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  • Mark 10:34 am on March 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Organisational sociology and algorithms 

    I’m saving this here to come back to because I’m very interested in this theme.

    Call for Workshop Participation
    Algorithms on the Shop Floor: Data-driven Technologies in Organizational Context

    Deadline for applications: April 19, 2019
    Workshop date: June 14, 2019 in NYC at Data & Society <http://datasociety.net/>
    Application link: http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor <http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor>
    For questions, email events@datasociety.net <mailto:events@datasociety.net>

    On June 14, 2019, Data & Society will host a workshop in NYC on the intersection of technology and organizational theory and practice. The workshop arises from an increasing need to understand how automated, algorithmic, AI, or otherwise data-driven technologies are being integrated into organizational contexts and processes.

    The workshop will convene researchers who study how new technologies are introduced, incorporated, resisted or maintained within organized groups, and the changes this integration brings. Such changes might include processes (workflows, tasks, “re-skilling,” “changed” skills, augmentation) or in structures (roles, jurisdictions, authority), or other key sociological issues (such as power, culture, diversity, expertise, risk, rationality, legitimacy, and solidarity). In a world where new technologies are being integrated into organizations of all sizes and types, how can we make sense of what gets lost, what gets gained, and what gets changed? Many of these questions are long standing themes in organizational studies and ethnographies examining the social complexities of working on the machine shop floor, to which the title of our workshop alludes. Still, how do such integrations provoke new shifts in power relations and social values?

    The range of field sites and research questions appropriate for this event is wide. The only requirements for participation are that: 1) you must be a researcher (with or without an academic affiliation); 2) your research questions must address a dimension of socio-technical practice in the context of a formalized organization.

    Relevant topics for this workshop might include:
    How do formations of power, hierarchy, and discretionary decision-making change when automated and AI technologies are introduced?
    How are issues of diversity and equity brought into and reconstituted when new technologies are introduced?
    How does the integration of new technologies into organizations intersect with issues of access, inclusion, and disability?
    What are sites of unintended use, resistance, or deviance with respect to technology in organizations?
    How are new forms of expertise, skill, and training emerging to meet demands of using new technologies in the workplace?
    How are new or existing labor organizations confronting the perceived threat of AI?
    What are organizational formations or organizational processes that build on digital technologies to advance equity and social justice?
    What lessons does the history of organizational theory and practice hold for contemporary dynamics?
    How are bureaucratic forms of control (such as auditing or impact policy) integrated into the development of technology?

    These examples are by no means exhaustive, but intended to provide a flavor of the kind of relevant research questions. We are especially interested in strange outliers and unexpected studies.

    Key Dates

    • Application Deadline: April 19, 2019
    • Selection Decisions: May 1, 2019
    • Full Paper Deadline: May 28, 2019
    • Workshop: June 14, 2019

    Participation Requirements
    The structure of the Data & Society Workshop series is designed to maximize scholarly thinking about the evolving and societally important issues surrounding data-driven technologies. Participants will be asked to read three full papers in advance of the event and prepare comments for intensive discussion. Some participants will be asked to be discussants of papers, where they will lead the conversation and engage the room. Authors will not present their work, but rather participate in critical discussion with the assembled group about the paper, with explicit intent of making the work stronger and more interdisciplinary.

    All participants are required to read three papers in advance of the event and come ready to offer constructively critical feedback. We want researchers to constructively spar with and challenge one another to strengthen ourselves across the board. This is not an event for passive attendance, but an opportunity to engage each other substantively.

    This event is first and foremost an opportunity to collectively think and help construct a field. Although this event is designed to bring together 30-40 researchers, only 12 papers will be workshopped. Yet, everyone who attends is expected to be an active participant and contribute to rich conversations. We believe that it is through active engagement with other scholars around research that new insights can emerge. In other words, this event is designed to be the kind of intense intellectual engagement that made you fall in love with being a researcher in the first place.

    The day will be organized into three time slots, each 75 minutes long. One paper will be workshopped in each session. Multiple sessions will run in parallel so there will be a total of ~12 papers, but each participant will only be responsible for reading and engaging with 3. Within each group, a discussant will open with a critique of the paper before inviting participants to share their feedback. (If you participate in this event, you may be asked to be a discussant on one paper.) All are expected to share feedback, with author response towards the end of the session.


    The event will take place on June 14, 2019, and will run from 8:45am to 6pm. Paper sessions will run until 4:15pm; afterwards, there will be a reception for all participants.
    All meals will be covered during the event. Unfortunately, we have limited funding to support travel for this workshop; however, we’re happy to provide a formal invitation for participation/“speaking” to anyone who may need it to secure their own funding.
    Application Process (Deadline: April 19)

    For this event, we are looking to bring together researchers from diverse disciplines studying technology in organizations. This can include management, organization studies, communications, information studies, computer-supported cooperative work, computer-human interaction, science and technology studies, ethics, labor, law, policy, anthropology, and design research. As a result, attendees should expect to engage with scholars who are outside of their field of study. We ask that attendees think of the Data & Society Workshop series as an opportunity to engage with a broader cross-disciplinary field, and to strengthen both relationships and research through participation in the workshop.

