Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Richard Feynman on social science.

Richard Feynman is famous for his ground-breaking work in quantum physics. I found an interview on youtube where he discusses social science very critically, calling it a pseudo-science. His basic argument is that social science has no tangible laws, no theorems like "hard science" does. There is no social science, not yet at least. Studying societies is far more complex and it's not as easy to be scientific with so many variables. He has a point. Here's the video, what do you think?

Technically, Feynman is right, but I wouldn't be completely dismissive about the field (that would be bad, having a sociology BA and all...). To me, social science is still in a very embryonic state, just as the hard sciences once were.

One good way to look at social science is that it is still developing into a science, just as the hard sciences had their alchemy which eventually evolved into chemistry, social science is evolving too. Feynman mentioned in the video that they have the scientific method down, but any discernible scientific laws are far from being realized. I would agree. We have a lot of data, a lot of information about social phenomena, but no tangible theorems (yet), at least not mainstream.

It's also really important to note that there is a necessary acknowledgment of hierarchy or holarchy in science. Biology is dependent on chemistry, which is dependent on physics for its principles. But a physicist can't say that biology isn't scientific, even though it is far less predictable. It's just more complex. A social science would be another big leap in complexity. That's what makes it so difficult. It also doesn't mean that social science can be reducible to physics, any more than biology can. The variables are far more complicated. We don't have instruments for observing social interaction the same way we can create microscopes and telescopes.

In my opinion, we might begin to have more tangible and observable, and thus scientific theories that apply to all human societies once we begin to converge our data. This would imply that sociologists, anthropologists, economics, psychologists, biologists, neurologists, archeologists, etc. work together.

This is getting easier to do, particularly in the internet age. Once we get our data together we can begin to discern patterns, and maybe work up some nice models that explain human societies scientifically. The 21st century is an exciting time to be a social scientist, because the fruit of decades of research may eventually start to reveal underlying principles in all human societies.

This also may call for us to acknowledge the idea that a society is a process, a flux. Or in other words, just as our awareness of biological evolution opened up new gateways of knowledge, our awareness of sociological evolution might reveal new principles about our very nature.

It's popular to place social science on the side lines, while hard-science attempts to describe human behavior exhaustively in biological and genetic terms. While it is revealing a lot about us, I think this approach will have limitations, because it doesn't take into account that we aren't reducible to 1) behavior 2) genetics and biology. There is a layer, a socio-cultural layer, that has its own properties and hopefully, we'll approach it more scientifically as time goes on.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sociology as a public vocation.

I've been reading a really great essay from the Public Sphere Forum, discussing the importance of social scientists stepping out of the closed-loop of academia and more into open discussion. The modern fixation on closing off the university to become an intellectual safe house, or knowledge for the sake of itself, has come at a price. Although social scientists are useful informing government and corporate decisions, what ever happened to a public intellectual? Writers, speakers, debaters outside of the university? Or perhaps, we should begin to invite the local community in to listen. At any rate, here are some highlights. If you have some time, I recommend reading the whole article.

Public engagement was a strong feature of the social sciences from their birth. Could one imagine Hobbes, Locke or the Scottish moralists as mere academics? Weber, Durkheim, and the great Chicago School sociologists had university jobs but both public concerns and public audiences. Social scientists today contribute to public understanding of issues from social inequality to transformations of the family. They also inform public policy on problems from educational reform to economic productivity. But since World War II, dramatic growth in universities and research institutions not only created opportunities for social scientists, it contained much of their communication inside the academy. An ideology that opposed academic professionalism to public engagement and a prestige hierarchy that favored allegedly pure science over applied added to the tendency.

Public social science depends on addressing public issues and informing public understanding. Simply reaching a broader public is only part of the story. Certainly a social science turned in on itself fails to achieve much public significance. But more important than the desire to promulgate what social scientists know is the effort to bring knowledge to bear on pressing public issues.

But it is also true that many academic projects are driven by neither deep intellectual curiosity nor pressing public agendas, but simply by the internal arguments of academic subfields or theoretically aimless attempts at cumulative knowledge that mostly accumulate lines on CVs. To justify these by an ideology of pure science is disingenuous. To let these displace the attention of researchers from major public issues is to act with contempt towards the public that pays the bills.

More generally, the development of better theory or intellectual synthesis, better knowledge of the range of intellectual tools and perspectives developed by earlier social scientists, and better methods of research and analysis are all important. They strengthen the whole social science enterprise so that it can perform better in all ways, including when deployed to advance understanding of pressing public issues. The point is not that all social science should be harnessed to the immediate task of addressing public debates or public policy. Some division of labor is appropriate along with a diversity of tasks. But it is a crucial point that social science demonstrates its usefulness by informing public knowledge, not simply accumulating esoteric knowledge inside disciplines. The value and reward systems of social science accordingly need to encourage attention to improving understanding of the world around us.
Will we intellectual hermits come down from the mountain? Equivalent perhaps to the Bodhisattva vow, if I might make this analogy--we step down from our monasteries and actively engage, inform and learn from public involvement. It helps us in two ways: as citizens of a planetary civilization, our active involvement contributes to a mutual learning experience. As academics, we learn something new by working "in the field." The rest of the public also learns something new. They're informed by our more direct presence, encouraging them to reflect on the state of society, and in turn offering us valuable insight. We hermits could be wrong, or just plain non-integrated about our understanding.

One other point. We might do well to have a new space for collaborative investigation and public projects, because it will take away the narrow focus of competition between the school departments, opening them up to a larger picture in which they will all have to contribute to, together. Integrating the studies in a common, open space rather than fragmenting them. Here's to social science facing a major challenge in its evolution: open source sociology. Thanks for such an inspiring article!

Calls for a more public orientation to social science seek to reclaim an important dimension of the history of social science. While universities have roots in ancient philosophy and medieval monastic communities, the roots of the modern social sciences were laid outside academia or in new and reformed universities. John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexis de Tocqueville, David Ricardo, Adolphe Quetelet, Karl Marx, Herbert Spencer and Lester Frank Ward all made their contributions without university posts. The Scottish universities were more open than the English in the 18th and 19th centuries. And after the Humboltian reforms so were many of the German. In the United States too the social sciences began to gain academic footholds earlier in new universities like Johns Hopkins and especially Chicago than in older ones where classical curricula dominated through the late 19th century.

Indeed, the social sciences came to the fore as part of a rebellion against exclusive study of the old disciplines. They grew along with science and technology because they were deemed forward-looking and important to ‘progress’, relevant to solving contemporary problems and furthering positive innovations. They grew along with broader enrollments as universities became less narrowly elite, expanding beyond the education of gentlemen and clergymen to training a range of professionals and members of the middle classes. The capacity of the social sciences to inform public discourse was vital to their growth.

