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Att (re-)presentera kultur : om transformation av mening i ett tillämpat projekt

Wiszmeg, Andréa LU (2011) TKAM01 20111
Division of Ethnology
Abstract
This thesis explores how the handling, analysis and transformations of material and data affect the production of knowledge in an applied project of cultural analysis. It concerns itself mainly with the process of dislocation, transformation and transportation of meaning, by putting to work the actor-network theories of Bruno Latour. An attempt will be made to retrace the steps of creating material and knowledge, using the products of the project. This attempt will be made because I believe that the production of knowledge and dissemination of meaning in applied projects is a crucial field to which bigger attention should be paid, because when results are being shared with a larger audience outside academia they may have larger potential... (More)
This thesis explores how the handling, analysis and transformations of material and data affect the production of knowledge in an applied project of cultural analysis. It concerns itself mainly with the process of dislocation, transformation and transportation of meaning, by putting to work the actor-network theories of Bruno Latour. An attempt will be made to retrace the steps of creating material and knowledge, using the products of the project. This attempt will be made because I believe that the production of knowledge and dissemination of meaning in applied projects is a crucial field to which bigger attention should be paid, because when results are being shared with a larger audience outside academia they may have larger potential societal impact.

The applied project used as a case study, is a project carried out by the author, starting in spring 2009 and continuing until summer 2010, in collaboration with the organization Center for Lifestyle Issues and The Museum of Österlen, both seated in the city of Simrishamn. The project aimed to outline and capture the complexities and dynamics that exist between part time stayers (summer guests) and the native and permanent population of the city. The project concerned itself both with abstract and concrete regimes of these complexities, exploring and representing both attitudes and ideas about oneself, the “others” and life in Simrishamn, as well as the physical use of the space and how this differ between the groups, creating social friction. A report addressing the issue and presenting the results was produced in the early summer of 2009 on behalf of the Center for Lifestyle Issues. The Museum of Österlen held an exhibition on the theme in the summer and fall of 2010, containing both shorter text fragments produced by the author; me, using interviews and material from observations, and photos taken in the city by a photographer with whom I collaborated.

The investigation aims to inquire, with this project as case; what the process of representation and analysis is actually producing, what differences it produces in different formats of representation, and how meaning is dislocated/transformed through the handling of material in different formats. First studying the dislocation, transformation as well as transport of meaning of the contents, will enable identification of the entities performing the actions in the process. An attempt to identify human actors and non-human actants, and which of them were mediators that enabled transport, or intermediaries that dislocated meaning between the different formats, will be made. I address the following questions in relation to the material; what are the differences in content between the report and the exhibition, what contact between actors and actants took place enabling the dislocations/transformations between report and exhibition, and will as a closing remark reflect upon what implications the dislocation/transformation and transport processes may have in a larger perspective in applied projects?

I found that the content in the report was, in comparison to the exhibition reasoning and nuanced to a higher extent. The different framework chapters in the report that addresses the aim and the context of the study, makes room for more problematization. It makes it possible reaching outside the context of the city by referring to theories and other cases. The exhibition has a stronger “sense of place”, probably partly due to its visual character, which also helps keeping a focused direction. Themes that were only found in the report were e.g. an exoticizing view on the natives that some of the part time stayers expressed, and a crucial insight that no actual meetings or social interaction really took place between the groups, according to my informants. This was not conveyed in the exhibition, although the name of it was “Möten?” (“Meetings?”), meant to be interpreted as a question as to if and how interaction between the two different groups and their physical environment took place. I concluded that the different aims of the different formats were the main reason for this difference; the report wanting to problematize and explain, while the exhibition was aiming at impact and social effect.

The analysis of the fieldwork process located (by my definition) 72 non-human actants, and 14 human actors, of which 50 were intermediaries and 36 mediators all in all. While the non-human actants worked primarily as mediators in this project, they still had a very significant frequency. Concerning actual impact on the transformation/dislocation process, there were almost double the numbers non-human actants to human actors (10 to 6), and here their influence were quite significant. The main human actants in the transformation/dislocation process were the coworkers of the museum, the photographer, me – the researcher, the supervisor from the university, new informants that entered the material in between report and exhibition and imagined visitors of the exhibition to whom we directed our work. The main non-human actants were Österlens museum, Lund University, the photos, the photos interpreting former photos, events and seasons I experienced and observations I made in the city of Simrishamn in between report and exhibition, the home of the photographer in which we often worked, the name and the format of the exhibition.

