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

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

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

This is such an important point in Tim Carmody’s (highly recommended) Amazon newsletter. Not only is Amazon enormously popular but critics of the firm fail to understand the basis of this popularity, as opposed to the insight they have into the popularity of a firm like Apple:

One study last year showed that Amazon was the second most trusted institution in American life, behind only the military. If you only poll Democrats? Amazon is number one. People love Amazon. Most of them don’t know about and have never thought they needed a mesh router for their house. But they will now.

It suggests criticism of big tech could remain a marginal pursuit, embedded to the point of doxa within certain segments of the population while others remain oblivious to it. It also suggests the need for caution in how we treat ‘big tech’. It’s not a monolithic block and people have different relationships to these firms. I’ve assumed there’s a political value in using the designation, as it defines an issue in a way orientated towards action, but perhaps it’s a mistake while there’s a divergence in public affection between the firms in question.

But you can recognize me because I’m you, mate
It’s never too late to see deeper than the surface.
Trust me, there’s so much more to it.
There’s a world beyond this one
That creeps in when your wits have gone soft
And all your edges start shifting
I mean it
A world that it breathing
Heaving its shoulders and weeping
Bleeding through open wounds
That’s why I’m grieving.
Down on my knees and I am feeling everything that I’m feeling.
So come here
Give me your hand
Because I know how to hold it.
I will write every single one of you a poem
And then I’ll set them all on fire
Because I am stunned by how the light in your eyes resembles
Brightening skies.
Mate, I would fight for your life like it was mine

 

This ECPR panel looks superb. Saving here to follow up later:

please find attached, the call for papers for a panel at the ECPR General
Conference in Wrocław (4 – 7 September).

Title of the panel:***The Relationship Between Digital Platforms and**
**Government Agencies in Surveillance: Oversight of or by Platforms?*

If you are interested in participating please submit an abstract (500
words maximum) no later then *15 February* via the ECPR Website (ecpr.eu).

*Abstract*
Revelations of surveillance practices like those of the National
Security Agency or Cambridge Analytica have shown that the digital age
is developing into an age of surveillance. What said revelations have
also shown is that digital platforms are significantly contributing to
this development. As intermediaries between communications and business
partners platforms enjoy a privileged position (Trottier 2011). Platform
increasingly use this position by surveilling and manipulating end users
for the sake of profit maximization (Fuchs 2011, Zuboff 2015). Platforms
with a business model of surveillance and manipulation, seem to have
become the most successful type of corporations of today. Already two of
the three most valuable corporations are operating as such platforms.
While platforms are emerging and expanding in ever more established as
well as new markets and thus gain influence on large parts of society,
the question arises how states are dealing with these new actors and
their capabilities. The panel is intended to provide answers to this
question by studying the spectrum of state-platform relations.
As empirical examples show, the relationship between digital platforms
and the states is multi-faced. On the one hand public institutions are
partnering with private platforms. The data from platforms is used for
example by intelligence agencies to combat terrorist groups, by police
departments to search for criminal suspects and by regulatory agencies
to counter hate speech or violations of copyrights.
On the other hand, the capabilities of platforms can also be turned
against the state. As the last US presidential elections showed
platforms can be utilized to influence the electorate or to compromise
political actors.
From the point of view of the platforms, the state represents on the one
hand an instance that may restricts their actions as it declares
specific types of business activity illegal. The new general data
protection regulation of the EU is one example.
At the same time, states are providing the legal basis for the
platforms’ activities. In order to promote e-commerce for example many
European states liberalized their privacy regulation in the beginning of
the new millennium.
These examples illustrate the diversity in platform-state relations. The
panel will acknowledge this diversity and will bring together works
considering various empirical cases as well as theoretical frameworks.
We welcome contributions focusing on different political systems as well
as different platforms like for example social media, retail, transport
or cloud computing platforms.
Exemplary questions that may be addressed are:

• Which major privacy, anti-trust or media regulations of platforms
where enacted on the national level recently? Which types of platforms
were addressed and which were not? In how far do these regulations
resemble a general trend? To which degree do they effect surveillance
practices?
• In which areas and by which means of surveillance are platforms
already enforcing public policies? Which kind of data is provided by
platforms for predictive policing? How are platforms identifying and
depublishing illegal content? When are platforms collaborating with
intelligence agencies?
• How can platforms be regulated efficiently? Which forms of regulations
between hierarchical regulation and self-regulation exist and how did
these forms emerge? In how far is oversight of platforms comparable to
oversight by platforms?
• Are policies of platform regulation defusing? If so, which states are
setting the standards?
• Which international institutions in the field of platform regulation
were created so far? Is an international regime of platform regulation
evolving?

