Past guest lectures and other events

Information about past guest lectures and other events.
24.4.2024 Guest lecture with Visiting Professor Simona Pekared Doehler: Becoming a member: Longitudinal research on social interaction

24.4., 14.15-15.45, University of Helsinki Main Building, room U4072 (Fabianinkatu 33)

Becoming a member: Longitudinal research on social interaction


Simona Pekarek Doehler (University of Neuchâtel)

Conversation Analysis uses sequential analysis to unveiled in fine detail members’ methods for accomplishing actions in social interaction. But how do participants’ methods change over time? How do participants adapt their practices across (shared) interactional experiences? How do they move from acting as “not yet competent members” (Schegloff 1989) to “competent members” (Goodwin 2018)? Despite earlier calls for analyses of larger conversational histories beyond the sequence and comparison across time (Bilmes 1985; Zimmermann 1999), it is only recently (but see Wootton 1997, Clayman & Heritage 2002) that we see emerge an increasing number of longitudinal CA research (Pekarek Doehler et al. 2018; ROLSI, 2021, 54:2).

In this paper I first outline the historical development of longitudinal CA and identify four strands of current research in the field. I then discuss its methodological challenges, such as warranting comparability or maintaining a participants’ perspective on change over time. I conclude by sketching avenues for future research.

Simona Pekarek Doehler is Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland). Her research focusses on the development of interactional competence in a second language, grammar-in-interaction, and multimodality. She is co-editor of two recent collections of longitudinal CA studies, including the special issue of ROLSI 54:2 (2021). She is founding co-editor of the journal Interactional Linguistics.

10.4.2024 Guest Lecture with Visiting Professor Leszek Koczanowicz: The Anxiety of Modernity – Two Genealogies of Modern Hamartia

Leszek Koczanowicz, HSSH Visiting Professor and HCAS alumnus, will deliver a guest lecture The Anxiety of Modernity: Two Genealogies of Modern Hamartia on Wednesday April 10.

Time: 10:15 - 11:45 am

Place: Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, Common Room (Fabianinkatu 24A, 3rd floor)

The lecture explores the commonly experienced feeling of being somebody else as one of the most fascinating developments of modernity. As I argue, this feeling results from the axial tendencies of modernity, such as the division of labour, social stratification, the dissolution of commonly endorsed values and the emergence of the individual as a separate social category. Combined, these tendencies produce the ever more widespread belief that one's identity is an alien thing imposed on one from outside. To analyse this condition, I draw on the notion of hamartia, which was coined in ancient poetics. If, in antiquity, hamartia was associated with prominent individuals who failed to recognise their real situation, in modernity, hamartia is democratised and comes to concern almost everybody.

Leszek Koczanowicz is Professor of Cultural Studies and Political Science at Department of Cultural Studies at the SWPS University (Poland). He specializes in theory of culture, social theory, and cultural aspects of politics. His previous appointments include inter alia Wroclaw University, SUNY/Buffalo (1998–1999 and 2000–2001), Columbia University (2004–2005), and SUNY/Geneseo (2013), Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (2015-2016) and Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies (IRES) at Uppsala University (2019).  Leszek Koczanowicz is the author and editor of twelve books and numerous articles in Polish and English, including Politics of Time: Dynamics of Identity in Post-Communist Poland ( Berghahn Books 2008),  Lęk nowoczesny. Eseje o demokracji i jej adwersarzach (Modern Fear: Essays on Democracy and its Adversaries, 2011), and Politics of Dialogue. Non-Consensual Democracy and Critical Community (Edinburgh University Press 2015).  He was an editor (with Idit Alaphandry) Democracy, Dialogue, Memory: Expression and Affect Beyond Consensus (Routledge 2018). His last books to date are Anxiety and Lucidity: Reflections on Culture in Times of Unrest (Routledge 2020) and The Emancipatory Power of the Body in Everyday Life: Niches of Liberation (Palgrave 2023). He is invited as a Member to School of Social Study at Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton for the academic year 2024/25. 

7.3.2024 Workshop by Visiting Professor Ruth Ayaß

Professor Ruth Ayaß (Sociology, University of Bielefeld) will visit University of Helsinki on February 24 - March 8, 2024. Ayaß is Professor of Sociology at the University of Bielefeld. The area of her chair is Qualitative Methods (see closer at In her own research, Ayaß uses conversation analytic and ethnographic methods. Ayaß is a Visiting Professor at Helsinki Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities (HSSH).

