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Kress and Moral Authority: A Latent Quest for Completeness

I had tweeted this earlier in the week, but it still buzzing around my head and I do not feel content to let it go just yet. This is from Kress’s “Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning” and speaks to the scope of representation, what it means and how it permeates throughout the culture. The soft, but pervasive, power of culture, symbolic storytelling, iconography, language, mythology affects us in ways that we aren’t always conscious of, the greatest kind of power. An embedded authority.
“The issue—given that representation, especially in the linguistic modes of speech and writing, is so closely bound up with social and ethical values—cannot be debated at the level of representation alone. It does, always, have to be seen in the wider framework of economic, political, social, cultural and technological changes. This is so because on the one hand representation is used as a metaphor for social, cultural, and ethical issues, and because on the otherhand representational changes do not happen in isolation.” (6)
Representation as an artefact, perhaps? As the sum total of all changes, shifts, perceptions towards a given construct? Historically, the perfect vehicle for this transmission of authority was language (still is). While audible language can be received with particular discernment (I can tune out for stretches at a time, choose to listen, be distracted by visual stimuli), it is more difficult to refute textual authority. It is definitive, it is physical (to a point), and it is authoritative, nowhere more so than in academia.
Kress goes on to refer to Roland Barthes, no slouch in the textual department.

“Roland Barthes (1977) interestingly addressed this issue of the relative power of author or reader in 1968, in the context of a much wider challenge to power at that time. Theories of reading—as of language more widely—are ready, available, metaphors of the social. In reading the traditional page, the reader has to follow the strict order established by the writer while needing to interpret the word-signifiers, turning them into her or his signs. “

I am intrigued by this notion of the word-signifiers, these constructs of the social order. They are everywhere and take dominance over other modes of representation, although that is shifting somewhat. However, their authority has led to their dominance of representative work, which in turn has led to their abundance. We are drowning in text as everyone has come to recognize the authority of it. Other forms of representation have been historically permitted (visual art as subversion?), but even these are played against their relation to the textual. It is bound in our culture, our social order.
However text, while being highly complex and layered, is linear. It is one dimension, one take on representation. No matter how good it is, how dynamic and layered and profound it is, how much it encapsulates moral authority, it is incomplete.
There is nothing new in my analysis here, just a more concerted effort to recognize a latent quest for completeness, for a fully visualized representation of a learning object (any object is a learning object). It is an impossible dream individually, but collaboratively? Well, anything is possible. The hardest part will be the creation of a framework to determine the efficiency and completeness of that representation, an intellectual construct of assessment (this is where the moral authority resides). This framework is the collective long tail of comprehension, where ideas transfer from conceptual to operational.
And now I will stop.
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About Author

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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