Updates from August, 2016 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 1:15 pm on August 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    The vexatious fact of society 

    From Realist Social Theory by Margaret Archer:

    What is it that depends on human intentionality but never conforms to anyone’s intentions?

    What is it that relies upon people’s concepts but which they never fully know? What is it that depends upon human activity but never corresponds to the

    actions of even the most powerful?

    What is it that has no form without us, yet which forms us as we seek its transformation?

    What is it that never satisfies the precise designs of anyone yet because of this always motivates its reconstitution?

  • Mark 8:47 am on August 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , future self, , , utopic horizons   

    The Individualisation of Utopia 

    From Riots and Political Protest, by Simon Winlow, Steve Hall, Daniel Briggs and James Treadwell, pg 42:

    Utopianism did not disappear, but it came to address the libidinal dreams of the individual rather than the political dreams of the collective. Utopia was an individual space in which we were free from the encroachments of authority, free to enjoy as much as possible the short time each individual has on Earth. Life ain’t a rehearsal. It’s a short burst of total self-determination in which we can indulge in pleasurable pursuits and choose only those social obligations that suit us. And the beauty of all this was that one didn’t need to overcome capitalism to get there.

    I like this idea a lot, ever since I first encountered it in a fascinating ethnography of weight-lifting which talks about ‘utopic body projects’. 

    What interests me at the moment is how this utopic horizon can recede without vanishing. Subjects can overload themselves with demands, orientated towards a utopic horizon, but doing so in a way which leaves them spending large tracts of their lived life triaging, attending to immediate demands as temporal horizons contract. What happens to utopia under these circumstances?

    • lenandlar 9:27 am on August 31, 2016 Permalink

      Thanks for sharing this idea. It’s interesting that when looked at from an individual perspective utopia looks all very possible but remotely so when you add at least one other.

  • Mark 7:49 am on August 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , index funds, investing, ,   

    Digital capitalism and concentration of ownership 

    There’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the threat index funds are increasingly seen to pose to the global economy. I’d like to understand this more than I do because I’m intrigued by the technological preconditions for this form of investing and the competitive advantage this use of technology offers:

    And a group of researchers at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands recently argued that the rise of giant index-fund managers, including BlackRock and Vanguard Group, could lead to a concentration of ownership unrivaled since the days when John Pierpont Morgan and John D. Rockefeller controlled vast tracts of the economy.

    Of course, those titans primarily represented their own interests, while the index funds are legally bound to act on behalf of the millions of savers who own them.

    The machines that run index funds slash the costs of investing by 90% or more by skipping most of the research and trading their human rivals engage in, instead owning essentially all the stocks or bonds in a market basket all the time.


    Furthermore, if I’ve understood correctly, index funds are parasitical upon evaluation taking place elsewhere. To use the terms from my recent paper, it opens up the possibility of the algorithmic imperative swamping the curatorial imperative, with potentially catastrophic results for financial markets.

  • Mark 7:01 pm on August 30, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , civilisation, , cultural study, , representations of collapse,   

    Images of the end of capitalism 

    In various posts over the last few years, I’ve written about my fascination with images of civilisational collapse. Reading Riots and Political Protest, by Steve Hall, Simon Winlow, Daniel Briggs and James Treadwell, I find myself wondering if this fascination is in large part because of how ‘civilisational collapse’ and the ‘end of capitalism’ tend to be conflated under our present circumstances. As they write on pg 18,

    The dominant images of the end of capitalism in Western culture are those of absolute economic devastation and crushing hardship, a return to Dark Age repression and poverty. In the popular imagination, capitalism is lively and vivacious, and all alternatives to it are dull, grey and monotonous.

    Images of civilisational collapse are so emotive under current conditions because of our much remarked upon inability to imagine a world beyond capitalism. For this reason I think sociological engagements with how these dystopias are represented could provide rewarding. By identifying their questionable assumptions, highlighting what is untenable in accounts of collapse and what might turn out differently in reality, could we open up the space in which to think about a beyond rather than merely an end?

    • Martha Bell 8:19 pm on August 30, 2016 Permalink

      Yes, I think this is why much of John Urry’s writing towards the most recent part of his career set out alternative visions for futures, such as societies after oil etc.

    • Robert 4:17 am on August 31, 2016 Permalink

      Excellent! And include artists in such endeavors.

    • Mark 3:18 pm on September 3, 2016 Permalink

      Do you have any examples?

    • Mark 3:19 pm on September 3, 2016 Permalink

      Still not read those yet.

