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  • Mark 7:10 pm on January 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    Answering social science questions with social media data, March 8th in London 

    After last year’s successful ‘Introduction to tools for social media research’, the SRA and #NSMNSS network are teaming up again on 8 March to deliver a one-day conference in London on ‘Answering social science questions with social media data’.

    What role can social media research play in the social sciences? What are the questions it can help us to answer? Speakers from a range of backgrounds will talk about their experiences of using social media in their research, providing real examples of use to those interested in seeing how the promises of social media research can be actualised.

    The packed event will include keynote presentations from Steven McDermott, Qualitative Analysis and Social Media Lead with HMRC and Suzy Moat, Associate Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School, and examples from eight expert speakers of how social media research can provide insight into research questions in novel ways. It is aimed at social researchers who want to find out more about what this new methodology can offer, and see how the promises of social media research can be actualised.

    Our speakers come from a range of backgrounds, including government and academia, presenting examples on topics such as politics and health, with data from Twitter, Facebook, blog sites and other platforms.

    To book and for the full programme, please see the SRA website

    Date & time: Thursday 8 March 2018, 9.40am to 5pm
    Venue:  Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BE

    Price:  £115 (£95 for SRA members) includes lunch and refreshments

    Delegate places: 100 

     
  • Mark 6:52 pm on January 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    What the lost tradition of classical British social theory can teach us about the dangers of charismatic leadership 

    In the conclusion to their Envisioning Sociology, John Scott and Ray Bromley reflect on how the project of Patrick Geddes and the sociologists around him came to be forgotten, in spite of the influence they exercised in their own time. This lost tradition of classical British social theory was an energetic and multifaceted engagement with the changing world around them, drawn together in a powerful vision of a sociological movement which sought to reconstruct this world.

    How this project failed and how they came to be forgotten within the discipline is a complex story. But one particularly interesting aspect is how the intellectual charisma of Geddes himself might have contributed to this, imbuing the emergent movement with characteristics which lent it dynamism in its own time but failed to equip it to reproduce itself in subsequent generations. From 4554-4569:

    The circle was organized around Patrick Geddes as its inspirational and charismatic leader. This was clearly one of its strengths, as it provided the core set of ideas that went largely unchallenged among his followers. This structure was also, however, a source of weakness. Geddes’s charisma as a teacher attracted those who were seeking an answer to fundamental questions. His synoptic vision and the apparent completion of his theoretical system tended to ensure that his followers were immediately and absolutely committed to furthering his work. They believed they had discovered “the truth” and so felt an almost religious obligation to bring this truth to those who had not yet encountered it. They became disciples with a commitment to proselytize on behalf of the master and to take his words to the ignorant masses. As convinced believers, they felt that it was necessary only to bring these ideas to the attention of others for them to recognize and accept their truth. Argument and persuasion were felt to be unnecessary, given the “obviousness” of the ideas once stated. Hence, they emphasized didactic education rather than persuasive discussion. The members of the circle therefore felt no real need to enter into proper dialogue with advocates of other positions. Their absolute certainty—often perceived as arrogance—was viewed with suspicion by their intellectual rivals, who simply ignored what they had to say. Other sociologists felt alienated from the Geddes circle and refused to cooperate in any venture that they thought might be a mere pretense at cooperation designed to impose the Geddes viewpoint. Excluded from expanded professional activities, the Geddes circle became increasingly inward looking. Its members tended to overpromote the work of very minor members of the group, further undermining their credibility in the eyes of others.

    I find it hard not to see echoes of these tendencies in critical realism. There’s a much broader lesson here about the dangers of intellectual leadership, as the characteristics which lead ‘schools’ to form can in turn undermine the longevity of their ideas. I’ve long been drawn to the idea of a social life of theory which would unify the conceptual evaluation of theoretical ideas and their sociological explanation as cultural forms. These are two sides of the same coin and going back to the lost traditions, examining the failed projects which one promised so much, helps us look at the contemporary landscape of social theory in a new way.

     

     
  • Mark 10:18 pm on January 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    One of my favourite closing scenes to a film 

    I tried to describe this recently and couldn’t remember the name of the film. Archived here to avoid me forgetting it again:

     
  • Mark 2:08 pm on January 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    TOD Talks: The Future of Science Communication 

     
  • Mark 7:15 pm on January 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    The new old division at the heart of politics 

    Earlier this week, a leading figure in Italy’s governing centre-left PD party explained how they were looking to Emmanuel Macron for inspiration in the pitch they were making to the electorate. Their prospects look rather bleak, as an internally divided party trails the populist Five Star Movement in an election most predict will lead to a right-wing government. Perhaps even one led by Silvio Berlusconi. Are the PD worried? It seems not because they believe history is on their side:

    Gozi, who is fluent in French and English and was educated at the Sorbonne and LSE, sees himself as part of the “Erasmus generation”, a group of younger leaders who see the European Union not just as a bulwark against nationalist wars, but as a multiplier of sovereignty.

