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  • Mark 8:25 am on August 17, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , subjectivity   

    Becoming ourselves through the media 

    From John Thompson’s Media & Modernity pg 41-42:

    In interpreting symbolic forms, individuals incorporate them into their own understanding of themselves and others. They use them as a vehicle for reflection and self-reflection, as a basis for thinking about themselves, about others and about the world to which they belong. I shall use the term ‘appropriation’ to refer to this extended process of understanding and self-understanding. To appropriate a message is to take hold of its meaningful content and make it one’s own. It is to assimilate the message and incorporate it into one’s life–a process that sometimes takes place effortlessly, and sometimes involves deliberate application. In appropriating a message we adapt it to our own lives and life contexts. We apply it to a set of circumstances which, in the case of media products, are generally different from the circumstances in which the message was produced.

    • landzek 6:39 pm on August 17, 2019 Permalink

      Hey mark. I thought of you the other day so I appreciate you posting something.

      .. I like that definition of appropriation by the way.

      But I was going to ask you, since you are more in twined and involved in computers, data, algorithm, social platforms and just basically computer technology, then I will Ever be…

      Perhaps you will know the answer to this question and or you might have a friend somewhere in your institution that might be interested in this and or have something to say about it:

      I was pondering the other day that it seems like it would be pretty easy to analyze the stock market and find out just how many orders are succeeding.

      I mean, everything is done with computers nowadays so it seems like there should be a huge data record on every single stock market bat that has been placed. And it seems like it would be a really valuable and interesting if there was an analysis of just how many positions are correct. Never mind in who, just plain data. It seems like it would be pretty easy to analyze various positions or bets placed and compare them to whether they paid off or whether they lost.

      Maybe you might know someone who knows why no one has undertaken such an endeavor.

      Because it seems like it would be very valuable information to have if, say, only 20% of all stock market positions were correct or something like that. Or just the opposite.

      What do you think?

    • Mark 8:27 am on August 20, 2019 Permalink

      This is my understanding of what computational finance people do with big data. There’s lots of empirical work beyond this about how financial markets operate in practice but it’s not really something I know anything about.

  • Mark 9:01 am on October 17, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: abbreviation, , , , , , eviscaration, , subjectivity,   

    The vulnerability of human experience to abbreviation 

    This expression used by Alain de Botton in his How Proust Can Change Your Life (pg 42) stood out to me. He uses it in relation to the morning news, reflecting on how reporting inevitably strips away from the reality of what is reported on. This is an example of a broader tendency for human experience to “be stripped of the more obvious signposts by which we guide ourselves when ascribing importance”. To use the language of Andrew Sayer, factual reporting strips away what matters to people about what is being reported on. The distillation involved in reporting on the facts of a case unavoidably subtract how those state of affairs move people and motivate them, leaving us with an arid picture susceptible to wide circulation when so many other accounts compete for our attention. The abbreviation of human experience is a practical necessity which detracts from our understanding of others and the world around us, even as it contributes to our knowledge of those conditions.

    It might be argued that social media highlights human experience in a new way, though I would suggest it is demotic in the sense of reality television rather than democratic in the sense of participatory. It foregrounds human experience through templates and incentivised interaction, increasing the flow of human experience in public consciousness but at the cost of its integrity. Abbreviation is intensified rather than attenuated, with so many shards of experience flying around that radically truncating our attention is the only way to cope. What gets through is what is spectacular, jarring or enraging. It is not a return to human experience but its last gasp, with meaning and mattering mangled by the machinery of abbreviation. Under these conditions, what de Botton calls the finger placing ability becomes important:

    The value of a novel is not limited to its depiction of emotions and people akin to those in our own life, it stretches to an ability to describe these far better than we would have been able, to put a finger on perceptions that we recognise as our own, yet could not have formulated on our own.  (pg 28)

    I’ve always been fascinated by these depths. The struggle within us to articulate something and the relief that comes when we find a way to say it. Often though we change in the process of saying it, as we suddenly recognise a state of affairs within us by virtue of being able to express it. The opposite of what de Botton calls abbreviation is what Charles Taylor calls articulation. Resources we can draw on in articulation are invaluable in an age of radical abbreviation, helping us become “newly attuned to pick up certain objects floating through consciousness” such that we are “drawn to the shades of the sky, to the changeability of a face, to the hypocrisy of a friend or to a submerged sadness about a situation which we had previously not even known we could feel sad about” (pg 29). Articulacy we develop expands outwards, sensitising us to the abbreviation we encounter around us and leaving us more adept at recovering the reality subsumed by its thin expression. This is not a call for slowness, as much as for elaboration. There’s a value in being long winded, even if it’s unlikely to get you read.

    • Patrick Ainley 5:34 pm on October 17, 2018 Permalink

      ‘DIMINISHED DIGITS PROVE TOO TITILLATING FOR FRISKY FRUMPS.’ James Joyce ‘Ulysses’ – in fact this whole book exemplifies your last point! (Nice view from Greenwich to Isle of Dogs! A fine beard too, if I may say so!

