Some notes to introduce the Tech-CEDiR reading group sessions, especially the first one on Simondon.
Tech-CEDiR Reading Group (Session 1) – 6th Nov 11:30-12:30 – DMB GS4
Tech-CEDiR Reading Group (Session 2) – 25th Nov 11:30-12:30 – DMB 1S3
Roberts, Ben (2012) Technics, individuation and tertiary memory: Bernard Stiegler's challenge to media theory. New Formations, 77 (1). pp. 8-20. ISSN 0950-2378 .
Tech-CEDiR Reading Group (Session 3) – 2nd Dec 11:30-12:30 – DMB 2S4 RECS
Chimero, A (2013) Radical Embodied Cognitive Science. Review of General Psychology © 2013 American Psychological Association 2013, Vol. 17, No. 2, 145–15
Rationale for reading group
I think that we need a proper theory of educational technology and I hope that this Tech-CEDIR reading group will help us to develop it. The idea is that, thinking about these papers and responding in face to face meetings, via twitter and on this blog, we might together begin to emerge a theory of the nature and role of ed tech. Part of that discussion might be suggestions for further readings as well as if and how the group should continue.
The three initial readings, on Simondon, on Stiegler and on radical embodied cognition are meant to stimulate discussions on three possible elements of a theory of ed tech.
Firstly, from Simondon, that technical objects or artefacts do have an essence that is different both from natural objects and from humans. Key to this is his account of individuation which suggests we should look at technical objects from the point of view of how they become what they are in a process of 'ontogenesis' that is not simply determined by human intentions or by material properties.
Secondly, from Stiegler, that what we think of as human is always already bound up with technology such that human development has been and continues to be a co-evolution between the organic element of human and the technical element. This is interesting because it potentially gives a special role to education and to ed tech in making humans and in any future project to make humans differently. Steigler shifts attention to the individuation of the network within which technical objects exist along with humans.
Thirdly the perspective of radically embodied cognition suggests how our technology can be understood as part of cognition. It follows that an education for thinking that is not only about the thinking of the organic individual (the brain?) but also a thinking of the human-technology network. This again potentially offers a role for ed tech at the heart of education.
Other initial readings could have been possible. Inquiry into the philosophy of technology often starts with Heidegger. Winograd and Flores' seminal book 'Understanding Computers and Cognition: A new foundation for design' show how Heideggers philosophy is relevant to ed tech. Heidegger's distinction between the 'present at hand' (stuff we see in front of us as if independent of us in the theoretical attitude) and the 'ready to hand' (stuff we are always already involved with in doing things in the world in a practical way) is fundamental. It can be approached using the common expression 'a man with a hammer is a man in search of a nail'. 'Breakdown' is when the ready to hand become present at hand - when the skype call freezes and we move from a dialogue to looking at an image on a screen. This implies that technology extends the human body. But Heidegger's vision of technology seemed to stop with the 'techne' of the ancient greeks which referred to crafts such as weaving. Heidegger did not like modern technology very much. He preferred to spend his time in a simple hut in the Black Forest. He saw modern tech as embodying rationalism in a way that inevitably 'enframed' people, cutting them off from Being and turning the environment into resources to be exploited. I think that Simondon is a better place to start because he loved technology and liked to play with machines and engage with the latest hard science like de Broglie's quantum theory. Levinas's essay on Gagarin contains an excellent dismissal of Heidegger's view of technology.
'Technology wrenches us out of the Heideggerian world and the superstitions regarding place. From this point on, an opportunity appears to us: to perceive men outside the situation in which they are placed, and let the human face shine in all its nudity. Socrates prefers the town in which one meets people to the countryside and the trees.' (Levinas, 1990)
Here Levinas links Heidegger’s rejection of modern technology to his Nazi party involvement and his love of trees. Arguably Heidegger’s attitude to technology can still be found in Waldorf and Montessori schools and strands of the ecology movement. Human scale tech -good: big global networked tech - bad. But this attitude seems just not very relevant anymore and not very useful to help us forge a vision of education for the Internet Age so I suggest we just move on more rapidly leaving Heidegger grumbling in our wake.
