The New in Social Research: Javier Lezaun recording

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We are pleased to put online the next in our ‘The New in Social Research’ series, a recording of Javier Leaun’s (March 20th) talk titled Cinematography and the Discovery of Social Kinetics (for download, not to stream).

Lezaun’s talk looks at the use of film by two early 20th century social scientists: (1) Wolfgang Köhler, one of the founders of Gestalt Psychology, and his colleague (2) Kurt Lewin, the pioneer of Social Psychology. In the work of these two figures we find the idea of the social as a form of movement, as a kinetic event, most visibly manifested in the face-to-face interactions of small groups. Lezaun’s talk shows the important role that film played in the creation of this idea of the social in the works of Köhler and Lewin.

Lezaun considers Köhler’s use of film in his famous experiments on chimpanzee intelligence, published in the book The Mentality of Apes (1917). Puzzlingly, the images that illustrate the book are not still photographs, but frames from the film footage shot during the trials. Lezaun argues that film was critical because it allowed Köhler to record the peculiar geometry of movement that, in his view, was characteristic of insightful behavior by apes. Yet, when it came to the question of whether apes had the capacity to act with intelligence collectively, to constitute a social group, Köhler hesitated: the motion pictures were too ambiguous to discriminate between impulsive cooperation and structured sociability.

Lewin, who started his career at Köhler’s Psychological Institute in Berlin, used film in his famous 1930s experiments in Iowa, in which groups of children subjected to different styles of leadership conformed to democratic, authoritarian, and laissez-faire ‘atmospheres’. Lezaun shows how Lewin built on and extended Köhler’s use of film in these experiments to offer a visual representation of these micro-polities. While Köhler used film principally to record experiments, Lewin’s arranged the experimental events so as to produce a cinematic effect. The social scientist, for one, acquired a new role, literally “acting” the role of provocateur.

The different uses of film in Köhler and Lewin are also, Lezaun shows, apparent in their editing techniques: Köhler was interested in individual frames of film while Lewin borrowed heavily from the motion-pictures of contemporary cinema. Where Köhler aimed to capture an image of motion in his experimental subjects, it is the moving image itself in Lewin’s work that enables the social to be put on display. Lezaun argues that this use of film enabled Lewin to arrange experimental situations which displayed a particular form of sociability; that is, the social as a kinetic event.

Find Lewin’s experimental films at archive.org

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Artefacts of Mapmaking

Video

“The bird, far from his name, flies from the name that I give it, but continues to fly in the treats of zoology and the poems of St. Jhon Pierce. The gull is in its sky, irreducible to ours, but the language of the taxonomist is in the books, itself irreducible to any gull ever dreamed of, living or dead”. (Latour, Pasteurisation of France, 1988).

This video is part of a presentation done during the visit by the Science Po Master’s Programme for Art and Experimentation in Politics and Bruno Latour to CSISP at Goldsmith, this March 7th. It  was used as visual data to reflect on different traditions of mapmaking´s artefacts.

The presentation´s main questions were about What are maps? How are they translating the world? And What are the cultural traditions involved in mapmaking and mapreading? In this context, maps were considered as an artifact resulting from a long reflexive process of interpretation and translation of the world, which may vary from place to place and from time to time. Maps, was argued, can be understood not as sign about nature, but as producers of nature. They are creating the territory by representing it, and each mapmaking tradition refers to an specific set of behaviours and social practices within a given material culture, recording maps as an object artefact, involving several performative traditions such as gesture, ritual, sing, speech, dance or poetry (Woodward and Lewis, 1998).

From this perspective, the empirical questions were focused on  the specific mapmaking tradition of The Central Andes, South America. The syncretic configuration of this territory, allowed some Ritual Festivities to emerge as performative maps, combining both Western and Andean mapmaking tradition, which through music and dance perform an Imago Mundi of their surrounding world.

The present video was recorded on 2010 during La Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe de Ayquina, Atacama Desert, Chile. This Festivity is structured around a “holly town”, with around 500 houses, inhabited by no more than 15 families during the year, but overflowing with more than 20,000 people for the main day of the festivity. The village was built as a stage: the houses are located on the slopes of the ravine, emulating observation boxes, and the urbanism is articulated around the main square and church, located at the bottom of Ayquina´s ravine.

The mapping strategy used by the festive´s participants can be understood as idealised metaphors, where the world is not represented through mimetic standards, rather than through transforming its elements into a new dimension, expressed through groups dance performances. This festive map is not only about the reality itself, but also about how social groups can imagine and fantasise the world they are living in.

SPEAP visits CSISP

On March 7,  The Programme in Experimentation in Art and Politics (SPEAP) , an MA programme recently established at Science Po (Paris), visited The Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP) at Goldsmiths. The day was part of a longer Concentration Week that SPEAP students and staff spent at Goldsmiths, visting different departments. The week was dedicated to a specific research theme: If nature is no longer a mere background for human acitvities, what change does this entail for art and the social sciences? The theme was communicated to participants in advance, and during the workshop they engaged with it through presentation, film and discussion. Here follows a brief report of the day in 7 photos by Jorge Castillo.

