Saturday, 22 April 2017

Porous Boundaries and the Constraints that separate the Education System and Society

I'm taking part in a conference on the "Porous University" early next month (https://www.uhi.ac.uk//en/learning-and-teaching-academy/events/the-porous-university---a-critical-exploration-of-openness-space-and-place-in-higher-education-may-2017.html), and all participants have to prepare a position statement about the conference theme. In my statement, I'm going to focus on the issue of the "boundary" and what the nature of "porosity" means in terms of a boundary between education and society.

We often think of formal education as a sieve: it filters out the wheat from the chaff in recognising the attainment and achievement of students. Sieves are porous boundaries - but they are the antithesis of the kind of porosity which is envisaged by the conference, which - to my understanding - is to make education more accessible, socially progressive, engaged in the community, focused on making practical interventions in the problems of daily life. The "education sieve" is a porous boundary which upholds and reinforces the boundary between education and society; many progressive thinkers in education want to dissolve those boundaries in some way - but how? More porosity in the sieve? Bigger holes? Is a sieve with enormous holes which lets anything through still a sieve? Is education still education without its boundary?

Part of the problem with these questions is that we focus on one boundary when there are many. The education system emerges through the interaction of multiple constraints within society - it's not just the need for disseminating knowledge and skill, but the need for keeping people off the streets (or the unemployment register, or out of their parents' houses!), or the need to maintain viable institutions of education and their local economies, or the need to be occupied in the early years of adult life, or the desire to pursue intellectual interests, or the need to gain status. These multiple constraints are constantly manipulated by government. The need to pay fees, the social exclusion which results from not having a degree (which is partly the consequence of everyone having them!), or the need for professionals like nurses to maintain accreditation are only recent examples of continual tweaking and political manipulation. Now we even have the prospect of official "chartered scientists" (http://sciencecouncil.org/scientists-science-technicians/which-professional-award-is-right-for-me/csci/)! Much of this is highly destructive.

Widening participation, outreach, open learning, open access resources are as much symptoms of the current pathology as they appear to be efforts to address it: it's something of an auto-immune response by a system in crisis. Widening participation? Find us more paying customers! Open Access Resources? Amplify our approved forms of communication so everyone can learn "how to fit the system" (whilst enabling academics to boost their citation statistics) - and then we can enrol them!

A deep problem lies within universities; a deeper problem lies within science. Universities are powerful and deeply confused institutions. They establish and maintain themselves on the reputations of scholars and scientists from the past - many of whom would no longer be employable in the modern institution (and many who had difficult careers in their own time!) - and make promises to students which, in many cases, they don't (and cannot possibly) keep. The University now sees itself as a business, run by business people, often behaving in irrational ways making decisions about future strategy on a whim, or behaving cruelly towards the people they employ. There is nobody who isn't confused by education. Yet the freedom one has to express this confusion disappears in the corridors of power.

Boundaries are made to maintain viability of an organism in its environment: the cell wall or the skin is created to maintain the cell or the animal. These boundaries can be seen as transducers: they convert one set of signals from one context into another for a different context. Education, like an organism, has to maintain its transducers.

Transduction can be seen as a process of attenuating and amplifying descriptions across a boundary. The environment presents many, many descriptions to us. Our skin only concerns itself with those descriptions are deemed to be of importance to our survival: these are presented as "information" to our biological systems. Equally a university department acquires its own building, a sign, courses (all transductions) when a particular kind of attenuation of signals from the environment can be distilled into a set of information which the department can deal with. Importantly, both the skin and the departmental identity is established from two sides: there is the distilling of information from the environment, and there are the sets of descriptions which arise from the boundary having been formed. The liver and kidneys require the skin as much as the skin attenuates the environment.

Pathology in organisations results where organisations reconfigure their transducers so that too much complexity is attenuated. Healthy organisations maintain a rich ecology of varied distinctions. Pathological organisations destroy this variety in the name of some simple metric (like money - this is what happens in financialisation). This is dangerous because if too much complexity is attenuated, the institution becomes too rigid to adapt to a changing environment: it loses overall complexity. Equally if no attenuation occurs, the institution loses the capability of making any distinctions - in biology, this is what happens in cancer.

If we want to address the pathology of the distinction between education and society, we must address the problem of boundaries in institutions and in society. Removing boundaries is not the answer. Becoming professionally and scientifically committed to monitoring the ecology of the educational and social system is the way forwards. Since this is a scientific job, Universities should lead the way.


