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  • Mark 5:36 pm on February 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold 

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    • William Butler Yeats
  • Mark 11:43 am on February 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The ontology of books 

    I read a book a decade ago and struggle with it. I read it again now and find it astonishingly thought-provoking. How do you explain this? It seems I bring something different to the book on the second reading: concepts, experiences and knowledge which I lacked at the time of the first reading. But what role does the book play? It seems obvious to me that this can only be explained in terms of the interaction of two sets of properties and powers: mine and those of the book itself. I have changed in the aforementioned decade but the book has not. The causal role of the latter is not trivial and understanding it opens up really interesting questions about the ontology of books. Books can change us but, as we change, so too does what we bring to books as we engage with them.


  • Mark 12:43 am on February 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    “How does one play a saw?” 

    (Via Ruth Pearce)

  • Mark 11:17 pm on February 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    Diss Never (Dig Up We History) 

  • Mark 9:53 am on February 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , character, , , , virtue ethics   

    Nietzsche, Consciousness and Virtue Ethics 

    I was recently intrigued to encounter Nietzsche’s evolutionary account of consciousness and find how completely I agreed with it. I would use different language but the point is pretty much the same: a faculty slowly emerges from our biological nature which, as we attain awareness of it, comes to be seen as constituting our essence (partly because, as I’d add, it becomes increasingly important for everyday life as human systems grow in complexity):

    Consciousness is the last and latest development of the organic and hence also what is most unfinished and unstrong. Consciousness gives rise to countless errors that lead an animal or man to perish sooner than necessary, “exceeding destiny,” as Homer puts it. If the conserving association of the instincts were not so very much more powerful, and if it did not serve on the whole as a regulator, humanity would have to perish of its misjudgements and its fantasies with open eyes, of its lack of thoroughness and its credulity – in short, of its consciousness; rather, without he former, humanity would long have disappeared.

    Before a function is fully developed and mature it constitutes a danger for the organism, and it is good if during in the interval it is subjected to some tyranny. Thus consciousness is tyrannised – least by our pride in it. One thinks that it constitutes the kernel of man; what is abiding, eternal, ultimate and most original in him. One takes consciousness for a determinate magnitude. One denies its growth and its intermittences. One takes it for the “unity of the organism”.

    • Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Book One: 11

What I find more difficult to understand is the normative account Nietzsche develops on the back of this. He seems to argue that taking “consciousness for a determinate magnitude” which is the “unity of the organism” leads to a lack of attentiveness to the possibilities inherent in the capacity of being conscious. In taking consciousness as self-present and self-grounded, we fail to recognise the potential for change and growth (self-transcendence?) inherent in possessing this capacity:

This ridiculous overestimation and misunderstanding of consciousness has the very useful consequence that it prevents an all too fast development of consciousness. Believing that they possess consciousness, men have not exerted themselves very much to acquire it; and things haven’t changed much in this respect. To this day the task of incorporating knowledge and making it instinctive is only beginning to dawn on the human eye and is not yet clearly discernible; it is a task that is seen only by those who have comprehend that so far we have incorporated only our errors and that all our consciousness relates to errors.

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Book One: 11

What really intrigues me is this notion of the “task of incorporating knowledge and making it instinctive”. Surely this was the psychological foundation of virtue ethics? My understanding of Aristotelian ethics is that it rests on the cultivation of virtuous dispositions i.e. becoming someone who habitually acts in ways which embodiy the virtues. So the point is not that virtue rests on a passive reproduction of dominant norms (i.e. being socialised to act ethically and then consistently doing so) but rather that it is an achievement, in which we develop the right habits of action but also our understanding and enjoyment of them. It’s an active process in which we cultivate our character, rather than an escape from activity through the inculcation of habit. There’s a nice passage in Andrew Sayer in which he discusses the projects of self which such activity can give rise to:

We may intermittently “take stock” and evaluate our virtues and vices, or more simply our character […] We may feel we must be more assertive, more outgoing, less lazy, etc, and try to change ourselves through repeated practice in the hope that we become habituated to acting in these ways, so that it becomes “second nature”. This can be difficult not only because of the inertia of our existing embodied dispositions but because it may fail to bring the hoped-for effects and positive feedback.

  • Andrew Sayer, Why Things Matter to people, Pg 131

Everyone who has attempted to change their behaviour has likely experienced difficulties in doing so. We are not infinitely malleable. We are often not malleable at all. It is our character, this assemblage of embodied dispositions, which enables and constrains this malleability. I can’t make any sense of Nietzsche’s discussion of “incorporating knowledge and making it instinctive” unless this is what it’s talking about: we can act back on ourselves and change who we are. For instance this is what I take him to be doing in Ecce Homo. Furthermore, the notion of consciousness as the “unity of the organism” undermines our propensity for doing so, with the ghostly subjectivity it implies working to hide this (limited) mailability of our character.

