Reading Responses: Situational Mapping

akargl Says:
October 10th, 2011 at 5:12 pm edit

I absolutely devoured these readings. I found it extremely useful for the stage I’m at with my project. Also, in commencing to create maps of my project, I appreciated Star & Bowker for, among other things, explicitly implicating the maps we’re about to make in the web of things the maps will organize. (I’m imagining some sort of M.C. Escher-inspired bubble embedding the whole map within itself.) Rather than discuss all that I found wonderfully useful (which I think just seems harder right now because I’m anxious to try stuff out), I want to draw out three areas I needed more help with:
1. I am somewhat confused by Clarke’s characterization of Foucault’s notion of the discursive: “discourses as modes of ordering the chaos of the world” (54). This seems importantly distinct, if just slightly, from discourses as conditions of possibility for meaning making. She goes on to say that, “His concept of ‘discursive practices’ described ways of working that could, when historicized, be understood to produce distinctive ‘discursive formations’ or dominant discourses that bound together injunctions about particular ways of being in the world” (54 emphasis added), which makes more sense to my understanding. Further, discursive formations can contain and thereby stabilize otherwise conflictual discourse. I am having trouble with how, precisely, this aligns with “the interactionist concept of discourse [that] was used as a general term for what happens in interactions” (55). Later she does talk about F.’s discourse in the way I’m familiar with (“conditions of possibility”), but I’m still having trouble with how to reconcile that with the earlier framing I cited above. Not that they seem incompatible necessarily, just that they seem different. Along these lines, after Barad’s rearticulation of discourse through performativity, I wanted to see how this “new root” might look rewritten through a diffraction with agential realism.
2. I’ve been finding this use of “entrepreneur” unsavory. Having the term’s persistent centering visualized in chapter three pushed me over some kind of an edge, and I looked it up in the OED:
Entrepreneur: noun a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses,
taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.
My concerns about a capitalistic framing of importance are validated and I’m wondering what other terms we might come up with that would more easily facilitate, or at least be open to, liberatory non-capitalist futures. Or to turn away from the implications of ‘entrepreneur’ in a different direction, what term could we come up with that not only doesn’t rest on a capitalistic framework, but doesn’t even rest on an economic framework?
3. I am not fully buying the idea of the middle range. On one hand, if I just go along for the heuristic ride, it makes sense to me and I see what role it’s playing for Strauss and …maybe…for Foucault. On the other hand, if I think too hard, I find that I can’t really get myself to believe in its existence (particularly as a reliable category that meaningfully references material reality). There is some element of familiarity –in terms of my own experience of relations with others in the world –but it strikes me as a universalizing gesture, naturalizingly assumptive of what “the human scale” might be. I think I would benefit a great deal from hearing others’ thoughts about the role of the meso-level, its ontoepistemological status, and of course any ways of troubling it.
kathleenuzilov Says:
October 10th, 2011 at 6:06 pm edit

This week’s readings had much information that was new to me. I am struggling somewhat with relating the concepts presented to my own field and experiences. For instance, the shift toward generating theories rather than focusing on verification of existing theories and the subsequent ideas on how to generate theories from data in Glaser and Strauss’ book. In Clarke’s book, she describes going from data, to codes, to categories, to theories. I get a little held up on the issue that the word ‘theory’ does not seem to mean the same thing to social scientists as it does to physical scientists, and I do not have as strong a sense of what it means to the former group. Generation of theories seems to be a wholly different thing between the two groups as well.

The chapters read so far in Clarke’s book discuss what it means to create grounded theory ‘after the postmodern turn,’ which becomes this new practice termed situational analysis. I wonder what it means to do scientific research ‘after the postmodern turn.’ Her bullet point like lists of the major changes that should be made (to ‘push’ it there), and aspects of grounded theory that were already ‘pulling’ it around the postmodern turn, were useful for thinking about this possibility. While I won’t go into all of the points listed here, if I understand correctly there is a general trend towards constructivism, relativism, reflexivity, non-conclusiveness, multiplicity and complexity. Somewhere in the reading, she mentions that it is important to keep in mind: what is the purpose of inquiry? I wonder how the purpose of scientific inquiry is similar to and different from social scientific inquiry, and how this affects the usefulness of the approach of situational analysis as well as the applicability (not just whether it can be applied, but how it would be applied). I apologize if I am really missing the mark here; I think I got bogged down a bit by the ideas/people referenced with which I have little if any previous familiarity.
Jake Metcalf Says:
October 10th, 2011 at 6:28 pm edit