This looks like an interesting job at a new institute I’d like to keep track of:

The Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University seeks
a Postdoctoral Researcher to play a major role in a two-year project on
Data Science & Society. We invite applications from scholars with a recent
Ph.D. in science & technology studies (STS) or related fields (e.g.,
sociology, anthropology, law, media studies, information science) and an
active research agenda on the social aspects of data science.

The Postdoctoral Researcher will be expected to devote 50% time to his or
her own research agenda and 50% time to working with S&TS Department
faculty on developing the Data Science & Society Lab, a new and innovative
course that is part of the Cornell Data Science Curriculum Initiative. The
lab will engage undergraduate students in two components: instruction in
theoretical tools and practical skills for analyzing social and ethical
problems in contemporary data science (e.g., data science as ethical
practice; fairness, justice, discrimination; privacy; openness, ownership,
and control; or credibility of data science); and participation in
interdisciplinary project teams that work with external partners to address
a real-world data science & society problem.

The Postdoctoral Researcher will have the opportunity to help launch and
shape the initiative, to develop curriculum and engagement projects, build
relationships with external partners and participate in teaching the
course. S/he will work with two S&TS Department faculty members, Malte
Ziewitz and Stephen Hilgartner, who will have primary responsibility for
teaching the course.

Applicants should send:

– Cover letter summarizing the candidate’s relevant background,
accomplishments, and fit with the position
– CV
– Up to two publications (or writing samples)
– Three letters of recommendation
– A transcript of graduate work (unofficial is acceptable)

Required Qualifications:

PhD in science & technology studies (STS) or related fields (e.g.,
sociology, anthropology, law, media studies, information science) and an
active research agenda on the social aspects of data science. ABD students
are eligible to apply, but proof of completion of the Ph.D. degree must be
obtained prior to beginning the position. Recent graduates who received
their Ph.D. during the last five years are especially encouraged to apply.

The position is available for a Summer 2019 start (as early as July 1). We
will begin to review applications on February 28. Apply at
https://academicjobsonline.org/ajo/jobs/13236. For further information,
please contact Sarah Albrecht, saa9@cornell.edu.

Diversity and inclusion are a part of Cornell University’s heritage. We are
a recognized employer and educator valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and
Individuals with Disabilities.

Image-1-4“In sum, the obsession with the web, its monopolisation of any idea of the new, has served capitalist realism rather than undermined it. Which does not mean, naturally, that we should abandon the web, only that we should find out how to develop a more instrumental relationship with it. Put simply, we should use it – as a means of dissemination, communication and distribution – but not live inside it. The problem is that this goes against the tendencies of handhelds. We all recognise the by now cliched image of a train carriage full of people pecking at their tiny screens, but have we really registered how miserable this really is, and how much it suits capital for these pockets of socialisation to be closed down?” – Mark Fisher, Abandon hope (summer is coming) 

This event looks fantastic. More details and registration here.

Chair: Dr Neil Harrison, University of Oxford

In their seminal works of the early 1990s, both Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens predicted that one manifestation of late modernity would be a popular suspicion of experts and scepticism about expertise.  Since then, the rise of the individual’s ability to have their voice heard through mass social media has eroded traditional patterns of cognitive authority – including in academia.

On the one hand, this democratisation of knowledge is to be welcomed, as it has enabled new critical voices to emerge and new discourses to develop, especially among groups that have historically been voiceless. However, it has also created an environment of confusion – a crowded forum of competing voices where volume, integrity and quality are often out of balance.  This confusion has allowed those with power to obfuscate, especially when the weight of evidence is against them.  In recent times, we have seen former UK Education Secretary Michael Gove claim that the public are ‘tired of experts’, while US President Donald Trump’s infamous refrain of ‘fake news’ is used to sideline inconvenient facts and opinions.

