Who’s language?


What do you do with the word(s) of your participants? How are these translated into the words of “research” and what happens in that transition?

While Latour’s work is arguably marked by pithy one-liners enmeshed in complex dense language and obscure terms one of his suggestions is that:

The painful lesson we must learn is exactly the opposite of what is still being taught all over the world under the name of a ‘social explanation’, namely we must not substitute a surprising but precise expression that is the well-known repertoire of the social which is supposed to be hidden behind it. We have to resist pretending that actors have only a language while the analyst possesses the meta- language in which the first is ‘embedded’. (Latour, 1995, p49)

So if we were to try and preserve the words and register of research participants how could or should this be done? How do you do that? Or must we all “Learn to Write Badly” in order to succeed at the social sciences as Michael Billig suggests? (ch1 available from https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/bitstream2134/153194Learn%20to%20write%20badly%20Chapter%20One.pdf

How could we approach research and writing it up differently?


I tried to complete a Larour MOOC on Scientific Humanities and got about half way. The translation phase seemed not to be about words as such. I tried to track a controversy such as how people in universites evaluate knowledge from a tech scene mostly outside. There have beeb various words - Computer Assisted Learning, e-learning, distance learning ,Telematics, Technology Assisted Learning, Networked LEarning, Connected Learning. Are these all phases in the same thing? People who just followed on with personal computers and the Web may just have been learning something incidentally.


Perhaps to twist your great question a bit: how can we articulate the sociomaterially distributed hanging togethernesses we research? Verbal language, written language certainly has its limitations. What kinds of inscription devices may assist in this project? Strathern points to the allways double challenge of researchers: we must engage both in our own forms of the forms of connections we make, and the forms of the forms of connections being made in/by the practices we research.


Hi Will,
I think you have a great point (if I understand it :smile: ). Words are not innocent, and we tend to clash together things that may have nothing or very little in common. We do this e.g. when we talk about what “ICT” will do to learning and teaching. Through words we hide the specificities of the situations we are in fact dealing with. And while doing this we ignore at the same time that learning may not be what is intended by the person engaging, and furthermore that what is learning may be incidental. Thx :smile:


You probably have understood me so far but I would like to push a little further. I am interested in how theory and practice work together. I went to a Lancaster conference on Management Theory at Work with both managers and academics. There was some comment on “fads and fashions” in pop management books so I just like to think about turns and soforth in the academic world. You mention “ICT” but I think this and “IT” are from the practice situation. The words like Telematics and Technology Enhanced Learning are invented as subjects based on something already happening.

It will be interesting to look at this Networked Learning conference in real space at Lancaster. It has been close to the business school so with some contact to commercial training and HR. Now it moves closer to education. Which words will change and do they still mean much the same?


Thanks Mikala and Will for your contributions here so far.

Will you pick up on how translation is a sometimes complex term in ANT writing and further confused (rather ironically) by linguistic translation from French to English where translation (French) doesn’t match “translation” English.

(Reading https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation and running google translate on it can help shed some light there as “translation” means something more like “displacement or movement” rather than as the linguistic term we might assume.)

One challenge I like to explore with this is about using different language or registers to write with is to use the UpGoerFive text editor to write a post or summary of research - can you describe your idea in the ten hundred most used words in English? http://splasho.com/upgoer5/

Idea: Could we extend that to create a corpus of words used by research participants in transcripts, forums etc. to limit the language used in reporting the research? If your participants don’t use a term like " the sociomaterially distributed hanging togethernesses" how could that be re-written?

I don’t personally think ANT writing has a strong claim here to what is a broader question of accessibility of research in terms of both where it is published (is it truly open access - if not why not?) but also how it is written.

So to take this in a slightly different direction here’s a question: who’s texts do you like and why? This could be academic writing or other, something that advances an argument or social commentary related to science/tech/learning/society…
Can they be accessed by others here (i.e. not held behind without an institutional subscription or access to a paywall) - and if not who’s getting paid or otherwise profiting from their restriction?


So to answer this myself:
I really like John Law as readable (but wouldn’t read it for leisure), and like the fact he makes so much of his work available via http://www.heterogeneities.net/

I think Ken MacLeod does a far better job of engaging with STS issues than most scholars do - Intrusions even has a PhD STS student as a protagonist: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/ken-macleod/intrusion.htm

I love Adam Curtis’s film essays like “all watched over by machiens of loving grace” and Bitter Lake as ways of advancing arguments that reach further than the readership of academic journals…


Thanks for this post. I will check the links you suggest. I realise that translation has a different meaning to usual but cannot find a way to ignore words as a way to track the displacement or movement. The MOOC for example is ready for some other word but aspects continue as something else, even within courses mostly based on the campus. You could describe things moving apart and/or coming together but only through different words at various times.