Monday, June 29, 2015

Latour - Rendering Associations Traceable again - Part III


Drumroll please!  This is it!  The final Latour conversation (at least as far as his book Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory goes.  It's been fun, Latour, but I have a pile of MOOC articles that aren't going to read themselves (note to voice technology people. I need a computer to read things to me like Majel Barrett does in Star Trek - voice of the computer.  The mechanical voice on my Android keeps mispronouncing things...)

 So, the theme of this final write up is Connecting sites...

With ANT, we push theory one step further into abstraction: it is a negative, empty, relativistic grid that allows us not to synthesize the ingredients of the social in the actor’s place. Since it’s never substantive, it never possesses the power of the other types of accounts. But that’s just the point. Social explanations have of late become too cheap, too automatic; they have outlived their expiration dates—and critical explanations even more so
Latour had lost me, until he started talking about the cheapness and automatics of "social" accounts. Back in the early days of "web 2.0" and "social media" the change in the web, from just a read-web (which wasn't completely read-only: I had a guest book using CGI scripts on my old Geocities page!) to a more "social" web where people could provide their own content.  That said, what the heck does social mean these days? It's been almost a decade (or more?) that we've had "social media".  Isn't that something that has been established now?  Social is also talked about in a lot of EdTech conferences, at least as far as vendors go. Social is now a bulletpoint item in a product's sales pitch, but what does that really mean?  Has social lost its potency as a descriptive word? Do we need to find something that really defines our practices and how various non-human actors can enhance our practices?

Three new questions may now be tackled in our discussion. The first is to detect the type of connectors that make possible the transportation of agencies over great distance and to understand why they are so efficient at formatting the social
This just seemed like an interesting point to jot down.  The question that comes to mind now, reading this again a few weeks later, is about efficiency.  Does efficiency matter? And, before you give me the knee-jerk reaction of 'yes!', think about it.  What does efficiency mean? who measures it? how does it impact the social?

The second is to ask what is the nature of the agencies thus transported and to give a more precise meaning to the notion of mediator that I have been using. Finally, if this argument about connections and connectors is right, it should be possible to come to grips with a logical consequence that readers must have already puzzled about: What lies in between these connections? What’s the extent of our ignorance concerning the social?
Well, good questions! I suppose what Latour means here when he says "what lies between social connections" is where he asks us to consider, and take into account, actors that we haven't thought about.  In this kind of sense I think that he is asking us to discover the man in the middle. This is an interesting thing to ponder because prior to this RhizoANT project I only considered the connections between human actors.  By considering non-human actors, as ANT wants us to do, the picture becomes more complicated.  Interesting, but complicated.

Standards and metrology solve practically the question of relativity that seems to intimidate so many people: Can we obtain some sort of universal agreement? Of course we can! Provided you find a way to hook up your local instrument to one of the many metrological chains whose material network can be fully described, and whose cost can be fully determined
Is Latour channeling his inner manager here? All inputs are measurable?  On the face of it I am inclined to disagree.  I think we can reach a point where our perceptions of what's going on are pretty similar, or almost the same, but I don't think that any two perceptions of what's going on will be 100% the same. Most likely, my gut tells me, that we'll just agree on what we put down on paper, compromise in a sense, even though we might not 100% agree (or at least our mental constructs of what's going on might not be 100% the same).

Ours is the social theory that has taken metrology as the paramount example of what it is to expand locally everywhere, all the while bypassing the local as well as the universal.
As Mr. Spock would say: "fascinating!" (you can't see me, but I am raising my eye brow)

The question is not to fight against categories but rather to ask: ‘Is the category subjecting or subjectifying you?’ As we saw at the end of the last chapter, freedom is getting out of a bad bondage, not an absence of bonds.
I suppose that this is something I will have to further explore, and deal with, the closer I come to beginning my EdD Dissertation... Not sure if this applied to our RhizoANT project, but it was an interesting thought to ponder.

This is why the social sciences are as much a part of the problem as they are a solution: they ceaselessly kept churning out the collective brew. Standards that define for everyone’s benefit what the social itself is made of might be tenuous, but they are powerful all the same. Theories of what a society is or should become have played an enormous role in helping actors to define where they stand, who they are, whom they should take into account, how they should justify themselves, and to which sort of forces they are allowed to bend
Nothing to add here other than don't accept things at face value ;-) Well...no.  Wait! I think Latour has something here, and I think it can, potentially, be a bit indicting  of Sociology, but also other disciplines. Everyone (and now that we have a lot more PhDs than we have jobs for them) seems to want to go out there and create a new framework for whatever, or a new procedure, or invent a new acronym (SPOC anyone? #shudder) without really thinking about (or caring sometimes) whether they are just reinventing the wheel, or whether their contribution to the professional knowledge is really something that's needed. I don't think that it's just the fault of researchers and other professionals. It think it's also the fault of our respective fields. The whole reason for being for some doctors (of the PhD kind) is to churn out more 'research' which will invariably include more boxing in of what it means to be x, or to be an actant in x, or what frames x.

Metrology is no more the whole of science than the sociology of the social is the whole of sociology. The social that makes up society is only one part of the associations that make up the collective. If we want to reassemble the social, it’s necessary, aside from the circulation and formatting of traditionally conceived social ties, to detect other circulating entities.
I am not sure what a 'circulating entity' is, according to Latour. I don't remember reading about it.  But I do see his point, and I agree.  The measuring part of science isn't the whole of science. There are things that can't be meaningfully measured.  And even if you do measure certain things, and you can measure them accurately, you still need to interpret your findings, which in my mind, is inherently a qualitative process to some extent.

We should not state that ‘when faced with an object, ignore its content and look for the social aspects surrounding it’. Rather, one should say that ‘when faced with an object, attend first to the associations out of which it’s made and only later look at how it has renewed the repertoire of social ties’.
I agree with Latour here.  I think that looking only what what connects with any given object (Actor-network) is a narrow way to look at it.  I think that what the object is, and the objects inherent properties do play a role in what associations it has with other objects.

But any science has to invent risky and artificial devices to make the observer sensitive to new types of connections.
No much to comment on. Seemed like an interesting quote.  It seems like all of our scaffolds are temporary in science and research. As we learn more about the object of our inquiry those temporary scaffolds are brought down and other, equally temporary scaffolds, are erected in their place.

No matter how hesitant the metaphor, it is such a shift in perspective that ANT is looking for. Things, quasi-objects, and attachments are the real center of the social world, not the agent, person, member, or participant—nor is it society or its avatars.
Not sure what Latour is getting at here. It seems like he is saying that the person (human actor) isn't that important when looking at it from an ANT perspective. Rather, what is important as the things that are invisible and that we don't see.  Is this what others are getting?

