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.

More specifically:

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

Bolter, J. D and R. Grusin (2000) Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.

Daston, L. and P. Galison (2007). Objectivity. New York, Zone Books.

Elkins, James (2008) Six Stories from the End of Representation. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Thurtle, P. and R. Mitchell, Eds (2003). Data Made Flesh: Embodying Information, Routledge.

van Dijck, J. (2007). Mediated Memories in the Digital Age. Stanford, USA, Stanford University Press.

Key references

Alac, M. and E. Hutchins (2004). “I see what you are saying: Action as cognition in fMRI brain mapping practice.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 4(3).

Beaulieu, A. (2001). “Voxels in the brain: Neuroscience, informatics and changing notions of objectivity.” Social Studies of Science 31(5): 635-680.

Beaulieu, A. (2004a). “From brainbank to database: The informational turn in the study of the brain.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 35(2): 367-390.

Beaulieu, A. (2004b). “Mediating ethnography: objectivity and the making of ethnographies of the internet.” Social Epistemology 18(2-3): 139-164.

Beaulieu, A. (2007). Taking Time:Ethnographies, Networks and Knowledge, session on Network Ethnography. Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science Montreal, Canada.

Beaulieu, A. and J. v. Engelhardt (2007). Sisterhood, EU Funding and Networked Research: a virtual ethnography of the making of the Athena Thematic Network in Women’s Studies (public lecture). Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain.

Beaulieu, A., A. Scharnhorst, et al. (2007). “Not another case study: ethnography and the study of e-science.” Science, Technology and Human Values 32 (6): 672-692.

Birnholtz, J. P. and D. B. Horn (2007). “Shake, Rattle and Roles: Lessons from Experimental Earthquake Engineering for Incorporating Remote Users in Large-Scale E-Science Experiments” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12(2): article 17, online.

Bowker, G. (2000). “Biodiversity Datadiversity.” Social Studies of Science 30(5): 643-683.

Cartwright, L. (1995). Screening the Body: Tracing Medicine’s Visual Culture. Minneapolis, Minnesota University Press.

Cook, S. (2004). “Between the Book and the Cinema: late Victorian New Media.” Visual Studies 19(1): 6-71.

Coyne, R. (1999). Technoromanticism: Digital narratives, holism and the romance of the real. Cambridge, Mass, USA, MIT Press.

Daston, L. and P. Galison (2007). Objectivity. New York, Zone Books.

de Rijcke, S. (2008). “Light tries the expert eye. Photography and objectivity in nineteenth century macroscopic neuroanatomy.” Journal of the History of the Neurosciences.

Edwards, E. and J. Hart (2004). Introduction: Photographs as objects. Photographs Objects Histories. E. Edwards and J. Hart. New York, Routeldge: 1-15.

Elkins, J. (2007). Visual Literacy. New York, Routledge.

Foucault, M. (1966). Les Mots et les Choses, Archéologie des sciences humaines. Paris, Gallimard.

Galison, P. (1997). Image and logic : a material culture of microphysics. Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press.

Gooding, D. (2004). “Envisioning Explanations-The Art in Science.” Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 29: 278-294.

Hacking, I. (1983). Representing and Intervening: Introductory topics in the philosophy of natural science. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Hayles, N. K. (2002). Material Metaphors,Technotexts, and Media-Specific Analysis. Writing Machines. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press: 18-33.

Hine, C. (2000). Virtual ethnography. London, Sage.

Hine, C. (2006a). Computerization Movements and Scinetific Disciplines: The Reflexive Potential of New Technologies. New Infrastructure for Knowledge Production: Understanding E-Science. C. Hine. London, Idea Group: 26-47.

Hine, C. (2006b). “Databases as Scientific Instruments and Their Role in the Ordering of Scientific Work.” Social Studies of Science 36(2): 269-298.

Hine, C. (2007). “Connective ethnography for the exploration of e-science.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12(2): online, article 14, http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue2/hine.html.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where old and new media collide. New York, New York University Press.

Kalay, Y., T. Kvan, et al. (2007). New Heritage: New Media and Cultural Heritage. New York, Routledge.

Kling, R. (2000). “Learning about information technologies and social change: The contribution of social informatics.” The Information Society 16(3): 217-232.

