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Advice for junior faculty on dealing with the nasty side of social media

Posted By Sociological Imagination

This a little old but there’s some great advice here. It’s written by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association. Read it in full here:

1. Do not let dust-ups such as these stop you from blogging/tweeting/whatever.

2. Listen carefully to these debates, though, as they will tell you something important about your field and the folks in it.

3. Use your blog/twitter/whatever professionally.

4. Make your tweets and blog posts your own.

5. If somebody says they’d prefer not to be tweeted or blogged, respect that.

Beyond the Neoliberal University, 18th September at Coventry University

Posted By Sociological Imagination

BEYOND THE NEO-LIBERAL UNIVERSITY

CRITICAL PEDAGOGY AND ACTIVISM

COVENTRY UNIVERSITY – FRIDAY 18th SEPTEMBER 2015

Warwick UCU committee encourages you to attend this UCU-sponsored event.

Around the world there have been a whole series of occupations and protests led by students, as well as actions involving lecturers and teachers, which reflect widespread disillusion with the way universities have come to act primarily as money making

institutions.  This event will begin with speakers who will set out the social and economic context for the marketisation of Higher Education, followed by participatory workshops on issues of activism, pedagogy and research.

The event begins at 9.30 and concludes at 4.00.  Light refreshments will be provided.

This event is free to attend but you must register. 

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/beyond-the-neoliberal-university-critical-pedagogy-and-activism-tickets-17390600755

If you are in full time employment and feel you are able to make a contribution, then a donation of £20 can be used to fund

travel expenses of those who need financial support in order to attend.

If you are unable to attend, please print out the attached files and encourage colleagues to come along instead.

Alt-academic careers #2: Adam Riggio

Posted By Sociological Imagination

By Adam Riggio 

When I decided to leave a career in academia behind, I felt betrayed. Since my early twenties, I had received nothing but encouragement from professors in my own program and at conferences where I’d present.

I met some stodgy profs, whose advice sounded more paternalistic and condescending than inspirational. But most of the professors I met and worked with said that my philosophical writing, research, and thought was valuable and would achieve great things for the discipline.

McMaster University, where I did my doctoral studies, supported my trips around the world to present my work at conferences. I knew the job market was tough, but I had every reason to believe that my work was unique and strong enough to withstand those challenges. I would make my mentors proud, and honour the legacies of my mentors who were no longer alive to see it.

Then I received my doctorate, and everything fell apart.

I never heard back from tenure-track positions I applied for, even though my mentors assured me that my publication and conference presentation rate during my doctorate (finished on time in four years) surpassed that of some long-tenured professors.

Adjunct positions in my region of Canada, which has 12 university campuses in commuting range, were all closed to me because they prioritized seniority in hiring. The head of one adjuncts’ union told a relative of mine that his job was to protect his members’ jobs by keeping applications like mine from being read.

Over three years, I received only one job interview, which turned me down because I said, like an honest professional, that when the contract ended, I would consider other opportunities as well as that of renewing the same contract.

Yes, I feel betrayed. But turning away from the university system for my employment isn’t the same as turning away from reading and writing philosophy.

Philosophy is more than an academic discipline, despite these institutions and norms for writing and argument having become so dominant that a philosopher outside the academy is inconceivable. Or else, such a philosopher is pathetic, a pitiable “independent scholar” who attends professional conferences in universities only to be mocked and spat upon. “If you were worth talking to, you’d have a university post.

When I started working out what my new career after academia could be, I went to Versatile PhD, and was horrified by the first forum I read. It was a chain of joyfully bitter people celebrating having sold all their books, set fire to print-outs of journal articles and their old drafts. Even their printed and bound dissertations themselves. I broke down crying. Was all that work, the dedication of the bulk of my twenties, nothing more than a waste of time fit for a bonfire?

I was sure that philosophy wasn’t worthless, that it was more than a few increasingly insular profs desperately trying to keep their departments alive in the face of growing disdain for humanities education among university administrations, government, and the wider business world. Philosophy is more than what philosophy professors in universities do.

Philosophy is a tradition of creativity, developing concepts which we use to understand the world where we live, who and what we are, and what our purpose in life should be.

Such an approach to philosophy – the underlying goal it has always had – would make philosophy an artistic tradition. The philosophical works that have a heritage beyond the fragmenting schools of humanities academia read more like artworks than disciplinary research.

I trained in communications for my new private sector career, and am working on building that career in the non-profit, charity, and social activism sector. My current position with Toronto’s Syria Film Festival and its affiliated refugee charity, Lifeline Syria, is a first step in that.

But I have always been driven to produce creative works, and what drew me to philosophy was the creative spirit that drives its landmark works. My work in universities existed in my life alongside my artistic projects, and now I carry out my philosophical research and writing as an artistic project as well.

Last year, I published a science-fiction novel, Under the Trees, Eaten. It’s a feminist take on Lovecraftian style, with a small Canadian company. I’ve published short stories through writing contests, and am preparing a collection of social realist fiction stories about growing up in contemporary Newfoundland that I plan to shop to publishers over the next year.

Palgrave MacMillan will publish Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, which began as my doctoral dissertation and is now a polished, popular intellectual book on how philosophy, science, and art can inspire ecological activism and the transformation of humanity’s self-image and society. I regularly contribute to the open-access Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, an international group of researchers and thinkers.

My philosophical writing includes regular updates and discussions on my blog, where I track the development of all my artistic work idea by idea. This is where I develop the ideas for my next major work of philosophy, an exploration of utopian political thought from just after the First World War to the present. I adapt ideas from this project to other literary works, which right now includes a screenplay for a science-fiction feature, in collaboration with the young Canadian director, Lee Skinner.

It’s a more difficult and diverse career path than the comfortable university office of a philosophy professor. But I think my work will have a wider social impact than it ever would from behind those walls.

Adam Riggio is on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/adamriggiowrites and tweets at @adamriggio

Freedom from self-imposed metrified tyranny: some thoughts on the moral psychology of self-tracking

Posted By Mark Carrigan

A couple of years ago I purchased a Nike Fuel Band, partly out of a curiosity driven by my nascent interest in self-tracking and partly out of a desire to rationalise not going to the gym. If I was planning to conduct research on self-tracking practices then it seemed important to me to actually try them myself. However over the following years, my interest in self-tracking became downgraded to that of something like urbanism, as a topic that fascinates me but that I realise I have nothing useful to say on, while my engagement (entrapment?) in self-tracking practices remained, first through the fuel band then two successive jawbone bands.

I’ve been given cause to reflect on this recently by the fact that my jawbone has broken twice in the space of a week (ouch) giving me a respite from the metricised tyranny to which I had merrily subjected myself over the previous years. In defence of the jawbone: the soft wakeup function can be an extremely pleasant way to wake up. It starts buzzing up to half an hour before a set time when it detects, albeit by way of questionable proxies, you are sleeping most lightly, with the intention of reducing drowsiness. I think there’s something to this but there’s also an obvious invitation to confirmation bias: if you set a device to wake you up without feeling drowsy then you’re much more likely to ask yourself ‘am I feeling drowsy?’ when you wake up and attribute its absence to the magical powers of the band. The sleep tracker was also the first and only experience I’ve had of ‘self-knowledge through numbers’. It turns out I had a persistent habit of going to bed very early when I was sleep deprived then it taking hours for me to get to sleep i.e. it would usually take me 10 minutes to get to sleep if I went to bed 10pm-12pm but hours if I went to bed earlier. Thus undermining the point of going to bed early. I also saw for the first time how much alcohol would undermine the quality of my sleep, prompting a year long experiment with cutting back on and then completely giving up alcohol, which I’m now in turn giving up on (I missed red wine & craft beer) but that was nonetheless enormously healthy for me as a person.

Now those defensive remarks are out of the way: the jawbone is fucking creepy. I’ve written about the idleness alarm and how readily the concept would lend itself to invasive applications. But I’m wondering now about how systematically the measurements have tended to crowd out the value of what is being measured within my own psyche. My standard defence of self-tracking had been that voluntary self-tracking is an augmentation of reflexivity: if you reflexively decide that exercise is good and you want to incorporate more exercise into your life, these technological practices can be useful tools to overcome some of the all-too-human propensities which undermine the projects of self-cultivation we seek to pursue. Furthermore, critics of self-tracking often mistake the narrative of self-tracking (self-knowledge through numbers) for its moral psychology, something which I think is empirically variable but I suspect has far more in common with neo-ascetic regimes like ‘lifestyle minimalism’ and ‘life hacking’ than these critics tend to recognise. The practices, the devices, the contexts and the sensibilities upon which the diffusion of ‘self-tracking’ depends may all be new. But this self-self relation simply isn’t and anyone who fails to recognise this has a poor grasp of ‘the self’, its history or both.

Nonetheless, what I’m now recognising is how what can be reflexively taken up as an extension of one’s agency – in order to increase our capacity to act on 2nd order desires (“I want to want to exercise”) in the face of 1st order whims (“I don’t want to go to the gym today”) – nonetheless acts back iteratively upon the agent in a way that moulds their dispositions towards reflexivity. What do I mean? Firstly, self-tracking practices are outcome orientated. What matters is a completed activity. This doesn’t magically remove your capacity to enjoy an activity but it does mitigate against it: if you’re going for a walk because your jawbone tells you to, it’s not impossible that you’ll nonetheless enjoy the walk, the scenery, being outside etc but the mentality of self-tracking never encourages and sometimes actively undermines the attentiveness necessary for this enjoyment to emerge during the walk. Secondly, this mattering is unstable unless the completed activity is measured in a reliable way: the whole edifice starts to crack if you begin to think about how the instruments may be deliberately or accidentally gamed, as well as the spheres of errancy (e.g. sleep vs. lying perfectly still unable to sleep) that become obvious once you’ve used a band for a bit. That this activity matters to you necessitates continued faith, perhaps ontological security in the sense of a willingness to act ‘as if’ the measurement is as objective as it says it is, in the instruments and your use of them. Thirdly, this mattering is contingent upon continued submission to the system. If your band breaks or you cease using it, perhaps switching to a competitor, the meaningfulness of what you’ve been doing is imperilled in proportion to the scale of the technological transition.

