Updates from August, 2012 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 6:54 pm on August 30, 2012 Permalink | Reply

    Paul Ryan: Rape Is Just Another ‘Method Of Conception’ 

  • Mark 4:19 pm on August 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: allosexual, , ,   

    Asexual Perceptions of Allosexuals (or why naming people is the first step to stereotyping them…) 

    This Guardian article was the first time I’d noticed sexual people (I prefer this term to ‘allosexual’ i.e. ‘sexual’ and ‘asexual’ as adjectives rather than nouns) respond with indignation, as bewildering as it was in its intensity, to being identified as ‘sexual’ people i.e. as a distinguishable group rather than humanity as such. But inevitably, when we designate a group, particularly when using a noun, the possibility exists that we falsely attribute a homogeneity to that group which doesn’t exist. Which the post  reblogged above insightfully elaborates, in terms of both consequences and curing it, in the case of asexual people’s perceptions of sexual people:

    However, by talking about allosexual people as if they can’t help but need sex all the time constantly and can only think of relationships as sexual, we are only perpetuating the problem. It teaches us that if we ever want to be in a relationship with a person who is allosexual, we will be forced to have sex, since they can’t live without it. It makes us more likely to distrust or push away allosexual folks as friends, zucchinis, or partners, since we are believing these ludicrous assumptions society teaches us. It makes us discount the experiences of allosexual people in non-sexual primary relationships, accounting that they won’t last, since a sexual person cannot live without sex.

    This totally erases allosexual people who abstain from sex for whatever reason. Allosexual people at least have their own experiences to know that they are not constantly craving sex. However, many of us don’t have these experiences, so we allow what society teaches us to become our main archetype for what allosexual people are like.

    So how do we fix this? We need to not make generalizations or assumptions about allosexual people. We need to realize that, like us, they are human and their sexualities exist on a wide spectrum. We need to look at the beliefs we have about sexuality and allosexual folks and critically examine where those come from and how society, the media, and we are contributing to them. We need to not shame people for being allosexual, and accept their sexualities as part of who they are, and realize that does not make them a better or worse person. We need to openly communicate with our romantic, sexual, platonic, and queerplatonic partners about what their sexualities mean to them and talk about how that interacts with our own. We need to listen when allosexual people call us out and tell us we are making assumptions or contributing to the false conceptions of sexuality that our society teaches us.

    Most importantly, I believe we need to have discussions with our allosexual friends about their experiences. This will help dispel many of the misconceptions some of us have about allosexual folks, as well as open communication and create allies. There’s an entire wealth of information to be shared and explored. We merely need to talk about it!

    One of the things that fascinates me about the asexual community is quite how diverse it is (in a range of different ways) without the extent of this difference undermining the collective identity (i.e. the ‘umbrella’ definition). In fact the difference is, in a superficially paradoxical way, the condition which secures the commonality. But it stands to reason that much as ‘asexual’ works discursively by negating the ‘sexual’, bringing an opposing point of identification into language around which a relatively heterogeneous array of subjects can converge, so too might this be true of ‘sexual’. It’s just that until we identify ‘sexual’ people, as a distinguishable sub group (albeit a very large one) rather than human beings as such, the discursive opening which allows the articulation of internal differences (i.e. the range of what it is to be ‘sexual’) is foreclosed and there’s no basis for reciprocal articulation of the ways in which we differ in spite of our commonality of being ‘sexual’.

    The Asexual Agenda

    HEY. I’m calling you out, ace community. I’ve seen something prevalent in our community, and I think it’s time that it needs to end.

    The way we talk about and portray allosexual folks is often almost a caricature. We often speak of them as if they are constantly horny, unable to abstain from sex, and unable to experience love without needing sex. We sometimes act as if we are superior because we are able to pursue our interests without ‘all that sex business’ getting in the way. We often suggest that our friendships are more important to us, or even that allosexuals will always choose a sexual relationship over a platonic or queerplatonic one.

    We need to stop this. This is detrimental to many people. It erases the experiences of allosexual folks who are in queerplatonic relationships, are celibate, are aromantic, or are in mixed relationships with asexuals. In addition…

    View original post 602 more words

  • Mark 1:21 pm on August 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: bulletin boards, , , ,   

    Why the ethics of researching Twitter and Discussion Forum users are so different… 

    Traditionally, “Public places” refer to any regions in a community freely accessible to members of that community; “private places” refer to soundproof regions where only members or invitees gather”

    Erving Goffman, Behaviour in Public Places, Pg 9

  • Mark 5:06 pm on August 26, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The Sexual Assumption In Action 

    The sexual assumption is the usually unexamined presupposition that sexual attraction is both universal (everyone ‘has it’) and uniform (it’s fundamentally the same thing in all instances) such that its absence must be explicable in terms of a distinguishable pathology.

