The session I will present at the mini STS conference arises from my fieldwork for my PhD in Technology Enhanced Learning where I am looking at the processes of learning and practising sensory judging. My fieldwork was in three stages: participant observation of:
1 - a blended face-to-face/online course in beer judging,
2 – taking the online multiple-choice style guide exam and then the tasting exam
3 – course participants practising sensory evaluation as judges at the UK national homebrew competition.
In considering sensory evaluation, in particular taste, I draw extensively on contemporary work by established STS scholars. For example Law notes that
if we want to think about the messes of reality at all then we’re going to have to teach ourselves to think, to practise, to relate, and to know in new ways. We will need to teach ourselves to know some of the realities of the world using methods unusual to or unknown in social science. For example? Here are some possibilities. Perhaps we will need to know them through the hungers, tastes, discomforts, or pains of our bodies. These would be forms of knowing as embodiment (Law, 2004, p. 2)
Other considerations of tasting within STS include those of Latour (2004, p. 123), Gomart and Hennion (1999); Hennion (2004, 2007); Mol (2008, 2011); Mol and Law (2004); Teil and Hennion (2004) and also contemporary work with Annemarie Mol by Anna Mann (2011, 2012 ; 2011)
At the core of this course, practice and my investigation is the classification system used and its consequences – following the “ethnography of classification systems” and “information infrastructures” of Bowker and Star (1999) and Star (1999). Bowker and Star note that:
Many scholars have seen categories as coming from an abstract sense of “mind”, little anchored in the exigencies of work or politics. The work of attaching things to categories, and the ways in which those categories are ordered into systems, is often overlooked (except by theorists of Language like Harvey Sacks 1975, 1992). (Bowker & Star, 1999, p. 286)
I am therefore taking a particular interest in the conversational aspects of interaction as well as my extensive fieldnotes and documents. Of particular interest is the potential of working with the ethnomethodological orientation that underpins both actor-network theory (ANT) and the approach to analysing conversation known as membership category analysis (MCA). I am particularly interested in exploring how the conventions of MCA would be shaped and changed through their consideration as a “methods assemblage” (Law, 2004) and from a praxiographic approach to fieldwork. A departure point for this is the assertion by ethnomethodologists/conversation analysts Ester and Heglin that
the scope of MCD inquiry may extend beyond the traditional sociological domains. Is there any scholarly activity, indeed any human activity earned out in language, that does not entail describing, judging, and inferring, to which membership categorization (extended to things other than persons) is not applicable? (1992, pp. 263-264)
By seeking to extend a consideration of classification-in-interaction to incorporate non-human classifications this is substantially influenced by the work of Lucy Suchman (1987, 2007) who extended the better known aspect of Harvey Sacks’ work on sequential analysis of conversation to take into account the interactional and conversational turns of a photocopier’s display and other aspects of human-computer interaction.
Early questions I will explore include what happen to categorical concepts such as “standard relational pairs” (SRPs) when there is not a pair but a complex network of relationships evoked in a category? And how could ANT contribute its particular development of the ethnomethodological approaches to this aspect of ethnomethodological enquiry?
As my research relies on sensory experience I see this as an opportunity for experiential participation, as well as presenting some of the methods used and data gathered I will include elements of data generation through inviting conference participants to experience the processes of sensory analysis and categorisation of some example beers as a potential site and setting to be enrolled in my research project.