Wikiversity as narrative
Wikis as Literature - can they say everything? 
After reading Derrida, Jacques (Attridge, D, ed) (1992) Acts of Literature, New York, Routledge
... a little bird told me there was an interesting discussion going on here. He wasn't wrong. I'm very happy to see Mystictim's angle of entry into considerations of meta questions for an action research agenda being inspired by an Adorno-esque and Derridian narrative - being a bit of a Derrida freak myself. In reading the discussion here and the main article page, I was left wondering how both 'action research' and 'Wikiversity' seem to be being treated as absolute wholes, monological entities, as distinct from emerging as the contingent outcome of both action research and Wikiversity being written into existence by numerous subjectivities 'on the fly', as it were. Can action research say everything there is to say about wikis? I don't think so, as wikis are 'always to come', always unfinished, much the same as action research is always to come. Treating these things as absolutes implies a telos, a finality, a reason for their being which I'm not so comfortable with.
For instance: Mystictim seems to be saying that we have a duty to make truth claims ("If the questions these challenges bring up aren't answered then how can we make any claim to the truth and how will we know if our actions aren't just random walks in the great unknown"). I'm not sure whether it's Cormaggio's action research or general Wikiversity endeavours that have this duty bestowed upon them. I'm also not sure what extra-linguistic Truth this is referring to, outside of the consensus established via the contingencies written into existence by Wikiversity users: what metaphysical realm is being invoked here that can somehow act to rescue our endeavours from 'random walks' in the great unknown, when that is all they may be? What feat of rescue is this? What verifying mechanism is at play outside of the contingent, consensual, non-totalizing yet exigent discourse that is Wikiversity (and this languaged discussion, for that matter)? It would seem Cormaggio has both his subject (multiple subjectivities of us posters and lurkers) and his object (multiple subjectivities of us posters and lurkers) in one, without recourse to a transcendent and arbitrating referent. Our little textual events here organize memory, manage knowledge and legislate not only the apparent extra-linguistic phenomenon under study (the Wikiversity environment), but also the subjects of that environment - we are both subject and object of his (and our) study. Which is why an appeal to Derrida is especially useful in this text-based reality, as big-D's interest is in the 'languageness' of things. I guess I'm keen to reveal the languageness of wikis.
In a separate email conversation with Cormaggio I've been pondering whether the ultimate censure against Wikiversity is to call it literature, and/or whether the tag of literature is the ultimate accolade for Wikiversity. The institution of literature (and I'm referring specifically to D's work 'Acts of Literature') is one which has the authorization to say everything (i.e. not just anything but everything that can possibly ever be said). And given this, literature is related to what it is that calls forth a democracy - not that it depends on democracy, just that the breaking out of prohibitions of speech denotes a democracy. So the tag of literature on what is going on here is both an insult and a compliment: insult since, at least as it relates to recourses to a metaphysical, proponents would claim that these pages are not acts of fiction, works of fiction or in anyway staged fictive acts: but a compliment since it allies our authority to say everything to a nascent democracy. Can wikis say everything, and what would be a non-transcendent reading of a wiki as literature? Surely there's no pure, unadulterated essence to a wiki? What is the wiki's referent: to what does it refer other than itself?Executivezen 21:17, 26 January 2007 (UTC)
"to what does it refer other than itself?" <-- Are you suggesting that wiki is not a tool that people use to help understand and live their lives? --JWSchmidt 15:07, 27 January 2007 (UTC)
good question, and no, I'm not suggesting that a wiki is not a tool that people use to help understand and live their lives. What I am suggesting is that we do not get on more intimate terms with a wiki, closer to its intrinsic nature, within grasping distance of its essence, by unpacking it via an action research endeavour than we do by talking about it (and talking generally) and using it specifically. Neither the wiki, nor the action research allows us a priviledged move out of language into fact, or out of appearance into 'reality', or out of a disinterested and remote relationship and into an intense and intimate relationship with a wiki (as Rorty would say). Don't get me wrong: I'm all for action research so long as it remains non-essentialist in outlook. What essentialist-oriented research endeavours do afford is that we are able to relate their findings to other endeavours, i.e. non-wiki oriented education, learning, communication, biology, architecture. Only, I'm suspicious of positing an 'essence' to wikis, to making that claim to a transcendence, or a metaphysic, that is lingering here. The beauty of wikis lies in their (linguistic) practice: and, as an antiessentialist, I believe there to be only linguistic practice. Yes; a wiki helps us live our lives if by that you mean 'be situated within the linguistic practices of our lives'. The consequences of developing Wikiversity through action research, when done via the wiki in the fashion demonstrated here, are those born from extraordinary congruence - namely, genuineness, empathy, relevance, and contingency. We do not need to appeal to a transcendent order in an attempt to get behind language. Executivezen 14:49, 28 January 2007 (UTC)
This debate is fascinating and opens up a whole field of investigation in itself. It could quite easily come to dominate the whole of this action research project. For this reason and as Wikiversity is about learning I would like to suggest we restructure and develop this debate as a learning activity. The outcome of this separate project could feedback and inform the critical reflection/analysis of this action research project and indeed any other Wikiversity activities. We could continue our critical reflection/analysis of Wikiversity which I feel is important but link this to explanations of the various approaches taken. Also we could strive to show how these various approaches might be applied to specific situations. Mystictim 15:26, 28 January 2007 (UTC)
