Updates from July, 2011 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 2:20 pm on July 28, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , , sexualization of culture,   

    Transcript of an interview I did with AsexualNews.Com 

    1) How did this process get you started on the study of  Asexuality?

    My first reaction when I came across the idea of asexuality was actually non-comprehension. In common with a lot of the sexual people I’ve spoken to about asexuality since then, I found it very interesting but I just didn’t ‘get it’. I’d recently completed an MA dissertation project on sexual identity & I was struck by the extent to which much of the academic literature I’d been reading had taken sexual attraction as a given, yet here was the most obvious counter-point to that assumption. It was in the process of talking to these two friends about asexuality that I began to get interested in it from an academic stand point, all the more so when I found out (via Andrew H’s excellent Asexual Explorations site) how little academic research had been conducted on the topic at the time.

    2) During this time, you said it caused you to question your own sexuality?  What did you encounter when you went down this path? What did you  discover about yourself?

    It was the first time that it had ever occurred to me to think about my own relationship to sexual desire and sexual attraction, rather than simply taking these things as a universal given. Actually my partner at the time became rather concerned that I was going to end up identifying as asexual myself when she saw how fascinated I was getting by it. But it was more a case of the research prompting me to think about aspects of myself that I hadn’t before, opening up a space to put into words things which I hadn’t really properly articulated previously.

    Whereas people often take asexuality as a ‘lack’ of sexual attraction, implying that it’s a small group characterized by the absence of something which the majority have, my research and my personal experience led me to a very different conclusion: sexual attraction is not a uniform thing, nor is the moral significance we place upon it in our lives. Until studying asexuality, the question of what significance sex had for me wasn’t something it had ever occurred to me to wonder about. Cue the realization that, though I’m not asexual and I enjoy sex, it’s just not something I see as particularly important in the context of my life as a whole.

    I’ve been fascinated ever since by how asexuality might provoke an increasing awareness of sexuality (there’s no good counterpoint word for this) in non-asexuals. Much as the word heterosexual only became a common identifier once there was public awareness of homosexuality, I suspect that increasing visibility for the asexual community will provoke a much more nuanced and personalized understanding of sexuality amongst non-asexuals. At the very least this was my personal experience. There’s a complexity and richness to sexual experience which our everyday languages for talking about these things, rooted as they are in the scientific (and often psuedo-scientific) study of sex, just doesn’t currently do justice to and this has real consequences for how people understand themselves and how they relate to others.

    3) How does Asexuality fit into the field of Sociology? What topics would  Sociologists cover that would be of interest to Asexuals?

    Although i think Asexuality Studies both is and should be an interdisciplinary field, I’ve long maintained that sociology – at least of a particular sort – offers a unique vantage point for studying asexuality because of the analytical resources it provides for exploring the relationship of the individual to wider society. In this sense it looks at the experience of asexual individuals, as well as the emergence of an asexual community more widely, in terms of wider trends which are underway in contemporary society. So it could be said, at least ideally, to combine the big picture with the little picture (or the ‘macro’ and the ‘micro’ to use sociological lingo).

    4) How do you feel about the current state of Asexual research?  Most of it  focuses on the medical or mental health fields. It seems there is almost  no research about how Asexuals live and the problems they face. How are  you and others working to change this?

    Asexuality research is becoming a lot more diverse but, given what a long term process academic publishing is, it hasn’t yet made an impact simply because it’s not in print. It’s also a field which, interestingly, seems to draw grad students to it much more than established academics – with a few notable exceptions, some in print, others in progress – though obviously there comes a point where the former group become the latter. There’s an edited book of feminist work on asexuality studies due out later this year, as well as my own edited book and a special issue of the journal Psychology & Sexuality due next year. 2012 promises to be an exciting year for asexuality studies.

    5) You are appearing at the Sexualization of  Culture Conference in  London, if you have not already. You are forming what you hope to be the first International Panel on Asexuality. (I believe there /has /been one  at USC Berkley, but you may want to contact Sara Beth Brooks or David  Jay to confirm this information.)  What disciplines will the panel  include? Will prominent researchers be on the panel?

