Updates from March, 2014 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 9:41 pm on March 31, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    After Kinsey: (Re)Theorising Sexuality afnd Gender in a ‘Post-Closet’ Context 

    After Kinsey:
    (Re)Theorising Sexuality and Gender in a ‘Post-Closet’ Context

    Thursday 26th – Friday 27th June 2014

    Radcliffe, University of Warwick

    This concluding seminar will consider the epistemic, intersubjective and affective implications of ‘trans’ culture, discourse and practice.

    It will ask whether, to what degree and in what terms does the emergence of ‘trans’ challenge conceptual norms across different cultural sites from professional to popular to everyday practice.

    What challenges do the epistemic underpinnings of ‘trans’ herald for sexuality and gender studies? Does ‘trans’ represent a ‘post-closet’ epistemology? Does it represent an emergent meta-narrative and, in its wake, a transformed ‘post Kinsey’ understanding of gender, sexuality, bodies and experience?

    Zowie Davy
    Mijke van der Drift
    Kat Gupta
    Sally Hines
    Chryssy Hunter
    Surya Monro
    Tobia Raun

    Natacha Kennedy
    Lyndsey Moon
    Ruth Pearce

    The event will run from 12pmThursday 26th June to 1pmFriday 27th June.

    Meals and accommodation will be provided for all attendees, including: lunch and an evening meal on the first day, breakfast on the second day, refreshments including tea and coffee, and a hotel room in the Radcliffe conference centre.

    Attendance is free and all are welcome. However places are strictly limited, so please register!

  • Mark 1:56 pm on March 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    The Asexual Story Project is live! 

    I think this is a great project!

    The Asexual Agenda

    asexual story project banner

    The Asexual Story Project is now live!

    The Asexual Story Project is a place where people who identify with the asexual community can share their personal stories about being asexual, coming out, relationships, or anything their heart desires.

    At present the site only contains a handful of stories, but hopefully over the next few months the site will continue to grow as more people submit. A huge thank you to everyone who has contributed so far!

    You can submit a story on this page or by emailing the project: asexualstoryproject(at)gmail.com.

    View original post

  • Mark 1:16 pm on March 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    Dear apple – can I have the space back on my ipad? Thanks 

    While my ipad has thankfully stabilised with recent upgrades to iOS 7 (initially it crashed daily) I still haven’t reclaimed the 10+ gb that has mysteriously gone missing. If I thought this might happen, I would have bought the ipad with more diskspace:


  • Mark 10:10 am on March 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Austerity comes to the Ukraine 

  • Mark 10:02 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Call for papers – Moments of rupture: Event and negativity in modern thought 

    This looks fascinating, shame it’s so far away from me:

    International conference

    Moments of rupture: Event and negativity in modern thought

    October 29 & 30, 2014
    Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile
    Keynote speakers:
    Andreas Kalyvas (The New School, USA)
    Eduardo Sabrovsky (Universidad Diego Portales, Chile)

    Rupture is a motif central to modernity. A certain “culture of rupture” has animated in various forms the development of modern political and social thought, from the speculative philosophy of Hegel to the deconstruction of Derrida. The word “rupture” suggests a break in the status quo, an unexpected and irreversible event which interrupts the continuity of established institutions and practices, a singular occurrence which shatters the apparent consistency of the symbolic and normative order. Moments of rupture inspire hopes of a new beginning and emancipation but also instill fears of disorder and destruction.

    The recent scenes of economic crisis, social discontent and political revolt have forcefully brought the topic of rupture to the fore. In the contemporary thinking about this topic, a peculiar opposition can be observed. While, in some forms of political philosophy, moments of rupture are celebrated as radical, extraordinary, genuinely political events, in the social sciences rupture tends to be seen as a common element of everyday disputes and struggles.

    We invite proposals for presentations in English or Spanish that explore the notion of rupture from a philosophical, political, or sociological perspective. Possible topics include:

    – The semantics of the concept of rupture

    – The notions of event and the extraordinary

    – The relation between rupture/event and negativity

    – The problems of narrating and representing rupture

    – Foundation, revolution and constituent power

    – The significance of moments of rupture for the philosophy of history and political time

    – Crisis and conflict

    – Secular miracles and political theology

    We welcome submissions both of complete papers and of extended abstracts of around 500 words. They should be prepared for blind review and sent tocoloquio_ruptura@mail.udp.cl. The deadline for submissions is June 27. Notices of acceptance will be sent by July 22.

    The conference is hosted by the Instituto de Humanidades and the Facultad de Ciencias Sociales e Historia of the Universidad Diego Portales. For additional information, please contact the organizers, Rodrigo Cordero and Wolfhart Totschnig, at the email address above.

