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A diversity of perspctives on inter- and transdisciplinarity were proposed and discussed by the participants during the working sessions of the WIRKT workshop. Fotos: Stella Veciana. WIRKT Workshop on interdisciplinary research and knowledge transfer, July 9th, 2014, Barcelona. Foto: Stella Veciana.
























On the need to close open processes.
Swen Seebach

In the process of a transforming modern society, along with the consequent transformations of social space, new forms of cohabitation, communication and interaction have come into existence and shape this society. Especially new forms of communication and social interaction run transversally through traditional institutions, groups and other social entities, transcending their limits. In the cities, as huge conglomerates of social potential, as central nodes in the social structures of society, we can find many paradigmatic examples for these changes. E.g. the variety of social and political projections by a multitude of different actors within and on urban space has fostered transversal political dynamics that we can capture only partially with common category sets.

The commonly used (and in many aspects criticisable) concept „Smart City“ (filled with all its economic, social and ecological ideas, contents and imaginaries) bases the (re-)creation of urban space on different forms of participation of urban actors in joined processes of problem definition, solution finding in (co-) creative processes, and on various forms of problem solving that cross all the way through typical hierarchies of social research and education.

Consequently, the integration of the urban society, of the „crowd“, as an unrelated collective of unequal equals, in order to point out and treat smaller and larger problems in and to work on the future of the city is important if not crucial. Such an integration process becomes further facilitated thanks to fitting technologies (especially ICTs). Only by the help of such technologies, crowd-sourced data can be collected, centralised and (re-)mediated, only that way the work of independent actors becomes possible.

Accepting that the “crowd”, or the collective adds another (additional) dimension to the sum of all individuals that make this collective[1] , that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, we have come to think and perform social, political, economic, and scientific processes in completely new forms and ways. 

Important examples for these new tendencies are the transformations in the field of scientific and knowledge work (research and education) that are the central topic of this article. The changes with regards to scientific and knowledge work can be separated in the transformations of scientific work itself, the way science is done, and the transformations of knowledge capturing, accumulation, analysis, and mediation processes in a wider sense (beyond typical scientific institutions). Exemplary for these changes in the creation and mediation of knowledge are scientific models that build on collective data gathering (Open Science, Crowd Science), new forms of data analysis/problem solving (Open Science, Co-creation, Citizen Science) and/or new forms of knowledge mediation (Citizen Science, collaborative/cooperative learning, experience-based learning). Furthermore, the more problem-oriented approaches of all kinds of public and private project calls, and the increasing need to overcome disciplinary boundaries in order to deal with these “real life” problems are important indicators for this new tendencies in scientific work. In the social, economic, ecological and political space „Smart City“ such new forms of knowledge gathering, (re-)creation and distribution have become a necessity.

In order to not only remark the existence of these new tendencies but also to deeply understand how we have to picture them, how we use and apply them it is necessary to discuss two central concepts, basic to these new tendencies: horizontality and openness. Generally spoken these two categories – horizontality (as the elimination of unequal conditions via non-regulation, and via practices that do not actively exclude) and openness (understood as general readiness for change, for the unexpected, be it in terms of participants or results) are central for all kinds of new forms and processes in late modern society but they are even more central to interdisciplinary, open, and citizen science collaborations in which they are constantly canonised.

This article has the aim to critically question this desire for horizontality and openness, on the one hand, in order to point at the limits of those two concepts and forms to organise the scientific process, on the other hand, in order to emphasise the great responsibility that comes along with new forms of scientific and knowledge work.

An important part of the here presented thoughts are based on observations and discussions in a workshop in HANGAR/Barcelona. Aim of the workshop (WIRKT) was it to bring actors with different disciplinary (and undisciplinary) backgrounds at a table and to discuss and work with them on a protocol for interdisciplinary work and research.

Consequently an important part of the workshop was the discussion and systematisation of the forms and variations of interdisciplinary work, divided in 4 different thematic fields. Separated sessions to existing policy documents for interdisciplinary work and research (White Papers, strategic documents, protocols), methodologies, indicators for the evaluation of (new forms of) science, and to alternative economies that allow a fairer exchange between unequal scientific and non-scientific contexts allowed an intense and productive debate of needs for, potentials and limits of interdisciplinary work.

