• 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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Tagging, Metaphor and Web 2.0

There is much hype about Web2.0 (blogs, twitter, feeds, rss, tags) and how it will transform the world as we know it. I have been draw in of late. I have been watching TED talks about how processor speed will get better and better with a prediction that in twenty years a computer will be as smart of a three month old baby and the internet will be as complex as a human consciousness (lot’s of three months olds?). I have also reading blogs and such on knowledge management and how social networking sites and technologies in Web2.0 such as tagging will liberate the use, categorization and transformation of knowledge (no longer will librarians and information managers sort and file our information but we will do it collectively over the internet). One major concern in talk about tagging is whether ‘tags’ (a word or words associated with a item of knowledge) correctly describe what they tag. Indeed, all the research I found on tagging looked at this. So it seems that we are simply reproducing the representation understanding of knowledge: does the representation accurate point to what it says it does. Not very transformative at all.

I bought up tagging with friends at the pub the other night and asked can tags ever work strategically as metaphors. I didn’t make my point very well and have been thinking about tagging ever since. Then walking down my street I come across this:


This form of tagging had not even come to mind in all my ponderings! But a few years ago a conversation at a pub about tagging surely would have been talking about these additions to our public landscape. But these tags were never meant to truly represent a real thing. They were many things; a claim to space, protest, art, communal practice, but not a representation. Perhaps a representation in the political sense by the disenfranchised. So who is tagging and claiming space online? I had a bit of a play Flickr. These are the amount of photos under each tag:

indigenous: 35 938
indigenous australians: 58
Yolngu: 147

war: 497 614
peace: 361 385

Africa: 1 537 437
America: 1 094 210

happy: 744 463
sad: 144 295

poetry: 109 007 (inspired by the tag next to my house)
music: 5 016 741
painting: 803 512
photo: 2 060 750

surveillance: 15 250
tagging: 47 409

A few observations: the Yolngu certainly are a popular group of Indigenous Australians. The ‘Africa’ tag has a lot of photos for a continent with not many digital cameras, so who is taking the photos? Amazing that music could ‘out-tag’ painting is a visual medium. Another interesting thing Flickr does is show related tags. On the tag ‘war’ the most related tags are ‘memorial’ (over 500 000 photos more that war itself!) and peace (not so popular) and protest. Under ‘indigenous’, ‘child’ is a related tag. Why is indigenous related to childishness?

What to make of this? Is war more popular than peace? Is Africa more photogenic than America? Is music more photogenic than a paintings? It’s all a little too confusing.

I’ll get back to my theme – is this really new? The distribution and logic of Web2.0 is not really that revolutionary. If most of the processing power goes into war and going to space, is more processing power really a social good? And if we do turn processing power and modern technology to social ends will it work? If processing power defines intelligence as essentially computational and is still being understood within a representation understanding of knowledge how will it deal with knowledge systems in Indigenous Australia and African that have vastly different logics? Are photos representing Africa helping make space for African communities gain control over how these technologies are used? If you doubled the process power of a ‘three month old’ does it become a ‘six month old’?

So I am bring a bit facetious now, but it is worth being suspicious. The difference between representation and metaphor is that representation in the West ignores its production and where it comes from. Once representation are made they are taken as as self-evident. A tag is taken to point to what it says. A photo never includes the photographer. A metaphor keeps the fact that is it moving from context to context more evident. I guess I am greatly enjoying the web 2.0 at the moment but I trying not to take it on its own terms.

[From Tagging, Metaphor and Web 2.0]


Remote Schooling and Situated Education

Recently I was at an development studies seminar and there one presenter talked about her time in Namibia and her research on the provision of education to the predominantly nomadic Indigenous people in the North of the country. What was said reminded me much of education in remote Northern Territory and the possible consequences of not recognizing multiple knowledges nor that knowledge is contextual or situated.

A truncated version of the story given goes like this. ‘Modern education’ [mass standardized and institutional] has been attempted in Namibia since independence in 1990 (Namibia was a German colony then governed by South Africa). Education is provided as institutionalized schooling in rural centers and is delivered in English and to a much smaller extent mobile schools service traveling families, delivering education in local languages. For a modern State, education is seen as improving the economy, social mobility, and political consciousness. The parents and the communities of remote parts of North Namibia value this education, but also want to continue their traditions. However, as the schools are only in centers or towns, this geographical separation of school and home means that having both schooling and tradition has meant that families have half their children attend school and live in town and half their children stay home and carry on tradition.

Also, when talking to the schooled children in town they commented that when they went home they used their traditional knowledge and ways of life and only used their ‘modern’ knowledge when they were at school or in town amongst their schooled peers. So, not only was modern school knowledge and traditional knowledge separated out in literally separating out children to go school or to stay at home, but even the children who did go to school recognized different knowledge is appropriate in different times and places, and separated school knowledge and traditional knowledge. For the State these separations mean that not only do many children not go to school, but those who do not go onto to apply their modern schooling universally and lead a modern life in remote Namibia.

Researchers and thinkers concerned with knowledge and education are increasingly understanding all knowledge as situated, local and contingent. Much of this research emerges from interfaces between different knowledge traditions, and how to communicate and work respectfully between them. In another but related debate, Sir Ken Robinson has recently received much publicity on the continuing discussion as to whether schooling is a benefit to handling the demands of life outside.

A possible explanation for this story rests on Western understandings of knowledge. For the Wester knowledge is objective, context free and universal. With this understanding other knowledges cannot be recognised unless they translate as lesser versions of Western science. So a schooling system believing itself as providing the only version or proper knowledge will not recognize the need to situate its knowledge in terms of others ways of knowing and other ways of living. Hence, the local communities have to do the work of separating out in the interests of maintaining their tradition and knowledge. I can only wonder that is the school were also interested in maintaining local tradition and knowledge the separating out might be done better and in ways where the differences between the knowledges were made explicit worked respectfully.

The Australian Federal Government and the Northern Territory have plans to educate remote indigenous kids by building boarding schools, most likely in some of the bigger twenty regional hubs. In light of the above, I can only see a repeat of above. The Governments will remain blind to Indigenous knowledge and language or refuse to engage with them, and the indigenous communities will work novel ways to separate out the impose modern knowing and their own ways of knowing.

[From Remote Schooling and Situated Education]