On Deadlines

It is not surprising that the etymology of the term “deadline” is allegedly derived from the use of a line drawn around prisons during the American Civil War. They did not have walls and prisoners would be killed if they crossed it.

And he, the said Wirz, still wickedly pursuing his evil purpose, did establish and cause to be designated within the prison enclosure containing said prisoners a “dead line,” being a line around the inner face of the stockade or wall enclosing said prison and about twenty feet distant from and within said stockade; and so established said dead line, which was in many places an imaginary line, in many other places marked by insecure and shifting strips of [boards nailed] upon the tops of small and insecure stakes or posts, he, the said Wirz, instructed the prison guard stationed around the top of said stockade to fire upon and kill any of the prisoners aforesaid who might touch, fall upon, pass over or under [or] across the said “dead line” …. [“Trial of Henry Wirz,” Report of the Secretary of War, Oct. 31, 1865]

One of the transparent mechanisms of control in the media industry workplace is the deadline. They are put in place to ensure the delivery of work and this second meaning apparently emerged in 1920s American journalism. Deadlines become a mechanism of control because they can be manipulated by editors and management. Most often is the practice of bringing a deadline forward so as to increase the productivity of staff. That way different teams can be played off against each other. Editorial files copy at accelerated deadlines and this puts pressure on design to prepare layed out and designed pages for pre-press.

There are multiple deadlines within academia. It is normally up to individuals to manage these deadlines. An added complication is that academics often organise work, and publications in particular, on the strength of social ties. The matrix of multiple deadlines by which individuals are suspended therefore gathers an affective dimension beyond the ‘regular’ anxieties of deadline pressures.

One of the tricky parts of setting journalism assessments is trying to incorporate learning outcomes that prepare students for working in the news-based media industry with multiple continuous deadlines. The classic example is the newspaper newsroom, but even my experience of working in monthly magazines involved multiple daily deadlines because our editorial teams worked across multiple publications at once.

The deadline organises a composition of power relations that bridiges those that belong to what Deleuze called the ‘society of control’ and what is regarded as the ‘disciplinary society’ (from Foucault). Workers are ‘imprisoned’ in front of whatever screen as part of whatever socio-technical assemblage will enable them to meet the deadline. There are more nuanced versions of this, specifically the relation between editorial teams (or similar) and production management. Editorial teams can feel a sense of camaraderie in the face of pressures from management. Even if you intensely dislike your co-workers, you still ‘get the job done’.

Amongst one’s academic colleagues this changes slightly, because it is not ‘management’ dictating when work is due, but your friends. A similar arrangement could be found in freelancing, but I am not sure. There is an economy of goodwill and effort determined by the distribution and access to opportunity. Some colleagues have access to opportunities, or they are good at creating them, others perhaps less so, or work on opportunities of different kinds. The point is that not only is friendship at stake in meeting deadlines, but so is the way access to opportunity is distributed.

Meeting a deadline requires one to be ‘at’ your ‘desk’ or your ‘office’ (or more generally an interface within an assemblage of productivity), and hence to be counted as being productive. As in Foucault’s disciplinary societies, this fixes you in space. For those that know writers or perhaps follow them on social media, think about how often texts about writing discipline circulate and the various practices and rituals performed by writers to get the job done. The deadline also involves the modulation of affective relations beyond anxiety or dread, like the prison without walls, a deadline also suspends those trying to meet it within specific relations of reciprocity. These relations are not premised on traditional antagonisms between workers and management; they are premised on relations of friendship.

I am thinking about deadlines because I am trying to meet about half a dozen at the moment and I am also waiting on others to meet deadlines.

Two articles on ‘know how’

I am currently in Perth and I’ve taken the opportunity to finish a couple of pieces of writing that were (over)due. Both are on the topic of ‘know how’. One lays out the mostly philosophial dimensions and the other is a shorter and more accessible application of the concept engaging with early examples of Make magazine. This is the second paragraph of the longer piece, and it basically outlines what the article is about:

