Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.MM.12.2.1 | PDF

Massive/Micro Sense­mak­ing Luka / Markham / Harris

Massive/Micro Sensemaking: Towards Post-Pandemic Futures

Mary Eliz­a­beth Luka
Annette N Markham
Dan Harris

In what ways have forms for engen­der­ing the inter­con­nec­tion and mate­ri­al­i­ty required for cre­ative pro­duc­tion changed in the time of COVID-19? How and why have our notions of imag­in­ing and visu­al­iz­ing cross-cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion and its modes of research, analy­sis, and rep­re­sen­ta­tion shift­ed? The glob­al pan­dem­ic and respons­es to it through var­i­ous forms of cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion have seen an explo­sion of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and col­lec­tive social actions as well as the rein­force­ment of entrenched sys­temic racism and oth­er forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion and imbal­ance. In this spe­cial issue, authors weave togeth­er a series of dia­logues, method­olog­i­cal approach­es, and mate­ri­al­i­ties that reflect on the visu­al­i­ty of the expe­ri­ences that were first devel­oped through shared crit­i­cal autoethno­graph­ic prac­tices dur­ing and after an inter­na­tion­al Mas­sive Micro Sense­mak­ing exper­i­ment involv­ing 165 people.

En quoi la façon de pro­duire les liens et la matéri­al­ité néces­saires à la pro­duc­tion créa­tive ont changé pen­dant la pandémie de COVID-19 ? Com­ment et pourquoi nos notions de l’imagination et de la visu­al­i­sa­tion de la pro­duc­tion inter­cul­turelle et ses modes de recherche, d'analyse et de représen­ta­tion ont évolué ? La pandémie mon­di­ale et les manières d’y faire face par le biais de divers­es formes de pro­duc­tion cul­turelle ont don­né lieu à une explo­sion de la pro­duc­tiv­ité et à des actions sociales col­lec­tives, ain­si qu’au ren­force­ment d’un racisme sys­témique enrac­iné et à d'autres formes de dis­crim­i­na­tion et de déséquili­bre. Dans ce numéro spé­cial, les auteurs entrela­cent une série de dia­logues, d'approches méthodologiques et de matéri­al­ités qui s’interrogent sur la vis­i­bil­ité d’expériences qui ont d'abord été dévelop­pées à tra­vers des pra­tiques autoethno­graphiques cri­tiques partagées pen­dant et après une expéri­ence inter­na­tionale de Mas­sive Micro Sense­mak­ing impli­quant 165 personnes.

Introduction: a massive and microscopic lockdown

In May and June of 2020, more than 165 researchers, artists, and activists from 26 coun­tries became involved in a co-cre­ative research-cre­ation prac­tice that mobi­lized crit­i­cal autoethnog­ra­phy to col­lec­tive­ly process indi­vid­ual embod­ied, affec­tive, polit­i­cal, and cog­ni­tive sen­si­bil­i­ties that were chal­lenged and made more vis­i­ble by COVID-19 lock­downs and sub­se­quent events (Markham, Har­ris and Luka 2020). The goal of the 21-day Mas­sive Micro Sense­mak­ing autoethnog­ra­phy chal­lenge was to use self-guid­ed prompts to build embod­ied sen­si­bil­i­ties toward the mate­r­i­al this emer­gent com­mu­ni­ty of prac­tice was study­ing. It also enabled a shared prac­tice of autoethno­graph­ic forms of writ­ing and mak­ing, and trans­formed per­son­al expe­ri­ences through the COVID-19 moment into crit­i­cal under­stand­ings of scale, sense-mak­ing, and the rela­tion­al­i­ty of humans, non­hu­mans, and the plan­et. As the project unfold­ed, it increas­ing­ly engaged with image-based ver­nac­u­lars, par­tic­u­lar­ly through a pri­vate Face­book group (Fig­ure 1), but also in Google docs and on the group’s email list­serv. Some­times guid­ed but often unso­licit­ed, this ver­nac­u­lar includ­ed shared images, images as respons­es, videos, and audio clips. In this spe­cial issue of Imag­i­na­tions, the authors, edi­tors, and co-edi­tors work col­lec­tive­ly to weave togeth­er a series of dia­logues, method­olog­i­cal approach­es, and mate­ri­al­i­ties that reflect on and the­o­rize the sen­so­r­i­al nature of the expe­ri­ences that were first doc­u­ment­ed through the shared crit­i­cal autoethno­graph­ic prac­tices dur­ing and after the inter­na­tion­al Mas­sive Micro Sense­mak­ing exper­i­ment. These pieces reflect the out­comes of what we ret­ro­spec­tive­ly under­stand as an emerg­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tive form of crit­i­cal ped­a­gogy, as well as the for­ma­tion of a Com­mu­ni­ty of Prac­tice (CoP) in response to a major glob­al crisis.

Figure 1: Screen capture of the MMS Facebook private group landing image.

