As Thomas Frank points out in his Listen Liberal, loc 811-828, calls for more centrism have long followed the defeat of Democrat centrists:

Democrats would run for the presidency on a professional-friendly platform of high-minded post-partisanship and be rejected by the electorate—and then, in the aftermath, those same Democrats would be ritually denounced by Washington’s TV thinkers as examples of the New Deal’s exhaustion and irrelevance. It happened to the post-ideological Jimmy Carter in his bid for reelection; it happened to the budget-balancing Walter Mondale; it happened to the technocratic centrist Michael Dukakis—each one of them magically transformed on the day of their defeat into an instructional film on why Democrats needed to embrace post-ideological, budget-balancing, technocratic centrism.

A really unusual addition to my growing catalogue of digital elites flexing their social, cultural and political muscles. Peter Thiel secretly backed Hulk Hogan’s case against Gawker:

Peter Thiel, a billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, helped fund the case brought by the wrestler, Terry Gene Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, against Gawker, said a person briefed on the arrangement who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and one of the earliest investors in Facebook, privately agreed to help pay the expenses of Mr. Bollea’s legal team, this person said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/25/business/dealbook/peter-thiel-is-said-to-bankroll-hulk-hogans-suit-against-gawker.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

From the Commencement address Steve Jobs gave on June 12, 2005:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Life is short. We’ll be dead soon. This is why it’s important to fill life with as much of value and interest as possible. The good life is the full life.

How interesting does this look?

Historicizing the Digital: language practices in new and old media

Mon 27th – Tues 28th June 2016
University of Leicester, UK

CALL FOR PAPERS: deadline 18th April 2016
REGISTRATION: opening soon

Language and new media is a rapidly emerging area of applied linguistics which considers how the affordances of digital technologies promote new linguistic strategies for identity work by individuals and communities (Seargeant and Tagg 2013). Research suggests that language use in digital spaces is highly innovative (in forms, functions, ideologies and cultural norms), and especially so for written language, such as online spelling variation, code-switching, multimodality, and sharing (Georgakoupoulou and Spilioti 2015).

Our seminar, ‘Historicizing the Digital’, provides a space in which researchers are encouraged to re-evaluate assumptions and claims of digital communication research. The event explores the extent to which digital practices really are “new”. What precedents might be found in earlier periods? What practices show continuity between the pre- and post-digital age? What practices constitute genuine innovation within digital spaces? The event invites speakers working within different historical periods who may not otherwise join in conversation to promote fresh discussions from a trans-historical perspective.

Proposals should be submitted to the Conference Organisers (histthedig@gmail.com) as a Word document, containing the following information:

* Title of proposal in bold
* Name of presenter
* Name and address of institution, telephone and email
* Abstract text max. 300 words
* 12pt, left-aligned, single-spaced

Please visit our website for more details:
www.histthedig.blogspot.co.uk

  1. Imagining Futures: From Sociology of the Future to Future Fictions
  2. The Future Perfect
  3. Writing Fiction and Writing Social Science
  4. Life Chances: Co-written re-imagined welfare utopias through a fictional novel
  5. Patricia Leavy on Social Fictions
  6. Showing, not telling: some thoughts on social science and (science) fiction
  7. Liars, Damn Liars, and Sociologists
  8. You wake up and suddenly, a story is right in front of you
  9. Telling stories to help understand what sociology is about

Reluctantly cut from my paper on the Sociology of the Digital Archive: any thoughts appreciated. This is a tentative first sketch at where my current project will be leading after the ‘distraction’ and the ‘fragile movements’ phase: 

