Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Learning Design, Social Ontology and Unintended Functionalism in the ITEC Project

The ITEC project is a large-scale European project which has sought to transform pedagogical practice in 1000 classrooms across Europe over 4 years. The project has involved pedagogical design through the creation of learning scenarios, and technological design in the creation of a number of tools to facilitate innovative practice across the many different contexts of the project. Whilst the learning scenarios have provided an opportunity to explore different pedagogies, usage of the toolsets has been low. Using evaluation data from the project, an analysis is presented which draws on Searle’s concept of ‘status functions’ to explain anomalies between the declarations of status of the objects of the project (tools and scenarios), stated opinions about tools and scenarios, and evidence of actual usage of tools and scenarios. The declarations of status are compared to a consideration of the constraints within which project stakeholders were operating. In the web of contradictions between the status of objects and practices, and the constraints of stakeholders, we identify an emergent process of “project functionalism” which evolves as a minimal set of conditions which stakeholders agree to in order to maintain a basic commitment to the project that doesn’t interfere with other commitments of their professional lives. We ask whether this emergent functionalism it might be avoided, and whether it is a feature of learning design initiatives more generally.


The ITEC project set out to establish an ambitious technological infrastructure which would support both the execution and coordination of innovative pedagogy. Aiming to bring technological and pedagogical innovations closer to-hand for teachers across Europe, ITEC has sought to transform the context of teaching and learning in the hope that the agency of teachers would follow. Inspired both by the discourse on Learning Design (Koper, 2004; Laurillard, 2012) and by thinking about new opportunities for personalisation of learning through initiatives like the Personal Learning Environment (Johnson and Liber, 2008), ITEC’s vision encompassed greater personalisation and technological control by learners, coordinated with an infrastructure which would facilitate large-scale piloting and evaluation of educational ‘scenarios’. Whilst it has raised awareness of technology across Europe, allowing many teachers to experiment with different kinds of pedagogy (particularly inquiry-based, classroom flipping, etc), measured against its ambition to create a sustainable technological infrastructure to support 'the classroom of the future', ITEC (like so many other projects before it) has largely failed.

The focus here is on comparing the ITEC vision of “transformed teaching and learning” with its reality, investigating and explaining the difference between hypothesised social transformation and actual events. It is argued that phenomena which emerge in projects like ITEC are of significance for any attempt to intervene with new pedagogical schema, tools for encouraging pedagogical design, attempts to analytically determine learning needs, or attempts to reproduce formal education using technology. So often it seems the articulated visions of project teams appear as ‘naked emperors’ to those whom they wish to change. ITEC allows us to ask: “Why does this happen?”; “What might we do about it?”; “What actually happens when there is adoption of a technology and how is learning technology different?” To do this, I argue that an approach to social reality is required, and to this end, Searle’s (2010) recent work on ‘Status functions’ is used as a way of characterising and distinguishing the different aspects of the reality of projects, schools, technologies, and (most importantly) social status.

Searle’s ‘Status functions’ and Social Ontology
Any new technical intervention is introduced to people with a declaration: "this is a new technology for x". This declaration is what Searle calls a 'status function'. Searle argues that the entities of the social world, institutions and objects are all manifested as status functions held together through mechanisms of ‘collective intentionality’ within the social world. In education, we might add to this list of entities: textbooks, teachers, schools, timetables, curricula, league tables and learning technologies. Searle argues that it is the declaration of a status function which, if the person making it has sufficient 'deontic power' (the power to declare a status function which is acknowledged through collective intentionality) then that status function will be binding within the context within which it is made.

Searle's idea has far-reaching consequences, enabling him to consider not only the reality of objects, but human rights, armed forces, money, nation states, gender identity and so on. I will not explore these further reaches here. However, status functions are made about technology. Who makes the declaration “This is a technology for x”? The power to make such declarations rests variously with technical designers, pedagogical designers, project teams, occasionally teachers, and often managers.  Many status functions about technologies or pedagogies fail to carry sufficient deontic power necessary to establish the appropriate mechanisms of collective intentionality for them to be maintained. Consequently, the technology dies. Occasionally, a declaration is made such that the deontic power behind it is sufficient for there to be broad social agreement that the status function is indeed valid (which is the case now for mobile phones, email and social software).

Any new status function is made in the context of many other established status functions within a society, institution or other social group. Typically technologies aim to disrupt established rituals of practice (what Collins (2004) has described as “interaction ritual chains”) involving other kinds of object, practice and institutional structure. Additionally, every status function, as well as being a statement about what is what in context C, is also a statement about what is not what: in other words, a status function makes a distinction between what counts as x, and what doesn't. Status functions are both positive in affirming an object, and negative in declaring a constraint.

Given that status functions declare constraints, it would not be surprising to see different status functions competing with each other, or contradicting each other: each being the others' constraints. The status functions "I am the master" and "You are a slave" presents a simple example of where one status function is constrained by the other: a ‘double bind’ situation (Bateson, 1972). The master requires the slave to acquiesce; the slave is constrained by the boss in a way which is not advantageous, yet feels compelled to reinforce the boss's power; fear leads them to be unable to consider life away from the boss's demands. Indeed, in this case, it is fear both instilled by the boss and bearing upon the boss which holds the contradictory relationship between them in place. The stability of such a master-slave relationship may be seen as a basic 'institution', where the mutual constraining patterns of double-binds characterise life in families, schools, universities, churches or corporations – indeed, mutual constraint appears a pre-requisite for the existence of any kind of institution.

Technological status functions produce similar patterns of mutual constraint. The assertion, usually by technology corporations, of the status of objects demands the acquiescence of users, whose emerging ritualised patterns of practice entail fears in breaking rituals which further entail the use of the tools about which the status functions are made. The daily reality of technologies is held in place by knots in the status functions which relate declarations of technological function with existing webs of social interaction and existing status functions. In social life, the status functions that each of us lives with comprise highly complex webs of mutual constraint: the intervention of a status function in a pre-existing web of status functions is particularly challenging. It is the inability to counteract the forces prevalent in existing status functions that most technologies fail. To say there is "nothing in it for me to use technology x" is to say that existing commitments demand the maintenance of practices which would be unnecessarily disrupted by a new technology. However, in order to understand how it is that some status functions actually do succeed in transforming the knots that people live within, it is important to understand the forces that keep the knots tied together. Since every status function is also a declaration of constraint, and that successful knots are patterns of mutual constraint, the role of shared constraints among the different stakeholders who are implicated in upholding the status of a state of affairs. Through an analysis of constraint, and particularly through a consideration of the relationship between constraint and redundancy, an understanding of the dynamics that distinguish instances of adoption with non-adoption can be explored. In this study, instances of non-adoption are most informative, and since this has been the principal characteristic of the ITEC project, it makes an excellent case-study for examination.

