Sunday photoblogging: Bocadasse

by Chris Bertram on January 12, 2020

Genoa: Boccadasse

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Consumed by fire

by John Quiggin on January 11, 2020

It’s been hard to think straight with the fires that have burned through most of Australia for months. Brisbane was among the first places affected, with the loss of the historic Binna Burra lodge, on the edge of a rainforest, a place where no one expected a catastrophic fire. But, as it turned out, we got off easy compared to the rest of the country. Heavy rain in early December helped to put out the fires in Queensland, and we can expect the delayed arrival of the monsoon in the near future. By contrast, southern Australia normally has hot, dry summers and this has been the hottest driest year ever. The increased likelihood of catastrophic fire seasons was evident when I started work on this topic back in 2012 [1], and the risks for this year were pointed out to the government months in advance. The warnings went unheeded for two reasons.

First, the government had been re-elected partly on the basis of a promise (economically nonsensical, but politically powerful) to return the budget to surplus. Any serious action to prepare for and respond to a bushfire catastrophe would wipe that out, as indeed has almost certainly happened now.

Second, any serious assessment would have to focus on the fact that climate change is causing large-scale losses in Australia right now. The government is a combination of denialists and do-nothingists, neither of whom are willing to address the issue.

Of course, Australia is only a small part of the problem. Our government’s policies are helping to promote climate catastrophes in the US, Brazil and other places, and theirs are returning the favor. A policy shift in any one of these countries, with no change elsewhere, would make little difference to the country concerned. That’s the nature of a collective action problem. But on any ordinary understanding of justice, we are reaping what we, and the governments we’ve elected, have sown.

Over the fold, some links to pieces I’ve written on this topic.

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Teaching a 10 year-old to read.

by Harry on January 5, 2020

My then-18 year old daughter was home with her friends when I opened my author-copies of Family Values. After they left she said “My friends are really impressed that you’ve written a book. But I’m not really. I mean, it’s just part of your job, isn’t it? It’s just what you’re supposed to do. I mean….it’s not like you taught a third grader to read, or something like that“.

If you’ve read the book, or simply know its main theses, you’ll see many layers of irony in that exchange, and probably further layers of irony in the sense of pleasure and pride I got from it.

But actually I did teach a kid to read, a 5th grader actually, though just one, when I was 18.

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Sunday photoblogging: Liverpool, docks and reflections

by Chris Bertram on January 5, 2020

Liverpool: docks and reflections

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Neil Innes is dead.

by Harry on January 1, 2020

Gaurniad Obit here.

My music collection contains a small number of perfect albums. Perfect in the sense that every track is entirely welcome, and all are in the right order, yielding a brilliant effect. Three are by Richard Thompson, one by Joni Mitchell, one by Crosby Stills and Nash, and maybe one by the Beatles. Innes shares responsibility for two of them. The Rutles Archeology is much better than the original Rutles album, full of gentle pastiche and including a couple of songs that have you straining to remember that it really isn’t The Beatles.

But the best is Keynsham. I bought it at Our Price for 99p, remaindered and warped, 40 years ago and have listened to it maybe more than any album not by the Beatles or Dylan (I no longer have a record player, but have replaced it a couple of times since). It is the one Bonzos album on which Stanshall and Innes combine perfectly—Stanshall’s dark madness disciplined and tempered by Innes’s kind optimism, allowing their shared sense of the absurd to shine through—not a collection of songs, but a single album, all the notes in the right order.

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Intersectionality vs dominant identity politics*

by John Quiggin on December 31, 2019

Shorter JQ: Although the idea of intersectionality emerged on the left as a solution to problems involving class and identity politics, it turns out to the be the natural response to the rise of dominant identity politics on the right.

As I see it, intersectionality combines a recognition that people are oppressed both through the economic structures of capitalism and as members of various subordinate groups with a rejection of both:

  • “essentialist” identity politics, based on the claim that some particular aspect of identity (gender, race, sexuality, disability etc) should trump all others; and
  • “working class” politics, presented as a politics of universal liberation, but reduced by the failure of revolutionary Marxism to another kind of identity politics (I took this formulation from Don Arthur on Twitter. I had something to say about class and Marxism a while back)

The point about intersectionality is that there many kinds of oppression and injustice, and they interact in complex, more than additive, ways. The resulting political strategy for the left is not so much that of a “rainbow coalition” of distinct identity groups but a kaleidoscope in which different facets come to the fore at different times and places.

