Updates from September, 2017 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 11:26 am on September 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    Alastair Campbell vs Tony Blair 

    The section at 18 mins about Iraq-related dreams is fascinating. They both seem rather haunted, in radically different ways:

  • Mark 3:34 pm on September 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , acceleration of theory, , , intellectual faddishness, , ,   

    The acceleration of social theory 

    There’s a section in this 1997 chapter by Roger Burrows which my thoughts have been intermittently turning to since reading it last week. On pg 235 he writes:

    It is not just technology which appears to be accelerating towards meltdown, so are our cultural and sociological understandings of the world. The speed at which new theoretical discourses emerge, are disseminated and then become passé is now absurd. It is almost as if the second that one begins to engage with some new conceptual development it becomes unfashionable. The recent literature on things ‘cyber’ is a case in point. Reading it makes the latest pile of books on the postmodern, globalisation, reflexive modernisation (last year’s model?) and the like appear mellow and quaint. Never mind who now reads Marx? or even Foucault? Who now reads Baudrillard?

    This process of sociological passéification is, of course, not unconnected with ‘fin-demillennium’ pessimism and our general loss of visions of utopian transcendence and hope in a better future. Our inability to adequately account for our changing world in sociological terms has led, not just to an ontological insecurity but to ever more frantic attempts to provide some sort of sociological frame for a constantly moving target. In the recent conceptual scramble some analysts have begun to turn to sources of inspiration beyond traditional social scientific and political discourses in order to try and make some sort of sense of our contemporary condition. In particular the fictional world of cyberpunk has been seized on by some as a resource of analytic insights into the new dimensions of human, or even post-human existence, which are supposedly now upon us.

    It suggests that intellectual faddishness is something explained by the character of reality itself, as a “constantly moving target” provokes “ever more frantic attempts” to “provide some sort of sociological frame”. It struck me when reading this how clearly the themes of the coming crisis of empirical sociology are prefigured here: is a descriptive turn something which facilitates an escape from this acceleration of theory? I’ve always  found this unsatisfying, aspiring instead to a social theory able to handle the pace of social change.

    However the normalisation of intellectual change taking place at this pace makes this increasingly difficult, establishing career strategies predicated on capturing the intellectual attention space through the production of novelty. Though such novelty always rests on a relative judgement, inevitably compared to what immediately preceded it rather than the full stock of theoretical propositions which are in principle available.

  • Mark 4:14 pm on September 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , blairism, , , , ,   

    The new new left meets the old new left 

    This is a fascinating exchange between Owen Jones and Alastair Campbell, bringing to life many of the themes I’ve been preoccupied with in the last few months.

    I agree with Owen’s claim that Campbell’s world view is in crisis. The promise of the modernisers rested on a basic electoral proposition: triangulation was necessary to win power because elections are won from the centre-ground. His reflections reminded me of some of the discussion by Hilary Clinton in her post-election book.

  • Mark 11:38 am on September 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , neal lawson, networked politics, , , , ,   

    Why the left needs to reject the ideology of networked socialism 

    In today’s Guardian, Neal Lawson offers a cautious reading of Corbyn’s Labour, accepting the ascendancy of the left within the party but urging it to look outwards. I’m sympathetic to many of the substantive points Lawson makes in the article but there’s a rich vein of problematic assumption running through their articulation which needs to be challenged. I’m pretty sure that in Lawson’s case, the peculiar style of fin de siècle social theorising once dominant within British sociology, about which I wrote a PhD thesis, played a crucial in consolidating this outlook.

    However, the problem extends beyond those who have taken Giddens, Beck and Bauman’s diagnosis of late modernity a little too seriously. In fact, I’d suggest the popularity of the aforementioned authors was in part due to their reflecting an emerging common sense, rather than being the originators of these influential ideas and motifs. In recent years, we’ve seen this transmute into what I increasingly think of as the ideology of platform capitalism: disruption has become the last refuge of the third way

    I recognise that Lawson is as far on the left of this movement as it is possible to be, though he so uncritically reproduces some of its core axioms that it would be a mistake to identify his core ideological home as anywhere else. The combination of business and activism, profit and principle, found in his own biography is a striking expression of the ethos of New Labour. There are two core assumptions underlying his article which need to be pulled out, analysed in their own right and dispensed with:

    1. Social democracy “lost its power” because “a lack of responsiveness and heavy doses of paternalism made state socialism unpopular” while “the idea of free markets chimed with a more individualistic age”. It is a purely cultural reading of an epochal shift, with one idea ‘losing its power’ while another becomes dominant because it ‘chimes’ with the spirit of an (assumed) new age. The historical variability of how centre-left parties have struggled in recent decades, something which can’t meaningfully be considered in abstraction from the ‘modernising’ strands dominant within so many of them, finds itself reduced by Lawson to the (empirical) decline of a particular phase in the existence of a single welfare state. Explanation of this trend is replaced by a woolly historical narrative, in which one set of ideas loses to another because of a vaguely specified epochal shift. It’s pure Giddens: the collective gives way to the individual, the traditional to the modern, the secure to the flexible. It’s neither explanatory nor descriptive in any straightforward sense.
    2. The spirit of the age is “networked and collaborative” and “21st-century socialism will be participatory”. After all, “things move fast and nowhere is this truer than in politics” where, warns Lawson, we see a “swarm” which “can and will keep shifting”. The conceptual structure of this is analogous to the ‘cult’ accusations made by the Labour right: a nascent movement is reduced into a behavioural compulsion gripping a mass, driven in this case by the affordances of digital media and the susceptibility of millennials to be swept along. It’s a refusal to engage with the reality of the events taking place, reducing them into an epochal schema in order to advance a prior set of axioms about how ‘progressive’ political ends ought to be pursued. It is already decided by the analyst that the actors at what Filip Vostal terms ‘mega-forces’ (globalisation, technology, acceleration, digital media) so the empirical actors are reduced to manifestations of these forces.