Mas­sive Micro Sense­mak­ing (MMS) came into being in April 2020, just weeks after many of the first nation­al bor­der clo­sures and lock­downs to guard against the grow­ing COVID-19 pan­dem­ic were announced. While the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion (WHO) had declared the virus a pub­lic health emer­gency on Jan­u­ary 30 and a glob­al pan­dem­ic on March 11,1 bor­der clo­sures and lock­downs only arrived in mid-March in most places around the world. These includ­ed Aus­tralia (March 13),2 Den­mark (March 11),3 and the Unit­ed States (March 13)4, with the Euro­pean Union (March 17), Cana­da (March 20),5 and India (March 24)6 com­ing a week later—to name just a few of the coun­tries where MMS par­tic­i­pants were locat­ed. The impulse to gen­er­ate a com­mu­ni­ty of prac­tice of 165 artists, schol­ars, and activists ground­ed in ethno­graph­ic visu­al cul­ture came much ear­li­er. Annette Markham reached out to sev­er­al col­leagues around the world start­ing in Feb­ru­ary and March, becom­ing increas­ing­ly aware that (glob­al­ly) we were about to go through a col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence that few would have expe­ri­enced on this scale before. By late March, Dan Har­ris was involved as a co-lead on the project, and Mary Eliz­a­beth (M.E.) Luka joined short­ly after, behind the scenes, to pre­pare for and help orga­nize the project. Ini­tial­ly, the intent was to use a call for a spe­cial issue of a jour­nal (see https://​future​mak​ing​.space/​c​a​l​l​-​f​o​r​-​p​a​r​t​i​c​i​p​a​t​i​on/) to solic­it a dozen or so expres­sions of inter­est and then build an autoethno­graph­ic col­lab­o­ra­tion. Instead, more than 150 peo­ple respond­ed to the call, express­ing their urgent and often poignant desires to par­tic­i­pate with oth­ers in mak­ing sense of the rad­i­cal changes hap­pen­ing in their every­day lives as a result of the pan­dem­ic. Markham and Har­ris rec­og­nized that MMS had already start­ed to coa­lesce as a com­mu­ni­ty of prac­tice. MMS as a col­lab­o­ra­tive autoethno­graph­ic creative/critical research response was born. We (Markham, Har­ris, and Luka) devel­oped a 21-day series of crit­i­cal autoethno­graph­ic prompts (Markham and Har­ris 2020) in late April and ear­ly May that then rolled out over a pri­vate Face­book group and an email list­serv between May 18 and June 7, 2020. These prompts always includ­ed a spe­cif­ic writ­ing, think­ing, draw­ing, map­ping, or oth­er­wise per­for­ma­tive exer­cise to be com­plet­ed in 24 hours if pos­si­ble, along with the same ‘mantra’ about the over­all goal of the 21-day autoethnog­ra­phy chal­lenge (see Fig­ure 2).

Figure 2: Screen capture of the introduction to the first prompt on the private Facebook group, including the ‘mantra,’ which was repeated in every subsequent prompt. Permission of the authors.

Giv­en that there were peo­ple from 26 coun­tries involved from time zones around the world, many of the prompts were designed to be con­duct­ed at a time that felt right to indi­vid­ual par­tic­i­pants. The prompts were post­ed and emailed so as to be avail­able first thing in the morn­ing in the south­ern hemi­sphere, which meant that it looked like the prompts were cir­cu­lat­ed the night before in the north­ern hemi­sphere. And while some prompts asked group mem­bers to deep­en an inquiry start­ed in an ear­li­er prompt, there was plen­ty of lee­way to decide how to respond to the prompts. Sev­er­al of the prompts asked peo­ple to use visu­al imagery and arts, sound, dance or move­ment, and video record­ings, as well as writ­ten work, includ­ing prose, poet­ry, and more aca­d­e­m­ic writ­ing (as they chose). One par­tic­i­pant respond­ed by cre­at­ing a paint­ing over the 21 days. Oth­ers respond­ed by con­struct­ing and assem­bling quilts as well as in writ­ing (indeed, one of the quilts pro­vides a thread of con­nec­tion to the arti­cles in this issue). Many par­tic­i­pants exper­i­ment­ed with the sen­so­r­i­al oppor­tu­ni­ties offered through the visu­al and per­form­ing arts prompts pro­vid­ed through­out the 21-day peri­od as ways to adapt to their new real­i­ties in the ear­ly, fright­en­ing days of the pan­dem­ic. Prompt 1 reflects the spir­it of the MMS expe­ri­ence, includ­ing the ear­ly and very tem­po­rary opti­mism just weeks after ini­tial lock­downs in the south­ern hemi­sphere (see Fig­ures 3 and 4).

Figure 3: Facebook screen capture of the first prompt, May 18, 2020. Permission of the authors.
Figure 4: Screen capture of the first prompt on Facebook, May 18, 2020. Permission of the authors.

For the par­tic­i­pants involved in the Face­book group, there was a lot of spon­ta­neous upload­ing of images or writ­ing, with plen­ty of peer encour­age­ment for shar­ing respons­es, no mat­ter how raw or revealing—so long as the per­son upload­ing the mate­r­i­al was com­fort­able doing so. And while some peo­ple knew a few of the oth­er peo­ple in the group when the 21-day prompts began, most peo­ple didn’t know many oth­ers. So, this expe­ri­ence of shar­ing work-in-progress, or more accu­rate­ly, work-barely-begun—particularly on a visu­al­ly-ori­ent­ed plat­form sub­ject to Amer­i­can laws of social media surveillance—became quite a vul­ner­a­ble and pro­tec­tive space for emerg­ing and more estab­lished artists and schol­ars to inter­act in both sup­port­ive and sup­port­ed ways. These works-bare­ly-begun took many shapes and forms, some of which are rep­re­sent­ed in Fig­ures 5-8 below.

