— Michael Guggenheim

Social Theory

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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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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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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Here is a lecture series I organise this term, Tuesdays, Goldsmiths, RHB 137, Speakers: Liz Moor (1. Nov), Harry Collins (8 Nov), David Oswell (6. Dec) and Steve Fuller (13 Dec).

The audio files of Oswell’s and Fuller’s talk are here:



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pdf: History of the Human Sciences, 2012, February 2012 vol. 25 no. 1 99-118, original publication


How has sociology framed places of knowledge production and what is the specific power of the laboratory for this history? This article looks at how sociology and STS have historically framed the world as laboratory in three steps: First, in early sociology, the laboratory was an important metaphor to conceive of sociology as a scientific enterprise. In the 1950ies, the trend reversed and with the emergence of a ‘qualitative sociology’, sociology was seen in opposition to laboratory work. With the ascent of laboratory studies, the laboratory perspective was again applied to many fields, including sociology itself. Based on a definition of a laboratory as aiming at placeless knowledge and being inconsequential this article argues that the two waves of laboratorization were metaphorical and did not really turn the world into a laboratory. Instead, two alternative concepts, those of the unilatory and the locatory, are proposed to gain a more precise understanding of some of these metaphorical uses of the term laboratory.

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In : STI-Studies, Special Issue on “The Five Senses of the Sciences”, Vol. 7, 2011, No. 1, pp. 65-86


What could it mean to use cooking as a medium or translation device for sociology? Why is the use of media other than writing so unusual in sociology, but not in other sciences? The sociology of translation has made the claim that sociology should stay true to its object. Rather than jumping into abstractions, sociology should translate its object step by step. I show, that if this holds, then the sociology of translation fails its own claim to what I call “truth to materials”, because in its practice it engages in jumps in media from objects, such as food, image or body, to text. Instead, I propose to take the issue of truth to materials more serious by engaging, as other sciences, more directly with the senses. What prevents the sociology of translation from doing so is a belief in mechanical objectivity that excludes all other forms of translation except texts. For the case of taste, this suggests to engage in cooking. In the second part of the text I provide an attempt to create such more nuanced translations in the form of a buffet that we cooked as comment to a symposium. Some of the issues that were discussed with the help of the buffet were new kitchen technologies, the relationship between the visual and the olfactory, and the relationship between knowledge and taste.

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The Long History of Prototypes.
Contribution to Prototyping Prototyping, Limn, Issue 0, edited by Christopher M. Kelty, pre-publication to conference: Prototyping Cultures, organized by Adolfo Corsín Jiménez and Adolfo Estalella. Madrid 2010.

extended journal article version to come later.

A video of my talk is here, in case you want to see me.


the argument:

“Prototyping” has always existed and probably, for most of human history, has been more important than it’s opposite, orderly science and planning. But the differentiation of the functional system of science and art and the strong differentiation between experts and lay people in high modernity has obscured existing forms of prototyping. Only since the late 1960ies, as part of the “revolt of the audience” as Jürgen Gerhards has called it (Gerhards 2001), has it become possible to acknowledge prototyping as part of western society.

Such a claim rests on a notion of prototyping as laid out in the description of the conference: prototyping is not simply understood as the development of “first forms” or “first strikes” as beta-versions of products as in industrial design, but as a more general mode of doing culture: a mode that is tentative, based on bricolage, user involvement and ongoing change and improvements of products and practices, as “open innovation”, rather than on an expert in a closed lab who turns out a finished product to be used by a unknowing user.

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(Un-) Building Social Systems. The Concrete Foundations of Functional Differentiation’
in: Ignacio Farias and José Ossandon (eds.) Comunicaciones, semánticas y redes. Usos y desviaciones de la sociología de Niklas Luhmann. México: Universidad Iberoamericana, 2011, 245-277


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