Critical thinking, Creative thinking & Gender

A. Consider this schema that I used to discuss the idea of creativity in context:
IPgenericlabeled
It is clearly complex: Many strands, many cross-connections, many things going on in addition to the focal outcome.

Now consider this simpler image, where the light bulb stands for an idea or inspiration that a creative brain comes up with:

Even that additional elements of this logo from the Critical & Creative Thinking graduate program present a simple image:
fallani125

B. The contrast between the first schema and the simpler images speaks to my sense of critical thinking as thinking that depends on inquiry being informed by a strong sense of how things could be otherwise. We understand things better when we have placed established facts, theories, and practices in tension with alternatives (Taylor 1995, cited in Taylor 2001).

C. Now consider the following three levels of analysis of gender in relation to knowledge-making (based on previous post [originally made 3/3/13 on a blog for a course Gender, Race, and the Complexities of Science and Technology ])

    #1. Under-representation of women in research areas and in technological design.
    Obstacles to and under-recognition of their contributions.
    Possibilities for women’s standpoint to address aspects of the world under-recognized by men.

    #2. Biases in knowledge and technologies [and language] that claim to represent progress, efficiency, or other universal interests,
    but in practice promote the unequal social status of men over women.

    #3. The pervasiveness of gender-like dualisms in which one category is subordinate to the other and complex spectra are purified into dichotomies.
    The suppression of overlapping ranges, multiplicities and hybrids that trouble these conceptual schemes.

D. These three levels provide a set of tensions on which to build critical thinking. For example, if we observe under-recognition of contributions of women, we might look for places where women’s contributions are recognized and compare the two situations. Moreover, the set of tensions as a whole exists in tension with a fourth level, namely:

    #4. The contribution of gendered resources among the heterogeneous resources that knowledge-makers link together over time as they construct and reconstruct established knowledge and reliable technologies.

What is a “resource” and what makes one “gendered”? A: “[R]esearchers establish knowledge and develop their practices through diverse and often modest practical choices, which is the same as saying they are involved in contingent and on-going mobilizing of materials, tools, people, [themes] and other resources into webs of interconnected resources” (Taylor 2005, 225). A gendered resource is, therefore, some material, tool, group of people, theme, and so on that is associated with one gender more than another (as in #1) or biases against women hidden underneath what is supposedly universal (as in #2) or viewing the world in dualisms that resonate with the preceding (as in #3). Lest this sound too negative, a very significant source of resources has been the existence of a feminist movement(s) that provides solidarity and support around efforts to contest the inequalities.

A further tension (for critical thinking) is that people talk about angles #1-3 as if they have weight on their own, not as part of the complexity of #4. Yet another tension is seeing such talk as a resource, among others, in the heterogeneous construction.

E. Look back at the initial schema. The *’s denote multiple points of engagement. Using the critical thinking tensions above can be a way to insert gender into the intersection of strands (or heterogeneous construction). No engagement on its own suffices to change the focal outcome; they need to be linked together and even then there is no guarantee that the outcome will shift the way intended. Linking engagements together means collaborating with others given that each person’s position, skills, and resources prepares them only for a subset of possible engagements.

F. The idea of collaboration in linking multiple, partial engagements within intersecting strands that do not guarantee an outcome recalls a metaphor from my paper, “We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge“: “One’s development as a critical thinker is like a personal journey into unfamiliar or unknown areas. Both involve risk, open up questions, create more experiences than can be integrated at first sight, require support, yields personal change, and so on.”

This picture is different from the view of critical thinking as scrutinizing the reasoning, assumptions, and evidence behind claims. And from critical as judgement and finding fault according to some standards. Journeying draws attention to the inter- and intra-personal dimensions of people developing their thinking.

