ouspe: to resist being contained

The University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand has decided to dump dance from the School of Physical Education:

https://www.odt.co.nz/news/campus/university-of-otago/otago-drops-dance-degree

I tried to write a comment on the ODT site but was restricted to 1200 characters. Here’s the full letter:


I attended the Otago University School of Physical Education as an undergraduate from 1987 to 1990, and then again as a Masters student between 1991 and 1993. Philip Smithells – the “father of physical education in NZ” – died in 1977, but even in the late 1980s, his remarkable vision was clear. At PhysEd school we were young kiwi adults being asked to dance, do gymnastics, live outdoors, research, study, play, and ‘figure stuff out’. His vision – as I now understand it looking back – was of human beings who learned to embody ideas and to tread carefully in the world. He understood that what we come to know is not only through our brains, but in how we move, how we perceive. In other words, as the philosopher Alva Noë says, that we think through action.

The great US choreographer Deborah Hay likes to joke (in all seriousness) that human beings are “choreographed up the wazoo”, and by this she means that our actions, work and ideas are always being contained, managed or held. This decision by Harlene Hayne and Richard Barker to strip dance from OUSPE is a different but sadly familiar kind of choreography that is devoid of any of Smithell’s risk-taking and vision: it is choreography driven by talk of “brighter futures” and “secure financial footings”. But make no mistake, Hayne and Barker’s choreography is ideological. Their ideology – grounded in the instrumentalist value of money and statistics – is really about control, and stripping Universities of other ways of being and understanding that are valuable because they can’t be measured, because they can’t be contained, and because they are slippery and uncertain. After all, if “what gets measured gets managed”, then dance’s work – it’s value – is to resist being contained, and to help build diverse ways of understanding and being in the world.

Philip Smithells knew this, and he’ll be turning in his grave.

Dr Simon Ellis
Choreographer and Senior Research Fellow
Centre for Dance Research
Coventry University
UK

obfuscation

In the academic part of my professional life I spend a lot of time practising to write more clearly and directly. That is, to avoid unnecessary ambiguity or obfuscation. I do this because I am interested in not only who might be reading the things I write (thanks Mum) but also who isn’t reading the writing. That is, when I choose to use particular syntax, structures, or words who might I be inadvertently excluding from the writing?

In this blog I’ve previously (2008) quoted Don Watson discussing the language of groups, and recently I read Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style:

Pseudo-intellectuals spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say. Academics in the softer fields dress up the trivial and obvious with the trappings of scientific sophistication, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.[1]

But then recently I heard the word obfuscation used in a very different context. I like this about language: that one word can have different uses – even different values – depending on context.

In internet privacy, obfuscation has to do with reducing how recognisable one’s digital thumbprint is based on generating more data, and thereby making your thumbprint more common (and more difficult to isolate or pinpoint):

the production of noise modeled on an existing signal in order to make a collection of data more ambiguous, confusing, harder to exploit, more difficult to act on, and therefore less valuable.[2]

Obfuscation in this sense is a kind of digital camouflage, and one example is the Firefoex browser extension called TrackMeNot which works through “noise and obfuscation”.

In both senses of the word obfuscation we are hiding something, but the conditions, values and politics of that hiding are beautifully distinct.