Updates from December, 2014 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 4:00 pm on December 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Music I find inexplicably conducive to writing (#10) 

  • Mark 11:18 am on December 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    The most popular posts on my blog in 2014 

  • Mark 11:14 am on December 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Music I find inexplicably conducive to writing (#9) 

  • Mark 9:02 pm on December 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Zeus vs. Thor 

    (via Org Theory, weirdly enough)

  • Mark 8:12 pm on December 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    CfP Risk technologies session at forthcoming Sociology of Risk mid-term 

    I’m very tempted to submit something for this – in spite of my continued lack of conference travel funding & the number of international trips I’m already committed to next year.

    Edit to add: problem solved – I only just noticed that the deadline is today…

    Relating with the Digital, Relating to the Future: Bringing Risk to Life
    Session organized for the ESA RN22 (Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty) Mid-Term Conference “Risk, Uncertainty and Transition”, Stuttgart, 8-10 April 2015

    Convenors: Nat O’Grady (University of Southampton) and Matthias Leese (University of Tuebingen)

    Recent literature suggests that the rise of digital technologies in the back offices of governmental bodies, emergency responders, and a variety of private firms does not exactly seal a new dawn of technocracy in which the ability to intervene, to govern or control lies at the behest of auto-poetic software and algorithmic code. To analyse, to identify, or to detect risks are not tasks which, in other words, exclusively rely on computers. What matters instead are the new forms of relation inaugurated between humans and technology in exploring transformations to risk governance. Question of interface, of design, and visualization have thus come to the fore. This session seeks to bring together scholars from across social science who share an interest in how digital technologies have led to a re-problematisation of risk governance; specifically with regards to how such technologies are brought to life in their relation to human operators and those that are governed.

    Empirical and/or theoretical contributions are solicited concentrating on a number of themes including, but not limited to:

    •         Practices of visualising the future
    •         The politics of data-based decision making
    •         Organisational transformation in relation to digital technologies
    •         Digital technologies and the remaking of  futures
    •         New logics and modes of calculation
    •         The organisational situatedness of technologies of risk management

    Please send your abstract of 300-400 words to Nat O’Grady (N.O’grady@soton.ac.uk<mailto:grady@soton.ac.uk>) and Matthias Leese (matthias.leese@izew.uni-tuebingen.de<mailto:matthias.leese@izew.uni-tuebingen.de>) by 15 December 2014 the latest. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

  • Mark 8:08 pm on December 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Symposium for Early Career Theorists (SECT), Ottawa, Canada, June 2014 

    The Social Theory Research Cluster invites paper proposals for its first Symposium for Early Career Theorists. SECT is a special one-day group of sessions at the Canadian Sociological Association that spotlights the work of emerging social theorists at a relatively early stage in their careers (PhD Candidates who are ABD status and those who are no more than five years beyond completion of their doctorate).

    Social theory is an open and dynamic field, and so in that spirit we seek papers that reflect, expand and/or critique the array of social phenomena that can be theorized. The Social Theory Research Cluster aspires to make SECT a flagship for social theory in Canada, and aims to renew and consolidate the place of theorizing in the Canadian sociological imagination. All proposals will be given serious attention, with session themes and topics reflecting the scope of submissions rather than vice versa. Papers will be circulated in advance to facilitate dialogue, and senior scholars will act as discussants.

    We welcome extended abstract submissions of 600-800 words. Abstracts can be submitted online here:


    Abstracts will be accepted until 11:55 pm on February 2, 2015 (Eastern Time). Complete papers will be due no later than April 30, 2015 to ensure that discussants have adequate time to prepare. The Canadian Sociological Association (CSA) annual meeting will be held in conjunction with the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences Congress 2015 at the University of Ottawa, in Ottawa, Ontario Canada’s capital city, from June 1 – 5, 2015.

    Social Theory Research Cluster
    Canadian Sociological Association

    Organized by Dr. Ariane Hanemaayer (ahanemaa@ualberta.ca) & Dr. Mervyn Horgan (mhorgan@uoguelph.ca)

  • Mark 3:32 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    The cultural representation of our inner life 

    • Janet 3:48 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink

      Thanks for this Mark, I’m going to pinch it to use with my PGCE students in a session on inner conversations. Brilliant!

    • Mark 3:48 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink

      If you find any more like this, let me know!

    • Janet 5:47 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink


  • Mark 7:08 pm on December 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    At the risk of sounding obsessive: Žižek is now releasing new books monthly 

    Unlike my previous post, I wasn’t actually looking for this. I just noticed it when browsing the recent philosophy releases on Amazon:

    August 2014: The Most Sublime Hysteric: Hegel with Lacan
    September 2014: Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj (with Nadezhda Tolokonnikova)
    October 2014: Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism
    November 2014: Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism
    December 2014: What Does Europe Want?: The Union and Its Discontents (with Srecko Horvat)


  • Mark 2:47 pm on December 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Some thoughts on sociological blogging 

    The potential value and dangers of sociological blogging arise because of an environment in which the demands of audit culture incentivise the production of ‘unread’ and ‘unloved’ publications which are too often written to be counted rather than to be read. The risk is that sociological blogging gets drawn into the pernicious logic of these metrics perhaps with ‘impact’ being measured through the daily visitors a blog receives or the number of times an online article is shared on social media. The temptation arises in part because of the manner in which such analytics are designed into blogging platforms themselves, with all providing numerous ways to view statistics about a blog’s popularity and many third party utilities available which can extend these modes of measurement. Given a broader trend first towards ‘content factories’ and then ‘viral publishers’, as well as the domination of ‘click-bait’, we need to think seriously about the potential for the the logic of the ‘social web’ to act back upon digital scholarship in a way that leads to a slide towards banality. My own experience has been that these considerations can creep in almost surreptitiously, as a seamless extension of rather innocuous practical considerations. If one is investing time in a project that aims to provide a platform for sociological writing then a reliance upon the built in metrics for measuring the circulation of that writing is inevitable. The problems begin when a incipient awareness of the varying popularity of different kinds of writing begins to effect how they are valued.

