From Margaret Archer’s Social Origins of Educational Systems pg 4:

There is nothing more pointless than the debates which have now lasted for centuries about the ideal nature of education. The only function they serve is in helping individuals and groups to clarify their educational goals, to recognize the implications of their chosen aims, and sometimes to get others to share them. They remain sterile unless and until they are harnessed to an understanding of the processes by which present education can be changed to conform to the ideal.

From Margaret Archer’s The Social Origins of Educational Systems pg 6:

Historically the origins of the discipline are synonymous with the origins of macro-sociology –most of the early founding fathers asked big questions to which they gave equally big answers. Yet initially there was not thought to be anything distinctive or difficult about, for example, explaining political instability by reference to sedentary culture (Ibn Khaldun) or social order by religious organization (Maistre and Bonald). The reason for this seems to be that these thinkers did not simultaneously address themselves to the explanation of smaller phenomena: for when, in the nineteenth century, various writers sought to treat both small group interaction and events of the largest scale together, the problem of scope became immediately apparent and, with it, the nature of macro-sociology was clarified.


I’m finally reading Margaret Archer’s Social Origins of Educational Systems, the one major work of hers I hadn’t read which also happens to be the longest. It’s ironic that I’m coming to this now, as someone trained to be a social theorist who is in the process of becoming an (accidental) educationalist. This book was the point at which she moved away from sociology of education into social theorising in a more general sense. However the book is often misread as a ‘substantive work’ whereas her entire intellectual project can be found here, in some cases explicitly and in other cases embryonically. To give an example, the book opens with a theoretical defence of macro-sociology and a critique of methodological individualism which will be familiar to readers of her later books. From pg 11:

The bedrock of such explanations is individual dispositions. An event is explained when this outcome has been related to motives, aims, expectations, beliefs etc., that is to some intelligible reaction of man to his circumstances, on the part of individuals involved or of typical actors. However, as we have seen, any reference to groups or institutions must be eliminated for this to count as a complete explanation. The general difficulty involved here is of identifying such attitudes without reference to these social terms.

However we can see her (much later) work on reflexivity implicit within this. It’s hard to specify dispositions without social terms because these dispositions are more often than not about the social world. Even if the precise character of this aboutness goes unspecified, it’s clearly identified as an aporia in the position through which she is critically developing her own. The problem of reflexivity is effectively delineated three decades before she began developing a solution to it. Her concern at this stage is institutional, see below extract from pg 12, but this sets up the problem of reflexivity which remains once a the stratified ontology of critical realism helps develop her account beyond methodological individualism and collectivism. The remaining issue, the inseparability of individual dispositions and social referents, clearly pre-dates this later formulation of the problem in Being Human and Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation.

Can we, for example, account for electoral success in terms of certain diffused political attitudes without presupposing statements about ‘Parties’ and ‘Voting’? Can we explain educational attainment by achievement motivation without entailing propositions about ‘examinations’, ‘standards of excellence’, and ‘ascription’?

It’s also interesting to see how straight-forwardly she identified her approach as Neo-Weberian despite that being a label that I think she would have rejected within a decade or so. From pg 4:

Weber’s analysis which gave equal emphasis to the limitations that social structures impose on interaction and to the opportunity for innovatory action presented by the instability of such structures is the prototype of this theoretical approach. The kind of macro-sociology advocated here is seen as following the mainstream of the Weberian tradition. Pedigrees, however, can always be disputed and are no substitute for justifying the adoption of a particular approach.

I’m finally reading the immensely powerful Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich and I’m gripped by the sense he conveys of the “nonschooled learning” (pg 10) which  institutionalised schooling precludes. From pg 8:

School appropriates the money, men, and good will available for education and in addition discourages other institutions from assuming educational tasks. Work, leisure, politics, city living, and even family life depend on schools for the habits and knowledge they presuppose, instead of becoming themselves the means of education.

He argues that obligatory schooling inevitably escalates, with more schooling being the only response to the demands which the existence of the school system creates, in turn leading to international rankings in which “Countries are rated like castes whose educational dignity is determined by the average years of schooling of its citizen” (pg 9). If I understand him correctly, he’s saying that schooling creates a framework in which the process through which competencies are acquired comes to substitute for the competencies themselves i.e. the fact of being in school comes to be seen as the important things, rather than the learning that was supposedly the reason for being there in the first place. In the process, other forms of learning go unvalued and unrecognised, as he explains on pg 12-13:

Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and  in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place fo confinement during an increasing part of their lives.

