Category Archives: events worth blogging

Event report: “Enhancing Interdisciplinarity”

One of the joys of being a PhD student (asides being paid to read, “think”, write, hang out with very very smart people (and you too, Miles? 😛 ) is that you can go to day-long seminars on things called “Enhancing Interdisciplinarity.”  I couldn’t stay to the end because I had a symposium on neo-institutional theory to attend (#itsahardlife), at which one of my supervisors coincidentalishly made reference to two mouth-watering books (the ‘to read’ pile is approaching the moon);

The Chaos of Disciplines by Andrew Abbott: social theories cycle around various themes/puzzles of, say agency/structure, object/subject.  What is old is new again.

and Andrew Abbot again –  The System of Professions: an essay on the division of expert labor

And if you gonna spend a day at summat, you should spend a few minutes doing a write-up (I have been lax at this recently). Here it is.


  • Many of the speakers were engaging, committed, gave interesting answers (and one did the cool ‘feminist’ thing of asking other people what they thought the answer might be; I use the term feminist in the sense of ‘surprisingly and unduly rare awareness of power and participation’)
  • Catching up (again) with a couple of fellow PhD students
  • Meeting a new fellow PhD
  • Being exposed to new ideas
  • Free lunch (don’t pretend it doesn’t matter, ‘kay?)


  • Format that didn’t encourage interaction/accidental minglings. Very sage-on-the-stage, it was. Which only works if a) most of the sages are good ‘uns and b) there aren’t too many sages.  Fortunately both a) and b) applied, so they “got away with it”.

Take homes (without putting names of academics to different bits)

Object lessons by Robyn Wiegman

No concept has been more central to the emergence and evolution of identity studies than social justice. In historical and theoretical accounts, it crystallizes the progressive politics that have shaped the academic study of race, gender, and sexuality. Yet few scholars have deliberated directly on the political agency that notions of justice confer on critical practice. In Object Lessons, Robyn Wiegman contemplates this lack of attention, offering the first sustained inquiry into the political desire that galvanizes identity fields. In each chapter, she examines a key debate by considering the political aspirations that shape it. Addressing Women’s Studies, she traces the ways that “gender” promises to overcome the exclusions of “women.” Turning to Ethnic Studies, she examines the deconstruction of “whiteness” as an antiracist methodology. As she explores American Studies, she links internationalization to the broader quest for noncomplicity in contemporary criticism. Her analysis of Queer Studies demonstrates how the commitment to antinormativity normalizes the field. In the penultimate chapter, Wiegman addresses intersectionality as the most coveted theoretical approach to political resolution in all of these fields.

Tilda Swinton is a) smoking hot [my interpellation and interpretation, in all its glorious patriarchal objectification] and b) repeatedly and admirably insistent that her “success/impact/etc” is not that of an auteur, but based on collaborative endeavour.

5 interdisciplinary issues

1   Risk and innovation (shame of not knowing enough/being a dilettante)

2 Forcing things to fit/papering over the cracks.  Advice – don’t paper over the cracks – others will see, and the cracks are “how the light gets in”, anyhow

3 Reifying an object or concept

4 Interlocuters? With whom are you in dialogue

5 Publishers and examiners

4-Vs-of-big-dataIBM’s 4 Vs of big data


Good point on privacy and internet etc;

Happily use our supermarket loyalty card, but complain about the CCTV camera outside. Then go to the GP and be irritated that they don’t know we were at A and E that morning…

i.e. mild lack of consistency in this [but viva Snowden nonetheless!]

Arendt’s “how to create totalitarians/ism”

  1. Ideology
  2. Total Terror
  3. Destruction of Human bonds
  4. Bureaucracy

Vygotsky and Bourdieu mash-up!

Discuss – When it comes to (formal) education, Vygotsky is naïve on exchange value/”politics”, Bourdieu is overly dismissive of use value.

Formal education is, from a Bourdieusian sense, a system of distinction and SOME MUST FAIL (or the middle-classes get nothing from it), but that failure must be seen to be “fair” (i.e. due to individual weaknesses), so “exceptions” (one or two working class lads and lasses done good) are needed to validate t’system.  (But this must never be admitted in public!)

