In May of last year, my father passed away suddenly at the age of 55. He was taking care of the two bee hives he kept on our property, 22 acres along Highway 58 in Peletier, North Carolina. He died from anaphylactic shock, alone on the hill overlooking the land. He died from a bee sting, my 250-lb mountain of a father, brought down by something so small.
I often imagine the moment that my mother found him: a last sliver of life together, my father the engineer, builder of infrastructure, and my mother the photographer, shaper of chemicals and worlds. And all around, the bees were busy making their food, making their shelter, making their way towards a more cohesive unit.
I study making, the making practices that get erased when we focus on the ways that only computers produce technological inscriptions. Specifically, I study craft, community literacies where the first Maker cultures began. I also study the critical making that nonhuman Makers engage in: the bees you see behind you are furiously making honey – bringing together the materials of their environment, transducing it into something brilliant and lovely and useful. Today, I’m going to talk about the need to recognize what it means to study making and to make research; what it means to interface with makers that are in situ, in production, and producing; what it means to look for the stories of makers that aren’t readily available to us. It involves walking with, witnessing, and apprenticing. It involves diffraction, the process of changing meaning through the research apparatus. It involves constellations, and it involves bees.
My father was not a reflective man. I have many memories of him coaching a number of sports and yet can not once remember him reviewing a playback reel or talking over previous strategy with his team. In his many years as a project engineer, we figured there was a reason his employers put him in positions like innovator or director. He had no method, only action. My family wonders if it is for this reason that our bees attacked: he simply wasn’t being careful, methodical. Yet from the day he passed his beekeeping certification, he carried with him a GoPro camera strapped to his chest – his heart. In the videos he made, he talks to himself and to “the girls.” He wonders where tools are and what to do with them. He looks around; he pauses; he goes back to work. He negotiates his body with the camera, adjusting its position, testing to see what it sees. He is reflecting and reflexing; he is slowing down for the first time in his life; he is listening.
I interweave this presentation with the story of my father, for Story is what comes before Theory as Maracle (1990) tells us. Story is the ground from which our critical understandings of the world grow, how we orient ourselves to what Shawn Wilson (2008) defines as our relations: not simply those whose blood flows through us, but the land, the ancestors and relatives, the cosmos, and the ideas that give shape to who we are. A story about my methodology becomes a story about my father: in his passing, he has provided me with an exigence for a broader rhetorical study of critical making beyond the Makerspace, but his method for understanding his hives has also helped me theorize a method for makers and for studying making practices that I hope might open some doors for us, especially those of us working in highly technological intellectual or institutional spaces, where it is easy for us to forget how our students are making long before and after they step foot in our classrooms.
So in this presentation, I suggest a methodological shift in how we study acts and events of critical making, a shift I myself experienced only after the death of my father, only after I was able to walk and talk and make with him in these videos. First, a shift entails that we move away from our readily available ethnographic means: an ethnography of material practice can no longer be a practice of observation or even participant-observation, because these practices separate researcher from participant and are not capable of recognizing critical making as a cultural rhetorics practice. Second, a methodological shift requires us to listen, walk, and talk with the process of making instead of aiming to capture it. I will argue that making is not a process of design imposed on a material, but a movement with and alongside material (Ingold, 2010), and our methods must therefore also be sensory correspondences with makers (Pink, 2012). I’ll end this presentation describing my primary data collection method for my dissertation, a method I have called videovoice after already-established photovoice methods in social science and humanities research, modeled after both my father’s own non-academic methodology and Ann Shivers-McNair’s (2017) 3D interviewing. Using videovoice methods, multiple makers produce videos of a making event by placing handheld cameras on their heads or around their chests as they work and make, and reflect later upon the videos they have made. Multiple makers within a single making event produce a multi-dimensional account of that particular event, what Taguchi (2012) calls a diffraction. In using this method, we more closely align our critical making research methods with the act of critical making itself – we directly engage with the countless materializations of a single making event through a diffracted set of stories; we show how a space in which making occurs is a cultural space informed by individual, institutional, and technological stories and histories; and we are shaped into apprentices, told by our participants, their movements, and their technologies when to pay attention, when to learn about what it means to be a maker.
