March 30, 2005
The social capital of methodological interfaces
Both Burt (“The Social Capital of Structural Holes”) and Sullivan and Porter ("Postmodern Mapping and Methodological Interfaces") demonstrate the value of mapping contexts. In Burt’s case the value lies in an understanding of how one’s position in a network (and a la Watts, the structure of the network) can be an advantage—namely, the ability to bridge clusters by transferring information between them. This resonates with Watts’ discussion of how message-passing at lower levels of hierarchy in institutions with a core-periphery architecture can increase the overall efficiency of an organization (Six Degrees 278), and how informal networks of social relations can enhance the ability of an organization to recover from problems. Although he defines “social capital” as “an advantage created by the way people are connected,” Burt prominently
features the fairly hard-nosed measures of pay and promotion to make his case. I see a moral to be drawn: When you find yourself in an “information Polynesia,” get in the outrigger, paddle to the next island, and make friends.
Sullivan and Porter offer postmodern mapping to researchers as a theoretical technique for discovering possibilities of research programs. Although they pre-date Burt by what seems to be about nine years, they advocate much along the lines defined by Burt by pointing to the value of a bridge between academic research on computers and writing and workplace research (lacking a focus on computing as an environment for writing)”:
The classroom perhaps is the best site for effecting fundamental change in the nature of workplace literacy; it certainly provides an opportunity for experimentation, for testing new possibilities (whereas workplace action can be constrained by “the way things have always been done.”Sullivan and Porter similarly map sectors (clusters) of research communities. The result looks very much like an information Polynesia.
There are two things about the S & P reading I’m still chewing on: (1) the instrumental and pragmatic nature of the corporate setting seemed to make a very odd bedfellow for postmodern theory, with its skepticism of institutions. Isn’t the move to pragmatism (and to tradition in hermeneutics) in some sense a hedge against the indeterminacy of the world postmodernism posits? Also, I had trouble seeing what was necessarily postmodern about these maps until S & P explained it in the last paragraph--thank you! (2) Could someone explain the difference between “situated theory” and “empirical practice”? It seems to hinge on a nuance between relationships and identities in particular situations, without metanarrative, as opposed to observed behavior in same without abstract theorizing. I can’t see the lines.
Perhaps the additional readings will throw some light on this.
Posted by hjjankie at March 30, 2005 08:39 PM
FWIW -- in feminist method the difference between situated theory and empirical practice has to do with location of the researcher in relation to the rest of the system being analyzed. Historically, empirical research has led to a "Gods-eye-view" of the situation -- detached and all knowing -- that does not have to explain how and why it is relating this particular story. Situated theory acknowledges that everyone enters into research with a relationship to what is being researched and assumptions and questions (ala Burke). This is a quick and dirty explanation, and I hope not too off base.
Posted by: jenwingard at March 30, 2005 10:27 PM
Ah. So relationships and identities include the researcher(s). I still don't get the part about "no metanarratives" though. The other (empirical practice), I can see, is locked into pure, myopic observation with presumptions of objectivity.
Posted by: hj at March 31, 2005 02:25 AM