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  • Mark 2:05 pm on November 30, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Notes for a Sociology of Thinking 1.1 

    Richard Swedberg begins his paper Thinking and Sociology by recognising that there may be “good reasons” why these two things are rarely discussed together. Though “all of us think” and “we all know the intensely private character of our thoughts”, these thoughts are fleeting and ephemeral when considered next to things that we say and things that we know. These phenomena have been the closest sociology has tended to come towards looking at thinking itself and the reasons for this are both epistemic (they relate to things that are more or less open to others and tend, by their nature, to use terms that are understandable to others) and genealogical (Durkheim was the founding father most interested in thought yet also the most strongly committed to studying it through its objectification in social facts). Given that social facts are a product of collectivities, “the individual plays a very subordinate role in Durkheim’s work, and most of what goes on in his or her mind belongs to the science of psychology, not sociology”. He understood the categories of thought, collective representations, as gifts of society which should be analysed as social facts. So while sociologists have often looked at the products of thinking, the process itself has tended to be ignored or even dismissed in principle as a possible object of study.

    For reasons that are intuitively obvious but nonetheless rewarding to explicate, this has not been true of philosophy. Swedberg considers Kant, Kierkegaard and Heidegger as three philosophers, amongst many, whose work could provide insights for a nascent sociology of thinkingKant’s essay “What is the Enlightenment?’ can be understood as a short and purposefully accessible treatise on thinking: “what it means to think, why we should think, and what the consequences of thinking are”. It also discussed how people avoid thinking through falling back upon established authorities, directly or through their cultural products, as a substitute for addressing their own questions. Kant also offered practical guidance on thinking, for instance suggesting that one should avoid thinking deeply while eating and that thinking while walking should be a matter of letting the imagination wander. Kierkegaard was concerned with the relationship of thinking to existence as a particular individual. For him thinking is part of existence: “a human being thinks and exist”. Thinking does not dominate existence but can fit harmoniously with it. This however is an achievement and one not enjoyed by the ‘objective thinker’ whose generalising and systematising thought ignores his own particularity in spite of it being bound up with this thinking. Instead, we ought to think inwardly and thus avoid the ‘stuntedness’ of the objective thinker who is not interested in his or her own existence. For Heidegger all human beings can think but many do not. He distinguishes between the thinking we all have the capacity to engage in and the thinking which we usually engage in: the ‘one-track thinking’ and ‘thoughtless chatter’ which our everyday lives in a technological society provoke. Instead of thinking, for Heidegger, we too often have opinions. But we can also learn how to think. For Heidegger this is a practical competency which is learned through doing:

    We are not simply born with a certain capacity to think. But how can one learn to think? Heidegger’s answer is that it is a bit like swimming: you learn it by doing it. You cannot ‘read a treatise on swimming’: you have to open yourself up to the ‘adventure’ and ‘leap into the river’.

    If you read a book by a philosopher, you can learn thinking by studying the way that the author asks questions. Summarizing and repeating the ideas in a book does not represent thinking. One should also try to locate and work with what the author does not say – what has been left ‘unthought’. And once this exercise is over, and you have ‘found’ the thinking of the author, you have also to ‘lose’ it. Freeing oneself from somebody’s thinking, Heidegger says, is harder than to find it.

    Associated with this notion of thinking as a practical competency which can be learned is an understanding of thinking as action rather than being opposed to it. Heidegger was concerned that “action has often replaced thinking” and sought to overcome the “common notion that thinking is simply what comes before action and that it lacks value unless it is followed by action”. Instead he sought to cultivate an understanding of thinking as a craft:

    The carpenter cannot learn his craft in some abstract manner; he must develop his skill by working on wood and by sensing what he can make of this material. The wood contains shapes, Heidegger says, and it is the carpenter’s task to sense these and bring them out in the wood. The idea of hidden forms means that the person should use thinking to understand Being.

    However Swedberg is well aware that these arguments lack a sociological dimension. The first two authors lived before there was a sociology, while the latter was explicitly critical of sociology (as a science). But his suggestion that philosophy can be a potent source for a sociology of thinking is surely plausible and his impulse to turn their thought in a ‘sociological direction’ is one which I find deeply appealing. Other potential sources are the sociology of knowledge, the economics of information, cognitive psychology and neuroscience. But Swedberg’s most pressing concern is with the contribution of philosophy:

    Kant, Kierkegaard and Heidegger all agree that thinking represents its own special activity or, to phrase it different, that one should focus the analysis directly on thinking. This is an approach that sociology may want to follow. It would also appear that sociology should try to study thinking which is a process, rather than thought which is a product. Heidegger’s argument that thinking should be independent of knowing as well as of action raises further interesting questions for sociologists.

    One shared concern of all three philosophers he discussed were the “forces that prevent the individual from thinking on his or her own”. Kant looked towards a reliance on established authorities, Kierkegaard towards the force of routine while Heidegger blamed technological society. These concerns naturally provoke sociological questions given the empirical referents of such claims. However these thinkers also raise important practical questions about the activity of thinking. Given that “it is easier to think in certain places, just as it easier to think in certain postures” we might ponder the existence of “an architecture of thinking as well as a body technique”. Such ruminations naturally connect the sociology of thinking to the existential concerns of sociologists of thinking:

    My own way for how to think is to spend one hour early in the day sitting still and focusing on some topic that needs to be thought through. I do not write, and I do not try to empty my mind so much as to focus it. It is an exercise in thinking, not in meditation. I usually find that my thinking proceeds step by step, and it comes natural to memorize each step.

    For a long time I was puzzled by Kierkegaard’s insistence that thinking has an existential dimension. I first began to understand what he meant by this when I started to set aside some time for thinking also at the end of the day. It was impossible to engage in thinking when the day was over, I found, without directly connecting broader issues to personal ones. The link between thinking and subjectivity was in this way established in a very natural fashion. A day that has passed in your life – what does this mean?

    My “own way for how to think” is to blog. I like the notion of a sociology of thinking in part because it gives me a novel frame of reference within which to ponder my own use of blogging. I like it for many other reasons as well though. What do other people think?

    • Philip Roddis (@zerohoursuni) 4:29 pm on December 1, 2013 Permalink

      I’m sure it’s in there somewhere but IMO warrants spelling out. ‘Thinking’ is in need of definition. At one level the verb refers to the more or less random firings of our central nervous system and, understood thus, it seems fair to say 98% of our thinking – and then some – is garbage we do well not to torture others with. At another level, and this seems the drift when we bring in the heavyweights cited here, thinking is understood as reasoning.

      On the first definition it also seems fair to say that most of us have a highly superstitious relationship to thought. Walking down the street I experience a generous and uplifting thought, and draw the conclusion I am indeed a noble sort of chap. A few minutes later I’m assailed by a mean-spirited, envious thought and am cast down by the revelation of what a deeply unpleasant and uncaring dude I really am, utterly unfit for decent company. Both are nonsense of course. To anyone else it’s my deeds – the choices I make – that make me who I am.

      On the second definition I wouldn’t dare cross swords with the likes of Kant and Heidegger but like your point about blogging, which takes me to a favourite quote from a favourite writer: “how do I know what I think till I see what I say?” – EM Forster – and to the entirely plausible assertion by some evolutionary psychologists that the significance of language in our extraordinary success lies as much in its support for thinking as for coordinating woolly mammoth hunts.

      Thanks again for yet another thought-provoking post.

    • Mark 9:14 pm on December 1, 2013 Permalink

      Hi Philip, I’d like to go for a middle ground between the two: thinking as what sits in between the phenomenological froth and applied practical reasoning. To take your example: what really interests me is what you say to yourself in each case. Why do you say it, what does it mean to you and what effects does it have on the initial thought and the feeling it provoked? Part of my enthusiasm for the sociological of thinking comes, I realise, because it suggests I’ve been doing a part-time PhD in the sociology of thinking for the last 5 years without realising it. But I’ve been looking at internal conversation rather than thinking per se – now I’m trying to get my head around where the boundary is between the two. I’d argue that you can’t understand your deeds without understanding your choices and you can’t understand your choices without understanding your internal conversations…

    • Richard MillwoodRichard Millwood 9:56 am on December 2, 2013 Permalink

      I like both Philip and Mark’s responses and would have made such points myself if quicker with my thoughts (‘conclusions after rumination’) 🙂

      I’d like to add that thoughts, thinking and other such terms deserve better than simple definition and a concept map may be useful – err, em, to support our shared understanding and diversity of meaning.

      I’d also say that thoughts (however defined) are not limited to internal speech acts, even for logical argumentation – e.g. I often plan routes through town, and evaluate alternatives, without speech acts in my head. I often think (‘have the opinion’) that we demote intellectual acts in the arts and crafts in favour of verbal argumentation. As John Heron put it, when describing aesthetic delight “The emotions of a fulfilled imaginal sensibility are of a range and subtlety that outstrip the power of language to symbolize them. Hence they are conveyed by the non-discursive symbolism of drawing, painting, sculpture, music and dance.” – he might have added, cooking, carpentry and metalwork or even, dare I say, bodily function.

    • Mark 10:10 am on December 2, 2013 Permalink

      “I’d also say that thoughts (however defined) are not limited to internal speech acts”

      I agree – I’m completely unclear in my own mind about where the boundary lies between the two and what thought *is* beyond internal speech acts though. If I understand it correctly, the Heron quote is very interesting towards this end – gestures towards what I’ve called the ‘discursive gap’ in upcoming paper. The gap between what we’re moved to *try* and say and what we do actually say, given our imperfect capacities to symbolize our feelings and thoughts, as well as the limitations of the linguistic & cultural resources available to us.

    • Philip Roddis (@zerohoursuni) 10:11 am on December 2, 2013 Permalink

      Hi Mark. I like ‘phenomenological froth’ but it could be misleading, suggesting something more substantial below – which ain’t necessarily or even, in my experience, often the case. Most of our thought-stream (I include emotions) are of little or no significance and it seems a tragedy of the human condition – up there with neoliberalism, climate change and disorderly taxi queues – that we read too much into them; drawing conclusions about who we are from the content of thought..

