How is gender equality represented on the web? A Psychological Introduction.   no comments

Posted at 11:29 pm in Psychology

This post will look at the definition of gender and the different types of interaction to try and better understand the different gender interactions on the web, to further understand how one would go about answering this question using psychology as a discipline.

In order to study gender equality from a psychological point of view, it is first important to define the notion of gender. Psychology defines two terms in relation to defining gender: “gender identity” and “sex typing”. Gender identity is where there is a clear separation between male and female, and a vast majority of cultures extend that biological difference into affording highly contrasting attributes and expectations of behaviour to each gender. Sexual typing is the instance of a person of a specific gender taking on the qualities and characteristics of that gender as expected of them by culture and society.

Another interesting psychological area to look at is interactions, after all to study this topic interactions between different genders on the web would have to be addressed.

Group Interactions: these are often ruled by social norms whereby a certain level of behaviour is deemed acceptable or even actively encouraged. Group interaction patterns have the potential to become ‘institutionalised’, meaning that people who occupy certain roles will take on subsequent behavioural actions based on them. These roles could be the traditional ‘boss/employee’ role, however this could equally be applied to the stereotypical gender roles. Perhaps females will fall into occupying sites that contain material that is deemed ‘stereotypically female’ such as cooking and baking sites; whereas men will involve themselves with aggressive war based sites/online games.

This arguably may not even be a representation of gender inequality, as perhaps people are just running with their personal interests; however this could easily be an example of them falling into their historical roles even with a modern invention such as the web. Following on from the last psychology post involving case studies and direct observation as two of the methods of conducting psychological research, if I were investigating this question using psychology I would look at case studies of gender usage of the web and do some direct observing of posts on forums/social networking sites etc. A case study called ‘Measuring the Gender Gap on the Internet’ which looks at different genders presence and use of the internet. One of it’s hypothesis based on the larger presence of males over females was that ‘the Internet may have “gendered” attributes that favour men in some way’. It also suggests that the internet might be preferable to males given (or because of?) the stereotype that males prefer technology to females.

There are also different varieties of individual interaction: reactive, evocative and proactive.

Reactive Interaction: different individuals will interpret, experience and react to the same situations in vastly different ways depending on their personality. For example an anxious person might react significantly worse to a potentially worrying situation (e.g getting shut in a lift) in a very different way to a calm unaffected person. Different people could interpret different remarks about gender or websites that play to a specific gender stereotype in different ways inciting potential situations of gender inequality, or at least unequal gender representation.

Evocative Interaction: different personalities evoke varied responses from different people. Different types of behaviour will encourage people to react to them differently. Perhaps someone who makes a comment that implies they do not see the genders equally (even in jest) will provoke certain people to angry reactions thus resulting in gender bashing on both sides and potentially setting up of groups/statements being made that don’t represent the genders equally.

Proactive Interaction: we select our environments as we get older, perhaps one gender over the other will elect to spend their time on the web in a certain way, or even just spend more of their time on the web than the other; leading back to the case study about the gender gap on the internet.

I think studying the different types of interaction can give insight into gender representation on the web, as part of it will certainly be how both genders actually interact with each other on the web. Other factors will be looking into internet usage by the different genders, and also what sites are frequented by what genders. Drilling down into these it’s also looking at the access both genders have to various sites; the comments made about them and how they are represented on individual sites.

In my next two blog posts I will be looking at what defines a gender equal web from the perspectives of both philosophy and psychology, to better yet ascertain how I would answer this research question (aka determing the representation of gender on the web) by measuring reality against a proposed ‘idealised equal’ gender web.

[1] B. L. Fredrickson, S Nolen-Hocksema, G. R. Loftus, and W. A. Wagenaar. Atkinson and Hilgards’s Introduction to Psychology. Cengage Learning EMEA, 2009, 15th edition, 2009.
[2] David G Myers. Exploring Psychology. Worth Publishers, 2009, 7th edition, 2008.
[3] D. Westen and R. M. Kowalski. Psychology, Study Guide. Wiley, 5th edition, 2009.
[4] Bruce Bimber. Measuring the gender gap on the internet. Social science quarterly, 81(3):868–876, 2000.

Written by Samantha Kanza on November 10th, 2013

Tagged with ,

Economics 2 – Disciplinary Approach, the Big Theories   no comments

Posted at 3:27 pm in Uncategorized

Researcher: Jo Munson
Title: Can there ever be a “Cohesive Global Web”?
Disciplines: Economics, Ethnography (Cultural Anthropology)

John Maynard Keynes
John Maynard Keynes, revolutionary Economist and inventor of “Keynesian Economics”

Major Economic theories

Recall our second definition of Economics, that highlighted the concept of and importance of choice – where our desires may be infinite, but the availability of resources is finite:

[Economics is] the study of how people choose to use (scarce) resources.

