Saturday, September 16, 2006

the meaning of revolution

arti's wiki has a section on innovation and a link to a post by Christopher D Sessums, Transforming learning: Evolution or Revolution. I've posted the following to the wiki as part of the discussion: (this is a big topic and my post is just dipping a toe in the water)

I'd like to explore (seek the views of others here) on the meanings of the words revolution and evolution. I visited the Christopher D Sessums link and think it's necessary to read more than the section quoted by Pam above (refer to arti's wiki here) to pick up on his interpretation. These words (revolution, evolution) are deeply contested, you can see this when advertising companies start to promote things that were previously feared as too subversive to mention (eg. Che Geuvara lip gloss ads, revolution as trendy buzzword).

My take on this is that revolution arises when there is social ferment, that many people feel that change has to happen and that it is being blocked by those in power and that efforts towards evolutionary change have been made but have not succeeded. Revolution is not seen as necessary by the majority until such conditions arise. Revolution is about a radical rupture in ideas (new ideas conflict with traditional, entrenched ideas) and that that is then transformed into some sort of political event, which alters social relations in a signficant way. eg. the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa is an (uncontroversial?) example. It's difficult for me to imagine a revolutionary process arising out of rapid technological change, without it spilling over into the political arena in a big way.

Some further extracts from the Christopher D Sessum post. The first two better capture my understanding of the meanings of the words.

Evolution -
"As a metaphor, evolution suggests an organic, natural process, and as such an institution can be seen as a living organism with specific traits that grow, change, and adapt allowing it to survive over several generations. This metaphor also hints at the notion of change over an undefined amount of time. Biologically, one associates evolution as taking place over thousands and millions of years, thus setting up the desire for bringing about change at a more rapid pace (i.e., to keep up with the changes in society). Information technologies have evolved at such a blinding pace over the past few decades which in turn have left many universities and schools scrambling and reacting slowly at best."

Revolution -
"Revolution, on the other hand, frames the notion of change as relatively sudden and drastic process – as a rebellion. In some cases, revolutions are led by a majority of a particular populace, in other cases, by a small band of radicals. Revolution hints at a violent overthrowing of one body over another, as perhaps one set of unsanctioned ideas offered against the prevailing norms. Revolution can also be considered a process of social change that involves breaking away and replacing a particular status-quo, thus transforming a society."

Other metaphors -
"Is framing the debate of transformation as an evolutionary or revolutionary process the correct way to look at the current situation? Might there be a better set of metaphors? How might the notion of emergence fit this proposition? What might Paulo Freire think?"

wrt this last quote, Virginia Postrel ('The Future and its Enemies') says that words such as "left" and "right" have lost their meaning and posits a statist / dynamist dichotomy.

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