Networks, Crisitunity

All of life is about learning. Think about the notion of happiness, though a better words is Aristotle’s eudamonia, which he put a lot of thought into. To remain happy in all situations requires wisdom. This wisdom is practiced – and through this practice, something is learned and it becomes possible to increase the chances that one will be happy. Aristotle says that this is a very special kind of knowledge because to possess it requires applying it correctly to a situation…

Because we cannot predict situations in life, this learning cannot be pinned down and is hard to ‘pass on’: λαμπάδια ἔχονηες διαδώζουζιν ἀλλήλοις ἁμιλλώμενοι ηοῖς ἵπποις. That was the inscription to James Clerk Maxwell’s Matter and motion (1920 [1877]), and means that the lamp of knowledge is passed on from person to person.

Speaking of Maxwell, he knew his Aristotle. And was critical as a student of his professor’s suggestion that the golden mean could be used as a pocket rule (in Campbell 1882: 74). Learning is hard. And as Maxwell shows in his writing, knowledge needs coordinating and correct application. For example, he advises a bishop not to relate science to sermons:

But I should be very sorry if an interpretation founded on a most conjectural scientific hypothesis were to get fastened to the text in Genesis (in Campbell 1882: 191).

Maxwell shows that it is not enough to possess the knowledge, one must know where and when it can be applied. This can be described in terms of epistemic fluency, which is knowledge that “underpins conceptual for understanding, knowledge for action and knowledge entangled in action” (Markauskaite and Goodyear 2017: 89). It is the knowing what and knowing when in practical problem solving (ibid: 95). Accordingly, it involves the relational skills that enable effective work with others, across boundaries or professions (ibid: 596).

This tendency to treat knowledge and information, data, as dispossessed of human bodies, something to be traded and trafficked without us, would have us forget about this important learning. It is one of the problematic aspects of trends that can be related to the start of an interest in cybernetics and the Macy conferences.

So when I think of networks of knowledge, I see them in human terms – what they mean in human terms.

And the word network is one I am indebted to because of the work in networked learning that came out of the Networked Learning Conferences. Hodgson and McConnell have identified the key elements and experience of the field as: values, time, context, co-creation, critical reflexion, responsibility (2019). This is an approach to learning that is human. To give just one illustration: they acknowledge the time that is needed in networked learning for trust to be established… It does well to remind ourselves that it can take time to “work out” a context as we approach Rittel and Webberian “wicked problems” (1973), if we care about the people in it.

The design of the environments in which we increasingly find ourselves are the product of theories and approaches that are now divorced in spirit from Donald Schön’s Design Studio (1985) and do not include, for example, an affordance of time for reflection.

And this is why I think it is important to promote the idea of networks at this time, to – together – co-create an alternative to the systems theory which is often just another word for cybernetics, which, we remember, is all about control. Maxwell wrote about it (1868). But his idea was “fastened” only to things, not people.

At the Networked Learning Conference 2020, the word crisitunity was mentioned jokingly at one point. Indeed. We need not think of this time in history as one of crisis, but rather as a challenge to us to think more creatively, together, and co-create a better way.

This can be considered “extraneous” as it is something extra – that wasn’t included in the original frame of reference. The extraneous is the step back that is inherent to critical reflexion – but it is also the flight of creativity that happens in abundance, in the superfluity of time once given to leisure. I am interested in cultivating these extraneous spaces, because I think they are relevant. To our ultimate eudamonia, or well-being. I am still figuring this out.

How nice it would be to look back at the end of a life and say, like the character in Tony Morisson’s Nobel Prize Speech (1993), who co-creates a story with some critical children, “Look. How lovely it is, this thing we have done – together.”

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