    He has also been at the centre of the argument that a stronger Europe can halt populism, rather than feed the alienation on which it thrives. “This has become the real new political cleavage in politics. It is now so obvious,” he said. “Are you confident that Italy can be a key actor in a new Europe capable of taking back control on immigration, security and achieving growth through reshaping the eurozone? Or do you believe the answer lies within our national borders?

    What I find bewildering is how this ‘new’ division is cited as a reason for confidence. A party whose ‘third way’ centrism has led them into an electoral dead-end will effectively offer the same thing to a weary electorate, convinced that the tide of history is turning. Whereas in reality, the open/closed dichotomy has governed the imagination of liberal politics for decades! The capacity to repeat what one has already done, with ever increasing confidence about its relevance in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary, represents a pathology likely to elude any explanation other than the psychoanalytical.

     
  • Mark 8:24 pm on January 24, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    The Sociology of Ryan Air, or, when normativity fails to reproduce itself 

    Last night I was sitting in the front row of a plane from Germany to the UK. The couple next to me opened a half bottle of wine, immediately attracting the attention of the cabin crew. The flight attendant came over and turned to them, observing somewhat apologetically that “you should know that it’s against the rules to bring your own alcohol on to a plane and drink it”. There was an awkward silence. Filling the void, he went on to say that “obviously, it’s fine in this case but don’t be surprised if someone stops you in future”. He smiled and walked away, as they continued to pour their drinks without having spoken a word.

    I found this encounter interesting because it represents an example of normativity failing to reproduce itself. There is an expectation inscribed in the role of the passenger (not to consume alcohol that was purchased outside the plane) and an expectation inscribed in the role of the flight attendant (to ensure passengers meet the expectations they are subject to) which entails a relationship between them. However this relationship between social roles is played out in interaction between people and this is where the problem for normativity arises. Normativity relies on human concern for its reproduction. The parties to a normatively relevant interaction have to recognise the norm in question, see it as worth reproducing for whatever reason and be inclined to take action to do so. For avoidance of doubt, I obviously recognise that the reasons why a norm might be enforced or not, in relation to particular others within a specific context are hugely variable, with different contributions to the reproduction of existing inequalities.

    This is why I always found the language of endorsement and enforcement used by Dave Elder-Vass problematic. In his account these things run together whereas, it seems to me, they are often separate. Furthermore, it is easy to find countless instances of norms being identified, while neither being endorsed nor enforced. This is why I found the interaction I witnessed so interesting. It was also charming, affable and human. The flight attendant didn’t care, clearly recognising the couple would create no problems and, it seemed, feeling there would be no legitimacy in his enforcing the expectation under these conditions. Likewise the couple would presumably have felt irritated if the expectation had been enforced, in the absence of any harm they were causing with their actions.

    But what happens at the macro-social level when these micro-social failures of normativity become pervasive? Are they a constant possibility inherent in human interaction? Or might they become more likely under certain social conditions? Do they tend to spiral? Does a failure to enforce expectations make you less likely to do so in future? How do organisations respond to this if they become cognisant that these norms aren’t enforced? Do they fall back on sanctions to try and correct this? If so, what effect do these punishments have on the perceived legitimacy of the norm in question and whether the parties tasked with enforcing it actually endorse it?

    On the outbound leg of the same trip, I saw another interaction which relates to this discussion. The airline in question recently instituted a new baggage policy which has proved controversial with passengers. Again sitting in the front row (it turns out to be a brilliant spot for people watching) I watched person after person board the plane, holding a bag which had been labelled to be put in the hold, explaining to the flight attendant why they needed and/or were entitled to store it on the plane. I had no way to assess the reasons that were cited but we can assume that at least some of them were fabricated. The flight attendant argued in some cases and gave up in others, clearly finding the mechanics of the new policy utterly wearying. When the boarding had finished, one of the baggage handlers came up to confer with her about the number of bags in the hold. A tense interaction ended with him saying “it’s your choice whether you enforce the rules”. I couldn’t have phrased the problem of normativity better myself.

     
    • Jeffocks 8:47 pm on January 24, 2018 Permalink

      Hmmm in terms of the features of the situation you’ve chosen to highlight the analysis that seems to cover this is Talcott Parsons’ pattern variable dealing with public private alternatives in expressing those roles. Social action here requires the steward to sanction or pedagogize where necessary and so discharge the responsibility of the role etc. What fascinates you here seems to require quite a different language than that of social roles?

