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  • Mark 10:04 pm on November 18, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    The Pseudo-Psychology of Asexuality 

    In the last three years, I’ve encountered a wide range of writing on asexuality. Some of it I like very much. Much simply doesn’t interest me, either as a result of its methodological approach or lack of theoretical ambition. A few articles have irritated me, albeit for different reasons in each case. However Saberi Roy’s article is the first time I’ve been genuinely appalled by  a piece of purportedly academic writing on the subject. In another area of my academic life, I’m a huge advocate of academics using social media to communicate with wider audiences and I don’t for a second expect online articles to match the rigour and elaboration of journal articles. Nonetheless I do expect them to meet basic standards of rational argument and exhibit at least a cursory awareness of the literature surrounding the topic, all the more so if the author chooses to express themselves in the sort of declarative voice which implicitly styles itself as presenting the unarguable facts relating to a particular issue. Roy’s article falls pathetically short of these standards and, given their profile observes that “psychology is based on empirical knowledge and scientific study”, it’s mystifying how they came to write it.

    The article rests on a rather odd distinction between the ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ of asexuality. The former is taken to be a lack of ‘sexual feelings and desires’ towards others while the latter is taken to be ‘refraining’ from sexual activity. Leaving aside Roy’s obvious conflation of sexual feeling/desire/attraction, it’s obvious from the outset how theoretically confused her understanding of asexuality is. The word ‘refrain’ implies a holding back of oneself – are we to assume that the author believes the ‘practice’ of asexuality involves restraining one’s sexual desire? If so, they immediately contradict themselves by declaring that a ‘proper’ asexual* is an asexual in both theory and practice i.e. one whom, to use the author’s own definition, lacks sexual feelings and desires towards others. The two components of ‘proper asexuality’ are, in the author’sown terms, in tension.

    Roy then declares that those who have sex ‘mechanically’ and do not derive ‘sexual pleasure’ from it are, by virtue of the fact they engage in sexual activity, thereby sexual. Having already conflated sexual feeling, desire and attraction a few sentences earlier, the author now throws ‘deriving sexual pleasure’ into the mix, without even bothering to consider how that relates to the earlier concepts. Indeed, one suspects it hasn’t even occurred to her that these terms aren’t synonyms. Likewise, having claimed that ‘proper’ asexuals must be asexuals in both ’theory’ and ‘practice’ – i.e. one must have an absence of sexual attraction at an experiential level and refrain from sexual activity at a behavioural level – they then define being sexual entirely in terms of ‘practice’. For an asexual to be ‘proper’ there must be both experience and behaviour but, in order to be a ‘proper’ sexual, all you have to do is engage in sexual behaviour. Why are there dual criteria for asexuality and single criteria for being sexual? Then, having defined the ‘theory’ of asexuality in terms of sexual attraction, Roy declares that having ‘sexual feelings’ towards ‘no one in particular’ means that the person in question is not asexual. How many times can an author contradict themselves in the space of one paragraph? This impressive foray into writing at a standard that would be unacceptable at undergraduate level – I write while being in the process of marking a batch of first year undergraduate essays – is topped off with an example of cod psychoanalysis as bizzare as it is vacuous: ”This may have something to do with homosexuality or narcissism and narcissists could be autosexuals or repressed homosexuals”. The next few paragraphs continue in this vein, making a whole host of unsubstantiated assertions about asexuality which have no obvious connection to the self-contradictory rambling of the first paragraph – the distinction between the ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ of asexuality vanishes and we are instead treated to a series of paragraph long chains of baseless assertion about the biological, psychological, social and intellectual basis of asexuality.

    Then it gets really weird. Having already defined asexuality in the first paragraph, the author seemingly changes their mind, declaring that “according to me a true asexual must have at least one biological and one psychological reason for not engaging in sex”. Er, why? In its own terms this is completely arbitrary but the sheer ambiguity as to how this definition of a ‘true asexual’ relates to the earlier definition of a ‘proper asexual’ can’t help but leave anyone who’s bothered reading this far with the impression that Roy isn’t just profoundly ignorant about the subject she’s writing about, she’s also profoundly ignorant about her own argument. For good measure they then throw in some confused methodological remarks:

    Psychological studies are mainly based on asexuals who are asexual in practice and thus such studies could be severely flawed as in these cases, people who are considered asexuals may still have latent or repressed sexual desire so they are theoretically not asexual and may have no difference with non asexuals in their level of sex drive. However asexuality could be successfully studied by psychologists with tests that would measure ‘both’ the desire to not have sex – the complete lack of sex drive as also the practice of actually refraining from sex. As of now, psychological tests have focused on measuring asexuality as the condition of ‘not being sexually attracted to anyone’.

