Concept fetishism and leather skirts

So a fetish is a god we create and then forget that we created and get down to serious worshipping of.  There’s a rather good Doctor Who story from 1976, that was going to be called “The Day God Went Mad” but ended up being called “The Face of Evil” that outlines this with added flesh-eating worms and Louise Jameson in a leather mini-skirt.

Marx of course used the notion of a “fetish” to talk about “commodity fetishism” – you can read more here. Or this from wikipedia

commodity fetishism is the perception of the social relationships involved in production, not as relationships among people, but as economic relationships among the money and commodities exchanged in market trade. As such, commodity fetishism transforms the subjective, abstract aspects of economic value into objective, real things that people believe have intrinsic value

So the obvious problem for ideas-mongers is that they fall in love with the categorisation tools that they invent, and mistake the map for the territory (insert Borges reference about here).

Canon laser photocopiers can help us here;

Another example is the Canon laser photocopier which produced digital signals that could be electronically digitally processed, stored or transmitted simultaneously to a number of distant slave printers. The analog system of its conventional predecessors were unable to network. The new technology was the application of a laser and electronic information processing step inserted between the original optical and print systems. The digital processing subsystem allowed the production of a technologically new laser digital copier. Utterback would label the movement from analog to digital technology a market broadening, competence enhancing, radical innovation. Yet for Rothwell and Gardiner, radical technology embedded in a reinnovation does not constitute a radical innovation, instead just a redesign on an ‘innovation’. Thus, they would label this innovation an incremental innovation with a subassembly change. Kleinschmidt and Cooper would label it a moderate innovation, and to Abernathy and Clark the copier technology evolution is a regular innovation.
(Garcia and Calantone, 2002: 118)

 

So, I offer a label to help us remember that the axes we create can end up being axes we grind (see what I did there?).  I offer the world… “concept fetishism”.

 

 

References

Garcia, R. and Calantone, R. 2002. A critical look at technological innovation typology and innovativeness terminology: a literature review. Journal of Product Innovation Management, Vol. 19, pp.110-132.

And those references

  • J.M. Utterback Mastering the dynamics of innovation, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA (1996)
  • R. Rothwell, P. Gardiner Reinnovation and robust designs: producer and user benefitsJournal of Marketing Management, 3 (3) (1988), pp. 372–387
  • E.J. Kleinschmidt, R.G. Cooper The impact of product innovativeness on performance Journal of Product Innovation Management, 8 (1991), pp. 240–251
  • W.J. Abernathy, K.B. Clark Innovation. mapping the winds of creative destruction Research Policy, 14 (1) (1985), pp. 3–22

Video: The Greening of Industry/Eco-innovation

More or less the script I burble. Stuff in square brackets didn’t get said or referenced, because the damn thing was already 5 and a half minutes…

The whole field of “green innovation” is a Rorschach test. We see in the blobs what we want and need to see. Capitalism mutating into something ecologically friendly, capitalism wrecking the planet. The system working, the system shirking… This video throws out questions raised by the idea of “eco-innovation.” It also gives a quick overview of the changing academic perspectives on “the greening of industry”. It is of course, a work in progress, and if you think I am wrong, lemme know marcmywords@gmail.com

So what is eco-innovation, anyhow?

Kemp and Pearson (2007) define it as

the production, assimilation or exploitation of a product, production process, service or management or business method that is novel to the organisation (developing or adopting it) and which results, throughout its life cycle, in a reduction of environmental risk, pollution and other negative impacts of resources use (including energy use) compared to relevant alternatives”.


So why do companies “go green”?

  • Is it simply to greenwash, to get the eco-nuts off their backs, and onto softer targets?
  • Is it a bargaining chip against the risk of proposed regulations that would be more stringent?
  • Is it an opportunity to attract and retain staff who Care About These Things?
  • Is it for competitive advantage (the Porter hypothesis). Especially a first mover advantage [The timing of incorporation of regulatory signals in the corporate structure and strategy is important for determining the relationship between regulation and innovation. Early compliance has been linked to competitive advantage (Porter and Van der Linde, 1995; Rothwell, 1992) as companies develop compliance capabilities, which, in turn result into early mover advantages. (Paraskevopoulou, 2012: 1064)  [I should also have said something about simply saving production costs here, but didn’t]

  • Is it to have a planet left to sell stuff on?

Of course, “it depends” – It might be any of those, any combination of those. It depends on the particular industry, the market, the governments and states, the times.

There’s no one simple answer. There are lots of complicated questions though!

Who engages in eco-innovation – is it the “little guy” – the niche actor trying to save the world or patent some cool stuff and then get bought out? Do the little guys have the cash and the organizational capacities – smart enough staff, good enough absorptive capacity? [“most literature on eco-innovation is focused on large mature firms, practically neglecting SMEs (Schiederig et al., 2012).” (Diaz-Garcia et al. 2015:16)]

Is it the big beasts, the elephants trying to tap dance in search of new customers, or just to keep the ones they’ve got? Are they too drunk on past successes? Under what circumstances will pressure groups scare them into acting?

It depends.

How does this “eco-innovation” play out?

Is it incremental, constant small refinements of a dominant design, or is it radical and potentially competence-destroying?

It depends.

Where does it come from?

Does it come from a “laboratory” or is it user-lead (insert guff about prosumers here).

It depends

Does it come from “transition regions” or “industrial districts”?

It depends.

What kind of innovation are we talking about?

  • The same product used differently?
  • A different product used in the “same” way?
  • A new product used in a different way?

What of the “rebound effect”, can we escape Jevons’ Paradox?

There’s a bunch of other questions too.

What happens at the level of an industry (over and above individual firms jostling for advantage. Are there industries that can’t plausibly re-orientate? (How) will they fight to the death?