Making sense of change in a community of practice

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic upset mas­sive eco­nom­ic, aes­thet­ic, lifestyle, and polit­i­cal sys­tems, among oth­ers. At the quo­tid­i­an lev­el, even the tini­est habits were chal­lenged, includ­ing food acces­si­bil­i­ty or per­mis­sion to hug some­one. The 21-day autoethno­graph­ic chal­lenge act­ed as a locus of activ­i­ty around which nar­ra­tives to iter­a­tive­ly explain, analyse, or resist the mas­sive changes demand­ed local­ly and glob­al­ly dur­ing the pan­dem­ic could be sketched out or prac­ticed. This broad­er goal was reflect­ed in our shared desires to do some­thing use­ful and gen­er­a­tive dur­ing lock­downs and beyond. While we (Luka, Markham, and Har­ris) have each used arts-based meth­ods in dif­fer­ent ways (includ­ing for MMS), it is Markham’s long-time engage­ment with micro­scop­ic obser­va­tion and analy­sis in com­bi­na­tion with dig­i­tal or online ethno­graph­ic meth­ods-as-ethics in com­mu­ni­ties of prac­tice (e.g. Markham and Buchanan 2015), and as a form of crit­i­cal ped­a­gogy (e.g. Markham 2019) that pro­vid­ed a glob­al frame­work for MMS. Sim­i­lar­ly, Harris’s mod­el­ling of crit­i­cal and car­ing autoethno­graph­ic prac­tices and Markham’s engage­ment with brico­lage and the micro­scop­ic shaped many of the details of the prompts. Luka’s long expe­ri­ence of and research about the con­sid­er­able behind-the-scenes work of design and plan­ning required to nur­ture col­lec­tive projects and to pro­lif­er­ate media-mak­ing added a time- and image-based dynam­ic (e.g. Luka 2018).

Figure 5: Screen capture of the Dilkes, Erdely, Fowley, and Romano Prompt 3 video, as posted on the MMS Facebook group page. Permission of the video makers.
Figure 6: Screen capture of Chemi response to Prompt 8, as posted on the MMS Facebook group page. Permission of Tatiana Chemi.
Figure 7: Screen capture of the Herman posting about the radio show hosted throughout the early days of the pandemic, as posted on the MMS Facebook group page. Permission of Andrew Herman
Figure 8: Screen capture of the Pruulman-Vengerfeldt response to Prompt 11, as posted on the MMS Facebook group page. Permission of Pille Pruulman-Vengerfeldt.

The MMS project is a good exam­ple of a delib­er­ate attempt to fos­ter a dynam­ic cohe­sive com­mu­ni­ty of prac­tice (CoP) dur­ing a glob­al cri­sis. In lit­er­a­ture about the com­po­si­tion, process­es, and com­mit­ments of CoPs, Wenger, McDer­mott, and Sny­der (2002) note that CoPs com­prise peo­ple who come togeth­er to exam­ine sim­i­lar (often com­plex) prob­lems in the world, par­tic­u­lar­ly emer­gent or press­ing issues. While often mobi­lized in health-based research and clin­i­cal envi­ron­ments, in recent years, find­ing ways to devel­op CoPs in oth­er work envi­ron­ments (such as in acad­e­mia or in pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions) has been one way to accel­er­ate knowl­edge-shar­ing or solu­tions to prob­lems. By work­ing togeth­er or (through peri­od­ic inter­ac­tion) in par­al­lel with one anoth­er, a group or groups seek to share tac­it and emer­gent knowl­edge to bet­ter address unex­pect­ed devel­op­ments (Had­jimichael and Tsoukas 2019), to col­lec­tive­ly gen­er­ate new knowl­edge, or to devel­op a cohe­sive way of respond­ing to unusu­al sit­u­a­tions (Dör­fler and Ack­er­mann 2012). In addi­tion, as Pyrko, Dör­fler, and Eden (2019) note, such learn­ing-togeth­er is bound­ed by ongo­ing dis­cus­sions and relationship-building—or as Luka has put it in the con­text of dig­i­tal media pro­duc­tion, by mak­ing some­thing togeth­er for use not just by the artists and mak­ers but by the whole com­mu­ni­ty (2022). And while many CoPs devel­op organ­i­cal­ly, it is pos­si­ble to gen­er­ate a CoP in response to a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion. This was the case, for exam­ple, for the vac­cine-devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ty that was able to devel­op, test, and dis­trib­ute sev­er­al kinds of vac­cines with­in months of the virus appear­ing, with the help of bil­lions of dol­lars of research fund­ing as well as nation-state and glob­al man­dates. More mod­est­ly, this was also the case for Mas­sive Micro Sense­mak­ing, a CoP of 165 peo­ple whose degrees of sep­a­ra­tion from one anoth­er was no more than two. The CoP built on Annette Markham’s exten­sive inter­na­tion­al net­work of (often dig­i­tal) ethno­graph­ic researchers and cre­ative prac­ti­tion­ers where it inter­sect­ed with Dan Harris’s equal­ly extend­ed net­work of crit­i­cal autoethno­graph­ic researchers and artists. These exist­ing net­works were aug­ment­ed by the snow­ball effect of infor­ma­tion about this project rolling through oth­er loose­ly con­nect­ed net­works, and through spe­cif­ic out­reach invi­ta­tions, such as Luka’s involve­ment of 19 grad­u­ate stu­dents in MMS through a Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to course. While the ini­tial 21-day prompt expe­ri­ence was tak­en up by 165 peo­ple, what is equal­ly remark­able is that more than half of these indi­vid­u­als sub­se­quent­ly par­tic­i­pat­ed in one of the oth­er MMS pub­li­ca­tion projects described below (spe­cial issues, exhi­bi­tion, etc.). Each of these small­er projects devel­oped its own way of work­ing togeth­er and apart—some at arms-length, some with plen­ty of coach­ing from pub­li­ca­tion edi­tors, and some with more inter­est in col­lec­tive ways of working.

