Updates from December, 2011 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 10:20 pm on December 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    The 5 most popular articles on my blog in 2012 






  • Mark 9:21 pm on December 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    2011: the year when I got REALLY into doing podcasts… 

    1. Steve Fuller on the Future of the University
    2. Stephen Turner on Normativity
    3. Simon Williams on the Sociology of Sleep
    4. Dave Elder-Vass on the Causal Power of Social Structures
    5. Martin Allen and Patrick Ainley on the prospects for UK Education
    6. Catherine Coveney on Cognitive Enhancement and Modafinil
    7. Social Theory and the Politics of Austerity
    8. Public Universities and Public Futures
    9. an introduction to asexuality
    10. Interview with Danny Birchall from the Wellcome Collection
    11. Hilary Pilkington on Researching Drug Cultures
    12. Campaigning for the Public University
    13. Making a Case for Social Science
    14. Making New Spaces for Learning in the University
    15. Steve Fuller on the Impact Agenda
    16. Engaging with the media as a PhD student
    17. The Impact Agenda in the Arts and Humanities
    18. Is a Post-Neoliberal politics possible?
    19. “You can’t be too vain to gain if you want to swim the Channel” – Karen Throsby at the SI Seminar
    20. The Political Economy of Football – Wyn Grant
    21. Sam Farooq on Religious Masculinities in Sport
    22. Deborah Butler at the SI Seminar
    23. How do our brothers and sisters shape who we are?
    24. The University Project
    25. Emma Rees interviewed about Can’t…
    26. Violence, Inequality and UK Riots
    27. Andrew Hinderliter – WHAT SORT OF THING IS ASEXUALITY?
    29. MSc Science, Media and Public Policy

    And a load that I didn’t manage to finish editing in time to include on this list: 

    1. Bob Carter and Nickie Charles on the Sociology of Animals
    2. Nick Crossley on Relational Sociology
    3. Andrew Sayer on why we can’t afford the rich 
    4. Andrew Sayer on why things matter to people
    5. Another few talks from the BSA riots event (and the videos)
    6. Some BSA PG Forum podcasts I was supposed to edit & post for other people
    7. Some BSA Theory Study Group podcasts I was supposed to edit & post for other people
    8. The podcast with the awesome Mike Jay which I seem to have lost but MUST be around somewhere
    9. The remaining podcasts from the Spotlight on Asexuality Studies event in October
    10. The podcast from my talk at Critical Sexology in September

    (the above is a to do list for myself more than anything else, as is the list below)

    Podcasts either confirmed or discussed for next year:

    1. Derek Layder on Realism and Social Theory
    2. Derek Layder on Psychobiography
    3. Gurminder K. Bhambra and Dan Orrells on Africa Athena 
    4. Eric Jensen on Public Engagement
    5. Nathan Jurgenson on Digital Dualism
    6. Jonathan Rowson on the Social Brain Project
    7. Recording a selection of my old asexuality presentations as podcasts
    8. Recording my 2011 Oslo Psychobiography presentation as a podcast
    9. Recording my BSA 2012 C Wright Mills presentation as a podcast
    10. Recording the BSA 2012 C Wright Mills panel as podcast
    11. Recording the BSA 2012 Theory Plenary as podcast (once I double check with speakers)
    12. Recording my BSA 2012 biographical research presentation as a podcast
    13. Revising my (slightly crap) presentation from Virtual Futures and recording as podcast
    14. Doing an Asexuality Studies podcast to tie in with launch of the book
    15. Recording my July Social Media and Protest presentation as a podcast
    16. Recording my Feb 2011 UK riots & Occupy presentation in Korea as podcast
    17. Recording The University In The Sky and the University Between The Cracks from the Bauman thing in September as podcast
    18. Podcast with Meg Barker about her book on Relationships in July
    19. Podcast with Mark Fisher about capitalist realism at some point in 2012
    20. Podcast with LSE Impact team about the project / wider issues in early 2012
  • Mark 7:12 am on December 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , david torrance, kim jong-il, p diddy, princess diana, public mourning, sociology of grief,   

    ‘Lady Di’ and Kim Jong-il: weird affinities… 

    Since the death of Kim Jong-il, the world’s media has been voyeuristically fixated on the scenes of public mourning gripping North Korea. As a sociologist, I’ve found some of this footage fascinating. So too the way in which these scenes of extreme public mourning are frequently being framed, at least by the UK media.

    But is this kind of public mourning really so alien? The point was well made in a tweet by the political journalist David Torrance yesterday:

    Look at all those crazy N Koreans weeping & wailing over a hereditary state figure they’d never met. We Brits wouldn’t do anything like that

    I had just turned 12 when Princess Diana died. I remember being told, “you’ll always remember where you were when you found this out”. For what it’s worth, I don’t remember where I was though, as a 12 year old during the summer holidays, I assume I was at home. I remember the funeral, mostly for Elton John’s song which, in my 12 year old way, I found quite moving (whereas I now find it mawkish and weird). Most of all though I remember images of the crowds, the endless seas of teddy bears and flowers. It’s only looking back on this time as an adult that I can understand quite how bizarre  it really was, as ‘an entire nation’ was ‘united’ in mourning for the ‘people’s princess’. As the comedian Mark Thomas reflected on the funeral, “it was almost like a Soviet leader had died and they had put on the martial music, except it was images of Diana and her children”.

