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  • Mark 7:41 pm on June 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: digital theory, informatics,   

    Critical realism and social informatics 

    Well this is an interesting trend. Until PJ Wall told me about it a couple of weeks ago, I was completely unaware that critical realism has provoked such interest within social informatics – in fact I was unaware of this entire field until relatively recently and I’m rather taken with it. Witness this recent special issue of Management Information Systems Quarterly:

    There has been growing interest in a range of disciplines (Ackroyd and Fleetwood 2000; Danermark et al. 2002; Fleetwood 1999; Fleetwood and Ackroyd 2004), not least information systems (Dobson 2001; Longshore Smith 2006; Mingers 2004b; Mutch 2010b; Volkoff et al. 2007; Wynn and Williams 2012) in ideas derived from the philosophical tradition of critical realism. Critical realism offers exciting prospects in shifting attention toward the real problems that we face and their underlying causes, and away from a focus on data and methods of analysis. As such, it offers a robustframework for the use of a variety of methods in order to gain a better understanding of the meaning and significance of information systems in the contemporary world


    One way in which we can contribute to this debate is by testing the strength of such claims, which rest on a limited engagement with the detail of organizational research. One of the interesting tensions is that Archer’s argument for the centrality of reflexivity in contemporary conditions tends to downplay both routine action and tacit forms of knowing, whereas a considerable volume of work on organizations and IS stresses the centrality of both (Mutch 2010a). Archer’s claims might cause us to reassess these positions. It also might suggest the need for more focus on how the systems we study have changed the ways in which actors within organizations use information. This is chal- lenging, because it falls at the intersection of a number of disciplinary domains. It also suggests that more of our work ought to be on the use of systems over time, as opposed to looking at how systems are implemented. Although we recognize the problems associated with enterprise systems, it remains the case that they, however imperfectly, are central to the activities of multinational organizations and, one assumes, to the way in which those who work in them use the information they supply to carry out their work. Whether such systems shift the mode of reflexivity that is deployed, perhaps by demanding a more systemic and abstract form of reasoning, and whether such shifts are widespread, are important questions that could, in turn feed into these debates at the level of social theory.


    There are some provisional plans being formulated at present for a Critical Realism & Social Informatics event at the Centre for Social Ontology next year. Get in touch if this would be of interest!

  • Mark 6:53 pm on June 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: casual labour, , ,   

    The future of #highered? Zero hours lecturers in “an enterprising and innovative community” 

    I’ve included a screen shot below (HT @Andr_Dim) , in case the advert mysteriously vanishes from the internet. What really disgusts me about this is the shamelessness of the mission statement – this is “an exciting time for Edinburgh Napier University” in which they seek to become an “enterprising and innovative community” through expanding their “areas of research excellence across a broad portfolio of both discipline-based and inter-disciplinary research”. By which they mean they want to replace securely employed staff with recently completed PhD students on zero hour  contracts.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 19.47.03

    • Tracey Yeadon-Lee 9:43 pm on June 30, 2014 Permalink

      Reblogged this on Tracey Yeadon-Lee and commented:
      So often the words ‘enterprising’ and ‘innovation’ mean getting on by exploiting others. It’s a very sad state of affairs that this is exactly what is going on in some HEIs – see the post below by Mark Carrigan.

  • Mark 6:37 pm on June 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , freedom of speech, , , ,   

    The regulation of academic social media use 

    This is a subject I’ve wanted to research for some time but have struggled to see how. I suspect we are seeing the very early stages of a backlash against the uptake of social media by academics – encompassing both the regulation of its ‘improper’ use and the incentivisation of its ‘proper’ use, with the latter being in practice no less pernicious than the former. This recent article in Inside Higher Education framed it as common sense that we need policies to clarify such an ambiguous situation:

    From censored tweets to viral videos of professors’ partisan “rants,” numerous faculty members have found themselves in hot water over how they’ve used or been portrayed on social media in the past year. For faculty members at most colleges and universities, social media is a kind of “wild west” in which there are few – if any – articulated policies protecting professors’ right to tweet, post or otherwise share professional or personal thoughts (or to keep their thoughts private).

    That’s a problem, said Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University at East Bay and chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure. He delivered the plenary address at AAUP’s annual conference here Thursday, aptly called “Can I Tweet That?”

    “We need policies, but what we need are good policies,” said Reichman, emphasizing that faculty members and their elected leaders should be involved in drafting such social media policies “from the get-go.”


    To be fair, the article contrasts (good) “faculty-driven policy” to (bad) policy formulated by university managers. But is this dichotomy really tenable? To discuss regulation admits the premise that such control would be legitimate – is this the case? If so then it needs to be argued for in principle, rather than be smuggled in surreptitiously in the guise of pragmatism about the potential implications of academic social media use. It’s not obvious that regulation is necessary, all the more so when we consider broader trends towards precarious work within the academic labour market.

    I think this is a very complex issue. Much more so than anything I’ve read on the subject seems to acknowledge. This will be a large section of the final chapter of Social Media for Academics but I’m quite far away from being in a position to write it. My views on the issue are being shaped by some of the experiences that have been recounted to me in private – it’s difficult to know the extent to which these reflect a broader tendency beginning to emerge in UK higher education. If anyone has had experience of these issues and would like to talk then please do get in touch (mark@markcarrigan.net). It goes without saying that any experience recounted to me will be treated in the strictest confidence.