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Scarcity and Abundance on Social Media and Formal Education

Education declares knowledge to be scarce. That it shouldn't do this is the fundamental message in Illich's work on education. Illich attacked "regimes of scarcity" wherever he saw them: in health, energy, employment, religion and in the relations between the sexes.

Illich's recipe for avoiding scarcity in education is what he calls "institutional inversion", where he (apparently presciently) visualised "learning webs". When we got Social media and wikipedia, it seemed to fit Illich's description. But does it?

I wrote about the passage in Deschooling Society a few years ago where Illich speaks of his "education webs" (see http://dailyimprovisation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/personalisation-and-illichs-learning.html) but then qualifies it with "which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring". Learning, sharing and caring. Is this Facebook?

Despite Illich's ambivalent attitude towards the church, he remained on the one hand deeply catholic and on the other communitarian. Like other Catholic thinkers (Jaques Ellul, Marshal McLuhan, Jean Vanier) there is a deep sense of what it means for people to be together. It's the togetherness of the Mass which influences these people: the experience of being and acting together, singing together, sharing communion, and so on. The ontology of community is not reducible to the exchange of messages. It is the ontology which interests Illich, not the mechanics.

So really we have to go further and explore the ontology. Illich's "institutional inversion" needs unpacking. "Institution" is a problematic concept. The sociological definition typically sees it as a complex of norms and practices. New Institutionalism sees it as focus of transactions which are conducted through it by its members. At some level, these descriptions are related. But Facebook and Twitter are institutions, and the principal existential mechanisms whereby social media has come into being is through facilitating transactions with customers. The trick for social media corporations is to drive their mechanisms of maintaining and increasing transactions with customers by harvesting the transactions that customers have already made.

In more traditional institutions, the work of attracting and maintaining transactions is separate from the transactions of customers. It is the marketing and manufacturing departments which create the opportunities for customer transactions. The marketing and manufacturing departments engage in their own kind of internal transaction, but this is separate from those produced by customers: one is a cost, the other is income.

The mechanism of driving up the number of transactions is a process of creating scarcity. Being on Twitter has to be seen to be better than not being on it; only by being on Facebook can one hope to remain "in the loop" (Dave Elder-Vass writes well about this in his recent book "Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy").  Formal education drives its customer transactions not only by declaring knowledge to be scarce, but by declaring status to be tied to certification from prestigious institutions. At the root of these mechanisms is the creation of the risk of not being on Twitter, not having a degree, and so. At the root of this risk is existential fear about the future. The other side of the risk equation is the supposed trust in institutional qualifications.

Illich didn't go this far. But we should now - partly because it's more obvious what is happening. The issue of scarcity is tied-up with risk and worries about a future which nobody can be sure about. That this has become a fundamental mechanism of capitalism is a pathology which should worry all of us.


Monday, 3 April 2017

Lakatos on History and the Reconstruction and Analysis of Accidents

"Fake news" and Brexit has inspired a reaction from Universities, anxious that their status is threatened, that they must be the bastions of facts, truth and trust. The consequences of this are likely to reinforce the already conservative agenda in education. Universities have been post-truth for many years - particularly as they chased markets, closed unpopular departments (like philosophy), replaced full-time faculty with adjuncts, became status-focused and chased league table ranking, appointed business people to run them, became property developers, and reinforced the idea that knowledge is scarce. On top of that, they protected celebrity academics - even in the face of blatant abuse of privilege and power by some. The allegations against John Searle are shocking but not surprising - the scale of the sexual harassment/abuse problem (historical and present) in universities is frightening - just as the compensation claims will be crippling. Current students and society will pay for it.

What is true news? I picked up an interesting book on Lakatos by John Kadvany at the weekend (it was in the bookshop that I learnt of the Searle problem). Latakos was interested in rationality in science, maths and history. Along with Popper, Feyerabend and Kuhn, he was part of a intellectual movement in the philosophy of science in the 1960s and 70s from which few sacred cows escaped unscathed.

Kadavny quotes Lakatos's joke that:
"the history of science is frequently a caricature of its rational reconstructions; that rational reconstructions are frequently caricatures of actual history; and that some histories of science are caricatures both of actual history and of its rational reconstructions" ("The History of Science and its rational reconstructions")
In practical life we meet this problem with history directly in the analysis of risk and accidents in institutions. In the flow of time in a hospital, for example, things happen, none of which - in the moment in which they happen - appear untoward. A serious accident emerges as a crisis whose shock catches everyone out - suddenly the patient is dying, suddenly the catastrophic error, blame, etc is revealed when in the flow of time at which it happened, nothing was noticed.

