Kari Norgaard — Living in Denial

In this excellent talk, recorded in 2013, Kari Norgaard offers a wonderful and concise overview of her well known book on the sociology of climate change Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life (2011). What is most interesting, from my perspective, is the way that she deploys conceptions of both emotion (specifically: guilt, fear of the future, and helplessness) with questions of power and power relations (especially Lukes’ notion of 3D power) in her analysis to explain how knowledge of climate change is negotiated, and denied, in everyday life. Drawing on ethnographic data from fieldwork in Norway, Norgaard shows how this power-emotion nexus is fundamentally social, and constitutive of the social organization of climate denial. Both the book and this short (36m) lecture are well work checking out.

Via Youtube:

In her lecture, professor Kari Norgaard uses interviews and ethnographic data from a community in western Norway during the unusually warm winter of 2000-2001 to describe how knowledge of climate change is experienced in everyday life. Stories in local and national newspapers linked the warm winter explicitly to global warming. Yet residents did not write letters to the editor, pressure politicians, or cut down on the use of fossil fuels. Norgaard describes the disturbing emotions of guilt, helplessness and fear of the future that arose when people were confronted with the idea of climate change — and then builds a model of socially organized denial to describe how people normalized these disturbing emotions through the deployment of conversation norms and discourses that served as “tools of social order.” Using literature from sociology of emotions, environmental sociology and sociology of culture, she describes “the social organization of climate denial” through multiple levels, from emotions to cultural norms to political economy.

The lectures shared here were given on October 5th 2013 in the following order:

Guðni Elísson: “Earth101”

Stefan Rahmstorf: “The Climate Crisis”

Michael Mann: “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”

Kari Norgaard: “Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life”

Peter Sinclair: “Communicating Climate Science in the Disinformation Era”

Recorded by Phil Coates and edited by Ryan Chapman.

A Brief History of Liberty – and its Lessons: A Public ‘Ethics Initiative’ Lecture by Professor Philip Pettit of Princeton University in NUI Galway.


Distinguished Irish philosopher Prof. Philip Pettit of Princeton University will give a public lecture on ‘A Brief History of Liberty — and its Lessons’ in the Aula Maxima, NUI Galway at 4pm on Tuesday, 17th June 2014. This talk is being presented as part of the President of Ireland’s ‘Ethics Initiative’, and organised by the Power, Conflict & Ideologies Research Cluster of the School of Political Science & Sociology. The President of Ireland, His Excellency Michael D. Higgins, will be in attendance at the lecture.  All are welcome and the event is free, but we would appreciate if you could register your attendance here.

Philip Pettit, originally from Ballygar Co. Galway, is L.S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values at Princeton University, where he teaches philosophy and political theory. He is particularly renowned for his revival and development of republicanism within political philosophy, and for his work on group agency.  Among his books are The Common Mind (1996); Republicanism (1997); The Economy of Esteem (2004), with G. Brennan; A Political Philosophy in Public Life: Civic Republicanism in Zapatero’s Spain, with J.L. Marti (2010); and Group Agency (2011), with C. List.  Professor Pettit is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of academies in his two countries of citizenship: Ireland and Australia.  His recent book On the People’s Terms (2012) is published with Cambridge University Press. It is based on the 2009 Albertus Magnus Lectures in Cologne, and the 2010 Seeley lectures in Cambridge.  Also forthcoming is a book with W.W.Norton for a general audience, entitled Just Freedom: A Moral Compass for a Complex World. He is giving the Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Berkeley in 2014-15.

While in Ireland, Prof. Pettit will also be involved in a number of workshops, based on his work, in UCD, and will give the opening keynote address, on the infrastructure of democracy, to the third annual Garrett Fitzgerald Summer School in Dublin later in June.

Abstract for the lecture is below the fold.

Continue reading “A Brief History of Liberty – and its Lessons: A Public ‘Ethics Initiative’ Lecture by Professor Philip Pettit of Princeton University in NUI Galway.”

Prof. Philip Pettit at NUI Galway: public lecture and reading group

pettit 2

Prof.Philip Pettit of Princeton University will give a public lecture on the theme of justice and democracy in NUI Galway at 4pm on 17 June. The venue is the SAC Room in the Cairnes Building. The talk is organised by the Power, Conflict & Ideologies Research Cluster of the School of Political Science & Sociology. A reading group run by the cluster will meet to discuss Prof Pettit’s work in the approach to his visit. Interested colleagues from other Schools (and other institutions) are welcome to join the group, but ask that they contact either myself (jonathangheaneyATgmail.com), Dr. Jenny Dagg (jennydaggATgmail.com) or Dr.Niall Ó Dochartaigh (niall.odochartaighATnuigalway.ie) so we can keep track of numbers/room size etc.

