The STS Talk-Walks
A monthly walking seminar at the University of Oxford 2010-2011
As an experiment, we introduced a new activity at InSIS in the 2010/2011 academic year: The STS Talk-Walks. Once a month, we met up on a Friday afternoon for a walk during which we explored a question that cut across our work. Everyone was welcome, whether they considered themselves an STS person or not.
The idea had traveled to Oxford from the University of Amsterdam, where Annemarie Mol and Anna M. Mann had been hosting a Walking Seminar for a while. As they write, "talking-while-walking can enhance thinking in ways not attainable behind a desk or in a seminar sitting down."
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Previous STS Talk-Walks
Comparing: what is it to compare? (22 October 2010)
- What do you compare with what as a part of your research? How should that help you in answering your questions, telling your stories, etc.? Does it?
- What is fun/difficult/striking/surprising etc. in the work of ‘comparing’?
- What difference might it make to use other terms, e.g. contrasting? Or which other other term would be relevant to/in your work?
- What are authors/texts in which comparison figures in a way that you particularly appreciate? In which ways do you learn from them; how do you (want to) do similar/different things?
- What is it to compare and how have similarity and difference to do with this?
(brief summary here; many thanks to Annemarie Mol and Anna M. Mann, who came up with that topic)
Storying: what is it to tell a story? (19 November 2010)
- What stories do you tell in your papers, presentations and talks? What work do they do? And what counts as a story anyway?
- How do you tell your stories? Do you think about this at all? What techniques, styles, strategies and narrative devices do you use? What works for you, what doesn’t?
- Where do you get your stories from? Is there a difference between your own and others’ stories? Whose stories are they?
- What makes a ‘good’ story - and what a ‘bad’ one? What are examples of storying that you particularly appreciate? What do you like about them and what can we learn from them?
- How useful/difficult/inspiring/problematic/etc. do you find it to think about your work in terms of storying?
(brief summary here)
Silencing: what is it to silence? (17 December 2010)
- Who, which or what is silenced in your research? How do you know? And how does it matter?
- Have you experienced situations in which you thought that something was missing, such as in a seminar or during field work? What was going on?
- What does it practically take to silence? What are the conceptual, methodological and analytic devices to render something silent? Is it possible to ‘not silence’?
- Do you know of any articles, books or movies that deal with these issues? What do you find interesting/challenging/difficult/etc. about them?
- What is it to silence, and how have absence and ignorance to do with this?
(brief summary here)
Travelling: how to make our work travel? (21 January 2010)
- What is the story or point in your work that is most to dear and important to you? What would change if your audience believed you?
- Do you write as if you want to convince someone? An implied ‘enemy’? Bystanders? Or do you write for your intellectual friends? When to do what? What about writing for ‘the big shots’ vs. writing for ‘the next generation’?
- Who might already be interested in your topic? In your empirical field? In your theoretical inventions? In your ways of working, methods for doing research, styles of writing?
- Who else might you actively interest? What does that take: how to link the interests of ‘the other’ to your work? Which ‘other’ to target in that attempt and which other others to forget about (for now)?
- What other challenges are there: language? Local case studies? What are good ways to bypass a lack of interest in other places? What to do if part of the audience has lots of background knowledge about these places while others do not? What about discipline? There are still huge investments in Sociology, Anthropology, etc.: how to relate to that?
(brief summary here; many thanks to Anna Mann and the Amsterdam Walking Seminar for sharing the topic)
Theorizing: what is it to do theory? (18 February 2011)
- Can you think of a recent moment when you ‘did theory’? What exactly happened? And how come you think about this as theorizing?
- Are there modes of theorizing that you particularly appreciate? What do you find great about them? And what are the challenges and difficulties that come with them?
- Where does your theory come from? Whom, which or what do you relate to in your work? How do you treat literature, ideas and data in this context?
- Sometimes people variously juxtapose ‘theory’ with ‘practice’, ‘the empirical’ or ‘pop writing’. Does that make any sense to you? Why or why not?
- What is the point of theorizing theory? Is there a way to do theory differently? What would you need to change in your work to do so?
Concluding: what is it to conclude? (18 March 2011)
- Concluding often is a big challenge in writing and doing research. Do you remember when you last had to come to a conclusion? What exactly happened? And what did you find difficult about it?
