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Revelation! – an international workshop

Vadstena, Sweden, 7-8 April 2016

Organized by:


Steve Woolgar (steve.woolgar@liu.se)

Department of Thematic Studies - Technology and Social Change, Linköping University Saïd Business School, University of Oxford


Catelijne Coopmans (catelijne.coopmans@nus.edu.sg)

Tembusu College & Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore


Josefin Frilund (josefin.frilund@liu.se)

Department of Thematic Studies, Linköping University




The workshop aimed to get a close handle on what counts and works as revelation/­conceal­ment across a range of areas. It oriented to ’revelation’ as a strong claim to (sudden, sur­prising) knowledge; to the oscillations, tensions and dualities in and through which revelation is constituted; to the moral compunctions that permeate, and get produced in, enactments of revelation; and to the affects and effects of (promises to) revelation.

Amidst the variety of contributions from speakers, commentators and participants, the following questions were proposed as central concerns for the discussion:

  1. How does revelation do its ‘other’? The secret, the unknown, the unrecognized, the closed off, the deliberately concealed, the unintelligible, the unappreciated, etc. etc.
  2. How might we attend to the dynamics of seeing, knowing and understanding enacted in relation to revelatory claims or performances?
  3. How might we attend to the drama and affect of revelation as part of the phenomenon? What gives rise to and what constitutes shock, surprise, astonishment, scandal, vindication, confirmation of suspicion, etc. etc.?
  4. What purchase does a focus on revelation/revealing have on the social and cultural study of (scientific) knowledge and of technology? For instance, what is the difference between how we would like to treat revelation and the early work in the sociology of scientific knowledge on discovery, experiment and demonstration?
  5. How might we attend, reflexively, to the revelatory claims and gestures in our own texts?



Thursday 7 April 2016



Arrival at Vadstena, Klosterhotellet



Opening remarks


Steve Woolgar, Linköping University & University of Oxford Catelijne Coopmans, National University of Singapore Maria Sharapova, Women's Tennis Association


Revelations and Concealments in Conjuring

Wally Smith, University of Melbourne Commentators:

Malte Ziewitz, Cornell University

Ivanche Dimitrievski, Linköping University


Chair: CF Helgesson




Discords on the Moon


Brian Rappert, University of Exeter

Catelijne Coopmans, National University of Singapore



Lotta B. Larsen, Linköping University

Mandy Merck,  Royal Holloway University, London


Chair: Lisa Guntram





Revealing and Concealing the Unknowable in Search Engine Optimization

Malte Ziewitz, Cornell University Commentators:

Corinna Cruse, Linköping University Brian Rappert, University of Exeter


Chair: Catelijne Coopmans



Short break to get ready for tour


Guided tour of Cloister


Drinks available at the bar


Dinner, followed by evening entertainment


Friday 8 April 2016


From 7am onwards

Breakfast and check-out


‘A Drama of Recognition’: City Lights and Celebrity

Mandy Merck, Royal Holloway University, London Commentators:

CF Helgesson, Linköping University Lisa Guntram, Linköping University


Chair: Lotta B. Larsen


Jimmy Savile and the Situated Dynamics of Revelation

Steve Woolgar, Linköping University and University of Oxford Commentators:

Thokozani Kamwendo, University of Edinburgh Wally Smith, University of Melbourne


Chair: Corinna Kruse




Wrap-up panel



Tanja Schneider, University of St. Gallen Kristin Zeiler, Linköping University Ericka Johnson, Linköping University


Chair: Steve Woolgar





Transport back to Linköping

For copies of the papers, please email the authors email addresses below!










Email address


Lotta Björklund Larsen


Linköping University




Jeffrey Christensen


Linköping University





Catelijne Coopmans


National University of Singapore





Ivanche Dimitrievski


Linköping University




Nimmo Elmi


Linköping University




Josefin Frilund


Linköping University




Lisa Guntram


Linköping University




CF Helgesson


Linköping University




Ericka Johnson


Linköping University




Corinna Kruse


Linköping University




Thokozani Kamwendo


University of Edinburgh




Mandy Merck

Royal Holloway, University of London




Brian Rappert


University of Exeter




Tanja Schneider


University of St. Gallen




Wally Smith


University of Melbourne




Steve Woolgar

Linköping University and University of Oxford




Kristin Zeiler


Linköping University




Malte Ziewitz


Cornell University










Revelation!  -   Report by Jeffrey Christensen and Nimmo Elmi



What constitutes (a) revelation? Participants at the meeting from universities in Sweden, the UK, the US, Singapore and Australia, came together to discuss this theme and its possible pay-offs for STS. The historic town of Vadstena was a fitting location: the city developed from a former monastery (dating from the 1300s) built on authority of one of the revelations of St. Birgitta, the patron saint of Sweden.


