Updates from August, 2011 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 8:31 pm on August 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    What’s the point of edited books? A step-by-step proposal for social media alternative 

    Given that I’m two months away from being contractually obliged to submit my first solo edited collection to the publisher, this is a rather depressing question. But it’s difficult not to ask it. If my only other experience of editing a book is anything to go by, a volume jointly produced with a number of others earlier in my PhD, it’s going to be prohibitively expensive and the publisher isn’t going to do anything to promote it. As a result of the latter realisation I actually started a website, hosting a mailing list and a variety of other resources, which was intended in part as a promotional tool for the book. Yet for the website to work successfully to this end, it’s going to have draw people to the site: given the particular characteristics of the field in question, the site is likely to be able to do this (assuming I do it correctly)… so, I wonder, surely a website like this renders the publisher rather unnecessary?

    A step by step proposal for a web 2.0 equivalent of an edited book:

    • Decide on a theme for the project, preferably a much more elaborated one that might be the case were it to be pitched as a straight forward edited book
    • Setup a wordpress blog and register a domain name for it
    • Write as much as possible about the theme, collate as many resources as possible, link to as many sites  as possible on these themes
    • Setup a twitter account for the project, connect with as many relevant people as possible (including members of communities being researched if applicable) and actually interact with them, as well as using it to post updates about the project
    • Design a CfP (perhaps collaboratively if enough people are interested at this stage?) and direct interested parties to the project site, rather than operating through e-mail (make sure to try and maintain lines of connection, using twitter etc, with all those who express interest but choose not to submit)
    • Think seriously about how much of the traditional editorial process (particularly the chronology) needs to be directly reproduced – could the peer review be done openly and/or collaboratively on the site? Could shorter articles be allowed as a basis for final formal contributions further down the road? Could the site itself serve as a basis for connecting potential contributors? Will final reviewed pieces (whatever ‘review’ ultimately constitutes) be posted up on an ad hoc basis or will the pieces be compiled into one volume published online at one time?
    • Given no one presumably thinks they’re going to make money out of the project then, without commercial pressures from a publisher, there’s no reason to charge anything whatsoever for the finished product(s). In fact doing so would quite patently defeat the entire point of the endeavour.
    • Experiment with ways of encouraging feedback and discussion after publication of final piece(s)? How can the medium be used to build interaction and connectivity in a way which enhances the experience of everyone involved in the project? How can it feed into future projects, either on the same site or through others?
    Given the extent to which I’ve been told that book chapters, as well as edited books themselves, lack REF value vis-a-vis papers, credentialisation issues don’t hold here in the same way they do for much online publishing. The above is a bit sketchy but, in part, that’s because I’m tired and haven’t elaborated on it as fully as I could. Also because there’s open-ended questions I don’t have answers for. In essence though, the idea i had for the website promoting the book (it has a mailing list, hosts online seminars, a pack for the media, researcher profiles, a blog) is the basis for this… it’s just if the website were to come first, rather than having been an after-thought to correct the deficiencies of the publisher. Now I just wish I’d started thinking this through before I signed that fucking contract.
  • Mark 5:19 am on August 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Asexual Practices and Identities: Negotiating the Sexual Imperative 

    Something I’m really looking forward to is taking place in December. Myself and two other asexuality researchers have organised a panel on asexuality and sexualisation for this international conference on the Sexualisation of Culture in London:
    • Ela Przybylo – York University
    • CJ DeLuzio Chasin – University of Windsor
    • Mark Carrigan – University of Warwick
    I haven’t actually written my paper yet, or even really planned it, though I’m fairly clear about what it’s going to involve. Having worked out my notion of the Sexual Assumption in various papers (the all pervasive categorical assumption of the uniformity and universality of sexual attraction) and, through a range of conference presentation, begun to offer a grounding for this account in critical realist social theory (my own spin, based on my PhD research, on the debate between Archer, Elder-Vass and Sayer about the relationship between reflexivity and habitus) I want to use this presentation to try and draw these strands together and finally do what I’ve been aiming for in the last three years: offer an empirically worked out theory of late capitalist sexualization. This is the topic for my long planned short zero book style book and, if I can get funding, my big ugly probably slightly unreadable book about the ‘science of sex and modernity’ so it’s very exciting. This conference panel feels like a crucial hinge between stuff I’ve been doing for the last 3 years and stuff I want to be doing for many years to come.
  • Mark 11:49 am on August 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    BSA Annual Conference 2012: Sociology in an Age of Austerity 

    In navigating and understanding the turbulent times in which we find ourselves living, the contribution made by sociology is even more significant. Sociology is uniquely placed to provide insights into the social environment in all its variety, allowing for an enhanced understanding of social movements, political processes and personal troubles.

    The papers presented will provoke debate and, through the lenses provided by conference streams – such as social divisions and identities; religion; cities, space, mobilities and place; media, culture and consumption; families, relationships and the lifecourse – will explore the complex interactions which drive social and political behaviour.

    SUBMIT NOW! Deadline: 7 October 2011.

  • Mark 5:00 pm on August 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Stuck between modernity and postmodernity? The modern history of Coventry 

    I’m starting to practically sketch out plans for a project I’ve had in mind for a couple of years now: a social history of Coventry told through life history interviews with life long residents of the city who were born prior to the second world war. I’ve been fascinated by the changes the city has undergone, as I’ve better understood the scale of them with each passing year of living here: the city’s rise and decline as a centre of the car industry, the relative affluence of much of the city in the 50s and 60s,  the crime and unemployment which came with deindustrialisation in the 70s and 80s, the destruction of the city centre in the 40s and its reconstruction as a modernist city of the future in the 50s, the mergers and expansions which ultimately led to Coventry University and the foundation of Warwick, the increasing centrality of the universities to the local economy.