This concept leads to one of the fundamental theories of Economics, also known as the “Economic Problem”. The Economic Problem arises precisely because there are finite resources in any economy. Choices therefore have to be made.

The problem with choosing any one course of action is that the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action are forgone. This is known as the “opportunity cost” of an action. If you knew what the outcome of each possible action would be, it would be easy to minimise the “opportunity cost”, but this is rare in practice.

The challenge of any economy is to minimise the opportunity cost and make the best use of the scarce resources available to it. American Nobel Prize winning Economist Paul Samuelson suggested that an economy should seek the optimum answers to the following questions:

  • What to produce?
  • How to produce?
  • For whom to produce?

How economies approach these questions and how firms and individuals behave has been debated by Economists since the inception of the Discipline. Some of the key theories / theorists are outlined below:

  • Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand – In the 1770s, Adam Smith proposed the idea that economies function best when markets are left to make their own choices about how to allocate resources. This has come to be known as the ‘Free Market’. Smith argued that markets will naturally correct any imbalances (as if guided by an Invisible Hand) and supply will necessarily cater to demand. The Free Market Economy is in direct contrast with the concept of a ‘Command Economy’, where governments choose how resources are allocated with the marketplace.
  • Marxian Economics – Karl Marx was less optimistic about market’s ability to self-govern, believing that workers in a Free Market were not compensated for the labour and value of the goods they produced, but only for their labour. The surplus value would then be creamed off by the employer whilst the labourer is left with just enough to survive. Marx indicated that if a worker was forever trapped in this cycle it “would make him at once the lifelong slave of his employer”.
  • Keynesian Economics – John Maynard Keynes formulated his theories against the backdrop of the ‘Great Depression’ in the 1930s. He advocated the need for governments to intervene to lessen the duration and negative effects of economic cycles inevitable in a Free Market. Keynes believed governments should control their spending so that during periods of economic growth, taxes are increased, welfare spending is decreased and the cost of borrowing money (interest rates) increase so that when an economy enters recession, it has the ability to lower taxes and interest rates and increase welfare spending in order to stimulate a faster economic recovery. Keynesian ideas formed the basis of Macroeconomics.

There are numerous other schools of thought in Economics, but these three form a good basis from which to work. Next I will look at how these theories are applied in Economic research.

Next time (and beyond)…

I’ve had a quick reshuffle of the order, but broadly, I will be covering the following in the proceeding weeks:

  • Can there ever be a “cohesive global web”?
  • Ethnography 1 – Introduction & Definition
  • Ethnography 2 – Disciplinary Approach
  • Economics 1 – Introduction & Definition
  • Economics 2 – Disciplinary Approach, the Big Theories
  • Ethnography 3 – Methodologies & Analysis
  • Economics 3 – Models & Methodologies
  • Ethnographic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”
  • Economic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”
  • Ethno-Economic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”

Sources

Gillespie, A. 2007. Foundations of economics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia. 2013. Economics. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economics [Accessed: 31 Oct 2013].

Image retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/tag/john-maynard-keynes/

Written by Joanna Munson on November 10th, 2013

Tagged with , , , ,

Intertwingularity: Schools of Literary Theory   no comments

Posted at 5:15 pm in Uncategorized

Intertwingularity: Schools of Literary Theory

In short: “We all disagree”

Following on from my last post, here I outline some of the better-known schools of thought in Literary Theory – or more precisely Western Literary Theory. This is a diverse eco-system of different schools of thought, often created by rejection of contemporary views, or by dividing off within existing schools. As little in common exists outside the individual schools of thought, these discrete loci of theory provide the real ontology and epistemology of this discipline. It also shows why authors struggle to provide an overview of the discipline, given the fragmentation. In looking at schools of thought, notice that Literary Theory and Literary Criticism are deeply intertwined.

Romanticism (Late 18C to c.1850) and Aestheticism (19C – Romantic Period)

This movement represents both a revolt against the social and political norms of an aristocratically directed society and the emerging rationalist scientific approach towards Nature. The aesthetic experience was linked to strong emotion and valued spontaneity, looking to engage the power of imagination. Clearly liberalist in approach, unsurprisingly it was linked to political radicalism and nationalism, feeding into the unification movements of Europe at the time. Jumping forward to the present era there are some contemporary voices, such as Harold Bloom, echoing this movement by protesting against the modern mode of political and social ideologies being projected back onto literature and thus obscuring its aesthetics.

