requiem for certainty

Participation and Collaboration

with 22 comments

I recently attended a talk at UO by Gardner Campbell, who works on New Media, Lit, & Pedagogy (and more) at Baylor U..  The focus of the talk was why we as educators should take new media, digital technologies, and networking quite seriously.  I am sold, but of course I already bought in some time ago (to the extent that I, then a mere post-doc, and now a mere newly-minted t-t asst. has any purchasing power).

I also applaud Campbell for the way he brings new media tools and projects into his classes.  We are at the stage of initial inquiry with all this stuff.  This means that nobody knows and that it is time for experimentation.  So that’s great.  We need to learn from each other and, as Campbell points out, from our students, too.

Campbell really emphasized the ‘publish it to the web’ approach for harnessing the internet in his classes.  Students, I guess, publish their work to the web, even if just on a blog, etc..  This seems to me useful, but just the beginning.  The talk got me to thinking about what the specific diacritic of emerging internet technopractices might be.  Of course, that’s something I (like to) think about anyway.

But here is one thought.

The internet facilitates new forms of social interaction whereby political, educational, and otherwise social processes work well.  The forms that tend to work well in internetworking are not well-facilitated by traditional models of publication (the coffeehouse, newspaper, and broadcast models).

There is a broader context here in political theory.  At its best, a focus on publicness in terms of ‘publication’ (rather than ‘internetworking’) has historically tended to assume two valences in political theory.  One of those is participation (the ideal dream of democratic theory across the twentieth-century — be it deliberative participation or some other form), and the other is representation (which is a second-best when participation is not possible, or not desired).

My view (for today at least) is that democracy (et. al.) is now best facilitated not by forms of publication, but rather by way of forms of collaboration.  This is not a critique of participation or representation (and it need not be), but rather a claim on behalf of collaboration.

Collaboration may sound strange as a new procedural ideal for, say, democracy, but I believe we are in a position now to see its increasing importance.  Here is my (experimental) claim for today: Collaboration may lead us from the participatory-representative model to an innovative-connective model of politics, society, culture, &c..

Participation is the model of the citizen joining in the efforts of the public sphere.  But there is no public sphere, indeed no public, in internetworked contexts.  The public is no longer given.  Not in advance.  There is, rather, a plurality of publics.  Publics are made.  How to engage?  Not by ‘participating’ in something that is already there.  But rather by ‘innovation‘, which in a collaborative model sometimes (indeed often) means forming new publics.

Representation is what happens when interests need to be made public, yet there is no will (or practical means) to do so via participation.  So then our interests are represented, e.g. by our representatives.  This has long been a subject of severe critique in political theory.  I will not rehearse those critiques here (but nor do I presume them).  What’s new in the internetworked context?  Representation is more difficult than ever, and perhaps more useless.  Here again collaboration supplies a better conceptual model than publication, because the latter presumes a public up-and-running into which one’s interests are translated by a representative medium.  What form does collaboration take instead?  It takes the form of connection.  Interests are connected, not represented.  Mine and yours, and those as yet undreamt of, are woven together not only by us (which involves collaboration), but also by the technology itself and the entire knowledge ecology it sustains (which helps us in those instances where we have no will or means to collaborate).

So. To summarize….

From publication to collaboration.

From participation to innovation.

From representation to connection.

Therein you have a tidy little manifesto of sorts.  I undoubtedly will abandon the manifesto before you have read this.  I am just experimenting.  And where is the harm in that?  If you disagree, please do disagree out loud.  That is just what this medium is good for: collaborative disagreements in virtue of which we connect and may even together innovate.


Written by Colin Koopman

November 17, 2010 at 9:49 pm

22 Responses

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  1. Regarding the first part about practical use in Ed.: definitely, definitely agree. I think it’s extremely useful to look at what people are doing in other sectors (e.x., high-tech entrepreneurship) and analyze what the various models currently in implementation would look like when structurally/conceptually compared to the educative process.

    Unfortunately, the majority of early adopters in all sectors seem to misuse social media/networking/&c. (by which I mean, “use as means for incompatible ends”), and from what I’ve heard, academia thus for is no exception. Further, most of those who have yet to seriously consider/implement social media/&c. seem to be operating under the assumption that the tool must first prove its worth. However, it seems to me that we in fact define the worth/usefulness of the tool, and this has clearly been the case when you look at any particular medium in the category “social media” (e.x., Twitter).

