Updates from April, 2019 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Mark 7:38 pm on April 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , the great disruptive project,   

    The alliance between the billionaires and the thought leaders 

    Why the great disruptive project needs thought leaders, from Winner Takes All by Anand Giridharadas pg 94:

    The Hilary Cohens and Stacey Ashers and Justin Rosensteins and Greg Ferensteins and Emmett Carsons and Jane Leibrocks and Shervin Pishevars and Chris Saccas and Travis Kalanicks of the world needed thinkers to formulate the visions of change by which they would live—and to convince the wider public that they, the elite, were change agents, were the solutions to the problem, and therefore not the problem. In an age of inequality, these winners longed to feel, on one hand, that they had “some kind of ethical philosophy,” as Pishevar put it. They needed language to justify themselves to themselves and others. They needed the idea of change itself to be redefined to emphasize “rolling with the waves, instead of trying to stop the ocean.” The thought leaders gave these winners what they needed.

     
  • Mark 9:29 am on April 26, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , computer science,   

    The birth of machinology 

    My notes on Rahwan, I. et al. (2019) Machine Behaviour. Nature, 568, 477–486

    The proliferation of intelligent machines, ranging from machine learning systems through to their embodiment in robotics, raises the question of how their behaviour should be studied and understood. In this agenda setting paper, the team of authors suggest this now requires the deliberate formation of a new field, bringing together many parts which have already taken shape. From 477:

    This field overlaps with, but is distinct from, computer science and robotics. It treats machine behaviour empirically. This is akin to how ethology and behavioural ecology study animal behaviour by integrating physiology and biochemistry—intrinsic properties—with the study of ecology and evolution—properties shaped by the environment. Animal and human behaviours cannot be fully understood without the study of the contexts in which behaviours occur. Machine behaviour similarly cannot be fully understood without the integrated study of algorithms and the social environments in which algorithms operate

    These AI agents, virtual and embodied, tend to be studied by their creators with a narrow focus on whether they are performing their intended tasks. However a broader approach is necessary as they “increasingly integrate into our society and are already involved in a variety of activities, such as credit scoring, algorithmic trading, local policing, parole decisions, driving, online dating and drone warfare” (477). This would respond to growing concerns over the lack of predictability surrounding their consequences, the loss of human oversight and the potential harms arising from once human led tasks being increasingly taken over by AI agents. They cite three main motivations for this:

    1. The ubiquity of algorithms has reached an unprecedented point, operating across fields as diverse as news, credit, entertainment, travel, security and dating. They are increasingly likely to play a role in raising the young, caring for the old and coordinating collective behaviour.
    2. The complexity and opacity of algorithms is increasingly rapidly, leading to black boxes in which the mechanism linking inputs and outputs is uncertain, even if the initial code was well understood because the training data and training process have uncertain results. This is compounded by the proprietary character of the work underlying them. Their feedbacks with diverse environments adds another layer of complexity to this process.
    3. Their capacity to have beneficial or detrimental effect on humanity necessitates scrutiny because “with the power to nudge human behaviours in positive or intended ways comes the risk that human behaviours may be nudged in costly or unintended ways” (478).

    This is a necessarily interdisciplinary field which is currently in a nascent period of integration, operating in an ad hoc way. There is a skills gap on both sides of the groups with a stake in this, described on 478:

    These scientists may be expert mathematicians and engineers; however, they are typically not trained behaviourists. They rarely receive formal instruction on experimental methodology, population-based statistics and sampling paradigms, or observational causal inference, let alone neuroscience, collective behaviour or social theory. Conversely, although behavioural scientists are more likely to possess training in these scientific methods, they are less likely to possess the expertise required to proficiently eval- uate the underlying quality and appropriateness of AI techniques for a given problem domain or to mathematically describe the properties of particular algorithms.

    But their work will necessarily move beyond optimisation of AI agents against benchmarks, necessitating “a broader set of indicators, much as social scientists explore a wide range of human behaviours in the realm of social, political or economic interactions” (479). It’s notable how there’s no room left here for interpretation of AI agents, human responses to them and the relation between the two, despite the potential value which a broader methodological repertoire could offer. The fact they later in the paper cite a paper from 2018 to say how lab based research has begun on human machine interaction, speaks volumes even on the most charitable reading that they’re aware of HCI but see it as a different endeavour. From 479:

    As such, scholars of machine behaviour spend considerable effort in defining measures of micro and macro outcomes to answer broad questions such as how these algorithms behave in different environments and whether human interactions with algorithms alter societal outcomes. Randomized experiments, observational inference and population-based descriptive statistics—methods that are often used in quantitative behavioural sciences—must be central to the study of machine behaviour. Incorporating scholars from out- side of the disciplines that traditionally produce intelligent machines can provide knowledge of important methodological tools, scientific approaches, alternative conceptual frameworks and perspectives on the economic, social and political phenomena that machines will increas- ingly influence.

    The theoretical approach they suggest is a taxonomic one, drawing on a parallel with ethology. As they put it on 480, “Machines have mechanisms that produce behaviour, undergo development that integrates environmental information into behaviour, produce functional consequences that cause specific machines to become more or less common in specific environments and embody evolutionary histories through which past environments and human decisions continue to influence machine behaviour”.

    They see mechanisms for generating behaviour as emerging from the interplay between an algorithm and its environment, even if a particular algorithm is embedded in an interlocking structure to constitute a complex AI agent. Machinology (my term, not theirs) would ask how particular behaviours emerged from this interplay, whether from human engineer choices, training, interaction or feedback from the environment. These behaviours serve a function or otherwise for human stakeholders, leading to a selective force which might make some more common e.g. if useful behaviours are reproduced in further AI agents. These reference institutions as sources of incentives which shape the behaviour of human stakeholders. Institutional incentives can cause machine behaviours to spread which are socially pathological, for instance systems to maximise user engagement on social media which leads to the proliferation of ‘fake news’ while ensuring the success of the platform itself.

    These are two parallel levels of explanation, one explaining ontogeny (how the entity has the characteristics it does) through the identification of causal mechanisms leading to the development of behaviour, the other explaining phylogeny (why the entity has developed these characteristics rather than others) through the analysis of adaptive value. The transmission of these characteristics is varied and open, though mediated through institutions like intellectual property laws and regulatory regimes. As they put it, “machines may exhibit very different evolutionary trajectories, as they are not bound by the mechanisms of organic evolution” (481).

