— Michael Guggenheim

Disasters and Civil Protection

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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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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The first talk on the new research project with Bernd Kraeftner and Judith Kroell. A Methods Lab Lecture at Goldsmiths, Sociology, Thursday 27 October, 5-7 pm Small Hall.

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Together with Bernd Kräftner and Judith Kröll, and Gerhard Ramsebner and Isabel Warner (a.k.a shared inc.), funded by the Vienna Science and Technology Funds (WWTF).

With Research stays at the research group “communicating disasters” at the center for interdisciplinary research (ZiF) Bielefeld.

Inspired by Frederick.

Here is an abstract:

The project focuses on provision and care in the event of anticipated emergencies. These provisions serve as vanishing points to imagine different concrete futures. During the project we gather several versions of emergency provisions that we test under experimental emergency conditions. Our aim is to find out about how to live a good life – in the face of anticipated futures.

This approach is based on the observation that societies are driven by reactions to disasters scenarios, but that the methods how to prepare for those scenarios, even though they are of tremendous importance, belong to the so-called grey sciences and are largely hidden from public debate. By grey sciences we refer to formal and informal actors like logistics, heritage protection, household economics, allocation and regulation authorities, quality managers, insurance organisations, and psychologists that are involved in decision-making.

Our first aim is to bring the various logics of these disciplines together into one arena, confront them with everyday practices of emergency provision and develop from this new forms of emergency provision. To do so, our second aim is to intertwine the artistic and scientific epistemologies: the question of how to “enact” and create methods at the borders of science and art to re-create, re-calculate, mediate and change the methods for defining, calculating and comparing methods to assess emergency provision is a crucial part of the project.

The project proceeds in three steps. First, we conduct performative ethnographic fieldwork that investigates current methods to analyse and constitute emergency provision in contemporary western societies, from logistics and economics, cultural property protection to individual household emergency provision; from food storage, civil defence to Xpress money fees neighbourhood care. In a second step we develop an extended version of Delphi method. By doing so, we intend to elaborate, together with emergency provision experts, both lay ones and professionals, new disaster scenarios that specify different situations for which we may need emergency provision. It is also an attempt to enrich the notion of disaster that is usually restricted to threats to life and limb. In the third step we, the team members themselves, will undergo a metamorphosis from investigators to actors who will enter the shelter. We isolate from the environment and withdraw from everyday life, to envision and experience the future that is inscribed in the objects that have been gathered during research: objects with more or less elusive properties and of more or less calculative power.

Thus the project explores the potentialities of both, the artistic and scientific research and how they can contribute and enrich the question of methodology in science and the arts. Finally it is an opportunity to investigate the relationship(s) of science and art to the question of governance.


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