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Paul Grobstein's picture

The web, disciplines, books, and "active decontextualization"

I like the notion of inquiry as "active recontextualization," and see the web as facilitating that rather than a "passive state of decontextualization." It indeed provides a "wider and more diverse net," and I don't see anything in the medium itself "nudging us in the opposite direction." Are there other forces that might do so, that might make the web less a force for active recontextualization? Yes, of course, but that has always been so, for all media. The web is not enough to encourage wide spread "active recontextualization." We still need to encourage it in other ways as well. But the web is, it seems to me, a distinct aid to that process.

So too of course was the development of the printing press. There is no question but that books have been for many (me included) a route to "other larger worlds," i.e. to "recontextualization." But they have limitations in that regard as well (the bottle neck of being selected for publication by some authority, the lack of interactivity). They depend as well on the acquisition of a specialized skill ("reading") that not everybody has, and that is for at least some people nearly impossible to acquire. In these terms, books are a route to decontextualization for some people but a barrier to it for others, and placing unusual value on reading is empowering for some but disabling for others.

Perhaps its not irrelevant that some of the most explosive recent growth of the web relates to video? There are presumably ways to find "other larger worlds" other than in books (as there were before the development of the printing press), perhaps ones that don't have some of the limitations of books and the printed word? Maybe the web is moving us in those less wrong directions, as the printing press did earlier?

Perhaps a similar logic applies in re "disciplines and decontextualization"? Yes, of course, disciplines and their "social/political origins" have been and and will continue to be useful in inquiry. And yes, of course, all inquiry is "contingent". That doesn't say though that one can't recognize, at any given time, particular ways in which particular approaches discourage rather than enhance recontextualization and try to move beyond those. There are things to see and ways of seeing other than those recognized and endorsed by people interested in "how they fit together with others". No "quasi-scientific standard of truth" is involved here, only the kind of "profound skepticism" that drives a persistent effort to get it less wrong.


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