My first experience of creating a chatbot, and how bots might be used in teaching foreign languages

In preparation for the next academic year (which in Australia will begin in February) I am exploring new ways of assessing students in foreign language units, especially at first year level.

Last Friday I created a chatbot using Microsoft’s QnA Maker and the Azure cloud computing platform. You can have a play with it the foot of this post.

It’s MichelSerresBot, a very simple Q&A chatbot that recognises four questions about the philosopher Michel Serres and is pre-loaded with appropriate answers:

  • Qui est Michel Serres?
    • Un philosophe français.
  • Combien de livres Michel Serres a-t-il écrits ?
    • Il a écrit plus de 50 livres.
  • Pourquoi devrais-je lire les livres de Michel Serres ?
    • Vous devez lire ses livres si vous vous intéressez à l’écologie, à la littérature, à la philosophie comme moteur d’invention, à l’interdisciplinarité ou aux sciences.
  • Pourquoi Michel Serres n’est-il pas mieux connu ?
    • Parce qu’il n’est pas une « marque » comme d’autres philosophes.

Interestingly, it also understands variations on those questions, as you can see in the screenshot below.

The bot tries to guess what question you are asking, and you can tinker with its tolerance levels. It can misinterpret questions that resemble those it recognises. For example, with the default tolerance setting “Pourquoi Michel Serres?” [Why Michel Serres?] gives the answer “Un philosophe français” [A French philosopher].

I dare say that bots like this sort of bot could have many uses in undergraduate teaching, from transforming FAQs in a unit’s LMS page through learning how to formulate questions, to framing small research tasks, but in this post I want to focus on the use of chatbots in assessment. Not that the chatbot assesses the students (please, no!), but that the students use the capabilities of a bot to sift, structure, present and discover information. Here’s a sketch of how it might work:

  • A first year cohort is divided into groups of five or six.
  • Each group either chooses or is assigned a research topic relevant to the unit, perhaps from a list provided by the unit coordinator or perhaps by each group suggesting a topic for approval. In my unit the topics would be within the field of French culture.
  • The group then has to research their topic and distinguish between important and incidental information, prioritising the most important things to know in the area.
  • They condense those most important areas into a list of questions and answers (say a minimum of forty and a maximum of fifty), formulated in the foreign language.
  • They submit the list of questions and answers in a text file to the unit coordinator, in a format readable by QnA Maker (question [tab] answer [new line]: no other markup needed).
  • The coordinator then turns each of the lists into a chatbot (this can be done quite quickly, I found today), and hosts each bot either on the LMS or an a website like this one.
  • Each group is then assigned the chatbot of another group and has to interact with it in order to find out as much information as they can about the area in question. Azure keeps a record of all the questions asked and answers given.
  • The mark for the assignment is part peer-assessment (the group seeking to extract information from the chatbot is given a set of criteria including comprehensibility, ease of use and so forth) and part assessed by the unit coordinator, who marks the question and answer document of the first group according to criteria covering both language and content, and marks the adeptness of the second group at asking questions that elicit the information it contains.

It appears that the language of the interface can be changed from English to French, but that’s for another day. What Friday’s experiment showed me was that there is enough potential in chatbots for me to give them more thought as I plan my teaching for next year.

So here is MichelSerresBot. Remember, it’s a prototype and only recognises four questions…

Research Hacks #24: What we think about when we think about academic impact

No-one working in academia today needs me to point out the importance of the impact agenda, nor the way in which it coaxes us to understand the value of our work in particular ways and take it in particular directions. In this post I want to explore one narrow but important set of questions within the broader impact discussion: how the word “impact” itself predisposes us to think in particular ways, and how to understand those activities named by the word “impact” in ways that free them from those constraints.

After sketching in some of the context of the impact debate (section 1) I want to take a step back and consider the metaphor of “impact” itself, what it assumes about what we do, how it shapes the way we are encouraged to think about what we do, and what its blind spots might be (section 2). I will then offer an alternative and, to my mind, more fruitful and energising vocabulary to describe what the “impact” metaphor seeks to capture (section 3).