The problem is that the social sciences have never dared to really be empirical because they believed that they simultaneously had to engage in the task of modernization. Every time some enquiry began in earnest, it was interrupted midway by the urge to gain some sort of relevance. This is why it’s so important to keep separate what I earlier called the three different tasks of the social sciences: the deployment of controversies, the stabilization of those controversies, and the search for political leverage
No additional commentary.

Society is not the whole ‘in which’ everything is embedded, but what travels ‘through’ everything, calibrating connections and offering every entity it reaches some possibility of commensurability
Just a small reminder from Latour that society is itself a social construct. It is not a container in and of itself.

This is Wittgenstein’s greatest lesson: what it takes to follow rules is not itself describable by rules
There was a comment I made here in the text, that this comment by Latour reminded me a lot of bootstrapping. The question that comes to mind is this: do we need rules for bootstrapping? If we do, are those rules arbitrary?  Are we returning to that temporary nature references above? Those scaffolds that are temporary and will come down, only to be replaced by other scaffolds once  we're all moving along in our process?

To interpret some behavior we have indeed to be prepared for many different versions, but this doesn’t mean that we have to turn to local interactions
Is this  and endorsement of the global, zoomed-out, view?

The alternative I have proposed in this book is so simple that it can be summarized in one short list: the question of the social emerges when the ties in which one is entangled begin to unravel; the social is further detected through the surprising movements from one association to the next; those movements can either be suspended or resumed; when they are prematurely suspended, the social as normally construed is bound together with already accepted participants called ‘social actors’ who are members of a ‘society’; when the movement toward collection is resumed, it traces the social as associations through many non-social entities which might become participants later; if pursued systematically, this tracking may end up in a shared definition of a common world, what I have called a collective; but if there are no procedures to render it common, it may fail to be assembled; and, lastly, sociology is best defined as the discipline where...
Well, straight from the horse's mouth...

It’s worth noting at this point that ANT has been accused of two symmetric and contradictory sins: the first is that it extends politics everywhere, including the inner sanctum of science and technology; the second is that it is so indifferent to inequalities and power struggles that it offers no critical leverage—being content only to connive with those in power. Although the two accusations should cancel each other out—how can one extend politics so much and yet doing so little for it?—they are not necessarily contradictory.
Good question.  Thoughts?

ANT is nothing but an extended form of Machiavellianism 
Whoa! I can't think of a better line to close this post, and this Latour series, with!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Latour - Rendering Associations traceable again - Part II

Alright!  Just as #clmooc is starting, I am finishing off Latour!  Here is part 2, of a 3 part wrap-up on Latour's Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Once he discussed 5 uncertainties, now we're looking at re-assembling the social. Just as before, I've pulled one some quotes that made me go "huh!" when I was reading  the book (finished it a few weeks ago), and I am reacting to them more fully now - that is if I can remember why something made me go "huh!"

This section started with the term glocalization. I just wanted to start off this post by saying that I hate the term glocalization. It is meaningless, and this comes from someone with an MBA background. It's just one of those buzz words thrown around - but anyway, don't let my cranky-pants attitude spoil this post ;-)

How is the local itself being generated? This time it is not the global that is going to be localized, it is the local that has to be re-dispatched and redistributed. 
The notes I had to myself here is that we are working from the bottom and moving upward, not the other way around.  We are going from the local to the global.  Of course, this means that there is both a degree of excitement because you don't have that global view, but also an uncertainty, for the same reason.  The global view isn't there to taint or predispose you to think of the situation in a certain way.

In effect, what has been designated by the term ‘local interaction’ is the assemblage of all the other local interactions distributed elsewhere in time and space, which have been brought to bear on the scene through the relays of various non-human actors. It is the transported presence of places into other ones that I call articulators or localizers.
I think this is why it's an Actor-Network, an entity is both Actor and Network concurrently. It seems like we've gotten additional, new, terminology here. Articulators (aka localizers) and translators.  I do wonder, can something just transmit a signal without any degradation?

Here again, ANT’s lessons will be only negative because clearing the way is what we are after so that the social could be deployed enough to be assembled again. First, no interaction is what could be called isotopic. What is acting at the same moment in any place is coming from many other places, many distant materials, and many faraway actors.
We're back to Greek! Isotopic, coming from the Greek words isos meaning equal, and topos meaning place.  So not all interactions are coming from the same place.  This reminds me a lot of online learning in general. We have interactions coming from a variety of learners, be they in a MOOC, or in a traditional distance education setting. The interactions are pooling into one online system (or many online systems as the case might be in a MOOC), but they don't originate in the system that they finally end up in. Of course, what is Latour clearing out?

Second, no interaction is synchronic. The desk might be made of a tree seeded in the 1950s that was felled two years ago; the cloth of the teacher’s dress was woven five years ago, while the firing of neurons in her head might be a millisecond old and the area of the brain devoted to speech has been around for a good hundred thousands years (or maybe less, this is, hotly disputed question among paleontologists). 
So, we have a Butterfly effect, maybe?  Going back to the Greek, synchronic - meaning at the same time.  Events and actions don't take place at the same time. Even when they appear to happen, as was the case with our swarmed document(s), there actions were concurrent, and not necessarily reactions to one another.  When I was typing in the google doc, and one of my collaborators was typing above me, or bellow me, we were working together but separately during our initial idea swarms. If anything the actions they took affected me as I saw my cursor jump all around and my text being pushed down. It was also a little disorienting as I was curious to see what Sarah, and Maha, and Keith, and the gang were writing, so it was pulling me from my own thought process.  Even so, actions were taking place, but there was time-delay.  By the time I read what they wrote and reacted to it, time had passed since they were typed and articulated in the google doc.  We can also see this in traditional online learning whereby students post in a forum and have to wait for responses and discussion to occur.

Third, interactions are not synoptic. Very few of the participants in a given course of action are simultaneously visible at any given point.
It's a Greek bonanza! Well, I think my example of the discussion forum will do here as well!  That said, I do wonder if we swarm a google doc simultaneously, even though it is a bit disorienting, wouldn't that mean that  our interaction at that moment is synoptic since I can see them at the same time?  Or, since I can only see what's within my field of view, a specific page in my google document, that what happens above, or bellow, that page is not visible, and therefore these actions are not synoptic?

Fourth, interactions are not homogeneous
Hey! A Greek word that most people will recognize ;-)  This is quite true, I would say, from the swarm perspective.  When I initially started working with my collaborators I expected plain text to be the medium of our work, but soon I began to see that people were working with images, and text, and memes, and video, and audio.  And text was not all 'academic' text, but there were poems, haikus (well, OK a type of poem), and other types of text.  Not homegenous in the least bit.  But we swarmed some meaning out of it.

