Updates from April, 2013 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 10:05 am on April 27, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Stephen Harper,   

    What are you doing tonight? I’m going out to commit some sociology… 

    In the wake of a foiled terrorist attack in Canada, recent comments have offered a fascinating insight into mindset of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

    Now is not the time to “commit sociology,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday in the wake of a foiled terrorist plot to attack a Via Rail passenger train that has some now musing about the causes of radicalization.

    “In terms of radicalization, this is obviously something we follow. Our security agencies work with each other and with others around the globe to track people who are threats to Canada and to watch threats that may evolve. I think though, this is not a time to commit sociology,” he said.

    “Global terrorist attacks, people who have agendas of violence that are deep and abiding, are a threat to all the values that our society stands for and I don’t think we want to convey any view to the Canadian public other than our utter condemnation of this kind of violence, contemplation of this violence and our utter determination through our laws and through our activities to do everything we can to prevent and counter it.”

    What I love about this is the manner in which the clumsy mode of expression (‘committing sociology’) works to foreground what is a much more pervasive attitude among the political class: explanation is construed as tantamount to justification. This is something I’ve talked with Les Back about in two podcasts about the UK riots (first and second) where, analogously to ‘committing sociology’, there was much public proclamation of this disorder being ‘criminality pure and simple’. In each case, our political leaders display an orientation which is not simply a scepticism about ‘committing sociology’ but a desire to proclaim the indefensibility of sociological reasoning and performatively purge it from the public discussion.

    But what is it they are seeking to purge? It is not per se academic sociology. I would suggest the hostility is directed towards a mode of sociological reasoning which is under attack within sociology: one that is causal, humanistic and explanatory. The mode of sociological reasoning which Harper feels compelled to preemptively dismiss is one which would avoids the merely descriptive (where would be the subversive challenge in that?) but rather seeks to offer causal explanations of how social action does not emerge ex nihilo, with the most ‘extreme’ acts constituting situated responses to social circumstances with a far broader reach than that of the actors themselves. The prohibition being enacted by Harper and others is on explanation rather than simply understanding: the challenge is posed by a mode of reasoning that doesn’t merely aim to understand the other from their own point of view but instead explains how that point of view came into being within a shared social context, identifying the social facts irreducible to particular individuals which nonetheless have led particular individuals to violent action.

  • Mark 10:14 pm on April 24, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    “So what’s your PhD about?” 

    It’s an attempt to develop an explanatory framework through which personal changes over the life course can be explained retroductively in a sociological way. I’m using an empirical case study (two years of longitudinal interviews with 18 students taking different degrees over their first two years of university) to try and develop a practical strategy for explaining the changes people undergo over time in a manner which recognises the simultaneously psychological and social dimensions of such biographical transitions.

    My approach proceeds through modelling the life events (a situated individual seeks to resolve an ‘issue’ and/or enact a project) through which people change in terms of iterative 3 stage movements between objective circumstances, subjective concerns and reflexively determined courses of action. In doing so I hope to preserve the subjective meaning and ideographic complexity which motivates narrative approaches while also offering causal explanations of empirically observable biographical transitions in terms of linked cycles of personal change ensuing from life events. In doing so it maintains fidelity to the lived lives of participants in research while also moving beyond them, utilising the continuities and discontinuities in the identified linked cycles of personal change as an emergent framework through which to generate middle range domain specific social theory.


    • protohedgehog 10:34 pm on April 24, 2013 Permalink

      This would totally fail the top ten 100 words of academia 😉

    • Mark 10:38 pm on April 24, 2013 Permalink

      Well, yeah, but it’s methodology. By its nature it’s neither interesting nor easy to communicate to wider audiences. I refer you to the million times I’ve talked about asexuality in the media as evidence that I can do this and enjoy doing it. I just see no reason to even try in this case :p

    • protohedgehog 10:41 pm on April 24, 2013 Permalink

      “Interesting” is subjective! Informative is this, and I think it’s a great idea to communicate the methodology to expose the actual process rather than outputs. I hope to do similar in future too (when I know what I’m doing more), and wish more PhD students would do the same! 🙂

    • Mark 10:44 pm on April 24, 2013 Permalink

      Nah I disagree – would agree 100% about methods, though I think translation is required to make it worthwhile, I just don’t think the same is true of methodology. But it’s late and I’ve been writing for hours!

    • Liam Stanley 7:02 am on April 25, 2013 Permalink

      Your research sounds very interesting, but I would question whether this is the most effective way of getting across the central message. I once got told that in response to the ‘what is your phd’ question you should be able to say something about your thesis that can fit on a tshirt as a slogan. For me, that slogan is “Austerity is a good idea”, which is deliberately provocative. I’ve discovered that is often works wonders because when I say that to someone at a conference, the person I’m talking to is so shocked that they invite me to elaborate (at which point I explain how its a “good idea” in the sense that a story about state overspending, debt, and the need to cut back is very resonant with how British voters make sense of the economy and their place within it, etc).

    • Mark 10:46 am on April 25, 2013 Permalink

      This is just me getting myself clear on my idea! Selling it comes later :p

    • Mark 10:47 am on April 25, 2013 Permalink

      I completely take your broader point but can’t see how I could apply it. There’s no way to make a quite specific set of claims about the empirical inadequacies of certain theoretical approaches seem contentious and provocative. Although the act of writing that sentence made me realise I’m not quite as sure of that as I thought I was and perhaps I’m underselling the topic.

    • Liam Stanley 11:15 am on April 25, 2013 Permalink

      I can certainly see how you can apply it. Couldn’t you say something along the lines of “the PhD is about how people change when they go to university”? That seems like a good non-jargonist starting point to me, and then you can talk about how the theoretical stuff (that to even think about answering the question we need an operationalisable framework that is equally sensitive to objectivity, subjectivity and reflexivity, etc.) is the real drive behind the empirical focus.

      Your research sounds very interesting, by the way, looking forward to reading more.

    • Mark 8:29 pm on May 5, 2013 Permalink

      Point taken 🙂 I’m slightly touchy about communicating my PhD at this point, partly due to the cumulative total of 5 years and partly due to the fact that my other research (asexuality) is the easiest thing in the world to talk about with non-specialists.

  • Mark 5:25 pm on April 23, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Spotlight on Genderqueer 

    The Spotlight on Genderqueer event takes place on Monday, April 29th. The event is free and is hosted at Warwick University, Wolfson Research Exchange (In the library) between 9am to 5pm. It is being presented by Ruth Pearce and lyndsey Moon from the Sociology Dept.

    Zowie Davy is the the keynote speaker and there are a range of fantastic papers alongside. It will be a fabulous day and finishes off in the evening with a night of entertainment and fun at leamington Spa with ‘Fork the Binary’ starring CN Lester, Hel Gurney, Kat Gupta, ‘bad News Everyone’ and Alex Hilton – superb….




    • Ruth 7:22 pm on April 23, 2013 Permalink

      Thanks for sharing Mark! 🙂

  • Mark 5:05 pm on April 23, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    CfParticipation: Summer Clinic Sociological Agency | 9 July – 8 August 2013 | LSBU 

    Call for Participation


    9 JULY – 8 AUGUST 2013


    In 2012-2013 we participated in an interdisciplinary reading group on the concept of agency at the University of Manchester. Out of this we felt the need to conduct a fuller survey of core positions on agency in sociological theory and beyond. We hope that this will be of interest both to those who are developing their understanding of this concept, and to those seeking further reflection.