Most learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of programmed instruction. Normal children learn their first language casually, although faster if their parents pay attention to them. Most people who learn a second language well do so as a result of odd circumstances and not of sequential teaching. They go to live with their grandparents, they travel, or they fall in love with a foreigner. Fluency in reading is also more often than not a result of such extracurricular activities. Most people who read widely, and with pleasure, merely believe that they learned to do so in school; when challenged, they easily discard this illusion.

Interestingly, he talks about drill instruction as an effective means through which motivated students can learn complex skills. But it is one which schools do badly, in part because they feel to distinguish between skill acquisition and education, doing both badly in the process. Education in Illich’s sense involved the “open-ended, exploratory use of acquired skills” (pg 17) and shouldn’t be conditional upon obligatory attendance. Skill acquisition and education require different conditions, often mutually exclusive ones, with the former involving predictable steps and circumstances which the latter requires space from.

This was completely new to me. How much of the audience for these right-wing speaking tours are coming through YouTube? Is there a left wing equivalent?

It’s not until I sit through An Entertaining Evening With Nigel Farage in Melbourne that I realise he’s not just a seven-times failed UK parliamentary candidate, but a bona fide YouTube star. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without YouTube,” Farage tells his audience of young men. Men who, when I ask, what do you think of Nigel Farage, say: “He’s an absolute legend.” Or: “He’s the dog’s bollocks.”

How did you come across him, I ask, Alex, a programmer who lives locally? “On YouTube. I was watching a Jordan Peterson video. He was recommended to me.”


I watch the speeches. They have titles like “Who the Hell [sic] You Think You Are? Nigel Farage throws egg in Eurocrat faces.” And “Can’t Barrage the Farrage [sic].” They’ve been viewed millions upon millions of times.

Richard Corbett, the leader of the Labour party in the European parliament, explains how it works. “Farage turns up once a month and often what he talks about has absolutely nothing to do with what’s being discussed. You think, what’s going on? And then you realise it’s got nothing to do with the parliament. It’s just for his social media output. Sometimes he doesn’t even hang around for the answers. Two minutes later, he’s back on the Eurostar and gone.” (Statistics for voting and attendances show Farage is ranked 738th out of 751 MEPs for productivity.)

Tuesday December 4th 12pm
Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
Everyone welcome! It’s a short journey from Cambridge train station

We hear a lot about the coming ‘automation revolution’, but what might developments in machine learning and AI mean for researchers in the social sciences and humanities? In our next masterclass, Associate Professor Inger Mewburn (from the Australian National University and the Thesis Whisperer Blog) will talk about her forthcoming book on machine learning in the social sciences. What kinds of projects does machine learning make possible? What kind of collaborations can social scientists make to take advantage of these new tools and techniques? Do some of our PhD graduates have a future in bespoke algorithm design? Come along to this discussion on future social science practice.

Register here:

This looks excellent!


Special Issue of Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies

Back to the Future: Telling and Taming Anticipatory Media Visions and Technologies

Guest editors: Christian Pentzold (University of Bremen, Germany), Anne Kaun (Södertörn
University, Sweden), and Christine Lohmeier (University of Salzburg, Austria)

Digital media, networked services, and aggregate data are beacons of the future. These incessantly emerging tools and infrastructures project new ways of communication, bring unknown kinds of information, and open up untrodden paths of interaction. Yet digital technologies do not only forecast uncharted times or predict what comes next. They are, it seems, both prognostic and progressive media: they don’t await the times to come but realize the utopian as well as dystopian visions which they have always already foreseen. At the same time, all calculation of anticipations has to rely on past data that profoundly shape our ability to manage expectations and minimize uncertainties.

In these fast forward dynamics, the special issue of Convergence examines the futuremaking capacity of networked services and aggregate data. We ask contributions to consider: What role do digital technologies and data play in the construction and circulation of future knowledge, e.g., through forecasting, modelling, prediction, or prognosis? What expectations and anticipatory visions such as promise or warning do accompany the creation and diffusion of new media? Over the course of history, which imaginaries of social and technological futures have been propelled by the media innovations at that time? How do new media technologies and discourses contribute to the production and reproduction of
social time that is future oriented? How do they impact on the ability to exert control over the future?