The initial declared ambitions for the ITEC Project

Most projects include a set of status declarations. The first and most important being the declaration:
·       "This is project"
Then there are the objects of the project. In ITEC the objects of the project (as set out in the project plan) entail declarations like:
·       "This is learning scenario (a broad description of educational activity)"
·       "This is a widget store (a  repository of tools)"
·       "This is a widget (a tool)"
·       "This is a widget (tool) for doing "
·       "This is learning activity"
·       "This is a "composer" (a way of recording configurations of activities and tools)"
·       "This is a 'people and events' database (a kind of meetup.com for schools)"
·       "This is a learning shell (basically a container for educational activities, people and tools - e.g. a VLE)"
·       "This is an evaluation questionnaire"
·       "This is a national coordinator of ITEC activities in your country"

ITEC is focused on schools and what happens in the classroom. Teachers are the principal target for the above status declarations. Teachers, in most schools, already inhabit a world of status declarations from various sources:
·       "This is the headteacher of your school"
·       "These are the professional expectations for your performance"
·       "These are the children you are responsible for"
·       "These are their parents"
·       "These are the expectations the children's parents have for their children"
·       "These are the league tables of your school (if they have them)"
·       "These are the assessments the children will have to pass"
·       "This is your timetable"
·       "This is the curriculum"

It is not difficult to see that these two sets of status declarations may conflict with each other. Individual teachers, project officials, national coordinators, software developers, etc. have to make choices about their actions. Each status declaration presents an aspect of constraint against which choices must be negotiated: whilst each declaration makes a statement of the positive existence of a thing (headteachers, widgets, evaluation questionnaires) they simultaneously declare an absence - what isn't a headteacher, widget, evaluation questionnaire, and so on. A status function is a distinction about a boundary.

Within each stakeholder, there are what might be called “unarticulated” status functions – what HarrĂ© refers to as an inner ‘storyline’ (HarrĂ© andLangehove, 2002): the things people might want to say, or declare in the future, but don't yet have the position, evidence, or so on, to articulate their own status functions. Here we might consider:
·       "This is my ambition"
·       "These are the needs of my family"
·       "These are the people I love and care for"
·       "These are the things that matter to me"
·       "This is my strategy"
·       "This is the domain over which I have control"
·       "This is the domain over which I want control"
·       "This is the domain over which I can do nothing"

A project seeks to harmonise its status declarations with the existing status declarations that already exist within the setting in which it wants to intervene. Given that the potential for conflict between the expectations of different stakeholders, any project might hope that it establishes a dynamic between the inner wishes of individual stakeholders, the existing professional responsibilities of those stakeholders, and the innovations suggested by the project. In other words, it hopes that the intervention of the project creates a closed-loop between three constraints whereby the new innovations are established and held in place because of:
·      The dynamic between individual ambition and professional constraint
·       The dynamic between professional constraint and project interventions
·       The dynamic between project interventions and individual ambition

The mutually constraining dynamics between these may be represented in many ways and mathematical techniques like Category Theory (Lawvere and Shanuel, 1991; Badiou, 2014) provide a mechanism for articulating an ordering of constraining forces. At its simplest form, we can imagine a situation presented through the metaphor of a Trefoil knot (Kauffman, 1995). Each declaration is a constraint for the other, but each constraint holds the others in place:

The metaphor of the knot is useful because when trying to understand the intentions of a bidding team which makes status functions as part of their bid (as in ITEC’s status function), it will be hoped that these declared status functions produce social change precisely because they are successful in tying new knots in the lived experience of teachers and learners: should this happen, then the technological adoption is achieved. Unfortunately, reality isn't like this. The professional constraints of teachers dominate and project interventions tend to get ignored and the education system tends not to change. So what is the difference between the real situation and the imagined situation where adoption is gained? Under what conditions might engagement occur? How do people react when it doesn't?

Stakeholder evaluation and action

The ITEC project makes many status declarations about entities other than software. In particular, there are different types of participant within the project: different roles, responsibilities, and so on. For example, there are those who are in charge of pedagogy, there are those who are doing software development and there are those who are trying to manage it all. Each group of stakeholders bring different constraints, and each group of stakeholders will be enmeshed in their own knots relating to their professional practice and so on. For example, the pedagogical partners know that the status declarations they are responsible for maintaining are those which state:

·       "This is a learning scenario"
·       "This is a learning scenario design activity"
·       "These are pedagogical trends which constrain the design of activities"
·       "This is the pedagogical discourse with which to make an intervention"
Whilst at the same time, there are other status functions - many of which lie outside the project - which will be of concern to anyone involved in pedagogical research:
·       "This is the educational discourse"
·       "These are the important journals to publish work"
·       "These are the deliverables that must be achieved"
·       "This is the budget"
·       "These are the people who are involved"
·       "These are colleagues with whom it would be good to make connection"

Beyond this, there will also be individual strategic, unarticulated status functions which will affect the relationship with the others. Having said this, it may not be the case that each of the constraints surrounding the different status functions will constrain each other. In particular, even within the project teams, it is difficult to identify the shared constraints which hold everything together which can work to maintain all the different status functions which are declared.

The Misfit between the Pedagogical Partners and the Technical Development of the Widget Store

Technical partners are responsible for declarations of particular technologies (widgets, etc), whilst project managers must make declarations including:
·       "This is a completed deliverable"
·       "This is a budget"
·       "This is a change to project direction"

For each of these statements to hold, there has to be similarly a knot where the declarations of pedagogy partners are constraints for the declarations of software developers and consistent with the declarations of project managers.

An example of the kind of knots that fail to get tied are the knots between developers and ‘national coordinators’. The developers asked the national coordinators “How does the widget store fit with the overall vision/philosophy of education in your country?” In response, national coordinators in one participant country expressed the view that:
“The teachers involved in the iTec project are pretty well-skilled in the use of technology so the widget store is another source of tools among others they still have available. So to make the widget store more attractive we introduced it as tool to include their own content into the shell, and to share it with other iTEC teachers who are using shells as well.”

It is interesting that the statement, whilst effectively presenting the case that the Widget Store was surplus to requirements, upheld another technological status function of the project, the Shell. Shells are more broadly defined that widgets (practically anything can count as a shell!), and so the commitment to shells over widgets was a way of maintaining commitment to the broad status functions of the project whilst rejecting one of the technologies.

A more positive statement in response to the same question came from another country’s education ministry:
“In terms of the vision of education here, there is definitely a change in education relating the teachers training and expectations of them regarding using 21 century skills. – especially using technology. There is a very big education program of adapting the educating system to the 21st century with emphasis on using technology – therefore in terms of vision and philosophy – the widget store definitely fits the education system”

In effect, this questionnaire response reproduces the project’s own rhetoric without any firm commitment to the technologies. This may be another strategy for maintaining commitment to the project whilst avoiding specific technology commitments which would have interfered with daily practice. Even when responses are a little more blunt, there remains some degree of strategic negotiation of the status functions of the project:

“For 13-15 yr old age group it doesn’t really fit with the curriculum. It has been used across a number of subject areas.”

This appears to be saying the technology has been used across the curriculum and deemed to ‘not fit’. However, the web statistics remain low for access to the tools. This is a statement which acknowledges compliance with the project processes, but rejects the project technologies: again, a way of maintaining a connection with the project without engaging in new practices which might disrupt the status quo. A similar problem of disparity between the low web statistics and positive reports emerges from one national coordinator who said: “[we] have continuously worked with the Widget Store - it is one of the highlights of the iTEC project.”