    I’ve seen no evidence that Roy has either read or understood any of the rapidly expanding literature on asexuality. Likewise they yet again demonstrate  their inability to draw basic conceptual distinctions i.e. ‘the desire to not have sex’ is not the same thing as a lack of desire for sex. It’s perfectly reasonable for Roy to argue that studies should proceed on the basis of both the ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ of asexuality. Or at least it would be if they’d managed to finish the paragraph where they introduced the distinction without contradicting themselves (or indeed finish the article without introducing an entirely new definition of asexuality). Then, having made a whole sequence of uninformed declarations about ‘proper’ and ‘true’ asexuality, the author ends with this wonderful finishing touch:

    Ultimately the human mind is complex and denial or repression of desire is the easiest route when the need to repress or deny is greater than the need to express so even responses obtained in psychological tests may not completely reflect an individual’s actual sexual drive. Finally the condition of asexuality remains as great a mystery as sex drive and the human mind and unless we have a deeper understanding of the process of thinking and desire, understanding sexuality or asexuality completely will remain elusive.

    Er, right… so is asexuality a result of a psychological mechanism (first sentence) or a mystery which will remain elusive (second sentence)? Leaving aside the fact that Roy yet again contradicts herself from sentence to sentence, neither of these conclusions fit with the body of what she’s arguing. If the first is true then this (impressively!) manages to contradict both her definitions of ‘true’/’proper’ asexuality i.e. if it’s a psychological mechanism about the repression of desire then where does either biology or behaviour enter into it? If the second is true then what on earth was she going on about for the rest of the article? It’s difficult to do justice to quite how awful this article is and, although I can’t know for certain, it’s difficult not to view the author’s academic credentials as profoundly suspect. My earlier comment about undergraduate marking was not hyperbolic. If this were a first year undergraduate essay, I would fail it. Leaving aside her remarkable ability to contradict herself from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph, what really grates is that the author both feels impelled to offer declarations about what ‘true’ and ‘proper’ asexuality while also demonstrating such a profound ignorance of the subject matter. At no point does it seem to occur to her that these are real people with real lives. This article, as well as its ignorant and incompetent author, made me very angry. I might come back to tone down this post later once I’ve calmed down.

    *I find this term hugely offensive, particularly when its invoked on the basis of such obvious and profound ignorance of the subject at hand.

    • Sam H 2:47 pm on December 1, 2011 Permalink

      The article no longer appears to be on the site you link to. Intriguing . . .

  • Mark 6:40 pm on November 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Do you hate e-mail? I do. Can’t universities think of smarter ways to communicate internally? 

    (More …)

    • Michael 8:13 am on February 26, 2015 Permalink

      I am using a filter to send as much as possible of the university’s internal communication directly into the trash bin. 90% of it are newsletters about things completely unrelated to me or announcements of events I am not interested in. Its just spam. I wonder by what reflex the university staff keeps sending these emails and whether anyone actually is interested in them.

  • Mark 10:36 am on November 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: dougald hine, , the university project,   

    The University Project 

    In this podcast I’m talking to Dougald Hine about the University Project. If you’re interested in the project and would like to get involved in something similar in your area of the country, check out the SI list of radical education projects. Get in touch if there’s any other projects you want added to the list.

    The University Project

  • Mark 9:45 am on November 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Andrew Hinderliter at “Spotlight on Asexuality” 

    From the Spotlight on Asexuality event:

  • Mark 2:20 pm on November 13, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    What sort of thing is asexuality? 

    Andrew Hinderliter, giving far and away the best summing up there’s yet been of the central methodological (and thereby substantive) question of asexuality studies: what sort of thing is asexuality?



  • Mark 12:21 am on November 13, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , self-clarification, self-questioning, , , sexual understanding, ,   

    The Difficulty of Working Out Who You Are: Sexual Categories, Sexual Culture and Asexuality 

    The talk I gave at the recent Spotlight on Asexuality Studies event:

    [audio: https://markcarrigan.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/markspotlight.mp3]


  • Mark 12:01 am on November 10, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    The Comics I’m selling (only posting this on the blog because I needed something online that I could link to in ads) 

    (More …)

  • Mark 11:33 am on November 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    The Third Industrial Revolution? 