    For example, articles bemoaning the contemporary state of higher education are inevitably very popular (presumably because they both have a broader disciplinary remit then things which are explicitly sociological and appeal to something in the day-to-day professional lives of those reading them) but should this popularity mean that writing of this form becomes particularly valued for the blog itself? It probably should not but it is easy for this slide to happen, with a concern for the blog’s popularity and reach too easily giving rise to a concern for ‘content’ that contributes to these ends. We can see a similar issue with the titles which are chosen on blogs. With even the most casual assessment of the relative ‘performance’ (my unthinking use of this term and overwhelming need to place it in scare quotes reflects the underlying ambivalence I am attempting to convey) of blog posts, it soon becomes clear that the title chosen contributes to how widely ready they are, largely through the mediating factor of how pervasively they are shared on social media. To a certain extent this can be a positive thing, encouraging the choice of informative and evocative titles, as opposed to narrowly descriptive ones. However a recognition of the sheer difference that a title can make, particularly if this is grounded in an engagement with the available data about how widely posts are shared on social media, can surely have a distorting effect. To use a recent example, I found that a post initially entitled “Gender, Reflexivity and Friendship” attracted little attention on social media but was shared extensively when given a new title “The Sociology of Friendship”. Soon after, I found myself rejecting the potential title “Performance, Awkwardness and Sociability” for a similar post (a couple of thousands of words of social theory, too unstructured for an academic article but nonetheless trying to make a serious, albeit meandering, sociological point) in favour of “The Sociology of Awkwardness”. Predictably enough this proved extremely popular and acted as encouragement to pursue similar naming conventions in future. The risk here is that a tendency within online publishing more broadly, in which often quite obnoxious headlines are generated quasi-algorithmically because of their demonstrable impact on the ‘virality’ of a post, creep into online scholarship as a proclivity for data analysis and an investment in the success of a project outweigh the high minded dismissal of these trends.

    Perhaps this points towards the emerging need for online editorship to be taken seriously as a form of academic service. It is only in the last two years, partly as a result of editing the LSE’s British Politics and Policy blog as a full time job, that I’ve begun to feel comfortable describing myself as such. Previously, I felt there was a degree of affectation about it, as if describing oneself as an ‘editor’ in relation to a blog was a pretence at seriousness about an inherently unserious activity, something which was occasionally reflected in judgements I received from other people (though inevitably my own insecurity led me to give more weight to their judgement that they probably intended). But given the likely continued expansion of sociological activity online then the role of the blog editor is likely to grow in importance over time, as a gatekeeper to opportunities for professional visibility but also as a mediating factor shaping the emergence of online norms.

    While some normative standards are beginning to emerge concerning matters such as attribution, style and format, these are inevitably fragmented and partial. The more seriously we take the role of blog editor then the more reflexively such questions are likely to be approached by those performing this function. This is important given that such individuals are amongst the few actually able to enforce standards online, albeit in a truncated domain, with the solidification of such norms otherwise being largely a matter of mimesis, as individuals observe others in their networks (or beyond them) in order to inform their own emerging practice. If we take editorship in this sense seriously as a form of academic service then we help mitigate against the tendency for such questions to be responded to pragmatically, instead creating the possibility of a ‘third space’ between academic research and journalism occupied by those who are concerned to translate academic knowledge. Either in the sense of being writers themselves who work to popularise academic knowledge by writing about it in a form amenable to a wider readership or by working with academics, whether directly on particular pieces of writing or indirectly through creating structures that incentivise certain forms of communication. My contention is that such a function is not straightforwardly academic but nor is it journalistic. Given the much remarked upon overproduction of PhD graduates, with too few academic jobs available for those awarded doctorates to pursue academic careers, it is intriguing to speculate about the likely implications of a potential funded expansion of group blogging for academic career trajectories.

    I am personally within the first cohort for whom this is a viable occupational opportunity, albeit still in a very limited way, with blogging having contributed in an important way to sustaining myself financially through six years of a part-PhD (through working full time as an editor for some time but also through more ad hoc work such as running workshops and managing social media accounts). There is obviously a sense in which I have a vested interest in the expansion of this sphere, given I enjoy this work and, if possible, want to pursue a career path which mixes my own research and social media to the greatest extent possible. It is precisely the existence of such vested interests, as well as the significance of broader institutional trends for academic blogging and vice versa, which makes it imperative that we expand discussions of online writing, as well as other forms of social media engagement, beyond the scope of the merely technical. The communicative opportunities afforded by blogging invite us to consider the purposes of such communication. My suggestion has been that they pose tacit questions of great importance which it is valuable for the discipline as a whole to recover: what is sociology for? How do sociologists communicate? How could they communicate? How should they communicate? Many of the risks which have been discussed reflect a failure to address such questions adequately, with immediacy and novelty potentially squeezing out disciplinary craft rather than acting as an invitation to rethink that craft in light of these changing opportunities.

  • Mark 2:39 pm on December 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    The value of blogging for part-time PhD students 

    One of the more elusive benefits of blogging has been the implications for my professional identity. As a part-time PhD student, without funding but committed to an academic career trajectory (albeit at times waveringly), I found myself engaged in a diverse array of short term roles within the academy. Some of these had clear relevance to my nascent identity as a researcher but most did not, requiring competencies I already possessed by virtue of my research training or helping me develop ones which might in future be beneficial to me as a researcher; though never quite reflecting the core concerns that motivated my work while nonetheless being close enough to them that I could rarely put these questions out my mind in the way that would be expected in paid work engaged in for consistently and straight-forwardly instrumental reasons. The professional socialisation that ensues from such circumstances is inherently refractory, shaping one’s professional identity in all manner of ways but without the easy unfolding of a narrative that makes sense of the occupational trajectory that is unfolding. This is far from a unique experience within the neoliberal university, as the systematic casualization of academic labour combines with the idealised notion of scholarship as a noble calling to produce an intersection of commitment and precarity with all manner of harmful consequences.

    It is in this context that these new communication tools become so significant, with the possibilities afforded by them being misrepresented when conceived as something external to the everyday lives of those working within the academy. Obviously these are instruments which can function to expand the scope of dissemination activities but construing them solely in such terms misses an important set of questions concerning the implications of social media for academic identity. In my own experience personal blogging helped integrate what would have otherwise been a fragmented professional identity, perpetually divided as it has been between different roles and different institutions. Sustaining a personal blog inevitably invites reflection on one’s own experiences, though of course such a use is not dictated by the technology itself. In doing so, it helps imbue those experiences with a coherency which they might otherwise lack, addressing the perennial question of how present commitments relate to potential futures.