    • Robert 6:36 pm on September 3, 2016 Permalink

      None, but I would love to see sociologists collaborate with artists in conceptualising and presenting such alternate futures

    • ronaldhartz 7:28 am on September 7, 2016 Permalink

      Gibson-Grahams “The End of Capitalism (as we knew it)” deals with the same diagnosis. They suggest a ‘performative ontological project’ which brings marginalized alternative economic practices to light and make them ‘more real’.

  • Mark 8:33 am on August 30, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: cultural activism, ,   

    The hollowness of cultural politics  

    In complete agreement with this. From Riots and Political Protest, by Simon Winlow, Steve Hall, Daniel Briggs and James Treadwell, pg 7:

    The idea that constantly challenging what are often incautiously deemed to be aspects of cultural hegemony is a political act in itself, insofar as it will clear away ideological obfuscation and allow latent organic politics to flow forth, is now revealing itself to be a fundamental error. In the absence of a coherent and unifying alternative, the endless iconoclastic deconstruction of various bits of liberal capitalism’s hegemonic cultural output is not inspiring political thought and action, but furthering the fragmentation, cynicism, pan-scepticism and symbolic inefficiency on which the system thrives (see Winlow and Hall, 2013).

    They see this conception of ‘politics’ as leading to a fixation on the micro-social reality of everyday life which systematically occludes the macro-social field of politics.

    I’m not sure if they’re saying there’s a necessary antagonism here – for what it’s worth, I don’t think there is – but I think the crucial point they make is about how one leads to the other. How do micro-political acts aggregate? This question is often swept aside, motivated by a hugely optimistic assumption that they just will, much like critiquing hegemonic cultural forms just will allow a politics of positivity to take shape.

    • Martha Bell 8:54 am on August 30, 2016 Permalink

      This is what interests people, I think: “the endless iconoclastic deconstruction of various bits of liberal capitalism’s hegemonic cultural output,” because they feel that they are seeing something that should be obviously rejected, but is somehow consensually accepted, so they continue to try to deconstruct in order to reveal… But it is practice itself that needs to change doesn’t it? Perhaps the ‘constant challenge’ shows the complexity, the moral reliance on things that we know should obviously be (morally) rejected, for personal habits or needs.

    • Mark 9:07 am on August 30, 2016 Permalink

      I think that frames it as an individual challenge though, a personal mission to cut through the bullshit that surrounds the person, rather than a collective challenge to strive together to change the conditions that give rise to the bullshit.

    • Martha Bell 10:03 am on August 30, 2016 Permalink

      Absolutely. And so the endless deconstruction becomes the only activity. Changing the conditions disconnects one from the consensus that is the ‘hegemonic cultural output.’ That’s why Occupy promised so much because there were people not showing up to work, not going home to sleep, not cooking meals at home, somehow not using the city as a corridor but as a camp — the way so much social protest starts — and they could not re-orient towards new cultural coordinates. And the person caught up in endless deconstruction is probably doing their best thinking driving to work or cooking meals, propping up the hegemonic norms, even while feeling more and more complicit in them and ‘furthering the fragmentation, cynicism, pan-scepticism and symbolic inefficiency on which the system thrives.’

    • Mark 3:19 pm on September 3, 2016 Permalink

      I wonder if anyone’s done research on occupy framed in that way.

  • Mark 8:41 am on August 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , hall, hall and winlow, online activism, , protests, , , winlow   

    The Pseudo-Catharsis of Social Media 

    From Rethinking Social Exclusion, by Simon Winlow and Steve Hall, pg 73:

    Political protests these days are taken not as an indication that something is going wrong and that a significant number of the population are dissatisfied with the nation’s political leadership. Rather, they seem to indicate that a healthy and vibrant democracy is in place, one that welcomes political contestation and vigorous public debate about government policy. ‘Look at the wonderful world liberalism has created!’, our politicians proclaim. ‘Political protests like this would never be tolerated in a non-democratic totalitarian regime!’ Of course, when the demonstration is complete, nothing has changed. The political protest ends up continuing only for a short time as an online blog or a Twitter post, offering nothing more than a cathartic opportunity to vent one’s spleen accompanied by the sad recognition that in all likelihood no one is listening, and no one really cares. It is also worth considering whether the peaceful protest now offers nothing more than an opportunity for the protestor to relinquish their subjective sense of duty to battle injustice. Once the protest is complete, and the world continues unchanged, the subject is allowed the comfort of having registered her dissatisfaction; whatever happens, it does so ‘not in my name’.