Which regulations in a “policy mix” might drive faster innovation in the “right” direction?

What are the trade-offs between “green” and “responsible” and so on?

What about innovations that help sustain an ultimately unsustainable system (man)? Are they ‘green’? Says who?

All good questions – what does the academic literature have to say? How long have you got? For now, this –

according to Penna, 2014 the literatures can be broken down into three periods, with an expansion from a largely firm-based economics/costs model between the 60s and 80s,

As Hoffman’s work shows, corporate environmentalism emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s in direct response to the increasing government regulation following various environmental disasters.

By the 1990s things had evolved into “environmental innovation can create win-wins” – having your cake and eating it too – (ecological modernisation etc)

A third wave takes a more sophisticated approach that brings in organisation theory, innovation studies, evolutionary economics, neo-institutional theory, and looks at an entire field (including governmental and non-governmental players).

In their excellent “Climate Change, Capitalism, and Corporations Processes of Creative Self-DestructionChris Wright and Daniel Nyberg argue that corporate environmentalism provides a way for corporations to incorporate critique and respond by justifying their actions (‘we can be trusted to be good corporate citizens and environmental managers through self-regulation, market logics and tech innovation’)

So, it’s complicated and “it depends”.

What would actual greening look like? There’s a whole bunch of terms – circular economy, closed loop, steady state, degrowth etc. All of them anxiety management devices, bargaining in the face of a remorseless Green Reaper.

Oh well.

Those images

The battery powered car

stephaniemcmillan.org

Painting chimneys

https://oneplanet-sustainability.org/2013/11/21/corporate-sustainability-profit-motive-and-intention-in-greenwash/

Porter hypothesis slide from
Rennings, K. Symposium on The Porter Hypothesis at 20

http://www.slideshare.net/SustainableProsperity/klaus-rennings-presentation-the-porter-hypothesis-at-20-can-environmental-regulation-enhance-innovation-and-competitiveness-june-2010

Prosumer

https://curiositykilledtheconsumer.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/do-you-prosume-how-the-do-it-yourself-trend-changes-the-relation-between-producer-and-consumer/

Jevons Paradox

http://www.slideshare.net/rakutentech/rakuten-techconf2014-f6-changing-the-behavior-of-it

Trolling Esso for the shits and giggles.

Oil companies. Doncha just love them?  And they spend a lot of time trying to shape the public debate, shape the public mind.  BP isn’t doing arts sponsorship because they’re a charity you know.  Shell have been brilliant at their advertising for decades (see this post and this post).

Esso (aka Exxon) have some new “journeys that matter” campaign, that tries to make us nostalgic for the 1970s.  So on my way home to be under the cat, I did a little light bite-back.

esso

Exxon were one of the founders of the Global Climate Coalition, which successfully slowed and basically scuppered international co-operation on climate change/emissions reductions, in the crucial 1989-2000 period.  They funded so many denialist groups that even the Royal Society (not exactly pitch-fork wielders) politely asked them to knock it off.

 

“Hey Esso. One journey that would have mattered was the journey to decarbonisation. But thanks to the actions Exxon took in the 1980s and 1990s in opposition to climate action, you and your sock-puppet denialist chums have made sure we are locked into a high-carbon emitting energy system. So now the only journey for this species it to hell in a handcart. Thank you so much.”

Proposed script for video on “the Greening of Industry”

The whole field of “green innovation” is a Rorschach test. We see in the blobs what we want and need to see. Capitalism mutating into something ecologically friendly, capitalism wrecking the planet.  The system working, the system shirking…  This video throws out questions raised by the idea of “eco-innovation.”  It also gives a quick overview of the changing academic perspectives on “the greening of industry”.   It is of course, a work in progress, and if you think I am wrong, lemme know marcmywords@gmail.com
So why do companies “go green”? 

  • Is it simply to greenwash, to get the eco-nuts off their backs, and onto softer targets?
  • Is it a bargaining chip against proposed regulations that would be more stringent?
  • Is it to attract and retain staff who Care About These Things?
  • Is it for competitive advantage (the Porter hypothesis)
  • Is it to have a planet left to sell stuff on?

Of course, “it depends” – It might be any of those, any combination of those. It depends on the particular industry, the market, the governments and states, the times.

There’s no one simple answer.  There are lots of complicated questions though!

Who engages in eco-innovation – is it the “little guy” – the niche actor trying to save the world or patent some cool stuff and then get bought out?
Is it the big beasts, the elephants trying to tap dance in search of new customers, or just to keep the ones they’ve got?

It depends.
How does this “eco-innovation” play out?  Is it  incremental, constant small refinements of a dominant design, or is it radical and potentially competence-destroying?

It depends.

 

Where does it come from? Does it come from a “laboratory” or is it user-lead (insert guff about prosumers here)

It depends.
What kind of innovation are we talking about?

  • The same product used differently?
  • A different product used in the “same” way?
  • A new product used in a different way?

What of the “rebound  effect”, can we escape Jevons Paradox?

There’s a bunch of other questions too.

What happens at the level of an industry (over and above individual firms jostling for advantage. Are there industries that can’t plausible re-orientate?  (How) will they fight to the death.

Which regulations in a “policy mix” might drive faster innovation in the “right” direction?

What are the trade-offs between “green” and “responsible” and so on?

What about innovations that help sustain an ultimately unsustainable system (man)?  Are they ‘green’?  Says who?

All good questions – what does the academic literature have to say?  How long have you got?  For now, this –

according to Penna, 2014 the literatures can be broken down into three periods, with an expansion from a largely firm-based economics/costs model between the 60s and 80s,

greening of industry

Figure 1: Phases of the Greening of Industry literature From Penna, (2014:5)

As Hoffman’s work shows, corporate environmentalism emerged in the  late 1960s and 1970s in direct response to the increasing governmentt regulation following various environmental disasters.

