The Sociological Imagination http://sociologicalimagination.org A daily dose of the Sociological Imagination Sat, 22 Nov 2014 08:00:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Thomas Piketty: New thoughts on capital in the twenty-first centuryhttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16357 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16357#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 08:00:45 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16357 Read More ›]]> TED have come to the rescue of those who, like me, only got 50 pages into Piketty’s Capital before getting distracted:

French economist Thomas Piketty caused a sensation in early 2014 with his book on a simple, brutal formula explaining economic inequality: r > g (meaning that return on capital is generally higher than economic growth). Here, he talks through the massive data set that led him to conclude: Economic inequality is not new, but it is getting worse, with radical possible impacts.

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How to ensure the democratic dividend of academic capitalismhttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16500 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16500#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:53:10 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16500 Read More ›]]> I recently tweeted that the Anglo-Indian welfare economist Amartya Sen has received 90+ honorary degrees. Speaking as someone who sees Sen as a net positive influence on contemporary political economy, I have nothing against the idea that some academics may acquire a disproportionate level of attention vis-à-vis their colleagues. However, if this fact is supposed to empirically ground normative judgements about specifically institutional recognition, then universities should only give honorary degrees or comparable honours to people who are willing to acknowledge the significance of the honour in material terms. This means that the recipient should absorb some of the cost of receiving the honour, which involves endorsing the institution bestowing the honour. There needs to be something more than just a ‘thank you’, even if that alone seems to generate a transient ‘feel good’ factor in the granting institution. On the contrary, any prospective recipient of such an honour should absorb the cost of transport to the relevant university, which in return would agree cover the ground costs. Only under such conditions would capitalism coincide with democracy because there would be a formal acknowledgement of the academic’s need to receive external honours in a way that is commensurate with the price that the institution is willing to pay.

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Creating an ‘idea index’http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16353 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16353#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 08:00:38 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16353 Read More ›]]> In a recent interview Maria Popova, curator of the wonderful Brain Pickings blog, explained how she reads books. Cal Newport summarises on his blog:

Around thirty-one minutes into the interview, Popova explains how she takes notes on books:

  1. As she reads, she creates an index at the front of the book that lists its most interesting ideas.
  2. Every time she encounters a passage relevant to one of these ideas she adds the page to the relevant line in the index. If its a new idea, she creates a new line for it.
  3. As she reads more, the index grows.

Here’s what’s great about this idea index method: When you pick up a book read long ago, you can quickly recall what it has to offer by glancing at the index. Then, if you want to grab some quotes about one of these ideas, the index tells you exactly where to look (no more reading every annotation!).

http://calnewport.com/blog/2014/10/23/deep-habits-create-an-idea-index/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+StudyHacks+%28Study+Hacks%29

I also find this a really appealing idea. I tend to underline & scribble notes & fold corners for particularly important pages  (in my books) or use mini post (in library books) to mark parts of the text to come back to. However the only structure between the notes tends to be how they are sequences so it leaves me running back through a text in a very linear way. Popova’s method seems a lot better in that respect. Particularly when I use a Kindle, my approach to reading can sometimes feel like mining for ideas in a way I’m unhappy with. If I’m enjoying the book then it’s not a problem. But if I’m a little bored or the author writes badly, I sometimes slip into something that’s far closer to skim reading to ‘extract’ useful bits then I’m happy with.

