Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change: New prospectus and bio

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.

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10 June 2011
New prospectus and bio

The Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change seeks to support inquiries, teaching-learning interactions, and other practices of critical intellectual exchange and cooperation that challenge the barriers of expertise, gender, race, class, and place that normally restrict access to, understanding of, and influence on the production of scientific knowledge and technologies.

The Collaborative builds on a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach to education that allows students to shape their own directions of inquiry and develop their skills as investigators and prospective teachers (in the broadest sense of the word).

A deeper rationale for the Collaborative can be given, involving the ways that we have to bridge gaps in our inherently unbounded realities, which can be enhanced through a sequence of 4Rs—Respect, Risk, Revelation, and Re-engagement. Before asking for these ideas to be explained, consider the following bio.

Bio—Peter Taylor
How have I come to be the kind of person who would initiate a Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change? Let me tease out four strands to my story. (If readers resonate with any one of these strands, I encourage them to participate in the Collaborative; through the ensueing experience the other strands might eventually make more sense.)

1. Social change activism lies behind the Collaborative’s explicit mission of challenging the barriers of expertise, gender, race, class, and place in science. During the 1970s my environmental and social activism in Australia led to studies and research in ecology and agriculture. I moved to the United States to undertake doctoral studies in ecology with advisors who saw their scientific and political work as part of the same cloth. I continue to promote this vision of science as politics, even as I have become less active in social movements.

2. Investigation of complexity and change describes my work in ecology and environmental studies, as well as when I analyze and interpret the social situation in which research is undertaken (contributing what is now called science and technology studies or STS. In recent years my investigations of complexity and change have extended to social epidemiological approaches that address the life course development of health and behavior.) I argue that both the situations studied and the social situation of the researchers can be characterized in terms of “unruly complexity” or “intersecting processes” that cut across scales, involve heterogeneous components, and develop over time. These cannot be understood from an outside view; instead positions of engagement must be taken within the complexity. Knowledge production needs to be linked with planning for action and action itself in an ongoing process so that knowledge, plans, and action can be continually reassessed in response to developments — predicted and surprising alike.

3. Innovation in teaching and participatory process. Having this last picture in mind, I explore ways to stimulate researchers (and students training to become researchers) to examine the complexity of their social situatedness so as to change the ways they address the complexity of the situations they study. In broader terms, I want researchers and students to be critical thinkers and reflective practitioners in the sense of contrasting established paths in science, education, and society with others that might be taken, acting upon the insights gained, and taking stock of outcomes. The tools and processes I experiment with in workshops and teaching draw on my work at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) directing Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT), a graduate Program that aims to provide its mid-career or career-changing students with “knowledge, tools, experience, and support so they can become constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts.”

4. Institutional development. Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and applications of science has not been well developed or supported institutionally, so I contribute actively to new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines. In particular, the new CCT track on “Science in the Changing World” and the undergraduate Program in Science, Technology and Values at UMB as well as the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change give me opportunities to develop courses and to promote discussion and teaching innovation concerning the interactions between scientific developments. My experience teaching two graduate courses using a Problem-Based Learning approach—Scientific and Political Change, and Gender, Race and the Complexities of Science and Technology—has led me to this latest initiative, the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change.

For more details, see:
1. Taylor, P.J. (2010) “Biology as Politics: The Direct and Indirect Effects of Lewontin and Levins (An essay review of Biology Under the Influence: Dialectical Essays on Ecology, Agriculture, and Health),” Science as Culture, 19 (2): 241-253.
2. —— (2005) Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
3. —— (2009) Guided Tour of Peter Taylor’s teaching, http://cct.wikispaces.umb.edu/PJTTeaching
4. —— (2011). Guided Tour of Peter Taylor’s service, http://ptaylor.wikispaces.umb.edu/servicereview

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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