Absorbent Distinctions: A Discursive Tool for Disarming Worldviews Hostility in the Cyberspace
IRS Seminar with Dr. Marta Lenartowicz, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
While physical social spaces are vessels of interactions which are perplexingly multi-layered – ranging from physical and biochemical to symbolic – perhaps the most distilled condensation of the purely symbolic layer of the social realm can be found in the Cyberspace. There, the only social dynamic which can be actually observed appears as traces of symbol mediated communication. In her seminar Marta Lenartowicz will invite us for a visit to an imaginary Situation Room, under theoretical construction, designed such that it provides a scalable observatory of the entire global social dynamic, as traced on the Internet, and allows us to intervene by introjecting hypothetical modifications into all discourses and exchanges. It will be argued that the most appropriate focus of such conceptualised observation and intervention should be set not on the interactions between social actors (e.g. social media “likes”, retweets, etc.), and not on their psychological states (e.g. emotional sentiments), but on the interplay between semiotic distinctions. This stance seems to be consistent with both Bourdieu’s and Luhmann’s social theories, but also with broader evolutionary explanations of complexity in all strata of reality.
Adopting a complex systems perspective on the processes displayed in our Situation Room, Marta Lenartowicz will argue that the most potent intervention into their overall dynamics could be achieved by the modification of the structural linkages between the instances of communication – that is: by the introjection of a new kind of discursively enacted distinctions. It will be proposed that the Spencer-Brownian structure of distinction, as it is observed by the social systems theory, is not the only one possible – and also not the only one actually present. Another, possibly highly transformative, kind of distinction can be derived from the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. Exploring the differences between the Spencer-Brownian and Deleuzian kinds of distinctions, we will be invited to practically experiment with discursive transformation (“absorption”) of the former kind into the latter, using real world exemplary interactions sampled from social media.
Dr. Marta Lenartowicz is a postdoctoral researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in the Evolution, Complexity and Cognition (ECCO) Research Group and the founder of the School of Thinking – a new postgraduate programme to be launched at the VUB in Fall 2019. She received her PhD in humanistic management (public affairs) in 2014 and MA in philology (theory of language) in 2001, both from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. In her research Marta focuses on worldview formation, identity emergence, transformation and resilience in social systems, approaching them as complex, adaptive, self-organizing instances of distributed cognition and intelligence.