Thursday, November 21, 2002

Ack! Not more on social software!

Recently pointed at Matt Webb's comments on social rhetoric. Interesting.

And I've had a chance to think about some of Peter Merholz's comments on my earlier post. BTW Peter, thanks for outing my insecurities so clearly ;)

After reading them the first time, I went to chat with one of my Phd committee members - someone who very much appreciates a systems approach to sociality. As he pointed out, systems thinking stands out simply because it focusses our attention on relationships rather than on elements. I guess I had taken that focus for granted (never underestimate what different generations of scholars are exposed to - or the influence my supervisor will have on my thinking for years to come), and I was more concerned with what comes after that.

Our conversation leads me to qualify a statement I made in my post: since there are many types of systems thinking, I should better articulate which kinds strike me as inadequate. And I'll have to get back to you on that one ;) The only thing I can say right now is that I respectfully disagree with Peter that systems thinking has always given us adequate accounts of biological, let alone social, systems. *Strict* systems thinking is far too contained - too concerned with order and purity - for my liking. Sometimes Science has a nasty habit of presenting interpretation as fact; my basic position is that scientific knowledge is no less constructed than social knowledge (it is social knowledge?), and I take issue with certain ontological and epistemological assumptions... but I was reminded of Michel Serres' take on unstable systems, and I see a lot of merit there.

And Peter's comments about academics and non-academics are very valuable to me. I do try not to use a lot of jargon when I write, but I do forget sometimes that readers may not have been exposed to people and ideas I take for granted. (Once you have the words for certain ideas, it's hard not to use them.) Having said that, it's a bit difficult to provide adequate context for a broad readership. He writes: "The Web is an amazing entity in part because it allows for a fairly seamless bridging of academic and non-academic life." True, but it seems that we still have a language/worldview barrier to overcome; negotiating a shared vocabulary is not always easy. I've added some links to my earlier post in an attempt to provide some context...

But it was the final comments that made me smile the most! Alas, Peter and everyone else will have to bear with me on those questions. If I had all the answers, I'd be defending my dissertation tomorrow ;)


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