    The process of using the blog in this way has also led to an increasing awareness of the types of use I make of it, reflected in an initially inchoate working taxonomy which has emerged in my own psyche as to the various tasks which are involved in the development of ideas and the production of academic work. The process of sustaining the blog as an ‘open notebook’ has inculcated a sensitivity to workflow and craft which I had previously lacked. The claim here is a straightforward one: a change of tools can provoke a greater awareness of the uses to which such tools can be put. However this could easily be misconstrued as postulating an untenable juxtaposition of habitual analogue practice to reflexive digital practice. Instead I wish to offer a much less contentious proposition: digital tools offer a diverse range of opportunities for rethinking the practice of research and, in doing so, unavoidably raise questions in virtue of their novelty which can lead to a newfound reflexivity about the means and ends of practice. To make sense of such a claim, it is crucial that we distinguish between the tool used and the purposes to which it is put because the former may be new but the latter manifestly is not. For instance one of the most prominent explorations of the practice of journaling can be found in the explanation by C. Wright Mills of how keeping a file or a journal,

    “encourages you to capture ‘fringe-thoughts’: various ideas which may be by-products of everyday life, snatches of conversation overheard on the street, or, for that matter, dreams. Once noted, these may lead to more systematic thinking, as well as lend intellectual relevance to more directed experience […] by keeping an adequate file and thus developing self-reflective habits, you learn how to keep your inner world awake. Whenever you feel strongly about events or ideas you must try not to let them pass from your mind, but instead to formulate them for your files and in so doing draw out their implications, show yourself either how foolish these feelings or ideas are, or how they might be articulated into productive shape.”

    What concerns Mills here is the cultivation of attentiveness as an aspect of intellectual craft. Through the considered adoption of specific habits of self-reflection, enacted via the medium of the ‘file’, it becomes possible to more fully and creatively engage with one’s environment and to develop the fruits of this engagement in a productive manner. On such a view, the development of ideas is seen as something which cannot be segregated into particular tracts of space and time without proving injurious to the creative faculties on which such work depends. Instead, Mills offers a view of intellectual work as dependent upon a lived engagement with the world and one which, if creativity is allowed to emerge, often overflows the conventional boundaries that society places on ‘work’. On such a view the ‘file’ cannot be adequately understood as an external record simply used to record ideas for future retrieval (though of course it does serve this purpose). Instead, it is seen as constitutive of the process through which such ideas emerge prior to being ‘recorded. For Mills the ‘file’ is the medium through which academic work becomes intellectual craft and, with this, a life encompassing academic labour becomes a life of intellectual craft which may (or may not) contingently be supported by employment within the academy.

    Given that talk of ‘craft’ may divide sociological opinion, we might simply reframe this in terms of writing in the most encompassing sense of the term. Not just writing for publication but all the prior working through and recording of developing thoughts which runs prior to more formal writing. As Howard Becker succinctly observes, “by the time we come to write something, we have done a lot of thinking”. In highlighting the degree to which “[w]e have an investment in everything we have already worked out that commits us to a point of view and a way of handling the problem” Becker aims to help his readers overcome the anxieties which failing to recognise this so often provokes. Once we see writing as something intertwined with a broader process of intellectual engagement than the disabling perfectionism which can thrive in circumstances of ‘pluralistic ignorance’ (where the difficulties of similarly placed others are rendered invisible by their privatised working practices) begins to abate: it helps remove the pressure otherwise attached to the writing process by repudiating the myth of ex nihilo creation.

    If we accept Becker’s diagnosis of the psychology of the writing process then we can be begin to see personal blogging as an important spur to reflexivity. It very literally serves to clarify where we stand in relation to our own work. Through regular blogging we come to register what Becker, in his discussion of free-writing, describes as “what you would like to say, what all your earlier work on the topic or project has already led you to believe”. Through the iteration which characterises engaged blogging, themes begin to emerge through repetition; some explicitly, as deliberate ways of formulating or categorising ideas, others less so, as repetition gradually reveals the convergence or overlap between superficially distinct interests or enthusiasms. Blogging of this form, as an engaged practice sustained over time, can be conducive to what we might think of as ‘non-linear creativity’: an open-ended creative process generative of emergent structure in often surprise and unpredictable ways. The humanistic psychologist Carl Roger conveys something of this in his account of the transformation experienced by a client in his creative work,

    “It used to be that he tried to be orderly. “You begin at the beginning and you progress regularly through to the end.” Now he is aware that the process in himself is different. “When I’m working on an idea, the whole idea develops like the latent image coming out when you develop a photograph. It doesn’t start at one edge and fill in over to the other. It comes in all over. At first all you see is the hazy outline, and you wonder what it’s going to be; and then gradually something fits here and something fits there, and pretty soon it all becomes clear – all at once.”

  • Mark 2:33 pm on December 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Some thoughts on sociological writing 

    The denial of what Ben Agger calls ‘authoriality’ in sociological texts helps explain why concerns about the character of sociological writing have figured so prominently in recurrent anxieties about the status and future of the discipline. Its suppression involves a certain kind of self-presentation for sociology, as individual sociologists frame their work in a way which systematically occludes their involvement in it. When authoriality is suppressed we are left with little sense of how sociologists figure in sociological writing: the path which has led them to write this piece, the purposes it serves and why it matters to them. This reinforces the ‘axiological neutrality’ so integral to a certain understanding of scholarship in which scholarship and commitment are understood as antipathetic. In this mode of scholarly production the objectivity and rigour of what is produced is seen to be threatened by the values which motivate that production. In this sense we can see that sociological writing is irrevocably tied up in the process of professional socialisation: learning to write in the ‘proper’ way is integral to becoming a sociologist. The corollary of this is that concerns about the purposes and ends of sociological inquiry, as well as what it means to be a sociologist, recurrently lead those who see a crisis (coming or otherwise) in sociology to contest the dominant understanding of how sociologists should write.

    Sociological writing sits at the intersection between “the normalizing pressures of careers” and the “originating moral impetus” which in many cases leads people towards sociology in the first place. It is through negotiation between the two that “the original passion for social justice, economic equality, human rights, sustainable environment, political freedom or simply a better worlds” begins to be “channelled into the pursuit of academic credentials” as Michael Burawoy once put it. This is why attempts to reclaim the former so often lead to the impulse to rethink the latter: sociological careers largely advance through writing. Perhaps the most famous critique to this end comes from C. Wright Mills whose repudiation of the sociological establishment of his time went hand-in-hand with a critique of how sociologists were socialised in a way that reproduced that establishment and its relation to the broader social and political context:

    In many academic circles today anyone who tries to write in a widely intelligible way is liable to be condemned as a ‘mere literary man’ or, worse still, ‘a mere journalist.’ Perhaps you have already learned that these phrases, as commonly used, only indicate the spurious inference: superficial because readable. The academic man in America is trying to carry on a serious intellectual life in a context that often seems quite set against it. His prestige must make up for many of the dominant values he has sacrificed by choosing an academic career. His claims for prestige readily become tied to his self-image as a ‘scientist’. To be called a ‘mere journalist’ makes him feel undignified and shallow. It is this situation, I think, that is often at the bottom of the elaborate vocabulary and involved manner of speaking and writing. It is less difficult to learn this manner than not. It has become a convention – those who do not use it are subject to moral disapproval. It may be that it is the result of an academic closing of ranks on the part of the mediocre, who understandably wish to exclude those who win the attention of intelligent people, academic and otherwise.

