matter of debate. The CRC is therefore expanding on the range of projects which investigate infrastructural media that are at the center of public controversies, to include the partial project B08 on “agentic media” and the new focus of B06 on intelligent personalized speech assistants.
Through its objective of pluralizing the public concept, the CRC is investigating intimate, fragmented, tiered, as well as global publics (Zillinger 2017). Targets of the partial projects include public, semi-public and private cooperation between tourism, the public acquisition of media in media spaces and family clans in the High Atlas (B04), intimate publics of medical data (A06), personal letters as the Infrastructure of literary publics (B01), the use of smartphones and their communication apps in the domestic arena (B05), the trust in the infrastructural restrictions imposed on publics (B06) and digital media practices in an ageing society (A05). Scaling between different publics is not only undertaken through the data practices of the underlying Infrastructures, but also through the media practices and actor constellations that are involved. This has also resulted in the discovery of the production of unsolicited publics (Schmidtke et al. 2019): on the one hand, through access to private data by unclearly defined stakeholder groups (B06), but also by practices and contents suddenly gaining huge publicity through cooperative processes and, as in the case of incorrect private sphere settings, also touch on questions of copyright (B07). These unintended publics arise, on the one hand, through infrastructural background cooperation – as in the case of “calculated publics” – or through semi-public background cooperation – as in the case of images, videos, etc. from domestic surroundings being shared inadvertently (B05).
The starting point for the analysis of mutual production was either the infrastructures (A projects) or the publics (B projects) and their co-constitution allows the emergence of media and media practices to be specified. This includes the observation that has already been discussed, that numerous cooperative practices are not based on consent, but develop along the lines of boundary objects that mediate between heterogeneous evaluation systems (Star 2017). It became clear across all projects that are involved that the groups involved are in a symmetrical relationship to each other only in the rarest of cases, but that they have a variety of options for participation and design – especially when their practices are the starting point for incremental cooperation. For example, A04 demonstrated the manifold ways in which the status groups that are involved can be made accountable for minutes of delay in local transport (Röhl 2019) and A03 demonstrated how app developers subvert platforms, while these are still also controlled by platform operators (Gerlitz et al. 2019). Likewise, the concepts of “boundary Infrastructures” and “boundary publics” were discussed, for example in the 2017 international conference “Digital Platforms and Boundary Infrastructures“, when the question was posed on how digital platforms and their disseminated socio-technical Infrastructures mediate between heterogeneous stakeholders. Cooperation that is mediated through Infrastructures rarely constitutes cooperation at eye level, but cooperation under asymmetrical conditions and options for action. In the view of the CRC, a critique of disseminated media is only possible when the dissemination of these asymmetries is considered.
However, this undertaking is made more difficult by a further characteristic of the relationship between Infrastructures and publics: its fuzziness and opacity. To what extent are digital media Infrastructures and publics comprehensible and accessible (a) to research and (b) to the heterogeneous actors involved? This question is the focus of numerous social controversies and concrete challenges faced by the partial projects. The reach and publicity that private and intimate data achieve, whether in social media (B06,) in clinical visualizations (A06) or apps for ageing societies (A05), is just as much the focus of debate as the occasionally opaque stakeholders in standard institutional debates (A01 and A02). These are becoming increasingly inaccessible through the incremental production of media of cooperation, as is made clear based on the example of technical standards or composite metrics, such as minutes of delay. Back-translating data that have been compiled in a diversified manner, such as minutes of delay, routes calculated based on algorithms, drone images or health data, with reference to their origin and attributing them to individual actors constitutes a methodological challenge. It became clear in the context of disseminated public platform media that both their Infrastructures (in the form of global cloud networks) but also their publics – who is given access to which data? – are characterized by multiple opacities (Englert et al. 2019). While software operators can at least partially follow who is being given access to their data, infrastructurally processed publics relating to private data are hardly comprehensible to users, just as the disseminated Infrastructures in which their data are processed and stored remain opaque and result in double uncertainty.
The question of accountability arises in a fully novel fashion in the context of digitization, which can only be adequately pursued and described using a praxeological approach (Knorr Cetina/Woermann 2021). However, this will not result in a simple promise of transparency or the activistic demand that all black boxes must be opened. Based on the premises of praxeology, the focus is instead guided toward situated, process-related perspectives (Barocas/Selbst 2016) and the question is posed on which infrastructural or public dimensions of co-operation can be methodologically documented and which not. Sensor-aided, autonomously acting media aggravate this problem as the data that they collect and process are often taken from a human constitution of meaning. The CRC has developed initial contributions toward the methodological handling of these opacities through the re-evaluation and further development of the ethnographic and ethnomethodological, the mobile and situated spectrum of methods (Dieter et al. 2019; Schubert/Röhl 2019; Schüttpelz 2019), which are to be updated in the second phase of funding through the expansion of methodological reflection and the consistent development of mixed methods approaches.
IV. Methodological development
During the first funding phase, the reflexive work on the boundary object ‘methods’ and the scientific media of practice theory proved to be a central element in interdisciplinary cooperation between the disciplines and fields involved in the CRC, namely, Media Studies, Ethnology, Ethnomethodology, Science and Technology Studies, Historical Studies, German Studies, Political Studies, (digital) Sociology and (Socio-)Informatics. Discussions about methods vary in their extent and intensity between disciplines. The CRC has seized upon these reflections and rendered them useful for the implementation of the research program. A core insight gained in the first funding phase is that the ethnomethodological and praxeological access to cooperative media practices is inconceivable without cooperation between researchers and fields (Schubert/Röhl 2019; Holdermann 2019) and it is therefore not only the media that are being investigated, but also the research methods, which are characterized by the mutual production of common objectives, means and processes (Marres/Gerlitz 2018). Situated practices in the research field are explored using the no less situated practices of the researchers, however, without these coinciding (Mohn 2018). Added to this, methods in media research use numerous media themselves, such as recording devices, cameras, databases or sensor apps, that contribute toward structuring the research process and write themselves into the process of data collection, analysis and representation. Accordingly, central aspects of empirical research and method design are “not our own” (Marres/Gerlitz 2015), but take place in a disseminated and cooperative manner. For example, ethnographic field research acquires the language, practices and attitudes of the field setting (Breidenstein et al. 2015) and Science and Technology Studies and the actor-network theory follow human and non-human actors, to work with their respective perspectives and terminologies (Latour 2007). Ethnomethodology has developed its own documentary experimental practice (Schüttpelz 2021a). Digital research methods use existing data formats, categorizations and algorithmic rules from media for research (Rogers 2013; Marres 2017) and draw on data in this process that, in turn, were generated for analysis with the aid of sociometric procedures, such as network analysis, or exploit tools and surroundings for this purpose that have been developed for activistic or economic contexts. In a similar form, this also applies to research in Digital Humanities, that investigates cultural artefacts through digitization or digitally aided analysis and repurposes digital technologies, such as database Infrastructures or analytical methods from object data for their epistemological interests (Sahle 2018).
