Snowflakes, Crystals, Fractals…

and other metaphors for
thinking creatively about writing


February 14 :: 1400-1600 :: Digital Living Research Commons :: Weiner 129

This is the first in a series of PhD-targeted workshops offered to Aarhus University students. Read more below:

“How can I know what I think ’til I see what I say?” (Karl Weick, 1995)

Starting with the assumption that “research procedure constructs reality as much as it produces descriptions of it” (Gubrium & Holstein, 1997, p.9), this workshop focuses on writing as an essential and often obscured method of inquiry. Writing is most often conceptualized as a procedural activity of organizing ideas, writing up results, or composing findings at the end of a research project. This oversimplifies both how writing happens and how much our final formats matter, rhetorically speaking, within larger discourse communities of readers.

Thinking of writing as a linear process also underestimates the extent to which writing is a performative method of analysis throughout the course of a project. Even though we know better, we might just be stuck in writing ruts, where we expect our writing to follow the same pattern as our final product appears. That is, we present more or less linear narratives, but is this how we think, make sense, and create meaning? Chemistry and physics can teach us a lot about how symmetry and patterns emerge in nonlinear ways, which can help us consider how we might think otherwise about how meaning can emerge–like points on a snowflake or facets on a crystal.

In this workshop, we’ll discuss some creative nonlinear (crystalline) ways scholars have (and can) get out of the linear writing habit. We’ll also explore genres that include narrative, fictionalized, or poetic elements. The workshop is a provocation that compels us to reconsider conventional notions of what counts as academic writing, in both process and product.

This is the first of a series of seminars designed to challenge participants to think differently about how one might do social inquiry in the 21st Century.  Embracing the epistemological challenges of feminists, postmodernists, post structuralists, interpretive sociologists, feminist technoscientists, and other “post” style schools of thought, we discuss innovative and creative ways of knowing.  The series is based on the premise that current normative definitions and parameters for research methods tend to constrain the creative and flexible adaptation needed to adequately address the complexity of contemporary social contexts.  Likewise, because many academic traditions focus on the goal of building knowledge for knowledge’s sake, it is valuable to consider seriously those approaches that aim toward social change, advocacy, and other forms of ethical future making. To explore these issues, this series focuses on issues and practices both above and below method. Above method, we might consider some of the epistemological, political, and ideological conditions within which we find ourselves doing inquiry in the 21st Century, which are tied closely to shrinking budgets, greater public scrutiny of academic research, and the push toward big data and digital methods. Below method, we can explore the creative everyday practices of good researchers, where we find pathways to meaning that defy traditional conceptions of methods and also extend our understanding of ‘what counts’ as a part of one’s methods or practice.


This seminar series is targeted mostly to PhD candidates who are interested in developing innovative and creative approaches to their inquiry practice. Masters students would also be welcome to attend.

While the seminars are informally organized, the facilitator will recommend specific reading materials in advance.  Seminars will include opening remarks by the facilitator, followed by open discussion of specific topics and issues.  Book-focused sessions will be self-guided.  Workshops include writing and analysis exercises.


The facilitator of these sessions, Dr. Annette Markham, brings expertise in a range of qualitative, interpretive, and rhetorical methods for studying organizational contexts, digitally-mediated cultural contexts, and everyday social life. She is currently Professor MSO of Information Studies at Aarhus University, Affiliate Professor of Digital Ethics at Loyola University-Chicago.Her approach to ethnography is situated in Chicago school sociology perspectives. Dr. Markham earned her PhD in organizational theory and interpretive methodologies from Purdue University and an MA in communication studies from the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication at Washington State University. Her ethnographic work is well represented in her first book, “Life Online” (Altamira Press, 1998).  Her more recent work appears in journals of Qualitative Inquiry, Social Media + Society, The Information Society, Information, Communication & Society, First Monday, as well as a variety of handbooks and edited collections.  She is co-editor of the book “Internet Inquiry: Conversations about method” (Sage, 2009, with Nancy Baym), co-editor of the 2018 special issue on Ethics as Methods for Social Media & Society.

In addition to teaching methodology courses across a range of disciplines, Annette has more than ten years experience teaching argumentation, rhetoric, and persuasion in higher education. Some of the workshops are therefore tuned toward building communication skills and strategic communication strategies.