Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Educational Content and Quantum Physics

One the most difficult issues to understand in education is the role of content and its relation to conversation. There are the material aspects of content - physical books, e-books, webpages, interactive apps and tools... What's the difference? There are the many different ways in which teachers can coordinate conversations around the content. And there are the fundamental differences between disciplines. Tools like Maple or Matlab are great for getting students to do virtual empirical work in Maths or Physics. But in sociology and philosophy?

The phenomenology of these tools is radically different. It's not simply about the rather shallow view on "affordances" which was popular a few years ago. It's a much deeper ecological process (which perhaps is where Gibson's original work on affordance should - but didn't - lead us). We can say books afford "flicking through" but in effect that is to reduce the richness of experience into a function. The problem is that the systems designers, with their functionalist bent, will then try to reproduce the function in another form. We only have as many functions as we can give names to them. Yet each function is implicitly dependent on any other function, and on aspects of the phenomenology which we cannot articulate.

I'm thinking about books a lot at the moment partly because I've been learning quantum mechanics using Leonard Susskind's "Theoretical Minimum" (see http://theoreticalminimum.com/) book in conjunction with the videos of his lectures he gave at Stanford. This is the first time I've found any kind of MOOC-like experience actually worth it: A book + online lectures. Of course the objection would be that it is so expensive and resource-hungry to produce a book that this isn't practical unless you are famous like Susskind. But this isn't true any longer.

Book printing machines are extraordinary things. Combined with high quality typesetting using Latex-based tools like Overleaf, the results are as good as anything that Penguin can produce for Susskind. And it's cheap - with most of the self-publishers, the equivalent of Susskind's book could be less than the £9.99 charged by Penguin. All universities can now do the Open University thing at a fraction of the cost.

But what about conversation? In my case, my interest in Quantum Physics is being driven by a conversation with one of the physicists in Liverpool about the use of ideas of 'entanglement' in the social sciences (i.e. sociomaterial stuff, Latour, Barad, etc). Without wanting to "do a Sokal" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair), it does seem that quantum theoretical terms are being used without deep understanding of what they refer to. Equally, it may be the case that the physics and its mathematical techniques does indeed reflect a wider reality which is already known to our common sense. I think both propositions may be true, and that one way of exploring it is to make a deep and clear connection between the physicists and the social scientists.

Might I pursue the interest in Susskind without my physicist friend? Maybe... but there'll always a be a conversation I will have somewhere where I can process this stuff. But it may not be online.

That is the crucial point - that conversations about matters of curiosity do not necessarily happen online. The current online education model saw that conversation had to happen online because otherwise the education could not be coordinated. But with a good book, and a set of video resources, we can do our own coordination independently of any central authority.

The reason why the online education model forced conversation into forums was I think because it confused learning conversation with assessment processes. In order to assess learners, obviously there has to be some record of the transactions between learners and teachers which reveals their understanding. It might also indicate to teachers new kinds of interventions which might be necessary to steer student learning in particular ways. But if the learning is left to self-organisation processes, and free choice is given to use a variety of different resources (books, webpages, etc), then what needs to be focused on is a flexible and reliable method of tracking (or assessing) development.

But it's not as simple as separating assessment from learning. Assessment is a key moment of learning - it is the moment when somebody else reveals their understanding in relation to the learner's revealing of understanding. That is a key aspect of conversation. In formal education, it can also be a formal transaction - particularly where marks are involved.

This is perhaps where the interaction with online content can be developed. Could it be an explicitly formal interaction of exchanging different understandings of things, and passing judgements about each others' understanding? In the emerging world of learning analytics, there is already something like this going on - but its lack of focus and theoretical clarity are resulting in exacerbating the confusion rather than deepening understanding. 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Revisiting Cybernetic Musical Analysis

I had a nice email yesterday from a composer who had seen a video of an analysis of music by Helmut Lachenmann which I did in 2009 using cybernetic modelling. I'd forgotten about it - partly embarrassed by what I thought of as a crude attempt to make sense of difficult music, but also because it was closely related to my PhD which I'm also slightly embarrassed by. In the intervening time, I became dissatisfied with some of the cybernetic underpinnings, and became more interested in critical aspects of theory. Being embarrassed about stuff can be a block to taking things further: I have so many almost-finished unpublished papers - often discouraged from publishing them because of the the frequent nastiness of peer review. So it's nice to receive an appreciative comment 8 years after something was done.

