Club Admiralty

v7.0 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

Academic literacy in another language

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These past couple of weeks, along with some projects I am working on with colleagues, I am also trying to make some headway for my fall class, EDDE 805, which is the first of two doctoral seminars. From what I can see from the abbreviated syllabus (love that it's just posted on the web!) one of the assignments is an analysis of dissertations of people who are already doctors in our field.  The assignment is as follows:

Short presentations in two-weekly synchronous sessions facilitated by the instructor (schedule to be determined in week 1).

In each synchronous session between weeks 3 - 11, two students will present a review and respond to questions on these reviews of two outstanding dissertations relevant to their field of research, for 20 minutes each.

Reviews should include consideration of specific points of quality or lack thereof, the good/bad aspects, and what information, research processes, ideas, theoretical approaches or organizational structures could or couldn’t be used by presenters in their own projects. As a result of this review, each presenter should produce a list of distilled/deduced criteria for what constitutes a good quality thesis/dissertation. These criteria, together with a two page summary of their reviews should be posted to the Moodle site at least one (1) week before their scheduled presentation date to give other students time to read, reflect and prepare responses and/or questions.

In each of these sessions, other students will present a 5-10 minute oral review of an article they have read relevant to their project/area of research and present “work in progress” in their own research preparation, planning, implementation, analysis, writing etc. It is envisaged that the literature review and proposal assignments, as they are developed, will also form part of this presentation and discussion.

I spend some time a month or so ago going through the ProQuest dissertation abstracts, as well as the list of repositories that Debra H. sent us to prepare us for the course (thank you! :-) ) to find dissertations.  I found a dissertation of interest in English, and I was thinking of flexing my mind by reading a dissertation in another language.  My experience with reading dissertations† done by others is that there are dissertations that are just freakin' awesome, and others where you might wonder how that person earned a doctorate (given typos, logical argument flaws, and lots of weasel words - as George Siemens tells us to avoid).

In any case, I asked a colleague of mine, in Greece, who has been on viva voce (aka dissertation defense) examination committees if he happened to have a good dissertation, written in Greek, that he could recommend as an example of something that is well written, and kindly enough he shared something he considered as an excellent dissertation with me.  I was interested in something from Greece for three reasons:  (1) I wanted to compare a good dissertation from another country with what we generally accept to be good dissertations in North America. (2) I wanted to practice my academic Greek. (3) Even though my dissertation topic wont' be linguistics focused, I missed that topic these past few years working on MOOCs and Distance Education that I wanted to read a little about it.

(that was a long set-up, eh?)
So, I am sitting...and reading...and reading...and reading.  A dissertation written in English is something I would have finished by now, but this particular one, 2 weeks into the process, and I am only 1/3 of the way done (not including appendices and references in my page count).  While I am fluent in Greek, and it is one of my native languages, this register is not something I am as familiar with given that I completed most of my academic preparation (K-grad school) in an environment where English was the language of instruction. Some of the things that make my reading go slower are:

  1. Words used in the specific discipline: I am familiar with the English terms for something, but not the Greek ones, so when I come across the Greek term, I often stop, like a tourist, to see the sights (the English term is often given in parentheses when first used), so I take that moment to stop and smell the linguistic and disciplinary roses. 
  2. The sentence structure of an academic paper or dissertation is not usually the same as someone's blog post, or a news story.  It's not in English either (we're just used to those different registers and discourses) but it's a bit of a culture-shock for me.  It's a bit like 20 or so years ago when I returned to the US and I needed to re-learn English (in the sense that I needed to learn 'school English')

 As I am reading this dissertation, I am wondering what is considered an appropriate length for a literature review without feeling like you are just repeating what some other person wrote in their own literature review for a related dissertation.  The literature review in this one seems to be about 80 pages at 1.5 spacing (if you exclude references to the literature in what appears to be the discussion section further into the dissertation).  As much as I am enjoying reading through this, it seems like a little overkill to me. I wonder what others think (those of you who read dissertations and maybe have completed one of your own).

Another thing I am wondering is this (and this is for all of you bi- and multi-linguals out there): Chances are that your published work is probably in English.  I am wondering how much practice you have, academically speaking, in your discipline, with languages other than English.  How hard is it for you to cultivate this?  And do you see value in it?

I personally see value in cultivating my Greek (and hopefully later on my French) academic discourses, but I don't know how widely read my work is going to if I choose to write in a language other than English. So, while I see value in it, I am wondering if there is greater bang for the buck when it comes to just writing articles and book chapters in English (another type of Hegemony I guess).  Thoughts?



NOTES:
† In EDDE 802 we had pick some dissertations, read them, share them with our cohort and provide a brief review for them, so this isn't the first time I've looked for, and read, dissertations ;-) For 802 I tried to pick ones where I had more positive things to say rather than just lambast what I perceived to be poor ones :-)
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The student's year-end-review

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Socrates Badge, by @merryspaniel
It's a bit hard to believe, but two years ago - around this time of year - I was scurrying to get my application into Athabasca University to have my application considered for Cohort 7.  The deadline for Athabasca's program is at the same time as the deadline for my department (January 15th), so I was trying to make sure that my recommendations were all in order.  I had applied to another program prior to Athabasca (surprisingly enough I never heard back from them...) so I had tapped into my referee base already and I didn't want to burn them out (again).

Well, things worked out, my application went in, and I made the short list (#woot!).  Now, with a year-and-a-half under my belt, I am about to begin EDDE 804 (Leadership and Project Management in Distance Education).  The Moodle course isn't available yet (darn!) so I can't yet tell much of the actual mechanics and slant that the course will take.  I am wondering how much overlap there will be with my MBA and through what lenses the MBA background and knowledge can (and will) be filtered, interpreted, and applied through. It should be an interesting course.  I started reading one of the texts, Higher education and the new society, but between holidays, a winter cold, and pending home improvement projects, I think I'll wait until I get back to work and use my commute time as my book-reading time.  The other text, Leadership for 21st century learning: Global perspectives from educational innovators, seems more like cases and specific examples, so since I don't retain much in terms of long term memory for these things, I might just wait until the semester starts and tackle those on a week-by-week basis.  As a learner I've re-discovered (many, many, times) that the fall semester is probably my favorite semester.  I have four (or five) months between semesters and I am able to sit down and read - at my own pace - and explore readings in depth before I have to discuss them in the course.  While I can work under the time pressure, it's definitely not the way I prefer to consume and process information.

In any case, seeing as it is two years since I started applying to Athabasca - and I had to write about my dissertation plans in my statement - I thought I would revisit where I am on that front.  While I don't have to make up my mind until comprehensive exam time about my dissertation, I think it helps to keep an eye on the ball.

Before I applied to AU, I was thinking of doing something something that dealt with language learning through MOOCs.  An initial idea was this one here, where I made some proposals on how to look at language learning through MOOCs, and in specific I was thinking cMOOCs. This was a potential plan if I were to apply to the University of Athens (Greece) at one of their language and linguistics departments.  Due to strikes that didn't work out, but I kept the idea alive.  When I applied to AU, another idea I was thinking about was learner motivation in MOOCs, both xMOOC and cMOOC.  I was interested in seeing what spurred learners to sign up for MOOCs to begin with, and what made them 'complete' MOOCs - and of course did they meet their goals by 'completing' the MOOC.  The notion of completion was something that I also wanted to explore.  While that was an interesting topic, I sort of lost steam on it as my own interests grew, and as others started exploring this territory.

I also wanted to be more pragmatic with my dissertation.  Dissertations don't really get cited in research much, and I feel as though they are one last run through the park with the training wheels on to make sure that an institution is unleashing a capable and ethical researcher into the world; thus a dissertation isn't necessarily some sort of magnum opus that will get you loads of citations (not that I care a ton about citations, but it is a metric that academia seems to use).

