maandag 5 december 2011

Getting lost while walking and talking about nasty situations in the field

On the 18th November we went for another walk/talk. The path we strolled along this time was new. Our way lead from the trainstation of Castricum through the dunes back to the point we started from. And I must say, I found it the most beautiful of all the walks we did in the last months.

The route was new, but another thing remained the same. As usual we got lost on the way - despite iPhone and several maps.

And these were the questions we discussed:

You are doing fieldwork. In the field a lot is going on. You do not just find answers to your research question, as so much more is happening. Your informants may hope that you will help them. Or they may act in ways that make you feel uncomfortable. Bad things happen. What to do?

How to engage with nasty situations? How to do so, then and there, and how later, when you are writing? When do you stress them, highlight them, or when might it be wiser not to mention them?

If to you it seems best to write about "the bad", then how might this be done? On which platforms: social science journals, the newspaper, the web? In which tone: critical, with wonder, concerned? Who are you talking to: ‘the public’, the masters of capital or the guardians of the state, your informants, who else? And how does all of this relate to writing a PhD thesis, which is also doing an exam?

zondag 13 november 2011

What is the question?

The question we dealt with this time - while walking in the rain through a wood full of autumn leaves - was a particular one, namely: What is the question?

You have an interesting case, a case that so far has not been studied or not in the right way. You are gathering or have gathered great material, experienced disconcerting moments, have plenty of stories to tell.

But what is the question?

How to invent a good question? And what makes a question 'good'?
Which questions open up a space to think and write in and which others lead on to dead ends? How to recognize how questions work out? And can a question be what comes out of a study: the point?

woensdag 28 september 2011

Excess and abundance

Matei Candea is the guest who will join us this Friday on the walk from Overveen to the beach and back to Zandvoort. Matei currently explores questions on interspecies sociality next to lecturing at Durham University.

While walking he will help us to sort out or (or at least become aware of) a particularly tricky issue:

Dealing with excess and abundance

There are all but endless articles, books, authors, concepts. There is a lot of ‘world’ to go and do research on and once you have done this research, your material (interviews, observations, or other objects to analyze) tends to be excessive as well.
What to do? You cannot read everything, cite everyone, use all possible concepts. You cannot relate every story either, analyze every detail. Thus, a few questions present themselves.

How to recognize which literature is – and which other literature isn’t – relevant?
How to distinguish which interview partners or places to head for?

How to handle the limits of your possibility?

Is the rest not worth your effort, or simply too much? Once you have ‘material’, how do you select, quotes, examples, stories?
And how do you decide which points to make?
Once you have a first version, how do you recognize (or decide!) what ‘the argument’ is and what serves this argument?
What you expand, what you delete?
And when, in this process, is it productive to go back to the literature?

donderdag 8 september 2011

new dates

Not only the new academic year has started. The walking seminar will resume as well.
The next three dates are:

30th September
19th October
18th November

vrijdag 10 juni 2011

Anna Tsing and Eating Bodies

A wonderful encounter took place yesterday - between Anna Tsing from University of California Santa Cruz, the US, and The Eating Bodies Team. While walking through the most picturesque Dutch landscapes we were talking about the process of ontologies and the ontologies of process, about the slowing down (of writing) and speeding up (of reality), about experiments and surprise as new research methods, about "bads" (capitalism and destruction of resources) and "goods" (appreciation of food). What a wonderful encounter, indeed.

woensdag 25 mei 2011

new dates

The next two walking seminars will take place on

24th June
26th August

dinsdag 3 mei 2011

Getting to the point

This Friday some of you might have been walking in "real nature" and might have moved a lot of meters vertically.

We were walking a lot of meters horizontally, namely 16 000 m. And while walking we were wondering: What is the point?

What is the point?

There are two kinds of ‘point’. One resonates with what is also called the ‘argument’. The point of an article may be to argue (for instance) that the walking path from Breukelen station into the polder is a fine one for holding a walking seminar – but not as good as walking path Z (well, which one?). The second ‘point’ rather evokes effects and is thus linked up with what these days is also called ‘interference’. It may be the point of writing to tell the truth, to relate gripping stories, or, let’s abbreviate, to improve the world (or some specific part thereof – which one?).

What, against this background, is the point of the text you are currently working on (the chapter, article, summary, introduction)? And how does it relate to and fit within the point of your overall research project?

Is it easy or difficult to make ‘a point’ with/in your specific research project – compared to others? Which others? Which comparisons are helpful and/or illuminating?

How about the many ways in which one may make ‘a point’ – upfront, by stealth, early on, gradually, angrily, critically, meticulously, seductively – which ones do you like on which occasions – in the texts of others – in your own?

And what do you do on days when you wonder ‘what is the point?’

maandag 18 april 2011

Mobile Walking Seminar

Last week it was The Walking Seminar that became mobile. It moved to Denmark. In Copenhagen, Bodil Christensen, Gry Jakobsen and Line Hillersdal are researching 'taste', 'eating bodies', and 'place' and after an inspiring workshop they took us for a walk on the outskirts of the city that looks like this from above:

maandag 21 maart 2011

There is always already politics...

The landscape in Breukelen might look nice and innocent.

But. There is always already politics.

And this is what we talked about during the last walking seminar:

There is always already politics. So much of it and in so many versions.

State politics. Policy. Party politics. Intellectual politics. Politics embedded in the questions asked, the money flowing, the passions fostered, the ways in which some things are framed as ‘problems’, the ways in which some things (and not others) are performed as ‘real’.

And then there is research. Let’s say: yours.

Where is it situated, against which kinds of practices that might be called ‘political’? Where do you want it to move? What do you want to move with it? What are the twisty and thorny roads going here and there – that might take you in ‘bad’ directions?

What can you do, practically, to make your work stand out more as ‘political’ or rather less; what to make it be more or less ‘political’; and in relation to which kind of ‘politics’? (Maybe the answer differ for different force fields.)

How do you avoid over- and underpolitisation?

Where does your work risks to be overheated or rather fall flat? Where does it risk to make itself too loud or rather irrelevant? What would you hope to achieve? What is your concern?

maandag 21 februari 2011


Breukelen turns out to be the adequate place for walking in winter, when it has a lot of wind (like three weeks ago) or when it is cold (like last week).

Three weeks ago we discussed questions arising from the relation of 'the researcher' and 'observing in the field'.

- which field(s) do you go to in order to do your research? how do you get it contact with your field?
- how do you present yourself? and what do you answer if your informants ask for "the results" of your
-and, for those of who are further on in their trajectory: have you had informants reading your texts? what
happens? what is there to learn from their reactions?
- which problems arise during field work? what do your informants tell you? what do they show you without
telling? what do they keep secret? what shifts between interviews and observations?
- how do you handle such problems?
- and what do the problems you encounter teach you about your research object/topic?

Last week the discussion centered around the relation of 'the researcher' and the 'academic field'.

How to 'use others', or how to mobilise human resources
- Who do you talk with when you need inspiration?
- Who do you ask for feedback?
- How do you draw on your friends?
- And how on colleagues (a) nearby and (b) far away (c) from your own research field (d) who work on different things (e) in different theoretical traditions
- How do you mobilise informants? Just to inform you, or also for feedback?
- Who do you talk to at conferences? To which sessions do you go, who do you have dinner with, etc.
- How do you decide to which conferences you go?