To facil­i­tate the rich­ness of a CoP in prac­tice, the 21-day chal­lenge built a cur­ricu­lum of iter­a­tive and con­nect­ed prompts, and encour­aged col­lab­o­ra­tion through post­ing and shar­ing, giv­ing feed­back, and work­ing with oth­ers on cer­tain tasks. In oth­er words, the prompts were not ran­dom­ly pre­sent­ed, but sequen­tial­ly for­mu­lat­ed so the lat­er prompts would build on ear­li­er prompts, and the prompts encour­aged dif­fer­ent types of the­o­ret­i­cal and ana­lyt­i­cal respons­es. Although this was exper­i­men­tal, this strat­e­gy drew on the col­lec­tive edu­ca­tion­al exper­tise of Markham, Har­ris, and Luka, who each have exper­tise in teach­ing ana­lyt­i­cal and crit­i­cal think­ing through cre­ative practice.

We would argue both these fac­tors aid­ed in the emer­gence of a large scale CoP—not only did we bring togeth­er and build a plat­form for a net­work of peo­ple inter­est­ed in a com­mon goal to study the lived impact of a pan­dem­ic, we also designed and mind­ful­ly facil­i­tat­ed a crit­i­cal ped­a­gog­i­cal frame­work to guide how this col­lab­o­ra­tive and col­lec­tive study of the pan­dem­ic would pro­ceed. This is illus­trat­ed, if not dis­cussed in var­i­ous ways, by some more direct­ly than oth­ers, in the pieces of this spe­cial issue as well as the oth­er pub­li­ca­tions with MMS, as we describe below.

Producing, thinking, making

While the inten­sive expe­ri­ence of the 21-day autoethno­graph­ic chal­lenge built a gen­er­ous intel­lec­tu­al and cre­ative CoP, and bridged a sig­nif­i­cant peri­od of uncer­tain­ty, the project also yield­ed schol­ar­ly and cre­ative out­comes. Once the ini­tial 21-day peri­od was over, we focused on gen­er­at­ing pub­li­ca­tions for schol­ar­ly jour­nals and exhi­bi­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties that would encour­age peo­ple to find ways to deep­en their engage­ment with the work they had start­ed in response to the pan­dem­ic and through the MMS expe­ri­ence. The first of these was a spe­cial issue for Qual­i­ta­tive Inquiry (see Markham, Har­ris, and Luka 2020), which includ­ed 22 arti­cles. The peer review process was accom­plished in less than six weeks, with the issue released by August of 2020. The­mat­i­cal­ly, the arti­cles focused on pri­mar­i­ly micro-lev­el expe­ri­ences gen­er­at­ed through the 21-day autoethnog­ra­phy prac­tice in the con­text of an expo­nen­tial­ly grow­ing glob­al pan­dem­ic. Many of the authors referred to how this gen­er­at­ed an intense CoP, whose mem­bers felt both deeply alone and high­ly con­nect­ed to the inter­na­tion­al cohort of artists and schol­ars that was still emerg­ing dur­ing the 21-day autoethno­graph­ic chal­lenge and through the peri­od that they wrote these ear­ly pieces. The sec­ond project was a series of videos gen­er­at­ed in response to two prompts requir­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion (Prompt 3 and Prompt 21; see fig­ures 11 and 12 respec­tive­ly). The videos were curat­ed and intro­duced by Har­ris, Markham, and Luka for the Mark De Gar­mo Vir­tu­al Inter­na­tion­al Arts (VIA) Fes­ti­val for Social Change in the fall of 2020. As Luka notes in this issue: “Many of the videos fea­tured at the Octo­ber 27 VIA Fes­ti­val event took a close look at the expe­ri­ence of sud­den­ly enforced iso­la­tion, with sev­er­al using sim­i­lar­ly jar­ring jux­ta­po­si­tions of sound, image and text” (“Resilience in Pan­dem­ic Sense­mak­ing: Think­ing Through a Com­mu­ni­ty of Prac­tice,” this issue). As with the writ­ten work fea­tured in the Qual­i­ta­tive Inquiry issue, then, these videos pre­sent­ed and reflect­ed on quite raw expe­ri­ences using time-based media that incor­po­rat­ed sta­t­ic and mov­ing images, and sound design.

Figure 9: Screen capture of Prompt 3 on the Facebook group. Permission of the authors.
Figure 10: Screen capture of Prompt 21 on the Facebook group. Permission of the authors.

The third project is an anthol­o­gy focused on arts edu­ca­tion and arts-based method­olo­gies employ­ing crit­i­cal autoethnog­ra­phy approach­es, titled Massive/Micro Autoethnog­ra­phy: Cre­ative Learn­ing in COVID Times (Har­ris, Luka, and Markham, in press). While first drafts for this project were devel­oped con­cur­rent­ly with the first and sec­ond MMS projects, at the time of this writ­ing, they are just now in-press. The longer lead-time has enabled the authors and edi­tors to sift in/through more lay­ers of reflec­tion and devel­op­ment in the year that has passed since the 21-day prompt series end­ed. The focus on arts edu­ca­tion method­olo­gies means that the work pre­sent­ed there looks at the rela­tion­ships among stu­dents, researchers, and cre­ative prac­ti­tion­ers in learn­ing environments.

