Updates from December, 2016 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 4:36 pm on December 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    What did I do in 2016? 

    Spurred on by this post from Mark Johnson, who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time this year and co-authoring a paper with, here’s a round up of what I did in 2016:

    • Wrote a paper for the Centre for Social Ontology book series about the digitalisation of the archive.
    • Co-wrote a paper about the Moral Economy of Celebrity Streaming with Mark Johnson and Tom Brock.
    • Finishing off a book of Margaret Archer’s collected papers, co-edited with Tom Brock and Graham Scambler, which came out last month.
    • Wrote most of a paper offering an overview of Digital Sociology and an agenda going forward which was due in at the end of the year (and isn’t quite finished yet).
    • Did loads of talks and workshops in various places. I realised I’d done a lot but was surprised to find it was actually 34 in total. Mostly to promote social media for academics but there was a range of other stuff as well. Highlights included talking to a massive room of press officers from universities across the UK and doing the closing session at the big ESRC postgraduate conference in Liverpool.
    • Edited a special issue of Discover Society with William Housley on digital futures, as well as put together a special section of LSE Impact Blog with Filip Vostal based on the conference in Prague last year.
    • Organised 6 symposia type things, a conference stream, a conference panel and a skills workshop at a conference. These included two on reflexivity, the morphogenetic approach, digital futures, beyond big & small data, conceptual challenges for interdisciplinary work, anxiety in the accelerated academy, practical sociology and public sociology.
    • Continued to develop The Digital Social Science Forum, with quite a lot of the activity above being driven by this in one way or another.
    • Continued to develop The Sociological Review’s digital presence, including making some really exciting plans going forward. I’m now entering my final year with the journal and I’m really pleased with the position things are getting to for when I hand it over to someone else.
    • Finishing off my last year at Warwick and with the Centre for Social Ontology. I’ll still continue to be involved in a research capacity but it’s nice to be moving on to new things.

    What I conspicuously failed to do was finish my book about digital distraction. In fact, it’s not all that much further along than it was this time last year. This probably ties in with my decreasing affection for Twitter. Though I still recognise it’s useful in many respects, it can be a sink for time and energy, in a way that has started to feel toxic at points. I plan to step back from Twitter in 2017 and focus my social media activity on on my blogging and podcasting, while hopefully resisting the urge to use a phrase like ‘digital minimalism’. Here are my plans for 2017:

    1. Finally finish my book on digital distraction! Each chapter is mapped out in great deal, I’ve written chunks of it, I just need lots of time and space to sit down and get it out.
    2. Finally turning my PhD into a monograph (or promising myself to stop obsessing about doing so if I don’t manage it).
    3. Putting together an edited collection on personal and collective reflexivity, following from a symposium I ran with Tom Brock in Warwick last year. Hopefully also doing a follow up volume to the collected papers book we did with Graham Scambler.
    4. Four large and exciting conference type things which are in the works, which I can’t really say anything about until more details are confirmed.
    5. Social media training and workshops, including a series of public workshops in Manchester, Birmingham and London over the summer.
    6. Starting writing on an occasional basis for the Chronicle Vitae about social media for academics and exploring whether there are other avenues like this available, as it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.
    7. A series of collaborative papers on various digital social science and digital university related topics
    8. Put in an application for a three year post-doc on social media and academic labour (as the first stage in the broader project of the Digital University Lab) before my post-PhD window closes for these schemes.
    9. Trying to curate the slightly messy network of Digital Social Science Forum projects into a coherent agenda in order for the project to culminate in 2018, hopefully with some very exciting grant applications leading from it.
    10. Finish my time with The Sociological Review and hopefully get the website up to the popularity threshold I’ve had my eye on for the last year, as well as work with the new multimedia team on our first few projects.
    • anacanhoto 6:25 pm on December 31, 2016 Permalink

      Fantastic productivity. Maybe 2017 can also bring something that we can work together on?! 😉

      Where can we find your podcasts?

    • Mark 12:23 pm on January 8, 2017 Permalink

      Ah they’re scattered throughout the web, but all hosted here:

      Hope the start of your 2017 has been more productive than mine!

  • Mark 2:56 pm on December 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The Elite Roots of the Alt-Right 

    A fascinating Jacob article about the roots of contemporary alt-right racism in mainstream elite discourse in Conservative America: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/12/richard-spencer-alt-right-dallas-texas/

  • Mark 1:02 pm on December 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , eric stoller,   

    Why Academics Must Use Social Media 

    An interesting conversation between Eric Stoller and David Webster:


  • Mark 11:32 am on December 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    What are ‘recognition triggers’ in scholarly publishing? 

    An interesting concept from John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture which I think has important implications for scholarly publishing. From pg 276-277:

    Oprah and Richard and Judy are prime examples of what I shall call ‘recognition triggers’. I use the term ‘recognition trigger’ to refer to those drivers of sales that have three characteristics. First, they are triggers based on a form of recognition that endows the work with an accredited visibility . Thanks to this recognition, the work is now both visible , picked out from an ocean of competing titles and brought into the consciousness of consumers, and deemed to be worthy of being read , that is, worth not only the money that the consumer would have to pay to buy it but, just as importantly, the time they would have to spend to read it. Visible and worthy: a form of recognition that kills two birds with one stone.

