Live Blogging: Stories, Texts and Technoscience (5)

Fleck – the process of discovering facts vs Facts aren’t produced! They are RECOGNIZED! / Wittgenstein – not to have breakthrough, but to clear up the mess by the last philosophy (ANT close to this with regards to science – we have ourselves with a misunderstanding of the claims of science and the goals of science – ANT tries to clean this up). “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.” Thought style/collective. What thought community does that come out of?

(Read: Polanyi – The Great Transformation). /Mol – the logic of choice (anything anyone does is choice), and there is always a technology, that if you align yourself with it correctly, it can get out of your rut.

Hacking – Taking for granted degrees of constructionism / Elevator words /a successful science could have developed along an entirely different path – ontologicaly objective/epistemologically subjective. Once it is entered into the framework, it becomes “real.” Once you accept capitalism, poverty only means one thing (anything else). What is getting organized / what contributing to what is getting organized today / Interactive kinds – two loops – interactive as the effects of people themselves of being grouped into a certain kind but also how people see them as belonging to that certain kind of autism.

Fleck leaves us with an idea of “facts” are developed (Latour’s “fact-ory”), but then stops there. Hacking picks up – now that everything is open to social construction 1) what is being constructed 2) what kind of constructionist do we want to be? Verran then moves to platonic things (length, numbers), which are the Kantian a priori, and gives us the systematic “working out” of this kind of Sociology.
Verran – multiplicity (multiple ontologies)/ Universalism/relativism / remembering Metaphors.

Hierarchy of gazes – children who are being surveilled, the teachers who are being supervised, Verran who is monitoring and being monitoring, and then the new Verran surveillance on the old Verran. Auto-critique. Pick it up as a method, or does it only work de-constructively. No initial question to start from, rather “where did you get that from?”
ANT – just because you can show it is a social construction, doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. Sequence of relative certainties.

Political ontologoy

Mid century sociology: so many elevator words;

Where is Sociology? We have some habits of thought, core topics (race/inequality) that we have a stamp on, but there is just so much else happening right now.



After all of this, this is how Art puts together his method.

Having this problem about talking about stories right now. Take things like conversation analysis that describes the “truth” of what they are “really doing” – a narrative analysis that isn’t unmasking or ironic, but is rooted simply in understanding. If you want to do a narrative analysis, it is a mirror image of storytelling. How do we do sociology the way a scientist does good science? A matter of looking to the people themselves, not just as experts in their own lives (Ethnomethodology, D. Smith), but a locally situated skilled worker.

First, a recognition of “Slow-ciology” that begins with drawing out the stories in full. Slow people down, as it is the gaps of assumed knowledge that are the most interesting. Also, slowing down the analysis project (“how fast can I get it into the computer – qualitative sociology with software just isn’t as interesting).

How do we slow people down?

1. Fill in the story: Ask people to fill in the characters and the settings. In the interview, ask them to tell the full story. Expand the frame to get the before and after, recognizing that the story isn’t self contained. What makes the story an episode is what is interesting.

2. Important to ask who is telling the story (falling back on the notion of ideal type). Not “what kind of person” but “how does telling the story constitute the teller as this type of person”. The teller as dialogical personality inseperable from who the story is being told to. What are the resources that the story teller has available. What a person is what their narrative resources are. We don’t have resources, but we ARE narrative resources.

3. Important to ask about connections (network in ANT, hook-ups in IE). How did the person learn that story, both in content and narration. Words, tropes, plot types, metaphors – how does this way of telling reflect connections with what? Who would get to tell the story, and who would get it? The story – who gets it immediately, who would get it with coaching, and who would not get it no matter what (people can immediately group this). This is a connection – who tells the same story vs. those who would never get the story.

(at this point, this is just the gathering stage, before analysis). Not going too fast yet.

4. Every story has a evaluation component – what was a good thing and what was a bad thing? “They lived happily ever after” – they did something right here. Ask about how the story draws about who else’s notions of what is good and what is bad? Stories have a sense of evaluation, ask what this draws upon as it accepts other notions of good/bad or resists other notions of good/bad. Making live social – evaluation.

5 . People are trying to hold their own. Better than “coping strategy” which suggests an other “they who are coping” and a level of deficiency – psychobabble. Ordinary idiom – whatever people need to do to do whatever it is they are trying to do. In narrative – the content, the telling (as an action) – in both these levels, people are holding their own. In the act of holding on, they become the self that they hold onto. Holding ones own change, it is open. The key thing to think through – until there is an understanding of how they are doing this – until you can tell a story about the storyteller as being situated in their life and about holding their own. A narrative analysis that proceeds like telling a good story. Develop the character to the point that they have their own level of autonomy. Could be an analysis of them doing anything. People are holding their own. How do you understand this?

6. Ask the people themselves – when research hits an impasse, the way out is to ask “what are you trying to do yourself” – Reassembling the Social – social science asks too little of the participants, we want to take on the work for people. Asking people what they want. “What would you like me to do in response to your stories?” Ask how they want their stories represented; if nothing else, this just becomes good data, as it gives more on how they understand themselves, and what they thing we are able to do with the story. “What is the message you would like to get out?” – they do have a sense of message, and in the course of the interview, they possibly have something more. Very intense in that they can hear themselves talking in an unstructured way.

The Analysis (everything is before):

7. The key thing: teach yourself to re-tell the story; the way you would take someone else’s story and learn how to incorporate this into your repertoire. Tell it silently, taking the role of the other; both teller and audience. As we do this, as we re-tell the story, a curious thing happens is that the story doesn’t always hold together – inadequacies (why would they do that?) the cracks amplify as you re-tell the story to oneself. Just the same way as one would re-learn it for performance. The analysis begins where the story doesn’t hold together (like Latour’s controversies). Re-tell the story, discover the gaps, the places where the action could have gone very differently. Discover the places where the story could have been different. Story about going this way rather than all these other ways.

8.  As you retell the story, the beginning and ending is arbitrary. A less important, but important – what genre, what narrative type? How would the story teller tell this story. What other stories are like or unlike? Crucial to get a sense of different genres of stories within this same phenomenon?

9. At the end, what do you most appreciate about the story teller? “Appreciative inquiry” – something that is complementary to this. Until you have thought about the person you have talked to in a way that appreciates how they are telling their lives, you aren’t there yet.

And so ends my last ever regulation time seminar!!

Live Blogging: Stories, Texts and Technoscience (4)

Verran: Science and an African Logic

1. Explaining away what is meant to be explained: Verran pushes you towards: “What is to be explained?” (Dorothy’s “What is the problematic?”) – who has what sort of problem? Starting with the problem explains away the interesting part, instead of eventually getting to the problem. This means rethinking both ontology (now understood as political) and politics (not a matter of intervention, but clarification). Problematic is limiting because we can move too quickly that which should be kept open. In the best ANT studies, it is not a strict beginning.

2. Literalizing: numbers are a conceptual organization, but we treat them as a natural kind. The history of numbers is taking embodied rituals. Once the literalizing is done, those things are there? “We do things with numbers, but numbers are things with us” – “numbers are familiars that seem to do us as we do them.” Goes to the Thomas theorem – we create the reality, but it becomes real in its consequences. It then is able to change in various ways in the course of doing us.

204-205 – once in existence, the numbers systems take on a life of their own. Meanings become black boxes – at that point, the grammar becomes part of the system.

Ontological Politics: sorting out what counts as “differences.” What counts as “X” when “X” counts? What does count? ANT politically does not want to put anyone in a “hero role” positions (direct lineage of “Science as a vocation” – lets acknowledge). Multiple versions are all not equal as “what counts” – multiplicity. ANT always wants an honest game that understands what the rules are, who is doing what.

Reflexivity: 4 pages from the end: “Would I act any differently?” – and she says “not really.” A curious example of a knowing actor. Even in the ANT study (236) “letting these little rituals happen as they would… trust teachers, and to trust myself to know what was successful.” The knowing teacher, the bottom line: trust the people who are actually out there doing the out there work. So then, what was the book about? The work was about western ways of knowing. The theory needed a knowing subject – trust embodied certainty?

Where the observing writer – who is the reader, and what is that reader supposed to be concerned with? \

How much do you watch the world / how much do you let it be? How much is it doing Warhol and just setting up the camera and documenting? As soon as you start publishing something, it becomes part of the picture.

The book ends up being about bodies, and repeated enactments of bodies, and the possibilities of language, and how our categories are repeated things we do over and over again, give a name to, and then reify the name. The name does a thing (it does us/as we do it).

Ordered/Ordering Micro-worlds: what is the ordered/ordering micro-world? Something is happening / is ordered (the people have resources they are expected to deploy, say a diagnosis) /is ordering (a teaching scene – doing ordering that will perpetuate). The scene could be otherwise (say, an other diagnosis) (the deconstruction of the category). Recognizing the inadequacy.

Foundationalism (p. 210): foundationalism (learning to see through the confusing surface p. 165). The expert gaze is supposed to see through to something else with expertise. The “murky surface” – claims to explain all possible worlds must be refused (relativity). Yet, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t safe to get in an airplane. It’s built within specifications that work in this world, good enough to get from here to there (modest version of social science – middle range). The idea of some ultimate theory is a foundationalist pipe dream (another authority bid). Live in a world of modest claims.

Findings: “the report has me “finding” the order” – another version of literalizing.

218: Think of certainty (method as it is taught): downward flow / legitimizing / (also 144 – translations). Method is a way of legitimizing various claims by having a cognative authority. All about claims making. Which winners/which losers?

Constitution of certain categories: who are the winners and who are the losers? Who comes off better or worse?

Live Blogging: Stories, Texts and Technoscience (3)

In methodology, three of the core areas

1) The question of “facts” – the way in which the word “finding” gets tossed about. In a literal sense – “what you find” or the activity of doing the findings. But in Fleck (or Latour), it is the “what are you producing”? What does “findings” imply – something that you come upon (“wow, there it is!”).

Building on that, the possibility of sociology is the idea of social construction (without which you don’t have sociology). Durkheim – Facts, Marx – Reifications (Etc). Natural scientists believe that the science will eventually explain all (i.e. poverty). Metaphysical fairy tales.

This gets us to the notion of the “science wars” – we might go larger and talk about the “reality wars” – nothing less than the nature of reality. We can also use Helen Veran’s descriptive terms – universalists vs relativists. Also: Internalist vs externalist. We have to remember that these are simply metaphors.

Externalists always want to place things in a broader contexts – there are only values that are sustained by a sufficiently enforced consensus. There are various mechanisms to do this, to find what counts. If you want to sustain, you have to enroll sufficient allies and get them to back your explainations (Actor-Network theory). Ironic in Hacking’s view. You have something that is ontologically subjective – medicine is only there because of social arrangements that acknowledge it as there.

Internalists think that this is not the case, medicine is what it is because bodies are there, that work the way they do universally. Regardless of the rest of the historical contingencies that may have shaped the where and the when, you would still get the same result because bodies break down in the same way.

Mol, John Law and Veran – are there multiple ontologies? Are there multiple objects of whatever there is (Numbers in Veran’s book). What does it mean to advance the claim that things internalists understand as singular, externalists understand as multiple.

For an internalist, method is a guide to a discovery of true facts in the social world – things are there to be discovered. America was always there to be discovered! It was always there.

Degrees of constructionism – Hacking’s three dimensions.

2) Method is a consensus by which certain practices are considered to have produced facts, and these facts are understood as being there, waiting.

Sociology as another actor (in medicine, in criminology). So, what kind of actor do you want to be, given that you are functioning as another actor. Sociology cannot guide you ethically as you intervene. Internalists can discover “value neutral”, though it depends on what Weber is calling you to. For an Externalist, Weber is recognizing the need for ethical considerations (and since you have these facts, what are you going to do with this ethically).

If method is a conventional understanding, then we need to enroll people to do method another way. Gathering like minded people to advance claims. For an internalist to apply internalist standard to an externalist argument doesn’t work. They can’t talk to one another.

Hackings six grades of construction commitment (p. 19)
A. Historical
1. Argues that X has been constructed over historical
2. X is not inevitable but contingent result of
historical processes — statement (1)
3. No commitment as to whether X is good or bad
4. not much different than just history

B. Ironic
1. shows that something we thought was inevitable is
actually highly contingent, the product of social
history (19-20)
2. yet somehow feels that in our present lives, we are
pretty much forced to accept it (20)

Ironist is much more identifiably a constuctionist. What we think to be inevitable, could be different. Pullman’s His Dark Materials existing in a parallel world (inquisition still happening). Really get an alternative physics that notices different things. Understands things that could have been different. Like Nietzsche – understands genealogy as a succession of roads not taken (that could have been taken). Ironist perceives the dangers of revolution (end up with the gulag).

C. Reformist
1. accepts that X is a bad thing — statement (2)
2. and wants to make it a little less bad

Reformist – once recognizing that something can be different, modify things accordingly. Max Weber’s switchmen of history – revolutionaries want to derail the train.

D. Unmasking
1. wants to undermine ideas by exposing the functions (or
interests) they serve
2. a reformer and an unmasker may be one and the same

Alongside with the reformist. Secret History of the Cancer Wars. “Running for the cure” is dangerous because it takes you in the wrong direction that is positively unproductive. Not that things should be done differently, but this is how things are.

Foucault – pointing out inconvenient facts (Weberian term), which is a way of showing something as different.

E. Rebellious — also accepts statement (3): that X should
be done away with (20)
F. Revolutionary — goes beyond ideas and actually tries to
change the world

How much are you willing to sharpen your guillotine?


Elevator word: “social” “generalizability”

John Searle -rules that only make sense in the context of certain games. “thou shalt not kill… within the ingroup.” Epistemological objective (strikes in Baseball). Ontologically subjective (certain kinds of things – rent for example – only makes sense within complex arrangements). Is it a four-fold table to fill in other categories? Ontological objectivity? Epistemological subjectivity?

Indifferent and interactive – Quarks (p. 30).