    It’s this line I’ve put in bold which I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. How much of what is seen to be ‘trolling’ online represents a frustrated, even mutulated, impulse towards collective action?

    In a way Winlow and Hall are too rosey in their framing here, positioning the pseudo-catharsis of social media as something that follows from the frustrations of contemporary public protest. What about when there is no prior collectivity, however frustrating and frustrated? What does the individualised rage we see seeking satisfaction through social media mean for the possibility of collectivity in the future?

    What about the experience of mediated collectivity: how does a symbolic sense of ‘us’, others like oneself seeking outlets for ‘our’ rage, leave what might otherwise possibly become a solidaristic impulse locked into this destructive register?

    They make a similar point with other co-authors in Riots and Political Protest. From pg 164:

    If the remaining logic is simply that the protest enables pissed-off individuals to cathartically release their pent-up frustration and momentarily draw strength from being around others who feel the same way, before returning to their lives to again be subject to the same objective causes of their frustration, then we can begin to see the limitations that have been imposed upon democratic political protest.

    • carol leach (@leach1960) 9:08 am on August 29, 2016 Permalink

      Could you say that Jeremy Corbyn is acting as a ‘mediator of collectivity’. Channeling the growing ‘rage’ of online collectivity, politically, anti-austerity, anti-capitalist, and therefore anti-government, Corbyn’s new ‘Labour Movement’ is succeeding where Occupy has failed in the past to translate an online community of protest into a physically ‘active’ and material force. The ‘symbolic sense of ‘self’ which social media, and especially Twitter has allowed to form is, or certainly could be, just a first step towards a material collectivity and not simply the ‘comfortable’ echo chamber which provides those of us who are politically frustrated, a voice amongst others which resonates only within that non-material online space.

    • Mark 9:06 am on August 30, 2016 Permalink

      I think so, unsure if it would be overly-optimistic though – they/we have a diffuse sense of wanting to ‘do’ something and at least my own experience has been of a struggle to translate that into meaningful action.

  • Mark 1:12 pm on August 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    The difference between philosophy and talk about philosophy 

    A distinction I find rather tenuous, invoked by Ray Brassier in his attack on the self-importance of the speculative realist blogging community:

    What is peculiar to them is the claim that this is the first philosophy movement to have been generated and facilitated by the internet: a presumption rooted in the inability to distinguish philosophy from talk about philosophy. The vices so characteristic of their discourse can be traced back directly to the debilities of the medium. Blogging is essentially a journalistic medium, but philosophy is not journalism. Exchanging opinions about philosophy, or even exchanging philosophical opinions, ought not to be equated with philosophical debate. This is not to say that one cannot produce and disseminate valuable philosophical research online. But the most pernicious aspect of this SR/OOO syndrome is its attempt to pass off opining as argument and to substitute self-aggrandizement for actual philosophical achievement.


    Given he accepts one can “produce and disseminate valuable philosophical research online”, it’s hard not to wonder about the criteria for distinguishing between philosophy and talk about philosophy. This seemingly narrow debate is one we can expect to see much more of, in other disciplines and in relation to other topics, as social media becomes increasingly mainstream within academic life.

    • Dave Ashelman 1:47 pm on August 27, 2016 Permalink

      An old friend of mine, who is now an economics professor in the U.S. (while I’m a sociologist in Canada) recently asked me “What is it that you sociologists do in the academy?” He was genuinely interested in how society was economically organized within and between poverty groups.

      He pointed out that in economics, he can go to any blog, rich with data, bibliographies, and charts. He can extrapolate his own views philosophies from those. He pointed out that he can access working papers of the leading world economists for free. He runs a blog for Bloomberg News where economists are constantly posting things.

      Yet in sociology, there is – not much. No access to working papers, no big blogs sponsored by news organizations, and no idea who the world’s leading sociologists are. He called sociology a “secret society.” I couldn’t disagree with him. Sociology seems to be one of those disciplines that works in the shadows.

      Both economics and sociology are inherently philosophies (hence the Ph. part of the Ph.D. in both disciplines). Economics, as well as just about everything in the natural sciences (which are also inherently philosophies) receive wide public attention, and readily transmits their ideas to others in the public realm via blogs, online journals, and piles of PDF working papers sitting on servers – all complete with raw data and bibliographies. They allow others to look at their data, and form their own conclusions (and sometimes even reproduce results).

      The transmission of ideas, and the evolution of philosophy – our understanding of both the social and natural universe which has historically changed over time, does not need to be confined to paywalled academics. People really are allowed to think for themselves. The challenge is in getting the ideas out there.

