Monday, October 04, 2010

"Back to the rough ground" by Joseph Dunne

After many years, I have gone back and started to re-read the book "Back to the rough ground--practical judgment and the lure of technique" by Joseph Dunne. I first read this wonderful book when it came out in 1993 and it immediately became one of my favorite books overall. It is therefore exiting and interesting to go back and read it again. Not surprisingly, I see other aspects of the text now and I understand it much better (I think). At the same time I wonder how much of what I have thought are my own ideas actually comes from my reading of Dunne. To be honest, I also find the book now to be less overwhelming and intimidating than I remember it even to the degree that I now can find arguments and sections where I can see potential improvements. Anyhow, the book is a wonder of detailed argumentation and analysis.

What is still the most amazing aspect of the book is the fact that the reason Dunne wrote the book was that he was trying to "solve" a concrete practical problem and he ended up having to conduct severe philosophical examinations in order to find a solution. The problem he worked on can simply be stated as Dunne does in the Preface "My purpose of this book is precisely to 'open up for inquiry' about practitioner's knowledge and to look for adequate conceptual resources to 'describe' it" (p. xv). Dunne is trying to find a way to understand practical knowledge and does that by grounding his analysis in two of Aristotle's types of knowledge, namely "techne" and "phronesis". However, Dunne is not satisfied just by going back to Artistotle, he also conducts "conversations" with five more contemporary philosophers, namely John Henry newman, R. G. Collingwood (who has always been my favorite philosopher), Hannah Arendt, Hans-George Gadamer, and Jurgen Habermas. This is not a group of everyday ordinary thinkers--they require some serious examinations and that is also what Dunne does. Well, I have only started my reading and did not intend to write about the book right now, maybe I will  come back later on and write more.

Just another note. I am convinced that anyone who has serious ambitions to understand practice and practical knowledge in any professional field should read this book, or at least parts of it. I think the book is even more timely and needed now than when it was first published. Dunne  offers a solid philosophical foundation on the notion of practical knowledge that in many ways resonates with contemporary design theory. More to come....


Kshitiz Anand said...

Thanks for this review Erik.
I always read up the posts on this blog.
The good part is that I get to know of these books, theories etc that you discuss.
The bad part is that any article or book that you discuss is not available or available at a so much a higher price here in India that I cannot read them. :)
Hopefully one day they will be readily available here too.

Erik Stolterman said...

Hhi Kshitiz,

Thanks for visiting my blog and reading my posts. I understand that sometimes books and articles are difficult to get. I try when I reference articles to, if possible, add a link where it can be downloaded, but that is not always possible. Hope this problem will disappear over time..

Take care

Adam Stolterman said...

jag blev faktiskt sugen på att läsa den här boken, men jag har fortfarande lite problem med var design ska få plats med allt annat som jag är intresserad av.

Gim, Hyewon said...

Hello Erik. Hmmm ... I wish this book is not serious like "Vibrant Matter" that you also introduced us before. I am reading it, but I have finally realized that my current ability to understand the Jane Bennett's knowledge, is not enought. In fact, that one is too serious for me. >.<)3 I will read it maybe after five years.
I think I am not able to become a big thinker in design field.

Erik Stolterman said...

Adam: kul att du läser här! Du har för många intressen :-)

Hyewon: Good to see you here! Well, the answer to your question is that this book is probably harder to read than Bennett, sorry about that :-) You will become a big thinker!

Syaiful wisata said...

very amazing post, I like It, Thank you for presenting a wide variety of information that is very interesting to see in this artikle, good job adnd succes For you

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