(American) Pragmatism (Late 19C)

Pragmatism emerged as a school of thought in the United States around 1870. For pragmatists, the thought is a functional method for achieving action, problem solving and prediction. Thus the meaning of an idea or a proposition lies in its observable practical consequences rather than in terms of representative accuracy.

Formalism, New Criticism, Russian Formalism (1930s-present)

Formalism looks at the structural purpose of a text, setting aside outside influences. It rejects, or sets aside during analysis, the notion of cultural and societal influences. It looks at the ‘literariness’ of the text, the verbal/linguistic strategies used to make it literature. It is in part a reaction to preceding Romanticism, seeking to take deliberately different viewpoint.

Russian Formalism started in St Petersburg in 1916 but almost immediately fell foul of the ideals of new Soviet Communism, although its ideas seeded later schools of thought.

Meanwhile in the United States, Anglo-American ‘New Criticism’, emphasised ‘close reading’ (sustained interpretation of brief texts) to see how literary items function an aesthetic objects. This process of close reading has since been inherited by many later schools of Literary Theory and Criticism.

Phenomenological Criticism (early 20C)

Whilst more closely linked to Literary Criticism than pure Theory, the Phenomenological approach has influenced later schools of thought. It avoids ontology and epistemology, concentrating on a meaning residing in the consciousness within which the work resides. This is to understand its experience rather than to explain its structure – an existential interpretation. Notable in this area are Martin Heidegger, John-Paul Satre and the study of existentialism.

Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)

Structuralism’s roots lie in early 20C with the writings of Ferdinand de Saussure (who laid the foundations of semiotics) and the linguistic circles of Prague and Moscow at that time. However, it later gained momentum in the 1950-60s as an intellectual movement in France. It argues literature can be understood by means of a structure distinct from the ideas within the literature. It uses the language of semiotics (‘signs’) for this structured analysis of texts. Indeed, although Structuralism and Semiotics are different studies they are, to the general observer, close enough to consider as facets of the same thing. Both sit in counter-point to the Existential/Phenomenological approach.

Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present)

As structuralism became more formalised, people found reason to distance themselves from it. One reason was that Structuralist works didn’t conform to the idea of structuralism. As theories interact with the things they describe, they maintain it is impossible to completely describe a complete semiotic system as the described subject is ever-changing.  Theorists such as Lacan, Barthes and Foucalt identify themselves as post-structuralists.

Deconstruction (1980s-present)

Deconstruction takes the latter further by decrying the Western social constructs surrounding much of extant theory. Even in description, it makes the concepts above look easy and approachable.  The best, accessible, short summary I’ve seen is in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “a theory used in the study of literature or philosophy which says that a piece of writing does not have just one meaning and that the meaning depends on the reader” [1]. Most descriptions are recursively obscure, though seemingly part of Deconstruction is to be inaccessible to the casual reader.

Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)

This school focuses on the reader of the work as focus of analysis. Within this context, some focus on the individual reader’s experience (‘individualists’), others assume a generality of response across all readers (‘uniformists’) and a third group prefer to abstract and look at defined sets of readers (‘experimenters’).

Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present)

A completely different angle of approach is to come at Literature from the perspective of Psychology, and the role of consciousnesses and the unconscious. In turn, this has let to derived schools like Archetypal theory and Jungian studies. In each case the school of thought clusters around a narrower focus of analysis and criticism within a Psychological viewpoint.

Politico/Social Schools of Thought

A different strand of schools of thought arose from situating the theory within a particular political or sociological context. The trajectory, as with other schools above is to keep re-partitioning. Feminist studies, lead to consideration of gender and in turn to the Gay community.  Then come race and colour, the role of colonialism, and further minority cultures. Following a consistent theme of rejection of the status quo, Darwinian study tries to distance itself from post-structural and post-modernist viewpoints and take into account the imperatives of evolutionary theory.  Eco-criticism reflects a new awareness of the interrelationship of humans with their habitat; what ‘Nature’ and an examination of ‘place’. Below are just some of these schools

  • Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)
  • Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)
  • Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)
  • New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)
  • Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)
  • Minority Discourse (!980s-present)
  • Darwinian study (1990s-present)
  • Eco-criticism (1990s-present)

…and so it goes on. No field can be too small, that the discipline doesn’t offer scope for even more tightly scoped study.

Is there consensus?

Whilst the list above shows a dizzying range of approaches to Literary Theory, and some derive from broader predecessors, it is plain that there is no consistent viewpoint between the differing schools of thought. In my next post I will attempt to summarise this in context of the overall topic – does Literary Theory have anything obvious to offer in improving the structure of hypertext.