Now think about dominant/default identity politics (I’ll use the US/Australian version, but other versions can be obtained just by changing the dominant identity). The key idea, is that well-off, white, Christian men are being oppressed by virtue of challenges to their natural position of dominance, and rejection of their natural expectation of deference.

The central claim is also addressed to white Christian women, particularly married women, who are assumed to identify their interests with those of their families.

Looked at this way, the claims of dominant/default identity politics are the exact opposite of those underlying intersectionality. The more someone deviates from the “typical” American/Australian, the more they are seen as benefiting unfairly from social welfare systems, anti-discrimination policy and so on.

The right (along with much of the centrist commentariat,least until recently) at mostly fails to understand its relationship with intersectionality, in two ways.

First, they mostly don’t recognise their own politics as identity politics, though this is changing. This recognition is welcome for overt white supremacists, but more problematic for those who want to retain the illusion that their movement is based on broad ideological principles.

Second, they miss the point of intersectionality completely, seeing it as just old-style identity politics on steroids. That’s unsurprising, since they never paid much attention to disputes within the left over class and identity politics, and have used “identity politics” as a rhetorical cudgel.

How will all this develop? As white Christians become a minority, the implied political strategy is a combination of political mobilization for rightwing whites and voter suppression for everyone else. If this succeeds, we’ll be well on the path to dictatorship. If it fails, the right will need to expand the notion of acceptable identity, a path proposed, and then abandoned, after their 2012 election defeat.

  • As usual from me, amateur analysis, probably unoriginal and possibly wrong. Feel free to point this out in comments.

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Time for PhD supervision

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 29, 2019

Some aspects of academia show great international variation. There is one on which I haven’t found any good data, and hence thought I’ll ask the crowd here so that we can gather our own data, even if it will be not very scientifically collected.

The question is this: if you are a university teacher/professor and your department awards PhD-degrees, do you get any official time allocated (or time-compensation) for PhD supervision? If it is part of a teaching load model, how many hours (or % teaching load) is it equivalent to? Or is there an expectation that you take on PhD-students but that this does not lead to a reduction in other tasks?

How do international practices of the conditions for PhD-supervisors compare? [click to continue…]

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Tolerance, acceptance, deference, dominance

by John Quiggin on December 27, 2019

Warning: Amateur sociological/political analysis ahead

I’ve been thinking about the various versions of and critiques of identity politics that are around at the moment. In its most general form, identity politics involves (i) a claim that a particular group is not being treated fairly and (ii) a claim that members of that group should place political priority on the demand for fairer treatment. But “fairer” can mean lots of different things. I’m trying to think about this using contrasts between the set of terms in the post title. A lot of this is unoriginal, but I’m hoping I can say something new.

Starting from the left (in more senses than one), tolerance involves the removal of legal barriers to being recognised as a participating member of the community, with legal freedom from persecution, voting rights, property rights and so on. Women, gays, religious minorities and people of colour have all had to struggle to obtain this recognition. But, as has been pointed out many times, mere legal tolerance is demeaning and discriminatory. Identity politics involves a demand not merely for tolerance but for acceptance.

Jumping to the right, the idea of tolerance implies the existence of a dominant group that does the tolerating, either as a result of moral suasion or as a response to political pressure. Moving from tolerance to acceptance implies an erosion of that dominance. It becomes unacceptable for members of the formerly dominant group to express or act on the view that the other group is inferior: such views, once expressed openly without fear of adverse consequences, are now criticised as racist, misogynistic, homophobic.

The most difficult term in the series is deference. In sociology/anthropology, it’s typically used in counterpoint with “dominance”, as the attitude displayed by one submitting to dominance. But in the context of identity politics, I think there’s something more subtle going on.

