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11 August 2010

Affective Environments: Thinking Through Flooding

I recently watched this video from the recent SCA conference - you can find the rest of the videos here - and found it very interesting.  She starts with some theoretical discussion of methods and the politics of things, mostly drawing on Isabelle Stengers, but also Latour, Haraway, Callon, and others.  One of the key ideas for me was that researchers are always already engaged in interventions.  We become entangled with the things we are studying, and alter the reality of those things in sometimes dramatic ways.  Another is that, in environmental controversies, those we usually refer to as ordinary citizens often know just as much, if not more, about the issues than the experts who come in to solve a problem.  This knowledge may be different from the expert knowledge, but it's that difference that makes it so valuable and that should prompt experts to seek out the participation of ordinary citizens.  But generally, they don't, despite the increasing discourse of "participatory" research. 

Whatmore gives an example of some work that she's been doing recently with regard to the persistent flooding problems in rural England.  As I understand it, there has been a disconnect between the local people and the experts who were sent by the Environmental agency to address the issue.  Whatmore and her colleagues brought the two groups together and formed a research team that was truly participatory.  They worked together to formulate novel solutions based on the combined knowledge of the experts and the locals.  The solutions that they came up with were subsequently adopted by the Environmental Agency, and have been considered for other parts of the country as well.
She ends with a nice quote from Latour, which I'd really like to know the source for if anyone has it:
"The distance between research is not that between observer and observed (subject and object) but between the context of the world before and after the inquiry.  The question we have to ask ourselves is not whether we have accurately represented some pre-existing phenomenon or entity, but whether there is now a distance between the new repertoire of actions and the repertoire with which we started."

7 comments:

Kai said...

do you have any idea which stengers piece she is drawing from?

Jeremy Trombley said...

I don't actually, but would love to if anyone else does. I did find this one which seems interesting. I haven't read it all yet, so I'm not sure if it's the piece that Stengers refers to, but it's similar at least.

Kai said...

I wasn't watching the video at first and didn't notice the slides, but it looks like at least some of the Stengers was translated by Whatmore herself. Bummer!

Jeremy Trombley said...

It's possible - there's certainly a lot of Stenger's work that hasn't been translated from French yet. Very frustrating, since she's such a key figure in this new paradigm of cultural thought. I know that the first volume of Cosmopolitics has been recently released in English, and I think two more are set to come out in time (this is all about 20 years after they were published in French, I think). There's also Power and Invention, which I have, but haven't read yet. And then a few articles here and there, like the one I linked to before. But it seems her core work - Cosmopolitiques, Penser avec Whitehead, etc. is mostly untranslated at the moment. We'll just have to keep waiting or start learning French, I guess. :)

Jeremy Trombley said...

I just noticed that she's also a contributing author in Whatmore's soon to be released edited volume Political Matter. I'll have to pick that up when it comes out in September.

Kai said...

oh hey, I was wondering what ever happened to that book...turns out they changed the title. I'm just starting at the geography dept. at the U of MN where Bruce Braun is a prof, so that's a good sign I suppose.

Jeremy Trombley said...

Nice! I've been considering applying to Oxford for my doctorate so I can study under Whatmore, but I'm not too confident that I could get in. Still, it's a nice thought! :)

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