Samizdat lessons for Mattering Press

Capture

Many thanks, Nicholas, for the kind introduction – it’s great to be back as a guest blogger! Last time I was here, I wrote a series of posts about the material practices of democratic politics, and the ways in which they were being coordinated and distributed by the Hungarian Parliament as a complex political technology. That was in late 2011. Since then I’ve become a postdoc researcher at the Department of Sociology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, and got involved in the setting up of an Open Access book publisher called Mattering Press.

Last week I participated in a very interesting symposium, organised by the Centre of Disruptive Media at Coventry University (more precisely, by Janneke Adema and Gary Hall). It was the first of a series of events called Disrupting the Humanities, and I was asked to talk about Mattering Press as an initiative that aims to rethink scholarly publishing. While preparing for the event, I remembered an older project of mine, which was about the technologies and techniques of illegal publishing in communist Hungary, and decided to use that as a case to articulate what might be called the politics of self-publishing. What follows is a shortened version of my talk – hope you’ll find it interesting.

matters

Mattering Press and STS

Mattering Press started in early 2012 as a publishing initiative of the Flows, Doings, Edges collective: a peer-support group of young scholars interested in relational research. Sensitive to the politics of knowledge production we began to explore the possibilities of alternative modes of engaging with works we find interesting and important. (Our first books are due to appear in the end of 2014.)

The term ‘mattering’ comes from science and technology studies (more precisely from Karen Barad’s 2003 paper). Since the appearance of the first lab studies in the late 1970s and 1980s, STS scholars have been busy extending their gaze to a wide range of sites, from hospitals through high-tech innovation centres to stock exchange trading rooms, in order to explore how scientific knowledge is being produced and distributed through seemingly trivial material practices – and how it could be produced and distributed differently. Ironically, what’s been largely missing from the list of the usual sites in STS-inspired works are the institutions that play one of the most important roles in shaping the academic world STS scholars themselves operate in, namely publishers.

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Endre’s sixth (and last) post

This is the last post, and as I promised in the beginning it’s about political subjects, but before addressing the topic let me very quickly summarise what I’ve done so far. In the second post I argued that focusing on the construction of the Hungarian Parliament in the end of the 19th century is a good entry point to examine liberal democracy as a historically and culturally specific political reality. Although this political reality was challenged and transformed in numerous ways in the 20th century, the Hungarian case nicely illustrates that we’re still (or once again) inhabiting the ruins of the Gründerzeit. At least this is what I claimed in the third post. One of the main characteristics of this less-than-two-hundred-year-old political reality is that it consists of multiple modes of doing politics — if it seems to be singular, then it’s an ongoing achievement in which the parliament building plays a crucial role. Not only does this peculiar place help to define the boundaries of a political community, regulate the ways in which that community handles political issues, and establish certain connections among those issues, but it also maintains that the material practices associated with these very different processes are simply different aspects or components of the same model of governance.

This is when things get complicated. If a parliament effaces multiplicity, then — following John Law & Annemarie Mol’s train of thought — revealing this multiplicity, making it visible, is a political act. But how does such an ontological political exercise relate to other ways of doing politics? How does it relate to other ways of being political?

It took me a long time to realise that it’s actually possible to think about the Hungarian Parliament as a disciplinary apparatus — a device that produces both political objects (symbols, laws, ideologies) and political subjects (citizens). Based on the three modes of doing politics outlined above, the political subject of a liberal democracy could thus be defined as an individual who belongs to a political community (the Republic of Hungary), who is well-informed about a wide range of political issues (from animal rights protection to trade agreements with New Zealand), and who knows how to participate in politics (voting). To be sure, this figure is as fictional as that of the rational consumer, but the work it does should not be underestimated. Here’s why.

