Category Archives: Methods

New Materialist Social Inquiry

 

This paper discusses issues of research design and methods in new materialist social inquiry, an approach that is attracting increasing interest across the social sciences as an alternative to either realist or constructionist ontologies. New materialism de-privileges human agency, focusing instead upon how assemblages of the animate and inanimate together produce the world, with fundamental implications for social inquiry methodology and methods. Key to our exploration is the materialist notion of a ‘research-assemblage’ comprising researcher, data, methods and contexts. We use this understanding first to explore the micropolitics of the research process, and then – along with a review of 30 recent empirical studies – to establish a framework for materialist social inquiry methodology and methods. We discuss the epistemological consequences of adopting a materialist ontology.

Introduction

‘New’ (or ‘neo’) materialism has emerged over the past 20 years as an approach concerned fundamentally with the material workings of power, but focused firmly upon social production rather than social construction (Coole & Frost, 2010Coole, D. H., & Frost, S.(2010). New materialisms: Ontology, agency, and politicsDurham, NCDuke University Press.10.1215/9780822392996[Crossref][Google Scholar], p. 7). Applied to empirical research, it radically extends traditional materialist analysis beyond traditional concerns with structural and ‘macro’ level social phenomena (van der Tuin & Dolphijn, 2010van der Tuin, I., & Dolphijn, R. (2010). The transversality of new materialismWomen: A Cultural Review, 21153171.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar], p. 159), addressing issues of how desires, feelings and meanings also contribute to social production (Braidotti, 2000Braidotti, R. (2000). Teratologies. In I.Buchanan & C.Colebrook (Eds.), Deleuze and feminist theory (pp. 156172). EdinburghEdinburgh University Press. [Google Scholar], p. 159; DeLanda, 2006DeLanda, M. (2006). A new philosophy of societyLondonContinuum. [Google Scholar], p. 5). New materialist ontology breaks through ‘the mind-matter and culture-nature divides of transcendental humanist thought’ (van der Tuin & Dolphijn, 2010van der Tuin, I., & Dolphijn, R. (2010). The transversality of new materialismWomen: A Cultural Review, 21153171.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar], p. 155), and is consequently also transversal to a range of social theory dualisms such as structure/agency, reason/emotion, human/non-human, animate/inanimate and inside/outside. It supplies a conception of agency not tied to human action, shifting the focus for social inquiry from an approach predicated upon humans and their bodies, examining instead how relational networks or assemblages of animate and inanimate affect and are affected (DeLanda, 2006DeLanda, M. (2006). A new philosophy of societyLondonContinuum. [Google Scholar], p. 4; Mulcahy, 2012Mulcahy, D. (2012). Affective assemblages: Body matters in the pedagogic practices of contemporary school classroomsPedagogy, Culture & Society, 20927.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar], p. 10; Youdell & Armstrong, 2011Youdell, D., & Armstrong, F. (2011). A politics beyond subjects: The affective choreographies and smooth spaces of schoolingEmotion, Space and Society, 4144150.10.1016/j.emospa.2011.01.002[Crossref][Google Scholar], p. 145).

These moves pose fundamental questions about how research should be conducted within a new materialist paradigm, and what kinds of data should be collected and analysed. This paper addresses the methodological challenges facing those who wish to apply new materialist ontology to social research. Our point of entry is by considering research as assemblage, a key concept in the materialist ontology that we discuss in the first part of the paper. The research-assemblage (Fox & Alldred, 2013Fox, N. J., & Alldred, P.(2013). The sexuality-assemblage: Desire, affect, anti-humanismSociological Review, 61769789.[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Coleman & Ringrose, 2013Coleman, R., & Ringrose, J. (2013). Introduction. In R.Coleman & J. Ringrose(Eds.), Deleuze and research methodologies(pp. 122). EdinburghEdinburgh University Press. [Google Scholar], p. 17; Masny, 2013Masny, D. (2013). Rhizoanalytic pathways in qualitative researchQualitative Inquiry, 19339348.10.1177/1077800413479559[Crossref][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar], p. 340) comprises the bodies, things and abstractions that get caught up in social inquiry, including the events that are studied, the tools, models and precepts of research, and the researchers. In conjunction with a review of 30 empirical studies using new materialist ontology, this analysis suggests principles for new materialist research designs and methods.

