Category Archives: events worth blogging

Technology as fetish? South Australia and the Social Economy.

A rather interesting event today, high above the mean streets of Adelaide.  What place might “technology” (we will come back to the scare quotes) have in helping Adelaide (and South Australia more generally) cope with the slings and arrows of deindustrialisation and globalisation?

The event was organised by the Dunstan Foundation (named for the last SA Premier to properly shake things up. He stepped down in 1979), and sponsored by “Connecting Up”. The Dunstan Foundation is revivifying the ‘Thinkers in Residence’ programme, which started 15 years ago with the late great climate scientist Stephen Schneider.  The theme these days is ‘Social Capital’, and it was this context which brought people together to listen to (and engage with) Suzi Sosa. Who she? She is  ‘Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Verb, a global social enterprise producing large-the competitions focused on pressing social and environmental issues.’
And she’s a pretty good facilitator, when it comes down to it.  There were twenty of us, apparently a younger crowd than the previous roundtables that have taken place over the last few days (Adelaide as gerontocracy? Who knew?). The specific question was “Social Impact and ICT.’

As the chair said in his opening comments explaining the re-birth of the Thinkers in Residence programme, the ‘social economy´ matters; in the aftermath of a major employer shutting down, a report revealed that it is a significant employer, and the Dunstan Foundation is interested how to make the social economy work for SA, how to speed it up (with technology).

Ms Souza made some brief opening remarks – South Australia at fork in road, question of whether to try to entice a big employer or try for local entrepreneurship (that ‘endogenous growth that Gordon Brown used to talk about).  And meanwhile, Gen Y and Z types are restive – with 70% saying they are looking for purpose/meaning in their daily work.  There was a certain amount of buzzword bingo- cutting edge/going forward/DNA- but I think I detected a little self-knowingness in them.

We then had a name-go-round and brief self intro of the 20 of us.  I outed myself as a skeptic on ‘social capital’, saying at the time that my scepticism was down to the buzzword nature of it (compare sustainable development, participatory etc.). I didn’t say it’s because it’s part of the constellation of terms – resilience, continuous professional development/lifelong learning – which add up to the subjectification under neoliberalism, what Jurgie Habermas would call the colonisation of the life world. Why not? Time, cans and worms etc; see also.)

The conversation was relatively ahistorical, not-informed by sociology/ anthropology/ science and technology studies. The term ‘technology’ didn’t get thoroughly unpacked/critiqued, and there was uncertainty about who this ‘we’ was who was doing things, or planning to do so.  Nothing on hype cycles either. After a while, thanks to a couple of the women (especially the one sat opposite me) it picked up, with mention of participatory democracy.

At this point I pitched in and asked if anyone remembered the 1995 essay ‘the Californian Ideology’, which critiqued the rhetoric of empowerment around the coming of the World Wide Web and dotcom neoliberalism  (I might also have mentioned Clifford Stoll’s excellent Silicon Snake Oil).  I pointed out that each new technology – television, radio, newspapers, the printing press – came with expectations that it would solve social problems (poverty, ill-health etc) but that mysteriously they don’t, that questions of power and privilege cannot be buried under boosterism.

(I could have mentioned the Sustainability Fix,

but I didn’t want to give the (completely incorrect) impression of being an arrogant know-it-all.)

Ms Souza pushed me to explain what I thought about entrepreneurial ecosystems and how to help them along.  I suggested that there needed to be Devils’ Advocates and unusual supects  baked into the process, or else it would be a smart club which came up with some good ideas but didn’t reach its potential. I pointed out that there was a huge expat community of Adelaidians scattered around the world (not just in Sydney and Melbourne) who care deeply about the city, would like to come back, and that the technology surely existed to make them part of this conversation.

The conversation moved on in interesting ways; Adelaide is less staid than it was/young people no longer asking permission, there is still a braindrain, one of Adelaide’s advantages is that everyone knows everyone (1.5 degrees of separation), of the opportunity to something other than ‘catch up’ with Sydney, e.g. Austin’s “stay weird” slogan, human-centred design, volunteers as both asset but also inertial block, millennials wanting their superannuation to Do Good In The World., the problem of matching those with the skills and those who need them.