Hey, sorry I forgot to make a thread until now. Thanks for starting it, Alexis.
kricherson Says:
October 10th, 2011 at 6:57 pm edit

I appreciated Clarke’s exposition on postmodernism, and (though I’m still wrapping my head around it) her idea of pushing around the postmodern turn. One frustration I’ve had in Science and Justice is that while postmodernism seems to be the foundation (maybe implicitly) for many of our readings, much of it remains perplexing to me. It’s easy for me to see the problems that seem associated with the movement (for example, the Sokol paper, the bad-writing-award-winning jargon-filled prose, the apparent lack of self-criticism, the nihilism referenced by Clarke). And yet, it seems that the postmodernist movement has lead to a number of important, useful insights, particularly for those of us concerned with issues of ethics and justice in science (or elsewhere). Noam Chomsky criticized postmodern intellectuals for remaining in the ivory tower rather than working in “…the world of people with live problems and concerns”1, yet Clarke’s push to “create approaches to empirical research that take difference(s), power, contingency, and multiplicity very seriously” seems key to recognizing and addressing those real-world concerns. I suppose that, in a nutshell, is what I’m interested in doing, and what I hope this class can help me incorporate into my work. Clarke’s maps seem to be a useful way of visualizing the complex connections making up our own areas. Still, when she poses the question “How can we develop data-gathering strategies that will enable us analytically to better get at silences, at tacit knowledges and practices, at sites of the heretofore inchoate?” I still feel at a loss as to answer this at a practical level in my own area of study. I also wonder how to bring such concerns into quantitative research, as Clarke (along with Glaser and Strauss) focuses on qualitative research outside of the “hard” sciences.
A few other notes: I still don’t feel I totally understand grounded theory (maybe in part because I have little idea how sociological research is conducted), which makes me worry that I’m not fully grasping Clarke, either (since she said her work “is not the book for beginners in grounded theory”). If theory is supposed to arise from the collection of data (according to Glaser and Strauss), how do you go about designing your data collection in the first place? For example, the introduction of Starr and Bowker’s piece says that “[t]hey did not document the more terrifying historical imagery; that is not part of their analytic story,” yet this left me wondering why it was left out, and how the story might change if it were included. It also seems that there is a danger of storytelling, i.e. coming up a convenient theory that fits the chosen data without systematically ruling out alternative explanations. There’s a famous critique2 of “adaptationist storytelling” (that is, coming up with plausible-seeming explanations for why certain traits evolved without sufficient testing) in evolutionary biology that calls out this pitfall in the field, and I’m not sure whether grounded theory addresses the possibility of something similar. Glaser and Strauss say that verification is important, yet their claim that “[t]heory based on data can usually not be completely refuted by more data or replaced by another theory” seems dubious to me.

(Whew, a lot on how confused I am! I hope my earlier detour into my own struggles with postmodernism isn’t too much of a tangent to this week’s readings. It was niggling at me all last quarter, and if anyone with more knowledge on this subject than I have wants to chat about it I’ll buy you a coffee/beer!)
kricherson Says:
October 10th, 2011 at 6:59 pm edit

Oops, my footnotes (I don’t know how to make the superscripts work right, sorry!).


icarbone Says:
October 10th, 2011 at 8:01 pm edit

I found the Star and Bowker article to be a helpful example of trying to pin down a particulary slippery research subject. How do you characterize a condition that does not lend itself to the vocabulary developed by mainstream medicine; one that has fuzzy causes, symptoms, and social per-judgments as well as a unique relationship to time. This piece reminded me of a discussion I had with a friend. I wish I could remember the specific details but he told me that some regions of the world do not have a word for depression. Instead people go to the doctor to be treated for fatigue, pain and other conditions that many westerners would consider to be the symptoms of a depressive condition. This leads me to ask the question, how do you study and describe something that not only has unpredictable causes and consequences, but also may or may not exist depending on who you talk to. How might this characteristic be incorporated into the mapping exercise and discussion brought up in this article?