The question on the mutual production of empirical research practices and methods, however, not only pertains to the analytical acquisition of field categories, data or media technologies through ethnographic and digital methods, as has been frequently demonstrated by Science and Technology Studies (Ruppert et al. 2013). Qualitative and quantitative social science methods also write themselves into the research process in a manifold, incremental manner, whether through the techniques used to pose questions in interviews or through statistical methods of analysis (Ploder/Thielmann 2021). Methods can therefore also give rise to conflicts or dissent, which has been comprehensively discussed in the CRC in a variety of publications and workshops on methods – for example, in the Media-ethnographic Masterclass (2019), the Mobile Interface Methods Workshops (2015, 2016, 2017), the seminar series “YouTube as Test Society” (2017, 2018) and publications on issue analysis with social media data (Marres/Gerlitz 2015, 2018) or analyses of forum contributions to investigate the practical handling of copyright-related questions within the scope of Empirical Legal Studies (Reißmann/Hoffmann 2018). The thesis of the CRC is that these tensions do not necessarily need to be resolved, but must be recognized in the research process, reflected on and made visible (Gray et al. 2018). Furthermore, the CRC has contributed toward the concrete development of a repertoire of praxeological methods that span the disciplines that are involved, which address the diverse challenges that arise when analyzing digitally disseminated practices. For example, historical praxeology methods were honed based on the examples of collaborative writing in the 18th century (B01, Ghanbari 2016) and the development of mobile collaborative cartography at the end of the 19th century (A03, Thielmann 2018a, Thielmann et al. 2018), the field of camera ethnography in the family context and its different forms of presentation was developed (B05, Mohn 2013, 2018), the history of infrastructural media was followed up on using oral history approaches (A01, Gießmann 2021), sensor data were experimented with for Infrastructure research (A03, Dieter et al. 2019) or the practices relating to mobility and interference software were investigated (A04, Schubert/Röhl 2019). This revealed that disseminated digital (data) practices can only be followed up on using different methodological approaches (mixed methods), the heterogeneous data from which must be integrated into the research process, and which not uncommonly challenge, if not expand, the spectrum of methods used by the disciplines involved.
The cooperative constitution of methods simultaneously has a retroactive effect on the media practices of increasingly digital societies, in which digital data and Infrastructures are acquired by heterogeneous stakeholders and thus constitute publics. Their “data publics” (Ruppert 2015) draw on similar data and Infrastructures as the empirical media research carried out by the CRC and are simultaneously also addressed in CRC method development (Gray et al. 2018) – whether in the context of participative acquisition research (A05, A06, B04) or in outreach events, such as “MoneyLab #6: Infrastructures of Money” (2019), which brought together scientists, activists and artists with an interest in digital currency.
During the first funding phase, the CRC made a significant contribution toward rendering the methodological discussion in media research more explicit in a dialogue with the disciplines involved and developing empirical research practices that are sensitive to intrinsic mutual production (Mohn 2013; Gray et al. 2018; Dieter et al. 2019). The Center for Digital Methodologies for Media, Language and Technology Research was founded in 2019 to make this methodological work sustainably accessible to all faculties at the university (see 1.3.1). Four central challenges arise for method development based on the cooperative constitution of methods – including their incremental and data-driven background cooperation – which will also have a defining effect on shaping the second phase of funding:
- The methodological cooperation processes and how these lead to empirical findings are to be made more explicit in concrete research projects and discussed in reflections on methodology across all involved professional discourses. This includes critical questions on the production of data formats that are used in the research process (Gerlitz/Rieder 2018) and, equally, the analysis of research practices like those carried out in the first funding phase by the INF project (Mosconi et al. 2019), through to the question of how archives can be used to reconstruct historical practices, which history of digital media can be told through oral history interviews or how sensor data can document The objective is the development of a methodological data critique that covers all qualitative and quantitative data formats for archive, image, online and sensor data.
- It is not only the publics and Infrastructures that are being investigated, the acquired data and actors that are followed up on that write themselves into the research, but also the research that writes itself into the publics, Infrastructures, data and actors that are under The cooperative constitution of methods reveals its creative dimension, i.e. its capacity to order, classify, explain issues, render them visible and invisible, to contribute toward new societal imaginations (Marres et al. 2018) or infrastructurize media (Pipek/Wulf 2009; Wulf et al. 2015). The performativity of empirical research has often been discussed (Law 2004), but it does not just present the design projects (A05, A06, B04, P03, INF) with the challenge of how they are contributing toward shaping the field they are conducting research on and what form of critical intervention this introduces.
- Data-intensive cooperations and background cooperations not only withdraw from the actors involved, but are often difficult to access To date, we only have a limited understanding of where digital data end up being processed or shared, which data publics they repurpose, how sensors record environments, even when using mixed methods approaches. On the one hand, cooperatively constituted methodological work therefore means the expansion of the spectrum of methods through the acquisition and repurposing of new data and research perspectives, primarily in the fields of sensor data (A03, A06, P03) and machine learning (B08), but also recognizing the boundaries and fuzziness of our own methods (Barocas/Selbst 2016).
- This method development and critique that is related to the present, in turn, has a retroactive effect on the historical genealogy and re-evaluation of ethnomethodological experimental practice (P01) as well as the history of AV sequence analysis (P02) – including a history of cooperative interpretation practices in the social and cultural studies, which will be presented in the second phase of the
B. Results and epistemological goals in the second phase of the CRC 1187
I. Cooperative data: further development of the interdisciplinary research program
As shown by the research conducted during the first funding phase, data take on a constitutive role in the cooperative constitution of media and must, themselves, be understood as cooperatively produced cooperation conditions. Whether in the form of natural elements of speech in conversations (B06, P01, P02), as text elements in instant messaging, protocols, filing or punch cards (A01, P01), as documents in archives (A02, P03), minutes of delay on transport services (A04), photos and videos of family members (B05) or as sensor data for locational positioning (A03, P03, B08): qualitative and quantitative data and data formats are constitutive to media of cooperation, just as media of cooperation are constitutive to the data themselves. In this process, the CRC is not limiting the data term to digital data formats, but is including analog and digital, qualitative and quantitative data, both from the field and research, thereby providing a delimitation from discourses on pure digitization and datafication (cf. Kitchin 2014; Mau 2017) and thus a baseline perspective on the role played by all data in everyday and occupational worlds. To this end, the CRC has recourse to a praxeological understanding of data, based on which data withdraw from a priori definitions and can only be investigated in situ and in actu.
By focusing on data practices, the CRC is reacting to a ‘double excess’ of data that was identified in the digital culture of the present in the first funding phase: Firstly, an increase is observed in media practices designed to be quantified, evaluated and analyzed, which take shape as data practices and are to be investigated in relation to their specific forms and formats, but also their historical precursors. Secondly, there is a tendency for all media practices to have the capacity to be reconfigured as data practices through digital media, not least as data constitute the foundation on which media operate and process. Each action in digital media produces its intrinsic, more or less complete or fragile form of datafication (Pink et al. 2018) and is rendered visible in the form of calculated publics (Gillespie 2014). As a consequence, all current media practices are pervaded by data practices and can be (re)conceptualized as such.
