Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Exploring the dark wood. #CCK09

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood
for the straight way was lost.

From the opening terza of the Divine Comedy. Dante.

Susan Saltrick used this for her opening lines as a keynote speaker at a conference on learning communities and I have always been struck by the resonance this has in my own exploration of the unknown. She continues;

For the world we once new has changed...and we need to consider what we are being asked to change into.

A similar thread is explored by Latour
A new vaccine is being marketed, a new job description is offered, a new political movement is being created, a new planetary system is discovered, a new law is voted, a new catastrophe occurs. In each instance, we have to reshuffle our conceptions of what was associated together because the previous definition has been made somewhat irrelevant. We are no longer sure about what 'we' means; we seem to be bound by 'ties' that don't look like regular social ties. (Latour, 2005, p. 6)

Ulises Mejias (2006) also explores the unknown, The tyranny of nodes, saying 'my thesis is that the network undermines productive forms of sociality by over-privileging the node. It might be difficult to see this because nodes are not anti-social (they thrive by forming links to other nodes), nor are they anti-local (they link to nodes in their immediate surrounding just as easily as they link to other nodes). But what I am trying to say is that to the extent that the network is composed of nodes and connections between nodes, it discriminates against the space between the nodes, it turns this space into a black box, a blind spot. In other words, networks promote nodocentrism. In this reconfiguration of distance, new ‘nears’ become available, but the ‘far’ becomes the space between nodes. To ignore this dark matter is to ignore the very stuff on which the network is suspended, much like the fish ignoring the water around it.

And given the composition of any 'fish' is also that it is imbued with the substance of its surroundings...there is need to explore what it is 'we' are becoming.

I have until now shied away from the 'dark spaces'.

There is scope for looking internally at shadows, a reflective take on what one does and doesn't attend well as there being the creation of shadowed spaces in throwing illumination on some aspects and not others.

There is also scope in looking at the effects within change: what is and is not in the assembly?
Who does this new assemblage include as 'we' and what have 'we' become?
And what possibilities might be made possible if one were to take flight into the paranodal?

These questions are ones that relate to power, for they are questions that frame scope. With connectivism as a learning theory, the questions prompted by Mejias might include: who is advantaged, and who is not? What types of learning gain currency, and what does not?
And what then of the role of an educator?
One aspect informed by Latour, is to keep the knowledge of how the world is constructed, the knowledge of how institutions are shaped and shaping, an awareness of how technologies contribute...and to keep such knowledge sufficiently open, 'to maintain the reversibility of foldings'. I would agree, this is my moral concern when I consider education and its encounter with (current) technologies.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mejias, U. (2007). Networked proximity: ICTs and the mediation of nearness. Columbia University, New York.
Saltrick, S. (1998). Through a dark wood. Paper presented at the Conference on Learning Communities, University of Miami.


  1. Ailsa, I enjoyed reading your posts, since CCK08, and this has inspired me to read Latour and John Laws articles on ANT. The readings are really amazing. You mentioned that: "But what I am trying to say is that to the extent that the network is composed of nodes and connections between nodes, it discriminates against the space between the nodes, it turns this space into a black box, a blind spot. In other words, networks promote nodocentrism." Is this space a fictitous one or spiritual one separating the nodes? What is nodocentrism? What do you mean by dark matters? I often notice that the "power", "knowledge" and "light" of the networkers are often falling into a spectrum - from self-growing (sometimes may be too egocentric) to the other end of being "trapped" or absorbed into the "group think" as he/she would need to comply with the "community" and so turning the network into lots of "black or dark holes with matters" that none of the nodes could "escape"
    So, would the dark space be weakening one's soul?
    Like to learn...

  2. Hi John,thankyou for your comments and provocation for me to take this a bit further.
    I do think there is a risk to one's soul.
    (Latour does not talk of souls, he stays with what is visible.)
    Mejias's talk of the tyranny of network nodes is in part a critique of ANT. In being so attentive to particular groups or people, we neglect others. Whether so self absorbed all we think of is our own narrow wants, desires and neglect those of others...For example, we might fight for particular resources or space in a curriculum for our own passions and neglect the passions of others that might be just as justified. Or another example, we attend to the noisy students, the squeeky wheel, and neglect those quieter...we reshape courses based on those who give feedback - what of those who took flight so much earlier...or who never got in the door...
    What of those the connections don't reach, is there a disenfranchisement in education where those without broadband internet (money) get left behind?
    Another writer Loewy, in talking of moral strangers and moral friends, talks of the need for critical imagination, to have awareness of the lives of others, that otherwise we would not. I think this is the role of education: to make one more, rather than less, thoughtful.

