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PRISM, identity and control through data

I recently wrote an article which will be published in the journal Thesis Eleven in October, in this paper I presented an argument about the ways in which certain aspects of digital culture are affecting identity and trust among other issues. One particular aspect which I focused on was some of the changes in the way surveillance is conducted through the accumulation, extraction and analysis of data on individuals and groups. One of my central claims was that surveillance for the purposes of national security and criminal justice is conducted in similar ways to the monitoring of consumers. The collation of “metadata” derived from online searches, connections on social networks or through mobile phone networks and websites. The time span of academic publishing is such that it is rarely possible to be completely up-to-date but the recent revelations of the practices of GCHQ and NSA in conjunction with internet companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook mean that my article already looks out of date for not addressing these events. The controversy does, however, provide a good opportunity to elaborate on some of the analytical points I made in the article and explore them in some more detail. Continue reading

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Some notes on Zygmunt Bauman’s lecture, ‘What makes a hero?’

poznanThose more familiar with Zygmunt Bauman’s work may have recognised Wednesday’s lecture at the Howard Assembly Room as a very slight variation on a theme developed in the second chapter of Liquid Life (2005), entitled ‘From Martyr to Hero, and From Hero to Celebrity’. This should probably not come as too much of a surprise. As Bauman (2012: 3) has recently confessed, “a new topic for scrutiny … is no longer on my cards.” However, this in no way denigrates the content of the lecture itself, which provided an opportunity for both new readers of Bauman, and those who have been reading his work for many years, to hear him lecture on a topic which seldom makes its way into the critical commentaries: heroism. In fact, due to Bauman’s immense output (over thirty books since his retirement in 1990, and even more articles and interviews), even for those long-term readers it must no doubt have been refreshing to be reminded of aspects of his thought that had either been entirely forgotten, or quite simply passed over. Continue reading

This entry was posted in Blog, Consumerism and Sustainability, Ethics and Soci(ologic)al Theory, News and tagged , , , .

Where are the fresh voices? They are out there in abundance.

On Monday (16 April), Aditya Chakrabortty wrote a thought-provoking article in The Guardian entitled ‘Economics has failed us: but where are the fresh voices?’ The article is well worth a read, as are the numerous responses that followed from a diverse range of commentators.

The essence of Chakrabortty’s piece is captured in the strap line: Mainstream economic models have been discredited [true]. But why aren’t political scientists and sociologists offering an alternative view? [the truth is, they are]. Not unreasonably perhaps, the evidence for Chakrabortty’s claim was a seemingly hasty browse through the conference abstracts from the British Sociological Association’s Annual Conference  (held here at Leeds, 11-13 April). In his view, the conference was sadly lacking in addressing the ‘big questions’ of the moment, citing (somewhat unfairly) a single paper from a stream session as somehow emblematic of the entire sociological vocation. Continue reading

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Janina Bauman

Janina BaumanJanina Bauman, in the words of one of many friends, was “a truly beautiful person, who made things golden” Yet her serene demeanour and dreamy, thoughtful disposition, belied the turbulence of her early life as witness to the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto and post-war anti-Semitic purges in socialist Poland. Her testament to the times and to the enduring human spirit, came in the form of two autobiographical volumes: Winter in the Morning (Virago 1986), based on diaries kept as a young girl during the war, and A Dream of Belonging (Virago, 1988) (republished jointly as “Beyond These Walls”, Virago 2009).

She was born in Warsaw in 1926 into an assimilated ,educated, well off Jewish family of doctors. Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 put an end to an idyllic childhood and saw Janina, her sister, Zosia, and their mother incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto, and later, following their escape, beyond its walls. It was when hiding in the house of a peasant woman in the Polish countryside, that she learned of the death of her father, then an Army Officer, in the massacre at the forest of Katyn in Russia, from a list in a newspaper spread on the kitchen floor, over which she was peeling potatoes.

Dreaming of ‘belonging’, after enforced wartime idleness, Janina she was for a brief moment seduced by the ideals of Zionism, later threw herself with youthful zeal into the task of building of socialist Poland. In March 1948, while studying journalism at the Warsaw Academy of Social Sciences, she met and found her soul-mate in a ‘handsome army captain’, intellectual and committed  communist, Zygmunt Bauman, whose proposal of marriage she accepted 9 days later. She was to become his undisputed muse for the next 62 years.Together, they raised a family and pursued their careers – Janina rapidly advancing in the Polish Film  industry, Bauman as lecturer in Sociology at Warsaw University. Disillusionment with communism following the denouncement of Stalin by Kruschev in1956, and pressures of antisemitic persecution, compelled the Baumans to leave Poland for Israel in 1968,  three years later settling in Leeds, where Zygmunt took on the Chair of Sociology. It was there that Janina turned to writing, her moving testimonies characteristically un-judgemental and free of bitterness.

