Blogpost by Kristoffer Kloch, Junior Researcher in ETHOS Lab and student in MSc Digital innovation & Management >>>
For long, I have been puzzled by the ‘great divide’ – to reuse a term by Turnbull (Turnbull, 2000) – between the small elite of knowledge producers and the everyday dilettantes of the masses. Turnbull himself use the term to describe the gap existing between the cultures that map their worlds through territorial and scientific discovery and those that do not (ibid.). As he writes: ‘The ancient oral world knew few ‘explorers’, though it did know many itinerants, travellers, voyagers, adventures and pilgrims’ (Turnbull, 2000, p. 97). In other words, not mapping the world is not necessarily the same as not knowing it. Rather, many cultures have lived by performative methods more than representational methods, focusing on experiencing knowledge over mapping it (Turnbull, 2000). Maps are simply not the only way of knowing the world or of assembling knowledge.
One way in which this great divide manifest itself is through the methodological approach to research – at least in the world of academia. That is, a divide between those who map (through research) and those who do not. Furthermore, clear standards are required for said mapping to be academically respectable. Strong parallels can be made to the work of technofeminist Donna Haraway’s Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium (Haraway, 1997), in which she presents the concept of the Modest Witness: the crafting of an absolutely objective observer through the invention and constitution of material, literary and social technologies (ibid.). These three technologies would in co-production determine what could count as pure and true knowledge, derived directly from Plato’s metaphysical realm, exempt from the subjectivity of man (or woman?). Especially the second of these technologies is what this project will be concerned with. Academic research is based predominantly on the written word, presented in a clinical paper-like format, ‘methodologised’ into a predefined culture-of-no-culture (ibid.), succumbing to a standardisation in order to ‘fit in’ with the surrounding research. Although we have long departed the chastity and purity of the physical world into the promiscuousness and embeddedness of the digital-physical world, we still follow this Modest Witnessing.
My junior research project at the ETHOSLab tackles this idea of the academic research paper as an entrance ticket into the realm of producing established knowledge. Specifically, to put things on the edge, I am looking at what one can do with the spoken word that one cannot do with the written? And oppositely, what will you miss in the spoken method compared to the written method? We live in a time where technological capabilities allow us to ‘document’ our research verbally, yet this method of knowledge production is still considered a pseudo-format at best.
To research this, I have set the following frame:
First, as part of the examination process of an actual ITU course, I will analyse and discuss a given case-topic over a period of 7 days, using the course curriculum, which ultimately will result in a written academic paper on the matter. Subsequently, I will choose one of the other available cases for the exam, and redo the exact same examination, but instead, ultimately create a verbal podcast. As such, I will explore podcasting as a method in knowledge production through designing the podcast and working within the podcasting sphere, and in doing so consider the capabilities and constraints with this method. My ETHOSLab research project will therefore be comparative in nature, navigating the space of both methods in order to compare their characteristics, advantages and constraints, by comparing my initial written product with my subsequent podcasted product.
At this moment of writing, my project is still unfolding. However, a few early findings could be worth mentioning. A natural departure point would be contemplating why such great divide is ‘enforced’, and to what extend the academic literary paper helps protect qualified critical knowledge from mere opinion in ways that the verbal podcast does not. The technical capabilities required for producing a verbal product is however not to be understated. Podcasting is not necessarily an opening up of the forum to the masses, but rather shifting the great divide into technical capabilities over academic standardisation. An academic text is in itself not raw: it is the victim of several, iterative calibrations. Similarly, a podcast is hardly ever unedited. The capabilities of good editing in textual versus verbal representations do however seem to have wildly different entry barriers. The origin(s) and manifestations of these capabilities are however not yet fully covered in my project. Also, the academic written paper is created with a receiver in mind, hence its particular format. The same applies to podcasting. As people listen to different stations on the radio due to their particular appeal, so too do different podcasts appeal to different segments. This, again, might not solve the issue of the great divide, but rather shift it and/or manifest it even firmer.
Furthermore, and an issue that so far has been the most burdensome for my project, is the questions: to what extend is the written paper written and to what extend is the verbal podcast verbal? In other words, a lot of non-written activities go into the process of writing an academic paper – some of them even explicitly verbal. Likewise, many non-verbal activities go into the process of creating a podcast. One could possibly argue that podcasting as a method in knowledge production is even less homogenous than writing; one does not merely speak a podcast, but rather create a podcast. With this comes essential questions – at least in reference to my project – situated around which processes in podcast production should be made verbally, and to what extent these processes could actually be considered verbal in nature. A most concrete example of this is the concept of a manuscript, which itself is literary in form. Most podcast do however follow some sort of supportive writing to direct the path of presentation. To make a truthfully verbal knowledge product, should one completely abandon all ties with literary activities? Likewise, note-taking is often performed on paper – or at least often within some kind of graphical format. Should this also be converted into a verbal format? Where exactly is the distinguishing factor between podcasting and writing in knowledge production, given that many of the intermediate processes are not ‘purely’ verbal or written in nature?
As a closing remark, I want to highlight the intimacy of the actual device that tells the podcast. A written academic paper is exempt of any middlemen when being read – or at least they do not become visually apparent. Analog in nature, the experience of the written academic paper seems more immediate and physical, more tangible and ‘real’. It could be argued that a lot of middlemen are involved with the process of creating and publishing a paper (i.e. in the pre-reading experience), but from the viewpoint of the reader, such middlemen are not apparent. The paper seems more ‘direct’. A podcast, however, is widely guided by the platform and environment that casts it, and exist – if nowhere else, then at least in perception – on a less physical, less tangible level. Aspects such as e.g. the UI of the podcasting platform will undoubtedly play a significant part in the experiences of the podcast recipients, and through this also in the creation of the podcast itself. As of now, I have not fully unfurled through this train of thought, but it will be a crucial observation worth thorough consideration, as it will have a noteworthy impact on podcasting as a method in knowledge production.
Haraway, D., 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. 1st ed. London & New York: Routledge.
Turnbull, D., 2000. Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers. 1st ed. London and New York: Routledge.
Kristoffer’s project poster from ETHOS Lab’s Pitch & Play