Footnotes:

  1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Deconstruction

Primary Sources:

  • Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Oxford : Blackwell, 1996.
  • Culler, Jonathan. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1997
  • Hawthorn, Jeremy. A Concise Glossary of Contemporary Literary Theory. London: Arnold, 1997.
  • Webster, Roger. Studying Literary Theory: An introduction. London: Arnold, 1990. 2nd Edition 1996.

Further web references:

 

 

Written by Mark Anderson on November 9th, 2013

Tagged with ,

A look into politics   no comments

Posted at 10:17 pm in Uncategorized

Authors note: the topic for this project has undergone slight change. After looking at several journal articles, wikis and online articles I would like to broaden the topic area from the Web being used for social change, to power relations on the Web. This will still look at social change on the Web but will also include how the government tries to control the Web.

These couple of weeks I started looking into the area of politics. How to study politics seemed to have some contentions between different authors resulting in a lot of different definitions. However, largely politics can be defined as the power relationships that occur daily in social life. More strictly the study of politics can be specifically applied to the effects that arise from governmental actors’ power of society.

Politics could be split into three large approaches, each which contained their own specific theories and methods of analysis.

Traditional scholarship
Traditional scholars generally studied a specific, traditional area of politics such as how a particular country was run, or a particular type of governmental system (democracy, totalitarianism, socialism etc). The scholar’s study these areas by “borrowing” methods from other disciplines, namely history and philosophers.

Social science
Social scientists look at politics from a sociological point of view, focusing on how political institutions affect society as a whole, and looking for ways to improve the future of society. The methods they use to do this stem from social science and therefore can be quantitative or qualitative. In a way, the social science is a practical method as it exists to alter the system in some way instead of just change it, though this is perhaps to a lesser extent than the third approach.

Radical Criticism
Radical critics are very interested in the power relations that evolve within politics and largely view politics in very negative ways. Two key theories of radical criticism include;

– Marxism
This looks at politics largely in class based terms, viewing the higher social classes as opposing the lower social classes, which Marxists view as a grave injustice.

– Feminism
This sees politics as being based on patriarchal, hierarchal assumptions which sees women being excluded and pushed into the home domain.

Politics can be useful to look at how the governmental institutions control the Web, for instance looking into issues such as online privacy (just think of the NSA), issues of copyright (recent news stories over the crackdown of download sites), and control over freedom of speech and what can be viewed online (areas such as Cameron’s pornwall and more worryingly perhaps China’s system). Areas such as Marxist politics might be more interested in changing the system and this might be specifically useful for social change online such as twitter mobs, darknets etc. These are areas that I will look into in more depth.

In the next blog entry I am going to look at how politics and philosophy can complement each other in the area of political philosophy.

References
Kelly, P. ‘The Politics Book’
Tansey, S. ‘Politics the Basics’
Heywood, A. ‘Politics’
Duverger, M. ‘The Study of Politics’
Marx, K. and Engels, F. ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’
Millett, K. ‘Sexual Politics’

Written by Laura Hyrjak on November 8th, 2013

All in Agreement? Pt 3   no comments

Posted at 6:43 pm in Uncategorized

For someone with a legal background, mathematics as a discipline is not necessarily one that is easy to relate to.

On a granular level, it can be said that lawyers and mathematicians would seem to have a lot in common. They both rely on laws, proof and evidence and seem to spend a lot of their time finding definitive (or as close as possible) answers to problems.

However, on a conceptual level, there are many differences and trying to familiarise myself with mathematics has been an interesting task.

Mathematics tends to be divided into four areas of study; quantity, structure, space, and change (i.e. arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and analysis). There are also subdivisions dedicated to exploring links between mathematics and other field such as logic, set theory (foundations), the empirical mathematics of the various sciences (applied mathematics) and more recently the rigorous study of uncertainty.

Applied Mathematics

This area is essentially mathematical science with a specialised knowledge and deals with mathematical models typically used in science, engineering, business and industry. It uses these models to solve practical problems.

In the past, practical applications have motivated the development of mathematical theories, which then became the subject of study in pure mathematics, where mathematics is developed primarily for its own sake.

Although, applied mathematics has not traditionally been applied to the area of law or politics. However, it has been argued by J Wales Jr that:

‘Mathematics, as it is generally taught, justifies itself on the basis of its applicability in the worldly circumstances which are the focus of the application at hand. Such a belief does not encourage the student to investigate the limitations of mathematics to the situation being examined’

That we should:

‘Let mathematics be, just as other disciplines are, the pursuit of ways of seeing, the pursuit of visions. We should teach our students to look for mathematical analogies, to delight in them when they find them, to stretch them and test them’

Because the applications of mathematics:

‘are in fact analogies which often appear as metaphors’.

