I work at the intersection between philosophy, social theory, and sociology/anthropology of knowledge. My research is concerned with the existence of social entities, relations and practices – sometimes called social ontology – and the relationship between modes of knowing about and modes of being in the world.
The doctoral thesis I recently defended at the University of Cambridge explored the relationship between knowledge and critique, especially in contexts when knowledge is about the context that is simultaneously source of its legitimation – as is the case with critique of neoliberalism in higher education and research. Using intellectual interventions concerning the transformation of UK universities as an empirical illustration, the thesis framed questions of knowledge, critique, and the role of social sciences in the present moment with the longer discussion about the relationship between ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’, and thus the impossibility of reconciling the legacy of the Enlightenment with the history (and, worryingly, prospective future) of mass violence. Looking, in particular, at the relationship between positionality and positioning – that is, the epistemological and social conditions of knowledge claims – the thesis showed how the constitution of subject-object relationships forms a fundamental part of both critique and the production of knowledge.
My forthcoming research takes further the concern about the relationship between ontology, epistemology, and positioning in the context of current political transformations and asks how they relate to the future of social systems for the production of knowledge. I will particularly focus on the following:
- Relationship between knowledge, prediction and agency
Both policy and everyday discourse assume the link between knowledge and agency. That is, increased awareness of the causes as well as consequences of specific occurrences, objects, or events, is assumed to correlate with a wider scope of possible reactions in relation to them. How do social systems for mediating knowledge and expertise – from education institutions to social media – interact with this link? What does the context of pluralisation of ‘legitimate’ ways of knowing (and the disputes surrounding validity of knowledge) mean for how people act and reflect on their actions? How do concepts of ‘agnotology’ or ignorance link to this?
- Human (and non-human) learning and forecasting accuracy
One of the things that supposedly make algorithms superior to humans as information processors is the capacity to learn from error. How does this work in contexts in which error identification is not simple or binary? In other words, how do people and systems for knowledge production ‘back-propagate’ predictions of election or referendum outcomes, natural disasters, or wars?
A longer reflection on these topics is here.
My second major focus in the past years has been developing a relational ontology of knowledge production, in particular openness/accessibility of information, ‘distributed knowledges’, questions of authorship and ownership, and (again) aspects of subjectivity, identity and agency implied in this.
One element is reframing intellectuals’ public engagement or positioning as a practice of agential mediation of conditions of knowledge production, taking into account how concepts such as ‘habitus’, ‘reflexivity’ and ‘field’ can (or not) be mobilised to explain this (an example of my earlier ethnographic work on public engagement in the UK is here).
Another major theme is academic publishing, such as Open Access, copyright, or Open Research Data movement, and trying to understand the ontologies implied in them, as well as their effects on the processes of knowledge creation and distribution; a paper I’ve co-authored with Chris Muellerleile addresses some of these issues.
Last, but not least, this concerns the relationship between academics (or intellectuals) as ‘individuals’ and the broader collectives, institutions, and processes of knowledge production, and forms of authority and reflexivity associated with it (longer articles are in the process, until then, I often blog about this). Some of this builds on my previous research on public engagement and university–society relationships in the UK and in New Zealand, which was part of the Universities in the Knowledge Economy (UNIKE) project.