Historical Social Research
HSR Vol. 40
Dzifa Ametowobla, Nina Baur &
Robert Jungmann (Eds.)
Methods of Innovation Research:
Qualitative, Quantitative and
Mixed Methods Approaches
The Journal: Editorial Board
Heinrich Best (Jena), Wilhelm H. Schröder (Cologne)
Wilhelm H. Schröder, In-Chief (Cologne), Nina Baur (Berlin), Rainer Diaz-Bone (Lu-
cerne), Johannes Marx (Bamberg)
Frank Bösch (Potsdam), Onno Boonstra (Nijmegen), Joanna Bornat (London), Franz
Breuer (Münster), Leen Breure (Utrecht), Christoph Classen (Potsdam), Jürgen Danyel
(Potsdam), Bert De Munck (Antwerp), Claude Didry (Paris), Claude Diebolt (Stras-
bourg), Georg Fertig (Halle), Gudrun Gersmann (Cologne), Karen Hagemann (Chapel
Hill, NC), M. Michaela Hampf (Berlin), Rüdiger Hohls (Berlin), Jason Hughes (Leices-
ter), Ralph Jessen (Cologne), Claire Judde de Larivière (Toulouse), Hans Jørgen Mark-
er (Gothenburg), Günter Mey (Magdeburg), Jürgen Mittag (Cologne), Katja Mruck
(Berlin), Dieter Ohr (Berlin), Thomas Rahlf (Bonn), Kai Ruffing (Cassel), Patrick Sahle
(Cologne), Kevin Schürer (Leicester), Jürgen Sensch (Cologne), Manfred Thaller (Co-
logne), Paul W. Thurner (Munich), Roland Wenzlhuemer (Heidelberg), Jens O. Zinn
Erik W. Austin (Ann Arbor), Francesca Bocchi (Bologna), Leonid Borodkin (Moscow),
Gerhard Botz (Vienna), Christiane Eisenberg (Berlin), Josef Ehmer (Vienna), Richard J.
Evans (Cambridge), Jürgen W. Falter (Mainz), Harvey J. Graff (Columbus, OH), Arthur
E. Imhof (Berlin), Konrad H. Jarausch (Chapel Hill, NC), Eric A. Johnson (Mt. Pleasant,
MI), Hartmut Kaelble (Berlin), Hans Mathias Kepplinger (Mainz), Jürgen Kocka (Ber-
lin), John Komlos (Munich), Jean-Paul Lehners (Luxembourg), Jan Oldervoll (Bergen),
Eva Österberg (Lund), Janice Reiff (Los Angeles), Ernesto A. Ruiz (Florianopolis),
Martin Sabrow (Potsdam), Rick Trainor (Oxford), Louise Tilly (New York), Jürgen
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 3
Special Issue: Methods of Innovation Research
Robert Jungmann, Nina Baur & Dzifa Ametowobla 7
Grasping Processes of Innovation Empirically. A Call for Expanding the
Methodological Toolkit. An Introduction.
Michael Hutter, Hubert Knoblauch, Werner Rammert & Arnold Windeler 30
Innovation Society Today. The Reflexive Creation of Novelty.
Eva Bund, Ulrike Gerhard, Michael Hoelscher & Georg Mildenberger 48
A Methodological Framework for Measuring Social Innovation.
Thomas Laux 79
Qualitative Comparative Analysis as a Method for Innovation Research:
Analysing Legal Innovations in OECD Countries.
Julian Stubbe 109
Comparative Heuristics from an STS Perspective. Inquiring ‘Novelty’ in
Anina Engelhardt 130
The Sociology of Knowledge Approach of Discourse Analysis in Innovation
Research: Evaluation of Innovations in Contemporary Fine Art.
Philipp Altmann 161
Studying Discourse Innovations: The Case of the Indigenous Movement
Anika Noack 185
Hermeneutical Interpretations in Ethnographies of Innovations. From New
Ideas to Social Innovations.
Grit Petschick 210
Ethnographic Panels for Analyzing Innovation Processes.
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 4
Annika Naber 233
Qualitative Experiment as a Participating Method in Innovation Research.
Dörte Ohlhorst & Susanne Schön 258
Constellation Analysis as a Means of Interdisciplinary Innovation Research –
Theory Formation from the Bottom Up.
Georg Reischauer 279
Combining Artefact Analysis, Interview and Participant Observation to
Study the Organizational Sensemaking of Knowledge-Based Innovation.
Jochen Gläser & Grit Laudel 299
A Bibliometric Reconstruction of Research Trails for Qualitative Investiga-
tions of Scientific Innovations.
Philip Roth 331
Including the Diary Method in the Investigation of Practices Constituting
Social Innovation Networks.
Historical Social Research 40 (2015) 3, 130-160 │© GESIS
The Sociology of Knowledge Approach of Discourse
Analysis in Innovation Research: Evaluation of
Innovations in Contemporary Fine Art
Abstract: »Der wissenssoziologische Ansatz der Diskursanalyse in der Innovati-
onsforschung: Beurteilung der Innovationen in der zeitgenössischen Kunst«. The
empirical question in this paper addresses problems of institutionalizing inven-
tories of knowledge under conditions of uncertainty. As a focus, negotiations
of discursive evaluation of the new or of inventions as innovations lead the
empirical approach. This determines the empirical approach to understanding
the process of legitimation, and makes patterns as well as variations intelligible.
What characterizes this research project is an unconventional theoretically
based setting by the sociology of knowledge approach to discourse analysis
(from now on SKAD) (Keller 2008) that will be discussed in this paper. An ex-
tended comprehension of social innovation is tied to the field of contemporary
art where the assembly of novelty is conventional and actors are mainly en-
gaged with the selection and valuation of novelty. In the first section of the
article I introduce my methodological and theoretical framework and relate
them to questions of how to conduct empirical research on innovations. The
case study explores the question how contemporary art is legitimized with ref-
erence to Howard S. Becker’s theory of art worlds. It builds a bridge between a
semantic level of discourse and the level of discursive practices. Section two
introduces the field and the case of the study, and how the study is arranged.
Section three describes the methods used, discussing the relevant aspects of
the study for innovation research, and leads into the conclusion.
Keywords: Innovation, SKAD, situation analysis, focused ethnography, inter-
view, process-produced data, legitimation, evaluation.
1. The Discursive Construction of Novelties
To start with a somewhat paradoxical notion I would like to state that novelties
are not new in a self-evident way. They have to be evaluated and contextual-
ized in relation to the already known. But still, as Hubert Knoblauch states,
∗ Anina Engelhardt, Department of Sociology, Technical University of Berlin, DFG Graduate
School “Innovation Society Today: The Reflexive Creation of Novelty,” Fraunhoferstraße 33-
36, 10587 Berlin; firstname.lastname@example.org.
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 131
there is a lack of ethno-semantic studies (Knoblauch 2014, 2) on how novelties
become innovations and the semantic use of the term “innovation” or “new.”
What is regarded as an innovation is a complex procedure of signifying novelty
and negotiating between producers and other involved actors. In art, not only
the artists as producers claim that their works are remarkable novelties, but also
curators, gallery owners, or collectors are significantly involved in the process
of recognizing an artwork as new.
Evaluating novelties is a central aspect of
what social actors do with regards to knowledge, discourses, actions, social
systems, and institutions. Continuous reflections on and about innovation are
accompanied by elaborate discourses that justify the new developments based
on the interests of specific actors and actor groups. These arguments can in-
volve situational explanations, organizational and institutional rhetoric, and
taken-for-granted ideologies (Hutter et al. 2015, 34).
The evaluative process is consolidated into “indisputable and sometimes highly
authoritative ‘facts,’ or social imperatives for all actors involved” (ibid.). Thus,
discursive struggles about novelties and their meaning are a crucial part of
research on innovations (Howaldt and Schwarz 2010, 19).
This leads to the question: Why, when, and in which constellations are spe-
cific actors and institutions able to define and successfully assert specific inno-
vations? Methodologically, this reflects the need to be open for the definitions
by actors of what an innovation is (Braun-Thürmann 2005, 80ff; Zapf 1989,
177; Howaldt and Schwarz 2010, 49). However, to enable the researcher to
introduce theoretically based decisions on what is regarded as an innovation,
the conduct of the research process does not follow first order theories of in-
volved actors. Hence, instead of just following ethno-theories of actors within
the field to minimize the impact of the researcher, the concept of the situation
analysis forms the perspective of this paper. It allows for a reasoned combina-
tion of “following the actors” and theory based proceeding (Clarke 2012, 35ff).
For Rammert (Rammert 2010, 21) the definition of innovation as a distributed
process is set out in three different aspects: A novelty has to be identifiable as a
change in time relation, as an objective change, as a modification or recombi-
nation, and has to be socially accepted as a relevant difference to the existing.
