Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, Duke University Press, 2007.
Chapter Two: Diffractions: Differences, Contingencies, and Entanglements That Matter
Moving from reflexivity/reflection -which goes nowhere- to diffraction -metaphor to how the knowledge and insight gained through reflexivity/reflection can be dispersed -diffracted- in a meaningful way so that it goes somewhere -becomes meaningful.
Words of Donna Haraway (Modest_Witnm@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan"'-Meets_OncoMouseTM ):
“diffraction can be a metaphor for another kind of critical consciousness ..., one committed to making a difference and not to repeating the Sacred Image of Same. . . . Diffraction is a narrative, graphic, psychological, spiritual, and political technology for making consequential meanings.”
Diffraction - from physics and philosophy of physics, signifies the bending of waves around obstacles and openings in opposition to refraction which signifies the change of direction -wave length and speed- of waves when encountering a change in medium, and reflection meaning the wave when encountering an obstacle -at the meeting point of two different mediums- changes direction and returns to the medium from which it came.
In terms of knowledge or insight gained the difference would seem to be in reflection knowledge stays within its point of origin or discovery; in refraction knowledge changes not only direction, moving beyond the original point of origin or discovery, but other defining factors are altered with this movement (meaning that it could become quite different from its point of origin/ initial form/); however, with diffraction knowledge remains consistent in its defining factors/form AND progresses beyond the point of origin or discovery. This seems logical, to desire a diffraction of knowledge and insight acquired through the research -to have it decimated beyond the point of origin while maintaining its defining factors. However, and I have not read further yet, so I am curious how the argument put forth by the author will progress, I am a bit skeptical if this is really a shift in point of view -from reflection/reflexivity to diffraction- or is it a shift in semantics? In other words, when the word reflection was(is) used to describe an approach to critical practice what was really being presented was diffraction. I am thinking of the examples in Schön’s The Reflective Practitioner as well as my own observations of a local florist, who has been in the business for 50+ years, bring a 20-ish person into the business, passing on knowledge in ways that would have been defined by Schön as reflection-in-action/reflection-on-action based on the examples he gives, but, in the case of the florist and his protege, probably aligns better with the word diffraction as stated in this text. When the florist’s knowledge encounters the protege it ‘bends’, becomes different through the encounter -perhaps the protege can apply the florists knowledge to new ways of working (ex. social media as opposed to print advertising) but at the same time hopefully maintains consistency -otherwise the knowledge of the florist is lost on the protege, either by not reaching the trainee because it is only reflected knowledge -bouncing off the protege and back to the florist, or is so distorted or scattered when it encounters the trainee that it is too different from the knowledge the florist wishes to impart.
According to the author, Haraway suggests together reflection and diffraction can be useful. The mirroring/sameness of the knowledge imparted through reflection and the patterns of difference imparted by diffraction.
“Haraway's point is that the methodology of reflexivity mirrors the geometrical optics of reflection, and that for all of the recent emphasis on reflexivity as a critical method of self-positioning it remains caught up in geometries of sameness; by contrast, diffractions are attuned to differences-differences that our knowledge-making practices make and the effects they have on the world.”
Maybe I was misunderstanding (or rather not misunderstanding) reflection. For me it seems reflection without diffraction would be pointless. Even if the obstacle around which the diffraction occurs is the self. After all, we are our own biggest/greatest obstacles.
“Haraway is interested in finding "a way to figure 'difference' as a 'critical difference within,' and not as special taxonomic marks grounding difference as apartheid" (Haraway, 1992, 299).“
"a diffraction pattern does not map where differences appear, but rather maps where the effects of differences appear" (ibid, 300).
In the example of the florist and his protege the diffraction pattern is not the difference in how the business is advertised, it is the shift in the demographics of the clientele reached by the change from print to social media. The knowledge/principles of advertising -from florists reflection- has not changed, but the diffraction that occurs - precipitated by the generational difference between florist and protege - produced the effect of a generational shift in clientele.
“diffraction patterns-as patterns of difference that make a difference-to be the fundamental constituents that make up the world.”
