Updates from July, 2015 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 9:13 pm on July 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , marcomms,   

    the question no one seems willing to answer about university branding 

    From SymOmega here:

    Our previous but now-outdated motto was “Achieve International Excellence” which is pretty clunky but at least the intent is clear. Even earlier we had a much more succinct motto with which surely no-one can disagree  – “Seek Wisdom” – and to which I think we should return, if we really think a motto is important. But actually, what is the point of a university motto/tagline at all? Do students choose universities based on the motto? Is the motto intended to convey to the public some deeply held core value? If so, should it really be chosen by some marketing consultant?

    https://symomega.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/pursue-impossible/

     
  • Mark 3:58 pm on July 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

    using big data to transform the classroom from the 19th century to the 21st 

    Bookmarking this so I can come back to it later. If I pursue this thread, Social Media For Academics is never going to get finished:

    Reflecting their student populations, universities have long been bastions of oodles of consumer technology. We are awash in mobile phones, laptops, tablets, gaming consoles, and the like. If one combines mobile consumer technology with Big Data analytics, one gets a host of new possibilities ranging from new ways of providing students with basic support to new ways of getting students to learn what the faculty needs them to learn. If we can get the right information flowing through the minds of students, perhaps we can improve their success. We can potentially help transform the classroom from the 19th century to the 21st.

    The byproducts of all this data are the new insights that can drive decision making in new ways. When one adds into the mix advanced data visualization capabilities, one gets something different for university administrators and faculty: better and approachable insight into university operations and even the minds of the students. Higher education is at the cusp of gathering an unprecedented amount of information using affordable tools and techniques.

    http://www.sap.com/bin/sapcom/hr_hr/downloadasset.2014-01-jan-29-18.applying-big-data-in-higher-education-a-case-study-pdf.html

    I included some material on this in a lecture on big data I did for the MA course I was convening this year. But it just struck me how enormously significant this is for digital scholarship: the more academics embrace social media in circumstances where managers seek to unleash a big data tsunami of change, the more they will be monitored as part of such initiatives.

     
  • Mark 12:28 pm on July 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    the ethos of openness 

    We have to be critical of ‘openness’ as a concept. But nonetheless I think there’s a reality to openness as an ethos that we shouldn’t forget. This is my favourite articulation of it:

    When my daughter was born, I became keenly aware of how much stock we mammals put into the copies we make of ourselves (yes, a child isn’t a “copy” exactly, but go with it for a moment). Mammalian reproduction is a major event, especially for us primates, and we want to be sure that every “copy” we make grows up healthy, strong and successful. 

    But here are other life forms for whom copying is a lot more casual. Dandelions produce two thousand seeds every spring, and when a good, stiff breeze comes around, those seeds are blown into the air, going every which way. The dandelion’s strategy is to maximise the number of blind chances it has for continuing its genetic line – not to carefully plot every germination. It works: every summer, every crack in every sidewalk has a dandelion growing out of it

    Cory Doctorow, Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free, Pg 143

     
  • Mark 10:32 am on July 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags:   

    music I find inexplicably conducive to writing (#18) 

    Within ten minutes of putting the album on, I was struck by the overwhelming sense of Social Media for Academics being on the verge of completion. Thanks Radiohead, I needed that.

     
  • Mark 9:24 am on July 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags:   

    music I find inexplicably conducive to writing (#17) 

     
  • Mark 9:19 am on July 31, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    the pleasures of knowing where you stand  

    From page 75 of Brad Stone’s excellent book The Everything Store:

    In early 1998, Bezos was closely involved with a department called Personalization and Community, which was geared toward helping customers discover books, music, and movies they might find interesting. That May, he surveyed what was then Amazon’s Hot 100 bestseller list and had an epiphany— why not rank everything on the site, not just the top sellers? “I thought, ‘Hey, why do we stop at a hundred? This is the Internet! Not some newspaper bestseller list. We can have a list that goes on and on,’ ” he told the Washington Post. 2 The notion was not only to create a new kind of taxonomy of popularity but also to give authors, artists, and publishers a better idea of how they were doing— and to cater to some of their more neurotic impulses. “Bezos knew sales rank would be like a drug to authors,” says Greg Linden, an early Amazon engineer. “He insisted that it change whenever a new order came in.” That was not a trivial challenge. Amazon’s overloaded servers were already stretched to the limit, and its Oracle database software was not designed to handle the increasing loads generated by the swelling audience of the Web. Engineers ended up fudging it, taking snapshots of sales data and pushing new rankings to the website every few minutes. The service, called Amazon Sales Rank, was introduced in June to the consternation of not only authors, who began compulsively checking their rankings at all hours of the day and night, but also their spouses and more than a few wary editors and publishers. “I understand how addictive it can be, but maybe they could spend their time more productively, like, maybe, writing a new book,” veteran editor John Sterling said.

    That was not a trivial challenge. Amazon’s overloaded servers were already stretched to the limit, and its Oracle database software was not designed to handle the increasing loads generated by the swelling audience of the Web. Engineers ended up fudging it, taking snapshots of sales data and pushing new rankings to the website every few minutes. The service, called Amazon Sales Rank, was introduced in June to the consternation of not only authors, who began compulsively checking their rankings at all hours of the day and night, but also their spouses and more than a few wary editors and publishers. “I understand how addictive it can be, but maybe they could spend their time more productively, like, maybe, writing a new book,” veteran editor John Sterling said.

     
  • Mark 9:35 am on July 30, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , freelance, , , , ,   

    when people falsely impute research to you 

    This is just weird. I can only assume that the EastLovesWest company hires underpaid freelancers to produce content for their blog, who have in turn typed keywords into Google and written an article without ever clicking on any of the links:

    Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 10.28.44

    It seems likely to me that this will become a more common occurrence with time. It happens in a less pronounced way in journalism, as stressed journos increasingly look to newly identifiable academics to provide quotes in advance of impending deadlines. My sense is that on such occasions, there’s very little substance to the engagement, there’s just a hole in an article which the journalist hopes an academic will fill. But the growth of content factories and vast ranks of freelance writers, with little to no commitment to professional standards, risks that academics who engage online will have what they say drawn upon in a manner up to and including complete fabrication.

     
  • Mark 6:46 am on July 29, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , fieldwork, ,   

    blogging your fieldwork 

    Pat Thompson has written a fascinating post reflecting on her use of blogging to record field notes during an ethnographic project at the Tate summer school. She stresses the ethical challenges of such an activity – particularly the need to negotiate consent with participants, including around photos, as well as the need for a framework for naming and recognition of potential harms – but argues that blogging in this context can provide a really useful ‘audit trail’: a record of what was done and in what order.

    She makes a compelling case that the resulting posts offer many advantages compared to more traditional ways of recording field notes: it’s easier to discipline yourself to do the blog post, it’s easier to link out in ways susceptible to following up later and the need to make the posts accessible and interesting (e.g. not too long) necessitates editing/filtering which itself requires valuable evaluation of the events of the day. What I found most interesting though were the advantages this can have in terms of building connections, within and beyond the fieldwork site:

    (5) participants and research partners like to read the posts each day too. It not only works for you but also works for them as a record of what’s gone on and what resources, people, organisations and “stuff” they used – so they can follow these up too.

    (6) participants know more about what you’re doing. We all read our institutional ethics forms about checking with participants and keeping them informed, but this is often not taken very seriously IMHO. A daily post goes a little way to telling people what youre doing, and…

    (7) a post can lead to good conversations with participants. if something is online, people can read it and then – tell you’ve got something wrong, or disagree with you, or discuss something further or tell you what they think. If your notes are locked away in your notebook, then this kind of responsive conversation is less easy to begin.