    My point is not to suggest that ‘Lady Di’ represented a cult of personality analogous to Kim Jong-il. Rather that it represented something much more insidious and all the weirder for the widespread blindness to the sheer ludicrousness of it, as well as the nakedly commercial and political uses to which this was put (with many of the emerging chroniclers of New Labour reaching a rare consensus in recognising the effectiveness with which Tony Blair sealed his early bond with the nation by orchestrating public mourning after her death).

    If you think I’m over-stating my case, watch this video of P Diddy / Sean Combs (a.k.a. the richest man in hip-hop) at the Diana memorial concert, with such obvious happy-clappy Christian revivalist orchestration that it must have been entirely conscious and deliberate.

    Some of these issues are explored in greater depth, albeit not in terms of Kim Jong-il for obvious reasons, in an excellent documentary by the late Christopher Hitchens:

  • Mark 10:45 pm on December 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: attachement theory, biographical methods, , john bowlby, , ,   

    A quick post on attachement theory and my PhD 

    After years of intending to read John Bowlby, I’ve finally got round to it and I’m very impressed. He formulated attachement theory as an attempt to affect a paradigm shift (in a very self-consciously Kuhnian fashion) within psychiatric research and therapeutic practice. I won’t bother outlining the theory (the Wiki link above is excellent) because my interest in it is somewhat tangential but rather crucial to what I’m trying to do in my PhD. Bowlby offered his account as a theory of psychopathology which “instead of starting with a clinical syndrome of later years and trying to trace its origins retrospectively”  drew “on observations of the behaviour of children in certain sorts of defined situation[s], including records of the feelings and thoughts they express” and traced out the consequences prospectively (pg 29). Or, in other words, it took interpersonal dynamics at a particular point in time and, through empirical research and theoretical work, elaborated an account of the ensuing intrapersonal consequences.

    Its capacity to do this in an explanatorily productive way rests on an attentiveness towards an “internal psychological organisation with a number of highly specific features”, as well as how these internal structures are shaped by the relational contexts the child confronts over time (pg 32). For my own purposes, I’m taking attachement as one particularly significant category of interaction between one particular social domain. In my terminology: Bowlby’s gives an account of how psychic structures (intrapersonal) are shaped over time (diachronic) by attachement dynamics (relational) at particular points in time (synchronic). This is the basic structure of what I’m trying to map out: how different causal factors at a particular point in time lead to the elaboration or reproduction of our personhood over time.

    However Bowlby’s account is too specific for my sociological purposes (though this isn’t intended as a criticism of him). Within the domain of human relationships, his picture of why attachement happens – i.e. what is it about some people, in the context of a relationship, that engenders attachement behaviour – is overly narrow. It remains entirely relational rather than considering, for example, how structural factors might impart characteristics which engender attachement behaviour in some e.g. stable income –> security & reliability. It also seems to lack a broader theory of what relationships are, as well as how they lead to the emergence of goods/evils, virtues/vices or whatever term you like to denote the fact that relationships have emergent characteristics which are (a) irreducible to the individuals involved (b) are good, bad or anything in between relative to the subjective concerns and projects of each party to the relationship.

    So, in short, I think Bowlby is for entirely understandable reasons offering an account of a particular class of interpersonal/relational modality which, given the way humans are constituted, is developmentally hugely significant and also very important to our emotional lives as adults. My intention in the PhD is to map out classes of modalities through which (synchronic) causal factors in different social domains – as well as conjunctions of factors within/between those domains – give rise to the (diachronic) transformation or reproduction of personhood.

    In slightly more pleasant terms: it’s a theory of how we become who we are and an explanatory methodology for unpicking how different sorts of casual influences shape this process over time. Theoretically I want to develop an account of how human personhood is shaped which incorporates the psychological and the social without unduly privileging either. Methodologically I want to develop an approach which can be applied to any qualitative research which is concerned with biography/life course through identifying particular cycles of personal transformation or reproduction:

    T1 – Causal factors within or between social domains that relate to our personhood

    T2  to T3 – Leading to the transformation or reproduction of psychic structures

    T4 –  An elaborated or reproduced set of psychic structures

    Who we are over time is shaped by an endless array of such cycles which are empirically superimposed. Which is why biographical research can be so messy. My approach – developed through a 2 year longitudinal case study of 19 participants with 5 in-depth interviews – helps alleviate this. Given a particular interest, whether defined at the start of the research or testing out different interests iteratively as one proceeds, data analysis can precede by identifying the above cycles and unpacking the T2-T3 dynamics. Speaking from personal experience, this is starting to prove a VERY powerful way of making sense of longitudinal qualitative data, though I’m less confident about how useful people would find it with non-longitudinal data.