    This is only a brief attempt in response to an article I largely agreed with on a practical level. But the hunch I’m increasingly driven by is that ‘networked socialism’ is a re-articulation of ‘social markets’: it’s an ideological vehicle which, though sometimes correct on substantive issues, imports the conceptual structure of the ‘third way’ into debates about the future of the left.

  • Mark 4:38 pm on September 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , drones, states of exception, , , war zones   

    Ubiquitous drone surveillance  

    I’ve been reflecting on a dark but plausible prediction by Edwards Snowden in his forward to The Assination Complex by Jeremy Scahill and the team from the intercept. On loc 195 he argues that the technological barriers to ubiquitous drone surveillance are now minimal:

    Inevitably that conceptual subversion finds its way home, along with the technology that enables officials to promote comfortable illusions about surgical killing and nonintrusive surveillance. Take, for instance, the Holy Grail of drone persistence, a capability that the United States has been pursuing forever. The goal is to deploy solar-powered drones that can loiter in the air for weeks without coming down. Once you can do that, and you put any typical signals-collection device on the bottom of it to monitor, unblinkingly, the emanations of, for example, the different network addresses of every laptop, smartphone, and iPod, you know not just where a particular device is in what city, but you know what apartment each device lives in, where it goes at any particular time, and by what route. Once you know the devices, you know their owners. When you start doing this over several cities, you’re tracking the movements not just of individuals but of whole populations. By preying on the modern necessity to stay connected, governments can reduce our dignity to something like that of tagged animals, the primary difference being that we paid for the tags and they’re in our pockets. It sounds like fantasist paranoia, but on the technical level it’s so trivial to implement that I cannot imagine a future in which it won’t be attempted. It will be limited to the war zones at first, in accordance with our customs, but surveillance technology has a tendency to follow us home.

    The basic claim here is one we should take seriously: if technically feasible means of surveillance aren’t challenged, we face an inevitable slide towards their introduction. What currently exists within states of exception (a category that can range from war zones to mega-events) risks expanding into the everyday. How the introduction of techniques to areas outside normality is responded to will prove crucial for determining the contours of the new normal.

  • Mark 8:26 am on September 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    CFP – Intersectionalities and Media Archaeologies 

    communication +1 is seeking proposals for Volume 7, “Intersectionalities
    and Media Archaeologies”

    Edited by Zachary McDowell and Nathanael Bassett

    The emerging field of media archaeology has opened up new avenues of
    research across fields and provided a way to challenge accepted historical
    layers of social and technical arrangements. Drawing from a variety of
    entangled theories and methodologies, bringing in German media theory, new
    materialism, digital humanities, software studies, cultural studies,
    Foucauldian frameworks, and others, media archaeology interrogates dead
    media, alternative technological schema, the composition of
    infrastructures, everyday objects, and other phenomena, providing new
    insights and recontextualization for scholars from an array of backgrounds.
    However, despite the interconnected promise of Media Archaeology, the
    practices and theories remain limited in their engagement with much of
    critical cultural communication and media studies.

    In the introduction to “What is Media Archaeology,” Jussi Parikka notes
    that “we need to be prepared to refresh media archaeology itself.” This
    collection seeks essays by critical scholars of communication participating
    in this ongoing emergence of media archaeology as method or theorization to
    study mediums, objects, conjunctures, and other areas of interest to the
    study of communication.

    This collection is meant to highlight and connect ways to theorize and
    “refresh” the concepts related to media archaeology in connection with the
    study of communication. We encourage intersectional engagements with and
    applications of media archaeological practices as they function
    theoretically, methodologically, spatially, institutionally, and in
    relation to the study of communication.

    With this collection we hope to help provide communication researchers a
    space in which to explore the promise of media archaeology as a critical
    set of lenses in the study of communication.

    Please submit short proposals of no more than 500 words by December 3rd,
    2017 to communicationplusone@gmail.com.

    Upon invitation, full text submissions will be due April 1st, 2017, with
    expected publication in September, 2018.

    About the Journal
    The aim of communication +1 is to promote new approaches to and open new
    horizons in the study of communication from an interdisciplinary
    perspective. We are particularly committed to promoting research that seeks
    to constitute new areas of inquiry and to explore new frontiers of
    theoretical activities linking the study of communication to both
    established and emerging research programs in the humanities, social
    sciences, and arts. Other than the commitment to rigorous scholarship,
    communication +1 sets no specific agenda. Its primary objective is to
    create is a space for thoughtful experiments and for communicating these

    Briankle G. Chang, University of Massachusetts Amherst
    Zachary J. McDowell, University of Illinois at Chicago

    Advisory Board
    Kuan-Hsing Chen, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan
    Sean Johnson Andrews, Columbia College Chicago
    Nathalie Casemajor, University of Québec Outaouais
    Bernard Geoghegan, Coventry University, United Kingdom
    Lawrence Grossberg, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
    David Gunkel, Northern Illinois University
    Peter Krapp, University of California Irvine
    Catherine Malabou, Kingston University, United Kingdom
    Jussi Parikka, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
    John Durham Peters, University of Iowa
    Gil Rodman, University of Minnesota
    Florian Sprenger, Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany
    Johnathan Sterne, McGill University
    Ted Striphas, University of Colorado, Boulder
    Greg Wise, Arizona State University