In this article I shall endeavour to explore the relation between experience and ‘know how’ as a ‘tacit’ form of knowledge, the role of enthusiasm in the production of ‘know how’, and engage with the problem of the transmission of ‘know how’. Why is the transmission of ‘know how’ a problem? If ‘know how’ is a tacit form of knowledge, then there are difficulties imagining how it is transmitted through the media without becoming an ‘explicit’ form of knowledge. I shall turn my attention to the humble ‘how to’ article, as its primary purpose is the transmission of ‘know how’. My solution to this problem is to tease out the way ‘know how’ is developed through experience and then to suggest that instead of transmitting ‘know how’ itself, the ‘how to’ article presents the conditions of experience through which a reader or viewer can develop ‘know how’. I shall draw on relatively complicated conceptions of experience derived primarily from Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of transcendental empiricism (Deleuze, 1991; 1994: 180; Deleuze & Guattari, 1994: 48). There is an affinity between Deleuze’s conceptualisation of the ‘disjunctive synthesis’ in the dramatization of thought and the situational art of ‘know how’ (Seigworth, 2006; Widder, 2012: 35-52; Williams, 2005: 15-24). This ‘high theory’ will be somewhat alienating for those unfamiliar with Deleuze’s philosophy, but I hope by drawing on relatively familiar examples such stylistic complexity will be less sharp.

Socio-technical systems and the asymmetrical determination of ‘know-how’

I’m about two thirds of the way through restructuring and rewriting an article on ‘know-how’. This is the first proper publication to come out of my PhD dissertation that I finished in 2007. My goal is to lay the theoretical groundwork to eventually carry out a ‘media archaeology’ of ‘know-how’. It is largely based on Deleuze’s reworking of Kantian metaphysics, but I am using such philosophical concepts in a very applied way.

I define ‘know-how’ as experience-based practical knowledge. ‘Know-how’ is developed in the body through some kind of practice. ‘Developed’ has two meanings here. Firstly, like a polaroid photograph, ‘know-how’ develops as a consequence of exposure to the conditions of experience. Secondly, the differential repetition of experience develops ‘know-how’. Experience does not accummulate, so for example, it would be incorrect to describe someone as ‘more experienced’. Rather, experience is differentiated as the synthesis of memory is founded on the synthesis of habit. Someone only ever has a experience that through its differential repetition becomes ‘keener’ (or ‘duller’). 

The episodic character of differentially repeated experience through which ‘know-how’ is developed I am calling a ‘challenge’. I define three characteristics of ‘challenges’. First, its problematic contiguity, which I won’t go into in this post. Secondly, there is a material ‘kicking-a-rock’ dimension of challenges and, thirdly, there is also an incorporeal or virtual dimension to them. ‘Challenges’ are similar to problems (in the non-Deleuzian sense) because they beg some kind of resolution or solution. But unlike problems, a ‘challenge’ also demands some kind of mobilisation to ‘rise to the challenge’. Hence, the affective disposition of the subject of ‘know-how’ is of crucial importance.

In terms of affect, there are three ways to respond to a ‘challenge’, depending on its character. To be ‘beat’ by the challenge means to be over-awed (or under-awed) and assume a diminutive relation of the ‘passive affections’ of the ‘challenge’. One’s capacity to act is diminished. On the other hand, to ‘rise to the challenge’ and mobilise to engage with an increased capacity to act determined by the active affections of the challenge. In between is a complex relation of active affections in all dimensions of the mobilisation bar one, and that is the capacity to delineate or intuit the ‘challenge’ itself. By inheriting the ‘challenges’ of others, one’s co-assembly of active affects — what I am calling ‘enthusiasm’ — becomes harnessed by whatever agency is positing and valorising these inherited ‘challenges’ as worthy of mobilisation. For example, this is how ‘enthusiasm’ belonging to subcultures becomes harnessed as a resource by the creative industries.

In this article I am primarily concerned with the way ‘know-how’ can be transmitted. The core problem is that experience itself cannot be communicated. My solution to this problem is to engage with the ways the condition of experience (i.e. ‘challenges’) can be transmitted. When a subject of ‘know-how’ begins to develop ‘know-how’ he or she is exposed to what I am calling the ‘visibilities’ (following Deleuze’s reading of Foucault) and ‘tactilities’. ‘Tactilities’ captures a sense of the qualitative capacity to and practice of getting one’s ‘hands dirty’. This is a non-cognitive tactile appreciation of the material qualities of the ‘challenge’, where habits of practise are synthesised in the body as ‘tacit knowledge’.

The best example of the the transmission of ‘know-how’ is the much neglected ‘how to’ article. The ‘how to’ article walks a subject of ‘know-how’ through a ‘challenge’. The subject develops new ways of ‘seeing’ the elements of the ‘challenge’, new ways of manipulating and engaging with the material elements (‘tactilities’), and mobilises through a co-assembly of active affects (i.e. implicit ‘encouragement’). Because of my unique work background I have countless informal examples of how ‘know-how’ is developed, but rather than extensive (and probably boring) examples of how ‘know-how’ is developed (in my dissertation most of a 12k word chapter was spent going through the example of how I fixed a broken fan belt on my car!) I use the actor-network theory concept of ‘black-boxing’ as a way to think through the way subjects of ‘know-how’ engage with socio-technical systems.