It has been frequently suggested that this digitalization represents a removal of constraint: on production, on organization, on circulation. The contents of the archive have been freed from constraints that were formerly assumed to be inevitable (Hoskins 2009: loc 575-591). But such a claim sits too easily with the aforementioned tendency to conceive of post, late, liquid or accelerated modernity in terms of the infinite vistas of possibility opening up to subjects (even if these opportunities might be coded in negative terms, as vectors through which disorientation intensifies). It also serves to obscures the political economy of the digitalized archive, something which is becoming ever more central to what has been referred to by some as digital capitalism[1. An interesting isomorphism is beginning to develop within the technology sector which, I wish to suggest, cannot be adequately understood in abstraction from the digitalization of the archive. We are seeing a winner-takes-all competitive dynamic coupled with excessive capitalization and the ability it gives to undertake vast new initiatives as well as to acquire promising start ups[2]. This leads the giants increasingly to seek to compete on every front. For instance Apple, Google and Amazon all offer online music and video services. All three produce tablet computers and the operating systems associated with them. All three offer ‘smart TV’ plug in services that are increasingly indistinguishable. Each of them is also cutting strategic deals with smaller companies, producing what Van Dijck (2013: loc 3327) describes as “a few major platform chains – microsystems vertically integrated by means of ownership, shareholder, and partnership constructions”. This creates incentives towards the ‘siloization’ of the archive, as chains seek to win competitive advantage by gaining exclusive access to popular content, inevitably on a temporary basis given that these actions incentivise content producers to negotiate new deals, leaving popular content circulating between particular closed ecoystems. In this environment, we can also seen the genesis of digitally native content producers, as services like Amazon Prime and Netflix seek to capitalize upon their position by producing prestige content which is available to their subscribers only, sometimes with significant critical success.

This emerging political economy of the (digital) archive does not only shape the distribution of ‘content’. As Archer (2014) discussed, digitalization challenges intellectual property because of its infinite reproducibility, incentivizing regimes of intellectual property that seek ‘lock down’. The vertical integration of platforms is intensifying those tendencies, as well as contributing to the insecurity of content providers who are locked out of direct revenue generation, encouraging them to lend ever greater weight to the enforcement of intellectual property regimes. This ‘war of the platforms’ is in its infancy but its unfolding seems likely to comprehensively transform the experience of the archive, as each emerging conglomerate seeks to exploit the growing growing costs of leaving a closed ecosystem to lock down a long term user base (Vogelstein 2013). Far from being an end point, our present state of digitalization represents a starting point of a broader cycle of social interaction with profound systemic ramifications for capitalism as a whole.

[1] It is widely acknowledged that digitalisation was a technological precondition for financialization and yet the former is usually considered as a feature of, rather than foundation for, the latter.

This is an idea put forward by James Bryce, a British observer of the United States, in 1889:

This tendency to acquiescence and submission, this sense of the insignificance of individual effort, this belief that the affairs of men are swayed by large forces whose movement may be studied but cannot be turned, I have ventured to call the fatalism of the multitude. It is often confounded with the tyranny of the majority, but is at bottom different, though, of course, its existence makes abuses of power by the majority easier, because less apt to be resented. But the fatalistic attitude I have been seeking to describe does not imply any compulsion exerted by the majority. It may rather seem to soften and make less odious such an exercise of their power, may even dispense with that exercise, because it disposes a minority to submit without[999] the need of a command, to renounce spontaneously its own view and fall in with the view which the majority has expressed. In the fatalism of the multitude there is neither legal nor moral compulsion; there is merely a loss of resisting power, a diminished sense of personal responsibility and of the duty to battle for one’s own opinions, such as has been bred in some peoples by the belief in an overmastering fate. It is true that the force to which the citizen of the vast democracy submits is a moral force, not that of an unapproachable Allah, nor of the unchangeable laws of matter. But it is a moral force acting on so vast a scale, and from causes often so obscure, that its effect on the mind of the individual may well be compared with that which religious or scientific fatalism engenders.

http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/697

Are we seeing a generational resurgence of this in Europe? If so, what are the consequences for politics and social life? Understanding these dispositions are crucial to the cultural politics of automationwe can’t just assume that mass automation would lead inexorably to a certain social response because those responses are always mediated by a culture which is transforming through the same processes driving mass automation.

FT_15.02.06_europeanMillSuccess FT_15.02.06_europeanMillWork

This is possibly the most depressing blog post I’ve ever read. It’s the earnestness with which the author conveys the message that “influencers are rarely the people who move the needle in our life”, as if this was a genuine personal revelation that he now feels the need to convey in as gentle as tone a possible:

After scrolling for several hours, I came to a conclusion.

Some people–including me that night–spend too much time following top influencers.

If only I can get their attention, we think, then I’ll make it big.

As I scrolled, I thought about how hopeless some people may feel when they can’t catch the attention of that one influencer. I imagined how nervous that person might have felt as they crafted their Instagram pitch to Cuban, Vaynerchuk, or John.

Not everyone feels this way about connecting with influencers, of course.

But many do.

At the end of the day, influencers are rarely the people who move the needle in our life. Our success hardly depends on their attention.

