The Digital Collapse of Distance, and a Terrestrial Pulling-Apart

Satellite Earth Image

It can be pretty difficult, sometimes, to justify your commitment to ‘ethnographic’ methods. Partly, perhaps, because most people don’t quite know what being ethnographic means. But also because ‘being ethnographic’ is often devalued by the very people with whom British social scientists are increasingly encouraged to engage as part of the ‘Impact’ agenda. I do not think I am alone among doctoral students in having struggled to explain to the ‘technical’ and policy experts I encountered during my research quite what ethnography is, and why anyone would bother with it – or listen to someone who had. Soundbites from Bronislaw Malinowski (whose Argonauts of the Western Pacific and Coral Gardens and their Magic constitute the ultimate methodological reference point for many anthropologists)[1] such as ‘ethnography is about researching from “the native’s point of view” and attending to the “imponderabilia of everyday life”’ are (in addition to sounding uncomfortably dated) unlikely to convince someone who is not already on board. Ethnography quite simply produces ‘data’ (or, more appropriately, ‘narratives’) that are not formalized enough for the tastes of many who occupy powerful positions in business, development and government (but see this for an alternative view). Unless, of course, you accept, with Edward Said (and more recently David Price) that ethnography – and the ‘area expertise’ derived from its practice – is implicated in both earlier colonial, and contemporary American, military expansion. So what (if any) kind of relationship might there be between the type of knowledge produced by ethnography, and the wider power structures in which a researcher operates?


Why are we obsessed with what teens are doing on social media?



‘They’, we are told, are prime movers we can observe to spot future trends; like rejecting Facebook. ‘They’ are doing something problematic or exotic: different to ‘us’. For example, sexting or hacking. Or ‘they’ are being brainwashed and radicalised by the Internet. ‘They’ are teenagers. We are not similarly fixated by other social groups such as pensioners in this way. What lies behind our obsession with teenagers online? (more…)

“Today we honor the best and whitest”

student-panelThis article is making its way through my news feed again, despite the fact that it is more than 2 years old.  Fresh comments, fresh outrage from the community.  Students experiencing race-based standards give interviews on NPR about how these standards make them feel and think while they are inside the classroom.  To date my favorite casual observational comment about having different standards for different sets of students based on their race is, “based upon their race?  The only race is human”.  IF these standards a way for the public education policy to attempt to acknowledge the reality of racial differences then they are misunderstanding the way structural differences are reproduced.   Racism Without Racists, by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva tackles the topics of racism and social stratification through a paradoxical lens of how people see themselves as racialized beings. (more…)

Electioneering, Facebook-style.

By Flohuels (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

What do you think was the most-discussed topic on Facebook in the UK last year? The World Cup? Cat videos? Ice buckets? The Kardashians? Sociology Lens?… Amazingly, it’s none of those. It was, according to someone who ought to know, Elizabeth Linder – Facebook’s Politics & Government Specialist for Europe – Politics. (more…)

Ubiquity and Privilege Checking




In my last post I discussed the problems with juridical changes and practice in real life, problematized ubiquity amongst communities that are at odds with solidarity and posed questions about challenging privilege. Today’s post continues that conversation by asking how does one create change around ideologies? Those who work in the health and human services, who are educators and the like, know that change does not come just from juridical amendments. Change is only created through education and practice: not when certain laws are, finally, deemed as “unconstitutional.” (more…)

Knit Happens: Doing Masculinity in a Female Knitting Space

"Purl3". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Purl3″. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –

In college, I double majored in both women and gender studies as well as sociology, It was not until the spring of my sophomore year, however, that I was introduced to the sociological theory of doing gender, by West and Zimmerman. Since then, I have utilized their theory, along with concepts of “undoing,” “redoing,” and most recently, Kristen Schilt’s concept of “doing heteronormativity.”

When I was considering what I should write for my post this week, I was inspired by George Byrne’s post of an old paper that he wrote during his undergraduate studies. Rather than posting an old paper however, I went back through my old papers and stumbled upon a paper that I wrote on doing gender, examining a series of observations I made of men doing their gender and masculinity in a female space– a knitting warehouse– and below I offer a summary of my paper’s finding, as well as a my newest understanding of my previous work based on my new understanding of doing, undoing, redoing gender, masculinity, and heteronormativity. Not only is gender ever only done, but gender is constructed as a result of power structures.


