Category Archives: events worth blogging

Men critique things of me: of Winterson and Solnit in #Manchester #activism

aka some cishet white guy’s uninvited commentary on two feminist literary icons. But it’s his website and he can say what he likes. Nobody is forcing you to read it, ‘kay?

Rebecca Solnit will be known to the casual reader as the woman who wrote the (fantastic) ‘Men Explain Things To Me’. Last night she was ‘in conversation’ with Jeanette (Oranges are not the only fruit, Sexing the Cherry, Why be happy when you can be normal) Winterson as part of the Manchester Literature Festival.  A capacity crowd (female to male ratio 3:1ish) filled the Martin Harris  auditorium at the University of Manchester.

After a brief welcome, and announcement that Manchester is now a UNESCO city of literature, it was on with the program itself.

Solnit read from the lead essay in her new book The Mother of All Questions which  contains essays about the powerlessness of silences, men in/and feminism, the perniciousness of rape culture.

As ever with Solnit, the questions are apt, the prose measured, incisive.  She pointed out that the standard importance of happiness, and the standard belief that ‘ducks in a row’ (spouse, security, possessions) doesn’t in fact guarantee this ‘happiness’, and gave the example of a successful friend who despite a seventy-year marriage and all the other accoutrements that should lead to ‘happiness’ is despondent because her compassion makes her think of t’other species, t’other generations

Winterson kicked off the discussion with a question about the longest essay, ‘A short history of silence’.

Solnit says she quoted bell hooks on patriarchy begins with men’s silencing of other men, and that growing up in San Francisco during the 70s meant she could learn from queer men parodying and undermining traditional (heterosexual) masculinity.

At this point, I forget the context, she also uttered one of her axioms – “everyone has the right to be an asshole” (regardless of race, gender, class).
Winterson pressed on – the need of  (#notall) men to control women. Solnit concurred, pointing out that Weinstein could easily have bought sex if that was what he had wanted.

She also pointed to what she called ‘annihilatory acts’ (as in, actresses having their careers destroyed by Weinstein’s behaviour).  She then riffed on a 2007 article of here in which a guy who had directed straight porn returned to the industry and started directing gay porn, realising that there were ‘no humiliation scenes’.

She made the point that there are “a tonne of leftwing men” with deeply problematic behaviour, and that this is a really interesting moment, one of those ‘seismic lurches’ in the same way that Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony about Clarence Thomas was (‘before we had hashtags, we had bumper stickers, like ‘I believe you Anita’).

She made reference to the 2014 Isla Vista killings by a young man whose sense of entitlement crashed up against, well, reality, and pointed out that the woman who created the #yesallwomen hashtag, a young Muslim woman, had been hounded off the internet for six months

Winterson then, oddly imo, asked Solnit what she thought Weinstein would do next. Solnit labelled him a serial rapist, with crimes dating back forty years, and said she thought he’d probably been lying to himself and would continue to do so, that she expected nothing of him but that we should expect of ourselves the important work of liberation.

In the context of the Bechdel Test, Winterson introduced a Star Wars statistic of Solnit’s that clearly enraptured her.  If you take the original trilogy (and let’s pretend the Phantom Menace never happened, okay?) Three hundred and eighty six minutes and if you take out Princess Leia, (who never talks to anyone who isn’t a male), then there are only 63 seconds of females talking across the three films.

Winterson noted that for ages we imbibed this stuff and thought it normal. Solnit mentioned that women have had to be hermaphroditic in their reading, in order to be Odysseus rather than Penelope, and mentioning Hong Kong action films, where women get to kick ass, as liberatory zones.

On the subject of ‘Men explain Lolita to me’ – Winterson recalled that Martin Amis had said to her that she simply “did not understand her (the character Lolita’s power”.  Solnit was scathing about male critics and their ability to not see that this is a book about a young girl trapped and serially abused, trying to get away. She invoked James Baldwin “it is innocence which constitutes the crime” and argued that what was shocking in the Weinstein revelations is that men have been shocked by the breadth of sexual harassment and abuse.

Conversation then turned to the essay “Men explain things to me”.  Solnit pointed out that women being silenced can have potentially fatal consequences (women being ignored when trying to report ‘my (ex)husband is trying to kill me’ etc) and moved on to think of Sylvia Plath being born now rather than fifty years ago being ‘free to sleep under the stars’ (i.e., as they said, Virginia Woolf’s thought experiment of Shakespeare’s Sister).