  • Mark 7:42 pm on September 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , exteri, , , , , , , ,   

    Social media and the devaluation of introspection 

    Does social media lead to a devaluation of introspection? This is what Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp claim on loc 4098 of their The Mediated Construction of Reality:

    The selfie stamps the marker of ‘the self’ onto whatever things a person wants to record as a way of increasing its value. But why should that have become so important recently? There are no doubt many overlapping factors at work here including the changing affordances of smartphones, but one background factor, we want to suggest, is the increasing devaluation of introspection: that is, reflecting, comparing, building the basis of a memory through organized thought that remains ‘internal’ (still unshared). Introspection, in the habit of taking selfies, gets overridden by the ‘higher’ value of generating an exchangeable trace of one’s ‘experience’ whose form is tailored exactly to the data-based needs of social media platforms.

    This is an example of why I think Margaret Archer’s work on reflexivity might prove extremely powerful in making sense of how social media is reconfiguring subjectivity. Couldry and Hepp assume here a zero-sum relation between interiority and exteriority, as if the disposition to share (cultivated through repeated exposure to the incentives of the platform) necessarily implies the diminution of introspection. There is certainly a tension between these internal and external moments: it is a matter of the time available to the agent and the duration of their subsequent mental activity if nothing else. However, there are many ways in which this tension could be negotiated, reflecting characteristics of the people concerned and the situation they find themselves in.

    This is what I think of as reflexive variance: the variety of ways in which individuals orientate themselves to their situations, linking self and circumstances through the generation of action trajectories. Recognising reflexive variance is something which sociology has never been good at because it is a phenomenon which sits uneasily at the intersection between the domains of psychology and sociology. It is a matter of introspection, social action and environment: the relation which obtains between them in a particular situation. It’s much easier to leave the introspective to the psychologists (who circumscribe its objects by admitting only a limited range of social referents) or to subordinate it to social action or to the environment through various theoretical devices. But the diversity with which people orientate themselves to what are empirically similar experiences will tend to get lost in this case.

    There are descriptive and explanatory problems which emerge from this. However, it also facilitates cultural critique of a rather irritating sort, with identifiable trends afflicting some within a group being assumed to hold true for all members of that group (or even all groups, if the critic in question is prone to overstatement). I’ve been thinking a lot in the last couple of months about the conceptual structure which is common to many of the most prominent critics of digital media for its postulated consequences for young people. It strikes me that it rests on a denial of reflexivity variance and repudiating these critics will involve recovering the range of ways in which people respond to social media.

  • Mark 8:41 pm on September 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , epochal, , , modernisation, , , , , , , ,   

    What Happened? The end of modernisation 

    In the last few days, I’ve been reading Hilary Clinton’s What Happened and reflecting on it as an expression of a political centrism which I suspect is coming to an end. These self-defined ‘modernisers’ sought to adapt their respective political parties to what they saw as a new reality, necessitating that they be ‘change-makers’ while responding to change. The claims of the modernisers usually play out in two registers: the psephological and the epochal. The former is straight-forward as a case to adapt to shifts in the electorate themselves and their distribution across constituencies. These changes might be driven by other parties, necessitating adaptation to a changing political landscape. From loc 3544:

    I came of age in an era when Republicans won election after election by peeling off formerly Democratic white working-class voters. Bill ran for President in 1992 determined to prove that Democrats could compete in blue-collar suburbs and rural small towns without giving up our values. By focusing on the economy, delivering results, and crafting compromises that defused hot-button issues such as crime and welfare, he became the first Democrat since World War II to win two full terms.

    However, the epochal claims modernisers make are more ambiguous. As an empirical exercise, it is obvious that there are connections between social change and electoral change e.g. how post-industrialisation leads to a recomposition of the working class. There nonetheless tends to be a discursive separation between the two, in terms of how modernisers account for their strategy and tactics, which invites explanation. For instance, Tony Blair was prone to speaking in terms of epochal change, framing the new labour project in terms of globalisation and technology changing the landscape within which politics takes place. The influence of Anthony Giddens was undoubtedly key here, but this is nonetheless something which was drawn upon after the psephological case for new labour was already formulated.

    This raises the question of the relationship between them: is the epochal language of modernisation merely a flowery idiom in which a basically psephological case is being made? I wonder if it serves a more subtle role, as switching between the two displaces the moment when political axioms confront empirical reality. If the psephological case is challenged, it’s possible to fall back on talk of modernity and globalisation. If the talk of modernity and globalisation is challenged, it’s possible to switch to a case framed in terms of electoral strategy. This ideology of moderation and empiricism postpones an encounter with its own empirical limitations, ensuring its adherents remain able to sustain their identity as pragmatists surrounded by fanatics.

    In other words: the world ‘out there’ becomes oddly charged for modernisers, invoked continuously but in ways that distance themselves from it. It is a traumatic real which they avoid at all costs. It blinds them to their own role in creating the conditions to which they claim to be responding. Declining trust in politicians, disengagement from the political process and the subordination of politics to the media are presented as epochal shifts to which parties must respond strategically, as if this relationality plays no part in driving these political transformations. At one point in the book Clinton reminds me of Adorno, opining that “Solutions are going to matter again in politics” as she places her pragmatism in a bottle floating forward into an uncertain future (loc 3264). What Happened? The end of modernisation.