      I’ve read nothing on this so hope we aren’t at cross purposes. For years I practiced a form of meditation whose aim was not to reduce or temporarily eliminate the content of thought – I see little merit in that when a few stiff G & Ts do much the same – but to disengage from it: like a convo in the next room which we may or may not choose to listen in on. So meditation is an exercise in seeing that we are not our thoughts (or feelings). Why is it a tragedy when we equate the two? Because our species alone, it seems, has – perhaps as a by-product of our huge reasoning power – acquired self-consciousness. Homo sapiens sapiens is doubly wise: we know that we know. Yet we seem incapable – at least when it really counts – to take up this birthright. I recently heard Mel Phillips put straight on the Moral Maze. In a debate on school streaming she told a pedagogic witness that his views, more inclusive than hers, would lead to a world of stupid things being done by less intelligent people. The witness pointed out with admirable lucidity that IQ and capacity for stupid deeds have little to do with one another. We do stupid things not because we aren’t clever – brain damage apart, we are ALL immensely clever – but because (this is my addition of course) we closely identify with thought/feeling. If a dog wants food it more or less HAS to act on that, unless a more immediate emotion, like fear, supersedes it. We can choose, though we seldom do. Our most obviously stupid deeds are invariably done in the grip of primary emotions like fear, rage and desire, but on a more every-minute level it seems that identifying with thought – instead of using it as the marvelous tool it is – lies at root of much our woes.

      Of course, that doesn’t obviate the more immediate task: resisting capitalism at every turn (:-)

      I think your search for a midpoint between the incessant thought-stream on the one hand, conscious application of reason on the other, might take you to useful places. I also think this whole business of superstitiously identifying with thought may prove similar powerful.All the best.

    • Mark 10:19 am on December 2, 2013 Permalink

      but that’s what fascinates me so much about this topic:

      “Most of our thought-stream (I include emotions) are of little or no significance”

      that’s only a judgement you can make reflexively i.e. by thinking about your own thought…

      funny you should mention that, as i’ve recently been trying to restart mindfulness meditation having briefly had a practice when i was much younger. unfortunately i’m not very good at it because i quite rapidly start introspecting about my own introspection rather than just letting it be… i think it’s definitely deeply relevant for this line of theoretical thought though and there’s a cognitive science literature looking at this which i’m planning to explore once i put the finishing touches to my PhD in a month or two.

    • Philip Roddis (@zerohoursuni) 10:27 am on December 2, 2013 Permalink

      PS – only after commenting a few minutes ago did I see Richard’s comment, which of course opens up even more fascinating avenues of enquiry and aesthetic sensibility.I’d love to talk more about language v other tools for both thinking and communicating but, alas, have to write a witness statement for my tribunal claim against the Great Casualiser: University of Sheffield, where I was an “atypical worker”.

      Yes, that’s as well as my ongoing battle with Sheffield Hallam University, where I’m on a zero hours contract. Excuse my shameless plug but do feel free to check out my blog on casualisation and commodification in higher education.

      How could i resist? But back to the topic here: Mark, it’s hard for me to tell on the basis of these small exchanges, but so far we seem to be speaking more of a philosophy/psychology of thought than a sociology, no? However it’s called, though, it’s fascinating.

    • Mark 2:03 pm on December 4, 2013 Permalink

      It’s already in my blog reader!

      “so far we seem to be speaking more of a philosophy/psychology of thought than a sociology, no?”

      You’re not the first person to suggest that to me! I’m not sure where or how to draw the distinction between a sociology of thought and a social psychology of thought tbh. Perhaps it’s the introduction of social structural considerations into an analysis of thinking e.g. having the time to think…

    • Richard Millwood 4:12 pm on December 4, 2013 Permalink

      I think it would be interesting to discuss those thinkings that are very performance centred – sports, synchronised swimming, music in groups, dance in troupes and learning to manufacture by observing and copying? Is there a ‘conversation’? Is it mediated by social factors? I would say so.

    • Mark 6:19 pm on December 5, 2013 Permalink

      yes definitely, i think these are the aspects of thinking that have been studied most comprehensively though – the ‘talking through’ that’s part of practical activities.

  • Mark 3:28 pm on November 29, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    ‘Patent Trolls’, Intellectual Property and Technological Innovation 

    Over the summer the BBC website had an interesting feature looking at the ‘patent trolls’ who proactively buy patents with the sole intention of suing people for their infringement. The introduction of these ‘non-practicing entities’ into the patent system is something novel, with an influx of ‘entrepreneurs’ and ‘finance people’ having transformed the system into one in which the “majority of patent lawsuits today are filed by entities that don’t make any products”. Some ‘patent trolls’ develop their own patentable inventions in-house but most rely on buying second-hand technologies, which current owners were willing to sell for an influx of capital in exchange for potentially deployable ideas which nonetheless remain unactualised. Perhaps the financial crisis represents a supply-side cause of this willingness, given the apparent chronology of the growth of the ‘patent trolls’, though this is purely speculative on my part.

    I find this interesting because the ‘patent trolls’ seem to rely on digital technology, in so far as that they use ‘virtual offices’ to minimise legal constraints and presumably rely upon internet research to assemble their ‘patent war chest’ and to identify their targets. Their methods rely upon digital innovation and abundant data but so too do the basis of their claims. What intrigues me is how an obscure potential technology for which they have acquired a patent can be linked to actually existing technologies which are claimed to infringe upon that patent. Their activities represent a weird inversion of the innovation process: linking ideas with their practical deployment in technological artefacts. How open-ended could this potentially be and what are its implications for innovation itself? Furthermore, what are the long-term effects of this likely to be for the viability of systems for registering and enforcing intellectual property? If we accept Margaret Archer’s (2012: 36) argument that the growth of the patent system “served to ‘freeze’ uncertainty and, in guaranteeing profitability ceteris paribus, thus freed up internal resources to make the next innovative development which, if successful, would then be protected in the same manner” then the long term viability of this growth, which underwrote the calculability upon which corporations have tended to depend, becomes something of enormous sociological significance. The enterprise of ‘patent trolling’ is “totally legal, and very lucrative, and absolutely shady”. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, it seems likely to take centre stage as a political issue in coming years:

    Innovation is the foundation of America, and since 1790, entrepreneurs have been able to claim patents on their inventions so that copycats can’t profit off their work. But some companies have found a controversial use of the American patent system, derisively referred to as “patent trolling.” The practice refers to when a company buys broad patents for technology that it doesn’t make—or partners with inventors who don’t actively use their patents—and brings legal claims against other companies that use the technology. The price of stealing someone’s work in the United Statesff rrkis mind-blowingly expensive—in the millions of dollars—and even if the accused company wins, rkit still faces high legal costs. Often, a company violating a patent will pony up a few thousand dollars for licensing fees rather than face off in court.

    “There are hundreds of thousands of crappy, vague, overly broad patents out there, and all you have to do is scoop up one of these patents and threaten to sue. No one is going to defend themselves, because it makes no financial sense,” says Julie Samuels, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is running a database of patent troll claims. “It’s totally legal, and very lucrative, and absolutely shady.”

    Bryan Farney, an attorney for a MPHJ, a company that has accused multiple businesses of using its patented office-scanner technology without permission, takes issue with the characterization of companies that sue others over patents they don’t use. “Obviously, patent trolling is a pejorative term…” he tells Mother Jones. “A more accurate term is Non-Practicing Entity.”

    Earlier this month, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) called these kinds of companies “scam artists” and “bottom feeders” who “work in the shadows.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a bill this month that specifically takes aim at them by making it harder and more expensive to make these claims and allowing targeted companies to get their legal fees back. The bill has support from the White House. This week, a group of inventors—including Facebook and Twitter’s co-founders—sent a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees arguing that “broad, vague patents covering software-type inventions—some of which we ourselves are listed as inventors on—are a malfunctioning component of America’s inventive machinery.”

    But companies that oppose the legislation say that it shouldn’t matter whether or not they use their own patented technology because big tech companies are taking advantage of their inventions. “Almost all inventions seem obvious after they have been invented,'” wrote Katharine Wolanyk, president of Soverain Software, in a November 18 letter to the House Committee on the Judiciary. (Wolanyk’s company owns patents that governs online shopping cart technology and lost one of its claims in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Soverain is now trying to bring the case to the Supreme Court.) “The current system forces patent owners to defend, over and over again, the validity of their patents.”


    If anyone can suggest useful places to begin reading further about this I’d be very grateful. There’s something extremely interesting happening here and I’d like to understand it in much greater depth than I do at present. I’m particularly interested in the potential scope of the activity: is it possible that the range of ‘broad patents’ which can be linked to particular products is basically infinite? Will it be possible to legislatively counteract this tendency? Or is it perhaps more likely that we’ll see an ever growing influx of financial and human capital into ‘patent trolling’ and, if so, what are the long-term consequences? Would it even be possible to have an intellectual property system which prevents ‘patent trolling’? 

    One further thought is that The Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents must surely be the best name ever chosen for an endowment. It’s also an instance of systemic consequences leading to the grouping of new agents seeking to transform their shared context. I wonder if it is a sign of more to come. The difficulty seems to be whether the interests vested in the patent system itself preclude the reforms that would render ‘patent trolling’ untenable.

  • Mark 10:54 am on November 29, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Electronic Theses & Dissertations (ETD) 2014: 23 to 25 July 2014, Leicester, UK. 

    ETD2014 – the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations’ (NDLTD) 17th annual symposium – takes place at the University of Leicester, UK from 23 to 25 July 2014.

    We are now inviting proposals for papers and posters.

    The deadline for proposals is Friday, 31 January 2014. We will contact you on or around Monday, 3rd March 2014 to confirm whether your proposal has been accepted.

    With the overall symposium theme of ‘ETDs for Life’, we want to explore what difference the huge growth in open access to electronic theses and dissertations is making for authors, other researchers and for social and economic development.