Nonetheless, things are improving for (some) women, in the West, and Solnit argues that the genie is out of the bottle and won’t be forced back in. Citing marriage equality, she cited the observations of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg that in until 1991 husbands in Louisiana could dispose of joint property as they saw fit under its ‘Head and Master’ law.

Q and A

There was only time for three questions (since we started late). Mercifully none were the sorts of chest-beaty ‘look at me’ stuff that can happen at these events and I am sure this had nothing to do at all with the fact that the questions all came from women).
First question:  Under Trump we may not be able to do just maintenance work but need to do recovery work. How can we be resilient?

The answer wasn’t so hot, imo.  Civil Rights gains rolled back by Republicans [aka the new Jim Crow]. Don’t be dismayed, activism isn’t just boredom and nastiness, can be fun/meet great people [yeah, I used to believe that].  Berlin wall, Apartheid ending.  Solnit also noted that good work is one of the best things you can have, noting that she had the privilege of getting to write for a living.

Second question: in wake of #metoo Social media – good or bad?

Solnit also in my opinion flubbed this one. Wondered if any quantitative work comparing snark/death threats and opportunities for co-ordination/mutual support. Facebook and Twitter not going answer.  Attention span is disrupted when everyone is checking phone every five minutes. What would search engines look like if designed by someone other than ruthless white male libertarians chasing advertising dollars?

Richard Flanagan article as crucial here

Also the amazing Zeynep Tufekci and her recent “Fighting Surveillance Authoritarianism, One Pull-up At a Time”

Third question: How can we shift blame to perpetrators? What can men do?

Solnit didn’t mention the French hashtag ‘name your pig’.  She expressed surprise at men pledging ‘I will no longer laugh at misogynist jokes, I will no longer stand by while…’ .  “I can’t believe your admitting that you’ve been doing that until now.”

My friend was seething, judging that Solnit had in fact not answered the first question, and that anyone who thinks feminism has made major advances is living in a (rich and white) bubble and that – in response to the second question you do not ‘give a voice’ but in fact stop silencing or colluding in the silencing of

 

So what?

Both lovely stylists, if you like that sort of thing.  But (and this is where I stick my big fat mouth and head above the parapet) it all seemed to me a little bit self-regarding and self-satisfied, with serious questions about the viability of ‘blockadia’ (to use Naomi Klien’s term) left not merely unanswered but in fact unasked.

If the radicals are so right (and I think they are) and it is shocking that men are shocked by the scale of sexual harassment (and yes it is shocking) then doesn’t that mean that social movements are doing something wrong/could be doing better?  (And a shout out to Everyday Sexism here – I think it is a great project).   Perhaps all this is answered in the book, but it wasn’t answered on the night, and my experience of a big fat long book of Solnit’s – A Paradise Built in Hell – was that there was some lovely rhetoric and powerful denunciations of patriarchy/bureaucracy etc, but not so much on how to sustain moments of passion and the liberatory moments, how to escape the sclerosis of the “system.”

Verdict –

  • Someone whose opinion on these matters I respect v. much and counts for more than mine decided to stay home under the cat.  Missed little, I think.
  • Glad I got a freebie, 8 quid seems a bit steep for an hour, tbh.  Maybe I am cheap…
  • Will defo read this collection of essays, once I can get a copy from a library or buy a year from now for £1.99 in an Oxfam in Chorlton. Will probably like various essays and even stick post-it notes in here and there, while being irritated by the wordiness and lack of concrete critiques of the good guys.
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Sociotechnical transitions for beginners; of speed, stability and mixing it up

What’s a sociotechnical transition? Why should you care?  What does history teach us? Why might it be a false teacher? All good questions and they received good (though sometimes, by necessity provisional) answers yesterday as Dr Florian Kern of University of Sussex spoke on ‘Governing Low Carbon Transitions’ (see foot of this post for the abstract).

Kern, who is a senior Lecturer at the Science Policy Research Unit and Co-Director of the  Sussex Energy Group at University Sussex, started with a brief overview of energy – there are lots of different ways we (7 and a half billion of us) get energy – nuclear, coal, solar, burning wood etc) and each has consequences/sideeffects/costs (Fukushima, tar sands etc).  He touched on the Sustainable Development Goals (see here for a philosophical critique of them).  Energy dominates human well-being, and – crucially –  energy systems tent to be complex, long-lived and capital intensive. This means they involve ‘carbon lock-in’ . Businesses will be fonder of doing incremental ‘within the system’ changes on a business as usual trajectory.  You’ve got assets, you want to sweat them.  You’ve got core competencies, you don’t want to trash them…

So this leads us onto transitions of whole systems (rather than focussing unduly on shiny gadgets being invented and distributed).   How exacly do we think about these systems?  Technological infrastructure, user preferences? A mix.

