packs roaming distributed learning environments

Read Gardner Campbell’s recent post on Company Sense, by which he means a theatrical company or troupe and the type of relationships that can be built there. I’ve never been in a theater company, but I’ve been in a band and so I think I can understand the idea here of the kinds of connections and understandings that build between individuals through practice.

Also thinking about David Weinberger’s thoughts about Anne Balsamo talking about her forthcoming book. All thinking in similar directions about "community," how we come together as producers and consumers of knowledge/media, as teachers and learners, as designers and users, etc: all of these dichotomies blending. There some particular binaries at work in these texts:

  • Campbell critiques the distinction between hi-tech and hi-touch
  • Balsamo calls upon C.P. Snow’s two cultures and the use of collaboratories to move beyond them

Campbell speaks on how our notions of community rely upon direct communication, that the "hi-touch" relationship cannot survive the mediation by "hi-tech." This notion extends into learning communities. It is why we object to students with laptops in the classroom. It is what so many find difficult about the online course: building rapport with the students. This seems to run analogously to Snow’s two cultures or at least as we have often characterized them. So if Balsamo calls for collaboration as a way of addressing technological challenges, Campbell remarks on the importance of developing particular affective relationships.

It’s an old joke, but you could say that bands have their own version of Snow’s two cultures: musicians and drummers. The point is that people with different perspectives, talents, and values elect to come together for a purpose… that’s collaboration. And that they develop this "company sense" over time, through practice. Or they don’t and they break up.

I approach this not in terms of companies or collaboratories but packs.

So obviously when I do that I invoke Deleuze and Guattari, and intentionally so. The pack is a way of thinking about multiplicity. What is at stake here is ethos and identity. The humanist sees discrete individuals seeking to develop and maintain relationships through the screen, along the thinest of optic fibers. How could such a practice work? How could it result in anything but cold, mechanical interactions? But what if each "one of us" is a pack? And each molecular element in our multiplicity is an anomalous participant in our aggregate? As Derrida notes, "the mark of belonging does not belong."

Now we have a different identity and ethos. Our intersection with others in the "company" or "collaboratory" is through affective exchanges between anomalous participants in the pack. E.g., you read me here. This blog offers a point of connection to "me," an aggregate of the pack. I am not a blog. But I have a blog and a blog has me (as an author and owner). But the me that is author and the me that is owner are not identical identities, nor does there combination comprise my entirety. They are legal-social functions of the pack. Apprehensions by the state. Subjective interfaces that plug me into Foucauldian power flows. Etc.

It is not necessary for everyone to think "like" this. Thank god. But if you want to design a distributed learning environment and/or participate in one, the limited humanistic understanding of who you are and how you interact is not sufficient. You’ll need a better theory.

And any author should know this. Your writing does weird things out there in the network. It keeps working and unfolding; it continually feeds back into "you." You can say you aren’t responsible for how others read your work, for the meaning your text produces, but then you’re fooling yourself when you claim responsibility for making the "original" meaning of the text from which it was composed (if you believe in such stories).

A text is a pack of words. As author you bear a relationship to the pack, like the sorcerer on the edge of the town perhaps (as D+G discuss). The reader is also there. The state sends out its hunters to track down the pack.

Learning works this way, in packs, across distributed networks.

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