centrifuge a methodological figuration
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centrifuge A methodological figuration
An approach to study mediated subjectivations in social movements
6. August 2010 Marion Hamm
Lucerne University (Switzerland)
Inspiration 1: the Euromayday Project
• Since 2005, the figure of the precarious superhero-ic circulates in the Euromayday network.
• Precarious superhero-ics transform their tactics of everyday life in precarious conditions into subversive superpowers to create collective sociabilities.
• The figure of the precarious superhero-ic is mediated, narrated and enacted (Vanni).
• These practices can be seen as technologies of the self, enhancing the production of political subjectivities.
• They amount to a technique of knowledge production through collective reflection of experience: embodied, visualised, situated
Inspiration 2: Feminist figurations
• the womanist (Walker 1984)• the lesbian (Wittig 1992)• the cyborg (Haraway 1990)• the inappropriate(d) other (Minh-Ha 1989)• the “eccentric subject” (De Lauretis 1990)• the mestiza (Anzaldua 1987)• the nomadic feminist (Braidotti 1994)• the angel (Irigaray 1993)• the halo (Thrift)
• I. feminist figurations• II. contextualising Centrifuge• III. describing centrifuge
– merry-go-round– whirliwig– inertia– perspectivity
• IV. applying centrifuge– ethnography– Theoretical framework / research questions– positioning
• V. summary
I. feminist figurations
transfiguring, transmuting, estranging, dissociating, de-centering
“Figurations are not pretty metaphors” (Braidotti 1994). They are:
• … politically informed maps, which play a crucial role at this point in the cartography of feminist corporeal materialism in that they are redesigning female subjectivity.
• … relational images; they are rhizomes • … expressing accountability for one’s locations• ... acting as the spotlight that illuminates aspects of one’s practice
which were blind spots before• ... functioning like conceptual personae. • ... materially embodied stages of metamorphosis of a subject
position towards all that the phallogocentric system does not want it to become
• ...not flights of fancy imagined to distract us from the day to day but carefully considered trajectories that send us headlong into the complexity of living realities (St. Pierre)
Figurations are theoretical operations
• a metaphorical practice of thinking that creates a distance to given canons and preformulated questions
• thinking relational, not binary (theory-practice; discourse-body; cause-effect; structure-action; system-lifeworld)
• subverts cartesian body-mind dualism• works through conceptual personae, politics of localisation• produces situated knowledge: places the
researcher/philosopher/intellectual inside the theory• Circumvents and challenges the authority of „western rational
humanist enlightenment discourse“• A way for institutional feminist cyborg-ed monster researchers to
create a position from where to apply leverage
What is a feminist cyborg-ed monster researcher?
• Gender-power relations as an object of study and an institutional formation in which study is being performed
• „woman“ at university still occupies position of the other
• Academic discourse and habitus demands separation of activism and research
• Academic field is structured by disciplinary boundaries
• Boundaries around „Planet activism“ are built by levels of commitment – part-time activism can be suspicious.
• Neighbouring others of „planet activism“: mass media journalists, police informers, researchers
• Cyborg figurations empower positions of otherness as starting point for production of situated knowledge
• For a woman activist-turned-academic, the cyborg-monster figuration allows to occupy a subject position in-between in research, writing and habitus.
Why figurations in studying media activism
• Need to think of complex formations of media practices encompassing various types of media in relation to each other and to protest repertoires, everyday life and discourses in different urban and national settings
• Social movement theorists focus on instrumental aspects of media for ressource mobilisation and framing purposes (Downing 2008)
• Notions of media as technical instruments (Kittler), discursive or communicative vehicles (Ayass 2006) focus on one aspect, not the relations between aspects
• Knowledge technique of figurations allows to develop and express an original methodological and theoretical approach to media practices of the euromayday project
• Figurations allow to develop a situated point of view from where to engage with existing approaches AND interpret the euromayday materials I collected.
• lets my thinking interact with social movement theory on a par
Why a figuration for methodology?
• drowning in material• going off on tangents• can‘t let go of any part of my material• Material does not ‚fit‘ into the framework of social movement theory• Interdisciplinarity: resistance to subscribe to one clear theoretical
model (sociologies of social movements, media, culture; actor-network; cultural studies; hegemony theory; discourse and practice theories...)
