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Williams, Marcuse, and Smythe in the Age of Social Media

Posted By Sociological Imagination

The astonishingly prolific Christian Fuchs gives an overview of his development of critical theory for digital capitalism.

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

Posted By Mark Carrigan

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

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

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

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

Deadline extended for the Social Media, Activism, and Organisations Symposium

Posted By Sociological Imagination

Call for Participation

2015 Social Media, Activism, and Organisations Symposium (#SMAO15) – November 6, 2015 @ Goldsmiths, University of London

FREE Registration at:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/social-media-activism-and-organisations-smao15-tickets-17290579589

Social media (from mainstream platforms such as Twitter to organization-specific tools) have become increasingly pervasive. This is exemplified by the diversity of uses ranging from Twitter and Facebook use during the Arab spring to the use of Snapchat by highly surveilled activist groups. Many social movements have increasingly seen social media as a means to collaboratively crowdsource, to network and communicate with diverse stakeholders. In large  organizations, social media is often supported because the technology can help foster the sense of a “digital village”, where individuals are able to “see” the lives of others within their organization and feel closer to them. However, the literature on social movements and social media has not fully grasped just how much social media has fundamentally changed the landscape of organizational communication, ranging from stakeholders being able to directly mobilize resources to making grassroots transnational social movements more organizationally feasible. Social Media, Activism, and Organisations (#SMAO15) seeks to better our understandings of how social media has shaped social movement organizations and the organization of social movements.

The Social Media, Activism, and Organisations symposium will be held in London, England on November 6, 2015 at Goldsmiths, University of London. The symposium is sponsored by The Sociological Review, The Centre for Creative & Social Technologies at Goldsmiths, and the Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy at Goldsmiths.

We invite you to submit abstracts and short papers which explore the social media-influenced intersections of social movements and organisations. Full papers are not required for this conference, only short papers (~2500 words, excluding references) and abstracts (up to 750 words) related to the broad theme of “Social Media, Activism, and Organisations”.

Abstracts and short papers should be submitted by September 14, 2015 via Easy Chair at https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=smao15 and there is no preset template for submission. If selected, the author(s) will be invited to give a 15-minute oral presentation followed by a 5 min Q&A period at the symposium.

Author(s) of accepted paper abstracts may also be invited to submit full papers to a special issue of The Sociological Review, published by Wiley.


•    Organisational communication and social media

•    Democratizing organisational structures via social media

•    Gender, social media, activism, and organisations

•    Activist knowledge aggregation techniques

•    Enterprise applications and social activism

•    Collaboration, social media, and activism

•    Virtual teams, social media and activism

•    Activist networks and organizational communication

•    Social media and organizational leadership

•    Communicating organizational messages via social media

•    Social media and advocacy organizations

•    Inter-movement organizational communication and social media

•   Visual social media and organisations

•    Implications of anonymous social media

We welcome both theoretical and empirical abstracts and papers and the symposium seeks to showcase a variety of case studies to advance our understandings of how social media has shaped social movement organizations and the organization of social movements.

BSA Sociology of the Arts Study Group: “Unpacking Art”, September 11th

Posted By Sociological Imagination

Full details here. The BSA have started promoting everything via PDFs, which aren’t blog friendly.

The Five Pillars of Islamophobia

Posted By Sadia Habib

David Miller, Professor of Sociology at Bath University and key contributor to Spinwatch, will be joining Sufyan Ismail, CEO and founder of Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), to discuss the impact of the Islamophobia industry at free events in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and London next week.

MEND_Spinwatch_A3 (1)


Monday 14th Sept –  Manchester 
Tuesday 15th Sept –  Leeds
Wednesday 16th Sept – Leicester
Thursday 17th Sept – London

Spinwatch  is run by journalists and academics with extensive experience in key social, political, environmental and health issues in the UK and Europe.


MEND is a leading UK Muslim organization dedicated to tackling Islamophobia via advocacy in Westminster and grass roots community empowerment.  MEND gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry on press ethics; MEND sits on the CPS’s national hate crime panel and works nationally with Police Crime commissioners to tackle Islamophobia.  MEND also has an extensive grass roots Muslim empowerment programme across the UK.

