• working/reading

    I am reading through 'both ways' literature of Yolngu and non-Yolngu working their knowledge systems together. Alongside I am reading Lorraine Code's 2006 book Ecological Thinking. I am also browsing through blogs and discussions on knowledge work and community development.
  • About this Blog

    Here I post some of my work and thinking. It is a much harder task than I thought! It is an extension of my research on knowledge and difference connecting my experiences, reflections, formal written pieces, and hopefully friends and colleagues. As work and self cannot be separate this blog is both personal and intellectual. Comments are moderated because, while it is a site for collective work, it is not anonymous.
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This blog is not longer being used: it has been moved to www.christianclark.net


Researching objects or making products: method, intervention and governmentality

What do we have of visual materials in cross-cultural health education? What are these new Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) and how do they work? What are the effects of Income Management? How is knowledge constructed in maths education research? these were questions raised at a postgrad forum at Charles Darwin University at which Helen Verran, Geoff Bowker, Leigh Star and Paul Dourish kindly lined up to take questions about what is becoming of the academy (amongst other things).

The questions were what were constituting the attending postgrads’ research, articulated as we went around introducing ourselves. It was a social science group, broadly speaking, and what struck me (being predominantly in philosophy flavored departments) was that attached to each research project was a very contemporary and topical (perhaps also tropical at least for Australia) product: health delivery, land management, social service delivery, numeracy education. The problems of these research projects were not the disinterested objects of social scientific research of the 20th century (what is the average length of time spent on social security payments? What is the proportion of people who complete maths in their final high school year?). Indeed many of them were treading of the toes of what would usually be considered the domain of the natural sciences; land management, education. And this seemed to me to be part of what is changing in university education – the things we study, our problems, now have to help constitute a good or service, a deliverable. I think there are two concerns with going in this direction.

1) While such projects appear to be directing efforts toward worthy courses, they are doing so by aligning themselves with the same instrumental concerns of government and in turn are accepting the a government compartmentalization of work and knowledge. This has results such as restricting research involving Indigenous Australians to being only about solving ‘Indigenous problems’, as if they are by nature Indigenous and not colonial and not valuable to addressing other concerns. It also severely limits the possibility of novel solutions to some of the most intractable problems for which governments seem to have no workable solutions (public housing, environmental protection, water use, treaty and reconciliation). It is clear that solutions to many of these problems only come from collaborative work and work that borrows and shares ideas and processes across disciplines and knowledge traditions. While I don’t think universities are any less shackled by their disciplines as governments by their departments, the academy is potentially better at working across them through experimentation and collaboration as, at least for the moment, they are less influenced by immediate political concerns.

As the ‘politics’ of such product-oriented research aligns itself more with the project of governing and the provision of goods and services, it becomes unable to address broader issues of social justice. As Wendy Brady and John von Sturmer pointed out here and here, academic careers are often made from the resources, time and knowledge given by or simply taken from Indigenous Australians. This has created a ‘toxic debt’ in the white knowledge economy. In the increasingly market oriented atmosphere and increasing interventionist policies toward Indigenous livelihoods, this is may also play itself to the benefit of many university educated non-Indigenous people like myself finding a niche career in consultancy and cultural induction training which will only serve to further marginalize Indigenous people and their knowledges. If you think I an unwittingly wondering down this path let me know!

2) My second point is about our research methods in this new context and is mainly a summary of John Law and Vicky Singleton’s paper, ‘Object Lessons’, in which they reflect on research they were commissioned to do into alcoholic liver disease. They ask, ‘what do we make of it when our research is not going well and seems to remain messy and unproductive?’ Such feelings must become more acute when research is supposed to be ‘productive’. Law and Singleton offer three explanations: technical, managerial and ontological. Perhaps their research is remaining messy because technically their methods and processes are not as tight as they could be. They confess maybe this is so, but they are both highly competent researchers and any difficulties they face any other social scientists would. Perhaps it is managerial, meaning that the situation they were researching was too messy, to unwieldly and needed some managerial intervention to straighten things out. In relation to the comments above, treating complexity as a managerial problem combines methodological concerns and government concerns by trying to make the world fit into what can be known and managed. Refusing both technical and managerial explanations they suggest it maybe an ontological difficulty: that out methods are most often suited to research objects which are singular, discrete and bounded. So what if what is of concern to research is relational and multiple. What methods might be appropriate? Some answers in relation to this constitute the rest of the paper, and I won’t say anymore here.

