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Call for Abstracts - Participant Observation and Collaboration in STS Ethnography: Generating Methodographic Sensibilities for Science & Technology Studies


The workshop focuses on the methods of participant observation and collaboration in and around the field in STS ethnography. By that, we seek to strengthen the capacity for methodography, the empirical study of research methods in practice. Prior to the workshop participants share draft articles on the workshop theme. These are discussed throughout the workshop, commented on and rewritten during a practice unit. All workshop applicants are expected to also submit a revised paper for the organisers' event at the upcoming EASST conference in Lancaster, UK (25-28th July 2018). The revised papers are intended for a future special issue, guest-edited by the workshop organisers.
Workshop venue: Institute for European Ethnology, Humboldt University Berlin
Date: April 12th to 14th, 2018
Organisers STS Lab (Labor Sozialanthropologische Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung at the
Institute for European Ethnology), Humboldt University Berlin and ETHOS (Experimental
Techno-Humanities and Organizational Services lab), IT University of Copenhagen
Contact: Julie Sascia Mewes and Göde Both
The workshop focuses on the methods of participant observation and collaboration in and
around the field in STS ethnography. By that, we seek to strengthen the capacity for
methodography, the empirical study of research methods in practice. Prior to the workshop
participants share draft articles on the workshop theme. These are discussed throughout the
workshop, commented on and re-written during a practice unit. All workshop applicants are
expected to also submit a revised paper for the organisers’ event at the upcoming EASST
conference in Lancaster, UK (25-28th July 2018). The revised papers are intended for a future
special issue, guest-edited by the workshop organisers.
STS have a peculiar relation to methodological concerns regarding their methods in use. We
now build on and critically engage with a tradition of carefully scrutinising how natural scientists
pursue their research – in the field, the laboratory, at desks and conferences. (Knorr-Cetina
1999, Latour and Woolgar 1979, Latour 1988 [1993]) Relatively little interest has been shown in
sociological description of qualitative social science research methods in practice
(Greiffenhagen, Mair, and Sharrock 2011). In a trajectory of recognising that textbooks’
presentations of methods cannot be mirrored in their “applications” or “implementations”, STS
has turned to question how to author STS accounts “after method” (Law 2004); and we may
attend to “inventive methods” (Lury and Wakeford 2012) to pay attention to the various material
and semiotic tools and devices that “configure” (Suchman 2012) research objects – through
which the researcher’s data is achieved. The British project “The Social Life of Methods” has
foregrounded method devices as performative and messy assemblages (Law and Ruppert 2013)
shaped by the social as much as being performative – doing the social themselves (Law,
Ruppert, and Savage 2011).
Interestingly, however, STS have not yet developed a strong tradition for accounting of how one
of its key methods – participant observation – is shaping its generation of data. This workshop
conceptualises the relation between participant observation and its data as configured in
negotiations of different worlds in collaborations across difference between the researcher and
other actants of the research assemblage. Thus we wonder: how do our data “gathering”
practices relate to and are co-constitutive of other actants and relations in the research
“infrastructure” (Bowker and Star 1999, Star and Bowker 2006, Star 1999), our “onto-epistemic
apparatuses” (Barad 2007)? How does STS ethnography practice their data? We are particularly
interested in ethnographic descriptions and analyses of how we do STS data (cf. Kasper and
Ross 2017; Greiffenhagen, Mair and Sharrock 2011, 2015) and to how that data is configured
and shaped in our collaborations and/or co-laborations, whereby we use the neologism of co-
laboration to point to both the labour involved in research and evoke the STS history of
laboratory studies (Niewöhner 2016).
We contrast our interest with a normative project of telling “how to” do data or research well; and
instead the workshop shall enact care for how researchers practice care for what they encounter
and relate to participant observation, inquiring into formatting, standardising, silencing, re-
presenting and performative engagements that shape and betray the matters of research.
Reflexivity of how the researcher as a subject is involved in doing data does not need to be an
end in itself. Instead, we hope to contribute to a conversation about how we configure
accountability relations between researcher, our subjects, objects and our devices, whilst paying
attention to how these assemblages are generative of the objects we study (Cf. Kenney 2015).
The workshop therefore aims to discuss on and contribute to the following questions:
What is it that our methods are doing? What do they imply? What kinds of worlds are
they opening up to us? And what kinds of worlds are they closing off? (Cf. Law and
Ruppert 2013, 233)
How do we meet what we research? And how are these meetings generated and
How does our enactment of participant observation construct and structure empirical
What kind of data is produced in non-participant, participant and participatory field work
and how do we voice or silence that data? How are participant observation and its data
refigured in dialogue, mutual learning and caring relationships within heterogeneous
research collectives? (Farías 2016)
Who participates in the field, configured as what kind of subject? Researcher, human and
non-human members of the field? How does the meeting and participation shift over
How are our data configured and shaped in our collaborations and co-laborations?
