Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Continued overleaf...

To all intents and purposes, this blog is continued by Poiesis and Prolepsis...

Thursday, 2 February 2012

DREaM Workshop #2

The second workshop in the Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project was held at the British Library Conference Centre on 31 January 2012.

The four methods covered in this event were: user involvement in research; techniques from history; webometrics; and the relationship between research and (government) policy.

The talk given by Professor Peter Beresford of Brunel University can be viewed at http://vimeo.com/36011436.  He identified three broad approaches to user involvement with and in research:

  1. User-involvement research;
  2. Collaborative research or partnership in research; and
  3. User-controlled research
In the context of ‘the library user’ (or should this be ‘knowledge user’, ‘information user’ or simply ‘learner’), his comments on tokenism in exploiting users in so-called consultation processes, while subjecting them to a consumerist and managerialist culture, are instructive. There are no simple routes, he indicated, to emancipation and democratisation, even if this is the aim of some forms of user-involvement or user-engagement in research. All approaches to involving users are political, he noted, since they are about change-making rather than simply being about knowledge creation.

Dr Thomas Haigh, Associate Professor of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, talked about techniques from history; or, rather, he talked about techniques for generating narratives. Following Paul Ricoeur and Hannah Arendt, as seen through the eyes of Julia Kristeva, he intimated that “as humans we understand everything through stories, including our own lives”. His slide show can be viewed at http://lisresearch.org/dream-project/dream-event-3-workshop-monday-30-january-2012/dream-event-3-techniques-from-history/

Mike Thelwall, Professor of Information Science, Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group, University of Wolverhampton, discussed webometrics. His slide show and a summary of the session can be found at http://lisresearch.org/dream-project/dream-event-3-workshop-monday-30-january-2012/dream-event-3-introduction-to-webometrics/  In summing up the advantages of using web metrics, he emphasised the speed of data gathering that it permits, but he cautioned that the downside is that the sample is often poor. The value of webometrics as a methodology depends on the nature of the research question. It is best used in conjunction with other methods.

Perhaps of particular significance, Thelwall pointed to two data gathering and processing tools, both created at University of Wolverhampton, that can be downloaded from the web: Webometric Analyst; and SocSciBot. He also discussed altmetrics, which supplements traditional ways of evaluating the impact of research, such as citation indexing or the h-index. Altmetrics generates web-based indications that a piece of research has made an impact, particularly outside the traditional scholarly community. He described the Integrated Online Impact indicator (IOII) which combines a range of online sources into one indicator of impact online.

Finally, Professor Nick Moore from Acumen discussed the relationship between research and government policy, from the perspective of his experience. He stressed the need to focus and specialise on specific research areas; to persuade others and carry them with you, building relationships, networks and communities of practice; be forward-looking, but do not get too far ahead of the curve; give yourself enough time to think and reflect; and encourage criticism, hopefully of the constructive variety. His slide show and a summary of the session can be found at http://lisresearch.org/dream-project/dream-event-3-workshop-monday-30-january-2012/dream-event-3-making-the-bullets-for-others-to-fire/

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

DREaM Workshop #1

The first of the three planned workshops in the AHRC-funded Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project took place at the Craighouse campus of Edinburgh Napier University, set in the grounds of the former Thomas Clouston Clinic, with its magnificent set of Grade A-listed buildings.

The project's theme is "building the skills to build the evidence base" within librarianship and information science, and to realise this goal the first workshop presented three domains of research methods: ethnography; social network analysis; and discourse analysis. A final session discussed research ethics and legal issues. The day also included an 'unconference' half hour, during which 10 delegates delivered 3-minute-long talks about their current research interests.

This was a packed schedule, but the level of engagement of the participants was such that it did not seem overwhelming or exhausting.

Paul Lynch, of the Department of Management at the University of Strathclyde, presented an Introduction to Ethnography, both as a field of study and as a body of writing.

One issue that arose from his talk was whether there was any sense in making a distinction between what might be called the reflexivity of the study situation (reflexive study or reflexive methodology), where one has an object or subject under scrutiny in some way, whom one observes, for example, via participant observation, and the reflexivity of practice (reflexive practice), where one is fully engaged in, for example, professional practice, and where there may not be time or occasion for 'bathroom breaks' during which one goes off and becomes another person (the non-observing, non-participant whom one otherwise is).

The issue raised, in general, is that of whether, in reflexive practice, one can 'escape', so to speak, from the flow of events to re-compose oneself, in a similar way to what can be done in, say, participant observation. Not a 'more real' self, but an other self, at least.

Equally, though, the other way round, could one begin to see one's everyday life, in which one assumes an integrity and a continuity, as a series of events in which one participates, much in the same way as a participant observer, i.e. in a slightly disengaged way.

The issue here may be 'engagement', how one enacts engagement. Some people may be more like participant observers in their own lives; others may be too committed to gain any reflexive insight into the actions they perform, seeing them as one integral, continuous flow.

In other words, does reflexive study treat the other as 'object of study' in a subject-object relation (a power relation that cannot be easily undone); while in reflexive practice the other is treated as subject in an intersubjective relation which at least has the potential to undo any incipient or emerging power relations. 