  3. Hi Ailsa,
    Well said, and I fully agree. We attend to the noisy students, and neglect those quieter... we reshape course based on those who give feedback..what of those who took flight so much earlier...or who never got in the door... That's so reflective of our current education system and learning ecology. How could we listen and respond better? How could we reach out better to those disadvantaged, and may be neglected "majority"? Will networked learning provide what those people want? The solution? Or would we need to look at education from a more humanistic perspective - in order to make one more thoughtful? How could we do that?
    Thanks for your insights and elaboration.

  4. Hi ailsa, I've been following your contributions to the CCK09 Moodle forums of late and read "Reenacting" and "Prince" to delve into ANT for the first time. Last year I was reflecting on the over-emphasis on nodes in a parallel vein to your thinking here. I was wondering about the possibility of "nodeless networks" where the connection was made to the absence of a node. In a cognitive network, this might be a question, defined lack of knowledge, or a receptor site to new information.In a social network, the nodeless space could be a coming together of paths of discovery, actors tracing connections, crossing paths among more than one mediator/translator, or intersections of "connection seeking / action at a distance".

    What I liked about this particular exploration was the accomodation of what is sometimes called emptiness or not knowing. It privileges what Latour might call a "laboratory mindset". It invites us to be free of macro frameworks, global concepts, labelling evidence and being too smart for our own good.

    Having read this wonderful exploration of yours, I'm now seeing a connection of this possibility with "ties that don't look like social ties". In lieu of associating with actors and actants, it allows for associating with unknowns, active questions, explorations in progress and free style searching.

    Thanks for all your provocative thinking.

  5. Thanks for the comments and for stopping by. I am continuously trying to understand the world i am in and how to function in it. This is what got me into my phd, the wonder of how to make changes...what makes change happen...and seems you hit the nail on the head here. Seems to me it is nothing like the rolling out of the diffusion innovation take on things but instead requires a loosening of associations and an associating with unknowns.
    Whoops, now I'm a bit scared...this sounds strangely like madness.

  6. Hi Alisa: It sounds to me like you're in a flattened topography where describing associations will yield an emergent explanation. The conversation between Latour and the doctoral candidate in "Reassembling the Social" was maddening for both and the reader (me). We're all so accustomed to "getting a better perspective", applying a valid framework, organizing the data, etc. -- without that process being associated with "Merlin's castle popping up in the lake". Proceeding without modernism, social explanations and global perspectives is an enormous challenge to take on.

  7. Hi, wow! The picture is wonderful. And a challenge. WHY can't we embed pictures like this in the forums? (or am I just illiterate?). I spend most of my time in research going 'beyond text' and find myself 'strung out' in the thiiiiiiin lines of text in the forums.

    See me reply in the linkded forum on nodal topographies, and elsewhere (Week 3) on resonance and energy as an alternative to 'connection'.

    What stikes me here so forcefully here is Latour's simple, insistent, emphasis on the description of the assemblages. Who and what are assembled? Who are drawn together, and to the centre, and who are pushed to the arid periphery? Anyone for 'assemblage-ism'?

    And who cares what fancy 'networks' they can be part of? The traces from the networks might tell us something, sure, but it probably tells us how alienated the connections are from the material reality that they pass through (many of them are geo-synchronous extra-terrestrial, in the age of satellite communications - what a metaphor).

    Maybe there is a new volume for a new Marx to write, on the new alienation? It has all the hallmarks on it - for my sins I wrote a piece some time ago in Theory and Psychology on Metasemiotics, in which I describe the homologies between the alienation of the metasemiotics of language, science, finance, bureaucracy and law, and the internet. Not that I want to do without any of them, but we need to be able to see the dark from the trees, as your picture says, no?

  8. Thanks Roy, I think in education, or at least in its institutionalised forms, there's a lot that alienates those involved. Knowledge producing schools might be one way back into a material reality (
    Or authentic project work' I watched a really sweet programme on our news last night of teenage school children doing a class for older people on how to text. Seemed to have authentic value for all involved. One child said she liked old people now :)
    Again, takes a step into the internodal space to look at how things might be done differently.