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CAMRI Research Seminars Autumn 2015

Posted By Sociological Imagination

CAMRI Research Seminars Autumn 2015
University of Westminster,
309 Regent Street, London W1B 2HW


Graham Murdock: The Political Economy of Crisis and the Crisis of Political Economy
October 15, 17:00

Movie: The Internet’s Own Boy – The Story of Aaron Swartz
October 29, 17:00

Herbert Pimlott: Stuart Hall, Marxism Today and the “Making” of Counter-Hegemonic Politics under Thatcherism
November 5, 17:00

Wolfgang Muehl-Benninghaus: The Changing German Media Landscape under the Influence of Web 2.0 and Mobile Devices
November 19, 17:00

David Gauntlett: Making Media Studies
December 3, 17:00

Viral media and unionisation

Posted By Mark Carrigan

I’ve been interested in Upworthy for a long time. It was founded by Eli Pariser, author of the Filter Bubble and key figure in MoveOn.org, in order to leverage the dynamics of viral media to promote ‘meaningful’ and progressive content. But a few years on, with a change in Facebook’s algorithms having brought about a 48% drop in traffic within two months, the company is struggling badly. Hence their stance that, though they support the right of their staff to unionise, they shouldn’t because it would be bad for the company. This was a sentiment echoed by BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti:

“I think unions have had a positive impact on a lot of places, like if you’re working on an assembly line, and if you’re negotiating with management it can make a huge difference, particularly when labor is more replaceable. And I think I don’t think a union is right for BuzzFeed for two reasons. 

One, I think the way we pattern BuzzFeed is after companies like Google and Facebook, and the tech startups are very, very competitive for talent. They’re all trying to get the very best talent. That’s how I see BuzzFeed as well. We need to provide amazing benefits, we need to provide as much incentive for people to pick BuzzFeed over any other company.

A lot of the best new-economy companies are environments where there’s an alliance between managers and employees. People have shared goals. Benefits and perks and compensation are very competitive, and I feel like that’s the kind of market we’re in. A lot of times when you look at companies that have unionized, the relationship is very different. The relationship is much more adversarial, and you have lawyers negotiating for comp and looking at comparable companies and trying to keep compensation matched with other companies.

I think that actually wouldn’t be very good for employees at BuzzFeed — particularly people who are writers and reporters — because the comps for writers and reporters are much less favorable than comps for startup companies and tech companies. In general, I don’t think it’s the right idea for us. The only thing about BuzzFeed is that we’re global, most unions are national. We have people who move between different roles and in general unions do a lot of defining clearly what individual roles, and what the job function is. So for a flexible, dynamic company, it isn’t something I think would be great for the company.”


I’m very interested in how a self-congratulatory corporate culture (“we’re disrupting the world, solving wicked problems, making it a better and more exciting place!”) interacts with the accumulation of vast wealth. Or in this case, how the avowedly moral stance of someone like Pariser falls by the wayside when his company falls on difficult times.

Call for Papers: Regulating the ‘Sharing Economy’

Posted By Sociological Imagination

Call for Papers for Special Issue of Internet Policy Review on *Regulating the ‘Sharing Economy’*


Special Issue editors: Kris Erickson, Research Fellow, CREATe, University of Glasgow & Inge Sørensen, Research Fellow, CCPR, University of Glasgow.

You are ‘the new infrastructure’, an entrepreneur breathlessly explains to the Wall Street Journal in a recent piece on sharing economy start-ups (9 March 2015).  Conceived in the early 2000s to describe alternative practices of creativity and distribution, the sharing economy has become the rallying call for an array of new businesses which rely on networked connectivity of users willing to exchange, sell and purchase services from one another. The co-optation of online ‘gifting’ by capitalist interests is a story which traces the progression of many digital social phenomena, from community discussion fora to digital video youth culture. The sharing economy raises important issues for regulators: When does ‘sharing’ cease to be a private activity and become a public concern? When do affective relationships become exploitative? When is something a gift, and when is it labour? How do we ensure that risks and costs are accurately reflected in the provision of goods? And how should costs be divided between collaborative consumers, businesses, and the public?

This special issue will consider both informal norms of governance as well as formal legal structures governing sharing communities and services. As a result, contributions are likely to touch on a range of disciplines and approaches, including sociological, economic, technological and legal. It is the hope of the editors that this collection of individual contributions will lead to identification of issues of theoretical importance across different configurations of sharing economy practices, and help crystallise future areas of inquiry for empirical study.

Contributions should focus on the impact of technological and social innovation in this area, with specific reference to European societies and digital regulatory frameworks. In particular, we seek papers which address the following topics of interest for regulators:

  • Crowdfunding and venture crowdfunding networks
  • Economic impacts of sharing economy on traditional sectors
  • Informal governance, ratings, reviews and crowd intelligence
  • Future of transportation, utilities, and ‘smart’ urban provision
  • Peer-to-peer production and distribution of media
  • Alternative digital currencies, legal and financial systems
  • Citizenship and civic engagement
  • Open data, privacy and accountability

In addition to the above topics, we welcome proposals for original, forward-looking contributions with a focus on the European digital regulatory environment (or that of a national or local jurisdiction in Europe). By critically examining this emerging topic, this special issue will generate EU-specific understanding of policy issues, and expand our scholarly understanding of economic and social trends with potential for long-term impact.

This Call for Papers is open to researchers from the fields of policy studies, sociology, law, philosophy, data, information and technology studies, economics and management. Emerging scholars are particularly encouraged to submit a proposal.

Important dates

7th September 2015: Deadline for expression of interest and abstract submission (500 word abstracts) to the co-editors Kristofer.Erickson@glasgow.ac.uk and Inge.Sorensen@glasgow.ac.uk

29th September 2015: Feedback on abstract submissions

30th December 2015: Deadline for full text submission (max. 35,000 characters) to editor@hiig.de. All details on text submissions can be found here: http://policyreview.info/authors

The Internet Policy Review was established in 2013 as the first online peer-reviewed journal on Internet Regulation in Europe. It aims to be a resource on Internet policy for academics, civil society advocates, entrepreneurs, the media and policy-makers alike. It is published on a rolling quarterly basis by the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin. The editorial board consists of Professor Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay (ISCC/CNRS, Paris), Professor Natali Helberger (IViR, Amsterdam), Professor Jeanette Hofmann (Berlin Social Science Center WZB), Professor Martin Kretschmer (CREATe, Glasgow) and Professor Wolfgang Schulz (Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg).

40 reasons why you should blog about you research

Posted By Sociological Imagination

We recently had some new submissions to this post. I had thought it was finished but seemingly there are more reasons yet to be shared… can we get it up to 50 reasons to blog about your research? 

Book Review: Organizations, Strategy and Society: The Orgology of Disorganized Worlds