These reflections may have some value in understanding research into situated interactions in library or other information-seeking and learning experiences: is one trying to set up reflexive study situations or reflexive practice situations?.

Louise Cooke, a senior lecturer at Loughborough University, presented An Introduction to Social Network Analysis. Within Social Network Analysis, a network is defined as "a set of dyadic ties all of the same type, among a set of actors or nodes", ties which may or may not have direction. Once defined structurally, using quantitative methods, for which software tools for analysis and visualisation are available, such as UCINET and NetDraw, networks require interpretation, using qualitative methods. She performed a preliminary social network analysis of the participants in the workshop.

This approach would be particularly useful as an element in endeavours to understand organisational dynamics and the interplay between formal, hierarchical organisation, and informal networking within an overall organisational frame.

Andy McKinlay, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Edinburgh, presented an Introduction to Discourse Analysis. He made the central point that, from the perspective of discourse analysis, discourse is contextual, rhetorical, action-oriented (i.e. performative), constructed (using specific discursive forms) and constructive (how different versions of phenomena and events are constructed, assembled and stabilised, and made seemingly factual and independent of the discourse producer). His talk was littered with many witty and humorous examples.

In the final session of the day, Professor Charles Oppenheim, delivered a workshop on Research Ethics and Legal Issues, during which the participants divided into five groups, each discussing a research-related ethical problem.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Ideology, World, Story

Slavoj Zizek, in a discussion of recent protests, including the public disturbances in London in August 2011, the Arab uprisings and the protest movement in Greece, places his analysis of those events in the context of 'the end of ideology', an end marked by the disintegration of the Communist regimes in the early 1990s. More precisely, this frame may be called 'the end of Cold War ideology', given that Daniel Bell had already signalled 'the end of ideology' as having occurred during the 1950s.

Zizek suggests that the recent outbursts of violence, particularly the London riots, can be taken as evidence that we are indeed living in a post-(Cold War)-ideological era. He suggests that the riots were zero-degree protest, i.e. violent action that made no demands, had no agenda and had no programme.

Taking this even further, Zizek notes that Alan Badiou has argued that we live in a social space which is "worldless". It is unclear what this might mean, but, according to Zizek, this implies that, in such a space, the only form protest can take is meaningless violence. This might seem an excessive step. Let us try, with our limited imaginary, to get some leverage on this momentous leap.

Zizek continues: although, by virtue of being global, capitalism encompasses the whole world, it sustains a worldless ideological constellation in which people are deprived of their ways of locating meaning.

This would seem to suggest that, with the end of ideology, there are no more 'world stories'. Since this is obviously not the case, because the genres of science, historiography and journalism, for example, continue to produce 'world stories', the end of ideology could be taken to mean, pace Lyotard, the end of 'Grand Narratives' or 'Master Narratives' (or Programmatic Narratives), i.e. Grand Narratives like Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, Liberalism, and so on. [... or is the argument that Neo-Liberal Globalisation is in fact a Grand Narrative world story, but it is posing as a small-scale, everyday story world]

Alternatively, the end of ideology could be taken to mean that the narratives and theories produced by scientific, historiographic and journalistic discourses do not engage the subject, or do not recruit the subject for a programme or a project; they simply describe the world, non-performatively, non-vocatively, if such were possible.

In other words, there continue to be 'world stories', but they may fail to engage or enlist (and hence fail to be ideological in that sense); and they may be smaller scale, addressing only a fragmentary world, not the world-as-a-whole (and hence fail to be ideological in that sense).

There also continue to be 'story worlds', generated by people to explain their actions and inter-actions to themselves and to others. In this sense, they may be 'rationalisations'. They may stand in the place of explanations, serving simply as post-hoc justifications or legitimations.

To argue that story worlds are worldless could be taken to mean that story worlds are failing to engage with world stories, that world stories no longer provide the context for story worlds; or that world stories fail to call the subject into their domains. Yet, the integration of story world with world story, in an ideological past, may itself have been fantasmal, an imaginary conflation of two world orders, or, rather, orders of world.

Events (,"dear boy, Events", as Harold Macmillan may never have said) may continue to bring into relation story worlds and world stories, but the scale of the imaginary world of the Grand Narrative has contracted, but not to the point where story world equates to world story, where the imaginary of the story world is exactly the same as the imaginary of the world story, wherein one might say that the story is worldless, while the world is selfless: worldless, selfless, meaningless.

The world, we may be encouraged to say, has not contracted to that point. Not worldless, but rather many worlds (manifolds or many folds, a manifold of many folds), of different scales, continually assembled, dissembled and re-assembled: micro-actors (mani)folded into macro-actors.

Meaningless? Hardly. The question that remains is: was ideology ever selfless?


Zizek, S. (2011) Zero-degree protests. London Review of Books, 33 (17) 8 September 2011.


Friday, 2 September 2011

The Jester Curator

In the September issue of an magazine, Kate Phillimore and Matthew de Pulford (2011) report on the Jester Curator symposium, held on 20 May 2011, at UCA Canterbury, an event which they organised. The symposium explored the possibility of playful curation.

