Monday, September 15, 2014

The 'problem' with sharing!

Many children grow up with an ethos that to share is good.  And in many ways it is.  However I have come to realise that there is a problem with sharing and most folk, in my experience, do not realise what the problem is.  The roots of the problem can be found in the propensity we have to migrate words away from their etymology and to use them in contexts which begin the insidious process of conserving semantic confusion.  This is an issue I have been aware of for some time - I think courtesy of one of the many profound conversations I have had with my friend David Russell. Certainly I have warned most of my PhD students away from the deployment of 'sharing' in their writing. However I have not written about it till now, prompted by an invitation to look over an abstract developed by a colleague in which he deployed 'sharing' in ways that fueled my long-standing concerns.

Sharing is of course a verb meaning to cut into parts, to make a division, a section, a part, a piece (as in pie) or portion (as in land) or to divide up labour (from which troop derives).  Etymologically share can be traced back to the old English word for shear, associated with parting the land, as happens when using a ploughshare; then followed harvest and cutting time from which one received one's share.  From this can be seen how the idea of share- receiving or share-holding (as in companies, businesses etc arise). In the early Middle Ages a share was a portion of a levy imposed on fishing boats. What these different roots have in common is the idea that a share arises from a whole - in other words sharing is to do with a part-whole relationship. The other important aspect of this etymology is that sharing is grounded in materiality - there is usually something tangible, or physical to be shared, even if it is denoted by a share certificate.  It is in the movement away from these etymological roots that my problem with sharing arises!

We live in a world now, where those who use English believe it is possible to share knowledge. meaning, experiences, information - in fact all sorts of abstract concepts - as if there was a part-whole relationship and as if there were some hidden materiality behind what is being shared! We have begun the process of conserving semantic inaccuracy, one that does not serve us well, because it distorts all sorts of understandings and practices in fields ranging from politics to computing. We humans live in language and it is our evolutionary past that we have in common as our living unfolds, day by day.  Our cultural histories expose us to many common phenomena (i.e., we cannot escape our social embeddedness) but our experiential history is always unique - all we have at our disposal is our ability to use language (in its broadest sense) to communicate (talk, converse, dance etc) about our experiences.  Thus whenever a claim is made that we share understanding, or knowledge or meaning, then we are making a claim about the status of our social relations in our conversations with others, not a state of our being.

Can we alter our trajectory - or has 'sharing' gone feral?  Unfortunately there are few opportunities in contemporary education to generate the reflexivity that we need to explore, and where needed, change our manners of living in language.  Perhaps we need an etymology ap that fosters the reflexivity that is needed?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

In Italian sharing is translated "condividere". "Divide with". "With" makes the difference as it emphasize the active role of all those who are sharing in tuning their mind and seek a common view. Don't know if this helps