One of the things my dissertation draws attention to is a widespread enthusiasm in science education for “abstraction.” In both the principles and practices of science education reform, entities such as abstract thinking, abstract reasoning, and abstract concepts figure prominently. In my inquiry into abstraction, I drew from the work of a number of different scholars–for example, from Bruno Latour and Jay Lemke–but also from others in both more and less scholarly realms.
- Among those who contributed significantly to my thinking about abstraction is the American environmental historian, William Cronon, who’s insightful descriptions of the transformation of corn, meat, and wood into “commodities” in Nature’s Metropolis (Cronon, 1991) were both illuminating and instructive.
- I also feel fortunate to have followed THIS AMERICAN LIFE’s reporting on the global financial crisis. Since 2007, and for a variety of reasons both personal and professional, I’ve been rather obsessed with understanding what I consider to be one of, if not the, defining cultural event of our times–the global financial crisis. This American Life’s Alex Blumberb, Adam Davidson, and Chana Joffe-Walt–who also collectively maintain an interesting collection of financial case studies at NPR’s PLANET MONEY–do for home mortgages what Cronon does for corn, wood, and meat. In other words, the This American Life and Planet Money crews offer a materialized, concretized account of the fascinating–but also disturbing–process(es) by which homes are transformed into “securities” via abstraction practices. Both groups of journalists have helped me invent and articulate new, concrete possibilities for the teaching and learning of abstraction in science education.
- Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins and the innovative work of the Matsutake World Research Group have deepened and furthered my understanding of how, where, and when (but also why) abstract commodities come into existence. In Tsing’s story, she recounts for her readers the wonderful journey of soil-born matsutake mushrooms as they make their way through forests, picking camps, auctions, trucking routes, and airports to the customs offices, distribution centers, shopping markets, and restaurants of Japan.
- Gilbert Simondon’s theory of individual and collective individuation has also pushed my thinking about abstraction. Simondon’s thinking and writing has deeply influenced a number of contemporary scholars including Isabelle Stengers, Gilles Deleuze, Bruno Latour, Bernard Stiegler, Brian Massumi, and Tim Ingold.