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Why are some interactions energising while others are not?http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16349 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16349#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 08:00:36 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16349 Read More ›]]> We subsume such a wide array of phenomena under the category of ‘interaction’ that we sometimes risk obscuring the diversity within this category. One important way in which interactions differ is in how energising, or otherwise, they are to the participating actors. Some interactions can be draining and tedious. Others can have a negligible impact upon us. Others still leave us energised and focused. We can leave some interaction situations and feel marginal and diminished while others leave us feeling fuller and more congruent. These experiences are probably peripheral in the scheme of our lives as a whole but they’re nonetheless sociologically important. For the kind of actor-centred sociology I advocate, in which individual lives are taken as basic unit of analysis and analytically distinguished from the relationships in which they are always embedded, it’s also a challenging one – it’s necessary to account for these seemingly intersubjective aspects of experience in terms of individual trajectories into, through and out of interaction situations in which “reside the energy of movement and change, the glue of solidarity, and the conservatism of stasis” as Randall Collins puts it. For the position I’m advocating to be tenable, it needs to account for the experience of these situations in a way that resists the (effective) dissolution of the individual that is advocated by Collins:

This is not to say that the individual does not exist. But an individual is not simply a body, even though a body is an ingredient that individuals get constructed out of. My analytical strategy (and that of the founder of interaction ritual analysis, Erving Goffman), is to start with the dynamics of situations; from this we can derive almost everything that we want to know about individuals, as a moving precipitate across situations.

Here we might pause for a counterargument. Do we not know that the individual is unique, precisely because we can follow him or her across situations, and precisely because he or she acts in a familiar, distinctively recognizable pattern even as circumstances change? Let us disentangle what is valid from what is misleading in this statement. The argument assumes a hypothetical fact, that individuals are constant even as situations change; to what extent this is true remains to be shown. We are prone to accept it, without further examination, as “something everybody knows,” because it is drummed into us as a moral principle: everyone is unique, be yourself, don’t give in to social pressure, to your own self be true–these are slogans trumpeted by every mouthpiece from preachers’ homilies to advertising campaigns, echoing everywhere from popular culture to the avant-garde marching-orders of modernist and hypermodernist artists and intellectuals. As sociologists, our task is not to go with the flow of taken-for-granted belief–(although doing just this is what makes a successful popular writer)–but to view it in a sociological light, to see what social circumstances created this moral belief and this hegemony of social categories at this particular historical juncture. The problem, in Goffman’s terms, is to discover the social sources of the cult of the individual.

http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s7769.html

It’s strange to only really discover Collins after I’ve finished my PhD. In a very real way, his project is the mirror image of my own: to develop situational micro-foundations for macro-sociology i.e. how can the analysis of everyday life be made most amenable to drawing out the connections between micro and macro? However Collins argues that the situation rather than the individual should be the starting point while I argue that we should understand situations as composed emergently of individuals in movement - the crucial factor conditioning a situation, as well as the situated and structured milieu* in which it unfolds, being what the individuals bring to that situation – the propensities and liabilities, the expectations and concerns, originating through the personal changes they have undergone as a consequence of past situations and analytically distinct from the present situation. While Collins says that “A situation is not merely the result of the individual who comes into it, nor even of a combination of individuals” because “Situations have laws or processes of their own” I’d agree but I see the causality differently: I see any number of people P(n) with distinct characteristics at a ‘moment of entry’ to a situated milieu with distinct characteristics M – one of the characteristics of P(n) are the existing relations obtaining between them R(n). So we have (Pn) + R(n) entering M. The situation S unfolds because of how P(n) interact with each other, conditioned by the characteristics of R(n) and M(n), while they contribute to the reproduction or transformation of P(n), R(n) and M as a result of their situated interaction – everything (potentially) changes in the interaction situation, include those party to it. There are a finite number of true statements that can be made about P(n) at the start of any interaction situation and the truth of those statements can be analysed in terms of the consequences of past interaction situations. It’s only through analytically distinguishing between these changes that we can gain traction on the links between situations i.e. how what P(n) bring to future situations was shaped by their experience of past situations.

