Hi folks, good posts for Coombe. I am home sick with the flu and so we won't hold a physical, f2f class today. Instead, during the class time from 2:50-5:50 please engage with the questions from Tiffany and Somava since they were our facilitators today. I will list each as separate posts below so they don't get unruly as you all start to comment.

Let's try and get as much of a discussion as we can going for each set of questions. Everyone should comment at least once on each question posed by the facilitators, but feel free to double back so we can have a dialogue going. Tiffany and Somava you should jump in first and write a teaser for us to get going.

Also, I'd like everyone to engage with Coombe's notion of an "ethics of contingency" pp. 297-299  (in  the comments section here) following up on where we ended last week when I suggested that we need to think outside legal frameworks when we are attempting to engage with the cultural and social spaces of intellectual property (and associated "rights").
Somava
1/22/2013

Once of my discussion question was also focused on the ethics of contingency. Last week's discussion regarding thinking outside the legal framework was enlightening and promising as it hints at a light at the end of the tunnel. But I have two problem with Coombe's ethics of contingenct as solution. First of all she does not clarify what she implies by that term. Secondly, moral judgment is based on reason not emotion. Therefore, whether the call for being ethical is duty or process based or consequence based (utilitarian) can it ever speak up for voices that have been suppressed over the centuries.

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Lizeth Gutierrez
1/22/2013

When thinking about Coombe’s discussion of an ethics of contingency I found myself drawing connections to Anzaldúa’s mestizaje. Much of Coombe’s description of ethics of contingency is grounded on a complex relationship between heightened sensitivity, ambivalence and ironic awareness. These particular words made me think about Anzaldúa breakdown of identity politics, now I may be stretching this but let me see if I can break these connections down.

Coombe addresses the importance of having a “heightened sensitivity to the differential relations of others and their relationship to dominant practices of othering” (274). Similarly, Anzaldúa expresses the need to see mestizaje as an often convoluted and contradictory process of self signification; this is neither an easy nor a pretty process because it is about deconstructing the self in relation to power and structure. Having a heightened sensitivity to others can often be a restless process because it means recognizing how we as individuals are not only interpellated into ideology, but also how our own relationship to certain process are contingent upon a complex historical relationship of social, cultural, political distributions of inequality. When Coombe further addresses the politics of ambivalence with regards to authorship, she is specifically speaking to a strategic consciousness that sees authorship and alterity as a contradictory relationship that is often defined by the social and historical contexts in which these productions are legitimated and/or questioned. Therefore, ambivalence is productive if it is used to mobilize and question our conceptualizations of cultural appropriation within authorial power. Anzaldúa’s mestizaje finds ambivalence as a key process in constructing consciousness because it is never a static process, which is what I think Coombe is speaking to as well. In terms of ironic awareness, Coombe is speaking to the importance of being critical to the complex and multiple perspectives in which resistance occurs. Anzaldúa’s mestizaje was her own journey, but provided us the tools to think about how we too deal with our own contradictory identities. Coombe does not want to define an ethic of contingency as a monolithic definition because culture is political and therefore has different material realities for different people. What her ethic of contingency provides are the tools for addressing these complexities of knowledge production and authorial power. This may have been a crazy comparison, but my brain does that sometimes. Hahaha.

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Tiffany Christian
1/22/2013

Acck! Not the flu! Bleargh, I hope you're better soon! I'll get my presentation notes up pronto.

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Okie, my discussion comments are up at the other post (the one with my questions as re-posted by Kim).

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Jorge
1/22/2013

Thinking outside of legal frameworks, my mind instantly began thinking about the role that educational institutions has [rather, can have] in hopes of engaging with cultural and social spaces of intellectual property and rights. I don’t think I am wrong in suggesting that in order for an ethics of contingency to take place, a reformulation of U.S. public school curriculum is critical and of immense significance. As Coombe writes towards the bottom of page 298:

"Our legal [or educational] institutions must abandon universalisms that prohibit the emergence and expression of alterity. Only a legality attentive to an ethics of contingency can accommodate such proliferations of difference.”

I automatically begin to think about the emphasis US DOE have on training students in the fields of mathematics and science, neglecting the value of social, cultural, and philosophical human relations, knowledges, and development. After all, while Obama’s Race to the Top initiative [and this goes for Bush’s NCLB as well] is meant to booster up the U.S. economy via the funding and cultivation of STEMS programs, both recent attempts to reform K-12 public education make no mention to the importance of social behavioral sciences, alternative curriculum practices, and critical pedagogy. I find this to be one possibility whereby stepping outside of legal frameworks, we as practioners of critical thought and dialogue may be able to enact an ethics of contingency, that is, exercising the political and democratic process whether in local, state, or national levels.