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A Mehelle Film About Urban Change in Baku

The documentary below is brought to you by Ajam’s Mehelle project, an initiative dedicated to preserving the sights, sounds, and memories of rapidly-changing neighborhoods in Central Asia, Iran, and the Caucasus. Facade is a product of two years of filming in the Sovetski neighborhood of Baku, which has been the target of a state-led urbanization campaign since 2014. A follow-up film will be released in Spring of 2018.

Produced and Directed: Ajam Media Collective’s Mehelle Project
Production Help: Javid Abdullayev and Ahmed Muktar
Music: Shebnem Abdullazade and Vusal Taghi-zadeh

“The neighborhood was one large family… Sovetski was always strong, and that’s why they want to break us.”

In the center of Azerbaijan’s capital city lies Sovetski, a historic neighborhood that was once home to Baku’s oil workers and their families. Over the course of the 19th and 20th century, Sovetski developed its own distinct identity. Self-proclaimed as the “old” Bakuvians, the residents of the neighborhood have had their ups and downs; they have witnessed political upheavals, the rise and fall of various “-isms,” and economic stagnation, but they always had a close-knit community to fall back on.

Now however, the residents of Sovetski face an uncertain future. Fueled by oil rents and foreign investment since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Baku municipal authorities and the Aliyev administration have initiated many urban beautification projects to dramatically rebrand the former Soviet industrial entrepot as a center for global capital and tourism. Over the last three decades, the municipality has renovated the Old City and the adjacent Torgova district (2008), in addition to building the iconic Flame Towers (2007) and transmuting the historical industrial Black City area into a wealthy suburb known as the “White City” (2014).
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Planetary Gentrification


Loretta Lees: My aim in this talk is to unpack the Anglo-American hegemony in gentrification studies, and in so doing to question the notion of a global gentrification. 

Book Review: Planetary Gentrification by Loretta Lees, Hyun Bang Shin and Ernesto López-Morales

The first book in Polity’s ‘Urban Futures’ series, in Planetary Gentrification authors Loretta Lees, Hyun Bang Shin and Ernesto López-Morales bring together recent urban theory, postcolonial critique and a political economy perspective to offer a globalised take on gentrification. This book is a crucial synthesis of established approaches to gentrification and more recent theoretical developments and is also an excellent example of co-authored scholarship, finds Geoffrey DeVerteuil . 

Planetary Gentrification. Loretta Lees, Hyun Bang Shin and Ernesto López-Morales. Polity. 2016.

planetary-gentrification-coverWith the same three authors, Planetary Gentrification may be seen as a companion to the 2015 volume, Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement, giving a more unified discussion of how to join gentrification debates to current urban theory, of moving beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and ‘heartlands’ of gentrification theory production to embrace a truly cosmopolitan, globalised gentrification, both theoretically and empirically.

Planetary Urbanization

DEBATING PLANETARY URBANIZATION: FOR AN ENGAGED PLURALISM

Neil Brenner,
Working Paper, Urban Theory Lab, Harvard GSD, Summer 2017.

This essay reflects on recent debates around planetary urbanization, many of which have been articulated through strikingly dismissive caricatures of the core epistemological orientations, conceptual proposals, methodological tactics and substantive arguments that underpin this emergent approach to the urban question.  Following brief consideration of some of the most prevalent misrepresentations of this work, I build upon Trevor Barnes and Eric Sheppard’s (2010) concept of “engaged pluralism” to suggest more productive possibilities for dialogue among critical urban researchers whose agendas are too often viewed as incommensurable or antagonistic rather than as interconnected and, potentially, allied.  The essay concludes by outlining nine research questions whose more sustained exploration could more productively connect studies of planetary urbanization to several fruitful lines of inquiry associated with postcolonial, feminist and queer-theoretical strands of urban studies.  While questions of positionality necessarily lie at the heart of any critical approach to urban theory and research, so too does the search for intellectual and political common ground that might help orient, animate and advance the shared, if constitutively heterodox, project(s) of critical urban studies.