    Because the paper submission date is only a few weeks after the application deadline, you should only apply as an author if you have a paper that you’re actively writing right now and will be ready to share a draft with others by May 28, 2019. If you aren’t already working on this paper, you probably aren’t in a good position to workshop it at this event. Appropriate papers may be a work-in-progress book chapter or a journal article. (Full-length books are a bit too much for this event, so if you’re writing a book, think about the chapter that you most want to get feedback on.)

    To apply as an author, please submit the following:

    • Name, affiliation, title, email address, discipline.
    • Big research question you’re seeking to answer with your research.
    • Paper title + 100-250 word abstract.
    • The current half-baked, thick-outline, total mess of the paper.**

    ** We are asking for the disaster of a paper to understand where you are with the piece now, and the arguments you intend to make, so that we can appropriately match you to a discussant. We won’t share this version with anyone (we promise).
    Please note: All co-authors for papers must apply separately. If your co-author doesn’t apply, we will assume that s/he is not interested in attending the workshop. It will be hard to add additional participants later, so make sure your co-authors apply if they want to attend.

    To apply as a participant/discussant, please submit the following:

    • Name, affiliation, title, email address, discipline.
    • Big research question you’re seeking to answer with your research.
    • 100-250 word description of your research.

    Application link: http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor <http://datasociety.net/algorithms-on-the-shop-floor>
    For questions, email events@datasociety.net <mailto:events@datasociety.net>

  • Mark 8:41 am on March 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
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    A cybernetics of distraction? 

    There’s an interesting aside in Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain on pg 98 which has left me thinking about why I’m so interested in distraction:

    Here he tied his essay into a venerable tradition in psychiatry going back at least to the early twentieth century, namely, that madness and mental illness pointed to a failure to adapt—an inappropriate mental fixity in the face of the flux of events.

    While I obviously don’t think distraction is a mental illness, I do think it can be characterised as a failure to adapt. But as insufficient mental fixity in the face of events, as opposed to an excess of fixity. It is a failure to find form, a distinct stance towards a situation liable to give rise to action within it.

  • Mark 7:44 pm on March 27, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , design sociology, Phil brooker, ,   

    Programming as Social Science: a case study of @pdbrooker’s surprisingly militant bots 

    My notes on Brooker, P. (2019). My unexpectedly militant bots: A case for Programming-as-Social-Science. The Sociological Review. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038026119840988

    In this thought provoking paper, Phil Brooker takes issue with the scaremongering surroundings bots which positions them as epistemically dangerous due to their quantity and capacity to evade deception. Instead he propose sociologists engage with them as both topic and resource, able to be used critically as a way of intervening in problematic online areas. This entails an upskilling by sociologists, without which any such engagement is likely to be at an abstract distance. He argues that “programming is a vital tool for responding to emerging issues and is potentially transformative across the social sciences in terms of how we understand and intervene in the world” (3).

    Sociology lags behind fields like the digital humanities and software studies for reasons which would be interesting to explore but he offers this intervention as part of a broader project to help close that gap. He argues that we should think of “computer programming as a multipurpose toolkit for understanding and intervening in the (digital) social world in lots of different ways” (7). He begins with an exploration of the social character of design, infamously manifested in bots which reproduce the discriminatory features of the environment they take as stimulus. Drawing on Lupton’a work on design sociology, he draws attention to the affinity of design and sociology, with the former increasingly attending to the social context and the role of users within it. He argues that Di Salvo’s conception of adversarial design has particular relevance, with its focus on the capacity of design to disrupt preconceptions and knock users out of habitual ways of thinking.

    His focus on social media bots responds to “a shift from depicting bots as insidious infections against which platform users must inoculate themselves, to a more nuanced understanding that reflects the different functions bots hold for those that build and use them” (5). The problem of bots is often framed in terms of computational propaganda such that they are seen to be fundamentally deceptive and manipulative, coming from without and requiring decisive intervention” (5), in spite of the useful and fun purposes bots have long served on sites like Reddit and Wikipedia. He argues that using design approaches instead “opens up a space to think about understanding bot–human interaction as playful, creative, positive and/or useful both culturally and sociologically” (6).

    I won’t try to summarise the superb narratives of his two bots and their development. But he positions the first, which randomly generates Facebook updates from a core list of components, in terms of the politics of obfuscation which can be seen in projects like ISP Data Pollution, RuinMyHistory and Noiszy and their significance after the Cambridge Analytica revelations. He explores the latter in terms of the digital picket line, redesigning his Zenbot to proactively inform people it was on strike on the appropriate days, using the relevant hashtag and accompanied by random positive invocations, rather than dispensing zen wisdom on command via twitter. He uses these to signify the potential direction which what he terms *programming as social science* could take for sociology, particularly in terms of its capacity to it help open the notorious black boxes of algorithms and software. On pg 16 he notes other forms PaSS might take:

    engaging with new forms of data, designing new methods to investigate social phenomena, developing interactive/alternative/engaging data visualisations, building applications to nurture innovative forms of interaction with research participants, and so on.

    But a few steps are needed first. We need to acknowledged the lived experience of interacting with bots, as opposed to engaging in abstract generalisations. We need to grapple with the ethical challenges posed by these potential interventions, currently undertaken with a sociological blank canvas. We need to take bot design seriously as a method of generating social knowledge, currently being taken up almost exclusively by non sociologists. I consider myself enthusiastically signed up to Phil’s project here!