“Public intellectual… That is to say, the individual still bold enough to put his mind and his knowledge to use in analyzing the world around us, in language that most of us can understand, and with an eye toward effecting practical improvements”.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Is the republican party destined to fade?

According to this blog, the republican party has a mere 8% approval rating from ages 18-29, or as Politifail says,

With a +/- of 3. The MSM still books more Republican then Democratic talking heads on the Sunday shows and anytime they bitch and moan they give them a medium to do it on. But next time you see one of them spouting off on some TV show or hear CNN talking about the "massive" teabagger party think about the fact that the Republican party is 8 (or possibly even just 5) points away from having a 0 percent approval rating from everyone in the country born after 1980. They are the party of fail, and they are done.

How might this shape the next century, when the old ideas really don't carry into the new generation? My bets are that new parties will form as old government legalities, and organizations continue to buckle and stress in an ever-evolving world. Here's to a brighter future, where appropriate government policy might better reflect not only the needs of the people, but the right temperature, soil and nutrients to make them flourish!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Printing Press, Internet and Novel Ideas

When the printing press was first being constructed in Europe, how many people foresaw what this intricate machine of blocks and ink would become? Eventually, it would catalyze the Protestant Reformation, and become means to spread knowledge and information to greater populations. Philosophical discourses, and new means of legislation were made possible due to the abundant increase of information in western civilization. Aren't we going through a similar period?

The internet has enormous potential, as many of us know, to start re-wiring civilization in novel ways. It takes out the middle man, and creates a civilization where inventors, engineers and communication-architects are vastly more valued than bureaucratic agencies. I think that, just as many spiritual, political and economic ideas rapidly emerge following the invention of the printing press, we will be, and are seeing the same thing happening today.

Here's to interesting times we're living in!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Emergent Civilization: is a new society possible?

[Note, this is a brainstorm! So, if the ideas ramble too much, or could be more coherent, please let me know. It's a matter of conveying them now and I'd appreciate feedback! This is the first time it's all down on paper, or, well computer screen. Perhaps it will eventually become a book...]

There's a lot of talk and urgency these days on creating a sustainable civilization. It's almost like an underlying anxiety many of us feel: we wish to continue our lifestyles, but have this sneaking suspicion that the whole way of life we undertake is completely unsustainable, almost like a grand illusion which will come crashing down under our feet.

There are many of us who are more hopeful, thinking if we work on renewable energy, ecologically friendly energy systems (solar, wind power), and local economies, we should be able to at least avert or lighten the problems we are facing. But then, there is also the whole slew of problems that follow--can government continue the way it is? What about multi-national corporations and world banks? Hegemony and neo-imperialism?

In other words, our way of organizing, thinking, interacting in modern society is all based upon flawed ideologies, systems of thinking that, perhaps on a smaller scale caused less harm and actually helped us survive, but are now an immense danger, perhaps a monstrosity. If we try to analyze this situation as holistically as we can, we see the problem isn't just in physical sustainability, it's also in culture, philosophy, economics, government and primarily psychology. Our whole way of seeing the world is upside-down, and based on a primal fear of insecurity.

Escaping the present, a culture of tomorrow.

That being, we see ourselves as somehow manipulators of the natural environment. That the world is a vast mechanical system we awakened into, and progress is made when we can more efficiently manipulate the world. This may stem from an acute psychological fear of impermanence, of isolation, not able to reconcile our thinking minds with the living environment we are a part of. Even further, being unhappy with what we are now (insecure, in danger) we imagine what could be, and find ourselves always striving for some greater tomorrow--which, we might have learned by now, never comes. This whole psychology extends to a collective psychosis: human beings terrified of the now.

We therefore see cultures or civilizations which can manipulate their world as "advanced," because they have found some level of security, like a puppet master hiding behind his strings. The more you can manipulate, the further along you are progressing! That perception has spilled over into culture, so that we treat human beings in the same way we do objects, relying principally on incentive, behavior and mechanics. We objectify ourselves in the world, and do so at the terrible risk at creating a fragmented worldview, in which we are not a part of the world but somehow alienated from it, a distant "other," that must assume control or perish.

But there is another point of view that sees human beings as any other emergent life form--plants, flowers, mice and bees. We, like them, have been grown by the universe. We are a part of this great web of life, interdependent, so that one action has the potential to affect the whole system. The "advanced," individual, or culture, is significantly different in that it does not assume control over nature. Mastery is a particular degree of understanding the forces of nature and working with them, like a sailor uses the wind and ocean currents in order to move. Life, then, is more like an art, in which we must learn technique (which is where intelligence comes in) in order to move with nature, because all of who and what we are is already a part of the natural world! They would see someone who attempts to fight natural forces as foolish, as if nature could somehow bend to his or her will. True mastery then, is in The Way of things, or Tao, which we learn not to create "what should be," and strive towards it but to see what is, and journey more organically.

Our particular and unique place in nature is that we are capable of reflection, and perhaps some greater degree of consciousness. We are particularly self-aware. But that comes at a great responsibility. Have we ever taken that ability to reflect upon the nature of things, and turn it upon ourselves? It takes maturity to accept the idea of "striving" towards a better future, a safer future, is in fact an instinctive illusion, perhaps driven by our ancestors struggle to survive. But, true survival, is releasing that primal fear--that is, true living is not mere subsistence, but learning the world will always be in flux, there is no true "security" out there waiting for us to unveil. Life is now! Wisdom is thus, knowing that insecurity is a reality of nature. In order to flourish, you're going to have to trust it, to open up. Living is being vulnerable, connected to the whole of life.

While we may be physically doing this, psychologically we hardly realize it. We act like seedlings terrified of breaking their shells and pushing out their first root and stem--yet we must, if we wish to live.

Philosophy of life, new perspective!!

Some of the attitudes that more eastern philosophies and cultures have taken towards the world--interdependence, holistic systems, emergence, synergy and relationship--have been unfortunately neglected in Western society. It's unfortunate in that, although western technology has brought great advancements in the manipulation of the world, it has drastically failed to find any kind of harmony, or equilibrium. What if the more organic philosophies became the guiding factor in scientific endeavors? Then the picture might be very different.

I think that, all of these points can be broken down into three major possibilities.

1) Organic philosophy--that the world is interdependent, relational, synergistic and vastly complex. In order to understand how anything works, you must study the object in relation to the whole.
2) This vast interdependent view of reality has emergent properties. Many things come together and form greater wholes, or layers--in the biosphere, in the social sphere (or noosphere).
3) One great way of seeing this is a holonic view of the universe: things are made parts. Every "whole" system has many parts, and everything is always part of a yet ever-greater whole. This goes from rocks, to planets, to solar systems, to galaxies, to galaxy-clusters, and beyond.