Ms Souza kept the conversation going in useful ways with a gentle nudge here and there. She told a good anecdote of having to switch a pitch from CSR departments (no money, risk averse) to HR departments, and the need to learn a new language and sell what was offering as talent retention rather than Doing Good in the World.  Her closing gambit was to do another systematic go-round of what should be in her report of recommendations of what is to be done.

Lots of useful ideas – including about the importance of business models, the risk-aversion of NGOs when their funding is on-the-line and much else. I pitched in the warning ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails and that there might be space for a monthly ‘lek’ complete with skype/facetime/livestreaming for people in the provinces. It would need to be well-designed, facilitated and enforced so people can actually properly meet and connect If it’s not, if those with the greatest social capital dominate, others will quickly vote with their feet, and things are worse than they were before…

Thoughts on the event.  Nicely done.  Good format, input from some very smart people.  However, nothing on the downsides of Big Data, on the downsides of meritocracy, the risks of volunteering as downward pressure on wages, the old saw ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.’  A touching faith in the power of our tools…

There was  a good practical focus on where is the money coming from/getting investment (and someone smart said afterwards, the impact of the State Bank collapse in the early 1990s has not been mentioned/understood).

There was, inevitably,  a game of buzzword bingo to be had-

Social imaginary, start-ups, tech savvy, siloed, entrepreneurial ecosystem, activate, leverage, hard infrastructure, soft infrastructure, technology as enabler (nowt on how technology can disable)

I’ve been to three things so far this week, (see this) and despite its silence on the pending ecological debacle,  this was by far the most interesting and fruitful.  It will be interesting to see what is in Ms Souza’s report, and what South Australia does next…

 

That word “laboratory.” I do not think it means what you think it means…


Then again.

So, one of the pleasures of being a PhD student is that you get – occasionally – to sit around and talk about stuff you’ve read  (it’s less pleasurable when it’s something you’ve written [i.e. supervisions]. But I digress).  As part of the cities/urban sustainability reading group, we were getting our thinking gear wrapped around Evans, J (the j stands for jeriatric) and Karvonen, A. 2014. Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Lower Your Carbon Footprint!’ — Urban Laboratories and the Governance of Low-Carbon Futures. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Volume 38.2 March 2014 413–30

This bit leapt out

Kohler charts the frequent use of the expression ‘natural laboratory’ in field biologists’ public and private writings from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The idea formed part of what he calls biologists’ ‘imaginative infrastructure’ — an implicit but powerful framework for thinking about how human experimenters can know nature. This ‘imaginative infrastructure’ resonates with the way in which the concept of urban laboratories is currently applied to sustainability. Urban laboratories share the assumption that such experiments are superior in their ‘adherence to life as it is really lived’ (Kohler, 2002: 215) and are capable of producing knowledge that will be useful and hence transformative, even if it falls short of the more controlled conditions offered in laboratory activities. The rhetoric surrounding the use of urban laboratories today attests to the desire to capture the authority of experimentation without giving up the authenticity of the real world.
In a chapter titled ‘Border practices’, Kohler considers how the pioneers of population biology worked in the field, developing a systematic approach to data collection over wide areas that allowed them to replicate the causal analysis associated with laboratories. The requirements of the field site were very different for these field biologists. Rather than unique settings in which to observe the more unusual of nature’s experiments unfold, site selection was driven by ease of access and the practicalities of collecting large amounts of data. The paradigmatic example discussed is Raymond Lindeman’s field studies of Cedar Creek Bog in Minnesota, which yielded the trophic-dynamic theory of energy flow that underpins the systems logic of modern ecology. Cedar Creek was chosen because it was easy to access and revealed its secrets cheaply; it was shallow, with a very simple species structure, and, if that was not enough, it could be cored to reveal species compositions over many years. In this way, population biologists managed to develop explanatory analyses from field studies by collecting such a surfeit of data that it became possible to identify variables and causal links between them. Musing on this hybrid, Kohler (2002: 218) asks, ‘what are we to make of a practice whose techniques are of the field, but whose rules of knowing are of the lab?’

This, to quote Tom ‘Lobachevsky’ Lehrer, I knew from nothing.

Kohler reference is this Kohler, R. (2002) Landscapes and labscapes:
exploring the lab–field border in biology. Chicago University Press, Chicago, IL.
Defo an #afterthethesis read

Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve – wikipedia here

Raymond Lindeman – wikipedia here.

