The development of PECE has been motivated by an array of concerns that we have come to call “substantive logics.” Continual cultivation of growing list of substantive logics for the PECE Project itself, as well as for other instances of PECE, is a way to keep tuned to the historical and political conditions in which we work, integrating empirical and theoretical understanding.

The contemporary – globalized, high-tech, anthropogenic – world generates complex risks and problems at an unprecedented pace – calling for new levels of operational coordination within and across disciplines, and between researchers and practical decision-makers working at many scales (local to transnational). Researchers thus need to develop modes of work – and supporting infrastructure – that enable deep and complex collaborations of different kinds. PECE aspires to provide such infrastructure.

Given the complexity – scientific, technical, cultural, and so on – of contemporary problems there is a special need to cultivate and sustain different ways of thinking about problems. As feminist theorists have long argued (Keller, Turkle), epistemological pluralism offers the best chance of understanding and figuring out ways to respond to complex problems. Care thus must be taken to keep collaborative practices from being over-determined; collaboration needs to produce and steward what the PECE project has termed “kaleidoscopic logic.”

Preserving and extending the special perspectives of humanities researchers on contemporary problems poses particular challenges, partly because of technocratic habits of thinking in many practical decision-making domains. It is thus important to work to extend the practical relevance of humanities knowledge experimentally, drawing on deep (theoretical) insight into the ways meaning, knowledge, and culture “work.” Experimentation (and testing) is called for in the production, expression, and circulation of humanities knowledge, all of which are supported by PECE.

Given the complexity of problems many empirical humanities researchers are concerned with as well as escalating constraints on research funding, humanities researchers need to develop infrastructure and governance for sharing research data. They also need to better “expose” (in the language of computer sciences) the many stages of humanities knowledge production — so that there are possibilities for collaboration at all stages, and associated work can be attributed (thus crediting individual contributions in collaborative projects). Work at faultlines between different scales, cultures, and disciplinary communities reliably produces rupture and new lines of work (Traweek), partly because such interaction inevitably troubles established categories and modes of sense making, often producing double-binds (Bateson). The collaborative work supported by PECE thus promises to be vitalizing for the humanities writ large, and particularly the empirical humanities.

Post-structural studies and theories of language have demonstrated how stabilized meaning is always partial, forced, and marginalizing (and thus often violent) (Derrida, Spivak, de Lauretis) – pointing to a need and possibility for productively unstable knowledge infrastructure and practice (Derrida, Spivak, de Lauretis). This is particularly the case in contexts of dramatic change, with enduring and emergent forms of injustice; in such contexts, established paradigms are insufficient for dealing with matters at hand. Poststructural insight thus has particularly relevance today, suggesting the way humanities insight can undergird contemporary efforts to support interdisciplinarity and innovation. PECE is designed to demonstrate this.

Given the density of information flows today, laced with conflicts of interpretation and interests, practitioners in many domains need highly developed hermeneutic sensibilities, and a high capacity for collaboration – not only in carrying out concrete tasks, but also for thinking through what tasks should be carried out, how they should be prioritized, and how problem identification both directs practical work, and quickly makes alternative pathways invisible. PECE provides a space to experiment with and examine different forms of collaboration and thus can result in research findings with clear relevance to capacity building efforts in practitioner communities. As described below, we’ve also conceptualized an instance of PECE designed to serve practitioners themselves – patients dealing with chronic illnesses, for example, or community groups dealing with concerns about toxic chemical contamination.