  • Mark 9:52 pm on June 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Owen Jones – The Establishment And How They Get Away With It 

    I still think he should have called the book Toffs but I’m nontheless looking forward to reading it:

    • Matthew (Bibliofreak.net) 10:21 am on June 30, 2015 Permalink

      It’s well worth a read, Jones writes in a really accessible way while still taking his topic seriously.

      My review: The Establishment by Owen Jones

  • Mark 8:59 pm on June 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , digital currency,   

    Where is Bitcoin 2.0 Heading? 

    After a conversation at CompSocSci in which I finally grasped how Bitcoin works, I’ve been trying to learn more about it. I watched some of the live stream from the recent CyberSalon devoted to the topic. The videos from the event have now been uploaded and I’m looking forward to watching them in full. The videos are online here. These are the speakers from the event. However I’m a little concerned that so many of the people talking about Bitcoin have such an obvious vested interest in its success.


    Jon MatonisJon Matonis- Executive Director, The Bitcoin Foundation

    A money researcher and crypto economist from George Washington University, Jon advises  startups in Bitcoin, gaming, mobile and prepaid organizations. A tech contributor to Forbes Magazine and editor of The Monetary Future, Jon serves on the editorial board of Bitcoin Magazine. Previously CEO of Hushmail and Chief Forex Trader at VISA and held senior posts at Sumitomo Bank and VeriSign.

    stephan tualStephan Tual- Chief Communications Officer, Ethereum

    Ethereum is “Cryptocurrency 2.0″. It’s a decentralized mining network and software development platform rolled into one, and it will allow people to create their own altcoins, and other types of crypto.




    Niki Wiles

    Niki Wiles -Community Relations, Counterparty

    Counterparty is a peer-to-peer finance platform and decentralized exchange built on Bitcoin. He has been involved with distributed finance since the early days of Bitcoin, and has an eclectic background in IT, finance and marketing.



    swarm-ben Ben Ingram, COO, SWARM– decentralised crowdfunding

    Ben is a mainstream entrepreneur. Post sale of his strategic consulting and system  integration company (named the most recognised brand in Cloud software services), Ben  had the opportunity to once again look for the ‘next big thing’.  His startup Swarm  is a  revolutionary approach to enterprise capital & their new model for distributed crowd  funding is the talk of the internet.  “This, right now, is the moment, when crypto equities  emerge as the most profoundly impactful technology of this century.  In 2014,  progressive VC portfolios will be built on the blockchain.” SWARM is a new approach to  crowd funding that uses Blockchain technology to outpace traditional platforms like Kickstarter and which aims to accelerate the evolution of the crypto-currency community and explore the possibilities of issuing new crypto-tokens. They recently launched to a warm reception, raising close to £1m in a week.


    richard boase Chair: Richard Boase, Cybersalon/UK Digital Currency Association






  • Mark 8:42 pm on June 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    What sociologists actually do and what social theorists think they should do 

    There’s a great post on Daniel Little’s blog which uses a critique of analytical sociology and critical realism to explore a premise which he argues they both share: ontology dictates methodology. As he frames the issue:

    Both groups have strong (and conflicting) ideas about social ontology, and both think that these ideas are important to the conduct of social-science research. Analytical sociologists tend towards an enlightened version of methodological individualism: social entities derive from the actions and nature of the individuals who constitute them. Critical realists tend toward some version or another of emergentism: social entities possess properties that are emergent with respect to the individual activities that constitute them.

    Both groups tend to design social science methodologies to correspond to the ontological theories that they advance. So they tacitly agree about what I regard as a questionable premise — that ontology dictates methodology.

    I want to argue for a greater degree of independence between ontology and methodology than either group would probably be willing to countenance. With the analytical sociologists I believe that social facts depend on the availability of microfoundations at the level of ensembles of individuals. This is an ontological fact. But with the critical realists I believe that it is entirely appropriate for social scientists to examine the causal and structural properties of social entities without being forced to attempt to provide the microfoundations of these properties. This is an observation about the locus and nature of explanation. There are stable structural and causal properties at the social level, and it is entirely legitimate to investigate these properties in full empirical detail. Sociologists, organizational theorists, and institutional researchers should be encouraged to investigate in detail the workings, arrangements, and causal properties of the regimes that they study. And this is precisely the kind of investigation that holds together researchers as diverse as Michael Mann, Kathleen Thelen, Charles Perrow, Howard Kimmeldorf, and Frank Dobbin. (Use the search box to find discussions of their work in earlier posts.)


    This is an issue I’m very interested in but have struggled to come to any firm conclusion about. My most serious attempt to think through these issues is this working paper. On the one hand, I find Margaret Archer’s argument that social ontology regulates the kinds of entities which can be admitted into explanation intuitively plausible. On the other hand, I find myself intuitively hostile – even actively irritated by – the style of social theory that someone like Dave Elder-Vass sometimes lapses into, in which he appears to argue that sociological investigation is unable to proceed adequately until social theorists have provided the domain specific ontology sociologists need to undergird their activity.

    I guess a lot depends on what we take the claim about ‘regulation’ to mean. Does ontology regulate methodology? Should ontology regulate methodology? Could ontology regulate methodology? I think a similar ambiguity can be found in Little’s own framing of the relationship between ontology and methodology in the aforementioned post:

    Ontology is not irrelevant to methodology; but it provides only weak constraints on the nature of the methodologies social scientists may choose in their pursuit of better understanding of the social world.