Hacking thinks the analogy with baseball did more harm than good. I.e. quarks are not like strikes.
Strikes are “ontologically subjective” — that is, hey would not exist without human rules and ractices but quarks, if they are real, do not depend on us in this way

Perhaps Fish should have said that it is the idea of uarks that was socially constructed. However, Pickering, the author of Constructing Quarks, denies that it is just the idea of them that is constructed. What he meant is, is that if you come at the world in certain way, you can get results that can be construed as evidence for quarks (30, q.v.). Hacking finds this less interesting than the converse claim: if you come at the world a different way, you get evidence for a different, successful physics (31). In effect, what Pickering says is that physics would have evolved in a different way (q.v.) For Hacking, this is a highly significant issue:

1. most physicists think that the road taken was inevitable
2. for the social constructavist, on the other hand, a successful science could have developed along an
entirely different path (32-33, q.v.)
3. for Hacking, this disagreement whether there is something contingent about the development of science
is sticking point # 1 in the science wars (more in chapter 3).

Interactions (31)
He’s given several examples how ideas or classifications and objects interact with each other
1. child viewer of television or 2. woman refugee. One obvious way in which these classifications interact with their objects is that these are classifications of people, who are aware of how they are being classified (31-32). But, also of course, inanimate objects are not aware of how they are being classified, and hence do not interact with their classifications (32)

D. interactive kinds
1. classifications of people are interactive kinds because they interact of things with that kind
2. only classifications in the social sciences are interactive kinds, not those in the natural sciences

Indifferent classifications. Quarks are there whether you know about them or not. America was always there. To hold out the category of indifferent classifications is to hold out a bit of internalism. Microbes were always there – they were also interactive (antibiotic resistant infections – came to be due to human intervention). Indifferent and interactive.

Veran: can you do more than decompose? How would she have done “the arithmetic logic” multiple?

Psychopathologies: indifferent and interactive. Biolooping? Thinking about more psychological diseases? Autism wars? ADHD wars?

Main critique of construction: one way street. “it’s social construction” is taken to be the answer for everything. Right, what is the research project. Just identifying it as a construction isn’t particularly interesting. It ignores that 1) construction is two way. Stories: two ways: people make up stories and stories make up people. The interaction determines the physical realities. At this point in time, each is causing the other to be. For those two way things, the metaphor isn’t useful; it tends to get you to see “people constructing X” – X is taken as “the construction of” – people being constructed by the whatevers. Tends to lose the subtlety of interactive classifications. The usefulness of the metaphor comes in Fleck – shows how syphilis is constructed in laboratory practices. Not trying to unmask syphilis.

Worldmaking: Nelson Goodman’s “Ways of World-making.”

Child abuse: if new kinds are selected, then the past can occur in a new world. Description of a bad historical fiction. Ways that we can think about. Perpetually re-reading the past. Capable of re-feeling events in ways that heal. That make these things livable by re-feeling them within this new framework. A lot of what social science does is to re-describe. The power of re-descriptions that provide for re-feeling is to experience a sense of injustice where, at the time, no injustice was felt. In re-feeling it, it comes off as unjust.

The social sciences are thus inherently an ethical practice.  The point is that the value-laden work that sociology has a claim to is accepting that its classifications evaluate who is troubling or in trouble. (p. 131). Two responses: 1. get those responses out 2. this is part of the deal, What is left if you try to be value free? How do we become accountable for the moral implcations of our classifications and incorporate that into our writing?

Kinds are always motley kinds. Think of fabrication mechanisms (Latour). Motley sampling? Loose assumption that these are people that count as X. The sociologist is taking on a lot of the fabrication work.

The motto is “motley.” p. 133 The fundamental question is what those kinds do to us? If what the course is teaching you is we need to look at who makes the world up in what kinds? By asking this question, we have to engage the six grades simultaneously.

Live Blogging: Stories, Texts and Technoscience (2)

The Construction of Social Reality (1995) by John Searle talks about the ontologically subjective (ie. baseball strikes), that which only makes sense as socially constructed; strikes count as strikes. Once you have the socially constructed “matrix,” then you have some objectivity.This brings us to the famous Thomas theorem, which says that if a person defines something as real, then it can be defined as real in its consequences. This makes sense if we think of panic behavior, such as the claim of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The US government defined this as a threat to world security, which resulted in a war that is very real in its consequences. This is the truth of the theorem.

Reality requires definitions, the it is whatever people consider it to be. The it is not the definition, it is what is being defined. Whoever gets the high ground, gets to claim reality. This isn’t the reality, just the reality that won out.

Goffman says that while it is true that people define situations, we need to keep in mind that they don’t make these definitions up by themselves. People do not have infinite choice in how to define things; definitions are strictly delimited. There is minimal construction at the individual level.


People tell stories in order to show themselves as authentic. If you ask someone on what basis their authenticity rests, they have to tell a story, and the authenticity is found both in the content and the telling of the story. Stories are crucial – there is, for each of us, a “my way.” Charles Taylor takes this to the late 18th century German romantics, and argues that this was the beginning of all this, and it became possible then to miss the point of your life.

Stories represent a borrowed authenticity. People tell stories, and in these stories, they make claims for their personal authenticity, but this authenticity is borrowed. Individuals tell their own stories, but they didn’t make these up by themselves. People are dealing with  a finite number of tools: plots, characters, devices – they have a limited repertoire. People draw on these, even when they are dressing their stories in their own experience and placing them in local settings. That may be why we have the finding that the same plots pop up in different cultures.

For Carl Jung, this meant that that there were certain structures of the mind, archetypes – those same features are hard wired. Levi-Strauss says that when we know enough about the brain, and that is how we tell our myths. That is the core of structuralism. The brain is projecting its own structure on the world. Structuralism is the neuro-projective structuralism. They then go out and structure the world in ways that reproduce. It is not that there an external structure “out there” – just our brains creating worlds. Its not as if we go at the world differently; they could have gone at it differently. Though, we don’t believe this any more: too linear, though there is a certain truth here: only so many stories.


After returning to Troy, Agamenon was killed violently with an axe by Clitemnestra. Her reasons for such a brutal murder were complex, but it seems that it was not so much due to her passion for Egisto and the desire of revenge his brother, she killed him because she hated him. Agamenon had brutally murdered Clitemnestra’s first husband and their children in front of her eyes; he had also sacrificed her daughter Ifigenia to Aulis. She wanted revenge.


Why are stories good equipment? Why do we use stories, and not other equipment for representing our lives? How are stories different from other narrative acts?



Two basic epistemologies of narrative:

1. Naturalism – such as in grounded theory. Take stories, dump them into software to develop themes, codes. Narratives as open window. High validity. Fixed point; ontological singularity, with epistemological access. It is what it is; we know it inadequately, but there is only one thing there to be known.

People report their lives in stories about those lives; the narrative analysis examines this from a meta-position. A recognition that people are “poor historians” – memory faults, false consciousness, presentation of self.

Analysis: correct the flaws, to see through them. Help through post hock analysis. Hear it once or twice then it might be faulty: from 20, then there is something here. Need adjustment about what it is “to be” – expect a skewness of experience for __________ reasons that would be pervasive for the entire sample. Only through a theoretical correction can you see this for what it is.

Hermeneutics of suspicion: Marx, Darwin and Freud are all suspicious – the world is a text that requires interpretation. The interpretation is suspicious, the availability of reality is not the true reality. What is really running the show (Marx: wage, labour and capital): everything is illusionary. This means that the analysis needs to do work – make knowable by cutting through all the things that we are to be suspicious. People are incapable of knowing their own lives. What we need to get serious about is “the social” (Durkheim). Sociology is supplanting the old religion. Get on with the serious business of sociology. The core narrative. Fits in with the Hermeneutics of suspicion.

Paul Krugman:

“My chance of surviving prostate cancer — and thank God I was cured of it — in the United States? Eighty-two percent,” says Rudy Giuliani in a new radio ad attacking Democratic plans for universal health care. “My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44 percent, under socialized medicine.”

It would be a stunning comparison if it were true. But it isn’t. And thereby hangs a tale — one of scare tactics, of the character of a man who would be president and, I’m sorry to say, about what’s wrong with political news coverage.

Let’s start with the facts: Mr. Giuliani’s claim is wrong on multiple levels — bogus numbers wrapped in an invalid comparison embedded in a smear.

But here’s what I don’t understand: Why isn’t Mr. Giuliani’s behavior here considered not just a case of bad policy analysis but a character issue?


Other sociologies that don’t claim epistemic privelege (Dorothy Smith). Avoiding hermeneutics of suspicion, while holding on to something for sociology.

2. Dialogism – What does work make visible? What at that moment is visable? Duality – representations teach us to see what we see, and what we want to see changes what we represent. Dual process. Continually morphing.

Narrative analysis needs to be the analysis of narratives; not using narratives to study lives, but to study narratives as a fundamental processes of life. Narrative acts are as worthwhile as economic acts, government forming, other stuff that people do. Most sociologists use stories as convenient way to get at something else.

Art’s new book: “Letting Stories Breathe” – grounded theory approach – carve up the stories to get the “themes” coming out. Letting them breathe lets them have free range. Narrative analysis becomes the observation of stories leading their lives.

People create their lives by exchanging stories. Pickering: if people told different stories, could live equally successful lives.


The Human Condition: Rene Magritte,

Looks like you are looking in the window but half of it is a painting of the outside. But the painting is on an easel and you can hardly see it. It just looks like you are looking at a window.


Though stories do work representing the world, they do their hardest work when they pre-present. In the NA – stories are selection/evaluation devices. Goes to the pluralistic universe of William James. The “blooming, buzzing confusion.” Without being ontologically multiple, the point is that we can attend to a number of different realities with a number of different consequences.

Selection: somethings are part of the scenery, taking place off our radar. Stories that enable this result. Most stories are about noticing/failing to notice certain parts of the world. Stories tell us how to pay attention. Teach us what is selectable, and what counts.

Evaluation: Stories represent hierarchies of value. How do I avoid? How do I evaluate? Stories often hinge on things that appear to be not valuable, but in the course of the story, become so. A Higher wisdom. Through the stories we know, we have learned what to pay attention to, what plots to expect.

Anxious stutterer. A child without stories can still talk, but it will be anxious because it won’t know what parts of the world to pay attention, and stutter in linking together narratives. Emplotment allows us to speak coherently. Children learn this through stories. Anxiety is not being sure of the right stories.

Habitus: Habit and habitation. What you feel comfortable with (matters of clothing, food, shelter, speech). Embodied: carry as habits that work their way into the tissues. For Bourdieu, it travels in classes. Signs you give off that you have difficulty moderating. Body type is one example (rich = thin). Changing habitus is difficulty, and involves a certain amount of betrayal.

Narrative habitus:

1. The stock of stories that people know. Stories that are assumed (Cinderella story).

2. Not just “knowing them” – also knowing how to understand a story like that.

3. If you tell someone of the same habitus the start of the story, they will know where the story is going. Can’t be predictable, but need to see where it is going.

Stories are strong fabrication mechanisms. Very good at assembling groups. Inherently morally neutral: The story creates its own moral ground.Works along with out other forms of habitus and sensibilities: the moral part of stories live with moral ideation that is simply not narrative.A continuum of habits that is not determinative: but it is enduring.

Christopher Lasch: Haven in a heartless world.

Much sociology is historical constructionist. Elias.

When we go to the scene of an interview, the important thing is that listeners hear stories only in their own narrative habitus. Our narrative habitus: the terms we have to think with: not getting people to tell their stories (easy): did you learn what you needed to know in order to understand the stories that they are telling you? Ask following questions about who would get the story, and who wouldn’t. a) how do you understand it b) who does it connect to? c) who does it disconnect from?

A dead story becomes a text to be taxonimized. To be laid out in a transcription and broken down. Impose a master grid on the unbreathing body. Letting stories breathe watches the story create connections and disconnections. The story needs to be up and moving and not pinned down.

Narrative isn’t getting at the singular world: instead it studies the world as narrative resources made possible to represent. WE can hypothesize other possibilities, but we don’t know what those are.

Dialogical: stories need to be there for the response of others. As much our response, and what was expected, and how we do respond. NOT auto biography. Asking the people how they want their stories to be carried forward.

This is definitely constructionist all the way down. But that begs “what is being constructed?” and leads us to attribute too much agency to the work of construction. Narrative analysis is the study of STORIES! Not the idea that stories get at people who tell the story: stories have a mutually dependent autonomy. Not just epiphenomena.

The work of stories.

Live Blogging: Stories, Texts and Technoscience (1)

Social constructionist stuff (interpersonal, relational, ethical), but hive off the “medical” stuff (natural, factual, the scientific)

The difference is that the uncertainties are all waiting for further research to get “the answer” – yet (the key word). The social/bioethical/organizational remains open to change. Rock solid knowledge vs. shifting sands, and the world is divided between them.

It is thus difficult to escape this dichotomizing.

For example, illness vs. disease. Disease has a natural reoccurring, objective, whereas the illness is all the lived experience etc. Some form of this dichotomization is hard to overcome.

Naturalism vs. Phenomenological (Alfred Schutz). At most, people in the 1960s were willing to grant this difference. Naturalism was defended as being amenable to the positivism, seeking to uncover “facts.” Once you discovered them correctly, they were the essential properties of things. On the other hand, the ever changing world of impressions, meanings. How people feel about things, and end up with this bifurcation.

Even then, this bifurcation was objected to. 1890s, read Husserl’s logical investigations (beginning of phenomenology): there isn’t two spheres, even the work of math is the work of consciousness. The intentional relation to the world is total. Always relating the world. Phenomenology along the way tended to lose that and hold out for the smaller piece of the pie. The deal that certain spheres were appropriate to the “soft sciences” – that very term designed to mark this bifurcation. Science of the natural world – clear, objective. Otherwise, studying ourselves. We can be good instruments of observation, but we become compromised observers when we are looking at ourselves.

This course looks at the adequacy of this deal. If we refuse this split, refuse to hive off the “medical” or the “physics” and insist on a unity of these things, what are the implications? What does this mean for our methods, the crucial part involving the claims you can make proceeding this way. The culmination is some number of claims for what it is that a work of social science advances.

