Category Archives: power

Constant craving- of liberty, independence and the State…

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

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

And this quote told me lots. You too perhaps?

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

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

Turns out he was born in Lausanne. Small world…

Neoliberalisms: Combative, Normative and Punitive

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

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

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

The take home is this:

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

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

What’s missing from the article?

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

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

Mythical Mail Weight and Localness

For the benefit of those lucky enough not to know (living outside the UK), the Daily Mail is a particularly horrific tabloid newspaper.  One of its many vile repertoires is to police the bodies of celebrities (mostly, but not entirely) the female ones.

If a celebrity under the gaze of the Mail gains a couple pounds unflattering  pap shots are published, under the headline of “XX has let themselves go”.  Alternatively, if they lose the same amount of weight, they are ‘gaunt’ and “friends are worried.”  There’s a (shifting) one or two pound band in which the Mail might not pick on them for their weight, but may instead criticise their clothes, partners, friends, tweeting habits, etc.

It’s not so much a sliding scale as a very slippery one.  And it also works for environmental activists.  If a climate campaigner eschews  the usual habits of modern middle-class western citizens – driving a car, eating meat, flying etc. – then they are ‘weirdo zealots who are out of touch with normal people’.  If they DO drive/eat meat/fly then they are ‘disgusting elitist hypocrites’.

Works every time.

The same goes, I think, for ‘localness’.  As long as you are saying “we want what the global elite wants, a chemical factory right next door to our school” then you are a local.  If not, well, you’re not really a local, and you’ve been hoodwinked by out-of-town trouble-makers.

Most of all, to be acceptable, you must steer clear of systemic critiques of what is going on. What was that line by Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara?  Oh, that’s right “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

So what’s interesting are the questions which arise from these observations/intuitions.

  • Who makes these evaluations?
  • Who amplifies them?
  • To what purpose (to delegitimise dissenting voices, obvs)?
  • To what effect?
  • How do “we” (progressives who give or gave a shit) escape from the trap?)

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.