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.

Elizabeth Grosz: The Future of Feminist Theory: Dreams for New Knowledges

This fascinating talk by feminist theorist Elizabeth Grosz was recorded in Duke in 2007 as part of a 2 day feminist theory workshop there that year.  This talk was the keynote, offering a ‘utopian’ future vision and direction for feminist theory.  Her vision is largely Deleuzian, foregrounding events, becoming and the importance of concepts for feminist and social theory.  One aspect in this vision that I particularly liked is the necessity for feminist theory to transcend discourse and representation; to finally engage with the real, ‘which exists before texts and allows texts to refer’.  Perhaps unexpectedly, Grosz, here and elsewhere, aims to reintroduce Darwin as a ‘radical social thinker’.  Her conclusion rests on a number of recommended ‘displacements’ necessary for the future of feminist theory, which are based on the turn from identity politics and the ‘subject’.  She recommends a ‘five-year moratorium on speaking on the ‘self'”, for example’.  Secondly, she suggests a turn from epistemology toward ontology; for a thinking of the real over and against representation.  A thinking of real matter, force and energy etc.  Finally, Grosz recommends not an affirmation of the subject subjectified by culture, but rather an affirmation of the in-human; of animal becoming and microbial becoming, and to think what this means for sexual difference.

My only comment is that Whitehead might also be deployed in this project.  Most of what is said here is decidedly Whiteheadian as much as it is Deleuzian, if not more so. There are also echos of Latour and Stengers, two well known champions of Whitehead, in this new feminist future.  I wonder, in the five years since this talk was recorded, if much progress has been made in this, I think correct, direction?  Or has the lure of anthropomorphism and ‘the subject’ proved too strong?

Accepting what A.R. Ammons called ‘the becoming thought’ is nevertheless where theoretical thinking  appears to be currently at.  It would be interesting to read a Whiteheadian feminist theory in place of the more common Deleuzian one.  Perhaps that will fall to Butler in the future.