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  • Mark 7:37 pm on March 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    Miniconference on post-truth and digital media in Reading UK coming up 

    Call for Proposals

    BAAL Language and New Media Sig Annual Meeting


    Language, New Media and Alt.Realities

    April 21, 2017

    University of Reading

    Proposals are invited for 20 minute paper presentations as well as posters/web-based presentations addressing the theme of ‘language, new media and alt.realties’.

    Possible areas of interest include:

    ·       New media epistemologies and ontologies

    ·       New media discourse and political polarisation

    ·       Algorithmic pragmatics and political debate

    ·       Authoritarian and populist discourses online

    ·       ‘Trolling’ as a form of political discourse

    ·       Agnotology (the cultural construction of ignorance)

    ·       The crisis of ‘expertise’

    ·       ‘Fake news’ and ‘clickbait’

    ·       Hacking and disinformation

    ·       Infotainment and spectacle

    ·       Conspiracy theories and memes

    ·       Journalism in the age of social media

    Please send your proposals in the form of a 250-word abstract to Prof Rodney Jones, University of Reading r.h.jones@reading.ac.uk <mailto:r.h.jones@reading.ac.uk>.

    Deadline for Submitting Proposals: April 5, 2017

  • Mark 10:18 am on March 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    Social Imaginaries: The re-invention of social research 

    Social Imaginaries: The re-invention of social research
    Panel discussion and book launch of Digital Sociology by Noortje Marres


    Date and Time: 9 May, 5-7pm
    Location: Central Saint Martins, Granary Building, Granary Square, London N1C 4AA

    Hosted by:

    – Innovation Insights Hub, University of the Arts London
    – Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick
    – Warwick in London.
    With: Les Back (Goldsmiths), Lucy Kimbell (UAL), Hannah Knox (UCL), Noortje Marres (Warwick), Mike Savage (LSE), and Amanda Windle (UAL)


    The digital makes possible new ways of monitoring, analysing and intervening in social life. Critics have pointed at the new forms of surveillance and control that this makes possible, and to new types of data economies. But the creation of new forms of knowledge about social life is central to efforts to implement digital infrastructures: they enable the introduction of new kinds of actionable insight into society. At the same time, however, the liking-and-sharing economy has recently been exposed to serve power more than truth. In this context, how can we communicate the constructive potential of the insight that knowing is a social process? What can be the role of social research in digital societies? This is the issue that Digital Sociology (Marres, 2017) examines, and one that this event will explore by way of a panel discussion about the following proposition: in a digital age, “knowing society” becomes an inherently interdisciplinary undertaking, one that requires mutual engagement, and thrives on creative exchange, between computing, social sciences, and the arts.
    Places are limited, so please register at digitalsociologylaunch@gmail.com
  • Mark 2:03 pm on March 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    Why it’s fine to ‘broadcast’ on Twitter 

    Foremost amongst the guidance offered about Twitter is the claim that it is fundamentally a conversational platform. One shouldn’t simply ‘broadcast’. It’s for discussion and engagement. There’s an element of truth in this but it’s one which can be lost through repetition, as the status of received wisdom stops us from thinking critically about why everyone agreed with it in first place.

    Rather than seeing Twitter as conversational, we should perhaps see it as connective. Connectivity in this sense in something automated, it’s a technology for sorting people in a way that encourages interaction between them. Connectivity in this sense is, as Jose van Dijck puts it, “a quantifiable value, also known as the popularity principle: the more contacts you have and make, the more valuable you become, because more people think you are popular and hence want to connect with you.”

    Connectivity presupposes interaction. Unless people interact on platforms, connectivity is thwarted. In this limited sense, it is true to say that someone is not using Twitter correctly if they are not interacting. The value in the platform simply won’t be realised by them because they won’t make new contacts, they won’t increase the visibility of their action on it and they won’t accumulate ‘popularity’. But why does popularity matter? Unless there’s a clear answer to this question, one possibility for which is simply that “it doesn’t“, it’s likely the platform incentives are substituting for the reflexivity of the user.

    My concern is that invocations of Twitter as conversational help naturalise this architecture. They promulgate the idea that one is ‘doing it wrong’ unless they are tweeting hyperactively, precluding the possibility of each user coming to their own assessment about the utility or otherwise of the platform for them. This is important because there are some really profound limitations to Twitter as a platform, as Richard Seymour usefully recounts:

    Of course, it is established by now that the ambiguities of language are always exaggerated in the 140 character format. Polysemy catches people out all the time on Twitter, something we all have to be on guard about. But it does so all the more because quite a large number of people are only paying attention to the extent that it enables them to say something in turn, however inventively disingenuous, which will generate ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’. This is how the Twittering machine works, and people use it at their own peril. Nonetheless, unless we make some fairly authoritarian/paranoid assumptions, users also have to be responsible for their own readings.


    The ritual incantation that Twitter is for conversation functions as the faith which keeps the great Twittering machine in operation. Unless we’re willing to abandon it entirely, we need to have serious discussions about what Seymour calls ‘coping strategies’ to obviate its more undesirable characteristics from creating problems. Part of this involves recognising pseudo-catharsis and trying to distinguish ranting at someone from something which can provide the basis for a productive discussion, in spite of the profound channel constraints. Otherwise, I think we’ll ultimately be pushed towards something more akin to Seymour’s approach, which is pretty much as far as I think you can go before you’re effectively giving up on the platform.