    My intention is to use my data to iteratively developed a taxonomy of classes of modalities that obtain at T2-T3. Or in slightly less weird language: in what sorts of ways do personal characteristics, relationships, ideas, social structures – or some combination thereof – have an impact on who we are over time.

    This is all a bit rough. I’ve also just tried to explain in 500 words what I spent 15000 words explaining in the PhD itself. Does this make sense to anyone? I’m presenting this for the first time in April and I really do need to learn to summarise it to people who aren’t my supervisors and/or haven’t read my thesis and/or aren’t critical realists. I quite successfully explained this to a room full of critical realists in Oslo last October but am a bit worried I won’t be able to manage it without the shared intellectual background. Hmm.

    Here’s the core 4 questions / aims as I just tweeted them:

    1. In what SORTS of ways can personal characteristics, relationships, ideas and social structures (or combination thereof) shape who we are.
    2. How do these kinds of causal relationships add up to shaping the life of any particular individual, understood as a specific biography
    3. How can we do social research in a way which recognises ALL these different sorts of relationships + doesn’t over/under privilege any?
    4. In practical terms of research design & data analysis, how do you put this approach into practice? What are difficulties+benefits of it?


    When i talk about ‘social domains’ I mean:

    1. Personal – our personal characteristics & capacities, some generically human, others shaped by our own personal histories (including the genetic)
    2. Relational – the relational networks within which we’re embedded, their characteristics as networks, as well as the characteristics of the relationships which comprise them (and the emergent goods/evils found within them)
    3. Ideational – basically the ideas both actually and potentially accessible to us at a given point in time given our social position, as well as the logical relations that obtain between them
    4. Structural – the allotment of material resources and cultural capital we enjoy at a particular point in terms, our positions within organisations and bureaucracies, the emergent consequences of political&economic processes which we are subject to given that we, like everyone else, have a particular social placement

    The quotes above are from Bowlby’s “A Secure Base”

  • Mark 10:33 am on December 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , mark carrigan, mercedes poll, , , sociology of asexuality, ,   

    Spotlight on Asexuality Studies 

    “Spotlight on Asexuality Studies” was a groundbreaking event hosted by the Identity Repertoires/Mind the Gap research group in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick, UK.  Academics, activists, community members, therapists and students gathered in the university library and online to discuss contemporary asexual research, with papers presented both in-person and from the United States and Canada via video-conference.

    For more information about the event, see the website.

  • Mark 8:53 pm on December 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    I’ve had this song stuck in my head for over a week now, usually doing this helps exorcise it: 

    Lights are out, phones are dead
    and I’m the only thing that’s running in this city
    except for the clouds and then they’re coming down
    for if I knew my way around, I wouldn’t feel so dizzy
    Where’s the tele? Nobody can tell me
    I don’t speak a lick of that language
    and got a slippery memory
    if I spelled it all out on my arm
    only if but I didn’t so I think
    get a grip kid deal with it
    baby’s waiting for a ring won’t settle
    for the substitute excuse that’s forming
    I got a complicated case of escapism
    for her I try to rewire my nature
    to tired to wake her up
    out of that artificial calm that she is on
    a drug induced future that slipped out of her palm
    seductive rain dancer she think I’m waterproof
    like superman doesn’t need a roof over his head
    when I come home to roost, I need truth to hold in bed
    but I’m seeking salvation in a booth
    and the phones are dead and the lights are out
    and I’m the only thing that living in this ghost town
    except the clouds and then they’re coming down
    for if I knew my way around I’d be bound for home

    Black out on white night in Rome (2x)

    I know that I’m in love, but I know I’m out of touch
    and I know that I get dumb when I can sense that something’s up
    and then I bottom out, European tailspins
    crawling messages outta my pale skin in hopes that they get mailed in
    before the ink poisoning takes effect
    and it get smudged because I budge before letting paint set
    I get judged by ones that have shelter and rainchecks
    while I trudge through the mud ’cause this pouring terrain’s wet
    regain consciousness and lose common sense
    the ominous dark skies that lie between me and Providence
    are signs the obvious answer
    isn’t standing on your face with stilettos on
    if you pop the question wrong, every song is a post after thought
    I wont grab the chalk to outline my body of work
    toe tags get caught in my teeth cause my foot is in my mouth
    and the spurs are in my words so my tongue can’t dismount
    even after our rapport has fully run it’s course
    couldn’t find the most heroic time to jump from the horse
    and place this old hat for the last time on the coat rack
    but I donate all my earnings from this race just to know that
    resisting all my urges to go back and get it later
    like the milk will un-sour itself in the refrigerator
    A wet boy in a dry, dry state on an old country road
    where tradition has a blind date
    I make a dance on it’s own grave tonight
    with a change of direction by the pale moon light
    and if it needs theme music, I’ll break out the bagpipes
    and play you a tune you ghost wrote me in a past life that goes like…

    Black out on white night in Rome (4x)

    I’m just spitting poetry to the rain
    and it sounds dramatic but… it is… but it works
    because it’s fuckin’ word release
    finally after writing it in my head
    and not being able to talk about it

  • Mark 12:34 pm on December 26, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: obama syndrome, tariq ali,   

    Who is Barack Obama? 

