Updates from March, 2013 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 11:02 pm on March 25, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    For anyone at the Royal Geographical Society conference in August… 

    You should come to this:

    Queer geographies and the politics of anti-normativity (2) 

    Convenor(s): Eleanor Wilkinson (University of Leeds):

    Chair(s): Eleanor Wilkinson (University of Leeds)

    Sponsored by: Space Sexualities and Queer Research Group

    • ·         The Moral Geography of Sexuality and Deviance
      Sharon Hayes (Queensland University of Technology)
    • ·         “Oh! There are other people just like me? I’m not so weird after all”: the transformation of anti-normative politics in late capitalism
      Mark Carrigan (University of Warwick)
    • ·         Transnormative or transgressive: desires for transition in a youth group for trans and genderqueer young people
      Andolie Marguerite (Goldsmiths, University of London)
    • ·         Queer Cambodia: using queer theory to question sex, gender and sexuality in post-conflict Cambodia
      Jessica Kitsell  (University of London)
    • ·         Discussant
      Yvette Taylor (Newcastle University)
    • kittywhistle 11:04 am on March 26, 2013 Permalink

      this looks a great event Mark

  • Mark 8:13 pm on March 25, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , nathan jurgenson, nicholas carr,   

    If we want to understand digital dualism properly, we need to abandon the concept of ‘digital dualism’ 

    In a recent post Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, offered a really interesting critique of what has become an increasingly influential idea within the sociological blogosphere: digital dualism. He begins with what is probably the clearest summary of digital dualism I have yet to encounter:

    The distinction between online and offline is an outdated holdover from twenty years ago, when “going online,” through America Online or Prodigy or Compuserve, was like “going shopping.” It was an event with clear demarcations, in time and space, and it usually comprised a limited and fairly routinized set of activities. As Net access has expanded, to the point that, for many people, it is coterminous with existence itself, the line between online and offline has become so blurred that the terms have become useless or, worse, misleading.

    The underlying point is one which I find glaringly obvious, as I’ve explained elsewhere:

    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.

    However ‘digital dualism’ is a critical term, it conceptualises an ontological fallacy. The whole point of the concept is that digital dualists are mistaken. If the concept is useful, which I still think it is, it is because it helps elucidate how and why  ‘digital dualists’ are mistaken. Crucially I’d suggest that digital dualism is not always an assumption people are aware that they are making – in a similar way to the sexual assumption, it is architectonic, it is conceptually presupposed by certain views people are aware that they hold and it rail roads their thinking in certain directions. But this doesn’t mean that people reflectively think there are two separate ‘worlds’ which are entirely independent of each other.

    I think the concept can be more useful understood as our deliberations being conceptually structured, they are concepts in social circulation which have a certain practical plausibility for some (i.e. if you primarily or entirely use the internet by sitting down at a desk, turning on a computer and logging on then the distinction between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ just makes sense) and so culture and practice reinforce each other. They are tools we think with, both in terms of our internal conversations and also how we externalise such inner conversations to external others. As a pretty strong claim, I’d suggest that ‘online’ and ‘offline’ are the sorts of terms we only ever really use when we’re talking to others about something which we’ve previously been introspecting about by ourselves.

    The problem with ‘digital dualism’, as a catchy but flawed critical concept rather than as the attitude it designates, rests on its inadequacy as a term to make sense of this empirical complexity. It surely designates something real and interesting. But it does so at such a degree of abstraction that, when applied to empirical subject matter, it’s apparent sophisticated belies a strikingly limited interpretive repetoire. Carr makes this point usefully

     There is something tiresome about the self-righteousness of those who see, and promote, their devotion to the offline as a sign of their superiority. It’s like those who can’t wait to tell you that they don’t own a TV. But that’s a quirk that has more to do with individual personality than with some general and delusional dualist mentality. Jurgenson’s real mistake is to assume, grumpily, that pretty much everyone who draws a distinction in life between online experience and offline experience is in the grip of a superiority complex or is striking some other kind of pose. That provides him with an easy way to avoid discussing a far more probable and far more interesting interpretation of contemporary behavior and attitudes: that people really do feel a difference and even a conflict between their online experience and their offline experience. They’re not just engaged in posing or fetishization or valorization or some kind of contrived identity game. They’re not faking it. They’re expressing something important about themselves and their lives—something real. Jurgenson doesn’t want to admit that possibility. To him, people are just worshipping a phantom: “The notion of the offline as real and authentic is a recent invention, corresponding with the rise of the online.”

    The difficulty here can, I’d argue, be understood in terms of Margaret Archer’s concept of ‘central conflation’. This is an idea she uses to make sense of what she takes to be mistaken orientates towards the structure and agency debate in sociology. This is the Wikipedia entry I wrote about this, which I’ll quote because this post is taking a lot longer to write than I initially planned:

    Archer argues that much social theory suffers from the generic defect of conflation where, due to a reluctance or inability to theorize emergent relationships between social phenomena, causal autonomy is denied to one side of the relation. This can take the form of autonomy being denied to agency with causal efficacy only granted to structure (downwards conflation). Alternatively it can take the form of autonomy being denied to structure with causal efficacy only granted to agency (upwards conflation). Finally it may take the form of central conflation where structure and agency are seen as being co-constitutive i.e. structure is reproduced through agency which is simultaneously constrained and enabled by structure. The most prominent example of central conflation is the structuration theory of Anthony Giddens. While not objecting to this approach on philosophical grounds, Archer does object to it on analytical grounds: by conflating structure and agency into unspecified movements of co-constitution, central conflationary approaches preclude the possibility of sociological exploration of the relative influence of each aspect.

