Radical information literacy, “domestic “violence and absolute control

Went to something on “radical information literacy.”  The questions are Who knows things,  how to know things/find them out, how to critique sources and figure out when they are being manipulated by friend or foe? Et cetera.   At least it flags up that a simple “information deficit” model is grotesquely inadequate for explaining why we are numb in the face of pile of debris growing skywards in front of us.

Apparently the big thinkers in this are Professor Louise Limberg and Doctor Annemaree Lloyd.  The latter talks about “information landscapes” which may or may not mesh with the Multi-Level Perspectives formulation of landscapes, regimes and niches, I dunno.  Me, I have grown to think in terms of battle-spaces.  And psywar.  And the deliberate creation of ignorance (aka “agnotology”).

Inevitably old Jurgie-babes (Habermas) and  his instrumental/communicative rationality came up.  His “ideal speech communities” didn’t.  When they do I always want to say ‘mate, the bourgeoisie didn’t mean all this guff about human rights; they just needed the poor as shock-troops against the old aristocracies. Deal with it.”

Right, so what has this got to do with “domestic” (1) violence?  Information literacy is about dialogue, the questioning of definitions of reality and (therefore) ultimately, power.

And violence is about power (pace Arendt -(2).  This from a brilliant and horrifying article “Home Truths,” by the journo Jess Hill, about Australia and domestic violence (going up)

We reach for these excuses because the alternative – that hundreds of thousands of Australian men have chosen to inflict diabolical cruelty on their partners – is almost inconceivable. Men’s behaviour change programs don’t treat perpetrators for anger problems, because anger management doesn’t work. The violence isn’t an overreaction, it’s a tool – one of many that abusers can use to exert control over their wives and girlfriends….

“People really struggle to understand that for family violence to be present, there are two key attributes to it. One of them is that one party is in fear of the other. The other is that the abuser uses a planned, systematic approach to remove a person’s confidence, support networks and independence in order to highlight their own power and control within the relationship” [says Annette Gillespie, the head of Victoria’s Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre.]

Most people have arguments with the person they love. It’s normal to feel jealous, say things you regret, even scream the house down. It only becomes domestic violence when this is bent towards controlling the other person, in a way that provokes fear.

Power. Silencing. Violence.

proyecto_cybersyn1Perhaps as well as citing the 1970s (3) (Cees Hamelink 1976 “An alternative to news.”) we also need thinking about what happened to earlier efforts at communicative dialogue and power attainment under, ooh, Maggie Thatcher’s favourite Latin American dictator, Augosto Pinochet.  He and his mates crushed the Cybersyn experiment of Stafford Beer et al, which put forward the shocking idea that maybe we didn’t need the rigid hierarchies, and that working class people might be able to self-manage….

Two more quotes and then I am done.

First from William Gibson

..Harwood blinks. ‘It’s what we do now instead of bohemias,” he says.
“Instead of what?”
Bohemias. Alternative subcultures. They were a crucial aspect of  industrial civilization in the two previous centuries. They were where  industrial civilization went to dream. A sort of unconcious R&D, exploring  alternate societal strategies. Each one would have a dress code, characteristic forms of artistic expression, a substance or substances of choice, and a set of sexual values at odds with those of the culture at large. And they did, frequently, have locales with which they became associated. But they became extinct.”
“We started picking them before they could ripen. A certain crucial growing period was lost, as marketing evolved and the mechanisms of recommodification became quicker, more rapacious. Authentic subcultures required backwaters, and time, and there are no more backwaters. They went the way of Geography in general. Autonomous zones do offer a certain insulation from the monoculture, but they seem not to lend themselves to  re-commodification, not in the same way. We don’t know why exactly.”‘
William Gibson, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’.

Then from psychologist Carl Rogers, talking to a businessman whose company had set up a ‘flat hierarchy’ factory.

He told me that while the experimental plants continue to do extremely well, and he feels pride in the work he has done with them, he regards his work with the corporation as a failure. The top management, though appreciative of the increased profits and good morale of the experimental plants, has not moved to follow this model in their other plants, even though it appears evident that overall profits would be increased.

“Why not?” I inquired.

His answer was most thought-provoking: “When managers from other plants look closely at what we are doing, they gradually realize how much of their power they would have to give away, to share with their employees. And they are not willing to give up that power.” When I stated that it appeared that power over people was even more important than profits­ which are supposed to be the all-­important goal in industry­ he agreed.

Carl Rogers and H. Jerome Freiberg Freedom to Learn 3rd Edition page 372

Hope (4), eh? Oh well.  And forty plus years later, we are heading for the not-so-great acceleration and the  Panspectron.  Hohum.

I left the thing early, mostly because of the widening gap between theory and practice.  There was a time I used to get angry about that stuff, but now I am either resigned to it or more compassionate (poor poor humans.  Apes with opposable thumbs, gods that shit. Oscillating between the two)


1.  To quote a friend on facebook – “I don’t like the term ‘domestic’ it implies some kind of loophole, a get out clause, it’s a right of property or possession, and therefore it fails to attract the same kind of criminal sanction as assault, GBH or worse. Such conceptual terminology is important as it reflects the seriousness of how societal norms function and how they are perceived. Change the name and its conceptual nature, how society perceives these crimes and the punishment will follow – its a form of judicial performativity, but their needs to be a will to promote the unacceptable nature of failing protection.”

2. For Hannah Arendt, seriously smart thinker of the mid 20th century, physical force/violence was the antithesis of politics, and politics was about discussion, debate, rationality and all that sort of thing.