An indication of the kind of tensions existing when trying to establish the technology was expressed by another participant who said:
“We ask teachers to experiment with the Widget Store because it is a structural part of iTec. The main challenge […] is to ask teachers to experiment with a technology that they are not familiar compared with the ones they already use. The most of the iTec teachers are advanced, so they prefer to use technology they already know (and trust), experimenting more in pedagogy.”

This is to affirm commitment to the pedagogical side of ITEC at the expense of the technological side. Some respondents were more positive, although tending to acknowledge the project rhetoric rather than committing to the actual technology:
“Most teachers said they would like to continue to use the tools after the project, especially if there are more resources”

“When you become familiar with the Widget store, it offers access to a range of valuable/quality resources. It keeps students focussed on what they are doing”

The Widget Store was not the only status declaration of the project, but engagement with it demanded significant disruption to existing practice which most teachers were unwilling or unable to engage with. Technological mis-fitting which was underpinned by one of the key aims of the project produced a situation where rejection by participants was necessary, but had to be done in a way which didn’t damage commitment to the project as a whole. All stakeholders appeared willing to commit to the project goals (the rhetoric) but in a way that would be least disruptive to their existing practice. This raises questions about the reasons for maintaining commitment to the project, but not to the tools. The project without the tools was effectively a set of rhetorical claims of educational innovation, and loose status functions concerning pedagogical scenarios. If these commitments could be maintained, together with engagement in the instruments of the project (evaluation processes, training sessions, etc) then the project could be integrated into the web of status functions that teachers were already immersed. However, this then puts the emphasis on the instruments of the project, and not the specifics of its technological and pedagogical aims. How is it that the management devices which were intended merely to steer the project towards realisation of a technological and pedagogical vision become the principal status functions which unite all the stakeholders?

The emergence of project-functionalism as the binding force of a project

The divergence between the concerns of those interested in pedagogical innovation in the classroom and those whose concern was the development of technology, together with the divergence and inconsistencies in the opinions of the teachers suggests some kind of web of constraints which is in operation. The knots that each individual might experience will be different in terms of the discourses they are connected with, the ways that they manoeuvre their actions in the project, the goals and ambitions that they harbour and the actions that they then take. However, each stakeholder is funded and bound to the contract of the project whereby funding can be withdrawn unless they cooperate with the endeavour. Here a distinction can be made between the lack of commonality in the constraints that bear upon teachers, developers, managers with regard to the status functions that are made about the specific technologies of the project (for example, the widget store), and the common constraints of project funding and contractual obligations which bear upon everyone.

In arguing that the common constraint of project funding carries dominance in the project in the light of failure to establish any of the other status functions, I will argue that overlapping constraints are causal in the establishment of successful status functions. Going further, recent developments in information theory (Shannon and Weaver, 1949; Luhmann, 1995; Leydesdorff et al, in press) suggest that in inter-human communication, such constraints are measurable as ‘redundancies of expectation’ (Leydesdorff) between stakeholders.

Inevitably, the meeting of the contractual bargain with the project funder is the principal aim of the members of the project. The list of deliverables and the list of things to be achieved so as to honour the bargain is the most important feature. Around meeting these criteria, there can be seen to be common cause and sense in addressing the project deliverables. Coordination occurs through commonalities in redundancies in the expectations of individuals across the different strands of the project: in effect, this means that there are common things that people involved will worry about (expect) most. However, the extent to which this constraint impacts on the other constraints  (for example, technology) involved in the project is negotiable.

Expectations about “widgets”, “widget stores” and so on existed within the discursive domain of technology; widgets evoked few expectations in the reality of teachers. However, the status function "This is a widget training session" did find support among teachers – even if they didn’t touch the technology again after the session! Acquiescence with the latter status function can be seen as a trade-off for teachers, who are happy to be removed from their classrooms to take part in widget testing. This can also explain the discrepancy between the evaluation responses of teachers to the questionnaire and the evidence from web-hits on the widget store, and so on. Acquiescing with a questionnaire and giving a judgement on their widget usage depends on the nature of the way that they experience the constraints of the project, and the way that they deal with the constraints that are placed on them professionally. The dominant constraint is the meeting of the project deliverables, and the status functions which apply to that constraint evolve and move to ensure that project ‘success’ is achieved irrespective of realising project aspirations.

What arises in this situation is a kind of project functionalism, where the instruments of the funding agency and the project Description Of Work become the principal declarations of the members of the project team. The management question is the one that binds everyone together. Given this, we consider whether project functionalism is a broader problem within interventions in pedagogy and technology, and what might be done to avoid it.
Implications: Learning Design, Functionalism and Social Change
When considering any project which seeks to ‘design learning’ or create tools for changing or coordinating pedagogical practice, the status declarations are not difficult to identify:
·       “This is a design for learning x”
·       “This is a learning activity”
·       “This is a MOOC on quantum physics”
·       “This is a tool for creating learning designs”
·       “These are the learning analytics for the course z”

In classroom practice, pedagogical designs have always been implicitly articulated by teachers and institutions, upheld by institutional and societal declarations of the curriculum, timetables, and so on: eg. “This is a course on Java Programming”. The redundancies of expectation among the stakeholders (learners, teachers, administrators) in this situation universal expectation lie in the fundamental bond of care and concern for student development. Here, there is a distinction between a teacher declaring “This is a course on Java programming” in a face-to-face context, and doing so in an online context, or a context where a declaration is made without any direct connection with those whose acknowledgment of the declaration is essential to its success.

The deep question here is whether the status declarations of the classroom are separable from the context in which they are made. It is the difference between “This is a course on Java programming” and “I am here to help you understand Java programming” and “I am here to help you negotiate the web of status functions you are already immersed in so that you are able to pass this module”. Which of these possible interpretations of “This is a course on Java programming” is the one with the maximum collective intentionality? Which is the one which displays the maximum redundancy of expectation?

Between the different interpretations of the status function of the lesson, something is actively maintained by teachers, learners and institutions. The same applies to declarations like “This is the assignment”, “These are the university regulations” or “This is the curriculum”. When the status function is divorced from the rich dimensions of institutional life and professional practice, they may not function in the way that they appeared to function in the institutional setting. Herein lies the MOOC’s difficulty in identifying the ‘function’ of courses or pedagogic practices in the declarations they appear to make in institutional settings, and attempting to make the declarations of functions away from the context which supports them.

The lesson of the ITEC project is that functionalising declarations of pedagogy, technologies, and classroom organisation leads to functionalism surrounding the management instruments of the project at the expense of the expense of the realisation of the social transformation which was initially intended. When projects make status declarations like “This is a design for learning x” we should inquire into the nature of the web of status functions that the intended audience for the is already immersed.

