Becoming-with air: Materializing data through more-than-human research encounters

Mindy BLAISE, Bidisha BANERJEE

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers

Abstract

This paper engages with air from a posthuman performative perspective (Barad, 2003; Braidotti, 2013; Coleman and Ringrose, 2013; Law, 2004) to prompt new thinking about postcolonial Hong Kong. The subject of this exploration, namely, Hong Kong air, is often studied as a given reality, which is codified, collected, and indexed for its quality. This paper suggests an alternative approach of “materializing” air and recognizing its performativity and agency. In doing so, traditional notions of data are rethought by first thinking differently about air and its role. It may be argued that something ephemeral and irregular like air cannot be materialized but only measured and indexed, but this paper, through a posthuman performative methodology shows otherwise. Drawing from a small experiential study of Hong Kong air, this paper shows how three becoming-with research practices; sensing air, tracing childhood memories, and cominglings were enacted to engage with data differently. We began our study without a research question or focus. We did not set out to research air, rather Hong Kong air found us. By employing a walking-to-think-with approach to data (Instone, 2011), we developed and enacted three becoming-with research practices (Haraway, 2008) which allowed us to embody different kinds of research relationships with air by moving away from questions of air pollution, to broader wonderings about Hong Kong’s historicity and its postcolonial present. Becoming-with practices challenge traditional understandings of data by rethinking humanist assumptions about the role of the researcher and data. For example, it was not the role of our human researcher bodies to collect, find, and categorize air. Rather, we gave our female Indian and white researching bodies over to the air in several more-than-human-encounters. Not having an idea of where air would take us or what we might discover, we used active engagement, constant questioning, and a willingness to follow and to be taken on an uncertain research journey. As a result, a different encounter was produced, one in which the human matters less. By relinquishing the control that the traditional researcher has over her data, she opens herself up to new and unknown possibilities. These becoming-with (Haraway, 2008) practices involve both inter- and intra-acting with the sensations, memories, and cominglings of air. Through these becoming-with practices, new and seemingly unrelated questions about air are raised that shed light on the role that data play in the making of human and nonhuman relations. It is here where we begin to see the usefulness of a posthuman performative methodology, to understand and rethink postcoloniality in Hong Kong.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014

Citation

Blaise, M, & Bannerjee, B. (2014, April). Becoming-with air: Materializing data through more-than-human research encounters. Paper presented at the 2014 AERA Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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