Dazzled by Diversity: forking, federation and simulation

This post is an answer-free zone.

Sometimes different ideas come to my attention around the same time, and I have a strong feeling that they are connected but I don’t really know how.

I think that I will just place them down here side by side and see what connections they spark for me or any readers who feel moved to comment.

by David Clow CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
by David Clow CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ethnographic Dazzle

I have thought a lot (and blogged a bit) about diversity and human relations recently and a concept came into my mind that I first encountered when I read Kate Fox’s book “Watching the English”.  Ethnographic dazzle captures the superficiality of apparent differences: as Kate Fox says ““blindness to underlying similarities between human groups and cultures because one is dazzled by the more highly visible surface differences” (for more details on Kate’s book, you can look at this review http://thememorybank.co.uk/2006/05/11/kate-foxs-watching-the-english/ ). I suspect that the personal examples of contradiction are more memorable for me because I still remember the shock of discovering just how “English” I was from reading Kate’s book.

Worrying away in my mind is the thought that our networks, spaces, MOOCs are much less diverse than we suspect (and I already think that mine are much less diverse than I would wish).  I am wondering what this means in terms of lost potential for making change, the shaping of ideas and services – hmmmm!!



Forking and Federating

A couple of weeks ago, I read an inspirational post by Mike Caulfield about federated wikis that might help us to take new directions in digital collaboration. The post is rich and deserves careful reading and re-reading (I am on my third pass and still puzzling over it). Mike gives an excellent explanation of the problems that arise on ‘consensus wikis’ and explains ‘federated wikis’ as follows

In a federated wiki, everyone has their own server which stores the records associated with them. But the meaning is made in your browser. Your browser pulls wiki records from all over the internet, and makes them look like they exist on a single server.

Mike is suggesting the intriguing idea that federated wikis might help us move from the ‘I’ (personal narrative) to the ‘you’ (group dialogue) to the ‘it’ (some sort of consensus on the idea/topic).  And what is more, he thinks that federated wikis could help with the “chain of attribution”.  That’s an exciting idea but I can’t help wondering if Rosalind Franklin would have been awarded a Nobel Prize if she had been working on such a wiki. I am not completely convinced, but all the more reason to explore the possibilities of working with federated wikis.

This year I ‘did’ the Rhizo14 MOOC and have been researching it with Jenny Mackness. So I was very interested to read of Dave Cormier’s plans for Rhizo15. He plans to support participants”forking’ of the Rhizo15 course. He says:

Don’t like how the course is being fun FORK THE COURSE. Want to try a different way of talking about week three FORK THE COURSE.

I am really fascinated to see how this works out. My first idea is that it seems more like ‘It’ to ‘you’ (and possibly to ‘I’ if noone likes your fork), so going in the opposite direction to Mike’s ideas. But then, I don’t really fully understand either of these ‘forks’ – hmmmmm!!

 Parable of the Polygons

My dear friend that I met on Rhizo 14 Mariana Funes alerted me to a rather wonderful simulation that lets you explore how squares and triangles can co-exist. My first response in Twitter was a bit suspicious “@mdvfunes @jennymackness love it ccthing.tumblr.com/post/104764760… and let’s celebrate triares and squangles”. Having spent some time playing with the simulation, I think that is an excellent tool for exploring (some of ) the complexity of diversity. Obviously there are limitations in the ‘differences’ being represented by yellow triangles and blue squares but the interactivity does provoke consideration of alternative possibilities with some contradictions – all food for thought. Please do visit and play with this – I can guarantee that it will make you think!

Not conclusions

In this answer-free zone I can’t pose any conclusions. However, I would love to hear anything you want to say – do polygons, forking, federation or dazzle spark any thoughts you would like to share?

For me, connection can be enabled and even revealed by technology but I am thinking that we humans need to be working hard at explanations:)



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I left full-time employment as a Senior Lecturer in Information Systems, Salford Business School in January 2013. Since then, I only take on projects that interest me, and try to make time for the things I struggled to do when I was at work - travel, gardening, textile crafts. I am still interested in the impact of the digital on life - work, learning, play. I volunteer as an IT buddy at Macclesfield Library and do research on informal learning online.