In the beginning of my fieldwork, I decided to follow the tried-and-tested STS strategy and research representation practices as if I knew absolutely nothing about the technologies, persons and places that were involved in those practices. This, I thought, was a terrific way to problematise taken-for-granted concepts and open up seemingly natural procedures associated with liberal democracy. However, as I soon discovered, even this strategy had its limits. While it would have been perfectly fine for me as a researcher from Lancaster not to have a clue how the Hungarian Parliament worked, it was not at all fine for me as a Hungarian citizen. Asking basic questions about history, constitutional law, party politics in the legislature turned me not into a curious analyst but an ignorant member of the political community. An idiot, as Isabelle Stengers would put it.

My initial response to this strange situation was rather panicky. Whenever I stumbled upon something interesting, I had the horrible feeling that I ought to have known it from school, the newspaper, or my friends and family. But after a while I realised it wasn’t the lack of knowledge that was causing me trouble. It was the clash of different kinds of knowledges — the clash of histories with personal memories; of abstract regulations with everyday encounters; of sophisticated analyses with emotional readings of recent political developments. To use Helen Verran’s words, what I experienced were moments of disconcertment, which had to be privileged and nurtured, valued and expanded upon. But how?

I could have possibly written something about this — a chapter on the genealogy of citizenship in Hungary, for instance. But that would have been too impersonal. For, and this is my point, I as a political subject was as much implicated in the production of a particular political reality as the Holy Crown or the Parliament’s Information System. And if I wanted to interfere with this reality, I had to find ways to perform things differently. To perform the Hungarian Parliament differently. So, in my dissertation I decided to juxtapose the empirical chapters with semi-fictional texts called Walks, which aimed to show (rather than explain) multiple orderings at work. (Major sources of inspiration were W.G. Sebald’s books, especially Austerlitz and The Rings of Saturn) What’s more, by exposing the limits of these orderings, they aimed to create some space for being political without fixing the categories of politics. It’s difficult to tell whether I was successful or not, but if you’re interested, you can have a look at an earlier version of these Walks here:

Walk 1: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4496011/danyi_walk1.pdf
Walk 2: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4496011/danyi_walk2.pdf
Walk 3: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4496011/danyi_walk3.pdf
Walk 4: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4496011/danyi_walk4.pdf
Walk 5: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4496011/danyi_walk5.pdf

(Please do not cite or circulate them without permission!)

 

***

I really hope you enjoyed reading these posts about the Hungarian Parliament as much as I enjoyed writing them. Many thanks to Jan-Hendrik, Nicholas, Hendrik and Antonia for inviting me — I’m looking forward to continuing our conversations on this blog, and hopefully in person.

Endre’s fifth post

A Parliament can be regarded as a centre of calculation in a liberal democracy, but it’s a rather strange one at that: on most days it’s completely empty, and even when it is full of politicians, one has the feeling that the debates that take place in the richly decorated chambers are mere perfomances. At least this is what a journalist told me once, complaining that all the decisions on the Hungarian National Assembly’s agenda had already been made somewhere else — in party meetings, closed committee sessions, or one of the proverbial smoke-filled rooms of politics. He said he felt cheated whenever he had to report on a plenary sitting, and when he learned about my interest in the material practices of political representation, he immediately thought I was on a mission to find out what was going on behind the curtain, in the backstages of the Parliament.

Sometimes it was a bit like that, but now — more than three years after the beginning of my fieldwork  — I think it’s more appropriate to say that I was interested in staging processes, rather than the front-stage and the backstage(s) of democratic politics as such. Let me unpack this.

On Monday, 31 March 2008, which was incidentally the first day of my fieldwork in Budapest, the parliamentary faction of the Alliance of Free Democrats announced that it wanted the party to quit the socialist-liberal coalition, which by then had been governing the country for six years. The main reason for this was that two days earlier the socialist Prime Minister unilaterally decided to sack the liberal Minister of Health, blaming her (and her party) for a failed healthcare reform. Being the smaller partner in the coalition, the Alliance of Free Democrats was suddenly confronted with a dilemma: either they swallowed the insult, stayed in Government, and risked becoming politically irrelevant, or they joined the Opposition, and lost whatever power they still had in various ministries and other public institutions. The parliamentary faction believed the latter to be the better option, and this was supported by the party’s Executive Committee. However, the decision to quit the governing coalition could only be made by an exceptional party congress, which was quickly convened for 27 April 2008.