    Is this an empirical statement about sociological practice? If so then we’re in the domain of the sociology of social theory – a notion that I’ve played around with in the past and at some point in my life, when I’ve read an awful lot more than I have at present, intend to come back to. If it’s not an empirical claim of this sort then what is it? This is the question that interests me and it’s one I don’t feel I have a sufficiently firm grip on to try and answer – descriptive claims about sociological practice unavoidably include normative claims within their scope (i.e. describing what sociologists actually do includes descriptions of what their theories tell them they should do) and yet as such a purportedly neutral sociology of social theory comes to constitute a move within the same game.

    I’m very interested in the possibility of an ethnographic study of how sociologists actually use theoretical concepts as part of the research process. But at the same time I find the possibility of the neutrality this would entail to be rather implausible… I guess this is why I’m so confused (and yet fascinated) by questions like the relationship between ontology and methodology. The tendency seems to be for explicitly normative claims about what the methodological implications of social ontology should be. My problem is not with the normativity here but rather with the slipperiness of the grounding, if any, in facts of the matter about sociological practice. I’m interested in the sociology of social theory as a normative project – how do sociologists actually use theoretical resources and what conclusions can we draw about how they should use them in light of such a state of affairs? This is a project which unavoidably confronts a messy reality, in which an underlying impulse towards theoretical tidiness (which I think animates the work of many social theorists even if they reflectively deny it – I’ve had a post about the psychodynamics of social theory which I’ve intended to write for ages) runs headfirst into the tangled reality of empirical research.

    I guess what I’m saying comes down to this: can we incorporate what sociologists actually do and what social theorists think they should do within a unified frame of reference? 

    • Benjamin Geer 9:39 pm on June 29, 2014 Permalink

      I suspect that what a lot of sociologists actually do is work for government agencies, in which bogus concepts from journalistic and policy jargon are incorporated uncritically into research questions and the interpretation of results.

    • Mark 6:16 pm on July 1, 2014 Permalink

      I can’t tell how facetious you’re being!

    • Benjamin Geer 6:35 pm on July 1, 2014 Permalink

      I’m totally serious. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but my impression is that a huge amount of sociological research (or, if you like, research on social issues done by people with training in sociology) is entirely policy-oriented and avoids theoretical issues altogether, and that much of this research (but by no means all of it) is done outside academia. I realise that the methodological issue you’re discussing is important, and I don’t mean to belittle it in any way, but the phrase “what sociologists actually do” brought this to mind and I thought it might put the issue you’re raising in a different perspective. Is there, as I suspect, a great deal of sociological practice in which theory itself is seen as largely or completely irrelevant, and research is based essentially on statistics plus commonsense concepts? Or am I exaggerating?

    • Mark 7:14 pm on July 1, 2014 Permalink

      Oh ok, yes I suspect you’re right, though the fact I never actually meet them makes my awareness of them feel dimly intellectual. I share your rejection of it but not the extent of your hostility – the question it leaves me asking is what it says about sociological theory that a widespread rejection of it could be a coherent & feasible intellectual move?

    • Benjamin Geer 8:06 pm on July 1, 2014 Permalink

      I also don’t mean to belittle working researchers who I think are often are doing the best they can within the parameters defined by their employers, in a very tough job market. I think this situation isn’t theory’s fault, it’s a matter of autonomy. Theory is made by sociologists for sociologists, and the less theorists have to worry about what non-specialists think of their work (i.e. the more autonomous they are), the freer they are to talk about things that laypeople don’t care about or to question social reality in ways that laypeople (especially powerful ones) disapprove of. Policy-oriented and non-academic research is made to order for (often powerful) lay customers, and must therefore use categories that those customers are familiar with and approve of, whether or not the results are intellectually coherent.

    • Benjamin Geer 8:14 pm on July 1, 2014 Permalink

      Sari Hanafi offers an evocative portrait of this “donor-driven” social science in the Arab world: http://goo.gl/DIzsd6

    • Mark 7:35 am on July 3, 2014 Permalink

      I’m really not denying this exists, I’m just sceptical that it represents quite the lack of autonomy you’re suggesting – the last chapter of Tom Medvetz’s Think Tanks book is very interesting on this point, looking at how the rise of think tanks has reshaped the ‘market place of ideas’ within which social science must try and sell its wares. I think some people strategically embrace this logic, producing the outcomes you’re talking about. I think the problem is that they’re embracing it rather than with applied policy research as such – I’m not denying there’s a pressure to “use categories those customers are familiar with and approve of” – I’m just denying that this pressure operates in the quasi-automatic way you’re suggesting. I think it’s negotiated and that the argument you’re making is the flip side of ‘applied researchers’ who say social science must embrace the logic of the marketplace of ideas in order to survive. Iyswim.

    • Benjamin Geer 8:06 am on July 3, 2014 Permalink

      I can believe it’s negotiated, but surely this negotiation takes place in the context of a huge power imbalance between employer and employee. This seems like it could be a great topic for an ethnographic study: how are decisions about theoretical concepts (or the lack thereof) actually made in practice in think tanks and government agencies?

