response by Margarita Tsomou
Response to One-on-One – written by retaining the method of documenting an oral stream of consciousness, as it would have been performed in a live conference, as originally planned.
Research format One-on-One Encounter, response by Margarita Tsomou
Responding to your paper and considering my project Face-to-Face with the Many – Action with Video-Calls, I would definitely agree that the work aimed at producing knowledge and exchanging knowledge between the invited participants. In my case, this research format was chosen exactly because the knowledge of the subject I was researching – the acts and forms of (self-)representation in the protests at Syntagma Square – was “precarious”, “informal”, “unproven” and “insecure”, as you are describing. In the dissertation, I focused on the question of the representationality of social movements, such as the Occupy movements – especially given the fact that the activists themselves rejected ‘representation’ in political terms but also with regards to the media. Throughout the research, it became clear that the dissertation itself had to reflect on the question to what extent my work itself could represent the obtained knowledge about the square in a linear argumentative structure, following the authorial narrative perspective of standard knowledge production.
In the first phase of the research, I experimented with different forms of montages of documentary media fragments of the square, which would allow associative connections and space for interpretation to emerge in the spectator´s eye, body and mind. In the second research phase, the project Face to Face with the Many radicalised this reluctant attitude of mine to represent the protesters through the experiment of letting them speak for and represent themselves.
This decision was also a reaction to the modes of media representation of the protesters, which consisted of relational connectivity communication chains on different platforms on the internet, rather than the stable historical linear narration of a book or a documentary film. I also referred to the protesters as the ‘many’, as a form of crowd that is structured as singularities in multiplicity and not as a homogenous unity and pointed out the fact that the narrations of the events on the square are, till now, manifold, take affective and bodily forms, and cannot be fully represented as a formally proven, secure and linear historical narrative.
This means that the research design in Face-to-Face was a reaction to the subject(s) of my research on many levels. It supports your point that this subjective way of exchanging knowledge on a one-on-one level became necessary because of the forms of “instable” knowledge I was investigating. To put it differently, I wanted to give back to the actors that were the subjects of my research the agency of deciding themselves, on the level of a singularity, a monad, what they wanted to narrate.
This brings me to the second point I would like to respond to: the question of how to curate these one-on-one research assemblies. The question of how to bring the participants together and on what terms was essential to the process of my dissertation. I would even say that curating an assembly of research participants did not generate knowledge in the expected way of trying to obtain findings by analysing the project after it had been finished. Instead, the curation itself was at the same time an effect of and a reaction to the research process, and an implementation of what had been learned. Consequently, this approach to knowledge production does not adhere to an established research design temporality, which would assume the emergence of knowledge to occur as a result of the process/method used, but instead it applies knowledge that emerges in the in-between stages of the research process and re-inserts it into the process.
I will try to explain this further: As I mentioned above, the Face-to-Face assembly was a “reaction” or an “expression”, an “application”, it was in itself a result of my research, as well as a tool for mutual knowledge production between the participants of the assembly. This logic follows approaches from participatory action research as well as artistic research that acknowledge that there might be in-between-results as well as by-products of the research, which are not necessarily only useful to the final thesis or the purposes of the academic project but might unfold in different space-time constellations and might fulfil different research interests for different publics (Reason/Bradbury 2006; Kindon/Pain/Kesby 2007; Peters 2011)
The fact that there are different research interests for different publics is mentioned in your paper and was key for me in understanding that in participatory research designs, a series of things might happen that are not typical for established research designs, namely that a) the experience with the material might change your tools in the midst of research, b) that you might want to share these findings with the participants, and c) that the research situations we create might fulfil different goals for different publics, whose interests might differ significantly from each other and might not even be relevant for your dissertation. Consequently, in my case, bringing people together for the purpose of knowledge exchange, creating this assembly, was itself the primary aim and only on a secondary level intended as a way of gathering knowledge afterwards.
This approach is Participatory Action Research by the book (Reason/Bradbury 2006; Chatterton/Fuller/Routledge 2007; Kindon/Pain/Kesby 2007; Bergold/Thomas 2012; Tsomou 2017): The aim of this kind of research is not only to carry out the academic project, but the intervention into and the transformation of the social fabric one is dealing with. This transformative and performative intention was central to the work. You mention this approach in your paper Intervention into the Real and I would like to emphasize that the Face-to-Face work is led by this intention and should also be classified under this category. This is also one of the reasons why I was not primarily interested in summarising and fixing “outcomes” or “findings” through feedback formats. The intention was to disseminate knowledge about the protests in Germany through multiple perspectives of different people.