Kern touched on the standard definition of a transition – scrutucal change in the way that societal needs are fulfilled (the thorny question of created needs – via advertising or destroying alternative provision – throwing people off the commons/accumulation by dispossession) was outside his remit.

The standard view (see below) is that they usually take 30-50 years, if not longer, that they involve both technical and non-technical change, that they are multi-level and co-evolutionary affairs that are non-linear and involve multiple actors.

At which point he threw up that Turner painting of a steam tug taking a sailing ship on its final journey…

turner

So, transitions have various possible pathways, with questions around how they’re developed and supported.

There was then a rather snazzy and useful diagram of Jochen Markard listing some of the various intellectual (well, academic) disciplines which contribute to transitions studies – management, sociology, political science, natural science, , innovation studies, economic geography, economics (an incomplete list)

There are soooo many emerging topics within (sustainability) sociotechnical transitions, more than you could shake a thesis at.  (Deep breath): politics, power, agency, contestation; cities/urban sustainability’ beyond initial experiments (how to scale up/extend/mainstream); the role of social innovation.  [Fortunately my thesis (due by 2020, 2022 at the latest), will resolve ALL of these.]

Kern today was specifically focusing on three particular topics – the speed of transitions, whether/how sociotechnical systems can be destabilised and the appropriate ‘policy mix’ for transitions.

  1. Speed

“Speed” is not just a classic Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock action film.  It also matters given that we’re supposed to be decarbonising not just electricity grids but everything under, well, the sun.  Keeling Curve, Two Degrees, etc etc (#wearetoast)

The conventional view is this takes decades or centuries, but in late 2016 Benjam Sovacool (also SPRU) threw a very lively cat among the pigeons by arguing ‘How long will it take?’

It all might be quicker, he argues (and I am paraphrasing a paraphrase, not having re-read that paper!)  because … three things

  • there are lots of actors pushing,
  • lots of interesting international dynamics (from the global – IRENA, UNFCCC all the way through to local communities [Carbon Coop will save the world!!! I hope.]
  • Paris  (don’t talk to me about Paris).

Kern was interesting on the international dynamics thing, arguing (as have others) that German Solar PV policies got the Chinese interested in upping their manufacturing capacity, leading to oversupply, a price plummet and all sorts of gamechangery stuff. He cited also Peter Newell and Lucy Baker on emerging economies and possibly leapfrogging.  Suzlon instead of Vestas etc

Meanwhile, since (but not necessarily because of) Paris, renewable investment is outstripping fossil fuel investment.
2.  Destabilisation

We need to move beyond nurturing niches (What was that Vonnegut said about half the world’s problems being down to the fact at everyone wants to build, nobody wants to do maintenance).

So, what of incumbents?  Is Goliath motivated to innovate before David bullseyes him like a Womp rat? Can dinosaurs tapdance or do they just engage in state capture and buying/swallowing/crushing/controlling/retarding competence-destroying innovations?  It depends.

There are of course technological, economic, political and normative dimensions to all this.  And the incumbents toil at all of them, as do moral entrepreneurs like the divestors.

3. Policy Mixes

So (how) do various policies affect what innovation does happen?  Kern referenced Weber and Rohracher 2012 and Schot and Steinmuller 2016 here. What of both active and passive ‘protective spaces‘? There are no silver bullets (either policy or technological) and the direction of innovation matters too…

Can we honestly expect serious destabilisation through policy instruments? (I would argue nope, but I am one of life’s pessimists).  Kern pointed to the German Energy ministers attempted carbon levy and the pushback from mining companies and miners leading to companies being paid NOT to produce.  Great.  Then again, Norway and banning the internal combustion engine.  We. Shall. See. Quite soon.  (I’m writing of the Apocalypse here, y’all).

The empirical bit of the seminar came from a comparison of Finnish and UK policies for the Cinderella of energy policy, efficiency.  Kivimaa and Kern 2016 did some number crunching (with self-admitted concerns about the final validity of the methodology) and came to the conclusion that niche-creating activities were far more numerous than incumbent-attacking ones.  Then again, in the q and a it was pointed out that the latter, while fewer in number, might be more consequential.

This was followed by a vigorous Q and A session (but no chest-beatery nonsense) in which the relative lack of focus on individual firms was questioned (“in regimes they’re called incumbents, that’s it, but since Wikileaks we know Shell was ALL OVER Dutch energy policy”).

