On Publishing My Writing in Public

Let me just tell you, it’s weird to be publishing my assignments here for the world to read—not to say the world is reading. They often feel quick, raw, under-developed, and under-explored. But I said I would write publicly. That I would write in a way that works to continually reveal the process of knowledge creation.

You should know, Knowledge creation is a mess.

This is one of those things that goes without saying but really needs to be said. It isn’t clear or straight forward. In a community of scholars, people don’t all agree. Hell, people don’t even agree on what the point of scholarship is. Ask an engineer about social scientists and they’ll likely laugh at your use of the word scientist. Ask a social scientist about truth and you may hear about how it’s situated (you may hear grumblings about subjectivity and objectivity). We silo, we argue, we create meaning by writing, and posturing. It might be helpful to think of two peacocks, vying for the attention of a female. All the drama of masculinity, aesthetics, sexism, colorism, come to the forefront. And one might ask why? Depending on the field of scholars you ask, you’ll get a different answer. If you meet someone who can talk about the different answers from different fields, you’ve met a strange bird who enjoys creating and crossing bridges between silos.

The story goes that the world is too big and too messy not to be siloed. Especially when you’re concerned with biting off problems small enough to finish in a short period of time, small enough to empirically validate, but still big enough to feel like your work is important enough to justify being a scholar.

But siloing is SO DANGEROUS. This is where my clear lean on things comes out. How can you know about the context of your work without looking outside of your silo. If you don’t look outside of your silo, how can you understand the society you’re working within.

Every time before I publish something I wrote for a course, I read over it with a sense of worry. I dread that I am saying something I don’t really mean. I worry that the shortness is extending itself to gross misinterpretation. I see how I jump over things that I care about, things that I think need to be explained, in order to talk about something else.

But there is only so much time in the day. I hope that these short somethings are better than nothing at all.Writing in public is important. After all, Knowledge creation is messy.

Honey and Saline: The Importance of Thick Descriptions

Thick description speaks to me. From the first time I took a cultural anthropology class in high school, ethnographic methods have captured my imagination. Instead of trying to superimpose rigid structure on something to measure it (structure that often strips a thing of it’s context), scholars work to understand a thing in situ. Although Thick Descriptions can only access, describe, and interpret outward projections of culture, there isn’t much that can be done to capture internal representations of culture while working with a culture’s embedded context.

In contrast, so much work that comes out of Western science seem to be concerned with projecting dominance over the world. This methodology exerts control over a situation until the situation fits within extremely rigid parameters (parameters that often line up with deductive and inductive logic—a space from which emotion has been all but banished). From these parameters, a very specific, narrow form of truth can be ascertained. If the “truth” of culture were to be sought out within the tradition of Western Science, it would have to be placed inside a sterile lab, and pared down until there was a small factor that could be tested in some classically logical capacity. Like asking the question, “How does the length of a cane impact the presence of a group leader?” And then subjecting a series of near-identical group leaders into a near identical situation, where the only real change is the length of said cane. Then some statistical measures of factors x, y, or, z will be called upon to extract meaning. However, there number of factors that go unquestioned and unobserved to create such a situation blow my mind. These types of environment will have a hard time understanding why the leaders are always men, or always old, or if there is something about the cane outside of it’s length that is important. Thick description is a good response to positivist science because it doesn’t try to assert understanding before experiencing, it situates them together with an awareness that interpretation is necessary to understand the experience.

I’ve always wondered if positivist science mistakes the forest for the trees. Its not to say that there isn’t value in the canon of traditional Western science (I am certainly grateful for my vaccines). It is just to say, maybe the missed a lot of insights along the way.

 

References

[1]      C. Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, vol. 31, New York, New York, USA: Basic Books, 1973, pp. 3–33.

In the forest of Icebergs

Why don’t we talk about homelessness? Here, in this city, I drive by barrages of desolate personal landscapes, people sleeping on the side of the road.

I drive by
I drive by
I drive by
I drive by
I drive by

I never stop.

What do I have to say? What do I have to give? I’m just another broke grad student, a floating iceberg trying to collaborate with other floating icebergs to create scholarship.