In recent years, anti-Muslim hate crime has been on the rise with official figures disclosing an alarming rate of increase in racial and religious hate crime; 45% increase in religious hate crime between 2012/13 and 2013/14 according to figures released by the Home Office.  Moreover, analyses of the British Social Attitudes survey denote a disturbing trend in the growth of racial prejudice, especially anti-Muslim prejudice, among Britons.

While Muslim organisations, like MEND, are challenging anti-Muslim public discourse, tackling biased reporting in the media, and working with police and local authorities to improve reporting of anti-Muslim hate crime, the wider context and factors which facilitate the creation of an environment congenial to anti-Muslim hatred and prejudice are less well known.

This event will explore the five facets to Islamophobia and its impact on British Muslim citizens; their lives, their civil and political rights and their well-being.

It is a view widely held that frustrations with self-confidence and a confused identity are consequential to the susceptibility of people to extremism and radicalisation. How we cultivate a strong sense of British identity and foster a sense of belonging is crucial to the success of British Muslim integration.

We hope you will join us as we examine the factors that contribute to Islamophobia in the UK and nurture social activism in support of diversity and social cohesion.

Please contact Professor David Miller, Sufyan Ismail or Sadia Habib if you have any queries or questions.


Post-democratic political culture: how good leaders go bad

Posted By Mark Carrigan

Absolutely fascinating comments offered by Varoufakis in response to unfolding events in Greece:

In the wake of Tsipras’s unexpected move on Thursday to call early elections, Varoufakis said: “Tsipras made a decision on that night of the referendum not only to surrender to the troika but also to implement the terms of surrender on the basis that it is better that a progressive government implement terms of surrender that it despises than leave it to the local stooges of the troika, who would implement the same terms of surrender with enthusiasm.”

As a result, Syriza once the hope of Europe’s anti-austerity movement, had not only betrayed the cause but mutated into the very thing it had set out not to be. “This mutation I have already witnessed. Those in our party/government who underwent it, then turned against those who refused to mutate, the result being a split in the party that our people, the courageous voters who voted No, did not deserve,” he wrote.

Tsipras’s rash decision to resign and call elections – the third poll to be held in Greece this year – the MP argued, amounted to a concerted effort by the leader to purge the party of dissent. “For it is clear,” he continued, “that once you start implementing policies it becomes untenable to say constantly: ‘I am passing law X through parliament even though I think it is toxic.’ At some point either you resign or you remove the cognitive dissonance by beginning to believe that law X ain’t that bad; perhaps it is what the doctor ordered.”


I wonder what went on during the negotiations? As Nikos Mouzelis has pointed out on many occasions, face-to-face meetings between international leaders are an example of macro events that look micro. But the interactional dynamics that micro-sociologists study still obtain: how was the situational logic, which Varoufakis alleges his former colleague has now internalised, enforced and enacted through a perverse sort of peer pressure in the meeting itself?

The private eye’s guide to being a plain speaking politician

Posted By Sociological Imagination

This might be a bit mystifying to non-UK readers but Jeremy Corbyn, a left-wing politician likely to be the new leader of the British Labour Party, has provoked what we might call an enthusiastic reaction in the British media. In this feature the satirical magazine Private Eye (HT countless people on my twitter feed) compare what he has said to how it was reported. While Corbyn has generated much enthusiasm for his earnest plain speaking, surely this shows that its the headline writers themselves that cannot be matched in this respect?


The Socilality of Sharing Conference, September 23rd

Posted By Sociological Imagination

CIM – The Socilality of Sharing Conference

Warwick 23rd September 2015

The ‘sharing economy’ has become a popular term to describe the transformations in sociality under way in the information economy. But what are the practices of sharing that are invoked here? We suggest that they emerge at the intersection of two sets of processes: on the hand, the socialization of the economy, and on the other, the subsuming of social relations by an economic logic. Seen in relation to both these tendencies, the sharing economy refers to such diverse phenomena as new forms of ‘collaborative’ production and consumption, the solidarity of co-workers, the publicity oriented ‘sharing’ that marks reputation-seeking social media users, and the emerging pirate economy of fast and cheap improvisations in the global technological commons that supplies the popular classes in the global South with access to cell phones, computers and other informational products.