The author of this text is a physicist -so views the world thru that lens. She is only introducing diffraction in this chapter, reading the whole book is recommended to gain the complete picture.
“So while it is true that diffraction apparatuses measure the effects of difference, even more profoundly they highlight, exhibit, and make evident the entangled structure of the changing and contingent ontology of the world, including the ontology of knowing. In fact, diffraction not only brings the reality of entanglements to light, it is itself an entangled phenomenon. “
“a diffractive mode of analysis can be helpful in this regard if we learn to tune our analytical instruments (that is our diffraction apparatuses) in a way that is sufficiently attentive to the details of the phenomenon we want to understand. “
entangled effects differences make -
“I hope my exploration will make clear that entanglements are highly specific configurations and it is very hard work building apparatuses to study them, in part because they change with each intra-action. In fact it is not so much that they change from one moment to the next or from one place to another, but that space, time, and matter do not exist prior to the intra-actions that reconstitute entanglements. Hence, it is possible for entangled relationalities to make connections between entities that do not appear to be proximate in space and time. (More on this in chapter 7.) The point is that the specificity of entanglements is everything. The apparatuses must be tuned to the particularities of the entanglements at hand. The key question in each case is this: how to responsibly explore entanglements and the differences they make.“
superposition or interference of waves = diffraction
“From the perspective of classical physics, diffraction patterns are simply the result of differences in (the relative phase and amplitudes of) overlapping waves.
Some physicists insist on maintaining the historical distinction between interference and diffraction phenomena: they reserve the term "diffraction" for the apparent bending or spreading of waves upon encountering an obstacle and use "interference" to refer to what happens when waves overlap. However, the physics behind diffraction and interference phenomena is the same: both result from the superposition of waves. ”
“only waves produce diffraction patterns; particles do not (since they cannot occupy the same place at the same time).”
Davisson-Germer Experiment -addition, tells about the subject -the wave/particle
X-ray diffraction -working backward from known wavelength to determine the distance between the slits of diffraction grate. -deduction, tells about the object/grate/obstacle/interference
“Significantly, quantum mechanics is not a theory that applies only to small objects; rather, quantum mechanics is thought to be the correct theory of nature that applies at all scales. As far as we know, the universe is not broken up into two separate domains (i.e., the microscopic and the macroscopic) identified with different length scales with different sets of physical laws for each. “
“To mirror something is to provide an accurate image or representation that faithfully copies that which is being mirrored. “
I have a problem with the use of accurate and faithfully in this description of what mirrors do.
“Reflexivity is a proposed critical scholarly practice that aims to reflect on, and systematically take account of, the investigator's role as an instrument in the constitution of evidence. Reflexivity aims to acknowledge the tripartite arrangement between objects, representations, and knowers that produces knowledge, as opposed to less-reflexive modes of investigation that leave the knower out of the equation, focusing attention narrowly on the relationship between objects and their representations.”
knower=spectator/viewer (for me); I bring in Wollheim’s idea of artist-object-spectator as reflexivity with this tripartite arrangement. Perhaps this is why, for me at least, reflexivity extends beyond self-reflection and diffraction seems the logical, natural outcome.
As artists, whether or not we are making or doing, there is always this trinity of artist - object/action - audience/spectator (reader, listener, viewer…) therefore a narrow understanding of the purpose of (self) reflective methodologies -exclusion of the third party in the relationship- would seem to be unsuited to the practice one is reflecting on. The ‘knower’ is always a part of the practice. As Wollheim states, the artist must assume the stance/viewpoint of the spectator; I would understand this to mean that the reflection the artist analyzes is not only of the self but also the other -spectator. To align with this idea of diffraction, then in the case of the artist-as-spectator it is an analysis of diffraction she is undertaking.
Back to the florist and his protege. The triune relationship could be defined as florist - business - protege. The business is the object through which the relationship between florist and protege is formed. As the florist imparts his knowledge of the business - knowledge shaped or understood through his 50+ years of practice - the protege through her youth brings knowledge of current circumstances - diffraction pattern occurs when the knowledge of both florist and protege intersect - and the effect is observed in the business.