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It may be somewhat complex to capture the remnants of a day marked by the momentum of collaboration between two groups whose main quality is precisely the question of borders and boundaries of the traditional social and political categories. SPEAP (Sciences Po – Expérimentation en Arts et Politique) and CSISP (Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process) were part of an additive experiment during the morning and a section of the afternoon on a Wednesday in March. The support for this –as mentioned– was the idea of nature as part of the processes of social research and artistic action. Here are schematically some moments of this day. As is more often the case, the most important would be what is not said. Time indicated is relative.

At room 143

10:00-10:15. Having crossed Goldsmiths’ labyrinths, the groups from Paris and London are distributed across the room.

Laurie Waller10:15-11:00. After the presentation by Alex Wilkie and Tobie Kerridge (Goldsmiths Interaction Research Studio) about energetic communities, it was the turn of Laurie Waller, a PhD student in CSISP/Sociology. His talk revolved around notions of publicity and assembly at the Science Museum, and the use of electronic music to facilitate immersion in tissues of public and everyday life.

SPEAP at 12th floor.

12:45-14:00. A group of students from SPEAP enjoying the view of London during the lunch hour, on the roof terrace on top of Warmington Tower, outside the CSISP seminar room.

Afternoon Presentations

14:15. After lunch, presentations continue…

David Moats

15:00-15:30. David Moats presents his research on controversies about race and intelligence and the stablization ofi knowledge on Wikipedia. Noortje Marres, of CSISP, is also in the image.

Latour in action

17:45-18:15. After the workshop, a lecture. Bruno Latour during his presentation (Latour in action…). More details here.

Bruno and Noortje

19:15. Bruno Latour, of Sciences Po, and Noortje Marres, of CSISP/Sociology, at the end of the day.

Probably the conclusions of the day were fragmented according to the different reflections that were figured in each presentation. And after this wednesday at CSISP , SPEAP  continued its concentration week with a visit to Politics/Cultural Studies before returning to Paris. I would like to think of our day itself as an initial scaffolding and we hope that a similar event would happen sometime again.

As to the workshop, each presentation was in its own way conducive to the possibility to think and perform nature and place as spaces that transform the political and artistic, which are potential entities themselves, becoming in various ways and acting on these formations. While the process of “naturalization” is understood as tending to block or hide the controversies involved in each certainty or “will to truth”, nature itself escapes these constraints and presents itself disorganized. However, nature is explained, socialized and used as an argument again and again, to be part of the assemblages not only scientific but also political and aesthetic. Nevertheless, the planes of formal representation of the space that constitutes the natural can be subverted, extolling the time -temporality- as a dimension that organizes social, political and rituals practices, in an environment that exceeds the human, objectifying it. Here, nature is not only a support, but an assembler,  linking the living and the inert, being both, and serving as a resource to explicate the social and material, outside the order of the formal and leading us back to being animals or ants…

From Digital Methods to Digital Ontologies: Bruno Latour and Richard Rogers at CSISP

It was a completely full house last week (7 March) in the Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre for Richard Rogers’ and Bruno Latour’s joint presentation as part of The New in Social Research – with students and lecturers lining the steps and craning their necks from the upper deck.

Both speakers were gracious co-hosts: Rogers referring to himself as “the appetiser for the main course”, while Latour framed his talk as “a footnote” to Rogers’. But the two lectures, which addressed “digital methods” and “digital ontology” respectively, were more closely entwined: Rogers’ cutting edge mapping and internet research techniques provided “an occasion” for Latour to vindicate the theories of Gabriel Tarde, while Latour’s Tardian ontology provided validation and grounding for Roger’s methodologies.

Rogers, who runs the Digital Methods Initiative in Amsterdam, began with brief history of internet research. In the late 90s, the hyperbolic pronouncements of the “cyberspace” era gave way to more sociological studies which situated the online in the offline world (following Miller and Slater 2000). But Rogers argued that we have now entered a new phase in which internet activity need not be studied as something categorically separate from “the real”. The online, rather than the real, is now “the baseline”.

He gave the example of Google Flu Trends, which uses keyword searches of “flu like symptoms” to locate the spread of the flu (and other diseases) geographically – much faster than traditional epidemiological techniques. He contrasted these new ways of using Google as a research tool – such as mapping regional differences in language (“soda” versus “pop”) or Thanksgiving eating habits (“sweet potato pie” versus “yams”) – with the traditional equivalents: where sociologists physically drove around the country in “word wagons” collecting data on local language practices. Rogers posed the question what characteristics does internet data contain (such as time stamps) which distinguish it from from these inherited forms of data ike surveys.

He also addressed the ubiquity of Google and how it has transformed the search engine into a mass media resource. But ironically, even from the early days, it was always thought of as a research tool – as stated in Google’s patent application. Rogers explained how to turn off various settings to convert google into your own research engine.