It was really helpful for me to read the Alvesson and Skoldberg article because as a physicist, this was my first introduction to social research methodologies. It also provided a nice context for me to approach the Glaser and Strauss article. The Glaser Strauss article reminds me of a diffractive exercise on quantitative and qualitative methods taken from “Approaches to Qualitative Research” by Hesse-Biber and Leavy. It goes as follows:

hard, Objective, strong, measurement, numbers, generalizability,n positivistic, significanse level, tabulating, representative, value-free

soft, subjective, weak, meaning, words, process, interpretation, Verstechen, writing, representational, political/social activism”

I also felt that the discussion ties in with our discussion last week about the power of data. These methods emphasize data but rather than completely determining the structure of the research and analysis, data is used more as a tool in the interpretive process.
Derek Padilla Says:
October 10th, 2011 at 10:05 pm edit

One of the methods we aimed to learn about and utilize is an ethnographic study of local marginalized farmers. In theory, this would help us get a better understanding of the needs of these farmers and to augment the information we would obtain through personal interviews.

After scanning the suggested reading by Alvesson and Skoldberg, their lengthy discussion of ethnography caught my eye. In the end it left me disillusioned towards the method as a useful tool for our progress. I suppose that’s partially my fault for lacking a clear understanding of the method, but that is why we’re in this class after all.

Their account was quite scathing at times, and I feel that interviews will uncover the information we’re seeking just fine (which is a sentiment I’m echoing from their writing), although I could also argue that we don’t know quite what that information is yet.

What, exactly, is it that we hope to obtain from an ethnography? As I stated earlier, I broadly expect to gain an understanding of the needs of small farmers and how we might steer the greenhouse design to meet those needs. Would an ethnography get us there? I’m not sure. What I could see it divulging are hidden assumptions made by both us, as interviewers, and the farmers themselves when discussing their needs. Surely I’m greatly simplifying both methods, but with an ethnography, the results seem to come from being a proverbial fly on the wall while making ‘observations of events and actions in natural contexts’ (p.85). Perhaps I’m not thinking hard enough about the problems we’re facing, but it seems that these issues could be resolved without an ethnographic immersion.

This touches upon another problem with an ethnographic study: time constraints. With the design already underway and the pressure to produce tangible results by then end of next quarter, a thorough ethnography by simply be unrealistic.

Despite these downsides, I did enjoy reading about unfamiliar social science methods as a whole, in this and the other readings.
choag Says:
October 11th, 2011 at 1:06 am edit

I found this week’s readings really, really interesting. But I also think I need some help understanding them more fully. On the one hand, I’m a big fan of the kinds of data mapping and theory production practices put forward by the authors. Situational mapping seems like a very productive way to conceptualize heterogeneous data, and to understand relationships between them and the actors/factors that produce, influence, or constrain them.

What I was less certain of was what is meant by “grounded theory.” I read the definitions, and I get that it is a kind of theory that is developed from the data themselves, as opposed to “grand” or other kinds of theory that tend to be used to approach data, rather than interpret them. But I suppose it seems too common sensical to me, and I couldn’t help but feel like the authors (particularly the old guys⎯maybe I’m picking on them) were reifying a false distinction between data and theory. After all, data are “data” and not just “stuff” because a theoretical position has made them so. That is, producing data is a theoretical enterprise. I would like to discuss how data points are approached and established in our various disciplines, and what constitutes “theory.”

I think the Star and Bowker piece could be really helpful for thinking about the rigidity of the datum, a heavily classified thing. What kinds of “torque” are at work in our own categories, and how might torque signal incipient “paradigm shifts.” How might we use the concept of torque to keep our data up to date? Or, how do we stop torque!?
egan Says:
October 11th, 2011 at 12:01 pm edit

I like Clarke’s clarity in specifying concrete steps towards unpacking, mapping, analyzing messy entanglements and shifting, contingent contact zones.

Some basic questions come to mind: “What is a good enough situational map and how do you know when you have one?” (p. 108) Clarke’s answer is “saturation”, or the execution of multiple iterations until one has exhausted a seemingly or reasonably full range possibilities. Sounds like scientific method? This seems like a too-easy, too-quick answer for such a fundamental question. Does this indeed take us around the corner of postmodernism? (Again, my ongoing question: who is “us”?) How do we consider or make visible problematics of translation, gaps in representation, scalar differences between quantitative and qualitative “data”, and hegemonic constellations that enable such maps to become legible in particular ways, in specific historical conjunctures, to particular groups?