Nothing there? Think Again. Yolngu Homelands in Arnhem Land

Last Friday I went to hear Banduk Marika speak with John von Sturmer at the Institute for Postcolonial Studies (IPCS). Amongst many other things talked about was the question of Australia’s endless forgetting about Indigenous Australians, their presence and achievements. As Banduk said, ‘we are always asked and required to prove who we are, over and over again.’ She told a story about her efforts to care for her own country and environment over the past 20 years. Banduk and her family started a Landcare program near Yirrkala. It grew as family business and ran on family money. In early 2007, there were 36 people working in the program, only 5 of whom were non-Indigenous. When the Northern Territory created mega-Shires for local governance the legislation enabled the new Shires to acquire all public and community used assets )the Intervention had the same powers). The North East Arnhem Shire took all the resources form the local Landcare group and shut it down. In the last three months Banduk and her family have begun again. A family run, family funded nursery.

Hearing this reminded of a recent story that came out around the recent, but not new, threat to Homelands. The 1967 referendum, at which 90% of then eligible Australians voted to include Indigenous Australians in the census and make the Commonwealth government responsible for their welfare. This included the beginning of social security payments, at first to elderly pensioners. Much of this money, as John explained in the IPCS event above, went towards paying wages for people to begin their own Homelands in clearing airstrips, making buildings and other infrastructure. In 1982, the Homeland of Mirrngatja in Arnhem Land paid for its own school building. I am not sure if the money came from 1967-born pension payments, but knowing some of the elders there, they certainly would have given money if it was there. In any case, that it was paid for is testament to the willingness and resourceful of Yolngu in maintaining living on their country while engaging with mainstream institutions in paying wages and providing schooling. The school at Mirrngatja has been given a measly $200 in maintenance funding in its 27 years of operation by the Department of Education who runs it and provides a teaching one day a week – the full case study and shocking comparison to a non-Indigenous school of similar size is to be found here (from the Institute of Cultural Survival).

Two researchers at ANU have recently written a great post in what they call ‘cultura nullius’ – this inability to see anything in Homelands (social networks, environmental care, social economies, willingness to work with outside groups and ways of living) and its related quite astounding ability to keep forgetting this history. They also point out, and I should too, that we are both writing about our experiences in Yolngu Homelands in North East Arnhem Land – and here are two good videos from this area, one from Mata Mata and one from more recent GetUp campaign.

A closing statement at the IPCS event went something like this: ‘Indigenous movements are good in their own right, but also are valuable in that they reveal things about the state of society. In the academy we need to get outside the box which it has inherited from Government departments and their compartmentalisation of knowledge.’ Even when Indigenous people are listened to, they are still only allowed to talk about themselves and their ‘issues’. Thinking that Indigenous Australians have nothing valuable to contribute to debates on the environment, immigration, social policy, philosophy and much more is an even more insidious part of cultural nullius.

[From Nothing there? Think Again. Yolngu Homelands in Arnhem Land]

Speaking for Others: small steps and giant leaps

Recently I have been working on a paper about the Digital Objects at work in the Healthy Breathing and Heart Project. In the first draft of a paper I wrote that I was assuming an ‘double outsider’ and referenced a piece of work by Helen Verran where she wrote of being an outsider in what I read to be a similar workshop between Yolŋu knowledge authorities and Environmental Scientists (I’ll put all the papers I refer to down the bottom).

I made this move, assuming to be a double outsider, with a hope to make this simple point: by not being an insider of either recognised knowledge traditions (Yolŋu nor Environmental Science) I might hope to be able to credit and value both knowledge traditions and hopefully work in a way that supported multiple ways of know … not so easy!

A few months later I had the at first stomach turning then delightful experience of having two reviewers take my work seriously and provide some very strong and helpful feedback. After getting over the shock of the red and orange typing all throughout my paper I began to realise how supportive and helpful the comments were, not just to writing this paper but much more generally.

One of the points that was picked up on was how could I claim authority to write as an outsider and I was given two papers to read on ‘speaking for others.’ By trying to just take a little step in order to recognise multiple knowledges, I found I had taken a rather large leap.

So I have rewritten the piece with this in mind and as it happened removed much of the material about subjects and speaking for subjects and focussed on the agency of objects. What was very useful about the Linda Alcoff piece was that she identifies that the problem of speaking for other people as the same problem about speaking about other things: it is how we grant ourselves the power to make the great leap necessary in using a representational theory of knowledge – how we assure the connection between reality and our knowledge of it.

