Interfaces, bodies and materiality: an interview with Daniel Black

I recently interviewed Daniel Black about his article ‘Where Bodies End and Artefacts Begin: Machines Tools,  and Interfaces’ which was recently published in Body & Society for the Theory, Culture & Society site. The interview, which is open access, focuses on a number of questions that emerge from the article. It follows up on some the details of the conceptual framework that Daniel’s article develops. The interview covers his concern with the concept of interfaces and also how his work develops material perspectives on bodily limits. Daniels work links into some broader themes in social theory around object oriented approaches and interests in material analyses, these are briefly discussed in the interview. I’ll hopefully be able to post some further interviews on the TCS site soon.

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Mike Savage on cultural sociology in Britain

Mike Savage has been asked to write an overview of cultural sociology in Britain for the American Cultural Sociology newsletter. He has posted a draft version of the piece on the Stratification & Culture Research Network blog. The piece provides an account of the key areas of development in cultural sociology – including cultural studies, cultural theory and cultural class analysis. Mike provides an account if each of the key developments. There are also some interesting comments at the end of the post. It’s hard to summarise British cultural sociology, it’s quite diverse in terms of theories, methods and topics, but this piece brings together the core issues. It’s interesting to reflect on why the cultural turn has played-out in the way it has.

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Britpop at the BBC

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To celebrate to 20th anniversary of the Britpop music scene, the BBC have various programmes and other features. These are all described, with links to podcasts, on the Britpop at the BBC site. It is taking place all week, but I’m not sure how long the podcasts of the programmes will be available. There is quite a bit of historical content, with various protagonists reflecting back on the Britpop scene. It’s been quite insightful listening to descriptions of the records being made, the excitement of being in the movement and also the problems and difficulties that came with the scene.

One of the features they have resurrected for the week is the Evening Session radio programme. It originally broadcast on BBC Radio One in the evenings through the mid-90s. It’s strange listening to the show now, this was a programme I listened to most nights from 1994 through to 1995. It was how I kept up with music and the Britpop music scene coincided with my mid to late teens. I give a lecture on my second year module on music scenes, and we focus on how individual biographies intersect with broader cultural movements. This lecture forces me to recall how my own biography intersected with Britpop. It’s a soundtrack that has stayed with me (even in my sociology), and provided the cultural backdrop to a period of my life. In the lecture we reflect on how cultural experiences and personal experiences are defined by the broader cultural moments in which they are lived.

These radio programmes are clearly nostalgic, but they still provide some interesting reflections on the scene. Culturally, it’s interesting to look back and to listen to the music 20 years on. Some of it has aged surprisingly well – ‘This is the sound of youth’ by These Animal Men still sounded great (there is a BBC session for this band here) There is also some interesting material here that might allow for some sociological insight into how music scenes develop. In the case of Britpop it’s interesting to hear about the central and knowing part that media forms played in the formation and development of the scene. Developments and changes at BBC Radio One seemed to coincide with Britpop (would the scene have happened without these changes?) and there was also the need for content for a much larger music press (with journalists keen to design scenes and categorise music). And then there are the usual narratives about the end of Grunge and the rise of British optimism. I’m a bit more sceptical of these last two. At least they didn’t fit with my experiences.

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Bev Skeggs on values beyond value

In a previous post I mentioned some of the reading I was doing, I’ve now had chance to read Bev Skegg’s article ‘Values beyond value? Is anything beyond the logic of capital?‘ in detail. I found it to be genuinely inspiring. The last three pages in particular are programmatic in their scope and they lay out a marker for how values might be defended and studied, and also how our analysis of values might also potentially escape the logic of capital. Bev’s piece is really provocative and it poses some really thoughtful questions about the types of issues sociology should be addressing and how it might approach them.

More broadly the article, which is based on Bev’s 2013 British Journal of Sociology Annual Public Lecture, draws a range of themes together from her earlier work. In the piece Bev explores how, in different ways, her previous research projects explored the relations between values and value. This is set in the contemporary context, in which the ‘logic of capital…commodifies every aspect of our lives’ (2). These strands of her research are then explored in their convergence with developments in the neoliberal agenda of calculation and competition. The article asks what can escape this logic of capital. This question is explored through the language of value and values, and through an exploration of how these are applied to different types of people.

These discussions culminate with some far reaching conclusions that speak directly to some of the broad issues that face contemporary sociological analyses. For example, Bev tellingly argues that ‘living within the logic of capital does not prefigure internalization’ (15). She attempts to then briefly think through the spaces that are not necessarily ‘completely colonized by capital’. The article claims that we are not just shaped by disenchantment, alienation and anomie. There are ‘moments’, as Bev describes them, where we find such spaces. The article closes with some observations about how we might capture and use such moments of resistance, affection and attention.

In one crucial passage, Bev suggests that:

‘If we can only see from within the blinkers of capital’s logic we will never understand or recognise the values that live beyond value. Our own analysis will trap us into that which we are expected to reveal. We therefore, as sociologists, have a duty to look beyond and search for the gaps, the un-captured and better ways if being and doing’ (16).

To do this, the article argues that we need to ‘pay attention to our own and others’ moments of love, care, and enchantment, to the connections that enable us to flourish’ (17). It is in these passages that Bev’s article offers some orientation for the ongoing analysis of values and value. A focus on these moments, the article closes, ‘may block the logic of capital as it tries to capture absolutely everything, including our analysis’. This opens-up a range of questions for sociology to consider and sets a really interesting agenda. As I understand it, this is an early piece from a 3 year fellowship on values and value, with the topics covered in this article likely to unfold over the coming years. I can’t really do justice to Bev’s article in this short post, it really needs to be read in full.

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Understanding the human machine

The notion of the quantified self has been getting quite about of attention recently, particularly with mobile phone apps providing various ways of measuring the self. When searching around I came across this excellent short commentary article, ‘Understanding the human machine‘, by Deborah Lupton. It outlines the key issues relating to the quantified self, including self-tracking, the inducements of data, links to neoliberalism amongst other themes. It’s a short piece but its very comprehensive and clear in setting out the core issues.

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A video of Deborah Lupton talking about social media and academic research

In this short video Deborah Lupton talks about her experience of using social media as part of her research. In this instance she focuses in particular on her use of her blog and Twitter to disseminate her research. Deborah has posted a few things about this in the past, including these detailed reflections on academic blogging which I understand are a part if the book she is writing on digital sociology.

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The British in Rural France in paperback

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Michaela Benson’s The British in Rural France is now available in paperback.

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