    They suggest three levels of analysis: individual machines, collective machines and groups of machines embedded in an environment. The first is currently undertaken by computer scientists and engineers, often looking at an individual machine solely in terms of properties arising from its source code and design. These could be conducted in a within-machine or between-machine manner, looking at variation in how one machine behaves across contexts or looking at the same behaviours as they vary between machines. The second looks at “the interactive and system- wide behaviours of collections of machine agents” (482) as can be seen in approaches such as Multiagent systems and computational game theory. Machines using simple algorithms for local interactions can aggregate into complex behaviours at a collective level, studied as aggregation dynamics, but also the forms of social learning which might take place when humans and institutions provide a potent source of environmental feedback. Thirdly, machines shape human behaviour and vice versa, necessitating study of these hybrid and embedded realities. But these dynamics are likely to operate at the same time, in complex and hybridising ways.

    They end with a consideration of some of the methodological, theoretical and logistical obstacles to machinology, the most urgent of which is the uncertain over legal penalties for reverse engineering algorithms and violating terms of services & the risks involved in anthropomorphising machines (with their potentially alien intelligences) and doing so in a way which distracts from the crucial human operations involved in providing the training data.

     
  • Mark 9:55 pm on April 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: antagonism, , , friend/enemy, ,   

    When political theory restages the ‘Corbynism is a cult’ trope 

    From Corbynism: A Critical Approach, by Frederick Harry Pitts and Matt Bolton, loc 3122

    It is the Corbyn movement’s reliance on this kind of hyper-moralised Schmittian identitarian politics of ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ which explains why the Corbyn movement appears at its strongest when it comes under attack from internal or external foes, real or imagined, while dwindling into passivity in their absence. If socialism is a reflexive response to the natural, unchanging, essential desires of ontologically ‘good’ people, an innate ‘goodness’ which is embodied in or anchored around the person of Corbyn himself, then calling into question the character of Corbyn in any way casts doubt upon the movement’s own position as the prefiguration of the society to come, a society in which all contradiction and difference will be dissolved in the name of humanity’s unified moral nature. The need to continually defend Corbyn’s moral status from those ‘enemies’ who would ‘smear’ it acts as the negative force binding the movement together, preventing its internal contradictions from rising to the surface.

    The obvious retort is to point out that it’s precisely the tendency of all mass movements to react in this way that makes the friend/enemy distinction so apt. It’s possible that Corbynism might be an unusually pronounced example of it, though it’s far from clear to me that they’ve established that. However what seems implausible is that it’s somehow unique in these characteristics, as a movement which mobilises the passions of hundreds of thousands of people.

     
  • Mark 7:49 pm on April 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags:   

    What is digital literacy and how do you teach it? 

    My notes on Chase, Z., & Laufenberg, D. (2011). Embracing the squishiness of digital literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(7), 535-537.

    Even if widespread disagreement remains about what constitutes digital literacy, everyone seems to agree that it is important to the success of students. As Chase and Laufenberg point out, “if digital literacy is simply reading and writing in a digital environment, there is no need for the new terminology” (535). Instead they suggest it is a format, genre and tool standing within literacy more broadly, as opposed to being a concept which tracks something distinct from it. To read digitally means “students and teachers must learn to read beyond the printed page” and “across all those platforms which can be used to create”. It is what enables reading “across multiple forums, media, linguistic registers, and purposes” (536). It entails following connections, contextualising what you find and switching codes as necessary through the journey you undertake on this process of discovery.

    They offer an interesting example of an exercise that can be used to teach digital literacy which involves students finding articles on the same event from a regional publication within the United States, one from a different region and another from outside the US. In essence, it’s about triangulating between the accounts in order to explore the gap between the reality of the event and the different ways it has been constructed in different fora. Has any compiled a book of digital literacy exercises that are used by teachers? If anyone knows of this I’d really love to look at it.

    They draw an important distinction between a curriculum predicated on digital technology and one served by digital technology. This places inquiry based learning at the centre, with digital technology being used as a powerful set of tools to this end. It aims to produce “students that are skilled in consumption, evaluation, and creation of content” (537).

     
  • Mark 8:46 pm on April 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ,   

    Academics like the idea of Twitter in the classroom but what do students think? 

    My notes on Boath, E., Vigurs, K., & Frangos, J. (2018). Twittering Away-Is twitter an appropriate adjunctive tool to enhance learning and engagement in Higher Education?. Innovative Practice in Higher Education, 3(2).

    Twitter has often be framed as a potential tool for teaching and learning. It can be used for virtual peer support groups, developing interactive networks, sharing knowledge and building networks. It “allows learning conversations to take place both virtually and publicly, thus removing them from the isolation of classrooms and academic ivory towers” (104). It can promote asynchronous learning, generating online community and facilitate immediate formative feedback. There are a whole range of ways in which it can be used but what do students make of these possibilities?

    In this study, Elizabeth Boath, Katy Vigurs and Juliette Frangos investigate student experiences of Twitter through a study of a convenience sample of 44 social welfare law students. Its focus was on Twitter as “an adjunctive learning tool to provide learners with access to contemporary discussion relevant to their subject, which they were invited to identify, understand and disseminate to the wider group” (105). During a Welfare Benefits and Money Advice Module of a BA Social Welfare Law, Policy and Advice Practice students were invited to engage via Twitter lists, a twitter chat, direct engagement with lecturing staff, each other and experts in the field within and beyond the academy. They were asked to identify information relevant for their course and share it with others using a dedicated hashtag. A 17-item questionnaire using closed and open questions was designed to explore their views of this activity and the impact it had on their learning experience. It was completed by 11 of the 44 students (25%). Three of them had previously been regular users of Twitter, five had not used Twitter before but were now regular users and 3 were infrequent users previously and remained so now.

    Their responses conveyed the usefulness of Twitter for enhancing knowledge, particularly on emerging event s and breaking news. Though this was coupled with concerns about the reliability of twitter sources. Some suggested they found the platform overwhelming, with too much information and too little time to process it. This reinforces existing research which has found that Twitter’s use to support students may be limited. The authors suggest that “if supported by institutional digital scaffolding such as time management strategies and training, Twitter may be a useful adjunct to traditional physical learning spaces that facilitates the enhancement of knowledge and building of professional networks” (108).