    The second characteristic is that the recognition is bestowed by individuals or organizations other than the agents and organizations that are directly involved in creating, producing and selling the work. Literary agents, publishers and booksellers cannot produce the kind of recognition upon which recognition triggers depend. They can produce other things, like the buzz and excitement that surround an author or a book, and these forms of laudatory talk can have real consequences, as we have seen. But recognition triggers presuppose that those individuals or organizations who bestow the recognition are, and are seen to be, independent in some way and to some extent from the parties that have a direct economic interest in the book’s success. It is this independence and perception of independence that enables recognition triggers to grant worthiness and explains in part why they can have such dramatic effects.

    The third characteristic is that, precisely because recognition is bestowed by individuals and organizations that are independent and seen to be so, it follows that publishers themselves have only a limited ability to influence the decisions that result in the bestowal of recognition, and hence a limited ability to control their effects. They certainly try to influence these decisions where they can, or to second-guess the decision-makers where they can’t directly or indirectly influence them, but at the end of the day the decisions are not theirs. So recognition triggers introduce yet another element of unpredictability into a field that is already heavily laden with serendipity.

    Do these recognition triggers exist in scholarly publishing? The obvious example is the journal system itself. The anonymity of peer review is understood to ensure independence and negotiating the peer review process is understand as a marker of quality signifying the paper is worthy of being read.

    But the over abundance that characterises scholarly publishing has complicated this, as has the growing functional imperative to self-promote one’s own papers. People will be searching for more ‘recognition triggers’, despite not using the concept, leading to all sorts of competitive dynamics which I think we’ll begin to see over the coming years. I suspect many of them will involve social media.

  • Mark 9:46 pm on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , populist right, , , ,   

    Was Sloterdijk an early originator of contemporary right populism? 

    Reading the excellent Selected Exaggerations, a book of interviews with Peter Sloterdijk, I was struck by his remarks about taxation and the state in an interview from 2001. He bemoans the punitive taxation he claims exists in Germany, arguing that it reflects a broader domination of society by the state. German citizens are “punished for success” and the trust society is based on gradually finds itself eroded. On loc 1798-1813 he goes on to call for a ‘social movement of entrepreneurs’:

    SLOTERDIJK: Precisely. There are countless areas of redistribution that could be organized much more intelligently and efficiently by alternative means. I am thinking of unemployment benefits, of the whole welfare state that should be organized more in terms of incentives, much more in terms of entrepreneurship and less in terms of the consumer state.

    METHFESSEL/ RAMTHUN: Are you saying that entrepreneurial thinking is supposed to save the welfare state?

    SLOTERDIJK: Yes, entrepreneurs will raise the banners of hope again. Without a movement of entrepreneurs, as there was once a workers’ movement, the economy can no longer explain itself adequately to society.

    METHFESSEL/ RAMTHUN: And what will be written on the banners?

    SLOTERDIJK: ‘Entrepreneurs of the world, unite’ –what else? At the moment only entrepreneurs can convincingly represent the interests of the industries and services that produce the hardware, that is, the real value of productive industry, against the phantom superstructure of speculative finance economy. Only an entrepreneurs’ movement can act in the anti-capitalist way that is needed now. It is time for entrepreneurial anti-capitalism.

    METHFESSEL/ RAMTHUN: The entrepreneur as alternative to the distorted picture of globalization, of the anonymous flow of money around the globe?

    SLOTERDIJK: Entrepreneurs must show that an operative economy, not the dictatorship of the lottery bosses, is the foundation of the market economy. Entrepreneurs are the social democracy of tomorrow.

    METHFESSEL/ RAMTHUN: Are you serious?

    SLOTERDIJK: Of course. At the moment entrepreneurs may describe themselves in neoliberal terms, but this is becoming increasingly false as the years go by, because in the end they can only justify themselves as producers of the net value that serves the other side of redistribution.

    It’s a fascinating interview, filled with remarks I object to deeply. What struck me was the parallel to the themes (though not their articulation) of the contemporary populist right, both in the US and the UK. The awkward combination of populism and capital, fulminating against the 47% while framing it as a progressive revolt in the universal interests against a overweaning state captured by dependents. Genealogically speaking, it’s obvious that Sloterdijk was not a progenitor of the Anglo-American populist right. But philosophically speaking, it’s perhaps meaningful to suggest that he was. At least in so far as what he’s doing here can be classified as philosophy, though that’s perhaps a topic for another post.

  • Mark 8:30 pm on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    On Teaching Theory 

    This short exchange with Michael Burawoy offers some thought-provoking reflections on teaching social theory. He identifies the major traditions of teaching theory within American sociology, before outlining his own ethnographic approach:

    1. The Survey: surveying extracts from a comprehensive range of social theorists, each one treated as an instance of a broader category. Essentially disconnected and decontextualised. Teaching theory in an essentially general way.
    2. The Interpretative: placing theory and theorist in their life and times, seeing the specificity of their work as a response to equally specific circumstances. Teaching theory in a essentially particular way.
    3. The Synthesis: selecting extracts based on a distinctive theoretical vision, using those selections to articulate a theoretical approach which presents itself as grounded in the classics. Teaching theory in an closed but generative way.
    4. The Ethnographic: using shorter extracts from a selected range of limited texts in order to facilitate reconstructive critique. The students are gradually encouraged to situate themselves in relation to the theory, criticise it from the inside-out, learn to apply it to the world around them and relate it to other such theories.