Drawing on this extended understanding, the concept of innovation used in this
study weaves in a theoretical resistance in opposition to ethno-theories, but is
also sensitive to definitions of novelties by the actors.
According to the SKAD, social reality is a social or communicative con-
struction and, more specifically, a discursive construction (Keller 2008, 272;
Keller, Knoblauch and Reichertz 2013, 12). The central aspects in reconstruct-
ing discourses are comprehension and explanation. Comprehension covers how
a discourse emerges as well as the formation of discourses with its rules, con-
tent, and the actors of the discourse production. Mechanisms of discourse for-
mation and production are tied to institutionally based structures of speech
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 132
positions. How positions of speech are actually filled relies on the interpretation
of the actors. The links between actors and speech positions simultaneously con-
stitute the field itself. Context and discursive fields underlie historical changes –
courses and effects shape the profile of the discourse in interrelation to other
On the one hand, researchers formulate explanatory hypotheses via their per-
spective on causes and relations of the reconstructed discursive formation. On the
other hand, discursive effects and outcomes have to be explained. Both perspec-
tives have to consider the following factors (internal or external to the discourse):
coherence of production of meaning in utterances, successful stabilization and
recognition of the discourse formation, institutional conventions, dynamics of
societal fields of practices, social-structural changes, and varying and conflicting
interests of the involved actors in regard to their resources in constellation of
power and sovereignty (Keller 2008, 275). The SKAD allows one to grasp the
fabric of discursive formations empirically, not only in texts but in varying kinds
Although it aims at the typical, the SKAD and the methodological approach
of this study are characterized by a proposition of openness. They avoid choos-
ing a restricted access in advance, as sometimes found in quantitative-oriented
research or in the older sociology of knowledge where the functionality of
knowledge is highlighted. Furthermore, it leads beyond a certain narrowness
within ethno-methodological inquiries, which restricts the analysis only to the
observed, concrete ‒ often unique ‒ event (Keller 2008, 275). Before the field of
research and the case is described, a short introduction to Howard S. Becker’s
theory (Becker 2008) is given. Becker’s field-specific theory shows why the
SKAD is an appropriate approach to study evaluations of artistic innovations.
1.1 Beckers Approach to Evaluation of Novelties in Art
Speaking with Becker, actors involved in evaluating contemporary art rarely
absolutely agree on who is entitled to speak as a representative for the art
world. The entitlement is founded on being recognized by the other participants
(Becker 2008, 151). This stems from the understanding of the art world as a
cooperative activity and the interdependent links between all participants. From
this follows that the status of artworks depends on an often unstable consensus
among participants in an art world. Agreeing with the institutional tradition,
there are no constraints on what can be defined as art. Constraints derive only
from a prior consensus on what kinds of standards will be applied and by
whom (ibid, 155ff). Becker conceptualizes change in the art world as a constant
incremental innovation and rare revolutionary innovations (ibid, 304ff).
Becker’s central concepts to comprehend the art world are collective (or coop-
erative) activity and conventions: “I have used the term [art world] (...) to denote
the network of people whose cooperative activity, organized via their joined
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 133
knowledge of conventional means of doing things, produces the kind of art works
that art world is noted for” (ibid, X). A new artwork does not only exist by the
means of the producer; it has to be seen and to be responded to as well. And the
activity mentioned by Becker “consists of creating and maintaining the rationale”
(ibid, 7), according to which all these other activities make sense.
Hence, he questions the central position of the artist by relating his contribu-
tion to social construction of an “artwork” as a novelty. This happens through
cooperative links that are executed in shared practices based on a shared
knowledge of conventions under conditions of interdependence.
The grammar – the specific rules – of conventionalized criteria is iterated as a
communicative form in judgments. Conventions ‘suggest’ the appropriate dimen-
sions of a work and they “regulate the relations between artists and audience,
specifying the rights and obligations of both” (ibid.). This conceptualizes the
reciprocal adjustment of artistic practices that strive for novelties and innova-
tion, and institutional constraints for novelties that have to be seen and re-
sponded to within the distribution process.
One of the important aspects is the classification of art: how actors draw the
line between what is acceptable and what is not. Art worlds try to find out “what
is and what isn’t art, what is and isn’t their kind of art, and who is and isn’t an
artist” (ibid, 36).
In Becker’s view, conventions shared by artists, distributors, and audiences
provide a more or less coherent context to classify and evaluate artworks. Since
the avant-garde movements, novelty has become a central convention for produc-
ing and distributing art. This leads into the quest to constantly balance novelty
and the renown.1
Becker has a strong focus on production, but this study wants to set the fo-
cus on knowledge and legitimation in the sphere of distribution. This serves to
provide an understanding of the process of innovation by shifting the attention
from the context of creation of novelties and innovations to their evaluation:
Becker’s approach completes the SKAD on the level of actors and interaction
regarding judgments as communicative form.2 In the next pages, I will explain
why the SKAD is a methodologically reflexive approach that allows one to
grasp innovations as discursive phenomena empirically.
1 For critical discussions see van Maanen (2009) or Danko (2012).
2 To compensate Beckers shortcomings theoretical triangulation and pattern matching the
theoretical crop of Bourdieu (2001), Zahner (2005), Hennion (2007), Menger (2014), Moulin
(1997, 2009) is the solution this study opts for. The same can be said for the institutional
based research like DiMaggio (1987), Frey (1997) or Beckert and Roessel (2013).
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 134
1.2 The Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse Analysis
The main theoretical sources for the research project accentuate knowledge,
process, and legitimizing power. This perspective on discourses and their analysis
draws on Foucault, Berger and Luckmann within the interpretative paradigm of
sociology, including symbolic interactionism. In comparison to the Foucauldian
tradition, SKAD (Keller 2011, 45) focuses more on social actors and societal
arenas of discursive disputes. With the sociology of knowledge approach to dis-
course analysis (Keller 2008), the Foucauldian perspective is expanded to
acknowledge the impact of actions and participating actors within a discourse.
Leaning on Berger and Luckmann (1980), it bases the analysis of societal pro-
cesses of knowledge construction on institutional contexts. Integrating both, it re-
orientates discourse research towards questions of relationships between
knowledge and politics of knowledge – following bodies of knowledge, their
production, and power effects throughout society. Related to research on the
procedures of evaluating, novelties are seen as a part of the distribution process of
innovations that are essentially mediated in discourses.
Especially in regard to the discourse being embedded in social structure and
interaction understood as discursive practices, it permits one to connect the Fou-
cauldian approach with a strong tradition of qualitative research. In the paradigm
of sociological hermeneutics, it shapes discourse as a communicative form of the
construction of reality – in this case the discursive construction of novelties.
Drawing on the hermeneutic tradition of the sociology of knowledge, SKAD
considers actors to be constantly engaged in interpretation. This approach aims at
the reconstruction of types of meaning. The construction of novelties is thus an
interactive, dynamic process that produces institutions with a legitimizing
impact. The institutions inform recursively involved actors and their actions
(Keller, Knoblauch and Reichertz 2013, 10).
So, discourse is understood as a distinguished and interrelated practice of
statements that are studied in regard to common stabilized patterns of meaning
in a collective body of knowledge (Keller 2008, 234). With the concept of an
arena of discourse (Keller 2008, 234; Knoblauch 1995, 308ff), even actors that
might not seem important at first sight can more easily be accounted for in their
impact within the analysis of the discursive field. In this project, the research
interest is to reconstruct how and with which knowledge artworks are recog-
nized as novelties. Therefore, the process of judging and evaluating is differen-
tiated between separable heuristic levels. They can be theoretically and meth-
odologically conceptualized on a discursive or semantic level, a pragmatic or
communicative interactive level, and a grammatical level concerning rules and
resources (Hutter et al. 2015). In the heuristic differentiation between pragmat-
ic, semantic and grammatical levels I put my attention on effects that are articu-
lated as outcomes of the semantic level (ibid, 13).
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 135
On the level of semantics, the level of discourse to say, one can find ways of
problematization and narrations in form of a shared story line. Problematization
happens when several actors engage in a struggle with conflicting views within
a discourse. The story line interlaces the miscellaneous repertoires of interpre-
tations within the discourse (Keller 2008, 234). These repertoires are organized
in patterns of interpretation (Deutungsmuster) that represent collective bodies
of knowledge to which actors refer (Keller 2008, 240). By means of recon-
structing, the discourse elements of grammar – the rules according to which
artworks are recognized – are retraced. The reconstruction is not only based on
texts as the only type of data, but also on interviews in combination with eth-
nographic observations. On the pragmatic level, I will not look for innovative
forms of action but for procedures of legitimation in the field as described in
the analyzed texts and interviews.
