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  • Mark 8:40 am on November 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , envisioning sociology, , , ,   

    Margaret Archer as neo-classical British social theorist 

    While Margaret Archer’s theoretical work is widely respected, it is often categorised as little more than an elaboration of Roy Bhaskar and a critique of Anthony Giddens. This framing leaves it secondary to Critical Realism and Structuration Theory, understandable (though limiting) in the former case and deeply inaccurate in the latter case. Reading Envisioning Sociology by John Scott and Ray Bromley has left me wondering whether she should be categorised as a neo-classical British social theorist, as her work embodies many of the theoretical themes which concerned early British social theorists whose influence and ideas have largely now been forgotten.

    The obvious counter-argument to this reading is that she has never, to the best of my knowledge, engaged with the work of Patrick Geddes or Victor Branford. Indeed, as we discussed in the interview here, many of her foundational influences came in a Sociology department at LSE which was profoundly shaped by Geddes losing the opportunity to become the first chair of Sociology after messing up his interview. It’s a fascinating counter-factual to imagine what the intellectual culture might have been like in a Geddes run department and the implications this would have had for subsequent generations of PhD students imbibing those influences.

    This reading is interesting because it overcomes the tendency to see Archer’s earlier and later work as separate phases, whether as a mystifying turn to the individual (by critics) or as an attempt to solve critical realism’s agency problem (by fans). What struck me when reading Envisioning Sociology was how closely the notion offered by Geddes and Branford that “Humans … are born not only into a physical environment and material heritage but also into historically specific social relations that comprise their ‘social heritage’” (loc 2803) resembles Archer’s own account of the natural, practical and social order. As they contextualise these influences on loc 2777:

    In the early debates of the Sociological Society, as exemplified by the articles in the three volumes of Sociological Papers , including most of the works presented to the founding meetings of the Society in 1904, 1905, and 1906, the primary debate is between eugenics, as advocated by Francis Galton, Benjamin Kidd, and others, and civics, as advocated by Patrick Geddes, Victor Branford, and others. It was apparently a classic “nature versus nurture” debate in which the two alternative explanations of the human condition are genetics and culture. In reality, however, Geddes’s position was much more nuanced, combining the biological and social sciences and focusing on ecology, environment, and culture. To Geddes, the human condition had three major features: our biological nature as mammals within ecosystems; our social nature as the species uniquely possessed with powers of speech, culture, and spirituality; and, our activist nature, as a species, like ants, possessed with a tremendous capacity for social organization, construction, and improvement in the physical and social environment.

    What makes these ideas jarring to read in the present day is how they traverse disciplinary boundaries in their attempt to engage with social, practical and natural reality in its totality:

    This was the grand idea that Geddes and Branford sought to bring to sociology, a multifaceted vision of an activist society in its cultural and biological context. Their idea was grander and more sophisticated than eugenics, but they never managed to make it fit into universities because twentieth-century academia had more restrictive concepts of disciplines and expertise. Instead, a much narrower concept of sociology took root, a much narrower version of planning emerged as a separate discipline, and biology, psychology, anthropology, and education all took their separate courses.

    This I would argue is precisely the promise that Archer’s social theory has begun to reclaim, integrating a developmental sociology of the individual, a meso-sociology of conflict/consensus and a macro-sociology of transformation/stability. There are the foundations for a radical reorientation of social theory and social science in this work, capable of reclaiming the lost promise of the classical British social theorists. I’m concerned that their current categorisation as ‘critical realist Sociology’ means this value is unlikely to be realised.

  • Mark 8:00 pm on November 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , argument, debate, , , , ,   

    Three discursive predicaments I wish there were terms for 

    These are points I feel I reach relatively frequently, as identifiable discursive predicaments lead discussions between people who might otherwise agree to instead break down:

    1. Agreement with an argument in principle but concern about the practical implications of that agreement. For example if a particular issue has suddenly become prominent in public debate, it will inevitably be argued that there are other issues worthy of attention or other facets of the issue in question that might be rendered invisible by the currently dominant framing. This is a problem if, for instance, there are others seeking to suppress the issue which is now visible and recognising the current framing as lacking comprehensiveness might inadvertently strengthen the case of those seeking to engage in this suppression.
    2. Agreement with a argument in principle but concern about the context within which it is being made. There might be a critique of a current state of affairs which is persuasive on its own terms, while nonetheless being liable to lead to action which will bring about less desirable outcomes than the original state of affairs. The context qualifies the agreement with the argument but it is still agreement, at least in principle.
    3. Regarding an argument as intrinsically prone to overstatement, while nonetheless accepting a kernel of truth at its core. The argument is usually made in a hyperbolic way, often for self-interested reasons but one of the things that explains this repetition is the fact there is a degree of accuracy to it in at least some contexts.

    These discursive predicaments can often be negotiated in face-to-face communication, with initial misunderstanding giving way to an appreciation of the subtle forks in the road which prevent unqualified agreement. However this is much less likely to happen on social media. Would have terms to describe these discursive predicaments contribute to a marginal increase in the likelihood that the conversation would continue?

  • Mark 7:46 pm on November 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , david cay johnston, , ,   

    Trump as a tactician of post-truth 

    This observation by the journalist David Cay Johnston in the recent channel 4 documentary Trump: An American Dream stood out to me:

    Donald understands that most reporters accurately quote what they’re told but they really don’t know what they’re writing about. Once his story is out there then anything else is just a counter story.