On Thursday March 7, Professor Ayaß will lead a workshop for doctoral students and researchers. In the workshop, the participants can present their own studies and manuscripts, or bring their data for datasession. The workshop begins at 12, and can continue till 17; it is held at Unioninkatu 35, room 344. If you are interested in taking part in the workshop, please send an e-mail to Mariel Wuolio (, by February 22 the latest.

29.2.2024 Guest lecture with Visiting Professor Ruth Ayaß (Bielefeld University)

Thursday February 29, at 14-16, at Unioninkatu 37, room 1066 ("tiedekuntasali").

“The everyday life of planning – the planning of everyday life”


Planning can take place practically anywhere and at any time. Everyone can think about the future at any time of the day and wherever they are. However, joint planning depends on social situations. A social gathering is required that creates the mutual presence of the interactants. In institutions, such gatherings are held in an institutionalized form in the form of ‘meetings’ of all kinds. In everyday interactions, away from such institutionalized contexts, the time and place of planning are not equally pre-established. Rather, it takes place in various different social situations and is therefore in a certain way omnipresent. However, a closer look reveals that even in everyday situations, planning does not happen at random places and at random times. Everyday planning and talking about the future prefers certain social situations that provide a site of interaction, but have a lower key of institutionialization, for example table conversations or going for a walk together.

Why is that? The analyzes show that in everyday situations there is a lot of talk about the future, especially where this topic does not represent the core activity, but can be introduced and treated as secondary or subordinate. On the one hand, this makes it possible to keep certain future topics casual, almost unintentional, and not to let them become dominant. On the other hand, the regularity of these situations allows these topics to be addressed repeatedly, updated and thus kept present. Through the discussion of these observations, the lecture aims to show what “place in life” everyday planning has.

The starting point of the talk is the research project “Projective Genres” (German Science Foundation DFG, 2021-2024), which deals with interactive projections of a common future in everyday communications. The project data consists mainly of audio and video recordings of everyday communication in everyday (non-institutionalized) settings.

Ruth Ayaß is professor for sociology at Bielefeld University. Her research focuses on sociology of everyday interaction, ethnomethodology, and interpretive sociology.

5.12.2023 Mercedes Barros

A Populist Feminism? Reflections from the Global South

In this presentation, I propose to address the problematic link between feminism and populism. Given the rise of both phenomena on the global socio-political scene, it is timely to problematise their association as well as the (un)desired effects of their coexistence. Much has been written about the incompatibility of populist politics with feminist advances. Indeed, it is very common to find studies from different geographical contexts explaining how populist regimes and leaderships represent a step backwards in gender claims, and how gender has come to play a central role in drawing the political boundaries of authoritarian scenarios and the polarisation of contemporary populisms. Contrary to these popular views, however, populism has also been associated with the advance of feminist demands, and theorising has begun to explore the possibilities of a 'populist and plebeian feminism'.

The central aim of this paper is to show how, in the face of this disagreement, it is crucial, on the one hand, to begin to take into account the situated character that should be privileged in the analysis of the relationship between feminism and populism, and, on the other hand, to make the idea of populism more complex in order to identify its differences with other forms of political practice (authoritarian, democratic or fascist). It is interesting to show that if populism can be conceived as a particular logic of articulation of political discourse, rather than as a homogeneous regime with a left-right orientation or with liberal or illiberal characteristics, it can also be conceived as one way - among others - of doing feminist politics and constructing the feminist people.

Mercedes Barros holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Buenos Aires and a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Ideology and Discourse Analysis from the University of Essex, UK. She was a Chevening Awards Fellow, a Leche Trust Fellow, and Fundación Estenssoro Fellow. She is currently a researcher at the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (National Council for Scientific and Technical Research). She teaches at undergraduate and postgraduate levels at the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, the Universidad de Buenos Aires, and the Universidad Nacional de Río Negro. She has been invited to give courses and seminars at the University of Essex (UK), the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco, the Universidad Católica de Córdoba, the Universidad Nacional de La Rioja, and the Universidad Nacional de Chaco. Throughout her career as a researcher, she has directed several projects funded by agencies of the Argentinean scientific-technological system. Since 2020 she co-directs the research project "Populismo, democracia y estado de derecho: un estudio sobre las reconfiguraciones de los derechos en las experiencias políticas en Argentina" and since 2021, the project "Reconfiguraciones y nuevas emergencias memoriales sobre el pasado reciente: disputas, narrativas, actores y políticas durante los años del ascenso de la derecha en Argentina (2008 -2019)". Her current line of research focuses on the study of the specific ways in which the language of rights is articulated in political discourse. Her most recent publications include the book Discourse and Human Rights Movement in Argentina (2012); and the co-edited volume Ideología, Estado, Universidad. Pensamiento Crítico desde el Sur, (2019) and Métodos. Aproximaciones a un campo problemático (2017) and several articles in national and international scientific journals.