The knowledge regime conceptualizes the relation of knowledge to an institu-
tional setting. Then practices, rules, principles, norms are usually based on a spe-
cific area of interaction (Wehling 2007, 704ff). Communicative form means an
institutionalized form of meaning. A communicative form structures the commu-
nication processes and can be typified (Keller 2008, 227; Knoblauch 1995, 72ff).
It therefore provides a reference to discursive practices as “observable, describa-
ble and typical ways of interaction through communication” (Keller 2008, 228).
The communicative form judgment is embedded in a knowledge regime of evalua-
tion in contemporary art. Herein, the topos “new” is the central analytic category.
A topos consists of reiterated argumentative patterns (Knoblauch 2006, 217) that
consolidate in objectivations, institutions and legitimations.
With the SKAD, the relation of power and knowledge comes into focus.
This relation shapes the dynamics of the negotiation process as well as preva-
lence of justifications of novelties – as a form of evaluation – within the distri-
butional phase. In this methodological framework, the question how actors and
not only statements prove their prevalence corresponds to requirements of
research on the evaluation of novelties. The relation of power and knowledge is
reconstructed by contextualizing positions of speech in an interaction field
where the field position of a speaker determines the impact of their definition
power within the discourse.
Hence, the discourse is derived not from individual actors, but from the
structuring effect of collective practices under competitive conditions and power
relations. By acting on earlier communications, the discourse generates artifacts,
objects, interpretative patterns, values, and norms etc. as outcomes and conditions
of practices which are mostly only implicitly accessible. By no means do discours-
es remain static – they equally construe and represent ʽrealities’ (Keller, Hirse-
land, Schneider and Viehöfer 2005).
As for the actors engaged in the discourse, not everything can be said or
done. Under the condition of self-reflexivity, this is recursively true for the
interpretation within the research process. Researchers cannot avoid judgments
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 136
and weighting of elements of the discourse (see Hacking 1999; Clarke 2012,
186). In the course of this interpretative work, the different status of terms
coined by actors in the field or everyday life terms and technical terms of soci-
ology have to be taken into account. The part of one’s own interpretative work
therein is undeceivable.
The SKAD as a link between the perspective on discourse and a perspective
informed by the sociology of knowledge allows one to oscillate between basi-
cally inductive steps and time-wise deductive phases of working. It is sensitive
for the researcher’s own constructions within the research process as well as for
tacit or implicit knowledge about dealing with unclassified objects like new art-
works (Abel 2013, 31). Actors, action, or interaction and objects can be integrat-
ed into a discourse analytic framework. In the next section, I will discuss the
advantages of the SKAD as an approach of inquiry in innovation studies.
1.3 SKAD within the Context of Research on Innovations
The research perspective of the SKAD is primarily focused on reconstructing a
knowledge order and knowledge politics, but also considers premises like the
institutional setting, social-structural conditions, or artifacts. The view of this
paper is informed by a comprehension of social change as a process that is fo-
cused on patterns or regularities. This comprehension helps one to pay attention
especially to the aspect of the social construction of a legitimate order of
knowledge (Keller 2008, 37ff). As this project looks within the phase of the
distribution of novelties at evaluations – leading into judgments – an emphasis on
actors is unavoidable. Practical and symbolic struggle for interpretation through
actors is carried out through knowledge politics within the discourse. The judg-
ments crystallizing in communicative negotiations are the results of legitimizing
processes based on institutionalized knowledge and show regular patterns of
In contrast to STS studies on innovation and singular thick descriptions of a
case (see Geertz 1973; Latour and Woolgar 1986), SKAD uses typecasting as a
means to generate a more general theoretical explanation. Singular utterances
are put into relation to more general categories like legitimation. The aim is to
search for patterns of interpretative evaluations and to look for consistency and
implications. Most ethnographic studies of innovation (Latour 2005; Callon and
Law 1989; Law 1989) refrain from deducing abstractions from specific process-
es. As they mostly start from an ethnomethodological background, the case stud-
ies are shaped to explicate contingent trajectories towards innovation. Opening
the “black box” of the relation between human and non-human actors with as few
prerequisites as possible is the aim. The famous claim “follow the actors” then
dominantly leads to theoretical arguments of what constitutes the social rather
than questions about field specific logics or regularities. This resolves into the
problem of studying novelties as unique with the constraint to deduce regulari-
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 137
ties or patterns from these case studies. Ethnographies of innovation want to
identify innovations by making elements of these processes visible. Daily use
or success in the diffusion process3 results in black-boxed entities that have to
be unfurled depending on ethno-theories of the human actors involved.
So, the SKAD approach overcomes the inductive micro-analysis restrictions.
A second problem connected to the claim “follow the actors” becomes apparent
in the empirical focus on phenomena that are labeled as “innovation” in the field.
The reliance on ethno-theories is the reason why there is little theoretical re-
sistance in thick descriptions of unique cases describing the material, spatial
embeddedness of innovations.
While the SKAD – like STS Studies – also follows the notion that materiali-
ty is a relevant aspect of the social, the approach puts an emphasis on the inter-
pretation by actors and considers objects as part of dispositifs. Thus, working
with the SKAD does not mean to work without presumptions on innovation. It
means that these presumptions are integrated in a methodically reflexive manner
so that prerequisites are considered in the process of inquiry. The goal then is to
overcome discourse analysis as content analysis (see Mayring 2007) but to con-
textualize the analyzed phenomenon in socio-historical hindsight with its consti-
tutive practices. In contrast to rare inquiries on innovation and novelties in
discourse analysis, the SKAD approach does not leave the actors and socio-
structural implications behind. The main point of critique regarding discourse
analysis addresses the exclusive focus on the semantic level of empirical phe-
nomena. These studies work with texts as the only source of data (Godin 2008;
Wodak 2009; Bormann 2012, Pronzini, Besio and Schmidt 2012). Despite their
rich insights, they thereby ignore the impact of the conditions under which
actors participate in discursive practices.
The advantages of the SKAD can be summed up as following: Foremost, the
actors do not get lost within the discursive struggles. They play a crucial role
when taking positions of speech in an institutional setting. It encloses interaction
in the form of discursive practices as a constitutive part of the discourse without
constricting practices to parts of dispositifs. Further, it enables a change of per-
spective between the micro, meso and macro level of a phenomenon in the course
of an innovation process. The reconstruction of a discourse aims at the typical, at
patterns and how social order is consolidated – but still does not forget the speci-
ficity of situations. It is receptive to ongoing processes of social change and espe-
cially to phenomena of institutionalized change as it is typical for societal fields
that are structured by the search for novelties. How qualitative methods are
adopted within the research project will be discussed in the following section.
3 Or successful interessement, as Latour would say.
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 138
1.4 Adaption of Qualitative Methods and Methodological
Theoretically the SKAD is predicated on models of symbolic-interactive con-
struction of knowledge and meaning. Reiner Keller suggests gearing the re-
search to the Grounded Theory Methodology (GTM) where comments and
memos are a first step of interpretation. While the SKAD does not yet implicate
a clear cut proceeding, the GTM provides a variable methodical procedure
(Keller 1997, 327; 2004, 2007, 2008; Truschkat, Kaiser and Reinartz 2005).
The principle of comparison is a significant moment of the GTM that equal-
ly guides the research process of the sociology approach to discourse analysis.
As a research paradigm the GTM aims at condensing codes inductively and
systematically into concepts to develop a subject related theory through analytical
categories carved out of the data. Throughout the process, a high degree of theo-
retical sensitivity is necessary to recognize previous knowledge carried into the
data (Strauss and Corbin 1990, 75ff).
Already the phase of sampling and the collection of the data corpus is guid-
ed by theoretical criteria and is iterated like a pendulum between theory and
empirical steps. At the beginning of the research process, the question carried
into the data is relatively broad, e.g. how is art legitimized?
Interpretative methodology develops typical generalizations beyond a unique
situation or case and lead into a subject related theory (Flick 1995b, 2000;
Bohnsack 2003; Lamnek 2005). These are theoretical constructs (second order)
in demarcation from ethno-theories (first order). Recent concepts of the “sozi-
alwissenschaftlichen Hermeneutik” accentuate the task of comprehending and
explicating actors with their practices of constructing reality in order to explicate
and elaborate the process of comprehension and interpretation reproducibly along
scientific criteria (Soeffner 1989; Hitzler and Honer 1997; Hitzler, Reichertz and
Interweaving Foucauldian discourse analysis and the sociology of know-
ledge according to Berger and Luckmann 1980, the SKAD allows for the adap-
tion of a wide range of qualitative methods following the interpretative para-
digm. In the perspective of the SKAD, data like texts, practices, and artifacts
are not regarded as an outcome of subjective or objective case structures, but
reflect societal knowledge orders and knowledge politics (Keller 2008, 275).