    It’s far from a new analysis but I’ve rarely heard this stated so succinctly. This is a tactic Trump has been using for decades, though it’s been super-charged in recent years by the multiplication of communication channels creating more possibilities for the original claim to spread and fewer possibilities for counter stories to authoritatively take hold.

  • Mark 8:18 am on November 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    Narrative as interface between the subjective and the objective  

    We often think of self-narrative as something self-grounding, reflecting the truth of a person even if that truth might change over the life course. If we take issue with this, we turn to the bare objective facts of someone’s life as a counterpoint to the unreliably subjective stories they tell. This oscillation misses the important relationship between the two, as subjective and objective weave together in forming us as the person we are as a continuous outcome of the life we are leading. As Ann Oakley writes on loc 3628 of Father and Daughter:

    The stories of our lives have to be condensed and elliptical because otherwise they’re boring and the central themes get lost. We must convince ourselves as well as others of logic, linearity, evolutionary progress: it was like this, it must have been, because it’s such a good story.

    These narrative imperatives reflect a gap between the reality of our lives and the stories we tell about them. They only emerge because there is a steady accumulation of potential facts, a piling up of individual elements which could be ordered in many different ways. What interests me is narrative as an interface, the point at which we struggle to make sense of who we are (and have been) through the accounts we give of ourselves, internally and to external others. 

  • Mark 11:32 pm on November 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Social media and the half dozen grasshoppers  

    Earlier today at the British Academy’s Social Listening event, Paul Crayston used this extract from Edmund Burke to illustrate a point about the tendency of social media users to mistake the noise they make within their own milieux for the activity taking place on the platform as a whole.

    Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field

    We often take the activity proximate to us as indicative of a much broader sweep of social reality, implicitly framing our own experience as a reliable guide to wider processes. This is a mistake on social media and it is a mistake beyond it. How we imagine the world beyond our own microcosm, particularly our immediate expectations rather than considered impressions, usually reflects our own preconceptions more than it does a wider reality.

  • Mark 8:58 pm on November 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    CfP: Overcoming Inequalities in Internet Governance: framing digital policy capacity building strategies 

    GIG-ARTS 2018 – The Second European Multidisciplinary Conference on Global Internet Governance Actors, Regulations, Transactions and Strategies

    26-27 April 2018, Cardiff

    Overcoming Inequalities in Internet Governance: framing digital policy capacity building strategies

    Organised by: Centre for Internet and Global Politics / School of Law and Politics / Cardiff University

    In partnership with: DiploFoundation, The ECPR Standing Group on Internet and Politics, The Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet)

    Deadline 08.January.2018


    After having explored “Global Internet Governance as a Diplomacy Issue” at its first edition held in Paris in 2007, the Second European Multidisciplinary Conference on Global Internet Governance Actors, Regulations, Transactions and Strategies (GIG-ARTS 2018) addresses power inequalities in internet governance, and digital policy capacity building strategies aiming at overcoming gaps in digital policy developments.

    Connectivity infrastructure is constantly expanding, while internet access is incessantly growing across countries, regions and socio-political contexts. In this context, new and crucial questions emerge from a governance and security perspective. As for the latter, new connectivity calls for cybersecurity capacity building strategies aiming at secure digital infrastructure. At the same time, from a governance perspective, traditional powers in the governance of the internet are increasingly challenged from newly connected actors who demand more influence in the transnational debate around digital policy development. As a result, despite claims for equal representations and diversity since the first World Summit on Information Society in 2003, the narrowing of the digital divide opens new and key questions: Whether and what inequalities exist in internet governance decision making? How is the rapidly changing internet geography and sociography reflected in the governance of the internet? Moreover, in order to increase awareness and enhance involvement of newly connected countries in national and transnational digital policy developments, what are the best internet governance capacity building strategies available? How do newly connected countries and actors build their digital policy capacity, and do they develop an active role in the transnational internet governance debate? Whether in newly or early connected countries, various kinds of divides persist across socio-cultural and political contexts, reflecting if not extending societal and socio-economic inequalities. Are such renewed forms of inequalities and discriminations adequately addressed in internet governance debates? What are the requirements for digital policies to actually empower people and uphold their individual and collective rights online?

    In order to answer these crucial and manifold questions, the conference will bring together an outstanding network of experts working on internet governance, digital inequalities, and cybersecurity capacity building. The conference welcomes theoretically relevant, empirically grounded research, and/or policy oriented contributions, addressing internet governance inequalities, digital policy making, and cybersecurity capacity building. In particular, submissions could address either of the following topics (list non exhaustive):

    –          Inequalities in the governance of the internet
    –          Governance strategies among new and emerging actors
    –          Geopolitical coalitions among actors (e.g. BRICS)
    –          Multistakeholder models and their efficacy
    –          Cybersecurity capacity building
    –          Digital divides
    –          Telecom Reforms
    –          Online discriminations
    –          Violent content and harassment online
    –          “Fake news” and other kinds of manipulations
    –          Individual and collective empowerment
    –          Human rights online
    –          Digital Trade

    Program Chair
    Andrea Calderaro
    Centre for Internet and Global Politics, University of Cardiff, United Kingdom

    Program Committee
    William J. Drake, University of Zurich, Switzerland
    Marianne Franklin, Goldsmiths University
    Katharina Höne, DiploFoundation, Malta & Switzerland
    Nanette S. Levinson, American University Washington DC, USA
    Robin Mansell, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
    Meryem Marzouki, CNRS & Sorbonne Université, France
    Ben Wagner, UW Vienna, Austria

    Full Call for Paper
    Please find more information via the conference website: events.gig-arts.eu

    Submission Information and Publication Opportunities
    Authors are invited to submit their abstracts (no longer than 500 words) via Easychair at:

    Authors of selected submissions will have the opportunity to submit their full manuscript for publication as part of an edited volume.

