Updates from March, 2018 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 1:39 pm on March 20, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    CfP AAA2018 San Jose: Panel Digital Infrastructures 

    Digital Infrastructures: Poetics, Politics and Personhood – AAA San Jose 14-18 November 2018
    Lorraine Weekes (Stanford University)
    Gertjan Plets (Utrecht University)

    Government databases, digital archives, online voting systems, and e-portals enabling the submission of everything from insurance claims to income tax returns increasingly define mundane engagements between citizen-users and a suite of public and private institutions across social arenas. Because of efficiency and transparency digital technologies are seen as affording, reliance on digital infrastructures has become widely supported on the ground. At the same time, sociopolitical structures and assumptions encoded in many of these infrastructures—and the entanglements they produce—have received little attention. The tendency of infrastructure to remain invisible until something goes wrong is perhaps especially acute in digital and high-tech contexts where the scale, technological complexity, and physical diffusion encourages black boxing. By putting the politics and poetics of digital infrastructure into the limelight, this panel will consider the historical and ethnographic dimensions of digital infrastructures and how they produce individual subjectivities, mediate power relationships and further existing reifications of the social across the globe. By bringing the theoretical insights of the burgeoning anthropology of infrastructure and bureaucracy to bear on the digital networks and assemblages, the papers in this panel endeavor to make the materiality, social-embeddedness, and historical contingency of digital infrastructure visible.

    Please submit an abstract before April 2 or send enquiries to g.f.j.plets@uu.nl<mailto:g.f.j.plets@uu.nl>

  • Mark 6:42 pm on March 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    Minitrack: Collective Intelligence and Crowds 

    Minitrack: Collective Intelligence and Crowds

    HICSS 52 http://hicss.hawaii.edu/ Track: Digital and Social Media

    January 8-11, 2019, Maui, Hawaii, USA

    This minitrack is open to analysis of collective intelligence, knowledge creation, and crowdsourcing. We think that assemblages of people and machines are making new forms of organization possible, and we are interested in research that explores these new forms of organization. The minitrack invites papers that look at crowd sourcing, at idea generation, at remixing communities, and hybrid organizations in which learning machines plays a strong role.

    We live surrounded by socially constructed identities – organizations, nations, websites – all of which are constituted through a complex interplay of interactions, a kind of distributed cognition. These Internet platforms allow people to aggregate knowledge from socially distant areas. They also allow diverse groups of people – and maybe autonomous learning machines – to negotiate identities. With these socio-technical configurations we can build collective intelligences that themselves will steer the quest for knowledge. These collectives can be self-catalyzing, deciding individually or collaboratively what to do next, out of which novel and practical ideas emerge.
    While these open design collectives rely on organic growth and slow embedding of members in the network, alternative structures based on crowds can be assembled more rapidly. Between the two extremes are a host of different organizational and social structures, in which committed members of a community create, improve, and share ideas. The output of these socio-technical systems often takes the form of digital media, and their traces are varied, ranging from ephemeral short messages to curated collaborative knowledge repositories.

    We are interested in 1) papers that observe, analyze, or visualize these socio-technical structures and their outputs: for example, analyses of open design and open source collectives 2) papers that analyze the phenomena of crowdsourcing, collective intelligence and collaborative mass knowledge production; 3) design research that creates and evaluates new tools and processes for crowds and communities; and 4) papers that simulate the production processes and outcomes through software.

    We are open to papers that explore unusual ways of modeling emergent organizations: models that demonstrate or reflect the influence of social systems on user behaviors, models that consider the multiple connections between people, technology, and institutions, models of technological and social affordances, models that break personal identity into sub-relations, models that examine the emergence of roles, identity, and institutions, as well as socio-technical models of deviance and disruption. We are particularly interested in papers that apply the foundational ideas of James Coleman, James March, Herb Simon, Mark Granovetter, Harrison White, Charles Tilly and related scholars to modern information systems. We are open to papers concerned with how to visualize large scale social phenomena. And papers that analyze the role machine algorithms and human processes play in our politics and our personal interactions.
    In sum, the content of the minitrack is open to analysis of collective intelligence, new sociotechnical configuration of knowledge creation, and crowdsourcing. Included also is the analysis of social interaction as a way of describing underlying social structure. Thus, the track is open to a wide range of content areas that lend themselves to the analysis of relations between people, collectives, and machines, as well as the products produced as a result of these relations.