Our success ultimately depends on the attention we give to our work, not the amount of attention our work gets for us.

http://goodmenproject.com/business-ethics-2/do-you-need-an-influencers-attention-to-find-success-jaau/

By definition there can only be a handful of celebrities. As Goffman describes it on pg 68 of Stigma, by ‘fame’ we “refer to the possibility that the circle of people who know about a given individual, especially in connection with a rare desirable achievement or possession, can become very wide, and at the same time much wider than the circle of those who know him personally”.

Digital celebrity detaches fame from achievement and instead renders it a function of network position. To hope that one can “make it big” by “getting their attention” isn’t a career strategy. It’s not even an unrealistic hope. It’s magical thinking and I’m scared by the neo-aristocratic politics I could imagine it one day supporting.

This is a short preliminary to a longer post I’ll write in the near future. I’ve become ever more convinced over the last couple of years that project management software, such as Slack and Basecamp, will become integral features of most working environments. Perhaps eventually to the extent that e-mail is. In fact e-mail is the problem they’re both intended to solve. Complaints and anxieties concerning e-mail have almost reached the status of cliche and yet I still think we lack a developed reflexivity about the culture surrounding e-mail, the constraints and enablements the technology offers and how we ought to calibrate our reciprocal behaviour in light of them. Put simply: sustained co-ordination and collaboration through e-mail systematically generates problems which, in turn, tend to generate yet more e-mail as people try and solve them. It’s great for some things but for working on ongoing projects together, it’s vastly inferior to these new project management systems.

I was introduced to Basecamp when I worked at the Data Science Lab a couple of years ago and I found it a transformative experience: having used it to co-organise a large international conference, I simply couldn’t imagine a similar undertaking without it. I’m now using Slack for two ongoing collaborations. One is the festival a small group of us are running in summer 2017. In this case, Slack is allowing a group to coalesce after some initial face-to-face meetings. The other project is The Sociological Review, where we’re currently experimenting with using Slack after a couple of years of co-ordinating things purely through e-mail. It’s still early days for both, but I’m very optimistic about how central Slack will become to each of these undertakings.

Slack nail the virtues of their own software with their tagline be less busy. It offers a multitude of ways to communicate in real time, archive those communications and facilitate collaboration on the basis of them. All without adding to the sisyphean task that is most people’s experiences of e-mail. In a future post, I’ll try and do a detailed analysis of precisely why this is such a promising tool for academics. Meanwhile, this is a helpful video which introduces the service for those unfamiliar with it:

I’ve just cut this out of a paper I’m working on. It’s not up to scratch and it doesn’t really contribute anything to the development of the paper. But it’s an idea I’m planning to return to in future, so I’d be interested in any thoughts people have about it. I hadn’t actually compiled the bibliography for this yet but get in touch if you’d like info about a reference in the text. 

In this section I provide an overview of Archer’s (2003, 2007, 2012) account of reflexivity, focusing upon the role of cultural variety in shaping reflexive deliberation. To do this, I wish to borrow a metaphor from the Bourdieusian theorist Will Atkinson and use this to consider the role of categories in internal conversation. Atkinson invokes the metaphor of a flashlight to illustrate the disjuncture between the objective and subjective fields of possibility which confront a subject. His phenomenological reconstruction of habitus[1] seeks to explain “the limits of the conceivable range of possibilities” in terms of the power of habitus for “illuminating in consciousness, like the beam from a torch, only a circumscribed arc of social space and leaving the rest in the unknown, unthinkable darkness” (Atkinson 2010: 104). My contention is that this metaphor can be usefully be reclaimed from the use made of it here and that what Atkinson (2010: 52) describes as “the full weight of accumulated categorization” can usefully be reconceptualised in terms of the generative mechanism through which cultural variety influences reflexive deliberation. If we understand culture, following Archer (1985, 2011: loc 3696), as the “repertoire of ideas for construing the situations in which [subjects] find themselves”, we are left with the question of how their ensuing influence accumulates biographically. Atkinson’s (2010) metaphor of the flash light nicely captures this as a synchronic relation, in which the subject’s perception of the possibilities available to them are filtered through a prism of ‘accumulated categorization’[2], but it lacks an account of the diachronic i.e. past ideas which subjects have incorporated into their mental representations of the natural, practical and social orders[3] exercise a conditioning influence upon present action, one result of which will be the reproduction or transformation of the stock of mental representations influencing future deliberations. 