I concluded that place has big impact for both the presentation and creation of material, and that many actants consist of a gathering of actors and actants “put on top of each other” by chains of reference, and that this is something to keep in mind when entering co operations with organizations (which are examples of these big compound actants) in applied projects. The additional insight that many actants were creations of actors involved; as material created by us later gaining agency, made the actual inseparability of actors and actants clear.

In the case of our own project I came to the conclusion that since the many non-human actants were primarily mediators, and since the main parts and most significant ideas of my original material were transferred from the report to the exhibition, transportation of meaning took place to a higher extent than transformation/dislocation. The fact that I initially experienced the project as very loosely defined both concerning exact theme and outcome, might have been one of the reasons that we very freely could transfer meaning through different mediums without much distortion; the fewer actants and actors with agency involved – the more freedom is dealt the creators?

An exciting finding was, that there were different kind of agencies; the decisive agency, the interpreting agency and the spatial agency, and that there is a constant flow of actions taking place throughout processes with the help of these agencies, and that they in reality intersect with each other. I would like to suggest that the spatial agency has large impact on, and crucial value to applied projects since it is what (in an ideal “pure” form) has the power to make space available for action and room for new forms of presentations.

Pondering the implications of the findings, regarding the dislocation/transformation and transport processes of meaning in a larger perspective in applied projects, we need to take into consideration some earlier research made in the broad subject of representation and its problems. The social anthropologist Arnd Schneider, who is active in the field of “Art and Anthropology” advocates that we take into account five things when working as ethnographers aiming to work with different, mainly visual, forms of representation; 1. to conceptualize distance from or proximity to the ethnographic subjects, 2. to find new possibilities of transformation in the process of representation, 3. to have a multiple positioning as a participant-observer in relation to the Other, 4. to develop new formal possibilities, and 5. to reflect profoundly on the relationship of the research process to the final work (Schneider – Three modes of experimenting with art and anthropology 2008:188). Sociologist and anthropologist Charlotte Aull Davies (2008:26,272) argues in Reflexive Ethnography – A guide to researching selves and others, that the tension built between description and (theoretical) explanation when having a critical realist view of the world, is something we should allow to be seen, seize, and put in favour of our knowledge production. Hal Foster, professor of Art and Archeology, on the other hand, has a more critical view in his article The Artist as Ethnographer? (in E. Marcus & R. Myers 1995: The Traffic in Culture – Refiguring Art and Anthropology). He argues that a mix-up of roles between artists and ethnographers, depend on a two-way jealousy and idealization of the two roles. In a climate where site specific art tends to grow, and institutions and clients have the ability to import societal critique and thereby disarm it, this can lead to “pseudo ethnographies”. I extend this argument to be valid also for applied cultural analysis. An introvert and navel gazing reflexivity added onto that may even, he argues, lead to an increased “Otherification” instead of the opposite (1995:303,306f), which has been the goal of the last thirty years of discussions on reflexivity. These perspectives and risks become increasingly urgent, given the outlook of John Law and John Urry, who do not separate ontology from epistemology; the consequence that being what is said about the world is equal to what is in the world (Law & Urry 2004:399). Therefore, they argue, the social (and humanistic ethnographic – I argue) sciences have a strong potential for creating worlds – comprising a “pluriverse” of many parallel worlds. This, since they make accounts on different societies being, non-being and should-being (Ibid.).

I argue that an actor-network analysis of the material we produce and translate to different formats can help us reduce these risks, and that could it also help to fulfill at least three of the five points Schneider suggests adherence to in order to create good quality ethnographic representations. Three of the points (2, 4 & 5) in Schneider’s list, can be synthesized in the last one; to reflect profoundly on the relationship of the research process to the final work. The possibility to develop new formats and techniques increases if we continuously reflect upon the process and the ways in which our interpretations are being done and mediated. To find new possibilities of transformation in the process of representation can be implicit to the creations of new formats and techniques – if you by transformation mean the translation process to the new formats; and in a wider perspective the new worlds which the “products” help to evoke and come into being. Further, the tension between description and explanation advocated by Aull Davies, can both be identified and promoted by actor-network analysis of creation processes and the finished material. (Less)
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author
Wiszmeg, Andréa LU
supervisor
organization
alternative title
(Re-) Presenting Culture : On the Transformation of Meaning in an Applied Project
course
TKAM01 20111
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
representation, utställning, rapport, format, actor-network teori, Bruno Latour, aktörer, aktanter, kunskapsproduktion, transformation, tillämpad kulturanalys, transport, John Law, John Urry, Charlotte Aull Davies, MACA
language
Swedish
id
1887502
date added to LUP
2011-09-13 09:07:48
date last changed
2011-09-13 09:07:48
@misc{1887502,
  abstract     = {This thesis explores how the handling, analysis and transformations of material and data affect the production of knowledge in an applied project of cultural analysis. It concerns itself mainly with the process of dislocation, transformation and transportation of meaning, by putting to work the actor-network theories of Bruno Latour. An attempt will be made to retrace the steps of creating material and knowledge, using the products of the project. This attempt will be made because I believe that the production of knowledge and dissemination of meaning in applied projects is a crucial field to which bigger attention should be paid, because when results are being shared with a larger audience outside academia they may have larger potential societal impact.