    We will begin this process by looking at some key contemporary sociological theories in a five week London ‘Summer Clinic’ which will run as an intense peer-facilitated reading group. The clinic is intended to cover a lot of ground in a fairly short period. After an introductory week on some essential themes, each week will consist of two sessions devoted to a specific theorist (for a detailed overview, see below). Although this is an intensive schedule you can either drop in to a single week or participate more fully. We welcome PhD candidates, early career researchers, as well as advanced theorists.

    We intend the ‘clinic’ to be part of a larger project to look at agency from a wide range of perspectives. After the Summer we will organise a monthly reading group (at LSBU) to further our understanding of how this concept is operating more widely. We might look at phenomenological, pragmatist, post-structuralist, feminist, social movement theoretical, race critical and post-colonial approaches – or other perspectives suggested by participants.

    In case of sufficient interest, we hope to organise a symposium in Spring 2014 in order to explore emerging perspectives and the latest developments in the field.

    Lastly, we have set up a mailing list for this project. Please send us an e-mail (agencytheorylondon@gmail.com) if you would like to subscribe and be kept updated.

    We would like to invite you to participate in the summer clinic. Feel free to attend the whole clinic or any specific week of interest. Below you will find the details of the clinic:

    Period: 8 July – 9 August 2013
    Time: 2-5pm, Tuesdays & Thursdays
    Location: Room TBC, Keyworth Building, London South Bank University
    Address: Keyworth Street, London, SE1 6NG [station: Elephant and Castle]

    Organisers: Julien Morton (London South Bank University); Dieuwertje Dyi Huijg (University of Manchester)
    Contact details: agencytheorylondon@gmail.com

    Please get in touch if you are interested or have queries so we can provide you with more details.


    Week 1: 9 & 11 July 2013
    Week 2: 16 & 18 July 2013
    Week 3: 23 & 25 July 2013
    Week 4: 30 July & 1 Aug 2013
    Week 5: 6 & 8 Aug 2013


    WEEK 1, DAY 1
    9 July 2013: 2-5pm

    • Individualism and Holism: Archer, Margaret. (1995), “Individualism versus Collectivism: querying the terms of the debate”, Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
    • The Agent: Callinicos, Alex. (2004,2nd Ed), “Subjects and Agents”, Making History: Agency, Structure, and Change in Social Theory, Leiden, only §1.1, §1.2, §1.3, §1.5
    • Agency/Structure: Mouzelis, Nicos. (1993), “The Poverty of Sociological Theory” Sociology, 27(4): 675-695
    • Social Action and Weber: Campbell, Colin. (1998), The Myth of Social Action. Cambridge University Press

    Ch.1: “Introduction”
    Ch.2: “Action reported missing in action theory”
    Ch.3: “Action and social action”

    WEEK 1, DAY 2
    11 July 2013: 2-5pm

    • Callinicos, Alex. (2004, 2nd Ed), Making history: agency, structure, and change in social theory, Leiden: Brill

    Ch.2: “Structure and Action”, only §2.1, §2.2, §2.5
    Ch.3: “Reasons and Interests”, only §3.4, §3.5
    Ch.4: “Ideology and Power”, only §4.1 (§4.2, §4.3)


    WEEK 2, DAY 1
    16 July 2013: 2-5pm

    • Bourdieu, Pierre. (1992), “Critique of Theoretical Reason”, The Logic Of Practice, Cambridge: Polity Press, pp.25-141

    WEEK 2, DAY 2
    18 July 2013: 2-5pm

    • Bourdieu, Pierre. (2005), “Disposition of the Agents and the Structure of the Field of Reproduction”, The Social Structures of the Economy, pp.19-88
    • Bourdieu, Pierre. (1998), “Is a Disinterested Act Possible?”, Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action, Cambridge: Polity Press, pp.75-91
    • King, Anthony. (2000), “Thinking Bourdieu Against Bourdieu”, Sociological Theory, 18, 3, pp.417-433
    • Bohman, James  (1997), “Reflexivity, agency and constraint: The paradoxes of Bourdieu’s sociology of knowledge”. Social Epistemology, 11, 2, pp.171-186


    WEEK 3, DAY 1
    23 July 2013: 2-5pm

    • Giddens, Anthony. (1986), Constitution of Society, Cambridge: Polity Press

    Ch.1: “Elements of the Theory of Structuration”
    Ch.4: “Structure, System and Social Reproduction”
    Ch.6: “Structuration Theory, Empirical Research and Social Critique”

    WEEK 3, DAY 2
    25 July 2013: 2-5pm

    • King, Anthony. (2000), “The Accidental Derogation of the Lay Actor”, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 30, 3, pp.362-383
    • Sewell, William (1992), “Duality, Agency, and Transformation”, American Journal of Sociology, 98, 1, pp.1-29


    WEEK 4, DAY 1
    30 July 2013: 2-5pm

    • Archer, Margaret. (2000), Being Human: The Problem of Agency, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

    Ch.4: “The primacy of practice”
    Ch.6: “Humanity and reality: emotions as commentaries on human concerns”
    Ch.8: “Agents: active and passive”
    Ch.9: “Actors and commitment”

    WEEK 4, DAY 2
    1 Aug 2013: 2-5pm

    • Archer, Margaret. (2003), Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

    Introduction: “Introduction: how does structure influence agency?”
    Ch.3: “Reclaiming the internal conversation”
    Ch.4: “The process of mediation between structure and agency”

    • Lewis, Paul. (2002), “Agency, Structure and Causality in Political Science” Politics, 22,1, pp.17-23
    • Elder-Vass, Dave. (2007), “Reconciling Archer and Bourdieu in an Emergentist Theory of Action”, Sociological Theory, 25, 4, pp.325-346


    WEEK 5, DAY 1
    6 Aug 2103: 2-5pm

    • Latour, Bruno. (2007), Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: OUP

    §1.1: “Introduction to Part 1”
    §1.2: “First Source of Uncertainty: No Group, Only Group Formation”
    §1.3: “First Source of Uncertainty: Action is Overtaken”
    §1.4: “First Source of Uncertainty: Objects too Have Agency”
    “Conclusion: From Society to Collective”

    WEEK 5, DAY 2
    8 Aug 2013: 2-5pm

    • Law, John and John Hassard. (1999), Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford: Blackwell.

    “After ANT” by John Law
    “On Recalling ANT” by Bruno Latour
    “From Blindness to blindness” by Kevin Hetherington
    “Ontological politics” by Annemarie Mol
    “Actor-network theory – the market test” by Michael Callon

    • Elder-Vass, Dave. (2008), “Searching for realism, structure and agency in Actor Network Theory”, The British Journal of Sociology, 59, 3, pp. 455-473
  • Mark 8:39 am on April 19, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Interested in Digital Sociology? 

    Then keep the 16th July free for the first BSA Digital Sociology event. Booking form to follow in the near future: 

    This inaugural event for the BSA’s Digital Sociology group brings together a diverse range of speakers who, in a variety of ways, work within the nascent field of digital sociology. Rather than proceed from a substantive account of what digital sociology is or could be, this event seeks to address the question ‘what is digital sociology?’ through an open and informal exploration of a broad range of exciting work being undertaken by sociologists in the UK which could, in the broadest sense of the term, be characterised as ‘digital’. In casting a spotlight on these projects in such a way the event aims to initiate an ongoing dialogue about the continuities and discontinuities between these emergent strands of digital activity, as well as the broader methodological and disciplinary questions which they pose.


