A short video of one participant from the Elephant and Castle network modelling workshop. Reflecting on this video there are some key findings for my research here and some implications for approaches to analysis. Andrew does not have any difficulty getting started with the exercise and immediately makes some choices about who he selects to feature in his personal network. He describes ‘close friends and people that I work with’ as being immediately to hand in consciousness. He makes connections between people from similar contexts such as a workplace or family but indicates that relationships between people have changed since he met them. He gives a short, one or two sentence description of each person and how they know each other and works his way anti-clockwise around the network map. A few people are assigned to multiple categories, such as a former partner who Andrew describes as a friend and ‘something else which I can’t define’. A key finding for me is at 01:44 when the telling of the network causes someone to be added to it. Without prompting Andrew consciously frames what he has done as ‘a piece of art’ and ascribes a positive emotional quality to the physical linking of people with rubber bands.
What this video also shows is how important the recounting of the network is for the research. The artefact does an effective job of mediating how people conceive of their social networks, and it seems to allow for knowledge about interpersonal connectivity to emerge. However, the artefact alone is inadequate for the kind of rich descriptive texture indicative of the externalisation and sharing of emotions. Network as story is revealed as a way of gaining much deeper insight into how participants conceptualise their social connections than the object could provide on its own. In the tradition of narrative enquiry, which has its roots in medicine and psychology, the participant voice is prioritised – it is people who tell stories. The artefacts that elicit storytelling, such as diaries or voice recording are seen as supporting technologies that allow participants to narratively account for their experiences. The social network tile in my research is a special kind of supporting technology, one framed by creative design practice and collaborative meaning making. It is less technology as experience as McCarthy and Wright have it and more experience revealed through technology.
Watching this video also says something to me about the design of the artefact itself – the assumptions and biases it embodies. As a designer with 20 years experience I was quite consciously trying to make an additive substrate that would tile well, that would constrain the activity, and that would sit in a tradition of modernist design i.e. it has a white background, and an even surface. They are also explicitly designed to photograph and reproduce well, with high visual contrast. Finally, the artefact is designed in a way conducive to analysis although as seen above the central research data is the story told about the object. There are furthermore a whole set of industrial practices embedded in the object. Its size is determined by commercially available cork tiles as a flooring material. They themselves are manufactured at financially viable tolerances for thickness and weight. The colours used for pins follow those readily available in stationary shops. The use of mass produced materials also means the artefact scales well, it can be cheaply produced, and means the making of the network maps involves using familiar skills. Pins and rubber bands are widespread in domestic and clerical workplaces so the strangeness of creating a personal network maps is mitigated by the quotidian nature of the materials.
Another, longer video is in the works and should be available in a couple of weeks.