• can‘t find „my“ language to formulate analytical questions, hypotheses and findings, or to describe my methodology
• Need another imagination to explain what characterises my methodological approach.
Centrifuge: the image for my approach• The centrifuge as a technical apparatus works through three
forces: centrifugal, centripetal and the force of inertia• Centrifugal forces keep leading the ethnographer into an ever
expanding field. Media practices intersect with a whole way of life and a structure of feelings (Williams). I end up researching the thousandth website to confirm a minute detail that I won‘t even need in the text.
• Centrifugal forces are counterbalanced by centripetal forces which pull towards the center of enquiry. Which are the centripetal forces that allow to analyse the cultural structure of media formations in social movements?
• The force of inertia: causes the researcher / the objects in the field to go off on a tangent
• Perspectivity: The perception of the effects of these forces depends on the position of the observer both in physics and in ethnography
• Centrifuges are omnipresent in everyday life, science, work, leisure: a reminder of the situatedness of knowledge production.
II. Contextualising centrifuge
in the playground
in the kitchen
in the household
in the factory
in the factory
in industrial production
milk centrifuge, Miele 1899
Centrifuge for DNA-Isolation
They are gendered ...
The centrifuge figuration...
works as a reminder of the presence of everyday life and work and the power relations inscribed in them. This is crucial:
• in the media practices of the euromayday movement of the precarious– Work and everyday live are made productive in media practices– Media practices are embedded in activists social relations, their
spacial practices, their ideological models the organisating mobilising of social movements
• in the process of knowledge production– institutional and non-institutional settings– Shaping the choice of theoretical and methodological
III. describing centrifuge
How the centrifuge works
3 forces are at work in a centrifuge:• centrifugal force• centripetal force• force of inertia
2 attributes:• perspective• Although the centrifugal force is not a „real
force“, it works to make calculations
The rotating ball
Three forces: Centrifugal, Centripetal, Inertia
Definition: centrifugal force
• Centri-fugal: from Latin words centrum - center and fugere - to flee
• The centrifugal force is the apparent outward force that acts on an object moving in a circle and causes it to flee the centre of rotation
• In physics, the term denotes the effects of inertia that arise in connection with rotation
Objects on a merry-go-round
• If we place a ball near the center of a merry-go-round and set it in motion, the ball will whizz away from the center and into the playground.
• If we place several balls, they will move in many directions.
• The centrifugal force explains this movement away from the center.
Dripping paint onto a rapidly spinning turntable:The outward movement of the paint illustrates the centrifugal force.
Dj turning the tables on a truck during a Euromayday Parade
III.2. Whirligig with strings
Definition: Centripetal force
• Centri-petal: from Latin words centrum - center and petere – aim at
• The centripetal force is the inward force that acts on a rotating body in the direction of the centre of rotation
Examples for centripetal force
• The passengers of the whirligig are moving in a circle around the center of rotation. The strings on their seats exert centripetal force towards the center of rotation equal to the centrifugal force causing them to flee the center of rotation.
• When children are holding on to the rails of a rotating merry-go-round, they need to exert centripetal force equal to the centrifugal force in order not to fall off.
Funfairs and circusses
Tony Blair last night vowed that violent protests by an "anarchist travelling circus" would not be allowed to prevent EU leaders holding summits.
Two days of rioting, which left parts of Gothenburg city centre in ruins, shocked the ministers attending the summit and led to a review of security.
(The independent, Sunday, 17 June 2001)
Cabaret Precario Euromayday Malaga
• (physics) the tendency of a body to maintain its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force
• (physics) Newton‘s first law of motion: an object at rest will tend to remain at rest while an object in motion will tend to remain in motion unless acted on by an unbalanced force. The unbalanced force on the object will change the speed of object, the direction of the object, or both. The resistance from the object to change its state of motion is known as inertia.
• inactiveness: a disposition to remain inactive or inert; "he had to overcome his inertia and get back to work"
• (popular culture) Inertia is the name of a female lesbian superheroe from the fictional Marvel Universe. She has the ability to transfer inertia (momentum) from one person or object to another.