    • Kim Allen, Manchester Metropolitan Universitys
    • Les Back, Goldsmiths, University of London
    • Ben Baumberg, University of Kent
    • Laura Harvey, Brunel University
    • Noortje Marres, Goldsmiths, University of London
    • Heather Mendick, Brunel University
    • Mark Murphy, University of Glasgow
    • Evelyn Ruppert, Goldsmiths, University of London
    • Helene Snee, The University of Manchester
  • Mark 4:24 pm on April 18, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: media channels, media presence, media profiles, , ,   

    Universities aren’t going to be successful in using social media for recruitment if everything goes through the communications office 

    This interesting article in the Guardian Higher Ed reports on empirical data which supports something I’ve believed for quite some time: communications offices are, at least in some respects, ill suited to using social media for student recruitment. Their role as an official channel and concern to manage the corporate brand leaves them tending towards sanitised offerings which have little impact on the decision making of potential students:

    Our research, conducted with online student community The Student Room, surveyed over 300 potential and current students about what information sources or channels influenced their choice of university. We found that although 65% of students use social media channels several times a day, students rated universities’ social media presence as less influential and less trustworthy than more traditional sources such as prospectuses or open days.

    Prospective students are keen to engage with their university through social media channels, with one fifth of students saying that universities don’t make enough use of social media in recruitment, which meant they currently didn’t expect or look for information there.

    What’s more, many of the students we surveyed were clueless that their chosen university even had a Twitter or Facebook account – showing that there is a need for universities to ensure their social media presence is clearly signposted to attract the widest audience.

    There is also a question to be asked about what kind of content is relevant for social media profiles. We found that fewer than one in five students were influenced by university Twitter accounts and only one in four were influenced by Facebook pages or blogs.

    Comments we received from students included, “they do not talk about the things we need to know” and “I don’t find enough useful information that relates to me”. This suggests that many universities are using social media to try and engage with too many stakeholder groups at once, and consequently not being tailored enough about the updates they are sending out.

    So how else can social media be used for student recruitment? Facilitating digital activity at the departmental level would mean that the structures which will overwhelmingly shape the day-to-day academic experiences of students are rendered open in a way that they previously have not been. Putting resources into encouraging undergraduates, postgraduates and staff to blog about their work and their shared working life within a department would paint a publicly accessible picture of what it will be like to be part of that department. Taking photos and recording audio from events, using a Twitter feed to curate the public life of the department and being open to online engagement with potential students would, I’m convinced, potentially have a much greater impact on the decision making of students than official messages which are centrally produced. The expansion of  marketing/communications in higher education is happening at the same time as many ensuing professional outputs have a declining purchase on the decision making of the target demographic. This is a specific instance of a much broader point: doing communications well in contemporary higher education demands so much more than just hiring new comms staff and giving the comms department more resources.

    What frustrates me is this department level academic technologist function (something which I’ve done in the past on a part time basis, found immensely rewarding and hope resources are made available for others to pursue similar roles) is that its novelty means that it falls between the cracks. It just doesn’t occur to anyone that this should be a priority. Whereas I think there’s an incredibly strong business case to be made for this on a number of levels.

    Edited to add: I think this is symptomatic of a broader failure to understand the decision making processes of A level students. One unexpected spin off of my PhD research (longitudinal interviews with 18 students over 2 years looking at internal conversation and decision making) has been some great qualitative data about this, which was theoretically quite thought-provoking. One of the first things on my ‘PhD spin off papers to write after I finish writing my actual thesis’ list.

  • Mark 12:51 pm on April 18, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Where Do Neoliberals Go After the Market? Calculation, Computation and Crisis 

    Where Do Neoliberals Go After the Market?
    Calculation, computation and crisis

    A one-day conference organised by Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick

    13th June 2013
    Room S0.21

    Neoliberalism is commonly identified as a belief in the self-regulating powers of markets, especially financial markets. Markets, from this perspective, are powerful information-processors, which are uniquely capable of governing complex societies while preserving liberty. In recent decades, financial institutions have added further computational power, which, among other things, has led to the automation of trading and the calculation and simulation of market scenarios to manage risk. The financial crisis has been perceived by some as the outcome of this collision between markets and increasingly ‘performative’ economics.

    But where does this leave neoliberalism and its technical ideal of freedom? Does it simply require more markets or greater computational power to prevent future crises? Or are we witnessing the emergence of a different neoliberalism, based on different technologies and ideologies of liberty, in appeals to ‘Big Data’ and ‘openness’? Might software and ‘open data’ usurp the primacy of the price system in the neoliberal imagination, as tools of governance in complex modern societies? To what extent are the political desires of the digital elite – from Hackers to Silicon Valley – amenable to the neoliberal project?

    This one-day conference will address these questions from a range of disciplinary perspectives, including software studies, history of economics, political theory, media theory, international political economy and economic sociology.

     Speakers Include

    ·       Prof Philip Mirowski, University of Notre Dame

    ·       Prof Shirin Rai, University of Warwick

    ·       Dr Richard Barbrook, University of Westminster

    ·       Dr Orit Halpern, New School

    ·       Dr David Berry, Swansea University

    ·       Dr Johan Soderberg, Université Paris-Est/Écoles des Ponts


    Conference themes

    • Neoliberal responses to financial crisis
    • The invention and reinvention of ‘competition’
    • The philosophy and techniques of ‘openness’
    • The persistence and reinvention of the market
    • The intersections between neoliberalism and cybernetics
    • The significance of data and ‘Big Data’ to the evolution of neoliberalism
    • The role of specific devices in visions of freedom
    • The political lineages of ‘hackers’


    The conference is free to attend, but registration is essential. To register please click here.

     Room S0.21 is in the Social Sciences block. A campus map is available here. All details on how to get to Warwick University are available here.

     Please send any enquiries regarding the conference to Will Davies at William.j.davies@warwick.ac.uk

  • Mark 5:42 pm on April 16, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    WES Conference 2013 Abstract Submission Deadline Approaching 

    FINAL REMINDER – only 3 days left to submit!

    Abstract submission closes at midnight on Friday 19 April

    Work, employment and society Conference 2013

    States of Work: Visions and the interpretations of work, employment, society and the state

    Dates: Tuesday 3 – Thursday 5 September 2013 (Postgraduate Workshop: 2 September 2013)

    Venue: University of Warwick

    The Work, Employment and Society 2013 Conference has an international focus and comes at a critical time for the study of work. Like the journal, the conference is sociologically oriented, but welcomes contributions from related fields.

    Over the past few years, unprecedented state intervention in the economy and subsequent radical reform plans for the public sector and the welfare state have raised new questions on the ways work is socially regulated: the WES 2013 conference will bring together sociologists of work from across the globe to assess the evidence and consider the theoretical implications of changing relations between work, society and the state.