A central result was that in the context of interdisciplinary, problem oriented, and citizen science an inclusive form of communication is central. The creation of a common communicative basis, of a shared vocabulary is fundamental in order to discuss and debate productively and solution-oriented. In the long run a glossary for interdisciplinary vocabulary might provide positive impulses to solve this issue. However, in order to allow such an inclusive communication it was necessary that the different participants exemplified what they meant with examples from their own scientific practices, allowing so the other participants to partake in the use and understanding of the used words and thoughts. Doubtlessly with the limit that the examples throw us always back on the individual practice rather than deploying a common vocabulary.

However, when looking for transversal topics we discovered that the importance of openness (in knowledge gathering, data gathering and analysis, and result distribution) was a declared centre of (the philosophy) of almost all presented projects. The continuous and indefinite opening of the knowledge creation/distribution and science creation/result production process was described as something generally positive. The same is true for the active opening of scientific aims (especially from artists) and basic scientific/research tools (almost everyone).

However, although seeing the strategic advantages of such a general opening of research and problem definition/solution finding processes I would like to emphasise that most of these open processes are much less open than we believe they are and especially than we would like to make others believe they are. Furthermore, I would like to suggest that the opening of all kinds of scientific and research processes is not to be seen positively per se, just as much as horizontality is not simply something that happens.

To clarify what I mean I need to take a step backwards towards a meta-level, so to say, similarly to the visitor of an exhibition that needs to take a step back from the painting in order to not get caught (or seduced, if we want to follow Baudrillard’s terminology) by the details, or by the very form of the painting itself.

A first thought that comes to mind in this distancing process is that the general assumption that opening and openness as something positive is closely linked with and bases on politic-philosophical paradigms of modernity and postmodernity. The founding fathers of liberalism emphasised the advantages of leaving social actions and interactions to themselves, and to just guarantee free access. In a completely different form, in romanticism (born in the moment when society turned its back to religion as a transcendental home for society) openness, as process of unhindered unbroken flux turns into an end for the romantic individual, and becomes central to philosophical thoughts on freedom. Only a couple of years later in Heidegger’s Being and Time, making one’s life valuable means living it in the face of continuous death/leading it towards death, which means to basically to stay open for novelty, the surprises and possibilities of the future rather than being caught by the ghosts and monuments of the past.

And it is especially after Deleuze’s Anti-Oedipus that the open unguided process itself has turned into something that represents freedom not only for the intellectual avant-garde but also for society in general. 

When we dig a little deeper into the different philosophical grounds of open processes, we can see that the cause for our linking between freedom, openness and our believe into open processes as something positive finds an important basis in “the experience”. In a certain way the moment of experience is not only moment of potentially free expression and therefore experience of freedom (we feel free) but also an always renewed possibility for and evidence of openness, as it overcomes the past and enables the new and the possibility to change. In this sense the concept experience allows the thought of and underlines the moments uniqueness, its singularity, its potential to break with the cyclical repetition of the same. Having this connection between experience and openness in mind, it becomes evident why romanticism was the era in which the process towards an idealisation of openness as freedon got a crucial impulse, as romantic society allowed the growth of the idea that the subject can only find its (true) self in the experience as an always renewed, however, constantly unfinished process[2] .

However, this process of apparently positive openness is opposed by/creates a necessary process of closure. Closure means to stop the flux of events and of the social and physical being. In a certain way we could say that every act of bringing something into knowledge can be understood as closure, as this means to bring something out of a continuous flux into a fix thought/image category[3] .

Such a process of closure is necessary as without closure we would neither be able to organise our thoughts, nor would we remember our experiences (at least not as these experiences). Thinking and classifying are also the basis for communication, in order to pass on our thoughts and our experiences to those who did and who did not share them with us. In this sense closure is a basis for social life, as we know it.