    • April 15: Paper submission begins
    • June 15: Paper submissions deadline
    • August 17: Notification of Acceptance/Rejection
    • September 22: Deadline for authors to submit final manuscript for publication
    • October 1: Deadline for at least one author to register for HICSS-52

    Conference Website: http://hicss.hawaii.edu/
    Author Guidelines:  http://hicss.hawaii.edu/tracks-and-minitracks/authors/

  • Mark 6:41 pm on March 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    CfP HICSS-52 (2019) minitrack: Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Technologies 

    CALL FOR PAPERS: 52nd HICSS 2019, Maui, Hawaii
    January 8-11, 2019 – Maui, Hawaii

    in the Digital and Social Media Track
    URL: http://hicss.hawaii.edu/tracks-52/digital-and-social-media/

    Submission Deadline: June 15, 2018 | 11:59 pm HST
    Notification of Acceptance/Rejection: August 17, 2018

    CfP HICSS-52 (2019) minitrack:

    This minitrack focuses on three main themes: 1) theorizing about information systems through the study of collective action and social movement phenomena, 2) the application of collective action and social movement theory toward understanding technology phenomena, and 3) methodological advances that can help us better understand research topics at the intersection of social movements, collective action and social technologies. Our hope is to engage scholars and practitioners from diverse fields and generate cross-disciplinary dialogue.

    We welcome submissions from authors conducting empirical and conceptual research along with practitioner reports and case studies. Potential topics include:

    *   The role of digitization in shaping the nature of organization and collaboration
    *   Platform design implications for message / frame diffusion
    *   Why and how collective action dilemmas arise or resolve
    *   Innovation through collective action
    *   Cross-level (e.g., individual to societal) impacts of social technologies
    *   Brand hijacking movements targeting corporate competitors
    *   Implications of cyberactivism and hacktivism
    *   Fake news movements and propaganda diffusion
    *   Effectiveness of hashtag activism or clicktivism
    *   Corporate strategy / involvement in social movements to shape public policy
    *   Botivists (web bots programmed for activism), online petitions, and other tools for digital protest
    *   Viral marketing of ideas and social agendas
    *   Social media capabilities and facilitation of echo chambers
    *   Financing of social agendas through crowdfunding or bitcoin exchanges
    *   Any application of social movement or collective action concepts (e.g., frames and tactics, organization, claim making, etc.) toward understanding of social technology phenomenon (e.g., crowdsourcing, large group collaboration, social media use, etc.)

    Minitrack Co-Chairs:

    Amber Young (Primary Contact)
    University of Massachusetts Amherst

    Jama Summers
    University of Tennessee, Knoxville

    Constantinos Coursaris
    Michigan State University

  • Mark 5:18 pm on March 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    The Intellectual Self-Defence of #USSStrikes: Social Media, Critique and Collective Intellectuals 

    Towards the end of his life, Pierre Bourdieu underwent an activist turn and offered a public sociology which I’ve long thought we can learn much from. In his Firing Back, he offers important ideas about how academics and social movements can work together. He maintains that “the work of academic researchers is indispensable to disclose and dismantle the strategies incubated and implement by the big multinational corporations and international bodies” who are able to “enlist unprecedented scientific, technical and cultural resources” to their cause (pg 46). He goes on to explain how such cooperation necessitates that activists and academics overcome their differing orientations:

    Though they are different in their training and social trajectories, researchers engaged in activist work and activists interested in research must learn to work together, overcoming all the prejudices they may harbour about one another. They must endeavour to cast off their routines and presuppositions associated with membership in universes governed by different laws and logics by establishing modes of communication and discussion of a new type.

    One of many things which has fascinated me during the recent university strikes has been how academics participate as activists in a quintessentially academic way. This is how I put it earlier in the week:


    I suspect I’ll be trying for some time to analyse and articulate the characteristics of the social media commentary which seems to have played such a significant part in this dispute. This has spanned multiple genres: auto-ethnography, investigative journalism, quantitative analysis, organisational documentation. But they are all “modes of communication and discussion of a new type” relating to events taking place within higher education which are of concern to all parties to the exchange, as opposed to being specialised communication within a narrow subset of academics about events taking place ‘out there’.

    In doing so, it moves beyond the limitations of critique as it is conducted within the academy where, as he puts it on pg 21, “it enchants itself without ever being in a  position to really threaten anyone about anything”. We can see here the outlines of a reconstruction of the “whole edifice of critical thought” driven by the immediate need by academics for intellectual self-defence in the face of a disingenuous and calculating onslaught. Is there an emergent subject to be found in this activity? This would be an immense overstatement but this is the question I feel we should be orientating ourselves towards. As Bourdieu writes later on the same page:

    This is where the collective intellectual can play its unique role, by helping to create the social conditions for the collective production of realistic utopias. It can organise or orchestrate joint research on novel forms of political action, on new manners of mobilising and of making mobilised people work together, on new ways of elaborating projects and bringing them to fruition together. It can play the role of midwife by assisting the dynamics of working groups in their effort to express, and thereby discover, what they are and what they could or should be, and by helping with the reappropriation and accumulation of the immense social stock of knowledge on the social world with which the social world is pregnant.