Also, the data provide a context – internal or external to the discourse – on
different levels for the detailed analysis of single data both as a source of in-
formation about the discursive fields and the reconstruction of the discourse as
collective bodies of knowledge (Berger and Luckmann 1980, 99). The validity of
explanations results reciprocally from the analytic categories and the data. There-
in lie the differences to other qualitative or interpretative approaches.
The orientation towards collective knowledge orders acts on the assumption
of an existent comprehensive relation of the texts. This relation is also applied
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 139
to the perspective on actors because their utterances always (sometimes implic-
itly) relate to something else that is not merely situative or an isolated message.
Condensing utterances to typical statements and further to a discourse marks a
difference to most of the qualitative approaches. There every text (e.g. each
interview) is usually grasped as a closed structure of meaning or a closed case.
In opposite to that the SKAD approach highlights the heterogeneity and partial-
ity of elements in the utterances in relation to collective bodies of knowledge
while linking it to procedures of reification and objectification according to Ber-
ger and Luckmann (Berger and Luckmann 1980, 98ff). In this process bodies of
institutionalized knowledge are renewed or altered. This opens a new perspective
because the process of evaluating novelty, or innovations, is conceptualized from
knowledge and not due to the actor or the innovation as an object.
This concept defines its scope against the predominance of purely quantitative
approaches to text analysis that seek to gain greater objectivity by identifying
dominant ideas by word counts. In the SKAD, the quantity of usage of words also
comes into consideration but it is related to data that contextualizes the words
through actors. Additionally, it is triangulated with observances which lead to a
more valid reconstruction of the knowledge regime (Wehling 2007, 704ff) which
connects the institutional setting of the discourse arena to its bodies of knowledge
and power relations. A short introduction into the field of contemporary art and
the chosen empirical access will be the subject of the next section.
2. Empirical Field and Case
2.1 The Field of Contemporary Art
The initial point of this project is a problem articulated in publications: There is
a lack of clarity as to how to find out what good artworks are. This is formative
for the process of institutionalizing the knowledge order of the field. The
prevalence of judgments is not primarily legitimated in a textual or generally
language based form, but within interaction, e.g. when artworks are displayed.
In this these two ways, the field of contemporary art4 develops permanent
solutions for a permanent problem: tenuous judgments. Ethno-Theories set out
different origins of the problems with judging contemporary art. “Economiza-
tion” (trouble with illegitimate profit motive) is the central discursive story line
and is so the focus of the inquiry.5
4 Contemporary art means art from living artists since the 1970s.
5 Often, discursive story lines along a “crisis” provide researchers with orientation in a dis-
course. In this case there is a “turning point,” as, when in 2006, the sales of an auction of
contemporary artworks had surpassed the sales for old masters or classical modern art-
works. It showed the significance of economic changes for the whole field and correlated in
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 140
The field has to adapt constantly to novelties through evaluations. And there
seem to be problems in doing so. Since the Ism-movements starting in the
1890s, the production of New has become a dogma within the field. Systemati-
cally, artists and their critics search for novelty and innovations (Becker 2008,
308). This happens in an exhibition sphere where artworks are displayed and in
a market sphere where artworks are sold. Typically, innovations are retrospec-
tively identifiable, but in the field of contemporary art, the goal is to evaluate
innovations in the present. For the purpose of this study, the boundary of the
field – equally applied for the demarcation of the discourse – is defined by the
involvement of professional actors6 and a thematic focus on contemporary art.
The field is organized in a reputation system that is observed vigilantly:7 the
higher the reputation of a person, the greater the impact and power of utterances
within the discourse. The art world had been relatively small and clearly laid out
up until the 1990s. At this time the reputation of the participants had been widely
known. Since then, a significant growth and globalization has occurred (Moulin
1997, 135; Wuggenig 2012, 75), and today the reputation system is challenged.
Actors in the field almost invariably have an art historical training which im-
plies a certain homogeneity of shared knowledge.8 Only rarely do artists accom-
plish a consensus during lifetime to gain “art historical significance.” An explicit
search for new objects is the aim of all involved actors. The question of which
invention becomes an innovation is connected to the perspective of the actors.
Thus, the case describes a process of evaluation and decision (Baur and
Lamnek 2005, 243) where actors negotiate classifications of “art” or “not art”
and evaluations of quality – relevant or good art – as legitimate art. In this case
study, I show who is judging, in what way, and which actors can position
themselves effectively in the discourse. As it is a single case study, the research
time with publications with a shared topic: an art boom and the difficulties of judging con-
temporary art. As the process is understood as ubiquitous, the theoretical framework of the
case study inherits the relevance of influences of economic evaluation processes in the em-
pirical field (Velthuis 2007, 23ff, Graw 2008, 122ff).
6 The boundary of the field is organized through participation in field-configuring events
(Anand and Jones 2008). Artworks serve as boundary objects in truth spots (Gieryn 1983,
1999; Star 1989) and play a central role in the process of legitimation within the social
world of contemporary art. Similarly, there are boundary events like the Biannual in Venice,
the documenta in Kassel, or the art basel (see Gieryn 1983, 791; 2002, 18) as constitutional
events for the field and also as extremely important places to acquire the relevant
knowledge for a qualified judgment on contemporary art within the art world.
7 The aspect of invisible colleges (Crane 1972, 52) has an enormous impact. Merlin Carpenter
(2008, 76) describes scenes or affinity networks as an important prerequisite for the dis-
course on quality of contemporary art as they organize power and reputation (Becker 2008,
352-7; Menger 2014, ch. 4).
8 This distinction is relevant for the case selection because as soon as an artist deceases his or
her work is considered under different (Crane 1972, 52) signs. The body of work then is con-
cluded and art historians start classifying the work and it become subject to changed pro-
cedures. Up to that point it is deceived as “work in progress.”
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 141
concentrates on specific and individual characteristics. Thereby, a clearer un-
derstanding of the internal structure of the case and the co-action of different
factors in the case are possible (Lamnek 2005, 275) by a theoretically guided
case study on evaluation processes. These processes are grasped as innovations
in the phase of diffusion.
Problems with contingent bodies of knowledge constitute the core of this
case study. This problem is also relevant within other fields of society. So, the
case study is engaged with a typical and extreme case (Baur and Lamnek 2005,
245). The orientation towards innovations and the preference of the new char-
acterizes contemporary art as an extreme case on the level of knowledge re-
gimes. This results from a formally relatively little structured interplay of or-
ganizations and, compared to other societal fields, a formally unregulated
participation in the processes of legitimation (Moulin 1997; Bourdieu 2005;
Graw 2007; Velthuis 2007; Becker 2008; Menger 2009).
According to the theoretical and methodological framework of this study
(Keller 2008, Clarke 2012, Baur and Lamnek 2005) the case is situated in
space and time. So the case lends itself to be localized in a specific site. It does
not elaborate the specific features of the local context but takes it as a typical
context. The time level is integrated in a reflexive perspective on contemporary
art. Within the ethno-theories of the field, historical relations in the evaluation
process are marginalized and therefore the synchronical aspects are dominant.
The discursive field in Frankfurt am Main represents a typical case in a locally
situated context that will be introduced in the next section.
2.2 The Discursive Arena and the Empirical Field: The Art Scene in
Frankfurt am Main
Frankfurt am Main and its lively art scene has been chosen because the city
hosts a world wide respected academy for fine arts, the Städelschule, as a pivot
of discursive threads. Here the most relevant network establishes the relations
between actors. Furthermore the city provides home for structurally important
institutions for an art field. Two museums for contemporary art – distinguished
on a European level at least – reside in Frankfurt:
- The Städelmuseum and the MMK (Museum für Moderne Kunst)
- The Frankfurter Kunstverein and the Schirn (without its own collection)
- Several specialized galleries that act on a European level and present on the
- “Off-spaces” like the Ölhalle or the Lola Montez (temporary or permanent
Frankfurt am Main has been chosen because it provides a manageable context
of communication and interaction and still all in the discourse mentioned struc-
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 142
turally relevant positions of speech.9 This is necessary to get beyond the front
stage course of action to the informal coordination practices e.g. informal ex-
change of distinguished knowledge, interwoven with an informal economy
(Velthuis 2007, 118f; Graw 2008, 66f). So, the case study of the Frankfurter
scene provides a reference point that complies with all theoretically deduced
requirements and makes them empirically accessible. Frankfurt as spacial
frame of interaction and of institutions lends itself to a case study due to the
presence of all relevant speech positions. Additionally, the city provides a clear
scene so actors of high influence within the field interact in a scene comparably
little fragmented, e.g. as it is found in other important cities like Berlin.