    I’m someone who is far from sympathetic to postmodernism, seeing it as, at best, mildly interesting observations couched in a silly insular language and, at worst, reactionary attitudes presenting themselves as radical intellectual chic. Yet I find it difficult to watch a video like the one below and not feel compelled to go running back to Baudrillard. News just in: the President swatted a fly! Isn’t that cool? Well, to be entirely honest, I think it is. Or at least I did when I first saw the video. Yet I also find it absurd that I had that reaction. Even more so the fact that this act (so fitting for a POTUS who chose the Secret Service codename Renegade)  was covered so widely in the media. So what’s going on?

    In his book The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad Tariq Ali, the ‘urbane, Oxford-educated polemicist’, sheds some light on these questions. This short book, which has the air of an essay project which spiralled out of control once Ali got writing, has a twin focus: the underlying continuities which can be witnessed in Obama’s domestic and foreign policy, in relation to what went before, as well as the spirited and incisive attempts made by the administration and its defenders – to present these continuities as anything but. Ali’s writing is, as always, thorough and pointed, continually substantiating his claims without losing the flow of his polemic. However he is at his most adept when it comes to picking apart the prevailing narratives about the President which abound in the contemporary United States:

    “on Fox television and right-wing radio, where these venues’ shallow, coarse and swaggering rabble regularly present Obama as a ‘socialist’ who is soft on Islam, not sufficiently pro-Israel, and may not even have been born in the United States and therefore may even be an ‘illegal president’ but in any case certainly remains an out-of-control radical. If only. None of the right-wing hysteria bears any relation to reality.”

    But we know all this, don’t we? Obama himself tore this idiocy apart with genuinely impressive comic timing (another example of how cool Renegade is) at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner:

    If we reject this view, it still begs the question of who Obama is and how he fits into the current politics of the US. Ali also takes aim at the common liberal doxa of Obama as an (overly?) consensus-orientated politician, a good and intelligent man in a wicked and corrupt system:

    “The portrayal of Obama as a good man in a bad world is no more convincing. The argument that compromises are sometimes essential to achieve limited progressive aims is correct. The problem is that Obama, while an extremely intelligent human being, is not a progressive leader by any stretch of the imagination. Wishing that he were is fine but does not bring about the required transformation.

    In reality, Barack Obama is a skilful and gifted machine politician who rapidly rose to the top. Once that is understood there is little more about him that should surprise anyone: to talk of betrayal is foolish, for nothing has been betrayed but one’s own illusions.”

    So if neither of these prevailing views are correct then who is Barack Obama? The difficulty of answering this question is why I presaged this post with a couple of sentences about postmodernism. We know Obama, intimately, yet we don’t. He’s written a genuinely engaging, multi-million selling memoir. He’s done talk show appearances (complete with all-too-human gaffes) in a way no other President has done. Yet the man is a chimera, an empty signifier onto which an entire country’s dreams and nightmares can be projected. It would be naive to think that Obama, as well as his team, are anything other than intimately aware of this fact. Nonetheless, the question remains: who is Barack Obama? I can’t answer that question. Nor can Tariq Ali. But he does compile some interesting quotes from former acquaintances of Obama when he was embedded in the brutal machine politics of Chicago. While not answering the question, they left me with the thought that the answer lies in the memories of those who knew the man behind the renegade in his earlier career:

    “He’s a vacuous opportunist. I’ve never been an Obama supporter. I’ve known him since the very beginning of his political career, which was his campaign for the seat in my state senate district in Chicago. He struck me then as a vacuous opportunist, a good performer with an ear for how to make white liberals like him. I argued at the time that his fundamental political center of gravity, beneath an empty rhetoric of hope and change and new directions, is neoliberal.” – Adolph Reed, African American scholar and activist

    “Barack leaned over and stuck his jagged, strained face into my space and told me in an eerie, dark voice that came from some secret place within the ugly side of him, ‘You embarrassed me on the Senate floor and if you ever do it again I will kick your ass!’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘You heard me, [expletive], and if you come back here by the telephones, where the press can’t see it, I’ll kick your ass right now!’ – Rickie Hendon, African American politician during Obama’s time in the Illinois state senate.

    “‘It’s amazing how he formed a black identity,’ Rush said, rising from his desk and starting, theatrically, to sashay across his office, mimicking Obama’s sinuous walk. ‘Barack’s walk is an adaptation of the strut that comes from the street. There’s a certain break at the knees as you walk and you get a certain roll going. Watch. You see?’ Rush laughed at his own imitation. ‘And he’s the first president of the United States to walk like that, I can guarantee you that! But lemme tell you, I never noticed that he walked like that back then.'” – former Black Panther Bobby Rush who beat Obama in a 2000 congressional primary.

    Written for SociologicalImagination.Org


  • Mark 5:43 pm on December 21, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , qualitative longitudinal research,   

    My PhD in 60 seconds 

  • Mark 7:09 pm on December 20, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , on becoming a person, postgraduate education,   

    A modest proposal for postgraduate education 

    I just came across a fascinating passage from a lecture given by Carl Rogers, founder of person centered therapy, about the personal and intellectual biography which led him to his life’s work. In it he describes an experience as a graduate student at a seminary which had a profound impact on the direction of his life, as well as that of others:

    Knowing universities and graduate schools as I do know – knowing their rules and their rigidities – I am truly astonished at one very significant experience at Union. A group of us felt that ideas were being fed to us, whereas we wished primarily to explore our own questions and doubts, and find out where they led. We petitioned the administration that we be allowed to setup a seminar for credit, a seminar with no instructor, where the curriculum would be composed of our own questions. The seminary was understandably perplexed by this, but they granted our petition! The only restriction was that in the interests of the institution a young instructor was to sit in on the seminar, but would take no part in it unless we wished him to be active.

    I suppose it is unnecessary to add that this seminar was deeply satisfying and clarifying. I feel that it moved me a long way towards a philosophy of life which was my own. The majority of the members of that group, in thinking their way through the questions they had raised, thought themselves right out of religious work. I was one. I felt that questions as to the meaning of life, and the possibility of the constructive improvement of life for individuals, would probably always interest me, but I could not work in a field where I would be required to believe to believe in some specified religious doctrine. My beliefs had already changed tremendously, and might continue to change. It seemed to me that it would be a horrible thing to have to profess a set of beliefs, in order to remain in one’s profession. I wanted to find a field in which I could be sure my freedom of thought would not be limited.

    Carl R. Rogers – On Becoming A Person: A therapist’s view of Psychotherapy – page 8

    So, I wish to suggest, could this ever be a standard part of postgraduate education? Is it feasible to have such a seminar credited as part of a postgraduate qualification, given the need for modularity and standardised assessment in the present system of Higher Education? Even if it isn’t, should we be doing this anyway? Perhaps entry to the seminar could be conditional on high performance in more traditionally designed modules? I would have loved this as an MA student (and indeed still would in the final year of my PhD) and, thinking back on my masters experiences in two departments, I could imagine a number of academics – who clearly really enjoyed postgraduate teaching when, perhaps, they enjoyed undergraduate teaching less – also enjoying it and being incredibly effective hands-off facilitators.

    I’m intrigued to see if others are as inspired by the passage above as I am – perhaps in part it’s because I’m fascinated by Rogers and only just found out about this aspect of his early history – so would appreciate any comments either on the blog or on Twitter. Likewise, does anyone have any ideas about how to make this happen? As I approach what will (hopefully) be my last two academics terms as a postgraduate student, I’m seriously considering approaching my department to see if there’s any way to arrange something like this for MA students and PhD students in the summer term. All input appreciated.

  • Mark 11:04 am on December 19, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Chapter plan for ‘Late Capitalism and A/Sexual Culture’ 

    My chapter outline for the book I’m planning for this research project: Late Capitalism and A/Sexual Culture


    Part 1

    The History of Asexuality
    The Asexual Community
    Asexual Experience
    The Sexual Assumption
    Sexual Culture

    Part 2

    The Sociology of Intimate Life 1949 – 1979
    The Sociology of Intimate Life Life 1980 – 1997
    The Sociology of Intimate Life 1997 – 2012
    The Sexual Revolution or the Consumer Revolution?

    Part 3

    Theorising Socio-Cultural Change
    Methodology and Methods
    Little Kinsey and Contemporary Survey Data
    The Popular Corpus – Decade by Decade
    The Academic Corpus – Decade by Decade

    Part 4

    Results 1949 – 1959
    Results 1960 – 1969
    Results 1970 – 1979
    Results 1980 – 1989
    Results 1990 – 2000
    Results 2000 – 2010
    Results 2011 onwards

    Part 5

    Cognitive Sociology and Human Being-Together
    The Transformation of Intimate Life
    The Future of Human Intimacy


  • Mark 10:48 am on December 19, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    My TEDx Idea 

    Most of us see ourselves as living in a sexually liberated age. Having thrown off the shackles of prejudice and prudishness, we believe ours is an enlightened culture where we tolerate sexual difference and value sexual choice. Yet are we as well adjusted about sex as we tend to think we are?

    Drawing on my research into asexuality (those who do not experience sexual attraction) and sexual culture, I argue that there’s a profound and often unrecognised inarticulacy and confusion about sex which plagues the modern consciousness. We talk loudly and frequently about sex and yet we’re far less able to articulate why sex matters to us and the role we think it should play in our lives. We’re plagued by confusions and anxieties, as clinical ideas about what constitutes sexual normalcy enter ever more into our daily lives.