    We haven’t actually got confirmation about this yet but hopefully we’ll hear soon. Ela Pryzbylo from the University of Alberta had the idea of putting in a proposal about asexuality and sexual culture – so the credit very much goes to her for what could be a hugely exciting event – contacting me a few months ago to collaborate on the submission. CJ Chasin, an asexual academic whose work I’ve drawn on extensively in my research, will be the third person on the proposed panel, so it’s a mix discipline wise: sociology, women’s studies and psychology. I’m hugely excited about this both because it’ll be a huge opportunity to promote asexuality research – particularly in terms of wider debates about sexualization which I’ve been convinced for a long time that asexuality studies has a unique perspective on – as well as meeting and working with two people whose work and interests extend in a very similar direction to my own.

    6) You have launched an Asexuality Studies website.  You would like it to  become a hub for researchers interested in Asexuality.  How do you plan on achieving this goal?

    It’s still very much a work in progress (asexualitystudies.org) but I’m hopeful it will be up and running by the start of the next academic year. I’m arranging a series of online seminars about asexuality research which will be recorded and posted on the site as podcasts – there’s a draft schedule up there at the moment. It’s also hosting the asexuality studies discussion list, which I setup quite a while ago now, as well as research profiles, other podcasts and (eventually) resources for the media.

  • Mark 1:27 pm on July 28, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , macintyre,   

    GTD and Reflexivity #2 – Reflexive Technology & Teleology 

    We create and identify with things that aren’t real yet on all the levels we experience; and when we do, we recognise how to restructure our currentl world to morph it into the ne one, and experience an impetus to make it so.

    Things that have your attention need your intention engaged. “What does this mean to me?”, “Why is it here?”, “What do I want to have to be true about this?” (“What’s the succesful outcome?”) Everything you experience as incomplete must have a reference point for “complete”.

    Once you’ve decided that there is something to be changed and a mold to fill, you ask yourself, “How do I now make this happen?” and/or “What resources do I need to allocate to make it happen?”

    “What does this mean to me?”, “What do I want to have to be true about it”, “What’s the next step required to make that happen?”. These are the cornerstone questions we must answer, at some point, about everything”

    I’m now getting to the end of the first GTD book (and half way through the second… I’ve got nothing else done in the last couple of days) and still stunned by the extent to which David Allen is talking specifically, on a conceptual level, about human reflexivity. My vague idea about doing research on ‘reflexive technology’ (tools developed to aid the efficacy of reflexive practice, shaped by the socio-historical circumstances in which emerge and the pathologies of reflexivity endemic to such environments) is turning into an increasingly worked out plan*. I think Allen actually says this explicitly at points but it’s possible I’m reading too much into it.

    If you accept the neo-Aristotelian proposition that there are normative standards (‘internal goods’ in Alasdair MacIntyre’s phrase) internal to any practice then, logically, there is no reason why human reflexivity – construed as an embodied and situated practice rather than an abstract capacity – should lack such an inherent teleology. The nub of GTD lies in taking a process which is partially deliberative and partially applied (i.e. we’re only sometimes aware of the fact we’re doing it, it’s only sometimes entirely explicit/procedural/linguistic and we only apply it in partial spheres of our lives) and, through systematic self-critique leading to habitualisation, transform that process to apply it entirely deliberatively to, ideally, all spheres of life.

    There are standards inherent to the practice of reflexivity which, for all manner of contingent reasons, rarely get actualised: efficacy, brevity, clarity, congruence. I sometimes think of these in terms of ‘reflexive poise’, lifting a concept from Alexander Technique which relates to physical experience and applying it to a life as a whole. This can seem cold and mechanical but I’d content this intuitive, though common, response is weirdly an aesthetic one at heart: our habitual cognitive categories are littered with the detritus of the war between rationalism and romanticism whereas both, paradoxically, manifest the same subjectivist bias albeit with a contrasting focus.

