Newsflash: Fossil Fuel Lobby using blonde moppets as human shields in war on planet

Personally I am not a big fan of fascism.  Call me squeamish.  Nor am I a big fan of the whole ubermensch “Aryan blonde-blued eyed” thing .  Something to do with understanding who was on the land before whitey arrived and what whitey did to get that land.

I am not saying that the people shilling for Shell and Heathrow expansion are master-racers.  I am just saying that they have chosen – consciously or otherwise-  to mimic the visual grammar of the Nazis. Perhaps they didn’t read that Sontag essay carefully enough.

At 4pm I got an email from Greenpeace complaining about an advert that Shell is running.


At 10pm I got a facebook message from a very good friend, snapping something she’d seen on the tube.

heathrow picture arwa

Blonde girls as pictures of innocence.  Blonde girls as pure, representatives of the shining future that will last a thousand years.  Blonde girls (some of whom will grow up to do the whole Kinder Kuche Kirche thing), threatened by (unseen) wicked environmentalists. Who are probably communists and degenerates to boot.

There’s an implicit calculus of human worth here.  One rich white kid is worth, what, 50 poor brown foreign ones.  100?  Do I see a rise on 100.  Going once, going twice – 135 from the man in the suit over there.  135.  Do I see…  The irony is of course, that we think we can insulate ourselves from the consequences of our actions and we simply won’t be able to.  Things have gotten out of hand.*

I digress. Meanwhile, back to the crude visual analysis of crude visuals…We think we are beyond the crude rhetoric of the Creel Commission. And we are, just about…


If only I knew someone doing a PhD thesis on the tools that fossil fuel companies have used to stop any action on climate change that would interfere with their profits; (that is “most of it, in most cases”).

No, wait…


* opposable thumbs eh?  A two-edged sword, them.


Event report: “Enhancing Interdisciplinarity”

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Object lessons by Robyn Wiegman

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

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

5 interdisciplinary issues

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

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

3 Reifying an object or concept

4 Interlocuters? With whom are you in dialogue

5 Publishers and examiners

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


Good point on privacy and internet etc;

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

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

Arendt’s “how to create totalitarians/ism”

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

Vygotsky and Bourdieu mash-up!

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

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

Disciplinarity is the “historic fracturing of knowledge and practice”

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

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

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

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

“Smart” homes and what they mean – energy, consumption, #funwashing…

Last week Dr Tom Hargreaves came to Manchester and delivered an interesting seminar (for the Sustainable Consumption Institute) on “Smart homes, energy use and every day life.”

The idea of “fun washing” (as akin to greenwashing etc) popped up.  My understanding is that it a rhetorical/advertising ploy to get people past the anxiety of their energy consumption by having them think something along the lines of  “Well, it looks fun and enjoyable!  (And I am a good person who deserves fun and enjoyable things. And if it is good for me, and I am a good person then therefore …) it can’t be bad for the environment, can it?” #antinomianism

Here’s a recent paper, and below are the videos of a) his presentation and b) the Q and A session.

Gonna buy an ickle tripod (it will be useful and enjoyable. And I am a good person who deserves…) and also start asking questioners if they are cool with being filmed and posted on youtube…

My PhD – a poster

On Wednesday there’s a “Methods Fair” at University of Manchester. If you can come, vote for meeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

PS This is already out of date, in that I’ve got some fancier methods to play with than I knew about when I threw this poster together.  The cartoons, to emphasise, are from the amazing Marc Roberts.

poster for competition-page001

PS Other videos to follow, soonish, promise (they’re “in the can”)

Professor Cynthia Enloe gives #Manchester Annual Peace Lecture

Professor Cynthia Enloe [wikipedia] is the author of ground-breaking works such as  “Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics” and The Morning After: Sexual Politics at the End of the Cold War. She is also Research Professor at Clark University.

Yesterday she gave a clear and compelling lecture at the University of Manchester, followed by an equally useful and engaging question and answer session (which is rare, and harder than it looks)

You can see the lecture and the question and answer sessions below.  The video footage of the questioners is ‘blanked out’ but the audio works fine.

Activist Fictions…

The article below appeared in the latest issue of the essential-reading “Peace News.” (subscribe here.)

Activist Fictions

The absurdly handsome activist bit his lip. The Peace News crew were threatening mil-itary action if the final extended deadline for a 2000 word essay on “Activism and Fiction” was missed. The clock was most definitely two minutes to midnight.
He sighed, ran a hand through his thick shoulder-length blond hair, and thought quickly. His hands flew with perfect acuracy across the keyboard. “The four books under review, all by women, are useful and…”


His 5th generation phone, full of apps about buying fair trade, challenging climate denialism, and the daily homily on intersectionality, beckoned.
He considered not answering. It was probably just Sven again, pestering him to come to Stockholm in December to accept that stupid prize. Or else Noam wanting more help with his grammar homework.
He picked up the phone and read the text.

