Sunday, May 31, 2009

what's in a name ; networks vs groups

I like the idea of connectivism for a theory of learning.
I can accept knowledge is not an out-there thing, that it is held in nodes, constructed in connections.
That the connecting and means of connection have influence and are worthy of focus.
BUT I continue to have a problem with the narrow conception and responses to ongoing dialogues regarding groups and networks.
An integration of actor-network theory (ANT) would provide responsiveness to the continued critiques defended in arguments of well if it doesnt do this it was a group not a network, to which there is no answer.
Does the one do cooperation vs this is collaboration, aligning vs intersecting? I'm not convinced, the real world is so much messier than that. The attributions are not stable.
A deeper understanding of how groups/networks function is needed.
Its the function that matters, not the name. The attributes of a group vs a network seem currently focused on their instrumental nature. It's to narrow a conception to say groups do this, networks do that, as this fails to account for shifts.
The rhizomatic understanding is useful as it can map the shifts, but is less useful in explaining their nature.
ANT provides for a deep understanding of shifts, whether fluid or fractional.
ANT also allows for this to be explored, retrospectively or in process.
Moving the debate away from group vs network as entities of fixed attribution could further add to the development of connectivism as a learning theory by providing insights into how to work the net as well as demonstrating connectivism in action; of learning as something worked in the nets.
Suggested authors for further reading:
Bruno Latour
John Law

Thursday, May 28, 2009

twit wittering

Twittering lends itself to provocation: Without elaboration, a statement gets made, a seemingly good statement (in this case) gets presented as a fact.
"Change resistance a myth: All people have purposes and concerns. They will collaborate If you attempt to understand those."
Well no, change does get resisted, sometimes really sensibly.
People do not always collaborate despite attempts to understand. Underlying values may be at odds.
Rollo May in criticising/critiquing the humanistic beliefs of Carl Rogers pointed to the indefensible position that there is innate goodness in all. And despite my love of Rogers approach, I have to concur with May. On historical fact, values conflict, Stalin, Hitler, Atilla the Hun would collaborate but only if the shared vision was shared. Obviously, values make the difference and attempting to understand these may increase rather than decrease resistance.
Anything worth believing in, just has to stand up to the critique.
As a technology twitter is not innately good or bad, its not just a tool either.
But as reminded by Latour, the more a technological systems proliferate, the more it becomes opaque.
Maybe the limitation of the message bearer gets forgotten.
The medium translates, shortens.
The meaning of a message gets condensed, and nuances, niceties, limitations get ignored.
A detour surely on the intent.
So twitter rather than a neutral technology, a tool to use, becomes subject to its own inherent weakness, bereft of words it cannot defend itself. Again, a curve gets added for defend itself it has to change medium, proving its inherent weakness.

"If we fail to recognize how much the use of a technique, however simple, has displaced, translated, modified, or inflected the initial intention, it is simply because we have changed the end in changing the means, and because, through a slipping of the will, we have begun to wish something quite else from what we at first desired. If you want to keep your intentions straight, your plans inflexible, your programmes of action rigid, then do not pass through any form of technological life. The detour will translate, will betray, your most imperious desires." Latour (2002)

But hey, its twitter, its not like i didnt know what to expect, the 140 or less characters is clearly going to have its impact, I just didnt see it coming as an attack on depth and logic, naive eh?

Monday, May 25, 2009

PhD writing as the art of the curve

An object, according to Graham Harman, is never fully met.
...A thing is never fully met.
What i meet is what firstly I recognise. It may well be more than what i recognise, it will be an assemblage, parts of which i become more and less acquainted with.
And, it only 'meets me' in terms of what it interacts with.

If i have a technology or a tool such as a hammer, says Latour (2002) citing Serres, my grasping the object is akin to grasping a 'garland in time'.
The 10 yr old oak of its handle, the minerals of antiquity, and the aggregation of all that made the making possibility.

Latour takes this a little further, for rather than talking of its instrumentality, or its substance he chooses to focus on its translation effects.
Technology as a detour, a journey, or with even more eloquence:
"technology is the art of the curve."

It's how a gets to b, a translation effect.
And as Latour says
"Why then do certain dominant Western traditions in spite of everything speak of technology as something that is amenable to mastery?"

And now I'm thinking...the PhD, its not a means nor an end and is not morally inherent or devoid, what it is is
"the art of a curve."


Latour, B. (2002). Morality and technology. The end of the means. Theory, Culture & Society, 19(5/6), 247–260.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

philosophy as meditation

Some days enlightenment comes in profound realisations, some days it trickles in.
I know i had read it before, and heard it before, but it was not until hearing this in different combinations in the thinking of others (transported and translated by others) that it seems to have impacted on me, today, in a more fundamental way.

There is no transportation without translation.

In every shift something is altered.
For every thing being transported there is translation.
A thought goes from here to there, in the transportation there are shifts.
The actor carrying the message alters the message, the words, the inflections, the import....the medium itself becomes part of the message... the medium is the message

So the thing that moved from here to there is altered, but is it just the thing, or object and actor.
Contact is a two way force.