    A normative account of reflexive poise promises to reconcile this long-standing antinomy within western culture because the effective application of reflexivity is the precondition for living a life which both (a) is congruent with our concerns (b) actualises them in sustainable and satisfying ways (subject to the constraints and enablements afforded by our circumstances. Or in other words: it’s only by thinking rationally and deliberatively about our lives in effective and ongoing ways that it becomes possible to have a life which is consistently emotionally and morally satisfying under conditions of late modernity.

    *Which probably isn’t the best thing given I’ve still not finished writing my thesis. But hey that’s life.

  • Mark 9:31 am on July 26, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    The Sociology of Productivity 

    Following up on what I was writing about Getting Things Done (GTD) and reflexivity last night – the further I get into David Allen’s second book, the more aware I am of the countless empirical claims he makes about how internal conversation and reflexivity operate. I agree with many of them and, given the foundations of the system in his own experience as a management consultant and feedback from GTD users over the years, it’s not surprising that many of them are accurate. However I’ve got good empirical grounds for saying that some of them aren’t. Furthermore he doesn’t acknowledge the variability of reflexivity, nor the potential reasons for this or its implications for the practice of GTD. This opens up an intriguing prospect: a sociology of productivity. He’s put the infrastructure in place but many of the specific claims on which GTD rests demand further empirical investigation and conceptual scrutiny, albeit in a way which is ultra sympathetic to the form and content of GTD as a whole. Convinced there’s an awesome book in this idea, sad I have to finish my bloody thesis first though.

  • Mark 10:54 pm on July 25, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Getting Things Done & Reflexivity 

    I increasingly find myself obsessed by David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. In part this is because, through the almost indescribably useful Omnifocus and Omnioutliner software package, its introduction into my life has started to diminish a near constant feeling of information overload (and sometimes emotional disorientation) which had developed over two years of juggling an array of very different roles and commitments (PhD student, university teacher, freelance researcher, website editor, private tutor, researcher). However my interest also stems from the increasing realisation that GTD, as well as the extent of its popularity, actually deals with the themes of my PhD research in a more direct way then pretty much anything I have come across outside of an academic context.

    My research is a longitudinal study of the internal conversations of 18 undergraduate students over two years. Drawing on the recent work of Margaret Archer, I’m interested in internal conversation because it is the medium through which human beings exercise their most characteristic (and yet under researched) faculty: reflexivity, understood, with Archer, as our capacity to evaluate our selves (desires, emotions, concerns, commitments) against our contexts (structural, relational, cultural) and form plans of action. Part of being human is working out what matters to us, what practical consequences are entailed by this and putting these into practice in an environment which intrinsically eludes our capacity to plan or control it.

    Giving conference presentations on my research has sometimes been a bit tricky because Archer is getting at something very specific here and, within an academic context, it has rarely been studied in its full specificity. In the context of empirical research, once you get a grip of the concept, you soon realise quite how analytically powerful it is: it gets to something omnipresent which is at the heart of human experience.

    It is not human agency as such but rather the cognitive (and non-cognitive) processes which undergird that agency and make it possible. Her work argues that this trait is universal but not uniform. Different people exercise it in different ways (e.g. for some it depends on trusted interlocutors to talk through ‘issues’ and decide what to do, whereas for others it is largely an internal and private focus) for complex reasons relating to the structural and social circumstances they encounter throughout life. Our practice of it changes throughout life but not in an entirely plastic way, as a result of many different sorts of factors, with causal consequences that impact at different levels of the human person in a way that is inherently temporal.