    The conference will be held in Wales’s capital city, Cardiff, at the Centre for Internet and Global Politics, hosted at the Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics.

    Conference Registration and Fees
    Registration fees are 100€ for regular participants and 50€ for students showing proof of status. The conference fees include a participant kit with conference documents as well as coffee breaks and meals.

    GIG-ARTS 2018 Communication Details

  • Mark 9:17 am on November 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

    Against university marketing 

    There’s a gently scathing inditement of university marketing in today’s WonkHE newsletter. I’ve been interested in university marketing for years, without ever having written properly on the topic. I find it fascinating to see how universities choose to position themselves to (imagined) publics, as well as what this positioning says about them and the context within which they work. As WonkHE observes, what’s striking about advertising (in the UK) is how familiar it all seems, making reference to their place within an imaginary league table without any evidence that students or employers care about this:

    Sector PR teams need to wean themselves off league tables and find more transparent ways to highlight their individual qualities. That’s the primary message falling out of six Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rulings concerning different – yet somehow depressingly similar – advertisements from six universities.

    In each case the institution in question had sought to position itself towards the top of a largely imaginary league table. The use of sector jargon (what is a “modern university”? or an “arts university”?) and unqualified claims (who said you were “university of the year”? why?) serves, in the eyes of the regulator, only to confuse people further.

    Being slapped down for these practices isn’t just a bad look for the sector –- it’s bad marketing practice. There’s little evidence that students or employers care that you are in the top 5% of modern universities in the Greater Stroud Valley region, so why make the claims in the first place? It seems a risk not worth taking.

    We need a turn-around in university marketing practice because the current trajectory could lead us to some pretty appalling places. On pg 20 of her Lower Ed, Tressie McMillan Cottom observes how marketing related spending outstrips tuition at some for-profit colleges in the United States:

    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.

    I assume we’re a long way from this in the UK, though there is no comparative data available to the best of my knowledge. But the reasons for growth are structural, as Andrew McGettigan makes clear in The Great University Gamble:

    There are obvious inefficiencies in this competition as increasing resources have to be devoted to marketing and recruitment … The cost of financing higher education through the botched loan scheme means that the Treasury has insisted on an overall cap on student numbers. This creates a zero sum game where the sector is unable to expand overall and individual institutions are fighting for market share.

    The ‘depressing similarity’ of university advertising suggests this process is expanding in a similar way within otherwise different universities. Some of this activity reaches into areas where I can claim some expertise, such as the growth of viral videos which often create a backlash for the institution. But it strikes me the overarching process is one which is ripe for analysis, providing a productive lens through which we can investigate transformations underway within the university. For this reason, I find it hard not to welcome the ASA judgement, as well as to hope it leads to a different direction of travel in university marketing.

    I’d like to keep an Instagram of university advertising in the UK: https://www.instagram.com/theacceleratedacademy/

    Please get in touch if you have any pictures you’d like to contribute!

  • Mark 9:05 pm on November 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Bullet Journal, , , , organisers, , , , task managers,   

    Some thoughts on the bullet journal, omnifocus and getting things done 

    I’ve been curious for a while about the Bullet Journal system. As an obsessive practitioner of Getting Things Done, I can’t see myself starting a Bullet Journal but its framing as ‘the analogue system for a digital age’ has intrigued me since I first encountered it. The video below provides an overview of how to keep a bullet journal:

    The basic ontology of a bullet journal incorporates tasks, events and notes. These are incorporated into an organisational structure built around four core modules: index, future log, monthly log and the daily log. The bullet journal enables you to “track the past, organise the present and plan for the future” by providing a framework through which future plans become present commitments and past actions. If I understand correctly, it’s basically a funnel through which your plans over a six-month window get cashed out as monthly and daily priorities. The importance accorded to reflection ensures that commitments can be dropped along the way. It is a “customizable and forgiving” system for self-organisation, built around a hybrid journal which is a combination of “to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary”.

    I find it hard not to wonder if some of the appeal rests on paper-fetishism. This certainly plays a role in how Bullet Journal markets itself. For instance this video frames notebooks as a “creative playground” through which we “breath life into ideas”:

    I can see the appeal of having an artefact like this. Externalising your commitments into an application like Omnifocus can be a hugely effective way to organise your time, once it has become a habitual process. It can be enormously practical as well, if you’re liable to lose your bullet journal, write indecipherably or otherwise fail to exercise the physical care in relation to an artefact which a system like Bullet Journal requires. But you can’t hold your Omnifocus. You can’t flick through it. Much of this lack is aesthetic. Reliance on a digital system precludes certain experiences which an analogue system facilitates.