Posted By Sadia Habib

by Bradley Williams


In Organizations, Strategy, and Society, Rodolphe Durand draws attention to the ways in which organizations affect and provide meaning to peoples’ public and private lives. Organizations are not merely temporary groups of individuals or groups of aggregate interests. Organizations are mediators between people and large scale social, political, and economic processes that create a sense of disorganization and loss of meaning in late modernity. Organizations provide solutions to their problems, while people grant organizations with greater legitimacy. The pattern described by Durand is cyclical, though by providing solutions, organizations help individuals move beyond current crises and forward toward new challenges. Durand’s conception of organizations is similar to both field theory and the linked ecologies perspective, because all three describe largely self-reproducing social orders. This approach is perhaps most similar to Fligstein and McAdams A Theory of Fields which came out in 2012. Durand is, however, singular in his description of the animating drives embedded within modern organizations. In this sense both field theory and the ecological perspective lack by comparison.
Durand introduces readers to a new discipline, termed orgology, which attempts to invigorate the study of organizations. Drawing from current sociological, economic, and management theories, orgology “not only studies the world of organizations, their logics of action, their respective advantages and their internal consistency but also the organization of our known-worlds” (p. 4). Known-worlds are the reality apparent to persons. This perspective is meant to counter both the “glorification of the individual” and the over-socialized concept of the individual characterizing dominant perspectives in both sociology and economics.
The book is fairly short, with 164 pages of text. It is divided into five main parts, with a main section titled Entry and an afterward titled Exit. While the reader could read the Exit sections and get the general approach of the book, the main sections are filled with examples to demonstrate the main argument and a much fuller description of the correlative processes. Adding an element of artistic inspiration, each chapter features an illustration by artist Stéphane Barry.
Durand describes the current state of disorganization which characterizes both macro and global processes and the lived realities of individuals, which he calls ‘known-worlds.’ He uses the example of the 2008 financial crash and subsequent recession to illustrate the perspective which orgology is said to be a corrective. By examining the rhetoric of financial leaders of the time, particularly Alan Greenspan, it becomes clear there is little to no mention of the positive and negative consequences of organizations. Individuals seem to control, or most often not control, the macro-economic processes in which they are embedded. Durand refers to this dominant perspective in economic explanations which renders organizations unspoken and invisible the ‘quant’ thesis. As he shows, even calls for financial caution from within the economic community concern only the individual’s relation to macroeconomic processes. Durand contends that the absence of attention paid to organizations is why systemic crises like the Great Recession are so devastating and why solutions to the problem are largely ineffective at providing usable solutions to people’s sense of lived disorder.
Part One continues with a well-written discussion presenting organizations as the units of investigation.  Durand centers his analysis on organizations, which operate as mediators between individual and macro-level phenomena. Similar to Fligstein and McAdams’s strategic action fields, Durand credits organizations with having a great deal of agency. His theory is based on the singular role of organizations, unlike both individualistic and macro-theoretical sources of social solidarity and meaning creation. Starting from the premise that solutions to the personal sense of disorganization within our lives created by organizations, Durand critiques two branches of sociological thought, which he terms the ‘sociology of the social’ and the ‘sociology of association.’ For Bourdieu, the sources of meaning are determined by an individual’s habitus by class, which governs their behavior within a hierarchy of social fields. In this view, fields are much more stable and fixed, with individuals entering and leaving them based on their own competence. In an alternative thesis, Latour is credited with a more fluid theory involving the individual’s embedding within various networks which constitute the individual by association. Orgology offers an alternative perspective to both of these. As mentioned above, orgology pays attention to the work of organizations to mediate between the individual and macro-process levels of analysis. In this view, individuals are credited with having less agency than Latour’s method, though a bit more than in Bourdieu conception.
In Part Two, Durand explicates the two sources of disorganization, loss of legitimacy and competition. Both are a result of the way in which organizations provide solutions. By solutions, Durand means “very broadly, the products, services and deals that are offered for our attention, consumption and use and that drive our everyday actions” (p.39). He terms the meaning intrinsic in the solutions organizations provide ‘res-sources,’ or “reservoirs of meaning” (p.40). When organizations are not able to provide meaningful solutions to individuals’ problems, the result is a loss of legitimacy for the providing organization. This also results in the strengthening competition and meaning depreciation of the providing organization.
Part Three examines the ‘logics of action’ employed by organizations in the public sphere, or public spaces. Here Durand draws from theories of institutional logics to understand how meaning depreciation occurs and is sustained. To demonstrate his argument, Durand analyzes the ubiquitous logic of ‘the market.’ He critiques all notions of markets as autonomous entities which seem to act directly on individuals with no alternative mediation. He finds the market is not autonomous, nor is the sovereign rule of law enforced by states. This is important since the state is seen as the dominant check on market autonomy. The logic of the market is the aforementioned ‘quant’ perspective indoctrinated into economic explanations of social activity. Organizations offer competing logics which provide meaning to individuals, in a mutually-reinforcing relationship, than what the author refers to as ‘performance tests.’ Performance tests cannot provide meaningful solutions. They only reinforce the standards of market calculability, and ultimately increasing the apparent disorganization which destabilizes the peoples’ lives.
Part Four deals with the history of ‘temporary advantages’ and the over-theorized individual. Throughout the book, Durand discusses the competition existing between organizations in relations to the solution they are able to propose. While many organizations manage to create temporary advantages for themselves within the particular production arena they are competing, organizations must make more lasting decisions to overcome both competition and the loss of legitimacy that follows. Concurrently, sociologists and even many organization theorists have focused almost exclusively on the individual as the source of their own welfare and mobility. Durand contends it is the individuals association to organizations which gives their actions direction and meaning. This section deals with many of the assumptions which underlie contemporary failures to account for individual success in relation to large social and economic processes.
In Part Five, Durand shows how a new understanding of the valuable roles people play when they work through organizations and not around them. The ‘organizations individual,’ as he calls it, must constantly re-evaluate their position within the myriad of organizational association they maintain, and seriously utilize those association to make sense of their own known-world. Durand refers to this corrective process as the reprise, or re-ensensing, of known-worlds. Successful organizations provide solutions to these issues and thus contribute this re-contextualization. They learn to manage their resources in order to both meet the needs of employees, partners, shareholders, and other associates, while keeping in pace with the changing competitive market for their products and services. Durand notes the critical role of management within organizations, particularly the management of the various competing logics of action. Organizations respond to the very real needs of associates, while concurrently providing solutions directing them toward new challenges and away from prolonged crises like those experienced during this last great economic recession.
This book is appropriate for both undergraduate and graduate students. While many of insights might not be as revolutionary to scholars, this book should be read by organization theorists wishing to conduct research that takes organizations seriously. Durand has written a great work which promotes an honest look at the principle role organizations play in our lives. This book does not replace most sociological and management literatures on organizations, but supplements much of the confusion within these studies stemming from a lack of organizational understanding, particularly in regards to personalized elements of organizations.

Bradley W. Williams is a doctoral researcher at George Mason University. He studies transnational governance, social movements, peace and organizational processes. Twitter: @B_W_Williams

The fiction future of faculty: an afternoon of sociological design fiction

Posted By Mark Carrigan

I’m organising a design fiction event in Manchester on September 16th, with James Duggan and Joseph Lindley. It’ll be great. You can register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-fiction-future-of-faculty-an-afternoon-of-sociological-design-fiction-tickets-18169546603

The ability of storytelling to help us envision and discuss a gamut of plausible futures, from dystopian visions to everyday utopias, is increasingly being harnessed using the nascent practice of ‘design fiction’. Design fiction, a term coined by author Bruce Sterling, “tells worlds not stories”. Although inspired by sci-fi, design fiction is less about the “hocus pocus” of far-flung techno-futures, and instead is more practical, hands-on, and mundane. Design fictions extrapolate from current data, trends, research and technologies, not in an attempt to predict the future, but to interrogate the plurality of plausible futures by forging a discursive space form which insights may emerge. This session will explore how design fiction can help us illuminate preferable, or indeed undesirable, futures of academia.

The university is a site of managerial and neoliberal transformation, with increased applications of competitive logics and performative technologies to re-define academia and academic practice. There are however examples of resistance and hope, with everyday utopian experiments such as the Social Science Centre, Lincoln. In this exploratory session, we use design fiction as an approach for exploring the potential for change latent within  current circumstances, through contrasting utopian and dsytopian visions for the future of higher education.

If you are interested in the future of the University and academic practice, or if you have a position or provocation to share, then please come and join us. During the session we will present two contrasting visions of the academy in 2020, one dystopic and one utopian. These positions will provide the foundations for a broader conversation about the future and design fiction. We will unpack questions such as can design fiction inform a better future for Universities? Are dystopian or utopian visions of the future more likely to help us get to a better future? What is ‘better’ anyway?

Why we should be shoppers – not disciples – in intellectual matters

Posted By Steve Fuller

However much it offends their narcissistic natures, most academics are disciples of one or maybe 2-3 masters. This applies across all the disciplines, though the nature of the discipleship differs among them. In the human sciences, which tend to collapse the distance between what one does and who one is, the sense of discipleship is a secular version of the classic religion model. Thus, a sense of imitation that begins as the sincerest form of flattery can end up as a priestly parody. In contrast, the natural sciences are more medieval, even today, as one still refers to lab ‘apprenticeship’, where the journeyman acquires a style of research which he or she then carries forward as an independent inquirer. However, nowadays one may need to apprentice in 2-3 or more labs, often turning the scientist into a ‘jack of all trades’ personality, with little commitment to any of them.

In either case, you can probably predict two-thirds of what academics think just by knowing who they studied – either in text on in person. The other third you can predict, once you know the conditions under which they’re deploying this legacy – or accumulated capital — to produce what is honorifically called ‘original work’. On this view, the difference between the greater and the lesser lights of a discipline is simply the number of masters that they dextrously handle: i.e. 2-3 versus just 1.

The luminary status of people like, say, Slavoj Zizek and Judith Butler can be explained largely in this fashion, namely, their insights are reducible to the key people they read (very well, to be sure), with a small residue that reflects their own idiosyncratic reading habits. In turn, they attract a mass following because many people in their day will also have read – or at least would want to appear as having read — the same people, say, Marx, Freud, Lacan, Foucault, etc. Academics of this sort are easy to explain in terms of both their influences and the influence they exert over others. In 1998 Randall Collins published The Sociology of Philosophies, which very impressively applied this master-disciple thesis to understand ‘global intellectual change’, as he put it. It will be a very long time before the institutional history of intellectual life is bettered in all its details.

