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Jigsaw: Frameworks of Knowledge

Image: The Christmas Jigsaw - 1

Jigsaw – 1

I wouldn’t say I’m that old, though I do admit to remembering the days of Dick Barton on the radio, which was before the Archers ever ploughed their first furrow. But it might help explain, being at least of Introductory Level Senior Age, why I still like to do the occasional jigsaw. It will usually be something historical – an old building, attractive rural or coastal view, transport scene, or reproduction of a cheerful period advert. A good one will have an even spread of detail everywhere so that tricky swathes of plain colour are avoided: the bane of the puzzle-solver’s life. So each Christmas a table is cleared of its usual contents and taken over by a thousand tiny, irregular, pieces of cardboard tipped from a sealed plastic bag.

Several days later they will all have gone through the Jigsaw Resources Management procedure. This will see how they can fit perfectly into my organisation (a commendably flat structure but with me in dictatorial control nonetheless). They are regimented into rank and file, made to work well with their colleagues, and sworn at if they attempt to link up with some inappropriate fellow pieces. The full picture emerges. Details are displayed at greater magnification. Shades, shapes and colours finally make sense. A small world appears, faithfully contributing some understanding of another time, another place. It is another triumph for the investigator who has found, sorted and assembled a thousand little clues to solve a challenging puzzle.

The whole process has long been seen as a metaphor about solving crimes or investigating some new aspect of the human situation. The work of the scientist, the journalist and the historian, to take just a few examples, has often been related to solving a jigsaw puzzle. I have used the idea to make a simple quiz on these pages. A series of clues are given for the puzzler to solve, interpret and then assemble to produce a clear picture or answer to a problem.

It is an idea well worth exploring and developing further. Can we identify some principles, some theories that can have wider application to understanding how we make sense of our world? I think so, and over the next few postings I hope to explore some ideas and piece together some kind of cogent thoughts. Hello ... I’m doing a jigsaw again.


Image: The Christmas Jigsaw - 2

Jigsaw – 2

The puzzle shown above is made from a photograph I took from one of the capsules on the London Eye. Charing Cross railway station is at the centre. It isn’t a big jigsaw and not too difficult – plenty of detail everywhere. I guess most people work on these puzzles like I do: find all the edge pieces and particularly the four corners; assemble them into a frame and then work on the easily identifiable parts first. After a while spotting exact shades and patterns becomes much quicker. How one area relates to another becomes clear.

The jigsaw metaphor related to solving crimes is long established. Just about every sleuth, real or imagined, must have thought of the job as like solving such a puzzle. The same could apply to anyone investigating something that required bits of information to be assembled in order to give the ‘big picture’. Journalists track down the elements of a story. Scientists gather data together. Historians collate historical evidence. And travellers pick up snippets from here, information from there, some opinions out of guide books or people they meet and so on.

Just by looking at the parts of the picture above it is possible to gather information about this district of London. There is something there about architecture, about the city environment, its organisation and culture. For the knowledgeable person it can only be London, though depends on two views of the photo. The first is the recognition of Charing Cross Station, the Embankment and the river crossed by that distinctive railway bridge. The second is the identification of the styles of building, types of transport, the nature of the trees and the overall patterns of the urban landscape that are characteristically London. This assemblage is a little less telling as a number of west European cities could have very similar elements. If more of the adjacent landmarks could be seen there would be more evidence. The jigsaw photo doesn’t have them.

A tourist looking out from the London Eye would have vastly more – apart from the obvious fact that they would know just where they were. And yet even the tourist, well prepared through advertising, guide books, their own education and exposure to the mass media and the knowledge of friends, would take in from the sweep of their viewing a lot of new information, detailed and kaleidoscopic. They would also get information from their four senses that the mere viewer of a picture cannot get – sounds and smells, their physical contact with walking surfaces, walls, furniture and much more, and the paste of the food and drink available in this place.

