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Studying Reconfigurations of Discourse: Tracing the Stability and Materiality of ›Sustainability/Carbon‹

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The stability of a discourse is not given but produced. It is achieved in the configuration of the dispositif. The paper approaches dispositif as a practical ongoing assembling of semiotic and material entities. The article presents an assemblage of theories, methods and methodologies that allow tracing how heterogeneous entities are (re)(con)figured to achieve performing a discourse's stability. Using mundane office practices that configure the corporate sustainability/carbon discourse as an example, the article spells out how qualitative data analysis, grounded theory and Science and Technology Studies approaches can be interwoven to pursue a grounded and generalisable ethnographic study of discourse.
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... A second case works in many ways similar, but on a different scale. 'Studying Reconfigurations of Discourse: Tracing the Stability and Materiality of "Sustainability/Carbon"' (Lippert 2014) opens by rendering legible to sociology my methodological arsenal for my research into the discourse of carbon -it shouts out 'see the numbers!' -300 pages of field notes, a catalogue of 281 artefacts, detailing this corpus with 1705 codes and analysing the corpus with six comparative moves and four triangulation processes -a document of my documentation. In that paper I point to ethnomethodology, grounded theory, ANT and feminist technoscience studies. ...
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How do we narrate about how we "use" STS for social scientific research? How do we study STS research practices? Do all research practices that involve STS concepts contribute to STS? This text constitutes the afterword to an edited volume that collects contribute to providing answers in the borderlands of these questions. The afterword problematises how we perform reflexivity, how we are (not) analysing STS's own research practices, and how we tell simultaneous stories of what STS a field is or might be. With this problematisation, the text argues for a praxeography of STS, involving methodographic, conceptographic and cartographic analyses. _____________________________________________________________________________________ Published as: Lippert, Ingmar 2020. ‘In, with and of STS’ in: 'Wie forschen mit den "Science and Technology Studies"? Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven', ed. by Wiedmann, Astrid, Katherin Wagenknecht, Philipp Goll and Andreas Wagenknecht. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 301–318. _____________________________________________________________________________________ Post-print available at DOI: https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/wbgjs _____________________________________________________________________________________ For the edited volume, see https://www.transcript-verlag.de/978-3-8376-4379-4/wie-forschen-mit-den-science-and-technology-studies/ published October 2020
... Yet typically texts that question STS methods waver between a prescriptive-normative take and a descriptive problematisation (e.g. Hyysalo, Pollock and Williams, forthcoming;Lippert 2014). ...
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published at https://easst.net/article/doing-data-methodography-in-and-of-sts/ ___ How does STS ethnography meet what it researches? Not prescriptive methodology-we were interested in methodography, describing and problematising how methods shape data. 2018 saw three research events that focused on data infrastructures and practices in participant observation and in collaborating with other actants in & around the field. With this focus, we turned back and looked at our own research practices. This meant exploring what kind of per-formative relations arise between STS and our topics of research and how these relations were materially and otherwise shaped.
Chapter
Vor längerer Zeit habe ich vorgeschlagen, Diskursanalysen in bestimmten Fällen bzw. im Hinblick auf bestimmte Fragestellungen um Dispositivanalysen zu erweitern, und dazu Strategien einer fokussierten Diskursethnografie zu entwickeln bzw. zu nutzen. Mittlerweile sind einige Konzepte insbesondere zur Wissenssoziologischen Diskursethnografie vorgelegt worden, die zum einen an diese Ideen anschließen, sie zum anderen auch um ganz unterschiedliche Akzentsetzungen und -erweiterungen ergänzen. Exemplarisch dafür stehen die aus einem Workshop in St. Gallen hervorgegangenen instruktiven Beiträge im Schwerpunktheft „Wissenssoziologische Diskursethnografie“ der Zeitschrift für Diskursforschung, das 2017 erschienen ist. Andere diskurstheoretische Perspektiven haben ebenfalls Diskurs- bzw. Dispositivethnografien angeregt. Auch der Dispositivbegriff ist immer wieder Gegenstand kontroverser Diskussionen. Der vorliegende Text greift die ursprüngliche Idee einer fokussierten Diskurs- und Dispositivethnografie wieder auf, um sie näher zu erläutern und auf die Analyse von Dispositiven auszurichten.