3. Methods: Document Analysis, Observation, Interview
Especially process produced data allow for investigation on presently ongoing
struggles around novelties or innovations. This is an important sort of data as
most of the time innovations are “under construction” until they are distinct
innovations. Since it is an advantage that they emerge independent from the
research interest, problems of validity and coherence occur. The need to avoid
a bias in selecting adequate data is met with the concept of theoretical satura-
tion, which equally enables a delimitation of the discourse (Keller 2008, 274f,
Clarke 2012, 116f).
For the empirical access, a case study (see Baur and Lamnek 2005) has been
chosen that is embedded in the methodological framework of situational analy-
sis (see Clarke 2012). It adapts to the line of pragmatic theory within the con-
cept of the SKAD and the chosen theoretical base of Howard S. Becker for the
art field. The chosen types of comparison are theoretical comparison (Baur and
Lamnek 2005, 247; Yin 1994, 106ff), pattern matching, and the method of
constant comparison (Baur and Lamnek 2005, 247). In this procedure, inter-
mediary empirical results can be iteratively related to theory and be refined.
Triangulation of different types of data avoids blind spots that are inevitably
evoked by an empirical field characterized by informal processes. Because of
the diverse types of data it is inevitable that the process of analysis is either
strictly focused in the depth of the analysis or – according to Clarke – at a
certain point a rigorous selection of the empirical material has to be made. For
this case, the strategy is to select data theoretically based according to two
questions: what criteria are used in judgments on contemporary art, and what
knowledge are these judgments based on. Following from that, it has not been
the aim to reconstruct the discourse on contemporary art comprehensively.
9 Though the obvious objection to this decision is the relevance of a globalized art world
these global interconnections also show in a regional based case with globally acting dis-
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 143
Following Baur and Lamnek (2005, 249), the covered time span and subject
matter of the case study limits the selection of the data. This happens to relate
practices, documents and contents to a discourse (Clarke 2012, 569). It also
shows in the procedure that determines the steps of interpretation of the data
when – in a reciprocal process – the sought range and levels of insight reflected
are defined (Clarke 2012, 561). Within the interpretation process, the differ-
ence between the discursive field and the globalized discourse are analytically
differentiated. The discursive field is represented exemplarily in the interaction
field Frankfurt am Main as a defined social world that is conceptualized as a
discursive arena (Clarke 2012, 89, 233). In the discursive arena, outcomes of
evaluations are perpetuated. These outcomes are judgments that constitute the
typical communicative form of the evaluation process. The judgments are
structurally tied to evaluate the rank of a new artwork. As described above, art
works have to be original and new since the avant-garde movements. From this
follows the assumption that novelty is a central topos for evaluating contempo-
rary art. So, it is to be expected that references to the topos are found in discur-
sive utterances in every sort of data.
Table 1: Appropriate Sampling Strategies to Grasp the Processes of Evaluation
of Novelties and Coding
Data/Shows Books Ethnographic Observations Interviews
Topos “new“/ “innova-
tive,” other criteria of
judgments within a
What criteria are used in
Explication of implicit
Reports of how legiti-
mate legitimization is
done, illegitimate ways
How criteria are used in
Reports of how legitimate
legitimization is done,
illegitimate ways of
field structures (status,
Rules of inclusion, pat-
terns of inclusion and
knowledge (regimes), field
structures (status, hierar-
chy, boundaries), speech
Type of data in relation to heuristic levels.
Besides the goal of hierarchization, Lamont points out that classification has
great importance and can be generated in the beginning of the research on the
discourse level from texts. The semantic level also provides implications on the
grammar of the field (Lamont 2012, 21.3). Ways of articulating the “problem”
in texts both describe and construct the rules related. A specific characteristic
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 144
in the field of contemporary art is that the act of classification coincides with
the judgment on the hierarchy of quality following the evaluation.
The structure of the investigated phenomenon is firstly carved out by a doc-
ument analysis of books, then confronted and rechecked through interviews
and ethnographic observations. As a third source of data – and the focus of the
study – eleven interviews with actors occupying relevant speech positions have
been conducted. So, for this project, multi-sited data interweave analytically
identified aspects within the process of evaluation of novelties on the levels of
interaction, discourse and organizationally embedded actors.
A theoretically guided sampling has been carried out and has been adjusted
throughout the research process (Clarke 2012, ch. 4). The selection of data is
determined by the reconstruction of discourse arenas according to Adele Clarke
(ibid., 228) and the attention to found knowledge regimes (Wehling 2007, 704ff;
Rammert 2004). To focus the analytic attention, a broad question at the beginning
of the research process is consecutively canalized within the work with the data.
Also in this early stage other sources of data are subject to theoretically sensitive
coding, generating theoretical strong concepts from the data to explain the
phenomenon researched (Kelle 1994, 326). In this case, it was the question of
how the involved actors know if a new artwork is good. The first categories are
derived from this question, and it becomes apparent according to which criteria
the sample has to be broadened. This process follows the concept of theoretical
sensitizing (Strauss and Corbin 1990, 75f; Kelle 1994, 313ff).
In the case study, after a first analysis, it became clear what speech positions
are present in the discourse on evaluating novelties in contemporary art. But it
also became evident that the books dealing with the question of how to recog-
nize good art did not answer the question themselves in an articulate way.
Instead, the authors elaborate the problems of doing so. This leads to the deci-
sion to interview representatives for positions of speech to collect further expli-
cations. A second peculiarity was repetitive utterances on the significance of
informal procedures within the field. This leads to the decision to conduct a
focused ethnography in a manageable local interaction field additionally to the
exploring visits in the field.
However, compared to other procedures, a case study grasps the theoretical
frame more rigidly and allows one to focus on the case in a way that restricts
the openness of the Grounded Theory approach. Discourse analysis usually
works on large amount of texts, while qualitative methods normally use a ra-
ther smaller text corpus. Particularly the combination of theoretically based
coding and the selection of key texts or programmatic texts facilitate the reduc-
tion of the data corpus: Simultaneously or alternatively, a theory guided reduc-
tion of the data corpus following the Grounded Theory Methodology is applied
(see Clarke 2012). Previous knowledge in this research project is reflexively
pinned in the heuristic frame. It is also challenged by the method mix within
the research process. Thereupon adequate data either in form of process pro-
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 145
duced data (texts) or specially collected data (thick interviews, descriptions)
have been compiled. This ensures more stability throughout the research pro-
cess, because attention on certain aspects of the case can be constituted earlier
in the research process. Through varying methodical perspectives this triangu-
lation of qual-qual methods avoids blind spots and enhances the consistency of
the research strategy.10
Adele Clarke elaborated the conditional matrices by Strauss und Corbin
(1990) into social world/arena maps. Within the axial coding, phase data are
related systematically to the phenomenon, and research question regarding sys-
tematically following categories: causes of the phenomenon, consequences, prac-
tices to cope with the phenomenon and conditional aspects of the context (e.g.
time, space, duration and social context (see also Strauss and Corbin 1990,
158ff)). Axial coding follows up conditions, problematizations, and strategic
aspects of the phenomenon (Truschkat, Kaiser and Reinartz 2005, 32). Corre-
sponding to Adele Clarke’s (2012, 228) approach of situation analysis, this sec-
onds step leads to axial coding – parallel to the Grounded Theory Methodology –
regarding a) causal relations, b) constitution of the phenomenon, c) the context,
d) intervening conditions, e) action/interactions and f) consequences (Strauss and
Corbin 1996, 75). In following cycles, the codes are the basis to assigning further
relevant passages of text until saturation is reached. Subsequently, selective cod-
ing comprises assigning passages of the texts that explicate why which categories
show to be relevant. In the terminology of the SKAD this corresponds with the
reconstruction of the narrative structure, the story line of the discourse.
After the data collection, the components 1. documents, 2. observations and
3. interviews are consolidated for interpretation. At this stage, the collecting of
data switched from open sampling to selective sampling. In the course of the
analysis, theories from the sociology of art, and the sociology of knowledge
were consulted in a problem-focused perspective. This ensured variation and
allowed for more general abductions. The question of a possible selectivity of
sources plays an important role within the sampling process. Beside the general
availability of data, the fitting to the research question has to be provided as accu-
rately as possible (Keller 2004, 84ff; Lamnek 2005, 117). The subsequent sam-
pling then relies on theoretical categories that are applied in a first step of analysis
(see Flick 1995). The process of sampling comes to an end when a theoretical
saturation is achieved (Clarke 2012, 116f). The variety of perspectives on the
events generates a mosaic of the occurrences and generate the explication of tacit
and or implicit knowledge and ethno-theories on the process of consecration.
Conclusions from specific data and their relations, as well as generalized hy-
pothesizing, have to be constituted. At this point, problems of demarcation and
constituting validity arise. To face these problems, the selected data are related in
10 Additionally but only punctually there are process produced data like catalog texts, news-
paper articles, homepages, blog entries and likewise included.