  • Mark 5:37 pm on September 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Mechanisms of normative change  

    Why is it that some social norms are unexpectedly stable up to a tipping point, like homophobia in football, but change rapidly once they start to do so? And what stabilizes revenge norms even after effective legal orders have been established? Apparently, social and legal norms are not made for eternity. At any point in time, old norms erode and new norms emerge. Yet, normative change is often eruptive. And norms can be sticky, even if they almost completely lack societal support. The sociological rational choice literature on social norms has for a long time treated social norms as a static concept. The very idea of social norms as equilibria in a game-theoretical sense makes this conception the core of social norms. In contrast, this session aims at the understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of normative change.
    The session aims to address the following kind of questions: Why and how do social norms change? How are unpopular social norms maintained? Or, What are the effects of norm content conflict in a population? We are particularly interested in the close integration of theoretical reasoning and empirical research. We therefore welcome rigorous theoretical or simulation contributions, e.g., game theoretical approaches, or dynamic and evolutionary models. We also welcome contributions that apply laboratory experiments, field experiments, online experiments, as well as other empirical approaches such as big data.

    If you are interested in participating in this session, please do it here until the until 30 Sept 2017:

    https://isaconf.confex.com/isaconf/wc2018/webprogrampreliminary/Session8238.html <https://isaconf.confex.com/isaconf/wc2018/webprogrampreliminary/Session8238.html&gt;

    If you have questions, please contact Amalia Alvarez ( <mailto:alvarezbenjumea@coll.mpg.de>alvarezbenjumea@coll.mpg <mailto:alvarezbenjumea@coll.mpg>.de) or Fabian Winter (winter@coll.mpg.de <mailto:winter@coll.mpg.de>) For more information please visit: 

    http://www.isa-sociology.org/en/conferences/world-congress/toronto-2018/call-for-abstracts/ <http://www.isa-sociology.org/en/conferences/world-congress/toronto-2018/call-for-abstracts/&gt;

  • Mark 7:37 pm on September 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Call for Abstracts – Lives of Data v2.0: Computing, Money, Media Workshop 

    We are excited to announce the *‘Lives of Data v2.0: Computing, Money,
    Media’ Workshop, on 05-06 January 2018*.

    *Call for Abstracts*

    The first ‘Lives of Data’ Workshop
    <http://sarai.net/lives-of-data-workshop-january-5-7-2017/>, in January
    2017, initiated engaging, cross-disciplinary conversations
    <http://sarai.net/lives-of-data-workshop-report-recordings/> on the
    historical, cultural, political, and technological conditions of
    data-driven knowledge production and circulation in India and South Asia.
    The workshop brought together a diverse group of interdisciplinary
    researchers and practitioners with backgrounds in history of science,
    anthropology, media and technology studies, software engineering, data
    science, economics, and policy-making. The first workshop addressed a
    region and polity emboldened by a futuristic nostalgia for sovereignty via
    digitality and biometrics, and everyday ‘ends of history’ through
    technological disruptions.

    The Lives of Data v2.0 workshop aims to further examine the implications of
    the data revolution, and the historical and emergent computational cultures
    in India and South Asia. The workshop will build upon a mix of academic and
    practice-based research on history of statistics, media and computational
    cultures, politics and practices of data-driven governance, and big data
    infrastructures and imaginaries. In addition to the themes of the first
    workshop <http://sarai.net/call-for-abstracts-lives-of-data-workshop/>,
    this iteration will also focus on questions concerning digital money and
    machine intelligence.
    The Sarai Programme, CSDS invites submission of abstracts for the ‘Lives of
    Data v2.0: Computing, Money, Media’ Workshop. Besides academic researchers,
    we strongly encourage media, design, and software practitioners to apply
    for the workshop. Abstracts should *not exceed 300 words*, and should be
    sent to dak@sarai.net *by 15 October, 2017*, with the subject heading
    ‘Proposal for the Lives of Data Workshop.’ Authors of the selected
    abstracts will be notified by 30 October, 2017.

    The workshop will be held on *05-06 January, 2018 *at Sarai-CSDS, 29 Rajpur
    Road, Delhi. The Sarai Programme will cover three days of accommodation for
    outstation participants. In addition, participants from India will be
    eligible for travel support.

    For details, please check this link: http://sarai.net/call-for-abst
    Please share this widely

  • Mark 6:05 pm on September 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , buffering, , , , neoliberals, , , , ,   

    Hilary Clinton: The oddly fascinating confessions of a political centrist 

    Yesterday morning I bought a copy of Hilary Clinton’s new book What Happened and was surprised to find myself gripped by it. I’d expected a turgid and unlikeable text which I’d skim through in order to supplement my understanding of the last Presidential election with the authorised account of the losing candidate. To my surprise, I’m enjoying the book and finding Clinton far more likeable than I expected. In fact, I’d almost go as far as to say I’m fascinated by it, for reasons which have nothing to do with the election.