  • Mark 10:31 pm on November 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    The myth of academic autonomy 

    Neoliberalism found fertile ground in academics whose predispositions to ‘work hard’ and ‘do well’ meshed perfectly with it’s demands for autonomous, self motivating, responsibilised subjects. This is gendered, racialised and classed, too, to be sure, in ways that merit urgent attention that I have been unable to give in this short piece. The lack of resistance to the neoliberalisation of universities is partly a result of these divisive, individualizing practices, of the silences around them, of the fact also that people are too exhausted to resist and furthermore do not know what to resist or how to do so. But it is also understandable, I suggest, in terms of the inherent pleasures and fulfilment that many people derive from their work (when they find time to do it) or at least the promise of/idea of it, as well as to the seductions of relatively autonomous working lives — though this autonomy is eroding fast, as universities import business models which require for example that all e-mails be answered within 24 hours, or that academics are present in the office five days a week. In reality, the much vaunted autonomy often simply means that universities end up extracting even more labour from us for free, as we participate in working lives in which there is often no boundary between work and anything else (if indeed there is anything else).

    Gill, R (2009) Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia in Flood,R. & Gill,R. (Eds.) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections. London: Routledge

    And now I’m off to catch up on my e-mail for an hour before I feel able to go to bed…………

    • Chris Shaw 6:45 pm on June 3, 2013 Permalink

      It’s just the least worst option.

  • Mark 10:23 pm on November 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Self-pathologisation and e-mail 

    it is notable how much self-contempt runs through such accounts, and the way they draw on the language of pathology. In the extract that begins this section, the male professor characterises himself as variously ‘addicted’, ‘obsessive’ and ‘compulsive’ when he might more accurately be seen as enacting quite reasonable strategies in order to cope with an entirely unreasonable workload. ‘Addiction’ metaphors suffuse academics’ talk of their relationship to e-mail, even as they report such high levels of anxiety that they feel they have to check e-mail first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and in which time away (on sick leave, on holiday) generates fears of what might be lurking in the inbox when they return. Again, inventive ‘strategies’ abound for keeping such anxiety at bay eg putting on your ‘out of office’ reply when you are actually in the office.

    Gill, R (2009) Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia in Flood,R. & Gill,R. (Eds.) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections. London: Routledge

  • Mark 10:18 pm on November 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    The punishing intensification of work within academia… 

    A punishing intensification of work has become an endemic feature of academic life. Again, serious discussion of this is hard to find either within or outside universities, yet it is impossible to spend any significant amount of time with academics without quickly gaining an impression of a profession overloaded to breaking point, as a consequence of the underfunded expansion of universities over the last two decades, combined with hyperinflation of what is demanded of academics, and an audit culture that, if it was once treated with scepticism, has now been almost perfectly internalized. ( Indeed, as I write this, I’m being informed by email of the need to be ‘REF-ready’, even before the terms of the new research assessment audit – the so-called Research Excellence Framework — have been announced).

    Gill, R (2009) Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia in Flood,R. & Gill,R. (Eds.) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections. London: Routledge

    • dwhill14 6:48 am on June 11, 2013 Permalink

      In case of interest, here’s some stuff on the impact of new media on work:

      Chapter Four of Castells, M. 2006. The Rise of the Network Society. Blackwell Publishing.

      Berardi, F. 2009. Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of the Post-Alpha Generation. Minor Compositions.

      Berardi, F. 2009. The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy. Semiotext(e).

      Berkowsky, R.W. 2013. When you just cannot get away: exploring the use of information and communication technologies in facilitating negative work/home spillover. Information, Communication & Society, 16:4, 519-541.

      Bolin, G. 2012. The labor of media use: the two active audiences. Information, Communication & Society, 15:6, 796-814.

      Fish, A. & R. Srinivasan. 2012. Digital labor is the new killer app. New Media & Society, 14:1, 137-152.

      Fuchs, C. 2013. Digital Labour and Karl Marx. Routledge.

      Chapters Nine and Fifteen of Fuchs, C. & M. Sandoval (eds). 2013. Critique, Social Media and the Information Society. Routledge.