The reconstruction is reinforced with the investigation process. The narrative of causal events establishes its own reality, scapegoats, etc. Processes are 'tightened up', management strategies are reinforced, and.... nothing changes.

Lakatos's position was that historical reconstruction was "theory-laden": "History without some theoretical bias is impossible. [...] History of science is a history of events which are selected and interpreted in a normative way"

In this way, all histories are "philosophies fabricating examples... equally, all physics or any kind of empirical assertion (i.e. theory) is 'philosophy fabricating examples'"

Is it just philosophy? In organisational risk, for example, there is a philosophy of naive causal successionism, and obscure selection processes which weed-out descriptions which don't fit the narrative. But the purpose of all of this is to reinforce institutional structures who themselves exist around historical narratives.

Where does Lakatos go with this? He wants to be able to distinguish "progressive" and "degenerative" research programmes. A research programme is the sequence of theories which arise within a domain (like the successive theories of physics): changes in theoretical standpoint are what he calls "problem shifts". The difference between progressive and regressive research programmes rests on the generative power of a theory. Theories generate descriptions of observable phenomena. In order to be progressive, each problem shift needs to be theoretically progressive (it generates more descriptions) and occasionally empirically progressive. If these conditions are not met, the research programme is regressive.

I agree with this to a point. However, the structure of institutions is an important element in the generative power of the institution's ideas about itself. Lakatos is really talking about "recalibration" of theory and practice. But recalibration is a structural change in the way things are organised.

That there is rarely any fundamental recalibration in the organisation and management of health in the light of accidents is the principal reason why their investigations are ineffective. 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Giddens on Trust

Giddens's criticism of Luhmann which I discussed in my last post, leads to a 10-point definition of trust. I'm finding this really interesting - not least because it was written in the early 90s, but now seems incredibly prescient as we are increasingly coming to trust technological systems, and do less of what Giddens calls "facework" (something which he took from Goffman, who in turn took it from Schutz's intersubjectivity). Whether he's right on every detail here is beside the point. I find the level of inquiry impressive.

Giddens writes:
"I shall set out the elements involved [in trust] as a series of ten points which include a definition of trust but also develop a range of related observations:
  1. Trust is related to absence in time and in space. There would be no need to trust anyone whose activities were continually visible and whose thought processes were transparent, or to trust any system whose workings were wholly known and understood. It has been said that trust is "a device for coping with the freedom of others," but the prime condition of requirements for trust is not lack of power but lack of full information.
  2. Trust is basically bound up, not with risk, but with contingency. Trust always carries the connotation of reliability in the face of contingent outcomes, whether these concern the actions of individuals oir the operation of systems. In the case of trust in human agents, the presumption of reliability involves the attribution of "probity" (honour) or love. This is why trust in persons is psychologically consequential for the individual who trusts: a moral hostage to fortune is given.
  3. Trust is not the same as faith in the reliability of a person or system; it is what derives from that faith. Trust is precisely the link between faith and confidence, and it is this which distinguishes it from "weak inductive knowledge". The latter is confidence based upon some sort of mastery of the circumstances in which confidence is justified. All trust is in a certain sense blind trust!
  4. We can speak of trust in symbolic tokens or expert systems, but this rests upon faith in the correctness of principles of which one is ignorant, not upon faith in the "moral uprightness" (good intentions) of others. Of course, trust in persons is always to some degree relevant to faith in systems, but concerns their proper working rather than their operation as such.
  5. At this point we reach a definition of trust. Trust may be defined as confidence in the reliability of a person or system, regarding a given set of outcomes or events, where that confidence expresses a faith in the probity or love of another, or in the correctness of abstract principles (technical knowledge)
  6. In conditions of modernity, trust exists in the context of (a) the general awareness that human activity - including within this phrase the impact of technology upon the material world - is socially created, rather than given in the nature of things or by divine influence; (b) the vastly increased transformative scope of human action, brought about by the dynamic character of modern social institutions. The concept of risk replace that of fortuna, but this is not because agents in pre-modern times could not distinguish between risk and danger. Rather it represents an alteration in the perception of determination and contingency, such that human moral imperatives, natural causes, and chance reign in place of religious cosmologies. The idea of chance, in its modern senses, emerges at the same time as that of risk.
  7. Danger and risk are closely related but are not the same. The difference does not depend upon whether or not an individual consciously weight alternatives in contemplating or undertaking a particular course of action. What risk presumes is precisely danger (not necessarily awareness of danger). A person who risks something courts danger, where danger is understood as a threat to desired outcomes. Anyone who takes a "calculated risk" is aware of the threat or threats which a specific course of action brings into play. But it is certainly possible to undertake actions or to be subject to situations which are inherently risky without the individuals involved being aware how risk they are. In other words, they are unaware of the dangers they run.
  8. Risk and trust intertwine, trust normal serving to reduce or minimise the dangers to which particular types of activity are subject. There are some circumstances in which patterns of risk are institutionalised, within surrounding frameworks of trust (stock-market investment, physically dangerous sports). Here skill and chance are limiting factors upon risk, but normal risk is consciously calculated. In all trust settings, acceptable risk falls under the heading of "weak inductive knowledge" and there is virtually always a balance between trust and the calculation of risk in this sense. What is seen as "acceptable" risk - the minimising of danger - varies in different contexts, but is usually central in sustaining trust. Thus traveling by air might seem an inherently dangerous activity, given that aircraft appear to defy the laws of gravity. Those concerned with running airlines counter this by demonstrating statistically how low the risk of air travel are, as measured by the number of deaths per passenger mile. 
  9. Risk is not just a matter of individual action. There are "environments of risk" that collectively affect large masses of individuals - in some instances, potentially everyone on the face of the earth, as in the case of the risk of ecological disaster or nuclear war. We may define "security" as a situation in which a specific set of dangers is counteracted or minimised. The experience of security usually rest upon a balance of trust and acceptable risk. In both its factual and its experiential sense, security may refer to large aggregates or collectivities of people - up to and including global security - or to individuals.
  10. The foregoing observations say nothing about what constitutes the opposite of trust - which is not, I shall argue later, simply mistrust. Nor do these points offer much concerning the conditions under which trust is generated or dissolved."

