Jan 2014 Ammending a symp paper


The thing we are struggling with is the lovely line Steve developed in his paper and for the symposium overall, speaking truth to materials. The notion derives from Antoine Hennion's work1 and further developed around taste by Michael Guggenheim2. It's the notion of how pretty much everything that falls into an ANT account is shuffled into text. There are odd exceptions, the odd photo or diagram but words rule. As I was puzzling about it I was reminded of a question from a colleague at AARE conference a long time ago. A group of us were presenting a symposium on our ANT-related work. The question to me was "how do you interview a computer?". It was part playful but I took to be pressing the materiality does not matter card, i.e. these things can't talk so why are they important? So I'm puzzling how to speak truth to learning?


Steve reminded me of an excellent paper by Passoth and Rowland (PR)3, which he had passed on much earlier when I canvassed doing a PCP on the writing of this paper. It is a pearl of a paper and touches on the real issue that this wee paper is grappling with, how to write about non-coherence without domesticating it (one of the modes of working around non-coherence that Law et al. describe). Re-reading PR the spectre of the unconscious, that which is so good at making coherent stories4 out of the wild and messy stuff the mind/body takes in, looms large. But there is a police cordon around the unconscious and most of whatever else is to do with mind.

The paper, PR's, touches on many of the things I am trying to capture in this paper. It is also a good way to do your head in…. But they don't point to what is at the nub of a post-ANT approach, practices (all syncretic if we accept Law et al.) like writing enact realities. Or, as Law argues, my writing practices and your reading practices enact a putative reality.

So stepping back to think about this practice, of learning in public I am wondering is it messy enough? What is it that is coming to mind (don't use the conscious/unconscious line again)? Why am i choosing to write some of the fumbling in here and what is being left out? Is there a level of enacting coherence even in these scrappy notes. I look back at Darwin's red notebook. Now, that is messy and, at least to an outsider's eye, non-coherent in so many places. The notebook5 I keep offline looks much more like Darwin's red notebook. That is, in part, because I am curious about a lot of things, too many things. I also make use of DevonThink (OSX only) to collect bibs and bobs. Johnson uses it also. I was using it before I herd Johnson talk about it but when I use the AI facility, find me stuff that "looks like" this bit of text, I wonder just who is doing the thinking, me and/or the machine? The Devon software appears to be designed for mess, i.e. all the bits and pieces in different formats that come across the screen.

And as the day winds down, I pick up a tweet from Howard Rheingold:

Howard Rheingold
My case study of #ds106 as open, connected learning connectedlearning.tv/case-studies/d…

Nice to know and not surprising that there are a few other folk playing with the notion of learning in public. Feels a bit like the SETI experience: we are not alone!

So back to the last bit of the paper. It now only draws upon the Red Notebook and the locating Paris example. I want to keep some of the argument from v2 (it also links to Steve's paper) and make use of Law et al.'s stuff which I think goes to the heart of the argument..and then there is the PR paper. Argh! Time to have a chat with Leonie and toss some words onto G drive for Helen and Ailsa.


Been thinking about noncoherence and the L-word. It relates back to Johnson's learning as he wrote Ghost Map, i.e. that accounts of 'aha' moments are, and this is me not him, kind of enacted by the noncoherence that generates them, i.e. Snow has the 'aha' which enacts a lone genius and glosses the turbulence underneath, under the bonnet as Law et al. like to write about it. So a lot of the practices associated with the L-word are about glossing, giving the appearance of coherence to practices underneath that are far from coherent. Is this an 'aha' moment? Hardly. But I have a bit of a trace of the noncoherent stuff that I have loosely pulled together to make a weak case for the notion.

Does this mean you can have difference in noncoherence or is it black and white? Who decides? Well, Law et al. talk about conflicting/ed logics. I keep having this nagging notion that the unconscious is part of the puzzle. It seems to thrive on noncoherence and works so hard to make things cohere, make sense, come together.

This is a much bigger idea than PCP, although PCP is a kind of ruse to nudge some thinking about it.

Helen Verran's work with the Yoruba6 was probably the first exploration of the idea. I may have that wrong.

So what would noncoherence look like in learning? A place to start might be the 6 modes in the Law et al. paper. Domestication is one of them, a mode I have written about for a long time vis-à-vis computer use in schools.

Note to self, revisit Latour's We have never been modern7.


Thinking about how to assemble the PCP section of the paper. Went back a listened to Steven Johnson's account of how he came to write Where Good Ideas Come From. His account of John Snow8, the Soho physician who, according to popular accounts had a click moment when he mapped the location of the victims of a cholera outbreak and realised the centrality of a water pump to the places where those affected had died. As Johnson explained, almost every important feature of the story was wrong. Snow had arrived at his theory of cholera being carried in the water at least six years earlier. The Soho mapping was more of a selling of the idea exercise to the authorities.

You might think Johnson was recounting a story of innovation as an ANT scholar. The solution to the problem was arrived at slowly. It was a messy process. It was networked. He called it a kind of latent theory of innovation. The materiality of the work is at every turn. The recruitment of allies, the translation of his theory into a form the authorities eventually embraced and so on.

But, as one of the ARs9 asked, do learners work like this? My sense is that I am more persuaded of this by the reaction of the ARs than previously. Generally, learners don't keep notebooks unless required to. That kind of journal-based pedagogy is common enough. But the work of Ibrar Bhatt clearly demonstrates that learners rely upon familiar patterns to explore the new, even if the application of those patterns to an external expert appears naïve.

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