So, as I am writing this post and staring at my blackboard, here are some other ideas that came up during 2015 for a dissertation (most of which are rejects at this point for dissertation purposes):

  • Study of lurking in MOOCs
  • Effects of a learner's social network graph in 'completion' of a MOOC
  • Meta-analysis of MOOC research literature: Finding and major trends
  • Barriers to learning in open online courses
  • Motivations in open online courses (not "massive"  so a refinement of the original idea)
  • MOOC Pedagogy evolution (more of a historical analysis thing)
  • Corpus Analysis of  cMOOC or xMOOC Forum activity
  • Digital Badges study --> design + learning outcomes
  • Comparison of improvement of learner motivation in traditional online courses when using digital badges in lieu of graded (0-100%) assignments. While this is an interesting action-research project, the data collection is dependent on me teaching, and at the moment I have to wait one year between teaching cycles.

So, a ton of ideas.  Now that I jotted them down from here, I erased them from my blackboard ;-)

The idea that seems to be sticking though, and I am seriously considering, is somewhat of an autoethnography.  When I was thinking about what I've worked on the past few years, and one of the reasons I ended up applying to AU, those reasons were online learning, lifelong learning, and MOOC related.  So, the current though on the dissertation is this:  Attempt to do a dissertation-by-publication style of dissertation. Luckily there is someone from Cohort 5 who is piloting this, so I don't have to be guinea pig :-).  I was thinking of three articles:
  1. Autoethnography of an unlikely lifelong learner (I really disliked school, so it's kind of odd to be interested in education at this point).  This might be the first article before I look at my blog data and 'taint' my own reflections and analysis on learning. Need to do more research on Autoethnography as a research method. This would be article #1
  2. Look at my own posts tagged with "MOOC" and specific MOOCs I've participated in - as well as various MOOC providers (coursera, edx, etc), and take a grounded theory approach to analyzing my MOOC related posts (which at this point are close to 300). This would be article #2.
  3. Finally, go through my MOOC related blog posts, again, and conduct a critical discourse analysis on them. This would be article #3.
  4. Perhaps for article #4 (if things work out) I could do a meta-analysis piece where I could look at findings from the three articles and triangulate learning by and through MOOCs.
  5. Then, wrap a nice intro and conclusion on this and bam! done! (hopefully)
Initially I was thinking that a single-subject research approach wouldn't get much traction, but in talking to one of my cohort-mates who works in the field of applied behavioral analysis (where single-subject research is the norm?), and in reading more about autoethnography, I am thinking this might just work.  At the very least I don't have to (1) get IRB/REB approval to research myself, and (2) I don't need to wait one year between data collection cycles.  Now all I have to do is to convince the committee that this is worthwhile ;-)

So there you have it folks.  Two years since I started on this crazy journey in doctoral studies. it's hard to believe that in a year's time from now I will be working on my comprehensive exam... time flies!
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Democratization of Education - How do you define this?

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I've been trying to catch up with things I've saved in my Pocket reading list over the course of this past semester, and one of the articles (or blog posts?) came across was about how MOOCs have failed to democratize education, and given that this was one of the fundamental goals of MOOCs this is a problem.

I don't think I know where exactly this goal, or rhetoric, about democratizing education came from.  I suspect that it was somewhere in the xMOOC discourse around the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012.  Even if xMOOC providers, and their proponents, didn't initiate this discourse, they certainly capitalized on it by providing cases of poor learners, who would normally not be served by higher education given their backgrounds, and MOOCs could help. It's easy when you have prodigies to start with, but that's a whole other story. The point is that xMOOC providers just added some fuel to the fire since this discourse suited them. And, it's not a bad goal to have, but you don't start with a service and say your service provides for that demographic.  You do a needs analysis on that demographic and build your services with those constraints and information in mind.  Anyway I digress, back to democratizing...

So, this author (who I am failing to remember right now), claims that MOOCs (xMOOCs I guess) seem to be taken and completed by people who already have college or graduate work completed, and they aren't the main beneficiaries of MOOCs.  Since there isn't a majority of poorer, non-college educated students who are benefiting from this, the goal of democratizing education is essentially bust.  I disagree.

I think everyone has latched on to democratization of education meaning only that education is available to those who have not had any education of this type in the past, so anyone who has not attended college.  I ascribe to a broader, more liberal, meaning of democratization of education, one which encompasses providing access to education in an open manner to anyone who desires it regardless of their background.  Just because someone has already gone to college and graduated, it doesn't mean that they want their education to stop.  I see the democratization of education as being able to provide accessible portals into lifelong learning, being a 'palace of the people' (sort of like the Boston Public Library) where people come to gain knowledge for development and delight.

While it is true that college graduates (hopefully) have some means to sustain themselves through gainful employment, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have the time to attend credit-bearing courses, or the money to spend on them.  If all they want to do is learn something new, either for professional or personal reasons, paying for a college course binds you in terms of time and cost. Work and family usually come before continued and life-long education, so it's something that's always thought of last.  Democratizing education to me means making the option for education, regardless of your educational background, more accessible in terms of flexibility of time, flexibility of cost, and flexibility in participation.

Just because one demographic has not benefitted from MOOCs (yet) doesn't mean that they are failing in democratization of education. It also does not mean that we should give up on that demographic.  Maybe MOOCs, and specific MOOC pedagogical designs, are better suited to that purpose.  Maybe MOOCs are not the answer, but a failure of democratization of education it is not.

What are your thoughts?
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Week 5 down... Week 6 here we come!

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Time seems to be on fast forward these days.  Either that or I have too many things to do, and not enough time to do them in.  When did week 5 just end?  Time flies when you're having fun, and when you have a ton of your plate I guess.  The past couple of weeks on EDDE 803 have been relatively 'quiet'.  We haven't had discussion forums, and our live session was cancelled due to unforeseen events.  The internship is fast and furious with a lot of discussion forum posts, and I assume that the short gradeable assignments will start to come in at some point soon in that course.


In the internship I actually ended up partly grading the first of the papers that came in. I grade it first, and the instructor of record looks it over does the final actual grading, this way the learner gets feedback and I get feedback as well. Since I've been teaching for a few years I am approaching this as an opportunity for peer review, so I am approaching my role as an intern in a mostly-an-instructor (but not quite) way.  It took me a few weeks to settle into this role, but this is what feels comfortable at the moment.  The only thing that's still a little fuzzy is helping this cohort of learners with their ePortfolio.  I haven't quite gotten around to making heads or tails of this fuzzy directive.  There is an ePorfolio moodle 'course' (more of a community really) for AU, so why not use that? I guess, phrased differently: what is lacking in that course community that requires my intervention, and how can I best address it.  I think this will be a week 6 and 7 goal for me (answering this question), which will give me  five weeks to do something before the semester comes to an end.

In terms of EDDE 803, the next big deliverable, due in a couple of weeks, is a paper and presentation on some aspect of teaching and learning.  I decided to go back to games and gamification.  Even though Jen presented on this last year (probably around this time of year too), I thought I could expand a bit on the subject.  Starting with her presentation as a jump-off point, I decided to read through some books on games and gamification that I acquired a few months ago and not tread the same path as her.  I was thinking of gamifying the presentation itself, but with the clock ticking down, I am not sure how successfully I'll be able to do this.  I think I will go back and review some coursera videos I have on Gamification (Werbach's MOOC), and Games in Education (Steinkuhler & Squire) to see if I am forgetting something (which I probably am at this point). Inevitably things will be left out because there is only so much you can include in a 4,000 - 5,000 word paper.

I guess keep on keeping on is the motto, until the end of the semester?



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Previously on EDDE:AU:MOODLE

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I think  my interactions with Autumm in virtual connecting made me want to create  a little trailer with dramatized highlights from my doctoral studies thus far.  Alas, no budget for extras, scripts, sets, and green screens, so I guess I'll leave it to plain text for now ;-)

This week marks the beginning of my second year at Athabasca's EdD program (survived year 1!), and I just began EDDE 803: Teaching and Learning in Distance Education. At the risk of sounding like an overachiever, when I received my textbooks for in June I ended up reading through them while I had some free time in the summer.  Luckily (it seems) that the bulk of the reading for EDDE803 is those two textbooks, so (with any luck) I won't be buried under a ton of additional articles to read.  This course seems to focus a lot on distance education teaching and instructional design, both areas that I am familiar with already due to my background in instructional design and my own teaching online for the past few years.  In EDDE 803 I want to take the opportunity to perhaps explore areas of distance education that I am not actively practicing - such as distance education that is not online.

