Tag Archives: mapping

“Democratic” control of science?

During the first live session for the Collaborative Exploration case about making an e-trail on the Democratic control of science (http://sicw.wikispaces.com/CEFeb14), the meaning of the term “democratic” arose.  This has led me along two paths: Continue reading

What’s the use of it? (Complex maps of science in society)

After a graduate class in which students presented maps they had made of the complex intersections surrounding ideas about genes, race, families, identity, society, business, science,… the question arose of what does one do next. Here are some responses of mine:

1. Look for “an aspect of the map’s complexity that engages you most. Or… look for a path on which you can move through the complexity while turning to the side from time to time so you do not lose sight of the wider terrain” (Taylor & Szteiter 2012, 110ff). This is the question we asked of each students after they described their maps.

2. Interrogate the maps further, with a view to exposing more connections and, perhaps, the mycelium under the visible mushrooms. In the context of this PBL case, we might ask probing questions, such as:

a. How do the data collected limit the questions asked?

b. What meaning of genetic is in play in each instance?

c. What is the social infrastructure (e.g., surveillance, monitoring, ..) that is implied by the use (now or in some future scenario) of the science being pursued?

d. Where does this item sit in relation to the tension that rises when we want to “shift the focus from group membership to heterogeneous pathways without bolstering the fiction that racial group membership no longer brings social benefits and costs”? (Taylor 2009)

e. Which of these four aspects of racial distinctions are being addressed: similarity, diversity, ancestry, and admixture?

etc. (For some themes to rephrase as questions, see Taylor 2009)

3. Establish spaces in which people can choose to take time away from more directed and feasible directions of research and activism to explore the wider realm of issues that they had been backgrounding or leaving unnoticed. (See discussion of refractive practice and CPR spaces.)

4. Include #1, 2, and 3 in a more ambitious endeavor— “enactable social theorizing,” described in an incomplete and unedited thought piece. In brief, the ideal is to embrace:

heterogeneity, shifting associations, and contingency… bring[ing] the multiple strandedness of changing social life into the center (as against being the variation or noise around the deeper [more essential] Social Dynamics [capitalization deliberate here])… shift[ing] the focus from shaping a better social theory to allowing for social theorizing, as well as from representing social dynamics to enacting social theorizing in the form of repeatedly defining and pursuing engagements in the heterogeneous dynamics that intersect in all kinds of society-making.

Taylor, P. J. (2009). “Infrastructure and Scaffolding: Interpretation and Change of Research Involving Human Genetic Information.” Science as Culture, 18(4):435-459.
— and J. Szteiter (2012). Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement Arlington, MA, The Pumping Station, 2012.

Science and maps: Discussion with Katy Börner (Day 5 of Learning road trip, morning)

The “Places & Spaces: Mapping Science” collection at the University of Indiana http://scimaps.org/maps/browse/ includes many aesthetically pleasing, information-filled figures, maps, and other graphics.   I arranged to talk with the director of Places & Spaces, Katy Börner, so as to explore the tension between map as representations of reality (which Places & Spaces exemplified) and as devices that show the way-providing a guide for further inquiry or action.  I let her know that I was interested in how new angles of representation (as were evident in Places & Spaces) can inform (or not) the ephemeral, pragmatic maps my students make during their research and writing.

What happened:

Katy Börner described how her background as an engineer led her to be interested in tool.  Tools her group has developed for analysis of large data sets allow us to explore when, where, what, and with whom (e.g., in what networks).  These tools can be put in the hands of policy-makers, funders, research agencies (e.g., so NSF can identify who good reviewers are).  One resource is a data base of scholarship (most biomedical) that has 25m records (http://sdb.cns.iu.edu).  Such a database affords lots of room for exploration, which is a key aspect of her course on informational visualization.  Another emphasis is on focus (“high-level resolution”) and context (which is characteristic of Places & Spaces).  By implication, Börner’s response to the tension I identified is to say there is lots of room for exploration once one has access to a super-large data base and some tools (presented in tutorials that accompany http://sdb.cns.iu.edu.