    • Mark 9:05 am on August 30, 2016 Permalink

      Hi Dave, I think a slightly extended version of this would make a wonderful blog post if you’re interested?

    • Dave Ashelman 11:50 pm on September 14, 2016 Permalink

      I am interested! I just don’t know how to go about changing the Sociological world, other than applying conflict every step of the way!

      Last year I gave a talk on how sociology cannot use intersectionality when confronting neoliberalism, because neoliberals do not believe in social location; they believe in homo economicus. Economic Rational Man who has no race, no gender, no culture, and no social location. It’s embedded in neoliberal culture to not believe in such things as social intersections. That for sociology to tear into neoliberalism with things that neoliberals do not believe in is like telling a bald man why he needs to use a comb.

      After the moment of silence in the room, with angry faces staring back at me, I realized that changing the world of sociology in a direction where it can offer alternatives was going to take some heart medication.

      But I am interested.

    • Mark 8:33 am on September 24, 2016 Permalink

      I’ve heard the same point be made about sociological critiques of biological science: slinging mud at views that no one holds any more, if indeed they ever did.

  • Mark 7:27 am on August 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    The components of social democracy  

    From pg 12-13 of Colin Crouch’s The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism:

    These then were the principal ingredients of the socioeconomic order that came eventually to be called social democratic, without initial capital letters: 

    1 – Keynesian demand management in which government action, far from trying to destroy markets, sought to sustain them at levels avoiding self-destructive booms and slumps alike; 

    2 – strong welfare states that enabled people to receive some services in kind rather than through the market and some forms of income not dependent on market performance or property-ownership, bringing diversity to what would otherwise be purely market-determined life chances; 

    3 – in some cases, neo-corporatist industrial relations, trying to balance workers’ freedom to organize with the need for labour markets to function efficiently.

    With the third being crucial because otherwise inflation leads individual unions to seek higher wages to protect their members, in the process exasperating the macro-economic problem they are seeking a solution to.

  • Mark 8:17 pm on August 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    A Guide to Instagram Marketing 

    This is a really useful resource put together by Buffer. I’ve been running an Instagram account for the last few months for The Sociological Review. At first I found it much less intuitive than I have other social media platforms, but it’s starting to feel familiar at this point. Over the next few months, I’m planning to write a series of posts about how Instagram can be used in higher education.

  • Mark 8:07 am on August 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The Epistemological Obstacles to Understanding Social Movements 

    A really fascinating post on Lenin’s Tomb, saved here because I’ll want to come back to this for a second and probably third reading:

    One of the most interesting theories of reification came from Gaston Bachelard who, in his Psychoanalysis of Fire, proposed that there sometimes exist “epistemological obstacles” built into the phenomena themselves, which can make it difficult to apprehend them properly and which permit an unscientific or incorrect apprehension of them to shape the experience of them. Fire was such a phenomenon, inasmuch as its materiality inclines one to view it as a substance or, perhaps, as some sort of spirit. The palpable experience of fire as an ‘object’ includes of course the appearance and the physical sensations it gives rise to when ‘touched’. And once these qualities have been fixed by a certain symbolisation, once we’ve said that fire is in fact a definite thing – a substance, or an animistic entity – these sensations are experienced as palpable confirmations of the symbolisation. And so it might be with the concept of ‘social movements’. The palpable experience of the social movement, then – the familiar displays of ‘worthiness, unity, numbers and commitment’ above all – can appear as confirmations of the category, so that there only remains the task of working out what essence, historical subjectivity or functional relation coheres all of the various and contradictory manifestations that are attributable to social movements.


  • Mark 4:21 pm on August 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Jeremy Corbyn as the mirror image of Margaret Thatcher 

    I initially dismissed this suggestion by David Runciman, contained in this LRB essay, but it’s been reverberating in my mind since reading it:

    The contemporary politician who is most present in these pages is Jeremy Corbyn, despite the fact that his name never comes up. Corbyn first got elected to the Commons in 1983 and for the duration of Thatcher’s second term in office was a minor player on the other side of every major domestic battle she fought, manning the barricades. Indeed, he represented her enemy within. For Thatcher, the IRA, the NUM and the hard-left Labour councils were all of a piece: each sought to supplant parliamentary government with direct action and threats of violence. At the 1984 Conservative Party conference in Brighton she had been planning to deliver a stinging attack on Scargill and the NUM leadership, whom she regarded as ‘an organised revolutionary minority’ determined to subvert the rule of law. She intended her audience to understand that what she had to say applied to Ken Livingstone’s GLC as well. When an IRA bomb exploded in her hotel the night before she was due to give her speech, nearly killing her and succeeding in killing five others, she was determined to give it anyway. She didn’t feel any need to change it: she could simply extend what she wanted to say about the NUM and the GLC to include the IRA. She told the shellshocked delegates: ‘The nation faces what is probably the most testing crisis of our time, the battle between the extremists and the rest … This nation will meet that challenge. Democracy will prevail.’ They thought she was talking about her would-be assassins. In fact she was just reading the words that had been written before the bomb went off.