    (8) the telling of the events as they’ve just happened has “live-ness” which is often missing from accounts which are heavily processed long after the event has happened (see “Live methods” by Les Back and Nirmal Puwar)

    (9) blog readers may get some ideas of their own from reading about your work (I’ve just been contacted by one of my colleagues who is going to play with GIFs and zines on the back of yesterday’s post.)

    http://patthomson.net/2015/07/27/blogging-your-field-work/

    This is a wonderful example of what I’ve tried to write about in the past as ‘continuous publishing’: the advantages that can accrue from doing work in the open that once would have been done in private. Getting the ideas out there in this way, making them public, means they begin to act instantaneously – in this case, in a way that feeds  back upon the process that is being documented through blogging.

     
  • Mark 6:37 am on July 29, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , networked publics, new collegiality, ,   

    social media and solidarity in higher education 

    There’s a great article on the THE, in which Caroline Magennis reflects on the success of the conversation she started recently about being an academic from a less privileged background:

    It’s worth reading in full, as is the associated Storify. I’m going to write about it in the final chapter of Social Media for Academics as an example of how social media can allow the emergence of new forms of solidarity, in which public discussion of what had previously been private issues leaves  people with a new or renewed sense of shared and systemic problems.

     
  • Mark 6:32 am on July 29, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    the coming copyright wars on twitter 

    This is a very interesting trend, though one I suspect could lead in some unfortunate directions:

    Ever been the victim of plagiarism on Twitter—or, dare we say, the shameful purveyor of it? The social network seems to be putting an end to those pirated tweets by cracking down on users who steal jokes to inflate their Twitter cred.

    The Twitter account @plagiarismbad reported Saturday that Twitter had taken down five tweets that poached a joke allegedly first posted by freelance writer Olga Lexell:

    The tweets were removed at Lexell’s request, and in their place reads text that says they were “withheld in response to a report from the copyright holder.” In a tweet, Lexell explained the rationale behind her appeal, noting that the jokes were her “intellectual property” and copied without attribution

    http://www.fastcompany.com/3049084/fast-feed/copied-someones-joke-on-twitter-your-tweet-may-be-deleted?partner=rss

    It seems obviously valuable that a mechanism for this is in place, but it’s nonetheless worrying when one considers the potential scale of the contestation that might emerge when this becomes widespread. Will Twitter commit to providing the resources to ensure robust governance? Or will they merely err on the side of caution and take material down unless the arguments given in the counter-notice are overwhelmingly strong? On its own, this would be problematic. But as the article correctly identifies, the potential for such a system to be deliberately misused is vast:

    This sounds like good news for writers and comedians who have been victims of joke theft, but as Twitter revealed in a transparency report last year, many organizations cry copyright theft even when the material in question does not meet those requirements. The Verge reports that about one-third of Twitter’s requests are not actually copyright violations—and some, in fact, are just attempts to censor criticism

    http://www.fastcompany.com/3049084/fast-feed/copied-someones-joke-on-twitter-your-tweet-may-be-deleted?partner=rss

     
  • Mark 6:27 am on July 29, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , snapchat, ,   

    using snapchat in higher education 

    I’ve struggled to see how Snapchat could be used within higher education. I could imagine why academics might end up using it in an entirely personal capacity, but I found it difficult to imagine how it could be used by them professionally. So it was really interesting to read this interview with Newcastle University’s Social Media manager on the Picklejar site. As he points out, “the people we wanted to speak to were there” and they’ve been using Snapchat to find a “new way to engage with current and prospective students that allowed us to showcase different aspects of campus life in a less formal style”. They feel confident that it’s helped them reach their target audience, also citing “anecdotal evidence that it’s working as a way of keeping applicants warm and engaging with our current students”. Interestingly, they’ve found much higher engagement rates than with Twitter, reporting that most stories now receive over 1,000 views (which given they have 1,000 followers presumably means content circulates easily on Snapchat beyond  followers).