Most educational projects are targeted on the production of concrete deliverables related to the organisation of activities or production of technologies. These in turn entails status declarations. Project functionalism will emerge where the status declarations do not fit the web of declarations stakeholders already live with. So we might ask whether it is possible for a project to avoid this.
A project that seeks intervention in a domain usually has little understanding of the domain before it begins.  ITEC is notable for the number of status declarations it made in its bid document before it began, and these in turn were measures of the project success. Could a project make as few status declarations as possible, but instead seek to identify the existing web of status declarations and the dynamics which hold them in place in the domain? In understanding the pre-existing status declarations, the common constraints which hold existing status functions together can be identified. It isn’t enough to simply make judgments about the functions of people within the school environment in a bid document. It is important to have a process which seeks to understand their motivations, the problems they face, the binds they are in, and the ambitions they have.
If “collective intentionality” and mutual redundancy of expectation is central to establishing status functions, then it becomes important for projects to approach transformative change in a different way. Instead of attempting to impose status functions, projects could emulate organisational situations they are faced with, mirroring the situation they seek to change, and exploring new possibilities within the same constraints. This would be to maximise the redundancies of expectation between project teams and the intervention situation to create a dynamic of empathy, rather than reinforce the pathology of project status and objectives.


Badiou, A (2014) Mathematics of the Transcendental London: Bloomsbury
Bateson, G (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, evolution and Epistemology University of Chicago Press
Collins, R (2004) Interaction Ritual Chains Princeton University Press
Searle, J (2010) Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization OUP
Johnson, M; Liber, O (2008) The Personal Learning Environment and the Human Condition, Interactive Learning Environments, Vol 16, no.1
Kauffman, L.H. (1995) Knots and Applications Singapore: World Scientific
Koper, R (2004) Educational Modelling Language: Modelling reusable, interoperable, rich and personalised units of learning, British Journal of Educational Technology, vol 35, no. 5
Laurillard, D (2012) Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology Taylor and Francis
Lawvere, F.W; Shanuel, S (1991) Conceptual Mathemtics Cambridge University Press
Leydesdorff, L; Ivanova, I (in press) Mutual Redundancies in Inter-human Communication Systems: Steps Towards a Calculus of Processing Meaning, Journal of the American Society for Information and Technology
Leydesdorff, L; Johnson, M; Ivanova, I (in press) The Communication of Expectations and Individual Understanding: Redundancy as Reduction of Uncertainty, and the Processing of Meaning, Kybernetes
Luhmann, N (1995) Social Systems Stanford University Press
Shannon, C; Weaver, W (1949) A Mathematical Theory of Communication

Monday, 15 September 2014

Misplaced Loyalties: The role of Business in establishing Schools

There's a common call from politicians from all sides that "industry" should have a direct hand in education. Among the arguments presented is that a business-focused curriculum which teaches "real-life" skills (and not useless academic stuff) is better delivered by, or at least organised by, people who are actually involved in business, who can introduce real-world scenarios and inculcate students into the ways of the world at a much younger age than they would otherwise encounter it. University Technical Colleges are but one example of this thinking.

Sounds great, doesn't it! After all, so much academic knowledge - the kind of stuff that appears on GCSE and 'A' level papers - is completely useless. The reductionism of knowledge into the curriculum of 'subjects' doesn't represent the true nature of knowledge as it is lived and breathed in the world. It only really exists like that in education. So, an 'authentic' real-life approach to education seems sensible. As always, the devil is in the detail.

To establish an industry-led educational intervention, the first thing that is needed is: a project! Projects are excellent vehicles for bringing together funders, builders, teachers, industrialists, parents and children. Projects must be managed, so the first thing is to appoint a project manager. Projects have goals, deliverables and milestones, and the role of the project manager is to ensure that these are met. If the project manager doesn't do this, they will be deemed not very good at their job, and probably lose it. Funders have public money to spend: they're job is to ensure that money isn't wasted. If it is, they will be seen to be not doing a very good job and held accountable. Builders want to get money to build buildings. They don't really care if the school itself is successful: they win whichever way it goes. Industrialists may have a social mission to get involved in education, but education is not their main business. Any failure within an education project will not impact on their operations elsewhere, so the project is less critical to them than it is to a project manager. Of course, some industrialists may see business opportunities in engaging in education: these are the most dangerous! Teachers probably already have jobs, and their engagement with a project might be strategic in positioning some kind of career advance, or it might be that they feel that their present position is under threat unless they comply with the project. The point is that there are a wide variety of commitments to any project to create an industry-led school.

Now it gets interesting. The person who stands to lose most if the project fails is the project manager. Let's say a business partner in the project realises the vulnerability of the manager in requiring the business's cooperation. Let's say the business seeks to gain other benefits or advantages from the project manager and their institution and threatens to leave the project if these are not granted (they are, after all, businesses, and this is what business does!) What can the project manager do? Very little, it turns out, because to lose the business would be to lose the trust of the funders, and the project would then fail and the manager would lose their job.

Where are the students and the aims of the school in all this? The project's aspirations to transform education get lost because of the difference in aims and objectives of the stakeholders - particularly the businesses. The lack of shared objectives results in a retreat to a "functionalism" in the project to deliver the basic requirements of the school - curriculum, building, staffing, etc - without any critical questioning about the educational vision at all. Only the teachers will be interested in this, and their voice is drowned by the machinations of business deals in the background. The only goal that unites all the stakeholders is to ensure that the instruments of the project are successfully implemented (this is of particular interest to the developers who build the building!)

The result? A school which is much like any other - there are teachers and children - but where whatever pedagogical transformation was envisaged never materialises because the project functionalism has created an environment of such threat and fear that nobody dares speak out-of-turn. How could it have been different? Only by ensuring that the hearts of the project team were all focused on the realities of education, and the needs of children, not on making money or pursuing other expedient advantages. It would be difficult to make this happen with businesses involved in a powerful position. What appears attractive in theory, in practice results in deeper conservatism than is currently in place within the education sector.

Only the children will have the fearlessness to judge whether the emperor has any clothes on!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Mind. Education. Learning.

There is confusion in educational discourse between a description of "education" and a description of "learning". This might be characterised as a confusion between sociology and psychology: Education is a sociological concern whilst learning belongs within the realm of the psychological study of processes of (metaphysical) adaptation. But what of "mind"? What of the thing that drives the whole show in first place? Educationalists rarely talk about this!

I think one of the reasons that mind gets left out of the educational picture is that the development of mind has got confused with the development of expertise within a domain of knowledge. Displays of subject knowledge are however tied to particular academic practices of meeting 'learning criteria' around which the whole University system has organised itself. Academic performances are not in themselves indicative of a quality of mind, although a quality of mind might be revealed through them (or not, as the case may be). But what are mental qualities?

This is a question I've been asking myself in thinking about Bateson's idea of an 'ecology of mind'. Bateson's description of an ecology of mind is rather vague - certainly open to interpretation of a kind of loose ecological thinking that sees 'interconnectedness' when he talks about the "pattern that connects" without necessarily inquiring into exactly what is connected, or even what a 'connection' or 'pattern' means. Bateson's books only offer tantalising clues as to what he was on about.

