My notes on Hashemi, M. (2019). Bedouins of Silicon Valley: A neo-Khaldunian approach to sociology of technology. The Sociological Review. 

This hugely original paper seeks to counteract what Morteza Hashemi sees as an excessive focus on technological development in accounts of Silicon Valley, looking beyond this macro-social (often Schumpeterian) approach to “the evolution of Silicon Valley as a technological, economic and institutional phenomenon” to the micro-social questions which are implicit within it (pg 2). This is undertaken through a contemporary rereading of Ibn Khaldun’s theory, originally applied to the “Bedouin tribes of his day” whose members Would “learn to face daily crises without fear” because “[f]ailure to do this would put at stake their very survival” (pg 2). This was part of a hugely complex theory of social change, produced in the fourteenth centre, until recently confined to historical work which sought to place it in context but increasingly being taken up by sociologists exploring its contemporary relevance and capacity to be applied to issues like modern technology and technological innovation.

Ibn Khaldun developed an empirically-orientated social theory which sought to “distinguish between the series of events and their deep meanings, trajectories and recurring patterns” (pg 3) through a rational mentality, a rejection of rhetoric and an empirical examination of events. An important concept was asabiyya (group feeling), which Hashemi notes is often misdefined merely as solidarity. It refers to the “mutual emotional commitment, moral obligation and unity”, arising from sustained interaction under harsh conditions, “transform a simple interdependency into something more than that”: it is a “social mechanism able to create a powerful and functional unit which can survive and flourish under inhospitable conditions” (pg 4). He outlines on pg 4 the contrast Khaldun drew between the Bedouins and city dwellers, as well as the social dynamics which flowed from it:

The Bedouins, living in the harsh conditions of the desert, had become both skilled and trained, and their religion magnified their strong asabiyya/group feeling. The city-dwellers, on the other hand, with their secure life inside the city walls were mostly inclined towards a luxurious lifestyle and the delights of civilization. This left their society fragile in the face of the attacks of the hardier Bedouins. The point is that once the Bedouins had conquered the cities and built their own empire they were soon themselves absorbed into the life of the civilized world, thereby losing their outstanding merits and qualities, including the essential element of asabiyya. Hence, they would in their turn be replaced by new tribes of Bedouin conquerors. His estimate was that each dynasty of Bedouin conquerors could survive up to four generations. After the fourth generation of rulers, the former Bedouins would have become so accustomed to the safe, sedentary life as to be in danger of a new invasion by another group of Bedouins.

Over time inherited tradition (which I assume encompasses institutions, as well as beliefs) comes be relied upon more than the achieved qualities of the group, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with emerging challenges. Hashemi strips away the underlying environmental determinism and retains this core “notion of a cycle in which risk-takers replace risk-avoiders” (pg 4). Training is central to this because it cultivates a certain kind of group with certain kinds of orientations towards risk. It involves the accumulation of aptitudes which Hashemi notes has affinities with Bourdieu’s concept of habits. Their difference is in moments of crisis and rupture where Bourdieu understood the habitus would fail in its action guiding capacity. In contrast Khaldun saw crisis as crucial for the development of the aptitudes. As Hashemi elegantly puts it on pg 6, “for Bourdieu the game almost stops when it comes to crisis, for Ibn Khaldun crisis is the very game”: it is the norm rather than the exception.

It is a conception with a collective focus, orientated towards how the group weathers the crisis and how they are changed in the process. If I understand correctly, it’s crucial to note this does not imply unity; some of these effects happen individually, forming group characteristics through aggregation, while remaining a collective process. Drawing on Sloterdijk’s work, Hashemi reads Khaldun as having identified two anthropotechnic systems, corresponding to the latter’s distinction between city-dwellers (relying on the institutions) and Bedouins (relying on themselves):

The one is the luxurious way of shaping life that entails externalization and outsourcing of some vital skills. The other system is about cultivating those skills and relying on one’s inner abilities. (pg 9)

As he goes on to write on pg 10, Khaldun’s social theory is deeply relevant to a world characterised by risk, ‘disruption’, uncertainty and change:

For Ibn Khaldun, hazard, destruction and catastrophe are not the only results of a crisis. Crises are human-made, but they also make human beings. Crises are training camps. They are the source of construction as well as destruction. In the words of Nietzsche, that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.

He analyses the rise of the geeks in these terms, originally “an underground network of college students, university students and computer scientists who cared about the internet as an open and powerful infrastructure which can fundamentally transform aspects of our life” bound together by a shared marginalisation and a faith in the transformative possibilities offered by technology (pg 11). There are four elements to Khaldun’s conception of training which we can see in the ascendency of the geeks: “step-by-step training under conditions of hardship” (toiling in obscurity, in co-working spaces or incubators, without any guarantee of respite), “the power arising from the combination of Bedouin training and a charismatic leader who is an authority behind external law” (the role of the VCs or investors in transforming their fortunes), risk-taking (the constant necessary to avoid being superseded, the source of organisational renewal). I felt it was a shame the paper stopped here because the real force of this line of argument would be subsequent cycle of decline and challenge likely to be faced by the now ascended geeks. But it’s a fantastically original and thought-provoking paper which has left me eagerly anticipating a sequel.

My notes on Rowlands, I., Nicholas, D., Russell, B., Canty, N., & Watkinson, A. (2011). Social media use in the research workflow. Learned Publishing, 24(3), 183-195.