(Start of road trip; Day 5 midday)

Political ecology—Distributed social agency

(Continuing a 1998 draft paper on Political ecology–a fertile site for development of social theory)

Distributed social agency

We are now in a position to discuss “distributed social agency,” the third broad heuristic that characterizes political ecology as a theory of complexity and distinguishes it with other approaches.  This has implications for the expanded project introduced in the previous section.  The social agency implied in the account of Schroeder was distributed, not centered in one class or place…

The intersecting processes characteristic of political ecology has implications, not only for how environmental degradation is conceptualized, but also for how one responds to it in practice.  Intersecting processes accounts do not support government or social movement policies based on simple themes, such as economic modernization by market liberalization, sustainable development through promotion of agro-forestry practices, or mass mobilization to overthrow capitalism.  They privilege multiple, smaller interventions linked together within the intersecting processes.

This shift in how policy is conceived requires a corresponding shift in scholarly practice.  On the level of research organization, intersecting processes accounts highlight the need, in brief, for transdisciplinary work grounded in particular sites.  They do not underwrite the customary, so-called interdisciplinary projects directed by natural scientists, nor the economic analyses based on the kinds of statistical data available in published censuses.  On the level of scholarly exposition, because we wanted to present Schroeder’s account as one that others can digest and adapt to their own situations, we abstracted away considerable detail.  An even simpler account might have been easier to remember, but we did not want readers to lose sight of how political ecological analyses are best taken up.  Each analysis, such as the one of Schroeder, should be viewed, not as a general explanatory schema, but as a guide for further studies.  Researchers entering the field might first follow this guide, but then depart from it as they faced the particularities of their research sites…

These tensions became less debilitating when we accept that each additional strand of complexity has increased the range of relevant social agents, the diversity of resources they mobilize, and the possible points of engagement and reconstruction.  Our task need no longer be to resolve the tensions and present a comprehensive argument covering the complexity of the expanded project.  Instead, we aim to evoke an on-going process of opening up questions and opening out to greater complexity.  Moreover to do so in a way that invites others to keep tensions like those of the schema active and productive as they reconstruct the complex social and environmental situations with which they are involved.

(the paper needs to discuss workshops as a setting for this; see, e.g., mapping & social-theorizing)


Intersecting processes combined with Historical scan to generate enactable, group-specific praxis

This post describes an activity that addresses the shortcomings and potentialities of i. Intersecting process accounts, ii. Mapping by researchers of “connections” that motivated, facilitated, or constrained their inquiry and action; and iii. Historical Scan to set the scene in which a project is to be undertaken.
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Mapping: Can scientists become interpreters of science and bring the interpretations to bear on their science? II

Although the goals of mapping workshops were not fully met in the initial experiments described in the previous post, lessons can be drawn for the more general project of helping researchers reflect on their situatedness and act self-consciously to change their subsequent scientific practice.

1.  The workshop participants were self-selected and by no means representative of researchers.  Almost all of them were advanced graduate students willing to commit time to reflect on their research and possible future directions.  Having cut their teeth as researchers, they were now receptive to expanding the range of influences, both theoretical and practical, in planning their work.[i] The challenge for a workshop convener is to attract researchers other than students and to sustain their interaction long enough for maps to be revised and new collaborations to emerge.  On a simple level, revision could be helped by suitable computer software to draw and redraw maps, so that researchers would be better able to respond to the input of other participants in the workshop.  At a more fundamental level, workshop convenors who hoped to achieve wider participation and sustained interaction would need more institutional resources, workshop leading skills, and time than Haila and I had during these initial mapping workshops.

2.  Mapmakers may not be successful in modifying the directions in which they subsequently move. The original assumption behind mapping was that identifying multiple potential sites of engagement would help mapmaker change, but a successful outcome does not necessarily follow.  As it turned out, for example, E was not able to complete his study of urban carabid ecology.  Making a map or producing some other account of how research is constructed provides no guarantee that researchers will become able to mobilize different resources to their advantage.  Stanley Fish, an influential interpreter of legal texts and literature, takes this insight a step further and asserts that reflection on one’s situatedness is irrelevant to changing it (Fish 1989).