For this course I am also undertaking an required teaching internship where I will be assisting an existing faculty member with the course that they are teaching. The course I've been paired with is MDDE 620: Technology in Education and Training, which is one of the courses that Athabasca offers to their MEd program students. I had access to the moodle course for 620 last week and I've already gone in and started comparing methods and approaches to teaching (and assessing) to my own experiences both as a learner and as a teacher.  The group of students in MDDE 620 are actually part of the "Greek Cohort", a program that AU just launched last year (as far as I know). Before I logged into Moodle I had actually forgotten that I was the TA in the Greek Cohort, so as I was going down the list of student enrolled in the course I was astonished at how many Greeks from Greece there were in the course...and 30 seconds later when memory kicked in, I realized that I was in the Greek Cohort. #facepalm.

This is going to be an interesting exercise for me. In a room full of Greeks my natural inclination is to just speak Greek.  However, the language of instruction in this Greek cohort is still English!  Even if the language of instruction were Greek (which would have been interesting in its own right), there is another small problem to overcome:  My academic language proficiency in Greek is pretty lacking.  Since I left Greece at the end of Middle School, my Greek is perfectly fine for every day conversations, but I really lack the vocabulary and ability to work in the academic register.  I can actually pull it off in an asynchronous mode, but I in synchronous environments  I constantly code switch.

Anyway, here is to year 2 of my EdD program!  May it go well, and may knowledge flow freely!

So, what are you up to this semester?

NOTES:
EDDE:AU:MOODLE is a reference to the comedy NTSF:SD:SUV
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Latour - Rendering Associations Traceable again - Part III

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Drumroll please!  This is it!  The final Latour conversation (at least as far as his book Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory goes.  It's been fun, Latour, but I have a pile of MOOC articles that aren't going to read themselves (note to voice technology people. I need a computer to read things to me like Majel Barrett does in Star Trek - voice of the computer.  The mechanical voice on my Android keeps mispronouncing things...)

 So, the theme of this final write up is Connecting sites...

With ANT, we push theory one step further into abstraction: it is a negative, empty, relativistic grid that allows us not to synthesize the ingredients of the social in the actor’s place. Since it’s never substantive, it never possesses the power of the other types of accounts. But that’s just the point. Social explanations have of late become too cheap, too automatic; they have outlived their expiration dates—and critical explanations even more so
Latour had lost me, until he started talking about the cheapness and automatics of "social" accounts. Back in the early days of "web 2.0" and "social media" the change in the web, from just a read-web (which wasn't completely read-only: I had a guest book using CGI scripts on my old Geocities page!) to a more "social" web where people could provide their own content.  That said, what the heck does social mean these days? It's been almost a decade (or more?) that we've had "social media".  Isn't that something that has been established now?  Social is also talked about in a lot of EdTech conferences, at least as far as vendors go. Social is now a bulletpoint item in a product's sales pitch, but what does that really mean?  Has social lost its potency as a descriptive word? Do we need to find something that really defines our practices and how various non-human actors can enhance our practices?

Three new questions may now be tackled in our discussion. The first is to detect the type of connectors that make possible the transportation of agencies over great distance and to understand why they are so efficient at formatting the social
This just seemed like an interesting point to jot down.  The question that comes to mind now, reading this again a few weeks later, is about efficiency.  Does efficiency matter? And, before you give me the knee-jerk reaction of 'yes!', think about it.  What does efficiency mean? who measures it? how does it impact the social?

The second is to ask what is the nature of the agencies thus transported and to give a more precise meaning to the notion of mediator that I have been using. Finally, if this argument about connections and connectors is right, it should be possible to come to grips with a logical consequence that readers must have already puzzled about: What lies in between these connections? What’s the extent of our ignorance concerning the social?
Well, good questions! I suppose what Latour means here when he says "what lies between social connections" is where he asks us to consider, and take into account, actors that we haven't thought about.  In this kind of sense I think that he is asking us to discover the man in the middle. This is an interesting thing to ponder because prior to this RhizoANT project I only considered the connections between human actors.  By considering non-human actors, as ANT wants us to do, the picture becomes more complicated.  Interesting, but complicated.

Standards and metrology solve practically the question of relativity that seems to intimidate so many people: Can we obtain some sort of universal agreement? Of course we can! Provided you find a way to hook up your local instrument to one of the many metrological chains whose material network can be fully described, and whose cost can be fully determined
Is Latour channeling his inner manager here? All inputs are measurable?  On the face of it I am inclined to disagree.  I think we can reach a point where our perceptions of what's going on are pretty similar, or almost the same, but I don't think that any two perceptions of what's going on will be 100% the same. Most likely, my gut tells me, that we'll just agree on what we put down on paper, compromise in a sense, even though we might not 100% agree (or at least our mental constructs of what's going on might not be 100% the same).

Ours is the social theory that has taken metrology as the paramount example of what it is to expand locally everywhere, all the while bypassing the local as well as the universal.
As Mr. Spock would say: "fascinating!" (you can't see me, but I am raising my eye brow)

The question is not to fight against categories but rather to ask: ‘Is the category subjecting or subjectifying you?’ As we saw at the end of the last chapter, freedom is getting out of a bad bondage, not an absence of bonds.
I suppose that this is something I will have to further explore, and deal with, the closer I come to beginning my EdD Dissertation... Not sure if this applied to our RhizoANT project, but it was an interesting thought to ponder.

This is why the social sciences are as much a part of the problem as they are a solution: they ceaselessly kept churning out the collective brew. Standards that define for everyone’s benefit what the social itself is made of might be tenuous, but they are powerful all the same. Theories of what a society is or should become have played an enormous role in helping actors to define where they stand, who they are, whom they should take into account, how they should justify themselves, and to which sort of forces they are allowed to bend
Nothing to add here other than don't accept things at face value ;-) Well...no.  Wait! I think Latour has something here, and I think it can, potentially, be a bit indicting  of Sociology, but also other disciplines. Everyone (and now that we have a lot more PhDs than we have jobs for them) seems to want to go out there and create a new framework for whatever, or a new procedure, or invent a new acronym (SPOC anyone? #shudder) without really thinking about (or caring sometimes) whether they are just reinventing the wheel, or whether their contribution to the professional knowledge is really something that's needed. I don't think that it's just the fault of researchers and other professionals. It think it's also the fault of our respective fields. The whole reason for being for some doctors (of the PhD kind) is to churn out more 'research' which will invariably include more boxing in of what it means to be x, or to be an actant in x, or what frames x.

Metrology is no more the whole of science than the sociology of the social is the whole of sociology. The social that makes up society is only one part of the associations that make up the collective. If we want to reassemble the social, it’s necessary, aside from the circulation and formatting of traditionally conceived social ties, to detect other circulating entities.
I am not sure what a 'circulating entity' is, according to Latour. I don't remember reading about it.  But I do see his point, and I agree.  The measuring part of science isn't the whole of science. There are things that can't be meaningfully measured.  And even if you do measure certain things, and you can measure them accurately, you still need to interpret your findings, which in my mind, is inherently a qualitative process to some extent.

We should not state that ‘when faced with an object, ignore its content and look for the social aspects surrounding it’. Rather, one should say that ‘when faced with an object, attend first to the associations out of which it’s made and only later look at how it has renewed the repertoire of social ties’.
I agree with Latour here.  I think that looking only what what connects with any given object (Actor-network) is a narrow way to look at it.  I think that what the object is, and the objects inherent properties do play a role in what associations it has with other objects.

But any science has to invent risky and artificial devices to make the observer sensitive to new types of connections.
No much to comment on. Seemed like an interesting quote.  It seems like all of our scaffolds are temporary in science and research. As we learn more about the object of our inquiry those temporary scaffolds are brought down and other, equally temporary scaffolds, are erected in their place.