    • Stephen Shirlaw 8:13 am on July 3, 2014 Permalink

      Can one look for an answer in the direction of a more stratified ontology ?
      This posts and the associated working paper pose many interesting questions about the autonomy of methodology versus social theory. One way forward is a sociology of social theory, but I want to argue that a complementary approach is to look at a more stratified ontology that gives autonomy to different levels :
      – Ontology of the real : human, cultural and social
      – Ontology of the actual : observables and perspectives
      – Ontology of the empirical : observer and his actions
      The idea is then to build accept the autonomy of each level yet achieve a synergistic framework. Observers have motivations and freedom of action. Observable and perspectives can be freely chosen but must refer to an actual society. There should be consistency between what is observed and the social ontology and inconsistencies can be sources of discovery.
      In a recent paper for the BSA I showed that on could interlink an enhanced sociocultural ontology with a new way of considering observables and perspectives. I identified three perspectives which are the relational/dimensional, the trajectories and the dispositional and argued that these three perspectives form a more interconnected set of perspectives and common observables than is found in the corresponding three disciplinary perspectives of the sociological , the historical/cultural and the psychological. The objective of these perspectives are to be a support for methodology while maintaining a link with social theory.
      Looking in the direction of a stratified ontology that gives autonomy to the different levels aims to resolve a key aspect of the problem:
      – maintain the link between theory, methodology and the observer
      – ensuring consistency and the visibility of discrepancies
      – accepting the freedom associated with each level.
      The interesting point I see raised by the project of sociology of social theory is that of posing the question of a complete and consistent sociocultural framework.

    • Mark 8:23 am on July 3, 2014 Permalink

      I think that’s a brilliant idea!

    • Stephen Shirlaw 9:27 am on July 3, 2014 Permalink

      I will be developing this interdisciplinary ontology and three perspectives approach in a paper I will be writing up over the summer. At present the ideas are summarized in the ppt presentation I did for the BSA in April if you want a copy.

    • Stephen Shirlaw 8:22 am on July 7, 2014 Permalink

      I have posted a similar comment D.Little’s blog on the same post refered to above :

  • Mark 7:35 am on June 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Call for Papers: Sexual Cultures 2: Academia Meets Activism 

    April 8-10 2015 University of Sunderland London Campus, South Quay, London, UK 

    This conference, co-hosted by the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland, and the Onscenity Research Network will take place on April 8-10 2015 at the University of Sunderland London Campus, London, UK

    Along with two keynote speakers addressing themes of intersectionality and sexual cultures, there will be keynote panels, bringing together key academics and activists on the topics of:

    ·         Sex and disability

    ·         Trans* and non-binary activism

    ·         Sex worker and stripper activism

    ·         Youth, race and sexuality

    The overriding theme of the conference is the bringing together of academia with activism. Submissions are particularly welcomed from: academics who are also activists, activists who are also academics, academic/activists on the inside and outside of conventional academia, and academics and activists who are working together on projects relating to sexual cultures.

    We particularly welcome proposals for non-standard types of presentation which question the academic/activist distinction, such as fish bowl discussions, pecha kucha, creative methods workshops, and interactive workshops.

    All presenters are requested to make their material accessible to an audience which will include academics, activists, practitioners and community members.

    Deadline for the submission of proposals is October 31 2014.

    For all individual papers please submit a 150 word abstract and 150 word biographical note. Please indicate which key theme of the conference your paper belongs to.

    For panels, workshops and roundtable sessions please submit a 600-800 overview and set of abstracts with 150 word biographical notes. Please indicate which key theme of the conference you want your panel to be considered for.

    All submissions should be addressed to sexualcultures2[at]sunderland[dot]ac[dot]uk 

    Full details available at http://www.onscenity.org/sexual-cultures-conference-2/

  • Mark 10:02 am on June 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Sex therapists, pathology and asexuality 

    This article by a sexual health therapist appeared on an Australian news website a few days ago. It cautions against identification as asexual on the grounds that it precludes ‘further exploration’. We are told that “sexuality is as normal as breathing” and that those deliberating about their possible asexuality should “do some exploring, take your time” because “there is no need to give yourself a label, embrace an identity or feel the necessity to join a community”. But there is a need and what the author fails to realise is how arguments such as this contribute to it by propping up a sense of asexuality as being broken.

    There’s an interesting tension at the heart of the argument being made. On the one hand, it is asserted that it is “not possible to be without sexuality” and that “sexuality is as normal as breathing”. On the other hand, we are told that “conditions like sex-phobia and sexual aversion disorder (SAD) do exist”. This is what I mean by the sexual assumption: universality and uniformity are imputed to sexual attraction such that contrary cases are seen as deviations to be explained away as pathological. So the initial statement that “sexuality is as normal as breathing” comes to seem somewhat more complicated. I’d never heard of ‘sexual aversion disorder’ before. This is what I found through a quick google search:

    To understand sexual aversion disorder, one should first understand that there are circumstances in which it is normal for people to lose interest in sexual activity. The reader can then compare these situations to the loss of desire associated with serious sexual disorders, including sexual aversion disorder.

    There are a number of reasons that people lose interest in sexual intercourse. It is normal to experience a loss of desire during menopause; directly after the birth of a child; before or during menstruation; during recovery from an illness or surgery; and during such major or stressful life changes as death of a loved one, job loss, retirement, or divorce. These are considered normal causes for fluctuations in sexual desire and are generally temporary. Changing roles, such as becoming a parent for the first time or making a career change have also been found to cause loss of desire. Not having enough time for oneself or to be alone with one’s partner may also contribute to normal and naturally reversible loss of desire. Loss of privacy resulting from moving a dependent elderly parent into one’s home is a common cause of loss of desire in middle-aged couples. Depression, fatigue , or stress also contribute to lessening of sexual interest.