Not surprisingly given my view that all scientific agents “assess… the practical constraints and facilitations of possible actions in advance of their acting” (see post on imagination), I dispute Fish’s assertion.  It should be an empirical matter—one to be established through experiment and experience—which kinds of reflection, workshop processes, and modes of interaction and support contribute most to scientists modifying and restructuring the situations in which they undertake research (see Taylor 2005, Chapter 6, section C2 and C3, and Epilogue; also posts on workshops).  Of course, would-be workshop conveners who hope to experiment and apply the experience gained would need resources, such as those to which I alluded in the previous paragraph.

3.  The maps were centered on the individual mapmaker, tended to be idiosyncratic, and were not explicit about theory about the researchers’ situatedness in society and its implications for their scientific practice.  Again, further experiment and experience would be needed to promote more systematic map-making approaches and to assess their value.  What might happen if, say, workshop leaders urged a standard format, offered models from analogous situations, or promoted various theories or propositions about micro- and macro-social change?  Would some idiosyncrasy still have to be encouraged to ensure that scientists reflect freely on and consider changes in their own particular research settings?

Deciding the extent to which to seek regularized, theoretically explicit maps recalls all the conceptual and methodological choices identified in Taylor (2005, chapter 5, section A):  The boundaries of maps call out for negotiation—how far away from the individual researcher should the “horizon” of the map be drawn?  Should something other than the researcher’s issue be placed at the center?  If shifts in focus are entertained, the appropriate categories for interpreting and engaging with science are far from obvious.  The traditional focus that scientists and philosophers place on scientific claims can be stabilized only by separating research questions from research work and social support.  These realms are routinely traversed by scientists, however, even as they talk as if their scientific work derived only from the situations studied, not from their situatedness.  Moreover, once mapmakers acknowledge the existence of resources in their work situation or in the wider social context, should they look for regularities or structure in those resources?  Should they borrow from social theory and attempt to generalize about the situations in which research is done?  To the extent that generalizations discount or filter out the contingency and idiosyncrasy of scientists’ actions, do they inject a degree of determinism not apparent in the individual situations?  Finally, as answers to these questions are decided, mapmakers might ask what engagements or social actions they are privileging and facilitating.

The questions could be posed not only to mapmakers but also to anyone “reflecting on their situatedness” with a view to “acting self-consciously to change their subsequent scientific practice.”  Yet note the tension between pragmatic considerations and the logic of posing these as open questions (see discussion of practical reflexivity in Taylor 2005, chapter 5, section A).  It is quite a challenge for mapmakers to choose and depict the diversity of connections around their focal issue, without the additional task of reflecting deeply on the categories, boundaries, generalizability, and so on, of their maps.  Indeed, future workshop leaders may facilitate mapmaking by supplying a template of interpretive categories and themes.  Even so, there is nothing natural about the depth to which mapmakers (or other researchers) reflect on their situatedness in seeking to change their practice.  Any choice that mapmakers make or take for granted could be queried by their fellow workshop participants, who could ask how readily that choice could be modified.  Such probing would begin to expose diverse practical considerations that support such choices.

Mapping workshops offer a more direct path for bringing interpretation of science’s sociality to bear productively on scientific practice.  But they do not escape practical reflexivity’s tensions and complexities, which remain not only for the mapmakers but also for workshop conveners.  Conveners might want their workshops to distribute among others the work of interpreting and engaging with research, but this goal is unlikely to be realized unless the convenors have significant institutional resources, workshop leading skills, and free time.  Whether such resources can be assembled is a matter not of the workshop conveners’ will alone, but of their distributed agency.  In my own case, while waiting for an appropriate conjunction of circumstances for further mapping workshops, I used teaching and scholarly presentations to pursue another approach to encouraging researchers to reflect on their diverse resources,, which centered around the concept of intersecting processes.