In this workshop we would like to investigate these and other examples of the sociality of sharing to ask: what sort of social relations are created in a sharing economy where the boundaries between the economy and everyday life are disappearing? How does the sharing economy relate to wider transformations of sociality in contemporary culture and in particular to the obligations and opportunities to participate offered by digital culture? And can we connect today’s theories of sharing and the collaborative economy with the traditions of mainstream social theory?

For the provisional prorgamme and to register please see our web page: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/cim/events/sociality_sharing/

Social media and the promise of never again being alone

Posted By Mark Carrigan

From Liquid Surveillance: a conversation by Zygmunt Bauman and David Lyon, pg 22-23. I heard Bauman make these arguments at re:publica earlier this year and was rather impressed. As ever with him, it’s immensely impressionistic but I think he identifies something important that has been substantiated by other work, most obviously Alice Marwick’s ethnography of the tech scene in Silicon Valley: the fear of exclusion, anxiety in the face of the prospect that we fail to make the cut in occupational structures that increasingly reward only the superstars and doom the rest to a lifetime of precarity, engenders a neurotic embrace of possibility in the hope that we become somebody, rather than being consigned to life as a forgotten nobody.

On the one hand, the old panoptical stratagem (‘you should never know when you are being watched in the flesh and so never be unwatched in your mind’) is being gradually yet consistently and apparently unstoppably brought to well- nigh universal implementation. On the other, with the old panoptical nightmare (‘I am never on my own’) now recast into the hope of ‘never again being alone’ (abandoned, ignored and neglected, blackballed and excluded), the fear of disclosure has been stifled by the joy of being noticed.

Having one’s own complete being, warts and all, registered in publicly accessible records seems to be the best prophylactic antidote against the toxicity of exclusion – as well as a potent way to keep the threat of eviction away; indeed, it is a temptation few practitioners of admittedly precarious social existence will feel strong enough to resist. I guess that the story of the recent phenomenal success of ‘social websites’ is a good illustration of the trend.

And on page 27 Bauman further expands upon the moral psychology of publicity in ‘liquid modernity’: again, it’s rampantly impressionistic and the way he writes obscures a profound empirical variability he seemingly has no interest in recognising, but he offers an important insight into a socio-cultural trend:

These days, it is not so much the possibility of a betrayal or violation of privacy that frightens us, but the opposite: shutting down the exits. The area of privacy turns into a site of incarceration, the owner of private space being condemned and doomed to stew in his or her own juice; forced into a condition marked by an absence of avid listeners eager to wring out and tear away the secrets from behind the ramparts of privacy, to put them on public display and make them everybody’s shared property and a property everybody wishes to share. We seem to experience no joy in having secrets , unless they are the kinds of secrets likely to enhance our egos by attracting the attention of researchers and editors of TV talk shows, tabloid front pages and the covers of glossy magazines.

But there are, inevitably, things which bug me immensely about this text. For instance he draws upon a lengthy quotation from a book edited by Nicole Aubert, L’Individu hypermoderne, describing remarks published in 2004 as ‘recent’ observations, implying they tell us things of interest about social media that basically didn’t exist at the time of their writing and intimating they are grounded in substantial empirical consensus which he makes no effort to convey.

It’s just lazy scholarship and I’m increasingly bothered by the manner in which Bauman gets applauded for it, all the while crowding out other voices through his endless capacity to riff upon a metaphor of liquidity which even on the most charitable interpretation has nothing more than heuristic value. To any critics bridling at this: I’ve probably read more Bauman than you (I’ve read upwards of 15 of these cover to cover) so, if you think I’m being unfair, offer some textual justification of this before you have a go at me. I don’t want to repeat the tedious exchanges about Zizek I got locked into a couple of years ago.

I take Bauman’s fundamental point to be a familiar one about the necessity of self-marketing under contemporary circumstances. As he writes on page 31 and 32:

They are simultaneously promoters of commodities and the commodities they promote . They are, at the same time, the merchandise and their marketing agents, the goods and their travelling salespersons (and let me add that any academics who ever applied for a teaching job or research funds will easily recognize their own predicament in that experience). In whatever bracket they may be filed by the composers of statistical tables, they all inhabit the same social space known under the name of the market . Under whatever rubric their preoccupations might be classified by governmental archivists or investigative journalists, the activity in which all of them are engaged (whether by choice or necessity, or most commonly both) is marketing . The test they need to pass in order to be admitted to the social prizes they covet demands them to recast themselves as commodities : that is, as products capable of drawing attention, and attracting demand and customers .