 

1. Context and definitions

The Australian Research Council (ARC) is currently introducing a national impact and engagement assessment, the purpose of which is to “examine how universities are translating their research into economic, social and other benefits and encourage greater collaboration between universities, industries and other end-users of research.”[1] The scheme will be piloted in 2017, and rolled out nationally in 2018 as part of the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise, similar to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK.

In their Engagement and Impact Assessment Consultation Paper the ARC distinguish between “impact” and “engagement”.

Impact

The ARC, in conjunction with a number of Australia’s publicly funded research organisations, adopted the following definition of impact in its Research Impact Principles and Framework (2012):

Research impact is the demonstrable contribution that research makes to the economy, society, culture,  national security, public policy or services, health, the environment, or quality of life, beyond contributions to  academia.[2]

The UK REF defined impact as “an effect on, change, benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the  environment or quality of life beyond academia.”[3]

Engagement

If “impact” is a demonstrable and measurable change resulting from research, “engagement” is the collaboration that can lead to such change. The ARC consultation paper explains:

A recent trial by ATSE which developed metrics from ERA data chose to focus on research engagement only.  ATSE’s reasoning was that research impact focussed on the late stages of the research process and that  there are significant methodological difficulties in assessing impact. Therefore, ATSE defined engagement as:

the interaction between researchers and research organisations and their larger communities/industries for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge, understanding and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.

How will impact be measured?[4]

The ARC propose the following “impact measurement principles”:

  • Acknowledge that excellent research underpins impact.
  • Promote understanding through use of common language and terms associated with research impact.
  • Respect the diversity in research disciplines/sectors in demonstrating research impact.
  • Cooperate in developing a set of common, cost effective and efficient parameters for data collection and reporting.
  • Adopt a consultative approach with stakeholders in regards to implementing impact reporting in support of future research investments.
  • Encourage, recognise and reward positive behaviour in planning, monitoring and evaluating research impact.

 

2. How the metaphor of “impact” nudges us to think in particular ways

It is not my purpose here to interrogate the rationale behind assessing research impact. This has been widely discussed, and the ARC consultation paper itself raises important questions about bias towards some disciplines over others, about measurability and about short-termism.[5] I want rather to pick away a little at the metaphor of impact itself, not simply to criticise it but to begin to re-frame that which it names in ways that can resonate more engagingly with colleagues in the arts and humanities.

We all know that words matter. The schoolyard chant “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” doth protest too much. Words don’t just hurt us, they make us. The limits of our language mean the limits of our world,[6] we all live by metaphors,[7] and she or he who sets the vocabulary of a debate is half way to winning it.

So what does the metaphor of “impact” foreground, what does it leave in the shadows, and what, as a metaphor, does it say about the activities it names?

  • First of all, it is impersonal. The primary use of the term is in relation to bodies which “come forcibly into contact with” or “press forcibly into” one another (OED). We think of impact craters, impact tests and impact zones.
  • Secondly, it is violent.
  • Thirdly, it implies a certain passivity in the body that receives the impact. We think of the impact of a projectile on an inert surface or on the ground, but the sort of relationships in which academics can make a difference are much more consensual and collaborative, as the ARC acknowledges in its definition of engagement.
  • Fourthly, it is unilateral. The world–thank goodness!–is not out there patiently waiting for academics violently to alter it, but the metaphor does not grasp the dynamic subtleties of the relationships involved in bringing about change. “Impact” keeps the focus on the researcher and their research, but the irony is that for many academics the great challenge when it comes to the impact agenda is moving away from a focus on “my research” and onto the needs of others.

None of these are reasons to jettison the metaphor altogether, even if such a thing were possible. But they are reasons to loosen its hold on our thinking.

To read all the research hacks posted to date, please click here.

