Posts filed under ‘Pomo Periscope’
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.”
I am totally using Kavenagh’s title in a future academic article.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| Lasse Lien |
From the British Journal of Management I got this abstract.
The Sublime Object of Desire (for Knowledge): Sexuality at Work in Business and Management Schools in England
This paper explores why and how sexuality intertwines with gender in the organizational context of academic institutions. Drawing on insights from the work of psychoanalyst post-structuralist feminists Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva, we explore the institutionalized abjection of the real and imagined (woman’s) body as the root cause of her relative exclusion from knowledge (creation) and her subordinate position in it. The project is analytical as well as political: it both unravels and opposes the ways gender is superimposed on sexuality and how we as academics might collude, legitimize and perpetuate and gendered sexualized (and therefore exclusionary) ways of organizing in/of society. The findings of an empirical study of a sample of women academics in management and business schools in England are discussed in the light of the proposed theory.
I am not sure I fully get this, but my hunch is that I am guilty and should try to improve — but what, specifically, should I do?
| Peter Klein |
Every academic and professional discipline has its own specialized vocabulary. In some cases, this brings clarity and precision; in others, it serves mainly to bamboozle the uninitiated. Even architecture studies is no exception:
Other architects, especially those teaching in universities, reacted to the collapse of Modernism by attempting to reinvent the field as a theoretical discipline. The theories did not come from the evidence of the practice of architecture, as one might expect (that was left to Christopher Alexander), but from arcane historical tracts and the writings of French literary critics in hermeneutics, poetics, and semiology. Thus began a new phase in professional jargon.
| Nicolai Foss |
The boys over at orgtheory.net think that our Pomo Periscope series is “lame” and are upset that we ”routinely [trash] these people” (meaning Foucault et al.). Which is what you would expect, as the PP “routinely” pokes fun at sociologists. However, if you want real, heavy-hitting sociology-trashing, rather than the fundamentally kind-hearted approach of the PP, take a close look at Russell Jacoby’s review of Erik Olin Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias.
| Nicolai Foss |
Karl Weick may not really qualify as a bona fide pomo. He writes well and clearly and much of his work is quite in the mainstream of management research. Still, he has written about the favorite pomo notion of reflexivity (e.g., here), his authority is often invoked in prominent pomo tracts in management (e.g., here), and his notion of sensemaking has a distinct pomo connotation.
Weick’s work has recently been subject to close examination by my CBS colleague, Thomas Basbøll. In a recently published paper, “Softly Constrained Imagination: Plagiarism and Misprision in the Theory of Organizational Sensemaking,” Basbøll argues that Weick’s work suffers from “significant instances of plagiarism and misreading” (p. 164). Wow! Here is the abstract:
While Karl Weick’s writings have been very influential in contemporary work on organizations, his scholarship is rarely subjected to critical scrutiny. Indeed, despite its open ‘breaching’ of the conventions of much academic writing, Weick’s work has been widely celebrated as ‘first-rate scholarship.’ As it turns out, however, his ‘softly constrained’ textual practices are rendered doubtful by both misreading and plagiarism, which makes his work resemble ‘poetry’ in a much stronger sense than perhaps originally intended. This paper draws inspiration from literary theory to analyze three cases of questionable scholarship in Weick’s 1995 book Sensemaking in organizations, framing them in the context of standard formulations of the methodology of sensemaking drawn from the literature. It concludes that we need to rethink our tolerance of the sensemaking style and re-affirm a commitment to more traditional academic constraints.
| Nicolai Foss |
Here is a nice discussion of Foucault by UChicago Law School professor Brian Leiter. It is not a smashing per se, but rather a critical discussion that indicates a central flaw in Foucault’s philosophy. Leiter points to Foucault’s well known discussion of the “pretence” of the “human sciences,” something Foucault seems to explain on the basis of the “influence of economic, political, and moral considerations on their development” (Leiter, p. 16). As Leiter points out, however,
[I]t is now surely a familiar point in post-Kuhnian philosophy of science that the influence of social and historical factors might be compatible with the epistemically special standing of the sciences as long as we can show that epistemically reliable factors are still central to explaining the claims of those sciences. And that possibility is potentially fatal to Foucault‟s critique. For recall that central to Foucault‟s critique is the role that the epistemic pretensions of the sciences play in a structure of practical reasoning which leads agents concerned with their flourishing to become the agents of their own oppression. And the crucial bit of “pretense” is, as we noted earlier, that the human sciences illuminate the truth about how (normal) human beings flourish in virtue of adhering to the epistemic strictures and methodologies of the natural sciences. Recall also that Foucault, unlike Nietzsche, does not contest the practical authority of truth (i.e., the claim of the truth to determine what ought to be done); he rather denies that the claims in question are true or have the epistemic warrant that we would expect true claims to have. So the entire Foucauldian project of liberation turns on the epistemic status of the claims of the human sciences. And on this central point, Foucault has, surprisingly, almost nothing to say beyond raising “suspicion.”
