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#critlit2010: trees and linkers

photo by robokow


This morning I’m reading “The Hypericonic De-Vice,” from E-Crit, Marcel O’Gorman, and right in the middle of this passage –

… According to Ong, Ramus was simply responding to the need of universities to corporatize knowledge delivery:

… in the university, the teacher was also part of a corporation which was uncalculatingly but relentlessly reducing the personal, dialoging element in knowledge to a minimum in favor of an element which made knowledge something a corporation could traffic in, a-personal and abstract (almost as though it were something which existed outside a mind, as though one could have knowledge without anybody to do the knowing, as Ramists were eventually to maintain one could). (1958: 152)

The Ramist spatialization and infinite binarization of the world, which Ong refers to as a ‘corpuscular’ episteme, haunts our educational apparatus to this day; the same technological drive towards efficiency that spawned textbooks on logic is ow producing distance education and the ambitious electronic archiving projects that characterize much of the humanities scholarship in the digital age. (51)

O’Gorman is juggling Ramus, Ong, and Blake in this chapter. Here he is discussing Ramsus’s appearance at the cusp of printing, so that his trees articulating the division of knowledge into “natural” relations from generals to specials arrived at the moment when it could be distributed in print to young learners. Mnemonic devices to remind the learner of divisions of topics would not be needed after Ramus planted his schematizing of of bipartite division. Ramsus’s trees suited the economy of learning just-in-time. Kismet.

Here’s how it’s characterized at the university today, still in the corporate model:

Knowledge existing outside the knower = professional knowledge as it tends to circulate in the university.

Knowledge as the personal construct = amateur knowledge as it tends to circulate outside the university.

So, while I’m in the middle of passage, this week’s reading list from Critical Literacies arrives by email, including, Shirky: Ontology is Overrated, and Folksonomies – Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata, by Mathes.

Shirky sets what’s coming ([amateur constructed] folksonomy links that remove the need for [professionally constructed] hierarchical file systems) against other knowledge schemes (Dewey), and sees this:

What I think is coming instead are much more organic ways of organizing information than our current categorization schemes allow, based on two units — the link, which can point to anything, and the tag, which is a way of attaching labels to links. The strategy of tagging — free-form labeling, without regard to categorical constraints — seems like a recipe for disaster, but as the Web has shown us, you can extract a surprising amount of value from big messy data sets.

That is to say, we are moving from the filing system


to the file system disappearing to leave the links


images from Shirky

An observation: Constructing links does not eliminate the file tree. It’s still back there. But the links can remove dependence on the tree, and may remove the tree from the privileged position.

This is move from the Ramsian bipartite, where each item has to exist in one branch only, to the rhetorical, situational, probabilistic quantum where a particle can be in two places at once, exist in two states at once Shirky:

We are moving away from binary categorization — books either are or are not entertainment — and into this probabilistic world, where N% of users think books are entertainment. It may well be that within Yahoo, there was a big debate about whether or not books are entertainment. But they either had no way of reflecting that debate or they decided not to expose it to the users. What instead happened was it became an all-or-nothing categorization, “This is entertainment, this is not entertainment.” We’re moving away from that sort of absolute declaration, and towards being able to roll up this kind of value by observing how people handle it in practice.

The connect with critical literacy is pre-socratic, pre-Ramsian rhetoric.

The connect with PLEs might be this: Just as the book, the library, the taxonomy of the library, the taxonomy in the book are the hypericons of university knowledge, so the link, the directional gesture, the link-er, can be a hypericon of the PLE.

Pinboard Bookmarks

bookmarks for June 19th, 2010 through June 21st, 2010

Pinboard Bookmarks

bookmarks for June 18th, 2010


#critlit2010 and a reseeing of critical literacy

Boat Ride LineMade a quick leap and signed up for the Critical LIteracies course – and am just getting oriented this morning. Skimmed through How This Course Works – which is how I would like to see a grad course in social media work. Then turned to The present and future of Personal Learning Environments, Ron Lubensky, for a solid OV of characteristics of PLEs.