    BUT! That just leaves more room for innovation, and innovation often means the ability to do things never before possible. Dewey’s positive conception of immaturity seems to fit perfectly here: we have “the power to grow.” His subsequent conceptions of [inter]dependence and plasticity also seem to map onto this very beautifully. We are immature with regard to our relationship to social media/networking&c. and that is precisely why it is so exciting.

    Nathan Schmitt

    November 18, 2010 at 2:31 am

  2. To further elaborate:

    These things should be adopted as early as possible by educators (particularly in philosophy) and there are already many amazing models of implementation that are incredible/on a different level.

    I think the best example (at least the one that I’m most familiar with) is social media/networking/&c. as used in business. The “early adopters” are doing what is actually impossible under the traditional model but many sectors within the business world haven’t started incorporating this new approach citing that “sector X is a different kind of thing than my sector Y”–I take this to be problematic.

    The same thing seems to show up on a broader level as well–i.e., “it works for business, but that doesn’t mean anything for academia etc.” This happens on a micro-level too: “this particular tool (Twitter) works well for social stuff but not for business.” Gary Vaynerchuk , who uses social media &c. extremely effectively, replies to the Twitter thing by saying essentially that twitter is a tool, roughly analogous to TV, the pencil, etc. and that the question is not (1) “is this a good tool,” but rather (2) “how can i use this tool well [i.e., how can i innovate such that it allows me to do things never before possible/reasonably plausible]?” (my words).

    This seems to me to be the common strand throughout most if not all neotechnophobia (by which i mean the aversion to adoption of new tech, as opposed to the “i’m bad w/ technology” syndrome which is a different kind of thing). That is, that these new technological tools have to prove themselves useful to us before they can be adopted. Aside from the obvious chicken-egg problem, this is problematic because it assumes that tools can be inherently useful, rather than deriving the usefulness/effectiveness/&c. from our use of them.

    Nathan Schmitt

    November 18, 2010 at 2:39 am

  3. I enjoyed reading your ruminations about collaboration, Colin. I just gave a faculty talk yesterday titled “Interdisciplinarity: Some Lessons from John Dewey” and mentioned your collaborative work with anthropologists as well as the notion of adjacency. The discussion that followed my talk really spoke to how faculty in various disciplines can view collaboration as more of an obstacle than an opportunity. They worried about investing time in interdisciplinary collaborations that might never fully materialize as a publishable products, and thus the associated opportunity costs on the road to securing tenure. As far as technology goes, I’m a firm believer in Social Science Research Network (SSRN) as a tool to facilitate scholarly networking and collaborations. I’ve seen your work on there as well. It really allows me to glimpse what kinds of projects fresh minds in multiple disciplines are working on. Then I e-mail the authors and find out what else they’re up to!

    Shane J. Ralston

    November 18, 2010 at 3:26 am

  4. In terms of academia’s attempts, the most visible in the humanities is probably the loose family of implementations gathered under ‘digital humanities’. Here is Times story on it: .

    I’m not sure I really buy the Dig Hum approach. Because, as you are suggesting Nathan, there’s a difference between:
    * using a new tool to do an old job (which is what most of dig humanities is about)
    * using a new tool to do a new job (which is what new forms of collaborative practice might yet involve)

    Shane, people always like to worry about tenure when facing these questions. But I don’t buy it. I think it’s just a convenient excuse. In the first place, collaborations can lead to publishable work. In the second place, publishable work is not the only work that is valuable even if at some institutions that will soon be dinosaur it is the only work that is valued for the purposes of a tenure case. Either way, tenure is not the only thing of merit in the world, and we should refuse to see it as a holy grail. For it is neither holy nor grailish. This is obvious but it bears repeating.

    colin koopman

    November 18, 2010 at 8:10 am

  5. As I said in the pluralism via/vs williams thread I would welcome a shift from speculating about to working with(in) and I’m very much for the idea/possibilities of collaboration but we seem to be lacking a management mode(l)/organizational-ethics for collegiality.


    November 18, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    • Excellent presentation–this is a very good example of one proper use of social media in the classroom. I especially appreciated the description of his model during the Q&A at the end.

      Not only do we (we, that is, academia I presume) currently lack such a mode(l) of organizational-ethics for collegiality, but social media/networking/etc as a whole lacks these–at least formally…for the most part…

      About a year ago the FTC took a (relatively weak) step toward establishing such standards. However, those practiced by the blogging community are more implicit and operate more on the level of “taboo,” or something to that effect.

