The Lunatics are taking over the Asylum

Week 6 came to an end.  The roller coaster that was #rhizo14 had ended.  We sat, twiddling our thumbs, not quite knowing what to do.  Some got their coats and drifted away, others of us sat warming our hands over the embers of the fire, unwilling and unable to put the fire out completely.

Simon started it:

Simon comment

Dave chipped in:

Dave comment

So off we went.  I threw up a couple of lines of text and a couple of links and we continued tweeting, posting in the Facebook groups, business as usual.  Well, not quite as usual – some voices that I had become accustomed to are silent now, some new ones have piped up, but the rhizome is still alive.  Very much alive, as Sandra noticed in her latest blog post.  So, as she says:

If that leaves you a bit breathless and hungry – join the #rhizo14 FB Group – you will be welcome. Spread the rhizome. Be the fungus!

We promise it will be a lot of fun:

week 8 comment

Kevin is writing a hip hop song, Simon is blogging beautiful words, we’re collating thoughts for an autoethnography. As Scott said: One seal short of a circus, we carry on! Allons y 🙂

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Planned Obsolescence

Buddha_lantau There is a  saying, supposedly Buddhist, that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”.  This week in #rhizo14 we are looking at the opposite to this  – how should the teacher disappear – how do we empower our learners to begin to think for themselves?  It’s something that I try to do in my tutorials by using the Jigsaw Technique and a neo-Vygotskian approach to learning which means that I begin the year with fairly structured activities for small group work and, as the semester progresses, I gradually provide less and less support.  My proudest moment was when a group told me that they didn’t need me to hang around at the end of a class, they could carry on without me.  And then they did.

Cat_on_the_ladder_1A metaphor I often use when I am teaching, especially when I am working with adult learners, is that of a ladder.  I like to think that I started somewhere near the bottom and that, in some way, I have climbed up some way.  Maybe it’s not very rhizomatic, but I find it helps to explain to some folk the thought that “experts” are not more intelligent than “novices”, they have just had longer to learn and become familiar with subject matter.

And, or course, it allows me to quote one of my favourite parts of one of my favourite thinkers:

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)
He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world
rightly.  Wittgenstein. Tractatus Section 6.54

Need I say more?

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Transitory communities

Air-raid_shelter_in_Trieste,the_wet_partYesterday I blogged about my journey back through the North West of England during the storm that hit the country the Wednesday.  Then last night I took part in the unhangout for week 5 of #rhizo14, and began by saying that I had not had a lot of time to think about this week’s topic Community as Curriculum because of having been away unexpectedly. But I had been thinking about communities and networks, at least I had read Bonnie Stewart’s piece about networks and I’d been thinking about what makes a network and what makes a community, without really coming to any conclusions.

virgin trainsSo Wednesday was awful – stuck on train not knowing how long we’d be there or how we’d get home.  I was tired, having woken up at 4.15 am to catch my train, and I was worried about getting stuck overnight without a change of clothes, or being stranded on a station platform overnight, and other passengers had similar worries. But here’s something. Usually on a train I will sit silently, head in a book, and the other passengers will do likewise.  This time within minutes we were all chattering with each other.  As I realised during the unhangout last night, having a common factor – all being stuck on the same train – made us bond very quickly and form a community.  I don’t know any of their names, and I will probably never see any of them again, but I felt incredibly relaxed and at home with all of them.  We weren’t a network, I don’t think we were a group, but as Dave said last night, if we weren’t  a community he didn’t know what we were.  It reminded me of the community spirit during the Blitz, folk pulling together and cheering each other up: packing up our worries in our old kit bags, so to speak.

LagerfeuerSo what lessons can we learn from this?  Well, in order to form a community there needs to be a common bond: a shared goal, or maybe a shared value.  In our case it was being stuck together on a train, in a classroom it might be thinking the teacher is a big meanie, or all having to pass a test, or work collaboratively on a project.  Communities can be transitory: they can form quickly and disband just as swiftly.  But before the community can be the curriculum, the community needs to be a community.  Dave’s enabled this very well in #rhizo14, imo – as he said, he’s lit the the fire and we have all gathered around it, drifting off to chat in groups in Facebook, Twitter, G+ – whichever suits us best.  How do we enable this in our classrooms?

