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  • Mark 5:19 pm on March 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    Call for papers: Power, Acceleration and Metrics in Academic Life (deadline May 1st! All 5 keynotes now confirmed) 

    Call for papers: Power, Acceleration and Metrics in Academic Life

    There is little doubt that science and knowledge production are presently undergoing dramatic and multi-layered transformations accompanied by new imperatives reflecting broader socio-economic and technological developments. The unprecedented proliferation of audit cultures preoccupied with digitally mediated measurement and quantification of scholarship and the consolidation of business-driven managerialism and governance modes are commonplace in the contemporary academy. Concurrently, the ever-increasing rate of institutional change, (the need for) intensification of scientific and scholarly production/communication and diverse academic processes seem to characterize the overall acceleration of academic life (i.e., in many disciplines the new maxim ‘patent and prosper’ (Schachman) supplements the traditional ‘publish or perish’). Quantification and metrics have emerged not only as navigating instruments paradoxically exacerbating the general dynamization of academic life but also as barely questioned proxies for scientific quality, career progression and job prospects, and as parameters redrawing what it means to be/work as a scholar nowadays (i.e., the shifting parameters and patterns of academic subjectivity). Metrification now seems to be an important interface between labour and surveillance within academic life, with manifold affective implications.

    This conference will inquire into the techniques of auditing and their attendant practices and effects and will also probe into scholars’ complicity in reproduction of such practices. It will consider processes of social acceleration within the academy and their implications for the management of everyday activity by those working within it. This will include:

    • empirical and theoretical engagements with the acceleration of higher education
    • the origins of metrification of higher education
    • metrification as a form of social control
    • the challenges of self-management posed by metrification and/or acceleration
    • common strategic responses to these challenges
    • the relationship between metrification and acceleration
    • how metrification and acceleration relate to a broader social crisis

    The workshop will take place from December 2nd to 4th 2015 in Prague.

    Deadline for abstracts will be May 1st 2015. Please send 250 words and short biographical note to Mark Carrigan (mark@markcarrigan.net) and Filip Vostal (filip.vostal@gmail.com) by the deadline.

    Keynote Speakers:

    Roger Burrows – Ancient cultures of conceit reloaded

    Philip Moriarty – The perils, pitfalls, and power of peer review in public

    Susan Robertson – Vertigo: Time and space in the contemporary university

    James Wilsdon – In numbers we trust? Reflections on the UK’s independent review of the role of metrics in research assessment

    Oili-Helena Ylijoki – ‘Projectification’ and conflicting time orders in academic knowledge production


    50 Euros (standard) / 25 Euros (PhD/ECR)

    Registration to open in summer 2015


    Hosted by Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences the event will take place in Vila Lanna, V Sadech 1, 160 00, Prague 6, Czech Republic (http://www.vila-lanna.cz/index.html)


    Air: From Vaclav Havel Airport Prague take the bus no 119 to Dejvicka (which is the terminal stop). Vila Lanna is 5-6min walk from there.

    Train: From Main Railway Station (Praha hlavni nadrazi, often abbreviated Praha hl. n.), take metro line C (red), change at Muzeum for line A (green) and get off at the terminal stop Dejvicka. Vila Lanna is 5-6min walk from there.
    • jeff vass 3:46 pm on April 10, 2015 Permalink

      Thanks for pointing this out Mark. It looks very interesting: especially the idea of acceleration/intensification. I am sure metrics are involved in that. Where metrics have led to the acceleration of “innovation” (and its accompanying fatigue) we appear to be in danger of eroding the routines that sustain institutions.

    • Mark 3:50 pm on April 10, 2015 Permalink

      and drawing on metrics in order to design strategies to ameliorate the problems that metrics have partly brought about.

  • Mark 5:18 pm on March 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    Call for papers: Centre for Social Ontology PhD/ECR Conference 

    Centre for Social Ontology PhD/ECR Conference
    June 23rd, University of Warwick, 10am – 4pm

    Social ontology is integral to the study of society. It is impossible to inquire into the social world without some understanding, at least tacitly, concerning the entities which make up that world and their properties and powers. However social ontology remains an often confused and contentious matter within the social sciences.

    The first Centre for Social Ontology PhD and ECR conference seeks to address this matter through papers exploring the role of social ontology within sociology. This could include but is by no means limited to:

    • The relationship between tacit assumptions concerning social ontology and reflective theoretical positions
    • Social ontology and the formulation of research questions
    • Social ontology as a topic standing at the interface between the social sciences and philosophy
    • The methodological implications of social ontology
    • The ontological assumptions implied by research methods
    • The social ontology of particular areas of inquiry e.g. social movements or digital technology
    • Disciplinary differences in approaches to social ontology
    • Social ontology and philosophical under-labouring
    • The limits of social ontology and where under-labouring has to stop
    • New directions in sociological research through questions of social ontology

    The conference is open to all PhD students and Early Career Researchers with an interest in social ontology.

    Please send abstracts of 200 words or less and a short biographical note to socialontology@warwick.ac.uk by May 1st

    Registration will be free and a limited number of small travel bursaries will be available to support attendance at the conference.

  • Mark 8:00 am on March 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    An introduction to Design Fiction for Sociologists, May 13th at Goldsmiths 

    Design fiction is a term first coined by Julian Bleecker and popularized by SF author Bruce Sterling, who describes it as “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” and that it “attacks the status quo and suggests clear ways in which life might become different.”

    Design fiction isn’t science fiction, it’s not just a telling of stories in the future or trying to make predictions of the future, instead it is a way of trying to envision and interrogate possible futures based on research data, current trends, and/or technologies. Originally, primarily used by product designers as a cheap alternative to prototyping new products, it has found traction as a critical tool allowing us to see through the fog of hype and digital evangelism. 

    In this event Tim Maughan introduces design fiction for sociologists. He discusses the work he is undertaking with Sava Saheli Singh (New York University) and its possible implications for how we write about research.

    Keith Kahn-Harris will discuss his new project which looks at how kinds of mainstream texts other than science fiction also generate ’social science fictions’, often ‘accidentally’ as a result of the pragmatic requirements of generating workable plots and scenarios. Such texts can help force attention to a neglected sociological question: what are the limits of possibility in human society?

    Sarah Burton will discuss the use of literary techniques within critical theory, thus interrogating (apparent) disciplinary demarcations set in place. Focusing on literary techniques of the fantastic, Sarah will demonstrate how these can be usefully employed in sociology writing to question dominant ideologies and praxis.

    Les Back and Mark Carrigan will each offer a short response before the event is opened up for a general discussion.

    Eventbrite - Design Fiction for Sociologists

  • Mark 8:59 am on March 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , web hosting,   

    Help: need to escape from intractably useless web host 

    For the last few years, I’ve been renting a virtual server from 5 Quid Hosts. I use this to host two sites with moderate traffic (Discover Society and Sociological Imagination) as well as a series of much smaller sites with negligible traffic. The performance started to diminish around a year ago and it’s been getting progressively worse. The extremely responsive technical support provide the same response each time I e-mail to say that a website is offline. The situation is becoming ridiculous and I need to overcome my inertia. I’ve been unable to access sociologicalimagination.org for days and all the technical support tell me is that I should install a profiler plug in so I can diagnose what the problem is.

    At present I’m paying £35 a month, as well as subscription to Max CDN in order to try to improve performance. I regularly find myself responding to ad hoc problems with the sites, trying to diagnose issues that I don’t really understand and generally having surprisingly large amounts of time and energy taken up by this. It’s becoming immensely tedious and I’m not sure what to do about it. Discover Society will (eventually) move on to its own server. I’m not really sure what to do with the Campaign for the Public University site or the other smaller sites.

    The main issue is Sociological Imagination though. Until the recent imposition of the stupid ‘new’ wordpress let me newly appreciative of controlling your own installation, it struck me that my wordpress.com installation of this blog was the only hosting experience I’ve had that was entirely unproblematic. Is there a way to move a privately hosted wordpress site back to wordpress.com?  Would this be a bad idea? Alternatively, could anyone recommend private hosts that, to put it bluntly, aren’t shit? Is there any way to move wordpress sites across en masse from one server to another or would I have to do this one by one? 

    My dilemma at the moment is that I’m paying £40+ a month for a service that is appreciably worse than what I get for $99 a year via public WordPress. Even if I had to move all the sites (as well as the two big ones, at least three others can’t be dispensed with) across to wordpress.com it would seem appealing at the moment. In essence, I want to be able to forget about the mechanics of hosting a blog and just get on with blogging.