No matter how hesitant the metaphor, it is such a shift in perspective that ANT is looking for. Things, quasi-objects, and attachments are the real center of the social world, not the agent, person, member, or participant—nor is it society or its avatars.
Not sure what Latour is getting at here. It seems like he is saying that the person (human actor) isn't that important when looking at it from an ANT perspective. Rather, what is important as the things that are invisible and that we don't see.  Is this what others are getting?

The problem is that the social sciences have never dared to really be empirical because they believed that they simultaneously had to engage in the task of modernization. Every time some enquiry began in earnest, it was interrupted midway by the urge to gain some sort of relevance. This is why it’s so important to keep separate what I earlier called the three different tasks of the social sciences: the deployment of controversies, the stabilization of those controversies, and the search for political leverage
No additional commentary.

Society is not the whole ‘in which’ everything is embedded, but what travels ‘through’ everything, calibrating connections and offering every entity it reaches some possibility of commensurability
Just a small reminder from Latour that society is itself a social construct. It is not a container in and of itself.

This is Wittgenstein’s greatest lesson: what it takes to follow rules is not itself describable by rules
There was a comment I made here in the text, that this comment by Latour reminded me a lot of bootstrapping. The question that comes to mind is this: do we need rules for bootstrapping? If we do, are those rules arbitrary?  Are we returning to that temporary nature references above? Those scaffolds that are temporary and will come down, only to be replaced by other scaffolds once  we're all moving along in our process?

To interpret some behavior we have indeed to be prepared for many different versions, but this doesn’t mean that we have to turn to local interactions
Is this  and endorsement of the global, zoomed-out, view?

The alternative I have proposed in this book is so simple that it can be summarized in one short list: the question of the social emerges when the ties in which one is entangled begin to unravel; the social is further detected through the surprising movements from one association to the next; those movements can either be suspended or resumed; when they are prematurely suspended, the social as normally construed is bound together with already accepted participants called ‘social actors’ who are members of a ‘society’; when the movement toward collection is resumed, it traces the social as associations through many non-social entities which might become participants later; if pursued systematically, this tracking may end up in a shared definition of a common world, what I have called a collective; but if there are no procedures to render it common, it may fail to be assembled; and, lastly, sociology is best defined as the discipline where...
Well, straight from the horse's mouth...

It’s worth noting at this point that ANT has been accused of two symmetric and contradictory sins: the first is that it extends politics everywhere, including the inner sanctum of science and technology; the second is that it is so indifferent to inequalities and power struggles that it offers no critical leverage—being content only to connive with those in power. Although the two accusations should cancel each other out—how can one extend politics so much and yet doing so little for it?—they are not necessarily contradictory.
Good question.  Thoughts?

ANT is nothing but an extended form of Machiavellianism 
Whoa! I can't think of a better line to close this post, and this Latour series, with!
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Latour - Rendering Associations traceable again - Part II

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Alright!  Just as #clmooc is starting, I am finishing off Latour!  Here is part 2, of a 3 part wrap-up on Latour's Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Once he discussed 5 uncertainties, now we're looking at re-assembling the social. Just as before, I've pulled one some quotes that made me go "huh!" when I was reading  the book (finished it a few weeks ago), and I am reacting to them more fully now - that is if I can remember why something made me go "huh!"

This section started with the term glocalization. I just wanted to start off this post by saying that I hate the term glocalization. It is meaningless, and this comes from someone with an MBA background. It's just one of those buzz words thrown around - but anyway, don't let my cranky-pants attitude spoil this post ;-)

How is the local itself being generated? This time it is not the global that is going to be localized, it is the local that has to be re-dispatched and redistributed. 
The notes I had to myself here is that we are working from the bottom and moving upward, not the other way around.  We are going from the local to the global.  Of course, this means that there is both a degree of excitement because you don't have that global view, but also an uncertainty, for the same reason.  The global view isn't there to taint or predispose you to think of the situation in a certain way.

In effect, what has been designated by the term ‘local interaction’ is the assemblage of all the other local interactions distributed elsewhere in time and space, which have been brought to bear on the scene through the relays of various non-human actors. It is the transported presence of places into other ones that I call articulators or localizers.
I think this is why it's an Actor-Network, an entity is both Actor and Network concurrently. It seems like we've gotten additional, new, terminology here. Articulators (aka localizers) and translators.  I do wonder, can something just transmit a signal without any degradation?

Here again, ANT’s lessons will be only negative because clearing the way is what we are after so that the social could be deployed enough to be assembled again. First, no interaction is what could be called isotopic. What is acting at the same moment in any place is coming from many other places, many distant materials, and many faraway actors.
We're back to Greek! Isotopic, coming from the Greek words isos meaning equal, and topos meaning place.  So not all interactions are coming from the same place.  This reminds me a lot of online learning in general. We have interactions coming from a variety of learners, be they in a MOOC, or in a traditional distance education setting. The interactions are pooling into one online system (or many online systems as the case might be in a MOOC), but they don't originate in the system that they finally end up in. Of course, what is Latour clearing out?

Second, no interaction is synchronic. The desk might be made of a tree seeded in the 1950s that was felled two years ago; the cloth of the teacher’s dress was woven five years ago, while the firing of neurons in her head might be a millisecond old and the area of the brain devoted to speech has been around for a good hundred thousands years (or maybe less, this is, hotly disputed question among paleontologists). 
So, we have a Butterfly effect, maybe?  Going back to the Greek, synchronic - meaning at the same time.  Events and actions don't take place at the same time. Even when they appear to happen, as was the case with our swarmed document(s), there actions were concurrent, and not necessarily reactions to one another.  When I was typing in the google doc, and one of my collaborators was typing above me, or bellow me, we were working together but separately during our initial idea swarms. If anything the actions they took affected me as I saw my cursor jump all around and my text being pushed down. It was also a little disorienting as I was curious to see what Sarah, and Maha, and Keith, and the gang were writing, so it was pulling me from my own thought process.  Even so, actions were taking place, but there was time-delay.  By the time I read what they wrote and reacted to it, time had passed since they were typed and articulated in the google doc.  We can also see this in traditional online learning whereby students post in a forum and have to wait for responses and discussion to occur.

Third, interactions are not synoptic. Very few of the participants in a given course of action are simultaneously visible at any given point.
It's a Greek bonanza! Well, I think my example of the discussion forum will do here as well!  That said, I do wonder if we swarm a google doc simultaneously, even though it is a bit disorienting, wouldn't that mean that  our interaction at that moment is synoptic since I can see them at the same time?  Or, since I can only see what's within my field of view, a specific page in my google document, that what happens above, or bellow, that page is not visible, and therefore these actions are not synoptic?

Fourth, interactions are not homogeneous
Hey! A Greek word that most people will recognize ;-)  This is quite true, I would say, from the swarm perspective.  When I initially started working with my collaborators I expected plain text to be the medium of our work, but soon I began to see that people were working with images, and text, and memes, and video, and audio.  And text was not all 'academic' text, but there were poems, haikus (well, OK a type of poem), and other types of text.  Not homegenous in the least bit.  But we swarmed some meaning out of it.

When slides are projected on the screen, how many different successive ingredients are necessary when some writing on a keyboard becomes digitalized, then transformed again in an analogical signal before being retransformed in some sort of slower brain wave into the mind of half-asleep students?
Good questions!

Fifth, interactions are not isobaric 
Well, knowing Greek is an asset with Latour it seems. According to Latour, in ANT, not all action have the same weight.  I think that if we look at our human Actors in our network we will see that not all of them have the same weight in all categories.  We swarmed the document as equal contributors, but we all had additional, specialized, roles which in turn affected what types of action we would take as part of these collaborations.

Some of the participants are pressing very strongly, requesting to be heard and taken into account, while others are fully routine customs sunk rather mysteriously into bodily habits
This sound familiar, with life in general.

No place dominates enough to be global and no place is self-contained enough to be local 
This reminds me of some MOOC moves to make local MOOCs more broad, and "big" and "global" MOOCs more localized. I wonder to what extent these efforts are successful, and how one measures success in these environments.