    This is not where we are but it is where we could be. There are many questions to answer about the campaign of the last four weeks, as well as further struggle in a fight which is far from over. But we should take stock of the gains that we have made, as well as the spontaneous methodologies which have contributed to them. I’m convinced something very important happened with how social media was used by academics in the last four weeks, driven by:

    1. a mass harmonisation of intellectual attention
    2. emergent cooperation and distributed creativity by workers usually bound in to hyper-individualised temporal regimes
    3. the necessity of intellectual self-defence

    How can we ensure this activity survives when these conditions are not present? To put it crudely, it seems obvious it was in part an expression of people having much more discretionary time available when their usual daily obligations were absent. But there is more to it than this and we need to understand what this supplement is, how we can nurture it and how we can apply it to maximal effect.

  • Mark 4:46 pm on March 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , student engagement, ,   

    ‘Student Experience’ and the social ontology of the student 

    What is a ‘student’? To many outside higher education, such a question would seem absurd. A student is “a person who is studying at a university or other place of higher education”. But what this means has undergone profound change in recent years, such that ‘the student’ as a category, as well as a material factor within the university, encompasses a whole range of mutually exclusive roles. This is how Clive Barnett describes them in an incredibly insightful blog post:

    And it’s worth noting, in the middle of all this, just how variable the subject of ‘The Student’ has become. It’s easy to bemoan the idea that students are increasingly treated as consumers, but it in fact students are figured in various ways in contemporary higher education policy and strategy: as future recruits, they serve as security against which Universities can secure loans; they are quite publicly presented, amazingly, as superficial air-heads who are easily dazzled by ‘shiny buildings’ when making life-changing decisions; they are expected to be only ever motivated as utility-maximisers by the promise of future earnings in their choices and expectations and satisfactions (giving rise to a weird sense of what ‘vocational‘ means in education, which is reduced to quite instrumental ideas about value for money; which doesn’t leave much space for the idea of a calling, a passion, a life’s worth of mission); and, rather importantly given the debt-leveraged nature of all this building work, as reliable rent-payers. And this disaggregation of ‘The Student’ into a dispersed range of abstract singularities facilitates in turn the re-aggregation of “student voice” and “student experience”, always and only ever spoken-for by University managers.

    Some of these are purely cultural, identifying the category in certain ways unlikely to have effects upon the person occupying the role, beyond leaving them exposed to all manner of management guff. Others are purely structural, such that each fee-paying student registers as a “reliable rent-payer” regardless of their awareness or understanding of this mechanism. However many exists unevenly between the two, disrupting the student experience just as “student experience” becomes an object of managerial intervention.

    Caught between these powerful forces, disaggregated and re-aggregated through rapidly evolving cultural and structural mechanisms, we find the real people who are the students. If we understand the social ontology of the student adequately, would it be possible to conceive of a ‘student experience’ agenda which addresses them as people? Can we use the discursive room which the prominence of ‘student experience’ opens up to find ways of encouraging and facilitating student voice which represent students in their totality?

  • Mark 4:21 pm on March 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , ucu strikes, uss stries   

    Social media, #USSStrikes and Digital Sociology 

    It was perhaps inevitable that I would find myself obsessing over the role of social media in the current strikes. In my academic life, I’m a sociologist studying how social media is used within universities and how this is changing the academy. In my non-academic life, I’m a digital engagement specialist at a charity and a social media consultant. Since the start of the strike, I’ve been helping out with the social media for the Cambridge UCU branch while running the #FromThePicketLines campaign for The Sociological Review. This has left me fascinated by how the strike is being represented, co-ordinated and responded to through Twitter.

    The most enjoyable aspect of this has been an outpouring of multimedia creativity which has quickly been circulated through these channels. In part, it is easier to produce such material as barriers to production have lowered with each successive generation of smart phones and a rapidly consolidating culture of amateur multimedia production. But there has also been a mimesis effect, as initial examples have spurred other branches and campaigns to produce their own multimedia project. This also reflects the visual turn in social media, initially driven by Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat before older platforms expanded their visual capacities to avoid losing users to these newer competitors. For instance, 1,582 tweets were made with the hashtag #GIFusourpensions after the first week of the strike, using the animated GIFs now built into the Twitter platform to illustrate the evolving strike using extracts from popular culture. These 720 users produced 3,265,401 impressions between them (occasions on which a post was seen by a user). There have also been creative uses of tools which streamline the process of generating social media content, such as meme generators and caption makers, with my favourite example being a vice-chancellor themed Hitler bunker parody. As the strike has progressed, we have seen increasing numbers of videos being produced, ranging from serious attempts to explain the concept of the picket line through to comedic offerings which gently satirise the privilege of those who appear in them. While any one example is probably insignificant, the aggregate effect represents an expansion of symbolic participation in the strike, itself significant for knowledge workers without many material correlates to their labour or its withdrawal.