    • Pat 6:19 pm on March 31, 2015 Permalink

      I use reclaim hosting, it’s pretty good – and cheap ish, some sites must get a fair whack of traffic
      there is a wordpress importer plugin – never sure how well it works

    • Mark 10:27 am on April 1, 2015 Permalink

      think I’m going to move it to wordpress.com – though will likely regret that if they force the new posting interface on everyone for ever

    • author 1:05 pm on April 2, 2015 Permalink

      I used to use Amazon services (with CDN). Now I use DigitalOcean, but you need to be technically inclined for these options. I suggest you find someone who already manages other WordPress sites. I could host your sites for a nominal fee. What is your monthly traffic like?

  • Mark 4:54 pm on March 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , gergen, , , , the mess of life,   

    Overcoming your modernist training for constant improvement, advancement, development and accumulation 

    Overcoming your modernist training for constant improvement, advancement, development and accumulation. That’s what the social psychologist Kenneth Gergen advocates in the new introduction to his famous work The Saturated Self, as quoted by Harmut Rosa in Social Acceleration:

    I am also struggling against my modernist training for constant improvement, development, and accumulation. Slowly I am learning the pleasures of relinquishing the desire to gain control of all that surrounds me. It is the difference between swimming with deliberation to a point in the ocean – mastering the waves to reach a goal – and floating harmoniously with the unpredictable movements of the waves.

    This rather Taoist sentiment does not necessarily entail passivity, as much as an embrace of situational constraint. It’s probably easier to embrace as a life philosophy when you’re an internationally renowned tenured professor at a private liberal arts college. I think we need to recognise this privilege but it would be a mistake to dismiss what he is saying on this basis. We should take his life philosophy seriously, as well as the goods that it can lead us to:

    The rewards can be substantial – the devotion of one’s intimates, happy children, professional success, the achievement of community goals, personal popularity, and so on. All are possible if one avoids looking back to locate a true and enduring self, and simply acts to fulfil potential in the moment at hand.

    What Gergen articulates is one particular solution to a problem we all face: how to give shape to our lives? This has a practical dimension to it. Any plan for the future provides a framework within which present choices can be understood as moving us further towards or farther away from where we hope to get to. I think there’s a more affective dimension to this as well, albeit one which varies a lot between people for reasons that likely incorporate the social, cultural, psychological and neurophysiological. Our future plans create a structure for our present experience by constituting a sense of how the present connects to the future. It is in virtue of this that we feel our lives are ‘going somewhere’ or that we are ‘drifting’.

    What Gergen’s responding to is the stress produced by the drive towards “constant improvement, development, and accumulation” when it operates under uncertain conditions. With the acceleration of social change, our experience comes to be characterised by instability, both ontologically (circumstances are unlikely to last) and epistemically (circumstances cannot be assumed to last). My plan to ‘play the game’ and climb to the top of my profession begins to seem implausible if the ‘game’ itself is seen as being in a state of flux. My plan to ‘lay down roots’ in a particular geographical area comes to seem implausible if the characteristics of that area are changing rapidly (or my ability to preserve these roots is likely to be interrupted by the demands of my a changing professional ‘game’).

    He’s suggesting that it is our “modernist training for constant improvement, advancement, development and accumulation” which is the problem here. As Bauman puts it, “the site on which we build is always cluttered: the past lingers in the same ‘present’ in which the future tries to take root”. Extending the metaphor, I take Gergen to be saying that our ‘modernist training’ leads us to grasp hastily at potential futures taking root in the present, trying to steer the unfolding of events but killing these roots in the process: an activity that fails to work and makes us miserable in the process.

    Either we kill potential futures by grasping too hastily or we ignore potential futures because of our fixation on our prior blueprint. Trying to control the direction of our future leaves us failing to attend to our present. Instead, Gergen advocates we should embrace the reality of our present situation, act in ways that are valuable within it and cultivate an equanimity towards the future unfolding of events.

    However the social world is not so ‘liquid’ as thinkers like Bauman are prone to suggest. While radical changes does occur, it is far from the norm: our circumstances are not transformed in each successive moment. Margaret Archer suggests that instrumental rationality becomes increasingly untenable with the intensification of social change. This doesn’t mean that people abandon it, only that strategic planning in terms of means and ends becomes error-prone to the degree that each is prone to change. The point can sound trivial in the abstract but when you consider the number of contingencies built into any ‘life plan’ that has been elaborated with any degree of detail, it starts to seem much more significant. The point is not that planning is becoming impossible but rather that it is becoming unreliable.

    We might respond to this by building contingencies into our life plans and returning to them with much greater frequency. These changing circumstances therefore encourage an intensification of reflexivity, an expansion of life tactics to ensure the endurance of our life strategy. This will work most effectively when our ends remain stable (e.g. becoming established & recognised within a given profession that remains securely existent) and only the means are subject to change (e.g. changing expectations attached to this professional role, changing practical activity necessary to establish oneself within the field).

    An alternative strategy is to temporise, reducing the window of time within which we seek to enact a plan in order to preserve the efficacy of our planning, as can be seen in the example of Spotify’s 31 year old CEO:

    Ek describes himself as “missionary,” by which he means he likes to formulate five-year missions for himself. “That’s how I think about life,” he said. “Five years is long enough for me to achieve something meaningful but short enough so I can change my mind every few years. I’m on my second five-year commitment on Spotify. In two years, I will have to make my next one. I will need to ask myself if I still enjoy what I’m doing. I’m kind of unusual that way, but it gives me clarity and purpose.”


    Without a window of five years, it becomes possible to “achieve something meaningful”. Ek might well have accomplished something similar if muddling through situationally in the way advocated by Gergen. But this would be a collection of actions rather than a project: it would be something we look back and realise we’ve done rather than a growing awareness of succeeding in something we’d sought to accomplish. However if advocates of the acceleration thesis are to be believed, it is likely the window within which instrumental rationality could be operative in a subjectively satisfying way will continue to decrease: the practicality of ‘five years’ as a unit of time for Ek cannot be assumed to be sustainable.

    It’s against this background that we can see how planning can come to take on a fetishistic character. We look to our plans to secure us against contingency, providing us with a sense of security and direction in a world that makes the achievement of either into a precarious accomplishment. We look to ‘escape the mess of life’, as Ian Craib puts it, fantasising about a life in which plans unfold smoothly and taking the inevitable failures we experience in reality as invitations to plan further and plan better. It’s in view of this that Gergen’s suggestion comes to seem distinctly therapeutic, representing a regime of equanimity through which we seek to stop worrying about the future and start living in the present.

    However when does equanimity become drift? When does acceptance become passivity? The instrumentally rational life plan operates at the level of biography as a whole and increasingly fails for this reason. The ‘five-years missions’ of Ek enact this strategy over a shorter span of time, ensuring the same motivational pay-off while building in uncertainty in a way that makes the missions into plausible undertakings. Gergen’s presentism embraces living well under current circumstances and accepting our inability to dictate the direction of their change. The problem with this is that much of what matters to us extends beyond our present situation. There’s a dimension to human experience, in which we recognise ourselves as having become the person we are now at this moment through a process that goes back far into the past and extends forward through the entirety of our life. Gergen’s account confuses the capacity to control our biography with the reality of that biography itself. His person risks idling away their life in a diverting and enjoyable way only to wonder in old age about all the things they could have done with their life if only they had looked beyond the confines of their circumstances.

    So how can we shape our lives while avoiding the sisyphean business of life plans? By finding meaningful projects and cultivating the mindfulness necessary to attend to them maximally. Any project pursued in such a way is liable to change because neither self and circumstances are static. But our projects and the concerns in virtue of which they are meaningful to us constitute a thread through which purpose is enacted at the biographical level, linking the many situations within which we find ourselves over time through our projects and the meaning they hold for us.

    • Kelly Nielsen 7:02 pm on March 30, 2015 Permalink

      Great essay! By the way, have you read Walter Lippman’s Drift and Mastery? Sennett references it in Respect, I believe. That or Corrosion of Character. It would be interesting to see this tension between drift and mastery and the concern with shaping one’s life compared to Lippman’s late-1950s/early-1960s analysis.