Break free from the logic of sinBreak free from the logic of workFree the Pigerman inside you
Pigerman is something like half a tiger, but he is also half a cat. He commands the mega superpower of creative lazyness. Thanks to this power he won‘t even think of supporting the system
From Italian pigro: lazy, idle, inertial
Superhero-ic imbattibile Pigerman (Chainworkers, Euromayday 2005)
A ball is placed on the stagnant merry-go- round and pushed from b. to g.
The ball moves in a straight line.
III.4 Perspectivity of centrifugal forces
Perspectivity: Rotating merry-go-round
In relation to the ground, the ball moves in a straight line.
In relation to the merry-go-round,the ball moves at an angle
What we see depends on our position as observers.
non-inertial frame of reference
• The observers outside the merry-go-round are in an inertial frame of reference. They see the movement of the ball in relation to the ground.
• The observers on the merry-go-round are in a non-inertial frame of reference. Their frame is accelerating (because it is moving in a circle).
• In order to explain curved movement in a non-inertial frame, a force needs to be imagined. This force is the centrifugal force.
• The ethnographer is in a non-inertial frame of reference. She does not seek an objective truth independent from context, but analyses cultural meaning-making and practices (Geertz, De Certeau, Hoerning) inside the moving context.
Inside or outside?
III.5. The centrifuge
• The centrifuge is a technical apparatus that puts an object in rotation around a fixed axis. It uses the centrifugal force to separate substances of different specific gravities, or to separate collidal particles suspended in a liquid.
• The centrifuge encompasses motion, circularity, focus, centering and de-centering, analysis
• It appears in laboratories, factories, fun-fairs, households, everyday life.
IV. applying centrifuge
IV. 1. The merry-go-round
Following the trajectories of the field
Ethnography• Open-ended – constructing the field is part of the
analytical process• Multi-sited ethnography for geographically distributed
field (marcus)• In-built triangulation: Includes wide variety of material
types – mutual contextualisation• Online and offline ethnography• Participant observation allows to grasp practices• Contextualisation through browsing websites: „Virtual
ethnography“ or content analysis?• Need for a wide notion of media (media philosophy)• Trace the „imageries of precarity“• Experience the field
Avenues and trajectories
• Browsing Websites (calls, photos, posters, videos, reports, self-representations, mailing lists, stories and histories) -> Sources for textual analysis? Representation? Evidence of practices?
• Participating in EuroMayDay Parades• Participating in related protest events and convergences• Social centres (sociability? Media appropriation?)• Tracing manifestations of euromayday online• Contextualising euromayday within and across cities• My data collection was metonymic – worked by
association, not condensation.
Centrifugal forces(stuff that seems to lead away from the center of enquiry)
• Too many micro materials! Not organised! Database useless!
• quantitative or qualitative collection?• Do i need to know how many reports about each emd
were published? Do I need to evaluate ALL of them to select the one I want to present?
• How do I choose the ones I need?• Do I need to listen to ALL of them? (Impossible!)• Knowing about the complexity of each local setting leads
me to explore each in minute detail
Whirligig torture contraption
IV.2. The Whirligig
Using centripetal forces of relational theory
Centripetal forces(stuff that keeps coming back)
• Space: Euromayday as a set of space-producing practices
• Media: Practices drawing on (sub-) cultural repertoires; practices of media appropriation
• Subjectivity: Production of „precarity figurations“ as political subjectivities
• Tactics: Register of mediated movement tactics
Space, media, subjectivity, tactics
• How to connect these elements to each other?• Analyse them from the point of view of practices• Conceptualize Euromayday as a relational formation:
– each aspect relates to other aspects– Media, media assemblages: Representations and practices
relate to each other. Analyse images and videos as perfomative representations.
– Space: organisational formations (affinity groups, media projects, social centers) and their mediated representations relate to each other. Analyse „the space of Euromayday“ as multi-scalar networks
– Subjectivity: everyday experience and the politicised issue of precarity are put into interaction via media practices. Analyse the production of political subjectivities as „figuration of the precarious“. Compare it with Broecklings post-fordist subjectivity.
– Tactics: Movements cast practices relating to media, spacial orders and subjectivity into interventionist tactics.