    All from this Guardian article about asexuality earlier in the week:

    • What, not even a bit of mild masturbation?
    • The only person I have seen in real life who was asexual was affected pretty severely with his autism so I don’t know if someone who has never felt attracted to another person is suffering from some kind of disorder.
    • Nature invented sex for reproduction. Being asexual is like being born without an arm. It’s not normal, but no one should get all excited about it.
    • So you can literally lie there and flick the bean without thinking about anything? I don’t believe you. Call me cynical, but I’m not even sure there is such a thing as asexuality. If you have a sex drive, even if it isn’t “directed at anyone or anything”, surely that makes you a sexual being of some sort?
    • In some ways, it’d be great to be asexual. There are so many other things to do, books to read (or write), mountains to climb, symphonies to compose, TV show box sets to watch, countries to travel to, languages to learn, video games to master, diseases to discover cures for, internet forums to engage in endless hair-splitting debates on, &c. Think of how much one would get done if one didn’t have to share one’s nervous system with the ancient machinery one’s genes built for passing themselves on.
    • I find it hard to believe that the hormone levels of asexual people who do not have anysexual desire would have hormone levels comparable to sexual people.
    • Maybe it’s just people who can’t find the opposite sex they think they deserve.
    • As you may I’m really struggling with this asexual stuff, I fail to see how “romantic attraction” can not involve some sort of physical trait in the person you’re attracted, even if it’s just “pleasing to the eye”.
    • Can I ask if this is post menopause? It’s one of those well known but hush hush “facts” in my extended family that the women (from my mothers side at least) lost pretty much all desire for sex once menopause is done. And most of their close female friends feel the same way. It’s just that talking about it openly is not done.
    • Because without sex, we don’t exist. We’re genetically predisposed to have a pronounced relationship with it.

    And then I got bored. There were a lot of comments. But it’s helped developed my idea about something to add into my postdoc plan: the comments and responses to asexual articles online constitute a great resource and, rather than abstract theoretical speculation, I want to collate and systematically analyse responses to asexuality by non-asexuals. More specifically I want to analyse attempts to explain away asexuality: what do they have in common on a conceptual level? I’m offering the sexual assumption as an empirical hypothesis based on (a) what I found in my research about experiences of sexual responses to asexuality (b) my own experience in the last few years of doing media work, talking to lots of people about my research and generally seeing a lot of different people react to asexuality.

    • asexualsexologist 2:45 pm on August 27, 2012 Permalink

      I know Swank Ivy has a “gold mine” (if you can call these responses “gold”) of responses on her videos – not just the ones she has done on her own, like her Letters to an Asexual series but also the videos she has been invited to do for others, like her recent guest video for the Sexual Futurist. Those should be easy to find, I know sometimes I get filtered as spam if I include links, but let me know if you need any.

    • Mark 2:51 pm on August 27, 2012 Permalink

      Thanks! I need to finish off my PhD before I start seriously thinking about the practicalities of this but I’ve added Swank Ivy to my list. It hadn’t occurred to me to look at video comments but then again they’re probably going to be even more depressing than some of the newspaper article comments are…

    • asexualsexologist 3:51 pm on August 27, 2012 Permalink

      I also found the comments Laci Green’s Asexuality video to be a little surprising, generally I’d expect her regular viewers to have thought more about sexuality but the comments were still pretty much the same. Best of luck, I don’t think I could study comments on asexuality-related media without taking up drinking.

    • Mark 4:02 pm on August 27, 2012 Permalink

      Intellectualisation as a defence mechanism!

  • Mark 10:33 am on August 26, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , experience, ,   

    Realism and Human Experience 

    consciousness is always to be conscious of something. Even if its referent is to an internal bodily state, this has an ontological status independent of the ideas we hold about it: experience is necessarily an experience of something, for the verb cannot be intransitive. Thus the experiencer is someone who encounters something prior to it, relatively autonomous from it and causally efficacious upon it.

    Margaret Archer, Being Human, Pg 154

  • Mark 2:12 pm on August 25, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: burrows, crisis of empirical sociology, descriptive turn, , , savage, ,   

    The crisis of empirical sociology: against defeatism and rethinking the public role of the qualitative researcher 

    As Savage and Burrows (2007: 894) point out, the popularity of the in depth interview in British sociology stems from an intellectual reaction to the excesses of Parsonian functionalism: responding to talk of reference groups, norms and values with the valorization of intensely idiographic methods which are geared towards the elaboration of people’s own values in their own terms,  seen as particularly significant when dealing with marginal or oppressed groups liable to be squeezed out of the functionalist world view. While they are certainly correct to say that the value of such in-depth interviews needs justification once it is removed from this initial context of critical reaction, I’m less convinced of the arguments they cite for its diminishing relevance. They argue that,

    Not only are the world-views of diverse populations now routinely presented to us in the popular and new media in such a manner that their summary characterization by sociologists is no longer as necessary (or as interesting) as once it was, but some of the social transactional research technologies discussed above are now also able to produce nuanced representations of the lifeworlds of quite specific populations groupings, for example (Savage and Burrows 2007: 894-895)