Sounds good: and at the same time, with a scheming deconstructive evil Scooby-do laugh, I'd say this request to 'learnify', to 'activityize', this suggestion to reframe, has perhaps revealed something telling about wikiization: a reflex towards structuring, towards sedimenting and organising, towards (in this instance, not surprisingly) a pedagogic tendency. Granted that our natural (?) inclination in any strenuous mental activity is to extract the meaning, the theme, meme or repeatable programme - and there is much to commend in this activity - I'd suggest that we, for a second, try to catch a glimpse of this impulse and remind ourselves of the sometimes idiomatic, the irreducibly singular, unrepeatable aspect of any act of writing on/in wikis. Sometimes our posts are radically situated, written and read at particular times and places, and which possess a singularity which cannot always be distilled by criticism, re-situation or theoretical contemplation (much like this Derridian blarney). This appeal goes back to my earlier point about the literary-ness of wikis. I suppose I'm attempting to make this wiki text(s) strange again, "offering not a reduced and simplified version of the text(s) but one which operates at its own level of difficulty" (Attridge in Derrida's 'Acts of Literature'). Executivezen 19:46, 28 January 2007 (UTC)
"a priviledged move" <-- I'm not sure what you mean by privileged. For me, a goal of research on wiki-related phenomena is to attain a different perspective than what is likely to be obtained by simply participating in a wiki-based community like Wikiversity. Good research places the phenomenon under study into a broad context. If we study wiki technology and the communities that are made possible by that new technology then we should be able to make connections between wiki-related processes and various non-wiki phenomena, connections that are likely to be totally invisible to someone who just participates in a wiki. Systematic study of complex phenomena (such as wiki-based community dynamics) can reveal non-obvious and useful information and patterns that we can feed back into our attempts to make use of a tool like wiki. --JWSchmidt 22:38, 28 January 2007 (UTC) technology
I think the reason I have not participated here thus far is that I do not know what "telos" is - or perhaps how Executivezen uses it here. So, I'm bringing this up in order to explore what it means, and how it relates to an action research project like Developing Wikiversity through action research. Particularly, I think it might be useful to explain from what philosophical bases we are coming from, so as to examine what we think and why. Personally, I am very interested in the work of Jürgen Habermas (amongst others) - and the following is a quote from the (brief) Wikipedia article about his book, "The Theory of Communicative Action":
- "(Habermas) holds an assumption about identity - that we learn who we are as autonomous agents from our basic relations with others. This framework of feedback rests on the argument called universal pragmatics - that all speech acts have an inherent telos (the Greek word for "purpose" or "goal") — the goal of mutual understanding, and that human beings possess the communicative competence to bring about such understanding. Habermas promotes the model of "deliberative democracy", based on the participation of civil society and a consensus between rational citizens."
In this sense, I think this telos of mutual understanding is a valid and compelling notion - and corresponds to what I personally desire our efforts here to become. I hope we can become better versed in theories of identity - generally, and personally. I hope that we can become better critical thinkers. I hope we can form a community of practitioners dedicated to examining education - in general, and in this context (cf Learning to learn a wiki way). Is this problematic for other people? Does this make you feel uncomfortable? Do you think this research has (or should have) a different purpose? Or do you think it cannot? Cormaggio beep 15:55, 26 February 2007 (UTC)
- "Treating these things as absolutes implies a telos, a finality, a reason for their being which I'm not so comfortable with." <-- It would not be easy to find "a reason" for a phenomenon as complex as Wikiversity. Wikiversity arose from a self-organizing process by which many dozens of people came together in a rag-tag collaboration to open up a new playground. Each of those individuals could outline their motivations as Cormaggio did (above) and my expectation is that no two people would give exactly the same reasons for their interest and involvement with Wikiversity. I'm also skeptical about any real prospects for finding "absolutes", but I do think it can be a fruitful activity to systematically explore the "philosophical bases we are coming from". We can value and respect our diversity while also exploring for networks of common interests upon which a strong community can be built. I'm fearful of the dangers that lurk in limited communications channels. When we step into the virtual realities of our wikis and chat groups we leave behind much of our innate powers for communication and mutual understanding. I'm rather fanatical about the need to expand our technological base so as to open up more and better channels of communication in support of the Wikiversity community. I'm a big fan of keeping critical thinking as a core pillar in any complex learning environment. Our species evolved under conditions where survival depended on an innate capacity to efficiently learn and adopt the customs of one's local community. Wikiversity is a mixing pot for many different customs and points of view. I think a major challenge for learners within such a diverse community is to find ways to explore multiple points of view while being willing to critically evaluate customs we previously adopted without first questioning them or even being aware of alternatives. Wikipedia has made use of it Neutral Point of View policy to force people to move away from their personal biases towards a community point of view built upon verifiable and reliable sources. I'm fascinated by the challenge of finding ways to allow Wikiversity participants to make scholarly explorations that will go beyond the bounds of existing knowledge. --JWSchmidt 05:03, 27 February 2007 (UTC)