Intellectual Bricolers or Trouble Makers?

The current debate about the role of technology in the classroom is a challenging one to follow.  Initially, computers were thought of as a panacea that would improve scores. Then, a backlash came when kids were found to be “screwing around”* with those very devices rather than “learning”.  Now, I’m seeing a third wave where some people are realizing that not all “screwing around” is actually “screwing around”.  There are many skunksworks that clearly illustrate that some forms of organized disobedience can sometimes be very productive and profitable.  But one does not need a major corporation to innovate.  Creativity can be found in “the street” as well.  William Gibson’s famous dictum “the street finds its own uses for things” (“Burning Chrome“, 1981) points to the power of human ingenuity in adverse disempowered contexts like poverty or “American adolescence”.  Lévi-Strauss’ use of the term “bricolage” is a more classical version of this observation.

What is “bricolage” you might as? Wikipedia’s correct when they say bricolage is “borrowed from the French verb ‘bricoler’ – equivalent to the English “do-it-yourself”, the core meaning in French being, however, “fiddle, tinker” and, by extension, “make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are at hand (regardless of their original purpose)”. 

My research puts me contact with adolescents (middle school students) who “screw around” with robotics and “pre-engineers” (college students) who “fiddle, tinker and create” technology. 

What would happen if our analysis started considering those adolescent kids ‘technological innovators’?  The kids’ transformation from “trouble makers” to “intellectual bricolers” would improve our knowledge base by realizing that some very creative things come from the minds of the disempowered.  This would also improve the educational preparation of students to the degree that they would potentially realize that their “play” is actually “work” in another context.


*[Use of the term “screw around” originates from Garfinkel, “Consider that once you get into line persons will not therein question that you have rightfully gotten into line unless you start screwing around. Then you get instructed” (2002: 257).  Follow this link to better understand how Garfinkel’s  “screwing around” links to this discussion via a discussion of Varenne’s “productive ignorance”.]

Six million years of bipedalism: Apperently not enough time to learn to stay out of my way?

Being that I, James Mullooly, am 100% of Irish decent, and being that I live in Fresno, I spent St. Patrick’s Day in San Fransisco. The Bay Area has a long tradition of Irish Immigration that will never be forgotten, no matter how much one drinks!! I blogged about TheAnthroGeek’s St. Patrick’s Day journey to San Fran elsewhere, but my main issue for this entry concerns human conveyance in crowded areas.

I admit to being a little claustrophobic and having personal space issues. I’ve lived in far more crowded areas than San Fransisco (like Kingston, Cairo, NYC, Bamako), so its not that I cannot handle crowds; rather, it’s that I do not understand them. This is not a good thing for a social scientist to admit to but there you go.

Being “TheAnthroGeek” that I am, I consulted the great compendium of knowledge that is the glorious field of Anthropology to better understand my predicament. Breaking news out today suggests that we have been walking for far longer than previously assumed. With all this practice we’ve had, you’d think navigating the streets of San Fransisco would be easier. Brian Richmond and William Jungers published their findings in the March 21 issue of Science (link here for an abstract or to today’s US News and World Report for news about it). Common anthropological sense placed hominid bipedalism at around 3.5 million years ago.

But even though we apparently had an extra few million years practice at walking, we still cannot do it without a great deal of dancing, bumping, apologizing and gazing. Although most may not consider this work, ask someone with agoraphobia about that – it is work, you can call it “social work” or the “work of culture” if you like as long as you look at it as labor. This was the main thing on my mind while jostling/being jostled along the streets of San Fransisco a few days ago.

Now back in Fresno, a place of wide parking lots, few trees and lots of elbow room, rare is it that I need to do that little minuet required of when two humans share a space too small for their requisite intimacy expectations.

John O’Donohue passes

John O’Donohue was an Irish poet and philosopher beloved for his book Anam Cara — Gaelic for “soul friend” — and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. Before his untimely death this year, he spoke with Krista in our studios. And so this hour has become a remembrance of him. But John O’Donohue had a very Celtic, lifelong fascination with what he called “the invisible world.” And he would also surely see this also as a serendipitous continuation of his life’s work — of bringing ancient Celtic wisdom to modern confusions and longings.