One thing I find particular problematic about the account given by Collins is how he conceives of structure and agency:

Am I proclaiming, on the micro-level, the primacy of structure over agency? Is the structure of the interaction all-determining, bringing to naught the possibility of active agency? Not at all. The agency / structure rhetoric is a conceptual morass, entangling several distinctions and modes of rhetorical force. Agency / structure confuses the distinction of micro / macro, which is the local here-and-now vis-à-vis the interconnections among local situations into a larger swath of time and space, with the distinction between what is active and what is not. The latter distinction leads us to questions about energy and action; but energy and action are always local, always processes of real human beings doing something in a situation. It is also true that the action of one locality can spill over into another, that one situation can be carried over into other situations elsewhere. The extent of that spillover is part of what we mean by macro-patterns. It is acceptable, as a way of speaking, to refer to the action of a mass of investors in creating a run on the stock market, or of the breakdown of an army’s logistics in setting off a revolutionary crisis, but this is a shorthand for the observable realities (i.e., what would be witnessed by a micro-sociologist on the spot). This way of speaking makes it seem as if there is agency on the macro-level, but that is inaccurate, because we are taken in by a figure of speech. Agency, if we are going to use that term, is always micro; structure concatenates it into macro.

http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s7769.html

My account offers a micro-sociology of collective action. In fact Tom Brock and I have a paper coming out soon in the Journal for Theory of Social Behaviour in which we analyse political demonstrations in these terms. If agency is predominantly micro-sociological then how do we explain the capacity to organise together for common purposes? Tom and I argue that demonstrations are important situations in which collective participation in a situated milieu helps solidify relational bonds that are experienced as solidarity – I see so many others who have converged on this situation for the same purpose as myself and I recognise converging motivations, facilitating a translation from the relational characteristics of my existing bonds to the crowd at large – solidified in turn by the performative aspect of protest (“you say cut back, we say fight back!” etc). The language I’m prone to using (motivations, concerns, solidarity, collectives) would be anathema to Collins who sees  agency as “the energy appearing in human bodies and emotions and as the intensity and focus of human consciousness”. My reasons for rejecting this language could easily constitute a a second PhD thesis. But I’m engaging with his work because I recognise that, with the partial substantive exception of what Tom and I have written about demonstrations, I can’t account for something which his theoretical framework can: energy. I need to develop an alternative explanation, probably predicated on the social psychology of what Pierpaolo Donati calls relational goods, if I want to seriously advocate that the social world can be fruitfully understood through the micro-situational realism I’ve been trying to develop over the last six years. I like how Collins describes this, I just don’t like how he explains it:

Perhaps the best we might say is that the local structure of interaction is what generates and shapes the energy of the situation. That energy can leave traces, carrying over to further situations because individuals bodily resonate with emotions, which trail off in time but may linger long enough to charge up a subsequent encounter, bringing yet further chains of consequences. Another drawback of the term “agency” is that it carries the rhetorical burden of connoting moral responsibility; it brings us back to the glorification (and condemnation) of the individual, just the moralizing gestalt that we need to break out from if we are to advance an explanatory microsociology. We need to see this from a different angle. Instead of agency, I will devote theoretical attention to emotions and emotional energy, as changing intensities heated up or cooled down by the pressure-cooker of interaction rituals.

The central mechanism of interaction ritual theory is that occasions that combine a high degree of mutual focus of attention, that is, a high degree of intersubjectivity, together with a high degree of emotional entrainment–through bodily synchronization, mutual stimulation / arousal of participants’ nervous systems–result in feelings of membership that are attached to cognitive symbols; and result also in the emotional energy of individual participants, giving them feelings of confidence, enthusiasm, and desire for action in what they consider a morally proper path. These moments of high degree of ritual intensity are high points of experience. They are high points of collective experience, the key moments of history, the times when significant things happen. These are moments that tear up old social structures or leave them behind, and shape new social structures. As Durkheim notes, these are moments like the French Revolution in the summer of 1789. We could add, they are moments like the key events of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s; like the collapse of communist regimes in 1989 and 1991; and to a degree of significance that can be ascertained only in the future, as in the national mobilization in the United States following September 11, 2001. These examples are drawn from large-scale ritual mobilizations, and examples of a smaller scale could be drawn as we narrow our attention to smaller arenas of social action.

