Power and Participation-Hannah Beardon in the Hotseat

Leonie Ramondt's picture
1 Sep 2008 - 14:22
14 Sep 2008 - 14:22

http://hs.technologyandsocialaction.org/node/174   Come and explore these core issues with Hannah Beardon http://www.reflect-action.org/ and our PRADSA members. Our online hotseat will be informing and extending our 2 day face to face event.

Concept design and the Old Broadcasting HouseConcept design at t

Concept design at the Old Broadcasting House, Leeds, August 2008.


John Lindsay

Reader in Information Systems Design,

Kingston University.


1. 1984


When I was a child at school, and on later, I was told that 1984 was about Stalinism and the horrid USSR. But it slipped out that Room 101 was in Broadcasting House, London, the home of the BBC. Later for myself, reading the tales of his broadcasts to India during the Second World War, it was clear the Choice of Hercules he was making.


I don't think it is about any one place, but about the process in general, by which systems emerge, and the consequences.


2. Writing


It remains as difficult as it ever was to take forty or sixty points, which have connection in a mind and then string them into a sequence with coherence, cohesion,


Now we have digital cameras and it is easy to take and mount an illustration we have a new problem of combining text and images.


One part of writing is the need to check your facts to make sure they are right, and to so reference them that anyone else may check, add, or contradict. This is called scholarship, and as it is part of the challenge of method, I'm not going to do it.


Writing, technology and multi media join together in the matter of size, organisation, interoperability, access, and much else, where what was a sheet of paper, or a book, or an article, are now surrounded by much else, about which much power resolves, very little participation, very little research, and very little social action except for possibly open source.


Writing is also a matter of purpose, project, process and product.




This perhaps should have been paragraph 1?


It is the occasion of this string.


It is the meeting in Leeds.


I arrived a little late, waiting half an hour at Leeds Station for a five minute bus with a disfunctional unreal time information system. But that I even knew of the bus is the consequence of success from a previous design activism adventure in Leeds.


Missing the explanation of the purpose and structure of the event, I was at a disadvantage, adding to the confusion I already had, through not understanding the nature of this event in its process.


Though given that no two people gave the same story of the sequence, that might not make me unique.


PPRSA stands for Power, participation, research, social action. Not mentioned in the acronym, but in the material, is technology. Maybe it wasn't PPRSA, but T, or D for design, I'll have to go and check as I can't remember.


Technology and social action is something I have been engaged in all my life almost. Power is something which has fascinated me since I was a small child, and the concept of participative methods is something I have been engaged in and approved of, sometimes, depending on who has power to decide what any of this might mean.


It turned out that this was the last workshop in a series of a project called PRADSA, social action the last bit, the other bits I'll have to find out. I hadn't understood any of this, but most of the people at the workshop were either engaged in the project in a paid capacity, or had been at some or most of the earlier events.


The event was paying activists who didn't have a day paid job, or who would lost wages, for their attendance. This struck me as a worthwhile principle and had been part of the attraction. It paid the transport and accommodation costs of everyone, which was a substantial attraction.


There seems to me to be the need for a general recognition that people who are immediately and closely involved in something have an engagement which those whose main attentions are elsewhere don't have. Elsewhere I called this rich and reach, grid and group. This means that the main outlines and points have to be easily and frequently available, and repeatable.


I knew one of the participants from previous engagements.


4. Methods


One of my methods in participating in what I call outstilations, is to take with me something on which I am currently engaged, which I might be able to use as evidence of a case.


Another is on the way home, or away, to pick up the first piece of material which might allow me to reflect on the event.


The event had ended in a visit to an exhibition in the Public Library in Leeds which had provided some excellent framing material.


The train before mine had been cancelled, and mine, we were left on the platform completely without information until after the time of departure had passed. This sort of thing is normal for public transport, and part of my social activism.


The train emptied its incoming load, loaded us and left so there was no cleaning, or restaurant facility, or seat reservation availability, though I had a reserved seat, I had to scrum to sit down.


Given the bus story earlier, and each day the bus, free, city, gave me stories for public transport activism, we are now seeing a pattern?


But on the table was a copy of the day's Independent.


This gave me nothing on which to hang any thoughts at all.