      Gill, R. & A. Pratt. 2008. In the social factory? immaterial labour, precariousness and cultural work. Theory, Culture & Society, 25:7-8, 1-30.

      de Peuter, G. 2013. Creative economy and labour precarity: a contested convergence. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 35:4, 417-425.

      Scholz, T.(ed) 2012. Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory. Routledge.

      Schoneboom, A. 2011. Workblogging in a Facebook age. Work, Employment & Society, 25:1, 132-140.

      Terranova, T. 2000. Free labor: producing culture for the digital economy. Social Text, 18:2, 33-58.

      Chapter Three of Terranova, T. 2004. Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age. Pluto Press.

    • Mark 12:57 pm on June 11, 2013 Permalink

      cheers! do you know if anyone has done research on this in relation to academia?

  • Mark 10:04 pm on November 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Precarity in academic life 

    Precariousness is one of the defining experiences of contemporary academic life — particularly, but not exclusively, for younger or ‘career early’ staff (a designation that can now extend for one’s entire ‘career’, given the few opportunities for development or secure employment.) Statistical data about the employment patterns of academics shows the wholesale transformation of higher education over the last decades, with the systematic casualisation of the workforce. Continuing contracts — understood in the US as tenure-track appointments — now represent only just over half of academic posts, with 38 % of all academics in higher education on fixed term contracts in 2006-7 (Court and Kinman, 2008). While, in the past, short-term contracts were largely limited to research positions and tied to specific, time-limited projects, today they also characterise teaching posts which are frequently offered on a one-year temporary basis at the bottom of the pay scale. However, even these posts constitute the ‘aristocracy of labour’ when compared to the proliferation of short-term, part-time teaching positions, contracted on an hourly paid basis, in which PhD students or new postdocs are charged with delivering mass undergraduate programmes, with little training, inadequate support and rates of pay that — when preparation and marking aretaken into account — frequently fall (de facto) below the minimum wage and make even jobs in cleaning or catering look like attractive pecuniary options. Alongside such jobs is the newly created stratum of ‘teaching fellowships’ in which, as a cost-cutting measure for University management, work once rewarded with a lectureship is repackaged for lower pay, stripped of benefits (eg pension) and any sense of obligation or responsibility to the employee, and offered purely on a term-time basis, frequently leaving teaching fellows without any source of income over the summer.

    Gill, R (2009) Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia in Flood,R. & Gill,R. (Eds.) Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections. London: Routledge

  • Mark 8:52 pm on November 6, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Words cannot do justice to quite how much I want this iPad case… 

  • Mark 7:40 am on November 4, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    John Rex on the Politics of Social Research 

    It is all too common today for sociologists to assert that their sociology is critical, non-value-free or reflexive, and having done so to abandon any attempt to conform to the sorts of standards of reasoning and proof which are characteristic of scientific thought.

  • Mark 7:14 pm on November 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Olivier Cormier-Otaño at “Spotlight on Asexuality” 

    The first video from Spotlight on Asexuality Studies – more videos coming soon!

  • Mark 3:23 pm on November 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    The Dark Age of Macroeconomics 

    Early in 2009, when the Obama stimulus was under discussion, I was stunned to read statements from a number of well-regarded economists asserting not merely that the plan was a bad idea in practice — a defensible idea — but that debt-financed government spending could not, in principle, raise overall spending. Here’s John Cochrane:

    “If the government borrows a dollar from you, that is a dollar that you do not spend, or that you do not lend to a company to spend on new investment. Every dollar of increased government spending must correspond to one less dollar of private spending. Jobs created by stimulus spending are offset by jobs lost from the decline in private spending. We can build roads instead of factories, but fiscal stimulus can’t help us to build more of both. This is just accounting, and does not need a complex argument about ‘crowding out.’”

    I won’t go into detail here about why that’s wrong. Let’s just say that statements like this reveal a complete ignorance of almost 80 years of macroeconomic analysis. Even the simplest multiplier model tells you that while it’s true thatS=I, that equals sign cannot be replace with an arrow running from left to right.

