Unpacking the Maharlika Narrative

 “MAHARLIKA”……A word, an image, a concept, a symbol, an archetype…..How deep can a word reach? How can a word transcend and transform our consciousness? How can a word be usurped and degraded? How can a word redeem itself? How can a word re-create the destiny of a nation? How can a word guide us into the past, present and the future?”
 Grace Odal-Devora, Ph.D
University of the Philippines, Manila


On February 22, 2014, the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Maharlika, Inc (Ang KaSaMa, Inc.) in partnership with the Alumni, Friends and Benefactors of the Asian Center (AFBAC, Inc.), Humanistic Studies 20 Class, The United Brotherhood for Development and World Peace Thru Maharlika, Inc, The Venus Project-Maharlika, and the Maharlika Artists and Writers Federation (MAWF) convened the first Maharlika Summit at the Asian Center Auditorium, GT-Toyota Hall of Wisdom, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City.

The summit was themed “ReVisioning ‘Maharlika’ as a cultural metaphor, folk history and social movement for national identity, transformation and development.

The summit goal was to provide a safe space for all to discuss from varying vantage points the Maharlika cause and narrative.

Babaylanism and Catholicism

First, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines Commissioner Fe Buenaventura Mangahas in her presentation “Babaylan Tradition: The Ancient Culture” discussed  the role of women as babaylans in Filipino society. She said that as time passed babaylans in ancient communities were both women and men. Babaylans were  essentially feminist. Babaylans were the custodians of faith, faith healers, foresighteers, visionaries, and advisers of people and indigenous communities.

She said when the Spaniards came to impose Catholicism over the archipelago, some of the babaylans resigned to accept the new faith to avoid further suffering from the abuses of friars.  These women would later emerge as devotees of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus.  Academic discussions on history in basic and the secondary schools seldom shed light on the story of the babaylan before and after colonization. They were extensively tortured and left-out and this led to their eventual demise according to Mangahas.

The Mythic and the Revolutionary

Professor Argonza provided a deconstructive morphological analysis of the name, word Philippines and Maharlika. Morphological analyses on Philippines were inclined to the infamous history of King Philip II of Spain argued Argonza. He said that “Philippines”, as word, could be reduced to the following morphemes: phi, lip, and pines. Phi being the phallus or the masculine concept, and lip as referent for the female organ. This masculine and feminine relation symbolizes wholeness and balance which will make Philippines a positively potent name to “signify a showering of vast opportunities.”

This is the first morphological analysis of Philippines that looked at the positive aspect of the name in relation to King Philip II.

The Vision of Greatness and Maharlika, Its Sanskrit Origin

Maharlika, analyzed in terms of its connection to Sanskrit, “maha” means “great” and  “likha” meaning “creation”, the former Senator Eddie Ilarde and Prof. Grace Odal-Devora discussed the word extensively.  Prof. Argonza presented the word Maharlika this way:

“Ma is maternal element, feminine. Har is the Life Force, or Haj, the masculine aspect. Li refers to act of movement or transfer. Ka is referent for revolutionary spin, which means change. The bisyllabic Mahar, feminine & masculine conjoint, refers to ‘great’ or ‘major’, with the same Wholeness explicitly conveyed. In sum, Maharlika means Great Force for Revolutionary Change.”

These insights on how the terms were interpreted brings into light new perspective on Maharlika as a word, concept and metaphor.

Dravidian-Maharlika Link

Another is is the Maharlika-Dravidian connection.

Harri Sri, a Sri Lankan board member of a mission house in Davao City and a professor at the Saint Paul University and Niagra Catholic School Board, argued that the Philippines might have had some links to a South Asian Tamil-Hindu colony .

Because little was known about pre-Hispanic Philippines, Dravidian remnants in Philippine languages could provide information some long lost linguistic or perhaps historical account of the Maharlika-Dravidian link. [2]

The golden Tara of Agusan recovered in the Wawa River sometime in 1917 corroborated early Indo-Maharlika contacts. The 21 carat gold figurine of Tara is presently kept at the gem room of the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, USA.

Professor Dr. Grace Odal-Devora presented some Hindu-Buddhist and Austro-Dravidian links of Maharlika by citing some specific evidences.