    In contradistinction Archer offers the approach of analytical dualism.[1] While recognizing the interdependence of structure and agency (i.e. without people there would be no structures) she argues that they operate on different timescales. At any particular moment, antecedently existing structures constrain and enable agents, whose interactions produce intended and unintended consequences, which leads to structural elaboration and the reproduction or transformation of the initial structure. The resulting structure then provides a similar context of action for future agents. Likewise the initial antecedently existing structure was itself the outcome of structural elaboration resulting from the action of prior agents. So while structure and agency are interdependent, Archer argues that it is possible to unpick them analytically. By isolating structural and/or cultural factors which provide a context of action for agents, it is possible to investigate how those factors shape the subsequent interactions of agents and how those interactions in turn reproduce or transform the initial context. Archer calls this a morphogenetic sequence. Social processes are constituted through an endless array of such sequences but, as a consequence of their temporal ordering, it is possible to disengage any such sequence in order to investigate its internal causal dynamics. Through doing so, argues Archer, it’s possible to give empirical accounts of how structural and agential phenomena interlink over time rather than merely stating their theoretical interdependence.

    My point is that the critique of ‘digital dualism’ can too easily conflate the ‘online’ and the ‘offline’. In doing so, we’re left with a situation where, yes, we’ve acknowledged their interpentration but because we’ve ‘transcended’ the dichotomy, we lose the ability to unpack the interplay between its two sides. The argument that “no, you’re wrong, these aren’t separate things at all!” is useful in so far as that it allows us to identify an interface between two things that were erroneously deemed to be distinct. Likewise, it can help us understand the mistakes which ensued from imputing a discreteness which was mistaken. But it becomes a problem when the argument which allows us to identify and critique comes to preclude our capacity to explain. It becomes a problem when our eagerness to explain “you’re so wrong, look how interpenetrative they are” obscures the variation and sequencing of that interpenetration. The ‘online’ and the ‘offline’ are not distinct. But the modalities of their interpenetration are empirically variable in a profound, interesting and important manner. We need a conceptual toolkit which allows us to both identify and unpack that empirical variability. I don’t think that the idea of ‘augmented reality’ (the ‘correct’ counterpart to digital dualism)  can provide these tools.

    • nathanjurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) 3:33 pm on March 27, 2013 Permalink

      “He begins with what is probably the clearest summary of digital dualism I have yet to encounter”

      buuuut that summary you quoted isn’t really what those discussing digital dualism are talking about! that’s his new invention, but not what “has become an increasingly influential idea within the sociological blogosphere”.

      Carr surely did use “digital dualism” to conflate difference, but that’s simply using the term poorly. for me, and many others writing on the topic, the purpose of the digital dualism critique is that in order to best explain the deeply different ways people encounter the digital one must begin with the assumption of digital enmeshment. the synthetic view best explains difference. this is the point so many have made, and that Carr neglected in his post.

    • Mark 7:59 pm on April 1, 2013 Permalink

      Hi Nathan, sorry for late response, wanted to have a read over your stuff before replying but took me a while to find the time. Now I have I’m a little confused about your point (and I suspect I didn’t get mine across very well) – the clarification you make here is something I hadn’t read previously and it’s precisely what I was driving at:

      At some level, yes, the boarders of these different properties are blurry, and it’s a good idea to never treat any categories hegemonically, but an email and a paper letter are the result of those different properties, different affordances, and I wouldn’t want to forfeit being able to talk about that. So I’ll concede that “digital” and “physical” and “online” and “offline” are all problematic categories and will instead insist that they can be salvaged by treating them as what Max Weber called “ideal types”, conceptual categories that are useful to think with, even if they are never perfectly realized in practice.

      My point being that explaining the empirical interpentetration of the ‘online’ and the ‘offline’ necessitates that we analytically distinguish the different dimensions in spite of their empirical ‘enmeshment’. When I say ‘explain’ I mean very literally explain in the context of empirical research – I was criticising the broader debate for its lack of conceptual tools that can be deployed usefully by social researchers, not criticising it as a set of theoretical propositions.

      And to be frank I was initially kind of baffled by the idea that the view Carr offers is an invention and not “what those discussing digital dualism are talking about”. But then I read your response to Carr, which did help clarify – and credit to you for acknowledging how this ‘misinterpretation’ of digital dualism stems from a perfectly understandable reading of your early writing on this, which I shared with Carr – but also entrenches my view that this is a dead end for social research. I completely 100% agree with you about the nature of this enmeshment but I’m interested in exploring (and EXPLAINING) the historical variability, as well as the social and technological conditions underlying it, which it seems blindingly obvious to me characterises this enmeshment. I want conceptual tools which help unpick and unpack the nature of this enmeshment for concrete actors in concrete settings.