    I don’t want to tell Jacobin what to do about all this but, in general, it seems to me that the only sensible policy with regard to Twitter is one of disciplined refusal to debate, argue, or even engage beyond at most light conversation or minor clarifications. It can be used for narrowcasting, advertising events, and sharing links, but if people lose their shit, they should simply be ruthlessly ignored, as difficult as that is. If mistakes are genuinely made, they should be deleted and briefly acknowledged. If longer responses are called for, they should be written later, and not published in the form of a Twitter thread, on a separate ‘timeline’. But the ‘mentions’ column should be ignored, and no one should be treated as if they’re entitled to a response. People should be told in the bio line that if they want a response on a substantive issue, they have to email — meaning, they have to put some effort and thought into what they say. This is not a long-term solution, but a coping strategy.


  • Mark 12:56 pm on March 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply

    The Sociological Review Annual Public Lecture 2017: Cities and the Political Imagination 

    The Sociological Review Annual Lecture 2017
    Friday 28th April, 2017
    Time: 5:45pm – 8:00pm, followed by wine reception

    Location: Manchester Museum, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL

    Cities and the Political Imagination
    Keynote Speaker: Professor Rivke Jaffe
    Responses by Professor Claire Alexander Dr. Emma Jackson

    How can we recognize the political in the city? How might social scientists engage with forms of politics outside of established sites of research such as those associated with representative democracy or collective mobilizations? This presentation suggests that new perspectives on urban politics might be enabled by revisiting the connections between sociology and cultural studies, and specifically by combining long-term urban ethnography and cultural analysis. Reading forms of creative expression in relation to power struggles in and over urban space can direct our attention towards negotiations of authority and political belonging that are often overlooked within the social sciences. I explore the possibilities of such an approach by focusing on the idea of the political imagination, and in particular on how everyday practices are informed by imaginations of urban rule and citizenship. Expressive culture generates both analytical and normative frames, guiding everyday understandings of how power works, where and in whose hands it is concentrated, and whether we see this as just or unjust. Such frames can legitimize or delegitimize specific distributions of resources and risks, and can normalize or denaturalize specific structures of decision-making. Through a discussion of popular music (hiphop, reggae and dancehall) and visual culture, I consider how these forms of the imagination allow new political subjectivities and actions to emerge and consolidate.

    Rivke Jaffe is Professor of Cities, Politics and Culture in the Department of Human Geography, Planning and International Development Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses primarily on intersections of the urban and the political, and includes an interest in topics such as organized crime, popular culture and environmental pollution, drawing on fieldwork in Jamaica, Curaçao and Suriname. She is currently leading a major research program on public-private security assemblages in Kingston, Jerusalem, Miami, Nairobi and Recife, studying transformations in governance and citizenship in relation to hybrid forms of security provision. Her publications include Concrete Jungles: Urban Pollution and the Politics of Difference in the Caribbean (Oxford, 2016) and Introducing Urban Anthropology (with Anouk de Koning, Routledge, 2016).

    This event is free, but registration is required. Click here to book now: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cities-and-the-political-imagination-the-sociological-review-annual-lecture-2017-with-rivke-jaffe-tickets-31372245230

    For general event and booking related queries, please contact: Jenny Thatcher (events@thesociologicalreview.com)

  • Mark 6:05 pm on March 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    The Ontology of Fake News 

    What we are seeing with the growth of ‘fake news’ is perhaps the weaponisation of epistemology. In other words, ‘fake news’ as a construct is becoming a discursive component of our repertoire of contention. Far from entering a post-truth era, we are seeing truth becoming a mobilising device in a new way, encouraging ‘us’ to defend ourselves from ‘them’ predicated on the absolute falsity of their worldview. It’s the playing out in an epistemic register of what Chantal Mouffe, drawing on Carl Schmitt, describes as a friend/enemy distinction. Rather than the political other being an adversary to be struggled against, nonetheless regarded as legitimate, they are cast as an enemy to be destroyed. Rush Limbaugh offered a pure expression of the epistemological logic of the friend/enemy distinction in this 2009 rant:

    What this fraud, what the uncovering of this hoax, exposes,” he said, “is the corruption that exists between government and academia and science and the media. Science has been corrupted. We know the media has been corrupted for a long time. Academia has been corrupted. None of what they do is real. It’s all lies!

    We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap.


    The origins of this can be understood agnotologically: neo-sophists, with corporate funding, seeking to manufacture doubt where none previously existed. What’s being described as post-truth emerges at the intersection between corporate agnotology, political polarisation and post-democracy. The possibility to weaponise epistemology emerges coterminously with the breakdown of social solidarity. Agnotology contributes to the erosion of shared certainties in cumulative ways. It creates the conditions for what David Roberts calls tribal epistemology:

    Over time, this leads to what you might call tribal epistemology: Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. “Good for our side” and “true” begin to blur into one.

    Now tribal epistemology has found its way to the White House.


