“Turn, turn, turn” -policy theory is for the Byrds…

So, there is a corking PhD that I am reading. It’s called The politics of governing ‘system innovations’ towards sustainable electricity systems.  You can find it here.

Mustn’t quote too much, obviously (copyright etc). but this was useful, from page 27- 8



“Political sociology and political science have focused on how the pursuit of self-interest affects politics and policy making in advanced capitalist societies. This has been true for pluralist, elite, neo-Marxist, historical institutionalist, and rational choice theories. Scholars have paid far less attention to how ideas, that is, theories, conceptual models, norms, world views, frames, principled beliefs, and the like, rather than self-interests,
affect policy making” (Campbell 2002: 21).

However, there has been a turn in policy studies to go beyond traditional explanations of politics based on interests and power struggles. This development, seen since the 1990s, has been described as the ‘argumentative turn’ (Fischer and Forester 1993), the ‘ideational turn’ (Blyth 1997) or the ‘cognitive turn’ in policy studies (Nullmeier 2006). Despite the differences in emphasis, the common aim of these research agendas was to take ideas seriously as explanatory factors in policy change.


And gives me an excuse to hear one of my favourite songs, based on one of the few readable books of the Old Testament.

Vale Pete Seeger

The upside of coal

See below for a truly extraordinary coal advert from 1975, where, looking for fresh workers, the UK National Coal Board basically says “this job is a fanny magnet.”

Meanwhile, I just finished Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags, which some say is his best.  Published in 1942, it is about the phoney war – it starts in September 1939 and finishes, mostly, with the British expedition to Norway in April 1940.  It’s bleak, funny, scathing etc.  Waugh definitely on top form.  This bit caught my eye, and may turn up either in my thesis or something else about the ‘value’ of fossil fuels.’

The Cafe Royal, perhaps because of its distant associations with Oscar and Aubrey, was one of the places where Ambrose preened himself, spread his feathers and felt free to take wing. He had left his persecution mania downstairs with his hat and umbrella. He defied the universe.

‘The decline of England, my dear Geoffrey,’ he said, ‘dates from the day we abandoned coal fuel. No, I’m not talking about distressed areas, but about distressed souls, my dear. We used to live in a fog, the splendid, luminous, tawny fogs of our early childhood. The golden aura of the Golden Age. Think of it, Geoffrey, there are children now coming to manhood who never saw a London fog. We designed a city which was meant to be seen in a fog. We had a foggy habit of life and a rich, obscure, choking literature. The great catch in the throat of English lyric poetry is just fog, my dear, on the vocal chords. And out of the fog we could rule the world; we were a Voice, like the Voice of Sinai from a cloud. Then, my dear Geoffrey,’ said Ambrose, wagging an accusing finger and fixing Mr Bentley with a black accusing eye, as though the poor publisher were personally responsible for the whole thing, ‘then, some busybody invents electricity or oil fuel or whatever it is they use nowadays. The fog lifts, the world sees us as we are, and worse still we see ourselves as we are. It was a carnival ball, my dear, which when the guests unmasked at midnight, was found to be composed entirely of imposters. Such a rumpus, my dear.’

Evelyn Waugh, Put Out More Flags (Spring, Ch 4)

Now, that extraordinary advert. Brace yourselves.

Vale Erik Petersen – “Old time mem’ry”

Just found out that Erik Petersen, of Mischief Brew died earlier this year. I never saw him perform, and have only today been listening to his (excellent) work.  Al Baker had covered one of his songs (co-written with Robert Blake), which he kindly played at my wedding.  It’s a corker; beautiful to listen to, the lyrics so powerful, constantly questioning, probing, undercutting wishful certainties.

Here’s Al

Here’s Erik

And here’s those wonderful lyrics

When Father bought the farm, we sold the farm
Mistook his blood for rustic charm
Sold his ghost as an antique
To the city

Kids today can’t hold a spade
Rest in peace your weary trades
In this world there is no place
Such a pity

Well, the barman shakes his head and fills my glass
Says ‘We’re living in the past.
Why preserve a dying craft?
End its misery.’

We sigh and see another modern man
One of property, not land
So I hold out this battered hand
Will you listen?

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

So you say you got a wooden stove in your second home
Runs on gas, but looks like oak
Hell, it even gives off smoke and glowing embers

There’s a quilt hung on the wall, reads ‘Home, Sweet Home’
Below some wise words from Thoreau
And they call me throwback; when I cry I remember

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

Son, these tools are artifacts
Endangered species left its tracks
So lock me up behind plastic glass in the city

There’s no going back for me
This antique’s rustic eulogy
Shall be sold as folk artistry, such a pity

But I’ll never understand why they all only use those hands
To build a stead that will always stand
In old time country

But settle for white rooms and hollow doors
Paper ceilings, padded floors
Luxury boxes where you’re stored; and what was country?

Come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry
Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold

Another round, we’re lamenting about yesterday’s sad ending
‘Bout the water in me whiskey
The brass passed off as gold
Another round, we’re descending into old tyme mem’ry

Of a day when wood was wooden, silver-silver, gold was gold
Sweet home was home

Why argue with #climate denialists? It’s comforting is why

“Never wrestle with a pig, you both get muddy, but the pig enjoys it” as the old saying goes.  But what if we, secretly, enjoy it too? Or if wrestling with the pig is a safer and more fun option that wrestling with the angry rabid hippo who is next in line?

WTAF am I talking about?

Well, I stumbled on some interesting work by a guy called William Connolly, and blogged it. Among much else, Connolly discerns two kinds of climate denial-

First stage denial is the insistence by many evangelicals and neoliberals that the issue is not nearly as severe as climate scientists and the recent flood of climate marchers in many cities contend. The second stage of denial is admitting the issue but continuing to study and act within old sociocentric categories. We need to confront both modes.
(Connolly and Macdonald, 2015: 266)

Connolly, W.   and Macdonald, B. 2015. Confronting the Anthropocene and Contesting Neoliberalism: An Interview with William E. Connolly. New Political Science, 37:2, 259-275.

.  A reader of this blog (who knew such a creature existed) then put his own take on things here.

And he and I have had further discussion (hopefully the beginning of a really useful conversation). And in that context I am going to plagiarise/rework a little about “why argue with denialists”.  I think there are two reasons

The changes (political, economic, social, psychological and, yes, spiritual) that will/would be needed to keep warming below two degrees are enormous (I would argue impossible now, but that’s for another post).  Therefore, rather than confront those changes and the amount of work – outside our comfort zones – that would be needed, it is “safer” to argue with the idiots.
ALSO, “we” know we’ve fundamentally missed the boat on mitigation, that we who have known about the problem have been unsuccessful in our efforts over the last 30 years (myself included).  That’s an awful thing to have to realise, that self-recrimination, also very threatening.  So, easier to beat up on the denialists.
If it’s a choice between a pig and a hippo,  you choose the pig, every time…


Overflows and undertows – Callon, James and so on.

Bimbling around looking for work on how economic modelling is used to ‘construct’ reality/possibility, I stumbled on “An essay on framing and overflowing: economic externalities revisited by sociology” by M Callon, 1998.  This (among other bits) struck me –

The second attitude, typical of constructivist sociology in particular, takes the view that overflowing is the rule; that framing—when present at all—is a rare and expensive outcome; in short, is very costly to set up. Without the theatre building and its physical devices; without years of training and hours of rehearsal put in by the actors; without the habitual mindset of the audience and carefully written dramas which deliberately limit the range of preprogrammed interactions, the framing of a stage performance would be quite simply inconceivable. This viewpoint is thus the exact opposite of the preceding one: instead of regarding framing as something that happens of itself, and overflows as a kind of accident which must be put right, overflows are the rule and framing is a fragile, artificial result based upon substantial investments.7 Constructivist sociology does not deny that it is possible to achieve such clarity or put such frameworks in place, nor that such an objective is worth pursuing (see below for a more detailed discussion of this point). But it is primarily interested in showing that such a framing process, in addition to requiring expensive physical and symbolic devices, is always incomplete and that without this incompleteness would in fact be wholly ineffectual.

This fall apart, things spill over, the worms kick over the can from the inside, and prise open the lid.  It’s messy.  Smudges and kludges (my latest saying, taking over from “what a species”).