Nothing pertains to a subject that has not been given to it
Quite deep, Latour!

an actor-network is what is made to act by a large star-shaped web of mediators flowing in and out of it. It is made to exist by its many ties: attachments are first, actors are second. To be sure, such an expression smacks of ‘sociologism’, but only as long as we put too much in ‘being’ and not enough in ‘having’.
Interesting that the connective thread that connects actors, that 'social thread' is what's more important than the actors themselves.

collective—an even more radical solution would be to consider these bundles of actor-networks in the same way that Whitehead considers the word ‘society’. For him societies are not assemblages of social ties—in the way Durkheim or Weber could have imagined them—but are all the bundles of composite entities that endure in time and space. 
So, it's not the individual threads that are the focus, it seems, but rather the bundle of these connecting threads is what matters. I wonder how this applies to our RhizoANT exploration, to the untext, and to our collaboration in general.  We have google docs, twitter, blogger, google hangouts, and email as our main non-human actors.  Different threads connect us human actors, but do any threads connect these technologies?  What do you think?
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Latour - Rendering Associations Traceable Again - Part I

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Alright! This is the final countdown for Latour!  I've reached Part II of his book, which discusses the points of rendering associations traceable again.  This continuing exploration of Latour deals with and Actor-Network Theory (in case you didn't remember). I've selected quotes that got me thinking when I first read the book, and now I am providing some current reactions (2 weeks later) to those quotes ...

The adjective ‘social’ designates two entirely different phenomena: it’s at once a substance, a kind of stuff, and also a movement between non-social elements. In both cases, the social vanishes. When it is taken as a solid, it loses its ability to associate; when it’s taken as a fluid, the social again disappears because it flashes only briefly, just at the fleeting moment when new associations are sticking the collective together.
So...I guess according to Latour, the Social is both solid and fluid at the same time?  Maybe some sort of slushy substance that  allows us to both has the ability to associate, but also allows us to see the social in more than just a flash?  Or is that what we are attempting to do with ANT?  To render this two-form thing into something that is in-between?

It’s traceable only when it’s being modified
You know...  I've heard this before, somewhere else I think.  That something is only traceable or visible when it is in a state of flux, but I don't remember where It may have even been Latour himself somewhere.  To some extent this reminds me a little bit of the boos in super mario world.  They are invisible when they are stationary. Then when they start moving toward you they become visible for a few moments, and then when they stop they are invisible again (at least from what I remember of Super Mario World.  It's been 20 years since I've played it).

Thus, much like the pharmakon of the Greeks, the search for the social becomes either a remedy or a powerful poison depending on the dose and on the timing
I think Latour likes both his Greek words and his metaphors. It's a good thing I am fluent in Greek because this metaphor makes a lot of sense. Although I am struggling, at the moment, to find cases where the search for the social is detrimental to what you're doing. If you have any ideas or use cases, do post in the comments.

When a social explanation is proposed, there is no longer a way to decide whether it is due to some genuine empirical grasp, to the application of a standard, to an attempt at social engineering, or to mere laziness.With the confusion of the three successive duties of social science, the social has become thoroughly untraceable.
I suppose there is some truth in this.  The thing that came to mind is academic, peer-reviewed, articles I've read over the past few years where some standard was applied, but it didn't make sense; or attempts of addressing the social were viewed through very odd lenses, thus making the final interpretation a bit off (in not totally bizarre). I do wonder, when other actors come in and render their interpretations of the social traces, do they in turn affect those traces in retrospect?

But it does not require much effort to see that a virtual and always present entity is exactly the opposite of what is needed for the collective to be assembled: if it’s already there, the practical means to compose it are no longer traceable; if it’s total, the practical means to totalize it are no longer visible; if it’s virtual, the practical means to realize, visualize, and collect it have disappeared from view. 
The thing that came to mind when reading this part was to ponder whether Latour was thinking of ossification here, and if not, would ossification apply to this train of thought?

How can we move on and render the social fully traceable again? By following the same strategy as in Part I. We should deploy the full range of controversies instead of attempting to decide by ourselves what is the best starting point to follow it. Once again, we should be more abstract and more relativist than at first anticipated.
Part I here refers to the sections I've blogged about before in this RhizoANT series of posts.  It's quite interesting that instead of picking one thread to try to untangle the entire mess that is social (mess meant in a good way) we have aren't picking just one, it seems, but rather looking at the field in total.

The first corrective move looks simple enough: we have to lay continuous connections leading from one local interaction to the other places, times, and agencies through which a local site is made to do something.
No commentary - just seemed an important point

all of the idiosyncratic terms I am going to offer designate nothing more than specific tricks to help resist the temptation to jump to the global
If we are deploying a full range of controversies, aren't we looking at things from a Global sense, Latour?  I get the idea of looking in, or rather zooming in, but shouldn't we be looking both at the zoomed in and zoomed out view? After all Actors can be Networks, and Networks can be Actors. This necessitates, in my mind, flexibility to pan and zoom throughout the network. No?

Myopic ANT scholars have a great advantage over sharp-sighted all encompassing overseers. Not only can they ask gross and silly questions, they can do so obstinately and collectively. The first kind of clamp is the one obtained by this rather naive query: ‘Where are the structural effects actually being produced?
Not really a naive query - it's a good question actually.  One thing that comes to mind is a two-year-old who keeps asking "why?".  This can be annoying, but if we keep asking why, and trying to answer, I think we get some rich answers (or at least rich views)

Macro no longer describes a wider or a larger site in which the micro would be embedded like some Russian Matryoshka doll, but another equally local, equally micro place, which is connected to many others through some medium transporting specific types of traces. No place can be said to be bigger than any other place, but some can be said to benefit from far safer connections with many more places than others.
Small is big, and big is small? I guess the pan and zoom activity doesn't quite work, according to Latour, because if Networks are Actors, then zooming into it to reveal other actors that make it up reminds me a lot of the Matryoshka doll metaphor.  Am I missing something?

The macro is neither ‘above’ nor ‘below’ the interactions, but added to them as another of their connections, feeding them and feeding off of them. There is no other known way to achieve changes in relative scale. For each of the ‘macro places’, the same type of questions can be raised.
I think I know what you're getting at, Latour, but I am a bit lost (not being funny, or anything...)

As should be clear by now, ANT is first of all an abstract projection principle for deploying any shape, not some concrete arbitrary decision about which shape should be on the map.
Alright, fine.  But, if I am going to use ANT as a thinking tool, shouldn't I come out with something somewhat concrete so as to better explain what's going on to an audience?

As every reader of Michel Foucault knows, the ‘panopticon’, an ideal prison allowing for a total surveillance of inmates imagined at the beginning of the 19th century by Jeremy Bentham, has remained a utopia, that is, a world of nowhere to feed the double disease of total paranoia and total megalomania. We, however, are not looking for utopia, but for places on earth that are fully assignable. Oligoptica are just those sites since they do exactly the opposite of panoptica: they see much too little to feed the megalomania of the inspector or the paranoia of the inspected, but what they see, they see it well—hence the use of this Greek word to designate an ingredient at once indispensable and that comes in tiny amounts (as in the ‘oligo-elements’ of your health store)
Again with those Greek words ;-)

As we saw in the earlier part of the book, it is not the sociologist’s job to decide in the actor’s stead what groups are making up the world and which agencies are making them act
Quite true.

Size and zoom should not be confused with connectedness
One more Latourism.

In effect, the Big Picture is just that: a picture. And then the question can be raised: in which movie theatre, in which exhibit gallery is it shown? Through which optics is it projected? To which audience is it addressed? I propose to call panoramas the new clamps by asking obsessively such questions. Contrary to oligoptica, panoramas, as etymology suggests, see everything. But they also see nothing since they simply show an image painted (or projected) on the tiny wall of a room fully closed to the outside.
So, a panorama shows you everything, but it's not a panopticon because unlike a panopticon you can't see everything in a panorama.  Am I on the right wavelength here?

Whereas oligoptica are constantly revealing the fragility of their connections and their lack of control on what is left in between their networks, panoramas gives the impression of complete control over what is being surveyed, even though they are partially blind and that nothing enters or leaves their walls except interested or baffled spectators. 
One other aspect of panoramas I can think of is that they focus on the broad, so the details will be quite fuzzy.  The camera lens will focus on a specific spot to make sure that this spot is in focus, and it does so to the detriment of focusing on other things. Thus a panorama gives you the big picture, but you can't really "see" everything clearly.  I wonder if this is what Latour was going for.


