I recently attended a very interesting informal workshop on doing a relational PhD called ‘Overflows: Flows, Doings, Edges III‘. When I heard about it, I applied immediately:
Finding a forwarded and apologetically cross-posted email nestled in my inbox was a rather nice surprise. Not only a workshop on doing a relational PhD, but the third of its kind! Thinking relationally is a challenge and perhaps one that would encourage and acknowledge a sense of experimentation and openness. It would be both a challenging and rewarding to be part of this gathering. I am very interested in hearing, and talking, about what thinking-doing relationally might facilitate in the way of a doctorate.
Some research questions that could be thrown into the ring for debate:
- How to foster conversation and discussion which can be generative? How to find overlaps or zones of similar interest without forcing particular agendas or selectively listening?
- The move to thinking of research materials rather than data has opened up all sorts of avenues for considering what counts as research. But are there still limits to what can be considered valid generated materials?
- Organising fieldwork is far from straightforward and involves all sorts of work which is often excluded from a thesis. Much of this organisation process is ad-hoc, provisional and serendipitous. How then to justify particular fieldwork sites beyond acquiring some sort of access?
I would be delighted to be considered to participate,
The event started mid-morning, opening with a welcoming outlining the brief history of these sorts of workshops (the first was in 2007 at King’s College London, the second in 2008 at the Open University). There was then the seemingly obligatory introductions, but this was not as bad as it can be: participants choosing to be brief and on the whole, fairly witty. The first session was a discussion between those who had chose a particular topic, selected from: serendipity, translation/interference (these were combined), performativity and accountability. I opted for ‘Serendipity’ and was pleasantly surprised by how generative it was as a topic, leading to discussions about methods, writing and ethics.
After lunch we gathered as a group to have a round-table discussion, provisionally titled ‘Relationality’. There are such a number of different approaches that could fall under this broad banner but I was taken aback to note that it was almost considered synonymous with actor-network-theory (ANT). I wonder why there were not more students interested in different ways of thinking relationally… So the discussion foregrounded what it means, practically, to do relational research: paying attention to relations, connections, gaps, cuts. One question raised was: if all the morning themes were so similar, then what is that sameness? I didn’t really feel like this was addressed then, and I’m not sure if I have a decent answer for it now. Another question, a two-parter, was levelled at the group I had been involved in: (1) how to open up to serendipity and (2) how to write this? I can’t remember how I responded but now as I write about it, I find myself thinking about how Thrift (2004) suggests we might give a chance to encounters. Put differently, this is not just noting the many serendipitous events and encounters that form our research but actually taking them seriously, and not writing them out of our work.
The third and final session of the workshop was simply called ‘Overflows’ and styled as a flea-market. Participants were invited to bring an overflow along and to share it, and to explore what could be done with it. I moved from table-to-table, commenting and listening (I learnt of John Law’s notion of pin-board experiments, I think I need to look into this). After the wrap-up session, I was left thinking that working out why an overflow does not work could itself be a story. Moreover, how many loose threads are we allowed to leave in a thesis?
After the workshop had ended the keynotes for the launch of the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change’s (CRESC) Sixth Annual Conference: The Social Life of Methods. Although I had to try hard not to laugh at the acronym for the conference (SLoM), I was excited at the prospect of hearing John Law’s paper ‘The Double Social Life of Method’ and Katie King’s on ‘Knowledge-weaving’. Law’s argument was that methods are social because they (1) are shaped by the social and (2) help shape the social. In other words, methods are actively engaged in doing the social. I didn’t disagree but was perhaps hoping for something which would go beyond this point. And I wasn’t sure if he was using technique as synonymous to method. Katie King’s talk was dedicated to Susan Leigh Star and her term ‘methodological weaving’. Perhaps most interesting, were her comments on the ‘transcontextual’ and on writing with strings, knots and colours, rather than pen, paper and graphemes.