    What I’m suggesting is that at this point we see epistemology move from being an elite weapon of war to part of the repertoire of contention. Once Trump begins to seriously struggle, how easy is it to imagine Whitehouse statements being dismissed as ‘fake news’ by the grassroots they used this notion to mobilise? How effectively could a nascent leader use this epistemic playbook against those who have brought it into the mainstream? As Roberts points out, this is a cultural tendency which has been present in American politics for quite some time:

    That is the classic, some might say naive, view. But there has always been a powerful strain in conservatism (think the John Birch Society) that resists seeing itself as a participant in the game at all. It sees the game itself, its rules and referees, as captured by the other side, operating for the other side’s benefit. Any claim of transpartisan authority is viewed with skepticism, as a kind of ruse or tool through which one tribe seeks to dominate another.

    That’s the view Limbaugh and others in right-wing media have consistently articulated. And it has found an increasingly receptive audience. Over time, the right’s base — unlike the left’s fractious and heterogeneous coalition of interest groups — has become increasingly homogeneous (mostly white, non-urban, and Christian) and like-minded (traditionalist, zero-sum values).


    The friend/enemy distinction is, for lack of a better term, viral. At least under current conditions. Once people begin to think in these terms, it’s hard to counter it. Not least of all because reluctantly accepting the ‘rules of the game’ inevitably comes to be coded as either giving up or buying in. The reason for this is in part epistemological because tribal epistemology destroys the possibility for syncretism: people can no longer see A and B as elements that can be combined, even if unstable and contested ways. Instead and become an absolute disjunction. One sees the social world in terms that allow for no choice other than to choose between positions. The playing out of this, in the digital capitalism of 2017, rather terrifies me.

    • Dave Ashelman 3:44 pm on March 28, 2017 Permalink

      Mark Carrigan reply

      The issue scares me as well – to my very core, but perhaps through a different means. The dynamic that you describe was a process, and not an event; and a very long, 40-year process at that. We (in the academy) have to shoulder a large proportion of the blame. This is the basis of my insistence that Sociology is in need of an identity crisis.

      For 40 years, post-modernism (mainly à-la Nietzsche and Foucault) have told us, and we have thus told the world, that reality is relative; that what is morally good doesn’t matter; that man has no essence of substance; that the only knowledge there is, is the knowledge of power; that truth is unknowable.

      In essence, the death of metaphysics at the hands of Nietzsche & Foucault told people that their lives didn’t matter. It literally took away the essence and substance of what it means to be human. We no longer needed to inquire, we only needed the axiom of the invisible “apparatus of power” which is all-hegemonic, and will alway prevail. We assumed that truth lay in truthlessness; that morality lay in anomie; that there were meaningless social structures and stratifications in creating chaos.

      I wasn’t just enough to consider this aspect of philosophy, but we had to put it into practice in the Social Sciences as a whole. We started telling people what their social, economic, and psychological condition were instead of inquiring. Suffering from exploited labour? Here’s a pill for anxiety. Jobless? Well, that’s the fault of [fill in the blank]. Reality is relative in post-modernism. Truth does’t exist as an object of inquiry anymore.

      And now we complain that the world has heeded our teachings. In addition, those “elites” that the populous is complaining about are us – us academics. While we sit scratching our heads on the ontology of relative truth, it turns out that reality really is real. People really do suffer and die en mass. It turns out that suddenly truth matters. It turns out there is such as a thing as knowledge beyond power. It turns out that the lived realities of everyday people in everyday life really does have essence and substance.

      This British philosopher seems to agree with me, though I don’t think he goes far enough.


      For 40 years we have largely supported the idea that there was no philosophy before Bentham. Aristotle may have come up for discussion during a graduate seminar on Marx, but no one is really required to dig that deep. I am moving into my 50s, and I may have been the last generation required to take well-grounded philosophy courses as a young undergraduate. Many of my younger Sociology Ph.D. cohorts have never read Kant, Locke, Aquinas, Descartes, or even know that Adam Smith wrote that “other book.” Today, people can hold a “Doctor of Philosophy” degree without ever having picked up a philosophy book.

      When I was working on my first undergraduate degree, all majors were required to take not only an Intro to Philosophy course, but also an entire year of Philosophy of Ethics, Philosophy of Logic, and something along the lines of a Philosophy of Religion (I took comparative religions).

      Yet we wonder why post-truth has become a culture; an essence and substance unto itself in a world that no longer believes in essence or substance because we told them that they don’t exist.

      My apologies for the long response, but the ontology is us (the academy). We are guilty. What scares me deeply, is wondering if we will ever have the humility to look in the mirror – before the masses with torches and pitchforks rushes the Ivory Tower.

    • Mark 10:23 am on March 30, 2017 Permalink

      I think the backlash will be organised rather than aggregative. Do most people really care that much? But a crisis in another institution, particularly one filled with liberal elitists, could be very useful.

  • Mark 9:39 am on March 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply

    Youth employment in the ‘gig’ economy, isolation and @youthloneliness 

    Isolation at the beginning of working lives 

    As part of the @YouthLoneliness project (Twitter/Tumblr), we are interested to find out more about young people’s working lives, their casual employment, their experience of self-employment and their involvement in the ‘gig economy.’

    The Co-op Movement (like the Trade Union movement) was a movement that brought people facing harsh conditions together in search of ways of improving lives. What networks of connection can we imagine that will do that today?

    We are offering 3 workshops on Wednesdays 1.00pm to 3pm (with a Tuesday evening option too) in May based at the People’s History Museum and will be looking at archive material in the museum to inspire print making, documentary work and photography and ideas for today.