Kern agreed and lamented the lack of comparative political economy on the relative importance of policies and the nature of different states (esp fossil exporters)

The whole question of policy mixes got a further airing too (the lack of optimal mixes, the methodological trickiness of measurement, the fact that it’s always a snapshot in time and investors (aim to) take a long view.

Verdict: A great way to spend 90 minutes. Beats cutting cutting cutting my bloody empirical chapters.  And yes, Katrina, I have been doing that….

 

That abstract

“For a variety of reasons, current fossil fuel based energy systems are under pressure to change. Historical energy transitions have been slow processes, but in this seminar I will argue that there are reasons to believe that ongoing low carbon transitions can occur more quickly. The argument is that historic energy transitions were not consciously governed, while today a wide variety of actors is actively engaged in attempts to govern the transition towards low carbon energy, international innovation dynamics can work in favour of speeding up the global low-carbon transition and the 2015 Paris agreement demonstrates a global commitment to move towards a low carbon economy for the first time. I argue that supporting innovation as well as destabilising existing high carbon energy systems is required for a quick transition and that policy makers need to develop suitable policy mixes to successfully accelerate low carbon transitions.”

Gender Slash Infrastructure, or “sewage thick as toothpaste”

What a great event. What an unexpected delight. At the sharp end of a PhD you find yourself going to very few ‘recreational’ seminars. And so often they’re the standard mix of chest-beating, data dumps from those too close to their “facts”, or conceptual hair-splitting from those too far from them. And those are the best ones.

So, yesterday I stole away from cutting 14,000 words down to 12,000, (with only another 6,000 words of cutting to go. Call me Marc Scissorhands). And, thank goodness, I ended up at “Gender and Infrastructure”, a seminar by visiting Australian scholar Dr Zoe Sofoulis.

We will come back to the toothpaste thing.

Sofoulis, who had started out looking gender in science fiction and was supervised by Donna Haraway [we are not worthy, we are not worthy] did a couple of things that should be entirely unremarkable, but aren’t. She asked attendees to call out their disciplines (a good non-threatening way of getting people involved and signalling to everyone who is in the room [and who isn’t.] She also thanked by name people who’d asked ‘hairy questions’ at a recent outing of the presentation.

She then – more conventionally for anyone who has encountered Haraway’s work – decided to muddy the terms of the title – “Gender and Infrastructure”. Some bullet points. Lots of the digressions are mine, and this is heavily paraphrased too.

Gender
When and where does gender come up in infrastructure discussions? When and where does it FAIL to come up? Around water, gender often only seen as a ‘third world poverty’ issue. Not so.
Book: Fluid Bonds.
1992 Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development.
Of course, positivist science (not to be conflated with “masculine”) is riddled with masculinised norms, and is a ‘master discourse’ which endlessly challenges qualitative research as mere anecdote. Sofoulis mused on whether the triumph of liberal feminism (and the emphasis on formal ‘equality’ had rendered other awkward questions invisible (which is not to say irrelevant).

Infrastructure
Like technologies and interfaces, infrastructures are caught up in politics, in (re)enforcements of the social order.
Sarah Bell
Splintering urbanism of Graham and Marvin
[See also Susan George on the politics of chickens]

Imbricated with entrenching modern divisions of paid/unpaid, private/public and so on.
There is SOME relief from drudgery (days washing clothes, fetching water) but as work of Ruth Schwartz Cowan, Elizabeth Shove and others reveals, as drudgery decreased, housekeeping standards skyrocketed, with moralising discourses around hygiene etc creating a red queen shituation (running to keep still)

Turton Schreiner and Leestemaker 2000 on defeminisation of water, isolation of women’s voices from decision making.

And?
Sofoulis had some fun with her younger self’s predilections for slashes and other attempts to show how terms can be mutually constitutive or antagonistic (gender of infrastructure, infrastructure of gender etc), but decided to park it and not alienate her audience. In words to warm the cockles of the hearts of the Australians present (both of them) a slash was ‘a bit wanky’

Things then all got a bit messy, thanks to double-sided printing, and a willingness (compulsion?!) to move about a bit) in tracing intellectual trajectories and inventories.
So this is going to be a bit bullet-pointy. Don’t blame me if you end up down rabbit holes and fail to submit your thesis/book/marriage proposal/suicide note on time.

Davidson and Stratford 2006 Gender-neutral technology in Economic Globalization, Sustainability, Gender and Water in ‘Fluid Bonds’ …
So anyway, within water studies because of how it is metered/measured, the “household” ends up being taken as the smallest unit of analysis (there was a good quote by Kuntara Lahiri-Dutt at this point.)