Disciplinarity is the “historic fracturing of knowledge and practice”

On education and politics – Legacies of Socialist Solidarity: Mozambique in East Germany book launch Tuesday 11th November here in Manchester  (the book is excellent)
Vivien Schmidt and Fourth Institutionalism/Discourse

Taking ideas and discourse seriously: explaining change through discursive institutionalism as the fourth ‘new institutionalism’

All three of the traditionally recognized new institutionalisms – rational choice, historical, and sociological – have increasingly sought to ‘endogenize’ change, which has often meant a turn to ideas and discourse. This article shows that the approaches of scholars coming out of each of these three institutionalist traditions who take ideas and discourse seriously can best be classified as part of a fourth ‘new institutionalism’ – discursive institutionalism (DI) – which is concerned with both the substantive content of ideas and the interactive processes of discourse in institutional context. It argues that this newest of the ‘new institutionalisms’ has the greatest potential for providing insights into the dynamics of institutional change by explaining the actual preferences, strategies, and normative orientations of actors. The article identifies the wide range of approaches that fit this analytic framework, illustrating the ways in which scholars of DI have gone beyond the limits of the traditional institutionalisms on questions of interests and uncertainty, critical junctures and incremental change, norms and culture. It defines institutions dynamically – in contrast to the older neo-institutionalisms’ more static external rule-following structures of incentives, path dependencies, and cultural framing – as structures and constructs of meaning internal to agents whose ‘background ideational abilities’ enable them to create (and maintain) institutions while their ‘foreground discursive abilities’ enable them to communicate critically about them, to change (or maintain) them. But the article also points to areas for improvement in DI, including the theoretical analysis of processes of ideational change, the use of the older neo-institutionalisms for background information, and the incorporation of the power of interests and position into accounts of the power of ideas and discourse.

There’s two more of these seminars, out in the provinces (Liverpool and Lancaster) in January and May next year.

Three rules of the internet – one fascinating night in Manchester

coryCory Doctorow, author and activist, was in Manchester tonight at Waterstone’s on Deansgate. The highly enjoyable – even inspiring – event was organised by the digital campaigners at

The bulk of his talk centred on three rules (of the Internet. The first of many useful aphorisms was this – “everything we do today involves the Internet. Everything we will do tomorrow will require it.”)

RULE ONE; Anytime anyone puts a lock on something you created, it’s not for your benefit

He explained the background to the recent spat between Amazon and Hachette (one of the five big publishers left).

In the “normal” run of things, if you are a large supplier of a product that makes the retailer profitable, and gets people coming to the store, then you have more power. BUT if the retailer is able to find a way of “crazy glue-ing” the end-buyer to their store, then they have the power, because you as a supplier would have to hope that those end-users would rebuy  the stuff from you elsewhere….

RULE TWO: Fame won’t make you rich, but nobody will buy your stuff if they don’t know your name.

Here he cited another aphorism-monger; “the problem for most artists isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.”

He gave examples of artists (aka content generators) who have managed – by various mechanisms and in differing circumstances – to negotiate reasonable deals with the behemoths who run the show.

RULE THREE: Information doesn’t want to be free…

It wants us to stop anthropomorphising it… People want to be free.  Here he came into his own.  There was – as anyone who has read his fiction or non-fiction would expect – intelligence, insight, humour, energy, warmth, creativity and a bright ethical light.  He pointed out that the Internet must not be thought of as “a glorified video-on-demand service”, but as “the nervous system of the 21st century.”  He pointed out that the provisions of various digital rights management laws means that security flaws in iPhones (you know, those camera/microphone/tracking devices you take with you EVERYWHERE) don’t get flagged up as easily.

He told the horror story that was the passing of the Digital Economy Act in the last day of the last parliament (2010.)  And he referenced the fascinating-sounding study that Martha Lane-Fox (“Baroness of Soho” and ex “Champion of Digital Inclusion”) hired price waterhouse coopers to do on the impact of digital inclusion on  people’s lives (above and beyond ‘better grades’ – better jobs, healthier, more civically engage.

Artists, he said, should never be on the side of censorship and surveillance, and if the business model they are using requires those, then the business model is wrong.

The Q and A was brief (he had a train to get to) but he did three interesting things

  1. He gave really interesting answers (it doesn’t always happen) that included references to other thinkers (Laurence Lessig on corruption) and even classic movies – he tied The Magnificent Seven to a possible anti-fracking tactic!!
  2. He answered the question that the questioner was trying to ask, should have asked
  3. He explicitly asked for questioners who “weren’t dudes; sometimes Q and As turn into sausage fests.”

After a final shout-out to librarians (the best people to guide us through the data smog) and pointing out that “libraries are not book depositories, they are information dojos” it was time for some book signing.

I am now going to do two things.

  1. Join As the man said – all the other battles we are going to fight – on environment, on human rights etc, are going to have the Internet as an/the substrate
  2. Make sure I don’t start reading the novel I bought – “Pirate Cinema” until I have an uninterrupted chunk of time. Mr Doctorow has already caused havoc to my work schedules a couple of times by writing books that ya just can’t book down.  #wontgetburnedagain