    C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, Pg 218

    This conflation of readability and superficiality persists in present circumstances. Part of the difficulty which blogging poses for sociologists (and for academics more broadly) lies in this pervasive failure to distinguish between material that is accessibly simple and that which is simplistically accessible. Blogging readily lends itself to both and can often blur the boundary between them such that ‘academic blogging’ can seem to corrupt the ‘academic’ through proximity to ‘blogging’. The analysis of Mills was rooted in a particular time and place, reflecting upon tendencies specific to that environment, such that it would be a mistake to simply project them on to the present contexts within which sociologists write. Its value is in reminding us of the ways that sociological writing and its (in)accessibility are woven together in the formation of professional identities: it is not simply a matter of who sociological writing is for but also of who it isn’t for.

    The commitment involved in pursuing graduate education is an important biographical dimension to how these identities form and how sociologists come to write. These efforts and energies, as well as the things foregone as a result, can work to engender an investment in a self-presentation of specialisation which, often unwittingly, contributes towards the marginality of sociological contributions in the ‘marketplace of ideas’. Once answer to this problem can be seen in David Beer’s notion of ‘punk sociology’. Treating punk music as a cultural resource to be drawn upon in rethinking and reinvigorating the communicative styles and strategies of sociologists, Beer points towards a broader understanding of writing which incorporates many of the possibilities which social media affords for communicating within and beyond the discipline. Beer talks of punk sociologists who “communicate widely, with various audiences, and the work they produce is direct and incisive, whilst still being lively, nuanced, and layered”. These will vary, eclectically and enthusiastically, because sociologists working in this manner will “will look to exploit the opportunities for communication that are available and will respond to these opportunities”. His point is not simply to sustain optimism in the face of ‘Sociology’s misfortune’ but to respond to this broader context of retrenchment and constraint in a genuinely creative way. He paints a vivid picture of the diversity which characterises the working patterns of the punk sociologist:

    “One day the punk sociologist is writing a blog post, the next they are working on an audio podcast, the next they are creating posters, the next they are making short films, the next they are curating content. They gather, uncover, and generate insights through their sociologically sensitive trawling of the social world, using the things they find to illustrate and enliven sociological topics (using anything from art, to film, to advertising, to photography, to web visualizations, to flyers they get through their front door, to guidebooks – the options are limitless). Books and journal articles will still matter; they are still likely to be the bedrock of academic communication. But the punk sociologist looks to use these traditional forms of communication in unusual and maybe even subversive ways, and then looks to build on this work through other forms of communication and through other media. The debates on open-access publication, escaping the paywalls that limit communication, create new questions for academic publishing and communication, the punk sociologist is likely to be working around the edges of what is possible and exploring the reach of their means of communication anyway.”

    We don’t have to accept Beer’s notion of ‘punk sociology’ to be able to take something from the vision he’s outlining here. His case is a proposition about how sociology could thrive under present circumstances: “sociologists need to be bold, to be outspoken and daring, to take risks, and to, on occasion, be audacious”. My point is not that we should all become ‘punk sociologists’ (though I personally find the notion appealing) but rather that a turn towards digital engagement, perhaps as part of a broader move towards a Digital Sociology analogous to the Digital Humanities, must be accompanied by some explicit dialogue about the ends served by such engagements. In doing so, we effectively recast the risks social media undoubtedly poses into opportunities for us to rethink sociological craft in a way that ensures the viability and vibrancy of the discipline within a social and intellectual context likely to become ever more challenging.

  • Mark 1:40 pm on December 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    My 25 favourite books (and graphic novels) of 2014 

    • How We Are – Vincent Deary
    • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P – Adelie Waldman
    • The Circle – Dave Eggers
    • Locke & Key (vol 1 to vol 5) – Joe Hill
    • The Importance of Disappointment – Ian Craib
    • The Massive (vol 1 to vol 4) – Brian Wood
    • Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt – Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
    • Race of a Lifetime – John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
    • Double Down – John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
    • Zeitoun – Dave Eggars
    • Revival (vol 1 to vol 3) – Mark Englert
    • Lazarus (vol 1 and vol 2) – Greg Rucka
    • The Courtier and the Heretic – Matthew Stewart
    • Ecce Homo – Friedrich Nietzsche
    • The Antidote – Oliver Burkeman
    • Acceleration – Harmut Rosa
    • Cat Cultures – Janet M. Alger and Steven F. Alger
    • Young Money – Kevin Roose
    • How To Live: A Life of Montaigne – Sarah Bakewell
    • Bertrand Russell: The Ghost of Madness – Ray Monk
    • A Blaze of Autumn Sunshine – Tony Benn
    • Ordinary Thunderstorms – William Boyd
    • Webcam – Daniel Miller and Jolynna Sinanan
    • Tales from Facebook – Daniel Miller
    • The Fall of the Faculty – Benjamin Ginsberg

    I’ve always liked the idea of doing these lists but I’ve never got round to it before. However I really struggled to remember what I’d actually read all year – I ended up with an initial list of about 55, with another 10-20 I excluded because they were disappointments, but I’m certain there were more than this. Perhaps this fuzzy recall is why the lists appeal to me so much? I was also disturbed by quite how many books I had started and not finished. I have upwards of 40 books which I am, in theory, in the process of reading (and far more still on my Kindle). But in most cases, I’ve not touched them for months and it’s therefore slightly absurd to keep them lying around. I’d like to read more mindfully in 2015 and I think more regularly blogging about what I’ve read might help this process.

  • Mark 8:44 pm on December 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Treating ideas with seriousness: @DLittle30 on social media and scholarship 

    I recently interviewed Daniel Little, author of Understanding Society, as part of the research feeding into Social Media for Academics. Here are some extracts from an extremely thought provoking conversation:

    • clare 12:39 am on December 11, 2014 Permalink

      Could you please include transcripts of these for people who need them? Thanks!

    • Mark 1:45 pm on December 11, 2014 Permalink

      Sorry I have no funding for these. If I had the resources to produce transcripts then I would.

