#PLENK2010 Discourse ethics

This is a follow-up post of my previous post on tacit knowledge, reflection and personal knowledge.

I read this paper http://flyvbjerg.plan.aau.dk/CIVSOC5%200PRINTBJS.pdf about Habermas and Foucault’s approaches with interest.

From Habermas’s view: Validity and truth are ensured where the participants in a given discourse respect five key requirements of discourse ethics:

1. No party affected by what is being discussed should be excluded from the discourse (the requirement of generality);

2. All participants should have equal possibility to present and criticize validity claims in the process of discourse (autonomy);

3. Participants must be willing and able to empathize with each other’s validity claims (ideal role taking);

4. Existing power differences between participants must be neutralized such that these differences have no effect on the creation of consensus (power neutrality);

5. Participants must openly explain their goals and intentions and in this connection desist from strategic action (transparence) (Habermas 1993:31)

The author then adds another requirement:

6. Unlimited time

These requirements of discourse ethics seem to provide useful net etiquette for social and learning networks, especially for forum discussion.  Such requirements sound instrumental in discourse too, as each requirement symbolizes the importance of inclusiveness of parties, autonomy, role taking and individual identity,  power neutrality, and transparence expected from participants. There are however, implications when such etiquette are implemented in networks.

First, are the etiquette adequately planned before its introduction? How about consultation, negotiation and agreement of the etiquette content with the network participants. How are the rules derived?  Should the rules be based on consensus or voting by the network participants?

Second, such rules and regulations could sometimes be too idealistic for networks, if it is developed without consideration of the changing needs and motivations of the participants.

Third, as Foucault has pointed out, action is power, and so any action relating to the application of rules on the participants would be viewed as a symbolic imposition of power over the participants, which would reduce the autonomy of the participants in the networks.  Is such imposition of rules and regulations desirable for the network participants?  How would power be exercised in an ethical manner in networks?

Refer to previous post

So would boundary judgements be useful in network discourse? How important boundary judgements are in the networks discourse?  What is important is for the network participants to be aware of the boundary judgements, as suggested, by raising questions, and thus come up with a shared understanding on what the rationales are behind the judgements of participants.

p.18 Habermas’s approach is oriented toward universals, context-independence and control via constitution-writing and institutional development.
Foucault focuses his efforts on the local and context-dependent and toward the analysis of strategies and tactics as basis for power struggle. 

p19 The value of Foucault’s approach is his emphasis on the dynamics of power.

So, social conflicts are the true pillars of democratic society (Hirschman 1994: 206). I think networks that suppress conflict do so at their own peril, as once conflicts are suppressed, freedom amongst the members could be lost, and so is autonomy of the networkers (participants or learners).

In a Foucauldian interpretation, suppressing conflict is suppressing freedom, because the privilege to engage in conflict is part of freedom.



8 thoughts on “#PLENK2010 Discourse ethics

  1. Hi John
    Thanks for this post, very interesting. In my view it is not only the power in discourse development, but also inherent in the network itself. I have been thinking a lot about the power on networks, and the power on the Web as it is now determined by Big Money rather than that it is hierarchy free (See this post by Berners-Lee http://tiny.cc/zbjtp). This influences the information we can access. Information brokers also influence what access we have to information and resources. And the level of trust that we have for them will determine who we use to filter our information.

  2. Hello John. I’m inclined to side with Foucault on these matters (I haven’t yet read the paper you cite). Discourse ethics, and the ‘Etiquette in Social Media’ manifesto of George et. al. sound like ‘classroom management’ teaching technics to me, and I find this writing interesting:

    “Behaviour problems and the teacher’s anxiety over losing classroom control are the thorniest objection to learning in school and university life” (Britzman, 2010, p. 22). I wonder if ‘discourse etiquette’ (in the social media environment such as plenk forums) is a bigger issue for teachers than others? Perhaps because of their teacher training? What do you think?

    I give credit to Stephen and any other facilitators who let the discourse find its natural ground, and don’t seek to impose their sensititivites on it.