    I wonder if there are also practical losses as well. Could some modes of reflection be foreclosed by the insubstantiality of the system? Getting Things Done as a system relies on the series: “a number of events, objects, or people of a similar or related kind coming one after another”It reduces all our projects to the same basic ontology: an interlinked series of actionable steps through which we cumulatively bring about a substantial outcome. This reduction is what makes it so powerful. The value of Omnifocus lies in it giving us powerful tools through which to calibrate this reduction. But it also carries the risk of eviscerating the lived meaning of these projects, particularly when enacted through a digital system. This problem is inherent to the moral psychology of the to-do list:

    This is the mentality that cognitive triage generates: things are conceived as obstacles to be eliminated rather than activities to be enjoyed. As the list gets bigger, it becomes harder to see the individual ‘to do’ items as activities in their own right. They are reduced to uniform list items and nothing more. Things you enjoy and things you despise are given equal weight. The logic of the to-do list is one of commensurability and this is the problem with it. The process of triaging combined with the logic of the to-do list can lead to an evisceration of value: the potential goods internal to activities, those experiences of value that can only be found through doing, get obliterated by the need to cross items off a list.


    Might Bullet Journals help preserve the relational richness of our projects, opening out powerful modes of engaging with them while closing down the conveniences which digital systems afford? I’d be curious to hear what others think. Particularly anyone who has used Omnifocus and/or GTD before moving to a Bullet JournalMy hunch is there’s a basic trade-off here between convenience and reflection. It’s easy to slip into using Omnifocus/GTD in an unreflective way but the brute physicality of the Bullet Journal renders that largely impossible. Many might stop using their notebook as a Bullet Journal but if you stick to the practice itself, it more or less ensures you use it in a reflective way.

    • Bill Chance 12:30 am on November 22, 2017 Permalink

      Really nice entry. A bullet journal fits the GTD philosophy exactly. Remember that bullet journalling is a process, not a set of rules. Be flexible.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Mark 7:12 pm on November 25, 2017 Permalink

      You think? I can’t see how you could do GTD in a bullet journal, beyond the simple fact of capturing everything & doing a review process

    • Bill Chance 9:30 pm on November 25, 2017 Permalink

      I have pages or areas for various contexts – email, phone, desk at home, drive home etc – and list things that I need to do under the various contexts.

      Now I do use a loose-leaf bullet journal system, so as things drop off I move them to an archive system.

      The bullet journal idea is very flexible and seems to be a good way to implement GTD, at least to me.

    • Mark 1:53 pm on November 26, 2017 Permalink

      That’s interesting to know, thanks

    • ferhmo 1:28 pm on September 28, 2018 Permalink

      I am GTDer, I also use Omnifocus and Evernote. I think they are the most powerful tools for the GTD methodology. I have 20 days trying Bullet Journal and you can not really do GTD there, it is not designed or thought for that, I think that going to Bullet Journal also involves changing the methodology with which we process the information. A notebook can not compete with Evernote, nor will a list by hand ever compete with Omnifocus. But I can not deny the peace, the tranquility and the satisfying silence of writing by hand and remember exactly in which part of the notebook I wrote it, because I am a visual person. So far Bullet Journal has been working for me, even though I have +70 projects at Omnifocus. Maybe I’ll stay in Bullet Journal, maybe not. But I am enjoying the test.

  • Mark 4:07 pm on November 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    CfP: What is universe? Communication, complexity, coherence 

    April 19-21, 2018 * University of Oregon in Portland, USA

    The _WHAT IS UNIVERSE?_ [1] (2018) conference-experience examines
    communication, complexity/simplicity, coherence/incoherence and, how
    they may or may not contribute to “a pluralistic universe.” This
    conference marks the third collaboration among scholars from the natural
    and social sciences, communication, media, law, design, and art. We
    invite proposals for scholarly papers, panels, exhibits and
    installations on a wide variety of issues and topics. Please see
    WHATIS.UOREGON.EDU for more details [2].

    Participants will explore universes–from reality bubbles, immersive
    virtual environments, and alternate histories, to agential realism,
    media genealogy and archaeology, to bio-inspired, urban and ecological
    design, to universal rights, disabilities studies, multicultural
    communities, networks, and cosmologies.


    • What are communication, science, media, design, and philosophy

    universes today, and how are they syncretizing? How can universities and
    disciplines be understood as universes?

    • How are citizens increasingly being drawn into alternate, fictional,

    cinematic, and comic book universes, social networks, immersive worlds,
    and augmented realities?

    • In an age of increasing communicative complexities and

    oversimplifications, what is truth and what is reality? How do
    real/virtual and analogue/digital universes overlap/separate?

    • How is journalism overcoming vernaculars of real/fake news in a

    “post-truth” era, while still actively seeking solutions?

    • What constitute material universes in antiquity and contemporary


    • How do technological and cosmological universes transform


    • In this context, what is posthumanism and how are speculative futures

    already integrating into (re)generative medicine, music, law, and other

    • How are emerging systems, environments, architectures, the sciences

    and the arts converging/diverging into societies and universes? What are
    universes of values?

    With the definitions of “universe” continuing to multiply, important
    questions abound as we address a sweeping range of issues next April in
    Portland, Oregon.