    Support: FONDECYT Initiation Project No. 11121346

  • Mark 8:58 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: house,   

    Dr House successfully disproves asexuality, wins $100 

    I’ve been invited to submit a chapter about representing asexuality  and I’m wondering if I should try and write something about the treatment of asexuality on House* (series 8 episode 9). I mean ‘treatment’ in two senses here, as the story about asexuality revolved around treating asexuality. I’ve not actually watched the full episode yet but this clip seems to give the gist of it:

    There are other potential topics for me to engage with in this chapter. But I’m a bit hesitant about making the leap from blogging about TV and film to actually trying to write a book chapter about them. Many of the other characters invoked as asexual are either unfamiliar to me and/or rather ambiguous from my point of view. I considered trying to write something about Franky from Skins but I never watched the show closely enough to be entirely confident about her representation:

    As far as I can remember, this was portrayed as romantic asexual attraction. But I feel on much more solid ground writing about House given that the episode was explicitly about asexuality. The extent to which it is explicitly about explaining away asexuality offers a useful frame through which to flesh out my notion of the sexual assumption: the assumed universality and uniformity of sexual attraction, such that apparently exceptional case must be a function of one or more pathological factors. When reading back through past writing, I’ve sometimes found my arguments to this end to be a rather worrying mix of certainty and vagueness. In part this is because my conviction about the existence of the sexual assumption stems more from the endless instances of it I’ve witnessed in my own life in the last five years (“you study asexuality? but that’s not a real thing” etc) than it does from the empirical data which initially led me to formulate the concept.

    Writing about House also allows me to consider the politics of representation in terms of the sexual assumption. There are a few questions I can think of here:

    • What explains the investment of many in the portrayal of asexual characters on TV?
    • What insights does the House narrative offer into broader cultural tendencies concerning asexuality?
    • How did the asexual community respond to this portrayal on House? For instance see the petition here.
    • How did the media in turn respond to this response? For instance see this Slate article.

    None of these questions raise issues which are novel within the literature. But I think the episode offers a really helpful frame within which I can draw together a whole series of strands that fascinate me but that I’ve tended to marginalise in my past writing for a variety of reasons.

    Depending on how much this attempt at cultural studies provokes impostor syndrome in me, I might also consider the past portrayal of House as a character. This description on the Wikipedia page really stood out at me: “House becomes obsessed with proving her lack of interest in sex has an organic cause”. Given he is, as memory serves, portrayed as a (largely) aromantic sexual it would be interesting to consider the roots of this ‘obsession’ in terms of his own characterisation.

    *Which is a TV show I loved when I first watched it. But it became immensely boring after a couple of series. I’m amazed it’s still going.

  • Mark 4:59 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ebooks, kindle, , ,   

    The dangers of the Kindle: attentive reading vs mining for ideas 

    I love the Kindle app on the iPad. Or at least I want to love it. I’ve been using it intermittently for well over a year now and I’ve gradually realised how difficult I find it to read attentively when using it. I’m a compulsive underliner, margin scribbler and corner folder of books. I sometimes feel slightly embarrassed when a friend asks to borrow a book and, upon handing them an utterly mangled text, find myself wondering if they still want it or they’re just being polite.

    Much of the appeal of Kindle for me was the neatness with which it is possible to annotate the text, as well as the ease with which those highlighted sections and annotations can be retrieved. But it’s too easy. I far too often find myself skim reading a text, effectively mining for insights in a way that filters out the overarching coherency of the text. I’m often effectively sorting the text rather than attending to it.

    I find using a pen rather frustrating these days. I’ve been touch typing since before I was a teenager and I’m used to being able to articulate myself electronically in a way that keeps up with the flow of thought. Whereas using a pen frustrates me because I perpetually feel as if I can’t write fast enough. But there’s a discipline to this, albeit of a sort I too rarely recognise the value in. It forces me to slow down. It forces me to read attentively. It encourages me to treat the text as a whole.

    My claim here isn’t deterministic. I sometimes find myself doing this with books as well. But it’s much less frequent and much less pronounced. Things like eBooks don’t create my tendency to rush but they do amplify it.

    • ZoeyDuncan 5:49 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink

      I like your approach to reading attentively! It’s something I’ve yet to master, and as I turn more and more to e-books, it seems like it might never be part of my routine.

      Maybe as the medium evolves we’ll see the kind of ways to digest a book evolve too?

    • Mark 6:17 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink

      hopefully! I think I’m going to stick to paper books where possible though, as I just don’t think I can treat eBooks in the same way….

    • Mark Wallace 6:51 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink

      I’m a compulsive annotater, too, but I find it less effective on a Kindle, as the notes just sit in a big, incoherent pile I never look through, whereas in a physical book I can re-open it at any point and allow my own notes and underlinings to inform a re-reading.

      I still think the kindle is great for other things, though, such as search for use of particular words in a work, and great saving on space. All the free out-of-copyright stuff is great, too – think of a classic, and be reading it in seconds. I couldn’t do without kindle OR print books.

    • Mark 7:03 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink

      But you can get to them easily, no? I make a lot of use of the amazon kindle web page for getting quotes etc when writing

    • Mark Wallace 7:09 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink

      Sounds like an idea! I haven’t used the webpage for that at all.