Coming back to the debates in the Workshop, it is to emphasise that the openness of knowledge/scientific processes was treated as something very positive. I believe that we can find three reasons for it:

  1. As I already mentioned, a main part of the presentations were based on the narrations of experiences in different knowledge creation/scientific processes, which emphasise the experience side and which serve to make the other understand rather than to present results. Aim was persuade with affects and to create empathy rather than to argue with results. In such a context openness is over-emphasised.
  2. Even more important is the second reason. The workshop was carried out with people who had already or were at least ready to work interdisciplinary. This makes the emphasis of openness much more probable. On the one hand, this is because their experiences have most probably shown them that traditional forms of knowledge (like we know them from our traditional disciplines) do not fit with empirical reality, that experiences are beyond disciplinary boundaries, and that only on the basis of declared openness trans- or interdisciplinarity can happen. The emphasis of openness is here part of a (political/normative) perspective that tells us how science should be made: (more) experience – focussed. That such a perspective might dominate in this workshop context is logical because the declared aim the creation of an interdisciplinary research protocol demands explicitly for at least the intention to identify with such a position. On the other hand this has to do something with participants’ pre-existing experience with such group context. It is because all participants know about the needs and demands for greatest possible openness when working with other interdisciplinary researchers and citizen scientists that openness is over-emphasised. Openness turns into the great common denominator and into an inviting gesture allowing all participants the imagining of a place in the protocol. Furthermore allows the emphasis on openness the avoiding of criticism, in so far as closure and pressing to a concrete model of thinking is likely to be seen a wrong or inadequate form of closure. In fact, openness avoids statements about closure by saying: Let the empirical speak! But the empirical not as statistical numbers or data, but as the concrete individual and collective experiences of people.
  3. To explain the third point it is necessary to remark that artists (or art-near individuals) made up an important part of the participating individuals. This is important because artists have a very special relationship with the(ir) experience(s). It is in already discussed romanticism that artist and scientist are differentiated from each other in order to occupy new and almost contrary positions. The artist is turned into an actor that experiences and that creates experiences (The end is the creation of an experience from within the flow of events).  The scientist however seems to diametrically oppose the artists position as it demands the forceful extraction of knowledge from the flow of events/experience (The end is the creation of knowledge [4].  From a specific perspective it seems as if the artists can leave the world’s Being/beings in a flow of events, only borrows it in order to enrich but not in order to stop it whilst the scientist wants to stop a part of this flow, cut it of for the sake of knowledge. It is as if subjectivity and objectivity run through two different hands and belong to two separated universes[5] . Even if this distinction does not reflect reality it has had and still has (as discourse) an important effect on self-perception and self-presentation of artists and scientists and on the way they (politically) position themselves. So it becomes clear that the artist needs free himself from other(s’) motives for acting in order to be creative, that s/he needs to be independent from any kind of closure that is not sovereignly decided. This does not mean that artists do not close productive processes but they do so according to their own will and according to their own experience. In a group however, the artists (I something like that exists) finds himself in a situation of defence in which others’ closure becomes one’s own limit to creativity and expression, and inhibits performance and experience. What I mean is that artists emphasise the importance of openness, because their performance/experience oriented work creates a need for individual freedom that leads them to (politically) underline experience and the need to be open to its continuously changing meanings.

Especially the third point does not want to say that artists cannot or do not do scientific work. As much as scientists feel an increasing need to include their own action/activity into their research and to be surprised by the empirical event, the artist can fulfil the work of a scientist. On the contrary I believe that the mixing of both positions has become a necessary, if not paradigmatic form of doing science today in which artists play a fundamental role, so the case in all kinds of sciences dealing with urban space and smart cities.

It is remarkable that whilst scientific methods like participating observation, ethnography and auto-ethnography have lead to a new understanding and emphasis of the scientific event as experience and to the emphasis of openness as a scientific principle, doubtlessly supported by methodologies such as the Grounded Theory and ANT-based methodologies artists have started to see in knowledge-creation and therefore closure an important part of their work (be it in form of a scientification of the creative process, the transformation of performative and experience processes into objects of knowledge or simply by using spaces and practices that scientists usually use. As a result open scientific forms that include and involve artists and scientists (artistic and scientific perspectives) artistic and scientific meaning oriented projects have appeared. It is here where the Hangar- Workshop wanted to contribute with the WIRKT workshop.

However, whilst in the conversations about the experienced (open) processes within the variety of projects that the workshop participants had participated in harmony and understanding dominated the discussions, in the debates along the protocol the line between experience/opening and knowledge creation/closure became very visible. The most interesting part was that it was artists that struggled for one (experience/opening), scientists (knowledge creation/closure) that struggled for the other side.