    Janet Wasko and Jeremy Swartz (University of Oregon)

    Send 100-150 word abstracts or installations by DECEMBER 31, 2017 to:
    Janet Wasko * jwasko@uoregon.edu

    School of Journalism and Communication * University of Oregon * Eugene,
    OR 97403-1275

  • Mark 10:06 am on November 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , autobiography, digital identity, , , , ,   

    The digital academic as autobiographical actor 

    There’s a wonderful discussion by Ann Oakley on loc 562-567 of her Father and Daughter, taking the production of the academic c.v. seriously as an autobiographical act:

    A c.v. is an autobiographical act, a life composed and presented according to certain conventions, a story designed to hide, exaggerate, downplay or boast about aspects selected from the immense and muddled curriculum of one’s whole life. Because I’ve mostly made my living as an academic, my c.v. is dominated by publications, presentations, lists of research grants, committees and so on. It doesn’t tell the story behind these lists. For example, behind each of the books is a story of why it came to be written and how, in what order its chapters got themselves assembled and juggled about, how much agonising and rethinking and reworking went on, whose advice was taken (or not taken) on the path to its final form.

    For those who make their living as digital academics, unavoidable autobiographical actions multiply. There are ‘about’ pages, social media bios and profile pictures to be chosen across the whole range of platforms. This is often talked about as ‘branding’, with all the off-putting connotations that phrase has, framing the action in narrow terms of instrumentality and impression management. Whereas I’d much prefer to think of these as autobiographical acts, albeit ones which are peculiarly brief, fragmented and dispersed.

    The challenge which the digital academic faces as an autobiographical actor is how to transcend this fragmentation, building up these micro-acts of autobiography across platforms into a sustained and substantial account of oneself and one’s work. One important way to do this is to use social media to reveal “the story behind these lists”, conveying how these individual outcomes are expressions of underlying preoccupations and long-standing projects.

    There can be a certain conceit buried behind dismissals of this process, as securely tenured academics with identity-conferring positions look scornfully upon these forms of autobiographical action as narcissistic fiddling by self-involved millennials. But if we take the framing of autobiography seriously, we can see ‘online identity’ as a way to begin to reclaim the agency of those who are systemically denied the security which previous generations could take as a given.

  • Mark 12:43 pm on November 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    A renewed engagement with the past could be a powerful means through which the critical tradition in British sociology could fortify itself for a difficult future 

    In his magisterial A Secular Age, Charles Taylor introduces the notion of ‘subtraction stories’ to describe our dominant narratives of secularisation. This narrative structure is crucial to teleological thought, explaining our current situation in terms which preclude any backwards movement. As he explains on pg 22,

    Concisely put, I mean by this stories of modernity in general, and secularity in particular, which explain them by human beings have lost, or sloughed off, or liberated themselves from certain earlier, confining horizons, or illusions, or limitations of knowledge. What emerges from this process – modernity or secularity – is to be understood in terms of underlying features of human nature which were there all along, but had been impeded by what is now set aside.

    It occurs to me that critical sociology, in the sense in which it used in this paper to refer to a dominant strand within British sociology, involves precisely such a subtraction story. Critical sociologists are prone to understanding themselves as locked into a fight against positivism, sometimes cast as a present day enemy to be found on all sides and at other times seen to have been vanquished but constantly at risk of making a return. These positivist horizons constrained sociological inquiry, turning sociologists away from everyday life and the meaning it holds for participants within it. Through struggle against positivist dominion, these confining illusions have been cast off, liberating a sociological impulse which was struggling to break free.

    What interests me is how the intellectual culture of critical sociology is experienced and narrated by proponents of it. The aforementioned paper is not perfect by any means but I see it as starting an extremely important conversation at a time when British sociology finds itself at something of a cross-roads. As Malcolm Williams, Luke Sloan and Charlotte Brookfield write in the paper:

    Many, if not most, sociologists in UK universities have themselves come from a culture of sociology that emphasises critique over analysis, theoretical positions, and qualitative over quantitative methods of enquiry that reflect the historical influences on the discipline, as described above. This culture exists at all levels of teaching, from pre-university A-level teaching through to postgraduate training. Their attitudes and practices incline them ideologically and practically to favour a humanistic and critical attitude towards the discipline, the selection of research questions that require interpretive methods, and often either an expertise in these methods or a preference for theoretical reasoning alone

    What I’m suggesting is that this intellectual tradition should be taken seriously as a tradition. One which might lack clarity about its own moral sources, framing its emergence in a way which circumscribes the past resources upon which it can draw. The lost tradition of British classical sociology is foremost in my in here, as a result of my recent work with the Foundations of British Sociology archive but the point is a much broader one. A renewed engagement with the past could be a powerful means through which the critical tradition in British sociology could fortify itself for a difficult future.

  • Mark 9:11 am on November 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    In defence of the individual 

    The individual is an unpopular category within contemporary social thought. To be concerned with the individual is taken to imply individualism, something which falls outside the range of acceptability for the cultural politics prevalent within British sociology. This is amplified by an intellectual impulse to transcend the individual as a unit of analysis, bound up within the formation of sociology as a science of social facts in distinction to the psychological domain of facts about specific individuals.

    Yet my interests have always led me towards the individual as a unit of analysis, the main category within which I think and the reference point for any explanations of the social world I offer. I spent six years working on a PhD about personal morphogenesis: conceptualising what it is for someone to change and what it is for them to stay the same, as well as developing a framework through which we can study these processes in a sociological way. It’s something which I largely stopped thinking about, reflecting the exhaustion of spending so long preoccupied by it within the occasionally stultifying institutional confines of the PhD process. But it underlies pretty much everything I do, furnishing my deliberations with the essential categories through which I analyse the world around me.