  • Mark 4:59 pm on March 27, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , cybernetic brain, dissensus,   

    Driving robots mad  

    From pg 68 of Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain:

    Thus if the arrangement is such that the sound becomes positively associated both with the attracting light and with the withdrawal from an obstacle, it is possible for both a light and a sound to set up a paradoxical withdrawal. The ‘instinctive’ attraction to a light is abolished and the model can no longer approach its source of nourishment. This state seems remarkably similar to the neurotic behavior produced in human beings by exposure to conflicting influences or inconsistent education.” Or, as he put it more poetically in The Living Brain (1953, 183), “in trying, as it were, to sort out the implications of its dilemma, the model ends up, ‘sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,’ by losing all power of action.

  • Mark 10:18 am on March 27, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , brain, , hallucination, psychadelics   

    The strange performances of the brain 

    This section of Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain just reawakened my interest in psychedelic drugs and their effects upon consciousness. From pg 73:

    Walter’s 1953 book The Living Brain is largely devoted to the science of the normal brain and its pathologies, epilepsy and mental illness. But in different passages it also goes beyond the pathological to include a whole range of what one might call altered states and strange performances: dreams, visions, synesthesia, hallucination, hypnotic trance, extrasensory perception, the achievement of nirvana and the weird abilities of Eastern yogis and fakirs—the “strange feats” of “grotesque cults” (1953, 148) such as suspending breathing and the heartbeat and tolerating intense pain. 

     What should we make of this? It exemplifies the sort of curiosity about the performative brain that I just mentioned—this is a list of odd things that brains, according to Walter, can do. It conjures up an understanding of the brain as an active participant in the world. Even in the field of perception and representation, phenomena such as dreams and hallucinations might be taken to indicate that the brain does not copy the world but assimilates sensory inputs to a rich inner dynamics. The tortoise did not thematize this aspect of the brain (except, to a limited degree, in its scanning mechanism), but it is part of what I tried to get at in chapter 2 by mentioning the work of Kauffman and Wolfram on the endogenous dynamics of complex systems, which we will see elaborated in in the following chapters. 

    The significance of such substances lies their capacity to modify the “rich inner dynamics” of the brain, in the process opening out new intersections with the world. What makes them interesting is not the subjective changes they bring about but rather the different relations to the objective world which those subjective changes reflect. They illustrate the range of ways we can psycho-physically inhabit our reality, casting a light upon the usual range as usual through the alternatives which they open up. 

    • landzek 3:51 pm on March 27, 2019 Permalink

      …When there is no resources to use, then being and existence itself becomes the resource that is used by the world.

  • Mark 12:55 pm on March 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
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    The ontological gap between entities and interaction 

    Another theme which feels important to me in Pickering’s superb The Cybernetic Brain is the ontological gap between entities and interaction. If we imagine the world as composed of discrete entities with defined characteristics, it invites an approach to knowledge in which we merely place them into a taxonomy in a manner which leaves them in principle knowable in full.

    If I understand the cybernetic impulse correctly, it rests on the aforementioned ontological gap. Even if we learn stuff through this approach, it tells us little about the interaction of these entities and obscures much that is important about the world in which this interaction occurs. What matters is how these discrete elements enter into interaction with each other, in a manner which is inherently unpredictable and cannot be discerned through the decompositional and representational approach to knowledge previously described. This is why we should start with the performance i.e. the reality of their interaction.

    It’s possible I’m translating this too much into the conceptual idiom of morphogenetic theory and perhaps missing something of cybernetics in the process. But I’m finding it a stimulating activity nonetheless, something which I think the cyberneticians would have approved of.

    • Steven Watson 1:16 pm on March 25, 2019 Permalink

      The cybernetic view does challenge the discrete object or entity – it doesn’t reject these ideas entirely, it treats the entity as ‘outputs’ of a dynamic system. What cybernetics opens up is the possibility of exploring the behaviour of dynamics systems and the interaction between different systems, rather than just looking at the possible relationships between outputs. I guess post-structuralism was of a similar mind, but was a critique rather than an alternative philosophical project.

    • Mark 2:33 pm on March 25, 2019 Permalink

      but that’s what a system is right, the pattern of interaction between interdependent entities?

    • Steven Watson 4:18 pm on March 25, 2019 Permalink

      a dynamic system is defined by its capacity to equilibrate or achieve equilibrium. That involves interaction with other systems. But an entity is the characterisation of the outputs of a system in any moment or over a period of time when it is in equilibrium. The life phases of a butterfly or the phases of matter (gas, solid, liquid). What we sense of the butterfly is its output (of itself as a dynamic system) and that’s what make it a thing, an entity.

    • Mark 4:32 pm on March 25, 2019 Permalink

      I agree, just using a different lingo to convey

    • Jeff Wright 8:18 pm on March 26, 2019 Permalink

      I think you’re onto something here that has been explored in different ways. For example Von Foerster’s second-order cybernetics, the notion of applying cybernetics to itself.

      In my opinion, though, this “go meta” approach complicates the structural model without actually helping the “ontological gap” problem. Instead it reifies the construct of the “observer” as separate from the “model”, reproducing the gap and leaving agency and interaction as metaphysically mysterious as ever.

      The crux of the problem lies not in modeling, but in metaphysics, or should I say, the metaphysics of modeling. Cybernetics is essentially a theory of modeling the world descriptively, but in a way that the modeled parameters are dynamic, but not the model itself. Modeling is construed via a paradigm of description (vs observation) that has the “gap” baked into it from the beginning. Adding another observer level that can alter the model does not change the quality of descriptivism to which the model approach is committed.

