Substance as Method Workshop with Joe Dumit

color photo of many household products in a display
“Can you imagine what your life would be like without the many uses of oil?” Galveston TX Oil Drilling Museum

The Technoscience Research Unit invites you to join us for the workshop,

Substance as Method 

on Tuesday, May 2nd from 12-5pm

with visiting guest scholar,

Joseph Dumit

 Professor, Science & Technology Studies, and Anthropology, University of California, Davis.

Lunch and afternoon snacks, coffee, and tea will be provided. Students from all disciplines are welcome!

Please RSVP by April 17th – as space is limited, registration is on a first come first serve basis.  Workshop is now full, new RSVPs go on waiting list. 

After RSVPing by April 17th and receiving confirmation, please submit the following required materials by 5pm, April 28th to

  1. Submit a 250 word abstract about your current research project.
  2. Sketch out the existence of a single substance in the lives of interlocutors in a maximum of 1-2 pages of writing. Your substance of choice may or may not be obviously relevant to your research. What is important is that interlocutors or other people you are in relation with care/struggle/live with this substance in some way – meaning that if you asked them about it, they would have a lot to say about the substance –and through that contact new vocabularies or distinctive analytic maneuvers come into focus in such a way that recasts their understanding of what their up to, and your understandings of your field site, or general area of inquiry.
  • Substance, broadly conceived, encompasses materials that transform the way in which we interact with our field/research/world; for example, an element, a wood, chemical, camera lens, a flash drive, testosterone, antidepressant, a parasite, lignocellulose, behavior, genre, etc. It doesn’t have to be perfect, cool, rich, etc. Maybe better if it isn’t. It doesn’t have to be central to your research at all.
    • Once you pick a substance, do not meditate on it, do not do an etymology, do not do an implosion project. These are great activities, but they keep you in your own head. For this workshop, we want the substance to think you.
    • So instead think about all the people who care/struggle with it – specialists – a specific type of wood for instance might trouble those who grow the trees, study them as botanists and as ecologists, cut them, ship them, turn them into product-wood, make that into tennis rackets, test those rackets, play with those tennis rackets as professionals. You could conceivably talk to someone in any one of these groups and they would have a lot of stories about that wood: about how strange it is, how unique, how it has helped create its own vocabulary through its resistance to the categories that they originally tried to work it with.
    • At that moment, the specialists are realizing that the vocabulary and theories that they had up to then were based on other substances. 
    • You probably can’t talk to these folks in the time you have, but you can try and locate some “grey literature” – newsletters, journals, blogs like ‘Wood World’, ‘timber industry news’, ‘tennis industry news’, textbooks about growing the wood, etc. You can scan these to find just how strange and generative that wood is… this is what you should write about.
    • This whole substance as method thing, is sideways to your research. Your writing is not “for your dissertation”, it is not an extension of it. Rather, through this encounter with a substance that generates its own vocabulary and thinking, you can borrow that generativity to undo your own theories about your real topic. The hypothesis being that your categories, theories and vocabulary have hidden dependencies on substances that may not be the best ones for your project. So borrowing these other ones might help!

These materials will be shared with the group, but are really written for yourself. They are shared because it is useful to learn from each other’s process of reworking  them in small groups during the workshop.

During the workshop, participants will then help each other think further about how the substance challenges, shapes, and informs interlocutors’ and other researchers’ practices and understandings. Ultimately, the hope is to then recursively reflect such insights back on to participants’ own theoretical engagements with their research in new and productive ways.

More on Substance as Method.

By way of introduction, here is a sketchy presentation of one approach to substance as method:

 And if you want to see a different approach to substance as method: The Senses and Sciences of Fascia, a Practice as Research Investigation (with Kevin O’Connor)

See also Preciado’s Testo Junkie for its amazing substance as method.

More About Joseph Dumit:

Joe Dumit is a professor in the department of Anthropology & Science and Technology Studies, and chair of Performance Studies at the University of California Davis. He is the author of Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health, an ethnography that focuses on the way clinical trials are designed in ways that grow pharmaceutical treatments. Professor Dumit has lead workshops across the United States, Canada, and Europe on various topics of his expertise, including how the substance guides, changes, and opens up possibilities. Prof. Dumit is also known for developing the Writing the Implosion pedagogy.  Visit his website to read more about our esteemed visitor.
For any further questions, please email

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