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  • Mark 2:06 pm on December 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , social knowledge, ,   

    Ontological bias and social knowledge in a post-truth era 

    In a thought-provoking essay, Jana Bacevic reflects on the problem of prediction and its relevance for social scientists in a post-truth era. This issue has become institutionally relevant, as opposed to being a philosophical consideration or a practical challenge, for two reasons:

    One is that, as reflected in the (by now overwrought and overdetermined) crisis of expertise and ‘post-truth’, social researchers increasingly find themselves in situations where they are expected to give authoritative statements about the future direction of events (for instance, about the impact of Brexit). Even if they disavow this form of positioning, the very idea of social science rests on (no matter how implicit) assumption that at least some mechanisms or classes or objects will exhibit the same characteristics across cases; consequently, the possibility of inference is implied, if not always practised. Secondly, given the scope of challenges societies face at present, it seems ridiculous to not even attempt to engage with – and, if possibly, refine – the capacity to think how they will develop in the future.

    These claims seem far from self-evident to me. If prediction is indeed impossible, it would seem ridiculous to engage with these future developments in a serious way. We can believe it’s possible to infer from one case to another without assuming the stability we impute to these cases is temporal as well as spatial. Even this stability could be radically provisionally, susceptible to representation only through transactional data produced in real time. It seems overreaching to try and build some limited acceptance of prediction into the concept of social knowledge itself. The most that seems plausible to me is to claim that there is some minimal notion of objectivity presupposed by the assumption that research techniques produce discursive outcomes which constitute social knowledge.

    My instinct is to reverse the direction in which these issues are addressed. It is because of the evident breakdown of the predictive apparatus elsewhere that the authoritativeness or otherwise of the statements social researchers becomes newly urgent. Some of the factors driving that breakdown, such as mass uptake of social media and the emergence of content factories, in fact play a crucial role in creating these new opportunities for academic speech. A quote from someone attached to a university helping a hastily written article stand out, the veneer of expertise promising to transcend ‘rant-driven journalism‘, creates a pull for academics who are being pushed out to the public sphere under the sign of impact. These academics for the most part aren’t being quoted because a judgement has been made about their authoritativeness. It’s simply that it’s become easier than ever to get some statements from an individual who has at least a vague aura of epistemic privilege. Considered as an isolated transaction, it might solve a problem for a journalist while the currency of expertise nonetheless declines precipitously in the aggregate. The current debate about social media and social science largely fails to capture what’s at stake in these boundary interactions, with the risk that all manner of problems are being generated by the call to use social media to get your research ‘out there’. This has implications of what social scientists do, as well as how what they do is evaluated, which can be characterised philosophically but should be recognised as a messy, over-determined process which resists theoretical closure. The claims being made by academics might (sometimes) be predictive in a semantic sense but the content of those predictions has little to do with the expanded array of speakers and claims.

    How much do we know about the sociology of how “social researchers increasingly find themselves in [these] situations”, what they are being asked to speak about and how these statements are being evaluated? These questions seem crucial to understanding how these philosophical problems are unfolding in practice and their implications for the future of social science. As well as the aforementioned case of social media for academics, the other case which I find myself preoccupied by is social research beyond the academic bubble, where it seems likely we will see increasing calls to demonstrate the provenance of research and to root out ‘bad’ research in order to prop up the epistemic credibility of institutionalised social knowledge and its role within government. As someone who has begun to have a (marginal) role in these debates through the Social Research Association, I’m concerned by the tendency to sidestep the philosophical issues which Jana raises and the damage this could do to the subtle fabric of the social research apparatus. It will deepen the failure to account for what she describes as “the way in which social structures, institutions, and cultures of knowledge production interact with the capacity to theorise, model, and think about the future”. But it’s also a failure to address the sociology of the problem, neatly theorising it in terms of a clearly identified deficit then proposing action to address what is lacking. Again the predictions made by social researchers might be predictive in a narrowly semantic sense but there’s much more going on here, including methodological disputes which touch on prediction without being reducible to it.