The organisers, Steve Woolgar and Catelijne Coopmans, opened the workshop by giving a short presentation that also featured Maria Sharapova. Sharapova’s press conference, in which she announced to have tested positive for drugs that the tennis association had banned, provided an initial glimpse at the staging and layering of revelation.


Wally Smith presented the first paper, titled Revelations and Concealments in Conjuring. Quoting an influential 20th-century writer, Samuel Sharpe, Smith described the basic narrative structure for a magic trick as a relatively long 'complication' phase followed by a sudden 'climax', a magical moment in which something impossible is witnessed. This climax, Smith suggested, depends on the magician’s active efforts first to make his or her objects and apparatus seem perfectly ordinary and mundane. Smith introduced the neologism ‘revealment’ for these efforts of showing things to be unremarkable. Smith highlighted that the best objects for magicians are those that afford easy substitutability, such as coins and cards. He also discussed how magicians play into their audiences’ expectations, particularly their scepticism. All these considerations have an effect on the act of performing magic and the dynamics of revelation on display.


Catelijne Coopmans and Brian Rappert presented the next paper, Discords on the Moon. It focused on the dramatic accusation that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) staged the Apollo moon landings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The moon landings represent one of the most impressive technological feats of humankind, so the very suggestion of fakery lays claim to an extraordinary revelation. The authors described the turns and paradoxes entailed in attempts to perform such a revelation as well as attempts to handle and counter what many consider to be outrageous and ridiculous claims. The media-consuming public has been made a party to this fragmented debate, especially on occasions when features of official NASA photographs and video footage have been mobilized as clues to revelation (‘see, it’s fake!’) or, conversely, have been disowned as such. Some of the paper, and also the discussion, grappled with the ethics of analysing dynamics of revelation in such a disreputable case – this issue would return later in the workshop.


In Enginology: Revealing and Concealing the Unknowable in Search Engine Optimization, Malte Ziewitz described the complexity of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). He foregrounded the tension in the extensive efforts devoted by SEO consultants to study and ‘crack’ something that is allegedly unknowable, namely the working of the ‘inaccessible’, ‘obscure’, and ‘secretive’ algorithms that constitute internet search engines. By shifting the issue from an epistemic matter to a matter of practice for those who study search engines for a living, Ziewitz problematised the often-assumed stability of ’the engine’. He also reflected how, as an ethnographer, he learned to engage with the practices of search consultancy within and beyond expectations that the engine’s workings could, and eventually would, be revealed. A key point for discussion after the presentation was the relation between how the ‘engine’ featured as an object for SEO consultants and how it featured for the ethnographer.


Mandy Merck’s paper A Drama of Recognition: City Lights and Celebrity put the spotlight on melodramatic cinema. Asking the question, ‘if revelation is the stimulus then what is the response?’ Merck discussed the Aristotelian concept of ‘anagnorisis’ as not only a change from ignorance to knowledge, but as both revelation and ‘recognition’. Her presentation surfaced the complexities of staging anagnorisis through the movie City Lights by and with Charlie Chaplin. At multiple levels, and in both an ethical and an epistemological sense, the movie offers an oscillation between recognition – being acknowledged or ’seen’ –  and its antithesis – being a nobody. Merck’s presentation paved the way for a discussion of the different versions of recognition and how we can think of them as narrative devices to move the plot forward, as well as the lessons from this we can use in scholarship.


In Jimmy Savile and the Situated Dynamics of Revelation, Steve Woolgar offered the provocative case of the British celebrity whose character became subject to a profound change in understanding and dramatic reversal of esteem after his death, to probe the limits of the ‘it could be otherwise’ (ICBO) clause in Science and Technology Studies.

Woolgar discussed the revelation of Savile being a sexual predator as constituted in and through dynamics of temporal organisation and the ‘performance of community’. The material presented, such as members of the public defacing pictures, looping video clips, and removing Savile’s name from street signs, showed revelation as a process of ‘reworking’ what counts as knowing and how responsibility for knowing is socially distributed. After highlighting the challenges of attempting to perform ICBO after such a successfully accomplished revelation, Woolgar asked the question ‘do ethics trump symmetry and impartiality?’ This prompted a discussion about the role and position of the analyst as well as attempts from workshop participants to apply ICBO to the question itself.


The examples presented in the workshop papers demonstrated that revelations do something: they variously distribute technologies, artefacts, discourses and agencies. The papers indicated different ways we can approach revelation as process and practice; workshop participants were also experientially exposed to some of the dynamics in question as they watched magic tricks and movie clips. Collectively, the participants generated new questions as to the status of revelations as complete or incomplete, how to participate in and study revelations, and what form the analytic purchase of revelation might take in different empirical cases.


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Last updated: Mon Sep 12 08:02:17 CEST 2016