Monday, November 26, 2007

Drowning in description

I lost the plot.
And revisited Bruno Latour

Professor — So… I take it that you are a bit lost?
Student — Well, yes. I am finding it difficult, I have to say, to apply Actor Network Theory to my case study in organisations.
Professor — No wonder— it isn’t applicable to anything!
Student — But we were taught… I mean… it seems like hot stuff around here. Are you saying it’s really useless?
Professor — [ANT's] a theory, and a strong one I think, but about how to study things, or rather how not to study them. Or rather how to let the actors have some room to express themselves.

So, no more discourse analysis.
I'm a slow learner.
The discourse analysis was a means to considering how txt is shaped by the cell phone. That being invisible to each other requires questions of identity and of clarification. That the first letter is default capitalised, that there are 160 characters incl blanks so messages are constrained.
(so why do people write txt as short as poss? They rarely use 160, seems the average would be between 50-70)
Back to following the actors....

Professor — ... I would abstain from frameworks altogether. Just describe the state of affairs at hand.
Student — ‘Just describe’. Sorry to ask: but is this not terribly naïve? ...
P — Because you think description is easy? ...I have, myself, always found this incredibly demanding.... we go, we listen, we learn, we practice, we become competent, we change our views. Very simple really: it’s called field work. Good field work always produces a lot of new descriptions.
S — But I have lots of descriptions already! I’m drowning in them. That’s just my problem. That’s why I’m lost and that’s why I thought it would be useful to come to you. Can’t ANT help me with this mass of data? I need a framework!
P —‘My Kingdom for a frame!’. Very moving; I think I understand your desperation. But no, ANT is pretty useless for that. Its main tenet is that actors themselves make everything, including their own frames, their own theories, their own contexts, their own metaphysics, even their own ontologies… So the direction to follow would be more descriptions, I am afraid... if your description needs an explanation, it’s not a good description, that’s all. Only bad descriptions need an explanation. It’s quite simple really....I have never seen a good description in need of an explanation. But I have read countless numbers of bad descriptions to which nothing was added by a massive addition of ‘explanations’! And ANT did not help…

I just revisited cj's advice on data collecting, its succinct:
stay broad, eschew structures

back to following the actors...


  1. Paul K1:05 PM

    This is my favourite part of Reassembling, and is what I give people to try and enroll them into doing ANT.

    I've always found discourse analysis overcomplicated, overwrought, over_____... its tendency the same as most methodologies, as it wants to explain everything away for you.

  2. Thanks Paul, I am bemused by my own tendency to do what I know i have been told not to. The ruts of habit drove me to it. I really enjoyed being back into data gathering after the error of my ways, being inquisitive with people - asking them of their own experiences and how they see their own practices shaped is a pleasure.