Therefore, although mathematics may seem an interesting choice in relation to the issue of content on the web, testing the boundaries and limitations of mathematics as a discipline is in fact, what many academics advocate.

References

Jack V. Wales, Jr. ‘Mathematics and Its Application’, From the book ‘Essays in Humanistic Mathematics’ by Alvin M. White

Next post

Optimization ….

Written by Emma Cradock on November 5th, 2013

The Beginnings of Sociology   no comments

Posted at 5:22 pm in Uncategorized

Prior to this blog post, I chose Geography and Criminology as my two disciplines to research. However, after much deliberation this week, I have decided to research Sociology instead of Criminology.

My research this week has approached the introductions of Sociology; discovering what Sociology is and how sociology research is carried out, as well as identify topics that demonstrate a link to the Digital Divide. Macionis and Plummer’s introduction of Sociology has been the “text book of the week!”

Sociology is a multi-paradigm discipline that studies the way people “do things” together, typical researchers are either theorists or critics.  Sociology’s main focus involves understanding society; how societies are related, act differently and guide our ways of life. However, it is not about making absolute conclusions, it is providing theoretical suggestions and ideas to think and work with.

The Sociological Life Cycle is summarised by five “P’s”;

  • People & Everyday life
  • Professional Sociology
  • Public and Popular Sociology
  • Practitioners and Applied
  • Policy and Political

The classical traditional perspectives of sociology and important terminology identified so far include:

  • Functionalism
  • Conflict Perspective
  • Macro/Micro-level orientation
  • Symbolic Interaction (interactionism)
  • Positivism
  • Humanistic
  • Postmodern Methodology
  • Social Construction of reality
  • Social Stratification

Sociology has seen the development of new topics of research including Globalisation, Culture of the Internet, Inequalities, Policy and Economy.

Over the past two centuries, there have been major changes and transformations identified by Sociologists. Human relationships change as societies change, forming new social bonds. It is believed that social organisation have dissolved, with technological discoveries being the main reason for it. The “Cyber Revolution” has emerged with the use of digital technologies, spread of information technologies and new ways of communications. This has formulated several terms including Digital Age, Cyborg Age, Info Age, Network Society and Virtual Age. Societies are increasingly interconnected, causing a “Shrinking World” and widespread of global culture. Critics believe nations exploit, colonise and raid other cultures, with matters are worsening. These new transformations and changes have affected rules and behaviours in different societies; changing routines, different ways of communicating and allowing technology to influence our every day lives. This is described as Sociocultural Evolution. Five society types affected by technology include:

  • Hunting and gathering
  • Horticultural and pastoral
  • Agrarian
  • Industrial and
  • Post Industrial

The matter of technological determinism was also discussed. This is concerned with that fact technology should not determine societies. It’s limits should be identified and known to ensure humans so they do not rely on them. It is also putting more pressure on the physical environment. This links to Marx’s beliefs on Capitalism; it has produced alienation, humans were machines a long time ago, technology has simply taken over in the modern day, which has resulted with even less opportunities for human companionship and interaction. Marx also states a Social Confict theory; clashes between classes that have arisen from the different ways society produces material goods.

This Sociology book points out different ways to measure societies. 1st, 2nd and 3rd world are well known, however there is also a 4th world, used to describe the poorest of poorest areas or the poorest areas within wealthier countries. Economic-based groupings are also analysed; high/middle/low incomes and Newly Industrialised Countries (NIC’s). The Human Development Index aims to demonstrate figures based on 3 issues; life expectancy, knowledge and education, and decent standards of living. This links to Global Poverty and Inequality. There are four categories of people most vulnerable to poverty; children, refugees/the displaces, the ageing and women, and technology is believed to be a key factor for affecting poverty. Social Networks have expanded beyond groups and organisations, and geographical areas does not necessarily define your community or personal interactions. Technology played a major role in shaping this type of network with use of online communities and mobile, all leading to a faster pace of living.

Two theory types used to solute the issue of global poverty and inequality were stated; Development (understand the shaping and experience of world inequalities) and Normative (Specifying the world we want to live in, it has a moral and evaluative take and includes target goals.)

Finally, the topic of the unequal world was introduced, in particular the factors that affect social structures; (not just social and economic); gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age and disability, types of inequality; health, life and death, existential inequalities, and resource inequalities, and different forms of stratification; social exclusion and marginalisation, exploitation, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, violence. Ideology, habitualisation, subjugation and coercion/violence have impacted social inequality systems. The Kuznets Curve was also described; it demonstrates the technological progression. At first it sharply increases but then moderates the intensity of social stratification as societies become more equal.

To conclude, this text book so far (only half way through!!!) has provided a great insight to Sociology. There are several major points to take from this that show how sociologists would tackle the Digital Divide, including connections with Geographers.