Kwa, C. (2005). “Local Ecologies and global science: Discourses and strategies of the international geosphere-biosphere programme.” Social Studies of Science 35(6): 923-950.

Latour, B. (1990). Drawing Things Together. Representation in Scientific Practice. M. Lynch and S. Woolgar. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press: 19-68.

Lehmann, A.-S., S. Pont, et al. (2005). Tree Textures: Moern Techniques in Art-historical Context. Texture 2005.

Lister, M. (1995). Introductory Essay. The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. M. Lister. New York, Routledge: 1-26.

Lister, M. (1995). The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. New York, Routledge.

Lynch, M. (1990). The Externalised Retina: Selection and Mathematization in the Visual Documentation of Objects in the Life Sciences. Representation in Scientific Practice. M. Lynch and S. Woolgar. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, MIT Press: 153-186.

Lynch, M. (1991). “Laboratory Space and the Technological Complex: An investigation of Topical

Contextures.” Science in Context 4: 51-78.

Mitchell, W. (1994). The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in a Post-photographic Era. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press.

Myers, N. (in press). “Molecular Embodiments and the Body-work of Modeling in Protein Crystallography.” Social Studies of Science.

Newman, S. (1998). “Here, there and nowhere at all: distribution, negotiation and virtuality in postmodern ethnography and engineering.” Knowledge and Society 11: 235-267.

Porter, T. (1995). Trust in Numbers: The pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press.

Rogoff, I. (2000). Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture. London, Routledge.

Sassoon, J. (2004). Photographic materiality in the age of digital reproduction. Photographs Objects Histories. E. Edwards and J. Hart. New York, Routledge: 186-202.

Sekula, A. (1983). Photography between labour and capital. Mining Photographs and other Pictures, 1948-1968. B. Buchloh and R. Wilkie. Halifax, Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design.

Sekula, A. (1985). “The Body and the Archive.” October 39: 2-64.

Shapin, S.(1995). A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Stafford, B. (1996). Good Looking: Essays on the Virtue of Images. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press.

Star, S. L. (1999). “The ethnography of infrastructure.” American Behavioral Scientist 43(3): 377-391.

Stone, H. (2006). Tables of Knowledge: Descartes in Vermeer’s Studio. Ithaca, USA, Cornell University Press.

Tsing, A. L. (2005). Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press.

van Dijck, J. (2005). The Transparent Body. Seattle, University of Washington Press.

van House, N., M. Davis, et al. (2004). From ‘what?’ to “why?’: the social uses of personal photos. CSCW’ 04, Chicago, USA, ACM.

van House, N. A. (2002). “Digital Libraries and the Practice of Trust: Networked Environmental Information.” Social Epistemology 16(1): 99-114.

VKS (Virtual Knowledge Studio, collective) (2007). Messy Shapes of Knowledge-STS Explores Informatization, New Media, and Academic Work. The handbook of science and technology studies, third edition. E. J. Hackkett, O. Amsterdamska, M. Lynch and J. Wajcman. Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press: 319-351.

Wakeford, N. (2000). New Media, New Methodologies: Studying the Web. Web.studies. Rewiring media studies for the digital age. D. Gauntlett. London, Arnold Publishers: 31-43.

Wallace, T. R. and C. van den Heuvel (2005). “Truth and Accountability in Geographic and Historical Visualization.” The Cartographic Journal 42(2): 173-181.

Wasson, H. (2007). The Networked Screen: Moving Images, Materiality and the Aesthetics of Size. Fluid Screens: Time, Aesthetics and Digital Life. J. Marchessault and S. Lord. Toronto, University of Toronto Press.

White, M. (2006). The Body and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spectatorship. Cambridge USA, MIT Press.

Woolgar, S. and C. Coopmans (2006). Virtual Witnessing in a Virtual Age:A Prospectus for Social Studies of E-science. New Infrastructures for Knowledge Production. C. Hine. Hershey, USA, Idea Group: 1-25.

Wouters, P. and A. Beaulieu (2007). “Critical Accountability: Dilemmas for Interventionist Studies of e-Science.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 12(2): article 12, online.

Wyatt, S., F. Henwood, et al. (2005). “The digital divide, health information and everyday life.” New Media and Society 7(2): 199-218.

2 responses to “About

  1. Pingback: Derelict Dirigibles « Metaphortean Space

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