This was a full-blown government crisis, and I was right in the middle of it. In the end of March 2008 I travelled to Budapest to examine how political representation worked in practice by shadowing a Member of Parliament for three-four weeks. The MP who agreed to participate in this strange exercise happened to be the deputy faction leader of the Alliance of Free Democrats, whom I knew from early undergrad times — we studied sociology together at the Eötvös Loránd University. In 2002, the same year I finished my degree, he became one of the youngest MPs in the Hungarian National Assembly, and in 2006, the same year I began my PhD in Lancaster, he was re-elected. He was the only person I knew in the Parliament at the time, and so I was incredibly happy when in the end of 2007 he agreed to become part of my research. Neither of us would have thought back then that the shadowing period would be so intense.

How much biographical detail is required to make my story interesting and credible? Should I disclose the MP’s name, age, and place of birth? His marital status? His favourite hobby? His view on religion, human rights, and climate change? I don’t know. STS has not been very good at dealing with persons — after all, doing away with ‘great men’ narratives has been one of the most important aims from the outset. One of the few — and often misinterpreted — examples for how a person could be analysed as one of many entities is Bruno Latour’s work on Louis Pasteur, which is about a drama that took place on several stages. (The reference here is not necessarily The Pasteurization of France, but Chapter 4 of Pandora’s Hope) The first (part of the) drama was an ontological one: a nonentity had to be turned into a character. The second was an epistemological one: Pasteur had to  claim the authority to make claims about that character. As Latour says, the experiment was

‘a story tied to a situation in which new actants [underwent] terrible trials plotted by an ingenious stage manager; and then the stage manager, in turn, [underwent] terrible trials at the hands of his colleagues, who test[ed] what sort of ties there [were] between the first story and the second situation’ (p. 124).

While the stages Latour focuses on are laboratories and academic settings, I think the concept of staging works really well in the realm of conventional politics. (For a similar argument see Lisa Disch’s fascinating paper here.) It is possible to say that in the spring of 2008 the Alliance of Free Democrats faction — including the MP I was shadowing — conducted an experiment that took place on several stages, including TV studios, street demonstrations, the party headquarters, and the Parliament. Their task was simultaneously to make liberal voters distinguishable from socialist voters, and to make the claim that the liberal party was their true representative in the National Assembly. Although the experiment ended with a single decision — at the exceptional party congress about 80 percent of the delegates voted in favour of quitting the coalition — it could not be reduced to a single moment. None of the stages were irrelevant to the other. The reason why the Parliament could be thought of as the front-stage of democratic politics was not because the performances in the debating chamber were more important than in other places, but because between the elections in 2006 and 2010 it was the only place where the sovereign could be seen.

Endre’s fourth post

So the parliament building in Budapest is an inhabited ruin — a memorial to a political community that is sometimes defined in cultural, sometimes in legal-political, and sometimes in moral terms. Fine. But since 1989 it’s also the home of the National Assembly, which is the ‘supreme body of State power and popular representation’ in the Republic of Hungary. At least this is what Article 19 of the Constitution says. It is the supreme body of popular representation because it is the only entity in the current political regime that has the right to create and modify laws, which are considered to be expressions of the will of the people.

The creation and modification of laws, I’d like to argue, is another distinct mode of doing politics in a liberal democracy. Unlike the one concerned with drawing the boundaries of the political community, it has hardly anything to do with the past as such. Its temporality is defined more by the legislative process, which begins when an issue takes the shape of a bill, and appears as an electronic document in the Parliament’s Information System called PAIR.

