EDEV_508 Week 1_2

(Please forgive this long post. I had written the lower part before I re-read your post and realised that I had misread you! However, the point I make is good, I believe, and can add to the discussion. So I’ve added that to the end.)

I see in Qatar it will be in the low 20s today, while as I write this and look out of my north Japan window, I see children struggling to get to school through a snowstorm. I know where I’d rather be! Our experiences of this module are likely to be very different, at least at the nonconscious level. Like you, I’m a beginner at AR, and also I share your misgivings about how the structure of the modules may impede a better form of learning. However and on balance, these past 21 months have been worthwhile more than frustrating.

I suspect that we are using the term ‘knowledge’ in different ways. As you know, my chosen topic for my thesis is epistemic cognition. This field, although primarily a branch of cognitive psychology (Jeffrey Alan Greene, Sandoval, & Bråten, 2016), has researched the connection between the philosophical branch of epistemology and epistemic cognition (e.g. Jeffrey A Greene, Azevedo, & Torney-Purta, 2008; Kitchener, 2011). Perhaps I’m being too picky about definitions of knowledge, but it is critical for students of epistemic cognition to make clear distinctions about statements of opinion, guessing, belief, thinking, thesis, speculation and so on. Moreover, knowledge can be further categorised into other domains; for example as tacit/ explicit (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; Polanyi, 1962). However, in none of these systems is knowledge seen as a provisional.

We either know something or we don’t. That is, we have knowledge of something or we don’t. If we don’t know something but find utility in maintaining it as a belief, opinion, thesis and so on, we still don’t know it. Rather, we rely on the lack of counterfactuals to preserve the status of the idea. Roy Bhaskar (2008) distinguishes between two kind of fact, transient and intransient. A transient fact is produced by men (sic) and is “a social product much like any other, which is no more independent of its production and the men who produce it” (p. 21). Such facts are malleable, just as we may redefine the specifications of a ‘car’, ‘cat’, or ‘can’ depending on our particular environmental situation. Intransient facts are “knowledge of things” (p.21) and are independent of any human involvement. Evolution is an intransient fact, evidenced by the (intransient) fact that it occurred for roughly 3 billion years before humans came along and gave it a name (a transient fact). If I drop my pen, or if a business competitor raises their prices, this transient fact is experientially and actually real: in the sense that a human can experience it and within the physical and psychological boundaries that define humanity, it is actual to us (Bhaskar, 2008). All such facts are candidates for knowledge. Opinions, guesses, pragmatically useful practices and so on are not.

In action research, or in any human intellectual activity, it is quite useful to distinguish between knowledge and non-knowledge.


[Here is the extra bit, the part before I realised you wrote ‘provisional’ rather than ‘process’.]

… However, in none of these systems is knowledge seen as a process.

To see why, let’s take the example you gave from Poulis and Poulis (2016). The law of requisite variety is a belief that an organisation’s internal structure should be at least as complex as the structures it competes with for survival (Poulis & Poulis, 2016). A given organisation operates in an environment with complexity n; Organisation A needs to respond with an equal n level of structural complexity. However, for each n, Poulis^2 argue, there is the possibility of a mismatch. The need to be adaptive to external environments forces organisations to continually monitor and update their structure. In this brief scenario, there are multiple opportunities to observe knowledge-building processes in action: the monitoring of the external environment; the observing of change externally; the testing of internal structures with the external; the generation of candidate internal change possibilities; and the testing of candidates. (I’ve probably missed a few.)

Which of these processes constitutes knowledge and which don’t? The external monitoring cannot be said to be knowledge in the same way as my physical sensation of being in pain does not mean anything until the sensation passes through my awareness and into my perception. This may happen swiftly for extreme pain but never when experiencing mild discomfort while being absorbed in a game. A process does not necessarily entail knowledge. The organisational monitoring system may result in an observation of external structural differentiation occurring. At the point of recognition, there is knowledge of this difference: again, no process, just instantaneous knowledge. I won’t continue this example, but you will see that there is no real thing as a process of knowledge. However, we can speak loosely about a knowledge building process. In these cases, it is useful to be aware of exactly what we are referring to—the sum of a collection of disparate parts, some of which are specifically knowledge-related and others which are not.

Bhaskar, R. (2008). A realist theory of science. London and New York: Routledge. http://doi.org/10.2307/2184170

Greene, J. A., Azevedo, R., & Torney-Purta, J. (2008). Modeling Epistemic and Ontological Cognition: Philosophical Perspectives and Methodological Directions. Educational Psychologist, 43(3), 142–160. http://doi.org/10.1080/00461520802178458

Greene, J. A., Sandoval, W. A., & Bråten, I. (2016). Handbook of Epistemic Cognition. New York: Routledge.

Kitchener, R. F. (2011). Personal epistemology and philosophical epistemology: the view of a philosopher. In J. Elen, E. Stahl, R. Bromme, & G. Clarebout (Eds.), Links between beliefs and cognitive flexibility (pp. 79–103). Netherlands: Springer.

Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Polanyi, M. (1962). Personal knowledge: Towards a post-critical philosophy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Poulis, K., & Poulis, E. (2016). Problemizing fit and survival: transforming the law of requisite variety through complexity misalignment. Academy of Management Review, 41(3), 503-527. doi:10.5465/amr.2014.0073


About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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