    • Mark 8:55 pm on January 24, 2018 Permalink

      Not that I can see, though obviously it depends on the concept of role you subscribe to.

    • Benjamin Geer 9:05 pm on January 24, 2018 Permalink

      Is this a bit like the argument James C. Scott makes, that there are a lot of systems that manage to function only because the people tasked with implementing the rules are able to bend or break them when necessary?

      This can also happen when a system just malfunctions. The other day I was on a train from Paris to Zurich, and saw a British woman try to buy lunch in the restaurant carriage. It didn’t work because the credit card reader refused to accept her card. The train worker said it might be because it was a UK credit card, but in my experience the card readers on trains often don’t work anyway. She didn’t have any cash, and said in consternation, in English, “I can’t go for four hours without eating just because your machine doesn’t work.” That was too difficult for the train worker’s English, so I translated. He said he understood, but he couldn’t give her lunch for free. Then he gave it another moment’s thought, and silently handed her the sandwich anyway (keeping the dessert).

      Often a system seems to be designed for a certain category of people — a social class, speakers of a certain language or of a certain nationality — but the actual users of the system don’t necessarily fit into that category. For example, everything on those Paris-Zurich trains is designed for people who speak either French, German, or English, but there are always a lot of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean tourists. I often see train guards struggling to communicate with them, and I suspect this may lead to rule-bending as well.

    • Mark 7:17 pm on January 25, 2018 Permalink

      Didn’t meant that to sound defensive. Would love to hear more about what you mean.

    • Mark 7:19 pm on January 25, 2018 Permalink

      Those examples are fascinating! Where is it that he makes that argument? I’d like to read

    • Benjamin Geer 9:04 am on January 26, 2018 Permalink

      It’s in Seeing like a State:

      “the formal order encoded in social-engineering designs inevitably leaves out elements that are essential to their actual functioning. If the factory were forced to operate within the confines of the roles and functions specified in the simplified design, it would grind to a halt…. Stated somewhat differently, all socially engineered systems of formal order are in fact subsystems of a larger system on which they are ultimately dependent, not to say parasitic. The subsystem relies on a variety of processes–frequently informal or antecedent–which alone it cannot create or maintain…. It is, I think, a characteristic of large, formal systems of coordination that they are accompanied by what appear to be anomalies but on closer inspection turn out to be integral to the formal order…. Many modern cities, and not just those in the Third World, function and survive by virtue of slums and squatter settlements whose residents provide essential services. A formal command economy, as we have seen, is contingent on petty trade, bartering, and deals that are typically illegal…. In each case, the nonconforming practice is an indispensable condition for formal order.”

      The book explores lots of fascinating examples.

    • Mark 7:11 pm on January 30, 2018 Permalink

      a belated thank you! have intended to read this for years & this has just given me another reason to do so

  • Mark 10:41 am on January 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    Answering social science questions with social media data 

    What role can social media research play in the social sciences? What are the questions it can help us to answer? Speakers from a range of backgrounds will talk about their experiences of using social media in their research, providing real examples of use to those interested in seeing how the promises of social media research can be actualised.

    Press the ‘Register‘ button for more information and to book your place.

    After last year’s successful ‘Introduction to tools for social media research’, the SRA and #NSMNSS are teaming up again 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.

    The packed event will include keynote presentations from Steven McDermott and Suzy Moat, and examples from eight expert speakers of how social media research can provide insight into research questions in novel ways. It is aimed at social researchers who want to find out more about what this new methodology can offer, and see how the promises of social media research can be actualised.

    Our speakers come from a range of backgrounds, including government and academia, presenting examples on topics such as politics and health, with data from Twitter, Facebook, blog sites and other platforms.What role can social media research play in the social sciences? What are the questions it can help us to answer? Speakers from a range of backgrounds will talk about their experiences of using social media in their research, providing real examples of use to those interested in seeing how the promises of social media research can be actualised.

    More details and registration available at the SRA website

    After last year’s successful ‘Introduction to tools for social media research’, the SRA and #NSMNSS are teaming up again 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.

    The packed event will include keynote presentations from Steven McDermott and Suzy Moat, and examples from eight expert speakers of how social media research can provide insight into research questions in novel ways. It is aimed at social researchers who want to find out more about what this new methodology can offer, and see how the promises of social media research can be actualised.

    Our speakers come from a range of backgrounds, including government and academia, presenting examples on topics such as politics and health, with data from Twitter, Facebook, blog sites and other platforms.

