Chapter 3: Sensibilities

Chapter 3 introductory text

The labour of knowing the world is taken up through theory and methodology. An instrumentalist view demands selecting the right methods to adequately represent reality out there. On the other hand a humanist view is more constructionist in which reality constructed through the actions of those involved. However, neither was entirely appropriate for my less anthropocentric study in which I was keen to avoid ignoring the nonhumans.Read More »

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Schrödinger’s … medical condition?

“The Body Multiple” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/38894472832 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

One of the touchstone references regularly encountered when reading sociomaterial accounts is The Body Multiple by Annemarie Mol. Since we didn’t have it in our Uni library and because it seemed so important, I took the rather rash step (for a Yorkshireman) of buying a copy. Although it took me a while to fully get to grips with the concepts therein, I now know why it is such a classic. I really should have reviewed it on the blog, however my small but select bunch of educational readers might not have found much of interest in an ethnographic text of medical practice … or perhaps they would. Put far too simply, it’s an ethnographic telling of how the arterial disease, atherosclerosis, is enacted in a hospital. Enacted, yes, because this is tale of ontology and how reality comes to be.

The messages in The Body Multiple resurfaced for me this week as I cycled into Uni., pondering the events of a few months ago, back in August (2017). I’d been invited by my local health centre for a Health Check. No biggie; just one of those things to which people of ‘a certain age’ here in the UK can benefit from. If I had my cynical head on, then I might say my clinic had invited me in order to meet its targets, or to reduce the likelihood of me becoming a future financial burden on an ever more stressed national health service. Since I’m feeling much more generous, I’d say it’s to help spot early symptoms of diseases which might make my later life less pleasant, or even foreshorten it. The check requires you to provide blood and urine samples, then re attend a week later for a nurse to go through the results with you and suggest lifestyle changes if necessary. I wasn’t worried; my last check six or so years ago indicated nothing more than cholesterol levels slightly above those recommended by the medical establishment. In the intervening period, I made adjustments to my diet and was confident I’d now be within the margin. What I hadn’t expected was the phone call from the clinic the day after the blood tests, asking if I could make an appointment to see a doctor, and could I come in the following day.Read More »

“Can Twitter learn?”

“Can Twitter learn? Can a tweet learn?”

“Twitter Expert” by mkhmarketing https://flickr.com/photos/mkhmarketing/8540535352 is licensed under CC BY

Two questions one of my supervisors posed in the feedback on a recent draft thesis section I’d submitted. Despite knowing this was playfully provocative, I’m only too well aware that I need to be able to answer questions like this, whatever their intention. In response, I first need to clarify what learning is within the context of my study. Although there’s an imperative to lay that out within my thesis, I haven’t yet done so because I’ve been wrestling with how learning is conceived through a sociomaterial perspective. What better time to grasp that nettle?

What constitutes learning is often unproblematically taken for granted amongst most educators, however, during twenty years of teaching I can’t recall ever discussing it explicitly as an isolated concept. Read More »

What do I share with Olympic heroes?

“BBC Documentary Super Saturday 2012 Olympic Heroes” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/35577018174 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Michael Johnson met Jess Ennis-Hill in a recent BBC documentary about the London Olympics 2012 ‘Super Saturday,’ as we in the UK came to call it. Michael came up to Sheffield to speak with Jess, so there were a few shots from around the city. In the programme, Jess, Mo and Greg spoke about their experiences of the day, and their lives subsequently. From here I could of course take this in the direction of the grit and determination these three folks showed. How they overcame adversity, fought back and earned the rewards they so richly deserved … and then of course relate that to studying for a PhD … but no.Read More »

Learning … loosely?

“Sealion” flickr photo by wwarby https://flickr.com/photos/wwarby/16211398843 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I was catching up with episode three of Loose Learners whilst out running yesterday. Mariana and John were discussing the (mis?)use of social media for sharing, or what for some might be more accurately termed bragging, selling or self-promoting. It was suggested that people come to Twitter with different models of how they intend to use it. Some see it as a purely broadcasting medium, others amplify the content of others, whilst many see it as a place to interact. Perhaps it’s not quite so clear cut and many participants do some of each at different times? I tend to see the ‘fine line’ between bragging and sharing that Mariana and John were suggesting, as an awful lot wider … and fuzzier!. That fuzziness arises as a combination of the ‘intent’ of the user that Mariana described, and the expectations of the recipient. A particular user might have a specific purpose in mind when tweeting something out, but whether that’s perceived as sharing, bragging or self-promotion will also depend on the internal compass within the recipient and what they find acceptable.Read More »