    I’m still a little bemused by Snapchat however. From a sociology of youth perspective, I can understand why it’s popular amongst a certain demographic. But from an institutional standpoint, it seems to me that any success with the platform occurs in spite of rather than because of the distinctive temporality built into the architecture of the platform. Perhaps I’ve simply failed to grasp it. But I wonder if the time invested in Snapchat could be more effectively spent creating content for Instagram which could also be reused on Twitter and Facebook with little to no repurposing. I also still can’t see more substantively academic uses of Snapchat, though would love to hear about any that those reading this might know of.

     
  • Mark 8:57 am on July 26, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: accessibility, , h, , ,   

    how to evaluate your web page for accessibility 

    This is an extremely useful post on ProfHacker, with links to many resources. It’s also reassuring to read “this can often seem like an overwhelming topic to beginners” because I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who felt that way.

     
  • Mark 8:54 am on July 26, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , networked scholarship, , ,   

    what would a curricula for Networked Scholarship look like? 

    That’s the intriguing question which George Veletsianos addresses in this post. He suggest an approach centred around issues and tools:

    Networked scholarship curricula will need to balance a focus on tools and issues. The teaching of tools could instill future scholars with the abilities to use networked technologies productively. For instance, networked scholars might employ the services of text-mining techniques (e.g., Google Alerts) to track mentions of their name, areas of research, or publications such that they can keep track of and participate in discussions mentioning their work. Many trends, including the publication of journals in digital form, the pervasive use of institutional profiles, and the use of social media services for personal reasons combine to make it highly likely that scholars are already searchable and findable online. Thus online presence is assumed to exist regardless of whether a scholar has taken any steps in cultivating such a presence, and the teaching of tools to manage one’s presence may be necessary. The teaching of issues pertaining to networked scholarship is also significant. Scholars would benefit from making sense of issues such as networked societies, context collapse, alternative metrics, honophily, filter bubble, open access publishing, digital literacies, and community-engaged scholarship. For instance, doctoral preparation curricula might problematize the fact that while Twitter might allow researchers to follow one another and discuss topics of interest, such discussions may go unchallenged, if scholars are only followed by those who have similar educational training and beliefs to them. http://www.veletsianos.com/2015/07/21/teach-neatworked-digital-scholarship-curricula/

    I’ve taken a slightly different approach in Social Media for Academics. I’ve structured the book around activities (publicising your work, networking, managing information, public engagement) and challenges (communicating effectively online, managing online identity, finding the time for social media). In doing so, I’ve hopefully conveyed how social media is used to enact and augment existing activities, rather than constituting something radically different from them. I address some of the practical questions these pose in the four activities chapters before moving on to discuss them more systematically in the three challenges chapters.

    But these are decisions I’ve made for a book. They’re also ones I’m pretty committed to at this point. I really like the suggestions Veletsianos makes for what an actual curriculum would look like. Particularly the concern to “prepare scholars to work in an increasingly uncertain world: What challenges will scholars face at their institutions or in the broader culture as they enact networked practices?”

     
  • Mark 11:27 am on July 25, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , open letter, professional association,   

    Closing an open letter 

    Around a year and a half ago, I got very upset with the British Sociological Association when I couldn’t afford to attend a conference for which I’d given a great deal of free labour. I was a month away from handing in my then still very much unfinished PhD thesis, I’d started two new jobs (one of which I wasn’t being paid for, due to bureaucratic problems) and the stress was getting to me. I quickly regretted the tone of the letter, though I still stand by the contents. Part of me soon wanted to remove it from the internet, because it felt like a very public meltdown, but I didn’t want to quietly delete something so contentious.

    I just discovered that the letter comes third in google, seemingly for a diverse range of people, when searching for “British Sociological Association”. This seems so needlessly rude to me that I’ve decided to delete the letter – is algorithmic rudeness a thing? This post is a note which anyone searching for the BSA (or equivalent) on my blog will hopefully be able to find, explaining where the letter has gone and why. I also wanted to be clear that my views on (certain) professional associations have not changed, if anything they’ve hardened, though any feelings of animus have pretty much dissipated. As I said at the time, I wanted to find other ways to contribute to my discipline outside the BSA. I’m doing that, I’m very happy about it and I can’t see the situation changing.

