Reading Emma Mulqueeny: epistemology narrative and truth

I have been reading Emma Mulqueeny, known to me through Twitter as @hubmum, who does fabulous things with young people and computers and politics. I have not always felt I agreed with Hubmum’s politics, but heck, the state is her big client so you probably wouldn’t bite down on the feeding hand and what do I care, if kids are doing something cool and clever? Besides we all know that one is not entirely safe from anonymity on this here interweb.

So it has been a delight to stumble on a series of posts about the demographic Emma calls the 97ers, and which she has helpfully pulled together here. And before I go off on my usual paroxysms of spluttering that there is no such thing as a digital native I should say that the  quality of the writing had me suspending disbelief and quickly eating out of her hand. That, and the fact that she exposed her underpinnings. People who read me know that I am into frameworks for interpretation and understanding. People who know me better, know me better. I like to assert that each and every element of my framework is derived from solid research. But sometimes it might be possible that the elements of the framework are really only validated through frequent repetition. Chickering and Gamson? Oh I have HEARD that was based on a whole LOAD of actual RESEARCH  once upon a time. And, Vygotsky. All you have to do is mention the name. Everyone is anxious about running into someone who might actually have read something he wrote that we nod sagely and pass over the citable fact that whatever we might attribute to Vygotsky actually comes from Engestrom and we trust he might actually have read Vygotsky and Vygotsky might have kept a lab notebook somewhere, who the hell knows?

My point is that it does not appear to matter. Or does it? You can adopt a framework and apply it without knowing exactly why it makes sense to use it. Activity theory is very useful to a consultant in this regard. Very quickly you can talk about individuals acting in communities in accordance with explicit and implicit rules and norms to achieve socially and politically and economically sanctioned ends. Activity theory supplies a number (about seven) of headings that might as well be the headings of the next report you have to write. Bring in Giddins, mention structure and that demands post structuralism and any framework will do. If you want to spin off from that, each of the headings has its own activity network (Engeström 2001) behind it: Community (Lave & Wenger 1990 and Wenger 1998), Roles, Rules (Foucault 1977), Tools. You can elaborate Activity Theory into an epistemology (Salomon 1993). I like Activity Theory. I found it useful. But, calling myself to account, how is this in any way different from Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) or Landmark Seminars or Learning Styles Theory or Digital Natives? Things that bring me out in splutterings again. Ultimately it is an act of faith. I put faith in Activity Theory and from that in Frameworks themselves. Even this one that I am yet again building, here. So I forgive the use of frameworks.

So what’s that got to do with Emma, then? Her framework is built on the writings of Ivan Illich and echoes strongly the writings of two other seminal female thinkers about the Internet: dana boyd and Josie Fraser. I could list others maybe back to Haraway (1991) or even Ada Lovelace. I feel this growing into an Ada’s Day post, though that was not my intention.

Learners are connected and the knowledge is largely in the connections. Peer learning: dialogic, authentic participatory learning informed by a complex understanding of literacy, community and identity is effective (and may be all there really is, anyway). Emma’s framework is woven against a background of biographical narrative, of storytelling, of her story, where storytelling quality is an important part of any truth test. Storytelling is both epistmological (having to do with the nature of how we know stuff) and ontological (having to do with the existence and qualities of stuff itself). Storytelling describes stuff, teaches others about stuff, and even brings stuff into existence. Storytelling is a big part of any measure of the elusive authenticity. And, Emma has data to back up her assertions. Yes, that data is in narrative form, but it is no less empirical for that. I like a writer who walks her own talk. She concludes with the important question: “Can you verify your story”. Or at least can one verify as much as they have told, and can I/we sort out the parts we have filled in?

I should admit at this point that my children were born in 2007 and 2010. So my “digital natives” are 10 years younger than her digital natives. At the moment the seven year old is hugely into books (boastful parent alert!) and likes his bicycle, scooter and walking off piste in wild areas. Mummy and Daddy set bad examples with their laptops, phones and tablets when we are hanging in family time before bed. But I am beginning to wonder if all that digital stuff is just boring grown-up stuff to my kids and real life in their eyes is for proper, f&*k-the-parents, I am going to climb a dangerous tree over a fence and into no-man’s-land kind of kids? My goodness all this reverse psychology that parenting gets you into. But never doubt for an instant that they, the children, the next generation, are not hip to the game even when as 2 year olds they are complying – or not. They know the “real story” from a very early age. Narrative epistemology is an epistemology of openness, and is an epistemology of self-respect. This hit me last week and I tweeted it here. We must trust ourselves to like ourselves and like ourselves to trust ourselves.

Does it go wrong? Yes, of course. The undercover policing story or Pleb-gate is all the far you have to know to know that not every credible story is true and not every incredible one is false.

Emma gets you thinking like that.

 

 

 

References

Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive Learning at Work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133 –156.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. (A. Sheridan, Trans.). London: Allen Lane, Penguin.

Haraway, D. (1991). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. In Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (pp. 149–181). New York: Routledge. Retrieved from http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/Haraway/CyborgManifesto.html

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1990). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Salomon, G. (Ed.). (1993). Distributed cognitions: psychological and educational considerations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

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