Zygmunt Bauman: ”Liquid Modernity revisited”

In the introduction to my new Global Society class in QUB today I mentioned Bauman’s work on Liquid Modernity in the context of debates on globalization. In this lecture, given in Aarhus in 2012, he gives a useful overview of his approach to some of these issues, which (my own) students especially might find interesting.


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.

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.

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.

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”

Sociology of the Video Gamer

Recently I have been thinking about video games.  I love gaming, and used to engage in it quite frequently prior to starting my PhD.  The last game I completed (on my laptop) was Batman: Arkham City and I have been occasionally dropping into Fall Out: New Vegas.  Occasionally.  As I lurch ever-closer to something like the end, I find my trigger fingers itching to play some of the more recent releases, like Bioshock Infinite, or future ones like the next Fall Out.

Anyway, the video above is effectively a ‘live book review’ of Garry Crawford‘s recent book Video Gamers (2011).  This promises to be a fascinating look at at the video gamer in context, from a sociological perspective, rather than from the more usual digital/games research perspectives that concentrate on things like player experience, HCI, and the tech involved in gaming.  Given the relative scarcity of good sociological work in this area, Crawford’s book is a welcome addition.  I have ordered it for later perusal.

Elias, I’m told, used to recommend that students and practitioners research topics or areas that they are genuinely interested in themselves-which is where Eliasian approach to the sociology of sport came from.  The field of digital games  may be an interesting site for future research for some of us, given the ‘gamification’ of so many aspects of contemporary life.

Some info from the Vimeo site is below.

Enjoy! JH

Think Design Play, 5th DiGRA conference
hosted by Utrecht School of the Arts

Video Gamers
Live Book Review of Video Gamers by Garry Crawford
(15 september 2011)

The field of games research has several different foci, one of them being the activity of game players. The new title, ‘Video Gamers’ by Garry Crawford (Published August 2nd 2011 by Routledge), claims to be “the first book to explicitly and comprehensively address how digital games are experienced and engaged with in the everyday lives, social networks, and consumer patterns of those who play them”. This Live Book Review is a keynote interview session by Frans Mäyrä, where Garry Crawford will be asked to introduce his book, the rationale behind this project, and how he intends this volume to contribute to the field of game studies.

Garry Crawford is a Cultural Sociologist at the University of Salford in the UK. His research and teaching focus primarily on audiences and consumers, and in particular, sport fans and video gamers. He has published numerous works, including the books: Video Gamers (2011), Online Gaming in Context(2011, edited with V.K. Gosling & B. Light), The Sage Dictionary of Leisure Studies (2009, with T. Blackshaw), Introducing Cultural Studies (2008, with B. Longhurst, G. Smith, G. Bagnall & M. Ogborn), and Consuming Sport(2004). His work on video gamers seeks to understand gaming culture away from the sight of a games machine, and consider video games within the complex flows and patterns of everyday life.

Frans Mäyrä is the Professor of Hypermedia, Digital Culture and Game Studies in the University of Tampere, Finland. He is the head of University of Tampere Game Research Lab, and has taught and studied digital culture and games from the early 1990s. His research interests include game cultures, meaning making through playful interaction, online social play, borderlines, identity, as well as transmedial fantasy and science fiction.

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.

‘Walled States, Waning Sovereignty’ Professor Wendy Brown, CCIG Keynote Lecture

I am affiliated with the wonderfully named ‘power cluster’ in the School of Political Science & Sociology at NUI Galway.  This occasionally makes me feel like a superhero. This intrepid group, somewhere on a scale between the Justice League and the Legion of Doom, meets once a month to discuss work related to our own research interests that has some relation to the notion of power, broadly defined.  This month we are reading the first chapter from Prof. Wendy Brown‘s recent book Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (2010).  The lecture posted here basically covers the same ground.  Her argument is that the proliferation of walls and walling that we are witnessing worldwide, such as ‘The Wall’ separating Israel and Palestine  or the one on the US-Mexico Border, is a feature of contemporary globalization and (paradoxically, despite the theatrical show of physical dominance that such walls might symbolize) signals the waning of sovereignty for the nation-state.  These walls are not built to defend states from other national actors but rather to target nonstate, transnational actors, such as migrants and ‘terrorist’ groups etc.  For Brown, who wishes to differentiate her argument from Agamben (Homo Sacer) and Hardt and Negri (Empire), key to the loss of this national sovereignty are the domination of free-floating global capital and ‘God-sanctioned political violence’.  Rather than being a sign of nation-state dominance, these walls actually represent a deep-seated national anxiety about increasing sovereign impotence and an aspect of  the ‘theater state’ (though she does not mention Geertz here).  What is perhaps most interesting is her discussion of the ‘state of emergency’/’state of exception’, always provisional and temporary, yet a perpetual and seemingly permanent feature of the contemporary world.  This, of course, is well-trodden ground, particularly by (again) Agamben, following Schmitt.  But this is perhaps where I  also part company with Brown and her analysis of the waning of the nation-state, which may be a little over-stated.  Is it not the case that, for Schmitt, this discourse of the state of exception, or more specifically, the capacity or power to declare a state of exception is central to the notion of state sovereignty.  Far from being a sign of a weakened nation-state, is this capacity not a sure sign of the state’s enduring power?  And one which is exercised, when it is exercised (power is a capacity and should not be confused with it’s exercise), often in the face of vocal international opposition, such as in the case of Israel.

In any case, I enjoyed the chapter and hope to finish the book.  Enjoy the talk.

Elizabeth Anderson, “Tom Paine and the Ironies of Social Democracy”

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/gZN0gvOULAI?p=1 width=”480″ height=”305″]

The 2011-12 Dewey Lecture in Law and Philosophy, recorded on February 29, 2012, was presented by Elizabeth Anderson, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan.  The talk is introduced by Martha Nussbaum


Critics of every social insurance proposal in the U.S., including recent health care reform, have called them socialist attacks on private property. To be sure, social insurance is a central pillar of social democracy, and social democratic parties originated in a socialist critique of capitalism. Yet the equation of social insurance with socialism is doubly ironic. The first realistic proposal to abolish poverty by means of universal social insurance was Thomas Paine, who explicitly advanced his scheme as a defense of private property against socialist revolutionaries. And the first actual social insurance scheme was introduced by Otto von Bismarck, who advanced it against the German Social Democratic Party, which opposed his plan. This talk will consider how Paine grounded the justification of social insurance in a neo-Lockean theory of private property rights, and explore the implications of the ironic inversion of social insurance from a bulwark of to a perceived assault on capitalism.