• 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


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]

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]

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]

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]

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]