LSE Impact Blog – “Six academic writing habits that will boost productivity” (plus other links)

Progressive Geographies

LSE Impact Blog – “Six academic writing habits that will boost productivity

I’m not sure by the notion of ‘productivity’, but there is some good advice here. Here are the headlines:

  1. They “time-block” their writing in advance
  2. They set themselves artificial deadlines
  3. They deliberately seek “flow” (but don’t push themselves if they can’t find it)
  4. They design accountability structures around themselves
  5. They use small steps and short deadlines to tackle large projects
  6. They “write their way” out of their blocks

On the last point, see this useful post at Explorations of Style. Jo van Every continues to provide useful advice. See, for example, Is this Real Writing or procrastination? and Incorporating writing into your workload: The Research Day (an excerpt from her next book).

This Twitter thread also has some useful suggestions:

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Foucault and Violence

“A relationship of violence acts upon a body or upon things; it forces, it bends, it breaks on the wheel, it destroys, or it closes the door on all possibilities. Its opposite pole can only be passivity, and if it comes up against any resistance, it has no other option but to try to minimize it. On the other hand, a power relationship can only be articulated on the basis of two elements which are each indispensable if it is really to be a power relationship: that “the other” (the one over whom power is exercised) be thoroughly recognized and maintained to the very end as a person who acts; and that, faced with a relationship of power, a whole field of responses, reactions, results, and possible inventions may open up.

Obviously the bringing into play of power relations does not exclude the use of violence any more than it does the obtaining of consent; no doubt the exercise of power can never do without one or the other, often both at the same time. But even though consensus and violence are the instruments or the results, they do not constitute the principle or the basic nature of power. The exercise of power can produce as much acceptance as may be wished for: it can pile up the dead and shelter itself behind whatever threats it can imagine. In itself the exercise of power is not violence; nor is it a consent which, implicitly, is renewable. It is a total structure of actions brought to bear upon possible actions; it incites, it induces, it seduces, it makes easier or more difficult; in the extreme it constrains or forbids absolutely; it is nevertheless always a way of acting upon an acting subject or acting subjects by virtue of their acting or being capable of action. A set of actions upon other actions.”

Michel Foucault, (2000) [1981] ‘The Subject and Power’. In J. Faubion (ed.). Tr. Robert Hurley and others. Power The Essential Works of Michel Foucault 1954-1984. Volume Three. New York: New Press, p. 340-1

Random thoughts in response

As Frédéric Gros point out in his useful article Foucault – philosopher of violence? (2012), Foucault has little to say directly on violence per se. The above quotation is perhaps one of his most extended discussions on the topic. Earlier in a 1973 lecture after working through the notion, but not coming to an entirely satisfactory conclusion, he defines ‘violence [as] the physical exercise of a completely unbalanced force’.[1] In the more refined argument he produces in ‘The Subject and Power’. Foucault argues that when violence is exerted it is no longer a power relation. Power relies on people willingly and freely agreeing to modify their behaviour (even if under extreme duress and threat). Power is about changing people’s actions – which is different from the simple act of destroying and exerting physical force on their bodies. Violence can certainly be used as an instrument of power to threaten people and the result of power can be violence, but the exercise of power is not in itself violence, just as power is not equivalent to knowledge.

Making this distinction can lead to interesting ways of conducting a nuanced discussion of the tensions between power and violence. One might discuss, for instance, how different people choose to respond in differing ways to acts of physical force. When violence is exercised the victim has no choice. In the exercise of power both sides have choices – even if these are restricted.

One could perhaps argue that the difference between power and violence is the issue of choice on both sides of the equation.

[1] Michel Foucault, Psychiatric Power: Lectures at the Collège de France 1973-1975. Edited by Jacques Lagrange. Translated by Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p. 14

With thanks to Steven Ogden for provoking these thoughts.

Why do so many academics publish in unreadable outlets?

Progressive Geographies

Why do so many academics publish in unreadable outlets?

I don’t mean the prose style is unreadable (though it might be), but I’m thinking of the outlets they chose to publish in.

Obviously, I recognise that the ‘gold standard’ for many academics is the refereed journal article, and the majority of these journals, especially the ones that are ‘highly ranked’, are subscription-only. If you are working towards getting a job, tenure, promotion, research assessment and so on, you may need to publish in those kinds of outlets. Fine, this is a compromise between accessibility and recognised outlet.

I’m thinking of two other kinds of outputs.

First, authored and edited books. Why do so many academics continue to publish books which are hardback only, very expensive, often with poor production values, and so on? And, given the current trend for very short books (Briefs, Shorts, Forerunners, Swifts, Pivots, etc.) why do authors…

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A period of radical change (2017)

I thoroughly agree with this comment from Francois Ewald in an interview on November 3rd in Los Angeles Review of books

I have the feeling that we are living through a much more radical transformation at the moment than in May 1968 or even after the collapse of communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall. For 70 years we have commented and critiqued the order established after World War II. But this page is about to be turned, and a new world is opening up that we don’t yet understand. We are confronted with the social question anew. The question of responsibility will be negotiated once more, and in a way that will be as important as the transformation that I described in L’état providence.

At present. one has a sense of living through a period of ambient chaos and experimentation as people try to sort this out – experiments with a new ‘sharing economy’ (uber, air bnb), experiments with new forms of hyper surveillance, and a return to authoritarian managerialism and sovereign rule in many workplaces in the Western world. All of these with new globalised technological affordances which make the enforcement of these practices much more ruthlessly effective. To add to this, experimentation with new political forms – the so-called post-truth society of Trump and Brexit, the painful death pangs of the idea of the university and the counter-conducts of Wikileaks and others.


