Thursday, 28 April 2011

Connecting things up

A number of seemingly disparate topics have come up in my blog in recent weeks. I feel it's worth trying to fit things together, particularly in the light of my current project work and deeper thinking about education. The topic are:
1. Sensuality and communication
I feel that feelings are not sufficiently appreciated in our understanding of communication and learning. Dealing with this means...
2. A cybernetic understanding of emotion and the relationship to communication
thinking through the implications of (1) means that an alternative model of communication needs to be proposed. I have attempted this by associating Luhmann's theory with Beer's Viable System Model (see particularly and Harre's Positioning Theory
3.  Understanding what the relationship between sensuality and communication means for educational technology
There are a number of aspects to this. In my post on new media (, I suggest that new technology provides new forms of utterance and that these can serve a purpose in boot-strapping more conventional linguistic communications.
 4. Understanding the relationship between Risk and emotion and its economic consequences
I've posted a lot about Ulrich Beck, and I'm broadly sympathetic to the idea of the Risk Society. Risk is perceived as anxiety, and it can be managed in a variety of ways. Beck's analysis indicates that individuals chose to manage it by 'trading' risks and that this drives our economy (where we produce little else other than risk). However, there are other ways of managing risk which have to do with individual capability and well-being.
 5. Capability, knowledge and education
Capability requires knowledge, and education is a means to knowledge. Education is also heavily laden with Risk, and the trade between anxieties of modern life and the promises of increased learning with large sums of money has dominated the recent transformation of higher education in the UK
 6. Illichian anxieties, human dignity and experience
Illich's thought is grounded in Catholic thinking about human dignity and I'm generally sympathetic to this. However, Illich's polemic seems to fall of deaf ears; the world is embarked on a course which in his view would lead to catastrophe. He may be right, but I suspect we'll somehow keep it together. We will learn to live with our anxieties. I think Illich tends to apportion blame to 'the system', and this is misdirected. The issue is with individuals, and it lies primarily in individuals who are not happy, and in their inauthentic and unhappy existence continue the pathologies he identifies. Rather than cast blame on 'the system', I would prefer to come to a deeper understanding of human experience, and how anxiety and risk affects it. Deeper knowledge can be transformative (so back to (1))
7. Knowledge and new ways to organise education
Illichian arguments around deschooling carry a distrust of the teacher and a dislike of the power relations associated with them. I think the word 'teacher' is misapplied because we are unable to make the distinction between a Jesus or a Marx (i.e. great teachers) and a typical insecure and inauthentic employee of the school system. Deeper knowledge and new distinctions about the experience of teaching and what teaching does to society can be transformative. The issue relates to knowledge and its performance in communication with others. Knowledge traditionally has been categorised by subjects; but equally, knowledge performances might be describable through engaging with tools. It is here that I become particularly interested in Scenarios.
8. Tools, knowledge and civil society
I think knowledge and civil society are inseparable. Knowledge has to be maintained and this is the prime purpose of universities. When knowledge is degraded (usually through the perversion of institutions) so civil society is degraded. In the 21st century knowledge rests in individuals who perform it in conjunction with remarkably powerful technologies. These technologies entail risk, and the management of risk is a key element in the knowledge that an individual has and in knowledge that they need to pass on. Paraphrasing Beck, the challenge of the 21st century is not "how can I eat?" but "how can I cope with my anxiety?"
 9. Employment, Underemployment, Capability and the Economy
The management of capability to "deal with anxiety" relies partly on "useful unemployment". Unlike Illich's conception of this (where he imagined people building their own houses, for example), I think useful unemployment is not necessarily related to producing goods for the community (a la 'big society') but rather on maintaining inner balance and well-being. In essence this means that individuals must balance employment or underemployment with useful non-employment activity that ensures that they 'maintain readiness'. Drawing on my points (1) and (2), I think communication lies at the heart of this activity. The world of tomorrow and the threats it brings will demand high levels of flexibility, and consequently high levels of well-being to provide that flexibility, as we will have to organise ourselves rapidly to deal with events that occur. My feeling is that this is the closest to what Illich might mean by 'conviviality': living together without killing one another.


Anonymous said...

I think you hit the nail on the head. Communication is one of the most important skills that can be improved by way of improvisation. It is great skill that can always be improved.


Simon Grant said...

Mark, did you look at the idea of risk homeostasis? See

Simon Grant said...

I should add that I don't think Wilde's hypothesis is correct, but simply that sometimes a perceived increase in safety provisions leads people to indulge more risk-prone behaviour.

Similar to the argument for deterrence. If you increase the perceived danger of some course of action, you will, sometimes, reduce the frequency of its occurrence.

I don't know if this actually relates to what you are saying about risk, though -- I just thought I'd ask :-)