Category: Education, civics and social change

  • Deflating the concept of ‘surveillance capitalism’

    I thought this was an interesting critique by Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow in their Chokepoint Capitalism, arguing that the concept of ‘surveillance capitalism’ suggests a break with (past) capitalism whereas we are instead seeing a familiar modus operandi undertaken by new commercial actors: This is the true heart of “surveillance capitalism”—not the idea that […]

  • Post-truth as liberal populism: revisiting Cambridge Analytica

    I’ve argued in a few places in recent years (such as this paper) that the notion of ‘post-truth’ has often constituted a form of liberal populism. I mean this in Laclau’s sense of an empty signifier which symbolically structures the social environment. It imagines that a formally harmonious environment was undermined by the intrusion of […]

  • Going on Strike from the Internet: A Plea for Disconnection

    I spent the first two days of the recent strike disconnected from the internet. I unplugged my router and let my phone run out of battery before placing them both in a locked filing cabinet. I then put the key in the back of a cupboard for good measure, intending to put as much cognitive […]

  • Recovering critique in an age of datafication

    Notes on Couldry, N. (2020). Recovering critique in an age of datafication. New Media & Society, 22(7), 1135-1151 This thought provoking paper reflects on how “the now utterly banal embedding of digital interfaces of many sorts into our working and resting lives, and the emergence across those platforms of new forms of power” has become an object […]

  • Why was the industrial revolution so slow and the digital revolution so fast?

    I think this is a fascinating question by Margaret Archer, even if it’s important to stress the ‘digital revolution’ is far from over: Why was the first industrial revolution so slow (taking, say, 250 years from its first beginnings) and the digital revolution of the last 25 years so fast? Somehow, the question gets lost by calling […]

  • The comfort of ideas

    I’ve spent much of this year thinking about the difference between people who search for meaning in projects and people who seek to escape the search through meaning through projects. The former look for answers to prior questions through the creative work they commit themselves to, whereas the latter seek release from a hyper self-interrogatory […]

  • The chasm at the heart of our agency

    In every house, in the heart of each maiden and of each boy, in the soul of the soaring saint, this chasm is found, between the largest promise of ideal power, and the shabby experience. – Ralph Waldo Emerson In my slightly bleak exploration of finding joy on a dying planet, I’ve thought a lot […]

  • Coaxing the sight and sound back to your life

    In the first volume of Life of the Mind Hannah Arendt reflects on the “almost infinite diversity” of the appearances we find in the world, “the sheer entertainment value of its views, sounds, and smells” (pg 20) which philosophers have tended to overlook. This immediately reminded me of a letter C Wright Mills wrote to […]

  • What does it mean to live a good life in a broken world? Some post-pandemic thoughts on Charles Taylor’s philosophy

    I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the existential challenges created by a world which is cascading towards systems failure. My assumption is that, as Charles Taylor puts it in A Secular Age, “Every person, and ever society, lives with or by some conception(s) of what human flourishing is” involving questions such as what makes […]

  • The meaning of civics as the new world struggles to be born

    I’ve blogged regularly over the last few years about what I’ve termed post-neoliberal civics and post-pandemic civics. These terms are conscious placeholders intended to designate a significant change underway in which, to Gramsci put it, “the new world struggles to be born”. It reflects an interest in the significance of education during the transition as […]

  • The highly evolved, politicised, social industry-based apparatus of personal destruction

    This is a disturbing and insightful piece from Richard Seymour. Highly recommend you subscribe to his Patreon if you haven’t already. He closes with the warning that it’s only “matter of historical contingency, lets say of the vagaries of uneven and combined development, that we do not yet have such a highly evolved, politicised, social […]

  • What’s the difference between a cult and a community?

    This might seem like an odd question to ask but it occurred to me when listening to the podcast Sounds Like a Cult. In a fascinating episode on the Landmark Forum (which I hadn’t realised was initially founded by Werner Erhard) they describe how the group provides “a new vocabulary” for people who “arrived broken […]

  • Some thoughts on hybrid teaching and student poverty in the 22/23 academic year

    Earlier in the summer David Hitchcock circulated an important guide about student poverty, offering advice about the coming socioeconomic crisis and what it means for students. With the possibility that inflation could hit 20% in Britain by January, it’s likely that poverty will become widespread amongst the student population. Not simply in the relative sense […]

  • Cruel optimism and the possibility of renewal

    I first came across Laurent Berlant’s concept of Cruel Optimism in an LRB essay by Marina Warner about the ‘disfiguring of higher education‘. Warner invoked the concept to explain the self-exploitation she saw in academics around her who “open themselves to exploitation when the sense of self-worth that derives from doing something they believe in […]

  • Trauma as a genre for understanding the present

    When the pandemic began I happened to be reading Zizek’s The Ticklish Subject. There was an aspect of his argument which vividly captured the sense of unravelling I was experiencing, describing the narcissistic subject “who perceives everything as a potential threat to his precarious imaginary balance”. This “narcissistic self-enclosure” made it impossible for him to […]

  • The difference between being post-pandemic and post-covid

    This was a distinction which Liz Morrish used in a recent e-mail conversation and it captured something which I’ve been keen to articulate for some time. The risk of talking about post-pandemic is that it is taken to apply we are post-covid, in the sense of SARS-CoV-2 no longer posing a threat. The fact it […]

  • What does sustainable (digital) scholarship look like for individual scholars?

    I listened to a thought-provoking lecture by Neil Selwyn this morning (Studying digital education in times of climate crisis) which offered a detailed and hopeful account of the situation in which we find ourselves with the post-pandemic ubiquity of digital education against a background of climate crisis. I was particularly interested in his discussion of […]

  • The grim reality of ‘living with Covid’

    I’m old enough to remember when people talked about ‘herd immunity’. The idea was that eventually enough people would either catch Covid or get vaccinated that the virus would no longer pose a meaningful threat. The problem, if I understand correctly, stems from the continual evolution of the virus and the related possibility for immune […]