Workshop on ‘Scopic Media’

Short before this year draws to a close I was invited to present my research on intranet software as part of a workshop on ‘scopic media’ held in Constance. The research group, led by Karin Knorr Cetina, is part of the DFG-funded program “Mediatized Worlds” which involves different people and institutions exploring the increasing mediatisation in contemporary societies. Studies include research on everyday communicating practices and their networking capabilities as well as the making of political positions in parliamentary offices transpiring through digital media. But also so-called “de-mediatisation” strategies already occurring in the business sector are investigated. More information on the overall framework and current projects can be found here.

In my presentation I concentrated on the practice of searching for a colleague on the intranet in which the corporate directory plays a siginificant part. As I illustrated, the directory enhances the physical reality of my informants by making available information they require in order to understand requests send via the internal company network. In doing so, the directory works as a classification system sustaining everyday work processes. The workshop offered insights into the work and concepts of the research group, but also stimulated my own analysis; it encouraged to look at the intranet as a partial scopic medium.

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STS Conference Graz 2014

This year’s conference is entitled “Critical Issues in Science and Technology” and takes place on May 5-6. It covers five conference themes – Gendered Careers and Disciplinary Cultures in Science and Technology, Life Sciences/Biotechnology, Low-Carbon Energy Systems, Challenges in Green Public Procurement (GPP) and Sustainable Food Systemsas well as 10 special sessions. I’ll be part of the special session “The politics of ICTs”, organised by Astrid Mager and Doris Allhutter. My paper is entitled “The politics of intranet software: from wholeness to diversity”, it covers research findings from my dissertation.

For more Information see the conference programme. The STS Conference Graz 2014 is the joint annual conference of STS – the Institute of Science, Technology and Society Studies at Alpen-Adria-Universitaet Klagenfurt – Vienna – Graz; IFZ – the Inter-University Research Centre for Technology, Work and Culture and IAS-STS – the Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society.

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

A glimpse on the world of the practice theory reading group.

The short walk from the train station to the reserve takes just a few minutes. While everyone is still deep in conversation, we enter the ‘visitor centre’ and we see birds- on postcards, maps, cups and books. A range of binoculars and telescopes are displayed along the centre’s front window. As we buy our tickets, we learn about the benefits of becoming a member. We make our way through the shop and to the back door, into the reserve.

The nature reserve Leighton Moss is located very close to Lancaster; it just takes a 15 minutes train ride to Silverdale and a short walk to the visitor centre, the entrance of the reserve. Located at the edge of Morecambe Bay, Leighton Moss covers the largest area of reed beds in the Northwest and is therefore home to a variety of bird species.

The Practice Reading Group (now the “Anteater Reading Group”) not only engages in discussion but occasionally also gains insights into the actual performance of specific practices. In the past this has included, for instance, a session on fire lighting. The surprising fact that lighting British fireplaces involves specific tools and competences one may have to learn made us gather for some understanding about this practice. This time, the fact that some participants of the group have insider-knowledge of birdwatching made the rest of us curious to find out more about it.

Our “birdwatching-in-practice” had already started when we prepared to wear warm and waterproof clothes and organised to bring at least a few binoculars. As we found out, the latter are quite significant for the accomplishment of birdwatching. Moreover, the reading of Law and Lynch’s (1988) text on birdwatching served as a very good preparation for our exploration. The text illuminates the relationship between observing and identifying birds and thereby created awareness that seeing birds and recognising species is very much related to guide books that classify and categorise them by pointing out relevant characteristics. In so doing, these books somewhat extend the moment of observation in favour of identifying bird species.

Entering the reserve we decided to go along a short trail since the sun was already getting down. Leighton Moss features three ‘nature trails’ and seven hides, these hides are shelters that simply cover from the rain and cold, they also have benches in front of the windows. The windows may be tilted up, especially necessary when observing birds with binoculars. Our first stop along the trail was Lilian’s hide where everyone was quite excited to look at maps and bird-classifications hanging on the wall. At the second and third hide, we sat down and silently exchanged binoculars while trying to see and identify the birds in front of us. This involves, first of all, adjusting one’s eyes to the environment so as to be able to distinguish between, for instance, grass or reed and the bird. Secondly, especially as an apprentice, one has to follow the gaze some of the insiders in order to see the bird and to identify relevant features. Obviously, this is the moment where maps and books (and possibly postcards, etc.) become of importance again. But at this stage our group was mainly engaged with the seeing-part of birdwatching which appeared in our case almost like a shared meditative observation. In fact, the focus on recording and collecting bird species, a focal element of the practice of birdwatching, was rather let aside.

Nevertheless, some of us fortunately listed the birds we saw and recognised: a grey heron, a little egret, a robin and a starling (both along the trail), a pheasant, a marsh harrier, a blackbird- just to name a few. We also saw a great variety of ducks and wetland birds and, to our great excitement, a big stag appearing at dawn. Back at the train station, while waiting for the train, we heard a tawny owl somewhere close in the dark.

Acknowledgements:
Thanks again to Marton Fabok who organised the trip and provided the necessary details on the variety of bird species for this text.

The text appeared in “The Lancaster Sociologist”, Michaelmas 2013. Thanks to Lizzie Houghton for editing the text.

References:
Law, J. and Lynch, M. (1988) “Lists, Field Guides, and the Descriptive Organization of Seeing: Birdwatching as an Exemplary Observational Activity”. Human Studies 11(2/3): 271-303.

Beyond the “practice turn” – what’s next? Conference at the IHS, Vienna

On June 6th and 7th the Sociology Department at the IHS hosts the conference entitled “From ‘practice turn’ to ‘praxeological mainstream’?”. Keynote speakers involve Ted Schatzki, Andreas Reckwitz, Alan Warde and Robert Schmidt.

Theories of practice rely on a variety of backgrounds informing different understandings and concepts. Since the proclamation of a practice turn in the social sciences, the notion of practice has been further developed and taken up in a variety of fields informing different research topics, such as organisation studies, consumer research and, more recently, social change and stability. The conference takes up these developments and asks to what extent the multiple backgrounds shaping the different conceptions do share a common understanding and, moreover, how theories of practice can be linked to existing theories as well as methodological approaches in the social sciences.

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During the conference 45 papers will be presented in twelve sessions. My paper is entitled “Mind the gap! Intranets, theories of practice and the micro-macro divide” and proposes to rethink so-called “micro” and “macro” layers of analysis, a distinction prevalent in the social sciences. In particular, I argue that the conceptual focus on the dynamics and change of practices constitutes a way to move beyond this separation. These considerations are based on my dissertation research on intranet software which takes into account the global distribution of intranets in contemporary office life.

For further information, please check the website or download the programme here.

No conference fee — all welcome!