That brings us to this spe­cial issue of Imag­i­na­tions. While a few artists or authors par­tic­i­pat­ed in more than one of the four publications/exhibitions for the MMS project, for the most part each per­son self-select­ed and then was peer-reviewed into the project(s) that best suit­ed their work. This was accom­plished through par­tic­i­pant respons­es to a sec­ond MMS call for papers/exhibition mate­ri­als, which Markham, Har­ris, and Luka sort­ed accord­ing to the type of pub­li­ca­tion or exhi­bi­tion venue that would best show­case and enable each author’s research, not just in the MMS con­text, but more gen­er­al­ly around the pan­dem­ic itself, and oth­er work under­way. This spe­cial issue of Imag­i­na­tions became the space for some of the more enig­mat­ic or pro­duc­tive­ly unre­solved work that was devel­oped in this inter­na­tion­al Com­mu­ni­ty of Prac­tice. Of all the ten­ta­cles of work that con­tin­ue to emerge from the MMS expe­ri­ence, this one mobi­lizes the use of metaphor, frag­men­ta­tion, pat­tern-build­ing, and mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty in found poet­ry, time-based media, and fic­tion (among oth­er forms), and the oscillation—sometimes the collisions—between schol­ar­ly, social, and col­lab­o­ra­tive work ground­ed in visu­al cul­tur­al stud­ies and the­o­ry, as well as in the dig­i­tal. Authors involved in this issue use cross-cul­tur­al image, autoethno­graph­ic, and research-cre­ation stud­ies to advance learn­ings from a range of dis­ci­pli­nary and socio-cul­tur­al per­spec­tives in the wake of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, includ­ing its impacts on schol­ars, artists, and activists. Col­lec­tive­ly, they extend con­tem­po­rary dig­i­tal, ethno­graph­ic, cre­ativ­i­ty, and cul­tur­al stud­ies schol­ar­ship by incor­po­rat­ing inter­na­tion­al reflec­tions on glob­al dig­i­tal medi­a­tion, cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, col­o­niza­tion, Black Lives Mat­ter, and oth­er con­cur­rent geo-polit­i­cal issues and frame­works that have marked the pandemic’s tra­jec­to­ries and impacts. The extend­ing of such tra­jec­to­ries has also result­ed in sev­er­al con­fer­ence pre­sen­ta­tions in spaces that are part-vir­tu­al, part-in-per­son, some­times high­ly aca­d­e­m­ic and some­times wild­ly explorato­ry, as 2021 unwinds.

Stitching together the issue

As the authors involved in this issue began work­ing togeth­er, it rapid­ly became clear that both a metaphor­i­cal and ana­lyt­i­cal stitch­ing togeth­er of the themes and research would be cru­cial for orga­niz­ing and mak­ing sense of the work on offer. Cre­ative and crit­i­cal autoethno­graph­ic engage­ments in this issue include the use of video-mak­ing, quilt­ing, lis­ten­ing modal­i­ties, pho­tog­ra­phy, poet­ry, and oth­er forms of image-mak­ing and cross-cul­tur­al image stud­ies. The nine quilt blocks pro­duced by artist/author Corin­na Peterken dur­ing the 21-day autoethno­graph­ic exper­i­ment became a visu­al ral­ly­ing form around which the three group­ings pre­sent­ed in this issue could con­gre­gate, assem­ble, dis­as­sem­ble, and reassem­ble. Indeed, the sequence and focus of each of the three group­ings for the issue have been rethought numer­ous times as the authors sought to exer­cise col­lec­tive feed­back loops involv­ing oth­er issue par­tic­i­pants (co-authors, co-edi­tors, edi­tors, and oth­er authors) as well as through the usu­al peer review process facil­i­tat­ed by the edi­tors. The piec­ing togeth­er of the issue as a col­lab­o­ra­tive exer­cise was a mate­r­i­al foun­da­tion for the issue’s the­mat­ics that is echoed in the key visu­al metaphor of the quilt, fur­ther explored in the co-edi­tors’ col­lec­tive­ly-writ­ten reflec­tion (Carl­son, Golo­vati­na-Mora, Peterken, Snep­vangers, Soro­nen, Talvi­tie-Lam­berg). The metaphor of—and actu­al images from—one of the participant’s quilts grounds the analy­sis and pre­sen­ta­tion of the arti­cles, play­ing “an active part” in reflec­tion and pro­duc­tion (Barad 2003, 803). In a mate­r­i­al sense, the bound­aries and break­downs between the self/social, massive/micro, and more com­plex dynam­ics are explored in the three group­ings of three or four metaphor­i­cal quilt blocks (arti­cles) that map chang­ing rela­tions on to one another.

