Visualising Innovation, Research and Actor-Networks

In this week’s first year lecture on research methods I am discussing the importance of ‘writing up’ one’s research as part of the process of doing research. Part of what I am discussing is the shift in thinking from scholarship as a linear process (for example, question and then an answer) to a process involving differentiating feedback (for example, multiple questions and answers and answers that help you ask better questions).

The classic error of first year students is to write up essays as they are doing the research and then hand in what is essentially a very early draft of their work. When this is represented in graphical form it looks like this:

You begin on the left and end up on the right. Each increment represents a moment where the student reads or thinks something new and writes it in their (draft) essay. This can be identified when assessing work as what is normally regarded as the ‘thesis statement’ is buried about three-quarters of the way into the essay. I’ve found it to be a common error for students who have not thought about the essay writing process as involving structure and I’ve found it in every university (7) at which I’ve taught or marked.

As I have discussed before on this blog, a better way to think about this process is a spiral with spokes instead of a ‘flat line’ time series. The spiral & spoke is a far better way to represent the way one’s ideas develop:

You begin in the middle of the spiral and gradually work your way to the outer point. Each of the ‘spokes’ represents an action of reading or thinking something. Each time the spoke cuts across the spiral it is at a different time (T1, T2, T3, …Tn). The point is that each spoke is not the ‘same’ thing each time it cuts across the spiral. Ideas develop as you read and think different things in between. So the series becomes something like Idea 1.0, Idea 1.1, Idea 1.2, …Idea 1.n and you get an appreciation of the way what you read or thought in the beginning develops over time. When writing up the research you write up the spokes.

This is great for a process involving small sets of starting information with only ‘interference’ or ‘reinforcing’ effects between the original set of information creating change. This is not how scholarship actually happens, however. Scholarship is essentially a process of innovation involving ‘interference’, ‘reinforcement’ and also ‘cascade’ and ‘originary’ effects. A ‘cascade’ effect being that joyous moment where the ‘red thread’ of one’s work is apparent. An ‘originary’ effect being that moment where the differential repetition of ideas (what Gabriel Tarde called ‘imitation’) leads to development of a new idea (or what Tarde called ‘innovation’).

Another way of representing this differentiating feedback that retains a similar mode of the spiral time series is by using a three dimensional conical spiral as the time series and then locating the various moments of thinking or reading (or experimenting, etc) so that the non-linear relationships between these various moments can also be represented with innovation trees.

The key to the above diagrammatic representation of the processes of research and differentiating feedback.

1. The original way of thinking about the process as a linear timeline. Start at the left and end on the right.

2. A three-dimensional version of the spiral. The researcher still begins in the middle and each reading, thought (or whatever) happens along the spiral, but now the relations of innovation can be appropriately mapped. When ‘new’ elements emerge from previous elements, a new colour is used. More complex versions of these relations would create new spirals emerging from specific element as new directions are taken. I imagine multiple galaxies of spirals.

3. The ‘micro’ time series of each specific point or ‘outcome’ (for a topic sentence in an essay for example), these were the ‘spokes’ in the original two dimensional representation.

Why is this important?

Humanities and social science scholars have traditionally been poorly equipped to think about the relations between the various elements or ‘actors’ in the composition of power relations that makes up a research project, cluster or ‘network’. When I think of ‘actor-networks’ (as in ‘actor-network theory’) I think of a version of this diagram and all the ‘trees’ that actually constitute the relations between the various elements. My childish MS Paint drawings above indicate one way I think it would be possible to graphically represent the non-linear network of relations between various actors as part of a temporal series.

On its own it is kind of cool, but imagine if you could map not only strictly research-based or intellectual endeavours and could include on the same conical spiral time line other factors, such as funding grants, social events, or even maybe (if anyone thinks it is, you know, at all relevant) teaching load and other administrative responsibilities. Rather than mapping the conditions of possible action, this would be a trace of the actual conditions of action in the relations between elements. It would be a very useful way to map the impact of non-output activities in terms of various clusters of ‘elements’ and the number of relations between them. For example, a relative barrier would occur while waiting for ethics protocol approval and so on.