    What fascinates me about this is how it has arisen spontaneously, without prior coordination or any meaningful sense of what one does with social media under these circumstances. It would obviously be mistaken to imagine that branches were previously insulated from one another, acting in institutional silos while only the national organisation linked all the nodes together. To a large extent, we have seen activists around the country taking up these social media platforms as tools, perhaps informed by their past professional and/or activist experience of them, finding uses which are enjoyable but also finding receptive audiences. The fact these audiences are often made up of other activists, as well as a broader academic community which has in effect taken to activism en masse, incites them towards similar action. For all that popular debate has been concerned with ‘filter bubbles’, we see the other side of online community here, as people with converging motivations inspire each other in pursuit of common aims.

    These are just speculative thoughts, informed by helping with the social media of my local UCU branch and running a #fromthepicketline social media campaign as part of my (non-academic) day job during the strike. But there are a great many empirical questions which have been raised by the role of social media in this strike, inviting answers which would have a double significance as matters of union strategy but also as empirical social science.

  • Mark 5:33 pm on March 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    things I’ve been reading recently #40 

    • Dictatorland by Paul Kenyon
    • Kill It To Save It by Corey Dolgon
    • Envisioning Sociology by John Scott and Ray Bromley
    • Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
    • Factories For Learning by Christy Kulz
    • Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggars
    • The AirBnB Story by Leigh Gallagher
    • The Know-It-Alls by Noam Cohen
    • King Rat by China Mieville
    • The Store by James Patterson
  • Mark 10:33 am on March 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    Collective action and the realisation of your own smallness 

    After nine days of strike action, I’ve begun to realise how formative I have found this experience and how frequently I will think back to it in coming months and years. In part, this is a reflection of the novelty of the action itself for me but also the novelty of the context in which this action is being taken. When I finished a three year part-time postdoc at the University of Warwick in January 2017, I was ready to be outside of the university for some time as a department I had previously felt at home in had become unrecognisable to me and the university itself unwelcoming. After a year spent consulting while continuing to work in my role as Digital Engagement Fellow at The Sociological Review Foundation, in late January I joined the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge as a part-time postdoc in the new Culture, Politics and Global Justice.

    I found it a strange experience being part of a new university for the first time in a long time, with the partial exception of nine months at LSE when the experience was mediated by being part of a tightly organised group. This is compounded by the peculiarities of Cambridge, as I tried to get my head around the mundane operations of a university quite unlike any other I had been part of. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I had mastered it as of February 22nd. I still hadn’t managed to log into my office computer or discovered how to access one of the many libraries. Irritatingly, I can’t get Edu Roam to work, in spite of this being the one thing I really missed when not attached to a university. But it was nonetheless the case that I had started to learn my way around the place. I had begun to form routines and a certain Cambridge-inflected rhythm was beginning to enter into my day to day life, even on the three days a week where I was working elsewhere. Then the strike began.

    I think of myself as someone who is politically active. At different points in my life I’ve campaigned for the Labour Party, the Green Party, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Stop The War and various others which failed to lodge themselves in my memory to the same extent. I’ve stood as a local councillor and organised fund raisers for multiple charities. I helped setup Campaign for the Public University and a local anti-arms trade campaign. I’ve run a speaker series with a political purpose and written political articles for blogs and zines. I’m currently running the digital engagement for the Imagine 2027 project and volunteering at a homeless shelter. But if I’m honest, it has always been tangential to my everyday existence. It has always been easily boxed, in spite of the significance I have accorded it in my own self-understanding at various points in my life. It has been something to put down and pick up. It has been something I do on my own terms or don’t do at all. The strike has left me reflecting on why this is the case, as well as how this might express a broader academic condition. A wonderful essay in the Varsity by a politics student at Cambridge captured at least part of this wider malaise. Describing the strikes which have engulfed the university, Alice Hawkins identifies the agency this demands from those involved or even just impacted by them:

    The impacts of these strikes are extraordinary because they are intimate. They are forcing engagement with the real political issues that have a direct impact upon us – right now, standing outside our lecture halls, and for a long time into the future. They are forcing a new level of cognizance of the institutional power structures within which we exist, yet so often fail to recognise. They are forcing a recognition of the political agency which we all possess. And from my experience, the best kind of political agents that we can strive to be – the best kind of people – are those who are thoughtful. Those who can reflect on their own context, experiences, and values to challenge their own assumptions about the way the world works, and evaluate their role within it.

    Does this pose a particular challenge for those whose occupations revolve around discussing such action? The evidence would suggest it does:

    Yet, from my experience, there exists in this institution a bizarre cognitive dissonance between people’s willingness to engage in political theory and their willingness to engage in political reality. I know firsthand which place is the more comfortable place to be. I know the temptation that exists to retreat from the latter into the safe confines of intellectualised debate and armchair philosophising in the former. But if I’m not prepared to at least attempt to overcome this, I’m really going to have to start asking myself what kind of student of politics I think I am.