    The ubiquity which which ‘everyday life’ is presented in a situated way within the popular and new media surely represents, if we step back from the urgency which understandably animated their argument, an opportunity for the rethinking (rather than the move away from) in-depth interviews and other methods animated by a similar impulse to capture the particularities and nuances of situated lives. Perhaps I’m being hopelessly optimistic (it happens) but the same state of affairs Savage and Burrows cite as indicative of the growing irrelevancy of in-depth interviewing instead indicates to me that the potential public interest in the results of such research has never been higher. Furthermore, in a complex and confusing world increasingly characterised by what seems likely to become endemic economic and political instability, I’d suggest this public interest might extend to work which traces out the linkages between private troubles and public issues… with the essential caveat that linking one to the other, presenting the findings of research in a way that interests and influences diverse and overlapping publics, necessitates a rethinking of the public role of the sociologist. Perhaps involving a generalisation of the orientation of the public intellectual, adapted for a digital age and thus freed from any grandiose pretensions and removed as far as possible from its inscription within the status hierarchies of the academy:

    The Internet, however, can make these connections because it permits economical, finely calibrated “narrowcasting,” that is, the transmission of specific information to specific interest groups. Of course print and — to a much lesser extent — radio and television also allowed some narrowcasting. Academic journals and industry newsletters are perhaps the best examples. But the scale of narrowcasting on the Internet is orders of magnitude greater than anything known before. Take the blogosphere for example. Here tens of thousands of interest-specific public intellectuals talk to tens of thousands of interest-specific publics concerning every imaginable interest. If you want to know about it — beer brewing, Italian shoes, organic chemistry — you can probably find someone with considerable expertise blogging about it. That’s truly remarkable.

    The university presses are well-positioned to take advantage of Internet narrowcasting precisely because they essentially manage a group of experts — authors with books — who are very motivated to reach their publics. Every author wants an audience, even academic authors. The university presses have traditionally helped their authors find their audiences by publishing and promoting books. It’s time to admit that they largely failed, not for any lack of trying, but because the book was the wrong tool. Blogs, podcasts, videos, and types of “programming” not yet conceived or invented offer a much better method of reaching the myriad of communities of interest. If university presses use these methods, everyone wins: the author gets an audience, the audience gets a public intellectual, and the university press fulfills its public-spirited mission. (Poe 2012)

  • Mark 3:57 pm on August 23, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , filtering, prestige, , ,   

    First they mashed up the book, then they massacred its author: reply to Ewan Morrison 

    A reply to Ewan Morrison stemming from a Twitter debate over this appearance on Radio 4.

    There seem to be two issues here which, though clearly related, remain distinguishable: 

    • The ramifications of the digitalization of culture (and the changing practices of cultural engagement which they facilitate) for the commercial sustainability of cultural enterprise.
    • The wider moral and political significance of these cultural changes and how we respond to them. Both for the integrity of professional cultural production and the wider social world within which this occurs.

    I’m undecided about the former point and I’m resistant to generalising about it beyond endorsing the often observed point that these technologies are profoundly disruptive to any industry centered around distributing culture via physical media. The fact that costs involved in self-producing, reproducing and distributing cultural products have been so radically minimised in such a small space of time means, as a pretty banal sociological claim, that organisations involved have to respond creatively to rapidly changing circumstances (or suppress the disruptive forces through legal means) if they are going to survive. The key question for me is the impact this has on the livelihoods of those who are producing the cultural products which these organisations are refining, packaging, promoting and distributing. Beyond this it’s obviously an empirical issue: what does the evidence we have tell us about the ramifications of the digitalization of culture for particular spheres of cultural production? The technological change can’t be wished out of existing through changing social attitudes or legislation but if there’s a convincing empirical case that the new practices of cultural engagement digital technology give rise to are undermine the livelihoods of those working within sector X (and I do think this is something that has to be considered on a very specific basis) then they should be opposed for this reason. With the significant caveat that I would only accept this where it is not a product of intransigence on the part of the organisations towards changing their business models i.e. if authors are unable to support themselves because publishing houses are stubbornly refusing to accept new commercial opportunities which this technology is enabled then it’s the companies which are at fault, not the digitalization of culture.

    But I digress… what baffled me was your attitude towards the latter point. I thought it was important to clarify my views about the initial issue, in order to make clear that I accept on principle that it is crucial to preserve the wellbeing of the cultural producer’s livelihood. Part of your contention seems to be your insistence that this implies that ‘everyone is now a writer’ or ‘everyone is now a radio presenter’ and that this would lead to millions of radio stations (actually it would lead to something much like contemporary podcast culture) or, I assume it follows from your argument, billions of books. As I understand it, you see this kind of generalisation of cultural production as a problem in its own right which is compounded by a further problem (the subject of the R4 debate) namely that it gives rise to ‘mashup culture’ where hoards of pseudo-writers, cheered on by naive techno-utopians celebrating a cult of the amateur, descend on the polished products of real authors and literarily tear them apart in a bloody orgy of substandard cultural production.