    The full Call for Papers can be viewed at:


  • Mark 3:20 pm on April 16, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Recognising Diversity? Gender and Sexual Equalities In Principle and Practice 

    Recognising Diversity?: Gender and Sexual Equalities In Principle and Practice

    20th & 21st June: Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, University of Leeds

    Recognising Diversity?: Gender and Sexual Equalities In Principle and Practice marks the end of the research project ‘Recognising Diversity?: Equalities In Principle and Practice’, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (PI. Dr. Sally Hines, Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies (CIGS), University of Leeds). The project was designed to provide knowledge transfer of Sally Hines’ previous research which explored understandings, meanings and significance of the UK Gender Recognition Act (GRA). Set within the context of an increasing legal, policy and political focus on ‘equality’ and ‘diversity,’ and a raft of other legal and policy shifts around gender and sexuality, the GRA promised increased rights and recognition for trans people. Yet, the project found that whilst some trans people were afforded increased levels of citizenship, others were further marginalised. Fuelled by ‘rights based’ claims for inclusion founded on notions of ‘sameness’, findings from the project suggested that equality and diversity agendas fail to account for ‘difference’. This 2 Day Conference explores these issues in relation to UK gender and sexualities equalities and diversities more broadly. In keeping with the aims of the knowledge transfer award, it seeks to bring academics working around equalities and diversities together with policy makers, activists, journalists, artists, and campaigning/support organisations to explore the significance of recent UK cultural, social, political, legal, and policy shifts which address gender and sexuality. The conference will centre the importance of dialogue both across academic disciplines and between academic and non-academic members and user group communities.

    Invited speakers will speak to the following themes across the 2 days:

    *Community Organising *Policy Change and Resistance
    *Intimate Diversities *Intersecting Inequalities
    *Cultural Politics *Queer(y)ing Theory and Activism
    *Resisting Liberation Narratives *Policies and Practices of Care

    Serge Nicholson and Laura Bridgeman will present a reading from There Is No Word For It: Trans MANgina Monologues (Hot Pencil Press) following the Conference Dinner on the first evening. Serge will also introduce his film Trans Guys Are…, which will be screened on day two of the conference. LGBT Youth Theatre Group Side By Side will perform on the second day of the conference. The conference will close with a screening of Jason Elvis Barker’s film Millennium Man and a talk/Q & A with Jason.

    For full details of speakers and conference timetable see the Conference Programme at: http://www.gender-studies.leeds.ac.uk/

    Registration: Please follow the link below for online registration: http://store.leeds.ac.uk/browse/product.asp?catid=78&modid=1&compid=1

    The deadline for registration is Friday 7th June.

    Travel, Conference Venue, Conference Dinner, and Accommodation
    The conference will be held in The Carriage Works, which is located at No. 3 Millennium Square in the centre of Leeds. The postcode is LS2 3AD
    See: carriageworkstheatre.org.uk

    The venue is a few minutes’ walk from the train station and there are city center car parking facilities. There is a wide range of nearby accommodation to suit different budgets
    The conference dinner will be held in the nearby University of Leeds Refectory and delegates will be guided to the dinner venue from the conference.

    Conference Contacts:
    Sally Hines: Email: s.hines@leeds.ac.uk; Stefanie Boulila: Email: s.c.boulila@leeds.ac.uk

    Conference Fees
    2 Day Waged: £150 (including conference dinner) 2 Day Unwaged/Student: £50 (including conference dinner)
    Thursday 1 Day Waged: £100 (including conference dinner) Thursday 1 Day Unwaged/Student: £30 (including conference dinner)
    Friday 1 Day Waged: £80 Friday 1 Day Unwaged: £25

  • Mark 8:50 am on April 16, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Data Biographies, Contexts and Persons: Search Keywords as Windows to the Soul 

    Please join us for presentations by Ana Gross (University of Warwick) and Lonneke van der Velden (University of Amsterdam; CSISP Visiting Fellow) about their on-going research on online devices for the collection of personal data, the enactment of persons by digital means, and their politics.
    Date:  April 24, 2013, 16:00
    Location:  Goldsmiths, Warmington Tower 1204

    Data Biographies, Contexts and Persons: Search Keywords as Windows to the Soul

    Ana Gross (Warwick University)

    What happens to biographies and persons when the range and type of data that becomes ‘personal’ proliferates at a much higher rate than before?  What happens to biography and persons when inscriptions that today count as persons or personality where inexistent or invisible before the emergence of a new range of devices, genres and formats for the observation and documentation of human agency (either purposefully designed or not for such enterprise)? In the following seminar I look at search engines and search keywords as (newly emerging) assemblages for classifying and doing persons and biographies. In doing so, I depart from the notion that there were no necessary, natural, a priori connections between the practices of searches, persons and their biographies as a specific form of representation; but that searching, or the act of retrieving information through search queries is becoming personalised in multiple ways.

    The Third Party Diary

    Lonneke van der Velden (University of Amsterdam)

    There exist many tools that are designed to protect ‘privacy online’. Ad blockers, cookie protectors and tracker detectors all contribute to a safer browsing experience. But they can do more than offer protection for the individual user. In this presentation I will discuss how such a browsing tool, Ghostery, actively contributes to a particular understanding of contemporary consumer surveillance.

    Ghostery is a browser plugin which operates as a ‘web detective’: it detects invisible techniques that collect (personal) data on websites and it gives the user an alert of their presence by a small visualisation in the browser. Ghostery also has its own method of classifying and ranking these invisible techniques as ‘third party elements’. Building upon work by the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI), which specialises in repurposing web devices for research, I have explored one of these tools. The ‘Tracker Tracker’ mobilises Ghostery’s capacities for the study of third party elements on specific sets of urls. I used the Tracker Tracker to collect third party elements of 1100 governmental websites in an online diary for several months. Taking into account methodological reflections on the role of (online) devices, I will discuss my case study, method, format and findings, with attention to the network of relations in which the tool is embedded.

    Ana Gross is a PhD student at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies in Warwick University. Her PhD thesis broadly explores different data forms and their qualities (personal data, provisional data, perturbed data, anonymised data) and looks at understanding how entities (people, things) are inscribed in data but also how data affects the entities it inscribes.

    Lonneke van der Velden is a PhD-researcher at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA) and the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI) in The Netherlands. Her work focuses on interventions that make surveillance mechanisms tangible and on how such transparency devices play a role in public engagement. She also looks at the significance of these devices for digital research.

  • Mark 6:43 pm on April 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    What is digital sociology? An interview with Noortje Marres 

    You can find out more about Noortje’s work here.

  • Mark 6:02 pm on April 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Goldsmiths, ,   

    Digital Sociologist #5: Noortje Marres from @SociologyGold 


    How did the Goldsmiths MA/MSc in digital sociology come about? 

    Is it difficult to unify the disciplines that are represented on the course? 

    How would you describe the aims of the course? 

    What sort of students are attracted to the course?

    Do you think digital sociology courses like this will become more common over time? 

    You can find out more about the MA/MSc in Digital Sociology here. You can find out more about Noortje’s work here.

    • yamasaki yukiko 10:35 pm on April 16, 2013 Permalink

      Reblogged this on Wondercommer and commented:
      What is digital sociology?
      Noortje Marres provides critical insights into this question and more.

  • Mark 1:44 pm on April 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Asexual Community, , , Psychology & Sexuality,   

    Interested in Asexuality Studies? Everything you need to get started contained within 

    This is the outline for the special theme issue of Psychology & Sexuality which I edited with Kristina Gupta and Todd Morrison. It was published in March 2013. The editorial and the ‘virtual discussion’ are open access (i.e. freely available without a university library subscription to the journal) until the end of May 2013.