The Maharlikas. Pre-colonial Philippines was rooted is rooted in warrior culture

The Maharlikas

Unpacking the Narrative and Some Alternative Futures

In the not-so-distant past, there was also the Maharlika-Marcos New Society paradigm.

Most of the presenters disregarded the fact that Marcos popularized and used Maharlika to brand his social, technological, cultural, economic, environmental and political agenda.

The Maharlika Highway Map

The Maharlika Highway Map

Maharlika  was Ferdinand Marcos worldview and governance myth. Marcos used it to reinterpret Filipino nationalism and he was influential in making Maharlika a buzzword.  He named major streets/highways, halls, banquets, villages and cultural organizations as Maharlika. In fact, the Maharlika Hall is the reception area of the Malacanang Palace.

In summary, Maharlika was the culmination of Marcos social, societal and political utopia.

Some questions on the future of Maharlika emerged. These were: Is the Marcosian Maharlika narrative a weight of history to the future of alternative Filipino society – the Republic of Maharlika? Or is Maharlika a disowned future due to its association with former President Ferdinand Marcos? Is this Marcos worldview the preferred future? Are there other alternatives? Or will the Maharlika movement challenge the old concept and offer, reinterpret the word into something more relevant, meaningful, insightful?

The Maharlika and the PROUT movement offers a new Maharlika worldview and analyses:

Mahardikka: Rich, Prosperous and Powerful

“During the Majapahit Empire which is entirely part of Southeast Asia, and the capital surrounding the islands of Sulu, the name Maharlika was respected by the Datus and Rahas, and all the leaders of the society. The name also empowers strength, winning not only in battles, but in morals and love among people….Moreover, the word is deeply grounded within the Dravidian and Austronesian ancestral traditions and heritage of the peoples in the region.


Maharlika is extremely popular amongst Filipino Muslims – Maguindanoans, Maranaos, Lumads including some indigenous groups and ethnic communities in the Visayas and Luzon. The word reminded them of the era when the ancients and the Maharlika warriors fought the Spaniards and resisted European colonization. It was a symbol of freedom; of people who were not obligated to pay taxes and tributes. Maharlika was the “free man”.

The Maharlika were the warriors of the light (Mandirigma) and it was synonymous to “victory” (in Sanskirt it means Vijaya, Visayas or Shrii Vijaya  – pagtatagumpay) against all forms and types of oppression, repression and suppression.

Maharlika was a symbol of freedom from exploitation (Mahardikka, Merdeka, etc.).

For the Malayan culture, the Singaporeans, the Malaysians and the Indonesians, Mahardhikka, Merdeka was the battle-cry for independence.

In the virtual world,  Maharlika has been gamed and digitized.

It has re-emerged as the Anak Bathala meaning the natural born leader and master of advanced tactics. The Maharlika in its virtual form embodies the native islands greatness.

Maharlika (digitized) as the Anak Bathala by Nordenx Digital Art. Here the Mahalika is the embodiment of the native's island greatness.  He is a master of advanced tactics and born leader.

Maharlika – gamed and digitized – as the Anak Bathala by Nordenx Digital Art. The virtual world revisions Maharlika. Maharlika is seen here as the embodiment of the native’s island greatness. The Maharlika is the enlightened warrior, a  master of advanced tactics and a natural born leader. Source: http://www.deviantart.com

The Maharlika Throne Design by Deviant Art.com

The Maharlika Throne Design by Deviant Art.com

Maharlika: The PROUT perspective

For the PROUTist (advocates of the Progressive Utilization Theory), Maharlika represents respect, peace and serenity, the values, spirituality and wisdom of indigenous people – the ancients. Like a mantra, it is a cultural memory or a code that has the power to ‘liberate colonized intellects’  trapped and imprisoned by past trauma and colonial histories. The word, for the PROUTIST, is key to decolonizing the local psyche. The word and its meanings, PROUTIST will argue have evolved and were profoundly influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christian traditions and belief systems.

Maharlika could also mean ‘self-awareness’ which brings peace to one self and others.

The PROUTIST  offers Maharlika as a lens, an alternative way of knowing, Maharlika as a worldview they posit addresses all spheres of human existence – the physical, the mental and spiritual.