    • Nick Carr 11:32 pm on May 2, 2013 Permalink


      Excellent piece. I think, particularly in your concluding paragraph, you explain the fundamental unhelpfulness of “digital dualism” as a critical concept and why it’s ultimately a “dead end.” And I agree that Nathan’s (newfound) desire to separate the discussion from considerations of “historical variability,” particularly the dramatic changes in how people access the Net (and other online services), further underscores how a focus on supposed dualism actually distracts us from the really interesting questions. “We’ve always been cyborgs” and “reality has always been augmented” are true statements, but they’re not particularly interesting statements. I think we all begin with the assumption of “digital enmeshment,” and I’m not sure why Nathan keeps suggesting that this is a contested point. It’s the nature of the enmeshment that’s the interesting subject, and, as you suggest, that requires making distinctions between “online” and “offline” and testing the porous boundary between the two in many different ways. I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that there are correct and incorrect ways of thinking about and discussing online and offline.



    • Mark 8:40 pm on May 5, 2013 Permalink

      Perhaps unsurprisingly I’m in complete agreement with you here! I’m worried this debate in its current form isn’t going anywhere useful or amicable though – I’m going to leave it for a while and come back to it post-PhD later in the summer.

  • Mark 7:12 pm on March 25, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Digital Sociologist #4: Deborah Lupton 


    Deborah is an advocate of using social and other digital media for professional purposes. She blogs at ‘This Sociological Life’, tweets @DALupton, has a number of Pinterest boards and Storify presentations dealing with her current research interests and administers three Facebook pages: Sociology of Health, Illness and MedicineDigital Sociology and Sociology of Parenting. She contributes pieces to The Conversation and Crikey online discussion sites and is an invited member of the Crikey Health and Medical Panel.

    How did This Sociological Life come about? 

    How do you use the blog? 

    Has this changed over time? 

    Do you ever have trouble finding the time to blog?

    How does your blogging relate to the rest of your work?

  • Mark 7:38 pm on March 22, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , military,   

    “I tried hard to be proud of my service, but all I could feel was shame” 

    A powerful speech by Mike Prysner, a US army veteren turned anti-war activist, given at the Winter Soldier symposium. This event involved anti-war veterans from around the US coming together to give testimony about their experiences on the grounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, with scholars, journalists and other activists offering responses and context to the veteren’s testimony.

    Here’s a video which summarises and advertises the event:

    There are many more videos from the event here. There’s something extraordinarily powerful about this collation of testimony, with the opportunity to give an account of their experience to others clearly going hand-in-hand with a need to give an account of their experiences to themselves which they can live with.

    The discourse of ‘defence’ inevitably, perhaps unavoidably (willfully?), abstracts away from the messy fleshy painful and tragic reality of war and its human consequences. Would policy making work differently if this were not the case? If, perhaps, those who make decisions to send others to war are forced to confront the consequences of their action? This has been on my mind a lot since reading this letter from a US army veteren to Bush and Cheney:

    I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

    I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

    You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

    I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

    Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

    I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes.

    The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

    I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

    I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

    My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

    Tomas Young.

  • Mark 12:32 pm on March 22, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Ethnographic Methods: ethics, practice and theory 

    Ethnographic Methods: ethics, practice and theory
    12.00-17.00, Thursday, 23 May 2013

    The University of Warwick

    At its best, ethnography – often glossed as ‘participant observation’ – has provided sociology and other social researchers with a valuable tool for apprehending a world in flux. Across the humanities and social sciences (e.g. cultural studies, social anthropology, sociology), however, ethnography remains a ubiquitous research method that can often raise as many questions – ethical, methodological, political and practical – as it seeks to answer. This workshop will consider recent efforts to reassert ethnography as theory (rather than just description) in order to explore these questions. In doing so, it will survey recent scholarly debates about collaborative ethnography, multi-sited ethnography and the literature on so-called ‘new’ ethnographic objects. Participants in the seminar are required to read Laura Nader’s ‘Ethnography as Theory’ (2011, HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 1 (1): 211-219) as well as Matei Candea’s ‘Arbitrary locations: in defense of the bounded field-site (2007, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13 (1): 167-184).

    The deadline for applications is 5pm on Wednesday, 15 May 2013.

    Further information about this half-day workshop, which is being led by Dr Alexander Smith (Department of Sociology, University of Warwick) in collaboration with Dr Michaela Benson (Department of Sociology, University of York), can be found here: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/socialsciencesdtc/advanced/ethnographic/.

    Please get in touch with Dr Smith if you have questions: alexander.smith@warwick.ac.uk.

  • Mark 3:41 pm on March 19, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Interesting @WarwickUni Event – Values Exchange seminar 

    The next meeting in the WMS Education Research Seminar series will be at 2pm on Thursday 21st March in GLT4 in the Medical School building.

    The seminar will be led by David Seedhouse, creator of the Values Exchange. The Values Exchange is an innovative web-based community that fosters personal reflection and informed debate on case studies on any theme.  A trial site has been created for Warwick here: http://warwick.vxcommunity.com

    As part of an IATL funded project bringing together several departments across campus, we will be exploring over the next 12 months the use of Values Exchange as an interdisciplinary tool to support values-based thinking and reasoning, an approach that underpins much of decision making, in particular focussing on rendering the decision making process transparent to both the decision maker and other stakeholders.

  • Mark 5:55 pm on March 12, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Subjectivity and Subculture: One Day Symposium 

    Subjectivity and Subculture

    ~ One Day Symposium ~

    Monday 10th June 2013: 9:00am-6:30pm

    Institute of Advanced Study, Milburn House, University of Warwick

    We are delighted to announce that Dr Rupa Huq, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Kingston University, and Dr Shane Blackman, Professor in Media, Art and Design at Canterbury Christ Church University, will give keynote papers at the symposium.