IR theory provides a theory of individual motivation from one situation to the next. Emotional energy is what individuals seek; situations are attractive or unattractive to them to the extent that the interaction ritual is successful in providing emotional energy. This gives us a dynamic microsociology, in which we trace situations and their pull or push for individuals who come into them. Note the emphasis: the analytical starting point is the situation, and how it shapes individuals; situations generate and regenerate the emotions and the symbolism that charge up individuals and send them from one situation to another.

*Because there is structural conditioning that transcends the situation even if this, in turn, can be understood in micro-sociological terms. For instance when students interact in a Student Union bar, the accumulated consequences of a panoply of past situations operate causally in relation to the character of the SU bar, the roles they play within it and the consequent expectations they bring to bear upon the interaction. All these factors have their own history of emergence which can be analysed micro-sociologically but they operate concurrently i.e. statements about their situational origins are ontologically past tense rather than present tense.

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Powerful song by UK Hip Hop artist Swisshttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16493 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16493#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 11:42:08 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16493 Read More ›]]> UK Hip Hop artist Swiss interrogating the widespread use of “Nigger”.

Powerful messages:
I don’t change colour, but they call me a coloured man!

The language of Black: blackmail, black-hearted, black sheep, blacklist, black magic!
Skin-bleach because wanting to be white.

Let me do you a favour, I am going to teach you mysteries…

House nigger, Field nigger.

Now everybody use the word like we weren’t “niggers”,
Like they never kidnap and hurt niggers…
stripped naked, burnt and castrate niggers,
Had them swinging from a tree..

Racism don’t exist, oh really?

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“Every white girl’s father’s worse nightmare or nah?”http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16487 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16487#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 11:16:11 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16487 Read More ›]]> School students at Book T Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia (USA) walked out of school in protest after nothing was done when they reported a racist retweet by a staff member at the school.

 

booker-t-washington-high_s877x622

Read more at:

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/11/black-students-walk-out-over-school-officials-tweet-every-white-girls-fathers-worse-nightmare/

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/nov/18/students-walk-out-over-racist-retweet-from-schools/

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Do we need to shake up the social sciences?http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16351 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16351#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 08:00:26 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16351 Read More ›]]> In July 2013 Nicholas Christakis, sociologist and physician, published a provocative opinion piece in the New York Times arguing for the need to shake up the social sciences. We’ve blogged about it in the past and Christakis certainly provoked a lot of discussion with the case he made. The LSE recently ran a panel discussion exploring these themes when he visited the UK  (link) and we’ve attached the podcast and information about the event below:

Speaker(s): Professor Nicholas Christakis, Professor Patrick Dunleavy, Dr Amanda Goodall, Professor Andrew Oswald
Chair: Siobhan Benita

Recorded on 21 October 2014 in Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building.

‘Yes’, according to Nicholas Christakis. He wrote, in the New York Times, ‘Taking a page from Darwin, the natural sciences are evolving with the times. In contrast, the social sciences have stagnated. They offer essentially the same set of academic departments … This is not only boring but also counterproductive …’ Is Christakis right? In this event, physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis, political scientist Patrick Dunleavy, management scientist Amanda Goodall and economist Andrew Oswald will debate this question, and then join a discussion on the issue with policy and strategy officer Siobhan Benita.

Nicholas Christakis (@NAChristakis) is the Sol Goldman Family Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University.

Patrick Dunleavy (@PJDunleavy) is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at LSE.

Amanda Goodall (@AmandaGoodall1) is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management at the Cass Business School.

Andrew Oswald is Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick.

Siobhan Benita (@SiobhanBenita) is Chief Policy and Strategy Officer in the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick and Co-director of Warwick Policy Lab (WPL).

The Forum for European Philosophy (@LSEPhilosophy) is an educational charity which organises and runs a full and varied programme of philosophy and interdisciplinary events in the UK.

