Saturday, February 17, 2018

Here come the non-humans

It's not just the fact that we're sailing in the wake of Latour's Re-assembling the Social - the growing appetite for all things socio-material or post-human represents an impulse to think differently about our place in the world. Suddenly, or so it seems, the non-humans have risen up to challenge the endeavours of social science. Is it strictly social anymore, you might well ask? That challenge, if taken seriously, is a challenge to what we focus on in research, how we go about studying it, analysing and even reporting it. Conceding to material agency must surely be an all or nothing affair. I've just been reading Adams and Thompson (2011) on 'interviewing objects' - yes, that's right, interviewing objects. Well, the sort of objects they are concerned with are technological, and if we allow them the temporary grace to separate (human) subjects so cleanly from (technological) objects, they make a compelling argument. I resonated with this observation, for instance, 'The technological milieu is shaping substantially - insinuating itself, habituating us and simultaneously informing and interpreting - how we act in and perceive the world (2011:13), and I enjoyed reading about the 'invitational quality of things'. I remembered a conversation with Julia a while back when she wondered out loud if the idea of affordance still worked in a socio-material universe. I suppose in a way an affordance is rather weaker than an invitation. Perhaps it suggests less agency? I can't help thinking that Twitter's 'What's happening?' prompt is a bit more like an invitation, and similarly that the little red dot that says 158 next to the envelope icon on my phone is an invitation - an invitation to worry or to read and delete. So, here come the non-humans, and really when you think about it they're all over us; they have us surrounded.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Immersive reading

I think I may have coined the term 'immersive reading' in an attempt to draw parallels between the experience of dwelling in the imaginary world of gameplay and the more traditional experience of reading print fiction. It still works for me, and I imagine a continuum that runs from lightweight to immersive engagement. Not that immersive is in anyway better, it's just a different sort of experience, and one that may, on occasions, be appropriate. Having just spent 3 weeks in India, and a considerable amount of that time on very long train journeys, immersive reading was certainly appealing. I'd taken with me a substantial tome - what you might call a European classic - slow moving and highly descriptive. That turned out to be quite a challenge, partly because of frequent disruptions to my reading, but also because the narrative context (the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) seemed so far removed from the dust, heat and general mayhem of the sub-continent rolling past my open window. Somehow or other there was a dissonance between the jolting carriages, the clanking of couplings and the click-clacking of the train and the slow, dignified conduct of the story's characters. I had to work in order to conjure this faraway place, despite the fact that it was so meticulously described. I returned home with a few chapters to go, and this seems an altogether more fitting context for an immersive reading - at least of this particular book. I now feel I've missed out! Thinking about this, I was reminded of how I'd become completely hooked when I picked up a copy of Panjak Mishra's novel 'The Romantics' where I was staying in Kathmandu a few years ago. It just seemed to fit my mood. Context is a strange thing. Clearly there are no golden rules; if there were, stories would never travel, but nevertheless immersion appears to be a delicate experience and subject to all sorts of complex factors.