    Call for proposals

    Theories of subculture – emerging primarily from within the Chicago School in the early Twentieth Century, and from the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) in the 1970s and 1980s – have tended to characterise subculture as the collective cultural and social practices of disenfranchised young working class males. However, in recent years scholars have challenged this definition, arguing that subcultures are inhabited by a diverse population, and that these spaces may not be as cohesive as earlier theorisations suggest.

    Scholars have addressed this issue by pursuing research into ‘marginal subcultures’. This work sheds light on how people are able to organise their cultural practices around specific modes of subjectivity, but there is, to date, limited engagement with how people negotiate a variety of subject positions within the same subcultural environments.

    This one day symposium focuses on how subjectivities are managed by subcultural participants and by those who research such spaces. It seeks to facilitate a dialogue about the intersectional and reflexive considerations of subcultural research, placing particular emphasis on the implementation of innovative methodological strategies. The symposium will address the following questions:

    1) Are marginal subjectivities always disempowered within established subcultural environments?

    2) To what extent should contemporary subcultural researchers challenge the definition of subculture as a form of ‘marginal’, or ‘disenfranchised’, collective cultural participation?

    3) What are the primary epistemological concerns within the field of subcultural studies at the present time?

    4) How can we as researchers develop innovative methodological approaches to the study of subjectivity and subculture

    5) What does the future of subcultural studies look like?

    Proposals for 15 minute papers that reflect upon one, or a number, of these questions are invited. Specific topics may include, but are not limited to:

    – The negotiation of gender/racial/ethnic/sexual identities within subculture.

    – Feminism in subculture.

    – Insider/outsider subjectivities in subcultural context.

    – Disability and subcultural participation.

    – Age and subculture.

    – Femininity, masculinity and subculture.

    – Queer identity within subculture.

    – Subjectivity in the context of trans-local subcultural spaces.

    – Innovative methodological approaches to the study of subculture.

    – The researcher’s own reflexive considerations in relation to the subcultures they study.

    – Alternative terminology, including ‘scenes’, ‘neo-tribes’, ‘communities’ and ‘networks’.

    – The visual representation of subculture.

    – Subculture and the Internet.

    Please email 250 word proposals to Dr Michelle Kempson, at M.Kempson@warwick.ac.uk, before 15thApril 2013.

  • Mark 4:39 pm on March 8, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Living Apart Together – A seminar to discuss the findings of an ESRC funded research project 

    Living Apart Together: A Multi-Method Analysis

    What Have We Learnt? 

    A seminar to discuss the findings of an ESRC funded research project 

    Friday 26 April 2013

    2.00-4.30 pm 

    Keynes Library

    43 Gordon Square

    Birkbeck, University of London

    London WC1H 0PD

    About 10% of adults in Britain today are in a relationship but not living with their partner. This seminar presents findings from a major ESRC funded research project about the phenomenon of “living apart together”. The research involved a national representative survey, a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews, and a psychosocial study, using the biographical-narrative interpretive method. The seminar will be of interest to researchers and practitioners interested in family and personal life, households, couple relationships and biography, and the use of mixed methods.


    2.00     Welcome and introduction                               

    Sasha Roseneil (Birkbeck)


    2.10     Overview of the project                       

    Simon Duncan (Bradford University)


    2.20     How many people are living apart together, and who are they?         

    Miranda Phillips (NatCen Social Research)


    2.40     Why do people live apart together, and how do they manage it practically?

    Simon Duncan (Bradford University)


    3.00     How do people talk about living apart together in the context of the rest of their lives, and what do they feel about it?

    Sasha Roseneil (Birkbeck)

    3.20     Tea and cake

    3.35     Panel discussion – responses to the project

    Anne Barlow (Exeter University), Nickie Charles (Warwick University), Jacqui Gabb (Open University) & Penny Mansfield (OnePlusOne)

    Followed by audience Q&A with the research team 

    4.30     Close

    ATTENDANCE IS FREE BUT REGISTRATION IS ESSENTIAL: to register please visit http://www.livingaparttogether.eventbrite.co.uk

  • Mark 10:02 pm on March 7, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Where I’m going with my a/sexuality research (once I finish my thesis) 

    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, though I have a couple of papers to finish before I will have made these arguments in public in a way that satisfies me. But nonetheless 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 architectonicprinciple 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.

    So where does this leave me? Going forward I want to do three  things:

    1. Flesh out the account above at a conceptual level. It’s a very abstract account which I would argue nonetheless has a very firm grounding in what is still (to my knowledge) the largest empirical research project that has been conducted into asexuality worldwide. know what I mean. But I’m worried others don’t. Because it’s taking one extremely obscure area (Margaret Archer’s work on culture) and applying it in a rather idiosyncratic way to another extremely obscure area (the sociology of asexuality). So once I can explain the account in a way that doesn’t sound obscurely critical realist I’ll be happy.
    2. Map out the history of the sexual assumption. This is a big project but I have a fairly clear idea of how to do it. There’s a synopsis here. Unfortunately doing it properly means spending a few years reading every significant sexological text of the 20th century – I’m guessing I might need a little funding to make this work.
    3. Explore the broader ramifications of some of the theoretical insights the initial study gave me. Particularly the manner in which asexual experience, for all its fascinating specificity, points to broader tendencies about the structuring of normative experience in late capitalism. I’ve had an very sketchy first try at this here.
  • Mark 7:00 pm on March 7, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Digital Sociologist #3: David Beer 

    How did Thinking Culture come about? 

