Cycles of Enlightenment
Cloud created by:
19 October 2011
This is my first cloud. A key theme is that both the evolution of human knowledge (what we know) and the evolution of how we get knowledge (methods of enquiry and justification) are forged in interesting ways by our tools of thought - tools which of course are reflexively created out of earlier tools of thought. Cloudworks (and similar) is a tool of thought.
I am a humanities and social science oriented academic, so I approach this theme from that viewpoint. However, I am willing to argue that the evolution of the material sciences (physics, chemistry, biology and all their combinations) is also affected by the 'upward' cycle of tools of thought (yes, 'upward' is a metaphor that will need qualification).
On a historical view, I am very interested in the usual stuff about the transitions in cultural forms of expression - the spoken word, the written word, the printed word, and all that goes along with those objects, particularly 'channels' of communication such as pathways, roads, signalling systems, postal systems, and of course all the other forms and tools of thought from pictures to music.
At each turn of cycles of enlightenment human beings are confronted simultaneously with anxiety and feelings of loss about the challenge to our habitual ways of thinking (which often seem embedded in the natural order), as well as excitement about the new ways of representing and communicating knowledge, which often seem progressive, more powerful, and somehow so much 'better' than what came before.
In this context I am interested in the idea of 'digital scholarship' as signifying a just such a turning point but I like also to appreciate that this experience of exciting change in how we learn and acquire knowledge is not by any means new - it has happened many times before. For my intellectual interest I like to explore parallels with the past but I do this with a view to asking what may be novel about the future of our academic life and work.
I read somewhere recently the phrase that "Universities like to maintain the problems for which they are the solution". I can't recall who wrote that but it's a great notion and recalls Schon's phrase "dynamic conservatism". My own institution is a case in point, and I don't mind being on the record for this, that while it engages in restructuring in the name of facilitating creativity and innovation, there is no coherent vision as to how these (vague but desirable) goals may be reached in the 'new' digital environment of representation and communication. (Note: our restructure may have been more to do with the fact that like many institutions we faced a financial crisis and so we reorganised while kdding ourselves that we were doing it to become a new kind of organisation but we do not know really where to go or even, if we did, how to get there).
My current goal therefore, in my own small post-92 University, is to promote the concept of the digital scholar as an example of where to go, particularly in our nascent Graduate School (one potentially good outcome of the restructure). This cloud addresses not only the goal but how to get there.
Incidentally, I was stimulated to join Cloudworks (18/10/2011) by revisiting the IET website at the OU where I came across Martin Weller's new book, a stimulating and timely reminder of where academics need to go if they are to survive in the brave new digital world. If you google 'digital scholar' or 'digital humanities' there is a ton of stuff out there, some going back quite far, and lots of folk thinking and working in this paradigm. But here in this relatively quiet (andeconomically depressed) corner of South Wales it has yet to register in the consciousness of academic life.