Posts filed under ‘Pomo Periscope’

Critical Agrifood Scholarship

| Peter Klein |

A friend tipped me off to this, um, interesting paper on farmers markets, which the authors place within the larger field of “critical agrifood scholarship.” We all know what “critical” means, and I’m familiar with much of the agrifood literature, but I didn’t know about this particular field. I learned a lot from the paper about the slow-food movement’s ability to “create political transformation,” and build a “radicalized space” even though such markets “cluster around property and privilege.” The authors seek to “unpack the racialized and class-inflected narratives at play in farmers markets [and] to extend the alternative agriculture movement’s strategic rupturing of the veil of commodity fetishism to include the systemic inequalities on which both conventional and alternative agriculture depend.” How about that thesis statement! In passing, the authors manage to chide the slow-food movement’s “complacency with capitalism and consumerism, systems that are inherently exploitative and divisive,” while adding editorial remarks to such important scientific phenomena as “the working class performances of ‘god, guns and country’ that fill the rhetoric of the GOP.”

Thank goodness for taxpayer-subsided universities. If there were a free market for higher education, this kind of valuable scholarship would probably be grossly underfunded.

20 April 2013 at 1:32 am 4 comments

Hard and Soft Obscurantism

| Lasse Lien |

I recently attended a presentation by the great social scientist Jon Elster, in which he lamented the state of affairs in social science. Elster has – quite nicely, IMHO – coined the terms hard and soft obscurantism as the main problems. To Elster, obscurantism generally refers to endeavors that are unlikely to produce anything of value, and where this can be predicted in advance. This in contrast to more honorable failures, where a plausible hypothesis turns out to be wrong, leaving much effort without much value.

Soft obscurantism is exactly what it sounds like. Unfalsifiable, impenetrable theories which often proudly ignores standards for argument and evidence that elsewhere constitute the hallmark of the scientific method. Examples are post modernism (Latour), structuralism (Lévi-Strauss), Functionalism (Bourdieu, Foucault), Marxism (Badiou) and psychoanalysis.

But there is a ditch on the other side of the road too. Hard obscurantism refers to mathematical exercises without any tangent to reality, which is useful neither as mathematics nor social science. Another form of hard obscurantism is data mining, or misuse of fancy econometrics, or a combination of the two. Both mathematical games and econometric voodoo give the appearance of “scientificness”, but Elster doesn’t hold his guns about the value created by hard obscurantism either:

“I believe that much work in economics and political science that is inspired by rational-choice theory is devoid of any explanatory, aesthetic or mathematical interest, which means that it has no value at all”

One can of course argue about the size of the size of the total problem, and relative size of each type (personally, I would bet on soft obscurantism as the bigger problem), but the key question is perhaps why obscurantism of either type isn’t gradually rooted out. According to Elster their combined “market share” in the social sciences seems to be growing.

For more, see this and this and this.

23 January 2013 at 5:38 am 12 comments

Alien, Deconstructed

| Peter Klein |

We haven’t raised the pomo periscope for a while, so here goes. I’m a big fan of the original Alien film and, like Ridley Scott fans around the world, am eagerly awaiting the prequellish Prometheus. Until seeing Tom Shone’s piece in Slate, however, I had no idea the Alien franchise had inspired so much pseudo-academic pomobabble:

We’ve had Alien as feminist allegory (“Woman: The Other Alien in Alien,” Women Worldwalkers: New Dimensions of Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1985), Alien as mothering fable (“Mommie Dearest: Aliens, Rosemary’s Baby, and Mothering,” Journal of Popular Culture, 1990), Alien as abortion parable (“Voices of Sexual Distortion: Rape, Birth, and Self-Annihilation Metaphors in the Aliens Trilogy,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, 1995). Even Jones the cat got his own diagram, courtesy of James H. Kavenagh’s essay “Son of a Bitch: Feminism, Humanism, and Science in Alien” (October, No. 13, 1980), which sought to align the alien attack on humans with an Althusserian-Marxist takedown of humanism in general:

“The founding term in the film is human (S). ... The anti-human (-S), is, of course, the alien, and the not-human (̅S̅) is Ash, the robot. The cat, then functions in the slot of the not-anti-human (-̅S̅), an indispensable role in this drama.”

“The founding term in the film is human (S). … The anti-human (-S), is, of course, the alien, and the not-human (̅S̅) is Ash, the robot. The cat, then functions in the slot of the not-anti-human (-̅S̅), an indispensable role in this drama.”

I am totally using Kavenagh’s title in a future academic article.