    My point here is not to disagree with Jana’s account, only to reflect that avoiding what she adroitly terms ontological bias (“epistemic attachment to the object of research“) might also require a distancing from a philosophical construct like ‘prediction’. If we consider a class of statements made across institutional sectors in terms of their philosophical status, it might be unproblematic to talk of ‘predictions’. But if we talk of predictions as if they are the same thing across sectors then, at least in terms of the two case studies I know well enough to be confident making this claim about, we obscure crucial differences relating to these claims, why they are made, how they are received and the ‘work’ which they do. In other words, ‘predictions’ might be a better philosophical designator than a sociological one. Or so it seems to me, as someone who has spent academic life torn between a yearning for the concrete and a propensity for abstraction. After reading Jana’s essay I’m now pondering my own ‘ontological bias’ and how, like everyone else, it shapes how I approach questions of the future of the social sciences. It’s really worth reading in full: here’s the link again.

  • Mark 6:10 pm on December 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

    Using social media as a social theorist 

    In the new year, I’ll be giving a talk at the Arctic University of Norway on using social media as a social theorist. This post is an initial attempt to get my thoughts on paper before the break, in order to make it easier to get the talk written when I get back from holiday. It might seem that using social media as a social theorist would be little different from using it as a sociologist or as an academic. For this reason, I’d be inclined to start with an introduction to social media for academics, before turning to the opportunities and challenges attached to social theory in particular. Here are the immediate ideas that have occurred to me but I’d hugely welcome further suggestions about topics it would be useful to cover:

    1. On an intellectual level, social theory cuts across fields and disciplines. On an institutional level, social theorists are embedded within existing networks and particular departments. The opportunities which social media offers to facilitate connections across disciplinary boundaries, the possibility to “curate the ideal academic department”, becomes even more valuable because of this intellectual/institutional tension. The talk will cover cross-platform strategies for building these connections and integrating them into everyday work routines.
    2. Many social theorists face a pressure to be more than a theorist, demonstrating empirical and/or methodological proficiency in order to ensure their employability. Social media can be a release vale which helps cope with the internal and external tensions generated by this demand. It also offers opportunities for those who “may toil in relative isolation from others who share their immediate interests”.
    3. The fragmentation of social theory creates practical challenges, as the opportunity costs of scholarship mean that mastery of a particular area can make it difficult to keep up to date with wider developments. Social media can provide invaluable in keeping up with new developments, drawing on much wider networks which can be built. It also provides accessible routes into new areas, as other social theorists reflecting on what they are reading can serve as a valuable bridge into a new literature.
    4. The opportunities which social media offers for pre-publication and post-publication exchange reduces reliance on the journal article, with all the limitations which this format has tended to entail for theoretical scholarship. It also facilitates meaningful intellectual exchange which isn’t tied to the publication process at all, extending conversations which might have previously taken place within closed networks (e.g. friends, collaborators) and providing the occasion for entirely new ones to take place. The fact these tend to be open by default means they are potentially a resource for others and even an invitation to join in.
    5. There might be pitfalls which are particularly pronounced for social theorists. Social media can amplify existing tensions or create new ones, with the risk that existing tendencies towards dogmatism are made worse. Therefore it’s important to understand what one considers a useful exchange (or otherwise) to be and how to orientate oneself towards ensuring this takes place.

    I’ll try to illustrate each of these points with examples of social theorists using social media in this way. I might also introduce a couple of extended case studies (probably Daniel Little) to flesh out these points towards the end of the talk. Any further suggestions are much appreciated. It’s likely I’ll run this session in the UK later in the year, if it gets a good reception.

  • Mark 9:57 pm on December 18, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    On the Rat Race 

    There’s a background to it here and a collection of his other work here.

  • Mark 12:21 pm on December 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , digitalisation of the archive, knowledge monopolies, , the archive, , ,   

    The problem of abundance and the political economy of digital knowledge 

    A conversation I had recently about the digitalisation of the archive left me thinking back to this section on pg 81-82 of World Without Mind by Franklin Foer:

    There have been various stabs at coining a term to capture the dominant role of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Mark Zuckerberg has called his company a “utility,” perhaps un aware how the term is historically an invitation for invasive regulation. But there’s something to his suggestion. In the industrial age, utilities were infrastructure that the public deemed essential to the functioning of everyday life—electricity and gas, water and sewage. In the end, the country couldn’t function without them, and the government removed these companies from the vicissitudes of the market, leashing them to publicly appointed commissions that set their prices. In the knowledge economy, the essential pieces of infrastructure are intellectual. With the inexhaustible choice made possible by the Internet comes a new imperative—the need for new tools capable of navigating the vastness. The world’s digital trove of knowledge isn’t terribly useful without mechanisms for searching and sorting the ethereal holdings. That’s the trick Amazon—and the other knowledge monopolists—have managed. Amazon didn’t just create the world’s biggest bookstore; it made its store far more usable, far more efficient, than browsing the aisles of a Barnes and Noble or cruising a library’s card catalog. And beyond that, Amazon anticipated your desires, using its storehouse of data to recommend your next purchase, to strongly suggest a course for navigating knowledge. This is the strange essence of the new knowledge monopolies. They don’t actually produce knowledge; they just sift and organize it. We rely on a small handful of companies to provide us with a sense of hierarchy, to identify what we should read and what we should ignore, to pick informational winners and losers. It’s incredible economic and cultural power that they have amassed because of a sudden change in the strange economics of the commodity they traffic in, a change they hastened.

    There’s something enticingly simple about this account, framing contemporary knowledge monopolies as successors to the communications monopolies of the past, inviting comparable modes of regulation.

  • Mark 11:53 am on December 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , material interests, supply processes, , , ,   

    The material interests of Big Tech 

    In recent years, we have seen a renewed focus on the political ideologies which are currently emerging within Silicon Valley. Such considerations are not new and contemporary accounts are influenced, implicitly and explicitly, by earlier notions such as the Californian ideology. But the dominant approach appears to be a cultural one, treating these emerging political forms in terms of their distinctiveness relative to more established positions. The overarching project of analysing the politics of big tech is at an early stage, not least of all because the consolidation of established interests which would justify such a distinction is still relatively recently. For this reason, it would be a mistake to make conclusive judgements about factors which are missing from such analysis or mistakes into which it is falling.

    Nonetheless, I increasingly wonder if we are losing sight of the material interests at work within the emerging cultural forms of big tech. This is something which applies at the level of particular groups, such as the emerging categories of higher level engineers and data scientists, as well as their relative position within a California boom driven in part by this very affluence, which ensures ensures that even those who are very wealthy in national terms are unlikely to feel this way when they live in the Bay Area. Furthermore there are the emerging cohorts of tech billionaires, as well as the more prosaic reality of the millionaires who inevitably accompany any successful flotation or sale.

    However it’s also a matter of the companies themselves, as the character of their production processes leave them with vested interests in sustaining regulatory, fiscal and trade relationships. There’s an interesting example of this in Machine, Platform, Crowd by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. From pg 97:

    Chris Anderson, CEO of drone maker 3D Robotics, gave us a vivid illustration of what’s going on in the drone industry and, by extension, in many others. He showed us a metal cylinder about 1 inch in diameter and 3 inches long and said, “This is a gyro sensor. It is mechanical, it cost $ 10,000, it was made in the nineties by some very talented ladies in an aerospace factory and hand-wound, et cetera. And it takes care of one axis of motion. On our drones we have twenty-four sensors like this. That would have been $ 10,000 each. That would have been $ 240,000 of sensors, and by the way, it would be the size of a refrigerator. Instead, we have a tiny little chip or a few tiny little chips that cost three dollars and are almost invisible.” Anderson’s point is that the combination of cheap raw materials, mass global markets, intense competition, and large manufacturing scale economies is essentially a guarantee of sustained steep price declines and performance improvements. He calls personal drones the “peace dividend of the smartphone wars, which is to say that the components in a smartphone—the sensors, the GPS, the camera, the ARM core processors, the wireless, the memory, the battery—all that stuff, which is being driven by the incredible economies of scale and innovation machines at Apple, Google, and others, is available for a few dollars. They were essentially ‘unobtainium’ 10 years ago. This is stuff that used to be military industrial technology; you can buy it at RadioShack now.”

  • Mark 9:26 am on December 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , ,   

    Proposal for a Concept Lab 

    The Concept Lab would meet on a weekly basis, usually for an hour unless there was logistical business to be undertaken concerning the future of the lab. Each meeting would revolve around a presentation from one member, detailing either:

    • A practical problem they have faced in their research, as well as a singular concept they have turned to in order to resolve or at least better understand the problem in question. The focus would be on the actual or hoped for application of the concept in the research process.
    • A new concept which they have encountered, to be introduced and placed in an intellectual context. If there is no immediate practical application for this concept, the onus would be on accounting for the enthusiasm the concept provokes in them. Why is this felt to be important? What might it bring to research practice at a later stage?
    • A new concept which they have developed, which would be introduced and contextualised in a similar manner to above. The focus would be on the claimed novelty of the concept, the circumstances in which it was developed and the potential uses to which it could be put.

