Browsing through books: ‘Another science is possible: A manifesto for slow science’ by Isabelle Stengers

Isabelle Stengers’ Another science is possible: A manifesto for slow science is an important book for anyone doing research or dealing with research. It identifies problems in science and research today and suggest ways to overcome these. Although I’m not a natural scientist, I found this book useful and resonating. In fact, using examples from a different field helped me to see the issues slightly from the outside. The first 4 chapters are about describing ‘fast’ science and the remaining 2 chapters focus on slow science.

The most important take-away for me was Stengers’ ability to verbalise how contemporary mainstream ways of thinking marginalise other ways of being. In the case of academia, the symptoms relate to rankings, measuring, efficiency, expectations for delivering results, commodification, among other things. While these are annoying practices, together they create a sense of fastness. Still, they are the symptoms and the root causes are elsewhere.

What are the root causes? But briefly, the argument is that science is put to serve knowledge economy. She argues that many contemporary socio-ecological problems are known and shared by scholars but they are affected by ‘fastness’ and thus scientists and researchers cannot focus on ‘matters of concern’ (Latour). The tricky part is that no one has the right to decide on their own what is a matter of concern but it should be a dialogue among many people, and not only scientists, but also non-human others. In her analysis, such dialogue is not encouraged at the moment but circumvented or even denied.

In truth, the whole book is about articulating the root causes since it is a book about the philosophy of science. Thus, it would require more work from me to cristalise her analysis. While the same goes for her suggestions how to bring about slow science, I will still try.

I read that her proposals include researchers facing the question ‘You knew what you had to know; what did you do?’ (Chapter 5. p. 106). In her opinion, research institutions are not equipped to handle this and to admit that science is messy and not controllable. Moreover, facing the question requires negotiations (or reclaiming, p. 141), which always happens in a specific context – not in general or in abstractions. From the perspective of fast science, this seems like a terrible idea since negotiations require time. Still, time and negotiations are required for formulating answers to the question she poses: ‘You knew; what did you do?’ Moreover, engaging in negotiations as an academic results in need for diplomats who do negotiating. Sometimes scientists can be those diplomats, while sometimes the diplomat is someone else.

This is not a book to digest easily. Yet, it is definitely an inspiring and important one. So I’m happy that I did more than browse and spent time with this one. I have a feeling that I will return to this book later and compare the underlined parts and my notes to new highlights that I make. (And yes, I scribble in my books, but usually with a pencil.)

DIY video editing during the postdoc project

As you might know, I’m working on a sensory ethnography during 2017-2020 funded by Nessling Foundation and Kone Foundation. The focus is on post-growth work and I use video among other things. And let me tell you, using video requires learning a whole new set of skills.

Despite some well meaning advice, I have insisted on doing video editing myself. And let me tell you another thing, it is hard. I chose Adobe Premiere Pro CC due to an access to the licence via my affiliation with Aalto University, Department of Design. It is an editing program developed for professionals. I’m a beginner, although I have taken a (short) course. As a result, I have done many imaginable and unimaginable mistakes. I’ve spent many moments just trying to figure out how to frame my problem in order to find some answers over the internet. Yes, thank you for the suggestion, I need to take another course. But I also need to to this basic work of familiarising with the program while working on an actual project. By the way, this project is my first short ethnopgraphic film for a virtual conference Displacaments 2018. Very cool and exciting!

Why I insist on doing video editing myself? For one, I don’t have a budget to hire anyone. But most improtantly, I think it is worthwhile for my postdoc project. After all, I have promised to generate public videos during my research under some of the Creative Commons licences. At this point, I feel lucky that I have time until 2020. But already by now, doing video editing has thought me already a number of important lessons.

First, considering the publicly available videos (in the future), I don’t know what kind of material I should generate unless I know what is doable to do with the chosen editing program. Mind due, that I’m also a beginner in generating video materials. What kinds of angles, framings, durations, actions etc. work? What about the sound, how is the quality of audio from a particular setting? I’ve been told that a good camera person edits while shooting. Apparently, they can produce interesting images for the editing phase so that editor’s work flows smoothly. That’s my goal, in some years. Naturally, the same goes for sound.