G. This picture of critical thinking parallels the picture of creative thinking as a process in context that led me to adapt a schema for the heterogeneous construction of knowledge into the original schema in this post:

Each of us navigates the distributed complexity in part by trying to impart order according to our sense of our self—our identity, aspirations or goals, and will to choose among goals and move towards them.
We achieve some goals and then have greater capacity, knowledge, skills, plans, and direction to keep moving and developing.
We also have setbacks and revise our goals.  Indeed, our self-directedness can be buffeted or even threatened by the order-imparting efforts of other people navigating their distributed complexities.
Yet relationships with others are a source of resources and support (material, emotional, etc.) from outside ourselves, which help shape how far and in what directions our movement and development happens.
Relationships are also a source of unplanned conjunctions or intersections that we draw from.
Such connections can help us to not simply continue along previous lines and, at the same time, to clarify our sense of directedness as individuals.

H. In one sense this picture is about the complexity of angle #4 on gender in relation to knowledge-making. In another sense — a sense in tension with that — the picture reminds us of a simple theme often associated with feminist analyses: interdependency and interrelatedness is the foundation for our existence — from the single celled zygote to the newborn and onwards.

I.  Two parting questions, repeated from the previous post:  a) What case studies and situations in the material world to engage in in order to complement the abstraction of A-H?  b) How does this all translate into the terms used by feminist teachers now and in previous decades?

References
Taylor, Peter J. (2001) “We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge: Journeying to develop critical thinking,” http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/journey.html
—- (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fritz on creating (in contrast with ICA and Schwendener)

Continuing a series of posts on the development of the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change within the framework of Ben Schwendener’s Seminar on Creativity.

—-

12 June ’11
Notes on R. Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance
Elements

  • Result you want to create (for its own sake; love the creation)
  • What currently exists
  • Take action (invention, not convention)
  • Rhythms of creative process
  • Creating momentum

Tension between what you want to create and what currently exists seeks resolution, rather than oscillates in the reactive-responsive orientation/mode

Contrasting with:
ICA process
Group does brainstorming (“cardstorming”) of a practical vision, clusters the items and gives them names. The group then repeats the process but this time for obstacles to realizing that vision, resulting in clusters with names that convey the underlying obstacles. These then point to strategic directions. (This approach allows the vision to emerge rather than be identified at the outset.)

Ben Schwendener’s approach
When the elements of the vertical unity are identified, change flows from that unity. (The elements seem like the strategic directions of the ICA process.)

14 June ’11
Q: How to identify the elements?

Possible variants of the ICA process:
a. Start with a single vision, e.g., the Collaborative, then use Future Ideal Retrospective to tease out a more multifaceted (re)vision, then proceed as above.
b. Start with cardstorming about all the different tasks on one’s plate in the messy present, then Strategic Personal Planning, which identifies multiple strands, out of which a single vision emerges, then proceed as in a.
Try the variants for myself and see how they work in practice,

Q: What coaching is needed to keep one at the ICA task? (I ask this because it’s been on my to-do list since the 1st June and I am procrastinating.) A: Doing it with others in a course. Protecting some hours each day for it.

Guided tour of my teaching ’01-’05: cross-fertilization of science in society interests & work on reflective practice

The eight strands in the previous post continued, but significant developments occurred in some additional areas, most notably the cross-fertilization of my science in society interests and work on reflective practice (which has become a second specialty in my scholarship). My 2005 book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago), develops a framework for the integration of research—in science and interpretation of science in its social context—with teaching and service—in the form of critical reflection on concepts and practice by researchers and students. Indeed, the framework is made clear in the last chapter, which builds explicitly from an approach to teaching interdisciplinary students. The opportunity and challenge of fostering the reflective practice of the diverse adults who come through the CCT Program has given me sufficient experience and confidence to push further in putting that framework into practice with diverse researchers. This integration of research, teaching, and service has led, in particular, to my establishing the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change (NewSSC), an umbrella under which to organize innovative, interaction-intensive workshops designed to facilitate discussion, teaching innovation, and longer-term collaboration among faculty and graduate students who teach and write about interactions between scientific developments and social change.

