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  • How should we tap the experience of the Bamboo community?

This wiki space contains archival documentation of Project Bamboo, April 2008 - March 2013.

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How should we tap the experience of the Bamboo community?

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At the end of the Workshop One series, over 100 institutions and organizations and 330 people contributed to the discussion at face-to-face workshops. One of the greatest challenges facing the project is how do we tap the collective expertise and experience of our community. In a smaller project, it is fairly easy to tap single individuals, a set of institutions, or a group of experts but in the case of Bamboo, the scale is two to three times greater than we anticipated and indications are that interest will continue to grow. Are there models we should consider for structuring participation and leadership in the project? What works and what doesn't? What should we avoid? Are there examples we should explore?

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1 Comment

  1. Unknown User (sbasu@willamette.edu)

    Project bamboo (henceforth PB) is climbing in its position when google searches for the word 'bamboo.' As a humanities-trained scholar I feel obliged to muse somewhat critically over the metaphor, even as it has grown on me, and seek your indulgence in doing so. Regarding the metaphor we are told: "In the natural world, bamboo is a highly flexible organic material that serves multiple purposes: it can live as a single stalk on a desk or grow quickly into renewable forests; be used for constructing buildings or decorating them; become as strong as hardwood or as flexible as cloth; and can be lashed together to keep water out as in a boat or transport water as in a pipe. We envision our approach for arts and humanities digital services to be similar: configurable, flexible, sustainable, and reliable - hence the name, Bamboo." All this and an elegant visual symbol as well!
    What else can the metaphor bring to light? Bamboo is the fastest growing plant species on earth - is there an equivalence here in the unprecedented rate of the dissemination of digital technologies and services relative to all other technologies in the past? As such, isn't one of the distinctive tasks of the arts and humanities to express, experiment, test, and essay but also to reflect critically on the processes and consequences using criteria that take human wellbeing as one of the salient measures?
    Although its rapid growth is highlighted in the quote above I remain surprised that more is not made, positively, of the rhizomatic root system of bamboo. When not forming dense impenetrable clumps bamboo engages in 'creeping' or 'running', extending horizontally under the soil, while generating vertical culms from modular buds at regular intervals. As such, thanks to Deleuze and Guattari (1987), the rhizomatic (in contrast to the arbolic) is something of a horticultural celebrity metaphor within postmodernism, for some of the reasons given in the passage above, but more so as an approach associated with openness, heterogeneity, multiplicity, multiple connections, internal nodal independence, nomads, and networks.
    Negatively, it should be noted that, out of its native environs, bamboo is an invasive species - and so, in the academic context, what are the native or indigenous plan(t)s, projects and practices that are vulnerable to competitive failure? Moreover, what are the functioning rhizome barriers - the academic equivalent to high-density polyethylene - to ensure that planted bamboo does not overtake existing gardens, spread to the neighbors, crowd out local slow-growing but traditional formats and so on? Who or what are the equivalents to the Pandas, creatures specially evolved not only for striking photo opportunities, but also among other things, and uniquely among bears, for an entirely vegetarian diet, consuming and thereby destroying vast quantities of bamboo though they digest a small fraction of the biomass - are the energy and outcomes involved in developing digital services for the humanities susceptible to, say, co-optation and commodification, and if so how?
    Though bamboo has few natural insects pests in the US at least, what might qualify as the equivalent to those it has: the bamboo mite, aphids, and the two-spotted spider mite? Perhaps someone, in venturing to plant a new digital arts and humanities usage has had to face down an administrator/chair/colleague etc whose behavior, if not visage, bears an uncanny resemblance to a two-spotted spider mite? What comes to mind for me are the dispiriting losses associated with abandoned software, orphaned collections, and other unsustainable tools (listed in Muehlenberg's recent entry). By the way, aside from birds, soap or pesticides, the main way to prevent such infestations is to keep the bamboo grove thinned to ensure adequate air movement. What might the intellectual or institutional equivalents be to such salutary airiness in a cyberstructure? Is it the thinning out of potential participants who do not reach certain thresholds of health and effectiveness? Is it agreement on open-source protocols, meta-data, and so on? In this regard, there may be some interesting lessons to be gleaned from the manner in which Apple has both enabled but also hampered the rapid creation and deployment of iphone apps through its software development kits, together with a degree of arbitrariness in approving apps and requirements of non-disclosure throughout, as well as from the new possibilities to be unleashed by Google's new open-source (albeit unfortunately named) Android software.
    Notwithstanding my questions, let me stress that I am enormously grateful to the PB project for taking up as its central question: how can we advance arts and humanities research through the development of shared technology services? And largely agree that to do this we must establish an open-ended taxonomy of scholarly practices (or even 'themes') in order to identify technology services, that might then figure in cogent grant requests, be developed, and ultimately, be shared.
    Academic institutions do not occupy quite the same locations within the shared environment, or 'terroir,' a notion that PB has also invoked. Some, by dint of size, infrastructure, funding, established expertise, and so on occupy relatively optimal soil, others may find themselves clinging to the suboptimal. I am lodged in an excellent small liberal arts college that, like many others, while committed in the abstract to creative and reflective technology possibilities in the arts and humanities, nonetheless occupies a stretch of terroir that is marginal in geographic, reputational, and/or financial terms, or put differently persists on the margins of or in the marginal undergrowth of the national grove. The bamboo shoots that will grow in such places are unlikely to be either broad (drawing together a large on-campus team) or focused (sending roots very deep or extending shoots to great heights). To belabor the obvious, faculty at such institutions may have few if any options to reduce teaching load, and no graduate students among whom to disperse the coding, implementation and maintenance work involved in digital projects. At the risk of special pleading, then, I would hope that the models of collaboration that emerge from the PB process and resulting consortium include tenable small-school participatory arrangements. In thinking, and conferring with colleagues (faculty, librarians, and IT staff), about how an institution such as ours might continue to hang on and benefit from but also contribute to the potential innovations that might emerge from PB, it strikes me that at best a given liberal arts college might be able to identify one or two specific niches of comparative advantage, such as, by default, the emphasis on pedagogy, or the presence of an unusual interdisciplinary program, or access to a local archive, or relationships with local extra-academic communities or technology-disadvantaged populations. Perhaps the notion of the carefully groomed single bamboo stalk on a desk is intended to invoke this but if so it must not be merely decorative.