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Researching with, on, in and through the postdigital: New presences and absences
This presentation will engage with the messiness of researching with, on, in, and through the postdigital in order to explore what postdigital research entails methodologically and to consider the ontological and epistemological shifts evoked. Jandrić et al. (2022) suggest that the notion of the postdigital is not best served through paradigmatic and methodological enclosure and prescriptions. Yet, the distinctiveness of this “guiding idea” suggests it is timely to consider the possibilities and boundaries (real or perceived) of the growing body of scholarship amalgamating in this area.
I will report on a research project in which postdigital research sensibilities and methods were used to study highly digitally-mediated—postdigital—work practices. More-than-human, feminist, new materialisms, and sociomaterial sensibilities provide the theoretical framing to examine how professional agency, expertise, and accountability is being re-distributed between human and nonhuman actors through the increasing use of automated and assisted decision-making (AADM) in professional work. Data was co-produced over two years by the researchers and 18 participants (professional workers) to attune to how they work with artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced data systems that comprise AADM and to build capabilities to interrogate AI-Data systems and the advice these generate. Methods employed to generate this micro-level analysis include: technography (Bucher, 2016); lifelogging (Frigo, 2016); heuristics for interviewing objects, including anecdoting (Adams & Thompson, 2016); and disclosive archaeology (Introna, 2014). Throughout the research, digital technologies assumed roles as “co-researchers”.
Marked by stubborn and elusive presences and absences, such inquiry encourages rethinking one’s understandings of the affordances between bodies and objects in more speculative and provisional ways: learning to be affected by the objects at hand, challenging conventional interpretations, and hinting at possibilities that everyday events offer rather than providing definitive accounts (Michael, 2016). Findings suggest that more embodied, relational, material, and critical understandings of AI-worker interactions is not only made possible through this approach, it is urgently needed now and into the future. As this was participants’ initial foray into postdigital methodologies and sensibilities, unique challenges and opportunities were made visible.
My focus is on the doing of postdigital research. Data foregrounds several tensions which will be examined. First, the deep entanglement between human researchers and their digital surround seems to generate attempts to erase, work across, and reify human-digital binaries and boundaries. Second, ontological wrestling was evident as these researchers attuned to their own more-than-humanness to varying degrees: who-what they become with the AI and advanced data systems of their research inquiry. Third, how researchers negotiate with these complex digital systems, as professional agency and expertise is re-distributed across human and nonhuman actors, surfaces vexing issues around trust and ethics. The presentation concludes by critically exploring questions raised throughout vis a vis the credibility, significance, and politics of the postdigital accounts/data generated, how researchers make sense of them, and the capacity of these accounts to impact thinking and practice. Here, I will extend work on accountabilities of more-than-human research (see Thompson & Adams, 2020) in ways that sustain, as Jandrić et al. (2022) urge, the “elasticity and capaciousness” of postdigtal as it is, and could be, enacted (p. 5).
References Adams C., & Thompson, T.L. (2016). Researching a Posthuman World: Interviews with Digital Objects. Palgrave Macmillan. Bucher, T. (2016). Neither black nor box: Ways of knowing algorithms. In S. Kubitschko & A. Kaun (Eds.), Innovative method in media & comm research (pp. 81-98). Palgrave. Frigo, A. (2016) As we should think? Lifelogging as a re-emerging method. In S. Kubitschko & A. Kaun (Eds.), Innovative methods in media and communication research (pp. 139-159). Palgrave. Introna, L. D. (2014). Towards a post-human intra-actional account of sociomaterial agency (and morality). In P. Kroes & P-P. Verbeek (Eds), The moral status of technical artefacts (pp. 31-53). Springer. Jandrić, P., MacKenzie, A. & Knox, J. (2022). Postdigital research: Genealogies, challenges, and future perspectives. Postdigital Science and Education. doi: 10.1007/s42438-022-00306-3 Michael, M. (2016). Notes toward a speculative methodology of everyday life. Qualitative Research, 16(6), 646–660. Thompson, T. L., & Adams, C. (2020). Accountabilities of posthuman research. Explorations in Media Ecology, 19(3), 337-349.