However, applying Coombe’s methodology in how to locate an ethics of contingency in institutional spaces of education is problematic as well. While I agree that we “must abandon universalisms that prohibit the emergence and expression of alterity”, I am weary of the dangers of institutionalizing a top-down approach that might embrace “the emergence and expression of alterity.” I think of Roderick Ferguson’s, The Reorder of Things (2012), in which he argues that since the days of 1960s student unrest, power [for lack of a better word] has been implicated in the formulation of “difference”. He goes on to evidence the role that capital, state, and academy had in absorbing alterities through interdisciplines, or the fields of ethnic studies, womens studies, and gay and lesbian studies. I haven’t finished it yet, but it really touches on many of the same issues Coombe wrote about 15 years ago: i.e. how advertising agencies incorporated “minority cultures” to sell more jeans, coca-cola, etc.

To close this concept cluster, I guess I would have to say that “abandoning universalisms” in search of an ethics of an unforeseen tomorrow is foreseeable by interrogating public school curriculum, especially along the areas of history and social studies. I mean, I don’t think an ethics of contingency, and along with that solidifying social and cultural intellectual properties rights is truly foreseeable if nationwide youth can legally drive a car and still know nothing about the true genocidal properties associated with “Christopher Columbus Day”. I believe that only then would forms of cultural appropriation and commodification rooted in colonial-imperial imaginaries begin to seem more noticeable to a public psyche.

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Jen
1/22/2013

Somava brings up a good point about how ethics are gendered. Certainly, these ideological categories contribute to the perception of the hard sciences as useful pursuits in education and humanities as “extra”—something to “round out” one’s education but not really that important.

However, I would argue that the problem that Jorge identifies (reformulating the public school system to give more importance to “social behavioral sciences, alternative curriculum practices, and critical pedagogy”) stems from the ways in which the US is moving away from an understanding of education as a public good to an understanding of education as a industry driven by private businesses and individual consumers. Even in “public” education, school is seen as merely a means of preparing/certifying students for life as workers, not necessarily or primarily as citizens.

Higher education is where the trend towards the corporatization of education is most clear. Consumers (students, parents, sponsoring agencies) expect that the degree that they pay for will guarantee the student a good job upon graduation. Consumers expect a monetary return on their investment. In this understanding of education, teachers have knowledge and students pay to access and internalize that knowledge so they can one day use it to obtain a job. From this mindset, it is understandable that as a society we put more value on disciplines that can easily fit in to this conception of education. An environmental engineering program will train students to become environmental engineers. Disciplines like social behavioral sciences do not fit in as easily with this model of education as training and certification. There is no room for officially-sanctioned critical pedagogy (the problem-posing rather than banking model of education) when education functions under a corporate model.

To change education I believe the US must come to see it as a public good. That would mean state sponsored university education for all, equal funding for all state school districts, and national programs built by teachers and education experts, not economists.

I don’t think reforming education is the only way we might construct an ethics of contingency, but I do think it would help. I personally believe that education should aim to make strong, critical citizens, but just skilled workers.

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Jorge
1/22/2013

Great points Jen! I definitely didn't want to come off as making an "end-all" argument here, but yes, any kind of ethics of contingency must incorporate the various institutional powers dominant in U.S. political economy. I was thinking of ethics of contingency to be something that is cultivated at youth, therefore providing tools to complicate dominant forms of appropriation.

Tiffany
1/22/2013

"To change education I believe the US must come to see it as a public good. That would mean state sponsored university education for all, equal funding for all state school districts, and national programs built by teachers and education experts, not economists."

Can I get away with just giving this a HELL YEAH? *thinks about her mountain of student debt*

But seriously, this is a great response. Watching/being complicit in the corporatization of higher ed in particular evolve ever more rapidly over the course of the almost two decades I've been in it (okay, now I'm tired) is incredibly disheartening. I won't go on a rant or anything.

Somava
1/22/2013

I do agree with Jorge, regarding bringing change in the public school curriculum. But again are we not victims ourselves coming from the less privileged strems of education. Where our societies (in fact the whole globalized world) structure pushes us to the peripheries by being in non- science streams.
Regarding ethics, how it has been conteptualized according to Kolhberg's stages of moral development ethics of judgment (which is considered as a male trait) has been prioritized against ethics of care (a feminine trait). Again until we perceive ethics of care as complimentary to ethics of judgment change will not be possible.