The claim may be “I went there, this is what I saw” – or – “this is the causal relationship” – but at the end of the day, you are making some kind of claim. The whole point of methodology is how you support your claim to be credible, compelling – readable (as opposed to objectionable).

Refuse this old fashioned split. Goes way back.


Leviathan and the Air Pump by Shapin and Schaffer

In the aftermath of the English Civil War, as people were groping for new forms of political order, Robert Boyle built an air-pump to do exper­iments. Does the story of Roundheads and Restoration have something to do with the origins of experimental sci­ence? Schaffer and Shapin believed it does.

Focusing on the debates between Boyle and his archcritic Thomas Hobbes over the air-pump, the authors proposed that “solutions to the problem of knowledge are solutions to the problem of social order.” Both Boyle and Hobbes were looking for ways of establishing knowledge that did not decay into ad hominem attacks and political division. Boyle proposed the experiment as cure. He argued that facts should be manufactured by machines like the air-pump so that gentlemen could witness the experiments and produce knowledge that everyone agreed on. Hobbes, by contrast, looked for natural law and viewed experiments as the artificial, unreliable products of an exclusive guild.

The new approaches taken in Leviathan and the Air-Pump have been enormously influential on historical studies of science. Shapin and Schaffer found a moment of scientific revolution and showed how key scientific givens–facts, interpretations, experiment, truth–were fundamental to a new political order. Shapin and Schaffer were also innovative in their ethnographic approach. Attempting to understand the work habits, rituals, and social structures of a remote, unfamiliar group, they argued that politics were tied up in what scientists did, rather than what they said.

People didn’t stay in the boxes that we put them into. They did a little of everything.


Epistemology vs Ontology

Epistemology: the study of how we know. How is knowledge possible? It is a Platonic concern (the climax of the Republic, Plato speaking through Socrates presents a hierarchy of the sciences, the knowledge of “essences” at the top and phenomenology is at the bottom. Impressions are the work of little people who go through live unseriously)

Ontology: the problem of being. What are the different kinds of being. What is it to be? Heidegger – why is their being at all, as opposed to simply non being.

These are regarded as distinct, but gradually merged into ontological and epistemological questions.

First question: What is a fact?

This is the message of Ludwik Fleck in Genesis and Development of Scientific Facts.

Prior thought: Facts were there, waiting to be discovered (science). How can there be genesis and development? What does it imply for the kind of science that participates in and studies processes for producing facts (the Platonist is tearing his hair out). Facts aren’t produced! They are RECOGNIZED! iPod’s are produced! Facts aren’t iPods! Facts are either right or wrong, and invariant. What extent can we think of them as being produced.

Second question: What do we mean by social construction?

Social science don’t examine how the mountains came to be, study how the ski resort did. Pretty clear the difference. In some ways “social construction” is the rational for the social sciences: we study what people put together (prison, philosophy, works of art).

What gets constructed? What doesn’t? What is this process of construction about? All of which will lead us to the limits of construction as a metaphor (and clearly it is a metaphor). In reading Hacking’s Social Construction of What?, looking at the sociology of the sciences vs. Latour. Hacking finds Latour a bit of a gadfly, and his project is to contrast. (Interesting that Hacking got the Foucault chair instead of Latour).

Third question: Helen Verran’s ethnography Science and an African Knowledge (Admired by John Law) is the core activity of social science. Methods get themselves in trouble because they are not grounded in ethnography. “You gotta know the territory” – this is ethnography – the vocabulary, the practice of the people you are engaged in studying. Requires spending time “there.” Feeling what it is to be “there.” The trouble with other methodologies is the short cuts.

Ethnography of knowledge, what people know and how they reproduce that knowledge. Fleck: why do we need a notion of an invariant? Verran’s book is a response to this.

Finally: How do we understand stories as actors? As a non-human actor. Think of Harroway’s companion species manifesto. Humans breed companion species to do certain kinds of work for people. A dog is not a naturally occuring entity. Dogs are, in a sense, socially constructed. Humans exist in our form due to the work of our companion species. The herding, plowing that dogs, horses, oxen. We are of the stature we are because of our companion species. They have created us.

Mutually dependent autonomy. (Art Frank). This is the oxymoron related to stories. Stories need humans for telling, but humans may need stories even more for all kinds of telling found in the world. What are stories among other kinds of narrative? What are the work they do as a companion species? How do stories make life social, given that life only becomes social from doing various kinds of things. In doing these kinds of things, they make use of non-human actors. Non-human actors take up the relays, and life becomes social in these relays. The non-human actors are crucial in taking up the relays. Stories return us to the same questions. How do they work in terms of social construction? How are stories a problem for methodology – how do you go about studying them.


Four ideas of Actor-Network theory (ANT).

Some theory/methods where the name is decided by the founder – example, institutional ethnography is Dorothy’s term. In ANT, there isn’t a clear founder, and there is controversy in the title, and so it is up for grabs. Anglo ANT vs. Franco ANT (but in Franco, Callon’s ANT is a variant from Latour’s ANT).

1. Assembling

There are no groups, only perpetual acts of assemblage. Groups are always doing the work of keeping the group together. The proper study of sociology is not to take the group as a pre-existing, instead, what has to be studied is the work that is done to hold the group together, and with what kind of “stickyness.” What does this stickyness accomplish?

The social, for Latour, is always in the act of assembling, and there is no thing in “the social.” The social is always going on, and the work of social science is to drop in and see how it is proceeding, and getting done in particular times and places.

Fabrication mechanisms. The world is full of these, as this is what makes the world social. They are mechanisms, techniques, technologies that fabricate. Turn thread into fabric that holds together. Whatever you got is a fabrication: what are the mechanisms that do the building. The holding together.

The trouble with “system” is that once upon a time it was fabricated, and then continues un-manned. One decided upon design that we can admire. Elias: no system, processes. The processes are always a near-thing. Every act of fabricating has a potential to failure. Often much closer to falling apart. Whatever it is, it is the work of fabricating, and they either work r they don’t.

One reason to believe this: Decline of Nixon, breaking up of the Soviet Union. You always expected the country to be there. Can’t take seriously the problem of holding this thing together. Still living in this fall out. These have undermined the sense of solidity. See things as more transient, even things that appear “there” in “reality.” If people don’t get up every day and do the maintenance work in keeping relationships whole, then things fall apart.

Fleck: the sea, a definitional point, the lowest collection point of the sea. Paddle to the Sea. Sea is the end point. But this isn’t so, no boundaries between one ocean and another. The ocean is that which water descends to. How it got there isn’t an issue, it is what it is.

Elias: Process sociology, a course and a sequel to Elias. As opposed to Durkheim who hovers at the edge of this (but he wants to see things in and of themselves, remove the process).

The research question: whatever you are studying, what are the fabrication mechanisms. How is the assembling done, with what? Takes us back to the non-human actors. In this department, the assembling is done by email, reminding us that we are part of the same assemblage. The relays are taken up by electronic messaging.

2. Controversy.

The best time to study something is the moment of controversy. Relations that otherwise get passed into un-observability become visible.

What does the moment of controversy allow us to see? Allows us to see the relevant actors, what the relays are, what the translation of locally produced realities to other sites. A site is a locality that produces reality. Sites are “hooked up” with other sites, which requires translation. How are issues in one site translated into other sites?

3. Translation

Sociology of translation, the core of ANT. Not translation in the sense of language, we call it this, you call it that. Translation reflects different forms of life. Mol: find different forms of life. People are living differently. Words are inherently tied to different forms of life. The social is translation of power, because one sites version wins out over another sites.

How does a reality produced in one site made compatible (for what practical purposes) with contrasting and contesting versions of that same thing produced in other sites. Have all these sites, all producing realities. These sites have to hook up to be made compatible. This can fail (crucial).

4. Distribution of action

Sociology of distributed action. How is action distributed, and with what (companion species). If you have a sheep dog, you are distributing the action of herding the sheep. Disabilities studies: various aides: perpetually breaking down, having to be renewed, always controversies about how the action is distributed. Under no illusion that they are acting themselves. “I am actually doing this.” Need something to help get it done, and acutely aware of how it changes their purpose in the course of using this.

All of this goes back to: is the table an actor? Yes, but until there is a controversy surrounding it, it will be impossible to study it because it won’t say anything. It leaves no traces. We go back to controversies, because action tends to be distributed so thoughtlessly until we get the disruption. Until we get new tools (like a new table), the distribution is hard to get at.

ANT is important because we live in a world that is the upgrade society. A new iPod every 14 months. We are having to perpetually redistribute our action through new relays that impose themselves on us. “Didn’t you get my message?” The world we are a part of. ANT is perfect for a world where the relays change every 18th month. \

How does action get distributed, and though what? What are the effects of these distribution actors? MSN, Email, Canada Post: what are the effects of these in SHAPING what proceeds. We don’t just breed dogs: they breed us. How does an actor come to be as it is, as a result of how its action is distributed. The way we are depends on HOW we are.

Latour’s opposition to “textbook science” – removes the process.

Art’s supervisor at Yale.


Wasserman Reaction: a blood test to detect Syphilis. Entity is present or not present. Syphilis already exists. A positive reaction, and therefore (?) syphilitic impression.

Certain, yes. Just relatively certain. Like to think they are certain that the airplane will stay in the air. Not – they are relatively certain.

Journal science still presents controversies. The textbook science comes up with consensus statements. A problem is discussed from the journal articles, and at the end you have a panel who put together a consensus statement that will issue a statement that will help sort out differences of opinions. This then has evidentially power that is one greater than a journal articles. Similar to meta-analysis. Decide what to keep and what to throw out – how to synthesize the results of this to tell you if these are true, reliable or evidence based.

Theories are not disproven – the thought collective moves on. (They rust).

Fleck could be used as a companion to Wittgenstein (specifically, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus)

“Perhaps this book will be understood only by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it–or at least similar thoughts.–So it is not a textbook.–Its purpose would be achieved if it gave pleasure to one person who read and understood it. The book deals with the problems of philosophy, and shows, I believe, that the reason why these problems are posed is that the logic of our language is misunderstood.

The whole sense of the book might be summed up the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence. Thus the aim of the book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather–not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to draw a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought). It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be drawn, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense. I do not wish to judge how far my efforts coincide with those of other philosophers.

Indeed, what I have written here makes no claim to novelty in detail, and the reason why I give no sources is that it is a matter of indifference to me whether the thoughts that I have had have been anticipated by someone else. I will only mention that I am indebted to Frege’s great works and of the writings of my friend Mr Bertrand Russell for much of the stimulation of my thoughts. If this work has any value, it consists in two things: the first is that thoughts are expressed in it, and on this score the better the thoughts are expressed–the more the nail has been hit on the head—the greater will be its value.–Here I am conscious of having fallen a long way short of what is possible. Simply because my powers are too slight for the accomplishment of the task.–May others come and do it better.

On the other hand the truth of the thoughts that are here communicated seems to me unassailable and definitive. I therefore believe myself to have found, on all essential points, the final solution of the problems. And if I am not mistaken in this belief, then the second thing in which the value of this work consists is that it shows how little is achieved when these problem are solved.”

How does this empirical fact originate? In what does it consist? We get a notion of science: immediately social. You may need a sociologist EVEN MORE for what is taken to be “the medical stuff.” Science is thought communities/styles.  The issue (similar to Foucaults discourse) is what can be thought in that way. A class is this sense vs. a traditional methods class.

The whole ideas that there are alternative viewpoints (Gestalt). The theory constructs the gestalt to see things the way we do (p. 144 – readiness for directed perception). Latour – not relativism (one as good as the next – not what Mol says in a Hospital – in a Path lab, due to the tools they use, they have a capacity for directed reception). Latour – relativity – different things in different part of the hospital.

Not saying Syphilis is an ideal creation – it is just needs to be understood as getting there from a history. Kuhn (p. 9). Only able to see a duck or a rabbit, couldn’t see the lines on the page. In some ways, what ANT is about is seeing the lines on a page – what social life is about is about seeing ducks and rabbits. We need to see ducks and rabbits.  He is paying the ultimate compliment to Fleck in seeing only the lines on a page. Before you see syphilis from a blood test.

P. 50: Would it be entirely possible to proceed without something that is fixed? Both thinking and facts are changeable – changes in thinking manifest themselves in changed facts (also: new facts discovered only by new thinking.

The world wants it fixed; in terms of how it really works. Sociology is split between either those who line up behind one another.

Why can’t there be a conversation?  Doing without a fixed point vs. not needing one. Needing a “GENERAL THEORY” – so 20th century. Can’t get interested.


ON: Work

Here is something about my life that I don’t think people really understand.

See, when you go to work, you get to later on come home from work. Now, getting to and coming from work in and of itself is work (in the D. Smith meaning of the word) – Getting in your car, making sure there is gas, fighting traffic… etc. Now, if you are like most people, the “after work” work is generally “man, work was really shitty today. I need to get a different job.” Whis is still work – processing your day. But then you get to move on. Do what you really like – hobbies or just television. And you can go to bed with other pursuits on your mind until the next morning.

With my work, I don’t get that. Even when I am not “working” I am at work. I don’t get to “come home” and I don’t get to “take a weekend off” or go on “vacation.” See, the majority of my work is done in my head. There is still administrative work to be done (just like in a real job, I need to make sure I get paid). This is especially true when one is teaching. There is the work of constantly keeping up with the latest developments, important articles and books – lots and lots of reading. There is the work of filtering that reading out and putting it on paper.

Yet the key word there – the filtering – is what takes the most work. It has to bounce around and it has to be molded and strained and this all happens in my head. I have to be thinking about what I am working the moment I wake up all the way to the moment my head hits the pillow. Even if I haven’t typed a single word on my computer or read a single word, I have had a full day of work thinking. I can’t escape, and sometimes this can be grueling.

Don’t laugh.

