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Speculation and Speculative Research

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Speculation as a philosophy and empirical practice has become one of the core projects of the Unit of Play. In many respects it reflects the ethos of the Unit, the notion of play itself is intended to convey an openness to possibilities that may come with a dynamic complex world where constraints (like the rules or indeed patterns of a game) may be viewed as both limiting yet—in some degree—also very much enabling. Speculation—as derived from the work of Alfred North Whitehead and taken up to gain prominence of late within the social sciences notably by Isabelle Stengers, is a notable response, or a set of responses, to phenomena that cannot be held, observed and acted upon without either the taking of risks or the experiencing of consequences. While it sometimes connotes an activity of anticipation and even exploitation of expectations, in other cases it denotes an investment in the real possibility of grasping alternate futures. The speculative venture by the Unit of Play takes form in workshops, research projects and publications. In the near future, we hope the Unit of Play may serve as an auspice for PhD and Postdoctoral research on speculation.  

For further information please contact Professor Marsha Rosengarten, Director of the Unit of Play m.rosengarten@gold.ac.uk
 

Speculation and Speculative Research Workshop: 03 May 2014

Organisers: Jennifer Gabrys, Marsha Rosengarten, Martin Savransky & Alex Wilkie. ‌

Once exclusively confined to the conjectural practices of armchair philosophers and seers, the notion of ‘speculation’ is now increasingly present as an approach signalling toward uncertain or possible futures. Not only ‌does it characterise some of the practices performed in financial markets that are now thought to be partially culpable for the current contemporary socio-economic crisis, it is also an important operator in the many forecasting techniques that organise the social (e.g. risk analysis and predictive genomics). Furthermore, speculation is also becoming a theoretical preoccupation that is part of developments in disciplines as varied as continental, pragmatist and process approaches to philosophy, art and design, fiction and literary theory, as well as media studies. For the social sciences, the ‘speculative’ is being taken up as a practico-theoretical approach to reconceptualising problems and seeking more imaginative propositions. In other words, speculation acts as a means for asking more inventive questions.‌

As such, speculation is a notable response, or a set of responses, to dynamic and complex social ‌phenomena that cannot be held, observed‌ and acted upon without either the taking of risks or the experiencing of consequences. While it sometimes connotes an activity of anticipation and even exploitation of expectations, in other cases it denotes an investment in the real possibility of grasping alternate futures. Indeed, one of the threads that runs through the various engagements with the speculative is a renewed interest in the possibility of extracting from the present certain immanent potentialities that may be capable of opening up a transition into otherwise unlikely futures. ‌Relatedly, speculation can also work as a particular way of engaging with the dynamic and transformative nature of ‘things’: to explore their situated and contingent characteristics as well as their capacities to affect and be affected.

‌Given the growing interest in and proliferating approaches to speculation in social and cultural research, this workshop aims to examine the multiple versions of speculation while attending to their methodological, epistemological, ontological, ethical and political implications. In so doing, the workshop will address the following questions: Can social and cultural research become speculative? What do practices of speculation consist of and what modes of speculation are there? What are the implications of allowing for speculation to ingress into the practices of social research?‌ What might speculative research offer to the re-invention of otherwise seemingly intractable ‘problems’? How can speculation become a productive mode of thinking, feeling and knowing, and not just a practice of conjecturing and managing uncertainties?