    • clare 4:23 pm on December 11, 2014 Permalink

      Not sure if I understand. The only resource needed to produce a transcript is a bit of time. I see 7 minutes of content here, probably about an hour worth of work. It wouldn’t even have to be done by yourself, as there are communities willing to pool their time together to produce transcripts for things that are worth it, on a volunteering basis. If there is some other barrier I am not thinking of please do let me know, as I always try to encourage people to produce transcripts/subtitles for their content and would like to know how to make sure I do this efficiently.

    • Mark 6:24 pm on December 11, 2014 Permalink

      Having spent many hundreds of hours in the past transcribing (non-podcast) interviews, my willingness to do any more is pretty much non-existent. If I felt unable to post audio online without transcribing it then I just wouldn’t post any audio online because an occasional hobby would have become a vast, onerous and unenjoyable undertaking which I wouldn’t have the time or energy for. When I have resources to produce podcasts in an official capacity then I’ll try and ensure they’re all transcribed but, as I hobby, I just don’t see how it’s viable. I don’t mean this in a petulant way, I just mean it’s not something I would ever choose to do or derive satisfaction from because it would involve vast amounts of an activity that I can’t stand. I completely accept there’s a systemic issue here which needs to be addressed as podcasts become more popular but I just don’t think it’s viable to try and resolve this by creating an expectation that individual hobbyist podcasters will self-transcribe everything they publish. Given that I assume your interest is in the broader issue here rather than the particular podcast on the page, I’d be really interested to hear what you think. These micro-podcasts are from a research interview conducted for a book about how academics use social media and I want to tackle this issue properly in the book.

    • clare 12:06 am on December 12, 2014 Permalink

      Mind you, I didn’t just scour the Internet looking for people to suggest to that they should put transcriptions/subtitles on what they share. I actually do follow your blog and am interested in the content of the podcast, which is precisely why I think it should be made accessible to all.

      I understand disliking transcribing as an activity, I really do. I have spent hundred of hours transcribing myself. However, I do think it is our responsibility to make an active choice to make our content accessible, no matter how arduous or annoying it can be. To me it is almost a matter of decency, if I may put it that way. Pretty sure any annoyance from having to transcribe is a lot less powerful than the annoyance of disabled academics who meet barriers in their work constantly, for lack of accessibility.

      In my ideal world, yes, there would be an expectation of transcribing anything published by podcasters. As mentioned previously though, I don’t believe this is necessarily something you have to undertake yourself, on your own. There are people who ask around and find people willing to spend some time transcribing and sharing the load. After all, even TED a talks are subtitled and translated by volunteers!

    • Mark 10:55 pm on December 12, 2014 Permalink

      Could we move to e-mail? I’d really like to discuss further if that’s ok with you & I always feel strangely inhibited having extended conversations in comments boxes.

    • clare 11:59 pm on December 12, 2014 Permalink

      Sure, you can use the email address I put in the “email” box of the comment.

    • Mark 3:41 pm on December 13, 2014 Permalink

      thanks, will e-mail next week

  • Mark 9:01 pm on December 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Next Critsex Seminar – Feminist Encounters with Evolutionary Psychology – 30th January 2015 

    Critical Sexology Seminar
    Feminist Encounters with Evolutionary Psychology 
    Guest-Organized by Rachel O’Neill, King’s College London. 
    ​Friday 30 January 2015, 2-6pm
    Room G.80, Franklin-Wilkins Building
    King’s College London (Waterloo Campus)

    Prof. Deborah Cameron, University of Oxford: “Evolution, language and the battle of the sexes: A feminist linguist encounters evolutionary psychology”

    Dr. Celia Roberts, Lancaster University: “Evolution, early puberty and the half-lives of childhood trauma: A feminist encounter”

    Laura Garcia-Favaro, City University: “The ‘truth’ cannot be sexist?: Postfeminist biologism in transnational technologies of mediated intimacy”​This seminar will examine the social life of evolutionary psychology from feminist perspectives, bringing into focus the historical, cultural, and political continuities between evolutionary psychology and contemporary postfeminism. D​​iscussions facilitated at this event will explore questions such as: In what ways do evolutionary narratives contribute to the naturalisation of sexual difference that has become a pervasive feature of postfeminist media culture? How, in particular, do evolutionary and biological logics manifest within and across sites of mediated intimacy, from Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus to Fifty Shades of Grey? Further, how might narratives from evolutionary psychology serve to consolidate the market-orientated approaches to sex and relationships being elaborated under contemporary capitalism? Can the persistence of evolutionary psychology as a framework for understanding social life be mapped onto the broader conjuncture of neoliberalism? Are there unexamined continuities between evolutionary psychology and neoliberal rationalities, particularly with regard discourses of individualism, hierarchy, and meritocracy? Finally, how can feminists negotiate the double complexity of evolutionary psychology as both an academic field and a repository of popular narratives of gender and sexuality as they attempt to challenge relations of inequality and oppression?

    For maps and directions to the King’s Waterloo campus please see: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/campuses/waterloo/Waterloo.aspx

    For more information about the Critical Sexology seminar series go to: http://www.criticalsexology.org.uk/wp/   ​​

    There is no need to register your intention to attend with the organizers. 
  • Mark 8:58 pm on December 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Sexual Cultures 2: Academia Meets Activism 

    Sexuality activists/academics – do consider submitting to this and please pass it on.

    Due to the huge interest in the Sexual Cultures 2: Academia Meets Activism conference, we have extended the Call for Papers to 15 January 2015.  Please circulate widely and forward to individuals/networks who might be interested.

    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 

    The conference will host several 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

    Panellists will include: Andrea Cornwall, Kat Gupta, Kate Hardy, Laura Harvey, Alex Iantaffi, Jade Fernandez, Tuppy Owens, Emma Renold, Jessica Ringrose, Nabil Shaban, Jay Stewart.

    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.

    The key themes of the conference are:

    Intersecting sex

    Many of the most important and current debates around sexual identities, practices and cultures in recent years have cohered around intersectionality. Sex is an area in which we particularly see intersections playing out between various forms and systems of oppression discrimination. For example, key debates concern the possibilities for consensual sex and agency within multiple intersecting structures of oppression; the ways in which ‘sexualization’ operates – and is discussed – in gendered, classed, and raced ways; which bodies and identities are considered to have the potential to be sexual or not, and which are regarded as intrinsically hypersexual or pathologically sexual. Papers in this strand will explore intersectional elements of sexual identity, practice, experience and culture, the ways in which academics and/or activists are engaging and intervening in these areas (online and offline), and the key points of tension and conflict that are emerging around these issues.

