Posts Tagged ‘ language ’

Forms of Knowledge, Ways of Knowing

The principle premise of Cook & Brown’s “Bridging Epistemologies” is that there are two separate yet complimentary epistemologies tied up in the concept of knowledge.  The first one of these is found in the traditional definition of knowledge, which describes knowledge as something people possess—that is, a property (in more than one sense of the word) that is.  Cook & Brown refer to this as the “epistemology of possession”, and it can be characterized as the “body” of knowledge.  The second, “epistemology of practice” hones in on the act of knowing found in individual and group activities—it is the capacity of doing.  Cook & Brown contend that the interplay between these two distinct forms is how we generate new knowledge, in a manner not unlike Nonaka’s spiral structure of knowledge creation (with one key difference, described below), which they call the “generative dance”.

Another way I conceptualized this distinction (using analogy, as Nonaka urges, to resolve contradiction and generate explicit knowledge from tacit knowledge, (21)) was to consider these two notions of “knowledge”/”knowing” from a linguistic perspective: if knowledge and knowing were distinct properties of the English sentence, knowing would be the verb and knowledge the object.  This is supported by Cook & Brown’s emphasis on how “knowledge” can be applied in practice as a tool to complete the task, and can result from the act of knowing (388); “knowing” acts upon (and through) “knowledge”, just as the verb acts upon (or through) the object.  The subject—that is, the person or people who are performing the action—is an essential element both to the formulation of knowledge/knowing and to the sentence.  The subject’s relationship to the verb and the object is very similar to the individual (or group’s) relationship to knowing and knowledge.  The verb represents enaction by the subject—as knowing does—and the object represents that which is employed, derived or otherwise affected by this enaction—as knowledge is.  Cook & Brown’s principle of “productive inquiry” and the interaction between knowledge and knowing, then, can be represented by the structure of the sentence.

Cook & Brown’s premise has many important implications for knowledge management.  Perhaps the most important of these is the idea that knowledge is abstract, static and required for action (that is, “knowing”) in whatever form it takes, while knowing is dynamic, concrete and related to forms of knowledge.  Of these characteristics, the most dramatic must be the static nature of knowledge; in what is Cook & Brown’s most significant break with Nonaka, they state that knowledge does not change or transform.  The only way for new knowledge to be created from old knowledge is for it to be applied in practice (i.e. “productive inquiry”).  Nonaka perceives knowledge as something malleable, that can transform from tacit to explicit and back again, while Cook & Brown unequivocally state that knowledge of one form remains in that form (382, 387, 393, 394-95).  For Cook & Brown, each form of knowledge (explicit, tacit, individual and group) performs a unique function (382).  The appropriate application of one form of knowledge in the practice (the act of knowing) can, however, give rise to knowledge in another (393).

I found Blair’s article “Knowledge Management: Hype, Hope or Help?” useful as a supplement to Cook & Brown.  Blair makes several insightful points about knowledge and knowledge management, such as the application of Wittgenstein’s theory of meaning as use in defining “knowledge”, identifying abilities, skills, experience and expertise as the human aspect of knowledge, and raising the problem of intellectual property in KM practice.  Blair’s most valuable contribution, however, is to emphasize the distinction between the two types of tacit knowledge.  This is a point Cook & Brown (and Nonaka) fail to make in their theory-sweeping models.  It is also a point I have struggled with in my readings of Cook & Brown and Nonaka.  Tacit knowledge can be either potentially expressible or not expressible (Blair, 1025).  An example of tacit knowledge that is “potentially expressible” would be heuristics—the “trial-and-error” lessons learned by experts.  Certainly in my own experience, this has been a form of tacit knowledge that can be gleaned in speaking with experts and formally expressed to educate novices (generating “explicit knowledge” through the use of “tacit knowledge”).  An example of inexpressible tacit knowledge would be the “feel” of the flute at different levels of its construction described in Cook & Brown’s example of the flutemakers’ study (395-96); this is knowledge that can only be acquired with experience, and no amount of discussion with experts, of metaphor and analogy, will yield a sufficient understanding of what it entails.  It is an essential distinction to make, since as knowledge workers we must be able to determine how knowledge is and should be expressed.


Cited References

Blair, D. (2002). Knowledge management: Hype, hope, or help? Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 53(12), 1019-1028.

Cook, S. D. N., and Brown, J. S. (1999). Bridging Epistemologies: The Generative Dance between Organizational Knowledge and Organizational Knowing, Organization Science 10(4), 381-400.

Nonaka, I. (1994). A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation. Organization Science 5(1), 5-37.


This post is written in response to weekly readings for HUCO617: Posthumanism. This week we were reading Humanism, by Tony Davies, which describes the emergence of “Humanism” as a concept, a movement, a pedagogy, a philosophy, an ideology, a ‘Snark’.

There are so many weighty concepts and reversals worth discussing in Davies’ Humanism that it is hard to know where to start.  Perhaps the most important aspect of Davies’ history of the term is something he never quite addresses: the structure of the text itself.