I was fascinated to stumble across this paper from 2011 which I’d somehow managed to miss in the past, reporting on a project funded by Emerald investigating social media use amongst academics. The authors reflect on what they see as a recent change in scholarly attitudes, noting that “[o]nce things change in the digital world they change unbelievably quickly. As they write elsewhere on pg 183:

Researchers appear to have moved from outright scepticism, to pockets of scepticism to virtually no scepticism at all. Whereas it was cool to rubbish social media three years ago, it now appears to be cool to listen and praise

The research used a survey sent through a number of participating publishers (Wiley, Taylor & Francis, Emerald, Kluwer, and CUP) supplemented by an e-mail to staff across UCL and delegates at the 2010 Charleston Conference. They received 4,012 responses out of nearly 10,000 invitations to participate, including publishers, librarians and university administrators. Responses were received from 215 countries and included 1,923 respondents who were actively using social media. These were compared to a contrast group of 491 researchers who had yet to use social media, with questions raised by the research further explored through a focus group, but the relevant methodological details for either group are confusingly absent from the paper.

They asked about eight categories of tool: social networking; blogging; microblogging; collaborative authoring tools for sharing and editing documents; social tagging and bookmarking; scheduling and meeting tools; conferencing; image or video sharing. What now seem like the most obvious examples of social media figure relatively marginally amongst their uses: 27% used social networking tools, 23.2% used imager video sharing tools, 14.6% blogged, 9.2% microblogged and 8.9% used social book marking services (pg 185). It’s interesting to note that 63% used tools in only one or two of the eight categories they inquired into, with a tiny few using 6 (2.6%), 7 (1%) or 8 (0.7%) (pg 186). Blogging/microblogging and Social networking/microblogging were the two most common pairings of tools by researchers. Interestingly, they found that men tended to have a stronger preference for LinkedIn over other social networking services and younger respondents preferred Facebook to LinkedIn.

They note that familiar brands dominate the lists within each category, what they describe as “generic, popular services” on pg 186, speculating that there might be a market niche for much specialised tools designed for academics in the future. It’s interesting to theorise about why this might be so: they are familiar, widely used, easy to pick up, come with an existing social network and have the promise of access to a much broader audience beyond that network. As they put it later in the paper, these are tools which are “generally very intuitive and require little or no third-party maintenance” (pg 191). As they put it on pg 194, researchers are demonstrably drawn to these tools and “it is worth investing time in these mass market tools as their research colleagues worldwide are committing to the same tools”. They stress this point again in the conclusion: researchers are “largely appropriating generic tools rather than using specialist or custom-built solutions and both publishers and librarians need to adapt to this reality”.

Scientists were the biggest users, something which they suggest can be partly explained by the team structures within which they work. It would be interesting to speculate whether these relatively minor divergences (e.g. 95% of earth science respondents vs 84% of social science respondents) might have been closed as digital social scientists have ‘caught’ up. Younger respondents were more likely to use microblogging, social tagging, and bookmarking, though they caution against age-based interpretations of social media uptake, suggesting that the significant difference is the “passion exhibited for social media by the young” rather than their choice of tools as such (pg 188). It’s important to meet people where they are and it might be more effective, as in their example, participating in Facebook communities than creating their own branded spaces.

To make sense of the implications for the research process, they identify seven stages while noting these are analytical constructs which simplify the messy reality of research: identifying research opportunities, finding collaborators, securing support, reviewing the literature, collecting research data, analysing research data, disseminating findings, and finally managing the research process (pg 190). Their findings provide some reason to believe that social media tends to  be used across these categories, rather than being confined to any particular one. Their findings on perceived benefits amongst these users are very interesting, presented on pg 192:

Social media was used to compliment existing forms of dissemination, rather than displace them. It was interesting that when it came to perceived obstacles, a lack of clarity over the precise benefits was most pronounced; while many early adopters discovered the benefits “through personal curiosity, and trial and error” the fact these weren’t clear to others hindered their possible adoption (pg 192).

Kicking myself I can’t make the date for this conference organised by Eric Lybeck:

Call for Papers (LINK)

Academics, Professionals and Publics:
Changes in the Ecologies of Knowledge Work

4 April 2019
University of Manchester, UK
Organiser: Eric Lybeck, Manchester Institute of Education

Keynote speakers:

Andrew Abbott, University of Chicago
Vivienne Baumfield, University of Exeter
Linda Evans, University of Manchester

A PARADOX: never in human history has the role of knowledge been as central to the organisation of our work, politics and experiences as in our 21st century globalized societies. Yet, we also find today a rising distrust in experts, academics and professionals amongst the public, politicians and, indeed, other experts in differentiated disciplinary and professional fields.

Are there historical precedents for the growing challenges to the authority of knowledge workers and professional expertise? Are there aspects of the way knowledge is presently organized institutionally, politically and publicly that causes these dynamics? What is – and, what should be the relationship between universities, their graduates and wider societies? Have we reached the limits of a particular set of functions – the education of increasing cohorts of students and professionals; the advancement of economically profitable technical innovations; social justice activism – or, are we destined to add more and more roles and structures to an already highly complex global university system?

This conference to be held 4 April in Manchester will assess the role of academics and professionals and the knowledge economy, in general, to reflect critically on the past, present and future of the academic profession within a field of professions (and other occupations) – taking stock of what has led to our present condition, while perhaps signalling a navigable course for the future.