See, when I say it, I think to myself – yes. You think. You never get to not think. Also: everyone thinks. This really isn’t a big deal. Yet, where it is different is that I feel compelled to think about my various projects, and I don’t feel like I can never “not think” about them. For example, when sitting in a movie theatre, I often feel guilty: the giant screen, the loud noises are taking me away from my work.  I say to myself – “don’t be stupid!” but I can’t help it. I feel guilty for taking my mind off of what I should really be doing. When I am called away, or if I have to run errands or to do normal stuff, it makes me feel anxious and guilty because it is taking me away from my work. This is crazy talk.

When I was writing my Master’s, some days felt like torture because I could never escape this feeling. Yet, this work of “thinking” is so unquantifiable, there is no way of accounting for any of it. Try telling someone that all you did all day was sit on the couch and think. They will think you have gone soft, or laugh because it is such a ridiculous notion.

I am aware of how lucky I am to be in this position. Even though it has its good and bad points like any other profession, I would take it over anything else in the world. I like being able to think for a living. And yet, I am trying to find some other way besides writing a paper or a book to quantify, to account for the “think work” that I do all day. I feel that if I could do that, I could show you. To prove to you that I am not lazy (or crazy). That these means have ends.

Yet how?  What would it look like?

A moment of doubt

I take a moment away from constant self promotion to actually do some “real” work, and I realize how much I have taken on, and how slowly I have been working on it. This is kind of my thing – I tend to work in cycles, and I realized JUST NOW that I am starting in on one of my working hard cycles, given that Summer is almost two months down, and I don’t have a great deal to show for it.

Wait, that isn’t exactly true. I don’t have a lot of academic work to show for it – I have been reading a lot (which, I suppose, is something that I can’t really account for. This is, I suppose, a major flaw in my field. That reading, such a required element to academia, is pretty much completely unaccounted for, outside of referencing and not sounding like an illiterate).

In the last two months, I have had a great deal of time with my son (almost full time for the last bit, and which I will spare you the gory gories on), learned how to fly fish, gone to many garage sales (got The White Album on vinyl for a loonie on Friday, and it had all the posters and everything), stared a radio show, worked on promoting my band and some concerts, gone to some soccer games, went to a music festival…  but not much of what I should be doing – which is writing (the paper I am doing with Mark, and a huge grant proposal).

I have a few late nights ahead of me.

Live Blogging: Seminar in Sociological Theory #13 – FIN

Last class of the semester!

Positive and critical program in Sociology.


Sociology is often uncomfortably seated between two poles of self awareness. One pole is consious self awareness that gives rise to a sense of control (“I am seeing the world”). Consiousness is the determining factor. “Master of the Ship” – “Seize your own fate!” The other pole is being determined by outside factors. You really don’t have a lot of control, and are acting out a shadowplay. Free Will / Self Determination vs. Outside determination.

Darwin, Marx and Freud are our masters of deception. Darwin: uniqueness of human species. Freud: Uncionsiousness – you think you know what you want, but you really don’t. Marx and false consiousness, what we know is infiltrated and we don’t see things correctly.

One of the constant themes in human culture are the gods that are always messing with gods, and then the humans who are able to transgress this boundaries (Demi-gods etc). In the 19th Century.

The conflict between the structure of minds (Levi-Strauss) that is re-enacted in the world vs. Sartre who believed in extistential freedom. We are finally free, at the cost of extistential lonliness. We are cast into the world. Found in the writings of Homans, and his conflict with Marx and coming up with the first in a series of attempts of seeing the human being as a rational character, social action being the product of economic calculations that people make as they weight costs and benefits. Consiousness being able to note. Surface theory because consciousness is not, in fact, false. Homans sees Marx as being smoke in mirrors. Some people want more than others, so lets divide it up like honest men. Homans – self determination. The version of Marx he is reacting against is the determined individual .

Parsons: we are acting out roles, as we are to fill the functions of society. The whole problem (to Durkheim): how do you get people to do the things that society needs to get done, and convince them that they want to do it (“motivated compliance”). Foucault – governmentality – how do you get people to want to be conducted this way.

Finally, we get to Bourdieu’s “Unchosen choices” – yes we are choosing (Bloomer is right!), but many of their choices are unchosen because they can’t choose them. Few of us are able to put into place principles of vision and dividsion. We inherit those principles.

For Foucault, these things are historically contingent. On the other hand, they go both ways; good and evil. At the end of his life, you get truth of the truth teller (“Fearless speach”). There is no problematic of the truth tellers perspective. It is holy untroubled.


Other way of summarizing:

(p.197) Latour: “if there is one social theory mistake, it would be to ask if baboons would be able to find roles within a structure.”

Its not our fault we were born into a dysfunctional family!


Lets spend the rest of the time talking about Tolstoy.

Foucauldian moment: the mob rule before Napoleon gets there : “All the horrors of the reign of terror in France were based on a need to keep the peace”

Predicts Bourdieu: Prince Vasselay “but influence in society is capital ” _those who get ahead, will be because their fathers advanced someone else. Not a sure thing.

Habitus: Prince Andre, riding his horse onto Hillside, playing toy soldiers with his army: thinking of it like a chess game: “This was his way of thinking” – while we, the readers were caught up in thinking along, we were also thinking that way. Important in not what we were not seeing. Habitus: each of us has or ways of thinking. As sociologists, we have a responsible to see how this excludes other ways of seeing. If there is a vocation for Sociology with an awareness of what you are not doing, and what the cost is, and are willing to pay the full cost, and therefore, the only way of seein

Anatole: What am I doing wrong? Its the way I have always been doing things. The embodyment of habitus – “every fiber of his being” – and how can what I need be wrong? Napoleon – extrodinary achievement/horrible destruction.

Pierre: absorbed in what lay ahead. The thing is impossible, not in an intrinsic difficulty, but because they have to work out of character, working out of habitus. It is agonizing,

Vasselay: Not planning ahead. Man of the world, turned success into habit (“Feel for the game”).

Rostov: “Couldn’t have said how or why he did it” – he “knew” that this would be their moment. This is feel for the game.

Illusio: the “good commander” needs to be narrow minded. Otherwise he would never have enought staying power, only then would he become a great commander. Knowing the stakes of the game: no one is as dangerous or productive.
Latour: Habitus is fine once we liberate it from Social Theory.


How is Tolstoy an ANT?

Descriptions of causes….explanations require that things have causes.

“Incalcuable multiplicity of causes…”

This is like Elias – the civilizing process. All of these causes come together with no single cause – they are bound to happen because… they are bound to happen. The human mind cannot grasp the full number of causes.

What do we do? One approach is reductionism.

There are some laws that we can comprehend, and others that are beyond our grasp. TO stop believing in the earth as a fixed entity. It means we understand anything as multiple, depending on how they are enacted.

Events that are always over-determined for Tolstoy, what kind of science can there be, that no-one can know in advance. Whatever happens depends on a range of conditions that no one can know… Hinterland? So many possibilities. You don’t know what is going to carry forward.

Each man gets what he wants; feels with every fibre of his being that he is free to do what he feels.

There are two sides of life for every individual: A personal life… and an “elemental life within the swarm of humanity” –

For Tolstoy, there is a balance: Neither is more important. Out of all this, we get emergence. No one ever predicted Napoleon, and no one worked it out ahead of time. It came about step by step (emergence), moment by moment. Emerging from unimaginably difference circumstances.

What sociology likes to do is postulate ideal types of actors, and attribute them to finite sets of possibilities. Instead of seeing them emerge moment by moment. Only then does it come to be what it was. Tolstoy renders much Sociology impossible, because you can’t know in advance. Follow entities, see how they come together. Go in, see what emerges.

The strongest case for emergence is the truth: the world wasn’t invented so sociologists can get their papers out on time. Pretend like the world was designed for us.

It is only when the army got there that people had convinced themselves as this is what they wanted all along. If we have to re-jig our notions, we understand it Its only looking back at Naziism, and say “it had to happen that way” – which is neither true nor false.

There is also a strong notion of leadership in W&P.

Neither experiences anything like the begining of event. General is always in the midst of events as they unfold… contemplate the significance as they take place. At any point in the carving out of events, the CEO FIND themselves in the midst of a complex interplay if intrigue and worry…. threats and trickery…. endless flow of contradictory commands…. the problem is that the stakes are high (life depends on it), you know the events are carving their own significance….

P.46 in Latour – moving target… swarming towards it. Gives us the courage to actually be able to see the entities swarming towards us at any moment…. the illusion of stabalization is the feeling that we have risen above, suggest there is some platform that can take us up there… What we should be doing is not reinforcing this notion of rising above, but to give people the courage to LIVE IN IT!!

Time and events will not wait.

Infestesimle elements. ..

Not yet covered….

Sociological Imagination: denial of the astronomical size of life. Wants to put up walls…

Even though Tolstoy insists there are knowable things… thousands of minor causes….colluding and coinciding with each other. What can you do?

Tolstoy treats War and Peace as a historical edifice….   If you read it as an ANT Study of the invasion of Napoleon in Russia… he is keeping it “flat” – refusing to posit any shortcuts which would be  explanations. Exploring all of the rest of London in all of this.

We decided what the interest is in advance, and that is all we see. We don’t see the personal concerns; No one who takes part in his

Live Blogging: Seminar in Sociological Theory #12

Burger and Luckmann – by Agamben (p. 66). All societies are built in the face of chaos.

A lot of Parsonian theory hangs on the assumption that if you don’t stay within the functional boundaries…

Agamben feels that Durkheim had succumbed to the “psychologization of religious experience” characteristic of the “European bourgeoisie” of the time (78). It is not clear whether Agamben is suggesting that Durkheim was blindly imbedded in this mode of thought (a function of the hang-over from the long 19th century perhaps), and therefore unable to see the material and experiential aspects of religious ambiguity, or whether Durkheim was merely pandering to the dominant trends that did not take the sacred as a serious category of material experience and intelligibility.

What is the sphere of the political?

For Agamben, the sacred has become bound with ‘the political.’ In this way, he seems to be reading Schmitt as a theological thinker as much as a political theorist.

For deconstructionism: IT is the odd occurrence that gives the truth. If you want to understand the US, you have to look at Guantanimo Bay. How the system works is by understanding what it needs to marginalize.

The exception sustains the whole.

The Mobius strip.

Homo Saver: Leagally dead, biologically alive.

Knight of the Living Dead

By Slavoj Zizek

1023 words

24 March 2007

The New York Times

LONDON — SINCE the release of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s dramatic confessions, moral outrage at the extent of his crimes has been mixed with doubts. Can his claims be trusted? What if he confessed to more than he really did, either because of a vain desire to be remembered as the big terrorist mastermind, or because he was ready to confess anything in order to stop the water boarding and other ”enhanced interrogation techniques”?If there was one surprising aspect to this situation it has less to do with the confessions themselves than with the fact that for the first time in a great many years, torture was normalized — presented as something acceptable. The ethical consequences of it should worry us all.

While the scope of Mr. Mohammed’s crimes is clear and horrifying, it is worth noting that the United States seems incapable of treating him even as it would the hardest criminal — in the civilized Western world, even the most depraved child murderer gets judged and punished. But any legal trial and punishment of Mr. Mohammed is now impossible — no court that operates within the frames of Western legal systems can deal with illegal detentions, confessions obtained by torture and the like. (And this conforms, perversely, to Mr. Mohammed’s desire to be treated as an enemy rather than a criminal.)

It is as if not only the terrorists themselves, but also the fight against them, now has to proceed in a gray zone of legality. We thus have de facto ”legal” and ”illegal” criminals: those who are to be treated with legal procedures (using lawyers and the like), and those who are outside legality, subject to military tribunals or seemingly endless incarceration.

Mr. Mohammed has become what the Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls ”homo sacer”: a creature legally dead while biologically still alive. And he’s not the only one living in an in-between world. The American authorities who deal with detainees have become a sort of counterpart to homo sacer: acting as a legal power, they operate in an empty space that is sustained by the law and yet not regulated by the rule of law.

Some don’t find this troubling. The realistic counterargument goes: The war on terrorism is dirty, one is put in situations where the lives of thousands may depend on information we can get from our prisoners, and one must take extreme steps. As Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School puts it: ”I’m not in favor of torture, but if you’re going to have it, it should damn well have court approval.” Well, if this is ”honesty,” I think I’ll stick with hypocrisy.

Yes, most of us can imagine a singular situation in which we might resort to torture — to save a loved one from immediate, unspeakable harm perhaps. I can. In such a case, however, it is crucial that I do not elevate this desperate choice into a universal principle. In the unavoidable brutal urgency of the moment, I should simply do it. But it cannot become an acceptable standard; I must retain the proper sense of the horror of what I did. And when torture becomes just another in the list of counterterrorism techniques, all sense of horror is lost.

When, in the fifth season of the TV show ”24,” it became clear that the mastermind behind the terrorist plot was none other than the president himself, many of us were eagerly waiting to see whether Jack Bauer would apply to the ”leader of the free world” his standard technique in dealing with terrorists who do not want to divulge a secret that may save thousands. Will he torture the president?

Reality has now surpassed TV. What ”24” still had the decency to present as Jack Bauer’s disturbing and desperate choice is now rendered business as usual.

In a way, those who refuse to advocate torture outright but still accept it as a legitimate topic of debate are more dangerous than those who explicitly endorse it. Morality is never just a matter of individual conscience. It thrives only if it is sustained by what Hegel called ”objective spirit,” the set of unwritten rules that form the background of every individual’s activity, telling us what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.

For example, a clear sign of progress in Western society is that one does not need to argue against rape: it is ”dogmatically” clear to everyone that rape is wrong. If someone were to advocate the legitimacy of rape, he would appear so ridiculous as to disqualify himself from any further consideration. And the same should hold for torture.

Are we aware what lies at the end of the road opened up by the normalization of torture? A significant detail of Mr. Mohammed’s confession gives a hint. It was reported that the interrogators submitted to waterboarding and were able to endure it for less than 15 seconds on average before being ready to confess anything and everything. Mr. Mohammed, however, gained their grudging admiration by enduring it for two and a half minutes.