That night, over dinner with my boyfriend, telling of the event, I managed to heat myself to a considerable temperature over what I considered the wasted opportunities. He is a combination of artist and musician who also passes as a freelance web designer and user of technolgy, such as podcasting, mashups, and a whole range of themes which had no hearing during the event at all.


The following day, the Economist published its quarterly supplement on technology, and almost every article, including most of the adverts, was germaine to the matter.


That day too I was on a visit to Battle Abbey, which will be a case which will appear, and deals with all the matters of walking, public transport, rights of way, Wow, see 6.


In general, my preferred method is to take a case and work a model with a framework. I am likely to take another case, perhaps up to ten, which makes a suitcase. My argument is that although there might be matters of evidence in a particular case, if you assemble a suitcase, the ratio oratio of the matter is more likely to be realised.


5. Activism


Perhaps I should list some of the arenas in which I am active?


KU, Kingston University, which involves teaching and research, and community participation activities within a Faculty called Computing, Information Systems and Mathematics, CISM.


Maple Rd. This is where I live, in the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames, RBKT, right near Surbiton mainline railway station, in a large Victorian house divided into eight flats owned by a company in which each flat has one directorship.


BCS, the British Computer Society


RSA, the Royal Society of Arts


UCU, the University and Colleges Union


SWP, the Socialist Workers' Party


NT, the National Trust


RA, the Ramblers Association


idf, the Information for Development Forum, which I started in 1983, which involved the BCS Developing Countries Specialist Group, and which was engaged quite heavily in the preparation for the World Summit on the Information Society, WSIS. See eldis@jiscmail.ac.uk.


There was no discussion on social action during the two days, except informally, so we have no more idea of what it might consist of, or how it is organised, or whether we have any knowledge about that which might constitute success or failure, or whether actions might be right or wrong, missions good or evil, managing unintended consequences, or the authority or legitimacy of the perpetrators of attacks on power, or the exercise of power.


These domains have provided many cases, and have been written up in a variety of media over forty years.


Let us take two new ones, which we may call 5.1 and 5.2




As you sit on the green at Newick, you will watch the 121 from Lewes arrive and depart. About five minutes later, .55 and .02 according to the timetable, the 31 from Uckfield to Haywards Heath will arrive. This means anyone wanting to continue towards Lewes from the direction of Uckfield will now have about an hour to wait. These two buses are of the same company.


What is to be done?


We need to explain the process of transport planning, and we need to ask what sort of question do we take this to be?


But is there anyone there to answer or even hear the question?


The trip, transport information planning, list has run on jiscmail for nearly twenty years, (1989, does that sound right?) and it has yet to attract a message from anyone other than the list owner.


Newick is near Sheffield Park, which is owned by the National Trust, NT, and which has no working rights of way of access, so it is very difficult to reach. Nearby is the station on the broken railway line from East Grinstead to Lewes, and the 31 from Uckfield, end now of the broken line to Lewes. Steam enthusiasts engage in social action reworking these lines, and some engage in social action attempting their restoriation.




The directors of two national galleries are trying to extract 100 million pounds sterling from the taxpayer in a variety of guises, in order to give it to the Duke of Sutherland. He in return will give them two paintings.


My line is these should be sold by him, if that is what he wants to do with them, and he should pay capital gains tax.


Interestingly, this week's Economist tells me something I didn't know, collections of art works are free of inheritance tax, provided they are open to public display.


Is that information?


Someone has started a Facebook group to save the Titians for the nation, I have added a Titianus thread to remove public money inflating the values of these commodities.


But that is not to stop us learning the value of Titians, so I have commented on an essay of Panofsky, the role of Perez, the gardens at Aranuez, the commissioning of the poesie, and perhaps even on Bosch.


6. WOW


One of the criteria I have involved in social activism is the idea of the aesthetic, the wow factor in life


This has two earlier backgrounds.


I am puzzled by how these wows are constructed, the making of them, and I am puzzled by how they are thought about.


Behind this lurks an idea, if not a theory, that in making and reproducing their material conditions of existence, people make ideas in practice before they turn them into words. The theory comes later, after the practice. This I have worked up in And let there be light, the Muck of ages, and Through a glass darkly.


