First impressions before to land

August 23, 2017

(Originally written in Spanish).

I am about to go to Times Square to look at the controversy happening there around the meaning of the public. This controversy is materialized in the conception and usage of the open public plazas resulting after Broadway Avenue’s pedestrianization. I know so far that there is a double dispute for controlling the (public) space in Times Square: New Yorkers vs. Tourists; City administration vs. Illegal workers and panhandlers.

Following the methodological model proposed by the Cartography of Controversies (Latour, 2007; Venturini, 2010) —that is the methodology I plan to use for my research[1]— this controversy, happening in Times Square, could be traced and mapped quite easily. I need to identify the actors, follow them. Then it will be just a matter of drawing a sort of diagram, a network or something like that —maybe using Gephy or another similar software— showing how this controversy was finally solved, or not.

Of course, this exercise also involves substantial theoretical-reflexive work and in-depth empirical exploration, but, in a certain way, everything in there is also done. I mean, it is just a matter of applying a specific theoretical frame over a particular defined problem —as a sort of experiment carried out in a laboratory— and then writing about the results of that process. The empirical founds should be used to enrich and, somehow, validate the used methodology and the theoretical frames behind it. That is pure determinism, now that I think about it.

How else can I name a methodological process based on following a theoretical frame coming from situation A and applying it in situation B to make that situation fit inside the theoretical model? Also, why do I need to defend or at least validate a specific theoretical frame? At least in this piece of research, the intention here is not to demonstrate neither the usability nor the relevance of any pre-made theory nor to take a side choosing a particular frame. My compromise as an ethnographer should be —and it is— only with the study object of the work I do, and that is it.

That is why my primary goal to accomplish during this coming fieldwork, how I see things today, is just watching and collecting everything I can, but without thinking about theories or any method. I guess I will have time later to do that. I just do not want to turn my work into what I have always been criticized. That kind of theoretical academic discourse disconnected from the world outside and focused on applying theories over theories, instrumentalizing the empirical work to either approve or deny a specific opinion.

So, I will use those days in Times Square to be surprised to make a sort of inventory, as Gay Talese (2003) made of New York for writing his famous report of the City, watching and following any possible trajectory group formation happening outside. Another reference from journalism is perhaps Alma Guillermoprieto’s work (1995). But, mainly, her work behind her work, the one she uses to do every time she arrives in a new city: to walk. To walk without any other purpose than approaching the city step by step, block by block.


[1] In the end, it did not happen in that way. Cartography of controversies was used only for specific situations, but it did not work as the primary methodological strategy.

References

Guillermoprieto, A. (1995). The Heart That Bleeds: Latin America Now. New York: Vintage.

Latour, B. (2007). Turning Around Politics. A Note on Gerard de Vries’ Paper. Social Studies of Science, 37(5), 811-820.

Talese, G. (2003). The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits and Encounters. New York: Bloomsbury.

Venturini, T. (2010). Building on faults: How to represent controversies with digital methods. Public Understanding of Science, 21(7), 796-812.