    A similar question is often asked of those university leaders whose avowed radicalism is belied by the actions they undertake at their universities. As many have pointed out the University of Sussex Vice Chancellor Adam Tickell once wrote of his ambition to “slay the neoliberal dragon” yet now presides over an aggressively marketised institution in which students attempting to do precisely that have found themselves objects of police violence. However my favourite example is the radical geographer Nigel Thrift, something which is perhaps unsurprising given I spent over a decade at the University of Warwick. But this still positions the cognitive dissonance as something out there rather than a feature of oneself and the last few weeks have left me thinking about how it exists within me rather than merely being a feature of self-seeking university leaders who it is easy (and fun) to pick apart at a distance. Defining myself as someone who regularly engages in political action has, it seems to me, propped up a version of this cognitive dissonance: externalising my own limitations about politics on to others.

    In parallel to this, the strike has forced me to confront the role of work in my life, recognising how I rely on it to provide order to the everyday flow of my experience. I find it much more unsettling than I expected to suspend routine in this way. It’s compounded by the weird environment created when those you co-exist with have similarly suspended their routines. This collective suspension of routine reveals how open are shared lives really are, in spite of the false necessity which our language and customs imbue them with. The real constraints on doing things differently are elaborate rather than powerful, multifaceted and woven into the fabric of our daily lives rather than being external forces pressing down upon us. But our autonomy leaves us organising our existence in a way which accentuates their power, isolating us from the creative possibilities which emerge from gathering together with a shared commitment and an open agenda, as we have been doing every day on a picket line.

    Most of all it has left me thinking about action and the cognitive, emotional and financial costs associated with it. It is tiring to be an agent, working with others to express and enact collective purposes rather than being carried along by the tides of habit which underpin social order. It also involves recognising how small your own life is, in spite of the significance which the quotidian terms of your existence accord to it. We are dependent on others, shaped by others, dominated by others. The hilarity of the Universities UK Twitter meltdown is coupled with a terrifying realisation of how incompetent these people who shape our lives really are. How similarly mired they are in their own smallness, with all the particularly toxic qualities which flow from their status, commitments and projects. The whole thing has left me newly aware of how alienated I am and have been for a long time. I run up against limitations I was only dimly aware of having when I struggle to participate in the way I want, withdrawing into myself when I want to be out there and longing for a routine which I know would isolate me from current events. It’s also left me newly aware how this capacity to withdraw is a function of my own privilege, one that has shaped me in all sorts of ways I’m only now beginning to understand. Ways I want to try and transcend.

    A brief but unpleasant experience on the picket line took place earlier this week. A college officer aggressively interrogated my presence outside my place of work and asked for my name so it could be reported to my head of department. The principal of the college then emerged to demand we leave the picket line, shouting at me to “leave now” without any attempt to explain the legal or moral justification for this request (beyond the college officer’s repeated and bewildering assertion that it wasn’t my place of work because it was rented by my employer rather than owned by it). After contemplating whether to walk away, we stayed and were faced with another interrogation during which the officer in question denied any threat had been made and ridiculed the idea his behaviour had been anything other than polite.

    The subsequent intervention of the union was reassuring and we made it a point of principle to sustain the picket the following day, preparing ourselves to explain firmly but politely that they had no basis for their request and should please stop harassing our picket. As empowering as the return was, it was a catharsis predicated upon a feeling of shame provoked by my initial acquiescence to a request that was neither legitimate nor justified. It’s frustrating to realise how easily authority you deny intellectually can nonetheless exercise a power over you in practice. There’s a particular poignancy with which l’esprit de l’escalier occurs under such circumstances, as rumination about how you might have reacted becomes a way to avoid the unpleasant feelings which your failure to act had provoked within you. But my initial acquiescence to this, my lack of preparation for others trying to exercise power over me in problematic ways, underscored my own privilege even further in a much deeper manner than the usually intellectualised way in which I had reflected on it previously.

    Three weeks of the strike have left me aware of my own moulding with an immediacy I had never had before. What I can do, what I can’t do. What I can be, what I can’t be. The gap between my self-concept and my self, the creative tension that can arise from this but the capacity for illusion which is its unspoken corollary. It’s also left me with a sense of collective efficacy I don’t think I’d ever experienced before. A sense of how we can realise other possibilities and transcend the smallness which actuality leaves us mired within, but only if we do so collectively. There’s no personal routine, no writing project, no transition and no promotion which can accomplish the same effect if undertaken in an individualised way. The whole experience has left me newly aware of my own alienation while also showing me how to transcend it. The world feels unsettling but profoundly open to me at the moment. It’s going to be strange going back to work.

    • Kriss Fearon (@christabel6) 1:10 pm on March 11, 2018 Permalink

      Mark, you are always thoughtful but rarely as personally reflective as you have been here. I like it, and can really relate to what you say.

    • lizmorrish 2:31 pm on March 11, 2018 Permalink

      This is excellent and so helpful for me in constructing my own analysis of institutional abuse of power, past and present. Universities coerce in us the most frightening of hypocrisies. The political forcing ground of engagement of the last 3 weeks will hopefully give birth to a more ‘woke’ workforce prepared to resist this. Analysing and discussing institutional power will need to be part of our DNA henceforth.