    • Patrick Ainley 5:35 pm on October 17, 2018 Permalink

      Close bracket at end of comment above!

    • Mark 10:21 am on October 18, 2018 Permalink

      thanks! one of my favourite spots in London!

      I’ve always meant to read it but have been a bit put off by the size of the undertaking….

  • Mark 4:10 pm on March 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Bernard Lahire, Frederic Vandenberghe, , , Personal Ontology, , , , , subjectivity,   

    Margaret Archer and Bernard Lahire as post-Bourdieusian social theorists 

    In an interesting chapter Frederic Vandenberghe explores the role of the individual in Bourdieu’s Sociology, as well as the critiques which Margaret Archer and Bernard Lahire make of it. His intention is to respond to a sociology he sees as hegemonic by developing a post-Bourdieusian theory of the social world that is not anti-Bourdieusian. His project, as I understand it, derives from a sense that Bourdieu’s sheer influence is distortive, polarising debate in a way that steers it away from concern with better or worse sociology to more or less accurate interpretations of the master.

    How accurate is Vandenberghe’s account of Bourdieu’s influence? His 536,230 citations certainly offer quantitative evidence of this influence, but the claim that Bourdieu’s sociology is hegemonic seems more contentious to me. Nonetheless, he’s surely correct that the combination of its influence, diffusion and systematicity make it a force to be reckoned with. Or rather a force that must be reckoned with, a reference point that is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore.

    Both Archer and Lahire were deeply influenced by Bourdieu. My interview with her in here explores his influence on her thinking, as well as her time working with him as a post-doc in the early 60s. While, as Vandenberghe puts it, Lahire’s sociology is so “thoroughly Bourdieusian that he could well be considered the heterodox successor to the master (Loïc Wacquant being the official one)”. Both have worked at the intersection of sociology and psychology in recent years, with Lahire taking inspiration from Durkheim while Archer has looked to American pragmatism for intellectual resources. Vandenberghe argues that their work represents a social psychology of a new kind: orientated to “how groups, large and small, behave within in the individual mind” rather than “how individuals behave in small groups”. Their shared unit of analysis is the life, understood biographically, as a movement through the world constituted through choices. But the dissimilarity arises because Archer’s focus concerns how future projects shape present actions, whereas Lahire explains the present and the future in terms of past “dispositions and their activation in particular contexts in the present”. As he puts it, “His actors are pushed by their dispositions, while hers are pulled forward by their projects”.

    From Vandenberghe’s exposition, it seems that Lahire’s critique of the concept of habitus resembles Archer’s in some ways: he “accuses Bourdieu of abusively generalising a particular model that only holds in exceptional situation (such as traditional societies and total institutions)”. But he make the same critique of the concept of field, “accusing Bourdieu of transforming a regional model into a general theory of the social world”. Instead he offers an account of the individual as “like a crumpled sheet or a rumpled rag”, with social space in all its dimensions unevenly folded up inside of them. Not unlike Archer, he sees what Bourdieu regarded as a marginal condition (the cleavage of the habitus) to instead be a general characteristic, at least under certain social and cultural conditions.

    His exposition of Archer is excellent, rather unsurprisingly as one of the theorists most deeply conversant with her body of work as a whole. The slight exception to this is the latent teleology he reads into the concept of reflexivity, ignoring the extent to which we all practice each of these modes to varying degrees in everyday life. Oddly, he offers precisely this recognition as a suggestion of how her account of reflexivity can be improved, with his accusation of a “kind of disguised personality test” being an incisive critique of how her work on reflexivity is chronically misread, even by its advocates.

    I agree with him however that Archer downplays the role of cultural structures, seeing them as something which “structures the situation from outside, not from inside in the form of subconscious schemes of perception, judgement and interpretation that prestructure the world and canalize action, excluding some options even before the actor becomes conscious of the situation”. His suggestion that we investigate empirically how the relative balance of reflexivity and disposition operates in particular action situations is one I find extremely plausible, perhaps demanding that we need methods other than the interview, as well as overcoming the relative neglect of situated embodied action within Archer’s work.

    It’s an interesting chapter which I highly recommend. It’s left me wanting to return to my PhD, as well as investigating Lahire in greater depth. It strikes me that I’ve actually done something akin to what Vandenberghe advocates, synthesising Archer and Lahire, without actually having read Lahire. My curiosity demands that I establish whether or not this is the case.