This is all a long winded way of saying that I’ve changed my views on self-tracking. I do find it creepy after all. But I still think many of the critics misunderstand exactly what’s going on here. I think cessation of self-tracking is an enormously important empirical topic, without which discussion of self-tracking will inevitably remain prone to over-generalisation. We also need longitudinal qualitative studies of self-tracking, serious and extended versions of the auto-ethnographic reflections I’ve tried to outline here, in order to better understand how these activities unfold temporally in a way able to change both the person and the activity.

The @_ISRF @DigitalSocSci and @BigDataSoc Essay Competition

Posted By Mark Carrigan

An exciting new project I’ve helped launch: a collaboration between the ISRF’s Digital Social Science Forum and the journal Big Data & Society. See here for full details:

The Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) and Big Data & Society (BD&S) intend to award a prize of CHF 1,000 for the best essay on the topic ‘Influence and Power’. This is a topic, not a title. Accordingly, authors are free to choose an essay title within this field. The winner will also be invited to present the work during a special event at Social Media & Society 2016 and will have the conference fee waived and travel costs covered.

www.isrf.org/funding-opportunities/essay-competitions/

Transhumanism’s Big Political Blind Spot

Posted By Steve Fuller

For those who still don’t know what it is, transhumanism is basically the application of science and technology to amplify the human condition, potentially well beyond our biological default settings. As someone who has increasingly identified with transhumanism since publishing Humanity 2.0 in 2011, I welcome the ideology’s move into the mainstream of politics and culture, at least in the English-speaking world. But the form it has taken is rather curious.

Zoltan Istvan, a California-based science fiction writer with columns in The Huffington Post and Vice, is running for the US presidency in 2016 on the Transhumanist Party ticket — so far without a running mate, it seems. He plans to drive an ‘Immortality Bus’ across America to dramatize his main policy priority: enabling everyone to live forever. A measure of Istvan’s respectability is that he keynoted this year’s Camp Alphaville in London, a meeting point for Silicon Valley and Financial Times readers. Meanwhile, Maria Konovalenko, also California-based, is a Russian-born biophysicist who promotes transhumanist lifestyle issues, from cooking to sex, all aimed at immortality as well. She does a lot of fund-raising activities for transhumanist causes, and like Istvan presents a certain vision of transhumanism – infinite youthful vitality, basically – as an inherently attractive ideal for all of humanity.

But what if you don’t share this ideal? I’ve semi-facetiously speculated that such transhumanists must regard most non-transhumanists as zombies who spend their lives waiting to die. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that the mainstreaming of transhumanism has occurred this way, as if reflects issues already on people’s minds, such as health and ageing. Indeed, Istvan and Konovalenko periodically suggest that transhumanism is really just an extension of ‘common sense’, one that happens to promise to cure ‘disabilities’, end degenerative diseases and reprogramme potential criminals. All of these goals, while undoubtedly attractive to many individuals, point to enormous social and ethical problems down the road once scaled up into the realm of public policy. My own version of transhumanism has put these problems in the foreground, typically in an optimistic spirit that sees an opportunity for radical social innovation. However, these scale-related issues are conspicuous by their absence from mainstream transhumanism.

This absence points to transhumanism’s political blind spot, which is related to its default libertarian philosophy. Transhumanists (and here I would also include even some of the more sensible Silicon Valley entrepreneurs) generally believe that all of humanity’s differences – be they in terms of wealth or health – are the result of large organizations, perhaps most of all the state, blocking the flow of information which has the potential to provide a cornucopia of benefits, typically through new technologies, once the information is allowed to develop freely. Of course, the resulting innovations may make a few people rich at first but markets will spur competition, drive down prices, distribute the innovations, etc. What gives this narrative its surface plausibility is that, at bottom, all people are seen as wanting the same things, to be the same way, and so they have a common interest in pushing together towards the envisaged utopia. Whatever value differences seem to exist amongst people can be resolved simply by ‘upgrading’ their existence. Thus, the fact that all societies are anchored in quite specific interpretations of the life cycle is treated as a mere wrinkle that will be ironed out over time as a downstream effect of the cornucopian onslaught.

To be sure, there may well remain irreconcilable value differences. And here the idea of a cornucopian cosmos kicks in. Many transhumanists are open to the idea of humanity’s sub-speciation, a line of thought that implies self-segregating eco-niches, perhaps even corresponding to separate forms of life flourishing on different planets. However, a prospect that one rarely sees transhumanists pursue is that of integrating a much wider range of beings travelling under the banner of ‘humanity’ than ever before under a common system of governance. Yet, people’s intuitions about ‘disability’ are becoming increasingly fluid, connected in part to the popularity of cyborgs, as well as transhumanism’s own idea of ‘morphological freedom’ (i.e. the capacity to move between radically different states of being, especially carbon and silicon).

Indeed, Veronika Lipinska and I have argued in The Proactionary Imperative that a truly free transhumanist society would stretch society’s powers of accommodation and assimilation to levels that no classical liberal theorist could ever have imagined. John Locke and his liberal descendants presumed a ‘natural’ (i.e. biological) equality amongst all people, which in their own way libertarian transhumanists continue to uphold. However, the deep political challenge facing transhumanism is how to integrate a range of ‘humans’ whose resource requirements may differ substantially because, say, their carbon/silicon ratios vary radically – but equally, and more simply, because people refuse to hop on Istvan’s Immortality Bus. These beings would not be ‘natural equals’ yet they would qualify for some more expansive sense of Equality 2.0.

Thanks to Emilie Whitaker for some well-targeted tweets.

The cognitive costs of escaping the filter bubble

Posted By Mark Carrigan

I recently saw the news that ‘Infidelity site’ Ashley Madison had been hacked, with the attackers claiming 37 million records had been stolen. The site is an online forum for infidelity, a dating site explicitly designed to facilitate affairs, something which potentially provoked the ire of the hackers. Or it could be the fact that users are charged a fee of £15 to permanently delete their records from the site, the efficacy of which the hackers dispute. This seems to be indicative of a broader trend in which dating sites as a whole were found by the Electronic Freedom Foundation to have failed to implement basic security procedures and to be near uniformly vague or silent about whether user data was deleted after the closure of an account.

This is a specific instance of a much broader category of problem which I’ve been thinking a lot about recently: escaping the filter bubble. I use this concept in a much broader sense than Eli Pariser‘s original use in his (excellent) book. I see filter bubbles as being a matter of algorithmic enclosure but also of information security. In fact I would argue that the former inevitably poses questions for the latter, because filter bubbles rest upon the collection of personal information and intervention upon this basis. Filter bubbles always pose questions of information security because environments designed around them are always information-hungry and mechanisms of personalisation inevitably introduce opacity into interactions between users and a system in an asymmetric way. But I’d like to expand the concept of filter bubble to encompass the entire informational environment in which we find increasingly find ourselves deliberately enclosed through our use of digital technology. Not all of this is applied algorithmically but I would argue, somewhat crudely, we can talk about greater or lesser tracts of everyday life being lived via digital mediation in a filter bubble characterised by varying degrees of enclosure.

What interests me are experience where we don’t realise we’re in a filter bubble. The questions of information security don’t occur. We live with ontological security, sufficiently comfortable with this technology (something which personalisation can contribute to) in order to act ‘as-if’ the filter bubble doesn’t create risks for us. Will Davies offers an analogy which captures this effectively:

I have a memory from childhood, a happy memory — one of complete trust and comfort. It’s dark, and I’m kneeling in the tiny floor area of the back seat of a car, resting my head on the seat. I’m perhaps six years old. I look upward to the window, through which I can see streetlights and buildings rushing by in a foreign town whose name and location I’m completely unaware of. In the front seats sit my parents, and in front of them, the warm yellow and red glow of the dashboard, with my dad at the steering wheel.

Contrary to the sentiment of so many ads and products, this memory reminds me that dependence can be a source of deep, almost visceral pleasure: to know nothing of where one is going, to have no responsibility for how one gets there or the risks involved. I must have knelt on the floor of the car backward to further increase that feeling of powerlessness as I stared up at the passing lights.

http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-data-sublime/

But when this ontological security is punctured, we can see risks everywhere. What are people doing with our data? What could they be doing with our data? How are our online environments manipulating us? I’m interested in using ontological security as a conceptual frame through which to understand the urge to escape the filter bubble on a psychoanalytical level. As I develop this line of argument, I need to work on making the exact sense of the underlying concept clearer, but leaving that aside for now, I think it offers a really interesting frame for exploration. Here are the propositions I’m going to come back to in order to develop further:

  1. We are enmeshed within a filter bubble through our everyday use of digital technology
  2. The filter bubble is deliberately designed, indeed redesigned on a sometimes hour-to-hour basis, driven by complex and opaque interests
  3. Our orientation towards the filter bubble is extremely variable, even over time in one life, let alone between people

But for now what I’m interested in is how we escape the filter bubble. When we see the endemic risks, when the reassuring cocoon of ontological security recedes, what do we do? The problem is  that not everyone is equally well positioned to escape the filter bubble. It necessitates technical knowledge, time and energy. Some people don’t care but know what to do. Some people do care but don’t know what to do. Most people fall between these two poles at different points in relation to specific issues. What I’m interested in is how any definite attempt to escape the filter bubble leads to an intensification of cognitive burdens at a time of endemic acceleration. If everyone feels rushed, how does the urge to escape the filter bubble contribute to that experience, constituting just one more thing to worry about? How does this in turn contribute to the problem of what I’ve elsewhere described as cognitive triage? I can imagine an emerging profession, consultant digital escapologist, paid to help the cash-rich but time-poor manage their information security.