3. And because you can never have too much Donald Duck – Ariel Dorfman and How to Read Donald Duck

4. ‘A January 1994 conference of Jesuits and lay associates in San Salvador considered both the narrow and the broad aspects of the state terrorist project. Its summary report concludes that “it is important to explore to what degree terror continues to act, cloaked by the mask of common crime. Also to be explored is what weight the culture of terror has had in domesticating the expectations of the majority vis­-a­-vis alternatives different to those of the powerful, in a context in which many of the revolutionaries of yesterday act today with values similar to the long powerful.” The latter issue, the broader one, is of particular significance. The great achievement of the massive terror operations of the past years organized by Washington and its local associates has been to destroy hope. The observation generalizes to much of the Third World and also to the growing masses of superfluous people at home, as the Third World model of sharply two-­tiered societies is increasingly internationalized…’ Noam Chomsky, World Orders, Old and New page 53


Video of Prof Matthew Paterson’s “Cultural Politics of #Climate” seminar in #Manchester

Professor Matthew Paterson gave a seminar on “the Cultural Politics” of Climate Change at the University of Manchester. See also this interview conducted via email before the event.
This was part of the Sustainable Consumption Institute‘s external seminar series.

Here is the video (which was static, while the speaker was not!)

And here is the Q and A

The brilliant “Selma” and after. Of Elliott Gould, movements, authenticity and… feminism

selmaPlease see this excellent and important film.  Covering a few vital months in the history of the US Black Civil Rights struggle in the mid-60s, it sweeps you along, forcing you to think, feel and hope.

It received justifiably positive reviews in the States (with predictable carping about historical accuracy (1).   Opening with Martin Luther King rehearsing his speech that he will give to the Nobel Committee at the end of 1964, and closing with a speech in Birmingham, Alabama, the intervening two hours shows him and other figures struggling with what to aim for, when to advance and to retreat, who to compromise with, who NOT to compromise with.  There are, thank goodness, no sepia flashbacks to the bus boycott, or the ‘I have a dream ‘ speech.  The action is contained, the sense of urgency and uncertainty never diminishes.

King emerges from behind the myth that has been built around him. He is fearful, courageous, doubting, certain, angry, tired. He is not dis-empowering saint of the ‘star system’.  His fate, three years later, hangs over the film.  (British actor David Oyelowo is flawless. How he didn’t get both an Oscar nomination and the gong itself, well…)

We actually get to see some of the people who die along the way as more than convenient martyrs.  They have names and faces, and their deaths cause horror and grief.

This matters. Noam Chomsky makes the point that movements are  movements of many anonymous people, whose presence is erased.

The movie is also really good on the internal struggles over tactics, strategy, egos.  I’m not so much thinking of the Malcolm X cameo, but of the spell-binding scene where the big and famous SCLC figures have arrived in Selma and this has put the noses of the “Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee” out of joint (by this time, in the aftermath of the previous year’s Freedom Summer SNCC had had a leadership shakeout, and Bob Moses had left the organisation). (For a knowledgable and perceptive take on this an other problems with the SNCC portrayal, see here.)

Movements versus moments? Can the two feed each other?
The basic distinction is between long-term “low-level” community organising and capacity building, and the large-scale, high-profile but necessarily brief moments of agitation (for new laws, usually).  It’s the eternal problem.  Social change without legislative change is slow and frustrating, but by focusing on legislative changes victories can be hollow, rules unenforced and promises unkept (yes, Manchester City Council and your climate change nonsense, I’m looking at you).  SNCC people and the Tom Haydens of this world would say that the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in the absence of ongoing social action, is a symbolic victory.  Given the racialized nature of US poverty and incarceration rates, and the return of Jim Crow, some would agree (2).  The music over the end credits, a rap song, makes many pointed references to Ferguson, Missouri.

 “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

The justification for the Elliott Gould reference in the title
The first I knew of Selma as an historical event was when I saw a curious and little-seen film (with Harrison Ford in a pre-Han Solo cameo) starring Elliott Gould.  The film, released in 1970 and called “Getting Straight” centres on a graduate student (Gould as “Harry Bailey” ) who is trying to figure out what to do with his life while all around him students protest Vietnam and worry about whether they are ‘authentic’.  The script writer lights upon participation in black civil rights struggles when faced with violence, as a litmus test of this authenticity.  The pay-off is that Harry was there. Gould’s despairing speech, about the fear they faced on the bridge, still resonates, 25 years after I saw it.

We can but hope that Ava duVernay, once she finishes the Hurricane Katrina film, makes a drama about the assassination of Fred Hampton in December 1969.

Final question.  We now have Milk about the life of the first ‘out’ homosexual politician in the US, and Selma.  Can someone suggest films (especially dramas) about feminism’s political history? Is my lack of examples simply my own ignorance, or are there actually not so many films (for reasons commercial as well as ideological.)  Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

If you liked this post, or found it useful.
a) Comment on it – I’d love to hear your opinion (especially if you have recommendations of books, or of films that do for feminism what “Milk” does for gay rights and “Selma” for the Civil Rights Movement
b) Send it on to other folks, asking them to comment.

Please. See. This. Film!

For me to (re)-read/watch

Books (non-fiction)
And we are not saved: a History of the Movement as People by Debbie Louis
Freedom Summer by Douglas McAdam
More of Martin Luther King!!

Vida by Marge Piercy (I re-read it every couple of years anyway).
Death is Part of the Process by Hilda Bernstein

Getting Straight
Mississippi Burning (to remember how it SHOULDN’T be portrayed)

1) Hint; it’s not a documentary [as if those are ‘perfect’!]). Apparently the top white guy wasn’t quite as bad as some think the film makes him out. Well,  a) cry me a river b) Vietnam c) do the critics who say this get up in arms about black people getting airbrushed, distorted etc etc in films that they ‘agree’ with. Somebody call the #hypocrisycops

The film doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, and although Coretta Scott King gets some good scenes,  Diane Nash and others fade into the background.  There is no mention of other figures (Ella Barker, Fannie Lou Harmer), but to have included them would have made the movie far too unwieldy.

