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Saturday, 9 June 2012

Place : Probably still in Finland. Time: Havent got a clue because the stupid sun wont go down and the curtains don’t block the light properly so it could be Saturnalia for all it know.

Sub-title: Bio-ethnographic semiotic mediations in paralinguistic ecologies: Toward a quantum theory of metaphor .
Well the conference is ended and the talk, eventually, went very well.  Which is a relief because sometime around “Its-still- friggin -Light” O’Clock on the ‘evening’ prior to the talk,  things were looking bleak. Not as bleak  as the previous day because some progress was being made, and after observing some talks I had developed some “What to do if your talk is crap” strategies, but there was still a massive hill up which to follow three particularly uninterested cats. 

In the end I didnt use the "What to do if you talk is crap" strategies, but one day, I am sure, I will. I offer them here as help and advice for others with a brief description of said strategies as follows. The first of these strategies was to spend the entire talk talking about everyone else’s work. This was a technique I have witnessed on more than one occasion. You stand up to give your talk but as soon as you’ve introduced yourself, you say something like “And I have to say that when I was preparing this talk I thought I’d talk about semiotics, but before I do, I’d just like to say a few words about what Steve was saying in his inspiring talk because it really got me thinking……” A few essential features of this approach are:
  • 1.       Always say you were going to talk about semiotics. No-one will understand what you say you were going to talk about  (there are no Department of Semiotics anywhere as far as I know yet everyone talks about them. Or it.) but will be impressed that you were going to talk about it.
  • 2.       The person who’s work you then go on to talk about must be much more famous than you.  This is called an ‘affordance’.
The second strategy to use is to invent a new word that sounds a bit like an old word then pretend that the small difference you have identified is significant. This technique mostly  applies in the social sciences for reasons that will be discussed in ‘3’. In fact, I have already successfully employed this technique domestically, albeit not in an attempt to break new research ground, but instead in an attempt to get RHB to look like an idiot in front of a class she is lecturing. I did this  by inventing the word ‘interpretatitive’ and deliberately using the word in conversation with her over several days hoping that she would pick it up and use it in her own conversation. You can employ  this techniquewith any existing word, provided that everyone already understands the initial word and knows how to use it. So, for example, this week I have seen a lecture where great importance was placed by the speaker on why they no longer used the word ‘interaction’ but instead now used the word ‘interactivist’. This change of word also involved a change from verb to adjective and hence meant that the guy who was impassionaetley calling for an end to the tyranny of using the word 'interaction' had to use  sentences that were impossibly long and convoluted. For this guy, there was a big advantage in employing this technique because  what he was saying was ok (something about natural language use), but he just didn’t have enough of it to fill the time he was allocated.So by making your own life much more complicated, and the listener's hearing experience almost unfathomably opaque you can spin out your own  threadbaricity (see I've done it there and should now gone on to talk about threadbaricty at some length).

The third strategy is to borrow a word from science – like ecology – then follow it with a word from the social sciences – like ‘mediation’ then add a word from another social science (but not your own discipline) but modify it with a prefix . Exemplars of this technique actually string together whole sequences of words in this manner and the subtitle of this entry is an example of this. Why this only applies to the social sciences is that science is much better at inventing words than the social sciences, albeit that they themselves steal them all from Greek.

The subtitle is also an example of the final technique which is to add a “Towards….” in your title. I realize this is controversial. I realize that Bakhtin was forever going towards stuff and is generally considered brilliant. But maybe its just a translation mistake ? Maybe Bakhtin wasnt going towards something, maybe he never claimed to be "towards" . Butt for others than Bakhtin, the justification for writing "Towards.." at the start of your paper is  (and I just know this is going to kill some philosophers I know) derived from philosophy and discussions about ‘Becoming…” . I have to confess I know absolutely nothing about these philosophical discussions, nor anything about philosophy, not anything about the discussions of Being, and hardly need to,  but I do know (from a conversation this week) that there’s a kind of philosophy-lite that goes on in the social sciences that is prepared to steal from anywhere in order to get a new idea.  To that end, these philospoher-lite guys justify the use of  “Toward..”  on the grounds that nothing is permanent, nothing is fixed and nothing can be described in terms of either time or space. All is simply Becoming... And because of reflectivity, reflexivity and something else (I am usually asleep by this part of the explanation) the Becomingness of everything also applies to your explanations for stuff as well.   So your own position can only be described as a “towards” and you never get anywhere.

