Notes from Susan Leigh Star colloquium

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Celebration of Leigh Star: Her Work and Intellectual Legacy
San Francisco, September 9th-10th, 2011

I'm told that there will be video posted, but in the meantime, these (partial, paraphrased, etc) notes might be helpful.

John King - Triangulation from the Margin
Talks about his relationship with Leigh and her time at UCI.
- to calculate distance you need a baseline
- first use in surveying
- ex: The archive of all of ancient Greek literature - the scholia (writing on the edges) was part of the document for scholars - but the archive left them out.
Triangulating from inside and outside the margins onto the center. So you need to be able to change your point of view.

Dick Boland - The Concept of Boundary Objects and the Reshaping of Research in Management and Organization Studies
- "the ones who are marginalized know they are marginalized"
- started off studying "the soft underbelly of accounting"
- how do people make sense of and use representations in building arguments for interventions, changes, etc.
- his conclusion: "in naming 'boundary object' Leigh helped us all be more human in our research"
- she brought Wittengenstein into our everyday world
o helping us get "back to the rough ground" of multiplicity in forms of life and contention of meaning.
o Multiple human agents always involved and always in contention over meaning
- The proliferation of "____________ as a Boundary Object: Implications for ___________"
- Naming is powerful
- we make representations and boundary objects meaningful, differently
- how do we talk about the cave paintings as representations?
o Hermeneutic process (Gademer) - one mind tacking back and forth
o Communication models - assumes a well-formed message with a correct meaning
• Boundary objects always have two or more messages in contention
o Semiotics - triangle, sense, referent and signifier - how to get beyond insight that relation of signifier and signified in arbitrary? [well, you could go to Peirce...aha, he does that]
o And along came BOB (Boundary Object) - cracks open organizational representations - makes openness fundamental
• Asserts representational agency of human beings
- He points out that this is a big deal in organizational studies
o Success is seen to come from shared meaning, and failure from disparate meanings - so having multiple meanings there looks like the road to ruin
o Sensemaking collapsed to a single human and a single sense
- He studies distributed cognition and how CAD changed architects perspective on what their practice was and what their organizations would do in the future
- Walker Percy - argues against dyadic theory of stimulus -> response, and instead drew on Peirce - and added human activity of naming
- BOB is as close to naming a pure symbol as any concept we have in the tool kit
o Keeping "symbol" alive in our thought and work is hard to do - we collapse it into a sign almost as soon as we start

Cory Knobel - Boundary Objects and Ontic Occlusion
listening forth
falling forth
designing forth
- designing for ontic dwellers who live in infrastructure
- ways in which we construct our discourse at the boundaries to give voice to or remove legitimacy from objects and people
- this manifests and becomes material in ways that allow us to do and not do certain things
Geof - both talks have brought up awareness of body, of self and others - Marcel Enna - Prix de la Verité - the figure of the trader, the enemy within, who you accept but who can never be a full citizen