Call for abstracts:

We encourage interested members of the academy (any discipline), professions and public to submit abstracts for consideration in the programme, which will take place across one day in concurrent panels, workshops and keynote speeches.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to: the role of academic knowledge in professional education and practice; populist distrust of expertise; the role of think-tanks, consultancies and ‘non-academic’ forms of expertise; the changing role of knowledge in policy-making; histories of experts and professions, including artisan, trade and other occupational groups; economists’ and consultants’ role in law, education, science policy, etc.; professionals as public intellectuals; professionals, academics, students and political activism; professional services within university administration; academic work-life; sociology of higher education; inequalities of higher education and/or professional employment by race, class, gender, etc.; policy discourse and professionals as carrier groups; neoliberalism and professional expertise; individualisation vs. collective professional ethics; jurisdictional competition between and amongst professions; leadership and development; professional careers; crises of expertise, historical and present; the civic role of universities; rankings of universities and professional schools; international experiences of higher education and/or professional careers.

Please send 250 word abstracts to before 15 February.

Further Conference Details:

Further details regarding the conference will become available early March. In the meantime, we encourage interested participants to arrange travel and accommodation for the morning, afternoon and evening of 4 April in Manchester. The main costs of the conference itself are funded by the Leverhulme Trust as part of the organiser’s early career fellowship, ‘The Academic Self: Changes in University Expectations Since 1800’. There may be a nominal fee requested to cover the costs of refreshments, which will be announced in March. We are also actively exploring facilities to support childcare and reduced fees for early career researchers and will have more news of this in due course.

Any questions or comments, including registration of interest for future email updates and news, can be directed to

My notes on MacIntyre, A. (2018). Charles Taylor and dramatic narrative: Argument and genrePhilosophy & Social Criticism44(7), 761-763.

This short reflection by Alasdair MacIntyre, one of my favourite philosophers, concerns the intellectual legacy of Charles Taylor, undoubtedly my favourite. He stresses how the reputation of Taylor would have been ensured by his earlier work, establishing himself as both an historian of philosophy and a major contributor to important debates. But it was Sources of the Self and A Secular Age which took his work to a unique level:

Both advance philosophical theses and arguments, but theses and arguments that are put to very different uses from those characteristic of philosophical writing. The change is a change both in genre and in the relationship of author to readers. For Taylor’s theses and arguments find their place in a story which claims to be no less than that of our shared culture, a story of the transformations in how we have come to understand ourselves.

The first tells the story of how we have come to understand ourselves (the formation of our conception “of subjectivity, of reason as requiring disengagement from world and body and, in consequence, an instrumental stance, of the significance of the transactions of everyday life, of the sentiments, and of art understood as the natural expression of feeling”) and the second tells the story of how we have come to understand our relation to what is outside of ourselves and what this means for our orientation to our existence (“a sense of fullness, a sense of, at moments an anticipation of, what it would be to have our lives completed and fulfilled”). As MacIntyre puts it, these are unlike histories of any kind previously seen. Their historical detail has been addressed as a matter of critique but he argues these critics often miss the point:

What such critics have failed to recognize is that the only adequate critical and dissenting response to Taylor would be to construct or at least to gesture towards the construction of an alternative and rival narrative, one that accounted for all that Taylor accounts for and more, one that in addition explains why Taylor’s narrative advances a defective account of modernity and of secularization.

The point is a profound one. Most work in philosophy or the social sciences presupposes a vantage point of precisely the sort Taylor has explicated, a more or less systematic set of assumptions about the way we are, how we have come to understand ourselves and how this has unfolded throughout history. MacIntyre suggests recognition of this is Taylor’s greatest achievement and I agree.

It is a vantage point I’ve been drawn to since I first read his work over a decade ago and it’s one which has an inordinate value to me. Part of the fascination the late modernity literature held for me for so long was the promise of a similar vantage point, with the promise of being much more empirically grounded. I eventually came to the conclusion it wasn’t any such thing yet I still find myself drawn to the terrain Taylor has mapped out which sits so uneasily between philosophy, sociology and history.

My notes on Skeggs, B. (2019). The forces that shape us: The entangled vine of gender, race and classThe Sociological Review67(1), 28-35.

How do we make sense of the influence of Antony Giddens? The first page of his Google Scholar profile shows 149,243 citations with many more to be expected if one were inclined to dig into the long tale of his many publications. He defined the cannon for an entire generation of social theorists, offering an account of the ‘founding fathers’ which became a shared reference point. His structuration theory drew together diverse strands in a way which directly and indirectly exercised a great influence over the landscape of social theory for decades. He wrote the best selling textbook, now in its eighth edition, introducing sociology to successive cohorts of A Level students and novice undergraduates. He cofounded Policy Press which radically reshaped the terrain of social theory and introduced continental philosophy into the Anglophone theoretical mainstream. He was director of LSE, one of the leading research universities in the world. He was architect of the New Labour notion of the third way, exercising an enormous influence over the self-understanding of this government and its subsequent trajectory. However I find it hard to write this without thinking back to Tony Benn’s observation that “Anthony Giddens just hovers round trying to put an ideological cloak around whatever is being discussed”. This blistering critique from Bev Skeggs in a new paper made me think back to his comment:

I think sociology lost its critical edge when a nationalist, individualist, presentist analysis was offered by the likes of Giddens and Beck. Sociology became a source of legitimation, not a force of critique. We should never forget that Giddens was an architect of New Labour’s ‘third way’, an apologist for the institutional structures that enabled neoliberal policies to be implemented. Through his publishing enterprises Giddens has saturated sociology with this apologist perspective. Most sociologists encounter Giddens from A-level, often throughout their degrees. Giddens and Beck both proposed the denigration of class as a key unit of analysis for sociologists; yet, analysis of class can only be wilfully ignored by those with enough privilege to do so. The occlusion of attention to the processes, structures and forces that produce class (and gender, race, sexuality), i.e. those of capital, capitalism and colonialism, I would argue, was not a conspiracy but a complacency of the comfortable, a perspective of privilege.