It's made me want to collate the set of music analysis videos that I made in 2009. They are on Schumann, Haydn, Ravel and Lachenmann. In each I pursue the same basic theory about "prolongation" - basically, what is it that creates the sense of coherence and continuity of experience in the listener. The basic theory was inspired by Beer's Viable System Model - that coherence and continuity is a combination of different kinds of manipulation of the sound as "disruptive" - sound that interrupts and surprises; "coercive" - sound that reinforces and confirms expectations; "exhortational" - sound that transforms one thing into another.

What do I think about this 8 years later?

First of all, what do I now think about the Viable System Model which was the foundation for this music analysis? There is a tendency in the VSM to refer to the different regulating layers allegorically: this is kind-of what I have done with coercion, exhortation, etc. But now I think the VSM is more basic than this: it is simply a way in which a system might organise itself so as to maintain a critical level of diversity in the distinctions it makes. So it not that there is coercion, or disruption or exhortation per se... it is that the system can distinguish between them and can maintain the possibility that any of them might occur.

Furthermore, each distinction (coercion, exhortation, etc) results from a transduction. That it, the conversion of one set of signals into another. Particular transductions attenuate descriptions on one side to a particular type which the transduced system can deal with: so the environment is attenuated by the skin. But equally, any transducer is held in place by the descriptions which arise from the existence of the transducer on its other side. It's a bit like this:


Each transducer attenuates complexity from the left and generates it to the right. This is where Beer's regulating levels come from in the Viable System Model. 

The trick of a viable system - and any "viable music"  (if it makes sense to talk of that) - is to ensure that the richness of possible transductions and descriptions is maintained. In my music videos I call this richness "Coercion", "exhortation", "disruption" - but the point is not what each is, but that each is different from the others, and that they are maintained together.

Understanding transduction in this way gives scope for saying more about analysis. The precursor to a transducer forming is an emerging coherence between different descriptions of the world. A way of measuring this coherence is to use the Information Theoretical calculation of relative entropy.  I've become very curious about relative entropy since I learnt that it is the measure used in quantum mechanisms for measuring the entanglements between subatomic particles. Given that quantum computers are programmed using a kind of musical score (see IBM's Quantum Experience interface), this coherence between descriptions expressed as relative entropy makes a lot of sense to me. 

So in making the distinctions that I make in these music videos, I would now put more emphasis on the degrees of emerging relative entropy between descriptions. Effectively coherences can be seen in what I called "coercive" moments as repetition, and this produces descriptions of what isn't repeated - or what is surprising. Surprises on larger structural layers such as harmony or tonality amount to transformations - but this is also a higher-level transduction.  

The viable system which makes these distinctions is, of course, the listener (I was right about this in the Lachenmann analysis). The listener's system has to continually recalibrate itself in the light of events. It performs this recalibration so as to maintain the richness of the possible descriptions which it can generate. 

The world is fucked at the moment because our institutions cannot do this. They cannot recalibrate effectively and they lose overall complexity and variety - and consequently they lose the ability to adapt to changing environments. 

Here are the videos:

Lachenmann

Haydn


Ravel


Schumann


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Porous Boundaries and the Constraints that separate the Education System and Society

I'm taking part in a conference on the "Porous University" early next month (https://www.uhi.ac.uk//en/learning-and-teaching-academy/events/the-porous-university---a-critical-exploration-of-openness-space-and-place-in-higher-education-may-2017.html), and all participants have to prepare a position statement about the conference theme. In my statement, I'm going to focus on the issue of the "boundary" and what the nature of "porosity" means in terms of a boundary between education and society.

We often think of formal education as a sieve: it filters out the wheat from the chaff in recognising the attainment and achievement of students. Sieves are porous boundaries - but they are the antithesis of the kind of porosity which is envisaged by the conference, which - to my understanding - is to make education more accessible, socially progressive, engaged in the community, focused on making practical interventions in the problems of daily life. The "education sieve" is a porous boundary which upholds and reinforces the boundary between education and society; many progressive thinkers in education want to dissolve those boundaries in some way - but how? More porosity in the sieve? Bigger holes? Is a sieve with enormous holes which lets anything through still a sieve? Is education still education without its boundary?

