“Impossible to Simply Continue Along Previous Lines” A Partial Design Sketch of Enactable Social Theorizing

Overview of Notes on Enactable Social Theorizing assembled in 2012, followed by key points of each of the notes. Comments welcome to help nudge me to revise and develop the notes.
• Interested in social theory; critical of Social Theory
Intersecting processes improves on structure-agency duality
• Interested in people’s problem-solving and path-charting abilities in well-facilitated collaborative processes
• At the same time, want to inject understandings of structures
• Critical of the complementary depressive and fantasizing modes of most left-leaning social theory
• Interested in social theory that addresses
o Heterogeneity, shifting associations, and contingency
o Brings the multiple strandedness of changing social life into the center
• Shift from shaping a better social theory to allowing for social theorizing
• Enactable, contingent social theorizing maybe unsettled and unsettling, but should social theorizing be something all that much easier to grasp than society-making?

Key points:
1 ‘rich story development that brings with it more positive identity conclusions and new options for action in the world…’

2 ‘critical thinking depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise’

3 ‘create a design sketch to provide an alternative to the depressive and fantasizing modes of Social Theory’

4 ‘To what extent is my proclivity for making design sketches reconcilable with support for translation and digging in deep?’

5 ‘If we are unfaithful to true self, we will extract a price from others’

6 ‘representing of phenomena cannot proceed without multiple choices about practice and action in society, that is, engaging’

7 ‘social theory that addresses heterogeneity, shifting associations, and contingency–that brings the multiple strandedness of changing social life into the center’

8 ‘What if I think that everything is already unruly complexity? What do I do?’

9 Historical processes leading to soil erosion in San Andrés, Oaxaca

10 ‘advancing the theme that the analysis of causes and the implications of the analysis change qualitatively if uniform units are replaced by unequal units subject to further differentiation as a result of their linked economic, social and political dynamics’

11 ‘implications for whom? Suppose we consider the implications for the researchers’

12 if knowledge-making situations are already unruly complexity? In other words, there is an on-going process of building from diverse components, just as a house is built over time using plans and measurements, laborers and contracts, concrete and concrete mixers, wood and saws’

13 ‘scientists in action should be thought of as imaginative agents, working knowledgeably and capably within intersecting domains of action, cross-linking heterogeneous resources over time in order to represent-engage, that is, to build, and to build on, heterogeneous webs. The outcomes of their scientific work—-theories, readings from instruments, collaborations, and so on—-are accepted because they are difficult to modify in practice’

14 Researchers ‘could reflect explicitly on how their own dialogue with other social agents affects their ability to study the situations that interest them. Could they then attempt to identify multiple potential sites of engagement and change for themselves?’

15 E’s map about how to conduct research on the ecology of carabid beetles in the city of Helsinki

16 ‘Taking into account the positive features as well as the limitations of these initial workshops led me on a path of expanding my toolbox, workshop-convening opportunities, and experience in facilitating processes that ‘encourage students and researchers to contrast the paths taken in science, society, education with other paths that might be taken, and to foster their acting upon the insights gained”

17 ‘Anyone thinking that everything is already unruly complexity faces the challenge… of using their ‘knowledge, themes, and other awareness of complex situations and situatedness to contribute to a culture of participatory restructuring of the distributed conditions of knowledge-making and social change”

18 ‘introduce the idea of intersecting processes [by] reviewing an account from the 1970s by the British sociologists Brown and Harris of the development of severe depression in a sample of working class women’

19 ‘the unchangeability of the hypothetical inherited genes says nothing about the most effective, economical, or otherwise socially desirable engagement—or combinations of engagements—to pursue’

20 ‘Understanding such cases requires attention to the ways these processes transgress boundaries and restructure ‘internal dynamics, thus ensuring that the psychosocial or socio-environmental situations do not have clearly defined boundaries and are not simply governed by coherent, internally driven dynamics’

21 ‘The synopsis of a case of soil erosion in Oaxaca has… a number of implications for thinking about the agency of the people studied and, reflexively, of researchers reconstructing intersecting processes’

22 ‘I want more people to think in terms of intersecting processes, which means being able to read the diagrams I present, appreciate the theoretical implications of the concept, start to make their own accounts and diagrammatic depictions, and teach others to do the same’

23 ‘While intersecting processes accounts are produced by an outside observer, they have a complement in a participatory group processes called a Historical scan, which is used either to review a group’s evolution over time or to set the scene in which a project is to be undertaken’

24 An experiment in collective construction of intersecting processes

25 ‘Group-specific praxis–the idea of providing meaning for the participants and guidance in what to do next–has informed… ‘Future Ideal Retrospective’ experiments’

26 The Future Ideal Retrospective approach… is used in Strategic Participatory Planning as developed by the Institute for Cultural Affairs (ICA) in Canada. ICA’s techniques (which also include the Historical Scan) have been developed through several decades of ‘facilitating a culture of participation’ in community and institutional development in many countries.

27 ‘My thinking about tensions between the local and the trans-local has been informed by the writing of the cultural analyst Raymond Williams’

28 ‘There is room to think about and to explain which aspect of the translocal comes into play—-knowledge or resources; contributed or withheld—-and how they interact with solidarities forged through working and living together in particular places.’

29 ‘Shifting attention from speed and extent to differentials in speed and extent points to a more general theme of looking for second-order effects hidden behind or implied by any direct relation or process’

30 ‘Before I can flesh out the idea of ‘enactable social theorizing,’ I want to spend more time in the terrain of theory in STS and sociology… The STS scholar whose work most resonates with these notes is Atsushi Akera.’

31 ‘The playfulness of the[ir] anthropomorphic accounts seems to animate the discussion of the non-human resources, but in practice Latour’s and Callon’s accounts reduce agency to a lowest common denominator, namely, resistance to the agency of others’

32 A common move in STS that I resist…’is to get scholarly mileage by naming something, e.g., a boundary object, when what is needed for an explanation in any specific situation is teasing out of the intersecting processes that temporarily stabilize and give significance to that object’

33 ‘Traditional, big S Social theory seeks to account for the structure and dynamics of Society as a whole… Although such theory is a possible source of propositions to inform researchers’ accounts of their situatedness in society, modern Social theory itself provides grounds for critique of its own project.’

34 A framework for moving beyond the structure-agency dualism, is, playing off Sewell’s dual dual, what I call the ‘triple-triple.’

35 ‘In order to bring in connections across scales, an Historical Scan could be combined with the Future Ideal Retrospective for groups’

36 ‘In one sense the FIR/Historical Scan requires some early adopters for the initial period of experimenting and refinement. Whatever emerges from that period would, however, be a process that, by its very nature, addresses the particular concerns of participants while positioning their pragmatic concerns in a context that builds in mutual support.’

37 ‘To lessen the hold of the past on participants’ formulation of paths ahead.. adopt ‘Re-membering Conversation’ and “Outsider witness retelling” rituals from narrative work’

38 ‘Tensions are unavoidable when social theory cycles back to the concerns of the individual. Neo-liberal capitalism, building on the liberal origins of capitalism, 150 years or so earlier, emphasizes the freedom of individuals to define and pursue their own aspirations at the same time as it shifts attention away from the contributions by people within very constrained parameters to the production and reproduction of the material conditions that the freely aspiring individual takes for granted.’

39 ‘Let me leave as exercises for readers the following…’
a) identify other tensions not so labeled in these notes;
b) list the tools and processes introduced and organize them into an ordered toolkit for yourself; and
c) chew on an open question: Where in Enactable Social Theorizing and the picture of heterogeneous intersecting processes is there is a place for strategic action?


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