That is the huge advantage that travel brings. All five senses are engaged and in an interactive mode, too. Questions can be asked, conversations held. The visitor can, without the limits of budget, time and the necessary organisational framing of their visit make their own decisions about where they go and what they do. But they are still assembling information through these channels and they are adding it to their lifetime experiences, interpreting it afresh in the light of the new evidence alongside the old.


Image: Christmas jigsaw 3

Jigsaw – 3

Assembling the frame of the puzzle and adding in patches of completed sections begins to build up the picture.

A tourist explores a destination not only using all five senses but accumulated information. The graphic above, right, suggests visual elements. There are many sounds – voices, noises, music and so on, easily visualised – whoops, imagined. Add on to those tactile elements from the feel of walking and touched surfaces mentioned above, and the sensation of a breeze, possibly water from rain, paddling and swimming, or even the touch of a handshake or a kiss with someone at the destination, and you can appreciate more of the potential. Smell? Flowers, grass, the sea air, cooking – just some of the positive ones – there are plenty of negative ones, too. Of course which is which is a matter of personal interpretation. Taste? Salt on the lips close to the sea... food and drink. These sensations flow in through the five physiological channels, having arrived possibly through media channels – mainly sound and vision, but what about thinking of the medium of a restaurant for taste and smells, for examples. They come in combinations or individual perceptions, though those are rarer: we see the sound source as well as hear the sound most of the time, and the combination affects our perception of what we hear. The four Ss of tourism are sun, sand, sea and sex. I leave you to think of the numbers of sensory channels each might involve; the intensity of them and the level of interactive messaging that each will carry.


Image: Christmas Jigsaw 4

Jigsaw – 4

In school, my education about history got as far as the Tudors. After that I had to do physics, at which I was slightly less of a failure. It was later, when my rather stronger geography learning took me into dabbling at industrial archaeology, that I found myself getting in to history. Through the tradesman’s entrance, I think that was.

We had started somewhere is prehistory, got through the Romans, the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages before getting to that romantic bunch of monarchs. Nothing really caught my imagination in a way that I could use to hunt out local history or books in the town lending library. On the other hand, a primary school project on the Malayan (as it used to be) rubber industry had been more exciting. It was group work and followed what the group members found interesting. Later, getting intrigued by the town’s silk-textile mills and the railway and canal not far away sent me off looking for information from relatives who knew more, having worked in the industry. But as I built up in my own mind and small collection of books something of the subject, I began to realise that I could relate the knowledge to world geography but much less to world, or even British, general history.

I later found out that it was a general problem and the reason why what is called project- or themed-teaching began to dominate history and geography curricula in the 1960s. Children could take an interesting topic and investigate it. Learning should thereby become fun. Often the topics would be something already familiar in some way to the children. They would build up knowledge from what they knew already. This was the constructivist approach. In teaching this way some schools reduced the teaching of history on the then-to-now continuous storyline to zero, or close to it. Geography became a matter of creating patches of knowledge like islands lost in a world ocean. How the nature of Australian sheep-farming fitted in with Yorkshire textiles might be clear. It might also lead to understanding a little of why South Asian families moved to England to work in post-world war II mills. It was less likely to lead to understanding what ‘Australia’ was all about and how it fitted into the world in general. These children might in due course follow each other in a gap-year adventure to Sydney via the Far East – but they would often have little contextual knowledge about Thailand, Australia or any of the other places they were to explore. Their first-hand experiences would prove powerful education. Their understanding of where, when and why in general was much weaker.

All this became obvious during my 17 years of teaching Tourism Management. Many – I would venture to say, most – of the hundreds of excellent young people who came in to the university course had very poor grasp of either geography or history. And yet these two subjects are part of the bedrock strata of what they were pursuing. A colleague who taught the geography of tourism ran what he privately called the Quiz of Shame. Fresher students were tested on basic, factual world knowledge to see how much they knew about where places were. The results were pretty awful – not always, but most often. On his retirement I took over the module, ran the Quiz, and found the same results. What was noticeable was the number of times the highest scores were those from countries like India where teaching was often based on the old, systematic method. You may say that vocational-course students could be expected to be a little less ‘academic’ in their knowledge. I would disagree on the grounds that tourism management demands a handling of very many sets of theories and that geographical knowledge, followed by historical (to handle heritage topics) is close behind. But in any case, any secondary education which does not today turn out people who comprehend what the world is about is a cause for serious concern.