Second, I don’t want to gloss over my interpretations from the field. Someone with more video editing experience would most likely make choices that seem more professional. But then again would that respect what I have experienced while doing fieldwork? Perhaps another video editor would, for example, increase the tempo by cuts or the choice of music. But that might not be how I experienced and sensed the field. For example, my stay with one household was a very calm one, although I worked every day. The calmness came from staying put on the estate and focusing on tasks at hand related to gardening, animal care, and food. It was not like a movie or a music video with things happening all the time, yet there was good work being done. That’s the feeling I hope to communicate with my on-going editing project.

Third, being the only person in the production team, I do everything myself for generating video materials. I don’t have a camera person. I don’t have an audio technician. I don’t have anyone carrying my gear. And I don’t have a person who I do not even know I miss if I would be used to their expertise. So it’s me and the field. As a result, the process of generating video materials and editing is slow, but then again I feel it respects my research topic, which deals with questioning exponential ecnomic growth.

These issues dealing with shooting techniques, contenct, and process have made me realise that I’m learning a whole new set of skills. No wonder it seems slow and difficult at times! Then I remind myself that about eight years ago I started to learn how to write academic publications. I’m still learning the skills required for developing an interesting journal article or a book chapter – let alone a whole book, which I have not done yet (if a compilation doctoral dissertation is not counted).

So one step at a time, because that’s what DIY processes are about.

My writing routine is #BetterThanBefore

I recently finished listening to Gretceh Rubin’s book Better than before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. It was great because I understood my own habits much better after the book. Refreshing! Rubin uses many fun categories for readers (listneres) to reflect their own ways of organising their lives.

I wasn’t reading it for any particluar purpose but after a while I was encouraged to rethink my writing habits. After an intensive 2016, which was mainly about delivering against deadlines, early 2017 has been about transforming my writing habist from goal orientation to time orientation. That has not been easy since I had gotten used to writing because I had a deadline. Therefore, developing a habit of writing because it was time for it (i.e. developing ideas) seemed difficult.

Out of curiosity I decided try follow one of the examples she gave for larks, i.e. people who are at their best in the mornings.

Start immediately after you wake up.

Before I had started my writing sessions after morning streches, breakfast, and orienting for the day’s tasks. As a contrast, the new style meant starting immediately after waking up and moving on to other tasks after an hour or so. My only edition was to have something to eat while writing because everyone close to me knows what happens if I delay the first meal of the day. You do not want to be around for that event.

After a week I can happily conclude that my new habit of 60 minutes of early morning writing seems to work GREAT. It pairs up with a to do list for writing that sets up my priorities per each day & week.

Before finishing each day, I decide what I write after I wake up.

The to do list has two columns per day: (1) early morning writing goals (60 mins) and (2) before lunch writing goals (60-90 mins). In the worst case scenario, I will have to skip the second writing session because of teaching/meetings/fieldwork – but NEVER the first one. So I get writing time every week day (or every day if in hurry) no matter WHAT. And like Rubin argues, such a freedom from choice is extremely liberating. I’m in awe!

Apparently writing life can be a beach.

But remember, I’m a LARK, which means I love waking up early. Like really early. Like before 6 am. I’m serious. If you aren’t a lark, this probably feel likes a terrible idea. But if you don’t know, it doesn’t hurt to figure out if one is a lark or an night owl or something in between and rethink one’s writing schedule based on that.

What to do after finishing a PhD? Where to hop next?

Finishing a PhD is something I dreamed about for (too) many years. And now that time is here for me. In 18 days I will be up there giving a public lectio based on my doctoral dissertation and then defend it (publicly) for up to 5 hours. Usually all of this takes approximantely two hours. It is great to be here, less than three weeks from the defence (and the party that follows it).

Yet, I experience this sense of a lost direction. Of course I have plans for my future. I have planned to a new ethnographic fieldwork related to degrowth organising and self-employment, for which I have already started to do some preliminary work (more updates at ResearchGate).

Being in a PhD program is (or rather was) not always fun, as anyone who has survived it can tell. But it is familiar. Life after PhD is unfamiliar and that’s scary.

While experiencing this sense of a lost direction, I should be delivering many things, e.g. revising a manuscript, applying for postdoc funds, preparing my public speeches (two for this Wednesday and of course the Big One on 28 October, i.e. The Defence). But it is hard to start, because there’s no certainty where I am going.

In the meantime, I’m happy to learn how you manage uncertainty. How do you handle the fact that after finishing a big project you don’t know where you are heading next? Bad TV is not a good enough answer. I tried that and it doesn’t seem to work.

Where to hop next?