    Has the way you’ve used the blog changed over time? 

    How does your blog connect with the rest of your work?


    Do you ever have trouble finding time to blog? 

    So is curation a central part of you use social media? 

    Does blogging provide a space for things which you couldn’t fit elsewhere?

  • Mark 6:30 pm on March 7, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    How will sociology cope with digital data? An interview with David Beer 


    I interviewed David Beers about digital data and its implications for sociology.

    Why should sociologists care about the ‘digital’?

    What is ‘digital by-product data’? Why is it sociologically interesting? 

    How can sociologists cope with digital data?

    How will digital data shape sociological practice? 

  • Mark 8:47 am on March 6, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    This looks great -> Classifying Sex Conference 

    Thursday, 4 July 2013 to Friday, 5 July 2013
    Location: CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DT


    This conference brings together social scientists, gender scholars, sexologists, psychiatrists, historians of science, as well as mental health practitioners and sexual rights activists to critically explore the sexual classifications produced by the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental Disorders (DSM), published in May 2013. The DSM is a standard reference for the classification of mental disorders, and its first major revision since 1994 is consequently an important event. The conference will explore which categories of normal and abnormal, healthy and pathological sexualities the new manual produces, and critically scrutinise their consequences for diagnostic practices, as well as their wider social and political implications.


    Eric Fassin (École Normale Supérieure, Paris)
    Lisa Downing (Birmingham, Humanities);
    Jeffrey Weeks (South Bank, Weeks Centre for Social and Policy Research)
    Cynthia Graham (Southampton, Psychology);
    Katherine Angel (Warwick, History of Science);
    Monica Greco (Goldsmiths, Sociology);
    Ken Zucker (Toronto, Psychiatry; Chair of the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders workgroup); Zowie Davy (Lincoln, Health and Social Care);
    Cynthia Kraus (Lausanne, Gender Studies).
    Patricia Crittenden (Miami, Family Relations Institute)
    Patrick Singy (Chicago Society of Fellows)
    Simon Goldhill (Cambridge, Classics).
    Alain Giami (INSERM, Paris)

  • Mark 2:44 pm on March 5, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    CfP: Sociology & the Global Economic Crisis 

    Sociology and the Global Economic Crisis

    Special Issue Call for Papers
    Deadline for submissions: 31 August 2013

    Editorial Team:
    Ana C. Dinerstein (University of Bath), Gregory Schwartz (University of Bath) and Graham Taylor (University of the West of England)

    We hear it, see it, and read about it everywhere; yet, to what extent are we able to translate the quotidian reality of the global economic crisis into adequate forms of knowledge? Has the crisis highlighted important limits in our sociological imagination linked either to the subdivision of our discipline or, more fundamentally, questioned the contemporary relevance of sociology as a social science?

    This Special Issue of Sociology, to be published in October 2014, invites contributions that will:

    · Explore how sociology can contribute to a better understanding of (the lived experience of) the global economic crisis; and/or
    · Reflect on how social processes and movements confronting the crisis can inspire a new sociological imagination.

    And aims to bring together contributions that:

    · Bridge disciplines
    · Unsettle conventions
    · Cosmopolitanise epistemologies
    · Renew sociology

    The Editors welcome contributions on relevant topics in any field of social science engaging with sociological research, from early career and established academics, and from those outside academia.

    Queries: To discuss initial ideas or seek editorial advice, please contact the Special Issue Editors by email on sociology.specialissue.2014@gmail.com

    Full Call for Papers can be viewed at

  • Mark 9:19 am on March 5, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    voices and conversations; ‘real’ and ‘pathological’ 

    After listening to a description of ‘voice hearing’ on Radio 4 last Saturday, I find myself fascinated by the relationship such pathological/pathologised forms of inner speech have to the everyday forms of inner speech which are so central to my own work. The phenomenology described by the radio guest was fascinating: the inner ‘other’ was recognised as, at root, himself yet personalised as ‘the captain’ and invested with agency, such as to render the experience intrusive and overpowering.

    So too was the extent to which the identity qua voice hearer was clearly integral to his sustained social identity, as the recognition of the ‘problem’ comes to constitute the solution to underlying existential questions of how to situate oneself in relation to the social world and the other people who populate it.

    I’m very aware of my capacity to get intellectually distracted so I’m putting this on hold till after I hand in my thesis. But I find this literature, which I’ve only just discovered, fascinating and I can’t wait to read more. It’s interesting on a variety of levels:

    1. How do the pathological and everyday forms of inner speech relate to each over developmentally?
    2. What social and culture conditions need to be in place for ‘hearing voices’ to be medicalised in the current manner?
    3. What is its history as a diagnostic category? What preceded it?
    4. How else have these experiences been understood and what do these divergent understandings say about the ‘condition’ both as a contingent socio-cultural construction and an underlying human reality which is being constructed in different ways at different times?
    • Nev 10:47 pm on March 5, 2013 Permalink

      Thanks for re-blogging. 🙂 I know you’re busy with other (important!) projects, but sometimes I’d love to hear your reflections on why you find voices (in particular) so appealing (vs ‘madness’ more generally, psychosis, ‘schizophrenia,’ delusions, other forms of ‘disorder,’ etc.). As you probably noticed, I have many reservations about the ultra-recent academic sexiness of voice hearing, and would be curious to hear your take.