The Critical Realism Network

Posted By Sociological Imagination

An important new initiative for anyone interested in Critical Realism. This is how Phil Gorski introduces it:

Dear Colleagues,

I am excited to announce the launch of the Critical Realism Network (CRN) which aims to engage a community of academics from sociology and neighboring disciplines about the importance and applicability of Critical Realism (CR) for social science today.

In collaboration with the project team members, I am excited to introduce our new CRN website with an array of different online resources, ranging from a reading plan to a free webinar series. We will also be hosting multiple events throughout the year with the aim of equipping you with the necessary skills to apply CR to your respective field of study and research.

Welcome to the Critical Realism Network and I hope to see you on August 22, 2015, at our ASA reception.

Regards,

Professor Philip Gorski

CfP: World Society in the Making? Varieties of Transnational Institutions

Posted By Sociological Imagination

Call for Papers for the Workshop
World Society in the Making? Varieties ofTransnational Institutions
(7-8 December 2015, Duisburg, Germany)

The emergence of a world society is often considered to be a homogenizing process dominated by the extension of Western rationality with its specific forms and functions of social institutions to other parts of the world. Similarly, norm diffusion is mostly portrayed as a top-down process of transferring globally accepted norms to ‘local’ settings, e.g. through localisation or emulation.

Another general assumption is that growing economic interdependence in the wake of ‘globalization’ along with the global availability of modern communication technologies drives this process, and the growing need of global cooperation to tackle the world’s problems should create further incentives along these lines. Yet, is this what we truly observe when we look at the various forms of (institutionalized) transnational cooperation? Can we not expect, in contrast to the aforementioned arguments, that the at least partial demise of the West and the rise of new powers, regions and new types of actors has led to a growing cultural and thus also institutional differentiation in the world? And do these different instances of cooperation follow the same assumed rationalities – or do they offer alternative forms and functions of cooperation?

The workshop will take stock of various instances of inter- and transnational cooperation and forms of emerging World Societal institutions. What forms and functions do social institutions assume that facilitate transnational, regional and trans-regional cooperation (e.g. knowledge transfer, identity-building, ethnic and religious community-building, solidarity, civil society representation or social movements etc.)? Can we identify patterns – and do those challenge established theories?

The aim of the workshop is to identify potential patterns of transnational cooperation and to take a fresh look at processes of institutional diffusion. We are looking for papers that provide (1) conceptual/theoretical contributions that address the question of cooperation in world society (seminal trends of homogenization or of differentiation; functional necessities of global cooperation or the lack thereof etc.) and/or (2) empirical analyses of instances and forms of cooperation (inter- and transnational, regional, trans-regional), searching for patterns of institutionalization.

Please submit paper proposals (max. 500 words) to baumann@gcr21.uni-due and freistein@gcr21.uni-due by August 15th, 2015. Full conference papers should be distributed by the end of November 2015. The workshop will take place at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research in Duisburg on
December 7-8, 2015. Expenses for traveling and accommodation will be covered by the Centre for Global Cooperation Research (http://www.gcr21.org/)

Alt-academic careers #1: Benjamin Geer

Posted By Sociological Imagination

By Benjamin Geer

I left a successful career as a software developer in London to study Arabic and do a PhD in Middle East Studies. I then had a traditional one-year visiting assistant professor job (in Egypt) and a traditional one-year post-doc (in Singapore), while applying for about 50 academic jobs per year. By then I’d had enough of the academic job hunt, which demanded a great deal of time and effort but offered terrible odds and highly arbitrary results, and my wife and I were tired of moving to a different country every year, especially with a child. I was thinking about going back to software development, but knew I’d have to update my skills, since I hadn’t had a programming job in seven years. My wife then got a job in Germany that gave us a little breathing space, and I taught as an adjunct for a semester while trying to figure out what to do next.

I’d heard of a field called digital humanities, which sounded like it might enable me to use my programming skills while staying in or near an academic environment. It turned out that the Digital Humanities Lab at the University of Basel had an opening for someone with a background both in the humanities and in software development. After a brief exchange of emails, they invited me for an interview and made me an offer immediately, which was certainly a contrast to the typical long, formal academic job application process. I asked for and got a flexible working arrangement: I work in Basel three days a week, and work from home in Germany two days a week. Best of all, one day a week is set aside for my own research. The lab’s current funding situation doesn’t enable them to offer long-term contracts, so I’m on my second short-term contract (my official title is post-doc), but there’s at least a possibility that this will turn into a permanent job.

Having gone through a period of mourning my former ambition to have a traditional academic career, I think my current situation actually seems better. I don’t take my work home with me, and I have more time for research and writing than I did when I was a visiting assistant professor working 12-hour days and weekends to prepare courses. Since I’m under no pressure to publish anything, I can do the research I’m most interested in, rather than the research I think I can publish quickly. So it seems that I actually have more academic autonomy than I would have in a conventional academic career.

Benjamin Geer blogs at socioresources.net and tweets at @benjamingeer

Cameron on Extremism – the good, the bad and the ugly!

Posted By Sadia Habib

by Sufyan Ismail

With extremism in our midst, David Cameron unveils a 5-year plan, with four planks, to tackle one major extremism threat.    

David Cameron’s speech on his 5-year plan to tackle extremism covered a huge amount of ground to say the least.  From parents cancelling children’s passports to Cameron financing his brand of ‘good Muslims’, it was all on show today.

So what’s my take?, well the good, bad and pretty ugly are all in here.  Let’s start with the good:

THE GOOD

British Muslims travelling to Syria to fight for ISIL is undoubtedly a detestable problem; lets be clear, nobody likes ISIL, their philosophy or methods, and on countless occasions Muslims like myself have condemned them.  So a genuine desire by the PM (and I believe it is genuine) to tackle the problem head-on is heartwarming.  Equally encouraging is the PM’s description of Islamophobia as “sickening” alongside the numerous references to the sickening far-right.  Some might, (rather justifiably), say talk is cheap, what has he done to tackle Islamophobia? The Tories pre-election promise to ensure Islamophobia is recorded as a separate category of crime by police forces in England and Wales (similar to racism and anti-semitism currently), has yet to materialize.  Equally powerful is the accusation pertaining to the far-right with justified accusations that the Tory government and PREVENT policy has done precious little to tackle the threat of far right extremism and the radicalisation of young people safeguarding them from white supremacist ideologies; verbal condemnation is never enough.  For now though, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume ‘intention is the first step to action’.

THE BAD

So now the bad and as the old saying goes, ‘if you start off in the wrong place you will almost certainly end up in the wrong place’.  Cameron has a fixation with “ideology” being the primary (arguably even sole) driver of radicalization.  This is deeply troubling when empirical analysis tells such a different story.

The Guardian yesterday published an article by Professor Andrew Silke, an academic and advisor to the OSCT on counter-extremism. Silke argued that factors driving individuals to extremism was not ideology but “identity issues”.

Silke said the government’s Prevent strategy for tackling terrorism was too focused on extremism with no research to back up such an approach.

Silke wrote: “This theme of fighting on behalf of others and in reaction to the suffering of others … recurs frequently in accounts of the personal motivation of individual terrorists.”

This is, of course, not just the view of Professor Silke but that of renowned academics, such as Professor Marc Sageman, and the many other academics who signed an open letter last week in a major national newspaper calling on the Government to recognise its Prevent policy failure and set about a strategy based on dialogue with Muslim communities.

Equally important is the anecdotal evidence derived from the mass of British Muslims who also feel ideology is just one (less significant) factor amongst many others causing radicalization.  And if the PM wants to “empower” moderate voices among British Muslims, he should acknowledge that the majority of Muslims are moderates, not the few as is mistakenly trumpeted by interest groups who have made a cash cow of “counter extremism”.

One of Cameron’s planks is “identity” and while he posits the appeal of ISIL to young minds who lack a “sense of belonging” to Britain, he does not unpack why young Muslims may be acutely affected by alienation and a lack of attachment to the UK. The lived experience of Muslims looks something like this: –

  • Rising Islamophobia in Britain – Data published by the Metropolitan Police coupled with FOIs submitted by MEND (Muslim engagement and Development) detailing the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes year on year show that Islamophobia is rising. Something must be done to curb this trend and police recording Islamophobic hate crimes is one advance but not near enough.
  • Deeply negative press coverage on British Muslims – An academic study by Lancaster University shows that for every one mention of “moderate” Muslims in the British Press, there are 21 mentions of “extremist” Muslims. This tendency for disproportionate negative coverage of Islam and Muslims has a corrosive effect on British Muslims and their treatment by wider society.
  • Employment discrimination – The ‘double ethnic penalty’ faced by Muslim communities has been policy knowledge for over a decade and despite newer research cementing evidence of the level of employment discrimination faced by British Muslims, the highest of all minority groups, we have seen next to no policy interventions to address the issue. The Tory manifesto paid reference to making the labour market “more inclusive” but said nothing about the worst affected group: Muslims.
  • Inconsistency in the incitement to Race and Religious Hatred law – The burden of proof required to prosecute incitement to racial hatred crimes, covering communities such as Sikhs, Blacks and Jews, is far lower than the threshold required for incitement to religious hatred which is virtually unworkable due to the ‘burden of proof’ required (proof of intent). Suffice to say that since the law has been in existence, not a single offence has been successfully prosecuted under the religious incitement provisions.
  • Foreign policy – what Cameron called “grievance justifications” are more than grievances and certainly warrant serious attention given the evidence base of its being an important causal factor. No less than the former head of the security services, Dame Eliza Manningham Buller has spoken about the impact of the Iraq war on radicalising young Muslims.
  • A lack of proactive engagement by Muslims with non-Muslims – Yes, I firmly believe this to be true. Successive studies show that non-Muslims who have come into contact with Muslims tend to have a better opinion of Islam and Muslims.  Muslims definitely need to do more to cultivate ties of friendship.