According to the Cultural Rhetorics Theory Lab’s “Our Story Begins Here: Constellating Cultural Rhetorics Practices” (2014), the recent object-oriented ontological turn in rhetoric has cast culture as a static object, erasing the human bodies that live and move within it. Instead, the authors argue that rhetoric is culturally produced by communities of shared belief and practices that accumulate over time and place. In a cultural theory of rhetorical practice, scholars should understand the production of knowledge as relational: in a constellation, which is the operating metaphor for a cultural rhetorics practice,that all relations matter. There is abundance in constellations: of intellectual relations and origins. Where traditional positivist research separates the researcher from the researched in an attempt at objectivity and objectification, cultural rhetorics research recognizes the ways in which research is itself a constellation of practices, one that is deeply entangled and responsible to the communities that one researches. The assumptions of ethnographic study are based in an idea of researcher-as-outsider, but an approach centered in storytelling, the primary methodology for a cultural rhetorics practice, brings the researcher into the circle, implicates them, and calls them to be responsible and to respond. There is no inside and outside of the story, there is only a constellation, a meeting place of histories and things and people. An approach to research that is centered in storytelling therefore allows for us as scholars to grapple with the ways in which we are generously allowed to conduct research in and learn from our families and communities, as well as face the multiple assemblages that make up our research communities, which necessarily include ourselves. The idea of giving back through research is central to a cultural rhetorics practice: it requires reflexivity and responsivity. It requires a relational accountability (Wilson, 2008), a way of paying respect to the gift we’ve been granted to enter into a space of practice and make knowledge out of that experience.
In making communities, we could stand to benefit from some of this reshaping and reassembling of our research constellations. Makerspaces have traditionally centered electronic technologies and individual identities in ways that marginalize other potential making practices like craft or agricultural production, and by extension other potential makers. By constellating the stories of hackers and hacking with the stories of weavers and weaving, researchers might resist a colonizing narrative that paints making as something new and “discovered,” and instead see the ways that making was always and already present, prior to the 3D printer or the Raspberry Pi, in ourselves and our students and in our own communities. Instead of a story about the Maker, we might listen for the many, many stories of making that have been erased. By tying knowledge or information to the concrete human experience, story is a way for researchers to maintain accountability to the people we work with and perhaps recuperate some of those stories that have been lost about making.
Stories privilege local knowledge, localized experience, and the materials of everyday life; stories are full of things, small conversations, and personal details. They are the meeting places, the constellations of the ordinary. Storytelling itself is a testament to the everyday, and is therefore especially suited for researching everyday practices of making. Feminist researchers in particular have long been invested in the everyday as a site of study, as ordinary life spans across disciplines, publics, and perspectives. The everyday is necessarily a private and hidden space of knowledge production that moves in ways that are not readily observable through already-accepted means. While current ethnographies of everyday practice tend to use traditional methods of analysis and data collection through observation, Sarah Pink (2012) argues that multimodal and sensory ethnography shows us how everyday practice is constitutive of everyday place. She argues for a walking-talking-imaging approach that does three things: views practice and place as continual and contextual, as existing within social relationships, and as a route of embodiment that can be re-experienced, not analyzed, through video techniques. Pink’s multimodal approach is what Sikand (2015) have argued is a shared anthropology: a withness with data and with participants that requires us to pay attention to movement through worlds, to the ways worlds grow up from the ground, rather than as frozen moments of stability meant to be captured.
Where a traditional positivist conception of ethnography emphasizes capturing a reality of a community of practice, an ethnography “from the ground up” is about understanding cultural practice as in movement. In studying rural everyday life in Appalachia, Las Vegas, and other tucked away places of America, Kathleen Stewart (2007) argues that our research is a “divining rod articulating something” (p. 68). For those who have ever used such an instrument, a divining rod is used to find a source of water; it literally draws its user down; it articulates a line that you cannot help but follow. The research of making practices must follow such an obligatory correspondence. The researcher is not trying to better describe what is occurring, nor is she attempting to reveal what is “objective,” what is “really happening.” Instead, she is following along, she is responsive to the serendipity and entanglements of the world around her, to the joy of interaction with other humans, nonhumans, technologies, and textures. In the ways making objects is about following along with the material, making research is about being led along a path with our participants.
