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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hacker Ethics and Higher Learning: The Moral Clash Determining the Future of Education

Special thanks to Joe Creech and the good people of the Lilly Fellows Program for an enjoyable time of conversation on the nature of "place" in our professional lives as scholars in higher education. 

I'm just recovering from a very full conference schedule with the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts annual conference held this year at Valparaiso University.  My warm thanks are extended to the many new friends and colleagues I met over several meals and dozens of conversations.

It was an honor to be invited to give a keynote address along with two other notable scholars.

Seal of Valparaiso UniversityImage via Wikipedia
The conference revolved on the notion of "place" in higher education and, appropriately, there was a scholar of art and architecture, a theologian working on issues of globalization, and myself, a sociologist who pays attention to religion and social change. I focused on the transformation of higher learning welling-up from the cumulative transformations in digital connectivity.

My talk revolved around two moral orientations, two moral "codes" if you will, that are clashing (rather than converging) in higher education today.  The first code is the formative retreat ethic that stresses the moral imperative of creating a cloistered space of education that works toward discipline and even piety. Our institutions of higher education have an underlying moral orientation: a formative retreat for the cultivation of virtuous adults. I speculate that the stronger the religious orientation of the college, the stronger the formative moral imperative of the institution.

On the other hand is a new ethic, a Hacker Ethic, that emphasizes openness, free access, and utter playfulness. The Hacker Code, Hacker Ethics, and Hacker Culture – these are terms I use heuristically to describe a nascent, overarching ethos that has fueled the development of our increasingly “connected” (I mean digitally, online, networked connected) lives from the 1950s until now. Various principles are involved (I give several lists and descriptions in my talk), and much of it centers on digital connectivity.

What I stressed to this esteemed group of scholars and administrators is that higher education is caught in a larger transition. Banks, phone companies, and our local and federal governments are all firmly committed to open internet connectivity. For example, the federal government just announced at the end of September that while we can still physically mail our returns, more people are e-filing and, as a cost cutting measure, the federal government will no longer mail tax forms, but we must access them online. Examples could be multiplied many times over.

Our schools are dominated by this connectivity as well – Barry Wellman on twitter recently wrote, “Student finds it impossible to go cold turkey off the grid because official announcements & research materials are only online.” The internet is not just a tool of knowledge and business but has become something much more.

Hacker Culture logoImage via Wikipedia

We submit grades online, our students register for courses online, use electronic course reserves (72% of professors use course management systems), answer questions, set calendar appointments, distribute departmental information and committee reports, and even submit journal articles and whole book manuscripts. Increasingly we post syllabi and study content, we skype into meetings, we blog and tweet (about one-third of professors as far as I can find a statistic) our results.  Administrators are pushing internet connectivity to solve certain problems and scholars are using internet connectivity to solve others.

It took me a while… but I soon saw that there was a new set of ideals being promoted. What fuels the development of these new digital realms is not just clever innovation but a new morality, what’s been called the Hacker Ethic. Hackers represent those who were taking advantage of the new spaces and new possibilities opened by the creation of new structures. It’s an entire moral orientation.

Although you can't see the Power Point slides emphasizing different points, here's part 2 of 4 parts of the keynote available on YouTube:



More on the "Hacker Ethic" can be found in part 3.

I'm grateful for the time at Valpo and a new set of conversations.  Certainly there are many others who understand these dynamics far better than I do and can speak far more articulately about them.  But this was my chance to package my best understanding of the things that affect my life and work everyday.  And I'm convinced they are propelling more substantial changes that threaten our traditional understandings of higher education in unanticipated ways.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2011 Summer Research Seminar: Congregations and Social Change


Congregations and Social Change:
Adaptation and Innovation among Religious Communities
June 27 - July 22, 2011

I will be directing a research seminar at Calvin College next summer. This is an open invitation:


Seminar Description

This research seminar will closely examine the ongoing relationships between congregations and processes of broad ranging, societal change. By incorporating a historical sensitivity and scholarship rooted in a sociological perspective, the seminar will continually connect societal arrangements with adaptation, reaction, innovation, and experimentation in congregational beliefs and practices. The focus will be on congregations of all types (whether church, synagogue, temple, or mosque) and encourages a look at both interpersonal dynamics (beliefs, micro-exchanges, small group interaction, etc.) as well as more macro-level phenomena (globalization, technological shifts, political systems, etc.).

The analytical perspectives on congregations can include --
  • singular case studies, particular historical periods,
  • whole denominational networks (Mormon wards, eastern orthodox churches, Jewish synagogues, mosques and Islamic centers as well as Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Zoroastrian and other religious temples and missions),
  • types of congregations (small, rural, independent, mega, etc.),
  • regional centers (Southern California, Manhattan, Chicago Metro), and
  • any other appropriate and manageable arena of analysis.

The seminar also welcomes any aspect of congregational life that can be examined in relation to social change, for example,
  • changes or comparisons of liturgical design,
  • formation and negotiation of political identity,
  • mobilization tied to extra-congregational organizations or social movements,
  • creation of age-targeted ministry (twenty-somethings to retirees),
  • incorporation of creative arts,
  • negotiated relationships between religious and civic service structures or public agencies,
  • adoption of online social networking or use of new media and technology,
  • management of multiethnic/multiracial dynamics,
  • etc, etc.

Seminar participants will read sociological and historical literature, engage ethnographic methodology commonly employed in contemporary research, and discuss their own work toward creating a community of scholarship oriented around common concerns. Ideally, each participant will produce a polished piece of writing as a result of the seminar, eg., completing a conference paper, journal article, dissertation chapter, book chapter, or publishable mass-media article. As participants work on their own congregations and social change research during the seminar, they will receive guided feedback in a supportive environment. Housing, daily lunch with other scholars, library access, and a small research stipend is provided for seminar participants.

Who May Apply

This research seminar is most intended for current and recent doctoral students in fields related to religious and organizational studies (sociology, anthropology, history, ethnic studies, folklore, and others). While the seminar is designed toward social science-oriented scholars holding, or advanced to candidacy for, the terminal degree in their field (typically the PhD), I eagerly welcome humanities-oriented scholars as well theologically-oriented participants from seminaries and divinity schools. To the extent possible, I will select a group diverse in gender, ethnic, confessional, and disciplinary backgrounds, and with a variety of research sites (i.e., the confessional and/or social identities of the communities they plan to study). I also plan to choose among applicants a mix of participants ranging from doctoral candidates through recent doctorates in tenure-track positions and scholars working on their first or second books to mid-career scholars retooling with defined projects.


on the director, guest speakers, and application process.

Application information is at the bottom of the page. Deadline is January 14, 2011.