Whilst it was mainly scientists who insisted on defining (closing) specific methodologies (methodological issues), indicators for measuring quality and for a goal oriented economy in interdisciplinary research, artists did not agree at all. Instead they emphasised that orientation on a concrete end or technique limits the researcher, and that what is not important today might be meaningful tomorrow. There were definitely moments in which discussions did not run along this frontier [6], however it is also not to deny that these two positions existed.

It seems important to me to point out that even though both positions (opening and closure) oppose each other both are through and through interrelated, the limit between both is and has been object to social, and political regulation, and that they the way they manifest themselves in the position of the artist and of the scientist do not exist but are expressions of a normative-political worldview.

Having all of this in mind we want to return to the real debate of the article. This article wants to suggest that the not closure focussed continuous opening of the knowledge process must be understood as a political combat posture, which emphasises individual freedom and sovereignty, however science and scientific thinking disables.

In fact, if closure on most fundamental processes becomes impossible, trust in collaboration disappears, as no one knows whether the project will still be the project tomorrow. Mutual agreements and collective decisions would be impossible. The only forms to avoid closure in scientific processes would mean to cling on the will of one individual, which decides according to his/her will and desire or to establish opening itself as an end.

Some might now argue that at least the second case leads to interesting results, however to talk here about a scientific process seems neither useful nor justified. Instead I would argue that the intention behind the position in favour of opening processes can neither be knowledge creation, nor collaboration. In fact, constant opening means constant state of emergency and constant violence (Bataille 1985, 1986). Such a position cannot be understood as end but as battle posture, as reclining criticism that wants to destroy in order to generate a new debate like the political model of Mouffe and Laclau in the sphere of politics. The aim is not to avoid compromise and negotiation but to reopen them.

However, the (collective) decision for certain forms of closure is absolute necessity and in fact only sovereign act. Not opening itself but an on openness based form of closure turns us into free sovereign human beings. The sovereign act of opening is an art of transgression that needs closure in order to find a limit, in order to be transgressive. Closure and opening are strictly related with/based on each other (Bataille 1985).  Consequently avoiding closure does not mean becoming sovereign but on the contrary to lose sovereignty that is then exercised by others/the Other[7] .

Explained this way, it should have become obvious that opening processes and leaving them open is not positive in itself. On the contrary, turning openness into an end is itself closure, not-sovereignly closed closure, deeply asocial, as with avoiding closure, one avoids responsibility, negotiation, and the creation of trust that is so fundamental for us as human beings. It is this trust that is fundamental in order to persuade institutions or foundations to finance, scientists and artists to collaborate in a risky project (Luhmann 1968) on disciplinary boundaries. Only other forms of closure than the closure by non-closure makes such a creation of trust possible.

One possible form to negotiate such collaboration and to create trust that makes working together possible is to create trust not on the basis of scientific but other components. Ironically the repeated collective experience in a group made of different individuals can lead to trust and to decisions beyond former boundaries. This might not be enough to persuade a funding institution but to create a readiness to make compromises.

In this sense the workshop in Hangar has worked out the shared experience within Hangar was definitely an important step towards the creation of a shared binding experience on the basis of which future closures and decisions might become possible, not only but also because we had been closed in one shared productive process for 3 days.

As conclusion we can say that constant opening of categories and category apparatuses is critical battle posture that is deeply related with the experience as a socio-historical phenomenon that opposes traditional knwoledge creation based on cognition. However, once turned into an end, or used without a careful reflection on consequences the critical potential of this (political/normative) position gets lost, becomes unproductive if not dogmatic. Closures are necessary bases for negotiation, connecting points for critic, and the possibility for a collectively established morality, that can (and probably has to) then and only then be corrected by a process of reopening (debate). Only in the reciprocal actions and effects between opening and closure, socialness becomes possible. That is why opening can not be considered positive in itself but as a counterpart to closure ist unequal twin.

If we now turn back to new forms of knowledge creation and science in the city, we see that a difference is made between experience and knowledge creation, which seems to be annulled by the general doctrine of openness. However, the roles are usually clearly distinguished. Whilst the citizen has to keep the scientifc process open (via his experiences), only the scientist closes and therefore creates knwoledge. The citizen still only experiences whilst only the scientist creates knwoledge.