From which-

The Ten percent law means to the transfer of energy from one trophic level to the next was introduced by Raymond Lindeman (1942). According to this law, during the transfer of energy from organic food from one trophic level to the next, only about ten percent of the energy from organic matter is stored as flesh. The remaining is lost during transfer, broken down in respiration, or lost to incomplete digestion by higher trophic level.

Babies, bathwater, innovation and Gramsci…

The Manchester Institute of Innovation Research (a mouthful, I know) runs internal seminars where academics get to test out new ideas/reboot old ones and generally reflect on the direction(lessness) of travel for innovation policy, science and technology policy and much else. It can be dreadful, but when it works – and it did yesterday – it is great fun and a learning opportunity with few if any equals.

Yesterday’s seminar, the first for the year, was entitled

Innovation policy at stake: should we throw the baby out with the bath water

It was delivered by Prof Philippe Laredo. The blurb went thus-

Very harsh questions emerge here and there on our cumulative knowledge on research and innovation policies. Put together they drive to ask whether we should throw the baby with the bath waters, now that the term is all over the place.

My take on this debate can be summed up around 4 main questions

  • The first is both historical and evaluative: there has not been much discussion about the gathering in one policy of ‘science’ and ‘innovation’ policies. Is it still useful? Has it ever been productive as a sectoral policy? Should not we rather consider another grouping focused on capability building regrouping higher education and (academic) research?

  • The second requires to delve again into history and the birth of S&T policies, which were mostly warranted by ‘mission oriented’ objectives. What has changed when discussing ‘societal’ challenges?

  • The third question, probably the most problematic for us in management, deals with the underlying assumptions (linked to manufacturing industries) on which the portfolios and policy mixes for innovation policies are based. Can we go on, facing politicians, keep telling the same stories on portfolios of instruments and policy mixes?

  • And the last one, I face more and more, who is this policymaker? Is not it too easy an answer to say that all is co-created or that governance is the answer?

I am not going to try to capture all that was said – and I may have got some things wrong, in which case I will correct them when told. This is mostly just bullet points of what was said, and the Q and A, with some [additional comments in square brackets]. Its purpose? Mostly as an aide-memoire for me, so After The Thesis Is Written I can come back and plug some gaps in my innovation theory knowledge.

Presentation

Laredo: We need to think of science policy and innovation policy separately, and especially research and innovation policy.
Should we focus on sustainability? On what is left of previous policies?
Johan Schot paper from 2015 points to 90% of policies not working. [This one perhaps?]
Policy makers are pretty unsatisfied with academic output. We seem stuck in the manufacturing paradigm – from the 1980s onwards, same recommendations (Laredo read over 70 papers, all with pretty much interchangeable recommendations – see Q and A for more on this.)

Why do we stick to old paradigms, defend failed policies? [Mental inertia? Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, or citing Rogers.]

Laredo says four phases of innovation policy
1. collective industrial research
2.  early 80s, collaborative programs, university/industry
3. Support SMEs innovation (directly, tax credits)
4. Support the ‘start-up’ ecology.

Of course most policies a combination of these four [Cohen’s Garbage Can model from 1972, bricolage, palimpsests]

Btw, the tax credit loss to state revenues is ENORMOUS – $100bn a year, (EU and USA combined).

Look up: SPRU stuff on ‘Hidden Innovation

Remember, growing concentration of industries (i.e. fewer players, very dominant firms) means that “competition policy” doesn’t fit reality [Thomas Kuhn would be laughing]

There’s a changed relationship between producers and consumers [“Prosumers” etc]

60% of investment going into circulation of products and interactions with users, rather than ‘basic’ R and D.

Shifting role of users in driving innovation – crowd sourcing, political consumption, social innovation, sharing economy, changes in ownership/consumption patterns. Put all of these marginal things together and you have a MAJOR change in the socio-economic articulation. But we’re not studying it…(well enough)

Innovation is coming from the regions, not from the nation states. Politicians (regional), seeking re-election are asking the questions from the outside. Laredo laments ‘I have nothing to tell them’. They say to him ‘well, these conferences with 100s of experts – what do they actually achieve.’ Laredo read lots of reports and then had to agree with them. He says ‘our policy agenda [i.e. what and how innovation scholars study] should change deeply.’