    There are interesting critiques that can be made of how this approach works in practice (see the response from Alan Sica in the attached article) but I love the exercise he uses:

    Apart from the classroom discussion, there are also discussion sections, 20 students in size, led and organized by brilliant, devoted and above all creative teaching assistants who have collaborated with me in developing this approach to theory. Along with one-page reading memos due every week, each semester we assign a ‘‘theory in action’’ paper (no more than a thousand words) that requires students to choose current events or their own experiences to illustrate a theorist of their choice. In addition mid-term and final exams consist of three short 750-word take-home papers (once again less is more) that assume the form of an exegesis of a given theorist, a comparison of theorists, or an application of theory to real live situations as defined by an article from a newspaper or magazine.

    The course culminates in a 20-minute oral examination with their teaching assistant in which each student has to reconstruct the entire course as a conversation among the theorists, again in answer to a specific question given ahead of time. They are encouraged to include images, pictures, drawings, in what essentially is a poster presentation. The posters they produce amply demonstrate to what extent the various theorists have become part of them, whether theorists have become different mindsets that they will take with them into their future lives

    • Janet Lord 8:39 pm on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      Excellent. Thanks, I’m thinking more and more about how I do this, so this is very useful. Cheers.

  • Mark 7:43 pm on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , horses, , ,   

    The Happy Unemployment of Horses 

    From Peter Sloterdick’s Selected Exaggerations, loc 1411-1416

    Incidentally, there are almost as many horses today as there were in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, but they have all been reassigned. They are almost all leisure horses, hardly any workhorses nowadays. Isn’t it an odd comment on today’s society that only horses have achieved emancipation? Humans are still work animals just as they always were, even if they are miserable jobless people, but the horses standing in German paddocks today are all horses of pleasure, post-historic horses. Children stroke them and adults admire them, and we feel very sorry for the last workhorses we see now and then at the circus and at racecourses. Some are used in psychotherapy for children with behavioural problems, but they are treated well and respectfully. All the other European horses have managed to do what humans still dream of –horses are the only ones for whom historical philosophy’s dream of a good end to history has become reality. They are the happy unemployed that evolution seemed to be moving towards. For them, the realm of freedom has been reached, they stand in their paddock, are fed, have completely forgotten the old drudgery and live out their natural mobility.

    • Cath 9:49 pm on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      I fully agree. I love horses and over time have come to feel it is wrong to treat them as modes of transport or slaves. Now I am a slave to and for my two beautiful thoroughbred mares. I work silly hours for the NHS so they can happily graze in a field with free access to open stables. Dental care once a year. I trim their hooves myself. They don’t have a worry in the world. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Seeing them so calm and contented makes me happy too. Their wild spirits invigorate. Ride them? Never. Respect them? Akways

    • Mark 12:49 pm on December 29, 2016 Permalink

      I wonder if this applies to other animals humans have close relationships with as well?

  • Mark 4:17 pm on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    The challenge of writing in the accelerated academy, part 3 

    At the end of his Learning To Write Badly, Michael Billig offers an evocative analogy to describe the predicament he faces in writing a call to rethink our writing practices. From pg 208:

    Perhaps a better analogy would be that I am stuck by the side of a large highway, as the trucks go pounding past, hour after hour and day after day. In a voice that can only be heard by someone standing very close to me, I speak against the roar: ‘Wouldn’t it be better if there were fewer trucks on this road, if their loads were lighter and their engines were quieter?’ My words will have no effect; the trucks will keep thundering past whatever I think or say. It is the same with my criticisms of academic writing in the social sciences. I can say what I want in a book which most social scientists would not have time to read, even if they wished to. Things will carry on much as they are; too much has been invested for sudden changes. Academic social scientists are building successful careers and attracting significant research funds, while their managerial evaluators look on, demanding more and more. I just stand by the side of the road, muttering at the traffic.

    The momentum with which writing in the accelerated academy proceeds is captured powerfully here. Ever more traffic, continually accelerating while we ourselves cannot make a career out of standing still. How do we ensure that our attempts to intervene don’t simply accelerate the traffic further and add more cars to the road? The very tactics necessary to win the attention of the other drivers risk compounding the problem we’re seeking to address.

    I’ll resist the urge to stretch the analogy yet further, but it’s in relation to this problem that I’ve been preoccupied by the notion of the ‘assembly device’. How can we craft devices that bring together different groups, facilitating new conversations in ways that address the challenges of writing in the accelerated academy? When it works, the ‘turn’ is such an assembly device. But it’s overused and it’s mystified. The turn is rarely understood a device, as opposed to as a description of a trend (fallibly) observed in an (inevitably partial) literature. Can we tweak the ‘turn’ as a device? Can we design other kinds of devices?

  • Mark 3:53 pm on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    The challenge of writing in the accelerated academy, part 2 

    The upwards trajectory of publication poses an obvious problem for the aspiring academic. It is one familiar from other fields of cultural production. How to be heard above the din? If ever more publications are being produced each year, commanding ever less attention from a peer group increasingly consumed by the imperative to publish, vast rewards are liable to be gained by those able to capture the intellectual attention space. This situation can incite great aspirations, something Liz Morrish has written about in terms of the rise of the ‘Trump academic’:

    Equally, in a world where academics are obliged to offer up each piece of work to be evaluated as internationally significant, world leading etc., they will seek to signal such a rating discursively. A study by Vinkers et al. in the British Medical Journal uncovered a new tendency towards hyperbole in scientific reports. They found the absolute frequency of positive words increased from 2.0% (1974-80) to 17.5% (2014), which amounts to a relative increase of 880% over four decades. 25 individual positive words contributed to the increase, particularly the words “robust,” “novel,” “innovative,” and “unprecedented,” which increased in relative frequency up to 15 000%”). The authors comment upon an apparent evolution in scientific writing to ‘look on the bright side of life’.