Reference: J., Macionis, J., Plummer, 2012, Sociology A Global Introduction, 5th ed, Essex: Pearson

 

Written by Sophie Parsons on November 5th, 2013

How is gender equality represented on the web? Philosophical Methodology   no comments

Posted at 11:02 pm in Uncategorized

This post will look at the basic questions in philosophy, the different types of philosophy, how different philosophical approaches view the world, and the different philosophical research paradigms.

What is Philosophy?
The common perception of a philosopher is generally an incorrect one. Theories have emerged that understand a philosopher to be someone with ‘airy fairy’ qualities or someone who has a glass half full approach to life. This is however quite far away from the actual definition of a philosopher. A philosopher is someone who is searching for a definite answer to his or her questions. A true philosopher aims to solve the problems of the universe and therefore philosophy can be defined as ‘seeing to explain the universe and nature’; in other words, it is a general study of a range of problems from the trivial to the extreme.

Philosophical Views of the World
There exists a wide range of types of philosophy and philosophical views, but the simplest way the two different ways of representing the world from a philosophical way is:

  1. The world explained via scientific method
  2. The world explained via unscientific method

Philosophical Explanations of the World – Matter & Spirit
When attempting to solve problems of the universe, philosophers defined two different ways of explaining ‘things’.

  1. Matter – material things which we can touch
  2. Spirit – things we cannot touch, i.e thoughts/ideas

The Fundamental Problem/Question of Philosophy
The relation between matter and spirit is one that has puzzled many philosophers and depending on their philosophical beliefs, the answer must be presented either as:

  1. The scientific answer
  2. The unscientific answer

Broad Types of Philosophy:
Materialist Philosophy: This is not as the word materialist might suggest, a philosophy that is only concerned with the material problems in life, but rather a philosophy which strives to explain the problems of the universe through science.
Idealist Philosophy: This is the opposite and contradicting philosophical approach to materialism. This is the unscientific approach to conceptualising the world, where all of the answers are given in relation to the spirit as opposed to matter.
Agnosticism: We are incapable of knowing whether the ‘answer’ or ‘explanation’ of the worlds problems is scientific of unscientific, we are in fact ‘incapable of knowing’.

Sub Types of Philosophy
Epistemology: this is the study of knowledge. It is concerned with both the scope and nature of knowledge; asking ‘what is knowledge?’ ‘How can we acquire it?’.
Positivism: traditional scientific approach to gaining knowledge, through repeated observation.
Realism: reality exists independently to the human brain, in other words what our senses show us to be true, is true.
Interpretivism: Research should be based upon different people rather than different objects, and those people’s role as social actors must be taken into account.
Ontological: the study of ‘being’ broken down into objectivism and subjectivism. Interestingly Ontology in the philosophical sense deals with categorising beings and an ontology in computer science in relation to the semantic web deals with categorising data to form a shared vocabulary reminiscent of a dictionary/thesaurus construct.
Objectivism: Social entities exist outside social actors concerned with their existence.
Subjectivism: Social actors perceptions and actors, create social phenomena.
Pragmatism: The question determines the strategy. Depending on the research question asked, different philosophical approaches may be more suitable than others.
Axiology: The ethical part of philosophy, where your values impact your research.

Philosophical Research Paradigms:
Functionalist: Rational explanation of why something is occurring, with recommendations of how to fix it.
Interpretive: Seeking to understand the underlying meanings behind what is occurring.
Radical: Studying the effect of the current structure.
Humanist: Looking at the social phenomena that has been created by the social actors.

In relation to using this information to look at philosophical approaches to gender representation on the web I will be using both general types of philosophy, although probably erring more on the side of the idealist. Theoretically it would be possible to set up scientific studies that could partially look at gender equality on the web, but with such a tenuous issue it’s hard to give it a solely scientific answer; after all even if it were possible to fully survey web usage between the two genders or look at gender representation on blog sites, journal sites etc, that still wouldn’t give a decent picture. In order to properly look at this issue we need to look at the more spiritual side, taking into account the actual ideas represented on the web. For instance a blog might hold equal postings from men and women, but that’s not to say it means that they are being equally represented, one gender might be slating the other or making sexist comments. Or there might be more posts from one gender than another on an academic site, but that might not be because one gender is being misrepresented, merely that more of one gender is currently qualified in the subject of the site.

Narrowing down my approach, I feel a pragmatic approach is the most sensible one to choose; therefore depending on the sub question posed within my essay, I will look to answer it with the appropriate philosophical approach that lends itself to the question. I.e in relation to gender equality representation purely in terms of numbers,  I will probably use a positivistic approach to analyse this question; whereas looking to categorise areas of gender representation, an ontological approach would seem more sensible.

