Category Archives: academia

When you think climate change, think “dam”…. #3MT

Here’s me giving my spiel in the “Three Minute Thesis” heat at University of Manchester

Here’s the slide I used.

hoover dam3


And… I’m through to the Three Minute Thesis Final to be held on Wednesday June 7, between 2pm and 3:30pm in University Place Lecture Theatre A. You can register for a (free!) ticket



Learning by doing – it’s the only way…

Case. Study. Bloody. Research.  Still, it meant I read

Stake, R. 1995. The Art of Case Study Research. London: Sage,

And on page 35-6 there is this gem-

One century ago, philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey argued that science was not moving in the direction not helping humans understand themselves:
Only from his actions, his fixed utterances, his effects upon others, can man learn about himself; thus he learns to know himself only by the round-about way of understanding. What we once were , how we developed and became what we are, we learn from the way in which we acted, the plans which we once adopted, the way in which we made ourselves felt in our vocation, from old dead letters, from judgments on which were spoken long ago… We understand ourselves and others only when we transfer our lived experience into every kind of expression of our own and other people’s lives.


Which puts me in mind of Jason Bourne in the second Bourne movie (The Bourne Supremacy) – while he is Goa, static, the memories are not coming clearly. Only when he moves do things begin to unlock…. (Compare Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – can only shoot well when moving…)

Constant craving- of liberty, independence and the State…

Researching my thesis/an article-I-want-to-submit somewhere, I got interested (i.e. briefly stuck my head down a rabbit hole) in the question on the use and abuse of metaphor in political theory.  Via inter-library loan, got hold of this-

Ankersmit, F. 1993. Metaphor in Political Theory. In Ankersmit  F. and Mooij, J. Knowledge and Language Vol III. Metaphor and Knowledge. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

And this quote told me lots. You too perhaps?

“And if we decide to follow the former path the first political philosopher likely to be of help is Benjamin Constant. For Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) not only gave us the first but also the clearest definition of the concepts of the State and of civil society. Moreover, as we shall see, his writings contain a surprising analysis of the very dialectics that we are looking for. No political philosopher has surpassed Constant’s analysis of the relation between State and civil society in depth and subtlety. The fact that in both his personal and public life Constant had an almost neurotic obsession with all the problems this relation may give rise to- especially where freedom and independence are concerned – may explain the penetration of his insight and why he is still the best thinker on the subject.

The concepts that do most of the work for Constant are the concepts of freedom and independence. The latter is perhaps the more important of the two since it give s the right flavour to the notion of freedom and since we can also apply it, unlike freedom, to institutional spheres like the State and civil society. The central role in freedom and independence (or freedom as independence)  in Constant’s political philosophy is already exemplified by his definition of the State and civil society in terms of freedom and independence.  In contrast to Constant, modern writers on State and civil society do not make the notions of State and civil society conceptually dependent on other notions and that may partly explain their helplessness. This conceptual relation is defined by Constant in the following way. In his treatise on the contrast between ancient and modern liberty, in which all th threads of Constant’s political philosophy are adroitly woven together into one powerful intellectual texture, Constant pointed out that ancient liberty or what we now call ‘political liberty’ consisted in the citizen’s right to participate in the process of policy-making. Modern or ‘civil liberty’, on the other hand, is the freedom of the citizen from immixture of the State in his affairs –it thus is primarily an independence from the State.  Ancient or political liberty is best suited to the small state of the classical polis, whereas modern or civil liberty is required for the large States of modern Europe….”
(Ankersmit, 1993: 177)

Turns out he was born in Lausanne. Small world…

Retching wretchedly in the datasmog

Long-time case researcher Harry Wolcott wrote in his manual (1990).

The critical task in qualitative research is not to accumulate all the data you can, but to “can” (i.e. get rid of) most of the data you accumulate. This requires constant winnowing. The trick is to discover essences and then to reveal those essences with sufficient context, yet not become mired trying to include everything that might possibly be described. Audiotapes, videotapes, and now computer capabilities entreat us to do just the opposite; they have gargantuan appetites and stomachs. Because we can accommodate ever-increasing quantities of data – mountains of it – we have to be careful not to get buried by avalanches of our own making.

Stake, R. 1995. The Art of Case Study Research. London: Sage. (p 84)

Wolcott, H. 1990. Writing Up Qualitative Research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Neoliberalisms: Combative, Normative and Punitive

Neoliberalism, eh?  That handy catch-all insult that helps mainstream liberals not say “capitalism”, that helps radicals not have to think very hard about how to think or communicate.  Nota bene, I am not saying it is not real, that it does not matter, that there is not a usefulness to the term.  Just that we tend to use it very lazily.

That point is one among many very well made in an extraordinary (in a good way) piece in the New Left Review Sept/Oct 2016, called – wait for it – The New Neoliberalism.

The author, William Davies silkily moves from an anecdote of Yanis Varoufakis (that bald Greek Finance Minister guy the Guardian drools over) to the Artist Taxi Driver and on to Ludwig Van Mises.  Some Carl Schmitt, Tony Gramsci, Maggie Thatcher. And so on.

The take home is this:

  • 1979-1989 – Combative Neoliberalism (smash dem unions, colonise hope)
  • 1990-2008 – Normative Neoliberalism (imagine that grinning warmonger saying ‘we’re all meritocrats now’)
  • 2008 – 20?? Punitive Neoliberalism (‘this thing of darkness, I do not acknowledge mine’), when people who have heart attacks on their way to the benefits office get sanctioned for non-attendance…

It is a very cogent heuristic, which I want to remember (thus this post), and merits further thought.

What’s missing from the article?

  • From the past: the use of the ’60s rhetoric of individuality as part of the cultural battering ram, as per Boltanski and Chiapello.
  • From the present (i.e. his assessment of why this is happening –  “Yet somehow this increases the urge to punish them further).  We’ll, there’s probably some narcissistic rage  going on, at the lack of adulation from the masses?  Hegel would say the master doesn’t like the lack of a (proper) slave.  And fear, there is always fear. Of the pitchforks, of the future.  That’s how this breed of hominid rolls…
  • From the future: the rise of the surveillance capitalism, the bots, the pending ecological debacles as game changers.

But as I am learning, no single article can (or should try) to deal with everything.  This is a corker. Read it now.

“You might say that; I couldn’t possibly comment…”

A comment under this rather excellent review of a good sounding book about intellectual women (Arendt, Sontag, Didion and that crowd) and ‘toughness/emotional labour.”

Heartless women and men—in academia, the professions, and life in general—appear cold, frightened and thus defensive, and often near panic. The very opposite of what one expects from a seasoned, focused, balanced, comfortable, strong professional. They make terrible teachers, and even worse administrators and managers. They suck all the vibrancy—the intellectual air—out of the room. And unlike strong, balanced women and men, when wrong they have no place to go—they have painted themselves in an insistent, know-it-all corner….

h/t to Sarah A.