Maharlika is the “dynamic equipose” and “inner strength” of the local native.

Maharlika as a cultural and social identity is a viable alternative to the Filipino. The word has the potential to disrupt and disturb current context of self-knowing.

As a social, cultural and political philosophy, Maharlika has the potential to disrupt current conventions of power, power relations and power configurations.

The Maharlika PROUT narrative has its own vision of alternative leadership, system of government, version of social theory and power – the Sadvipra, the spiritual-intellectual leader.

More Questions than Answers

So this is how the participants at the Maharlika summit perceived and envisioned Maharlika today but of course there are more questions than answers.

Is the Marcosian version of Maharlika the official future of the word?  Is there an alternative future for Maharlika? What might the future Maharlika or the Republic of Maharlika look like? How will or how can the PROUTIST or the Maharlika movement challenge and revision the concept, the meaning, the myth?

It’s a hard nut to crack but whatever that is the Maharlika movement envisions a future where the country is named the Republic of Maharlika and its citizens Maharlikans!

We did flashed some questions at the conference and toyed with some initial idea and images of what might the future of Maharlika as a narrative, as a nation, as citizen might look or be like in the immediate future?

Below are the images.

The Marcosian Narrative of Maharlika?

The resurgence of the Marcosian narrative of Maharlika?

Another foreign country invading and renaming us?

Another foreign country invading and renaming the Tinubuang Lupa?


Out of the Colonial Stigma? Filipinos would be called Maharlikans and the country renamed as Maharlika?

The spiritual context - Babaylan? Maharlika? The re-emergence of the Golden Tara - a Hindu-Malayan goddess and mother of liberation, creation, compassion and mercy. Source: Kin Enriquez, http://www.boardinggate101.com/2013/04/golden-tara-of-agusan.html

The spiritual context – Babaylan? Maharlika? The re-emergence of the Golden Tara – a Hindu-Malayan goddess and mother of liberation, creation, compassion and mercy. Source: http://pinoy-culture.tumblr.com/post/28719802992/the-golden-tara-of-agusan-can-we-return-this


Romelene Pacis Notes at the Maharlika Summit 2014 @ University of the Philippines Diliman, Asian Center Auditorium.

“ReVisioning ‘Maharlika’ as cultural metaphor, folk history and social movement for national identity, transformation and development” @ http://maharlikasummit.com/

Rodel Rodis. 2012. Maharlika Reconsidered @ http://globalnation.inquirer.net/mindfeeds/mindfeeds/view/20080902-158208/Maharlika-Reconsidered

[1] He authored a book in 2000 titled “13th Gate Unveiled: the Glorious Destiny of the Philippines and Southeast Asia” in which he discussed said visions.

[2] For the sake of Tamil readers, he posted a copy of his paper and the Tamil inscription on his Facebook page.

 By Romelene Pacis and Shermon Cruz

Rome Pacis at the Maharlika Summit 2014. UP Asian Center, Diliman.

Rome Pacis at the Maharlika Summit 2014. UP Asian Center, Diliman.

Maharlika Summit 2014 Participants at the UP Asian Center, Diliman.

Maharlika Summit 2014 Participants at the UP Asian Center, Diliman.

Panatag Shoal Alternative Futures and Impact to East Asia


The latest Journal of Futures Studies (JFS) is out and happy to see my paper exploring the futures of the Panatag shoal published  in the Manoa School special edition.

The Panatag shoal paper abstract here:

Leading scholars of international relations argued that the West Philippine Sea dispute (South China Sea) was a tinderbox waiting to happen. Many analysts fear that the dispute could lead to a direct military conflict if tensions remain at the Panatag shoal. Recently, public interest in the disputed island resurfaced when China, the Philippines and Vietnam traded accusations of repeated incursions. The disputed triangle chain of reefs have caused deep diplomatic divide between the six claimant nations. The tension that was once mutual is now visual and magnified by the sporadic show of deception and force by the Philippines, China, Vietnam and Taiwan at the diplomatic and military levels. The spat is now the news hour and the remarkable story line of Asia. The Panatag Island dispute has disrupted the  relative peace of the region and will, in a multifaceted way, affect the future of Asia.