I'll simply list three cases, the Anglo Saxon church, the Landscape Garden, and the Opera, let us say Monteverde, Handel, Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini. But see also 5 above, and 7 below.


7. Repton


The piece I took with me, see 4 methods, was Steve Daniels Field of Visions, and four illustrations from the work of Repton.


I own an original, so I don't need to photocopy them from Daniels, but this is part of the piece.


What we need to do now, is photograph the two pages and put them up into a public space for there is not a lot of point in describing the detail, if you can't see them. That gets me back to the issue of 2 Writing.


In practice there was no opportunity to hand them out, or have any discussion of them, so I passed them around towards the end to some of the people with whom I had spoken.


Sheffield Park was designed by Repton, as was Harewood, near Leeds. And Armley Park, even nearer, the Red Book is discussed by Daniels in Fields of Vision.


8 Technology


There had already apparently been a workshop on Web 2.0, so there must be some sort of framework of concepts what the technology might consist of.


One presentation outlined some case studies which the researchers have been investigating.


It seemed clear to me that none of the cases concerned the issues of information systems design, and it seems to me that matters of power and participative methods are much more material to the matter of designing information systems than to the more general matters of the takeup and utilisation of computerised networked communication in general.


My particular material is the matter of knowledge, information, data, metadata, methods, which means what are called controlled vocabularies, taxonomies, and in some communities, ontologies and semantics. There was no discussion of any of this, nor any place, except I raised the matter of what one might consider power to be, why the term power might be constructed the way it is, along with the term force, and wether there might not be other ways of conceptualising?


There are a number of pieces of technology supporting this project, one on tinyurl we have already had a chance to discuss and experiment with. This will elaborate.


I would point to Zoho, which seems to me to enable activity not previously possible, and by the accident of all these things, its originator is written up about in this week's Economist.


9 Research, teaching and learning


There was no discussion of the methods of research or how the methods determine the results, whether of power, or of participation, or of technology, or of social activism, nor of the means of dissemination of research to social activists, nor of the matter of teaching, as one of these engagements.


It seems to me there is a professionalisation of social activism, in which the competition for revenue and numbers makes the domain one more of commodity fetishism than of goal oriented achievement. the chief Executive of Living Streets, if gaining enough headcount, will go on to be the Chief Executive of the Ramblers Association.


There is no unified body of knowledge of practice, either at the lowest common denominator level, nor the highest common factor.


In parallel with this event, runs the planning of the Northern Urban Crisis.


Hopefully someone will participate in both, in which case a mapping may be undertaken.


During this event, someone mentioned that a book last published in 1988 had recently been republished. This seems a case in point, has nothing been learned? That might provide an opportunity?


Now let me decide whether this is the best place to put one small piece of engagement? I had a conversation, or an argument with one of the participants on the nature of money. He argued that money is produced by private banks in England (I think we agreed that matter different in Scotland); i argued it is produced by the Mint, he argued that is cash, and that credit is money. Now this is precisely the sort of matter on which all the Ms ride, along with much policy on the issue of inflation. At one level this is called economics, at another politics, at another a matter of professional standards, when you are building computer based information systems sometimes of some importance. Indeed all these now are simply 0 and 1. Dematerialisation, as Howard Davies calls it, or virtualisation, as I call it, is now almost complete?


So in what sense can we say there is knowledge, social knowledge, which produces a shared platform for social activism, in the sense that we know what we are arguing about, and why it matters?


We had almost at the same time an argument about the role of the trades unions,


This is a matter of knowledge of history, for we needs must marshall the Spanish Civil War, Cosatu, the 35/60 action campaign along with the Winter of Discontent and the Falklands War to explain much of the past sixty years which Darling, Alastair is now to assure us will produce the worst recession we have known.


Which produces the association of theory and practice, in knowledge, innovation and design, as Ben Jonson named it.



n Rail Franchise


Now we must draw to a close with the consideration of a case.


One of the large Rail Franchise in the South is coming up for renewal.


You need to know something of the governance of the public transport systems of Britain to engage with this.


You need also to be committed to sustainable development, and have an idea of urban densification, an idea of what makes a good city, and of walking in a countryside protected from motorism. These concepts might not be part of your social activism apparatus.


