Brain dump – knowing and sharing

I tried to sit down and read a paper but I’m still banging my head against this idea of different ways of knowing and I couldn’t settle down so I’m going to off-load onto text.

Skinner (him of behaviourism, pigeons, boxes and food pellets) wrote in a paper back in the 60s that you didn’t need statistics. The need for statistics, he argued, was a side-effect of working with the construct of ‘mind’, which was a bad idea from start to finish as far as he was concerned. Skinner didn’t need statistics because he didn’t try to investigate mind. Instead, Skinner researched behaviour. Skinner went on to argue that he knew he was right because he could predictably control behaviour. The proof was in the eating of the pudding rather than in an analysis of the ingredients.

Now,  Skinner’s rants against mind and his expectation of the dawning day when we all gave up on mind and just studied behaviour sound like the ravings of an ill-fated prophet for a doomed ideology. But I like this essay because there is an important idea lurking within it (apart from dismissing statistics): What constitutes valid forms of knowing? And, who are we knowing at?

Deciding who gets to define what is a valid form of knowledge is a form of politics, an exercise in power and in determining which voices are allowed to be heard. I know… this is nothing new. But how do you go about negotiating places at the table? And how do you get people go value and accept other forms of knowledge.

Much of the work on using the arts as a form of creative engagement with older people posits that the arts are an alternative way of communicating and (implicitly) of knowing. Hope’s paper ( which I discussed in the previous blog post) posits practice as a form of tacit knowledge. How do we put these on a par (equal in status but different in other ways) to the ways of knowing that are so familiar and comfortable to those that often have the purse strings (statistical and biological ways of knowing, for instance). How do we de-familiarise those ways of knowing to those knowers so that they become more aware of their own assumptions?

The other question that is bugging me comes back to this idea of sharing practice. If practice is a form of tacit knowledge and if (as according to Collins) tacit knowledge arises as practices are shared in social settings. Then surely the way to share practice is actually through some form of public rehearsal of that practice. Isn’t it?

This brain-dump was prompted by a workshop that I attended yesterday. Before it began I had a lovely chat with a pair of artists about how we went about thinking through stuff. We contrasted my academic scaffold of knowledge with their, more practice based, ways of knowing. The workshop itself included 3sessions that tried very different approaches.

The first, led by the took a much more experiential approach. It was a creative or, at least, meditative session. We were , led to reflect on our experience and you got a sense of how the facilitators go about their practice. It was lovely and insightful. I don’t think we could all go away afterwards and do the same but we might know which direction we needed to head in.

The second took a traditional approach, sharing about their practice but not really conveying any sense of how they do what they do. At the end of it we had a sense of outcomes but you’d have no inkling of how to go about it. (Maybe that was the intention.) Actually, I ended up grinding my teeth as the presenter rolled out the old left brain, right brain, analytical, creative nonsense – I was the epitome of restraint. Mostly.

The third opted for a ‘middle way’ of opening with some experiential work, with us as participants rather than facilitators, followed by some academic scaffolding.

I think that there might be a another option,  which might involve reviewing videos of good practice and thinking together about what works and why. But there are a host of practical issues and ethical hurdles to make that work.

(And breathe…) There, now that’s done I can go back to reading papers rather than staring at them furiously.

About Bruce Davenport

Research associate at Newcastle University. Previously a museum educator and researcher.
This entry was posted in Cognition, research methodology. Bookmark the permalink.

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