Universities have traditionally been seen as authoritative sites for both the creation and transmission of knowledge.  Academics are positioned as experts whose work enriches public life through scientific, social and cultural advances, with expertise that is passed to students through a variety of teaching practices as part of a consensual corpus of knowledge. More recently, universities have increasingly promoted the idea of their graduates as globally-aware and values-led problem-solvers, with the knowledge to tackle ‘wicked issues’ like climate change, public health crises and economic instability.

This event will showcase a diverse collection of papers from a special issue of Teaching in Higher Education journal. They are bound together by a focus on how universities can and should respond to the ‘post-truth’ world where experts and expertise are under attack, but where knowledge and theory-based practice continue to offer the hope of a fairer, safer and more rewarding world.  Specifically, the papers touch on the contributions that can be made by information literacies, public intellectualism, curriculum reform, interdisciplinarity and alternative pedagogies.

 

Presenters:

Elizabeth Hauke (Imperial College, London): “Understanding the world today: the roles of knowledge and knowing in higher education”

Gwyneth Hughes (University College London): “Developing student research capability for a ‘post-truth’ world: three challenges for integrating research across taught programmes”

Rita Hordósy (University of Manchester) and Tom Clark (University of Sheffield): “Undergraduate experiences of the research/teaching nexus across the whole student lifecycle”

Mark Brooke (National University of Singapore): “The analytical lens: developing undergraduate students’ critical dispositions in English for Academic Purposes writing courses”

Alison MacKenzie (Queen’s University, Belfast): “Just Google it: digital literacy and the epistemology of ignorance”

What a fascinating resource this is: Sociologists’ Knowledge of Anarchism Project. Thanks to Martyn Everett for passing it on.

To explore sociologists’ knowledge about an alternate theoretical paradigm also concerned with society: anarchism. Sociologists tend to have an extremely variable familiarity with anarchist ideas—some who know a lot and others who know very little beyond crude, popular caricatures. This project engages with those sociologists who have substantial familiarity with, knowledge of, or experience with anarchism. The interviews will hopefully constitute discussion fodder for communities interested in sociology, anarchist studies, and anarchist movements.

I’ve been dwelling on this passage from Trump University’s sales manual, republished on loc 980 of this insider account of the ill-fated ‘university’, which it should be added had a MOOC system (in its first phase) and a recruitment strategy (in its second phase) which were extreme manifestations of what can be found in US higher education rather than definitive breaks with it. The manual briefs sales staff on how to hook in prospects who’ve attended free ‘taster’ sessions in order to get them to pay for expensive workshops:

Experience Is On Our Side: •   Because we decide what happens in the training, an attendee must react to what we say. They don’t have a choice. For example, we can spend hours and hours planning a question that they must deal with and give an answer to within seconds. We also have the advantage of testing the question out on hundreds of people and adjusting it to increase our chances for a desirable response. The attendee does not have the luxury of “practicing” his or her answer. However, we are losing this advantage if we don’t take time to develop what we say and consciously practice what we say.

What is the nature of the power being exercised here? It could be read as the third face of power in the sense of Steven Lukes, exercising influence by setting the agenda. But this fails to capture the temporal character of its exercise. What puts people on the back foot is that they have no time to prepare against the manipulations of people who have all the time they need to prepare. It is a temporal advantage being leveraged to ensure the interests of A are served by the actions of B. It is chronopower.

But it is chronopower in analogue mode. How different is it from the manipulative infrastructures we find on social media? We constantly fall into interactions with actors who’ve had plenty of time to design interventions, taking advantage of a vast informational asymmetry in which they have a great deal of data about us and we have none about them. But even if this wasn’t the case, we don’t have time to prepare for the interaction because we don’t know its coming. This I’d suggest is digital chronopower.