    • alasdairbrstewart 8:48 pm on March 6, 2017 Permalink

      The Plural Actor is definitely one of the best contemporary theory books I’ve read. I am constantly recommending it to folk as while it makes very similar criticisms of Bourdieu as many others have made, the way Lahire goes about it and the solutions he proposes is in a very Bourdieusian language. Rather than reading like a critique of Bourdieu by using a different theoretical tradition and its concepts, it reads like a critique arising from turning Bourdieu back in on himself. It is a shame so little of Lahire’s work has been translated as from the research of his he mentions in The Plural Actor it seems that in building his critique he has returned to many of the same areas of research that Bourdieu covered. His article “How to Keep a Critical Tradition Alive: A Tribute to Pierre Bourdieu” is also definitely worth a read and outlines his approach to Bourdieu’s work:
      “The best way to make the most of a scientific work is to further develop the issues that are barely sketched in it; to carry out empirical investigations in order to work out the yet unanswered questions; and eventually to go beyond what has been written or said. This process implies the effort – and indeed, this is all about intellectual risk and effort – to keep on imaging and creating beyond what Bourdieu actually thought or worded, thereby adopting his attitude when he invented a new way of doing sociology and thinking the social world, both with and against other scholars of his time.
      However, for a few decades now, some sociologists (especially the French) have just continuously applied ‘his theory’ to new areas, or pretended to investigate an issue while merely switching on the text-producing machine ‘a la maniere de Bourdieu’. Many sociological works do and will resemble such unintentional pastiches.
      In order to keep a specific scientific thought alive, one must be ready to regularly take part in various discussions or even reviews about that very thought. Yet, hardly ever do sociologists devote themselves to this critical exercise. Indeed, practices rather seem to fall into the logics of coterie and clan gathering. This ought to be a subject of scientific indignation unanimously shared by all who are utterly convinced of the importance of social science.” (Lahire, 2008: 598)

    • Mark 4:54 pm on March 8, 2017 Permalink

      Thanks I’m definitely going to read this now – it’s the biographical studies I’d love to read though! Any ideas of translations in progress for them?

    • alasdairbrstewart 5:14 pm on March 13, 2017 Permalink

      No idea sadly. If there isn’t one already, there really should be a body setup to provide funds to help translate sociology texts. I regularly check if there is anything due to be published in English by him as well as Boltanski & Thevenot but there doesn’t seem to be anything on the horizon at the moment. Along with the Plural Actor there are the four translated articles I know of:

      Lahire B (2002) How to keep a critical tradition alive: a tribute to Pierre Bourdieu. Review of International Political Economy 9(4): 595–600.

      Lahire B (2003) From the habitus to an individual heritage of dispositions. Towards a sociology at the level of the individual. Poetics 31(5–6): 329–355.

      Lahire B (2008) The individual and the mixing of genres: Cultural dissonance and self-distinction. Poetics 36(2–3): 166–188.

      Lahire B (2010) The Double Life of Writers. New Literary History 41(2): 443–465.

    • Mark 7:12 pm on March 13, 2017 Permalink

      brilliant, thanks!

  • Mark 8:53 am on December 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , subjectivity, , ,   

    Metrics and the death of imagination 

    In John Thompson’s Merchants of Culture, there’s an interesting remark about the structural position of first time authors which I think has wider purchase. From pg 200:

    Ironically, in a world preoccupied by numbers, the author with no track is in some ways in a strong position, considerably stronger than the author who has published one or two books with modest success and muted acclaim, simply because there are no hard data to constrain the imagination, no disappointing sales figures to dampen hopes and temper expectations. The absence of sales figures sets the imagination free. The first-time author is the true tabula rasa of trade publishing, because his or her creation is the book for which it is still possible to imagine anything and everything.

    A world where metrics are ubiquitous is a world where imagination has died. When everyone has a track record, the space to imagine someone’s future as radically different from their past collapses.

    • lenandlar 7:29 pm on December 27, 2016 Permalink

      Makes me think about those papers I have on Google scholar that are not doing well at all. You do tend to question them more than they deserve I suppose. Insightful book

    • Mark 10:04 am on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      or how it comes to be that we think of creative outputs as ‘doing well’ or ‘doing badly’….

    • lenandlar 12:38 pm on December 28, 2016 Permalink

      That’s an interesting point. When I check the download and read count (not citation) they are not too bad. A question I ask often is how do value papers that are just read by students , professors or just about anyone. Maybe they’ll take something useful from some of them but doesn’t count (literally).

  • Mark 11:23 am on August 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , subjectivity, ,   

    The Dispositions of the Metricised 

    In our discussion of metrics systems, it’s easy to treat subjectivity as a cipher, regarding people as passively moulded by algorithms or blindly governed by the incentives that operate through the institutionalisation of the metrics. My objection to the former is not the claim that people are shaped by metrics, but rather the assumption that this process is basically passive. My interest is in how metrics come to matter to us. How are people shaped over time? How do their biographically accumulating dispositions and concerns influence the actions they take over time? How do these feed back into the metrics system and the organisations within which they are institutionalised?

    The fictional portrayals that are starting to emerge of this – novels like Super Sad True Love Story, the Circle and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, films like Nerve – often struggle to represent this engaged subjectivity because the imperatives of effective story telling militate against it. What we really need is a novel or film that explores metricisation through the internal monologue of what I imagine would turn out to be an unreliable narrator.