Are we aware that the last time such things were part of public discourse was back in the late Middle Ages, when torture was still a public spectacle, an honorable way to test a captured enemy who might gain the admiration of the crowd if he bore the pain with dignity? Do we really want to return to this kind of primitive warrior ethics?

This is why, in the end, the greatest victims of torture-as-usual are the rest of us, the informed public. A precious part of our collective identity has been irretrievably lost. We are in the middle of a process of moral corruption: those in power are literally trying to break a part of our ethical backbone, to dampen and undo what is arguably our civilization’s greatest achievement, the growth of our spontaneous moral sensitivity.

Terri Schiavo and
the State of Exception

Eric L. Santner

Eric L. Santner reflects on the Terri Schiavo case in light of two new Chicago books on political theology: Giorgio Agamben’s The State of Exception and Julia Reinhard Lupton’s Citizen Saints.

When a series of news items grip the national imagination within a short period of time, one rightly wonders whether there might be connections between them, whether an underlying set of issues animates them. I am thinking of two stories: the Abu Ghraib prison tortures and the Terri Schiavo case. Let us forget for a moment that both stories involve powerful images that don’t simply illustrate the subject matter but actually co-constitute it (the taking of photographs was a tool of humiliation at Abu Ghraib; the images of Terri Schiavo have led many—among them members of Congress—to believe that they know something about her medical condition). What interests me more is how in each story human life is positioned with respect to law and political power.

It is now clear that at Abu Ghraib as well as numerous other detention centers, the problem of prisoner abuse—including clear cases of torture and murder—has not simply been the consequence of a handful of rogue soldiers living out sadistic fantasies on helpless victims. But nor has the problem been one of isolated and contingent miscommunications down the chain of command. The real problem has to do with the legal status of the prisoners themselves and of the sites where they are being detained. With respect to Guantanamo Bay, to cite the most obvious example, the Bush administration has argued that the detention centers there effectively occupy a lawless zone, a site where a permanent (if undeclared) state of exception or emergency is in force. The prisoners have been stripped of all legal protections and stand exposed to the pure force of American military and political power. They have ceased to count as recognizable agents bearing a symbolic status covered by law. They effectively stand at the threshold where biological life and political power intersect. That is why it is fundamentally unclear whether anything those in power do to them is actually illegal.

If places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay represent sites where life, lacking all legal status and protection, stands in maximal exposure to pure political power, then the case of Terri Schiavo—and here I am thinking of the law passed by Congress that was intended to keep her alive—offers us a strange reversal. We find here the paradox of an intrusive excess of legal “protection” that effectively serves to suspend the law (the judicial process running its course in the Florida courts) and take direct hold of human life. A law designed to lift a single individual out of an ongoing judicial process is essentially a form or caprice, law in its state of exception (a sanctioned suspension of legality). This paradox reaches its greatest intensity where the law attempts to take charge of the pure biological life of the human being in question. At this point Terri Schiavo’s life assumes a “biopolitical” dimension in which life and politics can no longer be fully distinguished. To put it simply, if an act of Congress were to lead to the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, it will not be only water and chemical nutrients that enter her system; it will also be the invasive force of political power. This, of course, says nothing about the cynicism at play in this political power. (Many of the most prominent sponsors of the legislation in question have exhibited a shameless disregard for human life in countless other areas of public policy.)

Another way of thinking about the two faces of the state of exception in which political power takes a direct hold of human life is to note the two modes of reduction/amplification at play in each instance. In Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and other such places, the prisoners are fully sentient beings who in some sense no longer exist in the “book of life”; their legal and symbolic status has been nullified, they have been reduced to a pure point of application of state power (again, how could those in charge of such beings not be confused as to what constitutes abuse?). Terri Schiavo, by contrast, is a no longer sentient being who is having a symbolic status imposed on her (she has become, among other things, the name of a Cause). In the one case we have human life violently stripped of the cover of a symbolic status/value, in the other, the intrusive imposition a symbolic status/value in the absence of sentient life. The results, however, are uncannily similar: the radical exposure of the body to the pure caprice of political power.

With respect to the latter case, one might ask why it matters at all whether Mrs. Schiavo is kept alive by a feeding tube. That is, if it is true that she is in a persistent vegetative state without awareness, without access to pleasure and pain, joy and sadness—and no credible evidence has been brought forward that would cast any doubt on this diagnosis—why should anyone care if her parents take her home and keep her alive artificially? Whom does it harm if this makes her parents happy? I think that many would respond that it harms the soul of Terri Schiavo to be so totally subjected to the will of others even if those others are her parents who no doubt love her (or politicians who at least claim to speak on her behalf). And what greater form of subjection is there than to have the will of others impinge directly on our life substance, our existence as living tissue? Those pleading for state intervention into Terri Schiavo’s persistence as living tissue are pleading for the most radical form of domination one can imagine. And domination does damage to the human soul. I am tempted to say that the effort to keep Terri Schiavo alive is a kind of soul murder.

Of course, the Terri Schiavo case would never have entered the national awareness were it not for certain Christian groups that adopted it as a battleground in the larger cause of defending so-called innocent life. There is much to say about this phrase, “innocent life.” Given the fact that many who oppose abortion also condone capital punishment, one has good reason to wonder whether what is really at stake here is not innocent life but rather living innocence, that is, a fantasy of protecting not a human life but a condition of purity and innocence that can, in turn, only be truly embodied by non-sentient life. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder whether what President Bush has referred to as the “culture of life” only refers to non-sentient life; as soon as one acquires feeling, perception, and awareness one is more or less abandoned to the minimally regulated vagaries of the market place.

Be that as it may, one of the real theological peculiarities at the heart of the Terri Schiavo case pertains to the concepts of creation and creaturely life. As Julia Lupton notes in a wonderful book chapter on Shakespeare’s The Tempest entitled “Creature Caliban,” the word “creature” comes from the future-active participle of the Latin creare, meaning that the “creatura is a thing always in the process of undergoing creation; the creature is actively passive or, better, passionate, perpetually becoming-created, subject to transformation at the behest of the arbitrary commands of an Other.” In its theological sense, then, “creature” isn’t so much the name of a determinate state of being or essence as that of an ongoing exposure, of being caught up in the process of becoming creature through the dictates of divine authority. This dimension of radical subjection—of created thing to Creator God—has induced, in the history of the concept, a series of further articulations, ultimately becoming generalized to signify, as Lupton puts it, “anyone or anything that is produced or controlled by an agent, author, master, or tyrant.” At the end of such a trajectory it makes sense that a word that once denoted the entire domain of nature qua God’s creation comes to be “increasingly applied to those created things that warp the proper canons of creation.” Perhaps the most famous literary example of such a creature is Frankenstein’s monster, itself in many ways an embodiment of an inability to countenance death in modernity, which is no doubt a central feature of the Terri Schiavo case. (Is it not particularly strange that among those who seem to lose all bearings in the face of death, all sense of compassion and reverence, are people who claim deep religious faith?)

What ultimately underwrites this paradoxical passage from the natural to the unnatural in the semantic field of creaturely life is that feature of the “master” I have referred to as the state of exception or emergency. That is, it is not the mere fact of being in a relation of subject to law that generates creaturely “non-nature” but rather the exposure to an “outlaw” dimension of law internal to state authority. Governmental authority in the state of exception marks a sanctioned suspension of law, an outside of law included within the law. Creaturely life emerges precisely at such strange thresholds where the subject is touched by this force of law in excess of law. The decision to categorize the prisoners taken in the “war on terrorism” as enemy combatants without legal status and Congress’s attempt to intervene into the Terri Schiavo case are two instances in which life has been rendered creaturely in this sense.

What is especially disturbing in the Schiavo case is that this process is being performed in the name of a “culture of life” ostensibly consonant with Christian morality. What we find instead is a radical perversion of the order of creation and the theological status of the creature, its conversion, that is, into a purely biopolitical entity. Christianity is being used, in other words, to give cover to the radical intrusion of political power into the sphere of life. A theology that might have provided the resources for deep compassion for a woman in her dying and for the family of this woman, has become instead an ideological tool of political power in a state of exception


Have guns (and helicopters), will travel (review by SCOTT TAYLOR)

Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

By Jeremy Scahill

Since 2003, Blackwater has expanded rapidly, adding helicopters and aircraft to the corporation’s impressive arsenal and hiring foreign mercenaries on an unprecedented scale. Defining the exact role of these legions of private security contractors on the modern battlefield has not been easy. Scahill uses the court proceedings of two separate incidents — the Fallujah ambush and a Blackwater aircraft crash in Afghanistan — to illustrate the blurred line between actual military units and gun-for-hire corporations.

In defending Blackwater from lawsuits filed by the victims’ families, its lawyers argue that the company should be immune from any liability since it is part of a “U.S. Total Force that includes contractors.” Since these mercenaries are not subject to U.S. military law and have been granted immunity from prosecution in both Iraq and Afghanistan, they literally operate outside the law, with a licence to kill.

The rapid increase in the demand for Blackwater’s services and the corporation’s profit-driven mandate has also led to contractual disputes with a number of foreign recruits. One group of Chileans was promised $6,000 per month, contracted for $2,700 and then told upon their arrival in Iraq that they would only receive $34 per day ($1,000 per month). If they didn’t like the terms, the Chileans were free to head to downtown Baghdad and pay for their own return flights.

The book also profiles a number of the key players who have helped to elevate Blackwater to its present prominence. The former head of the CIA counter-terrorism centre, J. Cofer Black, and ex-inspector-general Joseph Schmitz share Erik Prince’s right-wing religious beliefs, and since joining the company’s executive team, describe themselves as modern-day knights.

For those who think that the deployment of Blackwater’s mercenaries to far-off war zones is of no domestic concern, think again. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Erik Prince’s operatives were dispatched into the storm-ravaged, chaotic streets of New Orleans. While U.S. Coast Guard officials dispute Blackwater’s claims of rescuing victims, local law officials expressed concern over these guns-for-hire engaging in firefights with looters and “gangbangers.”


Sociology of exception:

Exemption, where people claim an exemption, for whatever reason. Connection between Guantanimo Bay and file sharing.

Dowloading, individuals take a stance of necessity or “it doesn’t matter anyways.” Products that are legal, but use of them forces you to do the illegal.

It’s all just equiptment in the amusement park.

These are all in between. They all have to do with a similar problem – people being claimed as, or claiming for themselves, exception. It does’nt count for “me” – I need, I want – over the nomos.


One doesn’t need to become more plugged in. There can be moments when you become less plugged in. Alot of the dynamics of illness involved becoming less plugged in.

Until you work out where the plug ins are added and withdrawn, you are in trouble.

Durkeim -> some deviance is functional. The nomos is being held by the anomic. (see the boundaries of societies).

Not modern: intensively equipt.

Two features of Sociology: 1. Positivism – facts about how things are and how things could be. Informed based on findings/facts. We’ve forgotten about the “fact-ories” (Latour). It forgets it is trading on mediator (confused with intermediaries). The engineers forget they are becoming actors 2. Critical – demystification. Suggests that however you see things, you don’t understand what is really going on. The false consiousness. Point out the ways in which the doxic version supresses the heterodoxa. The job of social sciences is to demistify.

Dorothy is still a critical sociology – ruling relations is part of the projects (seperating the project with ANT). There is this emmanent relation among ruling agencies that multiplies their forces that will relate to each other and multiply their effects.

IE wants to keep things local as well.

If most work falls in one of these two projects. If both of these are suspect: on what basis do you continue to justify a sociology department?  What about branch planting them around. Sociology teaches a set of skills. People pursue their careers in other departments.

Live Blogging: Seminar in Sociological Theory #8 or 9?

Giorgio Agamben –

Agamben’s text State of Exception investigates how the suspension of laws within a state of emergency or crisis can become a prolonged state of being. More specifically, Agamben addresses how this prolonged state of exception operates to remove individuals of their citizenship.

When speaking about the USA Patriot Act, issued by the United States Senate on October 26, 2001, Agamben writes, “What is new about President Bush’s order is that it radically erases any legal status of the individual, thus producing a legally unnamable and unclassifiable being. Not only do the Taliban captured in Afghanistan not enjoy the status of POW’s as defined by the Geneva Convention, they do not even have the status of people charged with a crime according to American laws (Agamben, pg 3).”

Many of the individuals captured in Afghanistan were taken to be held at Guantánamo Bay without trial. These individuals were termed as “enemy combatants.” Until July 7, 2006, these individuals had been treated outside of the Geneva Conventions by the United States administration.


Hughes – variety of settings that fall under a category (sport) – what are the common features that are the same?

“cooling out the mark.”

What an interesting phrase! Google led me to this 1952 article by Erving Goffman. He starts with the perspective of professional con artists. In their jargon, “cooling the mark” out refers to techniques designed to prevent the mark, or victim, from calling the police or otherwise making his loss public. The cooler (the con man assigned to this task) can use various approaches: He can emphasize the embarrassment involved, he can emphasize the hopelessness of trying to recover the lost money, he can encourage the mark to see the con as a learning experience, and so forth.

From there, Goffman moves to a much broader view of how people deal with their losses, which Goffman sees as primarily a problem of helping people reconcile their internally held identities with facts. He sees the same basic dynamics in handling an angry customer, in rejecting a suitor, or in firing an employee.

The problem we encounter as sociologists doing ANT is not the start/stop – but how do you not stabilize? Don’t look for centres in which things eminate and work their way down (to flatten). Foucault flattens the panopticon – Governor is another point in the panopticon.

There are no findings, but the reassembling of a network. Reassembled –

Live Blogging: Marking 220 Exams

The Goal: To Mark 220 Exams for the Sociology of the Family course I TA for in Calgaryby 10:15 PM.

6:24 At this point, I have graded about 80 or so? I am in the windowless office, and I have the new LCD Soundsystem album CRANKED. I have no idea if anyone is on the 9th here with me, and if they are, it is loud enough that they might come and tell me to turn it down.