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Research
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STS scholars frequently engage in collaborative research, as groups of STS scholars as much as in collaborations with colleagues in other fields or non-academics. This SI explores how ethnographic data is generated and transformed for STS analysis in a range of such collaborative contexts. The special issues (SI) aims to lead beyond reflexivity accounts of positionality in STS ethnography and establish a benchmark for the STS ethnographic study of how ethnographic collaboration configures its data. This focus recognises that STS now build on and critically engage with a tradition of carefully scrutinising how scientists pursue their research-in the field, the laboratory, at desks and conferences. Recognising that textbooks' presentations of methods cannot be mirrored in their "applications" or "implementations", STS have questioned how to author STS accounts "after method"; and we may attend to "inventive methods" to pay attention to the various material and semiotic tools and devices (a) that configure research objects and (b) through which the researcher's data are achieved. Enacting our own STS ethnography's data involves a range of performances of "decisions", explicit and implicit assumptions and politico-normative inscriptions, contingent unfoldings and clashes with, potentially unruly, humans and non-humans; we have to "manage" our data as much as our relations within the research assemblages. Interestingly, however, STS have not yet developed a strong tradition for studying how our own collaborations are shaping the generation and transformation of our ethnographic data. The SI focuses on studying the relation between collaboration, ethnography and its data as it is configured in negotiations of different worlds, in collaborations across difference between researchers and other actants within their research assemblages. Who and what is accountable to what else and in what way in assembling researchers, our partners, subjects, objects, our devices and our data? How do these relations shape and effect not only data but also the objects we study? Ethnographically describing and analysing our method's data practices-this we call methodography. We deem developing and showcasing methodography a significant contribution to our field because this promises to equip STS not only with a resource that ethnograpically working STS scholars can well draw on to analyse their own method choices but also because this proposed SI performs exercising a genre, or a language, for presenting and telling such analyses.
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Calculating and making public carbon footprints is becoming self-evident for multinational corporations. Drawing on ethnographic data I narrate of the calculative routine practices involved in that process. The narration shows how routine yet sophisticated mathematical transformations are involved in retrieving salient information, and second that mathematical consistency is readily interrupted by 'dirty data'. Such interruptions call for opportunistic data management in devising work-arounds, which effect enough mathematical coherence for the number to hold together. Foregrounding an episode of calculative data retrieval, interruption and work-around contrivance, I employ it to make a comparative reading of two STS analytics, arguing: whereas Callon and Law's (2005) analytic technique of qualculation reveals the episode of data management and work around contrivance as a teleologically oriented process that manages to bridge mathematical inconsistency, Verran's technique of ontologising troubles enables us to recognise how a number-as-network configures its particular kind of certainty and coherence, how it sticks.
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How does a corporation know it emits carbon? Acquiring such knowledge starts with the classification of environmentally relevant consumption information. This paper visits the corporate location at which this underlying element for their knowledge is assembled to give rise to carbon emissions. Using an Actor-network theory (ANT) framework, the aim is to investigate the actors who bring together the elements needed to classify their carbon emission sources and unpack the heterogeneous relations drawn on. Based on an ethnographic study of corporate agents of ecological modernisation over a period of 13 months, this paper provides an exploration of three cases of enacting classification. Drawing on Actor-Network theory, we problematise the silencing of a range of possible modalities of consumption facts and point to the ontological ethics involved in such performances. In a context of global warming and corporations construing themselves as able and suitable to manage their emissions, and, additionally, given that the construction of carbon emissions has performative con-sequences, the underlying practices need to be declassified, i.e. opened for public scrutiny. Hence the paper concludes by arguing for a collective engagement with the ontological politics of carbon.
