From smugosphere to inkosphere

The inkosphere is “that place where people dive into words, concepts, theories and splash about, the size and sound of the splashes becoming the measure of all things.”

It kinda overlaps with the smugosphere – I’ll do a Venn diagram some day.

The smugosphere? – “is not a place you’ll find on a map. It’s a state of mind: it’s the place where deeds are done not so much because they might actually have a positive effect on the world but because they will raise the status or self-esteem of the person/group doing them.”

See excellent Daily Mash articles: “think pieces better than action.” And notes towards a theory of ignorance (not quite as funny, but perhaps more edifying!)


“Words words words” Hamlet

Knowledge is like a sphere, the greater its volume, the larger its contact with the unknown. —Blaise Pascal

“By understanding many things, I have accomplished nothing” (Door veel te begrijpen, heb ik niets bereikt). Grotius‘ last words

“Philosophers have always tried to understand the world. The point is to change it. ” Unknown/traditional


Alternative names that didn’t fly

  • wordosphere
  • bookosphere
  • datasphere
  • egosphere

Went for “inkosphere” because of the “drowning in ink” connotations and because it has a nice retro-feel, for all those folks who grew up before the Interwebz, with dead tree format.  Don’t like it? “Byte me”

Reading between the li(n)es: Policy Document Analysis

Fresh from a session on “Social innovation” (with a useful PhD writing interlude) I went to “What is… Policy Document Analysis?” These “what is…” events are put on by the methods@manchester folks.Sometimes ‘sage on the stage followed by q and a’ is okay. This was one of those occasions.

  • Imma bullet point it, (#wearealldeadalongtime)
    Documents aren’t just things on paper, can be photos etc etc
    “social facts, constructions of particular representation using literary using literary conventions” (Atkinson and Coffey. 2010)
    Not neutral, but a particular version of reality
    Policy is “statement of intent” with an “ought” function

Policy documents have specialised tones/registers, and don’t exist in isolation (intertextuality)
You can look at what is “in” the document – content analysis, thematic analysis, and/or at how the document came into existence (discourse analysis) and WHY (see my list of questions).

Three ways of looking at this
English for Specific Purposes (Swales, 1981, 2000)
Systemic Functional Linguistics (Halliday and Martin, 1993)
New Rhetoric (Miller, 1994). [I think Carolyn Miller] – Looking at attitudes, values and beliefs of the text users

“What the problem is represented to be” – Carol Bacchi –[Adelaide Uni!]  Foucauldian analysis. All policies designed to solve problems, also contain explicit and/or implicit solutions. Therefore can/should identify the problem representations and trace them historically [i.e. genealogy of…]

Sequence of document analysis

  1. Selection (get them all in one place)
  2. Familiarisation (skim etc)
  3. Reading
  4. Identifying extracts
  5. Developing analysis

Two observations from me

Two more  observations

  • It’s the silences that matter – not just which “problems” are off the table, but which “solutions” are off the table for the problems brought forward.
  • Policy documents are picked up and put down as needed (deliberate ambiguity within and between them, creating needed rhetorical wiggle-room in the unending legitimacy battles and turf battles). Policies that are inconvenient are simply ignored

Questions I like to ask:
Who wrote this document?
Who was paying them?
In response to what events/documents/problems?
Why did they write (beyond “following orders/pay the mortgage”)? What was the intended outcome?
Who is the intended audience for this document?
What has been elided? Conflated, either accidentally or on purpose?
What, in the eyes of critics, were the ‘hidden motives’? Is this a trojan horse for something else?
Who has ‘pushed back’ on this document – on what grounds (with what effect)
Did this document achieve its intended notoriety/fame/infamy/impact?

See also: Donald Schon “Beyond the Stable State

Future “what is” events

What is..? interviewing ‘elite’ groups
18 February 2015
1pm – 2pm

What is..? observation in the workplace
25 February 2015
1pm – 2pm

What is..? textual analysis
4 March 2015
1pm – 2pm

Fun foreign words – Sehnsucht and Duende

Just the words, ma’am? Then skip the first two paragraphs.