By the 1990s things had evolved into  “environmental innovation can create win-wins” – having your cake and eating it too – i(ecological modernisation etc)

A third wave takes a more sophisticated approach that brings in organisation theory, innovation studies, evolutionary economics, neo-institutional theory, and looks at an entire field (including governmental and non-governmental players).

In their excellent “  Wright and Nyberg argue that corporate environmentalism provides a way for corporations to incorporate critique and respond by justifying their actions (‘we can be trusted to be good corporate citizens and environmental managers through self-regulation, market logics and tech innovation’)

What would actual greening look like?  There’s a whole bunch of terms – circular economy, closed loop, steady state, degrowth etc.  All of them anxiety management devices, bargaining in the face of a remorseless Green Reaper.

Oh well.

 

WILL BE PUTTING IN THE REFERENCES TO THE IMAGES HERE TONIGHT.

Video: Issue lifecycles, a not-even-beginner’s guide

First, a public health warning. I am not yet clear enough on the distinction(s) between issue attention cycles and issue lifecycles to make this video. I’m doing it, therefore, to get Shot. Down. In. Flames. Then, if I survive the crash, I will make a – better- sequel. How’s that for dialectic and iterative?

Issue attention cycles follow attention – which fluctuates because critical events/focussing events/triggering events are usually infrequent and unpredictable, cannot be easily exploited and after a time lose their impact (dog bites man is not a news story). And journalists get tired of writing the same stories, readers of reading them. So when a new shiny issue comes along…

But the issue is now on the agendas of three key groups

a) civil society – social movement organisations and scientists, and maybe some hacks

b) corporations, an industry and their allies, who keep a watching brief

c) the state – the bureaucracy and the politicians. The latter need to be seen to be responsive, and the latter will want an ongoing policy process as a fig-leaf in case the issue blows up in their face again. They can’t afford to have been seen to be doing nothing…

So the issue has its own, slower, dynamic. As Flanagan and Uyarra, (2016: 182) point out – “Policy dynamics will interact with other relevant dynamics – electoral, budget and planning cycles, economic cycles, organisational life cycles – each with their own logic and imperatives”

It will bimble along, as advocacy coalitions slowly form, policy-subsystems get owned, problem, politics and policy streams trickle each on their merry way.

There will be flare-ups – issue entrepreneurs get lucky, smart or both. New disasters happen, followed by marches or petitions. Reports that were commissioned do indeed get written, and not ALL of them can be released at 5pm on a Friday afternoon just before Christmas….

Politicians are sometimes forced by coalition partners in knife-edge minority governments to NOT keep punting an issue into the long grass.

Meanwhile, corporations are thinking about which stakeholders to use as human shields, and perhaps even cleaning up their act, if that is the smarter and cheaper thing to do. And don’t be forgetting – corporations and industries always have a LOT on their plates – As Clark et al (2015: 5) put it. “Issue life cycle literature addresses two important aspects of how issues are managed : the cumulative effects of a single issue over time and the cumulative effect of multiple issues affecting the same firm over time.”

In all this, remember, the existence of a policy process enables politicians etc to say that matters are indeed ‘in hand’ and that there’s “nothing to see here”.

Some issues just fade away – “solved” unintentionally by technological, demographic or social changes. Others flare up occasionally a bit like herpes. Others become chronic, and slowly fatal. Like drug-resistant tuberculosis; Well, HELLO climate change.

comments? Please email me at marcmywords at gmail.com

Those references

Clark, C. Bryant, A. and Griffin, J. 2015. Firm Engagement and Social Issue Salience, Consensus and Contestation. Business & Society, doi:10.1177/0007650315613966

Flanagan, K., & Uyarra, E. 2016. Four dangers in innovation policy studies – and how to avoid them. Industry and Innovation. DOI:10.1080/13662716.2016.1146126. Publication link: 31cea8d3-1f0b-4027-ac0a-bec6587267ab

Proposed script for video on Issue Lifecycles Literature

Comments please on this draft script for a video on Issue Lifecycles Literature (see here for the Issue Attention Cycles one)  You can also email me at marcmywords@gmail.com

 

First, a public health warning.  I am not yet clear enough on the distinction(s) between issue attention cycles and issue lifecycles to make this video.  I’m doing it, therefore, to get Shot. Down. In. Flames.    Then, if I survive the crash, I will make a – better- sequel.  How’s that for dialectic and iterative?

Issue attention cycles follow attention – which fluctuates because critical events/focussing events/triggering events are usually infrequent and unpredictable, cannot be easily exploited and after a time lose their impact  (dog bites man is not a news story).  And journalists get tired of writing the same stories, readers of reading them.  So when a new shiny issue comes along…

But the issue is now on the agendas of three key groups

a) civil society – social movement organisations and scientists, and maybe some hacks

b) corporations, an industry and their allies, who keep a watching brief

c) the state – the bureaucracy and the politicians.  The latter need to be seen to be responsive, and the latter will want an ongoing policy process as a fig-leaf in case the issue blows up in their face again.  They can’t afford to have been seen to be doing nothing…

So the issue has its own, slower, dynamic. As Flanagan and Uyarra, (2016: 182) point out – “Policy dynamics will interact with other relevant dynamics – electoral, budget and planning cycles, economic cycles, organisational life cycles – each with their own logic and imperatives

It will bimble along, as advocacy coalitions slowly form, policy-subsystems get owned, problem, politics and policy streams trickle each on their merry way.

