Jenny Diski on Noise

Jenny Diski offers some brief thoughts on her experiences and affective responses to noise.

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Talks on Territory and Foucault

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Stuart Elden has posted some audio recordings of his recent talks. These include a talk on his book The Birth of Territory – I’ve been reading this and it’s an amazing scholarly work. The talk gives an overview of some of the key issues from the book. Stuart has also posted two talks based on the book he is currently writing on Foucault’s Last Decade (you can read ongoing updates on the progress of this book here). These two talks focus centrally upon Foucault’s La Société Punitive but within the context of his broader project.

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“Marxism with Soul”: Marxist Humanism after Marshall Berman

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My excellent colleague Gareth Millington has put together this fantastic event on the work of Marshall Berman and beyond. It only costs £5 and the line up of speakers is terrific. Information and booking is available here. Below is the description of the event:

Marshall Berman, Professor of Political Science at City University of New York, died September 11th 2013 in New York City. He authored a number of influential books including The Politics of Authenticity: Radical Individualism and the Emergence of Modern Society (1970), All That Is Solid Melts into Air: the Experience of Modernity (1982), Adventures in Marxism (1999) and On The Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square (2006). In the introduction to the earliest of these books, Berman conjures the memorable phrase ‘Marxism with Soul’, a refrain that captures the exuberant, romantic and tragic reading of Marx that runs through all his subsequent work. This one-day symposium seeks not only to recognise the huge contributions made by Marshall Berman to studies of Marx, modernity, cities and the development of an authentic self, but also to consider Berman’s legacy in terms of thinking through Marxist humanism’s continued potential to inspire interventions within the social sciences, arts and humanities but also the realms of everyday life and political opposition. The symposium will be introduced by Gareth Millington (York) and will feature the following speakers: Andy Merrifield (Cambridge), Todd Gitlin (Columbia), Göran Therborn (Cambridge), Esther Leslie (Birkbeck, London), Kirsteen Paton (Leeds) and Owen Hatherley. David Madden (London School of Economics) is the discussant.

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Writing Space

There is a really interesting post here by Stuart Elden on his writing space, which links into another post on the topic and a related Twitter hashtag (#whereiwrite). My writing space has varied a bit over the last couple of years. I used to do nearly all of my writing in my university office, with just about everything I’d written either being prepared in my office at York St John or, after I moved, University of York. In the Summer term of 2012 I had a research term, so from the Easter holiday I started writing at home. I’d done bits of writing like that before but this was the time I shifted to doing most of my writing at home. I still write some bits at work, but these tend to be less common now.

As a result of limitations of space and along with it only being a recent shift to writing at home, my writing space has stayed very minimal. Nearly all my books are in my university office and I just bring home what I need for that day or week. But when I first started I didn’t even have a desk. Below is the temporary desk I used in the Easter-summer of 2012. It’s a towel box. I used this with a plastic fold up chair.

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On this temporary desk (pictured above) I wrote the first half of my book on the politics of circulation. I also wrote an article on music and cultural classification, as well as shorter pieces on Sloterdijk and new music cultures. It was a really productive time for me and this temporary desk somehow just became part of the process. I enjoyed writing on it. Managing with this temporary desk seemed to contribute something to the writing.

My proper desk then arrived and the politics of circulation book and Punk Sociology were both written on this new, but quite small desk.

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I’m not sure if its because of the positive experience with the towel box, or the lack of space, but I’ve kept my writing space very minimal. I’m still using the same white plastic MacBook. The desk is used then for reading and note taking or for writing things using the laptop. I occasionally use my laptop to write in other spaces but nearly all of the substantial writing I do now is on my home desk.

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Social Science Research Questions & Methodological Challenges in the 21st Century

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The University of Sheffield are hosting a seminar series over the coming months on the topic of ‘Social Science Research Questions and Methodological Challenges in the 21st Century’. The seminars will take place in the ICOSS building and are being organised by Bridgette Wessels. The seminar series has a site and blog which is available here. The call for papers is now available through the site along with details for each of the five events. It looks like it could be a really lively series.

I’m going to be speaking at the fifth event which is a round table with 4 invited speakers. We are going to be reflecting back on the key themes from the seminar series. The invitation mentioned Punk Sociology, so I may talk a little about that in relation to the themes and questions that come up, but it’s likely to be more of a case of responding to the ideas that have emerged from the event.

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Will Davies responds to Nick Gane’s piece on the ‘Emergence of Neoliberalism’

The neoliberalism debate is continuing on the Theory, Culture & Society open site (with more to follow soon). In this piece Will Davies responds to Nick Gane’s recent TCS article ‘The Emergence of Neoliberalism’. It’s an excellent piece that further opens up historical perspectives on neoliberalism. The piece continues the debate about the use of Foucault’s work and also questions the dominant and influential voices in the neoliberal movement. The post links to the recent TCS articles on the topic. This is a debate that we hope to continue on the TCS site over the coming weeks.

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Jeffrey Alexander on the avant-garde

Jeffrey Alexander discusses his recent work on the theatrical avant-garde in this video abstract. This relates to a paper which has just been published in Theory, Culture & Society (there is a link to this from the above post). The TCS site publishes one or two video abstracts a week to complement the printed materials in the journal.

