— Michael Guggenheim

Here is a new article, co-authored with Bernd Kräftner and Judith Kröll. Soon out as part of a nice special issue of Distinktion on the “medium is the message” edited by Michael Liegl and Elke Wagner, DOI: 10.1080/1600910X.2013.838977



If the media of research figure in the constitution of the sociological phenomenon, how is it possible to find out how they do so? Drawing on Garfinkel’s idea of breaching experiments, we propose such an experiment to unearth the role of the media of sociology. The breaching experiment consists in an experimental setup to produce new disaster scenarios and accompanying forms of emergency provision. In the experiment, research subjects are asked to play in a sandbox with animal figures and other props to simulate disasters. The subjects are first asked to ‘build a world’, then to ‘turn the world upside down’, and finally to find an ‘emergency provision that would change the course of the disaster’. These plays are recorded with a purpose- built computer program and photographed and then transformed into fables and emergency provisions. The experiment breaks with three assumptions of media-use in sociology: First, sociologists use media exclusively for description, not creation of worlds. Second, sociologists do not tinker or produce their own recording technologies for specific research questions, but use existing ones, which define subdisciplines. Third, sociologists routinely rely on texts as the sole medium to represent the world.

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an article forthcoming in the British Journal of Sociology (pdf). (table)


Sociologists have increasingly come to recognize that the discipline has unduly privileged textual representations, but efforts to incorporate visual and other media are still only in their beginning. This paper develops an analysis of the ways objects of knowledge are translated in research into other media, in order to understand the visual practices of sociology and to point out unused possibilities. I argue that the discourse on visual sociology, by assuming that photographs are less objective than text, is based on an asymmetric media-determinism and on a misleading notion of objectivity. Instead, I suggest to analyze media with the concept of translations. I introduce several kinds of translations, most centrally the one between tight and loose ones. I show that many sciences, such as biology, focus on tight translations, using a variety of media and manipulating both research objects and representations. Sociology, in contrast, uses both tight and loose translations, but uses the latter only for texts. For visuals, sociology restricts itself to what I call “the documentary”: focussing on mechanical recording technologies without manipulating either the object of research or the representation. I conclude by discussing three rare examples of what is largely excluded in sociology: visual loose translations, visual tight translations based on non-mechanical recording technologies, and visual tight translations based on mechanical recording technologies that include the manipulation of both object and representation.

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A new post with the same title that I have written over at the CSISP blog. What was it? What could it be? Find out. Written as a preparation for the IVSA 2013 conference at Goldsmiths, where I organize a panel, and where we start our new, world’s first, MA in Visual Sociology.

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CSISP has now a new working paper series, and we (as the comparator) are working paper Nr. 1.

CSISP Working Paper Nr. 1, Goldsmiths, London, March, 2013

Joe Deville, Michael Guggenheim, Zuzana Hrdlickova:

Same, Same But Different: Provoking Relations, Assembling the Comparator (pdf)

This paper was originally written for our workshop on comparison, which we will hoepfully soon turn into a book.

This is how it starts:

Our experience of working on a comparative project entitled “Organising Disaster. Civil Protection and the Population”, trying to find the ‘same, same but different’ has directed our attention to two questions: Who or more appropriately what is the comparator? And how does the comparator affect a researcher’s relationship with the objects being compared?
Conventionally the term ‘comparator’ is understood as a standard against which an object is compared. However, in electrical engineering a ‘comparator’ is a device – now often a chip – that does comparison (figure 1). The comparator, in our appropriation of the word, is an actor that undertakes the work of comparison. It has to be assembled from diverse entities, according to specific forms of knowledge and expertise. In order to produce the comparative output, these assembled parts have to actively intervene and provoke relations between previously    inputs.


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This is the final performance of our project on Frederick’s sandtable (see here). Come and help us to find new forms of emergency provisons!

Francing with Frederick. A Civil Protection Exercise to Search and Abandon Emergency Provisions.
Thursday, 25th and Friday 26th of April, 19.30
Franz von Assisi Church, Mexikoplatz 12, 1020 Vienna.
Free entry.

„Oh Herr, in Deinem Arm bin ich sicher. wenn Du mich hältst, habe ich nichts zu fürchten. Ich weiß nichts von der Zukunft, aber ich vertraue auf Dich.“

Wie bereiten wir uns auf die grosse Überschwemmung vor? Wie auf den Zerfall der Gesellschaft? Indem wir einen Kuchen backen? Indem wir neue Freunde finden?  Indem wir einen Bunker bauen? Gar nicht?

Allgemeiner gefragt: Welche Notvorräte brauchen wir für welche Katastrophen?

