Online and in Space: Reflections of a Present Witness on #GoSKP2014
I witnessed the Genres of Scholarly Knowledge Production 2014 (#GoSKP2014) from my desk at my job in Stockholm, on my phone while travelling on public transport, in my kitchen while cooking food and from the comfort of my lounge room. I chatted with participants and exchanged 140 characters in between happily watching the Bambuser steam with presentations from Fred Turner, Jonathan Sterne, Johanna Drucker, David Theo Goldberg, Matthew Ratto, Phil Buckland, Jenna Ng, Jennie Olofsson, Franco Moretti and the amazing Carolina Bäckman (to name but a few). I felt like I was there — wherever there is these days.
Thinking about my mobile audience status with #GoSKP2014 I began considering space and how it can embody genres. We recognise spaces, by associating them with the familiar. I know what a kitchen is based on the necessary qualities of the kitchen; a stove, food production, food storage, benches perhaps, maybe even a communal gathering point such as a table and chairs. Of course every kitchen has its own cultural and social flavours. In my experience these are often saturated with commodity fetishism in many contemporary examples. In a similar line of thinking I recently published an old essay online that mapped behaviours in learning spaces. The essay looks at the idea of the dialogic classroom, as a generic learning space that embodies the following ideals:
* Negotiate with the teacher about the nature of their learning activities
* Participate in the determination of assessment criteria and undertake self assessment and peer-assessment.
* Engage in collaborative and open-ended inquiry with fellow students.
* Participate in reconstructing the social norms of the classroom.
I believe the extended space that emerged from the multimedia stream of #GoSKP2014 managed to include each of these points. While there were ‘teachers’ present, it was not class lessons but research topics that dominated. Presentations took a variety of forms and positions, often moving through the group. There was no distinct line between speaker and audience, well that was the impression given from the live stream and tweets. Any form of assessment that did exist at #GoSKP2014 could be said to be ongoing, peer-to-peer and participation based. Titles were consciously avoiding in the program and this horizontal arrangement reflected in the way bodies where arranged in the visual space that I witnessed from the stream. People stood together in small clusters or sat on beanbags in whatever part of the space empty enough to permit it. There was no clear back or front of the room in the video steams I watched. The stream extended the space and I was indeed sharing it with those in situ. There really was no fixed central point that opened itself to a position of elevated hierarchy or lead. My point of witnessing migrated about the space depending on who was holding the camera.
The engagement at #GoSKP2014 appeared to be very collaborative and open ended from my perspective as a participant in the stream. I know from experience that the ‘open-endedness’ of HUMlab can sometimes unbalance participants (teachers, researchers, students) upon their introduction to the ‘new space’. However, I also share in the general vision of HUMlab; that the openness brings unexpected and more often than not fruitful meetings.
Finally, the dialogic classroom is one where one can “participate in reconstructing the social norms”, which is perhaps most fitting for the themes of #GoSKP2014. To “engage simultaneously with emerging, creative knowledge practices” and “co-temporal exploration of making and critical awareness” are stated early on the #GoSKP homepage. The live stream on Bambuser and the backchannel of Twitter made it possible to make such engagements for us scattered about the globe with the knowledge practices of #GoSKP2014. For example, my ‘aahah’ moment came with the presentation by Franco Moretti.
I read Distant Reading with great interest. In 20011 Alan Liu gave a seminar in HUMlab on Close, Distant and Unexpected Readings that encapsulated a lot of the legacy of close reading and its relevancy to the new data-driven techniques of analysis. I felt the my understanding of distant reading was greatly enhanced by Franco Moretti’s presentation at #GoSKP2014 on his work with World Bank reports.
During my #GoSKP2014 experience my attention to my immediate place was absent. My presence was in HUMlab, sharing in the handheld vision (it added to the effect) as it moved randomly about the room, dodging people and stepping over bodies and beanbags (sometimes both at the same time). I know the HUMlab space well, but sharing in it again over distance took me back, rather than bringing it to me.
I thus became a witness to #GoSKP2014 via the perspectives and movement of the Bambuser camera, as it streamed the action, along with coughing, sound bites of conversations and the sounds of machines. This movement gave me more than a perspective on the activities in HUMlab over the three days of the conference. This movement gave me a point of focus, it gave me a position from which I inhabited the space of #GoSKP2014 as a witness, and by the logic of that, as a participant. Like a hacked avatar in a virtual space I moved around the conference seemingly at random. I was carried through the space. As perhaps others experienced it at the same moment as I did. We shared a single point of perception in time and space.
Along with the visual and auditory, the Twitter stream with its links, images and identities provided the metaphorical canopy for the knowledge exchange that was taking place in Umeå. I noted and followed many of the Twitter accounts that were covering or commenting on the stream from #GoSKP2014. I continue to follow them, like a residual web that remains intact after rain. Or in the case of Umeå this past December, damp snow.