Guiding Research and Writing for Reflective Practice

  • From 2001-5 I was involved with 63 CCT students developing and completing their M.A. syntheses on a very wide range of topics. Four features of my courses on research and writing have come to fruition in meeting this challenge:
    • 1. A framework of ten phases of research and engagement that the students move through, then revisit in light of: a) other people’s responses to what they share with them; and b) what they learn using tools from the other phases. This sequence and iteration allows students to define projects in which they take their personal and professional aspirations seriously, even if that means letting go of preconceptions of what they “ought” to be doing. During the pre-synthesis course, CCT698, the students are introduced to range of tools for each phase, then practice using those tools in class and in assignments. A downloadable library of previous students’ work illustrates the different ways these tools can be taken up.
    • 2. A model of “cycles and epicycles” of action research that integrates evaluation, constituency building, reflection and dialogue, and can be applied to professional and personal change as well as educational and organizational change.
    • 3. Dialogue around written work—written and spoken comments on each installment of a project and successive revision in response —which allows me to accumulate a portfolio for each student in each course that facilitates generative interactions with students even when I am not an expert in their areas. By “generative” I mean students bring to the surface, form, and articulate their ideas.
    • 4. Making space for taking initiative in and through relationships: “in building horizontal peer relationships, in negotiating power/standards, in acknowledging that affect is involved in what you’re doing and not doing (and in how others respond to that), in clearing away distractions from other sources (present and past) so you can be here now… Don’t expect to learn or change—or to teach—without jostling among the five aspects.”
  • These four features form the basis of the “exit self-assessment” CCT instituted in which graduating students reflect on their development through the Program and identify specific areas for further work. The insight shown in most of these self-analyses gives the CCT faculty confidence that the graduates can continue learning without our superintending them.

Creating Problem-Based Learning Units and Other Innovations to Accommodate Students’ Diverse Interests Within Interdisciplinary Courses

  • Following the lead of my colleague, Nina Greenwald, an expert in Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and building on my involvement in BioQuest curriculum development workshops, I have introduced PBL or Action Research units in several courses, including one course at a doctoral level. I position the units at the start of the course, with the aim of allowing students to expose and coordinate a range of angles for investigating an issue, practice tools for rapid research, and gain a shared experience to refer back to during the discussions and activities that make up the rest of the course.
  • On another tack, I was pleased with the students’ response when I integrated the content of my scholarship with CCT-like reflective practice in an advanced graduate seminar that I taught at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The seminar theme was research, policy, and participation in issues of Conservation and Development. As well as critically reviewing literature on selected topics students also learned new approaches for developing their own writing and supporting others to write. I was able to link these two strands under the theme of paying attention to the challenges for individuals participating in collaborative endeavors.

Contributing to New Interdisciplinary, International, and Educational Projects

  • Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and application of science is not well developed or supported institutionally, so I continue to initiate or participate in new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines. In this spirit I contributed to four major grant proposals between 2001 &2005 (three UMB; one non-UMB) that link science, education, and professional development and to seven interdisciplinary anthologies, many of which that evolved from conference sessions or workshop series that I helped run. I also co-led the Curriculum development component of the 2003 Education for Sustainability initiative at UMB and the Ford Foudnation site visit that led to the grant for the new England Center for Inclusive Teaching (NECIT). Most importantly, I secured seed funds from NSF to initiate the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change, a workshop that has continued annually since with international participation aimed at linking science, science education, and science and technology studies.
  • The prospectus of NewSSC, which is evolving in response to evaluations and reviews of funding proposals, provides the following overview:
  • The choice of workshop topics and the innovative, interaction-intensive character of the workshops are designed to attract participants who will develop their knowledge, skills, and interest in promoting the social contextualization of science through interdisciplinary education and other activities beyond their current disciplinary and academic boundaries. Participants are sought from the various areas of Science and Technology Studies, the sciences, and science education and-with an eye to training “interdisciplinarians”-include graduate students as well as more experienced scholars.
  • For the 2006-7 workshops, participants were expected to submit new syllabi and curriculum units (primarily for college-level courses) or outreach activities (e.g., hosting a citizen forum on a science-based controversy) related to their workshop’s topic within six months of its completion. These are made available in an expanding compilation of Online Resources for Science-in-Society Education and Outreach.
  • Formative (during the process) and summative (after the fact) evaluations of the workshops provide a basis for developing the workshop experience from one year to the next and for establishing a model of workshops that can be repeated, evolve in response to evaluations, and be adapted by participants [evaluations are linked to the webpages and wikis for each workshop].