    There is also the option for the same sessions to run on the preceding evenings at The Space, Great Ancoats Street, from 5.00-7.00pm.

    The workshops will run on the following dates: May 3rd; May 17th; May 24th They will have the following format:

    Workshop One: Starting a documentary process. Focussing on issues facing young people in employment and using the Museum archive to prompt ideas, this session will share learning about audio, photographic and video collection using a smartphone, all these things can be used to document youth employment over the following two weeks.

    Workshop Two: This session will draw together what has been collected and involve the production of a multi-media, mixed art form, collage or mosaic piece based on the research done in the previous 2 weeks.

    Workshop Three: A panel lead discussion and debate about isolation, loneliness and young people in the workplace.

    To book your place, register here. Priority booking will be given to people aged between 16 and 25 but the events are open to all.

  • Mark 9:33 pm on March 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    things I’ve been reading recently #33 

    • Lower Ed by Tressie McMillan Cottom
    • At The Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell
    • Insane Clown President by Matt Taibbi
    • The Academic Caesar by Steve Fuller
    • Griftopia by Matt Taibbi
  • Mark 7:48 pm on March 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    CfP: Queer Studies Conference 

    Looking Back, Looking Forward

    Friday 30th June 2017, University of Surrey, Guildford

    BSA Early Career Forum Regional Event

    Contemporary queer studies increasingly focus on broad areas of sociological concern. It is therefore common to find early career researchers working on issues relating to sexuality across the humanities and social sciences. This interdisciplinarity leads to exciting new areas of research. However, early career researchers can often find it difficult to connect with other researchers.

    This one-day workshop event will provide a forum for discussing the past, present and future of queer research, with an emphasis on the challenges and opportunities faced by early career researchers. This broad theme will allow for discussions to take in theoretical issues, methodological problems and structural challenges that face the early career researcher working in areas of queer and sexuality studies.

    We are delighted to announce our keynote speakers:

    Dr Zowie Davy, De Montfort University

    Dr Yiu-Tung Suen, Chinese University of Hong Kong

    Call for papers

    The event is limited to 20-30 people, and is structured as a participatory workshop with sessions designed to foster discussion and networking.

    Attendees at the event will have the opportunity to present research in a “lightning” session of a limited number of short, 5 minute presentations. This will allow you to briefly present your research with the emphasis on meeting and networking with other researchers. We also invite applications for poster presentations at the event.

    We want to focus on your research and interests. We therefore welcome the participation of all our fellow early career researchers in queer and sexualities research to this exciting event. We hope to bring together a wide range of perspectives in order to create a community of innovative research.

    We invite early-career and postgraduate researchers who would like to present at the event to submit titles and abstracts of 100-150 words, to queers@surrey.ac.uk by 28th April 2017.  Please specify talk and/or poster in your email application.

    Registration Costs:

    BSA Members £10
    Non Members £25

    There will be a limited number of free spaces for unwaged or unaffiliated individuals. Please contact queers@surrey.ac.uk for more details.

    Organising committee: Kirsty Lohman, Katherine Hubbard, Andrew King

  • Mark 6:18 pm on March 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    The Porous University – A critical exploration of openness, space and place in Higher Education 

    Call for participation Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th May 2017 University of the Highlands and Islands, Inverness Campus

    This two-day symposium arose out of a series of conversations and reflections on the nature of openness within Higher Education. It started with the observation that openness is increasingly seen as a technical question, whose solution lies in employing the low transaction costs associated with digital technologies with open licences to open up academic content to new groups of learners.

    Where critical voices have engaged this partial reading they have often rightly critiqued the degree to which this is truly open, for example, drawing on older traditions of open to question the freedoms free content allows for those already distanced from education.

    However, other questions also arise in a critical reading of open, and these include:

    • What does open mean beyond releasing content?
    • What is the role of open academics in dealing with problems ‘in the world’
    • How should staff and students become learners within community contexts, developing and negotiating the curriculum based on those contexts?
    • What would it mean for openness as a way to allow new voices into the academy, to acknowledge knowing and ways of knowing outside the academy, and where can and should our open spaces – both digital and physical – intersect?
    • If we are to advocate allowing learners’ experiences and organisations to inform the academy how open should academics be to the influence of private capital?

    These are the kinds of questions, amongst others, that we want to explore in this symposium.

    More Information: https://www.uhi.ac.uk/en/learning-and-teaching-academy/events/the-porous-university-2013-a-critical-exploration-of-openness-space-and-place-in-higher-education-may-2017

  • Mark 8:10 am on March 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    The Impact of Social Theory 

    The Sociological Review has just published a thought-provoking review of Doug Porpora’s Reconstructing Sociology: The Critical Realist Approach. It gives a lucid, though brief, overview of the book’s core arguments: seven myths which afflict American sociology and seven philosophical counter-points. But what caught my attention was the account of how theoretical work can increase the discipline’s capacity for impact:

    Porpora shows how critical realism adjudicates across the plethora of sociological paradigms to create new consistency, which can strengthen the validity and usefulness of our discipline. Imagine governments redefining obesity or poor mental health from medical problems into social problems, to be tackled by wide-ranging interdisciplinary research coordinated through a coherent framework of sociology and covering, for example, the related economics and politics, industries and services, healthcare and urban planning, with studies of the complex everyday life of the groups and individuals concerned.