So with the best will in the world, which I don’t deny Cameron has, you can’t solve a problem without diagnosing it correctly in the first place.  Factors such as Islamophobic attacks, discrimination in employment, relentless stereotyping and sensationalizing of Muslims in sections of the British press, and of course foreign policy, all play a role here.

THE UGLY

Before I offer concluding remarks, I want to touch on the ugly in Cameron’s speech and there certainly was some of it.

Trojan Horse (Hoax) – Cameron reiterated the fictitious Trojan Horse plot (or as I may put it Trojan ‘Hoax’ plot).  When theParliamentary Education Committee concluded that with “the exception of one isolated incident in one school, there was no plot”, what on earth is the PM doing reiterating this nonsense? It’s shocking to find a false premise reiterated to justify interventions of the sort proposed in yesterday’s speech. Policy based on no evidence base is not just bad policy, it is bad reasoning.

Attacks on NUS and Muslim organisations – This was really underhanded I felt and not befitting a Prime Minister.  In fact I’m trying to remember the last time any PM stooped this low and publicly had a pop at an organization like the NUS.  It just doesn’t feel right.  He attacked the NUS for ‘allying itself with CAGE’ and then criticised CAGE for the ‘Jihadi John’ saga.  I’ll let CAGE defend themselves on the Jihadi John front but if the PM was going to attack the NUS for allying with CAGE then surely he should have balanced his analysis by praising the NUS for its sterling work in exposing the Henry Jackson Society’s erroneously named ‘Student Rights’ organization which the NUS concluded was a ‘anti-Islam’ organization, stating “Student Rights are not a legitimate organisation, with a total lack of transparency and have been the source of many sensationalist stories demonising Muslims”.

The PM derided the NUS for not living up to its history of championing good causes – well, exposing Student Rights was the NUS acting at its best so credit where credit is due.

Good Muslims, Bad Muslim – If the PM and his advisory team had started off in the right place, then playing the ‘good muslim, bad muslim’ game is not a bad idea.  But if your calibration is deeply deviated from the start and diametrically divergent to empirical evidence, academic analysis and Muslim community experience, then not only are you unlikely to achieve your overall objective of reducing extremism but in truth you could wind up being totally counter-productive and defeating your own cause.  As Cameron is obsessed with ideology, irrespective of any proof to back this approach (and worse still so much academic research pointing to the contrary), he is playing in to the hands of the ‘self-appointed’ experts on counter terrorism like the Quilliam Foundation, a deeply neocon supported initiative with precious little experience in counter terrorism and virtually no credibility amongst British Muslims.  One can also add the likes of Inspire (a Muslim womens’ empowerment initiative) in this sphere too. The frequent pairing of thse two organisations is not accidental, it is calculated, to project the idea of “moderate Muslim”. We already know, from the previous Prevent strategy and the heavy endorsement of Quilliam and the Sufi Muslim Council which flowed from it, what “moderate Muslim” means in policy circles. What’s worse is that Cameron is threatening to potentially bankroll his type of Muslim.  Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire!

A FINAL DELIRIOUS JUMP FOR JOY!

There was, however, one part of Cameron’s speech which sent me delirious with excitement and I almost jumping for joy.  Mid-way through the intense sweaty encounter Cameron expressed his disgust at those who believe ‘Muslims are secretly taking over the Government, and we should not work with them’.

The idea is often articulated as ‘entryism’ and is regularly levied against Muslims simply wanting to engage in the system as should be perfectly compatible with the PM’s mantra about democracy and British values.  This ‘entryist’ allegation is a favourite tactic used by neo-con organisations and detractors to demonise mainstream British Muslims and keep them out of mainstream politics (a tactic which ultimately is in nobody’s interest).  Most recently the Islamophobe Andrew Gilligan littered one of his articles with ‘entryist’ references against mainstream Muslims organisations.  Thank you Mr Cameron for standing up to such people!

Sufyan Ismail is the CEO of Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND). On the advocacy front, MEND is involved in media engagement, lobbying, and policy research. On the community empowerment front, MEND regularly works with grass roots Muslims to help them tackle Islamophobia locally and to increase their media and political literacy.

 

dayinthelife

The micro-politics of noise and the challenge of being-with-others

Posted By Mark Carrigan

Sometimes the noise other people make bothers me. I mean really pisses me off. The kind of irritation which makes it impossible to ignore the noise, leaving your attention locked in and your perceptual field narrowed until there is only you and that noise. On those occasions where I talk myself out of it, I often realise there’s nothing particularly egregious about the noise in question. It’s just that a particular confluence of circumstances has conspired to make the noise enormously disruptive to me. The problem of the noise is both relational and emergent. It’s not a problem in and of itself. This is reflected by the fact that on other occasions, similar noise barely registers, maybe eventually prompting me to wonder “has that been audible for a while?”

This is a useful thing to register when learning to live with noise. But there are limits to personal adaptation. It doesn’t follow that disruptive noise is subjective, simply because our experience of it as subjects has an obvious range that is in turn modulated through our responses as subjects. I used to live in between two pubs, literally in between them, one of which attracted what, to me at least, was the most obnoxious clientèle imaginable. It’s in Earlsdon in Coventry, for those who know the area and are wondering. There were particular characteristics of the venue, as well as the area itself, which contributed to the production of disruptive noise on the weekends. I might be able to modulate my response to that noise but the circumstances were generative of it, not my own perceptual capacities. Likewise the cockerel who lived in my neighbour’s back garden at the same flat. I didn’t get much sleep that year.

I find ‘disruptive noise’ ontologically interesting because it’s hard to have a substantive discussion about how to regulate it which doesn’t fall into an objective/subjective dichotomy. Subjective prescriptions are inadequate (“why do you let it bother you so much? just try and put it out of your head”) when there’s drunken fights outside your door at midnight and a cockerel crowing outside your window at 5am. I’m very glad I don’t live there any more. Objective prescriptions also seem inadequate to me because of the potentially open-ended character that’s lent to the problem by the subjective dimension, for lack of a better word. If noise becomes disruptive whenever any particular person at any particular time finds it disruptive then interventions become rather disturbingly authoritarian, allowing fleeting whims of irritated (and sometimes irritating) people to lead to the suppression of activities which most people would find reasonable.

If you google for stories of noise complaints, it soon becomes obvious quite what a range of circumstances councils are called upon to deal with. In some cases, people’s lives are literally destroyed by the noise of others. A couple of minutes down my ex-partner’s street was a house which, for 6 months, had (bad) techno playing constantly at high volume whenever I passed. Living so close to each other, yet not together, I passed that house at all hours of the day and night. The music was always playing. It must have destroyed the lives of the people living next door. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve found people online complaining that they can hear their neighbours talking after 10pm. From the report, it seems their neighbours are talking at normal volume in their house in the evening. But for whatever reason, the complainers are unable to tune this out and become fixated on this utterly everyday life noise at the expense of their own lives.

This raises the question for me of whether this inability to live with the noise of others, something which I’ve occasionally recognised in myself but learnt to dismiss as unreasonable through my internal conversation, might be on the rise? If we conceive of ourselves as bounded and autonomous, experiencing life through the constraining prism of our own imagined independence and isolation, involuntary exposure to noise takes on an ambivalent status. It both undercuts our imagined atomism, revealing the interdependencies through which sociality is constituted, as well as appears as an attack upon it. It feels like an intrusion of other isolated individuals upon our own isolation, while leaving us inclined to fight it off in order to restore the hermetic seal which perceptually props up our imagined a-relational nature.

When I talk about a-relational here, I mean it in the Thatcherite sense of ‘individuals and their families’. I’ve often wondered about the Tory fixation on council refuse policies and suspect there’s a similar mechanism at work. If an English Man’s home is his castle then what does that make the bins outside, the people who come to collect it each week and the organisational structure this routine presupposes? The politics of bins are a messy and quotidian instance of the politics of individuality.

I’m suggesting that changing policies for bin collection is threatening to this imagined individuality in the same way and for the same reasons that intrusive noise is experienced as an assault upon it. We imaginatively deny our inviolable being-with-others, the fact we are always already placed within a network of relations, such that recurrent reminders of it becomes fetish objects: they take on power and significance far beyond their literal meaning and consequences, challenging us to either fight off this threat to how we conceive of our place within the world or learn to live with it as something other than a threat. Crucially, I don’t think the challenge of being-with-others entails subjective adjustment. It might involve telling yourself that on this particular occasion you should let something lie but it might equally involve taking action, trying to establish a new common ground through which interdependency can be something conducive to flourishing rather than a threat to well-being.