    It’s a disarmingly honest book which is doing multiple things, including protecting her reputation after last year’s debacle. However, I find it hard not to believe her claim that writing the book was cathartic. It charts the end of two defining features of her life over decades: buffering and triaging. The former is Jon Stewart’s term for what you “could see happening in the milliseconds between when Clinton was asked a question and when she answered; the moments when she played out the angles, envisioned the ways her words could be twisted, and came up with a response devoid of danger but suffused with caution”. As she points out on loc 1630-1651, criticism of her for this is manifestly gendered:

    People say I’m guarded, and they have a point. I think before I speak. I don’t just blurt out whatever comes to mind. It’s a combination of my natural inclination, plus my training as a lawyer, plus decades in the public eye where every word I say is scrutinized. But why is this a bad thing? Don’t we want our Senators and Secretaries of State—and especially our Presidents—to speak thoughtfully, to respect the impact of our words? President Obama is just as controlled as I am, maybe even more so. He speaks with a great deal of care; takes his time, weighs his words. This is generally and correctly taken as evidence of his intellectual heft and rigor. He’s a serious person talking about serious things. So am I. And yet, for me, it’s often experienced as a negative.

    What for her is seen as disingenuity or inauthenticity is in Obama coded as, at worst, aloofness. To spend one’s life “keeping a tight hold on what I say and how I react to things” sounds exhausting and the “relief” she writes of having always found with “friends with whom I can be vulnerable and unedited” might now become a more general feature of a life which is in the process of slowing down and opening up. She writes on loc 398 of the sudden experience of freedom which the electoral defeat had granted her:

    So when a friend said she was sending a box full of her favorite books . . . and another said he was coming up for the weekend even if it was just to take a walk together . . . and another said she was taking me to see a play whether I wanted to go or not . . . I didn’t protest or argue. For the first time in years, I didn’t have to consult a complicated schedule. I could just say “Yes!” without a second thought.

    I read this as the end of triaging. This was most intense during a campaign in which an endless sequence of events was coupled with back-to-back radio interviews while travelling. But it was a feature of her life more broadly, in which the constant support of an extensive staff extended her capacity to fill her life with commitments, appointments and obligations. I found it fascinating to read these, admittedly still carefully polished, descriptions of her experience of the time (and of time) after the election. It’s only much later in the book that you start to realise that even then she wasn’t alone, being surrounded by all manner of staff even during what she experiences as an unprecedented withdrawal from the world.

    If we read her book in this way, against the backdrop of her transformed life, it shines as a biographically framed account of a political creed. This book represents a form of life, in a manner we rarely see with senior politicians. It presents the worldview of a ‘moderniser’, one of the architects of a ‘centre-left’ now slipping into history, grounded in her own orientation to the world and understanding of her own life. This centrism was always ideological, albeit a strange ideology of moderation and empiricism (revealed as an ideology by its chronic failure to adapt to a world that has demonstrably changed on an empirical level). This book illustrates how centrism, as with all ideologies, organises everyday experience in a way that connects considered positions with situated affectivity. As can be seen in Clinton’s account of centrism as the emotional labour of politics. From loc 1831-1849:

    Dramatic spiritual conversions aside, emotional labor isn’t particularly thrilling as far as the political media or some of the electorate is concerned. I’ve been dinged for being too interested in the details of policy (boring!), too practical (not inspiring!), too willing to compromise (sellout!), too focused on smaller, achievable steps rather than sweeping changes that have little to no chance of ever coming true (establishment candidate!). But just as a household falls apart without emotional labor, so does politics grind to a halt if no one is actually listening to one another or reading the briefings or making plans that have a chance of working. I guess that might be considered boring. I don’t find it boring, but you might. But here’s the thing: someone has to do it. In my experience, a lot of the time, it’s women. A lot of the time, it’s dismissed as not that important. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    This might all be mistaken. The book might be a careful part of a rebranding exercise, seeking to rectify the Clinton brand in order that the dynasty might continue when Chelsea runs for office. But if we accept that politicians are people, we confront micro-social questions about their lives and biographies which I’ve always found fascinating (not least of all because the nature of politics leaves politicians disinclined to help us answer them). I’m finding this book oddly fascinating and I now feel much more affection for Hilary Clinton than I did a few days ago.

    Edited to add: I wrote this when half way through the book. The second half of the book is much less likeable and leaves me much less sympathetic to Clinton. It’s still a surprisingly interesting read though. 

  • Mark 7:08 pm on September 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , daniel bell, , , , ,   

    Daniel Bell, Transgression and the Alt-Right 

    The important argument I took from Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies is that the ‘alt-right’ reflect transgression detaching from progressivism. The idea that an act that goes against a law, rule, or code of conduct is inherently progressive ceases to be tenable when progressive movements have institutionalised laws, rules and codes that serve progressive ends. Under these circumstances, transgressing against ‘political correctness’ or ‘cultural marxism’ can easily cast itself as authentic rebellion against received wisdom, with all this entails for its capacity to recruit.

    There’s a passage in the forward to Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism which sheds light on how we got here. From xxvii:

    The paradox is that “heterodoxy” itself has become conformist in liberal circles, and exercises that conformity under the banner of an antinomian flag. It is a prescription, in its confusions, for the dissolution of a shared moral order.

    But that confused prescription was the progenitor of a new orthodoxy, something which Bell cautions is never “the guardian of an existent order, but is itself a judgement on the adequacy and moral character of beliefs”. The social victories of progressivism institutionalised a confusion about its character, perpetually valorising transgression even when the old orthodoxy it transgressed against had long since eroded. This is the aporia which the alt-right have (organically) exploited and perhaps why this strand of nascent right-populism has proved so baffling to orthodox liberals and leftists alike.