I have a glancing familiarity with some languages (French, Danish, Portuguese; minimal smatterings of others). One of the delights is learning words that have no direct translation (and then dropping them casually into conversations, in a puerile attempt at intellectual chest-beating. But I haven’t done that in ages. At least a week. But I digress.) Schadenfreude, Saudades, hygge etc etc etc

One of the other delights of my non-wifey weekends is the Financial Times weekend edition. Most of the meaty fact-based (albeit selected through the prism of serving the global killer elite) reportage, but with

  • a colour magazine containing columns by the always brilliant Simon Kuper, Gillian Tett and Tim Harford, and the often very funny Robert Shrimsley, asides from v.interesting features
  • the Life and Arts section, with book reviews, essays, “Lunch with the FT”, the Slow Lane, Harry Eyres etc. And the crossword. All this for £3. It will be my Desert Island luxury, if I ever climb those dizzy heights (I’d be there by now, frankly).

All this is a needlessly long introduction to –

Sehnsucht – “a yearning for something that is unobtainable.” (Quirke, 2015)

Duende – “a sort of spirit, something that no amount of training can achieve.” (Eyres, 2015)

Things to do while the algae grow in my fur – re-read Trevanian’s extraordinary novel Shibumi


Eyres, H. (2015) Gifts from the court of Federer. Financial Times, 17/18 January

Quirke, A. (2015) Messages from humanity. Financial Times, 17/18 January

On the Stepper: #ImStickingwithTony (not). Tech history, Field -Configuring Events, normative utopia

Was on the stepper on Thursday, reading about the global coal trade (Thank you IEA Coal Information 2014 and World Energy Council survey.) And yesterday, reading about the Australian Coal Export industry (more on that soon).

Today was broader, and perhaps more fun (!?)

I started with a speech by the soon-to-be-former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, [if you haven’t seen the delicious twitter hashtag #ImStickingWithTony yet – who knew Australia had so many top quality snarksters?!]. Abbott made the speech (complete with his verbal tic of repetition, verbal tic of repetition] at the “Annual Minerals Industry Parliamentary Dinner” on 28th May 2014. Here’s my favourite bit –

It’s particularly important that we do not demonise the coal industry and if there was one fundamental problem, above all else, with the carbon tax was that it said to our people, it said to the wider world, that a commodity which in many years is our biggest single export, somehow should be left in the ground and not sold. Well really and truly, I can think of few things more damaging to our future.

There are several things I could say at this point, none of them helpful…

Next up was Divall, C. (2010) “Mobilizing the History of Technology”, Technology and Culture, Vol 51, pp. 938- 960.  It was cited approvingly in the research proposal of a PhD colleague. Lots of very interesting things in this, on notions of “usable past”, “techno-tales” and “techno-myths” and so on…

Younger people are becoming habituated to living in spatially complex and extended social networks and are thus heavily dependent upon “cheap transport” (and telecommunications). All of this suggests just how widely held and deeply rooted is the belief that personal mobility is a right, and that we are still locked into the same techno-tales that led Whig historian Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–59) famously to proclaim that “every improvement of the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually as well as materially.”

When techno-tales start to look as though they are underpinning claims to rights, we are clearly entering deep waters. Questioning the history implicit in such ideas is fraught with difficulties, because they are often sincerely held elements of an individual’s or community’s sense of identity— not merely techno-tales, but myths. In David Lowenthal’s formulation, “myth” provides stories of origin and continuance through the decades and centuries, narratives that bind today’s individuals and communities together through a sense of common purpose and prestige.

Next up Lampel, J. and Meyer, A. (2009) “Field-Configuring Events as Structuring Mechanisms: How Conferences, Ceremonies, and Trade Shows Constitute New Technologies, Industries, and Markets ” Journal of Management Studies 45:6

Field-Configuring Events (FCEs) are temporary social organizations such as tradeshows, professional gatherings, technology contests, and business ceremonies that encapsulate and shape the development of professions, technologies, markets, and industries (Meyer et al., 2005). They are settings in which people from diverse organizations and with diverse purposes assemble periodically, or on a one-time basis, to announce new products, develop industry standards, construct social networks, recognize accomplishments, share and interpret information, and transact business.

FCEs are arenas in which networks are constructed, business cards are exchanged, reputations are advanced, deals are struck, news is shared, accomplishments are recognized, standards are set, and dominant designs are selected.