    The real question is what from that scaffolding would take and whether this would be worthwhile even if it was provided. The teaching might be effective but are students interested?Interestingly, only two of them agreed that Twitter had added to their enjoyment of the model. Could there be much more enthusiasm for Twitter on the part of educators than on the part of students? They note that the students in question “tend to be more mature students, to be employed, have children and also some undertake additional caring roles” and so may be atypical of the broader population (108)

     
  • Mark 7:17 pm on April 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    The cultural entrepreneurs behind your favourite thought leaders  

    From Winner Takes All by Anand Giridharadas pg 88:

    Zolli was a kind of MarketWorld producer, standing at the profitable intersection of companies wanting to associate themselves with big ideas, networkers looking for their next conference, and writers and thinkers who wanted to reach a broader audience and perhaps court the influential elites of the circuit. Zolli, who called his conference “a machine to change the world,” was a consultant and strategic adviser to companies like General Electric, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Nike, and Facebook, as well as NGOs, start-ups, and civil society groups; he was on the boards of various MarketWorld organizations; and he was a fixture on the paid lecture circuit, where he spoke on topics like resilience. His book on the subject would praise such things as smart electrical grids and marine conservation as win-wins. Zolli was, in other words, an expert in and perpetuator of MarketWorld culture and its way of seeing. He understood what ideas would be useful to MarketWorlders, helping them to anticipate the future and make their killings, and he understood what ideas made winners feel socially conscious and globally aware but not guilty or blamed.

     
  • Mark 8:27 pm on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Technology and the billionaire class 

    As Anand Giridharadas points out on pg 86 of his Winners Take All, the eight billionaires who can account for half the world’s wealth all owe their income to technology, albeit to varying degrees:

    Six of those eight made their money in the supposedly equalizing field of technology: Gates, Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Carlos Slim of Telmex and other Mexican businesses, and Michael Bloomberg, the purveyor of computer terminals. Another, Amancio Ortega, who built the retailer Zara, was famous for applying advanced technology to manufacturing and for automating his factories. The final member of the gang of eight, Warren Buffett, was a major shareholder in Apple and IBM.

     
    • landzek 1:32 pm on April 24, 2019 Permalink

      It’s because they are also in league with Satan. 👹

  • Mark 8:18 pm on April 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Why education and technology is full of bullshit 

    My notes on Selwyn, N. (2016). Minding our language: why education and technology is full of bullshit… and what might be done about it.

    This wonderfully title editorial takes issue with the tendency for educational uses of digital technology to be “discussed in enthusiastic and often exaggerated terms”, leaving “idealistic and impassioned talk” proliferating in an “area awash with bold assertions and confident claims” (1). This has gone hand-in-hand with a rebranding from ‘computer-based instruction’ and ‘computer-assisted learning’ in the 1980s to ‘technology-enhanced learning’ and ‘connected learning’ in the 2000s, building in the assumption that learning is taking place and that technology is responsible for it. This language can be easy to diagnose in isolation, yet risks washing over us when we encounter it on a daily basis. They “should not be treated simply as benign or neutral words, terms, phrases and statements” because they are “powerful means of advancing the interests and agendas of some social groups over the interests of others” (2).

    They operate by fixing outcomes as certain, squeezing out the messy realities of on the ground implementation and the possibilities which the technology could be applied for other purposes. They render unambiguous, treating as a technology to enhance learning, what in reality is profoundly ambiguous and should be treated as such. As Selwyn puts it, “the possibility of technology not leading to learning and/or other educational gains is rarely a matter for consideration.” (2-3). They render the process in active terms of the learner and learning, with technology impacting upon or transforming pre-existing educational activities and processes. Their confidence in bringing about a transformation is belied by “a cloying tone, involving the use of playful, homespun and self-consciously childlike language” (3). Unfortunately for them, “the past 100 years show that education has been largely un-transformed and un-disrupted by successive waves of techno- logical innovation” (3).

    There is little evidence base for these grandiose claims. So why do these simplistic ways of talking about educational technology persists? Drawing on Frankfurt, Selwyn argues that bullshit involves a cynical disdain for the way things are, as opposed to lying which implicitly entails the recognition of a truth. Bullshit about educational technology is “the result of people talking loudly, confidently and with sincerity regardless of accuracy, nuance and/or sensitivity to the realities of which they speak” (4). So much is missed out and the politics of educational technology is deeply shaped by these omissions. From pg 4:

    For example, it is surely not satis- factory that the dominant framing of education and technology blithely margin- alizes, ignores and/or denies the complex and compounded inequalities of the digital age. Similarly, it is surely not helpful to avoid proper discussion of the political economy of digital education, and the corporate reforms of public education through privately sponsored technological means. The limited language of education and technology therefore needs to be challenged by anyone concerned with matters of fairness, equality and genuine empower- ment through digital education.

    He suggests a recoding in response to these trends, “encouraging a counter-lexicon that reflects more accurately the conflicts, compromises and exclusions at play” (5). This would be a “language of education and technology that unpacks more aptly” (6). It would involve debate being “prised away from celebrity musings and privileged pronouncements, and towards the voices, opinions and direct experiences of the various real-life ‘publics’ of edu- cation and technology – for example, students, educators, parents, employers, administrators, designers and developer” (6).

     
  • Mark 7:25 pm on April 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , people, , Rousseau, Tamás   

    Who would be against the people? 

    There’s a profound scepticism running through Corbynism: A Critical Approach concerning the people and its role within Corbynism. Their concern is that a prevailing sense of socialism as natural, what people do when left to their own devices, constructs them as “inherently moral and naturally good beings, and ‘the people’ as a whole a unified, self-sufficient, organic community” (loc 3030). Drawing on G.M. Tamás, they link this to   Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s construct of the people “as a closed and undivided moral and cultural entity, wholly separate and opposed to the ‘society’ that surrounds and degrades it” (loc 3045). If I understand them correctly, the concern of the authors is that such a people, or rather the movement possessed by a sense of acting on behalf of such a lofty construction, lacks the capacity to question itself or doubt its purposes. In its political enthusiasm to liberate the people, it may open up much else which it lacks the capacity to even recognise, let alone to put back in the box.

     
  • Mark 11:55 am on April 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , educational research, , neil selwyn,   

    Social media and education… now the dust has settled 

    My notes on Selwyn, N., & Stirling, E. (2016). Social media and education… now the dust has settled. Learning, media and technology, 41(1), 1-5.

    This special issue of Learning, Media and Technology is a sequel to a 2009 issue which began to inquire into the emergence of ‘social software’ and what it meant for teaching. Seven years later with social media platforms ubiquitous, the online/offline distinction having collapsed and a ‘social’ element being a standard feature of new technology, it asks how social media platforms are actually being used in educational setting, what the implications of this use, their interaction with their institutional context and how they are transforming it in the process.

