Dom Taylor

Philosophy and Religion Librarian

University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada

Teaching the tension

Exploring the link between objectivity and social construction

plan

1.

INTRODUCTION TO THE TENSION

2.

POST-TRUTH

3.

4.

LATERAL + VERTICAL INTERPRETATION

5.

EXAMPLES FROM CLASS

constructionist vs. anti-constructionist stances on

the ACRL Framework

proliferation of information?

context and construction as essential tools stabilizing meaning and evaluating information

malapropisms as an entry point for lateral interpretation

citation as relationality, respect, and reciprocity

WAYS OF USING TRUTH

essential linguistic tool + guiding norm for information evaluation

tension

ACRL

Framework

AUTHORITY IS CONSTRUCTED AND CONTEXTUAL

Credibility is partially determined by the needs of the information user and the information creator’s standing within a context (ACRL, 2016).

Note:

For the sake of brevity, I will use the term 'construction' to denote both social construction and context.

construction + context

constructionism

The idea that our concepts, language, practices, and many of the objects we use could have been otherwise. Constructionist theorists place varying degrees of emphasis on this contingency (Hacking, 1999;  Haslinger, 2012; Mallon, 2016) 

contextualism

The notion that various factors, such as history, social practices, linguistic conventions, and material conditions impact a community of interpreters in their communication and interpretation.  Statements can have different meanings depending on the context (Hacking, 1999;  Haslinger, 2012; Recanati, 2004).

two stances

1.

ANTI-CONSTRUCTIONISM

2.

CONSTRUCTIONISM

  • Construction undermines the ability to determine authority and/or accuracy
  • Affirms the FRAMEWORK (with qualifications)
  • There are important ways in which things are correct or incorrect
  • Construction = post-truth
  • Questions and/or denies the legitimacy of stable 'correct' or 'incorrect' concepts and categories (e.g., LCC and LCSH)
  • Concepts and categories seem real because they are entrenched, often through the use of power

main similarity

both anti-con + con agree that :

context and construction  destabilize concepts and categories, ultimately undermining notions of "truth."

main difference

anti-con sees construction as illegitimate and untenable

con sees construction as legitimate and  necessary

two questions

is construction worth the loss of truth                        as a goal?

are anti-con                      and con mutually  exclusive?

b.

a.

my answer to both questions is, "no."

conceptual adjustment

CONSTRUCTION AND CONTEXT

Are dependent on concepts like truth, accuracy, and correctness

Can be leveraged to strengthen information evaluation practices

Are necessary for meaningful interpretation of information, including assertions

ways of using truth

language

1.

LANGUAGE AND CONCEPTS

  • In order to generate and apply concepts, one must know the conditions under which a concept may be misapplied.

CONDITIONED BY CONSTRUCTION

{

Context, contingency, historicity, and construction. It is unnecessary to see concepts as given in an ahistorical sense.

2.

SOCIAL CONTEXT AND WORLD

  • We need to "triangulate" our perceptions and responses with our community and the share external world (Davidson, 1990/2001b).

triangulation

INTERPRETER

INTERPRETER

COORDINATION/COMMUNICATION

"Chien."

"Dog."

STIMULUS

PERCEPTION

PERCEPTION

{

PERCEPTION

HARMONIZATION OF SHARED

 "DOG"/"CHIEN" CONCEPT/CLASSIFICATION

 assertion

1.

DECLARATIVE ACT

Assertions, in this context, are semiotic declarations, often expressed in the form of linguistic statements.  Assertions are actions. We do things with assertions (e.g., we claim).

2.

COMMITMENT 

3.

TRUTH EVALUABLE

Assertions are evaluable using truth-related concepts (e.g., accuracy). They can be true or false, in some sense.

When one asserts, one commits to a position, sincerely or insincerely, even if that position is modified and/or negotiated. 

norm(s) of assertion     

Implicit or explicit rules, guidelines, and/or responsibilities that are internal to and govern what counts as a warranted assertion. (Brandom, 1989;  Lackey, 2007; McKinnon, 2015)

OVERVIEW

EXAMPLES OF PROPOSED NORMS

  1. One must know something in order to assert it. (Williamson, 2000).
  2. One must reasonably believe something in order to assert it. (Lackey, 2007).
  3. One must have supportive reasons for something in order to assert it. These supportive reasons vary depending on context. (McKinnon, 2015).

basic norm   of assertion         

JUSTIFICATORY RESPONSIBILITY"

   (Brandom, 1989, p. 641)

  • One "commits oneself to justifying" the assertion one has made (Brandom, 1989, p. 641)
  • One "licenses" others to make further assertions based on one's original assertion (Brandom, 1989, p. 641)

CRITERIA:

  1. "Commitment": putting an assertion within a context of prior assertions and licensing it for use in future assertions (Brandom, 2001, p.190)
  2. "Entitlement" : Using one's commitments to provide justifications in a manner that fits social practices, including triangulation (Brandom, 2001, p.190)

truth or assertion?     

