Event report: “Enhancing Interdisciplinarity”

One of the joys of being a PhD student (asides being paid to read, “think”, write, hang out with very very smart people (and you too, Miles? 😛 ) is that you can go to day-long seminars on things called “Enhancing Interdisciplinarity.”  I couldn’t stay to the end because I had a symposium on neo-institutional theory to attend (#itsahardlife), at which one of my supervisors coincidentalishly made reference to two mouth-watering books (the ‘to read’ pile is approaching the moon);

The Chaos of Disciplines by Andrew Abbott: social theories cycle around various themes/puzzles of, say agency/structure, object/subject.  What is old is new again.

and Andrew Abbot again –  The System of Professions: an essay on the division of expert labor

And if you gonna spend a day at summat, you should spend a few minutes doing a write-up (I have been lax at this recently). Here it is.


  • Many of the speakers were engaging, committed, gave interesting answers (and one did the cool ‘feminist’ thing of asking other people what they thought the answer might be; I use the term feminist in the sense of ‘surprisingly and unduly rare awareness of power and participation’)
  • Catching up (again) with a couple of fellow PhD students
  • Meeting a new fellow PhD
  • Being exposed to new ideas
  • Free lunch (don’t pretend it doesn’t matter, ‘kay?)


  • Format that didn’t encourage interaction/accidental minglings. Very sage-on-the-stage, it was. Which only works if a) most of the sages are good ‘uns and b) there aren’t too many sages.  Fortunately both a) and b) applied, so they “got away with it”.

Take homes (without putting names of academics to different bits)

Object lessons by Robyn Wiegman

No concept has been more central to the emergence and evolution of identity studies than social justice. In historical and theoretical accounts, it crystallizes the progressive politics that have shaped the academic study of race, gender, and sexuality. Yet few scholars have deliberated directly on the political agency that notions of justice confer on critical practice. In Object Lessons, Robyn Wiegman contemplates this lack of attention, offering the first sustained inquiry into the political desire that galvanizes identity fields. In each chapter, she examines a key debate by considering the political aspirations that shape it. Addressing Women’s Studies, she traces the ways that “gender” promises to overcome the exclusions of “women.” Turning to Ethnic Studies, she examines the deconstruction of “whiteness” as an antiracist methodology. As she explores American Studies, she links internationalization to the broader quest for noncomplicity in contemporary criticism. Her analysis of Queer Studies demonstrates how the commitment to antinormativity normalizes the field. In the penultimate chapter, Wiegman addresses intersectionality as the most coveted theoretical approach to political resolution in all of these fields.

Tilda Swinton is a) smoking hot [my interpellation and interpretation, in all its glorious patriarchal objectification] and b) repeatedly and admirably insistent that her “success/impact/etc” is not that of an auteur, but based on collaborative endeavour.

5 interdisciplinary issues

1   Risk and innovation (shame of not knowing enough/being a dilettante)

2 Forcing things to fit/papering over the cracks.  Advice – don’t paper over the cracks – others will see, and the cracks are “how the light gets in”, anyhow

3 Reifying an object or concept

4 Interlocuters? With whom are you in dialogue

5 Publishers and examiners

4-Vs-of-big-dataIBM’s 4 Vs of big data


Good point on privacy and internet etc;

Happily use our supermarket loyalty card, but complain about the CCTV camera outside. Then go to the GP and be irritated that they don’t know we were at A and E that morning…

i.e. mild lack of consistency in this [but viva Snowden nonetheless!]

Arendt’s “how to create totalitarians/ism”

  1. Ideology
  2. Total Terror
  3. Destruction of Human bonds
  4. Bureaucracy

Vygotsky and Bourdieu mash-up!

Discuss – When it comes to (formal) education, Vygotsky is naïve on exchange value/”politics”, Bourdieu is overly dismissive of use value.

Formal education is, from a Bourdieusian sense, a system of distinction and SOME MUST FAIL (or the middle-classes get nothing from it), but that failure must be seen to be “fair” (i.e. due to individual weaknesses), so “exceptions” (one or two working class lads and lasses done good) are needed to validate t’system.  (But this must never be admitted in public!)

Disciplinarity is the “historic fracturing of knowledge and practice”

On education and politics – Legacies of Socialist Solidarity: Mozambique in East Germany book launch Tuesday 11th November here in Manchester  (the book is excellent)
Vivien Schmidt and Fourth Institutionalism/Discourse

Taking ideas and discourse seriously: explaining change through discursive institutionalism as the fourth ‘new institutionalism’

All three of the traditionally recognized new institutionalisms – rational choice, historical, and sociological – have increasingly sought to ‘endogenize’ change, which has often meant a turn to ideas and discourse. This article shows that the approaches of scholars coming out of each of these three institutionalist traditions who take ideas and discourse seriously can best be classified as part of a fourth ‘new institutionalism’ – discursive institutionalism (DI) – which is concerned with both the substantive content of ideas and the interactive processes of discourse in institutional context. It argues that this newest of the ‘new institutionalisms’ has the greatest potential for providing insights into the dynamics of institutional change by explaining the actual preferences, strategies, and normative orientations of actors. The article identifies the wide range of approaches that fit this analytic framework, illustrating the ways in which scholars of DI have gone beyond the limits of the traditional institutionalisms on questions of interests and uncertainty, critical junctures and incremental change, norms and culture. It defines institutions dynamically – in contrast to the older neo-institutionalisms’ more static external rule-following structures of incentives, path dependencies, and cultural framing – as structures and constructs of meaning internal to agents whose ‘background ideational abilities’ enable them to create (and maintain) institutions while their ‘foreground discursive abilities’ enable them to communicate critically about them, to change (or maintain) them. But the article also points to areas for improvement in DI, including the theoretical analysis of processes of ideational change, the use of the older neo-institutionalisms for background information, and the incorporation of the power of interests and position into accounts of the power of ideas and discourse.

There’s two more of these seminars, out in the provinces (Liverpool and Lancaster) in January and May next year.

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