    • Mark 10:26 am on April 1, 2015 Permalink

      second hand copy for £1.01 on amazon! thanks

  • Mark 9:25 pm on March 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Brian Fallon covering Oasis 

    Unfortunately it’s not Brian Fallon singing Wonderwall (something which would complete my life). But it’s still pretty good:

    The one thing I’d like to see more than a cover of Wonderwall would be a cover of Masterplan. I think it would be one of those rare covers that could be better than the original, at least from 3 mins onwards:

    They have form in this respect. Compare ‘Songs for Teenagers’ by Fake Problems with the Gaslight Anthem cover:

    I love Fake Problems. But the cover is vastly superior. Somewhat more contentiously, I think this is better than the original:

    (edit to add: line spacing is completely messed up on wordpress. another reason to hate the new wordpress)

  • Mark 5:55 pm on March 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The Emperor’s New Clothes 

    Because we’re leaving them to their own devices
    The poorest are making all of the sacrifices –
    The cost of living crisis, house prices, the cost of a deposit,
    I don’t give a shit
    But yes of course we should address it
    So we will blame the deficit on people claiming benefits
    And as we debate what people get from the state
    We don’t care about how long people have to wait in A&E
    We don’t care about your GP
    We have to get the money, it’s important to me
    And as the NHS is being sold off
    It’s businesses that get the profits in their pockets

    Make sure the toffs stay better off
    Make sure the money stops at the top
    Take every penny from the hands of the many
    And give everything to the few

    Where is the fairness? We couldn’t care less
    One tax law for the rich and another for the rest
    And we will take interest in the very richest
    Let us make the poor their bitches
    Tax evasion is a man-made disaster
    These are the people I serve as Chancellor
    I know the answer is to fill
    The wallets of the rich and balance the bills
    On the backs of the poor.
    The rich pay less tax
    Let us make sure they don’t pay any more
    And as my chums move their money offshore
    I am the one holding open the door
    Let us be the party that makes you cry
    But madness is voting for the other guy

    Good morning everybody
    Our ideas are partly fear
    Of people from different cultures coming here
    And when I hear our policies about ethnic minorities
    We’re the only party that actually believes in social mobility
    Cos our ability to push migrants on a boat
    Is my personal priority
    Yes, the majority of our policies
    Blame people who come from other countries

    Employment legislation, blame immigration
    Excessive regulation, blame immigration
    Bad education, blame immigration
    No qualifications, blame immigration
    Radicalisation, blame immigration
    Unhappy situation, blame immigration
    The intimidation in our nation
    When we blame immigration
    Is a total abomination

    At home and abroad, we can afford to press pause
    And put the needle on the record

    Make sure the toffs stay better off
    Make sure the money stops at the top
    Take every penny from the hands of the many
    And give everything to the few
    We are not all in this together
    We want to help the rich get richer forever
    The poor will get a chance never
    We don’t give a damn about you

  • Mark 11:01 am on March 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Creativity as Apophatic 

    For the last couple of days, I was in Edinburgh taking part in Time Without Time. It was a great event and I’ll probably blog more about it next week. The second day was very different from the usual academic events I go to. This picture probably conveys how this is so:

    Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 10.55.12

    The experience left me thinking about ‘creativity’ in the broadest sense. These are the two thoughts I’m playing with:

    1. Creativity can usefully be understood as incorporating an apophatic dimension: involving “removing obstacles (mainly thinking, decision-making processes) which prevent the spontaneous emergence” of novelty.
    2. Creativity relies on non-linearity even if the process of creation itself might incorporate some linear elements.

    With the exception of the Digital Sociology conference in New York last month, I can’t remember ever having come away from an event so full of ideas. Hence my desire to understand why spending the day (literally) playing has had this effect.

  • Mark 9:49 am on March 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: micro-publishing, , ,   

    What will micro-publishing look like in higher education? 

    A few weeks ago I was browsing a photography bookshop in London and came across the term ‘micro-publisher’ for the first time. The friend I was with seemed slightly bemused that I hadn’t encountered the term and explained that it just meant small publishers with tiny print runs. Here’s how Wikipedia defines micro-publishing:

    • The book publishing industry sometimes uses this term in discussing publishing companies below a certain revenue level.
    • It is also used to describe the use of efficient publishing and distribution techniques to publish a work intended for a specific micromarket. Typically, these works are not considered by larger publishers because of their low economy of scale and mass appeal and the difficulties that would arise in their marketing.


    The two meanings seem obviously connected to me, in so far as that the former will be the likely state of companies who only engage in the latter. In fact, as the Wikipedia articles goes on to make clear, it’s only with the growth of Print on Demand that the niche markets to which micro-publishers cater became financially feasible because of a radical reduction in the upfront investment that was necessary. This trend intensified with the emergence of online publishing in general and eReaders in particular. As the Wikipedia articles continues:

    Before the emergence of the internet, micropublishing was considered a “microtrend” that would not play much of a role in the publishing world, because costs per copy were too high. The internet has changed this by providing authors and micropublishers with an affordable medium through which to publish and distribute their works.[citation needed]

    The Internet is also evolving how the works from traditional publishing, self-publishing and micro-publishing are distributed. The long imagined dream of digital distribution for published works is quickly becoming a reality. For micro-publications, digital distribution may enable greater numbers of authors and potential authors to enter the publishing industry to access readers who prefer to receive and/or consume content in digital form.


    Digital micropublishing sites like Scribd and Docstoc enable micro-publishers to easily distribute their digital works using intellectual property licenses. Licensing micro-publications simplifies protecting and tracking those works which are distributed digitally, an approached used for many years by software producers, and in the last decade by MP3 music distributors.

    Micro-publishers and authors who use intellectual property licensing sites are not limited to a specific medium (like eReaders) to distribute their works. This flexibility may allow micropublishing to significantly expand readership while protecting copyrights.


    The Subcompact Publishing manifesto thinks through the potential implications of this for the nature of the magazine. To produce a digital edition of a print publication leaves a publisher under a very particular set of constraints:

    A generalized print magazine may be composed of the following qualities:

    • Each issue contains a dozen or more articles.
    • Issues operate on a monthly cycle.
    • All articles are bundled and shipped at the same time.

    Almost all of these qualities are the result of responses to distribution and production constraints. Printing and binding takes a certain amount of time. Shipping the issues takes another chunk of time. In order to find a balance between timeliness of content and shelf-life, a month makes a pretty sensible — if brisk — publishing schedule.

    Old into new

    So why do so many of our digital magazines publish on the same schedule, with the same number of articles as their print counterparts? Using the same covers? Of course, they do because it’s easier to maintain identical schedules across mediums. To not design twice. To not test twice (or, at all).

    Unfortunately — from a medium-specific user experience point of view — it’s almost impossible to produce a digitally indigenous magazine beholden to those legacy constraints. Why? Not least because we use tablets and smartphones very differently than we use printed publications.

    One of the great benefits of being part of the emergent publishing world is that you don’t have multiple mediums to publish across.10 You can and probably should focus squarely on digital. Perhaps later — contingent on market demand and content quality — you can consider publishing a print anthology to give your publication a stronger literal edge.11


    The author then outlines how ‘Subcompact Publishing’ can take advantage of freedom from these legacy constraints:

    Subcompact Publishing tools are first and foremost straightforward.

    They require few to no instructions.

    They are easily understood on first blush.

    The editorial and design decisions around them react to digital as a distribution and consumption space.

    They are the result of dumping our publishing related technology on a table and asking ourselves — what are the core tools we can build with all this stuff?

    They are, as it were, little N360s.

    I propose Subcompact Publishing tools and editorial ethos begin (but not end) with the following qualities:

    • Small issue sizes (3-7 articles / issue)
    • Small file sizes
    • Digital-aware subscription prices
    • Fluid publishing schedule
    • Scroll (don’t paginate)
    • Clear navigation
    • HTML(ish) based
    • Touching the open web


    To my surprise, the author suggests that Apple’s Newstand is actually a grossly under-appreciated tool to this end. The argument seems convincing:

    Apple’s Newsstand? “But isn’t that where all those horrible things live?” I hear you say. Or, “Oh? That folder I’ve never opened?”

    Newsstand is perhaps the most underutilized, under-imagined distribution tool in the short history of tablet publishing. If you squint your eyes and tilt your head at just the right angle, you’ll notice something magical about Newsstand: given the proper container, it’s a background downloading, offline-friendly, cached RSS machine people can subscribe to. For money.


    What I find interesting is how much of the innovation in this field has been driven by the facilitation of micro-publishing by others:

    The Magazine is no longer alone as an enterprising app-magazine. It has been joined on the Newsstand by a host of publications put out by 29th Street Publishing, which acts as a publisher and marketer for indie editors and writers, and now a clutch of other startups have entered the fray, each toting cheap or free tools that help regular schmoes produce and sell beautiful cross-platform publications. The options available to independent publishers have never been better, but it’s also likely that this space is going to get saturated quickly. Below is a rundown of the new companies that offer digital publishing products.


