Passion, Blogging, and Manuel Castells

21 May 2006 at 8:53 am Leave a comment

| Nicolai Foss |

It seems that one of the functions of blogging is to allow people to exercise the passion that they cannot exercise anymore in the writing they do for journals (I have to mention, however, that my co-blogger and I were recently taken to task by a journal reviewer for not exhibiting sufficient “passion and excitement” in the conclusion part of a joint paper).

Look at the econ journals prior to World War II. Plenty of flames and shouting. Admittedly, much of it unproductive, but highly entertaining (e.g., check out John Maynard Keynes’ wildly hysterical, over-the-top review of Hayek’s Prices and Production in Economica 1932; discussed in this book. Of Hayek’s gloomy book, Keynes said: “The abyss yawns — and so do I”).

Whatever the scientific merits of the average paper in the Econometrica or the Journal of Economic Theory, one is not exactly struck by the level of “passion and excitement” that they project.

A possible exception is represented by sociology journals. At least European sociologists (Brayden has indicated that I should be careful when I talk about sociologists) often conduct their “discourse” with considerable passion, blaming – implicitly or explicitly — capitalism, Ariel Sharon, George Bush, Milton Friedman, etc. etc., for whatever evil in this world, including all sorts of repressive “structures,” “alienation,” “marginalization,” etc. etc.

Notably, the critics of fashionable sociologists such as Anthony Giddens and Manuell Castells also exercise their critique with substantial passion. Teppo Felin at Orgtheory.net has drawn attention to the chapter by Axel van den Berg in Hedström and Swedberg’s Social Mechanisms.

Here is a further case in point, rational choice sociologist (and Copenhagen Business School colleague) Peter Abell and economist Diane Reyniers (LSE), in a paper that I re-read today, firing away at Manuel Castells, fashionable Spanish-American sociologist. Of Castells’ The Rise of the Network Society, they say: “None of the chapters of Castells’ book would easily find a place on the pages of a respectable social science journal supported by appropriate refereeing standards. The quality of the writing and the often inept and selective (secondary) use of data would rule this out.” Phewww!

Indeed, any rational person who has tried struggling with Castells’ murky prose (even the Wikipedia article about Castells is murky) will appreciate Abell and Reyniers’ efforts. It is quite possible that Abell and Reyniers’ critique is over the top. Trouble is: It is hard to tell, because making sense of Castells is difficult – which in itself vindicates Abell and Reyniers. You can find Abell and Reynier’s effort in Peter Abell and Diane Reyniers. 2000. “On the Failure of Social Theory,” British Journal of Sociology 51: 739-750. (And here is an equally passionate response from Castells).

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science.

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