Rebecca Coleman, Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
One of the central lessons I take from the CRESC work on the social life of method is that methods actively participate in the making of worlds. In this post, I sketch out some of the conceptual background to how I am taking up this important insight in a current book developing methods for studying futures. The book, titled Engaging Futures: Methods, Materials, Media (which is under contract for the Future Media Book Series, Goldsmiths Press), is a speculative, interdisciplinary multi-media project that draws on a series of methodological experiments concerning temporality, and futurity especially. In particular, I’m interested in making connections between the CRESC work and other arguments about methodologies and methods that have recently emerged in sociology and other social sciences, and the new materialisms.
To say that methods make worlds is to reformulate a distinction between ontology and epistemology; between a real world somehow ‘out there’ waiting for researchers to discover and uncover, and the systems of knowledge and practices via which researchers study that world. It is thus to see methods as performing (Vannini 2015), enacting (Law and Urry 2004), or inventing (Lury and Wakeford 2012) the world (at least in part). While these accounts of methods have their own distinctive trajectories and cannot be collapsed into each other, what they have in common is a concern with how methods can create novelty. They are in this sense future-oriented.
Andrew Barry, Georgina Born and Gisa Weszkalnys argue that:
An invention can be understood as the introduction of a type of novelty into a particular domain, one that cannot be explained away as the consequence of pre-existing factors or forces, and which serves to protend and open up the space of future possibilities’ (2008: 25-26).
For Barry, Born and Weszkalnys, invention can be a hallmark of interdiscipinarity. In the sense that they propose here, interdisciplinary work is ‘oriented towards making a difference’ (Lury and Wakeford 2012: 11). Inventive methods, Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford explain, ‘are able to grasp the here and now in terms of somewhere else, and in doing so – if they can also change the problem to which they are addressed – they expand the actual, inventively’ (2012: 12, reference omitted). Inventive methods are interdisciplinary – entangling practices and concerns developed in specific contexts, putting them to work in others, and potentially creating new contexts. They are also world-making in that they may ‘expand the actual’. And they are also processual, open-ended, and future-oriented; they introduce novelty into a situation and in so doing both engage the present in terms of ‘somewhere else’ and ‘open up the space of future possibilities’.
The issues of novelty and the future are also of concern in recent new materialist work. Through its focus on matter as in the process of materialisation, one important aspect of the new materialisms is an understanding of the world as open-ended, and with the potential to become different/ly. Materialities are future-oriented temporalisations, where temporality is non-linear; the future is not that which inevitably unfolds from the past and present in a causal fashion, but is better understood as a virtual possibility that may, and may not, be actualised.
More specifically, while the new materialisms has until now been a largely theoretical field, some approaches to methodologies and research practice/practice research are beginning to emerge (e.g. Hickey-Moody and Page 2015, Barrett and Bolt 2013, Manning and Massumi 2014, as well as a number of practice-focused workshops taking place at new materialist conferences and training schools; see references below). In the Introduction to their collection, Anna Hickey-Moody and Tara Page argue that ‘[p]ractices, teaching and art production practices are modes of thought already in the act. Contemporary arts practices call us to think anew, through remaking the world materially and relationally’ (2015: 1). Here, then, they draw attention to the processual and entangled qualities of practice; thought and act are relational and material processes of making, and these processes are creative. Put slightly differently, new materialist research practices are oriented to the new and novel.
A further contribution to new materialist research practice is explained in Barbara Bolt’s introduction to her and Estelle Barrett’s collection, Carnal Knowledge: Towards a ‘New Materialism’ Through the Arts (2013), where she inquires into the matter of creative arts practices. Arguing that ‘art is a material practice and that materiality of matter lies at the core of creative practice’ (2013: 5), Bolt notes that, nevertheless, ‘[t]he material facts of artistic practice appear so self-evident and integral to our understanding of art that it might seem unremarkable to frame them in terms of the material turn’ (2013: 5). In other words, while materials are an integral part of – indeed they are core to – artistic practice, they are not always reflected upon. Framing materials in terms of the ‘new materialist turn’ therefore enables an explication of their properties and the work they do. For Bolt, ‘materials’ refer to a wide range of ‘bodies that enable art to come into being – the material bodies of artists and theorists, the matter of the medium, the technologies of production and the immaterial bodies of knowledge that form discourse around art’ (2015: 7).
The discussion so far clearly raises a number of issues that are beyond the scope of this post. However, given the connections between these emerging and sometimes disparate fields of research, in the book I’m currently working on, I pose a number of questions regarding method:
Across all of these deliberately wide-ranging case studies is a concern with how different methods, media and materials engage and produce temporality. For example, I ask, what materials and media emerge as significant in these case studies? I will discuss how glitter became a popular and productive material in the collaging workshops, how I worked with the cardboard packages in which Amazon products were delivered in the mail art project, and how different mediums produce different encounters with time on the walks. Indeed, a particular aim of the book is not to employ methods on or to time and futurity, but to develop temporal methods; that is, to deploy and reflect upon a range of approaches to engage temporality. In this sense, in emphasising and attending to the material processes of research, the book is interested in both the research process, and the processual quality of temporality, exploring the ways in which futures are in the making.
More information on the book, including an occasional blog on research-in-process, can be found at temporalrepertoires.org
Barad, K. (2007), Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Barrett, E. and Bolt, B. (eds.) (2013) Carnal Knowledge: Towards a ‘New Materialism’ Through the Arts, New York: I.B. Tauris.
Barry, A. Born, G. and Weszkalnys, G. (2008) ‘Logics of Intedisciplinarity’, Economy and Society, 37(1): 20-49.
Deleuze, G. and Parnet, C. (1977/2002) Dialogues II, London: The Athlone Press.
Hickey-Moody, A. and Page, T. (eds.) (2015) Arts, Pedagogy and Cultural Resistance: New Materialisms, Washington: Rowan and Littlefield.
Law, J. and Urry, J. (2004) “Enacting the Social”, Economy and Society, 33(3): 390-410.
Lury, C. (ed.) (forthcoming) International Handbook of Interdisciplinary Research Methods, London: Routledge.
Lury, C. and Wakeford, N. (2012), ‘Introduction: A Perpetual Inventory’, in (eds.) Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social, London: Routledge: pp. 1-24.
Manning, E. and Massumi, B. (2014) Thought in the Act, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Vannini, J (ed) (2015) Non-Representational Methodologies: Re-Envisioning Research, London: Routledge.
7th Annual Conference on the New Materialisms, University of Warsaw, Poland, 21-23 September 2016.
COST New Materialism Training School, Research Genealogies and Material Practices, Tate Modern, 27-29th May 2016.