The un/making of forms - Formographic inquiries into practice, accountability, and infra-critique

International workshop organized by Ingmar Lippert (IT University Copenhagen) and Susann Wagenknecht (Technical University Dresden), taking place at the Technical University Dresden, Germany, September 2-3, 2021

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Think of formal sociology (Simmel 1958) and of forms, formats, formalities, formation, uniformity, information, informatics, platforms, transformations, and performances. The form is a decisive constituent of ‘modern’ worlds. However, modernity’s formalism is eroding, and social theory has put renewed emphasis on the implicit and informal (Reckwitz 2003). At the same time, theories of practice have reframed the problem of social order, of re- and alter-ordering, as a problem not of compliance but of form. As Giddens notes: “The true locus of the ‘problem of order’ [… is in …] how continuity of form is achieved in the day-to-day conduct of social activity” (Giddens 1979: 216). The challenge, then, is to recognize the informal, the creative, the uncertain and its critical tensions “without dismissing the role of formal means” (Thévenot 2001: 406). To address this challenge, we argue, the analysis of forms in practice should receive renewed attention.

In order to inquire into forms, their becomings, their appropriation and contestation, we propose formography---the detailed study of forms in (and of) practice, an approach that draws upon ethnographic observation and works with analytic perspectives from fields such as sociology, social theory, anthropology, and STS. We examine how forms are fabricated and performed, and how they support, erode, or energize one another. Forms are multiple and relational. They gain shape in relation to one another and can manage hold diverse practices together (Star & Griesemer 1989). When forms inform practices, they are being 'formed' at the same time (Scheffer 2013). Through intricate arrangements, some forms reach temporary closure---such as the coin that is sealed from two sides to prevent the manipulation of its value (Hutter 1993), locking both materiality and meaning.

As formality is made and unmade (Smart et al. 2017), forms help organize far-flung coordination and gain salience as prerequisite of accountability. They furnish the yardsticks of critique. With this workshop, we draw attention to the situated relation of form and critique that emerges from the ever changing tangle of practice. We suggest exploring "infra-critiques"---critiques 'from within' shifting forms of life (Verran 2014, Jaeggi 2018). Analyses of critique 'from within' emphasize the multiplicity and limitations of formal assessment. They help examining how in/form/alities boost and marginalize different modes of benchmarking and evaluation, denunciation and appraisal, determination and indetermination (Boltanski & Thévenot 1999). Requirements for specific in/form/ation, e.g., can feed authoritative regimes of control while effectively undermining accountability and attenuating critique (Lippert 2018). Against this backdrop, we are interested in formographic inquiries that problematize the enactment of form as a fixed, detached point of reference.

The Workshop will be organized jointly by Ingmar Lippert and Susann Wagenknecht. Susann Wagenknecht is Junior Professor of Micro-Sociology and socio-technical interaction at the Institute of Sociology, Technical University of Dresden. Her interests concern infrastructures, algorithms, (e)valuation, and theories of practice. Ingmar Lippert is Associate Professor at the IT University of Copenhagen’s Technology in Practice Research Group and member of the Chair of Technoscience Studies at Brandenburg University of Technology. He published on data & number practices, environmental relations and accountability.

The workshop will take place at the Technical University Dresden, Germany, September 2-3, 2021. We welcome submissions that rely upon ethnographic materials to engage in the nexus of form, practice, critique, and accountability. The workshop is designed as collective learning process. To this end, we ask participants to circulate workshop papers (2,000w), accompanied by a digitally reproducible object (with permissions), prior to the workshop. The deadline for abstracts (250w) is August 31, 2020. You are welcome to get in touch with us also via twitter @form_ography.


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