      There are two metaphysical assumptions in the cybernetic approach which are mostly unexamined, and that replicate broader western cultural metaphysics. The first is the notion of static ontology, the idea that the values might change but the ontology is static, replicating the theological construct of the “eternal”. Thus in cybernetics the construct of a “system” is defined by equilibrium, the posited capacity to stay the same. There’s no (or not much) theorizing or modeling process and change, because the static version seems adequate given the metaphysical ethos. The second is the separate transcendental position of the “observer”, which even in modernity and cybernetics is derived from the construct of the transcendent universal observer (in one version, the “god” that created everything and now stands back as a mostly-passive observer). This same construct will be encountered in any metaphysically-informed social ontology of agency and interaction. And maybe I don’t need to point out that this “gap” is also the explanatory gap of the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness.

      If there is a way for the fly to escape the metaphorical / metaphysical bottle, it might be found in process metaphysics, which are unfortunately so counter to the broad cultural ethos that it has not been retrieved from the more mystical aspects of Whitehead’s thought and brought into a naturalized metaphysics. But there is some action in this area, for example, Isabelle Stengers _Thinking with Whitehead_

      Another more practical site of activity for this “leading edge” concerns the current critique and effort to understand the limitations and cultural effects (and ultimately, metaphysics) of our use of artificial “intelligence” and the nature of its statistical modeling approaches. Philosophically they are in some ways a step backward (e.g. away from rule-based modeling), unless one is prepared to go “all in” with pragmatism and dispense with the rule and “law” constructs in favor of data-driven models. But one could argue that doing so simply conceals the causal forces and regularities of the human, agentic, interacting, relational world behind a veneer of measured and sampled behaviour, which itself is born within the human world of agentic and metaphysically-saturated interaction.

      One representative example in this area is Sridhar Mahadevan’s article “Imagination Machines: A New Challenge for Artificial Intelligence. He does not, however, attempt to engage metaphysics but mainly seeks to improve the mathematics of modeling without questioning its basis. That is, the tacit attempt in this and related work (e.g. Gardenfor’s Conceptual Spaces) is a somewhat philosophically naive attempt to “ground” the modeling in better mathematical constructs. This carries the risk of creating more powerful pseudo-reality models whose obscuring power is proportional to their power to create compelling simulacra, reasonable-seeming concepts, and practical tools that reproduce specific cultural practices. I think you (Mark) alluded to something similar using the term “ontological veiling”.




    • Mark 10:29 am on March 27, 2019 Permalink

      Links are very interesting thanks. In terms of cybernetics though, surely what you’re saying a true of first wave but not of subsequent approaches?

  • Mark 12:41 pm on March 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , novelty,   

    Cybernetics and the dual-edged sword of disciplinarity 

    It’s difficult to read Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain and not be swept up in his infectious enthusiasm for the British cyberneticians. They were the fun wing of an approach which “emerged from nowhere as far as established fields and career paths were concerned” with the “cyberneticians and their projects were outsiders to established fields of endeavor” (55). Cybernetics had no social basis, as he terms it, something which was a strength in many ways. The radically open character of its intellectual inquiry clearly had a foundation in modes of academic sociality, such as the Ratio dining club described on pg 58:

    Ratio was interinstitutional, as one might say. It did not simply elide disciplinary boundaries within the university; it brought together representatives from different sorts of institutions: people from the universities, but also medical men and physiologists based in hospitals and research institutes, including Walter and Ashby, and workers in government laboratories.

    But this strength came hand-in-hand with the weakness of cybernetics, as Pickering describes on pg 59-60:

    Academic disciplines are very good at holding neophytes to specific disciplinary agendas, and it was both a strength and a weakness of cybernetics that it could not do this—a strength, inasmuch as cybernetics retained an undisciplined and open-ended vitality, an ability to sprout off in all sorts of new directions, that the established disciplines often lack; a weakness, as an inability both to impose standards on research and to establish career paths for new cyberneticians left enthusiasts to improvise careers much as did the founders.

    In this sense, we can see disciplines as a dual-edged sword. They are effective carries of tradition, ensuring insights, ideas and methods get reproduced from one generation to the next. But they do this at the cost of disciplining, with the perpetual risk that creativity and innovation are foreclosed by an adherence to inherited standards.

    Is it possible to overcome this by developing nomadic movements within the conservative structure of disciplines? I’m prone to seeing the bias towards novelty within the contemporary scholarly ecosystem as a fundamentally negative thing, as much as I’m well suited to it in many ways. But an optimistic reading of it cold be that it mitigates the stultifying potential inherent in disciplinarity and ensures there is room for creativity which might not otherwise be there.

  • Mark 1:53 pm on March 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    Call For Blog Posts: Reflections On Doing Sociology Outside The Global North 

    Despite widespread condemnations of ‘methodological nationalism’, calls for a more ‘global sociology’, and vibrant debates about decolonising the university, sociology cannot sustain the pretence that the ‘global North’ has been decentred. Indeed, sociology, even with its interdisciplinary posturing, remains dominated by theories and methodologies which emerge from and refer to the (over)developed world. In this context, what are some of the challenges for scholars working in and on the ‘global South’? What are some of the difficulties for engagement with the sociological mainstream, both intellectually and institutionally? What might reflexive accounts from scholars who are doing sociology outside the global North teach us about the challenges and possibilities of developing a substantively global sociology?

