Screw Paris. No, seriously, screw Paris. A rant on #climate and the #endtimes

we'll always have parisWill there be a long loud legal global (LLLG) signal coming out of Paris? No (two words – “US Senate“).

Two linked questions;

a) In the absence of a LLLG signal/deal, will there be the enormous investment in renewables, energy efficiency and ‘leap frog’ technology transfers that would be necessary to change humanity’s energy systems?

b) In the absence of that investment in energy system replacement/revolution/creative destruction/destabilisation of incumbency (you picks your labels and you pays your money), is there any hope for, or meaning to, rhetoric of ‘fundamental values and relationships-with-nature shifts’?  (Material and ideo-cultural changes imbricate, imprecate and ‘co-create’ each other, after all. Or they don’t.)

No and no.

At which point people say “Well, we have to start somewhere.”

And I say “Yes, we do. I vote for 1988, at the absolute latest.”

And they say something about whizz-bang shiny technology and/or previous rapid social transformations and I say “Srsly? Can you read a Keeling Curve? Have you clocked the emissions trajectories lately? Look, pick a number for climate sensitivity, I don’t mind. 2.2, 3.1, whatevs. Plug it all in, push the calculate button, bish bosh. You know what is coming. The specific year is something you can get hooked up on if you need to avoid the Big Picture. And all of us do, most of the time, and some of us do all the time.”

And they say “well, what do you expect is going to happen (if everyone thinks/advocates like you).”

And I say “Ah, I kant believe you’re using the categorical imperative. Btw, do you have kids? Because I’m cool with changing the subject if you want/need?”

And they say ‘”go ahead” and I say “It’s kinda outa our hands now, regardless of what you/I/the Pope/Dalai Lama/mysterious deus ex machina social movements or geo-engineers think or do. #bruisedegos.”

And they say “oh, you’re one of these ‘end of nigh’ placard wavers, hooked on apocalypse for psychological/toilet-training reasons. So when does your particular apocalypse start?”

And I sigh and perhaps roll my eyes if I am particularly tired and ill-mannered. And I say “Now you’re straw-manning.” And I mumble something about “Cassandra and all that. And the boy who cried wolf – it didn’t then mean there wasn’t actually a hungry wolf.”

And they say. “Dates please.”

And I say. “The science doesn’t work like that. You know that, but choose to set unrealistic expectations, rather like our denialist chums. But this;  when the lead authors of Working Group 1 of the 4th Assessment Report kept getting pressed on this in 2007 at the Royal Society gig, one of them – Professor Susan Solomon, since you ask– kept saying words to the effect of ‘science doesn’t work like that, you know’. And she followed it up with ‘it’s later than you think.

And then we all smile awkwardly and talk about articles we read, the weather, lolcats or something….

So my strategy is to look in the mirror every day before Paris (and after) and say “enjoy yourself. And carpe every single one of the  diems.”

I am not gonna let it take up any more bandwidth than it absolutely has to.

I can and will choose where to direct my attention and energy –

  •  towards local issues where I have at least a theoretical chance of having an impact.
  • on becoming a ‘better’ academic (which may or may not overlap significantly with ‘successful’ academic. The devil is in the definitions.)
  • towards those who support and inspire me, and who occasionally look to me for support and inspiration.

Is this me simply flying the white flag? Perhaps. I am disvisioned, fo’sure. . Or perhaps letting go of the delusions and illusions of potential impact that any of us have over Giddens’ juggernaut

The people who wrote this may disagree.  They can buy me pints and tell me I’m wrong, or immoral.

“Green Transformations,” Leonard Cohen and the Elephant

A lively debate about the near and long-term future of western civilisation took place yesterday in central London, at the launch of the book “The Politics of Green small_The-Politics-of-Green1Transformations”.  The edited volume based on work of the STEPS centre, was the centrepiece of an event at the National Liberal Club, and provoked a conversation about the nature of social change, economic interests, culture and the thorny question of what can (and cannot) be expected from the climate negotiations to be held in Paris at the end of the year. [Update 26th Feb – see this on Paris. And this well-curated storify, which includes a nice comment about the blog post you are reading!].

Despite following the traditional format of speakers followed by a Q and A, the launch nonetheless managed to create space for an exchange of ideas and perspectives. Michael Jacobs (former advisor on climate to Gordon Brown) spoke compellingly of the need for rapid and transformative action, and the need for governments to be pushed to act. Mariana Mazzacuto (Professor in the Economics of Innovation at the Science Policy research Unit at the University of Sussex author of well-received “The Entrepreneurial State”) challenged the use of terms like “the market” and green “deals” while pointing to the need for directed and directive investment in new technologies. Camilla Toulmin of the International Institute for Environment and Development emphasised the need to avoid high carbon lock-in for developing countries, and Andrew Simms (former New Economics Foundation lead) spoke on the efforts of groups seeking different ways of organising economies and sustainability.

Ultimately, despite differences over the advisability/possibility of growth, all speakers agreed that fundamental and very rapid change was necessary,for which an ‘enabling state’ would be necessary but not sufficient. And – ominously – none could see which “social actors” – business, government, ‘social movements’ or coalitions of subsets of these – was able to deliver this change in the extremely limited, and rapidly closing, window of opportunity that still remains to avoid a very much hotter planet. Michael Jacobs perhaps summed matters up best with his concluding comment that – “Not to be optimistic is to slip into fatalism, and fatalism is fatal. Pessimism is never a political strategy.

Some key concepts that were missing (to be fair – there is only so much you can pack into a 90 minute event!)

  • Green Confucianism [the danger that intellectual work simply leads to ‘better’ forms of (still unsustainable, and regressive) economic control – see this video]
  • The Theme Park of Radical Action (Ingolfur Bluhdorn) and the self-indulgence of some forms of social movement activity (aka “the smugosphere”)
  • Michael Porter “Technology Forcing Policies
  • The problem (for business) that regulation might actually work in some instances and be seen to work, undercutting the free market mythologies.
  • A sense that those who stand to lose from a ‘Great Green Transformation’ are highly class conscious, even more highly motivated and able to defend themselves (at this point I am contractually obliged to point the reader to Geels, 2014). For example, the world’s biggest privately owned coal company, Peabody, is funding a public relations campaign called “Advanced Energy for Life,” aimed at putting opponents of coal on the defensive (by implying they don’t care about electricity for the bottom two or three billion)

The tl:dr – smart people saying smart things while dancing around the increasingly unpalatable but unavoidable (?) conclusion that (a subset of) the species has been smart and lucky, but that smarts will only get you so far, and luck always runs out. The elephant in the room is that we may have left this too late, and that sometimes when you are reaching for the sky it is, as Leonard Cohen growled, ‘just to surrender‘.