However, that’s not the only intellectual history that can be done, even from a sociological standpoint. In a book I published ten years ago, The Intellectual, I spoke of ‘one-stop shopping for the mind’ to characterize authors like Zizek and Butler. In contrast, the true intellectual is one of who is always shopping around for new ideas – but we need to take the idea of shopping literally. Shopping can’t be reduced to ‘following fashion’ because shopping implies thinking in terms of the personal suitability of a good on sale. Indeed, there is a tendency to underestimate the amount of kickback that shoppers give to fashion. You try on the garment or test-drive the car. If you purchase the good, you shape it at least as much as it shapes you.

In this respect, I’m more a shopper than a disciple in intellectual matters. Here it is important to distinguish the customer from the consumer of ideas. The distinction turns on two senses of ‘buying’. The customer ‘buys’ an idea simply in the sense of ‘purchase’, i.e. investing one’s own resources to acquire the idea. Thus, I buy a book, read it, but I may then ignore or inveigh against it – or, best of all, incorporate it in some creative way that makes the book’s ideas my own.  Thus, the intellectual customer may well operate against the grain of an idea’s producer by appropriating it in ways that the producer had not intended –or even would approve.

In contrast, the consumer falls more easily into the discipleship mode. That consumers are no more than disciples with a credit line has spurred businesses to increase and extend their brand recognition, such that once a branded product is purchased, its producers will try to ensure that the consumer will also buy many if not all of its affiliated lines, or ‘apps’. Apple and Microsoft are perhaps the most obvious cases in our own day. Moreover, because intellectual movements –no less than commercial enterprises or political parties — are ultimately fields of competing forces in search of coherent productivity, they necessarily have an idiosyncratic character. Thus, discipleship is easily spotted in, say, actor-network theory, given that as soon as Bruno Latour’s reading patterns shift to Alfred North Whitehead, John Dewey and Walter Lippmann – perhaps in a pique of nostalgia for early 20C American thought – all of his disciples follow suit. This is not true shopping: It’s the sort of ‘one-stop shopping’ that comes from buying on subscription.

In British English, ‘shopping’ has an interesting meaning that accentuates the sense of ‘shopping’ I am advocating. If you ‘shop someone’, you are informing them to the authorities, presumably because you managed to gain their confidence, which led them to confess something criminal. This is akin to the profound Italian adage, traduttore tradittore, which I first learned in my student days when Jacques Derrida was fashionable: ‘To translate is to betray’. While it’s often presented as a counsel of despair against the prospect of adequate translation, the adage is best understood as a formula for turning a double negative into positive: You give the impression that your time spent on someone else’s thought is to follow it, but in practice your intention is to supersede it by creatively misunderstanding the thought.

2015 Quantified Self Europe Conference – Sept 18-19, Amsterdam

Posted By Sociological Imagination

A reminder from QS Labs:

I wanted to send along a quick email to invite you all to the 2015 Quantified Self Europe Conference. On September 18th and 19th we’re continuing our tradition of community-supported, peer-to-peer learning conferences with our fourth Quantified Self Europe Conference
at the beautiful canal-side, Casa 400 hotel, a few minutes bike ride from central Amsterdam. We invite you to join us in this relaxed and vibrant atmosphere to learn, share, and engage with self-trackers and toolmakers from around the world.

As always, this will be a “carefully curated unconference” which means we hand craft the program based on who is coming. If you have something to share we want to hear from you! We would love to have research projects, discussions, and self-tracking projects from the Quantified Self Research Network represented in the program.

Register today to take advantage of our €149 Early Bird rate, before the price increases to €249.

The case for a philosophical sociology

Posted By Sadia Habib

by Daniel Chernilo

(featured in the newsletter of the European Sociological Association, Summer 2015 Issue 38)

In this short intervention, I offer a plea for sociology’s reengagement with philosophy. To be sure, the extent to which their ties have severed over the past few decades will vary in different national or regional contexts. As far as I know, the case is more pronounced in English-speaking sociologies than in Spanish-, German- or French-speaking ones. Also, the field that is commonly demarcated as ‘the epistemology of social sciences’ remains one way in which both traditions still interact – although one suspects that social scientists pay far more attention to it than philosophers do.

I call this invitation ‘philosophical sociology’ and define it as the attempt to unpack the (mostly implicit) conceptions of the human, humanity and human nature that underpin our conceptions of social life. The main intellectual source for the idea of philosophical sociology comes of course from philosophical anthropology. Originally associated with the names of Max Scheler (2009) and Ernst Cassirer (1977) in the 1920s and 1930s, the tradition of philosophical anthropology was explicitly devoted to the development of a general understanding of ‘what is a human being’. For my purposes, the most important intervention in this field comes from a short book by Karl Löwith (1993). First published in 1932, Löwith’s Max Weber and Karl Marx starts by stating what for us is now the obvious: Weber and Marx shared an interest in the rise and contemporary workings of modern capitalism and offered radically different interpretations of it. Their scientific originality, their ‘sociologies’, is apparent in how their historical and conceptual sophistication wholly transformed our understanding of capitalism. But Löwith argues that these explicit sociologies of capitalism are in fact underpinned by a common philosophical concern that is the ultimate motif of their work: what it means to be human under the alienating conditions of modern capitalism. Löwith contends that Weber and Marx were ‘essentially sociologists, namely, philosophical sociologists’ because ‘both provide – Marx directly and Weber indirectly – a critical analysis of modern man within bourgeois society in terms of bourgeois-capitalist economy, based on the recognition that the ‘economy’ has become human ‘destiny’ (Löwith 1993: 48, my italics). As philosophical anthropology continued to develop after World War II, the notion that emerged was that a dual scientific and philosophical approach to understanding the human results from, and must be preserved, because of the duality of the human condition itself: humans are partly natural bodies that are controlled by their urges, emotions and organic adaptation to the world and they are also partly conscious beings that are defined by their intellectual, aesthetic and indeed moral insights (Gehlen 1980, Plessner 1970). A key motif of this philosophical anthropology is the claim that no substantive idea of human nature was ever going to capture the essential features of what makes us humans; human beings are fundamentally indeterminate with regards to organic adaptation and this is what makes social institutions and cultural practices essential to human live.

A second insight for the idea of philosophical sociology comes from Max Weber’s lecture on Science as a Vocation (1970). Weber contends there that sociology can make a contribution to public debates by unpacking the various practical and indeed normative implications of different policy options. I translate this insight into the suggestion that normative debates in society – from abortion to euthanasia via migration and welfare reforms – are actually underpinned by ideas of the human that are never fully articulated out. All societies have normative ideas and most sociologists will accept that a good account of social life will have to be able to say something meaningful about how these ideas are actualised; why and how some are preferred over others. Unpacking these ideas of the human is important because normative debates are never fully disconnected from what human beings themselves consider right or wrong, fair or unfair. In the societies we live in, humans have turned themselves into the ultimate arbiters of normativity itself. By means of its expert empirical knowledge, sociology can cast a critical eye on what is exactly being advocated, both in normatively and in practice, in particular instances.

To reclaim the importance of understanding the relationships between our preconceptions of the human and our explicit theories of society does not entail a return to an anthropocentric ‘epistemological obstacle’: thou shall not explain society through the action of individuals (Luhmann 2012). It is instead an invitation to reconsider the idea that social life itself is predicated on the fact that human beings are capable of such collective existence. Humans are beings who have a continuity of consciousness so that they see themselves as themselves throughout their life; human are beings who negotiate a multiplicity of sometimes contradictory identities and recognise each other as members of the same species, and they are also beings who can create and interpret cultural artefacts. Crucially, humans are beings who can deploy a sense of self-transcendence so that they are able to look at the world from somebody else’s point of view and thus conceive new social institutions (Archer 2000, Arendt 1978, Parsons 1978).

But in mainstream contemporary sociology we are missing these insights all too easily. Its social constructionist variant mistakenly treats the social and the human as a zero-sum game, so that bloated notions of the social leave no space for a philosophical enquiry about preconceptions of the human. Conversely, in the ‘combative’ variant as advocated by Bourdieu (1994), conceptions of justice, legitimacy, fairness or democracy need not be included as part of the social world because conflict, power and struggles are deemed to give a full ontology of the social (Honneth 1986). The fundamental reason for these shortcomings lies in the deficient philosophical underpinnings of both: whilst radical constructionism pays no attention to any form of anthropological reflection, Bourdieu’s sociology uses a highly reductionist conception of human nature that cares only for power and strategic bargaining. Indeed, this form of irrationalism has been available within sociology for several decades (Bendix 1970); other candidates being more or less essentialist ideas of ‘identity’ and ‘authenticity’ that figure so highly in postcolonial and intersectional approaches (Connell 2007, Mignolo 2005). This is sociology’s very own self-fulfilling dystopia: although most sociologists do care about normative questions (not least in relation to their own justifications as to why they are doing sociology at all), they feel no particular need to take normative ideas into account as part of they have to explain sociologically (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006).