    My idea is to try and understand these changes through the life histories of people who have lived here since before the war. So, in practice, people who were born in 1935 or earlier, since I’d hope that their memories of the blitz would have at least some (perhaps very fuzzy) memory of pre-WW2 coventry to counterpose the aftermath to. Which means I’m trying to talk to people who are 76 or over and, obviously, there’s probably not that many of them around (with time obviously being somewhat of the essence here), particularly those who have lived in the city for most of their lives. If this isn’t feasible, I might just try and get in contact with people who’ve lived here for decades but it was an exhibition about the blitz which set me off on these project in the first place.

    I’m not exactly sure what form this’ll take and I think it’ll be more interesting (and more realistic given all the other stuff I’m doing at the moment) to not try and determine it in advance. Once I hit on a name for the project, I’m going to buy a domain name for it, setup a site and post up the project bit by bit (snippets of interviews, articles, photography, things I’ve been reading etc) in a properly proof read form (i.e. unlike most of my posts on here) then just see where it leads over time.  Some of the things it’ll include:

    • Life history interviews with life-long Coventry residents –> whole interviews or just editing fragments?
    • Podcast interviews with academics who’ve worked on the broader themes I’m looking at (deindustrialisation, globalization, neoliberalism) in the UK with the discussion centred specifically around Coventry [obviously going to be easier/better if they’re Warwick / Cov Uni people]
    • Podcast interviews with people who’ve specifically studied the history of Coventry (either professionally or as a hobby)
    • Reproductions of archive material (etc) which expand upon the above
    • Short articles as I get further into the project, stimulated by the interviews and the reading I’m doing
  • Mark 5:08 pm on August 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: bill bratton, , nypd,   

    The Blurring Boundaries Between CIA and NYPD – Modernization and Liberty 

    NYPD CIA Anti-Terror Operations Conducted In Secret For Years.

    At a time when the inadequacies of the British media stands so starkly exposed, the above article is a wonderful reminder of what real journalism looks like. An unprecedented blurring of boundaries seems to have occurred between the CIA and the NYPD without, it seems, being recognised or acknowledged until now.

    A thought occurred to me though while reading: you can kind of see how this would be attractive to the NYPD (which is not of course to support it). The co-operation described in the article sounds as if, in institutional terms, it’s likely to be efficient: it increases the capacity of the organisation to meet its aims. It’s easy to imagine how people like ‘supercop’ Bill Bratton, arch-modernizers in the police force with a penchant for following corporate leadership trends, simply wouldn’t get how there could be a problem with an organisational move that seems manifestly to achieve its stated ends more effectively than it otherwise would. It’s easy to imagine how scornful they would be in meetings, as well as how rhetorically powerful that scorn would be, at those who invoke abstract ideas (like the notion that the operational encroachment of the CIA onto the mainland is dodgy) to attack the plans, particularly given the context of New York where the end in question must be scarily capable of shutting down debate in these sorts of spheres.

    Obviously there’s always been rationalization within modern organizations. This isn’t new. However the gaudy post-1989 corporate culture of modernisation is. It’s destructive enough in the place it originated, with its quasi-autistic quantitative myopia and chronic short-termism. It’s horrific when it infects the management of public services, with the continual assumption that lack of results means they’re just not modernizing fast enough. But it’s truly fucking terrifying when it reaches the security apparatus, police and/or military – one suspects the conceptual distinction will become ever more blurred over the 21st century – simply because it increasingly enmeshes the managerial class within a moral universe in which talks of rights and liberties, procedural constraints on means, will come to seem like ‘nonsense on stilts’, particularly when the ends seem self-evidently moral.

  • Mark 2:30 pm on August 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    The concept of ‘prestige’ in the emerging 21st century communicative ecology 

    I had a fascinating conversation with Martin Eve earlier about alternatives to commercial academic publishing. One of the most thought-provoking bits of the discussion was the question of what ‘prestige’ means in terms of academic journals:

    1. reputation or influence arising from success, achievement,rank, or other favorable attributes.
    2. distinction or reputation attaching to a person or thing andthus possessing a cachet for others or for the public

    Journals seen as prestigious have a reputation for possessing favourable attributes: they are well managed, have high editorial standards, publish good papers. In fact all these factors are, in practice, related. They’re also seen to be related – perhaps, once might suggest, to an extent which outstrips the reality. Great faith has been placed in their capacity to filter – with high rejection rates, stringent editors, thorough review process and imposing reputations, the readership can be confident that only high quality papers make the grade (with the often implicit corollary that papers not in these journals aren’t high quality).

    As a cognitive category, a presupposition which undergirds our evaluative judgements – meant in a way which encompasses this notion – it’s profoundly 20th century. But if you question it too naively, people are likely to construe this as an  attack on academic standards. Why would they leap to this conclusion? Because the conceptual architecture of alternative judgemental practices had not, until recently, emerged: this is where social media comes in.

    The notion of ‘prestige’ – with its hierarchical connotations and intrinsic links to bureaucracy – rests on the assumption that filtering, as a social and culture process, relies on fixed elite organisation and, contingently, commercial motives to meet the inherent costs. But that obviously isn’t true anymore. Social media enables an ongoing process of communal filtering which, depending on the dynamics of participation, can be come profoundly refined – for a trivial example, if you use Twitter in an engaged way, just look through your feed and see what percentage of the links posted are things you find interesting. For me it’s often 90% or more. Now imagine the same process, working in an organised way, with the radical difference that there are clearly delineable communities of practice within academia (and, if you see this as a venn diagrams, with specific topics and subdisciplinary areas co-existing within disciplinary and methodological clusters, the notion becomes a very powerful one) which, in principle, means the filtering process can be incredibly powerful.

    …. which is what open access online journals, run non-heirarchically as collectives, organised thematically in a way which maximally connects with the values and passions of those involved would be.