But these aren’t new ideas. Surely Nietzsche the philologist would be very much aware of this fact. So have I missed his point? Is this simply overstatement on his part? Are the distinctively neo-Aristotelian concepts through which I’m making sense of this much more modish than I realised, such as to be unrecognisable to Nietzsche when he looked back through the history of ideas? If that passage were rewritten as a claim about ‘modernity’s man’ then I can understand it perfectly. As it stands, I’m slightly baffled. I’m fine with things I don’t understand. I’m fine with things I do understand. I get intellectually frustrated when I feel I understand something and yet also feel that I don’t.

The same is true of the talk of ‘errors’ at the end of the passage. Am I just too wedded to the ideas through which I can’t help but interpret this? If so that would be an interesting example of dispositionality. But the only sense I can make of “we have incorporated only our errors” is an accusation that character-cultivation has thus far been entirely a matter of prohibitions, encompassing what we should not become rather than what we should. But again, it’s the same problem. This seems obviously untrue to me.

  • Mark 8:43 pm on February 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: montaigne, , sociology of cats, theory of mind,   

    Some thoughts on the sociology of animals 

    One of many likeable things about the renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne was his relationship with animals. In an intellectual context soon to be overcome with Cartesianism, with its mechanistic understanding of non-human animals, Montaigne exhibited an admirable degree of sensitivity to the consciousness of animals. As Sarah Bakewell ably summarises,

    A dog, for Descartes, has no perspective, no true experience. It does not create a hare in its inner world and chase it across the fields. It can snuffle and twitch its paws all it likes; Descartes will never see anything but contracting muscles and firing nerves, triggered by equally mechanical operations in the brain.

    Descartes cannot truly exchange a glance with an animal. Montaigne can, and does. In one famous passage, he mused: “When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?” And he added in another version of the text: “We entertain each other with reciprocal monkey tricks. If I have my time to begin or to refuse, so has she hers.” He borrows his cat’s point of view in relation to him just as readily as he occupies his own in relation to her.

    Montaigne’s little interaction with his cat is one of the most charming moments in the Essays, and an important one too. It captures his belief that all beings share a common world, but that each creature has its own way of perceiving this world.

    How To Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer. Pg 136-137. 

    It is undoubtedly true that people anthromorphise animal relations. However the significance of this is often overlooked – what is it to impute human characteristics to animals? It’s obviously symbolic action, in so far as that one party (the human) ascribes meaning to the actions of another party (the animal). But is it symbolic interaction? In other words, are animals ascribing meaning to humans as part of the same interactions through which humans are ascribing meaning to them? In the rest of this post I’ll talk about cats because, other than rodents, they’re the animals I’m most familiar with. In terms of the rodents I’ve owned, I think interactions between rats and humans are very interesting. Whereas I’m sceptical that the Roborovski hamsters I owned saw me as anything other than a feature of the physical environment. But though I’m talking about cats, this post is mainly an attempt to work out what I think about the sociology of animals. I’ll defend a view of social relations in a weak sense between human and non-human animals, based on trajectories of iterated interaction and the practical capacity to impute intentions on both sides. I’m not sure what I think about the possibility of social relations in a strong sense, which for me would entail the possibility of emergent relational goods (e.g. trust) to which both parties orientate themselves evaluatively. I think there are emergent goods, with trust being the most obvious one, but I don’t think that animals are capable of ‘strong evaluation’ in Taylor’s sense i.e. they care about things but they don’t care that they care (or even have any second-order awareness at all for that matter).

    One way of gaining traction on this question is to consider what is assumed by the meanings ascribed to cats by humans. Almost 100% of respondents in one survey of cat owners reported a belief that their cats could feel curiosity, joy and fear (pg 155 of Cat Sense). Around 60%-80% believed their cats had a capacity for surprise, anger, anxiety and sadness. Around 40%-60% believed they had a capacity for jealousy, pride, empathy and grief. Much smaller numbers believed in a capacity for guilt, shame and embarrassment. I find the last one a surprise, given how axiomatic I’d always taken it to be that cats can experience embarrassment but, stepping back from my own reaction, it’s precisely this sense of obviousness (“of course cats get embarrassed! I can tell you about A and B and C which show this” etc) which I find interesting.