 

3. So how should we think about “impact”?

Language and making visible

My discomfort with the metaphor comes also from an observation and a conviction about the way we often use language in academia. We can focus on structures and processes to the point where they obscure the human beings whose complex lives and relationships those same structures and processes seek to describe and shape, and we can talk about human beings themselves in ways that filter our human complexity to leave visible only a narrow set of concerns captured in one local discourse or set of concepts. In my last book I explored at some length the dangers of qualifying the epithet homo with any term related to a specific discourse or area of human endeavour (homo economicus, homo faber, homo loquens…), and in the same spirit I try to be mindful of the following two principles when talking in an academic context:

  • wherever possible, speak of people as such, without qualification (for example as “stakeholders” or “employees”).
  • wherever possible, make people visible in the language we use. Don’t talk about “spaces” and “end users” if “groups of people” and “people who use our services” can do the job.

I want wherever I can to use language that does not obscure the complex human relationships at the heart of processes and policies but rather makes people visible, in all our unwieldy complexity. This, in fact is the “real world” of which we are so fond of speaking in the academy: the world of real people with sometimes overlapping and sometimes conflicting sets of responsibilities, convictions and relationships, only some of which are caught in filtered discourse. The real world is not the world of people reduced to a particular function or discourse, but people as such, inhabiting–and amenable to description in terms of–a Harlequin’s coat of overlapping discourses and never reducible to any one.

How, then, can we express the intention behind the metaphor of “impact” in a way that reflects this impulse to make people visible? Here is a proposal that may well sound naïve, but that I am convinced is far from simplistic: When we think about “impact” we should think about “helping people”. Here’s why I think the language of helping people is an improvement and a key to unlock new ways of thinking about the “impact agenda”:

  • It’s a more immediate, intuitive idea. We all have a sense of what it means to help someone, and we all know that helping people, when done well, is a good thing.
  • It is ordinary, everyday language, and therefore does not treat “impact” as something unusual or special. It frames academic “impact” as one instance of something we do a lot of in life, and something of which we all recognise the value already.
  • As a result, it foregrounds the worthwhile nature of “impact” activities regardless of whether there is a research assessment exercise to measure them or not. It locates the value of the activity in the activity itself in the first instance, not in its instrumental value for the assessment exercise.
  • It paints “impact” as the collaborative, relational venture which it is. There is nothing more annoying than being “helped” by someone who thinks they know exactly what you want and how you want it done. To be helped, someone must be known, at least in some relevant ways, and they have to consent to and welcome the help being offered. No such recognition is necessary for the metaphor of impact.
  • It is scalable. We have a sense of what it might look like to help people in small ways, and it is similarly not hard for us to imagine how large groups or institutions and the people in them could be helped.
  • It is more concrete than the abstract idea of “impact”. It brings us straight to real people’s lives, concerns and needs.
  • Finally, it makes people and their relationships visible.

So “helping people” isn’t just a simpler, more homely or more bleeding-heart alternative to “impact”; it reflects a radically different ideology and set of concerns. It predisposes us to think about situations in terms of reciprocal and mutual relationships and about the good of the other(s), rather than impersonal, unilateral, self-focused or instrumentalised interventions. Nor is it a simplistic idea. It can be accomplished in many complex ways and have many facets.

Privileging this language won’t change anything in itself, of course, but language is important and when we begin to see situations and opportunities differently then we become open to acting in new ways in response to them. When I ask myself the question of how my research can help people, and whom it can help, I find I have more ideas, and more excitement, then when I think in terms of what might be its “impact”.

There may well be more stages to move through in this re-framing of the idea of impact, and you are very welcome to suggest any that come to mind in the comments section below. But I do think that the shift to the paradigm of “helping people”, at least in the minds of colleagues in the arts and humanities as we think about our own research, can resonate with many of us in more productive and energising ways than discussions governed by the metaphor of “impact”.

 

[1] http://www.arc.gov.au/engagement-and-impact-assessment

[2] http://www.arc.gov.au/research-impact-principles-and-framework#Definition

[3] http://www.hefce.ac.uk/rsrch/REFimpact/

[4] http://www.arc.gov.au/research-impact-principles-and-framework#impact

[5] It is important to recognise that the definitions of research engagement and impact adopted may advantage  some disciplines over others. Some definitions may also lead to more emphasis being placed on short-term,  applied, or business focussed research over the longer-term public benefits derived from more fundamental  research. The intangible nature of some social benefits of research makes quantification difficult and so  qualitative approaches based on narrative explanations of the benefits of research projects have been  advocated to overcome this. Although more easily measured, overemphasis on industry engagement and  income measures on research can have long term negative implications. Narrow measures, if used in  isolation, can drive researchers to maximise measures associated with short-term input measures at the  expense of potential long-term economic and social benefits.

