I’ve picked up a Slavoj Žižek book for the first time in a while and found the characteristics which led me to take a break from his writing have only grown over time. He links Me Too to victimhood early in Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity. From pg 6:

As in every revolutionary upheaval, there will be numerous ‘injustices’, ironies, and so on. (For example, I doubt that the American comedian Louis CK’s acts, deplorable and lewd as they are, could be put on the same level as direct sexual violence.) But, again, none of this should distract us; rather, we should focus on the problems that lie ahead. Although some countries are already experiencing a new post-patriarchal sexual culture (look at Iceland, where two thirds of children are born out of a wedlock, and where women occupy more posts in public institutions than men), one of the most urgent tasks is to explore what we are gaining and losing in the upheaval of traditional courtship procedures. New rules will have to be established in order to avoid a sterile culture of fear and uncertainty –plus, of course, we must make sure that this awakening does not turn into just another case where political legitimization is based on the subject’s victimhood status.

He reads victimhood in terms of the “weird combination of the free subject who experiences himself as being ultimately responsible for his fate, and the subject who grounds the authority of his speech on his status as a victim of circumstances beyond his control” (pg 6). It reflects an “extreme narcissistic perspective in which every encounter with the Other appears as a potential threat to the subject’s precarious imaginary balance; as such, it is not the opposite of, but rather the inherent supplement to, the liberal free subject” (pg 7). I don’t think there’s anything inherently rightward about exploring this thesis, though it being offered as the truth of any social movement or cultural moment is self-evidently absurd.

If we read him charitably though it is clear this is not what he is doing, rather his point is one of collective agency. How do we ensure a “post-patriarchal sexual culture’ can be built? Will trading narratives of victimisation contribute to this project or make it more difficult? But even this most charitable reading seems spectacularly tone deaf, as does his need to qualify the status of Louis CK’s acts. It’s difficult not to perceive a slide here, as a contrarian objection to ‘political correctness’ (something which he clearly misreads to begin with, failing to recognise the profoundly agentive character of it: far from being a diffuse culture of self-censorship, it begins with people making demands) leads to something darker. It’s a more thought provoking read than I expected but there a distinctly alt-light (not alt-right) themes prominent amongst the familiar features of a Žižek text. It remains to be seen where he is going in the longer term.

As the SRA turns 40 we take stock and look ahead.  With the advent of innovative techniques, tools and technology, social research has transformed in recent decades. But with advancement has come data misuse, and widespread public scepticism – so the profession faces continuing rapid change and rising uncertainty.

The conference will explore how researchers can adapt to these changes, while also asking what are the enduring principles of research that will guide good practice and maintain public confidence for the next 40 years?

Keynote and plenary speakers

Our keynote speaker is Sir John Curtice, eminent and vastly knowledgeable political scientist, and the nation’s favourite polling expert.

Jennifer Rubin has a huge role as the ESRC’s new Executive Chair. She’ll report on how funding for research and innovation is changing and what to expect for social research from the new UKRI .

Internationally renowned qualitative expert Trish Greenhalgh OBE will explore why introducing technologies in the hope of driving change almost never works.

Extra breakout sessions

There are 2 breakouts in the day, with a choice of workshop presentations where researchers will describe their work on:

  • Impact and influence
  • The researched
  • Qualitative innovation
  • Policy evaluation
  • Survey developments
  • Adapting to change

And this year we’re adding extra sessions – single-topic workshops on:

  • An infographic 101 – Practical, step by step guidance on how to create a simple infographic, plus tips and pitfalls.
  • Semiotics for researchers – Using visible evidence and cultural information to better understand people, society and social problems.
  • Big data and social research – Exploring some essentials of big data, its application and the challenges it brings, with case studies.
  • Networking – A guided, semi-structured workshop to help you make new connections at the conference, in terms of research topics, methods, experiences and challenges.

Once you’ve registered we’ll be in touch later to ask for your breakout preferences, as places are limited.

Register here: http://the-sra.org.uk/event-registration/?ee=691

November 29th and 30th
Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

Organised by Jana Bacevic, Mark Carrigan and Filip Vostal 

Keynote: Liberalism Must Be Defeated: The Obsolescence of Bourgeois Theory in the Anthropocene by Gary Hall, Director of Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, UK.

The conference seeks to conceptualise change in contemporary knowledge production in a way that transcends the dichotomy between theoretical frameworks that emphasise the role of humans (e.g. pragmatism, cultural sociology, critical realism, Bourdieusian sociology) and those that seek to dissolve the human and/or focus on non-human actors (actor-network theory, poststructuralism, STS, new materialism, transhumanism). Bringing together scholars in social sciences and humanities whose work engages with relationships between the human, post-human, metrics, and agency in the ‘neoliberal’ university, the conference addresses the methodological implications of how we theorise human agency, the agency of technical systems, and the relationships between them, in order to foster and support critical scholarship and engagement the current (and future) socio-political environment requires.

