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  • Mark 11:18 pm on February 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , phenomenology, ,   

    Speculative thoughts about the phenomenology of digitalisation 

    A few weeks ago, I found myself on a late night train to Manchester from London. After a long day, I was longing to arrive home, a prospect that seemed imminent as the train approached Stockport. Then it stopped. Eventually, we were told that there was someone on the tracks ahead and that the police were on the scene. We waited. After another ten minutes, we were told that the police were still trying to apprehend the person on the tracks. I checked Twitter and saw this incident had been unfolding for a while, seemingly disrupting all the trains going into and through Stockport train station. We waited some more. The train manager announced that the police had told trains they could proceed… a few minutes later the finally moving train came to an abrupt halt, apparently because the person who, it turned out was still on the tracks, had almost been hit. The train staff seemed surprised and mildly shaken up, unable to explain why the police had given the order to move.

    I eventually made it to Manchester, albeit after the last tram to the north had departed. As a naturally curious person, I wanted to find out more about what had happened, not least of all to clarify the slightly weird Benny Hill-esque images I was left with following these repeated invocations of police “in pursuit of” this mysterious “woman on the tracks” over half an hour. Plus what the hell were the police doing telling the train to proceed when she was still on the tracks? If it was a mistake, I was curious about why exactly they thought their pursuit had ended when they hadn’t arrested her. If it wasn’t a mistake, it seemed an inexcusable and possibly illegal action, both in terms of harm to the woman and the psychological violence potentially inflicted on a train driver.

    But I couldn’t find anything. I searched local newspapers but nothing. I searched social media but could only find my own tweet and the blandly descriptive disruption update on national rail enquiries. My point in recounting this story is not to stress the intrinsic interest of the situation itself. It’s not particularly interesting and you likely had to be there to have any concern. Rather, I’m interested in understanding the character of my frustration at being unable to find what I was looking for through digital means. It’s something I thought back to yesterday, when I was looking for a particular clip from the Simpsons to make a point in a conversation I was having with someone, but could not find it no matter how hard I looked.

    In both cases, my behaviour revealed an implicit expectation concerning the extent of digitalisation. In the first case, that an incident which presumably delayed hundreds of people under (vaguely) mysterious circumstances would inevitably generate some digital record. In the second case, a memorable incident from a popular tv show would surely have been uploaded to a video sharing site. My frustration, though mild, stems from an encounter with the incompleteness of digitalisation.

    These thoughts are extremely provisional but I’d really welcome feedback.

    • Benito Teehankee 10:48 am on February 1, 2018 Permalink

      This happens to me more now and I worry that I’ve become almost dependent on digital sourcing in this way. I publicly advocate that people spend less time in front of computer screens and more in live conversation with people around them but in practice, especially when I write or am reflecting on an issue, I constantly expect and am shaped by digital accounts. And when I do find such accounts, do I give them too much credence? A form of epistemic fallacy? I wonder…

    • Mark 9:12 am on February 9, 2018 Permalink

      Sorry I missed this. Interesting to hear other people having the same experience. My fear is something big is happening here, which we’re unlikely to name or notice, simply because by its nature we’re barely aware of it.

  • Mark 8:49 pm on June 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: muppets, phenomenology, ,   

    The Muppets explain Phenomenology (via @TGJBrock) 

  • Mark 9:27 am on November 23, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: phenomenology, ,   

    A dialogue between phenomenology and realism in pedagogical and educational research 

    The workshop forms part of the activity to support our Social Sciences strategic priorities for 2013-14 and falls under the Teaching research methods stream. The workshop is free to attend for delegates from both subscribing and non-subscribing institutions but booking is essential to secure your place as numbers are limited.

    The workshop aims to stimulate debate around the philosophical underpinnings of different research methodologies, whose shared terminology is often interpreted in radically contrasting ways, and in particular, to encourage dialogue between realist and phenomenological research traditions. It is intended for pedagogical and educational researchers looking to expand their methodological repertoire and to explore new ways of teaching research methods.

