In the last blog post I considered what might be involved in 'noticing' the methodological process of collaging workshops, held in July 2016. I suggested that the emphasis is not so much on what is produced (the finished collages, for instance) but on what was happening in the room.
In thinking through this idea more, playfulness and the uncertainty of the future have emerged as productive points. In both 2003 and 2016 (see Blog post Collaging workshops I: 10/12/2016), the workshops were absorbing and enjoyable activities – for both the girls and me. It was also noticeable how the task of collaging futures and experiences of bodies soon became collective activities – partly because materials needed to be shared and there was a swapping of glue, scissors and so on, and also because certain materials became popular. So, for example, in the 2003 sessions, one girl began using pipe cleaners and soon others started to as well.
Collages by Chloe and Tina, 2003.
Drawing attention to a collective or individual sense of enjoyment may seem insignificant, but I think it’s interesting for a number of reasons. For one thing, there’s something to say about social science methodologies being fun and playful. This is perhaps especially important in the context of what Roger Burrows and Mike Savage (2007) call the ‘coming crisis of empirical sociology’, where they note that methods initially developed by sociology and wider social sciences (such as interviews, and surveys) are increasingly employed in commercial sectors – meaning both that the methodological expertise by which sociology has traditionally defined itself no longer belong to it alone, and that new audiences and markets are being enrolled in what are sometimes more agile and fun versions of these methods. So the question of how social sciences might re-develop their own methods that are themselves fun is crucial. There is then a politics and ethics to how this question might be addressed.
In the next blog post, I’m going to explore the specific materials that were engaged with as fun and playful in the collaging workshops with girls, focusing especially on glitter. However, the question of the politics and ethics of play and uncertainty has been something I’ve been talking about with Tara Page (Educational Studies, Goldsmiths) and Helen Palmer (English, Kingston). We’ve recently run two workshops as part of new materialist events – the COST New Materialism Training School, Research Genealogies and Material Practices, Tate Modern, 27-29th May 2016 and the 7th Annual Conference on the New Materialisms, University of Warsaw, Poland, 21-23 September 2016.
‘Material Methods' workshop, Tate Modern, May 2016. With Tara Page and Helen Palmer.
In both of these workshops, we’ve asked participants to engage in embodied and sensory ways with local spaces (their journey to Tate Modern and the spaces surrounding the Warsaw conference), and to bring experiences and materials from them into the workshops. These materials might be sketches or photographs, written accounts, or phenomena collected from the journeying, such as train tickets, leaves, and fliers. Tara has led this part of the workshops. Led by Helen, we’ve then asked them to translate these sensory experiences into words, and have made collective and individual word-poems out of them. In the next part of the workshops, which I’ve led, these experiences and words become part of collages, in assemblage with other materials including paper, pens, post-it notes, sticky foam letters and magazines.
One of the aims of the workshops has been to explore the translations of materials into different media (words, collages) and to reflect on the methodological and practical processes of doing so. We've encouraged discussion throughout the workshops, and have also left time to talk about these issues at the end of the sessions.
'Methodologies, Materials, Materialisations' workshop, Warsaw, September 2016.
With Tara Page and Helen Palmer.
Many people have expressed their enjoyment of participating in the workshops. Some have said that they have liked working in a playful way with these materials. Some have said that they have welcomed the unfinished or temporary status of the workshops; we’ve not asked for finished or aesthetically pleasing materialisations (poems or collages), but instead for participants to play with the materials, and to think about what’s happening when they’re doing this. Most of the collages have been thrown away at the end of the workshops. Some have also appreciated doing this within contexts where academic ideas and philosophies are explored primarily through talking and listening. The workshops might be ‘time out’ of or respite from the schedule of paper presentations, allowing for a different way to explore new materialist ideas through doing.
However, some participants have also expressed discomfort and anxiety with the format and aims of the workshops. If there are no outputs from them (at least in terms of how 'outputs' are usually understood), what have we been doing in the workshops? What has been learnt? Would it have been more productive to have gone to a presentation of papers instead?
These questions themselves raise further questions about the nature and status of play. What does it mean to play with materials in a temporary, processual or non-output-focused manner? What is involved in doing this in an academic context, where professional, critical and analytical modes of being are often cultivated? What are the politics and ethics of doing this, taking into consideration the power relations and hierarchies of academic work, where it may be difficult for some people more than others to build and maintain an academic mode of embodiment? And/or where there may be differently positioned people within the room – from early career researchers to established professors? And/or where people come from different backgrounds, which facilitate different relationships with materials, play and uncertainty, and outputs?
We don’t have answers to these questions - although we plan to keep returning to them. They are, though, posed through a focus on putting to work and reflecting back on new materialist ideas, and through a focus on the methodological process.
Roger Burrows and Mike Savage (2007) ‘The Coming Crisis of Empirical Sociology’, Sociology, 41(5): 885-899.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve begun presenting some of the research for the Engaging Futures book for the first time, at the 7th Annual Conference on the New Materialisms in Warsaw and the Debates in New Materialisms II: Feminism, Politics, Corporealities, Onto-Epistemologies event in London. The papers have focused on workshops with teenage girls held in the summer of 2016, where they collaged imaginations of their futures. These workshops will constitute one case study chapter in the book.
The 2016 workshops drew on image-making sessions with teenage girls in 2003, where I’d asked them to collage experiences of their bodies (see The Becoming of Bodies, 2009). Change and transformation had emerged as key in these earlier collages.