Human beings, then, are organisms in an emergent, interdependent universe. If we wish to flourish, we must learn to expand our sensitivity and overcome primal, illusory boundaries between us and the world. This can't be done by conceptions alone, but by directly working on ourselves and our attitudes. A tall order, perhaps, but there may be things that can help us along the way. Particularly, cultural mythos and alternative ways of organizing that may help foster new attitudes. This will be mentioned later.

A new way of seeing, and thus creating a civilization:

The next part of this blog will be exploring what happens when we see civilization as art, movement and flux--not merely mechanics, but cultivation. What would such a civilization look like? And would it be sustainable?

Please check out part 2.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mindfulness, Nature and Manipulation.

I think it's important to note that intellect, when not complimented by mindfulness, can be easily misguided. What is meant by mindfulness? Critical self-reflection? Partially. It also means a passive awareness of our thinking, a meditative state in which we observe thoughts, and don't become over-identified with them. Not prone to sway in one direction or another. This is equal to "cleaning the lens" of our conscious experience, so as not to further distort insight.

Mindfulness, then, might be seen as a way to help keep our assumptions in check. This is what the Zen koans mean when they speak of emptying one's cup, so that it may be filled. Insight is only possible when we release the idea we must control our minds in order to understand; to grow a mind rather than build it. But by releasing control, we more resemble nature's way: things arising and emerging by simply letting them be. An "organic" phenomenology of the world might assist us in a century where we are faced with impending ecological disasters.

The open minded scientist might then recognize another insight: perhaps manipulation and control are not the true signposts of an advanced civilization. Rather, a civilization that understands "The Way," and is able to see itself as a part of nature, not separate from it. This can only be done if the individuals themselves can attain such a perspective.

A cultural paradigm shift, complimenting the physical science of sustainability, might be the seeds of a new civilization, one which can support billions, explore the cosmos and live as beings within the world, rather than alienated without it. What would happen if even a few million people began to cultivate mindfulness in themselves, and apply that to their professions? This, in a sense, is a calling for an organic-worldview. Rekindling our connection with life, the cosmos, and healing the dissociative rifts, in which, like aliens in a strange land, we feel the need to defend and control in order to gain some sense of security.

But the secret of life, as many have noted, is that there is no security, not ultimately (see Watts, the Wisdom of Insecurity, also, a great video talking about it).

Everything is in flux, and the only way to grow is to take a chance, to be vulnerable, to challenge assumptions and cultivate a sensitivity with the world, not build psychological-fortresses in which we manipulate the environment in fear and terror for our survival. Isolation is the road to extinction. Cut off from life, we whither. As a species, it seems we have some growing up to do. Many of our actions manifest as collective fear, while life is actually more like art: mastery is the release of control. Knowledge is the learning of technique, with which we may then more naturally create. Like a sailor who moves with the wind to get where he is going, rather than trying to bend the wind to his will! Mindfulness, then, is the release of this primal psychological fear, and the expansion of sensitivity to the world around us, like a seedling reaching out to the world with its first roots and branches.

So the question is, can civilization learn to abandon its shell, and embrace true growth? Here's some food for thought from Alan Watts:

What if the same realization--that science can be the work of nature, and that the individual is one body with his environment--could become the informing spirit of Western technology?" - Alan Watts, Does it Matter?

Re: Academia for everyone.

Had some wonderful discussion in the youtube version of this talk.

Some highlights:

"Academia should not merely reproduce its own knowledge, it should teach society to express its own.

The University is the Universe. There is no entrance."
As well as,

"Much like how creating spaces allows for the human BEING to show up. We BEcome when we start moving, sharing, expressing, living, loving. When inside a box or atop a pedestal - all of that is hardly possible. And even though these should never get in the way of you breaking through, a teacher teaches best by being space itself =) marvelous!"
Thanks guys! And last but not least a response video by Professoranton:

To summarize it... Knowledge and language aren't barriers if we, the professors and students don't make them barriers. Or, if we see language as not an "initiation" but a perspective-taking, enriching experience, where words are playful, dynamic, living expressions of ourselves... then academia need not be dry! In fact, it can be illuminating.

Organic education, I think has become the highlight of discussion. How can we reveal the natural ability for creative space? By releasing control, but integrating the traditional university path with more organic, living systems. A step away from bureaucracy might be a good one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Academia for everyone?

The philosophy of "open" source, also implies, I think, a new way of thinking about complex ideas. How can we portray them without the inherent barriers of academic-style writing? If no one can understand us, how do we expect to effectively help society in any way? Or bring about true knowledge? In other words, can we portray the same ideas without complicated jargon? If we can't, we face a huge challenge: having insight without having the words to express it.

There are a number of answers, and what we seem to be doing in the first place is

1) If you don't understand the language. Learn it! (ie. encourage more academics, the path of the college student). This appears to be a conservative application, though not misplaced. We should encourage others to study, to learn, to gain knowledge--yet know the limitations of such an approach. How many of us take time, or have time to dedicate ourselves to the delicate art of learning? After all, it's certainly art. We need to acquire a particular mastery in the skill of acquiring information, processing it, articulating the knowledge gained and critiquing it as well. We are encouraged to delve into other perspectives, as well as cultivating our own. Though not all professors heed this advice, it's a life path and a noble one. It also takes some skill not to become lost in a world of words, disconnected from our bodies and our immediate experiences.

This is a useful skill that should be encouraged, however, the insight into the academic life, if not translated to the populace, might be seen in the near future as, well, more archaic than useful. If information continues to be more decentralized, setting up a school or university in which one has to "enter" in order to learn might be going against the modern trend of "opening up" and flowering of information, open and accessible to more and more people. What once helped humanity may now begin to be seen as a limitation. There is nothing inherently wrong with the set up a university. It's just that times have changed, and relatively it may be seen to be too "closed off," from society to do the same job it had once done.

Like monasteries now stand as objects of "departure" from society instead of centers of knowledge, is the university destined to become the same?

We need to help educate people. But equally so, we must learn to come down from that mountaintop and bring our knowledge back without getting lost in it. Can we do that? And so, often 2) is offered: make it accessible to everyone, without limit.

Wikipedia, the internet in general has made this possible. However, with knowledge (content) there is also the need for structure (the internet, or centralized "universities.") How might we utilize the decentralized power of the internet to provide a more useful tool than a walled-off (sometimes physically) university? After all, a school is often rigorous, standing the test of time, credentials, legitimacy--how can a virtualized style education offer the same?

The third way, or the new way really, is yet to be seen clearly. It may take more time for technology to become more useful for shifting our focus from institution to collaboration. In the future, we may see a university as a network, rather than a focused point on a map. A digital framework of professors, with local "centers," which students are admitted and meet to do their studies, and apply themselves to more activities. This permeable, brain-like network of future universities might also help students collaborate between schools, effectively boosting the awesome power of networking to even greater degrees. The potential for such efficient networks might yield great benefits to the societies they thrive in, offering scientific, academic and technical knowledge to folks who live around them. To be a student might also mean to be engaged in society, rather than needing to disengage.