    In a recent piece called The Gentrification of African Studies, Haythem Guesmi explains that ‘Africa-based academics face insurmountable difficulties to attend important African studies conferences, which are often held in western capitals of New York, London, or Berlin. These challenges include issues of air travel funding and registration fees, the dreadful process of visa application, and the rise of hostile immigration policies’. Guesmi argues that Africanist scholars living in the global north thereby ‘shape the trajectory of African studies as a result of their strong institutional support and abundance of available funding’. Clearly, Guesmi has identified a wider issue that relates to the dominance (perhaps imperialism?) of the Euro-American academy; pursuing a genuinely global or decolonised sociology demands that take these kinds of arguments seriously. Indeed, the reflections of sociologists working outside the global North can serve as instruction for all of us struggling to understand, critique and improve our discipline.

    This special section of The Sociological Review’s website seeks short blog posts reflecting on the challenges of doing sociology outside the global North. These should be reflective accounts, and might respond to questions such as:

    • What are some of the institutional barriers to doing sociology and gaining recognition outside Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand?
    • What are your experiences of engaging with academics and institutions in the ‘global north’, and how have these experiences impacted your work?
    • What difficulties have you faced applying dominant theoretical and conceptual paradigms to areas and topics outside the global north?
    • If not sociology, which disciplines dominate research in your given area or topic, and how might sociological approaches generate new insights and questions?
    • How do your own experiences shed light on the limitations of calls for a global, decolonised sociology?
    • How do studies on and from the ‘global South’ complicate the scale at which sociologists conceptualise ‘private troubles’ and ‘public issues’?
    • What do your own experiences and reflections reveal about postcoloniality, neo-colonialism, imperialism and racism?

    Please read our guidelines before submitting. Posts should be between 1000 and 1500 words, submitted in the first instance to our Digital Engagement Fellow at mark@markcarrigan.net. The special section is edited by Irmak Karademir Hazir and Luke de Noronh. The deadline for submissions is March 31st.

  • Mark 10:33 am on March 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    “If you are for or against dictatorship, call in”: the terrifying turn in British politics 

    On yesterday’s BBC Any Answers, an angry caller shared his wish that Oliver Cromwell could be brought back from the dead because Britain now needed leadership which MPs patently could not provide. The scary thing is that I find it hard to argue with the latter point, even if it leads me to the conclusion the only possible resolution can come from a general election and a new parliament rather than the suspension of democracy. It led the presenter to invite, in all seriousness, people to call in “if you are for or against dictatorship”.

    I found myself pondering yesterday how, in a different political context, we are entering a stage where there would be serious risk of a military coup. For avoidance of doubt, I see no evidence that is a possibility in our present situation. But in a way this underscores the existential torpor that British politics is entering into: an unwinding without end, a blockage that can never be cleared and a crisis without resolution. I don’t see any meaningful possibility that Britain will become a dictatorship but I do think the conditions for this authoritarian right-wing turn have been germinating for decades, with its flowering being sufficient to ensure that a crisis-ridden UK becomes an ever more unpleasant place in which to be.

    Beyond everything else, this is the basis for my support for the Corbyn project. It is the only place I can find hope of something other than a dark and hateful decline for the country in which I was born. The political future here is Corbynism or barbarism.

    • emmanuelletulle 6:37 pm on March 24, 2019 Permalink

      Did people actually call in? Normally Anita Anand is a measured arbiter on this programme, quite good at neutralising some callers’ worst excesses. This is really disappointing… and worrying.


      Sent from my iPad

    • Patrick Ainley 11:19 pm on March 24, 2019 Permalink

      Anita Anand? You should complain about her. Altho during the EU referendumb Alex Salmond described it as a political coup.

    • Patrick Ainley 11:24 pm on March 24, 2019 Permalink

      Further on this, it was much more ‘inappropriate’ than the Beeb’s own report of her ‘breathy’ voice as she ‘leaned in close to the microphone’! (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p02zfcn7)

    • Mark 12:45 pm on March 25, 2019 Permalink

      Nope, maybe this is for next week’s show…

    • Mark 12:45 pm on March 25, 2019 Permalink

      I don’t understand what I’d be complaining about? It’s not her fault there’s an organic fascism springing up within British political culture

    • Mark 12:46 pm on March 25, 2019 Permalink

      yep that’s just confusing.

  • Mark 10:09 am on March 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Ontological veiling    

    I’m very taken with Andrew Pickering’s concept of veiling. If I understand him correctly, it refers to how knowledge production can circumscribe reality by taking us on a detour from certain aspects of it. Those features which resist representation in our approach risk dropping off stage, unseen and unheard. He uses it to refer to how modern science veils the performative dimension of our being but I think it can also be used to make sense of how platformised knowledge production, reliant on what registers as a behavioural trace within a digital platform, leaves large swathes of social reality opaque. 

    • Sourav Roy 10:15 am on March 22, 2019 Permalink

      Discussions on this topic and related ones always reminds me of the visual metaphor of selectively joining the dots in the night sky to imagine meaningful shapes of constellations. How different cultures have joined the dots in the very same constellation very differently.