The first four arti­cles are thor­ough­ly ground­ed in work that emerged direct­ly from engage­ment in MMS. Corin­na Peterken’s (USA and Aus­tralia) offer­ing delin­eates not just her use of quilt­ing as a metaphor, but also sets us down the path of using that metaphor through­out the spe­cial issue. Peterken exam­ines the flux­es and flex­i­ble expe­ri­ences of time—especially in the ear­ly days of lockdown—that length­en and col­lapse (Ingold 2013), with no atten­tion to mark­ings on a clock, which means that it feels like days melt togeth­er into a week, or a month. The pro­duc­tion of her quilt acts as a sense­mak­ing response to COVID, enabling a more visu­al mode of re-ground­ing our notions of time. Kim Snep­vangers (Aus­tralia) and Mary Rose McLaren (Aus­tralia) both acknowl­edge and respond to some of the bro­ken social threads to which COVID-19 con­tributed and var­i­ous ways of cop­ing and repair­ing these threads, includ­ing our respons­es to col­o­niza­tion, cli­mate change and calami­tous weath­er events, as well as the move­ment of refugees and dev­as­tat­ing polit­i­cal events such as the shoot­ings that pre­cip­i­tat­ed the resur­gence of Black Lives Mat­ter protests in the USA and around the world. Such events gen­er­ate some­times debil­i­tat­ing and yet clar­i­fy­ing inten­si­ties of feel­ings marked by uncer­tain­ty and change. Snep­vangers offers a com­plex piece of writ­ing that the­o­rizes sense­mak­ing, colo­nial­ism, and the pan­dem­ic in Aus­tralia. She intro­duces the notion of invol­un­tary neigh­bour­hood sur­veil­lance (picked up lat­er in this issue by Andy Fis­ch­er Wright) and long­stand­ing colo­nial oppres­sions in Botany Bay, Aus­tralia by exam­in­ing the rep­e­ti­tion of the munic­i­pal logo imprint­ed on the many garbage and organ­ics bins stand­ing to atten­tion in her neigh­bour­hood through­out the lock­down days of the pan­dem­ic as a depar­ture point for her reflec­tions and analy­sis. McLaren cre­ates visu­al­ly-appeal­ing, pow­er­ful found poet­ry to respond to the seem­ing­ly infi­nite anx­i­ety-pro­duc­ing instances of cri­sis, from unprece­dent­ed bush fires in Aus­tralia to the glob­al pan­dem­ic and the resur­gence of social protest for Black Lives Mat­ter. The sec­tion is closed out by a reflec­tion on the notion of resilience—a term that rever­ber­at­ed through­out the pandemic—through Luka’s (Cana­da) analy­sis of the MMS videos used in the VIA Fes­ti­val pro­gram­ming in Octo­ber 2020.

The sec­ond group­ing of arti­cles traces out a seem­ing­ly more dis­tant con­nec­tion to MMS, explor­ing com­ple­men­tary (auto)ethnographic expe­ri­ences. From Japan, Rebec­ca Carl­son puz­zles out a series of abstract and yet observ­able real­i­ties and genet­ic pos­si­bil­i­ties at an exper­i­men­tal bio­science lab dur­ing COVID-19 that took place con­cur­rent­ly with her involve­ment in MMS. As par­al­lel ethno­graph­ic sites of com­plex inter­ac­tions, Carl­son con­stant­ly remakes her rela­tions in the lab with rapid­ly-chang­ing data at the bio­log­i­cal and social lev­els, spring­board­ing from a con­sid­er­a­tion of the pic­ture of one grey and white striped mouse. Andy Fis­ch­er Wright (USA) nar­rows the enquiry to the high­ly local (acti­vat­ing analy­sis of the micro­scop­ic dur­ing MMS in his neigh­bour­hood), reit­er­at­ing anti-racism and ter­ri­to­ry themes intro­duced in the first group of arti­cles, above. He devel­ops the con­cept of “noti­fic­tions,” based on com­pul­sive neigh­bourly sur­veil­lance that con­tin­ues to take place on visu­al and text-based social media apps such as Nextdoor and Neigh­bors in the USA. Donatel­la Del­la Rat­ta (Italy) shifts the focus to the expe­ri­ence of stu­dents online and in the class­room dur­ing ear­ly pan­dem­ic con­di­tions, bring­ing this into dia­logue with some of the under­pin­nings of the MMS enquiry. Her work on frag­men­ta­tion the­o­ry (Markham 2005) leads us quite nice­ly into Annette Markham’s dis­cus­sion of pat­tern-seek­ing work while home­less in Den­mark, en route to Aus­tralia dur­ing a pan­dem­ic, and while co-lead­ing MMS.

The final group­ing of arti­cles explores the dig­i­tal and per­son­al inti­ma­cies dis­rupt­ed and reshaped by the pan­dem­ic. This group of authors analy­ses how our vis­cer­al expe­ri­ences of uncer­tain­ty, fear, anx­i­ety, and dis­trac­tion var­ied through­out the pan­dem­ic. Veron­i­ca Mitchell (South Africa) uses her time with a patch­work of imagery and thread in Cape Town, not just as a relax­ing dis­trac­tion sep­a­rat­ed from her world of research and know­ing in the dis­ci­pline of obstet­rics, but also as a way to help make sense of it before, dur­ing and after COVID-19. Anne Soro­nen and Karoli­ina Talvi­tie-Lam­berg (Fin­land) trou­ble a layperson’s under­stand­ing of what “lis­ten­ing” means dur­ing a social cri­sis, and exam­ine the ways in which the severe health cri­sis in Fin­land and the fre­quent use of dif­fer­ent media chan­nels and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies pre­cip­i­tat­ed a deaf­en­ing range of online lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ences, and the affec­tive ambiva­lence that arose from these expe­ri­ences glob­al­ly. Final­ly, Poli­na Golováti­na-Mora (Nor­way and Colum­bia) mobi­lizes new mate­ri­alisms through the rhi­zomat­ic fram­ing of Deleuze and Guat­tari (2005) and the spec­u­la­tive fram­ing of Don­na Har­away (2013) in the neigh­bour­hoods of her mind and emo­tion­al states to prof­fer frag­ments of feel­ings, reac­tions, analy­ses, and descrip­tions of the con­di­tions of lock­down in Colum­bia. She explores the in-between spaces, leaps, rup­tures, and skip­pings involved in her search for an alter­na­tive con­ti­nu­ity, for a decen­tral­ized and decen­tral­iz­ing order that can nonethe­less oper­ate at both the self and the social lev­el, and that makes sense by decon­struct­ing and dis­rupt­ing the sen­si­bil­i­ties and obser­va­tions offered to us by var­i­ous author­i­ties in COVID times.