There will be flare-ups – issue entrepreneurs get lucky, smart or both.  New disasters happen, followed by marches or petitions.    Reports that were commissioned do indeed get written, and not ALL of them can be released at 5pm on a Friday afternoon just before Christmas….

Politicians are sometimes forced by coalition partners in knife-edge minority governments to NOT keep punting an issue into the long grass.

Meanwhile, corporations are thinking about which stakeholders to use as human shields, and perhaps even cleaning up their act, if that is the smarter and cheaper thing to do. And don’t be forgetting – corporations and industries always have a LOT on their plates – As Clark et al (2015: 5) put it. “Issue life cycle literature addresses two important aspects of how issues are managed : the cumulative effects of a single issue over time and the cumulative effect of multiple issues affecting the same firm over time.

In all this, remember, the existence of a policy process enables politicians etc to say that matters are indeed ‘in hand’ and that there’s “nothing to see here”.

Some issues just fade away – “solved” unintentionally by technological, demographic or social changes.  Others flare up occasionally a bit like herpes.  Others become chronic, and slowly fatal.  Like drug-resistant tuberculosis;  Well, HELLO climate change.

Video: Issue Attention Cycle beginner’s guide

So, a very crude (but not rude) video about the Issue Attention Cycle.  Done more for my own benefit – to nail a couple of things and get back into the video-making habit.  I’ve gotten rusty…  Comments welcome, of course…

Script:

This guy is Ibn Khaldun. He was an historian in the 14th century. He suggested that one generation of nomadic warriors might conquer a complacent city, their children might be able to defend it, but their grandchildren, soft from luxury, would be unable to defend it from a generation of nomadic warriors, whose children… you get the idea. The big wheel keeps on turning. Fast forward to 1972…

And American political scientist Anthony Downs puns on his name to produce Up and Down with Ecology: The issue attention cycle

He suggested a five stage model for, well, attention to an issue.

Stage one – he labelled the “pre-problem phase” – nobody but a few scientists or activists are much bothered

In stage two “alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm” something happens – a scandal, disaster, a book gets published – some kind of what is now called “focusing event”. And the issue does get into the newspaper, or onto the TV news,

Stage three is called “realizing the cost of significant progress” – there’s a gradual grokking of the cost of “solving” the problem

Stage four sees a “gradual decline of intense public interest” as people realise the actual costs, others get discouraged, others still feel threatened, others still bored. And anyway, other issues are newer, shinier

The final “post-problem” stage sees the issue in limbo, with occasional “spasmodic recurrences” of interest. But the level is higher than it was at the pre-problem stage, because not everyone has

It’s a beautiful, simple, intuitive heuristic. And of course, therefore, quite problematic.

Why do some issues take off and others don’t? Do issues get stuck at a particular stage, or reverse? Why? How? Are there other possible outcomes?

Mahon and Waddock (1992) produced a graph that offered different possible (non)-resolutions of an issue, with a return to apathy (the solution has ‘worked’, at least in the view of those who want it off the policy agenda), ‘confidence in solution’ and ‘failure- intensified concern).>

Bigelow et al (1993:24 ) note that “ issues may progress recursively, cycling back and forth through the stages” and warn that such issues may in fact not be resolved.

Combining issue attention cycle literature with the “greening of industry” literature, Frank Geels and Caetano Penna developed the Dialectic Issue LifeCycle Model, the DILC

It delves into what different actors – those trying to push the issue up the political agenda and those trying to push it down – do within the five phases. Also – and this is crucial – what sorts of research and development might a company – or an industry – take to try to come up with a neat and de-politicising ‘techno-fix’?

So, issues – in the sense of a socially constructed worry – can come and go – while the underlying problem just builds and builds…

Does the rise of social media and Web2.0 actually change the issue attention cycle? If so, how, when, why? All good questions. Watch this space, perhaps…

Inclusive Innovation, eco-innovation and so on… #isaforum2016

The finish line was in sight. The fifth and final day of the International Sociological Association Forum climaxed with a very good party. But before that, there were four sessions and a closing plenary.

The first session I went to was on “Inclusive Innovation for Inclusive Growth”. Before I say anything about that, this; you can slap any happy adjective you like in front of it – smart, intelligent, green, inclusive – but growth is still growth and as a whole, the planet can’t take it anymore. What was needed (but didn’t happen, because we are simply not that smart (or intelligent, green and inclusive) was a de-growth in the overdeveloped world to allow for a growth in the quality of life for the burgeoning Majority World populations (and pro-tip – when women can control their own fertility, they choose to have fewer children). There was perhaps enough for everyone’s need, certainly not for everyone’s greed. I write of this in the past tense, because it is too late, imho. It’s all over bar the shouting… screaming, starving, dying. Oh well.

Right, now that I have that off my chest, the session: it started out with a chap (Felipe Lara-Rosana, Centro de Ciencias de la Complejidad, Universidad Nacional utonoma de Mexico) talking about various projects in Chiapas and the challenge of doing things with rather than for or “at” people. There seemed to be a tension, imho, with the very phrase of “designing and implementing a social adaptation complex system”. Seems a bit cockpit-y to me. I stuck my hand up to ask the standard “what if the lovely design processes you ‘curate’ get captured by the rich and powerful and used to prop up and in fact further justify their privilege within the status quo?” Sadly, though, there wasn’t time to let me ask that.

Next up was Eva Buchinger (Austrian Institute of Technology on “Inclusive Innovation” not as a normative goal but as a ‘fruitful heuristic’ to deal with complexity in policy design. She quoted Luhmann (1997) on inclusion “means rather the societal system provides for people and assigns them to a position win the framework”. Thus spaces of exclusion are above all to be recognised by the interruption of reciprocity expectations. She spoke of different kinds of inclusion (professional, exit/voice inclusion” and pointed to the newly (in historical terms) assertive poor, disabled etc.