Papers in this special issue will explore the future making dimension of new media and may include the following topics:

• Role of media in reconfiguring the relations and distances among present, past, and future times
• Communicative construction of differently vast and (un)certain horizons of
• Data-based modes of anticipation (e.g., prognosis, prediction, prevention, precaution,
pre-emption); calculative practices and other kinds of speculative accounts of
possible events
• Historical succession of past future visions around media innovations and mediated
social life
• Imaginaries of futures related to digital media
• Interventions into the plans, efforts, and processes of constructing futures
• Backwards-orientation of forecasting and conservative aspects of future scenarios
• New media in the production of simultaneity, coincidence, or (non)contemporaneity

Proposals should include the author’s name and affiliation, title, an abstract of 500 words,
and 3 to 5 keywords, and should be sent to the e-mail address no later than 1 December
2018: <> Invited paper submissions will be due 1 June 2019
and will undergo peer review following the usual procedures of the journal. The invitation to
submit a full article does not guarantee acceptance into the special issue. The special issue
will be published in 2020.

For more information please contact <>
The full CFP can be downloaded from here: <>

I find it hard to read this excellent piece by Alfie Brown and not speculate about long term trends… how easy is it to imagine a world in a state of ecological collapse dominated by a few corporate city states fortified against the wastelands at their walls, as well as the millions of migrants fleeing climate catastrophe? He also makes the important point that coverage of these developments too easily frames this in contrast to the presumed democratic landscape ‘here’ and this misses the real significance of these possibilities.

Having long claimed to be apolitical, Jack Ma, the billionaire co-founder and executive chairman of the tech giant Alibaba, was recently revealed to be a member of the ruling Communist party of China (CCP). It’s another in a long list of links between corporate and state apparatus that stretch far beyond the borders of China. Nevertheless, a glimpse into the projects the company is working on in Cloud Town, considered in light of these revelations, should set the alarm bells ringing with fear of a dystopian future of state and corporate control.

Technologies in development at Cloud Town range from AI pedestrian crossing lights that use facial recognition to identify the age of a road-crosser and give them a longer green light if they are old/slow enough, to AI drone cars that can respond to passengers needs.

The greatest feature of the car, explained the proud representative, is that its media panel, linked to the user’s smartphone, reads patterns of movement, food choices and potentially even photos and comments, and then crosses this with millions of data sets to make predictions about what the user might like to eat and how they might like to travel there or have the food travel to them. In short, the new citizen outsources part of their decision-making processes, and maybe even part of their desire, to Alibaba. Our very impulses are mapped and planned in advance. The triangulation between data, predictive technology and desire could be the single most important relationship taking us into the dystopian smart city future.

A really interesting Vanity Fair piece exploring the assumption amongst American law makers and financiers that outrage against big tech will be limited because there is no constituency liable to be organised against it. In the absence of a collective agency pushing for political action to be taken, diffuse outrage is unlikely to lead to political action and will eventually dissipate. 

Facebook is in a world of hurt, or so it would seem, after The New York Times published a splashy, five-byline exposé last week that documented the social-media giant’s ponderous, self-serving response to Russian infiltration of its platform. Ditto Amazon, the e-commerce juggernaut that recently cajoled New York City into coughing up billions of dollars in tax breaks to host a new office building, provoking sustained liberal outrage. Netflix is facing new rulesgoverning its film and television libraries in Europe. Google, we are told, has its own problems, from selling A.I. to improve drone strikes to the news it reportedly paid out a top executive $90 million despite the fact that he allegedly coerced a colleague into sex. If you only got your news on Twitter, you might imagine the gold rush is over for the so-called FAANGs—as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google are known—and that the era of Big Government regulation is about to begin.


This is the most enticing call for papers I’ve seen in ages. My promise to focus exclusively on my (still horribly unfinished) books for the foreseeable future is getting severely tested:

Who’s a Bully? Civility, Authoritarianism, and Power in the Contemporary Academy

For its next volume, scheduled for publication in fall 2019, the AAUP’s Journal of Academic Freedom seeks original, scholarly articles that consider how “bullying” is implicated in conflicts taking place around discourses of civility and academic freedom. How do admonitions of “civility” operate along lines of power? How do authoritarian cultural and political formations impact practices of academic freedom? We will consider any essay on the topic of academic freedom but are especially interested in the following:

  • Precarity, identity, and labor: How do discourses of civility operate in terms of social and labor hierarchies in the university? How do such conflicts travel along lines of race, class, gender, national origins, and sexuality? How does the increased precarity of academic labor effect issues of civility and power for students, administrators, faculty, and staff? How are these issues related to struggles over “sanctuary campuses”?
  • Campus discourse: What is the relationship between “civility” and academic freedom in the classroom, administration, and campus in general? Why are colleges and universities real and imagined sites for broader issues of civil comportment? How do conflicts around “civility” and power impact workplace democracy and faculty governance? How do these issues extend to K–12 education?
  • Globalization: What are the challenges for academic freedom in an era of globalization? How does the rise of popular and governmental authoritarianism affect academic freedom? Are conflicts around civility and power transnational? How might international solidarity movements respond to these challenges?
  • Social media and communications: How is social media an arena for conflicts around “civility” and power, and how does that impact academic freedom? How do these conflicts take shape in libraries and archives? How does the proliferation of university policies around the use of technology enact questions of civility and power?
  • Private consulting and university discourse: The rise of private educational consulting firms and their use by university and college administrations brings corporate discourse into key institutional decisions. This raises questions of power and civility from actors often not publicly represented in governance processes. How does corporate discourse impact questions of academic freedom?

Electronic submissions of no more than 8,000 words should be sent to by March 1, 2019, and must include an abstract of about 150 words. We welcome submissions by any and all faculty, graduate students, and independent scholars. If you have any questions, contact me at

While this is an academic journal with submissions subject to peer review, we welcome innovative and journalistic prose styles. The journal uses the seventeenth edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, and authors should anticipate that, if an article is accepted for publication, it will need to be put into Chicago style. Read more about the Journal.


In the last few years, I’ve noticed a pattern when I see photos of myself in front of an audience. I  am invariably tilting one foot forward as I talk, as in the attached photo from Andrew  Crane. Yet I have no awareness of doing it. Is this some strange adaptation to one leg being shorter than the other? A nervous tick? It’s getting to the point where I’m desperate to catch myself doing it, just so I can understand what ‘it’ is. But it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps I am thinking with my feet:

Not with my hand alone I write:

My foot wants to participate.

Firm and free and bold, my feet

Run across the field – and sheet.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Prelude in Rhymes: 52


I don’t need to see I disrespect them gleefully
and eat the pain, rage and guilt
I keep it deep in me
Release my fist
When my ashes hit the pacific and I’m infinitely swimming in the ether
Where the teachers be-
Thumbs up
Sunglasses emoji

Tryna exist in superposition
Tryna exist in superposition
Tryna exist in superposition
Clocks ticking
Keep living
Man listen
Come on

From Oliver Bullough’s Moneyland pg 225-226. It’s hard not to see intimations of Elysium in developments like this:

Take Indian Creek, for example. It is a village in Miami-Dade County, Florida, which you approach through a quiet and pleasant residential neighbourhood, all groomed lawns and bungalows; where the streets lack sidewalks, but where there is so little traffic that walking on the road feels fine. Eventually, there is a bridge, with cream guard towers on either side of it, and a wrought-iron gate between them. If you try to step on to the bridge, a voice booms out of an intercom, asking your business. If you have no business there, or if your business is (like mine) idle curiosity, then you will be told it is a private island and that you must go elsewhere. To emphasise the point, there is a heavy police presence. At the last census, in 2010, Indian Creek had a population of eighty-six, which included four of America’s 500 richest people, as well as the singer Julio Iglesias, Colombian billionaire Jaime Galinski (whose base is London, but who also has homes in New York and a couple of other places), and various others, all with a combined net worth –according to the Miami Herald –of $ 37 billion. That sum is approximately equal to the annual economic output of Serbia, which has a population of more than 7 million people. Indian Creek’s police force employs ten full-time officers, plus four reserves, and four civilian public service aides, giving the community a police officer to resident ratio of around 1: 5, which is significantly higher even than that of East Germany at its most paranoid. The village is an island, so cannot be approached except by the bridge, but the police are taking no chances in protecting what their website calls ‘America’s most exclusive municipality’, and they run a marine patrol unit day and night, seven days a week. It is, in short, a moated community, where Moneyland can become real.

In 2012, one ten-bedroom, fourteen-bathroom house on the island sold for $ 47 million, making it south Florida’s most expensive ever property, according to the agents who closed the deal. The local press reported that the purchaser was a Russian billionaire. The photos of the house released by the agents show an airy, high-ceilinged mansion, modest yet enormous, with an infinity pool looking out on to Biscayne Bay, towards the sunrise. It has a dock with water deep enough for a superyacht, and is surrounded on the other three sides by the lush lawns of the island’s golf course. It bears about as much resemblance to an ordinary person’s house as a Bengal tiger does to a tabby cat, but it is simultaneously both tasteful and restrained. ‘Air flows in and out of the home like a deep, cleansing breath. In this open plan, where the line is eternally blurred between inside and out, entire walls part to allow the embrace of the refreshing bay breezes. Ceilings soar to incredible heights,’ the agents’ brief declares. But the closest you or me will get to it is standing at the end of the bridge, looking at a photo of it on your phone, while being intensely eyeballed by a policeman in mirrored sunglasses.