    The main difference they see between 2009 and 2015 is “the extent to which social media have become part of mainstream digital practices and everyday life in general” (2). They make the interesting point that this means the term itself now lacks resonance outside of the academy, as platforms have faded into the background of everyday life:

    “The pervasiveness of social media is illustrated neatly by the lack of resonance that the term now has with the general population. The characteristics and qualities that made social media such a distinct and exciting ‘thing’ in 2009 are now normalized to the point of not being an obvious topic of conversation, let alone meriting a specific label” (2)

    Yet their uptake is far from uniform. Many people don’t have internet access, many are subject to a ‘device divide’ in which they are only able to access platforms through phones and/or non-broadband connections. These divides are profoundly regionalised. They also note how significant it is that the study of social media has grown in the way that it has, with approaches as different as platform studies and computational social sciences illustrating how wide this field is if indeed it constitutes a feed at all.

    Social media has been an increasingly prominent topic in education journals. However, as the put it, “many of the most interesting (and, we would argue, most important) questions about social media and education remain largely ignored by education researchers” who tend “to look primarily for good news, ‘best practice’ and examples of ‘what works’”. There is much hope still that social media will be “the ‘Killer App’ capable of initiating significant shifts in how people learn and engage with education”. However the social media research outside of education has shown us that its use by young people is complex, contradictory and contested. We need educational research that confronts this multifaceted character head on. There are exception to this but these studies “remain overshadowed by broad-brush accounts of social media use in the classroom” (4).

     
  • Mark 8:47 am on April 21, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: accelerationist, , UBI, universal basic income   

    The dark possibilities incipient with Universal Basic Income 

    This is such an interesting argument from Corbynism: A Critical Approach by Frederick Harry Pitts and Matt Bolton, loc 2987. I think it’s slightly hyperbolic, understating individualised domination within the corporation and overstating individualised domination by the state, but it’s an important case which needs to be answered, particularly concerning the economic pressures which corporations and states would still be subject to post-UBI:

    the unified sociotechnical state of accelerationist dreams may not be the harbinger of universal freedom. In such a scenario, where the state becomes the wage payer by means of a basic income, the whole of an individual’s existence, political, social and economic, is now directly dependent on their relation to a technocratic state responsible for both the production and distribution of the means of subsistence. The recourse to collective bargaining and formalised class struggle for better pay and conditions notionally possible between employees and employers is here prematurely liquidated and replaced by a direct relationship of domination between individual and state. And, moreover, as demonstrated in Labour’s recent announcement that a basic income pilot will feature in the next manifesto, these totalising solitions tend to stand in for any more targeted response to the complex challenges confronting the contemporary welfare state. The basic income is a convenient stopgap to fill Labour’s lack of any real alternative to the impasses of the Universal Credit and the crisis of social reproduction it conceals. In these abstractly utopian schemas, the contradictory and crisis-ridden workings of capitalist society are –falsely − presumed to be resolved. Yet its abstract social forms are not abolished but merely made the responsibility of the accelerationist state, whose sole priority is to ensure that automated production keeps up with the spiralling demands of the law of value, whatever the human cost.

     
  • Mark 7:38 am on April 21, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , organic public sociology, , traditional public sociology   

    Collectivising public sociology 

    My notes on Burawoy, M. (2002). Public sociologies and the grass roots, speech to SWS Wrightsville Beach, February 7, 2002.

    In this short text Burawoy takes issue with the mythology of decline which intellectuals are spreading about their own existence, as well as the associated belief that “a public sociology that dealt with the big issues of the day” has also begun to die out. However the supposed golden age of public sociology in the 1950s was in fact dominated by a small number of figures during the era of McCarthyism. Even if contemporary professional sociology has prioritised technique over substance, the same was true in this “era of sociology as messianic science”.  There are many more public sociologists today, in this sense of talking to the big issues of the day, then could be found at the time. They might be more narrowly focused but they are nonetheless tackling crucial issues of broader public concern. It therefore seems untenable to see public sociology as in decline.

    However is it true that sociology no longer deals with the big issues of the day? Burawoy cites the public engagement activity of the ASA, in its establishment of Contexts magazines and its issuing of statements and authoring of Amicus Briefs. He suggests the belief in decline can reflect a narrow Ivy League focus, failing to recognise a shift in the centre of gravity away from private universities to the public ones that encompasses a deeper professionalisation alongside an expansion of public sociology. This narrow focus represents “an elitist conception of public sociology whose currency is writing op-ed pieces for The New York Times, visiting the White House or writing best-selling books for an emergent middle class” (3). In contrast Burawoy’s vision of public sociology with a wider range of publics, “not just the readerships of national media which is an amorphous, invisible, passive, public made up of strangers but also the much thicker publics that must begin with our students (our best emissaries to the world beyond), extending to local communities (such as communities of faith which we address in our churches), or social movements we stimulate to achieve greater self-awareness (such as civil rights or labor)” (3). He cites the feminist movement as a prototype, constituting its public and bringing it to self-awareness and mobilisation.

    He suggests prophets of decline are actually talking about a particular type of public sociologist: male, inner-directed, alienated from public and profession. In contrast, he sees the rise of other-directed public sociologists connected to both sociology and publics. This is “not the free floating intellectual hoping to reach audiences on distant shores” (3) but rather the organic public sociologists whose work might be invisible to the discipline. This is why it’s now necessary to battle to make this work visible, democratising public sociology in the process. This involves collectivising public sociology, in order to recognise our common projects latent within work which might be undertaken as individuals, in communities and largely unrecognised within the profession.

     
  • Mark 1:52 pm on April 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , digital capacities, digital competence, , , , huw davies   

    Is digital upskilling the next generation our ‘pipeline to prosperity’? 

    My notes on Davies, H. C., & Eynon, R. (2018). Is digital upskilling the next generation our ‘pipeline to prosperity’?. New Media & Society, 20(11), 3961-3979.

    It’s so rare for a paper to have such a wonderfully informative title. Huw Davies and Rebecca Eynon interrogate this assumption that “teaching young people digital skills and literacies will help advanced market economies compete with their rivals and deliver prosperity” (3961-3962). Computer Science is now part of the Natural Curriculum for all children in England aged 5-14 after a campaign by a range of actors, underscoring the creative dimension of computing alongside its importance to the economy and status as a life skill. Through doing so, “the creative use of technology was assimilated into a ‘set of capacities’ or skills that professionals acquire in order to participate in the labour market” (3962). Digital skills are framed as the “primary antidote to economic decline” and coming disruptive shocks, with the pipeline becoming “the default metaphor in policy discourse to suggest the economy is a machine that feeds on a fixed, constant supply of digitally up-skilled youngsters” (3692). These skills are presented as a way to enhance social mobility, incorporating digital skills into a particularly narrow and nationalistic  understanding of economic need. In the process, caution Davies and Eynon we see a “highly problematic co-option of important intrinsic or civic benefits of digital engagement into economic discourse” (3963).