    The purpose of the Concept Lab would be to provide a forum in which participants account for their work with concepts, as well as facilitating the generation of a language within which to describe and analyse this work across intellectual and disciplinary boundaries. For this reason, it would be important for the pool of participants to be intellectual diversity and stable in their constitution. While allowing for the inevitable exigencies of working life, it would be expected that participants where possible attend all sessions for an agreed period of time. If the format was successful, participants would benefit as much from presentations by others as from the opportunity to present themselves.

    • Shauna 4:20 pm on December 16, 2017 Permalink

      The ongoing commitment seems like the biggest hurdle here, but if it could be surmounted I think such a lab would be very valuable.

  • Mark 9:55 pm on December 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Marvin Minsky, ontological reasoning, , , , suitcase words,   

    Social ontology and the challenge of suitcase words 

    This is a wonderful expression I just picked up from Machine, Platform, Crowd by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. As they describe on pg 112-113, suitcase words jumble together multiple meanings in a way which renders questions more obscure than they would otherwise be:

    Is generative-design software really “creative?” It’s a hard question because creativity is a prime example of what AI pioneer Marvin Minsky called a “suitcase word.” As he put it, “Most words we use to describe our minds (like ‘consciousness,’ ‘learning,’ or ‘memory’) are suitcase-like jumbles of different ideas.” We see just such a jumble in different definitions of creativity. The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, states that creativity is “the use of imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”

    In a lecture today I argued that our debates about the meaning of the human are prone to this, relying on contested terms without properly defining them. It’s when we confront suitcase words that social ontology becomes invaluable, offering us techniques for unpacking these terms and ensuring the debate proceeds in terms of the contents of the suitcase rather than the suitcase itself. If we are clear about this purpose then it invites us to undertake ontological reasoning in a focused way, orientated towards the clarification of questions through the delineation of entities and characteristics.

  • Mark 6:04 pm on December 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    CfP: Accelerated Academy 

    Accelerated Academy #4

    Academic Timescapes: Perspectives, Reflections, ResponsibilitiesMay 24-25, Villa Lanna, Prague, Czech Academy of Sciences

    After meetings in Prague, Warwick and Leiden, the fourth Accelerated Academy conference calls for a more nuanced perspective in order to advance our understanding of academic temporalities as experienced, understood, controlled, managed, imagined and contested across different institutional contexts. The question of temporality – the human perception and social organization of time – in and of the academy has been attracting considerable attention across the social sciences in recent decades. Notable accounts have demonstrated that time is an important research object potentially offering new insights into the complex and shifting nature of the contemporary academy and its future. Existing studies tend to stress how pressures intrinsic to the imperatives of the knowledge economy and academic/epistemic capitalism co-shape policies and subsequently impact how time is perceived and experienced on the level of individuals and institutions, leading to concerns over their temporal relation to wider society. Taking the cue from the long tradition of sociology of time the conference aims to tackle various pressing question in the emerging field of the social studies of academic time. The conference will address the following themes but the organizers welcome other cognate problematics:

    · Theorizations and different disciplinary takes on temporality in academia

    · (Possible) methods of inquiring into academic temporalities

    · Temporal design(s), temporal policies

    · Temporal justice vs/and temporal autonomy

    · The promises and limits of ‘the slow’ in academia

    · Temporalities in/of teaching; temporalities in/of research – tensions, complementarities, (in)compatibilities

    · Temporal interfaces with wider society and its implications for science communication

    · Temporality of science communication via social media

    · Digitalization, temporal intersections and emerging temporalities in academia

    · Temporality, metrics, evaluations

    Please submit short abstract (250 words) and bio to vostal@flu.cas.cz by 28 February 2018. We intend to generate an edited volume from the conference so please indicate whether you’d be interested in contributing to the volume.  

    Organized by Centre for Science, Technology, and Society Studies, Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences & University of Minho, Research Centre on Communication Studies (CECS)

    Funded by Czech Science Foundation, Czech Academy of Sciences (Strategie AV21) & Portuguese Science Foundation, CECS, University of Minho.

  • Mark 10:37 am on December 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    CfP: Digital transformation of social theory 

    Call for papers to a special issue of Technological Forecasting and Social Change [SSCI 3.226, Scopus, CNRS***, ABS***, VHB***].

