Friday, April 27, 2007

conferenciante /conferencer

first. an amusing quote:

QI Quote of the Day
“Dealing with network executives is like being nibbled to death by ducks.”
ERIC SEVAREID (1912-92) US journalist

given the context, i guess he meant "broadcast tv networks", but my mind hopped to Internet networks and wondered whether the same could be said there. i don´t know. i just wandered (sic).

it is high time that i write about the UniPID/EADI symposium of last week. more especially so, since they today announced an Open Access Dossier on the EADI web site. Some background: UniPID is the Finnish Universities´ Partnership for International Development.
Their mission is "To promote and implement ethically and culturally sustainable development in the world through establishing long-lasting research cooperation, based on the principles of partnership and institutional cooperation, between universities in Finland and their partners in the south."
EADI is the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes, and aims to be the prime professional association for development and regional studies, with member institutions numbering at least 150 across Europe.
the particular aim of the one-day symposium was to look at the problematic of accessing development knowledge. what was interesting to me was to meet persons from the development studies domain (one which i am not too familiar with). the acid test is "will EADI create a domain/subject archive?"; "might they consider encouraging (in some way/shape/form) their associated researchers to deposit their papers in an institutional archive?". i don´t know, and i am not going to try and speak on their behalf. but i did see some encouraging signs, in that the meeting was positive and upbeat, and there was a willingness to grapple with the Open Access debate (the EADI Executive were having their meeting the friday after the thursday symposium). you can see the programme and presentations linked-to from here. as i prepared for the talk; mulling over issues particular to access to development research, i thought, imagine what could be achieved if only African researchers located on other spots on the planet could still stay connected and in tune with their country´s research trends by merely having good (unfettered) information to the research output coming out from their places of origin. people always speak of born-digital documents. so, let me use this shorthand. there i was talking to development studies researchers born-Europe, concerned about having and expanding access to development knowledge. but let´s not then lose sight of the born-Africa or born-LAm researcher located outside of, Africa or Latin America, respectively, who also needs to be "kept in the loop". because, quite obviously, we do consider that the born-African in-Africa researcher needs access to scientific output from his/her country (though it might not always be country-specific -- depends on the discipline e.g. some social science questions may be developing country-specific, for instance; sometimes agriculture, etc). imagine the plusses vis-a-vis countering brain-drain effects if you could just keep researchers connected in such a way to their countries as i think too often when people leave for other climes the connections can become porous. and of course, what i say applies to all disciplines and not just that of development studies. i will not attempt to provide a summary of the papers presented, but merely want to mention my excitement when i saw the empirical research work of my co-presenter, Finnish musicologist Philip Donner. it was a good graphic illustration of the notion of "exposure to ideas", and why it is that we need more systematic archiving of such research materials.
he said "Finland has a number of valuable collections of cultural material from developing countries. Some of them are well documented, and they would deserve to be easily accessible in a dedicated archive. As existing archives have chosen to give priority to national content, it unfortunately seems to be difficult to find a working solution. This situation appears to be similar in other European countries. "
see for instance his video of Selo greetings from Tanzania.

this brings me to a lecture i attended this evening. since it is freedom day, it was rather appropriate that i end up seated in the Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre at the Saïd Business School here at Oxf. this was to listen to Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, giving the John Berger lecture, which he titled "Things subverting ideas: Africa in the British Museum". (if you´ve not read Berger´s "Ways of Seeing" then you´ve missed out... I read it at age 18 and it just about changed my life. seriously.) and MacGregor began his talk by saying "you look in terms of what you know, and sometimes knowing inhibits the looking". indeed. and then he went on to give an eloquent lecture on historical views of Africa, and of how much this has evolved during the past 100 years. for instance, he quoted from the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1911 which claimed that Africa was devoid of development save for that given it by its colonial rulers, that it was "a continent practically without history" (yep, that was MacGregor´s quote from the EB), which he said represented liberal thinking for that time. and so he went, illustrating how some facets (and objects in the British Museum) proved that Africa had always been global and of course was capable of inventing lost wax bronze casting, creating hand-axes which were of aesthetic significance rather than just functional, how Europe had at a point been exporter of raw materials to West Africa (ca. rise of the Ashanti Empire) for processing/fashioning in what is now Benin.
(did you know that Gothic representations of the Madonna swayed because they follow the curvature of the ivory tusk from which they were carved?)
the long-and-short of the talk to me, was how scientific thinking progresses (or not). and more particularly, of how scientific, cultural, and historical thinking about Africa has evolved away from that represented by the 1911 EB. moreover he made an argument for multiculturalism (something i´ve been bumping up against, and see the lack of, in a lot of the legal literature -- legal pluralism as a rather PC notion, but something cast aside rather quickly in most of the scholarly legal discourse). but i digress. he said "we all need to have a deeper understanding of the histories of Africa." and "How do new histories get written?."

