Thursday, July 2, 2015

CLMOOC, week 2 - remediation

I've been thinking about what the post for the second week of CLMOOC, whose theme this week is re-mediation. I was thinking of several ideas, all of which require media skills beyond what I have (and what I have time to learn at the moment), so it looked like a busted week for me (even though I am quite comfortable being a peripheral member in this community).  Then, cats provided inspiration.

Here is the original medium:

For those that don't know, this is Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the protagonist of 3 Assassin's Creed games. One of the maxim's of the creed is "Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted'.  Hence remediation, step 1:

Now, last year we got a little crazy cat who seemed to embody the crazyness of young Ezio in Assassin's Creed 2. I named him Ezio because he liked high places, and ran throughout the house in as crazy manner as I made Ezio run through Florence.  Here is remediation 2:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Latour - Rendering Associations Traceable again - Part III

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 ;-)  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!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Latour - Rendering Associations traceable again - Part II

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?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

CLMOOC: un-introduction

I was walking to the train station yesterday, and my eye caught this.  My mobile phone's camera also caught it.  Was pretty pleased about it. Hey CLMOOC!

btw - I signed up for the newsletter for CLMOOC 2014. I was wondering why I didn't get anything. Good thing I joined the Fb group and saw all these un-intros, otherwise I'd still be left wondering...

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Latour - Rendering Associations Traceable Again - Part I

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? :)