However, the data term hereby evades a simple definition. While data are commonly reduced to digital data in the discourse on big data (Mayer-Schönberger/Cukier 2013) and hailed as the ultimate ‘new oil’, it thus remains unclear what exactly the term ‘data’ refers to. The reason for this is the relational determinacy of data: if, on the one hand, data are collected as a precursor to information and knowledge, when taking a different perspective, they appear as a specific form of information – numerical information on reality (Desrosières 2001; Boullier 2017) – which is to be distinguished from other types of information. In turn, from an information technology perspective, data are binary encoded representations of information that can be processed by a computer. Data form the reverse side of digital contents which can be conceptualized as their underside, to distinguish them from the surfaces of medial interfaces (cf. Nake 2008). Beyond all differences, a potentiality that is characteristic for data is articulated in all the variants of meaning: they are the fundament, basis and foundation for their qualitative interpretation, statistical analysis, algorithmic processing or visualization. They cannot be reduced to a “datum” (lat. “a given”). This understanding is already present in Euklid’s “Data“, in which the aim is to deduce further givens from a given (Schwab 1780). “Euklid’ data” (Thaer 1962) are aids in the analysis of problems and the finding of evidence. Data are already tied to their use and can only be explained through their use as early on as in the mathematics of antiquity. Newer definitions in commercial information technology build on this (Stahlknecht 1985). Defined as “characters summarized for the purpose of processing, which represent information (i.e. details on issues and processes) based on known or imputed agreements” (Gabler 2019), data are primarily characterized by their workability, transformations and processing. Harold Garfinkel (2008 ) recognized this very early on and described it in his studies on mechanical data recovery techniques (Zatocoding).
He operates based on a situated understanding of data, which also forms the basis of the CRC. Based on this understanding, data are always ‘data for something’ or ‘for someone’ and are not to be understood in their multiplicity, but as embedded in individual processes of documentation, production, calculation, filtering, sort ing, allocation, inclusion and exclusion.
The sociologist Adrian Mackenzie (2012) also defines the value of data as in their co-operative recombinability. It is therefore not the single data point that is of economic, social or scientific interest, but the relationships that can be generated between and together with data points, progressively abstracting the data and rendering them into projections of the future (Amoore 2011). Furthermore, an everyday data term has become established through recent research in media ethnology and historical praxeology, which places the agency, reflexivity and co-operative attachment between individual data generation and dissemination at the core of the investigations (Pink et al. 2017). These studies on “lively data” (Lupton 2016) serve the purpose of improving our understanding of how humans integrate data into their everyday (professional) lives and social and technical practices (Michael/Lupton 2016).
The concept of “lively data” is therefore to be further developed in the second phase of funding to ensure that all dimensions of the cooperative constitution of data are addressed. In this case, data take on a minimum of four roles: (1.) They form the basis for cooperative (everyday) practices that, for example, draw on social media, speech, image or sensor data. (2.) They create a structured byproduct, medial cooperation, which repeatedly generates (transactional) data through its practices that are cooperatively processed, stored and recombined in the background. (3.) The CRC’s empirical research contexts generate heterogeneous, situative and relational data, such as field notes, films, archive material or sensor data, through ethnographic, historiographic or digital methods which arise cooperatively in the interplay with the methodological apparatus, specific research situations and questions. Data also contribute (4.) toward the structuration capacity of cooperation through their incremental further processing, just as cooperation itself renders negotiation processes capable of structuration in the context of heterogeneous evaluation criteria and interests.
Starting with these dimensions, the CRC pursues the thesis that data cannot be conceived of without their upstream and downstream practices of production, processing, evaluation, examination and valorization. They are conceptualized as data practices and contribute toward the incremental production of data. Through the accentuation on the cooperative production of data and data practices, the CRC is linking up to existing data critiques and discourses (Burkhardt/Gießmann 2014; Dalton/Thatcher 2014; Illiadis/Russo 2016) – from the critique on the idea of “raw data” (Gitelman 2013), to envisaging data as a co-constitutive part of assemblages (Kitchin/Lauriault 2014), through to the recent demand for data Infrastructure literacy (Gray et al. 2018), which not only calls for a critique on data points, but also targets the Infrastructures in which they are created, processed and rendered accessible. Up to now, data in the social and cultural studies are primarily conceptualized in their multiplicity and incorporation into models and data storage methods (Mämecke et al. 2018). Media research has been shown to strongly focus on the observable and measurable aspects of larger quantities of data, while the personal and non-representational aspects of data applications and use have been neglected (Crawford et al. 2014; Kitchin/McArdle 2016). The praxeological perspective taken by the CRC develops existing approaches further, by both inquiring after the infrastructures and the publics associated with data and becoming more aware of these. Investigations include how data collections are re-coded and re-conceptualized, and how publics constitute themselves based on data practices, in individual practice and in the different “communities of practice“. Without a doubt, the “boundary object” is a particularly prominent example of how datasets can be of equal epistemological interest to media and social theory. Therefore, the question arises for the CRC on what role data practices play in the context of cooperative production and how they are to be delimited from (media) practices.
II. Media and data practices: mutual production and transformation
The CRC set-up phase already made clear that focusing on data as an object of analyses facilitates circumvention of the semiotic reduction and functionalistic preparation of media, ensuring that the misappropriation of medial processes and inventions that is always possible can be addressed as a crisis and assumed to be normal. Paradoxically, this was also achieved and precisely through the demonstration of the constant reductive work on data that, as “signs summarized for the purpose of processing”, cannot be reduced to one purpose. Data, including their purposes, therefore remain bound to transient aggregates that can only be worked out and processed cooperatively. The CRC therefore places the incomplete, contingent and fluid character of data at the core of its investigations. This gives rise to the question, in particular, on how data behave in relation to other media, objects and materialities (Geismar 2018; Milne/Scantlebury 2019). Which social, material and data driven practices stabilized media practices and vice versa?
Focusing on the viscerality of data shifts their situative production to the center in the given context of application in media practice and in the exchange with different tools, aids and devices, resulting in a decentralization of human actors – also from a media-ethnological perspective (Pink et al. 2017). The aim here is to acknowledge the material qualities of the digital (Dourish 2016; Pink et al. 2016). Data can be intrinsically understood as emergent, enduring products that enter into mutual exchange, pervasion and merge into each other with other data, platforms, media and objects, which can also be demonstrated based on more recent digital media (development kits, self-trackers, smart devices etc.) (Pink et al. 2018). However, this also pertains to all data dimensions that the CRC produces itself – which are mainly generated in the research process through tools, observations, records etc. Media and data practices are an irreducible part of the practices that have been studied for a long time in ethnomethodology. For example, the media practice of taking notes is one of the actions on which a note provides information (Garfinkel 1968a); the media practice of observation using a camera is one of the actions on which ethnographic film-making provides information (Mohn 2013). How media can be specified along the lines of their media practices was assessed in the lecture series “Data Practices “in the 2018/19 winter semester and the CRC annual conference “Data Practices: Recorded, Provoked, Invented “in October 2019 with leading scientists, including Luise Amoore, Celia Lury or David Ribes. The CRC will therefore – particularly through collaboration with the international scientists who have pushed forward Science and Technology Studies at the highest level – be reliant on further exploration of the joint research perspectives of media, social and technological research, in order to uncover the inherent relationships between administration, research data and media practices (Ploder/Thielmann 2021).
Neither digital Infrastructures, nor digital publics, can be fathomed without an understanding of cooperative media and data. Family interactions using smartphones (B05), conversations with assistant systems like Alexa (B06) or the handling of medical visualizations calculated using algorithms (A06) show that media exploitation practices not only produce data, but also take place through data practices, react to these and then produce more data and make these public. Data and media practices, inscriptions and representations only develop agency through their co-operative interleaving (Borbach/Thielmann 2019), which requires analytical documentation, reflection and design. If we understand media and data practices as being mutual and cooperative, then it becomes clear that data-intensive media technologies do not primarily contribute toward autonomization or algorithmization, but potentially toward semi-autonomization or semi-algorithmization. They are not completely detached from human actors, but are necessarily reliant on their decisions and incorporation, as is the case in the area of autonomous driving, where certain decisions are delegated to human classifiers (Hind 2019), just as platform clusters employ large numbers of clickworkers who check for sensitive and legally non-compliant contents (Gillespie 2017). When “data” are understood to be “characters prepared for processing”, then we can comprehend “cooperative data” as “cooperatively prepared characters for processing and cooperatively processed characters”. Data are subject to cooperation in their continual semi-autonomous and semi-algorithmic form, i.e., in their constant reprograming, analysis, feedback and modification. Or expressed differently: all data are cooperatively produced per se and this cooperation remains associated with human actors, even if they are now carrying out invisible work.
