Living in and coping with world risk society – Ulrich Beck

In this talk (from a few years ago, 2011 I think), sociologist Ulrich Beck outlines and updates his theory of reflexive modernization and the ‘risk society’. He suggests that, to the extent that risk is experienced as omnipresent in the current age, there are only three possible reactions: denial, apathy or transformation. The first, he says, ‘is largely inscribed in modern culture, the second resembles post-modern nihilism, the third is the “cosmopolitan moment” of world risk society’.

In the talk that follows he structures his argument around three key points. In  the first he outlines the distinctive, new features of this world risk society. There is a distinction between risk and catastrophe – they are not the same things. Risk is about the anticipation of catastrophe. This is why, despite the fact that Europe and ‘The West’ are relatively safe, globally speaking, or perhaps even ‘objectively’ so, it is the global anticipation of catastrophe (propagated via symbolic forms in the mass media etc) that is fundamental to the shaping of contemporary societies. These global perceptions of risk have three features: de-localization ( in spatial, temporal and social terms), incalculableness, and non-compensatibility.

His second key point stresses the fundamentally global character of these process, over and against the nation-state as a political level of analysis, and transformative action. Against this methodological nationalism he offers a defence of his cosmopolitan vision for the social sciences, outlined in more detail in his Power and the Global Age (2005). His final point offers some consequences of his position, in general, and a (sympathetic) critique of alternative theoretical conceptions of risk, most notably those of Mary Douglas and Michel Foucault. What is needed is a paradigm shift in the social sciences – the emergence of a cosmopolitan social science – a ‘cosmopolitan turn’.

This defence of cosmopolitanism – his cosmopolitical realpolitik –  is, of course, open to many criticisms and questions, as are his wider arguments about risk, decision-making etc.  There are some questions/discussion after 26 mins or so.

Diana Coole talk on May 20th, NUI Galway – on the ‘Population Question’


We are delighted to announce the second guest speaker of the Power, Conflict & Ideologies Cluster (School of Political Science & Sociology) this year is Prof Diana Coole of Birkbeck  University of London. The talk, based on the ‘Population Question’ (specifics below), will take place at 3pm on 20th May in the SAC Room/CA110, Cairnes Building (St. Anthony’s, ground floor)  NUI Galway. All are welcome.

The title of the paper will be ‘From Population Control to Behaviour Modification: Liberty, Coercion and Behaviour Modification in Pursuit of Sustainable Wellbeing’. The abstract is below, but a useful introduction to these issues and Coole’s perspective on the population question in general may be found in her 2013 paper ‘Too Many Bodies? The Return and Disavowal of the Population Question’, which is currently open access (as one of Routledge’s ‘most popular’ politics papers of 2013).

The abstract for the Galway talk, and the speaker’s bio, are below the fold.


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William Reddy – Do Emotions Have a History? The Example of Romantic Love.

In this fascinating talk William M. Reddy, the William T. Laprade Professor of History and Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, expounds on the theme of romantic love.  This is the subject of his recent (and award-winning) book called The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900-1200 CE (2012).  The talk took place at the University of Melbourne in March of last year, in association with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. The blurb for the talks is below.  Reddy’s earlier work, and his concept of ’emotional regimes’ in particular has been influential for my own work in the sociology of emotions.  I have recently aquired this book and look forward to reading it.  The talk offers a reasonable summary of the main arguments, which suggests that the history of love is different in Europe to elsewhere, where love and sexual desire are united.  In Europe this was the case prior to, but not after, the 12th century CE, when the medieval notion of courtly love developed in opposition to moral theological definitions of sexual love as an ‘appetite of the body’ to be suppressed, controlled and subject to discipline. Love became ‘split’ or bifurcated, as is the Western tendency, into ‘bad/profane’ sexual desire and ‘pure/sacred’ sublime love – body and soul.  This split did not occur elsewhere, according to Reddy, who uses (primarily) literary examples from Japan, Asia and other cultures to make a comparative ethnography of love.  These themes, and much more besides, feature in the talk.      

Are emotions hard-wired, or are they subject to cultural or historical variation? In general, emotions are not subject to voluntary control; we do not get to pick which ones we will feel. Some emotions, like fear or anger, may trigger physiological changes. Others, like pride or nostalgia, do not. Are emotions hard-wired? Or are they subject to cultural or historical variation? Or perhaps, some are hard-wired, others shaped by culture?

For decades experts have been divided on the subject. The question of romantic love is a good entry point for appreciating the complexities social scientists face in trying to make sense of emotions. It seems that romantic love, of one kind or another, can be found in almost every part of the world. Is it universal, a product of neurotransmitters interacting with subcortical structures? The record suggests, on the contrary, not only that romantic love has gone through some striking transformations over the centuries, but also that collective action can make a difference in how we feel.

Professor William M. Reddy is the author of the seminal work on the History of Emotions, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions. (Cambridge University Press, 2001). His most recent book is The making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia and Japan, 900-1200CE (University of Chicago Press) was published in 2012.

Facing Gaia: A new enquiry into Natural Religion-Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures 2013

Bruno Latour’s recent (Feb,2013)  Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh deserve to be more widely viewed than they have been.  Indeed, if history is any guide, they probably will be, eventually.  Already I have heard about an upcoming workshop organized around the lecture series, and a book based on the series is forthcoming.  Past luminaries of these lectures, which were established to ‘promote and diffuse the study of natural theology in the widest sense of the term’ have included some of the most influential thinkers (and books) of the last century, including William James (1900-1902, The Varieties of Religious Experience), Henri Bergson (1913-14, The Problem of Personality), Hannah Arendt (1976, Life of the Mind), and, with particular significance for Latour, Alfred North Whitehead (1927-28, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology).

