BlackboxingNovember 21, 2007
Blackboxing means backgrounding, making opaque, being invisible, taken-for-granted.
The tacit/silenced aspects of our everyday lives may be said to exist as black boxes. When opening black boxes (assuming here that they can be opened) we are questioning some-thing’s or some-one’s existence as such. Questioning how is it, that this/they/it becomes practiced as a natural, somewhat established and stabilizing aspect of everyday life?
Taking-‘things’-out-of-the-black-box: Unfolding black boxes means trying to unfold the kinds of efforts put into the establishments of certain objects. E.g. ‘pioneers’ (in Danish: Ildsjæle) may be appointed in practice and no one may discuss these enrolments of particular persons as pioneers in practice. However, questioning the taken-for-grantedness and naturalization of the existence of such pioneers means (trying to) taking ‘pioneers’ out of the black box and investigating how pioneers enact and become enacted in practice. Questioning: what is a pioneer? How does someone become a pioneer? How are ‘pioneers’ done?
Another example could be cultural patterns of structuring learning, which we take for granted – like academic lessons and the age-segregation of learners in school.
The black box is often referrred to in Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Actor-network Theory (ANT). When I use the term black box, I use it inspired by Latour:
“Objects that exist simply as objects, detached from a collective life, are unknown, buried in the ground… Real artifacts are always parts of institutions, trembling in their mixed status as mediators, mobilizing faraway lands and people, ready to become people or things, not knowing if they are composed of one or many, of a black box counting for one or of a labyrinth concealing multitudes…” (Pandoras Hope, Latour, 1999, p. 192-93 )
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