Negotiating the Socio-Material in and about Information Systems: An Approach to Native Methods

Negotiating the Socio-Material in and about Information Systems: An Approach to Native Methods

Fletcher T. H. Cole (University of New South Wales, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1559-5.ch012
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Recent moves to more explicitly account for the relationship between the social and the material in the Information Systems discipline, under the banner of socio-materiality, also imply the need for a closer examination of practice. Using John Law’s (2004) exposition of “method assemblage” as foregrounding and backgrounding a re-reading of Jonathan Grudin’s (1990) account of the various delineations of the computer interface is attempted. It is offered as a preliminary orientation to some of the native “ethno-methods”, (discursive and embodied practices) which might be deployed to negotiate sociality and materiality in IS and other technical arenas.
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Crafting Presence And Absence

In his exploration of “mess in social science research”, John Law, in post-ANT mode, resorts to an idea of “method assemblage”, defining it as the bundling or crafting of “ramifying relations” that shape, mediate and separate representations and objects into the visible “in-here”, and the seen and unseen “out-there”. Foreground implies Background. Some things are highlighted; some things receive little or no attention, or are deliberately forgotten. The characterisation is reminiscent of and has antecedents in the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl (1938, 1970), and in much earlier debates (Shapin, 1996). In the “praxiological coupling of material relations with mathematical forms” Galileo’s perfect curves have a forgotten genealogy, “indifferent to human historicity and purpose” (Lynch, 1993, p. 119). The actual work involved is made invisible, and tricky to reproduce.

Law then draws on post-structuralist vocabulary to characterise method assemblage further as “the enactment of presence, manifest absence, and absence as Otherness” (Law, 2004, p. 84):

Method assemblage becomes the crafting or bundling of relations or hinterland into three parts: (a) whatever is in-here or present; (b) whatever is absent but also manifest in its absence; (c) whatever is absent but is Other because, while it is necessary to presence, it is not or cannot be made manifest.

Both the Other and the Manifest Absent are necessary to Presence, but sometimes that which is evident disappears in Otherness “because what is being brought to presence and manifest absence cannot be sustained unless it is Othered” (p. 85) – much of the social and cultural context, perhaps.

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