There has been failure at the national level, government and bureaucratic.

[Laura Tingle, in her Quarterly Essay Political Amnesia, deals precisely with this in the country that is the setting for my case-study- Australia. The capacity to remember, let alone act, of the Federal state has been dramatically eroded over the last 20 years.]

They wash their hands of it by sub-contracting it out.

Public banks are becoming major/core actors in innovation funding, but barely studied at all (Laredo says he found three papers on it in last five years).

Innovation policy is not [illegible! In synch with?] science and tech policy.

Q and A

I am going to invoke the Chatham House rule for three reasons – simplicity (self-explanatory), politics – people there were asking questions in a way that they didn’t think would be reported for ‘everyone’ [going by this blog’s normal hit rate, about 5 people] to read forever – and accuracy – if I got stuff wrong, it should appear as a misrepresentation. And I got stuff wrong.

Q. You imply there’s a lot of bathwater and very little baby.
A. Yes, sort of, and remember, the academics didn’t invent some of the constructs we use, they came from policy experiments in the real world.

Q. Most R and D is about D (development). What keeps Science Technology and Innovation together, why don’t they break up – because science needs innovation to justify its budget. Think of it as a marriage. So, if a divorce, how would we develop useful innovation policy?
A: how did they merge, look at discursive, governmental and administrative levels. Look at Vannevar Bush onwards, and in the 1963 report [don’t know which] there was no mention of science, only strategic areas for government.

[Someone who knows (a helluvalot) about these things pointed me to this paper –
THE UNITY OF SCIENCE—TECHNOLOGY byMELVIN KRANZBERG American Scientist Vol. 55, No. 1 (MARCH 1967), pp. 48-66]

Q UK Science policy became substitute for technology policy because in the late 70s/early 80s it became impossible to talk about ‘intervention’/industrial policy.
A. For employment we need incremental innovation over and above ‘breakthrough’ innovation.
We have no policy instruments for dealing with the three transformations. Things are analogous to where agriculture/manufacturing was in France in 1965. Agriculture was the major employer, so if basing report on employment would have looked at agriculture.

[Gramsci – The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.

[Machiavelli-
“It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.”

Q Who is the policy maker? How do you find them? And what is with this quantitative R and D funding obsession?
A – Second question first – In 1963 only one OECD country had a minister of science. By 1968 all but the USA had one. And there were gazillions of statisticians under them, measuring inputs (because you can do that easily) – Fraschetti manual” (sp?).

[Anecdote of the cop who finds a drunken man crawling around on hands and knees under lamp-post.
Cop – what are you doing?
Drunk – looking for my keys.
Cop – did you lose them here
Drunk – no, I lost them over there in the alley where it is dark
Cop – then why are you looking here?
Drunk – the light’s better.

As for policy makers – fascinating to see the loss of substantive competence in all governments. Fewer people around, less experience. So therefore they go through procedural processes because they don’t actually understand the issues, and then they delegate to actors [This has been PRECISELY my experience trying to get Manchester City Council to act on climate change].

Q – there are some books – The Innovation Illusion [by Erixon and Weigel]  that argue that there has been, outside of ICT, a slow down in innovation, and fewer new entrants because the incumbents have figured out how to rig the game in their own favour. See also THE Corruption of Capitalism – rentier capitalism, a few big firms/oligopolies. They get tax credits in the billions. So, big firms benefiting, getting R and D funding from tax payer for stuff that they’d do anyway, and using power to suppress [competence-destroying] innovation.
A – You can go back to the 1920s – Keynes and Kondratieff arguing that progress is slowing down. Progress is in a few areas that have a deep impact that transforms the rest of the economy [William Gibson – the future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed]. So for example, electrification does this, or railways – Alfred Chandler’s book The Visible Hand.

Articulation between breakthrough disruption in areas that then transform the economic fabric. So progress not disappearing, just in specific bits.

Q – Robert J Gordon on quantifying ICT sector

Q – But is ICT same as steel? And do those numbers include robotics and Artificial Intelligence

Q – He doesn’t use data on things that haven’t happened yet.

Laredo – innovation policy in 1970s and 80s was ‘how can this new gizmo be generalised. Now it’s about the generalisation [sp?] of ongoing stuff mostly, and breakthroughs a second focus.