The applied project used as a case study, is a project carried out by the author, starting in spring 2009 and continuing until summer 2010, in collaboration with the organization Center for Lifestyle Issues and The Museum of Österlen, both seated in the city of Simrishamn. The project aimed to outline and capture the complexities and dynamics that exist between part time stayers (summer guests) and the native and permanent population of the city. The project concerned itself both with abstract and concrete regimes of these complexities, exploring and representing both attitudes and ideas about oneself, the “others” and life in Simrishamn, as well as the physical use of the space and how this differ between the groups, creating social friction. A report addressing the issue and presenting the results was produced in the early summer of 2009 on behalf of the Center for Lifestyle Issues. The Museum of Österlen held an exhibition on the theme in the summer and fall of 2010, containing both shorter text fragments produced by the author; me, using interviews and material from observations, and photos taken in the city by a photographer with whom I collaborated. 

The investigation aims to inquire, with this project as case; what the process of representation and analysis is actually producing, what differences it produces in different formats of representation, and how meaning is dislocated/transformed through the handling of material in different formats. First studying the dislocation, transformation as well as transport of meaning of the contents, will enable identification of the entities performing the actions in the process.  An attempt to identify human actors and non-human actants, and which of them were mediators that enabled transport, or intermediaries that dislocated meaning between the different formats, will be made. I address the following questions in relation to the material; what are the differences in content between the report and the exhibition, what contact between actors and actants took place enabling the dislocations/transformations between report and exhibition, and will as a closing remark reflect upon what implications the dislocation/transformation and transport processes may have in a larger perspective in applied projects? 

I found that the content in the report was, in comparison to the exhibition reasoning and nuanced to a higher extent. The different framework chapters in the report that addresses the aim and the context of the study, makes room for more problematization. It makes it possible reaching outside the context of the city by referring to theories and other cases. The exhibition has a stronger “sense of place”, probably partly due to its visual character, which also helps keeping a focused direction. Themes that were only found in the report were e.g. an exoticizing view on the natives that some of the part time stayers expressed, and a crucial insight that no actual meetings or social interaction really took place between the groups, according to my informants. This was not conveyed in the exhibition, although the name of it was “Möten?” (“Meetings?”), meant to be interpreted as a question as to if and how interaction between the two different groups and their physical environment took place. I concluded that the different aims of the different formats were the main reason for this difference; the report wanting to problematize and explain, while the exhibition was aiming at impact and social effect.

The analysis of the fieldwork process located (by my definition) 72 non-human actants, and 14 human actors, of which 50 were intermediaries and 36 mediators all in all. While the non-human actants worked primarily as mediators in this project, they still had a very significant frequency. Concerning actual impact on the transformation/dislocation process, there were almost double the numbers non-human actants to human actors (10 to 6), and here their influence were quite significant. The main human actants in the transformation/dislocation process were the coworkers of the museum, the photographer, me – the researcher, the supervisor from the university, new informants that entered the material in between report and exhibition and imagined visitors of the exhibition to whom we directed our work. The main non-human actants were Österlens museum, Lund University, the photos, the photos interpreting former photos, events and seasons I experienced and observations I made in the city of Simrishamn in between report and exhibition, the home of the photographer in which we often worked, the name and the format of the exhibition. 

I concluded that place has big impact for both the presentation and creation of material, and that many actants consist of a gathering of actors and actants “put on top of each other” by chains of reference, and that this is something to keep in mind when entering co operations with organizations (which are examples of these big compound actants) in applied projects. The additional insight that many actants were creations of actors involved; as material created by us later gaining agency, made the actual inseparability of actors and actants clear. 