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Tiffany
1/22/2013

The focus on K-12 education is, I agree, critical for reaching some kind of ethics of contingency. I would expand on what Jorge is saying by not only insisting on more emphasis with regard to "social, cultural, and philosophical human relations, knowledges, and development" (Jorge), but also interrogating production of those knowledges so that they are not so Eurocentric. Further, we (whoever "we" is -- a coalition of folks?) should think about retooling the very structure of the educational system, which is itself Eurocentric and exclusionary in terms of learning. The regimented, time-bound, grade/reward-bound K-12 system has a tendency to lift up those who gravitate towards such a system and neglects alternative learning styles. I don't have any countersolutions for a something different, but continuing to critically examine the way education is approached from an early age would and then actually implementing those ideas would, I hope, be quite productive.

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Kim Christen
1/22/2013

this will be short...but I was pushing more for us to see the contingencies as process, which I think Coombe does and ethics are not universals in this case. don't get drawn in by the normalized version of ethics that circulates. she is positing a framework of contingency in order to highlight and flip the naturalized understanding of ethics and push for subaltern voices and spaces within the public sphere to disrupt--or as disrupting mechanisms. On page 298 she writes: "..we need to ask what forms of social relationships with respect to commodified representations will facilitate the expansion of spaces hospitable to expressive arituclations that call the SOCIAL into being by calling it into QUESTION. Within such spaces the political is emergent."
Her emphasis is on the social aspects of IP that then have political effects and close door...she is attempting to open those spaces with this notion.

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Somava
1/22/2013

Thank you the explanation helps. But still I wonder how far will the voices of the subaltern be heard? What are the venues. As I have mentioned in some string,(I do not remember which) subalterns are speaking out but are their voices not being subdued by the dominant structure. Maybe what I am seeking is not a straight forward answer, but I do appreciate Coombe's call for disrupting mechanisms.

Rachel A. Sauerbier
1/22/2013

First, I would like to say that I agree with Somava that Coombe's (1998) lack of conceptual engagement with the term "ethics of contingency" is problematic. It invites the possibility for an interpretation that merely reinforces Western hegemonic discourse within the realm of IP and new communication technologies. Beyond this, however, I feel like her use of the term invokes one of the primary tenets of postmodernism: fragmentation. Within the term contingency, I see it under the definition that "in order for X to happen, W, Y, and Z must also happen." This can therefore be linked to the fact that things like marks and signifiers are often "contingent" upon cultural and societal contexts for meanings and those meanings are unstable and fragmented. In this way, an "ethics of contingency" would require the underlying assumptions of polysemic understandings of marks, meanings and signifiers.

Using this assumptive meaning behind the term ethics of contingency, Coombe's (1998) plea for its use to bring justice to the field of intellectual properties within new communication technologies (p. 299) starts to take on more gravity. Much in the way that both Coombe (1998) and Boyle point out how trademark and copyright laws are often ill-matched for issues of intellectual property, these same laws are proving to be ineffectual when they are used against new and emerging forms of communication technology. Specifically, communication and relationships that take place within the virtual realm are often fragmented and contingent upon shared meanings. Rather than relying on traditional forms of signification and/or markers, individuals within the virtual realm can often find themselves creating meaning and identities that the physical realm does not afford. Like Haraway's concept of the prosthetic body, people are entering the virtual realm as fragmented, multifaceted identities that cannot be governed by traditional notions of culture, society or law.

Even beyond the sort of "metaphysical" issues that arise within the virtual realm, there is also the ways in which individuals are using online platforms to circumscribe the traditional capitalistic monoliths of society. Last week, I used the example of Radiohead allowing their music to be downloaded for "however much the listener thought it should cost." This is one way in which the traditional models of capitalism and copyright breakdown in the virtual realm. Whether it is individuals like the Star Trek fanziners or "mainstream" musicians like Radiohead, the trend toward fragmentation and identities contingent on polysemic marks belies the seeming need for emergent spaces of acceptable alterity.

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Annita
1/22/2013

To respond to some of Tiffany's concerns re: eurocentrism in K-12 and perhaps to tie in Kim's push for us to frame our understanding of contingencies as process, I think it's important to remember there's a major difference between a kind of multicultural education and community-minded education. Part of the point is that both legal structures and education programs are designed to tackle how citizens behave; the way the US is set up currently, laws are meant to discourage unwanted behavior and punish subsequent infractions, while our public education is designed to mass-produce what the government has imagined as the ideal citizen. Obviously neither system is adequate on its own or working in a just manner, but I think the critical entry point for introducing Coombe's notion of contingencies into the restructuring of education (and by extension cultural production of citizens and community members) is a community-mindedness.

In that sense, it's not just about interrogating the eurocentrism in current K-12, it's about fundamentally altering the structure of our education system. No matter how multicultural, a one-size-fits-all pedagogy will fail in its ambitions to mass-produce active engaged community members. Introducing contingencies into the way we understand education--what it is, what it's for, and what curriculum and methods should look like--means community-specific pedagogical models that are fluid designs informed by community needs and experiences.

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