    (I realise in practice what I’m suggesting is fiendishly complex. This is an attempt to sketch out an initial concept)

  • Mark 10:42 pm on August 22, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    There was an old woman… 

    There was an old woman who swallowed a fly,
    I don’t know why she swallowed a fly,
    Perhaps she’ll die.

    There was an old woman who swallowed a spider,
    That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
    She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
    I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
    Perhaps she’ll die.

    There was an old woman who swallowed a bird,
    How absurd! to swallow a bird,
    She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
    That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
    She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
    I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
    Perhaps she’ll die.

    There was an old woman who swallowed a cat,
    Imagine that! to swallow a cat,
    She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
    She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
    That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
    She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
    I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
    Perhaps she’ll die.

    There was an old woman who swallowed a dog,
    What a hog! to swallow a dog,
    She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
    She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
    She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
    That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
    She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
    I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
    Perhaps she’ll die.

    There was an old woman who swallowed a goat,
    Just opened her throat! to swallow a goat,
    She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
    She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
    She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
    She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
    That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
    She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
    I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
    Perhaps she’ll die.

    There was an old woman who swallowed a cow,
    I don’t know how she swallowed a cow!
    She swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
    She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
    She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
    She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
    She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
    That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,
    She swallowed the spider to catch the fly,
    I don’t know why she swallowed the fly,
    Perhaps she’ll die.

    There was an old woman who swallowed a horse,
    She’s dead—of course!

    My favourite poem when I was a child. Recalled this evening because I fly was rudely drinking my red wine at the same time that I was drinking it. Bastard. 

  • Mark 6:01 pm on August 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: coalition, conservative leadership, one term tories, tory grass roots,   

    One Term Tories! The end is nigh for the Cameroons? 

    One Term Tories – Guy Fawkes’ blog.

    I can’t remember ever reading anything on Guy Fawkes’ blog which made me as happy as they did. Wonder if it was Paul Stainers or Harry Cole who wrote it?

    One thing to add to their otherwise effective analysis: there’s been an internal tension at the heart of the party between the modernising clique (attempting to detoxify the brand) and the grass roots (willing to tolerate these imperious wealthy chaps because of the promise of power). Since they failed to win an outright majority, the tensions have been growing – compounded by the aloof, centralised and unresponsive leadership style of Cameron’s inner circles – with the recent riots perhaps being the catalyst set to start the fire which burns the house that Dave, George, Steve, Nick and Michael built to the ground.

    If they lurch to the right, which seemingly they are, motivated by any number of reasons – instincts intrinsic to the Tory psyche, placating the grass roots, a real response to changing public opinion etc – they risk re-associating the brand with 80s moralism, this time compounded by economic woes and a cabinet stuffed with multi-millionares AND fracturing the coalition. Given both these conditions were necessary for the inadequate grip on power that resulted from the last election (with a mandate which, even on the level of appearance, was tenuous at best)  the current situation is incentivizing a course of action which will lead to self-destruction. Further compounded by the number of u-turns they’ve performed since then, with their hyperactive radicalism now standing reveals as a product of anxiety about the longevity of their government.

    Yet if they resist they risk an insurgency from the right of the party, not least of all from Boris who will spy an opportunity to weaken Osborne’s grip on succession, which will receive widespread support from the grass roots. David Davis and Liam Fox being the obvious contenders, as well as Steve Hilton and Michael Gove attempting to escape the sinking Cameroon ship. Perhaps also Ken Clarke, fresh from being done over and spat out by Cameron’s friends in News International. But would a Tory insurgency, likely led by Boris, forced to move from the right actually be electable? Furthermore the Tory grass roots and back benchers will be highly sceptical of superficial attempts at engagement, such that it will have to be genuine – insurgency from the right will open up a can of bigoted old worms (buried away from the electorate) which will likely leave it unelectable even if it succeeds. Even better would be an inconclusive war breaking out. Could Osborne, long seen as future leader, actually try and desert the sinking ship himself lest he ends up doing even worse than Gordon Brown? Particularly if Ken beats Boris in London, the Tories are utterly screwed at the next election.

    And if the coalition falls, so does Clegg, creating an opening for the left of the Lib Dems which, unless Labour really fuck this up, creates the possibility of the much hyped lib-lab coalition we’ve been talking about for so long in the event that they fail to win an outright majority.

    For the first time in months, thinking about politics actually just made me happy – the way events are moving, this is now Labour’s to lose. Hopefully the new labour types will keep their heads down and shut the fuck up.

  • Mark 10:33 am on August 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , localism, rubbish collections, tory cuts,   

    Doorstep rubbish collections scrapped after 130 years – a sign of things to come 

    Doorstep rubbish collections scrapped after 130 years – Telegraph.

    In a way you have to admire the ingenuity of the Tories in how they’ve pursued their local government agenda. While preaching localism, inevitably attractive after years of New Labour authoritarianism and centralisation, they have also deliberately placed local councils in a bind: imposing cuts and freezing council tax on the one hand while affirming a new culture of local accountability and civic engagement on the other. The effect? They’ve effectively outsourced the political fall out of some of the concrete manifestations of austerity onto local councils.

    A role which some Tory councils have embraced enthusiastically, providing de facto social laboratories for sketching the outlines of the neoliberal small state utopia – case in point: the growth of private waste collection companies which angry residents are forced to turn to because their local council has stopped even pretending to provide a service which has massive popular support and a long standing history. These services are also something which have been speculated about in think tank publications and the comments page of the telegraph for quite some time and now the bastards are actually starting to get their way.

  • Mark 10:43 pm on August 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Research Help! Answer this quick entirely unscientific question for me? Please :) 

    I’m planning a paper about the cultural impact asexuality is/will/might have on non-asexuals. The method obviously isn’t particularly scientific, at least not in the sense it’s commonly used, though I do think it’s a useful tool (when combined with twitter, facebook and helpful online friends) as part of the research process. This is the first of three polls which I want to use as a starting point for planning the paper.

