Feminist vs. hierarchical? (was CBT v Training Redirect)

Subject: Feminist vs. hierarchical? (was CBT v Training Redirect)
From: Hope Cascio <hope -dot- d -dot- cascio -at- US -dot- ARTHURANDERSEN -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 20 Mar 1998 13:24:31 -0500

Geoff asked me to forward this if I found it interesting. I did, and here
it is. While I am personally interested in studying the value we place on
hierarchical structures in patriarchal cultures, I agree that in this
forum, we should contain our discussion to looking at the value of
alternative, web information structures in delivering eduational
documentation, rather than the gendering of information structures. The
"flame wars" on DTP tools and OSes are bad and irrelevant enough without
taking it to a whole new level of Information Highway Rage.

If anyone else is interested in studying this, Chris Thiessen suggested off
list that I look for writing on "mind-mapping," and Richard Mateosian wrote
that "Perspecta, a company started by MIT Media lab folks, including Steve
Holtzmann of Digital Mantras fame, is looking at how to navigate through
information structured the way you describe."

Thanks to everyone who's responded off and on the list,
Hope Cascio, Knowledge Transfer Developer

Geoff's Reply:

Hope Cascio pondered the difference in approaches between
hierarchical and "web" information structures. Hope, I'll stay well
clear of the "hierarchical = male, web = female" argument, because
it would rapidly veer off-topic into anti-feminist and
anti-political correctness tirades. The male/female/political aspect
is irrelevant to _this specific discussion_ from a techwhirling
standpoint; what we're interested in is the structure of the
information. (I expect at least one flame for dissing the gender
issue. Please reread what I said before flaming!)
The real issue is whether your audience must learn certain facts
first before they will be able to learn other facts. Some subjects,
such as mathematics, are inherently very hierarchical: you're going
to have to learn a large number of basic concepts, in a specific
order, before you can master any more advanced topics. (The buzzword
here is "dependencies"; if there are dependencies, than the dependent
information is necessarily hierarchical.) Other topics lack these
dependencies to a great extent, and are easier to see as a Web-based
structure; literature is much like this, and so is early language
acquisition (in the sense that children learn to speak by listening,
not by memorizing grammar rules). In none of my examples is
there only a single structure:
- once you've learned certain basic math concepts, you can explore
one area of mathematics (e.g., calculus) without necessarily having
to study others (e.g., geometry)
- in literature, you don't have to read books in any order to
understand a new book, though mastering certain concepts of lit.
crit.can certainly help you understand other books.
- in early language acquisition, you pick up most of your skill by
listening to others speak the language and patterning your own speech
on those speakers; only later do you learn the formal rules of
grammar, and in many cases, these rules are unnecessary.
So the question becomes "what are you trying to learn/teach", not
whether hierarchies are inherently superior/inferior to webs. In any
particular communications task, one of the two alternatives will
become the dominant method of imposing a macrostructure on the
information, and the other will play a subordinate role and will
help determine the microstructure; indeed, you may have a
helter-skelter mix of the two approaches as you draw nearer to the
microstructure. You can see this at work in something like James
Burke's book _The Pinball Effect_, in which he presents his book in a
standard linear, hierarchical form, yet provides the equivalents of
hyperlinks in the margins that let you adopt a nonlinear approach to
the book. Robert Horn did much the same in his book _Mapping
Hypertext_, only several years earlier and as part of a much more
academic exercise.
--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

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