Verfranzen mit Frederick ist eine kollektive Übung zur Findung und Entledigung von Notvorräten. Die Übung bildet den Abschluss von einem Forschungsprojekt mit dem Titel “Im Falle von….. Antizipatorische und partizipatorische Politik der Katastrophenvorsorge“. Das Projekt erforschte welche Katastrophenszenarien überhaupt in einer demokratischen Gesellschaft vorstellbar und diskutiert werden. Herkömmlicherweise werden solche Katastrophenszenarien von Experten in Ministerien entwickelt mit sogenannten Delphi-Methoden entwickelt. Das Problem dabei ist, dass diese Szenarien oft wenig überraschend sind, sowie über wenig demokratische Legitimation verfügen.

Um überraschendere und breiter abgestützte Katastrophenszenarien zu finden führten wir ein Experiment  mit ca. 100 Personen unterschiedlichen Hintergrunds durch.

Der Experimentalaufbau bestand aus einem Sandkasten auf einem Tisch und Tierfiguren sowie abstrakten Objekten. Die Spieler wurden aufgefordert im Sandkasten eine Welt zu erbauen und dann eine Katastrophe über diese Welt hereinbrechen zu lassen und schliesslich einen Notvorrat für diese Katastrophe zu erfinden.

Die Zivilschutzübung „Ver-franzen mit Frederick“ testet die in dem Experiment gefundenen Notvorräte auf ihre Brauchbarkeit: Jeder Notvorrat wird in einem eigenen Ritual getestet und anschliessend für entweder aufbewahrt oder vernichtet. Die Franz-von-Assisi Kirche ist der passende Ort für diesen Test: Sie ist benannt nach dem Heiligen, der es sich zum Prinzip machte, sich aller Notvorräte zu entledigen.

Das Forschungsprojekt und die  Zivilschutzübung sind gefördert durch einen “art(s) and science(s)” grant des Wiener Wissenschafts-, Forschungs- und Technologie Fonds (WWTF).

Ein Projekt von Shared Inc.

Konzept: Michael Guggenheim, Bernd Kraeftner, Judith Kroell,

Regie: Guillermo Luis Horta Betancourt

Mit Dank an: Pater Mario Maggi, Franz-von-Assisi Kirche Wien.


Konzept: Michael Guggenheim, Bernd Kraeftner, Judith Kroell,

Mitarbeit: Gerhard Ramsebner, Isabel Warner

Das Experiment wurde mit freundlicher Unterstützung der Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, dem Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung (ZiF) in Bielefeld, und der Franz-von-Assisi Kirche in Wien durchgeführt.

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Apples and Oranges. Practicing Comparison

A two-day workshop exploring sociological and anthropological concepts around comparative practice.

Location: Orangerie, Surrey House. 80 Lewisham Way, London SE14 6PB (entrance from Shardeloes Road).

Cost: Free, but spaces are limited and registration is required at: organising.disaster@gold.ac.uk

The conference is based around pre-circulated papers/provocation pieces. Everybody who attends is expected to have read all the papers.

Organised by: “Organizing Disaster” (Michael Guggenheim, Zuzana Hrdlickova, Joe Deville) at the Department of Sociology/CSISP and “Gambling in Europe” (Rebecca Cassidy, Claire Loussouarn, Andrea Pisac) at the Department of Anthropology, Goldsmiths, University of London
Qualitative social science has become uneasy about comparing: it is easily frightened by both accusations from within quantitative traditions that assert the inability of its methods to control variables precisely enough and a colonial past in which cultural comparisons had a dubious taint of racism. However, despite being a loaded term, comparisons are nonetheless routine within qualitative social science, although they are often more implicit than explicit. We perform them in conferences where we group in thematically similar panels, in more or less strident academic debates, as well as in our everyday practices as a way to understand and contextualise our own research. However, we observe that this seemingly comparative practice is rarely named as such.

Further, we also suspect — while being acutely aware of the problematic history of comparison as a social scientific activity, whether in the service of forms of reductive positivism or a hierarchy of cultures — that this history does not explain the degree of ongoing sensitivities about the value of naming certain research as comparative. More directly, we suggest that abstaining from explicit comparisons unnecessarily constrains qualitative research.

This workshop seeks responses to this problematic by relating to the following topics:

* Accounts of Comparative Practices: What are the difficulties of (collaborative) comparative projects? How do projects deal with cases that refuse comparison, with fields that loose their comparative features and with theoretical concepts that fail to help to compare?

* Comparison policing: how is (non)comparative practice enacted and policed across academic life and in different disciplines?

* Strange comparisons: What is a ‘strange’ comparison? What is a ‘proper’ comparison?

* Incomparability/Failed comparisons:what are the limits to comparison? How are these limits performed? According to which modes of expertise?