Here's to a brighter future for academics. Questions, comments, and critiques are welcome. After all, the future starts right here.

Related links:

Alan Watts, the Human Game.

Often enough in sociology, we aren't exposed to enough philosophy. After all, we deal with the fuzzy lines between abstraction and concreteness. We observe the "big picture," politics, ethics, economics, culture--and a great deal of that has to inherently do with philosophical questions, as well as assumptions. In this, Alan Watts presents the "human game," and puts our civilization in new light. Enjoy!

PS: For some good reading, check out his most sociological book: Man, Nature and Woman.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Spotlight: Jurgen Habermas explores the question: Do societies evolve?

For those of you unfamiliar with him, Habermas is one of the world's foremost philosophers. His major claim to fame is the development of his, "communicative rationality," theory. What I find to be so interesting about this guy, is his daring claim (particularly daring to me, this idea is not touched much in undergrad social science classes): that societies go through development and evolution, just like individuals. Both the individual and the society at large share a common evolutionary structure of growth. That is, societies reflect the individual, and the individual reflects society. No man is an island, because we share common languages, cultures, or as he puts it, our "life world."

"The ontogenetic models are certainly better analyzed and better corroborated than their social evolutionary counterparts. But it should not surprise us that there are homologous structures of consciousness in the history of the species, if we consider that linguistically established intersubjectivity of understanding marks that innovation in the history of the species which first made possible the level of sociocultural learning. At this level, the reproduction of society and the socialization of its members are two aspects of the same process, they are dependent on the same structures."

He's basically saying that, individual studies of development are much more researched, but the evidence is abundant that there is a macro-developmental spectrum too. A shared language helps establish a shared culture, and that culture can go through its own process of development in the complex interaction of people and their traditions, their capacity to reflect on their worldviews, and even their capacity to change them in light of new challenges. For instance, Habermas mentions the shift from tribal societies to mythical-based ones (or rather, the emergence of civilization) is best understood as a cultural adaptation to growing population. A growing society could no longer identify itself from the perspective of its own ancestry, and its modes of organization were no longer effective in larger groups. Therefore, people naturally adopted different perspectives, ideas and attitudes towards the world at large.

"The transition to societies organized through a state required the relativization of tribal identities and the construction of a more abstract [meaning less body-bound] identity that no longer based the membership of individuals on common descent but on belonging in common to a territorial organization. This took place first through identification with the figure of a ruler who could claim close connection and privileged access to mythological originary powers. In the framework of mythological worldviews the integration of different tribal traditions was accomplished through a large-scale, syncretic expansion of the world of the gods- a solution that proved to be rather unstable [and precipitated the next major transformation."

I bring up this point by Habermas because we are facing a similar evolutionary challenge in modern times. As human populations expand, our modern tribes, or "nations," can no longer remain isolated and self-interested. We are at a point in civilization where we recognize whatever one nation does, may affect the entirety of the world. We share global problems, global dangers, and as such, we are faced with the challenge to adapt our "lifeworld" to survive and establish some form of equilibrium. In other words, our common "structure" of consciousness has to find a more inclusive and cooperative mentality, just as it has done in the past, but to a more intensified, and certainly more tolerant worldview. Pluralism, cultural relativism has done what the relativism of tribes has done, but there is still lacking a clear idea as to what may "bind us" together, at least in popular discussion. It's a heated debate.

Some academics recommend a "World Federation," which may be necessary and inevitable. But how will it be structured? Who will make up the federation? Will it be in danger of becoming a dangerous, oppressive power? Still others recommend uniting through a common challenge: avoiding ecological disaster, and solving the energy crisis. While this is part of our world's problem, I don't think the problem will unite us so much as the emergence of a more inclusive worldview, and the means to do it. This has happened in the past, how might it manifest today?

I believe another point of view is emerging within society. Habermas also mentions that aside from cultural evolution in a social dimension, physical adaptations of a society also provide new means and new ways of socializing. For example, a complex language system, combined with the ability to write, created an even deeper cultural space to bind the society together. We are in the process of a similar expansion of cultural space: the internet is the bare-bones skeleton of a future "culture space," which, potentially, may envelope the world. Some say the internet is the greatest invention next to the printing press. That too, helped expand and complexify cultural space (differentiation and increasing layers of complexity is a universal direction in evolution). So what we have the potential for, now is the means (internet, network, decentralization) for a new cultural worldview (worlcentric, collaborative and cooperative society). The physical setup of the internet empowers collaboration, cooperation and group effort, so efficiently its beginning to outrank traditional hierarchies and bureaucracies, not to mention over-power them. The idea of power is very important in the social sciences, so understanding this new mode of social action as being empowering, even more so than "centralized" authority will provide individuals with the inspiration for new philosophies, new worldviews that are more tolerant, universal and inclusive. We are living in fascinating times, and I believe we now have the means, or at least the seeds, for a true world civilization.

Monday, August 17, 2009

OSS updates.

We have a twitter: opensourcesocio. Please contribute to discussion via tags "#sociology" "opensocio"

More members are trickling in, though I'd like to start focusing my efforts on getting us exposed to more people.

Getting back from vacation tomorrow, new thoughts and ideas coming soon!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rheingold and Gordon Brown talk about a new kind of society.

Two interesting TED talks I recently came across: Gordon Brown, prime minister of the UK and Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs discuss the implications of internet and mobile communication technology.

Although recent issues in England about surveillance may make Brown seem a bit hypocritical talking about internet, democracy and a global government, I think the implications he's speaking of transcend any limitations he may have. The idea is that, the time has come for us to begin creating a closer, inter-dependent world civilization. The technology is literally at our fingertips. What Brown may not realize is, the need for central authority figures, institutions, etc. may slowly deflate, and finally go extinct by the end of the next century. I'm sure many folks are not yet aware of the implications of a network society. Rheingold goes into the details of what a network society might do, and what it is already doing. Collaboration, he argues, has always been a part of human nature. We do things when we think we can receive mutual benefit. I help you, you help me, we help each other. This inter-connection, although it isn't quite selfless or compassionate, helps bind people together, and may help folks slowly recognize and appreciate one another a little more.

To me at least, the idea of "tit-for-tat" is a primitive and basic component of human nature, which we should by all means enhance and exploit for the benefit of everyone. To paraphrase the words of Robert Wright, cooperation and collaboration trumps competition. As a sociologist, I believe at least creating an environment where "tit-for-tat" is now a primary focus for the majority of tasks in civilization (everyday life, greater projects, smaller projects, food, energy, etc), you generate a fertile ground for a more world-centric consciousness. That may sound fancy, but all it means is, we now have a more effective way for organizing ourselves in civilization, and that may eventually bind the world together, not in some great, bloated centralized government, but in a networked, diverse system of minds and bodies, a network civilization, more capable of dealing with environmental issues, energy problems and famine.