Many of the DMI’s recent works were also on display. Rogers used the Issue Dramaturg tool to reveal a rare incident of a website (a 9/11 conspiracy blog) temporarily disappearing from the Google listings. He examined differences in the language versions of articles in Wikipedia which spoke volumes about how countries represent historical conflicts differently (different death tolls or more provocative photos). We also saw how the health of national internets (as defined by IP address or WhoisGuard) could tell us about what was happening on the ground in conflict zones. But Rogers also stressed caution in applying these approaches uncritically: discussing throughout his talk the messiness and limitations of internet data sets, as well as the politics behind them.

While Rogers explored what was exciting and new about internet research, Latour stressed continuity by relating this new kind of data back to the work of Durkheim’s contemporary Gabriel Tarde. While Durkheim assumed that there was an aggregate called “society”, arising “ex abrupto” out of aggregated individuals, Tarde saw “scale”, in this sense, as a sociological invention. Latour described scale in Tarde’s vocabulary as a function of connectedness between “monads” which are defined by their relations to other monads through a kind of reciprocal possession. Thus for Tarde, the whole is always smaller than its parts – in the sense that a grouping of people is not a container for individuals nor a baseline of shared characteristics, but a few select features within each member.

Some authors have already speculated about the potential application of Latour’s reading of Tarde for the internet (Kulenberg and Palmås 2009) but here and in a forthcoming paper (Latour et al 2012) Latour made this connection explicit. He explained how the internet finally allows us to do sociology in a Tardian way, offering online profiles or CVs as an approximation of a monad in the way they represent internalizations of relations. With the advent of digital methods we now have the ability to see both this individual data and aggregates simultaneously on the same screen with a few clicks. So what has changed is not the basic format of data but the speed at which it can be accessed and zoomed in and out. It was the slowness of surveys and stats that kept collectives and individuals at arms length in the past. Latour also related these techniques to past studies of scientific journals and “paradigms” where this level of individual data has been available for some time.

The momentum continued in the then muggy theatre with a lively question and answer session. Rogers was asked how he triangulated his findings, to which he replied that his team was still nervous about the data but were currently working on triangulating it with other online data. Moderator Noortje Marres similarly wondered if there wasn’t a danger in “going native” – that the methods themselves could format the data – leaving blind spots for the researcher.

An audience member at the end wondered if perhaps this Durkheimian brand of macro-sociology Latour was railing against wasn’t something of a straw man, and that most practitioners of anthropology or social science, at least those in the room, never suffered from these theoretic deficiencies in the first place. Latour agreed that this was not directed at the audience but that there were practitioners (economists?) who very much rely on collectives as objects. As usual, Latour defused tensions with his self-deprecating humour and precise comic timing. When asked by one audience member if there were any special properties of “social” monads which made them distinct from say, bacteria, he pretended to think for a second before tentatively approaching the microphone to bark “non!” to a big laugh.

The general atmosphere seemed to be positive and receptive but not without some healthy skepticism towards the newness of Roger’s techniques or the practicalities of Latour’s “flat ontology”. But as we learned, neither the methods nor the ontology are categorically “new”, merely amplifications of old techniques and a reignition of old concerns. The point where Tarde’s brand of Sociology finally becomes realised through new technology on the internet is still a latent potential, but it’s a tantalizing one.

– David Moats

Photos by Jorge Castillo

References:
Kullenberg, C. and Palmås, K. (2009) “Tarde’s contagiontology: From ant hills to panspectric surveillance technologies” Eurozine http://www.eurozine.com/pdf/2009-03-09-kullenberg-en.pdf

Latour, B. et al 2012 “The Whole is Always Smaller Than It’s Parts A Digital Test of Gabriel Tarde’s Monads” British Journal of Sociology (forthcoming)http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/123-WHOLE-PART-FINAL.pdf

Miller, D. and Slater, D. (2000) The internet: an ethnographic approach. Berg, Oxford & New York

HeHe’s Environmental Method

Video

http://vimeo.com/25615090

Last summer I went to Norwich to watch the artist collective HeHe launch their project Plane Jam from the roof of the Theatre Royal, as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. Below is my report of the day, which I only recently finished and which touches on some themes relevant to this blog, including that of how material settings can be deliberately deployed to produce moral and  political effects, which I think of as ‘environmental method.’