    • Mark 7:17 pm on March 27, 2014 Permalink

      I’m way too quote heavy in my writing (both blogging and formal stuff) so it’s been a life saver in that respect…

  • Mark 10:27 pm on March 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    How to be a blogger without having your own blog 

    It’s a common assumption that ‘bloggers’ and ‘blogs’ are unavoidably intertwined. There’s a sense in which it’s true but it can also be slightly misleading. It’s possible to be a blogger without having your own blog. In fact, there are a lot of advantages to doing this. Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson from the LSE PPG summarised this issue helpfully a couple of years ago and everything they said is just as true now:

    According to some good estimates, perhaps 80 per cent or more of the single-author blogs on the web are currently inactive, or are ‘desert blogs’ that very rarely updated. And this is because people start them with high hopes, in determinedly individualistic mode, but find that hard to sustain after a while. Coming up with fresh content, day after day or week after week, is hard work for any academic, especially in the current climate where there are so many other demands on people’s time. But if you don’t post regularly, in a rhythm that is clear to readers so they know when to come back, then it can be hard to keep things going.

    We don’t think single-author blogs are a sustainable or genuinely useful model for most academics – although all praise to the still many exceptional academics who can manage to keep up the continuous effort involved. By joining together and forming multi-author blogs, academics can mutually reinforce each other’s contributions.


    It’s difficult to build an audience for a personal blog. Many people manage it but, if and when they do, it tends to reflect a sustained commitment to blogging on their part. It can be quite dispiriting to recurrently throw your polished thoughts out into the wilds of the internet only to find they receive little to no attention. While twitter has changed this dynamic slightly, it has only done so in a limited way. While it may have made it easier to provide an audience for your blog, it has also led to an entirely different set of pressures, leaving two rather than one platforms to engagement within in a sustained way.

    These dynamics of audience building often mitigate against the upkeep of blogs, as Patrick and Chris point out. In one sense I disagree that this means personal blogs should only be for a committed few – this claim overlooks the overlap between blogging platforms and content management systems. So it might be useful for someone to setup a wordpress blog as an alternative to using something like academia.edu or an ePortfolio i.e. producing a static website of a form that is extremely familiar within higher education. However this isn’t really a ‘blog’ per se so in another, more meaningful sense, I entirely agree with the claim above.

    The obvious worry that stems from this is that people who want to write online immediately setup personal blogs, rapidly lose interest and their contribution to the blogosphere is then lost. So if you’re someone who wants to write online but isn’t interested in committing to sustaining a blog on an ongoing basis, these are some alternatives which might be of interest to you:

    1. Does your department have a blog? See for instance the Sociology@Warwick and Politics@Warwick* blogs.
    2. Does your university offer opportunities to write online? See for instance the Warwick Knowledge Centre.
    3. Discover Society is an online magazine publishing commentary by sociologists and social policy academics. Potential articles can be discussed in advance with the editors. Guidance for contributors is provided here. My perception is that it’s seen as a prestigious online outlet but then I’m rather biased.
    4. Sociological Imagination covers a diverse range of topics and accepts a broad range of formats. I think it’s great but then I’m even more biased in this case. You can find notes for contributors, which I wrote years ago and should really update, online here.
    5. There’s a number of LSE blogs which accept contributions: LSE Impact Blog, LSE British Politics & Policy, LSE EUROPP, LSE USAPP and the LSE Review of Books. All these links go to instructions for contributors, apart from the LSE Review of Books which has a slightly different process.
    6. The Conversation is a great initiative which is expanding internationally. Much like the LSE blogs, articles are edited by professional editors. Unlike the LSE blogs, these editors are journalists. I think there are strengths and weaknesses stemming from this which you can see if you compare the two sites. I think the Conversation articles can sometimes be a little sterile, as if the communicative impulse has been edited out of them. On the other hand, the grammar and syntax is impeccable. You can find information about becoming an author here.
    7. Open Democracy is a “digital commons not a magazine” (though personally I can’t see the difference between a ‘digital commons’ and a large, sprawling and well established online magazine) that has been around for a long time. You can propose articles here.
    8. Medium and other new generation blogging platforms work in a rather different way. I’ve written about this here recently. If none of the ideas listed above take your fancy then it’s worth considering the use of Medium.

    Unless you’re blogging on at least a weekly basis, it’ll be difficult to build an audience. There are exceptions to this (e.g. Deborah Lupton’s blog) but, unless you’re already well established, it’s unlikely that an audience will consolidate around your blog. People might read articles, particularly if you make the effort to disseminate them in the networks available to you, but it’s unlikely that they’ll get into the habit of reading it i.e. choosing to check your site or subscribing to an RSS feed because they have an expectation there will be new material for them to read.

    This is not to say there’s anything wrong with blogging in the absence of an audience. I did it for years because I fundamentally enjoy blogging. This is rather my point: if you think a personal blog is something you’ll enjoy then I couldn’t be more enthusiastic in my support of it as a practice. But you should do so in awareness of the practicalities involved in using a blog for purposes over and above this. If you’re more interested in using a blog for impact or public engagement then you are in blogging as a form of self-expression, it’s unlikely to be worth your while to pursue a personal blog. In which case, any item from the by no means exhaustive list above would likely be more useful.