We have initially scheduled two meetings:

1. Thursday 13 March, 2pm

Venue: Room 306, , Aras Moyola, NUI Galway

 2. Monday 7 April, 1pm

Venue: Room 306, Aras Moyola, NUI Galway

The reading for the first meeting is Freedom as Anti-Power’ (1996 pdf), which offers a general overview and introduction to his influential approach to normative, neo-republican political theory, and his conception of freedom as non-domination in particular.  In the second meeting we will discuss his new book On the People’s Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2012), in which this framework is reasserted and refined, and turned to questions of political legitimacy, social justice and democracy.  If you are interested in getting a flavour of the arguments and style of this later work there are videos of lectures that he did in Frankfurt in 2012 available here.  There is also an excellent audio interview about the new book (and his life in general) available on the New Books in Philosophy website.

If you would like to join the meetings of the reading group or would like further information please email either myself or Niall.

Speaker bio:

Philipp Pettit, originally from Ballygar Co. Galway, is L.S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values at Princeton University, where he teaches philosophy and political theory.  Among his books are The Common Mind (1996), Republicanism (1997), The Economy of Esteem (2004), with G. Brennan; Made with Words (2008); A Political Philosophy in Public Life, with JL Marti (2010); and Group Agency (2011) with C. List. Common Minds: Themes from the Philosophy of Philip Pettit, ed G.Brennan et al, appeared from OUP in 2007.  Professor Pettit is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as of academies in his two countries of citizenship: Ireland and Australia.  His most recent book On the People’s Terms (2012) is published with Cambridge University Press. It is based on the 2009 Albertus Magnus Lectures in Cologne, and the 2010 Seeley lectures in Cambridge.

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.

The Emotive Philosophies of A. N. Whitehead: Lecture by Dr Michael Halewood

Interesting, if a little scattered, presentation of Whitehead’s core ideas by Michael Halewood (University of Essex) from last September.  The lecture took place as part of the Autumn Series of talks at the Parasol Unit (a foundation for contemporary art) in London, and touches on Whitehead’s treatment of aesthetics in particular.  The talk is audio only.  Halewood is the author of  A.N. Whitehead and Social Theory: Tracing a Culture of Thought (2011).

(From the website) Unlike more dogmatic writers, Alfred North Whitehead does not tell us what to think, but offers us ways of thinking differently. For this talk, Dr Michael Halewood will offer a survey of A. N. Whitehead’s on-going impact in contemporary thought, discussing his philosophy of education and the radical and intriguing demand he places on the role of art. Tracing ideas through Whitehead’s major metaphysical work, Process and Reality, Halewood will introduce some of the strange but enticing moves that Whitehead makes by differentiating between “feelings”, “emotion” and the “aesthetic”.


Michael Halewood is a senior lecturer at the University of Essex. He has written extensively on the work of Alfred North Whitehead, including his book A. N. Whitehead and Social Theory. Tracing a Culture of Thought(Anthem Press). He has also published pieces on the relation of contemporary philosophy to social theory, including texts on Deleuze, Badiou, Marx, Irigaray and John Dewey.

He is currently working on a book charting the development of the concept of “the social” in the 19th century, as well as a text titled Words and Things which investigates recent moves regarding how we think, talk and write about the world.

Randall Collins – Violence as emotional dominance: Micro-sociological causes


One of the great contemporary sociologists/social theorists working in the United States, Prof. Randall Collins, gave a talk earlier this year as part of the Cardiff University Distinguished Lecture Series.  Here he offers a engaging précis of his microsociological approach to the question of violence, explored in detail in his book-length treatment of the topic from 2009. No time to offer criticisms now but I may get a chance over the Christmas break.  The microsociology of Christmas shopping (emotional dominance, forward panic, tension, and the violence of buggies banging against tired ankles etc) awaits.

Violence as Emotional Dominance: Micro-sociological causes.

Emotional dominance of one’s opponent is the key to what happens in violence-threatening situations.  The main emotion observed in such situations is confrontational tension/fear, and this makes most violence blustering and incompetent; most physical damage happens after one side establishes emotional dominance. Hence most successful violence looks like an atrocity. We will consider what causes emotional dominance; prolonged struggles over dominance and their pathways to “forward panic” overkill against defeated victims; stalemates in which emotional dominance is never established and the contest winds down; and emotional stalemates resulting in prolonged war of attrition.  Micro-sociological evidence incorporates visual images and close observation of emotional expression, time-sequences of events, subjective phenomenology, and physiological correlates. Practical advice is suggested for dealing with violent situations.

Randall Collins is Dorothy Swaine Thomas Professor of Sociology at University of Pennsylvania. He was President of the American Sociological Association from 2010 to 2011.  Among his publications are Violence: a Micro-Sociological Theory (2008) Interaction Ritual Chains (2004); Macro-History: Essays in Sociology of the Long Run (1999); and The Sociology of Philosophies: a Global Theory of Intellectual Change (1998).

Is Civil Society the Good Society?