    Here are some of the tools listed in this article:

    1. Readymag
    2. Periodical
    3. Blookist
    4. Glossi
    5. TypeEngine
    6. Packagr

    What does all this mean for scholarly publishing? Three initial thoughts occur to me. Firstly, it’s clearer to me than ever why I’m ambivalent about the growth of new journals facilitated by Open Journal Systems. If the journal is freed from the complexity of sales & licensing then why so enthusiastically reproduce the form of long established non-OA journals? Secondly, these tools could offer new opportunities for dissemination by large research projects, publishing accessible material on an ongoing basis rather than restricting dissemination to the end of the project. Thirdly, it potentially becomes feasible to run public engagement projects on an going basis without being completely reliant on grant funding and/or endless unpaid labour.

    Thoughts much appreciated.

    • nationalmobilization 11:49 pm on March 29, 2015 Permalink

      Reblogged this on National Mobilization For Equity and commented:
      How might micropublishing as described here benefit the less privileged peripheries of higher education as well as ancillary support, professional or advocacy organizations? Would it lower paywalls, increase access to underrepresented voices while maintaining quality?

    • pgogy 6:21 pm on March 31, 2015 Permalink

      Wonder what the minimum spec is – permanent URL identifiers?
      But our LSE stuff showed books work best? So maybe published PDFs? Amazon is forever?

    • Mark 10:27 am on April 1, 2015 Permalink

      dunno, it’s a potentially elastic concept, just throwing ideas out there really

  • Mark 7:25 am on March 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , stuart lee, ,   

    Stewart Lee on Twitter 

    Thanks to Neil McGuire for including this in his workshop introduction yesterday. It’s excellent:

  • Mark 6:44 am on March 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 24/7, , , , late fragments, , shutting out the sun, spiderman   

    Things I’ve been reading recently #5 

    Shutting Out The Sun is a journalistic exploration of Japan’s ‘lost generation’ that gives much social scientific work a run for its money in terms of breadth and insight. I read it because of a long-standing interest in the hikikomori: Japanese youth who isolate themselves, often refusing to leave the bedrooms in their parental homes for years at a time. Michael Zielenziger’s thoughtful book offers a detailed account of the lives of hikikomori. To his immense credit, through great persistence he manages to solicit interviews with hikikomori, as well as with the diverse range of advocates who are seeking to help them through very different strategies. The book has left me with the conviction that I would like to study this issue properly one day but also an awareness of how difficult this would be, even if I spoke fluent Japanese and had lived in the country for as long as Zielenziger. Crudely, his thesis is that hikikomori fail to develop a capacity for defensive self-presentation: they can’t dissimulate to fit in and the continuing conformity of Japanese society makes it impossible for them function without this capacity. They don’t develop character armour and they don’t develop social identities. Whereas they might be able to find a place as unusual people in much of Western Europe or North America, their idiosyncrasies prove crippling in this social context. The world becomes ever more scary, inviting retreat into a place of safety. In my terms, I’m left with the thought that what Zielenziger is describing is meta-reflexivity: the mode of reflexivity that emerges en masse when there’s substantial contextual incongruity but whereas other social environments work to foster this, if not outright encouraging it, Japan is rather hostile. Reading this book left me aware of how little I knew about Japanese society or about Japanese politics. Zielenziger convincingly situates the growth of the hikikomori in terms of broader trajectories within post-war Japanese society. At times, he lapses into end of history triumphalism. The book was written in the early 20th century and it would be interesting to see if he would revise some of his praise of American capitalism vis-a-vis Japanese capitalism in light of the financial crisis. His analysis of the sclerotic tendencies in the latter are convincing but his praise of the flexibility of the former really isn’t.

    24/7: Late Capitalism and the End of Sleep is a book I bought some time ago but read quickly this week in preparation for the Time Without Time symposium I’m taking part in. It’s a short book which uses the transformation of sleep to explore a broader trend towards social acceleration. It has the familiar tendency of critical theory to ascribe agency to abstractions (i.e. talking about ‘neoliberalism’ doing things rather than using neoliberalism as a concept to make sense of why people, individually and collectively, do the things they do) that frustrates me. I often agree with the claims being made but I think that at best this is a form of short hand: it needs to be unpacked in terms of groups and you’ve not explained the phenomenon in question until you do so. It also has the familiar tendency within the acceleration literature to treat agency as a dependent variable, passively moulded into new forms by digital technology and neoliberalism. I think people are changed by technology and social systems. I just don’t think you can adequately identify these by talking about inexorable structural trends that change all agents in the same way. Not least of all because it obscures the possible points of resistance to these trends, as well as the variability with which their influence is felt amongst different groups. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable book that I got a lot out of despite reading it far too quickly. I’m aware of the irony that I speed read a book about social acceleration… it seemed impressionistic to me but that might be a consequence of how I read it. It was full of interesting ideas and interesting insights though. Most usefully, it suggested to me how I might incorporate sleep into my account of cognitive triage. Are those moments when we ruminate and struggle to sleep often important to our reflexivity? The pathologisation of difficulty sleeping could then be seen as within the sphere of activities that generate cognitive triage.

    Late Fragments by Kate Gross is a moving little book written by a 35 year old woman with terminal cancer, detailing the final months of her life before she left behind a husband and two young boys. The fact she died 2 minutes before they woke up on Christmas Day has to be one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. I’m not quite sure why I picked it up in the bookshop and decided to buy it though. Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die was a cancer memoir of sorts and I loved that. But it used her experiences as a basis to inquire into the ‘cult of positive thinking’ taking over America. I’d be curious to know what Ehrenreich made of this book by Kate Gross. It wasn’t a hymn to positive thinking but it came close at points, detailing the self-discovery that cancer facilitated. I think I’d been curious about Gross herself. She was parliamentary private secretary to Tony Blair early in his premiership and had been chosen to run his African Governance Initiative. The book reflects on her career as a self-defined ‘ambitious’ person and the self-discovery facilitated by her cancer amounted to rediscovery of the cultural interests she was forced to forego as a result of her career aspirations. It’s very sad and I’m still not sure what I thought of it. I’ve written a little about it here.

    Graphic Novels I’ve read recently:

    • The Edge of the Spiderverse is an epic story involved various Spidermen from parallel universes coming together to fight a common threat. It’s funny & engaging in a way I rarely find Marvel comics to be these days.
    • Southern Bastards is a stunning book by Jason Aaron detailing a criminal conspiracy in a small Alabama town. It’s very funny.
  • Mark 4:15 pm on March 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    The Social Ontology of Digital Data & Digital Technology, July 8th in London 

    This innovative conference brings together leading figures from a variety of fields which address issues of digital technology and digital data. We’ve invited speakers with a range of intellectual perspectives and disciplinary backgrounds who engage with questions relating to digital data and digital technology in their work. Our suggestion is that social ontology, however this might be construed, represents a potential common ground that could cut across this still rather siloed domain of inquiry into the social dimensions of digital technology.

    The conference aims to explore this possibility by assembling a diverse range of perspectives and drawing them into a dialogue about a common question, without assuming a shared understanding of the topic at hand. Our aim is to extend this digitally via twitter, podcast and blog beyond the event itself, in order to facilitate an extended conversation that will draw more people into its remit as it circulates after the conference itself.

    To this end, we invite each speaker to address this theme (the social ontology of digital data & digital technology) in whatever way they choose. Each speaker will have 30 mins to talk and 15 mins for questions. We’ll have an accomplished audio editor on hand to record each talk as a podcast. These will be released on http://www.socialontology.org and will be circulated on social media in order to try and stimulate a continuing debate around the issues raised at the conference. The hashtag for the day will be #socialontology.

    Confirmed Speakers:

    • Noortje Marres (Goldsmiths) – Does Digital Sociology have a Problem?
    • Jochen Runde (Cambridge) – Non-materiality and the Ontology of Digital Objects
    • Alistair Mutch (NTU) – title TBC
    • Susan Halford (Southampton) – title TBC
    • Nick Couldry (LSE) – title TBC
    • Another speaker TBC

    Eventbrite - The Social Ontology of Digital Data & Digital Technology

  • Mark 11:46 am on March 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    Call for Participation: Digital Methods Summer School 2015 

    This looks great:

    Call for Participation: Digital Methods Summer School 2015

    Post-Snowden Media Empiricism and Secondary Social Media: Data Studies Beyond Facebook and Twitter
    University of Amsterdam
    29 June – 10 July 2015

    Deadline for applications: 23 April 2015


    This year’s Digital Methods Summer School is devoted to what we call ‘post-Snowden media empiricism’ and ‘secondary social media’. Post-Snowden media empiricism refers to how to study online media since the revelations in June 2013 about the breadth and scope of NSA surveillance activities. Writing about the future of media theory, post-Snowden, scholars are closing the age of Internet innocence. For years one would study the extent to which cyberspace is an alternative space, a realm of new politics, corporealities and identity play, cleared of reputation, institutions and regulatory legal regimes. Such a point of departure is long dated, but the post-Snowden dates others too, with the likely exception of surveillance studies, once a branch or sub-field. Such is the context these days for calls for post-media as well as post-digital studies.