6 June 2012 at 3:52 pm 4 comments

Part-time Work and Discursive Resistance and Foucault and Stuff

| Lasse Lien |

I both challenge and reify this:

Contributing to a Foucauldian perspective on ‘discursive resistance’, this paper theorizes how part-time workers struggle to construct a valid position in the rhetorical interplay between norm-strengthening arguments and norm-contesting counter-arguments. It is thereby suggested that both the reproductive and the subversive forces of resistance may very well coexist within the everyday manoeuvres of world-making. The analysis of these rhetorical interplays in 21 interviews shows how arguments and counter-arguments produce full-time work as the dominant discourse versus part-time work as a legitimate alternative to it. Analysing in detail the effects of four rhetorical interplays, this study shows that, while two of them leave unchallenged the basic assumptions of the dominant full-time discourse and hence tend instead to reify the dominant discourse, two other interplays succeed in contesting the dominant discourse and establishing part-time work as a valid alternative. The authors argue that the two competing dynamics of challenging and reifying the dominant are not mutually exclusive, but do in fact coexist.

Nentwich, J. and Hoyer, P. (2012), “Part-time Work as Practising Resistance: The Power of Counter-arguments.” British Journal of Management, forthcoming.

24 April 2012 at 2:22 am 3 comments

Why I Avoid Bourdieu: #2,538 in a Series

| Peter Klein |

I have little to add to this press release, summarizing a call by sociologists to treat the individual and social disease of failing to take climate change seriously:

LONDON — (March 26, 2012) — Resistance at individual and societal levels must be recognized and treated before real action can be taken to effectively address threats facing the planet from human-caused contributions to climate change.

That’s the message to this week’s Planet Under Pressure Conference by a group of speakers led by Kari Marie Norgaard, professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of Oregon. . . .

“We find a profound misfit between dire scientific predictions of ongoing and future climate changes and scientific assessments of needed emissions reductions on the one hand, and weak political, social or policy response on the other,” Norgaard said. Serious discussions about solutions, she added, are mired in cultural inertia “that exists across spheres of the individual, social interaction, culture and institutions.”

“Climate change poses a massive threat to our present social, economic and political order. From a sociological perspective, resistance to change is to be expected,” she said. “People are individually and collectively habituated to the ways we act and think. This habituation must be recognized and simultaneously addressed at the individual, cultural and societal level — how we think the world works and how we think it should work.”

In their paper, Norgaard and co-authors Robert Brulle of Drexel University in Philadelphia and Randolph Haluza-DeLay of The King’s University College in Canada draw from the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) to describe social mechanisms that maintain social stability or cultural inertia in the face of climate change at the three levels. . . .

I note that the lead author recently published Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life (MIT Press, 2011), which sounds like a reasonable, balanced, and objective look at the climate-change debate.

1 April 2012 at 12:13 am 13 comments

Pomo Periscope XXII: There Is No Such Thing as a Free Diversocrat

| Nicolai Foss |

The California budget crisis may be tough on the university system. But as Heather MacDonald points out in City Journal, California universities (specifically, UC San Diego) are still adding “diversity fat even as it snuffs out substantive academic programs.” As she notes, the opportunity costs of pomo are becoming very visible indeed:

UC San Diego just lost a trio of prestigious cancer researchers to Rice University. Rice had offered them 40 percent pay raises over their total compensation packages, which at UCSD ranged from $187,000 to $330,000 a year. They take with them many times that amount in government grants. Scrapping the new Vice Chancellorship for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion could have saved at least one, if not two, of those biologists’ positions.

17 July 2011 at 9:34 am 1 comment

Citizenship and Biopower

| Dick Langlois |

That’s the title of seminar scheduled somewhere in the University later this month. I’m sure the ideas will be of great interest to readers of this blog.

What happens to the state under globalization? This often-asked but still relevant question has produced competing responses. Some scholars have re-theorized the nation-state and citizenship while others have jettisoned the nation-state as a category altogether, instead turning to Foucauldian theories of biopower to explain how power extends beyond the law-based operations of the state, managing life through the production of norms, and in so doing, relegates even greater populations to death and devastation.

Dr. Grace Hong’s presentation will argue that the shift into globalization must be contextualized within a history of gendered racial capital. She situates the decolonization/liberation movements in Asia and Africa and the new social movements in the US as turning points that marked the triumph, but also the limits of nationalism. In articulating alternatives to nationalism, Dr. Hong looks to women of color feminism and queer of color critique in texts by Cherrie Moraga, Frances Beal, and the Combahee River Collective, to theorize the newly complicated relationship between race, gender, sexuality, and vulnerability to death in the wake of the transnational turn.

What I want to know is whether the third sentence of the first paragraph counts as a paraprosdokian, “a figure of speech” — and I here quote from a humorous junk email I received recently — “in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax.” Perhaps in this case the latter part of the sentence retheorizes the first part.

4 March 2011 at 2:40 pm 3 comments

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Our Recent Books

Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).


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