The Catholic Aristotelians of the scholastic middle ages took mind more seriously, building on Arisototle's distinction between the 'agent' intellect which actively makes things intelligible, and the 'passive' intellect which receives intelligible objects as a kind of 'in-form-ing' process (the passive intellect is conceived as a kind of plasticine moulded by sense data). For Aquinas, the mind must be able to form phantasms or mental images in order to be able to coordinate the operation of the active and passive intellect. The creation of phantasms is both essential to the identification of particulars of perception, and to the capacity to identify abstract things like mathematical truths. This philosophy no doubt influenced the early university curriculum (trivium and quadrivium), and the development of mind which it sought.

So here there is a domain of:
  1. passive intellect being moulded by sense impressions
  2. phenomena of the world which are perceived
  3. the active intellect which seeks to make things intelligible
From an educational perspective the way that we might compare different configurations of the mind and the way the passive and agent intellect work in different kinds of students important in thinking about how we might hope that the minds of students might develop. 

Although the idea that the passive intellect perceives by being moulded seems a little perverse to us today, it perhaps isn't that different from Hebbian mechanisms, or the effects of habit on perception. But with regard to this, one might expect a correlation between forms in the world and forms in the mind. I've started to think of this in terms of discursive paradigms of thought - so, for example, we might consider the difference between functionalism and critique as examples of different paradigms which are both mental attitudes which have been moulded by exposure to particular kinds of events and discourses. A 'reflective' attitude would be another example, produced by a different kind of stimulus. So these different attitudes might be diagrammatically represented:
Here 'mind' on the left is characterised by different paradigmatic views which are moulded by engagement with the external world of discourse on the right. 

But what of the agent intellect? This is some kind of reflexive mental process which is 'making intelligible' perhaps in the way that Katherine Hayles argues when she says (of reflexivity):
"Reflexivity is that moment by which that has been made to generate a system is made, by a changed perspective, to become part of the system it generates." (in "How we became Posthuman", p8)

In the above diagram, this generation of the system occurs in the top right hand part of the diagram. It's connected to the paradigmatic forming of the passive intellect, and actively engaged in the world of discourse and matter. With this tripartite relationship, it is possible to see how concepts form, paradigms are established, people are moulded and minds may either become dulled or enlightened. In particular, the possibility of a 'knot' emerging between the active and passive intellect in relation to the world is perhaps an indication of a self-sustaining loop which would maintain concepts in consciousness.

Of course, the really interesting thing is What happens to students? Students often arrive at university with a disconnect rag-bag of knowledge. Using the above diagram, this might be represented as: 

Here the are clear domains within which there might be a self-sustaining dynamic, but there are aspects of practice and aspects of thought which are entirely separate and disconnected. When encountering this, what can/does a teacher do?

There are effectively two domains where a teacher might intervene: either in a logical way (top right) by suggesting new ways of looking at things (actually this is really a discursive intervention), or within the domain of practice. With the latter, the intervention of introducing new domains of practice, new experiences and so on can (and does) lead to new questions being asked, and existing paradigms being challenged. New interventions in practice also invite new logical explanations. The question is what kind of interventions? How might they be selected?

Between disconnected domains of understanding, there are limits which become evident in the way that contradictions emerge in student explanations. Limits define areas where students' experiences in the world have not caused those limits to be questioned. In other words, the limits of understanding are reflected  in limits around practical experience. The obvious thing for a teacher is then to start to probe new kinds of experiences which exist in the gaps between the practices with which understanding has become habituated. Psychotherapists do this when they probe the assumptions that are made about entities which have not been deeply inspected: "tell me about your mother"... and so on. But such interventions need not be so explicitly psychotherapeutic.

I find it interesting that the relationship between the trivium and quadrivium also maps onto the idea that teachers can only intervene in the logical domain and practical one of new experiences. The logical domain required new skills for thinking: grammar, logic, rhetoric. New experiences came from exposure to astronomy, music, arithmetic and geometry. Now of course, new experiences come from the Oculus Rift, biofeedback and so on. Maybe the old skills for thinking need to be rethought in terms of mindfulness techniques, or maybe the logic of limits which is revealed in the drama, art, music or mathematics. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Music, Science and Status: An exploration in search of an efficacious social science

Stravinsky’s famous remark “Music is incapable of expressing anything but itself” tends to be taken to refer to his antipathy to "sentimentalism" in music, or to the idea of a correlation between notation and emotional experience of either composers or listeners. Music has no reference - so how can it express emotion? The mystery is that whilst music might express nothing, it certainly communicates. How does this happen when there is no proposition about a state of affairs which is asserted? All that there appears to be is a declaration that “this is music”.

John Cage made a way of marking out what music is by simply declaring the sounds of the world as music: his 'silent' piece 4'33'' is simply a declaration of "this is music" - a declaration which many experiencing it might disagree with, although few could be unchallenged by it. When a number of people are drawn to the declaration "this is music", there is some kind of communication (even if it's about the fart that rang out in one of the early performances of 4'33''). Would this communication be possible without the declaration that x is music? 

What is interesting here is that declarations like "this is music" can serve to raise the status of somebody making it. Cage's reputation suffered no loss with 4'33''. Equally, scientists make declarations like "this is gravity", or "this is a Higgs Boson". Equally, there is a network of status mechanisms which are called into play following such a declaration. These mechanisms implicate the person making it, social institutions like universities, learned societies and journals, popular opinion and the media which conveys it, analytical criticism, and (crucially) the internal content of the work (the internal details of an artwork, or the veracity of theoretical claims and their foundations). How do these factors relate?

There are many reasons for focusing on musical work as a case study for exploring this question about status. In particular, the absence of reference in a musical work (unlike a scientific theory) specifically throws the spotlight on status mechanisms themselves. In effect, it helps us explore the conditions under which the declaration "this 'nothing' is a something" might be upheld. In turn, we go on to argue that this insight helps us understand that although scientific theories present apparently rational criteria for judgement, there are also many aspects of scientific claims which are no less lacking in reference than an artwork, as Feyerabend has argued. 

The declaration of something as something and its relation to its internal content

A declaration may be thought of as what Searle has recently called a ‘status function’. Searle situates status functions as those speech acts which articulate different bits of social reality. The social reality he considers he divides into the “ontological subjective”, “ontological objective”, “epistemic subjective”, “epistemic objective”. What kind of statements apply to music? To answer this question we have to compare “Beethoven died in 1827” with “This is Beethoven’s 5th symphony” with “Beethoven’s 5th symphony was written between 1804 to 1808” with “Beethoven’s 5th symphony has four movements” with “Beethoven’s 5th symphony is beautiful”. The statement about Beethoven’s death is epistemically objective: a statement of normative fact. By this token so too is “This is Beethoven’s 5th symphony” and “Beethoven’s 5th symphony was composed between 1804 and 1808". Normative facts have truth values attached to them. “Beethoven’s 5th symphony is beautiful” on the other hand, is a statement of “epistemic subjectivity”. It is like saying “I don't like red”. At the same time, the statement “Beethoven’s 5th symphony has 4 movements” appears to be a statement of ontological objectivity - like "the speed of sound is 340.29 m/s"; but perhaps it could be that this is epistemic objectivity too - after all, the status function "this is a movement" is epistemically objective. However, the tension between the statements “Beethoven’s 5th symphony has 4 movements” and “Beethoven’s 5th symphony is was composed between 1804 and 1808” reveals something about the difficulties in establishing a clear position regarding the declarations that surround music.