    Their study was undertaken in two deprived areas of Wales, withe fieldwork in two schools effected by similar inequalities, one in a former mining town and the other in a deprived area of Cardiff. Their questionnaire was administered to one year 9 and one year 10 class each school and one year 12 class in the Cardiff school (the other school had no sixth form). 15% of respondents reported parents who had been to unviersity and around 70% of these parents worked, typically in the manual or service sector. These questionnaires were then supplemented by workshops undertaking as ICT classes in a year 9 and a year 10 group at each school. These activities focused on gaming practice, marketing games and asking students to draw mind maps to represent their digital ecospheres. I thought this was a particularly interesting method and I’ve been thinking recently about how to use creative methods like this to explore people’s platform imaginaries. For the year 9s ICT was compulsory whereas it had been deliberately chosen for the year 10s. The third method was semi structured interviews with 10 students from each year group at each school (n=50) with questions about digital practice, motivations, ambitions and skills. These were used to build a typology of the ways in which young people talk about their technology practice, drawing on the interview and workshop data initially supplemented by additional data from the survey.

    The cyber kid discourse seen as the start “tacitly assumes young people’s motivations and the class of conditions that influence these motivations are (or should be) universal” (3966). it goes hand-in-hand with a tendency to homogenise digital technology seeing it in more or less uniform terms. This is belied by their finding that “Digital technology’s multifunctionality is mobilised by young people who have different personalities and socially shaped motivations, incentives and constraints guiding them” (3966). These are the categories they developed for the taxonomy:

    • Non-conformists: mostly young women, experienced a sense of estrangement from the school’s prevailing culture yet were able to find interlocutors online. The majority were in the 15 years old group and were “using social media as a resource to develop their identity” (3967). Their orientation to digital opportunities was entirely on their own terms, including the possibility of entrepreneurial activity through these means.
    • PC gamers: mostly young men, with a passion for gaming and the technical skills that went with it. This included hands on experience building PCs, with CPUs adequate for the intense graphical demands of modern games. Their interest in PCs came from their experience of the limitations of consoles. Interestingly, many reported that it had initially been a way to spend time with their fathers but as they progressed it became a peer-to-peer activity, suggesting game as male sociality. Furthermore, their fathers were more likely to be technical or professional than other children’s, suggesting a vector of class reproduction. The coding they had been presented to them at school was largely unappealing, yet they engaged in highly technical pursuits ranging from the aforementioned PC building through to YouTube channels, writing games in C++ and some minor consulting.
    • Academic conservatives: mostly female, with a shared commitment to formal education which they saw as more important than digital technology. They framed it as a distraction from these much more important ends. They used social media but were measured and controlled in their digital practice, not having friends who they didn’t also know online. Their aspirations lay in what partisans of the digital future would see it as quintessentially 20th cnetury jobs.
    • Pragmatists: their use of technology was restricted to specific purposes, tending to see it as a means to an end rather than end in itself. For example social media would be used to arrange meet ups or reminisce about those that had taken place in the past. They had often experienced digital exclusion (e.g. “limited money for games their friends played, lack of home access to the Internet, feeling behind in terms of digital skills, or having constrained access to the Internet for safe- guarding purposes” 3972) and their pragmatism could be framed as a response to this.
    • Leisurists: the largest group, tending to see the internet primarily for entertainment and cultural consumption. For them technology is a way of pursuing their interests, often happily leaving them within walled gardens and synchronising devices with parents and family. These activities “tended not to translate into pursuing a passion or developing skills that could be monetised in the digital economy” (3973).

    The digital skills discourse suggests (a) a convergence between the needs of the economy and the needs of young people which can be met through digital skills (b) a denial of alternative motivations for young people that may not feed into this (c) the lack of structural constraints upon where digital skills can take them in the labour market. Their paper is a challenge to “the deterministic discourses that tell young people learning to code would be an act of economic self-interest that will, in turn, defibrillate the economy” (3976). The fact of having coding skills won’t lead to some magical capacity to transcend structural conditions, particularly for young women in a overwhelmingly male dominated industry.

     

     
  • Mark 10:43 am on April 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    The performance of critique and why it frustrates me  

    In the last week, I’ve been reading Corbynism: A Critical Approach by Frederick Harry Pitts and Matt Bolton. It’s a thought provoking critique of the Labour leadership and the movement which has emerged around it. One which I’m reading because I wanted to be forced to think about things I believe, which the shrill condemnation of right wing media pundits is unable to provoke. It’s done that and I’m glad I read the book for that reason. But the tone of it has frustrated me and I think it is symptomatic of a tendency for critique to be performed in an antagonistic way: the identification of error and the unveiling of the deeper reality which those errors conceal.

    There’s a machismo latent within performance of this sort that can be avoided but often isn’t. In this case, it collapses questions of strategy and morality into ontology. What should we do? What would be right to do? The authors are Labour activists who presumably share concerns with Corbynism, even if there are vast differences about goals and methods. But even though strategy is repeatedly invoked, ends are rarely discussed because the performance of critique constantly brings the discussion back to the deeper reality of capitalism which the authors (plausibly) say that Corbynism fails to grasp.

    I’m not sure how clearly I’m expressing this but what I’m trying to suggest is that the performance of critique too often precludes dialogue about what we should do. Its apparent worldliness is belied by a style of engagement which constantly slices into abstraction, away from the world. It frustrates me even as I feel I have no alternative but to read it because there are things found in texts like this which I can’t find anywhere else.

     
  • Mark 8:21 pm on April 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , horizontalism, left populism,   

    The political adulthood of the Occupy generation 

    In their Corbynism: A Critical Approach, Frederick Harry Pitts and Matt Bolton offer this account of the change that has taken place within the British left, as transformative projects and political power came to displace the concerns of horizontals. From loc 2491-2507:

    a politically ambivalent ‘left’ populism whose contemporary origins are to be found in the post-Occupy trajectory of a politics based on the rhetorical division between the ‘99%’ and the ‘1%,’ the ‘people’ and the ‘elite.’ In his appeal to ‘the people,’ Corbyn is a man of his time. For the idea of the people is now as pervasive on the left as the idea of class once was. Its omnipresence owes to a surge in left populism in the wake of the 2008 crisis, the roots of which could be seen first in the Occupy movement, and then, in a more mature political form, the struggles against austerity in southern Europe. With Corbynism the UK caught in short-form what swept Europe post-crisis. It shows how, pinning their hopes upon a succession of popular subjects, of late the left has wended a strange trajectory. Post-crisis, horizontalism sought to ‘change the world without taking power’.