Third up, CzeslawMesjasz (Cracow University of Economics) on the subject of information overload, at pains to announce three assumptions at the outset- there is increased complexity in social systems, there are paradoxes of complexity in relation to social systems, and social science is difficult science. He thinks we have arrived at the limits (of usefulness to understand social systems) of both narratives and mathematics.) He’d identified 45 (!) definitions of complexity and threw out the great line “human systems as complexities of expectations” and threw out references to Jared Diamond’s Collapse and Joseph Tainter’s 1988 “The collapse of complex societies”.

There was some bleak commentary on what gets called by other people “cognitive limitations” and “bounded rationality” of policy makers etc

The second session I went to was on “Theoretical Contours of Global Social Change”. After a very empirical account of Chilean intellectual history (it got bumpy and bloody between 1973 and 1990, as you’d expect) and a piece on “global fields and global social structures” there was an interesting piece on the “Search for an Adequate denomination of the current social world: theoretical considerations for providing conceptual labels to current societies” by Kresimir Zazar (University of Zagreb). I liked the “labels, like rumours, can take on a life of their own” quote (from Kumar, 2005, p.29, and the point that since the 1960s and 70s there has been a proliferation of “post” era presumptions (a Post-syndrome in social sciences, according to Streckeisen, 2009, p. 183) . He gave a wonderful list of the different “kinds” of society we are supposed to be living in – programmed, technocratic, technetronic, super-industrial, hi-tech, postmodern, risk, knowledge, information, network, learning.. These is metonymy going on here, and diagnostic challenges up tha wazoo.

He closed out with advocacy for a neologism of his own – creafit, which aims to tie creativity and profit. I stuck my hand up in the Q and A and warned him about Lucy Kellaway’s (satirical) Creovative and suggested the Borges short story about the Empire so determined to make a super accurate map that it was a one-to-one. Mistaking the map for the territory indeed!

From the next talk I got the intriguing observation that mobile phones are changing social relations in Indian villages, because women who marry out of the village are no longer isolated from their own parents, and talk to them everyday. That’s potentially a game-changer for some relationships, I would have thought. We will see.

Lunch was a Chinese with Luke, Franka, Andre and Yet-another-Anna.

The third session was full of fascinating choices. In the end I chose the session “Socio-Ecological Struggles and Emergent Innovations in the Sociogenesis of Democratic Futures.” I will be blunt – it didn’t always deliver that. Maybe my expectations were too high.

It opened with Matthias Gross (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research) on “Democratic Energy Futures through Real World Experiments”

I learned a new neologism – “proactionary” (or was it preactionary?) There were some great quotes from engineers working on geothermal – the one I scribbled down was “there are not enough pre-explorations of local specificities available, but we need to move forward nonetheless.” One wonders if the engineer lives in the locality being used as an experiment, or if he expects to be held personally and financially responsible…

The next paper by Angeliki Paidakaki (University of Leuven, Belgium) on “social resilience cells” has some useful thoughts on the macro-conditions for bolstering resilience (a term insufficiently problematised, imo) such as shifts in government, geographical proximity and “positive path dependencies”. Challenges include, in the case study under question, real estate financialisation (more money to be made effectively strip mining), lack of government financial commitment and unfavourable political environments. She warned that “resilience incubation” is “inevitably fragile” and that there are vicious and rigid path dependencies and a need for a heckuva lot of state support.

Anna Szolucha (University of Bergen) (full disclosure – she is a friend of mine) talked about “repowering democracy,” based on fieldwork undertaken among anti-fracking activists in both Lancashire and Poland. She pointed to how quickly locals in Lancashire, previously unpolitical, became aware of what they were up against. It was an interesting and depressing presentation. I think she might usefully compare these struggles with those against airport expansion (Manchester in the late 1990s) or around GM food – which had similar “irreversible pollution” issues, and mobilised previously quiescent people, and I also think that the (self-reporting) claim that in autonomous groups everyone has the “same amount of decision-making power” is, um, problematic. But, props – she also was the one person who chose to limit herself to the time allotted.

The next, extremely long, presentation was on the “Global South powered by the Sun” pointing out that the bias against solar energy is partly because it’s not necessarily always useful in northern latitudes but in most of the “developing” world it could be a huge resource. Also to consider, the power of incumbents (fossil fuel industries) to shape public and policy-maker perceptions of “practicality.”

I will admit that I got publicly irked in this one because there was effectively zero time for question and answers/comments, which makes the confer part of a conference a little more difficult (what is a forum for?)

The final session I went to was a joint session between two research committees on “How are Science and Technology engaged in Eco-Innovations?

The third talk was the most useful for me (that’s not a reflection on the others necessarily!) – looking at “smart cities” and (guided/targeted) eco-innovation. Ilaria Beretta (Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Brescia, Italy)) talked about the institutionalisation of eco-innovation both because of ‘sustainable development’ but also the Eruope 2020 Strategy which sees future economic growth as coming from these innovations. She wanted to warn about risks of technological determinism, both moral and technical. There is a risk of a rather silly syllogism – “technology is good” and (therefore) “automatically leads to transformation” from gaining traction.

She also pointed to the problem of “eco-gentrification” (Dooling, 2009 and Berretta, 2014)

The closing plenary was admirably diverse.