    One final thought is that these different platforms can be combined. So for instance you could archive all your guest blogs on a personal blog. Or you can republish articles you’ve written for one site on your departmental blog. The key thing is to ask: many sites are covered by a Creative Commons license anyway but editors will still appreciate it if you ask permission before reduplicating a post. My standard practice is to get put a ‘Originally posted at X’ link but there are different ways of doing this.

    *Though they’ve made such a mess of one of my favourite wordpress themes.

  • Mark 9:37 pm on March 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , patrick dunleavy, ,   

    Patrick Dunleavy on the Republic of Blogs 

    After a long period of monopolising academic discourse, European universities went into decline as classical scholasticism, which was primarily inward and backward looking, gave way to the ideas of Enlightenment. Intellectual development moved outside the walled gardens of academia, because enlightenment thinkers shifted their various discourses into the realm of correspondence, creating a Republic of Letters. Prof. Dunleavy argues that we are currently experiencing a similar shift towards a Republic of Blogs that enlarges communication, debate and evidence beyond the halls of universities. Academic research is changing, academic publishing is moving towards a new paradigm of advancing ideas outside the confines of the traditional academic publishing model. Orthodox journals will soon be understood as tombstones: end of debate certificates. In particular:

    Micro-blogging is not only replacing traditional news media, but becoming a tool for finding and disseminating ideas and research (active research surveillance)

    Well edited blogs are becoming core communication tools and vehicles for HE debate; while the less traditional format encourages a writing style that invites debate from academics and lay persons alike, thus cutting across ranks, locations and academic status

    Working papers and online journals are now key, immediately accessible evidence and theory/methods development sources.

    More details available here: http://clt.lse.ac.uk/events/networkED…

  • Mark 7:29 pm on March 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    And almost six years later it was finished… 

    photo (3)

    Thanks to everyone who tweeted nice things. Even those people who reminded me that I’ve still got to do a viva which, unfortunately, will not be till the summer.

    In spite of what I wrote here I’m actually pretty pleased with it. Though some of the weekends in the last month that were entirely devoted to making the individual chapters fit together into a coherent whole were pretty unpleasant. I’ve learnt two important lessons:

    1. Always record full details for sources you’re using when you write. The process of reconstructing these at a later date because you were too lazy/stupid to do this is one of the most tedious, time consuming and irritating tasks imaginable. I spent years thinking “I’m going to regret this when it comes to writing up” and I really did.
    2. Don’t leave overarching questions of how it all fits together until the end. To a certain extent this is inevitable with a PhD, in so far as that the overall purpose only really becomes apparent through pursuing it. But I made it much worse for myself by not seriously addressing these questions until the end.

    It occurred to me after I submitted it earlier today* that I can literally trace the development of the thesis through the ‘personal morphogenesis’ category on my blog. The first post in the category was in January 2011, at the start of my third year (part time) and around the time I seriously started writing. The last post is on March 26th 2014… now to studiously forget about my thesis until the viva.

    *Unfortunately having had to get it reprinted because I was so overjoyed to have finished the damn thing that I didn’t think carefully enough about what I told the printing company.

    • juliegosling 8:07 pm on March 26, 2014 Permalink


      I read all your posts 🙂

      YOU DID IT!!!

      Well done to a unique, authentic and refreshing individual


      Dr Julie Gosling
      Making Waves
      Training Education Research
      Challenging Ideas About Madness

      Sent from my iPad


    • Emmanuelle 9:21 pm on March 26, 2014 Permalink

      Congrats on finishing. Great achievement!

    • Mark 8:50 am on March 27, 2014 Permalink


    • Mark 8:50 am on March 27, 2014 Permalink

      what a lovely message, thanks julie!

    • mais seguidores 6:09 am on July 22, 2014 Permalink

      excelente !

  • Mark 7:07 pm on March 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Asexuality and Sexual Normativity: An Anthology (20% discount) 

    Granted it’s 20% off a book priced at £85 but, as they sent it to me, I might as well circulate it. The code is IRK71 and works through the T&F Psychology Press page here. The book is an extended version of the Psychology & Sexuality special issue we produced a couple of years ago*. If you’re feeling supportive but understandably don’t want to buy the book, you can recommend it to your library here. This is the blurb for the anthology:

    The last decade has seen the emergence of an increasingly high profile and politically active asexual community, united around a common identity as ‘people who do not experience sexual attraction’. This unique volume collects a diverse range of interdisciplinary empirical and theoretical work which addresses this emergence, raising important and timely questions about asexuality and its broader implications for sexual culture. One of the most pressing and contentious issues within academic and public debates about asexuality is what relationship, if any, it has to sexual dysfunction.

    As well as collecting cutting edge scholarship in the emerging field of asexuality studies, rendering it indispensable to any sexualities course across the range of disciplines, this anthology also addresses this urgent debate, offering a variety of perspectives on how and why some have pathologised asexuality. This includes a range of chapters addressing the broader issues of sexual normativity within which these contemporary debates about asexuality are taking place.

    *Which is another way of saying that there’s nothing you can get for £85 which you can’t get by spending half an hour downloading PDFs from the journal’s website.