Doctor Who at Fifty

The Least Important Things: Dr Who At Fifty, An Essay By Taylor Parkes on The Quietus in November 21st, 2013

A really excellent article about Doctor Who and its history which I thoroughly agree with. I have cited a few of Taylor’s observations that I find particularly salient and added my own rants in to the mix. I will begin with a couple of statements that sum up my own strongest beefs with New Who.

The’old Doctor Who is inextricably tied, like generosity and human decency, a sense of endless possibility. […]

‘Unlike most mass-market sci-fi, old Doctor Who would rarely resort to soppiness or sanctimony; there was no need. But it was righteous all right. Just below the surface you’ll find pretty much everything that’s good about humanity, everything worth preserving from the latter half of the 20th century, with its half-forgotten ideas about equality and compassion. This is a programme about tolerance, morality, humanism and nonconformism, about the balance between responsibility and individualism… a programme about escape. It’s a celebration of the outsider, the trickster; a jibe at authoritarianism, militarism, patriotism and the cult of violence (all those sci-fi heroes with their ray-guns and their military titles, all those superheroes thumping people – Tom Baker used to call them “boneheads”).’

Further to this, Parkes comments on the well-worn and tedious complaints from people about how bad the old special effects were. This shows an irritating lack of imagination on their part, in my not so humble opinion. You’re not meant to believe the dodgy special effects are real. You go along for the ride with the story and use your imagination.

Here’s a fact too often forgotten: you were never actually meant to look at a washing-up liquid bottle sprayed silver and confuse it with a real spaceship. Rather, you were meant to understand that this was a representation of a spaceship, to tell you that the following scene was going to be set on a spaceship. It’s probably impossible to get back to that way of thinking now, and if you ask me that’s a bit of a shame. If someone flips you a 50 pence piece and says “there’s your visual effects budget, mate” you’d better make sure that your story is good. If, on the other hand, CGI has dropped in price to the point where you can remake Jurassic Park on your mobile, there’s suddenly a strong temptation to slack, to think “sod it” and just make ‘Dinosaurs On A Spaceship’.

Another effect access to cheap CGI effects has – which I think is also a problem with the whole superhero genre – is that it is simply too easy to create alternative worlds and new realities. One thing I really liked about the old Doctor Who was that so many invasions and other events happened on earth that only a very small coterie knew about, while the rest of the everyday world went about its business.

I am particularly keen on the whole notion of there being secret worlds within the everyday, existing quietly alongside our ordinary. It is a world of secret possibilities always offering the prospect of a creative extension of our currently perceived reality. There is always the chance that things are happening around you that you just had not imagined were there. It provides a form of hope that there are limits to and exteriors which escape the soulless and burnt out world of neoliberal servitude governed by the necessity of earning one’s keep in a brutally regulated and conformist environment, policed by a ‘community of fear’ as Jacques Ranciere describes it.

Parkes also comments on the music.

The battle scene at the end of episode four, in which men dressed as giant wasps swing back and forth on Kirby wires past two-dimensional scenery and a badly-painted backcloth may look like one of Ed Wood’s fever dreams, but soundtracked with electronic bleeps and the music of Les Structures Sonores, it is at least very intense television.

That unearthly electronic music, which prised open so many millions of minds, instead of this tacky orchestral gloop; it’s striking, too, how much silence there was in old Doctor Who, something that’s now entirely forbidden, which is why, however hard it tries, New Who can never be tense.

This alludes to another major issue I have with new Who. Gone is the experimental electronica of the old series and we are left with the frenetically intrusive orchestral music of Murray Gold, which combined with the rapidly edited visuals and constant over emoting without ever taking the time out for a thoughtful conversation makes for exhausting and tedious watching.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable article and a pleasure to see that there are others out there who feel the same frustrations with the current offerings, whilst at the same time recognising that the old series wasn’t high art and was by no by means without its (sometimes major) flaws.


Feeding Greedy Corpses (2016)

Louise Katz, Feeding Greedy Corpses: the rhetorical power of Corpspeak and Zombilingo in higher education, and suggested countermagics to foil the intentions of the living dead, Borderlands, 15 (1), 2016

Full PDF available

Some very interesting ideas in this article.

According to Richard Kearney, the imagination also owns an ethical role: it is through everyday imaginative projections that we create a ‘liveable world’ (2008 pp. 36-37). Kearney cites Patocka’s claim that ‘the ethical imagination … is a matter of spiritual struggle which refuses the tyranny of things as they are out of commitment to the Idea that things can be other than they are’ (2008 p. 42). Imagination is an essential and formidable force to deploy when challenging the fantasies upon which world-shaping social, economic or political ideologies are constructed. (p. 17)


The Death of Socrates: Managerialism, metrics and bureaucratisation in universities (2016)

Yancey Orr, Raymond Orr, The Death of Socrates Managerialism, metrics and bureaucratisation in universities, Australian Universities Review, vol. 58, no. 2 September 2016

Neoliberalism exults the ability of unregulated markets to optimise human relations. Yet, as David Graeber has recently illustrated, it is paradoxically built on rigorous systems of rules, metrics and managers. The potential transition to a market-based tuition and researchfunding model for higher education in Australia has, not surprisingly, been preceded by managerialism, metrics and bureaucratisation (rendered hereafter as ‘MMB’) in the internal functioning of universities in the last decade. This article explores the effects of MMB on the lives of academics, the education of students, and the culture and functioning of universities. By examining some of the labour activities of academics, work scheduling and time use, we demonstrate that MMB reduces the efficiency and quality of academic teaching, research and administration. Even more worrying, by qualitatively assessing the language, values and logic increasingly present in the academic culture of higher education in Australia, we show that MMB does not simply fail to improve universities or accurately assess academic achievement, it replaces the core values of education with hollow bureaucratic instrumentalism.

Keywords: bureaucratisation, managerialism, metrics, transvaluation of values