‘the thing itself’
‘In no way can it be uttered, as can other things, which one can learn. Rather, from out of a full, co-existential dwelling with the thing itself – as when a spark, leaping from the fire, flares into light – so it happens, suddenly, in the soul, there to grow, alone with itself.” (Heidegger, 1929)
hanfod.NL began in 2020 with a meeting of minds. Mike reached out to Felicity when he noticed that she was leading a round-table discussion on phenomenology at NLC2020. When the co-chairs of NLC offered Mike a chance to host a sponsored node event, thoughts quickly turned to strengthening phenomenology within networked learning, in partnership with Felicity. The COVID-19 pandemic provided additional challenges to event planning but it could not prevent Mike and Felicity setting up hanfod.NL as a small ‘learned society’ charity.
We, at hanfod.NL acknowledge that networked learning and phenomenology are contested terms and offer the following in an attempt to provide clarity for potential delegates.
‘Networked learning’ aligns the event with the eponymous biennial conference and consortium. For over 20 years, the conference has been a source of provisional stability to a field of research and practice that takes a critical and emancipatory stance towards the place of information technology in education and learning. The conference call for papers provide a succinct idea of the field. At the 12th conference, in May 2020, scholars presented a reformulation of a longstanding definition of networked learning and published an open access paper in the July (Networked Learning Editorial Collective (NLEC), 2020), seeking to open a discussion of the definition and promote awareness of the field. The paper set out three intersecting phenomena (ibid. p. 3):
- Human/inter-personal relationships
- Technology (especially digital communications technologies)
- Collaborative engagement in valued activity (joint inquiry, knowledgeable action, etc).
We believe that this provides fertile ground for approaches hailing from phenomenology, a branch of philosophical inquiry concerned with the structures of experience. Something further must be said about our attitude towards phenomenology. Various fields of the human sciences seek to investigate ‘experience’, from psychology to education to philology to health, and yet every researcher within them operates with some awareness that ‘experience’ has been trawled over in great depth and dense detail for centuries by elite philosophers who may be relatively unconcerned with the challenges of applying their ruminations in a methodology, particularly where data gathering is presumed. Philosophers’ insights have influenced researchers to varying degrees: some try to remain faithful to phenomenology’s heritage, others are commonly and nominally associated but in fact deliberately divorced from a concern with ‘the structures of conscious experience’.
Many phenomenological methodologists would be, at most, tentative to outline any prescriptive method, apart from reduction, which entails averting the mind’s gaze from a merely ‘natural attitude’ to allow a ‘turning to the world when in an open state of mind’ (van Manen, 2014, p. 218). The literature bears witness to some sharp exchanges in recent years between protagonists (Giorgi, 2011; Paley, 2018; van Manen, 2017). In keeping with networked learning’s stance, our own position and interest is sanguine and pluralistic, with the aim of learning from and through differences.