Clarity and knowledge

This evening I went along to a Melbourne Free University event. James Arvanitakis, who teaches at The University of Western Sydney spoke on ‘The production, consumption and commodification of knowledge’. In the early part of James Arvanitakis’ talk tonight, he commented that what we think human nature is plays into what we think policies should be, but at the same time humans are changing. This is a useful point for me at the moment that I found summed up a few of my current thoughts and helps me justify to myself why I am taking this time (and resources off the government) to revisit a question that, in some ways, was asked a lot in earlier decades. I also liked (although in many ways I disagree with) the way that he used the Melbourne Free University, and other similar projects, as an example of confronting power through an exchange that violates the dictates of the system.

The rest of this post is going to continue talking about ‘me’, and will be a very self indulgent post unpacking my experience of the evening.

The talk was not quite what I expected, which was surprising seeing as he spoke exactly on the title. Perhaps the reason that it was not quite what I expected is because I have been to many a lecture on the subject of ‘knowledge’, but in politics and anthropology classes. I was sitting there thinking that the points were all well and good, but I was waiting for him to ‘get into it’. Reflecting back on it now, I think I was wondering where the ethnography is (to use Hage’s question) WHEN I WAS LISTENING TO A PHILOSOPY TALK.

During discussion time I tried to put forward a point about whether or not open access to knowledge is something we like as an ideal rather than in practice. However, I failed miserably at making my point and spoke for too long. Again, I think the reason my point did not receive any interest (aside from perhaps it is such a banal concept it did not warrant a reply) is that I put it forward in the same way as I would have jotted down a note to myself in a politics or an anthropology class. I blurted out a case study and expected everybody else to make the links, when what was called for is to express my idea and then ask the question.

To continue with this self indulgent post, in the conversations that happened after wards I found I was lucky enough to be sitting near some very interesting and bright people. The topic of explaining things in plain English came up and I found myself feeling somewhat ashamed for my lack of enthusiasm for the exercise that has been preparing my plain language statement. I do not think I want to be in the ‘applied world’, simply because I know that inaccessible language just cannot float when somebody has to actually action your work. Yet I do not have the skills to inhabit the expert world of philosophy and social theory. I am sort of stuck in the middle, using the case studies and language of others and never quite translating them to suit the context.

Knowledge for its own sake and applied collaborative research to serve the goals of your collaborators are two very different ethical justifications for research. Perhaps my mantra of getting it right sides more with ‘knowledge for its own sake’, but I am sitting in an applied school. We know what they used to say about the betwixt and between, I just hope the power it holds is not all pollution.

Anyway, it is probably a good thing for me to challenge myself to strive for greater clarity and for ideas that stand up on their own without being overbalanced by tangentially related references cobbled together in an attempt to prop it up.

(You should see how many tangentially related references I deleted in writing this post. One step at a time I guess.)


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