    • Mark 10:19 am on March 22, 2019 Permalink

      Something which we’re doing constantly, I think

  • Mark 10:24 pm on March 21, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: academic sociability, , , meetings, , workshops   

    Scholarly centres of gravity 

    This is a term which Andrew Pickering uses on pg 10 of the Cybernetic Brain to describe the conference series and dining club around which cybernetics coalesced, as organisationally loose and somewhat self-selecting gatherings substituted for the secure institutional base which the majority of participants lacked.

    Scholarly centres of gravity are what bring people together outside of institutional concerns, with the intellectual and relational goods which can be found there drawing people back to them. In the process of course, this contributes to the reproduction of those goods as common projects, commitments and understandings emerge from what people do in these assemblies. If they stop coming back, or if the meetings cease to resonate for those concerned, these goods will rapidly erode.

    This is the perils of scholarly centres of gravity outside of institutional settings. They can provide a richer lived experience of why we do what we do. But the resources of an institution can help buttress projects and initiatives during fallow times when things don’t quite work. In their absence, a shared project can rapidly unwind with nothing beyond the commitment of those involved to hold it in its place.

  • Mark 8:58 am on March 21, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    Have you attended a talk or workshop on social media I’ve done over the last few years? 

    Have you attended a talk or workshop on social media I’ve done over the last few years? If so would you be willing to write a sentence or two of testimonial about what it was like? 

    For a variety of reasons, I’m going to start doing more of them this year and it would be enormously helpful to collect a few short statements telling people what they are like.

  • Mark 9:38 pm on March 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Cybernetics as a way of life 

    This is a wonderful section from pg 9 of Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain:

    Unlike more familiar sciences such as physics, which remain tied to specific academic departments and scholarly modes of transmission, cybernetics is better seen as a form of life , a way of going on in the world, even an attitude, that can be, and was, instantiated both within and beyond academic departments, mental institutions, businesses, political organizations, churches, concert halls, theaters, and art museums. This is to put the case positively. But from another angle, we should note the continuing marginality of cybernetics to established institutions.

    It captures why I find the early British sociologists so fascinating, for whom sociology was a way of life in the same sense conveyed here. Even if institutionalisation was necessary for sociology to grow, it’s hard not to wonder if this more than anything else was what eroded the liveliness Pickering conveys here, which these sociologists had in common with the cyberneticians he describes.

    • Steven Watson 8:57 am on March 21, 2019 Permalink

      The quote by Ross Ashby on p. 19 is probably the clearest account of object oriented ontology that I have come across

      “What is being suggested now is not that black boxes behave somewhat like real objects but that real objects are in fact all black boxes, and that we have been operating with black boxes all our lives”

      My reading of this – and Pickering’s posthumanism – is that new materialism can only really be unpacked by considering subject-object relationships as a relationship between complex dynamic systems i.e. in the spirit of the British cybernetics tradition.

      Makes me think that some new materialist writing is just REF clickbait 🙂

    • Mark 6:22 pm on March 21, 2019 Permalink

      I’m not a fan of new materialism personally.

      Very much like that quote!

  • Mark 9:55 pm on March 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Call for papers: literature and sociology 

    This looks like it’s going to be a brilliant conference:

    CALL FOR PAPERS (deadline: 22 April 2019)

    The third culture? // Literature and Sociology

    University of Warwick (Coventry) – 14 June 2019

    In 1985 Wolf Lepenies argued that sociology should be considered a ‘third culture’ arising between science and literature. Contemporary discourses and research, however, show us that sociology and literature have a long history of peculiar relatedness.

    In 19th century Europe, sociology was considered both a competitor to and counterpart of literary study since consensus held that the two disciplines were best placed to analyse and depict the emerging industrial society. Figures like Balzac, Flaubert, Zola and Simmel hoped to merge literature and social science; while others (like Marx, Durkheim and Weber) drew inspiration from literary work in developing their early sociological masterpieces. Despite this history, the developing pan-European structure of knowledge with its prioritisation of empirical analysis prevented any extensive integration between the two fields (Longo 2015; Jacobsen, Drake et al. 2014; Wallerstein 2007).

    This conference seeks to renew collaboration between sociology and literature by addressing their disciplinary intersections and coalescences.

    From this starting point three inter-related dimensions emerge:

    Firstly, that literature may serve as a heuristic tool for sociological analyses, providing, if not a simplistic ‘reflection’ of social reality, then at least a plausible description or anticipation of human actions and social contexts. In this way some fiction can be understood as social theory (as with Balzac, Dickens, Houellebecq and Saramago); while some sociological accounts can be understood as pieces of literature, with a ‘literary imagination’ underpinning many sociological works (as with Denzin and Richardson).

    Secondly, in terms of cross-fertilisations, literary study has a long history of mining sociological theories and methodologies for the analysis of literary texts (as with Marxist literary studies and World Literature). More recently this has led to a rich sub-discipline that correlates literary forms and socio-economic processes via the work of Bourdieu and others. Literary theory, for its own part, has had a distinct impact on contemporary sociology, with the work of Said, Spivak and Jameson featuring prominently in sociology’s global or postcolonial turn.

    And finally, literary works have historically worked as agents to foster reflection and political action on contemporary social issues (as with the work of Sinclair, Roy and El Saadawi). In this way, the intersection between sociology and literature can be used to focus and reflect on social issues like migration, racism and exploitation, serving activist projects and stimulating interventions into public life.

    By reflecting on the productivity of these strands, we aim also to trace the difficulties and erasures which inhere as disciplinary objects are shifted and reconstituted, while bridging disciplinary parochialisms and reframing social and cultural issues beyond the confines of the university.