  • Mark 8:33 am on March 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , the difficulty of working out who you are,   

    “Am I living my life right? As an INTP” 

    This discussion is something I stumbled across a while ago. It seems far from atypical for the bulletin board, Personality Cafe, which hosts it. It begins with someone asking “Am I living my life right? as an INTP” and listing features of their lifestyle while seeking reassurance that this is the ‘right’ way to live, given this trait (‘being an INTP’) which is seen to be immutable. Obviously, I think we should treat Myer-Briggs classifications, of which ‘INTP’ is one, with the utmost scepticism. However simply denying the veridicality of the category misses the much more interesting questions:

    • why would identification with it be so subjectively plausible?
    • how would the category be seen as a basis for adjudicating upon ‘correctness’ of lifestyle?
    • does the authority of the advice being solicited rest on the category or on the advisors?
    • why is the question being asked? what cognitive and emotional work does it do?

    I think this question is a particularly blunt example of a much more general trend. The same processes which render reflexivity imperative also serve to undercut authoritative sources of normative guidance. What I find so striking about the question being asked on the discussion thread above is how arbitrary the sources of normativity implicitly drawn upon by it seem.

    Why ‘INTP’? Why ‘Personality Cafe’? The underlying impulse behind the question is to seek reflexive guidance upon fundamental question of what to do and who to be which are being addressed on an individual level. The student in question clearly has the time and resources to adjust their lifestyle as they please, while also pondering the ‘correctness’ of the choices they’re making. This is far from a general condition (it would be interesting to see what form this question takes for them a few years later) but it is also by no means a marginal one.

    But what I’m interested in is going beyond this general account, which is one of the few things I think Giddens is largely correct on in his late modernity work, to a more nuanced understanding of why particular categories and particular sources of normativity thrive under these conditions. This is what I think Giddens gets very wrong because his conceptualisation of reflexivity obscures the multidimensionality of the kind of engagement which can be inferred from a particular person coming to ask this particular question on that particular bulletin board.

  • Mark 8:08 am on March 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Groups: Challenges for Contemporary Political Philosophy 


    Challenges for Contemporary Political Philosophy

    University of Rennes 1, November 19-21, 2014 

    Call for Papers

    Groups matter in political philosophy, most would now agree – but precisely how they matter is contentious. Group-related issues emerge in various contexts of debate: the redressing of past or current injustices suffered by ethnic or cultural minorities; the nature and scope of group rights; the appropriate treatment of a certain specific identity/cultural/ethnic group. Less prominent, though, is a comprehensive analysis of groups as both agents and objects of social policies.  This is the aim of our conference.

    What challenges are posed to social, moral, or political philosophy when addressing a collection of individuals who act or are treated in a collective way?  Answering this involves consideration about how institutions should treat groups, but also of the normative implications of taking groups as possible social agents, when acting either in vertical relations with the state or in horizontal relations with other groups (or individuals). This conference aims to bring together scholars from a large range of disciplinary backgrounds, from social ontology to sociology and anthropology, through ethics and normative philosophy, in order to explore these questions from both theoretical and practical perspectives. We hope to combine questions about the nature of groups, and their social and political impacts, with attention to the particular, pressing normative questions to which the negotiation of group-related issues gives rise.

    Invited speakers: Lawrence Blum (Boston University), Catherine Colliot-Thélène (Université de Rennes 1), Vincent Descombes (EHESS), Tariq Modood (University of Bristol).

    We invite paper proposals along the following lines:

    Methodological and Ontological issues

    • What specific questions, if any, does the existence of groups pose to a theory of justice, or a theory of recognition, or a theory of democracy?
    • Why should groups matter in moral, social, or political, philosophy– and if they do, what kinds of group?
    • Should we consider groups as significant units of analysis of the social world, or should we operate with more dynamic concepts of group formation?
    • How and why are groups constructed entities, but nevertheless normatively relevant ones?

    Normative and Political issues

    • What kinds of theory, principles or norms might political thinkers propose in order to tackle the particular questions which groups pose?
    • How is the specific moral status of groups staked out: for instance, (how) can they be attributed with moral responsibility?
    • Should we strongly differentiate between different types of group — on the ground that it entitles them to variable claims for differential treatment, or differentiated group rights?
    • Do recent proposals for renewing theoretical frames in political philosophy, such as participative democracy or cosmopolitanism, offer new paths for appreciating the role and function of groups in political theory?

    Paper proposals of max. 1000 words should be sent by April 21, 2014, to

    Notification of acceptance will be sent by the end of May.

    Proposals may be sent in English or in French.  However, the working language of the conference will be English.

  • Mark 7:44 pm on March 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies 

    This relates to the issues I was rambling about here. I’ve posted about Chris Hedges in the past. I’m a big fan of his work. He’s also a very interesting man.

  • Mark 7:23 pm on March 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: attila the stockbroker, bob crow, ,   

    Attila the Stockbroker on Bob Crow 

    There was a man who held his ground.
    Fought every inch, and won the day.
    His legacy, his members’ lot:
    Good work conditions, decent pay.
    By Tories and their tabloid dupes
    And those who seek more than their share
    Just like Millwall, his favourite team,
    He wasn’t liked, and didn’t care.