    Advising/educating sex

    Sex advice and education is a key area of concern in relation to sexual cultures. Sex advice and sex education are arenas in which cultural conceptualisations of sex are reproduced and perpetuated, as well as being potential sites for the resisting of dominant cultural understandings and offering alternative possibilities. Sex advice and education occur across various media and diverse professional contexts, including – for example – self-help books, problem pages, websites, online forums, news reporting, TV documentaries, and pornography, as well as school sex ed, youth work, sexual health clinics, sex therapy, sex coaching and sex work. Papers in this strand will explore the kinds ways in which intimacies are being mediated through various forms of sex advice and education, as well as considering the ways in which activists and/or academics are engaging and intervening in these areas (online and offline, in policy and in practice) and the forms of sex advice and education that are emerging from these engagements and interventions.

    Sex and technology

    Technologies of all kinds have been central to the ways in which sex is understood and experienced in contemporary societies. We are interested in papers that explore evolving technologies in the presentation of sex through print, photography, film and video to todays online and mobile media; the ways that technologies are increasingly integrated into everyday sex lives; the expansion of sex technologies in toy, doll, machine and robot manufacture, the marketing of drugs such as Viagra and cosmetic technologies such as body modification and genital surgery for enhancing sex; the expansion of sex work and recreation online; sex 2.0 practices, regimes and environments such as porn tubes, sex chat rooms and worlds like Second Life; and the shifting relations between bodies and machines in the present and in predictions of futuresex.

    Working sex

    In recent years sex work has become a potent site for the discussion of labour, commerce and sexual ethics, attracting increased academic attention and public concern. Papers in this strand of the conference will seek to develop our understanding of commercial sex, focus on conceptualizing emerging types of sexual labour, and explore the place of sex work of all kinds in contemporary society. They will ask how an investigation of contemporary forms of sex work and sex as work may shed new light on the study of cultural production, industry, commerce, and notions of commodification and labour. We are also seeking papers which are interested in exploring the connections between work and leisure, work and pleasure, sex work as forms of body and affective labour, and the ethics and politics of sexual labour.

    We invite proposals for the following:

    Panels, roundtable discussions, and workshops of up to four presenters/facilitators (1 hour)

    Papers/interactive events (20 minutes)

    Short Ignite papers (5 minutes/20 slides)


    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 January 15 2015.

    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

  • Mark 4:00 pm on December 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Life in the accelerated academy: how it’s possible for Žižek to publish 55 books in 14 years 

    I’ve long been a little bit fascinated by Žižek. I find him utterly hypnotic to watch and have consumed countless YouTube lectures by him. I genuinely enjoy his journalistic output and have read a lot of it via the Guardian, London Review of Books and the New Statesman. I find his short books immensely readable and his longer books rather tedious. I’ve never been able to work out how seriously I take him as a philosopher. I find myself simultaneously drawn to him and repelled by him. I find his politics brave yet vacuous. I find his ideas occasionally illuminating yet more frequently elusive. He’s a strange thinker who disrupts my evaluative habits, preventing me from fitting him into the categories I use with other writers and revealing the limitations of those (overly neat) categories in the process.

    However the thing that intrigues me most about Žižek is his voluminous output. He is a publishing phenomenon – something attested to by the regurgitation of blurbs about him on each new book. He transcends his work, becoming a brand in a manner so knowing that his status resists easy condemnation. In an important way he is a product of the neoliberal academy: the superstar professor who uses his global brand to float free of the scholarly and collegial ties that otherwise bind. Partly this is a contradiction that can be observed in other left wing intellectual superstars – Chomsky is the most obvious example and this is why their ‘spat’ was so fascinating to many. But Žižek seems at least quantitatively different in the sheer scale of his output.

    According to the Žižek bibliography on wikipedia, he has published 55 books since 2000. 55 books in less than 15 years. I was curious about whether this amounts to the sheer weight of writing that it would superficially appear to be. In assessing this I’ve excluded papers, letters, interviews, collections of his writing, things that are co-written, his joke book (!), edited collections and what is apparently a reprint of his doctoral thesis. I’ve also excluded anything that I’m unable to categorise reliably which excludes the books published in Slovenian that haven’t been translated yet (as far as I’m aware). In other words, this is an extremely conservative figure for Žižek’s output since 2000. Not least of all because it excludes his vast journalistic writing (though obviously we know that, in an important sense, it includes this).

    For purposes of an exercise in procrastination, I was content to simply add up the total pages of each book (as listed on Amazon) in order to gain an overall figure of the quantity of his writing. Obviously I realise that neither publishing or writing really works this way – there’s also the open question of how much regurgitation there is between each of these books. Here’s the full list:

    Absolute Recoil: 440 pages
    Trouble in Paradise: 240 pages
    Event: 224 pages
    Year of Dreaming Dangerously: 144 pages
    Less Than Nothing: 1046 pages
    Living In The End Times: 520 pages
    First As Tragedy, Then As Farce: 168 pages
    Violence: 224 pages
    In Defence of Lost Causes: 504 pages
    How To Read Lacan: 128 pages
    The Parallax View: 448 pages
    Iraq: 224 pages
    The Puppet and the Dwarf: 190 pages
    Organs Without Bodies: 232 pages
    Welcome to the Desert of the Real: 160 pages
    On Belief: 176 pages
    The Fright of Real Tears: 144 pages
    Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism: 288 pages
    The Fragile Absolute: 208 page
    The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime: 46 pages

    There are those I’ve read and enjoyed (First As Tragedy, Year of Dreaming Dangerously), those I’ve started and given up on (Less Than Nothing, Living In The End Times) and those I’ve read but cannot remember a single thing about (How To Read Lacan, In Defence of Lost Causes). There are also many I’ve never heard of. They come to a grand total of 5754 pages. That’s actually rather less than I expected. In a very rough way this quantity of output could be seen to amount to 411 pages per year since 2000. To reiterate: I do realise that neither writing nor publishing actually work this way. However it could be argued that any overestimate inherent in how crudely I’ve measured this is likely offset by the vast array of material that I’ve excluded from the count.

    I don’t find anything remotely inconceivable about the idea of writing 411 pages in a year. Where it becomes surprising is when considering how consistently it would be necessary to sustain this sort of rate – I assume there’s an editorial infrastructure around Žižek which takes much of the work out of the many additional publications (edited collections, interviews etc) and also that pitches books to him at least some of the time. In this sense his commercial success likely translates into institutional scaffolding that reduce the cognitive load of writing i.e. reduces the number of things he has to think about in order to move from one project to the next. It’s also hard not to wonder if some of the contents of these books are just transcriptions of the many public talks he does (not that I think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with this) and that these invitations in turn enhance the writing process by offering a constant stream of ideational prompts and regular opportunities to refine ideas.