    Guest editors

    Steffen Roth, La Rochelle Business School and Yerevan State University
    Harry F. Dahms, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
    Frank Welz, University of Innsbruck
    Sandro Cattacin, University of Geneva

    There once was a time when leaders could both appreciate books and govern empires without knowing how to read and write (Dutton, 2016; Pascal, 1970). Today’s thought leaders are in a very similar situation. Though hardly ever away from keyboard, we scholars in general and social theorists in particular relate to the dominant media of the 21st century as if we still lived in the Gutenberg Galaxy (McLuhan, 1962), as exemplified in the prevailing use of computers and Internet mainly to write books and articles to store and search for in online libraries. The situation is even more remarkable in that we not only continue to treat the new media like traditional media, but also produce more and more traditional media on the new media. Today, there are publications on the digital transformation of almost everything. Human identity (Nagy & Koles, 2014) is being transformed digitally, along with more mundane aspects of social life such as work (Stone, 2004), production (Potstada et al., 2016), or healthcare (Agarwal et al., 2010); and then again time and space (Berthon et al., 2000), and thus even the globe (Heylighen & Lenartowicz, 2016) and all of our everyday life (Wajcman, 2008); apparently, not even the traditional media (Coyle, 2006; Roth et al., 2017) can escape the digital transformation.

    In such a context of inescapable digital transformation, our professional insistence on oral and written language remains consistent as long as we have reason to believe that these traditional media remain dominant even in the new media age (Turkle, 2016). The less committed we are to this belief, however, the clearer it becomes that books and articles on the digital transformation systematically fail to “walk their own talk”. Digital copies of printed theories do not constitute digital theories, just as literature does not constitute mere transliterations of oral speech. Even if smart attempts to tie programming languages back to the traditional forms occasionally result in the discovery of new genres such as code poetry (for an example, see Bertran, 2012), to most of us even these literalised forms of computer language remain as inaccessible the Bible once was to the majority of the medieval populations. Thus, of all people, we scholars also belong to the illiterate farmers of the information age today, as we harvest our research fields at computer-mediated conferences and virtually augment our stocks of books and papers. The heirs of the medieval monks, our profession of bookworms and elaborate natural language processors itself grew dependent on trust in and reliant on spiritual guidance from a community of cybermonks who shape and administer the increasingly omnipresent knowledge architectures of the future.

    Early attempts to alter this situation and to develop at least a prototype of a digitally transformed social theory include social systems theory. As is well known, Niklas Luhmann (1995, 2012, 2013) built his social theory – as much as his theory of society – on the formal language of George Spencer-Brown (1979), and a recently discovered 1961 prototype of the Laws of Forms leaves no doubt that Spencer-Brown developed his laws as elegant solutions to problems in electronic engineering (Roth, 2017). Thus, Luhmann’s social systems theory does not only theorise the digital transformation of society, but also presents an example of a theory whose architecture at least in parts is coded in a digital language. Yet, Luhmann’s digital transformation of theory has remained both superficial and largely unparalleled in the in the wider social theory community.

    The digital transformation of punditry (McNair & Flew, 2017) remains an unresolved issue of social theory, which is critical in the light of the rapid digital transformation of social research methodologies and corresponding discussions on an end of theory (Anderson, 2008; Boyd & Crawford, 2012; Kitchin, 2014). In such a context, the secret hope that traditional print and pencil theories will survive the digital transformation, and at best require occasional rewrites and resubmissions, constitutes a considerable risk which we will not manage just by publishing yet another golden open access online-first version of a moderated interaction of two or more preferably established social theorists. Rather, what is at stake is how we not only (re-) activate literature and literati to trace and study footprints of the digital media, but also unfold post-literary social theory programmes within these digital media themselves.

