Wednesday, May 11, 2005

INCITE/RCA collaboration

With the RCA/INCITE collaboration week over (or at least, ceased), first things first: gratitude! To Katrina Jungnickel and Nina Wakeford and Nina Pope and Lucy Kimbell who conceived and organised and in general possible-ised the whole thing. It was a really good event and worked on all sorts of levels: collaboratively, disciplinarily, non-disciplinarily, anti-disciplinarily...for what it provoked and what it effected.

So to pull on one of many possible threads: even though the event was established (and usefully so) in a disciplinary framework (sociologists collaborating with interaction designers), one of the things I really like about collaboration is the way it brackets the disciplinarity of disciplines (I fear that I'm going to continue the stretch the grammatical elasticity of that word...bear with me. If you do, I promise to stop short of "Disciplinarity-ness."). Disciplinarity doesn't go away, or very far away, but I rarely feel like the action takes place through or by way of disciplines. When they're called upon, they're called upon quite explicitly, to address some problem that is particularly well suited to a discipline's strengths, rather than silently dictating to our methods and the products of our work, as they can otherwise do. So, for instance, with George Grinsted, my designer (he calls me "his sociologist"), he might ask me how Sociology thinks about copyright or intellectual property vis a vis the sociologist's data, but even this conversation (whatever we do with it) doesn't take place on disciplinary turf. Rather, the discipline is being called up, accessed, then re-shelved. The action then continues to take place elsewhere, in whatever space the collaboration creates for itself, making decisions based on what the project needs and NOT what the discipline needs (although there are definitely times when the needs of a discipline should guide our work). For me, this situation (meaning: this placement, this location) of disciplines plays to Disciplinarity's strengths (e.g. an intellectual history, a deep and broad set of resources for addressing certain kinds of problems) and avoids its weaknesses (e.g. the way it can hem in the products of our work, limit our audiences, hamper our methods).

Collaboration (and I think even collaboration within a discipline, although I have less experience with this and suspect that it is more difficult to set Disciplinarity aside in this case, even while this kind of collaboration probably highlights the productive differences within a discipline)...collaboration does or can set Disciplinarity to the side (always in reach, inevitably embedded in the muscle memory of our individual practices) while establishing a territory for the project at hand. In collaboration or working alone (one never is), this is my ambition for any work I do. Collaboration gets me there a little quicker.