     
  • Mark 5:43 pm on January 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    On intellectual craft  

    I’m currently reading On Intellectual Craftsmanship, in preparation for a talk I’m doing in Berlin next week. This famous appendix to The Sociological Imagination is something I’ve long been inspired by, finding in it a way of organising my own life that belies the text’s apparently humble ambition to merely guide the novice scholar through the daily minutiae of scholarship. It might be the case that, as Mills puts it in his introduction, “Only by conversations in which experienced thinkers exchange information about their actual ways of working can a useful sense of method and theory be imparted to the beginning student”. However it is in such conversations that we also renew our connection to what matters to us, finding energy and affirmation in the curiosity and concern we share for the social world we inhabit. If we dispense with the masculine language that marks the time in which it was written, there is a deeply powerful vision of scholarship as a vocation offered here by Mills. It is one which is all the more powerful for being grounded so precisely in a realistic sense of the “actual ways of working” which are the substance of our professional lives yet often fade from view when we describe what we do in terms of the lofty abstractions of theory and methodology:

    It is best to begin, I think, by reminding you, the beginning student, that the most admirable thinkers within the scholarly community you have chosen to join do not split their work from their lives. They seem to take both too seriously to allow such dissociation, and they want to use each for the enrichment of the other. Of course, such a split is the prevailing convention among men in general, deriving, I suppose, from the hollowness of the work which men in general now do. But you will have recognized that as a scholar you have the exceptional opportunity of designing a way of living which will encourage the habits of good workmanship. Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career; whether he knows it or not, the intellectual workman forms his own self as he works toward the perfection of his craft; to realize his own potentialities, and any opportunities that come his way, he constructs a character which has as its core the qualities of the good workman.

    It is a subtle vision, which I suspect I’ll return to in future posts over the next week as I reacquaint myself with it. It isn’t just an individualised matter, in spite of the vivid sense of interiority which Mills conveys in his urgent reminder that we should work to ‘keep our inner world awake’. It is in such awareness that Mills sees the possibility of methodological renewal, as a community can flourish when its members can converse about their foremost concerns rather than the dead formalities which their organisational lives demand of them:

    informal interchange of such reviews of ‘the state of my problems’ among working social scientists is, I suggest, the only basis for an adequate statement of ‘the leading problems of social science.’ It is unlikely that in any free intellectual community there would be and certainly there ought not to be any ‘monolithic’ array of problems. In such a community, were it flourishing in a vigorous way, there would be interludes of discussion among individuals about future work. Three kinds of interludes—on problems, methods, theory—ought to come out of the work of social scientists, and lead into it again; they should be shaped by work-in-progress and to some extent guide that work. It is for such interludes that a professional association finds its intellectual reason for being. And for them too your own file is needed.

    It is a powerful vision, worth returning to as our “actual ways of working” are undergoing a profound transformation. It should be treated carefully, because the notion of the ‘craft’ can obfuscate as easily as it can ground. But it provides an ethos which can guide our trajectory through the space of opportunities opened up by digital platforms, helping ensure that we use these platforms for our own ends rather than being used by them.

     
    • landzek 6:53 pm on January 14, 2018 Permalink

      I feel like I read that years ago. I always liked that idea that our work lives are not separate from the life we live or whatever he puts it so great.

      I mean because isn’t that the modern way? Segregate activities into bubbles of knowledge that a person actively segregates and avoids conflation?

      It’s kind of funny because I’ve never understood that but I find it in so many of my neighbours and people around me. Lol it’s almost like a skill set that I developed because I have noticed for so long people is resistance to having a life where information from all areas flows in and out depending on the circumstance; I had to develop a certain kind of skill set in order to deal with these people in a manner so they wouldn’t think that I’m annoying or something. Lol.

  • Mark 12:06 pm on January 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    things I’ve been reading recently #39 

    • Pax by Sara Pennypacker
    • Broadcast by Liam Brown
    • Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff
    • The New Poverty by Stephen Armstrong
    • Collusion by Luke Harding
    • Father and Daughter by Ann Oakley
    • Alt-America by David Neiwert
    • World Without Mind by Franklin Foer
    • Unbelievable by Katy Tur
    • Betting the House by Tim Ross and Tom McTague
     
  • Mark 7:18 am on January 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    The social struggle between collegiality and bureaucracy 

    The network scientist Emmanuel Lazega studies collegiality and bureaucracy as ideal typical forms of social organisation which co-exist in a fluctuating balance within organisations. Collegiality involves actors recognising each other as autonomous, existing in relationship to each other and necessitating consensus as a preliminary for what will always be non-routine action. Bureaucracy merely requires interaction, being organised around hierarchy and impersonal relationships, operating through routine action. 