    In the light of the above, this special issue does not invite social theories of the digital transformation, but instead attempts at digital transformations of social theory. Manuscripts and other modes of presenting arguments and analyses that are cognizant with the above-mentioned systematic failure to “walk their own talk” are welcome, especially if they promise to illuminate general and/or specific aspects of the digital transformation of social theories, addressing questions and memes of the following non-exclusive type:

    • Digital theoretical languages: What are suitable programming languages for a digital transformation of social theory? Are there particularly promising constellations of natural and formal languages in general or programming languages in particular?
    • Theory debugging: How might debuggers or similar programmes be used to test and fix existing or even facilitate the development of new social theory programmes?
    • Critical updates: What are the most critical updates to be installed on the social theory platforms of the 21st century?
    • Digital detox: Since we do not randomly produce digital copies of analogue content, digital transformation involves an option to jettison the obsolete among the analogue concepts. Which concepts should be confined to literature? Are there any that systematically resits their digital transformation? Are there any that are indispensable for digital theorising?
    • Game over or next level: Toward a computer-gamification of social theory?
    • Communication from elsewhere: Social theory between fashionable nonsense and algorithmic authorship.
    • Old wires in new bottlenecks: What if we took the classical theorists and just threw them in at the deep end of the Internet age to observe what would ensue? (see, e.g. for Karl Marx: Fuchs, 2017)
    • Training the under-/dogs: From social theory programming to double-contingent human-computer interaction (Tanz, 2016).
    • Humanism versus transhumanism: Who or what are the agents in and of a digitally transformed society? Is there a place of agency in such a society at all?
    • Hacking: Is there such thing as theory hacking? What could social theorists in general and critical theorists in particular learn from hackers? For example, what options are there to move beyond brute force attacks on established theory programmes and platforms #problematization; or, how can we imagine phishing for complements for traditional social theories?
    • Empire strikes back: How do, or could, social theories change the trajectory of digital transformation? To what extent is social theory already part or even driver of the digital transformation?
    • Anticipated flashbacks: What might future generations of social theorists think of our traditional or transitory forms of pre- or proto-digital theorising?
    • Anachronisms of digital transformation: Digital transformation as narrative, myth, or any other traditional form of communication.

    This call for papers is linked to the Management Theory and Social Theory Track T12_03 at the EURAM 2018 conference in Reykjavik and the Sub-theme 31: Management and Organisation Theory: A game at the EGOS 2018 meeting in Tallinn. Presentation at the conference tracks or sub-theme will not guarantee acceptance of a manuscript for publication in Technological Forecasting and Social Change; and, conversely, attending the tracks or sub-theme by no means is a precondition for acceptance of a manuscripts for the special issue.

    Please do not hesitate to email to roths@esc-larochelle.fr or steffen.roth@ysu.am for informal enquiries on the special issue.

    The full CFP including details on submission period and procedure will be available on the TFSC journal website soon.

  • Mark 10:26 am on December 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply

    Towards Common Process Understanding in Collective Welfare 

    Workshop at the S-BPM ONE 2018, the 10th International Conference on Subject-Oriented Business Process Management on April 5-6, 2018 at the Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria

    Wolfgang Hofkirchner

    Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science, Vienna Austria

    Christian Stary

    JKU, Business Informatics – Communications Engineering, Linz Austria

    Towards Common Process Understanding in Collective Welfare (http://www.s-bpm-one.org/program/)

    Although collective welfare and the development of common goods are well shared concepts, role-specific behavior descriptions could be used to explain more accurately underlying systems and development processes. Respective representations could enclose theories like complex adaptive systems, emergence or evolutionary dynamics, as we can take some concepts from information and social sciences for deriving in-depth understanding of the behavior of involved entities. Also, we could understand societal development like a System-of-Systems in where its stakeholders strive for a common welfare and the equilibrium of the system of which they are members. 

    We are interested in fundamental issues, such as

    • Will all the members of a collective welfare system need to behave in a way in which its maximum payoff is the equilibrium of the system, and in some sense a ‘standardized’ pattern?
    • Do they act as a whole besides individuals like they obey a rule in where they prefer to work for the welfare of the collective besides the individual welfare? 
    • What type of behavior does a ‘globalization’ or networking process have to have to allow for designing and envisioning common systems in terms of offerings, currencies, work, finding their ‘equilibrium’?
    • Ethical machines, machine ethics, or common moral grounds?

    We aim bringing together practitioners and researchers from systems, information, and social science with process engineers, as these communities could attract novel research and practice at the intersection of the mentioned areas. Of particular importance are theories and concepts underpinning modeling and emergence of processes in complex adaptive socio-technical systems.

  • Mark 7:40 pm on December 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , learned societies, , ,   

    What function do learned societies serve in a digital age? 