    For something ‘as normal as breathing’ (what does this even mean?) there seem to be an awful lot of conditions in which people don’t experience interest in sexual activity. As this link goes on to explain, SAD “represents a much stronger dislike of and active avoidance of sexual activity than the normal ups and downs in desire described above” (my emphasis). When we look at such a ‘condition’ in terms of the boundaries they draw, with a degree of precision which belies the supposed omnipresence of something akin a continual process we rely upon to live, it becomes interesting to see how this diagnostic category overlaps with others that perform a similar function:

    One disorder similar in many aspects to sexual aversion disorder is hypoactive sexual disorder. Many of the signs, such as avoiding sexual contact in a variety of ways, are similar. The primary difference between the two disorders is that a patient with hypoactive sexual disorder is not interested in sex at all and does not have sexual fantasies of any variety. A patient with sexual aversion disorder, by comparison, may have normal sexual fantasies, and even function normally with some partners, although not with a specific partner. Also, a patient with hyposexual disorder will not enjoy or desire any anticipation in sexual activities including kissing and caressing. Some, though not all, people with sexual aversion disorder do enjoy sexual foreplay until the point of genital contact.

    Sexual aversion disorder and hypoactive sexual disorder are both considered to be caused mainly by psychological factors and to manifest psychological symptoms. Another disorder that can have some similar symptoms is female sexual arousal disorder (FSAD). FSAD refers to a woman’s recurrent inability to achieve or maintain an adequate lubrication-swelling response during sexual activity. Lack of lubrication is a physical problem that may have either physical or psychological causes. Women with FSAD find intercourse uncomfortable or even painful. As a result of the physical discomfort, the woman often will avoid intercourse and sexual activity with her partner that may lead to intercourse. Although FSAD is a disorder with physical symptoms as well as psychological ones, it is easily confused with sexual aversion disorder because it may manifest as a problem of interest or desire.


    You don’t have to be a foucauldian to see the inherently political aspect to categories like this being deployed. What I find so frustrating about articles like the one that provoked this post is how disingenuously they’re couched – the author advocates freedom from categories (“there is no need to give yourself a label”) while in fact implicitly advocating their own pseudo-scientific ones. The reason why “there is no need to give yourself a label” is because the label in question either refers to something that doesn’t exist (sex is as natural as breathing, remember?) or to some pathological factor which needs to be treated in order to restore you to normality.

    • Kathryn 2:27 pm on July 11, 2014 Permalink

      Don’t label yourself with a positive word that speaks to your identity and identifies you with a community, because that’s totally limiting. Instead, let ME label you as a sufferer of a psychological disorder!

      Because that’s not limiting at all.

    • Mark 7:17 pm on July 11, 2014 Permalink


  • Mark 8:51 pm on June 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: silence,   

    Martin Scorsese and the Art of Silence 

    This is wonderful:

    (via Explore)

  • Mark 8:36 pm on June 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    Cfp – Moments of rupture – deadline for submissions extended 

    International conference
    Moments of rupture: Event and negativity in modern thought

    October 29 & 30, 2014
    Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile

    **The abstract submission deadline has been extended until July 7, 2014**

    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 to coloquio_ruptura@mail.udp.cl. The deadline for submissions is July 7. 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

    • rjgordon2014 10:24 am on June 27, 2014 Permalink

      Reblogged this on Governing Emergencies and commented:
      Really interesting call for papers for a conference on ‘rupture.’

  • Mark 8:06 pm on June 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , pugs,   

    Who needs Game of Thrones? Introducing the Pugs of Westeros 

  • Mark 6:59 pm on June 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: canon formations, ,   

    An Alternative History of Sociological Thought 

    This idea occurred to me earlier today when I read this great article on Harriet Martineau for a second time. I’d first heard of Martineau through a conversation on twitter, ultimately leading to this proposal by Steve Fuller. The longer I study sociology, the more I learn about these figures, whom for whatever reason did not make it into the sociological canon and yet made hugely original and important contributions to sociological thought. I’m thinking of people like Harriet Martineau, Patrick Geddes, William Du Bois and even Gabriel Tarde (though his championing by Nigel Thrift and Bruno Latour has contributed to a renewal of interest in his work). I’m assuming there are many others I’ve not encountered. Who else should figure in an alternative history of sociological thought?

    While resisting the urge to commit myself to another project for the moment, it also occurs to me that such an alternative history would by its nature be something which benefited from a diverse range of contributions. Given what I assume to be a multiplicity of processes that can lead important and valuable figures to be historically marginalised and excluded from the canon, it stands to reason that attempting to sole author a history of these exclusions would be an unavoidably difficult task – the very fact of the exclusions means that first contact with particular thinkers would likely be accidental, with a continued engagement reflecting the value that the reader found in their work despite the relative lack of status accorded to the thinker in question. So the wider the range of perspectives that figured into this alternative history, the more likely it would be to serve the purpose I’m proposing for it.

    Why does this matter? There are lots of ways to answer this question, some of which are more politically inclined than others. But the one that seems most immediate and obvious to me is the intellectual implications of how narrowly conceived the contemporary canon of sociological thought is. I recognise the likelihood of national differences, with this being an important issue that an alternative history could explore, but with regards to British sociology I agree with the assessment made by William Outhwaite:

    The last 35 years or so in British sociology (by which I mean sociology written and taught in the UK) have been marked, I think, by two processes of ‘canonization’. The first is that of the holy trinity of Marx, Weber and Durkheim (sometimes including Simmel) as the ‘founding fathers’ of sociology as we know it. The second, more contentious, is the emergence of what seems at present like a fairly stable ‘canon’ of theorists ascribed a comparably prominent super-star role in contemporary sociology; my tentative list here (in alphabetical order) is Bauman, Beck, Bourdieu and Giddens.

