subjective experience / objectual practice

Incidental occurances always give way to an intensified interest: In a search to follow up Cetina Knorr’s work – as I just learned about it – I came across the recent link to the pdf of the recent Ethnographic Practice in Industry Conference at PSLJ. Among others A.Galloway here mentions an interesting paper by T.Plowman (pp. 38 – 48) who focuses on difference and overlap (in short the ‘between’ occurences) of the attitude of M.De Certeau and C.Knorr. The following excerpts just highlight some major points of his research on the two positions: de Certeau’s on individual exerience oriented understanding and his distinction between strategies and tactics …..

A strategy is “…the calculus of force-relationships which becomes possible when a subject…(a proprietor, an enterprise, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated from an ‘environment.’ A strategy assumes a place both conceptual and physical that can be circumscribed as proper… serv[ing] as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it (competitors, adversaries, ‘clienteles,’ ‘targets,’ or ‘objects’ of research) (1984: xix).

The place of a tactic belongs to the other. A tactic insinuates itself into the other’s place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance. It has no base where it can capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances (1984: xix).


De Certeau’s idea of productive consumption is different from what some social scientists have labeled agency in theorizing how people consume things – the basic idea that people reappropriate and reinterpret objects for their own purposes. Giddens (1984) developed his version of the analytic category of agency in his theory of structuration. In his formulation he distinguishes between discursive and practical knowledge, recognizing actors (or agents) as knowledgeable and reflexive. That is, they know what they are doing and orient their behavior in relation to structures. Moreover, their knowledge is reflexive and situated and habitual use or practice (e.g., consumption) becomes institutionalized. In this conception agency is articulated in relation to structures. Michel Foucault’s and Pierre Bourdieu’s ostensible contributions to the theory of everyday practice are also found wanting. Foucault analysis of micropolitical techniques stops just at the point where de Certeau’s interest begins; what people make or do when confronted by the instruments and effects of power. Similarly, de Certeau finds Bourdieu’s efforts to frame practice in relation to socioeconomic rationality and as largely unconscious unconvincing.

in combination with C.Knorr’s object oriented point of view, but as the author mentions it is important not to forget that Knorr Cetina’s focus on object-centeredsociality is in the context of what she identifies as expert or epistemic cultures. Epistemic cultures are “…amalgams of arrangements and mechanisms…in a given field [that] make up how we know what we know…[and] create and warrant knowledge”


An essential characteristic of knowledge objects, Knorr Cetina argues, is their lack of completeness and instability (1997:10). These objects present their subjects with an ontology that iscontinually unfolding as they are explored, mapped, watched, and analyzed. They are processes and projections as much as they are things and possess a characteristic non-identity with themselves; they are never fully attained. Provisional representations, partial understandings, or stand-ins provide apresence and pathways into the object world but there always remain significant absences – in a sensethey are present and absent by turns. This instability of these objects is the inverse to the fleeting andrhetorical relationships of de Certeau’s unselfconscious cultural consumers. But this is only one side of the equation, the mode of engagement on the part of the subject is equally important. Knorr Cetina employs Lacan’s account of the mirror stage to argue that interactions with knowledge objects are accompanied by a “structure of wanting” on the part of the subject which in turn engenders mutuality or reflexivity. For Lacan, the mirror stage establishes the ego as fundamentally dependent upon external objects, on an other.

excerpts from the proceedings draft (pdf)

keywords: object oriented / knowledge creation – information / complexity /

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