      The issue of Creative Commons seems to play an important part in this (if only analogously). Ze Frank frames the issue well–with respect to creative content–in this discussion , especially starting around 1:22.

      Thanks for posting that presentation.


      November 18, 2010 at 8:32 pm

      • This is a very important discussion thread and I am particularly honored to have had my presentation on Traditional and New Media Literacies referenced in the discussion. I would like to press the notion of collaboration a bit further into the domain of what I have called cooperation.

        Cooperation is a step beyond collaboration insofar as it recognizes that our common endeavors require that those involved co-operate in the literal sense of working together. This is difficult to put into practice because it requires that the parties involved allow one another to take co-ownership of the endeavor itself. I have tried to outline this in more detail with regard to my pedagogical practices here:

        However, I think it translates more generally into the political sphere, but only as cultivated through practice. The perfect place for such cooperative practices is the undergraduate classroom, but only if faculty can recognize themselves as learners and students feel themselves empowered as teachers. These classrooms can themselves, when they are infused with social media technologies, become public in a very real sense and so can begin to practice the excellences of public deliberation in public.

        Christopher Long

        November 19, 2010 at 3:44 am

      • @Christopher: Thanks for your thoughts (and apologies for the slow reply). I think the distinction is useful, esp. if the idea of ‘cooperation’ is meant to push us further.

        It’s no good getting married to words but here is how I parse ‘cooperation’ and ‘collaboration’ (via Paul Rabinow).

        Cooperation refers to working together toward shared goals or outcome. We cooperate to clear the table and clean the dishes. We cooperate to get all the papers graded. We cooperate to replace Blackboard with Moodle on campus.

        Collaboration refers to working together with shared problems, or shared problem-spaces, but not necessarily toward shared goals. For instance, I might find myself collaborating with an anthropologist on certain problems we share with respect to the use of Foucault’s work, or Dewey’s work, or Aristotle’s work. As philosopher and fieldworker, we may have two quite different objectives in sight, but we nevertheless share a problem.

        Another shared problem? Differently-situated difficulties in pedagogical practice, for which new shared instrumentalities (blogs, wikis, moodles) may be useful, even if the outcome is not necessarily the same.

        I wonder how this terminology matches yours? Again, it’s no use getting married to words. They make bad lovers in the long run.

        I especially like your idea of deepening the relationship between teacher and student, with the idea of teaching as learning, and learning as teaching. I’ve been having another conversation with a friend about this recently: her point (just one of them) is that changing education should not focus on changing the students and their habits but on changing our selves (as teachers) and our habits. Maybe she’ll chime in here.

        Colin Koopman

        November 23, 2010 at 3:09 am

        • @Colin: thanks for the email heads up about this response, it is excellent. (The blog did alert me too, in case you were worried!)

          What you and Rabinow are calling “collaboration” in distinction from “cooperation” is what I would call “cooperation” in distinction from “collaboration.” I agree that we should not get caught up with the words if we essentially agree on the issue, which I believe we do.

          Still, I would like to defend cooperation in my sense for a moment, because I think the connotations and etymological resonances are important. Specifically, it seems that ‘collaboration’ is defined (by the OED at least) in terms of cooperation, that is as a kind of united labor or work. Indeed, it derives from the Latin collaborare, which means to work together. This, indeed, is precisely what I want to emphasize in the term cooperate, which means to work together in the sense of operating conjointly. So perhaps we are dealing with a difference between labor and work. If so, we need to consider Arendt, particularly in the Human Condition where labor is associated with the needs of our bodies and work with what we make with our hands (136).

          But even so, I would want to step beyond that to insist that we are dealing not merely with a kind of work, as opposed to labor, but more decisively with a kind of action.

          I would then want to identify the phenomenon we are both interested in highlighting (be it with the word collaborate – you/Rabinow – or – cooperate – me/Woodbridge/Dewey/Randall) with the Greek ‘synergos’, which means working together with another, joining together in work. I like the way that comes to mean synergy in English as well.

          So, the point is that we need to think of ourselves as engaged in such cooperative/collaborative endeavors with our students in the robust ways you suggest when you talk of collaboration. Call it what you will, but it must be reciprocal without, however – and this is critical – covering over the inherently asymmetrical relationship between teacher and student.

          In this, I totally agree with your friend when she reminds us that we teachers too need to change in the face of a truly cooperative education.