Members of the formerly dominant group may be willing to extend acceptance to others, but they still expect a kind of deference in return. Most obviously, they expect to be treated as the default identity for the community as a whole, as “typical”, “real”, “true”, Americans, Australians, Finns or whatever.

When that expectation of deference is not fulfilled, the choices are to accept the new situation, or to support what might be called default identity politics. More or less inevitably, that implies an alliance with those who want to reassert or restore the group’s dominant position: racists, theocrats, and so on, depending on which aspect of the dominant identity is being challenged.

That makes default identity politics a “double or nothing” bet. If it’s political successful, it’s dragged further and further towards entrenched minority rule by members of the dominant racial or religous group, and typically towards some form of personal dictatorship. If it’s unsuccessful, the divisions it creates risks a reversal of the previous order. Instead of being accepted as one element of a diverse community, the formerly dominant group becomes the object of hostility and derision. The signs of that are certainly evident, particularly in relation to the culture wars around religion.

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Top 3 books of 2019

by Eszter Hargittai on December 22, 2019


I almost never make New Year’s resolutions, but I did in January 2019: read a book a week for 2019. This weekend I finished my reading challenge with Jose Antonio Vargas’s Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen (I recommend it!). While book reading has always been a part of my life, as an academic who reads a lot for work (mostly in journal article form), book reading for fun hasn’t always fit in. I wanted it to be more prominent in my everydays and I’m glad that I achieved that. I only counted books that I read from cover to cover, there are certainly others I browsed and read parts of, but they didn’t count for my challenge. I included very different genres as my interests are eclectic, but the most prominent was memoirs and biographies (I am not a huge fiction fan so there were only a few of those on my list). Here, I want to share my top three overall favorites; another three that you are unlikely to have heard of, but that I found very much worth reading; three that were the most disappointing; and three art books I enjoyed. While I have an insane “would like to read” list already, I very much welcome your recommendations for 2020 (when I’ll even have a semester of sabbatical in the Fall so I definitely plan to get at least as much reading in).

Overall top 3

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson – A fascinating story told in an incredibly engaging manner about the young woman, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who led the largest French resistance network during WWII. This book is now among my all-time favorite books.

Educated by Tara Westover – You’ve probably heard of this book, it’s been very popular, and deservedly so. The author was raised in a very religious family in Idaho that did not believe in public education. The family dynamics are insane and intense. It’s often a tougher read than I expected due to the difficulties she faced beyond what you may imagine going in.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond – Based on the author’s sociology dissertation, this is an important story about major housing challenges in poor urban America. The research is first-rate, the writing excellent. (If I want to get academic, I’ll note my one critique: a lack of discussion of what role digital media may have played in people’s lives. The absense of this in the book is jarring to someone like me who studies the use of information technologies. Jeff Lane’s the Digital Street addresses that angle as does the work of Will Marler, a graduate student at Northwestern whose dissertation I am advising, but not specifically about housing challenges. I would have liked to see some of this in Evicted.) An refreshing aspect of the book is that it offers concrete policy recommendations at the end.

Top 3 you probably haven’t heard of
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I’ve been working through David Estlund’s new book, Utopophobia [google books]. His work has changed my thinking in a lot of ways, mostly because I don’t usually think like him. So, when I realized I thought he was right about some things, it kind of spun me round. But in this post I’m going to talk about something else – another topic I’ve been mulling for years and meaning to turn into a paper at some point. The place of whimsy in thought-experiments.

As you know, my flesh is weak, so I’m on Twitter now. Today I meant just to riff on one funny, absurdist-tinged example from Estlund. But he’s got so many and I couldn’t help myself. It’s Lewd-and-Prude all over again, just like in the old days when there were blogs.

The issue is this: whimsy is – well, it’s not an emotion, I don’t suppose. It’s an attitude. More exactly, it’s a mode or manner of being detached. But it’s not a full, nor neutral style of detachment. It’s not the view from nowhere. It’s not action-oriented. But that doesn’t make it pan-observant or unfeeling. It’s perpetually tickled; it’s preferentially attendant to certain things, as opposed to others. (It knows you can’t just tickle yourself. Something else has to do it.)