The critique of science during the 1970s

During the 1960s Bookchin (1962), Carson (1962), and Commoner (1963; 1971) linked ecology-as-social-action to criticisms of the dominant directions of scientific research.  Social responsibility in science was promoted by the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, the Union of Concerned Scientists (in the U.S.), and Pugwash (which focused on reducing the danger of armed conflict in a nuclear age).

During the 1970s more radical, anti-capitalist critiques of science and social relations were developed in the U.S. by Science for the People (see especially the critiques of biological determinism in Science for the People 1977 and the related work of Chase 1977) and in England by the Radical Science Journal (see Levidow 1986, especially Young’s introduction on the origins of the “Radical Science” movement; Levidow and Young 1981; and Radical Science Editorial Collective 1977).  In this context Werskey completed his illuminating history of an earlier generation of left-wing scientists in England who saw “science, progress, socialism as equivalent concepts” (Young, p. xiv in the forward to the 1988 reprint of Werskey 1978; see also Werskey’s preface to the reprint, which reflects on the way the 1970s critique of science shaped his account.)  In contrast, left-wing scientists of the 1970s who saw their science as a political project recognized that science could bolster domination and inequality (Roberts 1979; Rose 1982; Levins and Lewontin 1985; see also Illich 1973 and 1976 for advocacy of de-professionalization and of “convivial” technology and medicine).

The critique of science also stimulated interpretation of science in relation to the historical and social context in which it was formed.  Kuhn (1970) was widely cited as opening up science to such contextualization, but younger historians and sociologists began to take the social interpretation of science much further than Kuhn had (see, for example, Young 1985).

Extracted from Taylor, P.J. (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press).

References

Bookchin, M. [pseudonym: L. Herber] (1962). Our Synthetic Environment. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Carson, R. (1963). Silent Spring. Greenwich, Conn., Fawcett.

Chase, A. (1977). The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Commoner, B. (1963). Science and Survival. New York: Viking Press.

—— (1971). The Closing Circle. New York: Knopf.

Illich, I. (1973). Tools for Conviviality. New York: Harper & Row.

—— (1976). Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health. New York: Pantheon Books.

Kuhn, T. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Levidow, L. (Ed.) (1986). Radical Science. London: Free Association Books. [especially Young’s introduction on the origins of the “Radical Science” movement]

—— and R. Young (Eds.) (1981). Science, Technology and the Labour Process: Marxist Studies. London: CSE Books.

Levins, R. and R. Lewontin (1985). The Dialectical Biologist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Radical Science Editorial Collective (1977). “Editorial.” Radical Science Journal 5: 3-7.

Roberts, A. (1979). The Self-Managing Environment. London: Allison & Busby.

Rose, S. (Ed.) (1982). Against Biological Determinism: The Dialectics of Biology Group. London: Allison & Busby.

Science for the People (Ed.) (1977). Biology as a Social Weapon. Minneapolis: Burgess.

Werskey, G. (1988 [1978]). The Visible College: A Collective Biography of British Scientists and Socialists of the 1930s. London: Free Association Books.

Young, R. M. (1985). Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

From Social Theory to enactable, contingent social theorizing

In the late 1980s Roberto Mangabeira Unger laid out a “constructive social theory,” which centered on “institutional and imaginative frameworks of social life [that] supply the basis on which people define and reconcile interests, identify, and solve problems.” He went on to note: “These frameworks cannot be adequately explained as mere crystallized outcomes of interest-accommodating or problem-solving activities” (1987, p. 4). Unger sought to present a view of how these “contexts [or frameworks] stick together, come apart, and get remade” (1987, p.5). At the time I was attracted to his efforts but found his work too theoretical, that is, too difficult to translate into practical action. In my thinking about scientific activity I was exploring a notion of representing-engaging, while Unger seemed to be presenting a outside representation of our “society-making powers.”