* Comparison and value: Is comparison a technology of commensuration? What is lost? What is gained?

* Comparison and temporality: what kinds of comparisons are ‘restudies’? To what extent do comparisons across time equate to comparisons across space?

* Comparison, method and theory:how should theory inform comparative practice? At what point? Might experimental methodologies generate new registers for comparison?

* Beyond comparison: which other terms and frameworks can be used to describe the value of comparative practices? Which alternatives can be proposed to the strength and authority of certain ways of doing comparison in academic discourses and beyond?



Thursday 13th September

9.30-10.00            Welcome & introduction

10.00-12.00            Incomparable/Strange Comparisons |

Vita Peacock (University College London)

From Melanesia to the Max Planck Society: a cross-cultural comparison of the “big-man” category

Alice Santiago Faria (Universidade Nova de Lisboa)

Comparing the incomparable: architecture in colonial India(s)

Victoria Goddard and Elena Gonzalez-Polledo (Goldsmiths, University of London)

A riddle of steel: comparing trajectories in the steel industry

12.15-13.30            Failed and Strange Comparisons | Commentator: Monika Krause (Goldsmiths, University of London)

James Dawson (University College London)

Two contexts, many understandings of politics: learning through failure to compare

Giovanni Picker (Bristol University)

Comparing stigma? An experiment on ethnographic imagination

13.30-14.30            Lunch

14.30-15.45            Dialogue and Stumbling into Comparison |

Marc Brightman (Oxford University)

The jaguar and the bear: theoretical contributions of interregional comparativism

Tereza Stöckelová (Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic)

Apples and oranges are fruits: inquiry into the frames of comparing

16.00-17.15            Collaborations and Stumbling |

Priska Gisler (Bern University of the Arts), Monika Kurath (University of Basel)

Aesthetic practices and epistemic cultures in architecture, design and the Fine Arts

Rebecca Cassidy, Claire Loussouarn, Andrea Pisac (Goldsmiths, University of London), Julie Scott (London Metropolitan University)

Embodying comparison within a ERC funded project


Friday 14th September

9.00-10.15            Collaborations | Commentator: Jennifer Robinson (University College London)

Joe Deville, Michael Guggenheim, Zuzana Hrdlickova (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Practising collaboration, producing comparison

Georgina Born, Geoff Baker, Aditi Deo, Andrew Eisenberg and Patrick Valiquet (Oxford University)

Music, digitisation, mediation: Experimenting with decentred vectors of comparison between six singular ethnographic projects

10.15-10.45            Coffee

10.45-12.45            Comparisons for Policy-Making and the Public |

Thorgeir Kolshus (University of Oslo)

Comparison: relatively important?

Kevin Hall (Frankfurt University), Torsten Heinemann (Frankfurt University), Ursula Naue (Vienna University)

IMMIGENE: Comparing DNA-testing for immigration cases in Austria, Finland, and Germany

Hannah Jones (Goldsmiths, University of London), Ben Gidley (Oxford University)

Transnational soup: translating local integration policies across borders

12.45-14.00            Lunch

14.00-15.15            Comparisons and Problems of Measurement | Commentator: Kate Nash (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Laura Camfield (University of East Anglia)

Measuring children’s social and cultural competencies in Sub-Saharan Africa

Sarah De Rijke (Leiden University), Paul Wouters (Leiden University, Roland Bal (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Iris Wallenburg (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Comparing comparisons. On rankings and accounting in hospitals and academia

15.30-16.45            Comparisons with Theories as Guides |

Marsha Rosengarten (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Shifting comparative registers: can a diagram rehabilitate the outlier?

Alvise Matozzi (Free University of Bozen)

Semiotics’s Razor. Using Semiotics as a Descriptive Methodology in Order to Compare Actor-Networks

16.45-17.15            Final commentator discussion:  Janet Carsten (The University of Edinburgh)


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Why is there no STS futurology? Why does STS not write about future data? Economists routinely project data into the future; STS doesn’t, why?

Here is the documentation of my contributions to two conference panels I organised on these themes.

I have written a short article, which makes the theoretical case:

The Science Fiction of Science Studies (2009). Unpublished manuscript.

I have also written my own piece of futurology:

Official statement: Words of Goodbye by the Actualiser (2008). Unpublished Manuscript.

(Feel free to contact me, if you wish to publish either of these texts).

At the two conferences, the following papers were given (Zürich conference: “Sciencefutures”, held at ETH, 6-9 February 2008/Rotterdam: 4S/EASST, 20-23 August 2008):

Michael Guggenheim: Synchronity. A report by “Security, Technology, Strategy” (STS) on “the misuse (with the goal to resuscitate disputes) of the actualiser”
Sha LaBare: Here Be Dragons
Rainer Egloff: Paradise lost – hell thickly described?

