Helen Verran

Josefine Raasch, Ingmar Lippert

Research output: Conference Article in Proceeding or Book/Report chapterBook chapterResearchpeer-review


Helen Verran is a postcolonial historian and philosopher of science at Charles Darwin University in Australia. Her contributions, addressing concepts’ performances and effects, are groundbreaking in the study of generalising logics, difference, and ontological politics. This analysis of how concepts get enacted responds to key challenges of social sciences and humanities inquiry. Verran’s ‘relational empiricism’ analyses the many and various practices of conceptualising and their effects. Making relations is a central practice in conceptualising and, thus, part of her analysis. Her approach is relational in that the concepts she analyses are understood as doing something: They relate and separate entities. It is empirical as Verran analyses embodied experiences of worlds/worldings. Central in relational empiricism is the inquiry into tensions and overlaps between concepts as doing differences. Verran is best known for her ethnographic work, particularly on the concept of ‘number’ (Lippert & Verran, 2018; Verran, 2001). For Verran, concepts are not merely an intellectual category. Rather, concepts are also embodied and lived, collectively shared and performed in ‘repeated routine performances’ (Verran, 2001, p. 157). In Verran’s material-semiotic analysis, concepts have a realness and are performed or reperformed in situations. This renders concepts as particular in time and place. A world shaped by particular and situated concepts, then, is a world of differences. These differences are not threatening but workable, albeit amid generative dissensus. This take allows possibilities for creating ‘futures that are different from the past’ (Verran, 2001, p. 35). Verran has developed analytical tools for recognising and doing difference together, for ongoing relating and going-on with others. Before this entry presents three Verranian tools, it locates Verran’s work and influences. Then, it introduces and illustrates Verran’s key method—storytelling—and presents central tools. The final section addresses politics in Verran’s work.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe SAGE Encyclopedia of Research Methods
PublisherSAGE Publications
Publication date2020
ISBN (Electronic)9781529750478
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Helen Verran
  • Ontics
  • Ontology
  • Postcolonial STS
  • Science and Technology Studies


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