  • Mark 3:58 pm on September 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    CFP: Platform Urbanism 

    Association of American Geographers Conference 2018

    New Orleans, USA, 10-14 April 2018


    Susan Moore (University College London)

    Scott Rodgers (Birkbeck, University of London)


    Digital Geographies Specialty Group

    Media and Communication Geography Specialty Group

    Urban Geography Speciality Group


    Talk about ‘platforms’ is today all-pervasive: platform architecture, platform design, platform ecosystem, platform governance, platform markets, platform politics, platform thinking. But just what are platforms? And how might we understand their emergent urban geographies?

    As Tarleton Gillespie (2010) argues, the term ‘platform’ clearly does discursive work for commercial entities such as Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and Google. It allows them to be variably (and often ambiguously) described and imagined: as technical platforms; platforms for expression; or platforms of entrepreneurial opportunity. Indeed, as emergent spaces, platforms – both commercial and nonprofit – entail so many ambitions, activities, services, exchanges, forums, infrastructures, and ordinary practices that conceptualizing their general dynamics is difficult, perhaps even pointless.

    Yet platforms do appear to have considerable implications, geographical as well as political. For Benjamin Bratton (2015), cloud-based platforms such as Facebook, Amazon and Google form a fundamental layer of what he calls planetary-scale computation, perhaps representing new forms of geopolitical sovereignty. This ‘sovereignty’ is, however, neither generalized nor homogeneous: in manifests in geographically uneven intensities and extents.

    This session invites original research and conceptual reflections that explore, debate and critique the notion of an emergent ‘platform urbanism’. Recently, Nick Srnicek (2016) deployed the phrase ‘platform capitalism’ to encapsulate his argument that platforms not only mark a new kind of firm, but a new way of making economies. Here – in a move similar to Henri Lefevbre’s (1970/2003) in The urban revolution – we suggest a speculative substitution of ‘urbanism’ for ‘capitalism’, placing an emphasis on the possibility of irreducible, co-generative dynamics between platforms and the urban.

    Contributions may address a wide range of commercial and nonprofit platforms – including those related to social networking, user-generated content, location-based technologies, mapping and the geoweb, goods and services, marketing, and gaming – and their relationships with various forms of urban living and urban spaces.

    Expressions of Interest

    We intend to organize 1-2 paper sessions, depending on quantity and quality of submissions, followed by a panel discussion session.

    Expressions of interest must be emailed to both Susan Moore (susan.moore@ucl.ac.uk<mailto:susan.moore@ucl.ac.uk>) and Scott Rodgers (s.rodgers@bbk.ac.uk<mailto:s.rodgers@bbk.ac.uk>) by 1 October 2017. Those proposing a paper presentation should send an abstract of 250 words; those interested in participating as a panellist should include a short outline of their intended contribution in their email.


    Bratton, B. H. (2016). The stack: On software and sovereignty. MIT press.

    Gillespie, T. (2010). The politics of ‘platforms’. New Media & Society, 12(3), 347-364.

    Lefebvre, H. (1970/2003). The urban revolution (originally published as La révolution urbaine). University of Minnesota Press.

    Srnicek, N. (2016). Platform capitalism. John Wiley & Sons.

  • Mark 8:05 pm on September 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    An attempt to define my research interests 

    • The relationship between personal change and social change: in what senses can we speak of social change? What does it mean for who people are and who they could become? As C. Wright Mills once put it, how are people “selected and formed, liberated and repressed, made sensitive and blunted” and what does this mean for “what varieties are coming to prevail”? How do we exercise agency in confronting these changes? How do we cope with them as individuals and groups? How do we struggle to cope and what does this mean for social order?
    • The capacity of the social sciences to contribute to personal change and social changehow can the social sciences help us understand the contours of the social order in which we live? How can we use this knowledge, as individuals and groups, in order to cope more gainfully with social change and increase our capacities for human flourishing? How does the institutional organisation of the social sciences help and hinder these possibilities?
    • philosophy773 8:45 pm on September 13, 2017 Permalink

      So interesting to read! 🙂

    • Mark 5:57 pm on September 14, 2017 Permalink


  • Mark 3:35 pm on September 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Defensive Elites 

    In the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I term defensive elites. This line of thought began with curiosity about the much-reported hyperbole with which some influential figures within the financial elite of the United States greeted what would barely count as mildly redistributive measures by the then Obama regime. From The Deep State, by Mike Lofgren, pg 255-256:

    When Obama suggested eliminating the “carried interest” loophole so that hedge fund managers would have to pay the same federal tax rates on their income that ordinary Americans pay, Stephen Schwarzman, the Blackstone Group CEO, said, “It’s war. It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” 5 Pretty strong stuff, considering that Obama’s suggestion went nowhere, nor did he even push it very hard. Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tom Perkins continued with the Nazi trope, writing a letter to the Wall Street Journal to “call attention to the parallels to fascist Nazi Germany in its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’” 6 Oh, the humanity!

    When acknowledged leaders within the group feel the need to ‘defend wealth’, it’s hard not to wonder how they perceive the political situation. Is it simply that hyperbole by these people is much more likely to be reported in an era of social media and camera phones? Is this an earnest impulse to ‘make the case for business’ that happens to be tone-deaf about its audience? Or could these people really be as paranoid as some of their pronouncements make them sound? Can we see a latent anti-democratic impulse in the near hegemonic discourse of ‘wealth creators’, representing a resurgence of the view that “the people who own the country should rule it” as the First Supreme Court Justice, John Jay, put it?