    Corbyn would have agreed with her – not about what counts as democracy, of course, but about the linkages between her most militant opponents. The NUM, the GLC and the IRA had a common cause in his mind as well. Her enemies were his friends; his friends were her enemies. Corbyn was, and is, her mirror image, joining together the same dots as she did to produce the inverse of her tightly organised worldview. In the first chapter of this book, attempting to identify the consistent set of values that guided her actions, Moore calls Thatcher a liberal imperialist. Corbyn is an anti-imperialist. Thatcher sided with American power; Corbyn with those he considers the victims of American power. Thatcher befriended Saudi Arabia and its royal family, whom she viewed as useful trading partners and a force for stability in the Middle East; Corbyn used his first conference speech as leader to launch an attack on the Saudi regime for its abuses of human rights. (His friends in the region are the Iranians, whom he sees as trying to emerge from a history of colonial exploitation.) Thatcher was determined to keep hold of Trident. Corbyn will do whatever he can to get rid of it. The people who voted for Corbyn in the Labour election did so for a wide variety of reasons: taking up the fights of the mid-1980s mattered for some of them, but perhaps not many, and only those with long memories. A great deal has changed since then. But some things haven’t: the Conservative Party is still never happier than when Labour has a unilateral disarmer as its leader.

  • Mark 12:04 pm on August 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Three reasons why I believe in Jeremy Corbyn (and some doubts) 

    1. I continue to find Owen Smith profoundly unconvincing. The potential force of the ‘electability’ critique is severely blunted by the fact the supposedly ‘electable’ alternative is in actual fact a compromise candidate, markedly inferior even in the narrow centrist terms bound into the discourse of electability. He’s demonstrably untested, widely unknown and his frequent missteps during a very brief period in the spotlight speak of precisely the incompetence that he accuses the Labour leadership of, a point which can also be made of the PLP plotters who are a necessary but insufficient cause of his candidacy. These facts bolster my belief in Jeremy Corbyn simply because they performatively invalidate the critique made against him, revealing him to in fact be a profoundly popular leader of an opposition party in a period of regrouping who has only been in office for a year. Furthermore, it’s not obvious to me on a psephological level that Smith is best placed to fight the threat UKIP poses to Labour, win over remaining Lib Dems and Greens, win back the 5 million voters who deserted Labour from 1997 onwards or attract those Lib Dems whose desertion to the Tories in 2015 was key to the present government’s narrow majority. Despite the endless bleating about Corbyn’s ‘failure’ on Brexit, his reluctant remainer position is much more in step with the Labour membership than Smith’s boosterism and much less objectionable to former Labour voters who have defected to UKIP.
    2. The enormous growth of the Labour party is not something that can be written off as a spontaneously emerging personality cult of no institutional significance. As Phil BC and others have argued, we are seeing a long-range structural change beginning to emerge, for entirely contingent reasons, within the confines of an existing political party rather than as an oppositional movement outside existing parties. As a counter-weight to a long-term trend of what Colin Crouch calls post-democracy, in which formal structures of participation sit alongside a declining influence upon political life by all but the most powerful, this is enormously significant for leftist politics and for British democracy as a whole. The key challenge now is to establish this nascent movement and allow it to articulate itself, something which becomes all the more important given the profoundly reactionary forces in Britain unleashed by the Brexit vote. This does not mean Corbyn is the end of this movement, or even necessarily the means in the medium or long-term. But it does mean that to embrace ‘pragmatism’ now, the strategic and tactical doxa consolidated during the new Labour era in a political world 1997-2007 entirely unlike our present one, risks suffocating this movement before it has even been born. There’s also the possibility of a new model of funding the Labour party which would reduce its reliance upon elite donors.
    3. The idea that Corbyn is unappealing to the electorate needs to be qualified in terms of his evident appeal to many, while recognising that this group to whom he intuitively appeals may be atypical of the electorate. But the facets of political culture most commonly invoked to hold him in disdain also give reason for hope. The evident authenticity of the man is an electoral asset and when I’ve seen him speak in person I’ve been struck by how weirdly charismatic he is, a virtue stemming most of all from him being the first politician I’ve ever heard who I did not doubt believed every word he was saying. His lack of polish, his unimpeachable history of conviction and his absence of showmanship could all, under the right circumstances, come to be immense electoral assets in an era of demonstrable distrust and distaste for politicians. Handled right, his personal brand as well as the broader movement that Corbynism represents the birth of, could herald a much needed repoliticisation of politics.