In how far do our collaborations dis/enable accounting for ontological difference in and
around the worlds we study? How do relations of power reconfigure our accountability
relations with what we encounter and collaborate with in participant research?
STS is occasionally working as a bridge or translational device in research clusters and
is encouraged to engage with the methods of other disciplines. How does the doing of
participant observation relate to, or is (re)configured in interactions with, other methods?
The workshop provides a space for reflecting on participant observation, ways of how we
co(l)laborate with, within or on the field and for facilitating academic publishing. Two
distinguished ethnographers will join the workshop and attend to how participant observation in
STS practice and modes of collaboration in the field and co-laboration with other researchers
working on and with the same field shape our enactments of data: John Law and Jörg
Niewöhner. Two experienced academic editors and writers, Rachel Douglas-Jones and Estrid
Sørensen, will facilitate a practical session for engaging with how we write methodographically.
Each workshop applicant is required to submit an article draft. The submitted drafts will be
commented on and discussed by both lecturers, guests and workshop participants. The overall
results of the workshop participant’s contributions are intended to be published within a future
special issue for an STS journal on the topic. Workshop participants will discuss plans for a joint
event at the upcoming EASST conference in Lancaster, UK (25-28th July 2018) on “Meetings –
Making Science, Technology and Society Together”.
Rachel Douglas-Jones, Associate Professor for Technologies in Practice, IT University of
Copenhagen, Denmark
John Law, Honorary Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University,
Lancaster, UK
Ingmar Lippert, Assistant Professor for Technologies in Practice, IT University of
Copenhagen, Denmark
Tahani Nadim, Bureau for Troubles, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany
Jörg Niewöhner, Professor of Social Anthropology of Science and Technology, Institute for
European Ethnology, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany
Estrid Sørensen, Professor of Social Psychology and Social Anthropology, Ruhr University
Bochum, Germany
  
 
Coee break
Douglas-Jones & Sørensen
Lunch break
Coee break
The workshop invites early career researchers within the field of STS who have at least several
months of experience with ethnographic methods and who are willing to attend the upcoming
EASST conference and submit a research article for a special issue edited by us. The working
language of the workshop will be English.
The Call for Applications has closed on December 1st. We are proud to announce, that we have
received applications from over 80 early career researchers, affiliated to 57 different research
institutions in 20 countries. The applicants will be informed upon their attendance by December
31st or earlier.
The workshop comes without fees. It is co-funded by the European Association of the Study of
Science and Technology (EASST). In case the workshop receives external funding from a
second grant applied for we will be able to partially cover transport and accommodation.
The workshop is co-organised by the “Labor Sozialanthropologische Wissenschafts- und
Technikforschung (STS)” at the Institute for European Ethnology (Humboldt University Berlin,
Germany) and the Experimental Techno-Humanities and Organisational Services lab (IT
University of Copenhagen, Denmark).
Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the Universe halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning:
Duke University Press.
Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. 1999. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences.
Cambridge (MA)/London: MIT Press.
Farías, Ignacio. 2016. "A collaborative turn in STS?" EASST Review 35(1).
Greiffenhagen, Christian, Michael Mair, and Wes Sharrock. 2011. "From Methodology to Methodography: A Study of
Qualitative and Quantitative Reasoning in Practice." Methodological Innovations Online 6(3):93-107.
Greiffenhagen, Christian, Michael Mair, and Wes Sharrock. 2015. "Methodological Troubles as Problems and
Phenomenona: Ethnomethodology and the Question of ‘Method’ in the Social Sciences." British Journal of
Sociology 66(3):460485.
Kasper, Gabriele, and Steven J Ross. 2017. "The Social Life of Methods: Introducing the Special Issue." Applied
Linguistics Review:1-12.
Kenney, Martha. 2015. “Counting, accounting, and accountability: Helen Verran’s relational empiricism.Social
Studies of Science 45(5):749–771.
Knorr-Cetina, Karin. 1999. Epistemic Culture. How the sciences make knowledge. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Latour, Bruno. 1988 [1993]. The Pasteurization of France. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. 1979. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts: Princeton University
Law, John. 2004. After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. London: Routledge.
Law, John, and Evelyn Ruppert. 2013. "The Social Life of Methods: Devices." Journal of Cultural Economy 6(3):229-
Law, John, Evelyn Ruppert, and Mike Savage. 2011. "The Double Social Life of Methods." CRESC Working Paper
Series No. 95.
Lury, Celia, and Nina Wakeford. 2012. Inventive methods: The Happening of the Social. London: Routledge.
Niewöhner, Jörg. 2016. "Co-Laborative Anthropology: Crafting Reflexivities Experimentally [Finnish Translation]." In
Ethnologinen Tulkinta Ja Analyysi. Kohti Avoimempaa Tutkimusprosessia, edited by Jukka Jouhki and Tytti
Steel, 81-125. Helsinki: Ethnos.