    Given the structural trend towards the continued consolidation of wealth, it raises the question of how this paranoid streak will find expression in political interventions by these super-elites? As Paul Mason has pointedly asked, is it possible that inequality “could tilt power so far in the direction of a new hereditary elite that there is no return”? If so the political culture of those elites, particularly the affectivity in which it is grounded, must be something of great importance. These super-elites are pulling away even from the 0.1% in a manner which seems likely to generate idiosyncratic mechanisms shaping their beliefs, dispositions and world view. As Inequality.Org summarises:

    It used to be that simply being a billionaire would get you into the Forbes 400 list — that was true up until 2006. No more. Our current herd of fatcats has blown past their Gilded Age counterparts to seize an even more gigantic share of the economic pie. According to the magazine, in 2014 you had to have $1.55 billion in the bank vault to make the list. That was $250 million more than in 2013. By 2015, you had to have even more: Carol Jenkins Barnett, whose wealth derives from Publix supermarkets, was too poor to make Forbes with her paltry $1.69 billion.

    The hurdle continues to rise rapidly. By 2015, the wealthiest 20 people owned more wealth than half the American population. This group is where you’ll find Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Google, as well as the most successful financiers, like Warren Buffett and George Soros. But the ranks of the very top are no longer filled by mainly by entrepreneurs or even financiers who are self-made. Increasingly, they are populated by people who, thanks to several decades of regressive tax policy, have inherited their wealth; names like Walton and Koch have become common at the apex of wealth. This is the new hereditary aristocracy of means and power

    What might seem to be fringe phenomena like funding third-party lawsuits come to seem rather sinister when framed in these terms. What revenge practices are emerging? How do these groups seek to exert an influence? How do they understand the moral valence of their own actions to these ends? These are the questions which I think the concept of defensive elites can be helpful in starting to address.

  • Mark 1:16 pm on September 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    The rise of the ‘higher education professional’ 

    Does anyone know of literature addressing the rise of this professional identity? From WONKHE’s Wonk Fest conference advertising:

    Wonkfest is for UK higher education professionals: from the policy wonks and planners to comms, marketing and public affairs professionals plus everyone else with an interest in the future (and present) of UK HE. Joining them will be politicians, journalists, civil servants, business leaders and others from civil society with a stake in the future of our universities.

    • Martha Bell 4:49 am on September 17, 2017 Permalink

      Hi Mark,

      Sorry for the late reply but you might find some background to this sort of services work in Robert Reich’s (1992) The Work of Nations: Chapter 14. Most people refer to the new services economy of the 1970s onwards as the beginning of the in-person services low wage economy – which links to work by Braverman (1974). But he outlines how at the same time as in-person services there was a new tranche of employment in what he calls symbolic-analysts services – all these services providers are the wonks you were reading about in the wonkhe announcement. They cross classes because a person managing a sport event may be from a working class background but knows how to provide an elite level event for corporates wanting it because of experience as an athlete. So the wonks are part of the cutting away of those in middle class employment as being seen as aspiring toward professions. His work is based on labour survey analysis of the US labour market so it would be interesting to see what you can find out about the UK market and wonks in general.


    • Mark 2:52 pm on September 20, 2017 Permalink

      This looks really interesting, thanks!

  • Mark 8:13 am on September 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , digital hipster, digital monad, digital nomad, , , greedy roles, , , ruth muller, , , ,   

    The Digital Monad 

    From Counterculture to Cyberculture, by Fred Turner, presents the fascinating history through which avowed cultural radicals of the 1960s came to generate the present day dogmas of working culture under digital capitalism. In the last week, I’ve written about this in terms of the digital nomad and the digital hipster. These cultural forms are, as Turner puts it on loc 3846, “libertarian nostrums” which “can transform a series of personal losses-of time with family and neighbors, of connection to one’s body and one’s community-into a soothing narrative with which they can rationalize the limits of their own choices”.

    What in reality is “every bit as thorough an integration of the individual into the economic machine as the one threatened by the military-industrial-academic bureaucracy forty years earlier” (loc 3838) is rationalised as a mode of living freely, living passionately and living openly. One congratulates oneself for resisting integration into the cold, mechanical life-denying system while in reality being integrated into that system in a manner which is, arguably, more comprehensive.

    He makes a crucial point on loc 3838-3846 about this nomadic mode of integration. This integration is comprehensive in its scope, with ‘personal life’ constantly under threat from ‘working life’ in a way which was not the case with the careful balance of the bourgeois 9-5. Every facet of life risks being subsumed under one’s (passionate) work. But this is accentuated by the tendency of work to squeeze out what Archer and Donati call relational goods. The form of life of the digital nomad too often precludes the mundanity of everyday involvements which generate relational goods, bonds with others that produce sources of value independent of those of organisations and capital. There is not a necessary feature of freelance labour, as much as it a certain self-articulation and mode of accounting for this condition of labour: the (relative) temporal autonomy which many enjoy could facilitate a very different relationship to the social order. From loc 3838-3846:

    It may in fact result in every bit as thorough an integration of the individual into the economic machine chine as the one threatened by the military-industrial-academic bureaucracy forty years earlier. Furthermore, it may cut individual workers off from participating in local cal communities that might otherwise mitigate these effects. To stay employed, Ullman and workers like her must move from node to node within the network of sites where computers and software are manufactured and used, and in order to pick up leads for new work, they must stay in touch with one another. As a result, programmers and others often find themselves selves living in a social and physical landscape populated principally by people like themselves. To succeed within that landscape, they must often turn their attention away from another, parallel landscape: the landscape of local, material things, of town boards and PTA meetings, of embodied participation ticipation in civic life. They must declare and maintain an allegiance to their own professional network, to its sites and technologies. And they must carry with them a handful of rules that Ullman trumpets with more than a little sarcasm: `Just live by your wits and expect everyone else to do the same. Carry no dead wood. Live free or die. Yeah, surely, you can only rely on yourself.”