Another challenge for media and cooperation research is that progressively greater numbers of sensors are now being incorporated into media, everyday objects and Infrastructures, thereby transforming them into smart devices or smart Infrastructures. This results in significant changes in the analysis, theorization and design of public Infrastructures and infrastructural publics. New socio-technical, cooperatively produced conditions for recording, processing and publishing data arise from the sensor-technological ‘upgrading’ of media. For example, sensor-aided media are characterized by data collection that has often had the boundaries removed and potentially extends to online and offline spaces, as we enter into an unending connection to our environments with the help of sensors. The term “sensor media” (Thielmann 2019b) is therefore suited to elucidating what the human sensorium is taking in (McLuhan/Fiore 2011 ), what is enabling us to remain in constant contact, not what we infrequently or occasionally use as a medium. In this sense, sensor media always also refer to the uncircumventable nature and persistence of co-operative data processes, which also characterize social media, in particular.
The question of specific medial conditions underlying the digital acquisition of data and information has, to date, mainly been discussed in relation to online media, big data and platforms (Boyd/Crawford 2012; Burkhardt/Gießmann 2014; Kitchin 2014). Interfaces that addressed humans were identified as central to data collection, which also produce prestructured data using predefined handling options – “grammars of action” (Agre 1994) – such as forms, clicks, likes, swipes or status updates. Action and interaction in apps, software, websites or social media platforms is only possible with such grammars, through which a certain normative dimension is conferred on them and data production is coupled to the explicit (like, share, tweet) or implicit (page dial-up, dwell time) use of digital media. This mode of data collection is reconfigured in the context of sensor media. Sensors are potentially in use permanently and document environments, bodies and interactions simultaneously. The event, action and data storage no longer coincide directly as in an Agres capture model, but enter into a more complex relationship as the permanent data noise of sensor media is only subsequently translated or structured into recognizable, grammatical and calculable formats (Flyverbom/Murray 2018). We are dealing with fluid, disseminated and probabilistic data (Kanderske/Thielmann 2019), which often only turn into relevant data points through feature extractors or in combination with other data (Tickoo/Iyer 2017). The data collection that is operating in the background is thus not limited to the human interactions with interfaces, and grammaticisations are located at different levels, depending on the operation of the sensor.
The sensors in the smart devices (smartwatches, smartphones etc.) that we carry with us are constantly remeasuring the relationship between the body, medium and environments (Lupton 2018). Sensor media thereby re-organize the relationship between infrastructural data storage and their public and raise the question relating to increasingly intimate data publics. It is not only the collection, but also the valorization of data, that loses its boundaries: the majority of sensor-based data operations are based on incremental multi-modal or contextbased combinations of different data points. The multiand polyvalence of data, i.e., the level to which the data can be interpreted and combined in new contexts of evaluation and meaning (Gerlitz 2016), is more strongly implemented at the technical level in the context of sensor data and is therefore opaque. Speech-based assistance systems (B06), for example, must filter out human language from the noise generated by audio signals, transcribe it and recognize meaning and intention using natural language processing (NLP) (B08). In the context of sensor-based media technologies, numerous data practices are therefore operating in the mode of background cooperation that is difficult to access – personal assistants use global databases to answer questions; drones draw on existing maps, GPS, WLAN and various sensors to locate themselves in space (Bender 2018). How sensor media can be specified through data and media practices and the extent to which they reorganize the mutual production of Infrastructures and publics through their (opaque) background cooperation forms one of the desired fields of research for the second phase of funding and the foundations for a digital praxeology, the development of which is a task that will be undertaken by the CRC. While the CRC did not initially conceptualize media without media practices and subsequent media practices without data practices, the step that is to be taken in the follow-up phase will consist of understanding data practices, not without understanding data practices within their cooperatively produced social, technical and material practices.
III. Development of a digital praxeology
The CRC aims to investigate the historical emergence of central digital practices of the present and to design digital processes oriented toward the future. Through this program alignment, the CRC is making a significant contribution toward research in a society that increasingly views itself as a data-based society and no longer primarily as an information or knowledge-based society (cf. Houben/ Prietl 2018), which explicitly and reflexively addresses the data and uses them as the basis for political, economic, as well as private decision-making processes. Harold Garfinkel’s ethnomethodological program is instrumental in this process, the importance of which has largely remained uninvestigated to date, not least, as for a long time, the majority of his writings were only accessible to a select scientific public. Almost all of his work deals with every day and cooperatively established decision-making pathways and a processuality of decision-making that cannot be cleansed (cf. Thielmann 2016). The focus is on commonly created “social facts”, as well as the empirical conditions and methods of their production. This ethnoand technomethodological thrust can be defined as a ”praxeology” – or in Garfinkel’s words (1956: 191): ”Praxeology seeks to formulate statements of method, and to extend their generality, seeking as wide a domain of applicability as possible.” The aim of a digital praxeology must therefore be to reveal the practical reflexivity of the digital media and their methods.
Media practices can largely be documented using established observational methods. In contrast, data practices require further methods that are sensitive to the dimensions of background cooperation or partially autonomous processes. For this reason, the partial projects combine ethnographic, digital, sensor-based, linguistic and design-oriented methods and face the challenge of bringing together heterogeneous data and revealing the situatedness of their origins. The development of a digital praxeology therefore requires the further development of the idea of “multi-situated methods” (Dieter et al. 2019) that was developed in the first funding phase, which documents medial situations and produces these in a targeted fashion, so that data practices can be documented and described in situ. These methodological challenges are addressed through two structural changes in the CRC: innovative method development is to be packaged, moderated and communicated in the newly set up module “Integrated Research Training Group” (MGK). The newly created project “Media of Praxeology III: Digital Tools and Environments for Research” (P03) investigates and develops additional research tools in Digital Humanities und Digital Methods which, on the one hand, reflexively reveal the research data practices and, on the other, investigate the “lively data”. The CRC hereby aims to do justice to its praxeological objective of conducting research into the methodologies of the digital.
This aspiration forms the starting point for digital pure research which investigates the co-constitution of social, medial and data-driven practices and thereby, on the one hand, evades the pressure to remain up-to-date that is superficially exerted by discourses on digitization and, on the other, allows the cultural, social, technological, political and economic implications of data-intensive media to be addressed. To this end, the CRC working program will devote itself to a required media-historical revision from the perspective of data processing, as well as an ethnographic, method-reflexive diagnosis and design of the current institutional and technical media and data practices. The research program can thus be divided into historical (see III.a), ethnographic (see III.b) and design approaches (see III.c) which are pursued in the individual partial projects, but also within the scope of cooperation spanning projects, e.g. jointly with Mercator fellows or in networking events. These facilitate the localization of emergent current phenomena in relation to their historical precursors and the investigation of their situated practices, and their critical-reflexive design.
