Suis-je flâneur?

“Flanerie” flickr photo by IaninSheffield shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Several happenstances intersected to bring me to the point where I’m embarking on a different approach to my analysis which is more coherent with my overall study, as I outlined here. The purpose of this post is to put a little more flesh on the bones of the initial phase in which I explore data.

There were two strands which, though unconnected, brought me to this point. The first, as I mentioned in the previous post, was Martina mentioning the process of ‘data walking’ by Eakle (2007). The second was exchanges with Deborah and me becoming intrigued by her blog title, the édu flâneuse and then captured by the quote with which she subtitles it:

“For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate observer, it’s an immense pleasure to take up residence in multiplicity, in whatever is seething, moving, evanescent and infinite: you’re not at home, but you feel at home everywhere, you’re at the centre of everything yet you remain hidden from everybody.” Baudelaire

When I began to explore further, there seems to a small but significant (and eclectic) body of research which draws on the notion of the flâneur in different ways. First it might help if I outline the origins:Read More »


What do I share with Olympic heroes?

“BBC Documentary Super Saturday 2012 Olympic Heroes” flickr photo by IaninSheffield shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Michael Johnson met Jess Ennis-Hill in a recent BBC documentary about the London Olympics 2012 ‘Super Saturday,’ as we in the UK came to call it. Michael came up to Sheffield to speak with Jess, so there were a few shots from around the city. In the programme, Jess, Mo and Greg spoke about their experiences of the day, and their lives subsequently. From here I could of course take this in the direction of the grit and determination these three folks showed. How they overcame adversity, fought back and earned the rewards they so richly deserved … and then of course relate that to studying for a PhD … but no.

Over a year ago now I wrote of a reading group I convened in which three profs were kind enough to discuss a reading of a book with me. We went out of the Uni to a coffee house just around the corner. It’s called ‘Tamper/Sellers Wheel’ and has a small, one-table room you can book. The one in the above shot. It’s a small world.

What this did get me thinking though was about fixity and flow. The table, the chairs, the room are all the same as when we used them; the materiality remained the same. The materiality served the same function for Michael and Jess that it did for us; the only difference was the point in time at which the activities took place. So we have two assemblages in which the materiality remains the same (perhaps apart from the drinks!), but the people are different. Initially this worried me somewhat; did the nonhumans in these events have the significance that I’m claiming they do in my research? One way to answer the question is to ask what would happen if each actor was not there, so take the chairs …literally! Could the event still have taken place? Well, yes, though perhaps less comfortably. We, Jess and Michael, could still have completed our exchanges whilst standing or walking around. If the drinks still had to play a part, we might have needed to change the cups for ones which fulfilled the act of ‘drink holding’ for something more appropriate to walking, but yes, the table, chairs and room could all be taken away without affecting the event unduly. Now imagine that Michael couldn’t come to Sheffield, or that the people with whom I discussed the book were in Australia. Distance or separation becomes an actor and has an affect, causing the conversation to need a mediator, like a telephone or Skype. Suddenly, the importance of the nonhumans becomes apparent. Furthermore, the technology is more than a mere tool to ‘be used,’ it becomes an actor which affects the nature and quality of the interaction. Take it away, or swap one technology for another, and the whole interaction changes; you’re obliged to do things differently and the outcome may also be different.

One other thought struck me. Jess and Michael weren’t just using a room, table and chairs like my reading group. They were using the room, table and chairs that we were. Of course we could all have been there at the same time, but things would quickly have become very messy and once more, the outcome would be different. Instead by sliding them apart in time, the two meetings can now take place, even though the nonhumans which participated are precisely the same. I guess what I’m rather clumsily or self evidently saying here is that I might need to think of time as an actor, perhaps in a slightly different way to that when I did so previously. In thinking about Tamper, my group and the Olympians are held apart in different timespaces, despite us participating with the same location and other nonhumans. It is time which enabled our two discussions to unfold as they did. An invisible, intangible, but crucial actor.

There’s a *new* materialism?

“Sociology and New Materialism” flickr photo by IaninSheffield shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

At my last meeting, one of my supervisors suggested a book that he thought might inform my methodological chapter (whatever it ultimately gets called!): “Sociology and the New Materialism: Theory, Research, Action” by Fox and Alldred (2016). At the heart of the book is the notion that we might problematise the human as being central to the research endeavour. Someone must conduct the research, right? What Fox and Alldred offer however is a less anthropocentric view, where knowledge, rather than being revealed or constructed by a researcher, is produced by an “assemblage of things, people, ideas, social collectivities and institutions.” Here then I’ll try to summarise what I’ve learned from the book and what implications it might have for my research musings.Read More »

Learning … loosely?