22.9.2023 Thea Lindquist

The Interdisciplinary Research Data Center as Infrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Interdisciplinary centers that advance research in functional or methodological areas can provide opportunities for researchers in the humanities and social sciences to access needed social and technical infrastructure in academic environments where investment focused specifically on these user groups may not be sustainable.

The Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship (CRDDS) at the University of Colorado Boulder, a partnership between the University Libraries and Research Computing, provides an example of how one such interdisciplinary center operates in the area of research data partnership and support, and how the infrastructure built can benefit the humanities and social sciences in a science and engineering-heavy research environment (and vice versa). CRDDS brings together a collaborative team of data and information professionals, scholars, and educators from various disciplinary and professional backgrounds to empower those navigating the research data lifecycle through workshops and seminars, certificate and badging programs, and collaborative opportunities.

To kick off a discussion among participants, I will outline the ways in which CRDDS has facilitated data-oriented teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences as well as how it collaborates in the scientific context in Boulder, which includes other centers, labs, institutes, and other units at the university as well as federal laboratories. The discussion will be of interest to those working at the intersection of data infrastructure, teaching, and research. 

Thea Lindquist is Professor and Executive Director of the Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship at the University of Colorado Boulder, an interdisciplinary center specializing in expertise and infrastructure for data-intensive research and education and in open publishing. Her research interests include integrating historical and computational approaches in the study of 17th-century European history and data curation for interdisciplinary and highly collaborative research.

9.6.2023 Jane Elliott

Constructing gender and understanding inequality in qualitative and quantitative research

Helsinki Inequality Initiative (INEQ) and Helsinki Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities (HSSH) arranged a guest talk with Professor Jane Elliott (University of Exeter): Constructing gender and understanding inequality in qualitative and quantitative research.

Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies Lecture Hall (Fabianinkatu 24, 3rd floor)

This talk will explore ways in which gender is constructed in both qualitative and quantitative research. It will draw on examples from a number of research projects including the longitudinal 1958 British Birth Cohort Study (which includes both qualitative and quantitative data on many thousands of individuals born in 1958) and the 2021 UK Census. Using insights from recent scholarship on Data Feminism, the talk will suggest ways in which we might disrupt taken for granted conceptions of gender by using mixed methods approaches. The difficulties of maintaining an interest in social justice, and combatting inequalities, while also arguing for an understanding of gender as relational and socially constructed will be a focus for discussion. Some of the practical challenges of using mixed methods approaches will also be addressed. 

Jane Elliott is a Professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of Exeter. Before joining the Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology in September 2017 she was the Chief Executive of the Economic and Social Research Council (2014 – 2017). Prior to 2014 she was Professor of Sociology, and Head of the Department of Quantitative Social Sciences, at the Institute of Education, University of London. In this role she was also Director of the ESRC-funded Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) which manages the 1958, 1970 and Millennium Birth Cohort Studies and the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England. She has a longstanding interest in combining qualitative and quantitative methods of research and has been instrumental in collecting and making available qualitative material to complement the quantitative longitudinal data on the 1958 British Birth Cohort Study. 

Commentator: Docent Antero Olakivi, University Lecturer (Sociology, UH)

3.5.2023 Mladen Popović

New Technologies for Studying the Ancient World

The ERC project was set up to tackle two fundamental problems in the palaeography of the Dead Sea Scrolls: to identify the anonymous scribes and to date manuscripts based on their writing style, as none carries an internal date. These were not only problems of palaeography. Solving these problems has important implications for our ability to better understand the Dead Sea Scrolls as a collection, and also to better understand text production, consumption, and collection practices in ancient Judaea.

In this talk I will focus both on the actual research processes and results for writer identification and date-prediction as well as on the practice of directing interdisciplinary research and a multidisciplinary team, combining artificial intelligence, radiocarbon dating and humanities (history, palaeography, manuscript and text studies).

For more information contact host Jutta Jokiranta jutta.jokiranta@helsinki.

