Tag Archives: classification

Signed language, symbolism, and reflections on inclusion

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) I learned something important from my friend Lynx – something important for how I think about TOK and knowledge. It was almost seven years ago. I was interviewing her, as an experienced New Zealand Sign Language interpreter, on how signed languages worked and what they tell us about the nature of language. I was keenly interested in the ideas – and on using my laptop to make a video for the very first time. Then, when I had finally edited the interview, I passed it to Lynx for her response. It was immediate. “Can we add closed captions?” she asked. I was mystified. Why would we do that? “I wouldn’t like to talk about the Deaf community and their knowledge,” she explained, “without their having access to what I’m saying.” In an abrupt shift of perspective, I suddenly thought about the function of the closed captions I had always ignored – and realized that she was right. I had anchored my thinking entirely in my own TOK community and relationships of ideas. As an interpreter between hearing and Deaf groups, Lynx was much more fully attuned to the people. She was talking about inclusion and respect. Continue reading

Do Nobel prizes distort public understanding of scientific knowledge?

171106 nobel-prize(Eileen Dombrowski from OUP blog) “Absurd.” “Archaic.” These are surely not descriptions most of us would apply to the world’s most celebrated prize in science. The Nobel Prize, conferring millions of Swedish krone (more than a million American dollars) and everlasting fame upon its recipients, honours the year’s highest achievements in knowledge. Yet even as it grips our imaginations, could this illustrious award simultaneously distort our understanding of how that knowledge works? Continue reading

Is that woman really a man? Tidy categories, messy world


(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Swift and powerful, the athletes burst across the finish line of the women’s 800 metre in Rio. The Olympics gave the world another moment of glorious human achievement as 25-year-old Caster Semenya took the gold medal for South Africa. In the background of her performance, however, controversy swirled around claims that Semenya had an unfair advantage in a women’s competition – that she didn’t fit into the category “woman”.

The issue contentious in the Rio competition is one we confront constantly as we construct our knowledge: how to classify things and whether we can do so in a way that delineates our world neatly into categories. Classifying is basic to observing, and to the naming that enables us to share our knowledge. But what a complex world it is, often eluding the systematizing we bring to it! Continue reading

“Who’s an Indian now?”: concept, definition, and significant ruling

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) A unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada on April 14 gives us a dramatic example to take to a Theory of Knowledge class: Métis and non-status aboriginal people in Canada are now defined as “Indians” by the federal government. The people who now fit into this category are celebrating. The implications are significant for the rights they can now claim, the programs and services to which they now have access, and the increased clarity of their place in federal and provincial jurisdictions. Moreover, some consider it to be an acknowledgement of their history and a validation of their identity. But why do I suggest a judicial ruling with political ramifications as an example for a class on knowledge? What does it illustrate that is relevant to our course? Continue reading

Refugees and risk: Can TOK encourage a more thoughtful approach?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) In the Theory of Knowledge classroom, we can’t solve the problems of climate change, war, and terrorism. However, what we CAN do is much needed in this historical moment in the west: we can give our students a calm space to stand back from the high emotion and knee-jerk opinionating that surrounds many of them. We can encourage them to apply a more thoughtful and critical approach to how knowledge claims are made and justified, and in the process develop their thinking further for the messy world they are about to inherit. The past week in the world has given far too many examples for TOK topics, but I’ll just suggest a few that stand out for me – and then I’ll link you to an article on refugees that you’re bound to find interesting. Continue reading

How does a single photo of a single drowned child affect our shared knowledge?

(originally posted on my OUP TOK blog) “It was not an easy decision to share a brutal image of a drowned child,” acknowledges the Director of Emergencies of Human Rights Watch. As media around the world take this decision to share the photo, it has affected political debate on the crisis of refugees trying to enter Europe. But why? What role does such an image play in our shared knowledge?  Continue reading

World Refugee Day: What do our categories leave out?

refugeeUN300Today, a PS to this past week’s posts on classifying human beings. What do our categories highlight, and what do they exclude? My past two posts have used current examples from the media to raise knowledge questions about “race” and the contentious balance between biological heritage and culture or ethnicity (a balance that carries varies labeling in various contexts). Today I’d like to comment, just briefly, on another classification of human beings, one that carries enormous significance for how we live in the world Continue reading

Classification and implications: Who is black, or indigenous, or Jewish?

(by Eileen Dombrowski) I ended my last post with questions about Rachel Dolezal’s claims to be black: “Are her personal knowledge claims the deciding factor, in your mind, for determining her racial identity? Why or why not?” What has captured media attention, it seems, is the way in which her story pits her own personal knowledge claims about her own racial identity against social knowledge claims of racial classification – and this in a society where racial categorization is charged with assumptions, associations from history and politics, values, and implications for treatment.

What captures my own TOK attention, however, is more generalized. It’s the differing bases and justifications for general classifications, of course. But even more intriguing is the way particular examples fit – or, being human, sometimes dramatically refuse to fit – into the categories assigned to them. As soon as we take two steps back from Rachel Dolezal’s story, others flood into the space. Who is black? Who’s an Indian? Who’s Jewish? Continue reading

“Passing” as black: classification and social implications

A story currently running in the media jolts me out of summertime diversions, straight back to TOK. I find knowledge questions about classification magnetic, especially when the categories constructed have social and emotional resonance as they are applied to human beings – as has the categorization of “race”.

This week’s incident gives an interesting twist to American stories of people of one race “passing” as another. Rachel Dolezal, president of a Washington state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), has been exposed by her birth parents as lying about being black. She is white – and they have the birth certificate to prove it. Many people have condemned her deception, including her black adopted brother who describes her “blackface” as “a slap in the face to African-Americans”.

Yet she is clearly a leader in Washington state’s black community, an expert on Black American culture, and an advocate for the community on issues of civil rights. Asked by a reporter whether she was black or white, Dolezal responded only, “That question is not as easy as it seems. There’s a lot of complexities … and I don’t know that everyone would understand that.” Continue reading

Who’s an “Indian”?: classification and implications

classifying

Classification carries implications.

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OSC TOK blog) Who’s indigenous? And does it matter? These are significant questions, with significant answers. They are relevant to TOK both through the new area of knowledge, indigenous knowledge, and an old area of knowledge, ethics – as well as to all the ways of knowing involved in classifying our concepts, and, in the knowledge framework, to the topic of concepts/language. Two stories in this past month’s news bring these questions to life: a court contest in Canada about who is classified as “aboriginal” and a conflict in Tanzania over whether indigenous people have any claim to their traditional land. Continue reading