Out now: Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited (MIT Press)

Representation in Scientific Practice, published by the MIT Press in 1990, helped coalesce a long-standing interest in scientific visualization among historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science and remains a touchstone for current investigations in science and technology studies. This volume revisits the topic, taking into account both the changing landscape of STS and the emergence of new imaging technologies in scientific practice. It offers cutting-edge research on a broad array of fields that study information as well as short reflections on the evolution of the field by leading scholars, including some of the contributors to the 1990 volume.

Our chapter Networked Neuroscience discusses the conditions that make brain scans authoritative visual objects and analyses three important dimensions of scans. We show how scans are increasingly parts of suites of networked technologies, rather than standalone outputs. We then trace the increasing presence of databases of scans in the constitutions of atlases and the consequences of ʻdatabase logicʼ for visualisations. The third related development is the role of scans as interfaces, where they serve to open up a range of possibilities, rather than to stand in as a fixed representation. Together, these dimensions help characterise the visual in digital and networked settings of contemporary science, and enable us to trace how the very concept of the authoritative image has been transformed.

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Staging the Studio – forthcoming publication

One of the final fruits of our labor will be published next year: A contribution to “Hiding Making, Showing Creation. The Studio from Turner to Tacita Dean.” In: Esner, Kisters & Lehmann (eds.), Amsterdam University Press. The chapter is called Staging the Studio: Enacting Artful Realities through Digital Photography and focuses on some of the complex relationships between artistic creation and forms of photographic documentation and (web-based) display. It does so through the lens of fieldwork done at the Rijksakademie for the visual arts in Amsterdam in 2009-10.

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What difference does a website make?

A website that presents the collection through gorgeous visuals is now considered a must for any self-respecting museum. Photographs of objects, of exhibitions and of the museum itself are increasingly frequent interfaces, linking museums, visitors, experts, collections. How are users engaged by these interfaces? Which skills and strategies are needed for this engagement? What are the consequences of visually mediated interfaces for users of digital knowledge in/about/from museums, archives, and other collections? These developments are discussed in terms of their consequences for how museums view their role in a recent article written with Sarah de Rijcke, Image as Interface: consequences for users of museum knowledge. It appears in a special issue of the journal Library Trends on ‘Involving Users in the Co-Construction of Digital Knowledge in Libraries, Archives, and Museums.’

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Current labour of love…

… is the finalisation of a chapter for the edited volume New Representation in Scientific Practice, edited by Catelijne Coopmans, Mike Lynch, Janet Vertesi & Steve Woolgar. MIT Press.

Our contribution is entitled:
Networked neuroscience: brain scans and visual knowing at the intersection of atlases and databases

Anne Beaulieu and Sarah de Rijcke

Abstract
Brain scans have been in heavy circulation these past 20 years as some of the most fascinating and ubiquitous digital images in scientific and cultural spheres. In this chapter, we analyze how the scans are both digital and networked images that depend on suites of technologies (Shove 2007) for their constitution and meaning. In particular, we will show how the production and reading of brain scans function in different suites, some of which reinforce a modernist, mechanical, pipeline approach to brain imaging, where digital images are acted upon as measurements, and others that highlight the interactive and interventionist potential of digital imaging, where brain scans are constituted as fluid animations. We argue that brain scans come to be associated with specific kinds of authority through complex ecologies of visualization routines in digital visual culture. In particular, brain scans are focal points in arrangements of scanning and database technologies, constituted in electronic networks where individual experiences are mediated by interfaces. New modes of seeing and novel technologies co-evolve with adjustments in particular epistemic approaches, at times resembling earlier practices and at times moving towards new kinds of objectivity.

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Exciting conference coming up!

In March, scholars of visualisation and digital imaging will gather for what promises to be a great event entitled Visualisation in the age of computerisation. The call for papers can be found on the conference website. Deadline is 1 December.

We will be submitting an abstract for this conference, on one of complex topic we’ve been investigating in this project, at the intersection of STS and new media studies. We’ll be trying to characterise the epistemological styles we have  found around networked, digital images–in other words, analysing the new forms of visual knowledge practices around databases of images. Watch this space!

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Insights on visual digital scholarship

A geat piece by Tara McPherson has recently appeared. Not only does it contain important insights about the first few years of experimentation at the journal Vectors, but is also describes important efforts to rethink scholarly communication in relation to the visual and to the archive. Topics close to our hearts here at Net Real.

Go read this!

Scaling Vectors: Thoughts on the Future of Scholarly Communication

Tara McPherson
Journal of Electronic Publishing
Volume 13, Issue 2, Fall 2010
DOI: 10.3998/3336451.0013.208

Abstract

This essay proposes that bold new forms of experimentation and bookishness are necessary if we are to advance (and perhaps save) scholarly publishing in the humanities. Possible issues facing presses are considered through consideration of two examples in scholarly publishing that involve the author. The first example, the experimental journal Vectors, highlights the advantages and limits of certain types of multimodal scholarly communication for the humanities. The second example, the new Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, points toward new methods of workflow and publishing that link archives, scholars, and presses. The essay ends with a list of key questions that presses will need to address as various stakeholders collectively expand what we understand humanities publishing to be.

 

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Network realism in the States

Coming up: the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts annual conference in Indianapolis (28-31 October), the Reimagining the Archive conference at UCLA (12-14 November), and a two-week stay in San Diego (UCSD) in the middle. I’m looking forward to all three!

The first talk, in Indianapolis, will focus on the production, handling, and dissemination of images of art at the Rijksakademie for the visual arts in Amsterdam – a setting where new, networked technologies blend with existing documentation practices. I am interested in the entanglement of images and art works with the institute’s image database. In addition, I focus on how the visual documentation relates to the complex experience of making/seeing art objects. And how do these documentation practices relate to other electronic settings and networks in which the images might circulate (artist’s website, Flickr, sites galleries, etc.)?

The talk at the science studies colloquium at UCSD will center around our project label “Network Realism:” a new form of visual knowing, taking place at the intersection of digital images and computer networks at the point where they purport to convey the ‘real’. I will discuss results from our fieldwork at four sites where network realism is central: the Rijksakademie for the visual arts; the Tropenmuseum (an ethnographic museum); real estate database Funda; and Flickr as used by scholars who study street art. At each of the fieldsites, images are part of databases and circulate in complex electronic networks in ways that are not reducible to, but are intimately related to their digital format. The manipulation of digital images in networks enables other kinds of knowledge than those possible by physical co-presence with the objects represented.

At the  UCLA conference, our contribution will focus on networked knowledge and epistemic authority in the development of virtual museums, based on the fieldwork pursued at the Tropenmuseum. In light of the popular claim that new technologies will radically reconfigure existing socio-technical relations and dramatically alter the basis for scientific and scholarly authority, we will argue that it is important to draw attention to emerging forms of epistemic authority in relation to pre-existent institutional and infrastructural elements.

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