    In considering how to rethink the study of online media, post-Snowden, there are a series of proposals for new theory, but there is not the concomitant attention to the empirical project. What may be the agenda for a post-Snowden media empiricism? Are there digital methods for a post-Snowden surveillance studies? Considering how to approach online media generally nowadays, we ask:

    1) What does it mean for media researchers to treat and study empirically the web as an intelligence medium? Do we hunt for confidential documents and study leaks? Would we inevitably slope towards intelligence work?

    2) In post-Snowden media empiricism, would one embrace the study of the dark web, anonymous web and onion routers? Should we throw a Tor install party?

    3) Ghostery and other software that track trackers (like our very own “tracker tracker” tool) are means to study soft surveillance online (third party cookies, beacons, etc.). Does such surveillance study pale in the face of the sheer scale of post-Snowden media that is surveilled?

    4) With the cloud we have moved from a user logic of downloading to one of uploading. Should we replace our scrapers with sniffers?

    5) Do the older new media methods still apply? Could we map the cloud as linked server space?

    The NSA did not name all the social media platforms. ‘Secondary social media’ is a term we are using to compliment and place opposite to GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon), employed increasingly in French intellectual circles to denote U.S. digital cultural imperialism. Should we turn our focus to the lesser platforms? What value do the other social media platforms have for social research? If Google can be shown to author new source epistemologies, Apple’s iOS store (together with Amazon’s lists) as sources for best-selling issues and Facebook for most engaged with content, what do secondary social media such as Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr have to offer? We are also interested in social media alternatives and new online spaces offering conviviality without necessarily resorting to the logic of the social graph.

    Big Platforms, or GAFA

    Among the big data critiques is the notion of ready-made data. This line of thought is part of the continuum which sees a wholesale switch from hermeneutics to pattern-recognition as well as a reputational swing favouring those with big analytical infrastructure. But there needs to be data for the machines that learn and the analysts who run them. Ready-made data as a big data critique refers to an over reliance on API streams for the study of virtually any societal matter, such as Twitter data to monitor disasters, revolutions and presidential transitions and predict flu trends, elections as well as celebrity awards.

    Which data are preferred? Whilst the term has deeper roots in the consideration of publishing old media online, the acronym, GAFA, standing for Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, has resonated particularly in the French press and scientific literature as the new term for U.S. digital cultural imperialism, expanded from allusions to Googlization nearly a decade ago, which also coincided with a call for a European search engine, Quaero. Whilst the term may fit well for media publishers and advertisers, for data analysts Twitter is an obvious addition for the study of influence and trend as would be Wikipedia, not only for monitoring attention to matters of concern and cross-cultural comparison but also for data groundwork such as keyword and source list-building (with the advantage or disadvantage of often being exhaustive such as the list of social networking websites).

    As a counter-point to GAFA, and the study of big platforms, we would like to introduce the notion of secondary social media, with the question, where are the other signals (online) for the potential purposes of social research? And do they tend to be studied in a similar fashion as the big platforms (monitoring and prediction)? How else to study them?

    When one queries new trending social media networks, most popular social media sites for teens or other auto-suggested and completed key phrases in leading search engines, the lists may be concatenated (the exhaustive approach) or triangulated, serving up !LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Vine, Meetup, and other platforms but also the ‘after Facebook’ messaging applications such as Snapchat. How to study the other social media?

    The first recognition is that secondary social media is meant as a term in a research sense rather than one pursued from a political economy point of view. We realise that Vine is owned by Twitter, Flickr by Yahoo, Instagram by Facebook, meaning that they are already GAFA-like, and rising on (potential) market capitalization lists. They are understudied, however, both generally but also in terms of how they may be repurposed for social research, which is the digital methods approach.

    Secondary social media have specificities as well as similiarities to Twitter and Facebook, which may makes methods of their study comparable. Instagram selfies (including their locations and characteristics) have seen scholarly attention as has (gendered) social curation on Pinterest. But one may make use of the content tagging and activity on the platformed social media so as to study issue engagement. Instagram has hashtags (and comments), and Pinterest likes, repins and comments, organising content and metrified attention to it in ways similar to Twitter and Facebook, where one routinely studies most engaged with content (through the likes, shares, comments, liked comments on Facebook pages and groups, and retweets and favorites on Twitter), often finding content with characteristics consistent with memes. With its reblogging feature, Tumblr is similar, as potentially are its modes of analysis.

    Indeed, there may be a temptation to reduce all social media analysis with digital methods to the study of network metrics, particuarly through inquiries into influence, be it of an individual (clout) or a subject matter (trend). The ease with which data can be collected from such platform APIs as Twitter, and poured into analytics buckets attests to the admonition. As an analytical strategy, however, one also may prefer the specificities of the platform over the typical metrics measures. On the list are mature platforms such as Flickr, where one typically studies tagging’s new taxonomies, or more specifically the social life tags, watching which pictures most significantly occupy the politics tag over time, for example. There is !LinkedIn, which one can study the (new) skill sets of professions, profiling the new job names and activities in the emerging creative industries. Snapchat to date has had little scholarship or attention paid to its analytics, apart from a security breach into its unauthorised API, thus far defying repurposing. When is a platform less suitable or even useless for repurposing for social research? Such could also fill in the notion of secondary social media.

    About “Digital Methods” as Concept

    Digital methods is a term coined as a counter-point to virtual methods, which typically digitize existing methods and port them onto the Web. Digital methods, contrariwise, seek to learn from the methods built into the dominant devices online, and repurpose them for social and cultural research. That is, the challenge is to study both the info-web as well as the social web with the tools that organize them. There is a general protocol to digital methods. At the outset stock is taken of the natively digital objects that are available (links, tags, threads, etc.) and how devices such as search engines make use of them. Can the device techniques be repurposed, for example by remixing the digital objects they take as inputs? Once findings are made with online data, where to ground them? Is the baseline still the offline, or are findings to be grounded in more online data? There is also a Digital Methods book (MIT Press, 2013) as well as a complementary Issue Mapping book (Amsterdam University Press, 2015).

    About the Summer School

    The Digital Methods Summer School, founded in 2007 together with the Digital Methods Initiative, is directed by Professor Richard Rogers, Chair in New Media & Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. The Summer School is one training opportunity provided by the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI). DMI also has a Winter School, which includes a mini-conference, where papers are presented and responded to. Winter School papers are often the result of Summer School projects. The Summer School is coordinated by two PhD candidates in New Media at the University of Amsterdam, or affiliates. This year the coordinators are are to be announced. The Summer School has a technical staff as well as a design staff, drawn from the ranks of Density Design in Milan. The Summer School also relies on a technical infrastructure of some nine servers hosting tools and storing data. In a culture of experimentation and skill-sharing, participants bring their laptops, learn method, undertake research projects, make reports, tools and graphics and write them up on the Digital Methods wiki. The Summer School concludes with final presentations. Often there are guests from non-governmental or other organizations who present their issues. For instance, Women on Waves came along during the 2010, Fair Phone to the 2012 Summer School and Greenpeace and their Gezi Park project in 2013. We worked on the issue of rewilding with NGOs in the 2014 Summer School. Digital Methods people are currently interning at major NGOs and international organizations. Previous Digital Methods Summer Schools, 2007-2014, https://wiki.digitalmethods.net/Dmi/DmiSummerSchool. See also previous Digital Methods Winter Schools, 2009-2015, https://wiki.digitalmethods.net/Dmi/WinterSchool.

    What’s it like? Digital Methods Summer School flickr stream 2012 and flickr stream 2013.

    The Digital Methods Initiative was founded with a grant from the Mondriaan Foundation, and the Summer School has been supported by the Center for Creation, Content and Technology (CCCT), University of Amsterdam, organized by the Faculty of Science with sponsorship from Platform Beta. It also receives support from the Citizen Data Lab  University of Applied Sciences. The Digital Methods Summer School is self-sustaining.

    Applications and fees

    To apply for the Digital Methods Summer School 2015, please use the University of Amsterdam Summer School form. Or, please sendplease send a one-page letter explaining how digital methods training would benefit your current work, and also enclose a CV, a copy of your passport (details page only), a headshot photo as well as a 100-word bio. Mark your application “DMI Training Certificate Program,” and send to info [at] digitalmethods.net. Please also mention in your application e-mail whether you’d like to make use of the accommodation service (for more information see below “Housing and Accomodation”).

    The deadline for applications for the Summer School is 23 April 2015. Notices will be sent on 24 April. Please address your application email to the Summer School coordinators, Saskia Kok and Liliana Bounegru, info [at] digitalmethods.net. Informal queries may be sent to the email address as well.

    The Summer School costs EUR 595 (non-credits) or EUR 895 with credits (6 ECTS). Accepted applicants will be informed of the bank transfer details upon notice of acceptance to the Summer School on 24 April 2015. The fee must be paid by 24 May 2015.


    The Digital Methods Summer School is part of the University of Amsterdam Summer School programme, which has a video giving a flavor of the Summer School experience. Students from universities in the LERU and U21 networks are eligible for a scholarship to help cover the cost for tuition and housing for the DMI Summer School. Please consult their websites in order to see whether you are eligible for a scholarship and to begin the application procedure.

    Housing and Accommodations

    The Summer School is self-catered, and there are abundant cafes and a university mensa nearby. The Digital Methods Summer School is located in the heart of Amsterdam. There are limited accommodations available to participants at The Student Hotel at reasonable rates. In your application please indicate whether you are interested in making use of this service. In your acceptance notification, you will be given information about the reservation as well as payment. For those who prefer other accommodations, we suggest airbnb or similar. For shorter stay, there is Hotel Le Coin, where you may request a university discount.

    Summer School Credits (6 ECTS)

    For those following the Digital Methods Summer School for credit, 6 credits (ECTS) are granted to participants who follow the Summer School program, and complete a significant contribution to a Summer School project (evidenced by co-authorship of the project report as well as final (joint) presentation). Templates for the project report as well as for the presentation slides are supplied. For previous Summer School projects, see for example https://wiki.digitalmethods.net/Dmi/WikipediaAsASpaceOfControversy.


    The Summer School meets every weekday. Please bring your laptop. We will provide abundant connectivity. We start generally at 9:30 in the morning, and end around 5:30. There are morning talks one to two days per week. On the last Friday we have a boat trip on the canals of Amsterdam.

    Preparations: Reader and Online Tutorials and Lectures

    For your Summer School to be especially successful we would recommend highly that you watch (or listen to) the Digital Methods tutorials. 
    Audio and Video Tutorials
     – Digital Methods researchers have given tutorials and talks which are useful and sometimes even entertaining.
    Summer School Reader and Homework – Compilation of relevant readings and other preparatory materials.
    Digital Methods Summer School 2014 Tool Medley slides on Slideshare

    Social Media & User-Generated Content

    Twitter hashtag #dmi15
    We shall have a list of summer school participants and make an old-fashioned Facebook with the headshots and bio’s you send to us.

    We look forward to welcoming you to Amsterdam in the Summertime!

  • Mark 11:45 am on March 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply

    Call for papers: Doing Justice to Figures 

    This looks interesting:

    Final reminder for ESRC and LSE Gender Institute graduate research symposium Call for Papers – deadline: Monday, 30 March.
    Keynote speaker: Dr. Imogen Tyler (Co-Director: Centre for Gender & Women’s Studies, Lancaster)
    Doing Justice to Figures and Figuration
    A One Day Graduate Research Symposium

    Friday June 19th, 2015
    London School of Economics

    Doing Justice to Figures and Figuration seeks to bring together interdisciplinary scholars in the social sciences working on figuration and/or with figures. Figuration – the process of reification through the production of a particular form or idea – is increasingly understood as significant to mobilizing and understanding social and political life. The proliferation of contemporary iterations, including the benefits cheat, the Islamic extremist, the innocent child, and the integrated immigrant, are being used to justify everything from the increasing cuts in social welfare and education, to the ongoing funding of global warfare, and the heightened restrictions on immigration. In the stigmatization or celebration of figures, affective and historical discourses of gender, ability, race, religion, sexuality, age, class, and nation are called upon to structure social and political life. Simultaneously semiotic and material, figures can be used to powerful effect across divergent sites.

    Resonant with meaning, the use of figures and figuration in the academy is equally complex. Within social science research, figures are employed to illustrate theories, unpacked to reveal structures of subject production, or cited and explored as knowledge-producers in their own right. But these strategies are not innocent of the dilemmas that popular forms of figuration face. Due to the heightened impact of contemporary figures on social life, academic research on or with figures requires urgent provocation and renewed critical reflection.

    Doing Justice to Figures and Figuration thus seeks to create a space in which to discuss the potentials and risks of using and interrogating figures within academic research. Asking, for example: How do figures structure contemporary forms of racism, nationalism, heterosexism, homonormativity, coloniality, and biopolitical regulation? How do we do justice to contemporary “optimistic” figures which might emerge out of and extend violent histories? What role does affect play in the prioritization or vilification of contemporary and historical figures? What methodological approaches, theoretical lenses, and modes of writing lend themselves to doing justice to figures?

    In conversation with the questions above, we invite proposals for 20 minute papers which might address, but are not limited to, the following themes:

    Figuration in feminist, critical race, postcolonial, and queer scholarship
    Contemporary mobilizations of figures in social life and social research
    Troubling representation
    Practices of figuration across spheres and in (inter)disciplinary locations
    Difficulties of transgression and justice in critical social science scholarship
    Figures as individuating or collectivizing strategies
    Figuration’s relationship with state projects, globalization, and neoliberalism
    Figures as heroic, utopian, “modern,” negative, dangerous, or abjected
    The significance of figures to methodological and theoretical approaches
    The role and utility of affect in social regulation and scholarship

    Please submit paper abstracts of 300-500 words along with a short biography of 150 words to E.J.Spruce@lse.ac.uk by Monday 30 March.

    Doing Justice to Figures is funded by the ESRC and the LSE Gender Institute. It is being organised by Emma Spruce and Jacob Breslow, doctoral researchers at the LSE’s Gender Institute.

  • Mark 9:32 am on March 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Life in the Accelerated Academy, part 3 

    In the previous two posts I’ve painted a rather bleak picture of the accelerated academy as a toxic environment in which an out of control metrics regime incites cognitive triage as a necessity to cope with the ratcheting up of situational demands. As things get faster, the possibility for withdrawl decreases: there’s always something else to do, providing a perpetual justification for deferring disconnection. My suggestion is that ‘cognitive triage’ involves what Jonathan Crary describes as “the incapacitation of daydream or of any mode of absent-minded introspection that would otherwise occur in intervals of slow or vacant time” (loc 1025). The greater the tracts of our lived life in which we are triaging, the less capacity we have for imagination and deliberation: we’re more prone to react to urgent situational demands rather than reflect on trans-situational concerns. We tend to accept things as they are rather than imagining  how they might be.

    Physical events can be an important counterweight to this trend. However they often aren’t. They need a shared purpose and corresponding willingness to attend to the event. The event needs to be capable of synchronising attention and the broader environment mitigates against this: perhaps we should make academic workshops into ‘digital detox’ spaces and ban WiFI and smart phones? Individual habits mitigate against it as well. There will often be a reason to leave early, to zone out during talks or fail to engage in a way one otherwise might. I’m not sure what could overcome this other than commitment and the question of how to generate that in people is obliviously rather thwart. Nonetheless I’m increasingly taken with the idea of academic workshops as zones of deceleration. The annual Centre for Social Ontology workshop certainly succeeds at this but I’ve yet to encounter anything else which does so unambiguously.

    I’ve often hoped that social media can help solve these problem. This seems counter-intuitive to some because of the speed at which it operates. But it is this very speed which short-circuits cognitive triage. The limited investment necessary in exploring a single idea via one blog post helps liberate the author from the need for temporal accounting. In doing so, it opens up the imagination. The limited investment necessary in a 140 character tweet does the same, encouraging conversations across disciplinary and institutional boundaries which might otherwise be deferred by parties to them, not because they lack interest but due to an inability to prioritise an extended conversation when there are so many other things to get done. My experience of blogging has been that the occasion for writing feels different for these reasons. There’s always a reason to write, as a communicative act rather than as something for oneself. It’s much easier to seize on an idea and, through doing so, enjoy experiences of writing like this:

    The notion of revelation – in the sense that suddenly, with ineffable assuredness and subtlety, something becomes visible, audible, something that shakes you to the core and bowls you over – provides a simple description of the facts of the matter. You hear, you don’t search; you take, you don’t ask who is giving; like a flash of lightening a thought flares up, with necessity, with no hesitation as to its form – I never had any choice.

    – Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Hommo, Pg 68 (Duncan Large translation)

    For this reason I think social media can allow the imagination to thrive. Furthermore, at present it exists outside of prevailing systems of audit. This is not to say it does not come with rewards – I’ve stumbled into a whole parallel career due to engaging with social media. But these rewards are not usually those upon which progression in the accelerated academy depends. On the other hand, there are many risks, unequally distributed amongst those engaging online. The normalisation of the activity might also simply add to the ratcheting up of situational demands. If one feels obliged to blog then this adds another, potentially endless, responsibility to existing writing commitments. Perhaps then intensifying a tendency towards surface writing rather than depth writing: rearranging ideas rather than developing new ones, in the way that is far too common in an environment dominated by ‘unread and unloved’ books. The metrics inherent to social media also seem as if they’re crying out for incorporation into existing systems of audit & part of my ambivalence about alt-metrics stems from this. I nonetheless look at my alt-metrics scores and feel pleased if they’re high.

  • Mark 9:03 am on March 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    Life in the Accelerated Academy, part 2 

    The idea that a part 2 to yesterday’s post would be less rushed seems rather naive in retrospect. Feeling rushed in the morning is different to feeling rushed in the evening but it is nonetheless feeling rushed. Much of my motivation for the Accelerated Academy project comes from a desire to understand this aspect of my daily experience in a sociological way. It’s not quite linking ‘personal troubles’ to ‘public issues’ however because I’m aware that I like speed. Much like the experience of rushing reflects something more than my own psychology, so too do the pleasures which can be taken in acceleration. Here are some suggestions about what they are:

    1. Time-pressure can be a symbol of status and flaunting it can represent one of the few socially acceptable forms of conspicuous self-aggrandisement available.
    2. Time-pressure can reduce the time available for reflexivity, ‘blotting out’ difficult questions in a way analogous to drink and drugs.
    3. Time-pressure can facilitate a unique kind of focus in the face of a multiplicity of distractions. If we accept that priorities are invested with normative significance (i.e. they matter to us in direct and indirect ways) then prioritisation can be pleasurable. This can take the form of people who rely on deadlines to ensure things get done. More prosaically, it can undercut procrastination by leaving one with finite temporal resources to utilise for non-negotiable obligations.
    4. Time-pressure can leave us feeling that we are living life most fully. If the good life is now seen as the full life then living fast feels like living fully.

    I think this conveys the feeling I’m trying to conceptualise more effectively than I can using the abstract words which are the only tools too many years of higher education have equipped me with:

    It’s a feeling that provokes ambivalence but does so in a way that can be thrilling. C Wright Mills once wrote that “My plans have always exceeded my capacities and energies”. This is a sentiment that resonates with me in the sense that it describes my own experience. But I think there’s more to it than that. There’s some latent moral force to this resonance, as if part of me thinks that a life of which this was not true would be in some sense a life wasted. I’m not sure if I believe this reflectively but something in me endorses it nonetheless. Part of me believes that a failure of one’s plans to exceed one’s energies would point to a failure of imagination, an inability to keep pace with the possibilities for creative activity afforded by digital capitalism.

    I find myself fantasising about working on one thing at a time. If I play the game, mark myself out in the right way then I could win funding and immerse myself in one project. But I’m not sure I really want this. I may think that I do but all the evidence I have suggests that at the first sign of frustration or boredom, I would seek out new distractions to which I could commit myself, justifying this as structured procrastination – perhaps we are veering into individual psychopathology after all… more to the point though, even if I did this and committed myself to it, would it be possible any longer? The schemes I’d be applying to demand impact strategies which presumably have to be put into practice. There is monitoring and assessment, consultation with mentors and demonstration of progress. The Rortyean image of unstructured immersion in creative work reveals itself once more to be a fantasy, at least under present circumstances.

    The further problem is that, as Ana Canhoto pointed out in a comment on part one, Rorty’s image of slow academia is still the one held by many non-academics. Friends, family, partners fail to understand the relentless pressure to do more, ascribing situational demands to individual pathology (and perhaps this leads to a tendency for all three groups to be composed heavily of other academics). The three most desirable jobs in Britain are author, librarian and academic. It would be interesting to know how much respondents to this Yougov survey know about the conditions of working life faced by authors, librarians and academics. Perhaps authors are free – if social media is my most practical escape hatch then being a writer is my most desirable one – in the way that only the truly precarious can be, with it becoming effectively infeasible to live full time as a (non-superstar) author, all the more so if one has dependants. Is it a desirable freedom?

    In many ways, I’m probably as free as I’m going to get right now. The problem is that embracing that would mean stasis. It would mean wanting to hold things in their current place. It would mean foregoing the pleasures of acceleration. It would mean, crucially, investing myself in circumstances that are by their nature transitory. This is the dilemma of acceleration: any resting place we find, any point of respite from speed, by its very nature cannot be assumed to be anything other than temporary. The stable career trajectories, as well as their associated life narratives, which Richard Sennett announced the end of in the early 90s involved a different temporality: a slow and steady movement through life (and the firm). Could acceleration be something that we seized upon as an alternative? Defining ourselves through perpetual motion, identifying with going somewhere even when the ‘somewhere’ perpetually shifted?

    In part 3, I’ll talk about social media and craft, given that this is what my talk was originally intended to be about.

    • Jan Henderson (@HealthCulture) 4:28 am on March 26, 2015 Permalink

      I don’t find any mention of Steven Ward’s ‘Neoliberalism & the global restructuring of knowledge & education’ on your blog, but I assume you already know it (although it’s possible he’s an obscure American sociologist). He comments on something that relates to the idea you mention here — how those outside academia are unaware of the time pressure academics feel these day. His point is that to the extent people are aware of the audit society nature of academia (and medicine), they find it only logical. Why should the professions be immune from what the rest of the workforce experiences?

      (Sorry for how lengthy this quotation is.)

      “[T]he transformation of knowledge and other public professions under neoliberalism is not unlike that experienced by most occupations within the primary labor market over the last few decades. Within this transformation occupations, such as those in the automobile, airline or steel industries, that once offered stable and permanent work, life-long employment, fringe benefits, union scale and contractual protection have become victims of neoliberalist political and economic policies. … [T]his does not mean that the public professions themselves are necessarily dying out only that their guild-like power to control their own fate is being seriously challenged. NPM [new public management] in practice is only an extension into the public domain of the new managerial and business policies and practices that many workers have experienced for several decades as a response to the ‘realities of the market’ and the ‘inevitabilities of globalization.’ With the extra insularity that working in public bureaucracies created, professionals often saw themselves as somehow outside of the labor process or at least shielded from its more onerous effects. The professions, with their historic monopoly on expertise and political power, have also largely seen themselves apart from and elevated above other occupations and the uncertainties of the labor process in general. It was, after all, that independence that allowed the public professions to operate in a public regarding capacity and to propagate the ideals of ‘inner dedication’ in the first place. As these occupations slowly became reshaped by neoliberalism and its cries of competition, choice and globalization, public professions rarely did anything to show their solidarity or to offer assistance. Indeed, in some instances their mutual funds and retirement plans seemed to buy their acquiescence or at least silence. This has created very little sympathy from other occupations about what is now happening to the public realm and public professions. After all, why should they be trusted when all other workers are monitored, evaluated and often fired at will? Why should these professional groups not be transformed into ‘productive labor’ by being exposed to the same policies and processes that have now long affected most other workers in the so-called new economy for decades?”

      I would take “inner dedication” to include the priority given to the intellectual pleasures of academia in Rorty’s time. Things certainly have changed in my lifetime.

    • Mark 9:00 am on March 28, 2015 Permalink

      That’s very interesting (and another book to add to the list) – it seems like a form of ‘negative solidarity’: we suffer so why don’t they?

      It occurred to me recently that the discourse of fulfilment through work (and the corresponding sense of failure if one can’t experience this) has emerged at the same time as the growth of managerialism and the (partial) deskilling of the professions. What interests me is how to make sense of the interface between the discourse about work and the changing experience of work in a sociological way.

  • Mark 7:34 am on March 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , lowry, , ,   

    The Social Ontology of L.S. Lowry 

    Series (source)


    Gathering (source)


    Aggregate (source)


    Audience (source)


    Crowd (source)


    Group: (source)


  • Mark 8:46 pm on March 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    Life in the Accelerated Academy, part 1 

    When questioned by a friend in 1980 as to whether he was happy at Princeton, the philosopher Richard Rorty replied that he was “delighted that I lucked into a university which pays me to make up stories and tell them”. He went on to suggest that “Universities permit one to read books and report what one thinks about them, and get paid for it” and that this is why he saw himself first and foremost as a writer, in spite of his already entrenched antipathy towards the philosophical profession which would grow with time. It’s a lovely idea, isn’t it? This is the thought that keeps coming back to me as I’m preparing to participate in the Time Without Time symposium in Edinburgh later this week.