     
  • Mark 11:13 am on July 25, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    #TwitterGate: the ethics of live tweeting 

    Some useful resources:

    Some live tweeting policies and guides:

    Any examples reader could suggest of policies issued by conferences would be much appreciated!

    Great hashtag visualisation by Sam Martin: http://www.academia.edu/5029537/Visualising_The_Challenge_of_Big_Data_bigdataBL

    Really interesting analysis of an event hashtag by Matt Lingard: https://mattlingard.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/twitter-at-lse-teaching-day/ (quite old now, 2010, but the categories he uses are extremely helpful)

     
  • Mark 7:57 am on July 25, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , creepy treehouse, , , ,   

    the creepy treehouse problem 

    In their enthusiasm for the pedagogical uses to which social media can be put, academics sometimes don’t stop to question whether students actually want to interact with them on social media. This is sometimes referred to as ‘the creepy treehouse problem’: requiring students to interact with you on what they perceive as a private platform, or at least one divorced from their involvement in the university. It’s this perception which also creates problems for institutional social media policies that incorporate all student social media use within their remit. This is a good overview of the temptations of pedagogical social media and the risks inherent in it:

    The problem with just jumping into Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace, and forcing your students to be your friend/follower/contact/etc is a perceived invasion of their online privacy.  Now it may seem like a good idea at the time, especially since these tools are already populated by the majority of your students, have a low impact learning curve, and have built-in communication tools, and contact management that may rival most commercial Course Management Systems.  However, these tools started out and are perceived by students as their personal social playground and bending the tool to make it fit into an educational framework may cause panic, and discomfort from the student perspective.

    https://www.purdue.edu/learning/blog/?p=210

    The problem is that building a propriety platform is unlikely to succeed, at least if success requires sustained engagement by students who log in regularly. This to me is why social media platforms are so pedagogically attractive. The author of the above post suggests a couple of alternatives and offers interesting examples of how this can work:

    Ning.com – Ning is a social networking site that allows users to create their own communities based upon their interests and needs.  These communities are user created, and managed with permission control options allowing read/write access by the whole world, or just a select group determined by the creator.  Ning has seen a jump in adoption in education circles due to ease of use, and potential.  Best examples – http://www.classroom20.com/ & http://education.ning.com.

    Elgg.org – Elgg is a similar platform to Ning, in that it allows users to create their own social network, monitored, maintained, and updated by individual users.  However, Elgg is completely community driven in development, and offers the ability for users to personally host their network.  Best examples – http://eduspaces.net/ & http://community.brighton.ac.uk/

    https://www.purdue.edu/learning/blog/?p=210

    I’m still sceptical but actively reflecting upon it at present. It seems self-evident to me that the creepy treehouse effect is more likely to be operative with Facebook than Twitter. But unfortunately more students will be regular users of the former than the latter. Furthermore, as Emma Head recently told me, her recent (not yet published) research with Keele students found some students with an explicit preference for engagement on Facebook. It’s a complicated picture. Jason Jones at ProfHacker offers some helpful suggestions for good practice:

    We both think that there are spaces that have less “creepy treehouse” aspects than others: wikis, for example, or certain uses of blogs.  Twitter, as Alex says, “is a weird space,” since people tend not to dabble in it–they either avoid it wholesale, or go all in. One way I’ve tried to minimize the creepy treehouse aspect in some of my social assignments is to encourage class-related personas, and to have assignments be a kind of game.  That way, there’s never a sense that I’m trying to elicit information about their lives and so forth–which does seem creepy.