    We are seeking proposals which address one of the following themes:

    ● ETDs for authors: topics such as authors’ perceptions of advantages/disadvantages of open access to ETDs and whether this access has influenced development of their career or other aspects of their lives.

    ● ETDs for society and the economy: topics such as the value of open access to ETDs to business, education (including beyond academia), cultural life and economic development.

    ● ETDs for scholarship: topics such as the visibility and accessibility of ETDs to the information seeker and the development of ‘enhanced’ ETDs which include access to related research data.

    ● ETDs and the information professional: topics such as the skills, resources and services required to further improve access to ETDs.

    For information on how to submit your proposal, please visit http://www.le.ac.uk/etd2014/call

  • Mark 10:52 am on November 29, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , energy prices,   

    “Only marxists and conmen want to cap energy prices!” 

    The government has denied reports it is seeking a commitment from energy firms to hold their prices down until 2015.

    The companies told BBC News ministers were putting pressure on them to commit to a price freeze.

    But Treasury sources say this is not part of their plan – and they were looking instead at cutting the industry’s green commitments to help keep prices down.

    Labour, who want a price freeze, said government policy was a “shambles”.

    Energy industry sources told the BBC on Thursday that the government wants to avoid another round of price rises that could be blamed on state-enforced green levies and the two sides had been holding talks about plans which could result in average bills falling by £50.

    ‘Not pleading’

    Government sources have confirmed that they have been engaged in what they describe as an “information gathering” exercise with the energy sector.

    But they insisted they were not pleading with the “big six” energy firms to hold bills down in the run-up to the 2015 general election, saying this was “not part of the package” on the table.


  • Mark 11:26 am on November 28, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: cognitive micro-foundations,   

    Cognitive Micro-Foundations for Theories of Social Change 

    One of the core questions addressed by my PhD has been what I’ve termed ‘the biographical dimensions of social change’ and the methodological implications of how personhood is conceptualised for how these theories are deployed in practice. I’ve argued that one of the (many) problems with the ‘individualization’ and ‘detraditionalization’ literature is that in the absence of an account of reflexivity as mediating between structure and agency, the use of this body of ideas to make sense of empirical data will tend to simply amalgamate the macro and the micro rather than linking them in an explanatory way. One of the most obvious signs of this is a tendency to vacillate between the particular and the general, with concrete states of affairs contextualised in terms of broader processes but not specifically explained in terms of them. I’m increasingly framing my point here in terms of cognitive micro-foundations. My problem with the detraditionalization literature is because it is founded upon Giddensian cognitive micro-foundations, which leave no real space between depth psychology and social practices. This leaves it construing the ‘biographical dimensions of social change’ in terms which are over or under socialised. I’m wondering if I should go back and reframe my opening chapters in these terms or if this is a potential time waster. I do think it would make the thesis hang together more coherently than it does at present.

    • stephenmugford 9:51 pm on November 28, 2013 Permalink

      I guess the question here, Mark, is how ‘biological’ you want to be.

      I have a lot of time for the work of Jaak Panksepp (see e.g. Panksepp and Biven [2012] The Archaeology of Mind: Neoevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions, WW Norton). The nice thing about his work is how it can be linked to other ‘higher’ levels of argument, i.e. it is not reductionist but rather helps expand understanding. For example, one of his seven basic brain systems he calls SEEKING (caps to separate this from common sense usages). Unlike many simplistic theories that see SEEKING as driven by the consummatory reward to which it may lead, he sees seeking as a system in itself. I corresponded with him briefly about this and the exchange may interest you as an illustration:

      SKM: “I expect you have thought of this idea—and/or had others say it to you—but just in case that is not so… Your points about SEEKING in Archaeology, esp. around p. 142, seem very closely linked to (indeed, arguably provide the underlying architecture for) FLOW as described by Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. I liked his work, and have experienced flow—and the subjective state you describe as arising from SEEKING many times—playing chess, researching ideas, etc. Of course this is not consummatory, you are spot on. It is anticipatory …”

      JP: “Yes, flow indeed! As long as it is not combined with arousal of negative affective systems, which can then contribute to obsessive-compulsive patterns. More than anything the SEEKING System also is surely the foundation for Spinoza’s conatus. Strange that it is still called “The Brain Reward System” by many, when there are various rewarding systems in the brain, and it has been evident for decades that this one does not mediate consummatory pleasures.”

      Thus, I’d say, if you really wanted a biological grounding for individual cognition, you could well start with Panksepp’s 7 systems ( SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, PANIC/GRIEF and PLAY—systems he argues that are discernible in all mammalian brains) and look at how they are linked with behaviour, always knowing that different socio-cultural contexts would harness/hobble these in multiple and varied ways.

      Personally, I take the view that this takes one back, in a way, to the nub of Durkheim’s argument about social facts as things. He wanted us not to link to individual psychology but instead see the social as a reality sui generis. Hence as we know Suicide is about the conditions for differing rates of suicide not about understanding individual self-harm. I think that is a do-able enterprise: that is, one could simply take the 7 systems as givens and explore the social contexts that do this harnessing and hobbling in their myriad ways. But this is not what I see many sociologists actually doing. More often I see Durkheim’s position implicitly or explicitly waved around as an excuse not to engage in-depth with psychology and cognitive/biological studies while at the same time creating (in blithe ignorance) implicit or explicit models of individual motivation (etc.) that stray into those areas and are, frankly, often naïve and sometimes just plain ‘wrong’. As an example, I think sociologists frequently stray back towards a Cartesian dualism with a view of some disembodied ‘mind’, albeit as a receptacle for various contextually provided beliefs more than pure reason. (In a way I think this is what Garfinkel was on about in coining the idea that Parsonian mainstream sociology saw people as ‘cultural dopes’.)

      So, I’d recommend Panksepp. He is not easy reading but well worthwhile and if this does take your fancy there is a good start to be had by listening to some podcasts from Ginger Campbell’s interviews with him at brainsciencepodcast.com. 🙂



    • Mark 9:50 pm on December 1, 2013 Permalink

      Hi Stephen, I just wrote a long reply to your post, accidentally deleted it, wrote another slightly shorter reply and then accidentally deleted that as well – frustratingly by making exactly the same key combination that causes wordpress to discard the open comment and edit the one it’s a response to… so apologies for the brevity, which is something I wrote on the previous and much less brief comment as well…

      Basically I’m with you for 90% of the way on this. I’m just not willing to take the psych model as a ‘given’ – I think there’s a homologous trend across quite a disparate array of areas (the most recent ones I’ve encountered being psychosocial studies and manuel castells discovering cognitive science) which amount to amalgamation as a strategy to bridge the explanatory gap between individual psychology and social processes. So psychoanalysis and cognitive science respectively are being deployed to overcome a perceived explanatory deficiency. I have no practical alternative (yet!) but rather than combining a model from A and a model from B, I’d like to better understand the gaps and occlusions in both A and B which result from their disciplinary histories. As a practical project to try and flesh this out a bit, I’m planning a (friendly) sociological critique of Robert Kegan’s work, though have no idea when I’ll get started on this. I’m very aware of needing to engage with substantive detail to flesh out my abstract argument.

      To put it another way: I think your notion of contextual ‘harnessing and hobbling’ needs unpacking. I realise you’re using short hand but it still seems to suggest that observable variability is a matter of social factors inflecting otherwise uniform responses. This may very well be true but my point about amalgamation is that without overcoming the disciplinary divide, this is built into the approach from the outset as an implicit model. I’m far from certain about how to do it or if it’s possible but my intuition is that we need to take a hammer to the whole disciplianry architecture of how the individual social is construed and put the pieces back together in a new way.

    • Mark 9:51 pm on December 1, 2013 Permalink

      oh and that site looks excellent btw! a very good place for me to get started on this…

  • Mark 5:22 pm on November 27, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    CfP: An Invitation to Digital Public Sociology 

    What does ‘public sociology’ entail in a world of facebook, twitter, youtube, slideshare, soundcloud, pinterest and wordpress? What affordances and constraints do these tools entail for the task of “taking knowledge back to those from whom it came, making public issues out of private troubles, and thus regenerating sociology’s moral fibre”? What implications do these tools have for the relationship between the public and private in the occupational biographies of individual sociologists and, through aggregation and collective organisation, the discipline as a whole?

    Short articles (1000 to 4000 words) are sought for an open access edited book which explores conceptual, methodological or practical aspects of Digital Public Sociology. If you would be interested in contributing then please send an abstract of 200 words or less by December 31st 2013. The final articles would be needed by March 31st 2014, with the intention of launching the collection in the summer of 2014. Please send abstracts (or questions) to mark@markcarrigan.net.

  • Mark 4:53 pm on November 27, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Causal Agency and Cognitive Micro-Foundations 

    One final Roy Bhaskar snippet from the Formation of Critical Realism (Pg 64). This is a quote from Bhaskar about one thing that prompted a thought by me about a very different thing:

    In experimental activity it is our role as causal agents that is vital, not our role as thinkers, and that immediately gets us out of the purely mental sphere.

    This a formulation I want to adopt for explaining my understanding of reflexivity. The point when talking about internal conversation is not to assert the relevance of a purely mental sphere for sociological inquiry. I don’t think this is a sustainable position to take. The invocation of the mental sphere is not because sociology should be interested in ‘our role as thinkers’ but because sociology is interested in our causal agency and, so the argument goes, an adequate account of that agency needs to give some account of the ‘mental sphere’. I would never argue that ‘internal conversation’ is the only available account of the ‘mental sphere’ for sociology but I would happily assert that I don’t think it’s possible to have a coherent account of causal agency which doesn’t encompass a substantive understanding of subjectivity.

    Another way of putting this would be to argue, following from this excellent paper by Omar Lizardo, that sociology needs cognitive micro-foundations. So I’m making two claims: (1) such cognitive micro-foundations are necessary (2) Archer’s notion of the ‘internal conversation’ is a powerful approach to providing these. It’s certainly not the only one though. As well as Lizardo’s neo-structuralist reading of Bourdieu, which I’m not well versed enough to assess textually but really endears Bourdieu to me by way of Piaget, we could also see an attempted phenomenological framing of the habitus in this way. For instance see this paper by Nick Crossley (drawing on Merleau-Ponty) or this book by Will Atkinson (drawing on Alfred Schutz). My own preference would be to try and flesh out Archer’s account, through a critical sociological reading of what seems to be a massive psychological literature on dual process theory.