    • Mark 8:42 am on March 6, 2013 Permalink

      How about we have a Skype chat at some point? My e-mail is Mark AT markcarrigan.net if you’d like to arrange one 🙂

  • Mark 1:38 pm on March 4, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , sandel, sunstein, thaler,   

    Moving beyond abstracted dichotomies in sociological treatments of decision making 

    Back when I planned to do a PhD in political philosophy, I was extremely interested in Michael Sandel’s critique of John Rawls. Particularly his attack on what he claimed was Rawl’s notion of an ‘unencumbered self’:

    Now the unencumbered self describes first of all the way we stand toward the things we have, or want, or seek. It means there is always a distinction between the values I have and the person I am. To identify any characteristics as my aims, ambitions, or desires, and so on, is always to imply some subject ‘me’ standing behind them, and the shape of this ‘me’ must be given prior to any of the aims or attributes I bear.

    I had a vague idea that my thesis could be a historical study of the rise and fall of this view of the self. It almost certainly wouldn’t have held my interest for 3 years but it’s been an ongoing thread at the back of my mind. It’s been on my mind recently because a few conversations have left me struck by the sense in which many sociologists seem to see Margaret Archer’s work on internal conversation as postulating precisely such a self. In her work on the subject, our inner speech is seen to be the mechanism through which we exercise our capacity for reflexivity: “the mental ability, shared by all normal people, to consider themselves in relation to their social contexts and vice versa”. Our decision making operates through such internal conversations, constituting a ‘back and forth’ between objective and subject (our situation & our concerns) rather than something which can be construed in ‘flat’ terms.

    Epistemic contraints operate at both levels – the individual’s knowledge of their selves and their circumstances is profoundly fallible, both in terms of the capacity to be mistaken and also sheer limits to possible knowledge. Likewise the internal conversation always takes place under their own descriptions i.e. our framing of a situation in the terms we use to describe it  shapes what we know and how we can act, in a manner which is partly explicable by looking at the path-dependent cultural history of the individual concerned.

    Now this all sounds abstract. But my interest in it comes from what I’d argue is it power to gain explanatory purchase on how actual individuals actually make the decisions which shape their lives (and I’m obviously not suggesting they voluntaristically ‘shape their lives’ – in fact the whole point is that a notion of ‘shaping a life’ which doesn’t take account of structural contraints and enablements would be meaningless!). The empirical question of degrees of fallibility are bracketed in order to make the higher level discussion possible. Because the answers to these questions are empirically quite complex. But their are, nonetheless, reliable answers. It seems profoundly hubristic to deny this, symptomatic of a disciplinary imperialism driven by insecurity rather than triumphalism. But I digress. As Thaler and Sunstein point out,

    Hundreds of studies confirm that human forecasts are flawed and biased. Human decision making is not so great either. Again to take just one example, consider what is called the ‘status quo bias,’ a fancy name for inertia. For a host of reasons, which we shall explore, people have a strong tendency to go along with the status quo or default option.

    However it would be a mistake to move to the opposite extreme, inverting homo economicus by affirming a view of human decision making as irredeemably erroneous. Instead we need to recognise the empirical nature of the question at two levels: the underlying cognitive capacities that are deployed in decision making and the contextual variability in how these capacities are actualised within concrete action situations.

    How well people choose is an empirical question, one whose answer is likely to vary across domains. It seems reasonable to say that people make good choices in contexts in which they have experience, good information, and prompt feedback – say, choosing among ice cream flavors. People know whether they like chocolate, vanilla, coffee, licorice, or something else. They do less well in contexts in which they are inexperienced and poorly informed, and in which feedback is slow or infrequent

    The latter level strikes me as one which sociology is uniquely well suited to addressing. Not least of all because it can encompass structural questions within its purview, in a manner which I imagine social psychology would tend to struggle with: how structures shape the concrete action situations individuals confront and how ensuing actions contribute, both aggregatively and emergently, towards the transformation or reproduction of those structures. However doing this adequately necessitates getting over hangups about the findings of behavioural science and cognition + agency more broadly.

  • Mark 11:53 am on March 4, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    PhD & ECR summer school on Contesting Claims for Expertise in a Post-secular Age: In Search of Intellectual Life 


    Contesting Claims for Expertise in a Post-secular Age: In Search of Intellectual Life

    IAS Summer School, University of Warwick, 15-19 July 2013

    DEADLINE for applications: 15th March 2013

    The current moment seems to be one of ‘crisis’ or at least of dramatic change for the authority of academic expertise. Policy debates over climate change, embryology and the like have often seen scientific knowledge politicised, problematised and reduced in public imagination to just another partial ‘perspective’. These issues are particularly acute where scientific expertise runs up against that of, or associated with, markets. Whilst authority that is grounded in the experience of practicing natural and social science seems to flounder, authority that is associated with market forces seems only to gain in stature – despite recent disasters wrought under the watch of just such expertise. This creates and compounds a series of dilemmas for critical academic practice that are bound up with changing conceptions of what constitutes public life. The arrival of a post-secular moment in which religion has re-entered the public sphere further unsettles debates about expertise, science and religion. This summer school provides a space for postgraduate students, postdoctoral fellows and other early career academics to come together to respond to this ‘crisis’ and to think through new avenues for intellectual life, practice and collaboration – reaching across boundaries of science, religion, critique, participation, pragmatism, vitalist ethics, and explanation. Together, we will work through the challenges of the present moment and ask whether there is a conceptual language or theoretical framework for addressing such challenges beyond disciplinary divides. The summer school offers a mix of expert lectures and participant-led discussion groups as well as workshops organised by members of the Authority Research Network. For more information about the summer school, please visit our website: http://buff.ly/UzqIhe