    My claim is not only that there is a specificity to human life which is missing in most accounts, this detail is crucial to understanding the fine-grained aspects of how history unfolds rather than being an enticing epiphenomenon which risks distracting us from the real business of politics and economics going on elsewhere. This is something which Ann Oakley expresses beautifully on loc 567 of her Father and Daughter:

    Its credo (or theory) is that only through the lives of individuals are we really able to get a hold on all those complexities of experience and motivation which make up human history.

    Far from the individual being a retreat from sociological explanation, it is a condition for any thorough explanation. There are many questions which do not invite direct reference to individual lives but all adequate explanations are consistent with the reality of such lives, holding out the promise that the abstractions in which these explanations proceed could in future be rendered concretely in a way faithful to the experience of those concerned. As Oakley goes on to write:

    My heroine, the social scientist Barbara Wootton, once pointed out that: ‘Life stories are never easily told, even when their authors are genuinely concerned more with accuracy than with self-exculpation; and the biographies of those who defy the standards of their own society are doubly difficult to get straight’. 2 Biography and autobiography are vehicles for exhibiting an age; they help us to understand processes of social change through the medium of individual lives.

    This is still what I want to do. I’ve realised recently that I’m going to have to return to the themes of my PhD if I want to develop as an analyst of social life, as much of part of me doesn’t want to go back to what felt like a unfinished project even after six years.

  • Mark 8:52 pm on November 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    Helen Margetts: How social media (and other platforms) can promote equality in 2027 

    Thu 16 November 2017, 18:30 – 20:00 GMT
    Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge

    Professor Helen Margetts, director of the prestigious Oxford Internet Institute, presents her personal, positive vision – and then leads discussion – on how the UK’s social media can be a force for greater equality in the year 2027.

    Register online here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/helen-margetts-how-social-media-and-other-platforms-can-promote-equality-in-2027-tickets-34398362428

  • Mark 10:23 am on November 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    The (slow) private life of homo academicus 

    In his Pascalian Meditations, Bourdieu is concerned with “the free time, freed from the urgencies of the world, that allows a free and liberated relation to those urgencies and to the world”. There are presuppositions to enjoying this condition which shape the dispositions of the scholar, necessitating reflexivity for epistemic and ethical reasons if there is to be any hope of transcending the frankly peculiar déformation professionnelle which suffuses the academy. Furthermore, the conditions through which one person come to be ‘freed from the urgencies of the world’ is intrinsically connected to another having those urgencies imposed upon them, as Jana Bacevic reflected on in a recent essay on the necessity of a fridge of one’s own for women who are writers.

    I thought back to this when reading Ann Oakley’s recounting of the domestic circumstances of her childhood in Father and Daughter.  From loc 273:

    My father couldn’t change a plug or put a nail in the wall. He wouldn’t have known what to do with the blue plaque. He couldn’t drive a car or choose his own socks. His dependence on my mother for these necessities was as much a matter of pride to her as the meticulously managed interior of the house. She couldn’t have achieved this without an array of helpers –not only the men who washed the walls and put the nails in, but a succession of working-class women who came from the cheap terraced streets of Acton in their pink overalls (I only remember the overalls being pink, just as I only remember my father wearing yellow ties the same colour as the front door) to follow her precise instructions about what had to be done on what day in what order. He was always referred to as ‘The Professor’. Shirley or Sharon or whoever it was (they never had surnames like Mr Pearce or Mr Crawford did) had to be especially careful about not disturbing ‘The Professor’ when he was at work in his study.

    And again on loc 291:

    In the small space next to the confrontation of the cooker and the back door in the Blue Plaque House’s tiny kitchen, my father used to dry the dishes sometimes, and sometimes he would stand at the sink to peel the potatoes, but that was the extent of his contribution to household labour. There were two steps up from the kitchen to the breakfast room, so the person drying the dishes was higher than the person whose hands were in the sink. He was taller than her anyway, but this elevation exaggerated his dominance. He never looked after me, his only child, or took me out or away, on his own. He never wielded a vacuum cleaner or a brush or a duster; I don’t think he even engaged in that most epigenetically masculine of all domestic tasks, emptying the rubbish. He never went out to buy food, not even in a masculine bag-carrying capacity. He never made a bed, rising from his own and returning nightly to its magically straightened embrace. He never washed or ironed his clothes or anybody else’s. She organised his wardrobe, forcing him periodically to attend a bespoke tailor’s in order to commission a new suit or set of shirts: his arms, she said proudly, were too long for the ordinary ready-made kind. Her husband was not a ready-made man. Thus she was able to eject him from the Blue Plaque House every morning, every inch a well-attired Professor.

    The world moves around ‘the Professor’ to facilitate his purposive withdrawal from it. He is able to be slow because those around him are fast, structuring their days around his rhythms and routines in order to ensure that mundane domesticity enables him rather than constrains him. My point is not the ‘slow scholarship’ inevitably takes this form. Obviously it does not. But we tend to moralise speeds, seeing acceleration as inherently corrosive and deceleration as inherently worthy. There are many reasons to be sceptical of both assumptions but the gendered realities of actually existing slow scholarship should surely be foremost among them.