A short detour: there’s a fascinating discussion in STS about issues, and the ways in which they can create their own publics. Noortje Marres has a couple articles on this (see, for example, this one), and so does Bruno Latour (a good summary of his position is available here). What I find really interesting is that the formation of issues is largely invisible from the Parliament’s perspective, just as parliaments are largely invisible from most STS scholars’ perspective. Perhaps it is time to rethink the status of hybrid forums (Michel Callon and his colleagues’ term — see Acting in an Uncertain World) as alternatives to parliaments, and focus instead on the traffic that happens between the two realms.

Back to PAIR. In one of the chapters of my dissertation I examine the Parliament and its Information System as a legislative machine, the main function of which is to turn bills into laws. (Yaron Ezrahi argues the machine is one of the two main metaphors in modern politics — the other being the theatre. See his article here, and, of course, Andrew Barry’s Political Machines) In the chapter I make the claim that the operation of this machine is regulated by two documents, the Constitution and the Standing Orders, which can be read as the Users’ Manuals to the legislature. Describing how they work — not as abstract texts, but as ordering devices — helps to understand what kind of politics is enacted by (this version of) the Parliament. So here’s a rough-and-ready reconstruction of the legislative process:

The first phase is the distribution of issues. The Constitution clearly defines who has the right to submit bills to the National Assembly, and the Standing Orders specifies the format these bills have to take. (They need to be addressed to the Speaker, they need to contain a justification, an assessment of social and economic impact, etc.) Once recognised as bills, issues are forwarded to various Standing Committees, which in turn decide whether the bills are suitable for debate. If they are, the so-called House Committee determines the National Assembly’s agenda — this is when bills are distributed not across space but across time.

The second phase is the debate of the bills. It happens in several rounds, and the Standing Committees play an important role in it, but the plenary sittings in the House of Representatives are structured in a way that most discussions occur between the Government and the Opposition. Two main characteristics of the debate are worth emphasising: 1) that it’s a public event, which means people can follow it either in person or on TV and the web, and 2) that it has a time limit. Even the longest and most tedious debates have to come to an end at some point.

The third, and final, phase is decision-making. Again, this happens in more than one round, and some bills require stronger support than others to be approved, but the making of the decision almost always takes the same form: electronic voting. When the Speaker asks the National Assembly to decide the fate of a bill, all MPs in the House of Representatives have to press one of three buttons on their desks: ‘aye’, ‘nay’, ‘abstain’. A moment later the result appears on a large electronic screen, and the Speaker moves on to the next item on the agenda. But this is not the end of the story. Once approved, the text of the proposed law has to be checked by the Legal Department, and signed by the Speaker and the President. The former testifies that the legislative process went according to the rules and procedures laid down in the Standing Orders, and the latter that the text is in harmony with the Constitution.

There’s a lot to be said about the process, and the persons and artefacts that make it possible, from shorthand writers to microphones, but let me briefly summarise what kind of politics is enacted by the legislature. It is defined as a series of public debates that take place in the Parliament. These debates are about well a defined object between the Government and the Opposition, and sooner or later lead to a clear decision. If the decision is positive, a bill becomes a law, which — as I said earlier — is considered to be the expression of the will of the people.

You think this is too thin? Too naive? Too technical? You think real politics happens elsewhere? In cafes, party meetings, and street demonstrations? I’ll address these concerns in the next post…

Endre’s third post

What do we learn about liberal democracy if we focus on the (construction of) the Hungarian parliament building? In the previous post I argued that one the one hand we learn that it’s a political reality that first came into being neither in 600 BC, nor in 1989 AD, but sometime in the 19th century, and on the other hand we learn that at the time it was not a singular model of governance, but consisted of three distinct modes of doing politics. I also argued that what the parliament building did in the turn of the century was that it held together this political reality, which was supposed to last hundreds of years. But it only lasted a little more than a decade.