    But those who worked in transport knew
    Their leader stood right by their side.
    No management could lay them low:
    They wore their union badge with pride.
    He spoke for passengers as well:
    Safety, not profit, always first.
    Opposing fatal funding cuts –
    Paddington, Potters Bar the worst.

    Bob Crow. A boxer’s grandson, he:
    Led with the left and packed a punch.
    The bosses knew he’d take them on:
    No smarmy smile, no cosy lunch.
    We need more like him, that’s for sure:
    Upfront and honest to the last.
    He bargained hard and kept his word.
    A union leader unsurpassed.

    As zero hours contracts grow
    And bosses offer Hobson’s choice
    Let us not mourn, but organize:
    Get off our knees and find our voice!
    This man worked hard for workers’ rights:
    A fair wage, a safe, steady job.
    So join a union and stand firm.
    That’s the best way to honour Bob.

    – Attila the Stockbroker

    (via Kirsty Lohman)

    • Jesse T. 3:20 am on July 22, 2014 Permalink

      Bob Crow. A boxer’s grandson, he:
      Led with the left and packed a punch.
      The bosses knew he’d take them on:
      No smarmy smile, no cosy lunch.
      We need more like him, that’s for sure:
      Upfront and honest to the last.
      He bargained hard and kept his word.
      A union leader unsurpassed.


  • Mark 9:26 am on March 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: only lovers left alive,   

    Only Lovers Left Alive, or what is it like to be a meta-reflexive vampire? 

    I’m not someone who is interested in vampires, either in the highbrow terms you’ll sometimes find in English Literature departments or the lowbrow terms that modishly respond to their asinine revival in popular culture (also sometimes found in English Literature departments). But if the man who directed Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai has directed a vampire film, it’s probably going to be a little bit different… and it is. Only Lovers Left Alive is, in a manner of speaking, a romantic comedy. It depicts an episode in the lives of two world-weary and highly-cultured vampires, who take their pleasure where they find it as the world around them gently slides into oblivion. In a weird sort of way, it really reminded me of Inside Llewyn Davis in the sense that music is deployed artfully to help get ‘inside’ a life where nothing much really happens, capturing the texture and the temporality of existence for those who, to an outside observer, simply appear languid and aimless.

    The film has two settings: post-crash Detroit and ancient Tangier. The former is placed very much in time, with expository dialogue about its depopulation constituting the one clunky moment in this otherwise accomplished film. The latter is very much out of time, an effect intensified by the presence of an ancient Christopher Marlowe whiling away his final years in the back room of an all night cafe. The aesthetics of industrial ruination have become a little bit of a cliche at this point (though not, perhaps, for everyone) but this only detracted a little from the cinematographic accomplishment of so overpoweringly capturing the extent to which vampiric capital* has left Detroit drained and dying.

    Adam, reclusive post-rock genius and former pal of Byron, spends his days rattling around in an old house in a deserted part of town, making music and playing with the instruments he’s accumulated over the years, all the while becoming steadily more depressed. Eve, his gregarious and effusive literary wife of the last two centuries, lives in Tangiers while maintaining a social life of sorts (at least compared to Adam). The film revolves around Adam’s growing depression, with him becoming suicidal as bearing witness to what the ‘zombies’ are doing to the world gradually wears him down, before Eve visits him in Detroit out of concern for his declining mental health. Then Eve’s ‘younger’ sister arrives unexpectedly, sparking off a chain of events which generates upheaval and forces both Adam and Eve to move on and adapt to new circumstances; something which, we’re reminded at the conclusion, they must have done on many occasions in their long lives.

    Given how attentive to time the film was, it seemed odd to me that it felt so unnecessarily compressed. The growing tendency towards long films** generally irritates me but this is one of those rare occasions where I felt a two hour film would have benefited from a further hour. Not only because it was such an aesthetic delight, with post-rock melancholia framing the worn beauty of Adam and Eve and the desolate urban landscape in which much of the film was played out. But it could have explored the characters further. Culture was a big part of the film: books, music, musical instruments, technological artefacts, composition, attribution, literary figures. But the meaning of this for Adam and Eve only figured tangentially. There were a few asides about the importance of “getting the work out” or words to that effect but little exploration of this motivation or the meanings underlying it. What is it like to be a depressed vampire? Perhaps I’m approaching the film rather idiosyncratically but it felt like an answer to this question was tacitly promised but never explicitly offered.

    *Thankfully the expository dialogue stopped short of a conversation about how “we just suck people’s blood but their system sucks away all life” even though the direction was clearly gesturing towards this.

    **This may very well be confirmation bias on my part.

  • Mark 8:57 am on March 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Porn Studies is Released 

    Routledge Journals Publishes Porn Studies

    March 2014 – Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group) publish the first double issue of Porn Studies, the premier dedicated, international, peer-reviewed journal tocritically explore those cultural products and services designated as pornographic and their cultural, economic, historical, institutional, legal and social contexts. Porn Studies is edited by Professor Feona Attwood of Middlesex University and Professor Clarissa Smith of the University of Sunderland and supported by an international editorialboard including: Constance Penley, Brian McNair, Lynn Comella, Martin Barker, Susanna Paasonen and Alan McKee.

