Back, Les, and Nirmal Puwar. “A manifesto for live methods: provocations and capacities.”

Back, Les, and Nirmal Puwar. “A manifesto for live methods: provocations and capacities.” Live Methods, edited by Les Black and Nirmal Puwar, Malden, Blackwell Publishing, 2012, pp. 6-17.

Abstract: In this manifesto for live methods the key arrangements of the volume are summarized in eleven propositions. We offer eleven provocations to highlight potential new capacities for how we do sociology. The argument for a more artful and crafty approach to sociological research embraces new technological opportunities while expanding the attentiveness of researchers. We identify a set of practices available to us as sociologists from the heterodox histories of the tradition as well as from current collaborations and cross-disciplinary exchanges. The question of value is not set apart from the eleven points we raise in the manifesto. Additionally, we are concerned with how the culture of audit and assessment within universities is impacting on sociological research. Despite the institutional threats to sociology we emphasize the discipline is well placed in our current moment to develop creative, public and novel modes of doing imaginative and critical sociological research

Keywords: live sociology, methods, politics, collaboration, art, stories, design, digital


  1. Develop new tools for ‘real time’ and ‘live’ investigation (7)
  2. Avoid the ‘trap of the now’ and be attentive to the larger scale and longer historical time frame (8)
  3. Develop capacities to see the whole, without a totalizing perspective (8)
  4. Make sociological craft more artful and crafty (9)
  5. Develop empirical devices and probes that produce affects and reactions that re-invent relations to the social and environmental (9)
  6. Curating sociology within new public platforms (10)
  7. Utilizing our senses equally in attending to the social world (11)
  8. Foster the liveliness of words (11)
  9. Recover sociology’s history of inventive craft (12)
  10. Take time to think carefully and slowly (13)
  11. Engage political and ethical issues without arrogance or the drum of political piety (14)
  • technological enchantment should not cloud critical judgement (7)
  • with the greater distribution of digital networks, while we reach wider audiences than before, still ‘the chances of retaining that audience are by the same token, quite chancey’ (Said 2002:28) (7).
  • even the most intimate experience of dying (transnationally) is part of an ecology of pain in a world ‘marked by creative and brutal geo-social networks and divisions’ (Gunaratnam) (8).
  • Within mapping techniques there is a combined playfulness of aesthetics with the serious drive to make sense of ‘power’s fulcrums, structures and devices’ … Sociologists are urged to work with critical forms of cartography … which offer the potential to think and experience the world beyond our private traps, precisely because they provide forms of counter ‘reconnaissance and spying’ which don’t give up the strategic practice of ‘seeing it whole’ (8).
  • Caring about these practical problems of craft can lead to a deeper engagement with the internal mechanisms and social realities of technology and informational cultures (9).
  • “proactive idiocy” … introduces a live sociology which ‘actively seeks out’ empirical objects and events that are ‘idiotic’ (Stengers, 2005). The ‘idiotic’ is ‘possessed of an incommensurable difference that enables us to slow down and reflect on what we (as social scientists) are busy doing’ (10).
  • call-and-response … reinvent[ed] as method that allows for autonomy and exchange for  … collaborative relations wherein specialists do not simply serve sociologists … with both partners open to mutation and becoming otherwise (11).
  • The attentiveness that heightens our capacities as researchers needs to ve in touch with the full range of the senses and ‘multiple registers’ within which social life is realized (11).
  • the very quality of the data makes other kinds of critical imagination possible’. Thus, the sociologist becomes not only attentive to what people say but also to the doing of social life (11).
  • Fostering the liveliness of words requires that we provoke ourselves as writers to recognize that what we do is ‘closer to sculpting (something material) than writing (something discursive)’ (Motamedi Fraser) (11).
  • Live methods involve immersion, time and ‘unpredictable attentiveness,’ allowing for a ‘transformation of perspectives that moves slowly over time, between fieldwork sites and the academy’ (Gunaratnam) (13).
  • Turning our backs on sociology as an ethical vocation is tantamount to what Toscano graphically describes as a ‘lobotomy of the relation between social research and political action.’ Let us not forget that the performative capacity as a subject (15).


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