    As I understand Lazega’s outlook, these modes of organisation always exist in tension because collegiality is a threat to bureaucracy, as the formation of collectivity between autonomous actors intrinsically carries the possibility of solidarity and subversion. What are otherwise bureaucratic organisation rely on residual collegiality, often organised into what Lazega describes as ‘pockets’, in order to perform non-routine tasks which necessitate creativity. However bureaucracy remains suspicious of collegiality, seeking to minimise its overall function and the autonomous character within the collegial  coordination which remains necessary within the organisation.

    The ethnography of Dreamfields academy undertaken by Christy Kulz in her Factories for Learning offers a vivid account of strategies which bureaucracy adopts in its war against collegiality. From loc 1221:

    A staple in most schools, the omission of a staff room was another design decision described by SMT members as a positive move to prevent factionalism and increase productivity. Mr Vine feels staff rooms are places ‘where staff go and hide out and try to avoid students’ and are ‘a breeding ground for negativity … where people get together and talk about others or moan’. Mr Davis thinks the lack of a staff room fits ‘the businesslike nature of the school’. Administrator Mr Fields feels private-sector businesses and Dreamfields share a similar work ethic: 

    “There is no doubt that people at the school work very hard … it’s not a question of, well, you come here and you can relax for the first hour and have a cup of tea and have a long lunch break, which I think is probably still the case in some local authorities, but here people do work really hard. “

    Eradicating the staff room symbolically severs Dreamfields from the perception that local authorities are unproductive spaces in comparison to private businesses, responding to narratives of public-sector failure. Staff taking a break or talking to one another are framed as troublesome activities eliminated by preventing congregation.

    The teachers are only too aware of how this prevents them gathering together. As one describes, it is “very clever that we don’t have a staff room ’cause it means that people work harder then, and they can moan, but they moan less because there are not so many people gathered together, moaning together” (loc 1241) This ‘moaning together’ might otherwise be the coalescence of collectivity from which a challenge to the bureaucratic organisation of the school might ensue. The headteacher describes a similar concern to break up collectivities of children: “We do not have groups of more than six or seven congregating together. If you see large groups of children, you need to break them up so they do not cause silliness and mayhem” (loc 1241). They even breakup such congregations outside the school grounds. Such ‘silliness and mayhem’ is precisely what bureaucracy fears in collegiality and why it seeks to stamp it out.

     
  • Mark 7:43 pm on January 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    The dangerous fantasies of defensive elites 

    My fascination with the technological fantasies of billionaires might seem like a peculiarly nerdy version of a familiar preoccupation with the super rich. However as Yuval Noah Harari observes on loc 3304 of Homo Deus, the dreams of technological salvation which the rich and powerful invest themselves in have important consequences for the rest of us because they condition how these groups orientate themselves to the existential risks which we all face:

    How rational is it to risk the future of humankind on the assumption that future scientists will make some unknown discoveries? Most of the presidents, ministers and CEOs who run the world are very rational people. Why are they willing to take such a gamble? Maybe because they don’t think they are gambling on their own personal future. Even if bad comes to worse and science cannot hold off the deluge, engineers could still build a hi-tech Noah’s Ark for the upper caste, while leaving billions of others to drown. The belief in this hi-tech Ark is currently one of the biggest threats to the future of humankind and of the entire ecosystem. People who believe in the hi-tech Ark should not be put in charge of the global ecology, for the same reason that people who believe in a heavenly afterlife should not be given nuclear weapons.

    As a Guardian article last year put it, “Among the tech elite, space exploration is now the ultimate status symbol“. This reflects the ascendancy of a distinct elite, with converging dispositions reinforced by the peculiar niche within which they have accumulated their wealth and power. There are cultural and biographical explanations we can offer of their preoccupations, as well as sociological ones of how these ambitions spread amongst this intensely self-referential group of elites. However it also worth inquiring into the potential consequences of this passion given the control these people have over the future direction of technological development and the opportunity costs they confront in doing so:

    Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, is arguably the most visible billionaire in the new space race. The apparent inspiration for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character in Iron Man, Musk has become a god-like figure for engineers, making his fortune at PayPal and then as CEO of luxury electric car firm Tesla and clean energy company Solar City. Yet it is his galactic ambitions, insiders say, that really motivate him. “His passion is settling Mars,” says one.