    Bullshit proliferates under these circumstances. Metricised evaluation demands the performance of ‘excellence’, something to be enacted through the ritualistic assertion of innovation and the sustained quest to ensure it is demonstrable in narrow metricised terms. Capturing the attention of one’s peers demands big, bold and memorable claims, preferably ones that break with what has gone before and position oneself as the start of something new. Each innovation heralds the recruitment of potential followers. After all, each piece of work holds the promise of being the start of something big.

    But as Randall Collins has convincingly argued, there can only be so many viable positions within the intellectual attention space. Most innovations, in the entrepreneurial sense undertaken by the Trump academic, remain doomed to fail. For the self-confident and upwardly mobile aspiring star this failure is nothing but a challenge. After all, failure is in keeping with the spirit of the age. Move fast and break things. If today’s innovation doesn’t catch hold, throw something else against the wall and continue to do so until it finally sticks.

    One of the most frequently used devices in the humanities and social sciences to perform such ‘innovation’ is the invocation of the turn. When I went counting a few years ago, I found 47, but there are certainly more:

    1. the linguistic turn
    2. the cultural turn
    3. the affective turn
    4. the sensory turn
    5. the reflexive turn
    6. the digital turn
    7. the participatory turn
    8. the narrative turn
    9. the biographical turn
    10. the spatial turn
    11. the social turn
    12. the interpretive turn
    13. the ontological turn
    14. the postmodern turn
    15. the practice turn
    16. the pragmatic turn
    17. the historical turn
    18. the discursive turn
    19. the cognitive turn
    20. the critical turn
    21. the computational turn
    22. the transnational turn
    23. the emotional turn
    24. the practical turn
    25. the neuroscientific turn
    26. the complexity turn
    27. the nonhuman turn
    28. the ethical turn
    29. the argumentative turn
    30. the action turn
    31. the animal turn
    32. the gender turn
    33. the constructivist turn
    34. the somatic turn
    35. the pictorial turn
    36. the auditory turn
    37. the communicative turn
    38. the dialogic turn
    39. the global turn
    40. the semiotic turn
    41. the theoretical turn
    42. the cosmopolitan turn
    43. the relational turn
    44. the naturalist turn
    45. the material turn (via Jesse in comments)
    46. the temporal turn (via martin eve)
    47. the insect turn (via martin eve)

    A turn is a claim about orientation. To invoke a turn plays off the authority of others while positioning oneself as leading the group in a new direction. But the limitations of the attention space obtain here as well. Most turns are doomed to failure. Likely to be ignored, rather than even marginalised. Or perhaps to be reiterated endlessly, with each new ‘turn’ largely or entirely ignorant of that which has gone before.

    These discursive strategies for career advancement would merely be annoying if they didn’t have such harmful aggregative consequences. The discipline beset by turns is the discipline which is in chaos. Turn! Turn! Turn! Constantly spinning round and round, called forth in all directions while being vaguely aware of countless others calling for one’s attention if only they could cut through the thickets of busyness and anxiety, the outlines of the knowledge system become ever more foggy. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? For the trump academics, the answer is simple: we/I are promoting ourselves and trying to ensure our upwards mobility by capturing the intellectual attention space as efficiently as possible while performing in a way that meets the ever changing demands placed upon us by managers and their metrics.

    What about for everyone else? It becomes decreasingly possible to undertake serious intellectual work outside of often insular communities of practice. A self-serving conservatism afflicts the major journals which are the cyphers of established quality in so far as anything remains conclusively ‘established’ beyond the brute facts of institutional power and well-honed networks. A pragmatic eclecticism afflicts the minor journals, as they provide shelter for those seeking some kind of communal focus from the incessant attempts to claim the spotlight that proliferate throughout ever more disorganised disciplines. This system of scholarly communication intensifies the trend towards our working in what Billig (pg 5) describes as “smaller and smaller circles”. When this happens, we lose any sense of the centre. Perhaps the centre was always in some sense imagined. But relations with proximate rivals to our own academic tribes take on the appearance of existential disputes over the soul of a shared project. Our imaginations contract and this invariably finds reflection in thought and expression.

    If the career strategies of the Trump academics are at the root of this. If they represent what I’ve elsewhere taken to calling ‘distraction engines’, socio-technical mechanisms actively serving to hinder the capacity for sustained focus of other actors, we need to delegitimise them. We need to stop taking ‘turn’ talk seriously. But we also need to recognise how we ourselves are implicated in this process. See what I did earlier in the paragraph? I’ve introduced a concept, ‘distraction engines’, on one level useful to me but on another one offered in the hope it might prove catchy. The same criticism can be directed at the notion of the ‘accelerated academy’ itself. I find it disturbingly hard not to do this and the reflexive challenge it poses for me is to justify it. In these cases, because the new term performs some function that alternatives might not. A claim I’m willing to defend about ‘accelerated academy’ but not, perhaps, about ‘distraction engines’.