Recent strategies for researching multimodality in composition studies, particularly in Maker environments, apply walking-and-talking methods to the Makerspace environment. In Shivers-McNair’s (2017) dissertation work in SoDo Makerspace in Seattle, she wears a GoPro video camera attached to her head to record acts of making in real time and space. The 3D interviewing approach accounts for the movement of bodies along x, y, and z axes and allows the researcher to pay attention to the ways embodied, spatial, and technological boundaries are produced. The approach also acknowledges the ways that the research apparatus helps mark those boundaries, showing how her own body is implicated in the first-person videographic method. Shivers-McNair triangulates language-based meaning making in SoDo with other acts of making, focusing on what possible bodies are made in the Makerspace and how they are made through human and nonhuman interaction.
Shivers-McNair’s walking-and-talking approach to researching the Makerspace shows us how research can be both embedded and embodied in meetings of the material and cultural world. But I wonder what might happen when we take that model and make it additive: what happens when Shivers-McNair’s method is placed in the hands of the maker herself, all the makers that make up a Makerspace? A diffractive approach to qualitative data might help us understand how a researcher can move with rather than separate from data in multiple trajectories, through multiple perspectives and stories (Taguchi, 2012). Diffraction comes from early experiments on light by physicist Niels Bohr, known for his work on atomic structure and quantum physics. These experiments showed that light changed based on how it was being observed: one apparatus produced waves while another produced particles. For philosophers, this meant that research played an important role in how information could be produced, that what we saw in observation was an entanglement of apparatus, researcher, and phenomena. Any one phenomena of making, or making event, is the effect of various human and nonhuman actors in that environment. Especially in a classroom or workspace, where multiple people are working, a diffractive approach would look at each of those perspectives as an entanglement that produces what we know as the classroom or the Makerspace.
Building from these embodied approaches to qualitative research, I propose a diffractive video-ethnographic approach to collecting and analyzing data in spaces of making. I term this method “videovoice” after already-established photovoice methods developed by Wang & Burris (1994) and directly building off of Ann Shivers-McNair’s work. Photovoice is a community-based participatory research method that asks participants to take photographs of their surroundings and experiences in order for researchers (and, arguably participants) to better understand community issues. Typically, participants take photographs and discuss their choices with researchers in interviews. Image-making is a perceptual undertaking where the photographer looks through a lens at their phenomenological experience. Not only does this allow participants to reflect on their communities and how their communities are framed, but the images serve as a meaningful way to engage many different stakeholders, including the community itself. And I would be remiss if I did not also cite my father, who, separate from any academic environment, reproduced the same methods that we see show up in these different areas of qualitative research. When my father uses a GoPro to reflect on his practice as a maker, I pay attention to that. That is a makerly practice.
What I want to end with is the idea that videovoice allows for the cultural rhetorics of making to become apart of the making of research. Time during a making event is unwieldy, unending, and entangled, so it warrants that videovoice methods cannot be bounded by time in their approach to data collection, as time is differential across different spaces and cultures (Sharma, 2015). The making event is therefore serendipitous, happenstance, and dependent more on the maker’s attention than to an object or activity’s finishedness. Additionally, the line between raw material and made object is constantly bleeding; we are always and already making, so we cannot say that our research should start here and end here to understand the making event. The boundedness of making therefore rests on the idea that there is something important happening: Dad picks up the camera and starts recording because he’s got his gear on and is starting to open up the hives, even though his process began long before that. It is in this way that he articulates the way he is guiding my research, the way he is storytelling his making; at this moment, he asks me to begin corresponding, to start following along: There is something to learn here, Krystin, so pay attention. I’ll stop the camera here, Krystin, because it didn’t seem important for you to know, because I was unsure about what I was doing, I couldn’t let you know that I didn’t know what I was doing. The camera stopped here, Krystin, it counted time, created a fixed reality from ongoing, unfolding action. Thanks for listening, though. Thanks for walking with me.