Open Thinkering

Menu

Tag: metaphor

Pragmatism, dead metaphors & the myth of the echo chamber.

Building upon Karl Fisch’s post from July about the myth of the echo chamber, this post reflects my thinking towards engaging and building consensus amongst colleagues as a result of studies towards my Ed.D. thesis.

There has been much discussion – in fact ever since I can remember – about the problem of ‘echo chambers’ in any given community. As in:

That’s all very well, but aren’t we perpetuating an echo chamber here?

You’re preaching to the choir; we need to get out there and spread the gospel.

And so on.

Whilst I understand the sentiment, it’s always felt a little odd to me that the two activities of community-building and inquiry on the one hand, and bringing others into that community on the other, should be seen as separate. I’ve been looking recently at the work of a number of Pragmatist philosophers which has helped clarify my thinking in this area.

So that people actually read this post rather than dismiss it as an abstract philosophical argument, I’m going to boil down what I want to say into the following three points:

1. Engagement and acceptance

If you engage with another community you lend some legitimacy to their programme. As Stanley Fish puts it:

It is acceptable not because everyone accepts it but because those who do not are now obliged to argue against it. (Fish, 1980:257)

Sometimes refusing to engage and accept someone else’s point of view is the best idea. In the context currently under consideration, that means ploughing on with the ‘echo chamber’ until others want to join it.

2. Dead metaphors

The vocabulary of a community is that of dead metaphors. So, for example, the metaphor of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ may have stimulated thinking in 2001 for a few years, but this metaphor is dead and lacks utility to those in the community to which it originally engaged.

As Richard Rorty puts it, citing Davidson, it is like a coral reef:

“Old metaphors are constantly dying off into literalness, and then serving as a platform and foil for new metaphors.” (Rorty, 1989:118)

Metaphors are used when the words and phrases within our vocabularies are not rich enough to capture something of value. ‘Memes’ often have an element of metaphor, therefore, as they correspond to something compelling yet previously-unexpressed.

3. Language games

It’s true of almost every community that one or two, or even a whole subset of, individuals get caught up in semantics. As Ian Hacking puts it, deciding whether something is a ‘truth-value candidate’ depends upon whether a sentence has a fixed place in a ‘language game’:

This is because it is a sentence which one cannot confirm or disconfirm, argue for or against. One can only savor it or spit it out. But this is not to say that it may not, in time, become a truth-value candidate. If it is savored rather than spat out, the sentence may be repeated, caught up, bandied about. Then it will gradually require a habitual use, a familiar place in the language game. (Rorty, 1989:119-120)

This brings us back to the idea of a ‘dead metaphor’ – something which I think will eventually happen to the concept of ‘digital literacy’. Echo chambers are thus important for pinning down a metaphor so it may do some work.

Conclusion

Echo chambers are good if, and only if, they exist for consensus building. This is, to paraphrase Charles Sanders Peirce, not a short-term project but one that tends towards the ‘end of enquiry’. That is to say the project involves grabbing a metaphor and killing it through use in order to feed ongoing discussion and community-building.

Or something like that. :-p

References

  • Fish, S. (1980) ‘What makes an interpretation acceptable?’ (in Goodman, R.B. (ed.) (1995) Pragmatism: a contemporary reader, p.265)
  • Rorty, R. (1989) ‘The Contingency of Language’ (in Goodman, R.B. (ed.) (1995) Pragmatism: a contemporary reader)

New metaphors and symbols required!

Fre WiFi

What’s wrong with this image?

Part of the problem with technology adoption in education comes from perceived parental pressure and expectation. This is fuelled by a rather reactionary media who use outdated metaphors and reference points in their discussion of education.

Want to represent education? Here you go:

The trouble is, I can’t remember the last time I saw a teacher in a mortarboard, a child giving an apple to a teacher, or a blackboard in a classroom. These are outdated metaphors.

Come to think of it, why should the following represent ‘accessibility’?

I’ve been reading about Universal Design for Learning recently, which makes ‘accessibility’ an issue to consider for every student and individual. It’s not just about people with disabilities.

We need new metaphors. The way we communicate things is hugely important and imagery is especially important given the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text.* We need metaphors that help to explain education as it should be in the 21st century, not the 19th.

How can we represent learning and education more generally in a more forward-thinking way?

* I can’t seem to find a source for this scientific study although it’s often mentioned.

If you’re still wondering what’s wrong with the introductory image (which I took at a service station recently) it uses a green RSS icon instead of the recognised wifi logo. It’s not the end of the world, but they should know better.

Surviving the matrix: 5 common leadership pitfalls and how to avoid them.

The Matrix

by Jamie Zawinski (Wikimedia Commons)

Jo Owen, in his excellent How to Lead: what you actually need to do to manage, lead and succeed has a wonderfully concise and vivid section on the ‘pitfalls of survival’ for leaders. This post outlines these and gives some advice as to how to avoid them. 🙂

Owen calls the middle management of an organization ‘the matrix’. It can be an uncomfortable and difficult place from which to emerge, he says. The five most common pitfalls of survival are:

  1. The expert in the matrix
  2. The cave dweller
  3. The politician
  4. The boy scout
  5. The autocrat

expert

The expert in the matrix

The expert in the matrix has been promoted because of their technical competency. On becoming a leader they are out of their comfort zone and therefore lean on their exceptional technical skills. They are likely to demand almost impossibly high standards from their subordinates leading to friction and discontent.

cave_dweller

The cave dweller

Cave dwellers try to avoid the matrix as much as possible by hiding in their ‘cave’ of pseudo-certainty. In an attempt to recreate the security they felt lower down the organization they become more territorial and less valuable to the organization. These, says Owen, are likely to be the first to go in any organizational ‘rationalisation’.

Machiavelli

The politician

Coming across as rather too enthusiastic about ‘learning the dark arts of the matrix,’ the politician works hard to cultivate a power network. They are constantly on the lookout for new initiatives and seek a position in relation to them. Politicians seek to be close enough to projects to be able to claim a stake in them if successful whilst being able to distance themselves from projects that fail or are discredited. After a while politicians are seen for their true colours and are ignored.

Scout emblem

The boy scout

The opposite to the politician is the boy scout. They think that by working hard and delivering results they will automatically receive recognition and promotion. In practice, however, they got ‘lost in the matrix.’ Boy scouts need to stake their claim and show that they are leading and delivering.

autocrat

The autocrat

Autocrats act as if they are already higher than they actually are in the organizational hierarchy. Whilst they talk about the importance of being a team player, in reality they are chiefly concerned with people being loyal to them. If they perform well, autocrats can succeed and are promoted. If not, they become irritating and a burden to their colleagues.

winding_path

The path through the matrix

So how do middle managers be successful in and/or find their way out of the matrix? Owen believes this comes back to the ‘three and a half Ps’ that he outlines at the start of the book:

  1. People – focus not only on those you have direct formal control but those ou can motivate and coach. These widens your circle of influence.
  2. Professional – model the values needed as a senior leader. One of the best ways to do this, believes Owen, is to chair meetings well.
  3. Positive – being positive is especially important in the middle of the matrix. Treat ambiguity and change as opportunity instead of risk. Learn how to deal with conflict in your particular context and you will be successful.
  4. Performance (the half-P) – you need a ‘claim to fame’ to emerge from the matrix. Show that you can deliver exceptional results out of ambiguity and complexity. Actively take on challenge.

Conclusion

I really liked this section of Owen’s book In fact, the whole thing is becoming invaluable to me as I step up from being a an ‘expert in the matrix’ (and ‘boy scout’ at times) to, hopefully, becoming an effectively and successful senior leader! 😀

css.php