As with the earlier material, I find the broad brush strokes used by Bauman rather dissatisfying. But I think he offers suggestions about something important: the moral psychological mechanisms underpinning branding and self-promotion. Fear of redundancy drives us to embrace usefulness, embodied in the relentless articulation of our instrumental value in the broader scheme of things.

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

Posted By Sociological Imagination

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

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

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

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

We are all equal before Google

Posted By Mark Carrigan

This snippet from an interview with the new Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, intrigued me:

Pichai has said that he’s attracted to computing because of its ability to do cheaply things that are useful to everyone, irrespective of class or background. “The thing which attracted me to Google and to the internet in general is that it’s a great equalizer,” he said in a video interview last year. “I’ve always been struck by the fact that Google search worked the same, as long as you had access to a computer with connectivity, if you’re a rural kid anywhere or a professor at Stanford or Harvard.”


I’m very interested in the moral self-understandings which are common within the tech industry: do other senior corporate figures think in these terms? To what extent does it motivate the work they do? Or is it simply a retrospective story which they tell to congratulate themselves on their disruption?

Mobile work-life arrangements: exploring conceptual challenges

Posted By Sociological Imagination



9-18 October, 2015

University of Freiburg, Germany

Convened by: COME (Research Group Cultures of Mobility in Europe) and ANTHROMOB (EASA Anthropology and Mobility Network)

Anna Lipphardt (Freiburg); Jamie Coates (Waseda/Sheffield) and Roger Norum (Leeds/UCL)

Funded by Volkswagen Foundation


The interdisciplinary field of mobility studies has produced a broad spectrum of theoretical works and structural analyses, driven by research focusing on recent innovation in transport and communication. Within that field, economic and work-related aspects of mobility, are often treated as distinct from other life practices. This late-summer school aims to contribute to the field of mobility studies with respect to two key issues: First, it will turn attention to the interplay between work and non-work (e.g. leisure, family life, well-being) spheres of life linked to mobility. Second, it focuses on the complexities of mobile work-life arrangements as they play out in the everyday lives of an ever-growing number of people worldwide, across the economic spectrum and across diverse professional and socio-cultural fields.

The late-summer school explicitly aims to bring together people studying a range of empirical cases including (but not limited to) research across the following subjects

– peripatetic and pastoralist groups

– transport-sector professionals

– artists, creatives and travelling entertainers

– seasonal and project-based labourers

– academics

– lifestyle migrants.


The late-summer school has two core objectives:

  1. Providing a forum for discussing qualitative methodological approaches to mobility, including multi-sited, mobile or trajectory ethnography; life-course and life-world analyses; and newly-emerging ICT-based methods;
  1. Exploring the differing forms of knowledge production concomitant with mobile work-life arrangements, it will encourage a critical reflection of the theoretical frameworks, empirical operationalisations and political discourses that implicitly or explicitly inform much research on mobile groups. Our intention is to bring together different epistemic communities, thus fostering a comparative perspective.

Key questions which the late-summer school will address are:

– How do we develop a critical analytical position in light of the complex entanglements between the political and economic discourses on certain mobile groups, the conceptual approaches of our respective research disciplines, and the emic perspectives of the people we study?

– What are the advantages, challenges, and limitations of differing analytical models such as multi-sited ethnography, qualitative case study, life-course analysis, or phenomenology in exploring mobile work-life arrangements?

– How can we compare or generalise insights gained from qualitative studies on specific mobile fields? And how can we employ empirical research to advance theoretical stances on mobility, both within a given research area and across disciplinary divides?


The programme includes keynote lectures and advanced seminars by Noel Salazar (University of Leuven), Michaela Benson (Goldsmiths University) and Huub van Baar (University of Amsterdam/Giessen University). It also comprises presentations by doctoral students, workshops on mobile methods and representational strategies, informal discussions on practical issues of mobile/multi-sited fieldwork, career and professional development sessions, a film screening, and recreational activities. The working language is English.