“Sealion” flickr photo by wwarby shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I was catching up with episode three of Loose Learners whilst out running yesterday. Mariana and John were discussing the (mis?)use of social media for sharing, or what for some might be more accurately termed bragging, selling or self-promoting. It was suggested that people come to Twitter with different models of how they intend to use it. Some see it as a purely broadcasting medium, others amplify the content of others, whilst many see it as a place to interact. Perhaps it’s not quite so clear cut and many participants do some of each at different times? I tend to see the ‘fine line’ between bragging and sharing that Mariana and John were suggesting, as an awful lot wider … and fuzzier!. That fuzziness arises as a combination of the ‘intent’ of the user that Mariana described, and the expectations of the recipient. A particular user might have a specific purpose in mind when tweeting something out, but whether that’s perceived as sharing, bragging or self-promotion will also depend on the internal compass within the recipient and what they find acceptable.Read More »

Crisis? What crisis?

“Ethnographic travels” by IaninSheffield is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

As I prepare for my supervisory meeting this week, I’m reminded of the previous meeting when I offered  this rendering (It’s a much smaller version of the full one and I’m far from happy with the way it displays what I want, but … well, compromise!). It’s an attempt to show some of the activity I’ve been engaged in as a participant observer, but also a little more than that. It serves several functions, providing:

  • a visual record of what came to my attention and whether I chose to interact;
  • direct hyperlinks back to the tweets, sites, posts or comments i.e. the original data which attracted my gaze;
  • a precis of the information/data behind that data point;
  • my observational comments – why it attracted my attention, what I thought and what I did; and
  • a kickstart of the process of analysis.

This sits alongside a slightly more conventional set of field notes, although much more brief than the notes which might usually accompany field work. I didn’t see them as needing to capture all the rich detail of the people in view – what they were doing and trying to achieve, what and how they communicated and so on. My notes certainly bear little resemblance to those of traditional ethnography, but then this isn’t a traditional ethnography.Read More »

Ethnomethodology – everyday and commonsense talk? Really?

“How to exit an elevator” flickr photo by ekurvine shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Another of the areas that I was advised to take a look at during my last doctoral supervision meeting was that of ethnomethodology. I guess that was on the basis of how I was describing my unfolding approach. I have to confess that, other than being aware of the term, I knew little else about ethnomethodology, so here’s a brief summary of what I’ve found.Read More »


By Mysid (Own work. Self -made in Blender & Inkscape.) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons
As I was writing the preceding post in which I introduced chronotopes and the notion of timespace, as a former physics teacher, I couldn’t help but reflect on Bakhtin’s inspiration, Einstein’s spacetime. I suspect that after poaching the idea of time and space being interwoven and co-constitutive, Bakhtin took the physics no further. I wondered therefore whether there might be other aspects of the physics concept that might be usefully ported across to the sociolinguistic.Read More »

Chronotope … sadly, not a Dr Who villain

Every tweet has a timestamp embedded within it. Posts on blogs are (usually) arranged chronologically. One quick click on any Wikipedia page provides access to the history of edits leading to the current version. Time seems to have a much greater significance on the Web than it does in print media. Sure, books and magazines have a publishing date, but that tends to be at the top level; a cut off time when the article went to print, rather than the time(s) when the text was authored. I knew that at some stage I would need to apply myself to the temporality of learning online and through Twitter, and when I came across the idea of the chronotope, it seemed like the right … time?Read More »

Silent majority

When @MartinaEmke kindly retweeted my tweet promoting my last post, she followed it up with this provocation:

Although the people associated with the tweets was beyond the scope of that post, I must confess, it’s a topic to which I’ve already devoted some thought. How might we account for those who remain invisible because they don’t (inter)act? Approaching this with a sociomaterial sensibility, it would be too easy to claim that since there is no action, they cannot be deemed to be actors; they cannot be ‘followed’ and there is therefore little to say about them. Studies of this phenomenon, often called ‘lurking,’ have emerged which frame this behaviour in positive terms (Nonnecke & Preece, 2003; Walker et al, 2013). Crawford (2011) suggests using a metaphor of ‘listening’ as a way to conceptualise lurking. This then redefines the activity from being “vacant and empty figurations to being active and receptive processes.” However, Martina’s question seemed to require a more methodological framing; how does actor-network theory deal with something it can’t ‘see?’Read More »