Call for Papers: Righting Feminism

Posted By Sociological Imagination

CALL FOR PAPERS
Righting Feminism
Thematic Issue, New Formations
Guest Editors: Dr. Catherine Rottenberg and Dr. Sara Farris

In recent years, we have witnessed the multifarious ways in which feminism as an emancipatory project dedicated to women’s liberation (whether conceived in liberal, radical, or Marxist terms) has increasingly “converged” with non-emancipatory/racist, conservative, and neo-liberal economic and political agendas. This issue aims to move beyond the well-worn economic-culture dichotomy that tends to inform many of the current discussions about feminism’s “co-optation” and to provide a multi-dimensional theorization of how and why feminism has, in certain contexts, increasingly ceased to be an oppositional discourse. The questions this issue aims to address include: What are the concrete forms of such convergences and why are they taking place with greater frequency? Why might neo-conservative forces and parties with a racist and/or neo-liberal agenda desire to co-opt the emancipatory promise of feminism? What purposes does the mobilization of feminism for non-emancipatory projects serve? Is this co-option merely a strategic ruse or a “natural” (even teleological) folding of certain elements of liberal feminism into these neoconservative movements? How are such convergences affecting the ways in which we can understand the intersection of gender, class, sexuality and race?  Is it sufficient to speak about different feminisms today in order to make sense of feminism’s rightward movement or do we need a new lexicon for speaking about gender oppression? Alternatively, if feminism has no essential “core” then how might we reclaim feminism for the twenty first century?  What alternative politics can and should we propose to counter the evacuation of feminism’s emancipatory impetus?

We welcome abstracts of up to 500 words.  Please send to rightingfeminism@gmail.com by September 1, 2015.

Decisions will be made within six weeks. Contributors whose abstracts have been accepted will be asked to submit their papers within approximately six months (March 31, 2016).

Never again, for the same people?

Posted By Sadia Habib

by Sairah Yassir

Last week marked the 20th year anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. World leaders, mainstream media and “International Community” continued, and no doubt will continue, with their rhetoric of “never again” to a substantial level whilst continuing to condone and remain silent regarding the oppression of many Muslims within their own countries or supporting the oppression of Muslims abroad.

Just this week, on Saturday 19th July, Babar Ahmad was released. A man who for many years was detained without trial. Extradited, stripped and placed in solitary confinement for trumped up “terrorist” charges with his only escape from this awful ordeal being a plea bargain. Judge Janet Hall who accepted his plea noted:

“There was never any aid given by these defendants to effectuate a plot. By plot, I mean a terrorist plot … Neither of these two defendants were interested in what is commonly known as terrorism … It appears to me that he [Babar] is a generous, thoughtful person who is funny and honest. He is well liked and humane and empathetic…This is a good person who does not and will not seek in the future to harm other people.”

Yet, he did not return to a Britain of compassion, humanity and justice. Rather a Britain which continues its never ending “War on terror” narrative with misleading, irresponsible and sensationalist articles such as “Terrorist slips back into UK after release from US jail”. This is a narrative which has seen not only the death of many innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq but also military expenditure spent on bombing civilians in Syria and Libya.

What is more, on Wednesday 8th July, the evening prior to the one year commemoration of the  latest massacre unleashed by Netenyahu in Gaza, the BBC with its ever “objective” journalism once again released a documentary entitled “Children of the Gaza War” withstanding fair historical, political or social context with regards to the Palestinian plight – especially the effect this has had specifically on Palestinian children. During a recent film showing as part of Manchester Srebrenica Memorial Week 2015, “A Cry to the Grave” was aired, ironically also released by the BBC, one section of the film in particular stood out: blood, limbs and the haunting sound of Bosnian Muslims wailing depicted some of the aftermath Bosnian Muslims suffered at the hands of the Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb) militia.  This was followed immediately by a scene featuring Bosnian Serbs mourning their dead. A local Bosnian Muslim who very narrowly escaped the onslaught carried out by the Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb) militia took issue with this “objectivity” with the repetition of “They are not Muslim. But they are not Muslim?!” Although there were Bosnian Serb deaths, to depict their suffering as relatively equal to Bosnian Muslims echoes of similar partial BBC journalism we observe today of how Israelis are alleged to suffer just as gravely as Palestinians. The victim is in the same boat as the oppressor apparently.  A shameful continuation of a shameful legacy for the BBC.

However, the BBC cannot solely be blamed as they are funded by the government. On Monday 6th July during a Civic event in Westminster Abbey, David Cameron recently stressed words of “Never again can we allow this kind of thing to happen” whilst Pro-Palestinian campaigners demonstrating outside the infamous Elbit weapons factory in Shenstone were at the receiving end of severe police brutality and arrested for taking a stand against arms being manufactured and sold to massacring maniacs such as Netanyahu. David Cameron who pledged to “continue funding initiatives which remember Srebrenica” has recently passed the CTS bill which effectively legally mandates public figures such as doctors and teachers to spy on Muslims in the hope of curbing them from becoming “terrorists”. This suspicion and othering is exactly what led Serb nationalists to commit grave human rights abuses including genocide, physical, mental and sexual abuse towards Bosnian Muslims. Bosnian Muslims were “dangerous” Bosnian Serb nationalists alluded; “we will take our revenge from the Turks” Ratko Mladić, former Bosnian Serb military leader and perpertrator of war crimes, is famously quoted to have said.

The continuous suppression of historical, political and social facts, overtly and covertly, incites disunity amongst the average person in what is supposed to be a multicultural society, and in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina led to heinous violence. When certain history is ellipsed, an indirect or direct form of subordination occurs as that group of people are not deemed as important to mention. Bosnian Serb nationalists until this day taunt survivors of the genocide with Ottoman or “Turk” related slurs. This disregards the centuries under Ottoman rule where the Serbian Orthodox community began settling and establishing multiple places of worship in cities like Sarajevo in the first instance. What is more, Muslims in Bosnia are reported to have settled there since the 10th and 11th centuries. Although there were some people who were Slav in origin who converted to Islam during Ottoman rule, there were significant waves of ethnic Muslims to Bosnia and Herzegovina including Muslim Albanians, the Pomaks and the Torbesh, also referred to as the Gorans. Likewise, Muslims have lived peacefully in Britain for more than a century but are now depicted as the greatest threat. This once again disregards Muslim history in Britain through figures such as John Nelson, Pasqua Rosee who is alleged to have brought coffee to Britain, Muhammad Asad, Abdullah Quilliam and many more.

The value of the words “never again” have long seemed to be nothing more than fanciful hyperbole. If Britain and its allies truly did honour these words, chemical weapons in the form of Sarin would not have been sold to Bashar al-Assad from six years prior to the Ghouta massacre. The British government and its allies would not pander to the Israeli lobby. Their foreign exploits with the United States of America would cease. For many, particularly in the Global South, “never again” appears to signify nothing more than “never again” for the same people. Or “never again” in the same geographical location. What national and international leaders fund in one country seems to be what they destroy in another, how else would these actors be relieved of accountability? Mladić stroked the heads of innocent Bosnian Muslim children and the world sighed a temporary breath of relief. When the cameras stopped rolling, he began slaughtering them again, not only does propaganda sell, it “wins” wars.

The UN of course is reported to be just as culpable with leaked evidence obtained by renowned journalist, Florence Hartmann.  This is in addition to last week’s delay in classifying the Srebrenica genocide as a genocide in the UN Security Council, thus once again failing Bosnian Muslims and bringing to question what use the UN actually serves the average person who has been at the brunt of these atrocities. It is worth also noting that the Hague has forbidden acclaimed interpreter and survivor Hasan Nuhanovic from appearing in the tribunal, thus raising alarms for justice campaigners of where cries for “free speech” and “Western values” happen to be in this case. This is all while the Rohyinga continue to be massacred, as do the people of CAR, the people of Iraq, the people of Palestine, the people of Syria, the people of Yemen and sadly the list continues.

This “othering” of Muslims within and without Bosnia has led many justice seekers to conclude that they do not expect the UN and its members to recognise the liberation of various independence movements, yet through the commemoration of the dead and in the remembrance of the living, national and international leaders will continue to be exposed for their complicity and their hypocrisy. In their remembrance, justice campaigners aim to continue opposing national and international selectivity and subjectivity. In their remembrance, they will never let national and international leaders forget.

Sairah Yassir is a graduate of French and International Politics.  She currently researches contributions of diverse peoples to science, technology and civilisation. She is active in local, national and global campaigns for justice, and frequently blogs about social and political affairs.

Connected and disconnected writing

Posted By Sociological Imagination

By David Beer

I recall watching a documentary about the popular crime novelist Ian Rankin. It’s a documentary that is well worth watching for any writer. The programme followed him through a year in his life. It began in January, as he started preparations for new book, and followed him through to the completion of the publishing cycle. It was a fascinating account of the craft of a professional writer. It began with him sifting through notes and newspaper cuttings to find ideas for the plot, then we saw him working up the plot and writing a draft. The draft was then honed and we saw his response to editorial comments and suggested revisions. Then, somewhere around the middle of the year, the book went to press. Quite a bit of the latter part of the year was then spent on promotional work of various types. I watched the documentary closely for tips. Ian Rankin is a great author and I hoped that I might pick up something from his practices, something that might help. I’ve already spent a lot of time reading Rankin’s work, and I often try to see if I can find a way to capture some of his style and tone in my own work – I can’t manage it, but it gives me something to aim at. I find that reading Rankin’s work whilst I’m working on a writing project really gives me something to aim at, an ideal of clarity, complexity and direct no-nonsense flare.