8.3.2023 Matti Nelimarkka

Book launch: Computational Thinking and Social Science

Computational thinking and Social science is an introductory book for social scientists interested in computational methods. The book aids you in three core aspects of computational methods: (1) it introduces programming as a method to work with and examines how programming relates to social science problem solving, (2) explore various research methods computational methods, both as technical and research tools, and (3) examines fundamental research skills, such as ethics and validity, in the era of computational social science. To focus is to help the reader to understand and design computational social science research, alongside delving into hands-on coding and technical instruction necessarily for the implementation.

Computational thinking and Social science is now available at the University of Helsinki library

Read a news article about the event here.

Matti Nelimarkka leads the Helsinki Social Computing Group, an interdisciplinary group examining both computers and society. They explore digital democracy and politics in the digital era as well as computational techniques in social sciences, especially workflows and connections between social science theories and code. He is affiliated with the Faculty of Social Science, University of Helsinki, Department of Computer Science, Aalto University and Futurice, a Finnish software consultancy.

2.3.2023 Ruth Ayaß

HSSH visiting professor Ruth Ayaß (Bielefeld University) guest lecture.

Talking about future

As interactors we are embedded in the flow of time and move forward with it. Our interactions happen in the now. Yet our interactions transcend the here and now. On the one hand, we talk about past events, we tell us things from the past, and we remember in interactions. But we also talk about the future, about our own future and about our common future. The future is not something that just happens because time passes. Rather, the future is planned in interactions. What will be in the future arises in and through interactions in everyday contexts.

The talk deals with these forms of interactive production of the future. It shows how in everyday communications immediate reality (today) is transcended in the form of plans for the future (tomorrow). The starting point is the research project “Projective Genres” (German Science Foundation DFG, 2021-2024), which deals with interactive projections of a common future in everyday communications. The project data consists mainly of audio and video recordings of everyday communication in families.

Ruth Ayaß is professor for sociology at Bielefeld University. Her research focuses on sociology of everyday interaction, ethnomethodology, and interpretive sociology.

26.1.2023 Dries Daems

Computational approaches in classical archaeology – where are we and where are we going?

Classical archaeology has a reputation of being traditional and conservative. In the trifecta of data-methods-theories, the focus is said to be generally on the first. Yet, we can wonder to what extent reality conforms to the cliché. Classical Archaeology is a diverse field studying some of the most amazing archaeological sites such as Pompei, Ephesus, Jerash and many more. Within the plurality of the discipline, computational approaches have carved out fertile niches as part of the broader archaeological community. Proponents of GIS, photogrammetry, computational modelling, and more, have readily found suitable applications in many of the archaeological sites and willing collaborators in the teams studying these sites. If anything, computational archaeologists have just not succeeded in developing a visible and coherent community within the broader scope of Classical archaeology, and have not always been effective in affecting broader archaeological practices, from fieldwork to publication and outreach, and everything in between. In this talk, I will present a few examples of computational approaches in Classical archaeology and survey the field at large to gauge where we are now, and where we might be headed.

Dries Daems is Assistant Professor at the Graduate School of Social Sciences in the M.Sc. program of Settlement Archaeology at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara. He is also coordinator of the M.Sc. program of Digital Archaeology at METU. His research interests include the study of social complexity and urbanism through computational modeling (ABM) and material studies (macroscopic pottery analysis). He specializes in Iron Age to Hellenistic Anatolia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

23.1.2023 Asta Zelenkauskaite

Creating chaos online – How did we get there and what can we do about it? 

With the prevalence of disinformation geared to instill doubt rather than clarity, Creating Chaos Online unmasks disinformation when it attempts to pass as deliberation in the public sphere and distorts the democratic processes.  

This talk covers sociopolitical contexts in which Russian trolling emerged; its interpretative manifestations online through repeated tropes of justifications and the way Russian trolling justifications tapped onto post-truth to circulate the recurrent tropes across not only all analyzed media platforms’ comments but also across two analyzed sociopolitical contexts suggesting the orchestrated efforts behind messaging and its effects to publics conceptualized in the talk as post-publics.  

Specifically, the talk focuses on sociotechnical practices specific to analyzed online spaces. The first one examines cross-platform social media content. The second one captures sociopolitical specificity: tracing user-generated content not only in the left-leaning media contexts but also by including US far-right and evangelical media ecosystems. The third one includes cross-validation of content across national cases. Such a cross-platform and cross-national analysis shows how Russian trolling justifications tapped onto post-truth to circulate the recurrent tropes across not only all analyzed media platforms’ comments but also across two analyzed sociopolitical contexts suggesting the orchestrated efforts behind messaging. 

