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!
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.
Last week, I was in Washington, D.C. to present our work at the annual conference of the Society for Social Studies of Science. Here is a link to our abstract. The session we were in was organized by Catelijne Koopmans, National University of Singapore, under the title “Data Riches: The Practices and Politics of Exploiting Digital Data Sets’. There were lovely papers by Simon N. Williams, Cardiff University (on the democratic use of digital data in electronic public engagement), Catelijne herself (on how in practices of data handling notions of ‘riches’ are maintained, illustrated via the case of visual analytics), Corinna Bath, Humboldt University Berlin (on gendered orders of knowledge in the semantic web), and Martin Hand & Ashley Scarlett, Queens University (on epistemic and ethical performativity of images in web-based photo-sharing practices). One of the session participants, Denisa Kera, wasn’t able to attend the conference, so unfortunately we had to do without her presentation on data realism of visualizations and application mashups.
Lane DeNicola was kind enough to act as session discussant. Lane works as a lecturer at a newly developed program in digital anthropology at UCL. He did a great job of tying some of the themes together that surfaced in our respective presentations. For our Network Realism project, the digitization processes Lane mentioned as a distinct point of intersection was indeed interesting. He gave the example of the British museum, where a high resolution scanner is used to make 3d visualizations of parts of the collection. These are not only used in the museum, but also for digital repatriation, where the vizualizations are offered for use by indigeneous people. As Lane argued, the process also raises the question of what exactly is left in the artifact itself that the BM wants to hold on to. Lane also raised the issue of the interface, what it does to data when it is presented in visual form, and how that relates to the interpretative power of the human. In addition, he noted that the terminology of data mining presupposes the ‘riches’ we refer to in our session title, while obscuring the interpretative process, and who controls production.
After the session, some of us talked further on how to pursue ethnographic work via networked interactions with our informants, and we discussed possible ways to stay in touch on the topic. There is of course much more to discuss and many more avenues to explore, as there were indeed interesting intersections between several of the presentations. This post is meant as a step in that direction, and as an invitation to all readers to share their thoughts with us.
In the framework of the conference Modeling Science, I presented a paper entitled ‘The view from nowhere: digital visualizations of science and the God-trick’. The audience was mainly made up of model and simulation builders, working from a very data-driven tradition. Many of them had a physics background, and very little affinity with social theory or cultural analysis. A main part of my presentation was a visual argument, in which I contrasted Powers of Ten and Zoom, and tried to make visible the difference in epistemologies of these two zooms. I’m not sure I was able to convince the entire room to embrace situated knowledge, but they did laugh in the right places, which is an indication that we connected. And I think the talk contributed to creating that interface between modeling and science studies that has been developing over the past few years, thanks to Andrea Scharnhorst‘s work, and to activities at the VKS.
Here is the abstract of my talk:
This contribution is an invitation to consider models and simulations as forms of visual knowing. This approach enables the analysis of two tendencies in many visualisations of science: the ‘view from nowhere’ and the seamless zoom. The epistemological and political implications of these tendencies will be teased out in a visual argument that contrasts two versions of a ‘zoom’ in the world (the film Powers of Ten and the book Zoom). The value of situatedness (i.e. acknowledging points of view, mediation or origin) in order to produce responsible representations of science will be explained. Conceptually, the talk will draw on the work of Donna Haraway, Svetlana Alpers, and Bolter & Grusin among others. Forms of visual knowing are further explored in a number of projects of the Virtual Knowledge Studio (Knowledge Space Lab, ‘Can you see what I know?’ and Network Realism).
Looking back on the conference, we are both really pleased with the keynotes and papers we heard, the many new contacts we made, and with the exposure to the many versions of ‘visual methods’ that the conference afforded. Notably, much work involved ‘giving voice’ strategies (where researchers provide cameras to participants, and use the resulting images to empower or document). During our last visit to Leeds, when we visited an ethnography conference in March, we had heard an impressive presentation of research using similar approaches by Emanuela de Cecco.
We did find that our research was somewhat unusual at this conference in its combination of the visual as both method and object. Interestingly, other work that focused on visual culture (i.e. Cox and Gomez Cruz) also addressed digital forms. Also came back thinking that one of the issues we need to pursue is how this category of ‘the visual’ is operating in our research.
What is the effect of this distinction between the visual as method and object? What could be gained by bringing them closer? One argument, which underlies our paper, is that more visual methods are likely to yield to better ethnographic work on visual culture. Our own paper from the conference, on how to study a networked image, is now available here.
And in several research projects we heard about, it also seemed like more awareness of the visual ecology in which research was being done would have meant better use of digital methods and better insights. (What does it mean to give kids disposable cameras for a research project when they are in possession of camphones in their daily lives…) In other words, it would be valuable to consider the place of ‘researcher produced’ or ‘participant generated’ images in relation to the visual culture of the research setting.
We are heading off to the 1st International Visual Methods Conference in Leeds, UK!
We will be part on a panel on Internet Research and Visual Methods. Our contribution will address how we have been studying images as networked objects. These (largely methodological) reflections will focus on three aspects of how we have been studying networked images: interface, infrastructure and interaction.
Another aspect of the conference will be catching up with colleagues , contacting new ones and meeting some of the people behind the books.
On Thursday 12 and Friday 13 November ’09, a conference will be held in London that seems very interesting for our project. It is organised by CHArt (Computers and the History of Art; Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London). This year’s topic is Object and Identity in a Digital Age. We hope to be presenting preliminary results from fieldwork at the Rijksakademie. In the paper, we analyze how artists and employees at the Rijksakademie invest themselves in practices of representation and documentation. We are especially interested in the entanglement of images and art works with the institute’s networked image database. Using recent STS literature on relational ontology (Marres, 2008; Mol, 2002; Stirling, 2008), we will argue that these entities are best understood as temporary outcomes of inter-related modes of engagement. In addition, we focus on how the visual documentation relates to the complex experience of making/seeing art objects. When and how are art works recognized as such, do they get documented, databased? What purposes does the database have for different users/producers (i.e. resident artists, employees, visitors, curators, researchers)? How does the networked context in which the images function as digital representations, shape the status of art objects themselves? Is this status fixed or fluid? 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.)? We expect that our ethnographic study of interactions with the Rijksakademie database will provide insight into the ways in which the images are produced, treated, and valued as things that can be acted upon in mediated, distributed contexts.