Extracted from Taylor, P.J. (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press), chapter 5, Part B.


Fish, S. (1989). “Anti-foundationalism, theory hope, and the teaching of composition,” in Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies.  Durham: Duke University Press, 343-355.

Novak, J. D. (1990). “Concept mapping: A useful tool for science education.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 27(10): 937-949.

Taylor and Y. Haila (1989). “Mapping Workshops for Teaching Ecology.” Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 70(2): 123-125.


Mapping workshops and teaching

One participant of the Helsinki mapping workshop observed that “one question leads to ten questions—What is a lake? Why is phytoplankton one category?…” Another likened mapping to the process of writing and revising: “Like writing, out of mapping comes awareness of new parts of the map that need more work.”  Just as in a good graduate student dissertation research seminars, students raised a whole range of issues—from nagging uneasiness they feel about certain research directions to specific technical points—when these would have remained latent in a seminar dedicated to a specific theme.  Mapping workshops certainly warrant attention from other teachers as an approach to stimulating advanced students to define their research (Taylor and Haila 1989).  This approach, it should be noted, differs markedly from concept mapping (Novak 1990) in which the focus is on well-established relationships between concepts.  Mapping as described in the previous post allows mapmakers to explore what is not yet clear about an issue on which they want to take action.

Mapping: Can scientists become interpreters of science and bring the interpretations to bear on their science?

According to the perspective of heterogeneous construction, scientists mobilize a diversity of resources and, in so doing, engage with a range of social agents.  Similarly, when interpreters of science delimit the relevant resources and agents, they also mobilize resources and engage with diverse social agents (Taylor 2005, Chapter 5, section A). Interpreters of science who recognize this might then reflect explicitly on the practical conditions that enable them to build and gain support for their interpretations. Applying the same interpretive framework to one’s own research should enhance the plausibility of their reconstructions of the work of scientists.
There might be more direct way that heterogeneous constructionist interpretation might influence science productively. Instead of relying on some second party to do the reconstruction, could scientists—or indeed any researchers—interpret their own heterogeneous webs? Could researchers reflect explicitly on how their own social embeddedness or situatedness affects their ability to study the situations that interest them? Could they attempt to identify multiple potential sites of engagement and change for themselves? If so, this would cut through some of complexities arising from interpreters trying to model practical reflexivity.

Mapping, Map-makers, and Maps

To explore this possibility with a number of ecologists and natural resource researchers, I convened two “mapping workshops”—the first in Helsinki, co-led with ecologist-philosopher Yrjö Haila; the second in Berkeley. These workshops were designed to proceed as follows. Each researcher would focus on a key issue—a question, dispute, or action in which the researcher was strongly motivated to know more or act more effectively. All researchers would identify “connections”—things that motivated, facilitated, or constrained their inquiry and action. These might include theoretical themes, empirical regularities, methodological tactics, organisms, events, localities, agents, institutional facilities, disputes, debates, and so on. Researchers would then draw their “maps”—pictorial depictions employing conventions of size, spatial arrangement, and perhaps color that allow many connections to be viewed simultaneously. The map metaphor was meant to connote not a scaled-down representation of reality but a device that shows the way—a guide for further inquiry or action (Taylor and Haila 1989; Taylor 1990).
Over a series of sessions the workshop participants would present these maps and be questioned by other participants. As a result they might clarify and filter the connections and reorganize their maps so as to indicate which connections were actually significant resources. The ideal was that researchers would self-consciously modify their social situations and their research together, perhaps in collaborations formed among the workshop participants. Of course, given that mapping was an experiment, it was not surprising that the ideal was not realized in these initial two workshops.
Three maps from the workshops illustrate the map making that resulted. Figure 1, by a Finnish ecologist I will call “E,” was the most orderly of the maps, having been streamlined and redrawn on a computer. As such it does not do justice to the real-time experience of its production during an actual workshop. Indeed, when viewed on their own all the maps appear schematic; valuable history, emphasis, and substance were added when the mapmakers presented their maps to other workshop participants.