At any rate, both are great videos. Check them out when you have a few minutes to sit and listen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Changing future; how the internet is rewiring our global civilization.

As we creep further into the 21st century, many of the problems that plagued humanity twenty or thirty years ago still exist, many of them worse than ever. What practical solutions do we have in a world where pollution, global stratification, starvation and poverty dominate the majority of the human population? Globalization has come at a great cost. There is no golden path out of these problems, nor is there an easy solution. Those with money and power are often more harmful than helpful. So what are we to do? As social scientists, it's a difficult task asked of us: to attempt to understand the state of the world, and perhaps offer our assistance in any way possible. For all intensive purposes, we are David, looking for one good rock to take down Goliath.

To slay stratification, tyranny, injustice - what an ideal! And maybe, just maybe, the future is looking brighter. Will the 21st century close as a positive chapter in history, will it tell of a mass influx of democratic states, renewable energy, world hunger on the decline? It might, but anyone taking a look at these issues will tell you that the problems are daunting, complex, with no easy solution in sight. This is true. However, we may have to consider one major variable in the equation, one that may work to benefit the growth of a more interdependent, and connected world, reaching places people never before possible. That variable is the internet.

Often, technological inventions, if they are significant enough, bring about major change within a civilization. Particularly in the way information is distributed and how people can organize. The printing press is one such example. Following its invention, and subsequent mass-production, a ripple effect spread across Europe, contributing to a massive influx of decentralized knowledge - books! The Protestant Reformation, a spread of liberal ideals and philosophies (Voltaire, for example) were made possible by this technology.

Today, we have another technology that holds equal, if not greater potential than the printing press. The internet is literally structured like a decentralized web, linking up points across the globe. The more links, the more complex and interconnected the world becomes. If the trend over the past 20 years is any indication of the direction we are going, then expect the internet to become as foundational to communication as the radio, the TV, or yes, the printing press. 

The daring idea many folks are considering, particularly Clay Shirky, is this: the internet is going to transform the way people interact, literally linking up and re-structuring our global village. 

Many nay-sayers point out that this is hardly the case, that the internet will be shut down if it begins to act as a tool for protest, democracy, or a challenge the status quo. Is this really the case? In a recent video, Clay Shirky analyzes the criticisms and makes a powerful case in favor of the internet being a world-changing instrument, equal to the importance of the printing press. The key to transformative technology lies in its usefulness. Once a piece of technology becomes so common-place, it is no longer talked about, that's when it starts to change things. Or, in other words, once everyone has it and is using it (batteries, cell phones, telephone lines, ignition in your car), it begins to influence the way we interact and think.

What is so unique about the internet? Technologically speaking, it does what all previous forms of communication did, and then something more. It integrates text, images, audio, video, adding a special ingredient: decentralized conversation. No longer are we limited to "broadcasting," or "one-to-many," but now "many-to-many." That's the strength of the web. In the following video, Clay Shirky puts it in perspective: the internet is like a book that comes with a printing press for free. 

[Here is the Clay Shirky video, watch at leisure!]

As the internet becomes faster, easier, and more linked up across the globe, it's causing problems for nations unaccustomed to such decentralized forms of communication. In the video, Shirky references the recent earthquake in China. The Chinese government was unable to hush the event, due to the fact that it was being broadcast to the world exactly as it was happening, from multiple sources. The only way to prevent this from happening again, of course, would be to shut down major components of the internet, effectively blacking out communication.

This raises various political issues. For instance, alright, so what if it's harder to track communication? These nations will just shut off the internet, control it, limit it. Problem solved. The elite remain in power. What's so innovative about that? Given, governments may have the power to "black out" their citizens, or severely limit their freedom online (i.e. China), but as modern civilization continues to invest more of its time, money and energy through the internet, it will also become increasingly difficult to control. In effect, nations which isolate themselves from the internet, will also be isolating themselves from the world. There will be tremendous pressure on nations which have too much control over access. Isolation of the 21st century will have little positive effects. This pressure to "link up" with the world, if these ideas are at the very least intuitive, will force the humanity of the 21st century to become ever-closer, ever more inter-connected. 

The events in Iran are another example, though somewhat controversial: exactly how much of a role did Twitter really play in the political turmoil and mass protests? 

Nevertheless, twitter did at least help the rest of the world see what was going on, in some cases, before major news stations broadcast the information. As we understand the potential to utilize the internet more and more, perhaps journalism of the future will evolve with the times.

Examining the big picture:

Taking a step back, and trying to analyze the internet as a phenomenon, I believe we can see another parallel in history. Towards the end of the middle ages, there were significant trade roots which exposed western civilization to the far east, bringing with them new ideas and new culture. With this exposure, many civilizations were affected. The internet, virtually, is acting in the same way. By linking up parts of the world that were once unable to communicate as instantaneously (or nearly as much), ideas permeate throughout nations, influencing citizens halfway across the world. This permeable, interconnected "global village," is continually saturating the world with more and more communication, information that was not possible before (Wikipedia, new technology and digital education, etc). We are literally having a second renaissance of information explosion, and the means to share it with each other in a decentralized manner.

This networked structure makes it very difficult for any central authority to reign supreme. As newer and easier means for the internet become technologically possible, and profitable, we might observe a massive influx of communication, including in the third world.

This new structure of communication is also a new way of organization. New possibilities, including collaborative research, a weakening demand for bureaucracy, and powerful democratic means to organize and protest may radically shake the foundation of our civilization. Take a quick look at Open Source projects, the Creative Commons or Science Commons for observing these trends in action. For the first time in history, we have a decentralized method for mass organization, and that, more than anything else, is going to create a very different civilization. This is literally re-wiring civilizations from the inside out, as internet communication and technology continues to be used.

The irony is that many of the problems we have today, with globalization, world trade organizations, and so forth, have made it possible for the internet to expand and dominate communication. In a way, they have made the ground fertile, and decentralization is only going to continue to spread like wildfire.

So what are the practical solutions for world problems? How many times have we heard that we must rewire society first, because the way governments and businesses work are never going to be able to handle issues, and only encourage stratification? Well, the means are here: decentralization via the internet. The more the world has it, the more potential there is for transformation and new activism. As the years go by, the internet becomes less and less a separate entity, and more a bedrock of modern civilization. If you're looking for one thread, or underlying pattern across the world, this is it. Follow it to its roots, and you may begin to find effective means for helping it spread. And so it comes down to this; David has found his pragmatic rock to slay Goliath through a simple philosophy: illuminate the world by linking the vast points together.

Note: edited this post a bit to clarify some issues...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sociology Talk?