    What are learned societies for? This is how Jennifer Platt answers this question on loc 119 of her history of the British Sociological Association:

    Learned societies such as the BSA are a vital part of the social structure of academic life; not every eligible person belongs to one, but nonetheless all are affected by them. However, the topic is one that has usually been neglected in general historical work on academic disciplines. That often focuses on disembodied ideas or, at most, uses social units such as schools of thought, departments or educational institutions. Learned societies deserve better than to be confined to the ghetto of commissioned anniversary organisational histories. They cut across the boundaries of those conventional historical units, organising conferences, promoting the professional development of their members, creating networks and publishing journals and books which are important to the intellectual life of the discipline. They also represent the discipline to the outside world, whether in the large political arena of major governmental decisions on education and research, or in the many smaller arenas of funding bodies, exam boards and governing bodies in higher education.

    While these organisations are rarely the object of theoretical scrutiny, we can nonetheless see their characteristics being implied in everyday conversations which practitioners have about their shared professional world. They are crucial to establishing the parameters of those worlds and their influence can be indirectly felt far more widely than it is directly encountered. It is precisely because they “cut across the boundaries of those conventional historical units” that their importance goes unrecognised, creating the conditions in which research centres, schools of thought and academic departments can thrive before fading into the background as intellectual historians focus on what are in part outputs of this work.

    However when we consider the functions of learned societies, it is easy to see how their importance might wane when communications capacity is dispersed throughout the discipline. Underlying their internal and external functions are the capacity to communicate within the discipline and to represent the discipline through communication with the external world. There were always other organisations with some capacity to do this (e.g. influential academic departments) but this was a side effect of other functions rather than an end in itself.

    It is not so much that social media decentralises communicative capacity, dispersing it throughout the discipline, as much as it allows the proliferation of other actors who can perform these internal and external functions. There are new intermediaries who can connect the discipline internally and represent it externally. This raises the obvious question: what is the point of the learned society in an age of social media? Is it to perform the internal and external communications function but to do it more effectively than the new intermediaries? Is it to leverage this function towards certain purposes (e.g. establishing ethics guidelines) which other actors lack the normative legitimacy to pursue? Is it simply as a scholarly publisher and a conference organiser? Or do they need to find a new purpose in order to avoid a slow slide into irrelevance?

  • Mark 9:48 pm on December 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , practical intellectuals, ,   

    The missing history of the practical intellectuals 

    One of my pet hates is the legacy of the ‘intellectual’, with its connotations of heroic figures speaking truth to power. This is recognised even by those who seek to retain the notion, as was the case with Foucault’s project “to break with the totalizing ambition of what he called the ‘universal intellectual'” as Bourdieu ably described it in his tribute to the philosopher after his death:

    For him, the critical vision was applicable first of all to his own practice, and in this respect he was the purest representative of a new kind of intellectual who has no need to mystify himself as to the motives and themes of intellectual acts, nor to foster illusions about their effect, in order to practice them in full knowledge of their cause.

    Political Interventions: Social Sciences and Political Action, Pg 139

    For words to have influence, for knowledge to make a difference through speech, intellectuals require a platform. It is a platform which by its nature, facilitating a broadcast mode of one to many, can only be occupied by a chosen few. The figures who have occupied such platforms linger on in our imagination of the public role of the humanities and the social sciences, even amongst those who explicitly repudiate the role. This is problematic for many reasons but one which I’ve been reflecting on recently is how it marginalises other modes of intellectual engagement with the world and the people who undertake them. For instance Ann Oakley describes the often overlooked history of women ‘practical intellectuals’ on 4703 of her Father and Daughter:

    We’re quite ignorant about the connected histories of women ‘practical intellectuals’, who combined learning, action and public policy. We don’t know the extent to which interlocking networks of women reformers/ researchers/ social scientists/ practical intellectuals have operated in different countries at different times and with what consequences. For example, the Swedish social researcher and reformer Kerstin Hesselgren was trained as a sanitary inspector at Bedford College in London in the early 1900s (having already learnt nursing and home economics and, most extraordinarily, acquired a certificate as a barber-surgeon). She practised her passion for research-based social reform by being one of the first Swedish women MPs, the first female factory inspector in Sweden, the instigator of many social investigations, a prime mover in the first social workers’ union, and a network-builder for women across political parties and classes. When the Swedish government set up a Committee on Women’s Work in the late 1930s, Hesselgren was its Chair, and another social scientist/ reformer/ politician, Alva Myrdal, was its Secretary. Networking, especially women’s networking has, like friendship, been neglected as part of the story of 20th-century social science. A childhood exposure.

