the world we live in …

Money! Nothing worse in our lives, so current, rampant, so corrupting. Money – you demolish cities, rot men from their homes, you train and twist good minds and set them on to the most atrocious schemes. No limit, you make them adept at every kind of outrage, every godless crime – money.

(Sophocles [496-406])

Awkward Fame

A note had been sent today, somebody proudly announcing that he had been mentioend in speech of a high ranking politician. And isn’t indeed that we all have a little it of this: like the midge being drawn to the light – there seems to be the strive to be part of the grandesse of power. As much as we stand on the sholders of giants, allowing dwarfs to look far afield, we seem to be glad seeing ourselves contributing as footnotes in the thoughts of others.
So, being recognised by the highest figure in the state is surely enviable – notwithstanding the critique one bring forward to the very same state and representative.
And in my own way I enter the arena for competition: I am moving towards some hectic days ahead (some info here), into the middle of trouble. Solidarity meetings in Athens with striking workers, meetings with trade-unionists and activists, talks in the parliament and also talks about the need to provide sound scientific answers: perception, evaluation, classification, interpretation, conclusion – never forgetting the very basic toolbox of research in daily life. hectic and challenging but good to be able to do something that may also be quoted by presidents etc.,though probably more interpreted there as rioting, agitating and asking for too much of a change.
But in which way ever, we need a really fundamental change – and we need to take up the question of political responsibility. As Aristotle states in his Politics

For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.

But what he did not say is that there will not be a philosopher king – we are not living in Kallipolis. In the real world values, theory, analysis has to mean something different – as Marx said already in 1843, in the Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical.

Thus, at the end the question will be who the giants are and how the footnotes really contribute meaningfully the body text.

norm and deviation

Or: is there really no such thing as society?

Just doing the final preparation on the presentation

Norms and Deviations of Modern Information-Environments for Young People

tomorrow in Moscow. It is a bit worrying, in particular as thinking about it I am getting so aware about the major flaw of most of the debates and research: naming the youth, shaming the technology and blaming the bad spirit of our times.

The other day I went to see “The Iron Lady” (surely to favourable for her) – and it became shockingly clear in which way part of the critic of her politics had been to some extent mislead, rejecting her favoured orientation on responsibility, taking the burden away from the state but not seeing that her actual point had been very much a different one: the refusal of taking the sociability of humans into account. With this she fell, of course, far behind even Aristotelean thinking. Aristotle, as well known, discussed  four core matters: chremastike, oikonomia, eudamonia and not least phronimoi – all relating to each other and all only in this interplay elements of what he considered as “good society”. With this he had to reject any fundamentally orientation on chremastike (as orientation on pure maximisation of profit) and also any “pure” private property.

What we surely could learn from Thatcher is just the opposite what she said: There is such thing as society – and we need to destroy it. This is what happened under rulership, this happens currently in Hungary, Greece, Germany and so many other countries – not only within the EU but also for instance with the revival of religious fundamentalism under the conservative Turkish AKP-government (closely going hand in hand with more severe breaches of human rights not least against the Kurds) …

Coming then back to tomorrows lecture, it is getting so clear to me that the core deviation is twofold:

  • the withholding of rights of (not only) young people to fundamentally and closely control the process of production (production in the economic sense and the production of the social) going hand in hand with
  • the withholding of knowledge.

Surely the latter is a matter where I may be in part guilty myself. Of course, teaching in academia is also about “making existing knowledge available”, i.e. providing information. But isn’t it much more about developing knowledge, allowing – and demanding – serious research?
Universities – but in general any kind of teaching, social development should accept the need of time as core ingredient of knowledge.
If I will actually say what I prepared, I will end with a reference to Schiller who stated in his Letters upon the Æsthetic Education of Man.

Moreover, as the sensuous impulsion controls us physically, and the formal impulsion morally, the former makes our formal constitution contingent, and the latter makes our material constitution contingent, that is to say, there is contingence in the agreement of our happiness with our perfection, and reciprocally. The instinct of play, in which both act in concert, will render both our formal and our material constitution contingent; accordingly, our perfection and our happiness in like manner.