| Peter Klein |
1. We are not big on Jim Collins here at O&M but Toyota president Akio Toyoda is a fan, explaining his company’s woes in terms of Collins’s five stages of business decline. (Is “be headquartered in a country with an overvalued currency” one of the stages?)
2. Karen Ho’s Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (Duke, 2008) is reviewed by fellow anthropologist Gillian Tett in the FT. The key to understanding the financial crisis, we learn, is Bourdieu (why haven’t I read about this book on orgtheory.net?). “Massive corporate restructurings are not caused so much by abstract financial models as by the local, cultural habitus of investment bankers, the mission-driven narratives of shareholder value and the institutional culture of Wall Street.” Why didn’t I think of that?
3. I’ve been reading Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, the first of great dystopian novels (in Natasha Randall’s new translation). I had head that Taylorism figures prominently in the novel, but didn’t know Taylor would be mentioned by name. “Yes, that Taylor was, without doubt, the most brilliant of the Ancients. True, he didn’t think everything through, didn’t extend his method throughout life, to each step, around the clock. He wasn’t able to integrate his system from an hour to all twenty-four. But all the same: how they could have written whole libraries about the likes of Kant — and not take notice of Taylor, a prophet, with the ability to see ten centuries ahead?” Of course, as we’ve noted before, there’s more to Taylor than meets the eye.
| Peter Klein |
. . . recognizes that politicizing the basic English composition classes — one of the crowning achievements of literary and cultural postmodernism, the movement once championed by Fish himself — wasn’t such a good idea (via George Leef):
A few years ago, when I was grading papers for a graduate literature course, I became alarmed at the inability of my students to write a clean English sentence. They could manage for about six words and then, almost invariably, the syntax (and everything else) fell apart. I became even more alarmed when I remembered that these same students were instructors in the college’s composition program. What, I wondered, could possibly be going on in their courses?
I decided to find out, and asked to see the lesson plans of the 104 sections. I read them and found that only four emphasized training in the craft of writing. Although the other 100 sections fulfilled the composition requirement, instruction in composition was not their focus. Instead, the students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization. These artifacts and topics are surely worthy of serious study, but they should have received it in courses that bore their name, if only as a matter of truth-in-advertising.
As I learned more about the world of composition studies, I came to the conclusion that unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham, and I advised administrators to insist that all courses listed as courses in composition teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else. This advice was contemptuously dismissed by the composition establishment, and I was accused of being a reactionary who knew nothing about current trends in research.
| Dick Langlois |
I just received a newsletter from our Humanities Institute announcing (among other things) a graduate student conference at Yale in February on “The Past’s Digital Presence: Database, Archive, and Knowledge Work in the Humanities.” Here are some of the suggested possible topics:
- The Future of the History of the Book
- Public Humanities
- Determining Irrelevance in the Archive
- Defining the Key-Word
- The Material Object in Archival Research
- Local Knowledge, Global Access
- Digital Afterlives
- Foucault, Derrida, and the Archive
- Database Access Across the Profession
- Mapping and Map-Based Platforms
- Interactive Research
I draw your attention to the fourth from the bottom. It reminds my childhood, which I spent in Catholic schools through twelfth grade: no matter how secular the topic, there had to be at least a perfunctory mention of religion. (We were even encouraged to inscribe JMJ, for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, at the top of our papers, though as I recall only the girls actually did this.) In the humanities, there has to be some obeisance to Postmodernism, however irrelevant to the topic.