  • Mark 9:56 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    My 20 favourite graphic novels of 2016 

    • DMZ by Brian Wood
    • Outcast by Robert Kirkman
    • Fatale by Ed Brubaker
    • Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan
    • Roche Limit by Michael Moreci
    • Criminal by Ed Brubaker
    • The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker
    • Super Crooks by Mark Millar
    • The Fuse by Shari Chankhamma
    • They’re Not Like Us by Eric Stephenson
    • Postal by Matt Hawkins
    • Trees by Warren Ellis
    • Injection by Warren Ellis
    • Moon Knight by Warren Ellis
    • Invisible Republic by Gabriel Hardman
    • Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis
    • Sons of the Devil by Brian Buccellato
    • Sex by Joe Casey
    • Kick Ass by Mark Millar
    • Pride & Joy by Garth Ennis
  • Mark 9:47 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    My 20 favourite books of 2016 

    • Depth by Lev Ac Rosen
    • Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet by Finn Brunton
    • Rethinking Interdisciplinarity by Felicity Callard and Des Fitzgerald
    • Accelerating Academia by Filip Vostal
    • The Refusal of Work by David Frayne
    • Intern Nation: How To Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy by Ross Perlin
    • Jeffrey Sachs: The Strange Case of Dr. Shock and Mr. Aid by Japhy Wilson
    • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
    • Pity the Billionaire: The Unlikely Comeback of the American Right by Thomas Frank
    • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
    • Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams
    • Rise of the Right by Simon Winlow, Steve Hall and James Treadwell
    • Distraction by Damon Young
    • My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
    • The Global Minotaur by Yanis Varoufakis
    • Purity by Jonathan Franzen
    • Work’s Intimacy by Melissa Gregg
    • Pirate Philosophy by Gary Hall
    • Learn to Write Badly by Michael Billig
    • Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened To The Party Of The People? by Thomas Frank
  • Mark 9:32 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    The proliferation of books 

    From Merchants of Culture, by John Thompson, pg 238. In the United States:

    The number of new books published in the US each year prior to 1980 was probably under 50,000. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the number of new books published greatly increased, reaching nearly 200,000 by 1998. By 2004 the number had risen to over 275,000 (see table 9 ). 2 After falling off in 2005, the total climbed to over 284,000 in 2007 and continued to rise in the following years, reaching an estimated 316,000 by 2010.

    And this has been supplemented greatly by non-traditional outputs. From pg 239-241:

    The data from Bowker suggest that the number of non-traditional outputs rose from 21,936 in 2006 to a staggering 2,776,260 in 2010, which, if added to the traditional books published in 2010, would give a total output of more than 3 million titles. The non-traditional outputs include books released by companies specializing in self-publishing, like Lulu and Xlibris, but the vast majority of these non-traditional outputs are scanned versions of public domain works that are being marketed on the web and made available through print-on-demand vendors. 

    A similar pattern can be seen in the UK. From pg 241:

    Prior to 1980 there were probably fewer than 50,000 new books published each year in the UK. By 1995 this number had doubled to more than 100,000, and by 2003 it had increased to nearly 130,000.The total number fell off slightly after that, though by 2009 the number of new books that were published in the UK had risen to more than 157,000 (see table 10 ), spurred on by the growth of print-on-demand, digital and self-publishing.

  • Mark 9:00 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    things I’ve been reading recently #30 

    Books I’ve read recently:

    • SS-GB by Len Deighton
    • The Elephant in the Room by Jon Ronson
    • Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
    • How To Write Badly by Michael Billig

    Graphic novels I’ve read recently: 

    • Catwoman: When In Rome by Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale
    • Sons of Anarchy: Volume 6 by Ryan Ferrier, Matias Bergara and Paul Little
    • Kick-Ass 2 by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.
    • International Iron Man by Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev
    • Transmetropolitan: Lonely City by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
    • Transmetropolitan: Dirge by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
    • Transmetropolitan: Gouge Away by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
    • Transmetropolitan: Spider’s Trash by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
    • Transmetropolitan: Lust For Life by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
    • Transmetropolitan: Lonely City by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
    • Transmetropolitan: Back On The Street by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
  • Mark 8:29 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Academic Celebrities and the Transformation of Publishing 

    In John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture, he makes a number of observations about the importance of brand-name writers which could easily be applied to the growth of academic celebrities within scholarly publishing. From pg 212-214

    Brand-name authors are important for two reasons: first, their sales are predictable, and second, they are repeaters. Their sales are predictable because they have readerships that are loyal to them. Readers become ‘fans’ of a particular writer, or of a series of books by a particular writer, and they want to read more. The publisher can therefore count on a market that is to some extent captive, and the sales of the author’s previous books become a good guide to the sales of the author’s next book. If the author’s career is developing satisfactorily, the publisher can count on cumulative growth: each new book will sell more than the previous one, and the overall trajectory will be a steadily climbing curve. In a world where so much frontlist publishing is a crapshoot, predictability of this kind is a gift.

    Brand-name authors are also repeaters. They write a book a year, or maybe a book every two years. This means that the publisher with a number of repeaters can plan their future programme with much more accuracy and reliability than a publisher who is relying on the normal hit-and-miss business of frontlist trade publishing. They know when each of their repeaters will deliver and they can plan their publishing strategies for each author and each book in order to maximize their sales potential –each year a new hardcover, which is subsequently relaunched as a trade or mass-market paperback, etc. The regular, predictable output of repeaters enables the publisher to build the author’s brand over time, feeding new books into the marketplace at regular intervals to maintain the interest and loyalty of existing fans and to recruit new readers. It also enables the publisher to build the backlist, since the better known the author is, the more valuable his or her backlist will tend to be, as new and existing fans turn to earlier books in order to sate their appetite for their favoured author’s work. So the publisher with brand-name authors wins on both fronts: predictable frontlist hits that can be turned into staple backlist titles.