III.a Historical praxeology of media
The approaches to historical praxeology in the German language historical social and cultural studies have been the focus of intense discussions in recent years, without any common sense necessarily prevailing. Literature Studies (Spoerhase/Martus 2013), Historical Studies (Haasis/Rieske 2015) and Sociology largely go their own ways here, in spite of having practice-theoretical references in common, which also refer to different individual specialist traditions – Social History of Literature, Historical Anthropology, Microhistorical Early Modern Era Research, Theory of Social Practices. The international situation is no less comprehensible, but shaped both by prominent individual work in the History of the Book (Johns 2009, 2015; Spoerhase 2018) and History of Computing (Haigh et al. 2016), as well as by infrastructural history and by Science Studies. All historic-praxeological styles of thought are characterized by a high degree of methodological reflexivity; the “rendering visible and analysis of practices in past times” (Freist 2015: 66) is understood throughout to be a program that promotes the archival, philological, historiographical, technological and practice theoretical.
During its first phase, the CRC provided media-historical answers to these challenges, including through focusing on the practices of coordination, delegation and registration/identification that are linked to media (Gießmann 2018a, 2019a), the media-historical analysis of specific co-operation chains (Borbach/Thielmann 2019) and the irreducibility of bodily-technological skills (Schüttpelz 2019). A historical praxeology of the media on this basis also demands constant methodological innovation that is close to the source, to do justice to the individual practices or skills that are under investigation, their dependence on situation and cooperative mutuality. This applies all the more so as it is more difficult to determine what makes up the boundaries of a situation and its practices due to the dissemination of digital Infrastructures and the fragmentation and gradation (Zillinger 2017) of publics. Practice is also not a privilege of human action from a historical perspective. It always involves agents and actants that are “more than human” – not only in digital practices (Gherardi 2019). Historical praxeology therefore benefits from the pioneering work carried out by Science and Technology Studies, which successfully worked on the symmetrization of human and non-human initiatives for action and praxeographic “discovery procedures” (in P01) (Garfinkel et al. 1981; Mol 2002).
The CRC historical partial projects will work on a joint archive of 20th century media and data practices in their second phase, which is based on the experimental media of praxeology documented in the Garfinkel papers and, furthermore, covers the following elements:
- the praxeological investigation of the cooperative production of digitality (reading, writing, controlling algorithmically; establishing data cooperation that is interoperable, modular and translatable, A01),
- early digital data practices and ‘data histories’ that made administrative processes possible based on the programing of “medium data technology” (A02),
- data-intensive, knowledge-generating practices of the storage, commenting on, editing and new publication of scientific inscriptions and digital programming in STS, oriented toward discovery (P01), and
- the development of text-based sequence analysis methods and AV-based data collection in practice-re lated research into human interactions (P02).
The aspiration of carrying out praxeological reconstruction work, which follows on from the comment made by Claude Lévi-Strauss on Marcel Mauss’ project on an “International archive of physical techniques“ (Lévi-Strauss 2010: 10), not only involves the dense description of a bodily-technological indexed practice. An archive of media and data practices equally comprises infrastructural, work-related arrangements and settings that become effective as cooperation conditions. The Siegen praxeological media research is simultaneously designed in a practical-reflexive manner – both in relation to the individual indexed practices on mutual indication that are to be reconstructed and are used to generate accountability, as well as through the practical reflexivity of the inhouse medial historiographic methods, which track, generate and interpret traces and indices. Added to this, oral history methods, AV sequence analyses and historical praxeography are employed and are linked to dataintensive methods used in Digital Humanities und Digital Methods.
Through the combination of digital and administrative practices (A01/A02), text editing and publicity (P03) and the Infrastructures of exploratory and sequence analytical scientific procedures (P01/P02), the historical-praxeological partial projects at the CRC are simultaneously creating the foundations for media research that is oriented toward the present. It is the current digital practices, in particular, that require historical positioning – and they simultaneously form an integral part of a future archive on media and data practices through their ethnographic investigation and socio-informatic design.
III.b Ethnographic research into media and data practices
The Siegen approach to qualitative media research is oriented ethnographically, has proved successful since the CRC was set up and is being further strengthened through the creation of a professorship in media ethnology / method innovation. The CRC has been entangling media and social theory praxeologically through the combination of STS, media ethnography, linguistics, workplace studies and socio-informatic approaches in the ComputerSupported Cooperative Work (CSCW), which will guide research during the second phase of funding. This orientation will now be expanded on to include approaches that specifically target data practices, which incorporate the generation, processing, evaluation and commensurability of data into praxeological research in a prominent fashion. This means that, for example, the ‘data work’ that is required for the operation of digital Infrastructures and often remains invisible will come into view (A03, A04), but also the semi-automation of digital technologies resulting from sensor technology, where the relationship to the world is mediated by data (B08). Significant methodological challenges are linked to this expansion in relation to the enthnographic observation of such practices, and their reflexion and processing will constitute a core task during the second phase of funding. To this end, the ethnographic methods under consideration must be expanded on using technographic, software-based and computer technology methods, as well as data-based digital methods, to document technologies, their inscriptions and partially autonomous procedures. The resultant ethnographies aspire toward simultaneously documenting media and data practices, querying their origins and rendering them describable as an “ongoing accomplishment” (Garfinkel 1967).
Within the scope of the development of a digital praxeology, the partial projects in the CRC with an ethnographic and ethnomethodological orientation focus on the practices that are of particular relevance to the different partial projects, but are simultaneously also included in the practices that are of particular importance in a digital culture and society. These include the practices of care in medicine and nursing (A05, A06), the practices of decision-making in route-finding and during autonomous driving (A03), but also the practices of learning (B05, P01), transmission and edition (P01, P02, P03), evaluation (A04, B06), delegation (A03, B06, B08) and speech and dialog (B06, P01, P02). The CRC’s task is to not only analytically document and describe these technically and medially mediated practices, but also to design them, as is carried out in the partial projects A05, A06, B04, P03 and INF. In this process, the central practices, outlined once more in detail below, are not only investigated within one partial project or between different partial projects. They simultaneously represent central themes within the CRC which are worked on in events that span different projects (see 18.104.22.168). These are practices that currently form a virulent part of negotiation processes in society and are putting the digital society to the test. The digital practices outlined here therefore do not outline a final list, as this will be expanded on and rendered more precise based on the targeted research results obtained over the course of the second funding phase for the CRC.
- Digital care in medicine and nursing
Digital technologies were tested and used at a very early stage in the healthcare system. Based on the keywords eHealth and mHealth, current developments point to a comprehensive pervasion of the healthcare sector with digital technologies for the diagnosis and therapy of diseases, rehabilitation and nursing for patients, as well as for networking healthcare services in medicine and nursing with patients and relatives. Telemedial applications are coming to the fore in the field of digital medicine, which allow continuous monitoring and storage of vital parameters via mobile sensor media. The increasing digitization of the healthcare system only produces comprehensive and exact records, storage and processing of patient data at a first glance. These data can also be fragile, ambiguous or incomplete (Pink et al. 2018a). The recent discussion about the term “care” (Mol et al. 2010) picks up on the situated and improvised handling of health-related data from a praxeological perspective and takes a critical view of a unilateral technologization and economization of digital healthcare practices. Studies on the networked digital care practices highlight the importance of sensory and physical constituents and point to the requirement for investigating digital data practices as socio-material practices in their sensory embodiments (Lupton 2017). The analysis of digital care practices (A05, A06) is carried out, on the one hand, within the meaning of a praxeology of digital healthcare and nursing, on the other, these practices are themselves documented, accessed and designed using digital instruments.