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Reading, writing and forgetting

“Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders.”  Nietzsche, somewhere

I often like to begin my writing with a quotation from a philosopher, and this one is particularly apt for this week’s #rhizo14 topic

 Is Books Making Us Stupid?

because I do not know where it came from, or if it really is from Nietzsche.  Usually I would assiduously track it down before using it, but this week I am not going to bother.  Google is making me stupid.  

I’m tempted, by the way, just to say “no, of course books don’t make us stupid.  We make ourselves stupid, books are inanimate objects”, but I suppose I might say a bit more.

I do love Plato’s Phaedrus, and the fact that I haven’t read it for many years doesn’t stop me from referring to it regularly and telling students what I think that Plato was talking about, amusingly this week’s topic has prodded me into reading some of it: 

Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing.  Plato  Phaedrus 275d

Yeah, that fits with the general theme of this course – it’s not that we should burn all of our books, rather that we should not assume that they have all the answers. They are a starting point, they’re not gospel truth:

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly. Wittgenstein Tractatus 6.54

I don’t know why, but I have had this running through my head while I’ve been thinking about this:

Posted in #rhizo14, Philosophy, Reading, Wittgenstein, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

I have the questions for all of your answers

Years ago (gosh, at least ten years, how shocking to realise), I ended up moderating a public Philosophy forum.  It’s long gone now but I am still friends with many of my fellow moderators including the wonderful Andrew Jeffrey, who really has not done much with his Academia.edu profile!  Everybody who used the forum had a user name (typically not our ‘real’ names), and we were able to add a tagline which would be appended to all of our posts.  My handle was Diotima and my tagline was “We are not thinking frogs”,1 which is from Nietzsche’s Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft (not meaning to be pretentious, but the best English translation of  this as The Gay Science just doesn’t do it for me); Andy’s handle was Didymus and his tagline was “I have the questions for all of your answers”, which I believe is an original thought, not a quotation.

Anyway, when Dave Cormier asked me in the unhangout last Thursday how we could teach uncertainty I was reminded of Andy’s tagline and I cheatingly stole it (well, I acknowledged that it had come from a friend, so thanks, Andy!).  For me that is an interesting type of uncertainty – I don’t think that I’m a post-anything type of philosopher but I never know what I’ll be inspired to think about next, or end up doing as a job, and it’s that sort of uncertainty that can be unsettling but is also exciting.  I also think, given the uncertainty of life in general, that this is an important life skill to teach our students.  There’s a lot of emphasis put on employability and graduate attributes at the University of Glasgow, and I don’t think we’re unusual in this.  However, one comment that has stayed with me over the years is one made by Katie Grant.  As she pointed out the real skills that she had learnt were not the ones that made her employable, but the ones that helped her to cope during her periods of unemployment.  So true.

1. I love frogs. I  grew up in the Peak District in a village called Froggatt, and it began there.

Posted in #rhizo14, Academia, D&G, Learning, Philosophy, Plato, Rhizomes, University | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Rhizomatic mappings

Cath Ellis wrote a blog post about how the London Underground is rhizomatic.  I love this and she’s right – it has multiple entry ways and no correct route.  Indeed, if I am not in  a hurry then I plan my routes via the stations I wish to visit (Mornington Crescent!).  After I read her post I was reminded of Simon Patterson’s Great Bear, and I realised that something similar could be made as a way of visually representing the rhizomatic history of philosophy.

Great Bear

Any folk want to give it a try?