This last work, still notoriously troublesome despite its various revisions since Whitehead delivered it in Edinburgh almost a century ago, echoes throughout Latour’s six lectures.  Latour speaks; Whitehead stands at his shoulder.  It is clear that Professor Latour enjoyed following in ‘his philosopher’s’ footsteps. The key themes of the lectures circle around the implications of living in a new epoch in which humans are significantly affecting the earth’s ecosystem: the anthropocene.  The abstract for the series as a whole reads:

Facing Gaia. A New Inquiry into Natural Religion.

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of ”natural religion” is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology. The set of lectures attempts to decipher the face of Gaia in order to redistribute the notions that have been packed too tightly into the composite notion of ”natural religion”.

Politics, science and religion are brought into dialogue, via a sustained contemplation of Gaia, rather than nature.  What this shift calls for above all is a (political) shift from matters of fact to matters of concern, which is, in itself, a Whiteheadian shift.  The draft text of the lectures is available here (pdf), but the published book is on the way.  The remaining five lectures are below the fold.  I have only recently finished viewing them all and I am not ready to offer a critique just yet.  I may have to read (and re-read) the notes or the book that emerges to fully grasp what Latour is  saying.  His project is vast, and requires, demands, serious attention.  These lectures are a good place to begin.

The abstract for the first lecture is:

Once Out of Nature – natural religion as a pleonasm

Lecture abstract

The set of questions around the two words “natural religion” implies that only the second word is a coded and thus a disputed category, the first one being taken for granted and uncoded. But if it can be shown that the very notion of nature is a theological construct, we might be able to shift the problem somewhat: the question becomes not to save or resurrect “natural religion”, but to dispose of it by offering at last a ”secular” version of nature and of the natural sciences.

They get better as they go on.  Persevere.  And enjoy!

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Call for Papers: “Regulating Emotions”. University of Limerick, April 30th-May 1st

The University of Limerick Research Cluster in Emotions in Society is delighted to announce that it will host a conference on the theme of “Regulating Emotions” on the 30th of April and 1st of May 2012 at the University of Limerick. The conference is kindly funded as part of the “New Ideas” scheme by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) (See
The study of emotional regulation (Gross, 1998a, 1998b) is a developing area of scholarship nationally and internationally. The role of emotional regulation in cognition and behaviour and its consequential importance in society is increasingly recognised within distinct academic disciplines including law, education, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, psychiatry and economics, for example. However, the current paradigm operating in the study of emotional regulation is for individual disciplines to examine the concept from an established perspective with little opportunity for active engagement in interdisciplinary scholarship in this area. This conference will provide an opportunity for collaboration across a range of disciplines which will allow new ideas to form and existing dogma to be challenged and critiqued.

The conference will take place over two days and will include a combination of panel discussions, roundtable discussions and addresses by key note speakers. The conference line-up will feature a range of distinguished speakers from the US, Canada and Europe.

The conference organisers welcome proposals from all disciplines on any topic relevant to the theme of emotional regulation. The organisers particularly welcome inter-disciplinary submissions, though this is not required. All proposals will be subjected to peer-review by the Scientific Committee.

Attendance at the conference will cost €60. The organisers also welcome submissions from early career researchers, with discounts of €30 available for PhD and postdoctoral students. Presenters will be responsible for their own travel and accommodation expenses. There will be a conference dinner on the evening of Monday 30 April which will cost an additional €25.

Possible areas on which papers may be given include, but are not limited to:
* Sociology
* Psychology
* English
* Business
* Politics
* Education
* Music
* Applied Languages
* Medicine
* Occupational Therapy
* History
* Information Technology, including Artificial Intelligence and
* Law

Persons interested in participating in the event should submit an abstract of no more than 500 words along with a brief biography (150 words). Submissions should be made to using the form attached.

Paper submissions should be received by February 29th, 2012.

Submissions for posters will also be considered. Please submit proposals in the form of 250 world abstracts to by latest March 31st 2012.

If you have any queries, please contact the conference organisers at

RSA Animate – The Divided Brain

While the festival of samhain may be over, and as the West slips somewhat grudgingly into the darker half of the annual cycle, there may be a few theory-type zombies remaining with a thirst for braaains.  In this new RSAnimate, renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist may help satiate their need for a time.  In this talk he explains how our ‘divided brain’ has profoundly altered human behaviour, culture and society.  The talk is based on his influential book of last year, The Master and His Emissary (2010).  The full, 30 minute lecture is here for those interested.  The introduction to the book, for those really interested is here, where he writes that the overall thesis of the book is:

that for us as human beings there are two fundamentally opposed realities, two different modes of experience; that each is of ultimate importance in bringing about the recognisably human world; and that their difference is rooted in the bihemispheric structure of the brain. It follows that the hemispheres need to co-operate, but I believe they are in fact involved in a sort of power struggle, and that this explains many aspects of contemporary Western culture (McGilchrist, 2010, p.3).

The book sounds fascinating but, at over 600 pages, I simply will not get to it in the next 12 months.  Which is why I like the RSA Animate series so much.  Perhaps you will.  Enjoy.

The Human Sciences in the ‘Age of Biology’: revitalising sociology.

Really interesting talk by Rose on the need to rethink the relationship between sociology and the biological sciences, such as genetics and neuroscience, partilularly social neuroscience.

Speaker: Professor Nikolas Rose
Chair: Professor Judy Wajcman
This event was recorded on 8 March 2011 in Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building
Thanks to the insights of genomics and neuroscience we now understand ourselves in radically new ways. Is a new figure of the human, and of the social, taking shape in the 21st century? Nikolas Rose is professor of sociology and director of BIOS at LSE.