So true, we have to return to this much shared reasoning,

  • the Marx/Hegelian view on freedom as insight into and understanding of necessity
  • Spinoza’s understanding of freedom as acting with reference to the necessity of the own nature
  • or to use then Schiller’s words of the famous conclusio:

Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.

If we teach and allow such real play, computer games will surely not be a problem at all. – And there we are surely at the point of blaming ourselves for not taking enough initiative and following the rules of individualists rather then allowing phronesis to develop. And this is surely not least strictly against Thatcher’s and others attempt to destroy society as much as it is against the call for big society – doesn’t this speak volumes that both slogans come from the same father of thought (obviously a motherless child).

en route these days

Ireland – Greece – Hungary – Turkey – Italy …. travelling these days and getting news

…. and receiving a message with the following words, from Zygmunt Bauman

What is novel [these days] is not uncertainty;
what is novel is a realization that uncertainty is here to stay

Surely one thing reaining to be done: still taking firm positions against the strength of claimed powers. The challenge of being human these days!

Once met … – truth

or Sociology and the Beauty and the Beast

Those of you who met and knew Norbert Elias even a little bit will admit that he had been a personality with an attracting character. And even if one didn’t agree with what he said, he didn’t loose this attraction. And perhaps it had been exactly because he honestly encouraged disagreement, he never stopped to develop his thoughts, he always showed his open mind – open to engage real debate, though not to keen to engage in meaningless discourses.

And it had been this commitment – openness joined with precision in expression and readiness to decision and conviction – that is probably in a nutshell what good sociology is about. And in this tradition the Special Supplement 36 of the Newsletter of the Norbert Elias Foundation published considerations by Nico Wilterdink on sociology as


Probably it will be soon online

One of the beasts is surely the permanent effort of popularising sociological thought, presenting something that looks like sociology but is not much more than populist engagement. And it is just so delightful to see such procedere openly questioned, to witness the onset on the predestined gods of the discipline – predestined by their own discretion and by the ability to sell catchy formulation as witty insight: Bad sociology. So we read the dethroning of one of these authorities on page 8:

Apparently Beck conceives social structures as static, as opposed to social change. This makes social sociologically unexplainable; it is unclear where it would come from if not from ‘within’ social structures. Becks essentially static view of society also appears from the terminology of ‘first modernity’ and ‘second modernity’. It is on this basis that Beck can depict current social change as an extraordinary and sudden transition from ne to the other stage, a shocking, confusing, earthquake-like transformation. He projects his own static essentialism on historical reality in statements such as: ‘First modern society [that is, society in a phase of the first modernity] regards itself as the end and culmination of history, a social form that will last forever (Beck, Bonss, and Lau 2003: 6). This is bad sociology if only because ‘society’ is conceived here as a thinking entity, a reflecting being

(Beck, Ulrich, Wolfgang Bonss, Christoph Lau (2003) ‘The theory of reflexive modernization’, Theory, Culture&Society, 20(2): 1-33)

The beauty is seeing that still sociologists are ready to seriously engage in attempts to look for good sociology – and isn’t this actually very much: engaging in working for good society?

Of course, this means also in looking at the grand narrative but doing so by not forgetting the fact that sociology is about sociogenetic and psychogenetic moments of processes, the interlocking of people acting within certain structures and – as the creators of these structures – re-creating themselves. Reading work of good sociology always confirms me in looking for ways to further my own approach of looking at processes of relational appropriation. – Then the question if chicken, hen or egg came first can easily be answered. It is just real life – and it didn’t have any beginning as it existed by establishing itself. In other words, acknowledging the fact that there is no social space or time “without culture”.

Once met – truth … — it would be so good if such truth, the genuine sense for open discussio would return into academia rather than universities being a kind of amphithatre for international shows: shalow as Eurovision-contests, identified and assessed by international rankings rather than originality and genuine debate.

The Celtic tiger revived – now taking shape of paper tiger

Sure, there  had been some danger Mr Murphy could have been hit by the brick he dropped – but he stumbled briefly, and the attempt to regain balance nearly increased his speed though unfortunately not changing the direction. And now it seems that he lined up to revive the Celtic tiger and smart economies surely require smart societies and smart universities and only smart people will be able to move Ireland towards a big society – finally big brothers are not only there to watch but they are also there to be followed.
So, a recent mail to all staff in the ivory tower of the academic savour reminded that

The first half of 2013 will mark Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union.

and stated

This is an opportunity for UCC to enhance its international recognition.