In the case of our own project I came to the conclusion that since the many non-human actants were primarily mediators, and since the main parts and most significant ideas of my original material were transferred from the report to the exhibition, transportation of meaning took place to a higher extent than transformation/dislocation. The fact that I initially experienced the project as very loosely defined both concerning exact theme and outcome, might have been one of the reasons that we very freely could transfer meaning through different mediums without much distortion; the fewer actants and actors with agency involved – the more freedom is dealt the creators? 

An exciting finding was, that there were different kind of agencies; the decisive agency, the interpreting agency and the spatial agency, and that there is a constant flow of actions taking place throughout processes with the help of these agencies, and that they in reality intersect with each other. I would like to suggest that the spatial agency has large impact on, and crucial value to applied projects since it is what (in an ideal “pure” form) has the power to make space available for action and room for new forms of presentations. 

Pondering the implications of the findings, regarding the dislocation/transformation and transport processes of meaning in a larger perspective in applied projects, we need to take into consideration some earlier research made in the broad subject of representation and its problems. The social anthropologist Arnd Schneider, who is active in the field of “Art and Anthropology” advocates that we take into account five things when working as ethnographers aiming to work with different, mainly visual, forms of representation; 1. to conceptualize distance from or proximity to the ethnographic subjects, 2. to find new possibilities of transformation in the process of representation, 3. to have a multiple  positioning as a participant-observer in relation to the Other, 4. to develop new formal possibilities, and 5. to reflect profoundly on the relationship of the research process to the final work (Schneider – Three modes of experimenting with art and anthropology 2008:188). Sociologist and anthropologist Charlotte Aull Davies (2008:26,272) argues in Reflexive Ethnography – A guide to researching selves and others, that the tension built between description and (theoretical) explanation when having a critical realist view of the world, is something we should allow to be seen, seize, and put in favour of our knowledge production. Hal Foster, professor of Art and Archeology, on the other hand, has a more critical view in his article The Artist as Ethnographer? (in E. Marcus & R. Myers 1995: The Traffic in Culture – Refiguring Art and Anthropology). He argues that a mix-up of roles between artists and ethnographers, depend on a two-way jealousy and idealization of the two roles. In a climate where site specific art tends to grow, and institutions and clients have the ability to import societal critique and thereby disarm it, this can lead to “pseudo ethnographies”. I extend this argument to be valid also for applied cultural analysis. An introvert and navel gazing reflexivity added onto that may even, he argues, lead to an increased “Otherification” instead of the opposite (1995:303,306f), which has been the goal of the last thirty years of discussions on reflexivity. These perspectives and risks become increasingly urgent, given the outlook of John Law and John Urry, who do not separate ontology from epistemology; the consequence that being what is said about the world is equal to what is in the world (Law & Urry 2004:399). Therefore, they argue, the social (and humanistic ethnographic – I argue) sciences have a strong potential for creating worlds – comprising a “pluriverse” of many parallel worlds. This, since they make accounts on different societies being, non-being and should-being (Ibid.).

I argue that an actor-network analysis of the material we produce and translate to different formats can help us reduce these risks, and that could it also help to fulfill at least three of the five points Schneider suggests adherence to in order to create good quality ethnographic representations. Three of the points (2, 4 & 5) in Schneider’s list, can be synthesized in the last one; to reflect profoundly on the relationship of the research process to the final work. The possibility to develop new formats and techniques increases if we continuously reflect upon the process and the ways in which our interpretations are being done and mediated. To find new possibilities of transformation in the process of representation can be implicit to the creations of new formats and techniques – if you by transformation mean the translation process to the new formats; and in a wider perspective the new worlds which the “products” help to evoke and come into being. Further, the tension between description and explanation advocated by Aull Davies, can both be identified and promoted by actor-network analysis of creation processes and the finished material.},
  author       = {Wiszmeg, Andréa},
  keyword      = {representation,utställning,rapport,format,actor-network teori,Bruno Latour,aktörer,aktanter,kunskapsproduktion,transformation,tillämpad kulturanalys,transport,John Law,John Urry,Charlotte Aull Davies,MACA},
  language     = {swe},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Att (re-)presentera kultur : om transformation av mening i ett tillämpat projekt},
  year         = {2011},
}