Scholar bloggers

by Henry on July 20, 2003

Something which I should have mentioned previously. Below our main blogroll is a list of academic bloggers, which has been transplanted over from my old blog (I owe the original idea for the list to “Jacob Levy”: ). This is a fairly non-exclusive list; i.e., if you think that you should be on it, you’re probably right. And not only that, if you email me, and you qualify, I’ll put you on it (you can email one of my fellow bloggers if you prefer, but it may take a bit longer to get you up). The qualifications are fairly straightforward. First, if you either have an academic position at a university type institution, or are a Ph.D. student or equivalent at same, you qualify. Second, if you have a Ph.D., but are pursuing another career due to the miserable state of the job market, or more interesting opportunities elsewhere, and keep a blog that sort-of relates to your field of specialization, you qualify unless you’re Jerry Pournelle. Third, if you don’t qualify under the formal criteria, but think that you provide a venue for specialized academic discussion, email us to say why you should be included, and we may put you in (note, however, that we will tend to be highly selective in this last category; so don’t feel insulted or upset if we decide against including you).

Finally, we do want to keep some minimal criteria for non-offensive content; we’re unlikely to link to you if you use your blog to propagate views that I and/or my fellow bloggers find downright revolting. Which isn’t to say at all that you need to agree with us; conservatives, right-libertarians etc, are all very welcome. But if you’re a racist, or anti-Semitic, or homophobic, and/or you think that all Jews or Arabs ought to be forcibly expelled, or similar, we would prefer that you continue to practice your right to free speech without a link from us.

Update: The Crooked Timber Academic blogroll is no longer being updated. Instead, you should go to “”:, which has subsumed the old CT blogroll.

Protecting sources

by Chris Bertram on July 20, 2003

The whole business of whether the “dodgy dossier” was “sexed up” by the British government and whether Andrew Gilligan’s report about it also went beyond what he was entitled to claim looks likely to damage all concerned in the wake of Dr David Kelly’s suicide. I’m trying to keep an open mind about the various possibilities, though things look much less good for the BBC today, in the light of their admission that Kelly was the source for Gilligan’s story. The BBC have also shown poor judgement in getting former Guardian editor Peter Preston to pontificate in their defence. Writing about journalists’ duty to protect their sources Preston observes:

if your source talked to you under conditions of anonymity, would you do everything in your power to protect him – including maintaining silence even after he’d identified himself to his bosses and talked, not entirely frankly, to the foreign affairs select committee?

Of course. No question of that either. Sources come in many shapes, forms and conditions of confidentiality. Once they place their faith in you, your faith and your room for manoeuvre belongs to them; and after their death, their family.

Can this be the same Peter Preston who, in the early 1980s, complied with a court order to reveal that civil servant Sarah Tisdall was the source of confidential documents leaked to the Guardian? Tisdall was subsequently sentenced to six months in prison.

Shake’n’Bake Social Theory

by Kieran Healy on July 20, 2003

Real innovation in social theory is hard but brute-force approaches can yield results. Henry’s comments on Public Choice Theory reminded me of a simple way to innovate theory that you’re welcome to apply in various contexts as you please.

Take a few basic kinds of institutions, structures or practices that can be identified across many different social contexts. There are markets, say, and there is politics. There is ritual. There is culture. There are hierarchies. There are networks. And so on. (Not all of these are the same sort of thing; that doesn’t matter at the moment.) Identify the basic features of each. Now, pick one, take its defining features and see if you can find them at work in one the others.

For example, you can say Politics is really Markets. This is Public Choice Theory, waiting to be elaborated. Because the market form is such a dominant feature of contemporary societies and of talk about them, applying the “x is really a market” trick to any given x is by now quite a common trick. It can tell you a lot about what you’re studying, and it can even provoke that “Of course!” experience that Fredrich Blowhard had. It’s important to see, though, that you can do exactly the same thing in reverse, or with other combinations of concept and institution, and to similar effect.

