Monday 18 July 2011

Proximity, Distance and Attachment

One of the key features of Bowlby's attachment theory is the importance it places on 'proximity' (between mother and child, between patient and carer, etc). But citing proximity is not really an explanation - just the identification of an observed pattern.

Understanding proximity is important to understanding learning technology. The experience of being close to people is the most profound experience we have as human beings: closeness is the essence of love. Technology, however, is fundamentally concerned with distance; it deals with the issue of 'closeness' as a an organisational problem (we can't all be physically close to our teachers!), and articulates a range of views where it is not the closeness that counts, but the communications that take place that matters. However, educational technologists have struggled to persuade their colleagues that this is indeed the case!

This isn't just Luddism on the part of those who resist. It is an instinctive reaction that something important is lost when the closeness is lost. The first question regarding this view is: "what might be lost". Those aspects of direct sense (smell, touch, taste) are obviously inaccessible in the case of distance relations. The question we have is "what is the impact of losing these senses?"

Because our tendency is to reduce human engagement (particularly academic engagement) to the logical content of communications (because this is the only part of communication which we can easily rationalise), we don't have the vocabulary to articulate differences in those aspects of proximal communication which may or may not be fundamental to the process: we simply can't discuss it.

Bringing Bowlby's theory into the picture, we might consider the role of those senses, which all depend on proximity, to the processes of attachment. Because as Bowlby tells us attachment is the fundamental feature of the relationship between care-givers and care-receivers. His feedback mechanism identifies proximity as the important factor, but does not consider the essence of proximity and in particular how the senses that are most acute in a proximal situation work with the feedback mechanisms of attachment.

I think we can do better than this, and postulating a sensual as well as a 'rational' channel for communication is a possibly fruitful approach. However, what might this mean? (I remember as a child Simon Groom on Blue Peter advocating 'Smellyvision' as a way of conveying the essence of their cookery demonstrations!). I think that would be a bit silly.  But at the same time, what may well be going on is the multiple descriptions of the world (multiple articulations) from which meaning (which - and here's a thought - might be a synonym for 'attachment'...?) is connoted. It may not matter what form those descriptions take: smell, visual, auditory, haptic... What may matter is that there are a number of them.

So this comes back to the idea that we somehow need to model connotation. The idea that we might be able to model 'meaning' as 'attaching' is very intriguing!

1 comment:

Astrid Johnson said...

The closeness thing is also Luhmann, isn't it.