Monday, February 17, 2003

Nina and I [kris] attended a good conference at Lancaster University at the end of last week. It was called “Things that Can’t Quite Speak” and is described this way on the website (see recommended links):

“This workshop starts by asking why do we so often think that texts are end-points in sociology and in STS [Science, Technology and Society]? It is informed by two senses: 1. that texts set limits to what can be studied, how study is undertaken, what can be known, and what can be effected or enacted; 2. that telling in texts - even in metaphorical form - can lead to inappropriate closure, rather than opening up and freeing space. The workshop will thus seek to explore other logics, and in particular other possible outcomes and material forms for research in sociology and in STS.”

Most papers questioned the plenitude of texts, revealing a widely-held suspicion: that written language (alone) is not adequate to the task of representing all topics. Sociology, STS, Women’s Studies, Psychology, Health Research, Cultural Studies, and Art were all present, as practices, but it was clear that for whatever our significant differences, all were practically concerned with (even worried about) representation, as a task and as an outcome of analysis. Most papers spoke _about_ the limits of written text; some spoke _at_ the limits of written text by presenting their work in the form of dramatic performance. This put us, as a workshop, in the interesting position of being able to work explicitly between written text, spoken text and dramatic performance in our discussions, and offered up Drama as a running sub-theme, a useful metaphor, and a practical tool. By day two, we had wound ourselves up into a genuine dramatic moment, which, interestingly, may have sparked the most productive discussion of the two-day workshop; it was certainly one of the most engaging.

Our ongoing collaborations with artists will give us the opportunity to continue thinking along these lines. –kris cohen