    However I’m not entirely sure why this is a problem. If it leads to writers being unable to make a living then, I agree, it is. But you seem to see it as a problem in principle. I think part of the issue relates to prestige and filtering i.e. if we undermine the prestige of the author as a professional identity then how will we filter through all the dross that emerges as part of the same process? There’s an interesting parallel to be drawn with both the art world and academia here, albeit in slightly different ways. The prestige carried by professional groups of cultural producers, cultural intermediaries and cultural venues (e.g. particular academic journals or art galleries) is crucial to structuring the cultural world and helping us navigate it. For this reason it’s also integral to the economics of it: allocation of resources and distribution of prestige are distinct phenomena but the former will always tend to follow the latter. So if the digitalization of culture tends to erode these prestige hierarchies then its significant for the whole system in which they emerge. In other words there are two problems:

    1. How do we tell what’s shit and what’s not without the clear guidance these accepted categories and judgements provide?
    2. Without the ability to tell what’s shit and what’s not, how do we allocate resources which ensure people can still make a living through cultural production?

    I find your invocation of Stalin and Pol Pot so utterly bizarre because for me the clear risk here is that this fuels rather than abates the commoditization of culture. I think it’s a red herring to suggest that fans might not be able to spot the originals. Ironically enough I think mashup culture will tend to affirm the prestige of the original cultural producer for the simple fact that there are empirically observable regularities in who is the focus of this form of cultural engagement. Furthermore I don’t see how any quantity of the mashups could drown out the originals: the only way I could see this could be true is if you assume that the vast majority of people are idiots. Even if there are mashups of mashups of mashups, the cultural raw material is still that of the ‘real’ authors and this, in itself, stands a confirmation of their enduring prestige. But if this just entrenches the hegemony of things like Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray (the wisdom of crowds / the power of the market etc) then it’s a bad thing for culturel more broadly. In other words, I’d argue this trend empowers the consumer and, in that sense, represents an extension of the logic of the market. Just because it’s disruptive to commercial enterprises doesn’t mean it’s anti-capitalist (this is why I have as much of a problem with techno-utopianism as you do) simply for the fact that the enterprises its disrupting were based around their ownership of a particular (physical) means of distributing cultural products i.e. it’s an example of the ‘creative destruction’ of capitalism.  Given that the professional identities of cultural producers (in their current form) emerged in a way that was tied up with these commercial enterprises then, yeah, they’re obviously going to be disrupted as well.

    Which is why, for me, this issues comes down to the first of the two points I listed at the start of this post. I don’t accept your argument about there being anything inherently negative about there being ‘millions of radio stations’ but this post is getting too long – if you’re interested I’ve made this argument in the link two paragraphs above, in relation to a transition from bureaucratized filtering to communal filtering: people finding and consuming cultural products because of the networks they’re bound upon it, particularly when they’re motivated by a serious minded engagement (which I think loosening, though not destroying, the distinction between professional and amateur HELPS fuel) rather than relying on famous author X being published by prestigious company Y and reviewed by distinguished intellectual Z. The way in which people discriminate ‘good’ from ‘bad’ cultural products is already changing and will continue to change and it carries potential risks but also potential opportunities for the quality of cultural life. But I don’t see how your response to these issues (either in terms of how you’re framing it or in terms of the policy responses you seem to suggest) help us work towards making sure it is less of the former and more of the latter. 

    • ewan morrison 12:14 pm on August 4, 2014 Permalink

      just found this online. Thanks, I ‘ll reply once Ive processed it. Although I think things have moved on quite a bit since my radio 4 IV and your post. Ewan M

    • Mark 8:27 am on August 10, 2014 Permalink

      I’m not sure if I still agree with what I wrote!

  • Mark 8:05 pm on August 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Why sexual people don’t get asexuality and why it matters 

    I got completely sucked into this discussion all afternoon. I had three initial aims with my asexuality research: mapping out community in a ideographically adequate way, understanding the role the internet played in the formation of the community and exploring what the reception of asexuality reveals about sexual culture. There’s still more I want to write in relation to the first two points but I’ve basically drawn my conclusions at this point. Which means that my interest in asexuality has basically transmuted into an interest in how sexual people react to asexuality. This sounds much more obscure than it actually is.

    In essence I’m arguing that the reactions of sexual people to asexuality reveal the architectonic principle of contemporary sexual culture, namely the sexual assumption: the usually unexamined presupposition that sexual attraction is both universal (everyone ‘has it’) and uniform (it’s fundamentally the same thing in all instances) such that its absence must be explicable in terms of a distinguishable pathology. This is instantiated at the level of both the cultural system and socio-cultural interaction: it’s entailed propositionally, even if not asserted outright, within prevailing lay and academic discourses pertaining to sexuality but it’s also reproduced by individuals in interaction (talking about sex, either in the abstract or in terms of their own experience) and intraaction (making sense of their own experience through internal conversation).

    Until the asexual community came along, the ideational relationship (the logical structure internal to academic and lay discourses about sex) and patterns of socio-cultural interaction (the causal structure stemming from thought and talk about sex) reinforced one another. Or to drop the critical realist terminology: the sexual assumption got reproduced at the level of ideas because nothing conflicted with it at the level of experience. But when something comes along which empirically repudiates it (namely the asexual community) the underlying principle suddenly becomes contested. This doesn’t mean discourse ‘makes’ sexual people not get ‘asexuality’ but it does mean that, given the centrality of the sexual assumption to our prevailing ways of understand sexuality, being confronted with asexuality immediate invites explanation. One such explanation is to drop the ideational commitment but, given that its usually tacit, few people (including myself) can do this immediately – though many, it seems, do so once they’ve reflected upon it. Instead the usual response is to evade the logical conflict by explaining away asexuality: its a hormone deficiency, the person was sexually abused, they’re lying, they’re gay but repressed, they’ve just not met the right person yet (etc).

