Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Embodied knowledge; or how I took a taste of ANT and then it swallowed me

This is a story reminiscent of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach...in which a small boy, a peach and insects are transformed in a world of wonder; one in which new reals get made.

Early on in my PhD I had thought the making of 'new knowledge' might involve the putting together of "this with that" as a form of academic alchemy, but then discovered this into that would not go.
The learning of irreconcilable differences involved trialling various theories on change with ANT. My supervisor was amazingly tolerant as i learned that such combinations led to irreconcilable differences between theories that clashed. I am grateful i was able to learn this and not told to simply not go there.
I attempted a reading of Diffusion of innovation with E M Rogers but the lineal assumptions didn't sit right. Nor did Schon, Lewin, Schein and this became a literature review.
I also tried some methodological assistance with phenomenology via Max Van Mannen but the essentialism was incompatible. I had some prior experience with critical social theory via Habermas, but the metanarrative and thinking i would know better than participants clashed with ANT. As did grounded theory...
I tasted ANT (actor-network theory) as a curiosity to be entertained...and then it swallowed me whole 8-)

This theory is not about perspectives. Were I to sit and view from any of the participants in my study what was going on, the experience is lived differently. I can only tell my own story of my engagements with those involved. Partial in every meaning of the word.
Donna Haraway describes the situated knowledge in terms of being inside the belly of the monster.
This is a radical point of difference to those that would attempt analysis via contextualism, such as Schatzki might, for to accept ANT is to accept that there is is no distance. I am consumed.

The embodiment of knowledge is also addresssed by Anne-marie Mol in the deceptively simply titled article: I eat an apple.

Haraway, D. (1992). The promises of monsters. A regenerated politics for inapprpriate/d others. In L. Grossberg, G. Nelson, & P. Treichler (Eds.), Cultural Studies (pp. 295-337). New York, NY: Routledge.

Mol, A. (2008). I eat an apple. On theorizing subjectivities. Subjectivity, 22, 28-37. Retrieved from http://www.palgrave-journals.com/sub/journal/v22/n1/full/sub20082a.html

Schatzki, T. R. (2002). The site of the social: A philosophical account of the constitution of social life and change. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.


  1. Anonymous10:42 PM

    That's a lovely little bit of writing there Ailsa, thank you. With some great references too.

    I love the metaphor of being eaten... there being "no distance". One of the things I find most interesting about Latour's writing is the spatial/geographical/topological nature of much of it - lots about distance and locality.

    I will take on board your warning about mashing-up the incompatible.

  2. Thanks for dropping by and commenting, I love knowing I am not alone in my studies, ailsa.

  3. This is a fantastic taste of what has helped you to be you in your research and thinking. Tell us more . . . it seems you were looking for something that would speak to your experiences and perspectives, that which was not satisfied before you encountered ANT. Is that right, you looked at many perspectives and methods and they just did not seem to meet your "needs," even those you may not have been able to express at the time?

    Thanks for sharing it (along with these texts I have not yet seen!).


  4. the mysts of time make it all blurry. I had "baggage" but was prepared to look around at other methods. Got a taste of ANt via my supervisor, seemed valid to consider the technology's own influence...so started reading around. And then got side tracked by my suppositions of new knowledge that were fortunately questioned by very wise supervisor. Returned to ANT with some further wise advice: "stay close to the fire". I read voraciously the principle writers in ANT, and those xreferenced.

    And there was this beautiful quote:
    First there were losses, then there was a plan of change, and then there was an implementation, which led to unexpected results. (Czarniawska & Joerges, cited byWeick & Quinn, 1999, p. 362)

    I had to let go of stuff, take a punt, thought i knew what i was doing, but didnt. Nonetheless happy to be where i am now :)