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Capitalism manages to enact environments in the midst of its centres by means of keeping other environments out. The fundamental practice which allows for this contradictory and generative move is that capitalist agents enact environments. Capitalism does not require a clear, neat, distinct, singular environment. Multiple, fluid, dynamic environments allow far better the tactical and strategical project of staging capitalism as having its destructive environmental impacts in control. That control is a decisive fiction sustaining the unsustainable. These theses are the result of an ethnography, reported in this book, that scrutinised corporate carbon accounting practices as a site at which we are able to simultaneously explore two significant issues for the management of environments: on the one hand studying practices of corporate environmental accounting allows us to engage with agents' practical work reality by which capitalism seeks to render itself 'green' and 'sustainable'; on the other hand the focus on precisely how accountants achieve taking carbon into account is able to sharpen our understanding of how quantifying practices perform in a non-substantial area of business, such as engaging with climate change. In the received view, corporate carbon accounting is about providing the facts and figures about the emissions which a company produces. Accounting for these emissions is supposedly a condition to take carbon into account – economists would call this process internalisation. The discourse which assumes that 'if only capitalist society is able to internalise its environmental problems' (like carbon emissions which are identified as the culprit of global warming and, in consequence, climate change) 'then capitalist society will be able to solve environmental crises' – this discourse is called ecological modernisation. Within environmental sociology arguments over whether that discourse is actually materially reflected abound. Ecological modernisation theory proposes that capitalist organisations do get green(er). In the midst of debate, little attention, if at all, has been paid to those agents who are, supposedly, implementing the programmes of ecological modernisation, such as environmental management systems (EMS) and carbon accounting. This study contributes to understanding how capitalism organises its relation to environments by means of scrutinising the work practices of these agents. To conduct that study, I have carefully avoided to make assumptions about whether a particular organisation would be conducting greenwash. Much rather, the intentionally open question was: what do agents of ecological modernisation do and how do they achieve it? With this orientation, this study turned to sociological theory and methodology which does not presume any overarching structure as determining agents. Instead, by means of methodological triangulation between ethnomethodology, actor-network theory (ANT) and Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of field and habitus, this study reconstructs by which specific practices and discursive action agents manage to make greening more central to capitalism. The decisive finding is that while agents do manage to bring environmental data into the heart of the corporation – the centre of capitalism – what that data is about (the things this data is related and presumably representing, the material hinterland of that data) is simultaneously distanced from the corporate core. This study, thus, shows how capitalism manages to enact a epicentral movement of 'environment' and, in parallel, to ensure that environmental issues and concerns do not challenge orinterfere in that centre. It manages by means of keeping the largest degrees of environments out. The overarching thesis of this study is, thus, that environments, such as carbon, are not existing – for all practical purposes of corporate agents – out-there but, rather, they are carefully crafted and enacted into corporate, social and, eventually, economic reality. Environments are enacted. The plural matters. Within the organisational practices of capitalism, agents may imagine to refer to 'the' environment. Their everyday practices of taking environments into account, however, relate to specific materials, such as spreadsheets, pieces of papers, flip-charts. Environments exist through these multiple materials, in multiple versions; ontologically, thus they do not exist in the singular but they are staged as such. If the carbon emission fact of a company is established, that fact may well be out-dated a few micro-seconds or years later; it may differ several kilometres off or in a neighbouring storage unit in a computer. Any global fact is enacted in particular located situations. Emissions facts are not stable but fluid, flowing in and between myriads of situations. They are hold together by means of humans' material-discursive performances. And they shift with agents' practices just like with the dynamics in-built into materials, like a database. These processes produce artefacts, versions of environments. And these versions matter. What a society is dealing with when encountering a corporate emission fact is not Nature but a version of an environment. Next year, the same fact (as in, signifying the same imagined out-there) may have changed. Vis-à-vis Science and Technology Studies (STS), my analysis of the effects of enacting environments is indicative of a potentially general characteristic in digital quantification practices – whether in offices or in laboratories: data flows are not that clean and under control. While workers may achieve staging being in control, in practice parallel versions of realities may proliferate – for the better or worse. What we find is that the reality of corporate carbon emissions is enacted as mutable, mobile and multiple. In the practical work of corporate fact finders, it is not necessary, albeit it is deemed required, that facts are singularised and immutablised. In consequence, social and economic reality is confronted with diverse carbon emission accounts, all implying universal truths. Societies and politics which resist engaging with parallel realities and insist on singular ones may not be well equipped to manage those crises that may be co-constituted by these parallel realities. Ethnographic work underlying this argument involved participant observation over a period of twenty months as well as document analysis. The study took place at a Fortune 50 financial services provider positioned in a legitimising network involving one of the largest international environmental NGO's and one of the four largest auditing firms. The findings of this study are, thus, considered to point to practices indicative of widely organisationally accepted and shared realities within hegemonic modern capitalist culture.
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