It is by now widely accepted that the transformation of the structures of governance and funding of higher education and research – including pressures to produce more and faster, and the associated proliferation of instruments of measurement such as citation (‘H’) indexes and rankings – pose serious challenges to the future of the academia. The critique of these trends has mostly taken the form of calls to ‘slow down’, or assertion of the intrinsic value/unquantifiable character of scholarship, particularly in the social sciences and humanities. While these narratives highlight important aspects of academics’ experience of neoliberal restructuring, they often end up reproducing the inter- and intra-disciplinary division between theoretical and interpretative frameworks that foreground human agency (focusing on student movements, working experiences of academics, or decision-making) and those that foreground the performativity of non-human agents (focusing on the role of metrics, indexes, analytics or institutions).

This intellectual fragmentation constrains attempts to study these processes in genuinely interdisciplinary ways. On the rare occasions when meaningful exchange does happen, conceptual, ideological, and institutional fault lines hinder sustained dialogue, often leading to the reassertion of old certainties in lieu of engagement with complex relational, institutional, socio-technical, and political/policy realities of transformation. The conference aims to provide an intellectual and institutional framework that challenges this dichotomy, and seeks to develop ways of thinking that are mutually reinforcing, rather than exclusive. It focuses on the issue of the (post)human as the ontological underpinning to the descriptive and explanatory work needed, as well as the normative horizon for resistance.

It links with preceding events in Accelerated Academy, an international interdisciplinary network assembled to develop new approaches to the analysis of higher education around critical interrogation of the concept of ‘acceleration’. The first event (Prague, December 2015) focused on metricisation and power in the academy; the second, smaller symposium (Warwick, September 2016), was dedicated to theories and experiences of anxiety and work in relation to acceleration; the third (Leiden, December 2016) to the politics and sociology of evaluation in universities; the fourth (Prague, May 2018) explored academic timescapes and the challenges posed by their complexity; the fifth (Cambridge, June 2018) reflected on the role of agency in the transformation of the academy.

This conference engages with and responds to the growing interest in scholarship on trans- and post-humanism, and its impact on understanding change in the context of knowledge production. It also has wider theoretical significance, as the intellectual dichotomy of the human and non-human is confronted in any attempt to understand socio-technical changes unfolding in digital(ised) capitalism. In this sense, we aim to address broader questions of social ontology and explanatory methodology posed by the imbrication of the social and the technical, and, not less importantly, the questions this raises for conceptualising agency and resistance in the ‘accelerated’ academy.

We invite contributions for 30 minute talks which speak to any of these themes. If you would like to submit a proposal then please contact mac228@cam.ac.uk with a 500 word abstract and short biographical note by 10th October.

There will be no charge to attend the conference. If you would like to attend as a non-speaker then please e-mail the address above to be added to the list. 

Since I keep forgetting which films I’ve seen, here’s a list for my own purposes, starting in late July  2018:

  1. Hotel Artemis
  2. Generation Wealth
  3. Annihilation
  4. Under the Tree
  5. Ant Man and the Wasp
  6. The Escape
  7. The Heiresses
  8. Mad to be Normal
  9. Moneyball
  10. BlackKklansman
  11. Apostasy
  12. Cold War
  13. Searching
  14. American Animals
  15. A Simple Favour
  16. The Big Lebowski
  17. The Wife
  18. Harlan County, USA
  19. Venom
  20. Tehran Taboo
  21. The Godfather
  22. Bad Times at the El Royale
  23. A Star is Born
  24. Dogman
  25. The Hate U Give
  26. All the President’s Men
  27. The Waldheim Waltz
  28. The Marriage
  29. Nancy
  30. More Human Than Human
  31. Border
  32. You Go To My Head
  33. Peterloo
  34. Widows
  35. The Other Side of Everything
  36. This is Home: A Refugee Story

A list of the books I’ve finished since August 20th 2018, replacing my older blog posts. I’m increasingly using these lists as a way to jog my memory and the fragmented blog posts aren’t very useful for that.