    The emotional capacities we impute to cats entail certain assumptions about their psychological capacities. We might not explicate these entailments under normal circumstances but, I’d suggest, these sometimes inchoate ideas we have about cats nonetheless connect up into a more or less coherent picture. So for instance my sense of the self-evident capacity of cats to experience embarrassment goes hand-in-hand with my sense that they experience pride, with the former occurring under certain conditions (e.g. a cat falls off a fence while people are watching) precisely because of the cat’s capacity to experience pride under others (as a statement about my spontaneous opinions rather than the conclusion I’d come to if I really thought about it). I guess what I’m saying is that I’m interested in the theory of mind that cat owners impute to their pets, which I suspect is more multifaceted then many might assume.

    So I think the tendency to anthromorphise animals needs to be seen in the context of a history of interaction within which such a theory of mind has emerged. This might be typological, in so far as that trajectories of interaction with many cats (or dogs, or rats, or whatever) jointly contribute to the development of a theory of mind which shapes a person’s future interaction with any such animal. But we can still talk meaningfully of social relations, at least in the weak sense, between human and non-human animals. I’m arguing that we can’t adequately understand the kinds of characteristics which humans impute to non-human animals without taking account of these relations, in the sense of histories of past interaction and expectations of future interaction. For instance my sense of cats as being able to feel embarrassed is tied up with a sense of cats as feeling pride, jointly contributing towards a picture of the psychological capacities of cats in which I’m invested because of my past relations with them (with my own pets, volunteering at a cat shelter, interacting with other people’s cats, funny memories I’m attached to etc).

    Alasdair MacIntyre suggests that “contamination by epistemology” prevents some from entering into relations with animals “through which interpretative knowledge of their thoughts and  feelings can be gained, relationships expressed in responsive activity” (pg 17). I think he rather overstates the point precisely because he doesn’t take account of the investment of people in a certain view of the capacities of animals which has emerged from a history of interaction with them. But it’s an important point nonetheless that “knowing how to interpret” is a form of practical knowledge, through which we are able to move from reciprocal responses in interaction to a “set of recognitions of the intentions embodied in these responses and then a set of recognitions that each of the intentions includes the intention that it should be recognized by the other as the intention that it is” (pg 15). Or in other words (a) we learn to recognise why the other does something (b) we learn to recognise that some of the things the other does are done with the intention that we recognise why they’re doing it.

    Is this as true of our relations with non-human animals as it is of our relations with other humans? I think it basically is. I’m not sure how else it’s possible to account for meaningful interaction with animals. The typical repudiation of such a view is to argue that such “meaningful interaction” is anthropomorphism masquerading as intersubjectivity. But I’ve tried to argue briefly in this post how a tendency towards anthropomorphism can be explained in terms of a genuine intersubjectivity within such relations, representing an investment in a certain way of viewing a particular animal which someone is drawn to precisely because of their history of meaningful interaction.

    • BeingQuest 3:38 pm on April 9, 2014 Permalink

      Heaven forbid the anthropomorphic analogies!

      Meanwhile, your cat will acclimate to the cognition that YOU, as a pet owner (dominant cat), understand social interaction in a way that ‘makes sense’ to them in their context. When they sit lazily starring at you from across the room, it may be their tuition that their company is well kept among an Other like themselves, albeit sturdily bipedal.

  • Mark 10:36 am on February 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   


    (HT James Baron)

  • Mark 11:38 pm on February 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Haligh, Haligh, A Lie, Haligh 

    The phone slips from a loose grip
    Words were missed then, some apology
    I didn’t want to tell you this
    No, it’s just some guy she’s been hanging out with
    I don’t know, the past couple weeks I guess
    Well, thank you and hang up the phone
    Let the funeral start
    Hear the casket close
    Let’s pin split-black ribbon to your overcoat
    Well, laughter pours from under doors
    In this house, I don’t understand that sound no more
    Seems artificial, like a T.V. set

    Well, haligh, haligh, a lie, haligh
    This weight it must be satisfied
    You offer only one reply
    You know not what you do
    But you tear and tear your hair from roots
    Of that same head you have twice removed now
    A lock of hair you said would prove
    Our love would never die
    Well ha ha ha

    I remember everything
    The words we spoke on freezing South Street
    And all those mornings watching you get ready for school
    You combed your hair inside that mirror
    The one you painted blue and glued with jewelry tears
    Something about those bright colors
    would always make you feel better
    But now we speak with ruined tongues
    And the words we say aren’t meant for anyone
    It’s just a mumbled sentence to a passing acquaintance
    But there was once you

    You said you hate my suffering
    And you understood
    And you’d take care of me
    You’d always be there
    Well where are you now?