    The Editorial for the Theme Issue, including a review of existing literature on asexuality and an attempt to formulate a cohesive agenda for Asexuality Studies

    Who reports absence of sexual attraction in Britain? Evidence from national probability surveys

    There is little evidence about the prevalence of absence of sexual attraction, or the characteristics of people reporting this, often labelled asexuals. We examine this using data from two probability surveys of the British general population, conducted in 1990–1991 and 2000–2001. Interviewers administered face-to-face and self-completion questionnaires to people aged 16–44 years (N = 13,765 in 1990–1991; N = 12,110 in 2000–2001). The proportion that had never experienced sexual attraction was 0.4% (95% CI: 0.3–0.5%) in 2000–2001, with no significant variation by gender or age, versus 0.9% (95% CI: 0.7–1.1%) in 1990–1991; p < 0.0001. Among these 79 respondents in 2000–2001, 28 (40.3% men; 33.9% women) had had sex, 19 (33.5% men; 20.9% women) had child(ren), and 17 (30.1% men; 19.2% women) were married. Three-quarters of asexual men and two-thirds of asexual women considered their frequency of sex ‘about right’, while 24.7% and 19.4%, respectively, ‘always enjoyed having sex’. As well as providing evidence on the distribution of asexuality in Britain, our data suggest that it cannot be assumed that those reporting no sexual attraction are sexually inexperienced or without intimate relationships. We recognise the possibility of social desirability bias given our reliance on self-reported data, but suggest that its effect is not easily predicted regarding absence of sexual attraction.

    Mental health and interpersonal functioning in self-identified asexual men and women

    Human asexuality is defined as a lack of sexual attraction to anyone or anything, and preliminary evidence suggests that it may best be defined as a sexual orientation. As asexual individuals may face the same social stigma experienced by gay, lesbian and bisexual persons, it follows that asexual individuals may experience higher rates of psychiatric disturbance that have been observed among these non-heterosexual individuals. This study explored mental health correlates and interpersonal functioning and compared asexual, non-heterosexual and heterosexual individuals on these aspects of mental health. Analyses were limited to Caucasian participants only. There were significant differences among groups on several measures, including depression, anxiety, psychoticism, suicidality and interpersonal problems, and this study provided evidence that asexuality may be associated with higher prevalence of mental health and interpersonal problems. Clinical implications are indicated, in that asexual individuals should be adequately assessed for mental health difficulties and provided with appropriate interventions that are sensitive to their asexual identity.

    HSDD and asexuality: a question of instruments

    The relation between the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals(DSMs) and asexuality is likely to constitute a prolific direction in research, especially because of the diagnostic category ‘hypoactive sexual desire disorder’ (HSDD). This article investigates the concept of sexual desire as outlined by psychiatry and explores the ways in which asexuality disrupts that knowledge. By extension, I consider the model of sexuality that the DSM vehiculates. The manuals themselves provide no measures, no scales, and no defined norms, yet, simultaneously, assume a normative sexuality against which all others can be measured and classified. This article discusses the conceptualisation of ‘sexual dysfunctions’ in the DSM, of which HSDD is a part, and questions how it operates in clinical research into asexuality. I also pay attention to the clause of ‘personal distress’ in HSDD, since it appears to be one of the main differences between HSDD and asexuality. HSDD, asexuality, and the role played by the DSM poses questions such as what discourses, forms of knowledge, and institutions, have shaped, silenced, and eventually erased, asexuality.

    Asexuality: from pathology to identity and beyond

    This article draws attention to the constitutive mechanisms of asexual identity. It identifies a shift in expert discourse: a move away from pathology towards recognition of asexual identity. While this discursive shift, propelled by recent research in psychology and sexology, could pave the way for the inclusion of asexuals in public culture, it also reaffirms dominant terms and formations pertaining to sexuality and intimacy. The article argues that the discursive formation of a new asexual identity takes place through a process of objectification and subjectification/subjection at the interface between expert disciplines and activism. The recognition of identity is constitutive of subjects that are particularly suitable for self-regulation within the parameters of (neo)liberal citizenship. Yet, at the same time, the discursive shift also makes room for critical intervention akin to queer critique of naturalised gender and sexuality norms. The recognition of asexual identity could serve to destabilise the sexual regime (of truth) that privileges sexual relationships against other affiliations and grants sexual-biological relationships a status as primary in the formation of family and kinship relations. The article concludes that asexual identity encourages us to imagine other pathways of affiliation and other concepts of personhood, beyond the tenets of liberal humanism – gesturing instead towards new configurations of the human and new meanings of sexual citizenship.

    Afterword: some thoughts on asexuality as an interdisciplinary method

    A mystery wrapped in an enigma – asexuality: a virtual discussion

    Contributors to this thematic issue were requested to answer six questions related to asexuality as a phenomenon and also the research therein. All responses received were collated into a ‘virtual discussion’ with the hope of spawning new ideas and also identifying any gaps in the current research and general knowledge regarding asexuality.

    Review of Sex, lies and pharmaceuticals: how drug companies plan to profit from Female Sexual Dysfunction 

    Review of Understanding Asexuality

    And here are some of my favourite papers that have been written elsewhere on asexuality:

    Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire

    Sexuality is generally considered an important aspect of self-hood. Therefore, individuals who do not experience sexual attraction, and embrace an asexual identity are in a unique position to inform the social construction of sexuality. This study explores the experiences of asexual individuals utilizing open ended Internet survey data from 102 self-identified asexual people. In this paper I describe several distinct aspects of asexual identities: the meanings of sexual, and therefore, asexual behaviors, essentialist characterizations of asexuality, and lastly, interest in romance as a distinct dimension of sexuality. These findings have implications not only for asexual identities, but also for the connections of asexuality with other marginalized sexualities.

    What Asexuality Contributes to the Same-Sex Marriage Discussion

    While same-sex marriage debates have captured public attention, it is but one component of a broader discussion regarding the role of marriage in a changing society. To inform this discussion, I draw on qualitative, Internet survey data from 102 self-identified asexual individuals. I find that asexual relationships are complicated and nuanced in ways that have implications for a GLBTQ political agenda, including same-sex marriage recognition. In addition, findings indicate that assumptions of sex and sexuality in relationships are problematic and that present language for describing relationships is limiting. Findings suggest a social justice agenda for marginalized sexualities should be broader in scope than same-sex marriage.

    There’s more to life than sex? Difference and commonality within the asexual community

    Asexuality is becoming ever more widely known and yet it has received relatively little attention from within sociology. Research in the area poses particular challenges because of the relatively recent emergence of the asexual community, as well as the expanding array of terms and concepts through which asexuals articulate their differences and affirm their commonalities. This article presents the initial findings of a mixed-methods research project, which involved semi-structured interviews, online questionnaires and a thematic analysis of online materials produced by members of the asexual community. The aim was to understand self-identified asexuals in their own terms so as to gain understanding of the lived experience of asexuals, as well as offering a subjectively adequate grounding for future research in the area.

    Crisis and safety: The asexual in sexusociety

    This article provides a discussion of the implications that asexuality, as an identity category emerging in the West, carries for sexuality. Asexuality provides an exciting forum for revisiting questions of sexual normativity and examining those sex acts which are cemented to appear ‘natural’ through repetition, in the discursive system of sexusociety. Drawing especially on feminist and postmodern theories, I situate asexuality as both a product of and reaction against our sexusocial, disoriented postmodern here and now. This article also addresses the question of whether or not, and on what terms, asexuality may be considered a resistance against sexusociety.