From Margaret Archer’s Social Origins of Educational Systems (1979), pg 37. I thought this was a remarkably apt summary of what her next seven books actually did, even if her  trajectory as a whole is constantly misread as a turn away from the macro. The whole point of it was building a theoretical framework adequate for the interface between the micro and the macro:

It is inadmissible for action theorists to consider that their approach provides the necessary and sufficient conditions for explaining complex phenomena simply because they place what Wagner has called, ‘a big etcetera’ after their micro-sociological expositions. 59 As he argues, they will have to demonstrate ‘more than that their theory works well on the micro-sociological level. They will have to perform the transition from small-scale situational interpretations (to) all those cultural and institutional factors which “shape situations”, without sacrificing the subjective-interactional approach’. To overcome dualism in this way is impossible at present –we do not possess the necessary armoury of empirical generalizations by which the task might be accomplished, nor can we be certain that these will not break down at some point(s). The problem seems least well disposed of by simply abandoning the investigation of complex phenomena. Instead there appear to be good reasons for thinking that the micro-macro dichotomy can best be overcome if both kinds of theorizing continue to develop side by side.

I really liked this piece David Roberts on Vox, summarising Ezra Klein on the transformation of journalism. This is the context in which there’s a great unexplored potential for public sociology, as I’ve tried to argue:

The internet changed all that. There are no longer supply constraints — it is trivially cheap and easy to publish something on the web — and there are virtually no constraints left on the supply of information. Libraries are online. Government records are online. Every public figure’s every move is blogged or tweeted.

Two things follow. First, with supply constraints gone, there is no reason to confine web journalism to the length and formal constraints of journalism developed for paper. Any story can be as long as it needs to be, whether it’s 200 words or 2,000. Not every journalist must choose between the view-from-nowhere voice of the objective journalist and stale aphorisms of major newspaper editorial pages. There is room for a greater variety of length, form, tone, voice, and subject on the web.

And second, there’s more need for explanation. Because they were supply constrained, newspapers and newspaper journalists focused on what was new, what just happened, the incremental development. But lots of times, readers had no way of making sense of those developments or contextualizing them. They were getting the leaves, but they’d never gotten the trunk.

Especially as information and incremental developments explode in quantity, there is increasing public hunger for understanding — not so much what happened, but what it means.

The great question of our age is simply, WTF? WTF isn’t asking after what happened. It’s easy to find out what happened these days. Rather, it’s pointing at what happened and asking, well … WTF?

What’s the deal with that? How does it work? How good or bad is it, really? How does it connect with these other things? What can we learn from its history?

People want to know how the world works. They want to know why the things that are happening are happening. They don’t stop wanting to learn when they get out of school.

So journalism is inevitably shifting. These days, it is less about producing new information than it is about gathering information already on the record, evaluating it, and explaining and contextualizing it for an audience, perhaps with some analysis and argumentation for good measure.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s still plenty of information to be dug up. Investigative journalism still very much exists, though it is under-funded everywhere. I look on it with great admiration and some awe, but it’s not what I do. And though many are loathe to admit it, it’s not what most US journalists do these days.

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/12/7/18117404/advice-for-journalists-news-media

It also has a lovely description of how to network without networking:

You should be interested in your subject. If you are, you will seek out people who know more than you and learn from them. You will share what you know with people who want to know more. You will trade stories with people engaged on the same subject. As a side effect, you will network. Let your curiosity be your guide.

The people who have come to my favorable attention over the years have done so because they ask smart questions, or point to information or sources I hadn’t seen, or connect me with other useful people. Whatever their roles or intentions, they know and care about the subject matter; they want to learn and they want to share what they know.

I organised a Sociological Review workshop at the weekend with Jenny Thatcher, Pat Thomson and Inger Mewburn. I’m sufficiently snowed under at the moment that I don’t have the time/energy to reflect on it properly but here’s a sneak preview of the graphic produced by Julia Hayes (below), links to live blogging by Tyler Shores below and live tweeting by Zoe Walshe on the #socialmediaphd hashtag. I’ve also attached some photos of the charts participants produced which I want to come back to later and think about properly.

Live-blogging: Academics as social media curators

Live-blogging: Social Media and Doing a PhD — Problems and Opportunities

Live-blogging: Thesis Whisperer, Academic blogging, and social media

Live-blogging: Pat Thomson, Academic blogging, and social media

Live-blogging: Mark Carrigan and Academic blogging and social media

Live-blogging: Social Media and Doing a PhD, What Do you Need to Know

 

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.