Thursday, March 15, 2012

Place Precedes Space, #cck12

So what does it mean to move to the middle?

It seems to mean more than just a shift in point of view, but it is that as well. Indeed, it is a recognition that there actually is a point of view. Definition from outside the system inward is the attempt at a null-view, an objective view. It seeks to efface the viewer, to remove the human from the vision. It is an impossibility. We always look from a point of view, in all the meanings of that phrase: physically, mentally, socially. There is no other way to look, and moving to the middle forces us to accept that.

When we move to the middle of a system such as Connectivism in order to define it, then we start with the DNA of the system PLUS whatever DNA we bring. For instance, as I am working out the definition of Connectivism, I contribute my understanding of Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome, as does Dave Cormier. I don't know that everyone is happy about this rhizomatic influence, but it is really impossible for me (I won't speak for Dave) to snip away the bits of DNA that I have absorbed from Deleuze and Guattari. I also bring my thoughts about Morin and complexity and my thirty years of teaching English composition. I probably also bring in bits of nucleic acid from the 60s and my life as a father and husband. My very presence in the middle of Connectivism rearranges the space. You can say this pollutes the space, the purity of the idea, but I don't know what that gains you. It's simply impossible for me to be in here without tracking some of my DNA about. Likewise, you can't be in here without making your contribution, and as I work to define Connectivism, I have to account for your DNA as well as mine and all the others.

Now, I've mixed metaphors (point of view and DNA), but I'm comfortable with it. They both work for me.

But what about the point of view from the middle? Well, the boundaries look very different from inside. For one thing, they are not nearly so distinct as they are from the God point of view, which can delineate quite nicely the boundaries of Cognitivism, Behaviorism, Constructivism, and Connectivism. The God view can then apportion what belongs to each: Oh, talking about human agency? That belongs to Cognitivism, not Connectivism. You network guys can't talk about that. From the middle, I can look out at anything, and the question becomes not what issues belong to which system but what can I see differently from this system than from the other systems. Connectivism can look at human agency and quite likely say some things about it that are not so easily said from the other systems.

I like to think of it visually. Imagine four vantage points in a wilderness (pick your flavor: desert, forest, or tundra), and label them Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism, and Connectivism. Each vantage point brings certain ad-vantages, showing us things about the wilderness that we could not see or not see so well from the other vantage points. Each vantage point has its distinct uses. None of them give the complete picture. Each of them can give us a better idea of how to get where we are going, depending totally on where we are going.

I must apologize here for the slight trick I just played. In visualizing the four vantage points, I gave you a God view, a point of view you could not in reality have unless you were in an airplane or you were … well, God. Still, the fact that you could imagine such a point of view shows that this point of view has its uses. However, this point of view is always secondary to the anchored points of view. I pick up this insight from a wonderful statement by Bruce B. Janz in his essay The Territory Is Not the Map: Place, Deleuze, Guattari, and African Philosophy where he says that place precedes space. Well, what he precisely says is: "I want to argue that place, the place we find ourselves in and which has meaning to us, precedes space, the bounded and abstractly defined territory." Isn't that clever? I'm glad I came across it, as it clarifies things for me.

What it says to me is that space builds upon place. I must have a sense of place before I can develop a sense of space. Place comes first. From a sense of concrete place, I can eventually develop a sense of space, but not the other way around. From my sense of Macon, Georgia, USA (where I have lived the longest), I can develop a sense of the large space that encloses that place, but it seems to me, I am always working from the inside out: from place to space. I am always standing in one place looking out to the cosmos. I can imagine looking at the Universe as God might, but it really is only a fictional point of view always grounded in my sense of place.

Let's look next at the characteristics of Connectivism that Siemens listed, working from the inside out. Could be fun.

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