- Digital navigation and decision-making
Sensor-aided and (semi-)autonomous processes in decision-making are increasingly coming to the fore in digital navigation. Representational media (such as maps) for concrete ad hoc decisions on navigation are becoming less important in relation to selfdriving vehicles, drones and robotic systems (Andrejevic 2021). Human actors are no longer searching for the route themselves, but rather more using machine-based navigational decisionmaking and the navigation process that is connected to it – they are becoming “navigational supervisors” (Hind 2019). The new semi-autonomous technical actors are not just interpreting prestabilized mapping materials, but must document and categorize the relevant surroundings in close to real-time. These sensory processes, as well as the subsequent decision-making processes, are generally opaque for the users.
To render these at least partially visible and accountable within the meaning of technical agency is, accordingly, one of the current research vectors in the field. Such a methodological challenge can only be countered through the development of new research methods, which is the task that the partial project A03 has set itself. For example, the interactions taking place cooperatively between human and non-human actors and navigational processes can be documented using videographic and videoethnographic means (Brown/Laurier 2017; Pink et 2019). At the same time – quite within the meaning of a “follow the data” approach – the digital navigation process can be followed through the steps in data collection, circulation and processing, through to decisionmaking with digital and sensor-based methods.
- Digital learning
Cutting across the sociopolitical and scientific debate on the opportunities and risks of digitization, it becomes clear that the culture of digitality (Stalder 2016) in the education sector is not simply resulting in technical innovations in the form of new learning tools, but also contributing toward a new order in learning. It transforms perception, forms of communication used in teaching practice and the means of referring to the social word of learning (Wiesemann/Fürtig 2018). How learning from, on and with digital mobile media takes place cooperatively during early childhood is being investigated in partial project B05. The methodological challenges are countered with a further development of camera-ethnographic methods that facilitate the simultaneous documentation of the physical, material, interface and software-based practices of smartphone use in the family context. Following on from this educational phenomenological concept of learning, which conceptualizes the mimetic and performative reference to the world as a corporeal cultural process of world appropriation and the acquisition of practical knowledge (Göhlich et al. 2007), learning hereby comes into view as an observable sociotechnical practice. Following on from the CRC media and cooperation term, learning is the observable path to cooperation with consent – the social practice of learning is a “a feature of sociality” (Wiesemann/Amann 2018). To what extent this also applies to progressively self-learning, algorithmic media is being investigated by the new partial project B08.
- Practices of transmission and edition
The term “at risk” is often used to describe the state of digital data in literature, media and cultural studies (Bütikofer 2014: 10). The volatility and “fragility” (Weisbrod 2016: 146) of the data require a comprehensive survey and assessment of existing practices of transmission and edition; “reinventing archival methods” (Cumming et al. 2014) is on the agenda. Three lines of discussion in the current research literature are to be highlighted with reference to cooperative data practices (Cunningham 2014; Kramski 2016; Robertson-von Trotha/Hauser 2011; Scholz 2013): (1.) Differences are noted between the USA and European (especially German) transmission cultures. While in the USA, if nothing else, attention is paid to the “digital collections of average citizens” under the catch phrase “personal digital archiving” (PDA) (Weisbrod 2016: 142), discussions in Germany focus primarily on the problem of digital practices of transmission in the exclusive context of the papers of authors and academics. (2.) In accordance with Sina/Spoerhase 2017, it has been possible to refer to a “digital estate awareness” for a long time, which requires a particular level of cooperation, for example, between those people producing inventories and archivists in the long-term archiving of digital collections (Weisbrod 2016). (3.) Finally, action is being taken on the transmission of those digital data that are particularly affected by digital “cleansing actions” due to the minority position of the authors (De Kosnik 2016). The CRC intervenes directly in the practical field of digital transmission. The digital edition of Garfinkel’s papers that is being produced in partial project P03 will form an important resource for practice-theoretical pure research at the CRC (especially in the partial projects A03, B05, P01 and P02).
- Evaluation practices
A praxeological understanding of data requires their consideration in relation to other data and practices, not in isolation. Data are frequently the basis for evaluation practices (Lamont 2012; Meier et al. 2017) which initially require a value judgment that is based on data, which turns into an evaluation through the comparison with other data-based value judgments (Heintz 2018). Evaluations are never fully completed, but often interwoven (Helgesson 2016) and, for example, serve as a data basis for further evaluations (as in the case of aggregated ratings of a product or supplier in online shopping). From time to time, such evaluations even leave their original context in relation to their emergence and use entirely and become a datum in other fields. Such “parasitic” (Neyland 2012) cases are found, for example, in public transport, where minutes of delay are used in court judgments on the severity of the cancellation of a train caused by passengers (A04). They also play a role in the economic valorization of data (Gerlitz 2016) that are produced in the apparently private interaction with speechbased assistance systems (B06). Increased mobility and interlinkage of evaluations are to be expected as part of big data (Boyd/Crawford 2012). Not only can numerous heterogeneous data that were previously unconnected be used as the basis for evaluations, but evaluations can be progressively aggregated, newly compiled and contextualized (Mau 2017).
Overall, digital data are shown to result in an expansion of evaluations, in which numerous possible evaluation practices are (may be) overlaid (Kropf/Laser 2019). Accordingly, the heterogeneity of evaluation criteria occurs for the interlinkage and interleaving of evaluations. Discord on these criteria is the norm. Instead of clear hierarchies, we find heterarchies (Stark 2009; Lamont 2012: 207 et seq.) and conflicting normative orders (Boltanski/ Thévenot 2007). What background should be used, against which such cases and data can be allocated a value, compared and finally evaluated? The socio-technical evaluation practices for mobility malfunctions (A04) and the evaluation of observations by digital media, including by intelligent personal assistants (IPAs) (B06), will be investigated within the scope of the CRC. The former are presented with the challenge that the evaluation is carried out by various actors and often progresses as a data-based background cooperation that must be understood methodologically. Conversely, in the context of speech assistants, the heterogeneous evaluation standards of tiered publics are once again revealed, which clash in relation to the question of data privacy. The central question for both projects is how the media negotiate such heterogeneous evaluation orders, or even exploit them productively.
- Digital delegation and agency
In the context of recent developments in the field of artificial intelligence, digital technologies no longer simply appear to be tools, instruments or means, but (semi-)autonomous, synthetic actors, to which decisions are delegated, for example, when cars are maneuvered or shares are traded (Burkhardt 2017; Knorr Cetina 2016). While, on the one hand, the economic opportunities and potential for innovation arising from these technologies are praised, on the other hand, critical technology researchers are drawing attention to the problem of the non-transparency of algorithmic decision-making and referring to the risks of discrimination based on algorithms and data (Barocas/Selbst 2016). Complaints are therefore also being made that social implications constitute the blind spot in AI research (Crawford/ Calo 2016). This results in demands for an algorithmic impact assessment (Reisman et al. 2018) within the meaning of an assessment of the consequences of technology and ethical guidelines for the implementation of trustworthy AI (European Commission, High-Level Expert Group on AI 2019).