Brian Cantwell Smith - So boundary as to not be an object at all
- Boundary objects - plastic but robust. This seems like an innocent statement. From what perspective is it uttered? But "robust enough" is tricky? If you were a realist, you would think "robustness" is a stable attribute of the object. But you're not. The stabilization of the object as an object, those are specific to the parties. So where are you in those parties?
o One way to say it is that people use the same terms. But that's vapid.
o Another way to say it is that there is durability and persistence - but that's weird. Robustness should be a reason, not an outcome.
o Variable, in computer science, is a boundary object. But variables are a historically unsettled subject. But are variables robust? Who gets to say that?
- Objects. Never been sure about them. Star: "An object is a set of work arrangements, both material and processual." Understanding the world in terms of objects is a consequential choice. It's not universal, ubiquitous, or innocent. He has been teaching about the world NOT in terms of objects. Question: Could it be that Star knows perfectly well that we don't see the world in terms of objects. Object registration plays the role of non-consensual trading? Objects might just have the right stuff in negotiation, which is why they play the boundary role. Objects as the long-distance trucks and highway systems of normative life. But the cost of packing up objects is that they're insulated from the fine-grained richness of the lives they sustain.
- Question. That the negotiation is among parties of people. What he finds missing in her description of boundary objects is the world. Trying to avoid being a closet naïve realist. So what is the world that is missing? Hard to describe it without resorting to objects. One route is negative: talk about what it isn't. So the world is not objects, properties, and relations. He talks about "registration." We register the world in terms of objects or properties. He uses the word ontic for the world as registered. That which one registers is the world. So he'll call it "that which." Non-consensual collaboration across differences in roughly paired terms. But he sees this as a triadic relationship. The two parties don't trade the same object - they are mutually engaged in the same TW ("that which").
- All questions has to do with the notion of TW.
o Robustness is adequacy of registration to TW all parties are engaged. [Okay, he's talking fast. I'm missing this]
o Objects. Is the object differentially interpreted or is the object the result of a differential interpretation of TW? He doesn't think objects are the ground of difference. The objects that are traded are the results of registering the world differently.
o If the world is objects, you have problems with ethics. If there are objects, you need to be responsible for them. But without TW, that's not something you can give voice to.
- So back to Star (you). He is interested in being unto the world.
Geof - on theology and actor-network theory
- ontological priority - don't assume that things exist out in the world, that they are not products of mediation
Q: on pastoralism - how to determine what is successful and meaningful in terms of who's leading us and how we go forward?
Q: Suchman - likes actor-network theory in that some of its founders no longer articulate things in that way any more. Tied to question of naming. Ambivalence and danger of naming in ways -- you get the 25,000 hits for boundary object, many of which are antithetical to the way that Star would have used them - LS adopts strategy of keeping moving and always renaming things. Connects John's and Brian's talks. Reading Barad - maybe read registration in light of this? - who insists that we are part of the world as becoming, that the world is performed. Which then carries responsibilities. We reiterate it as we are depicting it to critique it. What's at stake in naming the world. We need to have something beyond which we already are or know. But if we are part of the world's differential becoming, then we are inescapably also always [trails off].
Q - Carl Hewitt: interesting thing about boundaries is the objects that cross them.
[gestures are not objects]
[boundaries do not exist before objects; the boundaries are accomplished through the mobility (or non mobility) of objects]
Q: Would Brian Smith have had the same project if Star had talked about "properties" instead of "objects."
BCS - naming generates ontology and a registered phenomenon - and he's interested in the that which, and the beyond. Naming ontologizes, and when you ontologize you reduce the world. Bruno is so committed to materiality that he wants to look at things - but most things that are worth anything can't be captured on a video camera. "Most things that matter are ineffable, and I don't want to eff it."
Q: objects and naming are necessary to get work done.
BCS - you don't need objects to get work done [I tend to think that objects get work done at a distance - objectifying makes handles for work at a distance]
Lilly: Ontological choreography
Dick: thinks of meaning when he thinks of world. He's all alone in his world. Naming is a part of the struggle to make meaning.

Maria Puig de la Bellacasca
Ecology and spirituality as infrastructure: Thinking the poetics of soil science with Susan Leigh Star

Studying soil as collective rediscovery of a taken-for-granted system
Contributing to interface between scientists and social movements
Modes of attention - invokes both embodied perception and quality of care, of attending and listening
You inherit gestures and a lot of embodied things from scholars like Leigh - a kind of mode of attention - the "infrastructure of our souls"
I. Ecologies - "the ground of my talk, not the background"
a. Network as a metaphor, promising a flight of extensions
b. Who will see the spaces in between the filaments? The fissures in techno-scientific cultures. About places of invisibility and violence, but also possibility and multiplicity. Indeterminacy.
c. Becker - commitments become meaningful in the light of collective consequences
d. She is speaking in context of ecological breakdown, which is how she comes to look at the contrast between ecology and networks
e. Ecology as form of relation. Ecology as a mode of attention - ecological thinking
f. Ecologies of Knowledge. Seamless web should be oxymoronic, because webs have filaments and spaces. Not a judgment of networks.
g. "Every enrolment entails both failure to entrol and a destruction of the world of the non-renrolled." Power, technology and the Phenomenology of Convention. (1991). Ecological affects of Pasteurization. All of that knowledge annihilated by the germ theory.
h. Not creating a binary, just thinking historicity of these questions of ecology and network.
i. Contrast between extension (networks) and intensity, duration (ecology). Ecology → renewal, life, and death. Finitude and renewal.
j. So. How can we think about networks ecologically?
II. Soil ecology as infrastructure
a. Ecologies - infrastructural arrangements necessary to life on this planet. Reading soil ecology as the infrastructure of life. The final home for our residues.
b. Infrastructure revelations
i. From background to topic...From dirt to soil
ii. Reveals at moment of breakdown .... Peak soil
iii. Invisible workers ... worms, nematodes, fungi
iv. etc
[bodily practice as the infrastructure of digital design - appears to be abstracted away but is ever present]
v. invisible workers....strategically using a metaphor. Question is not, is it good to be metaphoric, but what does it do?
[the effectiveness of design thinking is one reason why we don't see performance - "thinking" mobilizes design in a particularly effective way for political and economic aims into something that can be read and rewritten, step-wise]
III. soil rearticulated as metaphors of human belonging and community
a. religious images, for example: "Adam" is derived from a name for a kind of red soil
b. soil is a very elaborate end product - the co creators are nematodes
c. material spirituality - for Leigh, the magic was an empirical thing. A community with worms is a spiritual relationship

