Friday, June 22, 2012

Reading :: The Learning Challenge of the Knowledge Economy

The Learning Challenge of the Knowledge Economy
By David Guile

David Guile, who teaches at the Institute of Education at the University of London, takes on the question of how the knowledge economy challenges education. Grounding his arguments in cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) and related thought, Guile carefully examines the assumptions behind the knowledge economy literature, particularly assumptions about scientific and tacit knowledge, then develops an account of CHAT that both challenges these assumptions and provides a firmer basis for education going forward.

At the heart of Guile's critique of the knowledge economy literature is its tendency to see knowledge as relatively unproblematic "information generation, processing and transmission" (p.13), a tendency that Guile detects in Bell, Castells, and other knowledge economy writers, rather than as emerging through human interpretation, comprehension, and competence (p.24). Indeed, "Castells, like Bell, treats knowledge and information as though they are malleable, serve utilitarian functions in society, and their meaning is quite transparent" (p.43).

This tendency leads such thinkers to focus on tacit knowledge, which they discuss by citing Polanyi without quite getting Polanyi's more nuanced concept. That is, tacit knowledge is seen as a "tricky kind of knowledge to put to work in the economy ... because it is embodied in people and embedded in networks" (p.24). Yet, Guile argues, Polanyi lays out tacit and explicit knowledge as interdependent dimensions of knowledge, not separated; mediated, not binary (p.39).

To provide an alternate account, Guile turns to CHAT work, including Ilyenkov, Roth, and Engestrom. In particular, Guile is interested in Engestrom's understanding of coconfiguration and knotworking (pp.118-119). Engestrom's contribution, Guile argues, is a reconceptualization of the relationship between theory and practice (p.123). Yet Guile also argues that Engestrom tends to (a) underplay the challenge of eliminating sources of friction in activity systems and activity networks, and (b) overstate the necessity and suitability of his interventionalist methodology (p.124).

Overall, I found this book to be an illuminating read. It goes farther into learning theory than I generally care to go, but then again, the book is founded on educational theory. If that's your focus, the book is definitely worth it. But even if your focus is more along the lines of workplace studies, as mine is, the book will provide valuable insights. Take a look.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reading :: The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism

The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism
By Ami Pedahzur

According to Pedahzur, counterterrorism is usually pursued under three models—"the war model, the criminal-justice model, and the reconciliatory model" (p.1). Each suggests a different set of responders—the military, the police and state legal system, and the politicians and diplomats. And "standing in the background is the defensive model, which does not deal directly with the terrorists or their grievances but rather protects the targets of terrorism" (p.1).

Of these models, the defensive model tends to be quite effective, and the war model tends not to be very effective at all. Yet, Pedahzur argues, the war model has been most readily used during Israel's history—not because it is effective at stopping terrorism, but because it is effective at making citizens feel protected, therefore winning elections.

Pedahzur makes his case by reviewing the entire security history of the state of Israel, discussing different operations with their successes and failures, the inter-agency rivalries that have made coordination so hard, and the political circumstances that led politicians to focus on the war model with its targeted killings, commando actions, and reprisals. He argues that terrorism is not a threat to the state itself, and treating it as such means undermining civil liberties while drawing the security establishment's attention away from more credible threats.

In all, a well written and gripping book.