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Mechanisms of normative change 

Why is it that some social norms are unexpectedly stable up to a tipping point, like homophobia in football, but change rapidly once they start to do so? And what stabilizes revenge norms even after effective legal orders have been established? Apparently, social and legal norms are not made for […]

The aestheticised mode of social theorising

One of the targets in Kieran Healy’s Fuck Nuance paper is connoisseurship in social theory, the tendency to “call for the contemplation of complexity almost for its own sake” and “remind everyone that things are more subtle than they seem”. As he astutely observes, this tendency sits uneasily with abstraction as a […]

Five thoughts on abstraction

Abstraction is active. It is something one does, in a fully embodied way, within a context. It is undertaken for reasons and structured by dispositions which are inevitably prior to the situation in which one is abstracting. Abstraction is relational. One always abstracts from an object, stepping back from its particularity in order to foreground […]

Some thoughts on the ontology of games 

What is a game? A standard definition is “a form of competitive activity or sport played according to rules” and this has been the working conception when I’ve encountered theoretical engagements with the notion of a game. But a recent symposium on eSports left me reflecting on how much more […]

Archer and Harman on modes of reduction

Reading Immaterialism by Graham Harman, I’m struck by the overlap between his account of ‘duomining’ and Margaret Archer’s critique of conflation. As he writes on pg 27-28, “If we reduce an object downward to its pieces, we cannot explain emergence; if we reduce it upwards to its effects, we cannot […]

The Surplus of Objects

In Immaterialism, Graham Harman offers a provocative critique of Latour’s social theory, praising Actor-Network Theory as “the most important philosophical method to emerge since phenomenology in 1900” (pg. 1) while also regarding its account of objects as philosophically deficient. While he accepts the ANT thesis that objects mediate human relations, […]

Politico-environmental crisis

In Naomi Klein’s new book No Is Not Enough, there’s a lucid overview of the intersection between political and environmental crisis. The role of drought in fermenting the conditions for the Syrian civil war was something which Marc Hudson first explained to me last year. From pg 182-183: The irony is particularly […]

Two modes for becoming who we are 

The self as painting: we become who we are through repetition and representation. Encumbered only by our imagination and the culture in which we find ourselves, we craft ourselves through iterated projects of self-representation. We might find the materials available to us limiting, in which case we might seek out […]

The precursors to curation

While many see the term ‘curation’ as modish and vague, I see it as an important concept to make sense of how we can orientate ourselves within a changing cultural landscape. However I can sympathise with the thrust of these objections, in so far as they take issue with a […]

On the Spiralists

In a recent editorial in Current Sociology, Michael Burawoy warns about what he describes as the ascent of the spiralists. He finds these figures throughout the UC Berekely administration, accusing them of being “people who spiral in from outside, develop signature projects and then hope to spiral upward and onward, leaving […]

The causal powers of media

In The Mediated Construction of Social Reality, Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp take issue with the primacy of face-to-face interaction that has so often been assumed within social thought. Our embodied interaction is taken to be primary, often assumed to be unmediated, with the mediation of interaction through technology seen as […]

Elections cannot be allowed to change economic policy

What does it mean for policy to be insulated from politics? That’s the question we ultimately confront when investigating the putative depoliticisation of the economy. Matters which should be publicly resolved, through organised processes of contestation, instead get decided privately. We can cite examples of such transitions, consider whether they […]