The history of sociology is of course full of attempts at determining the problem of normative justifications. Even if religion does remain available in contemporary society, cosmological convictions now co-exist with a wide pool of competing justifications and that their (ir)rationality is hotly contested. We have also witnessed the appeal to teleological ideas of secular progress and their belief in the normative power of history: justifications for the rights and wrongs of past and present were to be assessed against the promises of a better future. And society itself has been posited as a source of normative integration. But being subject to permanent  historical and cultural changes, society was equally weak for the task of providing stable normative justifications. The ambivalent normative appeal of the nation in modern times, and the need to defend minorities against the nation’s unsavoury wishes, illustrates well this point (Chernilo 2007).

As religion, history and society are all in trouble when trying to uphold normative justifications, we can still ask whether the defining anthropological features of our species can do this job – and this is a path philosophical sociology seeks to explore. To be sure, ideas of humanity are socially construed and have themselves changed over time (Fuller 2011). But it seems to me that a key strength of philosophical sociology lies in its taking seriously the humans capacity to reflect on what makes them the kind of being that they actually are. Anthropological arguments remain the best option here because they allow us to consider, simultaneously, that normative arguments are only actualised in society, are to carry the free assent of individual themselves and yet their binding force remains attached to some stable features that all humans possess qua human beings. Indeed, this is precisely why we claim human rights ought to be respected under all circumstances and even especially against society’s own will (Habermas 2010, Joas 2013).

For all their claims to originality and intimations that they seek to make sense of a new world that is still in the making, the new strand of post-humanist thinking belongs in the mode that I am describing (Braidotti 2013, Haraway 1991). This genre is constituted by its own combination of partly speculative and partly scientific arguments and echoes previous critiques of humanism. Indeed, its fundamental question remains exactly the same: how open to social manipulation human nature actually is, whether developments in contemporary technology have put an end to the human being as we know it and whether the very idea of humanity has ever been anything but an pernicious illusion. Inside mainstream social science, Bruno Latour (2013) has advanced similar claims about the definitive need for a whole new ontology that can do without the distinction between humans and nonhumans (although the philosophical result of his investigations is an even more reductionist ontology that allows only for the networks). I suggest that we turn their claim to novelty on their head – and not only because there is nothing less original than their claims to originality. The fundamental point that they miss is precisely that their very quest is paradigmatic of the all too human frustration with the irritating inevitability of the question what is to be human. When the post-humanist literature rejects the ‘foundationalism’ that underpins traditional ‘humanist’ ideas, they use this term now for exactly the same that, in the 1960s, was deemed mere ‘bourgeois’ or ‘ideological’ humanism and, in the 1920s, it was treated as unwarranted ‘metaphysics’. What is really going on, however, is that their ontologies of the social are underpinned by too shallow a view of the human.

This anti-humanism is as conventional as it is flawed: it conflates ‘Humanism’ as the colonial ideology of the West with the legitimate enquiry about anthropological foundations of social life and, as it deconstructs the inconsistencies of the former, it has no difficulty in ubiquitously appealing to traditional humanist values (solidarity, emancipation, subjectivity) for its own justifications. Their explorations into the limits and exceptions to ‘Western anthropocentrism’ is potentially illuminating, but there is something deeply elitist when this is proclaimed ‘on behalf’ of the disposed of the world who, quite literally, are dying for the most simple humanist values and institutions are being so arrogantly dismissed here: the right to work, basic human decency, equality before the law. In the old debate on humanism between Sartre (2007) and Heidegger (1993), all the important lessons have been learnt the wrong way round: they misunderstood the deeply humanistic sensibilities of the former (however imperfect) and have instead become intoxicated by the smug self-congratulation of the latter (regardless of how misguided).

The fundamental point remains, therefore: the ‘Copernican revolution’ of humans stop putting themselves at the centre of the universe is itself a major human accomplishment (Bachelard 2002). If the current decentering of anthropocentrism is to become sociologically fruitful, we have to accept the fact that this decentering has a limit and is not wholly reversible: the science, law and philosophy that now reflect on the environment, animals and cyborgs remains the wholly human accomplishment of those members of our species that now show an increased sensibility towards them.

If what I have argued so far makes sense, it may already be clear that this is not a task that sociology can fulfil on its own. Given the historical, moral, scientific and indeed theological density of our conceptions of the human, for sociology to pursue this task it needs to reconnect to philosophy. A dual approach, both scientific and philosophical, is needed because this reflects best our human condition – and sociology’s highly sophisticated ability to empirically account for the ways and trends of contemporary society shall prove essential here. We must reconnect our sociological understandings of social life with philosophically informed ideas of the human, humanity and even human nature. After a long history in which sociology tried to differentiate itself from philosophy in order to secure its scientific status, it is now again in need of philosophy. But the idea of philosophical sociology for which I advocate is neither a substitute for empirical sociological research nor a philosophical dissolution of sociology (Chernilo 2014). It rather suggests that the common anthropological traits that define us as members of the same species create the conditions for social life to unfold without this common humanity itself being able to act directly on society (Chernilo 2013).  They are also the basis from which ideas of justice, self, dignity and the good life emerge. These are irreducible to material factors because their normative worth ultimately refers back and thus depends on our conceptions of what is to be human. Without disciplinary arrogance or parochialism, a re-engagement between sociology and philosophy can take the form of a mutual learning process between the different knowledge claims that underpin them both: the empirical vocation of sociology as it grapples with the complexities of contemporary society and the kind of unanswerable questions that we still associate with the best of the philosophical tradition. At stake here is the fact that as long as sociology continues to raise the big questions about life in society – the powers of agency, the relationships between nature and culture or the dialectics between domination and emancipation – these are all questions that also transcend it: good sociological questions are always, in the last instance, also philosophical ones.



Archer, M.  S. (2000) Being human. The problem of agency, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Arendt, H. (1978) The life of the mind, New York: Hartcourt.

Bachelard, G. (2002) The formation of the scientific mind, Manchester: Clinamen

Bendix, R. (1970) Embattled reason. Essays on social knowledge, New York: Oxford University Press.

Boltanski, L. and Thévenot, L. (2006) On justification. Economies of worth, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1994) Sociology in question, London: Sage.

Braidotti, R. (2013) The posthuman, Cambridge: Polity Press

Cassirer, E. (1977) An essay on man, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Chernilo, D.  (2007) A social theory of the nation-state, London: Routledge.

Chernilo, D. (2013) The natural law foundations of modern social theory: A quest for universalism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chernilo, D. (2014) ‘The idea of philosophical sociology’, British Journal of Sociology 65 (2): 338-357.

Connell, R. 2007 Southern theory, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Fuller, S. (2011) Humanity 2.0: What it means to be human past, present and future, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Gehlen, A. (1980) Man in the age of technology, Nueva York: Columbia University Press.

Habermas, J. (2010) ‘The concept of human dignity and the realistic utopia of human rights’, Metaphilosophy 41(4): 464–80.

Haraway, D (1991) Simians, cyborgs and women: The reinvention of nature, London: Free Association Books.

Heidegger, M. (1993) ‘Letter on humanism’, in Heidegger, M. Basic writings, London: Routledge.

Honneth, A. (1986) ‘The fragmented world of symbolic forms: Reflections on Pierre Bourdieu’s Sociology of Culture’, Theory, Culture and Society 3(3): 55–66.

Joas, H. (2013) The sacredness of the person. A new genealogy of human rights, Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Latour, B. (2013) An enquiry into modes of existence. An anthropology of the moderns, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Löwith, K. (1993) Max Weber and Karl Marx, London: Routledge.

Luhmann, N. (2012) The society of society, Vol. 1, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Mignolo, W. (2005) The idea of Latin America, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Nussbaum, M. (2006) Frontiers of justice. Disability, nationality, species membership, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press.

Parsons, T. (1978) Action theory and the human condition, New York: The Free Press.

Plessner, H. (1970) Laughing and crying. A study of the limits of human behavior, Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Sartre, J-P. (2007) Existentialism is a humanism, New Heaven: Yale University Press.

Scheler, M. (2009) The human place in the cosmos, Evanston: Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Weber, M. (1970a [1919]) ‘Science as a Vocation’ in Gerth, H. & Mills, C. W. (eds) From Max Weber. Essays in Sociology, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.