2) please note, other countries, including ‘mine’, have nowt to boast about.

Screw Paris. No, seriously, screw Paris. A rant on #climate and the #endtimes

we'll always have parisWill there be a long loud legal global (LLLG) signal coming out of Paris? No (two words – “US Senate“).

Two linked questions;

a) In the absence of a LLLG signal/deal, will there be the enormous investment in renewables, energy efficiency and ‘leap frog’ technology transfers that would be necessary to change humanity’s energy systems?

b) In the absence of that investment in energy system replacement/revolution/creative destruction/destabilisation of incumbency (you picks your labels and you pays your money), is there any hope for, or meaning to, rhetoric of ‘fundamental values and relationships-with-nature shifts’?  (Material and ideo-cultural changes imbricate, imprecate and ‘co-create’ each other, after all. Or they don’t.)

No and no.

At which point people say “Well, we have to start somewhere.”

And I say “Yes, we do. I vote for 1988, at the absolute latest.”

And they say something about whizz-bang shiny technology and/or previous rapid social transformations and I say “Srsly? Can you read a Keeling Curve? Have you clocked the emissions trajectories lately? Look, pick a number for climate sensitivity, I don’t mind. 2.2, 3.1, whatevs. Plug it all in, push the calculate button, bish bosh. You know what is coming. The specific year is something you can get hooked up on if you need to avoid the Big Picture. And all of us do, most of the time, and some of us do all the time.”

And they say “well, what do you expect is going to happen (if everyone thinks/advocates like you).”

And I say “Ah, I kant believe you’re using the categorical imperative. Btw, do you have kids? Because I’m cool with changing the subject if you want/need?”

And they say ‘”go ahead” and I say “It’s kinda outa our hands now, regardless of what you/I/the Pope/Dalai Lama/mysterious deus ex machina social movements or geo-engineers think or do. #bruisedegos.”

And they say “oh, you’re one of these ‘end of nigh’ placard wavers, hooked on apocalypse for psychological/toilet-training reasons. So when does your particular apocalypse start?”

And I sigh and perhaps roll my eyes if I am particularly tired and ill-mannered. And I say “Now you’re straw-manning.” And I mumble something about “Cassandra and all that. And the boy who cried wolf – it didn’t then mean there wasn’t actually a hungry wolf.”

And they say. “Dates please.”

And I say. “The science doesn’t work like that. You know that, but choose to set unrealistic expectations, rather like our denialist chums. But this;  when the lead authors of Working Group 1 of the 4th Assessment Report kept getting pressed on this in 2007 at the Royal Society gig, one of them – Professor Susan Solomon, since you ask– kept saying words to the effect of ‘science doesn’t work like that, you know’. And she followed it up with ‘it’s later than you think.

And then we all smile awkwardly and talk about articles we read, the weather, lolcats or something….

So my strategy is to look in the mirror every day before Paris (and after) and say “enjoy yourself. And carpe every single one of the  diems.”

I am not gonna let it take up any more bandwidth than it absolutely has to.

I can and will choose where to direct my attention and energy –

  •  towards local issues where I have at least a theoretical chance of having an impact.
  • on becoming a ‘better’ academic (which may or may not overlap significantly with ‘successful’ academic. The devil is in the definitions.)
  • towards those who support and inspire me, and who occasionally look to me for support and inspiration.

Is this me simply flying the white flag? Perhaps. I am disvisioned, fo’sure. . Or perhaps letting go of the delusions and illusions of potential impact that any of us have over Giddens’ juggernaut

The people who wrote this may disagree.  They can buy me pints and tell me I’m wrong, or immoral.

“Green Transformations,” Leonard Cohen and the Elephant

A lively debate about the near and long-term future of western civilisation took place yesterday in central London, at the launch of the book “The Politics of Green small_The-Politics-of-Green1Transformations”.  The edited volume based on work of the STEPS centre, was the centrepiece of an event at the National Liberal Club, and provoked a conversation about the nature of social change, economic interests, culture and the thorny question of what can (and cannot) be expected from the climate negotiations to be held in Paris at the end of the year. [Update 26th Feb – see this on Paris. And this well-curated storify, which includes a nice comment about the blog post you are reading!].

Despite following the traditional format of speakers followed by a Q and A, the launch nonetheless managed to create space for an exchange of ideas and perspectives. Michael Jacobs (former advisor on climate to Gordon Brown) spoke compellingly of the need for rapid and transformative action, and the need for governments to be pushed to act. Mariana Mazzacuto (Professor in the Economics of Innovation at the Science Policy research Unit at the University of Sussex author of well-received “The Entrepreneurial State”) challenged the use of terms like “the market” and green “deals” while pointing to the need for directed and directive investment in new technologies. Camilla Toulmin of the International Institute for Environment and Development emphasised the need to avoid high carbon lock-in for developing countries, and Andrew Simms (former New Economics Foundation lead) spoke on the efforts of groups seeking different ways of organising economies and sustainability.

Ultimately, despite differences over the advisability/possibility of growth, all speakers agreed that fundamental and very rapid change was necessary,for which an ‘enabling state’ would be necessary but not sufficient. And – ominously – none could see which “social actors” – business, government, ‘social movements’ or coalitions of subsets of these – was able to deliver this change in the extremely limited, and rapidly closing, window of opportunity that still remains to avoid a very much hotter planet. Michael Jacobs perhaps summed matters up best with his concluding comment that – “Not to be optimistic is to slip into fatalism, and fatalism is fatal. Pessimism is never a political strategy.

Some key concepts that were missing (to be fair – there is only so much you can pack into a 90 minute event!)