    It is worth adding that the same dynamic obtains even when ‘the Professor’ is not slow. Even when he acts purposively in the wider world, concerned to manifest the products of his disinterested study in bringing about social change, the temporality of these interventions relies on the support surrounding him. From loc 1251:

    The answer, of course, was that our class was based not on property, or on inherited identity, but on the labour of ideas, the politics of mind. Richard and Kay Titmuss collected around themselves a coterie of people who shared their commitment to improving public and personal welfare through the analytic and prescriptive power of thought. They thought about it and talked about it, and the politicians and the social engineers tried to manifest these ideas in action. Actually, he thought and discussed and she served the meals, keeping a little notebook in which she wrote down what was served –‘roast lamb and cherry pavlova’, ‘Greek fish dish and apple pie’ –so the same people wouldn’t eat the same meal twice, which would have been a faux pas of unforgettable proportions.

    This lofty distance from practical considerations can operate as a source of meaning, rather than just constraint, within the lives of those picking up after homo academicus. From loc 3628-3646:

    Richard Titmuss never wrote about housework, just as he never did any. He played to the old stereotype of the absent-minded professor, whose head is so much in the clouds of abstract thought that he doesn’t notice the odd socks he’s put on, the train that’s going to the wrong place, the leg of a study table smouldering from its proximity to an electric fire. These events and many more were enthusiastically recited by my mother as evidence of my father’s domestic incapacity. It was her way of justifying her own role. Her domestic management was an essential pre-condition of his intellectual prowess: indeed, without her, he would scarcely be alive. The lesson a daughter learns from this is that intellectual and domestic work inhabit completely different spheres. The busy housewife looks after the thoughtful man, and they talk about equality without knowing what they’re talking about. I didn’t read what the thoughtful men who talked in the Blue Plaque House wrote then, but, when I did, I was floored by the conundrum that they, too, seemed to assume the Alienation and freedom line –women’s labour ties them to a natural world of love and care, whereas men exist in an historically contingent material place which is also the domain of public policy. 

  • Mark 9:21 am on November 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    Google’s next billion users 

    I thought this was really interesting, particularly the focus on HCI for this strategy:

    *HCI/UX researchers at Google’s Next Billion Users teamThe Google Next
    Billion Users team is looking for HCI interns, post-docs, and
    researchers-on-contract to work on exploratory research and product
    initiatives. The team builds global products from the ground-up with new
    Internet users, such as Google Station <https://station.google.com/> and
    Tez <https://tez.google.com/>. You will work with an interdisciplinary team
    of researchers and designers that explores new aspects of computing with
    communities around the world. Roles are based in several countries. Some
    travel within the country is required.   If you are excited about
    understanding complex spaces, taking research insights to reality, and
    working on technology products, fill out this form
    to indicate your interest.Qualifications: – Passion for research in
    non-western regions- Strong understanding of strengths and shortcomings of
    different research methods, including when and how to apply them during
    each product phase.- Mastery and rigor of research craft and ability to
    think outside the box with research methods.- Experience with emerging
    markets (worked in, extensively travelled, studied in depth, or originating
    from) and ability to work with diverse communities in emerging markets.-
    Experience conducting human-centered research for digital technology or
    products.- Follow a collaborative work process.- Master’s degree/Ph.D. in
    Human-computer Interaction, anthropology, information science, or
    equivalent on-the-job experience, or related fields. Exceptional Bachelor’s
    degree holders will be considered. – [Preferred] Track record of publishing
    in academic and/or industry arenas, in top-tier conferences and journals.-
    [Preferred] Experience in social justice or working with underrepresented

  • Mark 8:53 pm on November 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    The outrage of billionaires about invoking the existence of billionaires 

  • Mark 10:00 am on November 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply

    Call for speakers: Answering social science questions with social media data 

    Thursday 8th March 2018, The Wellcome Collection, London, NW1 2BE

    After several successful events, we’re pleased to say that the NSMNSS network (http://nsmnss.blogspot.co.uk/) and Social Research Association (http://www.the-sra.org.uk) are again teaming up to deliver a one-day conference on ‘Answering social science questions with social media data’.

    As social media research matures as a discipline, and methodological and ethical concerns are being addressed, focus is increasingly shifting on to the role that it can and should play in the social sciences – what are the questions it can help us to answer?

    We are looking for speakers who have completed a piece of social research using social media data to present their findings and discuss how this has made a difference:

    • How has it impacted policy, best practice, or understanding?
    • How has it answered a question that would have been unfeasible using conventional research methods alone?

    This research could be in any substantive area, from health or crime to politics or travel, as long as it is ‘social’ research. It can also include any type of analysis – quantitative or qualitative analysis, big data or small – as long as it involves some form of data collection via a social media platform. We want to encourage a range of different methods and topics to help demonstrate the diversity of the methodology and the role it can play.

    Are you interested in presenting?

    If you have completed a piece of research using social media research methods, or have any suggestions of who we should contact, then please complete thesubmissions template and send to nsmnss@natcen.ac.uk by Monday 27thNovember. Let us know the name and topic of the research study, which social media platform was used, a brief description of methodology, and the findings and impact of this study.

    This event is being set up by the SRA and NSMNSS network. We want to keep the event accessible and ticket prices reasonable, but need to cover the costs of the venue hire/refreshments, so we cannot pay presenters – however there will be 1 free place per presentation, and we will be able to cover reasonable ‘within UK’ public transport travel expenses.