Perhaps off on a tangent: Jameson’s theorization of postmodernism as historically contingent upon and constitutive of late capitalism has been very important to me. Also, his notion of cognitive mapping, or an aesthetico-political means of enabling new forms of navigation through hyperspace (circuits of capital that rely on and reproduce abstraction, reduction, standardization, thus commodification). I’m curious whether/how this may relate to Clarke’s work, if people are interested in Jameson’s persistent call for periodizing — being able to think our own time (Clarke’s “situation”? Barad’s onto-epistemological “phenomenon”?)

This is a lot to take in and I’m still trying to absorb. Perhaps the best way to understand the approach is to put it into practical use. So I’m looking forward to taking it apart for my increasingly messy project.
egan Says:
October 11th, 2011 at 12:25 pm edit

and a media question:
Paper affords particular dimensionalities to Clarke’s maps (most literally, x-y axes, 2d circles, etc). Has Clarke used digital tools?
molivera Says:
October 11th, 2011 at 2:24 pm edit

Hi so I had my dates confused because I did not have the syllabus while were discussing the upcoming weeks and thinking back, I now realize why situational mapping made no sense to me when everybody kept bringing it up. So the following response is in regards to the readings on grounded theory.

“Of Lungs and Lungers” is a case study of the use of grounded theory. Based on this reading I can understand the utility of such a method. However, I think there is a dissonance between the origination of grounded theory and the execution of grounded theory. Perhaps I was much entertained by the story to pick out how “Of Lungs and Lungers” is a case study for grounded theory. Maybe the graphic model developed in “Of Lungs” is an illustration of how grounded is performed (?). I do not wish to be persnickety, but even the theory of the model describing tuberculosis, was unclear to me. Though the theory and the multiple layers that result in twists was groundbreaking for me, I am left with questions. The representation of the model had me questioning whether it is possible to have a representation of the model. How does one decide what is up and what is down and at what slope or curves one can represent events if time is relative as is space which are based on lived experience. Further since there are multiple selves, can one represent events on an x-y plane or does one need a z plane and can one represent the multiple selves lived experience on the same graph, thus space? Aside from my small questions and inability to couple grounded theory with the example of grounded theory, I am unsure I understand grounded theory at multiple scales the biggest issue grapple with is the principles of grounded theory as I understand them. s

Why do Glaser and Strauss call their method of developing theory a theory? I guess this harks back to their point that one can develop theory without verification? But developing theory without verification seems to conflict with the statement that theory development originates from the data, does the data then not verify itself? Who does the verification ifs sociologists are to focus more on theory development? I argue that verification is just as important as theory development if one is to further knowledge production. Further, it could be that as a whole sociologists and their multiple endeavors, are performing grounded theory at various stages and that if one were to leave it up to one sociologist to perform the task on, theory production will not happen. Perhaps my conception of what theory is, which is based on the physics definition of theory, is not the same as Glaser and Strauss. One cannot call something a theory without verification or replication. I do agree with the authors that theory necessitates data and that logic is not enough to produce theory. To me use of logic produces postulates.

it seems to me that grounded theory is more of a hypothesis development process. If we were to situate grounded theory within the scientific method, a method that understandably some reject, grounded theory would encompass observation and hypothesis and perhaps a pilot test of the hypothesis. Now if one were to again use the scientific method (simply because that is the one I am most familiar with) as a standard for comparing other methods such as grounded theory, one can see the similarities between the two. Further, both are alike with a distinguishing factor that grounded theory can emphasize and ignore other aspects so necessary to the scientific method.

Having discussed grounded theory for a few minutes with my peers at ENVS, I understand that grounded theory is amorphous and can take on different bodies based on the subject of study. The unifying theme in grounded theory is the iterative process of observation and modifying explanation to fit new developments until the explanation has predictive properties. I did not get this impression from the reading as much, but if that is the case, is theory then explanation with predictive properties for Glaser and Strauss definition of theory enough? Given my limited exposure to the field, Is theory even possible in sociology?
molivera Says:
October 11th, 2011 at 2:27 pm edit

Oops, I took another look at the syllabus, yeah I guess I must have overlooked the printing and reading of the Clarke paper. = [

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