Jay Rosen, Engagement and News: Turning Parliament into a Cooking Show

EDIT 22/02/12: Annabel Crabb has a new show on the ABC: Kitchen Cabinet. Blurb from the show’s ‘About’ page:

A half-hour entertainment series that serves up a delectable combination of political discussion and good food. Each week one of Australia’s most respected political commentators – Annabel Crabb – takes a plate and leads us into the homes and hearts of some of our most notable and engaging politicians. She sits down and talks food, recipes and carbon tax with MPs from both sides of the fence.

Food and politics are never separated for long. The best plots are hatched over lunch. The best stories are told over dinner. In Canberra, dinner bookings are an anthropological study in themselves. If you go for a walk around Manuka or Kingston during a sitting week, you see a graphic illustration of the capital’s power shifts. Why is that minister sharing noodles with that factional opponent? What is that disenfranchised bunch of back benchers plotting? And the best way to get to know a politician is to break bread with one.

Kitchen Cabinet will deliver a refreshing human touch, as we watch our politicians drop their guard and go about their daily life at home.

I transcribed part of a panel discussion from last year’s #NewsNews event at the Melbourne Writers Festival primarily for the students in my online news classes. The panel was titled Outsiders and involved Belinda Hawkins, Greg Jericho and Jay Rosen. I took an interest in the panel when following the hastag for the #NewNews event and noted much tweeting and retweeting when Belinda Hawkins joked that to get people to engage with political journalism parliament should be turned into a cooking show. I downloaded all tweets with the #newnews hashtag using The Archivist software. It allowed me to figure out precisely what was tweeted and when, then track down the panel name and eventually the video of he panel. The video of the panel is here. Below is the transcript of the relevant sections of the panel. It begins with a section from Rosen about how his keynote to the panel, which he had made publicly available before delivering it, has been critiqued by a working political journalist (I think this is the critique Rosen is referencing). It is this comment that is later referred back to when an audience member asks the panel about engagement. It is worth reading both sections to get a proper sense of Rosen’s example (at the end of the transcription below) from This American Life.

Video Time: 30:13 -35:08

Jay Rosen

In this piece, and it’s kind of a long analysis from someone who does political journalism, and he makes the point that you make, he says “Look… what lots of these academics don’t understand…” And I knew it was going to be good when someone starts lecturing me about journalism, this is going to be good… “is that the market for political journalism is actually very small. It’s a small number of people, often you hear this phrase ‘political junkies’…” You know, ‘For all those political junkies out there’ who sort of really, really care about politics. You could never really build a business on it, because it is such a tiny percentage, and most people, you know the larger percentage of the public, is, you know, watching other spectacles, is interested in entertainment, whatever… umm, and when you realise that you’re reporting for this small group of people who are intensely interested, then what the insiders are doing to manoeuvre and manipulate this larger body of people is actually what these political junkies want to know about.”

And so he’s saying is that ‘people like Rosen don’t understand how political journalism works because they think the entire public is like hanging on our every word, when actually we’re just addressing this…’ ok? He has a very elaborate defence, even though, yes, much of the time it is a bunch of crap… I think this is really interesting, because it goes back to like classic debates in the 1920s about the nature of the democratic public. I think there is a tension when we come upon a tension like this when we come across two different ways of perceiving this.

One is to say, basically, he’s right. Most people don’t care. They’ve got lives to lead and they’ve got other things to do and basically the best they’re going to do is pay attention a little bit for the vote. Yeah, they’re going to be shaped by advertising and stereotypes, but that’s just the nature of the world and we have to be mature and admit it. Right… And then we can found our ideas about politics and journalism on an honest assessment of them. So that’s one point of view.

Then the other point of view is.. Well, wait a second; in a democracy the only legitimate basis for government is the consent for the government and if you are actually saying that people can’t actually know enough to give their consent, then what you are really saying is that we don’t have a democracy, we have a kind of aristocracy which has the appearance of the consent from the governed is there, but actually most people are just manipulated masses.

So this journalist says “No, is true that it’s hard to get people engaged in politics. It’s true that there’s many competing interests, it’s true that we have to be realistic and modest in our expectations we also have to continually try to interest the broader public in what matters to them. If you work in politics, if you work in journalism and you don’t think that’s important anymore, because really it’s a small group of people who are interested in politics, then you’re in the wrong business… Ok? And I tend to come from the second perspective and a lot of people in political journalism really take the first perspective, which is why they’re always telling me you don’t understand how it works.