This paper explored possible scenarios on the future of the Panatag island controversy. Using Jim Dator’s four archetypes of alternative futures it asked the questions what are the possible scenarios in Asia when viewed from the Panatag Island controversy? What are the consequences of a continued economic growth, collapse, conserver and transformation scenarios at the Panatag Island? What might happen if conflict escalates and worst case scenario eventuate? What are the likely impacts of these scenarios on other regional disputes like the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands) and the Takeshima Islands (Dokdo Islands) chain of island dispute? What are the likely impacts of the scenarios on the future of US-China relations? What scenario needs to happen for claimant nation-states to reduce the possibility of direct military conflict and prevent war and for the region to advance demilitarization, reconciliation and convergence to resolve the dispute?

While there are other scenarios beyond Dator’s alternative futures, this paper will only explore possible scenarios using Dator’s alternative futures archetypes. 

For more, access the full paper at http://www.jfs.tku.edu.tw/18-2/A03.pdf


The JFS Manoal School special edition link at http://www.jfs.tku.edu.tw/sarticles.html


Experiential Questioning and Gaming Research

And so we “gamed” it, played with uncertainty and had a little bit of everything!

Creative and experiential questioning, futures thinking and landscape, Schwartz scenario archetypes and causal layered analysis.

For two days, the University Center for Research and Development (UCRD) introduced a number of futures research methods, discussed digital research, deconstructed some topics and their alternative futures. The end was to generate and reflect on some themes that emerged in the workshop and discussed in the open space some plausible options to transform Northwestern University research.

Some indigenous “futures” concepts such as “masakbayan”, “kinabukasan” , etc. were discussed and assessed researchers learning styles and research paradigms  with culture, social transformation, the internationalization of local knowledge and digitization in mind.


Around 35 participants listed by the University Center for Research Development of Northwestern University (UCRD), officers and staff of UCRD and the RCEIAD attended the gaming research workshop facilitated by Shermon Cruz, Romelene Pacis and Karl Lenin Benigno.

Experiential Questioning

Experiential questioning  is a method that we’ve been working on  recently to help researchers design  self-actualizing research questions and engaged them to contribute more to their field of interests.

Groups were encouraged to reflect and share their experiences and to ask open and reflective questions like why? and how? on preferred themes and topics.

Experiential questioning aims to make  research  more  grounded, action-oriented and responsive to cultural, local and global contexts. The workshop applied action learning foresight  to facilitate a more reflective, inclusive, creative and interactive research event for Northwestern University.

We had participants share their experiences and insights to re-perceive research in a variety of context – community, cultural, local and global.

Participants  suggested and discussed some Monday morning questions such as research incentives, quantity and quality of research workforce, funding, expanding the research agenda, research output, journal writing, exploring social media tools for foresight research, etc. during the open space.

We opted to test our concept and sought to make sense of EQ’s four essential elements – intuition, logic, evidence and reputation in research.

Researchers were encouraged to consider them only if they find it enriching or useful in the research process:

1. Intuition – we learn from our experiences and we have to learn how to trust the small voice, the inner wisdom  inside us. Listen to your gut and our Aha! moment should guide us.

The inner journey of the researcher and his experience of research is as important as any research method, data gathering methods, etc. The self immersed in research can be transformative.

We should tap our intuition more and ask ourselves these questions:

Does this question excites us? What’s your gut feel about this question? Is there a sensation of wonderment? Amazement? Are you amazed by the question? Is there a mystical feeling in that question? Is it moving? Is it transforming?

2. Logic – we think therefore we are.

Idea and proof as well as grammar and reasoning must be crucial to our line of thinking as learning beings. We are hardwired to be logical  (abductive, deductive or inductive).  We infer, observe, hypothesize, gather and seek to explain relevant evidence. We have to define our problems as clearly as possible.

We might need to ask ourselves:

Can we apply systematic reasoning here? Are our assumptions valid and critical enough to generate new questions and insights? Are they rooted in the local, cultural, global, local and environmental, organizational, personal, etc.?

3. Evidence –  Our evidence should be consistent with our assertion.

In our case,  evidences are closely tied with epistemology especially in qualitative, normative, exploratory, philosophical or theoretical research.