6: 28: When my family finally disowns me, I am changing my last name to “Gagatek”

6:35 Is it possible that I haven’t been obsessed with this record yet? I think I just had to jam it really, really loud to fully appreciate it…

6: 40 Is it just me, or do men with extremely tiny, obbsessively neat PRINTING scream “Serial Killer in Training”?

6:45 “The time has come / the time has come / the time has come today” Repeat x220

7:18: A few hours in… it doesn’t even seem like the pile is any smaller. This makes me feel “emo”

7:24 Genius! I am working in the windowless office, lined with empty desks. I have a “rolly” chair, and I am marking the exams, and then alphabatizing them at the same time, but instead of working through them, now that I am about half-way through, I am counting how many down in that letter group (so, I have marked 7 exams for students with the letter “M” – I count down how many M’s come before (say, 3) and then count the stack to three, and drop the new one in – Rinse, repeat. Efficiency!

8:10 I am noticing the pile going down, but there are endless distractions right now… Destroyer is playing LOUD –

Don’t spend your life conceiving
that the widows won’t get sick of their grieving

9:00 – somehow there are no more left? Sweet. An hour and some to kill…

Live Blogging: Seminar in Sociological Theory #??? (what day is it again?)

Discussion on the rationale for grading: pointing out deficiencies. Start with 100%, and lose from there.

Doing writing as a “trial” – which is, taking your B+ first draft, and turning it into an A+ third draft. Building on your own argument, taking it further… finding a way to just give it that extra.

Where do you stop… when you hit the end.

Pg 44: Habitus is troubled usage, if we imply some kind of force. The wrong way of using it is similar to how Durkheim uses anomie…

Looking for mediators where each point can be said to fully act.

59: concatenations of mediators…

footnote p.209: Marcell Maus is sick… watches the “girls” and how they walk. Recognizes the universal gate, in that they have all watched the same movies. When he goes to Paris, sees it there. Evoking Habitus, not as a force, but a habit, a learned way of using and disposing your body. Holding arms, swinging hips. Analyzable. For Latour, something worth studying because you can actually SEE it.

SHOW it to me!!!

“This is why Habitus, freed from social theory, is such an excellent concept” (p. 209). Think of Habitus like equiptment. I can see it, take notes. What are the mediators vs the intermediaries.

Good Bourdieu behaves ethnomethodologically, when he is treating it like equiptment. The bad Bourdieu is when he is generating theory, actors as a generic entity, that “mediate” “actors” “within fields.”

Don’t need to throw away stuff from the last seven years… becomes a matter of understaning training…. The more deeply committed you are to the sociology of the social, the less you will get ANT.

Get rid of the term “actor?” as it implies a locus of determination? Defends the hyphen of actor-network – only an actor in a network. Only talk about relations of power. If we are talking about power, we are inventing a force.

Anomie: give Durkheim needs his due. Even though he may have been a lousy sociologist (quit using anomie as if it actually fricking explains anything). Yet, he was onto something… the way people felt at the begining of the 20th Century – it captures a discontent. With the classics, there is something to be learned from them. They were people of their times. Profoundly in touch with their times that was profound. In the same way that certain poets could feed back towards a culture, a time.

Habitus: Husseral, Maus, Merlot Ponty, Elias… then Bourdieu.

Equiptment and subscriptions: (208-210).

Instead of, say “narrative habitus” —- narrative equiptment. Have to maintain subscriptions in order to maintain the equiptment. To find something deeply engaging. An “aquired taste” – never aquired the plug in for rap… etc. Need to replace our vocabulary of like, don’t like, “that’s no good” – I never got the equiptment, and/or I haven’t maintained the  subscription.  There is a moment when you make a descision whether you want it or not — selection/evaluation. Too much going on out there; plug in enables capacity of vision and division is that even though we can liberate habitus of social theory, but it keeps sucking us back towards …. Bourdieu should have taken this criticism seriously.

Live Blogging: PhD Theory Class #8

Reassembling the Social:

P. 141: When your informants mix up organization, hardware, psychology and politics… don’t break it down into neat little pots (“themes”) – try and follow the link they make between those elements, which would have looked impossibly distinct with old Sociology. Trace those associations.

Treat writing as a trial.

IE/ANT “line of fault” – is it doing what it is supposed to do (Y/N)? Even if it is, is it too expensive in the cost of participating? These are more IE than ANT; to go in an ANT, it doesn’t work. ANT – uncovering the controversies. IE assumes presupposition – a “lived experience” which is something ANT isn’t interested in.

ANT is not so much a sociology of technology. Looking at innovations, something “new” happening. If you don’t, it will be hard, as the associations are harder to trace. You need the ethnomethodological “disruption” – you have to mess people around.

Latour and Social Theory:

102: Social forces play the role of being what has to be postulated, and what, for many reasons, has to remain invisible. For Durkheim: Social Solidarity, has the complicated role of explaining EVERYTHING. The only interesting part is how you get to the answer. There is only one way to get there. Social solidarity, at the same time, remains invisible.  Based on imaginary substances. Instead of tracing the networks, he jumps to imaginary forces (egoism, anomie). Both explain suicide, and that which suicide explains.

P. 71: Describing Weber’s interpretive project; starts off with distinction between behavior and action. Sociology then is the proper study of action. Durkheim macro / Weber micro, creating meaning. Weber then puts sociology on the side of the meaningful. Sociology relies on intentional humans. For Latour, this is wrong: don’t make that distinction, the question becomes “WHAT ACTS?” not what is the consciousness, what are the things that are acting. Weber: only humans can act. Latour leaves this open, and thus has little interest in typologies of meaning.

Work net: keeps ANT from network theory. We don’t want this to be confused.

ANT: How these multiple mediators are brought into association with one another. How their worknet aquires the name of capitalism. Weber does talk about this stuff, but in the wrong order, ending up without being able to go anywhere.

We’ve never really had an action theory in sociology, but a consious actor theory.

The issue of explanation (what theory is supposed to “do”).  Latour suggests a fundamental reversal. For the sociology of the social, generate a mass of effects.  (p. 130-131 – key pages). Sociology of the social, fewest number of causes that will generate the greatest number of effects. This is the history of sociology. Durkheim – solidarity. Weber – legitimate authority, Parsons agil; fewest numbers of causes, largest number of effects. Marx: only one cause, CLASS CONFLICT and that it is.

Moving into the PoMo; we see the same thing. To create typologies is to do this. Generate most possibilities. Sometimes, this leads to interesting ways to think. Yet, they postulate ways to live. Themes in Grounded Theory – combine to metatheory, coming up with a meta-language, which are proxy explanations. Make claims to represent explanations. They are being transmogrified; they end up having the same point. “Now that I understand the five themes of living with this illness, I now can explain the greatest number of effects in their lives” – what is grounded is that these themes remains unspecified. The description is truncated.

Latours notion of explanation:

If a description remains in need of an explanation, that means that it is a bad description. You just haven’t done it well enough (p. 137). As soon as a sight is placed into a framework, everything becomes rational much too quickly.

There is nothing left to be explained. Tolstoy describes so adequately, that everything else remains unponderable.

With theory, Latour might object to all purpose, all terrain methodology (note 126 on pg. 96). This is what C. Wright Mills objected to in “Sociological Imagination” – theory used without going under any change.

Do what you are doing, don’t always have to put a name on it.

Researchers should fall between the  egoism of the investigator becomes Newton, or the totalitarianism of Stalin.

“Critical Theory” – theory that pre-supposes actors Misrecognition. ANT/IE are on different tracks. As much as Smith wants to give actors credit, that actors just don’t understand “ruling relations” – cosmology land; even though they look similar, ANT would never allow for something like misrecognition.

The problem is that there IS sometimes misrecognition (Smith, Latour, Bourdieu); yet we can understand, subjects incapable of not knowing.

118: There is no rear world… that is what the 19th century were all about. Postulating the rear world, in which is making difference, but not observable.

The word “network” is dangerous because it is a concept, not a thing that is “out there” – networks as being “there” – instead of holding on to that word, call it work nets – trace the work that net people together.

A network is a tool to help describe (p. 131). The reclaiming of habitus, globalization – instead of imagining some “thing” that works on its own, if we concentrate on teh relay of actors as mediators – how they “hook up” with each other – then we are on solid ground.

So, what is a concept, and what is a good concept?

Latour’s revision of the social is that there is no society or social relm. All there is is translators that may generate tracable associations.

ANT is best when you have stuff that is tracable.

The translation does not transmit causality. Used to translate causality. Instead, translation induces two mediators into co-existing.

All this suggests three principles.

1) Principle of relativism: pp 95 – not the relativity of truth, it is the truth of a relation. Truth is always a relation (restating Heisenberg). Gives rise (116) to multiplicity. Deluze. It isn’t that we look at the world from different backgrounds; there are multiple objects. The waterbottle has multiple ontologies (not that there is multiple waterbottles).

2) Principle of multiple agencies  (166) “pluralverse” – what multiple agencies are involved here.

3) This brings us to symmatery of humans and non-human actors. We relate to each other through objects. It just doesn’t get that far; impoverished world, because tracing the ties that are handling the relay. It isn’t minds existing with other minds. 78 – can’t be a social science and pursue only SOME LINKS… like Mol’s pointing out that medical sociologists stop as soon as blood hits the scenes.

4)  Stick to the new definition of social as a fluid, visible only when new associations are being made (p. 79). That we will be able to see the fluid (from Garfinkel).

The unhappy realization is that there is no seperate sphere of theory as a distinct realm for some sociology (a “Theorist”) we have the occasion in a curricular slot (this class) then we end up wanting an all purpose, all terrain theory.

P. 130: in a bad text, nothing is translated is one to another because action is translated through them. Few causes, whatever effects you go study, using few effects you learned in “theory.” You can’t lose. Can you imagine where that is not applicable. And that what you feel you have a right to ask for.

Instead of theory, we need more details, NO MORE FRAMEWORKS! We jump to (INSERT X HERE). Latour wants to preserve the irrationality. the complexity. Momentary associations. War and Peace: moments of momentary associations.

The momentary is all there is!!!!!!!! (<— epiphinal moment).

Don’t want to create a mastery of a meta-narrative, with minimal causal factors… You can’t just get rid of stuff… it is all interconnected.

Music, apparently, makes the people come together.

What are you talking about?

So here is March. Without looking, I have no idea what day. I think it is Sunday (?) and last night’s wonky “too early” daylight savings has messed up all my clocks. One says it is 08:00, another 10:00, another says it is 11:00. Needless to say, this is only adding to my sense of confusion.

Over the last few days, I have been marking student blogs almost non-stop for my Media course. I am finding that I am frequently cracking up, as some of my students are really funny. For example, this passage struck me as hilarious:

Because the theatre was so full I was unable to secure a buffer seat on both sides of me. So I ended up sitting beside a teenager and his younger brother. Seeing Nicholas Cage’s head turn into a flaming skull was apparently something they could bond over. The movie began with a mood setting if somewhat lame introduction, which gave me time to ponder how near I was to a stranger. I have not been in such close proximity to an adolescent boy since . . . well since I was an adolescent girl. If we had both turned our heads at the same time we could have kissed.

Yes indeed.

In the last class meeting, I had them all bring a piece of music (the class was on the social meanings infused in music). Then, throughout my planned lecture, I had “face off” slides, where two students had to come to the front and play their song. After both played, they had to tell the class the song name, who sang it, and why they love it so much. Then, the class had to anonymously vote for the favourite of the two.

I think this went off well. Due to the blogging nature of the course, I get instant feedback, and there was lots of it this week. One student clearly hated it:

So, first thing is first, people in the class have terrible music taste.  Maybe it’s me with the bad taste, but I honestly can’t say I liked too many songs

This really got me worried, as it was the first review I read. Yet, everyone else seemed to enjoy themselves, such as the following, which has to be the best complement one could ever get:

That was probably one of the single best university classes I have ever been to. I thought it was really cool to listen to a bunch of new music I had not heard before.

Like everything, you win some, you lose some. All I know is that when I teach this class again, I am moving the music lecture to the front, as I think for many students it was a weird sort of “bonding” exercise. When you hear something you obviously think is terrible, and then you hear someone explain what it means to them, it breaks down barriers.  Like Madonna (or whoever writes music for Madonna) said: Music / makes the people / come together.

Live Blogging: Seminar in Sociological Theory #8

How do you set things free? From the cosmologies.

A Durkheimian sees collective consciousness. A Weberian looks around, sees the state of the times. A Marxist sees conflict. A Funtionalist… An Exchange Theorist… An Symbolic Interactionist…. on and on.

The thing is there is no… “the sky” – yet we turn it into “the sky” and invent various belief systems to hold it up, we take seriously the imaginary entities that hold it up as “the sky.” The history of Sociological theory is a history of these cosmologies.

It begins to shift with Garfinkel. He sees the problem, and the core issue (Zimmerman and Weeder, responding to Denizen, all micro sociologies). “What you don’t get is the problem of … take for granted that there are all these things out there (in Becker’s case, Jazz), and see how these people make up a resource to gather around … Jazz is left unexplained. Hiding off the stuff that “people” are supposed to do… As long as they leave some sphere out, and gather sociology around it… everything but the playing of the jazz. Garfinkel comes along — “there is not magical out there” “just people constantly recreating the stuff they then do” (i.e. playing jazz). Garfinkel still retains (frum functionalism) the desire for order, which is an ongoing achievement.

Latour: the social is any assemblage. In this sense, one can have a society at an elemental level. But we tack on “social” as an atmosphere in which pure objects floats, exists in. This is the way in which we “mark” territory – calling something “social” – we mark it off as the sociology, something we study.

Latour makes the break from where Ethnomethodolgy drifts to cosmology: 1) the postulate of “order seeking” – the “member” in ethnomethodology wants nothing more than to achieve order. There are no rebels in ethnomethodology. It is about how people get back to the safe zone (accountibility) before they get tagged (deviance). How do you get back to being accountible before getting tagged. i.e. Jurors are only accountable to judges.