25 thoughts on “Dazzled by Diversity: forking, federation and simulation”

      1. Since rhizo14 I have been doing a lot of forking, most of the time I have forked right off line. Endless wonderful rabbit holes. Forking is easy, what is interesting in the fedwiki world is how the “forking back” takes place, As the parable of the polygons shows, if you reduce bias to zero there is still segregation as there is no immediate impetus to move- So what will move us to fork back?

        1. I am currently pondering the cultural aspects of forking, including what Mike Caulfield called the chain of attribution.

  1. Hi Frances – another great post. Thanks. I am particularly interested in this sentence …

    “That’s an exciting idea but I can’t help wondering if Rosalind Franklin would have been awarded a Nobel Prize if she had been working on such a wiki. I am not completely convinced, but all the more reason to explore the possibilities of working with federated wikis”

    ….. because the question that Mike’s post raised for me is ‘What are the implications of federated wikis for research and publication of research as we know it?’

    I am looking forward to exploring the tensions between the ‘I’, the ‘you’ and the ‘it’.


    1. Outcomes are shaped by the social and the technical but racism, sexism, etc. Are persistent and capable of adapting to new environments, new channels, new ways of working.

  2. Frances, Jenny, & Dave, I’m keenly interested in the FedWiki/ForkingMOOC concepts, and I look forward to exploring with all of you over the next few months. To my mind, this fits nicely with all the things I’ve been doing with #rhizo over the past year. I see lots of new posts in my future, maybe on my own FedWiki. We’ll see.

    Frances, like you, I desire diversity, but I have to keep in mind that diversity depends upon a known core. Even a knowmad needs landmarks.

  3. Thanks for your comment Keith. I too am keen to explore Fedwiki in action.
    I didn’t understand what you mean by “diversity depends upon a known core”. Please you help out this ‘bear with a small brain’ by giving me an example/ explanation.

  4. Sorry for being so cryptic, Frances. I was mostly just thinking to myself when I made that comment—a risky habit of mine.

    I’m suggesting that diversity arises out of and achieves many of its benefits in contrast to a stable, known sameness in people, environment, and social arrangements. Though it may be more accurate to say that homogeneity and heterogeneity emerge from the dynamic tensions between the both of them, as we could hardly know the one without the other. At any rate, I value connecting to new people, for instance, but I also value stable, long-term relationships. I like a mix of both. The stable connections keep me sane, and the diverse connections keep me interested and vital. In a truly complex feedback loop, my interests modify my sanity, and my sanity modifies my interests, so it’s more than liking both. I need them both.

    I don’t think I’ve ever quite said that for myself. Thanks for the opportunity.

    1. Rereading this thread to reply to Simon, it occurs to me that ethnographic dazzle is the apparent heterogeneity that emerges from (more real) homogeneity. That begs the question of what practices anthropologists engage in to avoid being dazzled.

  5. That’s a great response Keith.I like the idea of homogeneity and heterogeneity arising from the tensions between them. Now I am wondering if that is the same or different from new vs long-term. Could we have stable long-term relationships with people or ideas who differ from us or what we ‘believe’/think?

    1. I have a number of stable, long-term relationships with people & ideas that differ from my own beliefs. For instance, I often disagree with my parents who are defined by their Christian fundamentalism, and my unwillingness to accept all their beliefs causes them some grief, but we do love and support each other as best we can. We have a long-term family relationship that can withstand our intellectual and religious differences. Fortunately, humans are complex compositions of multiple life trajectories, and stability in one trajectory can be sufficient to sustain a long-term relationship. That said: if my parents and I were not family, we would not likely be friends. We would not likely have even met. They have no idea what a MOOC is. 🙂

      1. Our little thread has overlapped with something I am writing for another place. When I read your comment, it made me think of material semiotics and what I was writing “Both Haraway and Horborg are interested in material semiotics – that maps relations that are simultaneously material (between things) and semiotic (between concepts) and that networks of these relations can be both of these [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor%E2%80%93network_theory Wikipedia ANT page html]. ” Here is a video from Holborg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sORbItAvhco