On the Art of Minor Modification in HeHe’s Plane Jam

Noortje Marres

One sunny morning in May I took the train up to Norwich to attend the launch of Plane Jam, a site-specific art project by the Paris-based collective HeHe. The plan was, as promised by the press release sent out in advance, to fly a miniature airplane out of a theatre building, the Theatre Royal in the historical centre of town. The small plane was to emit unusually big — for a plane that size — clouds of white smoke, thus producing a strange and possibly estranging variation on what must be a pretty routine occurrence in a town like Norwich as in many other places, the passing of a plane. The project was intended as a next chapter in a series of HeHe works provisionally called ‘catastrophes domestiques,’ a title whose meaning wasn’t exactly clear to me, but which invoked a range of things, including a number of publicity campaigns initiated by governments and business in recent years, which sought to bring global crises like climate change down to the level of everyday experience, in the process ‘taming’ or ‘domesticating’ these crises, robbing them of their more disturbing features, as well as, quite possibly, their capacity to disturb. (One recent example is a Renault tv commercial which features various very mundane scenes – a dinner in a restaurant, a trip to the supermarket – except that all appliances featured in them – the portable PIN machine; the cash register – are powered by small combustion engines emitting small clouds of smoke.) But HeHe’s project had caught my attention also for a more specific reason, namely as a possible instantiation of a technique that I call – for the moment – ‘environmental method.’

What are environmental methods? The term loosely refers to attempts to deploy material environments to modify human behaviour and/or raise awareness. Such techniques are today being developed in a variety of domains – art, design, human-computer interaction, social science, architecture and urban policy – as the concept of ‘behaviour change’ has come back into fashion, for no doubt complex reasons, which may or may not include a renewed preoccupation with lifestyle, increased popularity of registrational technologies of monitoring and feed-back, and a generalized sense of crisis. Whatever the reason, there are currently a multiplicity of environmental methods under development, those that operate on atmospherics (such as light and heat – eg the light in a chicken barn grows dimmer when the chickens in it get more agitated) and those that produce specific cues (for example, anti-ergonomics which make it hard to turn up a thermostat). Environmental methods, then, tend to involve relatively minor modifications of material settings in order to disturb embodied routines in some determinate way. As such, importantly, environmental methods are suggestive of an alternative account of what ‘environmental awareness’ might consist of. Rather than referring to a cognitive state of insight into the consequences of our actions, as in rational and utilitarian definitions of awareness, environmental methods invite a much more material and embodied account of it: awareness here becomes an effect of the disturbance of habitual, embodied ways of doing things, accomplished by way of the modification of everyday settings. As such, environmental methods also are of special interest aesthetically speaking. Among others, they invite a particular take on what is usually called ‘site-specific art.’ Can site-specific interventions in art, too, be approached as forms of environmental provocation? What kind of operations upon the setting, if at all, are specific to this type of aesthetic intervention?

Arguably, the work of HeHe can be understood as both a creative exploration and critical reflection of environmental methods. Their projects alter everyday settings ever so slightly and sometimes absurdly, introducing fictional elements into mundane environments, like a giant green cloud projected onto a smokestack, as in their most famous project Nuage Vert, or making an iron fly. Thus, in a recent piece, Domestic Catastrophe 1, a flying iron swings around on an invisible wire suspended from a motor fixed to the ceiling, emitting disproportionally large white fumes. In Plane Jam, the project I came to see for myself, HeHe let a small airplane fly our of the Theatre Royal, or more precisely, between the Theatre Royal and the next door Dencora House, a quiet residential block. The insertion of the miniature aeroplane into the historic centre of Norwich, too, effected a minor modification of the setting (even if we should also note that, in some ways, this small intervention wasn’t minor at all, and required extensive negotiations of health and safety regulations). But, as there is no measure by which we can estimate the size of a plane in the sky, a viewer might easily be tricked into believing this was just a plane flying by, except, that is, for the white fluffy smoke and wiggling that only miniature planes do. Only model aeroplanes, that is, make the type of jerky movements that Plane Jam made, meaning that it could never be fully credible as a plane. And the fact there is something off may just be strong enough to catch someone’s eye. It is then through the relatively slight disturbance of a routine circumstance that HeHe’s project seeks to achieve its strongest effect.

In orchestrating minor disturbances of the mundane, one of principal techniques deployed in Plane Jam, as well as other HeHe-engineered domestic catastrophes, is that of the modification of scale. Scale manipulation is a tried and tested method and feature of site-specific art, ever since the land artist Smithson built his Spiral Jetty in the salt lake near Salt Lake City, and produced a video showing a very small looking artist running around in his sizeable artwork (which was filmed from a little aeroplane flying overhead). But scale manipulation in site-specific art – and the more particular tactic of ‘miniturization’ deployed by HeHe – might also be understood as offering a commentary on socially predominant instances of it. One could say that in our societies there is a strict hierarchy of different forms of ‘miniaturization’, and this we need to address. That is to say, as regards the capacities of miniturization – what it is supposed to make possible – there seems to be substantial inequality among different experimental regimes, say science and art and ordinary life. Thus, the scientific laboratory has been described as basically a machine for scale manipulation: by miniaturizing a phenomenon, say the outbreak of a disease or a flood, the laboratory makes the phenomenon made available for human intervention (Latour, 1988). However in other cases, say attempts to bring global environmental issues down to the level of domestic life, in campaigns for sustainable living, miniaturization seems to enable a rather pedagogic mode of being in the world. Here the miniature setting of the home is to make it possible for ordinary (little) people to familiarize themselves with big issues, like resource scarcity or peak oil, but not much more. In the one site, then, the scientific laboratory, miniturization holds the key to power (over nature), while in the other case, the home, it is equated with myopism and ordinary people’s lack of agency. Where should we locate a site-specific intervention like Plane Jam on this scale?