    • BeingQuest 4:35 pm on April 10, 2014 Permalink

      …dual process theory…two directional momentum…essential functions; affect/effect, intensive/extensive, spontaneous/determined, end-in-itself/means-to-ends, fundamental/optional…the pattern mapping holds good in the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of experience in the round as on the ground. Intrigue’s knocking: Can I come in?

  • Mark 4:35 pm on November 27, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , materialism, physicalism, ,   

    The Realist Critique of Materialism 

    Just invoking materialism without specifying exactly what the sense is does not get you very far. It is often claimed that ideas and ideology have a material existence ultimately rooted in physical matter. But what is physical matter? If you go down one level of the stratification of nature you come to atoms that are weird in terms of our normal conceptions of concrete materiality and in fact turn out to be not a-tomic at all! If you go down another couple of levels you are dealing with distributions in space and successions in time. You are very far removed from ‘concrete materiality’. The world of quantum fields and quarks is not the world of concrete objects and solid material things. What the belief in brute physicality as exhaustive of the world depends on is in fact a species of commodification; it is an ideological materialism that commodifies and fetishises the properties of concrete material things. By downplaying or denying the possibility of intentional agency, it is just as much orientated against the possibility of social science as is supernaturalist idealism or the resort to faith in totally transcendent, supernatural causes. In many cases I would rather not use the terms ‘materialism’ and ‘idealism’: I would rather just talk about ‘science’, ‘realism’ and ‘ontology’.

    Roy Bhaskar. The Formation of Critical Realism: A Personal Perspective. Pg 85

  • Mark 10:57 am on November 27, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Videocast: Getting started as a Research Blogger 

  • Mark 10:21 am on November 27, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    LAST CHANCE – BSA Philip Abrams Memorial Prize 2014 

    LAST CHANCE – BSA Philip Abrams Memorial Prize 2014

    The nomination deadline for the 2014 BSA Philip Abrams Memorial Prize is fast approaching.

    Nominations must be received in the BSA office by Friday, 6 December 2013.

    The prize will be awarded to the best first and sole authored book within the discipline of Sociology published between: 1 December 2012 and 30 November 2013.

    The winner will receive a prize of £1,000, one year’s free subscription to ‘The Sociological Review’ (published by Wiley-Blackwell) and an invitation to the BSA 2014 Annual Conference (conference registration fee, accommodation and travel (within the UK) will be paid by the BSA).

    Visit http://www.britsoc.co.uk/publications/PAM.htm for more information on the nomination process.

    The general criteria for eligibility are as follows:

    • ·       Nominated authors must be current, fully paid-up, members of the BSA
    • ·       Nominated authors must be ordinarily resident within the U.K.
    • ·       Nominated authors should be within the first seven years (or full-time equivalent) since starting their first academic post within the discipline of sociology
    • ·       The nominated book must be the author’s first monograph. If the author has previously co-authored a monograph they are not eligible for the prize. If the author has previously edited or co-edited a book, they are still eligible.
    • ·       The nominated book must be a sole-authored book
    • ·       The nominated book should be concerned with the discipline of Sociology
    • ·       There is an expectation that the author has observed the contents of the BSA’s Authorship Guidelines for Academic Papers (adopted April 2001)           
    • ·       Nominations should comprise the official nomination form (duly completed), a brief curriculum vitae of the author, and five copies of the nominated book
  • Mark 10:19 pm on November 26, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Asexuality and Its Implications for Sexuality Studies 

    This is a pre-print of a paper published in Psychology of Sexualities Review, Vol. 4, No. 1, Autumn 2013. A copy of the final article can be obtained here

    While asexuality is usually defined as ‘not experiencing sexual attraction’ amongst those who self-identify as asexual , the question ‘what is asexuality?’ immediately becomes more complex when considered from the standpoint of psychological or sociological research. As Prause and Graham (2007, p. 342) note, the term ‘asexual’ has often been used pejoratively by researchers, deployed to characterise the ‘asexuality’ of older persons, younger lesbians, individuals with physical disabilities or severe mental illness. Likewise, as Bogaert (2012) observes, “women have often been portrayed in art and the popular media as asexual – for example, the iconic virgin” (p. 38). There is a politics of asexuality, existing prior to the contemporary trend for self-identification as asexual, which should ideally be taken into account by those now conducting research in the area. While some have argued that operationalising ‘asexuality’ should proceed from the observable trend to self-identify as asexual, for instance see Carrigan (2012), this will tend to exclude those who have not yet ‘come out’ as asexual and use of the definition ’not experiencing sexual attraction’ remains contested (Aicken et al., 2012, 122). The further methodological risk is that the apparent commonality expressed through this ‘umbrella’ definition can obscure the difference which nonetheless characterises asexual individuals (Carrigan, 2011). Beyond this shared point of identification are a plethora of differences, manifesting in divergent orientations to matters such as romance (those romantic asexuals who experience romantic attraction but not sexual attraction and those aromantics who experience neither romantic nor sexual attraction), the gendering of romantic attraction (those who are heteromantic, homoromantic, biromantic or panromantic) and sexuality itself (those who may enjoy sexual acts without experiencing sexual attraction, those who are entirely indifferent to sex and those who are actively repulsed by it). It is in this sense that the definition ‘not experiencing sexual attraction’ might best be thought of as an ‘umbrella’ covering a spectrum of orientations and identities. This then includes identities such as demisexual (someone whose experience of sexual attraction is conditional upon a prior emotional connection of significant strength) and gray-a (those who fall within the ‘gray area’ between sexual and asexual) within the asexual spectrum. Doing so helps ensure recognition of the phenomenological diversity of asexual identification, particularly in terms of negotiating the boundary between sexual attraction and attraction more broadly (Scherrer, 2008). If asexuality is conceptualised as a simple absence then this risks foreclosing the possibility of understanding the complex ways in which this ‘lack’ is negotiated in everyday life. For instance as Scherrer (2010) writes:

    “Participants described many possibilities for talking about relationships including ‘platonic friendships,’ ‘significant others,’ ‘complex,’ ‘special,’ ‘romantic friendship,’ ‘companion,’ ‘romantic partnerships,’ and ‘friendship with various levels.’ Individuals also point to multiple aspects of relationships, such as time spent together, living situations, or degrees of emotional or physical intimacy, as other factors that could be important for describing intimate relationships. These descriptors all share an interest in rethinking and rewriting the language that is available to describe relationships.” (p. 67)

    The forms taken by such ‘rethinking’ and ‘rewriting’, as well as the variability of the reasons for which they are undertaken, offer important insights into the lived lives of asexuals individuals which are easily lost if asexuality is understood as an absence. In this sense it is important to distinguish between the emergence of asexuality as a cultural identity, embedded within a wider discourse which is continuing to evolve (Carrigan, 2011), and the underlying characteristics which lead people to come to identify as such. With regards to the former, Hinderliter (2013) offers a perspicacious overview of the history of the asexual community, leading from its early online presence, through to the formation of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) which popularised the ‘umbrella definition’ of asexuality as ‘those who do not experience sexual attraction’ and was integral to the establishment of its present form. But while the contemporary discourse of asexuality only began to take form in the early years of the 21st century, it seems untenable to suggest that the individual characteristics which lead people to this mode of thinking and talking about themselves emerged concurrently. Furthermore, as Bogaert (2004) notes, “there may be a number of independent development pathways, perhaps both biological and psychosocial, leading to asexuality” (p. 284). Therefore we can helpfully construe the field of asexuality research in terms of an interconnected series of questions pertaining, on the one hand, to the (digitally mediated) formation of asexual communities and the emergence of contemporary modes of asexual self-identification and, on the other hand, to the (bio)psychosocial processes which causally shape the personal properties constituting the objective referents of asexual self-identification. In practice the two sets of questions are deeply intertwined but distinguishing between them can, at least in the abstract, be a useful aid for making sense of points of agreement and disagreement within the growing interdisciplinary literature on asexuality.

    One recurring manifestation of these issues within the literature has been the contested relation between asexuality qua sexual identity or orientation and the absence of sexual attraction qua pathology. Carrigan (2011, 2012) identified a number of recurrent reactions to the public expression of asexuality e.g. “you haven’t met the right person yet”, “maybe you’re just a late bloomer?”, “were you abused as a child?”, “is there something wrong with your hormones?”. The most virulent form this assumption takes is the notion that there must be a childhood trauma which explains (away) a given individual’s asexuality (Bogaert, 2012, p. 155). These pathologizing social reactions went hand-in-hand with a clear tendency for the research participants to have self-pathologized for a period of time prior to coming to identify as asexual, with reports of feeling “broken” or “damaged” recurring frequently (Carrigan, 2011). While much work remains to be done concerning the stigma experienced by asexual individuals, it is  nonetheless clear that, as (Gazzola and Morrison 2012) note, “the current literature suggests the experiences of asexual individuals are excluded from contemporary Western society’s understanding of sexuality and intimate relations in many ways”. This can be seen in the “absence of an English vocabulary to describe their relationships, asexual individuals’ exclusion from peer groups, and the assumptions underlying the development and use of many social scientific scales” ( p. 27). The latter point in particular poses obvious difficulties for further research in the area, as the pervasive marginalization of asexuality within contemporary culture also means that the assumed universality of sexual attraction has shaped many methodological approaches and research instruments commonly used for the study of sexuality. The question of stigma remains empirically under-researched but has indirectly been the object of much theoretical work, with authors such as Gressgard (2013), Kim (2011) and Pryzbylo (2011, 2013) addressing related issues from the perspective of queer theory.