[6] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 5.6. “Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.”

[7] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003).

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CC Image courtesy of Stròlic Furlàn on Flickr.

If my brain is damaged, do I become a different person? Catherine Malabou and neuro-identity

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of teaching in a joint Monash-Warwick undergraduate unit examining the theme of identity across the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences. My own contribution was a seminar on the work of Catherine Malabou, entitled ‘If my brain is damaged, do I become a different person? Catherine Malabou and neuro-identity’. Beginning with Theseus’s ship, the seminar examined the use of terms such as “person” and “personality” in relation, principally, to Malabou’s treatment of the Phineas Gage case and Alzheimer’s. Although I had (and still have) serious reservations about Malabou’s position, I argued that she asks fundamental questions and forces us to think through uncomfortable realities.

The seminars from the unit have now been enhanced and re-worked into the book Reconstructing Identity: A Transdisciplinary Approach, which has just been published.

A version of my chapter is available on academia.edu and researchgate.net, and if you prefer not to use those platforms you can just download it directly here (don’t be fooled by the “cart”, it’s free).

 

Abstract

The growing field of neuro-philosophy throws up important issues for our society about how we understand the persistence of personal identity over time: If my brain is damaged or otherwise altered, do I become a different person? This chapter explores some of the work of the French neuro-philosopher Catherine Malabou as she asks, and tries to answer, this fundamental question about who we think we are, giving a non-reductive materialist account of self-identity.

Malabou’s engagement with the cognitive approach to identity is mediated by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s discussions of Phineas Gage, the nineteenth century Vermont railway worker whose frontal lobe was damaged when an explosion sent a tamping iron through his skull. The neuroscientific interest of the case is not in Gage’s unlikely survival but in the indication it provides—or so it is argued—that there is a causal relation between lesions in particular areas of the brain and specific personality changes. Quoting the account of the case written by Gage’s surgeon John Harlow, Malabou insists that “Gage was no longer Gage”, and that the radical nature of the transformation brought about by brain lesion made him a new person. For too long, she argues, we have maintained in the Western tradition that, however form may change, substance remains the same, and the Gage case shows that there is no underlying substrate of identity that persists through the trauma.

In addition to her discussion of the Gage case, Malabou poignantly discusses her own experience of the onset and progress of Alzheimer’s disease in her grandmother, a process which she describes as a “depersonalisation” that rendered her grandmother an “other person”. Malabou brings her sophisticated concept of plasticity to bear on the question of identity, offering an alternative to the perennial philosophical duo of substance and attribute and exploring the implications of situating personhood (rather than just personality) in the brain.

Despite the nuances which her notion of plasticity introduces, however, Malabou’s account of personal identity remains problematic. In this chapter I offer a critique of her position that beings by drawing attention to an irony in the way that the Gage case is commonly interpreted: the claim being made is that identity and personhood are adequately understood through and in terms of the brain, and yet the very judgement which seeks to ground that position – exemplified in Harlow’s claim that “Gage was no longer Gage” – is a third party judgement, an identity conferred within a community of discourse and medical expertise, in a way that at least prima facie invalidates the position that personhood is cerebral. Gage himself, as it happens, thought he was still Gage. I argue that Malabou has implicit within her writing the seeds of a more adequate account which would not understand identity and personhood to be immanent to the material brain but would embrace a broader notion of identity distributed across relationships, institutions and shared common narratives.

Here is a full TOC of the book:

  • Introduction

    Monk, Nicholas (et al.)

    Pages 1-15

  • If My Brain Is Damaged, Do I Become a Different Person? Catherine Malabou and Neuro-identity

    Watkin, Christopher

    Pages 21-40

  • Identity and Psychiatric Disorders

    Omer, Farhana (et al.)