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/05/tech-billionaires-space-exploration-musk-bezos-branson

    When pondering this stuff, it’s hard not to wonder occasionally if you’re being overly cynical, throwing sand at people seeking innovations which could transform human life. But when I hear Jeff Bezos say that “You go to space to save Earth” I feel renewed confidence this is something we ought to critique. If these investments fail then our engineering philosopher-kings have wasted countless billions of dollars pursuing the endless frontier which could have been better spent improving our life here on earth. If these investments succeed then what does this mean for those left on earth when the super-rich go to space?

     
  • Mark 7:18 pm on January 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    The Alt-Right and the Reactionary Politics of Transgression 

    One of the most interesting arguments in Kill All Normie by Angela Nagle was her claim that transgression has been decoupled from its contingent association with the left, being taken up by the alt-right in a profoundly reactionary way. I’ve been thinking back to this while reading Fire & Fury by Michael Wolff. Trump seems to embody this process, even if he doesn’t necessarily understand it. From loc 458:

    Trump’s understanding of his own essential nature was even more precise. Once, coming back on his plane with a billionaire friend who had brought along a foreign model, Trump, trying to move in on his friend’s date, urged a stop in Atlantic City. He would provide a tour of his casino. His friend assured the model that there was nothing to recommend Atlantic City. It was a place overrun by white trash. “What is this ‘white trash’?” asked the model. “They’re people just like me,” said Trump, “only they’re poor.” He looked for a license not to conform, not to be respectable. It was something of an outlaw prescription for winning—and winning, however you won, was what it was all about. Or, as his friends would observe, mindful themselves not to be taken in, he simply had no scruples. He was a rebel, a disruptor, and, living outside the rules, contemptuous of them.

     
  • Mark 7:14 pm on January 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    Getting beyond pro and anti in our thinking about technology 

    A few weeks ago, I saw a collaborator of mine give a talk in which he outlined a position on social media which was roundly cast as anti-technological by those in the room i.e. reflecting an unsustainable blanket judgment of social media as a category of technology. I could see where they were coming from and my point in writing this isn’t to criticise them, only to observe the performativity of these judgments. His argument overlapped hugely with one I’ve made myself in public situations, unsurprising as it has emerged from a collaboration between the two of us. No one has ever accused me of being anti-technological when making it. Rather as if the property of being pro-technological and anti-technological is a matter of how an argument is performed, as well as how that performance is received, rather than part of the conceptual logic of the argument itself.

    In her wonderful weekly newsletter, Audrey Watters writes about how these categories play out in media coverage of educational technology and how people respond to her work:

     
  • Mark 7:11 pm on January 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    Before the culture war on universities, there was a culture war on schools 

    Reading Factories for Learning by Christy Kulz, I was fascinated to learn of the new right’s cultural war on the educational establishment in the 1980s which I had only been dimly aware of. I knew the central place of the local authorities in this but I hadn’t realised how central education was to these attacks. From loc 376:

    These changes intersected with the widely publicised ridicule of some local councils as bastions of ‘loony-left’ policies by New Right Conservative politicians and the popular press. The New Right used numerous fictitious tales targeting white anxiety to attack anti-racist education, presenting it as the cause of British cultural decline (see Gordon, 1990). Concerns over local anti-racist movements were crafted ‘into popular “chains of meaning”’, providing an ‘ideological smokescreen and hence popular support for the Thatcherite onslaught on town hall democracy’ (Butcher et al., 1990: 116). Outlandish tales of political correctness gone awry blurred the lines of causality, with New Right organisations tying left-wing extremists and slumping educational standards to the development of anti-racist education (Tomlinson, 1993: 25–6). Many local authorities adopted less robust approaches to race equality towards the late 1980s owing to negative publicity, while the Labour Party avoided directly identifying with radical urban left authorities. Sally Tomlinson (2008) describes how there was far more commentary on anti-racist, multicultural education than action within schools. Yet the political climate of the late 1980s veered towards framing anti-racists, rather than racist attitudes, as the problem (Ball and Solomos, 1990: 12).

     
  • Mark 8:59 am on January 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    Trump and the ascent of the spiralists 

    In a recent article, Michael Burawoy warned about what he termed the spiralists. These are “people who spiral in from outside, develop signature projects and then hope to spiral upward and onward, leaving the university behind to spiral down”. While he was concerned with university leaders, I observed at the time that the category clearly has a broader scope than this. Reading Michael Wolff’s Fire & Fury, I’m struck by the role of spiralists within the Whitehouse who are objectively enablers of Trump while subjectively congratulating themselves for restraining him:

    Still, the mess that might do serious damage to the nation, and, by association, to your own brand, might be transcended if you were seen as the person, by dint of competence and professional behavior, taking control of it. Powell, who had come into the White House as an adviser to Ivanka Trump, rose, in weeks, to a position on the National Security Council, and was then, suddenly, along with Cohn, her Goldman colleague, a contender for some of the highest posts in the administration. At the same time, both she and Cohn were spending a good deal of time with their ad hoc outside advisers on which way they might jump out of the White House. Powell could eye seven-figure comms jobs at various Fortune 100 companies, or a C-suite future at a tech company—Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, after all, had a background in corporate philanthropy and in the Obama administration. Cohn, on his part, already a centamillionaire, was thinking about the World Bank or the Fed.