The other part of ethnomethodolgy is that in place of collective consciousness is “turn taking” – people are hard wired to obey and exemplify. This is where ethnomethodolgy morphs to conversation analysis. The social is identifiable in the mechanics of turn taking.

Latour, in Reassembling the Social is doing his best not to recreate another cosmology. An ANT way of holding up the sky. He actually refuses to aknowledge a sky; you have to show what comes together to say it is the sky.

Our first mistake as sociologists: there are no groups, only group assemblages. Can’t study the group, have to study how the group came to be. How did they come to be associated (or,as Dorothy Smith says, were coordinated).

There is no social. There is only assembling, associating. As sociologists, we re-assemble. The first part of the problem: what are the actors here? And to be an actor, you have to do things, cause things to happen. As you are doing this, you do not discriminate the human and non-human actors. Why this is good in technological rich settings. ANT doesn’t have to stop as soon as there is blood or machines. How does blood, as an actor, cause another actor to act. Depends on how much, and where, mobilizing other actors (or not).

Live Blogging: PhD Theory Class #7 (aka: my presentation on Bore-Dieu)

John Berryman’s Dream Song #14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) “Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.” I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as Achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.


Ghita Schwarz: “A Case of Boredom” (TALK ABOUT THE CONTEXT – THE MAGAZINE)


Some time ago I discovered boredom. Or rather, boredom discovered me, moving into my body like a happy parasite. Soon boredom took over everything, ate at every action and activity, reading, talking, eating, even sleeping.


There was no knock at the door: BOREDOM HAS ARRIVED. Instead, I noticed one day that nothing seemed worth saying. Not “I LOVE YOU” , not “I’m TIRED” not “TIME TO GET UP” I’d know I was bored in sleep because I’d wake up and have no energy to remember a dream. Before sitting up to turn off the alarm, I’d remember that I was bored, that there was no reason to wash and dress.

For a few minutes, my sense of obligation – go to work, you have so much work! Would battle my desire to stop moving, and the internal struggle iself would provide enough fuel to get me to the coffee machine, to the shower, to my toothbrush, to my clothes, comb, coffe, cup, shoes. I’d start feeling bored again as soon as I touched my coat.

When I exited the subway, I would check my cell phone to see if “something” had “happened” while I was underground. Thus was the phrase my family used for emergenzies. If no message icon soon appeard, I’d call my sister just in case

I could hear the fear in her voice almost before she started speaking. “Has something happened?” she would say, tight and calm.

“no” I would answer… “nothing has happened.”

What does this have to do with this class?

More specifically, why am I talking about Boredom?

Who cares? HOW BORING!

Yet, to bore you would be the greatest transgression I could commit here today in this classroom. who wants to be bored?

For me, as the presenter, the last thing I want to be is labeled a bore (though, I fear that I may be too late on this issue).  Cecil Beaton says “Perhaps the world’s second worst crime is boredom. The first is being a bore.”

 Who wants to be called boring?

Today, my plan is to do my best to refrain boring you by talking about some very NON-BORING subjects;

Death, Industriousness, Theory, Sex, Shame, Memory, The Inner Ear….

And Pierre Bourdieu. Unfortunately, I am going to be talking about Pierre Bourdieu.  A lot.


Now that I have titillated you with the enticing subject matter of death and sex, the reason why I am going to be talking about BOREDOM is to answer (or to attempt ananswer) the question that Dr. Frank has been positing all semester:


This question has been annoying to me, because I could not come up with an easy answer. And if you know anything about me at all, you know that there is nothing I like more than easy answers.


What am I looking for in a theory/theorist? (Online dating profile)

I am looking for a theory that is flexible enough to use without collapsing. That is, the overall quality of the theory is such that I can actually use it. The theorist I am using presents a theory with room to build, expand, alter, and do not claim totalizing “this is it!!” knowledge of the social world. The quality aspect, for me, also speaks to the clarity of the theory, as the more clearly a theory is laid out, the less work there is for me to do to uncover the parts that I can actually use. Specifically,

I am looking for a theorist that, when higher level sociologists than myself read my work, (people meaning: defense committee, article reviewers) will not say, for example: “Why in gods name would you be using Bourdieu? On those grounds alone, we are not publishing!” This speaks to the idea that theories are not easily disproved, they rust. How much rust is there on this theorist? Is there a non-rusty theorist saying a similar thing, but in a new, more relevant way?

I am looking for a theorist to provide insight for me, that allow me to see through their eyes. I am looking for answers to questions I did not know I had.  Things that were once invisible to me, through theory, become visible. A good theory is good to the extent that you can’t help but to see it everywhere you look. Of course, this gets tricky when sociologists in training increase their theoretical repertoire, as many theories and theorists look at the same social phenomena and tell you completely opposite things about it, and it is left to the reader to choose a side.

Digression: Does anyone here watch the television program HEROES? I am assuming that only a few of us have, so I will give a brief synopsis here: Heroes is a weekly one hour Drama that is about a group of people discovering that they have “EVOLVED,” and now have “Super powers” – the show is set in the “Real world,” and is about people coming to terms with being genetically advanced from the rest of humanity. For example, telekinesis, super strength, invisibility, the ability to fly.


One character (Peter) has the ability to “absorb” the abilities of other heroes he comes into contact with – so when he is with his brother who can fly, he can fly as well… on and on.  That is what a good theorist does for me

I am looking for a theorist to help me take my work somewhere. That is, here I am, a new sociologist looking for direction to take my work (and sociology in general). Using a specific theory (or theorist), where can we go? How far can you take me? This is where my prior point becomes important: I am assuming that, 

I am looking for a theorist that provides me with inspiration. I want to get excited about what I am learning; I want EUREKA! Moments, epiphanies (or at least moments of extreme clarity), and more than anything hope that my project as a sociologist is worthwhile.  If they don’t provide hope for my project, they provide hopeful alternatives – that is a possibility of hope somewhere else.

I am also looking for a theorist who likes long walks, French New Wave cinema, browsing book stores, owns a turntable and who knows the great little hidden cafes.

So what does that have to do with boredom?

Well, the short answer is that Boredom is a good a topic as any to use Bourdieu to think with. If Bourdieu does anything for me, he should be able to explain something as mundane as the topic of boredom..

For example: Going back to Berryman’s poem:

My mother told me as a boy / (repeatingly) “Ever to confess you’re bored / means you have no Inner Resources.”  AND  Peoples bore me, / literature bores me, / especially great literature, ALSO  Achilles, / who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.

When we are thinking with Bourdieu, what are we seeing here? At a very superficial level, what would Bourdieu have to see here? The simple answer is HABITUS (“inner resources”), Distinction (“literature bores us”) and Capital (Achilles has more cultural capital than Henry).

Where the connection between Boredom and Bourdieu (or… as I wrote to someone on an instant message this week “BORE-DIEU”) came to me in the final chapter of Pascalian meditations, “Social Being, Time and the Sense of Existence”


Bourdieu talk about time as something one has, that one gains or wastes, lacks or has on one’s hands; “Time-as-thing” (p. 206).  To take an interest is to “temporalize oneself,” to MAKE time, in a relationship to the directly perceived present which has nothing in common with a project.

Bourdieu talks about illusio, ones INTEREST IN THE GAME, or what gives sense to existence by leading one to invest in a game, and what is to be expected in the future when playing the game (what Bourdeiu calls the lusiones) the chances, that it offers to those who are caught up in the game and who expect something from it. (p. 207).

Yet, Bourdieu allows for the fact that not all people are caught up in the game, and he says INDIFFERENCE which apprehends the world as devoid of interest and importance, the OPPOSITE of ILLUSIO.

INDIFFERENCE can spring from many sources; for example, participating in a field when one possesses the wrong habitus, or the wrong forms of capital. For me, one of the symptoms of this type of disconnect is Boredom.

We can take this further in Bourdieuvian terms: I read an article for this paper by MICHEAL CROWLY that relates the story of  a former private school teacher, who relates his experience teaching the children of the rich or otherwise successful who were clearly on their way to the Ivy League – now and then one would protest, “I don’t want to read Shakespeare – he’s boring!”  Sometimes it was Dickens, or Homer, or whatever was long and complex.  He would always reply: “No, this is not inherently boring – things are not boring in and of themselves – and what you are really saying is you are bored.” 

What would Bourdieu make of that? Of course, by now Bourdieu’s answer becomes clear – absolutely THINGS ARE NOT BORING IN AND OF THEMSELVES. Things are not “OBJECTIVELY” boring; Shakespear, Dickens or HOMER are only boring in relation to the social distance the individual has from being able to take interest in these works. For BOURDIEU, this is what we should be interested in as SOCIOLOGISTS!!

He writes “social scientists regularly forget the economic and social conditions which make possible the ordinary order of practices.” (p. 221).

This includes the “practice” of boredom. As sociologists, we want to understand the  “particular conditions” – for example – the forms of capital these individuals possess, their habitus, the fields they operate in

Understanding boredom in a Bourdieuvian sense is to understand that it does not exist in a social vacuum.

ANOTHER example: In his book “A Philosophy of Boredom,” Svendsen notes the historical circumstances surrounding the emergence of boredom.  The date he gives is “around 1760”,

This directly connects the beginning of boredom with the beginning of the industrial revolution.  The industrial revolution, Fordization of labour lead work in the 19th century duly became unbelievably boring and tedious, and has remained so ever since. 


Svendsen also says the term boredom was invented to differentiate boredom from laziness (sloth), as these were seen as  two different things.  Anyone of us can attest it is quite possible to work hard, with extreme diligence, and simultaneously be bored to tears.  Happens all the time.  Yes, much different.




Our father was dying. As bored as I was living my everyday life, my father was more bored still in his struggle toward death. He had had a heart attack nine years before, followed by bypass surgery and a rare procedure in which the surgeon cut out the dead parts of his heart. Now he was going through the slow deterioration for which there was, as one emergency-room doctor put it, “only so much modern medicine can do.” He had lasted two years past that pronouncement, a period when I began to muse that he might be the exception to the rule.

“What rule?” said a friend.

“The one about everyone ending up dead.”

But on the last visit to the ER, for internal bleeding following a bad reaction to pneumonia antibiotics, something seemed different. He himself began to believe—rather than just fear—that he would die. He would mutter and call, “God bless you, God bless you” and, on occasion, “Oy, mamme.” A nurse reported that he slept in twenty-minute spurts, waking up each time in a state of shaking confusion, begging for his wife and daughters. “Why is he so anxious?” she said.

We decided to spring him and found an inexperienced resident to sign off on the discharge. We thought he had a couple of weeks. But weeks became months. At home in his bed, he entered a lethargic half-sleep state, interrupted by regular coughing and moaning, frequent shouting at my mother, occasional smiles for a cautious visit from his two-year-old granddaughter. My mother’s life became just as boring as his: focused on his food, his sleep, his medicine, his agony.

“He’s all alone,” she said, lying on the couch, hand over her eyes.

It may seem that boredom makes time pass with an agonizing slowness, that boredom makes time last. But boredom is really the enemy of time. It kills the future and denigrates the past. My father lay in his bed, unwilling to get up and brush his teeth, shave, or eat more than a few bites of food. Everything we asked of him was boring, too much work, and for what? No effort would diminish the futureless loneliness.



What are we seeing in Schwarz’s father is the decline of illusio that comes from the state of limbo he lived in?  His sense to existence (waiting to die) leading him to uninvest in the game of life. He was no longer expecting anything out of life.


Schwarz continues:

He was a ghost before death. I read once about a subset of residents of the displaced prison camps after the war, young men and women lying on dirty cots, unable to rise and work, unable to search, moving only to eat or to procure items of donated clothing. These were the severely traumatized refugees who could not see a future, the ones so exhausted from surviving that the ideas of marriage, giving birth, making money, playing cards, seemed like tasks for another species.


Bourdieu notes that time is really experienced only when (p. 208-209) “the quasi-automatic coincidence between expectations and chances, illusio and lusiones, expectations and the world which is there to fullfull them, is broken.”

We FEEL directly when the unspoken agreement of how the world “IS SUPPOSED TO BE” becomes broken; what is anticipated and the logic of the game in relation to which this anticipation was formed….the feeling experienced when the object whose presence is desidred is no longer there, or threatens to disappear,‘we recall the past to stop its too rapid flight” –


In this sense, BOREDOM (OR DISCONNECT) rears its head, when we feel dissatisfaction with the present, Bourdieu says that we to work towards removing ourselves from Boredom.


Indeed, the entire cultural industry of our times tries to ensure that we are NEVER BORED. Ever. We now have video ipods, cellphones that connect to the internet, television sets embedded in car headrests…


Except for the fact that the truly bored are too bored to work towards anything, let alone alleviating their boredom.






“Once I had been a hard worker, with responsibilities and obligations that felt good to fulfill. But, when boredom set in, all I could do was look busy.”


Schwarz was a lawyer, who had a high caseload, and would “wait until the subway ride to familiarize” herself with the facts in the hope that novelty would push me to pay attention during the proceedings… victory in a case often had nothing to do with preparation or “rightness” coherence or strategy. It depended on the hearing officer’s mood, client’s race… The utter randomness of success and failure made success and failure boring…


On Pg 213: Bourdieu notes:


“Investment” is associated with uncertainty, but a limited and, in a sense, regulated uncertainty.”


 In order for the relationship between expectations and chances which defines investment, interest or illusio to be set up, the objective chances have to be situated between absolute necessity, and absolute impossibility;


Bourdieu acknowledges what Shwarz is directly experiencing: the agent has to have chances of winning which are neither nil nor total. NOTHING must be absolutely sure, but not everything must be possible. There has to be some “PLAY”


As demonstrated by Schwarz’s telling; one of the outcomes of an overly arbitrary field (of the courtroom -> where it didn’t matter how much she prepared, it came down to a litany of other things) is disengagement from her field;


She notes that “at work I did not work. To make the day pass I surfed the web. Although I was beginning to have some difficulty with the details with the details of my client’s cases, I could retain arcane information from celebrity gossip sites…”



Schwarz: It’s a common assumption that kids turn to sexual activity to relieve boredom, and that the escape into sex in turn fuels more boredom, It is thought that out of boredom, young people will hop from partner, never satisfied, dreading repetition.