  3. Hi Ken,
    I haven’t read Britzman paper, so have to explore his paper before I could comment.
    Behavior problems and student discipline has been an important part of teacher training for decades. I undertook courses in this area in my teacher training long time ago. The recommended strategies developed in the 80’s to 90’s were all based on psychological and behavioral approaches, and they were very interesting indeed.
    I think the theory and intervention involved in etiquette could be an important topic of discourse, especially for online adult education or learning. How would all these be applied in online courses and networks? That would be very interesting area to learn.

  4. Hi John, I agree, it would be an interesting study. I wonder if many of the adults now engaging in online courses/networks are products of the type of strategies used on children in the 80’s and 90’s? I wonder if any damage to the children ensued during that period? I wonder how many of the PLENK participants who are teachers used those strategies, and still see benefit in them? I don’t know if you have run across Alfie Kohn’s work yet, but here is a link in you are interested:
    This book by Kohn concerns classroom management:

    I wonder if Stephen’s concept of diversity in network learning is something that is relevant in PLENK-type forums. Does diversity include disagreement and conflict? Would stamping out conflict, by imposing etiquette, result in a less-diverse process, more of a group-think network?

  5. my tweet re netiquette was because my blog was subject to several tirades of anti connectivism and anti course conveners, I am currently having to moderate comments to stop this person from using my blog for her ends. i wondered if anyone else had experienced similar.

  6. Hi Ailsa,
    Sorry to hear that. I haven’t got that problem but I am moderating comments to stop the spams. Thanks for sharing and I will watch out on any tirades.


  7. Hi Ken,
    Thanks for sharing. I will peruse the referred articles.
    Relating to the concept of diversity in networked learning, I think this is a complicated one, especially when people of different cultures “intersect” with others in different media or spaces, and so the “intercourse” arising out of the interaction could be difficult to predict.

    Does diversity include disagreement and conflict? Thanks for such a good question indeed. When you want to fully embrace and value the true spirit of diversity (of opinions) in networks, then the question could be: Would you also tolerate disagreement and the conflicts emerging out of the network interactions? Would the answer to these questions depend on the context and the cultural values adopted by the nodes of the networks? Who are the people in the networks? What are the political, cultural and religious values? How would they interact? What tools or media are used? What are the conflicts? How do they occur? What are the disagreements based on?

    Conflicts are just natural “babies” born out of the interaction in networks, when people disagree with each other due to their different ideas and beliefs held.

    In a group setting (such as the typical online class), interventions such as conflict resolutions are applied to dampen the impact of grievances due to conflicts, so as to allow for compromises in disagreement. Would conflict resolution be equally effective in social networks? I don’t think so.

    Human behaviour is difficult to predict in networked learning, and there has been studies revealing the irrational nature of human, despite our emphasis of rationalism in education and learning.

    Your question of: Would stamping out conflict, by imposing etiquette, result in a less-diverse process, more of a group-think network? Would you imply that stamping out conflict is necessary? If conflicts are resolved, then each party may agree on their disagreement, or they could each seek out to compromise towards some agreement – win some, lose some in order to achieve the win-win situation.

    Would etiquette imposition work? Would a “better” way of checking on this be the use of experiments on vitual networks and see what happens? There are risks and ethical issues to be considered in such cases.

    There is a controversial debate here about Science and Religion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-UQT7Ujju8 (Part I), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20ZC4-xBbLc&feature=related (Part V), and there are 12 parts/episodes. I don’t’ know if the verdict here is “right” but found that teachers wouldn’t allow for any Intelligent Design concept (or Creationism) into the curriculum, as they would only accept Darwinism as the acceptance of Science, and not Intelligent Design. May be there were some cover ups by those on the Boards of Directors and a less than convincing presentation by the professor (defendant) to the Judge, but there are many good lessons to learn from this case study.

    Through this case study, I could see many conflicts emerged out of the debates. The use of arbitration in resolving the conflicts seems to have solved the problem. However, I don’t think the conflicts have actually be resolved.

    So would it be true that conflicts were often left “unresolved” in networks, even though there were interventions imposed upon such conflicts?

    How would you resolve such conflicts in the above case?


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