The programme is aimed at doctoral students working on projects situated in qualitative social research focusing on issues related to mobile work-life arrangements. The common ground for all participants will be their interest in the labour/economic aspects of the mobile empirical fields they study, their footing in qualitative social research, and a shared interest in the epistemology of Mobility Studies. We welcome applications from doctoral students based in disciplines such as cultural and social anthropology, sociology, political science, social work, education, geography, and relevant interdisciplinary research fields including mobility, communication, environmental, transport and labour studies. Doctoral students at any stage of their research – including beginners – are invited to present work in progress and to discuss central research issues with which they are currently concerned. To ensure an open and collaborative learning environment, the number of participants will be limited to a maximum of 25.


Interested applicants are asked to submit the following materials to the convenors by email up until August 10, 2015:

  1. Curriculum Vitae (1 page);
  1. Short description of your dissertation project (1-2 pages);
  1. Personal statement (1-2 pages) that answers the following:

– Why do you wish to attend the Mobile Work-Life Arrangements Late-Summer School?

– What specific aspects of your dissertation and fieldwork are you most interested in discussing?

Successful applicants will be notified by email by the 3rd week of August.


It is expected that participants take part in the full duration of the late-summer school. All meals and accommodation will be covered, as will reimbursement for the following travel expenses: up to 150 Euro for participants from Germany; up to 300 Euro for those from other European countries; and up to 800 Euro for students who come from overseas. Participants from developing countries and from countries affected by current economic crises are eligible to apply for full travel funding.

For more information, please see www.mobworklife.net. Please feel free to contact us for specific questions about the programme or application.

CAMRI Research Seminars Autumn 2015

Posted By Sociological Imagination

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


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

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

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

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

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

Viral media and unionisation

Posted By Mark Carrigan

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

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

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

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

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


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

Call for Papers: Regulating the ‘Sharing Economy’

Posted By Sociological Imagination

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important dates

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

29th September 2015: Feedback on abstract submissions

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

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

40 reasons why you should blog about you research

Posted By Sociological Imagination

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

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

Posted By Sadia Habib

by Bradley Williams


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

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

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

Posted By Mark Carrigan

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

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

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

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

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

Posted By Steve Fuller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted By Sociological Imagination

A reminder from QS Labs:

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

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

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

The case for a philosophical sociology

Posted By Sadia Habib

by Daniel Chernilo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The moral discourse of the ‘reasonable technocrat’

Posted By Sociological Imagination

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

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

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

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

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


CfP: The Role of Quantified Self for Personal Healthcare

Posted By Sociological Imagination

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

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

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



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


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

– Personal Health Informatics

– Quantified Self for Healthcare

– Activity Monitors and Devices

– Self-Tracking

– Gamification

– Healthcare Knowledge Representation & Reasoning

– Health Data acquisition, analysis and mining

– Healthcare Information Systems

– Biomedical Signal/Image Analysis

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

– Design of Experiments

– Social and Psychological investigation into Self-Tracking practices

– Health Monitoring in clinical and lifestyle environments

– Sensors and actuators for Wellness, Fitness and Rehabilitation

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

– Models for interpreting medical sensor data

– Lifelogging, lifecaching, lifestreaming

– Biometric data

– Medical Self-diagnostics


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


Full/Short Papers Due: September 10th, 2015

Notification to Authors: September 30th, 2015

Camera-Ready: October 17th, 2015

Workshop: November, 2015 (exact date tbd)


Frank Hopfgartner, University of Glasgow, UK

Na Li, Dublin City University, IE

Till Plumbaum, TU Berlin, DE

Heather J. Ruskin, Dublin City University, IE

Huiru (Jane) Zheng, Ulster University, UK

The politics of data science

Posted By Sociological Imagination

A special issue of Discover Society I recently edited:

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

Posted By Martin Whiteford

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging as an outboard brain

Posted By Mark Carrigan

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

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

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

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

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


Petition to form an analytical sociology section within ASA

Posted By Sociological Imagination

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

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

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

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

With the best wishes,

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

Mark Granovetter               Peter Hedström             Michael Macy          Robert Mare                        Christopher Winship

Call for papers: Medicine, Health and Self-Tracking

Posted By Sociological Imagination

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

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

Submission Process

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

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

Editorial information