- Feb 2023
one finds in Deutsch’s catalogue one implementation of what LorraineDaston would later term ‘mechanical objectivity’, an ideal of removing the scholar’s selffrom the process of research and especially historical and scientific representation (Das-ton and Galison, 2007: 115-90).
In contrast to the sort of mixing of personal life and professional life suggested by C. Wright Mills' On Intellectual Craftsmanship (1952), a half century earlier Gotthard Deutsch's zettelkasten method showed what Lorraine Datson would term 'mechanical objectivity'. This is an interesting shift in philosophical perspective of note taking practice. It can also be compared and contrasted with a 21st century perspective of "personal" knowledge management.
- Oct 2022
There is a difference between various modes of note taking and their ultimate outcomes. Some is done for learning about an area and absorbing it into one's own source of general knowledge. Others are done to collect and generate new sorts of knowledge. But some may be done for raw data collection and analysis. Beatrice Webb called this "scientific note taking".
Historian Jacques Goutor talks about research preparation for this sort of data collecting and analysis though he doesn't give it a particular name. He recommends reading papers in related areas to prepare for the sort of data acquisition one may likely require so that one can plan out some of one's needs in advance. This will allow the researcher, especially in areas like history or sociology, the ability to preplan some of the sorts of data and notes they'll need to take from their historical sources or subjects in order to carry out their planned goals. (p8)
C. Wright Mills mentions (On Intellectual Craftsmanship, 1952) similar research planning whereby he writes out potential longer research methods even when he is not able to spend the time, effort, energy, or other (financial) resources to carry out such plans. He felt that just the thought experiments and exercise of doing such unfulfilled research often bore fruit in his other sociological endeavors.
In "On Intellectual Craftsmanship" (1952), C. Wright Mills talks about his methods for note taking, thinking, and analysis in what he calls "sociological imagination". This is a sociologists' framing of their own research and analysis practice and thus bears a sociological related name. While he talks more about the thinking, outlining, and writing process rather than the mechanical portion of how he takes notes or what he uses, he's extending significantly on the ideas and methods that Sönke Ahrens describes in How to Take Smart Notes (2017), though obviously he's doing it 65 years earlier. It would seem obvious that the specific methods (using either files, note cards, notebooks, etc.) were a bit more commonplace for his time and context, so he spent more of his time on the finer and tougher portions of the note making and thinking processes which are often the more difficult parts once one is past the "easy" mechanics.
While Mills doesn't delineate the steps or materials of his method of note taking the way Beatrice Webb, Langlois & Seignobos, Johannes Erich Heyde, Antonin Sertillanges, or many others have done before or Umberto Eco, Robert Greene/Ryan Holiday, Sönke Ahrens, or Dan Allosso since, he does focus more on the softer portions of his thinking methods and their desired outcomes and provides personal examples of how it works and what his expected outcomes are. Much like Niklas Luhmann describes in Kommunikation mit Zettelkästen (VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 1981), Mills is focusing on the thinking processes and outcomes, but in a more accessible way and with some additional depth.
Because the paper is rather short, but specific in its ideas and methods, those who finish the broad strokes of Ahrens' book and methods and find themselves somewhat confused will more than profit from the discussion here in Mills. Those looking for a stronger "crash course" might find that the first seven chapters of Allosso along with this discussion in Mills is a straighter and shorter path.
While Mills doesn't delineate his specific method in terms of physical tools, he does broadly refer to "files" which can be thought of as a zettelkasten (slip box) or card index traditions. Scant evidence in the piece indicates that he's talking about physical file folders and sheets of paper rather than slips or index cards, but this is generally irrelevant to the broader process of thinking or writing. Once can easily replace the instances of the English word "file" with the German concept of zettelkasten and not be confused.
One will note that this paper was written as a manuscript in April 1952 and was later distributed for classroom use in 1955, meaning that some of these methods were being distributed from professor to students. The piece was later revised and included as an appendix to Mill's text The Sociological Imagination which was first published in 1959.
Because there aren't specifics about Mills' note structure indicated here, we can't determine if his system was like that of Niklas Luhmann, but given the historical record one could suppose that it was closer to the commonplace tradition using slips or sheets. One thing becomes more clear however that between the popularity of Webb's work and this (which was reprinted in 2000 with a 40th anniversary edition), these methods were widespread in the mid-twentieth century and specifically in the field of sociology.
Above and beyond most of these sorts of treatises on note taking method, Mills does spend more time on the thinking portions of the practice and delineates eleven different practices that one can focus on as they actively read/think and take notes as well as afterwards for creating content or writing.
My full notes on the article can be found at https://jonudell.info/h/facet/?user=chrisaldrich&max=100&exactTagSearch=true&expanded=true&addQuoteContext=true&url=urn%3Ax-pdf%3A0138200b4bfcde2757a137d61cd65cb8
Mills, C. Wright. “On Intellectual Craftsmanship (1952).” Society 17, no. 2 (January 1, 1980): 63–70. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02700062.
Cross reference published version from 1959, 1980: https://hypothes.is/a/7NmPckD4Ee2-r1NbihZN2A
Read on 2022-10-01 14:10
Thinking is a simultaneous struggle for conceptualorder and empirical comprehensiveness. You must notclose it up too soon---or you will fail to see all that youshould; you cannot leave it open forever----or you yourselfwill burst. It is this dilemma that makes reflection, onthose rare occasions when it is more or less successful, themost passionate endeavor of which a man is capable
Thinking is a simultaneous struggle for conceptualorder and empirical comprehensiveness.