          Christopher Long

          November 24, 2010 at 5:10 am

          • how will we ‘test’ to see if students (not to mention colleagues) have the requisite social skills, like patience/diligence or a willingness to not-know, to meaningfully participate in such an effort? Also I don’t share the belief that all students/people want to learn (in the disciplined ways that I think that we are talking about) and have some serious reservations about our ability to cultivate caring/interest in other people and so these matters may in some sense be self-limiting/selective, which raises problems in our current marketed model of education. And then on the teaching side how do educators begin to breakdown/think-through how they do what they do as researchers/thinker/writers in ways which lend themselves to something akin to apprenticeships? Lastly how does the concept(tion) of meritocracy fit into our developing sense of democracy? thanks


            November 24, 2010 at 3:05 pm

            • @Dirk: I suppose I am dubious about the idea that we need to keep ‘testing’ students. I have very little interest in that. “Leave it to the bureaucrats to make sure [their] papers are in order.” Nobody really cares about grades except for students anyway. And they are the last ones that should care. I accept that this view is controversial but it is my view, and very much so.

              Lots of complex questions here though. And my sense is that the only kinds of answers I can give right now are simplifications.

              Colin Koopman

              November 29, 2010 at 7:19 am

              • have no interest in testing in the NCLB sense but surely not all students/people have the kinds of skills/interest/care that I mentioned, which is why Dewey set out to reform early education for life/democracy. I don’t care about grades per say tho the ways in which grade-inflation has paralyzed many faculty who don’t dare upset their consumers is telling, no? The larger question is one of standards, what is, makes for Quality work?


                November 29, 2010 at 1:20 pm

          • @Chris: Yes. Agreement here. I think that the idea of acting together (in Arendt’s sense) is precisely what is valuable. My goal is not to nitpick terms too much. Because at this stage what is needed is just fresh thinking, not scholasticism. And I play the scholar far too much. What we need now is thinking, acting, and philosophizing! Nathan talks about this in terms of philosophical action and I am very eager to see what he does with the idea.

            Colin Koopman

            November 29, 2010 at 7:14 am

  6. An interesting tool for facilitating collaboration is the Critical Friends Discussion Protocol, which is rooted in both critical pedagogy (as developed by Desmond Nuttall and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University) and political practice (public sector consultant Andrew Hutchinson’s use in organizing local government consortia). I’m writing a paper right now on the topic titled “Deliberating with Critical Friends: A Strategy for Teaching Deliberative Democratic Theory” for the APSA Teaching and Learning conference.

    Shane J. Ralston

    November 18, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    • Sounds coolio. How does it work?

      Colin Koopman

      November 19, 2010 at 1:23 am

      • Here’s an excerpt from the Annenberg literature (“Critical Friends: A Process Built on Reflection”):
        “As originally developed, the three ‘occasions’ for reflection using the Critical Friends protocol are: (1) peer observations; (2) tuning a teaching artifact using the Tuning Process; or (3) consulting about an issue using the Consultancy Process. Each activity in the Critical Friends group contains elements of careful description, enforced thoughtful listening, and then questioning feedback – which may well be the basic elements of reflection. The feedback arrived at through the discussions also has been grouped in these ways: ‘Warm’ feedback consists of supportive, appreciative statements about the work presented; ‘Cool’ or more distanced feedback offers different ways to think about the work presented and/or raises questions; and ‘Hard’ feedback challenges and extends the presenter’s thinking and/or raises concerns. In general, this process utilizes time limits and agreed-upon purpose and norms help reduce interruptions in discussion and the rush-to-comment approach that our busy lives seem to promote.
        The consultancy process allows colleagues to share issues confidentially and seek suggestions for positively overcoming or managing them. Consultancy creates opportunities for colleagues to find ways collaboratively around the obstacles and barriers that often limit or stifle effective action.
        The process works best in smaller groups (4-7 people) where colleagues can feel comfortable sharing complex issues. Presenters share an issue, and members of the Critical Friends group offer ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ feedback, talking to each other not to the person who presented the issue. The presenter sits out of the group, listening, taking notes, and deciding what has been useful. The actual process (with maximum time allotted) follows.
        Step One: Facilitator Overview (3 minutes)
        • Review process
        • Set time limits
        Step Two: Presenter Overview (5 minutes)
        • Share issue
        • Provide context
        • Frame key question for specific consideration
        Step Three: Probing or Clarifying Questions (5 minutes)
        • Group members ask more questions to learn about the issue
        • Reminder, this is not a time to give advice or get into the discussion
        Step Four: Discussant’s Group Discussion (12 minutes)
        • Group discusses issue (both warm and cool)
        • Presenter is silent, taking notes
        • Group addresses possible suggestions related to the issue
        Step Five: Presenter Response (5 minutes)
        • Presenter responds to group feedback
        Step Six: Debriefing (5 minutes)
        • Facilitator leads discussion, critiquing the process”