When slides are projected on the screen, how many different successive ingredients are necessary when some writing on a keyboard becomes digitalized, then transformed again in an analogical signal before being retransformed in some sort of slower brain wave into the mind of half-asleep students?
Good questions!

Fifth, interactions are not isobaric 
Well, knowing Greek is an asset with Latour it seems. According to Latour, in ANT, not all action have the same weight.  I think that if we look at our human Actors in our network we will see that not all of them have the same weight in all categories.  We swarmed the document as equal contributors, but we all had additional, specialized, roles which in turn affected what types of action we would take as part of these collaborations.

Some of the participants are pressing very strongly, requesting to be heard and taken into account, while others are fully routine customs sunk rather mysteriously into bodily habits
This sound familiar, with life in general.

No place dominates enough to be global and no place is self-contained enough to be local 
This reminds me of some MOOC moves to make local MOOCs more broad, and "big" and "global" MOOCs more localized. I wonder to what extent these efforts are successful, and how one measures success in these environments.

Nothing pertains to a subject that has not been given to it
Quite deep, Latour!

an actor-network is what is made to act by a large star-shaped web of mediators flowing in and out of it. It is made to exist by its many ties: attachments are first, actors are second. To be sure, such an expression smacks of ‘sociologism’, but only as long as we put too much in ‘being’ and not enough in ‘having’.
Interesting that the connective thread that connects actors, that 'social thread' is what's more important than the actors themselves.

collective—an even more radical solution would be to consider these bundles of actor-networks in the same way that Whitehead considers the word ‘society’. For him societies are not assemblages of social ties—in the way Durkheim or Weber could have imagined them—but are all the bundles of composite entities that endure in time and space. 
So, it's not the individual threads that are the focus, it seems, but rather the bundle of these connecting threads is what matters. I wonder how this applies to our RhizoANT exploration, to the untext, and to our collaboration in general.  We have google docs, twitter, blogger, google hangouts, and email as our main non-human actors.  Different threads connect us human actors, but do any threads connect these technologies?  What do you think?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

CLMOOC: un-introduction

I was walking to the train station yesterday, and my eye caught this.  My mobile phone's camera also caught it.  Was pretty pleased about it. Hey CLMOOC!


btw - I signed up for the newsletter for CLMOOC 2014. I was wondering why I didn't get anything. Good thing I joined the Fb group and saw all these un-intros, otherwise I'd still be left wondering...

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Latour - Rendering Associations Traceable Again - Part I

Alright! This is the final countdown for Latour!  I've reached Part II of his book, which discusses the points of rendering associations traceable again.  This continuing exploration of Latour deals with and Actor-Network Theory (in case you didn't remember). I've selected quotes that got me thinking when I first read the book, and now I am providing some current reactions (2 weeks later) to those quotes ...

The adjective ‘social’ designates two entirely different phenomena: it’s at once a substance, a kind of stuff, and also a movement between non-social elements. In both cases, the social vanishes. When it is taken as a solid, it loses its ability to associate; when it’s taken as a fluid, the social again disappears because it flashes only briefly, just at the fleeting moment when new associations are sticking the collective together.
So...I guess according to Latour, the Social is both solid and fluid at the same time?  Maybe some sort of slushy substance that  allows us to both has the ability to associate, but also allows us to see the social in more than just a flash?  Or is that what we are attempting to do with ANT?  To render this two-form thing into something that is in-between?

It’s traceable only when it’s being modified
You know...  I've heard this before, somewhere else I think.  That something is only traceable or visible when it is in a state of flux, but I don't remember where It may have even been Latour himself somewhere.  To some extent this reminds me a little bit of the boos in super mario world.  They are invisible when they are stationary. Then when they start moving toward you they become visible for a few moments, and then when they stop they are invisible again (at least from what I remember of Super Mario World.  It's been 20 years since I've played it).

Thus, much like the pharmakon of the Greeks, the search for the social becomes either a remedy or a powerful poison depending on the dose and on the timing
I think Latour likes both his Greek words and his metaphors. It's a good thing I am fluent in Greek because this metaphor makes a lot of sense. Although I am struggling, at the moment, to find cases where the search for the social is detrimental to what you're doing. If you have any ideas or use cases, do post in the comments.

When a social explanation is proposed, there is no longer a way to decide whether it is due to some genuine empirical grasp, to the application of a standard, to an attempt at social engineering, or to mere laziness.With the confusion of the three successive duties of social science, the social has become thoroughly untraceable.
I suppose there is some truth in this.  The thing that came to mind is academic, peer-reviewed, articles I've read over the past few years where some standard was applied, but it didn't make sense; or attempts of addressing the social were viewed through very odd lenses, thus making the final interpretation a bit off (in not totally bizarre). I do wonder, when other actors come in and render their interpretations of the social traces, do they in turn affect those traces in retrospect?

But it does not require much effort to see that a virtual and always present entity is exactly the opposite of what is needed for the collective to be assembled: if it’s already there, the practical means to compose it are no longer traceable; if it’s total, the practical means to totalize it are no longer visible; if it’s virtual, the practical means to realize, visualize, and collect it have disappeared from view. 
The thing that came to mind when reading this part was to ponder whether Latour was thinking of ossification here, and if not, would ossification apply to this train of thought?

How can we move on and render the social fully traceable again? By following the same strategy as in Part I. We should deploy the full range of controversies instead of attempting to decide by ourselves what is the best starting point to follow it. Once again, we should be more abstract and more relativist than at first anticipated.
Part I here refers to the sections I've blogged about before in this RhizoANT series of posts.  It's quite interesting that instead of picking one thread to try to untangle the entire mess that is social (mess meant in a good way) we have aren't picking just one, it seems, but rather looking at the field in total.

The first corrective move looks simple enough: we have to lay continuous connections leading from one local interaction to the other places, times, and agencies through which a local site is made to do something.
No commentary - just seemed an important point

all of the idiosyncratic terms I am going to offer designate nothing more than specific tricks to help resist the temptation to jump to the global
If we are deploying a full range of controversies, aren't we looking at things from a Global sense, Latour?  I get the idea of looking in, or rather zooming in, but shouldn't we be looking both at the zoomed in and zoomed out view? After all Actors can be Networks, and Networks can be Actors. This necessitates, in my mind, flexibility to pan and zoom throughout the network. No?