    Even so, he still writes a hell of a lot with a remarkable consistency. In spite of his self-presentation as dishevelled and chaotic, it seems rather unlikely that he’s a binge writer and that he instead has a very regular writing routine. The more I’ve thought about this, I’ve become really intrigued by the conditions of his working life and how they facilitate his prolific output. As part of the project me and Filip Vostal are discussing at the moment, looking at the acceleration of higher education and its implications for scholarship, I’m increasingly aware that I’d like to do a case study of Žižek as representing a mode of public intellectualism facilitated by the accelerated academy. I don’t begrudge him his success but I’d like to understand it more than I do – particularly the intersection between his commercial viability and his scholarly virtues or lack thereof. I think many trends that are reshaping academic life find their expression in the figure of Žižek and writing this post has left me with a greater degree of clarity about why I find him so intriguing.

    • Steve Fuller (@ProfSteveFuller) 4:13 pm on December 7, 2014 Permalink

      It would be interesting indeed to do a case study of Zizek, but he’s not strictly speaking an academic. Of course, he’s academically trained and you need to be academically literate to understand what he’s saying — and, for sure, he is a kind of parasite on the academy, insofar as his main client-base for both his speaking and writing is academic (and this earns him several visiting appointments). However, Zizek does not perform the social role of the academic — he is neither a teacher nor a researcher, let alone both. He is very much a public intellectual who earns the bulk of his income through writing, which helps to explain his prolific nature. This only seems remarkable if you’re also imagining someone who teaches courses, supervises students and gets research grants. But Zizek doesn’t do any of this. While it’s true that there are academics who trade on their strictly academic reputation as a brand (perhaps Chomsky fits the bill, since he actually has a discipline-based reputation independent of his public intellectual stuff), the ‘Zizek’ brand is one whose standing is almost entirely tied to his audience base. Zizek may have invented a niche role for a public intellectual who caters specifically to academics, which if true would show just how alienated academia is from public intellectual life!

    • Mark 4:18 pm on December 7, 2014 Permalink

      Yep I completely agree with you about Zizek’s odd status and this is what intrigues me about him – I think parasitic upon the academy is a very apt way of describing this (dependent upon it but not quite of it) and the possibility of this relatively novel relation invites sociological explanation. I guess this is my starting research question if I’m serious about this as a project.

      I wonder if you overestimate the extent to which he caters near exclusively to academics – I guess my next step is to locate sales figures and see if this sheds any light on these questions.

    • Steve Fuller (@ProfSteveFuller) 4:52 pm on December 7, 2014 Permalink

      True, I do think there is a large spillover of academics into the media and the arts more generally, and Zizek captures that audience too. In this respect, he probably benefits from the way neo-liberalism has squeezed out a lot of academically talented and interested people who dislike the academy’s current constitution.

    • Holly Wood 10:10 am on December 8, 2014 Permalink

      If you read many of his books, though, he’s often basically paraphrasing things he’s said in other books.

    • juliusbeezer 12:38 pm on December 8, 2014 Permalink

      Thanks for this valuable post. I see Zizek as the successor in a long line of theorists whose principle social function was to ensure that the quantity of text on contemporary critical theory is to all intents and purposes infinite from the perspective of any individual. This ensuing attentional deficit (i.e. the gap between what is read and what might be read) is a significant hegemonic structure. Your quantification of Zizek’s output could serve as an important liberatory step, for which thanks.

      And yes, it would be nice to read a Paris Review style interview transcript about his working habits as a writer. I am also personally curious as to whether Zizek as ever put his psychoanalytic training to use in therapeutic practice. I would love to go for a pint with the man, though I don’t know when this would ever happen.

      Meanwhile, I idly wait for my subaltern curiosities to be satisfied by random internauts.

    • kerrysmallman 2:38 pm on December 8, 2014 Permalink

      Zizek is a public intellectual. He’s like Alain De Botton or perhaps David Attenborough.

    • Mark 9:55 pm on December 9, 2014 Permalink

      That’s a really interesting point – Bourdieu suggests in a lecture once that the vast array of radical publishing initiatives need to combine for what I think was quite similar reasons… it’s really interesting & odd that it’s not more widely remarked upon (perhaps because the people who would do it are participating in the problem).

    • EMC 1:37 pm on December 23, 2014 Permalink

      Parasite or (if he plagiarises himself) a self-molesting vampire? Does he only use the same publisher?
      I am actually most intrigued that you find his short books much more interesting than his long ones. I wonder what that means.
      De Botton is an interesting case, he is actually a superb impromptu speaker live but my understanding is that academic philosophers generally avoid him. I don’t know if he finished his PhD or if he has a current post, my feeling is that without a PhD he won’t be considered a philosopher, I was taught by Robert Solomon who was an academic with a big public following but who despite being a Professor seemed to have the same issue with his colleagues.
      PS Academic philosophers really hate having their mug photographed don’t they!?

  • Mark 1:57 pm on December 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    What an amazing instrument: the mridangam 

    I heard one being played for the first time on Friday and now I’m slightly obsessed. Recordings of it don’t do justice to how mesmeric it is:

  • Mark 12:06 pm on December 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Vincent Deary   

    The gaps in which being human happens 

    I’m currently reading Vincent Deary’s How We Are. It’s the first book in a planned trilogy exploring how people change. For the last few months I’ve had a vague idea that at some point I’d like to develop themes from my PhD into a book for a wider audience. My project sought to develop a framework for studying the processes through which people change in a sociological way. But I’ve realised recently that there’s a sense in which that focus was as much a reflection of the process which led me towards these questions as it was an expression of my underlying interests (not to mention the fact that I had to write something sociological in order to be awarded a PhD).

    What I’m really drawn towards are these questions of stasis and change – what does it mean to say someone stays the same and what does it mean to say they’ve changed? How do our circumstances facilitate or frustrate these processes? Where do these processes originate and how do they fit together over time? How can the lives we live be our lives when they are composed of moments we so often miss? It’s this last question in relation to which Deary’s book is most illuminating. It’s a poetic reflection on the relationship between stasis and change, exploring how a life composed of fragments can nonetheless avoid fragmentation. It’s this relationship between the whole and the parts of a life which I was trying to understand in my PhD and I’m left with the impression that Deary understands it much more profoundly than I do. He’s certainly written a book which occupies the same space as the one I aspired to write, even if it occupies that space in a slightly different way than would likely have been the case with the one I imagined.