  • Mark 11:17 am on February 9, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , negativity, , subjectivity   

    CFP for the themed issue of ‘Subjectivity’ on Radical Negativity 

    *CALL FOR PAPERS: Themed issue on ‘Radical negativity’*Over the past decade, feminist and queer scholarship has begun to productively address the dark aspects of human subjectivity, such as unhappiness, irresponsibility, passivity, vulnerability, failure, shame, hesitancy, pain, dispossession, disappointment, rage, madness and depression, contributing to a rethinking and revaluation of the negative.
    Critique has focused on how normative subject positions are powerful mechanisms that reproduce dominant power structures such as whiteness, patriarchy, sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, and ableism. Such normative subject positions can demand or assume whiteness and thus position those who are non-white as ‘invaders’ in the space of the institution (Puwar 2009), present gender subservience as happiness (Ahmed 2010), and demand compulsory heterosexuality (Rich 1980). Resisting these (normative) demands placed on identities can form subjectivities perceived to be oriented around discomfort, refusal and pain

    Borrowing from Eve Sedgwick, this special issue proposes that forms of the negative are “not distinctly ‘toxic’ parts of a group or individual identity that can be excised; they are instead integral to and residual in the processes by which identity itself is formed (2003, p.63).” In choosing to conceptualise subjectivity through the possibility of treating the negative as a viable and integral resource for resistance and a locus of social change, this issue will pay particular attention to the relation of negativity to resistant political practices. More specifically, we are interested in how the formation of subjectivities based on negative states and in relation to negative affects can be productive sites for political engagement. What is opened up or made possible by attending to the negative as an interruption to the force of restrictive social norms upon certain psyche and bodies?

    We welcome papers based in any discipline that significantly engage feminist and queer theory to respond to one or more of the following questions:

      1. How can the negative be conceptualised as an interruption to the force of restrictive social norms?

      2. How might rejecting the social compulsion toward positive affect allow for, and even become necessary to, resisting normative structures of power?

      3. If we accept that power can differentially produce subjects, and that there is a relationship between power and resistance, how do these differences in turn utilise the negative, and what is the negative’s role in the capacity to resist?

    Possible topics include, but are not limited to, explorations of:

      – the construction of normative subjectivities and their effects on those deemed not to ‘fit’

      – the construction of subjectivities in relation to narratives of trauma  or shame

      – queer subversion in the face of ambivalence, incoherence and difficulty

      – the relation between politics and the construction of ‘woundedness’

      – the distribution (and understanding) of vulnerability

      – the construction of health, happiness or ‘goodness’

      – the racialization of affect

      – the gendering of affect

      – the navigation/rejection of gender norms and cis-sexism

      – the ways in which gender, sexuality, race and ability inflect the  interpretation of affect more generally

      – deviance

      – name-calling

    Issue editors: Ella Fegitz, Tiffany Page and Leila Whitley.

    The deadline for first drafts of papers is 1 May 2016. Papers should be submitted in the first instance to radicalnegativity@gmail.com and should follow submission guidelines for Subjectivity (http://www.palgrave-journals.com/sub/author_instructions.html).

    The editors are happy to discuss possible papers informally with potential contributors. Please contact: e.fegitz@gold.ac.uk; cup01tp@gold.ac.uk; l.whitley@gold.ac.uk


    Ahmed, Sara. 2010. *The Promise of Happiness.* Durham and London: Duke University Press.

    Puwar, Nirmal. 2004. *Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place. *Oxford: Berg.

    Rich, Adrienne. 1980. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” *Journalof Women in Culture **and Society, *5, 4, 631-660.

    Sedgwick, Eve. 2003. *Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity*.

    Durham and London: Duke University Press.

  • Mark 11:54 am on February 2, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , subjectivity,   

    Technology, Self and Society in an Era of Digital Rankings 

  • Mark 8:13 am on December 6, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: metaphor, , subjectivity,   

    the recursive loop of technological metaphors for subjectivity 

    One of my major irritants is technological metaphors for subjectivity, not least of all because I slip into invoking them myself when I use terms like ‘cognitive load’. The underlying idea that ‘the brain is like a computer’, as well as the complex network of associated metaphors leading from it, frustrates me because it seems so obviously to be a case of fetishising our own productions. We see ourselves in what we have made and seek to understand ourselves through the characteristics of our artefacts. But as this extract from The Innovators, by Walter Isaacson, Loc 1049 illustrates, our understanding of our subjectivity furnished metaphors for the architecture of the machines which we subsequently use to understand ourselves:

    Atanasoff initially considered building an analog device; his love of slide rules led him to try to devise a supersize version using long strips of film. But he realized that the film would have to be hundreds of yards long in order to solve linear algebraic equations accurately enough to suit his needs. He also built a contraption that could shape a mound of paraffin so that it could calculate a partial differential equation. The limitations of these analog devices caused him to focus instead on creating a digital version. The first problem he tackled was how to store numbers in a machine. He used the term memory to describe this feature: “At the time, I had only a cursory knowledge of the work of Babbage and so did not know he called the same concept ‘store.’ . . . I like his word, and perhaps if I had known, I would have adopted it; I like ‘memory,’ too, with its analogy to the brain.” 30

  • Mark 4:52 pm on November 29, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , subjectivity   

    Michel Foucault – The Culture of the Self 

  • Mark 7:56 am on October 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , subjectivity, ,   

    Resonance and subjectivity on twitter 

    In four years of using Twitter regularly, I’ve often found others tweeting things that resonate with me and vice versa. In fact one could plausibly suggest that these experiences play an important role in making continued use of the service appealing. What do I mean by ‘resonate’? I mean knowing where someone is coming from, understanding the reaction they’re expressing and sharing it to some extent. I would argue that resonance is an important factor to consider in understanding subjectivity within a changing social world – to understand where someone is coming from necessitates some degree of converging experience and circumstances. If everyone’s experience and circumstances are entirely particularistic then resonance becomes impossible. If everyone’s experience and circumstances tend towards homogeneity then resonance in interaction fades into the background and ceases to become a distinguishable phenomenon.

