Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Monthly Archives: March 2007

Ontology Interests [Updated x2]

For those who have been curious about L Magee’s project, particularly if you’ve had a look and are still wondering what it is all about, I note that an introduction has been now posted over at schematique. Armed with the new information this introduction provides, I logged in to have a play, and am currently contemplating what to enter into my profile. Like the (sorely missed) “destroy” button, the profile screen offers all kinds of outlets for my anarchic impulses. There is a very large free response space, for example, where I can list my “ontology interests”. I’m wondering whether the appropriate answer for someone like me should be (with a nod to rob) “that there be none” or “prefer epistemology, myself”…

I also love the help information on this page: it’s not every day you see help for a profile that explains:

Only the username and password fields are obligatory. Other fields are used to add metadata to your ontology

But what if my ontology interest is “avoiding metadata”? What if I like my ontologies neat?

Also, although this seems somehow oddly appropriate, given my interest in self-reflexivity, should I have been able to do this: Read more of this post

Copping the End

I was having a conversation with a friend earlier today, when discussion turned to the ways in which anger and frustration could transmit themselves through individuals within an institutional context – discussing examples of situations in which someone high up in an institutional structure could direct anger downward to someone who would then re-direct it to their subordinates, and so on – until the transmitted anger either reaches someone who refuses to perpetuate the pattern or, as my friend suggested, is finally grounded in someone who lacks the ability to retransmit to anyone else…

As interesting as all this might be, I found myself far more captivated by the… sociological implications of the metaphor my friend used to describe the final person in such an institutional chain. It opened my eyes to some dimensions of rural Australia that, I’ll admit, I have never previously encountered:

My friend: “It’s like, you know, when you get in a line, and someone touches the electrified fence…”

Me: blank stare

My friend: “You know: when you get in a line, and you all hold hands, and then someone grabs the electrified fence – and all of you get shocked, but the person on the end – well they really cop it!”

Me: “What?!”

My friend (realising that this might not be a practice with which I have personal experience): “oh… maybe ’cause it’s a farm thing – you probably weren’t doing this in Chicago…”

Me: “So… you get together with friends, hold hands, and… shock yourselves on an electrified fence?”

My friend: “Yeah.”

Me: “Not much to do in your hometown?”

My friend: *looking sheepish* “Well, you know… we didn’t do it at the bull paddock or anything. I mean, you’d want it to be somewhere else…”

Me: “How did you get the person to agree to be on the end?!”

My friend: “Oh, you’d swap it ’round – you don’t always cop the end…”

So we have a group of friends, united around a practice that causes pain for all of them, because it doesn’t cause most of them as much pain as it does the poor bastard on the end – and because, even though they sometimes are the poor bastard on the end, most of the time, this role is filled by someone else… Honestly, this is such a perfect metaphor for so many things – I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…

Huis Clos

orange. continues to hold this blog’s methodology slam title, offering a new interpretation of what’s really going on, for all who have been confused by L Magee’s ontology-matching experiment: orange. suggests that it’s later than we think. What LM has been calling a “pre-alpha” software development phase is no such thing: in reality, the software is fully developed, and the experiment’s on us!!! The cat’s out of the bag now, LM: admit it – you’re just studying what academics do when you throw them out of their comfort zone, and place them in a state of confusion: do we bluff, nod sagely, and pretend that we know what’s going on? Do we lash out and start tossing citations? How confusing does the environment actually have to be, before we fess up and admit we have no idea what’s going on?

The Reason of Total Myth

I suspect this counts as one of the stranger backchannel communications to float around the reading group – from an email this evening that is, apparently, an invitation to our discussion tomorrow of The Positivist Dispute in German Sociology:

Dear Theodore and Jürgen,

12.30 it is. I’m hungry already.

Karl – Jürgen has agreed to wear a red carnation, so you will know where to aim.

Yours sincerely,

M Horkheimer

But… but… but… how did Horkheimer make his way into this discussion???

Beta Blocker

I know that L Magee has been working very hard recently on the development and debugging of the ontology matching software that will provide the empirical data for a dissertation on the Semantic Web. Being the kind, considerate friend that I am, and wanting to ensure that LM stays always in a state of good cheer through this intensive work period, I must draw LM’s (and everyone else’s) attention to how the beta is already garnering scholarly repute. From orange.’s interference: yes, LM, you have now been immortalised as:

LMagee, contributor to Rough Theory and author of the strangest beta I ve ever seen

Socratic Methods

A colleague just observed one of my discussion sessions, and walked away expressing some surprise at my technique – specifically: “It’s very… Socratic…”

The pause makes me somewhat unsure whether this was meant as a compliment, or more an expression of dismay… ;-P