d. if spirituality is the wrong word, perhaps the right one is poetics

Nina Wakeford
Resurrecting Leigh's queerness and the politics of public affect and intimacy
Patricia Cluff (?) - "an empiricism of sensation"
An early lecture of Leigh's, from 1994
- to revisit that time
- and to show a film - a non-representational response, a becoming with
- "studio sociology" - a new affective register of method, of making things if not visible, then sensible
- 1994: "to honor and make visible, I won't say, capturing"
- a debate in British sociology
- a turn to the studio - what might the studio do?
The studio makes many things present, an encounter with accumulated material that may not be articulated immediately
What emerges from studio sociology is not art per se, but a sociological engagement
- in studio sociology, materials have new affordances for new experiments - an expanded sense of what they are good for
- studio sociology works with the expanded sense of temporalities that accompanies studio work
o anticipatory regimes
o what might happen to the forms of studio sociology if they are subject to studio times. Where in the future is it situated?
o Design studios are quite good at thinking next-ness, however we think of next.
- Studio sociology might help us expand boundaries of studio, and help us imagine what happens when materials leave the boundaries of the studio - often, it becomes art. Studio sociology might take on exhibitions
o The exhibition as a material setting in which materials are used as ways to engagement "changing the air condition"
o Peter Sloterdijk: the social as social foam, sharing air conditions
Leigh's working paper - a way to define a meeting place for feminism, information systems - and it begins in SF in the 1970s. The turkey baster disaster. The crisis of male babies. Domesticated male mutants into "our sons."
Leigh's point is about how feminism offers a way to do contradiction; a way to do many things all at once. Which is what we need for our relationship to science and technology. 1994: Leigh calls for an ethics of ambiguity.