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Reader survey: what’s your connection to sociology?http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16473 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16473#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 14:24:24 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16473 We’re really interested in who actually reads our blog. More specifically, we’re interested in whether our readers currently do or have formerly had a connection to sociology in an institutional sense.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

 

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Internal Conversation in Gone Girlhttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16347 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16347#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 08:00:16 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16347 Read More ›]]> I was surprised how much I liked Gone Girl. I liked the film so much I went out and bought the book. I’ve been ever more surprised by how interesting I’ve found the contrast between the two. One interesting difference between the film and the book were the different ways in which Nick’s perceived obnoxiousness were narrated. The latter lacked the first person narration which was so prominent in the former and we missed something crucial as a consequence: Nick was concerned about his perpetual failure to translate internal conversation into external communication. In the book he describes how “I carry on an inner monologue, but the words often don’t reach my lips … She looks nice today, I’d think, but somehow it wouldn’t occur to me to say it out loud”. We see this tendency through the eyes of others in both the book and the film:

‘I still remember that very first night: Amy’s missing, you come in here, we park you in this very room for forty-five minutes, and you look bored. We watched you on surveillance, you practically fell asleep.’  [..]

‘I was trying to stay calm.’

‘You looked very, very calm,’ Boney said. ‘All along, you’ve acted … inappropriately. Unemotional, flippant.’

But in the film Nick’s awareness of this tendency can only be expressed in external speech. We don’t see that it’s something that concerns him, something he recognises as an issue and provokes anxiety in him. He only voices an awareness of his behaviour when challenged by others and the circumstances under which he raises it make his replies seem evasive and unreliable. This entails constraints and enablements for the narrative structure – both film and book play with ambiguity but the former does so on the basis of theunreadability of Nick while the latter does so on the basis of the unreliability of his narration. Unreadability induces doubt about what will happen (if we don’t understand his motives then how do we know what he’ll do next?) whereas unreliability induces doubt about what has happened (if the narrator is unreliable then how can we trust their account of the events thus far?) – each is grounded in a certain strategy of representing internal conversation. These can be seen even more emphatically in the case of Amy, as this interesting article from Think Progress makes clear:

Out of structural necessity, we begin our story on Nick’s side. We only know what he knows, and often even less. To reveal more of Amy’s inner life early on would render the big twist untwisted. But even in the scenes that are lifted from “her” chapters in the book feel like they’re being narrated by somebody else. When it is revealed, in the film, that Amy is alive, it doesn’t really feel like anything in Amy has changed. We never get that great, punchy shift in tone. We don’t get those stellar lines of Amy talking about the character of the diary in the third person: “I hope you liked Diary Amy. She was meant to be likeable. Meant for someone like you to like her. She’s easy to like. I’ve never understood why that’s considered a compliment—that just anyone could like you.” Real Amy has total disdain for Diary Amy and everyone who adores her. Everyone is the cops. Everyone is the reader. In the movie, everyone would be the viewer. But in the movie, you just don’t feel it. The voiceover of Diary Amy and the voiceover of Real, Sociopathic Amy sound exactly the same. The real Amy, the character who is the engine of this story, is as elusive to us as she is to Nick.

One of the more disturbing (and one of the saddest) elements of Amy’s story is gone, too: that her parents had been trying and failing to have a child over and over before they had her. Amy only arrived after a series of miscarriages and stillbirths; all these angels were named Hope, and she was haunted by those ghosts who possessed the perfection only afforded to those who die before they can live. Amy was so named because it was a popular girls’ name at the time, as if this would save her from notice by God. Amy’s original plan—depicted in the movie by her “Kill Self” post-its on the calendar—is to hide out just long enough to enjoy watching Nick’s life crumble. To observe the trial, to see him sentenced to life in prison, or maybe, as is legal in Missouri, the death penalty. And then she wants to kill herself. “To join the Hopes.” She is a woman with no will to live.

http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2014/10/05/3576170/gone-girl-review/

We see external traces of her inner life but Amy herself remains unknowable in the film. This leaves us with a sharp juxtaposition between Diary Amy and ‘real Amy’ which is absent from the book: it’s presented as a transition from fiction to reality, whereas the book itself is much more ambiguous.