    The empirical evidence of quite how pervasive, indeed near universal, this kind of reaction is seems increasingly conclusive. What I am suggesting is that the sexual assumption is what explains this being a ‘kind’ of reaction i.e. all the explanations, in spite of their superficial differences in content, involve a reassertion of the uniformity and/or universality of sexual attraction. I’m not saying people are deliberately or consciously defending the sexual assumption (though I’m not categorically saying no one will ever be doing this) but rather that it is this, as the foundational assumption ‘holding together’ the conceptual architecture of the sexual culture which has emerged from the mid/late 20th century onwards, which asexuality renders problematic. The precise content of any given individual’s attempts to explain away asexuality varies depending on the specifics of their personal and intellectual history within this sexual culture (i.e. it’s not a homogenous thing) but the shared form of the response is explained by the architectonic principle of that culture and the logical relation of contradiction in which it stands to the empirical observation of asexual individuals who are ‘normal’ (i.e. non pathological). Logical relations don’t force people to act (some people don’t try and explain it away) but everyone who has not experienced what David Jay calls the ‘head-clicky thing’ has the same initial reaction. The above is my first attempt to offer a convoluted social theorists explanation of what I mean when, in interviews, I talk about sexual people not ‘getting’ asexuality. If you follow my chain of reasoning then, I ask of you, test it out: go and read the comments on the Guardian article I linked to and think about the reactions of people on there and what they have in common. Or do the same with pretty much any news article which has comments that I’ve encountered. There is something really fucking interesting happening there.

    • Jo 2:20 am on September 3, 2012 Permalink

      I really love the way you talk about all this. While people may be getting better at the “you must have sex/be attracted to people IN THIS WAY” idea, they’re still stuck at the “sexual attraction is universal” part of compulsory/assumed sexuality. It’s really great to see asexuality emerging in an academic context.

    • Mark 7:59 am on September 3, 2012 Permalink

      It’s still very small academically but lots of stuff is coming out / happening next year and Bogaert’s book was just published so it’s getting bigger!

    • jemima101 12:43 am on February 26, 2013 Permalink

      Just read the comments with horror, to me it seems obvious that if there are a variety of differing forms od sexuality asexuality is one of them.

  • Mark 6:24 pm on August 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , reflexive guidance, ,   

    Social Change and Reflexive Guidance 

    If a subject relies on interlocutors to sustain and confirm reflexive deliberations, it leaves them open to conversational censure in a way in which autonomous reflexives and meta-reflexives are not. If their interlocutor objects, mocks or fails to understand what they are saying then the possibility of reaching a conclusion, at least in that instance, is foreclosed; this need for conversational confirmation leads individuals to keep their deliberations in conformity with the conventions of the local context. Their internal deliberations are often restricted to gut reactions which are subsequently raised in dialogue with others, rather than coming to provisional conclusions which might later be ‘shot down’ by others. The reflexive deliberations of the communicative reflexive are constrained by the transactional dynamics of the dialogues through which they are enacted. As Archer describes the consequences:

    “What the practice of communicative reflexivity does it to privilege the public over the private, shared experience over lone experiences, third-person knowledge over first-person knowledge. Through the tendency for every issues to be reduced to the experiential common denominators of its discussants, communicative reflexivity is inhospitable to the innovative, the imaginative or the idiosyncratic. In short, the speculative realm is severely truncated in favour of common sense, common experience and common knowledge.”

    So what are the socio-cultural consequences of the decline of this mode of reflexivity? The normative conventionalism enacted through such dialogues shouldn’t be understood merely as censorious; it also offered guidance and orientation through the experience and knowledge, however fallible, which were reproduced conversationally as well as the socio-cultural immediacy with which they were available. The questions faced by the communicative subject which led them to seek guidance through conversation (i.e. how to order their concerns and work out a stable modus Vivendi – as well as the social knowledge and self knowledge necessary to accompany this task) persist in spite of the absence of those cultural resources which would previously have directly or indirectly given answers.

    However the hegemony of such common sense, entrenched through the reliance of the communicative reflexive on conversational confirmation, meant that the answers given were routine: there were socio-culturally available answers to existential questions which were possessed of both immediacy and expansiveness. One’s dialogical partners were usually able to provide common sense answers to questions which usually effectively answered the question. While it might seem from a contemporary standpoint that such traditionalism is inherently limited – perhaps being seen to represent a subjective standpoint being falsely presented as objective fact – in fact the very conditions which gave rise to its stable reproduction also underwrote its objectivity; when common sense is being reproduced like this, its mode of reproduction (through substantive webs of dialogical partnership) relies on a grounding in shared experience, landmarks and reference points – a shared mental topography – which ensures its relevance  as a source of answers to existential questions. So the absence of such a shared mental topography and the seeming irrelevance of common sense are two consequences of the same underlying cause: the decline of contextual continuity.