  • Mark 5:55 pm on December 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , existential sociology, ,   

    Carrying the weight of the world 

    I love this expression from Peter Sloterdijk’s Selected Exaggerations loc 944:

    Carrying the weight of the world is an art that can be practised in many different ways. I think it is right to say that it is fundamentally the same art. It consists of answers to the burdensome nature of life …

    This is what I see as the core of an existential sociology: the predicament of life, the diversity of responses to it and the contexts which condition that unfolding. As he goes on to write on loc 951:

    An idiot has different strategies for mastering life than the cleverest person in the same culture. I’m convinced we should look for the great gap that yawns between people on the level of individual strategies.

    Do we have a sociology of these individual strategies? A key part of my book on distraction is an analysis of the novel strategies that are now emerging within the horizons of digital capitalism e.g. lifestyle minimalism, the 4 hour work week and self-quantification.

  • Mark 8:53 am on December 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,   

    Metrics and the death of imagination 

    In John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture, there’s an interesting remark about the structural position of first time authors which I think has wider purchase. From pg 200:

    Ironically, in a world preoccupied by numbers, the author with no track is in some ways in a strong position, considerably stronger than the author who has published one or two books with modest success and muted acclaim, simply because there are no hard data to constrain the imagination, no disappointing sales figures to dampen hopes and temper expectations. The absence of sales figures sets the imagination free. The first-time author is the true tabula rasa of trade publishing, because his or her creation is the book for which it is still possible to imagine anything and everything.

    A world where metrics are ubiquitous is a world where imagination has died. When everyone has a track record, the space to imagine someone’s future as radically different from their past collapses.

    • lenandlar 7:29 pm on December 27, 2016 Permalink

      Makes me think about those papers I have on Google scholar that are not doing well at all. You do tend to question them more than they deserve I suppose. Insightful book

    • Mark 10:04 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      or how it comes to be that we think of creative outputs as ‘doing well’ or ‘doing badly’….

    • lenandlar 12:38 pm on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      That’s an interesting point. When I check the download and read count (not citation) they are not too bad. A question I ask often is how do value papers that are just read by students , professors or just about anyone. Maybe they’ll take something useful from some of them but doesn’t count (literally).

  • Mark 10:42 am on December 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , ,   

    The challenge of writing in the accelerated academy 

    In the nine years since I first entered a Sociology department, I’ve had a deep interest in academic writing that has only increased with time. In my past life as a philosophy student, writing had never occurred to me as a topic of intellectual interest. Despite having once aspired to be a writer before concluding that I wasn’t good enough at writing political polemics to stand much chance of joining that small class of people who write them for a living. This self-critical concern with the quality (or otherwise) of my writing has perhaps been more of an animating force than I’ve tended to admit to myself. But the other driver was the inspiration I derived from ‘On Intellectual Craftsmanship’, the appendix to The Sociological Imagination, the first book I read as a Sociology postgraduate. As Mills puts it on pg 217-218:

    I know you will agree that you should present your work in as clear and simple language as your subject and your thought about it permit. But as you may have noticed, a turgid and polysyllabic prose does seem to prevail in the social sciences … Such lack of ready intelligibility, I believe, usually has little or nothing to do with the complexity of subject matter, and nothing at all with profundity of thought. It has to do almost entirely with certain confusions of the academic writer about his own status.

    I’m fascinated by what sociological writing can reveal because of where it sits at the intersection between sociologists, sociology, higher education and the wider world. In such writing we find an (often unintended) disclosure of sociologists, the discipline they have been socialised into, its status within the wider academy and their conditions of labour within it. All while purporting to be an examination of the world ‘out there’. In fact, it’s through concern for how we can produce knowledge of this world, as well as put it to work in changing that world, that it becomes imperative to address writing in a diagnostic mode. How does actually existing sociological writing impede knowledge production? Can we strive to ameliorate these pernicious effects? As Andrew Sayer has put it, the alienated writing of social scientists reflects their own alienation. In addressing one, we unavoidably encounter the other.

    One of the most striking things about contemporary scholarly writing is how obviously rushed some of it is. We can read this back from quantitative measures, looking at the increasing rate at which individuals publish, as well as the aggregate growth of publications as a whole. Though there are other factors at work (e.g. digital technology offering time savings in the writing and research process) the basic trend is clearly one of acceleration. We can recognise it qualitatively in a lack of innovation across publications and the well-recognised tendency towards ‘salami slicing’. But as Michael Billig points out in his Learn to Write Badly, we can also recognise it in the texts themselves. From pg 133:

    The trouble is that the specialists do not handle their big nouns with care, but they rush to use them, knocking over verbs in their haste and barging other parts of speech out of the way. In their rush, they fail to tie the big words firmly to the grounds of human actions, leave them flapping loosely, but flamboyantly, in the wind.