  1. Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class And How They Got There by David Brooks
  2. Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Advertising Industry by Ken Auletta
  3. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  4. The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas by Daniel Drezner
  5. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
  6. Seduction: Men, Masculinity and Mediated Intimacy by Rachel O’Neill
  7. The Road by Cormack McCarthy
  8. The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google by Scott Galloway
  9. Fear: Trump in the Whitehouse by Bob Woodward
  10. Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over The World by Will Davies
  11. Crudo: A Novel by Olivia Laing
  12. The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
  13. Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence by Rachel Sherman
  14. Left Hemisphere: Mapping Contemporary Theory by Razmig Keucheyan

I found this review of Trump and the Media by Nicholas Carr in the LA Review of Books immensely thought-provoking. His focus is on the book’s historical contribution, contextualising the enthusiasm with which social media was greeted in terms of long term concerns about the centralisation of mass media. We can’t understand the ideal of a radically decentralised media without understanding the anxieties provoked by its initial centralisation:

Trump’s twitter stream may be without precedent, but the controversy surrounding social media’s political impact has a history stretching back nearly a century. During the 1930s, the spread of mass media was accompanied by the rise of fascism. To many observers at the time, the former helped explain the latter. By consolidating control over news and other information, radio networks, movie studios, and publishing houses enabled a single voice to address and even command the multitudes. The very structure of mass media seemed to reflect and reinforce the political structure of the authoritarian state.

It is against this backdrop that social scientists began to “imagine a decentralized, multimedia communication network that would encourage the development of a ‘democratic personality,’ providing a bulwark against fascist movements and their charismatic leaders”. Fred Turner traces these initial speculations from their originators, through the 1960s counterculture and the incipient computer industry, before it became an article of faith within present day Silicon Valley:

In the early years of this century, as the internet subsumed traditional media, the ideal became a pillar of Silicon Valley ideology. The founders of companies like Google and Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, promoted their networks as tools for overthrowing mass-media “gatekeepers” and giving individuals control over the exchange of information. They promised, as Turner writes, that social media would “allow us to present our authentic selves to one another” and connect those diverse selves into a more harmonious, pluralistic, and democratic society.

Carr frames Trump and the Media as “orbiting” around “the wreckage of techno-progressive orthodoxy”. These are the terms in which I’ve recently tried to analyse ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’, as solutionist framings by technological, media and political elites which circumscribe a much broader set of transformations and shape likely responses to them. It’s often struck me that these represent a peculiarly populist form of reasoning in their own right: isolating an incoming element which is seen to undermine a previously stable system, whether this is ‘populism’ or ‘social media’ itself. In the process, the claims of populists and social media firms are taken at face value, vastly inflating the power they have:

One contentious question is whether social media in general and Twitter in particular actually changed the outcome of the vote. Keith N. Hampton, of Michigan State University, finds “no evidence” that any of the widely acknowledged malignancies of social media, from fake news to filter bubbles, “worked in favor of a particular presidential candidate.” Drawing on exit polls, he shows that most demographic groups voted pretty much the same in 2016 as they had in the Obama-Romney race of 2012. The one group that exhibited a large and possibly decisive shift from the Democratic to the Republican candidate were white voters without college degrees. Yet these voters, surveys reveal, are also the least likely to spend a lot of time online or to be active on social media. It’s unfair to blame Twitter or Facebook for Trump’s victory, Hampton suggests, if the swing voters weren’t on Twitter or Facebook.

This is not to say that social media doesn’t exercise influence, only to dispute the assumption that it works through one-to-many communication. The media elites bemoaning the rise of fake news and filter bubbles in the dawning post-truth age are themselves complicit in the dynamic they see as being ‘out there’:

What Hampton overlooks are the indirect effects of social media, particularly its influence on press coverage and public attention. As the University of Oxford’s Josh Cowls and Ralph Schroeder write, Trump’s Twitter account may have been monitored by only a small portion of the public, but it was followed, religiously, by journalists, pundits, and policymakers. The novelty and frequent abrasiveness of the tweets — they broke all the rules of decorum for presidential campaigns — mesmerized the chattering class throughout the primaries and the general election campaign, fueling a frenzy of retweets, replies, and hashtags. Social media’s biggest echo chamber turned out to be the traditional media elite.

What this short review suggested to me is the necessity of revisiting basic concepts (such as centralisation, gatekeepers, publics and influence) in response to the wreckage of techno-progressive orthodoxy. We need a bleak social theory for bleak times and if it doesn’t begin by examining the assumptions inherited in core concepts, as well as their implications for making sense of the present conjuncture, it is unlikely to get very far.

Cousins are childhood playmateswho become lifetime friends..png

On September 8th I’m going to walk nine miles from the top of my street in Cambridge to Chittering in Cambridgeshire. Will I survive walking without an experienced navigator or a reliable 3G signal? Will I slip out of exhaustion and fall into the Cam? Will I ever make it home to Molly?

The only way to find out is to sponsor me, as much or as little as you can, before I set out in one month’s time. You can donate online here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mark-carrigan2

This one-day event intends to raise awareness of the Foundations of British Sociology archive maintained by Keele University. This remarkable resource collects a diverse array of materials from the 1880s to the 1950s, gifted to the university when the Institute of Sociology was dissolved in 1955.