    Another closely related issue has also attracted much theoretical attention within the literature. Authors such as Bogaert (2004, 2006, 2012), Flore (2013) and Hinderliter (2013) have, among others, sought to address the relation between asexuality and Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). While the conflation of the two categories has largely been rejected in the literature, the question of how the relation between them ought to be conceived remains contested. One immediate response to the prima facie overlap between the two categories is to observe that the available evidence fails to suggest the prevalence of the distress or interpersonal difficulty required for a clinical diagnosis (Brotto et al., 2010; Prause and Graham, 2007). Another is to point towards the source of such distress where it does occur (Bogaert, 2010, p. 109-110), with the deeply entrenched lack of cultural visibility and the tendency of many to explain away asexuality as a function of some prior trauma or physical ailment upon  encountering it representing an obvious social origin for the experience of distress. Bogaert (2012) offers a memorable rejoinder to the pervasive tendency to pathologize asexuality:

    “Have you ever skydived before? Of course, most people haven’t and have no interest in it. I have, and for me, it was a thrill. But do those who have not had, and do not want to have, this experience have a disorder? So, if you don’t want this experience, should we diagnose you with, say, hypoactive skydiving disorder because you eschew this thrilling life activity?” (p. 113).

    This question has obvious political implications, particularly when considered in terms of the visibility and media activism undertaken in an organised fashion by some within the asexual community. As Hinderliter (2013) observes, “a major goal of the asexual community is for asexuality to be seen as part of the ‘normal variation’ that exists in human sexuality rather than a disorder to be cured” (p. 167). The contested relation between the categories of ‘asexual’ and ‘HSDD’ follows inevitably from the radically divergent cultural history of each, as Hinderliter (2013) goes on to argue,

    “HSDD was created by clinicians to talk about patients, making it a category imposed from above. References to things that patients say may be made in articles about HSDD written by clinicians, but very little of the HSDD discourse comes from people self-identifying as having HSDD [..] By contrast, asexuality is a category largely constructed by those identifying as such (or considering identifying as such). In discourses about asexuality outside of asexual spaces (E.g. academic work and media articles), it is often necessary for authors to actively work with members of the asexual community, who are then able to have varying degrees of influences over how asexuality is talked about. Furthermore, members of the asexual community often actively seek out means of promoting visibility as well as research on asexuality” (p. 175)

    How many people are Asexual?

    One understandable preoccupation of media coverage of asexuality has been the disputed question of population size: how many people are asexual? As discussed in the previous section, the issue of how ‘asexuality’ should be conceptualised and operationalised remains contested, with obvious ramifications for how the question of prevalence is addressed. Bogaert (2004) offered an early attempt to address this issue and is the source of the claim, frequently reproduced in the media, that 1% of the population is asexual. This conclusion was reached through a secondary analysis of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAl-I) stratified probability sample conducted in the UK. 1.05% of NATSAL-I respondents reported having “never felt sexual attraction to anyone at all”. His secondary analysis of the follow-up study NATSAL-II found 0.5% of respondents reporting having “never felt sexual attraction to anyone at all” (Bogaert, 2012, p. 45). Aicken et al. (2013) raise a number of important points in their analysis of the divergence between the NATSAL-II results, which they also reanalysed, and those reported in Bogaert (2004):

    “Social desirability bias is particularly interesting in relation to absence of sexual desire, as there are compelling arguments for its operation in either direction (or differently among different individuals or groups): resulting in either over- or under-reporting of sexual attraction. For instance the reduction in prevalence between surveys may reflect a genuine change over time in the experience of sexual attraction in the population. Alternatively, there may have been changed affecting the reporting of sexual attraction. The social desirability of reporting an absence of sexual attraction may have decreased, and/or the social undesirability of reporting it may have increased. While widely recognised as ‘normal’, depending on an individual’s circumstances and values, it could be seen as undesirable to report either sexual attraction or its absence. Though changes in societal norms could increase pressure to report some sexual attraction, it may be argued that an absence of sexual attraction has, until comparatively recently, been viewed as a virtue.” (p. 131).

    How does someone come to identify as Asexual?

    As discussed earlier in this article, the ‘umbrella definition’ of asexuality as a ‘person who does not experience sexual attraction’ is a self-identification which has been taken up by individuals with a diverse array of experiences. Carrigan (2011) reported on qualitative findings from a multi-methods study which involved in-depth interviews, online questionnaires and an online ethnography. The following is an extract from a story told by a questionnaire responded, selected for its typicality:

    “The year I was sixteen (and for some time after) I spent a lot of time in the company of a few people who were very sexual and it was through their near-constant talk of sex that I was finally convinced that sexual attraction was real. I had heard that something would happen to make you want to have sex with another person, but I had never experienced it myself. In fact, I did not really believe that a person could have physical feelings ‘down there’ that they identified as sexual feelings, despite having learned what erections etc. were in my health class. I thought everyone was like me, until my classmates and friends begin to talk about sex. Then I realised that I was not like them, and for a while I thought I must be immature . . . except that in every other way they seemed so much less mature than I. I thought there might be something wrong with me, except that I am otherwise in perfect health. Then, one night while I was surfing the internet, I came across an embarrassingly girly website which included, as one of its pages, a ‘definitions’ page. I suppose the point was that was that sheltered girls with internet access could look up all the words they were afraid to ask their parents about and get solid, medical definitions. The first word on the list was ‘asexual’ and it caught my interest, because I had never heard it before. I clicked on the link which read the same thing AVEN does, ‘Asexual: a person who does not experience sexual attraction’ and it was like coming home. I knew immediately that this was me and that I wasn’t alone.”

    This narrative foregrounds a series of elements common to many biographies of asexual individuals. The individual came to experience themselves as different relative to a given peer group. This often occurred at adolescence upon encountering a culture which stresses sexual experience as a marker of maturation and self-exploration. The nature of this difference is assumed to be pathological, often described in terms of feeling ‘broken’ or ‘fucked up’, with this tendency compounded by the aforementioned pervasiveness of the propensity to explain away asexuality as a function of some prior trauma or, more benignly, as being a ‘late bloomer’ or having ‘not met the right person yet’. This assumed pathology engenders a tendency towards self-questioning, pursued through activities such as seeking medical and/or therapeutic consultation, exploring sexual subcultures or searching the internet. Amongst those who took part in the research reported in Carrigan (2011, 2012), which predominately relied on online recruitment of self-identified asexuals, discovery of the asexual community online led to self-clarification, frequently expressed in terms such as “I finally understood what I was” or “I knew then how I fitted into the world”, constituted through the depathologisation of ‘not experiencing sexual attraction’ as a local reference group, in terms of which this trait was regarded as problematic, came to be replaced by a geographically dispersed reference group, in terms of which this trait was regarded as normal (Carrigan, 2011). There are obvious risks which obtain in talking of ‘stages’  and, in this case, the term is simply intended to indicate empirically identifiable commonalities in experience rather than to homogenise these experiences. Such a construct can help sensitise us to differences within the data as, for instance, in the process of self-clarification which, in spite of the homology within reported experiences, was nonetheless constituted differently by age. Younger participants in the research reported the use of internet search engines as a first port of call for seeking to clarify this trait which they assumed to be pathological, rapidly finding asexual resources online when searching for ‘not sexually attracted to anyone’ or some variant thereof. In contrast, older participants in the research had a much more prolonged process of self-clarification, lasting years or even decades, in which various strategies were pursued and resources consulted but none were able to engender the self-clarification which was being sought after.

    What is the broader significance of Asexuality?

    In a relatively short period of time, the burgeoning literature on asexuality has attracted significant attention from both inside and outside the academy. Many researchers working in the field have found themselves in frequent contact with journalists within both print and broadcast media, with the ensuing features tending to be subjects of widespread discussion within asexual community spaces online. AVEN actively works to facilitate such collaborations, with a media team elected through an online vote proactively working with the media and helping solicit academic responses if and when this is required. AVEN also has a project team, which takes the lead with ‘asexuality visibility and education’ beyond engaging with media. In this sense we can identify the existence of an embryonic social movement, arising from though not identical with the ‘asexual community’, which seeks to transform social attitudes and increase the visibility of asexuality to that enjoyed by other minority sexual identities. While significant in its own right, the potential complementarities between the social claims emanating from the asexual community in this sense and those emergent from, inter alia, the trans, poly and queer communities are certainly deserving of future study. More mundanely, Bogaert (2012) is certainly correct in his claim that “there is value in the opportunity for members of an overlooked and under-studied group to be able to read about and understand issues relevant to them” (p. 5). From my own  perspective as a researcher who has studied asexuality for a number of years, the absence of ‘those who do not experience sexual attraction’ (regardless of whether they are culturally identified as ‘asexual’) from the sexualities literature is retrospectively startling. The growing asexuality studies literature is valuable internally, in that it fills this gap in the wider literature, and externally, in the attention it gives to a group whose marginalisation in contemporary culture has, until recently, been reproduced in their absence from the academic literature. Furthermore, as Bogaert (2012) goes on to note of the public role such research can play, “such glimpses into new worlds may have have health and social benefits, as exposure to sexual minorities may help to increase general tolerance and acceptance” (p. 6).