    If you’re willing, it would be really appreciated if you could share this via facebook or twitter. Also, it would be a huge help if anyone’s willing to answer an additional two questions using the comments box below: “If someone told you they were asexual, what would you think they meant?” and “What do you think your response would be?”

    If you identify as asexual yourself please don’t answer any of these questions

    • Elizabeth 1:52 am on August 21, 2011 Permalink

      It would mean that they lack the experience of sexual attraction.
      My response: “Great! It’s good to meet someone who’s going to talk about intelligent things rather than woffling on about sex.”

  • Mark 9:24 pm on August 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Tom Waits/Cookie Monster mashup – God’s Away On Business – YouTube 

    Perhaps one of the best things I have ever seen on Youtube:

  • Mark 8:41 pm on August 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    England’s riots shouldn’t be blamed on ‘moral decline’, says Tony Blair | UK news | The Observer 

    England’s riots shouldn’t be blamed on ‘moral decline’, says Tony Blair | UK news | The Observer.

    Rather interesting. This is without doubt the most sensible thing I have ever heard this man say. My only point of contention is the apparent contradiction inherent in what he’s saying: he talks about ‘these people’ not being symptomatic of wider trends within society and yet also claims that you find them ‘in virtually every developed nation’. So perhaps he’s quite adroitly identified a pervasive trend in late capitalist societies (disenfranchised working class youth trapped between deindustrialisation, rampant consumerism, cultural individualization) but is unable and willing to identify its structural origins?

  • Mark 3:54 pm on August 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , eden lake, , , return of the repressed, ,   

    Chavs, Feral Youth, Moral Panics, #UKRiots 

    I’ve been reading Chavs by Owen Jones all day and I’m surprised by quite how broadly thought-provoking it is. From the reviews I was certainly expecting a good book but not such a sensitive and wide ranging engagement with the culture and politics of modern Britain. One thing that particularly piqued my curiosity was his references to Eden Lake, a horror film released in 2008, which tells the story of a ‘normal’ couple from Islington (intriguingly I can’t find any references to the man’s job, while the woman is a nursery teacher) who go on holiday for the weekend to a secluded spot in the West Midlands. An encounter with local kids, ‘feral youths’, sets off a chain of events which, as you can make out from the trailer below, doesn’t end very well:

    Apparently when the couple first arrive, upon finding out that the titular lake is to be made into a gated community, utter some liberal platitudes about such things being bad… then they end up getting tortured and killed by the people such a gate would be keeping out. Sounds like subtle stuff. If it wasn’t for the fact I hate horror films (didn’t use to, not sure what changed) I probably would watch it though, simply out of morbid curiosity.

    What’s bizarre and incredibly telling is the extent to which some have seemingly viewed this film as, in effect, a docudrama. This is my favourite of the reviews I read on IMDB:

    I watched Eden Lake last night and now I’m angry.

    Not because the film was bad (on the contrary, it was very good); not because the nastiest character was called Brett (when surely it’s common knowledge that all blokes named Brett are extremely nice); not because I had to watch the film on my portable DVD player while the wife watched ‘I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Outta Here!’ on the telly; and not because a rather silly ending spoils what might have been an otherwise perfect piece of entertainment.

    No…. I’m angry because, with Eden Lake, I’ve been shown the terrifying truth about one of the biggest evils currently plaguing the UK (I’ll give you a clue: it likes to wear Burberry and has lousy taste in music!).

    That’s right: I’m talking about Chavs!

    If, like me, you find that yob culture makes your blood boil, then you too will be absolutely seething by the end of this excellent film, which cleverly taps into the viewer’s fury, fear and frustration with loutish teenagers who are free to terrorise the innocent because the law lacks the power to punish them.

    In Eden Lake, Director James Watkins presents a harrowing fictional account of one such incident in which a couple are subjected to unbelievable pain and humiliation by a gang of nasty young thugs. The sickening atrocities perpetrated by Watkins’ lawless delinquents are terrifyingly real (reports on similar real-life events can all-too-often be found in today’s tabloids) and serve only too well to highlight just how far our society has sunk in recent years.

    So if the middle classes are doomed to be prey, cowering within gated communities as unavoidable refuges against the teeming hoards outside, the natural question is whether there are any agents of moral order left within society? Step forward Harry Brown, the protagonist in a film that came out a year after Eden Lake, with Michael Caine playing the militant embodiment of the ‘respectable working class’. I wrote about this at the time here:

    This film tells the story of Harry Brown, a pensioner living on a decaying housing estate in South London. Formerly a marine, Harry now lives a lonely life, with his wife on death’s door in hospital and few friends in an area increasingly plagued by drugs and crime. The film tells the story of Harry’s stand against the anarchy he perceives around him and the events that forced him to take action. While his friend Len lives in a state of constant fear unknown to Harry, he himself is not immune to it. Time after time, fear of the ‘hoodies’ in the subway by his estate forces him into taking the long route over the dual carriageway. Over and over again the film bombards the viewer with this message that we live in a broken society where the criminal leave the law abiding at best inconvenienced and disgusted, at worst terrified and broken. At times it’s difficult not to wonder if the film was produced in alliance with the Conservative Research Department given its continual graphic illustration of the Tory ‘Broken Britain’ theme.

    Basically when Harry decides to take a stand, refusing to live in fear of the ‘feral youth’ the viewer meets in Eden Lake, he puts his army training to good use and brutalises a whole string of young people with barbed wire, knifes and guns. I do think that this is actually a good film, albeit a nasty and mean-spirited one, whereas Eden Lake just sounds shit:

    How many people viewing Harry Brown cheered him on as he went on his killing spree? A brave and respectable man with a cause, standing up to the violent nihilistic subhumans who are eviscerating what remains of the social fabric with each ‘good’ citizen they intimidate and/or make a victim of (as well as a litany of other such crimes which don’t feature in a film like this e.g. having children outside of a respectable family structure) – the film works dramatically because, it seems, swathes of its audience instinctively recognise the moral universe it portrays. Even those who might subsequently intellectually disown any experience of thinking that Harry Brown straight forwardly represents the pervasive reality of modern Britain.

