Archive for November 4th, 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.

Written by Samantha Kanza on November 4th, 2013

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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 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 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.


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