    Professor Gerard Goggin, University of Sydney comments on the journal’s inaugural issues:

    “Finally we have a journal that brings together the urgently needed research, theories, and debates to make sense of an important aspect of social and cultural life. The breadth, depth, and richness of its packed first issue confirms its promise as a platform, not only for understanding pornography – but as a space for new, adventurous, genuinely cosmopolitan rethinking of many of the things about identity, bodies, power, belonging, media, and contemporary reality that we take-for-granted, but still know too little about.”

    In their introduction to the first, doubleissue of the journal Attwood and Smith outlined why this new journal is needed: “Perhaps one of the most important reasons for Porn Studies is the very topicality of pornography; we believe it is the right time to launch this journal because the subject is so politically and emotionally charged. Pornography has a public presence as an object of concern and as a metaphor used to designate the boundaries of the public space.

    Articles by leading scholars identify some of the leading themes in pornography research today:

    Utilising data from more than 5000responses to an online questionnaire, Martin Barker’s ‘The “Problem” of Sexual Fantasies’ explores understandings of the relations between pornography and sexual imaginaries.

    Fears about what children might belearning from pornography have been centre stage for some time, in ‘Porn and Sex Education, Porn as Sex Education’, Kath Albury addresses those concerns and their intersections with other issues around young people’s sexual practices, sexual self-representation and sexual knowledge.

    In ‘Studying Porn Cultures’ Lynn Comella suggests a ‘porn studies-in-action’ and exhorts researchers to ‘leave the confines of our offices, and spend time in the places where pornography is made, distributed and consumed, discussed and debated, taught and adjudicated’.

    Read these and more free online until 31 May 2014.

    Further endorsements for Porn Studieshttp://bit.ly/PornStudiesEndorsements

    A selection of call for papers for issues of Porn Studies can be found here:

  • Mark 11:45 am on March 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: berkeley, god,   

    God in the Quad 

    There was a young man who said, “God
    Must think it exceedingly odd
    If he finds that this tree
    Continues to be
    When there’s no one about in the Quad.”

    Dear Sir:
    Your astonishment’s odd:
    I am always about in the Quad.
    And that’s why the tree
    Will continue to be,
    Since observed by
    Yours faithfully,

    • Ronald Knox


    • bobmouncer 8:46 am on March 22, 2014 Permalink

      Haha – it’s years since I’ve seen this quoted. It’s a bit of posh philosophy, I suppose, in the end: “the quad” smacks of public school, Billy Bunter and Oxbridge. We didn’t have a quad at Bounds Green Secondary Modern. We did have RI lessons, but Miss King (she was a bit of a fundy – she took me to hear BIlly Graham!) didn’t quote this.

  • Mark 10:06 pm on March 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: civilization, , douglas copeland, player one, ,   

    The Epistemology of Civilizational Collapse 

    There was an interesting report earlier this week on a Nasa-funded study modelling the dynamics of civilizational collapse. I definitely intend to look at the study when it’s released, though I’m rather cautious about this sort of modelling given that so much of the detail abstracted away from seems obviously causally relevant to the phenomena being modelled. Nonetheless, it seems obvious that this has value as a thought experiment – perhaps even more so if I could follow the maths. Here’s a description of the Handy model I found:

    Handy has four differential equations describing the evolution of its state variables: Commoner population (commoners), Elite population (elite), regenerating natural resources (nature), and accumulated wealth (wealth). Human population plays a role analogous to that of predators, and nature plays the role of the resource preyed upon.

    An interesting feature of Handy is that it introduces the accumulation of economic wealth, and divides the human population into rich and poor according to their unequal access to available wealth.

    This new variable explains why human societies can undergo an irreversible collapse, while animal populations show cyclic changes (or reversible collapses).

    Social inequality is not only explicitly considered but also plays a key role in the sustainability analyses of the model. This makes Handy the first model of its kind that studies the impacts of inequality on the fate of societies, a capability seldom found even in complex world models.

    Handy establishes a useful general framework that allows carrying out “thought experiments” about societal collapse scenarios and the changes that might avoid them.

    The model is a very strong simplification of the human-nature system, which results in many limitations. Despite its simplicity, such a model is easy to understand and offers a more intuitive grasp of underlying dynamical phenomena compared to more complex and less aggregated models.


    However what interests me is the amount of media attention it generated. The original Guardian article seems to have been picked up widely, bringing out the most asinine impulses in the world’s web editors, with my favourite being “According To A Nasa Funded Study, We’re Pretty Much Screwed. This was a slightly facetious response to the frequency with which (third-hand*) reports were framed in terms of the allegedly postulated inevitability of this collapse.