One of the things that struck me in the documentary was that Rankin worked on an old laptop that had no internet connection. There was another computer in his study with internet connection, but he wrote on this internet free laptop instead. I seem to remember him seeing this as a way of removing distractions or the temptation of procrastination. Disconnected writing is undisturbed writing. When I was looking for tips I thought about this, and I made sure my email was never switched on when I was writing, so as not to receive something that might disturb the flow. Recently though I was forced to follow Rankin’s approach more closely. My old white plastic MacBook stopped connecting to Wi-Fi. I suddenly became a disconnected writer. Remembering the images of Ian Rankin writing away on his disconnected device, I thought that this malfunction might not be a problem.

I soon realised though that being connected is central to my own writing practices. It is not until I lost the ability to connect whilst writing that I realised how central it was. This was probably why I managed to mirror some of Rankin’s other writing practices with the exception of the disconnected laptop. The problem became clear when I started trying to add and check references. I found I kept opening the failing internet connection to check a passage I thought might be wrong or to find some missing information or check a year or titles, I kept forgetting. Completing references seemed impossible. I also tend to write quite a few short pieces for web publications now, and those require inserted hyperlinks in the text, which proved to be impossible on a non-connected device. Plus, my reading practices have changed. I now read lots of blog posts and use other online resources in my writing. As a result I’m finding that I now frequently cite such sources. This is impossible without being able to connect to that source to pull out the URL for the reference section, or simply to search through the reading to find relevant bits. Its possible to write in disconnection, but it is much more difficult. I found being a disconnected writer to be impossible. It was nice to be certain of no distractions, and to avoid the temptation of searching for music or books to buy. But a connection is central to the way I write. This recalls something I read recently in Les Back’s contribution to the recently published book The Craft of Knowledge. In that piece Les reflects on writing and reading in the context of hyper-connectivity. He highlights some of the costs as a well as massive benefits of the information to which we can have instant access as researchers, writers and readers. I’ve also found, like Les, that over time my writing practices have increasingly been reworked to rely upon having a connected device upon which to write.

The routine of writers is something that we ponder about quite a bit, if you search around there are quite a lot of reflections on writing practices. My broken laptop forced me to break my own routine and to buy a new laptop. I see my laptop as being a central part of my writing routine and a defining presence in my writing space, I’ve had it for years and I’ve written most of my work on it, so getting a new one was a strange. My writing desk suddenly looks different and sitting down to write today feels a bit alien. This is the first piece that I’ve written with my changed writing space. I’m using this piece to get warmed up and to test out my new writing device. I’ve lost the shared history I had with my old laptop, it had become the kind of ‘evocative object’ to which Sherry Turkle has referred, it had seen me through some tough writing days. We do develop attachments with such objects, particularly where there is a prolonged history. I wonder if this new device and the disruptions it will bring will change how I write. Maybe it will freshen things up or alter my perspective, perhaps though it will just quickly mould itself into familiarity. Certainly it is good to be a connected writer again and to take advantage of the speed at which I can link, check, add, search and revise. I can understand why Rankin likes to be a disconnected writer, with the undisturbed time and space that it brings. Much as I admire his writing, this is one aspect of his practice that I’ve found I can’t manage to adopt (whether through choice or a broken laptop). Connected writing just seems to be more productive for the type of writing tasks I have – the tricky bit is enabling this connectivity to enrich my writing rather than it allowing it to get in the way.

David Beer is Reader in Sociology at the University of York. His most recent book is Punk Sociology (the first chapter of which is open access here). He is on Twitter @davidgbeer

The @_ISRF @DigitalSocSci and @BigDataSoc Essay Competition

Posted By Mark Carrigan

An exciting new project I’ve helped launch: a collaboration between the ISRF’s Digital Social Science Forum and the journal Big Data & Society. See here for full details:

The Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) and Big Data & Society (BD&S) intend to award a prize of CHF 1,000 for the best essay on the topic ‘Influence and Power’. This is a topic, not a title. Accordingly, authors are free to choose an essay title within this field. The winner will also be invited to present the work during a special event at Social Media & Society 2016 and will have the conference fee waived and travel costs covered.

www.isrf.org/funding-opportunities/essay-competitions/

 

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Returning to blogging

Posted By Mark Carrigan

Around two months ago I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I no longer had time to maintain two blogs. I won’t go into the reasons here, but the case seemed pretty unanswerable. So I closed down this blog and decided I would focus on Sociological Imagination. Since then I’ve felt the quality of my writing gradually deteriorate. The reasons for this seem obvious to me: objectively I write much less without a personal blog. The recurrent practice the blog helps ensure writing is a taken for granted part of my everyday life, it’s something which I feel no more anxiety about than other mundane daily activities.

I’ve found my creeping sense of dissatisfaction in the last two months extremely worrying. It’s a new experience for me to look at my writing, conclude “this is crap” and to feel uncertain of how to fix it. It’s not that I was always happy with my writing up to this point. I really wasn’t and I have multiple ‘working papers’ which demonstrate this. But when blogging was a part of my daily routine, my response to difficulty was to keep writing. The challenge added to my enjoyment of the process, rather than contributing to my descent into a seething mass of writerly neurosis.

Having a personal blog enables a cheerful optimism about writing. One which I never want to be without again. In the words of one of my favourite punk bands, it facilitates ‘word acrobatics, performed with both harness and net’. I feel like I learnt to write seriously in the last couple of years of my PhD, when blogging became a daily activity for me. That’s when I began to take  profound pleasure in writing for the first time. I’m not entirely sure I can be a writer, as opposed to someone who is contingently obligated to write stuff, without having my own blog. It seems I’m not the only person to have this experience, as A Very Public Sociologist recounts:

Since December 2006 this blog has weighed on my brain like a digital nightmare. Apart from a six month break and a further 18 month leave of absence, I’ve been writing or thinking about writing content all that time. Even when I took a hiatus, words, phrases, screeds of 500 words or more tangoed across my eyeballs when the shutters came down at night. As our minds have allowed social media technologies to colonise and structure our perceptions – how many times have you thought of a real-life happening in terms of an instagram snap or a sharply-observed tweet – so mine finds half-digested ideas immediately suited to bloggable form

http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.co.uk/p/about.html

Does anyone else have an experience, of trying and failing to give up blogging, which they’d be willing to share?

Counter-factualising hypothesising

Posted By Sociological Imagination

In recent months, I’ve become fascinated by Design Fiction as a potential tool for Sociologists. Related to this is the question of counter-factuality: can we use fiction to explore hypotheses about what would have happened if … in a way that helps explain what actually did take place? This example by A Very Public Sociologist might not be entirely clear to those unfamiliar with the party politics of the United Kingdom, but it’s a very interesting example of how sociologists might go about doing this. Read it in full here:

The polls were with Labour. The feedback on the doorstep was very encouraging. It looked like all the naysayers and the problems of the previous five years had been put to bed. Until that exit poll flashed up on the nation’s TV screens. It gave the Tories a clear lead, and one several seats away from a majority. Then the worst happened. As the night wore on it became increasingly clear Labour were not winning the seats it needed to capture to form the largest party, and by the morning the impossible had happened: David Cameron had pulled the irons of an overall majority from the election fire.

Despite the naysaying and doom laden predictions coming from the left of the labour movement, David Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party started off well. From the moment he emerged ashened face from behind the curtain at party conference, he set out a stall that confounded expectations. Labelled as the continuity Blair candidate, David’s victory speech – secured across all three sections of the electoral college, albeit very narrowly in a higher-than-expected turnout from USDAW members in the trade union component, emphasised the need to capture economic credibility. He announced an establishment of a commission under Alastair Darling to revisit the rules and responsibility attached to government spending, but he also played to the left by indulging tough rhetoric around the regulation of the entire economy. The behaviour and spending of public bodies wouldn’t be the only ones to be covered by tough new rules: businesses big and small were also expected to behave responsibly and play their part. Concerned to yank back economic credibility from the Tories, he reaffirmed the Darling plan to halve the deficit over the course of the parliament, and made points around the need to develop a proper industrial strategy. Lastly, David Miliband announced an ambitious plan to re-energise and refound Labour as a mass organisation, offering CLPs incentives to recruit people and draw more trade unionists into the party. Jon Cruddas was also announced as the face of the Movement for Change.

http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/if-david-miliband-had-won.html

Support Sociological Imagination with a T-Shirt!

Posted By Mark Carrigan

In recent years, the once negligible hosting costs of this site have begun to increase. Hopefully this has had some positive impact, as the site had been increasingly unreliable on our old host. Our new host is great. But a lot more expensive. This site has always been a hobby, into which myself, the co-editors and contributors have willingly sunk lots of time. In the case of myself and the Idle Ethnographer we’ve also put money into it. It’s fine really, we do this out of love. But with the new host the money leaving my account each month to pay for the host is more conspicuous than used to be the case. As a way of allowing readers to support the site, without anything so crass as a donations tin, I’ve made some t-shirts. Hope you like them!

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Committing Sociology: open-access essays from @TheSocReview

Posted By Mark Carrigan

For the last few months, I’ve been curating a series of essays for The Sociological Review’s website, reflecting on the future of the discipline and related issues. Here are the initial essays:

There will be more coming soon!

