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Thursday, 14 April 2011

Deadlines: Non-Negotiable; An Update

Reflecting, as I always do, although not perhaps circularly enough for some, on the last post, I realise an omission. That omission is that in addition to the target words I have to write every day being a numerical constant, they also have to have another quality, namely they should not be utter gibberish.

So, where I to claim (accurately) that today I wrote 1000 words, I ought to always add the qualification that approximately 943 of those words were palpable nonsense. Even this re-ification though is inaccurate, as in the world of academia, as has been demonstrated elsewhere (Sokhal), one man's gibberish is another man's prose. The distinction between the academic science papers and academic arts papers is often quite clear, for example

"Acquired mind-blindness following frontal lobe surgery? A single case study of impaired [`]theory of mind' in a patient treated with stereotactic anterior capsulotomy" is clearly within the real of science, and having read it, although intellectually interesting, it fails to move the senses, and I would argue, its purpose is not to do so. If you get excited about this, it is entirely a matter of your own agency, but that is a question for positioning theory perhaps, and philosophy almost definitely. On the other hand, "When I wake up I dream of electricity": The lives, aspirations and [`]needs' of Adult ESOL learners." is a thing of beauty, not brilliantly written perhaps, but as a short ethnographic piece it is deliberately emotive, with no claim to generalisability.

My 'field' though (and sometimes it feels like one) is neither definably art, nor science. It can be either, it can be both. But frequently, and this is the difficulty in trying to write academically about humans not descriptively, as ethnography does, but in order to 'prove' a point about something they do (like the 'right' way to educate them, or the correct system of managing them, or the best economic system for them), my field is neither art, nor science, nor a synthesis of the two. It is frequently just a bunch of words. A lot of those words are gibberish.

It is the problem of describing something as a social science. A whole load of 'theories" (which are actually ideological models) are proposed, which then have to devote an incredible amount of space to defending themselves. It is like the inedible defending the unspeakable, to mangle Oscar W. One such notion, is the idea of "priveliged positions". This is not necessarily the same as advantaged through wealth (although social scientists often mean that, so why dont they just f****ng say it), rather it is a rather circular way of attacking what has variously been called a hegemony, specifically that of Technical Rationalism. Here, technically rationalist expertise is frowned upon, with the lived experience of 'critical practitioners' held to be a downtrodden, but worthy alternative. A more complete science would be n action science, with experimentation and theory arising through reflective relationships between practitioners and 'clients'. Research from a lab, or those temples of technical rationalism, Universities, would take a decidely back seat.

There is a paradox here. Most of this theory is avowedly left wing. But when I try to concieve of how it might work in practice, I cannot but help see neo-conservatism in action. It might be coincidental, but included in Mr Thatcher's supporters in the 1980's were the many of the writers and editors of Marxism Today. And apart from politics, I have to say that I quite like a lot of technical rationalism. I want the antibiotics I take to be tested in a laboratory on something and someone else before I use them, I do not want that experimentation to include me and my local GP in a virtuous circle of knoweldge co-construction. I want the Humber bridge to have been technically designed in a wind tunnel, not erected through an experiential process of discovery learning ("Well we tried mud, but when we reached a certain height it collapsed killing everyone"). I make notes for my essay, trying to capture how I will address this issue:

"Priveliging expertise is seen as a bad thing. But if you were to visit your doctor and that doctor had no priveliged expertise you would be rightly pissed off."

As I say, I wrote 1000 word today. Most of them were gibberish. I did however, for the first time in my life use the word 'semiotic' correctly. Surely a sign of greatness to come.

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