Asef Bayat (University of Illinois) pondered on “Post-Islamism, Life as Politics”

Akosua Adomako Ampofo spoke on “Black Lives Matter and the Status of the Africana World” and concluded with the warning that knowledge hierarchies are not innocent, that the mainstreaming of indigenous knowledge would lead to different questions and methodologies for (social) scientists and that sociology also occurs outside the academy and that needs to be acknowledged, supported, engaged with

In the same reflexive vein, Emma Porio (Ateneo de Manila University) explored the knowledge industry (what we ask, who we exclude, who we are) and gave empirical detail on (attempted) urban resilience in ever-more sprawling Manila in the aftermath of Hurricanes Ketsana (2009) and Haiyan (2014).

Reinforcing themes heard throughout the forum, she urged us to question our consumption-driven lifestyles and the unjust relationships that causes/reinforces, realise tht our values drive an inequitable system, that policies currently privilege extractive economies and that governance systems are reacting to current generations’ demands while forgetting the future.

Todd “the whole world is watching” Gitlin (Columbia University, USA) gave a fair but bleak assessment of our climate predicament in a speech entitled “What kind of world can weather climate change”. Gitlin sees a philosophical, sociological, political and economic crisis, with the viability of development’ expiring.

He used a nice quote by McKenzie Wark

“the sum total of social labor undermines its own conditions of planetary existence. There is no longer an outside, a margin, an elsewhere, to dump the waste products of that labor and pretend this disorder that we make has gone away. That disorder now feeds back through the whole metabolism of the planet. It has done so for a while, it will keep doing so, in a sense, forever. There is no ‘environment’ or ‘nature’ that is separate. There is no ‘ecology’ that could be in balance if we just withdrew from it.”

He pointed out that while the situation is unnerving, it is not entirely unprecedented, and that all history is the history of… disruption. He pointed to Barrington Moore Jr on new social arrangements only possible when

  • a) the old order is unreformable
  • b) elites have lost unity
  • c) increased hardship on top of “normal” deprivation on top of a breakdown of basic routines.

So, what is to be done, as someone once asked?

Gitlin felt that researchers should “map corporate and state power clusters that invest in disruption for the benefit of their property interests”

[As one of the doomed activists in Marge Piercy’s “Vida” said “Keep Naming the Enemies. Put faces on where the money goes.”]

Study political cases where disaster is organised by social institutions

Critical studies is not standing on an exalted place. It should decry depredations. Shifts in energy generation are under way Sociologists should study specific cases, analyse policy results, and engage with the practical activity of adaptation and mitigation.

Theorists should remember that the crisis of the global system has deep roots and that there are no simple solutions.

As educators Gitlin urged people to “write in the vernacular and also to educate journalists.

Gitlin closed with the observation that while a life’s work requires urgencies, we must also “overthrow the tyranny of urgency.”

Alain Touraine then performed discussant duties in his own inimitable style.

Then, the party. As per Tuesday night, also a bit of a blur…

To look up
Ashby on “Requisite Variety”

So what is requisite variety?

Informally, practically, it says that in order to deal properly with the diversity of problems the world throws at you, you need to have a repertoire of responses which is (at least) as nuanced as the problems you face.

Ross Ashby, a pioneer British cyberneticist and psychiatrist, formulated his law of requisite variety in the context of regulation in biology — how organisms are able to adapt to their environment — and then, in quick succession, to aspects of Claude Shannon’s information theorem, and systems in general. Such interdisciplinary bridges were characteristic of the cybernetic approach. Stafford Beer extended the concept to help analyse the structure and management of organisations and whole societies

Passive Revolution and the imperial way of living + digital repression etc, #isa47 #isaforum2016

After lunch on Tues 13th I ended up – after being approached by someone who had been at the last session who wanted to recommend “Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery,”  – at the second half (i.e. 180 degrees) of a roundtable on “Emerging Research in Environmental Sociology (Part 2).” Of particular interest was “Strategies of a Green Economy, Contours of a Green Capitalism. Sociology meets Political Economy”, delivered by Ulrich Brand. He had kindly printed copies of “Strategies of a Green Economy, contours of a Green Capitalism”, a chapter in the Handbook of the international political economy of production.” I have now read it and it’s dead useful!

He wanted to contest the idea that there is “inertia” in the current state of affairs. There is, he insisted, never inertia but always (capitalist) dynamics; “Bourgeois capitalist societies are never inert”. He warned that important elements are left out of the “Green Economy” discousrse, such as the political economy of resource competitiveness, and the geopolitics of competitiveness more generally (the “brown state”) and indeed the commodification of nature. He revisited the notion of the “imperial way of living” (see blog post about the pre-conference– basically cheap products, cheap fossil fuels and the exploitation of, well, everyone and everything). “Green Economy” discourse doesn’t even name this.Around this, he was interested to look at five things-

  1. Gramscian “passive revolution” (i.e. the deliberate actions of elites)
  2. Economic viability of production and consumption (will electric cars work)
  3. What are the aspects of an ecological way of living (contra imperial)
  4. Green corporatism – can trades unions, employer associations etc ‘go green’
  5. How the state stabilises local initiatives

There were some nice questions (if capitalism is surplus value generation, from nature and labour – where does surplus value come from under the “green” agenda) etc etc

I ended up at another session “From Indymedia ot #Occupywallstreet and Anti-Austerity Protests in Europe: Three Generations of Digital Activism Logics.”

There were some useful warnings about fetishising particular new media (people swarmed before twitter, you know). And stuff on protest cultures (Constanza 2012) and the “imaginary matrix” (Cabrera 2001, Flichy, 2007), which seems to mean the way difference activist groupings take different stances towards the usefulness or otherwise of new media, based on previous experience, skills etc. The most useful of the papers for me was by Perrin Ogun Emre (Kadir Has University) and Gulum Sener (Hasan Kalyoncu University), on “Digital Activism in the post-Gezi Era”.