    • Mark 5:26 pm on March 11, 2018 Permalink

      that’s really nice to hear, thanks Kriss.

    • Mark 5:27 pm on March 11, 2018 Permalink

      Yes definitely, I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘organisational literacy’ as a political goal and how social media can help entrench it.

    • Kriss Fearon (@christabel6) 10:41 pm on March 11, 2018 Permalink

      Also if you haven’t seen Sara Ahmed’s blog or Twitter feed on her research on making harassment complaints in HE, it is well worth a look. She is @feminiskilljoy.

    • Cathy R 9:02 pm on March 14, 2018 Permalink

      Great article, Mark. Thank you. One of the unexpected (but incredibly valuable) outcomes of collective action is that realisation of both individual powerlessness and the potential of exercising collective power.

      When we have been driven to strike in the past (Australian university context), the thing that has really turned members out onto the picket line is the harsh reality of the university management’s naked exercise of power. The power to say “no”, the power to ignore the people they otherwise claim to be “our most important asset” (an expression offensive in itself, and all the more so for its manipulative intent), the power to threaten our livelihoods and wellbeing.

      The (re)discovery of the power of collective action is a great thing. The exhilaration of telling a university security officer “no, we’re not moving, and we will continue to stop traffic and tell people why we’re here”, the sheer catharsis of taking action on years of pent-up frustration due to overwork, ridiculous bureaucratic requirements and ever-escalating expectations of productivity (both research output and student enrolments).

      And yes, as you say, for those who choose to reflect, the realisation of privilege in a broader context. The critical questioning: what happens to workers who are not in a position to withdraw their labour? Those in the gig economy, the minimum wage workers, our own casual staff…? To me, as a union leader and poltical activist, the potential personal and political transformation that can result from collective industrial action is reward in itself – and a source of hope.

      Best wishes and solidarity to you and your sisters and brothers on the picket lines.

    • Mark 7:40 pm on March 15, 2018 Permalink

      I haven’t read it for ages, I think it will be particularly poignant to go back and start reading it properly again.

    • Mark 7:43 pm on March 15, 2018 Permalink

      This is a kind and insightful response, thanks Cathy. This had been the most personal thing I’d published in a long time & I was trying to make sense of the feelings the strike was provoking in me. Your comment has helped me see those feelings with greater clarity. Thank you 🙂

  • Mark 10:02 am on March 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , cognitive dissonance, , , radical academics, , vice chancellors   

    The intellectual adventure of slaying the neoliberal beast 

    Social media reassures me I’m not alone in my fascination with Sussex VC Adam Tickell’s role in the current university crisis. As Tom Slater put it, it’s disturbing to realise that “someone who is capable of such excellent critical analysis, expressed with such elegance, has now become an appalling neoliberal VC, who is apparently treating his striking staff with sneering and arrogant disdain”. His quote from a 1995 paper about “slaying the neoliberal beast” has done the rounds on social media and Tickell has been held up as an example of an avowedly radical academic turned neoliberal manager, raising an obvious question: what happened? Were his politics merely a sham to win the approval of his peers? Has he somehow persuaded himself his current actions conform with those politics? Is it merely the case that his politics have changed? Or does reaching such a position necessitate insulating one’s working life from one’s politics in a manner which ensures such cognitive dissonance won’t be an impediment to your day job?

    These are questions which have fascinated me for a long time. As someone who spent over a decade at the University of Warwick, I found myself asking them about Nigel Thrift on many occasions. The most pronounced occasion was when the release of Thrift’s co-authored book, Arts of the Political: New Openings for the Left, coincided with a particularly active period of political protest on campus. The university sought to remove occupying students and forcefully resisted their demands precisely as the vice chancellor opined about the importance of the political and the necessity that new openings be taken up by the left. Not long after this police called to campus attacked occupying students in an act of needless brutality. As I tweeted at the time, his own book contained an account of state power and violence, as well as a call to recognise the creativity of those working within mediating organisations. If I read him correctly, he offers a turgidly polysyllabic but theoretically compelling account of why he should have been held responsible for these actions:


    In the absence of an in-depth qualitative project which seek to understand the personal morphogenesis of vice-chancellors, it will be difficult to ever reconcile these questions. The occasions on which I’ve discussed these questions with those who’ve actually spent significant amounts of time with such people, including at least one who had been in pretty senior university management, leave me assuming the worst about the people concerned. Nonetheless, I find a default assumption of the venality of power unsatisfying. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to look through Tickell’s work to see if there are signs of his later development in his early analysis.