    Haligh, haligh, a lie, haligh
    The plans were never finalized
    But left to hang like yarn and twine
    Dangling before my eyes
    As you tear and tear your hair from roots
    Of that same head you have twice removed now
    A lock of hair you said would prove
    Our love would never die

    And I sing and sing of awful things
    The pleasure that my sadness brings
    As my fingers press onto the strings
    In yet another clumsy chord
    Haligh, haligh, an awful lie
    This weight would now be satisfied
    I’m gonna give you only one reply
    I know not who I am

    But I talk in the mirror
    To the stranger that appears
    Our conversations are circles
    Always one sided
    Nothing is clear

    Except we keep coming back
    To this meaning that I lack
    He says the choices were given
    Now you must live them
    Or just not live
    But do you want that?

  • Mark 9:54 pm on February 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    “Feminist ‘turns’ and the political economy of knowledge production”, Univ. Warwick, 28 Feb. 2014, 2-4pm 

    Workshop: Orientating feminism(s): Feminist ‘turns’ and the political economy of knowledge production

    The Centre for the Study of Women and Gender, University of Warwick

    Friday 28th February 28th, 2014, 2.00pm – 4.00pm
    Social Sciences Building, Room A0.23

    · Prof. Clare Hemmings (LSE)
    · Dr. Carolyn Pedwell (Newcastle)
    · Dr. Rebecca Coleman (Goldsmiths)
    · Prof. Valerie Hey (Sussex)
    · Prof. Lisa Blackman (Goldsmiths)
    (More speakers may be announced – please check the event website for the most recent list:http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/rsw/research_centres/gender/forthcomingevents/feministturns)

    Dr. Maria do Mar Pereira and Kathryn Medien (University of Warwick)

    This workshop seeks to interrogate the nature and impacts of claims that feminist scholarship is, or ought to be, undergoing a ‘turn’, i.e. a change in direction, aim or focus. The notion of ‘turn’ has long played an important role in oral and written narrations of the development of social and political theory. In those narrations, the declaration of a ‘turn’ functions not just as a categorising device making it possible to identify patterns and pinpoint transformations in knowledge production, but also as a touchstone of sometimes fierce debates about the relative epistemic value and political utility of different forms of scholarship.

    In recent years, it appears that invocations of, and exhortations to, a ‘turn’ have become especially frequent in feminist scholarship, particularly within conversations about theoretical and empirical work often clustered around the terms ‘the affective turn’ and ‘the (new) materialist turn’. These ‘turns’ have been the object of much attention in conferences and publications, but this workshop invites colleagues to think about them differently.

    · Rather than evaluating the key principles, theoretical merits and analytical potential of such feminist ‘turns’, we want to discuss what happens when we think and speak of these (and other) scholarly developments as a ‘turn’, and how they come to be positioned and function within feminist scholarship.
    · Rather than just conceptualise ‘turns’ as epistemic processes (where what is at stake is theories, concepts and findings), we also want to situate the declaration of ‘turns’ within the broader political economy of contemporary academic practice and ask, for example, how these declarations might relate to ongoing processes of transformation and competitive commodification of academic knowledge.
    This event will take the format of an open roundtable discussion where speakers and participants will debate the current political-theoretical feminist landscape, asking how feminist ‘turns’ operate within and against a changing academic environment, at a time of political and economic ‘crisis’ and strengthening of social inequalities. We will consider questions of institutionalisation, temporality, the stories we tell about feminist scholarship, geo-politics, feminist pedagogies, citational practices and the relation between feminism and the political economy of contemporary academia.

    We hope you can take part in the debate and then join us for the post-workshop drinks reception!

    Attendance is free, but we ask that you register in advance by clicking here:http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/rsw/research_centres/gender/forthcomingevents/feministturns/register

    Useful Information
    · For information on getting to the University of Warwick, see here:http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/about/visiting/directions/
    · You can find a map of campus here:http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/about/visiting/maps/campusmap/5218_comms_campusmap-oct2013_web.pdf (The Social Sciences building is marked with the number 60, and appears at the centre of the map, within square 4D.)
    · You can find the full event page here:http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/rsw/research_centres/gender/forthcomingevents/feministturns
    · If you have any questions or need special assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Maria do Mar Pereira (M.D.M.Pereira@warwick.ac.uk) or Kathryn Medien (k.medien@warwick.ac.uk).​​​​

  • Mark 6:57 pm on February 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    The audio of my BBC #asexuality interview (almost 4 years old!) 

    Again courtesy of the asexuality media archive. God I love the internet sometimes.

    I must be careful because I could easily lose a day systematically going thorugh the contents of that archive.