They pointed out that there has always been censorship and repression, but that state tactics have become more intense and thorough after Gezi, aimed not just at prominent activists but also Joe and Jane Public if they voice dissent. They conducted semi-structured interviews with prominent media-activists, some of whom identified as activists, others as (citizen) journalists.

They gave a nice summation of the tactics used by the state – here’s what I wrote down

  • Blocking sites (especially before/around big events/controversies)
  • Filtering URLs
  • throttling the internet outright
  • monitoring social media users
  • Hacking activist websites and social media
  • creating a troll army, trolling people with hate speech (against journos and dissidents)
  • creating fake accounts/websites
  • exploiting facebook’s “community standards”
  • more repressive methods (assassinations, detention, trials. kidnapping.

They also listed the things activists do in reply

  • VPN/TOR browser, telegram
  • use of different platforms
  • solidarity with alternative media
  • organising and promoting hashtags
  • taking photos of “filtered” words and using them in the body of emails/websites to get around the filter
  • deleting and blocking trolls
  • back up, cloud service, password change
  • ‘trash’ tactic [no, I don’t know what this means either]
  • exposing trolls and police pressure
  • training and development networks.

As I said in the Q and A, a lot of this is not new at all, the FBI was doing it against civil rights activists in the 1960s, under the “Cointelpro ” programme. I also hyped Cory Doctorow’s two excellent novels “Homeland” and “Little Brother.”

Some things I re-learnt today about presenting

  • Don’t talk to the powerpoint screen
  • Have a powerpoint
  • The visual matters, more than you want it to.
  • Keep to time
  • Ask for what you want to get from the audience

Anyway, then a group of us (new friends, waifs and strays) then schlepped across town to a fantastic Austrian restaurant, and were later joined by my gracious host. There was beer. More beer. A bar. And it became a bit of a blur….

Today (Weds 13th July) There was a small matter of a large hangover and life admin this morning, so I didn’t get to any sessions. After lunch, I went to an appalling session. I am not going to name names/identify the research committee, but perhaps it is not best to start with a declaration that you do not want to follow the normal academic panel format and will have only “brief” contributions from panelists and then… have six, male panellists talking for just over half the entire period of the session? Perhaps this is not the best way to get people being creative and interactive – having them sat in rows listening silently for 50 minutes? Ego-fodder, much?

When the first “question” was an extended bit of self-promotion “I did what I should have did” about 40 minutes earlier, and invoked the law of two feet.

So I retreated to the safety of the Main Hall, and now know enough people that I inevitably had a lovely catch up with “old” (5 days) friends briefly, before we all headed off to the “General Assembly” meeting of the Research Committee within which I’ve been mostly hanging out. Then off to a local anarcho-style cafe, called Cafe Gagarin. Lovely falafel and hummus, and good conversation with people (more than one) called Anna or variations on that.

One more day of conference, (sessions to be attended, since I am off the sauce) to be followed by a quick stop-over in Prague and then back to blighted Blighty. Boris?  Boris is the best man to represent “British values”  overseas?    Well, I suppose if you think what BV are, as opposed to what we are always told they are by our Lords and masters, then it makes perfect sense…

Of thinktanks and social movement failure… #isaforum2016

The third day of the International Sociological Association Forum and another jam-packed programme. So jam-packed, in fact, that this blog post covers the morning sessions, with a sequel (the deaths are always more elaborate, the body count higher) to follow.

The first session I went to, on Global Think Tanks, was strictly kept to time by David Fasenfast (Wayne State University). He had prepped the (seven!) speakers the day before with a time limit and a request that they start from their conclusions and then fill-in the blanks if they had time (this seemed to work!). He warned everyone that in the Q and A if a question wasn’t clear in the first thirty seconds, they would be cut off.

Karin Fischer (Kepler University, Linz) advertised the existence of thinktanknetworkresearch.net (does what it says on the tin, and pointed to the interlocking staff and board membership of think tanks, with things like the Mont Pelerin Society (Atlas was not mentioned) being a “transnational neoliberal knowledge power elite”, that engages in “strategic replication” of knowledge (churning out similar storylines)

William Carroll (University of Victoria, Canada) presented work on “counterhegemonic projects and cognitive praxis in transnational alternative policy groups.” He pointed out that most social research looks at dominant groups, but that since the 1970s, and especially the 1990s, alternative policy groups have been busy generating ideas for alternative globalisation. He then showed a fascinating table that compared neoliberal, and “counter” groups on three axes – substantive practice, procedural aspects and orientation to the future, looking also at the challenges for the “counter groups”.

He talked a little about 8 think tanks; ITeM-Social Watch (Montevideo), PRIA (New Delhi), IFG  (San Francisco), CCS (Durban), Rosaluxembourg Stiftung (Berlin), TNI (Amsterdam), Focus (Bangkok) and Dawn(Development Alternatives with Women in a New Era (Global South). These fall into three categories around human right/empowerment, to the left of political liberalism and radical projects that are transnational in nature. These groups, especially the third, need to show on-the-ground actors that they matter. Abstract ideas are, as Gramsci said, “castles in the air”.

One crucial way to show they matter is to cultivate local dialogues, and help form links between individuals and groups. Resources among the eight vary, with a couple well-funded but many dependent on “sweat equity” and volunteer labour. Dawn, a feminist project, has existed for decades. Carroll was at paints to say these are new critical sources of knowledge, mobilising in projects for thriving and well-being.

Georgina Murray (Griffith University) talked about Australian think tanks as “permanent persuaders” (that chap Gramsci again), and the “shock troops of neoliberalism”, borrowing a term from Australian academic Damien Cahill, and helping to get the “spontaneous consent” of subordinate groups (Strinati, 1995). She also talked about the chicken and egg problem – do the think tanks create the policies, or do the material conditions create the think tanks. [Strinati, Dominic (1995), An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture, Routledge, London.]