Has anyone seen icebergs collaborate?

Old men walk across the street. Their clothes hang off them like time, pulling them to the ground. Will my clothes hang like time as I age?

My face swells and my eyes grow heavy. I tell myself to keep moving forward. I wish there was a way to do this dance without focusing so much on myself. A way to dance through grad school with a graciousness towards others. But academia is a land of icebergs and I float and you float. Has anyone seen icebergs collaborate?

I want to believe that icebergs dream for community, that it is the very structure that keeps them apart. A small, cold island above spreads out far beyond its visible width below.  Even if two icebergs try to meet, the less visible features of their structure keep them at a length. Two feet meet for a brief moment under a table before time and distance remove them from that moment forever.

Too much talk of calmness above and chaos below, of academics as ducks and icebergs.

I try not to succumb.

I wish to be tree. Roots deeply planted in the ground. A solid foundation, a stabilizer, a nurturer. Perhaps I’d live in a forest, communing with the other trees that surround me. Birds living in my hair. Wind brushing against my skin.

I’d rather be a tree than an iceberg.

I’ve never been good at staving off the cold.

I dream that as a forest of trees, we can provide food and shelter to those in need. That beneath the canopy there is a place where people thrive, warm, housed, and fed. A place for people to flourish.

Perhaps it’s just a dream.

I drive by

Impacting Knowledge, a history of designing the bicycle.

A Reflection on Methodology and Knowledge from Bijker’s Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs

While reading Bijker’s introduction in Of Bicycles, Bakelits, and Bulbs, it seems a key to method construction is to construct a method. For a novice, it’s as magical and elusive as an object in object oriented programming. The perennial question, “What is an object?” seems akin to the questions: “What is a method?” and “Where do I get one?” You create an object by calling it, you create a method by writing it. Bijker creates his method/theory through the writing of his first chapter and then instantiates this work through the writing of subsequent chapters. For many fields there are textbooks, courses, pamphlets, and listicles about valid modes of inquiry. Yet, at the day’s end, these are writings about people acting in the world and then inscribing their form of acting as method inventing/solidifying. Is that not what Bijker does? Through this writing there is an attempt to standardize and validate—but impact is determined by who has the power to speak and who has the humility to listen.

 What follows is a rather important question when it comes to methods, inscription, and the other mechanisms of scholarship: How do we move those with the power to speak to the humility to listen? Consider a scholar who adheres strongly to a belief in techno-determinism. This scholar picks up Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs and reads the first two chapters. Within 7 pages, they encounter the line “Too easily, linear models result in reading an implicit teleology into the material…” [1]. It’s hard to imagine such a scholar would read into this line; they’d likely just skim past it, perhaps rolling their eyes. Is linear bias so strong that after reading the sociotechnical theory of the history of the bicycle this scholar would conclude a linear narrative from this evidence of continuous, iterative, and social reconstruction? On the other hand, the very form of a book presents information in a straight line, even if the book’s words loop and create an intricate information dance.

How can we use academic writing to reach those who aren’t listening? This inquiry into the construction of knowledge, the social shaping of technology, and the mechanisms for making methods has relations with Kuhn’s talk of the resistance scientist face when presenting groundbreaking ideas, to Latour’s talk on the interplay between five types of claims in a field’s academic writing [2], [3]. The act of creating scholarship does not follow a linear path, like the design of the bicycle. Perhaps this monologue dances around the implications of socially co-constructed technology and side-steps the intricacies of how societies reaction to the release of the bicycle impacted its design in manifold ways, how these specific words are impacting knowledge. I see this as a response to the way the book inscribes it’s own theory and methodology. Simply writing knowledge does not provide a means for power or humility. It seems that those things must be sought elsewhere.

References

[1]            Wiebe E. Bijker, Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change. MIT Press, 1997.

[2]            T. S. Kuhn, “Scientific Paradigms,” in Sociology of science, vol. 280, no. 5717, S. S. Blume, Ed. Penguin Books, 1979, pp. 81–104.

[3]            B. Latour and S. Woolgar, “An Anthropologist Visits the Laboratory,” in Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979, pp. 43–90.