    The #NSMNSS & SRA teams

  • Mark 6:03 pm on November 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    Craft and exploitation in the digital university 

  • Mark 11:50 am on November 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , collective attention, , , , profane, remembrance, sacred, ,   

    Social acceleration and the possibility of the sacred  

    I just returned from a Remembrance Day service, pondering the relationship between acceleration and the profane after finding the array of people walking past and through the service deeply irritating. It occurred to me that what marks out such a space as sacred, distinguished from the normal flow on everyday life, rests as much on deceleration as it does on silence. In fact the former could be seen as the precondition for the latter, in so far as that it’s hard to avoid making a noise unless you’re standing still. 

    There was a constant stream of activity around the service: people walking past, the noise of bikes and cameras clicking as photographers roamed. People were silent during the formal silence but the movement didn’t cease. What happens to our aspiration to the sacred under such circumstances? It becomes harder to sustain but its achievement is all the more powerful for this reason. To actually have a crowd of people stop moving, stand still and focus upon a shared object of attention becomes a moving experience in its own right because there is little even approximating it in everyday life.
    This might seem like a niche concern, a peculiarly long-winded way of complaining about the fact of people’s behaviour at a remembrance service. I nonetheless believe it highlights a more diffuse phenomenon, in which the harmonisation of attention is becoming decreasingly possible. This isn’t just a matter of movement or its absence, a proliferation of noise or a respectful silence. Take myself as an example: I’m complaining about the lack of attentiveness shown by others but I found myself writing this blog post in my head during the service. There are so many reasons to turn away from shared experiences, as the decreasing synchronisation of our work and lives (as well as the digital machinery of distraction through which this desynchronisation comes to characterise every facet of our existence) means the traditional pool of collective objects of attention seems to be in terminal decline.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean the end of collectivity or even of collective attention. The role of mediation here is interesting e.g. television and Twitter combining to produce intense forms of mediated collective attention. If we accept that collective attention can be powerful even if synchronised then binge-watched television shows which reach the status of ‘cultural phenomenon’ represent an interesting case study. Nonetheless, we see an important and challenging transformation when collective attention comes to depend upon technologies of mediation for its very possibility. I suspect we begin to lose something quite profound, as collective affectivity dependent on real co-ordination of psycho-physical attention in time and space begins to fade away into an (imagined) past. The extent to which this is happening can certainly be overstated: the examples that have proved most transformative in my own experience illustrate this (e.g. key games in live football, the best live music, some protests). But even these are partial experiences, collective crescendos against a backdrop of individualisation, rather than defining features of the experience. The most moving examples also occurred when I was younger, long before any gig was filled with people constantly focused on filming the event using their phone. The only recent example I can think of was the memorial after the Manchester attacks this year, the effect of which upon me had been opaque until I found myself bursting into tears after a few minutes of standing with others in St Andrew’s Square. 

    I’m worried that forms of collectivity like this, deeply precious but subtle parts of our lives, increasingly find themselves imperilled by social acceleration and that individualised enforcement of ‘proper’ comportment is liable to make the problem worse rather than better.

  • Mark 9:26 pm on November 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: #NaNoWriMo, , ,   

    Things I learned from trying and failing at #NaNoWriMo 

    I admitted defeat this evening, ten days into NaNoWriMo. I fell well behind my target this week, leaving me in a position where I’d have to write 2000 words a day to finish the book. The fact I failed to write anything today means that number has only increased. The last two weeks of this month will be absurdly busy. I’ll be doing five talks, visiting four places and will only be at home for five days. Given I’ve struggled to meet my target up till now, I just don’t see the point in making myself miserable by trying for the rest of the month when it clearly won’t happen. Here are some things I’ve learned from the attempt:

    • I need time to mull over the plot for fiction, whereas ideas for non-fiction flow reliably as long as I’m reading, talking and blogging widely.
    • Whereas I can write non-fiction to a passable standard whatever psychological or physical state I’m in, it’s hard to write fiction unless I’m in a good mood and well slept. I usually have the former condition these days but the latter is much rarer in my life, unfortunately.
    • The word target for NaNoWriMo was a great motivating force when I was meeting my daily target of 1,666 words. But once I’d fallen behind, it started to really stress me out. I was writing to meet the target rather than to help a story unfold, exasperating the aforementioned difficulties with writing fiction unless I’m attentive to the plot and in a mood to enjoy what I’m doing.
    • You have to block out time for this. I have to at least. I’d expected to be able to write fiction in a quasi-automatic way, as per my academic writing. But I’m realising it’s a rather different craft, requiring a lot more care than academic writing. I just didn’t have the time and energy this month to give it the care it needed and this is why the project has gone off the rails. Whereas I can usually fit 90% of the academic writing process around the rest of my life, with dedicated blocks of time only needed for serious editing and preparations for submission.
    • I’m usually conscious of how Twitter intersects with my dispositions to form a machinery of distraction but trying to write fiction really intensified that awareness. Twitter leaches mental energy in a way that I’m coming to find profoundly unnerving.

    It was a useful experience and I’m definitely going to try again next year. Though it remains to be seen whether my post-Brexit cyberpunk techno-fascist police thriller will be the foundation for something real or a faltering first attempt at serious fiction writing.

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