Myopic ANT scholars have a great advantage over sharp-sighted all encompassing overseers. Not only can they ask gross and silly questions, they can do so obstinately and collectively. The first kind of clamp is the one obtained by this rather naive query: ‘Where are the structural effects actually being produced?
Not really a naive query - it's a good question actually.  One thing that comes to mind is a two-year-old who keeps asking "why?".  This can be annoying, but if we keep asking why, and trying to answer, I think we get some rich answers (or at least rich views)

Macro no longer describes a wider or a larger site in which the micro would be embedded like some Russian Matryoshka doll, but another equally local, equally micro place, which is connected to many others through some medium transporting specific types of traces. No place can be said to be bigger than any other place, but some can be said to benefit from far safer connections with many more places than others.
Small is big, and big is small? I guess the pan and zoom activity doesn't quite work, according to Latour, because if Networks are Actors, then zooming into it to reveal other actors that make it up reminds me a lot of the Matryoshka doll metaphor.  Am I missing something?

The macro is neither ‘above’ nor ‘below’ the interactions, but added to them as another of their connections, feeding them and feeding off of them. There is no other known way to achieve changes in relative scale. For each of the ‘macro places’, the same type of questions can be raised.
I think I know what you're getting at, Latour, but I am a bit lost (not being funny, or anything...)

As should be clear by now, ANT is first of all an abstract projection principle for deploying any shape, not some concrete arbitrary decision about which shape should be on the map.
Alright, fine.  But, if I am going to use ANT as a thinking tool, shouldn't I come out with something somewhat concrete so as to better explain what's going on to an audience?

As every reader of Michel Foucault knows, the ‘panopticon’, an ideal prison allowing for a total surveillance of inmates imagined at the beginning of the 19th century by Jeremy Bentham, has remained a utopia, that is, a world of nowhere to feed the double disease of total paranoia and total megalomania. We, however, are not looking for utopia, but for places on earth that are fully assignable. Oligoptica are just those sites since they do exactly the opposite of panoptica: they see much too little to feed the megalomania of the inspector or the paranoia of the inspected, but what they see, they see it well—hence the use of this Greek word to designate an ingredient at once indispensable and that comes in tiny amounts (as in the ‘oligo-elements’ of your health store)
Again with those Greek words ;-)

As we saw in the earlier part of the book, it is not the sociologist’s job to decide in the actor’s stead what groups are making up the world and which agencies are making them act
Quite true.

Size and zoom should not be confused with connectedness
One more Latourism.

In effect, the Big Picture is just that: a picture. And then the question can be raised: in which movie theatre, in which exhibit gallery is it shown? Through which optics is it projected? To which audience is it addressed? I propose to call panoramas the new clamps by asking obsessively such questions. Contrary to oligoptica, panoramas, as etymology suggests, see everything. But they also see nothing since they simply show an image painted (or projected) on the tiny wall of a room fully closed to the outside.
So, a panorama shows you everything, but it's not a panopticon because unlike a panopticon you can't see everything in a panorama.  Am I on the right wavelength here?

Whereas oligoptica are constantly revealing the fragility of their connections and their lack of control on what is left in between their networks, panoramas gives the impression of complete control over what is being surveyed, even though they are partially blind and that nothing enters or leaves their walls except interested or baffled spectators. 
One other aspect of panoramas I can think of is that they focus on the broad, so the details will be quite fuzzy.  The camera lens will focus on a specific spot to make sure that this spot is in focus, and it does so to the detriment of focusing on other things. Thus a panorama gives you the big picture, but you can't really "see" everything clearly.  I wonder if this is what Latour was going for.


Well, Part I is done... Time for a mental break.  Thoughts? :)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Tenure is a red herring!

Last weekend, while I was enjoying something on television, my iPad buzzed and kindly informed me that a few people I follow on twitter were all tweeting about #whytenure.  Woah! I thought!  What's this?  Is there something earth-shattering happening with tenure?  I had to find out.  I saw some tweets, favorited them (for later digestion), and went back to my show. It seems to me that this was a reaction to Wisconsin and Gov. Walker's most recent attempts to mess with higher education in that state. There is no doubt that feelings around tenure, both in Wisconsin and outside, are pretty charged. I see blind acceptance of tenure as a given by most people I interact with, but I don't see why (despite their arguments).

I am one of the few people, that I know in my circles, that holds the unpopular opinion (among people in academia) that tenure is an outdated institution and what's on the drawing board needs to be erased and re-conceptualized from scratch.  Tenure is like communism (ha! I knew that one would make you raise an eyebrow!) in that it's fine in principle, but the way it has materialized and been implemented over the years doesn't even do justice to the original intent.  For instance the AAUP defines tenure (briefly) as:

Tenure, briefly stated, is an arrangement whereby faculty members, after successful completion of a period of probationary service, can be dismissed only for adequate cause or other possible circumstances and only after a hearing before a faculty committee.(source)

Most pro-tenure arguments that I see, both on the web but also in person revolve around the notion of academic freedom.  Being able to research a topic that isn't popular, being able to teach and get knee-deep topics that are potentially touchy, or sensitive for people, or even employ new pedagogies that aren't the way "students want to learn" (e.g. sit back and listen to a lecture) but engage in active learning (believe it or not, there are students who complain about having to do stuff in class). Free Speech is also invoked but that seems like even more of a misdirect as free speech protects you from the government, not from other institutions.

This automatic support and defense of tenure seems to come from those who are already on the tenure track, or are tenured. Of course, those individuals are the minority of those who teach in academia.  Some of the arguments for tenure, from the twitter #whytenure are as follows:

  1. #whytenure When my research says a cancer treatment costs too much & helps too little, some parties might prefer me silenced. #ScholarSunday @djvanness
  2. #whytenure because "relevant" fields of study are not and should not be subject to the market but to free inquiry @cinemiasma
  3. #whytenure The freedom to explore ideas that may not 100% lead to publications. Taking chances is where discovery happens. @shawpsych
  4. #whytenure Because education depends on shared governance. And pedagogy is about dialogue not hierarchy. @jessifer
  5. #whytenure Because even as a not-yet-tenured tenure-track professor, I feel secure enough in my position to write these tweets. @jessifer
  6. #whytenure because academics, not bureaucrats or businessmen, should determine the curriculum. - @ak_leeg
  7. Simple - academic freedom. Also, academics value freedom. Do away w tenure and they'll find other positions. #WhyTenure @AlbertsonB2
  8. Take a look at #whytenure for why it matters & why its unacceptable that 75% of academic workforce doesn't have its protections. @highlyanne
  9. #WhyTenure is about credibility: tenure protects public univ. researchers from outside pressure to reach politically desirable conclusions. @thosjleeper
  10. If other universities offer tenure, the argument for #whytenure is simple: remaining competitive in the market and retaining young talent. @thosjleeper
  11. #whytenure It takes 10 years to earn a PhD & another 6 to even be considered for tenure. That much work should earn living wage & stability @effieCraven
  12. #whytenure b/c it protects faculty whose research and teaching challenges the political status quo, getting students to think critically @kronnenwetter
  13. State Universities need tenure b/c it protects tax payers, students. Public universities serve all citizens, not just donors -> #whytenure @RabiaGregory