    The seminar uses the example of education research, itself an interdisciplinary subject, to explore connections between social scientific research and enquiry in the humanities. The inter-disciplinary focus of the seminar is addressed by exploring how education research (usually housed within the social sciences) is transformed by being considered as a humanistic (philosophical and artistic) endeavour. The event will develop participants’

    (a) methodological expertise – through exploration and discussion of philosophical terminology understood differently in different research traditions i.e. ontology, truth, phenomena

    (b) self-understanding of research and teaching identity – through responding to the theme of education researcher as artist/ poet and identifying new pedagogical approaches to research training

    (c) inter-disciplinary competence in research methods teaching– through engaging in dialogue with researchers with a range of different educational research perspectives and reflecting on different pedagogical practices in research methods teaching

    The workshop will have a strong capacity building element, furthered by encouraging participation by early career researchers and advanced doctoral students.

    It is widely acknowledged that the positivist/ interpretivist distinction in social and educational research has proven inadequate as a description of methodological approaches in these fields and as a heuristic for interpreting their historical development. However, among the descriptions of how this dichotomy can be resolved, transcended or sublated, two new ‘worlds’ have emerged, centring around a phenomenological perspective on the one hand, which claims that research into the educational experience has more in common with a literary or artistic endeavour than a ‘methodology’, and a perspective on the other hand that seeks to reconceive a social science in a ‘critical realist’ or ‘post-positivist’ light.

    This event will provide opportunities for researchers at different career stages to engage in philosophical exploration of the points of departure or convergence between the two traditions. In particular, discussion will centre on the different ways in which each has appropriated key terms – ontology, epistemology, reality, truth and the phenomenon. It will also explore the spectrum of ‘phenomenologies’, which range from a technically developed empirical methodology to a poetic note of caution about the place of ‘method’ in educational research, and the range of realist proposals, with their associated debates. Questions to be addressed include: Can the two approaches find common ground through a hermeneutic exploration of their vocabulary? Does each play a different role within the research community, such that, for example, phenomenology might provide for an examination of the ‘questions’ to which the critical realist method can be applied? Is there the possibility, as some scholars have suggested, of the emergence of a ‘phenomenological realism’? What are the implications for research methods teaching in education?

    Proposed programme

    9:30-10:00 Registration

    10:00-10:45 Phenomenological Inquiry and Phenomenological Pedagogy

    10:45-11:30 Exploring Education Through Phenomenology

    11:30-12:00 Coffee

    12:00-12:45 Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach

    12:45-13:30 Education, Epistemology and Critical Realism

    13:30-14:15 Lunch

    14:15- 3:00 Exploring key theoretical terminology in relation to phenomenological and critical realist inquiry (two parallel workshops)

    3:00-3:45 Emerging understandings of the relationships between philosophical traditions, their methodological implications, and associated research methods pedagogies (panel discussion with the four key presenters)

    3:45 – 4:00 Future collaboration and activity (plenary discussion)


    Book on this event

  • Mark 6:00 am on September 1, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , phenomenology, , , ,   

    Howard Becker, Blogging and Phenomenology 

    There’s a really nice post on Jon Rainford’s blog which talks about Howard Becker’s Writing for Social Scientists and its potential lessons for bloggers:

    This second edition examines some of the changes in technology in the twenty years since it was first published, especially in terms of ways in which computers have enhanced the ability for drafting and rearranging ideas and the reduced permanence of the text that is churned out, allowing for writers to take more risks with what they put into being. This, combined with some of his lines of argument about the value of sharing and discussing writing lead me to thinking how the rise of blogs have changed the game even further since 2007.

    Becker uses a lovely phrase in chapter three. He says  ‘A thought written down is stubbon, doesn’t change its shape and can be compared to thoughts that come after it’ (p.56). For me, this forms the crux of why I am finding blogging so valuable for my writing, it allows me to commit those ideas to writing and to share them with other people, not only my close academic network, but more widely. It allows me to ask questions, to float partially formed thoughts and to help develop the thinking by continuing to write about them. This is what many academics have down for years in letters and through discussions so why, in some cases is there a resistance to blogging still by some people?