    Do films like this represent a return of the repressed? Is there an obsession with class, stalking consciousness and lurking in nightmares, because of its effective erasure from public discourse, as the Thatcherite project was solidified by New Labour’s re-articulation of the social democratic problematic as a matter of using capitalist growth to fund measures which increase ‘social mobility’ in order to help erode ‘social exclusion’ one newly minted middle class family at a time.

    It’s hard not to wonder where this spectre might lead, as austerity begins to bite and a beleaguered radical right-wing government digs in its heels to push through its extreme legislative agenda. Perhaps this is also a crucial part of the socio-emotional topography of #UKRiots, as such an unsettling number of people were so quickly calling for the army to be sent in to the streets of London. When challenged over and over again on Twitter to justify myself for suggesting this was a bad idea, it did briefly feel like the world was going completely mad (though unplugging the wifi for a bit made this feeling go away).

    There has been a moral panic brewing in the back of the middle class British psyche for a long time and I don’t think it has come even close to playing itself out yet. We live in strange and troubling times.

    • Arjun Sen 4:10 pm on August 20, 2011 Permalink

      As an Indian I am a little surprised why people, especially those in the West, go into all kinds of gobbledegook to theorise about such a trivial thing as the UK riots. It is trivial because if you are creating a situation where people don’t have a livelihood they are not going to have a stake in any of things that the other classes have, whoever they are – middle class or working class or whatever other “obsession” about human beings one may have. The world belongs to every single thing on this planet but if a very miniscule number of people begin to control everything then riots, climate change, species mass extinction – all these are obvious and trivial outcomes. You don’t need too much intellect to understand that – nor do you need too much theory to do so. Of course, I am a fool and maybe quite wrong!

    • Mark 4:39 pm on August 20, 2011 Permalink

      I’d basically agree with a lot of that! The above are just some scattered thoughts about films and politics, on a rainy afternoon when I’m struggling to concentrate on the work I’m supposed to be doing.

      I think your assessment of intellectual reaction to the riots is very obviously wrong though – there’s been almost no attempt to theorise the riots, or understand them at all really, at least within mainstream political debate. Likewise the fact that you’re talking about ‘such a trivial thing as the UK riots’ seems wrong… even if you simply mean that, compared to other things going on in the world, it’s not that major an event. They’re going to stand as a hugely important event in modern UK history and the fall out from them is going to have a massive impact on British politics at a time when an ultra right-wing government (of a very rare sort in a number of ways) is trying to push through radical policies at a time of once in a century global economic crisis.

      For what it’s worth, you’re obviously offering a theory yourself – you’re making observations about the world around you and offering an explanation through which to make sense of those observations. It’s just that because it’s simple and to the point, you don’t see it as a theory, you see it as common sense. With the result that you’re incredibly dismissive about something ‘as trivial as the UK riots’ because the way you understand politics, in spite of the motivation I’d agree with at the heart of it, leaves you uninterested in particularly looking at evidence because you see the truth as obvious and attempts to think further about it as ‘all kinds of gobbledegook’.

      Genuinely no hostility or irritation expressed in the above (well maybe a little bit about the fact you think the UK riots are trivial) but that’s because I share at least some of the politics that’s making it. The same kind of argument you just made is used by millions of people the world over to shut down critical debate and stop people asking angry questions about the world though – it works just as well for those who are saying we should stop going on about silly ideas of fairness and justice, instead embracing capitalism as something that will make everyone richer (etc etc)

    • informant 4:53 pm on August 20, 2011 Permalink

      Like the post on moral panics – and I do think they are an expression of the things people cannot admit to – the problems with the world they have created – the problems that they would rather pretend aren’t there.

      Got to say I sort of agree with Arjun though. I think the intention was not to call the riots trivial, but to say that solving the problem of why they happened is trivial. And it is: the wealth divide. Having said that, I think it is worth investigating more specific causes – i.e. why they happened right at this moment.

      My post on it: http://withtheresistance.com/me-and-the-rioters/

    • Arjun Sen 6:08 pm on August 20, 2011 Permalink

      Many thanks for your comments. I think I was a little bit too angry to try and dismiss the UK riots as trivial. I was not actually doing that – I was just trying to provoke.

      I was instead trying to say that capitalism has now reached a stage where theorists, especially in the fields of economics and sociology, should stop deluding themselves.

      Any honest appraisal of modern economics and sociology as theoretical subjects used to understand human social production and reproduction would show that not only these two subjects but a few other subjects such as history and anthropology in particular and a few other so-called “humanities” (as they are called in India) subjects or “liberal arts” (as they are called in the US) subjects, are entirely victims of delusion because they have, I mean the theorists in these fields, have deliberately tried to build theoretical models that were intended to delude the people and hide the facts. That was the very purpose behind all the so-called “theoretical” development of these subjects.

      These delusions are now haunting the deluders because now they find that in all these subjects, by deluding themselves all these years, they have not been able to develop the scientific tools they need to manage human society in a rational and scientific way. Economics is a specific case in point where even an official bigwig (to give just one example) such as Mr Adair Turner, chairman of Britain’s Financial Services Authority, is writing about challenging conventional wisdom in economics and if his gobbledygook is translated into scientific terms it turns out he is actually talking about basic problems of capitalism that had been understood and identified 16 decades ago. But since economic theory was built to hide these basic facts, today it is incapable of dealing with these facts or how to create a more rational economy.

