The academy: Abstract of the month

I just came across this abstract. I have no idea what it means. It’s not a ‘post-modernist’ journal from what I can see, but I still don’t know what it means. I’d like to write more about this, but don’t have the time right now, and am still pondering it all, but the abstractions deployed seem so general and broad that it’s not only hard to understand what it’s talking about, it’s also hard to believe it can lead to any beneficial insights, as opposed to generating citations for academics. But then I might be wrong.

Anyone wanting to do further research to discover the content in the article and whether it has any value can follow it up (for a limited time) here. It’s at the Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 71, No. 3, 2015, pp. 633--645

Broadening Perspectives on Achieving Social Change

Katherine Stroebe, University of Groningen, Katie Wang, Yale University, Stephen C. Wright, Simon Fraser University

The articles in this special issue challenge readers to reconsider the relationships among individual mobility, collective action, and social change. Taken together, they reveal an increasing and broadening interest in the concept of social change and raise important questions about its societal applications. In this commentary,we expand on this rich body of research by considering how surface indicators of(lack of) social change such as individual versus collective action may be related to a wider range of motives than has been assumed. Moreover, we consider more carefully what constitutes social change, and discuss different forms of equality asa means to conceptualizing social change. In doing so, we attempt to move beyond implied dichotomies between individual and collective strategies and actions to consider alternative perspectives on classifying and studying social change.

Posted in Cultural Critique | 12 Comments

What does it all mean?


Posted in Politics - national | 15 Comments

Themes: Has too much of the OECD’s brain been eaten away to salvage? SHOCK!

I’ve talked on Troppo a few times on the joys of ‘theming‘. Instead of organising the stimulus around a pragmatic search for all the possible ways we could expand the budget implementing all the most prospective in terms of economic expansion per dollar spent down to some level at which we stopped, we decided that it had to be ‘themed’. The theme was Building the Education Revolution, and greening our household roofs with pink batts. We had our hard hats on and choosing the theme bore some resemblance to working out the theme for a ball.

Of course one can understand that there are ‘communications’ imperatives. So you’d try to meet them at minimum cost. It would be easy to design the stimulus, look at what’s in it and theme it then – and perhaps work a little way in the other direction – the bureaucrats taking note of the government’s themes and trying to look a little harder in those areas. But the further you go down that latter path, the more you’re degrading what you’re doing with PR priorities, and the more, I’d assert you end up looking silly in the long run. And PR starts eating your brain.

Anyway, we now have a new watermark in this practice. It’s quite a milestone because it’s not just PR infected action, it’s PR infected thinking and policy advice. I just received an email from the OECD (as I’m subscribed somehow to their emails to journalists) and the headline made no sense. “Tackling policy fragmentation: the key to getting onto a path of rapid and sustainable productivity growth, OECD says”.

“Hmm”, I thought. “What kind of policy fragmentation?” The press release begins.

Further structural reforms are needed to help the business sector boost productivity growth and overcome the key challenges of sluggish investment in advanced economies and excess capacity in emerging economies, according to a new OECD report. 

All pretty standard boilerplate. After another boilerplate paragraph, things get seriously weird. 

“If we want to get onto a path of stronger and more sustainable growth, we need better coordinated policies that put the pieces of our fragmented world back together in a more harmonious way,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Paris. “Structural policy action will be critical to improve the incentives for corporate research and development, remove biases against equity financing of firms, and dismantle obstacles to the integration of renewables into electricity networks, to name just a few areas mentioned in the report.”

So what does the OECD mean by ‘fragmented’. What’s got more fragmented? Are we talking about fragmented markets? Is the solution more concentrated markets? Then we get this:  Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Economics and public policy | 6 Comments

What ails the youth of our fair land?

Here’s Paul Krugman giving a commencement address. Eschewing inspiration porn, the talk is kind of what you’d expect. He talks about what it might be like to be a young person starting out at college now compared with when he started, and says how much better it’s got in terms of discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation. And how much worse economic inequality has got.

All pretty fair enough. Then he comments that, back when he was going through college not only were values such that Wall St was a place for the dumbos to go and academia was where the bright kids went, but also that people weren’t so pre-occupied with ‘success’. Some would come top of the class, and some wouldn’t. Some would bust their gut, and some wouldn’t. But everyone would end up having access to a secure middle class existence.

By contrast today, he says that his experience is that young people are far more anxious about how things will turn out, much more aware of themselves as locked in a race to get to and stay at the top with anxieties about not making it much higher all round. Because he has such partisan instincts, he seems to put all this down to the fact that America’s economy has become so much more unequal. As he says at one point, people are right to be as anxious as they are. The world is a dangerous place and the middle class isn’t safe any more.