Q – What earlier questioner said is right – the role of powerful actors and powerful non-state actors is actually very important

Suzanna Aborra Capable actors. [Need to check this]

Q – maybe we need to look at Trump – he will definitely be shaking things up. Tweets as a way of creating scandal, forcing otherwise more powerful actors to change [I think this references Ford’s decision not to continue building cars in Mexico]

Q – need to look at market power to suppress competitors, look at specific sectors.

Q – around competition policy, market creation, we [innovation scholars] have missed a trick.

Reference – Innovation Paradox

Verdict: Wow. Normally, I dislike Q and As where it’s mostly the Big Beasts doing the talking . At a conference it can be especially tedious – people showing off to mark their turf, impress/intimidate their frenemies at other institutions. There was none of that in this though – these are people who know each other well, have regular interactions and – crucially – were engaging very thoughtfully indeed on the basis of – if you add it up – hundreds of years of thinking and writing about innovation.  Starts the MIOIR seminar series off with a bang.

Event Report; ‘Connecting national energy transitions with changes in urban energy systems’

Professor Aleh Cherp, Central European University (Hungary) and University of Lund (Sweden)  yesterday gave a  seminar titled ‘Connecting national energy transitions with changes in urban energy systems’,  at the University of Manchester.  This below is mostly rough notes, and I may have mangled, so please don’t take as gospel.  Mostly it’s an aide-memoire and ‘things to read after the thesis’ bookmarking exercise.
This seminar was divided into three sections – a “metatheoretical framework” (less painful than it sounds, an empirical illustration of said framework (Japan and Germany’s diverging energy profiles since 1990) and then (truncated) lessons for changes in urban energy systems.

Cherp started with a shout out to the POLET network, which looks fascinating, before diving into his empirical stuff first.

This talk is based on a  (very) recent paper which compares the experiences of Germany and Japan.  Both faced epic rebuilding challenges after WW2, are large democracies with consolidated market economies (though this was challenged a bit in the Q and A – see this stuff on Varieties of Capitalism.  Even if they both are cmes, the state structures differ, surely? But I digress).

They’re roughly the same size, with strong industries, and are major energy importers.  In 1990 they looked roughly similar, with Germany having 17 nuclear power plants providing 29% of its electricity (note, not energy, but electricity!) and Japan having 19 providing 27% of its.

By 2010 the picture was very different.  Germany was phasing out nuclear power, and was a world leader in renewables, while Japan was a nuclear power leader and had insignificant renewables (though Cherp conceded that post-2010 the solar picture had shifted).  The question is – why?

Cherp then looked at ‘popular’ answers to this – see Amory Lovins’ How Opposite Policies’, citing Jacobsson and Lauber 2006 The politics and policy of energy system transformation – explaining the German diffusion of renewable energy technology  points out that saying ‘policies differ’ doesn’t explain WHY the policies differ.

The popular arguments such as ‘Germany is pro-climate, pro-innovation, anti-nuclear’ imply that Japan is somehow anti-climate action, or anti-innovation.  The idea that the Japanese government is captured by ‘atomic zombies’ doesn’t really help.  Cherp said these arguments are “partly wrong, entirely wrong and not even wrong.”

He looked at three episodes, which I will gloss quickly
1. Nuclear growing in Japan but not in Germany (15 new nukes versus nowt in the 1990s)
Why?  In part simply because demand for electricity went up (see Convergence theory Global energy use: convergence or decoupling?)

This Cherp put down to the Japanese catching up to the Germany levels of per capita energy usage

See Jessica Jewell Ready for Nuclear Energy  An assessment of capacities and motivations for launching new national nuclear power programs ?

2. Wind Power kicking off in Germany but not in Japan in the 1990s  
Germany had failed to commercialise wind energy in the 1970s and 80s, but when the feed-in law kicked in in 1990, there was a huge surge, simply because the technology diffused from neighbouring Denmark, which had – with state help at crucial moments – developed a viable wind energy industry and technology base.

[Also apparently while there are stronger winds in Japan, they are erratic, and land availability is tricky]

3. Nuclear phase out in Germany but not in Japan in the 2000s

This was to do with the 2002 ‘red-green’ coalition, where there were strong coal interests (unions and companies), strong wind interests (greenie voters) and relatively weak nuclear interests, which got squeezed.