The figure of the jester in drama and literature, they point out, combines anarchic free play with a responsibility to speak the truth to power. They also point out that the term curator is increasingly used outside of the museum and gallery, for example, an online sale of Lady Gaga's clothes is said to be curated by her stylist.

In this context, the notion of curator as keeper of a collection of artefacts is receding. Curators have become increasingly visible as 'authors' of exhibitions. In this process, the artworks and artefacts on show are subsumed to a narrative of the curator's making.

This development gives prominence to the exhibition as the primary vehicle for the experience of art. At the same time, from the other direction, artistic practice, through its representation of appropriated material, for example, in ready-mades, assemblage and collage, is becoming more curatorial. 

The strategies employed by such art practice are often designed to explore how the meaning of an object fluctuates. Furthermore, these strategies are intended to reveal the ideologies in curatorial processes which have been presented as institutional objectivity.

These developments put curators in a bind. Should they announce their authorship and intentions; or risk working in a way that denies the challenges raised by such art practice?  In addition, a new set of problems is raised for the curator, regarding ownership, truth and sincerity.

As the art of Wei Wei brings dramatically to attention, given his recent incarceration, art practices are socially sanctioned. Like the court jester, the artist risks the wrath of society, or, rather, the governing forces in society, as in the case of China, if he or she explores the boundaries of his or her freedom of expression too thoroughly.

The question raised during the symposium, then, is how does the curator respond to the artist-as-jester who challenges convention. Does the curator normalise and constrain the work, by re-positioning it within conventional gallery and museum structures, undermining its challenging nature? Alternatively, does the curator assist the artist in creating new models of exhibiting that are sympathetic to the artist's work and its accompanying philosophy?

The suggestion that the curator adopt the jester role acknowledges that curators are complicit as participants in the art world, but it also suggests the possibility of a real challenge to order.

Nevertheless, the curator still faces a choice: to adopt and adapt the strategies of the playful artists; or to maintain the defined roles, and accept the hierarchies that stem from them.


Phillimore, K. and de Pulford, Matthew (2011) Debate. an magazine, September 2011, pp.5-6.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Higher Education in the UK

Stefan Collini (2011) traces the way in which the White Paper, Higher Education: Students at the Heart of the System, published by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, along with the legislation already enacted in the UK, represents the latest instalment in the campaign to replace the assumptions of the world of the Robbins Report with those of McKinsey and KPMG.


BIS (2011). Higher education: students at the heart of the system. London: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Available at http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/higher-education/docs/h/11-944-higher-education-students-at-heart-of-system.pdf. Accessed on 30 August 2011.

Collini, S. (2011) From Robbins to McKinsey. London Review of Books, 33 (16), pp.3, 5-6. Available at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n16/stefan-collini/from-robbins-to-mckinsey/print. Accessed on 30 August 2011.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Networks: Viral or Zonal?

The conference to launch the DREaM project (Developing Research Excellence and Methods) took place on 19 July 2011 at the British Library Conference Centre. The conference title was "Out of the comfort zone" and its focus was on the means by which the comfort zone of researchers in the area of librarianship and information science could be extended.

The conference was organised by the ever-excellent Professor Hazel Hall, of Edinburgh Napier University and the LIS Research Coalition, who gave the opening speech. Hazel is is principal investigator of the DREaM project, with Professor Charles Oppenheim as co-investigator.

Videos of the presentations can be found on the conference page, including an opening keynote speech by Professor Blaise Cronin, Rudy Professor of Information Science, Indiana University, USA, entitled Opening keynote: “… And into the zone of quasi-rationality”, and a video of the One-Minute Madness session, from which the Vimeo video presented above is a clip.

If you would like to get involved in this project, then register your interest for the project's 3 workshops by e-mailing Hazel Hall. The first of the workshops is being held at the Edinburgh Napier University Craighouse campus on Tuesday 25th October 2011.

In the video presented above, Allan Parsons contends that any zone, including comfort zones, can be infected virally. It is often, therefore, not a case of having to leave one's comfort zone; one's comfort zone may already have disintegrated. No-one is immune from this sense of loss of comfort. Indeed, one's prior comfort zone may have become the very source of one's continuing dis-comfort.

However, while this viral networking of the zone (of comfort) may at first appear negative, it should be recognised that it is not only dis-ease or un-ease which is infectious, but also humour. Let us at least consider, therefore, the possibilities arising from the viral communication of good humour. Although, of course, he may simply be joking... [the communicative potential of which is explored both by Freud and by Derrida in his critique of J. L. Austin, articulated in his dispute with John Searle.]

Further Reading

Austin, J. L. (1976). How to do things with words: The William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955, 2nd ed.. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Austin, J. L. (1970). Performative utterances, in Philosophical papers, 2nd ed.. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Derrida, J. (1982). Signature event context, in Margins of philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, J. (1988) Limited IncEvanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. 

Freud, S. (2002) Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. London: Penguin.

Searle, J. (1977). Reiterating the differences: a reply to Derrida. Glyph 1, pp.198-208.

Still Farther Reading

The Performative, the Intersubjective and the Pragmatic