    Rushing does not create this tendency towards vague, grandiose and depersonalised language. As this interview with Howard Becker rather beautifully illustrates, we can find intellectual roots for these tendencies in the world views of prominent and influential theorists:

    “Bourdieu’ s big idea was the champs, field, and mine was monde, world—what’s the difference?” Becker asks rhetorically. “Bourdieu’s idea of field is kind of mystical. It’s a metaphor from physics. I always imagined it as a zero-sum game being played in a box. The box is full of little things that zing around. And he doesn’t speak about people. He just speaks about forces. There aren’t any people doing anything.” People in Bourdieu’s field are merely atom-like entities. (It was Bourdieu’s vision that helped inspire Michel Houellebecq’s nihilistic novel of the meaningless collisions of modern life, “The Elementary Particles.”) …

    As Becker has written elsewhere, enlarging the end-credits metaphor, “A ‘world’ as I understand it consists of real people who are trying to get things done, largely by getting other people to do things that will assist them in their project. . . . The resulting collective activity is something that perhaps no one wanted, but is the best everyone could get out of this situation and therefore what they all, in effect, agreed to.”

    But we can find the conditions within which these ways of writing and speaking propagate in the academy itself (as as a corollary, in the work of the great theorists themselves). One thing I’d like to explore much further with the Accelerated Academy project is how we can use tempo as a way to understand the organisational influences upon scholarly writing. Billig rather persuasively diagnoses how the intensification of academic labour, particularly in relation to securing a position when facing competition on all sides, incentivises self-promotional writing. This is how do things, it’s better than how they do things, join my club. But in reality, most of us are likely to join someone’s else club… taking shelter from the cold winds of an organisation undergoing rapid deprofessionalisation by huddling together around a camp fire of shared certainties (not to mention opportunities for networking, publication and engagement). I was struck by the contrast Billig draws between how a figure like Foucault innovated and the contemporary realities of scholarship. From pg 148:

    There is something very old-fashioned about Foucault’s lectures to the Collège de France. It is not just that he cites obscure writers from the early modern period and that he presents no ‘literature reviews’, in which he positions his own work in relation to the approaches of his contemporaries. His lectures were lectures: he did not seem eager to rush them into print to boost his tally of publications. Nor did he place key lectures –such as that on ‘governmentality’ –in influential sociological journals. Instead, he addressed his audience directly. And most importantly, he addressed them as individuals, who might be interested in his ideas, rather than as potential academic producers whom he wishes to recruit to a new mode of enquiry. In this regard, Foucault was not a Foucauldian, spreading the Foucauldian message and seeking to promote a Foucauldian subdiscipline.

    It reminded of David Graeber’s argument about the dead zones of the imagination in higher education. Has rampant scholasticism coupled with inane managerialism destroyed the conditions under which the objects of that scholastic zeal were able to thrive?

    The explosion of paperwork, in turn, is a direct result of the introduction of corporate management techniques, which are always justified as ways of increasing efficiency, by introducing competition at every level. What these management techniques invariably end up meaning in practice is that everyone winds up spending most of their time trying to sell each other things: grant proposals; book proposals; assessments of our students’ job and grant applications; assessments of our colleagues; prospectuses for new interdisciplinary majors, institutes, conference workshops, and universities themselves, which have now become brands to be marketed to prospective students or contributors. Marketing and PR thus come to engulf every aspect of university life.

    The result is a sea of documents about the fostering of “imagination” and “creativity,” set in an environment that might as well have been designed to strangle any actual manifestations of imagination and creativity in the cradle. I am not a scientist. I work in social theory. But I have seen the results in my own field of endeavour. No major new works of social theory have emerged in the United States in the last thirty years. We have, instead, been largely reduced to the equivalent of Medieval scholastics, scribbling endless annotations on French theory from the 1970s, despite the guilty awareness that if contemporary incarnations of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, or even Pierre Bourdieu were to appear in the U.S. academy, they would be unlikely to even make it through grad school, and if they somehow did make it, they would almost certainly be denied tenure.

    The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy pg 134

    In what I’ve discussed so far, there are a number of distinct (overlapping?) factors which these thinkers have diagnosed as harmful to academic writing:

    • Status insecurity of social scientists, particularly vis-a-vis natural scientists.
    • The time pressures of the accelerated academy and increasing tempos of expected publication.
    • Competition in the academic labour market and the imperative to achieve security through publication.
    • Managerialism and metricisation creating an organisational environment within which marketing and PR have engulfed even scholarship.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, what each of these factors have in common is the scholar. Note that when I write ‘the scholar’, I abstract from actually existing embodied persons. This carries the same cost that Billig notes of ‘the subject’:

    It sounds much grander, more official, and less personal. The definite article – the ‘the’ – adds cachet. By using ‘the subject’, the authors turn ‘people’ into another theoretical thing. (pg 158)

    I’m not trying to write about a category. I’m trying to write about the people who occupy that category. The living, breath, hoping, despairing, finite beings for whom ‘academic’ is one social role amongst others occupied in their lives. Furthermore, within the confines of that role, they might aspire to ‘scholar’ and feel constrained by the realities of the organisations within which they work. Writing offers an interesting route into ‘the scholar’. A way to diagnose what troubles them so. Another way of exploring the ‘deep somatic crisis’ that critics like Roger Burrows and Ros Gill have claimed afflicts the contemporary academy. But this is a much bigger project than one blog post can contain.

    • Janet Lord 11:01 am on December 23, 2016 Permalink

      Excellent blog, Mark, I enjoyed reading this!