The concern is that this makes it stupid, not to put too fine a point on it. [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: North Street, near sunset

by Chris Bertram on December 15, 2019

North Street, near sunset

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In the wake of our disastrous election result, Geoff Robinson on twitter (@GeoffPolHist) linked to this piece I wrote in April 2013 and which I’d forgotten about. I see John Quiggin is recycling too, so that seems to be way of things round here today.

The 1970s have been in my mind over the past few days, not only for the obvious reason, but also because I visited the Glam exhibition at Tate Liverpool last weekend. Not only were the seventies the final decade of an electrical-chemical epoch that stretched back to the late nineteenth-century, they were also the time when the sexual and political experimentation of the 1960s and a sense of being part of a cosmopolitan world order became something for the masses, for the working class, and when the old social order started to dissolve. In the experience of many people, the sixties happened in the seventies, as it were.

But my main thoughts, concerning Britain at any rate, have been about social division, and about some oddly paradoxical features of British life before Thatcher. There’s a very real sense in which postwar British society was very sharply divided. On the one hand, it was possible to be born in an NHS hospital, to grow up on a council estate, to attend a state school, to work in a nationalised industry and, eventually (people hoped), to retire on a decent state pension, living entirely within a socialised system co-managed by the state and a powerful Labour movement. On the other, there were people who shared the experience of the NHS but with whom the commonality stopped there: they were privately educated, lived in an owner-occupied house and worked in the private sector. These were two alternate moral universes governed by their own sets of assumptions and inhabited by people with quite different outlooks. Both were powerful disciplinary orders. The working class society had one set of assumptions – welfarist, communitarian, but strongly gendered and somewhat intolerant of sexual “deviance”; middle-class society had another, expressed at public (that is, private) schools through institutions like compulsory Anglican chapel. Inside the private-sector world, at least, there was a powerful sense of resentment towards Labour, expressed in slogans about “managers right to manage” and so on that later found expression in some of the sadism of the Thatcher era towards the working-class communities that were being destroyed. Present too, at least in the more paranoid ramblings of those who contemplated coups against Labour, was the idea that that the parallel socialised order represented a kind of incipient Soviet alternative-in-waiting that might one day swallow them up.
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The Day after Brexit (repost from 2016)

by John Quiggin on December 14, 2019

Now that Brexit is almost certainly going to happen, I’m reposting this piece from late 2016, with some minor corrections, indicated by strike-outs. Feel free to have your say on any aspect of Brexit.

Since the collapse of faith in neoliberalism following the Global Financial Crisis, the political right has been increasingly dominated by tribalism Trumpism. But in most cases, including the US, this has so far amounted to little more than Trilling’s irritable mental gestures. To the extent that there is any policy program, it is little more than crony capitalism. Of all the tribalist Trumpist groups that have achieved political power the only ones that have anything amounting to a political program are the Brexiteers.

The sustainability of tribalism Trumpism as a political force will depend, in large measure, on the perceived success or failure of Brexit. So, what will the day after Brexit (presumably, sometime in March 2019) look like, and more importantly, feel like? I’ll rule out the so-called “soft Brexit” where Britain stays in the EU for all practical purposes, gaining some minor concessions on immigration restrictions. It seems unlikely and would be even more of an anti-climax than the case I want to think about.

It’s easy to imagine a disaster, and maybe that will happen. But suppose everything goes relatively smoothly. That is, Britain leaves the EU and the single market, but gets deals in place that keep trade flowing smoothly, retains visa-free travel for visitors and so on.

What will the day after feel like?

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40 years on

by Harry on December 11, 2019

Here’s a moving, brief, piece by Paul Cotterill about his dad, who flew over Germany in WWII, loved Eurovision, voted to stay in 1975, and died 40 years ago. It’s lovely.

And it reminded me that the old people in my life (none as old as Paul’s dad would have been, and none would be pleased to be designated old, but they’re older than me, and at this point that’s enough) all voted to stay, and I know that tomorrow they’ll all be voting to prevent a Tory government, and some have been working tirelessly to that end for weeks…well, decades, come to think of it.

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Sunday photoblogging: Bristol, early morning

by Chris Bertram on December 8, 2019

watershed

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