ASSERTION AVOIDS THE METAPHYSICAL BAGGAGE OF TRUTH

Assertion allows one to focus on if and how claims are warranted according to norms (McKinnon, 2015).

 

This is important in contexts where one can only indirectly evaluate information.

 

There is no pressing need to become entangled with the metaphysical truth, which is the target of constructionists critique and the source of anti-constructionist anxiety.

info evaluation + norms of assertion

Since truth is often a lofty and/or ambiguous target, the goal of information evaluation is to identify warranted assertions/ claims that are "true enough" for a given context (Elgin, 2017).

DETERMINING WARRANTED ASSERTIONS

A good starting point is situating assertions within the context of giving/asking for justifications. Does the assertion provide adequate and contextually relevant supportive reasons?

RELATING ASSERTIONS TO PLANS

{

plans

INFO EVALUATION HINGES ON PLANS

  • Plans, as "intentions writ large," help one coordinate future actions and/or make determinations about one's own conduct and the conduct/intentions of others (Bratman, 1999, p.8).
  • Assertions provide clues regarding others' plans
  • Information evaluation is a plan with the goal of determining whether specific assertions are warranted.

summary

1.

REQUIRES THAT ONE ADOPT THE RIGHT PLAN AND ASSOCIATED NORM(S)

2.

REQUIRES THAT ONE ASSESS THE PLAN AND NORMS OF THE INFORMATION SOURCE, TO THE BEST DEGREE POSSIBLE

3.

REQUIRES THAT ONE DETERMINE THE CONTEXTUAL AND SOCIAL FACTORS THAT IMPACT NORM(S)

INFORMATION EVALUATION

One has to gauge to what degree the author has fulfilled their justificatory responsibility. Using contextual information and background knowledge (e.g., determining sincerity)

Your plan may be different if you are copyediting than if you are content editing.

Social practices may affect a norm so that an assertion counts as warranted in one context, but not another.

pizza plans

HUNGRY INTERPRETER

ASSERTION MAKER

COORDINATION/COMMUNICATION

"There is pizza in the fridge."

"Is there pizza in the fridge?"

CONTEXTUAL TARGET OF PLANS

PLAN/INTENTION

PLAN/INTENTION

{

EVALUATION + USE OF PLANS, ASSERTIONS, AND CONTEXT (E.G., SINCERITY OR PLAUSIBILITY)

COORDINATION OF ACTIONS REGARDING PIZZA

post-  truth     

objection

Post-truth and/or post-truth-like ideas are raised by both constructionism and anti-constructionism.

  • Constructionism: one cannot justifiably apply concepts related to true/false and correct/incorrect. This is a post-truth realization.
  • Anti-constructionism:  Ideas related to constructionism and contextualism entail post-truth thinking.

Doesn't post-truth present a challenge to your notion of warrant? Isn't post-truth an example of assertions made without concern for warrant or the norms that determine warrant?

definition

OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY

"Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping political debate or public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief" ("post-truth,"  2018).

elaboration

(i)The proliferation of false information

(ii) The attitude that truth is, at best, a convenient coincidence that can be superseded by ideological, instrumental, and/or emotional concerns  

(iii) The attitude that acting on certain beliefs, specifically false ones, can be a good in and of itself.

APPARENT CONDITIONS OF

POST-TRUTH

example

(i)The proliferation of false information:

Misleading and inaccurate tweets of videos

LOW HANGING FRUIT: TRUMP

(ii) The attitude that truth is, at best, a convenient coincidence that can be superseded by ideological, instrumental, and/or emotional concerns:

Inaccuracy was deemed less important than 'imminent threat.'  

(iii) The attitude that acting on certain beliefs, specifically false ones, can be a good in and of itself:

There was something good about these misleading tweets--it was apparently a matter of national significance.

4 problems with this view

(i) The example shows a concern for truthfulness. Trump was challenged and, in his own way, attempted to justify his views.

(ii) Instrumental falsehoods are usually put forward and/or believed for a reason (e.g., another perceived justification or truth)

4 problems with this view

(iii) Assertions made for convenience or comfort are still conditioned by an interest in 'getting things right.'