The newsletter also mentioned, and rightly praised, a fascinating article in the Harvard alumni magazine called “Who Killed the Men of England?” My Scandinavian colleagues may want to take particular note.
| Lasse Lien |
Words like science, scientific, university, professor, etc. still command considerable respect in society. Why? I would suggest that the brand equity of “scientific” (and associated concepts) is almost entirely created by the great advances and visible impact of fields such as physics, engineering, chemistry, medicine, mathematics, and other natural sciences. The massive advantages and explanatory power these fields have provided to society have created a status that the social sciences benefit from, but offer (relatively) modest contributions to. If I were in, say, physics or medicine, I think I would be particularly provoked by those strands of the social sciences that seem to want all the benefits of the “brand,” but also insist on the freedom to break all the rules that created it. I would presumably cry out that if you don’t like our brand, build your own, don’t destroy ours. But then again, I might just have a bad case of physics envy.
Pomo Periscope XVIII: “The French Don’t Care What You Actually Say as Long as You Pronounce It Correctly”
| Nicolai Foss |
This line from My Fair Lady seems to be an accurate summing-up of the emphasis on rhetorics, conversation etc., a branch of pomo, in certain quarters in economic methodology and related fields and disciplines. Or, so Robert Solow argues in a review in the latest issue of the always-interesting Journal of Economic Methodology of Arjo Klamer’s Speaking of Economics; How to Get Into the Conversation (here is a site dedicated to the book, and here is another review).
Essentially, Solow criticizes those who engage in the conversation talk for not adding any substantive insights on the level of meta-theory (whether positive or normative). “I have real doubts,” he says about the utility of describing the practice of academic economics as a ‘conversation’ or a bunch of simultaneous conversations. . . . My claim is that it does not advance the serious understanding of what academic economists are up to, and its relation to what the economy is up to” (p. 94). He sums up by saying that “In the end, I did not find find the proposed connection between postmodernism and contemporary economics convincing. Maybe theories with little or no application, theories about chaos and complex systems, and theories that leave practical people clueless about the economy (those are all Klamer’s words) have something to do with the architecture of Frank Gehry or the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, but the connection needs work” (p. 95). It seems so.
| Peter Klein |
We haven’t raised the pomo periscope for a while, but two recent management journal special issues call for its return. The June 2008 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Management contains a symposium on “Recreating/Recontextualising Entrepreneurship,” which includes such articles as “Accidental Ventures — A Materialist Reading of Opportunity and Entrepreneurial Potential” and “Transduction and Entrepreneurship: A Biophilosophical Image of the Entrepreneur.” Then there’s the new issue of ephemera, with the theme “University, Failed” and articles like “Institutionalizing Critique: A Problem of Critical Management Studies,” “Epistemic Convenience,” “I Wanted to Be an Academic, Not a ‘Creative’: Notes on Universities and the New Capitalism, and “We Are All Workers: A Class Analysis of University Labour Strikes.” Hoo-boy.
| Peter Klein |
Remember the Universal Translator? Peter Wood, in like manner, provides a useful guide to translating regular English prose into the style of Nobel-prizewinning author Toni Morrison, probably the most frequently assigned writer on US college campuses. The basic rules:
- Misuse common phrases
- Embrace inconsistency
- Omit words to create more forceful expression
- Mix up parts of speech
- Chop in self-conscious micro-sentences
He provides some wonderful examples. For instance, this office memo:
Just to remind you, I will be out of the office Tuesday to meet with our supplier, Acme Explosives. Please finish your work on the 2Q budget and let the account rep know that Mr. Coyote’s order will be shipped Thursday.
The reminding can’t wait the hurry of it. I explain. I know you know of Tuesday, I and Acme Explosives is soon together meet. You can please work, perhaps, the budget’s second quarter, and knowledge the account rep of Mr. Coyote’s Thursday shipment.
Wood also reminds us that Morrison is “the undisputed master of wandering verb tenses” and that she “knows how deftly to insert evocative foreign terms.”
But it is the anachronistic little details that are Morrison’s signature. My favorite occurs late in the book: “Ice-coated starlings clung to branches drooping with snow.” This is the 1690s, two centuries before the eccentric bird lover Eugene Schiffelin introduced starlings to the U.S. by releasing sixty of them in Central Park.
Schiffelin had no idea how the birds would proliferate, crowd out native species, and form enormous squawking, twittering, whistling flocks that seem to fill up whole forests. Starlings seem to propagate as fast as clichés and to descend like clouds of effusive blurbs on overpraised books.