    But what became clear in the policy debate after the 2008 crisis was that many economists — including many macroeconomists — don’t know the simplest multiplier analysis. They literally know nothing about models in which aggregate demand can be determined by more than the quantity of money. I’m not saying that they have looked into such models and rejected them; they are unaware that it’s even possible to tell a logically consistent Keynesian story. We’ve entered a Dark Age of macroeconomics, in which much of the profession has lost its former knowledge, just as barbarian Europe had lost the knowledge of the Greeks and Romans.

    via Eastern Economic Journal – The Profession and the Crisis.

  • Mark 3:21 pm on November 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Paul Krugman on the failings of the economics profession 

    Economists had good enough intellectual frameworks to have seen the risk of something like the banking and balance sheet crisis that burst upon us in 2008. But they ignored that risk.

    My best answer is that they were caught up in the spirit of the times, with its faith in the wisdom of markets and of the financial industry. Nobody could deny the possibility of runs on conventional banks, which have happened so often in history. Few could deny that debt deflation had happened in the past. But to argue, or even to think about, the possibility that the old evils could manifest themselves in new forms would have been to question the whole basis of decades of policy, not to mention the foundations of a very lucrative industry. You don’t have to invoke raw corruption (although there may have been some of that) to see why this was a line of thought few were willing to pursue. And by not pursuing that line of thought, the profession fell down badly on the job.

    via Eastern Economic Journal – The Profession and the Crisis.

  • Mark 2:40 pm on November 3, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , social science 2.0, ,   

    Wikipedia and Social Science 2.0 

    A project like Wikipedia thrives because of it’s ability to harness the efforts of occasional contributors. As Clay Shirky suggests in his excellent  Here Comes Everybody, the numbers willing to make a small contribution (e.g. proof reading an article and correcting typos) vastly outstrip the numbers willing (or able!) to sit and write an entire article from scratch. This dynamic allows collaborative production to spiral into an endless series of feedback loops, as a few who contribute a lot provide raw material which a far greater number who contribute a little subsequently ‘mop up’ (i.e. rephrase, extend, correct), in turn expanding the scope of the site and increasing both its actualtraffic andpotential appeal, bringing ever more co-producers to Wikipedia. It’s an incredibly powerful iterative process, as can be seen in the statistics describing the site’s growth:

    In fact the sophistication which characterises the discussion at the above link (how best to model Wikipedia’s growth) is testament to the intellectual power of iterative co-production. So the obvious question is: how can this dynamic be harnessed by social science 2.0?

    One of the obvious problems which Wikipedia raises, particularly within academia, is that of expertise. How can the intellectual outputs of an anonymous and collaborative endeavour be trusted? After all, academic life is predicated on systems of accreditation which have been evolving for centuries. The simple answer is that it’s not warranted to uncriticallytrust any particular article on Wikipedia because mistakes and inaccuracies pervade the system. Expertise is an emergent characteristic of the overarching site but not one (at least not a taken-for-granted on) of any one article.

    If this was a commercial encyclopedia then this inadequacy would be something of a deal-breaker. People wouldn’t pay money for a series of books that they couldn’t trust and, conversely, the manufacturer wouldn’t produce a series of books which people would be unlikely to pay for. However what makes Wikipedia unique is a generic property of the web (massively reduced production costs) and a specific property of the site itself (open-ended self-correction). These add up to one very special property: minimal cost of failure. The point at which aggregative failure threatens the integrity & utility of the overarching system is far lower than any comparable pre-internet endeavour.

    As a system Wikipedia can survive a great deal of failure and, in turn, this facilitates iterative self-correction. Because there’s no central agency which has invested money in the project in the hope of making a profit, there’s no incentive to cut their losses because the project ceases to be commercially viable. This lack of a cut off point means that iterative co-production can continue and, through doing so, actually correct the failures which might otherwise have led to its demise. In the process new failures will occur but these too can be corrected.

    I find Wikipedia absolutely fascinating when seen in cybernetic terms. There are three properties I’ve discussed which need to be considered when articulating a concept of Social Science 2.0:

    1. Harnessing small contributions effectively
    2. Maintaining function in spite of recurrent failure
    3. Rendering accreditation and expertise unproblematic
  • Mark 9:02 pm on November 2, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Participant Observation 

    Although usually described as ‘fly on the wall’, a more accurate metaphor for this kind of research is ‘cat on the prowl’, for a good participant observer is more like a stray cat. She is curious and interactive but not threatening. Occasionally intrusive, but easily ignored.

    • Sarah Thornton, Seven Days In the Art World 
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