Without disagreeing with Krugman’s quest against widening inequality, I don’t buy this as a very compelling explanation for anxiety. I think what we’re looking at is largely a cultural phenomenon. Inequality hasn’t grown in Australia by anything like the amount it has in the States, but I detect the same kind of anxiety amongst my kids’ generation. And my recollections of being that age are the same as Krugman’s even though he’s a few years older than me. I recall when I was at uni, you could try hard, or not, and that would determine how well you did, but anxiety levels were not particularly elevated.

A stat that really struck me from listening to an ABC Radio National program (I think All in the Mind) about book The Narcissism Epidemic was that in 1967 45 percent of US college freshmen said that becoming well off financially was important. In 2006 the same figure was 75 percent (p. 163). That’s quite a change.

Why has it happened? I suspect it would be hard to nail down strong evidence, but my own feeling for what it’s worth, is that the variety of things that people aspire to has been collapsing down to a few lowest common denominators – money and fame. Moreover those who do worse in life are somehow more comprehensively marginalised than a generation ago. (This isn’t true by the way of all the ways in which things have got better – we’re much better on discrimination of a whole variety of kinds)

But within the mainstream culture, if you’re not doing so well you’re a ‘loser’. A bogan. People who speak in the vernacular of such groups (I’m thinking of people like Pauline Hanson and Jacquie Lambie) are reviled by the upper middle class in a way that wasn’t true a decade or so ago. I recall when Barrie Unsworth lost an election in NSW shortly after Wran retired. He seemed to be a bit less charismatic than Wran, but his main sin (I recall thinking) was that he was obviously working class. That as something people were learning to become ashamed of. Ironically as we waged war on ideologically visible discrimination, the great losers were the working and lower middle class – those in the dominant culture who weren’t on top. As Pauline Hanson was always complaining, they were the only ones not given some special status of entitlement on account of their disadvantages.

And that leaves you in a bit of a winner takes all race. And lots of anxiety about falling off the straight and narrow path.

Posted in Cultural Critique, Economics and public policy, History | 28 Comments

The gamebrand’s the thing

It’s well past time to reconsider our communal attitude towards professional sport.  We’re subjected almost daily to scandals about drug cheating, gross and usually drunken behaviour  by sports people, rorted salary caps and match-fixing by players colluding with bookmakers and associated interests.

As a starting point, can we all agree that sportspeople are not “role models”, either for our children or anyone else?  They are physically talented and highly trained athletes, and have usually focused their lives from a young age on developing those talents and training their bodies to a peak of physical fitness.  They have not been selected for their intellect, moral qualities or social skills, nor does their sports training focus on developing those attributes.  Accordingly, talking about role models in a sporting context makes no sense unless your definition of a “role model” is someone who is ruthlessly obsessed with personal success/winning.

I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with elite sportspeople having those qualities in abundance, nor am I denying that there are quite a few of them who really are genuinely nice, thoughtful, moral and well-rounded human beings. But elite professional sport is not an obvious place to look for role models for the kiddies.

Continue reading

Posted in Sport-general | 4 Comments

War and social cooperation

Can War Foster Cooperation?
by Michal Bauer, Christopher Blattman, Julie Chytilova, Joseph Henrich, Edward Miguel, Tamar Mitts – #22312 (DEV PE POL)


In the past decade, nearly 20 studies have found a strong, persistent
pattern in surveys and behavioral experiments from over 40 countries:
individual exposure to war violence tends to increase social
cooperation at the local level, including community participation and
prosocial behavior. Thus while war has many negative legacies for
individuals and societies, it appears to leave a positive legacy in
terms of local cooperation and civic engagement. We discuss,
synthesize and reanalyze the emerging body of evidence, and weigh
alternative explanations. There is some indication that war violence
especially enhances in-group or “parochial” norms and preferences, a
finding that, if true, suggests that the rising social cohesion we
document need not promote broader peace.

Posted in History, Philosophy, Political theory, Politics - international | 3 Comments

Henry Cole and the beginings of modern Patent law

At the end of 1850, the UK’s patent system and law was a  ‘exclusive law ‘ and it had been so for centuries.   Within 18 months things had changed.  The  July 1, 1852 “Patent Law Amendment Act”  meant that getting a patent was no longer the exclusive preserve of those with  quite a lot of money and the right connections. The precursor to this  Act was the previous years  ‘Protection of Inventions Act ‘ . That 1851 Law was an ’emergency’ law intended to give artisan inventors who were planning to exhibit in the Great Exhibition, a ‘just in time’ chance to patent their inventions, at a price they could afford before they put them on public display .

Louise Purbicks paper “Knowledge Is Property: Looking at Exhibits and Patents in 1851″  focuses (in part)  on why did Henry Cole the organizer of the  Great Exhibition of 1851 and a lifelong passionate advocate of ‘exhibition for education’, devote so much time and energy to (successfully) advocating major reform of the UK’s Patents Law? :

“The real issue is why it was necessary, [ to make new laws] when there was already a patent law in existence. A report by the Royal Commission of 1851 offered an explanation. It read: Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments