Updates from June, 2012 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 5:33 pm on June 26, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: detraditionalisation, , , , sociology theory, tradition,   

    Tradition, Common Sense and The Emotional Burden of Reflexivity 

    One of the key concepts I’m trying to elaborate in my PhD is what I term the emotional burden of reflexivity: the difficulty of knowing what to do and who to be, given the lack of normative guidance in  what Giddens terms a ‘post-traditional order’. However contra Giddens and others, I don’t think this state of affairs can be understood in terms of a transition from a ‘traditional order’ where reflexivity is rarely necessary to a ‘post-traditional order’ where reflexivity is always necessary, with all the confusions and anxieties which flow from the latter state of affairs. This misconstrues tradition as something which negates individual reflexivity whereas, I wish to argue, the reality is much more complex. Tradition can be something with which we engage reflexively: in deciding what to do, ‘common sense’ in whatever form we encounter it, can shape our decision making process. In this sense an individual might act in accordance with tradition* but so in a way that is entirely reflexive. This may simply be to avoid sanction or censure given the tendency of others to endorse and enforce these common sense attitudes, so that the individual subjectively disavows but objectively obeys the behavioural injunctions encoded within them. Or the individual’s reliance on dialogical partners to complete reflexive deliberations (e.g. someone who wants to talk to their best friend or trusted family member before making a decision) can ‘enforce tradition’ in a manner which in no way negates the reflexivity of the initiating party by invoking ‘common sense’ (e.g. “only weirdos would do that”) to scuttle a plan which has been proposed. While I’m not denying that tradition can be reproduced unthinkingly, in a manner which is devoid of reflexivity, I’m suggesting that this is much less frequently the case than theorists like Giddens seem to assume.

    However while see a large conceptual problem at the heart of these accounts of detraditionalization, I nonetheless think that the broad outlines of the account are correct. But rather than see it in terms of a transition from a unreflexive ‘traditional order’ to a reflexive ‘post-traditional order’, it is more useful to explore how different social conditions give rise to, or impede, the reproduction of common sense which is authoritative and applicable. What conditions lead to a stock of lay knowledge which can be construed as ‘common sense’ and, in turn, what conditions make that ‘common sense’ seem somewhere between blindingly relevant and laughably anachronistic to different people in different circumstances in relation to different sectors of their life. The necessity of reflexivity to negotiate life, quite literally working out what to do with ourselves and how our days fit together into some meaningful hold, entails an emotional burden. Tradition is one way people have sought to cope with that burden though, for reasons which are another blog post in themselves, such a stock of common sense is becoming increasingly fragmented and ever more irrelevant for ever larger groups of people. So what do people do when they can’t look to tradition for support in managing the emotional burden of reflexivity?

    *I really dislike the use of the word ‘tradition’ in social theory given how frequently it is used in profoundly circular ways. I use it in this instance, as well as in my thesis, because of its prevalence within the individualisation literature.

     
  • Mark 12:31 pm on June 26, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: collective identity, , digital research methods, , online research, ,   

    Online Communities and Digital Research Methods: a cautionary note 

    One of the most exciting things about the internet from a sociological perspective is the impact it has on the formation of communities – groups who might otherwise be too geographically dispersed are able to come together, often elaborating some degree of collective identity from the dialogues which ensue as they gather in this ‘virtual’ space. Furthermore the same process which enables the community to form also enables it to be studied. Online communities represent potent sites in which digital research methods can be used to study groups who, again, might previously have been too geographically dispersed to be studied and/or would not even be recognisable as a group prior to their coming together online. From the perspective of someone who has done this sort of study (in my case on the asexual community) it really can be quite exciting. However I’m increasingly aware of the risks inherent in such approaches which, as digital research methods solidifies as a distinct specialism, look set to grow.

    1. The actors you find in online communities are, well, actors. The specificity of their personhood is not reducible to their participation in the community. The community might be hugely significant to them or, conversely, it might not be significant at all – more likely any given individual will occupy some point on this spectrum. Exactly what point this is remains, unavoidably, an empirical question. It is a mistake to infer past motivations and history on the basis of present participation in an online community. 
    2. Similarly participation of individuals in an online community is not reducible to their activity as actors. Someone might read a forum daily, never posting, yet define the contours of their identity in terms of what they read. Thanks to Jon Hickman for pointing this out to me: lurkers are participating too! It is a mistake to reduce participation in an online community to observable ongoing activity. 
    3. Online communities regularly have ‘offline’ out growths and the two spheres, which can seem distinct from the perspective of the researcher, might in reality interpenetrate in complex and messy ways. Granted it might be difficult to study the offline aspects of the community but be creative! It is a mistake to reduce online communities to the collective activity which takes place online. 
    4. The fact that online communities allow geographically dispersed individuals to congregate around a given shared characteristics often leads to the formulation of some apparently shared identity. Furthermore, given the nature of the online vehicles which host such communities, this shared identity often pervades the ‘online space’ itself. However just because people participate in a community doesn’t mean they partake in a shared identity. This seems an obvious point but, I fear, it is easy to ignore because it is often this apparently shared identity which motivates the research into a given group online. It is a mistake to infer a collective identity on the basis of prima facie empirical evidence: this is often an artifact of the research design and/or the process which allowed the community to form. 
     
  • Mark 11:21 am on June 24, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , blogging for researchers, ,   

    “Why do you find blogging useful as a researcher?” 

    I asked this question on Twitter a couple of days ago in preparation for a Blogging for Researchers workshop I’m running at the University of Warwick. I’ve included some of the answers I received below. I’ve also collated a collection of resources here. Part of the reason I asked this question was because I wanted to avoid inadvertently prioritising my own particular style of research blogging and increase my awareness of how other researchers use blogging. However I found it striking how similar the experience of others is to my own here, namely the role a blog can play as an ‘ideas garden’ helping to articulate and develop your thinking in a much more immediate way than other public forums allow.

    William McGovern @will1mcgovern
    its all about the networking and showing the willingness to be open to approaches whilst expressing an interest#intentional

    Dr Karen McAulay @Karenmca
    If blog read widely enough, get helpful comments in response. That apart, is useful marker to record progress.

    Ian Milligan @ianmilligan1
    Very welcome! Also, you can tell right away if a post worked or not, gives you good active/passive feedback to improve.

    Terese @missing_words
    blogging about a particular topic helps iron out my thoughts, which means i can articulate my ideas on topic better after

    Elaine Aldred @EMAldred
    I know what I say is going to be seen. Makes me think about how I use words. Making mental connections.

    Dr Sarah Quinnell @sarahthesheepu
    discipline for regular writing, public engagement I.e communicating beyond economy, thought forming, informal peer review

    Eric Ritskes @eritskes
    I find it helps break down my ideas/research into smaller, more accessible pieces & language for wider community engagement.

    Christina Haralanova @ludost11
    I like to use it as a journal — small findings, small peaces, to keep me updated on where I was, and where I am heading to.

    Ian Milligan @ianmilligan1
    Blogging distills my ideas down, leads me to accessible language- and my posts now grow into conference papers. V. positive!

    Rachel R. Engler @rachelrengler
    recently wrote up a magazine article/Writing style is VERY diff from academic wrk.Great lesson. Blogging could help w style.

     
  • Mark 3:26 pm on June 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags:   

    Infinite…no you don’t fuck around with the infinite… there’s no way you do that… 

     
  • Mark 2:08 pm on June 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Personal Morphogenesis – modelling the ‘moments’ of biography 

    One of the key aims of my thesis is to elaborate a theory of personal morphogenesis i.e. the psychosocial dynamics of how individuals change. In broad terms, I am construing the subject matter as biographical. I’m interested in understanding how the particular circumstances which a specific individual inhabits at a given point in time contribute to shaping who they are over time. Or to put it a slightly different way, I want to understand how biography unfolds psychosocially i.e. how do the ‘moments’ of our life contribute to shaping our overarching life course? I want to theorise this but I also want to build tools which enable these processes to be properly studied, allowing researchers to avoid the pitfalls of over-privileging agency, culture or structure in their sociological explanations of empirical observed biographies.

    This necessitates understanding the mechanisms which drive the direction taken by biographical unfolding. Here is where the notion of reflexivity comes into play, as individuals fallibly weigh up their objective circumstances against their subjective concerns and decide what to do. The methodology I’m developing involves reconstructing reflexive ‘moments’, as well as the deliberations and actions they give rise to, with the intention of addressing how cycles of personal morphogenesis (i.e. something changes in our circumstances which has, in our selves, subjective significance, we respond to it reflexively and, in the process, both ourselves and our circumstances are changed to varying degrees) knit together over time to produce the biographical trajectory we can observe retrospectively.

     
  • Mark 4:53 pm on June 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Non-linear creativity 

    Another example in a very specific area is given by a client in a follow-up interview as he explains the different quality that has come about in his creative work. It used to be that he tried to be orderly. “You begin at the beginning and you progress regularly through to the end.” Now he is aware that the process in himself is different. “When I’m working on an idea, the whole idea develops like the latent image coming out when you develop a photograph. It doesn’t start at one edge and fill in over to the other. It comes in all over. At first all you see is the hazy outine, and you wonder what it’s going to be; and then gradually something fits here and something fits there, and pretty soon it all becomes clear – all at once.”

    Carl Rogers – On Becoming a Person Pg 152

    Does this describe your own creative process? It certainly resonates with me. I generally start writing and, as I continue, I gradually start to realise what it is that I’m writing. Though I’ve often tended to assume that this was a fault i.e. that my reticence about planning and structuring was symptomatic of an underlying laziness. 

     
    • WG 12:19 pm on July 20, 2012 Permalink

      Definitely my experience in recent years. Thanks for posting this quote – I’d forgotten all about it 🙂

  • Mark 9:10 pm on June 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Social theory and social research – what went wrong? 

    Underlying much sociological explanation is an attempt to bridge the gap between the ‘micro’ and the ‘macro’ within the context of a specific empirical inquiry. As the authors put it, “in the human and behavioural sciences, the analytical connection or co-relation between individual and social processes, between cognitive (mental) and social (group) structures, or between ‘habitus’ and ‘field’ … is often understood and elaborated as the big problem of bridging the ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ levels” (Lydaki and Tsekeris 2011: 68). The apparent diversity with which this ‘gap’ is characterised within social theory points to the intractability of the underlying issue: how do we make sense of the relationship between the individual actors we see around us and the wider social order which appears to shape but also be shaped by their actions? The dualisms which proliferate within social theory do so, in part, as a result of a failure to resolve this underlying question. An inability to establish consensus on the underlying explanatory question posed by social research has, as its flip side, the continual elaboration of a sometimes strikingly imprecise conceptual vocabulary which attempts to come to terms with various aspects of this foundational challenge: “constructivism-positivism, subjectivism-objectivism, intentionalism-functionalism, agency-structure, individual-society, or micro-macro” (Lydaki and Tsekeris 2011: 70). Depressingly large tracts of sociological discourse have proceeded from the personal investments and logical entailments which stem from occupying one side or another of these dualisms. Even as the last couple of decades have seen a variety of attempts to bridge these dichotomies, or even abandon them entirely as terms of reference, these moves have in turn bred new dichotomies (e.g. structurationist and post-structurationist) which, perhaps as the one last sign of my past life as a Rortyean philosophy student, never cease to appal me on an aesthetic level. 

    Drawing on the work of Nicos Mouzelis, Lydaki and Tsekeris argue that this “pluralization of approaches seriously impeded the epistemologically healthy capacity for meta-theory  – that is, for a sincere, uninterrupted and open-ended dialogue between opposing worldviews and paradigms” (Lydaki and Tsekeris 2011: 71). The proliferation of competing paradigms, often driven by technical polemics rather than practical disagreement over shared aims, worked to erode the common frame of reference within which sociologists were able to evaluate ‘theories’ as competing ways of making sense of underlying practical questions of explaining the social world. It contributed to a ghettoization of social theory, with its practical implementation too often limited to those who, having seen the explanatory gains which emerged from a particular approach, ensconced themselves within it and worked with others to elaborate it within its own theoretical terms of reference e.g. bourdieusian theory. As a consequence, social theory ossifies as, with the conceptual logics of particular theoretical approaches increasingly insulated from the practical logics encountered in the practice of social research, the point of social theory becomes increasingly unclear. Likewise the uses to which social theory is put within social research become less helpful than they would otherwise be because of this broader lack of clarity. It almost seems, perhaps, that social theory becomes something which sociologists are self-conscious about. In a way it should be. The characteristics which many find frustrating about contemporary social theory are, I wish to argue, indicative of things having gone badly wrong. They are a sign of people having talked too much, for too long, about predominately practical issues which, it seems, we might have come to some sort of working agreement on if circumstances had been different. My point is not that we should all agree on one ‘paradigm’ but simply that the fixation on ‘paradigms’ has precluded a consensus about the practical purposes which these sorts of discussions should serve.

    Tsekeris, C., & Lydaki, A. (2011). The micro-macro dilemma in sociology: Perplexities and perspectives. Sociologija, 53(1), 67-82. doi:10.2298/SOC1101067T

     
  • Mark 6:54 pm on June 18, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , virtual space   

    Some quick thoughts about sociological realism and digital life 

    What do we do online? This is an issue I’ve pondered in a variety of guises but I’ve been thinking about it today as a result of running a fun (though badly attended) workshop about ‘demystifying social media’. As someone who runs social media workshops in universities, I’ve become ever more convinced that many of the confusions which surround digital activity stems from a basic ontological misunderstanding of what online activity is. It’s too frequently construed as something distinct from the ‘real’ world.

    The reasons for this distinction, which has pithily been named digital dualism, are a fascinating question in their own right.In part I think it stems from the phenomenology of the internet. Until the recent proliferation of mobile devices, it was necessary to sit down at a computer and stare at a screen to use the internet. This helps creates a sense of the internet as a ‘virtual’ space which is in some way disembodied. As someone who has had unpleasant back and neck problems from my posture when using a computer in the past, it’s always been obvious to me that using the internet is not at all disembodied. Though the obviousness of this has become utterly glaring, to the extent that I can’t quite take those who disagree seriously, since I started using an iPad and iPhone. Similarly the cyberpunk romanticisation of the ‘virtual’ plays a cultural role in propping up this ontological assumption.

    If people see the internet as a distinct ‘world’ disconnected from the ‘real world’ then it becomes normatively and practically confusing. The tacit and explicit guides to action, the criteria we use to judge experiences, don’t seem to apply. When I run workshops I try to ‘reembody’ digital activity, encouraging people to incorporate digital tools into their wider lives. The concerns, projects and plans which unproblematically apply to every other sphere of life also apply to digital activity. Digital tools are only contingently different to other tools. If we treat them as something other, as mysteriously distinct from the stuff of day-to-day life, our practical engagement with them is unavoidably inhibited. It’s necessary to understand the tools but, in a way, this is secondary. It’s much more important to understand how we might use these tools as part of the wider projects and practices which stem from our lives beyond them.

    The sheer newness of the digital tools we are presented with impedes the common sense sociological realism which guides us in other aspects of our life. Too often we fail to see (though we may retrospectively reflect in an intellectual manner) that the people we encounter ‘online’ are, well, people. Who are using tools to communicate for a whole range of reasons. If we artificially delineate ‘the digital’ as a distinct sphere of human activity we deny ourselves the possibility of properly understanding what people do online. Likewise we preclude the possibility of participating in the ‘online world’ with the same degree of practical poise with which we engage with much, though not all, of our ‘real lives’.

     
  • Mark 5:59 pm on June 18, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , heaphy, , relational, relational reflexivity, , subjection, ,   

    Between subjectivity and subjection: untangling the confusion about reflexivity 

    Heaphy, Brian (2012) Reflexivity sexualities or reflexive sociology? In: Sexualities: Past reflections, Future Directions. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

    There are two main ways in which the term ‘reflexivity’ is used within contemporary social theory. The first refers to the self-monitoring and self-management of individuals. The second to critical self-reflection on the part of researchers about their own social positioning, how it impinges upon the practice of their research and how the whole endeavor of research is implicated within wider networks of power and inequality within society. As someone who works on issues related to the former and is, partly as a result of this work, critical of the latter, it was interesting to stumble across this paper because I don’t recall ever previously having seen the two theoretical meanings of reflexivity addressed in such a direct and sustained way before.

    Heaphy takes issues with a pervasive tendency to hold up LGBT lives as exemplars of reflexivity in the first sense, identifying a range of strands in the sexualities literature of which this is true (Heaphy 2012: 17). He argues that, as a whole, these represent a “powerful story” about LGBT lives as “reflexively achieved forms of existence that are the exemplars of the life politics of self-fashioning” (Heaphy 2012: 19). Furthermore he suggests that the appeal of such accounts stems from the affirmation of LGBT agency implied by them, in contrast to the previously dominant Foucauldian vision of sexualities which tended to stress disciplinary subjection. Arguments about LGBT reflexivity, as perhaps did Foucault’s account in an earlier political era, have an intuitive plausibility because of the wider social circumstances in which they are articulated. As Heaphy observes, “it seems clear, after all, that lesbian and gay sexualities hare more ’empowered’ and visible in the culture than ever before, and recent legislation in Britain and elsewhere (such as the Civil partnership and other Acts) seems to promote and defend the legitimacy of same-sex relationships” (Heaphy 2012: 19).

    However Heaphy raises a number of problems with such accounts. He suggests that these prevailing narratives of LGBT reflexivity have been characterised by a “blurring of arguments about theoretical possibilities and empirical actualities” i.e. a theoretical affirmation of agency leads proponents to make claims about agents which are empirically inaccurate. In doing so the realities of difference are occluded, such that “exclusive and well-resourced lesbian and gay experience is valorized while other experiences are made invisible”. This, he argues, is a consequence of insufficient attention to power, particularly in an indifference to the “relationship between power and sociological narration” (Heaphy 2012: 20). He goes on to argue that in order to take the “differences that are shaped through the intersections of class, race and ethnicity, generation, geographical location and like” seriously we must acknowledge “that there is no one lesbian and gay experience or forms of existence, and that lesbian and gay living should be studied in their diversity of forms”. In doing so, we might come to ask “how significant resources (economic, social, cultural and corporeal) are in shaping different possibilities for lesbian and gay living, and how their embodiment gives rise to different possibilities for identification, relating and life political practice” (Heaphy 2012: 21). Heaphy argues that a move towards reflexive sociology within sexuality studies, as part of a Bourdieusian turn which moves the study of LGBT lives away from Giddens and Beck, would help rectify this worrying tendency to homogenise the lived experience of LGBT individuals and treat their lives as if difference didn’t matter.

    While applauding Heaphy’s broader aims and accepting elements of his critique, this direction of travel is nonetheless revealing of profound conceptual confusions relating to what reflexivity is and how it operates. The broader shift he identifies from Foucauldian conceptions of sexuality (excessively structural) to voluntaristic accounts influenced by Giddens (excessively agential) reveal an inability within sexuality studies, as well as social theory more broadly, to come to terms with the problem of structure and agency. One approach elucidates the role of structure while obliterating agency. The other elucidates the role of agency while obliterating structure. The two approaches each contain an element of truth but, in their inability to proceed beyond their own theoretical terms of reference, neither is able to do justice to the ambivalence of human experience.

    Both freedom and constrain co-exist in our daily experience. We choose and yet we are denied choice. We shape our circumstances and yet our circumstances shape us. We make our way through the world and yet the maps we use and the paths we choose from forever elude our full understanding, let alone our control. We are subjects and we are subjected. In fairness to Giddens, attempting to reconcile this duality is at the heart of his theoretical project. Yet the empirical inadequacies which so often result from attempts to adopt his approach as an explanatory framework are indicative of the conceptual error at its heart. Unless we conceptualise reflexivity in a properly mediatory manner, as being the human power which allows us to pursue courses of actions by  (fallibly) taking stock of our objective circumstances and our subjective concerns, the problems Heaphy correctly identifies will inevitably ensue. But if we do understand reflexivity in such a way, these problems do not occur. The issue here is not reflexivity as such. The issue is conceiving of reflexivity in a way which detaches it from the constraints and enablements we are contingently subject to at any given moment. If we conceive reflexivity in a manner which is fundamentally relational, such that our degree of freedom or constrained is an empirical matter of our circumstances at a particular moment in time and the biographical pathway which led us to them, then these contrasting images of human life (LGBT or otherwise) as either overly-free or overly-constrained simply do not emerge.

     
  • Mark 12:05 pm on June 17, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: human existence,   

    Digital Technology and Human Being 

    I’m fascinated by the impact of digital technology upon human beings. In part this comes from being someone  who has been an avid user of the internet for the last 13 years or more (since I was 13/14) and recognises, in occasional moments of reflective self-awareness, the enormous impact that digital technology has had on both the brute biographical facts of my existence and who I am as a person. Yet I find many theoretical accounts of the human consequences of digital technology profoundly unsatisfying. This stems from what I think is a basic confusion at the level of ontology. I suspect that I want to make these claims about technology in general but, for sake of clarity, I’m going to specifically talk about digital technology because it’s where my main interests lie.

    What does it means to say that we are ‘shaped by’ something external to us? It suggests that over time the changes we undergo are influenced, in whatever way, by factors which emerge from ‘outside’ rather than ‘inside’. In many aspects of life, this is so mundane as to be without confusion. Our family shapes us but this does not mean that the existence of our family calls into question our independent human existence. Our schooling shapes us but this does not mean that the school(s) we attended (in their institutional, material, cultural and relational dimensions) calls into question our independent human existence. So why does the recognition that digital technology shapes us so readily lead people to talk about our ‘co-constitution’ by technology and make grandiose claims about technology calling into question, reforming, or even obliterating, ‘human nature’?

    Without making claims, tacitly or otherwise, about the characteristics of the humans who are relating to/with/within technology, it’s not possible to make causally meaningfully assertions about the consequences of technology on human life. As a logical claim: if you are making an assertion about the relation which obtains between A and B, it unavoidably lacks causal content (instead becoming, say, a statement about empirical regularity) without tacitly or explicitly saying something about the characteristics of A and B. If digital technology is reshaping human nature then it’s necessary to say something about that nature for us to understand the specific modalities through which digital technology is causally acting upon it in different ways within different environments. Ironically, without affirming some at least ‘thin’ notion of human nature, accounts of how digital technology impacting upon it remain at the level of generality (which is what I think the people making these cases want to avoid i.e. talking about humans as such) rather than getting into empirical questions about how under different technologies in different contexts shape different human beings in different ways.

    Digital technology is not just something which we ‘use’ in an instrumental way. It has intrapersonal effects. But so do many things. The interesting question for me is how we understand the dynamics which bring about those effects over time within the context of a lived biographical trajectory and, I wish to argue, the way to do this is by looking at the relations which obtain between human beings and digital technology at any one time. How does a given technology constrain and enable human practices and projects? How do the affordances which digital technology grants change what we want to do and who we want to be? I think the impact of technology stems from its role in shaping the field of human possibilities (in all spheres of life) in ways that are intrinsically temporal and spatial. It is this field of possibilities which limits and enables the unfolding of our human specificity as we live our embodied life out in the world with others similarly encumbered. But many things other than technology do this and, if we want to understand how we become who we are, an excessive focus on the technological dimensions to this process aren’t going to help.

     
  • Mark 12:00 pm on June 13, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags:   

    Conducting Interdisciplinary Research Workshop 

    Monday 18th June 2012
    10:00-13:00 (including lunch from 12:30)
    Teaching Grid, 2nd Floor, Library

    This event has been designed to provide attendees with first-hand knowledge for conducting collaborative research by giving them the chance to listen to, and interact with, more experienced members of academic staff who have conducted these kinds of research projects. The main points that presenters will address are the benefits of collaboration as they perceive them to be, how to effectively operationalize collaborative research with people from other disciplines, what the challenges are and how to overcome them.

    This event will be interactive in style and attendees will therefore get a chance to ask their more experienced colleagues the questions about the issues that are most relevant to them.

    The event is aimed at researchers from Social Sciences and other faculties, with the focus being on researchers from Social Science. The term ‘researcher’ here is being used in its broadest sense. So as well as Post-Docs and early career researchers we want also to attract the attention of more senior academic colleagues who have not had the experience of working collaboratively with someone from another discipline but are thinking of doing so.

    Register for the event

    Speaker Information

    Michael Waterson has been Professor of Economics since 1991. Previously, he was Professor of Economics at the University of Reading and he has also taught at the universities of Newcastle upon Tyne and Sydney. His research interests are mainly within the area of industrial economics, including the economics of retailing and the development of competition in energy industries. He is a member of the UK Competition Commission and has significant experience in working with various bodies outside academia, from economics consultancies to the House of Lords.

    Nick Chater joined WBS in 2010, after holding chairs in psychology at Warwick and then at UCL. He has over 200 publications, has won four national awards for psychological research, and has served as Associate Editor for the journals Cognitive Science, Psychological Review, and Psychological Science. He was elected a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society in 2010. Nick advises government and the private sector on behavioural change.

    Keith Richards is an associate professor in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick (UK). His main research interests lie in the area of professional interaction, with a particular focus on aspects of collaborative talk and identity. His publications include Qualitative Inquiry in TESOL (2003), Applying Conversation Analysis (edited with Paul Seedhouse, 2005), Language and Professional Identity (2006), Professional Encounters in TESOL: Discourses of Teachers in Teaching (edited with Sue Garton, 2008) and Research Methods for Applied Language Studies (with Steven Ross and Paul Seedhouse, 2011).

    Seongsook Choi joined the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick (UK) in August 2009. Previously, she taught theoretical Linguistics (syntax, semantics) at SOAS, University of London and at the University of Sussex. Her current research interests lie in the area of professional interaction. More specifically she is interested in capturing interactional dynamics of the discourse of interdisciplinary research project meetings both quantitatively and qualitatively.

    Malcolm MacDonald is an associate professor in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick (UK). His main research interests lie in institutional discourse, with particular interest in security discourse and medical discourse; and intercultural communication, with particular interest in intercultural ethics. Malcolm has published widely in journals such as Discourse and Society and Critical Inquiry in Language Studies. He is also editor of the SSCI listed journal Language and Intercultural Communication.

    Sue Wharton is an associate professor in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, UK. Her research interests lie in the areas of genre analysis and critical discourse analysis. Her recent journal publications involve work on bureaucratic texts, media texts, reflective writing, statistics writing, and genre identification in corpora. She teaches text & discourse analysis and functional grammar, and supervises research students working on written language analysis.

     
  • Mark 5:02 pm on June 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags:   

    News from Salford University – please circulate 

    Dear colleagues, fellow students and friends,

    I don’t know if you are aware of the looming redundancies in the University of Salford, and the process for weeding out staff. People in most schools and departments (including sociology and politics) are having to reapply for their jobs (Professors are not included in this procedure, but in a different one whereby they are asked, among other things, to take a cut in salary).

    It seems only few people know about the redundancy plan going on, or rather about the current phase, since there have already been previous waves of sackings in the last months and years, and a new phase is announced for next year. The Union has organised a petition calling on management to reconsider. The petition is quite weak and does not explain the process, which is very appalling, but still you might want to sign it (https://www.ucu.org.uk/nosalfordcuts), or perhaps take a more robust kind of action, e.g. through the national associations.

    About the process: people are forced to re-apply to their jobs in competition with one another (and in some cases in competition with external candidates). In sociology and politics, for example, the reapplication process consists of

    · a written submission providing evidence that what people do meets a post specification recently developed by the university (15% – deadline 31 May, when people are at the peak of marking!)

    · an oral presentation on ‘strategy’ prepared during one hour and presented in ten minutes (35%). All we know about this is: “The reference to ‘strategy’ in the context of the academic presentation has to do with the approach adopted by the School and/or its directorates in view of achieving success as an academic and financial unit”

    · and a ‘competency based interview’ (50%). About this we have been told: <>

    NO COMMENT!

    Presentation and interview will take place, it seems, around middle June. The members of the tribunal-panel are also unknown.

    This will create a precedent – the managers who have taken over the university can do all this with total impunity, as this process is not a typical redundancy procedure (which for them is clearly not good enough), so through this procedure they need not agree almost anything with the unions and can make sure they scare people to death and definitely commodify and managerialised education.

    It is obviously a total disgrace. Please circulate this information as widely as you can.

     
  • Mark 12:30 pm on June 11, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags:   

    Conducting Interdisciplinary Research Workshop 

    Monday 18th June 2012
    10:00-13:00 (including lunch from 12:30)
    Teaching Grid, 2nd Floor, Library

    This event has been designed to provide attendees with first-hand knowledge for conducting collaborative research by giving them the chance to listen to, and interact with, more experienced members of academic staff who have conducted these kinds of research projects. The main points that presenters will address are the benefits of collaboration as they perceive them to be, how to effectively operationalize collaborative research with people from other disciplines, what the challenges are and how to overcome them.

    This event will be interactive in style and attendees will therefore get a chance to ask their more experienced colleagues the questions about the issues that are most relevant to them.

    The event is aimed at researchers from Social Sciences and other faculties, with the focus being on researchers from Social Science. The term ‘researcher’ here is being used in its broadest sense. So as well as Post-Docs and early career researchers we want also to attract the attention of more senior academic colleagues who have not had the experience of working collaboratively with someone from another discipline but are thinking of doing so.

    Register for the event

    Speaker Information

    Michael Waterson has been Professor of Economics since 1991. Previously, he was Professor of Economics at the University of Reading and he has also taught at the universities of Newcastle upon Tyne and Sydney. His research interests are mainly within the area of industrial economics, including the economics of retailing and the development of competition in energy industries. He is a member of the UK Competition Commission and has significant experience in working with various bodies outside academia, from economics consultancies to the House of Lords.

    Nick Chater joined WBS in 2010, after holding chairs in psychology at Warwick and then at UCL. He has over 200 publications, has won four national awards for psychological research, and has served as Associate Editor for the journals Cognitive Science, Psychological Review, and Psychological Science. He was elected a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society in 2010. Nick advises government and the private sector on behavioural change.

    Keith Richards is an associate professor in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick (UK). His main research interests lie in the area of professional interaction, with a particular focus on aspects of collaborative talk and identity. His publications include Qualitative Inquiry in TESOL (2003), Applying Conversation Analysis (edited with Paul Seedhouse, 2005), Language and Professional Identity (2006), Professional Encounters in TESOL: Discourses of Teachers in Teaching (edited with Sue Garton, 2008) and Research Methods for Applied Language Studies (with Steven Ross and Paul Seedhouse, 2011).

    Seongsook Choi joined the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick (UK) in August 2009. Previously, she taught theoretical Linguistics (syntax, semantics) at SOAS, University of London and at the University of Sussex. Her current research interests lie in the area of professional interaction. More specifically she is interested in capturing interactional dynamics of the discourse of interdisciplinary research project meetings both quantitatively and qualitatively.

    Malcolm MacDonald is an associate professor in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick (UK). His main research interests lie in institutional discourse, with particular interest in security discourse and medical discourse; and intercultural communication, with particular interest in intercultural ethics. Malcolm has published widely in journals such as Discourse and Society and Critical Inquiry in Language Studies. He is also editor of the SSCI listed journal Language and Intercultural Communication.

    Sue Wharton is an associate professor in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, UK. Her research interests lie in the areas of genre analysis and critical discourse analysis. Her recent journal publications involve work on bureaucratic texts, media texts, reflective writing, statistics writing, and genre identification in corpora. She teaches text & discourse analysis and functional grammar, and supervises research students working on written language analysis.

     
  • Mark 7:24 pm on June 8, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags:   

    Anti Manifesto 

    Consider this critic a cretin,
    Just resting on laurels completely invented.
    Word acrobatics performed with both harness and net.
    I am so full of shit.
    But I will remain until this self-awareness fades
    Until I defeat the purpose of this soapbox that you made.
    That you made.
    Hope, perseverance, a vision (some doubt).
    Green ink, a 26 oz., a bad case of big-mouth.
    A sum of our parts and I’ve never laughed harder.
    A song in our hearts and I’ve never laughed harder.
    It don’t really matter cuz nothing’s ever felt as right as this.
    (by the way, I stole this riff)

     
  • Mark 4:32 pm on June 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags:   

    Conducting Cross Faculty Collaborative Research Workshop 

    Monday 18th June 2012
    10:00-13:00 (including lunch from 12:30)
    Teaching Grid, 2nd Floor, Library

    This event has been designed to provide attendees with first-hand knowledge for conducting collaborative research by giving them the chance to listen to, and interact with, more experienced members of academic staff who have conducted these kinds of research projects. The main points that presenters will address are the benefits of collaboration as they perceive them to be, how to effectively operationalize collaborative research with people from other disciplines, what the challenges are and how to overcome them.

    This event will be interactive in style and attendees will therefore get a chance to ask their more experienced colleagues the questions about the issues that are most relevant to them.

    The event is aimed at researchers from Social Sciences and other faculties, with the focus being on researchers from Social Science. The term ‘researcher’ here is being used in its broadest sense. So as well as Post-Docs and early career researchers we want also to attract the attention of more senior academic colleagues who have not had the experience of working collaboratively with someone from another discipline but are thinking of doing so.

    Register for the event


    Speaker Information

    Michael Waterson has been Professor of Economics since 1991. Previously, he was Professor of Economics at the University of Reading and he has also taught at the universities of Newcastle upon Tyne and Sydney. His research interests are mainly within the area of industrial economics, including the economics of retailing and the development of competition in energy industries. He is a member of the UK Competition Commission and has significant experience in working with various bodies outside academia, from economics consultancies to the House of Lords.

    Nick Chater joined WBS in 2010, after holding chairs in psychology at Warwick and then at UCL. He has over 200 publications, has won four national awards for psychological research, and has served as Associate Editor for the journals Cognitive Science, Psychological Review, and Psychological Science. He was elected a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society in 2010. Nick advises government and the private sector on behavioural change.

    Keith Richards is an associate professor in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick (UK). His main research interests lie in the area of professional interaction, with a particular focus on aspects of collaborative talk and identity. His publications include Qualitative Inquiry in TESOL (2003), Applying Conversation Analysis (edited with Paul Seedhouse, 2005), Language and Professional Identity (2006), Professional Encounters in TESOL: Discourses of Teachers in Teaching (edited with Sue Garton, 2008) and Research Methods for Applied Language Studies (with Steven Ross and Paul Seedhouse, 2011).

    Seongsook Choi joined the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick (UK) in August 2009. Previously, she taught theoretical Linguistics (syntax, semantics) at SOAS, University of London and at the University of Sussex. Her current research interests lie in the area of professional interaction. More specifically she is interested in capturing interactional dynamics of the discourse of interdisciplinary research project meetings both quantitatively and qualitatively.

    Malcolm MacDonald is an associate professor in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick (UK). His main research interests lie in institutional discourse, with particular interest in security discourse and medical discourse; and intercultural communication, with particular interest in intercultural ethics. Malcolm has published widely in journals such as Discourse and Society and Critical Inquiry in Language Studies. He is also editor of the SSCI listed journal Language and Intercultural Communication.

    Sue Wharton is an associate professor in the Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, UK. Her research interests lie in the areas of genre analysis and critical discourse analysis. Her recent journal publications involve work on bureaucratic texts, media texts, reflective writing, statistics writing, and genre identification in corpora. She teaches text & discourse analysis and functional grammar, and supervises research students working on written language analysis.

     
  • Mark 4:29 pm on June 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags:   

    Digital Training for University of Warwick ECRs 

    The Digital Tools for Research programme aims to introduce Early Career Researchers to the use of social media at all stages of the research lifecycle.

    Beginning on Monday 28th May with three core modules to be completed by Friday 20th July:

    • Publishing on the web
      Tools covered: blogs
    • Online identity
      Tools covered: Academia.edu
    • Networking
      Tools covered: Twitter, Lanyrd

    Following the core modules participants must choose two optional modules to complete by Friday 28th September:

    • Collaborative working

    Tools covered: GoogleDocs, Dropbox.

    • Creating/sharing multimedia

    Tools covered: Prezi, SlideShare, YouTube.

    • Current awareness

    Tools covered: GoogleReader, citation and journal alerts, iTunesU

    • Getting organised
      Tools covered: Delicious, Zotero, Mendeley.
    • Open Access
      Tools covered: WRAP, Creative Commons, Open Access journals

    Sign-up to take part at http://digitalresearcher.wikispaces.com/Registration 

     
  • Mark 8:17 am on June 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Rehabilitating ‘essences’ 

    It’s difficult to express quite how much I agree with the passage below. Historically, some justified objections to specific understandings of essence led to a repudiation of the concept in its entirety. As Christian Smith points out there has been a pervasive tendency within social network analysis (though I think it’s much broader than this, at least in its implicit dimensions) to construe issue of entities and relations in either/or terms whereas, instead, we might construe it in both/and terms. Many of the problems associated with the notions of essences stems from an insufficiently relational view of what an essence is. If the essence of an entity is seen to be shaped by, though not reducible to, the network of relations in which it is spatially and temporally entangled then the notion of an eternal (ontologically unchanging) or knowable (epistemically transparant) essence ceases to make sense. Conversely, without some sense of entities having characteristics beyond their relational existence, it’s difficult to even make sense of the possibility of change. The attributes of entities cannot fully explain outcomes in which they are involved but nor can the relations between entities.

    if things are not purely relational, then it  also follows that things have essences. I am not the same person as you are. My individual qualities do not erupt into the world for the first time only once they have an effect on something else. I thrived in Egypt, while other expatriates gained nothing from being there; presumably there are things about me that Egypt successfully addressed, while those same traits were absent from the others. Matisse became an artist by accident at around age 21, and van Gogh even later in life. Yet it would not be nonsensical to claim that both of them had artistic gifts preceding those biographical dates, at least for a little while in advance. There is also a reason why it was Matisse and van Gogh rather than any other two people selected from their generation at random. This points to an essence, a reality in the two artists that is not exhaustively deployed in their total artistic catalogs or in their public “performativity,” no matter how unpopular essence has become in philosophy.

    There are really just two problems with essence, and it is frankly not that difficult to remove them from your metaphysics while keeping the term “essence.”

    1. The idea that the essence can be known. In other words, there is no political problem when we simply speak of “the Arab world.” The political problem comes from thinking that a certain elite group of Orientalist scholars from Oxford and Cambridge can identify the features of that Arab world, and use those features to proclaim that it is essentially Arab to be undemocratic, sensually corruptible, fanatical, retrograde, disorganized, and so forth. This would be an attempt to identify the essence of the Arabs with certain tangibly determinable traits, most of them negative. But in a philosophy like mine, the essence of the Arabs is no more knowable than the essence of van Gogh, a cat, a table, or a neutron. Orientalism results not from calling the Arabs dark and mysterious, but quite the opposite— it comes from explicitly identifying them as undemocratic, sensually corruptible, fanatical, retrograde, and disorganized. The minute you realize that everything is withdrawn from immediate access and can only be known obliquely, an automatic dose of caution and humility is injected into your knowledge.

    2. The related idea that the essence is eternal is also a problem. Consider the Scandinavian people, who once produced an endless supply of ferocious Vikings, but are now often viewed as the “peaceniks” of Europe, champions of human rights and social and gender equality. Obviously, one must analyze the history here. If you were simply to say “the Scandinavians are such a civilized people,” this would be no more and no less true than saying “the Scandinavians are brutal marauders with no respect for the sanctity of monasteries.” We must recognize that Scandinavia will follow a different future path from Japan, Kenya, or Lebanon, because these places all have different cultures and histories and different aspirations. But this essence of a culture, like the essence of a person, eagle, army, or coffee mug, is not so easily pieced together from a list of explicitly proclaimed properties that one knowingly ascribes to them.

    Stated more technically: metaphysical essentialism is politically harmless, but epistemological essentialism is not.