    Furthermore, as a corollary of this, different societies at different points in time will tend to give rise to different balances of reflexive practice amongst the populace. When there’s a great deal of contextual continuity – similar circumstances and similar day-to-day experiences giving rise to similar mental topographies – the easy availability of capable interlocutors (those who understand our internal conversations because theirs are broadly similar and thus the effort involved in translating between inner and outer thought is minimised) gives rise to a more dialogical practice of reflexivity. Whereas in the increasingly differentiated, hyper-mobile, culturally diverse conditions of late capitalism, there’s an ensuing tendency towards the practice of monological reflexivity, often shaped by the ideas we have taken on board and made our own as we cut our own pathway through both low and high culture. Furthermore, the pace of social change undermines the possibility of habitual responses to everyday life: if the choices we face in daily life aren’t routine, such that ‘tradition’ and ‘common sense’ provide easy and practical guides to action, then we’re increasingly thrown back on our resources to decide what to do, how to live and who to be. A big aspect of my research is the emotional burden this places on individuals, particularly the adolescents who are the topics of my research, as well as the sources of guidance they turn to in their attempts to negotiate a satisfying and sustainable path through a social world increasingly characterised by flux and uncertainty.

    I’ve long been interested in ‘self-help’ books on this level, with the massive expansion of the market (and its transformation into an enormous global industry) being, in my view, a reflection of the increasing necessity of autonomous reflexivity in conditions of modernity. I’ve seen these as ‘reflexive technologies’, tools designed to aid and support the increasingly necessary practice of reflexivity in everyday life, distinguished from older formers of moral & existential guidance with their tendency to either turn away from the stuff of daily life and/or offer what are frequently ossified traditions inapplicable to the questions of daily life.

    What fascinates me about GTD is that it’s the first reflexive technology which directly concerns itself with reflexivity as such:

    It is “not a system but a systematic approach” which addresses itself to a “desperate need to learn how to manage – not information but rather what things mean and how they all relate to each other”. The desperate tenor of this need stems from “how frequently everything is new”, as widespread “adoption of new technology has permitted al kinds of things to be landing in [our] e-mail and [our] voice mail, any of which could undermine what [we] think [our] priorities should be”. The unceasing flow of novel experience, the pace of human communication, makes it difficult to sustain life projects and plans simply because the inputs we rely on to formulate them tend to have much shorter time horizons than has ever been the case. GTD offers itself as a means to “deal with it in a positive, sustainable way, without it simply overwhelming you and your systems, and that you can integrate what it means to you as you recalibrate all of your commitments on the fly”. It is quite simply a blue print for precisely the sort of autonomous reflexivity which the circumstances many face in late modernity demands to live life in a productive, sustainable and satisfying way.

    Will probably blog some more on this to get the thoughts out of my head. Not sure how clear the above is but at present am completely preoccupied with both how much GTD (at least as David Allen is presenting in his last book) deals explicitly with reflexivity but also how explicitly he sees the system as geared towards overcoming precisely the sort of pathologies (what I write about as the emotional burden of reflexivity) which my PhD is looking at empirically.

  • Mark 10:25 am on July 5, 2011 Permalink

    The Financialization of Life Itself 

    Interesting article in the Guardian today about IDS’s social impact bonds and their magical capacity to fix ‘Broken Britain’:

    But the plan put forward yesterday by Iain Duncan Smith, Oliver Letwin and Labour MP Graham Allen to issue “early intervention bonds” to solve the infinitely complex problems of families in trouble flaps away into delusion.

    Here is the fantasy. Poverty and social dysfunction, addictions, depression, crime, teen pregnancy and illiteracy cause expensive crises. One person can cost scores of thousands a year in prison, courts, rehab and A&E overdose visits. But what if the very clever people in the City could roll all that sub-prime behaviour into an investment product? It’s as clever as a credit default obligation. With a wave of a wand, the risk from all that bad stuff can be placed with investors instead. Social investment bonds could evaporate poverty and its consequences at no cost to you or me. These people can be monetised to turn a profit for all. Amazing.

    Nick Clegg, speaking in the City recently, explained that if investors paid for preventative work up front, the state would repay them later out of money saved. He called for “creative ways to bridge the gap between initial investment and the long-term returns”, praising the City as “one of the most innovative financial services centres in the world”. Duncan Smith, writing in the Guardian last week, quoted private equity investor Sir Ronnie Cohen as predicting that social impact bonds are “the wave of the future” and “the new venture capital”.

