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written by Anna Harris

As we have written about earlier in our logbook, we are currently experimenting with methods to do comparison. Recently the Dutch STS Graduate School, the WTMC, had a workshop on this theme of comparison, called Doing Comparison. The wonderful book, Practising Comparison (J. Deville, M. Guggenheim & Z. Hrdličková (eds), 2015, Mattering Press) was the set reading, and Joe Deville was even present as a workhop presenter. I was another speaker, and used the opportunity, not only to talk about our group’s research, but also to work through our experiments in comparison.

I thought about them as probes.

Probe: OED: noun – a blunt ended instrument used for exploring a part of the body; a small device used for measuring, testing or obtaining information; a thorough investigation into a matter: verb – to explore or examine, especially with the hands or an instrument; to enquire into someone or something closely: origin – proof, in medieval Latin ‘examination’

You can find the probing exercise I ran, and the incredible and creative contributions of members, below. Perhaps you might find some inspiration there for your own projects?

Probe: In the garden look for two (contrasting) objects that represent the ideal professional/patient relationship.

Notes for a workshop exercise in probing comparison

1. Ask students to form groups of three

2. Each group is given a set of blank postcards.

3. Ask each group to take one postcard and write some keywords or phrases concerning their research interests: e.g. place, senses, belonging etc. They are instructed that this will help another group frame a probing activity for them that is relevant to their interests. [5 mins]

4. Groups swap their topic lists.

Each group now takes another blank postcard and writes a “probe” for the group whose topic list they have, a probe that helps the group interrogate one or more aspects of their topical interests. If this is too difficult, then another stimulating probe activity can be crafted. [15 mins]

The concept of a probe will have been explained in the talk – also examples will be given from my project’s team, of our probing activities – the instructions for the activities we did will also be printed out and available to students while they are brainstorming, if they would like sources of inspiration – also available will be the Dear Data book, and Learning to Love You More, both books having inspired our activities, and which have loads of examples)

5. The rules for the probe are as follows

  1. Must be possible to do within the space of the workshop grounds
  2. Must be achievable within half an hour
  3. Results must be, at least partially, able to be recorded on a postcard


6. Give the postcard with the probe activity written on it back to the other group, along with their topic list.

7. Each group reads their assigned probe and then the group of three splits, so that each person in the group does the probe activity individually, by themselves [30 mins]

8. The group reconvenes and compares their findings, first in the group of three. Group discusses together what they find interesting and insightful in comparing their findings, tacking their postcards (topic list, probe description and any relevant findings) to a large sheet of paper and drawing analytical threads where relevant [30 mins]

9. Each group presents their comparative work to the others [30 mins]

10. Group discussion about activity, focusing on comparative possibilities and limitations of methodology