    In the five years since Outhwaite wrote this paper, we have approached a point where Latour could be added to this list (and we could conceive a point where Giddens might, rather unfairly, drop out of it). But it’s remarkably limited in many ways. It’s an empirical question whether these theorists do have the status which Outhwaite suggests they enjoy but, assuming he’s correct, I find it easy to see all sorts of deleterious consequences which are likely to flow from the narrowness with which this canon is constituted. These are probably the subject for another post. But I think there’s an obvious need for a broadening out of the sociological canon, not necessarily for an attack on canonisation as such but for a debate about what it means to have have made an important contribution to the development of sociology.

    An interesting way to stimulate such a debate would be to allow people to argue for those figures who they believe to have been unfairly excluded from the sociological canon. The point would be to give an overview of their work, explain your own enthusiasm for it and make a case for the distinctive contribution that the sociologist in question has made to the development of the discipline. Each contribution would include an annotated bibliography in order to sign post a way for the interested reader to explore their work in greater depth. The point would not simply be to say ‘so and so is brilliant and should be more widely recognised’ but rather to elaborate upon what it is precisely about their work which is particularly valuable in virtue of wider trends (positive or negative) within the discipline.

    Such a project would benefit from being as accessible and open-ended as possible. This is why I think a platform like PressBooks would be so useful for producing something like this. This is a WordPress like platform which can be used to collectively produce an electronic book – I could imagine this being an ongoing effort, resulting in successive volumes as more people make contributions to the project, with the intention being that the resulting book would be freely available in a variety of electronic formats.

    The contributions would be:

    1. 1000-3000 words in length
    2. Include an additional annotated bibliography, providing full bibliographical details about notable texts and a brief description of their content
    3. Referenced in Harvard
    4. Making a case for the importance of the sociologist in question in terms of broader disciplinary themes

    Does this appeal to you? If so then please get in touch (mark@markcarrigan.net) – it’s going to be a few weeks before I have time to sit down and get the logistical side of this off the ground. But I think this is feasible and I’m serious about going ahead with it if there’s enough contributions. To be clear: the book would be self-published. But it would be freely available in Kindle, iBook, PDF and on the web – it will likely have a much broader reach than if it were issued by a publisher. I also imagine that this is something which could grow over time in a way that would potentially be hugely valuable, perhaps providing scope to systematically explore some of the broader issues which would be partially addressed by individual contributions.


    • Nils Müller (@Weltenkreuzer) 11:05 am on June 28, 2014 Permalink

      I really like the idea you are proposing here. It might be a first step at uncovering and possibly even systematizing the “long tail” of sociology. I haven’t got a specfic idea of an author I would like to add to this collection but will definitely be following the project.

      Just two additional ideas:

      – I know that sociology generally likes the idea of “books” as fixed and finished entities, but wouldn’t a more open and flexible publishing format better represent the idea of decanonization? A work in progress that can be expanded at any time, like some kind of blog or wiki combining sequential publication with internal structure and editing?

      – As a notoriously interdisciplinar scholar, I think adding “non-sociologists that have a lot to contribute to sociology” would be great. I am thinking of psychologists, geographers, ethnologists and so on…

      Thanks for taking the initiative on this!

    • Mark 5:11 pm on June 28, 2014 Permalink

      Hi Nils, I agree with (1) that’s why I think PressBooks will be so useful for this – I see where you’re coming from with the second point but I think this would end up being a very different project. I’m not so much after decanonization as recanonization 🙂

    • Dr Jeff Vass 12:09 pm on June 29, 2014 Permalink

      A very good idea. I’d say that two areas come to mind. Firstly, if sociology can be called a reflexivity of the social for which Martineau’s work is rightly highlighted then we might acknowledge a broad range of work in the pre-history of sociology and indeed the Enlightenment. There were a number of key debates, for example, about ‘interpretive communities’ in the C12th that pre-figure Weber, and also Renaissance essayists. A stronger case might be made for John Dewey, possibly W James and certainly G Mead. The revival of Pragmatism in sociology would benefit from reclaiming those who have been overly identified with psychology.
      all the best

    • Mark 6:18 pm on July 1, 2014 Permalink

      Yes I’d love this – is this as true in the US as here though? My sense was there was a lot of interest in pragmatism within US sociology, though filtered through the prism of Rorty et al.

    • Jeff Vassj 8:44 pm on July 1, 2014 Permalink

      I’m not so sure. Certainly Pragmatism in the US is very identified with Rorty now. And I suppose that might be one reason to reclaim early pragmatism for sociology! Obviously the descendents of pragmatism in US sociology (symbolic interactionism etc.) still carry a torch. But I think my view would be that US pragmatism developed more as a methodology with a number of theoretical ‘polarizations’ which don’t square with the early writers. So I think I see those resources now worth developing anew.

    • Mark 7:31 am on July 3, 2014 Permalink

      I’m fascinated by this – it would be a great article for the eBook!

  • Mark 3:22 pm on June 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , mead, self-censorship, , ,   

    Writing and your imagined audience 

    Do you imagine an audience when you write? I’ve become aware recently of how rarely I do this. The main reason for this has been the jarring experience of finding myself overly conscious about the particular audience I happen to be writing for in recent projects. I wrote a chapter on asexuality for a handbook on sexuality and was suddenly aware of the fact it would presumably be trainee councillors, sex therapists and psychology students reading the chapter. The uniform chapter headings that were built into the design of the book produced all sorts of angst about how I was writing i.e. if I’m writing under the heading ‘implications for applied practitioners’ (or a phrase to that effect) then I can’t help but  wonder who are these practitioners and what will they think of how I’m writing? More recently, with Social Media for Academics, I’ve found myself very conscious of what will presumably be a diverse audience and worrying about the ways in which disciplinary specific norms and styles might be creeping into my writing in a way deleterious to the readability of the book.