What follows, for the obsessives and the masochists (?), is the closest to a blow -by-blow account as I can give. Video footage was taken of the speeches, if not the Q and A, and should be up on the STEPS website in due course. All mistakes of interpretation and deciphering of my hieroglyphics remain the responsibility of… the speakers. (cough cough.)

Professor Peter Newell opened the event punctually and briefly, situating it as a “timely debate” given the impending UK general election [with climate perhaps off the table?] and Paris climate talks at the end of the year. He explained that the book being launched had emerged from seminars held by STEPS that had looked at the politics of knowledge, of who gets to define the terms of debate, questions of innovation, the role of the state and the financing of ‘green transitions’, the role of civil society/social movements, questions of strategy. Authors were invited also to look at history and what (if any) useful precedents there might be for the (rapid re-) alignment of institutions. Importantly, he also pointed to disquiet over the traditional framing in policy and academic circles of pricing and markets ‘versus’ governance, both of which elide or ignore questions at a deeper political level.

Then it was into the four speakers (Michael Jacobs, Mariana Mazzucato, Camilla Toulmin and Andrew Simms).

Jacobs started by recapping the debate between the ‘growth impossible/undesirable’ versus mainstream economists. He said it was a long debate that had not gone away entirely, but had perhaps been replaced/subsumed by Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” which argues that capitalism is unsustainable [MH- tbh, I think this would surprise, say, William Catton, or Barry Commoner, who got there first by a considerable margin. For an excellent review of Klein, see here]. For Klein, said Jacobs, climate change is the final nail in the coffin, or is being rhetorically used as such by campaigners.

For Jacobs though, neither of these arguments is tackling what he referred to as the ‘real economy’ (in ways that perhaps overlap with the second speaker, Mariana Mazzucato).

For Jacobs, the degrowth/Klein perspective misses the conflict between high and low carbon imperatives, the real conflicts in politics and policy between the fossil fuel sector and the low carbon beneficiaries of (increased) regulation [the renewables sector, the energy efficiency sector].

This battle is mainstream, being fought out in organisations such as the World Bank, the OECD, the major development banks and up to a point in governments (e.g. in the planning system in China, with battles over air quality [talk about the politics of knowledge!!], water quality [See Mark Hertsgaard and Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone for more about this.]

Jacobs pointed [ruefully?] to work he had contributed to on a report called New Climate Economy released in September 2014, which looks at the semi-orthodoxy around green growth as a way of addressing questions of air quality, congestion [of traffic?] and inequality.

He pointed to the disjuncture of the UK government having signed up to the Climate Change Act (and the Tories haven’t abolished it!) while still going full steam ahead for fracking, with the CBI representing low carbon economy interests but also the oil and gas sector. There is, Jacobs said “real tension in the real economy”, and the politics of this are hard.

Jacobs felt that this was (therefore and too much) an elite framing and battle at present [carbon pricing and innovation policy not being doorstep issues, let’s be honest] before sounding the alarm that we have “15 years to determine any chance of keeping to two or near 2 degrees” with a need for “big changes in Business as usual” or we will be “locked in”

[See January 1987 testimony to US congress of Professor Verabhadran Ramanathan. See also Australian Climate Commission rhetoric over “the Critical Decade.” Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre will tell you we don’t have even that long to turn the supertanker…]

Jacobs, in language he returned to in the closing statements, pointed that “citizens have to make governments want to do this”, but that while Unilever might become progressive because of pressure from Greenpeace, and tightly-focused divestment campaigns might push holders of capital, there wasn’t the more diffuse pressure for social change, as per the first half of the 20th century, when social democrats had capitalist allies and were able to ‘make’ the welfare state. Now we lack an ‘agent of change’ analogous to the trades unions/labour parties of those days…

Next up Professor Mariana Mazzucato. She wanted to emphasize that talk of “green-ness” could be a way to change the (societal) conversation dramatically.

Urging the audience to read the book being launched, she pointed to the sterility of “top-down” versus “bottom up” around questions of finance and agency (as in, who can make things happen), saying that such binaries fail to help expose the fine detail (or “granularity”) required. Words like “bureaucracy” in relation to the state, or under-historicised words like “the market” can create more heat (and darkness) than light.

“The market,” she pointed out, is an outcome of decisions, actions and policies, rather than a preexisting thing. She urged a focus on actually existing institutions that make markets. Similarly she expressed discomfort with “civil society” – a “lazy term”. She pointed out that the mafia is a “bottom-up” institution par excellence.

Beyond relatively straight-forward questions of which technologies get funded, she pointed to the work of Carlotta Perez on the very direction of change of technologies (with mass production in the early 19th century). [See for example David Noble and Merritt Roe Smith on this]

She then turned her attention to the fact that in many areas the business community is in a stage of extreme financialised hoarding, with share-buy-back schemes (especially in the energy sector). She said it was not a coincidence that this was in areas where the state is very active (pharmaceuticals and energy). According to the work of Marcia Angell, 75% of the genuinely revolutionary drugs have been funded by the (US taxpayer-funded) National Institute of Health, and four big development banks (including EU and China) have invested 8 times as much as all the world’s venture capitalists [in Energy R and D, I think].

By not admitting that public actors are transformative, the debated is being devalued and debased. For example, the Department of Energy has been responsible for 90% of the R and D into fracking, but this is nowhere in the debates over “grandchildren paying debts [around taxpayer bailouts].

Finally, Mazzucato pointed to the word “deal” in green deal. She closed out by pointing that the “golden years” of innovation at Bell Labs didn’t happen by chance. AT&T set up Bell Labs under pressure following “tense negotiations” between government and business, and threat of more stringent state control/regulation.