This is a fascinating exchange, recorded in Dublin a few months ago, between Jeffrey Alexander and Maeve Cooke on the relationship between, and their their perspectives and positions on, the ‘civil society’ (sociology) and the ‘good society’ (philosophy).  It can be viewed as a conversation between their respective books on these topics – Cooke’s Re-Presenting The Good Society (2005) and Alexander’s The Civil Sphere (2006).  I have read the former some years ago and found it excellent.  I was particularly interested in the central deployment of imagination and affect in her arguments there.  I have not yet read Alexander’s book, which is 800 pages long, but have plans to.  The UCD blurb is below:

Professor Jeffrey Alexander (Department of Sociology, Yale University) and Professor Maeve Cooke (UCD School of Philosophy, University College Dublin) discuss: “Is Civil Society the Good Society?” at a special workshop in Dublin, Ireland (06 Sept 2013).

Professor Alexander, who is the Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology at Yale University, was in Ireland to receive an honorary doctorate from University College Dublin in recognition of his “considerable contribution to sociology”.

“Jeffrey Alexander is one of the leading figures if not the intellectual voice of modern cultural sociology. His many books, most outstanding perhaps The Civil Sphere (Oxford University Press 2006), The Performance of Politics (Oxford University Press 2011) and his studies on cultural trauma such as Remembering the Holocaust (Oxford 2009), are milestones in the field”, said Dr Andreas Hess, UCD School of Sociology, who read the official citation at the conferring ceremony in University College Dublin.

“In contrast to other attempts such as the sociology of culture or cultural studies, the focus is not only on the arts, theatre, music, modern media and so forth but Alexander’s cultural sociology combines the aspirations of classic sociology of a Max Weber or Emile Durkheim with some of the new insights from linguistics, social anthropology, and the philosophy of language and applies these to a wide range of social phenomena.”

“In his opus magnum The Civil Sphere and in the follow-up study The Performance of Politics Alexander tries to apply cultural sociology to modern civil society and its politics. They are attempts to understand the complex relations and interactions between established institutions and the more flexible or elastic civil sphere in which public opinion is being formed and in which various conceptualisations of justice are discussed and begin to take shape. As Alexander shows convincingly in the case of Obama’s first presidential campaign, the civil sphere is also the place where the open democratic struggle for symbolic representation and meaning takes place − with outcomes that are not always predictable,” continued Dr Hess.

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!

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

Conversations with History: Nancy Scheper-Hughes

[EDIT: Tried to link to clip so it begins 18mins in, where they begin to discuss Ireland, but it didn’t work. You might want to skip to there yourself…]

In class with some second year undergraduate students of sociology & politics (NUI Galway) this morning we discussed qualitative research methods, particularly participant observation, ethnography, the issues surrounding access, and ethics.  During this discussion I mentioned the controversial work of Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and her book Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland (1979).  This was a study of madness among bachelor farmers on the Dingle Peninsula in West Kerry in the early 70’s.  The research is notable for many reasons, not least, the contrast in how the work was received by different audiences.  While Scheper-Hughes won the Margaret Mead Award from the Society for Applied Anthropology in 1980, she was vilified in Ireland and in the local community in which she conducted her study most of all.  She discusses this in the interview above, and in paper in 2000, Ire in Ireland (paywall).  The ethical dilemma, she says, was best summed up by one of the townspeople of ‘Ballyban’ on her (short-lived) return in 1999, when he said:

‘It’s not your science I’m questioning but this: don’t we have the right to lead unexamined lives, to not be analyzed?  Don’t we have a right to hold on to an image of ourselves as “different” to be sure, but as innocent and unblemished all the same? (Scheper-Hughes, 2001, p.xvi).

The question we need to ask ourselves as social researchers is why; why are we doing this work; who benefits; is it worth it, in the end?  This a question of ethics, but it is more so a question of justification.  Is our intervention justified and what are the consequences of our work?  If, after all, we can make the case, on whatever grounds, for the value of what we do then may we invoke the right to upset participants or their communities?  And what of the role of power here and in other aspects of the research process?


Nicholas Christakis: The Sociological Science Behind Social Networks and Social Influence

Prof. Christakis gives a sort-of ‘sociology 101’ lecture that is engaging and offers a number of useful examples to elucidate some basic sociological concepts and thinkers, with a special focus on social networks and their applications to the much-vaunted ‘real world’. Enjoyable and fast-paced, with some fancypants graphics, it may help some of us to explain what it is we actually do and think about in sociology.  Or not.

Via The Big Think:

If You’re So Free, Why Do You Follow Others? The Sociological Science Behind Social Networks and Social Influence.

Nicholas Christakis, Professor of Medical Sociology, Medicine, and Sociology at Harvard University

If you think you’re in complete control of your destiny or even your own actions, you’re wrong. Every choice you make, every behavior you exhibit, and even every desire you have finds its roots in the social universe. Nicholas Christakis explains why individual actions are inextricably linked to sociological pressures; whether you’re absorbing altruism performed by someone you’ll never meet or deciding to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, collective phenomena affect every aspect of your life. By the end of the lecture Christakis has revealed a startling new way to understand the world that ranks sociology as one of the most vitally important social sciences.

The Floating University
Originally released September 2011.