Category Archives: Theory

‘Occupying Wall Street: Places and Spaces of Political Action’, (Massey and Snyder, 2012)

It’s always nice to be cited by other authors, particularly when they are writing interesting work. This is definitely the case with a fascinating analysis of Occupy Wall Street on Design Observer.

Check out ‘Occupy Wall Street: Places and Spaces of Political Action‘ by Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder (who tip the hat to my paper on digital repertoires of contention in their discussion of the online elements of the Occupy Wall Street movement).

The relevance of Freire’s ‘critical transitivity’ to primary education in Australia

Freire Reading Paolo Freire ('Education for Critical Consciousness') for the first time, I was keen to see what relevance a Brazilian political agitator would have on contemporary Australian children’s education. ‘Education as the Practice of Freedom’ is a piece that explains and documents Freire’s project to address poor adult literacy in Brazil pre- the 1964 military coup. It is both a fascinating background on the cultural challenges Brazil faced (and continues to face) as a nation, as well as a discussion of an innovative literacy program.

At the core of the literacy program was its politicisation. In a nation undergoing the upheavals of early democracy, where literacy was a prerequisite to vote, any literacy program would necessarily be political. Freire made his doubly so by situating contemporary culture and politics at the centre of his program and using engagement with these issues as a driver to build literacy skills. Not dissimilar to the advocates of ‘quality children’s literature’, he believed that literacy was best achieved when grounded in content that was of interest and importance to the learner – and what better than the politics of the nation.

In discussing the history of Brazil, Freire identifies the need for people to become engaged with their environment (he is speaking politically for the most part, but the lesson can be broader), rather than passive ‘objects’ on which the environment acts. As ‘subjects’ with agency whose consciousness is ‘transitive’ (), he identifies two distinct options. The first is ‘naïve transitivity’, where we engage with the world, but is simplistic ways, without argument and discussion, following established patterns unquestioningly. The second is ‘critical transitivity’, a state of consciousness which is “characterized by depth in the interpretation of problems; by the substitution of causal principles for magical explanations; by the testing of one’s ‘findings’ and by openness to revision; by the attempt to avoid distortion when perceiving problems and to avoid preconceived notions when analysing them; by refusing to transfer responsibility; by rejecting passive positions; by soundness of argumentation; by the practice of dialogue rather than polemics; by receptivity to the new for reasons beyond mere novelty and by good sense not to reject the old just because it is old” (p.14)

What parent, teacher, or concerned citizen could argue against critical transitivity as a meaningful outcome for primary education – both as a civics objective, and far beyond. A way of engaging that “is characteristic of authentically democratic regimes and corresponds to highly permeable, interrogative, restless and dialogic forms of life” (p. 14).

Freire strived to create “a literacy program which would be an introduction to the democratization of culture, a program with men (sic) as its Subjects rather than as patient recipients, a program which itself would be an act of creation, capable of releasing other creative acts, one in which students would develop the impatience and vivacity which characterize search and invention.” (p. 39) Well, I have to say, if it sounded suitable for illiterate Brazilian farm workers in the 1950s, it sound equally relevant for early primary to me! “Acquiring language does not involve memorizing sentences, words, or syllables – lifeless objects unconnected to an existential universe – but rather an attitude of creation and recreation, a self-transformation producing a stance of intervention in one’s context.” (p. 43)

Obviously, the challenge facing Freire was dramatically different from that facing a primary school teacher in Australia today. For one thing, working with adults who have developed oral literacy over many years  is not the same as primary students who are still building oral skills. Additionally, the highly phonetic nature of Portugese made it a more straightforward educational challenge. Having said that, his technique of contextualising literacy activity on a broader cultural context, and operating in facilitated ‘culture circles’ (abandoning the idea of ‘schools’ as too traditionally passive) offer valuable inspiration. Also worth considering is his comment on the difficulty of finding and preparing people who would deliver his culturally rich and empowering curriculum. “Teaching the purely technical aspects of the procedure is not difficult; the difficulty lies rather in the creation of a new attitude – that of dialogue, so absent in our own education and upbringing.” (p. 45) Suddenly Brazil doesn’t seem so far away after all.


Virtuality and Scientific Method

In reading philosophers who discuss 'the virtual' (and don't mean the digital space, but a far stranger realm of conceptual potentiality), it is very tempting to think, 'well that's all very nice, but it's not real is it. by definition the virtual is something we can all waffle on about because it's, you know… virtual'.