And somehow, because my synapses do this a lot, I got an echo. If there are overflows, there are undertows….

Drawn by the undertow
My life is out of control
I believe this wave will bear my weight
So let it flow

From here, of course.

Innovation in complex systems? Oh, FFS…. And CCS

By FFS I mean “Full-Flight Simulators”.  What am I on about? So, innovation in mass produced commodity products (aka “widgets”) is, cough, relatively straight-forward.  Lots of opportunities for iteration, incremental learning, process and product innovation, tacit knowledge creation/management.    Shakeouts after the establishment of a ‘dominant design’, followed by incremental shifts that squeeze a leetle more efficiency out … But what if your product is incredibly complicated, and essentially a “one” (or maybe up to five) “off”?  Say, for example, flight simulators.  That is, what if it is part of a “Complex System”  (CS).  You see, I’ve been reading, awestruck at its coolness, this –

Reading and loving – Miller, R. Hobday, M, Leoux-Demers, T. and Olleros, X. 1995. Innovation in Complex Systems Industries: The Case of Flight Simulation. Industrial and Corporate Change Volume 4, Issue 2 363-400

Miller et al. argue that

while the conventional model may apply to mass market commodity products it is highly unlikely to apply to another important group of products and industries, classified here as CSs.2 As Part I argues, CSs account for a significant proportion of industrial output. In contrast with commodity goods, complex product systems are large item, customized, engineering intensive goods which are seldom, if ever, mass produced.3 Examples include flight simulators, telecommunications exchanges, electrical power equipment, military systems, airplanes, helicopters, flexible manufacturing systems, chemical process plant, intelligent buildings and nuclear power equipment.

(Miller et al. 1995: 364)

CSes have three ‘watch out, these aren’t just widgets’ features . They are

“first, they made up of many interconnected, often customized, elements (including control units, sub-systems and components), usually organized in a hierarchical way; second, CSs exhibit non-linear and continuously emerging properties, whereby small changes in one part of the system can lead to large alterations in other parts of the system; and third, there is a high degree of user involvement in the innovation process, through which the needs of the economic environment feed directly into the innovation process (rather than through the market as in the standard model).”
(Miller et al. 1995: 368)

They did a bucketload (like 120!!) of interviews and really got “into” the development of the flight simulator industry, and tell the tale well –

FS was born when Ed Link patented a simple mechanical flight trainer in 1929- During World War II electronic analogue simulators were built to train pilots and reduce the number of accidents. Early commercialization began with Link, Miles and the Wright Brothers. In 1951 Redifon (now Rediffusjon) built a Stratocruiser simulator for BOAC. BOAC and Lufthansa placed initial orders with CAE of Canada in the early 1960s.

From the early 1950s to the mid-1960s (prior to digital computing) a long period of experimentation took place, but there was little in the way of landmark innovations. Analogue computers improved gradually, as did the hydraulics and visuals. During this period the industry began a slow take-off.

During the late-1960s digital mainframe computers took over from analogue ones, leading to a rapid improvement in the fidelity, speed and capacity of FSs. However, up until the late-1970s pilots were mostly trained in airplanes. Simulators were viewed as a complement to live training rather than a substitute for it. Some training credits were granted by the regulators, but the process of certification was ill-defined and informal. Simulator technology was perceived as inadequate for manoeuvres such as take-off, landing and missed approach. Increasingly, though, the needs of more powerful jet aircraft encouraged a focus on problems such as air turbulence, recovery manoeuvres and landing and take-off procedures so that costly and dangerous live training in aircraft could be minimized.
(Miller et al. 1995: 376)

It’s a complicated business of course –

Full-flight simulators (FFSs) are full-size replicas of specific aircraft cockpits. They combine mathematical models and original flight data to simulate the behaviour of the aircraft and record pilots’ responses to changing conditions. Given the cost of commercial flight time, pilot training and re-training is carried out in FFSs.