First of all, I think some of the arguments put forth on twitter are just far fetched or not corresponding to reality (or at least how people actually act in academia in their tenured roles).  For instance, when @RabiaGregory claims that State Universities need tenure because they protect taxpayers, and serve all citizens, how does he envision that they do that? I don't blame  @RabiaGregory for the shallow comment, twitter is a crappy medium for serious discussion like this, but what do state educational institution protect citizens from?  As stakeholders in state institutions, why do we (taxpayers) not see more local students accepted to them instead of out of state and international students†, and why don't see see all intellectual production released as Creative Commons and/or OER for the benefit of all? @RabiaGregory's argument seems hollow to me because the opportunities afforded by tenure seem squandered and only come up when tenure is in the cross-fire.

The education argument, argument #11 by @effieCraven , is also a bit hollow.  I applaud people's efforts to continue their education (look at my own educational credentials, I've been in higher education for more than 10 years already).  However there are two issues to contend with:
  1. OK, you've earned your PhD, so what?  There have many others who have gone to school and earned their doctorates and don't have jobs, or work as underpaid adjuncts. What privileges you as a tenured faculty member over them?
  2. Again, bravo on earning your doctorate. You can account for your schooling in a nice transcript.  However, many other professions, are also lifelong learners today.  They need to be in order to keep up with demands of their job.  People go to seminars, conferences, webinars, take additional courses, pass certification exams, read books on the side to maintain their knowledge and expand it for things in (and out of) their field.  What makes you that special that you need job security due to your education?  The devil's advocate could also say that with all that education you should be able to land on your feet regardless of your circumstance.  You may not be a professor, but you may have a really successful #altac career. 
I don't want to seem like I am dissing people who have opted to continue their education.  I applaud such curiosity and thirst for knowledge - you are in good company - but I don't think the entitled attitude that comes off on twitter is serving those lifelong learners well.

In terms of market forces governing (or not governing) academic research, as @cinemiasma puts it - wrong again.  If you are looking to get grants for yourself and your institution market forced do guide what you are doing.  Some people are like the honey-badger, they don't give a....well you know, so their research isn't governed by market forces. However, if you want to apply for and get grant money then you do need to know what's hot, what's "sexy" (ugh... dislike applying that term in this way), and what will get you the grant.  If that isn't the definition of market force - your skills, background, proposals vs others, I don't know what is.

Finally, from the tweets above (and from other conversations) it seems that people think that tenure encompasses shared governance.  From my (admittedly rudimentary) readings of what the AAUP puts out I don't see a connection.  I see shared governance as important, but not connected with tenure. There are places that have no tenure, but have shared governance.  Now, I'll be a bit of a radical and state that shared governance (and departmental committees) these days should encompass more than just faculty (tenured or even non-tenured). These committee workings determine not just curriculum but also how a department functions and department policies beyond the curriculum. Back in ye olde days when we didn't have distance education programs, when our programs we smaller and local and basically held in a classroom with a blackboard; all the administrative support needed was of the clerical in nature, and perhaps faculty-only governance was all that was needed.

These days, with online and distance education programs, with the amounts of students being accepted, with the pressure to "grow" our programs, with the types of reporting that we need to do (and many other considerations) people in positions such as mine need to have a seat, a voice, and a vote at the table where important decisions are made.  Yes, I am an administrator by title - I am also an instructional designer, a technologists (you know, all that education I have), and a graduate program director (in all but title).  There are things that program administrators, instructional designers, technologists (and so on)  can see (and foresee) that faculty committees alone cannot. We can do things that they cannot, and we are here year-round, when they are not. This is not a criticism of faculty. They have not been trained to do these administrative roles, and probably most of them went to school to be scholars and teachers, not admins.

Why have academic initiatives, which need faculty input, grind to a halt in June, July ,and August, when faculty are "off" (they are, after all, only 9-month employees, on the academic calendar)? It might seem like we are trampling over your academic freedom when we (other professionals) are suggesting something‡, but in reality some things aren't related to your academic freedom but you throw out the term like a live grenade, like a shock-word, to stop people from discussing valid issues. but I digress. As I said, shared governance has nothing to do with tenure ;-)

Now, those that hear me say that tenure needs to go automatically assume that I also do not value academic freedom and employment protections afforded by tenure.  Nothing could be farther from the truth! I think that employment protections are well deserved for all employees who have demonstrated competence for that work during their probationary period. In extraordinary circumstances, such as wholesale department closures, no one is safe from layoffs. However if the position continues to exist, then the person who demonstrated competency should be allowed to keep it.  I also believe in academic freedom.  We should be able to talk about things and explore topics that aren't popular. We should be able to do it in ways that we think are valuable for our learners.  Luckily, these days, we do have IRB protections from people who might want to do things in an ethically-suspect way (no more Stanford Prison Experiments!)

