This is a term which Andrew Pickering uses on pg 10 of the Cybernetic Brain to describe the conference series and dining club around which cybernetics coalesced, as organisationally loose and somewhat self-selecting gatherings substituted for the secure institutional base which the majority of participants lacked.

Scholarly centres of gravity are what bring people together outside of institutional concerns, with the intellectual and relational goods which can be found there drawing people back to them. In the process of course, this contributes to the reproduction of those goods as common projects, commitments and understandings emerge from what people do in these assemblies. If they stop coming back, or if the meetings cease to resonate for those concerned, these goods will rapidly erode.

This is the perils of scholarly centres of gravity outside of institutional settings. They can provide a richer lived experience of why we do what we do. But the resources of an institution can help buttress projects and initiatives during fallow times when things don’t quite work. In their absence, a shared project can rapidly unwind with nothing beyond the commitment of those involved to hold it in its place.

Though Pat, Kate Thomas and I made initial contributions to the live blogging project yesterday, it really kicked off today when the main Undisciplining conference began. The day started with a short meeting for our co-researchers, before we all set off on our way through the conference. These are the results of day one:

  1. Trying to Say Something Clever – Michael Toze
  2. the person/al and the structural? – Pat Thomson
  3. un-mining, (under-mining?) disciplinarity – Anna Davidson
  4. I am NOT a sociologist, get me out of here! – Julia Molinari
  5. sociology of art as a powerful way to reveal the social – Janna Klostermann
  6. making a sociological board game – Pat Thomson
  7. Being alone at conferences – Mark Carrigan
  8. Structure and Undisciplining – Catherine Price
  9. Questions from the geographical edges – Rosemary Hancock
  10. The Missing Links – interdisciplinary in sociological inquiry – Donna Carmichael
  11. A sociological walk of contrasts – Julia Molinari
  12. The Future versus Bureaucracy – Michael Toze
  13. Live blogging and the cinema experience – Catherine Price
  14. Time to Write – Kate Carruthers Thomas
  15. The dreaded conference dinner – Julia Molinari
  16. When a conference has a meta-conference: reflections on the first day of live blogging at #undisciplining – Mark Carrigan (you didn’t think I was going to miss this off the list did you?)

What an incredible outpouring of creative energy. I hadn’t realised quite how much was written today because I retreated a bit, having my will to engage sapped by being tied up with a seemingly never ending series of tedious technical tasks. It goes without saying that I incorporated this into a blog, itself in part a response to someone who perfectly articulated what I was feeling (and a practical proposal relating to) on Twitter. Plus I found myself interpreting my later mood in relation to later responses. The whole thing is becoming chronically and almost overwhelmingly meta, compounding my own exhaustion but helping me interpret that and relate it to the conference as a whole.

There is a thread of reflectivity winding its way through the conference, increasingly showing signs of spiralling in upon itself as themes percolate outwards and onwards, across platforms and through the face-to-face. It has seemed increasingly obvious to me over the course of the day that the project needs more curation to feed back in on itself. It needs care and effort to frame the blogs and (re)present them undisciplining in a way that invites further responses. This might be through Twitter but it could also be face-to-face. I’ve struggled to do that during the day, with this project slipping to the back of my mind for long periods, though it should be a bit easier to focus tomorrow. But in a way that makes it more interesting because my fluctuating attention highlights the objectivity of what we’re doing, as something uncertainly begins to emerge from the aggregated iteration of the research team.

(I’m cross-posting this on my own blog first because I compulsively record everything that matters to me intellectually there and it’s dawning on me that I’m going to be thinking about this project a lot in the coming months, as much as my current focus is on the day-to-day of the conference. Plus I’m tired in a way that makes the familiarity of my own blog oddly comforting)

This time trying to sell something rather than asking for money on behalf of presumably fictitious delegates:

Hi Mark

I hope this email finds you well.

Are you in charge of organizing Conference on Power, Acceleration and Metrics in Academic Life? I am not sure if you’re the right person to speak with. I was a researcher in computer science in UCSD and started a company to provide a mobile event app to help organizers create successful events.

I think the mobile event app can help make your life a lot easier. And some events similar to yours say the Whova event app get more attendees and sponsors. Here’s how:

It removes the hassle (and cost) of printing agendas, directions, and even presentation

It provides a faster, more preferred way for last minute changes (do you have last minute changes?)