    Asexuality in disability narratives

    This essay explores normative regulations of disabled people’s sexuality and its relationship with asexuality through narratives of disabled individuals. While asexuality has been persistently criticized as a damaging myth imposed on disabled people, individuals with disabilities who do not identify as sexual highlight the inseparable intersection between normality and sexuality. Disabled and asexual identity and its narratives reveal that asexuality is an embodiment neither to be eliminated, nor to be cured, and is a way of living that may or may not change. Claims for the sexual rights of desexualized minority groups mistakenly target asexuality and endorse a universal and persistent presence of sexual desire. The structurally and socially enforced asexuality and desexualization are distinguished from an asexual embodiment and perspective disidentifying oneself from sexuality.

  • Mark 12:38 pm on April 12, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Interrogating the normative 

    The Causal Power of Social Structures
    Dave Elder-Vass, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010, £50.00, 240pp.

    Explaining the Normative
    Stephen Turner, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2010, £18.99, 240pp.

    Normativity is a concept with a contentious history. While most would accept its centrality to everyday human experience, the question of what exactly it is and how it is to be explained has rarely, if ever, commanded widespread agreement. In this review essay I will consider two important recent contributions to this debate, summarising and evaluating each in turn before attempting to draw out the important issues these books raise for work on normativity.

    In Explaining the Normative, Stephen Turner seeks to unpick the messy intellectual history of normativity and, through doing so, offer an account of exactly where the debate about the notion has gone wrong and how it might be put right. He suggests that the pervasiveness of the issue within the contemporary philosophical landscape is a consequence of normativity’s historical position at the interface between philosophy and the social sciences. With the emergence of social science and the continual growth of its explanatory ambitions, many philosophers have sought to stake out a particular area of human life unamenable to causal explanation.  Normativity represents ‘a more or less self-conscious attempt to take back ground lost to social-science explanation’ (Turner 2010: 5).

    The first chapter of the book attempts to draw out the common features which philosophical accounts of normativity tend to share. While recognising the diversity which characterises normative arguments, he nonetheless claims the existence both of a strong family resemblance and an array of generic problems which afflict theories of normativity. Perhaps the most pertinent of these is what Turner calls the ‘does it matter problem’. The normativist must say that norms are ineliminable from explanation. Yet while ‘ordinarily the explanation of action involves beliefs’, the validity of those beliefs (i.e. the usual subject matter of the normativist) ‘is not explanatory in itself’ (Turner 2010: 13).

    The second chapter of the book interrogates the explanatory conflict between philosophical and sociological accounts of normativity. Much of this discussion hinges on what explanatory role normativity can play and how this issue has generally been framed from within the two disciplinary perspectives. Normativists argue that normative facts cannot be explained in non-normative ways. One can point to the sociological fact of adherence to a norm but this in itself cannot constitute genuine normativity. Yet this sociological fact is nearly empirically equivalent and usually seems explanatorily adequate to account for why people do the things they do. So social scientists have tended to ask what role there actually is for normativity.

    The third chapter takes a slightly different direction, exploring the normativity of law as a case study. Turner traces development in the thinking of the great 20th century legal theorist Hans Kelsen who spent a lifetime trying to establish the normativity of law. While some of this discussion might be difficult to follow for those unfamiliar with the subject area, it functions effectively as a case study, illustrating the generalised and abstract points draw in the first two chapters at a much more substantive level of intellectual debate.

    The fourth chapter uses the practice of anthropological explanation to explore the normativity of concepts. The discussion centres around the work of Peter Winch, taken as a writer who typifies the normativist tradition within social science, for whom ‘social or natural explanations of essentially conceptual or normative subjects are always inadequate to account for the phenomena properly described in their full conceptual significance’  (Turner 2010: 110). The fifth chapter explores the possibility of grounding normativity in an account of collective intentionality. As Turner writes, ‘collective intentionality does appear to provide something objective, at least for a community or collectivity: a standard that is factual in some sense and at the same time normative’ (Turner 2010: 121). However he argues that such accounts fail because they presuppose ideas about collectivity which are themselves ungrounded.

    The sixth chapter draws together many of the ideas articulated earlier in the book and represents the fulfilment of Turner’s titular promise to explain the normative. The crux of his argument is this: why invoke a special domain of fact outside the stream of ordinary explanation when the things we would locate within it can be explained naturalistically? Intriguingly Turner draws on cognitive science and neuroscience to posit empathy as a naturalistic explanation for apparently normative phenomena.  He argues that ‘the ‘norms’ that govern meaning, the meanings of terms applied to the world, may be readily understood in nonnormative terms: as empathic projections that are confirmed, sustained, corrected and improved through interaction with others’ (Turner 2010: 177-178). In doing so he cuts through the gordian knot  at the heart of the debate about normativity: how to explain normative phenomena in a naturalistic way without explaining them away. Empathy has a ‘natural process underlying it: both the capacity, actually employed, of emulating or following the thought of another and the feedback generated by actual social interaction’. As he points out, these are ‘facts of social theory (and of neuroscience)’ (Turner 2010: 205).

    While Turner makes a powerful case about the function of empathy, it would be a mistake to see this as the central feature of his book. What makes Explaining the Normative such an impressive book is the way that Turner’s argument is grounded not just in a vast knowledge of historical debates but in the intellectual biographies of individual theorists who grappled with issues relating to normativity. For instance he traces the development of Kelsen’s thought over his lifetime, showing how his engagement with the problems of normativity ultimately forced him to reject many of the characteristic normativist claims, leading him to see the notion of a ground for legal normativity as fundamentally fictitious. Similarly he shows how Winch’s attempt to come to terms with the strange case of the Azande (who seemed to reason in ways which violated the norms of their own thought) led him to abandon the idea of internal relations: ‘logical relations between concepts, or concepts and actions, which are intrinsically normative: they specify the standards of correctness and are conceptual rather than merely psychological and causal’ (Turner 2010: 103). Instead Winch introduces the notion of ‘intellectual habits’, cognitive dispositions which we must understand in order to interpret other cultures. In doing so, he introduces a parallel natural order of dispositions and habits which is more than capable of doing the explanatory work necessary to explain the practice of the Azande. As with Kelsen, Winch’s attempts to grapple with the normative ultimately led him away from normativism. Turner’s approach to such cases makes the problem of normativity come alive, as the lived concern of real persons, rather than an abstract object of philosophical wrangling. The result is that his own positive account, relatively brief though it is, possesses much more force than it might if stated outright as a free-standing thesis.

    In the Causal Power of Social Structures, Dave Elder-Vass sets out to provide a comprehensive realist solution to the problem of structure and agency, encompassing a whole range of issues within a lively and multi-faceted discussion. While only one chapter of the book deals explicitly with normativity, it is considered in its entirety here because of how closely Elder-Vass’s arguments hang together. The first three chapters of the book set out a realist account of emergence and causality. He advocates a relational theory of emergence which understands the causal powers of any given entity as a function of its internal relations over a range of ontological strata. As with other sections of the book, the conceptual clarity which Elder-Vass shows in his writing really illuminates a discussion which might otherwise have been technical and obscure. Furthermore while these chapters offer an admirable contribution to the philosophy of social science in their own right, they also stand as the theoretical architecture which Elder-Vass draws upon in articulating his social theory. Such logical consistency is evident throughout the book and it’s one of the most impressive features of it.