‘Members of the societies founded The Sociological Review, contributed to early University teaching of Sociology, published many books and papers and collected survey material from the UK and Europe. The archive comprises personal papers, business records, newspaper cuttings, lectures, reports, plans, surveys, lantern slides and an extensive collection of books from the LePlay House Library. It includes material relating to key activists and opinion-shapers such as Victor Branford, Francis Galton, Patrick Geddes, H. G. Wells, Lewis Mumford and Alexander Farquharson on themes such as the responsibilities of the state and the citizen, planning urban development, the position of women, the role of technical education, local government reform, regionalism, the co-operative movement, rural society and the family. Researchers will find valuable materials on the origins of modern British sociology, and related social sciences such as social psychology, cultural geography, town planning and demography’ (Source, Keele University).

We look forward to welcoming delegates to Keele University where they will have a chance to explore this rich resource and discuss the enduring cultural, historical and evidentiary value of this archive for British Sociology.

Confirmed Speakers:

David Amigoni (Keele University), Helen Burton (Keele University), Gordon Fyfe (Keele University), Rachel Hurdley (Cardiff University), Rebecca Leach (Keele University), Chantelle Lewis (Goldsmiths).

Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

Application to Attend

TSRF have 20 places available to attend this workshop. As places are limited they will be allocated through a competitive application process. Applications will close 17th August, 17.00 BST. Decisions will be communicated early September 2018.

The application form can be found here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1r8RhiHsBI-vR4s-XHgxpJA28pD08Sos1MHsejdUT724/edit

Applications will be peer reviewed by Sociological Review editorial board members. Consideration will be given to research interests as related to the event, as well as distribution of career trajectory and institutions.

This event is free and lunch and refreshments will be provided. Places are limited and allocated via the application process. There are also a number of bursaries available for unfunded PGRs and ECRs.

*Please note, TSRF will not accept late applications under any circumstances.

Room Location and Accessibility Information

The event will take place in the Campus Library Training Room located on the top floor of Keele University library, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG

Visitors can report to the Library counter on arrival and staff will direct you to the room. The main entrance to the Library is on the second floor, up an external staircase. The accessible entrance is on ground level. Non Keele card holders should press the intercom and a Library porter will give assistance. The library has an accessible lift to all three floors of the Library and the training room is wheelchair accessible.

All toilets, including the wheelchair accessible toilet, are on the ground floor.

For more details on accessibility to the library, please see here https://www.disabledgo.com/access-guide/keele-university/library-and-information-services-building

There are a number of disabled parking bays in front of the Library. If these aren’t available, any other space outside or near the Library can be used as long as a valid badge is displayed. A campus map and guide can be found here: https://www.keele.ac.uk/connect/howtofindus/maps/keele-campus-guide-colour.pdf

Bursaries

We have a limited number of bursaries for this workshop – including childcare bursaries. You can apply for a bursary if you meet TSRF criteria for funding. I.e. (1) unfunded postgraduate research students, (2) Early Career Researchers (ECR) within 3 years of completion of PhD and not in receipt of a full-time wage, and (3) others on the grounds of need (e.g. those in casual employment and not in receipt of a full-time wage).

Travel bursaries are limited at £100.00, childcare bursaries are limited to £50.00 per day of the event and day before if needing to travel and stay overnight. Accommodation will be organised by TSRF.

Please note, that if you have been awarded a place at The Sociological Review’s ECR writing retreat this year (2018) or a full bursary (travel and accommodation) at the Undisciplining conference or the ECR day, then you are not eligible to apply for event bursaries until next year (2019).

Contact Details

For academic enquiries related to this workshop, please contact Mark Carrigan: mark@markcarrigan.net

For enquiries related to applications, please contact Jenny Thatcher

This is an accusation which Jaron Lanier makes strongly on pg 134 of his recent Ten Reasons To Delete Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Coming from someone who was less of an insider, it might seem like a rather shrill and slightly paranoid reading of the culture of digital elites. However I find it hard not to take Lanier seriously, even if what he says here would benefit from being unpacked further:

One of the reasons that BUMMER works the way it does is that the engineers working at BUMMER companies often believe that their top priority among top priorities isn’t serving present-day humans, but building the artificial intelligences that will inherit the earth. The constant surveillance and testing of behavior modification in multitudes of humans is supposedly gathering data that will evolve into the intelligence of future AIs. (One might wonder if AI engineers believe that manipulating people will be AI’s purpose.) The big tech companies are publicly committed to an extravagant “AI race” that they often prioritize above all else. It’s completely normal to hear an executive from one of the biggest companies in the world talk about the possibility of a coming singularity, when the AIs will take over. The singularity is the BUMMER religion’s answer to the evangelical Christian Rapture. The weirdness is normalized when BUMMER customers, who are often techies themselves, accept AI as a coherent and legitimate concept, and make spending decisions based on it.