Daniel Chernilo is Reader in Social and Political Thought at Loughborough University. His forthcoming monograph Philosophical Sociology: Debating Humanity in Contemporary Social Theory will be published by Cambridge University Press.  Email: D.Chernilo@lboro.ac.uk

The moral discourse of the ‘reasonable technocrat’

Posted By Sociological Imagination

An excellent piece on Democrat Audit looking at the role of the ‘reasonable technocrat’ in the unfolding of the crisis in Europe. It’s important to analyse the moral underpinnings of technocratic discourse, looking at what makes it plausible and important to those who see the world in this way: a self-congragulatory pragmatism, regarding oneself as a ‘very serious person’ able to take tough and necessary decisions, based on an accumulated expertise that the impressionable public lack:

Can the EU afford to follow the will of turbulent, wavering people?  For some, the answer is: no. They propose to hand over decision-making to ‘reasonable technocrats’ instead. This not only promises to save people form their own short- sightedness but would also be preferable over the (impossible) promises of ‘populist’ or the take over of political extremists.

Effectively the ‘reasonable technocrat’ is a second coming of Margaret Thatcher’s (and, more recently: Angela Merkel´s) TINA politics. If ‘there is no alternative’, ‘necessary action’ must be taken. It is arguably the core feature of the above mentioned advocacy coalition to refuse to call their core beliefs on economics into question. All to avoid frightening the markets.

But has democracy proved itself being incapable of coping with the crisis? Maybe one should ask what a ‘reasonable technocrat’ actually looks like. A reasonable politician may always be urged to follow the wishes of their voters and thus might make wrong decision. In contrast, the reasonable technocrat is bound to a specific theoretical paradigm and therefore runs into the danger to make logical but callous decisions. However, it may be hard to tell the reasonable from the unreasonable technocrat, the one who follows personal interests, affiliates with elites or entertains an ideological world view rather then the impartial assessment of the rational expert.

Putting too much trust in experts (reasonable or not) is always dangerous. For it may herald the hollowing out of European democracy and the marginalisation of the original constituency: the people. Back in 2012, the European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi was determined to ‘save the Euro at all costs’. If these costs include the viability of European democracy, one might ask: what was the Euro saved for?


CfP: The Role of Quantified Self for Personal Healthcare

Posted By Sociological Imagination

######### QSPH’15, Washington D.C., USA, November, 2015 ###########

Second International Workshop on The Role of Quantified Self for Personal Healthcare (QSPH’15)

Workshop held in conjunction with IEEE BIBM 2015 in Washington D.C., USA



The aims of the workshop are to engage researchers from both Healthcare and Quantified Self communities to discuss key issues, opportunities and obstacles for personal health data research. These include challenges of capturing, summarizing, presenting and retrieving relevant information from heterogeneous sources to support a new vision of pervasive personal healthcare.


We invite submission of papers reporting relevant research in the area of self-tracking for healthcare. We welcome submissions across a broad scope, addressing any of the following guideline topics but not excluding others, relevant to the workshop goals.

– Personal Health Informatics

– Quantified Self for Healthcare

– Activity Monitors and Devices

– Self-Tracking

– Gamification

– Healthcare Knowledge Representation & Reasoning

– Health Data acquisition, analysis and mining

– Healthcare Information Systems

– Biomedical Signal/Image Analysis

– Validity, reliability, usability, and effectiveness of Self-Tracking devices

– Design of Experiments

– Social and Psychological investigation into Self-Tracking practices

– Health Monitoring in clinical and lifestyle environments

– Sensors and actuators for Wellness, Fitness and Rehabilitation

– Innovative Algorithms for assessment of long-term physiological and behavioural data

– Models for interpreting medical sensor data

– Lifelogging, lifecaching, lifestreaming

– Biometric data

– Medical Self-diagnostics


All manuscripts must be written in English and formatted following the IEEE 2-column format. We accept full papers (up to 8 pages) and short papers (up to 4 pages). Papers should be submitted using the online submission system available at:https://wi-lab.com/cyberchair/2015/bibm15/scripts/ws_submit.php


Full/Short Papers Due: September 10th, 2015

Notification to Authors: September 30th, 2015

Camera-Ready: October 17th, 2015

Workshop: November, 2015 (exact date tbd)


Frank Hopfgartner, University of Glasgow, UK

Na Li, Dublin City University, IE

Till Plumbaum, TU Berlin, DE

Heather J. Ruskin, Dublin City University, IE

Huiru (Jane) Zheng, Ulster University, UK

The politics of data science

Posted By Sociological Imagination

A special issue of Discover Society I recently edited:

FOCUS: The Emerging Contours of Data Science
William Housley, (Cardiff University)
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VIEWPOINT: The Politics of Data Visualisation
Joanna Boehnert
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ON THE FRONTLINE: What is the Data in Big Data?
Jeffrey Alan Johnson (Utah Valley University)
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POLICY BRIEFING:A smart city’s perspective 
Emma Uprichard (University of Warwick)
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The Domesticated Aboutness of Big Data Types 
Ana Gross (University of Warwick)
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Big Data Seductions and Ambivalences
Deborah Lupton (University of Canberra) and Mike Michael (University of Sydney)
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The Growing Power of the Data Analytics Industry
David Beer (University of York)
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The Uberfication of the University
Gary Hall (Coventry University)
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Bottom of the Data Pyramid: Big Data and the Global South
Payal Arora (Erasmus University)
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What does Big Data mean for Official Statistics?
Rob Kitchin (National University of Ireland Maynooth)
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A Politics of Counting – Putting People Back into Big Data
Hamish Robertson and Joanne Travaglia (University of New South Wales)
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Big Data and the Politics of Discipline
Susan Halford (University of Southampton)
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Who owns Big Data?
Evelyn S. Ruppert ( Goldsmiths, University of London)
Read More

Who’s more popular on twitter? the UK’s top research universities or academic blogs and viral feeds?

Posted By Martin Whiteford

Comparing the follower counts for Twitter feeds based on the 2014 REF results (i.e. I mean ‘top’ in a very narrow sense) and an  unsystematically chosen selection of the Twitter feeds I’ve been scrutinising this morning as I finish off the book.

Oxford University: 231,000
Cambridge University: 200,000
Shit Academics Say: 129,000
Nein Quarterly: 114,000
Lego Academics: 51,000
Cardiff University: 44,800
Warwick University: 44,300
LSE Politics & Policy: 40,800*
LSE Events: 40,600
Imperial College: 37,900
Kings College London: 37,900
Grad School Elitist: 37,300**
University College London: 34,500
LSE: 23,200
Sociological Imagination: 19,200
Academia Obscura: 17,300
The Sociological Review: 15,500
Manchester University: 11,500
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: 8,590***

*I’m pleased to see so much continued growth. I was quite proud of having more than doubled the follower count when I ran it for six months & hoped it would eventually become the most prominent twitter feed at LSE.

**Not for long! The account has now gone private in the face of widespread condemnation.

***This is actually the Press account. The university doesn’t seem to have a dedicated Twitter feed.

Blogging as an outboard brain

Posted By Mark Carrigan

This superb post by Cory Doctorow, novelist and editor of Boing Boing, offers a philosophy of blogging extremely similar to what I’ve described in the past as continuous publishing. I really identify with what he’s saying here and it goes some way to explaining why I struggled so much with writing when I tried to give up blogging for a few months recently.

As a committed infovore, I need to eat roughly six times my weight in information every day or my brain starts to starve and atrophy. I gather information from many sources: print, radio, television, conversation, the Web, RSS feeds, email, chance, and serendipity. I used to bookmark this stuff, but I just ended up with a million bookmarks that I never revisited and could never find anything in.

Theoretically, you can annotate your bookmarks, entering free-form reminders to yourself so that you can remember why you bookmarked this page or that one. I don’t know about you, but I never actually got around to doing this — it’s one of those get-to-it-later eat-your-vegetables best-practice housekeeping tasks like defragging your hard drive or squeegeeing your windshield that you know you should do but never get around to.

Until I started blogging. Blogging gave my knowledge-grazing direction and reward. Writing a blog entry about a useful and/or interesting subject forces me to extract the salient features of the link into a two- or three-sentence elevator pitch to my readers, whose decision to follow a link is predicated on my ability to convey its interestingness to them. This exercise fixes the subjects in my head the same way that taking notes at a lecture does, putting them in reliable and easily-accessible mentalregisters.