The same tensions are evident—not resolved—in the summaries I wrote in the notes of Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago, 2005) on social theory in relation to environmental change and the relation of agency and structure(dness), which are excerpted in the next two posts (Social Theory, agency and structuredness).   The tensions also run through my recent thinking about combining Intersecting processes (which has an outside representational emphasis) with Historical scan (produced by a particular group at a particular time) to generate enactable, group-specific praxis.

How so?

1.  I am interested in social theory (but critical of what I call Social Theory) and think that intersecting processes provides an approach that improves on the well-known structure-agency duality (i.e., actions of social agents are enabled and constrained by social structures and, in acting, social agents imperfectly reproduce those structure).

2.  At the same time my preliminary notes on these issues take more of the representational stance I note above in Unger’s work (see next two posts).

3.  I am also interested in people’s problem-solving and path-charting abilities in well-facilitated collaborative processes (which Unger might criticize as putting too much stock on “crystallized outcomes of interest-accommodating or problem-solving activities”), but have wanted to find ways to inject understandings of structures (or Unger’s structure-making) into these processes.

4.  At the same time I am critical both of a. discussions of the kind what Obama should do, what U.S. policy should be etc., as if the speaker (or the listener) could be transported into that position and act true to their principles without having been changed by the process of assuming this role in the structured system; and b. discussions of the dynamics of capital (or fractions of capital, such as the finance sector) dictating what is possible, as if no-one could assume a role within the structured system that could alter the dynamics and as if the human actors were blind to the real dynamics.  These latter discussions don’t address well the heterogeneity of things people do and say, nor the shifting associations and, to borrow Unger’s words, how they “stick together, come apart, and get remade,” nor the shifts in what any one person does and say from one micro-context to another.

5. I am interested in social theory that addresses the preceeding heterogeneity, shifting associations, and contingency–that brings the multiple strandedness of changing social life into the center (as against being the variation or noise around the deeper [more essential] Social Dynamics [capitalization deliberate here]).  That’s why the variety of responses in the on-the-spot, off-the-cuff discussion about race interested me.  And it’s reflected in my recent thinking about combining Intersecting processes (which has an outside representational emphasis) with Historical scan (produced by a particular group at a particular time) to generate enactable, group-specific praxis.

6. Something I would say, at this stage in my thinking, is that the focus should shift a. from shaping a better social theory to allowing for social theorizing, and b. from representing social dynamics to enacting the social theorizing so as to repeatedly define and pursue engagements in the heterogeneous dynamics that intersect in all kinds of society-making.  Enactable, contingent social theorizing maybe unsettled and unsettling, but should social theorizing be more something all that much easier to grasp than society-making?

Mapping: Can scientists become interpreters of science and bring the interpretations to bear on their science? II

Although the goals of mapping workshops were not fully met in the initial experiments described in the previous post, lessons can be drawn for the more general project of helping researchers reflect on their situatedness and act self-consciously to change their subsequent scientific practice.

1.  The workshop participants were self-selected and by no means representative of researchers.  Almost all of them were advanced graduate students willing to commit time to reflect on their research and possible future directions.  Having cut their teeth as researchers, they were now receptive to expanding the range of influences, both theoretical and practical, in planning their work.[i] The challenge for a workshop convener is to attract researchers other than students and to sustain their interaction long enough for maps to be revised and new collaborations to emerge.  On a simple level, revision could be helped by suitable computer software to draw and redraw maps, so that researchers would be better able to respond to the input of other participants in the workshop.  At a more fundamental level, workshop convenors who hoped to achieve wider participation and sustained interaction would need more institutional resources, workshop leading skills, and time than Haila and I had during these initial mapping workshops.