  • Mark 6:45 pm on February 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: disability, ,   

    CfP: Gender and Disability event, 10/05/14 

    You are warmly invited to submit proposals for the forthcoming Gender and Disability event at the University of Sheffield. The Call for Ideas has been extended by one week and submissions will now be accepted up until midnight on Monday 3rd March 2014. Please pass this message on to anyone who may be interested. We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

    GENDER AND DISABILITY: Asking Difficult Questions

    Saturday 10th May 2014, Humanities Research Institute (HRI), University of Sheffield

    We’re calling for activists, artists, academics and practitioners to get involved in a day of discussions on the theme of gender and dis/ability. We welcome ideas for the sharing of skills and stories, art, films, performances, poetry, workshops, round-table discussions, papers and presentations.

    The event aims to create a space for conversations and debate between communities who share an interest in gender and disability.

    Some ideas for topics/themes:

    (Dis)ableism, discrimination, exclusion and (in)accessibility
    ‘Abnormal’, ‘Normal’ and Normalcy
    Activism and protest (disability, feminist, LGBTQI, ‘race’, queer)
    Austerity/welfare cuts
    Body image, fetishisation, and the medicalization of bodies and minds
    Desire, Sexuality, intimacy and relationships
    Freakery, the abject and the politics of disgust
    Health and Illness
    Identities and identity politics
    Life-course and ageing
    Mental health and mad pride
    Queer and crip histories
    Sex, sex educators and sex workers

    Send us your ideas (around 200 words or half a page of bullet points) by 3rd March 2014 to gender.disability@shef.ac.uk.
    This will be a free event. Food will be available to buy at the venue. We want to make this event as accessible as possible, to inform us of any particular access requirements please email gender.disability@shef.ac.uk by 19th April 2014.

    For further information please contact gender.disability@shef.ac.uk. To book a place please go to: http://genderanddisability.wordpress.com.

    Hosted by the Gender Research Network (affiliated to the Centre for Gender Research), University of Sheffield,
    and the Disability Research Forum, Sheffield Hallam University

    Twitter: @GenDisability

  • Mark 9:33 am on February 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Spinoza, The Courtier and the Heretic,   

    My new favourite term: ‘omnimaniac’ 

    I recently read an astonishing book, The Courtier and the Heretic, which I’d bought on the assumption it was a philosophical biography of Spinoza and Leibniz. I love philosophical biographies (and should write about them at some point) but this turned out to be something rather different. It was more of a psychobiography of Leibniz within which Spinoza played a starring role, offering a Nietzschean analysis of Leibnizian philosophy as a ‘confession’ of its author’s inner strivings. The book offers an astonishingly vivid picture of Leibniz as “the Great Gatsby of his time, always believing in the green light in the distance, the ever receding destination of all our efforts” (pg 301). But what really gripped me was his account of Leibniz’s omnimania:

    The number of projects that Leibniz managed simultaneously was almost always an order of magnitude greater than eight. When an idea flared in his kinetic mind, he would grab it like a torch and run until the next bright light caught his eye, and then he would add that one to the bundle in his arms, too, dropping a few others in his haste and so leaving behind a trail of smoldering visions. In the 120 volumes’ worth of material in the Leibniz archives, there are without doubt hundreds of sparkling inventions that have yet to be catalogue, let alone realized. He wrote about everything, to everybody, all the time. If Spinoza was the quintessential monomaniac – ruthlessly compressing a lifetime of insights into a single, adamantine volume – then Leibniz may be aptly described as an “omnimaniac”. (pg 91)

    This raises the obvious question: what other omnimaniacs can we identify in the history of ideas? I can imagine a fascinating historical study looking at the social, cultural and biographical conditions which give rise to this. These are like extreme instances of those identified in the Hedgehog and Fox distinction.

  • Mark 8:57 pm on February 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    The audio of the woman’s hour interview I did 

    This has just been posted up on youtube courtesy of the asexuality media archive.

  • Mark 8:46 pm on February 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    The future of twitter in two images 

    Screen shot 2014-02-24 at 20.43.45
    Screen shot 2014-02-16 at 21.09.34

  • Mark 4:53 pm on February 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Using big data to quantify complex social processes 

    Data Science Lunchtime Seminars
    February 27th, 12.30-1.30pm
    Room: B3.19
    Free pizza!

    Speaker name: Alexander Petersen

    Title: Using big data to quantify complex social processes

    Abstract: New technologies are providing novel ways to curate, explore, analyze, visualize, and interpret massive sources of information, in some cases using previously inaccessible historical records, and in other cases tapping completely new data streams. Collectively, these IT/software/hardware innovations have  been dubbed the “Industrial Revolution of data”. The opportunities to study and quantify complex social processes are now vast, with labor quickly becoming a scarce resource. The magnitude of the big data challenge calls for a new type of (business) scientist training, not just in the methods of big data, but also in the practice of teamwork framed around principles of division of labor and efficiency.

