More on identity and e-portfolio concepts

Another of Scott’s posts (the one titled “Identity and Principal” ) takes the credit for sending me to look at This blog post by Dave Snowden. Dave Snowden is here interesting and intellectually amusing, certainly, but also a bit disappointing. Of the given five “characteristics of an identity”, three are negative or privative:

  • An identity is not the same thing as a role.
  • An identity does not have rigid boundaries, nor is it susceptible of precise definition.
  • Identity is not absolute, it can change in context or over time

one is rather recondite

  • Identity in human systems is a strange attractor

and the last

  • Identity is established by robust resilience

asserts more about how identity operates than about its nature.

What I get positively from Snowden is fuel for the idea that the principal unit of social analysis should not be the individual, but the identity. Snowden writes “that focusing on identity not the individual as the primary unit of analysis resolves a lot of otherwise intractable problems.” Very nice, and I am heartily inclined to agree. Sometime I’d like to add more to the discussion on the nature of identity.

So back to Scott. He says

“The issue for ePortfolios is what are they intended to evidence – an identity or a principal? For me, identity is a far better choice and more easily accomplished. However, we have to give up the concept of one-portfolio-per-principal, as principals are no longer within the scope of concern. This also means no one system for managing portfolios.”

I agree and disagree. I support the idea that e-portfolio systems revolve primarily about identities, rather than “principals”. We said things to that effect in our paper for the EIfEL 2006 ePortfolio conference in Oxford. But the idea of one-portfolio-per-principal is not one which bears any scrutiny: I’d classify it as a straw man. Everyone is familiar with the idea of one CV per application, not per person. Most e-portfolio systems that allow presentations are built around the idea that different things will be revealed to different people.

The logic of the following point depends on the confusion between portfolio as presentation and portfolio as e-portfolio management system (EPMS). Of course one EPMS can manage several different presentations.