2.  Mapmakers may not be successful in modifying the directions in which they subsequently move. The original assumption behind mapping was that identifying multiple potential sites of engagement would help mapmaker change, but a successful outcome does not necessarily follow.  As it turned out, for example, E was not able to complete his study of urban carabid ecology.  Making a map or producing some other account of how research is constructed provides no guarantee that researchers will become able to mobilize different resources to their advantage.  Stanley Fish, an influential interpreter of legal texts and literature, takes this insight a step further and asserts that reflection on one’s situatedness is irrelevant to changing it (Fish 1989).

Not surprisingly given my view that all scientific agents “assess… the practical constraints and facilitations of possible actions in advance of their acting” (see post on imagination), I dispute Fish’s assertion.  It should be an empirical matter—one to be established through experiment and experience—which kinds of reflection, workshop processes, and modes of interaction and support contribute most to scientists modifying and restructuring the situations in which they undertake research (see Taylor 2005, Chapter 6, section C2 and C3, and Epilogue; also posts on workshops).  Of course, would-be workshop conveners who hope to experiment and apply the experience gained would need resources, such as those to which I alluded in the previous paragraph.

3.  The maps were centered on the individual mapmaker, tended to be idiosyncratic, and were not explicit about theory about the researchers’ situatedness in society and its implications for their scientific practice.  Again, further experiment and experience would be needed to promote more systematic map-making approaches and to assess their value.  What might happen if, say, workshop leaders urged a standard format, offered models from analogous situations, or promoted various theories or propositions about micro- and macro-social change?  Would some idiosyncrasy still have to be encouraged to ensure that scientists reflect freely on and consider changes in their own particular research settings?

Deciding the extent to which to seek regularized, theoretically explicit maps recalls all the conceptual and methodological choices identified in Taylor (2005, chapter 5, section A):  The boundaries of maps call out for negotiation—how far away from the individual researcher should the “horizon” of the map be drawn?  Should something other than the researcher’s issue be placed at the center?  If shifts in focus are entertained, the appropriate categories for interpreting and engaging with science are far from obvious.  The traditional focus that scientists and philosophers place on scientific claims can be stabilized only by separating research questions from research work and social support.  These realms are routinely traversed by scientists, however, even as they talk as if their scientific work derived only from the situations studied, not from their situatedness.  Moreover, once mapmakers acknowledge the existence of resources in their work situation or in the wider social context, should they look for regularities or structure in those resources?  Should they borrow from social theory and attempt to generalize about the situations in which research is done?  To the extent that generalizations discount or filter out the contingency and idiosyncrasy of scientists’ actions, do they inject a degree of determinism not apparent in the individual situations?  Finally, as answers to these questions are decided, mapmakers might ask what engagements or social actions they are privileging and facilitating.

The questions could be posed not only to mapmakers but also to anyone “reflecting on their situatedness” with a view to “acting self-consciously to change their subsequent scientific practice.”  Yet note the tension between pragmatic considerations and the logic of posing these as open questions (see discussion of practical reflexivity in Taylor 2005, chapter 5, section A).  It is quite a challenge for mapmakers to choose and depict the diversity of connections around their focal issue, without the additional task of reflecting deeply on the categories, boundaries, generalizability, and so on, of their maps.  Indeed, future workshop leaders may facilitate mapmaking by supplying a template of interpretive categories and themes.  Even so, there is nothing natural about the depth to which mapmakers (or other researchers) reflect on their situatedness in seeking to change their practice.  Any choice that mapmakers make or take for granted could be queried by their fellow workshop participants, who could ask how readily that choice could be modified.  Such probing would begin to expose diverse practical considerations that support such choices.

Mapping workshops offer a more direct path for bringing interpretation of science’s sociality to bear productively on scientific practice.  But they do not escape practical reflexivity’s tensions and complexities, which remain not only for the mapmakers but also for workshop conveners.  Conveners might want their workshops to distribute among others the work of interpreting and engaging with research, but this goal is unlikely to be realized unless the convenors have significant institutional resources, workshop leading skills, and free time.  Whether such resources can be assembled is a matter not of the workshop conveners’ will alone, but of their distributed agency.  In my own case, while waiting for an appropriate conjunction of circumstances for further mapping workshops, I used teaching and scholarly presentations to pursue another approach to encouraging researchers to reflect on their diverse resources,, which centered around the concept of intersecting processes.