    Why is respectable research on collapse so interesting? In part because it’s seen as a topic which tends towards unrespectability. As the Guardian article pointed out, it’s more often the domain of cranks and conspiracy theorists than applied mathematicians and computer scientists. But this just defers the question: why is the topic marginalised in this way? There are lots of interesting issues here which have been on my mind since reading the article. Here in no particular order are some things I think about the epistemology of collapse:

    • We tend towards a generic assumption of the durability of social structures.
    • We tend even more strongly towards a generic assumption of the durability of social formations (i.e. assemblages of social structures)
    • We tend to miss the origins of social formations in the intended and unintended consequences of deliberate action, as well as the interactions between them.
    • We tend to reason inductively and, in doing so, miss the possibility that the future will be radically distinct from the past.
    • Even if we deny it intellectually, we tend towards exceptionalism in how we see social formations which are deeply familiar to us.

    This ties nicely into a forthcoming chapter by Ismael Al-Amoudi and John Latsis on the death of social formations (i.e. their extinction, as opposed to a change in their state) which has been on my mind ever since I saw them give the paper earlier this year. But whereas they are concerned primarily with the ontology of this issue, I’m concerned with its epistemology (though of course the former is connected to the latter in ways too complicated for a quick blog post). One of the many important things abstracted away from in the Handy model is the futurity of social agents i.e. the variable perception which agents have of their future contributes to shaping their action and, through reciprocal interaction, conditions the overall action environment. But how far does this orientation towards the future extend? It probably doesn’t extend to collapse and that really fascinates me. I suspect, for the reasons in bullet points above, it’s a topic that will always tend towards marginality.

    One of my favourite novels of the last few years was Douglas Copeland’s Player One. It depicts the collapse of western civilisation through the real-time story of five hours in an airport cocktail bar. It is hinted at as arising from Peak Oil, an expository concession which is the one point I disliked in this otherwise fantastic novel. It explores civilizational collapse under the fog of war, as a messy and violent process, characterised by love and uncertainty but most of all by the rapidity with which the perceived durability of a social formation can come to be recognised as illusory. There’s a brusqueness to Copeland’s prose which intensifies the claustrophobic temporality of civilizational collapse:

    Dr. Yamato, crabby after a three-day bipolar symposium, went on, saying, “Karen, history may well prove worthless in the ned. Individualism may prove to be only a cruel and unnecessary hoax played on billions of people for no known reason – a bad idea dreamed up by God on the Eighth day.”

    Karen had laughed – laughed!

    Rick takes over guard duty, and Luke and Karen escort a limping Max to the storage room, over by the recycling bins.

    Karen asks, “Where were you when the explosions happened? How did you get here? Were you with your family? Where are they if you’re here? ”

    Max stands in his boxer shorts and says, “We were in a rental car headed downtown.”

    Luke says, “There’s no bottled water or club soda here. The best I can do is melted ice from the machine.”

    “Do it.” (pg 175)

    The novel ultimately steps back from the brink, as a redemptive message incipient within its ending hints at a moral to the story… what if it was all pointless though? What if it just ended? What if none of it made any difference to anyone? These are existential questions which tie civilisational collapse (an abstraction) to human relationships (through which such an abstraction would become concrete). The power of Player One comes in its exploration of this linkage but its failure to follow through arises from its subtle faith in the redemptive power of the latter. Don’t get me wrong, in spite of all the Nietzsche I’ve been reading recently, I share the ethos expressed in this. But it does seem to be a retreat nonetheless. It’s a exploration of the epistemology of civilisational collapse which fails to really confront it. This is something which I think is quite common, with the transition from 9/11 allegory Cloverfield being a film I love to one that irritates me tracking this rather effectively:

    The thought that has fascinated me is how different the macro-social perspective of the Nasa-funded research is from what would be the on-the-ground epistemology of collapse. What would it be like to experience a complete civilisational collapse? It seems rather like asking what it would be like to be dead. All we can do is gesture towards the vectors through which things would unravel and speculate about what it would be like to experience this unravelling. So many of our epistemological habits mitigate our confrontation with this question, formed as they are in dependence upon social and technical systems the erosion of which would be constitutive of civilisational collapse.

    Edit to add: the plot for my NaNoWriMo novel becomes clearer with each passing year. Will this be the year I actually write it?

    *The paper hasn’t been released yet and lots of the articles were reporting on reports of the summary in the original Guardian article.

  • Mark 9:47 pm on March 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Road to Joy 

    The sun came up with no conclusions. Flowers sleeping in their beds. The city cemetery’s humming, I’m wide awake it’s morning.

    I have my drugs I have my woman. They keep away my loneliness. My parents they have their religion, but sleep in separate houses.

    I read the body count out of the paper. And now it’s written all over my face. No one ever plans to sleep out in the gutter. Sometimes that’s just the most comfortable place.

    So now I’m drinking, breathing, writing, singing. Everyday I’m on the clock. My mind races with all my longings. But can’t keep up with what I got.

    So I hope I don’t sound too ungrateful, what history gave modern men. A telephone to talk to strangers, a machine gun and a camera lens.

    So when you’re asked to fight a war that’s over nothing. It’s best to join the side that’s going to win. And no one’s sure how all of this got started. But we’re going to make them goddamn certain how it’s going to end.

    I could have been a famous singer, if I had someone else’s voice. But failure’s always sounded better, let’s fuck it up boys. Make some noise.

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