    Alex came up with four best practices for faculty who want to use social media (and we should!) and who want to avoid this problem:

    • Be transparent.  Explain why it’s required, what students will be graded on, etc.  Explain the tool’s ownership and logistics.  If you’ve set up a class Twitter account, consider sharing it with at least some students.
    • Encourage self-organization.  There’s no need for you to create that Facebook group!  Let them do it.  (In my experience, Facebook groups I’ve created haven’t gotten much participation, but ones students have created about my classes have often gone well.)
    • Deputize worthwhile ad-hoc groups.  This encourages the perception–which hopefully is accurate!–that the class’s social media usage is bottom-up, and not top-down.
    • Be nimble.  Notice how students are interacting with your course material, and put resources where they feel most comfortablehttp://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/the-creepy-treehouse-problem/2302
     
  • Mark 7:33 am on July 25, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ,   

    imagining post-capitalism and techno-fascism 

    Last week Paul Mason posted a provocative Guardian essay suggesting that the end of capitalism has begun. It’s a precursor to his upcoming book PostCapitalism: A Guide To Our Future which is released in a few days time. I’m looking forward to the book, not least of all because it’s an optimistic counterpoint to the gloomy thought experiment I’ve been intermittently working on for months now: what would techno-fascism look like? I finished my first piece of work on this recently, a contribution to the Centre for Social Ontology’s Social Morphogenesis project, making the case that digital capitalism is giving rise to ‘distracted people’ and ‘fragile movements’ while also facilitating surveillance and repression of a degree of efficiency exponentially greater than any security apparatus that has previously existed in human history.

    My rather depressing conclusion concerns spiralling obstacles to durable social movements exercising a sustained influence over political and social life, though not necessarily to protest, politicisation or critique. As the project progresses, I want to explore two tendencies towards digitally facilitated suppression: the ‘hard’ strand, the openly authoritarian mechanisms through which digital technology is used repressively and how they might diffuse, as well as the ‘soft’ strand, the increasingly designed informational environment and the cognitive costs involved in escaping it, as well as their implications for collective action.

    I situate these in terms of post-democracy and the political economy of the second machine age: crudely, I’m suggesting that the interests of elites in defensive repression, in the face of growing structural underemployment and unemployment driven by automation, creates a risk that ‘soft’ repression (already a problem) comes to be conjoined with ‘hard’ repression, with a post-democratic political climate likely to render popular restraints upon this drift ineffective. This is compounded by a political context in which the war on terrorism is giving way to the war on extremism, normalising repressive measures against those whose ‘ideology’ (let alone their actions) put them outside the political mainstream. Underlying this analysis are some much more specific arguments about ‘distracted people’ and ‘fragile movements’ which I won’t summarise here, as well as an argument I want to develop of where a trend to vertical integration is likely to lead the tech sector and how this might further incline the culture within it in a way susceptible to acquiescing to some rather extreme measures.

    It’s a depressing argument. But I’m looking forward to developing it. The project has been on hold since I finished my CSO paper because I need to finish Social Media for Academics. But I’m presenting an initial version of the overall argument at a Futures Workshop in August and then I’ll begin work on a book proposal in September. I’d like to include two chapters of design fiction in the finished book: one envisioning post-capitalism and another envisioning techno-fascism. I don’t believe either outcome is inexorable but I do find my own arguments worryingly convincing (I’m often very critical of my own work but I’m really pleased with the CSO chapter, it went through a slightly  brutal multistage review process and it really shows) at least in terms of currently inoperative social mechanisms that one could easily envision kicking in under future politico-economic circumstances not much worse than our present ones. But if Mason’s book is as provocative as I suspect it will be, I’d like to use it as an optimistic foil, not least of all to preserve the social optimism which I’m concerned that I’m in the process of losing.

