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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

A Participatory Process

The Internet is participatory, like movies, play, and conversations. Being able to explore in your own way, not in someone else’s order, is a key notion discussed in relation to bricolage. Since participation plays a part in all of these things, it is part of the process itself and bears further scrutiny.

Skolimowski (1996) has developed the notion of a participatory mind and a corresponding participatory methodology based on theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler’s notion that we live in a participatory universe: “we are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are not only observers. We are participators. In some strange sense, this is a participatory universe” (p. 16). Skolimowski goes on to point out that all knowledge is species-specific and culture-bound:

We don’t acquire knowledge in itself. We acquire it within the wrappings of culture and with this knowledge we swallow the ethos and the ideology of the culture. The same holds for cosmology or the knowledge of the structure of the external world. This knowledge is also not independent of culture but culture bound. (p. 17)

Skolimowski (1996) was influenced by Karl Popper, a philosopher of science, in the 1960s who decisively argued that the scientific method “as a preferred and sanctified mode of inquiry leading to scientific truths does not exist. Anything can be a source of knowledge. This was an exhilarating liberation from the limitations of old-fashioned empiricist bound epistemology.” Yet Skolimowski goes beyond Popper, noting that “reality is continually becoming” (pp. 17, 18)

In discussing the participatory methodology that he envisions, Skolimowski (1996) makes the point that we need to tune our consciousness to the uniqueness of the phenomenon we investigate: “We must participate in the universe we investigate and not dismember it with our ruthless analytic scalpels” (p. 21). We need to go from an objective consciousness to a compassionate consciousness: “there is no participatory universe without full participation in it, without in-dwelling while we participate. There is no in-dwelling without compassionate consciousness” (p. 22). In-dwelling is done by being able to empathize—to dwell, to belong, to share, to give and take so that you can become a part of what you are investigating, identifying with the object of inquiry, by looking from within.

Barbara McClintock, who Turkel (1984) discusses in relation to soft mastery and bricolage or tinkering, won the Nobel Prize in biology for doing just this when she identified with chromosomes. McClintock notes: “I was part of the [system] . . . it surprised me because I actually felt as if I was right down there and these were my friends . . . as you look at these things they become part of you" (Skolimowski, 1996, p. 22). Indwelling is one of the important aspects of the heuristic method discussed previously.

The web site as dissertation allows us to experience play more in this in-dwelling way—to dwell within the cultural creations and participate in the dissertation ourselves. The participatory structure of the dissertation allows us to improvise as it were. By becoming a part of the process, the Cartesian split is again undone. You are no longer a reader out there, but a participator in the dissertation, steering your own course.

Marshal McLuhan, who gave us the term “global village”—before the mouse, hypertext, personal computers or the Internet’s predecessors were created—is deeply interested in electronic media. He sees electric culture as organic, versus mechanistic culture, based on steam. McLuhan envisions the computer as a force of individual freedom, allowing individuals to create their own worlds, “to escape the straitjacket of linear text and to make of thought a collage of insight” (Grosswiler, 1998, p. 156).


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