    The reach and influence of these networks was remarkable, as well as the obvious solidarity which characterised them. Though the manner in which they have been overlooked invites many explanations, I find it hard not to wonder if the oversight would be so pronounced were it not for the residual hold which the (usually male) public intellectual, pontificating from on high, retains on our imagination of how learning and action can be combined.

  • Mark 10:12 am on December 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , investigative journalism, , , newspapers, , public sphere, , ,   

    The global fourth estate 

    In his recently released book Collusion, Luke Harding briefly discusses the media cooperation taking place behind the scenes, as media organisations grappled with a rapidly changing landscape. On loc 898 he writes:

    At the Guardian we were pursuing leads from both sides of the Atlantic. Among them, how UK spy agencies had first picked up suspicious interactions between the Russians and the Trump campaign and the role played by Deutsche Bank, Trump’s principal lender. We made an investigative pod—Harding, Hopkins, Borger, and Stephanie Kirchgaessner, a talented former Washington correspondent, now based in Rome. We built up a portfolio of sources. There was healthy competition still, but reporters on different titles began working together on some stories. There were formal press consortiums and ad hoc conversations between one-time rivals. I talked to the New York Times, the Post, the Financial Times in London, Reuters, Mother Jones, the Daily Beast, CNN, and others. Such conversations took place in New York, Washington, London, Munich, and Sarajevo. Some happened in glossy conference rooms, others in the corners of pubs over warm ale. Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times, argued that the “gravity of the matter” called for a change in the press’s behaviour. Trump meant a new era. And new post-tribal thinking. Abramson wrote: “Reputable news organizations that have committed resources to original reporting on the Russia story should not compete with one another, they should co-operate and pool information.”

    This has been one of many such collaborations. The most prominent have been the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers but others have taken place without receiving such prominent coverage. I’d like to understand the process by which (potential) competitors become (actual) collaborators and how this is enacted through day-to-day processes of collaboration. Does anyone know of first-person accounts of working on these projects?

    The formation of the International Consortium of Investigate Journalists has been a central part of this process, with media partners and supporters from around the world. This is how they describe their organisational mission:

    The need for such an organization has never been greater. Globalization and development have placed extraordinary pressures on human societies, posing unprecedented threats from polluting industries, transnational crime networks, rogue states, and the actions of powerful figures in business and government.

    The news media, hobbled by short attention spans and lack of resources, are even less of a match for those who would harm the public interest. Broadcast networks and major newspapers have closed foreign bureaus, cut travel budgets, and disbanded investigative teams. We are losing our eyes and ears around the world precisely when we need them most.

    Our aim is to bring journalists from different countries together in teams – eliminating rivalry and promoting collaboration. Together, we aim to be the world’s best cross-border investigative team.

    Their work relies on a complex ecosystem of organisations, teams, media partners, co-researchers and supporters, including possibly unexpected elements such as analytical support from Palantir. They have published their methodology and workflow for one of their investigations, providing a fascinating level of transparency. Is this a worthy project which sits at the periphery of journalism? Or can we see in it the lineament of what journalism will look like in the future?

  • Mark 3:37 pm on December 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Towards a cultural sociology of the toaster  

    How does what we eat shape how we are seen? Cultural sociologists have long accepted the role which culinary consumption plays in reproducing status hierarchies. However the meal of breakfast and the role of devices have been conspicuously absent from these debates, leaving us with a misleading view of how people eat and the social meanings assigned to it.

    This conference takes the toaster as a case study, examining the characteristics of these devices through a sociological lens. What do recent features like carcinogenic-negation and nuclear-power tell us about the meal of breakfast and the meaning ascribed to it in late capitalism? Bringing together leading cultural sociologists from around the world, it promises a transformed understanding of culinary consumption liable to influence practice within sociology and beyond.

    Through two vibrant days of lectures, panels and workshops, we will turn a critical light on breakfast and the technical infrastructure upon which it relies. Bursaries will be provided for graduate students and precariously employed scholars, ensuring a diverse range of participants in our discussion. Breakfast will of course be included in the conference registration fee.

    I’m at a copy writing workshop and this was my academic spin on being asked to write advertising copy for a new toaster which is nuclear powered and produces unburnable toast. This event isn’t actually taking place, though I must admit I’d happily listen to a podcast or two from it. 

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