    Leaving aside the pragmatic vacuity of the proposal, not least of all, as Polly points out, the question of how the fuck you produce and implement the metrics to make this system work – perhaps the Government should reconsider its cuts to social science teaching, given this will need a veritable army of soc sci graduates to make it work – what’s fascinating about this is the extension of financialization it represents.

  • Mark 11:11 am on July 4, 2011 Permalink

    Creating Publics Workshop 21 & 22 July 2011 

    University of Westminster

    Site: Cavendish, Room: Pavillion, 115 New Cavendish Street, London, W1W 6UW
    Map & Directions: http://www.westminster.ac.uk/about/how-to-find-us/cavendish

    The Publics Research Programme at The Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance at The Open University, with the University of Westminster, is convening a two-day workshop in central London on 21 and 22 July 2011 on the theme of Creating Publics.

    This workshop brings together an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars from politics and public policy, sociology, information studies, cultural geography, planning and media studies to discuss some of the contemporary objects, ideas, spaces, and activities of public creation and creativity. Reflecting on a diversity of topics, including social activism, community archives, arts practices, public services, social media, democratic design, dissent and ‘the commons’, presenters address problems of publics and publicness in relation to institutions, mediation, spatialities, power, engagement and social transformation.

    The panels move beyond notions of ‘the public’ understood as a pre-existing entity or population, building on emerging discourses of publics as summoned, assembled, and convened. By beginning with a concept of ‘publics’ and publicness as constituted in social practices, the workshop questions, critically and creatively, what ‘public’ might mean today.

    If you would like to attend, please e-mail socsci-ccig-events@open.ac.uk<mailto:socsci-ccig-events@open.ac.uk>.

    If you have any queries please contact Sarah Batt, CCIG Research Secretary, The Open University, Tel: +44 (0)1908 654704 a.s.c.batt@open.ac.uk<mailto:a.s.c.batt@open.ac.uk>.

    For further information, please contact Nick Mahony, n.mahony@open.ac.uk<mailto:n.mahony@open.ac.uk>.

  • Mark 6:49 pm on July 3, 2011 Permalink

    Relationality, Social Media, Dissent and Protest 

    The abstract for a presentation I’m doing at the BSA Media Study Group in Leicester next Wednesday:

    In this presentation I draw on critical realist theory, particularly the work of Margaret Archer and Christian Smith, to offer a tentative framework through which to study the impact of social media upon social practices of protest and dissent. I argue for the need to distinguish between the structural, cultural and personal dimensions to social life: between social institutions, communicable ideas, social networks and the individual actors within them. Through doing so I suggest it is possible to gain greater analytical purchase upon the role social media has played in the genesis, sustainability and general character of a variety of recent political movements, thus unpacking a number of distinct causal processes which can otherwise be conflated. I develop my argument through a number of case studies: ethnographic observations from my experience of jointly co-ordinating the blog & e-mail for a university occupation in 2010, as well as the wider student movement and the rapid international growth of slut walks.

    The study group meeting is exploring the role that social media is playing in contemporary protest. There are a number of distinct themes I want to explore:

    • How a theory of social domains (i.e. grounding explanatory programmes in terms of the distinct spheres of the social world, their distinct characteristics and the causal interfaces between them) can provide an overarching framework within which the implications of social media can be fruitfully analysed.
    • The particular consequences that social media holds for the ecology of communicable ideas in late capitalist society.
    • The increasing differentiation of the structural and socio-cultural domains: between social institutions and networks of individual actors. Not entirely a product of social media but existing tendency is being radically intensified by the widespread uptake of social media.
    • The consequences of the emerging ecology of communicable ideas for the cultural environment each individual confronts, the dynamics of commonality & difference within the social world and their orientations towards collective agency.
    • The  role that social media played in the genesis, sustainability and general character of the student protest movement of the last year in the UK. Got fascinated by this when taking part in the Warwick Occupation where I was doing lots of the social media stuff. The pre-existing WordPress blog and soon created facebook group allowed a breadth and depth of communication which would formerly have been impossible in that situation.
    Right now I’m going to go read about mimetics and social movements for a few days. Will try to write the presentation at the end of the week.
  • Mark 5:35 pm on July 3, 2011 Permalink