Even if it’s a matter of political gossip, I feel we should take Benn’s remark seriously. To what extend did Giddens move across sectors in pursuit of political influence and what did this mean for the work he produced? The discursive armoury fashioned in his early 1990s work on late modernity surely provided all the instruments he needed to “put an ideological cloak” around whatever was being discussed in New Labour circles: an epochal, justificatory, exciting framing which lifted discussion out of the quagmire of politics and policy, making it seems as if history was whispering in the ear of those present.

Skeggs supports the call of Satnam Virdee, to which this essay was originally a response at the Undisciplining conference, for an end to this complacency and a return to the critique of ‘progress’, the question of ‘in whose interests?’, the reclamation of an historical frame of reference, the recognition of over-determination and the “the contradictions between race, class and gender”. If we reclaim the past in this way, rejecting what Mike Savage has elsewhere characterised as epochal sociology, it becomes easier to see how it continues on in the present. As Skeggs writes of financialisation and digital capitalism:

Rent seeking is a major form and force of capital value. Just think of digital companies who extract billions per year through rent, e.g. for cloud computing (Amazon), extracting rent through monetizing your personal data (Facebook), extracting rent though monetizing your search data (Google). Rent as profit is now a major force, existing alongside surplus value production from labour. Interest from debt (rent from money lending) is another source of expropriation that continues to expand as capital is reorganized through financialization (Lapavitsas, 2013). And technology labour platforms such as Deliveroo extract rent whilst also exploiting labour, and Uber extracts rent, exploits through labour and also generates interest on debt through car purchase. Connecting expropriation to exploitation is now more easily identified and absolutely necessary to understanding contemporary capitalism, and how it shapes our daily lives.

Classifications ossify and they circulate and undergo institutionalisation, becoming part of the order of things as “they are used by capitalists and their managers over time” and enforced through the actions of the state. As Skeggs cautions, “Never underestimate the power of managers and state officials to enforce difference”. In the absence of a historical understand, our conceptual apparatus will be ill-equipped to understand either the present or the future. We lapse into complacency because we lack the tools to see what is urgent, even if it is right in front of our face. Skeggs over evocative description of the analytical and political challenge our present conjuncture poses:

Devices beyond our control or even understanding are giving money and trade a life of their own. The world of finance is heavily invested in high frequency trading, which only algorithms that machine learn understand. Huge investments are made in block chain technology which even fewer people understand. These are the instruments that shape our daily lives, determine whether we can pay our bills, rent, mortgages, whether our national currency stays afloat and whether trading between nations can occur. Alongside deregulated political manipulation of the Brexit kind, there is a huge distribution of wealth upwards enabled by investment vehicles (and for the conspiracy theorists amongst you – Robert Mercer is key to both worlds). Repeating historical legacies, a huge amount of violence is lived by vulnerable populations, designated as disposable and deportable. People struggle to stay alive against militarization, against structural adjustment policies in the Global South and austerity in the Global North.

Recognising how historical conditions “enabled our existence as particular types of potential value, as property, as rent, as the lubricant of social reproduction that enables capital to continue its travels” is crucial if we wish to avoid remaining “entrenched in privileged provincial perspectives”. She ends with by asking how did sociology get so side-tracked and reflects on what it is for when so many crucial turnings have been missed:

How did we get so distracted? Why did sociology refuse to engage with the crucial anti-racist analysis of Cultural Studies, from Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Les Back, Erol Lawrence, Hazel Carby? Or the wonderful feminists from history: Catherine Hall, Anna Davin, Carole Dyhouse, Ann McClintock, Vron Ware and many more from History Workshop Journal? What happened to the resistance detailed by the historical studies of power? Do we know about the motley crew? The pirates, the many-headed hydra? The many refusals against becoming surplus and disposable? Or the struggles together as the working class recognizes that divide and rule only benefits those with power, that Satnam identifies. When sociology turned its back on the state, away from education and social policy into the world of legitimation, it lost its traction. All those battles between anti-racism and multiculturalism were overlooked.

There’s an interesting account in Tim Shipman’s Brexit book of how the Remain campaign constructed their war book. This contained the core message of the campaign, anticipated their opponent’s strategies and distilled the findings of their research. It was written over a number of months by the two lead strategists, condensing the outcomes of activity undertaken over a few months prior to this. It then guided their activity over many more months.

What struck me about this was the time horizons involved: around six months of work guiding around six months of action, if I’m remembering the dates correctly. Given the volatility of social life during this time, itself amplified by both campaigns, can it be assumed that enough will remain stable for the assumed time horizon of the war book to be viable? If strategy is a direction finder, helping us respond to changing conditions by selecting which direction to go in and which techniques to adopt to get there, working with an ossified strategy can be fatally undermining.