Blogging also provides an incentive to keep blogging. As Boing Boing’s hit-counter rises steadily, growing 10-30 percent every month, I get a continuous, low-grade stream of brain-rewards; rewards that are reinforced by admiring email, cross-links from other blogs that show up in my referrer logs, stories that I broke climbing the ranks on Daypop and Blogdex (and getting picked up by major news outlets). The more I blog, the more reward I generate: strangers approach me at conferences and tell me how much they liked some particular entry; people whose sites I’ve pointed to send me grateful email thanking me for bringing their pet projects to the attention of so many people.


Petition to form an analytical sociology section within ASA

Posted By Sociological Imagination

Over the last couple of years, there have been discussions about the possibility of forming an analytical sociology section within the ASA.  Growing representation not only in leading sociology journals but also in journals like the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and Science have convinced us that now is the time to launch this section.  The recent successes of the International Network of Analytical Sociologists annual conferences, along with a newly initiated book series in analytical sociology by Princeton University Press, lead us to believe that analytical sociology will quickly establish itself as a vibrant and attractive section of the ASA.

We expect that this section will be of interest to many of the existing ASA members.  There is an important niche to be filled for a section that caters to scholars in different substantive fields who do serious theory and research focusing on social networks, social mechanisms, collective dynamics, micro-macro links, and related approaches.  This includes many junior scholars pursuing research in mathematical sociology, methods, and computational social science for whom analytic sociology would be an attractive home.

The first stage in the process of forming a new section within the ASA is to get a minimum of 200 ASA members to support the initiative. We very much hope that you will be one of them. Please visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/8YR2ZZC in order to register your support.

To have the section in place for the 2016 ASA meeting in Seattle, and to be able to put together a highly stimulating set of sessions that reflect the breath and quality of analytical sociology, we kindly ask for your support by Monday, August 17th.

With the best wishes,

Delia Baldassari                  Peter Bearman               Elizabeth Bruch           Damon Centola                   Karen Cook                      Filiz Garip

Mark Granovetter               Peter Hedström             Michael Macy          Robert Mare                        Christopher Winship

Call for papers: Medicine, Health and Self-Tracking

Posted By Sociological Imagination

This special issue focuses on the topic of self-tracking as it is used for health and medical purposes. Self-tracking has recently been incorporated into a range of health and medical domains. These include voluntary health promotion and fitness monitoring, fertility, sexuality and reproductive health tracking, patient self-care regimens, corporate wellness and productivity programs, health and life insurance schemes and school-based physical education programs. A new range of digitised devices have come onto the market that can be employed to engage in self-tracking, such as smartphone apps and wearable tech, but some practitioners may prefer time-honoured methods such as using weight scales, diaries or journals to monitor their health and wellbeing.

Articles are invited for this issue that address the social, cultural, political and ethical dimensions of self-tracking practices in health and medicine contexts. The deadline for submission of articles is Friday 27th November 2015.

Submission Process

Submissions must align with the journal aims as well as the themed issue, be prepared in line with the instructions to authors, and be submitted through the ScholarOne system, selecting the option for consideration for this themed issue. For all journal and submission information, visit the journal’s homepage.

The final decision about publication will be made by the Editors-in-Chief, but if you are not sure whether your article is appropriate for this special issue, please feel free to send an abstract in the first instance to Deborah.Lupton@canberra.edu.au.

Editorial information

On not writing from the PhD

Posted By Mark Carrigan

This was originally published on patter

On March 26th 2014 I finally submitted my thesis for the PhD I had begun almost six years earlier. The event itself was somewhat anticlimactic after a false start the day before when ebullience at having finished gave way to irritation upon realising I’d misread the formatting guidelines and had to get my thesis reprinted. Thus I shuffled into University House the following day, somewhat hungover, with my now correctly printed thesis only to be told that I was in the wrong place and had to make my way across campus if I wanted the university to take receipt of this document which had dominated my life for the past six years. In retrospect this subdued comedy of errors seems rather appropriate because it helped detract from what might otherwise have been unreasonable expectations about how I would feel once it was over. I never really liked being a PhD student yet I never wanted to let go of my thesis. I felt about it rather like this panda feels about his green ball:


I’d got used to sitting with it. It’s simply what I was doing: sitting with my green ball. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable and at times it became downright tedious. But it was comfortable and familiar to an extent that made the impending reality of it being snatched away from me feel bizarrely traumatic. But in reality, it wasn’t snatched away, as much as the belittling objectivity of a final deadline from the university made it seem as if it would be. From the mildly chaotic handing in process through to a six month long wait for a viva and the weirdly familiar process of getting a library copy printed and going to hand this in, it simply rolled away from me in a manner I was only dimly aware of at the time. This thing that had provided such structure to my life since the age of 23 faded slowly into the distance until I one day discovered that I was Dr. Carrigan giving a lecture to a room full of masters students. That first lecture on the masters module I convened was the closest thing I’ve experienced to a culmination of the process and it wasn’t all that close. The graduation ceremony was another occasion on which to wear a suit that doesn’t fit me properly, coupled with an ever sillier hat perched upon my head than last time.

The point of this naval-gazing is to address a question Patter asked me after a conversation on Twitter: why I am so averse to going back to publish from my PhD? It’s been over a year since I handed it in and yet a begrudging cover-to-cover reading the day before my viva is the only point at which I’ve looked at in this time. This was the double sided misprint which my false start at handing in left me with, a document I scrawled upon before relegating to the corner of my book shelf. The slightly diminished status of the volume feels oddly appropriate and yet mildly upsetting. Oddly enough for someone who once agonised over whether instrumentalism would win out in deciding what to do with my PhD thesis (http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/12530) I now find myself struggling to motivate myself to do anything with it.

When I say ‘my PhD’ what do I actually mean? It occurs to me that it was both process and outcome. It’s something I did for six years, entirely subjugating every other aspect of my life to it, but it’s also the outcome of that process. This lends the document itself a tremendously ambiguous status which I think goes some way to explaining my reluctance to part with at the time of submission. I’ve never known quite how to feel about it, least of all when the university was telling me I had to finally hand it over or they’d kick me out.

My PhD has its material existence as sheets of paper, sequentially bound together according to a strict rubric, upon which its intellectual content is inscribed. But it also has a more spectral existence, something which postmodernists might describe as hauntalogical: its existence as a physical document brings to a close all which came before it and yet these angst-ridden years linger on through the physicality of those pages. As a marker of intellectual progress, it captures all the mistakes I made and grants an acidulous permanence to the missteps which I realise on a reflective level are an unavoidable part of the process. But it was also the horizon of that progress, as well as my life as a whole during that time in which so much happened to make me the person I am now, some fantastic, a little that was truly terrible and much that was simply tedious. In view of this, the materiality of the thesis seems almost pathetically mundane to me.

I can’t imagine ever feeling comfortable with my PhD. It’s not that I think it’s a bad PhD… it’s an unusual piece of work but I’ve had enough people I respect understand what I was trying to do for me to feel confident that it has intellectual value. But the document itself feels so unendingly strange to me, even now over a year later when I find myself reflecting on it for the first time in weeks, I’d like nothing more than to leave it in the past as an awkward and confusing encounter I doubt I’ll ever be sure what to make of. In spite of this, I know my PhD will in reality follow me wherever I go, intensifying my avoidance in the knowledge that I can’t ever entirely avoid it. I might very well end up producing the handful of journal articles which could very easily be adapted from my thesis. I don’t really want to though and the evidence thus far suggests I probably won’t. Hopefully in writing this I’ve helped explain why this is the case and I’m curious to know if others share my antipathy towards something which the culture of the academy suggests we should be proud of.


The further micro-politics of noise

Posted By Sociological Imagination

By Jeff Vass in response to this post 

Firstly, in view of the way you have problematised the individualistic vs relational self in connection with the noise issue I’d like to make a distinction between ‘descriptive and prescriptive ‘selves’ in the same way that linguistics makes the distinction between describing the actual practices of people and their own ideal, prescriptive rules for governing those practices.  In linguistics one has to make a distinction between the grammar that teachers prescribe for ‘Good English’, say, and the actual English(es) that are spoken/written in the myriad contexts in which they occur. The latter are variable, pragmatic, subject to change and variation and, from a prescriptive view, look like an erosion of principles etc.  To enforce prescriptive principles seems anti-progressive and most of us tend to live with the linguistic ‘mission drift’ as English evolves.  We might argue that the ‘rules’ of grammar should simply follow fashion.  Similarly, I see this latter argument in the view that the relational self, by virtue of the fact of its relationality, should simply drift along with any change of conditions in custom and practice in the civic space which embeds it: if the majority uses mobile phones in the quiet carriage on the train I should go with this.  By extension, to try to assert my ‘individual rights’ to quietness seems like I am not respecting the relational interdependence that selves have with others if I go against the grain.