But all these declarations are oriented practices and conventions involving people and technologies who come together and make a particular sound. What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Can they not see that there is nothing there? Are we all victims of the kind of misapprehension that afflicted all but the little boy in the story of the "Emporer’s new clothes”? If that is the case, what are the status functions concerning the naked emporer which leads everyone not to see that he is naked?  The issue concerns the relation between status declarations and truth.

Status functions exist within the context of power structures. The status function “'Tristan and Isolde' is a fantastic opera" is not only an expression of opinion (or normative opinion) - it can also be an expression of expectation in a situation between a boss and a subordinate, which will result in the subordinate being forced to sit through hours of opera in order to curry favour. The consequence of such an unfortunate episode is that if one’s taste in music would never be stretched to agree to listen to Wagner for hours, then one would expect a certain kind of inner tension to arise. Similarly, we might look at the status functions that are imposed and supported by the radical Islamists in arguing “This is jihad” – What does the status function “This is Jihad” mean? What about “This is an academic conference”? The tension is brought out through the interplay between the content of experience and the status declarations that are made about it.

The declaration of the status of music relies on a network of status functions which constitute power structures ("x is the boss", etc). We might start to unpick these, but among the different responses to the conflict between power structures is the maintenance (and contribution to) of certain kinds of practice. The tension between maintaining status functions contributes to the conditions for reproducing them. This seems particularly important with regard to statements about things which apparently have no reference - like music. Yet music has content, and musical practice communicates without reference (Stravinsky never denied communication). Alienation arising from impossible power relations frequently gives rise to emotional artistic expression. Why? And what is the relationship between the content which forms the substance of a status declaration and the social structures which uphold it?

The Content of Music

What is declared as “Western art music” has certain features which analysts make further status functions about: "harmony", "counterpoint", "melody", "form", "tonality", "instrumentation", "rhythm", and so on. Music analysis is the practice of making status functions about the parts of the content of music. Sometimes these declarations of parts are then used to reconsider the status of the utterance of music itself: Schenker famously thought there was no great music after Brahms – largely because he was not able to fit any music after Brahms into his remarkable analytical scheme.

In analysing the parts of music, theorists hope to identify those components which appear to be causal in the way that music communicates. By abstracting patterns and comparing them with feelings there have been various ways in which things get codified, Schenker sought to identify the components of experience as they related to the fundamental structures of music so as to understand the way that music itself was ordered.

Musical content exhibits a structuring which appears in many aspects to be universal. It is rather like the way that the structures of mathematics exhibit a content is independent of discourse. Whilst other forces may create situations where universality of feeling or meaning are not expressed, there are enough examples (particularly from ethology) where universality is sufficiently exposed between people - matters of love, attachment and loss provide the most compelling evidence. This is where music communicates – and it does so without the need for a common reference.

Our question is therefore, What can be said about the content of music as it relates to its social context? This may be the same question as “What is to be said of truth in society?” Whilst music expresses nothing but itself, it communicates in the interaction between its social context and its intrinsic qualities. In this process of interaction, what emerges are shifting patterns of expectation between players.

The Communicating of Music

For Schutz, communication in music occurs through a mutual ‘tuning-in’ between participants. In bringing together the thought of Husserl with that of Weber, Schutz’s idea of “mutual tuning-in” is based on his  idea that music offers the chance to share in the lived experience of others. For Parsons, and later for Luhmann, utterances in ordinary communication (with reference) were the result of a calculation of the relative expectations between individuals of the likelihood of success of a particular communication within a social context. Schutz argues that the grimaces and the bodily contortions which are associated with the engagement with the material content of music and music-making are the means by which we gain access to each others lived experience. It is this insight into each others’ lived experience which is, for Schutz, the means by which music communicates.

The sharing of a performer's lived experience involve some acknowledgement of the limits of someone else; just in the same way as we are amazed at the acrobat's manoeuvres because we understand something of the limits they face in performing. What is required is an understanding of how limits emerge, what causes them, how they are reached, how they are surpassed. The limits of society entail status functions which conflict. Within any social situation, agents find themselves having to negotiate a complex web of limits and restrictions. Agents have to make choices. We might speculate the rationale that sits behind choices, but in reality it is hard to be able to understand the motivation behind the selections that are made. This entails a logic of expectation where the overlapping of expectations is causal in the production of utterances.

Expectation play a role in artistic experience. If the nature of expectation is seen to be structured, or to reveal a structure then the question about expectation must be related to the ability to determine the elements of probability which surround a particular utterance. Here we are faced with a fundamental situation which is at once artistic and communicative: any utterance, any picture, any sound exists within a context. There is always figure and ground.

In information theory, the characterisation of figure and ground is characterised as a balance between entropy (or the 'negentropy' of 'information') and redundancy. Redundancy frames messages in the way that grammar frames language. In the work of Ernst Gombrich (see his "The Sense of Order"), he analysed particular patterns of redundancy in the patterns of background in decorative art. In music too, the redundancy associated with Alberti accompaniments, together with the grammatical forms of tonal structure all testify to repetitions upon which variations are situated.

In human communication, to say that a set of expectations must be consistent for communication to take place is to say that there must be a set of expectations between people which are effectively redundant. This is a turn in Shannon’s own theory, for it turns out that communication is not measured in the transfer of information (negentropy) but rather in the overlapping of redundancy of expectations.

The 'ground'-nature of redundant forms in artistic communication suggest that there might be a relationship between redundancy and absence (I gather Lacan says something about this with regard to his concept of 'lack' and redundancy). What is absent is what is all around us, but which we fail to notice. Here we might bring the notion of limit together with that of absence and that of redundancy. A limit is a point of balance in the mid-point of two sets of structures. One might imagine the limit between different interpretations of a law, or a moral dilemma. Limits exist against a background – absences ('empty' sets) maps on to all objects between which there might be tensioning of limit. Feyerabend argues that paradigm shifts in science may occur not only with critique of different theoretical positions, but when the background to those positions changes. This is like a melody played in one context appears entirely differently with a different accompaniment. So here we can start to draw a picture of the ways that different status functions might overlap in the context of redundancies or absences and different status functions are held in check.

If the absences pertaining to redundancy of expectation holds other limits in place, then situations are possible where status functions are held in place within a society because of the redundancies of expectations of members of a society. Here we might find the conditions for the mutual maintenances and stability of a set of contradictions such as exist in Bateson's 'double-bind'. Indeed, most institutional structures seem to embody different 'knotted' structures of the double-bind (think of Church, university or the family). It might imagine that absence or redundancy ‘bends’ an arrow which maps members of one set onto another - thus producing knotted structures like the Trefoil knot. Another way of conceiving this is to consider a relationship between classical logic (the logical of the excluded middle) and dialectical logic. This relationship between classical and dialectical logic is a relationship between degrees and strata on the one hand (dialectical) and truth and falsehood on the other (classical). Category theoretical structures enable us to characterise both kinds of pattern. The determination of truth and falsehood is dependent on the ‘sub-object classifier’ within category theory, whilst the structuring of objects is dependent on the relationship between initial and terminal objects.