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An existential analytics of speedhttp://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16345 http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/16345#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 08:00:58 +0000 http://sociologicalimagination.org/?p=16345 Read More ›]]>

Integral to Harmut Rosa’s Social Acceleration (all references are to this book) is an understanding of cultural responses to acceleration and the role they play in intensifying the acceleration of the pace of life. This is not simply a matter of the valorisation of speed; in fact being satisfied with the identification of such a sentiment would be to restrict our analysis to the most superficial level. Instead what makes social acceleration so culturally loaded is the implications it has for the temporal horizons of human existence. Rosa is concerned with the “motives of action and cultural development”, specifically that of fear and promise, which Weber identified with the Protestant ethic: while he sees these motives as universal, in that they instantiate basic motivational categories of pain and pleasure, he nonetheless holds that “the characteristic feature of modern culture is the connection of those motives with the principles of time efficiency and the related expectations of acceleration” (pg. 178). He identifies what he takes to be a basic fear in modernity:

The generalised unease … namely, that of standing in all realms of existence, as it were, on slipping slopes, i.e., of being irrevocably suspended in a world of growing contingencies, of missing decisive opportunities, or of falling hopelessly behind, operates as the basic fear in the dynamized, mobile society of modernity. Time thus remains existentially scarce even after specifically religious foundations of meaning “die off”. (pg. 178)

The “strict, fastidious time discipline” identified by Weber as the “innerworldy asceticism” of the Protestant ethic was preoccupied by “the imperative of time efficiency, of the intensive usage and valorisation of every minute” (pg 176). To waste time risked one’s possible salvation, a fear that responded to the “torturous question of whether one was chosen and in a state of grace” – given the impossibility of knowing if one was predestined for salvation, particularly given the absence of reassurance from religious authority, arduous time discipline embodied in lifestyle came to function as a proxy for the identification of the elect.  Time discipline came to function as a way of dissipating the fear of damnation. But it also held the promise of salvation, with the imperative to trust in one’s own virtue (coupled with the growing belief in lifestyle as a proxy for virtue) functioning to bridge the gap between a putative predestination and a sense of moral agency in one’s own life.

Under present circumstances, notes Rosa, “there is no longer a promise of peace of mind in the turn to a powerful, reassuring God who is ready to intervene with respect to the contingencies of life” (pg. 178). However he argues that wealth serves as a functional equivalent. Much as the turn to God was motivated by fear of contingencies, the unavoidably uncertain horizons that emerge with the intensification of social change, so too does money come to be seen as a means through which to equip oneself for a future which we by definition cannot know: “In the form of capital, money has taken on the task of transforming indeterminable into determinable complexity” (pg. 179). Money holds out the promise of helping us master contingency. As Rosa puts it, we see the rise of a belief that “having the largest possible amount of money, and hence options, will allow one to appropriately react to future contingencies” (pg. 178).

What has changed is that this newer sense of salvation is imminent rather than transcendent. It promises a mastery of contingency within earthly time rather than a salvation that lies beyond it. This emphasises the continuity of the earth beyond the point of our own death: social life continues after we are gone. This can be responded to in a variety of ways. We might seek to cultivate a stoical equanimity such that we live our lives without attachment and thus lose nothing when we meet our end. We can identify with some greater continuity, seeing ourselves as connected to our broader movement through history as a consequence of our participation in something greater than ourselves: “individual life takes meaning and consolation from conceiving of itself as a link in a long chain that, even if does not amount to a new form of sacral time, at least bridges the gap between a lifetime and the time of the world” (pg. 181). We might also seek to immortalise ourselves through the production of works that survive us: “to leave behind a trace that extends the span of effects one’s own life has far beyond its own duration” (pg. 181).  However the response that Rosa sees as coming to predominate with the transition to late modern times is that of salvation through acceleration:

the idea that an accelerated enjoyment of worldly options, a “faster life,” will once again allow the chasm between the time of life and the time of the world to be reduced. In order to understand this thought one has to keep in mind that the question concerning the meaning of death is indissolubly tied to the question of the right or “good life.” Thus the idea of the good life corresponding to this answer, which historically became the culturally dominant idea, is to conceive of life as the last opportunity, i.e., to use the earthy time span allotted to humans as intensively and comprehensively as possible before death puts a definitive end to it (pg. 181)

On this view the good life is the full life. To live well is to live maximally in relation to social and cultural variety: doing as many things, with as many people, in as many places as we can. This can take a more humanistic form in which “the good life consists first and foremost in the most comprehensive possible development of the talents and potentials of a subject” (pg. 182). However I think there’s a further dimension to this which Rosa oddly seems to ignore in this section despite recognising it in other parts of his analysis: the embrace of speed as a response to a collapse of horizons, the fulfilment that can come from movement without any belief in where we are going, not concerned with self-cultivation or with maximisation but simply with embracing the present and grasping the moment. I think Atari Teenage Riot express this incredibly forcefully in the track I included at the start of this post:

Tomorrow, tomorrow, always tomorrow
There is no future in the weastern dreamin’!
We feel it, we must beat’em !
It’s too late to create a new world!
Alternative living it must be given a chance!
Water the problem’s solution! No solution if you can’t use it!
And then I heard the siren of the police!
My blood went up to 90 degrees!
You can’t see white cats in the snow
Oh human being, how low can you go?
Risin’, risin’ to the top
the pills are ready to be dropped
1, 2, 3 and 4
Got the joker shoot the score!

Speed! Just wouldn’t believe it!
Speed! Just wouldn’t believe it!
Speed! Just wouldn’t believe it! Speed!
Speed! Just wouldn’t believe it!
Speed! Just wouldn’t believe it!
Speed! Just wouldn’t believe it! Speed!
Speed! Speed! Speed! Speed! Speed! Speed! Speed! Speeeed!

Another example of this ethos can be found in the film Spring Breakers. As I wrote about it at the time, “the private catharsis of drinks, drugs and sex is made public during ‘spring break’ and the film portrays the nihilistic collapse into a perpetual present which ensues when these are pursued as ends in themselves”. Atari Teenage Riot present an escape from a world they disdain through drugs and movement. Spring Breakers presents an embrace of that world through drugs and movement. What both have in common is an exploration of the perpetual present which ensues when people respond to social acceleration with neither an orientation to self-cultivation (in order to maximise possibilities) or to seek to maximise possibilities in order evade the damage to the self that would be seen to ensue from missing out.

Rosa’s important point about the limitations to self-cultivation and self-maximisation is that the options we forego will tend to increase faster than the ones we choose. As he puts it, “the very same inventions, techniques and methods that permit the accelerated realisation of worldly possibility and hence the increase of the total sum of options realised in a life also multiply the number and variety of realisable options” (pg. 185). In other words, the opportunity costs multiply with the opportunities: in selecting from our available choices, we miss out on the things we do not choose. However where I think Rosa goes wrong is in the assumption that an ethos of maximisation demands mastery – it doesn’t follow that a concern to live maximally necessitates an inability to tolerate the fact that the possibilities we seek to master always grow faster than our actualisation of them. This is where the notion of self-cultivation could be key: could we not conceive of a way of living maximally which seeks to cultivate equanimity in the face of the logic of escalation that Rosa identifies? We might strive to live more richly rather than fully, concerned with the poise which allows us to weave together a maximally diverse life from the endless threads available to (some of) us, not orientated towards a final resolution but instead seeking to let the process unfold more artfully and more dextrously with time.

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