Pref­ac­ing these three core group­ings is a col­lab­o­ra­tive and con­tex­tu­al offer­ing from the co-edi­tors for this issue: Rebec­ca Carl­son, Poli­na Golováti­na-Mora, Corin­na Peterken, Kim Snep­vangers, Anne Soro­nen, and Karoli­ina Talvitie-Lamberg.

Pollinating the future

The work for this jour­nal issue ranges from research that close­ly analy­ses the MMS expe­ri­ence 18 months on, through par­al­lel or com­ple­men­tary autoethno­graph­ic expe­ri­ences that the authors went through at the same time they were engaged in MMS, and on to work that pur­sues tan­gents, frag­ments, and addi­tion­al foci for (post-) pan­dem­ic-based research. What sets this issue apart from pri­or research reports and out­comes of this project are three things. First, this issue has had time to breathe, time to reflect on more than 18 months’ expe­ri­ence with the virus and its impacts, as well as on the way in which research has been gen­er­at­ed dur­ing that peri­od. Sec­ond is the way that this issue rep­re­sents the ongo­ing live­li­ness and poten­tial of the col­lec­tive imper­a­tives of the MMS CoP. Indeed, this is fur­ther rein­forced through sev­er­al reports from MMS mem­bers about how the MMS prompts have been adopt­ed or adapt­ed and applied across a wide range of teach­ing spaces and oppor­tu­ni­ties (cf. Her­man et al. 2021). Third are that the seeds of research, which ger­mi­nat­ed dur­ing the 21-day autoethno­graph­ic exer­cise in May and June 2020, have grown togeth­er as a dia­log­i­cal research-cre­ation and co-writ­ing/­co-edit­ing approach that involves not just this spe­cif­ic group of 13 of the orig­i­nal par­tic­i­pants, but also the sup­port of the broad­er CoP. The visu­al metaphor of the quilt that threads the works togeth­er act­ed as an anchor for link­ing the sep­a­rate arti­cles togeth­er, but the col­lec­tive work and dis­cus­sion that took place for a full year after the first drafts were devel­oped reflect­ed an ongo­ing com­mit­ment to think­ing and feel­ing togeth­er. Even the writ­ing, image-mak­ing, and analy­sis that did not make it to final stages for this issue helped to shape the over­all sen­si­bil­i­ty of this par­tic­u­lar col­lec­tion. So, too, did the ear­li­er works from MMS that are ref­er­enced in many of the arti­cles includ­ed here. This mat­ters because in the time of COVID—or indeed in this time of per­sis­tent and com­plex human­i­tar­i­an and glob­al crises—we need many exam­ples of gen­eros­i­ty and col­lab­o­ra­tion as well as cri­tique to help us think, feel, and see our way into the future.

Works Cited

Barad, Karen. Posthu­man Per­for­ma­tiv­i­ty: Toward an under­stand­ing of How Mat­ter Comes to Mat­ter. Jour­nal of Women in Cul­ture and Soci­ety, 28(3), 801-831. 2003.

Carl­son, Rebec­ca, Poli­na Golo­vati­na-Mora, Corin­na Peterken, Kim Snep­vangers, Anne Soro­nen, and Karoli­ina Talvi­tie-Lam­berg. A Patch­work­ing Process: Com­ing Togeth­er under Pan­dem­ic Con­di­tions for Col­lab­o­ra­tive, Car­ing Schol­ar­ship. Imag­i­na­tions [this issue]. 2021.

Deleuze, Gilles and FélixGuat­tari. A Thou­sand Plateaus: Cap­i­tal­ism and Schiz­o­phre­nia, trans­lat­ed by Bri­an Mas­su­mi, Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press. 2005

Dörfler, Vik­tor and Fran Ack­er­mann. Under­stand­ing intu­ition: The case for two forms of intu­ition. Man­age­ment Learn­ing 43(5): 545–564. 2012.

Had­jimichael, Demetris and Haridemos Tsoukas. Toward a bet­ter under­stand­ing of tac­it knowl­edge in organizations:Taking stock and mov­ing for­ward. Acad­e­my of Man­age­ment Annals 13(2): 672–703. DOI: 10.5465/annals.2017.0084. 2019.

Har­away, Don­na. SF: Sci­ence Fic­tion, Spec­u­la­tive Fab­u­la­tion, String Fig­ures, So Far. ADA, 3. Avail­able at https://​adanew​me​dia​.org/​2​0​1​3​/​1​1​/​i​s​s​u​e​3​-​h​a​r​a​w​ay/. 2013.

Har­ris, Daniel, Mary Eliz­a­beth Luka, and Annette N. Markham. (Eds.) Massive/Micro Autoethnog­ra­phy: Cre­ative Learn­ing in COVID Times. Lon­don: Springer Press. (In Press).