One possibility would be to say that Plane Jam offers a way of scrambling the scales of ‘big’ and ‘small’ scale manipulations, by occupying an uncertain location like the roof of the Theatre Royal, which is neither a domestic space, nor the sacred world of the laboratory, and thus frustrating our learned habits to relegate scale manipulations to either side of the spectrum going from capable laboratory sciences to incapacitated domestic subjects. At the very least, there is an argument we can extract from Plane Jam. And this is its insistence on, and cultivation of, our capacities to see things out of proportion – rather than in proportion. This seems increasingly necessary to the ethical and aesthetic life in technological societies. That is, rather than needing to see things ‘in proportion’ as 19th Century English moralists would have it, we 21st century people need the assumed proportionalities of everyday life to be messed with, in order to be able see things clearly and squarely. Rather than needing to grasp the ‘proper proportions’ between, let’s say, the pleasure we derive from airflight and environmental harm, what we need rather is the proportions of things like aeroplanes and their emissions to be pushed out of order – the more slightly, the better – in order to be able to take notice of them.

Crucially, moreover, we need props to achieve this type of perceptual effect: only with the aid of devices like Plane Jam will we even be able to perceive ‘environmental issues.’ I guess this is how I would like to read the term ‘catastrophe domestique.’ It gives a very particular meaning to the term disturbance, where it is not so much about a wild and sensational provocation of morality for its own sake, but rather the trickery that is today required for anyone to take notice of disturbing affairs that are difficult to localize, and for this reason, among several others, are adequately presented by the figure of the cloud.

Inside and outside Occupy Wall Street

New Tendencies in Economic Sociology

Ann-Christina Lange

At the moment Elizabeth Price’s video installation called ‘Choir’ is running at the New Museum in New York. The 15-minute video brings together a range of visual and auditory material and archival technologies to reflect on spaces of assembly and performance. The photographs and film footage captures visuals that all together sketch out the space of an ecclesiastical auditorium. Afterwards the film stages a sardonic or provocative performance taking the shape of a chorus. The soundtrack underpins the visual impressions involving throwing tambourines and forcing houseguests to chant ‘We Know’ into a microphone around eighty times. A synthesis of architecture creating a collective voice is presented through the installation.

Moving away from this performance another collective assembly is takeing place in the Zuccotti Park close to the New York Stock Exchange at Wall Street. In the park occupants have settled to demonstrate against the neoliberal economic system. Hundreds of people gathering with signs saying “Healthcare not Wealthfare”, “People before profit” and singing statistical numbers of the increasing unemployment rate in the U.S. A girl dressed in a clinical uniform with a sign saying ‘PhD Biochemical scientist seeking full time job’ is giving an interview to a reporter from one of the many news magazines present at the scene.

The encampment of the protesters in itself forms an assembly surrounded by reporters, photographers, tourists and most of all police. Demonstrators have painted their faces like zombies and are eating false dollar bills. The event has been portrayed in the media as a theatre play or mere acting. The New York Times writes that: ‘some people have suggested the Occupy Wall Street protest is a mere form of street theater, that the protesters have a myriad of grievances…’. However, considering the Wall Street Occupation from the perspective of economic sociology something else might be at stake than what comes to the front said in the New York Times. That is, the performance that might not be devalued as merely acting, but staging a new form of social critique within the emergence of an ‘attention’ economy. Thinking of this event in concert with recent tendencies in the field of economic sociology there is no doubt that the Occupy Wall street movement touches upon the intermingling between the field of economics and the social.

The protests located outside Wall Street have spread across the world. They want to gain attention from the government in order to change the current capitalistic regime and claim their right to participate. On Monday in Chicago one sign read: “If corporations are people, why can’t we put them in jail?” The protesters are blaming the banking system of producing social inequality, which they take as proof of a ‘sick system’. MacKenzie and Milo (2003) explores the cultural and legal barriers to the creation of financial derivatives markets in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s and explain the role of economics in undermining those barriers – it seems that the diversions between the social and the capital world are at issue once again.

The material written on socializing finance mainly addresses the tools and devices of financial trading from ‘inside’ the wall of the trading room. However Stark and Prato are currently working on developing a notion of ‘attention spaces’ in a future publication, which might open up for a different interpretation.