[See also the work of Adrian Smith on technology [and my riff on that too?!], Karl Polanyi, Hilary Wainwright etc]

The third speaker, Camilla Toulmin pointed out that the IIED had in 1988 published “Blueprint for a Green Economy”. She raised important questions about how we (as in, the academic/activist/’civil society’) movement have been “naive in the debate” on the questions of politics and power. She cited the EU President Jean Claude Junke that every politician knowing what needs to be done but being afraid to do it”, and the push-back against ‘green’ rhetoric in the lead up to Rio +20 from countries that see carbon cuts as a developed world imperative [No change there then, in the last 25 years, except that the developed world has made and broken many promises…]. She pointed to some slight signs of hope, that once re-framed as ‘just development’ there was engagement on questions of water, land,forests, and money being put forward to fund projects. There were, she said “a lot of initiatives, almost too many”. She mentioned the usual alphabet soup of UNEP, World Bank, the Global Green Growth Forum, Global Green Growth Institute, Global Green Growth Knowledge platform, all of which are wooing multinational corporations.

Her own organisation’s goal is to go beyond this, and do capacity building;, via such avenues as the Green Economy Coalition.”She pointed to the systemic bias against the small scale, the trashing of ‘environmental goods’ and the vital importance of developing countries not getting locked into high carbon infrastructure. However, at present the balance of power is firmly with the incumbent high carbon companies/countries. She gave the example of Saudi Arabia, able to maintain production levels, sink the oil price and so endanger renewables investment.

Oil and gas companies remain hugely powerful, though with some nervousness over divestment campaigns and the ‘stranded assets’ rhetoric. She cited a (Shell) executive as saying (predictably enough) that “coal must stay in the hole”.[i.e. the fossil fuel lobbies are continuing the game of trying to push each other under the bus…

She concluded by saying that we are all deeply entangled (in systems of power) and that we’ve been naïve and optimistic, and need to be more combative and savvy, and to recognise the power of [potential] losers to be “blockers” [On this, see Sebenius from 1990]

The last speaker was Andrew Simms. He pointed to the simplicity of the “forces of darkness” able to say “privatise, liberalise, deregulate” while their opponents say “well, it’s complicated”. He followed this up with an observation that if we had as man activists as acronyms (GGGF etc), we’d already have won.

He pointed to the Oil and Gas industry representative of Radio 4’s Today programme seeking government handouts, and the lack of climate risk awareness among Big Business.

He grudgingly admired the architects of finance-led globalisation in being able to turn the threat (of delegitimisation in 2008) into further opportunities for power/money grabs [my terms]

He pointed to the lack of number crunching on just how deep and fast a transformation is required to give ourselves even a 50/50 shot of avoiding 2 degrees of global warming (the ‘unburnable carbon‘ stats of 33% of the oil, 50% of the gas and 80% of the coal being unusable)

After touching on the impossibility of growth in the absence of redistribution to lift people out of poverty, he turned to the inconvenient point that networking/social innovations can only succeed if there is a (very) favourable framework for it, and that technology on its own is not going to deliver (much in tune with the British Sociological Association’s study afternoon to be held Weds 26th). See for example Ozaki and Shaw (2014) Entangled Practices:Governance, Sustainable Technologies,and Energy Consumption. Sociology Vol. 48(3) 590­–605.

He gave a shout out to the food sovereignty networks in the south, to Buen Vivir, and – somewhat less convincingly – to the Transition Network. He quoted two dead socialists –

John Ruskin – “All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness.”

Raymond Williams –  “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.”

While saying he’d not seen any work that showed continued growth in the OECD countries was compatible with staying under two degrees, he didn’t talk about the Impossible Hamster though. What that? This!

The Q and A

Questions were bunched, wisely. In the first round

a) If you had a time machine going back, when would you go to/what advice would you give. And using the time machine going into the future and looking back, what did we do WRONG in 2015 that we then regretted?

b) Isn’t the key entry point for green movement “inequality”, and can we frame the green economy as breaking with the establishment/incumbents?

The linkages of domestic and international politics and the differences between Copenhagen 2009 and Paris 2015?

d) Isn’t all this talk of low carbon/green growth missing the point, in that renewables etc have been additional to rather than in the place of traditional high-carbon investment?

Michael Jacobs agreed whole-heartedly with the fourth question, pointing to both increased renewables but also increased coal use in the EU (thanks in part to rock-bottom US coal prices). Jacobs then lamented the lack of an environmental movement with sufficient force. He pointed to and Avaaz, but admitted that it is very very hard to mobilise people on policy questions, and this is a real problem, one that worries him hugely because “we have so little time.”

He felt domestic/EU politics wont’ play a role on road to Paris, since EU is a bloc, and that the only thing that will raise EU and other countries’ ambitions is public pressure. The absence of public pressure will lead to a lowest common denominator agreement, which won’t drive investment.

For Jacobs the difference from Copenhagen is that US and China both now want (some form of) deal. If Paris concludes with a deal that economic actors (investors) don’t think is serious [e.g. is not a long, loud, legal signal] then this is something “we will regret of many years.”

Mazzucato felt that the biggest missed opportunity was the way that the financial crisis was framed as hedge funds etc versus the (otherwise healthy) real economy, without pointing out that the real economy is just as sick. She cited a recent Guardian story on the US meat packing industry, before pointing out that there has been little discussion on the Piketty graphs of post-70s increased return on capital. She felt that Piketty’s solution (a wealth tax) was misplaced and what is really needed is “a new theory of wealth creation.”

Toulmin felt that the NGOs had fragmented and failed to mobilise and organise, and that this needed to change in the lead up to UK General election and Paris, though the Lobbying Act might have a constraining/chilling effect. On the differences between Copenhagen and Paris, she said that the costs of inaction were more visible, the costs of adaptation and vulnerability increasingly felt, and governments better informed. “Will it be enough? We’ll see.”

Andrew Simms felt that there was a rough consensus on the need for stimulus spending, albeit not in the UK. The austerity agenda had then swept all before it. On a similar theme to Toulmin, he felt in 2008 that NGOs had missed the opportunity- the “inertia of 3 year campaign plans triumphed. We didn’t push the right buttons, pull the right levers.”