Extracted from Taylor, P.J. (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press), chapter 5, Part B.

References

Fish, S. (1989). “Anti-foundationalism, theory hope, and the teaching of composition,” in Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies.  Durham: Duke University Press, 343-355.

Novak, J. D. (1990). “Concept mapping: A useful tool for science education.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 27(10): 937-949.

Taylor and Y. Haila (1989). “Mapping Workshops for Teaching Ecology.” Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 70(2): 123-125.


[i]

Mapping workshops and teaching

One participant of the Helsinki mapping workshop observed that “one question leads to ten questions—What is a lake? Why is phytoplankton one category?…” Another likened mapping to the process of writing and revising: “Like writing, out of mapping comes awareness of new parts of the map that need more work.”  Just as in a good graduate student dissertation research seminars, students raised a whole range of issues—from nagging uneasiness they feel about certain research directions to specific technical points—when these would have remained latent in a seminar dedicated to a specific theme.  Mapping workshops certainly warrant attention from other teachers as an approach to stimulating advanced students to define their research (Taylor and Haila 1989).  This approach, it should be noted, differs markedly from concept mapping (Novak 1990) in which the focus is on well-established relationships between concepts.  Mapping as described in the previous post allows mapmakers to explore what is not yet clear about an issue on which they want to take action.

Mapping: Can scientists become interpreters of science and bring the interpretations to bear on their science?

According to the perspective of heterogeneous construction, scientists mobilize a diversity of resources and, in so doing, engage with a range of social agents.  Similarly, when interpreters of science delimit the relevant resources and agents, they also mobilize resources and engage with diverse social agents (Taylor 2005, Chapter 5, section A). Interpreters of science who recognize this might then reflect explicitly on the practical conditions that enable them to build and gain support for their interpretations. Applying the same interpretive framework to one’s own research should enhance the plausibility of their reconstructions of the work of scientists.
There might be more direct way that heterogeneous constructionist interpretation might influence science productively. Instead of relying on some second party to do the reconstruction, could scientists—or indeed any researchers—interpret their own heterogeneous webs? Could researchers reflect explicitly on how their own social embeddedness or situatedness affects their ability to study the situations that interest them? Could they attempt to identify multiple potential sites of engagement and change for themselves? If so, this would cut through some of complexities arising from interpreters trying to model practical reflexivity.

Mapping, Map-makers, and Maps

To explore this possibility with a number of ecologists and natural resource researchers, I convened two “mapping workshops”—the first in Helsinki, co-led with ecologist-philosopher Yrjö Haila; the second in Berkeley. These workshops were designed to proceed as follows. Each researcher would focus on a key issue—a question, dispute, or action in which the researcher was strongly motivated to know more or act more effectively. All researchers would identify “connections”—things that motivated, facilitated, or constrained their inquiry and action. These might include theoretical themes, empirical regularities, methodological tactics, organisms, events, localities, agents, institutional facilities, disputes, debates, and so on. Researchers would then draw their “maps”—pictorial depictions employing conventions of size, spatial arrangement, and perhaps color that allow many connections to be viewed simultaneously. The map metaphor was meant to connote not a scaled-down representation of reality but a device that shows the way—a guide for further inquiry or action (Taylor and Haila 1989; Taylor 1990).
Over a series of sessions the workshop participants would present these maps and be questioned by other participants. As a result they might clarify and filter the connections and reorganize their maps so as to indicate which connections were actually significant resources. The ideal was that researchers would self-consciously modify their social situations and their research together, perhaps in collaborations formed among the workshop participants. Of course, given that mapping was an experiment, it was not surprising that the ideal was not realized in these initial two workshops.
Three maps from the workshops illustrate the map making that resulted. Figure 1, by a Finnish ecologist I will call “E,” was the most orderly of the maps, having been streamlined and redrawn on a computer. As such it does not do justice to the real-time experience of its production during an actual workshop. Indeed, when viewed on their own all the maps appear schematic; valuable history, emphasis, and substance were added when the mapmakers presented their maps to other workshop participants.