      Happy happy Christmas! 🎄🎄


      Dr. Janet Lord

      Sent from my iPhone

    • Alex Rushforth 12:53 pm on December 23, 2016 Permalink

      I’m fascinated by the polarized takes on whether clarity is a virtue in academic writing. There are those from the write clearly brigade who are often vocal in their condemnation of social science writing. But surely there is a backlash to be had against these types of accounts- I’m reminded of a phrase ‘fast food academia’ used by Mirowski (2011) in which academic work now seemingly has to be broken up into easily consumable bite sizes of information, which are straight and to the point. Does the thirst for clarity itself say something about accelerated reading conditions in academia and endorse a particular kind of information logic? One of the conclusions I sometimes feel like reaching is that these kinds of calls for clarity are interesting to reflect on but ultimately a bit hollow – a thing I like about academic work is reading different kinds of writing, from clear and succinct to obscure and mysterious.

      Nonetheless it would be interesting to see advocates of clear versus ambiguous writing actually debate directly with one another – rather than present their sides as polemics which is usually the case.

    • Mark 10:01 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      thanks Janet, you too! (belatedly)

    • Mark 10:07 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      I vacillate back and forth, which I guess could charitably be interpreted as my seeing both sides of the argument yet finding them both a bit unsatisfying. One of the fascinating points about Billig’s book is his argument that everyday language is actually harder work than technical language. So the drive to obsfucation and waffle can be read as symptoms of acceleration just as easily as the demand for clarity: perhaps they’re mutually reinforcing? I wonder also if the inability to sustain pluralism could be driven by a collapse of shared standards. We’re more likely to be intolerant of other people’s preferences as our shared worlds become more and more insular.

    • Alex Rushforth 6:19 pm on December 30, 2016 Permalink

      “One of the fascinating points about Billig’s book is his argument that everyday language is actually harder work than technical language. So the drive to obsfucation and waffle can be read as symptoms of acceleration just as easily as the demand for clarity: perhaps they’re mutually reinforcing?”

      It’s an interesting counter, but we may be talking about slightly different things now: you seem to be talking about writing as equal to production – here it is pretty hard to say whether clarity is faster than ambiguity and if one is more ‘more accelerationist’ than the other. I agree it could be argued from both sides here.

      Does Billig pay attention to reading, or is consumption kept separate from production in his account?

      If we think about academic knowledge production as also including reading (assuming folks actually invest time reading the sources they cite!) then it strikes me the clear writing logic is more in tune with acceleration of academic labour type accounts. So as I think consumption of other works is part of the production process, then production will most likely take longer if the scholar engages with difficult, ambiguous texts and more complicated arguments (again it’s a general argument so there may be counter arguments I haven’t thought of!).

    • Dave Ashelman 6:15 pm on December 31, 2016 Permalink

      My belated apologies, and wishes for a happy New Year.

      This entry on writing actually sums up nicely, in a way I’ve had trouble articulating, my critique of my own discipline. Having done my Bachelors and Masters in the United States, and my Ph.D. in Canada, there is a distinct difference in the way Sociology is presented. My first exposure to Sociology was through C. Wright Mills. My foundations in Sociology in the U.S. were with the “titans” of Mills, DuBois, Goffman, Durkheim, et al. I never heard of Foucault until I entered my Ph.D. program in Canada.

      Once exposed to Foucault, I quickly realized that Foucault wasn’t as much of a problem in post-modernism as was the 50,000 different interpretations of Foucault. Canada spends a lot of time on French philosophers as foundations of sociology, and I believe that is problematic.

      Theoretically, I often wondered in the United States how new theory was supposed to be created when all new theory has to be rooted in old theory in order to be academically acceptable. By the time I left the United States, I came to the same conclusion: that there has been no major breakthroughs in theory for a very long time. Canada reinforced this idea when I saw the heavy reliance on 1970s French philosophy – almost at the exclusion of everything else – in its theoretical foundations. One professor described the difference to me as: “Sociology in the United States sees itself as a profession, where Sociology in Canada sees itself as a craft.” It’s an interesting distinction, though I’m not totally convinced (yet) that it’s that simple.

      During my Ph.D. exams, I included such names in my bibliography as Goffman, Mead, and DuBois. I was told to take them out of my bibliography, not because they were invalid, but because they were “too old.” Yet as Ritzer suggests, good theory “stands the test of time.” If theorists are “too old” but have stood the test of time, then that is problematic as well.

      My writing takes the tack of Mills, where I do not feel an innate need to use (what I call) “$50 verbiage.” Knowledge and understanding of social conditions should be accessible to everyone. The fact that not all knowledge is accessible to everyone in sociology may explain why political scientists, economists, and psychologists have way more books in the local bookstore than do sociologists. You point out that the WAY we write can change this, and this will be more salient in my future writing.

    • Mark 12:19 pm on January 8, 2017 Permalink

      Hi Alex, sorry totally forgot about this while I was away at the start of January. I really like what you’re saying though and think I agree: do you think there’s any way to operationalise this in a manner that could clarify the debate? I guess, upon reflection, I think ‘sometimes one, sometimes the other’ and I’m quite unsatisfied with that really.

    • Mark 12:21 pm on January 8, 2017 Permalink

      Wow, Canada sounds reminiscent of parts of the UK. Really interesting, thanks Dave.

  • Mark 9:11 pm on December 11, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    A collection of definitions of ‘Impact’ 

    A compilation from Colin Chandler on pg 7-8 of Achieving Impact in Research:

    • To have impact is to have a strong effect, to make a difference.
    • By impact we mean the ‘influence’ of research or its ‘effect on’ an individual, a community, the development of policy, or the creation of a new product or service. It relates to the effects of research on our economic, social and cultural lives (AHRC, 2010).
    • Impact is the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy (RCUK, 2011).
    • Impact … an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia (REF, 2011).
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