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Rhizomatic music

rhizome_waveI’ve been thinking a LOT about different ways of representing the rhizome recently.  D&G talk a lot about nomads living in smooth space and making felt (not knitting!) and I wondered what they’d be listening to during all of that.  A quick search of Soundcloud (thanks Frances!) found 381 tracks, 47 people, 33 playlists, and 2 groups, so that’s my listening sorted out for a while then.

Googling “rhizomatic music” produced this short piece which is along the lines I was thinking – that improv and jazz are pretty rhizomatic, the Beatles are not.  I listen to a lot of prog rock, and that’s a sort of halfway house between the two: there’s so many versions of Yes songs, for example.  Hawkwind as well: another favourite of mine.

So far, from the earlier search, this is my favourite.  [Edit] @sensor tweeted this one

I was thinking about listening to music, but this article suggests a political dimension to it all which is too big for this post.

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Enforcing Independence Part 2

I haven’t engaged much with the topic for week 2 of #rhizo14 which is about whether we can enforce independence because I’ve been too busy doing my own thing (haha!) and thinking about D&G.  I’ve been reading blogs of other participants, though, and I guess that it has been percolating away at the edge of my mind.  I started by thinking that all one would have to do to enforce independence would be to refuse to spoon-feed or to provide support, but of course it’s not as easy as that.  As Maddie writes in this post, you don’t make somebody independent by telling them to stand on their own two feet, you have to create the right conditions for this to be able to happen:

you cannot just make people empowered, you cannot hand them down their powers or tell them to be responsible.

scaffoldI know that some people are not a fan of the metaphor of scaffolding.  I am, because it gives me a bit of shorthand (jargon) to describe what I try to do with my Jigsaw Classroom, where I begin the semester with carefully structured collaborative tasks and gradually withdraw as I see the students developing their critical abilities.  If the metaphor works for you, I reckon you grab it. If not, ignore it and move on, as Terry Elliot is doing here with metaphors that do speak to you.

But, or course, I am thinking about students in a formal learning environment, and as @FrancesBell has mentioned more than once, this is not the whole story.  In addition, Helen Crump suggests in a lovely blog post that we need to move beyond traditional types of assessment if we are really going to allow independent learning.  However, if we were serious about that, maybe we could stop the obsession with using electronic plagiarism checkers such as Turnitin, because, as Catherine Nardi says in her blog, when you start to allow folk the independence to design their learning for themselves, then this happens:

I have wrapped my head around some great ideas, because you just can’t Google the answer.  And that for me is learning.  It is even better when it is shared.

There’s lots of metaphors that I have been thinking about in the context of rhizomatic thinking, but the two that are speaking to me the most are Anna Sfard’s metaphors of participation and acquisition types of learning.  Independent learners participate in learning, they don’t just acquire knowledge.  And, of course, as Helen and others have pointed out, that requires a community of learning.

Finally, as Maddie also points out (and Catherine makes the similar point in a different way), there often needs to be some disruption for learning to begin:

You can only create such circumstances or situations (not exactly scaffolding) but something that makes them uncomfortable perhaps? so as to make them take notice of their actions and behaviour which will in turn start a process of self-introspection and self re-mediation.

I’m reminded of Immanuel Kant’s remark:

I freely admit: it was David Hume’s remark that first, many years ago, interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave a completely different direction to my enquiries in the field of speculative philosophy.

Yup.  Down with dogma and up with all thinking for ourselves:

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Meaning versus inspiring

brainI’ve been thinking again about Cath Ellis’s blog post encouraging #rhizo14 participants to read D&G in the original and wondering if it really matters what an original meant when they wrote something, or whether it’s what it inspires in others that is important.  Serendipidously I found I’d bookmarked this Beginner’s Guide to Deleuze which says that he:

… is concerned, not with what a given text “really” means, but rather with what can be done with it, how it can be used, what other problems and other texts it can be brought into conjunction with.

Dave made a similar remark in the Facebook group about not caring less when purists accused him of misinterpreting D&G.  I used to have similar conversations with Ray Monk when I was an undergrad.  I’d mention a bit of Wittgenstein and say that it made me think of X, and Ray would say “ah, yes, but of course he meant Y”.  Ray was a kind, erudite man, and he taught me an awful lot about Wittgenstein, and I don’t wish to malign him or suggest that he was a pedant, because that would not be true.

