• 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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  • July 2018
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philosophy and philanthropy

This is just a short little piece about … you guessed it, philanthropy and philosophy. It is perhaps an aroma wafting of what I am trying to cook up at the moment – a piece on what/who a philosopher might be.

So philosophy and philanthropy. As you probably guessed it is the words I am interested in: philosophy – the love (philia) of wisdom (sophia), philanthropy – the love (philia) of humanity (anthropos). Yet today they practice very different kinds of love. You can imagine a common picture of a philosopher loving through cherishing: cherishing books, libraries, comfy chairs, space and time to think. While the philosopher goes about living there is nothing they love more, nothing they cherish more, than some peace and quite and good thought. Love for a philanthropist, however, is not about cherishing but about giving. Their act of cherishing humanity is through giving, mostly money, but also material resources and expertise.

There is a famous quote by Lao Tzu: “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” Somewherre along the way, in trying to be kind philosophers have ended up thinking and generating profoundness and philanthropists ended up giving and generate love.

Now I’m sure Lao Tzu didn’t imagine a disciplinary division of kindness, but this seems to have occurred. Artists, poets, philosophers, writers and thinkers apply for grants from philanthropists. One thinks without giving the other gives without thinking.

So maybe philosophers need to spend a little less time cherishing quiet contemplation and a little more time giving (and one could add the counterpoint, philanthropists could spend a little less time giving and and more time thinking).

This might have something to do with my philosophizing in Arnhem Land, and Darwin and Melbourne. Many people are supportive of my research and I am very grateful. When I talk about my research however, I sometimes feel that either, people think I am ‘helping’ Indigenous Australians and they approve of that but don’t really get ‘what’ my research in on, or they get the philosophical traditions I work in but seemed puzzled as to why fixing car called Meṉḏa with some Yolŋu relations has any meaningful contribution to philosophy. I don’t think is because of what these individual people think as individuals but because of the understandings of philosophy and philanthropy we all seem to share, me included. Feeling that my reading of books is irrelevant to helping anything, and feeling my actions as all here and now and without thought are familiar to me.

So if we are to think about philosophy loving wisdom through giving wisdom, rather than cherishing it we might look to what Barry Schwartz has to say. But giving it not always good. the methods and conditions under which philanthropy provides help always influences the running of the project they support. If philosophy offers anything it also is responsible for what it gives. Believing that knowledge is somehow in the realm of consciousness or the ether has contributed to philosophy and the arts being later as ‘useless’, but any challenged to this also must be the challenge that knowledge is not a neutral good. Knowledge has effects in the world – I will explain this later when I attempt a larger explanation of my research. Until then, understanding the worlds that our knowledge effects and how giving can be done better is maybe a future for philosophy.

[From philosophy and philanthropy]


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]

Burn Out

I have been trying to find a story about the last few months. Lara and I had to leave the community we were living in quite suddenly. We landed back in Victoria and staying in Murrindindi with my parents. Murrindindi is now quite well know as it is the name of one of the dreadful fires that burnt only weeks before we got back.

I was sitting at a folded out trestle in a beautiful house, trying to keep writing. Autumn colors were just beginning. Just beyond view from the house were the burnt bush and houses. At night during the fires, my Dad described the fire as a wild beast, raging in the bush and terrifying in the mind. Always out there. day after day. And they were fortunate.

Burnout. Once the word was in my head it wouldn’t leave. For a time the bush, all brown and black, ash and dust, was the emptiness and wreckage that we felt. Lara and I we in burnout from something quite different to the fires, my parents from ‘the fires’ but not the fire itself. Burnout is what you are left with, and how you are left. It is not only something that slowly mounts, or something you go through only realising afterward, though your understanding maybe grow in time. Burnout, like the emptiness between the black trunks, it is state of being.