    The point is overstated but it’s nonetheless important: the internal dissensus of sociology militates against policy impact. The meta-theoretical (dis)orderliness of disciplines underpins the inarguable reality that “economists and psychologists are introduced as self-evidently respected scientists, whereas sociologists, if they are included at all, seem more likely to evoke scepticism than respect”. Rather than theoretical work being a distraction from aspiring to this status, it is in actual fact a condition for it:

    One defence of our discipline’s diversity is that its adaptable rich variety can embrace numerous theories, methods and topics. However, variety does not preclude coherence, and coherence does not demand narrow uniformity – like the neoclassical mantras that now monopolise economics. Medicine is a hugely varied discipline yet, fortunately for society’s healthcare, it is unified by powerful common values and theories about causal realities. By contrast, and unfortunately for society’s wellbeing, sociology is split not only by disagreements but, more seriously, by basic contradictions: positivism accepts pristine independent social facts and aims to discover general laws, whereas interpretivism sees only local contingent variety; statistics and experiments are set against ethnography; sociology is variously taken to be value-free, relativist or a moral endeavour.


    Bringing meta-theoretical order to sociology doesn’t entail imposition of a unified paradigm on the discipline. It simply necessitates that we “position its many valuable insights and methods in relation to one another, showing how they connect and interact within larger relations, to be more like a coherent jigsaw puzzle in progress, rather than a heap of pieces”. Can we find unifying principles, providing standards by which we might draw out connections between otherwise isolated outputs of the discipline, which respect the intellectual diversity of the sociological enterprise? Can we begin to agree on standards about what constitutes ‘better’ and ‘worse’ sociology?

    The problem is that disciplines most in need of such standards, in order to provide a centripetal mechanism, prove least able to establish them. Calling for such standards doesn’t entail a final resolution of theoretical questions, as if we all have to agree on the same answers in order to move forward as a collective project. But it does entail clarity about why we are asking the questions to which we are offering different answers.


    • Martha Bell 8:26 am on March 20, 2017 Permalink

      I am so glad you wrote about critical realism, because I was just thinking the other day how we have to keep reminding ourselves to work with the sociological empirical and that bridges concerns about public engagement but also about demystifying sociology because one is compelled to keep coming back to the experiences that are being shared with you.
      Similar to your phone call from the woman in the interested public who wanted to chat but not to be interviewed. Critical thinking is really just so important but can get lost in the peer pressure to think like a theorist.

    • Dave Ashelman 3:48 pm on March 20, 2017 Permalink

      This has been my “battle cry” in Sociology for a while now; but not just mine alone. John Myles (2003) “Where have all the Sociologists Gone?” Canadian Journal of Sociology Vol 28(4) writes a similar critique. This has been going on for a while. There are a few aspects of this that I addressed at my Department’s Colloquium on “Where Does Sociology Go From Here?” The fundamental question was: can we do more than just trade papers amongst ourselves?

      I identified five main areas that need the most immediate addressing in our discipline:

      1) When society is complaining about the “elites” they are talking about us. We need to ask ourselves why.

      2) We have to become humble. When a theory doesn’t explain the everyday lived experiences of a society, we have to change the theory to fit social conditions; not change social conditions (vis-a-vis data) to fit the theory.

      3) We have to stop dictating the social (and economic) conditions of people, and return to studying them (this relates to #2). Empirics matter. Noah Smith, an Economics Professor friend of mine, makes this same argument for his field (posted here: http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.ca/2017/03/anti-empiricism-is-not-humility.html?m=1)

      4) We need to have an existential identity crisis. What is Sociology? What has it become? What is our purpose of existence? As Aristotle asked: do we have substance AND essence? What do we want to be when we grow up?

      5) We need to de-colonize Sociology. Sociology has completely ignored non-European/Western thought. How many have read the African Sociological Review (I have!)? The result is that we have applied our westernized social theories in an overarching way that inaccurately includes non-western people.

      I am one of those who has my social conditions dictated to me on a daily basis by my colleagues – I was not socialized by traditional western/European society. And I am not alone. Of course, I’ve gotten some hate-email over these points. Back to that humility thing.

      Your post is good stuff! It let’s me know that others are having the same thoughts as we trudge the road to happy Peacemaking within our own discipline.

    • Mark 11:46 am on March 26, 2017 Permalink

      Some great stuff to follow up there, thanks Dave

  • Mark 8:04 pm on March 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Robert Mercer,   

    Defensive Elites 

    This New Yorker feature on Robert Mercer is a fascinating insight into what I’m come to think of as defensive elites: self-congratulatory yet paranoid billionaires who are prepared to use their wealth to stave off what they see as unwarranted social attack. The analysis offered by David Magerman, formerly a senior manager at Mercer’s hedge fund, seems particularly worrying:

    Magerman told the Wall Street Journal that Mercer’s political opinions “show contempt for the social safety net that he doesn’t need, but many Americans do.” He also said that Mercer wants the U.S. government to be “shrunk down to the size of a pinhead.” Several former colleagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Magerman told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.” Magerman added, “He thinks society is upside down—that government helps the weak people get strong, and makes the strong people weak by taking their money away, through taxes.” He said that this mind-set was typical of “instant billionaires” in finance, who “have no stake in society,” unlike the industrialists of the past, who “built real things.”