With OSS slowly growing into a healthy, chatting community, I'd like to raise a general idea:

Aside from blogging, posting links, sharing knowledge and making great discussions in the threads, what else could we do?

One idea that came to mind was a virtual conference, a "sociology talk," where anyone could hop on for weekly or monthly chats via skype, or internet radio. We could choose a few topics and create discussions that people can listen to live, or hear later, when we post it up on OSS.

V-Blogging, or video blogging, or any form of audio conference is a great idea. Some examples of what's already out there:

Creating such a project, as a sub-project of OSS, would be a great and creative way for people to get more involved. I can take some initiate with this and see where it goes. If you're interested, by all means check out OSS groups for updates, or message/email me directly.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Virtual fieldwork for social scientists?

We're living in strange times. I just read an interview with the authors of, "Fieldwork is Not What it Used To Be: Learning Anthropology's Method in a time of Transition."

What happens when a major component, such as fieldwork, suddenly has no "new" places to go? That is, anthropology is rather famous for exploring unknown cultures and people, going to live with forgotten indigenous tribes scattered across the globe, far from the clutches of telephones, TV, wifi and gasoline. Yet, as the world is shrinking rapidly, what is left to explore?

The answer is not a depressing one, although not as adventurous as traveling through forests and deserts. What is increasingly happening, across the globe, is a process of virtualization. That is, things are changing, new things are emerging, but they are doing so in a virtual space. Nevertheless, it is real. We have real conversations, spread news, communicate, make content, debate and do everything we have always done, except now we have a virtual grid to do it on.

A virtual space, particularly one that although is emerging rapidly, is still largely unexplored by social scientist pioneers.

This isn't a complaint as much as an observation, after all, the "real" world has just as much influence as ever. Politics, economics, war, famine, stratification; these things exist in the physical world just as much as they always have, and unfortunately so. They haven't been solved yet (will they ever)? So a majority of our efforts and research and activism has been abundantly provided for these world wide social issues.

Social scientists take note, however, that the world is a changing place and never remains stagnant.

The internet is not so much (as it once was) a detached, abstract place in which we could escape from reality. Very quickly, it is replacing most forms of communication technology. Everything is becoming digital, from relationships to communities. A lot of the world is increasingly "online," as the world-wide-web becomes embedded into the world, and not the other way around. We could consider it a platform for real action, and that's what many are doing. In other words, the virtual-sphere is becoming an integral player in the world. It has provided the means for the WTO Seattle 1999 protests, if you recall. It's becoming an active ingredient in studying society, because people are beginning to use it in every day life.

Although still in its development, this virtual "sphere" that is growing layer upon layer, vine by connective vine, is transforming the way people behave, and the very structures of society. Many argue it has little effect against the mega-giants; those banks, trusts, nations and big businesses that cause stratification across the globe. And, to some extent, yes, this is true. We aren't living in anywhere near a digital utopia, but take heed skeptics, that such phenomenon has happened before, and it has great potential to alter the way a society is structured, the way it behaves, and who holds the power.

Also, as a sociologist, one thing I have noticed is that people tend to start using something before they become aware of what they're doing. A phenomenon kicks up, and then we reflect upon what we're doing, why we're doing it. In the same way, ironically, us sociologists use our cell phones, email, read blogs like this and communicate within social networks. But after some time and significant development of these new mediums, it begins to affect us. As sociologists, and social scientists in general, this would seem like a wonderful opportunity to not just be using the internet as tools, but to analyzing how and why, and to what affect these mediums have upon us?

I guess to simplify, it goes like:

new techno-social changes occur-> self-reflection-> greater understanding of what we're doing and why.

To speak philosophically, our self-awareness evolves, folds over on itself before expanding again with new and greater potential.

With all that in mind, it would seem that social scientists have a gold mine of new places to excavate and explore. New, literal ecosystems of minds and ideas, people and communication are all over the globe. They behave differently than previous generations. All in all, the world is ripe with change and a bizarre tendency to fold over on itself, complicating, enriching, internalizing, virtualizing. Why wouldn't this be a fascinating place for field work? That being said, I'd just like to put a quote from the article here:

A: Like other social scientists, anthropologists shouldn't make predictions. We would prefer to offer a scenario -- in which fieldwork comes to conform to an increasingly refined, rigorous and concrete model of just the sort whose crafting we are pursuing in Fieldwork Is Not What It Used to Be. If it does so, it will among other things stand in rough analogy to the architectural model, crafted and recrafted in the studio from one critical pedagogical encounter to the next.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The revolution will be twittered.

For anyone following the events in Iran, Clay Shirky has a thing or two to say about it in an interview with TED. Here is the full Q&A, source is posted at the bottom of the page.

What do you make of what's going on in Iran right now.
I'm always a little reticent to draw lessons from things still unfolding, but it seems pretty clear that ... this is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media. I've been thinking a lot about the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 where they chanted "the whole world is watching." Really, that wasn't true then. But this time it's true ... and people throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They're engaging with individual participants, they're passing on their messages to their friends, and they're even providing detailed instructions to enable web proxies allowing Internet access that the authorities can't immediately censor. That kind of participation is reallly extraordinary.

Which services have caused the greatest impact? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?
It's Twitter. One thing that Evan (Williams) and Biz (Stone) did absolutely right is that they made Twitter so simple and so open that it's easier to integrate and harder to control than any other tool. At the time, I'm sure it wasn't conceived as anything other than a smart engineering choice. But it's had global consequences. Twitter is shareable and open and participatory in a way that Facebook's model prevents. So far, despite a massive effort, the authorities have found no way to shut it down, and now there are literally thousands of people aorund the world who've made it their business to help keep it open.

Do you get a sense that it's almost as if the world is figuring out live how to use Twitter in these circumstances? Some dissidents were using named accounts for a while, and there's been a raging debate in the community about how best to help them.

Yes, there's an enormous reckoning to be had about what works and what doesn't. There have been disagreements over whether it was dangerous to use hashtags like #Iranelection, and there was a period in which people were openly tweeting the IP addresses of web proxies for people to switch to, not realizing that the authorities would soon shut these down. It's incredibly messy, and the definitive rules of the game have yet to be written. So yes, we're seeing the medium invent itself in real time.

Talk some more about the sense of participation on Twitter. It seems to me that that has spurred an entirely deeper level of emotional connection with these events.
Absolutely. I've been saying this for a while -- as a medium gets faster, it gets more emotional. We feel faster than we think. But Twitter is also just a much more personal medium. Reading personal messages from individuals on the ground prompts a whole other sense of involvement. We're seeing everyone desperate to do something to show solidarity like wear green -- and suddenly the community figures out that it can actually offer secure web proxies, or persuade Twitter to delay an engineering upgrade -- we can help keep the medium open.