    A Realist Theory of A/Sexual Categories 

    On July 15th I’ll be part of what will hopefully be a fascinating panel discussion on sexual categorization at the Understanding the Social World conference at the University of Huddersfield. Here’s the abstract for my presentation:

    In this presentation I draw on my fieldwork into the asexual community (8 in-depth interviews, 174 surveys and an online ethnography) to outline my notion of the ‘sexual assumption’: the presupposition that sexual desire is both universal and uniform. I argue that the experience of asexual individuals provides both an empirical refutation of the former claim and a starting point through which to conceptually unpick the latter claim. Common experiences reported by asexual individuals in terms of identity formation (suspecting that one may be asexual, coming to define as asexual, entering into a relationship as asexual) suggest that ‘sexual desire’ is far from a uniform phenomena.

    In fact the notion of ‘sexual desire’ as a function of ‘sexual drive’ seems manifestly inadequate for understanding the relational experiences of asexual individuals. The difficulties faced by asexual individuals in finding concepts through which to adequately understand their intimate needs highlights the problematic relationship between our experience and the categories through which we interpret it. I sketch out a realist account of the relationship between sexuality and sexual categories: I argue that such categories are ‘necessary fictions’ (unavoidable ones, without which we would be unable to live out meaningful intimate lives) but that, rather than seek to overcome them, we should incorporate the consideration of their congruence with our intimate experience into the academic study of them. With particular reference to the asexual community, I suggest that an array of categories ought to be subject to critical scrutiny.

    My initial research on asexuality was an empirical study of a community which had, thus far, been under-researched and its intention was to collect as wide an array of qualitative data as possible on all aspects of the asexual community and draw out the commonalities, as well as the differences, within this diverse group of individuals. Since then I’ve tried to contextualise the socio-historical emergence of the asexual community in terms of wider transformations taking place in late capitalist intimate life. Now I want to try and get to the conceptual issue which, I now realise, has largely driven my interest in asexuality for the past few years: how do the categories within and through which we think about human intimacy shape our experience of it and what is the basis of the interface between them.

    Although for a long time I thought asexuality was an entirely seperate strand of inquiry to my PhD research on human reflexivity I realise now it’s not at all. Asexuality is a fascinating example the relationship between deliberation (internal conversation) and cognitive dispositions (the often tacit categories through which our deliberations become articulable) in the context of the unfolding of a human life. I want to approach the findings of my empirical work in these terms. Particularly these things:

    • The literal non-comprehension which the majority of asexuals face from the majority of friends, peers and family if/when they ‘come out’. This often manifests as phobia with seemingly phobic consequences but I have argued (Carrigan 2011) that it is not itself intrinsically phobic. Rather it is a product of asexuality problematising a near hegemonic tacit conceptual category which I have termed the ‘sexual assumption’: the assumption of the uniformity and universality of sexual desire (Carrigan 2011, 2012).
    • The assumed pathology which many asexuals undergo for varying periods of time in the process of coming to an asexual identity. The sense that the difference they are aware of in relation to their peer group (i.e. a lack of sexual attraction) must be a product of something having gone wrong. This manifests itself both in the external judgements of other and internal deliberative judgements about oneself. What are the social and cultural bases of this?
    • The difficulties which asexual individuals face in applying common categories of relational life (e.g. best friend, lover, partner) to their own intimate exprerience.
    Through examining these three issues, though there are more I want to look at in future, in terms of a wider realist theoretical analytic of human agency and human sociality, I will attempt to draw out an extremely sketchy ontology of sexual/intimate categories and a sociologically grounded moral psychology of intimate life. This is very much a work in progress, with this being my first attempt to talk explicitly about these themes, so this bit of the presentation might seem somewhat fuzzy! Finally I intend to talk about the methodological consequences of this line of argumentation (construed, at its very least, in terms of a thorough empirical engagement with the emergence of the asexual community) for the wider study of sexuality.
  • Mark 12:36 pm on July 3, 2011 Permalink

    Want to get involved with sociological imagination.org? 