    Another former high-level Renaissance employee said, “Bob thinks the less government the better. He’s happy if people don’t trust the government. And if the President’s a bozo? He’s fine with that. He wants it to all fall down.”

  • Mark 3:10 pm on March 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    The Uberfication of the University: the Digital Studienbuch and the 21st Century Privatdozent 

    In my copy of The Vocation Lectures, edited by David Owen and Tracy B. Strong, the editors helpfully annotate Weber’s description of the occupational realities of the German academic. From pg 2:

    German students used to have a Studienbuch, a notebook in which they registered the coruses they were taking in their field. They then had to pay a fixed fee for each course. For staff on a full salary – that is, professors – these tuition fees were a welcome extra. For the unsalaried Privatdozent, these fees were the sole source of income. Science as a Vocation, pg 2. 

    Is this where the Uberfication of the University could lead? I find it easy to imagine a Digital Studienbuch, the killer app of educational disrupters, dispersed throughout the university system. Universities would still exist to manage the ‘student experience’, control the academics and provide infrastructure. Perhaps there would still be paid professors to replenish the knowledge system and train the Privatdozent. But the university wouldn’t be the platform, instead it would be a whole series of arenas (with declining influence as the system became embedded), facilitating extraction from a relationship between teacher and taught on the part of a distant technology company.

    Weber’s description of the academic career in Germany, “generally based on plutocratic premises”, seems eerily familiar from a contemporary vantage point:

    For it is extremely risky for a young scholar without private means to expose himself to the conditions of an academic career. He must be able to survive at least for a number of years without knowing whether he has any prospects of obtaining ta position that will enable him to support himself.  Science as a Vocation, pg 2. 

    • Martha Bell 5:42 pm on March 19, 2017 Permalink

      Yes, absolutely this is where the University is going. The 2-decades long campaign to become ‘research-led’ is clearly meant to compel academics to discipline each other. Human Resources departments exist to bureaucratise the process, not direct it in any way. There is no reason to engage with ‘the community,’ because such relationships do not facilitate powerful positioning within the academy.

    • Mark 11:47 am on March 26, 2017 Permalink

      And might even hurt it, perhaps

  • Mark 10:37 am on March 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , the literature,   

    Keeping the conversation going in an age of scholarly abundance 

    In the last few years, I’ve become increasingly preoccupied with the notion of ‘the literature’ and how it is invoked by scholars. I’m now rather sceptical of the way in which many people talk about ‘the literature’ and the role it plays in scholarship. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important to identify, engage with and record the existing work that has been done on a topic you’re working on. Rather I’m concerned that the invocation of its necessity serves a disciplinary function when scholarly literature proliferates at the speed which it now does, with an estimated 28,100 journals publishing 2.5 million articles a year. The problems which those who enthusiastically invoke the importance of ‘the literature’ are concerned with, such as perpetual reinvention of the wheel and a failure to recognise relevant work taking place in adjacent fields, have such obviously structural roots that to frame the solution in terms of personal practice seems to accord almost magical powers to the intellectual discipline of individual scholars.

    My concern is that invoking ‘the literature’ increasingly functions as a conversation-stopper: it’s a disciplinary action which serves to curtail, though rarely halt, a line of inquiry. If we are inclined, as Richard Rorty once put, “to keep the conversation going” then we need to “protest against attempts to close off conversation by proposals for universal commensuration through the hypostatisation of some privileged set of descriptions” (377). Or in other words, we need to reject the idea that there’s only one way to talk about the topic in question. This is what the invocation of ‘the literature’ does, usually implicitly though sometimes explicitly. It implies a unified body of work which must be the reference point for scholarship on a given topic, even if the intention is to break away from it. In many cases, there’s perhaps no such unity in the first place, with its apparent coherence being underwritten by the most influential figures within the field have talked about ‘the literature’ in a way which performatively brings it into being by justifying the implication that much (potentially relevant) material exists ‘outside’. Judgements of salience aren’t written into the fabric of the knowledge system, they’re suffused with epistemic relativism: made from a particular standpoint, by a person with their own interests, reliant upon their own conceptual apparatus. Instead, behind apparent coherence, we have a complex network of citation cartels, ‘unread and unloved’ publications and influential beneficiaries of Matthew effects.

    My point is not to dispute the value of reading and engaging with literature. I only want to situate invocations of ‘the literature’: made by people struggling with the problems of scholarly abundance, in relation to others similarly struggling with these problems. The idea of one definitive point of orientation becomes fetishistic when we all suffer from the vertigo of the accelerated academy. From Sustainable Knowledge by Robert Frodeman, loc 1257:

    I feel like I am drowning in knowledge, and the idea of further production is daunting. Libraries and bookstores produce a sense of anxiety: the number of books and journals to read is overwhelming, with tens of thousands more issuing from the presses each day. Moreover, there is no real criterion other than whim for selecting one book or article over another. To dive into one area rather than another becomes a willful act of blindness, when other areas are just as worthwhile and when every topic connects to others in any number of ways. The continual press of new knowledge becomes an invitation to forgetfulness, to lose the forest for the trees.