    Nonetheless it is important to note that research itself, as well as the public interventions made on the basis of it, have also been the object of criticisms from within the asexual community and this, in itself, represents an aspect of the topic which is of broader significance. Given the crucial role the internet has played in the formation and reproduction of the asexual community (Carrigan, 2011), research on asexuality has become an inevitable topic of news and debate within these online space, with blogs and forums frequently highlighting new papers and often hosting discussion of them. This trend has been intensified by the growing number of asexual scholars, some already publishing in the area and others preparing to, actively engaged in the development of the literature. There is an identifiable homology between the formation of the asexual community and the formation of what asexual research community presently exists, with digital communications facilitating contact and collaboration between geographically dispersed individuals, ultimately leading to ‘online’ communication having ‘offline’ offshoots. Certainly the asexual community is far ‘ahead’ of the research community in this respect, though it is notable that ‘offline’ meetings (e.g. conference sessions) seem to be becoming more frequent. This reshaping of the field of research, with the same trends identifiable in the groups of researchers as in groups of the researched, represents an important issue to be addressed by digital scholars (Weller, 20§11) and challenges existing models of how researchers relate to the communities they study. While the asexuality community is certainly an outlier in this respect, it nonetheless illustrates some of the possible ethical and methodological challenges posed by the new ‘politics of circulation’ being brought about through the digitalisation of social life (Beer, 2012). Practical examples of this can be seen in the formalisation of AVEN’s gatekeeping function, with well formulated criteria now governing the use of the space for participant recruitment by researchers (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, 2011), as well as the Open Letter to Researchers written by the Asexuality Awareness Week Committee (Asexual Awareness Week Committee, 2011) which criticised a number of trends within the research literature, not least of all an over-reliance on online methods. Instances such as this point to the challenges likely to be faced with increasing frequency by researchers, as well as to the opportunities digital communications presents to develop new repertoires of relating to research communities. For instance I recently found my own work criticised for the occlusion of sex positive asexuals in an article in AVEN’s online magazine which was further commented upon in a number of blog posts. I found the criticism extremely thought-provoking and wrote a response which was posted on my personal website, which in turn was linked to on the AVEN forums and other blogs, leading to a range of helpful comments which helped me highlight important questions I needed to address in future writing. This is a mundane example but one which is indicative of the potential gains to scholarship which can be accrued through more open and collaborative engagement with research communities online, as well as to the enthusiasm for this sort of interaction which is common within the asexual  community.

    Many have also suggested that asexuality studies has conceptual and methodological ramifications for the study of sexuality more broadly. Bogaert (2012) has argued that the “study of asexuality offers a unique opportunity to view sexuality through a new lens, but, perhaps more importantly, this new lens affords a distant, wide-angle view of its subject” (p. 8). Pryzbylo (2013) offers a similar thought in a discussion of the implications stemming from “an asexual method, lens or perspective” which she contends can be found in the work of researchers from a variety of disciplines. On Pryzbylo’s (2013)  account a dynamic cultural politics is incipient within the growing literature on asexuality, one which questions dominant norms, diversifies sexual options, challenges pathologization, problematizes sex liberation rhetoric and “insists on the legitimacy, viability, positivity and possibility of absence or low levels of sexual attraction, desire, arousal or pleasure” (p. 210). For instance Scherrer (2008) argues that asexuality problematizes common assumptions regarding the universality of sexual desire, theorised in Carrigan (2011, 2012) as the ‘Sexual Assumption’: the tacit presupposition of the universality and uniformity of sexual attraction. Similar themes have also been explored within the work of Kim (2011) and Pryzbylo (2011, 2013). Bogaert (2012) summarises the substantive point effectively when he writes that “in the same way that homosexuality allows us to understand heterosexuality, and vice versa, asexuality allows us to make broad comparisons to understand sexuality as a whole” (p. 6). Asexuality Studies offers a novel and productive framework through which to analyse human sexuality, rethink longstanding assumptions relating to it and to study the diverse array of social and cultural phenomena which encompass it in a variety of ways.


    Aicken, C. R., Mercer, C. H., & Cassell, J. A. (2013). Who reports absence of sexual attraction in Britain? Evidence from national probability surveys. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(2), 121-135.

    Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (2011). Rules for research requests: New policy. Retrieved 11/6/2011 from http://www.asexuality.org/en/index.php?/topic/59868-rules-for-research-requests/

    Asexual Awareness Week Committee. (2011). Open Letter to Researchers. Retrieved 23/10/2013 from http://asexualitystudies.org/2011/11/27/open-letter-to-researchers/

    Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research, 41(3), 279-287.

    Bogaert, A. F. (2006). Toward a conceptual understanding of asexuality. Review of General Psychology, 10(3), 241.

    Bogaert, A. F. (2012). Understanding asexuality. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

    Brotto, L. A., Knudson, G., Inskip, J., Rhodes, K., & Erskine, Y. (2010). Asexuality: A mixed-methods

    approach. Archives of sexual behavior, 39(3), 599-618.

    Carrigan, M. (2011). There’s more to life than sex? Difference and commonality within the asexual community. Sexualities, 14(4), 462-478.

    Carrigan M (2012) How Do You Know You Don’t Like It If You Haven’t Tried It? Asexual Agency and the Sexual Assumption’(pp 3-19). In T.G. Morrison, M.A. Morrison, M. Carrigan and D. T. McDermott (Eds.) Sexual Minority Research in the New Millennium. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science

    Flore, J. (2013). HSDD and asexuality: a question of instruments. & Sexuality Psychology, 4 (2), 152-166

    Gazzola, S. B. and Morrison, M. A. 2012. “Asexuality: An emergent sexual orientation”. In Sexual minority research in the new millennium, Edited by: Morrison, T. G., Morrison, M. A., Carrigan, M. A. and McDermott, D. T. 21–44. New York, NY: Nova Science.

    Gressgård, R. (2013). Asexuality: from pathology to identity and beyond.Psychology & Sexuality, 4(2), 179-192.

    Hinderliter, A. (2013). How is asexuality different from hypoactive sexual desire disorder?. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(2), 167-178.

    Kim, E. (2011). Asexuality in disability narratives. Sexualities, 14(4), 479-493.

    Prause, N., & Graham, C. A. (2007). Asexuality: Classification and characterization. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(3), 341-356.

    Przybylo, E. (2011). Crisis and safety: The asexual in sexusociety. Sexualities, 14(4), 444-461.

    Przybylo, E. (2013). Afterword: some thoughts on asexuality as an interdisciplinary method. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(2), 193-194

    Scherrer, K. S. (2008). Coming to an asexual identity: Negotiating identity, negotiating desire. Sexualities, 11(5), 621-641.

    Scherrer, K. S. (2010). Asexual relationships: What does asexuality have to do with polyamory. Understanding non-monogamies, 154-159.

    Weller, M. (2011). The digital scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. A&C Black

  • Mark 8:35 pm on November 26, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    CfP: Social and Political Critique in the Age of Austerity 

    Social and Political Critique in the Age of Austerity
    A one day workshop at Keele University
    10.30am-6pm, Wednesday 12th February, 2014

    This one day workshop is devoted to the discussion of critical politics in the contemporary age of austerity.  Following the 2007 global economic crash, which led to a raft of government bank bail outs and nationalisations across America and Europe, a cunning ideological reversal took place – the crash was no longer the result of the hubris of the neoliberal financial sector, which had developed the idea of ‘riskless risk’ where reckless stock market speculation and the creation of value ex nihilo could produce endless profit, but rather the immoral wastefulness of the people and society.  According to this ideological position, which was advanced by governments across Europe, the welfare state, and in many respects society itself, was transformed into an ‘exorbitant privilege’ that was simply unaffordable.  In fact, in order to pay for their wastefulness the people were not only expected to give up their public services, but also required to accept ever lower wages, and a general state of social and economic precariousness.

    This is the current state of play across America and Europe, where the neoliberal state has exploited the crash in order to retrofit society for violent competition with Asian capitalism.  In the face of this race to the bottom, key thinkers such as David Graeber, Antonio Negri, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, and Costas Douzinas have spoken out against the new form Naomi Klein calls neoliberal disaster capitalism and given voice to the protest, rebellion, and revolt taking place across the world.

    The objective of this workshop is to build upon the works of these key thinkers and explore the possibility for resistance in the age of austerity.  We invite contributions from a range of disciplines focused on diverse social and political contexts and a variety of theoretical perspectives.  Contributors may choose to focus on austerity and resistance across Europe, including the UK, Greece, Spain, and Italy; the Occupy movement; the media construction of austerity, including the idea of the undeserving poor who are seen to be living off public funds; methods for the organisation of resistance; the concept of the multitude and the digital commons; anti-capitalist thought; or transformative social and political theory and practice more generally.  Most importantly, we are keen to emphasise that this list is not exhaustive – the key principle behind the workshop is that debate should open up a space for social and political creativity. In this way we are keen to encourage potential contributors to be creative and explore new possibilities for political change in a historical period where change seems absolutely necessary, but also impossible to envisage. In this respect, we encourage contributions from a variety of participants – academics, post-graduate students, activists, and others engaged in thinking through the possibilities of change under conditions of crisis and austerity.

    The workshop will close with a lecture from Professor Costas Douzinas (Birkbeck), author of Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis: Greece and the Future of Europe.

    In order to take part in the event please send a 250 word abstract to Emma Head (e.l.head@keele.ac.uk), by Monday 23rd December.  This event is being organised jointly by Mark Featherstone (Keele Sociology) and Emma Head (Keele Sociology and the BSA Digital Sociology study group).   Registration will open in early January.  Confirmed speakers will be notified by 7th January.

  • Mark 1:03 pm on November 26, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , higher educationd, , , ,   

    Continuous Publishing and Being an Open-Source Academic 

    One of my favourite academic blogs is Understanding Society. Written by Daniel Little, Chancellor for the University of Michigan-Dearborn, it covers an extraordinarily broad range of theoretical topics and sustains the rigour of serious academic writing while nonetheless being written in a relatively accessible way. I think it’s the best theory blog on the internet (by quite some way) and I’m always stunned by quite how much interesting stuff there is in the archives. The author, who has also done some excellent video interviews with leading social scientists, describes the blog as a ‘hypertext book’ and you can find an index of topics here.

    My blog, UnderstandingSociety, addresses a series of topics in the philosophy of social science. What is involved in “understanding society”? The blog is an experiment in writing a book, one idea at a time.  In order to provide a bit more coherence for the series of postings, I’ve organized a series of threads that link together the postings relevant to a particular topic.  These can be looked at as virtual “chapters”.  This list of topics and readings can serve as the core of a semester-long discussion of the difficult philosophical issues that arise in the human sciences.  It roughly parallels the topics I cover in the course I teach in the philosophy of social science at the University of Michigan.