Well, Part I is done... Time for a mental break.  Thoughts? :)
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Latour: Firth Source of Uncertainty - Writing Down Risky Accounts

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Alright! Here we are! I am continuing the exploration [and one-sided dialogue] with Latour and I have reached the fifth [and final] source of uncertainty. This first part of the book has tried to describe Actor-Network Theory by describing the negative space around it, by offering up metaphors and examples, and by giving some small snippets into what ANT is (or tries to accomplish).  As with the previous posts, I have picked out quotes that resonated with me (3 weeks ago) when I read the chapter. Now I am re-reading them and responding to them [if needed].
This introduction to ANT begins to look like another instance of Zeno’s paradox, as if every segment was split up by a host of mediators each claiming to be taken into account. ‘We will never get there! How can we absorb so many controversies?’ Having reached this point, the temptation is great to quit in despair and to fall back on more reasonable social theories that would prove their stolid common sense by ignoring most of the sources of uncertainty I have reviewed.(p. 121)
The point that I get from this is that if you can keep cutting something by half you will never be done, because something can always be divided by two.  But, the key point here is not to be nihilistic, but rather to be strategic about the mediators that you choose to cut in half to explore in more details.  The analogy that I can give is a library.  Seeing that huge building and all those books in it can cause any knowledge seeker to have a panic attack about where to start and how to process all of this.  At the risk of sounding like a rhizoFollower - go at it rhizomatically. Pick up an end, any end, and then start exploring from there, wherever the journey takes you.  If you want a map, get one, if you don't, then free-style it.
We could swallow one, maybe two, but not four in a row. Unfortunately, I have not found a way to speed things up: this type of science for that type of social should be as slow as the multiplicity of objections and objects it has to register in its path; it should be as costly as it is necessary to establish connections among the many mediators it finds swarming at every step; and it should be as reflexive, articulated, and idiosyncratic as the actors cooperating in its elaboration. It has to be able to register differences, to absorb multiplicity, to be remade for each new case at hand. (p.121)
Um...yeah...ditto to that (clever man, Latour!)

This is not a sociology any more but a slowciology (p. 122)
I gotta say - not fond of that term...slowciology.  It implies that sociology, by nature, is quick and therefore careless. I am not a sociologists but I think that all disciplines have fast and 'slow' lanes. The speed is dictated by a lot of factors, including the personal ontologies and epistemologies of the researchers. It also reminds me a lot of various slow fads.


If we want to have a chance to mop up all the controversies already mentioned, we have to add a fifth and last source of uncertainty, namely one about the study itself. The idea is simply to bring into the foreground the very making of reports. As the reader should have understood by now, the solution to relativism is always more relativity. (p. 122)
Oh goody, more relativism! ;-)  OK, in all seriousness though, the mere act of recording something is actually changing the original interpretations of the 'social' thing that occurred. No one record is enough to really understand what happened.  Not our recent HybridPed article, not the #ET4Online poster we presented, not the other articles we're working on as a RhizoResearch team.  Together they begin to re-constitute an understanding of what happened, but any one account will not fully shed light into the machinations of rhizomatic learning and learning experiences.  I would guess that Latour would also liken this to an asymptotic curve - it will get really close to the axis, but it will never touch it. There is always something left un-rediscovered once the original account ends.

A 50,000 word thesis might be read by half a dozen people (if you are lucky, even your PhD advisor would have read parts of it!) and when I say ‘read’, it does not mean ‘understood’, ‘put to use’, ‘acknowledged’, but rather ‘perused’, ‘glanced at’, ‘alluded to’, ‘quoted’, ‘shelved somewhere in a pile’. 
Hey, Latour! This is a bit depressing. A budding doctoral students does not want to hear this. A blog post I write [and post a link on twitter] gets more reads than this. I have not idea if anything I write gets 'put to use' but it is a useful vehicle for engaging with ideas and people, even if I don't get a lot of comments.  The consideration at a PhD dissertation doesn't get a lot of playtime, that it is not publishable like a book (without serious editing, cutting, and adding), just is one more indication that the book-length dissertation is a relic of the past. Alternatives to the dissertation would be much more useful it seems.

How does one make sense of this mess as it piles up on our desks and fills countless disks with data? Sadly, it often remains to be written and is usually delayed. It rots there as advisors, sponsors, and clients are shouting at you and lovers, spouses, and kids are angry at you while you rummage about in this dark sludge of data to bring light to the world. And when you begin to write in earnest, finally pleased with yourself, you have to sacrifice vast amounts of data that cannot fit in the small number of pages allotted to you. How frustrating this whole business of studying is. (p. 123) 
Gee Thanks, Latour! It all sound so...nihilistic! I do think that a lot of materials end up on the cutting floor, but that doesn't mean they can't be used.  After all, one write-up, one dissertation, one article, is not going to be a magnum opus that bursts the doors open to whatever phenomenon you are studying. You are standing on the shoulders of giants when you write your 'magnum opus' (dissertation). There are pre-requisites and co-requisites that go along with your work to make it understandable and applicable. It does not stand on its own, in a vacuum, so it's OK.  Just relax ;-)


It’s because ANT claims to renew what it means to be a science and what it means to be social, that it has also to renew what it is an objective account. The word does not refer to the traditional sense of matters of fact—with their cold, disinterested claims to ‘objectification’— but to the warm, interested, controversial building sites of matters of concern. Objectivity can thus be obtained either by an objectivist style—even though no object is there to be seen—or by the presence of many objectors— even (p. 124)
Huh...interesting.  I take it that the original language of Latour is French.  I wonder how this world-play (objectivity vs objector) works in French and in other languages that Latour is translated into.  For what it's worth I would say that it's all subjective. We aim for objectivity but our objectivity passes through the prism that is our knowledge and experiences, so an absolute version of the truth does not exist.


It’s thus a fair question to ask why the literature of social science is often so badly written. There are two reasons for this: first, scholars strive to imitate the sloppy writings of hard scientists; second, because contrary to the latter, they do not convoke in their reports actors recalcitrant enough to interfere with the bad writing. (p. 124)
Interesting thoughts, Latour.  That said, it's hard to make it in a system that values the "sloppy writings of hard scientists".  How does one publish a peer reviewed article in a journal of impact so that they gain the street cred to be able to affect change?  Do you go totally rogue and work on the periphery of the various academic disciplines? Or do you strive to immediate that sloppy writing, to formulate 'research questions' before you begin your research in order to conform to those standards? What about conforming to their ontologies? This seems like an equally problematic issue.

it seems that too often sociologists of the social are simply trying to ‘fix a world on paper’ as if this activity was never in risk of failing. (p. 127)
I guess I have no comment for this. It seems fairly straight-forward and I find myself agreeing with it.  Then again...what's wrong with trying to pin something down (no matter how feeble the attempt)?


if the social is a trace, then it can be retraced; if it’s an assembly then it can be reassembled. While there exists no material continuity between the society of the sociologist and any textual account—hence the wringing of hands about method, truth, and political relevance—there might exist a plausible continuity between what the social, in our sense of the word, does and what a text may achieve—a good text, that is.(p. 128)
Hmmm... How does one define good, bad, and mediocre (and anything in-between)? Just a question that came to mind while reading this. I am wondering, however...why is there no material continuing between society, the sociologists, and the textual account?  Can't we trace connections, even faint, between them?

A good ANT account is a narrative or a description or a proposition where all the actors do something and don’t just sit there. Instead of simply transporting effects without transforming them, each of the points in the text may become a bifurcation, an event, or the origin of a new translation. (p. 128)
Ding! ding! ding! ding!!!!!  We have an "Ant is..." statement (always exciting when this happens in Latour).  This sentence made me smile a bit, Latour old chap! One of my pet peeves (who knows, maybe I am too young of an academic to know any better) is that descriptions count for nothing.  A researcher can do a magnificent account describing what's happening and provide no 'conclusion' or 'analysis' but this counts for nothing (or very little at least).  Some sort of professional opinion needs to be bolted on if you want to publish this in anything other than your self-published blog.  Your descriptions need to be operationalized to matter.  Does this always have to be the case? What's the matter with just having a good, researched, description?