    Becker poses a possible reason why, he says ‘There’s something that I think many of us believe: talking about work is less of a risk than writing about it. In part it’s because no one remembers the ideas you speak.’ (p.118). I wonder if it is an extension of this argument that keeps the discussions in private opposed to in the open on a blog. Maybe if you do not make public your partially formed ideas, people won’t remember all the wrong turns you took, after all, your audiences only want to hear the perfectly formed ideas, not those provisional ones, right?


    I love the description of a thought that “doesn’t change its shape” once written down. I’ve become aware of myself in the last few months as someone who thinks-through-writing and this is integral to it. Thoughts in my mind feel formless and inchoate until I’ve externalised them in speech or, better yet, writing. When discussing things I find interesting or writing about them, it’s sometimes a surprise to me what comes out – it’s obviously  not something which emerges ex nihilo but until I’ve externalised the thoughts in my head they’re only really potential thoughts. Or something like that… in my more pretentious moments I think that I’d like to write a phenomenology of blogging at some point. I recently encountered a great passage by Nick Crossley talking about the phenomenology of typing and it seems a logical next step to extend this into a phenomenology of writing with a keyboard. In fact the discussion of the physical process of typing seems oddly lopsided without it (not a criticism of him given that this makes perfect sense in the context of the article) – the emphasis in the extract was added by me:

    It is not only my own body that I “know” in this way, moreover. I have a pre-reflective sense or grasp on my environment, relative to my body, as is evidenced by my capacity to move around in and utilize that space without first having to think how to do so. Our relation to technological objects, such as word processors, provides an interesting illustration of this. I can type and to that extent “I know” where the various letters are on the keyboard. I do not have to find the letters one by one, as when I first bought the thing. My fingers just move in the direction of the correct keys. Indeed, when I am in full flow, I seem actually to be thinking with my fingers in the respect that I do not know in advance of typing exactly what I will say. It is not just that I do not need to think  about where the keys are, however. The break with reflective thought is more severe than this. I could not give a reflective, discursive account of the keyboard layout. I do not “know” where the keys are in a reflective sense and to make any half decent attempt at guessing I have to imagine I am typing and watch where my fingers head for when I come to the appropriate letter. The type of knowledge I have of the keyboard is a practical, embodied knowledge, quite remote and distinct from discursive knowledge. It is “know-how,” in Gilbert Ryle’s sense, not propositional knowledge-that.

    • Nick Crossley, The Phenomenological Habitus


    Underlying this interest is my conviction that an understanding of the practice of writing cannot be divorced from an understanding of the tools with which one writes. This is a point well made by Evan Selinger in a short essay on Nietzsche’s adoption of the typewriter later in life:

    In Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, Kittler contends that in order to understand how Nietzsche coped with myopia, it is crucial to grasp the import of him by buying a typewriter: a Danish model invented by Hans Rasmus Johann Malling Hanson. Given the lack of philosophical precedent, Kittler characterizes Nietzsche as the “first mechanized philosopher,” and argues that integrating the typewriter into the writing process facilitated several changes to the act of writing itself, profoundly impacting Nietzsche’s thought and style.

    Kittler stresses how typewriters alter the physical connection between writer and text.  Unlike the visual attention that writing by hand requires, the typewriter made it possible to create texts by exploiting a blind, tactile power that can harness “a historically new proficiency: écriture automatique.”  Given the report of a Frankfurt eye doctor, which stated that Nietzsche’s “right eye could only perceive mistaken and distorted images,” and Nietzsche’s own claim to find reading and writing painful after twenty minutes, we can appreciate why he would turn to a writing device that could be operated simply by pressing briefly on a key—a key that doesn’t even need to be looked at.  Indeed, the Malling Hanson was specifically designed to “compensate for physical deficiencies” by having the capacity to “be guided solely by one’s sense of touch.”


    Kittler cites a poem that Nietzsche wrote about the Malling Hansen in 1882.  Translated, it states:


    By comparing “the equipment, the thing, and the agent,” Nietzsche appears to demonstrate his awareness that “authors” do not generate thoughts that transcend their material culture.


    The last line seems like something of an overstatement but it nonetheless expresses something quite profound about the role of ‘tools’ in the creative process.

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