  • Green Confucianism [the danger that intellectual work simply leads to ‘better’ forms of (still unsustainable, and regressive) economic control – see this video]
  • The Theme Park of Radical Action (Ingolfur Bluhdorn) and the self-indulgence of some forms of social movement activity (aka “the smugosphere”)
  • Michael Porter “Technology Forcing Policies
  • The problem (for business) that regulation might actually work in some instances and be seen to work, undercutting the free market mythologies.
  • A sense that those who stand to lose from a ‘Great Green Transformation’ are highly class conscious, even more highly motivated and able to defend themselves (at this point I am contractually obliged to point the reader to Geels, 2014). For example, the world’s biggest privately owned coal company, Peabody, is funding a public relations campaign called “Advanced Energy for Life,” aimed at putting opponents of coal on the defensive (by implying they don’t care about electricity for the bottom two or three billion)

The tl:dr – smart people saying smart things while dancing around the increasingly unpalatable but unavoidable (?) conclusion that (a subset of) the species has been smart and lucky, but that smarts will only get you so far, and luck always runs out. The elephant in the room is that we may have left this too late, and that sometimes when you are reaching for the sky it is, as Leonard Cohen growled, ‘just to surrender‘.

What follows, for the obsessives and the masochists (?), is the closest to a blow -by-blow account as I can give. Video footage was taken of the speeches, if not the Q and A, and should be up on the STEPS website in due course. All mistakes of interpretation and deciphering of my hieroglyphics remain the responsibility of… the speakers. (cough cough.)

Professor Peter Newell opened the event punctually and briefly, situating it as a “timely debate” given the impending UK general election [with climate perhaps off the table?] and Paris climate talks at the end of the year. He explained that the book being launched had emerged from seminars held by STEPS that had looked at the politics of knowledge, of who gets to define the terms of debate, questions of innovation, the role of the state and the financing of ‘green transitions’, the role of civil society/social movements, questions of strategy. Authors were invited also to look at history and what (if any) useful precedents there might be for the (rapid re-) alignment of institutions. Importantly, he also pointed to disquiet over the traditional framing in policy and academic circles of pricing and markets ‘versus’ governance, both of which elide or ignore questions at a deeper political level.

Then it was into the four speakers (Michael Jacobs, Mariana Mazzucato, Camilla Toulmin and Andrew Simms).

Jacobs started by recapping the debate between the ‘growth impossible/undesirable’ versus mainstream economists. He said it was a long debate that had not gone away entirely, but had perhaps been replaced/subsumed by Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” which argues that capitalism is unsustainable [MH- tbh, I think this would surprise, say, William Catton, or Barry Commoner, who got there first by a considerable margin. For an excellent review of Klein, see here]. For Klein, said Jacobs, climate change is the final nail in the coffin, or is being rhetorically used as such by campaigners.

For Jacobs though, neither of these arguments is tackling what he referred to as the ‘real economy’ (in ways that perhaps overlap with the second speaker, Mariana Mazzucato).

For Jacobs, the degrowth/Klein perspective misses the conflict between high and low carbon imperatives, the real conflicts in politics and policy between the fossil fuel sector and the low carbon beneficiaries of (increased) regulation [the renewables sector, the energy efficiency sector].

This battle is mainstream, being fought out in organisations such as the World Bank, the OECD, the major development banks and up to a point in governments (e.g. in the planning system in China, with battles over air quality [talk about the politics of knowledge!!], water quality [See Mark Hertsgaard and Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone for more about this.]

Jacobs pointed [ruefully?] to work he had contributed to on a report called New Climate Economy released in September 2014, which looks at the semi-orthodoxy around green growth as a way of addressing questions of air quality, congestion [of traffic?] and inequality.

He pointed to the disjuncture of the UK government having signed up to the Climate Change Act (and the Tories haven’t abolished it!) while still going full steam ahead for fracking, with the CBI representing low carbon economy interests but also the oil and gas sector. There is, Jacobs said “real tension in the real economy”, and the politics of this are hard.

Jacobs felt that this was (therefore and too much) an elite framing and battle at present [carbon pricing and innovation policy not being doorstep issues, let’s be honest] before sounding the alarm that we have “15 years to determine any chance of keeping to two or near 2 degrees” with a need for “big changes in Business as usual” or we will be “locked in”

[See January 1987 testimony to US congress of Professor Verabhadran Ramanathan. See also Australian Climate Commission rhetoric over “the Critical Decade.” Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre will tell you we don’t have even that long to turn the supertanker…]

Jacobs, in language he returned to in the closing statements, pointed that “citizens have to make governments want to do this”, but that while Unilever might become progressive because of pressure from Greenpeace, and tightly-focused divestment campaigns might push holders of capital, there wasn’t the more diffuse pressure for social change, as per the first half of the 20th century, when social democrats had capitalist allies and were able to ‘make’ the welfare state. Now we lack an ‘agent of change’ analogous to the trades unions/labour parties of those days…

Next up Professor Mariana Mazzucato. She wanted to emphasize that talk of “green-ness” could be a way to change the (societal) conversation dramatically.

Urging the audience to read the book being launched, she pointed to the sterility of “top-down” versus “bottom up” around questions of finance and agency (as in, who can make things happen), saying that such binaries fail to help expose the fine detail (or “granularity”) required. Words like “bureaucracy” in relation to the state, or under-historicised words like “the market” can create more heat (and darkness) than light.

“The market,” she pointed out, is an outcome of decisions, actions and policies, rather than a preexisting thing. She urged a focus on actually existing institutions that make markets. Similarly she expressed discomfort with “civil society” – a “lazy term”. She pointed out that the mafia is a “bottom-up” institution par excellence.