• Combines existing theories of practice in framework of human geography (N.Thrift)
• Mode of thinking which seeks to immerse itself in everyday practices (as opposed to representations of practices)
• Based on 3 philosophical approaches– phenomenological (Heidegger, Merlau-Ponty, Wittgenstein ->
Bourdieu, De Certeau)– neovitalist (Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bregson -> Deleuze/Guattari)– post-structuralist
• Open to ethnographic methodology, experiments with observant participation, performative ethnography, montage writing
main tenets of non-representational theory(cadman)
• Practice: Understood through historical and spacial specificity. Dialogical, processual, responsive, unpredictable.
• Everyday life: practices of embodied dispositions (habitus), includes spaciality, constitutes rhythms in cities.
• Performativity: processual and transformative nature of practice, which productes subjectivity. Thinking at interstice between thought and practice. Drawing on Butler.
• Embodiment and biopower: bodies not disciplined subjects but molecularised virtualities. Capacity to affect and be affected.
• Coexistence of multiplicity of time-spaces• Virtualities: real, but not always actualised. Differentiating relations
between forces prior to actualisation.• Immancence – a mode of thinking that seeks to overcome all
divisions, dualisms, and causal principles by commitment to the virtual flow of „life itself“.
Rabbit of precarity
Logo from web-portal
4 stars: Red, black, green, pink
Map of 2005 euromayday parades
• made in Sevilla (-> fadaiat initiative: combines mapping and media practices)
• Represents space of euromayday (dissolves national borders in favour of relations between cities)
• the media practices creating it (figurations of precarity, use of ICT, copyleft, paragdigmatic series of cities, protest events)
• Visualises multifaceted concept of precarity of live and work (migration, feminisation, instability, virtuosity, creativity …)
• Visualises political reconfigurations / subject positions (red – traditional labour struggles, black – anarchism, green – ecology, pink – gender/feminism/queerness)
• -> the research program to analyse spacial practices
• Ethnography is done IN a village/site, not ABOUT a village/site (Geertz)
• In the ethnographic process, a „field“ (writing culture debate?) is constructed. A unit of relational meanings and practices (bounded or unbounded, multi-sited or single-sited) where a question can be pursued.
• Constructing the field is an ongoing process marked by reflexive interaction between researcher and field.
• - > method to study the construction of space through practices• The answer to the methodological question „where is my field“ will
also answer the question for spacial practices of the euromayday movement.
How to talk about space
• Space is produced (Lefebvre, Löw, Massey)• Changes of constitution of space in relation to globalisation (sassen,
jessop, massey)• Social movements role in this change (sassen, castells)• Global protest movement with euromayday as one of the movement
networks nested in it.• Protest format „Euromayday parade“ spread across Europe• The dissemination of social movements across space has been
analysed from various angles (protest repertoires, circulation of struggle).
• Open question: how do movements‘ own media relate to the dissemination of movements and the perspectivic transformation of space (it is transformed from perspective of movements)?
• Open question: Which practices make this happen?
Concepts of space
• Transnational public sphere• Space of flows and places (Castells)• Network imagery (Diani, Juris, Castels, Routledge)• Multi-scalarity (McDonald, Sassen)• Multi-scalar convergence spaces (Routledge)• Media-, finance-, ethno- scapes and imagination (Appadurai)• Perspectivity - Horizons and the unity of place (Bausinger)
media assemblages in Euromayday project
• Collage shows printed and online mobilisation materials for 2005. Posters evoke paradigmatic series of cities
• The parades also included interactive games, megaphoned speeches, radio shows, webradio, video screenings, body sculpture, puppets, dance, music, soundsystems, vehicles
• Mobilisation materials and reports include videos, images, text, songs, webcasts.
-> the euromayday project casts its media practices into complex media assemblages encompassing online and offline, old and new media.
Grasping media variety
Variety of movements‘ media use requires wide notion of media • Media ethnography definitions too technical
– Communication media– Transport media– Storage media
• Bachmann/Wittel excludes alternative media– Mass media (one to many)– Communication media (one to one)– New media (everything possible)
• Media Philosophy (Sandbothe) allows to analyse complex media assemblages – Sensual media of perception: time, space, 5 senses (experience during
protest)– Semiotic media of communication: Image, language, scripture, music
(„text“, what can be analysed through textual analysis)– Technical distribution media: voice, letterpress, film, TV, Computer,
Internet (technical infrastructure – hacklabs, indymedia...)