The second round of questions was even more interesting

The first questioner, Prof Andy Stirling, pointed out that amid the talk of metrics, theories and frameworks (all very cogent) what might be missing is culture, and the (oppositional/transformative) possibilities of, say decolonisation, women’s emancipation, anti-classism struggles.

The second person, Herbert Hubert Schmidt, simply asked “are we too optimistic, is the transformation even possible in the space of a few decades?”

The third asked some linked questions on is the “stranded assets” narrative a trap, and how can we think of the fossil fuel industry in more granular way in relation to the UK state.

The fourth questioner wondered about the need for and viability of technology transfer to what we call the developing world, to avoid high-carbon lock in.

The fifth question (and only one from a woman, though women made up about a third of the audience) was on the role of other actors – central banks, regulators.

The final question/contribution (see “A chink of sunlight” below) was on the question of culture again, and the ‘aesthetics’ of speaking differently to and about power, with the examples of Syriza, Podemos and Ecuador strongly in mind.

Time was by now super short, and responses were necessarily brief.

Simms said “yes” on the culture question, with the formulation that during/after the Weimar republic the Right succeeded because it aestheticised politics [which Susan Sontag famously wrote on] while the left failed because it politicised aesthetics].

Simms, as did Jacobs, stressed the need for optimism generally, pointed to oil industry fear of divestment, and believes that it is possible for the rest of the world to bypass high carbon energy in favour of micro/small scale energy [Hmmm, possible yes. Amory and Hunter Lovins have been banging on about this for 40 years. Likely? No.]

Toulmin stressed the need for empowerment of local people and knowledge with local interests better represented. She gave the example of the spread of solar panels in the Malawian village she visits. The international outcomes – it depends on energy exporter/importer issues. Importers becoming increasingly keen on increased energy security. She was fearful that other events could derail/distract/detract from necessary climate action.

Mazzucato stated that its not a question of culture versus control, and that there are always tensions in/between movements (what Polanyi called double movements).

She pointed to the need not just to create money (quantitative easing a-go-go) but also to direct it. She pointed to the difficulty that even Keynesians have in defending from the argument that the state “crowds out” other investment, that it’s hard to defend that you are creating a pie that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

[Two points here
1) “If we just enlarge the pie, everyone will get more”. This has been the imagery of Capitalist growthmanship since the end of World War II- and I once did my share in propagating it. But the growth of the pie did not change the way the slices were distributed except to enlarge the absolute gap between the lion’s share and the ant’s. And whether the pie grows, or stops growing, or shrinks, there are always people who suffer from the behaviour of the cooks, the effluents from the oven, the junkiness of the pie, and the fact that they needed something more nutritious than pie anyway.” Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism


2) “And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only the lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new. This lukewarm temper arises partly from the fear of adversaries who have the laws on their side and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who will never admit the merit of anything new, until they have seen it proved by the event.”

Finally, Michael Jacobs agreed that culture was indeed fundamental to the problem, but that environmental movements had not been able to lobby/capture the state in ways that, say, the women’s movement had, and that in some ways the environmental movement was weaker than it was 20 years ago, when it was smaller but stronger. The sense of hope that problems could be solved via state action has diminished, except in places where the crisis is sharpest. Syriza is up against very very powerful forces. Here in the UK we have to try to create social movements out of more “normal” times and to re-imagine how the state relates to the economy to create social change. He closed out by saying “you can never bee too optimistic. Not to be optimistic is to slip into fatalism, and fatalism is fatal. Pessimism is never a political strategy.”

A cynic might well shoot back “Well, yes, but neither is wishful/magical thinking”…

A chink of sunlight
At the very end something unusual and praiseworthy happened. A man whom the chair invited to ask a question said “nope, that woman in front should go first, since all the other questioners have been men, even if it means I don’t get to ask my question.” Bravo!!!

This tendency – of the sharp-elbowed/(over)-confident men (such as the author of this post, who asked the first question) needs to be dealt with the level of structure and habit, rather than individual self-abnegation. I dream of a world where chairs routinely say “before we go straight into a q and a, which will be dominated by the usual suspects, please turn to the person next to you/behind you and spend two minutes swapping names and impressions of the event. If you have a question, seek affirmation of it, and help in honing it. We’ll then have a show of hands, and I am going to prioritise gender and racial equity.” It’s a little thing, but it might be part of making a difference. #justsaying


On the plus side

  • None of the questions became too much a speech (always a danger)
  • The gender balance of speakers (2 and 2) was refreshing (see here for how they do things in Manchester. Six white men, one white woman…).

On the minus

  • Only the first speaker stuck to the “5 to 7 minutes” remit
  • All but one of the questions came from men
  • The audience was almost entirely anglo

On balance

Well worth attending.

Marc Hudson

Academic (self)-branding and Andon Boards, or “The Panspectron as Tetris”

Was at an event only advertised on Twitter (how 21C is that?) I met some interesting people. One of them was the chief twitterer himself, Mark Carrigan (see post “coping with acceleration.”)

In a discussion about the ‘need’ for branding and the intensification of academic (if not intellectual) life, Carrigan approvingly cited the work of Will Davies, who talks about how the floor is being heated to see who can hop the longest.

This speed-up, analogous to what the political class has gone through with the coming of 24 hour news and now social media, is moving, like universal acid in the space ship , to academia.

For me the best way of thinking about it is via Andon Boards

esq-andon-board-1012-lg1Andon (アンドン, あんどん, 行灯) is a manufacturing term referring to a system to notify management, maintenance, and other workers of a quality or process problem. The centrepiece is a signboard incorporating signal lights to indicate which workstation has the problem. The alert can be activated manually by a worker using a pullcord or button, or may be activated automatically by the production equipment itself. The system may include a means to stop production so the issue can be corrected. Some modern alert systems incorporate audio alarms, text, or other displays.

Ostensibly about quality control, they make very good intensification tools, since teams can be pitted against each other to see who is doing best (fastest). Sort of like the evening sky signs of who died during the Hunger Games

(I first heard of Andon Boards in an extraordinary (as in brilliant) book called Pandemonium: The Rise of Predatory Locales in the Postwar World, which, when I am chief fascist dictator, everyone will be forced to read.)

