Tag Archives: constructing fieldsites

Constructing the Flickr site (2)

A few days ago, I wrote about some of the conceptual aspects of creating our fields. In today’s post, I reflect on the nitty-gritty of identifying what is relevant, and on the potential conservatism of my approach so far.

Of the four case studies in Network Realism, three are already underway. Sarah de Rijcke has been doing fieldwork on the practices around digital images of the collection of the Tropenmuseum, and has just started fieldwork on the practices around the documentation of artwork at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Meanwhile, I’ve been developing fieldwork on the use of Flickr by researchers and curators who study street art. One of the important dimensions of the Flickr case is a relation to ‘research’ or academic work. This is partly to link up the project to other work at the VKS (which focuses on academic knowledge production). But the use of a resource such as Flickr by academics is also interesting in its own right, since it was not developed to support research: How does Flickr get inserted into academic work? How do academics present themselves and their work on this platform?

In developing fieldwork, I’ve tried a number of approaches. Most successful so far has been to identify researchers who work on street art and make use of photography. I’ve found these researchers from websites such as artcrimes, which has a section with l(inks to) publications and from searching journals, such as Photographies. From these, I have identified scholars doing relevant work. I’ve contacted them by email, and traced their activities on the web and in publications–and of course on Flickr. I’m also using citation patterns to identify, in a snowball way, other relevant academics. (For example, following Schacter’s publication ‘An Ethnography of Iconoclash’, in the Journal of Material Culture.)

In the coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing these scholars about their work practices. (When Sarah and I travel to London later this week, we will take part in CHArt‘s annual conferece (Sarah’s abstract is here) and meet up with colleagues and informants (Edgar Gomez, Rafael Schacter, and maybe Lane DeNicola?).)

These past few weeks, as I have been constituting the field, I keep coming back to the question: what would it mean for Flickr to be used for research? At this point, I can’t look at a photostream, and say, yes, this is produced by a researcher, or this collection is linked to a piece of research, or look at the membership of a group and say, yes, this one has a high percentage of scholars and curators. And I can’t say either whether these would be meaningful questions. As I learn about what these scholars do and how they use Flickr (or not!), academic or research-oriented activities on Flickr will become increasingly visible to me.

This uncertainty about what practices would look like underlies the motivation for following this ‘successful’ strategy of taking scholars and publications as starting points. While starting from traditional output such as publications introduces a conservative bias in the way I’m constituting the field, I’m well-aware of this and will be interrogating the effects of this starting point as fieldwork develops, and in the course of the analysis.

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Constructing the Flickr site (1)

The project Network Realism embraces four different sites. The sites contrast in the extent to which, at first sight, they are associated with easily discernable institutions. The physical presence of the Tropenmuseum and of the Rijksakademie lend a certain tangibility to those sites, making them seem more amenable to fieldwork. The buildings, the spaces these institutions occupy are an important ressources in constructing the site.  In other words, there is an obviousness (vanzelfsprekendheid) of the buildings that seems to extend to the ‘site’… and that seem to raise questions about the ‘where’ or ‘how ‘of the Flickr- and Funda-associated sites.

Yet, across the cases, we do our best to systematically formulate our sites as being “the practices associated with the web-based databases of Rijksakademie, Tropenmuseum, Flickr and Funda.” Though we are probably guilty of using ‘Tropenmuseum’ or ‘Funda’ as shorthands for what is quite a mouthful!

The point is that all these sites require constitution, and this involves:

  • having theoretical leanings that make certain starting points seem desirable or obvious
  • having practical constraints (whether physical, based on history with certain people, timing, etc) that make it more feasible to chose certain points of entry
  • recognizing that affinities that can be both intellectual and affective, which makes us more likely to engage with certain activities

In terms of these, there isn’t really a difference between sites. The import of physical space for constituting sites, however, derives from a long tradition of fieldwork.  This is why the concept of co-presence is so useful, because it helps to bypass the primacy of location as a way of constituting sites.

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