Figure 1 Redrawn outline of E’s map about how to conduct research on the ecology of carabid beetles in the city of Helsinki (from Taylor and Haila 1989)

The central issue on E’s map is very broad, namely, to understand the ecology of carabid beetles living in the leaf litter under trees in urban environments. On the map below this issue are many theoretical and methodological sub-problems, which reflect the conventional emphasis in science on refining one’s issue into specialized questions amenable to investigation. Above the central issue are various background considerations, larger and less specific issues, situations, and assumptions that either motivated work on the central issue or were related to securing support for the research. E’s research alone would not transform the urban public into recognizing that “nature is everywhere—including in the cities,” but by combining the upward and downward connections, he reminded himself that work on the background issues, not only refining a working hypothesis, would be necessary to be able to keep doing his research.
In narrating his map, E mentioned some additional history. Many of the ecologists with whom he collaborated had been studying a forest area, but the group lost their funding when the Forestry Department asserted that forest ecology was their own domain. It did not matter that animals are barely mentioned in the ecology of forestry scientists. The ecologists self-consciously, but of necessity, turned their attention to the interconnected patches of forest that extend almost to the center of Helsinki, and explored novel sources of funding and publicity, including a TV documentary. The upward connections were thus a recurrent, if not persistent, influence on E as he defined his specific research questions.

Figure 2 Extract from R’s map concerning research on the peasant economics and politics and tropical forest destruction in Mexico (from Taylor 1990)

Historical background depicted in a narrative format is more evident in a large map by “R,” a Mexican who had come to specialize in the economic and agronomic dynamics which lead to impoverishment of peasants, their migration into forest areas, and subsequent clearing of those forests. Figure 2 is only one section of that map. Although radically different from E’s redrawn map, R’s map also highlighted simultaneous issues of building the disciplinary and collaborative context in which to pursue his many concerns. As a biologist he wanted to stem rainforest destruction; as a political activist he wanted to reduce rural poverty; and as a resource economics graduate student in the U.S. he needed to frame technical questions that could be answered.

Figure 3 M’s map of his research into ecological degradation and impoverishment among nomadic pastoralists in West Africa (from Taylor 1990)

In Figure 3 “M,” an American studying land degradation and impoverishment among nomadic pastoralists in West Africa, depicted a more conventional conception of research. Questions form the bulk of the map and are separated from methods—the strip along the bottom. M omitted the movements, arrangements, alliances, and negotiations he built in order to monitor milk production, elicit from the herders rules governing herd movement, assess herd ownership, measure the effect of grazing on pasture growth, complete surveys to “ground truth” satellite images, and so on. M’s map also located him in his remote field area, and omitted the audiences in the U.S.—sponsors and critics alike—for his current and future research. In short, notwithstanding the guidelines I had given to mapmakers, M included the situation he studied and left himself out.
To what extent, recalling the goals of mapping workshops, did the workshops lead participants to “clarify and filter the connections and to reorganize their maps”? It took considerable time to prepare maps, and the mapmakers did not devote more time to redraw their maps in response to interaction during the mapping sessions. M, for example, did not redraw his map to include his own context. To what extent then did researchers realize the ideal of “self-consciously modify[ing] their social situations and their research together, perhaps in collaborations formed among the workshop participants”? Several participants, at the Helsinki workshop in particular, claimed that the mapping workshop had expanded the range of influences, both theoretical and methodological, that they would bring into planning their future work. One workshop participant commented that mapping made it impossible “simply to continue along previous lines.” Nevertheless, although the workshops provided the opportunity to link up with others around revealed affinities, no new coalitions emerged; changes in the researchers’ work were not so dramatic.

Extracted from Taylor, P.J. (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press), chapter 5, Part B.

References

Taylor (1990). “Mapping ecologists’ ecologies of knowledge.” Philosophy of Science Association 2: 95-109.

Taylor and Y. Haila (1989). “Mapping Workshops for Teaching Ecology.” Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 70(2): 123-125.

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