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.