    Thematic sessions and presentation topics for this conference may include, but are not limited to:

    1. Theories of the intersections between sociology and literature

    2. Historical perspectives on the intersections between sociology and literature
    3. Sociological fiction
    4. Marxism and literature: contemporary perspectives
    5. Bourdieusian approaches to literary analysis
    6. Uses of literature and sociology that stimulate interventions into public life.

    Keynote speakers will be:

    • Professor Mariano Longo (Università del Salento – Italy)
    • Second keynote TBC

    We welcome both proposals for individual papers (20 minutes) and panels (1 hour/ 3–4 papers) that encourage a reflection on these intersections. Please send either a 250-word abstract for an individual paper proposal or a panel proposal of 900 words and a short biography to thirdcultureconference@gmail.com by 22 April 2019. Panel proposals should contain a brief description of the topic of the panel as well as the 3–4 abstracts that constitute the panel. Individual abstracts will be allocated a panel after review. Applicants will be notified by 26 April 2019.

    Delegates to the conference will be expected to fund their own travel and accommodation. Thanks to our sponsors – the ESRC-DTC (University of Warwick) and the Social Theory Centre (University of Warwick) – the registration to the conference is free.

    More information on https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/esrcdtc/news/literaturesociology

  • Mark 11:07 am on March 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ivan Illich, ,   

    The dream of reducing learning to teaching 

    I was struck by this phrase by Ivan Illich in Deschooling Society, conveying his scepticism of the promise of educational technology in the 1970s. On pg 67 he writes of an “attempt to escalate an old dream into fact, and to finally make all valuable learning the result of professional teaching”. It left me wondering whether the contemporary ed tech bubble can be understood in terms of a dream to reduce learning to the professional: stripping teachers out of the process and replacing them with platforms which facilitate ‘personalised’ learning, analysed and overseen by a cohort of professionals. It would represent what Emmanuel Lazega describes as the final victory of bureaucracy over collegiality, as the agency of teachers which school has long depended on is finally dispensed with so that the logic of schooling can be reduced into the platform and the class of engineers who maintain it.

    • Patrick Ainley 11:23 am on March 19, 2019 Permalink

      The behaviourist dream is to reduce teaching to training, teachers to trainers and students to trainees. Of course, you can’t have education without training but you can and increasingly do have training without education!

    • Learnography 11:56 am on March 19, 2019 Permalink

      Thanks for the educational writing! All types of learning are converted into the motor knowledge of brain circuits. Therefore, classroom technology can not reduce the roles of subject teacher. In fact, the teaching theories of learning transfer will be changed in future classroom and the teacher will act as the smart moderator of book to brain knowledge transfer. It is obvious that engineers are working to enhance the teaching system of education but their technology can’t conduct learning transfer to student’s brain circuits. We have to apply the learning dimensions of brain science in classroom instead of teaching performance. Thanks again

    • Mark 8:27 am on March 20, 2019 Permalink

      Sorry to do this for second time in two days but can you suggest any reading??

    • Patrick Ainley 1:38 pm on March 20, 2019 Permalink

      Dear Learnographer, You make ‘book to brain knowledge transfer’ sound very unproblematic and I wonder what you mean by ‘applying the learning dimensions of brain science in the classroom’. Also, whether you have taught any ‘books’ to any students?

    • Patrick Ainley 1:40 pm on March 20, 2019 Permalink

      I thought I sent recommendation of M.Polnyi’s ‘Tacit Dimension’ + Mike Cooley’s ‘Architect or Bee?’ (+ more recent ‘Delinquent Genius’) also something I wrote of knowledgeskills. (Let me know by email if you did not receive.)

    • Mark 6:23 pm on March 21, 2019 Permalink

      Yep I meant on the specific argument you made in the comment rather than the broad topic

  • Mark 10:43 am on March 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    lights are out, phones are dead and I’m the only thing that’s runnin in this city 

    lights are out, phones are dead
    and I’m the only thing that’s runnin in this city
    except for the clouds
    and man they’re comin down
    if i knew my way around wouldn’t feel so dizzy
    where’s tele? nobody can tell me
    i don’t speak a lick of that language and got a slippery memory
    if i spelled it all out on my arm, only if
    but i didn’t so i think get a grip kid, deal with it
    baby’s waiting for a ring
    wont settle for the substitute excuse that’s forming
    i got a complicated case of escapism
    for her i try to rewire my nature
    too tired to wake her up
    odder that artificial calm she was on
    drug-induced future that slipped out of her palms
    seductive rain dancer, she thinks i’m waterproof
    like superman doesn’t need a roof over his head
    when i come home to roost i need truth to hold in bed
    but i’m seeking salvation in a booth
    and the phones are dead
    and the lights are out
    and i’m the only thing livin in this ghost town
    except for the clouds, and man they’re comin down
    if i knew my way around by now i’d be bound for home
    blackout on white night in rome
    blackout on white night in rome
  • Mark 10:20 am on March 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , deborah lutpon, , small data   

    How do data come to matter? 

    My notes on Lupton, D. (2018). How do data come to matter? Living and becoming with personal data. Big Data & Society, 5(2), 2053951718786314.