Between 1914 and 1989 the building in the centre of Budapest witnessed two world wars and three revolutions, as a result of which hardly anything that Imre Steindl once cast in stone is valid anymore. Today, the neo-Gothic palace that was once the largest parliament building in the world makes a rather grotesque sight in a country of only ten million people. Just how grotesque, I think is wonderfully captured by Hungarian writer Lajos Parti Nagy:

[…] It is as if a talented, up-and-coming pastry-chef had once dreamt of something big, awful and uncontrollable. The dream is long gone with the river, but the stone-pastry fossil is still there. It looks like its own model, made to scale of matchsticks, carved out of lard and marzipan. It looks like it is painted, stitched, batiked, patchworked, embroidered, knitted, forged of moonlight, copper, tin, iron staples, bullet shells. It is so unreal I cannot dislike it, I’m used to it, it belongs to me, along with all the coarse absurdities of my country’s history. It is the lamentably false and imposing fulfilment of a desire. An ‘in-the-meantime’ disproportionate monster, designed for a different, earlier country.
(My – not very eloquent – translation. The original version is available here)

I find Parti Nagy’s words captivating. And yet I believe it is not simply the twists and turns of the 20th century that make the parliament building an analytically interesting entity. As an inhabited ruin, it also helps to understand the workings of a distinct mode of doing politics – one that is as much concerned with the definition of a political community in the beginning of the 21st century as it was in the end of the 19th century.

In one of the chapters of my dissertation I draw on Geoffrey Bowker’s Memory Practices in the Sciences to examine how the parliament building works as a memorial today. The premise is that, similar to the Austro-Hungarian period, the present and the future of the political community in the Third Republic is envisioned (and materialised) as the extension of the past it creates for itself. This past, however, consists of several, often conflicting, claims of continuity.

The first claim of continuity takes material form in the Holy Crown, located in the Cupola Hall of the Parliament. This fascinating object, which is often referred to as St. Stephen’s crown, is widely regarded as the symbol of a thousand-year old state, and defines the political community in very broad cultural terms: anyone who feels Hungarian is Hungarian, including those living outside the current borders of Hungary. (This is, of course, a can of worms – those interested in opening it should have a look at László Péter’s thorough article here)

The second claim of continuity is associated with the Parliamentary Collection of the Library of the National Assembly, which treats the 1848 revolution and the first democratically elected government as the absolute threshold in Hungarian history. The emphasis is on the term ‘democratically elected’, which denotes a radical shift in the logic of sovereignty. According to this logic, power stems not from God or the Holy Crown but from the people – a term that in this context refers to the collective of those who have the right to vote.

But what if voters want to use their power to exclude certain groups from the political community, either to ‘purify the nation’, or to ‘realise the dictatorship of the proletariat’? The third claim of continuity has less to do with the state and the nation than with a society, held together by a moral commitment to fight all forms of tyranny. As several statues and memorials in the square in front of the parliament building show, in the Hungarian consciousness this commitment is exemplified by the 1956 revolution, which might have been crushed by force, but from the early 1980s onwards served as one of the most important sources of inspiration for the illegal democratic opposition, and then for the new National Assembly set up in 1990.

Needless to say, I’m oversimplifying things, but my point is this: if we use the Hungarian parliament building not simply to reconstruct the political history of Central and Eastern Europe in the 20th century, but more as a device to analyse how liberal democracy works today, then I think it makes sense to say that one mode of doing politics is (still) very much concerned with the tension between a cultural, a legal-political, and a moral definition of the political community. 

Endre’s second post

What do buildings do? The question has been addressed several times in STS (see, for instance, Thomas Gieryn’s paper here, and Michael Guggenheim’s paper here), but I don’t think it’s possible to find a general answer. So let me be more specific: what does the Hungarian parliament building do?

I spent a long time thinking about this question, both during fieldwork in Budapest and during writing-up in Berlin. One day I decided play a game and pile up as many books as I could find in the Grimm Zentrum – Humboldt University’s new open shelf library – that had an image of the Hungarian Parliament on its cover. The result was quite surprising: the books fell into two distinct categories. Either they were about the parliament building, which was constructed in the end of the 19th century, but had nothing to say about politics, or they were about the current political regime, born after the collapse of communism in 1989, but had nothing to say about architecture. There was materiality on the one hand, and democracy on the other.