Reading Maria Lugones’ “Playfulness, ‘World’-Travelling, and Loving Perception” I had a reoccurring thought that it was making a parallel argument to Leigh Star and James Griesemer make in their well known piece on boundary objects. At some point I’ll read them together.


Linda Alcoff, “The Problem of Speaking for Others,” Cultural Critique, no. 20 (Winter, -1992 1991): 5-32.

Maria Lugones, “Playfulness, ‘World’-Travelling, and Loving Perception.,” Hypatia 2, no. 2 (Summer87 1987): 3.

Helen Verran, “A Postcolonial Moment in Science Studies: Alternative Firing Regimes of Environmental Scientists and Aboriginal Landowners,” Social Studies of Science 32, no. 5/6 (2002): 729-762.

Susan Leigh Star and James R Griesemer, “Institutional ecology,’translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39,” Social studies of science (1989): 387–420.

[From speaking for others: small steps and giant leaps]

Being wrong, tolerating dissent

A recent quote by a man of the moment, educationalist and thinker Ken Robinson has had quite a profound effect on me: ‘nothing original can be achieved if you are in fear of being wrong.’ Certainly as a university student the fear of being wrong is strong. I still feel it in writing this blog. As a tutor I often struggled with the impulse to simply hide behind the authority of the tutor rather admit I was wrong.

Being wrong, and right, are embodied experience. It is not simply about abstract knowledge claims, nor entirely about social status. My most recent experience of this was riding home a month ago. It was night time and a family was tumbling out of a car and congregating on the bike path outside a restaurant. My reaction was simply to slow down, stay on my line and ring my bell. I was right. I was on a bike, on the bike path. It was an immediate physical feeling of being right. I even sat up a little in that arrogant, impatient kind of way. I didn’t think to communicate with the family, think to call out in case my bell was too soft, or even notice that the family were too busy getting out of the car to notice me or my bell. My immediate reaction was that I was right and that it was their responsibility to notice me and get out of my way. In consideration of their ignorance I slowed down, a little.

“Sorry this must happen all the time,” said the man as he ushered his kids off the bike path. By speaking to me, addressing me, I was suddenly in a relation to this man and his family. Then I was twenty meters down the street thinking ‘It doesn’t actually happen all that often. What’s my problem!’

My problem was that the sense of being right came over me all to soon and unconsciously. It certainly had to do with the context; the quiet fear or anxiety a rider has on city roads, the fact that as a cyclists I have been given a lane and I was staying in it, as a cyclist I go much faster then a family on foot and could potentially ride past without considering them as people, just an obstacle.

I saw a similar situation and effect expressed the other day when a scientist said that the great myth of the climate change debate was that there was dissent amongst the scientific community. “There is no dissent!” he exclaimed (I remember it was a man). Why can’t he say, “Yeah, there is a very very small group of scientists who don’t agree and they are keeping the rest of us on our toes, but climate change is REAL problem that needs addressing immediately.”? Of course, he can’t say this because in the cut and thrust of politics and media it would be shortened to “Yeah, there is a very very small group of scientists who don’t agree”. And I would add, our general understandings of science (taught in school and common throughout universities and society) likes to keep talk of uncertainty and talk of reality separate and hence cannot tolerate a scientist talking about something that is both REAL and UNCERTAIN at once.

I worry about people and communities that can no longer tolerate dissent. In this case I agree that disinformation and dissent about climate change comes much from privately funded research and commercial interests. But that is also not why it is wrong or not worthy of consideration. No science today is outside private funding and commercial interest. If we have a problem with oil companies then let’s say it, if climate change is serious then say that, but denying dissent is dangerous.

This post is in some sense an admission to the family I rode so swiftly by. Often an admission is directed back on oneself, ‘I admit I was wrong.’ But an admission is also an act of allowing an entry, a sharing of a privilege, or making a place for something that is different (by not mentioning dissent the scientists above is not sharing with his dissenters the privilege of his interview and maybe this is justified). But … we need to protect places of dissent and allow families on bike paths without the fear that they will throw us off the path entirely.

[From Being wrong and tolerating dissent]

Tagging, Classification and Delicious

While I am aware of the problems of using tags as a form of standardized categorization (see the discussion here and more below) I have begun a Delicious page. Delicious is a way of keeping and tagging your bookmarks online. I saw one great page that had used Delicious to share a reference lists of online resources and this is what inspired me to have one. So, I am using Delicious to share what I have come across that is interesting during my research. By going to http://delicious.com/christianjclark you can see all the webpages I bookmark and read regularly and on the right you can sort them by tags such as research, news, indigenous.