The protesters claim sharp dichotomies such as economics versus society and calculation versus sociability. In this case it might even be said that Callon’s (2007) attempt to merge the field of STS with economic sociology legitimizes this point of view – saying that the economists need to make a cut in order to trade implies that the operation of financial models rest on a logic incompatible with a social world. Furthermore, Beunza and Stark (2011) explore the social dimension of quantitative finance through ethnographic studies inside a derivatives trading room of a major investment bank. Their study demonstrates how traders engage in a practice of reflexive modeling (using models to translate stock prices into estimates of what their rivals think in order to detect possible errors in their own models). They found that this practice turns modeling into a vehicle for distributed cognition.

Projecting the argument from inside the trading room to the protests outside of its walls one could say the division leads to resonance where Wall Street becomes a metaphor for the financial industry and, thereby, is to be blamed for the current credit crisis. This means that financial instruments are not just abstracted from the social world and not embedded within society, but are trading the social itself while making cuts and divisions. The models produce an image of the economics as abstracting or trading the social – which might be what the protestors outside Wall Street object to. A vision, of course, co-produced by the media reporting on this event, the signs as well as the bodies themselves are material devices that altogether constitute the assembly in a style similar to the way in which Price wants us to perceive of the choir, the auditorium and its construction of space.

A collective voice is heard screaming over the crowd in the park and around Wall Street accusing the bankers to be criminals – a division in which traders again become gamblers. One of the protestors is quoted in New York Times saying: ‘I think a good deal of the bankers should be in jail’ – again the traders becomes multiple objects and new divisions are produced. The crowd outside Wall Street is, in Beunza and Starks words, ‘a systematic formation of human bodies’ (2012 p. 10) positioned in the streets that form the financial district of Manhattan in full display, and not only dressed up for the city but dressed up for the news and reports around the world. Facing the protesters at Zuccotti Park I felt that such materiality is to be included in the analysis of the sociality of finance. Following an STS approach Beunza and Stark refer to Callon who analyses the materiality of calculation including financial models saying that ‘[m]odels frame decisions and quantify alternatives, thereby exerting a mediating role on financial valuation’ (Beunza and Stark 2012 p. 11).

In continuation, Prato and Stark (2011) attempt to understand how the distribution of attention in markets affects valuation. Looking at trading of securities Prato and Stark investigate the network that are created from the attention allocated from multiple agents to multiple objects saying that ‘the resulting patterns yield a social structure of attention’ (2011 p. 8). Objects are located within a network structure of attention given by the actors who observe and evaluate. The actors are connected by a local space of attention and mediated through objects and not necessarily personally connected. They hypothesize that the more members of a group are proximate in the social space of attention, the more similar will be their assessments of a given entity.

However, testing this in the trading of securities can also be said about economics in general and the demonstrations against Wall Street in particular. That is, how the division between the social and the financial world are made up, that is, how the embeddedness of the economic field within society are sustained by such representations. The last months occupation of Wall Street demonstrates a socio-technical network that directs collective rage (or civil unrest) against the financial sector. The network is part of attention structures that produce divisions and diversions making Wall Street responsible for the economic crisis. From Elizabeth Price’s video installation saying “we know” to financial trading there seems to be a gap of dimensions – one that might be bridged by our understanding of performance pointing towards new tendencies on the field of economic sociology. I suggest that Prato and Stark (2011) do not only contribute to economic sociology by developing a socio-technical account that grasps the new forms of sociality introduced by financial models ‘inside’ the trading room, but also the divisions and diversions it produces outside the walls of the stock exchange. As also Stark and Beunza argues, financial models are ‘disembedded yet entangled’ (2011 p. 3). As if the choir was envisioned as a response to the events outside Wall Street it seems that the protestors were filling a space – almost an architectural staging of resistance proposing a new kind of social critique.

References

Beunza, Daniel and Stark, David (2011): “From Dissonance to Resonance: Cognitive Interdependence in Quantitative Finance.”   Economy and Society, forthcoming.

MacKenzie, Donald and Millo, Yuval (2003): “Constructing a Market, Performing Theory: The Historical Sociology of a Financial Derivatives Exchange.” American Journal of Sociology 109(1):107-145.

Michel, Callon (2007):  “What does it mean to say that economics is performative?  Pp. 311-357 in Donald MacKenzie, Fabian Muniesa, and Lucia Siu, eds.,  Do Economists Make Markets? On the performativity of economics.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Prato, Matteo and Stark, David (2011): “Attention Structures: Cognitive Networks among Security Analysts” , COI working paper.

CSISP Salon One 2011/12: On Scale

The CSISP Salon is an ongoing forum for discussion that seeks to provoke dialogue between (un)complimentary objects. Our theme in the 2011/12 season is scale. Subject matters such as climate change, electronic waste, brands and branding, disasters, or life science data manifest themselves on and in multiple scales (the home, the nucleotide sequence, the environment, the United Nations, the T-Shirt). For the sociologically inclined enquirer, such scales occasion many vexing questions: What to analyse? Where and what to observe? How to integrate different scales? Seeking to grapple with matters and materials of different sizes, visibilities, durations and complexities, we explore the practical and ethical implications of doing and accomplishing scale.