CfP: Beyond the Master’s Tools: Post- and Decolonial Approaches to Research Methodology and Methods in the Social Sciences

Posted By Sociological Imagination

Call for Papers

Beyond the Master’s Tools: Post- and Decolonial Approaches to Research Methodology and Methods in the Social Sciences

University of Kassel, 14-15 January 2016

The contention that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (Lorde) translates into a major critique of Social Science research. Accusations regarding the continuation of “episte-micide” (Santos) highlight the dangers of an occidentalist or Eurocentric research agenda. Post- and decolonial perspectives point to colonial continuities embedded not just in the epistemic foundations and thematic concerns, but also in the actual practices, i.e. the craft of research as canonised in re-search methods and methodologies. A decolonising approach to Social Science research is necessarily twofold: the deconstruction of existing methodologies and methods that (re)produce the coloniality of knowledge; and a reconstruction and/or reinvention of research practice. The conference aims to bring together scholars to discuss methodological and methodical critiques as well as potentially post-/decolonial ways of doing empirical research.

Academic knowledge production has become a highly diversified field. Various turns (argumentative, ethnographic, spatial, practice, intersectional etc.) claim to offer epistemological lenses that allow for a more pluralist, contextualized and enriched understanding of the social world. While these deve-lopments may point to a desirable ‘mainstreaming’ of heterodox and critical approaches, we can still observe that the “right to research” (Appadurai) as a universalized hegemony over knowledge produc-tion remains the reserve of a minority marked by privileges linked to the history and present of colo-nialism. “Researching back” (Smith) appears to be a necessary but difficult process. The conference aims to discuss and learn from different approaches that strive to decolonize the field of academic research, i.e. the epistemological conceptualization and selection of research objects and research designs (Mato).

The methodological reflection of ongoing entanglements regarding hegemonic power/knowledge complexes leads to the reflection of decolonial methods and research practice. Feminist, anti-racist and decolonial scholars have focused on developing methods for power sensitive research in order to deconstruct what still appears to be a hegemonic and positivist research paradigm by putting forward concepts such as positional reflexivity, standpoint feminism, situated knowledge or critical whiteness. Analyzing everyday life practices or stories in ethno-methodological methods, reflecting on ‘writing culture’ (Clifford/Marcus) in cultural anthropology, focusing on counter-narratives in biographical research, conceptualizing gaps and silences in discourse analysis or addressing complexity in situati-onal analysis are all approaches that provide useful tools for decolonial research. Furthermore, parti-cipatory research methods such as popular education (Freire) or participatory action research (Fals-Borda) open up perspectives for horizontal and collaborative research processes.

While university regulations might require researchers to follow formal guidelines for ethical research – for example, participant information sheets, informed consent, and right to withdraw at any mo-ment –, post-/decolonial critique requires a more profound recognition of ethical issues. It urges us to account for the positionality of the researcher in relation to the field, the people investigated, and the “geopolitics of knowledge” (Mignolo) more broadly. Rather than perpetuating the obscuring stories of how we stumbled across field sites „by chance“, it is necessary to bring to the forefront the ways in which researchers are “historically and socially […] linked with the areas we study” (Gupta/Ferguson). First and foremost, a de-/postcolonial research ethics demands that we choose sides and step away from any pretense of neutrality, objectivity, and impartiality – while we still try to to reach an intersub-jective understanding of the world. We thus have to ask (and answer) the highly political question of who benefits from our research. Postcolonial research ethics might even go further and say that it is not up to academics to decide on relevance, but that it should be up to the people fighting the decolo-nial struggles on the ground. It is not an easy feat, but – in spite of itself being predominantly Western, white, male, bourgeois, heterosexual, and able – academic research needs to be “existentially and poli-tically committed to decolonisation” (Decoloniality Europe).

We invite contributions which engage with the following set of questions:

* How do the prevalent geopolitics of knowledge production shape social science research? How do they become productive – and which privileges/visibilities/capacities or marginalisations/invisibili-ties/ways of silencing does this entail?

* How do post- and decolonial perspectives challenge the Eurocentric grounding of research methods, methodologies, and ethics? What (new) empirical approaches, lenses and tools for research do these approaches offer or imply?

* What are the implications of decentering or decolonizing methodology? What does this imply in terms of research agendas, research cooperation, case studies, academic discourse and dissemination? How does this relate to traditions of academic writing? How can new forms of expression be mobilised (e.g. story-telling, oral history, auto-ethnography, action-research)?

* How can research designs and field access be realized without reproducing power complexes, but enable a process of „studying with“ (Mato) marginalised actors and social groups?

* How do requirements of decolonial research ethics clash with academic regulations and guidelines? Are such clashes necessary and to be welcomed; or are there innovative ways to pretend to play by the rules?

* If the researcher abandons her*his privileges to select the problem to be analysed and leaves the decision to the decolonial social movements: who decides which social movements are decolonial and according to which criteria?

*Is it possible for privileged researchers to unlearn their privileges and conduct research with margi-nalised groups in a political and ethical manner? If so, how? What are the implications for processes of research and knowledge dissemination?

Our conference welcomes a variety of forms of academic presentation. Research will be discussed in panels and roundtables as well as in a poster session. The latter format is particularly suitable for dis-cussions on research design and ’work in progress’ by both junior and senior researchers. Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words to beyondthemasterstools@uni-kassel.de by 15 August 2015.

Further information can be found on https://www.uni-kassel.de/go/beyond-the-masters-tools

Keynotes (confirmed):

* Gurminder K. Bhambra, University of Warwick (UK)

* Aida Hernández Castillo, CIESAS (Mexico)

* Siba Grovogui, Cornell University (USA)

Call for Digital Anthropology book proposals

Posted By Sociological Imagination

This looks like it will be an extremely valuable book series:

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Book Review: Group Conflict and Political Mobilization in Bahrain and the Arab Gulf: Rethinking the Rentier State

Posted By Sadia Habib

Conflict and Political Mobilization in Bahrain and the Arab Gulf: Rethinking the Rentier State Justin Gengler (Indiana University Press, 2015)

rentier

review by Bradley Williams

The 2011 Bahraini Uprising seemed to confirm that Bahrain does not conform to the orthodox theory of rentier oil states, referred often to Rentier State Theory. As Gengler (p. 147) asks “What is it about Bahrain qua rentier society that renders its rulers particularly incapable of buying popular political quiet?” The theory of the rentier state, or allocative oil state, predicts that Gulf States garner allegiance from citizens by redistributing the wealth that they accrue from oil revenues. Redistribution of wealth is supposed to alleviate all forms of opposition and protest. This perspective has remained dominant in international relations for roughly the last thirty years. Rentier State Theory was first explained in 1970, in a chapter by Hossein Mahdavy (1970) titled The Pattern and Problems of Economic Development in Rentier States: The Case of Iran. Hazem Beblawi and Giacomo Luciani (1987) produced another influential analysis of Rentier State Theory in The Rentier State (Nation, State, and Integration in the Arab World, Vol 2).

The Royal al-Khalifa Monarchy in Bahrain controls virtually all areas of state and military governance. While Shia Muslims constitute the majority of civil society in Bahrain, they are barred from employment in the police and military and other areas of state governance that are deemed security sensitive. The protests referred to as the Bahrain Uprising have clearly shown that the ideal model of the rentier state and the assumptions that it makes about individual level behavior do not adequately explain the persistence of political opposition to rulers in Bahrain. Via a critique of Rentier State Theory, Justin Gengler shows that the relationship between civil society and the state does not conform to the rentier model at all. Gengler bases his findings on data from his mass survey, collected in early 2009. The survey is representative of the whole country and includes questions concerning political orientation, religion, and other information about ordinary Bahraini citizens. The survey data indicate that the government of Bahrain intentionally exacerbates tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims. This strategy undermines opposition without compensating either Sunni or Shia Muslims with money in accordance with the rentier state model.

As I briefly noted above, Gengler developed and administered a first-of-its-kind survey instrument. As the author states, the survey is based off of the “Arab Barometer questionnaire” with admittedly minor adjustments to fit the Bahrain context. Chapter Four examines the process of developing and administering the survey and the efforts he and his team underwent to gather data. The whole affair was completed in a short amount of time given that they still gathered 437 completed surveys of their goal of 500. The survey includes at least one respondent from every Bahraini village. I found this chapter to be one of the more interesting parts of the book. The researchers even utilized one challenge in a constructive way. They were able to account for the interaction affects between interviewers and interviewees from different devotional communities.

The findings of the survey seem to completely undermine our general understanding of rentier, allocative Gulf States. The study finds that first, private and public goods are not allocated in a politically neutral, or agnostic, fashion across all populations. Second, the study finds that there are many individual level factors that actually account for political opposition beyond merely economic incentives, or government incentives of any kind. The government and Royal Family in Bahrain have fostered a populace divided by distrust and fear between Sunnis and Shia Muslims. Sunnis surveyed indicated their belief that the state is the sole defense against the perceived threat of an Iranian-inspired Shia insurgency. Because of this fear, rulers in Bahrain are able to keep monetary allocation to Sunnis low while still maintaining strong support from most Sunnis. Shia Muslims, on the other hand, oppose a wide range of government policies based on a wide range of grievances concerning systemic inequalities and not caused by the amount of rent allocation. Because the Shia opposition cannot be dissuaded by a higher rent allocation, the state subdues political opposition with police and military force.

Justin Gengler has written an excellent and succinct examination of Bahrain that explains the recent political opposition and the government’s failure to sustain social order. The only real criticism is that the book is not a bit longer in parts. There are only 159 pages of text. The main text is followed by a seven page index consisting of the tables of data and a twenty-two page Notes section, which seems large in proportion to the main text. Although the book is short, the author adequately presents enough information to make an interesting and convincing argument. Many events, including the Bahraini Uprising and subsequent government repression, have been previously reported in the media. However, this book does compile these events in one place along with a superb, empirically verifiable analysis. Every part of the argument seems necessary.