There’s a powerful extract in Oliver Bollough’s (superb) Moneyland talking about about the role offshore capital in inflating assets such as wine, art, cars, yachts and most of all real estate, with the latter then used to house these inflated assets. In the process it empowers a new class of fixers, helping manage this wealth at a distance and ensuring its sustained reproduction. From pg 220-221:

In Miller’s analysis, luxury real estate has become in effect a new global currency, with very wealthy people using housing in the world’s premier league of cities as a store of wealth, with the great advantage that they can then use their apartments as storehouses for all their other expensive stuff: their Monets, their Modiglianis, that kind of thing. ‘I don’t want to stereotype and say they’re all flight capital, because they’re not, but the growth in their presence is flight capital. They’re preserving capital. They’re just getting it into something for an extended period of time because they want to preserve it.’ Some 30 per cent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments since 2008 have gone to foreign-based buyers, with the vast majority of them paying the full sum up front. It is a remarkable change, and one that accelerated in the early 1990s, when the collapse of communism created flight capital on a previously unknown scale –particularly in London.

One of these enablers, an information of Bollough’s, opines later in the book about the consequences of this accumulation for the elites themselves. What does it do to you? It’s a good question and one which is crucial to making sense of what I’ve come to think of as defensive elites. From pg 231:

Pichulik was funny and thoughtful about his curious career, and clearly concerned by the kind of inequality he has witnessed. That gave him sufficient insight to realise that spending his days looking at apartments worth $ 50, $ 60 or $ 70 million was doing strange things to his mind, and to wonder about the mind set of people who live their lives surrounded by that kind of luxury: ‘You wake up in an apartment like that when you pretty much command the city, and you have this sort of castle to yourself. What does that do to your life on a daily basis, just waking up with that feeling and seeing that?’

Reading the philosopher Daniel Little’s reflection on eleven years of Understanding Society, I found myself wondering how blogging will be seen when we are surrounded by personal blogs which are decades old? The blog you are reading is eight years old this month, superseding a sequence of blogs which covered a further seven years before this. Its form and content have changed significantly in that time but its underlying purpose has not, cataloguing my intellectual engagement in a more or less thorough way during that time. It has ranged from what C Wright Mills called fringe thoughts through to elaborate reflections, even documenting an entire program of research on asexuality from start to finish.

It seems likely to be something I will stick with, leaving me wondering about how I will feel about it in twenty, thirty or forty years time? What will be the significance for intellectual culture when there are many of these elaborate texts of such an age? How will they be interpreted as what Ken Plummer called documents of life? In my more pretentious moments, I’m starting to wonder if the sheer fact of sustaining a blog like this over a long period of time has intellectual significance in and of itself, above and beyond the many ways in which it provides the soil from which other more familiar intellectual endeavours tend to grow.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about escalation effects, by which I mean the tendency of some courses of action to escalate beyond our initial expectations or capacity to control. My favourite examples involve information overload. An active reader will often follow up references from books they are reading, with an interesting book usually yielding at least a few more books to read. Thus reading one book will lead to a desire to read a cluster of books, each of which will in turn likely prompt a similar escalation in your intended reading. Escalation effects are interesting because they exist in an ontological gray zone, reflecting our capacities as agents while underscoring our limitations. They are not strictly speaking structural constraints, as much as they are unintended consequences of reflexive project formation.

In the last public interview with Paulo Freire, he talks about tolerance as the means through which we realise the “the rich possibility of doing things and learning different things with different people”. Social media can provoke the curiosity Freire talks about, exposing us to a universe of difference but it also often generates irritation in the face of that difference, inclining us to dismiss rather than understand.

If you’re anywhere near Cambridge this week, consider coming to this masterclass I’m organising: register here. What I find so inspiring about Gary Hall is the relationship between his theoretical work and his institutional interventions. He’s been a key figure in an enormous range of projects which have pushed the boundaries of scholarly publishing and helped map out its post-capitalist future. The masterclass will offer an accessible introduction to these issues and run through the aforementioned projects and what they embody about the potential of scholarly publishing. Everyone is welcome and the Faculty of Education is only a short walk from Cambridge train station.