    In this sense, I’d see resonance as an important micro-social mechanism engendering social integration: it helps translate objective commonalities into subjective commonalities. Experiences of resonance leave us with a sense that others understand where we are coming from and vice versa. The new forms of interaction facilitated by social media enable new ways in which objective commonalities can be translated into subjective commonalities. Things that previously couldn’t be a basis for subjective commonalities – because they rarely, if ever, entered into interaction – now can be and this has important social consequences. It would be easy to overlook the way in which something like Twitter can contribute to social integration because it is so empirically different to what we’re used to but I’d argue the same underlying mechanism is at work. It tends to increase the degree to which people feel a sense of commonality with a range of others with whom they interact and it does so because there are real underlying commonalities which facilitate this.

  • Mark 1:49 pm on April 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , mills, motivate, , subjectivity,   

    Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive 

    I’m finally reading Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive by C Wright Mills. As I expected I don’t actually like it very much. I have a strange relationship to Mills, in that I find him an inspiring figure but I’m not particularly interested in his work. In this case, I don’t accept the methodological premise that social action should be explained ‘from the outside’, I don’t accept the theoretical premise that reflexivity only intervenes when action is impeded and thus it’s hard for me to engage with the paper, given that these aren’t really argued for and the rest of his case depends upon them.

    This is a shame because ‘vocabularies of motive’ is a concept that really interests me. There’s much here I agree with:

    Individualistic, sexual, hedonistic, and pecuniary vocabularies of motives are apparently now dominant in many sectors of twentieth-century urban America. Under such an ethos, verbalization of alternative conduct in these terms is least likely to be challenged among dominant groups. In this milieu, individuals are skeptical of Rockefeller’s avowed religious motives for his business conduct because such motives are not now terms of the vocabulary conventionally and prominently accompanying situations of business enterprise. A medieval monk writes that he gave food to a poor but pretty woman because it was “for the glory of God and the eternal salvation of his soul.” Why do we tend to question him and impute sexual motives? Because sex is an influential and widespread motive in our society and time. Religious vocabularies of explanation and of motives are now on the wane. In a society in which religious motives have been debunked on a rather wide scale, certain thinkers are skeptical of those who ubiquitously proclaim them. Religious motives have lapsed from selected portions of modern populations and other motives have become “ultimate” and operative. But from the monasteries of medieval Europe we have no evidence that religious vocabularies were not operative in many situations.

    A labor leader says he performs a certain act because he wants to get higher standards of living for the workers. A businessman says that this is rationalization, or a lie; that it is really because he wants more money for himself from the workers. A radical says a college professor will not engage in radical movements because he is afraid for his job, and besides, is a “reactionary.” The college professor says it is because he just likes to find out how things work. What is reason for one man is rationalization for another. The variable is the accepted vocabulary of motives, the ultimate of discourse, of each man’s dominant group about whose opinion he cares. Determination of such groups, their location and character, would enable delimitation and methodological control of assignment of motives for speqfic acts.

    I just think you fundamentally misrepresent the process if you exhume interiority from the picture. I don’t find it plausible that the growth and entrenchment of vocabularies of motivate can be explained in entirely relational and/or structural terms. I think the approach Mills advocates, rooted in Meadean pragmatism, can offer a lot of insights into the interactive aspects of vocabularies of motive (how these operate between persons) but that it inevitably fails as an account of socio-cultural change at a macro level.

    Part of my interest in this stems from a desire to better understand the causal powers which vocabularies of motive can exercise intra-personally. This is what I was trying to get at here. The vocabulary we use to make sense of our own motivations has important consequences. I can parse the same impulse, or lack thereof, in very different terms (“that’s wrong”, “that’s normal”) with importantly divergent consequences. I’m arguing that these terms, deriving their meaning from the broader network of terms in which they are embedded, exercise causal powers in the sense that their meaning makes a difference. To introspectively designate an impulse as ‘wrong’ can serve to intensify distress, producing a deepening of what Mouzelis describes as an ‘intra-habitus contradiction’:

    Reflexivity may focus less on interactive and more on intra-active processes. In other words, reflexivity may be enhanced not only when there are contradictions between dispositions, positions and figurations, but also when the subject has to handle intra-habitus conflicts. For instance, Trevor Butt and Darren Langdridge (2003) studied the diaries of the well-known comedian Kenneth Williams (1928-1988) and found a deep contradiction between his homosexual dispositions on the one hand, and his deeply conservative, anti-libertarian mentality on the other; the latter predisposed him to consider anything related to homosexuality as “filth”. These two fundamental aspects of K. Williams’ habitus both products of differing and varied socialization processes were obviously linked to his overdeveloped reflexivity which a reading of his diaries makes very obvious.