An Office Needs a Multiplicity of Windows

I got paid for my new role for the first time today, which is a relief. Now I am economically connected to the institution. One thing I’ve observed being noted by most existing staff when they visit me in my new office is that it doesn’t have a window and that I don’t have a name on the door (rather it has a sheet of paper says ‘Journalism 9B08’ with the 08 crossed out and a handwritten 34 beside it). None of this is too much of a concern for me. The window, of course, is a signifier of prestige, while the lack of a name on the door bespokes a deficient professionalism. What I’ve been far more concerned with is developing a ‘window’ on my pevious research and thinking and developing it into journal article length arguments.

This other ‘window’ is not a hole in the wall, but both a discursive framing and a question of visibility across a number of registers. I guess it is a common problem for anyone entering into academia from a professional background and it is compounded if, like me, the new entrant has carried out extensive research in the past. My research has become far more fluid. Sure my dissertation was organised a central argument regarding the character of enthusiasm within the subcultural scene of modified-car culture and an historical investigation into the way enthusiasm has been turned into a resource by the cultural industries that service a given scene, but I also produced a huge amount of other material. This blog served as one of the sites of ‘overflow’ of research and thinking, but I have dozens and dozens of other pieces of work that only exist on my computer.

The challenge for me right now is to produce what Deleuze and Guattari call a ‘plane of consistency’ that enables me to organise the different threads of my existing work and adapt them to the context of the current state of various research fields. My scholarly disposition will therefore by an expression of the ‘virtual office’ that emerges on this plane of consistency. The ‘virtual office’ will be actualised according to the ways my research can connect with the current state of various research fields. In effect, I shall be producing multiple ‘windows’ on this research.

My main two interests now involve positioning a concept of enthusiasm that is useful as a tool for other researchers and critically engaging with the niche magazine publishing industry based on my archival research, but influenced by my professional experience.

Hello Blog!

I’ve been a bit busy lately and have been neglecting my blog.

Firstly, I’ve been promoted at my day job from Feature Writer to Production Editor. This has meant a different set of responsibilities, which I am enjoying, but also a new set of opportunities. I’ve been attacking these new opportunities with gusto as my activities and capacities are now more visible within the workplace. One opportunity has been to take on some of the responsibilities of event management for our presence at certain car shows. I’ve been developing event strategies to maximise the benefit to the magazines and these strategies have been received well by management and the other editorial teams.

Secondly, I’ve taken on another job that is mostly at night. This is back at Gleebooks working events. I have been made Assistant Events Manager and my responsibilities so far mainly include staff rosters and some initial tentative forays into social media. I will also be organising the Gleebooks presence at conferences and other similar events. This is basically all event management work.

There are some other exciting developments that may or may not happen, but more on these as they come to fruition (or not).

I am also behind on some promised writing, including a blog post on here about the Ford Fiesta Econetic which I had on loan from Ford as a media car and a book chapter on Derrida and Marx for a forthcoming book. I am hoping to wrap both of these up by the end of this weekend.

Back studying?

To best use my skills developed during my BA (English) and PhD I am looking at doing some sort of short course. I am not sure if I will learn any new skills, more I want to learn how to use my skills I already have. Plus, more importantly, demonstrate to existing and future employers that I can use the skills I already have.

So far I have found this Level IV TAFE course on the advertising media industry. It seems suitable to learn how to speak the jargon of the advertising industry and learn how to interact with advertising media professionals. I know I would be good at such a job and gaining some vocation-oriented training would be good.

Does anyone else have any ideas about either evening or distance/online short courses I could do?

My First Capitalist Paper

Monetizing Enthusiasm: The Missed Opportunity of Social Media and Car Enthusiast Magazines

Abstract: The publishing industry that services the scene of modified-car culture in Australia has largely missed the boat when it came to moving from being a once profitable commercial print industry into a profitable social media enterprise. This paper explores the reasons for this failure in the context of the last 30 years of modified-car culture and the enthusiast media industry that developed around it. A number of possible approaches are proposed for monetizing enthusiasm through social media that should be useful for other enthusiast scenes.

When post-structuralist marxists become capitalist.

My heart is well and truly broken.