When I see John Perry Barlow setting himself up as a router, he's not performing these services as a journalist. He's engaged. Traditional media operates as source of inofrmation not as a means of coordination. It can't do more than make us sympathize. Twitter makes us empathize. It makes us part of it. Even if it's just retweeting, you're aiding the goal that dissidents have always sought: the awareness that the ouside world is paying attention is really valuable.

Of course the downside of this emotional engagement is that while this is happening, I feel like I can't in good consicence tweet about anything else!

There was fury on Twitter against CNN for not adequately covering the situation. Was that justified?
In a way it wasn't. I'm sure that for the majority of the country, events in Iran are not of grave interest, even if those desperate for CNN's Iran info couldn't get access to it. That push model of one message for all is an incredibly crappy way of linking supply and demand.

CNN has the same problem this decade that Time magazine had last decade. They simultaneously want to appeal to middle America and leading influencers. Reaching multiple audiences is increasingly difficult. The people who are hungry for info on events of global significance are used to instinctively switching on CNN. But they are realizng that that reflex doesn't serve them very well anymore, and that can't be good for CNN.

Do you get the sense that these new media tools are helping build a global community, forged more by technology and a desire for connection, than by traditional political or religious divides?
You can see it clearly in what's happening right now. And it cuts both ways. The guy we're rallying around, Mousavi, is no liberal reformer. But the principle of freedom of speech and fair elections and the desire for reform trump that.

So how does this play out?
It's complex. The Ahmadinejad supporters are going to use the fact of English-speaking and American participation to try to damn the dissidents. But whatever happens from here, the dissidents have seen that large numbers of American people, supposedly part of "the great Satan," are actually supporters. Someone tweeted from Tehran today that "the American media may not care, but the American people do." That's a sea-change.


PS: More on this one later.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The evolution of social networks

Alot of social networking tools, like Twitter, are usually developed as a further evolution in an ecosphere of communication technology. Emails, text messaging, twittering, status updates, blogrolls, followers, following, etc. These are all nifty little "linking" or "networking" technologies that always seem to be doing 2 things:

1) Enhancing the ability to network and communicate: Each new invention, "status update" or "SMS blogging" or microblogging, allows faster and more instantaneous communication.

2) Adding greater degrees of complexity to social communication. As the new techniques pile up, some catch on like wildfire. This literally adds layers upon layers to a virtual ecosphere. Over time, complexity and the rate of that complexity increases.

This exponential growth has blurred the lines between "online" and "offline." Describing the internet as a "geek tool" for "computer programmers" or "techies" is a forgotten association. Nearly everyone's online, and most of us are talking. Chatting goes on, and the internet, mobile phones, etc are interconnected, a part of everyday life and interaction.

So following this trend, how can we further enhance, evolve interaction with each other? We can add one another to blogrolls, email, leave comments, etc. It's almost like planting grass seeds. They'll take root, and develop a loose but connected "patch." The question is, how can networks such as Open Anthropology, or Open Source Sociology make successful, organic and living communities? It starts with basic networking, but I suppose the question I'm putting forward is: what makes a successful network?

Good resource for studying social interaction and the internet: Here Comes Everybody.

PS: The interesting phenomenon of increasing complexity over time raises some more questions, and more possibilities. Like what you say? Well for one thing, this might help us get a clearer understanding about whether or not we can take more evolutionary perspectives on changes in society. Biological evolution also gets more complex as time goes on. As more parallels emerge, what new tools can we use to understand ourselves and the societies we live in? Perhaps this calls for a renewed interest in sociobiology.

Pirate Bay Judge Not Biased?

After the guilty verdict, the Pirate Bay challenged the decision with the allegation that the judge was biased. The Stockholm District Court was in charge of reviewing this allegation, and concluded that:

"-his membership in several pro-copyright groups was merely an educational tool that increased his knowledge of the issues."

This is sure to outrage the already angered population who support the Pirate Bay, and view this as a sweeping act of money, power and corruption talking over any sort of objective trial. For anyone unfamiliar with the Pirate Bay's case, and why it's pretty significant, I recommend taking a stroll down memory lane: The King Kong Defense

The Pirate Bay was brought to trial in Sweden due to heavy pressure from US lawyers (on behalf of Hollywood and other media business). They charged the Pirate Bay, a bit-torrent tracking site, of promoting and encouraging the act of "illegal filesharing." Do people have a right to share their music, their movies, if they are not making a profit off of them? Is Sweden being bullied into enacting laws that more powerful countries seek to be instated? Do US companies have the right to do this? And furthermore, to what extent will we lose our privacy in person-to-person sharing? As the internet becomes a vital role in society, big decisions like this one set precedents.

As people become more integrated and interconnected, the older, stricter legal and economic systems need to evolve. If you take a look throughout history, it seems clear that the system needs to evolve with and for the people, not the other way around. Luckily, this is being done at a smaller level. The Creative Commons offers a new legal system for sharing your media. So too does the Science Commons do for collaborative research. We're living in a new world, and it's high time governments and businesses learn they can't stop that from happening.

Sources: Court Review Says Pirate Bay Judge Not Biased

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Joy of the Commons

When have human beings ever been able to communicate with each other to such an integrated degree? Voices from all over the world can sing in unison, or compliment one another in different harmonies. For the first time in the history of our evolution, we are capable of organizing a living, breathing, global voice. A million minds all evolving and meshing together. This enormous potential and literal evolutionary leap is changing society from the ground up. It has enabled everyday behavior; talking, chatting, updating, communicating to be further enhanced by text messages, mobile phones, mobile internet. This blogosphere, mental sphere, or to coin a word from the philosopher Teilhard, noosphereis terraforming society.

Why shouldn't we then take this new territory, with all of its busy, chatting electronic and organic devices (mind, bodies and machines) and do something in the spirit of ever-evolving unification? That is, to simply communicate with each other. I urge anyone who stumbles across this little node to speak up, leave a comment, or write me back! And I'll do the same. Talk, and someone talks back. It starts with such a simple process of interaction.

Eventually, and given enough time to evolve, take root and spread its first leaflets, the "noosphere" will reach a new plateau of development. Imagine, if you will, a society of chatting, writing bloggers, where the majority of thoughts, feelings, ideas and projects all emerge from this rich ecosystem of minds. That reality is already here, sprouting up in this blog and that. So I urge you to do, whatever it is that you're doing! But whatever that may be, consider it in the words of Teilhard:

"No evolutionary future awaits anyone except in association with everyone else."

Pirate Party gains a seat in European Parliament

The swedish Pirate Party has gained "7.1 percent of votes in Sweden in the Europe-wide ballot," making them capable of gaining a seat in the European parliament. Major win for the internet generation! The Pirate Party has a number of goals:

1) Re-regulate copyrighting.
2) Abolish the patent system.
3) Reduce surveillance on the internet.

About time there were official voices of support for modern forms of media exchange, no?