From a praxeological perspective, however, the infiltration by synthetic actors into existing action, delegation and interaction orders also brings about their fundamental transformation and gives rise to societal controversies – for example, how home life is arranged with intelligent personal assistants like Alexa or Siri and, from a practical-reflexive perspective, how the boundary is drawn between desired and undesired observation (B06). Even more fundamental, is the question on how the synthetic actors in artificial intelligence are themselves cooperatively produced as multiple situated actors and how their ability to communicate, act, learn and cooperate is stabilized in disseminated media and data practices and “supported by human actions and interaction” in situ (Alač 2016: 70) (A03, B08). It is also debatable which new actor constellations of human and synthetic actors develop and how users cooperate with synthetic actors like drones and chatbots through interfaces, sensors and data (B08), on the one hand, and with self-driving cars, on the other (A03). Based on the example of their empirical objects, projects A03, B06 and B08 are exploring fundamental sociotheoretical questions on the relationship between action-theoretical and interaction-theoretical concepts of agency and (semi-)autonomy, as well as on the mutual relationship between social and technical learning processes. Beyond dyadic concepts of the human-computer interaction, this will throw light on how synthetic actors are incorporated into human action orders in different ways – for example, in multi-party constellations during interactions with speech-processing technical systems.
- Language in digital practices
If, like Garfinkel, we assume that those involved in social processes mutually make their actions accountable to each other, then the description and the interpretative reconstruction of the use of linguistic and other signs within the scope of an embodied, reflexive “infrastructure “of the interaction (Schegloff 2012) is of fundamental importance to praxeological research (B05, B06, P02). As signs are to be regarded as ‘media’ (Schneider 2017) and ‘data‘ (Lynch 2019) based on the perspectives of their materiality and co-operativity, the abstract object ‘language’ unfolds according to various medial modes of existence – of which the interaction linked to the human body among those present spatially and temporally is one special case among many. This can, for example, be contrasted with the forms of existence of language that are based on writing and ‘legibility’ (Hausendorf et al. 2017) which, in turn, can be further medially differentiated from the perspective of their situationality (A01, A02, A04).
For linguistics per se, this results in a perspective on “linguistic practices” (Deppermann/Feilke/Linke 2016; Habscheid 2016), whereby communication-based schematization, linguistic lexicalization and grammaticalization and the consolidation of cultural bodies of knowledge associated with language (B08) considerably increases the complexity of the constitution of meaning over time, while retaining its fundamentally local, performative, incremental, co-operative character (Goodwin 2018, Kap. 20). The interleaving of reflexive and indexical interaction, as well as its prerequisite symbol and world knowledge, means there is a methodological requirement for an ethnographic and linguistic expansion of the classical conversation analysis display concept, as is, for example, standard practice in linguistic ‘conversation research’ (Deppermann 2013) (B06, P02).
More or less human-like speech-processing technologies, the virtual ‘ability for dialog’ and ‘agency’ of which are newly negotiated from a social studies perspective, present digital praxeology with a particular theoretical challenge – in addition to the medium-dependent specific technological shaping of speech-related materiality and operativity (cf. Krummheuer 2010 for background). The media and social theory that is under discussion at the CRC, which basally links practice to mutuality (and not necessarily to commonality), makes a descriptive language available that avoids both anthropocentric definitions and the premature symmetrization of human and technical contributions and, in the tradition of Workplace Studies, consistently and empirically focuses on the topic of the interwoven nature of technology with human (background) cooperation (cf. Habscheid et al. 2020) (B06, B08, P01, P03).
Against this background, a digital praxeology must therefore undermine the disputed “nexus of doings and sayings“ (Schatzki 2002) and render visible both the traces left by the actions and the signs that it generates. This is all the more relevant since the ‘digital practices’ listed here are themselves mutually and cooperatively produced, as is demonstrated, for example, by Hind (2017) based on the example of “cartographic care”, in which responsive care practices and movement in space are connected to each other. Media therefore consist of “bundles of practices” (Schüttpelz 2021b), which is in line with standard practice-theoretical ideas – for example, as put forward by Schatzki (2016), who assumes that practices give rise to “material arrangements” and are simultaneously made possible by them. The CRC is therefore not only presented with the questions of how media are constituted through practices, but also which practices are bundled in which way so they can be understood to be a medium and (in Schatzki’s words: in a plenum) become openly manifest. In the second funding phase, a particular emphasis will be placed on the discussion of the proportions and importance of data in the “practice-arrangement bundles” in the present and historically and whether we can still assume an ontological equality of all practices and the elementary constituents of social phenomena.
To date, social theory has been shaped by the notion that the ontological unity in practice theory consisted in its ‘flatness’ and analytically identifiable phenomena were in a single plane of reality. Under the conditions of “digital materiality“ (Pink et al. 2016), in which reality is generated in equal measure by virtual and physical media experiences (cf. Hoffman 2019), practices no longer adhere to a flat ontology. Their course is layered, overlapping, interwoven and emergent (cf. Bratton 2016; Schmidt 2012). They are increasingly difficult to grasp analytically due to the amalgamation of highly heterogeneous practices and their algorithmic pervasion. Likewise, a digital praxeology must overcome the traditional understanding of the differentiation of practices into physical action, as a handling of things or the use of signs, as these frequently appear as co-activities and can hardly be separated from each other (cf. Hirschauer 2016).
“To practice any skill” means that we are exposing ourselves to an environment in which things come about and are experienced (Ingold 2018). Data are always also part of these environments and things that we continuously and repeatedly expose ourselves to, in particular, if we wish to understand practices through their routines in the classical sociological sense (cf. Schäfer 2016). In accordance with Ingold, a fundamental difference between data and media practices can therefore be noted: while media practices are characterized by being accompanied by material artefacts – we react to things and the things react to us – the explicability of data practices is more complex.
The “practice of correspondence”, outlined by Ingold (2017), differentiates between media and data. While media practices denote a mutual relationship, in which humans operate in concert with the environment (at least as conceived by Ingold from a social anthropological perspective), the mutual relationship that is defined by data practices is generally less balanced, transparent or insightful. Nevertheless, we assume that practices have a meaningful surface that can be ‘read’ and essentially understood by those practising (Hirschauer 2016; Ziewitz 2017); only this level of meaning is more concealed in data practices and manifests more indirectly, while media practices are per se accompanied by specific representation practices (cf. Reckwitz 2010). Digital media thus necessarily generate a practical understanding which is essential both to the further development of media and social theories, as well as to the development and design of new digital tools and environments.
III.c Design of media and data practices
The historical-praxeological and ethnographic research related to the present at the CRC is complemented by interdisciplinary design and interventional approaches. In the fields of Participatory Design, Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), continuous relationships involving exchange have developed between social studies and information technology since the 1980s. Qualitative social science methods and concepts from interactionism and ethnomethodology, in particular, have been introduced into the design of software programs and taken over in interdisciplinary approaches to design (Bjørn/ Østerlund 2014; Rohde et al. 2017). Beyond these fields, an increase in interdisciplinary research projects has been noted in recent years (Ribes/Bowker 2008; Spiller et al. 2015; Goulden et al. 2017). According to Barry et al. (2008), the successful collaboration between social studies and information technology in design projects is characterized mainly by the fact that it neither operates in the mode of synthesis of the two fields, nor in the mode of one field serving the other, but possesses the potential for the creation of antagonistic positions, thus facilitating a higher degree of specialist reflexivity and associated originality. The CRC design approaches focus on two core areas: on the one hand, the socio-informatic design questions in different fields of practice and, on the other, the reflexive development of digital tools and Infrastructures for the research scientists.