    Pages 41-59

  • Biological Identity

    Moffat, Kevin G.

    Pages 61-82

  • Outside in the House of Colour: A Second Look at Postcolonial and Transnational Feminisms

    Chakraborty, Mridula Nath

    Pages 87-112

  • Gendering the Favela: Brazilian National Identities on Screen

    McDonald, Sarah

    Pages 113-130

  • Queering Identity: Becoming Queer in the Work of Cassils

    Lambert, Cath

    Pages 131-155

  • Forms of Self-Translation

    Wilson, Rita

    Pages 157-177

  • Autoethnographic Journalism: Subjectivity and Emotionality in Audio Storytelling

    Lindgren, Mia

    Pages 183-206

  • Technologically Mediated Identity: Personal Computers, Online Aliases, and Japanese Robots

    Pasfield-Neofitou, Sarah

    Pages 207-242

  • The Role of Narrative in the Creation of Brand Identity

    Ochoa, Gabriel García (et al.)

    Pages 243-263

  • Conclusion

    Monk, Nicholas (et al.)

    Pages 265-272

 

 

French Philosophy Today paperback now shipping

I just received my copy of French Philosophy Today in paperback. You can find it on Amazon here.

Alain Badiou, Quentin Meillassoux, Catherine Malabou, Michel Serres and Bruno Latour: this comparative, critical analysis shows the promises and perils of new French philosophy’s reformulation of the idea of the human.

See here for chapter summaries.

Stephen Zepke’s Sublime Art now available: details of giveaway/exchange offer

My copies of Stephen Zepke’s Sublime Art arrived this morning. Thanks to Stephen, Carol and everyone at EUP for making such a fantastic volume. I can offer two of my copies as free giveaways either 1) if you pay the postage from Melbourne, Australia or 2) in exchange for a similar priced book/books of your own. Make me an offer at chris.watkin [at] monash [dot] edu or @DrChrisWatkin!

How art can create a new future

Sublime art exceeds the present. It is an undetermined expression that in coming into being creates new universals, new modes of life and new coefficients of freedom. Stephen Zepke tracks this movement from its beginnings in Kant to its flowering in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. He shows that in the work of Jean-François Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Rancière and finally in the recent philosophy of Speculative Realism the idea of sublime art waxes and wanes, and with it a visionary politics of art that seeks to give it the most creative power possible, the power to overcome our conditions and embrace the unknown.
Stephen Zepke is an independent scholar based in Vienna, Austria.

 

Stephen Zepke is already known as a considerable philosopher of the new. In these pages he expertly navigates the inconsistent legacies of Kantian aesthetics with the goal of regaining the political and philosophical potentialities of sublime art and its role in difficult eruptions of the new. Zepke’s analyses range across a continuum of discomfort attributed to the sublime through exquisitely crafted chapters that counterpoise Lyotard, Deleuze, Derrida and Rancière. This book may have absorbed its subject so well that its readers will be left in tatters.
Gary Genosko, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

A remarkable book that explores the reception of Kant’s theory of the sublime in Lyotard, Deleuze and Guattari, Rancière and Derrida, as well as in more recent philosophical movements such as Speculative Realism and Accelerationism. But Zepke is an equally astute observer of the art world, and he simultaneously examines the role that this “sublime aesthetics” has (or has not) played in contemporary artistic production and political struggles. Sublime Art is not only the definitive analysis of the reception of the Kantian sublime, but a visionary manifesto for the aesthetics of the future.
Daniel W. Smith, Purdue University

 

Download the handout for my live-streamed paper on Serres and alterity this coming Tuesday

If you are planning to follow my live-streamed paper on Michel Serres and alterity on Periscope this coming Tuesday, you might want to download the handout that will be distributed to seminar participants. Here it is:

The handout contains fourteen quotations and two diagrams to which I will refer in the course of the paper.

During the paper itself you can make comments and ask questions here.

Reflections on live streaming academic papers with remote Q&A

First of all, some good news: Deakin have given me the go-ahead to live stream my seminar on Michel Serres next Tuesday. Thank you Daniela!