    Under these circumstances, our concern shouldn’t be to ensure everyone pays allegiance to ‘the literature’. We can assume this will continue to grow continuously while everyone feels compelled to write hyperactively, continually churning out publications with more hope that they are counted rather than that they are read. Instead, we should be asking how do we sustain the conversation under these circumstancesWhat kinds of conversations should we be havingWhat purposes do they serve? The well known problems of scholarly publishing mean traditional exchange in journals is becoming progressively less amenable to productive conversations, particularly across boundaries of field and discipline. How do we have conversations which serve, as Nicos Mouzelis puts it, to build bridges?

    To be specific, there is little satisfaction with the present status quo where the boundaries between economics, political science, sociology and anthropology have become solid blinkers preventing interdisciplinary studies of social phenomena. But such compartmentalization will not be transcended by the facile and mindless abolition of the existing division of labour between disciplines.

    [Instead we need] a painstaking process of theoretical labour that aims at building bridges between the various specializations. Such a strategy does not abolish social science boundaries: it simply aims at transforming them from impregnable bulwarks to transmission belts facilitating interdisciplinary research … what is badly needed today are more systematic efforts towards the creation of a theoretical discourse that would be able to translate the language of one discipline into that of another. Such an interdisciplinary language would not only facilitate communication among the social science disciplines, it would also make it possible to incorporate effectively into the social sciences insights achieved in philosophy, psychoanalysis or semiotics.

    Sociological Theory: What went Wrong?: Diagnosis and Remedies, By Nicos Mouzelis

    A large part of my enthusiasm for social media comes from the possibilities it offers for having these kinds of conversations. But trying to resolve the problems of the accelerated academy through an invocation of the need for disciplined practice is taking us in the wrong direction.

    There’s a powerful counter-argument that can be found here by Patrick Dunleavy, concerning the importance of citation. I want to think carefully about this but my instinct would be to add two additional columns: “how scholarly abundance complicates this role” and “how might this lead us to change practice“.


  • Mark 8:13 am on March 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , marketing and communications,   

    Marketing the Digital University 

    In the excellent Lower Ed, Tressie McMillan Cottom reflects on the market-orientation of for-profit colleges, tending to seek a continual growth in student numbers. This growth imperative can manifest itself in marketing and recruitment outstripping teaching in institutional spending. From pg 20:

    If budgets are moral documents, the fact that some financialized for-profit colleges reportedly spent 22.4 percent of all revenue on marketing, advertising, recruiting, and admissions staffing compared with 17.7 percent of all revenue, on instruction speaks to the morals of financialization

    Since the previous Labour government kicked off the radical changes in higher education in the UK, I’ve been interested in the transformation of university marketing. The reforms created a pressure to differentiate but to what extent did that incentivise the growth of marketing and communications at the (potential) expense of investment elsewhere? I hadn’t thought about this issue for a while but it occurs to me that the extreme end of the US for-profit sector represents an exemplar of where the market logic now taking hold in the UK could lead, in so far as that linking financial performance to student numbers increases the structural importance of marketing and communication functions. How this logic plays out in practice depends on many organisational and sectoral factors which I’d like to understand better than I currently do.

    How do we characterise the broader change in the sector? Cynics would see it as a distraction from the core functions of the university, with increasing resources being directed to marketing exercises with a possibly uncertain payoff in terms of recruitment. What concerns me is the competitive escalation that can arise in a (relatively) undifferentiated sector where actors compete for scarce attention: how can universities be heard above the din? One way is to accelerate the investment in marketing and communications, expanding into new arenas and further investing in staffing and systems. This is something which those staff are liable applaud, a message that might have particular force when their function is on the ascendency within the university and they can speak with authority gleamed from work outside the sector.

    But others would argue that any uncertainty could be overcome by instilling a “marketing culture” in which “return on investment of each activity is carefully weighed up”. This is how Communications Management, ‘the education specialists’ report on findings of a project they were involved on:

    Key findings

    • Over two-thirds (69%) of UK marketing directors have seen an increased investment in marketing over the past three years
    • Branding is often still not understood within the higher education sector
    • Modern students are ‘demanding customers’ looking for a response 24/7, meaning that a shift in marketing techniques is crucial
    • Social media must be handled in the right way to avoid “pushy communications” and encroaching on student space
    • Increase in senior strategic marketing appointments in Higher Education Institutions

    However survey respondents – a third of the UK’s HE marketing directors – also stated that though budgets still rarely approach those in the private sector, they consider short term funding to be less important than moving to such a “marketing culture,” in which return on investment of each activity is carefully weighed up.


    There are many things to explore here. What particularly interests me is the role of professionalisation (within the sector) and external agencies (from outside the sector) in shaping the new common-sense concerning marketing in the digital university.

    I just stumbled across an interesting report, Trends in Higher Education Marketing, Recruitment, and Technology, focusing on the United States context and would welcome any suggestions of reading that focuses more on the UK.

  • Mark 11:54 am on March 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The Cesspool of YouTube 

    Via Philip Moriarty:

  • Mark 10:34 am on March 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , comportment, , , , , , ,   

    On Irritation, Or, How Social Networks Tend To Make Us Slightly More Assholic 

    In the last couple of months, I’ve found myself reflecting on irritation. What is it? It’s one of our most recognisable reactions to the world, yet it’s hard to be precise about what it is. Is it an emotion? Is it a state of mind? Is it a reaction to the world? This is the definition which Wikipedia offers:

    Annoyance is an unpleasant mental state that is characterized by such effects as irritation and distraction from one’s conscious thinking. It can lead to emotions such as frustration and anger. The property of being easily annoyed is called irritability.