    This extract from a recent Guardian debate with Mason (HT Phil BC) gives a taste of what the book will be like: https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/membership/video/2015/jul/23/paul-mason-is-capitalism-dead-video (unfortunately it won’t embed on wordpress.com)

     
  • Mark 9:20 am on July 23, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    the politics of noise in historical perspective 

    I blogged last week about the micro-politics of noise. I didn’t put a great deal of thought into the use of the qualifier ‘micro’: I recognised a legal framework within which noise is regulated (or not), a structural context which shapes working routines, technological changes which create capacities and tendencies towards noise generation and a cultural context which mediates and shapes our responses to ‘noise’. But I’d just assumed the questions I was addressing, matters of right and obligation that emerge through our everyday interdependence and that elude final resolution, must in some sense be confined to the micro-social. Not that these considerations wouldn’t factor into, say, policy-making but that they’d be secondary. It hadn’t occurred to me that there could be a social movement emerging out of this micro-politics. But there was one and it’s really interesting. As Evgeny Morozov explains,

    Vienna is perhaps the most interesting example. Whenever the anti-din advocates — led by German intellectual Theodor Lessing— called for individual reforms, they were mostly unsuccessful. However, their struggle was not in vain, for through public debate they turned quietness into a leading indicator of urban life quality and firmly established it as a challenge for city councils. Or, as historian Peter Payer notes, “by changing public awareness of the acoustic environment, their endeavours influenced not only the way that urban peace was to be restricted, but also how this space was to be perceived and used by the people living in the city.” And even though many of Lessing’s proposals sound eccentric – he wanted a professional, centralized rug-beating service to do all the work in some restricted area and for people to play musical instruments with their windows closed – many others sound quite reasonable even today, such as “the use of rubber tyres and quieter paving materials to dampen the cacophony of vehicular traffic, the careful packaging of freight shipped through cities to cushion it from rattling and banging, and the construction of schools in public gardens and forest preserves to ensure the tranquil atmosphere needed for learning.”

    To Save Everything, Click Here pg. 222

    What I find particularly interesting is that these ambitions were tied into a broader commitment to socialism and feminism. There’s always a faint hint of the reactionary around noise complaints. At least that’s my perception. As if to seek systematic regulation of noise somehow puts one in opposition to technological change. I’d like to read more about these historical noise campaigns, with other examples including the Anti-Noise League in the UK in the 1930s and the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, to understand how they conceived of their objectives as a movement. To what extent was it seen as creating social norms to regulate new technology?

    Given the revolution in our personal capacity to generate noise in recent years – I say while surrounded by an iPhone, an iPad, a portable speaker and sitting at a desktop computer – I wonder what a comparable movement would look like now? Is it even feasible? How has the noise in question changed and the meaning it has for those producing the noise? I’m particularly interested in whether the use of music to isolate oneself within public space, creating a zone of immersion through volitional noise, has historical precedents or if it’s something radically new which simply wasn’t technologically possible until relatively recently.

     
  • Mark 4:43 pm on July 22, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , ,   

    the antinomies of blairism 

    Earlier today Tony Blair gave a speech in which he finally took the gloves off. As someone with a growing interest in theorising post-democracy, I found it oddly intriguing. To anyone acquainted with the writing Anthony Giddens was spewing out in the 1990s, it was familiar stuff. Despite the fact his politics would long since have placed him in the centre of the Conservative party, Blair’s position is  framed in terms of social democratic politics:

    Social democratic politics in the early 21st century has one great advantage; and one large millstone.

    The advantage is that the values of our age are essentially those fashioned by social democracy. We live today in a society that by and large has left behind deference, believes that merit not background should determine success; is inclined to equality of opportunity and equal treatment across gender and race; and believes in the NHS and the notion at least of the welfare state. This doesn’t mean to say this is the reality. But even the Tories, in the open, have to acknowledge the zeitgeist.

    What should give the Labour party enormous hope and pride is that we have helped achieve all this.