Part of the problem with these questions is that we focus on one boundary when there are many. The education system emerges through the interaction of multiple constraints within society - it's not just the need for disseminating knowledge and skill, but the need for keeping people off the streets (or the unemployment register, or out of their parents' houses!), or the need to maintain viable institutions of education and their local economies, or the need to be occupied in the early years of adult life, or the desire to pursue intellectual interests, or the need to gain status. These multiple constraints are constantly manipulated by government. The need to pay fees, the social exclusion which results from not having a degree (which is partly the consequence of everyone having them!), or the need for professionals like nurses to maintain accreditation are only recent examples of continual tweaking and political manipulation. Now we even have the prospect of official "chartered scientists" (http://sciencecouncil.org/scientists-science-technicians/which-professional-award-is-right-for-me/csci/)! Much of this is highly destructive.

Widening participation, outreach, open learning, open access resources are as much symptoms of the current pathology as they appear to be efforts to address it: it's something of an auto-immune response by a system in crisis. Widening participation? Find us more paying customers! Open Access Resources? Amplify our approved forms of communication so everyone can learn "how to fit the system" (whilst enabling academics to boost their citation statistics) - and then we can enrol them!

A deep problem lies within universities; a deeper problem lies within science. Universities are powerful and deeply confused institutions. They establish and maintain themselves on the reputations of scholars and scientists from the past - many of whom would no longer be employable in the modern institution (and many who had difficult careers in their own time!) - and make promises to students which, in many cases, they don't (and cannot possibly) keep. The University now sees itself as a business, run by business people, often behaving in irrational ways making decisions about future strategy on a whim, or behaving cruelly towards the people they employ. There is nobody who isn't confused by education. Yet the freedom one has to express this confusion disappears in the corridors of power.

Boundaries are made to maintain viability of an organism in its environment: the cell wall or the skin is created to maintain the cell or the animal. These boundaries can be seen as transducers: they convert one set of signals from one context into another for a different context. Education, like an organism, has to maintain its transducers.

Transduction can be seen as a process of attenuating and amplifying descriptions across a boundary. The environment presents many, many descriptions to us. Our skin only concerns itself with those descriptions are deemed to be of importance to our survival: these are presented as "information" to our biological systems. Equally a university department acquires its own building, a sign, courses (all transductions) when a particular kind of attenuation of signals from the environment can be distilled into a set of information which the department can deal with. Importantly, both the skin and the departmental identity is established from two sides: there is the distilling of information from the environment, and there are the sets of descriptions which arise from the boundary having been formed. The liver and kidneys require the skin as much as the skin attenuates the environment.

Pathology in organisations results where organisations reconfigure their transducers so that too much complexity is attenuated. Healthy organisations maintain a rich ecology of varied distinctions. Pathological organisations destroy this variety in the name of some simple metric (like money - this is what happens in financialisation). This is dangerous because if too much complexity is attenuated, the institution becomes too rigid to adapt to a changing environment: it loses overall complexity. Equally if no attenuation occurs, the institution loses the capability of making any distinctions - in biology, this is what happens in cancer.

If we want to address the pathology of the distinction between education and society, we must address the problem of boundaries in institutions and in society. Removing boundaries is not the answer. Becoming professionally and scientifically committed to monitoring the ecology of the educational and social system is the way forwards. Since this is a scientific job, Universities should lead the way.


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Scarcity and Abundance on Social Media and Formal Education

Education declares knowledge to be scarce. That it shouldn't do this is the fundamental message in Illich's work on education. Illich attacked "regimes of scarcity" wherever he saw them: in health, energy, employment, religion and in the relations between the sexes.

Illich's recipe for avoiding scarcity in education is what he calls "institutional inversion", where he (apparently presciently) visualised "learning webs". When we got Social media and wikipedia, it seemed to fit Illich's description. But does it?

I wrote about the passage in Deschooling Society a few years ago where Illich speaks of his "education webs" (see http://dailyimprovisation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/personalisation-and-illichs-learning.html) but then qualifies it with "which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring". Learning, sharing and caring. Is this Facebook?

Despite Illich's ambivalent attitude towards the church, he remained on the one hand deeply catholic and on the other communitarian. Like other Catholic thinkers (Jaques Ellul, Marshal McLuhan, Jean Vanier) there is a deep sense of what it means for people to be together. It's the togetherness of the Mass which influences these people: the experience of being and acting together, singing together, sharing communion, and so on. The ontology of community is not reducible to the exchange of messages. It is the ontology which interests Illich, not the mechanics.

