Friday, November 28, 2008

Reassembling the social, when is a group not a group...

The litmus test of an Actor-network study according to Bruno Latour (2005) in Reassembling the social, is that it attends to what makes up events. This includes both human actors and otherwise, as well as explaining and demonstrating the assemblages that sustain or change.

Such exploration ‘feeds off controversies’. The controversies include the difficulties of a counselling message being not only constructed in 160 characters or less but also in considering whether such an interaction is of therapeutic value or not. At present we do not know; there is no evidence base for the practices which are evolving.

In learning to feed off the controversy I revisited Latour. My study had identified groups to study. The ethics applications require a stating in advance of who and what might be involved, a naming of ‘groups’. What I am now considering is whether the groups I pre-identified exist. I have found myself explaining an opening I have kept in case more participants come forward. In describing where I am up to for funding grants or in presenting initial findings, I am asked where I am up to in my study, and I am not quite sure. I think actor-network as a research approach jars against such arbitrary constraints. I answer that I am at the end of my data collect . Knowing that I also hold a space open for what other change may evolve, what other artefacts emerge or if any more young people come forward. I had been thinking the limited data from this group might be to do access or trust r consent issues. Now I’m wondering if I wrongly assumed the groups existence. In saying this I am not saying that young people don’t use the service, the service is clearly used, that artefacts clearly support this. What I am reconsidering is my assumption that they are a group.

Latour suggests that such preconceptions might require revisiting. It seems obvious in retrospect, however I find myself having an ahah moment. The young people I named as a group in my ethics application never meet, never coalesce, never talk with each other. I’m not even sure that they are young! All I know is they are identified as being a group by those who provide a service. A group defined by their absence, defined by being external. Taking a performative definition, this group comprises those who use or could use, or might use, the service. ‘They’, are ‘other’.

The work of making, and remaking this group, is actively constructed not from within the group but externally for the most part.
Further controversy feeds this study; I provide opportunity for the data to speak, voicing presence when presence wasn’t wanted. The texts received talk of how hard involvement is and talk of concerns for privacy. I am aware of a tension in making the invisible visible.

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