    Whereas designating the impulse as ‘normal’ can encourage the resolution of this ‘contradiction’. I’m sure I can think of many examples that fall into this category (not least of all from my asexuality research) and perhaps I need to sit down and do this in order to get a better grip on this conceptually. What interests me is:

    • How cultural resources (words, tropes, concepts, images, motifs) exercise causal power vis-à-vis intra-personal deliberation.
    • How the exercise of this power serves to condition the individual’s orientation towards these cultural resources over time e.g. how people become invested in certain vocabularies which have done affective ‘work’ for them in the past.
    • How these divergent orientations serve to contribute, directly or indirectly, towards the transformation or reproduction of these vocabularies of motive.

    My point is not to counterpose an exhaustive focus on interiority to the interactionist focus upon the social. Rather I think we have to incorporate both within our frame of reference if we are to achieve an adequate grasp on the dynamics of cultural change which are observable with regards to ‘vocabularies of motive’. So to use a concrete example: with my asexuality studies hat on, I’m very interested in how what could be described (fuzzily) as a vocabulary of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ came to be replaced by a vocabulary of ‘normal’ and ‘pathological’ in relation to sexual impulses and sexual acts. I simply don’t see how you can explain this sort of temporally extended cultural change if you reduce, due to a prior methodological commitment, any deployment of such a vocabulary to the situational dynamics in play. What these vocabularies felt like to different persons and groups (including those reactionary groups who felt threatened by the erosion of moral certainties) isn’t just epiphenomenal froth. It’s an important part of the causality at work here.

    • BeingQuest 5:22 am on April 9, 2014 Permalink

      “…just epiphenomenal froth.” Memorable phrase.

    • Mark 8:10 am on April 9, 2014 Permalink

      I don’t think it’s mine! I think it’s something I picked up from philosophy of mind actually…

    • BeingQuest 2:42 pm on April 9, 2014 Permalink

      I employed a very similar notion and phrasing along the same lines just once about the existential status of liminal identity…a couplet of which reads: “Tis the wish and will, holding like seamen to the ropes, great gales n frothing nothingness storming on.”

      Aspects of the Alchemical Opus treat of ‘froth’, ‘fermentation’ and ‘distillation’ as something along the lines of skimming dross (ineffective theory as cognitive constructs?) off the volitized Negrido, or First Matter (unconscious urgency of instinct or the framing of the egocentric awareness, however derived?); which seems to me, if anything, a process whereby the heat (attention/focus) applied the vessel (ego latency?) transforms by sublimation the Matter under seal, vaporizing the condensed or ‘hardened’ ego structures (self-conceptions, latent projections or interiorizations) so as to get a clear look at their First Principles, whether dependent or essential to the ‘thing’ being volitalized, ie…can ‘it’ stand the heat (sun) of fiercest criticism, in a manner, or dissolve to substanceless ash in the end (telic)? They referred to such process as dangerous for the insubstantial and shadowed ego as, having no essential value valence but barest awareness, could be rendered utterly vacuous as to purposiveness, like an empty walnut shell, with zero [re]generative impetus on fundamental grounds; which I may suppose to be how Alchemists of the Jungian persuasion (“spiritual alchemy”) might interpret certain noxious elements (ego orientations) as ‘dangers’ of close work here. Some ‘truths’ of perspective being too overwhelming for any single ego construction, wherefore compartmentalization becomes the bookshelf cognitive architecture of partial integration, faux science and construed evidence in quest of underlying ‘laws’ (a theoretical method/dynamic). Is the personal mind (a tentative proposition) a fortress or a nest…the truths of one’s being: a citadel or a rising phoenix…a concretion of the ready at hand, or an essential and universal Fire (organic intelligence-world soul)?

      Hermits can get away with this, and Ravens bring them bred upon the looking-glass mountain side, a little covert apart from the melee of streaming event, situation and intrusive experience. Honey, Locusts and Camel hair will do, so long as there is Fire.

  • Mark 4:53 pm on November 27, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , subjectivity,   

    Causal Agency and Cognitive Micro-Foundations 

    One final Roy Bhaskar snippet from the Formation of Critical Realism (Pg 64). This is a quote from Bhaskar about one thing that prompted a thought by me about a very different thing:

    In experimental activity it is our role as causal agents that is vital, not our role as thinkers, and that immediately gets us out of the purely mental sphere.

    This a formulation I want to adopt for explaining my understanding of reflexivity. The point when talking about internal conversation is not to assert the relevance of a purely mental sphere for sociological inquiry. I don’t think this is a sustainable position to take. The invocation of the mental sphere is not because sociology should be interested in ‘our role as thinkers’ but because sociology is interested in our causal agency and, so the argument goes, an adequate account of that agency needs to give some account of the ‘mental sphere’. I would never argue that ‘internal conversation’ is the only available account of the ‘mental sphere’ for sociology but I would happily assert that I don’t think it’s possible to have a coherent account of causal agency which doesn’t encompass a substantive understanding of subjectivity.