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by Chris Bertram on July 20, 2003

Having blogged about Alasdair Gray on Junius and declared my intention to read Lanark, of course I had to do so (especially given Henry’s encouragement). It is both an extraordinary and a really frustrating and perplexing work, combining as it does both the quasi-autobiographical story of Duncan Thaw and a Kafkaesque allegory about his double, Lanark. The Thaw parts (the middle of the book) I thought quite wonderful in their description of childhood and early youth both in Glasgow and as a wartime evacuee. The allegorical sections worked less well (sometimes the socialist didacticism is just too heavy-handed). The general effect is something like a random wander through a large gothic mansion: sometimes you find youself in a room full of interesting objects but the next moment at the end of a bare subterranean corridor. Recommended – but don’t expect an easy time.


by Chris Bertram on July 20, 2003

I’m just back from a week’s holiday in Pembrokeshire with my family. I’ve been walking, swimming in the sea, fishing for mackerel and identifying wild flowers. Pembrokeshire trees, especially the hawthorn, are often attractively distorted by the wind: so here’s some crooked timber for the site:


I don’t expect the flower identification thing to be for everyone. My own interest may be Rousseauiste in origin (see the Reveries of the Solitary Walker). But I can thoroughly recommend it for its cooling effect upon the soul (listening to a great soprano has the same effect on me) and for its intrinsic interest. There’s something very satisfying about being able to walk through a landscape and read it as one goes – sheepsbit scabious, bittersweet, mint, watercress, meadowsweet, hemp agrimony etc etc. Out on a walk, I usually take a good pocket guide with me, but it is also good to look through Richard Mabey’s incomparable Flora Britannica once I get home. Mabey’s book not only contains beautiful photographs, but also extended commentary on each plant, its medicinal and culinary uses and its social history.

Worldly philosophers

by Henry on July 20, 2003

“Friedrich Blowhard”: has discovered public choice economics a la Buchanan and Tullock, and decided that he quite likes it.

bq. What a gas to see a group of smart people take many of my private musings of the past decade and set them out with more clarity than I ever gave them. I actually read a webpage outlining some of the notions of public choice while literally laughing out loud to see that I wasn’t the only lunatic in the insane asylum.

Friedrich is especially impressed with public choice’s description of how government tends to get captured by special interest groups, who gorge themselves at the expense of the public purse. He also suggests that public choice provides some interesting alternatives to the current political system.

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Rhetorical Equivalence

by Kieran Healy on July 20, 2003

Slowly recovering from jetlag here in Canberra, I’ve been catching up with some of the blogchatter about Yellowcake and the infamous sixteen words. I’m struck by a peripheral aspect of the debate. Before the invasion, many anti-war protestors used the slogan “Not In My Name” or something similar. That line was derided by pro-war commentators as epitomising the supposedly self-indulgent or solipsistic attitiude of the anti-war movement. So it’s interesting that, in the wake of the controversy over the State of the Union speech, hawks like Daniel Drezner respond like this:

bq. I understand why Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, and others are so exercised about the “sixteen little words” meme. The uranium question — and the blame game that has erupted along with it — manages to undercut two pillars of strength for the Bush team. …

bq. I can’t get exercised about it, however. My reasons for supporting an attack on Iraq had little to do with the WMD issue. The uranium question was part of one rationale among many the administration gave for pushing forward in Iraq. I’m not saying this should be swept under the rug, but the level of righteous indignation that’s building up on the left is reaching blowback proportions.

Dan can be relied on to have made as well-argued and well-supported case for war as possible, but at this point I really don’t care what it was, for the same reasons the hawks had no time for the “Not In My Name” line. The substance of the President’s case for war is what matters, and it had everything to do with “the WMD issue.” If that case was built on a series of lies — immediate threat, 45-minutes to deployment, uranium from Niger and all the rest of it — then that is something to get exercised about.