‘Lower classes of First World countries are forcing their national elites and establishments to secure financial and other resources and advantages, which are now also sometimes depleting (e.g. pensions), along national lines, so that they are available for them over the even-lower “migrants” and refugees from less-privileged places.’
A famous anecdote is that the size of spaceships is determined by the horse’s behind. The reason is that the design of shuttles’ launching rockets were limited by the width of roads in which they had to travel to the launching site, which are a legacy from English roads, which were originally Roman roads, which in turn were designed to accommodate two war horses, where the widest bit is their rear end. So now the size of spaceships is limited to that.
This story is an apt metaphoric image of the genealogy of the academic (monographs and) journals system. The requirement to publish in journals is a heritage from the time scholars progressed from updating each other about findings with letters onto larger distribution techniques, allowed by the invention of the communication technology called print. Today, journals and books continue to enjoy the seniority among academic publications, especially in the (controversial) metrics that academics must now adhere to. But print is no longer at the forefront of communication technology, or the most advantageous method. Rather, like the bureaucratisation of academia, journals (and their evolution into e-journals) were institutionalised and are now the conservative bureaucratic evolution of an age-old system.
Of course, the advantages that peer-reviewed journals hold and offer their readership are obvious: a filtered, quality, scrutinised and proportionally-sized texts in set well-organised platforms. It is also faster to read in print than in almost any other method of taking in information. There’s also no need to explain the obvious advantages (and disadvantages) of alternative modes of communication readily available today. But it is nonetheless important to think how journals, and their conventions and significance are limiting and prioritising scholarship like the roads that were designed to accommodate the width of a horse’s backside.
Journals require scholars to produce worded (or other two-dimensional-symbols-based) contributions, at certain set lengths. They have space limitations that interestingly do not only set a rigid but understandable maximum word-count cap, but also adhere to a norm or to a formal or informal required minimum threshold, where shorter contributions are less preferred unless/until they are ‘developed.’ If you can make your point more succinctly, or have equally incisive but a shorter thing to say, many journals will ask that you to develop your idea (which will not always benefit the text), and would prefer other texts, in more suitable lengths, instead. This print constraint also functions now perhaps as a means for making the system more ‘fair,’ due to the way we count the yield of publications under the contemporary liberal and market-like meritocratic production ethos, so that we do not count a 3,000 word contribution as equal to that of a 10,000 words one. (Although the size does not testify for effort or quality, and can also be measured in references or word-count).
Then, length requirements work in tandem with the long production times (and costs) of print, and so asking one to ‘develop’ a text is also one of the many slowing mechanisms of print publications.
And not that slow means bad, but it doesn’t necessarily mean good either.
Finally, the issue of platform is also a political one. Most periodicals and books must consider the interests of publish houses (and other stakeholders), and they are also elitist, fencing and gatekeeping others, both in the language performed in them (linked with the cultural respect to the limited-resources and unchangeable print), and in the requirement of subscriptions, or even knowing about the text if you are not one of the lucky ones to enter university.
The above conventions are evolutionary constraints of producing a printed hardcopy, and scholars can equally work with, or develop, much less restricted communications methods, and give them the academic credit they deserve, according to their merit. Blogs, for example, while far from perfect, are a faster, cheaper, open to all, and readily available way of disseminating knowledge and ideas. Wiki and suchlike communal e-projects are also promising for exchanging and sharing knowledge and ideas than, say, hardcopy encyclopaedias and academic journals, and with not-huge effort they can also be rated or evaluated. But so long as the livelihood of scholars remains contingent on publishing in journals (and books), our scholarship will struggle to break from the width of its horse’s arse.
The ‘Banksy’ marchendise on the right is one of countless products in the Banksy range (hereinafter: ‘Banksies’), which are readily available to purchase ‘everywhere.’ The silhouette image of a girl drawn into the air by balloons, and dozens of other Banksy’s stencils graffiti images are offered for sale online (e.g. Amazon), in gift shops, pound shops and tourist markets. The scope of the range is really astounding. They are not only printed on posters, framed prints, and canvas, but also on mugs, T-shirts, fabric bags, scarves, greeting cards, placements and coasters, pins and badges, card holders, mobile phone cases, wallets, fridge magnets, cigarette lighters, lampshades, bumper stickers, stickers for computers, stickers for switch plugs, other stickers, playing cards, mouse pads (yes, they’re still making those, apparently), cufflinks, ready-made cupcake tops, flesh plugs (body piercing), babygrow bodysuits, pet clothing, military-style aluminium bead ‘dog-tags’ chains, and so on.
Other than noting how street art is being appropriated into profitable commodity, (and even more so, by others), and how clothing your cat and phone, and other (probably-made-in-China) short-living junk consumerist items stand in obvious opposition to the Banksy art — I want to discuss the mutidirectionality of meaning in the purchasing and performative use of radical symbols. Continue reading
Analysing society and culture is religious.
This is the argument that this text advances towards.
One way to visit the religious within sociology is through (one of) the most enduring problem(s) of (macro) sociology in all times; the agent-structure problem.