This morning I tested streaming live video in Twitter and discovered a few things that you might find useful if you’re planning to tune in (as we used to say in the olden days). If you just want to know how to ask questions and make comments next Tuesday, scroll down to the bold type towards the end of this post. If you are interested in streaming live talks yourself, then I’ve included all my working which, I hope, can save you some time and frustration.

  • You don’t have to follow me on Twitter, or indeed have a Twitter account at all, to watch the live video.
  • To watch on Twitter, just navigate to https://twitter.com/drchriswatkin. The video should appear in my feed.
  • Twitter doesn’t update immediately, so if you think the stream should be live and you can’t see it, refresh the page.
  • You can watch the video directly in Twitter, and it looks like this (apologies to the 3 viewers who were subjected to the rather uninspiring sight me fumbling around this morning testing the video!):

  • During the broadcast itself you can also click on an icon in the bottom right of the stream in Twitter to go full screen. If you do so, you are taken to Periscope and you get a screen like this:

  • The tricky part is how to integrate interaction with the remote audience. Making a comment in Twitter (the red circle on the bottom left in the screenshot below) has two restrictions: 1) you need a Twitter account, and 2) your comment is restricted to 140 characters. Not great. Messaging me (the box on the right) has no character limit but 1) you can’t see others’ questions, 2) you can’t see my answers to others’ questions, and… 3) you need a Twitter account.
  • You can also make comments and ask questions in the fullscreen Periscope version of the broadcast, but this also has two clear disadvantages: 1) you need to be signed in to Periscope (though you can use your Twitter, Facebook of Google accounts if you want, so no extra account details or passwords are needed) and 2) the comments fade away after about 5 seconds, so if I’m not looking directly at the screen when you post a comment or a question, chances are I will miss it.
  • You could just tweet me directly @DrChrisWatkin, but then you need a Twitter account which, again, not everyone has, and, once more, you’re restricted to 140 characters.
  • During my test there was a lag of a good 20-30 seconds between the video being recorded and the stream appearing on Twitter, so any two-way audio contact between the room and the remote viewers would be impracticable using this method.
  • So here’s my solution. On the day I’ll have a Q&A during and straight after the talk at pollev.com/chriswatkin288. It will look like this:

At the end of the talk I’ll try to deal with all the questions and comments I can, though I think it will be right to address questions from people in the room first. If I don’t get time for particular questions or comments during the Q&A I will try to respond to them after the event, through christopherwatkin.com.

  • Why I chose this solution:
    • You don’t need a Twitter, Periscope or any other account.
    • You can write up to 300 characters, rather than Twitter’s 140.
    • You can see others’ comments and questions.
    • You can also upvote (or downvote!) others’ questions or comments to bring them to the top of the list, should you so wish.

I hope these reflections and findings can be helpful to you if you are thinking of streaming a talk with Q&A in the future. If, you know a better solution for allowing written Q&A during a talk streamed through Periscope, please let me know about it in the comments section below. Here are a couple of solutions I contemplated and then dismissed:

  • Something like Google Hangouts would allow spoken interaction both ways, but I’m looking for a solution that doesn’t require people who want to listen to the talk to create an account of any sort, that keeps a written record of questions asked, that allows people to make comments or ask questions at any time without the need to wait for a pause (which can be very hard if there is a time lag for those who are remoting in), and that is as little reliant as possible on bandwidth.
  • Appear.in has no signup, but it assumes that those taking part want to appear on video too, it is limited to a maximum of 8 people, and I am worried about lag and bandwidth if I am also using Periscope at the same time.