    This leaves a diminishing space within which to enjoy the freedom we have, with too little sex drive and too much sex drive – as well as a whole range of experiences in between – increasingly seen as a sign that something is wrong with us. I argue that western society has seen a huge and profound transformation in our personal & intimate lives over the last half century. So huge in fact that we are very rarely able to acknowledge its scale.

    I talk about how this transformation is wrapped up in the spread of capitalism throughout the globe, as well as the onset of consumer society, suggesting that for all the pleasures brought by the sexual revolution, it has also brought countless problems and that, unless we face up to these and work out progressive ways to overcome them, much of what past generations struggled for risks being lost in the face of a moralising conservative backlash.

  • Mark 9:49 am on December 14, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    A video of my presentation at Spotlight on Asexuality Studies 

  • Mark 10:03 pm on December 12, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    Efficiency and Civilisation 

    Restructuring economic and social relations around the temporal value of efficiency has the effect of making all relations instrumental to productive outputs. Everything and the activity of every being becomes a means to optimize productive potential. But would we ever really treat someone we really care for in an efficient manner? Would we express our love and affection and extend our warmth and attention by maximizing our output in the minimum amount of time, with the minimum expenditure of labor, energy, and personal capital? Can one experience true intimacy or joy efficiently? Is it possible to deeply empathize with another being in a highly efficient way? Turning relationships into efficient means to advance productive ends destroys the empathic spirit.

    In the 1980s and 1990s psychologists and educators introduced the notion of “quality time” into family relations. The idea was for parents to set aside a few minutes in their otherwise over-burdened and busy days to get back “in touch” with their children. The forced efficiency of these structured intimate encounters often defeated the purpose of the exercise. Deep relationships require nurturing and suffer when yoked to the dictates of the clock.

    The almost pathological obsession with efficiency in the modern era reflects an underlying fear of the death and the hope that time can be saved and one’s duration on Earth continually extended into the future. Anyone who has ever engaged a hyper-efficient personality can almost smell the fear. Getting close to such a person becomes nearly impossible.

    • Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilisation, pg 166-167
  • Mark 1:24 pm on December 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply

    The individual and the public 

    Dewey has as his target two pathologies. The first sets the state against the public, and is attributed to liberal individualism and its arguments for the minimum state. The second is attributed to the conditions of modern corporate capitalism in which there appears to be an ‘eclipse of the public’ brought about by the dominance of corporate interests over the state. Dewey argues that the first undermines the individual as surely as it seeks to set the individual free. This is because the ruling idea of liberalism is that of the individual free of associations, which is linked with the idea of the ‘naturalness’ of economic laws (embodied in market exchanges). It is precisely the ideology of liberal individualism, according to Dewey, that suggests that the market can replace the state as the regulator of social life, but leaves the individual vulnerable to the outcomes of the market.

    However, according to Dewey, this doctrine emerged just as the idea of an ‘individual’ free of associations was being rendered untenable by the very developments of corporate capitalism with which it was linked. Thus, Dewey says that, “”the individual”, about which the new philosophy centred itself, was in process of complete submergence in fact at the very time in which he was being elevated on high in theory’ (1927: 96). The ideology which operates in the name of the individual, then, serves to undermine the very protection of the individual from egoistic, corporate associations that were themselves the very antithesis of the doctrine being espoused.”

  • Mark 11:59 am on December 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , little kinsey, ,   

    Late capitalism and sexual culture – the project plan 

    This research project is an extension of my research on asexuality, particularly the notion of the sexual assumption this had led me to. I take this to be the habitual cognitive category which, as an empirical claim, asexual individuals regularly encounter in the dispositional reactions and the reflective judgements of peers, friends, family and others. The sexual assumption holds that sexual attraction is both universal and uniform: everyone ‘has’ it and it’s largely the same thing in every instance.

    Does it just impact on asexuals? No, I don’t think so. I want to try and do secondary analysis on qualitative data about sexual experience and sexual anxiety in these terms. I also don’t think it’s universal. It has a history of emergence and I want to understand what that history is.

    My underlying hypothesis is that increased visibility and publicity of sexuality created a discursive vacuum which emerging sexological discourses (in an uneasy concordance with politicised discourses emerging from the new social movements) filled. This was a process mediated by the proliferation of a mass market for cultural products pertaining to sex & intensified by the structural pressures created by the shift to a consumption-driven economy (rise of sexualised advertising being the obvious one, suspect others though). Some of these were problematic to begin with. All the more so when they subsequently lost whatever scientific context they had in the first place.

    These are my research questions for the project:

      1. How does the 1949 Mass-Observation ‘Little Kinsey’ sex survey compare with available contemporary survey & interview data?
      2. What shifts in the underlying conceptual architecture of the most influential sexological texts can be identified on a decade-by-decade basis?
      3. What shifts in the underlying conceptual architecture of the most influential popular books on sex & sexuality can be identified on a decade-by-decade basis?
      4. How do the conceptual trends identifiable in academic and lay discourse help explain the experiential transition found in comparison of Little Kinsey and contemporary data.

