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It is not possible to apply a method as if it were indifferent or external to the problem it seeks to address, but that method must rather be made specific or relevant to the problem… Inventive methods are ways to introduce answerability into a problem… if methods are to be inventive, they should not leave that problem untouched (Lury and Wakeford 2012:3).

This research investigates the impact of new digital technologies and material practices in the transmission of knowledge (making, curating and representing ideas) and the potential they hold for maximising the impact of knowledge exchange. It examines epistemological engagements with knowledge in new forms (ie. web/blogs, films, photos, events, objects etc) and aims to establish the idea that how we represent our research is just as critical as how we do it. It sets out to generate awareness of (as well as increase value for) alternate ways of representing knowledge beyond talk and text and facilitate opportunities and materials to support the distribution of skills and innovative practice.

The project contributes to methods literature by attending to the role and importance of objects of knowledge in qualitative enquiry; recognising the challenges borne of a seemingly inexhaustible volume of documentation produced by contemporary digital ‘tools of the trade’. It does this by providing opportunities to discuss and debate strategies for handling, analysing and representing multi-media data.

Translating research findings into forms other than written arguments contributes to emerging sociological interest in public encounters with messy processes and objects. The project responds to an interest in the critical nature of representations in the making of knowledge and new technologies in Science and Technology Studies (STS). Graphs, models, drawings, photos and sketches, especially in the fields of science, architecture and engineering, are viewed as central to the translation and distribution of knowledge, for persuading people and enrolling allies (Henderson 1999; Latour and Yaneva 2008). Yet, despite the significance of digital technologies and material practices in these research contexts, knowledge transmission work by researchers has received much less attention. There is little critical analysis of conventional ubiquitous and invisible frameworks (such as Powerpoint). Despite political pressure to open up access to data, innovative findings are often transformed into conventional presentational formats (eg conference papers and powerpoint presentations) with far less attention focused on the possibilities of other forms of knowledge transmission.

This paucity has the effect of reinforcing the notion that how we represent ideas is separate or incidental to the transmission of knowledge. Although there has been some notable work concerned with attempts to resist the tidying of data methodologically (Law 2004; Wakeford 2006; Lury and Wakeford 2012), debates around questions of epistemology have tended to focus on method – the gathering of data, or more recently the tools and techniques used to analyse it.

The project is timely due to the current political shift toward open access, as outlined in the Government’s ‘Open Data White Paper’ (Maude 2012) and Willetts’s (2012) call for a ‘seismic shift’ in sharing knowledge. The growing ‘academic spring’ movement also seeks to revolutionise access to academic knowledge but many are cynical that the Governmental shakeup might actually change the system (Guardian 2012). While these calls to action focus on open data access and liberating journal articles from paywalls, this proposal tackles the issue in a different way; it explores the potential (and pitfalls) of new forms of knowledge representation made possible through new digital technologies, platforms and materialities.

A key objective is to critically examine how inventive methods and modes of knowledge transmissions engage researchers and their audiences in new ways, inside and outside traditional research settings. The project provides time, space and opportunities to bring together interdisciplinary people engaged in experimental practices, quirky collaborations, material interpretive and performative work etc to critically discuss, debate and share new forms of knowledge exchange.

Core questions

- What are the benefits/consequences of transmitting knowledge while entangled in research?
- What can we learn from other ways of working?
- How do we increase the panoply of new methods?
- How do we expand digital research skills?
- How do we teach/develop interdisciplinary research projects?