( 1) The rearranging of the file, as I have already said, isone way. One simply dumps out heretofore disconnectedfolders, mixing up their contents, and then re-sorts themmany times. How often and how extensively one does thiswill of course vary with different problems and the devel-opment of their solutions. But in general the mechanics ofit are as simple as that.
The first part of "sociological imagination" for Mills is what I term combinatorial creativity. In his instance, at varying intervals he dumps out disconnected ideas, files and resorts them to find interesting potential solutions.
I do not like to do empirical work if I can possibly avoidit. It m e a n s a great deal of trouble if one has no staff; if onedoes e m p l o y a staff, then the staff is often more troublethan the work itself. Moreover, they leave as soon as theyhave b e e n trained and made useful.
Mosca backs up histhesis with this assertion: It's the power of organization thatenables the minority always to rule. There are organizedminorities and they run things and men. There are unorganizedmajorities and they are run.
In a democracy, is it not just rule by majority, but rule by the most organized that ends up dominating the society?
Perhaps C. Wright Mills' work on the elite has some answers?
The Republican party's use of organization to create gerrymandering is a clear example of using extreme organization to create minority rule. Cross reference: Slay the Dragon in which this issue is laid out with the mention of using a tiny amount of money to careful gerrymander maps to provide outsized influences and then top-down outlines to imprint broad ideas from a central location onto smaller individual constituencies (state and local).
The reason theytreasure their smallest experiences is because, in thecourse of a lifetime, a modem man has so very littlepersonal experience, and yet experience is so important asa source of good intellectual work.
The antecedent for "they" here is "accomplished thinkers".
And yet that is not " r e a l l y " how the project arose.What really happened is that the idea and the plan cameout o f my files; for all projects with me begin and end withthem, and books are simply organized releases from thecontinuous work that goes into them.
Surely by "files" he means his written notes and ideas which he has filed away?
Thus articles and books are agglomerations of ideas within notes (or perhaps one's retained memory, as best as that might be done) which are then broken off from them and released to a wider readership.
Method and theory are like thelanguage of the country you live in: it is nothing to bragabout that you can speak it, but it is a disgrace, as well asan inconvenience, if you cannot.
In this essay I am going to try candidly to report how Ibecame interested in a topic I happen now to be studying,and how I am going about studying it. I know that in doingthis I run the risk of failing in modesty and perhaps even ofclaiming some peculiar virtue for my own personal habits.1 intend no such claims. 1 know also that it may be said:"WelL, that's the way you work; but it's not of much use tom e . " To this the reply seems quite clear; it is: " W o n d e r -ful. Tell me how you w o r k . "
We could use more of this in the current tools for thought space. Given neurodiversity, having a smorgasbord of options from which to choose from and then to be able to pick and choose or experiment on what works for you in particular seems to be the best route forward.
E veryone seriously concerned with teaching complainsthat most students do not know how to do indepen-dent work. They do not know how to read, they do notknow how to take notes, they do not know how to set up aproblem nor how to research it. In short, they do not knowhow to work intellectually.
- Heyde's zettelkasten method
- orality vs. literacy
- reading practices
- majority rule
- Sönke Ahrens
- Charles Seignobos
- note taking affordances
- Johannes Erich Heyde
- knowledge workers
- Gaetano Mosca
- sociological imagination
- On Intellectual Craftsmanship
- card index
- The Sociological Imagination
- intellectual history
- organizational theory
- Charles Victor Langlois
- open questions
- intellectual workman
- C. Wright Mills
- social organization
- combinatorial creativity
- Beatrice Webb
- tools for thought
- empirical work
- Umberto Eco
- note taking
- human resources
- Sep 2022
Hadn't heard of Mills before, but it looks interesing: C. Wright Mills, On Intellectual Craftsmanship, from The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press. 1960.
On Intellectual Craftsmanship
Appendix to The Sociological Imagination (1959, 2000).
A 1952 draft was published as a stand alone journal article in 1980. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF02700062
Mills, C. Wright. The Sociological Imagination. 40th anniversary edition. Oxford University Press, 2000.
sociologist C. WrightMills
Note takers reading this may appreciate that Mills had a note taking system:
https://hypothes.is/a/Wbm09giuEe2-tH8vp1LziA<br /> https://hypothes.is/a/_7SQkPdFEeunDX9htFmQ8w
This particular note and my notice of it is an interesting case of faint recognition and combinatorial creativity at play. I vaguely recognized Mills' name but was able to quickly find it within my reading notes to discover I'd run across him and his intellectual practice before.
Or, take the case of unemployment as described by sociologist C. WrightMills:When, in a city of 100,000, only one man is unemployed, that is his per-sonal trouble, and for its relief we properly look to the character of theman, his skills, and his immediate opportunities. But when in a nation of50 million employees, 15 million men are unemployed, that is an issue, and
we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of the society, and not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals.16
- C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 9.
I love this quote and it's interesting food for thought.
Framing problems from the perspectives of a single individual versus a majority of people can be a powerful tool.
The idea of the "welfare queen" was possibly too powerful because it singled out an imaginary individual rather than focusing on millions of people with a variety of backgrounds and diversity. Compare this with the fundraisers for impoverished children in Sally Stuther's Christian Children's Fund (aka ChildFund) which, while they show thousands of people in trouble, quite often focus on one individual child. This helps to personalize the plea and the charity actually assigned each donor a particular child they were helping out.
How might this set up be used in reverse to change the perspective and opinions of those who think the "welfare queen" is a real thing instead of a problematic trope?