Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Unflattening privilege

I am currently reading Nick Sousanis beautiful book Unflattening, and while I am not done (the assumption that it goes beyond words really bugs me, and I will soon throw some Roland Barthes on the table next to it and write a review), I think it illustrates certain concepts beautifully. A main theme for the book is the importance of shifting your point of view, having new experiences and gaining the habit of variety.

At a very different point, redditor republicannarnia posted a link to a google document about the connection male privilege/white privilege. This is a nice composition about how a young woman realized that in order to understand her own white privilege, she needed to use lessons from feminism.

Both these points reflect the strategies of research promoted by the cultural studies tradition, called methods triangulation or multiplicity. The point there is that to understand what happens in society, you need to look at it from more than one perspective. You have to be willing to move your point of view.

What Sousanis offers which is interesting though, is a connection between specialisation and limited viewpoints. I think he may be on to something. We have tended to assume that the cause of fear of academia is caused by lack of education. However, when we find people with Ph Ds in physics systematically following and bashing pretty self-evident gender research material, it's clearly not more education that is the problem. Instead, I suspect that the problem is the endless turf wars of specialization, and the fear that comes with shifting your point of view. When we have invested 20 years of education in order to reach the point we are at, and somebody tells us we STILL don't get everything right, that is pretty terrifying. After all, each of us are balancing on the sharp edge of highly specialized knowledge, and it may feel like taking a step to the side in order to get a different perspective may just push us off.

I still don't have a solution. But I am spending what time I have between application writing these days thinking about ways to use methodologies to shift my perspective and unflatten what I am looking at. In between I read Unflattening slowly, allowing myself to be both annoyed and delighted, savouring both points of view.