Alejandra Salas-Porras(Facultad de Ciencas, Politicas y Sociales-UNAM, Mexico) gave an account of think tank networks in Mexico (they’re relatively new).

Bruce Cronin (University of Greenwich, London) explained how reports of the demise of the US Business Roundtable are greatly exaggerated. The outfit, founded in the 1970s in response to rising public pressure (around environment, product and social concerns – see Barley 2010 Building and Institutional Field to Corral a Government for details) is a very canny street-fighting unit, with a small staff and most of the heavy lifting being done by CEOs and staff of member corporations. It has adapted to a structural shift in the US economy, and has brought the CEOs of service industries (insurance,IT, pharma etc. into the fold. Its (very effective) Modus operandi is direct engagement of CEOs in policy and implementation, wide collaboration around precise policy goals, and “grass roots” mobilisation of employees. Cronin said in the Q and A that the Business Roundtable was more pragmatic than a couple of other business associations (e.g. the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers), in that it realised health care costs needed to be control for the good of ‘the system’ (my words), and so worked with Obama rather than fingers-in-ears-stomping-the-ground.

The final chap (sorry, only have a surname- Zielinski) talked about the infamous and secretive Bildeberg Group. His research is based on a leaked archive of the groups annual meeting summaries, from 1954-1995. He is trawling through to see who the key players (invited back every year for many years) are.

Books to get

Expose, Oppose and Propose Alternative Policy Groups and the Struggle for Global Justice

Verdict: Seven presenters got to present their work, get specific questions, with time left for a general discussion, all in 90 minutes. That is not an accident, that is conscious and skillful work on the part of the chair.

The second session I went to was Environmental movements in the Age of Climate Change (and in the interests of full disclosure, I was one of the presenters).

Neil Carter (University of York) gave a compelling account of Friends of the Earth’s effective policy entrepreneurship around climate policy. He used Kingdon’s Multiple Streams approach(problem, politics and policy streams, coming together when policy entrepreneurs join the streams and create a ‘policy window’) to frame his empirical tale of the period 2005 to 2008. I had not realised that FoE basically devoted ALL their resources to this campaign (“the Big Ask”). It succeeded faster and further than their initial expectations, partly thanks to the mood of the time (you could not move but you would trip over a climate group/meeting/disaster/report), the tensions in the politics stream (a botched Climate Change Policy process, David Cameron hugging huskies to detoxify the Tory brand) and the efforts of helpful celebrities (shout out to Thom Yorke and Radiohead – they seem not to be knobs, as best I can tell). Carter made the good point that FoE, for various reasons, failed to capitalise on the success, and that newly recruited members were not retained in large numbers.

Nathalie Berny (Sciences Po Bourdeaux) talked about the big NGOs in the “Brussels Bubble”. I could track down Greenwood 2011 and Kluver 2013 on the effectiveness of NGOs around public policy and the difficulties in mobilising resources Greenwood and Aspinwall, 1998).

Cecelia Walsh-Russo (Hardwick College) talked about “climate justice and local government”, in the US. She and her colleagues looked at three adaptation plans, devised by the governments of Punta Garde, Florida, Keen, New Hampshire and Emoryville, California, all of whom worked with ICLEI . They found that climate justice is largely absent from these plans, that “vulnerability” is always framed as of the natural world, and that there are no mentions of the needs of the homeless, poor, or provisions for mental health services. Thank GOODNESS that the good councillors of Manchester City Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee have not kicked climate change into the long grass. No, wait

Joost de Moor gave a very interesting presentation on “Demanding Policy Change, Taking Direct Action nor Promoting Alternatives: Explaining Differences and Overlaps in Strategic Preferences within the Climate Change Movement.”

He’d been studying the 18 month build-up to the mobilisations around the COP21 meeting in Paris last year. He talked about the paradox of COP activism, around what the activists are trying to achieve (shut it down? Force it to be better? Delegitimise it) and how the rhetoric around “build a movement” was deployed, while all the while people worried about a repeat of the 2009 Copenhagen debacle. He added the disclaimer that some groups don’t agree with the paradox framing (see Avaaz) and others do indeed ignore the COP process

He explained that there were various proposed tactics, such as “having the last word” (denouncing the agreement as inadequate), disrupting the negotiations, targeting banks and fossil fuel companies, promoting alternatives. Some of this did take place, but there were serious challenges (unresolved), such as the age-old one of not being able to disrupt the wheels of day-to-day capitalism if you protests are planned for a Saturday, and how to say “You should come to Paris because of COP21, but when you get here you have to ignore COP21 and protest about banks and stuff” (my paraphrasing). So the “Red Lines” protest ended up being a bit of a confusion for many, but given the constraints (including the heightened security and mood post- Bataclan attacks) then what else was there to do (“don’t go – do your actions in your own cities” would be my answer, fwiw. As I wrote, “Screw Paris“.

Joost then explained that the movement has struggled to avoid a Copenhagen repeat, with key challenges around trust between Majority World organisations and the West (two weeks haggling over a meeting in Berlin, that was then cancelled by the organisers who felt it would be pointlesss), worries by the Majority World folks that they would not be able to attend all the meetings and decisions would be made without them, tensions with the NGOs etc etc. Climate Justice Action has sort of survived, but is very northern and is basically just a mailing list at present. The May 2016 actions were a dampish squib (that’s me saying that, not Joost).

It seems that there are intractable problems, and that we are not learning very much. Ho hum.
Second blog post to follow tonight or tomorrow, or when the hangover is gone…

To look up(After The Thesis)