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 146
the analysis by triangulation of varied kinds of data and ways of analysis aiming
at the reconstruction of the discourse. The degree of saturation and course of
theoretical abstraction (see Clarke 2012) within the interpretation process pursue
an explanatory middle range theory of evaluation of innovations in contemporary
fine art. After inspecting the data carefully at the stage of open coding, passages
in the text have been coded according to previous theoretical knowledge.
3.1 Document Analysis
The starting point to reconstruct patterns of evaluation processes on contempo-
rary art is an analysis of process-produced documents. The approved data to
choose here are “introductory” texts because they provide highly legitimate
knowledge. From a methodical perspective, a hermeneutic interpretation has to
differentiate on the one hand between statements on the texts themselves – e.g.
conditions of their origin and form – and on the other hand statements on the
social circumstances translated in texts (Soeffner 1989, 91).
The selected textual data11 contain theories on how the field is functioning,
theories of legitimation, and exemplary processes. The books represent a highly
legitimate body of knowledge assured by formal status in the field through
organizationally embedded positions or professional or academic competence.
They also provide ethno-theories on descriptions of legitimate or violating prac-
tices of legitimation as a process of inter-subjective recognition (Lamont 2012,
21.6). The books make tacit knowledge explicit since their intended audience is a
lay public. This explicated knowledge offers a variety of exegeses of how evalua-
tion is performed: what criteria can or have to be applied and also which may not
be applied. Further: how to gain the required knowledge to do so and who repre-
sents this competence and knowledge on a professional level in the field. A pre-
liminary view of the field traces the possible speech positions, practices of evalu-
ation and legitimation, and fundamental rules.
The selected books provide information on adjacent discourses and position
themselves in relation to competitive positions within the discourse. Gradually
varying, they equally aim at professional peers and at lays as an audience. They
state an increased interest in contemporary art and simultaneously a confusing
11 List of books: Katja Blomberg, 2005, Wie Kunstwerte entstehen, Hamburg; Jörg Heiser,
2007, Und plötzlich diese Übersicht. Was gute zeitgenössische Kunst ausmacht, Berlin;
Hanno Rauterberg, 2007, Und das ist Kunst?! Eine Qualitätsprüfung, Frankfurt a. M.; Wolf-
gang Ullrich, 2007, Gesucht: Kunst! Phantombild eines Jokers, Berlin; Piroschka Dossi, 2007,
Hype! Kunst und Geld, Munich; Isabelle Graw, 2008, Der große Preis: Kunst zwischen Markt
und Celebrity, Köln; Sarah Thornton, 2009, Sieben Tage in der Kunstwelt, Frankfurt a.
M.; Wolfram Völcker, 2009, Was ist gute Kunst?, Ostfildern; Walter Grasskamp, 2010, Ein
Urlaubstag im Kunstbetrieb: Bilder und Nachbilder, Hamburg; Christian Demand, 2010, Wie
kommt die Ordnung in die Kunst?, Springe; Michael Findlay, 2012, Vom Wert der Kunst. Ein
Insider erzählt, Munich and London.
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 147
complexity where criteria do not become easily apparent. This is why the au-
thors choose a significantly more explicatory style of rules and criteria as found
in texts written by professionals for professional peers. Neither singular artists
nor an art movement are the topic, as in most publications, but “the big pic-
ture”: interrelations and formative developments are described, explained and
pigeonholed. The authors are professionals with experience and expertise.
Another criterion for the selection of this data-corpus is a phenomenon that
evoked the text and therefore is reflected in the texts themselves as a motive for
writing them: a boom condition for contemporary art since the year 2005. Con-
sequences resulting from the so called “hype” or “bubble” are uncertainty,
complexity, or even nebulousity. These are the terms that problematize the
occurrences and are the central topic of these texts. The authors lined up to cast
light into this impenetrable realm.
In the phase of open coding of the books, the process of evaluation is de-
scribed in two ways. Firstly, it is conceptualized as taste, a habitualized implicit
knowledge of reception. In the vocabulary of the field, it is to have “the eye.”
This kind of connoisseurship is credited to all persons that have gone through a
sort of training phase where one learns “how to see.” In the texts, it appears
that all judgments on art are equally important no matter who does them. On
the other side, there is a distinction between lays and professionals where the
definition power of the actors is acknowledged. Then, the codes are arranged
around descriptions of how art is evaluated and recognized with which criteria
and what interpretative patterns (Deutungsmuster) show. On the semantic level,
this shows the use of the topos New. It provides insights on the ways of evalu-
ating and legitimizing art on the pragmatic level and field-specific rules that
inform the process of legitimization.
Comparing the outcomes with models of legitimation within the theories of
Howard S. Becker (2008), Pierre Bourdieu (2001), and Nina Zahner (2005),
constitutional aspects of the discursive field, of the interaction field, positions of
speech, referenced bodies of knowledge, reports of rules to investigate, innova-
tions, and evaluations of novelties can be considered.
As the investigation aims at practices and criteria of evaluating artworks as
novelties, the first of the eleven books is analyzed by open coding. During the
advance of the analysis, selective coding is applied to the other books. This also
includes criteria that define what an artwork is not supposed to be, what makes a
work bad art, or no art at all. Adjusting those empirically found criteria to the
model of levels of justification lifts the findings to a more generalized level. This
shows a clear opposition of criteria allotted either to the sphere of “pure art” and
the sphere of the “market” according to the story line of “economization.”
The second step is an open analysis to reconstruct speech positions, the rep-
ertoire of interpretation used in the discourse, and the interpretative components.
In the qualitative content analysis, a focus on the topos “novelty” in the judgments
on contemporary art is reconstructed. From the introductory chapters, the imag-
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 148
ined audience or readers are reconstructed because this has a remarkable impact
on strategies and patterns of legitimation. In the terminal third step, selective
coding along the central categories and the identified story line are systemati-
cally correlated with other topoi and speech positions (ibid., 94). Here, the
procedure of legitimizing artworks with the focus on novelty again guides the
Reconstructing relevant positions of speech allows for the identification cen-
tral story lines of discursive problematization and shows that there are three types
of grammatical art-logics: conservative, avant-garde, and neo-liberal (see also
Menger 2006, 14). These logics manifest specific relations to the art market and
prove the problematization of commodification to be central. Some actors state
an economization that leads to increased illegitimate judgments on contemporary
art – and some do not. Those narrations contain explanations referring to the
autonomy postulate, strength of postmodern theory, the postulate of the “open-
ness” of an artwork and its reception as well as the subject-based mechanisms of
judgment and power distribution. Novelty is a frequent topos to rank an artist
or work as outstanding but usually implied as self-evident precondition.
From the analysis of the books results the need to conduct interviews with
professionals in the field to generate more explicit explanations. Secondly, the
authors of the books mention “informal processes” that need a closer examina-
tion. That gives reason to conduct a focused ethnography. Reason for this is
that in the books, the criteria that were applied in the evaluation process stay
vague – contrary to the announcement by the authors. Typically, the authors
produce a specific form of recounting where they elaborate what the artwork or
the artistic practice is like and if it is interesting, inspiring or moving.
The second type of data is interviews with people that engage in structurally
relevant positions in the discourse. Neither the textual data nor the ethnograph-
ic observations can substitute the individually gathered knowledge in and about
the process of legitimizing artworks.
A second type of data includes episodic interviews (Lamnek 2005, 331ff) with
persons representing relevant speech positions located in Frankfurt am Main.
They occupy positions with definition power (Keller and Hofer 2012, 47) al-
most identical with the concept of “jurisdiction” (Berger and Luckmann 1980,
125). As every speech position is equipped with specific resources and refers to
a position in the “collaborative action” of evaluating artworks, it is likely to
reveal typical explanations, opinions, and attitudes. The question here is: What
patterns of interpretation can be found or are explicated by the actors? Profes-
sional experts were motivated to explicate tacit knowledge (semantic), rules
and criteria of evaluating novelties (grammar). Interviews allows for the inter-
rogation of involved actors on discursive practices within the legitimation
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 149
process (pragmatic) on what are problems with evaluating art: How do they do
it? What are their criteria? What is a bad artwork? Is there a conflict between
an art logic and a logic of the art market? Interviews with different positions
have been conducted up to the point of theoretical saturation. Therein, inter-
view partners are interrogated about how they gain their information on artists
and artworks. Evidence suggests that traveling to various distinguished exhibi-
tions to participate through physical presence and experience is crucial to know
“the state of the art.” These bodies of knowledge on courses of events can only
be brought to light by interviews (Lamnek 2005, 331, Flick 1995, 125).