Your attendees will have an amazing networking experience that will keep them coming back for more next year.

Your sponsors love the additional ad opportunities in the app.

What if I said I could do everything above in just 1 day? Well, I can. Email me back to let me know if you’re interested in seeing how this can be done. I can explain more on the phone.

Would you like to see how this works? Check it out here:

If you are not the appropriate person to contact, who do you recommend I talk to?

Some useful resources:

Some live tweeting policies and guides:

Any examples reader could suggest of policies issued by conferences would be much appreciated!

Great hashtag visualisation by Sam Martin:

Really interesting analysis of an event hashtag by Matt Lingard: (quite old now, 2010, but the categories he uses are extremely helpful)

It’s possible to trace out an awful lot of interest about contemporary higher education from this seemingly peripheral phenomenon:

No-shows are a common feature at conferences nowadays, but nearly every panel I went to was missing someone and most of them canceled at the last minute and could not be replaced in time. Several of these MIA’s were said to be in the grip of personal emergencies. I am not saying that wasn’t true, but Facebooking pictures of the “emergency” that took you on vacation this weekend was a truly bold move, I must say. There was some discussion in what remained of the hotel bar as to whether the emphasis on collecting vita lines in grad school has led to  a general belief in the younger generation that one must be constantly applying for things and agreeing to make presentations — a practice that then founders when the realities of a full time job and/or a full time family intervenes.

I noticed an unfamiliar precondition placed at the end of this interesting call for papers on Story’s Place In Our Lives:

Inter-Disciplinary.Net believes it is a mark of personal courtesy and professional respect to your colleagues that all delegates should attend for the full duration of the meeting. If you are unable to make this commitment, please do not submit an abstract for presentation.

I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what to make of it. On the one hand, I applaud the sentiment because it is likely to mitigate against people turning up solely for their talk then leaving, as well as encouraging the synchronisation of attention during the event so that the conference might become a zone of strategic deceleration*. On the other hand, it seems almost Canute-like if we take seriously the proposition of the sociology of time that we live in a desynchronised society.

The demand that every speaker must participate for the full three days places synchronisation costs upon attendees which they will be unequally able to meet. The intersection of temporal autonomy with other systems of stratification is an incredibly complex topic which I’ve only recently begun to think seriously about. But I’m convinced that we need to take what Sarah Sharma calls chronopolitics seriously if we’re trying to adapt institutions to cope with the attentional pathologies generated by digital capitalism.

This isn’t a criticism of the policy itself. I applaud the sentiment and I’ll seriously consider implementing a policy like this at some of the events I organise myself in future. But I think there’s a complexity to this which needs to be seriously considered and my impression is that we still lack a politically adequate language within which to talk about these issues in terms of temporality. I’m worried that invoking notions of civility and collegiality without addressing the novel challenges of the accelerated academy could prove unintentionally regressive in ways that might not be immediately obvious.

*Not the pithiest phrase I’ve ever come out with but I think I’m getting at something important with it.

The Sociological Imagination invites short articles (500-1500 words) critically reflecting upon the prevailing forms of intellectual meeting within the contemporary academy. What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? How could they be done differently? What are the sociological implications of these standardised forms of intellectual meeting? Whose voices do they amplify and whose do they suppress? What behaviour do they reward and what behaviour do they discourage? What are their intellectual implications? How far does intellectual form follow conference function, limiting time and expression in the interests of the event’s logistics? Why do people attend seminars? Why do people attend events? What are the wider significance of these common reasons? Are there other motivations for attending academic events which tend to be squeezed out in the neoliberal academy. How might we do things differently? What alternative forms can we imagine? What would the implications for the academy be of DIY academic events becoming common? We’re particularly interested in receiving articles on the political economy of conferences, seminars and workshops? 

If you would like to submit an article please send a 500-1500 word article, attached within the body of the e-mail, as well as biographical details to be displayed with the post.

I asked this question yesterday as I was searching for inspiration prior to a meeting about a conference I’m helping organise. There are so many ideas here, it seems unlikely we’ll be able to adopt many of them. I’m keen to explore ways to go beyond the usual repertoire of filming talks and live tweeting though.

One that occurred to me which wasn’t on this list was the role of ‘community reporters’ (or something to that effect) in which some people commit to live blogging and live-tweeting systematically from their own accounts. This could then be incorporated into a post-conference round up, alongside the podcasts, videocasts and presentations.