Anna’s collage, for example, highlights how understandings of a person may change depending on whether they are based on looks and appearance or ‘what’s inside’.
In juxtaposing a photograph of herself with images from mainstream women’s magazines and writing ‘I wish’, Fay’s collage indicates what she experiences her body to be, and what she would like it to become. Here, then, the issue of change and transformation – the future-orientation of the becoming of bodies – is key.
In the 2016 workshops, I took up this emphasis on futurity. However, rather than focus on the collages themselves as outputs, I want instead to concentrate on the making of the collages. This is to shift attention from an analysis and interpretation of the collages as finished products to the methodological process itself.
In part, this involves what, in the context of a concern with affect, Kathleen Stewart (2007) and Lisa Blackman and Couze Venn (2010) have termed a different kind of ‘noticing’. In our Introduction to Deleuze and Research Methodologies (2013), Jessica Ringrose and I suggested that this is a noticing of the becoming of the world; in these workshops, it is a noticing of what is happening in the room, and what happens afterwards with what is produced.
One way of noticing what was happening in the workshops was to document them with photographs.
This process involved me focusing on specific movements and activities in the room, which included thinking about how to visually document the girls, the materials and the room in line with the ethical approval I had been granted, where participants and the school must be anonymised. Photographing the table on which the resources for collaging were spread and the collages made was one way of doing this.
After the workshops, I also cropped the photographs so that the girls’ faces and school uniforms (where the school badge was embroidered) and other identifying signs in the classroom were not in the picture.
In these photographs, the relations between human and non-human materialities are highlighted; hands, paper, glue, scissors, craft materials, the table, chairs, cutting, tearing, sticking, participate in the making of the collages. This may be a mundane point to make; but it is also a noticing of what happens in and with this methodological process.
Practices such as photographing and cropping are important, both in terms of how a social scientific researcher’s eye becomes trained on certain things during the research itself, and the kinds of images that may be published and circulated. I am not suggesting that social scientific ethical guidelines are unnecessarily restrictive or unhelpful, but rather that the ways in which they inflect and become entangled with the research process may not always be reflected on. For example, in the images from 2003, I blanked out the faces of the participants in the Polaroid photographs that became part of some of the collages, but did not explicitly acknowledge or write about the ethical decision-making involved in this, or the technique and its effects/affects.
In noticing what happens in a room and afterwards in the process of making images suitable for dissemination, a range of questions are posed.
* What kinds of ethical problems regarding inclusion, anonymity, and ‘impact’ do visual and inventive methodologies raise?
* How are these problems considered and made explicit in the dissemination of research?
* What human and non-human materialities emerge as significant in the processes of doing research?
* Are the text-based modes of disseminating the data, outputs and findings of research that are conventionally used – essays, books, etc – appropriate for such research processes?
I recognise that in some ways posing further questions of ethics, noticing, documenting and disseminating is frustrating. However, at the same time it draws attention to the relative novelty of taking seriously the methodological process. And it is also an integral part of an experimental, inventive or speculative methodology concerned with futurity. As Alex Wilkie, Mike Michael and Matthew Plummer-Fernadez put it: 'methodology becomes less a case of answering a pre-known research question […] than a process of asking inventive, that is, more provocative questions where intervention stimulates latent social realities, and thus facilitates the emergence of different questions' (Wilkie et al 2014: 4).
Blackman, Lisa and Venn, Couze (2010), ‘Affect’, Body and Society, 16(1): 7–28.
Coleman, Rebecca (2009) The Becoming of Bodies: Girls, Images, Experience, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Coleman, Rebecca and Ringrose, Jessica (2013) ‘Introduction: Deleuze and Research Methodologies’, in Coleman, Rebecca and Ringrose, Jessica (eds.) Deleuze and Research Methodologies, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Stewart, K. (2007), Ordinary Affects, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Wilkie, Alex, Michael, Mike and Plummer-Fernadez, Matthew (2014) 'Speculative method and Twitter: Bots, energy and three conceptual characters', The Sociological Review, online first, 14.08.2014: 1-23.
The Engaging Futures book and other related projects have experimentation and speculation at their heart. In this spirit, this is an occasional blog where I hope to try out ideas and reflect on research-in-process.
Partly, the idea for this comes out of an uncertainty about how a multi-media project - which deliberately seeks to generate still and moving images and sounds - can be captured and disseminated in an academic book. The new Goldsmiths Press is admirably enquiring into such an issue, aiming to 'cut across disciplinary boundaries and blur the distinction between practice and theory, experimentation and convention and between the academic, literary and artistic'. As well as full-length monographs, the Press will also publish more provisional and non-standard work, which may include briefs, sketchbooks and blogposts. Engaging Futures has been deliberately designed along these lines.
It is relatively straightforward to see how a digital or online book may include different materials and media - as one example, see Sarah Pink, Yoko Akamba and participants' recent book Un/Certainty on how images and videos created within a workshop on design, ethnography and futures may be made into an e-book. But, it is more tricky to think through how a print book may do this. So, in addition to trying out and reflecting on ideas as they develop, the blog will also act as a space to deposit some images, videos, and sound pieces that may not make it into the book. In this sense, it will accompany any print versions of Engaging Futures that may be published, and act as a site where readers/viewers may themselves engage further with them. Other pages on the site will also be updated as I go along, and I also hope to share some of the inspiring work on temporality, the new materialisms and inventive methodologies by other people here too.