The interviews are conducted in an affirmative open attitude to stimulate
narrations. Actors in the field are used to tests12 and tend to produce stereo-
typed or short answers. Some interviews have been held with persons with little
juridic power, not only with the “taste makers,” and thus with persons with a
greater pressure of legitimating the own reputation in the field. The advantage
here is that the need for legitimation comes to the fore. Interviewed persons13
include a professor (art academy), a gallery owner, a collector, three curators
(Kunstverein, Kunsthalle, Museum), two critics (regional art magazine, blog),
three artists (active, former artist, recent graduate), an art consultant. As there is
no auction house or fair located in Frankfurt am Main, this position stays vacant.
So, the speech positions vary in age, gender, profession, career status, and
relation to exhibition sphere and market sphere. Complimentary interviews
with the curator of a museum and two gallery owners have been conducted in
Amsterdam: a city with features comparable to Frankfurt am Main. This kind
of data discloses ethno-theories on the evaluation process and criteria and also
amends the other data sources.
The analysis of the interviews is based on Gläser and Laudel (2009) which
constricts the process because previous steps of analysis secured the knowledge
about the field and relevant practices. So, here the view of the actors within the
process of evaluation and legitimation is put forward. The analysis of the pro-
cess produced documents, again, leans on theoretically guided categories ac-
cording to the qualitative content analysis (Gläser and Laudel 2009) to reduce
the amount of data.
The interviews show that the estimation of an “economization” depends
primarily on the basic art-logic the actors affiliate themselves with and not the
profession they carry out. Interrogated about the importance of novelty within the
evaluation process, the interviewees mark it as a self-evident precondition even
12 In the sense of épreuve developed by Boltanski and Thévenot (2006). In the relevance orders
of justification evaluations are created around broad topoi actors can draw upon in the
process of legitimizing.
13 A peculiarity of the field is that actors often occupy more than one professional position at a
time; this entails an empirical problem. Particularly in regard to the interpretation of the mate-
rial this has to be taken into account when innovations are considered as a distributed process.
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 150
more distinctively than the analyzed books. Thence the topos “new” was not a
central category in this sort of data. When asked for evaluative practices, a con-
siderable rejection is the reaction. Instead the interviewees refer to the tentative-
ness of judgments and to their subjectivity. The constraints of the prevalence of
judgments are elaborated in detail by most of the interviewees. Tentativeness is
by no means a problem for the interviewees but an acknowledged quality that is
deduced from the autonomy principle and therefore seen to contribute to the
freedom of art. These reactions are the more dismissive the closer the person feels
feels affiliated to an art-logic based on autonomy. As basically all actors are
trained art historians, this fits to the basic assumption that the art works “real”
legitimation happens over a long period of time and can thus only be preliminary.
There the art-logic (time will tell) and the market logic (decision now) op-
pose each other in clear contrast as the market logic allows for a clear ranking
by prices. “Economization” in form of a market boom is then assessed in di-
verse ways. These range from ignorance or amused observance to reserved
critique or benevolence (finally more people can make more money) to equan-
imous declaration of well-known cycles that will pass as they always do.
However, the statements converge in the common indication that the exhibi-
tion sphere and the market sphere are distinct and problems will resolve by them-
selves. So, the ethno-theories appear as “organized irresponsibility,” where the
Matthew-effect explains the the winner takes it all-principle for discourse partici-
pants with high reputation. That the actor’s own decisions have an impact is
ignored or denied. Only the museum curator states his personal definition pow-
er with satisfaction.
3.3 Focused Ethnography
Within this research project, thick descriptions from the ethnographic obser-
vances are supposed to be a supplementary source of data. They support the
outcomes of the document analysis as they are used to double check the de-
scriptions given in the texts and interviews about evaluative practices, informal
processes, and how conversations about qualities of art works occur. They
perpetuate the outcomes of the document analysis from the semantic level to
the pragmatic level.
In ethnographic studies, participating observation aims at diving into realms
of experience to understand them. Then the locale knowledge is appropriated
and fixed in ‘thick descriptions’ (Geertz 1987). Such descriptions are thus
outcome and material of reflection.14
Focused ethnography (see Knoblauch 2001) represents a specific version of
ethnography with which it shares the basic presuppositions. The most signifi-
14 The restricted access to the “right” understanding cannot be secured, a fact which is reflect-
ed in the choice to use a method mix and different data sources to prevent blind spots.
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 151
cant difference to conventional concepts lies in the rules on how observances
should be conducted. The focused ethnography is intended for short-term resi-
dences in the field of research. This leads to the premise that researchers al-
ready possess relevant knowledge about the field and consecutively are less
likely to be participant observers. In relation to the process of collecting data,
“focused” means that only a comparably small amount of data is collected
since the collection is guided by theoretical sampling. Still, the attitude is open
and not native, and is intended to create complexity in the step of interpretation
in form of transcriptions or notes. In contrast to a classical ethnography where
the large amounts of data have to be condensed, data – technical recordings or
impressions – in this approach is subject to extensive interpretation.15 Methodo-
logically, the aim is to capture insider-knowledge and background knowledge
with an analytic focus on communicative activities in social fields.
A focused ethnography (Knoblauch 2001) conceptualizes discursive practic-
es – like object relations, interaction and rules – of legitimation in regard to
“novelty” and “innovation.” Observations are the data that serve to understand
the pragmatic level of discursive practices. To grasp the evaluation process in
contemporary art this covers aspects of understanding innovation as a distribut-
ed process and its spatial and material embeddedness.
Ethnographic observations are integrated in the study to challenge the estab-
lished procedure of using texts as the only data source within discourse analy-
sis. They generate knowledge about context that exceeds secondary literature
or general knowledge. Through observations, preliminary hypotheses from the
document analysis are tested. To gain knowledge and access to the field of
contemporary art and the local site in Frankfurt am Main, several events have
been attended and memos and field notes are kept.16 The observations cover
variations of public, reputation of the exhibiting space, exhibited artists, and the
constellation of evaluating actors.
The focused ethnography is conducted at the preparation and opening of the
exhibition “the next artist” in the Ölhalle (Frankfurt and Offenbach 24.-30.
August 2013).17 Questions within the focused ethnography are: How is the
15 The interpretation is not only performed by a singular researcher, but by group-
interpretation where the coding and contextualization happens.
16 Two “Saisonstarts“in September 2012 and 2013, a coordinated opening of Frankfurt galler-
ies; 3 Vernissagen at the off space ”Kunstverein Lola Montez”; Frankfurter Stadtgespäch IX
of the excellence cluster “normative orders,” “Was macht die Kunst?“ talk with Christoph
Menke (philosopher) and Bernd Hegemann (artist) 8.3.2012; talk and exhibition in the
Deutschen Bank, “Cao Fei – A Three Days Treatment“ in the course of “Globe – Art, Music &
Performance“ in the Deutsche Bank Towers with artists and curators 30.4.2011; two Städel-
rundgang, July 2011 and 2012 – annual exhibition of students from the Städel Academy;
visits to the documenta 12 und 13.
17 Due to problems entering the field a participant observation with a role as “PR person” is
made. However, in conversations I had to introduce myself also as a researcher which was
then accepted as several occupations are common in the field.
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 152
selection process of the art works (practical legitimation by displaying art-
works)? What is the informal that was described in the books and interviews?
How do the actors talk about art and artworks and evaluate them? Is novelty a
topic in conversation during the preparation or at the vernissage of the exhibi-
tion? Are there any conflicts between an art-logic and a market-logic? Can
indications for the unexplained “informal” practices be found? The outcomes
of the observations again are compared in iterative slopes with theoretical
explanations, the accounts of the textual data corpus, and later on with inter-
views on the semantic, pragmatic, and grammatical level. This relates abstrac-
tion levels from oral reports onto the interaction level, organizational setting,
and discursive contextualization and provides information on the social struc-
ture and constitution of the field. The focus of the attention therefore is on
situations of negotiating the qualities and quality of the exhibited artworks in
conversations18 and non-verbal interaction.