So really we have to go further and explore the ontology. Illich's "institutional inversion" needs unpacking. "Institution" is a problematic concept. The sociological definition typically sees it as a complex of norms and practices. New Institutionalism sees it as focus of transactions which are conducted through it by its members. At some level, these descriptions are related. But Facebook and Twitter are institutions, and the principal existential mechanisms whereby social media has come into being is through facilitating transactions with customers. The trick for social media corporations is to drive their mechanisms of maintaining and increasing transactions with customers by harvesting the transactions that customers have already made.

In more traditional institutions, the work of attracting and maintaining transactions is separate from the transactions of customers. It is the marketing and manufacturing departments which create the opportunities for customer transactions. The marketing and manufacturing departments engage in their own kind of internal transaction, but this is separate from those produced by customers: one is a cost, the other is income.

The mechanism of driving up the number of transactions is a process of creating scarcity. Being on Twitter has to be seen to be better than not being on it; only by being on Facebook can one hope to remain "in the loop" (Dave Elder-Vass writes well about this in his recent book "Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy").  Formal education drives its customer transactions not only by declaring knowledge to be scarce, but by declaring status to be tied to certification from prestigious institutions. At the root of these mechanisms is the creation of the risk of not being on Twitter, not having a degree, and so. At the root of this risk is existential fear about the future. The other side of the risk equation is the supposed trust in institutional qualifications.

Illich didn't go this far. But we should now - partly because it's more obvious what is happening. The issue of scarcity is tied-up with risk and worries about a future which nobody can be sure about. That this has become a fundamental mechanism of capitalism is a pathology which should worry all of us.


Monday, 3 April 2017

Lakatos on History and the Reconstruction and Analysis of Accidents

"Fake news" and Brexit has inspired a reaction from Universities, anxious that their status is threatened, that they must be the bastions of facts, truth and trust. The consequences of this are likely to reinforce the already conservative agenda in education. Universities have been post-truth for many years - particularly as they chased markets, closed unpopular departments (like philosophy), replaced full-time faculty with adjuncts, became status-focused and chased league table ranking, appointed business people to run them, became property developers, and reinforced the idea that knowledge is scarce. On top of that, they protected celebrity academics - even in the face of blatant abuse of privilege and power by some. The allegations against John Searle are shocking but not surprising - the scale of the sexual harassment/abuse problem (historical and present) in universities is frightening - just as the compensation claims will be crippling. Current students and society will pay for it.

What is true news? I picked up an interesting book on Lakatos by John Kadvany at the weekend (it was in the bookshop that I learnt of the Searle problem). Latakos was interested in rationality in science, maths and history. Along with Popper, Feyerabend and Kuhn, he was part of a intellectual movement in the philosophy of science in the 1960s and 70s from which few sacred cows escaped unscathed.

Kadavny quotes Lakatos's joke that:
"the history of science is frequently a caricature of its rational reconstructions; that rational reconstructions are frequently caricatures of actual history; and that some histories of science are caricatures both of actual history and of its rational reconstructions" ("The History of Science and its rational reconstructions")
In practical life we meet this problem with history directly in the analysis of risk and accidents in institutions. In the flow of time in a hospital, for example, things happen, none of which - in the moment in which they happen - appear untoward. A serious accident emerges as a crisis whose shock catches everyone out - suddenly the patient is dying, suddenly the catastrophic error, blame, etc is revealed when in the flow of time at which it happened, nothing was noticed.

The reconstruction is reinforced with the investigation process. The narrative of causal events establishes its own reality, scapegoats, etc. Processes are 'tightened up', management strategies are reinforced, and.... nothing changes.

Lakatos's position was that historical reconstruction was "theory-laden": "History without some theoretical bias is impossible. [...] History of science is a history of events which are selected and interpreted in a normative way"

In this way, all histories are "philosophies fabricating examples... equally, all physics or any kind of empirical assertion (i.e. theory) is 'philosophy fabricating examples'"

Is it just philosophy? In organisational risk, for example, there is a philosophy of naive causal successionism, and obscure selection processes which weed-out descriptions which don't fit the narrative. But the purpose of all of this is to reinforce institutional structures who themselves exist around historical narratives.