I’m afraid my understanding of PLEs is limited. I’m fine with critical literacies and pragmatics and semiotics, but I’m still an outsider to the PLE discussion. I’ve been reading about them, and I get the sense of the matter, and I’m motivated to move towards them, but I haven’t really tinkered with the concepts yet. Need to tinker. And that means moving over to diagrams and notes.

But there are others out there on the course who are making their way through things who provide if not models then ideas, strategies, and suggestions. Like #CritLit2010 reflections – third week, from maferarenas. And, on the wiki, the administrators list some soft milestones and activities.

I’ve encountered some of the readings before, and most of the topics and subjects are familiar. What’s new for me is the context – PLEs – and that highlights alternatives that I seem to have missed, or didn’t exist, when I first read them. Ira Shor’s CHAPTER 1: WHAT IS CRITICAL LITERACY, for instance, reviews stuff I first encountered as a 3rd-year teacher of freshman comp and tutoring. Then, I focused on addressing critical literacy in the BW classroom using Mac Pluses, and looked to Shor, Friere, Shaugnessy, Rose for theory – and attitude – to generate practice. Then (c. 1988), the classroom was the dominant workspace and it was hard to move mentally outside the room that housed those computers. Then, it was tough to place students in a position where they could use the technology to resist the dominant discourse and forge their own – although some did. Now, with the net, laptops, smartphones, mobility – and the trendy fuck-the-expert attitude students are bringing to the classroom – the observations of the past take on a new spin:

While Fox stipulated goals for questioning the status quo, Robert Brooke (1987) defined writing, per se, as an act of resistance:

[Writing] necessarily involves standing outside the roles and beliefs offered by a social situation–it involves questioning them, searching for new connections, building ideas that may be in conflict with accepted ways of thinking and acting. Writing involves being able to challenge one’s assigned roles long enough that one can think originally; it involves living in onflict with accepted (expected) thought and action. (“Underlife and Writing Instruction,” 141)

Brooke offered an intelligent argument that writing itself was synonymous with divergent thinking. Still, I question the direct link of composing with resisting. Some kinds of writing and pedagogy consciously disconfirm the status quo, but not composing and instruction in general. Think of all the books written from and for the status quo. Further, it is also easy to find composition classes that reflect traditional values and encourage status quo writing (“current-traditional rhetoric,” see Ohmann, as well as Crowley, 1996). Human beings are certainly active when writing, and all action involves development and agency of some kinds, but not all agency or development is critical. Critical agency and writing are self-conscious positions of questioning the status quo and imagining alternative arrangements for self and society (Brookfield, 1987).

This bit was hard to realize Back in the Day, but is less so now, with wikis, twitter, blogs, txting, aggregators: “Some kinds of writing and pedagogy consciously disconfirm the status quo, but not composing and instruction in general.” It’s still a task and a half to help students see that their resistance towards one discourse is done by uncritical engagement in another discourse, but that’s what education is about.

And in the same way, I can go through Shor’s list of perspectives and connect each one with enactments, again, something difficult to illustrate in 1988:

Ann Berthoff’s notion (taken up as well by Knoblauch and Brannon, 1984, and John Mayher, 1990) that “Writing is an act of making meaning for self and for others” (70). < The discussions around Flickr posts, mainly.

Related to activity theory and to cultural context, Marilyn Cooper and Michael Holtzman (1989) proposed that “Writing is a form of social action. It is part of the way in which some people live in the world. Thus, when thinking about writing, we must also think about the way that people live in the world” (xii). < Twitter, blogs. Now that we can access writing outside the mainstream of academy and print-published essays, and writing from other cultures, the interaction of context and meaning becomes clear.

They reflected Brian Street’s (1984) and Harvey Graff’s (1987) arguments that all language use is socially situated, against what Street called the myth of autonomous literacy, that is, language falsely posed as independent of its social context. < Twitter, blogs. Ditto.

Next: Can PLEs can be another means of resistance, as we redefine the open in open education?