RESCRIPTING FAILURE: THE REFLEXIVE STORIES THAT FIELDWORK TELLS
Keywords:failure, fieldwork, methods, reflexivity
Researching everyday media practices is a messy and tricky business fraught with uncertainty. In this panel the authors ask how stories of failure, especially during fieldwork, can be rethought as a meaningful emergent method and approach. How can we productively reframe failure as a core part of the research process that cannot be subsumed into the telos of a success story after the research has been completed? How does does failure work in research? Our approach takes a different stance from dominant stories in the tech industry and geek economy, where failure is often represented in linear, heroic, gendered and individualistic ways, retrospectively rendering mess as instrumental to success. Similarly, within academia there are many research processes in which failure is instrumentalised or obscured—from writing up fieldwork into neatly packaged case-studies, to causal accounts of effective intervention. Progress narratives of knowledge production have been subject to much debate and criticism. What has been less discussed is how failures work as sometimes uncontainable aspects of research praxes—how they are endemic to the process of data collection and analysis, materializing while in the field. In this panel we suggest that these experiences are core to the thickness of fieldwork—they disclose the messiness and dynamics of the social, and should be included in the stories we tell. This panel aims to liberate discussion about failure to render it visible and core to understanding the politics and ethics of fieldwork and the research process. Through a series of stories from our fieldwork, we seek to further critical understanding of methodologies and techniques of failure, and argue for our obligations as researchers to talk about what happens when things go wrong.