    The research is intended to be qualitative (discourse analysis) and quantitative (corpus analysis) assuming I can work out how to compile the corpus in a way that is suitable for the latter.

  • Mark 11:22 pm on December 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    The neoliberal university – what is to be done? 

    However, changing the psyche is a complex task and some academics may be experiencing extreme degrees of abjection, the symptoms of which might be characterised as a desire to please, workaholism, over-competitiveness and an inability to recognise one’s own agency. For such abjects we set the following tasks:

    • Challenge ourselves about why/how we have enfolded ourselves in this particular system.

    • Explore what we are afraid of and try to avoid by being compliant, workaholic and over-competitive.

    • Visualise the hopeful university as a prelude to making it.

    • Resist being governed, become unmanageable whilst committing to responsible self-governance and mutual accountability.

    • The re-professionalisation of academic work, discussing and agreeing collective values and responsibilities and thus moving from the capitalist to the collective.

    Boden, R. and Epstein, D. (2011) “A flat earth society? Imagining academic freedom”.The Sociological Review, 59:3

  • Mark 11:08 pm on December 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    The psychic realm of neoliberal academia 

    We turn now to the psychic realm. We have argued above and elsewhere (Boden and Epstein, 2006; Boden et al., 2009) that regimes of neoliberal control in universities are constitutive of governmentality – that building the neoliberal university involves putting in place structures that govern the academic soul (Rose, 1999). This is imperative given the post-Fordist nature of academic work – flexible, mobile, relatively unstructured and, with regard to research, largely self-directed.

    This psychic state has to be created and held in place by a combination of intra- and inter-psychic factors. To a significant extent, academics still bear the trace (Derrida, 1976) of a previous professional and collegial status in which universities facilitated their work as independent scholars. Despite radical changes to their conditions of employment, including the increasing micro-management of their work, academics generally do not see themselves as blue-collar workers in the knowledge economy. This means that whilst universities are being translated into conventional hierarchical business organisations, academics have not necessarily yet identified themselves fully as workers in an employment situation in traditional industrial relations terms.

    A spectrum of surveillance and control mechanisms encourage and facilitate correct comportment (Foucault, 1977), holding the academic psychic condition in place. These include such measures as research quality audits and, indeed, systems of human resource management which, through technologies of individual performance management, seek to align the identity of the academic worker with organizational strategic objectives (Waring, 2009). The panoptical gaze of such regimes, with their aspirational discourses of organisational and individual ‘excellence’, shapes behaviour in a number of ways. In the classic Foucauldian sense, we regulate ourselves because we know that we are being watched – all the time. Further, such regimes accord recognition and approval for correct comportment to individuals. Such ‘strokes’ (Berne, 2010 [1964]) are seductive, offering psychic rewards, a kind of quasi-parental ‘love’, which entices and induces us to perform as ‘excellent academics’. Finally, such judgmental regimes engender a spirit of competition that may be antithetical to traditional notions of collegial, collaborative academic work.

    To a significant extent academics are collusive in the successful operation of such systems of psychic regulation. Some enfold themselves in them entirely, through belief, fear or even a lust for power. Others may collaborate for the best of motives; caught in a prisoner’s dilemma, many academics believe that they should participate in the management of surveillance systems because they might be able to ameliorate their worst effects and/or maximise the benefits for their own institutions.

    These psychic factors of the trace, self-discipline and technologies of control combine in the constitution of academics’ identities, sense of agency and, therefore, their psychic freedom. Butler (1993) argues that gender and other identities are achieved through performativity. It is not, she suggests, that we are men or women; rather, we do man or woman and, through repeated iterations of performance, these identities come to be written on the body. Similarly, managerial technologies incite and seduce us to do academic in particular ways, constantly reiterating the performance of excellence. Academics come to embody the neoliberal discourses of the contemporary university and, thus subjectified, their freedom to imagine defiantly is inhibited.

    The psychic effects of such subjectification can be extreme. Butler (1994) builds on Freud’s concept of melancholia (Freud, 2006 [1917]) – the affective result of an unconscious sense of loss. She suggests that gender and particular sexual identities are established and held in place only through the suppression of alternative forms, leading to an unconscious sense of loss that bears the trace of other possibilities. Academics, we posit, may be similarly steeped in a largely unconscious, unarticulated sense of loss of collegiality and of professional autonomy.

    When the melancholic individual can no longer maintain their defences, perhaps because of some critical incident, they lose their sense of relationship between self and other. That is, their capacity to operate in a world of symbolic meaning collapses and they become abject (Kristeva, 1983).4 But the sociological imagination is all about dealing in the symbolic realm of meaning. An inability to work well with the symbolic thus stultifies the ability to imagine and thus to work defiantly.