    In this talk I will touch on topics such as sexual revolution, knowledge networks, competition, life-cycles, reputation, and cooperation, the common theme being the big data prism which is shedding new light on complex social processes.

    Bio: Alex is an assistant professor at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca Italy, a member of the Laboratory for the Analysis of Complex Economic Systems research unit. His research has focused on the analysis of stochastic phenomena in the social and economic sciences using concepts and methods from statistical physics and big data. In the past years his main research focus has been to quantify career growth and the broad distributions of individual longevity and productivity, and then to complement these systemic analyses with explanatory agent-based models that account for the underlying stochasticity, heterogeneity, and other important features such as teamwork and cumulative advantage.

  • Mark 8:54 am on February 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    The Feudal System of Online Content 

    There’s a recent article in Salon which gives a great overview of the emergence of “viral publishers” (which need to be distinguished from “content factories”) which have grown rapidly but in a way entirely dependent upon the infrastructure of social media. They encompass everything that was wrong with the older content factories yet employ even fewer people, depending (near) entirely on user generated content rather than imposing ever more onerous employment conditions on content producers. However the dependence of the viral publishers upon social media means that with one small tweak Facebook can make their traffic plunge. The politics of circulation online are becoming ever more feudal.

    There is an entire ecosystem of these sites — one industry publication uses the term “viral publishers,” which works as well as anything else — and if you use Facebook regularly you probably clicked on a link from one of them at some point in 2013. Elite Daily, Distractify, ViralNova and the grandaddy of them all, Upworthy, the site that essentially invented and perfected the form in the space of a year. Upworthy’s headlines may be mockable (I Thought I Knew How to Goad Readers Into Clicking on Something Stupid, but What I Learned Next Changed Everything), but they definitely seemed to work.

    Among the few sites with more Facebook “likes” than Upworthy are the Huffington Post (at this point practically old media, by Web standards) and BuzzFeed, the site that made fogies mourn for the future of news before newer, shockingly dumber sites showed up to make BuzzFeed look respectable and sophisticated by comparison

    BuzzFeed and these viral publishers depend, for their very existence, on Facebook. They talk about “social media” and “sharing” generally, but specifically it is as much about gaming Facebook as SEO was about gaming Google.

    SEO is “search engine optimization,” a now-passé form of traffic goosing, involving a lot of unsexy coding tricks and liberal use of keywords and link spam to win high placement in Google results. These tricks once made various hucksters rich and helped establish the Huffington Post as one of the biggest sites on the Internet. SEO is being supplanted by a new series of tricks designed to manipulate social media. The “social sites” can claim, with some justification, to be packaging content that real people wanted to share, instead of gaming some algorithms. But just because the new techniques involve a dab of psychological manipulation doesn’t mean the formula for success isn’t just as rote: an arresting image or video still, and a headline that either stokes curiosity without satisfying it, or that promises some fresh, invigorating outrage.

    If the stuff below the headline doesn’t live up to it, no matter. One of the open secrets of the Internet is that no one reads anything on the Internet. People do go around clicking on all sorts of things, but the majority of people who clicked on this piece stopped reading it a few paragraphs ago.

    One slightly terrifying fact (for an employee of an online media organization) about the rise of the viral publishers last year was how each new one was less labor-intensive than the last. Each step on the path from BuzzFeed to Upworthy to ViralNova involved fewer paid humans putting less thought into each iteration of the viral-manipulation industry. Say what you will about BuzzFeed (and I have), but at least they make things. A lot of people work there, creating original stories and videos and other pieces of information and entertainment and journalism known collectively and depressingly as “content.” Upworthy makes headlines — literally dozens of them for each tiny “story” — and then embeds or links to images and videos created by others. They repackage existing content. Obviously, so does BuzzFeed. And so do Salon, and Slate, and the Entire Internet. But Upworthy realized that all it had to do was repackage existing content, and not bother to create any of its own. And then Upworthy spent 2013 kicking everyone’s else’s ass.


  • Mark 8:43 pm on February 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: CCRU, The Sociology of Intellectual Faddishness,   

    The Sociology of Intellectual Faddishness and the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit 

    I’m resisting pursuing this thought until my PhD is submitted (and probably until I’ve finished the bulk of my social media book) but if I’m ever going to do some real work on the sociology of intellectual faddishness, it’s increasingly obvious to me that the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit would be a pretty great place to start. I’m particularly fascinated by Land’s personal and political trajectory over the years but the CCRU as a whole is so much more interesting than it seemed when I first encountered it – why it was so gripping for those involved, how the institutional context contributed to this and how it dissipated etc.