The only exception I could find was a large-sized exhibition catalogue, published in 2000 by the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. The title of the catalogue was House of the Nation: Parliament Plans for Buda-Pest, 1784-1884, and according to the preface, it was supposed to be more than a supplement to architectural history – it was meant to be the documentation of the realisation of ‘a ramifying high-political programme’. To understand what this programme might have meant, I decided to follow a material semiotic strategy, articulated in John Law’s Aircraft Stories (especially in Chapter 2), and do an anti-reading of the catalogue. The aim was not to faithfully reconstruct how the imposing Parliament was built in the centre of Budapest, but to explore what made its construction possible – indeed necessary.

The answer is that there was not one but at least three reasons for its construction. The first had something to do with the political community. I don’t want to go into the details, but Hungary in the second half of the 19th century was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and so the demonstration of the country’s autonomy was of crucial importance. The story about how the Hungarian government came up with the idea of celebrating the 1000th anniversary of the conquest of the land in 1896 would have been a nice addition to Eric Hobsbawm & Terence Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition – the point is that the permanent home of the legislature was intended to be a memorial of the thousand-year-old nation.

The second reason is much more prosaic. After the Austro-Hungarian compromise, signed in 1867, the two houses of the Hungarian Parliament moved into two temporary locations, and for more than three decades the House of Lords held its sessions in the main hall of the National Museum, while the House of Representatives assembled in the place of a former military barracks. The latter was too small, the acoustics was bad, the insulation was even worse, and there was hardly any room for the administrative staff. If Hungary wanted a new parliament building, many MPs argued, it had to be large enough to accommodate both houses, the entire administration associated with the legislature, not to mention its library, archives, post office, and so on.

So the new parliament building, which was commissioned in 1880, had to be memorial-like, and it had to be large. But this doesn’t explain why it had to be neo-Gothic. Indirect evidence suggests the decision to choose Imre Steindl as the architect of the Hungarian Parliament was made by former Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy, who was very much impressed by Steindl’s neo-Gothic designs. Not because he was interested in revivalism as such, but because he wanted the new parliament building to resemble the Palace of Westminster as much as possible. He was absolutely fond of English political culture, and his understanding of parliamentarism was strongly influenced by his regular visits to London. He thought it was important to have an independent legislature, to have a House of Representatives that consisted entirely of  elected members, but he was against the extension of the franchise to workers and women, and was definitely against republicanism. As a liberal politician, he believed a constitutional monarchy was the best model a modern nation could hope for.

To make the long story short: the anti-reading of the House of the Nation catalogue revealed that there were at least three different reasons for the parliament building’s construction in the end of the 19th century. In my view, these reasons or justifications (see Luc Boltanski & Laurent Thevenot’s On Justification) point towards three changes in the practice of doing politics: the definition of the political community, the specification of the legislature’s continuous operation, and the birth of the professional politician. I think it’s fair to say that these three changes together constituted the high-political programme mentioned in the catalogue – a political programme that could just as well be called liberal democracy. And what the Hungarian parliament building did, at least until the First World War, was that it held together this political reality, which consisted of three distinct modes of doing politics. What these were and what they look like today is going to be discussed in subsequent posts…

Endre’s first post

Once again, many thanks to the Installing (Social) Order team for inviting me as a guest blogger! Let me start this first post with a short introduction that hopefully helps to situate my research within science and technology studies.