  6. As I re-read my explanation, I see the connections to narrative structures, especially the hero’s journey in which the hero leaves home (stability), has many adventures (diversity) which change the hero, and finally returns home changed, which changes home. While one cycle of going out and coming back is enough for most stories (Tolkein’s The Hobbit, for instance, or Homer’s Odyssey), in most of our lives, the cycle is iterative—more for some, less for others. We tend to write few stories about those who never leave home, and Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” demonstrates graphically the awful loss to all concerned when homefolk go out and never return. Society loses.

  7. What’s Frances up to with her research I asked myself while writing in a doc in preparing some sort of article with Maha.

    What do I fall upon?

    Well this post and the comment stream is looking at some of the issues that I have been scratching around on this morning.

    The idea of diversity, the idea of ‘an identity’ of ‘a’ ‘narrative’, of ‘stream of consciousness’ versus ‘stream of unconsciousness’. The idea of ownership, of celebration of the individual.

    I suspect there might be a problem of interpretation of heroic odyssey – in an individualistic society (protestant for example) where there is an individual relationship with a god. We identify perhaps with the hero rather than with the universality of a narrative landscape(I have no idea of the veracity of what I am saying here) we see ourselves as heroes in an individual narrative.

    Similarly the cult of the individual is reinforced by rituals like Keynotes, Nobel Prizes, Authored books, Sportsman of the year etc.

    Oral culture surely does not have individual authors, neither folk tales, nor legends.

    Feudal societies don’t offer much space for advancement for the vast majority of the population.

    I suspect that there is a problem with a tradition of scientific thought which celebrates a particular form of interaction, a particular form of power.

    I think that Keith is on to something when he talks of ‘the idea of homogeneity and heterogeneity arising from the tensions between them’. If you live in an isolated tribe with its own particular culture such issues of hetergeneity or homogenity do not surely arise (or at least not to the same extent). Questions of who am I, why am I here are perhaps not to the forefront.

    I was just writing in the doc over there that I often write what some people may call ‘stream of consciousness’ but what I would term ‘stream of unconsciousness’.

    I think that perhaps what can bring us together is willed and shared silence, trance, awe, rhythm…knitting perhaps.

    When we think too much about who we are going to communicate with via our habitual modes of communication with our habitual obsessions I reckon we lose a lot of what makes us all fluid, alive, inconsistent, unpredictable, spirited beings.

    We need more Ariel, more Caliban, and less Prospero perhaps.

    I am intrigued by the Fedwiki business.

    No doubt with you guys going on about it and with successive reacquaintances with this thing I might begin to have a clue of what it celebrates…

    Sorry this has turned into a rambling unblog post rather than a comment.

    I shall go back and read your post now to check what I connected to…

    1. In an era of networked individualism we need dialogue about ethical practice as well as periods of communal shared silence. Knitting is no barrier to either.
      Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit, either. – Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitting without tears.

  8. ‘Worrying away in my mind is the thought that our networks, spaces, MOOCs are much less diverse than we suspect’

    So how diverse do you suspect them to be and how do you define diverse?

    1. I have been thinking about diversity and polarisation quite a lot recently. Here are two posts that give an idea of what I have been thinking https://francesbell.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/homophily-intersectionality-and-institutional-cultures-as-played-out-on-social-media/ and https://francesbell.wordpress.com/2014/11/06/between-athenians-and-visigoths-what-lies-between-polar-positions-in-public-discourse-online/
      So I am interested in diversity of network as an opportunity to uncover and ameliorate polarisation. In extreme cases like #gamergate dialogue across the poles is of limited value.
      My Twitter network is not as diverse as it could be but by selecting good people to follow, I got an authentic and ongoing account of #Ferguson not available through traditional media.

  9. Love the triangle/square simulation – genius!
    Won’t comment on fedwiki as we are already there, collaborating in our diversity (and yet all have some underlying similarities that keep us together – don’t we?)

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