These philosophical musings will begin the philosophical part of my essay, which can then nicely lead onto the equality questions posed in my previous philosophy based post.

[1] Georges Politzer and Barbara L Morris. Elementary principles of philosophy, volume 469. International Publishers, 1976.
[2] http://wps.pearsoned.co.uk/ema_uk_he_saunders_resmethbus_4/51/13274/3398341.cw/

Written by Samantha Kanza on November 4th, 2013

Tagged with ,

Biogeography or Geobiology?   no comments

Posted at 9:15 pm in Uncategorized

This week I spent some time looking at the already existing interdisciplinary subjects for Geography and Biology. Below is a rundown of the most important ones I could find.

Biogeography

Biogeography is the study of the global distribution of species over time. This is unsurprisingly useless to my question so I stopped looking at it almost straight away.

Geobiology

Geobiology is likewise completely unrelated to the kind of problems I am concerned with, being a study of the interaction between plants, animals, the planet and the atmosphere over time.

Environmental Science

Environmental Science is the big brother of any Biology and Geography related fields. It integrates all physical and biological sciences, but in doing so goes too far for my needs. For starters it includes Physics which is unrelated to the interdisciplinary overlap I’m looking at.

Sensor Networks

The study of Sensor Networks is more a product of the field, but interesting and useful none the less. They behave in a similar way whether they are being used over a geographical area or over a person’s body. Some of the technical aspects are different, but the underlying challenges are the same. The study of Sensor Networks also includes Computer Science, which is the most relevant part and why I included it here.

Geo-techno-biology?

Considering these I had a lightbulb realisation that I’m probably looking for the wrong thing. My problem isn’t going to be considered by a fusion of Geography and Biology, in fact it needs to include Computer Science as well because the subject is so technically focussed on the computer/user connection.

So it turns out I’m not doing a two way fusion of disciplines, it’s a messy threesome.

The best way I can see to unite the three disciplines would be by connecting Computer Science to Biology and Computer Science to Geography then drawing comparisons between the two relationships to draw out the commonalities.

I also tried typing ‘Biology Geography “Computer Science”’ in to Google just for kicks. It showed that there is one principle which is common to each of the three disciplines (even specifically to UI design) which is Contiguity, which is just another way of saying that things are close together. Some disciplines go further and say that sometimes people will make the assumption that these close things are related in a meaningful way. Sadly this is more an interesting aside than anything earth shattering.

Written by Alex Owen on November 4th, 2013

Interviews   no comments

Posted at 8:44 pm in Uncategorized

This week I decided to go away from just looking at books and try to find some real world views. Using the magic of Facebook I asked a few friends who study/studied Biology and Geography for their views on user interfaces. In my case it was fairly informal and I don’t know yet if I’ll use them, but it has been a useful experience to see how other people think about the question.

The experiment was a partial success, the main problem was communicating the idea of what a user interface is and then the dual-topic nature of the exercise itself.

My advice for anyone else who wants to try it is to make a short document which contains the question, definitions of any complicated terms, the reasoning behind the exercise, and some clear, concise questions for them to answer.

Written by Alex Owen on November 4th, 2013

Interwingularity & Literary Theory   no comments

Posted at 6:56 pm in Uncategorized

In short: “It’s what I say it is”

The idea of looking at this discipline is to see if the study of Literary Theory offers up insights as to better ways to structure hypertexts, thus improving the richness of the overall Web experience. I am not thinking directly of hypertext literature so much as hypertext in general. Might we improve the way we describe and learn things, by borrowing from literature? At distance, this seems a reasonable hypothesis.

What is Literary Theory?

Beyond describing it as the study of literature this has proved a somewhat slippery definition – references are inconsistent. The best consensus is that it encompasses the body of ideas and methods used in practical reading of literature. However, most references go on to then ask is “What is literature?” and consensus begins to weaken and rapidly arrives at a conundrum akin to defining Art, and Duchamp’s “Urinal”[1]. Thus what is defined as Literature, or there terms used to define it actually tends to vary slightly depending on which school of Literary Theory being studied. It is perhaps a reasonable working definition to say that today, most Literary Theory schools of thought see Literature in terms of ‘creative’ or ‘imaginative’ writing as opposed to all forms of writing. This is worth noting, in light of the opening paragraph, as much of Hypertext is not expressly literary.

It is also clear that Literary Theory and Sociology are closely intertwined, with literary schools linked to many of the genres within Sociology. Literary Theory doesn’t see it’s purpose to explain Literature to a general audience, as I’d supposed before investigating the discipline. Rather it provides methodologies for introspection, these varying depending on the school of though being applied. This makes for difficult study as such genres are broadly interpretive and introspective and I have a cognitive impairment that makes ‘normal’ introspection extremely difficult. So if my perspective of the discipline seems to take an external viewpoint it is by necessity rather than choice.