Beyond relatively straight-forward questions of which technologies get funded, she pointed to the work of Carlotta Perez on the very direction of change of technologies (with mass production in the early 19th century). [See for example David Noble and Merritt Roe Smith on this]

She then turned her attention to the fact that in many areas the business community is in a stage of extreme financialised hoarding, with share-buy-back schemes (especially in the energy sector). She said it was not a coincidence that this was in areas where the state is very active (pharmaceuticals and energy). According to the work of Marcia Angell, 75% of the genuinely revolutionary drugs have been funded by the (US taxpayer-funded) National Institute of Health, and four big development banks (including EU and China) have invested 8 times as much as all the world’s venture capitalists [in Energy R and D, I think].

By not admitting that public actors are transformative, the debated is being devalued and debased. For example, the Department of Energy has been responsible for 90% of the R and D into fracking, but this is nowhere in the debates over “grandchildren paying debts [around taxpayer bailouts].

Finally, Mazzucato pointed to the word “deal” in green deal. She closed out by pointing that the “golden years” of innovation at Bell Labs didn’t happen by chance. AT&T set up Bell Labs under pressure following “tense negotiations” between government and business, and threat of more stringent state control/regulation.

[See also the work of Adrian Smith on technology [and my riff on that too?!], Karl Polanyi, Hilary Wainwright etc]

The third speaker, Camilla Toulmin pointed out that the IIED had in 1988 published “Blueprint for a Green Economy”. She raised important questions about how we (as in, the academic/activist/’civil society’) movement have been “naive in the debate” on the questions of politics and power. She cited the EU President Jean Claude Junke that every politician knowing what needs to be done but being afraid to do it”, and the push-back against ‘green’ rhetoric in the lead up to Rio +20 from countries that see carbon cuts as a developed world imperative [No change there then, in the last 25 years, except that the developed world has made and broken many promises…]. She pointed to some slight signs of hope, that once re-framed as ‘just development’ there was engagement on questions of water, land,forests, and money being put forward to fund projects. There were, she said “a lot of initiatives, almost too many”. She mentioned the usual alphabet soup of UNEP, World Bank, the Global Green Growth Forum, Global Green Growth Institute, Global Green Growth Knowledge platform, all of which are wooing multinational corporations.

Her own organisation’s goal is to go beyond this, and do capacity building;, via such avenues as the Green Economy Coalition.”She pointed to the systemic bias against the small scale, the trashing of ‘environmental goods’ and the vital importance of developing countries not getting locked into high carbon infrastructure. However, at present the balance of power is firmly with the incumbent high carbon companies/countries. She gave the example of Saudi Arabia, able to maintain production levels, sink the oil price and so endanger renewables investment.

Oil and gas companies remain hugely powerful, though with some nervousness over divestment campaigns and the ‘stranded assets’ rhetoric. She cited a (Shell) executive as saying (predictably enough) that “coal must stay in the hole”.[i.e. the fossil fuel lobbies are continuing the game of trying to push each other under the bus…

She concluded by saying that we are all deeply entangled (in systems of power) and that we’ve been naïve and optimistic, and need to be more combative and savvy, and to recognise the power of [potential] losers to be “blockers” [On this, see Sebenius from 1990]

The last speaker was Andrew Simms. He pointed to the simplicity of the “forces of darkness” able to say “privatise, liberalise, deregulate” while their opponents say “well, it’s complicated”. He followed this up with an observation that if we had as man activists as acronyms (GGGF etc), we’d already have won.

He pointed to the Oil and Gas industry representative of Radio 4’s Today programme seeking government handouts, and the lack of climate risk awareness among Big Business.

He grudgingly admired the architects of finance-led globalisation in being able to turn the threat (of delegitimisation in 2008) into further opportunities for power/money grabs [my terms]

He pointed to the lack of number crunching on just how deep and fast a transformation is required to give ourselves even a 50/50 shot of avoiding 2 degrees of global warming (the ‘unburnable carbon‘ stats of 33% of the oil, 50% of the gas and 80% of the coal being unusable)

After touching on the impossibility of growth in the absence of redistribution to lift people out of poverty, he turned to the inconvenient point that networking/social innovations can only succeed if there is a (very) favourable framework for it, and that technology on its own is not going to deliver (much in tune with the British Sociological Association’s study afternoon to be held Weds 26th). See for example Ozaki and Shaw (2014) Entangled Practices:Governance, Sustainable Technologies,and Energy Consumption. Sociology Vol. 48(3) 590­–605.

He gave a shout out to the food sovereignty networks in the south, to Buen Vivir, and – somewhat less convincingly – to the Transition Network. He quoted two dead socialists –

John Ruskin – “All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness.”

Raymond Williams –  “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.”

While saying he’d not seen any work that showed continued growth in the OECD countries was compatible with staying under two degrees, he didn’t talk about the Impossible Hamster though. What that? This!

The Q and A

Questions were bunched, wisely. In the first round

a) If you had a time machine going back, when would you go to/what advice would you give. And using the time machine going into the future and looking back, what did we do WRONG in 2015 that we then regretted?

b) Isn’t the key entry point for green movement “inequality”, and can we frame the green economy as breaking with the establishment/incumbents?

The linkages of domestic and international politics and the differences between Copenhagen 2009 and Paris 2015?

d) Isn’t all this talk of low carbon/green growth missing the point, in that renewables etc have been additional to rather than in the place of traditional high-carbon investment?

Michael Jacobs agreed whole-heartedly with the fourth question, pointing to both increased renewables but also increased coal use in the EU (thanks in part to rock-bottom US coal prices). Jacobs then lamented the lack of an environmental movement with sufficient force. He pointed to 350.org and Avaaz, but admitted that it is very very hard to mobilise people on policy questions, and this is a real problem, one that worries him hugely because “we have so little time.”