    The invited speakers have been asked to reflect on “their practice, roles and research interests” in terms of the themes of the symposium. Perhaps slightly depressingly, it’s occurred to me that so much of what I do has in a sense been motivated by frustration that the university is not what I once (naively) believed it to be. My interest in social acceleration (how I approach the themes of the symposium) is in large part an attempt to understand how and why this is so: this is where my thoughts currently stand and I’m running this international conference with Filip Vostal in December.

    The problem is that employment in a university no longer requires that one simply reads books and reports what one thinks about them. Was this ever really the case? Either way, it’s a seductive vision. Unfortunately, it is belied by the over one hundred metrics to which each academic working within UK higher education is potentially subject. Contrary to Rorty’s ideal of scholars reading books, writing about them and occasionally deigning to share their reflections with students, we’re instead measured constantly in matters such as workload, teaching and research within institutions that are themselves ranked in a way constituted through the measurement of the individuals within them.

    Professional lives are judged according to opaque criteria, ratcheted up between assessment exercises such that anything less than ‘international excellence’ is coming to be seen as worthless. At some institutions, including my own, we see the introduction of the demand that staff meet a certain baseline of ‘income generation’ in order to keep their jobs: despite the fact that the money apportioned by way of research assessment exercises is intended to fund research. For instance a Bristol University lecturer was sacked, allegedly for not securing enough grant income. The phrase ‘publish or perish’ acquired new resonance when Stefan Grimm, a respected figure in Toxicology, committed suicide after being threatened with redundancy for failing to win enough research funding.

    The culture this breeds is corrosive and unhappy. All the descriptions pertaining to artists in the e-flux article assigned as reading for the symposium apply with unnerving accuracy to academics: “barely capable of distinguishing themselves from the consuming desire to work at all times”, “neurotic people who deploy a series of practices that coincide quite neatly with the requirements of the neoliberal, predatory, continually mutating capitalism of the every moment”, “people who behave, communicate, and innovate in the same manner as those who spend their days trying to capitalize every moment and exchange of daily life”. In a much circulated paper, the feminist scholar Ros Gill suggests that a ‘sacrificial ethos’ silences stories of stress and insecurity. At all career stages, though perhaps most harmfully amongst PhD students and early career researchers, a sense of commitment to a calling helps license acquiescence to precarious and exploitative labour relations which make a lie of the ideal of collegiality still alluded to within the academy.

    However this is more than just overwork and over-identification with a job. The Tumblr blog academia is killing my friends contains 40 personal narratives of “abuse, exploitation and suffering in academia”. We shouldn’t conclude that postings stopped in July 2014 because the editor exhausted the available stories. This doesn’t end with graduate school and, if anything, it looks likely to get worse: a recent survey by the Guardian Higher Education Network of 1366 academics who had experienced bullying at work, half of whom were based in the UK, pointed to management structures orientated towards ‘research excellence’ which had created a pervasive culture of fear amongst staff. Higher education has become a deeply toxic place and, through a sociological lens, it’s easy to see how this has its roots in structural features of the sector rather than simply being the aggregate tendency of a collection of unpleasant people.

    The image Rorty presents us with of scholarship is idealistic. It reflects his own privilege. It’s an artefact of a higher education system that in the 1980s Ivy League was substantially different to what we see in 2015 in the UK. Most strikingly of all: the image is of a slow life. It suggests Rorty dreamily ambling through his days, going for long morning walks through the Gothic splendour of Princeton’s campus and spending long afternoons reading books in front of a fire place, occasionally putting pen to paper to record what thoughts they have provoked within him.

    In an important way, what’s changed can be characterised in terms of speed… the imagined slowness of Rorty’s Princeton life has given way to a frenetic pace, defined by a perpetual ratcheting up of demands and an entrepreneurial ethos seeking new and quantifiable opportunities. As the ‘self-employed mindset’ begins to take hold, it’s difficult to know how much to give: am I doing enough? The demand for ‘excellence’ is open-ended because it’s never clear what this will constitute in the future. Nonetheless, it’s the only thing that will be accepted. As David Cameron put it recently, “if you’re not good or outstanding, you have to change … if you can’t do it yourself, you have to let experts come in and help you”. He was talking about secondary education rather than higher education but I’ve yet to encounter a more succinct statement of what the political theorist Will Davies memorably describes as heating up the floor to see who can keep hopping the longest. Anxiety thrives, demands intensify and metrics are the informational thread which holds this tangled web together. These numbers can be transparent and they can also be opaque. They can be sources of pleasure and sites of anxiety. When everything moves so fast, we rely on these metrics as cyphers for quality: ways of assessing in lieu of evaluation, assessing others and assessing ourselves.

    In my work at the moment I’m developing the notion of ‘cognitive triage’ to make sense of how agents come to operate in such an environment. It was initially offered by the journalist Kevin Roose to describe the frantic state of day-to-day survival into which trainee financiers fall in order to survive their deliberately brutal socialisation period. When we’re triaging, we attend to the most immediate requirements and our temporal horizons begin to shrink. Under these conditions, imagination becomes more difficult and so too does extended deliberation about our circumstances and what matters to us. This isn’t inexorable and I think we can see many contemporary trends as attempts to escape triaging and to get beyond ‘the day-to-day’ e.g. digital detoxes, information diets, life hacking, productivity culture, mindfulness. With the exception of the latter however, I’m sceptical that these help because they tend to intensify our focus on our immediate behaviour: even if they help us cope with the pernicious effects of cognitive triage, they further narrow our horizons rather than broadening them.

    Cognitive triage breeds a mentality within which tasks become obstacles to negotiate rather than activities through which we can become who we are. Consider the to-do list: each item is given a equal weight, regardless of the meaning it holds for us. When we’re triaging, we rush. We don’t attend to the task at hand, following its internal logic as we lead our way through it. There’s a relational richness to practical activity which can so easily be obliterated by the mentality produce by triaging. Ironically, I’m triaging right now. I want to get this post finished so I can answer a couple of e-mails and go to bed. But this post is an attempt to lay out as a whole strands of thought that have been obsessing me for a number of years. My disparate interests actually do fit together and the urge to articulate how this is so feels of profound concern to me. But I also have to get up early tomorrow morning, clean my house, do a mass of event organisation, edit some posts for the Sociological Review blog, get my special issue of Discover Society off the ground, pack for Edinburgh and practice this at least once as a talk so that I don’t just start rambling when I get up to speak on Thursday. The urgent is crowding out the important. It happens a lot. For now, I’ll give in to it, in order that I can write a ‘part 2’ tomorrow which is slightly less rushed.

    • anacanhoto 10:09 pm on March 24, 2015 Permalink

      Thank you for writing this Mark, and voicing so elegantly the fears and frustrations that so many of us feel.

      I don’t know if Rorty’s description was ever the case in academia (or the norm, anyway), but I do think that this is still the image held by many non-academics. I gave up trying to explain to my non-academic friends and relatives why I need to work on weekends and outside of term time, including throughout the summer and festive periods. I think that they think that I am either workaholic or utterly incompetent (or, perhaps, a bit of both), which makes the whole situation even more frustrating and difficult.

      Good luck with your talk, and I look forward to reading part 2.

    • Mark 8:17 am on March 25, 2015 Permalink

      Oh that’s really interesting, thank you. That hadn’t occurred to me but it’s a very important aspect of this, isn’t it? A ratcheting up of demands without any corresponding recognition of this on behalf of non-academics.

    • Liz Morrish 9:28 pm on March 27, 2015 Permalink

      If you haven’t already read this, you might enjoy Davies, Bronwyn and Bendix-Petersen, Eva. (2005). Neo-liberal discourse in the Academy: the forestalling of (collective) resistance. Learning and Teaching in the Social Sciences. 2.2. 77-98.
      Really excellent critique.

    • Mark 8:53 am on March 28, 2015 Permalink

      thanks! no, I haven’t, though know one of the authors from twitter

  • Mark 7:51 pm on March 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Music I find inexplicably conducive to writing (#13) 

    • hefoundjoy 7:57 pm on March 24, 2015 Permalink

      Thank you for sharing, I haven’t heard of this artist before now. Very cool

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