    Though such common sense was reproduced through communicative reflexivity, it was available to practitioners of other modes and contingently useful in so far as it informally codified habitual repertoires. However structural and cultural morphogenesis mean that “socialization has been decreasingly able to ‘prepare’ for occupational and lifestyle opportunities that had not existed for the parental generation” (Archer 2010: 136). So the decline of contextual continuity and, with it, the stock of common sense has an impact beyond the experience of communicative reflexives. Though the extent and manner in which they drew upon it varies across different modes, its  rapid erosion deprives all subjects of a source of reflexive guidance that was previously present.

    A formerly important source of reflexive guidance is being eroded by the same morphogenetic processes which are multiplying the opportunities facing subjects. This leaves four possible outcomes:

    1. The subject must work to try and (re)produce contextual continuity within their socio-cultural environment. However such subjects are unlikely to be encountered at university unless they live locally and thus were able to stay with or near family.
    2. The subject must look further into their socio-cultural context – for authoritative figures and/or prescriptive organizations – as a source of guidance.
    3. The subject must look to the cultural system – for understandings, ideas, ideals and theories – which help them make sense of their situation as so provide a source of guidance.
    4. The subject must fall back upon their own resources to negotiate a path through their situation without relying on outside guidance.

    The first is characteristic of communicative reflexivity. As discussed this is increasingly difficulty as the costs associated with ‘staying put’ become ever steeper and the opportunities to avoid embracing novelty ever fewer (Archer 2010: 140). My further analysis will focus on how participants look to these different spheres (socio-cultural, cultural systemic and personal), biographical factors underlying these tendencies and how they relate to the changing practice of reflexivity. Through my continuing analysis of the first year of interviews I intend to elaborate the notion of ‘reflexive guidance’ further and explore the relationship between the practice of reflexivity and sources of guidance in relation to that practice.

  • Mark 6:18 pm on August 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Shit People Say to Asexuals 

    I instantly thought of this video after spending way too much time arguing on this Guardian thread earlier today.

  • Mark 7:34 am on August 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , porpora, sociology of identity,   

    The Caterpillar’s Question: Cultural Resources and Identity 

    After the initial section of my first round of PhD interviews (discussion of different deliberative mental activities) I asked participants what Porpora (2003) calls ‘the caterpillar’s question’: “who are you?” I had two intentions in asking the question. Firstly I hoped that it would frame the subsequent discussion (centring around their life in university) in at least somewhat existential terms. Secondly the answer to the question potentially offers insight into how an individual orientates themselves towards questions of identity. As Porpora (2000) puts it “most people approach identity entirely in terms of social space, the space of personal relations and social categories”. However rather than focusing on the underlying existential aspects of the question my intention was to unpack the elements Porpora identifies (social space, personal relations and social categories) in order to explore the tacit concepts of individuality, identity and sociality drawn upon by participants in answering the question.

    The following elements were drawn upon by participants in answering the question:

    1. Biographical facts and personal attributes
    2. Relationships with others (normative and descriptive)
    3. Demographic categories
    4. Position within socially defined trajectories
    5. Concerns
    6. Theorising about the question

    The three communicative reflexives in the group all answered the question in terms of biographical facts and personal attribute. The two fractured reflexives in the group were the only participants to draw on demographic categories and socially defined trajectories in answering the question. Three of the four participants who theorised about the question were meta reflexives. The only two participants who invoked their concerns when answering the question were meta reflexive.

    It seems plausible that the practice of different modes of reflexivity leaves subjects tending to orientate themselves towards the question in different ways; both in terms of their active deliberations about issues of identity and “ideas that have been questioned or actively reflected on but which then become familiar and lapse into the taken for granted” (Abbey 2004: 3).

    I asked the question again at the start of the third round of interviews (a year later) though I haven’t yet collated the responses and analysed them. This isn’t exactly a precise instrument (to say the least) but I do think it is getting at something interesting and important. The transcripts of the responses to the question are very interesting but, as is rather fresh in my mind given I transcribed it relatively recently, the audio itself is even richer: “who are you?” is a strange question, which we’re infrequently asked, but it is meaningful and provokes a very specific form of reflection.

    I’m not really sure if this really actually end up in my thesis. It doesn’t really sit anywhere in my structure as it stands. But I wanted to preserve the line of thought – although I’m unwilling to post the data on my blog – because I’ve been fascinated by this ever since I read Porpora’s book. There’s definitely a starting point in my data for a theoretical sociology of identity paper somewhere down the line.

  • Mark 5:59 pm on August 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Reflexivity and ‘drift’ 

    Some can remain at the mercy of their first-order pushes and pulls, drifting from job to job, place to place and relationship to relationship. Drift means an absence of personal identity and the accumulation of circumstances which make it harder to form one. Its obverse is not some kind of generalised conformity: its real opposite is the personal adoption of a distinctive lifestyle. The downwards spiral of homelessness and addiction, is downward precisely because it condemns people to being pre-occupied with the satisfaction of first-order commentaries – the next night and the next fix.