    I’ve found these experiences strange because I’m rarely aware of an audience the rest of the time when writing. Obviously I realise reflectively that people read things that I’ve made public. But this awareness rarely enters into the process of writing itself. It makes me second guess, immediately read back over what I’ve written and agonise over word choice and sentence structure. It seems to preclude the sort of ‘flow’ that my orientation towards writing generally leaves me seeking out. It reintroduces my internal conversation into the writing process and I write much more slowly and enjoy it much less. This left me thinking about how you make sense of this imagined audience, as internal conversation – it makes me think of pragmatism, with this ‘other’ entering into my inner experience while I write, offering a judgemental gaze in virtue of which I find myself assessing what I have written rather than losing myself in the process of writing. But my sense of this other is partial at best and entirely imagined at worst. I don’t really know these audiences and that’s why they’re entering into my writing process in such a censorious way. But then again do I know my ‘usual’ audience, the familiar group to which I’m implicitly contrasting these unfamiliar others? I really don’t and I find it oddly unnerving to pursue this line of thought. Perhaps if I pursue it too far, I’ll find a real generalised other, in Mead’s sense of the term, entering into my experience of writing and forevermore be prone to self-censoring in the face of its stern yet ephemeral gaze.

  • Mark 2:47 pm on June 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: olympics, , world cup   

    The World Cup in Brazil and the Political Economy of Mega Events 

    This fascinating discussion offers a penetrating critique of the politics of the world cup, reflecting on the ‘echoes of dictatorship’ that can be seen in the implementation of such a mega event within a country that has only been a democracy for a few decades. If you wonder what the next stage of post-democracy will look like, the political economy of events like the world cup and the olympics would be quite a good place to start. The analogy could certainly be overstated but the opacity of decision making, the naked capture of resource allocation by powerful interests and the increased ‘efficiency’ of judicial processes (‘World Cup courts’ is a terrifying phrase) in order to avoid disruption are all disturbing trends. What would they look like if they’re generalised? I interviewed Andrew Feinstein about similar issues in the South African world cup a few years ago.


  • Mark 9:56 am on June 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , value, values   

    Values Beyond Value? Is Anything Beyond the Logic of Capital? 

    This is excellent:

  • Mark 6:06 pm on June 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    Troubling Narratives Conference -it happened! 

    Wish I could have gone to this – it sounds excellent!

    • grainnemcmahon (@grainnemcmahon) 11:19 am on July 5, 2014 Permalink

      It was excellent, Mark (I was one of the organisers along with Tracey). All being well, we shall run it bi-annually.

    • Mark 11:51 am on July 5, 2014 Permalink

      congrats, hope I can make the next one!

  • Mark 5:53 pm on June 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , phobia, prejudice, ,   

    The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality 

    I41mRZVYpOXL._SY300_n the last few years my interest in asexuality has shifted from a concern with the experience of asexual people to a preoccupation with why those who aren’t asexual find it as confusing as they do. This can seem to be a confusingly niche interest, or at least I occasionally worry that it might come across that way. It emerged from one recurrent theme in the many personal stories I encountered in my research: the incomprehension with which most asexual people have at times found their asexuality greeted. What makes the notion so hard to grasp? I’ve written about this at length in the past and I don’t think I have anything new to add to the discussion at this point.

    What’s more important is how this incomprehension can lead people to act. This inability to grasp asexuality as a concept can bring otherwise well meaning people to act in deeply hurtful and marginalising ways. It can leave those who are far from well meaning acting in even more unpleasant ways than they might otherwise. What these actions usually have in common is a failure to believe asexuality exists as a possibility and a concomitant tendency to explain it away. Offering asexuality as an account of themselves, asexual people are instead told that it can’t exist… it must be their hormones, psychological damage, repressed child abuse. Don’t they know that sex is natural? Don’t they realise that sexuality is an integral aspect of the human condition? Perhaps they’re just a late bloomer? Or maybe they haven’t met the right person yet? In terms of the broader cultural frameworks within which we think and talk about sexuality, some of these reactions are entirely comprehensible to me (and this is why I find the reaction of non-asexuals to asexuality so interesting from a sociological standpoint). But they’re often deeply hurtful and what frustrates me is how unnecessary the hurt caused is. What we need is some sort of accessible introduction to asexuality, providing a readable overview of the many ways in which these reactions (and their underlying assumptions) are mistaken. Thankfully we now have one, with the publication of Julie Sondra Decker’s The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality.

    Written by a well known and respected figure within the asexual community, Decker’s book benefits from a personal familiarity with the issues concerned that lends an air of implicit authority that the author manages skilfully throughout. The tone is just right for a book of this sort: friendly and conversational yet also authoritative and precise. It begins with a personal story which illustrates the first-hand experiences Decker brings to the book, which is intended as a “starting point for people interested in asexuality”. It begins with an ‘Asexuality 101’ that introduces the basics in a way satisfying to the reader yet also firmly repudiating some of the most common miscomprehensions that one might bring to a book such as this. It then moves on to the varying experience of those who identify as asexual, introducing the potentially confusing panoply of terms which have proliferated within the asexual community but skilfully showing how these are grounded in specific kinds of experience. The next section, unsurprisingly my favourite given the nature of my own interest in the subject, addresses the (many) myths surrounding asexuality. The final sections offer practical advice to those who are asexual (or questioning whether they may be) and to those who know someone who is asexual (or suspect that they might be). The book then concludes with a helpful compendium of resources that the reader can use to explore further.