Her­man, Andrew, Mary Eliz­a­beth Luka, Annette N. Markham, Danielle Dilkes, Ric­car­do Pron­za­to, Delv­ina Sarawatay, Rebec­ca Carl­son and Fiona Stir­ling. (2021) Col­lab­o­rat­ing At Micro­scop­ic And Mas­sive Scales: The Chal­lenge And Val­ue Of Covid Iso­la­tion For Crit­i­cal Inter­net Stud­ies. Pan­el pre­sent­ed at AoIR 2021: The 22nd Annu­al Con­fer­ence of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Inter­net Researchers, Octo­ber. Vir­tu­al Event: AoIR. Retrieved from https://​spir​.aoir​.org/​o​j​s​/​i​n​d​e​x​.​p​h​p​/​s​p​i​r​/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​/​v​i​e​w​/​1​2​1​1​6​/​1​0​493. 2021.

Ingold, Tim. Mak­ing: anthro­pol­o­gy, archae­ol­o­gy, art and archi­tec­ture. Lon­don: Rout­ledge. 2013.

Luka, Mary Eliz­a­beth. Assem­bling col­lab­o­ra­tion in the debris field: from psy­cho­geog­ra­phy to chore­o­gra­phies of assem­bly. Cana­di­an The­atre Review 176, pp. 41-47. 2018.

Luka, Mary Eliz­a­beth. The new “main street”: reshap­ing the Cana­di­an cre­ative ecosys­tem. Cana­di­an Cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy in Tran­si­tion, eds. Devin Beau­re­gard and Jonathan Paque­tte, pp. 210-221. New York: Rout­ledge. 2022.

Markham, Annette N. Frag­ment­ed nar­ra­tive and brico­lage as inter­pre­tive method: Go Ugly Ear­ly. Qual­i­ta­tive Inquiry, 11(1), 813-839, https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​1​0​7​7​8​0​0​4​0​5​2​8​0​662. 2005.

Markham, Annette. N. Tak­ing Data Lit­er­a­cy to the Streets: Crit­i­cal Ped­a­gogy in the Pub­lic Sphere. Qual­i­ta­tive Inquiry. Online first at: https://​jour​nals​.sagepub​.com/​d​o​i​/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​1​0​7​7​8​0​0​4​1​9​8​5​9​024. 2019.

Markham, Annette N. and Anne Har­ris. Prompts for mak­ing sense of a pan­dem­ic: The 21- day autoethnog­ra­phy chal­lenge. Qual­i­ta­tive Inquiry, 27(3), https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​1​0​7​7​8​0​0​4​2​0​9​6​2​487. 2020.

Markham, Annette N., Anne Har­ris, and Mary Eliz­a­beth Luka. Mas­sive and Micro­scop­ic Sense­mak­ing dur­ing COVID-19 Times. Qual­i­ta­tive Inquiry, 27(3), https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​1​0​7​7​8​0​0​4​2​0​9​6​2​477. 2020.

Markham, Annette N., and Eliz­a­beth Buchanan. Eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions in dig­i­tal research con­texts. In Wright, J. (Ed.). Ency­clo­pe­dia for Social & Behav­ioral Sci­ences (pp. 606-613). Elsiv­er Press. 2015.

Pyrko, Igor, Vik­tor Dör­fler, and Col­in Eden. Com­mu­ni­ties of Prac­tice in Land­scapes of Prac­tice. Man­age­ment Learn­ing, Vol. 50:4, pp. 482-499, https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​1​3​5​0​5​0​7​6​1​9​8​6​0​854. 2019.

Wenger, Éti­enne, Richard Arnold McDer­mott, and William Sny­der. Cul­ti­vat­ing com­mu­ni­ties of prac­tice: A guide to man­ag­ing knowl­edge. Boston: Har­vard Busi­ness School Press. 2002.

Image Notes

Fig­ure 1: Screen cap­ture of the MMS Face­book pri­vate group land­ing image.

Fig­ure 2: Screen cap­ture of the intro­duc­tion to the first prompt on the pri­vate Face­book group, includ­ing the ‘mantra,’ which was repeat­ed in every sub­se­quent prompt. Per­mis­sion of the authors.

Fig­ure 3: Face­book screen cap­ture of the first prompt, May 18, 2020. Per­mis­sion of the authors.

Fig­ure 4: Screen cap­ture of the first prompt on Face­book, May 18, 2020. Per­mis­sion of the authors.

Fig­ure 5: Screen cap­ture of the Dilkes, Erde­ly, Fow­ley, and Romano Prompt 3 video, as post­ed on the MMS Face­book group page. Per­mis­sion of the video makers.

Fig­ure 6: Screen cap­ture of Che­mi response to Prompt 8, as post­ed on the MMS Face­book group page. Per­mis­sion of Tatiana Chemi.

Fig­ure 7: Screen cap­ture of the Her­man post­ing about the radio show host­ed through­out the ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic, as post­ed on the MMS Face­book group page. Per­mis­sion of Andrew Herman.

Fig­ure 8: Screen cap­ture of the Pruul­man-Venger­feldt response to Prompt 11, as post­ed on the MMS Face­book group page. Per­mis­sion of Pille Pruulman-Vengerfeldt.

Fig­ure 9: Screen cap­ture of Prompt 3 on the Face­book group. Per­mis­sion of the authors.

Fig­ure 10: Screen cap­ture of Prompt 21 on the Face­book group. Per­mis­sion of the authors.


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