(iv) Assertions made "by virtue of the absurd" seem, in most cases, to be less valuable than warranted assertions (Kierkegaard, 1843/2006, p.60). All things being equal, having warrant is a type of good in making assertions that nullifies the value of absurd.

the upshot

1.

IS, AT MOST, A RHETORICAL STRATEGY

It is difficult to figure out how one can be sincerely post-truth. Given the conceptual/linguistic value of truth + value of warranted assertions over falsehoods.

2.

LACKS COHERENCE + PLAUSIBILITY

3.

MISTAKES TRUTH WITH PASSING AS TRUTH

Saying that there is "no truth," "too many truths," or that interpreters don't care about truth, confuses the endorsement of cognitively primed assertions with warranted assertions.  

Viciously circular. It implies that there is no concern for truth by being concerned with truth.  There is still a widespread concern with getting things right.

POST-TRUTH

POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVE CONCEPT: PROLIFERATION OF  COGNITIVELY PRIMED INFORMATION

{

lateral + vertical interpretation

interpretation

VERTICAL (e.g.,close reading)

Determining the warrant and meaning of assertions more or less on its own terms.

For textual documents, this includes:

  • Looking up definitions of complex terms, jargon, and non-English words (e.g., Latin)
  • Assessing  the internal consistency and coherence of the text. Are there contradictory facts or arguments? Are there leaps in the logic of the text (e.g., non sequitur)?
  • Identifying clear indications of meaning (e.g., a thesis statement, arguments, or beliefs)
  • Working out the structure of the text

Source: Wineburg, S., & McGrew, S. (2017). Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 3048994). Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. 

LATERAL (e.g., taking bearings)

Determining the warrant and meaning of an assertion through its context.  For textual documents, this includes:

  • Reviewing secondary sources cited/footnoted in the original text. Is the original source's interpretation accurate ? Do the secondary sources provide more meaning?
  • Reading commentary, analysis, and criticism of the original text
  • Evaluating the historico-political context of the original text and its author(s).

examples from class

examples from class

example technique to emphasize lateral interpretation

MALAPROPISMS + COMMUNICATION

At a BBQ, a friend tells you, "I'm going to get a hutdog ."

+

"hut" + "dog"

WE NEED TO APPEAL TO SALIENT CONTEXTUAL INGREDIENTS TO MAKE SENSE OF THIS STATEMENT

Citation

INDIGENOUS RESEARCH METHODOLOGIES + CITATION

  • In general, students were not citing sources, let alone citing according to a given style.
  • I consulted with students, elders, and Indigenous professors, and relevant literature to emphasize the relational nature of citation, rather than focusing primarily on academic integrity. 
  • As a result, we framed citation in terms of Indigenous scholar and educator Evelyn Steinhauer's criteria for research: "Respect, Reciprocity and Relationality (as cited in Wilson, 2008, p.58). 
  • Result: instructors said citation was more prevalent as a practice among students. This did not markedly improve the alignment with citation style standards.

conclusions

1.

TRUTH, CONTEXT + CONSTRUCTION ARE MUTUALLY SUPPORTIVE.

2.

TRUTH/WARRANT ARE THE BASIS FOR SOCIAL PRACTICES, INCLUDING INFORMATION EVALUATION

con/anti-con debate leads to theoretical paralysis. I have proposed an adjustment to remedy this.

3.

IT SEEMS TO BE THE CASE THAT MOST PEOPLE FEEL COMFORTABLE MAKING USE OF WARRANT AND FRAMING THEIR VIEWS IN TERMS OF JUSTIFICATION

even making the case for post-truth or loosely constructionist ideas, one makes a case within a context that follows norms

4.

WE NEED TO MAKE EFFORTS TO MAKE OUR NORMS OF ASSERTION EXPLICIT THROUGH CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF OUR SOCIAL PRACTICES AND PEDAGOGY.

Questions?

Thanks

References

Association of College and Research Libraries [ACRL]. (2016). Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework

 

Bauder, J., & Rod, C. (2016). Crossing thresholds: Critical information literacy pedagogy and the ACRL framework. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 23(3), 252–264.


 

Blake, A. (2017, November 29). Sarah Huckabee Sanders just tacitly endorsed using anti-Muslim propaganda. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/11/29/the-trump-white-house-just-tacitly-endorsed-anti-muslim-propaganda/

 

Brandom, R. (1983). Asserting. Noûs, 17(4), 637–650.

 

Brandom, R. (2001). Articulating Reasons. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

Bratman, M.E. (1999). Intention, plans, and practical reasons. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications. (Original work published 1987).

 

Davidson, D. (2001a). Epistemology externalized. Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective (pp.193-204).Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.(Original work published 1990).