He felt domestic/EU politics wont’ play a role on road to Paris, since EU is a bloc, and that the only thing that will raise EU and other countries’ ambitions is public pressure. The absence of public pressure will lead to a lowest common denominator agreement, which won’t drive investment.

For Jacobs the difference from Copenhagen is that US and China both now want (some form of) deal. If Paris concludes with a deal that economic actors (investors) don’t think is serious [e.g. is not a long, loud, legal signal] then this is something “we will regret of many years.”

Mazzucato felt that the biggest missed opportunity was the way that the financial crisis was framed as hedge funds etc versus the (otherwise healthy) real economy, without pointing out that the real economy is just as sick. She cited a recent Guardian story on the US meat packing industry, before pointing out that there has been little discussion on the Piketty graphs of post-70s increased return on capital. She felt that Piketty’s solution (a wealth tax) was misplaced and what is really needed is “a new theory of wealth creation.”

Toulmin felt that the NGOs had fragmented and failed to mobilise and organise, and that this needed to change in the lead up to UK General election and Paris, though the Lobbying Act might have a constraining/chilling effect. On the differences between Copenhagen and Paris, she said that the costs of inaction were more visible, the costs of adaptation and vulnerability increasingly felt, and governments better informed. “Will it be enough? We’ll see.”

Andrew Simms felt that there was a rough consensus on the need for stimulus spending, albeit not in the UK. The austerity agenda had then swept all before it. On a similar theme to Toulmin, he felt in 2008 that NGOs had missed the opportunity- the “inertia of 3 year campaign plans triumphed. We didn’t push the right buttons, pull the right levers.”

The second round of questions was even more interesting

The first questioner, Prof Andy Stirling, pointed out that amid the talk of metrics, theories and frameworks (all very cogent) what might be missing is culture, and the (oppositional/transformative) possibilities of, say decolonisation, women’s emancipation, anti-classism struggles.

The second person, Herbert Hubert Schmidt, simply asked “are we too optimistic, is the transformation even possible in the space of a few decades?”

The third asked some linked questions on is the “stranded assets” narrative a trap, and how can we think of the fossil fuel industry in more granular way in relation to the UK state.

The fourth questioner wondered about the need for and viability of technology transfer to what we call the developing world, to avoid high-carbon lock in.

The fifth question (and only one from a woman, though women made up about a third of the audience) was on the role of other actors – central banks, regulators.

The final question/contribution (see “A chink of sunlight” below) was on the question of culture again, and the ‘aesthetics’ of speaking differently to and about power, with the examples of Syriza, Podemos and Ecuador strongly in mind.

Time was by now super short, and responses were necessarily brief.

Simms said “yes” on the culture question, with the formulation that during/after the Weimar republic the Right succeeded because it aestheticised politics [which Susan Sontag famously wrote on] while the left failed because it politicised aesthetics].

Simms, as did Jacobs, stressed the need for optimism generally, pointed to oil industry fear of divestment, and believes that it is possible for the rest of the world to bypass high carbon energy in favour of micro/small scale energy [Hmmm, possible yes. Amory and Hunter Lovins have been banging on about this for 40 years. Likely? No.]

Toulmin stressed the need for empowerment of local people and knowledge with local interests better represented. She gave the example of the spread of solar panels in the Malawian village she visits. The international outcomes – it depends on energy exporter/importer issues. Importers becoming increasingly keen on increased energy security. She was fearful that other events could derail/distract/detract from necessary climate action.

Mazzucato stated that its not a question of culture versus control, and that there are always tensions in/between movements (what Polanyi called double movements).

She pointed to the need not just to create money (quantitative easing a-go-go) but also to direct it. She pointed to the difficulty that even Keynesians have in defending from the argument that the state “crowds out” other investment, that it’s hard to defend that you are creating a pie that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

[Two points here
1) “If we just enlarge the pie, everyone will get more”. This has been the imagery of Capitalist growthmanship since the end of World War II- and I once did my share in propagating it. But the growth of the pie did not change the way the slices were distributed except to enlarge the absolute gap between the lion’s share and the ant’s. And whether the pie grows, or stops growing, or shrinks, there are always people who suffer from the behaviour of the cooks, the effluents from the oven, the junkiness of the pie, and the fact that they needed something more nutritious than pie anyway.” Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism


2) “And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only the lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new. This lukewarm temper arises partly from the fear of adversaries who have the laws on their side and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who will never admit the merit of anything new, until they have seen it proved by the event.”

Finally, Michael Jacobs agreed that culture was indeed fundamental to the problem, but that environmental movements had not been able to lobby/capture the state in ways that, say, the women’s movement had, and that in some ways the environmental movement was weaker than it was 20 years ago, when it was smaller but stronger. The sense of hope that problems could be solved via state action has diminished, except in places where the crisis is sharpest. Syriza is up against very very powerful forces. Here in the UK we have to try to create social movements out of more “normal” times and to re-imagine how the state relates to the economy to create social change. He closed out by saying “you can never bee too optimistic. Not to be optimistic is to slip into fatalism, and fatalism is fatal. Pessimism is never a political strategy.”

A cynic might well shoot back “Well, yes, but neither is wishful/magical thinking”…

A chink of sunlight
At the very end something unusual and praiseworthy happened. A man whom the chair invited to ask a question said “nope, that woman in front should go first, since all the other questioners have been men, even if it means I don’t get to ask my question.” Bravo!!!