    The fourth chapter offers an instructive overview of prevailing accounts of structure within social theory. Elder-Vass explores these accounts in terms of the questions of social ontology dealt with in the first few chapters before offering his own: ‘to the extent that it refers to something genuinely causally effective, the concept of social structure refers to the causal powers of specific social groups’ (Elder-Vass 2010: 86). As such, questions about structure are irrevocably linked with questions about agency for Elder-Vass. These are dealt with in the fifth chapter, where much of the discussion centres around an ambitious attempt to synthesise the work of Margaret Archer on reflexivity and Pierre Bourdieu on habitus into what Elder-Vass calls an ‘emergentist theory of action’Though neither theorist would likely accept the ensuing account, his reconciliation of deliberation and habitus is an intriguing proposition, which is thoughtfully grounded in human neurobiology.

    The sixth chapter is where Elder-Vass explores normativity through his notion of ‘norm circles’.  Elder-Vass argues that norm circles, a concept derived in part from Simmel’s conception of social circles, have ‘emergent causal powers to influence their members, by virtue of the ways in which those members interact in them’ (Elder-Vass 2010: 122). These powers are founded on the commitment which members of the circle have to endorse and enforce practices which are congruent with the norm in question. Such a circle is centred around the collective intention which members have to support the norm and the individual behaviours which flow from this intention:

    ‘They may support the norm by advocating the practice, by praising or rewarding those who enact it, by criticising or punishing those who fail to enact it, or even just by ostentatiously enacting it themselves. The consequence of such endorsement and enforcement is that the members of the circle know they face a systematic incentive to enact the practice.’ (Elder-Vass 2010: 124).

    This is another example of the logical consistency exhibited by the book’s arguments. As advocated in the meta-theory of social ontology elaborated in the first section of the book, Elder-Vass seeks to identify the causal power of specific social groups rather than subsuming such crucial ontological questions under a general account of normative social institutions. In this case he argues that specific norms circles, obtaining for particular norms, account for the normative causal influences which individuals experience in their daily lives. The relations between members of such a norm circle ‘provide a generative mechanism that gives the norm circle an emergent property or causal power: the tendency to increase conformity by its members to the norm’ (Turner and Elder Vass 2010: 124). Given the normative heterogeneity which is evident in contemporary society, every individual is embroiled in a whole array of intersecting norm circles such that they must ‘sometimes negotiate a path that balances normative commitments that are in tension with each other’ (Turner and Elder Vass 2010: 143). If followed through empirically, this insight about normative intersectionality transforms ‘norm circles’ from a seemingly quite formalistic concept into an extremely incisive one, able to gain considerable explanatory purchase upon our everyday experience of normativity.

    The seventh chapter extends this approach to social theorising in order to offer an account of organizations. As with other chapters, he proceeds through the identification of specific social groupings, the internal relations of which give rise to emergent powers at the level of the whole. One particularly intriguing aspect of this discussion is his use of Goffman’s notion of ‘interaction situations’ as a way of founding his claims about social structure on an analysis of the experience of individual actors in concrete situations. The eighth chapter draws on the preceding work to articulate an analytical typology of social events, identifying both the ontological basis of each and the explanatory practice best suited to it.

    The conclusion aptly draws together the diverse strands of the book, restating them in a succinct and clear way which helps him situate them within their wider intellectual context. In fact Elder-Vass exhibits this skill throughout, with a similar review of his arguments at the end of each chapter. This goes hand-in-hand with another defining feature of the book, noted earlier, which is the logical consistency evident throughout. It is an impressive feat to cover so much ground within a single text and yet still maintain such interdependence between arguments, as well as a striking unity of intellectual purpose.

    Explaining the Normative and the Causal Powers of Social Structure are two important contributions to research about normativity. Superficially they seem quite different, with the former’s focus on the history of philosophical thought and the latter’s concern with social ontology. However one important aspect they both share is the central role which the findings of neuroscience play in their conclusions.

    Turner looks to the discovery of ‘mirror neurons’, which activate both when we perform an action and when we see another perform the same action, as a way of explaining many of the phenomena which normativists have tended to claim as their own.  This inbuilt capacity to understand the behaviour of others transforms empathy from ‘an intellectual process bound up with the error-prone folk language of intentionality’ into a ‘fact of science with a discoverable set of features located in specific neuronal processes’ (Turner 2010: 176). The conclusion Turner draws is that the ‘‘norms’ that govern meaning, the meanings of terms applied to the world, may be readily understood in nonnormative terms: as empathic projections that are confirmed, sustained, corrected and improved through interaction with others.’ (Turner 2010: 177-178). Similarly Elder-Vass invokes neuroplasticity, the manner in which the networks of neurons in our brain are conditioned and configured by experience, in order to explain the processes of emergence through which our capacity for action results from the biological without being reducible to it.

    Though these are different ideas, utilised by each theorist for a different purpose, a similar direction of thought can be seen in both accounts. As Elder-Vass puts it ‘we can explain the powers of human individuals without explaining them away’ (Elder-Vass 2010: 93). This is also Turner’s great insight, although he does not express it quite so succinctly. What Explaining the Normative does do however is foreground the way in which underlying human concerns and cross-disciplinary disputes  have shaped the historical debate about normativity. On one side the normativists have sought to defend the distinctiveness of the human against the expansion of naturalistic explanation.  On the other naturalists have tried to causally explain human experience, against the mystifications of transcendental philosophy, though have too often explained it away. Taken together these two books illustrate powerfully that the dichotomies underlying this debate have been too starkly drawn. It is possible to defend the distinctiveness of the human without invoking the mysteries of a transcendental domain undergirding the aspects of human experience which have been subsumed under the banner of normativity. In fact it is only through rejecting the terms of this dichotomy, with the causal on side and the normative on the other, that we might begin to fully understand what it is to be human.

  • Mark 4:40 pm on April 5, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Visualising #BritSoc13 – some geeky post conference procrastination 

    create infographics with visual.ly

  • Mark 3:57 pm on April 5, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Risk and Rapture: Apocalyptic Imagination in Late Modernity 

    Risk and Rapture: Apocalyptic Imagination in Late Modernity
    Centre for Faiths and Public Policy, University of Chester
    Wednesday 11th September 2013
    Keynote Speaker: Professor Scott Lash (Goldsmiths College, University of London)

    Apocalypse captivates the human imagination. Once synonymous with ‘end of the world’ scenarios and confined largelyto the religious, the term is part of vernacular language in the West and is used to describe a myriad of events from the fiscal difficulties of the Eurozone to nuclear war, from environmental disaster to the dangers of digital technology.

    The advancement of science and technology has assisted in expediting anxiety with regard to apocalyptic catastrophe because such ‘progress’ has produced unforeseen hazards and risks. Critical theories of risk have been developed that harness and organise responses to scientific developments in an attempt to provide solutions to possible catastrophe. It is suggested that in order to prevent global catastrophe, modern society must be reflexive. Moreover, the advent of such hazards has served as a recruiting sergeant for fundamentalist religious groups who have clear and explicit eschatologies. Rather than viewing possible risks and hazards as by-products of late modernity—‘signs of the times’, they are re-interpreted as ‘signs of the end times’. Consequently, one strand that runs through the above is the political implications of apocalyptic ideology and theories of risk. Whether this is the focus some Christian dispensationalist groups put on the role of the state of Israel in the Middle East, or the so-called catastrophic acceleration of global-warming, decisions based on interpretations of these inevitably have political ramifications.

    The purpose of this inter-disciplinary conference is to investigate and evaluate some of the variety of apocalyptic discourse that exists in contemporary popular western culture along with critical theories of risk. Papers are invited that explore both the secular and religio-political dimensions of apocalyptic language in contemporary society and include, but not restricted to, the following themes:

    · Secular interpretations of apocalypse;
    · Religio-political apocalyptic discourse;
    · Critical theories that seek solutions to contemporary notions of risk;
    · Correlations between critical theories of risk and apocalyptic ideology;
    · The growth of fundamentalisms as a reaction to risk culture(s).