Thinking of future research, Gengler states that research will need to focus on the consequences of divisive engineering by Gulf state rulers incite inter-sect conflict. Furthermore, one consequence of royal meddling is the rise of Salafist and Sunni militant groups, such as ISIS (Daesh). Gengler insists that research should seek to understand this link between the actions of rulers like the al-Khalifa in Bahrain and the persistence and rise of specifically Salafist and Sunni militant movements.

In conclusion, this book is a singularly important book that advances the fields of political economy and international relations. This book offers a unique and one of a kind insight into the country of Bahrain. Additionally, the author shows that his explanation of inter-religious conflict and government opposition within the country of Bahrain can be generalized to a broader range of Gulf oil countries. As Gengler puts it, the conditions within Bahrain are “merely the realization of a latent possibility that exists in other Arab Gulf regimes according to their peculiar vulnerability to such conditions” (p.7). This book is intended for an academic audience. It is particularly appropriate book for Gulf state specialists within political economy and international relations. However, anyone with an interest in the future of Bahrain would find this book accessible. This book is definitely unique and invaluable to anyone wanting a fuller understanding of the economic, political, and religious tensions within Bahrain that media outlets and published reports have scarcely revealed.

 

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

Academic spammer or weird meta-troll?

Posted By Sociological Imagination

Has anyone else received e-mails from JPMontfort? I was intrigued by the sheer weirdness of things like this:

FROM YEAR 2210

TO UCHICAGO PRESIDENT ROBERT J. ZIMMER

PROTAGONISTS TERESA HORD OWENS & JEREMY EDWARDS

RECIPIENTS 159.134 FACULTY & STAFF IN BRITAIN

We have a reason to believe that our special envoy to present time Earth, Time Traveler JP.Monfort has been subject to arbitrary, subjective and perhaps discriminatory treatment by the personnel in your institution. Following our specific instructions to become a Generalist, our special envoy has previously graduated from The University of California-Berkeley, The London School of Economics and Columbia University.

JP.Monfort was conferred admission to The University Of Chicago in July 2014. Honouring the admission, The Divinity School granted the admission renewal this past May 2015 following JP.Monfort’s decision to defer in 2014. The Divinity School has only recently reviewed the admission and chosen to expel JP.Monfort from its MA program in June 2015.

We understand that decision makers in your institution have retaliated against JP.Monfort’s exercise of freedom of expression, subjectively and arbitrarily applying the “Authority To Direct” Policy described in your Student’s Manual. We also have a reason to believe that retaliation was incorporated when evaluating JP.Monfort’s application to doctoral and master’s programs at The Harris School in the fall of 2014.

For all of the above we strongly encourage you to take action in order to avoid an escalation of the ongoing issue. We estimate a loss in goodwill for your institution in present time dollars of between $100 Million and $1 Billion between today and 1-January-2051 if you do not act promptly. This message has been typed from Year 2210. Over and out

You may contact the protagonists Dean of Students Teresa Hord Owens at +1 773.702.8217 and Associate Dean Jeremy Edwards at +1 773.834.8177.

There’s an interesting bit of background to this weirdness here: “it is difficult to discern whether Monfort is deluded, a scam artist, or some sort of weird meta-troll”.

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Manchester Multiculturalism: Fasting, Food & Festival

Posted By Sadia Habib

It is that time of year again: Muslims around the world are fasting during Ramadan in the lead up to Eid ul Fitr.  The #ShareRamadan concept has long existed as older generations of Muslims have shared their food with their neighbours during and outside of Ramadan, or local community leaders and businesses organise interfaith iftars (breaking of the fast).  Last year though three Muslims from Oldham decided they would encourage more young people to engage in interfaith social practices by inviting their work colleagues, friends and neighbours of all faiths and none to partake in the fasting experience.

#ShareRamadan went viral last year as people around the world fasted for one or more days to experience what it was like for their Muslim friends, before attending iftar at their Muslim friends’ homes where they broke the fast together.  Some new to fasting had perhaps never visited a mosque before, and thus decided to accompany their Muslim friends for the Tarawih prayer at night. The concept of #ShareRamadan vividly demonstrated multicultural conviviality as alive and well in Britain.  The detailed accounts on social media and the video diaries of the experiences of those who are participating in this religious practice are fascinating for those interested in everyday multiculturalism.  Last year, I compiled some of the accounts in a blog post highlighting these practices of multicultural conviviality.

This year I have been keen to follow new accounts of the experience.  I have been thinking about “Red Boots” multiculturalism which has been used to describe the idea of food, festivals and fun being the focus of multicultural governmental policies.  This once popular type of multiculturalism has rightly been heavily criticised for neglecting the real issues of inequalities.  We must never neglect to highlight issues of inequalities, particularly important now more than ever in times of austerity, as observed in the rise of food banks and voluntary organisations assisting the homeless, as well as those struggling to pay for food after rent/bills are paid.

There are Muslims in Britain who have set up voluntary groups to help those who are suffering poverty, again illustrating models of interfaith work that is common throughout Britain.  The Myriad Foundation consisting of a small group of volunteers have set up a Feed a Friend Project that provides local foodbanks and shelters with donations from mosque congregations; they also provide run a mobile food kitchen every Wednesday in Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester.  Every year another group of Muslims during Ramadan encourage local Mancunians to come and feed the homeless.  There are countless positive examples of everyday multiculturalism taking place up and down Britain which the mainstream media outlets would do well to present to their audiences.

With #ShareRamadan we have an interesting case of community cohesion where fasting, food and (religious) festivals can result in multicultural mingling and more as evident in the responses of those engaging in #ShareRamadan, and research into this area would be useful in understanding everyday multiculturalism. One of the Christian participants this year who fasted for four days reflected upon how he would like to do more than just fast as has been prescribed to Muslims, and thus he went out and assisted the Myriad Foundation on their weekly pop up kitchen in Piccadilly Gardens.

Last week, MEND (Muslim Engagement & Development) organised a community iftar for people of all faiths and none to gather together share a Ramadan meal at The Sheridan Suite.  They collaborated with the Myriad Foundation and the #ShareRamadan team to put on a splendid informative and entertaining evening. Over 400 people from a variety of different backgrounds, people of different faiths and none came together to learn about Islam and Ramadan, the contribution of Islamic civilisation to the modern world, the communal need to challenge Islamophobia and all other forms of hate as well as Muslim contribution to modern day Britain.  The three groups (MEND, Myriad & Share Ramadan) invited their friends/colleagues/neighbours to the iftar, in attendance were teachers, academics, public sector workers, union representatives, representatives of synagogues and churches, and many more.  Guests also included volunteers from Coffee 4 Craig and Community Awareness Network who regularly work with Myriad in helping the homeless in Manchester.  Some of those who learnt more about Ramadan decided they would fast some of the remaining days of Ramadan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call for Papers: Issues of Power in Social Research

Posted By Sociological Imagination

8TH ENQUIRE CONFERENCE: ISSUES OF POWER IN SOCIAL RESEARCH

To colleagues who have submitted abstracts for the 8th Enquire Conference – many thanks. Speaking with a number of colleagues, however, we are aware that there are some who were eager to submit but missed the deadline. So, we have decided to extend the deadline to 7th August 2015.

As a reminder, the Enquire Conference is an annual, one day conference organised by PGRs from the School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham, this year taking place on 7th November 2015. The theme this year is ‘Issues of Power in Social Research’ and we are excited to announce that we have Lisa McKenzie (LSE), Les Back (Goldsmiths) and John Holmwood (University of Nottingham) as keynote speakers. Please see details below regarding call for papers. This is also attached as a PDF file, as is the poster for the event.

Call for Papers

Issues of power are central to both theoretical and empirical research in most social sciences (sociology, politics, economics and psychology, for example). As such we invite doctoral and early career researchers to submit abstracts concerned with issues of power in social research. Power here should be understood in a broad sense, and we have deliberately left it undefined. We are interested, for instance, in both substantive research on power and broader reflections on power in the practice of social research. We therefore welcome abstracts for papers concerned with empirical and/or theoretical research based around issues such as, but not limited to:

  • Issues of power at the micro-interactional level of research practice, for instance between participants, between researcher and the researched, between researcher and gatekeepers, between funding bodies and researcher, or even between supervisor and supervisee during the PhD process.
  • Ethical issues in relation to power, such as coercion, payment and informed consent.
  • The role of the expert and associated issues such as the relationship between power and knowledge, dissemination, and implications of research for policy.
  • Macro-level power structures including those of an institutional kind such as governments and other political organisations, and interactional structures such as ‘race’, gender, sexuality, class, status and age, how they intersect and how they perpetuate inequalities.
  • The lived experience of power, resistance to it, and attempts to overcome power imbalances through social movements.
  • Grand theoretical debates on power questioning, for instance: what power is, how it should best be understood, and how and by whom theories of power are written.

This is a one day event taking place on 7th November 2015 costing £15 (£10 early bird rate available: ends 7th September 2015). We welcome abstracts of 250-350 words for presentations of 15 minutes, to be submitted to LQ-Enquire@exmail.nottingham.ac.ukExtended deadline for submission: 7th August 2015.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Kind Regards,

The Enquire Conference Team

Twitter: @enquirenottm #enquirepower

Website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/sociology/research/enquire/conference/index.aspx

What does it mean to be asexual?

Posted By Mark Carrigan

This feature in Vice I produced with my friend Holly Falconer was discussed in this interesting Slate podcast:

(edit to add: turns out we weren’t discussed at all, only included as supplementary reading. oh well!)