One problem with Delicious is that it takes spaces ‘ ’ in a string of text as what distinguishes one tag from another. So “indigenous research” becomes tagged as ‘indigenous’ and ‘research’, and “science and technology studies” becomes tagged as ‘science’ ‘and’ ‘technology’ ‘studies’. Hence the grammar of tags does not preserve word order, which is not so good for those of us who work in English. One way to understand this is that it is a consequence of categorization purifying an entity to the smallest possible bits, just enough to give it names and then reifying these names as a categories. Hence, we are left with many residual relationships of what cannot be categorized, possibly because an entity is relational or complex, not discrete or simple. I was reminded of much of this in some wonderful presentation by Susan Leigh Star and Geof Bower at the Teaching From Country Seminar last month (see Star and Bowker’s book “Sorting Things Out” for more on classification and categorization).

For me, and others, Indigenous Research has particular and problematic meanings (ones I am still struggling with and won’t go into here but see Michael Christie’s “Transdisciplinary Research and Aboriginal Knowledge”). When Indigenous Research becomes tagged as ‘indigenous’ ‘research’ (at least here word order is preserved as alphabetical order) the multiplicity of meanings and their contestation can be lost and results in essentializing both ‘indigenous’ and ‘research’. This may result in, for example, any research done by someone who identifies as indigenous classified as ‘indigenous’ ‘research’ even if there is no consideration of Indigenous knowledge or methodologies. This is neither good nor bad, but it shows the power of classification which needs to be remembered along with the meaning that don’t fit.

So using Delicious is a project of both using and interrogating tags, online knowledge management, and collaboration. Let me know what you think.

Blogging here

After my last post on letting go a cherishing quite places of contemplation I thought I would post this which I have had for a while and an image of my current quite place that I like quite a lot …

If you are interested in journal software, blogs and bibliographic software, research tools, or just want to read about the stuff that is behind the screen read on. Part of the motivation for this post is to remind myself and others that blogs come from somewhere. They are typed by hands, in rooms by people, like me, contrived from notes jotted down on paper on trains, conversations over heard and participated in. It is collective work. All this is removed in the ‘post’. I greatly enjoy how writing this blog makes me reconsider conversation and take puzzles I am told about or experience on. So at the moment I sit up stairs in an rather empty version of my family home on Canterbury in Melbourne.


The other part of the motivation is to share what I have learnt so far. So here goes …

I work on a Mac but some of this may be good for PC users.

The blog is all run on open source software so really it is a plug for open source software and the need to support them in use and money as they are better by far.

My main concern when thinking about having the blog was that I wanted to keep notes on my computer but not all of them online; some are rough, boring, personal, and fieldnotes are confidential. So I found Jounler (http://journler.com/ – free), a great way to keep a journal, manage files, and hold ideas. Journler does everything except bibliographic work, but for that there is Zotero (http://www.zotero.org/ – free). Zotero is a plugin for Firefox. It is excellent, much better than Endnote and integrates with Open Office (and MS Word). The best bit is that it can read bibliographic info from websites (including getting any full text links) and also generate records from a website including a full image of the website as it was when you looked at it (great for news items and online resources). Zotero can link to or store any other type of file, generate notes, tags and sub libraries.

Okay back to blogging. So Jounler has all my entires, notes, filed notes, thoughts, stories etc. From any entry in Journler you can send it to a blogging software. I use ecto (http://illuminex.com/ecto/- $19.95). I choose a Jounler entry I want to post on the blog from all the entries I don’t, and simply export it to ecto. From ecto I can add images and media and then upload it to the wordpress online blog. As the blog is on wordpress it is all set up with layout etc. You can choose a few things like themes, colours, and an image.

In the future, I will be using a Creative Common license to make the stuff here more accessible. However, any work like papers I put up, links to them will generate an email to me asking to have a copy. This way, I figure, I get to know people who have similar interests. For this, I have to host my own blog as this email generator thing is not a widget you can add in wordpress hosted blog. But I can still use the wordpress engine which is still open source free.

For reading blogs and subscribe to feeds I have found Shrook (www.utsire.com/shrook/ – free). It is marvelous. You can subscribe to many many feeds and then create folders to find article that mention key words (for me ‘knowledge’ and ‘indigenous’ are all I have now). After trying to get all my online thing together I am actually enjoying having a different piece of software for different uses. So Firefox is for research and surfing, Shrook is for dedicated reading. [From Blogging here]