      We social scientists were tasked to produce delusions that would hide all the hard realities that this poor and disgusting, carbuncle-infested, (Galbraith, in fact, believed that Mrax’s carbuncles were to blame for his “hatred” for the”bourgeosie” – how comical can delusions become, I wonder?), German pest had exposed and we have done so. Thus, today, Mr Turner is now a victim of the very delusions that his ilk has created over the past 160 years and quite unwittingly he is now vituperating about these same delusions. How comical? How ironic?.

      Today, we are scientific and rational about everything except when it comes to human society because it is class riven and the ruling classes control social science to produce delusions..

      This ideological game has now taken us all to the brink. The gobbledygook that I referred to refers to a subject that calls itself social science, yet it is a subject that starts with assumptions that simply wish away certain basic commonly observed and known facts of life – and that’s when a theory becomes gobbledygook – when it misses the empirical facts even as it starts theorising – when it misses empirically observable and verifiable facts such as the existence of class riven society, exploitation of labour power, extraction of surplus value, the very character of capitalism and, of course, historical materialism – all these hard facts of empirical, objective reality – when they are deliberately left out of the theorising, that’s when gobbledygook of enormous quantities begin to get produced and it has been produced – mountains of it.

      I am tired of all that, and I am angry. Sorry.

      And yes, about historical materialism, it is hard science because we follow this in zoology, biology and in the study of all possible forms of life and we globally also accept these subjects, which do nothing but historical materialism, as hard science, as long as these subjects confine themselves to everything else but humans. But when it comes to humans, we resort to gobbledygook mass producers – all the theorists who joined hands to prove that historical materialism is bullshit, that Marx is bullshit, all this HM being a science etc is bunkum – Weber, Levi Strauss, the marginalist mathematical mumbo jumbo producers – a whole galaxy of luminaries who spent their lifetimes producing lies because that was their task. They were paid for it. It is actually a wonderful history of social science theorising during the last century of forgettable human history where top theorists have spent quality time producing bunkum, high quality lies!.

      I think it is time for people like you to give up your theoretical bullshits – go back to studying German Ideology and the first premises of human history and begin from there – scientifically, in an unbiased way and without being the paid servants of the capitalist class and spewing gobbledygook. And pardon me for being angry! The poor of the world are angry! It’s a hard empirical fact. And, Oh yes! I almost forgot. Start looking at facts before you start theorising. The Marxists after Marx have been making that mistake too.

      P.S. When I debate I can be rather offensive, but I don’t mean to be person to person, so please pardon me for my harsh comments if any.

    • Mark 7:01 pm on August 20, 2011 Permalink

      And again I agree with a huge amount of this – particularly the ideological role that social science, most dramatically certain strands in economics, have played in propping up global capitalism in recent decades! But, without being rude, I can’t take your rejection of theory seriously: you attack theory on one hand and then talk in an endless stream of theoretical concepts, you argue that social science is nothing more than ideology then make the arguments of a left-wing 19th century social scientist, you explicitly engage with methodological and theoretical questions then say that engaging with questions like this is pointless. You say ‘people like you should give up your theoretical bullshits’ then tell me to go back to Marx. I agree with much of what you’re saying BUT the way you’re saying it (e.g. the way you shift from talking about ‘we social scientists’ to saying that ‘people like you’ should give up theoretical bullshits) makes me think that this is, at least in part, a product of an argument you’ve either had or are having with yourself. You seem to be projecting a whole host of things on to me which just aren’t true (e.g. I’ve been involved in activist causes since I was a teenager, I’ve been involved seriously in academia only for the length of being a masters and part-time PhD student) and, more obviously, there’s no way you have any basis to know if they are true or not. And it’ll probably get a bit dull for me if you keep doing it 🙂

      Plus I just can’t take the idea seriously that there’s no value within any aspect of social science because all questions have been answered by the ‘hard science’ of historical materialism. I don’t say this because I’m an unwitting cog in the ideological machine of social science, I don’t say this because I’m trapped within some delusion grand theoretical framework, I don’t say this because I’m deliberately trying to turn attention away from all the day-to-day realities of injustice in the world… I say this because I think it’s an absurd idea. I can take seriously a rejection of social science in its entirety, although obviously I’d disagree, but I can’t take seriously a rejection of social science predicated on the idea that one 19th century social scientist (interpreted in a particular way which, may I suggest, owes as much to Engels as it does to the man himself) has answered all these questions so we can stop talking about them.

    • Mark 8:58 pm on August 20, 2011 Permalink

      yeah i kind of agree and kind of don’t – there’s a difference between saying what’s at the root of the problem, in the political sense of the term & explaining the causal origins of a particular set of events. i get that you recognise this but i think it has implications for what we suggest politically as solutions…

      really really really like your article on this. ties in hugely with a conversation i was having with meems about uk riots yesterday in fact

  • Mark 9:45 am on August 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , more to life than sex, ,   

    There’s more to life than sex? Difference and commonality within the asexual community 

    The first paper I ever wrote has finally been published, only  2 1/2 years after I wrote it, feels like so long ago now:

    Asexuality is becoming ever more widely known and yet it has received relatively little attention from within sociology. Research in the area poses particular challenges because of the relatively recent emergence of the asexual community, as well as the expanding array of terms and concepts through which asexuals articulate their differences and affirm their commonalities. This article presents the initial findings of a mixed-methods research project, which involved semi-structured interviews, online questionnaires and a thematic analysis of online materials produced by members of the asexual community. The aim was to understand self-identified asexuals in their own terms so as to gain understanding of the lived experience of asexuals, as well as offering a subjectively adequate grounding for future research in the area.

  • Mark 9:02 pm on August 13, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    C Wright Mills on the Intellectual’s Responsibility 

    As a type of social man, the intellectual does not have any one political direction, but the work of any man of knowledge, if he is the genuine article, does have a distinct kind of political relevance: his politics, in the first instance, are the politics of truth, for his job is the maintenance of an adequate definition of reality. In so far as he is politically adroit, the main tenet of this politics is to find out as much of the truth as he can, and to tell it to the right people, at the right time, and in the right way. Or, stated negatively: to deny publicly what he knows to be false, whenever it appears in the assertions of no matter whom … The intellectual ought to be the moral conscience of his society at least with reference to the value of truth, for in the defining instance, that is his politics. And he ought also to be a man absorbed in the attempt to know what is real and unreal.