    – an interview with Graham Harman

     
  • Mark 8:10 am on June 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anti-essentialism, , , , , , ,   

    The politics of relationality 

    An interview with Graham Harman:

    it is especially surprising when the political Left embraces relational ontology (I am astonished that Peter Hallward defends such an ontology), because nothing is more politically reactionary than the idea that we are all exhaustively the products of our context. If I am nothing more than the logical outcome of neo-liberal, late capitalist America, then in the name of what am I supposed to rebel against it? I should instead be profoundly grateful to this system that produced me, since under a different system I would simply vanish and be replaced by a different entity defined by its different relational context. Political transformation is not supposed to be a form of suicide, but a form of liberation. And there can only be calls for liberation if there is something to be liberated— something that does not deserve to be stifled and oppressed by its currently mediocre or horrible conditions

     
  • Mark 7:20 pm on June 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    An eerily poetic defence of ontology 

    The ostensibly revolutionary transition from consciousness to language still leaves humans in absolute command as the primary subject matter of philosophy. All that happens is that the lucid, squeaky-clean ego of phenomenology is replaced by a more troubled figure- a drifter determined by his context, unable to fully transcend the structures of his environment. In both cases, the inanimate world is left by the wayside, treated as little better than dust or rubble. When rocks collide with wood, when fire melts glass, when cosmic rays cause protons to disintegrate, we are asked to leave all of this to the physicists alone. Philosophy has gradually renounced its claim to have anything to do with the world itself. Fixated on the perilous leap between subject and object, it tells us nothing about the chasm that separates tree from root, or that dividing ligament from bone. Forfeiting all comment on the realm of objects, it sets itself up as master of a single gap between self and world, where it holds court with a never-ending sequence of paradoxes, accusations, counter-charges, partisan gangs, excommunications, and alleged renaissances.

    Meanwhile, beneath this ceaseless argument, reality is churning. Even as the philosophy of language and its supposedly reactionary opponents both declare victory, the arena of the world is jam-packed with diverse objects, their forces unleashed and mostly unloved. Red billiard ball smacks green billiard ball. Snowflakes glitter in the light that cruelly annihilates them; damaged submarines rust along the ocean floor. As flour emerges from mills and blocks of limestone are compressed by earthquakes, gigantic mushrooms spread in the Michigan forest. While human philosophers bludgeon each other over the very possibility of “access” to the world, sharks bludgeon tuna fish, and icebergs smash into coastlines.

    All of these entities roam across the cosmos, inflicting blessings and punishments on everything they touch, perishing without a trace or spreading their powers further–as if a million animals had broken free from a zoo in some Tibetan cosmology. Will philosophy remain satisfied with not addressing any of these objects by name, so as to confine itself to a “more general” discussion of the condition of the condition of the condition of possibility of ever referring to them? Will philosophy continue to lump together monkeys, tornadoes, diamonds, and oil under the single heading of that-which-lies-outside? Or is there some possibility of an object-oriented philosophy, a sort of alchemy for describing the transformations of one entity into another, for outlining the ways in which they seduce or destroy humans and non-humans alike?

 
  • Mark 2:34 pm on June 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    “We all know bankers are greedy bastards!” Ideological dimensions to the financial crisis 

    Think back to 2007. Did you believe the end of neoliberalism was nigh? I must admit I did. It seems rather naive in retrospect. Yet fast forward five years and consider the political terrain: we have witnessed a massive consolidation within the financial sector and an unprecedented attack on the welfare state across Europe. As if by magic, a crisis of the financial system has been reframed as a crisis of sovereign debt, with ‘austerity’ (in essence the structural adjustment programmes that the organs of international capitalism have long imposed elsewhere) being pursued with breathtaking alacrity, accompanied by the continual refrain that there is no alternative.

    So what happened? This question is one which will undoubtedly preoccupy large swathes of the acdemy for decades. However I do want to offer a quick observation about the ideological dimensions to a set of processes which are reshaping global society to an extent which I suspect is still not entirely understood. This concerns what the financial crisis established for the population as a whole. What did we learn from it? Oddly, I think the answer is very little. How were ‘bankers’, as the pantomime characters to whom financial capital is reduce, perceived prior to the crisis? As greedy bastards. How were ‘bankers’, as the pantomime characters to whom financial capital is reduce, perceived after the crisis? As greedy bastards. I’m generalising wildly here before anyone feels the need to point it out. Likewise, if you know of any longitudinal polling data about attitudes towards bankers, I’d love to see it. Without doubt, there are significant numbers of people who either approve of bankers or regard them as a necessary evil.

    My point is simply that the discursive construction of ‘the bankers’ (rather than more or less well-informed propositional claims about the actual characteristics of specific people working in a specific industry) really hasn’t changed as much as one might expect. Although of course the social significance of the negative characteristics imputed to bankers has increased: after all THEY broke THE ECONOMY because of THEIR GREED. But the general perception of the financial system has changed much less than would seem likely given that, well, it almost collapsed. In a sense, the financial crisis represented an affirmation of what we all already knew.

    The moral failings of the financial elite were widely recognised prior to the crisis and no one did anything because we couldn’t and/or because we benefitted from its continuation. But a lack of illusion about the nature of the people in charge, with the accompanying cynicism about their motives, facilitated a widespread disjuncture best represented by the weird position of the traditional Labour supporter during the Blair years: subjectively critical but objectively complicit in the reproduction of the social structures which were the object of their criticism. The apparent absence of ideological illusion about the nature of finance capitalism itself, as well as the political pragmatism and turn away from ‘idealism’ which naturally accompanies it, functioned as a form of ideological control. As Žižek puts it,  “a cynical non-identification with the ruling ideology’s explicit content is a positive condition of its functioning: the ideological apparatuses ‘run smoothly’ precisely when subjects experience their innermost desire as ‘oppositional’, as ‘transgressive’“. We all knew that bankers are greedy bastards before the financial crisis. Then after the crisis this shared recognition becomes an object of public debate. Bankers are ‘bashed’. Then everything ‘returns to normal’?

     
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