Could this be part of what went wrong for the Remain campaign? Does the increasing volatility of contemporary politics necessitate more agile forms of political strategy? Do these conditions make the intuition driven campaigning of someone like Donald Trump much more viable than it would otherwise be? Intuition is a powerful response to unpredictable circumstances, ensuring you always have a response to fall back on even if events entirely repudiate whatever expectations you’d formed.

I try new things, I shoot films on my phone
And I play them back when I’m alone, did that happen?
I walk around, trying to understand every sound
Trying to make my feet connect with every inch of ground
The sky flattens my cap, battens me down
Everything’s in its category, packaged in self flattering girls
Battle reality, it’s battle royale
Everyone is chattering, nothing is real, collect my salary
Cookin’ a meal, rice and vegetables, I exercise regularly
How that I feel, visceral melody, is this all that’s ahead of me?
I always thought that life would mean more to me eventually
I hate to think I’ll make it to 70, potentially 75
And realise I’ve never been alive
Spend the rest of my days regretting, wishing I could be forgetting

Thanks to Filip Vostal for pointing me towards this superb cfP:

Special Issue of Postdigital Science and Education

Call for Papers: Lies, Bullshit and Fake News Online: Should We Be Worried?

Link to Call for Papers

Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, and the alleged interference of Russia in that election, there have been increasing concerns that fake news in online platforms is undermining the legitimacy of the press, the democratic process, and the authority of sources such as science, the social sciences and qualified experts. The global reach of Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms has shown that they can be used to spread fake and misleading news quickly and seemingly without control. In addition to their power and reach, these platforms operate, and indeed thrive, in what seems to be an increasingly balkanised media eco-system where networks of users will predominantly access and consume information that conforms to their existing worldviews. Conflicting positions, even if relevant and authoritative, are suppressed, discredited or overlooked.

Should we be concerned? It is tempting to think that with the intense reporting on lies, bullshit and fake news, publics everywhere are facing a crisis of honesty and trust through calculated onslaughts on these values. However, the dissemination of false or misleading news, negative campaigns about disfavoured people or groups, and lies, scams and bullshit, is hardly new. Propaganda is an ancient art that has been disseminated through state-controlled media in modern times, through the theatre, games and festivals in ancient times, and through pamphlets and handwritten books before we used modern machinery to communicate on a mass scale. Propaganda was as much used in the French Revolution as it was in the Second World War and the Vietnam War, and both communism and fascism used revolutionary propaganda with some ferocity in the 20th century.

But perhaps there is something that marks out our times as having surpassed practices of deliberate misinformation in other periods. With most people now using online platforms, including social media feeds, as their main source of news, views, and evidence, we are led to ask: what is the difference between a lie, bullshit and a fake news story? Is it defensible to lie, bullshit or spread fake stories? Whom can we trust? How do online users distinguish the fake from the real, the truthful from the dishonest, and an authority from a propagandist?

For this special issue we are looking for papers from across a range of disciplines that focus on questions and conceptions of:

  • Lies, fakery and bullshit in modern social media
  • Epistemic trust and authority online
  • Epistemologies of ignorance – how these are created, produced and sustained
  • The role of digital and information literacies, and linguistic framing
  • The role of platforms in the dissemination of fake news, hoaxes and misinformation
  • The role of education and online platforms in addressing these issues and improving the health of public conversations.

More information in Guest Editors’ article Lies, Bullshit and Fake News: Some Epistemological Concerns.


For further information and authors’ guidelines see Postdigital Science and Education.

Guest Editors

Alison MacKenzie, Queen’s University, Belfast, UK,

Ibrar Bhatt, Queen’s University, Belfast, UK,

Important Dates

1 March 2019 – Deadline for extended abstracts (700-800 words) (submitted by e-mail to Guest Editors)

15 May 2019 – Deadline for full papers (submitted through online submission system)

1 July 2019 – Deadline for reviewer feedback

1 October 2019 – Final deadline for revised papers

Accepted articles are immediately published as Online First.

The Special Issue will be published in December 2019.

Organised by Dyi Huijg at London South Bank University:

The Critical Pedagogy HE Teaching Practice (CPHETP) Lab is intended for all of those who teach in Higher Education (from professors to graduate teaching assistants) and who seek to practically develop their HE teaching practice and, grounded in critical pedagogy principles, expand their teaching tools (e.g for group dynamics, teaching methods and ethics). Interested in theoretical and pedagogical reflections, the CPHETP Lab aims to be a hands-on space to explore one’s teaching practice; to try out, adjust, invent and to develop creative and participatory tools that we can employ in our seminars and lectures. As a spin-off of the Critical Pedagogy Project, the Lab seeks to draw inspiration from, among many others, bell hooks (Teaching to Transgress, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope) and Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed). In this first Lab we will, in the first half, explore our ideas and expectations around our HE teaching practice(s) and further Labs and, in the second half, explore one or more specific teaching tools.

There are no preparatory readings, but if you are not familiar with critical pedagogy then it is suggested to familiarise yourself beforehand. There is no registration fee, but please register via Eventbrite so that we know your name so you can access the building. Please feel invited to get in touch regarding disability related and other access needs and queries.

Date: Friday 25 January 2019

Time: 3-5pm

Location: Room 204, Keyworth Centre, London South Bank University

Address:  Keyworth Centre, Keyworth Street, London, SE1 6NG

Access needs: The building and room are wheelchair accessible. We will not use any audio-visual technology. Please get in touch to discuss any needs and queries you have.