The first Salon of the season met on 26th October. Here, the first three chapters of Jean Ricardou’s late 1960s novel encountered an STS informed provocation piece, written by the organizers of the Scalography event that took place in Oxford in 2009. What follows is a retelling and reshaping of the session, co-organised by Tahani Nadim and Joe Deville.

CSISP Salon poster

CSISP Salon 2011/12 poster

Provocations on ants and scale Tahani Nadim

In their conclusion Woolgar and others suggest to look at the “natural sciences” to escape the conventions of scale and learn about how to do scale somewhat differently. In this Salon, literature, or more specifically, Jean Ricardou’s Place Names (1968[2007]), shows us some interesting even inventive but certainly different routes into the lands of scale.

Jean Ricardou, born 1932, is an author of both fiction and theory. He is one of the key figures in the nouveau roman, a literary genre or rather movement that emerged in the 1950s in France. The new novel rejects – in some cases spectacularly ejects – such things as linear chronology, discernible plot and coherent characters. Readers learn very little about inner motives or the psychology of protagonists and so the nouveau roman collapses the panorama of the novel. There is no evident order, no rational space-time context or other intelligible frame of relations. It is thoroughly disorienting, for readers and characters alike, hence it is particularly apt that this book should offer itself as a guide book.

A guide book is of course a scalar device that allows acting at a distance and makes problems doable: a vast region, too big to take in, becomes neatly ordered for us to peruse. In our case however perusal quickly turns into fluster as this guide book offers little if anything in matters of direction and location. And the meagre bones it does throw quickly disintegrate without leaving even a spot of dust for triangulation. Rather than mapping a region and its sites and sights, Place Names unfolds strange worlds – in pictures, recollections, parks and antique shops – which it is only too happy to collapse at a moments’ notice. The valley’s chequerboard landscape introduced in the beginning pages, is reminiscent of another equally confounding chequerboard – the one encountered by Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Like her, we oftentimes feel as if we’re peering through a looking-glass, we’re not really granted the proper, proportional, proportioned vista. This is not necessarily detrimental to our travels: discrete things such as ants, white flags, mirrors, the crusades, red cars and slightly crazy park wardens enter into fanciful associations and demand of the reader too to entertain curious entanglements.

By denying us a congruous panorama, Place Names and the nouveau roman in general, constitute a provocation. So here we arrive at one possible intersection for Ricardou, Woolgar and others: They can all be considered as provocations. They provoke by confounding our expectation and experiences of scale. Scale requires a vantage point from where to put things in perspective and establish an order, a vantage point that Place Names denies us. Similarly, Woolgar and others provoke on multiple fronts, demanding, among other things, an end to imprudent use of adjectives of scale and an investigation, preferable ethnographic, of scale as an effect of scalar practices. Also, their provocation piece is written, as so many provocations (from Luther to Wittgenstein) were, as a number of theses. Scale is often associated with comfort: objects, relations and ratios of relations are scaled in such a way as to fit our bodies, please our senses and spare our minds. In both texts, scaling or the practices of doing scale perturb some convenient positions.

The second junction I’d like to suggest for the texts relates to their respective or mutual topography: The novel precipitates between two seemingly opposite poles, projecting a “garden of opposition”: On one hand, the belief that things emerge from words, that discourse is generative of reality, that the name precedes the object. On the other hand, the contrary: It is words that name things, and language is but a translation of a prior real reality. Ricardou’s book itself is a product of this very struggle, continuously changing from guide book to novel and back. Woolgar and others too begin by presenting an opposition. Here, this “fundamental split” is between those social scientists that study the macro and those who observe the micro. More fundamentally, this is perhaps the tragedy of scale, locked into a matrix that by default distributes value, worth and relevance unevenly.

Between the two camps, there is not much common ground but there are ants. Lots of them. We encounter them throughout the book. They’re usually in peril: encircled by raging, furious waters, encased in cellophane glued to a plane tree, or subjected to microscopic flamethrowers, they struggle and they perish. Yet they steadily re-appear, sometimes as non-ants as in the figure of the woman in the red car named Atta, a name which also describes leaf-cutter ants. Or the protagonist Olivier Lasius, Lasius referring to a genus of boreal formicine ants. The ants then represent not so much an intractable opposition of scales but point to the fictitious nature of the split between micro and macro. This is not to say that this split has no material consequence. But it suggests some relevant questions, not least of which concern the possibility of ethical practice in incommensurable and incongruous entanglements with words, ants, wars and reading groups.

Scalar frustrations Joe Deville

Ricardou’s traveller frowns at a painting, bending closer to get a better a look at a detail that has drawn his attention. In getting closer, what had seemed so important – a clue to the painting’s meaning perhaps? – changes. He wonders if it is an effect of his shadow. But he can’t be sure. He is left, Ricardou tells us, “disappointed”.