    These figures regard themselves as performing an important public service, enforcing moderation on the immoderate and providing competence in an executive characterised by incompetence. They will then be justly rewarded for this service, spiralling out of the Whitehouse and on to bigger and better things. Who could blame them for this? After all, they have spent time and energy giving to the public sector when they could have made so much more money in the private sector. This is a crucial rhetorical strategy of the spiralists: their ambition is justified by their public service but their public service is a tool of their ambition. They approach it as a means to elevate themselves, increasing their standing and seeking out new opportunities, while expecting to be praised for that which they have forsaken in the process. The ascent of the spiralists understands itself to be motivated by much weightier things than money.

     
  • Mark 9:29 pm on January 5, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    10 reasons you should publish on Medium 

     
    • landzek 3:51 am on January 7, 2018 Permalink

      Do you mean instead of WP?

    • Mark 8:45 am on January 7, 2018 Permalink

      Not necessarily but I didn’t design the infographic.

  • Mark 5:09 pm on January 5, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    Post-Truth as Personal Incapacity 

    The evidence would suggest I’m not alone in being somewhat gripped by Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury. One of the central themes of the book is how no one, including the candidate himself, expected Trump would win and what we have seen since then has been a rapid adaptation, self-serving and bewildered in equal measured, as the apparatus around him tried to make sense of a situation in which they never expected to find themselves. From this standpoint, the ‘post-truth’ character of Trump’s administration with their ‘alternative facts’, comes to look like a pragmatic adaption to a chronically incapable candidate rather than anything more sinister. From loc 873:

    The media, adopting a “shocked, shocked” morality, could not fathom how being factually wrong was not an absolute ending in itself. How could this not utterly shame him? How could his staff defend him? The facts were the facts! Defying them, or ignoring them, or subverting them, made you a liar—intending to deceive, bearing false witness. (A minor journalism controversy broke out about whether these untruths should be called inaccuracies or lies.) In Bannon’s view: (1) Trump was never going to change; (2) trying to get him to change would surely cramp his style; (3) it didn’t matter to Trump supporters; (4) the media wasn’t going to like him anyway; (5) it was better to play against the media than to the media; (6) the media’s claim to be the protector of factual probity and accuracy was itself a sham; (7) the Trump revolution was an attack on conventional assumptions and expertise, so better to embrace Trump’s behavior than try to curb it or cure it. The problem was that, for all he was never going to stick to a script (“ his mind just doesn’t work that way” was one of the internal rationalizations), Trump craved media approval. But, as Bannon emphasized, he was never going to get the facts right, nor was he ever going to acknowledge that he got them wrong, so therefore he was not going to get that approval. This meant, next best thing, that he had to be aggressively defended against the media’s disapproval.

    This isn’t just a matter of gossip about political leaders or a corrective to the excessive abstraction pouring forth from an intellectual class on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It allows us to recast politics in micro-social terms involving absence, failure and incapacity rather than simply telling stories of the powerful exercising that power in pursuit of their established projects. Fire and Fury tells a vivid story of how the Whitehouse revolves around managing the incapacities of Trump, as the staff struggle to come to terms with their willingness to play this role (in a manner which can just as readily be cast in terms of incapacity). From loc 1989:

    Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: he didn’t process information in any conventional sense—or, in a way, he didn’t process it at all. Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate. (There was some argument about this, because he could read headlines and articles about himself, or at least headlines on articles about himself, and the gossip squibs on the New York Post’s Page Six.) Some thought him dyslexic; certainly his comprehension was limited. Others concluded that he didn’t read because he just didn’t have to, and that in fact this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate—total television. But not only didn’t he read, he didn’t listen. He preferred to be the person talking. And he trusted his own expertise—no matter how paltry or irrelevant—more than anyone else’s. What’s more, he had an extremely short attention span, even when he thought you were worthy of attention. The organization therefore needed a set of internal rationalizations that would allow it to trust a man who, while he knew little, was entirely confident of his own gut instincts and reflexive opinions, however frequently they might change.