Do heterodox economists make heterodox markets?

Another surprise economics bestseller goes out of stock at Amazon...

Another surprise economics bestseller goes out of stock at Amazon…

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, studying financial knowledge and practice has become more and more common for sociologists and anthropologists. But the methodological and theoretical approach that has set the terms of engagement for many of these post-crisis scholars predates the crash by at least a decade. Associated predominantly with Michel Callon, Donald MacKenzie, and their students, the social studies of finance emphasizes the extent to which as Callon puts it, ‘economists contribute toward enacting the realities they describe.’ Perhaps the most widely cited example of such economic ‘performativity’ comes from MacKenzie’s work on the Black-Scholes option pricing model. MacKenzie suggests that the model (implicated by trader-turned-professor Pablo Triana in the financial crashes of 1987 and 2008), while initially rather poor at pricing options in the 1970s, came to be so widely used as a prosthetic pricing tool at the Chicago Board of Exchange that pretty soon, market prices were close to the model’s predictions even when the necessary assumptions did not hold. In other words, over the last few decades, ‘the typical assumptions of finance theory have become empirically more realistic.’ The debates around performativity have at times turned nasty, and Callon et al. have come under fire from the Karel Williams’ and Julie Froud’s Manchester group, who have critiqued the ‘narrow technical’ focus of performativity scholars, calling for studies of the performativity of elite discourses around finance which provide justifications for action or inaction in the wake of the crisis.


Ingroup Privilege and the New Digital Divide


This weekend, a House oversight committee announced plans to investigate the Presidential influence over the Federal Communications Commission’s new proposal governing how broadband providers treat traffic on their networks.  This investigation is a response to the FCC Chairman’s proposal to subject broadband providers like Verizon, AT&T, Clearwire, and Comcast to regulations similar to those of other utility service companies.  According to an op-ed written by Tome Wheeler, the FCC Chairman, the regulations include “the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC”. (more…)

Breaking the Nuclear Taboo

Britain’s Trident nuclear submarines are back in the headlines. After a mass march in central London on January 24th, following the Commons debate on scrapping Trident when David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and a shocking 250 other MPs caused a scandal after not even turning up to vote, this long-dormant issue has grabbed the country’s attention. Nukes are now the hot topic of conversation in kitchens, offices and factories across the land, and will surely be a key factor in how people vote in the general election in May…


…Wake Up!


Unqualified Teachers: Why Our Young People Deserve Better


According to shadow education secretary Tristam Hunt, there are currently 17,100 unqualified teachers, teaching more than 400,000 of our children, in state funded schools. I was one of them. In 2007, burnt out from years working in the care sector, I decided it was time for a change. I needed some hope – to feel I was making a difference. I responded to an advert for a job as a Lesson Cover Supervisor in a local secondary school in my hometown. I was unsure of exactly what that entailed, but I toddled along to the interview bright eyed and bushy tailed. A Lesson Cover Supervisor is a member of staff employed by the school to cover lessons in the event of absence of teaching staff. Cover work will be set for them and they will not be expected to do any planning or marking. It seemed simple enough. When they asked me at the interview if I would be interested in also doing some teaching I replied ‘of course!’ with naïve enthusiasm, wanting to appear keen. I was delighted to discover I got the job but what followed was one of the most challenging years of my life (no mean feet having worked for ten years in the care sector with adults with enduring mental health problems, severe learning difficulties and challenging behaviour, and drug and alcohol addiction).

Having not set foot in a classroom since the day I left school, thirteen years before, I immediately began teaching English and Religious Education. The classes I was given were only years 7 and 8, cute little 11 – 13 year olds. Surely they can’t be too difficult, I thought. The Dalai Lama’s quote ‘if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito,’ has never been so pertinent. Try thirty of them. Despite the fact that I was desperate to succeed, they could smell my fear and inexperience from twenty paces and they ran rings around me. (more…)