(Miller et al. 1995: 377)

and so

FS makers are required to master at least four technical fields: (i) the skills to integrate interdependent hardware and software components (motion, visual, computer and cockpit) into a coherent whole (the simulator); (ii) the know-how to use and develop the mathematical simulations which replicate the behaviour of the aircraft (as well as the actions of pilots and crew); (iii) the detailed knowledge of client requirements for training, checking and quality programmes which involves theoretical work as well as teaching methods; and (iv) a knowledge of rules and regulations (notably the acceptance test guides) which specify the requirements for simulator approval.
(Miller et al. 1995:381)

So, given that, it comes down to a very complicated and “uncertain” set of processes, that go far beyond “the invisible hand of the market” –

To sum up, the need to coordinate innovation in FS called forth a complex institutional superstructure. New technology proposals are channelled through professional bodies such as the Royal Aeronautical Society. Acceptance test guides are established by regulators who then specify approval requirements and validate tests during and after the development of an FS. After contracting, trust and reciprocity are necessary between buyers and sellers. Because many uncertainties have to be resolved during the process of innovation in FSs, they cannot be purchased as arm’s length market transactions as in the standard model. Instead, intense relational transactions develop, allowing for constant information exchange and regular interaction between industry participants. Continuity of relationships is valued and respected, and helps define the competence of partners. Innovation in FS unfolds within a set of governing institutions where, as discussed below, cooperation and competition co-exist.
(Miller et al. 1995: 384)

So, Schumpetarians, this is a bit more complicated than you’d like to believe-

As noted in Part I, in the conventional Schumpeterian model, radical technological discontinuity leads to creative industrial disruption. Subsequent process and product innovations shape observed patterns of exit and entry (Tushman and Anderson, 1986; Utterback and Suarez, 1993). These elements of the conventional model do not fit the FS industry, nor are they likely to apply to other CSs industries (Hobday, 1994).
(Miller et al. 1995: 386)

And, generally, we forget the past, (if we ever knew it), and fill it in with convenient just-so stories…  Research like this reminds us that

“the institutional structures and processes taken for granted in today’s industry did not simply occur or arise out of market transactions. On the contrary, they were initiated and crafted by a small number of key individuals widely recognized across the industry as entrepreneurial leaders, not only in the field of technical innovation but also in the areas of regulation, standards and consensus building. Each successive wave of technological change was associated with one or more industry champions, including Edward Booth (Federal Aviation Administration), Captain Ray Jones (Royal Aeronautical Society), Brian Hamson (CAE), Vince de Paulo (American Airlines), Hans Dieter Hass (Lufthansa) and M. Bess (Air France). Drawn from a variety of groups in the innovation structure, these individual were entrusted by their organizations to bring about progress in the national and international decision-making institutions, for the benefit of the entire FS industry.”
(Miller et al. 1995: 390)

Nothing, absolutely nothing, in this makes me think that CCS ever stood a chance, as a world-wide diffused technology dependent on not just human smarts (FFS) but also co-opeative geology.

We’re so toast. Carpe the goddam diems.

BTW – Here’s the abstract

The paper proposes that the notion of complex systems usefully describes a group of large scale, customized products and their associated supply industries. Examples include flight simulators (FSs), telecommunications exchanges, military systems, airplanes, chemical process plants and heavy electrical equipment. Complex systems, made up of many interconnected customized components, exhibit emerging properties through time as they respond to the evolving needs of large users. Taking the FS industry as a case history, the study identifies some of the basic rules governing innovation in this industry. These rules contrast sharply with those typically found in the ‘conventional’, market contest Schumpeterian model. Innovation in FS is coordinated by an institutional structure made up of suppliers, users, regulators, industry associations and professional bodies. In contrast with co.tventional market selection, new designs are negotiated prior to product development. Long-term stability among FS makers is observed, despite radical technological discontinuities, as industrial adjustment occurs via the exit and entry of specialist suppliers. There is no dominant design in the usual sense, nor do the conventional rules of volume competition and  process-intensive innovation apply in FS. Competitive strategies remain focused upon design, engineering and prototype development, rather than incremental process innovation. Collaboration occurs among the innovation actors within institutions created by them to harness innovation and to allow new product markets to develop. Recognizing the limits of a single case, the paper suggests that other complex systems might exhibit similar processes for governing innovation and reducing risk and uncertainty in the  absence of conventional Schumpeterian market mechanisms. 

Machiavelli on incumbency and insurgency…

As Mr. Machiavelli said-

“It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”