Acknowledging that the Intervention into the Real was the primary aim also helps to understand the decisions concerning the curation of the assembly, which took a lot of energy and consideration. You also mention that framing the space (or creating a frame) can become a goal in itself. Following participatory action research approaches, I tried to adjust the research as closely as possible to the requirements of my participants: I made an open call for both sides of the online assembly – the Greek and the Hamburg side; thus, I did not “choose” participants, I tried to open the process for those interested or connected to the specific social context. I also did not confront them with my research questions but designed a process in which the participants generated their own questions on the subject of the protests on Syntagma Square, which differed from the questions I posed in the dissertation (these kinds of academic approaches, where the questions of the participants of the research might differ from those of the researcher, are, for example, described in Bergold/Thomas 2012). These curatorial processes, I think, are central to the work and would require a more thorough reflection – maybe there is a category for them, as well.
Here, however, your point on “loss of control” comes in: I lost control of the questions around which knowledge was produced in Face-to-Face. I now ask myself if it would have been better to adjust and gear the process more towards the questions of the dissertation. This is clearly a question of choice: One can direct the participatory process towards one´s own research goals or orientate oneself more towards the questions chosen by the participants. The latter bears the danger of not generating enough output for the written thesis, which clearly happened in my case and should be reflected critically. On the other hand: Since my goal was an Intervention into the Real, it also made sense to leave the decisions concerning the questions to discuss to the participants.
The loss of control also concerns the content of the dialogues between the participants, which were truly resembling what Cvejic calls “opinions”, “beliefs”, “habits”: The conversations took very different and also obscure directions, as you mention. An insertion of a feedback process, in which results of the conversations would have been summarised and collected, would have surely “disciplined” the participants to stick to discussing the theme and not drift off. On the other hand, however, this also mirrored the “noise” of the everyday conversations and actions on the square, which did not exclusively take the form of political language, but oscillated between affective indignation and everyday practices of cooking food, painting, dancing, practicing yoga, etcetera.
Nevertheless, looking back, I would say that designing feedback channels would have been a productive experiment for everyone involved. I could have had more insights for my own reflections and the participants could have learned more for themselves. However, I am not sure about a possible backlash: The participants already complained about being controlled by the rules of the game I had established for the assembly. I am not sure if they would have accepted having to generate results at the end.
The fact that I also created devices that allowed others to witness one-on-one conversations
(such as a projection in the space that documented the chat conversations and made them visible for all and a livestream) and thus provided wider public access to our assembly – and, accordingly, the fact that we knew that we were being watched – did not lead to an increased thematical focus in the conversations.
Touching upon the question of hierarchy between the status or knowledge of the participants, I would definitely say that in our case, we did not have a reciprocal and mutual knowledge exchange –
because this was all about learning from the experts on the protests in Greece. This is also a question of choice: I could have also chosen to invite Occupy protesters from Germany to create a more mutual exchange, but, at this point, my aim, or, if you like, my Intervention into the Real, was to publicly distribute information on the Syntagma Square protests in Germany. Thus, I designed the assembly in a way that enabled Greek protesters to inform a German public rather than invite exchange. Nevertheless, the Greek experts felt like “objects of research”, which points to the fact that it might nevertheless be important to ask questions that enable mutuality.
Last but not least, for me the experiment also generated knowledge on the changes of technological landscapes! Back then, it was not possible to skype with more than one person at a time; furthermore, the search for a functioning chat device was difficult and produced problems, and the sound and streaming quality were quite miserable. Today, there are many more technological options and we would of course change the way we create the framework for the same experiment of a One-on-One assembly according to the available technological means.
Bergold, Jarg/ Thomas, Stefan (2012): „Participatory Research Methods: A Methodological Approach in Motion“, in: Forum Qualitative Social Research 13 (1), http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1801/3334, (zuletzt aufgerufen 23.07.2016).
Chatterton, Paul/ Fuller, Duncan/ Routledge, Paul (2007): „Relating Action to Activism. Theoretical and Methodological Reflections“, in: Kindon, Sara/ Pain, Rachel/ Kesby, Mike (eds.), Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods. Connecting people, participation and place, New York: Routledge, pp. 216-222.
Kindon, Sara/ Pain, Rachel/ Kesby, Mike (2007): Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods. Connecting people, participation and place, New York: Routledge.
Peters, Sybille (2011): Der Vortrag als Performance, Bielefeld: transcript
Reason, Peter/ Bradbury Hilary (2006): „Inquiry and participation in search of a world worthy of human aspiration.‟, in: Reason, Peter/ Bradbury, Hilary (eds.), Handbook of Action Research. Participative Inquiry and Practice, London: Sage, pp. 1-14.
Tsomou, Margarita (2017): Zwischen Repräsentationskritik, Selbstrepräsentation und nicht-repräsentativen Politiken: Die Aktionsformen der Aganaktismenoi auf dem Syntagma-Platz, Athen 2011, Hamburg: HafenCity University.