The Ourglass

I mentioned the other day that L Magee and G Gollings foolishly allowed themselves to be tempted by a lunch invitation, little knowing that this would entrap them in a four-hour discussion of how I can best carve a thesis out of a life project. While this discussion was very much in the spirit of the methodology slam, those who know me well, also know that my extensive involvement in teaching and consulting on research methodology very much embodies the spirit “those who can’t do, teach” (those who are currently teaching jointly with me may then wonder where one goes when, as seems to be happening to me this term, one can’t necessarily teach either – I plead the 5th [I can do that in Australia, can’t I? ;-P])… When one’s work seems not to involve a methodology per se, and when the discussion therefore revolves more around the logic and coherence of the narrative presentation of the dissertation, I’m not sure one is permitted to say one has been slammed. Perhaps a new term is required: perhaps I have been… dissed!

In the wake of my dissing, I have tossed together some personal notes and placeholders – I’ll write on all of this in a much more adequate way when I have more time and am less tired. I post this here mainly for GG and LM (and others locally who have been involved in more truncated versions of such discussions), in case they are wondering what I’ve “done” with these talks. My guess is that what I’ve done with them won’t much resemble what one might have hoped, given the detail of our discussions and the excellent suggestions made by everyone: by way of apology, I simply haven’t had time to digest and assimilate everything you’ve said. I’ll therefore stress that the following notes are not intended for prime time viewing, don’t even meet the usual loose standards that govern gestural comments around these parts, and are internalistic, rather than shaped for public discussion and debate. Below the fold they go. Read more of this post


I’ve been having an interesting email discussion on the issue of how to teach students to do efficient and productive searches for academic literature in online databases. The discussion doesn’t relate to teaching the technical mechanics, but to teaching the conceptual strategies that underlie searching: we’re trying to respond to situations in which students will point, click and type in all the appropriate places, but then return to report things like “I can’t find any articles on the environment”.

Since I teach across a variety of methods courses, I run into this issue all the time – and, I have to confess, have a tendency to punt on it by referring the students to the library staff for help with search strategies. But we’re trying to figure out the best way to tackle the problem without… er… outsourcing…

Our discussion, however, is suffering from serious sample bias: everyone is a nerd, and therefore finds this sort of thing a bit too natural: none of us can really remember learning to do searches, and we are therefore struggling to figure out where the process breaks down, and what we need to do, in order to make the whole thing less abstract. And, since we’re all nerds, at some point I speculated about whether more time spent on text adventure games as a child might have made learning this whole search concept easier. And, of course, given my interlocutors, I immediately got back:

You are in a maze of twisting little library stacks all alike.
Exits are N, S, E, W.
> find research

I do not know how to ‘find research’

Appearances Can’t Be Deceiving

Since I have no time at the moment to write on Hegel (but evidently have time to comment, when someone else writes a good post on his work), I wanted to point readers over to Larval Subjects, where Sinthome has posted a very nice reflection on among other things, Hegel’s attempt to move beyond the dichotomy of appearance and essence, and to explore some of the ways in which it can be stranger than one might think, to contemplate the possibility that things might actually be… what they appear to be… I’ve made a few comments over there that might either clarify or further confuse positions I’ve tried to develop here in the past.

At some point this week, I will try to find time to post something more substantive here – in between course planning and some very intensive conceptual work, I just haven’t quite found a way to voice the theoretical issues that are occupying my thoughts right now… But soon… Soon…

Taking Note

I was just sitting down to look over the notes produced during an intensive discussion today with the ever-generous G Gollings and L Magee (more on this in a bit), when my son wandered over to have a look. I learned today, among other things, that L Magee and I have a similar style for capturing the logical (or, for that matter, associative) connections between ideas in our notes: we scatter words around the page, draw boxes around them, and then, as my son just noticed: “Oooo! Look at all those arrows!!!”

There is one key difference between our words, boxes and arrows, however: I have a tendency to double, triple, and quadruple the lines as the conversation returns to a point, such that more resonant concepts and relationships gradually come to inhabit a sort of layered cloud of increasingly dense and interweaving lines and half-sketched shapes, while the less well-travelled conversational paths remain in their original, more pristine form.

I also learned that LM is trying to understand what I am saying, by translating it into set theoretic notation – a discovery that elicits in me a certain combination of amusement and consternation. If anyone else feels this would be a step in the direction of greater clarity for me, I hereby appoint LM as the authorised translator of my work for such purposes… (Note that, while I have forbidden LM from commercialising this arrangement, LM may nevertheless require a small in-kind contribution in the form of ontology-matching services, to offset expenses…)