The production of community or commodity?

This post arises out of a previous discussion on:

Is knowledge in the Network? see here ...

So, to take it further ...
In a discussion on #Rhizo14, in Jenny's Mackness's blog, the question was raised about whether the community is the curriculum, and whether this applies to the 'course' Rhizome #14.

First of all, its a very interesting discussion. Thanks to all. I will respond to only one or two issues here - there is lots more to discuss - but this is already a very long post - my apologies, its too long to post on Jenny's blog, (computer says “no”), so you will have to read it here.

Etienne Wenger’s scenario

"... in 1998 he wrote that education is:
  • ‘… about balancing the production of reificative material with the design of forms of participation that provide entry into a practice and let the practice itself be its own curriculum… (p.265)" (quoted from here)..


... is of a community of a body of reificative material and its associated practices, into which people become apprenticed, and then become members – of the community that organizes that material. They become fellow custodians of the material, the practice and the community, and identify with it – their subjectivity, their agency, becomes – to some extent – a part of it – they become party to it, and have a responsibility towards it.

This is a very useful place to start, and it covers a wide range of learning – from the most informal to the most micro-institutionalized. Knowledge is “the capacity for effective action”, and it can only be learnt, exercised, and put into practice, in a community.

However, there is a tension between reification and practice, here …

The strong sense of reification (in critical theory) is the process of formalising, of creating ‘technical knowledge’, which strips out subjectivity and context, and creates the stuff of the natural sciences – e.g. the periodic table, the genome of Anthrax, etc, which can be used by anyone, anywhere, anytime – and they are timeless, they are articulated, and communicated in a 'technical format' that does its best to transcend time (until such time as the next scientific discovery, of course, which might refute them or add to them).

The dialectic of the creation of this ‘strongly reified’ knowledge, is extreme, it has no community, no custodians, it’s the ultimate Pandora’s box nightmare. There are no limits, no constraints, to the range of good and evil subjectivities, identities (or even communities) that can use this knowledge for ‘effective action’. See Susan Blackmore’s description of our Pandoran society and its genes, memes and temes. My understanding of 'temes' is that they are, in some sense, memes which have become embodied and enmeshed in more complex technical processes, into which we tend to become entangled.

The weak sense of reification (which, as a critical theorist I would not recognize as ‘reification’ as it lacks the flavours, the smells - of alienation, canonisation and hegemony, so basic to the social critique of knowledge and power) is something different. Its about cultural practices which DO embody subjectivities, cultural and community practices and histories, and which cannot be used by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

These cultural practices are not the strong, abstract derivative 'currencies' of ‘pure’ intellectual capital; they do not produce predictability (like the algorithms of the natural sciences), they are complex – in the terms of complexity theory – and are what George Soros - writing about the crisis of the international financial markets - calls ‘reflexive’ – they are exemplars of the kind of knowledge that is ‘effective action’ precisely because it DOES embody particular subjectivities, contexts, and histories – they are situated IN time. Perhaps they are more 'cultural capital' than 'intellectual capital', although that distinction is also very blurred, and unfairly privileges the natural sciences claims to hegemony over intellectual capital.

This leaves us in a rather uncomfortable position. We must now face up to two very different communities, both of which develop and create knowledge as the ‘capacity for effective action’.

In the practice of strong reification, and the irrelevance of subjectivity, the object is to produce knowledge over which the community will have no control, other than to produce even more of this kind of knowledge.

And … In the practice of the strong community, in which subjectivity remains crucial, the object is not the production of predictable, subject-less and context-less knowledge, over which they will have no control, or desire for custodianship. The object is, rather, the production of practices, and the production of a community, in which the custodianship and maintenance of its practices, subjectivities, and identities is central.

To restate what has already been said: the boundaries between these two kinds of communities are blurred, and overlap. The best example of this dilemma and paradox is a remark that was made by a colleague at a conference on international development in Cape Town 12 years ago who said: “I might believe in post-modernism, but don’t think that means I am about to give up my mobile phone”.

His practice, (like many of ours), included - and integrated - the use of the knowledge of both types (both ‘curricula’ and both communities, if you like) for effective action.

And ... the next question is: Are courses communities?
Read more here ...