Big data, trend analysis, emerging issue analysis, horizon scanning are some tools and methods used by forecasters to analyze future trajectories. New lines of thought on futuring such as evidence-based futures research developed by Aleriza Hajazi among others were recently introduced .

Hejazi (2013) asked us: “Have we ever wondered why so many “assumption-based” forecasts have been proved to be untrue? Have we considered that there could be more “evidence-based” ways of forecasting? Have we ever felt that “assumption-based” forecasting was just too much of a struggle and in many cases failed to trigger timely actions? Wait a minute—those questions have been around for about two decades, but what responses have we given to them?”

While the end of futures research is to probe by asking the question what is our preferred future? why is this our preferred future? is this really plausible? why? how can we achieve our preferred future? futures research, like quantitative research, uses and includes diverse data sets to produce a near accurate understanding of potentialities.

Hejazi (2013) also notes medical research and medical researchers can give futures researchers new insights  on how evidence-based futures research could be translated or modified to foresight practice.

Big data could change the way we anticipate and/or forecast the future.

For now, it might  be imperative for us to ask more relevant and related questions:

Are our assumptions verifiable? Are our questions researchable? Does it lead to innovation? Can it help us reorder or re-conceptualize knowledge? Does it have the potential to create new knowledge and reframe meanings?

4.  Reputation – is a meta-belief about the integrity of a person, institution or in our case the integrity of a researcher or his/her research.

Reputation could come in the form of a recommendation or acknowledgement by or of a peer, community, other groups and institution outside our sphere of influence, etc.

Reputation could also mean as to how the “others know and perceive us”  as persons, as researchers.

Reputation may be shared by a multitude of agents and it can be epistemic, pragmatic-strategic  and memetic.

Questions such as do we believe in the credibility of our sources? Should we pay attention to negative reviews or to what my critics and reviewers are saying?Are our questions distinct, unique and authentic? Are our ideas offbeat or mockable? If yes, why does it matter? Are reputational concerns critical in the way we construct or perceive our questions? What is the journal’s reputation? What knowledge has value? What is natural? What is fair? (Bussey, 2013)

Questions such as are we mindful of the questions that we’ve been asking? Does the question allow us to create new spaces for learning, to grow, to be happy, to be contemplative, to be reflective, to be human and share our humanity? Does it help us cultivate our  reputation? Does it help us cultivate reputational solidity, integrity, and scholarship?

Experiential Questioning (EQ) is a first hand experience. EQ based questions  is a reflection, expression of the self or selves that is trying to create, re-create and expand itself. The impact could be  cognitive, affective, spiritual, etc.

To paraphrase Richard Slaughter here it is the “very sense of self” that is responding and inquiring.

 Creating Alternative Research Futures for NWU

And so we explored together and utilized the futures landscape, causal layered analysis and Schwartz scenario archetype to explore new opportunities for research development and to create alternative research agenda and futures for Northwestern University.

The focus was trans-disciplinary research and the aim was to create new insights by gaming it.

This is a part of a series of research workshops funded and supported by Northwestern University to explore new research areas and opportunities to deepen researchers knowledge, capacity and know-how.

The Futures Landscape

The knowability and governability of the future is a crucial issue to any institution or person who would want to learn, perceive or transform the future.

While the spectrum of “the future” are heterogenous, futures studies  and futures research exist to empower people and communities to know the future better and to understand their implications to the present, to imagine alternative and create preferred futures.

We employed the Futures Landscape  to audit who, what and where we are as researchers and as a research institution.

The futures landscape  has four categories of the future: the jungle (survival of the fittest, risk-making, fortress mentality); chess-set (strategy can do wonders but the future could be on a stalemate, there are losers and winners in the game of life);  the mountain tops (we have seen and experienced the vista of the way forward) and the star (the vision is actually reachable, it now has a detail and it is neither near nor too far).

Majority of the participants had university research in the “chess set” category.   However, the preferred was the mountain top. Participants envisions to see and experience research  as expanding, growing and always moving forward.

This gave us a conceptual or cognitive map on how researchers perceive themselves as researchers and the institution in the context of research in the future landscape.

Schwartz Scenario Archetypes

What do we really want to know? What research themes or topics can we fund or do? What decisions or issues will be helpful to us as persons, as a community, as human beings?