    There’s a whole model of the person implicit within this which I’m sceptical of. The idea that mental states manifests themselves in effects with implications for cognition, generated by propensities and generating emotions. It’s an individualised account, even if a multifaceted one, concerning something that’s deeply relational.

    The most straight forward definition of irritation would be ‘something which irritates’. In one sense it’s circular, telling us nothing about what irritation is, but it captures the relationality of the reaction. We are irritated by something. We find something irritating. It involves an evaluative relation to the world, but one which, as it were, goes wrong. Far from the smoothly hermeneutic world of the post-Aristotelian philosophers, we have the Goffmanian reality of living together (in a world which frustrates our purposes).

    So if irritation is being irritated by something, what is it to be irritated? To be “angered, provoked, or annoyed” or “inflamed or made raw, as a part of the body”. The second definition concerns the resolutely physical but I think it captures something important. We are irritated when we are inflamed by the world, made raw by its recalcitrance. People or circumstances irritates us when they impede our routine movement through the world. Things are not as we expect. We’re forced to calibrate ourselves in relation to the world, pushed back into ourselves confronted with a world that resists us, rather than easily making or way through it. 

    We get irritated by others when they do not act as we expect them to. We get irritated by others when they do not act as we think they ought to. In this sense, I would argue that irritation tracks declining social integration: the less agreement there is about how we ought to comport ourselves, the more likely we are to experience irritation in daily life.

    What interests me is how we respond to this. If we simply make internal allowances for the fact that others may have different expectations and aspirations to ourselves, it’s easy for the irritation to dissipate. A trivial example: I find it irritating when people talk loudly in the steam room at my gym. But I also recognise that some people go there to socialise, whereas for me it’s a resolutely individual activity. Reminding myself of that fact usually leads the irritation to subside.

    On the other hand, if I seek external confirmation for my reaction, it’s unlikely to subside. This is where social media comes in: the imagined interlocutor (what Danny Miller calls the ‘meta best friend’) can serve as a outlet, without the possibility for censure that arises when you share with a concrete individual who’s liable to tell you to stop obsessing and let other people be. It’s even more effective when an agent of this imagined interlocutor, someone who emerges from the background to respond definitively before fading back into it and propping up an imagined consensus, confirms that they too find this behaviour irritating.

    Sharing irritation through social networks can facilitate an extreme form of what critical realists call communicative reflexivity. We find confirmation of our immediate reactions in others, rather than further interrogating our reaction internally, leading to a hardening of our reaction and a disposition to act similarly in future. I don’t think digital technology straight forwardly causes a decline in social integration but I do think social networks can amplify personal reactions which entrench the decline by, as it were, depleting the reserves of tolerance we have for others who think about and approach life in a different way to us. This is connected to the paradox of incivility and it’s something I’d like to come back to in greater depth.

  • Mark 7:34 pm on March 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , relational distraction   

    What is compound distraction? 

    I’m not a fan of The End of Absence by Michael Harris but I love this term. From pg 216:

    The experience of one person’s distraction compounding another’s. Julie kept texting while I was talking about my cat, so I started texting, too. Existing in two varietals: “limited compound distraction” refers to a moment of positive feedback (Bailey kept texting while I was telling him about the exam, so I started tweeting about it instead), whereas “assumed compound distraction” refers to a predetermined atmopshere of distraction wherein sustained, meaningful interaction feels awkward and unwelcome (Harry and Bryce mumbled to each other about Iran while scrolling through the news on their respective phones).

    The concept of overspire isn’t bad either: “the experience of too much inspiration, resulting in no further gains in creativity. Over the weekend I watched a dozen TED Talks in a row and got this vaguely overspired feeling.”

  • Mark 7:10 pm on March 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    The Social Challenge of Platform Proliferation 

  • Mark 6:32 pm on March 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Cities and the Political Imagination 

    The Sociological Review Annual Lecture 2017

    How can we recognize the political in the city? How might social scientists engage with forms of politics outside of established sites of research such as those associated with representative democracy or collective mobilizations?

    This presentation suggests that new perspectives on urban politics might be enabled by revisiting the connections between sociology and cultural studies, and specifically by combining long-term urban ethnography and cultural analysis. Reading forms of creative expression in relation to power struggles in and over urban space can direct our attention towards negotiations of authority and political belonging that are often overlooked within the social sciences. I explore the possibilities of such an approach by focusing on the idea of the political imagination, and in particular on how everyday practices are informed by imaginations of urban rule and citizenship.

    Expressive culture generates both analytical and normative frames, guiding everyday understandings of how power works, where and in whose hands it is concentrated, and whether we see this as just or unjust. Such frames can legitimize or delegitimize specific distributions of resources and risks, and can normalize or denaturalize specific structures of decision-making.

    Through a discussion of popular music (hiphop, reggae and dancehall) and visual culture, I consider how these forms of the imagination allow new political subjectivities and actions to emerge and consolidate.

    Time: 5:45pm – 9:00pm, Friday 28th April, 2017

    Location: Manchester Museum, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL

    Click here to book now

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