Finally, the talk provides a social literacy toolkit to make sense of the complex content circulation online. 

Open Access link to the book:

Dr. Zelenkauskaitė is an associate professor at Drexel University. Her research focuses on emergent practices in online spaces that are traceable through digital meta data and discourses. Her work encompasses computational social science approaches by employing interdisciplinary perspectives that intersect information science, discourse studies, and communication. She is affiliated with the Center for Science, Technology & Society and Information Science departments at Drexel University and Dr. Zelenkauskaitė holds an affiliation with Vilnius Tech University (Lithuania). Her work has been published in New Media & Society, Social Media & Society, Convergence, Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, and First Monday, among others. She is an author of Creating Chaos Online: Disinformation and Subverted Post-Publics (University of Michigan Press, 2022).

12.12.2022 Amanda Lagerkvist

Existential Media – A Media Theory of the Limit Situation

HSSH Guest Professor and HEREMES Guest Lecturer Professor Amanda Lagerkvist (Department of Informatics and Media, Uppsala University, Sweden) gave a book talk on her new publication:

Existential Media. A Media Theory of the Limit Situation (Oxford University Press, 2022)

Time: Monday 12 December 2 - 4 pm.

Venue: Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies Fabianinkatu 24, Common room (3. floor).

More information on Amanda's research profile:

On HEREMES research hub:

30.11.2022 Mirko Schäfer

Interviewing an Algorithm – Developing a research method for critical inquiry into algorithmic systems

The more algorithmic systems are used in corporations and government organisations, the more pressing the need for critical data studies to develop methods for studying these systems in their respective developer and use contexts. Recently, we started to develop a socio-cultural analysis of algorithmic systems. Teaming up with two safety and regulation authorities of our national government, the aim is to conceive means of inspecting algorithms beyond a merely technical audit. Inspired by the practice of appraisal interviews between employer and employee, we design a review process for an algorithm to evaluate how AI and its use affects values. We are working towards a structural process for inquiring developer and use contexts of algorithmic systems and how they relate to public values. Drawing from methods of inquiring cultural texts and their production and use contexts, we develop a method for inquiring algorithmic systems. This talk discusses the emerging governance and regulation of AI. The aim is twofold: a) to initiate a discussion on empirical methods in critical data studies, with an eye to analysing algorithms, and b) to engage in conversations on how our work as critical data scholars can effectively intervene in shaping the digital society.

Mirko Schäfer is Associate Professor at Utrecht University's research area Governing the Digital Society and Visiting Professor at the Helsinki Institute for Social Sciences and Humanities (HSSH) in 2022-2024. He is co-founder and project leader of the Utrecht Data School. Schäfer's research interest revolves around the socio-political impact of (media) technology. With the Utrecht Data School and the Datafied Society research platform, he investigates the impact of data practices and algorithms on public management, public media and public space.

6.10.2022 Barbara Pfetsch

Issues, agendas and networks on the Right: Does social media communication threaten European democracy?

While in many countries social media communication has been central to radical right communication and mobilization on the national level, the question whether it has become a transnational European phenomenon that eventually helps to undermine democracy on a larger scale remains open. In her presentation, Pfetsch tackles this question by referring to the concepts of Europeanization of public sphere and network democracy and by introducing a study of transnational issue agendas and network structures of radical right social media communication. The study explores the topics raised on Facebook and the radical right actors’ linkages on Twitter in six countries during the 2019 European Parliamentary election campaign. The social media communication of the Austrian FPÖ, the German AfD, the French RN, the Italian Lega, the Polish PiS and the Swedish SD is scrutinized for the question whether these parties share similar issue agendas transnationally.

The study also analyzes the Twitter communication of these parties to find out the actors linked to the official party accounts and the transnational connections between actors in different countries. On the one hand, the analysis demonstrates that radical right parties use a limited number of issues such as migration and anti-elitism to mobilize their supporters across Europe. On the other hand, these issues are framed with national emphases. The radical right networks seem to be rather dense but nationally clustered, and transnational networks are not that pertinent. However, the study implies that convergent issue agendas and even thin transnational network structures can foster the challenging of European democracy.