It strike me that there are two things going on here which we ought to distinguish, at least on an analytical level. Firstly, there are emerging forms of techno-religion within Silicon Valley concerning the significance of artificial intelligence for the future of humanity. If we don’t take these seriously as religious forms, we risk missing the causal influence they may exercise over the organisational life of technology forms. But we need to avoid taking them too seriously and imputing a singular character to what appear in reality to be multiple, fragmented and partial frameworks of belief. Secondly, as Evgeny Morozov has powerfully argued in the last year, the AI arms race at a corporate level needs to be understood in terms of overarching systemic trends within Silicon Valley. The advertising business has a shelf life, overheads on machine learning are much lower and these firms intend to use the data they have accumulated for advertising purposes in order to pivot into providing the infrastructure for machine learning to be woven into every aspect of the social fabric. These are two distinct trends, even if they may be reinforcing through the commitment they engender towards a corporate strategy. However where it becomes interesting is if the underlying methodological assumptions begin to be contested on a political level. If a vision of the singularity currently engenders commitment to the job and provides a lens through which organisational decisions are inflected, what happens if external groups seek to hold up such centrality?

I’ve long been drawn to accounts of the everyday lives of politicians. This isn’t so much a matter of biographical curiosity, as much as a preoccupation with temporality. It is not that the temporal character of our lives moulds us but rather that the things which do are always inflected through temporality.

I’m convinced you can learn a lot about why someone is the way that they are through understanding how time operates in their life. There’s a really rich description of the disjointed temporality encountered by senior American politicians in Joe Klein’s novel Primary Colours, a fictionalised account of Bill Clinton’s run for president in 1992. From pg 11:

Politicians work—they do their public work, that is—when civilians don’t: mealtimes, evenings, weekends. The rest of the time, down time, is spent indoors, in hotel suites, worrying the phones, dialing for dollars, fighting over the next moves, living outside time; there are no weekdays or weekends; there is sleep but not much rest. Sometimes, and always at the oddest hours, you may break free: an afternoon movie, a midnight dinner. And there are those other, fleeting moments when your mind drifts from him, from the podium, and you fix on the father and son tossing a ball out past the back of the crowd, out in the park, and you suddenly realize, Hey, it’s Saturday; or you glance out a hotel window and spot an elderly couple walking hand in hand, still alive in each other’s mind (as opposed to merely sharing space, waiting it out). The campaign—with all its talk of destiny, crisis and mission—falls away and you remember: Other people just have lives. Their normality can seem a reproach. It hurts your eyes, like walking out of a matinee into bright sunlight. Then it passes. He screws up a line, it’s Q& A time, it’s time to move.

What is it like to live like this? How would it shape you if large swathes of your life are lived in this way? How does it influence your sense of what is normal and what is not? It’s a fictionalised account, produced by a political journalist but imputing experiences on the basis of second hand experience, leaving it accuracy a rather ambiguous matter. But it such a rich description that it’s interesting to reflect on the significance of these experiences, if accurate.

Even if I wasn’t a supporter, I’d have been fascinated by Labour’s use of social media in the last election and how this built upon prior successes in successive leadership elections. The new book by Steve Howell, deputy director of strategy and communications during the election, contains many fascinating snippets about this that I hadn’t encountered anywhere else. Perhaps the most interesting is the Labour leadership’s embrace of social media outriders which I’d seen speculated about but never confirmed. From loc 818 of Game Changer: Eight Weeks That Transformed British Politics:

But, if I was ever frustrated by some of those early discussions, one thing that would always lift my spirits was the irrepressible activity of what were known in LOTO as ‘Jeremy’s outriders.’ There were dozens of them on Twitter and Facebook who, day in and day out, were pumping out great material exposing the Tories and putting across many of our arguments. I include in this organised groups such as JeremyCorbyn4PM and Momentum, but mostly they were people acting on their own initiative out of sheer personal commitment. And some of them, such as @Rachael_Swindon and @ScouseGirlMedia, have suffered a fair bit of abuse and harassment for their trouble. The two outriders I had most contact with were Eoin Clark and Peter Stefanovic. Eoin will be known to many people for his @ToryFibs Twitter feed and its forensic rebuttal of Tory claims and attacks in detailed memes. Peter specialises in hard-hitting videos on the NHS, on the miners’ compensation, and in support of the WASPI campaign against the raising of the state pensionI  age for women born in the 1950s. When I suggested to Jeremy that we should invite Peter in for a chat, he was very enthusiastic. The meeting was one of the highlights of those early weeks. Peter’s passion for what he was doing was inspiring and infectious. He had given up his day job as a lawyer to spend a year campaigning and was eager to persuade the groups he was working with that a Corbyn-led government would address their issues. “That was an incredibly important meeting,” he told me recently. “We discussed what might be included in the manifesto and that allowed me to go back to WASPI, the miners, and the junior doctors to tell them what Labour would do.”