However tenure does have some major flaws in my view:
  • There are very few positions that are "tenure track". The majority of people teaching are adjuncts and are off the tenure track. These are individuals who, by many rubrics, have passed a probationary period  and they keep getting hired back semester after semester. So why not given them job security through tenure?
  • Tenure probationary periods are long by any measurement, and tenure is seen as a black mark for those who don't get it. For my professional jobs the probationary period was at most 1 year.  Granted, it may be hard to assess someone in a faculty position in one year, especially when it comes to three distinct areas of review: teaching, service, and scholarship. Maybe you need a couple of years as a review metric, but what can you learn about someone in more than 2 years that you can't learn in 2? Also, if someone opts to not take the tenured job at the end of their probationary period (or if they are denied tenure for whatever reason), those people are seen as deficient or "bad" or "off" by future academic employers.  This stigma is not something that we should have, or encourage, in academia.
  • Tenure, depending on the department or institution, can make you the whipping post for as long as you are probationary.  It's a highly political environment, and no matter what magical pixy dusty the academe sells you about it being a meritocracy, the truth is you can't participate as an equal in various departmental  and institutional events and decision-making-nexuses because the people you piss off with your views (protected by academic freedom) might be people on your tenure review committee, and they will remember. So, you better break your back on all that committee work, and tackling new courses and initiatives otherwise people might see you not as a team player. Is this fair? And, if you "Keep mouth shut until tenure review",   as @AndrewSshi writes - doesn't this become a habit that you might not be able to break out from? Do you become scared of your own shadow that you don't take initiatives? Or have you resigned and say "eff it" and just do the bare minimum post-tenure?
  • Tenure can be like a pair of golden manacles.  Sure, you probably will pass your tenure review (unless you've really messed up, or really pissed off some powerful people), but what then?  If you like your department that's great, but what if - as part of our regular growth and exploration of our fields - your new interests dictate that you are are better off in another department, in another institution, how can you move laterally without losing your privileged position. Would you be willing to take a demotion (in a sense) to continue your professional growth?  As a non-faculty member I can do that (and I've changed careers a lot for my young age), but I feel as though this would not be possible if I had a doctorate and I were tenured somewhere. Sure, you could negotiate a deal to get a job with tenure, but that assumes that you have the skills and cultural capital to make something like that happen.
  • Tenure is currently viewed as protection, but it's a vicious elitist instrument as currently employed. It has strayed off its original road.  The majority of the people teaching are not on tenure track, or tenured - according to the AAUP.  Tenure is used as a symbol of the haves (job security) and the have-nots. Even worse, when new tenure track positions open-up, long-term adjuncts are not considered suitable candidates for such positions because (as I've heard off the record from a few institutions, which I can't even remember any more) "if they were any good they would have tenure elsewhere already".  This is not only a blame the victim approach (poorly paid, no job security, and denying them security when they seek it), it also does not reward longevity and loyalty to the institution. Why would you not favor a long-term adjunct over a complete unknown candidate when that adjunct has demonstrated competence and loyalty to your department? Seems odd to me.
  • Tenure, incorrectly in my mind, packages teaching, scholarship, and service in equal weight. This is yet another instrument used to keep adjuncts down. If an adjunct puts together 2-3 (or more) teaching gigs to pay the bills, then scholarship (in the traditional terms we define it) will not be high on their priority list.  Tenure, like annual professional evaluations, should be flexible. If someone's forte is being a good teacher, and providing service to the institution, that that should count more toward their job security and "productivity" than research.  However,  they should be provided with professional development and opportunities to improve on their research.  The same is true on the other end.  If someone is an awesome researcher, they should focus more on the areas they are great in, and cultivate the rest.  That said, job postings should be more precise about what the department needs are up-front. No one is a jack of all trades and neither the departments nor the faculty in it benefits from a jack-of-all-trades approach to hiring.

One of the comments piqued my interest but was a little ambiguous. I blame twitter for not being able to determine what the intended message was (it's hard to express oneself in 140 characters for topics like this).  The comment is as follows:
@VSouza_STL Adjuncts need better conditions, but no one is helped by dragging down others. Tenure protects academic inquiry. #whytenure by: @ASFried 
I don't know if @ASFried meant this in a "yeah, there are problems with adjuncts, but don't you mess with our tenure, go find your own ball to play with", or "yeah, there are problems with adjuncts, and let's work toward giving those people tenure". I certainly hope that it's the latter and not the former.  However, I don't have faith that many people with tenure are willing to take on the scepter to support the adjuncts who are currently without it, and thus change the tenure landscape of academia.  If people who have tenure were willing to do this we wouldn't be seeing a continued erosion of tenure and the (amazing) drive to unionize adjuncts across the country - to get those protections that they didn't have because their tenured colleagues didn't do much to help.

Finally, tenure has a PR problem.  I am sure that we could re-work tenure to address all of the issues above, but most people see tenure like this:

Or they see it like this:
Or heck, even like this:
The problem isn't that people outside of academia see tenure like this, but that people inside of academia see it like this as well, even other faculty.  They might not acknowledge it openly in debates because their tenure would be scrutinized as well, but how many times have you thought that some of the exercises you undergo each year, such as post-tenure reviews (which are supposed to ensure "productivity" continues after tenure) do you see as a pointless waste of time since that person will not be laid off or axed regardless of the offense?  Security is good, but it comes at a price (and sometimes bad actors).

Tenure's bad PR means that people are not paying attention to the good things that tenure is meant to ensure (job security and academic freedom). By getting rid of tenure, but keeping the core ideals alive in other forms (such as good union contracts that also protect adjuncts), we can create a new system that is more egalitarian, more diverse, more fair, in order to move forward together.

Thoughts?


SIDENOTES:
† The cynic in me says that we entice international and out-of-state students to come because their tuition is higher, despite the fact that state institutions have a responsibility to the people in their own state.
‡ Oh, I don't know, like making your course on blackboard more accessible? -or perhaps using a department style guide we developed so that courses look like they come from the same department

Monday, June 8, 2015

RhizoANT and email

The other day Rebecca posted on her blog and asked how we (I think she meant other RhizoANT collaborators) view email.  How is email different from other technologies that we use to communicate with one another for various projects.  In a previous RhizoANT post I wrote about (what seemed to be) our main vehicle for communication, the Google Doc.  Of course, as Rebecca points out we also used email to discuss some topics off the record, sort of like the sidebar that lawyers have with the judge in a court case.

Just to kick off I'll start from the stance that I don't hate email.  I do my best to be at inbox-zero.  It never really happens for me, but I do my best.  At any given time I have anywhere from 5-10 email messages that need my attention.  As I respond to them, I archive them (no need for filing, just hit archive in gmail!)  While I have access to Google Inbox I have opted to not use it.  I prefer the look, feel, and functionality of GMail "classic" and, at least according to Rebecca, GMail classic has better search functionality, which for me is a key feature because I don't bother filing anything.

Now, there is one 'feature' of email (in general) that I don't like.  Every time someone responds there is a loooooooooong appendage to their email with the history of the communication.  I know that this is a good feature for replying (so that people know what you are replying to), but we, as a RhizoResearch team, tend to use email conversationally. So we might just add a sentence or two as a response. There really is no need for the history.   Also, participants respond at different times to different messages, so it becomes and experience of trying to piece things together after the fact.

When we are discussing via email, in a conversational manner it's not a problem that messages become convoluted and we have email chains like the one pictured.  However, when we discuss deliverables, and we are planning how we will proceed with a project, these email chains become unwieldy in trying to figure out who is doing what - or heck forget about others for the moment, email makes it harder to figure out what I agreed to do at some point in some email without going back and looking at everything and all interactions.  I think a way around this is to have a recording secretary for the meeting whose task is to keep track of an email thread and pull out actionable items (can't this be automated?)