    This is a long overdue book, offering the general purpose introduction to the subject which has heretofore been lacking. It is an essential addition to any academic reading list that encompasses asexuality and should be required reading for any therapists with an interest in sexuality. It provides a sense of what it is like to be asexual that can sometimes be missing from academic work and engages with the literature while nonetheless refusing to be constrained by it. It is also immensely readable, providing an authoritative overview that sign posts the reader who is keen to explore further. I can’t recommend The Invisible Orientation highly enough and hope it has a wide readership. Given how effectively it critiques the myths surrounding asexuality, helping those who are not asexual themselves better understand something that can at first be deeply confusing, it is a book with the potential to make a positive difference to many people’s lives and help combat what the author describes as the “insidious form of exclusion” that asexual people continue to experience.

    • S.K. Falls 2:53 am on June 28, 2014 Permalink

      Very interesting! I’ve been looking for a well-researched guide on the subject of asexuality, and it looks like this might be it. Thank you for such a comprehensive review!

    • Sunfell 3:37 pm on January 21, 2015 Permalink

      Reblogged this on Light-Headed Thoughts and commented:
      This book will be on my reading list.

  • Mark 7:37 am on June 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    “when you come across something which you had thought special and particular to you” 

    I just came across this wonderful extract in a book I’m reading. I feel slightly silly quoting from a play I’ve not seen but it so perfectly expresses a thought I’ve struggled to articulate that I don’t mind:

    “The best moments in reading,” Alan Bennett writes in The History Boys, “are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

    I don’t think this only happens in reading. I think it’s an important feature of internet culture (“oh, there are other people just like me? maybe I’m not so weird after all”) that unsettles the fallacious boundaries we tend to draw between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’. It’s a process by which difference, defined in relation to a local reference group, finds itself transvaluated into commonality, defined in relation to a dispersed reference group. Tom Brock and I have a book chapter under review at the moment which uses Foucault and critical realism (in a weird synthesis I’m concerned will piss off both Foucauldians and critical realists) to try and understand this process but I’m not sure how successfully we do it.

  • Mark 2:17 pm on June 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Nina Wakeford, , ,   

    Then Along Came STS…. 

    by Nina Wakeford

    Then Along Came STS/ And… from Nina Wakeford on Vimeo.

  • Mark 8:07 am on June 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply

    CFP: Triage Devices: How Organizations Manage Commitments, Goldsmiths Feb 2015 

    This looks really interesting:

    Call for papers for a Workshop on February 27th-28th 2015 at Goldsmiths College London

    Triage Devices: How Organizations Manage Commitments

    organised by Nils Ellebrecht (University of Freiburg) and Monika Krause (Goldsmiths College, University of London) with support from the ESRC-funded project “Triaging Values”

    Deadline for abstracts: September 19th, 2014

    This workshop at Goldsmiths College brings together research and reflections on practices and devices that involve the allocation of scarce resources in different fields of expertise.
    The term triage comes initially from military medicine, where it describes the process by which doctors decide whom to treat first when they arrive at a battlefield and have more patients than they could reasonably treat in a timely manner. In military and emergency medicine it is generally accepted that medical attention is based on medical need but also on chances of survival. Doctors try not to “waste” scarce resources on patients who have little chance of survival. Triage, as practiced in emergency medicine is extreme in how explicitly it aggregates consequences for individuals into collective calculations and how explicitly it justifies that some “units” are left to die, but other practices of prioritization, in medicine and in other fields, whether explicit or implicit, can also have dramatic implications.

    This workshop will explore how organizations and individuals in organizations pick among the different things they could be doing in their everyday work. This will include consideration of explicit decision-making processes but also of routines and taken-for-granteds. The workshop aims at developing a better understanding of how organizations manage their commitments in view of limited means. We welcome contributions that address practices in one of many different substantive areas, such as, for example, healthcare, policing and surveillance, education, environmental conservation, development practice, and we aim to include work on organizations in the public, private and the third sector.

    Questions might include: – What resources are labelled as scarce? – What kind of units function as the targets of distributions (individuals, territorial units, priority themes, company divisions, product lines etc.)? – What are the knowledge-claims involved in making decisions among units and how are debates about this knowledge resolved? – What role do management tools and devices play in selecting among things that could be done? – What are the time frames involved in these commitments? – How are trade-offs involved in selecting priorities reflected? Is triage or rationing explicit or implicit? – What different kinds/types/logics of allocation are observable? In how far do “talk, decision, and action” (Brunsson) differ with regard to the organisational distribution of scarce resources?

    • How do actors make sense of triage and its dilemmas? How do they deal with the responsibility that is involved?

    Examining these organizational practices in more detail and in comparative perspective is important in itself. The workshop will also explore to what extent research questions about triage can form the basis of new ways of describing patterns or “orders” established within and around organizations, which could then be used to answer broader kinds of questions in new and interesting ways.

    Please submit a long abstract of 300 to 500 words by email to nils.ellebrecht@soziologie.uni-freiburg.de andm.krause@gold.ac.uk by September 19th 2014. A limited budget to help with travel expenses is available. Accommodation and meals will be provided. Invited presenters will be notified by Oct 1st 2014. Please be prepared to share your paper by February 6th 2015. Papers will be circulated before the workshop. The workshop will be reserved for intensive discussion of papers.

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