Friday 15 April 2011

Positioning and new media

I saw an interesting keynote by Jabari Mahiri at #cal11 today which has set me thinking about the role of new media in teaching and learning - particularly the use of new media by kids. We talk in terms of "this is cool! Give them a camera and the kids can just express themselves..." and the results of the kids "expressing themselves" can be remarkable: new capabilities, new hope, escape from impoverishment. Of course, it's not that simple - there are remarkable stories, but I suspect it's much messier under the surface, particularly with regard to teacher willingness to allow the kids to express themselves. But I'm interested in this business of self-expression. Is it possible to be more precise about it?

One place to start in thinking about the impact of these video activities is to think about the difference between daily communications in risk-ridden, highly anxious, impoverished settings and the communications in more normalised daily lives that characterise the 'comfortable middle class'. Where there is a limited range of linguistic performances the coupling between what Luhmann calls the psychic system and the communications in the social system is very strained: basically, a limited range of linguistic performances is having to express an intensified range of emotions. It's easy to see that the complexity management doesn't stack-up here, and that escalating anxiety might flare into violence and despair.

Might it be that technologies act as substitutes for linguistic performances? In Luhmann's scheme, there is a selection of 'information' (what is to be communicated) and then a selection of 'utterance' (how it is to be communicated). With a 'technology substitute', it may be that there is an increased range of possibilities for utterances.

But I think there's more to it than that. Making a video is not a linguistic communication. In Luhmann's sense, it is not communication at all, but 'art'. It is the making of a sensual 'object' which works directly with the senses of others. It is ambiguous in its meaning, and it's making and its watching are both sensual experiences (my music videos are much the same for me). But these sensual artistic communications are particularly fascinating because in their making and their watching, they have an impact on the linguistic skilled performance capabilities of the kids too. It's almost as if the media engagements help them to re-wire themselves.

What's in the re-wiring? Where the state of a person whose only communicative acts tended to be part of a pathological social situation, that state can be transformed through the artistic process, whilst at the same time, the artistic object can be used to transform the social context too to a point where less pathological communications become possible.

I can't help think that there's something to do with Positioning Theory here (I mentioned it to Jabari Mahiri). The issue relates to the internal mechanisms of the psychic system, or in Harre's terminology, the 'storylines' together with illocutionary acts. (this is the diagram I sketched a few weeks ago and posted here:
These interact with the social position or role that the individual finds themselves in. But I think the difference is that we're not just dealing with speech acts here; they are artistic acts too which are transformative of the position and the storyline. I think the question is... HOW?

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