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Spaces of Conceptual Invisibility

Systemic Edges as Spaces of Conceptual Invisibility
By Saskia Sassen
“The language of more – more inequality, more poverty, more imprisonment, more dead land and dead water, and so on—is insufficient to mark the proliferation of extreme versions of familiar conditions.’ In the talk Sassen will argue that we are seeing a proliferation of systemic edges which, once crossed, render these extreme conditions invisible. She will focus on this interplay between extreme moment and the shift from visible to invisible – the capacity of a complex system to generate invisibilities no matter how material the condition.’ The talk is based on her latest publication: Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity (Harvard University Press 2014).”

Saskia Sassen
Abstract The point of inquiry in this book is the systemic edge. The key dynamic at this edge is expulsion from the diverse systems in play—economic, social, biospheric. The systemic edge is the point where a condition takes on a format so extreme that it cannot be easily captured by the standard measures of governments and experts and becomes invisible, ungraspable. In this regard, that edge also becomes invisible to standard ways of seeing and making meaning. Each major domain has its own distinctive systemic edge—thus this edge is constituted differently for the economy than it is for the biosphere or the social realm. This edge is foundationally different from the geographic border in the interstate system. The core hypothesis is that we are seeing a proliferation of systemic edges originating partly in the decaying western-style political economy of the 20th century, the escalation of environmental destruction, and the rise of complex forms of knowledge that far too often produce elementary brutalities. It is in the spaces of the expelled where we find the sharper version of what might be happening inside the system in far milder modes and hence easily overlooked as signaling systemic decay. In this regard, I conceive of the systemic edge as signaling the existence of conceptually subterranean trends—trends we cannot easily make visible through our current categories of meaning. From there, the importance of positioning my inquiry at the systemic edge, where a condition takes on its extreme form and in that process also escapes our conventional measures and representations.
At The Systemic Edge

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The Systemic Edge : An Interview with Saskia Sassen

Saskia Sassen was interviewed for New Politics by editors Riad Azar and Saulo Colón about her new book, Expulsions: When Complexity Produces Elementary Brutalities (Harvard University Press, 2014).

New Politics: In your new book Expulsions, you talk about a “new logic of expulsions.” You claim “expulsion” is a new logic, yet state that the relationship between this advanced form of capitalism and traditional capitalism is similar to the one between capitalism and feudalism. Does “expulsion” operate the same way that “enclosures” did in the development of capitalism? Or in the way “extractivism” works currently in Latin America? What is the significance behind the spatial connotation of the term “to expel”? 

Saskia Sassen: The point of inquiry in this book is the systemic edge. The key dynamic at this edge is expulsion from the diverse systems in play—economic, social, biospheric. This edge is foundationally different from the geographic border in the interstate system. The focus on the edge comes from one of the core hypotheses organizing this book: that the move from Keynesianism to the global era of privatizations, deregulation, and open borders for some, entailed a switch from dynamics that brought people in to dynamics that push people out. Whether such a switch from incorporation to expulsion might also be emerging in China and India requires expertise I lack; China, especially, has seen a massive incorporation of people into monetized economies, but now many of these are among the growing masses of “monetized” poor! China is also experiencing sharpening inequality and new forms of economic concentration at the top, not to mention corporate bullying.

Each major domain has its own distinctive systemic edge—this edge is constituted differently for the economy than it is for the biosphere. One of the organizing assumptions in this book is that the systemic edge is the site where general conditions take extreme forms precisely because it is the site for expulsion. Further, the extreme character of conditions at the edge helps us detect more encompassing trends that are less extreme and hence more difficult to capture. I conceive of these larger trends as conceptually subterranean because we cannot easily make them visible through our current categories of meaning—thus, from there also the importance of positioning my inquiry at the systemic edge.