    I think it was Will Davies who tweeted a link to this great piece:

    Smack in the middle of the United Kingdom, Leamington Spa is like a less picturesque Bath–genteel, sedate, irredeemably English in a Masterpiece Theater sort of way. But the town has darker undercurrents: Aleister Crowley was born here in 1875, and today it’s home to a mysterious entity called Cybernetic Culture Research Unit. Now in its third year of existence, CCRU’s institutional status is, to say the least, disputed. Which is why its membership is currently holed up in an office on The Parade (Leamington’s main street), rather than working c/o the Philosophy Department of Warwick University a few miles away, as was the case the last academic year.

    Since my knowledge of CCRU stems from its disorientating textual output–the journal Abstract Culture–plus a few wilfully opaque email communiques, I’ve scant idea what I’ll encounter after pressing the button marked ‘Central Computer’. Inside CCRU’s top-floor HQ above The Body Shop, I find three women and four men in their mid to late twenties, who all look reassuringly normal. The walls, though, are covered with peculiar diagrams and charts that hint at the breadth and bizareness of the unit’s research.

    But before I can enquire further, I’m entreated to sit in the middle of three ghettoblasters. CCRU have prepared a re-enactment of a performance-cum-reading given at their Virotechnics conference in October 1997. The first cassette-player issues a looped cycle of words that resembles an incantation or spell. From the second machine comes a text recited in a baleful deadpan by a female American voice–not a presentation but a sort of prose-poem, full of imagery of “swarmachines” and “strobing centipede flutters”. The third ghettoblaster emits what could either be Stockhausen-style electroacoustic composition or the pizzicato, mandible-clicking music of the insect world. Later, I find out it’s a human voice that’s been synthetically processed, with all the vowels removed to leave just consonants and fricatives.

    Even without the back-projected video-imagery that usually accompanies CCRU audio, the piece is an impressively mesmeric example of what the unit are aiming for–an ultra-vivid amalgam of text, sound, and visuals designed to “libidinise” that most juiceless of academic events, the lecture. CCRU try to pull off the same trick on the printed page. Their “theory-fiction” is studded with neologisms, delirious with dystopian cyberpunk imagery, and boasts an extravagantly high concentration of ideas per sentence. Bearing the same distillate relation to its sources (Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Paul Virilio,William Gibson) that crack does to cocaine, CCRU-text offers an almighty theory-rush.

    What CCRU are striving to achieve is a kind of nomadic thought that–to use the Deleuzian term– “deterritorializes” itself every which way: theory melded with fiction, philosophy cross-contaminated by natural sciences (neurology, bacteriology, thermodynamics, metallurgy, chaos and complexity theory, connectionism). It’s a project of monstrous ambition. And that’s before you take into account the the most daring deterritorialisation of all–crossing the thin line between reason and unreason. But as they say, later for that.

    Founded in the 1960s, Warwick rapidly became the epitome of a modern university. Through the early to mid Seventies, the university was rife with militancy–not just student unrest, but discontent amongst the staff (70 percent of whom at one point gave a vote of no confidence in the Vice Chancellor). Socialist historian E.P.Thompson was a “thorn in the side of the adminstiration”, recalls one Warwick veteran, and eventually left because he wasn’t given the Labour History Unit he was promised. At the same time, Warwick was ahead of its time in terms of seeking corporate funding, such that by the mid-Eighties Margaret Thatcher could describe it as her favourite university. “Warwick University Inc.” (as E.P. Thompson titled a book) is financially buoyant compared with other British universities, and well prepared for any future withdrawal of government funding that may be up the current Labour administration’s sleeve.

    Warwick also has a very modern Philosophy Department. It is Britain’s largest graduate school in philosophy outside Oxford, with about 120 postgraduate and masters students, and a similar number of undergraduates. The majority are lured by the department’s reputation as the country’s leading center for Continental Philosophy. Events like the October 1997 “DeleuzeGuattari and Matter” seminar and “Going Australian”, a February 1988 conference devoted to the new school of Australian feminist philosophy, indicate the kind of work going on at Warwick. It is to this cutting edge Philosophy Department to which CCRU was linked in a fatally ambigous fashion.


  • Mark 8:25 pm on February 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: nofx,   

    NOFX live @ Padova 16/06/2013 Full Show 

    The drunken banter gets really obnoxious at points. I would still love to see them live again though.

  • Mark 8:21 pm on February 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Not Your Typical Call for Papers (cc @idlEthnographer) 

    With the 2014 Volume, the Berkeley Journal of Sociology will focus its efforts on writing a “history of the present.”  The journal will no longer publish academic research articles. Instead, we seek compelling essays, insightful commentaries, critical analyses, and topical symposiums on the most pressing political and cultural issues of the day. Our aim is to provide critical perspectives from the social sciences on public debates and current events with an orientation toward social and political engagement. We seek to transform our longstanding graduate-run academic journal into a print and online magazine sourced by a global graduate community with wider relevance. The BJS is re-imagining the purpose of a publication that emerges from within the academy, but which does not take the discipline of professional sociology as its aim. We seek new audiences across new platforms to firmly root sociological knowledge within society, for society.