Food & drink:  Not supplied, but feel free to bring your own.


Contact: Dyi Huijg: huijgd AT

More info: Critical Pedagogy Project:

My notes on Al-Amoudi, I. (2018). Management and dehumanisation in Late Modernity. In Realist Responses to Post-Human Society: Ex Machina (pp. 182-194). Routledge.

What does it mean to talk about work as dehumanising? In this insightful paper, Ismael Al-Amoudi identifies a number of senses in which management practices can be dehumanising:

  1. The “oppression or denial of human flourishing” such that “we cannot be fully human in organisations and societies that repress the development of specifically human powers” e.g. “our capacity for instrumental, moral and aesthetic reasoning”, “our capacity to feel and express refined emotions and our crucially important capacity to act out of love and solidarity” (pg 182).
  2. The “dehumanisation of subalterns” regarded as”lacking characteristic human traits and are thus denied basic human rights” (pg 182).
  3. Those “dehumanisation processes” which involve “the replacement of human activity by automated processes of production and organisation operating differently from human reflexivity and sense making”, as in “humans being increasingly replaced by ‘intelligent’ machines and governed by information systems” (pg 182).

He cautions that ‘dehumanisation’ is a polysemic term and thus these senses might overlap in practice. It is a term that can easily be used in imprecise ways which inject confusion in debates. Furthermore, it has often be used to justify what should not be justified and promises an easy sense of moral security. As he puts it, its “heavily value-laden” character is both “worthy and dangerous” (pg 183) but it’s one should persist with when the alternative is a technocratic outlook which gives no pause for what makes the human valuable. While the human is always open to contestation, affirming it provides a normative foundation upon which such contestation can take place. In this sense, it’s an important resource for critical social science.

These are not new considerations, even if they’ve often been framed in terms of other than dehumanisation. Weber’s account of bureaucracy in which “[h]uman persons were increasingly subject to forms of rational-legal authority” both “in terms of limiting the range of legitimate actions” and “restricting human interpretations, emotions and bonds” cast dehumanisation in the first and third sense as the telos of bureaucracy (pg 185). Virtues like “efficiency, calculability, predictability and control”, the “fundamental tenants of professional management and science”, found their origin in bureaucracy with all their dehumanising consequences. However what has changed, suggests Al-Amoudi, is the concern of management to obfuscate this process and mask its consequences.

He goes on to consider how declining employment security then the decline of the welfare state have contributed to a situation in which “it becomes impossible to formulate coherent life projects” where increasing numbers of young people “have so little certainty a few years ahead about their social and economic conditions that they are unable to start a family or even make meaningful friendships” (pg 187). Even those who have a job might feel it shouldn’t exist, as in David Graeber’s ‘bullshit jobs’ concepts, with all this implies about their capacity for fulfilment and happiness when work figures so prominently in their life. Voice and exit which might have been plausible responses in an earlier period are increasingly denied, with important consequences for the form which resist to dehumanisation might take. In some cases this results in violence which is widely deemed to be shocking, but this violence is a response to more insidious forms of violence which can be found within the labour process. He draws on Mbembe’s account of necrocapitalism and cites examples such as “workers in sweatshops, indigenous populations displaced and sometimes massacred for their lands, unjust wars beneficial to what President Eisenhower termed ‘the military-industrial complex” which indicate how violence at less exceptional and more generalised outside the global north.

Al-Amoudi argues that attention to dehumanisation serves two purposes. Firstly, it allows us to distinguish between forms of violence which are ethically problematic and those which are not i.e. “when those involved in violence see their human powers wither rather than flourish” or “when it negates human dignity” and “recasts victims as less human than perpetrators” (pg 188). He cites the example of a boxing match here but I’m not convinced about the general point, as I’m struggling to think of workplace cases where violence might be acceptable. Furthermore, one could easily make the case that the warlord flourishes in his exercise of violence, even though it remains reprehensible. Secondly, focusing on dehumanisation lets us “examine the social conditions of such violence and, when appropriate, to criticise them” (pg 188). He then moves onto a prospective mode to consider what ‘smart technologies’ might mean for dehumanisation, asking a number of important questions:

  1. Who will own the robots in the factories and the algorithms upon which our devices depend? What new forms of exclusion and subalternity will develop?
  2. What effect will increased workplace competition driven by smart technology have on our willingness to accept technological enhancement of human beings? What human powers might be extended and which might be lost?
  3. What inequalities will develop between humans and transhumans? What forms of organisation could help mitigate these inequalities?
  4. How will our interactions with robots change how we interact with other humans?
  5. What threshold will machines have to reach in exhibiting signs of humanity for us to be willing to respect their rights?

One crucial theme in the chapter is the relationship between management studies and management practice. He cautions that “the vast majority of management and organisational studies to date ignore the historically contingent cultural and social structures within which managerial groups operate” producing  “an historical vision of human organisations” and a “dangerous fantasy of humanity without without a history” (pg 190).

