From the archives: Anatomy of a collaboration: A 1986 workshop on technology and autonomy

The first major event at the Centre for Society, Technology and Values (CSTV) was a full-day workshop on “Technology and Autonomy,” held in March 1986. (See Newsletter, May 1986.)  Some afternoon sessions had as many as 60 in attendance. This event can be usefully analyzed from a variety of perspectives.

The topic is noteworthy. It is not hard to see the advantages in viewing the interactions between technology and individual autonomy from the perspectives of different disciplines. And the freshness and topicality of the theme is also worthy of recognition.

This event was co-sponsored by CSTV and the University of Toronto’s McLuhan Program. And this collaboration strikes another chord—working together, not only across academic departments and across faculties, but across universities and with colleges. How many institutions of advanced education are within a 60- or 90-minute drive of Waterloo? Laurier and U. of Guelph, of course, but also Conestoga, Ryerson, McMaster, Western, U of T, Humber, Seneca, Fanshawe, Mohawk, George Brown, Sheridan. What riches! Consider the diversity of knowledge and insight and viewpoint that could and should be brought to bear on the important questions of our day.

Workshop sessions in 1986 were held at Conrad Grebel College (not yet University College). And it’s not out of place to extoll the role of the colleges at our university in supporting interdisciplinary approaches. Consider Peace and Conflict Studies, housed at Grebel, which offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and Grebel’s new(ish) Centre for Peace Advancement. St. Paul’s University College provides a home for Native Studies and promotes cross-disciplinary solutions with its GreenHouse. St. Jerome’s University hosts several interdisciplinary programs, notably Sexuality, Marriage and Family Studies. Renison University College offers East Asian Studies and Studies in Islam. More collaboration between main campus and the colleges should be high on many to-do lists.

A number of the sessions in 1986 were led by scholars from the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo, but there were also guest “stars”—Langdon Winner of Rensselaer and Albert Borgmann of the University of Montana, both of whom offered significant support to CSTV in its early days.

There was no charge for attending the workshop and no registration. A welcome was extended to “students, faculty, staff and interested members of the public.” Everyone was encouraged to participate.

The word “collaboration” can have negative connotations—collaborating with a possible adversary is a common theme in the news today. But ideally, collaboration can make possible a positive future that could never be achieved by academic units toiling away in their own small domains.

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