On the Stepper: #ImStickingwithTony (not). Tech history, Field -Configuring Events, normative utopia

Was on the stepper on Thursday, reading about the global coal trade (Thank you IEA Coal Information 2014 and World Energy Council survey.) And yesterday, reading about the Australian Coal Export industry (more on that soon).

Today was broader, and perhaps more fun (!?)

I started with a speech by the soon-to-be-former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, [if you haven’t seen the delicious twitter hashtag #ImStickingWithTony yet – who knew Australia had so many top quality snarksters?!]. Abbott made the speech (complete with his verbal tic of repetition, verbal tic of repetition] at the “Annual Minerals Industry Parliamentary Dinner” on 28th May 2014. Here’s my favourite bit –

It’s particularly important that we do not demonise the coal industry and if there was one fundamental problem, above all else, with the carbon tax was that it said to our people, it said to the wider world, that a commodity which in many years is our biggest single export, somehow should be left in the ground and not sold. Well really and truly, I can think of few things more damaging to our future.

There are several things I could say at this point, none of them helpful…

Next up was Divall, C. (2010) “Mobilizing the History of Technology”, Technology and Culture, Vol 51, pp. 938- 960.  It was cited approvingly in the research proposal of a PhD colleague. Lots of very interesting things in this, on notions of “usable past”, “techno-tales” and “techno-myths” and so on…

Younger people are becoming habituated to living in spatially complex and extended social networks and are thus heavily dependent upon “cheap transport” (and telecommunications). All of this suggests just how widely held and deeply rooted is the belief that personal mobility is a right, and that we are still locked into the same techno-tales that led Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–59) famously to proclaim that “every improvement of the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually as well as materially.”

When techno-tales start to look as though they are underpinning claims to rights, we are clearly entering deep waters. Questioning the history implicit in such ideas is fraught with difficulties, because they are often sincerely held elements of an individual’s or community’s sense of identity— not merely techno-tales, but myths. In David Lowenthal’s formulation, “myth” provides stories of origin and continuance through the decades and centuries, narratives that bind today’s individuals and communities together through a sense of common purpose and prestige.

Next up Lampel, J. and Meyer, A. (2009) “Field-Configuring Events as Structuring Mechanisms: How Conferences, Ceremonies, and Trade Shows Constitute New Technologies, Industries, and Markets ” Journal of Management Studies 45:6

Field-Configuring Events (FCEs) are temporary social organizations such as tradeshows, professional gatherings, technology contests, and business ceremonies that encapsulate and shape the development of professions, technologies, markets, and industries (Meyer et al., 2005). They are settings in which people from diverse organizations and with diverse purposes assemble periodically, or on a one-time basis, to announce new products, develop industry standards, construct social networks, recognize accomplishments, share and interpret information, and transact business.

FCEs are arenas in which networks are constructed, business cards are exchanged, reputations are advanced, deals are struck, news is shared, accomplishments are recognized, standards are set, and dominant designs are selected.

I wish I’d known about this back in 2006 (impossible, since it hadn’t been written) while involved in Climate Camp, which was an attempt at a Field-Configuring Event…. #toolatenow

Finally Berkhout, F. (2006) “Normative Expectations in Systems Innovation” Technology Analysis and Strategic Management. Vol. 18. pp. 299-311. (Also from that research proposal).,

Hmm, I was probably too tired (80 mins in on the stepper) to read this properly, but there was useful stuff about the (de)mobilising power of visions –

We further argue that, to give them force, visions of the future tend to be ‘moralised’, in the sense of being encoded and decoded as either utopias or dystopias. This is because the possible effects of different visions are socially distributed (there will be winners and losers), and because one way of enrolling actors to a particular vision is to attach it to positive moral values, or to visualise the negative consequences of not pursuing it.

And some stuff on whose visions “win” (the actual, non-meritocratic, selection pressures) –

“Second, we may say that, in broad terms, there are two kinds of explanations for the successful articulation and diffusion of a vision: its validity or attractiveness to a wide range of interests; and/or the power of the constitutive interests who dominate a discourse about alternative futures. In these two cases what is different are the terms under which new adherents are enrolled to the vision. In one there is a process of voluntary and empowered enrolment, in the other enrolment is in some sense involuntary or even coercive. This may be because a deliberately constrained set of options have been considered, or because the capacity to realise future options has been disproportionately aligned with one particular future option.”

Which translates as “rich powerful people can be numbskulls and still get approval and the intellectual equivalent of retweets.”

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