 

Davidson, D. (2001b). The second person. Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective (pp.107-121).Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. (Original work published 1992).

 

Davidson, D. (2004). The problem of objectivity. Problems of rationality (pp.3-18). Oxford, UK: Oxford University press. (Original work published 1995).

 

Davidson, D. (2005). The social aspect of language. Truth, Language, and History (pp.109-125). Oxford, UK: Oxford University press. (Original work published 1994).

 

Downey, A. (2016). Critical information literacy: Foundations, inspiration, and ideas. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press.

 

Drabinski, E. (2014). Towards a kairos of library instruction. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(5), 480-485.

 

Drabinski, E. (2017). A kairos of the critical: Teaching critically in a time of compliance. Communications in Information Literacy, 11(1), 76-94.

 

Elgin, C. Z. (2017). True enough. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

References

Elmborg, J. (2006). Critical information literacy: Implications for instructional practice. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(2), 192-199.

 

Elmborg, J. (2012). Critical information literacy: Definitions and challenges . In C.W. Wilkinson & C. Bruch (Eds.)  Transforming Information Literacy Programs : Intersecting Frontiers of Self, Library Culture, and Campus Community. Chicago, IL: Association of College and Research Libraries.

 

Graham, D. A. (2017, November 29). It's not an act. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/11/its-not-an-act/547010/

 

Hacking, I. (1999). The social construction of what? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

Haslinger, S. (2012). Resisting reality: Social construction and social critique. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

 

Hoffman, D., Singh, M., & Prakash, C. (2015). The Interface Theory of Perception. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 22(6), 1480–1506.

 

Kapitzke, C. (2003). Information Literacy: A Positivist Epistemology and a Politics of Outformation. Educational Theory, 53(1), 37–53.

 

Kierkegaard, S. (2006). Fear and Trembling. (C. S. Evans & S. Walsh, Eds., S. Walsh, Trans.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1843).

 

Lackey Jennifer. (2007). Norms of Assertion. Noûs, 41(4), 594–626.

 

Lenker, M. (2016). Motivated Reasoning, Political Information, and Information Literacy Education. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 16(3), 511–528. https://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2016.0030

 

Luke, A., & Kapitzke, C. (1999). Literacies and libraries: Archives and cybraries. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 7(3), 467.

 

Lynch, M.P. (2015). Pragmatism and the price of truth. In S. Gross, N. Tebben, & M. Williams (Eds.) Meaning without representation: Essays on truth, expression, normativity, and naturalism (pp.245-261). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

 

Mallon, R. (2016). The construction of human kinds. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


McKinnon, R. (2015). The norms of assertion: Truth, lies, and warrant. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

References

Post-truth. Def. 2. (2018). OED Online. Retrieved January 5, 2018 from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/58609044?redirectedFrom=post-truth&


Price, H. (2011). Truth as convenient friction. In R.B. Talisse & S.F. Aikin (Eds.) The pragmatism reader: From Peirce through the present (pp.451-470). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


Recanati, F. (2004). Literal Meaning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Rinne, N. A. (2017). The new Framework: A truth-less construction just waiting to be scrapped? Reference Services Review, 45(1), 54–66.


Sellars, W. (with Rorty, R. & Brandom R.). (1997). Empiricism and the philosophy of mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1956)


Simmons, M. H. (2005). Librarians as Disciplinary Discourse Mediators: Using Genre Theory to Move Toward Critical Information Literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5(3), 297–311.


Tewell, E. (2015). A decade of critical information literacy. Communications In Information Literacy, 9(1), 24-43.


Verheggen, C. (2013). Triangulation. In E. Lepore & K. Ludwig (Eds.) Companion to Donald Davidson (pp. 456-471). West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.


Wilkinson, L. (2015). “Theories of knowledge in library and information science.” In H. Jagman & T. Swanson (Eds.) Not just where to click: Teaching students how to think about information (pp.13-36). Chicago, IL: Association of College and Research Libraries.


Wilkinson, L. (2016). Post-truth and Information Literacy. Sense and Reference [blog]. Retrieved from https://senseandreference.wordpress.com/2016/12/01/post-truth-and-information-literacy/


Williamson, T. (2000). Knowledge and Its Limits. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


Wilson, S. (2008). Research is Ceremony. Back Point, Canada: Fernwood Publishing.


Wineburg, S., & McGrew, S. (2017). Lateral Reading: Reading Less and Learning More When Evaluating Digital Information. Stanford History Education Group Working Paper (No. 2017-A1).

Teaching the tension

By Dom Taylor

Teaching the tension

Exploring the link between objectivity and social construction

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