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Trust and Risk (Giddens and Luhmann)

In The Consequences of Modernity Giddens critiques Luhmann's idea of trust and its relation to risk and danger. I find what he has to say about Luhmann very interesting, as I am currently exploring Luhmann's book on Risk. Giddens says:

Trust, he [Luhmann] says, should be understood specifically in relation to risk, a term which only comes into being in the modern period. The notion  originated with the understanding that unanticipated results may be a consequence of our activities or decisions, rather than expressing hidden meanings of nature or ineffable intentions of the Deity. "Risk" largely replaces what was previously thought of as fortuna (fortune or fate) and becomes separated from cosmologies.  Trust presupposes awareness of circumstances of risk, whereas confidence does not. Trust and confidence both refer to expectations which can be frustrated or cast down. Confidence, as Luhmann uses it, refers to a more or less taken-for-granted attitude that familiar things will remain stable: 
"The normal case is that of confidence. You are confident that your expectations will not be disappointed: that politicians will try to avoid war, that cars will not break down or suddenly leave the street and hit you on your Sunday afternoon walk. You cannot live without forming expectations with respect to contingent events and you have to neglect, more or less, the possibility of disappointment. You neglect this because it is a very rare possibility, but also because you do not know what else to do. The alternative is to live in a state of permanent uncertainty and to withdraw expectations without having anything with which to replace them."
Where trust is involves, in Luhmann's view, alternatives which are consciously borne in mind by the individual in deciding to follow a particular course of action. Someone who buys a used car, instead of a new one, risks purchasing a dud. He or she places trust in the salesperson or the reputation of the firm to try to avoid this occurrence. Thus, an individual who does not consider alternatives is in a situation of confidence, whereas someone who does recognise those alternatives and tries to counter the risks thus acknowledges, engages in trust. In a situation of confidence, a person reacts to disappointment by blaming others; in circumstances of trust she or he must partly shoulder the blame and may regret having placed trust in someone or something. The distinction between trust and confidence depends upon whether the possibility of frustration is influenced by one's own previous behaviour and hence upon a correlate discrimination between risk and danger. Because the notion of risk is relatively recent in origin, Luhmann holds, the possibility of separating risk and danger  must derive from social characteristics of modernity.
Essentially,. it comes from a grasp of the fact that most of the contingencies which affect human activity are humanly created, rather than merely given by God or nature. 
Giddens disagrees with Luhmann, and explores the concept of trust from a different aspect to that of Luhmann's double-contingency-related view. The argument is important though. Trust is going to become one of the most important features of the next wave of technology: BitCoin, Blockchain, etc are all technologies of trust. Conceptualising what this means is a major challenge for social theory.