However, a relational ontology of the self, if I may, does not mean that we must necessarily impose on ourselves a ‘contingent interdependence’ at all points in civic space.  That is to say, if a particularly noisy gizmo comes to market and there is a sudden trend to use it ubiquitously that i find irritating or harmful to my well-being or quality of life, I don’t have to abandon my relational self position in asserting an ‘individualist’ right to be gizmo-free.  In other words, from a descriptive sense of the self as relational we are not, by that fact, prohibited from prescriptively taking the self in other ways that we can reasonably sustain as a community.  The problem with the Tory view (sic) of individualism is, I think, based on arguing from the apparent empirical outcome, that because we just see individuals everywhere then the ontological basis of social life must be simply collections of individuals.  Mrs. Thatcher’s viewpoint seemed to be, derived from her empirical finding, that she could only see individuals on every horizon she cared to look.  From this she reasoned that  (I paraphrase) the basic ontology of selves was as primordial individualities.  Hence, she did conclude that what seemed to her to be the case ought to be the case.  Marx argued that practice was fundamentally ‘co-operative’ in form and that individual productivity is a kind of illusion.  I assume he is right.  My labour is interdependent.  It is dangerous only when we allow the illusion to obliterate the cooperative basis of everything we do.  Like Mrs Thatcher he argued that cooperation should form the basis of polity.  However, cooperation and relationality do not, in themselves, proscribe ways of organising selves that allow individuals to exercise rights provided that we do not misrecognise the basic interdependencies on which they are based.

I think noise ‘creep’ is harmful and does impact on people’s well-being and does make us forgetful and misrecognise the needs of others.  I think it is unlike the problem, say, of the ‘dark sky’ movement (which I also support!).  I think we have had light creep from urbanisation and street lighting on a massive scale in the west such that there are parts of the night sky we can now no longer see as a consequence of light pollution.  This is sad, but I realise that I have to balance this against the safety of people walking home late at night etc.. Noise I think does adversely impact on well-being, health and the quality of life of people who cannot sleep, cannot concentrate on the things they want to do etc.. Noise also creates new dependencies.  In London I lived above a man who had the TV on all waking hours; it was fairly tolerable except that for every news programme he would turn it up to maximum volume. 6AM news, midday news, 6 pm, 9pm and 10pm – the news would go to maximum.  I queried this with him.  Though he had the telly on all the time he wasn’t always watching it, “but you’ve got to have something on haven’t you?” he said.  So, I asked why he had to have every iteration of the news on every channel when basically you get the same stories all day, “well, in case something happens” he said.  Since then I’ve lived next to people who likewise need constant noise.  One woman found construction noise from pile drivers “comforting”. She had the radio on constantly at home and in the car, why was this?: “my brain goes haywire otherwise”.  Another couple I lived next to did DIY every night and weekend for years.  I asked: “why don’t you just sit and watch the TV?” the answer was “We can’t. After 20 minutes we notice something on the wall and out come the tools”.  After 8 years they sold up.  Why?  “There’s nothing more to do on the house”.

So I realise I may be in a shrinking minority who think that it’s good to be able to sit in the garden and read a book.  Many of my neighbours seem to think of their gardens as ‘power tool playgrounds’.  But they do let me sleep at night, I am grateful for that!

I think we can sustain a descriptive account of the relational self, but also sustain a prescriptive set of ‘rights, duties and obligations’ that we wish to attach to ‘individuals’ in a civic sense without compromising an account of them from the standpoint of relationality.  I would promote a concept of ‘sonic footprint’ alongside ‘carbon footprint’.  Unlike ‘rights to dark skies’ that are infringed by light pollution I think  sonic footprints do impact on others’ rights.  On the whole I need to be made aware that my carbon footprint shows up a kind of gross negligence that is harmful to others in ways I didn’t intend.  Likewise I believe that that, in pursuit of our own enjoyments, we corrode public and private spaces and the quality of life of others, often unintentionally, when we generate noise. We do it without extending a due ‘care’ to others. I think that if one wants the civic individual to be informed by their fundamental relationality as social beings then the care principle might be invoked – at least just as easily as the somewhat generous proclivity to learn to live with one’s neighbours’ growing sonic footprints!! I believe that in Germany it is prohibited to use power tools on a Sunday, lawn mowers etc. in residential areas.  There has often been a Sunday when I’ve wished that to be the case here!

Marginalisation of Muslims and organisations like CAGE

Posted By Sadia Habib

Katy Sian’s brilliant response to Max Farrar’s attempts to vilify human rights organisation CAGE:


“Alas Max Farrar, the difficulty of your approach is that you consistently fail to accept that collective identities are not predetermined and that the process of mobilization is constitutive of a people. The idea that class based formations are the only legitimate sources of identification and empowerment is continually belied by the experience of ethnic minorities who find solace in what are typically termed religious identities.
There is a clear lack of appreciation, and to some extent a denial, for the possibility of so-called religious identities becoming political. The mobilisation of Muslims in your reading will always be presented as a form of ‘fundamentalism’ and by definition a reactionary rather than a progressive politics, in which the usual disclaimers apply, e.g. ‘women are seen to be ‘subordinated’ and ‘oppressed;’ issues around homophobia; restrictions on free speech; victimhood and playing the ‘race’ card; and of course fairness or equality are ‘dismissed’ within these communities.

The only answer that your analysis can offer is one based upon an essentialism which determines the characteristics of any politics from the classification from its agents. Therefore, politics (and the political) remain a secondary phenomena throughout ethnicised communities where primordial loyalties and solidarities are immune to the process of political articulation and intervention. Unfortunately in your limited attack of CAGE you can only offer generic notions of ‘fundamentalism’ at best, which display the Eurocentrism inherent in many sections of the left. As you claim to be a long term fan of Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, I wonder what you would think he would make of your position in aligning yourself with such a neocon led campaign against a human rights advocacy organization?”

Katy Sian wrote the above response on social media in support of Tom Mills, David Miller and Narzanin Massoumi who have written about the brilliant work of CAGE, as well as about the attempts to derail this work in the name of War on Terror. 


Why on earth would leftists go out of their way to support Cage? by TOM MILLS, NARZANIN MASSOUMI, DAVID MILLER, and MAX FARRAR (13 August 2015)

Apologists for terror or defenders of human rights? The Cage controversy in context by TOM MILLS, NARZANIN MASSOUMI, and DAVID MILLER (31 July 2015)

Oppression and self-promotion on social media

Posted By Mark Carrigan

This is a really important post by Eric Grollman that has helped me rethink a part of Social Media for Academics that I was struggling with. The systematic generation of imposter syndrome within the academy is a crucial mechanism through which the costs involved in digital engagement come to be distributed unevenly:

I will grant that self-doubt is not unique to scholars from oppressed communities. But, that is where the commonalities with our privileged colleagues end. For working-class scholars, scholars of color, women scholars, LGBTQ scholars, scholars with disabilities, immigrant and international scholars, and fat scholars, our personal bouts with impostor syndrome — feeling as though we do not belong and/or are not as good as our privileged colleagues — are a symptom of systems of oppression that operate through academia, just as they do through every other important social institution. We cannot help but feel as though we do not belong because academia was not built by us or for us. We had to fight to be let in the front door (and still do), and continue to fight to be included fully; when we do get in, subtle and explicit efforts are made to undermine us at every corner.


This is compounded by the disproportionate risks entailed by digital engagement for the groups Grollman cites. Though this is a subject for another post. Both factors make a requirement for digital engagement, tacit or otherwise, additionally problematic. But Grollman offers a really inspiring account of political agency in relation to these systemic constraints, something which I’ll cite in relation to digital engagement for Social Media for Academics but obviously applies much more broadly:

I push myself because the impostor syndrome that I experience is the same symptom of oppression that my fellow marginalized scholars experience. I push myself because every time I decline an invitation, there is a good chance another person like me may not be invited in my place or also will not accept the invitation; when this occurs repeatedly, we are complicit in the systematic exclusion of the voices of marginalized scholars. I push myself because I cannot afford to turn down the few opportunities that come my way in light of the infinite opportunities that are denied to me because of my identities and politics.  I push myself because this job will never be easy; academia is a difficult profession by design, and can be deadly for marginalized scholars.

When marginalized scholars self-promote and speak out, we make space for other marginalized scholars, or at least inspire bravery in others. I simply cannot imagine where I would be if W. E. B. Du Bois, Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, and the editors of Presumed Incompetent had not dared to speak out and promote their own work and perspectives! I doubt sexualities would be the theme of the upcoming annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) if sexuality scholars (including ASA President Paula England) were too afraid to promote their work as a legitimate and important area of study. Each time I promote my work and voice, I hope that I, too, am having the same positive influence on others.