My notes on Lazega, E. (2005). A Theory of Collegiality and its Relevance for Understanding Professions and knowledge-intensive Organizations. In Organisation und profession (pp. 221-251). VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

I came to know Emmanuel Lazega over the last five years through my involvement with the Centre for Social Ontology. I initially found his approach difficult to follow, simply because it was quite different from anything I’ve been exposed to previously, but in recent years I’ve begun to understand it and see it as hugely important. Much of his recent work concerns “[c]omplex tasks that cannot be routinized” and the role they play in “professional and knowledge intensive work” (pg 1) and its relationship to bureaucracy. He is interested in the competition between these two trends, collegiality and bureaucratisation, understood as modes of rationalization which are by their nature in tension. This defines a “theoretical continuum between bureaucracy and collegiality” on which organisations can be located empirically, highlighting their co-existence in compound form within actually existing organisations. In doing so, he breaks from Neo-Weberian theories which identify formal characteristics obtaining to different kinds of organisations (collegial, bureaucratic, monocratic) and instead develops a multi-level approach that looks at “the individual, relational and organizational levels at the same time” (pg 2). He begins with the strategic rationality of actors and builds upwards, as described on pg 2:

Such an approach assumes that individuals have a strategic rationality. It looks at members as niche seeking entrepreneurs selecting exchange partners, carving out a place for themselves in the group and getting involved in various forms of status competition. From this conception of actors, it derives the existence of generic social mechanisms that are needed to sustain this form of collective action, in particular that of generalized exchange, lateral control, and negotiation of precarious values. It is rooted, first, in the analysis of the production process
and task-related resource dependencies; and, secondly, in the analysis of derived governance mechanisms. The latter are theoretically derived from the notion of relational investment.

On this view collegial modes of organising provide solutions to problems of collective action amongst peers i.e. people who are formally equal in power. Such collaboration is a prominent feature of knowledge-intensive organisations, raising the question of how “organizations without permanent bosses and followers, in which all members ultimately have a formally equal say in running operations or exercising control, are able to operate” (pg 2). Examples of where such collaboration can be found include “corporate law firms, engineering and technology firms, architecture firms, advertising agencies, medical wards, consulting firms, investment banks, scientific laboratories, religious congregations, and many other organizations bringing together recognized experts” (pg 2). HHow is agreement reached without resort to coercion in such organisational forms? How is quality ensured without command and control? How does innovation happen without it being directed hierarchically? How does the organisation adapt to legal, technological and social change? As he summarises on pg 18: problems include “getting, organizing, and doing work; maintaining quality; distributing income; preserving unity; reproducing workers; controlling deviance; and balancing continuity with change”.As he puts it on pg 11 “[u]nable to pull rank on peers, members of collegial organizations need decentralized controls”. If I understand him correctly these are just some of the collective action challenges which are generically faced by collegial modes of organisation. However an adequate account of how this operates empirically must recognise the dimension of power, defined on pg 5:

Power is defined as the ability of individuals or groups in the organization to impose their will on others as a result of resource dependencies. In the case of collective action among peers, however, such dependencies are often less permanent and more complex than in bureaucracies. Power is shared, then aggregated upwards to be exercised simultaneously by several positions in a `polycratic’ system. There are also norms concerning this exercise, especially for legitimization of inequality and justification of acceptance of inequality.

Social ties within the collegial organisation facilitate access to resources like good will, advice or friendship that may directly or indirectly have ramifications for the production process. For Weberians these have been seen as “particularistic obstacles to efficient collective action” and consequentially their significance in “help[ing] members cooperate and exchange, monitor, pressure, and sanction each other, and negotiate precarious values” has been missed (pg 5). These are the context within which the strategic rationality of actors plays out, giving rise to generic mechanisms which characterise the operation of social discipline within collegial organisations. This is the point where I start to feel a bit out of my depth so please take these notes with a pinch of salt:

Niche seeking involves the partial suspense of calculative behaviour, producing a ‘bounded solidarity’ in which co-operation can occur without the expectation of immediate reciprocity. Niche seeking produces a proto-group structure which makes it easier for members to access the resources they need (commitment to work together, professional advice, personal support – pg 8) for co-operation and work together in pursuit of a shared objective or cluster of objectives. It can be threatened by status competition which is an endemic tension within collegial organisation, as forms of co-operation (e.g. ‘brainstorming’) depend on the suspension of status for their efficacy but also often require the intervention of someone (usually of higher status) to draw it to a close and define where it goes. If I understand correctly, the problem is one of collective interests (sharing information and experience as much as possible) clashing with individual interests (stressing their own knowledge and experience in order to increase their standing vis-a-vis their peers). The nature of interaction means members compete over the capacity to define the terms of their interaction while collective action requires a converging definition of the situation in order to be succesful. The niche is where this tension can be temporarily and precariously resolved, mitigating the problem of status competition but remaining continually threatened by it.

It is important to stress that status in Lazega’s sense is multidimensional, “not only based on seniority and money; it has a particularly strong dimension of prestige, of symbolic recognition of a member’s contribution, and of ongoing critical judgements about members’ quality” (pg 16). Formal equality constrains the forms which status competition can take and means it unfolds through all manner of routes, including the deployment of the notion of collegiality or professionalism (and attendant ideas) for personal advantage within the organisation:

This implies that informal authority of members with status is based not only on control of all sorts of resources (important clients, workforce, day-to-day operations, technical competence, experience), but also on their capacity to manipulate relationships to create consensus, on their firm-specific strategic culture. By this I mean a political know-how allowing them to be players in a power game deemphasizing unilateral impositions of strength and encouraging learning and mutual prescription in negotiations. This requires a capacity to share with others a certain code of collegial relations and an ideology of collegiality (Frischkopf 1973)–that is, a certain conception of professionalism. For example, the mix of an adversarial and pushy professional culture, on the one hand, and of personalized and unobtrusive lateral control, on the other hand, are not always easy to combine for partners in a corporate law firm. This also requires rhetorical manipulation of an ideology of collegiality in debates about professionalism, especially when members with market power try to pressure others for consensus around their own conception of professionalism.