What does this mean in practice? It’s hard to say but it seemingly reflects the most prominent examples of a much broader spectrum of engagement, extending as far as Howell having regular exchanges via DM with independent activists who provided on the ground perspectives of unfolding events which couldn’t be reached through the party machine. The importance of this could be overstated but I’m interested in how it strengthened their conviction to drop or downplay tactical aspects of political communication which were held as certainties by those within the party organisation. It’s also easy to imagine this activity being seized upon in the event of a poor result as an example of the leadership’s willing embrace of a filter bubble.

For the next edition of Social Media for Academics, I’ve been thinking a lot about hybrid formats for presenting theoretical ideas through social media. A really powerful example of this is the video essay Camera Ludica by marco de mutiis which explores photography in video games through a three-part essay combining in game footage, plain text slides and screencasts of browsing scholarly material. Different sources are overlaid against a black canvas, providing a gripping collage of a debate playing itself out in real time. As well as finding the subject itself interesting, I thought this was a fascinating example of a powerful format which sufficiently creative academics could use with relatively little technical skill.

It reminds me of a project Margaret Archer tried to setup a few years ago looking at visualising social theory, using the affordances of digital media to develop ways of expressing theoretical ideas without depending on linear text or the idiosyncratic diagrams of theorists. If theoretical ideas are to survive in the attention economy then we need to become creative in how they are expressed. But there are immense opportunities here to find non-linear ways of exploring theoretical questions which might prove to be engaging to a much broader audience then is typically the case with theoretical publications.

I saw a wonderful exhibition this weekend, collecting work by Alex Prager combining photography and film in intricately staged hyper-real scenes. The collection that has been playing on mind since seeing it is Face In The Crowd. If you click on the screenshot below, it will take you to the website where you can see the work:

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 13.50.27.png

The accompanying notes described how these are “dynamic tableaus where individual characters are presented in equally sharp focus, seemingly lost in their own internal conversations”. It reminds me of Hannah Starkey’s work in its fascination with how interiority plays out in social scenes, showing how private experience nonetheless has a public existence.

However I found the staging of the scenes troubling, as much as I recognise the intention behind them. It feels like the relationality is washed out, as if collectivity is exhausted by the artefact of the social situation. There’s a strange emptiness between inner and outer, with interaction reduced to staging such that the bonds of social life appear as little more than fragile constraints.

Each of these scenes is a collage of individuals rather than a collective, creating images which are sociological in their intention but not in their enactment. Individuals are either lost in the reality of their own lives or looking forlornly through the artifice of shared reality, as is the case with the red-haired woman in the image above. It foregrounds that artifice but also inflates it, losing track of how it functions as a collective tissue which knits together individual lives in the mundane interactions throughout the day.

It is scaffolding which often fades into the background, facilitating the relationality which is lost in these scenes. It is a deliberately stilted vision of the social, hugely succesful in its staging and producing an aesthetic which I find immensely unsettling.

This one-day event intends to raise awareness of the Foundations of British Sociology archive maintained by Keele University. This remarkable resource collects a diverse array of materials from the 1880s to the 1950s, gifted to the university when the Institute of Sociology was dissolved in 1955.

‘Members of the societies founded The Sociological Review, contributed to early University teaching of Sociology, published many books and papers and collected survey material from the UK and Europe. The archive comprises personal papers, business records, newspaper cuttings, lectures, reports, plans, surveys, lantern slides and an extensive collection of books from the LePlay House Library. It includes material relating to key activists and opinion-shapers such as Victor Branford, Francis Galton, Patrick Geddes, H. G. Wells, Lewis Mumford and Alexander Farquharson on themes such as the responsibilities of the state and the citizen, planning urban development, the position of women, the role of technical education, local government reform, regionalism, the co-operative movement, rural society and the family. Researchers will find valuable materials on the origins of modern British sociology, and related social sciences such as social psychology, cultural geography, town planning and demography’ (Source, Keele University).

We look forward to welcoming delegates to Keele University where they will have a chance to explore this rich resource and discuss the enduring cultural, historical and evidentiary value of this archive for British Sociology.

Confirmed Speakers:

David Amigoni (Keele University), Helen Burton (Keele University), Gordon Fyfe (Keele University), Rachel Hurdley (Cardiff University), Rebecca Leach (Keele University), Chantelle Lewis (Goldsmiths).

Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

Application to Attend

TSRF have 20 places available to attend this workshop. As places are limited they will be allocated through a competitive application process. Applications will close 17th August, 17.00 BST. Decisions will be communicated early September 2018.

The application form can be found here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1r8RhiHsBI-vR4s-XHgxpJA28pD08Sos1MHsejdUT724/edit

Applications will be peer reviewed by Sociological Review editorial board members. Consideration will be given to research interests as related to the event, as well as distribution of career trajectory and institutions.

This event is free and lunch and refreshments will be provided. Places are limited and allocated via the application process. There are also a number of bursaries available for unfunded PGRs and ECRs.

*Please note, TSRF will not accept late applications under any circumstances.

Room Location and Accessibility Information

The event will take place in the Campus Library Training Room located on the top floor of Keele University library, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG

Visitors can report to the Library counter on arrival and staff will direct you to the room. The main entrance to the Library is on the second floor, up an external staircase. The accessible entrance is on ground level. Non Keele card holders should press the intercom and a Library porter will give assistance. The library has an accessible lift to all three floors of the Library and the training room is wheelchair accessible.

All toilets, including the wheelchair accessible toilet, are on the ground floor.

For more details on accessibility to the library, please see here https://www.disabledgo.com/access-guide/keele-university/library-and-information-services-building

There are a number of disabled parking bays in front of the Library. If these aren’t available, any other space outside or near the Library can be used as long as a valid badge is displayed. A campus map and guide can be found here: https://www.keele.ac.uk/connect/howtofindus/maps/keele-campus-guide-colour.pdf

Bursaries

We have a limited number of bursaries for this workshop – including childcare bursaries. You can apply for a bursary if you meet TSRF criteria for funding. I.e. (1) unfunded postgraduate research students, (2) Early Career Researchers (ECR) within 3 years of completion of PhD and not in receipt of a full-time wage, and (3) others on the grounds of need (e.g. those in casual employment and not in receipt of a full-time wage).

Travel bursaries are limited at £100.00, childcare bursaries are limited to £50.00 per day of the event and day before if needing to travel and stay overnight. Accommodation will be organised by TSRF.

Please note, that if you have been awarded a place at The Sociological Review’s ECR writing retreat this year (2018) or a full bursary (travel and accommodation) at the Undisciplining conference or the ECR day, then you are not eligible to apply for event bursaries until next year (2019).

Contact Details

For academic enquiries related to this workshop, please contact Mark Carrigan: mark@markcarrigan.net

For enquiries related to applications, please contact Jenny Thatcher

A few months ago, I recounted to a collaborator the details of a foolish mistake I made when planning a special occasion. Assuming the cake would be the easiest item on a long to do list, I left this till last, failing to recognise that cakes of this sort would require a lot of notice. It left me phoning round in a panic, until I eventually found someone who could do it at short notice. My collaborator remarked that he too could have seen himself making such an assumption, recognising aspects of himself in the assumption I had made and the problem it had created. ‘Easiest’ to me was coded as the most immediate and straightforward task, considered in terms of its internal logic, rather than being the  most predictable, quickest or controllable. I suspect this assumption reveals something quite deep about how I’m orientated towards the world, regardless of the counter-factual question of whether I might have planned this process more carefully had I been less stressed about the impending event.

This has left me thinking about the sociology of stupid assumptions. By this I don’t mean those occasions on which we make a mistake due to rushing, error or stress that could easily have been avoided. I mean those mistakes which result from deeply held, though flawed, assumptions running up against the reality of the world. These are assumptions we might not knowingly hold yet which find themselves revealed through our actions. They are the common threads which bind together persistent missteps as we make our way through the world, reflecting a subtle incongruity between the structures of our thought and the structure of the world. They can become things we are aware of and reflect upon, even things which we struggle against. But they are persistent and deep seated, raising the question of where they come from.

The obvious answer to this is the Bourdieusian one, finding the origins of these habits of thought in our original social context. The assumptions of our natal context get reproduced in the assumption we make about the world as adults, with contextual features sedimented into cognitive habits that reflect the world as we were brought up to exist within it rather than the way it is necessarily is. This is a brief sketch but I hope it’s not a facile one because I respect this line of argument and I believe I understand it, even if it’s not possible to convey its depth and sophistication in a short blog post.

Nonetheless I wonder if it can account for the feeling of recognition which my collaborator felt when recognising my stupid assumption as something akin to his own? Can it account for the recognition we come to in ourselves, often isolated from an awareness of class and upbringing because it relates to an assumption so specific that it can be claimed to be inherited only in the tautological sense that it must have come from somewhere? Can it account for the role of technologies in fermenting these assumptions? In my case, I suspect the problem is as much to do with the constraints of the to do list, something I rely upon to an immense degree (as does at least one of my parents), failing as it does to capture contingencies surrounding a task in the sequential logic it imposes upon our tasks. These aren’t really counter-arguments as much as requests for elaboration, reflecting my newfound belief that the sociology of stupid assumptions tracks some of the most interesting questions in social theory.