 

So, Cherp then went into his methatheoretical framework, which aims at synthesising/using theories, figuring out how they relate to each other, how to bring them together.

I can’t really do justice to this section, in part because I’d used up vital and limited brain space on the empirics (story of my life).

The explosion in a word factory slide, with its arrows and dotted lines was indicative of ‘the problem’ – the one that all social scientists face, of explaining and making suppositions about causation/correlation etc without over-simplifying.

Co-evolution is a thing, in nature, politics, technology, you name it.  You need to think about how tightly couple or autonomous, synchronous or asynchronous things are.

Rather excellent  Freeman and Louca 2001  [ As Time Goes By From the Industrial Revolutions to the Information Revolution] quote –

“it is essential to study both the relatively independent development of each stream of history and their interdependencies, their loss of integration and their re-integration.”

Nice to see ‘multiple streams’ approach getting a shout out in the politics section (this is my half-ish of my new way of thinking about my case study

The “implications for urban energy” section was rattled through.and I missed some of it.

  1. “nothing advances theory better than tackling practical problems by integrating different perspectives”  (PC Stern)
  1. Myths don’t help us understand what’s going on (invoking words like ‘climate’ or ‘culture’ or specific events (Fukushima, Chernobyl) – see also how this stuff is inevitably tussled over and social constructed – you can see my blog or the ‘tidied up/de-cynified’ one that appeared on the Sustainable Consumption Institute website.
  1. Scope and scale are crucial
  1. Coevolving systems

 

Cherp also encouraged us to use concepts such as

Nonlinearity –  feedback loops, path dependencies, increasing returns, lock-in

Diffusion – of policies, technologies, other practices

Tension between regime stability and niche learning and innovation. [I always like the Seyfang and Haxeltine  paper on this. Video here..]

 

A lively Q and A then ensued, which I can’t really do justice to.  There was a bit of ‘pushback’ on the (lack of?) spatial focus (inevitably this came from a geographer. Cherp suggested that nations are not only social constructs.  A question on ANT/flat ontologies was met with a ‘sort of, but MLP/some things actually are more important/consequential/causative than others.

And yes, must attempt to see combinations of factors mattering (social movements, technology, customers, suppliers etc etc.)

On “the future”-

At one point Cherp talked about, if we take seriously just how little power policy-makers have over the wider stream of events, then social scientists who would ‘advise’ them need to think differently about what is coming.  Cherp thinks that the energy future won’t be ‘business as usual’, so we won’t get 4-5 degrees of global warming, but that we also have missed the chance of two degrees. So, 3 degrees the – and then what? We somehow stop there?  [I am probably out of date, and basing my understanding on Mark Lynas’s ‘6 degrees’, but I was under the impression that it all starts to feed on itself and you get runaways.  And in any case, with China re-upping on coal a bit, and President Trump, I think we are locked in over the next few years to more fossil fuels. So it goes, so it went.

 

Verdict– a very well spent two hours (three if you count the write-up) of a PhD student’s life.

 

Random stuff that came up

Japanese government’s ‘buy fish for nuclear security’ – way of buying off local opposition to new nukes!

Energy ladder  The energy ladder: Theoretical myth or empirical truth? Results from a meta-analysis

Energy Transition Igor Bashmakov –same percentage of energy used.

Energy Policy “Comparing Electricity Transitions”

Planetary Economics Energy, climate change and the three domains of sustainable development by Michael Grubb

Energy, We need all hands on deck, PC Stern Nature

Seven blog posts about one event? Really? #tediousselfpromotion

The only way I know what I think is to read what I wrote. Sort of.  And then that writing serves as an aide-memoire (and, yes, a calling card on occasion).  Here’s a list of the ones I did after today’s Festival of Ideas event.

Athenian Democracy?  A few funny things will need to happen on the way to the forums

Sustainable jobs in sustainable communities

I’ve seen the future and it’s … social media.

Solar Citizens launch

Climbing out of the abyss?  Not so sure on that

Roads to ruin, pathways to prosperity

Ideas about festivals of ideas

No guarantees that I’ll do the same for tomorrow. After all, my brain will probably give up the ghost, especially after I inflict the latest Jack Reacher movie on it…

‘Roads to ruin, pathways to prosperity’ for South Australia #AdlFoI

[Sixth of a series of blog posts about sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday 22nd October]

Finally today, John Spoehr looked at South Australia’s future ‘Roads to ruin, pathways to prosperity’.