Limits in Scientific Rationality

Scientific rationality depends on the determining of regularities in scientific experiment. But what is this determining of regularity if it is not also the determining of probabilities of expectation? The question with regard to this process is the problem of being fundamentally unable to determine the parameters around the totalities about which the probabilities of events might be calculated. In determining the parameters of the fundamental totalities, there is a patterning and an ordering of reality which results in the ways that totalities are determined, and this patterning and reality is connected with the fundamental structures which are themselves related in some way to truth.

Another way of saying this is to say that the space of mutual expectation, or mutual redundant expectation is the space where theory arises. Here we see both a logical (analytical) construct for thinking about music, and a measurable practical component. Given forms of redundancy and absence, the process of theory-building is to determine the relationship between the redundancy that is identified through experience and the object to which it aims. It is to determine this both in an abstract theoretical way and in a way which is linked to empirical measurement. With the joint status functions of empirical evidence and logical characterisation, a new limit of critical orientation can be formed, which in turn produces new redundancies which in turn create new scientific ideas. Naturalism is a process of defining the limits (defined socially) which relate the status of the empirical with the status of the logical.

The structure of musical experience and the nature of empirical objects

Musical experience is structured. Levels of redundancy are revealed and wash over one another: one accompanimental pattern over another; melodic fragments become accompaniments; the redundancy of rhythms overlap with the redundancy of harmony and the redundancy of melodic patterns.  When we think about this, are all the redundancies different levels of expectation? As they overlap, so the nature of truth (the tendency towards resolution and finality - the arrival at unity) and falsehood change over time and the nature of status objects. The truth of music is revealed in a process of establishing a limit which converges to resolution. This process both specifies ordering of ideas (in the sense that the subobject classifier identifies an ordering) and at the same time time it configures the relationship between a possible initial starting point and a likely end-point. The declaration "This is music" is itself analysable as a limit between social relations, personal identity and musical content. It is sustainable when the three forces constraint each other in a stable co-dependence.

Whilst the shifting patterns of redundancy within the musical content are both synthetically (empirically) and analytically (logically) determinable and give a sense of the ordering of the musical structure (this is perhaps not dissimilar to Schenker's graphs). If the characterisation of the logical structure can extend beyond the music content to the social matrix within which the status function "this is music" is made, then richer and more contextual descriptions can be made about the relationship between the content of a creative process and the social structure within which claims (status functions) might be made about it. Moreover, if we can determine the relationship between the content of a creative endeavour and its social structure in both an analytical and a synthetic way, then a possibility arises for deep contextual assessments of status functions relating theories (analysis) with experiment (synthesis).


Arguments between Kuhn, Popper, Lakatos, Feyerabend and many others rest on difficulties of establishing the connection between the content of scientific creative work and the social structures within which they are made. Understanding the relationship between creative artistic works and status focuses the challenge in formulating both analytical and synthetic explanations and presentations whose coherence at a deep level might provide a deeper basis for both theoretical development and practical innovation. 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Computational Social Science and Social Naturalism

In recent years it has become possible to computationally calculate relations between people, documents and words in terms of the analysis of communications and the modelling of social dynamics. The implications of this “computational social science” on naturalistic social inquiry are disputed. The way that utterances between individuals relate can be investigated: this might entail analysing the correspondences between the use of words, phrases and topics in different contexts, determining the relative probabilities of those topics or words occurring across contexts and making inferences about the related semantic content between different contexts as a result. This approach belongs to a tradition of studying information in terms of the probabilities of the occurrences of symbols which was instigated by Shannon, and which a number of authors have related to the processes of human communication (although Shannon himself excluded this possibility). As more communication practices are bound by technology, probabilistic analysis of communication presents remarkable results in affording the clustering of cognate areas through automatic analysis, making possible automatic topic identification, the clustering of social groups through communication patterns, automatic identification of learning needs, preferences, and so on. Consequently, economic opportunities present themselves through the emergence of recommendation services, direct marketing, learning support, social prediction, and so on.

In contrast to the statistical techniques which view communications as ‘bags of words’, purposeful and meaningful utterances constitute lived experience where communications implicate and manipulate social positions between agents: expectations, intentions, meanings, ambitions, experiences and power struggles contribute to the constitution of both social institutions and individual experience. Unlike relations, positions are inhabited by agents. Despite the success of the algorithmic analysis of communication relations, most communicating occurs away from the internet. What is the possibility of a computational analysis of the inter-human positioning of meanings, expectations and power struggles? What is its connection to the computational analysis of relation between people, words and documents? What import does this bear for a naturalistic approach to the social sciences?
Objects of Analysis and Analytical Objects

A computational analysis examines data produced through social interaction (usually from the internet). Internet-based interactions are declarations of facts, feelings, opinions, states of affairs made by agents for the purpose of positioning between agents. An analysis of the words that constitute declarations is also a declaration – also for the purpose of positioning. The present analysis here is also a declarative contribution to discourse and the purpose here is positional. How might an understanding of the social dynamics of what might be considered ‘codes of communication’ arise through what can only be a participatory process in the reproduction and transformation of those codes of communication?

We might begin by making a distinction between experience, utterance and analysis. Searle has recently suggested one way of doing this, making a distinction presenting “ontological subjectivity” and “epistemological subjectivity”. For Searle, consciousness belongs to the category of the “epistemological subjective”: these are the as-yet uncodified transcendental constructs relating to Husserls’s “horizon of co-givenness”, Freud’s primary process or Luhmann’s ‘psychic system’. By constrast Searle presents the “ontologically subjective” as a way of characterising social institutions, documents, artefacts, practices, technologies and social roles. Searle argues that ontologically subjective objects are brought into being by a particular kind of speech act called a ‘status function’. In arguing for this, he argues for a ‘collective intentionality’ which upholds status functions and thus serves to constitute social reality. Searle’s collective intentionality can be compared to a coordination of expectations within a system of communication as is described by Luhmann.  Status functions are themselves utterances – among their basic forms is the statement “X counts as Y in C”, but this is one of many forms of utterance.  In this way, Searle’s categories serve as a way of distinguishing between objects of analysis – spreadsheets,  social network graphs, economic forecasts and so on – about which status functions as expressions of collective intentionality and positioning will be made (“X counts as Y in C”), and the epistemically subjective realm of consciousness within which coordinations of utterances emerge.

Considering the difference between relations and positions in this light, it is possible to make the status function “this relation is a position” – indeed, this is a common status function among those who would wish to assert the legitimacy of simple social network analysis as isomorphic to social ordering. Such confusion between relation and position presents an opportunity to explore related status functions concerning the legitimacy of data analytics in the first place and the particular algorithms concerned. Since positions are inhabited by agents, we might expect the false assertion of positions to lead to difficulties in establishing the appropriate collective intentionality required to uphold the status function. However, assertions of relations as positions sometimes do become accepted for periods of time, supported by acceptance of other status functions (of the deontic power of those making the declarations, for example), only for them to eventually be critiqued and overturned.  Indeed, radical changes in positioning involve the dramatic overturning of status functions relating to social role or position: revolution is the name we give to the overturning 
of the status function “I am the king”; Western powers are currently engaged in an attempt to overturn the status function "This is a caliphate".