    Another way of putting this would be to argue, following from this excellent paper by Omar Lizardo, that sociology needs cognitive micro-foundations. So I’m making two claims: (1) such cognitive micro-foundations are necessary (2) Archer’s notion of the ‘internal conversation’ is a powerful approach to providing these. It’s certainly not the only one though. As well as Lizardo’s neo-structuralist reading of Bourdieu, which I’m not well versed enough to assess textually but really endears Bourdieu to me by way of Piaget, we could also see an attempted phenomenological framing of the habitus in this way. For instance see this paper by Nick Crossley (drawing on Merleau-Ponty) or this book by Will Atkinson (drawing on Alfred Schutz). My own preference would be to try and flesh out Archer’s account, through a critical sociological reading of what seems to be a massive psychological literature on dual process theory.

    • BeingQuest 4:35 pm on April 10, 2014 Permalink

      …dual process theory…two directional momentum…essential functions; affect/effect, intensive/extensive, spontaneous/determined, end-in-itself/means-to-ends, fundamental/optional…the pattern mapping holds good in the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of experience in the round as on the ground. Intrigue’s knocking: Can I come in?

  • Mark 5:59 pm on June 18, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , heaphy, , relational, relational reflexivity, , subjection, subjectivity,   

    Between subjectivity and subjection: untangling the confusion about reflexivity 

    Heaphy, Brian (2012) Reflexivity sexualities or reflexive sociology? In: Sexualities: Past reflections, Future Directions. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

    There are two main ways in which the term ‘reflexivity’ is used within contemporary social theory. The first refers to the self-monitoring and self-management of individuals. The second to critical self-reflection on the part of researchers about their own social positioning, how it impinges upon the practice of their research and how the whole endeavor of research is implicated within wider networks of power and inequality within society. As someone who works on issues related to the former and is, partly as a result of this work, critical of the latter, it was interesting to stumble across this paper because I don’t recall ever previously having seen the two theoretical meanings of reflexivity addressed in such a direct and sustained way before.

    Heaphy takes issues with a pervasive tendency to hold up LGBT lives as exemplars of reflexivity in the first sense, identifying a range of strands in the sexualities literature of which this is true (Heaphy 2012: 17). He argues that, as a whole, these represent a “powerful story” about LGBT lives as “reflexively achieved forms of existence that are the exemplars of the life politics of self-fashioning” (Heaphy 2012: 19). Furthermore he suggests that the appeal of such accounts stems from the affirmation of LGBT agency implied by them, in contrast to the previously dominant Foucauldian vision of sexualities which tended to stress disciplinary subjection. Arguments about LGBT reflexivity, as perhaps did Foucault’s account in an earlier political era, have an intuitive plausibility because of the wider social circumstances in which they are articulated. As Heaphy observes, “it seems clear, after all, that lesbian and gay sexualities hare more ’empowered’ and visible in the culture than ever before, and recent legislation in Britain and elsewhere (such as the Civil partnership and other Acts) seems to promote and defend the legitimacy of same-sex relationships” (Heaphy 2012: 19).

    However Heaphy raises a number of problems with such accounts. He suggests that these prevailing narratives of LGBT reflexivity have been characterised by a “blurring of arguments about theoretical possibilities and empirical actualities” i.e. a theoretical affirmation of agency leads proponents to make claims about agents which are empirically inaccurate. In doing so the realities of difference are occluded, such that “exclusive and well-resourced lesbian and gay experience is valorized while other experiences are made invisible”. This, he argues, is a consequence of insufficient attention to power, particularly in an indifference to the “relationship between power and sociological narration” (Heaphy 2012: 20). He goes on to argue that in order to take the “differences that are shaped through the intersections of class, race and ethnicity, generation, geographical location and like” seriously we must acknowledge “that there is no one lesbian and gay experience or forms of existence, and that lesbian and gay living should be studied in their diversity of forms”. In doing so, we might come to ask “how significant resources (economic, social, cultural and corporeal) are in shaping different possibilities for lesbian and gay living, and how their embodiment gives rise to different possibilities for identification, relating and life political practice” (Heaphy 2012: 21). Heaphy argues that a move towards reflexive sociology within sexuality studies, as part of a Bourdieusian turn which moves the study of LGBT lives away from Giddens and Beck, would help rectify this worrying tendency to homogenise the lived experience of LGBT individuals and treat their lives as if difference didn’t matter.

    While applauding Heaphy’s broader aims and accepting elements of his critique, this direction of travel is nonetheless revealing of profound conceptual confusions relating to what reflexivity is and how it operates. The broader shift he identifies from Foucauldian conceptions of sexuality (excessively structural) to voluntaristic accounts influenced by Giddens (excessively agential) reveal an inability within sexuality studies, as well as social theory more broadly, to come to terms with the problem of structure and agency. One approach elucidates the role of structure while obliterating agency. The other elucidates the role of agency while obliterating structure. The two approaches each contain an element of truth but, in their inability to proceed beyond their own theoretical terms of reference, neither is able to do justice to the ambivalence of human experience.