Barbara Pfetsch is a Professor of Communication Theory and Media Effects Research at the Department of Media and Communication at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany and principal investigator at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society. She is also involved in the Collaborative Research Centre “Re-Figuration of Spaces” (SFB 1265) at the TU Berlin. Her research focuses on changes of public spheres and political communication through the digitization and transnationalization and her projects include analyses of digital spaces issue networks, political discourse, (online) media debates and agenda building and the emergence of European and transnational public spheres.

21.9.2022 Mirko Schäfer

Will the real expert please stand up! Revisiting expertise in polarizing social media debates

(Lea Stöter, Hugo Bezombes, Mirko Tobias Schäfer)

With the advent of social media, we have seen the emergence of heated debates in online fora, social media and other web platforms. The debates appear to be polarizing between partisan positions, and the participating experts and their expertise becomes politicized (e.g. Bogner 2021; Eyal 2019). However, the quality of the dynamic and quality of these debates seems to be affected by the platform where it takes place, and the different participants taking to a platform and engaging in a debate. This also constitutes a different perception of what qualifies as expertise and who is seen as an expert within the different fora and debates. In this paper we have a closer look at what constitutes an expert and by whom in different contexts. Our research reviews theories of expertise, definitions of expert and expertise, and situates these in the context of conversations on social media and other web platforms. There, new participants project expertise, mobilize followers or disseminate messages. Here, we can distinguish several aspects that contribute to a conceptualisation of experts and expertise in the platform society. As social media are easy to access, new participants enter public debates. Our paper identifies who acts as and who is recognized as expert in different online platforms, how they signal expertise, how different topic communities claim and appropriate their expertise, and how central user accounts are instrumental in disseminating it.  In the fragmented audiences of various topic communities, expertise is perceived differently, and not necessarily connected to specialized knowledge. Drawing from established theories of expertise, we propose a novel framework that allows to distinguish the different participants that appear as experts within these social media debates. Locating participants along three axes, specialized knowledge, assigned status, and projection of expertise accounts aptly for the diversity we encounter in these debates.

Mirko Schäfer is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University, and co-founder and Faculty of Science lead of the Utrecht Data School. He is a member of the steering committee at the reasearch area Governing the Digital Society and a member of the research area Applied Data Science. His research interest revolves around the socio- political impact of media technology. His publications cover user participation in cultural production, datafication, politics of software design and communication in social media. He is co-editor and co-author of the volume Digital Material. Tracing New Media in Everyday Life and Technology (Amsterdam University Press, 2009). His book Bastard Culture! How User participation Transforms Cultural Production (Amsterdam University Press 2011) was listed as best-seller in the section computer science by The Library Journal. His most recent book publication is the edited volume (together with Karin van Es) The Datafied Society. Studying Culture through Data (Amsterdam University Press 2017). 

12.9.2022 Ruth Ayaß

Face-to-face? On reciprocity in audiovisual meetings

HSSH Visiting Professor lecture with Ruth Ayaß, Bielefeld University.

In everyday communication mutual perception plays a major role in establishing and maintaining attention and coordinating bodies and activities, as we know in particular from the work of Simmel, Schutz and Goodwin. Especially eye contact is crucial for reciprocity. Among strangers, however, eye contact is delicate, as the work of Goffman and Lofland show – and is avoided. Even in face-to-face encounters in everyday situations, direct eye contact is subject to rules. For example, staring at others (‘eye-balling’ someone) is behavior that is considered intrusive and rude. The uninterrupted gaze on the body or face of another person is a problematic behavior.

But that’s exactly what we do day after day in Zoom conferences or other audiovisual meetings. These meetings are a new form of social encounter, described by Knorr Cetina as a ‘synthetic situation’ (2009). In synthetic situations, the face-to-face encounter is replaced by a ‘face-to-screen’ encounter. This lecture deals with the social situation and the specific mediality of the interactions in which actors find themselves in a ‘face-to-screen’ encounter. These situations establish frontal bodily arrangements of a new kind. Everyone can look directly at one another without this continuous looking being considered rude. In return, direct eye contact in the original sense is no longer possible.

The lecture discusses these social situations and questions their specific reciprocity. The study is based on empirical observations. However, I will discuss the phenomenon in question primarily on a theoretical and conceptual level (with examples involved, of course).

Ruth Ayaß is professor for sociology at Bielefeld University. Her research focuses on sociology of everyday interaction, ethnomethodology, and interpretive sociology.