    Then things started getting serious. Shrugging off disdain for the state, winning elections and wielding power became the aim. This is reflected in the new vogue for big thinking on the UK left. There has been a rediscovery of the concept of populist hegemony and how to build it. Dreams abound of seizing state power to implement postcapitalism or so-called ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’. The radical left accommodation of statist solutions would have been unthinkable as tents sprung up outside St Pauls in 2011. In some ways, it shows the adulthood of the Occupy generation, and a welcome and possibly transformative spirit of compromise with the world as it is. In others, it is not entirely without illusions, as these compromises lapse into complicity with that world. A reflex against Occupy’s failure, the new verticalism still bears its foreshortened class critique. Against the ‘elite’, the ‘people’ stands in as the alibi for a state politics that lacks a social basis.

    This Current Affairs piece makes a similar point, though frame it as an issue of hope:

    I remember during Occupy Wall Street, everything felt so hopeless. People literally could not conceive of any kind of meaningful change, out of desperation they just planted themselves in the middle of the financial district and tried to hang on as long as possible. Now we have clear goals in sight: cancel student debt, free college for all, free child care, single-payer healthcare, no more wars, net-zero emissions. There are people committed to making them happen. And by God, I feel like they’re going to do it. Conservatives are out of ideas. They know they can’t win a debate with the left—just look how Bernie bowled over the FOX hosts. The socialists are on the march, and we’re gonna win.

     
  • Mark 10:47 am on April 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: fact checking, factfulness, , , , , , , ,   

    You can’t have your ‘facts’ back 

    My notes on Marres, N. (2018). Why We Can’t Have Our Facts Back. Engaging Science, Technology, and Society, 4, 423-443.

    “We want our facts back” is a semi-joking remarking Noortje Marres overheard an academic say which captures a wider response to what has been called ‘post-truth’. Many feel increasingly inclined to take a normative stance in support of ‘facts’ and feel nostalgic for “a time when experts still seemed to have unquestionable authority and felt secure in this authority, when government ministers didn’t say things like ‘people have had enough of experts,’ and the notion that evidence should play a central role in public debate and politics had widespread, even taken-for- granted, institutional support” (423-424). Appealing though it might be, Marres points out that this position ignores the fact that not only were partisans of evidence were a minority in public life in the 90s and 00s, it was also widely recognised that evidence-based debate was not in itself as solution to political problems and could even be problematic by putting politics at risk through an over reliance on experts. While recognising the growing indifference of public speech to factfulness and the lack of consequences attached to outright lies, Marres argues we need to look more deeply to the “changing architectures of the public sphere” (424). The many initiatives which seek to restore the place of factfulness within public life (disinformation awareness campaigns, knowledge literacy programme, fact-checking services) risk reinstating an outdated strategy for securing facts in public debate which is based on authority. It entails a divide between knowing and unknowing subjects, those with facts and those without, which runs contrary to any aspiration for a knowledge democracy. Achieving this will require institutional, media and technological arrangements which are very different to those from the much claimed golden age of factfulness.

    Social media has become a battleground for these debates, with fact checking initiatives using techniques ranging from ‘human moderation’ through to automated fact verification in order to apply journalistic procedures to online content. The platforms themselves have invested increasingly in moderation teams, as well as using automated tools to seek to demarcate problematic and unproblematic material. This has led inter alia to ‘dispute contented’ banners which can now be attached to certain pieces of content on Facebook, highlighting that a third party fact checking operation has cast doubt upon it. There have been questioned range about the working conditions of those undertaking this epistemic labour in click farms, but less scrutiny of the epistemology and methodologies underpinning them. The rely for their legitimacy on ideals of public knowledge and scientific citizenship but operate on a basis which is in tension with these, assuming that “quality is an attribute of information itself” (426). This runs contrary to what had become an increasingly dominant sense of information as *social*, defined by its circulation and connections. In contrast now what is at stake is seen to be the properties of content itself: “What is said to be in need of attention and intervention is the “veracity” of online statements and the potential duplicity of online sources” (427). For instance Factmata seeks to “cross-reference any claim circulating online onto a database of so-called verified statements, in order to validate or invalidate it” (427). So for instance a claim about immigration would immediately be linked to public data about the issue, allowing users to ‘become their own fact checkers’. In this it embodied logical positivism, seeking to decompose statements into units which could be matched against experience or other verifiable statements. Marres makes a particularly interesting point here about how logical positive and computer science shared a common inspiration in Frege’s logic and similar work, going some way to explaining the tendency for positivism to be reinstated by the turn to AI in systems like Factmata.

    Fact checking systems implement a methodology and perform a service, but they also carry a distinction: “that between legitimate and illegitimate claims to knowledge” (428). These putatively technical procedures in fact draw normative boundaries, ones which its important we understand. She references Rorty’s account of demarcationism: defining validity or its absence as a binary attribute of atomistic statements i.e. can be they be traced back to observational statements or not? The normative dimension comes from the question of how to police this boundary between different types of statements. It also entails a sense of actors as being responsible for the epistemic quality of debate, by drawing attention to the character of their statements. In this world view, ‘good’ sources reliably produce valid statements, with ‘good’ users capable of discerning their presence. This is what Marres calls the politics of demarcation. This seeks ‘fake news’ as something which emerges from outside the technology: “it is the type of information sources that the Internet makes available, on one hand, and the users’ lack of skills capable of discerning the difference between valid and invalid statements, one the other, that are said to be responsible for the prevalence of dodgy content in this media environment” (428). Fact vs fiction pages were part of internet culture in the 1990s and demarcationist technologies predate the rise of ‘fake news’. But whereas the blame was once attributed to deviant online subcultures such as vaxers or flat-earthers, it’s now increasingly marked in social terms such as education levels. This dichotomy of responsible and irresponsible users roughly maps onto a broader “opposition between educated progressives and, on balance, less educated supporters of populist and nationalist causes” which is at the heart of contemporary debates about ‘fake news’ i.e. it has the potential in practice to position nascent ‘populists’ as the epistemic crisis, who need to beaten back by and suppressed through technological means in order to ensure the health of the public sphere. They might even reinforce the distinction in a way that furthers the political project of the latter, as can be seen in the far-right backlash against social media firms ‘deplatforming’ leading figures.