This tendency – of the sharp-elbowed/(over)-confident men (such as the author of this post, who asked the first question) needs to be dealt with the level of structure and habit, rather than individual self-abnegation. I dream of a world where chairs routinely say “before we go straight into a q and a, which will be dominated by the usual suspects, please turn to the person next to you/behind you and spend two minutes swapping names and impressions of the event. If you have a question, seek affirmation of it, and help in honing it. We’ll then have a show of hands, and I am going to prioritise gender and racial equity.” It’s a little thing, but it might be part of making a difference. #justsaying


On the plus side

  • None of the questions became too much a speech (always a danger)
  • The gender balance of speakers (2 and 2) was refreshing (see here for how they do things in Manchester. Six white men, one white woman…).

On the minus

  • Only the first speaker stuck to the “5 to 7 minutes” remit
  • All but one of the questions came from men
  • The audience was almost entirely anglo

On balance

Well worth attending.

Marc Hudson


Academic (self)-branding and Andon Boards, or “The Panspectron as Tetris”

Was at an event only advertised on Twitter (how 21C is that?) I met some interesting people. One of them was the chief twitterer himself, Mark Carrigan (see post “coping with acceleration.”)

In a discussion about the ‘need’ for branding and the intensification of academic (if not intellectual) life, Carrigan approvingly cited the work of Will Davies, who talks about how the floor is being heated to see who can hop the longest.

This speed-up, analogous to what the political class has gone through with the coming of 24 hour news and now social media, is moving, like universal acid in the space ship , to academia.

For me the best way of thinking about it is via Andon Boards

esq-andon-board-1012-lg1Andon (アンドン, あんどん, 行灯) is a manufacturing term referring to a system to notify management, maintenance, and other workers of a quality or process problem. The centrepiece is a signboard incorporating signal lights to indicate which workstation has the problem. The alert can be activated manually by a worker using a pullcord or button, or may be activated automatically by the production equipment itself. The system may include a means to stop production so the issue can be corrected. Some modern alert systems incorporate audio alarms, text, or other displays.

Ostensibly about quality control, they make very good intensification tools, since teams can be pitted against each other to see who is doing best (fastest). Sort of like the evening sky signs of who died during the Hunger Games

(I first heard of Andon Boards in an extraordinary (as in brilliant) book called Pandemonium: The Rise of Predatory Locales in the Postwar World, which, when I am chief fascist dictator, everyone will be forced to read.)

There was a useful reference to Patti Lather on doing within/against work around the (academic) game.

Other similar concepts – the Japanese word ‘karoshi’, which translates as “death from overwork”.

Juking the stats. They won’t let me embed!  You MUST watch this clip. It’s only 100 seconds, of sheer genius.

Panspectron – the panopticon, but splintered and everywhere, all the time.  No longer a central point of observation, it is all around us, in the CCTV, the RFID, the Facebook, the phone, everywhere, all the time; skynet, basically.

Tetris– a game where your mental and physical dexterity are tested at progressively higher velocity.  Eventually your ability to close your ooda loops and recover from previous mis-judgements or mis-deliveries is overwhelmed.  The (speed of) the medium is the message…

Further work:  There’s probably also something on the early factories, with the surreptitious speed increases and clock slowing downs (EP Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class has stuff on this – I am told, not having (yet) read it.

To Read: David Noble’s Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education

Neologisms to coin – something that combines academics and precariat.  Precarademics? Brainetariat?  Para-cites?  (the last one is perhaps better for people who pad out their reference lists with things they’ve not actually read? About that Thompson book, um….)

More fun in the multiplex (maths) than the multiplex (cinema)

“Some of you may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder therefore how they got that way, and here, in partial explanation perhaps, is the story of the great Russian mathematician Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky  a blog post!

You have to stretch yourself, swim out of your depth on occasion. The seminar I went to today – at the Mitchell Centre for Social Network Analysis‘s “Multilayer Networks: Mulitplexity, networks of networks and all that jazz” [slideshare] the maths went WAY over my head. Why didn’t I feel patronised or bored?  Ten percent because I  mentally prepped myself for outadepthness, but 90 percent because you don’t feel that way when you are in the presence of someone (chap called Mason Porter from University of Oxford, in this instance) who clearly loves their subject, knows it inside out and can communicate it. The passion and joie de vivre pull you through. His Candide mash-ups didn’t hurt either.

I couldn’t, with a gun to my head, explain the maths and the graphs. There was good stuff on alternative ways of representing nodes in networks and how they interconnect (3D is better than 2D).  The ‘take home’ seems to be, entirely reasonable; if you are going to throw around terms like networks, nodes and so on, define your terms or you will create conceptual Gordian knots that some other poor sod has to unpick.

Here in lieu of a proper analysis, are the bullet points I wrote down, with subsequent googles.

Multiplex networks – “In a multiplex network, each type of interaction between the nodes is described by a single layer network and the different layers of networks describe the different modes of interaction. Indeed, the scientific interest in multiplex networks has recently seen a surge. However, a fundamental scientific language that can be used consistently and broadly across the many disciplines that are involved in complex systems research has to be developed. This absence is a major obstacle to further progress in this topical area of current interest. “

best exemplified by a geek game called “Munchkin quest.” People define these differently, which leads to all sorts of mayhem. “The literature is messy” said Porter, with the bonus hashtag #makeitstop. He then showed a neat (and probably laborious) parsing of the different definitions he and colleagues had encountered.

Barry Wellman – Professor Barry Wellman studies networks: community, communication, computer, and social. His research examines virtual community, the virtual workplace, social support, community, kinship, friendship, and social network theory and methods. Based at the University of Toronto, he directs NetLab, is the S.D. Clark Professor at the Department of Sociology, is a member of the Cities Centre, and the Knowledge Media Design Institute, and is a cross-appointed member of the Faculty of Information. He is the co-author of Networked: The New Social Operating System (with Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project) published by MIT Press in Spring 2012.