Finally, I am sure there is a lot to say about the very idea of the public live streaming of academic talks, with the facility for interaction. No doubt I’ll have more to say when I’ve tried it once. In principle, I find the idea very attractive:

  • I can attend, and interact with, papers on subjects close to my research interests that I could not hope to hear otherwise.
  • Scholars spread across the globe can come together for a couple of hours around a topic of common research interest: this improves the chances of having an audience who know a lot about your topic and are able to benefit directly from the paper in their own research.
  • The combination of the audience in the room and the remote audience promises to be an interesting dynamic: will the audience in the room interact with remote questions or comments (developing them, critiquing them, challenging them), or vice versa?
  • You don’t have to be a member of a university, or from a country with a developed university infrastructure, to take part.
  • Sure, there are disadvantages too. But to my mind, at least for the moment, they are spectacularly outweighed by the democratising effect of live streaming. I’ll see how it goes on Tuesday…

I’m planning to tweet live video of my research seminar on Michel Serres and the Question of Alterity next Tuesday

DEAKIN PHILOSOPHY SEMINAR, August 29, 2017

Next Tuesday I will be giving a seminar at Deakin Univesity, Melbourne, on Michel Serres’s understanding of alterity. The paper comes from the first chapter of my book on Michel Serres, on which I have been able to do some more work recently. I’m trying to get permission from Deakin to tweet a live video of the seminar, so that if you can’t make it to Burwood but want to hear about Michel Serres and alterity, you can head over to https://twitter.com/DrChrisWatkin, watch it live from anywhere in the world and, if you want, ask questions and make comments via Twitter. It’s an experiment…

Title:

Not More of the Same: Michel Serres and the Question of Alterity in Recent French Thought

Abstract:

The themes of difference and alterity are commonly thought to characterise French thought in the second half of the twentieth century, with canonical thinkers such as Lévinas, Derrida and, latterly, Nancy elaborating diverse ethical positions that nevertheless each accord a privileged and positive place to otherness. In recent years, however, a new philosophy of sameness has emerged, most prominently in the thought of Alain Badiou, claiming that the ethics of alterity is bankrupt, disingenuous and dangerous, and that it is identity and sameness, not difference and alterity, that are of positive ethical value. In this talk I introduce into this debate the thought of Michel Serres, in the light of which we can see that Badiou shares more in common with his supposed opponents than either he or they are ready to admit. For all that distinguishes Badiou’s position from that of his antagonists, they share the fundamental assumption that either identity or difference should be coded positively, but not both equally. In a move more radical than Badiou’s own intervention, Serres offers a different account, one in which neither sameness nor difference is ethically privileged over the other. Couched in the language of asymmetry, parasitism, inclination and enantiomorphy, Serres’s approach shows us how we can move on from the conflict between identity and alterity to a more scientifically informed and, I argue, more ethically compelling account of the relation between identity and alterity.

 

Where and when:
Tuesday, 29 August, 4.00pm to 5.30pm (Melbourne time), Deakin Burwood Campus, 221 Burwood Hwy, Room C2.05

Research Hacks #23: Three Microsoft Word macros for quick mark-up of articles, essays and thesis chapters

For academics who want to work faster, smarter and more effectively

I have the pleasure of reading a lot of student essays and supervising a number of research students, and over the years I have found that marking up an essay or thesis chapter before I read it helps me to focus and read effectively. The technique also speeds up the reading of articles in Microsoft Word format (I’ll deal with PDF in a future post). Below are three Microsoft Word macros I have written or adapted, and that I regularly use all three for performing a quick mark-up of essays and chapters before I read them.

To use the macros below:

  • Within Microsoft Word press ALT + F8 to get a list of the current macros in your normal.dotm template.
  • Click “edit” for any of the macros you see (it doesn’t matter which one). This will bring up the Visual Basic editor.
  • Scroll down to the bottom of the window and paste in the code I provide below.
  • Close the Visual Basic window. Simple! You might (but probably won’t) need to restart Word for the macros to take effect.
  • If you want to add keyboard shortcuts for the macros you will need to do so manually, as I can’t find a way to incorporate keyboard shortcuts into the macros themselves. Here’s how to assign the shortcuts, courtesy of Lorien on this page:
    • Click the Microsoft Office Button , and then click Word Options.
    • Click Customize.
    • Next to Keyboard shortcuts, click Customize.
    • In the Categories list, click Macros.
    • In the Macros list, click the macro that you want to change.
    • In the Press new shortcut key box, type the key combination that you want to choose.
    • Check the Current keys box to make sure that you aren’t assigning a key combination that you already use to perform a different task.
    • In the Save changes in list, click the option that matches where you want to run your macro. Important   To make your macro available in all documents, be sure to click Normal.dotm.
    • Click Close.
  • When you next quit Word you will see a prompt saying something like “Changes have been made that affect the global template, Normal.dot. Do you want to save those changes?”. Click “yes” if you want your new macros to be available next time you open Word.