    Hi all – we’re trying to recruit another news editor & two editorial assistants to work on Sociological Imagination. The former involves finding Higher Education news stories and writing short (100-200 word) summaries about them and the latter involves posting up links/videos/pictures etc likely to be of interest to SI readers on the blog, facebook and twitter. Anyone interested? If so please get in touch. There’s no definite time commitment involve – just posting as and when you can.

  • Mark 12:27 pm on July 3, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , communications technology, continuous partial attention, , ,   

    Mark Fisher on Communications and Late Capitalism 

    In this keynote from Virtual Futures, Mark Fisher, author of the stunning Capitalist Realism, talks about the role which innovations in communicative technology play in the unfolding of late capitalism.

    He talks about the growing ‘digital communicative malaise’ which can be observed in contemporary society while suggesting that there’s still to much reluctance to address this issue on the left. Yet why should attacking a technological development be seen as reactionary? He suggests that digital technologies can be seen as communicative parasite that destroy other enjoyments: it destroys our capacity to attend to the pleasurable (described by others as Continuous Partial Attention) and tightens the grip of disciplinary power on our everyday lives. As he observes, “as soon as you have e-mail you no longer have working hours”

    As I’m sure many others can, this point is an intimately familiar one from everyday experience. For instance not being able to focus on a film or book because of the urge to check e-mail or twitter. Nonetheless does he overstate the technological aspect to this? My e-mail checking got horribly obsessive for much of 2010 and, although I didn’t put it as articulately as Fisher does, the idea he’s suggesting what on my mind a lot during that time. Phenomenologically it was a loss of agency, as a basically unsatisfying habit (scratching an itch) frequently undermined the decision to switch off and relax. Yet in 2011, as my life circumstances have changed and my life has gone back to being fun, the compulsion has waned massively. E-mail’s gone from something that actively draws me in to being a much reviled chore. While experientially it feels like a reclamation of agency, the change is only contingently related to the technology itself.

    When we’re unhappy, bored and/or dissatisfied we often choose to absent ourselves from the situation we’re in using whatever means are available to us.  A retreat into internal dialogue is a universally available form of self-absenting (with ‘daydreaming’ etc being its most obvious social label) with our digital communicative parasites (be they e-mail, twitter, mobile phones, mindless web browsing, facebook or whatever else) being a recent and rapidly growing addition to our escapist arsenal. Yet could the technology be said to be meaningfully causing this? In a way, yes, in that it is the necessary condition for the expansion of this process which Fisher highlights. But in another more important way no because the technology is merely one pervasive means of meeting a need which it does not itself generate – athough frequent self-absenting, as a product of situational dissatisfaction, may breed more escapism because of its capacity to erode prolonged enjoyment and experiential immersion. So we shouldn’t decry communicative technology for finding itself implicated in everyday practices which lead to effects like this – instead we should be looking to explore how this technology can be used to enhance rather than debase human sociality.

    Longer version of a post on Sociological Imagination

  • Mark 5:21 pm on July 2, 2011 Permalink

    Call for Papers: what does the Sociological Imagination mean today? 

    It has been over 50 years since C. Wright Mills wrote the Sociological Imagination. In that time the world has changed beyond recognition: the Cold War ended, the Keynesian consensus broke down, a globalizing neoliberalism rose to the ascendancy and the internet began to transform human communication and culture. In recent years, with 9/11 and then the financial crisis, it seems that history has returned with a vengeance. Is Wright Mills’ notion of the ‘Sociological Imagination’ still pertinent today? How can Sociology help shed light on the rapidly transforming world around us and the consequences of these transformations for the people who inhabit it? What does the ‘Sociological Imagination’ mean today?

    Short articles are invited which engage with these themes, or particular aspects of them. Submissions should be 500 – 1500 words and e-mailed as a Word document. There is no deadline for submissions.

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