The thing is altered, when it goes from a to b there are new relations, the network alters.
The actor transporting the t too altered.

Seems reminiscent of a law of physics.
Metaphysics, ahah.
Change begets change; there is no difference that does not make a difference.
An ontological meditation.

And what lies beneath and beyond?
Graham Harman suggests "no two things ever really come in contact"
Object one and object two, barely collide and there are alterations. Like billiards colliding they touched, energies shift, the impact alters each object's trajectories, and at an infinitesimally small level even such objects are altered, and so is the surface that supports them... and so is the game...and the watchers...and so it goes on ad infinitum. For Harman it means that the two objects were simulacrums of themselves, different before, different after, only seen from one's own position? A multiplicity of realities that don't quite touch?

Talking this down to earth: getting grounded in some reality.
With txt counselling there is a message, if i say it or write it, the message differs. Just as a map is not the territory, a message conveying feelings and thoughts is still a symbolic representation of what can be expressed. In pushing a message out there is a construction what can be told. What can be told then moves from the person to a cellphone, whats written is not what is, but a rendition, a translation as it were.
This passes into the cell phone, the message shaped by what can be 'said' as well as shaped by button taps and eyes attentive (or not) to what is represented (altered by use of T9 or predictive text, or not) and combined with idiosyncratic variations of a language evolved by constraints on the size of sms (160 characters) and a playfulness used at the discretion of the 'speaker'. Then whether the message gets transported or not depends on the contract being paid, the cell phone coverage, the state of the battery , the size of the memory....

Similarly receipt depends on the receiver's contract, the bandwidth availability and frequency not overlapping, reception, and having a counselling centre staffed, and willing to use the sms medium. The capacity to make sense of the message as a literal translation and as an emotionally charged one, and to respond in a caring way reshaping whats known of counselling to be supportive, strengths based, affirming, acknowledging...

And of the message, how does it alter the intermediaries involved?
The cell phone may become a little more used, the memory a little more full, the bandwidth a little more congested, the account a little less full...the voluntary organisation as well as the sender become a little poorer, as txting costs...

But are there other layers as well?
In narrative therapies the telling of the story has its own healing potential. In other counselling traditions, including the client centred Rogerian method taught to this organisation's counsellors, catharsis is facilitated. Reflecting back the emotional content being synonymous with being heard and accepted. Then in psychoanalytic traditions there is the occurrence of transference and countertransference occurring as relationships have their own life.

People are changed in the act of communicating, and not just because their brain cells went through some chemistry in the process. The act of counselling occurs with the intent of a subjective and sometimes objective change of state. Beliefs get reshaped. Some of this might be anticipated, much is not.

In undertaking this task, whether considered as philosophy, meditation or research, the thoughts did not spontaneously combust. There was a transportation of ideas. The anthem site provided me with an audio recording of a reading group's discussion of Latour's reassembling the social. In following this discussion of intermediaries and actors, I found myself googling Latour intermediaries and translations since it appeared crucial to any shared understanding of Latour's basic terms. While there i noticed a reference again to Graham Harman and the new book on Latour being treated as/by a philosopher: Prince of networks, and in the absence of that book, which i had heard reference to and not seen, i found myself down yet another google rabbit hole chasing references to book reviews and discussions. The resultant journey around th, flattening the terrain as i seek to trace the connections through a blog by Harman and also Larval subjects.
As always in research, the ideas always evolve, I think my thinking is my own but its also coloured by where I've been. All errors of understanding I cannot say are my own any more than i say that what i learned can be attributed elsewhere.
All is transported and therefore, translated.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Gladwell an unwitting proponent of actor-network theory?

Outliers: The Story of Success by Gladwell could have been the story of actor network theory.
Rather than attributing individual accomplishment to accomplishing individuals, the network is identified as important (a not new phenomenon, but new in what seems to be a self help book).
He argues people with social advantages do better than people without social advantages, and so a wise thing for society to do would be to arrange for more advantages for more people. Focus on the network, again, seems to me an obvious solution given that's where the resources lie, however this has not been obvious to many.
Its the network and the interactions therein that creates the conditions for success, or its absence.

In a story where he does not, but could have looked at an actor network effect, he talks of the "Matthew Effect"(from a passage in the Gospel of Matthew: "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."
Gladwell reports the findings of Roger Barnsley, a Canadian psychologist, who noticed the birthdays of Canadian hockey players. Whether he looked at professional players or elite junior-leaguers: 40 percent were born in the first trimester of the year, and 30 percent were born between April and June.
An amazing coincidence or an underacknowledged actor in the form of policy and protocols?
The admission date for Canada's youth hockey league is January 1.
Pre-teen hockey players born January/February play hockey with kids as much as eleven months their juniors. The older players, generally more physically developed and skilled, get selected for all-star teams. "And what happens when a player gets chosen [for all-star teams]?" Gladwell asks. "He gets better coaching, and his teammates are better, and he plays fifty or seventy-five games a season instead of twenty games a season like those left behind."
Local context and networks matter.
Gladwell is pointing to the web of elements outside of people's individual control.
What Latour would have called the actor net work.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

On being healthy enough to survive the health industry and educated enough to wonder about ignorance

The need for information literacy becomes more and more important when those with bias seemingly don't care that people live or die.