I think at this point in the chapter the difference between ‘science’ and ‘art’ in terms of understanding reflection/diffraction methodologies becomes apparent, to me at least. Whereas I find it quite natural to see the outcome of methods of reflection as a methodology of diffraction -even if it has not been previously termed as such -this might not be the case in other fields. This is why I believe as artist-researchers we need to make a case for the differentiation when we identify it as such, insisting upon our own definitions of terms if need be. It becomes a question of how often, when referring to their methodology as reflective, artists are implying the diffraction within the methodology. Is it necessary to change the term to align it to physics/hard sciences? Or can we insist that a ‘reflective methodology’ within artistic practice research means x - and x encompasses diffraction?
“Notably, feminist science studies scholars have offered poignant critiques of relativism and reflexivity from early on.”
Hmm...is this due to the ability (as feminists) to see beyond the binary relationship? In which case, as scientist it is natural to shift to the more fitting term of ‘diffraction’ because this is part and parcel of the scientific vocabulary -it isn’t borrowed from elsewhere, like art borrows it.
“In particular, feminist science studies scholars have argued that reflexivity has proved insufficient on at least two important grounds.23 First of all, for the most part, mainstream science studies (in all its various incarnations) has ignored crucial social factors such as gender, race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, and nationality. The irony is that while these scholars insist on the importance of tracking "science-in-the-making" by attending to specific laboratory practices, for the most part they continue to treat social variables such as gender as preformed categories ofthe social. That is, they fail to attend to "gender in-the-making"-the production of gender and other social variables as constituted through technoscientific practices.24 Thus, despite the fact that feminist science studies scholars have been arguing from the beginning for an understanding of gender-and-science-in-the-making, mainstream science studies accounts have neglected this crucial point. Significantly, to the degree that they fail to appreciate this fact, they underestimate the mutual constitution of the "social" and the "scientific," thus undermining their own project. Relatedly, mainstream science studies scholars seem to be unaware of the fact that the nature-culture dichotomy has been challenged vigorously on multiple grounds by feminist, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, queer, and other critical social theorists, and that attending to the issues they raise is an integral part of questioning the constitution of the nature culture dichotomy and the work it does: not only that it matters, but how it matters and for whom.”
Appears to be so.
“...reflexivity is based on the belief that practices of representing have no effect on the objects of investigation and that we have a kind of access to representations that we don't have to the objects themselves. “
I think this is the point that reflexivity in artistic practice research differs. We know that the object -whatever it may be- is effected by the practice of representation/reflection. However, I am not sure, but this might be where the poststructuralist conundrum enters the conversation…
“...reflexivity does nothing more than mirror mirroring. “
The object in the mirror is its ‘mirror image’ an inversion of reality...so the above sentence could imply a mirror mirroring is reality! If you want to see how you really look to others hold a mirror up to the mirror you are looking into… what you see is what others see.
“Mirrors upon mirrors, reflexivity entails the same old geometrical optics of reflections.”
The second mirror is/can be the diffraction grate, that is, so long as the second mirror is no longer the self (artist) but the other (spectator).
“... diffraction is not reflection raised to some higher power.25 It is not a self- referential glance back at oneself.”
And that is not the type of reflection the artist is doing if she positions herself also as the spectator.
“... important aspects of diffraction that make it a particularly effective tool for thinking about social natural practices in a performative rather than representationalist mode.”
The arts operate in a performative, not representational mode. Difference between a tool/method and the methodology. Why can’t diffraction be a tool within a reflective methodology, rather than reflection a tool/method within a diffractive methodology? Can both variants exist? How and why might they differ? If the reflective aspect has greater weight than the tool/method of diffraction then maybe I would say the methodology is reflective, and vice versa.
“...a way of understanding the world from within and as part of it, as a diffractive methodology requires.”
[See table in text.]
“onto-epistem-ology knowing is a material practice of engagement as part of the world in its differential becoming “
I find it ironic that a table such as this is being used to argue for the non-binary approach that is diffraction. I am not convinced that reflection excludes diffraction in the methodology; rather I think that the author is trying to apply a definition that does not work in this case. Words have multiple meanings, and that does not exclude the application of a word in a specific context simply because in another context it means something else.
