Tag Archives: research practices

Current labour of love…

… is the finalisation of a chapter for the edited volume New Representation in Scientific Practice, edited by Catelijne Coopmans, Mike Lynch, Janet Vertesi & Steve Woolgar. MIT Press.

Our contribution is entitled:
Networked neuroscience: brain scans and visual knowing at the intersection of atlases and databases

Anne Beaulieu and Sarah de Rijcke

Brain scans have been in heavy circulation these past 20 years as some of the most fascinating and ubiquitous digital images in scientific and cultural spheres. In this chapter, we analyze how the scans are both digital and networked images that depend on suites of technologies (Shove 2007) for their constitution and meaning. In particular, we will show how the production and reading of brain scans function in different suites, some of which reinforce a modernist, mechanical, pipeline approach to brain imaging, where digital images are acted upon as measurements, and others that highlight the interactive and interventionist potential of digital imaging, where brain scans are constituted as fluid animations. We argue that brain scans come to be associated with specific kinds of authority through complex ecologies of visualization routines in digital visual culture. In particular, brain scans are focal points in arrangements of scanning and database technologies, constituted in electronic networks where individual experiences are mediated by interfaces. New modes of seeing and novel technologies co-evolve with adjustments in particular epistemic approaches, at times resembling earlier practices and at times moving towards new kinds of objectivity.

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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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After Visual Methods


Originally uploaded by Mediacciones Group

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.


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Zotero for Research

We have set up our research as a team ethnography (albeit a small team of two, so far) and have been sharing lots of ideas, readings and questions these past two months. Team ethnography is a topic that will undoubtedly come up regularly on this blog, as we’ve been noting it’s pleasures and difficulties– but also wondering about the surprising lack of exemplars in the literature we have been consulting (with the exception of HCI).

We have been consolidating our sharing practices by using Zotero via a joint project account.  As one of the tag lines on the Zotero website states, ‘citation management  is only the beginning’. We’re using this tool to share references,  notes on bibliographic entries and materials that are related to the project (plans, proposals, ppt presentations). We are also starting to use it to share fieldnotes and to archive websites of interests–two activities that are intensifying as we are about to start our fieldwork in two of the cases.

Zotero therefore straddles the empirical, conceptual and administrative work in this project. So far, we’ve been very pleased not only with the way our use of  Zotero supports many tasks that we were already doing with less friendly technologies, but also with the process of making explicit our work practices, assumptions and expectations about research that have accompanied the adoption of this tool.


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