But is sexual boredom really the problem of repetition? Don’t a lot of people actually like a rerun? To me, the familiarity of sex with the same person was, at its best, the opposite of boring. I loved it as a child to hear the same story over and over again… If the story speaks to you, notices you, want to hear it again and again, each reading the same but different.


Bourdieu would agree here: (p. 215) He argues that redundancy win the social world, the limitation of the space of possibilities, makes it livable.  


For Shwarz, this redundancy – being able to properly orient her “playing strategy” in terms of sexual activity leads to comfort (from which her boredom can play from there).


To quote Aldus Huxley: A true traveler finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty – his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure. Virginia Wolf “it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.”


Though we often associate Boredom in terms of Kierkegaard, who proclaimed it “the root of all evil” we require some repetition to orient our strategies, to discover the stakes. 






Shwarz: Once upon a time, there was a shame in being bored. It spoke of indolence and sloth,…. A lot of self blame for boredom has stuck around, though Contemporary boredom remains something to be overcome by one’s industry and hard work.  Professional-class parents, fearful that too much open time will lead to drugs of Bertrand Russell’s “empty sex” fill their kids schedules with classes and lessons, activities and sports. Boredom has be come like fat: once thought of as a privilege of the rich, now a problem of the poor and a source of shame.



For Bourdieu, (p. 209)

“Free time does not readily escape from the logic of investment in ‘things to do,’ which even when it does not go as far as the explicit concern to succeed in one’s holidays, according to the precepts of the women’s magazines, prolongs the competition for the accumulation of symbolic capital  in various forms; suntan, souvenirs or anecdotes, photo’s or films, monuments, museums, landscapes places to visit or explore or simply to do… “We’ve done Greece…” by implementing the imperative suggestions of tourists guides)




This speaks to being a grad student, when we talk about our reading week; “oh man… I feel terrible: I sat on the couch and watched FOOD TV, or I spent it playing video games… I DIDN’T GET ANY WORK DONE!” From a Bourdieuvian point of view, we can alter that statement: “I DID’T ACCUMULATE ANY CAPITAL!” Because we should be constantly accumulating capital in its various guises, we feel shame. “




Schwarz describes the last days of her Father’s life. “Don’t be so shocked,”

I would try to joke, “Wasn’t I here yesterday?”

“I don’t remember” he would say. 


His concentration always wobbly, was vanishing altogether. He asked for coffee in the middle of the night. He asked my sister for the last name of her husband of five years, and asked again a moment later. One day he addressed me in Polish. He wanted something , but I couldn’t understand. “I’m sorry Dad” I said, I don’t speak polish, remember?


Rage can keep you going. HE’d had a lot of rage when he first becamse ill, and we believed it had extended his life, forcing him to remember how strong he was, pushing him to recount every instance of youthful prowess. 


But now the rage had lost its healing power, and the protest turned inward, destroying everything it found.


My father was so bored of dying that he could not remember his living…. Could he die of boredom?



On page 211, Bourdieu quotes Pascal;



“We are full of things which take us out of ourselves. Our instinct makes us feel we must seek out happiness outside ourselves. Our passions impel us outside, even when no objects present themselves to excite them.”


External objects tempt us of themselves, and call to us, even when we are not thinking of them. And thus philosophers have said in vain “Retire within yourselves, you will find your good there” We do not believe them, and those who believe them are the most empty and the most foolish.”



What happens to us when we look within ourselves and find it lacking? If, as Bourdieu says, the objective probabilities are determinant only for an agent endowed with the sense of the game in the form of the capacity to anticipate the forthcoming of the game.” When we don’t have the ability to anticipate – further, if we don’t care anymore? Further still, one has to wonder if we have the same fortitude, the same “healing rage”


Rob Horning notes in an article titled “An Etiology of Boredom”  that Concentration is counterproductive in a consumer, whereas boredom suits the consumer economy:  incapable of forming deep attachments to cultural commodities, and spurred by sublimated class envy, shoppers become perpetually restless for novelty, making serial purchases with spiraling frequency until the ever more tenacious habit of boredom renders them instantaneously empty upon possession.


At that point, the act of acquisition is the only moment of pleasure, and one’s life becomes a perpetual buying spree.


So one doesn’t become bored with popular culture, boredom is built into it: in the products themselves and the system by which they’re disseminated. Of course, if you could just listen to one album and find lasting entertainment, the music industry would suffer. Hence, the record industry tilts toward albums like Crunk Juice and artists like Jessica Simpson rather then turning out London Calling after London Calling. Planned obsolescence is the popular-culture norm; it’s perverse to expect it to be other than disposable. 


And if we are what we eat, so to speak, we ourselves are becoming disposable, we ourselves are subject to “planned obsolescence.”


Boredom and the INNER EAR

Schwarz: “At work one day, I close the door to my little office and move a few file boxes into a corner. I spread my jacket on the dirty carpet and lay down with my heard inside the coat lining, my hair fanning into the sleeves. The walls are a vomity pink, the ceiling a stained grey and white. My body is still, but everything seems to be moving. I am dizzy with boredom.


Reading Bourdieu for the entirety of my reading week, I can relate to this statement. Though, I would replace “boredom” with “possibility”. Reading Pascalian Meditations, as with much of Bourdieu’s work, can be a battle; for understanding his points, for meeting the challenges he assults us with, for not allowing ourselves to get thrown off by the polemics he throws at us.


In this presentation, when talking about the boredom of Death, Industriousness, Theory, Sex, Shame, Memory, Food, and The Inner Ear… I have attempted to let you look through my eyes (that were in turn looking through Bourdieu’s), and show you how Bourdieu had changed my perception. Because, as I said earlier, this is what I want from a theorist. And this is what I hope that, today, I have done for you.


I also hope that it wasn’t overly boring…

Live Blogging: PhD Theory Class #6

If sociology has a claim, it needs to be responsible to this question:

“What have you told me about my world?”

I live here, I have general and specific problem. General problems of understanding, and specific problems in the sense of someone is doing a redevelopment in my back yard, schools are lousy… etc.

Sociology is looking at both. See Dorothy Smith, who helps people understand where they are. Sociology as a “martial art” – seeing people who are in various kinds of trouble, and they need sociology to understand as a form of resistance. We need knowledge in order to free ourselves of oppressive systems.

Plato wouldn’t see it that way. For Plato – one can liberate the mind. That is compatible with an autocratic state. The democratic sense of liberation doesn’t go along with liberation in the sense that Plato sees us being freed from the cave. This doesn’t come around until Kant to preserve a deal – the last vestige of Plato’s separation. This has nothing to do with political separation. We get this idea that the truth will set you free of the cave, but also in practical political and economic terms (Marxism). This is a new idea at this point.

Foucault might say – freeing the body and the mind.

What we see in Sociology are two forms of utility about my world. Some people just study “society” – the Functionalists. No practical solutions. Seeing the world as a system to be contemplated, like the world of particals that physics studies. Until the conflict theorists who understood things in an activist way.

By the time we get to Bourdieu, these things are joined. How do we understand society, tied to the liberation of groups, and people as members of these groups. Ways they can understand how the world works, without employing alienation. Bourdieu sees society as unequal, but what we find isn’t alienation – misery, yes.

As a Pascalian, everything is custom, convention. All law is arbitrary. The idea of realizing ones true self in production doesn’t fly.

If Foucault explains the institutions in which I have become a subject, and how I could go to secondary school to the barracks. He helps me understand Universities which are organized less around creating scholarship, and more about handling workforce issues. Normalizing judgement, surveillance, exams and timetables. That activity is an end of itself. It is not for someone else. It isn’t about the content; it is about control.

What about Bourdieu?

Here we get to Latour’s problem. Latour blasts Bourdieu; you can’t lose with Bourdieu. The problem is that how can you fail to find habitus and forms of capital. Why do people do something? They have the Habitus to do it! There is no hypothesis to be tested.

That being said, the thing to counter this with is: “So what?” Which gets us to this question of “why theory?”

In one sense, theory was the logical accumulation of prediction and control of society. Social theory in the 1950’s. On the other hand, Parsonian theory (also subject to Latour’s critique). If you are looking to organize observations, they work very well.

Bourdieu starts off as an ethnographer. No longer concerned with Parsonian categories. No longer concerned with a metamap. Instead, we are concerned with explaining the way I am.

If Foucault examies the institutions, Bourdieu explains my taste. Which is really what I am all about.If you can’t lose – it is because it has a universality to it. Thus, it has more of a truth value. Life becomes social, groups form, as people make descisions (who they are going to marry, hire, etc).

This gets us to our principles of vision and division; what do we see, how do we divide it up. Assessing the other vs. me.

Illusio is the key to structural inequality. Some ways, they aren’t making it, and they are doing it themselves. It just isn’t there for them – they aren’taking the stakes seriously.To understand ones habitus and illusio is to forgive. That is the stakes of the game for them. If everything is forgivable, what is culpable? Tautological.

It is only when you have accepted and forgiven everything that you can make change.

He is right; but none of this is social science.

If you start with a Pascalian position: “everything is convention” – and you can trace the evolution of this custom in certain places. Trace the networks of customs that created those standards. The problem is that once you have said this, you lose any place to stand.

Relativity (the recognition of different customs, the more we walk around something, the more we can see it) vs. Realtivism (none of it makes any difference). Pascals way out is faith. This is indefensable. This makes the world more dangerous when one group of people is trying to defend their god against another.

In some ways it is about the rejection of “revelation” – you just make an extisential descision. His way out is to grant science a get out of jail free card. Once we see that game is to have one point that isn’t in motion. There is no basis for preferring one form of art vs. another. There is no intrinsic value – it is that this is what people are buying.

So where do we find something outside custom? Science!

Situational science man sounds a lot like Latour… this is what Bourdieu is concerned with.

Class is siezing the high ground in terms of what the most valuable forms of capital are. Position is the comparative ability to accrue more of the capital that is valuable. The more you have, the more you can get. Differential ability to accrue more resources.

All about structuaral inequality. The structures are how dispositions are communicated intergenerationally. People can aquire dispositions that allow them to move into different fields… statistically, that is the exception.

The Great University Cheating Scandal

Have you seen the latest issue of Macleans? The cover blares “U FRAUD: With more than half of Canadian Students cheating, all degrees are tainted. It’s a national scandal. Why aren’t schools doing more about it?” (read article here)

This article reeks of revenge, aimed at the University system that so openly confronted it last summer over the annual ranking of schools. Though this article points to overworked students with a heavy sense of entitlement, in the end it comes down to a “failure” of University professionals who just aren’t doing enough to curb cheating.

Universities — home to the teachers who produce our healers, our bridge-builders and the CEOs who generate our wealth — are failing to demonstrate that responsibility by permitting widespread cheating among students. And we will all pay.

Even though they mention the highly sophisticated measures that students are employing to cheat the system, many of which are simply undetectable, it still falls on the back of professors.

I don’t think so.

No one is going to argue that things are fine. As many of my cohort will tell you, dealing with this current generation of undergrads can be a living nightmare. The culture of entitlement runs high; this is especially when students don’t automatically get an “A” (regardless of, you know, attending class, studying). When we suspect plagiary, there is little we can do that doesn’t cost hours in extra work.

Ultimately, we have little to say in this issue.

This is the end result of the increading “businessification” that the Universities have been going through in Canada over the last few years. Wouldn’t want to lose a “client” when all they did was a little copy/paste, no?

At Home He’s a Tourist

I am reading Bourdieu, listening to records. Right now, I have Gang of Four’s classic 1979 post-punk album Entertainment. The following song comes on; what I am hearing is what I am reading:

At Home He’s a Tourist

At home he feels like a tourist
At home he feels like a tourist
He fills his head with culture
He gives himself an ulcer

This song describes the process that Bourdieu is describing as far as gaining an “academic disposition,” which essentially involves leaving the everyday world so that you can study it. Sometime I think that the more I learn, the more I sit here and think, the further I feel from home. The more stressed I feel. The less I know.

Also pertinent in the lyrics:

At home she’s looking for interest
At home she’s looking for interest
She said she was ambitious
So she accepts the process

I wonder if Bourdieu was a Gang of Four fan? Or… I wonder if Gang of Four were Bourdieu fans?

Another song on this album that relates to Bourdieu (well… Masculine Domination anyway…)

Damaged Goods

The change will do you good
I always knew it would
Sometimes I’m thinking that I love you
But I know it’s only lust
Your kiss so sweet
Your sweat so sour


I got accepted to the Social Problems conference in New York this coming August. Many will tell you that this isn’t really a big deal, as this conference will try and make room for everyone. Yet, because this is my first “big” American conference, and that it is in New York, this is a big deal for me. A huge deal.

I have never been to New York, a city that retains mythical status in my mind. I am reminded of my favourite story from the rise of Guided By Voices. Robert Pollard and crew had been releasing limited run LP’s in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio, and people pretty much hated them there. So they lingered in obscurity, before finally someone starts mailing out their LP’s to magazines and weird record stores (against Robert Pollard’s wishes, as he was convinced that everyone hated them). Eventually, the records get into the right hands, and they get invited to play in New York. Their attitude was, at that time, “if they don’t get us here in Dayton, what are they going to think about us in New York?” So they play, and the rest, as they say, is rock history.

Now, I am not naive enough to think that I am going to gain any kind of “legendary” status; far from. I know enough about this game to understand that this is not how it works. Yet, as a personal milestone, I am drawing parallels.

There are cynics who always try and downplay this stuff as “passe,” but as far as I am concerned, they can go eat a hat. I hate cynicism, nothing more than someone trying to drag me down. Also, mostly because of seductive I find it. I am in an ongoing battle with my own cynicism; I don’t need to battle yours too…

My favourite quote, one that I repeat often (in my own mind):

Billy Bragg: “You can’t argue with a cynic; they already have all the fucking answers.”