    Keynote academics:

    Bob Antonio (University of Kansas), Fern Elsdon-Baker (Coventry University), John Holmwood (University of Nottingham), Steve Fuller (University of Warwick), Amy Levine (Changwon National University), Celia Lury (University of Warwick), Andrew McGettigan (Independent), Alice Mah (University of Warwick), Thomas Osborne (University of Bristol), Stephen Turner (Florida University), Sarah Whatmore (University of Oxford)

    Application process:

    1. Please complete an application form (attached) and return toalexander.smith@warwick.ac.uk by 5pm, March 15th 2013

    2. We will consider all applications, and inform successful applicants, by April 15th 2013

    3. All successful applicants will be required to register for the summer school by May 15th 2013

    Registration fee: £200 to include accommodation and food for the duration of the summer school. Applicants are required to cover their own travel costs.

    Bursaries: We have some money available for fee waivers and travel bursaries. If you would like to be considered for either or both of these, please indicate this on the application form. Our resources are limited, and we will prioritise those applicants without sources of institutional support.


    Alex Smith, Claire Blencowe and Gurminder K. Bhambra, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick

  • Mark 11:45 am on March 4, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Asexuality events at UCL this week and next 

    Tuesday March 5th:
    Asexuality 101 – Lunchtime talk – Foster Court 130 (UCL)
    ‘An informal lunchtime introductory talk on asexuality as part of
    Asexual Awareness Week, organised by UCL’s LGBT+
    Curious to learn more about this lesser known orientation? Come along
    to find out more. Free lunch provided!
    Open to everyone, and room is fully accessible.’


    Wednesday March 6th:
    UCLU LGBT+ Film Night: (A)sexual –  B03 Ricardo Lecture Theatre,
    Drayton House, UCL, 30 Gordon Street 6.30pm
    ‘As part of the Asexual Awareness Week we’ll be showing the
    documentary (A)sexual, which explores the asexual movement and how
    they fit into society and LGBT+.
    with a Q&A session afterwards’


    Wednesday March 13th:
    UCLU Curiosity Talks: Intimacy – B03 Ricardo Lecture Theatre, Drayton
    House, UCL 30 Gordon Street 6.15pm
    Looking at intimacy and different forms of relationships. David Jay
    will be joining us via skype.


    Saturday March 16th:
    Games Party – ULU Building, Malet Street, room to be confirmed – 5pm-8pm
    A games party to celebrate Ace Awareness Week and general end of the
    university term

    The first event is mainly aimed at people who do not know much about
    asexuality, but the talk and discussion on March 13th should prove
    particularly interesting.

  • Mark 12:47 pm on March 3, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , subjects,   

    Subjects vs subjectification – getting beyond an unhelpful dichotomy (without irritating the Foucauldians too much) 

    One important objection to the notion of ‘internal conversation’ rests on a broader trend within contemporary social theory that is concerned with the possibility that theoretical claims about agency lead proponents to make claims about agents which are empirically inadequate. So too that these ensuing claims might find themselves implicated, knowingly or otherwise, in broader political contestations within wider society (though the suspicion persists that those most vocal about the purportedly intrinsically political nature of social science and social theory systematically, indeed hubristically, overestimate the influence of social scientists and theorists outside the academy). On such a view, affirmation of a  choosing, reflective and deliberative self is unavoidably embroiled within a broader project of neoliberal governmentality (Rose 1998, 1999, 2007). Nonetheless, it seems profoundly mistaken to therefore expunge conceptual talk about subjects from the admissible range of contemporary social theory. Recognising this as a mistake is entirely compatible with the methodological move Miller and Rose (2008) make in their genealogical investigations into ‘technologies of the self’: “what understandings of the people to be acted upon – whether explicit or implict – underpinned these endeavours, and how did they shape or reshape the ways in which these individuals understood and acted on themselves?” (Miller and Rose 2008: 7).

    While it might be objected from a realist standpoint that such an investigation presupposes a theory of the subject, it is important that we nonetheless understand the ambiguous role such an account occupies within a broader inquiry of this form. As the author’s themselves observe, “that question could only be answered on the basis of some explicit or implicit assumptions about human mental processes. Yet for us, the historical forms taken by those presuppositions were exactly what we were studying” (Miller and Rose 2008, 7). It is perfectly possible to accept the validity of such an injunction, construing it as an exercise in bracketing to facilitate a specific form of inquiry, while rejecting the more radical implication that all claims about the underlying properties and powers of human subjects are, in actuality, claims about the cultural resources and reflexive technologies which are distributed within a given social context at any given time. Such an absolute injunction would involve a failure to distinguish between what Bhaskar (2011: 21) terms the transitive and intransitive objects of scientific inquiry: the “changing cognitive objects that are produced within science as a function of scientific practice” and “the unchanging real objects that exist outside the scientific process” respectively.

