• 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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  • August 2009
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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.