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Measurement, Circulation & Possibility (some notes for a forthcoming talk)

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I’ve been asked to give a short presentation at an ISRF workshop, the details of the event are here. The workshop is on the theme of ‘Critique and Critiques’, with the second day focusing on critical theory in particular. The presentations are to be fairly short and are also to be delivered without powerpoint slides. As there is no powerpoint I thought I’d use this post to begin to assemble some notes in preparation for the talk – this post is essentially a set of notes that will frame my talk.

The title I’ve given the talk is ‘Measurement, Circulation, Possibility’. Its a provisional title that will allow me to begin to work through some ideas that will be a small part of a future writing project (I hope to post more about this soon) and will also be useful for a potential funding bid I’m included on. My plan is to use the talk to work through some questions using the books pictured above.

The talk will open with some reflections on the importance of measurement for what are often understood to be neoliberal political formations and the processes of neoliberalization (which will link to recent work by Neil Brenner, Jamie Peck and Nik Theodore). Given neoliberalism’s ethos of competition, measurement can be seen to be a crucial part of the social fabric. Measurement is needed for competition to exist. The starting place for thinking this through will be Michel Foucault’s mid 1970s lecture series, but I’m going to focus directly upon the ‘Security, Territory, Population’ lectures. There are some interesting insights in those lectures with regard to measurement and calculation. I plan to offer some thoughts on those – particularly as Foucault links measurement and calculation with circulation (which I plan to cover in the talk). Foucault’s interest in calculation is discussed further in this article by Stuart Elden’s. Following the opening discussion of Foucault I plan to then use Stuart’s Speaking Against Number to explore further the broader politics of calculation and measurement (this is next on my reading list, so my thoughts aren’t yet fully developed on this particular text).

I will then move towards questions of measurement in different settings. First, I will use Btihaj Ajana’s recent book Governing Through Biometrics. This book offers what Ajana describes as a ‘biopolitics of biometrics’. I’m currently writing a review of this book for Information, Communication & Society, its proving to be really excellent. I’m also hoping to interview Btihaj for the Theory, Culture & Society open site. Btihaj’s book provides some really valuable insights into the measurement of life and bodies. Her discussion of the ‘remediation of measurement’ is particular helpful as it allows biometric systems to be understood in genealogical terms. Her position is that new political discourses and technological developments have enabled the ‘intensification’ of biometrics.

I’ll then move to briefly discuss my previous work on the politics of circulation (an audio interview is available here). This work explored the ways in which new forms of data fold back into culture. I plan to use this to extend the arguments about measurement and to think about how emergent forms of measurement might reconfigure and reshape the social world (I expect that I’ll use Adrian Mackenzie’s work as well as Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge’s writings to do this). I intend to focus in this section on the circulation of measurements and metrics and the potential consequences of these circulations – for the body but also for cultural forms, knowledge and so on.

Finally, the talk will conclude with some reflections on Louise Amoore’s recent book The Politics of Possibility. My intention here is to use Louise’s book to think about the way that measurement and the circulation of metrics can shape what is possible. Louise’s book explores the move from probability to the use of possibility in various types of decision making (most notably in security and border decisions). Louise’s notion of the ‘politics of possibility’ brings measurement into an embodied reality, it also pushes us towards questions about the power of those visualisations of what is possible. Again, I’ve only begun to read through this book, but I’ve read Louise’s previous work in detail. My plan is to use this talk to work through some of these texts in more detail and to use it to develop the linkages between them.

These notes are only cursory, but the talk will draw together a closer reading of these books with some other thoughts. Ultimately, I’m hoping it will be a section within a chapter of a book I’m hoping to write. This particular talk though will work towards the conclusion that what is pressing for critical theory (which is the focus of the day) is a more nuanced and detailed engagement with forms of measurement, the circulation of data and what these make possible. This is not a new problem for critical theory, but one that needs to be reaffirmed to respond to Ajana’s point about the intensification of such processes. Critical theory needs to be reshaped to respond to these questions. How should critical theory respond to these types of measurement and circulation? These books offer some productive avenues to explore further. I hope to argue that this is pressing given the escalation of data assemblages and systems of measurement, which may in turn be understood to be extending the reach of neoliberal forms of governance and the like. I also think though, beyond this, that understanding measurement and data circulations is central to understanding the social and cultural world.

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Nick Beech, Mónica Moreno Figueroa & Les Back on Stuart Hall

The TCS site has just published three more tributes to Stuart Hall. These are by Nick Beech, Mónica Moreno Figueroa and Les Back (Mónica And Les’ pieces are published together along with a letter Les wrote to Stuart).

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Theory, Culture & Society

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I’m really pleased to say that I’ve joined the editorial board at Theory, Culture & Society. I’m going to be carrying on with my role as co-editor of the TCS site, but I’m also going to link this with the journal itself. For lots of reasons TCS has been my favourite journal since I became a postgraduate student. It’s worth going back to the opening editorial to see how the purpose of TCS remains the same some thirty years on (you can read the opening editorial here). It’s amazing how relevant that opening agenda still is, particularly with regard to the need to preserve theoretical and cultural work in challenging circumstances.

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