• Online database of materials of the euromayday movement mainly allows search for media type, place and year -> semiotic image analysis
• Some reports can be read as evidence of media practices• Some are self-reflective (para-ethnographic sources)• To grasp media practices, contextualisation through participant
observation, field diary, interviews, online ethnography• Complete analysis of all webspaces visited is impossible. Spread
across individual’s weblogs, websites of various movements, initiatives and affinity groups in many countries, wikis, mailing lists, social network pages (flickr, youtube, myspace, facebook, indymedia). And over 9 years.
-> choose those which relate to my questions for qualitative, contextualising analysis.
• Bricolage (Bastelnachmittage. Making superhero speech bubbles. Making a big carrot for the parade)
• Activity during parade (spraying, sticking, dancing, painting, drawing, interviewing, filming…)
• Media practices enacted before, during and after parade
• trans-urban circulation of concepts through media
• The post-fordist regime with immaterial labour at the core of the production process is maintained through the regulation of subjectivities
• Producing media is a realisation of what is possible. Media practices are producing subjectivities
• Subjectivity/ies: concept founded on a postmodern and post structuralist discourse, focuses the making of the subject and the taking of subject positions. Stresses the reflexive dimension.
• Technologies of the self are the specific practices by which subjects constitute themselves as subjects within and through systems of power, and which often seem to be either 'natural' or imposed from above. (Foucault)
Figuration of precarity
• Movement developed what could be called a “figuration of precarity”, worked through in different forms in different locations. A theoretical, practical, embodied, relational, performative, mediated formation to represent the movement of the precarious
• Figuration of precarity draws on sub-, mass- and popular cultural repertoires
• Labour movement – the first of May• Video Game - Online parade• Comix - Superheroes Milan, Hamburg, Hanau• Popular veneration of saints - San Precario• European Song Contest - Chiki Chiki
Media practices and subjectivity production are enacted in political interventions. Interventions are transformed into knowledge production endeavors, knowledge production is transformed into intervention.
• Mapping (as propaganda, as knowledge production, as activity in the parades, through the parades as they mark locations while moving through the city)
• Militant research (during parades, but also at other times)
• Bricolage and DIY culture
Whirligig gone mad
Don‘t i need numbers?
How many reports?How many videos each year?
Who took this picture?
And whats on it??
Was the reporting coordinated?
Did I overlook a radio show?
Did I abuse trust?What was the reasonning behind this action/ video/ website?
Do i really „get“ the practices through media?
• my materials don‘t move in a straight line from a to b. They explode.• They point outside euromayday:
– into the urban fabrics of each location
– into their radical histories and collective memories
– into mass culture, subcultures, popular cultural repertoires
– into the history of hacktivism
– into a multiplicity to micro-nodes and hubs of trans-urban movement scenes
• Each object tells a story about media, space, subjectivity AND tactics.
• I am on the whirliwig. I can‘t see the straight line, only the curves.• My perspectives: a sympathetic reader, a prying journalist, a fellow
activist, a friend-of-a-friend, a worried student
positioning the ethnographer
• Ethnographer moves in and out of the field (see other accounts, advantages and disadvantages, trust)
• Aquiring the gaze of the stranger (<-> native‘s point of view)
• Has nothing to give to the field (Atkinson, Jeggle:101)• spy, trickster, fake civil servant meets informant, expert,
comrade, friend• „gaining access“: gewaehrsleute, gatekeepers, entree
billets• Ernsthaftigkeit• Transference and counter transference (devereux)
Positioning the social movement researcher
• Complications in social movement research– Cox: Social movement theory produce knowledge ABOUT
movements, not FOR movements -> politically dodgy– Pickerill: tries hard to produce useful knowledge -> the scholar-
activist need to set boundaries– Juris: militant ethnographer as part of the field– Routledge: claims 3rd space, relies on Gramsci and Foucault
• Me: Uneasy! I wasn‘t there!– Constant negotiation: Split loyalties – to academia, to the field– Wish to belong– Ethics – not to abuse trust. Strict movement codes– Gamekeeper turned poacher! (I‘m poaching in the movement)– The feminist-cyborged-monster-researcher?