I wish I’d known about this back in 2006 (impossible, since it hadn’t been written) while involved in Climate Camp, which was an attempt at a Field-Configuring Event…. #toolatenow

Finally Berkhout, F. (2006) “Normative Expectations in Systems Innovation” Technology Analysis and Strategic Management. Vol. 18. pp. 299-311. (Also from that research proposal).,

Hmm, I was probably too tired (80 mins in on the stepper) to read this properly, but there was useful stuff about the (de)mobilising power of visions –

We further argue that, to give them force, visions of the future tend to be ‘moralised’, in the sense of being encoded and decoded as either utopias or dystopias. This is because the possible effects of different visions are socially distributed (there will be winners and losers), and because one way of enrolling actors to a particular vision is to attach it to positive moral values, or to visualise the negative consequences of not pursuing it.

And some stuff on whose visions “win” (the actual, non-meritocratic, selection pressures) –

“Second, we may say that, in broad terms, there are two kinds of explanations for the successful articulation and diffusion of a vision: its validity or attractiveness to a wide range of interests; and/or the power of the constitutive interests who dominate a discourse about alternative futures. In these two cases what is different are the terms under which new adherents are enrolled to the vision. In one there is a process of voluntary and empowered enrolment, in the other enrolment is in some sense involuntary or even coercive. This may be because a deliberately constrained set of options have been considered, or because the capacity to realise future options has been disproportionately aligned with one particular future option.”

Which translates as “rich powerful people can be numbskulls and still get approval and the intellectual equivalent of retweets.”

Replica(n)ting empathy – or “What psychoanalysis can do for YOU”

Blooming heck. It’s not every day that you get to spend two hours in the presence of someone who, with zero flashiness, expands  the floor of your mental cage every five minutes or so. (1)

There was a CIDRAL (Centre for Interdiscplinary Research in Arts and Language) panel/symposium thingie at the Tin Can on Oxford Road, on “Psychoanalysis, Morality and the Senses

Chaired by Prof Jackie Stacey, it had a panel made up of Adam Phillips (psychoanalyst, writes for LRB etc) , Dr Monica Pearl (Lecturer in 20th Century American Literature, EAC, UoM) and Professor Ian Parker (psychoanalyst, Manchester Psychoanalytic Matrix).

The format was simple – Phillips described/riffed on some of the ‘set texts’ and these were responded to by the other panelists before the Q and A. The format usually enrages me, but was saved by the sheer quality and suppleness of the observations on offer from the panellists, and the clarity and concision of the questions.

Things I picked up on –  (and apols to anyone and everyone whose insights passed me by)

I need to read “Punishing Parents” (hi mom!)

Lacan’s observations of the dangers of enacting desire (into knowledge) and of three passions – for love, hate and ignorance.

Phillips’ point that we shouldn’t underestimate how scared people are of each other [scared, scarred by childhood humiliations and intimidations] and that this anxiety leads to people defending themselves and becoming violent [not physically, not so much these days – see Norbert Elias – but emotionally, verbally].

Philips’ observation around the importance of how to stop intimidating and humiliating each other.

Two  Winnicottisms

  • “Madness is the need to be believed.” [Poor Sarah Connor at the beginning of T2!]
  • “Psychoanalysis is there to facilitate the capacity to be surprised.”

Some of the Phillipics

  • “The kind of psychoanalysis I’d like to be involved in is about finding good unsentimental ways of being kind to each other”
  • “Any art that helps us transform frustration is worth having.”
  • “On the fear of (beginning to be) kind – “Perhaps the happiest life is to lose our lives to a communal kindness.”

On the dangers – in demanding more knowledge of life partner, of missing the point of intimacy, and of the dangers of “attempting to create a collusive mystification”  (what a GREAT name for a band. If I could play an instrument, I’d be in the Collusive Mystifications!!).

I know these are frustratingly (!) allusive and vague, but you really did Have to Be There.  Or read the books.  This topic came up, in a question and response – the books (and reading) are useful insofar as they move us to questions, to questions, to questioning and revising.  (Scribbling on the palimpsests with the contents of our kluge-y brains. But I digress…)


The films Blade Runner and Groundhog Day are important to think with about the crucial questions of identity, empathy, kindness, the Good Life.

The Q and A started out as a sausage fest (three men), but then women spoke up.  By the end it was pretty much 50:50, reflecting the audience. However, the questioners, bar one, were 40 plus, and the young half of the audience said nowt.

