Focusing my micro-ethnography on ds106 (‘community’) radio during week five

Reflecting on Karen Barad’s (2003; 2007) agential realism and onto-epistemology, where the “thing” is entangled with the way in which “we” research it, I have found myself questioning how I might research my micro-ethnography and how/whether I should participate (as a ‘lurker‘ or otherwise). How might different kinds of participation affect ‘community’ and the ethical issues surrounding the study?

In my role as ‘open participant‘, having ‘access’ to read/listen/participate in, and feed into, the same activities/assignments as those studying the course through a degree, the binaries between ‘open’/’closed’, ‘insider’/’outsider’, ‘included’/’excluded’ appear blurred and problematic. Is access alone enough to be ‘included’?

Listening to Tim Ingold’s assertion that ‘we don’t make studies of people, we study with them and learn from them’, this week I submitted a radio bumper into the ‘ds106 flow’ alongside the work of students/open participants, with the potential of receiving “airtime” on ds106radio. Is this an example of the kind of entanglement Barad refers to?

Inspired by an article on live field notes, I wrote some field notes of my own, and began focusing my micro-ethnography on ds106radio and the interactions surrounding it

What makes ‘community’ endure in a connectivist-informed course such as ds106, often beyond the end date (“#4life“)?

How might we define/understand/documentcommunity‘? What role might ds106radio, and sound in general, play?

As I continue my micro-ethnography, and refer to relevant literature and examples, I uncover new questions, as suggested by danah boyd (2008: 29), and consider the communities and relations in these distributed educational spaces.

Michael saved in Pocket: ‘New Materialism: Phenomena – Agential Realism’


The concept of the phenomena has been subject to a wide array of philosophical writings. Here I unfold on phenomena, as methodological apparatus in Karen Barad’s Agential Realism (2007).

In an agential realist sense, the smallest units of analysis are phenomena:

A phenomenon is a specific intra-action of an ‘object’; and the ‘measuring agencies’; the object and the measuring agencies emerge from, rather than precede, the intra-action that produces them.” (Barad, 2007, p. 128).

The central idea is that “the thing” “we” research, is enacted in entanglement with “the way” we research it. This is an onto-epistemological offset:

“Practices of knowing and being are not isolable; they are mutually implicated. We don’t obtain knowledge by standing outside the world; we know because we are of the world. We are part of the world in its differential becoming. The separation of epistemology from ontology is a reverberation of a metaphysics that assumes an inherent difference between human and nonhuman, subject and object, mind and body, matter and discourse.” (Barad, 2007, p. 185)

There is in this sense no privileged position from which knowledges can be produced, as the researcher is of the world. Researching phenomena, then, is a methodological practice of continuously questioning the effects of the way we research, on the knowledges we produce. This unfolds itself as an ethico-onto-epistemology of knowing in being. Ethics is about being response-able to the way we make the world, and to consider the effects our knowledge-making processes have on the world (Barad, 2007, p. 381).

View full article

Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’ (Barad 2003)


‘On an agential realist account of technoscientific practices, the “knower” does not stand in a relation of absolute externality to the natural world being investigated—there is no such exterior observational point. It is therefore not absolute exteriority that is the condition of possibility for objectivity but rather agential separability—exteriority within phenomena. “We” are not outside observers of the world. Nor are we simply located at particular places in the world; rather, we are part of the world in its ongoing intra-activity.’ (Barad 2003: 828)

View full article

Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning’ (Barad 2007)

Meeting the Universe Halfway


Meeting the Universe Halfway is an ambitious book with far-reaching implications for numerous fields in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. In this volume, Karen Barad, theoretical physicist and feminist theorist, elaborates her theory of agential realism. Offering an account of the world as a whole rather than as composed of separate natural and social realms, agential realism is at once a new epistemology, ontology, and ethics. The starting point for Barad’s analysis is the philosophical framework of quantum physicist Niels Bohr. Barad extends and partially revises Bohr’s philosophical views in light of current scholarship in physics, science studies, and the philosophy of science as well as feminist, poststructuralist, and other critical social theories. In the process, she significantly reworks understandings of space, time, matter, causality, agency, subjectivity, and objectivity.
In an agential realist account, the world is made of entanglements of “social” and “natural” agencies, where the distinction between the two emerges out of specific intra-actions. Intra-activity is an inexhaustible dynamism that configures and reconfigures relations of space-time-matter. In explaining intra-activity, Barad reveals questions about how nature and culture interact and change over time to be fundamentally misguided. And she reframes understanding of the nature of scientific and political practices and their “interrelationship.” Thus she pays particular attention to the responsible practice of science, and she emphasizes changes in the understanding of political practices, critically reworking Judith Butler’s influential theory of performativity. Finally, Barad uses agential realism to produce a new interpretation of quantum physics, demonstrating that agential realism is more than a means of reflecting on science; it can be used to actually do science.

View book

Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’ (Barad 2003)


Language has been granted too much power. The linguistic turn, thesemiotic turn, the interpretative turn, the cultural turn: it seems that at every turn lately every “thing”—even materiality—is turned into a matter of language or some other form of cultural representation. The ubiquitous puns on “matter” do not, alas, mark a rethinking of the key concepts (materiality and signification) and the relationship between them. Rather, it seems to be symptomatic of the extent to which matters of “fact” (so to speak) have been replaced with matters of signification (no scare quotes here). Language matters. Discourse matters. Culture matters. There is an important sense in which the only thing that does not seem to matter anymore is matter.

View full article

As I explore posthumanism and agential realism further, this article from Karen Barad looks to be a very interesting read.