It's worth noting that Luhmann comments on Giddens's position in his Risk book with regard to the distinction between risk and danger. Giddens rejects the distinction, but Luhmann says "we must differentiate between whether a loss would occur even without a decision being taken or not - whoever it is that makes this causal attribution"

However, Luhmann throws in something into the "risk pot" which I find fascinating. He calls it "time-binding" - time, for Luhmann is at the centre of risk (another blog post needed there). Time-binding looks very much like sociomateriality + time to me.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Everett Hughes on Organisational Risk in Health and Education

My work on organisational risk in healthcare has taken me back to the work of Everett Hughes. Hughes was the leading exponent of the Chicago School of Sociology which focused on an ecological approach to social institutions. It seems quite obvious that the problems in all our institutions is ecological - not in the sense of trees, but in the sense of a 'coordinated diversity'. Indeed, in our educational institutions, diversity is becoming scarce - driven by a technologically-mediated metricisation which eliminates difference.

In Hughes's book of collected papers, "The Sociological Eye" there is a paper on "Mistakes at Work" from 1951 which contains some insights from that time which I think remain relevant (but overlooked) today.

He starts by appealing for a comparative study of work - that we should look across fields of professional activity in order to understand them. He says we should study plumbers to understand doctors, and prostitutes to understand psychiatrists (!). He goes on to say:
One of the themes for human work is that of “routine and emergency”. By this I mean that one man’s routine of work is made up of the emergencies of other people. In this respect, the pairs of occupations named above do perhaps have some rather close similarities. The physician and the plumber practise esoteric techniques for the benefit of people in distress. The psychiatrist and the prostitute must both take care not to become too personally involves with clients who come to them with rather intimate problems.
Routine is of particular interest to him. He points out that one person's chaos and distress becomes another person's routine work.
There are psychological, physical, social and economic risks in learning and doing one's work. And since the theoretical probability of making an error some day is increased by the very frequency of the operations by which on makes one’s living, it becomes natural to build up some rationale to carry one through. It is also to be expected that those who are subject to the same work risks will compose a collective rationale which they whistle to one another to keep up their courage, and that they will build up collective defences against the lay world. These rationales and defences contain a logic that is somewhat like that of insurance, in that they tend to spread the risk psychologically (by saying that it might happen to anyone), morally, and financially. A study of these risk-spreading devices is an essential part of comparative study of occupations. They have a counterpart in the devices which the individual finds for shifting some of the sense of guilt form his own shoulders to those of the larger company of this colleagues. Perhaps this is the basis of the strong identification with colleagues in work in which mistakes are fateful, and in which even long training and a sense of high calling do not prevent errors.
But being the social ecologist, Hughes looks at both sides of the equation in negotiating and managing these risks. He suggests that there is a psychological 'division of risk' between worker and client.
In a certain sense, we actually hire people to make our mistakes for us. The division of labor in society is not merely, as is often suggested, technical. It is also psychological and moral. We delegate certain things to other people, not merely because we cannot do them, but because we do not wish to run the risk of error. The guilt of failure would be too great. 
So the question then is one of fault and blame if something goes wrong.
Now this does not mean that the person who delegates work, and hence risk, will calmly accept the mistakes which are made upon him, his family, or his property. He is quick to accuse; and if people are in this respect as psychiatrists say they are in others, the more determined they are to escape responsibility, the quicker they may be to accuse others for real or supposed mistakes.
What are the defences of the professions to this? Ritual is the key thing, Hughes argues. Of psychotherapists, he says:
A part of their art is the reconstruction of the history of the patients’ illness. This may have some instrumental value, but the value put upon it by the practitioners is of another order. The psychotherapists, perhaps just because the standards of cure are so uncertain, apparently find reassurance in being adept at their art of reconstruction (no doubt accompanied by faith that skill in the art will bring good to patients in the long run).
Education is another example of ritualised practice which is seen to mitigate risk. His comment here resonates with much of what we see standing in for "quality" in education:
In teaching, where ends are very ill-defined – and consequently mistakes are equally so – where the lay world is quick to criticise and blame, correct handling becomes ritual as much as or even more than an art. If a teacher can prove that he has followed the ritual, the blame is shifted from himself to the miserable child or student; the failure can be and is put upon them.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Widening Participation and Scientific Necessity

The popular argument for 'widening participation' or 'outreach' in education is about 'giving access' to those who might have at one point been excluded from education. From the institution's point of view, giving access makes good business sense: it might be renamed "Creating potential fee-paying customers". Giving access means providing people with the dispositions and habits of those who succeed in education - Those who can stomach the lecture, the assignment, the group work, the conversation, the reading, and increasingly, the VLE, the blog, the academic tweeting, the O-so-clever (but now rather dull and double-edged) digital media.