    Bracketing the real properties and powers of human subjects may be a useful move for investigation into the empirical variety of reflexive technologies over time, insofar as that it minimises the role that our prior (transitive) commitments play in the empirical investigation. In doing so it facilitates a largely descriptive, though nonetheless valuable, mode of investigation which traces out the socio-cultural factors involved in empirically observable changes in how human beings “recode variations in moods, emotions, desires, and thoughts” (Rose 2006, 223). In doing so it can lead to empirically rich accounts of how, for instance, the rise of a “psychological language of self-description: the language of anxiety, depression, trauma, extroversion, and introversion” was connected, inter alia, to the use of psychological tests of intelligence and personality from vocational guidance to military promotion” and the rise of “psy technologies for marketing commodities” or the “proliferation of psychotherapies” (Rose 2007, 187-188). Within the framework of this thesis, the objects of such investigation are understood as cultural resources (ideational objects) and reflexive technologies (the socio-cultural application of these objects). It is necessary to understand the properties and powers of such cultural objects in order to explain socio-cultural variation in modes of “seeing, judging, and acting upon human normality and abnormality” and how we “our desires, moods, and discontents” are mapped onto differing images of the human (Rose 2006, 187-193).

    Through investigation into such objects, whether or not it takes a genealogical form, it becomes possible to empirically flesh out the sense in which, as Archer puts it, “our reliance upon the public domain for thinking can be upheld, without this determining what we do with it – that is the contents of our mental activities” (Archer 2003, 69). The difficulty with Rose’s work, as well as the broader corpus of sociological thinking of which it is an outstanding exemplar, lies in its inability to make sense of how such cultural objects (which it has mapped in a highly detailed and sophisticated manner) are mediated at the level of an individual subject. Such subjects are perpetually implied within Rose’s work, with continual references to reflexivity in Archer’s sense (i.e. the relationship of a self to a self) implicit in the substantive claims made about shifting constellations of technologies of selfhood, yet remain curiously absent. Unfortunately this absence precludes the possibility of gaining concrete explanatory purchase on how particular cultural objects are mediated by particular subjects – Rose’s account is laudable in its detail at the level of the former yet conspicuous in its generality at the level of the latter.

    Rose actually does offer something analogous to a theory of the subject, though unsurprisingly it is framed in terms which deny this. He writes that his engagement with the question of subjectivity is offered “not in terms of the effects of ‘culture’ upon ‘the person’, or in terms of a ‘theory of the subject’, but by seeking to characterize the mode of action, as it were, of the diverse psy technologies of subjectification that I have discussed” (1998, 170). As well as the tacit admission that the lack of engagement with subjectivity was the glaring omission in his otherwise accomplished body of work, his explicit framing of the ensuing account in terms of the mode of operation of ‘psych technologies’ is telling, in that it leaves the subject as little more than an explanatory lever, invoked merely to flesh out the absent subjective moment of his broader account. What explains this continual hostility to abstract models of the subject?

    Archer (2000) addresses the same question in an exploration of a body of work which is undergirded by a similar cultural politics. As she observes of Richard Rorty’s anti-humanism, his injunction against substantial conceptions of the human has a normative component to it. Given Rorty’s desire to nonetheless make normative claims pertaining to human beings, it is inevitable that the human resurfaces and, with it, so too does the problem of structure and agency (Archer 2000, 40-43). So too with Rose and his Deleuzian account of the subject, as well as its concomitant insistence that “the ‘question of agency’ as it has come to be termed, poses a false problem” (Rose 1998, 186). On the one hand, it is denied that the human is “an actor essentially possessed of agency” and on the other that they are a “passive product or puppet of cultural forces”. The reintroduction of agency into Rose’s ontology leads him to make a move surprisingly reminiscent of structurationist theory, transcending the dichotomy of structure and agency through central conflation (Archer 1995). His attempt to avoid an affirmation of agency leads instead to a particular understand of the bridge between structure and agency, such that former is understood to continually shape the latter through an ongoing process of ‘enfolding’, only to be reproduced and sometimes transformed by the latter, as a consequence of the radical contingency and therefore underdetermination which characterises the process.

    However the point here is not to critique Rose but to elucidate the difficulties inherent in the treatment of subjectivity within contemporary social theory. I have suggested that there is a methodological objection to abstract treatments of subjectivity, which can be relativised to a particular mode of inquiry and dismissed when claimed to apply more broadly. There is also a normative objection, a broad discomfort with are assumed to be unavoidably normative implications of talk about ‘humans’ and ‘subjects’, as well as the belief that academic thought and talk about such matters entrenches the hegemony of the ‘liberal self’. But there is also a concern about the empirical difficulties which are seen to be contained within theoretical accounts of human properties and powers. Such difficulties become more pronounced when the issue is framed within a particular substantive area of investigation. For instance Heaphy (2012) adroitly identifies the implications which the widespread uptake of Giddens et al within sexuality studies has had on the empirical portrayal of the lives of LGBT individuals within contemporary Britain.

    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 the pursuit of courses of actions by (fallibly) taking stock of 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 an individual is 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 constraint is an empirical matter emergent from our circumstances at a particular moment in time and the biographical pathway which led us to such circumstances, then these contrasting images of human life (LGBT or otherwise) as either overly-free or overly-constrained simply do not emerge.

Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc