Evelyn Ruppert, Goldsmiths, University of London
SLOM:lab owes its existence to a particular situation and intellectual project. It follows from work we did as postdoctoral researchers who met during various moments in the ten-year period when the Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change (CRESC) was funded by the ESRC (2004-2014). While continuing in a limited form till 2017 thanks to continued investments by the University of Manchester and The Open University, we have all moved on to new jobs and projects. That said, it is through the support of the continued investment in CRESC that many of us were able to meet again and reflect on what initially brought us together. Critically, it was in relation to a research theme that joined us intellectually during our time working at the Centre that continues to join us across disciplines, jobs and interests. It was a crosscutting theme known as The Social Life of Methods (SLOM), which continues to animate our relations and discussions. Currently convened by Hannah Knox, it was initially led by John Law, Evelyn Ruppert and Mike Savage who outlined the theme in a CRESC working paper. In brief that paper advanced the argument that methods are both shaped by and shaping of the social worlds we research and seek to know. A number of CRESC-related publications followed from this early work including two journal special issues with contributions from many CRESC researchers: The Device (Journal of Cultural Economy) and The Social Life of Methods (Theory, Culture & Society). Additionally, John Law and Evelyn Ruppert edited a book, Modes of Knowing: Resources from the Baroque, with a new academic open access publisher, Mattering Press.
It is worth noting that SLOM was introduced at a particular and arguably critical moment in the genealogy of social science research methods. It was a moment when new and innovative social science research methods were being introduced and also proliferating in locations outside of the academy. New methodological repertoires were emerging that go beyond text and number to engage with visual, digital, audio and other registers of sensing, knowing and enacting worlds. And expanding methodological work was happening in governments, community organizations and the private sector that challenge the hegemony of social science methods. It is in relation to these and other developments that we sought to bring critical attention to what we identified as the politics of a changing terrain of knowledge practices. Additionally, we identified these changes as not simply methodological but involving epistemological and ontological assumptions. For those reasons SLOM called for reflexivity and answerability to the methodological choices and worlds we and others are making.
When we gathered together some years later in 2016 we found that many of these questions and issues continue to permeate our research albeit in varying ways. But that we think is one of the strengths of SLOM – it is a ‘living’ concept that is generative of different modes of thought, experimentation and practice. Indeed, through various projects – which we will gather together on this website - our continued work with the theme has further elaborated questions of change, ontology, temporality, failure, power, anticipation, technological mediation and speculation. It has also opened up questions of the pragmatics of doing risky research; the challenges of working with large research teams and doing transdisciplinary projects; the implications of rapid response rather than slow research; and the ethics of participatory and collaborative research with humans and nonhumans. No doubt more questions permeate our work but these exemplify some of our past and current concerns with method.
We seek to continue our discussions and the development of what SLOM is and could be by connecting and reflecting on our various empirical, practical and theoretical engagements. It is through those engagements that we aim to develop how and why thinking about the social life of methods matters to our work and the kinds of responsibilities it imposes upon us.