Allowing forcing ourselves to be heard and visible in academic spaces benefits our privileged colleagues, as well.  By daring to promote our work and to speak up, we contribute to disrupting our own systemic exclusion. We challenge the perspective and scholarship of white heterosexual middle-class “normal weight” cis men without disabilities as the default or standard. We force our colleagues to take us seriously and see the importance of our work and our perspectives.  Hopefully, we also influence our privileged colleagues to prioritize our voices when citing scholarship, choosing panels and committees, and assigning readings in their courses.  To put it bluntly, the exclusion and invisibility of unique perspectives is bad for science and bad for higher education; in this way, we all benefit from diversity and full inclusion


Celebrity, Publicity and Self-Branding in Web 2.0

Posted By Sociological Imagination

If you like this lecture by Alice Marwick, you’ll enjoy her excellent book Status Update.

Hibben Prejudice: Can Prejudice be Defended?

Posted By Sadia Habib

by Oliver Bonnington

In 1911, John Grier Hibben, who was for twenty years President of Princeton University, wrote A Defense of Prejudice and other Essays; a ‘forgotten’ philosophical text, rarely cited, though recently reprinted. The republishing of a book can give old ideas fresh impetus by apprehending of new adherents. It can also provide an opportunity for us to reflect on its position within an established academic field. Here I just want to offer some reflections on the title essay.

In this work, Hibben set out an individualistic and cognitivist view of the dynamics of prejudice, bypassing, for instance, the roles of affect and social structures, which have themselves gained currency in the study of prejudice and stigma in the last few decades. He argued that prejudice served a ‘legitimate function’ within the mind, reasoning that ‘A prejudice is not always an unreasonable judgement, it may merely be a judgement that is unreasoned’. The main defense he offered boiled down to the idea that non-deliberation is economical in everyday life and such non-deliberative impressions can be a form of prejudice. But, even if both the idea and utility of unreasoned judgement have some validity, and I don’t fully endorse this myself, does it make for an adequate defense of prejudice?

There seem to me to be good grounds for us to reject Hibben’s defense both in the evidence of us as sentient beings who revise our thoughts on matters over time, and as people in search of practical theories that are able to account for change as well as stasis in society. Indeed, ethical imperatives, among others, whether derived through collective or individual reflection, give us cause to avoid cognitive and socio-cultural sclerosis when it comes to issues of prejudice.

It’s doubtful that we’re all constantly nudging ourselves to be critical of our practices or the ideas we and others hold in respect of different social phenomena and what counts as prejudice. Indeed, we forget why we believe certain things or why we’re doing what we’re doing all the time. Moreover, new situations requiring swift action can restrict our ability to deliberate, meaning we partly rely on tacit knowledge. But whilst our relatively non-deliberative acts and habits may enable us to carry out some practices in everyday life with a degree of effortlessness and efficiency, it doesn’t mean that they should go unchallenged, especially if the effects of such practices are deleterious on the wellbeing of others. It also doesn’t mean that they are somehow a natural, innate product of a black-boxed subconscious, as Hibben thought. Instead, prejudice always takes place in socio-cultural contexts, which are never at rest.

It’s worth noting that Hibben didn’t think the cognitive processes of arriving at conclusions were as important as the conclusions themselves: so long as we remember the conclusions, he advised, the processes become unnecessary to retain and we can therefore reliably discard them. Such essentialist thinking about what humans do does violence to the forces of reflexivity in social change and, furthermore, places a thick veil over the power of certain groups and individuals to a) be able to frame, study and draw those conclusions in the first place, and b) to lodge them as ideas with powerful constitutive abilities in the cultural system.

If prejudice is ‘legitimate’ simply because it facilitates the economical workings of the mind, then we should question why an economically working mind is so valued in certain contexts and pay attention to the nature of its social implications. Many people find security, comfort and reassurance in stable ‘facts’ or a tendency to weave neat, linear narratives and assimilate seemingly assorted and contradictory ephemera into them. Yet, to me, it seems obvious that these things are instead quite often troubling. This may lead to a certain degree of reflexive fracturing on my part (by which I mean that my thinking about the world in relation to myself and vice versa often means I fail to act purposively), but I’m much more comfortable being uncomfortable with received wisdom, whether I take it from my or others’ previous conclusions, than with just ploughing on or unreflexively stating my opinions on something because it’s economical to do so.

So, Hibben thought prejudice should be defended. I disagree; prejudice needs to be challenged and this should be a ceaseless endeavour.

Perhaps picking a fight with a dead person of whom relatively few people today have heard is not the most daring or worthwhile thing I could have done. But when Hibben’s ideas were initially published in 1911 they became part of Popper’s ‘World Three’ and we should question why and how they’ve traveled to – or rather been dug up in – the present. Maybe if we look to our current neoliberal context, with its emphases on individualism, self-responsibility and a pre-occupation with the pillorying, marginalization and abjection of certain groups, or to the ascendancy (and subordination) of particular disciplinary and philosophical viewpoints, we may find some interesting answers.

Dr. Oliver Bonnington works in the Faculty of Public Health & Policy at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Using snapchat in higher education

Posted By Mark Carrigan

I’ve struggled to see how Snapchat could be used within higher education. I could imagine why academics might end up using it in an entirely personal capacity, but I found it difficult to imagine how it could be used by them professionally. So it was really interesting to read this interview with Newcastle University’s Social Media manager on the Picklejar site. As he points out, “the people we wanted to speak to were there” and they’ve been using Snapchat to find a “new way to engage with current and prospective students that allowed us to showcase different aspects of campus life in a less formal style”. They feel confident that it’s helped them reach their target audience, also citing “anecdotal evidence that it’s working as a way of keeping applicants warm and engaging with our current students”. Interestingly, they’ve found much higher engagement rates than with Twitter, reporting that most stories now receive over 1,000 views (which given they have 1,000 followers presumably means content circulates easily on Snapchat beyond  followers).

I’m still a little bemused by Snapchat however. From a sociology of youth perspective, I can understand why it’s popular amongst a certain demographic. But from an institutional standpoint, it seems to me that any success with the platform occurs in spite of rather than because of the distinctive temporality built into the architecture of the platform. Perhaps I’ve simply failed to grasp it. But I wonder if the time invested in Snapchat could be more effectively spent creating content for Instagram which could also be reused on Twitter and Facebook with little to no repurposing. I also still can’t see more substantively academic uses of Snapchat, though would love to hear about any that those reading this might know of.

Social media and solidarity in higher education

Posted By Mark Carrigan

There’s a great article on the THE, in which Caroline Magennis reflects on the success of the conversation she started recently about being an academic from a less privileged background:

It’s worth reading in full, as is the associated Storify. I’m going to write about it in the final chapter of Social Media for Academics as an example of how social media can allow the emergence of new forms of solidarity, in which public discussion of what had previously been private issues leaves  people with a new or renewed sense of shared and systemic problems.

Sociology Associate Board – Call for Applications

Posted By Sociological Imagination

Sociology Associate Board Recruitment

Deadline: Tuesday 18 August 2015 

We are seeking 8 new members to join the Sociology Associate Board, from mid-October 2015 until July 31 2018.

Sociology relies on its peer reviewers to maintain high quality scholarship. Alongside the work of members of the Editorial Board, members of the Associate Board help to ensure that the journal makes a timely and constructive response to article submissions.

The Associate Board is a flexible way for individuals to become involved in the ongoing success of the journal and also to engage in regular peer reviewing. It is made up of a wide variety of scholars based around the world with a broad range of areas of interest. Early career researchers are welcome to apply.

Members of the Associate Board must possess either a PhD in sociology (or a cognate social science discipline), or at least two years’ research and/or teaching experience of sociology (or a cognate subject). All candidates must have authored peer reviewed publications. 

Full details, as well as the application form, are available on the BSA website: http://www.britsoc.co.uk/publications/pubsvacancies.aspx

If you would like to nominate yourself for membership of the Associate Board, please email a completed form to Sophie Jaques (sociology.journal@britsoc.org.uk) by Tuesday 18 August 2015, 17:00 GMT.

The researchers’ survival guide

Posted By Sociological Imagination

An important resource produced by UCU:

The guide:

  • outlines the rights of research staff and what they can expect from their institutions
  • offers practical advice on issues including developing your career, workloads and maternity leave
  • suggests ways in which you can seek improvements.

It also outlines how UCU campaigns for researchers and offers a range of support options.

The guide provides a great opportunity to recruit new members so that researchers have a stronger voice in their union and strengthen UCU’s ability to improve research careers.