Are the Individual Cognitive Tendencies towards Centers Universal?

Posted on November 14, 2009 by

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We have a much clearer idea of what it is to follow scientists and engineers in action.

We know that they do not extend “everywhere” as if there existed a Great Divide between the universal knowledge of the Westerners and the local knowledge of everyone else, but instead that they travel inside narrow and fragile networks, resembling the galleries termites build to link their nests to their feeding sites. Inside these networks, they make traces of all sorts circulate better by increasing their mobility, their speed, their reliability, their ability to combine with one another. We also know that these networks are not built with homogenous material but, on the contrary, neccessitate the weaving together of a multitude of different elements which renders the question of whether they are “scientific” or “technical” or “economic” or “political” or “managerial”, meaningless.

Finally, we know that the results of building, extending, and keeping up these networks is to act a distance, that is to do things in the centres that sometimes make it possible to dominate spatially as well as chronologically the periphery – Bruno Latour, Science in Action

In this post-modern, post-colonialist, post-whatever, we value the concept of de-centralization. The de-centralized Los Angeles, the de-centralized government, de-centralized authority. De-centralized authority means that everyone else can assert their own authority. Their own authority means they can make their own decisions impacting a whole bunch of people.

Yet to establish their authority, everyone still needs to be at the center of…something. The center is where things come together. Centers are where groups of people pull things together in service of a mission: the Center for Nonprofit Management, Center for Public Interest.

Imagine a grant application by some nonprofit like Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA) saying “we are the periphery of youth development and education.”

No, you want money from foundations and corporate entities! You want them to trust you. So, you have to say that you are at the center of some kind of important-sounding category. Flip it around and say this

“We are the center of youth development and education in all of Historic Filipinotown.”

I did two things to change that statement and make it look like it would appear in a grant writing proposal:

1) I switched the word “periphery” with “center.”

The “center” is a place where people want to be at and help out because it has connections to a lot of things that you might want to be connected to and it has more of a chance of bringing together tangible results.

2) I added that this nonprofit did this “in all of Historic Filipinotown”, as if to say that they do what they do in an important thoroughfare.

The addition of the location, Historic Filipinotown, makes it seem like the space and the place are something not to be glossed over. Without any details about this entity, Historic Filipinotown, you have to acknowledge this certain space and place like it is just like any other space and place. It is potentially as big and important as another space and place entity, like Los Angeles itself.

Centers are usually the main point of focus, at least in American culture. That appears to be a bit of a contrast to what was found within Japanese cultures in psychological experiments, where the context is what matters more than a central point of focus.  So perhaps the centers aren’t always the main point of focus?  Or perhaps in certain situations, the Japanese and/or Americans won’t focus on the center?

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