    However, the large millstone is that perennially, at times congenitally, we confuse values with the manner of their application in a changing world. This gives us a weakness when it comes to policy which perpetually disorients us and makes us mistake defending outdated policy with defending timeless values

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/tony-blairs-speech-on-the-future-of-the-labour-party-in-full

    This has always been the premise of Blarism. It started off as a psephological position (the changing composition of the electorate necessitates a recognition of the newfound ‘aspiration’ of swing voters) which grew into a pragmatist’s analysis of media power, in which winning over print media came to be seen as an unavoidably necessary step which only the truly idiotic would fail to recognise. Giddens codefied these intellectual tendencies and gave them the air of historical inevitability, claiming to illuminate the unfolding of social change while nonetheless seeking to bring it about through his energetic search for intellectual sponsorship amongst the ranks of the powerful.

    Nonetheless, Blarism effects to be a pragmatic concession to a changing world. A reinterpretation of social democratic values for late modern times. Its ethical theory, in so far as it has one, rests on those values for its moral force: “if you really care about social democracy, you’ll support new labour because we’re the only way you’ll be able to put those values into practice”. This leaves it caught uneasily between the affirmation of values and embrace of pragmatism. It affirms both yet in doing so empties the former of substantive content to the gain of the latter. It’s axiomatic that ‘social democratic values’ are shared yet the intellectual framework is setup in a way which obscures questions of exactly what these values are and how they might change after 13 years of power. ‘Values’ becomes a cypher for the ends to which we will exercise power, invoked to silence dissent in a way that becomes ever more meaningless with each iteration, while the constitutive pragmatism disposes the cohort of Blairite politicans to a form of moral agency which we might charitably  describe as elastic. The ‘social democratic values’ become a vanishing point, a pole of identification which retreats further into the distance the more concrete decision-making becomes, with tactics, triaging and triviality rushing in to fill the void.

    But this means Blairite critique can get really weird. As Blair put it today,

    We then misunderstand the difference between radical leftism, which is often in fact quite reactionary, and radical social democracy, which is all about ensuring that the values are put to work in the most effective way not for the world of yesterday but for today and the future.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/tony-blairs-speech-on-the-future-of-the-labour-party-in-full

    This assumes those ‘values’ are static. It assumes that the question is merely one of how best to implement them in a changing world. The case for Blairism is that its sensitivity to the reality of this changing world, its commitment to ‘modernisation’, means it is (down to its very core) better able to enact these values than is ‘radical leftism’, with its ‘reactionary’ character. But by taking ‘social democratic values’ as axiomatic, it’s left rhetorically shackled to something the adherents of Blarisim viscerally oppose as people. This becomes clear when Blair says that “I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform. Even if I thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it.”

    But I thought the point of Blairism was that it was a way of winning elections, recognising late modernity in a way that left it able to ensure that the values ‘we’ all share find a place in an out of control world? It turns out there are more values, other values, which don’t enter into the rhetoric of Blairism. Values which are what motivate the Blairites. But what are these? Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear. The speech ends with some fascinatingly banal tactical considerations (Labour should “work out what a political organisation looks like today”) and then this gloriously vacuous passage:

    We won elections when we had an agenda that was driven by values, but informed by modernity; when we had strength and clarity of purpose; when we were reformers not just investors in public services; when we gave working people rights at work including the right to join a union, but refused unions a veto over policy; when we understood businesses created jobs not governments; and where we were the change-makers, not the small -c conservatives of the left.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/22/tony-blairs-speech-on-the-future-of-the-labour-party-in-full

    Even read charitably, the status of these claims is unclear. Are they statements of strategy and tactics, to be evaluated on their success in winning elections? Are they statements of principle, to be argued for on their own basis or as straight-forward assertions of ‘social democratic values’ to which we are all assumed to assent? Or are they something else entirely? History whispers in Blair’s ears, it always has. Unfortunately, its message has been to trust his instincts, giving expression to those deeply held beliefs which would have led him to join Cameron’s Conservative party if he had entered political life twenty five years later.

     
c
Compose new post
j
Next post/Next comment
k
Previous post/Previous comment
r
Reply
e
Edit
o
Show/Hide comments
t
Go to top
l
Go to login
h
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
Cancel