A good text elicits networks of actors when it allows the writer to trace a set of relations defined as so many translations. (p. 129)
Thanks for the explanation Latour :-)


So, network is an expression to check how much energy, movement, and specificity our own reports are able to capture. Network is a concept, not a thing out there. It is a tool to help describe something, not what is being described. (p. 131)
This is something that sent me for a processing loop.  For me networks conjure the image of computer networks. It's something concrete. Connections can be visualized and described as well.  The word 'network' is used in a fashion different than the common, current, usage, which to some extent is problematic. But I think that my conception of network is a static one, a drawing, a snapshot in time.  If an ANT network were to have a snapshot of itself, would it look like a network diagram for computers?  In real time, does a NOC network diagram look like something an ANT account might produce?


In order to trace an actor-network, what we have to do is to add to the many traces left by the social fluid through which the traces are rendered again present, provided something happens in it. In an actor-network account the relative proportion of mediators to intermediaries is increased. I will call such a description a risky account, meaning that it can easily fail—it does fail most of the time—since it can put aside neither the complete artificiality of the enterprise nor its claim to accuracy and truthfulness. (p. 133)
What are the risks? Risks to whom? Why are they risky? Is failure always an issue?


The whole question is to see whether the event of the social can be extended all the way to the event of the reading through the medium of the text. This is the price to pay for objectivity, or rather ‘objectfullness’ to be achieved. (p. 133)
Something to ponder...


The best way to proceed at this point and to feed off this fifth source of uncertainty is simply to keep track of all our moves, even those that deal with the very production of the account. (p.133)
This seems like a no-brainer to me...but then again my MA program was quite qualitative in nature and keeping account of all the moves, turns, twists, and thoughts of the researcher, seemed like a given.


To add in a messy way to a messy account of a messy world does not seem like a very grandiose activity. But we are not after grandeur: the goal is to produce a science of the social uniquely suited to the specificity of the social in the same way that all other sciences had to invent devious and artificial ways to be true to the specific phenomena on which they wished to get a handle on. (p. 136) 
This reminds me a lot of the untext - but how do audiences cope with this? Is it ethical to give an audience something messy and let them make sense of it?  The audience is further removed than the researcher from what was being researched, so doesn't the researcher have an obligation to provide some description and analysis - a way to set order an make neat for the reader - despite the inherent bias?



The task is to deploy actors as networks of mediations—hence the hyphen in the composite word ‘actor-network’. Deployment is not the same as ‘mere description’, nor is it the same as ‘unveiling’, ‘behind’ the actors’ backs, the ‘social forces at work’. (p. 136)
This might have made sense at one time, but I need to do some mental gymnastics to get it back now... Latour, you keep me thinking.


And what is so wrong with ‘mere descriptions’? (p. 136)
Amen to that! What is wrong with mere descriptions?


The simple act of recording anything on paper is already an immense transformation that requires as much skill and just as much artifice as painting a landscape or setting up some elaborate biochemical reaction. No scholar should find humiliating the task of sticking to description. This is, on the contrary, the highest and rarest achievement. (p. 136-137)
When I read this I thought it would appeal to my rhizomates ;-)


As soon as a site is placed ‘into a framework’, everything becomes rational much too fast and explanations begin to flow much too freely. The danger is all the greater because this is the moment most often chosen by critical sociology, always lurking in the background, to take over social explanations and replace the objects to be accounted for with irrelevant, all-purpose ‘social forces’ actors that are too dumb to see or can’t stand to be revealed. (p. 137)
Uh...ditto? :-)


Hence I come to an end with all of Latour's sources of uncertainty.  I've made it to Part II of the book. I am actually almost done as of this writing, but I am not sure I'll take the same approach to part II of the book. Something to think about.  What do you think of Latour's quotes thus far?

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Latour: The Fourth Uncertainty - Matters of Fact vs Matters of Concern

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Continuing on the (one sided) conversation of ANT with Latour we have the 4th source of uncertainty which is Matters of Fact vs Matters of Concern.  I guess, starting off here, that one cannot debate matters of "fact" because they are facts and therefore immutable, whereas "concerns" are broad categories and the "answers" will most likely be in a state of flux.

ANT is the story of an experiment so carelessly started that it took a quarter of century to rectify it and catch up with what its exact meaning was. It all started quite badly with the unfortunate use of the expression ‘social construction of scientific facts’. (p. 88)
I am wondering what is so unfortunate about 'social construction of scientific facts'.  Is it that the word "fact" was used? or is it the "social" in 'social construction'?  Or is it both? I know that Latour seems to have an issue with how 'social' has been defined (wonder what he thinks of 'social media') but it seems that this chapter is also focusing on the semantics of the word 'facts', as it related to explorations of knowledge. I do think that as humans we want facts because of desire to have something tangible at the end of our explorations.  If at the end we have something fuzzy, did we accomplish anything through our hard work?

Unfortunately, the excitation went quickly sour when we realized that for other colleagues in the social as well as natural sciences the word construction meant something entirely different from what common sense had thought until then. To say that something was ‘constructed’ in their minds meant that something was not true. They seemed to operate with the strange idea that you had to submit to this rather unlikely choice: either something was real and not constructed, or it was constructed and artificial, contrived and invented, made up and false (p. 90)
Ah! I guess I should have read a little further into my own copy/pasting.  Well, words have no meaning but for the meaning that a community of speakers endows upon those words and expressions. I can see how constructed might mean un-natural (as in a building is constructed), however just because something is not found in nature it doesn't mean that it is not true.  I am standing in a constructed building, using a computer which was constructed, in order to put together this blog post. Does this mean that what's being created is not true?

yet, it became painfully clear that if we wanted to go on using the word construction we would have to fight on two fronts: against the epistemologists who went on claiming that facts were ‘of course’ not constructed—which had about as much sense as saying that babies are not born out of their mother’s wombs—and against our ‘dear colleagues’ who seemed to imply that if facts were constructed then they were as weak as fetishes—or at least what they believed fetishists ‘believed’ in. (p. 91)
Huh...interesting. So, I guess part of the issue here, again, is what sorts of meanings we put on the words that we use.  I am wondering if the hurdles to come to an agreement over how to use language will be as hard as having someone else's epistemological standing validated by the status quo.

This is why I thought it more appropriate to do with constructivism what we had done for relativism: thrown at us like insults, both terms had a much too honorable tradition not to be reclaimed as a glorious banner. After all, those who criticized us for being relativists never noticed that the opposite would be absolutism. And those who criticized us for being constructivists would have probably not wished to see that the opposite position, if words have any meaning, was fundamentalism (p. 91)
No comment - just an interesting note about the various opposites.

Our colleagues prefer to say: ‘Social explanation of science has failed because it is contradictory.’ Or they might say: ‘It has succeeded fairly well, let’s go on with business as usual.’ But ANT proposes: ‘It’s a great opportunity now that it has failed so thoroughly since it may finally bring social theory to its senses.’ In the same way as church fathers celebrated Adam’s sin as a felix culpa (a fortunate fall from grace) because it had triggered Christ’s redemption, I could say that the failure of a social explanation on science has been the great chance for social theory. (p. 97)
Religious imagery aside, I am actually wondering if contractions are always a problem.  It seems to me that there are some problems in experimental physics (for example) that seem contradictory but we still study to make sense of them. Things work, so there must be something there, hence more studying of things that appear contradictory. To me it seems like a great opportunity to continue learning, and to try and solve a suborn puzzle. Why assume that is has failed due to contradictions? Why not study the phenomenon more and gather more data to analyze?

Such is the interpretation I chose to give to the ‘Science Wars’: scientists made us realize that there was not the slightest chance that the type of social forces we use as a cause could have objective facts as their effects (p. 100)
But... when is a fact a fact? Is a fact perpetually a fact or can a fact lose its "factness"?