The franchise will be awarded in 2009, and I am going to use this, as I did last year, Sustrans Connect2, as the case study for a final year undergraduate module in Information Systems Strategy this year.


The key point seems to me to identify the punktum, the point of insertion as Derrida explained it.


Is it the Ministry of Motorism, a local authority, a railway company which is bidding, a non governmental organisation, HEFCE, which has a sustainable development strategy, and which is the authority of nearly ten billion sterling spend in higher education? The Chief Executive's job incidently is advertised in this week's economist, and this raises the issue of whether you achieve more by taking office?


Or somewhere else, or nowhere?


How would one intervene, with what, to achieve what? Why, what, how, when, where, to use the simplest design method of all.


Can we use social networking technology to promote any improvement in information, interchanges, integration in transport using the process of franchise, weaken the Ministry of Motorism, and strengthen arguments of sustainable development, not sustainable apartheid?


n+1 ActivSocialism


If we take Social Activism and simply move syllables around, we may be able to try mapping two concepts designed against one another.


Let us call the time before computers time 1.0


Then the time before the Internet, 2.0.


before web 2.0 (as that has been priviledged), 3.0, and that numbering will cause confusion.


Where we are now, 4.0


and where we want to be tomorrow, 5.0.


In order to know where we are now, we need to know something about how we came here.


In order to know how to get to tomorrow, we need to know something other than that of the art of cuddle.


But what?


Now let us take the story of socialism.


This one will be as contested as any other.


There is before 1917, before 1934, before 1968, before 1989? After 1989.


There are the following, the 1st International, the 2nd, the 3rd; and after 1934.


In 1973, the was Allende and Pinochet, then there was Portugal. And then Spain.


But it is only for someone of a particular age these resonate, otherwise they are simply stories.


Yet now, the events in Georgia are being used with the story of 1919, on Radio 3, to redo 1984.


If you go to Boxgrove Priory, there is a tablet to the memory of a son of the Duke of Richmond, who was killed on active service in North Russia in 1919.


Room 101.


These are all designed concepts. In many cases we know the designer and could provide a scholarly apparatus. But we know we have dominant ideas, and counterveiling tendencies. There is the idea of competition, which I think is a dominant idea, and co-operation, which I think is a counterveiling one. We have the idea of a private right, and the idea of a public good. Public right of way is a public good which is also a private good. It means I may walk without motorism. For the owner of the land, it is a loss of private right. Which is good. Says me.


This is not the same private right of that of the Duke of Sutherland to his Titian, to sell it, or to use it as a table cloth.


His art collection being free of inheritance tax if open could be extended to the landscape gallery as a collection of works of art, which would open his landscape garden to walkers?


This might be design activism, and it might be ActivSocialism? It might be a good, or a bad idea? There are a lot of these designed landscapes and the Countryside Right of Way act, with the Rights of Way Improvement Plans have achieved very little, or indeed nothing, in the arc cast from London to Winchester and Canterbury and thence south. You can see the broken rights of way on the Ordnance Survey maps, and theorise that these once existed, and could be restored.


You can also see the broken railway lines.


These too could be restored.


Then wherever a motorway crosses a railway line, make an interchange.


But now we have the connections to greenandsmart.org, and trip@jiscmail.ac.uk


What remians is the justice of our intervention, integrity, courtesy and silence.




Concept design and the Old Broadcasting HouseConcept design at t

I've put this up, not in the sense it is readable, but because it is interesting that it has stripped out all the formatting data moving from one machine to another  now we have a matter of technology, to work out why then I see below a panel about formatting options, but the trouble is I don't know enough to understand what i need to know 

conradtaylor's picture

Formatting comments

John, this site has been built using the Drupal CMS and what you are experiencing here are the vagaries of Drupal's "TinyMCE" text-entry system. As far as I can tell, the system recognises two carriage returns as signalling the end of a paragraph, so if you pasted in text with but one [CR] between paras that might explain what happened. You can apply formatting such as this or this, but to do so you have to apply HTML mark-up. SGML/HTML Public Character Entity Set entities also work in cåse yøu wánt tò üse acceñts.


It is wonderful isn't it, I thought we had sorted this lot out about twenty years ago  :)



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