Davies’ approach to reaching a whole and encompassing definition of ‘Humanism’ says quite a lot about our own historical moment and the current state of (post)Humanism.  In his introduction Davies carefully notes that his history is not strictly chronological but should follow an internal logic, a narrative that identifies the plurality of Humanism and enumerates its myriad conflicting variations.   He begins with the 19th and 20th century attempts to first legitimize the essential and universal qualities of Humanism (undermined by the political ends such attempts are invariably put to) and then to deconstruct and disable the validity of these same qualities, and indeed, the validity of Humanism itself as a concept; then moves on to 15th century Italy and the origins of the European Renaissance (a period he does not forget to point out is just as fabricated as ‘Humanism’), pauses on the Enlightenment when the notions of essence and universality of Man are at once crystallized and inextricably bound up in the very real politics and power structures/struggles of the period; and, finally, ends at the present moment, with the realization that the very idea of Humanism is so problematic—so “chimerical” (128)—that it might not be salvageable, and yet it remains a sole refuge from a vast, cold, and unsettling universe within which our utter insignificance is wretchedly felt.  Derrida whispers through Davies’ approach to defining Humanism within a particular historical context, and then starkly proving how the definition is not humanism, is in fact an antihumanism according to how we have come to conceive the concept in terms of universality and individuality.  Like Derrida in Différance, Davies enacts the quixotic struggle to find a central truth in the plurality of meanings by circling the concept of ‘Humanism’, and in so doing proves that there is no centre [1].  There is no one ‘true’ meaning, only movement between different conceptions of the word, between the presence and absence of supporting values, humanism and antihumanism, human and Other.

I want to linger a moment on the idea of the Other, which Davies only briefly touches on in his conclusion with a too-quick summary of Emmanuel Levinas and Ted Hughes’ ‘Wodwo’ (142-146).  Making a radical move Davies denies himself, I’m going to define ‘Humanism’ right now as “the pursuit of human identity “; Levinas says that ‘humanity’ is “a continuous and precarious process of becoming human…[and] the inescapable recognition that our humanity is on loan from others” (142).  We are defined as human by those things we perceive as not-human, we become ‘human’ only as a mirror reflection of the foreign, the different.  Ted Hughes’ poem gives voice to the Wodwo, a “half-human”, “larval shape” arrested in a state of becoming (144); to me, it reads rather like the internal monologue of Frankenstein’s monster in the moment it achieves self-awareness.  In Davies words, the poem is about “identity as movement, not destination; seeking, not finding” (143).  Both the Wodwo and the Monster are figures moving between the Other and the Human.  And perhaps this movement is what (post)Humanism should be about, what it has always been about.

I’m fascinated by the notion of the Other because I feel it plays a key role in the analysis of popular science-fiction narratives.  It provides a fertile landscape in which to explore the figure of the robot, the cyborg, and its significance in literature.


[1] In his concluding chapter, Davies describes how the pursuit of progress through a science founded on Reason—a defining feature of Humanism—has displaced “the very notion of ‘centre’ that secures the conceptual scaffolding of the human.” (132)

Understanding Robots Through Derrida

This post is written in response to weekly readings for HUCO617: Posthumanism.  This week we were reading Jacques Derrida; specifically in the context of this response, “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”, Writing and Difference, pp. 278-293.

In “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”, Derrida casts the use of discourses as a way of criticizing the discourse itself, of invalidating its own premises.  At this point, I don’t pretend to completely understand the significance of what Derrida is saying (I suspect I’d need months or years at a minimum to fully grasp it), but this notion of the destruction of a thing by its own means, its own contradictions, strikes a chord with me.  Specifically, the opposition of human-machine and the anxiety prevalent in almost all narratives about the robot seems to embody this principle in microcosm; we fear our own destruction or substitution at the hands of what we have created, artificial beings cast in our own reflection.

I use Karel Čapek’s perspective on the robot, as I’ve used it before, as an emblem of the opposition at the heart of defining what is human (  Čapek’s 1921 play R.U.R. captures the fearful aspect of what results from the human endeavour to duplicate the creation of the Biblical God, to make life in our own image.  From a structuralist position, the “robot” is the centre of this discourse; the “robot” represents both the perfect human and the monstrously not-human, and as such exists both within and outside of the discourse depending on one’s approach.  From this we can already recognize the paradoxical difference Derrida suggests with post-structuralism.

The comment I want to make (and am probably making a hack job of it) is that perhaps the anxiety critics feel towards post-structuralism, like Harold Bloom from our previous readings, is at least similar if not identical to the anxiety we feel towards robotics.  We see this anxiety expressed in literature in innumerable ways: from Shelley’s monster to Rossum’s robots, Asimov’s laws to Dick’s replicants, Star Wars‘ droids to Gibson’s Neuromancer, they all represent the tension between progress (both technological and existential) and the fear of replacement (or death).  And isn’t that the same tension that exists in post-structuralism?  To take the concepts of a given discourse and employ them “to destroy the old machinery to which they belong and of which they themselves are pieces” (284); in other words, using principles from an existing system in order to re-imagine it, recreate it.  The tension is between method (the instruments of a system) and the truth (the “objective signification” it represents), borrowing from the language Derrida uses in his analysis of Lévi-Strauss.  Or is the tension between the old and the new in the continual act of re-constructing and replacing of the system from within itself?   All of these examples bring to mind the image of the Ouroboros, the snake biting its own tail in a perpetual cycle of re-invention.