The question remains however as to how this ‘categorization’ accumulates. As Atkinson (2010: 52) admits, the “precise contents of the habitus and how it generates conscious thought and intention … is never really elaborated in a systematic way, leaving it open to the charge of being an explanatory black box”. I’d suggest that Archer’s (2003, 2007) account of communicative reflexivity cracks open this black box by elaborating upon how the stock of mental representations is reliably reproduced through the dynamics of external conversation: trusting similar others, circumscription of internal dialogue and privileging the shared present (Archer 2007: 270-281). The decline of the contextual continuity necessary for communicative reflexivity[4] progressively erodes the shared mental representations which are necessary for internal conversation to be externalised, seeking confirmation and completion by trusted others, in a manner experienced as subjectively worthwhile (Archer 2007: 84-85). The decline of contextual continuity exercises an independent influence upon the likely stock of potential interlocutors, given the time taken for relationships of this sort to be established and the relative immobility likely necessary for them to be retained[5]. This accounts for the fragility of communicative reflexivity in contemporary circumstances. Even were someone is born into circumstances precipitous to it, the likelihood of those circumstance both remaining stable and a subject remaining within them is increasingly low. As Archer (2012) and Carrigan (2014) both illustrate, one important vector of change is the transition of students to university, leading to a transformation of the students themselves and implications for their web of familial relations and ‘home’ friends at the time of entry.

With the decline of communicative reflexivity comes the necessity of recognising the different modes through which cultural structures are mediated at the level of personal reflexivity. The failure to do this can be seen in debates out the ‘split habitus’ and ‘intra-habitus’ contradictions. For instance Mouzelis (2007) invokes the ‘intra-active processes’ then can ensue when a subject finds themselves under the influence of a habitus with ‘two fundamental aspects’. Friedman (2015) discusses Bourdieu’s ambivalent treatment of ‘long-range social mobility’ and its implications for reflexivity, something which he recognised in his own life when writing in an auto-ethnographic mode but relegated to the periphery of social analysis in the lives of others in his description of ‘hysteresis effects’: mismatches between habitus and field, a disjuncture between objective demands and subjective capacities, leading to negative sanctions from others within it. The notion of hysteresis has natural scientific origins, gifting the term with connotations of change and time lag (Grenfell 2014: 128). As Friedman (2015) notes, Bourdieu began to explore hysteresis effects at the level of personal life in his later work, leaving it an open question as to whether this investigative thread might ultimately have led to a revision of the concept of habitus. After all, Archer’s (2007) account of the ‘demise of routinisation’ could be translated into Bourdieusian terminology as a thesis about the normalisation of hysteresis[6]. Rosa’s (2013) notion of an intra-generational pace of change describes the same trend. In Archer’s words: “change is now too rapid and appropriate practices now too evanescent for inter-generational socialisation to take place” (Archer 2007: 41).

While Bourdieu implicitly maintains the stability of the field and relegates a mismatch to an ‘effect’ at the level of subject, Archer (2003, 2007) instead conceives of changing characteristics of the social context (continuity, discontinuity and incongruity) and their relation to the different modes through which the reflexive capacities of subjects can be exercised. In doing so, the relation between the objective and subjective is opened up in  way much more amenable to investigating their interplay than is the case when a homology is assumed and its absence is regarded as an outlier. Under conditions of contextual continuity, there tend to be a mutually reinforcing relationship between cultural variety and social circumstances. Our repertoire of ideas for construing our situations find confirmations in the characteristics of those situations and in the ideas of those with whom we discuss the choices faced in them. Dependence upon concepts does not entail determination by concepts and so there’s not necessity here but rather conditioning influences operative via a number of pathways (structural, ideational, relational, biographical). The result is that our access to cultural variety is heavily circumscribed, something which practitioners of communicative reflexivity are liable to accept and work to reinforce[7]. With the emergence of contextual discontinuity, this mutual reinforcement between the socio-cultural and the cultural system begins to loosen, as novel opportunities force subjects to look beyond interlocutors for guidance. Furthermore, the influence of established variety within a stable context diminished because of the growing tendency for subjects to move beyond and between milieu as they sought to take advantage of these opportunities. In some cases, new ideas encountered might support established ways of doing things within a milieu, but in others cases they might lead a subject to feel they have no choice but to move beyond it. Under these circumstances, cultural variety may still be circumscribed within a particular milieu but subjects are more likely to move between milieus and thus ‘take’ variety with them when they move. With the growth of contextual incongruity, cultural variety began to be encountered within a milieu, such that subjects are confronted with the necessity of evaluating mutually incompatible ideas. Archer (2012) investigates the implications of this for the development of reflexivity but what I wish to stress here is how this encourages some subjects to look towards the cultural system in order to find ideas which help reconcile the conflicts they face. Increasingly, the activity of subjects within a context contributes to an expansion of cultural variety, as opposed to being something brought about by moving between contexts.