The other thing I wish email did better was to better manage my identities.  I started using email around 1996 or 1997. Yahoo and Hotmail (before the Microsoft acquisition) were my first two email addresses. I still have them and use them. I also have 4 GMail addresses, and I use every one of them for different reasons.  I have some work colleagues who have been acculturated into email use in the following way: If they want to make sure that you see something, like right NOW, they will email ALL of the emails they have for you.  Now, why should I clean up 6 email accounts after I've read and responded to the email?  Why not have an ability to manage my multiple identities at one spot? This isn't a problem with those one or two work colleagues who exhibit this emailing behavior, it's also a problem with collaboration.  I use my university email (email #8...which is actually managed by one of my gmails) as my de facto contact for research collaborations, but what I really use to when the rubber meets the road for actual work is gmail (google docs), so my communication gets fragmented among different email accounts, or worse I have to tell people to invite multiple gmail accounts to collaborative documents to make sure I get things.

There's got to be an easier way ;-) Part of me is wondering if we've exceeded the reach of email. Email seems to be a contemporary analogue to traditional mail, which is brought to you by the post office.  I have many fond memories (and old letter to prove it!) from dear friends and pen pals from 20 years ago. Mailing something took a week to get there (more or less), and another week to get back. If people wrote back to you right away the travel time would be 2 weeks. If they took longer obviously it would take longer.  The heuristics of email are similar to traditional letter writing - despite the instantaneous nature of email.  The usage of the system by its users has evolved to take advantage of that instantaneity, however the heuristics of the system have not.  Have we stretched the metaphor too thin for email?  Is it time to bring back Google Wave? ;-)

your thoughts?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Latour: Firth Source of Uncertainty - Writing Down Risky Accounts

Alright! Here we are! I am continuing the exploration [and one-sided dialogue] with Latour and I have reached the fifth [and final] source of uncertainty. This first part of the book has tried to describe Actor-Network Theory by describing the negative space around it, by offering up metaphors and examples, and by giving some small snippets into what ANT is (or tries to accomplish).  As with the previous posts, I have picked out quotes that resonated with me (3 weeks ago) when I read the chapter. Now I am re-reading them and responding to them [if needed].
This introduction to ANT begins to look like another instance of Zeno’s paradox, as if every segment was split up by a host of mediators each claiming to be taken into account. ‘We will never get there! How can we absorb so many controversies?’ Having reached this point, the temptation is great to quit in despair and to fall back on more reasonable social theories that would prove their stolid common sense by ignoring most of the sources of uncertainty I have reviewed.(p. 121)
The point that I get from this is that if you can keep cutting something by half you will never be done, because something can always be divided by two.  But, the key point here is not to be nihilistic, but rather to be strategic about the mediators that you choose to cut in half to explore in more details.  The analogy that I can give is a library.  Seeing that huge building and all those books in it can cause any knowledge seeker to have a panic attack about where to start and how to process all of this.  At the risk of sounding like a rhizoFollower - go at it rhizomatically. Pick up an end, any end, and then start exploring from there, wherever the journey takes you.  If you want a map, get one, if you don't, then free-style it.
We could swallow one, maybe two, but not four in a row. Unfortunately, I have not found a way to speed things up: this type of science for that type of social should be as slow as the multiplicity of objections and objects it has to register in its path; it should be as costly as it is necessary to establish connections among the many mediators it finds swarming at every step; and it should be as reflexive, articulated, and idiosyncratic as the actors cooperating in its elaboration. It has to be able to register differences, to absorb multiplicity, to be remade for each new case at hand. (p.121)
Um...yeah...ditto to that (clever man, Latour!)

This is not a sociology any more but a slowciology (p. 122)
I gotta say - not fond of that term...slowciology.  It implies that sociology, by nature, is quick and therefore careless. I am not a sociologists but I think that all disciplines have fast and 'slow' lanes. The speed is dictated by a lot of factors, including the personal ontologies and epistemologies of the researchers. It also reminds me a lot of various slow fads.


If we want to have a chance to mop up all the controversies already mentioned, we have to add a fifth and last source of uncertainty, namely one about the study itself. The idea is simply to bring into the foreground the very making of reports. As the reader should have understood by now, the solution to relativism is always more relativity. (p. 122)
Oh goody, more relativism! ;-)  OK, in all seriousness though, the mere act of recording something is actually changing the original interpretations of the 'social' thing that occurred. No one record is enough to really understand what happened.  Not our recent HybridPed article, not the #ET4Online poster we presented, not the other articles we're working on as a RhizoResearch team.  Together they begin to re-constitute an understanding of what happened, but any one account will not fully shed light into the machinations of rhizomatic learning and learning experiences.  I would guess that Latour would also liken this to an asymptotic curve - it will get really close to the axis, but it will never touch it. There is always something left un-rediscovered once the original account ends.

A 50,000 word thesis might be read by half a dozen people (if you are lucky, even your PhD advisor would have read parts of it!) and when I say ‘read’, it does not mean ‘understood’, ‘put to use’, ‘acknowledged’, but rather ‘perused’, ‘glanced at’, ‘alluded to’, ‘quoted’, ‘shelved somewhere in a pile’. 
Hey, Latour! This is a bit depressing. A budding doctoral students does not want to hear this. A blog post I write [and post a link on twitter] gets more reads than this. I have not idea if anything I write gets 'put to use' but it is a useful vehicle for engaging with ideas and people, even if I don't get a lot of comments.  The consideration at a PhD dissertation doesn't get a lot of playtime, that it is not publishable like a book (without serious editing, cutting, and adding), just is one more indication that the book-length dissertation is a relic of the past. Alternatives to the dissertation would be much more useful it seems.

How does one make sense of this mess as it piles up on our desks and fills countless disks with data? Sadly, it often remains to be written and is usually delayed. It rots there as advisors, sponsors, and clients are shouting at you and lovers, spouses, and kids are angry at you while you rummage about in this dark sludge of data to bring light to the world. And when you begin to write in earnest, finally pleased with yourself, you have to sacrifice vast amounts of data that cannot fit in the small number of pages allotted to you. How frustrating this whole business of studying is. (p. 123) 
Gee Thanks, Latour! It all sound so...nihilistic! I do think that a lot of materials end up on the cutting floor, but that doesn't mean they can't be used.  After all, one write-up, one dissertation, one article, is not going to be a magnum opus that bursts the doors open to whatever phenomenon you are studying. You are standing on the shoulders of giants when you write your 'magnum opus' (dissertation). There are pre-requisites and co-requisites that go along with your work to make it understandable and applicable. It does not stand on its own, in a vacuum, so it's OK.  Just relax ;-)


It’s because ANT claims to renew what it means to be a science and what it means to be social, that it has also to renew what it is an objective account. The word does not refer to the traditional sense of matters of fact—with their cold, disinterested claims to ‘objectification’— but to the warm, interested, controversial building sites of matters of concern. Objectivity can thus be obtained either by an objectivist style—even though no object is there to be seen—or by the presence of many objectors— even (p. 124)
Huh...interesting.  I take it that the original language of Latour is French.  I wonder how this world-play (objectivity vs objector) works in French and in other languages that Latour is translated into.  For what it's worth I would say that it's all subjective. We aim for objectivity but our objectivity passes through the prism that is our knowledge and experiences, so an absolute version of the truth does not exist.