Maren Klotz: If the Kids are United. Reproductive Unit Research in Four Actor Human/Human and Human/Non-human Groups.
Heidi Gautschi: Pattern Recognition and the Everything Archive

Here is a report about the Zurich panel (in German).

Here is the call for paper (for both panels)

The Science Fiction of Science Studies: Acting with science in the

The session attempts to develop improbable, inconvenient and
extraordinary stories of the future of STS in the larger context of
future societies, 30, 50, 100 or even a thousand years from today.
Conceived as a follow-up to an session at “sciencefutures” this
February in Zürich, the goal is to imagine a future for a specific
discipline, STS, in the context of an unknown future. Presentations
can explore any theoretical, methodological or material aspect of the
future of STS and its related fields. The following questions should
serve as starting points for your own themes and ideas:
What are the sources and materials of STS 100 years from now? How
does scientific change of next 50 years or so affect our disciplinary
practices? How can we act as STS scholars with science, technology
and medicine in the light of future changes of society?

Will science still exist in the future, and if not, what happens to
STS? What happens to STS if radically new technologies for doing STS
appear? What if writing ceases to exist? What if universities and
disciplines as organisational forms radically change or disappear?
What will replace them? How are future generations going to assess
present work in STS? What could their criteria be? What happens when
a dictator once bans STS? Will it then become a clandestine or even a
terrorist movement? What kinds of futurology are appropriate for STS?
What are the specific problems for a science-fiction of STS? How
could a theory of science in the 22nd century look like? Will STS
provide the master-narrative for the23rd century?

The goal of the session is twofold: First, we would like to broaden
STS-methods of inquiries by relying on techniques of Sci-Fi writing.
Second, we would like to explore the possibilities of a discipline
that has matured, but still seems to have no clear goal of its own
future history and which has never had a clear vision of its future.
Presentations can have any narrative, visual or audible form, please
make sure that if you intend to use technologies from the future that
these are appropriately translated for today’s audiences in science
studies. Papers drawing on research based on material from the 20th
century or before are discouraged.


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Michael Guggenheim, Bernd Kräftner, Judith Kröll

Don’t leave the kitchen. A Recipe for Incubations. Unpublished Article. (pdf)

(If you wish to publish it, please get in contact with us)

Abstract: In this paper we present a recipe for cultural interventions as a stew. It illustrates an approach we have developed in several research and exhibition projects that we call “incubation“. An incubation is a socio-technical device that forms new objects and interactions produced under situational, social and time-based pressure via the use of knowledge, interactions and objects.

An incubation consists of a range of ingredients – media, methods, theories – mixed together to both describe and intervene in a given situation. It challenges the opposition of action versus description, and political versus scientific, as limited. Because an incubation is not a process of debunking but of assembly, any method is always supposed to represent, intervene and transform. We use several examples to illustrate our argument, among them a long-term study with vegetative state patients, an exhibition project with researchers that are asylum seekers, a betting office for genetically doped mice and a laboratory to measure ideas of prevention.

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Here is a blogpost over at CSISP blog for a tactical picnic, as part of the “engaging tactics” conference at Goldsmiths Department of Sociology in collaboration with the British Sociological Association and Goldsmiths’ Methods Lab in April 30th – May 1st, 2012, prepared together with Christian von Wissel, with contributions by the conference participants.

The aim of the conference was “to explore social sciences’ ways of engaging with the social world. The event seeks to explore how to (re)imagine the ‘tactics’ for producing and sharing social knowledge, focusing on the construction and upholding of meaningful and confiding relationships with both research participants and ‘emerging publics’.”

Our task: Create a lunch for the conference. Constraints: No money to pay cooks and little time to prepare and eat.

Our idea: Turn each talk into a tactic for buying, preparing, assembling and eating and have each presenter at the conference prepare one dish.


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in: Poetics, Vol. 40, Issue 2, April 2012, co-authored with Monika Krause, pdf



The discussion in the sociology of science about the role of model systems in biology provides an invitation to reflect on whether and how they operate in sociology in comparison to other disciplines. This paper shows that sociology too relies on objects of study that receive a disproportionate amount of attention and implicitly come to stand in for a specific class of objects. But, unlike other disciplines, sociology has no agreed language or theory to classify the discipline-specific objects that it studies, which hinders explicit reflection on the use of model systems across sociological subfields. The subfield of sociological theory uses model systems, but its specimens are not sociological objects. In contrast to other disciplines, which use model systems, specimens of sociological model systems usually do not travel. Because of this, the relationship between specimen and epistemic object is less standardised in sociology than in other disciplines. Sociology also encounters unique problems of access to model systems.


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