Tag Archives: ontology

The ‘Othering’ game

“New media and new technologies  – these not only require critical analysis but may be treated as occasions for exploring and testing assumptions embedded in social science and everyday understandings of the world.” (Moser & Law 2001, p. 12)

The quote is taken from an article by Ingunn Moser and John Law, in which they discuss the ‘Othering’ of disabled people. This is an enactment of personhood, the authors argue, that fits a grander modernist narrative of the romantic vs. the rational subject. Moser and Law call this a ‘trap’, “because it romanticises that Other [in this case, the disabled] by telling stories which celebrate Otherness, difference and passivity by telling of the desirability of silence, nature, immanence and the feminine. The body and emotions are lauded against the cognitive, the rational, and the verbal (…).” (p. 12) Obviously, these dynamics are also common elsewhere. I was reminded of it when I came across  this video, in which artist Bradley Pitts and scientist Raymond van Ee discuss their mutual interest in Pitt’s Ellipsoidal Introspective Optic (EIO). The EIO is an optical device, a  mirror that reflects the image of the one eye into the other and vice versa. In this case, both Pitts and Van Ee are heavily involved in this ‘Othering’ game, by drawing and re-affirming boundaries between Pitt’s artistic (individual, creative, subjective) and Van Ee’s scientific research (collective, quantifiable, objective). Ironically, while their co-operation was anticipated as an opportunity to build bridges between art and science, the two protagonists in the video inadvertently end up reifying the boundaries between their ‘two cultures’.

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Regarding the Brain

Technology and culture determine our view of the brain

What does the brain look like? What do we really know about our brains? For centuries, we’ve been telling ourselves time and again that we now have an objective view of our brains. However, objectivity depends on technological developments, human actions and social and cultural factors, to name but a few. This has been revealed by research by Sarah de Rijcke, (yes, this blog’s Sarah) who will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 18 February 2010.

More on the thesis, Regarding the Brain. Practices of Objectivity in Cerebral Imaging. 17th Century-Present.
And more from the horse’s mouth can be found here, where Sarah was ‘PhD of the week’ on BNR nieuwsradio and defended her thesis in just a minute.

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Databasing the arts

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.

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Realism

A while ago, at the workshop Visualising the Public Sphere: Ethics and Politics from YouTube to Google Earth,held on Wednesday 18 February 2009, we presented the project to an audience of VKS researchers and of philosophers from the University of Groningen. realismslide

One of the topics of discussion that came up in relation to our presentation had to do with the concept ‘realism’. Why, asked Hans Harbers, were we using such an ontological term, when our approach so clearly addresses epistemological questions? In a first instance, several meanings of realism were laid out, and we signaled that not all of these were germane to our project. (For example, one of the uses we want to make of realism is in contrast to the ‘cyber’ or ‘virtual’ claims about Internet-mediated reality, in order to draw attention to the consequential and material practices to which the images are put.)

Later on, in the closing discussion, Paul Wouters returned to this issue, urging us not to be too quick to agree to disagree. What does it mean that different currents have appealed to the term realism? How, precisely, do these projects differ, intellectually and politically?

Since then, I’ve been noting all the ways in which realism arises in the various material we produce, consult and use, and how it is often set up as part of a dichotomy (as, indeed, we have been using it to set up a contrast with the virtual): Realism/Romanticism, realism/constructivism, etc. All these oppositional uses of the term have a different history and political valence. The variety of axes along which realism can be placed is probably also the underlying reason why several wise readers of drafts of the project proposal suggested we remove the term. Indeed, there are good reasons not to have a ‘can of worms’ in a project proposal, but, perhaps perversely, I kind of like the arresting (and for some, irratating) connotations of the word.  So we’ll be sticking with it for now, taking on board that a careful and judicious use of the term will mean constantly foregrounding what we mean by it. And this in turn requires being attuned to the various meanings of the term for our audiences, including current reflexive and revisionist projects around Realism.

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