This is a brief sketch at a high level of abstraction, conducted in a micro-sociological register. My focus is on how changes in contextual features generate different modes of mediation of cultural variety which subjects then orientate themselves towards in variable ways. To return to the flashlight analogy: the ‘default’ setting of the beam is heavily circumscribed under conditions of contextual continuity, unevenly circumscribed under contextual discontinuity _ and highly expansive under conditions of contextual incongruity. But why does this matter? It matters because how cultural variety is mediated for any given subject shapes how their objective field of actual opportunities contracts into a subjective field of perceived possibilities. As Archer (2012: 62) notes, increasing cultural variety leads to a greater stimulus towards innovative commitments. But it also increases the challenge of choosing from available opportunities, developing sustainable courses of action and committing to ongoing projects. The wider the ‘beam’ of the ‘flashlight’, the more work that is required to make choices about one’s own future, a predicament generated by the process of cultural morphogenesis described here, to which subjects contribute in turn when they seek more variety in order to resolve it.

[1] Resulting in something which looks even closer to Archer’s (2003, 2007, 2012) account of reflexivity than that seen in Crossley’s (2001) parallel attempt to use the intellectual resources of phenomenology to open the ‘black box’ of habitus. However Crossley (2001) takes reflexivity more seriously than Atkinson, who ultimately dismisses it as ‘faux reflexivity’ representing “nothing more than mundane consciousness operating within the subjective field of possibilities given class positions and dispositions but masquerading at the narrative level as action without limits of history.” (Atkinson 2010: 114). He essentially concludes that the concept of ‘reflexivity’ necessarily entails taking professions of agency at face value, as Thomson et al (2002) put it, oddly drawing this conclusion with little scrutiny of how concepts of reflexivity are actually operationalised in empirical studies.

[2] Though even then the interruption of contingency can lead to outcomes which lead the subject to look beyond the beam of their present flashlight. Brock and Carrigan (2012) analyse a case study in which the highly contingent unfolding of a ‘riot’ will likely lead to personal change for those involved. For more on personal morphogenesis see Alford (1995) and Carrigan (2014).

[3] See Archer (2000) for a full account of these concepts. My intuition would be that mental representations of the natural, practical and social orders exhibit ascending degrees of durability from the former to the latter, though the unfolding reality of intra-generational climactic change might falsify this assumption.

[4] Something which begins to fragment with what Harmut Rosa’s (2013) describes as an intergenerational rate of social change and is largely absent with the advent of an intragenerational rate of social change, beyond pockets of sub-culture which have (reflexively) sought to shield themselves from social morphogenesis, as with the religious sub-cultures invoked by Gorski (2016).

[5] Though of course personal connections can be established and reproduced through digital technology (Baym 2010). Nonetheless, many would raise questions about the meaningfulness of these connections, such as Hill (2015), Keen (2012, 2014), Slade (2012), Turkle (2011) and Zimbardo (2015). Perhaps unsurprisingly, ethnographic accounts paint a more nuanced picture of digitally mediated social relations. See Miller (2013), Miller and Slater (2000), Miller and Sinanan (2013).

[6] Though this would gloss over other relevant differences, such as a preference for the concept of ‘routine’ given it has no comparable connotation of the social getting ‘inside’ of us.

[7] By seeking out the similar and the familiar and, to varying degrees, turning away from the dissimilar and disfamiliar. The more contextual continuity recedes, the more active this process by necessity becomes.