But we should take Latour seriously on the whole question of non-human actants and how ‘non-human’ stuff – plants, animals, technologies, shape wider practices and cosmologies. [though you still don’t ever interview doorknobs].

So “laundry” means and does different things when it is days of (communal) washing and beating of clothes by the river versus a button pushed as you head out to salaried work.
[Am reminded of a Vietnamese peasant who married an American construction contractor and then got laughed at by her new in-laws for not knowing the finer details of what could go in a kitchen trash compactor. Also, that thing about the Chinese washing machine manufacturer that learnt its customers were using their product to wash potatoes, and adapted accordingly.]
Sofoulis then digressed on cigars and Freud – sometimes a cigar is indeed just a cigar. Not everything longer than it is wide is a phallic symbol…

Then she talked about her 2000 paper on ‘Container Technologies’which is a Must Read for After The Thesis.

A mention of Gregory Bateson (aka Mr Margaret Mead) on the unit of survival being the organism plus its environment, and Withicott (sp?) on matter as facilitating movement [compare machine fetishism of Alf Hornborg?] Sofoulis also gave historian of technology Lewis Mumford a shout out, around his critique of history of tech being too much about thrusting/smashing machines and not about storage – – vats, kilns etc.

Mention of ‘Donai (?) and “background technologies”, and naturally old Martin ‘I was never a Nazi’ Heidegger and his concept of standing reserves’.
Shove and inconspicuous consumption.
Haraway and ‘situated knowledge’.
Back to positivism and its (great phrase!) ‘epistemocidal tendencies’. Undercuts interdisciplinarity as a kind of ‘apex predator’!!
Sofoulis then admitted to having not fully recovered from her “narcissistic intellectual wound” of having lived in a HisCon bubble only to realise the lack of influence it had on practitioners in the Real World. She urged the attendees to think of the ‘shit and string beans’ issue, as captured in a quote from Marilyn French’s ‘The Women’s Room’.

“When your body has to deal all day with shit and string beans, your mind does too.”

What knowledges matter? Which roles? How do they circulate? What resources are used?
For example, in Australia the technical/technological work (mostly by men) around water gets published in journals, while the social research is ‘commercial in confidence’ and appears in the grey literature. She was scathing on engineers who think everyone is a data nerd and technology sorts who add a survey at the end of a report and call themselves social scientists, but who wouldn’t actually know social science if they fell over it.
So, some oracular statements/suggestions

  • Don’t assume liberal feminism is an unalloyed Force For Good
  • Diversity in groups
  • New problems will affect different groups differently
  • Specificity – work ends up generalised too easily
  • There are differences both within and between households that need looking at.
  • Sue Jackson on different knowledges, also Deborah Bird Rose.

Questions/Discussion

There were different question from the audience. Sofoulis listened intently and was clearly having a good time with them, and occasionally ‘just’ ‘riffed’ (it’s harder than it looks).

Some observations (and yes, finally, toothpaste and sewage).

The Millennium Drought in Australia, that led to expensive desalination plants being built and then mothballed DID create some discursive openings for social scientists. Sofoulis explained how economic rationalism (Australian for “neoliberalism”) had assumed that ‘homo economicus’ would respond only minimally to the (minor) price signals in water charging changes. In actual fact people’s willingness to conserve water far far exceeded expectations (not just ‘in public’ but also behind closed doors. People were sending in all sorts of ideas that had to be acknowledged before they could be ignored [shades of Nigel Balchin’s The Small Back Room]. Sewage became so thick (because people weren’t flushing?!!) that pipes were corroding and an odour control sector boomed?!
Similarly, people bought water tanks (tapping into the whole rural imaginary of “The Bush”) when it made little or no ‘economic sense’ to do so…

So, government ended up (and still is) WAY behind people in sustainability aspirations, and defer and stymie it. [Indeed, just today it turns out the Turnbull government is ‘NEGging’…]

Trying to speak to indigenous knowledges without having done the field work would be a Very Bad idea…

Extra stuff
– the DAD model of policy making – Decide Announce Defend, versus PEP participate, educate ??
Naturvation – nature based innovation, mexico city (biomimicry? Industrial ecology?)

Timothy Moss Infrastuctural legacies 

Things to think with:

Verdict : Fascinating event, instructive, fertile, suggestive. Could not be a greater contrast to the ‘people willing to have smoke blown up their asses as the planet burns’ thing I also went to…

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