There was a useful reference to Patti Lather on doing within/against work around the (academic) game.

Other similar concepts – the Japanese word ‘karoshi’, which translates as “death from overwork”.

Juking the stats. They won’t let me embed!  You MUST watch this clip. It’s only 100 seconds, of sheer genius.

Panspectron – the panopticon, but splintered and everywhere, all the time.  No longer a central point of observation, it is all around us, in the CCTV, the RFID, the Facebook, the phone, everywhere, all the time; skynet, basically.

Tetris– a game where your mental and physical dexterity are tested at progressively higher velocity.  Eventually your ability to close your ooda loops and recover from previous mis-judgements or mis-deliveries is overwhelmed.  The (speed of) the medium is the message…

Further work:  There’s probably also something on the early factories, with the surreptitious speed increases and clock slowing downs (EP Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class has stuff on this – I am told, not having (yet) read it.

To Read: David Noble’s Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education

Neologisms to coin – something that combines academics and precariat.  Precarademics? Brainetariat?  Para-cites?  (the last one is perhaps better for people who pad out their reference lists with things they’ve not actually read? About that Thompson book, um….)

More fun in the multiplex (maths) than the multiplex (cinema)

“Some of you may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder therefore how they got that way, and here, in partial explanation perhaps, is the story of the great Russian mathematician Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky  a blog post!

You have to stretch yourself, swim out of your depth on occasion. The seminar I went to today – at the Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis‘s “Multilayer Networks: Mulitplexity, networks of networks and all that jazz” [slideshare] the maths went WAY over my head. Why didn’t I feel patronised or bored?  Ten percent because I  mentally prepped myself for outadepthness, but 90 percent because you don’t feel that way when you are in the presence of someone (chap called Mason Porter from University of Oxford, in this instance) who clearly loves their subject, knows it inside out and can communicate it. The passion and joie de vivre pull you through. His Candide mash-ups didn’t hurt either.

I couldn’t, with a gun to my head, explain the maths and the graphs. There was good stuff on alternative ways of representing nodes in networks and how they interconnect (3D is better than 2D).  The ‘take home’ seems to be, entirely reasonable; if you are going to throw around terms like networks, nodes and so on, define your terms or you will create conceptual Gordian knots that some other poor sod has to unpick.

Here in lieu of a proper analysis, are the bullet points I wrote down, with subsequent googles.

Multiplex networks – “In a multiplex network, each type of interaction between the nodes is described by a single layer network and the different layers of networks describe the different modes of interaction. Indeed, the scientific interest in multiplex networks has recently seen a surge. However, a fundamental scientific language that can be used consistently and broadly across the many disciplines that are involved in complex systems research has to be developed. This absence is a major obstacle to further progress in this topical area of current interest. “

best exemplified by a geek game called “Munchkin quest.” People define these differently, which leads to all sorts of mayhem. “The literature is messy” said Porter, with the bonus hashtag #makeitstop. He then showed a neat (and probably laborious) parsing of the different definitions he and colleagues had encountered.

Barry Wellman – Professor Barry Wellman studies networks: community, communication, computer, and social. His research examines virtual community, the virtual workplace, social support, community, kinship, friendship, and social network theory and methods. Based at the University of Toronto, he directs NetLab, is the S.D. Clark Professor at the Department of Sociology, is a member of the Cities Centre, and the Knowledge Media Design Institute, and is a cross-appointed member of the Faculty of Information. He is the co-author of Networked: The New Social Operating System (with Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project) published by MIT Press in Spring 2012.

Krackhardt (1987) cognitive social structures and distinction between advice networks and friendship networks (you may like hanging out with fur mommy, but wire mommy is where the nutrition is at)

There’s a famous paper by Wayne Zachary on a Karate Club which split when he was studying it in 1977.  The dataset is here.

And so now there is a group of people who use the Zachary paper and its implications/methodological tools to look at networks and social interactions and it is called – you guessed it – the Zachary Karate Club Club. They indulge in such iffy sounding pursuits as “algorithmic community detection,” have a trophy and a tumblr, and are of course part of the “community detection community” (someone phone Private Eye right this minute.)  Clearly gunning for an Ig_Nobel

Paper to read after I finish my PhD – Community Structure in Time Dependent, Multi-scale and Multiplex Networks

Words and terminology that l scribbled down to google.

Weighted networks– “A weighted network is a network where the ties among nodes have weights assigned to them. A network is a system whose elements are somehow connected (Wasserman and Faust, 1994).[1] The elements of a system are represented as nodes (also known as actors or vertices) and the connections among interacting elements are known as ties, edges, arcs, or links. The nodes might be neurons, individuals, groups, organisations, airports, or even countries, whereas ties can take the form of friendship, communication, collaboration, alliance, flow, or trade, to name a few.”


transitivity – “In mathematics, a binary relation R over a set X is transitive if whenever an element a is related to an element b, and b is in turn related to an element c, then a is also related to c. Transitivity is a key property of both partial order relations and equivalence relations.”

eigenvector centralitiesEigenvector centrality is a measure of the influence of a node in a network. It assigns relative scores to all nodes in the network based on the concept that connections to high-scoring nodes contribute more to the score of the node in question than equal connections to low-scoring nodes. Google‘s PageRank is a variant of the Eigenvector centrality measure.[19] Another closely related centrality measure is Katz centrality.”

preferential attachment models “A preferential attachment process is any of a class of processes in which some quantity, typically some form of wealth or credit, is distributed among a number of individuals or objects according to how much they already have, so that those who are already wealthy receive more than those who are not. “Preferential attachment” is only the most recent of many names that have been given to such processes. They are also referred to under the names “Yule process”, “cumulative advantage”, “the rich get richer”, and, less correctly, the “Matthew effect“. They are also related to Gibrat’s law. The principal reason for scientific interest in preferential attachment is that it can, under suitable circumstances, generate power law distributions.”