So I would advocate that both geography and history require the teaching of broad frameworks in which to position knowledge that is acquired from the more student-centred investigative projects. I’m all for them constructing knowledge on the foundations of what they have already learnt. I think that equipping them to hunt out things for themselves in an essential part of preparation for successful careers. This is especially so in systems overloaded with student numbers compared to tutor numbers, when library books can never be stocked in sufficient numbers but when web sources are seen by students as the starting points. We can leave aside the problem that there are too many advocates with trite technology-based “solutions” to the numbers problem. These usually come from people with too little educational experience but with management careers to carve out. However, we do have to remember that students looking for web-based information need not only to be able to evaluate its worth for their job in hand: they need to come in to the higher levels of education with strong frameworks of knowledge already established.

This takes me back to the jigsaw analogy and the idea of having a frame in which to locate that knowledge.

The British psychologist Sir Frederic Bartlett established the concept of the ‘schema’ in psychology There are other uses in electronics and computer science, though they all reflect the Greek word’s meaning of ‘plan’ in some form. He researched and taught at Cambridge up to his retirement in 1951. Bartlett drew on earlier ideas by people like Jean Piaget and Sir Henry Head who used the schema concept in education and neurology. The Gestalt psychologists, from 1912 onwards, studied mental organisation and stressed the holistic, ‘complete picture’ nature of such organisation rather like a plan or schema. Since the days of Sir Frederic Bartlett others have advanced the work on schemata (the plural of ‘schema’) or ideas like it, such as R C Anderson and D P Ausubel. In the field of sociology the author Erving Goffman developed similar ideas about ‘frames’. These were to do with the principles of organisation which help individuals to analyse the meaning and significance of social events. Goffman’s work is also important when he writes about social life as drama, for the ideas of ‘front region’ and ‘back region’ which underlie many discussions about ‘staged authenticity’ in tourism.

Schemata are organised patterns of thought or behaviour. They are ways of organising information about the world, society, someone’s immediate surroundings, etc. They are used to process and interpret information – to ‘make sense’ of it. Individual people can be said to have individual schemata, so that they interpret the world differently according to their own knowledge and experience. They can be said to have different schemata for different sets of knowledge. Schemata are different, dynamic and evolving.

We can say that teaching children about history from earliest times to the present is giving them a time-frame – or schema. Teaching them about world geography gives them a place-frame. We could say space-frame but that my suggest something beyond our particular planet. Dr Who can have time and space, I will opt for terra firma and time and place. Besides, many professionals use the useful terms ‘sense of place’ and ‘sense of time’ adds to geography a dimension of history. So those natty little diagrams above come into play. When we discover, or learn, some historical fact, we can place it into a time frame. The same goes for geographical facts. As each is picked up, it can be correctly located into the global map or place-frame. With knowledge above the most basic (‘where’ and ‘when’) we can read-in knowledge about the type of weather to expect, the likelihood of crime, the kind of social attitudes people in a destination will have, and so on.

Really, we use the sense of place and sense of time together (the right-hand diagram). Coming across the earliest successful European settlement of what became the United States we can locate it geographically – in Jamestown, Virginia – and historically, in the year 1607. The celebrations a few years ago of the four hundredth anniversary attracted many visitors to Jamestown as they did for the three hundredth anniversary in 1907. Those visitors needed a sense of time and place to appreciate best what they were witnessing, including a reconstruction of the first settlement, complete with fortifications, buildings, farm crops and animals, and sailing ships. Two other events are shown in the diagrams – in India in 1857, and in Sydney in the year 2000.