My attitude to all this is that it’s plagiarism. Therefore it’s wrong. Its also unnecessary, there’s plenty of good stuff in the social sciences and no reason to steal  (inaccurately) from other disciplines. Of course, there’s synthesis,  and healthy eclecticism,  and beyond this global relevance of some ideas that are valuable tools, attitudes of everyone aspiring to have thoughts. . But there are limits and when linguistists stop talking about the ways humans communicate and start talking about fishponds, or seriously discussing that we (applied linguists) should expand themselves beyond describing words, gestures, emotions, pauses, gestures, signs etc etc etc and should start describing the 'vibrations between entities such as when you talk to plants'   I worry. There’s  too much already imperfectly understood, described or interpretated and this search for ‘newness’, this  whole paradigm busting approach, sometimes smacks,  a little,  of ‘trying to hard’.

Having said that, I did have a little moment this week myself. I was busy writing my talk, trying to avoid using any of the techniques described above, when I had a thought. Now I should explain that as a rule, I hate thoughts. Like cats they usually arrive at inappropriate moments, go nowhere and you can definitely have too many. For someone who’s serious about academia, they also get in the way of the real business at hand,  which is writing papers, attending conferences and doing research. Nevertheless, a thought I had. Now usually, I don’t share my thoughts on this blog as they are too banal. Usually, I try to imagine what someone else would think and write it down.  But on this occasion to tell the rest of the tale with any satisfaction, the thought I had must be shared.Please note that I am not claiming it is not banal. 

“Hello” the thought said to me, “I've had an idea so stop writing  and listen carefully now.  What if,  instead of asking people ‘What are you doing?’, you ask them ‘What do you think you are doing?’”

“What?” I said to the thought “.. you are making no sense. I’m going back to writing”

“Hang on a mo” said the thought “ just hear me out”.

So I did, and eventually what the thought was saying began to make  sense. Firstly, the thought established that I was in an interpretive discipline. Correct, I agreed.

 “Which” it said, “involves you asking other people all kinds of questions, the aim of which is to find out why they think they are doing what they are doing”. I assented.

 “Well” said the thought, “why don’t you just ask them ?”. 

The thought went on to explain that because everything I did was an interpretation anyway, one person’s perspective is as valuable as any other’s. And  usually, I refer to some framework or something (after I have interviewed people) to try and tease out the person's meaning and usually what I am trying to find out is why they are doing what they are doing. All of this of course requires hours of transcribing long conversations in which the interviewer (me) tries to  use various strategies to uncover, illuminate, elucidate and interpretate what other people are thinking. And this is a completely futile exercise because you know, having read most of the stuff that Bahktin managed to write before smoking all his own work,  that knowing the Other is impossible anyway. Or its totally possible, I cant remember. So why don’t you just cut out a load of work which may or may not be futile, cut out all the interpretatatititve nonsense,   and ask the people you interview what they think they are doing, preferably limiting their answers to twenty five words or less. After all, the thought concluded, why should you do all the work? 

I don’t have many thoughts - as I have mentioned I don’t really like them – but this one I grew quite fond of as the day progressed. I went for a massive hike (about 20Kms round the lake), went for a few beers downtown, went to the hotel, slept about an hour, got up, got a train, a coach,  a plane, a train and a taxi and I was home. When I got home the thought had left, so I claimed the idea that the thought had had as my own. I really hope thoughts cant sue for plagiarism.

I have added photos of the trip at :

Unfortunaltely, since I last used Picassa and Google, they have improved the utility of thier photo sharing stuff. Which means I now cannot uses said photosharing programmes, software, sites etc (like Google+) because I have no idea how to. Hopefully you can see the photos by clicking the link below. Let me know if you cannot

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