The Analysis of collective intentionality

Since status functions are upheld by collective intentionality, status functions are themselves positional (they implicate power, ambition, expectation and meaning). It is reasonable to ask whether algorithmic analysis which exposes position rather than relation is possible. Such an analysis depends on postulating dynamics of multi-dimensional communications of everyday life. Techniques for analysing relation rely on Shannon’s theories about information, entropy and redundancy which can be applied to the distribution of symbols of communication in a large system like the internet. These techniques applied the analysis of relation appear to produce striking and revealing results. However, the experience of encountering such an analysis is effectively one of being subject to a status function relating to the analysis by various means of other status functions contained in internet communications in which many agents (possibly including the viewers of the analysis) participate. In short, to be ‘convinced’ by a relational analysis is to be positioned by those making the status declaration about the analysis. This then raises the question as whether it is possible to produce a computational analysis where the positioning itself might be revealed, thus revealing the deeper dynamics of collective intentionality.

Before addressing this question, there is an obvious concern: is a status function concerning a positional analysis any different from a status function concerning a relational analysis? The problem here becomes one of assessing the impact of a status function of any analysis. Status functions of all kinds are positional – they implicate what Searle calls the ‘deontic power’ of the person making the declaration – however sophisticated, power, ambition, meaning and expectation all play a role. They further implicate status functions concerning the method (algorithms) and underlying epistemology of any analysis that is pursued. Since methods and epistemologies will entail transcendental  components which are metaphysical (and therefore unprovable) methods, and analytical objects will always be vulnerable to critique. So why bother attempting to develop an analysis of positioning between agents?

Moving beyond a relational algorithmic analysis to one that attempts to capture the dynamics of collective intentionality presents an opportunity to explore different empirical metrics whose values may be compared to logical structures which express different social theories. If a connection between logical structure and empirical measure can be established, then a naturalistic inquiry emerges as a possibility in the social sciences whereby theorized social ordering can be compared to measured data. This would address a problem in the social sciences whereby research practice frequently exhibits a kind of ‘naturalistic gap’ as theories are used to design interventions, but where theory-practice gaps result in changes to practice at the expense of theoretical critique  (resulting in pathological positioning).  In other words, richer analysis – particularly the analysis of collective intentionality should be seen in the context of an empirical activity which stimulates disputation and analysis between statements of logic (theorized social structures) and status of empirical fact (empirically measured structures). Might an analysis of positional data present an opportunity to exploit data analytics with regard to social naturalism?

The Logical characterisation of social structure and the possibility of naturalism

Social analysis – particularly as it is undertaken in economics – tends towards quantification of social structure through econometric modelling (Hodgson, 1988; Lawson, 1999). Social network analysis has provided new means of representing social structure as relational entities. Both econometric and social network analysis presents logical and empirical aspects. The logic of econometrics has been heavily critiqued in recent years as not only divorced from reality, but responsible for economic pathology whereby econometric models which have little predictive or explanatory power are nevertheless forced on the population (Lawson, 1999). A similar story of forcing social network idealisations on a population have emerged in the manipulation of user responses to social software and gamification. In such situations, the theories that sit beneath the models are not critiqued, whilst economic policy attempts to force practice so that its measurement fits the econometric models used for analysis. In other words, there is a ‘naturalistic gap’ between prescribing policy interventions without theoretical development or refinement.

Social network analyses, however, do provide a glimpse of the logic of a social structure: indeed, the graphs of positional social network analysis are essentially logical, not empirical. In representing relations between nodes and arcs, the logical structure of the diagrams bears comparison with what Kauffman (1995) calls ‘arrow epistemology’ alluding to Category Theory (Mac Lane, 1972; Goldblatt, 1982). In arguing for such logical presentation of structures as a network of arrows, Kauffman argues that “it enables us to draw connections with the kind of diagrammatics that occurs in artistic, linguistic, physical and philosophical contexts.” (Kauffman, 1995, p 38). Extending this to the category-theoretical constructs of objects, limits, exponents, push-outs, pull-backs and sub-object classifiers, Badiou (2006), Meillassoux (2008)  and others have argued that logical mathematical representations of social structures may present new directions for naturalistic investigation. In the present context, the connection between such logical structures and empirically-derived networks pertaining not only to relation but also to position are of interest. This is to address the naturalistic gap between theory and practice through the comparison of two status function: one which asserts the status of the empirical object (the social network analysis of relation or position); and the other which asserts the status of the logical description. A naturalistic approach may then explore the differences in ordering between the two, which in turn represents the gap between theory (as represented by the logical) and practice (as represented by the empirical).

This may be described at a simple level. Any status function, if it is to be upheld within its context (in other words, if it is maintained within a particular code of communication), will exist by virtue of the dynamics of other communications. Kauffman has suggested how certain ‘knot’ topologies may be mutually reinforcing. Using the example of the Trefoil knot, it is possible to see where a particular topology of communication may serve to maintain those communications owing to the mutual constraint that each communication bears on the others. Noting this, a logical representation can find fuller description in Category theory by articulating the limits bearing upon each aspect of the communication dynamics, and the way in which each limit relates to each other limit.
Within the empirical technique for identifying positions described above, the logical representation of constraint identified in category theoretical limits becomes translated into the empirical measurement of mutual redundancy. The empirical measurement of positions rests on the identification of redundant expectations which can be analysed through communications. A theory may express the view that certain status functions are upheld within certain dynamics of communication. Measurement of redundancies of communication can confirm or deny this, thus requiring changes to the representation of logical structures and deeper analysis of empirical data.

In normal science, reproducible experiment and regular successions of events (as described by Hume) may itself be reinterpreted as a probabilistic exercise in the identification of redundant expectations (Meillassoux). By this description, theory-building emerges from the identification of mutual redundancy produced through empirical practice. A positional data analysis coupled with the articulation of theory as logical structure similarly is a process of identifying mutual redundancies of expectation between the theory and empirical results. In particular, category theoretical articulations of social order articulate limits at different points in a structure which empirically correspond to the constraints of redundancies. The correlation between limits and redundancies only works in a positional analysis, since a relational analysis simply considers connections between nodes rather than constraints bearing upon them.

Badiou, A (2006) Logics of Worlds
Bhaskar, R (1979) The Possibility of Naturalism
Goldblatt, R (1982) Topoi: The categorial analysis of logic
Hodgson, G (1988) Economics and Institutions
Kauffmann, L.H. (1995) Knots and Applications
Lawson, T (1999) Economics and Reality
Luhmann, N (1980) Social Systems
Mac Lane, S (1972) Categories for the working Mathematician
Meillasoux, Q (2008) After Finitude
Searle, J (2007) Making the Social World
Shannon, C; Weaver, W (1952) The Mathematical Theory of Communication