Sociologists and anthropologists of science know a lot about laboratories, innovation centres, museums, design studios, hospitals, and the politics of related material practices, but curiously there’s hardly any STS work that focuses on explicitly political institutions. Perhaps the most notable exception is the thousand page long Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy catalogue, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel. As many readers of this blog probably know, the catalogue was published in 2005 as a companion to a fascinating exhibition, held at the Karlsruhe-based Center for Art and Media (http://on1.zkm.de/zkm/stories/storyReader$4581#), but I stumbled upon it only a year later, in the library of Lancaster University. It was the very beginning of my PhD at the Department of Sociology (http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/sociology/), and I was looking for studies on political technologies when I discovered the massive blue book on one of the shelves. My idea at the time was to compare three or four distinct political configurations or arrangements (street demonstrations, public debates, election campaigns), but flipping through the essays in the catalogue made me realise that it would be much more interesting to focus on the entity that in one way or another coordinates these arrangements: the parliament. (The term ‘arrangement’ comes from Andrew Barry’s Political Machines.)

I can’t say I immediately had a clear idea about what an STS-informed research of a parliament would look like, but I knew where it could take place. As someone who grew up in Hungary, I remembered that the parliament building in the centre of Budapest was once the largest (and arguably the most impressive) of its kind – quite bizarre for a country that is not only small, but in most political scientists’ view also counts as a ‘new democracy’. Either they are right, I thought, and then props really don’t matter in politics, or the idea that liberal democracy in Central and Eastern Europe fell from the sky in 1989 – like in Peter Sloterdijk’s thought experiment (http://www.g-i-o.com/pp1.htm) – needs to be rethought.

So there was a problem, there was a site, and thanks to a friend from undergraduate times, who started his second term as a Member of Parliament in 2006, soon there was access. The fourth component, funding, came from The Leverhulme Trust, which generously supported a larger research project entitled Relocating Innovation: Places and Material Practices of Future Making (http://www.sand14.com/relocatinginnovation/). I’ll write more about my MP friend and the research project that involved Lucy Suchman, Laura Watts and myself in subsequent posts. For now, let me just say that my fieldwork began in Budapest in 2008 and – somewhat surprisingly – ended in Berlin in 2011. The main idea was very simple: instead of treating the Hungarian Parliament as a local manifestation of liberal democracy as a universal concept, I wanted to understand what liberal democracy was by focusing on the Hungarian Parliament. In practice, however, the research very quickly became very complex. As a sociologist, all of a sudden I had to find ways of relating to architecture, Hungarian history, constitutional theory, political science and political philosophy, while constantly keeping an eye on STS. It was overwhelming.

Between 2008 and 2011 I spent four extended periods doing ethnographic and historical research in and around the Hungarian parliament building, and a longer period as a visiting researcher at the Institute for European Ethnology at Humboldt University (http://www.euroethno.hu-berlin.de/), trying to make sense of my empirical material. Finally, less than two weeks ago I submitted my dissertation, which is entitled Parliament Politics: A material semiotic analysis of liberal democracy. My plan in this space within the Installing (Social) Order blog is not to provide a summary of the dissertation, but to offer some sort of a problem map. First I will focus on architecture, and discuss what we can learn about liberal democracy if we concentrate on the construction of the Hungarian parliament building in the end of the 19th century. Then I will briefly recount what happened to this building (and the political reality it was supposed to hold together) in the 20th century in order to highlight some tensions related to the definition of a political community. I’ll then concentrate on the parliament’s role in the current political regime – the Republic of Hungary – and examine some of the most important aspects of the legislative process. After this, I’ll (re-)introduce my MP friend and summarise what I’ve learned from him about political representation, which sometimes takes place in the parliament building, but some other times in TV studios, party congresses, street demonstrations, and various other places. All of my stories will be full of political objects, but the picture wouldn’t be complete if I remained silent about political subjects. This part will be a little complicated, because I don’t think STS is very well equipped to deal with questions related to citizenship, but I might be wrong. In the end, I’ll say something about the implications of my research, and the Relocating Innovation project in general, which will probably coincide with a workshop I’m going to attend at MEDEA at Malmö University in the end of October (related to this event: http://medea.mah.se/2011/09/medea-talks-presents-lucy-suchman/).

I hope these posts will be useful and entertaining, and generate some interesting discussions! If you have any questions and/or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to post them as comments or send them in an email to edanyi -at- gmail.com.