What factors – important and uncertain – could influence us and our decision-makers today to create the preferred research future? What are the possibilities? What are the what ifs? What are our scenarios? Which scenario do we prefer most? Afraid? Good? Bad scenarios?

Scenarios are not strategies nor they are predictions of the future. They are more like assumptions of alternative futures designed to champion possible risks and opportunities about specific strategic concerns (Schwartz, Ogilvy 2004). Scenarios are like movie scripts.

At a meta-level, they are a synthesis of different paths that lead to possible and plausible futures. They are a set of events or variables which helps in minimizing surprises and helps decision-makers expand thinking of diverse possibilities (Godet and Roubelat, 1996).

Using Schwartz Scenario Archetypes – best case, worst case, outlier, and business as usual – participants explored the futures of and tried imagining  alternative futures:

1. Ilocano food –  Oh My Gulay! (Worst Case), The Way We Were (Business as usual), Sulit.com/Sarap (Outlier),  Wow! Pagkain (Best Case)

2. The future of Northwestern University enrollment and graduates – Most Wanted Avatar, Freedom University / IronMan (Best Case); Adopted U / I am a parasite (Outlier); Most Unwanted / No Choice (Worst Case); Today is Tomorrow / Juan Tamad (Business as Usual)

3. The future of the City Laoag and incidence of flooding – Noah’s Flood (Worst Case); Waterworld (Business as usual); City Resort (Outlier); Flood Free Laoag (Best Case)

4. The future of ship vessels in the Philippines (the incidence of ship crashing and collision was alarming) – Cruising on Seas (Best Case); Cap Net (Outlier); Titanic (Worst Case); In the Navy (Business as usual)

5. The future of academic learning.

Causal Layered Analysis

On the second day, the groups were introduced to causal layered analysis, one of several futures techniques used to inquire into the causes of phenomena – litany (the news headline, pop futures), systems (social and structural causes, systems), worldview (ideology, philosophy, epistemic) and myth/metaphor ( concerned with images, arts, the emotive dimensions of an issue).

The CLA incast  expanded the range and meanings of the scenarios.

Different ways of knowing the futures of their preferred topics were explored. The vertical aspect of the scenarios were analyzed and a number of policy actions to create alternative and transformative research futures emerged.

The groups particularly the food futures group and the sea vessel group were serious about pursuing the research and to write an article like building a literature review and/or conceptual paper, a case study on the future of  Ilocano food and ship safety in the Philippines.

The future of the city group  contemplated on the possibility collaborating with the City of Laoag in particular the City Engineers and the City Environment Office to explore Laoag City alternative and preferred futures with flooding in mind.

The University Center for Research and Development will sponsor an institution-based research to explore alternative research futures for Northwestern University.

Some images from the two day workshop here:













Gaming Research Workshop University Center for Research and Development, Northwestern University, Philippines, 2013

Gaming Research Workshop University Center for Research and Development, Northwestern University, Philippines, 2013


Bussey, Marcus. Strategic Foresight Workshop Course Presentation. De La Salle University. 2012.

Cruz, Shermon. Personal notes on the two-day  Gaming Research: Digital and Futures Research Basics at Northwestern University, 201 3.

Inayatullah, Sohail. Casual Layered Analysis: A Reader. Tamkang University Press. Taiwan. 2004.

International Foundation for Action Learning. Managing the Unknown through Questioning. Retrieved December 22 from http://ifal.org.uk/ . 2013

Slaughter, Richard. The Biggest Wake Up Call in History. Foresight International. Australia. 2010.

Aleriza, Hejazi.The Future of Evidence-based Futures Research. Retrieved on December 26 from  http://www.wfs.org.blogs/alireza-hejazi/future-evidence-based-futures-research. 2013.

Schultz, Wendy. Infinite Futures. The Schwartz / GBN Approach Maximizing Focus. Retrieved on December 26 from http://www.infinitefutures.com/tools/sbschwartz.shtml. 1996.

Digging into Data and Digitizing the Social Sciences

John Willinsky, Stanford University, Curating and Digging into Data, Montreal, Canada, 2013

John Willinsky, Stanford University, Curating and Digging into Data, Montreal, Canada, 2013

The surge of large data sets has changed the way we interpret and used data in research recently.