Video time: 46:44

Question from Audience

I just had a question about what Jay was talking about before, about how it is too difficult to get… to engage people, umm… I wanted the panel’s thoughts on how you actually… ‘cause, in a sense, we’re all here today, because we’re actually, you know, on a Saturday morning talking [Jay Rosen starts nodding] about media and politics and [inaudible, ‘blogging issues’?]… the people who are living in middle… middle Australia , I’m not sure how interested they’d be, so how do we reach out to the people…

Belinda Hawkins

[Interrupting] I know the answer… I’m telling you I have the answer [Rosen looks very sceptical, Greg Jericho is amused] In television you’ll gauge whether people are watching you or not by ratings. Stories about certain topics do not rate, we know they do not rate, we run them, we look at them, we go into them because there is a wider purpose at the ABC than just thinking about ratings, um…

The story on Four Corners about abuse of animals in abattoirs in Indonesia did not rate, there was a huge turn off factor, and yet it generated an enormous amount of discussion and it was invaluable because of that.
Stories on Australian Story that I do about politicians, we know.. we go into it… except for the one about Julia Gillard before she was Prime Minister, every story I’ve done on politicians didn’t particularly rate… Politics is a turn off. So what do you do to fix that?

You turn parliament house into a cooking program. [audience laughter] MasterChef… [audience laughter] MasterChef is destroying current affairs on a nightly [inaudible] on the ABC. Everything needs to be couched in terms of a cooking program… and there’s no reason why parliament couldn’t be done that way [audience laughter]
No but seriously what do you… [gesturing]

Jay Rosen

I think that this is a really really hard problem for the reasons that you just heard articulated and I go back and forth on it. This American Life is probably the best radio program in the United States by the brilliant Iva Glass is a story-telling program and lots of times the show will be about… people have bizarre relationships with their mothers… people that cross cultures. It’ll be people… This American Life is about stories of real people. But every once and a while they’ll do something completely different than that and their most famous recent program, actually its older that than that it is three years old now, which was The Giant Pool of Money. Which was a one hour documentary on the [inaudible, ‘bank crisis’?].

It started when Ira Glass, who’s the host, kept hearing these stories in the news about sub-prime mortgages and the collapse of banks and they didn’t know what was going on and they were befuddled like any other citizen would be, because they’re not economics correspondents and so they decided to try and explain – what was happening and why we had this crisis that ultimately cost the treasury hundreds of billions of dollars – to themselves. And their one hour documentary, The Giant Pool of Money, is overwhelmingly, by a factor of ten to one, the most downloaded program they’ve ever done and it’s about the intricacies of the mortgage market. So when you come upon things like that, it makes me think, ‘Well there is a way to engage a larger audience, you just have to help them understand and that that’s actually harder than reporting the news, because that’s what that program was, ‘We’re going to help you understand this really complex, strange, bizarre event that cost you hundreds of billions of dollars, right… And the key to the program was that the people making it began in the same position as the overwhelmed ignorant public and they travelled to competence [inaudible, ‘by observation’?] and looking back to where they were when they started, and how they achieved mastery, they told the story so others could have mastery as well. So sometimes I think that if sometimes we had journalism like that we could expand the circle.

This passage from unknowing to knowing (and the affective character of the non-formal knowledges produced) is best captured in the ‘how to’ or ‘instructionable’ style of article. My current work is begins to develop an archaeology of ‘how to’ articles. Why are there not far more socio-political ‘how to’ articles? ‘Pol Inst’ anyone?

Heuristic of Passion: Michael Polanyi and Enthusiasm

I’ve been reading Michael Polanyi‘s book Personal Knowledge (1958). Some aspects of Polanyi’s work have been popular in organisational studies primarily due to his conceptualisation of ‘tacit knowledge’. I have been reading Polanyi’s work for the purposes of the article I am currently writing on an ‘economy of know-how’. Maybe I’ll write another post engaging with how organisational studies have used Polanyi’s ‘tacit knowledge’, at the moment I need to finish this article I am writing.

The subtitle of the book Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy indicates Polanyi’s general program of locating affirmation as a central element of the discovery and development of scientific knowledge. Indeed, instead of a heuristic of doubt or a suspension of belief, Polanyi argues for a heuristic of passion premised on belief. Although deployed in any number of occasions in his argument the character of passion is a given and is nearly always described in terms of its function. In those occasions where Polanyi does discuss the character of this passion it is largely through analogy with what he calls the inarticulate intellect of animals and also in the context of instinctual drives. Silvan Tomkins’s work on the ‘analog’ ontology of affect as compared to the ‘digital’ ontology of drives enables contemporary readers of Polanyi’s to explicate what Tomkins calls a “co-assembly of affects” as characterizing the motivational drive of the ‘passion’ he describes.