    My doubts? The world still works the way it does, even if the old order is disintegrating. I can’t see how an opposition leader can function effectively without the support of their parliamentary party and I can’t see how the rump of the parliamentary party – whose professional socialisation took place during the New Labour era and I suspect for the most part cannot learn to do politics differently – can be dispensed with without causing the very split that the vast majority of us seek to avoid. I can’t see how norms of ‘prime ministeriality’ can be changed without time and power, but I can’t see how power can be attained while these norms still exercise a hold over the minds of much of the electorate.

    I also wonder if someone who has never wanted executive power is best equipped to hold it, contra to the instinctive anarchism which still shapes my political sensibility if no longer my considered beliefs. Corbyn clearly feels a sense of responsibility towards the movement that has built up around him but is this enough to sustain him through the endless amount of bullshit and hostility that his role entails*? I assume it’s the mad drive to power, the probably pathological urge to attain high office and the greedy concern for the personal enrichment that now follows from this, which sustains others through these dark times. I support Corbyn precisely because he lacks these things but perhaps on some level they could be seen as a functional adaptation to the deeply dysfunctional political system the last few decades have gifted us.

    Finally, the stories of incompetence by his office are too numerous and detailed to be dismissed as dark propaganda. Why is there not an effective media operation around Corbyn? Why has the ambitious policy agenda launched by himself and John McDonnell been allowed to drift? Why was the wonderful idea of the economic advisory council allowed to fall apart as dramatically as it has?

    *E.g. feeling the need to apologise in the debate this morning for not being able to recognise Ant and Dec.

    • carol leach (@leach1960) 4:00 pm on August 17, 2016 Permalink

      I too have some reservations but concede that there is no better alternative at this moment in time. Losing Corbyn, and ending the ‘movement’ would be like cutting the oxygen to a newly engaged ‘political’ society and would be disastrous democratically. Importantly, the LP need upcoming candidates of the ‘Corbyn’ ilk fast to maintain future momentum. But evidently, the mere fact that this is what the PLP ‘plotters’ are aiming to do (vis-a-vis disenfranchising 130,000 new members) is testament to how highly organised and effective ‘Corbyn’s’ movement really is. So much so that Owen Smith in his recent campaign emails seeks to pursue the same goal, to create a “Labour movement”. This may signify the acceptance beyond the Corbyn camp that the only way to secure those seats vital to win a GE is by grassroots engagement regionally, there is no consensus Britain any more Brexit was proof of that.

    • Mark 4:19 pm on August 17, 2016 Permalink

      Have you seen Clive Lewis? He comes across very well in the interview Owen Jones did with him.

  • Mark 11:32 am on August 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , media freedom, , ,   

    Are journalists personally afraid of a Trump presidency? 

    Are journalists personally afraid of a Trump presidency? That’s the suggestion of this Vox article:

    In my experience, it goes yet deeper than this. Quietly, privately, political reporters wonder if Trump is a threat to them personally — if he were president, would he use the powers of the office to retaliate against them personally if he didn’t like their coverage of his administration? How certain are they that their taxes are really in order? How sure are they that a surveillance state controlled by Trump would tap their phones and watch their emails for leverage?

    I am not saying this drives coverage of Trump, but it recasts negative coverage of him. Trump has made criticism of his campaign a reflection of an ideal journalists are particularly committed to: that the United States should have a free and open press able to scrutinize leading politicians without fear of reprisal. Thus, when Trump bars different publications from his press conference, it becomes proof that they are doing the work that journalists should do, and that a President Trump might make that work impossible to do.


    If so what does that mean for American democracy? I don’t think the concern is unwarranted, at least to some extent, nor do I think that Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama could take it as a given that they would go unharassed in the (increasingly unlikely) event of a Trump presidency. Even if this was not motivated by personal animus, it’s disturbingly easy to imagine a creepingly fascist United States in a few years time, in which a ‘lock her up’ campaign would be used by Trump to motivate his base or distract from economic failure and social decay.

