An ANTHEM contingent was deployed to Oxford yesterday, to take part in a discussion of matters big and small at the “From Scale to Scalography” workshop at Saïd Business School. (We even managed to tempt Graham Harman to come along.) Organised by the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (formerly known as the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization), the workshop focussed on the contentious issue of scale in social theory, often formulated as the micro-macro problem. The Word document with the programme contains the links to all the PDFs of the papers that have been presented and discussed. Woolgar et al.’s provocation piece (PDF) does a great job of spelling out the issues and controversies, situating them within the intellectual tradition of science and technology studies, and also posing a series of questions for discussion.
In attendance was a diverse crowd, working in fields as different as organisation and management studies, information systems, art and design, architecture, geography, sociology and anthropology, just to name a few, but unified by a common interest in ethnographic approaches in social science, and an interest in science and technology studies and actor-network theory. Indeed, to a large extent the discussion revolved around the intricacies of dealing with issues of scale within the ANT and STS traditions. All the papers are highly recommended.
The contributions of Gerard de Vries (PDF) and Albena Yaneva (PDF) though appeared to have stirred up the most spirited debates, in the way they had engaged with the core insights and principles of actor-network theory. The former focussed on the question of scale in relation to law, while the latter dealt with scaling in architecture.
Interestingly, the event closed among others with the reflections of Thomas Powell, who, while coming from an entirely different intellectual tradition (the Business School world of industrial organisation economics and the like), had successfully linked the debate to such traditional managerial concerns as economies of scale and scope. One could only wonder what the NSF folks would have made of this event…
Also make sure to check out Lucy Kimbell’s blog, who was in charge of disrupting participants’ perceptions of scale.