“Why u writing stupid article? Activists shld be out saving world, not reading poxy made-up crap. U enabling their laziness, u moron.”

The deadline be damned! “Who is this? How u get this number?!!”

Straight away the reply: “Well duh, numbskull. I’m your conscience. Call me Jiminy, or Mr Puritan. Or whatevs. U gonna justify yrself? Y u rite abt novels? Real life 2 scary?”

He buried his head in his hands. That’s all he needed – the fourth wall to break down. He’d been warned that if the article wasn’t in the PN inbox by Monday to expect a visit from some very large and short-tempered quakers. Still, he could hardly ignore himself, could he?

He texted back. “Switching to email.” And he wrote

“There are at least three excellent reasons we activists should read fiction about activism.
First, we need to get ideas and inspiration – and heed warnings – from other people’s struggles. Novels can say things about personal and group experiences that articles and non-fiction can’t.
Secondly, you cannot spend your whole life reading local authority plans and corporate responsibility reports and Amnesty International appeals. Or rather, you can, but you’ll burn yourself to a crisp and become so narrow and boring that you are a perfect advert for NOT being an activist.
Thirdly, if the novel is good, you can share it not just with your activist mates, but also with other people who don’t understand what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it. It might inspire them to get involved.

The text response was instant. “#Yrsofullofit. Take your first choice – “Mud” by Nicky Edwards. Written almost 30 yrs ago, and full of stuff about World War One! Er, relevant?!”

The activist first thought ‘don’t feed the troll’, then realised he was the troll. He typed: “It’s a brilliant novel. A young woman who has fallen out of love with the intense activism of the Greenham Common protests meets an elderly woman called Ada whose life she wants to write about. This allows Edwards to write about so much that matters; suffragettes, the personal politics of meetings and communal living, history, memory, the trouble with the trajectories of protest, class and the scars of war. Because it’s the only British novel in the four I’ve chosen, it’s the one I’d try to get everyone to read first. Catch this bit, in which the activist explains the end of the affair –

“OK. Once upon a time there was this big day out at a peace camp, when Janet and Janet and some Johns, but mainly thirty thousand or so Janets went and held hands and sang songs and generally had a good time.”
“…. Lots of adventures for the Janets. But time passes, until it’s a year after that first day out in the country, which so many of our heroines found so inspiring. Almost exactly a year to the day…. Well, our particularly Janet is there, of course, older and a bit more battered and generally fed up to the back teeth with being pushed around in the good cause that has brought everyone out in their thermal underwear again.”
“But still she went.”
“Couldn’t miss it really. Big day out, lots of women there, sense of obligation, not wanting to be left out. All sorts of things.”
“And how was it different from the first time?” Ada was really quite good at this cross-examining business.
“In many ways, not at all. Same thousands of women milling around, looking pretty similar, singing the same song. Same mud, same camera crews, same tail-back of coaches with posters in the windows jamming the Basingstoke road. More police helicopters, more barbed wire, more soldiers and watchtowers and floodlights and guns in evidence. More crackle of walkie-talkies filling up every bit of the airwaves, even the ones the Janets were trying to sing in. But a lot of the same looks on their faces. Untroubled.”
“Like I said, our particular Janet was wandering around feeling rather jaded, and wondering why they all thought the nastiness would go away because they’d turned out in such numbers to be nice all round it, when they’d done the same thing last year and not changed it for the better.”
Ada tutted gently to herself. Not sure how to interpret the noise, I carried on.
“And, of course, Janet felt guilty for being so cynical and making comparisons with the way she always got taken to midnight mass when she went home for Christmas, a pleasant and colourful, but fairly pointless annual ritual.”
page 123

“Great – so u want people to slag off activism now? That’ll really work! (claps).”

The Brad Pitt-lookalike sighed and typed. “No, not slag off, just understand the mechanisms that can lead us astray. It’s easier to do with fiction than impassioned denunciations of the smugosphere. I think. But the other novels are brilliant too! In “Vida” Marge Piercy explains the enormous personal and political costs of being underground after the 60s. Vida and friends were entrapped by an undercover cop (sound familiar) but got away. There’s brilliant stuff about the politics of the Vietnam War movement, the radicalism, the tensions within it. This bit, on burnout, is just perfect.