    Furthermore, given this idea that the digital surveillance apparatus might one day constitute a threat to individual journalists, should we expect a greater degree of self-censorship than has been the case? I can imagine the sheer fact of the idea being ‘out there’, if this is something American journalists might fall into conversation about when drinking together say, could begin to entrench it in a way that is dangerous even in the absence of a reality to the threat.

    • Jnana Hodson 10:58 pm on August 17, 2016 Permalink

      Your better question would ask about the highest ranks of the military. Would they accept Trump as commander-in-chief?

    • Mark 9:04 am on August 30, 2016 Permalink

      Probably, I think.

  • Mark 11:23 am on August 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,   

    The Dispositions of the Metricised 

    In our discussion of metrics systems, it’s easy to treat subjectivity as a cipher, regarding people as passively moulded by algorithms or blindly governed by the incentives that operate through the institutionalisation of the metrics. My objection to the former is not the claim that people are shaped by metrics, but rather the assumption that this process is basically passive. My interest is in how metrics come to matter to us. How are people shaped over time? How do their biographically accumulating dispositions and concerns influence the actions they take over time? How do these feed back into the metrics system and the organisations within which they are institutionalised?

    The fictional portrayals that are starting to emerge of this – novels like Super Sad True Love Story, the Circle and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, films like Nerve – often struggle to represent this engaged subjectivity because the imperatives of effective story telling militate against it. What we really need is a novel or film that explores metricisation through the internal monologue of what I imagine would turn out to be an unreliable narrator.

  • Mark 8:10 pm on August 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The Antinomies of ‘Intelligence’ 

    On this week’s Any Answers, there was a call so fascinatingly stupid that I’ve been intermittently thinking back to it for the last few days. In a discussion about the possible reintroduction of grammar schools, a couple who had been to grammar schools but were ‘forced’ to send their children to a comprehensive, explained how there was “no comparison” because the grammar school will be filled with pupils who are “bright and motivated” and come from “homes with very supportive parents who want them to be there”. In comprehensives there are “far more disruptions” and the “very brightest pupils have to lower their standards”. She went on to explain that her daughters both succeeded immensely at A Levels and university “simply because we could afford to give them private tuition” which wouldn’t have happened if they’d been sent to a grammar school. This understanding of the trajectory of her daughters reflected a broader social outlook:

    I truly believe that we will never all be equal. Some of us are born beautiful, some of us intelligent, some us not quite as wealthy as others and some from supportive homes. We’re all genetically geared to have different hopes and aspirations. Not everyone wants to go to university. I really think that if a child wants to go and work in a shop, or wants to do marketing, we should teach them a decent work ethic and not tell that they’re second class because they didn’t get into a grammar school.

    The presenter raises the possibility that grammar schools intensify inequality because it’s the already privileged who are most likely to gain access to them. But the caller says that the solution is to build more grammar schools so that “the children who are not quite at the top of the tree” get an opportunity.

    A later caller offers a spirited defence of grammar schools, explaining how her own experience of grammar schools improved her life: she was able to get any job at work she wanted with just an interview because they could tell she was able & when her husband died, she was able to cope with everything she faced when taking over his business. She then explains how “the legacy went on to my children”, “one went to university and the other could do anything he wanted if he set his mind to it”, and her grandchildren are now “well placed to take advantage of this legacy”. Her experience sounds like an interesting example of Margaret Archer’s (contentious) point that social structures don’t constrain until you formulate a project that runs up against them. There are presumably many jobs this caller wouldn’t have got without an interview, or even with one, but these constraints aren’t experienced and they fade from view for her.

    What fascinates me about this is how ‘intelligence’ serves as an umbrella under which a vast array of social, cultural and personal factors are subsumed: aptitude for academic work, supportive parents, stable homes, engagement with institutions, good behaviour at school. The complexity of the social world gets built into the designator ‘intelligent’ in a way that renders it opaque: the concept of ‘intelligence’ stitches together an otherwise untenable individualism. Yet both callers recognise the possibility of inherited privilege and yet this doesn’t undermine their determinedly reductive view of intelligence.

  • Mark 6:39 pm on August 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , mobile gaming, nerve, , ready player one, , , traders,   

    3 dystopian visions of the future of gaming (and capitalism) 

    73984df83f8ed2f9842aaf0b669dfa8f2d7711cfIn a near future America, the world is locked into an inglorious decline while the majority of its population is locked into an intoxicatingly expansive virtual world. Ecological crisis and economic ruin operate hand-in-hand to leave the 99% living in sprawling slums, consisting of endless stacks of trailer parks, around the periphery of the surviving cities within which some economic activity takes place. The game provides an escape from this, offering an endless array of worlds full of wonders in contrast to the grim reality of the singular world the players inhabit in the rest of their lives.