Two schemata, or frames, have been used and combined together for time and space. It is possible, no doubt, to construct others to do with society, technology, culture, politics and anything else you want to use to position things within these varied contexts. What about farming, racial attitudes or sport? But they are beyond the scope of this posting – and can be quite tricky to depict. The point is, however, that for tourism, helping the tourist to place their visited location into the context of history and geography will help them get far more out of their visit – if they want that kind of knowledge. Let’s face it: they will need some measure of this kind of knowledge if they are to be visitors at anything above the level of totally passive, totally ignorant package-tour fodder.


Image: Christmas Jigsaw - 5

Jigsaw – 5

It would be silly to suggest that tourists carry out historic-geographic analysis of their destinations. A daft idea indeed. What I think most of them do, at least, is make a comparison with their home area. Some might have a detailed idea of the age of different things that they see and be fairly accurate. Others will have a more general notion that something is older, or newer, very much older or very much newer. Stonehenge is prehistoric, the Grand Canyon even more ancient, Sydney Harbour Bridge twentieth century (but are they sure?) and Disney World dates from the late twentieth century.

Who is to say exactly how old individual landmarks are? – the Eiffel Tower, Paris – St Peter’s, Rome - the Empire State Building in New York - or the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur? (If you want the dates, they are respectively 1889; 1546-1590 but with later additions; 1931; 1998 and I didn’t get any of them spot on as I typed – I had to look them up on the ‘Architecture Week’ website). Now those are world-famous landmarks: what about the cottages, shops and taverns of villages and towns? Or farm buildings, fishing-port houses and sheds, hotel blocks and night clubs? There will be some vague idea perhaps about dates: few people will know within even a few decades how old most of them are. And why should they? What counts on most tourist trips is the knowledge that somewhere is a nice place to be, for whatever reason. It is for the particularly interested visitor that some local source of information, or guide book that they have brought with them, is hunted out for more information. When I first visited Chicago in the late 1960s it was overall impressions and comparisons with other places that I was occupied with. I knew the John Hancock Centre skyscraper had been opened just a year before, but that was probably it. The last time I was there in 2009 I bought a pocket guide to the architecture of the city, checked out many of the building shown in it, and have read parts of it again since. Which is something that has contributed along with many other factors to my conclusion that Chicago is one of the greatest cities in the world. That sense of time and sense of place that it has are superb.

Knowing how Chicago fits in to the geography of the planet helps anyone understand better just what that city is all about. It is American. Correction – North American, United Statesian, Mid-Western, close to the prairies, the Corn Belt, the industrial heartland, the Canadian border and the Great Lakes. Well placed to give commercial service to much of the Mid-West, far enough from New York not to be overcome by the power of its great rival, Chicago deserves its reputation as a lively industrial, commercial and cultural city.

Time and place are important, but not enough to understand sufficiently the nature of a place. So I add two more attributes – form and function. By form I mean the physical nature of the place – natural or artificial (but often some combination of the two); urban or rural – and then something about the particular form, such as high-rise business district, equatorial village huts, coastal settlement and a host of others. Ultimately each is unique if the detail of the place is examined closely.

By function I mean what function the place involves – business again, domestic life, farming, fishing, government, defence, recreation, tourism, transport and a range of infrastructure types. This broad category should extend to detail as well, since again every place is active in several different ways. Cultural life and expression must feature strongly and that could, of course demand an infinite amount of observation. But these are to be expected as partly subjective descriptions by the traveller. Each person creates their own travel experience framework according to their own accumulated knowledge, life perspective and the kind of encounters that they have at the destination. Each is unique. Additionally, every remembered experience, even if back up by written or audio-visual records, will change over time as the psychologists and sociologists who developed the concept of the ‘schema’ or ‘frame’ have acknowledged.

What the concept of a tourism experience framework is about is arriving at a way of understanding what it is about a destination that a visitor finds to be of interest.

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