Again, he bigged up Labor’s response to the GFC, compared the Abbott government’s 2014 budget as a throwback to Fightback (!), the 1990-1993 neoliberalism writ-large of the Hewson Liberal Party (which went on to lose the unloseable election, done slowly by Paul Keating).

Spoehr warned that the ‘personal empowerment’ rhetoric for services was seductive and attractive.  He argued that there are alternatives to the current ‘nuclear waste dump to pay for the stuff we want to do’ proposals of the State Government.
He didn’t shie away from the challenges ahead, especially for male full-time employment as major employers shut up shop.  If Whyalla’s steel works were to close, it would, for example, be very messy indeed.

He invoked Don Dunstan on the question of ‘we intervene or we sink’.

Anyway, I asked the question I always do – about how social movements can be clever and resilient enough to cope with the inevitable two or thee years down the line political a) ‘fuck off’ or b) ‘yes, we will do what you say’ (followed by broken promises that demoralise further). How can social movements avoid either co-optation or repression?

Spoehr pointed to engaging younger people, the internet, convergences between issues, and predicted that climate change would be a major driver of the next wave of protest over the coming years.

FWIW, it’s something I write a lot about, at a ‘micro’ level, of how the normal ‘rules’ of social movement events (protests, rallies, meetings etc) usually exclude anyone whose face doesn’t fit, who isn’t willing and able to spend ages in boring meetings etc etc. For recent examples about South Australia, see here here and here. Plenty more where that came from, just ask, or google ‘smugosphere’, ‘ego-fodder’ and so on.

In response to another question (on resisting the siren song of ‘personalisation’) he suggested we read the work of Dexter Whitfield

Dexter Whitfield seminar
Dexter gave a talk on ‘Capitalist dynamics reconfiguring the state: alternatives to privatising public services’ at The University of Nottingham on Wednesday 16 September 2015.

A recording of his talk from the event is available via the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSJG) website.

Solar Citizens launch at Adelaide Festival of Ideas #AdlFoI

[Fourth of a series of blog posts about sessions at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on Saturday 22nd October]

Next up was the launch of Solar Citizens. It covered the ‘solar rooftop revolution’ (1.5million Australian houses with solar panels, from a basically standing start 8 years ago), the start of solar citizens and its plans for a ‘fair and orderly transition.’

This was done via an engaging talk that took in President Carter’s 1979 installation of solar panels on the roof of the Whitehouse, Reagan’s 1986 removal, and Obama’s 2014 re-installation (by which time the price had dropped by a factor of 40). In the last few years the rooftop solar ‘revolution’ has at a conservative estimate, 19000 jobs, reduced energy bills and 24 million tonnes of carbon saved. An interesting comparison was made with the millennium drought, which also brought a sense of personal connection/responsibility for consumption patterns.

Solar Citizens’ origins were linked to the ‘direct attacks’ on renewables emanating from the big ‘gentailers’ (Origin, AGL and Energy Australia) and the owners of the transmission lines (the ticket clippers).

In May 2015 they’d proposed a solar surchage of $100 per year on people with panels in South Australia, simply to raise revenue.  Thus do incumbents defend themselves…. The regulator (AER) said ‘nope’, it went to court and the courts said ‘nope’, while local groups rallied, petitioned and generally raised cain (effectively).

Solar Citizens are also trying to get ‘big solar’ on the agenda.  They’ve combined with Get Up! To produce a ‘Homegrown Power Plan’ .

Here’s their video-

It seeks to remove roadblocks , ‘reboot the system’ [e.g. end the situation where people only get a derisory amount for energy they sell back from to power companies, that then flog it on at ‘normal’ prices to other customers) and repower the country” (concentrated solar thermal etc).

These sorts of normative entrepreneurship efforts are crucial to any transition, be it energy, food or whatever.  They often get written out of the official histories (we can’t have citizens making  a difference, after all, they might get wrong ideas about democracy and their own power!], but boy do they matter…

There’s a Solar Citizens event on October 31 in Adelaide. Sadly there was no time for questions – I’d have asked about their relationship (competition?) with BZE…