Digging into data research tools as digital pundits called it has opened new opportunities for persons and systems to analyze massive data to anticipate the future, understand mainstream trends and gain insight from emerging issues to innovate and create new products, knowledge and social platforms.

The introduction of smart personal devices and applications to the global marketplace has equipped and enabled societies to “make sense” of data sets and persons to spread and share knowledge in less than the speed of thought.

In a data and network driven world, the breadth and sophistication of digitization will continue to grow and learning in the social sciences might just get better and weirder in the immediate future.

Just imagine what social science knowledge, learning and public interaction/interfaces would be like in a big data-driven society?

Will cloud-computing and open access enable publics to turbo charge public debates?  What types of knowledge could emerge in a social sciences driven by macro and micro network digital platforms? Will knowledge divide and access persist in a data driven society? What is the role of cultural contexts in digging into data? What would social science knowledge be like when historians and human rights advocates, computer scientists and information technology experts collaborate to create new questions and generate new insights in the social sciences?

The security of our personal data and reputation as researchers and scholars are paramount, how could we fine-tune existing computationally based research methods and techniques to secure privacy and safety of our respondents and informants? Are our systems hackable?  Is big data safe, ethical, sustainable and achievable? Can we really gain more insights and questions by wading through much more data?

Are big data a boon for researchers from developing countries? How can global South countries and scholars participate and contribute in the challenge of creating new social science knowledge using large data sets when access to big data are limited?

These are some of the questions that computers scientists,  social scientists, historians, philosophers, futurists, policy analysts etc. tried to explore at the Digging into Data (DiD) Challenge conference held last October 12 at the Palais de Congres de Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Organized by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the DiD event, that was held in conjunction with the 2013 World Social Science Forum,  explored diverse ways of using  large scale data sets and application to generate new analytics and  insights.

The conference featured the research results of the 14 DiD funded researches that linked big data to create, sustain and propel new knowledge repositories.

To fortify research innovation around the world, ten international research funding organizations collaborated to sponsor the Digging into Data Challenge.

Many of the past and current DiD sponsored projects were published in notable news magazines such as the New York Times, Nature, Times in Higher Education among others.

The papers presented applied a broad range of analytical tools to dig into digitized books, newspapers web-searches, sensors and cellphone records to analyze and synthesize the insights emerging from large scale data sets.

Their purpose was  to create and/or re-create novelties,  ideas, hypotheses, mental maps and knowledge frameworks to leverage the social sciences in the digital age.

Of the 14 DiD award recipients, the projects ChartEx, Digging into Metadata, Digging into Human Rights Violations, Digging by Debating, Digging into Social Unrest, Digging into Trading Consequences, Data Mining the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and the Data Driven Project into Western Musical Styles impressed me the most. This is not to say though that the others were less significant or unimpressive but rather that their topics were more relevant to my area of concern and research interest.

Generally, the researches that I mentioned explored new ways of harnessing the power of data to understand how  data could shape public opinion, influence policies, social movements, economies and how computational computer capabilities and tools intensifies processes and impact of researchers in the social sciences and humanities.

The ChartEx project for instance aims to build  an interactive ‘virtual workbench’ to allow researchers to dig in to the records and study  people’s lives in the 12th and 16th century.

Using medieval charters, historians could now extract information about places, people and events in pre-census and birth registry eras.  The importance of recovering stories can help researchers create a richer descriptions of places and people in history.  It could help historians visualize or perhaps reinterpret the past that would make sense for people in the digital age and the future.  (For more http://www.chartex.org/)

The Digging by Debating project on the other hand seeks to implement a multi-scale workbench they called “InterDebates” to dig into millions  of digitized books, bibliographic databases of journal articles, and comprehensive reference works written by experts. Starting with 2.6 million volumes of digitized Google Books collection, the project targets to develop new ways of searching and visualizing interaction in the social sciences particularly philosophy and psychology. The purpose is to help the public map the interactions and to analyze the arguments these resources contained. ( Click http://diggingbydebating.org/ )

