Thursday 30 July 2015

The nature of information, and rice farming in the Mekong Delta. Seriously interdisciplinary work.

The extended abstract and presentation of the paper that my elder son, Alex Chapman, and I presented at DTMD 2015 as part of the International Society for Information Studies Summit in Vienna are now available from the DTMD website.

The extented abstract and the presentation are available from the links above, but here is the introduction to the abstract:
The role of information and values in the participatory analysis of social-ecological systems.

Objectivism, supposing that information is ‘out there’ and can be accessed through appropriate research methods, is a valuable and unavoidable initial stance in fieldwork. However, even within an objectivist paradigm, information gathered from field work can never be accepted uncritically, however rigorous the research methodology, since each step of the process from the choice of methodology onwards is driven and circumscribed by the values and beliefs of the participants.

In response to the growing threat of climatic change researchers are increasingly utilising social surveys to access information on human-environment interactions or the operation of “social-ecological” systems, in order to preserve key functions into the future. This paper explores the sources of uncertainty which emerge as simple environmental data transfers from participant to researcher. In particular, it considers the role that values can play in determining the quality of participant-reported quantitative environmental data, presented within the framework of Shannon’s standard communication model.
I've also uploaded one of the diagrams from the presentation at the end of this post - mainly because this blog doesn't contain enough pictures :-)

Alex is a geographer, doing a PhD on climate change adaptation at Southampton University.  The presentation came about from conversations around the dining table at home, so the reason for bringing together these two disparate topics (my work on understanding the nature of information and Alex's research into climate change adaptation in the Mekong Delta) is essentially serendipity.  Nevertheless - or because of that - it has been very valuable.

My work with all these trapeziums has been about developing a framework for understanding and talking about information. I have been developing a narrative of information. Applying it to Alex's fieldwork exercises the narrative. It is an experiment to test the theory. For Alex it provides a critical framework to examine the assumptions of his work and explore the sources of uncertainty. In reality it is more use to me than to him since it would be a big risk for Alex to use my narrative in his thesis - he needs to stick to the tried-and-tested narratives of his discipline. Nevertheless, I think the process of working together on the paper has helped him take a critical look at his work, and it was gratifying that a geographer who happened to be in the audience for our presentation could see merit in the framework for exploring the limitations of fieldwork.

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