Workshop participants:‌

Jennifer Gabrys, Pollution Sensing and Fracking: Reworking Environmental Monitoring through Speculative Research and Practice

 Marsha Rosengarten, Reconstituting the rules of the game: recalcitrance as a lure for speculative reasoning

Martin Savransky, The Wager of an Unfinished Present: Notes on Speculative Pragmatism

Michael L. Thomas, Aesthetic Experience, Speculative Thought, and Speculative Life

Alex Wilkie (co-author Mike Michael), Doing Speculation to Curtail Speculation

 

Speculation in Social Science: Novel Methods for Re-Inventing Problems:

25 April 2014, British Sociological Association Annual Conference 

‌In this special event members of a research cluster within the Unit of Play, Goldsmiths, collectively discussed and developed approaches to speculative research and practice. Speculative approaches to research and practice are ‌emerging across multiple fields as a way to develop not simply descriptive engagements with topics, but rather to make propositions that invent new possibilities for research and practice. Speculation may be considered a fitting response to a dynamic world that cannot be held, observed and acted upon without effect. Relatedly, its intention to engage with the dynamic and, hence, transformative nature of ‘things’, including the way in which distinctions between ‘things’ are situational, contingent and, therefore, always in process invites us to consider what we might seek in our research effect/s. In this session, we presented some of the methodological premises for devising a mode of speculative research and, through reference to a series of empirical ‘problems’, offer a series of context specific illustrations of what novel methods - textual, visual, aural, digital - might do. In contrast to the usual order of selecting methods, it is their prospective doing that we discussed as the guide to their design. Our key concern was to address the question: What might a speculative research approach offer to the re-inventing of otherwise seemingly near intractable ‘problems’?

With Jennifer Gabrys (Goldsmiths), Mick Halewood (Essex), Marsha Rosengarten (Goldsmiths), Martin Savransky (Goldsmiths) and Alex Wilkie (Goldsmiths).

Creatures of Thought: Speculative Thinking and Inventive Knowledge

Martin Savranksy   (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Speculative Method and Twitter: Bots, Energy and Three Conceptual Characters

Alex Wilkie (Goldsmiths, University of London)‌

Pollution Sensing and the Shadowy World of Things: An Opening into Speculative Research and Practice

Jennifer Gabrys (Goldsmiths, University of London)

A lure for speculation

Marsha Rosengarten (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Speculation as a Constraint on Thought: Whitehead, Stengers and the Role of the Future in the Present

Michael Halewood (University of Essex)

 

Speculative Research and Practice: Workshop with Steven Shaviro: 8 October 2013 4 pm – 6 pm

Convened by Jennifer Gabrys

Speculative approaches to research and practice are emerging across multiple fields as a way to develop not simply descriptive engagements with topics, but rather to make propositions that invent new possibilities for research and practice. What types of speculation specifically materialize across these approaches, and what differences or similarities might be identified in the range of speculative projects underway? Steven Shaviro has discussed the ways in which a speculative realism developed through a Whiteheadian approach might be rather different from the speculative realism as articulated through object-oriented ontologies as outlined by Graham Harman and others. When working through a speculative approach, what are the contours or modalities of propositional engagements? Is emphasis placed on relationality, concrescence, processuality or essential objects? What are the consequences of thinking through and working with speculation in these different ways? In this seminar and in conversation with Steven Shaviro, we will think through what speculation enables along the lines of a Whiteheadian tactic of creating adventures for better problem-making; and how to cultivate approaches to speculation as a mode of research and practice tuned to invention. We will ask how these differing speculative approaches might specifically inform the work of the social sciences—and what difficulties might emerge in translating speculative philosophy to social and political concerns.

Readings:

Steven Shaviro, “The Universe of Things,” Theory & Event 14, no. 3 (2011)

Steven Shaviro, “Without Criteria” in Without Criteria: Kant, Deleuze, Whitehead and Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 1-12.

Bio:

Dr. Steven Shaviro is DeRoy Professor at Wayne State University. He specializes in cultural theory, cultural studies, film and new media, postmodernism, and science fiction. Professor Shaviro received a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1981 and has since published widely on topics ranging from body horror to Whitehead. His books include Passion and Excess: Blanchot, Bataille, and Literary Theory, The Cinematic Body, Doom Patrols: A Theoretical Fiction About Postmodernism, Connected, Or, What It Means To Live in the Network Society, Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics, and, most recently, Post-Cinematic Affect.