DeLanda (primarily in the dense and wonderful 'Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy') talks about virtuality in a scientific and concrete sense that makes you wonder if perhaps the virtual may be amenable to more traditional approaches of scientific inquiry – hence this paper. It draws on scientific methodology and ideas of disciplinarity and politics to suggest how investigation into ideas of virtuality may yield practical and powerful insights into our reality. In many ways 'Virtuality and Scientific Method' suggests that incorporating progressive philosophies may be a interesting adjunct to current developments in the sciences.

Notions of Subject, Technology and Self

 “[T]echnological machines of information and communication operate at the heart of human subjectivity, not only within its memory and intelligence, but within its sensibility, affects and unconscious fantasms.” (Guattari 1992: 4)

The self “plays a singularly important role in the ongoing cognitive economy of that living body, because, of all the things in the environment an active body must make mental models of, none is more crucial than the model the agent has of itself.” (Dennett 1991: 426-427)

The self is a multiple and heterogenous cognitive model at the core of individual subjectivity, facilitating interaction with a complex environment. Recent developments in technologies that mediate our experience may have fundamental yet unanticipated effects on the processes by which the self is produced.

As a multifaceted and dynamic construct, the self plays a key role in our phenomenological experience of being. It also contributes to our operational capabilities – social, mental, and physical. The implications of engaging with mediating technologies depend on both the nature of the technologies in question, and the mechanisms responsible for the production of the self.

This project aims to present a model of the self, and to explore the potential repercussions of these technological engagements.

Notions of Subject Technology and Self‘ was the draft of the second chapter of my PhD thesis.

The Ultima Online Avatar (as a cultural object)

One of the less brain-melting moments of my experience pretending I was going to write a doctoral thesis at UNSW was a unit of ‘cultural studies’. On the one hand, the mixed candidature of the course meant it was pretty entry level, on the other hand my background meant I had never had that introduction to the field. The text we used was Paul Du Gay’s ‘Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman‘ which provided a very accessible approach to looking at cultural objects through various lenses to build up an understanding of these objects.

Unsurprisingly, our major assignment was to choose an object and follow this methodology to document it – examining how it was produced and consumed, what codification and commercialisation it underwent, and that kind of thing. Not having a burning passion to dive into cultural archaeology of the humble thong or Hills hoist, I elected to write about ‘The Ultima Online Avatar‘.

The most interesting aspects of the avatar were its nature as a service rather than a product per se, the way it was continually becoming, and the complex engagement it has with the identity of the consumer. Looking at the avatar through a commercial lens was interesting, and naturally I also took the opportunity to recast the whole discussion within Deleuzian language to explore issues of manufacturing hyperreality and becoming-cyborg.

People of the Oak

One of the pieces of work I enjoyed most at UNSW was what ended up being ‘People of the Oak‘. Our challenge was to create a new media work. Given the daunting challenge of actual artistic production, I wanted to try something more existential. In the end I created a ‘virtual religion’ – a belief system within the Ultima Online world. The paper then presented key tenets of the religion as the core text and used extensive footnoting to provide rationale. I don’t know what others thought of it, but I had a lot of fun.

The Materiality of the Digital

One thing that intrigued and frustrated me about a lot of new media theory was the way ‘cyberspace’ was put forward as a completely new and distinct space, unconnected from physical space. Populist synthesiser (love that term thank you Gillian – has a real disco ring to it) Margaret Wertheim compares cyperspace to the ‘space’ of heaven in her ‘Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet‘. Until Newton, we saw Heaven as a very real space, distant from but somehow contiguous with own, having its own nature. When Newton argued that everywhere in the universe had to obey the same physical laws, and we had to remove heaven from our universe altogether.

With ‘cyberspace’ we again have a realm that seems to be completely unconnected to our own in the way it operates, and yet you can get there from here. Works like Neuromancer (and more recently The Matrix) suggest that this transition will become increasingly more experiential.

I wrote The Materiality of the Digital to explore the fact that while cyberspace seems disconnected, it is nothing more than a complex interpretation of computational states that are absolutely real. In the simplest sense, if you were to destroy every computer on early, cyberspace would also cease to exist. What implications does this have for th e’nature’ of cyberspace and our experience of it?

Identity Market

What do you get if you throw a little sociological thought on the fragmentation of identity in late/post-modernity (Agger, Gergen, Giddens, Lyotard) together with some social movement attitude (Melucci), some digital thinking (Castells, Ayers) and wrap it all up in some Deleuzian terminology?

A bit of a mess really, but some interesting thoughts on how we create identity through alignment with digital collectives in the digital Identity Market.