The following content then said:

I will be grateful if each of you would consult with your local management teams on themes for conferences or symposia that might be organised here during the first half of 2013.  You might then send a one pager to me by the end of January and thereafter we will prioritise those projects that are likely to have maximum impact, likely to acquire support and enthusiasm from the relevant Minister, government department, state agency etc.  An indication of pragmatic budget requirement will also help.

Yes, it is admittedly difficult to outline in such a letter to so many different department, schools, disciplines – and people – the substantial side of it. However, the entire mail doesn’t even mention really even the honest question if we, UCC, departments and schools thereof have anything to say that is “outstanding”. It is not to say that we don’t have anything to say. But there is another point which makes me thinking.
I just finished reviewing “tons of abstracts” for a world congress later this year – something with social science, social development, social policy – doesn’t play a role here to say more. There had been many submissions. My general comment, sent to the organisers:

I just completed the review. Somewhere in the foregoing process the reviewers had been asked to be generous, not least in the light as not all submitters would have an academic background. My point would be more that some of the contributors are so much caught in very tight academic frameworks of a “technicist minimalism” they they fail seeing new, real questions. They are very much basic standard presentations, probably by young academics. Though I accepted them, I think the most important contributions are actually coming from those who are open and bring new perspectives into the debate – academic or not. I look very much forward to taking part in the debates

And another point coming to my mind: two days before I submitted a paper for publication – some time back I had been asked to write it. And it took longer than expected. AndI sent the document also to some close colleagues, writing in an accompanying mail:

…. , some reading – the draft of a chapter I just submitted – and some short remarks: the topic and approach is rather unconventional and in particular this approach is somewhat unusual as it contradicts to a more or less large extent the traditional “regime analysis”, aiming on linking into the traditional social policy debate, however, also adding a different dimension to it by looking for the link of social and welfare politics into a wider framework of the mode of production. This allows making the economic perspective much clearer than especially Esping-Andersen does without falling into the trap of seeing social policy and the link to the economic system only by way of ‘productive social policy’. As such it is not meant to give an alternative view by way of an exclusionary perspective. But it may well be useful as adding to other perspectives of the debate. And it may also serve as contribution to a debate on the future of the ‘welfare state’ – not a revolutionary perspective but nevertheless a perspective that is reflecting the current stage of development of capitalism and a scenario that can be developed (as one option) from there.

Please, note that this text is not for further distribution.

Not well advertised, and it will not be part of mainstream-publishing and going beyond “smart solutions” it will be most likely not easily recognised by such “high-level” enterprises as the EU and the respective presidencies. But I admit I feel touched by the expression of interest by some colleagues – from different continents, showing interest. And I am actually somewhat touched (if this is the right term), reading in one of the mails:

I have two main comments.  The first relates to your use of Marx in your analysis.  While you write in English you do not write for Americans. Reading your Marxist analysis would bring about two responses from an American audience.  The first is that they have no idea what you are talking about.   Second, it is the enemy and if not that, irrelevant. My position to your writing is that to be useful it needs to be debated and in our world today and that needs to be done on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Thank you – and thank the others for these nice encouragements. And thank you, my Hungarian friend, writing today, in a completely different context:

things are worse than turmoil, I am very sceptic to see the reactions to all the errors of the past years

We see, there is surely more needed than inviting people to take up an

opportunity for UCC to enhance its international recognition

Though it is an old joke it is still true:

….. but I would not start from here ….

It is not about saying something; it is still about what to say.

Sure, some postmodernists claim that we are in principle all experts for everything. Though I am not denying the actual problematique of post-modernism, I see a simplified understanding of such statement simply as problematic. The many Mr. Murphys, well trained medical experts, getting the unbelievable high income of medical consultants, should work in that field where there specific qualification is required.
Would he trust me if stand in front of him, the scalpel in the hand …?

SMARTSilly Move Against Reason – Tautology