  • The Party by Elizabeth Day
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • The Secret History by Donna Tart
  • The Space Barons by Christian Davenport
  • Machine Platform Crowd by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
  • Alt-Right by Mike Wendlin
  • The People vs Tech by Jamie Bartlett
  • Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier
  • Bean Counters by Richard Brooks
  • The Sober Diaries by Claire Pooley
  • Post-Truth by Matthew D’Ancona
  • How Democracy Ends by David Runciman
  • Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
  • Reckless Opportunists by Aeron Davis
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
  • The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson (I plead morbid curiosity while stuck at an airport)
  • Revolution Française by Sophie Pedder
  • Game Changer: Eight Weeks That Transformed Politics by Steve Wheeler
  • Post Truth by Evan Davis

There’s an interesting anecdote on loc 3960-3972 of Bad Blood, John Carreyrou’s gripping account of the Theranos scandal, recounting a follow up meeting between Rupert Murdoch and Elizabeth Holmes which sealed the former’s investment in the latter’s company. I thought it was a vivid account of the distinctive corporate culture which had emerged within Theranos and how this ran contrary to the expectations that could be found within other sectors, even amongst international elites who could be expected to have seen a great deal in terms of the personal entourage of fellow elites and the business expectations they bring with them into potential collaborations:

They met again a few weeks later at the media mogul’s Northern California ranch. Murdoch, who had only one bodyguard, was surprised by the size of the security detail Holmes arrived with. When he asked her why she needed it, she replied that her board insisted on it. Over a lunch served by the ranch’s staff, Holmes pitched Murdoch on an investment, emphasizing that she was looking for long-term investors. Don’t expect any quarterly reports for a while, she warned him, and certainly not an initial public offering. The investment packet that was later delivered to Murdoch’s Manhattan office reiterated that message. Its cover letter stated in the first paragraph that Theranos planned to remain private for the “long term” and went on to repeat those two words no fewer than fifteen times.

There are financial consequences to start-ups remaining private for longer, in some cases seeking to avoid going public altogether. Furthermore, it is only a possibility because of the ready availability of capital driven by low interest rates and the (illusory) promise of exponential growth. But what are the cultural consequences of firms remaining private for longer? How were the cultural pathologies of Theranos facilitated by their status? How did this corporate culture shape how the firm was seen by outsiders? Was the corporate culture of Theranos exceptional or can we see extreme manifestations there of tendencies which can be identified in other firms?

I’ve edited the final two paragraphs of this post for clarity because an awful lot of people read it and thought I was criticising quote tweeting rather than one particular use of it. 

Imagine you were sitting in a cafe having a conversation with a friend. You greeted each other warmly when they arrived, you ordered coffees and sat down to catch up. But something immediately began to feel a little off. Your friend appeared distracted, not quite there and continually looking at their phone. Worse than that, every time they said something to you they began frantically typing on the device. When you eventually questioned their distraction, the friend calmly explained to you that they are perfectly engaged in the conversation but they are transcribing it via e-mail for hundreds of people, many of whom you don’t know.

What would you think if this happened? Now imagine this was not a friend but a perfect stranger. Imagine you’d been having a conversation with someone you know, this stranger had overheard it and immediately sat next to you and inserted themselves into the dialogue. If this took place at an event designed to encourage mingling between people who don’t know each other then this might seem overly forward but not out of the ordinary. The problem would be the lack of introduction, their immediately jumping into the conversation, rather than that you didn’t know them.

But imagine they began transcribing the conversation via e-mail for an unknown audience. What would be irritating in the case of the person you know and like becomes unnerving and off-putting in the case of the stranger. This is what I suggest quote tweeting as a form of reply amounts to and I’m bewildered by people who do it.

For avoidance of doubt: I’m talking about people who consistently use quote tweets in lieu of the reply function, broadcasting their conversation to every single one of their followers. This isn’t an attack on quote tweeting but rather a query as to why some people persistently choose to use it rather than using the familiar reply functionality which has been part of the platform for a long time. Replies are only seen by people who follow both of you whereas quote tweets are seen by everyone follows you. It therefore increases the visibility of the exchange to the maximum possible extent, regardless of the context or intentions of the conversational partner. 

I find it unsettling to be on the receiving end of this behaviour and this short post is an attempt to think through and explain why it feels problematic to me. I find myself increasingly suspicious of people who persistently do this and in some instances, it strikes me as a red flag for some really unpleasant habits which can be found far too readily within the academic Twittersphere.