ANT does not assert that all the other domains of social science are fine and that only science and technology require a special strategy because they are so much harder, so much more important, and so much more respectable. It claims that since social accounts have failed on science so pitifully, it must have failed everywhere, science being special only in the sense that its practitioners did not let sociologists pass through their turf and destroy their objects with ‘social explanations’ without voicing their dissent loud and clear. (p. 101)
I guess... But isn't ANT meant to look at the fleeting social connections?  I guess I am back to contemplating the meaning of the world 'social' within this context...

So, ANT cannot share the philosophy of causality used in social sciences. Every time some A is said to be related to some B, it’s the social itself that is being generated. If my questioning of social explanations looks unfair, blind, and obsessively literal, it’s because I don’t want to confuse the assembling of the collective with the mere review of the entities already assembled or with a bundle of homogeneous social ties (p. 103)
No comment - just thought the above was interesting. Wish I had taken a side note on the PDF on this one...

We have now reached the very birthplace of what has been called ‘actor-network-theory’ or, more accurately, ‘sociology of translation’— unfortunately the label never held in English. As I said, ANT is simply the realization that something unusual had happened in the history and sociology of scientific hard facts, something so unusual that social theory could no more go through it than a camel through the eye of a needle (P. 106)
Quite interesting.  While ANT is a bit of an odd acronym, I prefer Actor-Network to the 'sociology of translation'. It seems to me that 'translation' is just as vulnerable to definitional issues as the word 'social'.

The social of sociologists thus appears exactly as it always was, namely a superfluity, a purely redundant rear-world adding nothing to the real world except artificial conundrums—just like the ether before relativity theory helped physics (p. 107)
I wonder how my sociologist-colleagues would feel about this ;-)

From the first three uncertainties, we have learned that studying their relations might be empirically difficult but is no longer a priori forbidden by the ‘obvious objections’ that ‘things don’t talk’, ‘fish nets have no passion’, and ‘only humans have intentions’. Social is nowhere in particular as a thing among other things but may circulate everywhere as a movement connecting non-social things. Stage two: social is back as association. We don’t know yet how all those actors are connected, but we can state as the new default position before the study starts that all the actors we are going to deploy might be associated in such a way that they make others do things. This is done not by transporting a force that would remain the same throughout as some sort of faithful intermediary, but by generating transformations manifested by the many unexpected events triggered in the other mediators that follow them along the line. This is what I dubbed the ‘principle of irreduction’ and such is the philosophical meaning of ANT: a concatenation of mediators does not trace the same connections and does not require the same type of explanations as a retinue of intermediaries transporting a cause. (p. 107)
It's interesting, this made much more sense to me (or was much more of an "aha") 10 days ago when I first read it.  At the moment I think that I highlighted this because it highlights the approach that ANT takes toward non-human actors - in other words non-human actors are actors in their own right. The one thing that is making the mental gears turn, which I have italized above, is making me wonder what the system-wide effects in our interpretations are if we look at a connection from A----D as one concatenated connection vs. A--B--C--D vs.  A--B----D vs. A----C--D.

To designate this thing which is neither one actor among many nor a force behind all the actors transported through some of them but a connection that transports, so to speak, transformations, we use the word translation—the tricky word ‘network’ being defined in the next chapter as what is traced by those translations in the scholars’ accounts. So, the word ‘translation’ now takes on a somewhat specialized meaning: a relation that does not transport causality but induces two mediators into coexisting (p. 108)
I think this connects with my previous point about the word translation. This is a non-mainstream meaning of the word. Interesting relationship, from plain ol' transport of causality to co-existance, but what does it really mean? Does it mean that both mediators (actors?) are of equal importance within their connected network? Co-existence generally means that the two aren't competing, but I didn't think that actors in a social network competed in such a way.

If some causality appears to be transported in a predictable and routine way, then it’s the proof that other mediators have been put in place to render such a displacement smooth and predictable (see Part II). I can now state the aim of this sociology of associations more precisely: there is no society, no social realm, and no social ties, but there exist translations between mediators that may generate traceable associations. (p. 108)
The italics are mine. Interesting, but how do we define traceable associations?  Are they strong bonds? weak bonds? no bonds (we're just playing archeologists)? If there are strong or weak bonds between mediators, does that not imply some sort of a system, even if voluntary?

So this is where the fourth source of uncertainty can help us. If we accept to learn also from the controversies about non-humans, we soon realize that matters of fact do not describe what sort of agencies are populating the world any better than the words ‘social’, ‘symbolic’, and ‘discursive’ describe what is a human actor and the aliens overtaking it. (p. 110)
No broad response back to Latour about this - I just found this quote pretty interesting and adding to the description of what ANT is. It's one of many quotes collected to find out what ANT is all about. Latour is presenting this almost like a murder mystery...

To our great surprise, once the artificial boundary between social and natural was removed, non-human entities were able to appear under an unexpected guise. For instance, rocks might be useful to knock an idealist back to his senses, but rocks in geology seemed to be much more varied, much more uncertain, much more open, and deploy many more types of agencies than the narrow role given to them in empiricist accounts (p 111)
The thing that got me thinking here is the whole notion of a "tool".  We think of tools as lacking some initial motivation to do something.  A hammer for example has the use of hammering, or removing, a nail (at least that's the intended purpose - what it allows you to do is a whole other kettle of fish). Here we can see this specific tool given a place in some sort of social interaction, but does the tool really matter, or does it not?  The computer mediates my communication with the audience of this blog, but does a tool, that doesn't have mediatory allowances, matter in an actor-network graph?

ANT is not interested only in freeing human actors from the prison of the social but in offering natural objects an occasion to escape the narrow cell given to matters of fact by the first empiricism. (p. 114)
Hmmm... so I guess with ANT we are giving non-human objects equal consideration in the network of actions and how those are translated?

 The discussion begins to shift for good when one introduces not matters of fact, but what I now call matters of concern. While highly uncertain and loudly disputed, these real, objective, atypical and, above all, interesting agencies are taken not exactly as object but rather as gatherings. (p. 114)
No comment - just interesting quote.

This is exactly what the fourth uncertainty wishes to thrive from: the mapping of scientific controversies about matters of concern should allow us to renew from top to bottom the very scene of empiricism—and hence the divide between ‘natural’ and ‘social’. (p. 114)
Again - no comment - just adding this to my "trying to understand ANT" pile...

Such a multiplicity does not mean that scientists don’t know what they are doing and that everything is just fiction, but rather that science studies has been able to pry apart exactly what the ready-made notion of ‘natural objective matters of fact’ had conflated too fast, namely reality, unity, and indisputability. (p. 116)
I wonder if he is getting a a duality in Actor-Network with this.  Each network is an actor, and each actor is comprised of a network (or networks)?

There is unity and objectivity on one side, multiplicity and symbolic reality on the other. This is just the solution that ANT wishes to render untenable. With such a divide between one reality and many interpretations, the continuity and commensurability of what we call the associations would immediately disappear, since the multiple will run its troubled historical course while the unified reality will remain intact, untouched, and remote from any human history. (p. 117)
Just an interesting quote. Note to self - add notes to margins...

Controversies over ontologies turn out to be just as interesting and controversial as metaphysics, except that the question of truth (of what the world is really like) cannot be ignored with a blase´ pose or simplified a priori by thumping on desks and kicking at stones (p. 118)
I am getting flashbacks from 802 with this quote ;-)

Scientific practice is the drosophila of social theory since it offers an exaggerated and scaled up version of what can later be studied in much more inaccessible domains. Once you learn how to respect shifting ontologies, you can tackle more difficult entities for which the question of reality has been simply squeezed out of existence by the weight of social explanations. (p. 119)
Not sure what to make of this, especially the weight of social explanations.  To some extent I thought we were discounting them up to now... :-/

When we list the qualities of an ANT account, we will make sure that when agencies are introduced they are never presented simply as matters of fact but always as matters of concern, with their mode of fabrication and their stabilizing mechanisms clearly visible (p. 120)
As I read this, again, I am wondering if agencies (and connections) are therefore (to some extent) in the eye of the beholder.  How one analyzes something, and from what frame will make a difference in how one perceives agency...


That's it for the 4th uncertainty.  One more to go!

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