I don’t think it would be a surprise if, in trying to scrutinise our two objects, we too are left with a tinge of disappointment. One way of seeing Ricardou’s account (there are inevitably plenty of others) is as a meditation on the frustrations that accompany the search for clarity and closure. Ricardou toys with his traveller, resists satisfying him with answers, denying him the authority of events, places and history. Many of the things that might help ground his journey, that might provide him a place, a time to think from, to live from, are made to slip and slide around him. And then up pops the poor ant, similarly striving to keep his (six) feet on the ground, as the stone he is on threatens to be engulfed by a miniature flood. This ant is engaged in a very real life and death struggle, to whom the questions which so perplex Ricardou’s traveller seem wholly irrelevant.

Bringing this to this Salon’s themes, one question of the many in the Scalography team’s provocation piece, that perhaps speaks to this sense of frustration, is the following:

“How and why is it so difficult to think scale differently?”

On the one hand, such difficulties are unexpected – they speak to the challenges that often accompany attempts to pin down slippery concepts. On the other, as the provocation piece points towards, there are ways in which, as a social scientist, the frustrations of working with scale matter in some quite particular and important ways. It speaks to the extent to which the problems we explore can come loaded with forms of scalar awareness that shape and are shaped by well worn, stubborn, value-laden patterns of thought. There are also the pressures we might feel for, example, for our work to scale – in particular – up. To speak, for example, to ‘big’, ‘important’, ‘wider’, and ‘relevant’ issues. Or there are the frustrations that accompany the way in which our own work is scaled in particular, unwanted trajectories by others, in REF matrices, for instance.

Here are some areas where the politics of the scalar thinking – both our own and others’ – become apparent to us. These operate around the question of what matters and how this matters (and to whom) (on this, see Isabelle Stengers). Here we can return to Ricardou’s ant. Ricardou seems to pose the reader a question: what is more important: the life of a tiny ant, struggling for security, or the traveller’s struggle for security, manifest in his attempts to pin down the character of the world through which he moves. In these chapters Ricardou does not offer an answer. Instead, the question becomes more specific. Should a traveller, seeing the plight of the ant, extend it a leaf and transport it to safety? Or should he or she, as Ricardou puts it, “on the pretext of shortening the animal’s agony”, crush the ant, judging it as an irrelevance (to the human world anyway) and keep walking? In both cases, the choice is not without consequences. In the first, the ant threatens to “run hither and yon over the guidebook’s pages” – disrupting the attempt by the author to communicate to potential travellers a clear account of the world around them. In the second, the crushed ant’s unwitting revenge is the damp spot left on the traveller’s shoe. This will become a series of guilty footprints marking a trail back to the scene of the minute murder.

One likely lesson from Ricardou is that we shouldn’t look too closely for a meaning behind this apparently ethical allegory, that seems to ask us to compare the value of the small to the value of the big. Perhaps our attention should instead be focused on the value of the question – here brought to the ethical questions that surround the scaling of things: what does matter, to whom, and in what way? And how do things that are variously scaled as small and big interfere and disrupt one another – or not? It is the value of such questions that also cross cuts the Scalography team’s provocation piece. These questions include trying to interrogate how and why things are scaled – but at the same time being attentive to the ways that some things do not scale or are not scaled. This is what they refer to as the ‘uneven play of scalar ethics’ (I’m paraphrasing). It is this uneven play we are confronted by (and confront?) in our own research.

Discussion and questions
Entirely in the spirit of the texts and theme, the discussion conjured a panoply of entities, from bacteria to markets. How can and should we understanding the scaling practiced by different, non- human or more-than-human entities? For example, to what extent are scalar categories like ‘the individual’ appropriate in the case of an ant, or bacteria (see the work of Myra Hird). The issue of scale has received considerable attention from human geographers. Particularly, in circles that choose to follow the ostensibly very small in order to draw up detailed material geographies, like water voles or bacteria. The text “Of eagles and flies: orientations toward the site” by Woodward et al. was mentioned. In this and other works the emphasis is on the production of singularity, hence the problem is not one of scale but of kind. There remains however always the (methodological) question about how small to go? What do you, for example, decide to pursue and make representative for an issue such as “electronic waste”? To what extent do concepts, ideas, linguistic devices, hold together and continue to operate as they try to speak to entities operating with different types of scalar effects? Scalar transformation can also obfuscate certain purifications – tempting us into ignoring the messy work that accompanies the movement of entities up/down different scalar registers. Similarly, the “small” should not be fetishized by endowing it with some a priori privilege in accessing more ethical perspectives. Yet, how can this be productively attended to? Another line of enquiry focused, more self-reflexively, on our position vis-à-vis current political transformations. What are, for example, the scalar politics of the ‘big’ society? Are we seeing forms of political action being rescaled and thereby co-opted and at the same time marginalized? With reference to Annelise Riles‘ work on networks, we wondered how to account for the problem of scale as a “figure seen twice”: as both a circulating concept and a lived, experienced encounter.