“First and foremost, as Haraway suggests, a diffractive methodology is a critical practice for making a difference in the world. It is a commitment to understanding which differences matter, how they matter, and for whom. It is a critical practice of engagement, not a distance-learning practice of reflecting from afar.”
“Making knowledge is not simply about making facts but about making worlds, or rather, it is about making specific worldly configurations-not in the sense of making them up ex nihilo, or out of language, beliefs, or ideas, but in the sense of materially engaging as part of the world in giving it specific material form. And yet the fact that we make knowledge not from outside but as part of the world does not mean that knowledge is necessarily subjective (a notion that already presumes the pre existing distinction between object and subject that feeds representationalist thinking). At the same time, objectivity cannot be about producing undistorted representations from afar; rather, objectivity is about being accountable to the specific materializations of which we are a part. And this requires a methodology that is attentive to, and responsive/responsible to, the specificity of material entanglements in their agential becoming. The physical phenomenon of diffraction makes manifest the extraordinary liveliness of the world.27”
“... diffraction effects are attentive to fine detail. … Also consider the fact that the details of diffraction patterns depend on the details of the apparatus: …”
apparatus = researcher; the attention to fine detail is a must whether diffraction or reflection -the more slits the clearer the image- and the more likely the minutiae will also register!
“Attention to fine details is a crucial element of this methodology. The diffractive methodology that I use in thinking insights from scientific and social theories through one another differs from some of the more usual approaches in a significant fashion. … my approach is to place the understandings that are generated from different (inter)disciplinary practices in conversation with one another.29 “
“Importantly, it is crucial that in using a diffractive methodology one is attentive to fine details of different disciplinary approaches. What is needed are respectful engagements with different disciplinary practices, not coarse grained portrayals that make caricatures of another discipline from some position outside it. My aim in developing a diffractive methodology is to attempt to remain rigorously attentive to important details of specialized arguments within a given field without uncritically endorsing or unconditionally prioritizing one (inter)disciplinary approach over another.31
Hence the diffractive methodology that I propose enables a critical rethinking of science and the social in their relationality. What often appears as separate entities (and separate sets of concerns) with sharp edges does not actually entail a relation of absolute exteriority at all. Like the diffraction patterns illuminating the indefinite nature of boundaries-displaying shadows in "light" regions and bright spots in "dark" regions-the relation of the social and the scientific is a relation of "exteriority within" (see, for example, figure 2). “
I understand the point the author is making for the term diffractive methodology. However, I still wonder if it is necessary to change the terminology or simply a matter of clearly stating what the methodology is dependent upon -in other words, a reflective methodology is dependent upon diffractive methods as a means of producing a certain level of knowledge that reflective methods alone do not provide, and vice versa- the term used to describe the methodology should not exclude the other term from its methods.
“The drawing of analogies, … where specific causal linkages are suggested for the analogies, … can be very interesting. But these common modes of analysis are only of limited value, and insufficient for understanding the deeper philosophical issues at stake in learning how to "diffract the rays of technoscience [and other social practices] so that we get more promising interference patterns on the recording films of our lives and bodies" (Haraway 1997, r6). This diffractive methodology enables me to examine in detail important philosophical issues such as the conditions for the possibility of objectivity, the nature of measurement, the nature of nature and meaning making, the conditions for intelligibility, the nature of causality and identity, and the relationship between discursive practices and the material world. “
Agree. It does make sense for the author to use the term diffraction relative to the area of research -quantum physics. This raises the question for me, for artist-researchers who have in the past defined the methodology they used as ‘reflective’ do we assume that no diffractive methods were involved simply because they might not have officially defined a method as such? Going forward it makes sense to explicitly state the role of diffraction within any methodology that involves reflective methods -whether or not the methodology is defined as reflective.
“In fact, according to agential realism, the analysis of entangled practices requires a nonadditive approach that is attentive to the intra-action of multiple apparatuses of bodily production. “