    Both freedom and constrain co-exist in our daily experience. We choose and yet we are denied choice. We shape our circumstances and yet our circumstances shape us. We make our way through the world and yet the maps we use and the paths we choose from forever elude our full understanding, let alone our control. We are subjects and we are subjected. In fairness to Giddens, attempting to reconcile this duality is at the heart of his theoretical project. Yet the empirical inadequacies which so often result from attempts to adopt his approach as an explanatory framework are indicative of the conceptual error at its heart. Unless we conceptualise reflexivity in a properly mediatory manner, as being the human power which allows us to pursue courses of actions by  (fallibly) taking stock of our objective circumstances and our subjective concerns, the problems Heaphy correctly identifies will inevitably ensue. But if we do understand reflexivity in such a way, these problems do not occur. The issue here is not reflexivity as such. The issue is conceiving of reflexivity in a way which detaches it from the constraints and enablements we are contingently subject to at any given moment. If we conceive reflexivity in a manner which is fundamentally relational, such that our degree of freedom or constrained is an empirical matter of our circumstances at a particular moment in time and the biographical pathway which led us to them, then these contrasting images of human life (LGBT or otherwise) as either overly-free or overly-constrained simply do not emerge.

  • Mark 3:58 pm on June 22, 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , peter miller, subjectification, subjectivity,   

    If you’re going to talk about subjectification you need a theory of the subject… 

    When Miller and Rose (2008: 1 – 25) describe the general trajectory of their work on governmentality, they elaborate upon the questions that have guided their inquiry over the last two three decades. Most notable for my purposes is the question relating to human self-understanding and its utilisation within governmental practices:

    What understandings of the people to be acted upon – whether explicit or implict – underpinned these endeavours, and how did they shape or reshape the ways in which these individuals understood and acted on themselves?

    This is a crucial question which, when pursued empirically, leads into all manner of localised, contingent and messy social phenomena which grand theories of modernity, globalization, individualization (etc) too frequently overlook. Yet there is a fundamental problem with the approach they adopt in attempting to address it: their hostility towards a theory of the subject. They suggest that any attempt to offer such a theory would leave them implicated in precisely those ‘psy disciplines’ which are a crucial object of their genealogical inquiry: “that question could only be answered on the basis of some explicit or implicit assumptions about human mental processes. Yet for us, the historical forms taken by those presuppositions were exactly what we were studying” (Miller and Rose 2008: 7).

    Part of the problem here is methodological. A failure to distinguish between what Bhaskar (2011: 21) terms the transitive and intransitive objects of scientific inquiry: the “changing cognitive objects that are produced within science as a function of scientific practice” and “the unchanging real objects that exist outside the scientific process” respectively. As I understand their intention, Miller and Rose are inquiring into the transitive aspects of governmentality and the psi disciplines (i.e. the models of the subject worked with and the uses to which they are put as technologies of power and control) rather than the properties and powers of the subject, understood in an intransitive and ontological sense.

    Due to their failure to draw this distinction they are left in the strange position of investigating the actual effects of such models of the subject when applied in social life while denying the possibility of objective knowledge of the underlying properties of actual subjects in virtue of which such effects become conceptually comprehensible. In essence they are forced to presuppose a model of the subject which their meta-theoretical and methodological commitments simultaneously force them to deny.

    So what would such a subject look like? What has to be true of the human subject for Miller and Rose to be able to answer the questions they address about subjectification?

    1. Individuals must have the capacity for self-understanding
    2. Individuals must have the capacity to act upon themselves
    3. Both (1) and (2) must be, at least to some extent malleable in virtue of external influence

    So some notion of reflexivity is tacitly affirmed, in so far as that individuals are assumed to understand themselves and act on themselves in virtue of this self-understanding. Yet this reflexivity does not stand insulated from external influences. While the capacity itself stands as an inherent power of the individual, its form and content is susceptible to social and cultural conditioning. What form would this conditioning take? If it is entirely external then it becomes difficult to see how it could produce the degree of malleability which Miller and Rose convincingly illustrate through their empirical inquiry: individuals could be told incessantly to practice their internal life in a particular way but without some mechanism through which such invocations could become, in some way, internalised, the efficacy of these efforts would likely be limited.

    I want to suggest that this mechanism is something internal to reflexivity which is, as yet, under-theorised and under-researched. Its relative absence from theories of reflexivity perhaps accounts for at least some of the hostility directed towards them, as well as the straw man attacks which they are often subject to e.g. that a strong defence of reflexivity implies an anti-empirical quasi-existentialist belief in free will, as Atkinson (2010) suggests. That mechanism is the reliance of reflexivity – our conscious deliberations / internal conversations – on habitual cognitive categories which are themselves the products of socialisation and subject to change throughout the life course. In my next post I’ll have a go at elucidating what I mean by this, as well as its relation to the wider debate on reflexivity and habitus. Or maybe I won’t. I’m realistic enough to recognise that I’ve said ‘in my next post’ on various blogs countless times and almost never done it. Oh well.
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