Cyborgization = Evolution?

HuCo 500 – Weekly questions

Communications technologies and biotechnologies are the crucial tools recrafting our bodies. These tools embody and enforce new social relations for women world-wide. Technologies and scientific discourses can be partially understood as formalizations, i.e., as frozen moments, of the fluid social interactions constituting them, but they should also be viewed as instruments for enforcing meanings. The boundary is permeable between tool and myth, instrument and concept, historical systems of social relations and historical anatomies of possible bodies, including objects of knowledge. Indeed, myth and tool mutually constitute each other. (Haraway)

Throughout this course, I think my questions have demonstrated that I am particularly concerned with how technology fundamentally changes how we think.  Donna Haraway, a bit dramatically, states the obvious about the transformations that are occurring and have occurred in our society (or ‘politics’, in the sense that Haraway uses the word): that we are all socially constructed by the tools we rely on to shape our reality.  We are all cyborgs, already, since in many cases the tools have already been embodied; we use them to define ourselves.  They shape our mythology.  Take, for instance, the act of knowledge acquisition; the internet as technological development has changed how we process and evaluate information by making it almost universally accessible and mostly unfiltered, and by putting the means of production and mass-dissemination in the hands of the public.  The speed of communication has also affected how we process information; it has created social expectations, new conventions for interaction.  An individual of average intelligence from fifty years ago would have to struggle to make sense of our 21st century reality, and would likely experience a crippling anxiety just trying to keep up with what the individual of average intelligence today does effortlessly.[1] Arguably this could be said of any given time period, but I think the changes over time have never been so drastic or dramatic throughout human history than in the last two decades, and almost entirely due to how technology has transformed our lives.  My question is: where does such a paradigm lead?  What does it mean for us, as human beings, to become increasingly defined by our technologies (rather than defining them)?

This is the great secret of language: Because it comes from inside us, we believe it to be a direct, unedited, unbiased, apolitical expression of how the world is.  A machine, on the other hand, is outside of us, clearly created by us, modifiable by us… (Postman, 124-125)

Do machines that are communication devices (i.e. that facilitate the expression of language, interaction, the sharing of ideas verbally or visually/textually) take on the properties of language—that is, do we begin to internalize the machines, see them as extensions of our selves, as “direct, unedited, unbiased”—or, quite the opposite, do they afford us the opportunity of perceiving language as the technology that it is, with a set of assumptions about the world implicit in its construction?


Haraway, Donna (1991). “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. pp.149-181.

Postman, Neil  (1993). “Invisible Technologies.” Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books. pp.123-143.

[1] A fascinating study would be to assess the level of anxiety and the struggle that Canadian immigrants from third world/under-developed countries face when confronted with the technologies and their social conventions.  It could perhaps help answer the question of how fundamental the change affected by technology is, in our perception of reality.

How much does it cost to reach the galactic center?

Milky Way Transit Authority


Urban transit maps are wonderful tools: they are guides to traveling, they serve as mechanisms for distilling and abstracting a city down to a set of linkages and interconnections, and they are beautiful. …

Ever wonder how one would manage to navigate the vastness of our galaxy (assuming one overcame such negligible hurdles as a practical means of deep space travel)? Wonder no more. Samuel Arbesman has created the first transit map for the Milky Way.



No more getting lost between constellations. Just make sure you’re carrying exact change for the fare.


EBR: IN Review

After Thursday’s commercial for the Electronic Book Review, I felt I should try to back up my praise for the site with a sampling of some of its contributions. And as I do that, I’ll discuss a bit about how EBR is presented online. Each essay or review is filed under one of the following colour-coded categories, or “threads” (including the “thread editor’s statement”):


For many who are committed to working in electronic environments, an electronic “review” might better be named a “retrospective,” a mere scholarly commemoration of a phenomenon that is passing. There’s a technological subtext to the declining prestige of authors and literary canons. To bring that subtext to the surface will be part of ebr‘s agenda.

((I think it’s crucial to point out that, in a culture that’s gone from uniformly print-based to radically electronic-based in just a couple short decades, we must acknowledge and try to grasp the rapidly evolving role of canons, authors, and texts (as presented in the above intro). It suggests nothing short of a paradigm shift in what we consider “literary”.))

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Literary Computing

Last spring I took a course called “Literary Computing”. I remember my first class, which was actually the second class for the course as I’d been away for the first several days of term. Dr. Mo, the instructor, launched immediately into the question that would pervade our research for the rest of our semester: what is literary computing?

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