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Tanner Talks explore knowledge and communities

A series of cross-disciplinary talks kicks off Oct. 2 on the Utah State University Logan campus, where speakers will explore topics ranging from society to religion and information. UPR’s Matt Jensen reports.

They say the best ideas float to the top. One Utah State University researcher agrees, and says it also helps if those ideas are born in communities. John Allen is a community sociologist and dean of USU’s College of Humanities of Social Sciences. His research specializes in the intersection where information connects with social groups.

Allen will speak at the upcoming Tanner Talks – a series of discussions touching on community and knowledge. As part of his lecture, Allen will explore how the progress of information depends more on people working together than on individual self-interests.

“My concept is that through social relationship structures of human beings, we create communities; we create collectives," he said. "That creates platforms for innovation, for entrepreneurship, for individuals to feel part of something that’s greater than they are.”

One example of a group of people working together to advance information, he explains, is that of a traditional campus university where students and faculty come together to share ideas and learn.

Allen will discuss the role a university plays in preserving, disseminating and creating information.

“Universities are a place where we value - I hope - discourse about difficult topics, and where we value a variety of opinions, beliefs, and values," he added. "This is the place in the world where that takes place. If we don’t exist, where is that going to take place?”

The point, he explains, is not to discredit electronic learning or virtual interaction. Instead, he argues for the added benefits of engaging with others face to face in the exchange of ideas.

“That social relationship that exists lasts longer than the temporary interaction with the Internet," said Allen. "What I see with electronic information discourse, is that it’s temporary. There’s things that can occur at the human level that I’m not sure can occur through that technological format.”

Allen’s research also ties into conflict resolution and how interpersonal interactions can shift everything from complex business transactions to legal entanglements.

You can see his presentation at 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 2 at the Agricultural Sciences Building on the USU Logan campus room 101. With Utah Public Radio, I’m Matt Jensen.

See the Tanner Talks schedule here.