Session 20

E1 Knowledge Cultures and Qualitative Methods

Global and transnational interconnections have not only led to the dissolution of social and cultural boundaries. The diverse spaces and landscapes of knowledge are also on the move. This applies to scientific knowledge as well as to everyday knowledge and the everyday experiences of members of society. The concept of knowledge cultures has been used for some time in various disciplines to investigate the production, genesis, dissemination, appropriation and transformation of knowledge. Historical, social and institutional conditions of emergence play a role here, as do the cultural practices of the production of knowledge and the cultural imprint through knowledge. In the sociology of science, which is primarily interested in the natural sciences, cultures of knowledge have been understood as practices, mechanisms and principles that determine the ‘how’ of knowledge. In a broader approach based on the sociology of knowledge and qualitative methods of the social sciences, cultures of knowledge represent a specific form of ‘knowledge-oriented action’. It leads to specific relations between the object of research, the research subject and societal embedding, and at the same time requires us to look at the relationship between globality, locality and space. In this session, the relevance of knowledge cultures will be discussed with regard to the development of qualitative methods beyond a methodological nationalism. This concerns both methodological approaches and the historical, social and cultural backgrounds, knowledge orders and infrastructures in which they are embedded. Theories and methods, styles of thinking and ways of acting, but also linguistic, nation-state and scientific contexts – they all produce different forms of the understanding of scientificity and the practice of science, be it scientific writing, speaking or research.This raises the following questions: Which approach appears valid, feasible, theoretically and methodologically consistent and legitimate? Is there room for deviation from what is considered established? And vice versa: Where and how can non-established research unfold?

The knowledge-cultural perspective sensitises to differences in the production and justification of knowledge and scientific claims. Epistemic ideals, canonised procedures and self-understandings of science (such as objectivity, truth and verifiability) are historically, socially and culturally situated, but – precisely because of this – by no means arbitrary, but rather committed to the careful reconstruction of the nature and materiality of the social in studied global and local fields. Cultures of knowledge shape and form scientific action and its specific regularity. Positively formulated, they design a space of possibilities, a space of exploration, of trying things out and experimenting on the level of qualitative methods. In the worst case, they impose prohibitions on thinking or create ‘blindness’ towards experiences and things.

A particularly challenging field in recent years has been the engagement with global social inequalities, feminist and indigenous methodologies. This leads to further momentous questions: How can unequal and different experiences be captured in a way that allows for communication and exchange? Can there (still) be a common, shared language of science or does the claim to a cross-border, universal exchange dissolve against the backdrop of differentialist critiques of methodology? How can a qualitative methodology be developed beyond methodological nationalism, but also beyond androcentrism, ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism?

Papers are expected that address the questions raised above theoretically, methodologically, and/or by means of concrete empirical examples from the field of qualitative social and cultural anthropology research.