    Margaret Archer, Being Human: The Problem of Agency. Pg 246

  • Mark 9:45 pm on August 17, 2012 Permalink | Reply

    Human nature and social change 

    Our concept of human nature is certainly limited; it’s partially socially conditioned, constrained by our own character defects and the limitations of the intellectual culture in which we exist. Yet at the same time it is of critical importance that we know what impossible goals we’re trying to achieve, if we hope to achieve some of the possible goals. And that means that we have to be bold enough to speculate and create social theories on the basis of partial knowledge, while remaining very open to the strong possibility, and in fact overwhelming probability, that at least in some respects we’re very far off the mark.

    – Noam Chomsky from this debate with Foucault

  • Mark 6:03 pm on August 14, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: catnets, crossley, , ,   

    Catnets: my new favourite concept (and not *just* because of the name) 

    Catnets exist where a set of actors are both internally densely networked in a relevant and meaningful manner and also share a common ‘category’ or ‘collective identity’. Actors can belong to a common category and even adhere to a common identity without necessarily enjoying meaningful and dense network ties: hermits are an obvious example. Likewise actors can be densely networked in a meaningful fashion without necessarily belonging to a salient category or sharing a collective identity: socially heterogeneous friendship groups might be an example. Where both conditions come together, however, we have a catnet and catnets are important, according to White, because the combination of networks and identities is particularly conducive to collective action, including protest and social movement mobilization. Like Marx, White believes that networks can become a force for change when their members identity as a group. In a somewhat more flexible manner than Marx, however, he claims both that ‘cats’ can give rise to ‘nets’ and that ‘nets’ can give rise to ‘cats’. Whilst either may exist in isolation the homophily mechanism discussed in Chapter 9 entails that actors who belong to a common category – particularly when it entails an identity which is important to them – are more likely to associate and form networks but by the same token actors who interact regularly and enjoy strong, transitive connections are more likely to generate collective identities for themselves. Dense friendship groups might form as gangs with collective identities for example.

    Pg 196 – Crossley, N. (2010) Towards Relational Sociology. Routledge.

    (podcast with him about his book here and about his study of the punk scene in manchester, which used network analysis, here)

  • Mark 2:15 pm on August 14, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , interview situation, , semi structured interviews,   

    Internal conversations and natural language use / question for qualitative researchers 

    Much of my thesis centers around the notion of internal conversation. Leaving aside broader theoretical issues (what it is, how it works and why it’s important etc) it also poses an obvious epistemic question: if you’re using interviews then how can you claim to gain knowledge of people’s internal conversations? I’ve never thought this was much of an issue but I have always recognised it as a legitimate question to be asked of any empirical research that operationalizes the concept.

    However I find myself, currently knee deep in transcription while also writing my methodology chapter, wondering whether it’s actually a pseudo-problem. In my interviews my participants constantly report, unprompted, on their internal conversations. I’m not comfortable posting data on my blog but here are some examples of the kinds of constructions (i.e. as opposed to the actual internal conversations subjects refer to) I’m talking about:

    • So I’m like “why should I do this if that’s how she’s going to be with me?”
    • I’d do it for a few years, then I’d be “right, I know how this works, I can move onto something else now”
    • And I was like “ah, i see what’s really going on here”

    There is obviously much more to the internal conversations of the people than these examples suggest. However I think it’s important to recognise that when you talk at length to person a about topic b, they will frequently report on internal conversation c when it is relevant, exists and they feel comfortable recounting it. This seems quite naturally really: if you are recounting past events to a present interlocutor, it would produce strange truncated accounts if inner speech was categorically expunged from the description as a whole.

    Does this ring true of other people’s experience conducting semi-structured interviews? I’m a bit shocked this point hadn’t occurred to me previously and now I’m wondering how far to pursue the line of argument.

    I’m also cautious that there’s a risk of reducing actual interview conversations to their empirical recounting in the interview situation. Furthermore, the participants who seem to do what I’ve described above the most are also the most communicative more broadly. For instance they’re the ones who will tend to describe social interactions through recounting both sides of a dialogue (e.g. I was like “X”, then she was like “Y”, then he butted in and was “Z’) which is perhaps why I hadn’t picked up on this earlier. Do those who practice other forms of reflexivity naturally recount internal conversations in external speech? Do they do it more/less? Do they do it differently?

    • Mike Karim 5:12 am on October 17, 2012 Permalink

      (I caught your name and research in MA’s Reflexive Imperative and thought to look you up…)

      The question, “how can you claim to gain knowledge of people’s internal conversations?” is spot on. I’ve been preparing for a pilot study, and that question almost instantly confronted me. I’ve felt some relief by attending to informal conversation with others and identifying some comments that indicated similar statements like those you cited.

      Having said that, though, that sense of comfort hasn’t proved a thing. So, in some convo’s with some cog anthro people around Fuller, I’m consistently hearing the advice: attempt to engage the informant/respondent in a way that elicits how they practice reflexivity. All of which makes great sense: except, as you observed, it is the communicative reflexives that routinely give utterance to their internal conversations. So, yes, the semi-structured interview does promote the declarations of internal conversations.