Perhaps the viciously tiered lecture theatre (an unfriendly space for dialogue).  And perhaps also – however unintentionally and indeed unwanted – the obvious brilliance of the panel (I was going to say “intellectual firepower,” but that needlessly imports violent imagery. Perhaps “intellectual banquet,” or “feast’” or “wellspring”? Suggestions welcome.)

What to do? The same as you can do to avoid a gender split – before the Q and A say something like “please take two minutes to discuss with someone near you. If you think you have a question but you don’t know if it’s a good ‘un, try it out on that someone, ask their help honing it, improving it.”

Usually when you do this, more hands that are not attached to dangly genitalia go up.  And maybe younger ones too?


“Verdict” – a rip-roaring success.

Future CIDRAL events can be found here.


(1) As in, Chomsky-esque levels of smart.

From “All Our Yesterdays” – Jan 28, 1987 – a warning from history

I have a side project – a website on which I blog something that happened “that day” in “climate” (that’s a loose term) history. Today there’s two posts – here’s the second…

An extra “All Our Yesterdays” post today, in honour of two excellent scientists, Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Professor Wally BroeckerIt was Ramanathan’s work on non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases which had stiffened the resolve of the Villach attendees, and Broecker had been similarly involved. On January 28, 1987 they testified to Congress. Here is a long quote from a chapter in an ancient but sadly prescient book, “The Challenge of Global Warming.”

The Senate took up the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion issues again in January 1987. In fact, it became the subject of the first major hearing by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the new Congress. Two critical and relatively new problems were discussed at this hearing that were to become central aspects of the growing urgency associated with the global warming problem.

Ramanathan argued in the hearing that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations had already been altered sufficiently by 1980 to commit the earth to a 0.7 to 2 degrees Celsius warming. With each passing decade Ramanathan estimated that an additional 0.2 to 0.5 degrees Celsius was being added. His analysis meant that by the year 2020 – in 33 years – the earth would be committed to as much as 4 degrees Celsius warming. Many scientists believe that the earth has not been 4 degrees Celsius warmer for tens of millions of years. Ramantahan’s testimony established that society was already locked into a substantial amount of climate change no matter what governments did. The problem was no longer a question of whether a change would occur but how much and when.

The second major issue was raised by Wally Broecker, a geochemist at the Lamont Dougherty Laboratory.  Broecker’s testimony was a follow-up to a talk he had given at an EPA conference in June. Broecker said that an examination of the history of climate change suggested that the greenhouse effect might push the earth into a state of rapid change – reorganizing the earth systems in the process. Broecker had little faith that society would experience a linear and gradual change in global temperature and climate as suggested by general circulation models of the atmosphere. The key implication of Broecker’s testimony was that the buildup of greenhouse gases could force the climate system to go into a state of rapid change and that society ultimately had limited ability to predict what that change might bring.

Page 264 Pomerance, R. (1989) “Dangers from climate warming: A public awakening,” in Abrahamson, D. (1989) The Challenge of Global Warming. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Defense Council

Social Movement learning from academic research (or “looting the ivory tower”)

There’s the translation problem. Namely, academics write like, well, academics. There are a finite number of activists who are both willing and able to loot the Ivory Tower and then translate information into digestible bits for other activists. And those finite activists have very finite time, energy, attention, morale and bandwidth.
This, of course, has relevance and implementability of “advocacy coalitions.”

There are risks to translator too
Reputational “ooh look Mr Theory has swallowed another book, thinks he’s so smart, thinks he’s better than us…” Nobody likes (to be thought of as) a smart-arse.
Opportunity cost too – what else might you have been doing with the time and energy you’ve spent wading through wordtreacle for nuggets that are obvious without being banal.

Me, I oscillate between fed-up-ness with academics and activists. Am occasionally fed-up with both at the same time, which is bad for morale. Probably at my most productive in the rare moments when I am not fed up with both.

Person spec

  • Higher education
  • A Thesaurus
  • A high boredom threshold
  • High bullshit threshold (tolerance for. Probably built through hormesis [constant small-and-rising-dose exposure, leading to resistance])
  • Persistence (it takes time to skill up)
  • Access through the pay-walls
  • Translation ability (making it simple without simplifying)
  • Persistence
  • Writing with humour
  • Making videos
  • Willingness to do it for intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards

Words, ideas, videos