How did Literary Theory Arise?

Whilst literature has long been studied, the formal discipline of Literary Theory is a comparatively modern field and mainly based in the Western Cultural tradition (I’ll return to a dissenting view later). Modern Literary Theory’s roots appear in the 18C. At this time, Literature was was taken to mean many forms of writing valued by society (or the more privileged classes thereof); poems, essays, letters, history and philosophy. Note that these forms include both the  literal and fictional. During the 18C gradually the concept of Literature coalesced as a notion of whether writing conformed to a standard of etiquette, of being ‘polite letters’. As such, the literal forms began to be left aside as Literature began to take a more explicitly idealogical form. In turn, Literature thus became an expression of its exponent’s ideology. As access to literature and the opportunity to discuss it passed from an elite to a larger middle class, so the field broadened and fragmented.

During the 19C that modern (Western) notions of Literature develop. Come the Romantic period, Literature becomes essentially a synonym for ‘imaginative’ writing. The field is still broad but many forms of literal writing are now excluded. In this same period, an burgeoning middle class (and some educated working class) seize on this imaginative writing as a way of expressing their aspirations and political views. It also offers an alternative to the newly popular empiricism. Literature moves from belles lettres to being a conduit for radical expression. It may be argued that Literature and ideology were no longer usefully regarded as separates. This duality seems to underpin modern Literary Theory. The discipline should not be seen as a disembodied set of ideas, rather it is embodied as a force within institutions and schools of thought.

Approaching the discipline in search of its raison d’être, but lacking the power of introspection, Literary Theory’s aggressive need for inwardly focussed self-justification offers little clear purpose. This is hard to process – so much intellect in harness, but to what useful end? It has proved difficult, with the time/depth available to study to draw a line from Literary Theory to actual advances. Instead, the focus seems to be a retrospective approach of justifying–within it’s own lexicon–existing works, like a parent parent daring one to say that the daubing attached to the fridge is anything but impressive.

Do not rush to suppose this suggests I see nothing of merit in Literary Theory. Far from it, it cannot be the case that so much intellectual effort hasn’t but adding to the sum of human knowledge. But exactly what is so far evades me at this (depth of) level of study. It also shows a disinterest by Literary Theorist for engaging with a wider audience, which again is worthy of note in the context of the Web and its aspirations for openness.

Origins of Literary Theory – a dissenting view

It seems mainstream Literary Theory doesn’t like to acknowledge older study of literature, or indeed non Western/English language literature. The reasons for this distain I’ve found hard to trace as practitioners care not to elaborate. Hogan[2], holds a mirror to this pointing out pre-existing strands of literary scholarship in a number of other parts of the worlds and which predate Literary Theory’s supposed start date. He also cites other (Western) papers that look beyond the narrow confines of Western literature, indicating his position is not singular even if in a minority.

The mainstream’s insular scope for Literary Theory seems an odd position to take, in scholarly terms. However, the deeply introspective nature of the subject may mean they simply don’t feel the need to justify the position. In essence the “it is because I say it is” approach to definition. I’m still researching this aspect, as its exclusionary nature sits at odds with the Web’s inclusive nature and thus pertinent to the central thrust of this exercise. Assuming for a moment that notions of Western Literature may help structure better hypertext, how inclusive is that of a readership that extends beyond Europe and North America?

What now?

This article, now written, feels remarkably light in content and unreflecting of the scope of my reading for it. But it has revealed that the term ‘Literary Theory ‘doesn’t describe a coherent whole, but rather it exists as an umbrella term for an ecosystem of differing and often opposed schools of thought.  Therefore the next step is to review the major schools of thought within Literary Theory.

Sources

Primary book sources for this period of study are listed below. What’s harder to show is the disproportionately large amount of online research investigating these start points: listing places that didn’t offer new light on the topic seems self-serving.

What I have learned is that Literary Theory doesn’t reward the skeptic. Like a religion, it’s essentially accessible only to those who believe – another experience I’m ill equipped to understand.

Primary Sources:

  • Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Oxford : Blackwell, 1996.
  • Culler, Jonathan. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1997

Footnotes:

  1. Duchamp’s Fountain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duchamp%27s_Fountain (accessed 26 Oct  2013)
  2. Hogan, Patrick Colm. Ethnocentrism and the very idea of literary theory. College Literature v23, n1 (Feb, 1996)

Written by Mark Anderson on November 3rd, 2013

Tagged with ,