Why Simondon is so interesting
Simondon was a Professor of Psychology at the Sorbonne who engaged traditional theory with modern science and technology. Merleau-Ponty was on his PhD panel. He had a big influence on Deleuze and on Stiegler. The paper we are reading introduces his philosophy of technology. (See also Steven Shaviro blog on this http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=298) Simondon is also interesting for his related account of psychic and collective individuation (see Steven Shaviro blog on this http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=471)
Simondon opposes the opposition of technology to nature that sees technology as a tool for controlling nature.
1) Tools are not just passively used: they are reconfigured, reinvented, extended and mutated in the process of use - this is the individuation of technical objects (consider design-based research on new ed tech tools - it is about iteration, resistance and contingency)
2) Technology is a network of relations: far from marking our alienation from the natural world, technology is what mediates between humankind and nature. Every technical object has some agency and every subject has some materiality.
All individuation,- natural forms eg crystals, organic life, technical objects, individual human selves and also trans-individual subjectivity - originates in the pre-individual. The pre-individual refers to the state of metastability that makes possible each individuation. Pure pre-individual actually exists ‘before’ any individuation – in an ‘anteriority’ that is not temporal, since time itself ‘develops out of the pre-individual just like the other dimensions according to which the process of individuation takes place’ (2005, p 34). Simondon’s inspiration for the pre-individual comes from thermodynamic metastability, and also from the famous wave-particle duality in quantum physics, in so far as this duality is ‘more than one’ and in so far as the particle is, strictly speaking, not an individual. (Barthelemy, 2012)
Simondon put forward an original theory of information as that which 'informs' - or has the capacity to inform - individuation. This is a bit like Bateson's idea of information as based on differences that make a difference. Transduction is one process whereby information can support individuation. Consider how a catalyst can lead to crystals forming rapidly in a super-saturated solution. Thought tends to work like that. Information technology has the potential to support the ontogenesis of transindividualities that are indissociably human and technical. Simondon wrote that the ‘value of the dialogue of the individual with the technical object’ is ‘to create a domain of the transindividual, which is different from the community’ (2005 p515).
This vision has inspired new form of Marxism (eg see Antonio Negri). Simondon's idea is that the alienation of the workers in industrialisation was not primarily about not owning the machines they worked on in factories - - but was more fundamentally about not being able to change those machines or to think creatively together with those machines. To be unalienated is to be creative and to be creative is not just to retreat to a hut in the Black Forest to write books and arrange flowers but is perhaps more fundamentally about being able to participate in transindividual collective activity which is supported by technological networks.
For Simondon technical objects always have a subjective as well as an objective side - they have a phenomenology. For example, think of the experience of using the internet which some refer to as being in cyberspace. Moving around cyberspace is not the same as moving around fibre-optic cable networks. Similarly using tools in education has a subjective side. We learn to understand at the same time as we learn to use our tools. Think of a slide-rule or an abacus. Now think of various software tools. This has become known as instrumentalization within ed tech (see impedevo et al 2017).
Before the next reading I will say something more about why Stiegler is interesting for our project, and then why radical embodied cognition might be interesting. Unless someone else volunteers to do this of course
Please post comments on the first reading in response to this blog or in response to a Twitter Chat that Genevieve Smith-Nunes will organise around the dates of the reading groups https://twitter.com/pegleggen
Barthélémy, J. H. (2012). Fifty key terms in the works of Gilbert Simondon. Gilbert Simondon: being and technology, 203-231.
Impedovo, M. A., Andreucci, C., & Ginestié, J. (2017). Mediation of artefacts, tools and technical objects: An international and French perspective. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 27(1), 19-30.
Levinas, E. (1990). Heidegger, Gagarin and Us, in Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism,
Winograd T, Flores F (1986) Understanding computers and cognition: a new foundation for design. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Inc., Menlo Park
Simondon 2005 L’Individuation à la lumière des notions de forme et d’information (Jérôme Millon, coll. Krisis).