    • On Knowledge and Power
  • Mark 4:49 pm on August 13, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Social Media and Academic Publishing 

    Currently in the process of extending the literature review for my thesis. After intensive trawling through Google Scholar, I’ve found about 60 papers I’m trying to download into drop box for easy day-to-day reading on my iPad. Turns out that, even with my University of Warwick log in, I can only access about 50% of them. Is it just me or is this utterly ludicrous? Given the ease with which academics can now connect, communicate and share with each other, what role do commercial publishers actually serve?

    Edit to add: the percentage of these inaccessible articles which have social media buttons attached to the abstracts wonderfully illustrates everything that’s jarring and anachronistic about intellectual products being given for free by authors subsequently being placed behind a paywall.

  • Mark 9:00 am on August 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    #UKRiots and Sociology 

    An absolutely superb letter in the Guardian from the British Sociological Association about the contribution sociology can make to understanding the UK Riots:

    One of the first things that disappears when considering disturbances such as these is perspective. One loses sight of the fact that nine out of 10 local residents aren’t rioting, that nine out of 10 who are rioting aren’t local to the area, and that nine out of 10 of these non-locals aren’t doing it to commit crime. That is to say, it is a tiny minority who are participating and, of those that are, it’s a tiny minority who are doing so solely to commit crime. Crime is a motive, but crowd behaviour is a more complex process, and it is sociology as a discipline that best understands crowd behaviour.

    Crowds are irrational. Crowds don’t have motives – that’s far too calculating and rational. Crowd behaviour is dynamic in unpredictable ways, and reason and motive disappear when crowds move unpredictably. But has anyone made a connection with the two media events that dominated media coverage on the same day – the irrationality of crowds on the streets and of traders on the stock market? Both sorts of behaviour are moved by emotion not reason, passions not predictability, and reason disappears. Economists are lauded for their accounts of the irrationality of the market traders, but sociologists get criticised for suggesting that allegations of criminality are a poor account of the irrationality of crowds (Was this the mayor’s Katrina moment?, 10 August).

    Sociologists seek to explain – not explain away – these events. An understanding of the impact of social inequalities and deprivation, youth unemployment, racism and ethnic conflict, and crime and policing forms a large part of the concerns of UK sociology. Since most politicians and the police seem to have been taken unawares by the events of the past few days, it seems we need more understanding and explanation, not less, if we are to be able to draw lessons from the current events and prevent their recurrence. The British Sociological Association would be happy to put London’s mayor and his staff in touch with sociologists who could add real understanding to the all-too-easy condemnations of these disturbing events.

    Professor John Brewer President, BSA

    Howard Wollman Vice-chair, BSA

  • Mark 12:08 pm on August 9, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    #UKRiots and Sociological Imagination 

    Tottenham Riots

    So with London in flames for the third night in a row and, for the first time, disturbances spreading outside of the capital, the British population are asking the natural question – what the fuck is going on? The most frequent, as well as understandable, response to this question has been moral condemnation.

    Yet calling these riots ‘lawless looting’ or ‘pure criminality’ isn’t explanation, it’s description. In the last 48 hours of being obsessively glued to coverage of events (on social media and traditional media) one of the things that’s stood out most to me is antipathy to the former response in favor of the latter. Many people seem to assume that attempts to explain the riots are tantamount to moral justification, as if recognizing causal factors beyond the proclivities of particular individuals involved – or a purported culture they share – erases responsibility for their actions.

    In extreme cases this manifests itself in outright racism and classism but, in more moderate forms, it merely stands as a refusal to seriously engage with the severity of events. Rather than trying to understand how and why these riots are happening, it’s implied that they’re an inevitable consequence of the characteristics of those involved: given sufficient opportunity criminals will pursue criminal acts. Yet it would be a mistake to jump to the opposite extreme and argue that ‘austerity has caused these riots’, as if that’s all that needs to be said to explain the pretty much unprecedented scenes we’re all watching.

    At root, this can almost be construed as a methodological dispute about the central sociological question of structure and agency: should an event like this be explained in terms of the action of people involved or in terms of wider social forces shaping that action? The obvious excluded middle is that it’s both: public policy at both a metropolitan and national level, as well as the wider political and economic environment within which that policy is enacted, has shaped the life circumstances which different groups within cities encounter on a day-to-day basis. A plethora of cultural changes, some driven by these policies and others relatively independent, have shaped how different groups experience, interpret and respond to these circumstances (not least of all the spread of social media and smarts phones, which have been central to the organization, coverage and clean up of the riots).

    This might seem an overly abstract way of looking at such extreme events but these questions aren’t going to go away. Over the coming days, weeks and months we’re going to hear many suggested explanations of these events: breakdown of authority, youth unemployment, gang culture, failing educational systems, declining family structures, failures of multiculturalism, local government cuts, police cuts, declining educational opportunities, entrenched poverty etc. The right will invoke micro factors (some entirely accurate, others with a kernel of truth, many which are offensive nonsense) while the left will invoke macro factors (austerity, unemployment and disenfranchisement) and be condemned by the great and the good of the right-wing press for ‘point-scoring’ and ‘political opportunism’. Meanwhile, conspicuous by its absence, will be what C Wright Mills called the Sociological Imagination, the capacity to knit together the macro and the micro – the personal and the historical – through the recognition that:

    “The facts of contemporary history are also facts about the success and the failure of individual men and women. When a society is industrialized, a peasant becomes a worker; a feudal lord is liquidated or becomes a businessman. When classes rise or fall, a person is employed or unemployed; when the rate of investment goes up or down, a person takes new heart or goes broke. When wars happen, an insurance salesperson becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a radar operator; a wife or husband lives alone; a child grows up without a parent. Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”