“She was always late now- running, running, but never arriving. She never went to bed before three in the morning, and she was seldom allowed to sleep past eight. From the time she crawled out till she collapsed in her clothes, she no longer had time to read a book, bake a cake, listen to music, talk idly- and everything was empty palaver that was not about liberation, not about imperialism or racism or Third World struggles, about the war, the war, the war. If she went to the country, it was for a secret meeting or for target practice. When she ran into an old friend, she could think only what skills or contacts they had that were needed, what kind of speaking or fund raising or organising or liaison work they could do. Yet she had no feeling of accomplishment, because every morning in the Times, every evening on television, the war was stronger, and she was closer to exhaustion. They had not done enough they had not risked enough, they had not tried everything, they had not fought hard enough, they had not, because the proof was before her every morning and every evening the war went on. It was raining blood outside whether she looked out the window or not; the blood was splattering down, and the hot wind that blew across the city smelled of ashes, of burning flesh. Obviously they had not tried hard enough if the war still went on.”

“So you get vicarious thrills from wannabe revolutionaries? Really? Weak.”

This Mr Puritan guy was getting tiresome. The activist typed “No, but I can learn from them, no? In the same way I learn from corporate literature of team-building and strategy? And from military techniques for tactics and training? Why not learn from things you don’t agree with? And Piercy isn’t saying Vida is a heroine, just that she’s a human, who has made smart and dumb choices, and sometimes not had space to make choices. The final pages of the book leave me breathless every time I read it.”

“Yeah yeah. What were the other two then?”

“Death is Part of the Process” by Hilda Bernstein. Written during the armed struggle against the Apartheid regime, covering both the 80s but and the 60s, it follows the fates of three different activists – one white, one Indian and one black. It looks at how they are treated differently by the state, how they have different options and how they do – or don’t break – under pressure, what they expect of themselves and others. Again, you will tell me this has nothing to teach about activism in the privileged West. But you’re wrong. And it’s wonderfully written. The scene where one activist has to decide if he stays in the struggle or heads for the door, by simply tearing off a button has stayed with me for 20 years. And then there’s the hardest to find, but in some ways the best. “Local Deities” by Agnes Bushell. Like “Vida”, it deals with the costs of living underground in the United States, and being hunted by all. It’s excellent on race and class too, full of vivid characters who you want to know more about. And, like Vida, it warns against turning anyone into heroes – thus the title.”

“Okay,so this last one – how’d you hear about it if it’s so hard to find?”

The activist wondered if he was winning anyone – least of all his conscience – over. And glanced at the clock. He was almost out of time. He typed. “Well, I read Jennifer Egan‘s “The Invisible Circus”, about a casualty of the 1960s, and checking the Amazon reviews afterwards

“Amazon? And you call yourself a…”

“Chill, I didn’t buy anything! I found mention of Dana Spiotta‘s excellent “Eat the Document” (also on the consequences of violent action for both victims and perpetrators) and a reviewer – rightly – recommended Bushell.

“You done preening yet?”

The activist hit the properties function, and wrote “Still got 300 words. You gonna help?”

“U only wanna write about women? Trying 2 prove non-existent feminist credentials? #shallow, dude.”

The activist grinned. “Men often more into the whole street-fighting thing. But also excellent stuff too. Zodiac by Neal Stephenson, before his books got enormous. Good on the technicalities of nvda sabotage. Edward Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang”, if you can cope with the casual misogyny, is full of verve and love.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is excellent on strategy and the need for constant re-invention. Just pretend you don’t know about the author’s horrible homophobia, ‘kay?
Cory Doctorow‘s recent Little Brother and Homeland – both set in San Francisco after a terrorist attack, are simply brilliant – great stuff on pleasure, technology, surveillance, courage and politics, with a narrative drive that has you almost devouring the damn books. They deserve a 2000 word review all of their own.”

“Sounds a bit sci-fi. I’ll pass” texted Jiminy, clearly on the back foot.

The activist looked at the clock too. He was winning on both fronts. “Your loss. And sci-fi? How is that a dirty word?? Two must-read trouble-in-utopia novels get that slurred as “sci-fi” should be on the national curriculum. “Woman on the Edge of Time” by the aforementioned Marge Piercy and “The Dispossessed” by Ursula Le Guin. Nobody can call themselves an informed anarchist without having read both, imho. And Le Guin’s short story “The Day before the Revolution” is a brilliant evocation of the cruelty and pleasure of fighting for justice without expecting the day to come.”

“Oh just write the damn article and leave me alone.”

The activist checked his phone. Yep, Sven again. And from Noam four more pleading emails. Time to send this off to Peace News. Activism and fiction indeed.
Disclaimer: Marc Hudson has been called absurd, but never absurdly good-looking. All adverbs and adjectives used in this article should be treated as fiction. And some of the facts. But not the assessment of the novels discussed. Those are good old-fashioned opinions.

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