Towards a Pirate Sociology

While this phrase summons up images for me of C. Wright Mills in a pirate costume, it’s important to be clear about the sense of ‘pirate’ invoked. As Gary Hall puts it in his Pirate Philosophy, the etymology predates our cultural figure of ‘the pirate’ such that “the pirate here is someone who makes an attempt, tries, teases, troubles, gets experience of, endeavours, attacks.” (pg 121).

The pirate is someone who forever acts experimentally, narrowing the gap between idea and activity in a radically open-ended way. The point is to intervene and learn from the intervention, growing through doing rather than indefinitely postponing the moment of action in the name of being adequately prepared. The pirate acts as opportunities present themselves, seeing plans as nothing more than navigational aids to be dispensed with when the terrain on which they operate changes.

This orientation may leave the pirate as appearing to accelerate, but only in the sense of their multiplying points of engagement with their environment. The process of developing ideas can be slow, instantiated through the rapidity with which those ideas lead to actions. A constantly expanding repertoire of action can give the appearance of hyperactivity while the purposes underlying their deployment can become steadily more focused with time. The being of the pirate emerges through their doing.

The experimentalism of the pirate leaves them hostile to received wisdom but also to established standards. Institutional obstacles are situational constraints, sometimes to be strategically negotiated but more often to be probed, pushed or  attacked. They are concerned to “attempt new economic, legal, and political systems and models for the production, publication, sharing, and diffusion of knowledge and ideas.” (pg 121) The pirate doesn’t care about being ‘productive’ but does want to be effective.

The pirate, I wish to argue, represents a figure who can thrive in the accelerated academy without being beholden to its imperatives.

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