The research process in the Studio

Three modes of enquiry are central in the Studio: thinking, observing and playing. These three metaphors capture the interplay we expect between thorough analysis and more experimental, playful design of new tools and practices. The design of new tools is never only a technical job. Opening up new possibilities for humanities and social science scholars with the help of advanced networked information and communication technologies implicates the rethinking of old research questions, questioning established research methods and techniques, and asks for the intellectual courage to try out new forms of scholarly work. This is why we emphasise that the Studio will not in the first place help design new tools but rather new scholarly practices.

To realise its dual mission of increasing our understanding of e-humanities and e-social science, and of supporting scholars to make use of e-research, the Studio has two interrelated modules: the Analytic Centre (AC) and the Construction Platform (CP). These facilitate long-term research based on a clear intellectual agenda (AC) combined with flexible short-term projects created in response to the changing needs of researchers at universities and research institutes (CP). For this reason, all Studio research projects will have a complex blend of curiosity-driven and application oriented goals (Ang and Cassity 2004). All projects in the CP result from, and are led by, partnerships with external research groups. Whereas the CP helps create new epistemic objects and practices in the humanities and social sciences, both inside and outside of the Studio, the AC studies this process. To facilitate this, the AC is responsible for the creation and maintenance of the Studio's inhouse knowledge database. The structure of the Studio is presented in Figure 1 The structure of the Studio.

For the scholars who are the client-partners of the Studio, the design work must lead to useful insights in the form of concrete deliverables, such as new protocols, best practice manuals, new software tools, perspectives on new analytical techniques to answer old questions, and new research questions in their fields. For the researchers at the Studio, this design work is also a mode of enquiry into the process of knowledge creation. In other words, the Construction Platform is a field laboratory in which different scholarly practices and configurations are tried out and assessed on their consequences. This will, we hope, lead to a better understanding of the characteristics of knowledge creation as a cultural and social process. The researchers in the Analytic Centre have a special responsibility to link up the results of the CP to the scientific and scholarly literature in the fields of information science, science & technology studies, and communication sciences. To facilitate the management of this type of research, the AC reviews the research in the Studio on its contribution to basic knowledge about the process of knowledge creation. The CP will specifically examine the utility of the Studio research for scholars in the humanities and social sciences based in universities and research institutes in the Netherlands.

Observation, with all the advanced observation tools available in social and cultural analysis, is central to the Studio. This may involve the participant observation of prototypes of new infrastructures (such as collaboratories or Grid computing for social science), but may also entail the systematic observation of mundane processes in research in the social sciences and humanities. This is important to counteract the danger of bias in favour of "the new new thing" (Lewis 2000; Woolgar 2002). We can only put the promise and practice of e-research into perspective by taking distance from the claims and critically interrogate both the promise and the practice (cf. Wouters and Schroder 2003). This also holds for the innovative projects that are conducted within the Studio itself. Since these are oriented to the exploration of new modes of inquiry, they run the danger of biasing the novel over the traditional. Reflexive self-observation in different forms is therefore an important element of the research cycle in the Studio.

A drawing by Bruce Goff may make this more clear (Figure 2). This drawing shows a studio that resembles a bit what the proposal aims to accomplish. Although the Studio exists of different workspaces, each can operate at different levels, and they are strongly interrelated and mutually embedded. There is no great divide between the Construction Platform (the elevated platforms in the middle) and the Analytic Centre (the spaces around the platforms from which one can look both at the platforms and through the windows to the world outside). We need different workspaces to get the work done on time: the emphasis is different (on building in the CP, on understanding in the AC); and part of the staff will have different skills; but the goals are the same and the research in the CP builds upon the results and experiences from the AC and vice versa.