So where am I going with this?  Well, it’s tricky.  I do think that it is important not to misrepresent what authors are saying, and it infuriates me when folk paraphrase poorly because they have not understood what they have read or not bothered to read the primary sources.  I always try to read things for myself in the original context if I am going to use them in my writing and, as an academic I think that I should do this whenever I can.

But I also think that it is absolutely fine to take a piece of writing that inspires you and to use it as a springboard for your own ideas.  As long as we distinguish, as well as we can, between Deleuze’s ideas and Deleuzian ones, I don’t see a problem.  Here’s one of my many favourite Wittgenstein quotes, by the way:

keyboard“Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.”  Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Section 6

I think that D&G, like Wittgenstein and Nietzsche, write in a style that encourages tangential use of their prose.

Writing has nothing to do with signifying.  It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come.  D&G A Thousand Plateaus pp 4-5

I also think, as I’ve said before, that it is perfectly fine to talk about D&G’s metaphors without having read their writings.  The rhizome is a metaphor from botany, and you don’t need a PhD in philosophy to understand that!

A more radical position was suggested to me by Steve Draper recently.   Steve’s one of the brightest, well-read people I’ve ever had the good fortune to know, so when he suggested that I read Pierre Bayard How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read I laughed.  I’m reading it, though, and it is very good.  More about that later.

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The privilege of academia

Cath Ellis published a post on her blog yesterday encouraging everybody in #rhizo14 to read the introduction to D&G.  I read her post and sympathised with her because it can be frustrating to hear people talk about a topic they have not understood, or complain that their philosophy is incomprehensible nonsense, but then something else happened.

First Maha published a blog post rebelling against the suggestion to read D&G and got me thinking about privilege.  It’s never nice to be called out about that, but over the years I have learned that the only thing to do is to apologise, take stock and try to think about how to avoid it in future.  Now, funnily enough, I learned about all this by listening to a lot of very bright folk who were mostly not as highly qualified as I am.  A few years ago I was privileged to be part of the Free Hetherington, which was a student-led occupation at the University of Glasgow lasting 6 glorious months.  The members of the occupation were a mixed bunch: some were students, some were my tutees, some were students from other institutions, some were graduates, some were not.  A lot of the time I didn’t know what somebody’s background was, it just wasn’t relevant.  This mixed bunch of occupiers taught me so much: they taught me about intersectionality and activism, they introduced me to David Rovics’ music, they inspired me to learn to play the ukulele.  Most importantly they taught me never to assume that I knew more than others because I had more academic qualifications.

So then a tricky thing happened.  Somebody posted in our Facebook group:

I find it ironic that people talk about their qualifications and researches and their ability to read and understand critical theory when that is not the aim of this uncourse at all. As long as everyone “gets” the generic meaning of it, all is well and we progress as a community. How everyone reaches to the end is immaterial. If you get the theory without reading it, you have cheated brilliantly.

Furthermore, I would like to assert my independence and state that I am not an academic and yet wish to be part of this uncourse. Does that make me “Un-qualified” to take it up? If we are to question the very foundation of the education system and try to change it so as to include one and all in a whole big community, then it shouldn’t matter whether I am a phd or a college drop out, should it? This is how a rhizome breaks.

Wow.  Of course that’s right.   I think that some of us might have been forgetting that not everybody was in the same situation as us, and assuming that academic language was the only correct tone to take.  However, here is what is really funny: a few years ago I would have been offended and angry and responded in fairly rude manner, I think.  Yesterday I stopped, thought and replied asking to be slapped if I was being patronising.  I say this not to tell you all how wonderful I am but because the reason I was not as awful as past me is because the Free Hetherington – folk less qualified academically than me-  have taught me to check my privilege when I am called out about it.

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