Network Realism. Making knowledge from images in digital infrastructure is a research programme of the Virtual Knowledge Studio in Amsterdam. The Virtual Knowledge Studio (VKS) is an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The VKS pursues research on the interaction between knowledge and technology, and supports various activities and projects on the topic of visualisation and visual culture (Cyswik, workshop about visualisation in Fall 2009). A bibliography can be found at the bottom of this page.
In this project, researchers investigate ethnographically an aspect of visual culture called ‘network realism’, in order to understand how mediation and knowledge production are entwined in the use of databases of images. Four case studies form the empirical component of this project, and are all sites where digital images on the web are used.
Sarah de Rijcke and Anne Beaulieu are both working on this project, in collaboration with the Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunsten and the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, and with users of Funda and Flickr. This research will lead to journal publications, to presentations at conferences (see Events page) and to other activities such as newspaper articles and public debates. These will be announced on this blog.
At each of the fieldsites, images are part of databases and circulate in complex electronic network that are not reducible to, but are intimately related to their digital format (Beaulieu, 2001). The manipulation of digital images in networks enables other kinds of knowledge than possible by physical co-presence with the objects represented. These databases put forth the modernist promise that (encyclopedic) knowledge and representation can be ‘more’ than the physical object. (Foucault 1966; Latour 1990; Stone 2006), and stimulate the hope that, through computerization, we can transcend the limitations of our current knowledge (Coyne 1999) and institutions (Kling 2000; Hine 2006a). Insight into the precise contours of network realism will be the outcome of this research.
Why pursue this research?
Whether buying a house, evaluating an artist’s work, or planning a day at the museum, we often turn to databases of images on the web to pursue these activities. Increasingly, such activities involve a new form of visual knowing that can be labelled network realism.
What does this label mean? Realism designates rich and heterogeneous traditions across different media that have complex histories. As part of the label ‘network realism’, realism draws attention to the way these images are involved in practices that are factual, material and consequential. The term network invokes the novel contexts and practices around these images. Network realism is therefore used as a shorthand to describe practices, conventions and meanings that support this form of visual knowing.
This research conceptualizes and investigates a widespread but underexamined use of images, at the intersection of digital and networked technologies. How does network realism relate to and build on Western representational traditions? How is trust in images established, and how do new networked settings change the way it is achieved? How do we learn to know in this way and what are the practices and material culture that support network realism? Answering these questions will lead to a new understanding of this emergent and pervasive visual form of distributed knowledge creation. It will also shed light on evaluation and sharing of knowledge through information infrastructures.
The research draws on concepts from the field that specialises in the study of knowledge in society, science and technology studies (STS), and from new media studies to analyze visual culture. The approach used is ethnographic fieldwork, at 4 sites where network realism is central: the Rijksakademie for the visual arts; the Tropenmuseum (ethnographic museum); real estate database Funda; and Flickr as used by visual anthropologists. The projects will document network realism across these sites, investigate the dynamics of this form of knowledge, and examine its material embedding by users and institutions.
Inspiration for this project
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