Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-04-03 - 7:13 a.m.

The KK webstats seem to have fallen over. Very annoying – just at the end of March which threatened to be a very good month but we may well not find out. Pretty much like IT. I think I dreamed last night of lecturing a group of people on the relative effectiveness of the UK and the US at getting IT to work reliably and the impact this has in the national productivity statistics.

Yesterday Steve and I went to see Barry and a colleague at the Adult Learning Inspectorate which is just off the Coventry Ring Road. Barry’s boss has run a series of prestigious art colleges, including, I think, St Martins. So the building is very attractive – a bit like an advertising agency – or at least a bit like the ones I used to hang around in a few years ago. The meeting was good in that both sides learned things that they didn’t know. I learned a bit more about the implications for the UK VET systems of Awarding Bodies being private organisations – one of the points that the Leicester research stresses. I was able to give a reasonable account of the Productivity Framework – which I learned more about on Monday – and I strengthened by belief that rooting learning outcomes in an organisational outcome framework could have a lot of novel benefits in relations to the disfunctions in assessment which flow from the private sector status of the Abs.

Warwick University is near the ALI and I had spent a useful morning at the Federation of Awarding Bodies Conference last year at Warwick. So I decided to stop off there. Warwick U has the only supermarket for miles around where you can get a copy of the Wire – and there is a new addition. Then I went across to the bookshop and went through the Management books section.

When I was in Heffer’s a month or so back I picked up a book by Professor Best of Massacheusets U about the institutional factors that are driving US productivity growth. A very timely and impressive piece of work. And so given that Warwick has a major international reputation in this area, I went through looking for something really up to date. I ended up with a UK book about Knowledge Management cowritten by 4 UK academics one of who is at Warwick. The little project I did with undergraduates at Warwick and Hertfordshire identified KM as a key factor.

The simple thought is that if international competition is on the basis of knowledge (because China and India etc are competing on cost) then everyone needs a knowledge strategy and to implement that strategy you need KM. Initially KM seemed to be an excuse to sell expensive computer systems – which in the Uk at least didn’t deliver the expected benefits.

About a million years ago I studied an antecedent discipline that went by the title The Sociology of Knowledge. This had been spluttering around at least since the 1920s when the idea came up that intellectuals would be “free floating” – ha ha. I guess you could see International Modernism in the 30s and Serialism in the 50s as fulfilling that prediction – also maybe The End of Ideology debate in the 60s.

At the end of the 60s the philosophy of science lurched in the direction of sociology but many scientists found this too much to swallow. Within KM a contrast is drawn between (say) the role of knowledge within industrial organisations influenced by Taylor and Ford – where experts identify the “one best way” - and Ono’s theories which were institutionalised in the Toyota Production System. No accident that last year Toyota overtook Ford globally. Obviously there is a social dimension to the difference between Ford and Toyota.

One of the interesting things about Best’s work is the account that he is able to give of the relationship that holds between knowledge generation and production in the North East United States – over two centuries. This is fundamentally at odds with the model that the UK holds dear.

In fact the UK position is well weird because it holds dear a model (which suits certain elite groups) and then complains that it doesn’t seem to be working very well. At the same time it ignores the work of Best and Ono – or at least it confines the implications of Ono’s work to a rather Fordist view of production. One of Toyota’s global coups has been to sell everyone else the Fordist interpretation of their system while in the 1990s they went off and applied the principles to a much wider domain of KM with global domination (potentially) flowing from the ploy.

I also invested in a couple of books for James’ birthday on Tuesday and the hols next week. One was a review of recent developments in the aesthetics of music and the other is a critical introduction and guide to Deleuze’s Repetition and Difference. I have started the latter.

My other Deleuze book is about Leibniz and reading the introductory chapter of this new one, I find Leibniz as probably the philosopher who is most like this philosophe. Leibniz tried to find common principles between the world and representations of the world.

This is more radical than it sounds. For a lot of the period since 1600 philosophers have built systems which assumed a big gap between these two. Materialists would say that the world is the real stuff and you can account for representations of it in terms configurations of the former. The whole computer-based model of psychology works in this way (or thinks it does) . In simple terms Berkeley and Hegel (and maybe Hume) think that representation (eg experience) is basic and you construct the world from that. Hegel sees how people jump from theory to theory but comes down in favour of absolute global mind as the real stuff. Descartes was famously dualistic but worried about the gap in the middle.

But you can start with the assumption that the world is there (Moore’s argument for the external world) and that there are representations of it – maybe this is where Heidegger starts – walking through the woods thinking what a nice day it is. Where Deleuze seems to be going further is in assuming that the representations are both reliable and unreliable. So for example if you rook a stream of consciousness you would find reasonable thoughts (eg that it’s a nice day) and less reasonable ones – say a whole Freudian bundle of stuff which stands in a more complex relationship to what ever actually happened.

So the starting point includes (in Deleuze’s terms) the actual and the virtual. I guess the virtual might include whats in computers as well as whats in people’s minds. Maybe computers even have Freudian stuff floating around inside - I don’t think Deleuze goes quite that far.

Anyway, Repetition and Difference is an attempt to give an account of how it all fits together using those two sets of relation. This is obviously ambitious stuff and you can forgive someone for being a bit obscure if they actually bring it off. Needless to say, I see Cage, Greenberg, Young, Pollock, Rothko, Rauschenberg and Reich as potentially lurking in the grand theory – but I have yet to track them down. Well Rothko would be the easiest because most of the mature paintings do look like repetitions.

I have an annoying cough which wont go away.

I phoned Lawrence and we did some planning on his current grand theory.

I put a new (old) MD in the machine. It started off with one of Schoenberg’s 6 Little Piano Pieces – the one that I think influenced James Brown. I had already earmarked another version of that piece as a relic worth saying – and I feel the same way about this second one. There’s other stuff on the disc I like too.

I seem to have a legal problem with the water company.

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