this theme of "looking" takes me back to the talk i attended yesterday. it was the talk titled "Next Generation Web in a Nutshell" run by the Science Enterprise Centre of the Saïd Business School. Last night folks from the OII spoke, so my coursemate Sangamitra and I attended. We were at the Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre again. The speakers were Bill Dutton (OII), Nir Vulkan (SBS), and Jonathan Zittrain (OII). Well, of course, strictly speaking we would have heard it all before, given that we are OII DPhils. But well, it is interesting sometimes to see how something specialised is packaged for public scientific consumption. The talks were good. i finally understood the philosophy underpinning the project. before, i knew its nuts-and-bolts, but somehow the context had escaped me. but this brings me to this matter of "looking" (as had been mentioned by MacGregor above), and Jonathan´s longitudinal illustration of the interfaces of various "computers" through the decades. what we saw was a series of limited vendor-defined fx. well, pick- or wake up your mobile phone. probably you have 9 little icons splashed across the screen. the scary thing, as seen from JZ´s presentation, is that this UI (user interface) pattern is repeated when looking back across the decades, and what it illustrates is the vendor deciding which applications you are wont to use.
what you end up with is that users resort/default to this vendor-decides-the-fx-i-have model of information experience and use, since the threats on/via the network are such that the unsuspecting user prefers to rather then relinquish decision-making about the applications s/he wants to install/use, as the risks for attack just become too great. so we move closer to an idiot-box and away from a pc, in the end. dumb terminal, anyone?

the classic blogquote award goes to Jonathan for his declaiming that kids today see TV as a "weird soporific aberration" in response to someone´s question re web 2.0 and convergence.
that´s not funny for its content. no. i think it is true (depending on where on the planet you are; i mean, let´s not get carried away by the notion that "tv is dead" just yet. it still lingers in many parts of the globe. well, i guess he didn´t say "tv´s dead"...) bueno. well, i don´t have a tv here in the UK. i refuse, on principle, to pay a TV licence. same as i did in SA. that´s why "no tv". but.
the quote was funny for being a discordant yet catchy wordstring.



about writing histories. i was today thinking and half-amused in my thoughts about south african literature, and questions around representivity. i never became enchanted by south african literary fiction at an early age (and the stuff they shove at you at a young age) simply because i couldn´t relate. i mean, i saw a copy of Olive Schreiner´s "Story of an African Farm" in the bookstore yesterday. nice story, saw the series, etc. but let´s get real, that was not my experience of life in South Africa. i´d not been to a farm ever during my childhood. that´s because i was confined to the city and suburbs. and that was the thing: the literature being published represented the experiences of those who had access to the publishing scene and market. that has changed now. there are some stories out about life in the townships, for instance. and they even get translated into spanish (i recall seeing a work last year in casa del libro in madrid). and yet, that township story has not entirely been my experience either. but, in the end, my early unhappy experiences with South African fiction just turned me away from reading that in my idle moments. sometimes i wonder to myself what it is then that i would write, if i, of a day, sat down and gave myself this task of writing a story representative of my South Africa... dunno... too ill-defined for now.

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At Thu May 03, 12:29:00 AM GMT+1, Blogger Dougald Hine said...

The John Berger Lecture? Wow! I'm very excited to hear that such a thing exists. Kind of ironic that it exists in Oxford, which Geoff Dyer (in the introduction to the Collected Essays) defines as the antithesis of what Berger stands for...

Anyway, more importantly, it's always good to come across someone else whose life was (just about) changed by an encounter with Berger's books. For me, 'Ways of Seeing' didn't make a huge impression, but a few months later I came across 'The Shape of a Pocket' (which must have been just out) and woke up to the depth and power of his vision.

Have you read much of his other work?

At Thu May 03, 12:35:00 PM GMT+1, Blogger jenniferdebeer said...

Hi, thanks! I´d read a little of Berger so many years ago. Much of it has left my memory :)
I´ve not read "Shape of a Pocket" but now remmeber( now that you ask) that I have read "And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos". Great title that! I will try to get the collected essays. cheers.

At Tue May 08, 12:00:00 PM GMT+1, Blogger Dougald Hine said...

Hi, Jennifer! 'And Our Faces...' is a beautiful book - Berger at his best, and defying categorization. Enjoy the collected essays - I bought my copy at Blackwells in Oxford a few years ago, hopefully they still stock it!

At Wed May 09, 06:26:00 PM GMT+1, Blogger jenniferdebeer said...

hi Dougald, tnx. unfortunately the collected essays cannot be found at Blackwells (though i now lose track of my search trail) Probably I will get it through amazon. so, i googled and saw that you´d done (excelled at) door-to-door book sales during your undergrad years (if it´s the same person...) i did door-to-door sales too, sometime after high school => i got thrown out of ppls houses a lot :-(( then

At Mon Oct 08, 12:58:00 AM GMT+1, Blogger Dougald Hine said...

Hi Jennifer,

Sorry! Only just found your reply! (I really need a better way of tracking comments I leave on people's blogs...)

Yep, that was me knocking on doors! I may have "excelled" according to that article, but I certainly had some miserable days too...

I saw Berger speak at a cinema in London last week - a rare occasion. It was an interesting experience, wonderful and frustrating at the same time. (I just blogged about it.)

Hope you managed to get hold of a copy of his Collected Essays in the end! :-)


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