Krackhardt (1987) cognitive social structures and distinction between advice networks and friendship networks (you may like hanging out with fur mommy, but wire mommy is where the nutrition is at)

There’s a famous paper by Wayne Zachary on a Karate Club which split when he was studying it in 1977.  The dataset is here.

And so now there is a group of people who use the Zachary paper and its implications/methodological tools to look at networks and social interactions and it is called – you guessed it – the Zachary Karate Club Club. They indulge in such iffy sounding pursuits as “algorithmic community detection,” have a trophy and a tumblr, and are of course part of the “community detection community” (someone phone Private Eye right this minute.)  Clearly gunning for an Ig_Nobel

Paper to read after I finish my PhD – Community Structure in Time Dependent, Multi-scale and Multiplex Networks

Words and terminology that l scribbled down to google.

Weighted networks– “A weighted network is a network where the ties among nodes have weights assigned to them. A network is a system whose elements are somehow connected (Wasserman and Faust, 1994).[1] The elements of a system are represented as nodes (also known as actors or vertices) and the connections among interacting elements are known as ties, edges, arcs, or links. The nodes might be neurons, individuals, groups, organisations, airports, or even countries, whereas ties can take the form of friendship, communication, collaboration, alliance, flow, or trade, to name a few.”


transitivity – “In mathematics, a binary relation R over a set X is transitive if whenever an element a is related to an element b, and b is in turn related to an element c, then a is also related to c. Transitivity is a key property of both partial order relations and equivalence relations.”

eigenvector centralitiesEigenvector centrality is a measure of the influence of a node in a network. It assigns relative scores to all nodes in the network based on the concept that connections to high-scoring nodes contribute more to the score of the node in question than equal connections to low-scoring nodes. Google‘s PageRank is a variant of the Eigenvector centrality measure.[19] Another closely related centrality measure is Katz centrality.”

preferential attachment models “A preferential attachment process is any of a class of processes in which some quantity, typically some form of wealth or credit, is distributed among a number of individuals or objects according to how much they already have, so that those who are already wealthy receive more than those who are not. “Preferential attachment” is only the most recent of many names that have been given to such processes. They are also referred to under the names “Yule process”, “cumulative advantage”, “the rich get richer”, and, less correctly, the “Matthew effect“. They are also related to Gibrat’s law. The principal reason for scientific interest in preferential attachment is that it can, under suitable circumstances, generate power law distributions.”

Markov process– “In probability theory and statistics, a Markov process or Markoff process, named after the Russian mathematician Andrey Markov, is a stochastic process that satisfies the Markov property. A Markov process can be thought of as ‘memoryless’: loosely speaking, a process satisfies the Markov property if one can make predictions for the future of the process based solely on its present state just as well as one could knowing the process’s full history. i.e., conditional on the present state of the system, its future and past are independent.”

Kuramoto model- “The Kuramoto model, first proposed by Yoshiki Kuramoto (蔵本 由紀 Kuramoto Yoshiki) [1] ,[2] is a mathematical model used to describe synchronization. More specifically, it is a model for the behavior of a large set of coupled oscillators [3] .[4] Its formulation was motivated by the behavior of systems of chemical and biological oscillators, and it has found widespread applications such as in neuroscience [5] [6] .[7] Kuramoto was quite surprised when the behavior of some physical systems, namely coupled arrays of Josephson junctions followed his model.[8]The model makes several assumptions, including that there is weak coupling, that the oscillators are identical or nearly identical, and that interactions depend sinusoidally on the phase difference between each pair of objects.”

adjacency tensors – wikipedia let me down. Found adjacency matrices instead. I think my brain is way past full anyway…

modularity measures for multiple networks “Modularity is one measure of the structure of networks or graphs. It was designed to measure the strength of division of a network into modules (also called groups, clusters or communities). Networks with high modularity have dense connections between the nodes within modules but sparse connections between nodes in different modules. Modularity is often used in optimization methods for detecting community structure in networks. However, it has been shown that modularity suffers a resolution limit and, therefore, it is unable to detect small communities. Biological networks, including animal brains, exhibit a high degree of modularity.”

And while googling that, stumbled on Brain Connectivity Toolbox

linear oscillator models. Er, this? Brain DEFINITELY full.

Digression – this guy clearly has a lot of fun. Xkcd is about and for people just like him!

I’ve never met Cosma Shalizi, but I bet he and Mason Porter would get along like a house on fire.

This summer they are going to sit around at the Lake Como School of Advanced Studies, and probably dream up some articles for the Journal of Complex Networks.

Verdict. WAAAAAY over my head. So what? I had a ball. May have learnt something too. Result!!!

Connections to my PhD? Who knows for sure. But there was something here, and it was a different (more confusing!) use of my time than this morning’s reading group on (so-called) distributed leadership in social movements. The connecting quote for the two events might be –

Meaning in Movement: An ideational analysis of Sheffield-based Protest Networks Contesting Globalisation and War” by Kevin Gillan.

By emphasising the network form McLeish argues that the flows of information and interaction between groups and individuals are more important that (sic) the points of convergence. The ‘nodes’ – the points at which multiple flows connect – may represent a key moment during a movement’s history but have a tendency to create ossified traditions, incapable of reacting to changing political opportunities. ‘Organisers thrown up by events, who find themselves serving or surfing these waves of history narcissistically imagine themselves their authors. Last year’s bright creative movement becomes a fossilized bureaucracy or an inert ritualistic subculture.”
page 279 “Meaning in Movement: An ideational analysis of Sheffield-based Protest Networks Contesting Globalisation and War” by Kevin Gillan.

And we started with Lehrer, so in the best Ouroborosian tradition, we’ll end with New Math. Base 8 is just like base 10 really… if you’re missing two fingers…

Words, ideas, videos