Source: http://af.reuters.com/article/oddlyEnoughNews/idAFTRE55623320090607

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Is the fictional universe of Star Trek a good model for open source?

Just found this interesting article, comparing the contemporary battle of open source vs. "closed" as something like aggressive, territorial Klingons vs. the more peaceful, "open" Federation. Good analogy. In the Star Trek universe, money has been done away with, and although there is still organization, institutions, etc, they seek as a major profit: scientific and social discovery. The federation is a "peaceful empire" of sorts, expanding and, in the words of Captain Pike from the new movie, "a peacekeeping armada." Interesting concepts, although are they idealistic?

Wouldn't it also be interesting to see what science fiction writers could do with the philosophy of open source? Could we imagine entire societies running in such an open, decentralized and collaborative way? How would you make money? What would be the ups and the downs? Society would appear more like a "hive" of minds working to create "nodes" or projects of one sort or another. Interesting possibilities! Any creative minds out there?

The Badge, Updated

Want to post the "OSS" badge on your blog? Just copy and paste this simple html code....

Without these brackets [small badge]
Other updates...

The network has a few members, hope to see some more soon.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

OSS Community, Network

Alright, it's done! Open Source Sociology now has a home on Ning. It's drafty in there, and definitely needs some more decorating. It's also quiet! I'm hoping folks will find there way there with the help of everyone spreading the word. Just pass the link to anyone you know who is 1) a sociologist, post-graduate, graduate or under-graduate, or 2) a social scientist of any kind. It'll be a great place for us to get situated, discuss, share knowledge and help the network spread. Also, it's a place to begin talking to each other!

Open Source Sociology.

If you or anyone you know is crafty with website design, or would like to assist in building the network (moderators, bloggers, etc), please contact me: shaman sun (at) g mail.

Further development..

Ning could be a good website to build small community where we could all discuss ideas and branch out, what say you? In fact, many groups online have started by creating ning "hubs." I'll get to working on this. Also, if anyone knows how to make the "OSS" badge a nice and easy, cut and paste HTML, let me know?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The "Badge."

I've put together a basic looking badge to put on your blog. If you can or want to, please feel free to customize it!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The OSS Network:

The purpose of the Open Source Sociology Network was greatly inspired by Open Anthropology Project. Our intentions are the same- to enhance communications between social scientists, taking collaboration and information exchange to a new plateau. A network of blogs can help support each other, give valuable feedback and help sociologists and other social scientists remain up to date with current events, publications and projects. It also will provide everyone with an easier means to share their ideas, and create new projects. The internet is a valuable and powerful tool that sociologists can utilize!

My job here is just to help string the network together, adding more blogs to the network. To view a similar project, I recommend checking out Open Anthropology's plan:
A place to share ideas
A place to find like-minded anthropologists
A place to collaborate
A place to hold virtual conferences
A place to host podcasts
A place to ask questions
A place to learn about new tools for anthropology (online tools, field tools, etc.)
A place to find resources (e.g. databases, good grad programs, upcoming colloquia, software, field opportunities)
A place to publish
The idea of an engaged anthropology for the 21st century in relation to the digital revolution
Group blog with posts from both Keith and others
Forum for discussion
Online press to publish longer pieces
The incorporation of Twitter, social bookmarking, wiki, etc

This list is wonderful. If any sociologists would like to help me come up with a similar list, or contribute their ideas to the development of this network, please feel free to join in on the discussion, email me or leave comments. Also, feel free to post links to your own blogs, so that they can be added.

What's currently on the agenda for the OSS:

1) Continue to spread the word and link blogs.
2) Develop a neater looking badge, as well as any other networking tools.
3) Possibly create a ning website, this would help create a "hub" for us to further discuss ideas.

Google "Wave," the tip of socio-technological evolution?

Google's latest project, "Wave," is still in development, but they've already given us a great description:

What is a wave?

A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.
A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.
A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

In essence, Wave appears to be a virtual workstation. To me, this seems to be a further evolution in the growing trend towards ever-more-collaborative technologies. Apple has a similar idea built into their operating system, Leopard, where users can share a desktop. These ideas have the potential to really evolve the collaborative-media sphere that is quickly becoming the most interesting phenomenon the internet has to offer. More updates as they come along. For now, here's the video offered on the Wave page:

Pirate Party Gains Numbers, Support

After losing a trial this spring, The Pirate Bay's has appealed for a re-trial in a higher Swedish court. Since then, there has been an explosion of political support, even the creation of a "Pirate Party." Do we have the right to share and download movies with each other? If you're not profiting from it, Spain thinks so. In Pamplona spain, the defendant was acquitted of his charges: downloading and sharing thousands of movies and songs, due to the lack of any evidence that he was profiting from said file-sharing. At least someone is making sense! There is a lot of international pressure built up to support this crusade, but equally there are growing numbers, particularly of the younger generations on the opposing side.

The battle can get messy, but what it comes down to is a fight for media rights. Do we have the right to share information and media freely and openly? Is the traditional legal copyright system actually impeding creativity and expressive freedom? The Pirate Party, and others like them think so. Hollywood and other media companies (often not the artists themselves), disagree. Year after year, they attempt to crack down on "pirating" files, but it seems to no avail. As the older generations get older, and the younger generations mature into the cultural and political spheres, we might see decisions reflecting the Spanish court's attitude towards media sharing in the internet age.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Spotlight: "Institution vs. Collaboration"

Clay Shirky is the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. In this video, he articulates just how society is transforming from the ground up. Instead of needing institutions and "centralized" agents, we are growing towards a decentralized and network-style way of running society. Technology empowers everyday people to do things never before possible.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What's out there already...?

There are a number of projects already going on right now in the same spirit of "open" or "public" sociology. For instance, Public Sociology itself has the same goal. There is also Sociologists Without Borders.
However, OSS and the "social science commons" are a bit different in the sense that these new ideas utilize the blogosphere to be the means to collaborate and network. The most powerful tool we have today is the ability to collaborate and create organizations without much hierarchy or bureaucratic structure. As Clay Shirky says, it's a matter of institution vs. collaboration, and collaboration is becoming an ever more successful model for getting things done. "Public Sociology," as its stated on the website, has the task of "Institutionalizing Public Sociologies." I'm not sure we'd want to do this. Rather, let's compliment the already existing efforts with a networked, grassroots project. Imagine even a few hundred sociologist, anthropologist and political scientist bloggers, chatting away in the blogosphere. Closer friendships, ties and even activities and research could arise from there, without the constraints of needing an "institution" first, or even an official journal. In other words, I'm arguing for us to use the social networking tools to help us create an organic collaborative community.

That being said, check out the "Sociologists without Borders: Think Tank."A good place to start!

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    open source sociology by Jeremy Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
    Based on a work at www.opensourcesocio.blogspot.com.