Geof talks about Fred Turner's work with museums and WWII

Ellen Balka - Mapping the Body Across Diverse Information Systems: Shadow Bodies and They Make Us Human
"shadow bodies" (Star and Balka, 2009)
this comes from a talk that she and LS did together at a workshop; she is partially using LS's slides
shadows: absences and presences created by information
interested in relationship between indicators and information systems
"ghost charts"
- a proxy measure for a thing
- derived from multiple sources of data
- representations of scientific work
- information systems lay the foundation for what data we collect, what we make visible, what we know over time
- information systems also play an important role in the development of indicators
- why care?
o They measure what we can't measure directly
o Not true measures of a thing, but often taken as
o Huge political consequences because of consequences for allocation of resources
- Where do indicators come from?
o Multisite computer-supported distributed work
o Produced in front line work practices incidental to other work
o The complexity of production is not apparent in seeming simplicity
Ghost charts
- not officially sanctioned records, existing in addition to health records
Handovers -
Seeing ghost charts as residual data, unsanctioned collections that would otherwise be lost along the way
Situating the collection of health data - tension between providing care and collecting data - the people who record the data often have no idea that they are collecting data and what it's for
Graphing the flow of information from a ski injury
What are shadow bodies?
- shadows are a reflection, partial views of body that leave some parts underemphasized, representations and not the "real thing"
- multiplicity: can be discipline or professionally based, reflect important social constructs, constructed through forms, tradition, and information systems
- just as lighting affects what a shadow looks like, so do technologies (broadly defined) and their affordances and constraints come to bear on the representation of the body
o we blindly accept numbers as fact, but they are also representations
- both created by fragments that are measured and by the unaccounted for spaces in between
- they have political and personal consequences
- imply a partiality of view
- remind us of constraints and affordances of infrastructures (bodies) and technologies
Leigh's shadow body slides
- as shadow bodies proliferate, little moral or sentimental considerations guide them
- undertheorized
- so: where are the borders of the body? Whose experiences? Whose sensorial? Esp. marginality and experiences that often go unspoken
- multiplicity and complexity loss
- residuals "not elsewhere classified" - connected to simplifications of people
o kind of a filter in which our multiple selves are strained apart
o reasons of silence, absence
o residual because object is
• unspeakable
• too complex, beyond technical capacity of system
- standardized single indicators reduce us
- an anatomy of shadow bodies
o partial views
o inhabitants of residual categories
o intersect, overlap, with a
o context: clouds of indicators
- physiology
o exist in between indicators
o where unspeakable indicators remain invisible to the formal record
o cannot speak for themselves
o do not refer outwards, unlike Plato's, to a transcendental form
- a forest of misplaced concretism, such as a single place in the body responsible for a welter of behaviors
- trying to speculate about many-to-one relationships
- indicators as part of a process of purification
o standard indicators become substitute theories, and through this process we delete context and simplify causality
- clouds of shadow relationships challenge hegemony "diseases without passport"; some anomalies are too big to bury
o our shadow lives and shadow selves keep on living
o shadow bodies as a hopeful concept, as a way to form narratives and social movement
o a turn to the haptic, to things and materials, to multiplicity
[design as thinking: it's easier to follow stepping stones than learn how to dance]

Lucy Suchman - Remote Control: asymmetric entanglements of bodies and machines
This is about an aspirational project, which Suchman is beginning to think about
"How does one study action at a distance?" Star 1999:379
keyboards and the material practices they support and the bodies they connect
technologies of warfighting, particularly those of remote control
rather than essentialism, mutual intelligibility - response-ability
how to disrupt "virtuous war" - war fought on the idea of moral superiority and minimal casualties on "our side." - James der Derian - military-industrial-media-entertainment network
warfare and healthcare: action at a distance and bodies in contact
reads article from warfare robot QineticQ's website
a project with a long history
1983 - DARPA launched a "strategic computing" initiative to focus CS research on military objectives to create machines with "human-like" capabilities - Suchman et al wrote an article attacking the idea.
Strategic computing: an attempt to automate decisions in situations that are notoriously resistant to automated decision-making - ie, situations that are notoriously unsuited to AI. AI is just another closed world - a la Paul Edwards.
2001, 2007 - introduction of military drones, then reinforced by existing conflicts
RFP to make robots that can determine between "cooperative" and "uncooperative" people
Dissertation - John Randall Lindsey - frictions between infrastructures and military - "technocrats embrace IT to lift the fog of war, but IT"...often results in more
Asimov's first law of robotics - a dream of protection by the ultimate robot father
What if we take it as a guide instead? To more responsible human-machine configuration. Taking our responsibilities seriously.

Kjeld Schmidt - Reflections on the visibility and invisibility of work
Commenting on - layers of silence, arenas of voice paper
Invisibility of work - not seeing, ignoring, or depreciating work and work skills - so it's not just the suppression of domestic workers but their exclusion from economic statistics - "nobodies" and "unskilled labor"
A third variant of invisibility - the removal of work from the register of "respectable" interests. Ie, renaming a lab from "work practice" to "human practice."
Where does the lack of interest in work come from?
- a belief that we are moving into an age of post-industrialism, which is not true. And thus a corresponding disinterest in work.
- A result of the "irrational exuberance" of the last two decades - that wealth is something that comes from entering the market first
- Belief we are now in the "creative class," with a daily life that does not look like work but unforced, almost playful activities. But design, programming, engineering, are just another kind of work.

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