IV.4. Force of inertia
Inertia (Edith Freiberg), a lesbian private in the Marvel Comics Universe.
Superpowers: Can absorb and redirect kinetic energy (motion).
Has the ability to transfer inertia (momentum) from one person or object to another.
The force of inertia
Marvel comics, squadron supreme series
Inertia woman• A figure that turns the condition of inertia into an asset• Inertia comes from being torn between different systems of loyalty,
modes of knowledge production, codes for acceptable knowledge.• I use this figure to acknowledge my in-between position, to see how
many in „my field“ are also in-between and to make it productive:– the cultural closeness to the movement I am researching and
the position as a paid researcher– My dependence on the movement and my authority as an
academic– Subject positions: precarious subject, woman, and researcher of
this very subjectivity– In the movement are sociologists, historians, often involved in
„militant research“ projects. • Inertia can be strike – a „me-strike“. How to make an individual
inertial strike political is one of the riddles euromayday tries to solve.
• Inertia makes rotating bodies want to „go off on a tangent“. When the centripetal force is seized, the object flies out of the orbit on a tangent.
• They leave the orbit of my research• I have to trust my centripetal forces and let objects that
are not held by them go. • Therefore I will not study the internal communication
flows of EMD, will not analyse the mailing lists, will not go into the depth of hacktivism.
The methodological centrifuge
Using centrifugal and centripetal forces and the force of inertia for analytical purposes
• The centrifuge figuration uses metaphor and metonymy as rhethoric devices to put the field of enquiry as well as the theoretical tools and methodological operations into interaction.
• My ethnographic data collection was metonymic, a connotative mapping of the space created by the euromayday project. I followed the trajectories laid out by mediated forms of protest and communication.
• My analysis draws on theories of practice and culture pulled together under the label non-representational theory. To analyse the media practices of the Euromayday movement, I draw on post-operaism and social movement theory.
metaphor and metonymy
• Metaphor is used for substitution, while metonymy is used for association.
• Metaphor can mean condensation and metonymy can mean displacement.
• A metonymy acts by combining ideas while metaphor acts by suppressing ideas.
• In a metaphor, the comparison is based on the similarities, while in metonymy the comparison is based on contiguity.
• The figuration centrifuge uses images metaphorically: to signify the methodological research process and condense it in the metaphor of the centrifuge.
• The openness of the ethnographic research process is substituted by ‚centrifugal forces‘, which in turn are substituted by the merry-go-round.
• Analytical devices are substituted by ‚centripetal forces‘ which in turn are substituted by the whirliwig.
• The perspectivity of a methodological approach that produces situated knowledge is substituted by the comic figure „inertia“
• The figuration centrifuge uses images metonymically: to associate the methodological concept to the field of research and to associate the metaphor of the centrifuge to the field of research
• The ink blot on the turntable illustrating centrifugal forces leads to the dj‘s turntables at a Euromayday parade.
• The superhero-ic pigerman connects the force of inertia (physics) to the media practices under investigation.
• The comic character „Inertia“ plays on the polysemy of the word and highlights the contiguity between movement and methodology.
• The figuration centrifuge uses the polysemie of language
A conceptual tool
• Inspired by poststructuralist feminist figurations• To develop a methodology that is tailored to the field of research
and takes up its techniques of knowledge production• To accept the initial openness of the ethnographic field and take in
it‘s many trajectories and impasses• To build concepts that allow to describe aspects of the field
Media practices in the Euromayday project enhanced a multi-scalar, relational space, drawing on everyday experience to produce political subjectivities enacted in interventionist practices.
• To place the researcher both inside and outside the field• To remind the researcher that she produces situated knowledge
End of story
Case studies for space
• Several euromayday cities: the local specificity (syntagmatic analysis? Complexity of relations in each city)
The centrifuge is a technical apparatus that puts an object in rotation around a fixed axis. It uses the centrifugal force to separate substances of different specific gravities, or to separate collidal particles suspended in a liquid.