The specifics explained in the UK Guardian, of a real tragedy is that the cost of distorted information, and irrational prescribing, is far greater than the cost of the research that could prevent it.

In the cost of research it is worth considering that its been estimated it would take 700 hours a month to read the thousands of academic articles relevant to a GP prescribing; and so skimming and relying on summaries, becomes a norm.
When I next hear my health practitioner say "actually, I think I've seen at least two studies on that, and in different journals" I'm now a bit more skeptical, I'll take my own internet search on that thanks, and call you in the morning.

In being an academic I am now also questioning the huge pressure to publish, and to get funded...sounds different when its seen in light of how to get bought and influence people.

Have a look at friends-dont-let-friends-publish-in-elsevier


Friday, May 08, 2009

same and different

Holding contradictions seems to be the norm for this week.
I had thought it difficult to get a handle on my data, I now know why.
The practices i observe feed off contradictions with a voracious appetite!
I observed the teaching of text counselling to counselling training facilitators last night.
I was told that the skills were the same and different.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

absence with presence

The painting Study for Pipitea I by Gordon Walters (1979) (Fletcher collection with its black and white complexity, is presented as symbolic of convoluted and complicated relationships and identities.
I look at the things i set out to see, and find instead a recurring theme of absence. In the absence I also find presence.

And sadly the rules of Fletchers collection site state forbid linkins to the site being made without written permission, so i have not. I note that I am allowed to print and use for non commercial purposes...another example of presence and absence.

An exploration into the unknown; between the nodes; a reality waiting to be constructed or connected?

In a constructivist approach, knowledge is built, and I would argue, built collectively. The implication is that it occurs because of connections. Its not that it, knowledge, is out there just waiting to be found, as if it were to fall from a tree, but that it is made through aggragation, this with that as well as with these people and these appliances that make it possible.

My studying of connectivism through CCK08 and as espoused by Siemens and Downes leads me to contemplate that knowledge does not exist 'out there' as a reality but is held in the nodes of connections. And thus occurs in contested forms where different knowledge/s will be held based on the aggragations of people and technologies being available to them.
There will be and are tensions between different enactments, performances, posturings as to what is good, bad, desirable. This is not at all surprising when knowledge is seen as an aggragation of what is thought known and possible within one technosocial mileu.

In that there are constantly changing mileu, across space and across time, this supports a belief that reality and realties will be experienced as multiple. An actor-network take on how reality and realities are constructed through enactment.

This seems to sit with Law (2004) where he is explaining how tensions appear between different enactments (and knowledges) of reality is made manifest. And that realities are then crafted and acknowledged as indefinite gatherings, coherent and non coherent.
And taking this still further, there is strength where knowledge is continually growing and evolving being formed by differing aggregations of sociotechnical possibilities. Stagnation only occurs where limits are imposed, where boundaries are placed on what's possible. Perhaps enlightened thinking is only possible when such borders are permeable, where there is flux, where things create their own durability because they are changing and adaptive, where intersections are possible and valued. That "things hold together precisely because they dont." (Law, p.142)

Law, J. (2004). After method. Mess in social science research. Abingdon: Routeledge.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

allegory in research; the presence of absence

Mostimes its presence that's studied.
So much easier when there's something to explain, it takes a bit more imagination to look at what's not there.
An object on a stark background or the inverse?

I look at the things i set out to see, and find instead a recurring theme of absence.
In looking at whats changing there's a sense of the unknown, of changes yet to be seen, of secondary changes unrecognised.
And then there's finding voice of participants within inaudible and invisible relationships.
And where the working space constrains interactions to 160 characters or less. When so little is available, working with unknowns is the norm.
There's also the instability of funding and of connections … of strangers ... of acts of hope and faith that someone/s will be there, available, helpful.
In addition there are connection drop offs with the major telecos blaming each other for interference resulting in connections lost.
Plus there's the work required to establish and maintain the means through which messages are conveyed, these include prepay or contract being established and maintained, the ph being charged, the cell ph coverage being in range, the number being known...and the service being associated with positives when it is usually negatives that provide the impetus to call...
And that the service has funding to deliver, even when funding can be contingent on the fickleness of nz weather and appeals dependent on selling the attractiveness of services.
There's vulnerability through and through and yet philosophically the organisation makes use of what they name is a strengths based model.

Despite the contingent types of relationships such vulnerabilities create, there is no sense of a grasping at straws.
The service remains; adaptive, resilient, present.

There's something here about being vulnerable and strong, like the bush pumps, adaptability lends itself to resilience.
There's also something about being strong and soft, fostering independence whilst being dependable; the brick mother.
There's also the inaudible with voice, and invisible with presence.
Less is more; the requirement to be succinct also creates the conditions for being direct.

And I'm reminded also that attending to whats on the margins, moves things more centrally;
creating greater solidity and durability of something ephemeral.

As I was walking up the stairs
I met a man who wasn't there,
He wasn't there again today,
I wish that man would go away.
adapted from "Antigonish" William Hughes Mearns (1899).