As long as the citizens or the multitudinous crowd only plays the role of  creating and providing experiences (condemned to only collect data) whilst only the scientist or expert knows and creates knowledge from them, we are far away from an economically, ecologically, politically and socially smart city, because here creating openness serves only the sovereignly closing experts and their partners. Only by inviting citizens/the crowd to analyse the experiences experiences, to negotiate as equals with their scientific pendants a hard Citizen Science (Finke 2014) becomes possible. Only by negotiating closures and the meaning of knowledge, transpassing this important frontier between those who know and those who supposedly do not we can create politically fair forms of knowledge creation and distribution.

Maybe it is time to give citizens the tools to make use of their collected data, rather than to collect their data and serve them then a finished product. This would mean to give them the tools to make their closures and create own knowledge from their experiences that they could then use as basis for negotiation and discussion. Maybe this is also the moment in which scientists should be motivated to experience a part of the data they analyse themselves as part of a collective experience. The artist (as a central modern figure) and the social scientist could play an important role.

1. De facto this idea is not new at all. Already Simmel (1950) points out that society “is first the complex of interacting individuals, the socially formed human matter, as that constitutes the entire historical reality. Then, however, ‘society’ is also the sum of individual forms of relationship by which individuals are able to become a society in the first sense.” The sum of all individuals However, it is also true that the value of this web as a whole has only become realised when our technological and social advancements allowed us to do so.

2. We should not underestimate the relation between such thinking and the development towards consumer capitalism, how e.g. Campbell explains (in Ekström and Brembeck 2004:27–44). Here we can also see connecting points between such thinking and already mentioned liberalism.  Furthermore, it is important to mention that such an experience based ontology introduces a strong form of believing into an individualised destiny, intrinsic to the open process itself, that we get also trapped in, within todays open processes.

3. Here we can also see why some projects have the tendency to avoid categorisation and stable knowledge creation. It opposses their desire for openness.

4. Otthein Rammstedt (1985) has written an interesting and somehow inspiring article to that topic in which he emphasises that a variety of classical sociologists (Durkheim, Weber und Simmel), have mentioned this contrast and pointet out the two different roles.

5. The discussion about distinguishing between science that has objectivity as its end and art that has subjective experience as end reverberates the discussion on value-free science led by Weber and Simmel.

6. How I already explained, I the observer have also closed open processes and in a certain form made a reductive intervention, gender played a crucial role in these debates and also the purpose for participation had an important role to play.

7. With very negative consequences. Turning the open flux into an end does in fact not mean to avoid closure but to allow the flux to open and close. Sovereignty gets lost in favor of the domination of the process. That this might have dangerous consequences has been studied for example by Horkheimer and Adorno.
This is why romantic thought recreated a belief in faith. Instead of taking decisions and closing on determinate processes and roles, the act of closure was left open in the hands of destiny.


Adorno, Theodor., & Horkheimer, Max (2002) Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Bataille, George (1985). Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939, Allan Stoekl, Carl R. Lovitt, and Donald M. Leslie, Jr. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis

Bataille, George (1986). Erotism: Death and Sensuality, Mary Dalwood, City Lights Books, San Francisco.

Deleuze, Gilles (1977). Anti-Ödipus. Frankfurt/M. Suhrkamp.

Finke, Peter (2014). Citizen Science. Das unterschätzte Wissen der Laien. oekom, München

Ekström, Karin M., and Brembeck, Helene (2004). Elusive Consumption. Berg Publishers.

Heidegger, Martin (2006). Sein und Zeit. 19. Auflage. Niemeyer, Tübingen

Laclau, E and Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, Verso: London.

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Soziale Welt: Zeitschrift für sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung und Praxis
36(4): 483–502.
Georg Simmel (1908). Soziologie – Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesellschaftung, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin

Swen Seebach - Studies of Political Science at the University of Leipzig, Philosophy and Feminism at the University of Sussex. Specialisation in the research of emotions and their importance for weaving social bonds. Currently - work on emotions in practices of consumption in the triangle of media studies, anthropology and sociology, and on conceptualising best practice interdisciplinary work. Researcher at the IN3 (Internet Interdisciplinary Institute) and in the governmentally funded project Forms of Commitment in Love Relationships and the Expression(s) of Emotions in Times of Electronic Communication at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). Collaborator with HANGAR (Barcelona). more

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