  • Mark 10:58 am on August 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Informed Commentary from Daily Telegraph Readers on Last Night’s Riot 

    In response to this article which castigates ‘the left’ for political opportunism and point scoring without any evidence before swiftly going on to argue that the riot proves the need for traditional Tory hang ’em and flog ’em policies (without providing any evidence for this) with  a claim that Tory cuts don’t go far enough thrown in for good measure. But what really caught my attention were some of the lovely sentiments being expressed by Telegrapher readers:

    1. You see these chippy small-time blacks every day in inner London – with their swagger, their hoodies, their ridiculous urban patois and their permanent scowl. They should all be put in work camps for re-education.
    2. Next time an armed white criminal is gunned down, let’s all go out armed with petrol bombs and loot Currys. See if  we can get away with it too.
    3. Black youths,black community leaders,black MP welcome to black London.Just another reminder of black labours immigration policies.
    4. It could have been Brixton or Toxteth, or Miami, or Detroit, or Chicago, or Los Angeles, or Johannesburg, or anywhere where Labour’s favourite community rules the roost.
    5. What winds me up is all the talk of “community”. What sort of “community” gets enraged when a policeman shoots an armed criminal who had already fired on police? Maybe we should be looking at least as closely at this community as we are at the police?
    6. Unsurprising the only shop to avoid any of last nights carnage was the KFC.
    7. What you are seeing, and what nobody is prepared to say in public, is that “diversity” and “pc” PCs has created no-go areas in London. Unless and until the Police cease to be the paramilitary wing of the thought crime ministray, and can nick people without worrying about being accused of racism, then this is only the beginning.
    8. Why not cut welfare provision – the group the police spends most of it’s time fighting then being forced to pay for? Slash welfare. Starve the scum. Why keep wasters fed and watered and in homes?
    9. These people are rioting because they can. At the first sign of violence the police should have been allowed to use fugging assault weapons. A reminder of law and order would be a good start but as the left don’t live anywhere near these places they simply don’t understand the terror other people live through.
    10. We need a new Riot Act – basically, martial law.  “All looters will be shot on sight”.  See how long the riots last then.
    11. The rioters are fortunate that, at present we do not have the sort of totalitarian government and police regimes other countries do have.  The body count during an incident, series of incidents like last night’s would have been spectacular.  Behaviour like this may lead to adaptations to the terrorism laws to deal with riots.
    12. Most people prefer the company of others of their own race. Forced integration therefore causes tension and resentment. Race is an important element in individual and group identity, which means it is impossible to build a society in which race does not matter. People of different races build different societies. Blacks—wherever they are found in large numbers—establish communities with certain characteristics, and whites and others do the same.
    13. The Tories have to accept that they are partly to blame. The fact that these colonists exist in our capital city cannot be solely blamed on the Left. The Tories have stood by while the violent 3rd World colonies have spread and grown.
    14. It’s the way of the left. The right loses a general election and spends 5 years trying to figure out how to win the next one. The left loses a general election and takes to the streets in displays of violence whilst blaming the right for the violence
    • anon 5:44 pm on August 17, 2011 Permalink

      And you think comments on Telegraph articles are genuine? They’re powered by disqus.

  • Mark 11:21 am on August 2, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: eli pariser, , ,   

    Liberating Ourselves from the Filter Bubble 

    In this RSA talk the pioneering online campaigner Eli Pariser talks about a crucial and, as yet under-discussed, danger facing the the social media web: the expansion of filtering into every aspect of our online activity. Sites collect data on usage patterns, particularly our reactions to being presented with content and the action (e.g. ‘like’, ‘share’, ‘+1’)  we take in response to what we see. Without collecting such data any possibility of a semantic web is immediately foreclosed because human meaning has to enter the processing system somewhere. Yet the sheer opacity with which these technologies are being developed, let alone how they are being implemented on the web, demands urgent political debate.

    However it would be easy to be alarmist about this and throw the baby out with the bath water. The problem is not filtering per se but rather the private and opaque nature of this filtering. In so far as the development and roll out of the technology is reliant on the corporate structures of capitalism, it’s difficult to avoid the former entirely. But the demand shouldn’t be for liberation from the filter bubble these corporations have placed us in – it should be for them to make their technology available to us so that we can design and implement our own filtering bubbles, as part of our ongoing day-to-day interactions with the internet, driven by our awareness of what we do and do not want to see. Certainly the computational systems they’ve developed allow us to see connections which we might not be consciously aware of: I’ve come across rafts of fascinating reading through following Amazon’s ‘other customers who bought this also bought’ system. But this should be an opt in system, rather than something imposed upon us. It could be argued that there are political problems inherent in this as well – as Cass Sunstein plausibly argues in his Republic 2.0 – given the possibility that already politically divided societies are likely to become ever more polarized when individuals self-select for all the content they encounter.

    However firstly it’s necessary if we’re going to have any possibility of engaging productively and creatively with modern digital technology simply because of the exponential trend of content growth which goes hand-in-hand with the mass uptake of social media tools. Secondly, the problems attached to it are contingent and emergent (i.e. they result from when people in practice do this filtering badly, often for reasons not of their own making) rather than being intrinsic to filtering itself. Thirdly, the sheer cultural value of web 2.0 demands new proficiencies on the part of its users: we can either retreat from information overload (see the growing trend for going offline, protectively lock ourselves into virtual bubbles of our own making, stay passively within the corporate infosphere*  OR we can embrace the challenges that come from this revolution in human communication, using the tools available to us in order to dialogically develop a dynamic filtering orientation as we negotiate an ongoing path through human culture in the 21st century.

    *Which I think is the main concern which arises from the filter bubble as it presently stands

    Originally posted on Sociological Imagination

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