Star, Susan Leigh. 1999. "The Ethnography of Infrastructure." American Behavioral scientist 43(3):377-391.
Star, Susan Leigh, and Geoffrey C Bowker. 2006. "How to infrastructure." In Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping
and Social Consequences of ICTs, edited by Leah A Lievrouw and Sonia Livingstone, 230-245. London:
Suchman, Lucy. 2012. "Configuration." In Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social, edited by Celia Lury and
Nina Wakeford, 48-60. London: Routledge.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Across the disciplinary frontiers of the social sciences, studies by social scientists treating their own investigative practices as sites of empirical inquiry have proliferated. Most of these studies have been retrospective, historical, after-the-fact reconstructions of social scientific studies mixing interview data with the (predominantly textual) traces that investigations leave behind. Observational studies of in situ work in social science research are, however, relatively scarce. Ethnomethodology was an early and prominent attempt to treat social science methodology as a topic for sociological investigations and, in this paper, we draw out what we see as its distinctive contribution: namely, a focus on troubles as features of the in situ, practical accomplishment of method, in particular, the way that research outcomes are shaped by the local practices of investigators in response to the troubles they encounter along the way. Based on two case studies, we distinguish methodological troubles as problems and methodological troubles as phenomena to be studied, and suggest the latter orientation provides an alternate starting point for addressing social scientists' investigative practices.
Full-text available
Despite the huge literature on the methodology of the social sciences, relatively little interest has been shown in sociological description of social science research methods in practice, i.e., in the application of sociology to sociological work. The overwhelming (if not exhaustive) interest in research methods is an evaluative and prescriptive one. This is particularly surprising, since the sociology of science has in the past few decades scrutinised almost every aspect of natural science methodology. Ethnographic and historical case studies have moved from an analysis of the products of science to investigations of the processes of scientific work in the laboratory. Social scientists appear to have been rather reluctant to explore this aspect of their own work in any great depth. In this paper, we report on a „methodography‟, an empirical study of research methods in practice. This took the form of a small-scale investigation of the working practices of two groups of social scientists, one with a predominantly qualitative approach, the other involved in statistical modelling. The main part of the paper involves a comparison between two brief episodes taken from the work of each, one focussing on how two researchers analyse and draw conclusions from an interview transcript, the other on how collaborators work out an agreed final version of a statistical model for combining temporal and spatial data. Based on our analysis of these examples, we raise some questions about the way in which social scientists reason through their problems, and the role that characterisations of research, as research of a particular kind (e.g., qualitative or quantitative), play in actual research practice.
Helen Verran uses the term ‘relational empiricism’ to describe situated empirical inquiry that is attentive to the relations that constitute its objects of study, including the investigator’s own practices. Relational empiricism draws on and reconfigures Science and Technology Studies’ traditional concerns with reflexivity and relationality, casting empirical inquiry as an important and non-innocent world-making practice. Through a reading of Verran’s postcolonial projects in Nigeria and Australia, this article develops a concept of empirical and political ‘accountability’ to complement her relational empiricism. In Science and an African Logic, Verran provides accounts of the relations that materialize her empirical objects. These accounts work to decompose her original objects, generating new objects that are more promising for the specific postcolonial contexts of her work. The process of decomposition is part of remaining accountable for her research methods and accountable to the worlds she is working in and writing about. This is a practice of narrating relations and learning to tell better technoscientific stories. What counts as better, however, is not given, but is always contextual and at stake. In this way, Verran acts not as participant-observer, but as participant-storyteller, telling stories to facilitate epistemic flourishing within and as part of a historically located community of practice. The understanding of accountability that emerges from this discussion is designed as a contribution, both practical and evocative, to the theoretical toolkit of Science and Technology Studies scholars who are interested in thinking concretely about how we can be more accountable to the worlds we study.
The collection focuses on ‘the device’ to explore how methods for knowing and handling the world have their own social life or even triple social life: how they are shaped by the social;work to format social relations; but also how they are used opportunistically by social actors in the systematic pursuit of political, economic and cultural advantage.
The ethnographic study performed by Bruno Latour engaged him in the world of the scientific laboratory to develop an understanding of scientific culture through observations of their daily interactions and processes. Latour assumed a scientific perspective in his study; observing his participants with the "same cold, unblinking eye" that they use in their daily research activities. He familiarized himself with the laboratory by intense focus on "literary inscription", noting that the writing process drives every activity in the laboratory. He unpacked the structure of scientific literature to uncover its importance to scientists (factual knowledge), how scientists communicate, and the processes involved with generating scientific knowledge (use of assays, instrumentation, documentation). The introduction by Jonas Salk stated that Latour's study could increase public understanding of scientists, thereby decreasing the expectations laid on them, and the general fear toward them. [Teri, STS 901-Fall; only read Ch. 2]