    I since found Tom Slater, co-editor of The Sociological Review, had the same idea and this makes me wonder if such analysis could be an interesting exercise in the sociological analysis: the sociology of ideas to inform a biographical analysis of the political economy of higher education? It is obviously the case that we cannot read back an individual’s motivations and commitments from their writing in a straight-forward manner. This is particularly so when it comes to the peculiar conventions of academic writing, as well as the limited audience of peers to whom such writing is primarily directed. Nonetheless, I think it’s feasible to bracket those considerations and take the writing seriously as an expression of belief, in order to understand the possible ramifications those beliefs had for the individual’s subsequent choices and trajectory. To that end, here are some beliefs expressed by Tickell in his Reflections on Activism and the Academy:

    • It is important to distinguish between different varieties of capitalism. Even if we might agree that capitalism is the enemy in the abstract because we see it as an inherently exploitative system based on inequality, we must recognise “that the living standards of people can both improve and deteriorate within the system”. For this reason, we identify neoliberalism as “the most potent threat” while recognising the limitations of what we can do and the compromises necessary to do it.
    • It is important to  “work at the community level, to use people’s understandings of the problems and potentials of their lives in order to help them to improve their lives” but we have to recognise “the potential achievements at the microlevel are limited”. We can no more solve problems such as homelessness or widening inequality through action at the community level then we can by writing papers, even if our action may be components of a broader solution. Neoliberals “operate on the national and international levels” so “neoliberalism needs to be resisted at these levels.
    • “It is not enough to understand, we must act on our understandings”. This action inevitably involves compromise and engagement on different levels with the “complex, multifaceted structure” which is the state. Purity is not an option if you want to make a difference. Much as the state can be “detrimental and reactionary” it is not necessarily so and a fatalism about power obscures the opportunities we have to exercise an influence over it. What might make sense on an “abstract level” becomes indefensible on a political level for Tickell, as someone who “would opt for a welfare state any day”.

    A lowering of expectations follows from these points, with Tickell suggesting that “perhaps we should set our sights a little lower than capitalism and attempt to slay the neoliberal beast”. In fact, it’s not clear even this is his ambition, as he ends with a call which is not mutually exclusive but nonetheless somewhat different:  to strengthen civil society: “we need to help in the construction of a new, better meso level social order which may involve collaboration with the state and even with capital (itself a contradictory phenomenon)”.

    From anti-capitalism to anti-neoliberalism to strengthening civil society in the space of a four page essay. If this deflation of ambition happens within the context of radical writing, what hope was there to sustain a critical outlook over the course of a career? Tickell sets up his radicalism in terms of a realism which would always be deflationary: bracket ‘abstract’ considerations in order to focus upon the opportunities available in this particular moment and the capacity we have to realise them. It might follow from this that we seek to extend our capacity to realise these concrete steps, congratulating ourselves on avoiding the abstractions in which our colleagues are mired in while we make a real difference to the world. What could be better than running a university for someone committed to strengthening the meso-level social order in a practical and immediate way?

    • landzek 6:39 pm on March 9, 2018 Permalink

      It sounds eerily similar to that saying “if you want a liberal when you’re young you have no heart, and if you want conservative when you’re older then you have no brain”

      I wonder if it’s just a simple function of getting older and having a house in having things and enjoying the salary that you get but then along with that comes certain responsibilities and obligations to people that you work under or for. Whereas when we are young we don’t have those kinds of obligations and we still think we can change the world. When you got a good life and good income I think you Kinda don’t want the world to change, And new ideas can become scary.


    • landzek 6:40 pm on March 9, 2018 Permalink

      Not ‘want’. Aren’t. Damn auto correct. 🙂

    • landzek 6:42 pm on March 9, 2018 Permalink

      And come to think of it, even the most liberal ideas become conservative ideas when you stick to them like dogma.

    • Mark 4:17 pm on March 11, 2018 Permalink

      I really don’t think conservatism is a function of age. If it was, political views would be clearly delineated by age and they’re obviously not. Take your broader point though, I’d like to understand how these play out alongside many many many others factors in shaping how we change politically as we get older.

    • landzek 1:52 pm on April 2, 2018 Permalink

      Yes. Age does not determine politics… But it seems to me that there could be some sort of general progression if someone who is young is liberal and goes crazy and parties and travel the world and everything there seems like there could be as you get older calming down. Like a certain natural progression, where now you have a house and a family and so you’re more interested in securing those things. Seems like that’s the kind a different progression say if someone were total staunch conservative when they were 15 and join the ASP government and then they go to college and meet their husband or wife and their children are out on their own by the time they’re 40, and at 45 or 50 all the sudden they go crazy and travel the world and start partying and not giving a shit and wearing tie-dye T-shirts in Birkenstock seems like that’s a kind of a different progression say if someone were total staunch conservative when they were 15 and join their ASP government and then they go to college and meet their husband or wife and their children are out on their own by the time they’re 40, and at 45 or 50 all the sudden they go crazy and travel the world and start partying and not giving a shit and wearing tie-dye T-shirts in Birkenstockss. This latter seems kind of more like a break, like it doesn’t seem so natural, in fact some people maybe it could be called a midlife crisis if someone were to do that.