    The reality underlying the ideals of the digital nomad and the digital hipster is the digital monad. If we treat these ideals too seriously, working life under digital capitalism eats away at our independent sources of esteem and value, leaving us with no locus of fulfilment other than work. The more we invest ourselves in working life, the harder it becomes to imagine a life which is not centred around work.

  • Mark 7:33 am on September 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    CFP: Storing and Sharing Special Issue of New Media & Society 


    ‘Storing and sharing: Everyday relationships with digital material’
    Special Issue of New Media & Society

    Edited by Heather A. Horst (The University of Sydney, Australia), Jolynna Sinanan (RMIT University, Australia) and Larissa Hjorth (RMIT University, Australia)

    Abstract Submission Deadline: 15 November 2017
    Proposal Selection Notification: 10 December 2017
    Initial Article Submission Deadline: 01 March 2017
    Contact email: storingandsharing@gmail.com<mailto:storingandsharing@gmail.com>

    Technologies and technological infrastructures are often associated with social and economic change. Airplanes and the shipping containers (Levinson 2008) became mechanisms for the spread of globalisation, reshaping the production processes and the trade and consumption of goods from around the globe. Undersea cables and mobile phone towers are often associated with providing the infrastructure of the digital age, enabling the flow of information, communication, media, technology, commerce and other goods to move at a greater speed than experienced in previous eras.  These possibilities continue to expand with the introduction of solid state drives, Bluetooth capabilities, smartphones, ‘the cloud’ and social media platforms that have fundamentally altered the practices of storing, sharing and circulating digital materials.

    Yet, the increasing capabilities for sharing and storing also have consequences for the ways in which we engage with and/or manage our digital data on a day-to-day basis.  Research on digital materials in the home highlight how families and households now grapple with an increasing number of digital photographs, videos and other digital materials that are often stored on a range of outdated or defunct devices, formats and platforms. Memory size in domestic technologies has increased, but so have the number and size of files that host many of the mundane digital materials. These constraints prompt decisions about what digital material should remain, what can be deleted and where certain digital materials should be stored. Such decisions become even more difficult with the increasing infiltration of work into the domestic sphere, syncing and other forms of automation and the increasing number of channels through which digital materials can circulate. For many people the separation of digital materials that move between different domains has become more challenging – and messier – than ever.

    This special issue examines our everyday relationships with digital materials and the various platforms, devices, spaces and formats through which they are stored and shared. We ask contributors to this special issue to consider: How do people manage the proliferation of digital material in their everyday lives? What strategies and rituals do they develop to organize, curate or delete digital materials? How are existing cultural practices of sharing and storing in other domains shaping these strategies? What are the broader infrastructures, platforms, programs and devices that are enabling, hindering or changing people’s ability to navigate the ways they store and share digital materials?

    Papers in this special issue will explore the everyday ways we manage living in a world of digital data and may include the following topics:

    •              Data transfer practices (e.g. moving digital materials from old to new devices)
    •              Manual vs automatic syncing of digital materials
    •              Temporalities of digital materials (e.g. long-term storage vs. transient data storage, changes of storing and sharing practices in relation to life stage)
    •              Routines and practices (e.g. organising, cleaning or curating digital materials)
    •              Non-sharing
    •              Emergent categories of and distinctions between digital materials
    •              Historical comparisons of sharing and storing of non-digital and digital materials
    •              Specific studies of sharing or storing on or across specific platforms (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Dropbox, iCloud, c-Share, Google Drive, etc.)

    Please note that the guest editors’ welcome submissions on a wide variety of theoretical and/or empirical contributions to the study of digital material beyond the suggestions identified.

    Proposals should include the author’s name and affiliation, title, an abstract of 250-300 words, and 3 to 5 keywords, and should be sent to the e-mail address no later than 15 November 2017: storingandsharing@gmail.com<mailto:storingandsharing@gmail.com>  Invited paper submissions will be due 1 March 2018 and will be submitted directly to the submission site for /New Media and Society/: https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/nms where they will undergo peer review following the usual procedures of New Media & Society. Approximately 10-12 papers will be sent out for full review. All other papers will be returned to their authors for submission elsewhere.  Therefore, the invitation to submit a full article does not guarantee acceptance into the special issue. The special issue will be published in 2019. See also: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1iS-X-7xA411NShBzGmsruuHNcLbF3ieBqfYzzCC7s-I/edit?usp=sharing

  • Mark 11:05 am on September 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    An obscenity on the district line 

    Another drabble, based on a scene I witnessed on public transport this weekend:

    He couldn’t avert his gaze, nor could he stand to watch. The obscenity gripped him, drew him forward and out of himself. Sliding forward on the edge of his seat, he forced his feet flatly onto the floor of the tube.

    With one last guileless turn of the tie, he could take it no longer. Leaping forward, he grabbed the tie of the man opposite and took charge of the process. Realising what he had done, he (belatedly) offered his help. Unsure what to make of the intrusion, the two young men meekly agreed, confused and amused in equal measure.

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