    Demarcationism can’t account for the role that digital media has played in undermining respect for knowledge in the first place, instead externalising it into the figure of deviant users and deviant content producers. The mechanism undermining this is simple, as algorithms for content selection are designed to ensure maximum circulation in order to build the widest possible audience. This account of this on 431 was excellent:

    “Online platforms, then, reward messages that spread instantly and widely with even more visibility, and, as tabloid newspapers invested in maximizing advertising revenue also found out in previous decades, sensational rather than factual content turns out to satisfy this criterion of maximal “share-ability” best. A commercial logic here gives rise to a circular content economy, one without referent: content that gets shared a lot is rewarded with more visibility, thereby increasing its share-ability.”

    Fact checking services address the bias of sources while veiling the role of this content economy in conditioning the behaviour of those sources. They render opaque the role played by “technologies of source selection that regulate content circulation online” (431). The network structure of online communities is another source of limitation, as groups spreading ‘fake news’ barely overlap with groups interested in debunking it. How do we make sense of these differences between knowledge communities without invoking the facile distinction of literate and illiterate? Fact checking and demarcation do not help us understand the problem with knowledge we face in digitalised societies, instead actually actively keeping us from this. This concern doesn’t mean we deny there is a “crisis of public evidence in today’s digital societies” but rather that we recognise it “goes well beyond da disregard for facts in digital media environments” (433). It’s crucial that we recognise how “the insertion of computational technologies into public infrastructures have resulted in deception and manipulation of the empirical record” (434) by undermining institutional architectures which ensured accountability across social life. The correspondence model of truth embedded in fact checking is inadequate to address the broader social challenges which these developments are posing for us. Its reliance on looking back, checking claims against a corpus of established facts, fails to grasp today’s “dynamic information environments, in which readings and behaviors are constantly adjusted as conditions change” (434). Marres argues for a dynamic conception of truth in debate to replace this retrospective one.

    The behaviourism around which platforms have been designed uses a concept of users as “influenceable subjects, not knowledge agents”. It has facilitated a social science which does without interpretation, but this does not mean it is a knowledge free environment. It is, as Marres puts it, “a research-centric apparatus, in that their design directly reflects the epistemic needs of the data scientists whose analytic operations are key to their commercial model: to target information to groups of friends, to track shares and likes in the aggregate” (435). It is built around the influencibility of users, with an empirical register which is predicated upon this. This is the final problem which Marres raises with demarcationist fact checking: “the normative opposition between knowledge (good) and non-knowledge (bad) that it imposes makes it difficult to see that epistemic ideals––like behaviorism––themselves have played a role in encouraging a disregard for knowledge on the Internet” (437). Not least of all in the fundamental assymetry at its heart. From 437:

    “social media present an environment in two halves, where, on the one side, we find users with “influence-able” and “target-able” opinions, tastes, and preferences, while, on the other side, we have authoritative data analysts who “know” the population’s fine- grained and ever-changeable preferences and tastes. Scientists––the proponents of knowledge–– haven’t been by-standers but active participants in the crafting of a media architecture designed to enable the influencing of users’ actions.”

    Demarcationism reflects this bifurcation, with the knowing subjects seeking to redesign the information environment to correct the unknowing subjects. The “veritable army of social data scientists who monitor, measure, and seek to intervene in this behavioral theatre” do so on the basis of facts, but outside of the public sphere and in a way which precludes engagement between experts and citizens.

    Fake news might be problematic in itself but it attaches itself to issues which matter to people, tracking controversies which define political life. Fact checking fails to address this connection for the reasons cited above, but Marres argues that ‘experimental facts’ might be better served for this purpose. This doesn’t entail a rejection of stable facts, well establish ed and stable conditions which play an important role in public debate. If I understand correctly, these “statements whose veracity is unstable and whose epistemic status changes over time” (438) because they reference a changing reality, can be interrogated in real time in order to facilitate debate about their character and implications, as opposed to being demarcated in relation to an established body of fact. But I found the example of the £350 million on the NHS claim slightly confusing. There’s so much in this paper to think about, I’m going to come back to it at a lot. I think the point is that ‘experimental facts’ in this sense are more common given the epistemic dynamism which characterised digitalised society. So in essence the argument is to find ways to stay with the difficulties these cause, rather than trying to shut them down in ways likely to be be epistemically short-sighted and politically counter-productive. This is a move from a politics of demarcation to a politics of selection: “while demarcation concentrates on the retrospective establishment of correspondence of public statements with presumably stable, pre-given atomistic statements, a politics of selection progressively establishes a referent for claims through an iterative process of locating and evaluating statement-networks in formation.” (441).

     
  • Mark 5:22 pm on April 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: beckert, , , ,   

    The consequences of our expectations 

    In his Imagined Futures, Jens Beckert suggests four ways in which fictional expectations make an impact on the social world:

    1. They coordinate actors by providing a common focus to their action
    2. They are able to shape the future by conditioning what action happens
    3. The freedom involved in fiction means they are not constrained by reality and are thus capable of stimulating innovation
    4. They motivate real decisions which have consequences on the distribution of resources and the projects which actors have to pursue and contest them, including the attempts to influence expectations because of the consequences they have.
     
  • Mark 5:17 pm on April 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: devices, , haptics, literacy, mobile literacy   

    The concept of ‘mobile literacy’ 

    My notes on Barden, O. (2019). Building the mobile hub: mobile literacies and the construction of a complex academic text. Literacy, 53(1), 22-29.

    In spite of the many things which smart phones can do, they have not been welcomed warmly within the classroom with many claiming they are “distracting, promote superficial learning, erode students’ ability to concentrate and teacher’s control over the classroom and entrench socio-economic divisions” (22). This is significant because the most recent figures suggest 90% of 16-34 year olds in the UK own a smartphone, with half reporting they check it within 5 minutes of waking up. They are the primary mode of engagement with digital life which makes the literacy or otherwise which users have crucially significant. But this has not been defined heretofore and this is what Barden sets out to do.

    What attempts there have been have tended to focus on mobility for reasons that are probably obvious. But the meaning of mobile literacy has largely been taken for granted. Barden warns that the term ‘literacy’ is often used as a synonym for skill, as in computer literacy. Literacy in the broader sense is a capacity to manipulate symbols in order to communicate, something for which mobility offers “possibilities for different kinds of literacies, shaped by communication forms which are richer, more diverse and more flexible than before and supports multimodality, linguistic innovation, remix, playfulness, participation and connection in the in the production and consumption of texts” (23). He thus defines mobile literacies as “the use and interpretation of written or symbolic representation in texts and practices mediated by mobile digital technologies” (23).