Interesting analysis of the difficulties that many platform firms are facing now that venture capital is starting to dry up. I also love the phrase “a contagion of pivots” more than I can express:

A contagion of pivots began happening among other sharing economy startups. Companies like Cherry (car washes), Prim (laundry), SnapGoods (gear rental), Rewinery (wine), HomeJoy (home cleaning) all went bust, some of them quietly and others with more headlines. Historical experience shows that three out of four startups fail, and more than nine out of 10 never earn a return. My favorite example is SnapGoods, which is still cited today by many journalists who are pumping up the sharing economy (and haven’t done their homework) as a fitting example of a cool, hip company that allows people to rent out their spare equipment, like that drill you never use, or your backpack or spare bicycle—even though SnapGoods went out of business in August 2012. It just disappeared, poof, without a trace, yet goes on living in the imagination of sharing economy boosters.

http://www.salon.com/2016/03/27/good_riddance_gig_economy_uber_ayn_rand_and_the_awesome_collapse_of_silicon_valleys_dream_of_destroying_your_job/

The rather provocative conclusion drawn is that the so-called sharing economy ultimately amounts to nothing more than a series of digitally mediated niche temp agencies:

A pattern has emerged about the “white dwarf” fate of many of these once-luminous sharing startups: after launching with much fanfare and tens of millions of VC capital behind them, vowing to enact a revolution in how people work and how society organizes peer-to-peer economic transactions, in the end many of these companies morphed into the equivalent of old-fashioned temp agencies (and others have simply imploded into black hole nothingness). Market forces have resulted in a convergence of companies on a few services which had been the most used on their platforms. In a real sense, even the startup king itself, Uber, is merely a temp agency, where workers do only one task: drive cars. Rebecca Smith, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, compares the businesses of the gig economy to old-fashioned labor brokers. Companies like Instacart, Postmates and Uber, she says, talk as if they are different from old-style employers simply because they operate online. “But in fact,” she says, “they are operating just like farm labor contractors, garment jobbers and day labor centers of old.

http://www.salon.com/2016/03/27/good_riddance_gig_economy_uber_ayn_rand_and_the_awesome_collapse_of_silicon_valleys_dream_of_destroying_your_job/

There’s a lovely extract of the Academic Diary in which Les Back reflects on the life and work of the social theorist Vic Seidler. Remarking on the vast range of topics on which Seidler has written, Les suggests that this deeply committed man “writes not because his academic position expects it but because he has something to say and communicate”. For someone like Seidler, writing is something a person does because they are “trying to work something out”.

This captures what I see as the promise of academic blogging. It’s a platform for trying to work things out. More so, doing it in the open grants each of these attempts a social existence, one that comes with undoubted risks but also enormous rewards. Little bits of thought shrapnel, brief attempts to make some sense of the ‘feel of an idea’, come to enjoy their own existence within the world. They’re mostly forgotten or even ignored from the outset. But there’s something quite remarkable about occasions when these fragments resurface as someone sees something of value in them, perhaps when you saw no value in them yourself.

Furthermore, it attunes you to the impulse to write because you have “something to say and communicate”. This isn’t always the case and I worry that the metricisation of scholarly blogging will prove immensely destructive of it. But there is at least for now something deeply rewarding about seizing on an inchoate idea, developing it and throwing it off into the world to see what others make of it. For no other reason than the pleasure inherent to it.

I’m just doing some late stage proof reading for the collection of Margaret Archer’s papers I’ve edited with Tom Brock and Graham Scambler. This passage from the revised introduction to the Social Origins of Educational Systems really jumped out to me, both because of the forcefulness with which it sets out her intellectual project and also the austere clarity which I really value about her writing style:

A social ontology explains nothing and does not attempt to do so; its task is to define and justify the terms and the form in which explanations can properly be cast. Similarly, the Morphogenetic Approach also explains nothing; it is an explanatory framework that has to be filled in by those using it as a toolkit with which to work on a specific issue, who then do purport to explain something. Substantive theories alone give accounts of how particular components of the social order originated and came to stand in given relationships to one another. The explanatory framework is intended to be a very practical toolkit, not a ‘sensitization device’ (as ‘structuration theory’ was eventually admitted to be); one that enables researchers to advance accounts of social change by specifying the ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ and avoiding the vagaries of assuming ‘anytime’, ‘anyhow’ and ‘anywhere’.

Lovely spot by Chris Hedges from a book I read many years ago which, as far as I can tell, made nearly zero impression on me at the time. This quotes from Rorty’s Achieving Our Country:

Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments. Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_revenge_of_the_lower_classes_and_the_rise_of_american_fascism_20160302