For Polayni, ‘intellectual passion’ is an integral element in the process of scientific discovery and development of scientific knowledge. He argues that “into every act of knowing there enters into a tacit and passionate contribution of the person knowing what is being known, and that this coefficient is no mere imperfection, but a necessary component of all knowledge” (329). The passion coefficient of knowledge is necessary for the process of discovery. In his discussion of explorers , Polanyi describes commitment to belief as an integral element of intellectual passion that is satisfied by discovery. The explorer enjoys a “daring anticipation of reality” (327). He isolates this as the creative dimension of scientific progress, and this creative dimension relies on ‘heuristic passion’:

“We have to cross the logical gap between a problem and its solution by relying on the unspecifiable impulse of our heuristic passion, and must undergo as we do so a change of our intellectual personality. Like all ventures in which we comprehensively dispose of ourselves, such an intentional change of our personality requires a passionate motive to accomplish it. Originality must be passionate.” (151)

Polanyi argues that the gratification of instinctual appetites (hunger, sex and fear) is a manner of verification. There is a parallel to intellectual passions in that “all passions animating and shaping discovery imply a belief in the possibility of a knowledge of which these passions declare the value” (183). That is, Polanyi suggests, a (not infallible) ‘competence’ of intellectual passions is to recognise truth. The satisfaction of intellectual passions is a kind of verification of discovery, as discovery “terminates the problem from which it started” and “leaves behind knowledge” (183). The knowledge is expressed as part of the ongoing development of an “articulate framework” (183).

He argues that the interpretative framework built upon previous discoveries is changed by future discoveries; hence it is “logically impossible to arrive [at future discoveries] by the continued application of our previous interpretative framework” (151). This insight is troubled, however, by his use of ‘recognition’ in the process by which problems are identified:

“To see a problem is a definite addition to knowledge, as much as it is to see a tree, or to see a mathematical proof—or a joke. It is a surmise which can be true or false, depending on whether the hidden possibilities of which it assumes the existence do actually exist or not. To recognize a problem which can be solved and is worth solving is in fact a discovery in its own right.” (127)

There is a contradiction of discovery based on ‘recognition’. This is not a question of mere semantics, but relates to the functioning of ‘intellectual passion’ itself. Useful here is Deleuze’s development of a post-Kantian philosophy of the Idea as essentially ‘problematic’ instead of ‘regulatory’. That is, without regulatory universality ideas become problematic, and ‘recognition’ in the way Polanyi discusses it here is no longer straightforward. Polanyi himself argues that radical manifestations of this process of breaking with conceptual frameworks dissolves a “screen” between us and things and in doing so dissolves the subjective into experience itself as a form of radical contemplation distinct to our normative experience of experience: “as observers or manipulators of experience we are guided by experience and pass through experience without experiencing it in itself” (209). Perception itself is co-assembled though experience…

Polanyi is primarily concerned with the freedom of intellectual passion necessary for scientific discovery. There is an “essential restlessness” of the human mind expressed through the scientist in terms of pondering new problems and discovering solutions to them (209), but it is not only the scientist that enjoys that satisfaction of discovery. The scientist, in Polanyi’s analysis, is concerned with the “natural order,” while another, for example, the technician or technologist, although working within a similar framework of discovery, has a far more focused heuristic passion.

“He follows the intimations, not of a natural order, but of a possibility for making things work in a new way for an acceptable purpose, and cheaply enough to show a profit. In feeling his way towards new problems, in collecting clues and pondering perspectives, the technologist must keep in mind a whole panorama of advantages and disadvantages which the scientist ignores. He must be keenly susceptible to people’s wants and able to assess the price at which they would be prepared to satisfy them. A passionate interest in such momentary constellations is foreign to the scientist, whose eye is fixed on the inner law of nature.” (188)

The constellation of interests organized around the focused heuristic passion of the technician is in part determined by the set of material advantages afforded by a technology; what Polanyi calls a technology’s “operational principle”: the rules by which a technology “teaches us actions undertaken for material advantages” if we “imputed [in the technologist] the purpose of achieving the consequence of this action” (186). My interest is in ‘know how’ which describes a form of knowledge that engages with such ‘operational principles’ and their material instantiation in a particular technological state of affairs. Unlike the knowledge of qualified technicians however, ‘know-how’ is the accumulation of partial understandings, but full appreciations of such “operational principles”. I call ‘enthusiasm’ the heuristic passion that is in-acted as a constituent element of the experience of discovering the operative principles of technology.