    On the surface, Ready Player One might seem to be an inditement of gaming, framing it as the source of widespread acquiescence to social collapse. But it has a much more nuanced approach than this. Firstly, there’s a profound nostalgia which suffuses the book, suggesting that what’s of most value in the cutting edge of gaming in this dystopian world inevitably borrows from and looks back to an older age of gaming from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Secondly, the narrative of the book hinges upon the possibility for re-enchantment that gaming offers. The global game into which the world’s population has immersed itself might be implicated in this widespread withdrawal from social concern, but it also offers a solution. The game itself opens up the possibility for heroism, for mass collective struggle to change the world, which ultimately makes itself felt back in the ‘real’ world.

    In this sense, the book offers a pessimistic vision of the future of capitalism but a qualified optimism about the future of gaming. It’s nonetheless realistic about the relationship between the two, with capitalism having facilitated the worst of what is latent with gaming but also being susceptible to being changed by the best that can be found within the craft of gamers.

    The recent film Nerve offers a more straight forwardly moralistic vision. It tells the story of an underground viral game called ‘Nerve’, which allows participants to be either ‘players’ or ‘watchers’. The former earn rewards for acting on dares offered by the latter, who are encouraged to follow the players around and live stream their daring actions. The first moral of the story rests upon the dangers of celebrity, suggesting that the combination of teenage social pressures and an anonymous crowd can create immense pressure, potentially leading anyone to do things they’ll later have reasons to regret. The second moral of the story is more interesting, with a slightly contrived plot being used to explain how some players get locked into a game which, because it relies on the block chain, can not simply be shut down. This expresses an interesting fear we’re perhaps likely to see ever more explorations of: socio-technical novelties that cannot be suppressed or switched off. The moralistic streak in the film undermined the potential power of its story telling here because the valiant and sneaky actions of the protagonists lead them to escape the game and destroy it. I can easily imagine a much bleaker and more interesting film which took the fear it raised seriously.

    Traders is a gloriously dark film set in post-crash Dublin, exploring the changing fortunes of young financiers who briefly had everything and now must come to terms with having lost it. Much like Nerve, Traders revolves around a viral game, trading, in which desperate bankers who’ve lost everything can agree to fight to the death for the remaining assets of their opponent. Succesful traders soon build up an impressive prize fund, incentivising others to match them and the ‘dark web’ game takes on a life and energy of its own. The logic of the game escapes its creator, whose desperate attempts to regain his hold on it leads to his own downfall, introducing elements into the game which accentuate the worst aspects of its own internal rationality.

    Ready Player One, Nerve and Traders are very different works. But what they have in common is a confrontation with the social reality of gaming. Rather than seeing gaming as an individual pursuit, involving a retreat from the social, all these works recognise the intrinsically social nature of contemporary gaming. Gaming is in the world, of the world and acts on the world. But it’s more than this: the liberation of gaming from relatively static hardware which encouraged, though by no means determined, fixture within the home has opened up an entirely new arena of socio-technical novelty.

    What Nerve, Traders and Ready Player One explore is gaming-as-social-structure. The most engaging scenes in Nerve are when the logic of the game override normative expectations in social situations: in this sense a game acts as social structure, in a way disruptive of existing social order but also leading to the generation of new forms of order. The prospect of mobile augmented gaming, particularly if it has the massively distributed game dynamics of something like Nerve, heralds a profoundly morphogenetic form of social structure i.e. its operation encourages change in everything it encounters, in unpredictable and often dangerous ways. If we see the massive growth of games like Pokemon Go, as well as their further development, I think this characteristic of games will be an ever more potent object of cultural expectation.

  • Mark 4:26 pm on August 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Tony Benn on the Labour Party in 1991 

    From pg 17 of his 1991-2001 diaries. Interesting to read this in light of the upcoming leadership election – is this what Owen Smith understands himself to be doing?

    On the one hand, you have got all these people who are simply concerned with power; and on the other hand, you’ve got sectarians who are simply concerned with ideological purity; and somewhere in the middle somebody has to try and use that skill to bring it all together for the good of the people we represent.

  • Mark 9:23 am on August 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    The Lean Revolution in Higher Education 

    Growing a culture of continuous improvement predicated on the importance of customers? It sounds like a form of market Maoism, beyond anything we’ve seen yet. Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 10.20.55

Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc