Category Archives: power

Me love you laing time… The work of forgetting and suppression

Somewhere in the pile of things-read-awaiting-bookmarking-on-t’website is a recent article on the what the authors called “memory work” –  (corporate) work of suppressing past mis-behaviour. It does not use R.D. Laing, but it could.  This below is the epigram from Joanna Russ’s amazing book ‘The Female Man’ [my review here]

If Jack succeeds in forgetting something, this is of little use if Jill continues to remind him of it. He must induce her not to do so. The safest way would be not just to make her keep quiet about it, but to induce her to forget it also.

Jack may act upon Jill in many ways. He may make her feel guilty for keeping on “bringing it up”. He may invalidateher experience. This can be done-more or less radically. He can indicate merely that it is unimportant or trivial, whereas it is important and significant to her. Going further, he can shift the modality of her experience from memory to imagination: “It”s all in your imagination.” Further still, he can invalidate the content. “It never happened that way.” Finally, he can invalidate not only the significance, modality and content, but her very capacity to remember at all, and make her feel guilty for doing so into the bargain.

This is not unusual. People are doing such things to each other all the time. In order for such transpersonal invalidation to work, however, it is advisable to overlay it with a thick patina of mystification. For instance, by denying that this is what one is doing, and further invalidating any perception that it is being done, by ascriptions such as “How can you think such a thing 1” “You must be paranoid.” And so on.

Laing, R.D. 1967 The Politics of Experience. London: Penguin. (first chapter online here)

The upper crust is just a bunch of crumbs sticking together #Kulturkampf

High culture?

“In his cultural studies, DiMaggio’s historical research documented the self-conscious creation of “high culture” in the late 19th-century America. DiMaggio argues that, unsettled by the weak class distinctions in growing industrial cities, local elites created a “sophisticated” culture (via the arts,universitiessocial clubs, and the like) that would separate commoners from those of high standing. DiMaggio says that “high culture” models developed by founders of museums and orchestras were then adopted by patrons of operadance, and theatre.”

source – wikipedia.
And this


is available

All rather puts me in mind of that wonderful Onion story on “Finest opera singer of her generation unknown by her generation…”

(Wind) Power to the People – Denmark, Tvind and bricolage

So, two years ago I read this

Hendry, C. and Harborne, P. 2011. Changing the view of wind power development: More than “bricolage.” Research Policy 40,, pp. 778-789.

and wrote this about it –

This was mentioned in a reading group/symposium yesterday by one of my supervisors. It’s a response/elaboration to a paper by Garud and Karnoe comparing the Danish and US wind energy industries and how they came about. Hendry and Harbone heartlessly puncture the lovely romantic notions that Tinkerers Matter throughout the process (they did, but once you get to a certain point, there’s no substitute for “science” and deep pockets.) Reminds me a bit of Manuel de Landa in “War in the Age of Intelligent Machines,” where he makes the point that there are tactics, but strategy will overcome them, and there is strategy, but in the end, logistics – being able to feed, clothe, arm and replace members of your army at a more efficient rate than your enemy – is what matters.

Well, the Danish wind industry is the gift that keeps on giving, if you are interested (like me) in niches that become regimes and ‘bottom-up’ pressure that actually, you know, ‘works’.

The latest I have found is this paper, which is brilliant.

Hoffman, J. 2013. Theorizing power in transition studies: the role of creativity and novel practices in structural change. Policy Science, Vol. 46, pp.257-275.

Just brilliant [full disclosure – for two years of my life (minus a year here and there) I lived in the shadow of the Tvind windmill. True story.].

Here are a couple of empirical chunks.  Far more interesting (well, as interesting) is the theoretical contribution, around ‘carrier waves’ and also the shortcomings of a multi-level framework,and the assumptions that innovations just, you know, happen.  –

Because the MLP assumes the presence of a ‘novel practice’, it hides from view how actors draw upon regimes and incorporate exogenous trends in shaping and defining what the [page break] ‘novelty’ is about and how it relates to the regime.
(Hoffman, 2013: 262-3)

But that’s for another time.

I shall distinguish between two key episodes of interaction between wind energy experiments and outside groups, both within and outside the energy sector. Although both very crucial for further development, the two episodes differed in terms of entrepreneurial activities, strategies, and the outcomes. In the first episode (1950s), entrepreneur Johannes Juul put up wind energy experiments in collaboration with power company SEAS. Even though the later popular 200-kW Gedser turbine resulted from these experiments, the energy sector’s support for wind energy waned and wind energy production in the 1960s was literally left to fall into disrepair. Danish wind energy experienced a second coming, however, when parts of the Danish democracy movement in the 1960s and 1970s adopted wind energy as a form of decentralized energy production. In this episode, wind energy became primarily an affair of the democracy movement, with little involvement of traditional energy companies. In contrast to the collaborative relationship between Juul and incumbent actors, wind energy actors in the democracy movement moved into an antagonistic relationship with incumbents; wind energy actors in the democracy movement openly contested incumbent practices and presented themselves as a decentralized and democratic alternative. In its decentralized form, wind energy production grew to substantial proportions resulting in a relatively strong industry that obtained a market share of half the world market for wind turbines.
(Hoffman, 2013: 259)


How do these insights help us make sense of the dynamic interplay between actions at the level of novel practices and power? Let us now draw on the case of Denmark to answer this question. The rising prices of import fuels in the 1950s formed a structural power that discredited incumbent practices and raised expectations about novel practices. Among others, the entrepreneur Juul proposed wind energy as a complement to the use of imported fuels, which regime players appreciated as a way to tackle the increasing costs of imported fuels. In collaboration with the power supplier SEAS and a Wind Energy Committee (Vindkraftudvalget) from the ministry of trade, Juul could draw on sufficient technical and financial resources to start experiments. This relational power resulted in the later widely used 200-kW Gedser wind turbine. At least for a while, rising prices for import fuels formed a carrier wave for novel energy practice. However, just when wind turbines were ready for upscaling, nuclear energy became a serious alternative and regime players’ expectations for wind energy practices were lowered. As a result, all wind energy projects were cut short and resources were withdrawn. Wind energy practices were left to ‘hobbyists’, bereft of relational power.
(Hoffman, 2013: 261)

All in this together… Corporate (and State) use of “family” rhetoric

It makes my flesh crawl.  That ‘one team’ bollocks, where our lords and masters (be they corporate or state) make out as if ‘we’re all in this together’ – to quote the words of some already forgotten Tory Prime Minister.  Yeah, right.

So, I really want to read ‘The Good Soldier Schweik’ (after my thesis.  I read this academic article and it was good-

Fleming P. and Sewell. G. 2002. Looking for the Good Soldier, Svejk: Alternative Modalities of Resistance in the Contemporary Workplace. Sociology, Vol. 36 (4), pp.857-873

This quote kinda nails it

As Kunda (1992), Barker (1993, 1999) and Casey (1995, 1999) have so explicitly reported, if workers do not subjectively buy into the discourse of ‘excellence’ or ‘continuous improvement’ and actively participate in the attendant rituals then they are pathologized by the managerial gaze and transformed into organizational outcasts by fellow team members. Dissent and resistance in these contexts are not explained as something related to the inequality of the capitalist labour process, but rather a matter of, ‘Do you have problems at home?’ ‘Is it your husband?’ ‘Is it your wife?’ ‘Are you stressed?’ ‘Do you have financial problems?’ ‘Do you suffer from anorexia?’ Thus, the question is invariably framed in the same way: ‘What is wrong with you?’
(Fleming and Sewell, 2002:861)

Here are some of the references, fwiw.

Bailey, F. G. 1988. Humbuggery and Manipulation: The Art of Leadership. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Burawoy, M. 1979. Manufacturing Consent.: Changes in the Labor Process under Monopoly Capitalism. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Casey, C. 1995. Work, Self and Society: After Industrialism. London: Sage.

Casey, C. 1999. “Come, Join Our Family”: Discipline and Integration in Corporate Organizational Culture. Human Relations, Vol. 52 (2), pp.155-178.

Willmott, H. 1993. Strength is Ignorance; slavery is Freedom: Managing Cultures in Modern Organizations. Journal of Management Studies. Vol 30 (4), pp.515-52.

You Canute be serious! On Heresthetics, floods and much more

canuteKing Canute eh?  What an arrogant tosser, thinking he could command the tide not to come in.  Except I already knew he wasn’t – that he had (probably) pulled the stunt – if he ever did-  to get some of his more over-enthusiastically sycophantic courtiers to knock it off.  What I didn’t know was that a corking academic article had been written about him – or rather, using his story to make some points about structure, agency, yadder yadder yadder.

As per Paul Cairney’s advice

If you’re still with me, have a quick look at Hay’s King Canute article(or my summary of it). Yes, that’s right: he got a whole article out of King Canute. I couldn’t believe it either. I was gobsmacked when I realised how good it was too.

I went and read

Hay, C. 2009. King Canute and the ‘Problem’ of Structure and Agency: On Times, Tides and Heresthetics. Political Studies, Vol. 57, pp.260-279.

Far too much to go into in great detail, but here are some clips.;

In particular, the (various) stories of King Canute and the waves alert us to the need: (1) to maintain a clear distinction between the empirical and the ontological; (2) to resist the temptation to attempt an empirical adjudication of ontological issues (or, indeed, an ontological adjudication of empirical issues); (3) to differentiate clearly between the capacities of agents with respect to material/physical structures on the one hand, and social/political structures on the other; (4) to acknowledge the significance of unintended consequences; (5) to attend to the ‘performative’ dimensions of agency; and (6) to recognise the dangers inherent in an overly instrumental view of actors’ motivations and intentions.
(Hay, 2009:260)

This raises a first point of more general significance, and one all too frequently overlooked in both the existing literature on structure and agency and in political analysis more generally. It is simply stated as the need to differentiate very clearly between the capacities of actors to negotiate the opportunities and constraints presented to them by natural/physical structures and those presented to them by social/political structures.
(Hay, 2009:265)

Canute’s reign occurred at a time when sea levels were rising (Ettlinger, 1952, p. 236). Indeed, as many of the contemporary sources testify, in 1014 (the year he was declared king of England by the invading Danish forces with the death of his father), significant areas of the East of England in particular were submerged by unprecedentedly high tides. There was considerable loss of life (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, E 1014, p.145; Henry of Huntingdon, 1996 [c.1140], vi, para 11, p. 355; William of Malmesbury, 1989 [1125], para. 179, p. 165). Accordingly, by the early to mid-1020s, once Canute was more firmly established on the throne, it might well have appeared that the only threat to his sovereign authority came from the sea itself.9
(Hay, 2009:271)

… in William H. Riker’s terms he is revealed as something of a heresthetician. This rather interesting concept draws attention to the often overlooked artistic, rhetorical and performative dimensions of agency which arguably the story of Canute and the waves displays in abundance….

In the most general terms, a heresthetician is a creative agent who strives to alter decisively the strategic context in which he or she finds him or herself so as to render it more amenable to strategies for realising his or her intentions (Riker, 1982; 1984; 1986; see also McLean, 2002; Shepsle, 2003).
Yet it is not just the general category of heresthetics that is relevant here. For Riker goes on to identify three separate varieties of heresthetics. These he associates with control of the political agenda, strategic voting (logrolling and so forth) and, rather more importantly for our purposes, what he terms the ‘manipulation of issue dimensions’ (Riker, 1982, pp. 215–32; 1986).
(Hay, 2009:276)
Heresthetics is a KEY thing in the terrain building within which the streams ‘naturally’ flow…

Suspicious minds and climate policy

Goering is alleged to have said that whenever he heard the word culture he reached for his revolver. For me, whendver I hear the word ‘trap’ I think of my Elvis. Specifically, ‘We’re caught in a trap. I can’t walk out.…’

Meanwhile, this from an article

Nair, S. and Howlett. 2015. From robustness to resilience: avoiding policy traps in the long term. Sustainability Science,

is good

“A lock-in trap is characterized by low capacity for change, high resilience to change, and high connectedness among structural variables which may preclude change or render it rather expensive (Ranger 2013; Allison and Hobbs 2004). Policies typically emerge as ‘bundles’ or ‘mixes’ of policy tools through processes of policy change, with addition and subtraction of elements over time (Howlett and Rayner 2013). Any change in policy response, however, will typically be faced with resistance by stakeholders and beneficiaries of status quo policy arrangements. This makes it difficult to introduce any radical changes in the adaptation policy mix even if new policy objectives are put forth (Kern and Howlett 2009). Innovations for example would need to compete with existing institutions that have already been imbibed into the socio-economic context and attempt to fit through processes of ‘‘learning, coercion and negotiation’’ (Rip and Kemp 1998; Christiansen et al. 2011).”

And of course, the mother of all carbon lock-ins, from all the physical, political, psychological infrastructure. You are are now leaving the Holocene, as the amazing David Pope cartoon goes…


So it goes. So it went. This too shall pass…

And those citations

Allison HE, Hobbs RJ (2004) Resilience, adaptive capacity, and the ‘‘Lock-in Trap’’ of the Western Australian agricultural region. Ecol Soc 9(1):3.

Christiansen L, Olhoff A, Trærup S (eds) (2011) Technologies for adaptation: perspectives and practical experiences. UNEP Risø Centre, Roskilde

Kern F, Howlett M (2009) Implementing transition management as policy reforms: a case study of the Dutch energy sector. Policy Sci 42:391–408

Howlett M, Rayner J (2013) Patching vs packaging in policy formulation: assessing policy portfolio design. Politics Gov 1(2):170–182

Ranger N (2013) Topic guide. Adaptation: decision making under uncertainty. Evidence on Demand, UK, p. 86

Rip A, Kemp R (1998) Technological Change. In: Rayner Steve, Malone Liz (eds) Human choice and climate change, Vol 2 resources and technology. Batelle Press, Washington D.C., pp 327–399

The absence of structure is hierarchy

I went to a meeting (won’t say if it was activist or academic or whatever – that’s not the point).

There was explicitly ‘no agenda’.

And we were then, without warning, asked to introduce ourselves (say what we had done, were doing and what we wanted to do around this particular issue/topic). And did they give us a) a couple of minutes to collect our thoughts and b) an upper-time limit.

Nope, instead it was one of the organisers (or rather, people who called the meeting) saying ‘well, I may as well start’. They then spoke for a few minutes, while we were all trying to listen and think about what we would say.

And guess what – the people who spoke the longest (who basically just mentally Ctrl C and Ved their comments) were the highest status ones. And they spoke for a looooong time. The lower status people spoke very little.

And guess what – after we had done those intros, the conversation came to be dominated by those who had spoken longest in the intro.

Who. Would. Of. Thunk. It.

Afterwards I thought about how one of the smartest people present (also perhaps the kindest) had said not a word. This person is perhaps an introvert. They don’t do the whole song and dance thing, so if you don’t create mechanisms (institutions – informal norms and also formal ones) to facilitate their input, you won’t get it. And you will end up with mediocre decisions, arrived at after un-necessary faffage. And so it came to pass.

This: The absence of structure is hierarchy. Just the hierarchy of prior status (mostly class, race, gender, age, confidence, extrovertism).

You can choose not to see that, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true, it doesn’t mean the power isn’t there. FFS.