        In case you’re interested, the text of my faculty talk “Interdisciplinarity: Some Lessons from John Dewey” is now posted on SSRN:

        Shane J. Ralston

        November 19, 2010 at 5:00 am

      • Shane, as a clinician I’m a bit dubious of the ability of most folks to incorporate such input and more generally in our capacities to ‘institutionalize’ any resulting changes but I think that this approach is along the needed lines, Donald Schon and all might be of some use here:


        November 19, 2010 at 3:05 pm

  7. I think I change my mind about this. Or at least, I think there is another viable view which ought to be considered. Thanks for discussion of this, Nathan, and helping me piece it together.

    In View #1 (the view I had last week when I first wrote this) the big shift was from publication to collaboration.

    In View #2 (today’s experiment) the big shift is from one modality of public-making to another. The modal shift in question has two parts as I already explicated in the context of democratic theory.

    One aspect of this shift involves a change from participation to collaboration. Whereas participation denotes entry into a static forum, collaboration denotes the transformative-innovative process of building a political space through engagement with others.

    Another aspect of this shift involves a change in second-order political engagement (where participation or collaboration are not possible) from representation (for those who cannot participate) to connection (for those who cannot collaborate).

    The problem with view #1 was that it made it seem as if collaborative engagement replaced the process of making-public or being-public. That cannot be right. What is at debate is not making-public but rather two different modalities of public-making: these are qualities or modes of publicness.

    So… to summarize.

    From old publics to new publics!

    From participation to collaboration!

    From representation to connection!

    And what does this all mean? I have to figure it out. Wait, no. We have to figure it out. Or we’ll have fun trying.

    Colin Koopman

    November 19, 2010 at 1:32 am

    • stephen turner’s the Social Theory of Practices should be on the foundational reading list but he also raises some important questions about the role of experts in democratic processes that are related to this here line of thought.


      November 19, 2010 at 3:24 am

  8. A very interesting discussion! Many thanks to all for sharing thoughts, and to Nathan for sharing the link.

    I’m on board with your refined model, Colin. The modal shift between old and new methods of making- and being- public is, I think, the central problem with which institutions struggle. Older methodologies are heavy, and difficulty to move / warp / etc. at the institutional level. (This is one of the primary roles of the participatory / collaboratory shift, which in turn emphasizes the dialogic interconnectedness of it all.)

    Following Nathan’s lead above, we can apply the framework to a given academic institution:

    Collaboration and connection are wonderful concepts that an institutional administration can get behind; the concept of a new public… less so. This is where, as Campbell said, the most well-meaning of collaborators will point to FERPA, tenure requirements, IT policy, etc. The resistance on these points defines the friction of the old public attempting (and failing) to become the new public.

    It’s interesting as a thought problem. As a practical issue, it tend to be emotionally exhausting.

    Still, I think this shift is happening incrementally as individuals and small groups decide that enough is enough, and get moving on collaboration + connection, old publics be damned. While I agree with your and Nathan’s general analysis of digital humanities using a new tool for an old job, I retain some (naive?) optimism regarding the ability of their approach to push through the friction and achieve these new publics. See, for instance, Fembot (, currently in its infancy but a promising project nonetheless.

    David Baker

    November 19, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    • I agree about running up against institutional obstacles. That will always happen. I think I view the intervention as taking place in different venues.

      My thinking (in part funded by naive youthful optimism) is not that this is a ‘how do we change the university’ manifesto, but rather a ‘how do I change my classroom’ primer. In other words, I’m not sure I want to apply this at the level of ‘institutions’ but rather at the level of ‘practices’ which may (hopefully) eventually trickle up to institutions (and if so that’s a long way off and there will be many changes between here and there).

      So I think the small incremental shifts are crucial.

      I agree that Carole’s Fembot project is very exciting, at least from what I have *heard* of it.

      Colin Koopman

      November 23, 2010 at 3:13 am

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