Figure 1 Redrawn outline of E’s map about how to conduct research on the ecology of carabid beetles in the city of Helsinki (from Taylor and Haila 1989)

The central issue on E’s map is very broad, namely, to understand the ecology of carabid beetles living in the leaf litter under trees in urban environments. On the map below this issue are many theoretical and methodological sub-problems, which reflect the conventional emphasis in science on refining one’s issue into specialized questions amenable to investigation. Above the central issue are various background considerations, larger and less specific issues, situations, and assumptions that either motivated work on the central issue or were related to securing support for the research. E’s research alone would not transform the urban public into recognizing that “nature is everywhere—including in the cities,” but by combining the upward and downward connections, he reminded himself that work on the background issues, not only refining a working hypothesis, would be necessary to be able to keep doing his research.
In narrating his map, E mentioned some additional history. Many of the ecologists with whom he collaborated had been studying a forest area, but the group lost their funding when the Forestry Department asserted that forest ecology was their own domain. It did not matter that animals are barely mentioned in the ecology of forestry scientists. The ecologists self-consciously, but of necessity, turned their attention to the interconnected patches of forest that extend almost to the center of Helsinki, and explored novel sources of funding and publicity, including a TV documentary. The upward connections were thus a recurrent, if not persistent, influence on E as he defined his specific research questions.

Figure 2 Extract from R’s map concerning research on the peasant economics and politics and tropical forest destruction in Mexico (from Taylor 1990)

Historical background depicted in a narrative format is more evident in a large map by “R,” a Mexican who had come to specialize in the economic and agronomic dynamics which lead to impoverishment of peasants, their migration into forest areas, and subsequent clearing of those forests. Figure 2 is only one section of that map. Although radically different from E’s redrawn map, R’s map also highlighted simultaneous issues of building the disciplinary and collaborative context in which to pursue his many concerns. As a biologist he wanted to stem rainforest destruction; as a political activist he wanted to reduce rural poverty; and as a resource economics graduate student in the U.S. he needed to frame technical questions that could be answered.

Figure 3 M’s map of his research into ecological degradation and impoverishment among nomadic pastoralists in West Africa (from Taylor 1990)

In Figure 3 “M,” an American studying land degradation and impoverishment among nomadic pastoralists in West Africa, depicted a more conventional conception of research. Questions form the bulk of the map and are separated from methods—the strip along the bottom. M omitted the movements, arrangements, alliances, and negotiations he built in order to monitor milk production, elicit from the herders rules governing herd movement, assess herd ownership, measure the effect of grazing on pasture growth, complete surveys to “ground truth” satellite images, and so on. M’s map also located him in his remote field area, and omitted the audiences in the U.S.—sponsors and critics alike—for his current and future research. In short, notwithstanding the guidelines I had given to mapmakers, M included the situation he studied and left himself out.
To what extent, recalling the goals of mapping workshops, did the workshops lead participants to “clarify and filter the connections and to reorganize their maps”? It took considerable time to prepare maps, and the mapmakers did not devote more time to redraw their maps in response to interaction during the mapping sessions. M, for example, did not redraw his map to include his own context. To what extent then did researchers realize the ideal of “self-consciously modify[ing] their social situations and their research together, perhaps in collaborations formed among the workshop participants”? Several participants, at the Helsinki workshop in particular, claimed that the mapping workshop had expanded the range of influences, both theoretical and methodological, that they would bring into planning their future work. One workshop participant commented that mapping made it impossible “simply to continue along previous lines.” Nevertheless, although the workshops provided the opportunity to link up with others around revealed affinities, no new coalitions emerged; changes in the researchers’ work were not so dramatic.

Extracted from Taylor, P.J. (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press), chapter 5, Part B.


Taylor (1990). “Mapping ecologists’ ecologies of knowledge.” Philosophy of Science Association 2: 95-109.

Taylor and Y. Haila (1989). “Mapping Workshops for Teaching Ecology.” Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 70(2): 123-125.