    We believe there is a need for creative translation and wider circulation of the knowledge we are producing as graduate students of the social sciences on politics and culture today. We seek to broaden the interpretive range, imaginative scope, and prospective application of our research to ongoing political struggles, emerging cultural trends, and possibilities of alternative futures.  We are not content to be relegated to the sidelines. The point, after all, is to change the world. The task before us is to arm our critiques with power. This is a call to join a proper conspiracy whose aim is not only to critique, but to intervene; not only to intervene, but also to shift the terrain beyond the internal debates of the academic field.

    The BJS seeks to open up a space to re-compose social research into a range of written forms, unobstructed by technical jargon and unconstrained by formalistic rigidity. Through its online-first approach the journal seeks to redistribute its material across sources and publications, in the alternative and popular press. Toward that end, BJS is accepting the following kinds of submissions on topical issues or debates:

    • research essays: open to interpretation.

    • commentary: social scientific assessments of events, journalistic reportage and public discourse; critiques of recent reports by state agencies, think-tanks, NGOs, foundations, polling agencies, etc.

    • conversations: interviews with traditional or organic intellectuals on topical subjects and debates.

    • field memos: ethnographic dispatches from graduate researchers; elaborations of experiences in the field as they relate to contemporary social struggles, crises, cultural or political debates.

    • photo essays: from a site of research; sociological critiques of art or visual culture.

    • book reviews (joint or solo): social scientific assessments of recently released trade books; reviews of academic books relating to contemporary events or debates.

    • debates:  The journal will be running video and transcripts from UC Berkeley’s Public Sociology Initiative. We invite similar debates or symposia on contemporary politics and culture, in the flesh or virtual.

    Submissions are due by June 1st and may be sent as email attachments to submissions@berkeleyjournal.org and will be subject to a review among Berkeley graduate students in the social sciences. We also invite proposals for forums comprised of a number of contributions around a single topic. Proposals for forums should include a brief description of the project and information about the authors, including contact info, and should be submitted by April 1st to submissions@berkeleyjournal.org. All journal content will be published under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

    The Berkeley Journal of Sociology is a graduate student-­run journal that has been in publication since 1955. Archived articles can be found on JSTOR.

  • Mark 12:44 pm on February 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , non-linear creativity, ,   

    Writing with One’s Feet 

    Not with my hand alone I write:
    My foot wants to participate.
    Firm and free and bold, my feet
    Run across the field – and sheet.

    • Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Prelude in Rhymes: 52
  • After spending much of the last three days cutting up my PhD and putting it back together again, what I take to be Nietzsche’s reminder here of the embodied nature of writing really speaks to me. My neck hurts, I feel sluggish and my back is stiff. This is my body being forced to participate in an aspect of the writing process which is, well, shit. It’s tedious but necessary. In Ecce Homo, his quasi auto-biography, Nietzsche describes how,

    my muscular agility has always been at its greatest when my creative energy is flowing most abundantly. The body is inspired: let’s leave the ‘soul’ out of it… I could often be seen dancing; in those days I could be walking around on mountains for seven or eight hours without a trace of tiredness. I slept well and laughed a lot – I was the epitome of sprightliness and patience.

    Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, pg 70

    In this case the body is wilfully participating in a creative process, rather than being dragged along unwillingly. Writing can feel good in an embodied way. I find it hard to recognise this in my own experience beyond registering discomforts but I’d like to understand it more than I do. It’s easy to fall into the trap of treating writing as somehow disembodied, even if you would reject such a claim upon reflecting about it. It’s also easy to see writing as a much more exhaustively cognitive process than it actually is.

    This could manifest itself in a lack of attentiveness either to your self or your environment, struggling on with the writing in such a way as to aggravate the difficulties which are causing you to flag. So we see problems with ‘writing’ that are actually issues emergent from our environment and/or what we have brought to the task of writing. When we frame creative tasks in terms of problems to be solved, it can often occlude an important dimension to them, which I tend to think of as ‘non-linear creativity’:

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

    Carl Rogers – On Becoming a Person Pg 152

    We can become focused on linear structure (I do X then Y then Z) in a way that occludes the potential forms incipient within what we’re producing. We block the “flow of creative energy” by trying to think our way through difficulties we’ve encountered rather than, as Nietzsche might suggest, writing with our feet.

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