Research Problem

The creation of knowledge as a social and cultural process is the research object of the Virtual Knowledge Studio. In the context of e-research, it is tempting to focus on the digital technologies. Such a singular approach would ignore, however, the epistemic dimension of knowledge practices. Scholarly and scientific developments are intellectually codified, so that they are relatively resistant to external steering (Van den Daele, Krohn and Weingart 1977; Weingart 1974; (Whitley 2000), but not to technological change (Joerges and Shinn 2001). The study of the interaction between users, designers and technological artefacts is the topic of a number of well-established fields of research: humanities computing, social informatics, technology studies, human computer interaction, computer supported cooperative work, and innovation studies. And although the researchers at the Studio will be able to draw upon this knowledge, its research agenda should not be limited to these types of user-oriented paradigms. The central problem in the development of e-research is not the technology, nor the role of the user in technological environments, but the cultural and historical specificity of knowledge production in the new technologically mediated contexts. This is the reason the Studio puts knowledge creation centre stage.

The central research question of the Studio is how it is possible to develop novel ways of knowledge creation in the humanities and social sciences by utilizing and adapting e-research concepts, instruments and ways of working. This includes the epistemic and cultural effects of e-research on the humanities and social sciences. In terms of e-research: are the social sciences and humanities susceptible to enhancement and what would enhancement mean for the nature and role of academic scholarship?

This approach contrasts with three more limited approaches:

  • It is not in the first place a matter of changing the humanities and social sciences to make them fit a particular model of large-scale, data oriented research
  • It is not only a matter of creating information technologies that better fit the needs of scholars in the humanities and social sciences
  • It is not simply a matter of responding to the perceived needs of scholars with new tools, tailor-made software and research instruments.

All three aspects are part of the problem of e-research, and will provide important building blocks of the Studio, but none of them are the central issue.

The central research question will be tackled by developing analysis and design in three intellectual dimensions. The first dimension consists of the topical research themes, the second dimension is the development of novel methodologies, and the third dimension is theory development in the humanities and social sciences to further specify the research question and its ramifications.

The first dimension of the Studio is the research theme to which a particular research project belongs. In the first five years of the Studio, three themes will be studied:

  • Data and Digital Information: the role of data, digital information and data standards in scholarly research
  • Networked Research: novel forms of collaboration and communication in the humanities and social sciences
  • Virtual Institutions: the emergence and dynamics of new institutional arrangements in e-research.

The second dimension is methodological innovation of the study of e-research. Of course, this should be relevant to other researchers in the humanities and social sciences as well. The Studio focuses on those methodologies that (1) are not yet well covered by methodologists in social sciences and humanities at the universities, and (2) are particularly relevant for the study of scientific and scholarly knowledge practices. Three methodological foci will be given priority in the first three years of the Studio:

  • Virtual Ethnography
  • Web Archiving for scholarly research
  • Simulation in e-research.

The third dimension is the intellectual frame of reference for the research at the Studio. The empirical research in the Studio will address a number of theoretical questions that pertain to the development of e-research in the humanities and social sciences. Although we will focus our theoretical work, the Studio will maintain theoretical plurality in its approach of e-research phenomena. This is necessary since we cannot expect that e-research, being a part of culture and of social reality, can ever be interpreted as a theoretically unified reality (Wallerstein, Calestous et al. 1996). To better understand the dynamics and meaning of e-research practices and infrastructures therefore means to converse in different theoretical traditions. We need to be able to create “trading zones” (Galison and Stump 1996; Galison 1997) to make local connections between different theories. The most important questions are:

  • does e-research lead us to redefine how we can understand the development of scholarly cultures?
  • how can we explain and understand diversity of mediated knowledge practices, for example across disciplines and specialties?
  • what roles do digital epistemic objects play in knowledge creation, and how can we use them to reformulate informatics problems in the humanities and social sciences?
  • do we need to rethink the conceptualisation of scientific labour and markets to understand the dynamics of e-research practices?
  • does the extra connectivity of e-research lead to new forms of complex relationships in social structures and does this lead to new understandings of complex systems?
  • does the operationalisation of concepts of agency, institution, textuality and infrastructure need to be revised in order to study mediation in e-research?