- Research on socio-informatic design
The interdisciplinary tensions mentioned above are systematically explored and rendered productive in different ways in partial projects oriented toward design. For example, A06 follows the premise that the methods used in qualitative social research, especially of grounded theory, do not differ fundamentally at a methodological level from those used in object-oriented software design (Bryant 2017). The project is based on close interleaving of empirical observations with analytical abstractions in an iterative-cyclical research process. To this end, the relevant disciplinary working steps are parallelized and systematically related to each other. This means that information technology is just as incorporated into the collection and analysis of qualitative data as sociology is into the design of a medical visualization prototype. This process of the symmetric development of technology and theory repeatedly generates misunderstandings and irritation, which are processed during further collaboration and rebound on the respective disciplines. A05 also focuses on the reflexion and further development of the interdisciplinary cooperation interface between social studies and information technology; the starting point for consideration here, however, is the perspective of practice and user-oriented information technology (practicebased design). This means that it is not the symmetrization of the two disciplinary branches that is to the fore, as is the case in A06, but the integration of praxeological research into design studies, with the aim of connecting qualitative-empirical methods with IT design approaches. The build-up of the socio-informatic research program in recent years has productively further developed and reflected the interface between ethnography and design within design projects. Partial project B04, that is conducting research in the Moroccan High Atlas, faces the problem of the absence of a written language for computer keyboards and interface representations, in particular – in addition to the challenges in the older population of a lack of ability to read and write and a lack of computer literacy in all groups. These challenges are approached in a participative co-design process with the aid of suitable socio-technical interventions. In addition to basic offers of education, measures are planned for the cooperative production and variation of the media that are used. In this process, however, B04 is not primarily pursuing the aim of promoting local technology and business initiatives, unlike so-called technology centers. The connection between socio-informatics and the forms of cooperation that arise from in situ research carried out by ethnology instead targets the facilitation of improved social participation for all population groups in regional, national and international publics.
- Reflexive development of digital tools and Infrastructures
During the first phase of funding, going beyond the ethnographic exploration and socio-informatic design of different fields of practice, the CRC had already placed particular emphasis on the practices of the researchers themselves and equally comprehended these as an object of research and a space for intervention. On the one hand, this pertains to those partial projects that methodologically reflect their own use of media during research (including the interdisciplinary design work on a visualization prototype in A06, the camera-ethnographic approaches of participatory observation in B05, the reflexion on the limitations and affordances of the material Garfinkel papers in P01 and the development of digital methods in A03). On the other hand, right from the start, the INF project has reflectively accompanied the task of developing tools and Infrastructures to support research in the other partial projects at the CRC. The basis for this was the ethnographic investigation of the data practices of research scientists at the CRC (Mosconi et al. 2019). Part of this practical-reflexive research was establishing the Research Tech Lab, which gave researchers the opportunity to draw attention to the problems raised by their research practices and the associated use of technology on a regular basis and to jointly develop solutions to methodological and practical challenges. The development of tools and Infrastructures to support research – for example, a data repository based on the software DSpace, the Social Media Observatory and the PartS tool for mobile data collection (see partial project INF report) – followed on immediately from the results of this accompanying research and was thus optimally tailored to the requirements of the partial projects and the specialist communities involved.
In the second funding phase, the reflexive dimension of method innovation, the development of tools and the handling of research data will be allocated even greater weight through the content-related focus on cooperative data practices. The CRC is thereby reacting to the development that has been completed in the German research landscape in recent years, through which the questions on collection, archiving and subsequent use of research data is allocated growing importance in research policies (cf. the German Research Foundation (DFG) “National Research Data Infrastructure” initiative (NFDI)). The Research Tech Lab, managed by the INF, will be complemented by a Data Lab, as well as method-oriented Summer Schools (both MGK) and Data Sprints (P03) for research in the partial projects, in which the specific challenges posed by praxeological (data) ethnography will be addressed in intensive work in small groups that spans the partial projects. The INF project focuses on supporting the acquisition of the infrastructures developed in the first funding phase by specialist areas and will continuously adapt its services based on an ongoing dialog with the partial projects. A new addition is the research-driven tool development in the partial project P03, which is developing specialized approaches and tools at the interface of Digital Humanities and Digital Methods for a digital archive of the Garfinkel papers and for recording sensor data from mobile media, which reveal their origins and cooperative constitution and thereby exploit the idea of the “lively data” as a leitmotif for critical digitization and digital methods.
Overall, the CRC is therefore characterized by the fact that, based on a cooperative understanding of data (see I.), it pursues the mutual production of data and media practices (see II.) and the development of a digital praxeology (see III.) in interdisciplinary collaboration. The prioritization of the cooperative data and media practices over the data and media consolidated by them not only applies to the digital present, but opens up a perspective that has remained largely undeveloped to date: all data and media are cooperation conditions that are established cooperatively and their practices and techniques arise from the mutual production and provision of common objectives, means and processes. Some generalizations can already be derived from the working definition that appear to apply equally to historical and current, digital and analog practices.
Based on Garfinkel’s early Studies of Work, a media practice has essentially been shown to operate under the conditions of “permanent repair” and “work arounds” (Garfinkel 2019 ; Rawls/Lynch 2019) and to be subject to a series of cooperation conditions: these include the congruence of the relevance of actions, and the exchangeability of a point of view and the reciprocity of the perspective (Garfinkel 1963). Furthermore, resorting to a common communication scheme and the reference to a general knowledge that can be expected from a counterpart are central to cooperation. A further condition for cooperation is the required vagueness of a situation. This can also not be limited to technical mediation (Garfinkel 1967). However, these cooperative bases of social interaction and order no longer appear to be possible prerequisites from all perspectives under digital conditions as cooperation takes an increasingly asymmetric and opaque course, among other elements, and requires a new definition, which is the task that the CRC has taken on.
The remit of any (also digital) practice theory is to prioritize the practice over all other explanatory parameters (Bergermann et al. 202). In relation to this – following on from Garfinkel – the CRC highlights the irreducible cooperative character of meaningful social actions and also notes for a digital society that people who are involved in social systems use collective methods that are constitutive to the meaning created cooperatively by them (Ziewitz 2017). Meaning is not, as assumed by Durkheim, only created through constitutive practices. Rather more, the underlying conditions and resources can only be specified over the course of use and thus transcend the given situation (Rawls 2020). This idea, that social facts are created through encounters with constitutive criteria, shapes the epistemological approach taken by the CRC: instead of values and symbols which are moved to the center by other approaches, the social facts themselves, as well as the empirical conditions and methods of their production, are at the core of the investigations.
All social facts are created cooperatively. This applies equally to media and data. Accordingly, media have been created from praxeologizations and, themselves, act in a praxeologizing manner (Garfinkel 1968b). In spite of this groundbreaking insight, a practice theory of media is largely still unavailable, even if, step by step, German Media Studies have become more praxeological: through the renunciation of the technical a priori and the stepwise orientation toward cultural techniques, operational chains and practices, as well as through the acknowledgement of interactionistic interpretations and digital methods as part of media research. The assignment of establishing a praxeology therefore still applies for the CRC: ethnographic, historical, method-critical and mediatheoretical, as the world is structured as it is – through the practice as an “ongoing accomplishment“, in which everything that we experience as permanent has its transient place.
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