Lateral control regimes reflect the challenge involved in ensuring compliance, without the exercise of hierarchical relations. If I understand him correctly, collegial organisation tends to preclude formal command-and-control as well informal conflicts likely to destroy bounded solidarity. This is why informal interventions “in order to curb behaviour perceived to be unprofessional or opportunistic”  become so important, motivated by restoration of flow of resources which the problematic behaviour is seen to have impeded. These “start with convergent expressions of normative expectations, unobtrusive and unsolicited advice and the spread of gossip” before escalating (pg 12).

Call for Papers

Deadline for submissions: January 31, 2019

DATA POWER: global in/securities

A two-day, international conference

Date: Thursday 12th and Friday 13th SEPTEMBER 2019

Venue: University of Bremen, Germany

With increasingly globalized digital infrastructures and a global digital political economy, we face new concentrations of power, leading to new inequalities and insecurities with respect to data ownership, data geographies and different data-related practices.  It is not only a concentration of power by a few corporations, but also a concentration of the availability of data in individual regions of the world. This includes (exerting) power about data (infra)structures and processes of data creation, data collection, data access, data processing, data interpretation, data storing, data visualisations.

The Global in/securities theme of the 2019 Data Power conference attends to questions around these phenomena, asking: How does data power further or contest global in/securities? How are global in/securities constructed through or against data? How do civil society actors, government, people engage with societal and individual in/securities through and with data? What are appropriate ontologies to think about data and persons? How may we envisage a just data society? And what does decolonizing data in/securities look like?

This conference creates a space to reflect on these and other critical issues relating to data’s in/security and its decolonizing. Confirmed keynote speakers are:

  • Virginia Eubanks, University at Albany, USA;
  • Jack Linchuan Qiu, Chinese University Hongkong;
  • Seeta Peña Gangadaran, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK;
  • Nimmi Rangaswamy, Indian Institute of Information Technology, IIIT, Hyderabad, India.

Papers and panels are invited on the following – and other relevant – topics:

  • Big data and humanitarianism
  • Big/open data, corruption and public debt
  • ‘Good’ data, data justice and well-being
  • Critical, theoretical and feminist approaches to data in/securities
  • Data activism, citizen engagement, indigenous data sovereignty and open data
  • Data journalism and rhetorics of data visualization in a global perspective
  • Data-driven governance and open data
  • Securitization and militarization of data infrastructures
  • Data, discrimination and inequality
  • Emerging in/securities through algorithms and automated decision-making
  • Forensic data, human rights and refugees
  • Decolonizing data in/securities and data labor
  • Machine learning, developmentalism and human security

To propose a panel, please select “Other” in the submission system and ensure that all submitted papers that should be considered for the proposed panel include the same headline with the panel title in the abstracts. Please note that – if a proposed panel is selected by the conference committee – all panels will be open for other selected submissions.  


I find this suggestion by James Smith deeply plausible, echoing a point made by Will Davies last year that ‘free speech’ is becoming the unifying principle of a right-wing in the process of recomposition:

a successor conservative movement to Trumpism with appeal to many nominal centrists would be one that retains Donald Trump’s break with political correctness, his antifeminism, his Islamophobia. But which obscures those views by stepping up the culture war rhetoric about free speech and identity politics on college campuses (about which Trump cares little), while striking a slicker “evidence-based” technocratic tone.

I’ve been dwelling on this passage from Trump University’s sales manual, republished on loc 980 of this insider account of the ill-fated ‘university’, which it should be added had a MOOC system (in its first phase) and a recruitment strategy (in its second phase) which were extreme manifestations of what can be found in US higher education rather than definitive breaks with it. The manual briefs sales staff on how to hook in prospects who’ve attended free ‘taster’ sessions in order to get them to pay for expensive workshops:

Experience Is On Our Side: •   Because we decide what happens in the training, an attendee must react to what we say. They don’t have a choice. For example, we can spend hours and hours planning a question that they must deal with and give an answer to within seconds. We also have the advantage of testing the question out on hundreds of people and adjusting it to increase our chances for a desirable response. The attendee does not have the luxury of “practicing” his or her answer. However, we are losing this advantage if we don’t take time to develop what we say and consciously practice what we say.

What is the nature of the power being exercised here? It could be read as the third face of power in the sense of Steven Lukes, exercising influence by setting the agenda. But this fails to capture the temporal character of its exercise. What puts people on the back foot is that they have no time to prepare against the manipulations of people who have all the time they need to prepare. It is a temporal advantage being leveraged to ensure the interests of A are served by the actions of B. It is chronopower.

But it is chronopower in analogue mode. How different is it from the manipulative infrastructures we find on social media? We constantly fall into interactions with actors who’ve had plenty of time to design interventions, taking advantage of a vast informational asymmetry in which they have a great deal of data about us and we have none about them. But even if this wasn’t the case, we don’t have time to prepare for the interaction because we don’t know its coming. This I’d suggest is digital chronopower.