Markov process– “In probability theory and statistics, a Markov process or Markoff process, named after the Russian mathematician Andrey Markov, is a stochastic process that satisfies the Markov property. A Markov process can be thought of as ‘memoryless’: loosely speaking, a process satisfies the Markov property if one can make predictions for the future of the process based solely on its present state just as well as one could knowing the process’s full history. i.e., conditional on the present state of the system, its future and past are independent.”

Kuramoto model- “The Kuramoto model, first proposed by Yoshiki Kuramoto (蔵本 由紀 Kuramoto Yoshiki) [1] ,[2] is a mathematical model used to describe synchronization. More specifically, it is a model for the behavior of a large set of coupled oscillators [3] .[4] Its formulation was motivated by the behavior of systems of chemical and biological oscillators, and it has found widespread applications such as in neuroscience [5] [6] .[7] Kuramoto was quite surprised when the behavior of some physical systems, namely coupled arrays of Josephson junctions followed his model.[8]The model makes several assumptions, including that there is weak coupling, that the oscillators are identical or nearly identical, and that interactions depend sinusoidally on the phase difference between each pair of objects.”

adjacency tensors – wikipedia let me down. Found adjacency matrices instead. I think my brain is way past full anyway…

modularity measures for multiple networks “Modularity is one measure of the structure of networks or graphs. It was designed to measure the strength of division of a network into modules (also called groups, clusters or communities). Networks with high modularity have dense connections between the nodes within modules but sparse connections between nodes in different modules. Modularity is often used in optimization methods for detecting community structure in networks. However, it has been shown that modularity suffers a resolution limit and, therefore, it is unable to detect small communities. Biological networks, including animal brains, exhibit a high degree of modularity.”

And while googling that, stumbled on Brain Connectivity Toolbox

linear oscillator models. Er, this? Brain DEFINITELY full.

Digression – this guy clearly has a lot of fun. Xkcd is about and for people just like him!

I’ve never met Cosma Shalizi, but I bet he and Mason Porter would get along like a house on fire.

This summer they are going to sit around at the Lake Como School of Advanced Studies, and probably dream up some articles for the Journal of Complex Networks.

Verdict. WAAAAAY over my head. So what? I had a ball. May have learnt something too. Result!!!

Connections to my PhD? Who knows for sure. But there was something here, and it was a different (more confusing!) use of my time than this morning’s reading group on (so-called) distributed leadership in social movements. The connecting quote for the two events might be –

Meaning in Movement: An ideational analysis of Sheffield-based Protest Networks Contesting Globalisation and War” by Kevin Gillan.

By emphasising the network form McLeish argues that the flows of information and interaction between groups and individuals are more important that (sic) the points of convergence. The ‘nodes’ – the points at which multiple flows connect – may represent a key moment during a movement’s history but have a tendency to create ossified traditions, incapable of reacting to changing political opportunities. ‘Organisers thrown up by events, who find themselves serving or surfing these waves of history narcissistically imagine themselves their authors. Last year’s bright creative movement becomes a fossilized bureaucracy or an inert ritualistic subculture.”
page 279 “Meaning in Movement: An ideational analysis of Sheffield-based Protest Networks Contesting Globalisation and War” by Kevin Gillan.

And we started with Lehrer, so in the best Ouroborosian tradition, we’ll end with New Math. Base 8 is just like base 10 really… if you’re missing two fingers…

“Cistern failure” or “Waste is a terrible thing to mind…”

What does the ‘waste’ go when you flush?  The citizens of Baltimore found out the ‘hard way’ in 1989, and again in 2014.

Johns Hopkins Assistant Professor Graham Mooney (separated at birth from his identical twin) gave a thoroughly enjoyable seminar about something we don’t like to think about – “biosolids” (or, to you and me, ‘shit’).

He started by showing footage of what happens when six inches of rain falls in a day on Baltimore’s streets.  The sewers (which, in an historical anomaly, are separate from the storm water drains) floods, releasing all sorts of nastiness onto the streets

He then went back 25 years to the 1989 (1)  3000 mile journey – to Louisiana and back – of a 61 car train full of the self-same thing.

The city’s “Back River” treatment plant hadn’t been coping particularly well with the WW2 influx of population, but a million dollar (real money, back in the day) investment sorted things out mostly.  By the 80s, a third of it was being composted.

The problem that led to the “Poo Poo Choo Choo” began when the Grand Poohbahs at the State level decided they would impose a $10,000 a day fine on the city if it didn’t deal with its increasing waste problem. This got the attention of “Mayor Carcetti” [not real name] and a contract was awarded to a company to haul it away.  Six thousand tonnes were loaded onto a train, headed for ‘marginal land’ in Louisiana (that’s polite speak for poor powerless people who are surrounded by lots of chemical factories, also known as ‘Chemical corridor’).

At this point Mother Nature intervened, in the convenient shape of Hurricane Hugo.  The rain was not, however, redemptive – quite the opposite. No longer dry, the cargo was drippy and just a liiiiitle bit smelly.

The trains became a fecal, sorry, focal point for anger about the South being a dumping ground.  People started to protest.  And – this is America – they called in their lawyers.  And it became a media, well, uh, shit-storm.  Southern politicians liked the issue since it was one that could be noisily run out of town (as opposed to those nice factories, which provided jobs and other nice little earners.)  Matter out of place indeed…

Caught between two stools, the mayor of Baltimore agreed to take the waste back, saying that it was a ‘moral responsibility’ (as did another political leader later).

By this time Mother Nature decided it was time for more chuckles, and dropped the coldest winter in yonks on Baltimore. The “biosolids” became solid, and had to be jackhammered out of the train cars. Oh, what japes.

Mooney went on to point out how the Baltimore bureaucrats re-framed the event as a ‘crisis’ that they had (of course, heroically) resolved. That’s one analysis…

As usually happens at CHSTM lunchtime seminars, questions were good – on the geography of waste disposal/poverty, on the possibilities of blaming it all on Reagan (jobs travelling south shopping for zero environmental laws and no trades unions etc) etc.


Of course, 1989 was a pretty busy year for the environment.  Exxon Valdez had run aground, photogenically, in March, and both Ozone  and “Greenhouse Effect”  concerns were riding high. Two years previously the Mobro 4000, a garbage barge had done a passable imitation of the Flying Dutchman, down and up the Eastern Seaboard, leaving a convenient ‘hook’ for journalists and readers alike.