    However the incapacities of others provide a valuable object for one’s own strategic capacities. The point is not to counterpoise a strategic and agentive analysis to a non-strategic and non-agentive one. This misses the obvious ways in which absence, failure and incapacity structure the field of opportunities to which agents strategically respond. As Wolff recounts on loc 2009:

    It was during Trump’s early intelligence briefings, held soon after he captured the nomination, that alarm signals first went off among his new campaign staff: he seemed to lack the ability to take in third-party information. Or maybe he lacked the interest; whichever, he seemed almost phobic about having formal demands on his attention. He stonewalled every written page and balked at every explanation. “He’s a guy who really hated school,” said Bannon. “And he’s not going to start liking it now.” However alarming, Trump’s way of operating also presented an opportunity to the people in closest proximity to him: by understanding him, by observing the kind of habits and reflexive responses that his business opponents had long learned to use to their advantage, they might be able to game him, to move him. Still, while he might be moved today, nobody underestimated the complexities of continuing to move him in the same direction tomorrow.

    As he writes on loc 2046, “If Trump cared about something, he usually already had a fixed view based on limited information. If he didn’t care, he had no view and no information”. This created openings for all the senior figures in their pursuit of power and influence. Bannon styled himself as the high priest of Trumpism, exercising power over the President and others through becoming deeply conversant with his writing and speeches, able to quote back Trump’s intentions in a way which cast him in the role of a consistent and strategic actor. Wolff’s description of this is particularly resonant:

    Bannon’s unique ability—partly through becoming more familiar with the president’s own words than the president was himself, and partly through a cunning self-effacement (upended by his bursts of self-promotion)—was to egg the president on by convincing him that Bannon’s own views were entirely derived from the president’s views. Bannon didn’t promote internal debate, provide policy rationale, or deliver Power-Point presentations; instead, he was the equivalent of Trump’s personal talk radio. Trump could turn him on at any moment, and it pleased him that Bannon’s pronouncements and views would consistently be fully formed and ever available, a bracing, unified-field narrative. As well, he could turn him off, and Bannon would be tactically quiet until turned on again.

    Meanwhile Priebus was able to offer endorsement from the political establishment which has previously loathed him, while Kushner brought the prestige of the business elite who had never taken Trump seriously. The president seemingly wanted all of these, representing an important vector through which chaos ensued within the Whitehouse, alongside many others at all levels of the organisation. Reading these accounts, it’s hard not to be sceptical of accounts of ‘post-truth’ et al as overly abstract and epochal accounts which obscure a messy all-too-human reality, albeit one that could ultimately produce outcomes of epochal significance.

     
  • Mark 1:50 pm on January 5, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    CFP EASST2018: “Data Worlds? Public Imagination and Public Experimentation with Data Infrastructures” 

    1. Data Worlds? Public Imagination and Public Experimentation with Data Infrastructures

    ## Convenors

    • Jonathan Gray (King’s College London)
    • Noortje Marres (University of Warwick)
    • Carolin Gerlitz (University of Siegen)
    • Tommaso Venturini (École Normale Supérieure Lyon)

    ## Short abstract

    How do data infrastructures distribute participation across society and culture? Do they participate in world-making, and if so how? Could they be utilised not just to close discussions, but also to open up public debate, imagination and experimentation?

    ## Long abstract

    This panel is about the world-making capacities of emerging data infrastructures – including their epistemic, social and political possibilities and limitations. It examines how emerging data infrastructures may distribute and redistribute participation in knowledge and world-making across society and culture – from the platform data of big technology companies to open data from public institutions, citizen data, sensor data and associated forms of journalism and activism. How are digital technologies entangled with social practices of classifying, counting, reasoning, narrating and making decisions? Rather than just extending the reach of certain pre-authorised ways of knowing, seeing and dealing with things, how might digital technologies support more substantive forms of interactivity and participation in order to open up public conversations, imagination and experimentation about how data is made and put to work?

    One of the key strengths of research methods and design approaches developed across STS, participatory design and digital social research has always been their experimentality – the ways in which they seek to combine knowing and doing – representing and intervening in social life – in potentially new, creative ways. This session asks: What distinctive forms of engagement with data infrastructures do these methods and approaches enable, and what is their capacity to contribute to data world-making? This panel organised by the Public Data Lab (http://publicdatalab.org<http://publicdatalab.org/>) will explore the capacity of STS, design and digital methods to take on the challenges outlined above, with the aim of identifying priorities for exploring and intervening around emerging data infrastructures today.

    Link to panel: https://nomadit.co.uk/easst/easst2018/conferencesuite.php/panels/6260
    Call for papers: https://easst2018.easst.net/call-for-papers
    EASST2018: https://easst2018.easst.net/home/

     
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