      I don’t think there’s a pseudo-problem here, but I would be surprised if an empirical recounting were possible!!! Meanwhile, I’m looking into other ways with which to elicit reflexive data from the autonomous, meta’s, and fractured. For now, though, I’m won’t be surprised if I end up relying upon interviews.

      All the best,

    • Mark 9:05 am on October 18, 2012 Permalink

      Hi Mike, thanks for your comment. It’s particularly welcome given I’m actually writing my methodology chapter at present – drop me a line if you fancy a chat at some point, my e-mail is mark AT markcarrigan.net 🙂

  • Mark 5:36 pm on August 5, 2012 Permalink | Reply

    Morphogenetic personalism 

    Morphogenetic personalism aims to understand the four-dimensionality to human existence (conceptualised as each individual’s psychobiography) through ‘slicing’ into the temporal parts of psychobiography, identifying and unpacking processes of elaboration and reproduction in the organisation of that personhood and, through doing so, ‘tracing out’ the specific connections with wider changes in social life which, in whatever way, effect changes in conditions of everyday life. It places great methodological and theoretical significance on the individual’s capacity for internal conversation: within and through which individuals apprehend, under their own terms, circumstances they encounter and how, in their own terms, they answer path-dependent questions of what to do and who to be. In doing so, it aims to contribute, with the degree of that contribution being a contingent matter, towards both our understanding of socio-cultural change at the macro-social life and the variation which social circumstances introduce into the non-variant human challenge of becoming a person and living a life, without privileging either space of questions at either an explanatory or a theoretical level. It is an explanatory framework best suited to longitudinal qualitative research (LQR), as was perhaps inevitable given that it was developed through engagement LQR case study. However as a framework it is suitable for any qualitative research which aims to address the biographical dimensions of  social and/or cultural change in a non reductionist fashion. 

  • Mark 2:17 pm on August 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: semiotics,   

    A Realist Approach to Semiotics 

    Semiosis is multi-functional (Jakobson 1990; Halliday 1994). It is simultaneously referential (or propositional, or ideational), social-relational (or interpersonal), and expressive. Thus, in the Habermasian terms introduced earlier, semiosis raises validity claims of truth, appropriateness and truthfulness/sincerity. Though it should hardly need saying, we insist on the importance of all three, including, contra Saussureans, the role of reference: there are not only signifiers (e.g. words) and signifieds (concepts) but also referents; the ‘play of difference’ among the former could not be sustained without extensive embedding of semiosis in material practice, in the constraints and affordances of the material world. Just because the relation of reference between individual lexemes or phrases and objects to which they refer is not one-to-one or self-sufficient, it does not follow that language and ways of thinking are unconstrained by the world. Not just anything can be constructed.

    This does not mean that the differentiations and qualities of the world dictate the content of knowledge – for the latter is a fallible construction and to assume otherwise is to commit the ontic fallacy. But nor is the world or being dependent on knowledge – if one assumes that it is, one commits the epistemic fallacy. This pair of arguments is important in helping us to disambiguate ‘construction’ into its two moments of construal (the fallible ideas that inform it) and construction (in the sense of the material processes, if any, that follow from it) (cf. Sayer 2000). Indeed, even in the case of social constructions such as institutions, what gets constructed is different from how it is construed; and the relative success or failure of this construal depends on how both it and the construction respond to the properties of the materials (including social phenomena such as actors and institutions) used to construct social reality. Of course, the construal need not refer to the material world: it could also refer to other semiotic phenomena, to images, smells, sounds or feelings and states of mind.

    Critical realism and semiosis (revised version). Fairclough, N. , Jessop, R. D. & Sayer, A. 2004 In: Realism, discourse and deconstruction. Joseph, J. & Roberts, J. (eds.). London : Routledge p. 23-42. 20 p.

  • Mark 2:14 pm on August 2, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: actual, empirical, real, ,   

    What critical realists mean when they go on about the ‘real’, the ‘actual’ and the ’empirical’… 

    critical realists distinguish the real from the actual and the empirical. The  ‘real’ refers to objects, their structures or natures and their causal powers and liabilities. The ‘actual’ refers to what happens when these powers and liabilities are activated and produce change. The ’empirical’ is the subset of the real and  the actual that is experienced by actors. Although changes at the level of the  actual (e.g. political debates) may change the nature of objects (e.g. political  institutions), the latter are not reducible to the former, any more than a car can  be reduced to its movement. Moreover, while empirical experiences can  influence behaviour and hence what happens, much of the social and physical  worlds can exist regardless of whether researchers, and in some cases other  actors, are observing or experiencing them. Though languages and other semiotic structures/systems are dependent on actors for their reproduction, they always already pre-exist any given actor (or subset of actors), and have a  relative autonomy from them as real objects, even when not actualised.

    Critical realism and semiosis (revised version). Fairclough, N. , Jessop, R. D. & Sayer, A. 2004 In: Realism, discourse and deconstruction. Joseph, J. & Roberts, J. (eds.). London : Routledge p. 23-42. 20 p.

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