Today, I see new systemic logics arising from the decaying political economy of the twentieth century … and these include expulsion logics to a far larger and more extreme extent than the preceding Keynesian period, which also had some of this but not as widespread. This decay began in the 1980s. By then the strong welfare states and workers’ syndicates established in much of the West, including in several Latin American countries, had either been devastated or were under severe pressure. To some extent state projects with people-oriented welfare programs had also been strong features in other parts of the world, including, in their own ways, communist countries and those with varieties of socialist nationalism, as illustrated by Nasser’s welfare-state policies in Egypt, systems developed in several post-independence African countries, and in India’s brand of state socialism. In these countries too, decay began in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Quasi-quantitative mapping with scarce resources

From LSE Field Research Methods Labs

Quasi-quantitative Mapping with Scarce Resources

The methodological design I used to map fearscapes is fourfold. First, selection of the spatial entities to be included in the maps. I identified six categories, broad enough to keep flexibility to accommodate the variety of actual spatial entities:

 

 

An Argument for Seeing in Urban Social Science

Jerome Krase

 An Argument for Seeing in Urban Social Science

Ethnographic and other qualitative researches are often relegated to a lesser status despite significant contributions to social science. However, ethnography as a research best practice is firmly anchored in theory, method, and subject matter. This essay synthesizes ways of looking at immigrant and gentrified urban neighborhoods in global cities as visible expressions of cultural and class changes that are expressed in vernacular landscapes.

Keywords: Visual, vernacular, global, methods, theory

Introduction

“When we first pass through local spaces in global cities we are like tourists using our eyes
 to decipher the clues and cues to which we are exposed. Is this a safe or a dangerous place? Am I welcome here or should I leave before it is too late? What kind of neighborhood is it? Are the local residents rich or poor? What is their race, ethnicity, or religion and how (or why) does it matter? Some things are easy to tell on a street, such as there things for sale here? Legitimate merchants make it obvious that they are seeking customers with signs that compete for attention, but for the sale of illicit goods, the signs are subtler. Yet it seems that for the knowledgeable purchaser they are still there in plain view. This reading the “street signs” so to speak is not merely an aesthetic exercise. What we see makes a difference in how we respond to the places and the people we find in our increasingly complex and changing urban surroundings.‟ …(continue below)

‘We Are Watching You Too’: Reflections on Doing Visual Research in a Contested City

We Are Watching You Too’: Reflections on Doing Visual Research in a Contested City

by Milena Komarova and Martina McKnight 
Queen’s University Belfast; Queen’s University Belfast

Sociological Research Online, 18 (1) 19 – 2013
Source: We Are Watching You Tool

http://www.socresonline.org.uk/18/1/19.html


Abstract

This article focuses on our observations of two contentious Orange Order parades and nationalist protests that took place in an interface area in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in June 2011 and 2012. We apply a perspective of visual ethnography as place-making (Pink 2009) to our research experience in order to add to understandings of how a place of conflict is experienced, (re)produced or challenged through the use of photography and video by marchers, protesters and researchers alike. In doing so, we discuss not only the strengths of visual methods, (how they enable a greater understanding of adversarial perspectives, allow researchers to experience contestation emotionally and compel reflexivity), but also more controversial aspects of their use (the extent to which they limit what researchers notice or omit and legitimate particular versions of conflict). Last, but not least, we suggest that the ubiquitous use of ‘the digital eye’ in the contentious events we observed has a democratising influence over elements in the performance of conflict: challenging the presumed roles of performers and audiences; of researchers and researched; opening contentious events to a wider audience and facilitating the communication of competing narratives.

Time Lapse Photography – Public Space Public Life

“Gehl Architects employ an observational analysis technique to investigate how people move through and spend time in public space. This type of analysis, known as public space public life studies, has been developed and refined over 40 years first by Jan Gehl is now used by Gehl Architects to form the basis of strategic and design advice. Gehl Architects work to evolve the analysis techniques with use of new technology such as mobile phone applications and time lapse photography. These new techniques don’t replace the old but add new layers of knowledge and understanding as well as new ways to visually communicate data. Here time lapse helps us to understand the ebbs and flows of people throughout the day at a key public space (Gammel Torv) along the pedestrian street (Strøget) in our urban laboratory – Copenhagen, Denmark.”

Public Space Public Life Studies

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