As Billy Joel sang so eloquently “hypodermics on the shore

Books to read

Blood on the Forge by William Attaway

The Ethics of waste: how we relate to rubbish by Gay Hawkins

Hybrid Nature: Sewage Treatment and the Contradictions of the Industrial Ecosystem  by David Schneider

Films not to watch again

Silver City, dir John Sayles

Googlebinge from “Ode to Youth” to “Big Daddy Paper Doll”

I don’t know about you, but I make lists of things I don’t know (from reading the FT or whatever) and when I have enough, I go on a google binge.  Here is the latest…

Adam Mickiewicz 1820 Ode to Youth
Martin Amis’ notion of “species shame”
1975 article by Steven Kerr folly of rewarding A while hoping for B
Osram 1924 treaty signed in Geneva re limiting lifespan of specific products
Antony Fisher battery chicken-farming
Ed Diener – research on happiness. Community and social support, having moral rules to guide our action sand a sense of purpose
Leon Redler
Gregory Bateson warning at 1967 Dialectics of Liberation about build up of CO2!?
Mark de Rond, a researcher at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, examined a series of scientific breakthroughs
Felo de se
Conrad “The fascination of the abomination”
May Stevens Big Daddy Paper Doll 1970

Adam Mickiewicz 1820 Ode to Youth

The theme of the poem is the duties and rights of the youth in the service of an overarching, higher ideal.[2] The youth are said to have a moral obligation to take action.[3] Michael Ferber describes it as “unabashedly Schillerian in inspiration”, and notes that the poem “deftly exploits neo-Classicist poetics in order to subvert the discourse that engendered them.”[4] The poem has also been described as a manifesto of the secret student organization, the Philomaths, to which Mickiewicz belonged at that time.[5]

Martin Amis’ notion of “species shame”.  Writing a week after 9/11

Our best destiny, as planetary cohabitants, is the development of what has been called “species consciousness” – something over and above nationalisms, blocs, religions, ethnicities. During this week of incredulous misery, I have been trying to apply such a consciousness, and such a sensibility. Thinking of the victims, the perpetrators, and the near future, I felt species grief, then species shame, then species fear.

1975 article by Steven Kerr folly of rewarding A while hoping for B (Academy of Management Journal Dec 1975)

“Whether dealing with monkeys, rats, or human beings, it is hardly controversial to state that most organisms seek information concerning what activities are rewarded, and then seek to do (or at least pretend to do) those things, often to the virtual exclusion of activities not rewarded. The extent to which this occurs of course will depend on the perceived attractiveness of the rewards offered, but neither operant nor expectancy theorists would quarrel with the essence of this notion.”

Osram 1924 treaty signed in Geneva re limiting lifespan of specific products

The Phoebus cartel was a cartel of, among others, Osram, Philips, and General Electric[1] from December 23, 1924 until 1939 that existed to control the manufacture and sale of light bulbs.

The cartel is an important step in the history of the global economy because it engaged in large-scale planned obsolescence. It reduced competition in the light bulb industry for almost twenty years, and has been accused of preventing technological advances that would have produced longer-lasting light bulbs. Phoebus was a Swiss corporation named “Phoebus S.A. Compagnie Industrielle pour le Développement de l’Éclairage”.

Antony Fisher battery chicken-farming who set up the IEA and a bunch of other extreme neo-liberal thinktanks. How did I not know about this guy?!  Here, here, here and here.  Was he the inspiration for Jonathan Coe in ‘What a Carve Up’?
Ed Diener – research on happiness. Community and social support, having moral rules to guide our action sand a sense of purpose

Edward Diener (born 1946) is an American psychologist, professor, and author. He is noted for his research over the past twenty-five years[1][2][3] on happiness — the measurement of well-being; temperament and personality influences on well-being; theories of well-being; income and well-being; and cultural influences on well-being.[4] As shown on Google Scholar as of January 2015, Diener’s publications have been cited over 98,000 times.

Leon Redler

Leon Redler is a doctor of medicine, a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, and teacher of the Alexander Technique.

He was a part of the experiment in radical psychiatry at Kingsley Hall between 1965 and 1970, along with other members of the Philadelphia Association including R. D. Laing and Joseph Berke.[1]

In 1970 he co-founded the Philadelphia Association Communities, featured in Peter Robinson’s film, ‘Asylum’ (1972).[2][3]

In 1967, with Joseph Berke, David Cooper and others he set up The Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation, which was held at the Roundhouse in London from 15 July to 30 July 1967 .[4]

Redler was the second Chair of the Philadelphia Association and continues teaching on its Introductory Course and Psychotherapy Training Faculty. His book Just Listening deconstructs therapeutic practice. Redler is a student and practitioner of the Alexander Technique, Dzogchen, grandfather-hood, music, t’ai chi, yoga and zen.

Gregory Bateson warning at 1967 Dialectics of Liberation about build up of CO2!? Yup.  [Mead was at it too – see 1975 Fogarty conference…]

“This year I’ve been impressed by Gregory Bateson, talking about the scientifical apocalyptic aspect of the anxiety syndrome that we’re suffering from. He said: Given the present rate of infusion of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the mammalian-human aspect of the planet had a half-life of 10-30 years because in that time the carbon dioxide layer over the atmosphere (which apparently is opaque) admits heat but doesn’t let it bounce out; so, given the present build-up of this gas over the surface, a temperature rise of 5 degrees is possible.”

Mark de Rond, a researcher at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, examined a series of scientific breakthroughs

Maybe this?  Or that’s just the HBR pop-version?

Felo de se

Felo de se, Latin for “felon of himself”, is an archaic legal term meaning suicide. In early English common law, an adult who committed suicide was literally a felon, and the crime was punishable by forfeiture of property to the king and what was considered a shameful burial – typically with a stake through his heart and with a burial at a crossroad. Burials for felo de se typically took place at night, with no mourners or clergy present, and the location was often kept a secret by the authorities

Conrad “The fascination of the abomination”. From The Heart of Darkness…

Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay–cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death,– death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here. Oh yes–he did it. Did it very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking much about it either, except afterwards to brag of what he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They were men enough to face the darkness. And perhaps he was cheered by keeping his eye on a chance of promotion to the fleet at Ravenna by-and-by, if he had good friends in Rome and survived the awful climate. Or think of a decent young citizen in a toga–perhaps too much dice, you know–coming out here in the train of some prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend his fortunes. Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him,– all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There’s no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination–you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.”