Where does Lakatos go with this? He wants to be able to distinguish "progressive" and "degenerative" research programmes. A research programme is the sequence of theories which arise within a domain (like the successive theories of physics): changes in theoretical standpoint are what he calls "problem shifts". The difference between progressive and regressive research programmes rests on the generative power of a theory. Theories generate descriptions of observable phenomena. In order to be progressive, each problem shift needs to be theoretically progressive (it generates more descriptions) and occasionally empirically progressive. If these conditions are not met, the research programme is regressive.

I agree with this to a point. However, the structure of institutions is an important element in the generative power of the institution's ideas about itself. Lakatos is really talking about "recalibration" of theory and practice. But recalibration is a structural change in the way things are organised.

That there is rarely any fundamental recalibration in the organisation and management of health in the light of accidents is the principal reason why their investigations are ineffective. 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Giddens on Trust

Giddens's criticism of Luhmann which I discussed in my last post, leads to a 10-point definition of trust. I'm finding this really interesting - not least because it was written in the early 90s, but now seems incredibly prescient as we are increasingly coming to trust technological systems, and do less of what Giddens calls "facework" (something which he took from Goffman, who in turn took it from Schutz's intersubjectivity). Whether he's right on every detail here is beside the point. I find the level of inquiry impressive.

Giddens writes:
"I shall set out the elements involved [in trust] as a series of ten points which include a definition of trust but also develop a range of related observations:
  1. Trust is related to absence in time and in space. There would be no need to trust anyone whose activities were continually visible and whose thought processes were transparent, or to trust any system whose workings were wholly known and understood. It has been said that trust is "a device for coping with the freedom of others," but the prime condition of requirements for trust is not lack of power but lack of full information.
  2. Trust is basically bound up, not with risk, but with contingency. Trust always carries the connotation of reliability in the face of contingent outcomes, whether these concern the actions of individuals oir the operation of systems. In the case of trust in human agents, the presumption of reliability involves the attribution of "probity" (honour) or love. This is why trust in persons is psychologically consequential for the individual who trusts: a moral hostage to fortune is given.
  3. Trust is not the same as faith in the reliability of a person or system; it is what derives from that faith. Trust is precisely the link between faith and confidence, and it is this which distinguishes it from "weak inductive knowledge". The latter is confidence based upon some sort of mastery of the circumstances in which confidence is justified. All trust is in a certain sense blind trust!
  4. We can speak of trust in symbolic tokens or expert systems, but this rests upon faith in the correctness of principles of which one is ignorant, not upon faith in the "moral uprightness" (good intentions) of others. Of course, trust in persons is always to some degree relevant to faith in systems, but concerns their proper working rather than their operation as such.
  5. At this point we reach a definition of trust. Trust may be defined as confidence in the reliability of a person or system, regarding a given set of outcomes or events, where that confidence expresses a faith in the probity or love of another, or in the correctness of abstract principles (technical knowledge)
  6. In conditions of modernity, trust exists in the context of (a) the general awareness that human activity - including within this phrase the impact of technology upon the material world - is socially created, rather than given in the nature of things or by divine influence; (b) the vastly increased transformative scope of human action, brought about by the dynamic character of modern social institutions. The concept of risk replace that of fortuna, but this is not because agents in pre-modern times could not distinguish between risk and danger. Rather it represents an alteration in the perception of determination and contingency, such that human moral imperatives, natural causes, and chance reign in place of religious cosmologies. The idea of chance, in its modern senses, emerges at the same time as that of risk.
  7. Danger and risk are closely related but are not the same. The difference does not depend upon whether or not an individual consciously weight alternatives in contemplating or undertaking a particular course of action. What risk presumes is precisely danger (not necessarily awareness of danger). A person who risks something courts danger, where danger is understood as a threat to desired outcomes. Anyone who takes a "calculated risk" is aware of the threat or threats which a specific course of action brings into play. But it is certainly possible to undertake actions or to be subject to situations which are inherently risky without the individuals involved being aware how risk they are. In other words, they are unaware of the dangers they run.
  8. Risk and trust intertwine, trust normal serving to reduce or minimise the dangers to which particular types of activity are subject. There are some circumstances in which patterns of risk are institutionalised, within surrounding frameworks of trust (stock-market investment, physically dangerous sports). Here skill and chance are limiting factors upon risk, but normal risk is consciously calculated. In all trust settings, acceptable risk falls under the heading of "weak inductive knowledge" and there is virtually always a balance between trust and the calculation of risk in this sense. What is seen as "acceptable" risk - the minimising of danger - varies in different contexts, but is usually central in sustaining trust. Thus traveling by air might seem an inherently dangerous activity, given that aircraft appear to defy the laws of gravity. Those concerned with running airlines counter this by demonstrating statistically how low the risk of air travel are, as measured by the number of deaths per passenger mile. 
  9. Risk is not just a matter of individual action. There are "environments of risk" that collectively affect large masses of individuals - in some instances, potentially everyone on the face of the earth, as in the case of the risk of ecological disaster or nuclear war. We may define "security" as a situation in which a specific set of dangers is counteracted or minimised. The experience of security usually rest upon a balance of trust and acceptable risk. In both its factual and its experiential sense, security may refer to large aggregates or collectivities of people - up to and including global security - or to individuals.
  10. The foregoing observations say nothing about what constitutes the opposite of trust - which is not, I shall argue later, simply mistrust. Nor do these points offer much concerning the conditions under which trust is generated or dissolved."

