Three Years of ‘Understanding Society’

by Henry Farrell on November 10, 2010

I’ve been dealing with multiple deadlines, and am about to fly to Boston for another conference, which has stopped me from blogging about several things I wanted to. Perhaps the most significant of which was the third anniversary last week of Daniel Little’s “Understanding Society”: blog. It’s a wonderful, if atypical blog – Little uses the blog to write a couple of mini-essays a week on topics of interest in the hinterlands between sociology and political science.

bq. In beginning this effort in 2007 I had envisioned something different from the kinds of blogs that were in circulation at the time — something more like a dynamic, open-ended book manuscript than a topical series of observations. And now, approaching 500,000 words, I feel that this is exactly what the blog has become — a dynamic web-based monograph on the philosophy of society. … The writing process here is quite different from that involved in more traditional academic writing. … Writing an academic blog has a different structure. It is a question of doing serious thinking, one idea at a time. Each post represents its own moment of thought and development, without the immediate need to fit into a larger architecture of argument. Eventually there emerges a kind of continuity and coherence out of a series of posts; but the writing process doesn’t force sequence and cumulativeness. Instead, coherence begins to emerge over time through recurring threads of thinking and writing.

There really is nothing else quite like it. I also highly recommend Little’s book _Varieties of Social Explanation_, which I’ve taught in graduate seminars (it is twenty years old, and it would be lovely to see a revised edition one of these days, but it is still excellent).

Heckuva job

by John Q on November 10, 2010

Watching a TV report on the Merapi volcano eruption, I was struck by a feeling of deja vu. Warned that the volcano was likely to erupt, Indonesian authorities have organised the evacuation of over 200 000 people into temporary shelters – the report I saw showed people at a large football stadium, well cared for but crowded and anxious to go home. I couldn’t find that report, but here’s another on volunteer teachers helping to keep kids entertained. Indonesia is a poor country that has had more than its share of disaster (natural and otherwise), and there have been plenty of problems, but overall this was an impressive effort.

For those who would like to help, here’s the Indonesian Red Cross site.