The temporary art space Ölhalle is the focus of the ethnography because it is
a place that as itself is under legitimation pressure. So, the Ölhalle serves as a
context where the “not yet established” are more explicitly in need of legitima-
tion. But meanwhile it has a big attraction because it fits into the scheme of
showing undiscovered talents and being at the beginning of something new that
the field is always looking out for. The show “the next artist” is a small scale
boundary event in the context of Frankfurt am Main. It is an event to access the
relevant knowledge for a qualified judgment on what is going on in the art
scene of the city, the region and beyond. Further, the event provides a platform
for coordinating activities, the legendary networking for aspiring or established
actors in the field. On the level of collective action, actors of the field identify
collaborators. So, the Ölhalle is exactly the place where the question of this
project is negotiated. A strategy one often finds in “off-places” is that a lack of
curatorial experience and intellectual training is compensated for by a strong
personal network to powerful people and gifted artists. This is also the case
with “the next artist.” The strategy of mixing upcoming talents, even still learning
at the academies, with already well-known artists via personal networks is a
clever and promising strategy. Part of the exhibited artists are friends of the cura-
tor from the time of studies at the art academy who succeeded to establish them-
selves especially in the exhibition sphere but mostly also on the art market. Others
are promising art students from several academies in the region that can achieve a
higher reputation and luster through the more recognized participants. To select
those students, the curator attended end-term exhibitions of academies and asked
professors who they would recommend for the exhibition “next artist.” A third
rather small group are also friends of the curator from the time of studies at the art
academy that have not been successful in selling or getting art works exhibited
18 For conversational analysis see Bergmann (1990); for non-verbal communication, see
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 153
for a while.19 Personal communication is formative for the selective dissemina-
tion of insider-knowledge. One has to prove “the eye” and sound judgments
which lead to reputation and discursive definition power. The definition power
of speakers within the discourse is also constituted by their affiliation to institu-
tions of high reputation they are seen to represent, e.g. a professor or a curator
of a well-known museum. During the vernissage, the art works are evaluated as
“interesting,” it is discussed whether one likes them, or people talk about how
things were done by the artists. Novelty is not a topic in conversation during
the preparation or at the vernissage or the exhibition.
A distinctive feature of the exhibition is that art works can be bought from
the curator with commission. That violates a basic rule of the field which regu-
lates a quite rigid division of exhibition and sales. By that, so the assumption,
the autonomy of art is respected and conflicts deriving from colliding interest
can be prevented. What sells well is not necessarily congruent with good art.
The motivation to sell art is deceived as not compatible with choosing art
works for an exhibition. This points to the central conflict between the art-logic
and the market-logic. Both have a great demand for novelties but aesthetic
criteria can be violated by market criteria.
Central outcomes of this type of data are that field configuring events
(Anand and Watson 2004) are not only constitutional events for the field but
also extremely important to get access to the relevant knowledge for a qualified
judgment on contemporary art within the art world as places of display (Gieryn
2002, 130). Novelty appears not to be a explicated criteria in this sort of data.
3.4 How to See More with Different Data: Relation of Documents,
Interviews and Observances
Usually discourse analyses are based on textual data only. In this case, books
promise highly legitimate knowledge and detailed explanations. From the books
result the relevant positions of speech, most rules constituting the discourse, and
the story line problematizing the judgment on contemporary art as “challenged by
market effects.” However, crucial criteria applied in the process of evaluating
artworks stayed vague, as well as the relevance of involved actors within the
process that institutionalized the judgments. Early on, it became clear that this
sort of data alone would not meet the requirements of the research question.20
Their intended audience is art peers and connoisseurs, or they consider only
one single artist. Programmatic texts with a more general approach like art
19 This shows the importance of personal ties organized in invisible colleges (Crane 1972, 52).
See footnote 7.
20 Alternative textual data like opening speeches of exhibitions or catalogs of exhibitions,
articles in art magazines like artforum, art, frieze, texte zur kunst or monopol show even
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 154
historic introductions pay only a very small amount of attention to contempo-
rary art. So, the relevant knowledge actors refer to judge contemporary art-
works and their institutionalization has to pass through other channels. Instead
the chosen books themselves give reference to aspects decisive for judgments
on contemporary art.
Within the eleven analyzed books, noteworthy descriptions of widespread
informal personal exchanges crucial to the process of evaluation appear. The
authors of the books mention “informal processes” that need a closer examina-
tion to look for situations of production and reproduction of judgments. From
the analysis of the books results the need to conduct interviews with profes-
sionals of the field to generate more explicit explanations why the criteria used
to evaluate artworks stay vague. Interviews stimulate actors to produce more
elaborate explanations on the role and relevance of criteria in the process of
evaluation. By this, distinguishable styles of thought become apparent that are
related to the story line of “economization” and produce proceeding ethno-
theories about the problems in judging contemporary art and their solution.
These accounts of a backstage lead to a demand for focused ethnographic ob-
servations. Complimentary ethnographic observances show how judgments are
institutionalized mostly in reference to preceding judgments by actors of high
reputation. Thus it becomes apparent how definition power is enacted and comes
into effect. How significant the participation in field configuring events is becomes
clear during the observations and through the interviews. These events provide a
decisive source of knowledge for judging contemporary artworks. They simulta-
neously are the main framework for legitimacy in the process of evaluation.
Interviews and observances are used to double-check descriptions given in
the texts regarding the reports on evaluative practices, informal processes, and
how conversations about qualities of artworks occur. They support the outcomes
of the document analysis in a complimentary way (pattern matching) and a proce-
dure of comparison to reconstruct the process of institutionalizing judgments.
Studying innovations as a distributed, ubiquitous process in time with its mate-
rial and spatial embeddedness is a challenging task. During the first observa-
tions within the field, it became apparent that while there is a string of the dis-
course in written form – the most frequently used type of data for discourse
analysis – which discusses what legitimate contemporary art is, the level of inter-
action is at least as important for judgments on artworks. This aspect already be-
came evident in the analysis of the eleven books and gave cause to conduct inter-
views and verify those descriptions by a focused ethnography. The method-mix
allows one to compensate for blind spots that originate from specific types of data.
Continuous reflections on and about innovation are accompanied by elaborate
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 155
discourses that justify the new developments based on the interests of specific
actors and actor groups. “These arguments can involve situational explanations,
organizational and institutional rhetoric, and taken-for-granted ideologies”
(Hutter et al. 2015, 34). Knowledge is a central category for research that wants
to retrace what actors do in the phase of diffusion of novelties.
The introduced case study presents a highly reflexive procedure which espe-
cially considers the aspects of distributed action and knowledge in an informal-
ly structured field. It shows how solutions to specific problems of tenuous
judgments on novelties in contemporary art can serve as an example of ways to
deal with precarious knowledge in the distribution phase of innovations. The
SKAD approach enables researchers to also consider involved actors with their
socio-structural context. Because the reconstruction of a discourse aims at the
typical, at patterns and at the question how social order is consolidated – but
still does not forget the specificity of situations – it enables researchers to for-
mulate middle range theories. It is receptive to ongoing processes of social
change and especially to phenomena of institutionalized change, which are
typical for societal fields that are structured by the search for novelties. So, it
can also be applied in the phase of creation and development of innovations.
Working multi-sited (Lamnek 2005, 313, 320) means that the selection of
data has to be reproducible and it must be comprehensible why they are relata-
ble regarding their similarities or contrasts. One problem remains in aligning to
the interpretative paradigm: the material remains “partial” and it has to be
reasoned why it serves to reconstruct typical patterns. So, ethnographic obser-
vations and interviews are used to meet the tenuous situation of knowledge
beyond a content analysis of texts which is possible due to the methodical
connectivity of the SKAD approach. Further, the approach goes beyond com-
mon discourse analysis as it provides theoretically based reasons to find out if
the saturation of data is accomplished. Theoretical decisions allow for a reasoned
selection of data within a discourse on quality in contemporary art with a focus
on evaluating patterns. This is a significant criterion to overcome problems of
partiality of data and enables the researcher to give a comprehensible explanation
regarding the composition of the data corpus and demarcate a discourse.
Hence, the data of discourse analysis cannot consist only of documents or
texts closely related to the semantic level of vocabularies or topoi. The study
shows that the heuristics of semantic, pragmatic and grammatical level are
useful for decisions to consolidate the research design.
To adjust the collection of data and the data analysis according to prelimi-
nary insights while conducting the research, the situation analysis has been a
useful guideline. The approach enables researchers to link macro aspects of se-
mantics and grammar to micro aspects of negotiation and interaction of the
speakers. It captures how actors contribute to a discourse on quality of contempo-
rary art as a means of producing novelties. As a theoretical approach to the pro-
cess of innovation, the SKAD proves to be sensitive for ongoing negotiations.
HSR 40 (2015) 3 │ 156
The case shows in a specific context how problems of institutionalized change
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Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung has been selected for coverage /
archiving in the following databases:
Social Science Citation Index (Thomson Scientific)
SCOPUS (Elsevier) http://www.scopus.com.
SocINDEX with FULL TEXT (EBSCO) http://www.epnet.com.
Sociological Abstracts (Cambridge Scientific Abstracts) http://www.csa.com.
Historical Abstracts (ABC-CLIO) http://www.abc-clio.com.
International Political Science Abstracts (SAGE) http://www.sagepub.co.uk.
Social Research Methodology Database (SAGE / NIWI) http://www.srm-
SOLIS (Social Science Literature Information System / GESIS) http://www.gesis.org/en/