    Boden, R. and Epstein, D. (2011) “A flat earth society? Imagining academic freedom”.The Sociological Review, 59:3

  • Mark 10:53 pm on December 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    The architecture of the neoliberal university 

    University resources, including staff, now constitute a means of knowledge production and, as such, universities have become committed to their efficient allocation and utilisation to maximise returns. The university, as Woolf (1977 [1929]) noted, is a physical space that is far from costless, driving universities to efficient usage. This has a number of consequences.

    First, it is becoming increasingly difficult for academics to have a room of their own as universities, whether elite or not and in the UK and across the world, increasingly adopt open plan offices. Such architecture restricts the mental space of academics, limiting their capacity to work thoughtfully and in private, whilst subjecting them to factory-like surveillance regimes characterised by significant usage of internal glass walls.

    Second, central timetabling units that allocate teachers to classes and classes to rooms remove a large measure of academics’ discretion in the ordering of their work and have little regard for their need for joined-up time in which to concentrate on their research. Massification has accentuated this by transforming teaching from craftwork that could often be undertaken in the personal domain of academics’ offices to industrial scale enterprises requiring significant centrally administered dedicated space.

    Third, because space and time are enmeshed in the industrial organization of the academy, time is money and therefore a resource over which universities seek control. This leads to work intensification as managerialist workload allocation models increase the amount of time explicitly directed towards visible work (such as teaching and meetings). In a further twist, the inexorable lengthening of the teaching year means that previously sacrosanct times for research are ever diminishing. Consequently, academics increasingly do research in their ‘own time’ or stop doing research at all (Court and Kinman, 2008). Indeed, this is particularly the fate of many early career academics and of women, who tend to take on higher loads of teaching and administration at the expense of their research (Fletcher et al., 2007).

    Fourth, because time is money, money is the currency that academics must use to buy research time. This involves obtaining research funding to buy their time out of teaching or even to cover the research they do as part of their contracts. Thus academics increasingly only get time to do work that contractors are willing to pay for directly. Because government increasingly values only work deemed ‘economically useful’ or providing ‘policy-based evidence’ (sic, Boden and Epstein, 2006: 226), academics are driven from ‘blue skies’, theoretically driven enquiry, or that which challenges received wisdoms.

    Fifth, academics need facilities and equipment to do their research – everything from computers and libraries to laboratories and telescopes. Organizational or governmental control over access to these inevitably constrained resources can be problematic for freedom, with those disciplines requiring extremely expensive equipment being particularly vulnerable. For instance, in 2006 the UK government created the Science and Technology Facilities Council to control access to major national and international research facilities in particle physics, astronomy and nuclear physics. Access to these facilities is now largely determined by a range of performance indicators which may address the state’s objectives for science rather than what scientists might feel is valuable (Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills, 2008).

    Boden, R. and Epstein, D. (2011) “A flat earth society? Imagining academic freedom”.The Sociological Review, 59:3

  • Mark 10:13 pm on December 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Academic freedom in the neoliberal university 

    Historically, in the West, they have been associated with the academy. Universities have a tradition of privileging certain categories of people by providing them with the place and space in which they could develop the intra- and inter-psychic freedom to exercise defiant imagination, either collectively or in isolation. This is academic freedom. Having this freedom does not, of course, mean that it will be exercised.

    Academic freedom, however, has increasingly become a zombie category (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002). We note an important double transition in universities in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Historically the privilege of academic freedom was accorded primarily to a very restricted range of individuals – chiefly white, middle-class men. An accelerating process of change meant that by the end of the twentieth century the demographic profile of academics was more socially representative. But, the transformative potential of such an apparent extension of freedoms to hitherto excluded groups is, we argue in this paper, now threatened by the transformation of the overwhelming majority of universities into highly managed and controlled spaces that produce docile bodies with compliant imaginations. These threats are not blunt in the Galilean sense, but rather a nuanced governing of our souls (Rose, 1999) that limits and inhibits the imagination to such an extent that it is difficult to create socially and economically transformational knowledge.

    This transformation necessitates the drawing of a careful distinction between organizational autonomy and individual academic freedom because universities have been translated from collegial collectivities, supporting intra- and inter-psychic freedom for community members, to managed power hierarchies that govern (a broader spectrum of) individuals through techniques of accounting, audit and surveillance (Boden and Epstein, 2006; Evans, 2004; Strathern, 2000).

    This distinction is important because, as we argue below, universities are now direct agents of the state and of capital. In collegial systems academics could choose whether or not to align themselves with the status quo. In contrast, neoliberal governance modes endeavour to enforce the service of research and researchers to the needs of capital and the state, creating tensions between traditions of the freedom of academics and the requirements of new corporatized organizational hierarchies. A possible consequence of a failure to resolve these tensions is that academics become servants of universities rather than mistresses and masters of their own intellects, compromising their capacity to be defiant.

    Boden, R. and Epstein, D. (2011) “A flat earth society? Imagining academic freedom”. The Sociological Review, 59:3, pp.478-479

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