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Trust and Risk (Giddens and Luhmann)

In The Consequences of Modernity Giddens critiques Luhmann's idea of trust and its relation to risk and danger. I find what he has to say about Luhmann very interesting, as I am currently exploring Luhmann's book on Risk. Giddens says:

Trust, he [Luhmann] says, should be understood specifically in relation to risk, a term which only comes into being in the modern period. The notion  originated with the understanding that unanticipated results may be a consequence of our activities or decisions, rather than expressing hidden meanings of nature or ineffable intentions of the Deity. "Risk" largely replaces what was previously thought of as fortuna (fortune or fate) and becomes separated from cosmologies.  Trust presupposes awareness of circumstances of risk, whereas confidence does not. Trust and confidence both refer to expectations which can be frustrated or cast down. Confidence, as Luhmann uses it, refers to a more or less taken-for-granted attitude that familiar things will remain stable: 
"The normal case is that of confidence. You are confident that your expectations will not be disappointed: that politicians will try to avoid war, that cars will not break down or suddenly leave the street and hit you on your Sunday afternoon walk. You cannot live without forming expectations with respect to contingent events and you have to neglect, more or less, the possibility of disappointment. You neglect this because it is a very rare possibility, but also because you do not know what else to do. The alternative is to live in a state of permanent uncertainty and to withdraw expectations without having anything with which to replace them."
Where trust is involves, in Luhmann's view, alternatives which are consciously borne in mind by the individual in deciding to follow a particular course of action. Someone who buys a used car, instead of a new one, risks purchasing a dud. He or she places trust in the salesperson or the reputation of the firm to try to avoid this occurrence. Thus, an individual who does not consider alternatives is in a situation of confidence, whereas someone who does recognise those alternatives and tries to counter the risks thus acknowledges, engages in trust. In a situation of confidence, a person reacts to disappointment by blaming others; in circumstances of trust she or he must partly shoulder the blame and may regret having placed trust in someone or something. The distinction between trust and confidence depends upon whether the possibility of frustration is influenced by one's own previous behaviour and hence upon a correlate discrimination between risk and danger. Because the notion of risk is relatively recent in origin, Luhmann holds, the possibility of separating risk and danger  must derive from social characteristics of modernity.
Essentially,. it comes from a grasp of the fact that most of the contingencies which affect human activity are humanly created, rather than merely given by God or nature. 
Giddens disagrees with Luhmann, and explores the concept of trust from a different aspect to that of Luhmann's double-contingency-related view. The argument is important though. Trust is going to become one of the most important features of the next wave of technology: BitCoin, Blockchain, etc are all technologies of trust. Conceptualising what this means is a major challenge for social theory.

It's worth noting that Luhmann comments on Giddens's position in his Risk book with regard to the distinction between risk and danger. Giddens rejects the distinction, but Luhmann says "we must differentiate between whether a loss would occur even without a decision being taken or not - whoever it is that makes this causal attribution"

However, Luhmann throws in something into the "risk pot" which I find fascinating. He calls it "time-binding" - time, for Luhmann is at the centre of risk (another blog post needed there). Time-binding looks very much like sociomateriality + time to me.