The Uses of Social Science

Here is a short film introducing a new Open University undergraduate module, The Uses of Social Science (DD206, in OU-speak), which has its first presentation this October, and which we have been making for a while now (I think I was thinner when we started). The story told by the module is that social science is used to describe, understand, and enact the worlds in which we live (for good or ill).

The film gives a little flavour of some of the topics and issues covered – the module makes extensive use of video, audio, and on-line resources, as well as old fashioned printed text too. Sign-up now.

Space, contestation and the political: themed issue of Geoforum

As previously advertised, my paper Situating injustice in democratic theory is now published ‘for real’ in Geoforum (not open access, of course, not yet – a pre-publication version is here). It’s part of a Themed Issue on Space, Contestation and the Political, edited by David Featherstone and Benedikt Korf. My piece is a preliminary attempt to outline what follows, geographically, from taking seriously recent work in political philosophy and political theory that develops normative principles from the premiss of the ‘priority of injustice’ – including work by Sen, Honneth, Fraser, Bohman, and Forst. Other contributors are Mustafa Dikeç; Robert Meyer, Conrad Schetter, Janosch Prinz; Uma Kothari; Urs Geiser; Klaus Schlichte; and Jonathan Spencer. Topics include political violence, Carl Schmitt, exile, Arendt and Ranciere, Norbert Eilas.

Nikolas Rose on ‘The human sciences in a biological age’

Interesting discussion here, including thoughts on ‘borrowing from the biological’ and ‘rushing to philosophers’, and some more sensible alternatives for thinking through what new understandings of the human actually mean for the future of the ‘human sciences’.

Theda Skocpol interview

Interview with Skocpol at Juncture, the IPPR’s journal, on the Tea Party, Occupy, health care, 2012 Presidential election, the importance of organisation, and other things. A taster:

“The lesson looking back over the modern history of democracies is that a crisis itself doesn’t create the response: a crisis simply create an opportunity for the well-prepared. History also shows that whatever forces and ideas were in play going into a crisis usually get either intensified or are often successfully adapted during that crisis. The crisis struck in 2008 after a long period of decline of the labour unions, particularly in the private sector, and a long period of intellectual hegemony for free market ideas and the idea that government stands in the way of economic recovery and progress. So it was very difficult to assemble a popular organised coalition that could suddenly present an alternative to the solutions that were being suggested by the financiers who created the crisis in the first place. Essentially, the failure of left forces in many countries to build broad coalitions with democratic roots over time really meant that they weren’t in a position to do that much.”

Reading while waiting

Just at the moment, I find myself reading the following:

– Evan Connell’s Mrs. Bridge, the film adaptation of which I watched long ago, and which includes a scene that has always stuck in my mind, between Joanne Woodward and her ‘son’, not quite connecting. The novel is now a Penguin Classic, and was trailed in The Guardian a week or so ago, and something made me think now was a good time to read this. The only other thing by Connell I have read is the very wonderful Son of the Morning Star, his reconstruction of the stories surrounding Custer’s Last Stand – I read this inadvertently during a visit home long ago, scouring my father’s bookshelves for something readable. The first page and a half of this are worth reading all on their own.

– A blogpost by Lauren Berlant, on the death of her mother earlier this year, where she takes the risk of ‘theorising’ about something deeply personal. The theme is the idea that her mother ‘died of femininity’, as expressed in various acquired habits of body and mind; and of how relationships like this are mediated by mundane objects of all sorts….

– … which is also a theme of Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary, notes made over a two year period following the death of his mother. Extracts from this were published in The New Yorker a couple of years ago, but I didn’t take much notice back then. It reads as an episodic critique of a psychoanalytic model of mourning as working through, as temporalising the suffering of loss – the suffering did not dwindle for Barthes, clearly. It’s also a kind of background text to Camera Lucida – the diary exposes the personal feelings behind the analysis of the subjective dimensions of photography presented in that book.