Speculation and Speculative Research Workshop

03 May 2014

Organisers: Jennifer Gabrys, Marsha Rosengarten, Martin Savransky & Alex Wilkie.

Once exclusively confined to the conjectural practices of armchair philosophers and seers, the notion of ‘speculation’ is now increasingly present as an approach signalling toward uncertain or possible futures. Not only does it characterise some of the practices performed in financial markets that are now thought to be partially culpable for the current contemporary socio-economic crisis, it is also an important operator in the many forecasting techniques that organise the social (e.g. risk analysis and predictive genomics). Furthermore, speculation is also becoming a theoretical preoccupation that is part of developments in disciplines as varied as continental, pragmatist and process approaches to philosophy, art and design, fiction and literary theory, as well as media studies. For the social sciences, the ‘speculative’ is being taken up as a practico-theoretical approach to reconceptualising problems and seeking more imaginative propositions. In other words, speculation acts as a means for asking more inventive questions.

As such, speculation is a notable response, or a set of responses, to dynamic and complex social phenomena that cannot be held, observed‌ and acted upon without either the taking of risks or the experiencing of consequences. While it sometimes connotes an activity of anticipation and even exploitation of expectations, in other cases it denotes an investment in the real possibility of grasping alternate futures. Indeed, one of the threads that runs through the various engagements with the speculative is a renewed interest in the possibility of extracting from the present certain immanent potentialities that may be capable of opening up a transition into otherwise unlikely futures. Relatedly, speculation can also work as a particular way of engaging with the dynamic and transformative nature of ‘things’: to explore their situated and contingent characteristics as well as their capacities to affect and be affected.

Given the growing interest in and proliferating approaches to speculation in social and cultural research, this workshop aims to examine the multiple versions of speculation while attending to their methodological, epistemological, ontological, ethical and political implications. In so doing, the workshop will address the following questions: Can social and cultural research become speculative? What do practices of speculation consist of and what modes of speculation are there? What are the implications of allowing for speculation to ingress into the practices of social research? What might speculative research offer to the re-invention of otherwise seemingly intractable ‘problems’? How can speculation become a productive mode of thinking, feeling and knowing, and not just a practice of conjecturing and managing uncertainties?

Workshop participants:

  • Jennifer Gabrys, Pollution Sensing and Fracking: Reworking Environmental Monitoring through Speculative Research and Practice
  • Marsha Rosengarten, Reconstituting the rules of the game: recalcitrance as a lure for speculative reasoning
  • Martin Savransky, The Wager of an Unfinished Present: Notes on Speculative Pragmatism
  • Michael L. Thomas, Aesthetic Experience, Speculative Thought, and Speculative Life
  • Alex Wilkie (co-author Mike Michael), Doing Speculation to Curtail Speculation