    I’d be interested to know if Little still sees it as book. The sheer size of the blog’s archives suggest that it’s now something approximating a whole series of books. Clearly, it’s been a success. What I have always been curious about is the author’s institutional role (which I assume is the equivalent of a UK vice-chancellor) and the role which the blog perhaps serves as an outlet for his continued scholarship when he presumably has many other commitments competing for his time. I was pleased to see this addressed recently in a really thoughtful and thought-provoking post. The blog recently had its sixth birthday and the author reflected on the evolution of the blog and his understanding of the role that it serves:

    This week celebrates six years of Understanding Society.  This effort represents over 850 posts, on topics ranging from current debates in philosophy about causal powers to China’s urban transformation to the conservative war on the poor, leading to nearly three million page views since the first post in 2007.  I’m grateful to the communities of interested readers who have followed Understanding Society on TwitterFacebook, and Google Plus. There are almost 4,000 readers in these groups, and I’m grateful to everyone who has read, followed, tweeted, commented, and Googled the blog — thanks!


    What I found particularly interesting was the author’s description of himself as an ‘open-source philosopher’. The integration of the blog into his working practices, such that it constitutes the starting point for traditional scholarship rather than something in opposition to it, is something which deeply resonates with me from the opposite end of the career spectrum. When I’ve written about continuous publishing in the past, this is exactly what I’ve been trying to say:

    Virtually all the new academic publishing I’ve done in these six years began as a couple of posts on Understanding Society. You might say I’ve become an “open-source” philosopher — as I get new ideas about a topic I develop them through the blog. This means that readers can observe ideas in motion. A good example is the efforts I’ve made in the past year to clarify my thinking about microfoundations and meso-level causation. Another example is the topic of “character,” which I started thinking about after receiving an invitation to contribute to a volume on character and morality; through a handful of posts I arrived at a few new ideas I felt I could offer on the topic.  This “design and build” strategy means that there is the possibility of a degree of inconsistency over time, as earlier formulations are challenged by newer versions of the idea. But I think it makes the process of writing a more dynamic one, with lots of room for self-correction and feedback from others.

    The blog has also given me a chance to write about topics I’ve long cared about, but haven’t had a professional venue for writing about. These include things like the reality of race in the United States; the lineaments of power that determine so many of the features of contemporary life; and the nuts and bolts of education and equality in our country. And along the way of researching and writing about some of these topics, I’ve come to have a better and more detailed understanding of them. Not many philosophers have such a wide opportunity to write on a variety of topics beyond the confines of their sub-disciplines.


    It’s really interesting to read about the blogging experiences of someone who has been a philosophy professor for decades. I was struck by the homology between his experiences and my own in spite of our very different positions within the higher education system. I wonder if there’s something interesting about freedom here. As someone who has blogged throughout my PhD, I’ve experienced it as an intellectual outlet which has no real implications for my academic position (though retrospectively that’s not really true). Perhaps Daniel Little feels similarly free about his blog, for entirely different reasons, as a result of his institutional position leaving scholarship via his blog being something he does for its own rewards rather than any need to make a living out of it. Reading his post has increased my confidence in the notion of ‘continuous publishing’ and strengthened my conviction that, with time, this is a way of working that will become ever more common. Both the short-term and long-term gains available to those who begin to work in this way are such that it seems inexorable, barring a trend towards heavy-handed institutional regulation or something along those lines. I think the implications of this are hugely significant. Here’s how Pat Lockley and I described it in a blog post we wrote quite some time ago:

    Perhaps it’s time to move from ‘the Cathedral to the Bazaar’. These metaphors from the open-source software movement refer to contrasting models of software development. In academic terms we might see them as referring to distinct orientations towards publishing: one which works towards the intermittent, largely private, production of one-off works (papers and monographs → cathedrals) and the other which proceeds in an iterative and dialogical fashion, with a range of shorter-term outputs (blog posts, tweets, online articles, podcasts, storified conversations etc) standing in a dynamic and productive relationship with larger-scale traditional publishing projects: the ‘cathedrals’ can be something we build through dialogues, within communities of practice, structured around reciprocal engagement with publications on social media platforms.


    The idea which is still insufficiently clear in my own mind is how my advocacy of this relates to my belief in academic over-production. I’ve had a vague intuition for a long time about the potential ‘rebalancing’ away from ever more journal articles which ever fewer people read and towards a continuous making public of provisional work which ultimately leads to fewer though better journal articles. In a future post I’ll try and elaborate my understanding of the institutional constraints and enablements upon such as process, as well as what I imagine the landscape of scholarly publishing might look like when it is filled with a preponderance of open-source academics.

    • Shauna (@shauna_gm) 5:59 pm on November 26, 2013 Permalink

      Have you read Michael Nielsen’s Reinventing Discovery? He compares academic scientific publishing with the way open source software is “published”, in a way that seems very similar to what you’re talking of here.

      I see academic “over-production” as a symptom of low efficiency, which is itself a symptom of two things: lack of share-ability, and lack of modularity. Academic articles read almost like storytime to me, with their selective reporting of information, the introductory references invoked but mostly unintegrated, and structure (both of experiments and articles) left mostly to the authors’ aesthetic discretion (no share-ability). Established fact, prior knowledge, decision-making, opinion, are all mixed together (no modularity). Changes and improvements from one article to the next (the “diffs”, in version control lingo) are pain-staking to recreate. Because it doesn’t, people are constantly re-inventing the wheel.

    • Mark 10:55 am on November 27, 2013 Permalink

      no, that sounds very much up my street, thanks!

      i see what you’re getting at with a lack of modularity but is this something discipline specific? as someone on the humanistic end of the social sciences, i’m always surprised when i read papers from other disciplines that have the kind of modularity you’re talking about.

      which is not to say i disagree with your claim, just that i think there’s more to the process than this. but this is exactly what i’d like to understand further, how over-production is engendered on the micro level of norms shaping individual products of scholarship.

    • Shauna (@shauna_gm) 6:01 am on November 28, 2013 Permalink

      I think the possibility for modularity is more clear in experimental research, where you can see most papers broken up into “Introduction”, “Methods”, “Results”, and “Discussion” sections. These conventions aren’t terribly helpful when, within each section, authors selectively report inspirations, decisions and findings, but they point to how each article is similar, and therefore how they might be redundant. I’m less familiar with humanistic social sciences, and where (if anywhere) such redundancies might be.

      I’m curious, because it’s not clear from your posts, what you think the most valuable aspect of “open source” is. Is it the opportunity for feedback and the ability to fact-and-sanity-check your/others’ work? The chance for collaboration and the resulting lack of duplicated effort? The freedom to explore more diverse topics? Something else?

    • Mark 11:49 am on November 28, 2013 Permalink

      For me it’s the freedom to explore diverse topics, the tendency of this freedom to produce new ideas and generally how disciplining it is to have a research diary that you have to use with a reasonable degree of long-form clarity or not use at all.

  • Mark 12:36 pm on November 26, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Education, Emotions and the Future Seminar 

    The study of emotions within the field of education has been a growing area of study, which has highlighted how emotions are central to student’s learning and educational experiences both positive and negative and to the practice of education itself by teachers (Zymbylas 2007). Where education is often positioned as a rational and logical practice (Kenway 2011), this seminar will question what happens when emotions are considered in educational processes and projections (both real and imagined) of educational futures.

    We would like to invite you to attend a one day seminar on ‘Education, Emotions and the Future’ taking place on the22nd January 2014 at the University of Leicester. The event is open to all, but is particularly aimed as postgraduate researchers. It will explore the role that emotions play within educational environments, in the creation of educational futures and the perceptions of risk in the education process. We hope the day will develop and form new discussion and debates about the role of emotions in education and will be a relaxed and friendly environment to share ideas and current research projects.  Confirmed keynote speakers include Rachel Brooks (University of Surrey) and Darren Webb (University of Sheffield). Space will be given for Postgraduate Research Students to present their work and we would welcome contributions to present a paper.

    We would welcome papers based broadly on emotions and education including but not exclusively:

    Emotions in the construction of educational futures Emotions in mainstream educational space Governing emotions in education Emotion and risk in Education Hope, emotions and education Affect in the classroom /educational space Parents/carers, emotions, and education Education and the pursuit of happiness Emotions and pedagogy Risk and the future Emotions around the subversion and resistance of education Emotions in non-mainstream education

    The conference is free to attend but spaces are limited so please email gs210@le.ac.uk to reserve a place by Friday 6th December. Please send abstracts to tag10@le.ac.uk by Friday 6th December.

    There are also a limited amount of travel bursaries for unwaged / PhD students.

  • Mark 12:01 pm on November 26, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: psychosocials, ,   

    BISR Postgraduate Conference – Inside/Outside/In-Between: Perspectives on Space, Power and Subjectivities – 9th-11th May 2014 

    Birkbeck Institute for Social Research 

    BISR Postgraduate Conference: Inside/Outside/In-Between: Perspectives on Space, Power and Subjectivities – CALL FOR PAPERS

    Friday 9th – Sunday 11th May 2014  Birkbeck, University of London


    Nelly Ali (Department of Geography, Environment and Development)

    Mayur Suresh (School of Law)

    Ceren Yalcin (Department of Psychosocial Studies)

    Confirmed Keynotes: Veena Das and Gail Lewis


    Where are you? What is it like there? These mundane questions invite reflection on how we provide an account of the spaces we inhabit, how we engage with the world and make it our own, or escape it to forge our lives elsewhere. The central theme of this conference is the idea of “space”. To exist inside a space conjures images of confinement, or conveys the notion of being at home. Being on the “outside” invokes ideas of exile or freedom. “In-between” conjures ideas about the ability to traverse different spaces, or to live in perpetual no-where-ness. We are interested in not only how spaces may come to define and confine us, but also how we come to inhabit these spaces, and the range of movement that these spaces enable.

    This conference provides the opportunity for PhD students from a range of disciplines to present and discuss their on-going work. We invite panels and papers from postgraduate students on issues raised by the conference title: Inside/Outside/In-between: Perspectives on Space, Power and Subjectivities

    Issues and questions that proposals might address include: 

    • Prisons may enclose us, jails may confine us. National boundaries may attempt to box us into discrete identities, forcing us to choose between belonging and alienation. Some spaces can be imagined as disciplinary projects. How might we imagine life in these situations? And what can such visions of life help us reimagine our relationship with sovereign power.