      They don’t call a young person who was crazy getting older and suddenly being concerned about having a bank account they don’t call dad a midlife crisis or some sort of crisis.


    • landzek 1:53 pm on April 2, 2018 Permalink

      Not by the time the children are 40, by the time the parents are 40…

    • landzek 1:53 pm on April 2, 2018 Permalink

      Wow that post just doubled and repeated itself. 🧐

    • landzek 1:57 pm on April 2, 2018 Permalink

      But I would add also, philosophically, that just because people speak a certain way when they’re young doesn’t mean I necessarily “our“ that way. I think that’s one of the problems with what we generally called postmodern theory and just it’s a fact on things it seems ( but that could be overgeneralization perhaps people of always been manipulating things) . but people might have a certain kind of selfish agenda and so people speak a certain way because they see that it’s going to gather a certain crowd allow themselves certain avenues in a program, but they aren’t really “that kind of person”. And this is not to say that there’s some sort of duplicity going on in their head or anything but that they’re just a certain type of person that thinks that everyone is doing it and they’re just better at it. So when they get established and they’ve sold a few bucks and they have a certain name for themselves and they are established at a university in their teaching and they have certain credentials in an identity and I feel really good about themselves all the sudden some kids come along some students… some people get older and they just have an attitude and they feel insecure and they don’t even know it until it hits them.


    • Mark 5:54 pm on April 3, 2018 Permalink

      I’m still not convinced sorry! I’m not denying people change with age or that some people go through the changes you’re talking about, I just can’t see the age is something that helps us explain these changes and it actively obscures other kinds of changes to focus upon it.

    • landzek 6:32 pm on April 3, 2018 Permalink

      At risk of appearing an anarchist; it appears to me that you feel like there must be some real reason that behaves as a substrate upon which all human beings behave. I submit that it might be possible that whatever sort of psychological or cultural or maturation factors might be available to explain his behavior might only serve to refi this idealism of R reason, such that where it might explain his instance it might only serve to narrow the type of people who are allowed to be included eventually in what is “reasonable“, so far as there is some sort of problem with him behaving in a certain manner before under a certain label and then now seemingly behaving oppositely or contrary to what he appeared before hand.

      I’m suggesting that there is no inconsistency in his behavior. That perhaps what we are perceiving as an inconsistency is really indicating a failure in our matter of appropriating how people are for what they do.

      What I see when I read your post here is The possibility ofconsistency of person.

      But then I tend to look at things through the case of outliers and not through statistical correlation. I have a certain issue with catering application to the “greatest common good”. Because what comes up for me eventually is a narrow systematize version of what is allowed to be included as human being.

      But I’m not so much offended at this guy you talking about as I am amused. 😆. Because to me just appears like an idiot.lol. But when it comes down to critical Theory and Acadamy we’re not allowed to just call the person an idiot and leave it be we have to come down with logical and proven argumentative strategies for a while we may want to label various people as certain types. So in that area I rescind my calling him a moron. 👽

  • Mark 7:15 am on March 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , ,   

    The Sociology of Trolling 

    What is a troll? The term is encountered with ever greater frequency yet its meaning has changed with the years, moving from a definition in terms of motivation (deliberately producing discord for amusement) to a definition in terms of behaviour (the fact of having produced discord in an online community). My fear is this change collapses the sociology of trolling into a psychology of trolling, reading back common personality traits from a common behaviour. This matters because it leads us to misunderstand trolling, including the possibility we should see it as a symptom of broader political problems which can only be adequately addressed in a political way.

    This is a line of thought I found myself returning to when reading George Monbiot’s Out of the Wreckage. On loc 852 he writes:

    When I make the mistake of reading the online comments below my articles –or anyone else’s –the image that strikes me is of people trapped, alone in their cars, in a traffic jam, unable to see past the vehicle in front of them. Their anger and aggression is focused on the drivers ahead, and they lean on the horn, blaring pointlessly at them. Their isolation and frustration blind them to the context: the reasons for the jam, the reasons for their anger, the wider problems the snarl-up might reveal. Alienation, separation and stress suppress empathy, understanding, curiosity and cooperation. Deep thought becomes impossible. Rather than deliberating together to solve our common problems, we shout and shake our fists at each other.

    This is not to excuse what is often inexcusable behaviour. But it is to stress the necessity of understanding it. This is particularly important given the figure of the troll is increasingly influencing the terms under which the conditions of exchange are being established on social media platforms. In some cases, these might be technical tweaks which are opaque to users, whereas in others they are important shifts which respond to external political pressure. Our current concept of the ‘troll’ is so amorphous, liable to be stretched and expanded so easily to support a pre-existing agenda, it is crucial that we interrogate how it is deployed to support technical and political interventions, even when we agree with the substance of them.

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