- Are there different styles of concluding? Specifically, are there styles of concluding that you particularly appreciate? What is it that you find great/useful/enjoyable about them?
- Is it possible to get away without a conclusion? What would that involve? Have you come across such a case?
- Do you know of any good examples of concluding in literary and/or academic writing? How do these writers achieve what they achieve? And how can we make their work productive for our own?
(brief summary here; many thanks to Torben Elgaard Jensen for suggesting the topic)
Spinning: what is it to spin a topic? (20 May 2011)
- How do you spin your research in your papers, talks and presentations? Do you have some good examples from your recent work? What made you spin a topic in one way or the other?
- What are the practicalities of spinning? What do you find easy/difficult/challenging/etc. about it?
- Is it possible to distinguish different strategies or modes of spinning? What has worked for you, what hasn’t? Is there an ‘ethics’ of spinning?
- How useful is it to talk about spinning vis-à-vis related concepts like framing or turning? For example, there has been a lot of talk about ‘turns’ in STS — turns to technology, ontology, practice, and even to turns. Have you been engaged in any of these? What are your observations and what can we learn from them?
(brief summary here)
Visualising: what is it to visualise? (17 June 2011)
- Have you used any visualizations in your papers, talks and presentations recently? How did you use them and on what occasions? Do you have some good examples (diagrams, charts, photos, drawings, maps, etc.)?
- What practical work goes into creating visualizations and making them travel? Who, which or what is actually being visualized? What do you find easy/difficult/ challenging/etc. about it?
- What are the risks involved in visualizing? What worked for you, what didn’t? Has something ever gone wrong? Do you have examples of visualizations you particularly appreciate?
- How come that ‘visualization’ has gained such currency? Has it, actually?
(brief summary here, many thanks to Tanja Schneider who suggested the topic)
The Algorithmic Talk-Walk (22 July 2011)
The final STS Talk-Walk this academic year will adopt a special format: instead of taking our usual route along the Thames, we will be guided by an algorithm.
Following the example of inventive anthropologists, we will use an algorithm that can be queried for directions at every junction, crossroads or otherwise ambiguous point on our journey. The algorithm will be agreed upon at the beginning of the walk and could be anything from throwing a dice to flipping a coin or more sophisticated methods.
This special edition of the STS Talk-Walk will allow us to reflect on the workings and requirements of algorithms, navigation, discovery and fieldwork – and how these might relate to our research projects. We will conclude our journey in a (presumably) local pub – wherever that may be.
(brief essay here; many thanks to Torben Elgaard Jensen for his input and support)
What is it to compare a PhD student and a cow?
Chris mastering an obligatory passage point.
STS scholars discover the English countryside.
A skeptical view on the sun.
An obligatory group photo.
Thames Path, seconds before the talk-walkers arrive.
STS travellers - and an invisible photographer.
A classic ending with limited applicability in STS research.
An almost self-explanatory visualisation.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does this work?
Each talk-walk is guided by a question or theme that participants are invited to explore. For example, recent issues tackled by the Amsterdam group include "What is it to compare?" or "How to make our work travel?". We will meet at Saïd Business School and walk-talk for 2-3 hours along the Thames or another enjoyable route.
The actual seminar works as follows: each participant will pair up with another talk-walker every 20 minutes so that (ideally) everyone has a chance to talk-walk with everyone else. We will wrap up briefly at the end of the walk.
How long are these walks?
While we are not aiming to make this a sporting exercise, please mentally prepare for a walk between 10 and 15 km. At average walking speed, this should take us not more than 2-3 hours. Depending on motivation, we can go for a cup of tea or coffee after the seminar.
Anything to bring along?
Not really. Bring whatever you need to talk-walk comfortably. That is, good shoes and maybe a rain jacket, hat or scarf against cold wind. Also, bring an open mind and some initial thoughts on the theme. Specifically, think about how the theme relates to your own work. The guiding question might be useful.
What if it rains?
Then we will walk in the rain.
Do I need to sign up?
It would be great if you could give us a shout if you would like to join. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also join our mailing list to receive regular updates. To subscribe, just send an email to email@example.com and follow the instructions in the message you receive in response.
Questions, feedback or ideas for themes?
Please contact us.
Updated: January 25, 2013