May Stevens Big Daddy Paper Doll 1970. Brooklyn Museum

May Stevens has been a committed political activist throughout her long career. Her Big Daddy series began in response to her disappointment and anger over the Vietnam War. For Stevens, Big Daddy takes on aspects of both the personal and the political. Based on a portrait of her resolutely patriotic father, the obviously male figure is also reminiscent of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). Here, the figure’s bullet-shaped head exaggerates his phallic power and capacity for violence. However, by depicting him as a paper doll, to be dressed up as an executioner, decorated soldier, policeman, or butcher, Stevens ultimately strips Big Daddy of his patriarchal command.

What is innovative, and social, about Social Innovation?

I don’t know.  And I don’t really address that in this blog post. Apologies if you feel click-baited or rick-rolled.

I went to a seminar on Wednesday about “Social Innovation Futures: beyond policy panacea and conceptual ambiguity”  It was good – clear presentation of relevant work, good questions (except perhaps the first one, which was long and ranty, but what can you do?).  I came away having scribbled down some references, which are below, with abstract clippings where I could find.

Garud and Karnoe, 2013 – dunno, but will find out. They’ve done interesting work on Danish wind turbine innovations…

Böhme, K. & E. Gløersen (2011) Territorial cohesion storylines: Understanding a policy concept. Spatial Foresight Brief 2011:1.

“Territorial cohesion must contribute to economic growth in order to achieve the aims of Europe 2020 and boost European competitiveness. This implies a strong focus on territorial potentials and the support of smart growth and connectivity of Europe’s economic centres. Territorial cohesion will only be possible if Europe’s most economically viable and powerful locations make full use of their growth potential, thereby serving as engines for the development of larger areas surrounding each of them.

These economic centres are at the forefront of development and are important nodes in global economic networks. A key issue here is European polycentric development, i.e. the development of a number of interconnected European hubs or Major European Growth Areas (MEGAs) which mutually reinforce each other and lead to the strong growth envisioned for 2020.”

Quadruple Helix

Open Innovation 2.0 (OI2) is a new paradigm based on a Quadruple Helix Model where government, industry, academia and civil participants work together to co-create the future and drive structural changes far beyond the scope of what any one organization or person could do alone. This model encompasses also user-oriented innovation models to take full advantage of ideas’ cross-fertilisation leading to experimentation and prototyping in real world setting.

Policy-based Evidence-making Torriti 2010

“Impact Assessment and the Liberalization of the EU Energy Markets: Evidence-Based Policy-Making or Policy-Based Evidence-Making?” JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies Volume 48, Issue 4, pages 1065–1081, September 2010

 The European Commission proposal on the liberalization of energy markets has been widely debated in policy, stakeholder and academic circles both for its content and the potential consequences for the structure of the EU gas and electricity markets. However, little has been said about the empirical evidence produced by the European Commission to support this legislative package. Since the Impact Assessment (IA) system has been in place, there have been concerns regarding quality and adequateness, especially when quantifying costs, benefits and risks, selecting policy options and considering stakeholder opinions. This article examines how these crucial issues were factored into the IA on the liberalization of EU energy markets. It is concluded that the selected policy option reflects the position of some stakeholders at the expense of the available evidence on its impacts on markets, society and the environment.

 “Thin concept borrowing” Hassink 2007. 


I asked a question/made a statement (firsties!) I said something along the lines of –

For me it’s about the ;

Capacity of the social innovators. The ones I know are underfunded, overstretched, chronically.

Hope – there isn’t any.  The activists I know are now deeply suspicious of grand visions (to meet ‘grand challenges’) and don’t believe that radical transformations/transitions are possible. If we were going to make them happen, we would have by now. We are disvisioned, not disillusioned (there is a distinction – see the footnote)

State – hollowed out. There was never a golden age of the enabling state, or the entrepreneurial state, or whatever state we’d like to be in, BUT it is surely worse (locally now).  Capacity has been stripped out (again, not that there was ever a golden age) but also, with the relentless culling, the cost of experimenting is now huge.

Fear of/tolerance for failure–  Innovating means experimenting. Experimenting means a high likelihood of failure. Failure means ammunition in the hands of enemies both within and beyond the organisation you are in.  So you hunker down – “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” etc

Couple of final thoughts;

It was ALWAYS the case that, as Keynes said,  “Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.”

And finally, who is this “social” in “social innovation”?  When corporate behemoths like Hitachi are super-comfortable using the term in their marketing strategies, I get a little nervous. Call me a luddite.



The promised Footnote

Disvisioned versus disillusioned

… we were discussing the increasing feeling of despair that we are all suffering from: over and over again we were all using the word ‘disillusioned.’ Then someone pointed out that if what one had held in the past was an ‘illusion’ then it was very healthy, even important, to be ‘disillusioned,’ relieved of illusion- or delusion. If on the other hand what one had held before was ‘vision’- ‘silent upon a peak in Darien’- then what the present political climate was doing was ‘disvisioning’: and it was important that we realise that there was no word- at least within this culture and language- for ‘disvisioning’. No word to describe the experience of having had a real vision, a true vision of possibility and then having that taken away from you. That word, that event, is one that necessarily must be denied by bourgeois culture. I was brought up with a wicked myth- that you cannot put the Truth down, that it will win in the end; I think we have to fight that very carefully; alas, indeed it is highly possible to put the truth down, to destroy even the dream of it, and in fact the truth has been put down. Can it be that all visions, or prophesies, or whatever, that are not in the process of being realised are thereby proven as illusions/delusions? We have to face the real possibility that through social circumstance we may now be in the process not of being disillusioned, but of being disvisioned: an act of violence, not therapy.

Sara Maitland Futures in Feminist Fiction in From My Guy to Sci-FI: Genre and Women’s Writing in the Postmodern World ed. Helen Carr (1989) London: Pandora.