To read all the research hacks posted to date, please click here.

1. Change the text colour of all quotations to orange:

I like using this because it shows me at a glance not only how many direct in-line quotations are being used, but how they are bunched or distributed throughout the document.

NB: this also converts all straight single and double quotation marks to curly quotation marks.


Sub AllQuotationsOrange()
'
' AllQuotationsOrange Macro

'First do a replace to make sure quotes are all smartquotes
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
With Selection.Find
.Text = "'"
.Replacement.Text = "'"
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = False
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchKashida = False
.MatchDiacritics = False
.MatchAlefHamza = False
.MatchControl = False
.MatchByte = False
.CorrectHangulEndings = False
.HanjaPhoneticHangul = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchFuzzy = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
With Selection.Find
.Text = """"
.Replacement.Text = """"
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = False
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchKashida = False
.MatchDiacritics = False
.MatchAlefHamza = False
.MatchControl = False
.MatchByte = False
.CorrectHangulEndings = False
.HanjaPhoneticHangul = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchFuzzy = False
End With

Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Font.Color = -654245889
With Selection.Find
.Text = ChrW(8220) & "*" & ChrW(8221)
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchWildcards = True
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Font.Color = -654245889
With Selection.Find
.Text = "‘*’"
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindAsk
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchWildcards = True
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Font.Color = -654245889
With Selection.Find
.Text = "«*»"
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindAsk
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchWildcards = True
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

End Sub

2. Highlight all punctuation (full stops highlighted in yellow; text colour of other punctuation changed to light purple):

This is useful for checking signposting as well as monitoring sentence length and following arguments across paragraphs.


Sub HighlightAllPunctuation()
'
' Highlight All Punctuation Macro
'***********************************************************

'set the colour
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdYellow


'set the highlight option in the search box
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Highlight = True

'do the search and replace
With Selection.Find
.Text = "."
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

'set the colour
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdPink

'set the colour
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdYellow


'set the highlight option in the search box
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Highlight = True

'do the search and replace
With Selection.Find
.Text = "?"
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

'set the colour
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdYellow


'set the highlight option in the search box
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Highlight = True

'do the search and replace
With Selection.Find
.Text = "!"
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

'light purple
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Font.Color = wdColorRed
With Selection.Find
.Text = ","
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

'light purple
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Font.Color = wdColorRed
With Selection.Find
.Text = ";"
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

'light purple
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Font.Color = wdColorRed
With Selection.Find
.Text = ":"
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll


'light purple
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Font.Color = wdColorRed
With Selection.Find
.Text = "("
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

'light purple
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Font.Color = wdColorRed
With Selection.Find
.Text = ")"
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

End Sub

Highlight key words:

Allows the user to enter words in an input box, and highlights all occurrences of those words in the open document. It is quicker than using the search and replace box to highlight key words, and great for drawing your attention to key concepts as you read through an essay/chapter.


Sub BulkHighlight()
'
' BulkHighlight Macro
Do
'set the colour
Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = wdYellow

'ask for the word to highlight
sPrompt = "Please enter a word to be highlighted (leave blank and press 'OK' to exit)"
sWordToSearch = InputBox(sPrompt)
If sWordToSearch = "" Then Exit Sub
'set the highlight option in the search box
Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.Highlight = True

'do the search and replace
With Selection.Find
.Text = sWordToSearch
.Replacement.Text = ""
.Forward = True
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = True
.MatchCase = False
.MatchWholeWord = False
.MatchWildcards = False
.MatchSoundsLike = False
.MatchAllWordForms = False
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
Loop

End Sub

CC Image courtesy of eltpics on Flickr.
What academic Word macros save your time? Feel free to post them in the “Comments” section below.

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CC Image courtesy of Rachel Knickmeyer on Flickr