The Oxford Protocol : Modules

Event Prospectus


THE TITLE :: Advancing Knowledge on a Dedisciplinary Platform

Our title spells out our purpose: to advance knowledge by stepping up together onto a new platform for it.  To take that step is to move from (“de-”) the platform that organizes knowledge into the modern disciplines.

Advancement will be of two complementary kinds:


THE OCCASION: Knowledge is stuck today

“Stuck” does NOT mean that progress has ceased within the received disciplinary frames. Valuable knowledge continues to be produced. But a key marker of knowledge being stuck is that progress can get in the way of more consequential advances. 1 So, too, can good intentions, as in the interdisciplinary celebration of difference and sharing.  That gesture of mixing only conserves “discipline” itself as the shape of knowledge, dispersing the energy of innovation into the now hard-wired circuits of the platform we call disciplinarity.

The need to change platforms is thus our takeoff point—a point similar in kind to Francis Bacon observing that Scholastic knowledge was “stalled” in the early 17th century, requiring a collaborative effort to restart it.


THE STRATEGY: Send your avatars to Oxford

To step up onto this new platform—to scale up to new possibilities—we need to act and interact in new ways.  It’s just too easy to use our modes of disciplinary empowerment—the ones that brought us here—to turn collaboration and advancement into reflection and critique.  This is especially true of efforts to connect across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.  Efforts to reach out across differences rehearse them, leaving only self-congratulatory gestures in their wake.  In Oxford, we want to produce something different, not rehearse how we are different.  Instead of sticking to the forms of difference from which we usually pronounce—and thus getting stuck—let’s start off by acting in a different manner.

For this particular event, then, we are asking participants to suspend the proprietary protocols and habitual preoccupations of their home disciplines. Yes, what brings us to Oxford is what each of us has done, but we are there for what we might do.  Send avatars that can act on a new platform in new ways.

THE PLATFORM SO FAR: Recognizing what we already might share

We conceive of the ‘platform’ in a number of ways.  First we contend that knowledge is only recognised and recognisable as knowledge when we occupy a platform.  Commonly this platform is thought about in terms of disciplinarity – this is why we notice distinctions between, say, sociological forms of inquiry and the knowledge they produce and police, and historical forms of inquiry.  But we contend that disciplinarity is actually a surface phenomenon.  What lies deeper is a set of structures of belief, protocols of investigation, explanation and description that constitute a set of pathways or relays which allow us to make and recognise knowledge.  This platform finds stability at the point at which we discern knowledge, but in fact it is always unstable.  It is that instability that opens up the possibility for new knowledge to appear.  This is not the same thing as a new discipline emerging.  Nor is it perceivable or accessible through inter or multi-disciplinary inquiry.  What is needed here is a better understanding of the conditions that are required in order to observe that instability – a laboratory equipped with the right techne.

Second we contend that knowledge must be subject to testing its power or reach: knowledge is about something, and that something in the most general terms is the world.  This means that our explanations and descriptions of the world must be tested as to their efficacy and accuracy.  Knowledge therefore is always in tension with its object for inquiry: the ‘it is’ of the world.  In accepting this we insist that knowledge can be improved – there are better explanations and descriptions – and must alter as new facts emerge, as the ‘it is’ is revealed to us through specific techniques of observation, argumentation and theoretical speculation.

Third we contend that changes in shape, structure or communication networks of the platform necessarily entail alterations in knowledge.  The task, then, is to learn how to alter and adapt the platform so that we can better arrive at knowledge of the ‘it is’.  This, we suggest, is a far from easy task, partly because we are constantly drawn into the comfort zone of our disciplinary epiphenomenal formations, and partly because alterations within the platform occur at a level of conceptual activity that we are unused to parsing and that has considerable resistance to alteration or innovation.  This is why one of our enterprises is developing a method for conceptual parsing, generating a symbolic language or algebra, that may allow us to inspect and better understand the architectures of conceptual forms.  We propose, then, following Bacon a new method – parsing the architecture of concepts – a new genre – experimentation with platform architecture – and a new agenda – improving the architecture of knowledge’s fit to the ‘it is’.


  1. When the microbiologist Carl Nathan says that his field is stuck in a “chemical space” of 103 even when our new resources tell us it’s 1069, he is not asserting the absence of progress in the smaller space. The problem of being stuck arises when we can see that the dependence on the tools, financing, and institutions that enable that small-scale exploration are actually obstacles to scaling up into the larger space. Similarly, when the biologist Carl Woese argued—in the words of the physicist Freeman Dyson—for “the need for a new synthetic biology based on emergent patterns of organisation rather than on genes and molecules,” he was not suggesting that there wasn’t important work being done in genetics. The question is what work is being precluded by the very success of that focus.

Oxford Group, January 2014: Academy Turned Inside Out | Apotheosis | Core Technology | The Dedisciplinary Environment | Explanatory/Descriptive? | Fiction | Good Explanation | Mediation | Platform | Polemic | Portal | Problems | Protocol | Protocol (II) | Search*/Know* | Sciences/Humanities | Stuckness | Threshold Effects | Topology | Touchstones