And then the bush seemingly betrays you. Green shoots appear on all the trees (and I’m not talking about the ‘yey green shoots capitalism is all okay after all’ green shoots!). There seem to be more than just a few. They seem to be recovering while you are not. I was stuck by the many works in an Art show in the Yarra Valley, produced in only weeks after the fire, depicting the burnt, smoking landscapes. But by this time, the burnout these canvasses conveyed, was disappearing outside. The arresting of time effected by the paintings was strengthening. Green shoots are like the way you say you are okay and keep breathing. They are the brave face of the bush, the bare minimum of living, but they can propel you too fast into being okay.

Copyright © 2009 Sean Miakin flickr.com/photos/seanmakin/

[From Burn Out]

Mother Tongue

One of my first experiences at Gapuwiyak was sitting in the Yellow House. It is painted green, but once upon a time it was yellow and its name, through its continual use and connection people, continues to be the Yellow House.

I was sitting in the Yellow House with the man who had adopted me as brother, his wife and his mother. They were talking. We were talking; every now and then in English but mostly Yolngu Matha. It was explained to me that my brother was speaking Djambarrpuyŋu, his mother Ritharrŋu and his wife Kunwinjku. They were speaking their own languages. My brother spoke Djambarrpuyŋu and Ritharrŋu (his mother’s language) but would not speak Kunwinku, although he understood it. His mother could not speak English nor understand it very well, nor kunwinjku, and his wife could converse in all but Ritaharrŋu. I have held onto this conversation across languages and the patience it required translating back and forth. It brings with it a feeling of awe toward something that is as complex as it is simple.

It was shock to see on the United Nations Atlas of Endangered Languages that both Kunwinjku and Ritharrŋu both feature. Kunwinjku is ‘unsafe’ and Ritharrŋu is ‘definitely endangered’. One hundred and eight Australian Languages feature on the Atlas, I think almost two in every hundred (2%) of languages in the Atlas are Australian. Soon we might be calling Australia the ‘wide brown land’, forgetting all other names for country and colours that have painted it.

For more on the Atlas go to: http://www.un.org.ua/en/news/2009-02-18-2/

and if you want to read more on Australian Languages go to: http://www.aiatsis.gov.au/, or perhaps

Google Groups: http://groups.google.com/group/foblmail

FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=35768410977

Snapshot 2009-02-23 20-06-23.tiff

[From Mother Tongue]

Yiŋiya’s Statement

In 2004 I met Yiŋiya. He was filming a ceremony working to used digital technology to maintain his and his peoples’ way of live. Since then I have been adopted by his younger brother and have come to know bits of this way of life, and the threat posed to it by the Intervention. Here is a statement made by him outlining a often not heard response to the current situation.

[From Yiŋiya’s Statement ]


There has been a funeral in the community recently. I have spent most afternoons sitting with men my age and older.

On one afternoon a man decided he would look after me, explaining what was going on and so forth. His grandson was with him, sitting on his lap. While the ceremony went on, the little boy was excited about something else. He was four. For ten or more minutes, his father took four matches out of a box, poked them into the ground, lit them, and sang happy birthday. The boy tried to get the words out, and despite and bilma, yiḏaki and singing a few meters away his rendition was wonderful. After a while, the father, needing to keep a few matches for his cigarettes, reduced the ritual celebration to one candle per song.

Another evening a man my age sat waiting. His young child on his knee. When the ceremony started the man hoisted up his child and carried him on his hip while he sang, played bilma and took the ceremony to the house. At the house he sat and carried on with the ceremony, still singing, still keeping the beat and still holding his child.

Children have inalienable right to sit on knees. The man sitting next to me tried to deny it. “Can we please sit separately” he said (of course no in English). The boys walked away only to have his little brother jump immediately into the lap of his father.

Sitting on her fathers knee a little girls takes his hand and makes his finger wobble her loose tooth. “Too many lollies” he said. Her eyes opened in shock and she sits up. “Yuwalk!”, she exclaimed. True. “Yeah” he sad nodding. Biting her teeth together she drew one finger across her throat as if cutting it, keeping her eyes wide. You could see her thinking, ‘my life will never be the same.’

[From Men]