Ghost of Christmas past …

“Working sheepdogs” flickr photo by gwyn_bard https://flickr.com/photos/gwynbard/232674743 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Whilst some hashtags are short-lived, perhaps responding to an event in the educational news (#onboardwithGonski), others are ongoing and in continuous use (#mfltwitterati). Hashtag chats like #ukedchat do the work of both marshalling regular events and serving as a point of contact for those wishing to provide resources or news targeted at a specific community of interest. In a previous post, I wrote briefly about #12daystwitter, a hashtag that appears intermittently, but which recently enjoyed its fourth birthday. This post by Mickie Mueller, the founder of #12daystwitter provides the background and history, but essentially those who join in are set a simple, daily challenge which they respond to through Twitter. The intention is that they learn about participating on Twitter and perhaps have some fun into the bargain. Here I want to delve a little more deeply into what the hashtag shepherding this apparently simple activity actually does.Read More »

Silent majority

When @MartinaEmke kindly retweeted my tweet promoting my last post, she followed it up with this provocation:

Although the people associated with the tweets was beyond the scope of that post, I must confess, it’s a topic to which I’ve already devoted some thought. How might we account for those who remain invisible because they don’t (inter)act? Approaching this with a sociomaterial sensibility, it would be too easy to claim that since there is no action, they cannot be deemed to be actors; they cannot be ‘followed’ and there is therefore little to say about them. Studies of this phenomenon, often called ‘lurking,’ have emerged which frame this behaviour in positive terms (Nonnecke & Preece, 2003; Walker et al, 2013). Crawford (2011) suggests using a metaphor of ‘listening’ as a way to conceptualise lurking. This then redefines the activity from being “vacant and empty figurations to being active and receptive processes.” However, Martina’s question seemed to require a more methodological framing; how does actor-network theory deal with something it can’t ‘see?’Read More »

Deconstructing a tweet

“The Note!” flickr photo by Smitten with Kittens https://flickr.com/photos/annabanana74/3809670806 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Maybe it’s the brevity of being restricted to only 140 characters that causes us to take a tweet for granted. Or perhaps the rate at which we read and produce them has rendered them into little more than message carriers; digital versions of the scribbled notes we might once have passed under the desk in school. Of course they are message carriers, but I’d like to suggest that, thanks to the different components we include, and to Twitter’s algorithms, they actually do much more than that.Read More »

Untangling, then becoming entangled with #NAT5HRUAE

Hashtag. Hash … tag. A symbol and a few characters.

I was pretty sure when I wrote this post about hashtags and how they were used, that it was unfinished business. When the following tweet popped up in my timeline, I knew it was time to pay a return visit:

An initial inspection of Malcolm’s tweet reveals it to be a quote tweet (QT), in which the original tweet is embedded in full (although not shown above), together with Malcolm’s comments. (As a separate issue, perhaps the QT is one way of sidestepping the 140 character limit whilst performing interesting additional work, and is probably worthy of a post in its own right?) In the embedded tweet, we see the original hashtag to which Malcolm was referring, plus two additional hashtags that he used in his own tweet. Apart from their structural difference, are they also performing different work? Before I begin to unpick that, let me first say a little about the exchange which unfolded when I asked Malcolm whether he knew anything more about the hashtag. Now that Twitter threads an exchange of tweets, you’ll be able to follow the whole thing for yourself by clicking through to the above tweet, but let me summarise.Read More »

To do is to be?

flickr photo by benwerd https://flickr.com/photos/benwerd/224640792 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Next Saturday is the 2016 Sheffield Institute of Education Doctoral Conference; I’m both co-organiser and  presenting a seminar. With my pilot study completed, and following a successful Confirmation of PhD seminar, I had a lot of potential topics from which to choose. In a weaker moment, I thought I’d talk about my preliminary findings, as revealed by the sociomaterial sensibility that Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is enabling me to bring. The tricky part is that I’ve been wrestling with conceptual approach all year. I guess that’s why I chose to use it to frame my talk; at some point I have to lay out my understanding to scrutiny so that any weaknesses are exposed and I can begin to do something about them. Unfortunately I only have 30 minutes in which to discuss my findings, AFTER having introduced a perhaps unfamiliar audience to ANT, using my only limited (current) understanding. Here then, with only the space afforded by a brief blog post, I’ll attempt to summarise what I intend to cover.

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