We should be clear that this kind of access is in the interests of institutions and the often rather unpleasant characters who run them, but not necessarily in the interests of students. The "loan bounty" which is guaranteed upon the living body of the student will pay for the Vice Chancellor's yacht, the new vanity projects, the racing car design building and the architectural destruction of the local civic environment.

Students from the constituencies which are targetted by widening participation want money, jobs, security, love, fulfilment - indeed, they want the things which were probably denied to them since they were born, and denied to their parents. Education - however much those of us hope for better - wants to financialise their bodies and give them a mark - and, maybe a certificate.

You cannot really blame individual institutions for this (notwithstanding some of the criminals who are running them). To use a cybernetic term, all institutions (education, health, legal, gubernatorial) are autopoietic: they survive by making and remaking their constituent components. Widening partipication is simply the trawling of the environment for new components to be fed into the institution's autopoietic machine. In the process, the institution may claim a "purpose" which is at odds with what it actually does.

The key operation that an educational institution must do in an educational market is what Ivan Illich would call the maintenance of the "regime of scarcity of knowledge". To have the status of a knowledgeable person, one must have a certificate from a respected educational institution.

As Illich pointed out (before the internet) knowledge isn't scarce. It is a remarkable paradox (and an indication of quite how seriously pathological education is) that scarcity of knowledge has been increased with the advent of the web. Institutions have successfully used technology to ramp up the scarcity of knowledge by using the technology to amplify its existing structures. So the MOOC is a giant classroom, assessment can be done by MCQ or (increasingly) automatic essay marking, plagiarism can be statisticised, academic status accorded through bibliometrics, and learning analytics might (universities hope) keep students from dropping out and maintain the fee income (that's the interesting one - it won't work!).

Universities follow an illustrious line of great institutions in commandeering technology like this. The classic example is the Catholic Church in the 15th century who used printing for the production of indulgences. (I think universities are currently in the equivalent of the 1460s... the Catholic hierarchy must have been rubbing their hands!) The moral of the story is that the technology gets you in the end... usually in a way which you weren't expecting.

But there is something else happening which I think is more profound: Computers have transformed the way we do science, the way we make measurements and do experiments, and the way we reason about causes. The university obsession with teaching and learning is recent and market-driven. It won't last. Universities are about scientific inquiry.

Following the impact of printing which produced the reformation, critical attention was focused on education, where universities were sticking to Aristotelian doctrine in their scientific teaching. Printing facilitated a discourse outside the institution which challenged this orthodoxy, which eventually led to Francis Bacon's "The Advancement of Learning". Experiment, observation and an entirely different model of causal reasoning was established. The Cambridge curriculum of 1605 which Bacon attacked was fundamentally transformed by 1700. In between, there was enormous social turmoil - civil war, regicide, republicanism, terror, etc. It affected all forms of communication and production: T.S. Eliot's idea of the "dissociation of sensibility" between the work of Ben Johnson and John Milton is another aspect of this transformation.

This is what happens when science changes. Our science today is no longer Newtonian. It is probabilistic, contingent and uncertain. Yet our modes of communication remain rooted in the model established in the 17th century by the Royal Society, and which were made for communicating empirically objective knowledge (as they saw it). There is an essential paradox when one wants to be an expert in uncertainty - inevitably university academics downplay the uncertainty, contingency, doubt. Nobody wants to look uncertain on the lecture stage.

In an uncertain science, listening counts. The logic of uncertainty means that the more people who are listened to the better. From this perspective, "widening participation" - by which is meant listening, not preaching - is not a marketing exercise, but a scientific necessity.

The point is cybernetic, a discipline which remains the principal scientific foundation for dealing with uncertainty, doubt, and social coordination. Heinz von Foerster stated three principles of education.


  1. Education is not right or a privilege. It is a necessity.
  2. The purpose of education is to ask legitimate questions - that is, questions to which nobody has the answer.
  3. Following these two principles, there is a political principle which cuts against the regime of scarcity of education: A is better off when B is better off