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On Virtual Eternity

A bus from Tokyo disgorged a large group of youngsters on a beach at Atami, a little sea-resort and a favourite weekend haunt for the capital’s seekers of erotic adventure; this is what we learn from today’s edition of the YAHOO!News. Buses arrive from Tokyo to Atami several times a day – so how come that one of them earned space in the widely read internet-supplied news bulletin? This particular bus brought to Atami the first batch of the new Nintendo Love+ game players; a swallow that announces a long and profitable Spring for Atami restaurateurs and hoteliers. Continue reading

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One the Usefulness of Fighting Windmills

At the threshold of the third millennium France, like most of the planet, was in throes of uncertainty. The entry into the new era was appropriately preceded by what might have been (we would never know for sure) one of the most successful hoaxes in history: the “millennium bug” affair, which cast thousands of serious, down-to-earth business corporations and governmental offices, as well as millions of their clients and subjects, in the state of alert aroused by the horrifying, well-nigh apocalyptic vision of the Planet Earth routines stopping dead and the life on the planet grinding to a halt at the moment of encounter between the New Year’s Eve and the New Year’s Day. That end of the world failing to arrive, the computer-service companies counted up their blessings and summed up their profits, and the disaster that never struck was promptly forgotten, elbowed away and out from the endemically excitable and chronically agitated public attention by disasters that did strike, or were expected to hit at any moment; whereas the crumbling of public trust and the condensation of public uncertainties, the kind of troubles which the story of the “millennium bug” symbolized – stood fast and refused to budge, let alone to bid farewell. Continue reading

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The art of essay writing

I very much liked Mark’s ‘thought piece’ published in Compass, the topic of Mark’s last post, Bauman’s compass, and on which I commented. It has made me think that the article I am currently writing on the practical and policy implications of Zygmunt’s thoughts on what sociology is under conditions of liquid modernity and what it can contribute to the formation and development of a new left movement could well be construed as an essay. If so I could offer it to Compass or perhaps this Community could offer a platform for members to contribute think pieces and essays. One or two delegates at the Rethinking Global Society conference suggested this might be a useful development of the Institute’s community site. This has not been discussed with Mark yet but it would interesting to get members’ views. I am supposing that an essay is, as the word suggests, a trial of an idea and that although conforming to certain scholarly standards, would not necessarily have the rigour of argumentation and referencing of a formal peer reviewed article. It is likely to be rather more experimental, suggestive and personal. This is not to say there wouldn’t have to be some sort of editorial process. But this would be a matter for discussion. Continue reading

This entry was posted in Blog, Ethics and Soci(ologic)al Theory, Renewing Politics and Civil Society, The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman and tagged , .

Reflections on recent developments in the American political scene

First, I would like to second Terry in thanking the organising team of this interesting conference. Managing such events is never stress-free, so the least we can do is acknowledge the effort of all the people who were involved in this launching event. I am sure that this will only be the first of many good intellectual gatherings. Second, I would like to share with you my reflections on some recent developments in the American political scene that impact on global society at large. The construction of a “9/11 Christian Centre at Ground Zero”, a counterweight to the Islamic cultural centre which is being planned in Manhattan has been the issue of angry protest for a good few weeks now, but it seems that our self-professed civility cannot put up with the presence of non-Christian ‘‘Bibles’’ either. As America prepares for yet another tearful commemoration of the 9/11 disaster, this vengeful suggestion gains both in poignancy and stupidity. Continue reading

This entry was posted in Blog, Globalization, Risk and Uncertainty.

Conference day two – first reflections

Day 2 was a real roller coaster for me and my head is still buzzing. I thought I would get some impressions down while they are still fresh in my mind less than 24 hours after the end of a truly inspiring conference. To begin at the end, the first of the final two sessions was a panel of Zygmunt’s old colleagues (including Janet Wolff who also taught me in the late 70s along with Zygmunt). Each told personal stories of knowing and working with Zygmunt that were especially characteristic and memorable. I must admit one of the reactions I had to the panellists’ stories was of unashamed jealously! How amazing to be so intimately a part of his life and part of his story and to have had such direct influence on their own work, ideas and career trajectories. I would like to have heard some of the recollections of his students too but there is a limit to what can be done at one event. Perhaps there will be other opportunities to share our stories. I found Zygmunt’s presentation that followed the panel session especially relevant and inspiring, to which I will return. Continue reading

This entry was posted in Blog, Renewing Politics and Civil Society, The Social Thought of Zygmunt Bauman and tagged , , , .

Conference day one – first reflections

Home now in Bradford and slightly tipsy after the reception (too much wine on an empty stomach!) but I thought I would post some immediate reflections and perhaps expand on them after the conference when I have more time and detachment. What a great day! Each of the 3 keynote presentations was fascinating. Neal Lawson’s opening presentation got us off to a good start and immediately foregrounded the inescapable political nuance of the conference. I’d love to get him in a pub with a few pints of beer and encourage him into indiscretions about New Labour and the ‘Famous Five’ (with apologies to Enid Blyton). I must look up the articles in the New Statesman he mentioned Zygmunt wrote that so inspired him and I loved his comparison of modern consciousness and awareness with the scenario in the film The Matrix. His recipe for what we must do is describe the good society, develop a political economy that constrains the excesses of markets, reform the state (from the bureaucratic state, to the market state to the ‘social state’), and work out how to get there. What is needed is a theory of change that can be linked to areas and instances of real action. He pointed to the tendency for deregulated overly-free markets to lead to, paradoxically given the tenets of neoliberalism, increasingly strong states with a focus on the regulation of their populations. There is no inherent alignment in the interests of markets and the interests of humanity and a political programme based on market solutions will, as in the case of New Labour according to Lawson, lose sight of the ideals that formed its vision and its reason to get its hands on the levers of state power. Traditional politics is in the thrall of the markets and processes of marketisation so a different approach is needed by the Left. Continue reading

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