It’s thus a fair question to ask why the literature of social science is often so badly written. There are two reasons for this: first, scholars strive to imitate the sloppy writings of hard scientists; second, because contrary to the latter, they do not convoke in their reports actors recalcitrant enough to interfere with the bad writing. (p. 124)
Interesting thoughts, Latour.  That said, it's hard to make it in a system that values the "sloppy writings of hard scientists".  How does one publish a peer reviewed article in a journal of impact so that they gain the street cred to be able to affect change?  Do you go totally rogue and work on the periphery of the various academic disciplines? Or do you strive to immediate that sloppy writing, to formulate 'research questions' before you begin your research in order to conform to those standards? What about conforming to their ontologies? This seems like an equally problematic issue.

it seems that too often sociologists of the social are simply trying to ‘fix a world on paper’ as if this activity was never in risk of failing. (p. 127)
I guess I have no comment for this. It seems fairly straight-forward and I find myself agreeing with it.  Then again...what's wrong with trying to pin something down (no matter how feeble the attempt)?


if the social is a trace, then it can be retraced; if it’s an assembly then it can be reassembled. While there exists no material continuity between the society of the sociologist and any textual account—hence the wringing of hands about method, truth, and political relevance—there might exist a plausible continuity between what the social, in our sense of the word, does and what a text may achieve—a good text, that is.(p. 128)
Hmmm... How does one define good, bad, and mediocre (and anything in-between)? Just a question that came to mind while reading this. I am wondering, however...why is there no material continuing between society, the sociologists, and the textual account?  Can't we trace connections, even faint, between them?

A good ANT account is a narrative or a description or a proposition where all the actors do something and don’t just sit there. Instead of simply transporting effects without transforming them, each of the points in the text may become a bifurcation, an event, or the origin of a new translation. (p. 128)
Ding! ding! ding! ding!!!!!  We have an "Ant is..." statement (always exciting when this happens in Latour).  This sentence made me smile a bit, Latour old chap! One of my pet peeves (who knows, maybe I am too young of an academic to know any better) is that descriptions count for nothing.  A researcher can do a magnificent account describing what's happening and provide no 'conclusion' or 'analysis' but this counts for nothing (or very little at least).  Some sort of professional opinion needs to be bolted on if you want to publish this in anything other than your self-published blog.  Your descriptions need to be operationalized to matter.  Does this always have to be the case? What's the matter with just having a good, researched, description?


A good text elicits networks of actors when it allows the writer to trace a set of relations defined as so many translations. (p. 129)
Thanks for the explanation Latour :-)


So, network is an expression to check how much energy, movement, and specificity our own reports are able to capture. Network is a concept, not a thing out there. It is a tool to help describe something, not what is being described. (p. 131)
This is something that sent me for a processing loop.  For me networks conjure the image of computer networks. It's something concrete. Connections can be visualized and described as well.  The word 'network' is used in a fashion different than the common, current, usage, which to some extent is problematic. But I think that my conception of network is a static one, a drawing, a snapshot in time.  If an ANT network were to have a snapshot of itself, would it look like a network diagram for computers?  In real time, does a NOC network diagram look like something an ANT account might produce?


In order to trace an actor-network, what we have to do is to add to the many traces left by the social fluid through which the traces are rendered again present, provided something happens in it. In an actor-network account the relative proportion of mediators to intermediaries is increased. I will call such a description a risky account, meaning that it can easily fail—it does fail most of the time—since it can put aside neither the complete artificiality of the enterprise nor its claim to accuracy and truthfulness. (p. 133)
What are the risks? Risks to whom? Why are they risky? Is failure always an issue?


The whole question is to see whether the event of the social can be extended all the way to the event of the reading through the medium of the text. This is the price to pay for objectivity, or rather ‘objectfullness’ to be achieved. (p. 133)
Something to ponder...


The best way to proceed at this point and to feed off this fifth source of uncertainty is simply to keep track of all our moves, even those that deal with the very production of the account. (p.133)
This seems like a no-brainer to me...but then again my MA program was quite qualitative in nature and keeping account of all the moves, turns, twists, and thoughts of the researcher, seemed like a given.


To add in a messy way to a messy account of a messy world does not seem like a very grandiose activity. But we are not after grandeur: the goal is to produce a science of the social uniquely suited to the specificity of the social in the same way that all other sciences had to invent devious and artificial ways to be true to the specific phenomena on which they wished to get a handle on. (p. 136) 
This reminds me a lot of the untext - but how do audiences cope with this? Is it ethical to give an audience something messy and let them make sense of it?  The audience is further removed than the researcher from what was being researched, so doesn't the researcher have an obligation to provide some description and analysis - a way to set order an make neat for the reader - despite the inherent bias?



The task is to deploy actors as networks of mediations—hence the hyphen in the composite word ‘actor-network’. Deployment is not the same as ‘mere description’, nor is it the same as ‘unveiling’, ‘behind’ the actors’ backs, the ‘social forces at work’. (p. 136)
This might have made sense at one time, but I need to do some mental gymnastics to get it back now... Latour, you keep me thinking.


And what is so wrong with ‘mere descriptions’? (p. 136)
Amen to that! What is wrong with mere descriptions?


The simple act of recording anything on paper is already an immense transformation that requires as much skill and just as much artifice as painting a landscape or setting up some elaborate biochemical reaction. No scholar should find humiliating the task of sticking to description. This is, on the contrary, the highest and rarest achievement. (p. 136-137)
When I read this I thought it would appeal to my rhizomates ;-)


As soon as a site is placed ‘into a framework’, everything becomes rational much too fast and explanations begin to flow much too freely. The danger is all the greater because this is the moment most often chosen by critical sociology, always lurking in the background, to take over social explanations and replace the objects to be accounted for with irrelevant, all-purpose ‘social forces’ actors that are too dumb to see or can’t stand to be revealed. (p. 137)
Uh...ditto? :-)


Hence I come to an end with all of Latour's sources of uncertainty.  I've made it to Part II of the book. I am actually almost done as of this writing, but I am not sure I'll take the same approach to part II of the book. Something to think about.  What do you think of Latour's quotes thus far?