    • Other spaces may provide us with comfort, and the warmth they engender may protect us from the harshness outside. Intimate spaces sometimes allow us to articulate more delicate sensibilities of love and affection. How might we politically imagine intimate spaces?

    • Moving out of one space and into another involves crossing a frontier. At the border, we are often asked, why are you here? Where are you going? We produce our passports, saying as little as possible. Since the border is often policed, with armies facing off on each side, this space between spaces is often a point of conflict, rupture, revolutions and restorations. Yet crossing a border may signal a new life, or an escape from an old one.

    • We also want to think of the body as a space in which people act. People tattoo and pierce themselves or may refashion their bodies in particular ways through gestures or medical procedures. What do such bodily practices and performances say about how we conceive of ourselves? People transition from one sex to another and allowing us to imagine the body itself as a border that can be crossed.

    • From the Occupy movement to the Arab spring, and now to Brazil and Turkey, people have taken to the streets, and claimed cities for their own. What are these new forms of protest? What do they tell us about how the state imagines spaces?

    • The internet has often been imagined as a space of freedom and has provided a new space of political activism. With Wikileaks and Edward Snowden’s revelations, our imagination of this online space has been irrevocably altered. What is the role of digital space in political activism? What kind of place is the internet?

    Please note the above is only a guide and not exhaustive – all papers that focus on space, power and subjectivities will be considered.

    Papers, Panel and Poster Sessions

    The BISR Postgraduate Conference is an opportunity for PhD students from any university in the UK or beyond to either present an individual paper or organise a panel or poster session. If you are interested in organising a panel or poster session, you may put out a call for papers and email the organisers with the final selection or abstracts. Each abstract should be about 300 words. We ask that you try to ensure that there be at least 3 and at most 4 presenters for the panel that you put together.


    We are running two poster sessions during the conference and you are welcome to present your research at this event to generate discussion or publicise your findings. If you would like to contribute to this session, please send us a 100-word summary of your poster.

    Deadline for submission of abstracts is 21st December 2013. Notification of acceptance will be sent by the end of January 2014. Please submit proposed titles and abstracts of not more than 300 words to BISRpgConference@gmail.com by 21st December 2013.

    For more information and updates on the conference please visitbisrpgconference.wordpress.com

  • Mark 12:35 pm on November 25, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: fieldnotes, marginalia, paradata,   

    Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes 

    Free One Day Conference at Leicester
    Postgraduate Travel Bursaries available – please email hso1@le.ac.uk

    Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes:
    The Centrality of By-Products of Social Research
    College Court Conference Centre
    University of Leicester
    January 14th 2014


    Paradata, marginalia, fieldnotes and letters are all by-products of the process of social research which can add considerable depth to our understanding of the research process. It is only recently, however, that researchers have begun to recognise the value of such data. In the field of large-scale survey data paradata analysis has become more widespread with researchers increasingly turning their attention to the context in which questionnaires are completed, observations made during the interview and the impact of such factors on the recruitment and retention of participants. For those researchers undertaking secondary analysis of datasets the benefits of paradata and marginalia in the form of fieldnotes and fieldworker comments in the margins of questionnaires are invaluable and can cast light on the otherwise hidden aspects of field research.

    This free one-day conference offers academics and postgraduate students the opportunity to learn more about recent research that addresses the issue of how to make use of the by-products of social research. The day represents a unique chance for a dialogue across disciplines and research paradigms: across social sciences and humanities, historical and contemporary data, primary and secondary sources, quantitative and qualitative approaches – each highly important with the increasing emphasis of research councils on interdisciplinary and secondary research.

    This is a free conference with lunch included but pre-registration is required as places are limited.

  • Mark 12:27 pm on November 25, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , howard aldrich, , ,   

    If communications offices want to promote particular departments they should make videos like this 

    I really like this style of video. I think these in depth profiles of the intellectual biographies of specific academics could be really effective from a marketing perspective, particularly when it comes to recruiting grad students.

    Orgtheorist and loyal orgtheory commenter Howard E. Aldrich is featured in a video about his intellectual trajectory and the history of organizational studies.  Learn about Howard’s start in urban sociology and organizational studies, why he finds cross-sectional studies “abhorrent,” his years at Cornell where he overlapped with Bill Starbuck, and how he got started publishing in organizational ecology.  He also explains how the variation, selection, and retention VSR) approach was a “revelation” for him, and how various institutions (University of Michigan, Stanford, and others) have promoted his intellectual development via contact with various colleagues, collaborators, and graduate students

  • Mark 10:13 am on November 25, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    CfP: DEADLINE FRIDAY: Mapping the Field: Race, Racism and Ethnicity 31st January 

    The BSA Race and Ethnicity Study Group conference will be held on Friday 31st January, 2014 at Newman University, Birmingham, UK. The deadline for the call for papers is November 29th and registration is now open for the conference. All the details are below:

    Mapping the Field: Contemporary Theories of Race, Racism and Ethnicity
    Newman University, Birmingham, UK, 9.45am-5.30pm
    Friday 31st January,

    The idea for this conference arose from a discussion at the BSA Race and Ethnicity Study Group business meeting at the annual conference in 2013. Our aim is to bring to light the diverse range of theoretical work that is being developed and to consider how the theory is brought to bear on current issues of race, racism and ethnicity. Papers are invited that both explore contemporary theoretical debates and consider the ways in which diverse theoretical frameworks are deployed in specific areas of study. Paper topics include, but are not restricted to, the following themes:

    Theories of race, racism and ethnicity                                     Black British feminism
    The implications of ‘post-racialism’ on the study of racism         The impact of intersectionality on the field
    Thinking globally/historically in connecting race,                       Understanding race and racism under austerity
    colonialism and Empire                                                          Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and/as racism
    Race, migration and diaspora                                                 Mixed heritages and the study of ethnicity

    Speakers for the day:

    Professor John Solomos

    Professor Miri Song

    Professor Nira Yuval-Davis

    Professor Claire Alexander

    Professor Gargi Bhattacharyya

    Dr Brett St Louis

    Professor Gurminder Bhambra

    Dr Karim Murji (TBC)

    Abstract Submission
    Abstracts of 250 words can be submitted online at: http://portal.britsoc.co.uk/public/abstract/eventAbstract.aspx?id=EVT10312
    The deadline for submissions is midnight on 29 November 2013.

    Registration for this event is available online at: http://portal.britsoc.co.uk/public/event/eventBooking.aspx?id=EVT10312

    BSA Member: £30

    BSA Concessionary Member: £25

    Non-Member: £35

    Non-Member Concession: £30

    Further information available online at:

  • Mark 9:28 am on November 23, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: cute studies, cuteness,   

    Call for Papers: “Cute Studies,” a special issue of the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture 

    Call for Papers: “Cute Studies,” a special issue of the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture

    Cuteness has a global reach: it is an affective response; an aesthetic category; a performative act of self-expression; and an immensely popular form of consumption. This themed issue of the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is intended to launch the new, interdisciplinary, transnational academic field of Cute Studies.

    Cute culture, a nineteenth century development in Europe and the US, with an earlier expression in Edo-era Japan, has flourished in East Asia since the 1970s, and around the world from the turn of the new millennium. This special issue seeks papers that engage with a wide variety of both the forms that express cute culture, and the platforms upon which its articulation depends. Thus, the field of Cute Studies casts a wide net, analyzing not only consumers of cute commodities, but also those who seek to enact, represent, or reference cuteness through personal presentation or behavior. Since these groups intermingle, cute culture may be seen as a type of fan community, in which the line between consumers and producers is continually renegotiated. Cute Studies also encompasses critical analyses of the creative works produced by practitioners such as artists, designers, and performers, as well as the circumstances that determine the production and dissemination of these works.

    Defined as juvenile features that cause an affective reaction, somatic cuteness follows the Kindchenschema set down by Konrad Lorenz (1943), and supported by later research: namely, large head and small, round body; short extremities; big eyes; small nose and mouth. Whether genetic, or activated by learned signals, the cuteness response is also associated with a range of behavioral aspects, including: childlike, dependent, gentle,  intimate, clumsy, and nonthreatening. Such physical and behavioral features trigger an attachment based on the desire to protect and take care of the cute object. This deterministic nature of the cute affective register is highly pertinent to humanities scholars in the way it is expressed through categories of difference such as gender, race, or class. Furthermore, the difference in status between the subject affected by cuteness, and the harmless cute object, denotes a power differential with important political and ideological implications. The appeal contained within cuteness seeks to establish a reciprocal relationship of nurturing/being nurtured, and the subject who responds to this appeal faces very different ethical obligations depending on whether the cute object is a thing, an animal, or a human being.

    Possible topics for papers include the following (Note: a specific focus on the geographical region of East Asia is not required of submissions):

    Cute Cultures of East Asia
    Cute Commodities and Consumers of Cute: Structure vs. Agency
    Cuteness and Gender
    The Science of Cute
    Cute Histories
    Practitioners of Cute
    Cuteness and Race
    Queering Cute
    Cuteness and Disability
    The Cuteness of Animals/Zoomorphic Cute
    The Dark Side of Cute (the grotesque, violence, pedophilia, etc.)
    Digital Cute (social media, memes, etc.)

    The deadline for submissions to this special issue of EAJPC is: 15 April, 2014

    Please submit papers to: CuteStudies@gmail.com

    Joshua Paul Dale
    Editor, Special Issue on Cute Studies

    Note: To aid research, an annotated (and annotatable) bibliography may be found at:

    • Marta 1:59 pm on November 24, 2013 Permalink

      This must be a joke!

    • bvlsingler 10:28 am on November 25, 2013 Permalink

      Reblogged this on BVLSINGLER PhD Diary + Blog and commented:
      Loving the Kawaii as I do, I really would like to be able to submit something for this! Thinking cap on!

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