    In this paper, Deborah Lupton extends her work on the quantified self into a broader theorisation of how people come to live with data. It foregrounds the voluntary dimension of this process, in which “many novel digital technologies offer any interested person the opportunity to document, monitor and measure details of their bodies”, equipping them with capacities which were previously confined to specialised instruments and trained experts (1). These techniques render visible what was previously unseen. From 2:

    Elements of their bodies that people may not otherwise have con- sidered to any great extent – the number of steps they take per day, their sleep patterns, the kilometres and geographical locations they move through, their brain waves, moods and so on – are brought into sharp relief.

    This renders the body as a series of interlocking digitised elements which “demand new ways of interpreting these signs and signals of bodily function and movement” (2). Her focus is on the existential and epistemic predicament this confronts people with: how do we make sense of this information, determine its value and put it into practice? This takes place in a context where there is pervasive cultural pressure to know our bodies better and live in a way deemed more efficient. Her focus is on how this data is experienced and understood in everyday life.

    This has been studied through the frame of data sense-making i.e. how people engage with and learn from information. It has been tied to data literacy, a concern for capacities to select, analyse, visualise and learn from data. Lupton highlights how these approaches tend to focus on cognitive and technical forms of interpretation, ignoring the role of the situated body as a means through which we learn. She uses the concept of data sense to this end, which incorporates the “entanglements of the digital sensors with the human senses in the process of sense-making” (3) with the body as the site of sensation and response.

    This project draws on a range of approaches from agential realism, new materialism and the anthropology of material culture. They share a more-than-human approach which “demands that the human subject is always considered permeable and open to the material world rather than closed-off and contained” (4). They share the following characterised described on 5:

    • an approach that recognises that humans and non- humans are entangled in hybrid, unstable and generative ways;
    • the importance of considering the distributed agency and vital capacities (‘thing-power’) of human non-human assemblages;
    • an emphasis on the embodied, sensory and otherwise material nature of meaning, knowing, growing, perceiving and making as part of human embodiment;
    • the changing meanings of artefacts as they move into different assemblages and the work required to articulate these assemblages; and
    • the importance of identifying and tracing the ways in which humans and nonhumans are intermeshed, the enactments and practices that are involved, and the effects of these on human lives.

    These inform Lupton’s conception of a human-data assemblage within which data learns about humans but humans in turn “may find themselves asking to what extent their data speak for them, and to what extent their data are different from other elements of embodiment and selfhood” (5). Digital devices and software for personal data necessarily seek to make data intelligible to users. Through such intelligibility personal data has agency in relation users, exercising an influencer over their behaviour and leading them to do things on the basis of these new understandings. But data can also ossify if it’s not found useful or actionable, freezing into a latent state which could be rendered lively again at a later date. Her work on self-tracking provides an illustrative example of why these distinctions matter. Described on 6-7:

    My research participants often described collecting and reviewing data about their bodies as generating agential capacities that are suffused with affect. These data can motivate them, encourage them to move their bodies more, persist with weight-loss efforts or self-management of chronic conditions. The ‘numbers’ can make them feel good if they demonstrate that people are achieving goals set for themselves, or if the data demonstrate good health or higher levels of fitness. Positive feelings can be generated by the buzzes, flashing lights, badges and other notifications that communicate a goal has been achieved. Alternatively, however, biometric data can have demoralising effects, generating disappointment, frustration, guilt and anger. Notifications can be experienced as annoying or pestering, making unreasonable demands.

    To make sense of data involves “connecting the metrics with the lived sensory experiences of one’s body and the other elements that are important in data sense-making” (7). This is a contextualised process of building a human-data assemblage, shaped by the environment but also contributing to it. This stress on the meaning of the context is crucial if we want to understand, for instance, how particular professional groups might engage in specific ways with personal data. As Deborah puts it on 7:

    When people review their data, they actively relate them to the contexts in which they were generated. People consider such aspects as the time of day, the weather, how their bodies felt, whether they were lacking sleep, were hungry, feeling stressed, drank too much the night before, what place and space they were inhabiting or moving through when the information were generated.

    Oddly though I think an individual is reproduced here, in spite of the theoretical sources. My point of departure is the claim that personal “data are meaningful because they are about and for them” (8) and I think this insufficient to account for mattering in Andrew Sayer’s sense. Mattering always points beyond the relationship between the agent and what matters, something which I’m not sure the concept of the assemblage can account for because it squeezed human and data together in a dance of co-constitution. This is something I’ve tried to analyse in Katherine Hayles work and I’m thinking I need to seriously explore the issue I persistently see in co-constitution theorising, which I take to be a novel form of central conflationism in Margaret Archer’s sense.

  • Mark 4:38 pm on March 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    The coming supply crisis in UK higher education 

    This is a fascinating analysis of demographic trends in the UK, considering the implications of a coming expansion of 18 year olds for UK higher education in the 2020s. Extrapolating forward from current application rates, 50% of this cohort will be applying to go to university and the system is currently ill equipped to absorb this expansion, particularly given that central planning has been precluded by the ‘reforms’ of recent years:

    We will have two more sharp falls in the 18 year-old population of around 2 per cent – this cycle and 2020. Then the cohort grows again. This growth is strong, often 3 per cent a year. And it is consistent, up year after year. This matters, as it makes the cumulative rises large and unrelenting. The five-year rate of population growth increases reaches 17 per cent in the mid-2020s. Between 2020 and 2030 the population increases by 27 per cent. This trajectory equates to almost a million extra 18 year-olds over the decade.

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