    One of many things I like about his book is how carefully he treats the relationship between cognition and agency. The philosophical tradition left us with a conceptual minefield here that Deary adroitly sidesteps, avoiding the parallel temptations of affirming a deliberative faculty from which reasons-as-causes inexorably originate and dissolving that deliberation into casually determined automaticity. Our deliberation often supplies us with reasons that many times lead to action but in a way that is far from inexorable and is dependent upon a vast assemblage of learned routines (“thousands of little rules so rigid they are no longer up for negotiation”) that are folded into our capacity for both deliberation and the action to which it sometimes leads. As he puts it, deliberation is “a late arrival at the evolutionary party, a tiny mote atop the massive mountain of automatic life, of knack and gist” (loc 693). But that doesn’t mean it can be dismissed as phenomenological froth, as a tendency towards higher level rationalisation of still basically automatic responses to environmental stimuli. The question then becomes one of how the two faculties operate in tandem, an issue made even more complicated by the demonstrably different temporal sequencing which characterises the operation of each. In addressing this question Deary uses the notion of the ‘gap’:

    Between the impulse and the act, there is a gap. A gap in which imagination can picture outcomes, in which alternative impulses can compete, in which, for instance, morality (such as yours is) has time to encounter impulse (such as yours are) before it commits to act. There is time to think. (loc 704)

    During that pause, our ability to remember and imagine comes into its own. Without the recourse to the gist of all our past, of who we are, without the ability to use that same faculty to imagine and construct future possibilities, there would be no space or time to think – no deliberation. (loc 713)

    This is the gap in which reflexivity operates. It relies upon automaticity in the sense that as he puts it, automaticity reflects “everything you’ve ever thought, every place you have ever been, every action you have ever practised or mastered, every dream and wish and hope, every encounter, every place, every face and feeling, everything you know”. We encounter our situation already constructed (with the viability of interventions like CBT resting on the inherent possibility that we could reconstruct it in a different way) in a way that isn’t arbitrary but eludes our immediate control. The framing reflects who we are as a particular human being with these particular concerns and with this particular past that’s led us to this present situation and the future possibilities we (fallibly) perceive within it. Who we are is further expressed in how these possibilities come to matter to us – are we drawn towards some and repelled by others? Therein lies our inclination to be a person who does this and avoid being a person who does that. In acting within this gap, acting on the basis of inclinations or struggling against them, we contribute to the reproduction or transformation of these deeper continuities in which our personhood inheres.

    The way Deary imagines this process is as dialogical but interior. The decision-making process is a meeting in which different aspects of us come into dialogue – we talk to ourselves about ourselves (and our circumstances) and through these internal conversations we reach decisions:

    The nearest I can picture it is like being a host, in most of its senses, from genteel (host of a party) to spooky (host to a possessing spirit). In these moments when we are hosts to the decision-making process, we are holding open a space for notions, routines and agents to meet, encounter and network, to deliberate – a get-together of a group who somehow manage to accomplish a common task. As host, or even more accurately, as the venue, you merely provide, you are, the material conditions where this teamwork happens.

    On this view automaticity isn’t a challenge to reflexivity but rather is a condition for it. Our deliberative faculty emerges out of this inner space in which inclinations, concerns, routines and ideas meet. Often it doesn’t – there’s much more to our inner worlds then the deliberation which sometimes emerges out of them.

  • Mark 10:11 am on December 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , infancy, ,   

    There was no ‘I’ to do it, because the ‘I’ was the result 

    From How We Are (How to Live Trilogy 1) by Vincent Deary (loc 247) – a beautiful and strange book:

    Our first memories are of things out there, worldly happenings taking place in a world of circumstance, to this ‘I’ here, to this little self. Our real beginnings are veiled in darkness. Below the coherent order of the rational world, before the light of reason and reasonableness which illumines the world wherever we care to glance, beneath this familiar world, lies what? The scientists and analysts can only hint, guess or romanticize, but they seem to agree on this: that beneath the present coherence lies a time of chaos. Our sense of continuity, this coherence we rarely have cause to question, let alone notice, had to be formed, order had to be imposed, coherence grown, sense made. There was no ‘I’ to do it, because the ‘I’ was the result. At some point the ‘I’ that is you and me began to form the living breathing world that we now inhabit, at some point this world began to form an ‘I’. This strange reciprocity gave rise to us

  • Mark 8:13 am on December 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    Call for papers: Causal Inference and Mechanism-Based Explanation: Friends or Foes? 

    At some point I’d love to make it to one of the Analytical Sociology conferences:


    We are happy to announce the call for papers for the 8th Analytical Sociology Conference – June 12 and 13, 2015 in Cambridge, MA.

    Theme: “Causal Inference and Mechanism-Based Explanation: Friends or Foes?”

    Mary Brinton, Filiz Garip and Robert Sampson
    Department of Sociology, Harvard University

    Deadline: February 1st, 2015

    Analytical sociology is a general approach to explaining the social world. It is concerned with phenomena such as social network structures, patterns of segregation, collectively shared and diffused cultural ideas, and common ways of (inter-)acting in a society. The mode of explanation is to specify in clear and precise ways the mechanisms through which social phenomena are brought about. Parts of analytical sociology focus on action and interaction as the cogs and wheels of social processes, while others consider the dynamic social processes that these actions and interactions bring about.

    We are delighted to announce that Peter Bearman<http://sociology.columbia.edu/node/66> of Columbia University will give the keynote address at the 2015 conference.

    We welcome presentations using any qualitative or quantitative methods that allow for the study of social mechanisms and the complex social dynamics they give rise to. In addition, we welcome purely theoretical papers dealing with central aspects of the explanatory approach of analytical sociology.  Depending on the submissions we will organize one of more sessions around the conference theme, in addition to a concluding session that will feature a panel discussion on the topic.

    Abstracts (and only abstracts) of 500-1000 words should be sent to inas2015@fas.harvard.edu<mailto:inas2015@fas.harvard.edu> no later than the 1st of February 2015 and should contain the following elements:

    1) title of the paper,
    2) author(s) and their affiliation and e-mail address, and
    3) brief summary of the paper.

    Acceptance notes will be sent out on the 1st of March 2015. Participants are encouraged to submit the final versions of the paper no later than the 15th of May 2015.

    For more information on practical details such as location, hotel, etc. please visit http://hwpi.harvard.edu/inas2015 (please note: more information will be uploaded to the site soon). If you have any questions please do not hesitate to send an email toinas2015@fas.harvard.edu<mailto:inas2015@fas.harvard.edu>.

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