Simply put, it’s a chicken and egg type of problem: do individuals’ practices form a/the social structure, or does the social structure constrain and explain human practices. And consequently, to what extent do individuals have, if at all, the ability (agency) to act independently of anything ‘social’ (e.g. social structure, social capital, social location, social conditions, etc.).
Most sociologists would surely join me in saying that there is insurmountable ‘evidence’ for the significant ways in which social structure is limiting our actions, which in turn reproduce it. Whichever categories we use to ‘feel out’ the social structure (e.g. class, gender, race/ethnicity, time, nature/environment, etc.), the conclusion remains that thoughts, practices, prospects and so on – are powerfully constrained by (and overall reproduce) the existing norms, practices, statuses, discourses… you name it.
Many Jewish women fantasise about their wedding day, even though the ceremony is a public celebration of their inferiority. Allegedly, modern Jewish weddings amongst seculars or liberals are characterised by more individualistic and egalitarian traits. We have erroneously come to believe that the oppressive and subordinating nature of the marriage ritual and its accompanying language have been nullified. Yet, despite all the (welcome) changes, the core of weddings remains the same: it symbolises of the purchase of a woman.
What does it mean that we are living in a ‘digital age‘? Yes, ‘digital’ is often a synecdoche that refers to ‘computrised,’ in the same way that ‘technology’ came to be denote ‘electronic/computrised technology’ and ‘media’ often means ‘news-/electronic/broadcast media.’ But I argue that there is something profound in calling our age ‘digital.’ In making digits the hallmark/emblem of an era.
The other morning I observed digits in my morning commute.
I left my house number #, about # minutes before #:## which leftme enough time to catch the ### bus. I bought a ticket for # days starting from the date ######, for £##.##. The woman behind me bought # tickets and paid £#, which gave her the change of £#.##, (a simple mathematic operation that everybody now knows to make). She did not pay for # children who were under # years old. I sat in the front seat and noticed the various numbers written on the bus. There was a telephone number, a fleet number, numbers of approved units (passengers and weight), percentage of lights, and so on. My ticket hosted so many more numbers, of bus, time, driver and ticket, and on the driver’s radio they spoke about road number ## and a value-numbered speed, not too far from the legal number-value.
Looking at my smartphone, I keyed in a code made of a number of digits. Then, on the top appeared various numbers representing the quantified temperature, time and percentage of battery. Below were other numbers indicating the notifications I had pending over each application’s icon. Of course, I could also then call, or text, or listen to the radio, look at the calendar, calculate distances or calories or currencies, or log in to my bank account – all with a small number of numbers. But I read the news, that reported on # percent (or points) in politics, some percentage and numbers in ‘the economy,’ wether, dates, various statistics, and numbers of comments. All entries were numbered and dated too.
Try it, see if i’m exaggerating. Look carefully around you and at your phone screen and see how many different numbers talk to you. These numbers are invasive. They order (e.g. house numbers), count (notifications), name (code, bus line, or telephone numbers), calculate (cost change), quantify (like dates, time, weight, % or °). You get the point. These ten digits are everywhere. Start noticing them.
The numbersociety is the result the ‘democratisation of math,’ the popularisation of numeral (and decimal) literacy. But what would be challenging now is to think about numbers through technological determinism, as a technology, a device, that has come to shape more than science or math, that organises knowledge/sense in the broadest sense. That we don’t only use numbers to think, but that we think numbers, or think numerally, period. That to think is to number/enumerate and the other way around.
Put differently, I suggest the hypothesis that this ‘numbercy’ is not meaningless, but that numbers literacy in particular brought an epochal global order, or a shared language, that affects thought and languages in latent ways, and which work closely together with, and maybe even operates, the ambition for rationality, effectivity, ‘factuality,’ (fake-)accuracy, modernity (or supermodernity/liquid modernity/late-modernity), meritocracy, marketism, etc. In other words, that it is not only that the number regime holds a quantifying logic to our contemporary everyday life, but that perhaps it also templates what and how we think about non-numbered things.
We may have never been modern, as Latour suggests, but numbers were already always there to help us think about/through our modernity ideal, in ways that can suit other Latourian thoughts (or Knorr-Cetina-ian) on how non-human things (in this case, abstract) are part of society. Like modernity is the true end of hisotry, numeral mechanisms represent eternity: with 10 digits alone we can practically touch infinity, in a flawless – yet hypothetical- system. Any mathematics and every history must always be thought through a stable irreplaceable comprehensive global omnipresent meta system, or doxa, that adjusts, includes and consumes everything.
Everything is supposedly measurable, or calculable, or orderly (with the exception of the random naming-numbers, and we also have the potency to know when it is which). We are informed by these quantifiable notion myths, which in actuality are only approximations (because there is no such thing as ‘accurate’ in the ‘accurate sciences,’ as all empirical measurements are approximations of ideals). Thus, numbers are an emblem of the false accuracy, just like our modernity.
Now, can we think of a world without numbers? Can we think of the world, not through numbers? Is there anything innumerable? Can you evaluate them without numbers?