    Proposals for short papers are invited on any aspects or themes related to the above. Papers will be 20 minutes in length with an additional 10 minutes discussion. Applications to submit a paper should include:

    · Proposer’s name and affiliation;
    · Title of the paper;
    · 250-word abstract;
    · Details of any audio-visual equipment you will need to deliver your paper.

    Short paper proposals should be submitted to Riskraptureconf@chester.ac.uk by no later than 4pm on Monday 22nd April 2013.
    Conference costs: £50 (£25 unwaged and students) inclusive of lunch and refreshments.
    Conference registration will open in due course.

  • Mark 3:53 pm on April 5, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Valuing the BBC: A half day seminar at City University London 

    Room AG22
    College Building,
    St John Street
    EC1V 4PB


    City University London presents a half day seminar exploring the public value of the BBC. The seminar offers a range of perspectives on the BBC’s role in public life, discussing the BBC Trust, science reporting, research with the BBC and public service broadcasting in an international perspective.

    City University London has been at the cutting edge of developing research on cultural value and this seminar is part of that work. The first part of the seminar is based on an AHRC funded project that has looked at how the BBC Trust uses the idea of public value and its public value test. The BBC Trust has used public value as a system of articulating the importance of the institution to British and global public life as well as a method for assessing the value of proposals within the BBC itself. Dr Dave O’Brien, from City’s Centre for Cultural Policy and Management, will present the findings of fieldwork with the BBC Trust that has investigated how public value plays out in practice. His presentation will be in response to opening comments by Diane Coyle, vice chair of the BBC Trust.

    The second part of the seminar will be a panel consisting of three presentations from academics from City University London. Prof Toby Miller, from the Centre for Cultural Policy and Management, will discuss the BBC’s public service broadcasting role using a range of international examples drawn from his work. Connie St Louis, Director of City’s Science Journalism MA, will explore the BBC Trust’s Review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science. Finally, Dr Sam Friedman, from City’s Department of Sociology, will reflect on the BBC’s Great British Class Survey and the relationship between academic research and the BBC.

    The seminar will be of interest to the public, academia and journalists. All are welcome.


    9.30-10am arrivals and coffee

    10am-10.20am Diane Coyle

    10.20am-10.50am Dave O’Brien

    10.50am-11.20 Q & A for Diane and Dave

    11.20-1pm Panel session with Toby, Connie and Sam, including Q&A

    To book a place contact Dave O’Brien dave.obrien.1@city.ac.uk

  • Mark 6:47 am on April 5, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Anatomy of the #BritSoc13 hashtag 

    create infographics with visual.ly

  • Mark 9:23 pm on April 4, 2013 Permalink | Reply

    Academy 2.0? Outline of the emerging digital culture with #HigherEd 

    This is very rough. Much more so than I’d like it to be. But then how could it be otherwise when I’m finishing it 12 hours before the event? Nonetheless this is my first sketch at doing something which I want to look at in depth post-PhD – using digital strategy as a lens through which to unpack the direction of travel of UK higher ed in an age of austerity. My idea is to treat the ‘digital turn’ in higher ed in terms of structure & agency – so it becomes an incredibly detailed & specific way to look at much broader issues about the different collective agents at work in the contemporary academy, their interactions, balance of power and the possibile consequences, unintended and otherwise.

    Why does Keynote destroy the formatting when it exports as PPT…?

  • Mark 8:22 am on April 2, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: alternative academic, , ,   

    Sociologists Outside of Academia (why in retrospect it was never very likely I’d finish my PhD during a daily commute) 

    (via AyeshaKazmi from the Occupy Boston protest)

    Some thoughts for the Sociologists Outside of Academia panel discussion I’m taking part in on Wednesday at 4:30 at #BritSoc13

    I felt slightly nervous about this panel prior to it because of the change that I’d undergone inbetween originally being invited and the actual BSA conference itself. I’d previously been hugely enthusiastic about the idea of ‘Sociologists Outside of Academia’ but now I’m more cautious, albeit not hostile to it at all. Around 6 months ago, having pondered the idea for ages, I went to work full time in a social media role (at the LSE so I didn’t get particularly far ‘outside’ of academia but the move into a non-research role was subjectively very meaningful).

    I’m in the 5th year of an unfunded part-time PhD, I’ve freelanced and worked lots of part time contracts in a wide variety of roles over the course of my thesis. For much of this time, the workload outside my PhD has added up to something much more than the 36 hours a week I was contracted to work at the LSE. So I didn’t think working full time while continuing to do research would be any more difficult than this. But it REALLY was and I’m still trying to understand why that is – in the freelancer / part-time researcher lifestyle I’ve had for the past four years, I’ve enjoyed having an awful lot of space to think and develop projects on my own terms.

    I’d seen the prospect of being a ‘Sociologist Inside Academia’, with the social structures it unavoidably involves subjugation to, as threatening that space. But in the last six months that space largely vanished, retreating to little more than my morning commute on the train and some time at the weekends. Which leaves me confused about a notion which I had previously been so enthusiastic about. It’s left me thinking about what is it to be a ‘sociologist outside of academia’? Is it to continue to identify as such? To continue to engage with sociological literature? To continue to engage with other sociologists? To continue to do research?

    It was the last one that was key for me. My enthusiasm for the concept of abandoning a traditional PhD route, supporting myself through other means so that I could do the research I wanted to do freed from audit culture and the instrumentalism it fuels, was predicated on being able to continue to do research. Though I do realise when saying this that the kind of research I do (social theory & theoretically motivated small scale qualitative research) makes this possible in a way it might not be for others.

    At present I feel like an idea that came very naturally to me, to have one foot in and one foot outside of the academy, probably isn’t possible in the way that I hoped it would be. But I’m not certain by any means. Not least of all because there’s a lack of any serious discussion of alternative academic career paths in UK sociology, something which is much less true in the US – perhaps because some of the pernicious trends in the academy which lead people out of necessity or chocie to pursue alternative academic career paths are much more developed there.

    But I think these broader trends aren’t going to go away and there’s a need to seriously address them in practical terms. The ranks of the ‘para academics’ (those precariously employed but still actively working within academia) and the ‘alternative academics’ (those with graduate level training seeking alternative career paths outside the grouping we call ‘academics’) are only going to grow. At a time when Sociology is under great threat in the UK, it seems blindingly obvious to me that taking practical steps to incorporate people with sociological training and/or doing sociological work outside the academy is integral to preserving the discipline.

    So things like making conferences more financially accessible, running lectures and engagement events which are accessible to those outside the academy (in all senses of the term ‘accessible’) and using social media to start to move sociological debates more into the open, as well as creating resources and multimedia publications which make sociological knowledge more accessible to those outside the academy. I think there’s been a pervasive failure to value the communication of sociological knowledge (at least outside of a classroom context) which really doesn’t help in this respect.

    There’s also a need to offer much more multi-faceted career advice and skills training for PhD students. This is something the BSA’s PG forum, which I helped organise for a couple of years, has tried to do. But it’s still sadly absent at a more localised level and I think this contributes to a lack of understanding of the transferable skills gained during a PhD (particularly the value that being able to digest, understand and communicate academic research has for other roles both in and outside the university) and little sense of the options available

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