Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Networks, Communities, Systems

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Mar 14, 2007

I think this is a very interesting post.

Yonkers writes, "I think most educators focus on teaching students networking so that students can then move into communities of practice that will turn into systems."

Except... they don't.

Most educators are stuck in their own systems." Quite right. And that's where they try to put the students. Without all this networking nonsense at the front end.

I look at the sequence described - networks -> community -> system - and what I see is something that works breaking down into something that doesn't. I see an effective decision-making mechanism being subverted and employed in the service of a minority, usually to the detriment of the whole.

Yonkers writes, "At some point, however, a community is developed. This community connects on a social as well as cognitive level." I would write "emotional" rather than "social", but it's close enough.

The community also begins to establish which knowledge is important to function within that community and there begins to be more group processing of the "community" knowledge in order to access the group knowledge that are within community members' networks."

No. This is a fallacy.

'The community' is not an agent. It does not have an independent existence (not even if we create fictions of such existence, such as the declaration that a 'corporation is a person').

Only individuals in a community have agency. Which means that we need to look very closely at what happens when someone says "the community
begins to establish which knowledge is important." What this means is that some few members of the community undertake this action, and are then in some way able to impose this as a directive on the community as a whole.

We need to distinguish between two senses if 'becomes important' here:

1. The sense in which the phrase is descriptive, an emergent phenomenon, that we are able to identify after the fact, and

2. The sense in which th phrase is normative, an individual action, which becomes definitive of membership or good conduct in the community.

The first is very easily established via a network. But the second requires a somewhat more cohesive and restrictive organization, which requires an injunction on individual freedom of action.

When somebody says a network "isn't sufficient" I always look to see what it is that the network is deemed to be insufficient for. And on analysis, it is always some stipulation - some custom, value, belief or law - that one person wants to impose on another.

To my mind, the only impositions that can be justified are those that are necessary to counteract other attempts to impose one person's will over another, those, in other words, that preserve autonomy, diversity, openness and interaction.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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