Another is the “Digging into Human Rights Violations: Anaphora Resolutions and Emergent Witnesses” project. This research aims to develop systems that could help researchers, human rights advocates and courts divulge details and records of human rights violations and reconstruct their stories from fragmented collections of archival records of witnesses reports and reveal patterns of historic disappearances and violence. Key purpose is to develop software that could aid qualitative researchers to analyze human rights violations data. The project performed an extensive literature review of data on human rights violations and political science research methods. Their findings include, particularly in Canada, that human rights violation research lacks analysis from primary data; that most articles examined only publicly available secondary source with a narrow geographic focus. (Check http://digging.gsu.edu/)

For more of the DiD projects, the official website here: http://www.diggingintodata.org/Default.aspx

At the Digging into Data Challenge Conference 2013, Montreal

At the Digging into Data Challenge Conference 2013, Montreal

Challenges and Insights

The researchers shared their research experiences and offered some “remarkable insights” that funders, researchers and future DiD challengers must note.  Their take on open access and big data solidified previous analyses and assumptions about digitizing the social sciences.

Their experiences  were compelling and I was able to note some of them:

  • computational based research could enhance the quality and context of our research questions and help us find new ways to construct  more relevant questions. Also it helps us better understand the dynamics and link of large data sets, creativity, questioning and insights to digital humanities and the social sciences.
  • Constant dialogue between and within disciplinary perspectives is a must. A shared understanding and horizons shapes our research designs, approaches to development, processing of testing our methods and analysis of outcomes.
  • Knowledge dissemination is a must as “data do not travel easily”.
  • Conference presentations and journal publication can expand researchers audience and reach.
  • Importance of libraries, archives and data repositories are highlighted in digital research.
  • Distance is quite a challenge for coordination and handling of collected datasets. Face to face meetings is beneficial and developing a team identity is a critical research component.
  • Feedback are extremely important. Distance makes meeting rare and expensive.
  • Clear mutual understanding can help resolve difficult interdisciplinary and technical issues
  • Use a shared online workspace for easier sharing of document , reports, communication, etc.
  • Develop a shared glossary of terms.
  • Bid data success supports small data agendas.
  • Pay attention to technical infrastructure

The Case for Open Access

John Willinsky, a professor of education and a distinguished innovator at the Stanford School of Graduate Education, keynoted the DiD event.  Willinsky passionately advocated open source software, open data and access, use and re-use of data for research to expand the reach and effectiveness  of digital scholarship and communication.  Willinsky discussed the usefulness of data curation to scholarship, science and education and said that institutions and funding agencies should ensure that data are suitable for use and available for discovery and re-use.  There are other subsets of the larger curation process which includes archiving and preservation (UC San Deigo, 2013).  Willinsky’s message revolved around topics of data creation, data curation, digging into data to create new and alternative pathways and the case for open access as a public good.

For more discussion on open access, open journal, open software and scholarly publishing read John Willinsky’s paperback The Access Principle or check the Public Knowledge Project at http://pkp.sfu.ca/.

Invisible labor and big data collaborations

The afternoon presentation was keynoted by Sally Wyatt, Chair of the World Social Science Forum and Professor at the Netherlands Royal Academy of the Arts and Sciences. Wyatt’s presentation revolve around changing research contexts and data-based collaboration work.

Focusing on issues of digital scholarship in the humanities and social sciences,  Wyatt observed that knowledge creation and dissemination goes beyond the development and use of new computational tools.  The invisible cognitive contents and blind spots that influence knowledge codification, creation and communication could change our ways of knowing and perceiving digital data. The costly duplication of re-using data, fraud in the validation of results, conflicting interest, the lack of digital infrastructure, unstable access of remote resources and areas to digital knowledge, legal and ethical complexities, the learning, data gap, distributional constraints and digital waste among others could hamper credibility of digital data and research.

For more about digitization, invisible labor and the virtualization of knowledge check out Sally Wyatt’s forthcoming book Virtual Knowledge: Experimenting in the Humanities and the Social Sciences here http://research-acumen.eu/wp-content/uploads/VirtualKnowledge-MITpress.pdf

Openness and Digitizing the Social Sciences

The key actors and participants adjourned in an open space to discuss further their experiences and insights on how to improve the digital research methods and processes, sustain their projects and deepen interdisciplinary research.