    The interview with a student he takes a case study stresses the haptic aspect of producing a text using a mobile phone, stressing the enjoyment and response which can be found through the necessity of continually manipulating a screen. I remember the discovery of this when I first got an iPad and my absolute delight in using mind mapping software, it felt like the structure of my ideas were flowing into the device in a way I hadn’t experienced properly. In this sense, touch is crucial to how we manipulate symbols through mobile computing. It constraints in some ways, providing a smaller and less powerful interface than a keyboard and mouse, but opens up new modes of engagement which are important to recognise.

    This is combined with a capacity to work anywhere and at any time which increases the immediacy of the creative activity. The student describes the active working this facilitates, undertaken in the immediate moment of the lecture theatre rather than being displaced until a later date when the student would sit down at a computer. Learning an take place through text, voice, image and text. It involves rapidly moving between apps in an agile fashion, working outside of the institutional provision of computer labs and taught sessions.

     

     
  • Mark 3:57 pm on April 17, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , futurity, platform imaginaries   

    The sociology of expectations (and platform imaginaries) 

    In his Imagined Futures, Jens Beckert offers a sociology of expectations which reconstructs the role of imagination in how people orientate themselves to the future. From pg 9:

    If actors are orientated toward the future and outcomes are uncertain, then how can expectations be define? What are expectations under conditions of uncertainty? That is the central question to which this book seeks an answer. If we take uncertainty seriously instead of conflating it with risk, it becomes evident that expectations cannot be probabilistic assessments of future states of the world. Under genuine uncertainty, expectations become interpretative frames that structure situations through imaginaries of future states of the world and of causal relations.

    There are a few reasons I’m reading this. But I’m particularly interested in making sense of how users imagine platforms and what this means for their expectations of how their use of the platform will bring about certain ends. The role of the future in platform imaginaries might not seem self-evidently important but Beckert’s analysis can be used to make sense of how possibility is conveyed to users and how this in turn shapes their use.

     
  • Mark 3:41 pm on April 17, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Sarah Kember,   

    A manifesto for writing and publishing differently 

    My notes on Kember, S. (2016). Why publish?. Learned Publishing, 29, 348-353.

    This short piece is based on Sarah Kember’s inaugrial professorial lecture at Goldsmiths, its writing timed to coincide with the launch of Goldsmith’s new press. Its establishment was explicitly motivated by a sense of “the opportunities afforded by digital technologies and the new DIY spirit of scholarly publishing”, as well as the challenges raised by contemporary scholarly communication. As Kember puts it, it was informed by “a stubborn refusal to accept the constraints of genre, style, and format; and a conviction that there is more to the future of publishing than it being online and open access” while also reflecting the specificity of Goldsmiths as an institution (348).

    Racism and sexism is rife in publishing, “if not at the level of editorial decision making, then at the level of infrastructure (through marketing strategies; publishing systems that classify and categorize like with like; through policies that privatize higher education, introduce exorbitant fees, and preclude those from more diverse ethnic and social backgrounds from becoming students and practitioners of writing and publishing” (349). This is matched by discrimination reproduced through citation and review practices in a scholarly publishing culture driven by audit, metrics and professionalisation. These control mechanisms favour the already established academics, with their unsurprising demographic profile, as well as the already established ideas. Goldsmiths Press joined other new new presses (UCL, Westminster, Open Humanities Press, Open Books, Mattering Press, Mute and Meson) constituting a “collective manifesto for future publishing” (pg 249). This is Kember’s account of what that entails:

    1. Digital first, not digital only: digital first for Goldsmiths means being digitally led rather than solely digital. It is a context for publishing rather than an end point. People still like print books and digital can’t provide a magic bullet to solve the problems of publishing: books are sensory things. Unfortunately, the enormous changes in how books are produced and distributed hasn’t been matched by a change in what they are. Being digitally led can help prompt this reevaluation: “looking again, in a digital context, at once new, provisional, provocative but largely analogue forms like the essay, the pamphlet, and the manifesto” (350).
    2. Open out from open access: a terrifying percentage of journal articles and books are published but not cited and hardly read. However the solution to this fast publishing, taking place without much concern for demand, isn’t to go more slowly. Kember takes issue with the open access movement which “rightly challenges the spiralling costs and price barriers put up by commercial journal publishers in particular and the fact that they are draining library budgets while profiting from academic free labour” but increasingly encourage a “pay-to-say model of publishing” which is “not only exploitative but also dangerous because it makes the ability to say contingent on the ability to pay” (350). Furthermore, openness is too often openness to commercialisation, redesigning the public sector on behalf of the private sector. Both the top-down and bottom-up open access movements “conflate access and accessibility”: mistaking something being freely available online or it being readable. Instead, we need a research commons in which universities invest in an infrastructure to support grassroots publishing against the offerings of private platforms.
    3. Intervene below the line: established practices of scholarly publishing reproduce inequality off the page, through the mechanisms identified earlier. This is why alternatives need to intervene ‘below the line’ and explore new techniques, norms and routines which can avoid this careless reproduction of inequities.
    4. Crisis, what crisis? Crisis talk is psychologically enticing but it has little practical value and we should avoid it, not least of all because it gets in the way of recognising how new initiatives inevitably prop up existing power structures in some ways while resisting them in others.
    5. Take responsibility for companion species: a failure to recognise the particular circumstances facing different groups and career stages is a failure to recognise the opportunities which these differences offer for rethinking the forms and practices of publishing e.g. “Our forthcoming poetry pamphlet series, which puts undergraduate and postgraduate work alongside that of established poets, is just a start”
    6. Work harder there, unwork there: the criteria built into promotions mean that withdrawl from the journal system is impossible for most, leaving us with the question of how to reroute labour into less harmful and explotiative outlets. This is why academic run presses are so exciting, creating opportunities to work as publishers rather than for them.
    7. Write! It’s necessary to resist the pervasive instrumentalisation of writing, reclaiming a sense of what it do. The professionalisation of academic writing has forced us “to substitute the more writerly, discoursive forms, such as the essay, for the more measured and measurable –largely unread and unreadable – quasi-scientific journal article” 352). We need to make contact with a sense of writing as something that evades and exceeds the possibility of measurement.
     
c
Compose new post
j
Next post/Next comment
k
Previous post/Previous comment
r
Reply
e
Edit
o
Show/Hide comments
t
Go to top
l
Go to login
h
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
Cancel