Archive for the ‘naming’ Category

Call him what he likes to be called. (Well, not the marching-in-shiny-boots kind, of course! But quite honorable still.)

Luc Boltanski, on the social-racial urge of Sarkozy’s clique and their war against the Roma:

“Political blasphemy consists in shaking moral standards, in proclaiming loud and clear a discourse of hate that is usually censored or hidden. This has always been the strategy of the extreme right. Adopted now by the current power in place, it has two objectives. The first is to remove censorship over hatred. The second is to provoke the moral consciousness of those who are worried by this discourse of hate, to shock them, to make them react so as to tighten the border between the “idealists”, who are depicted as irresponsible, and the “realists and courageous”, those who are truly responsible, those who can speak and act in the name of a silent majority.” (Luc Boltanski, “Nous ne débattrons pas de la ‘question Rom'”, Médiapart, September 13 2010)

This is very much true. But would that mean that counter-blasphemy would be a fair way to respond? Would an intellectual among the “idealists” be compelled to utter something such as, for instance, “Sarkozy, if you like France that much, go and stick it in your ass”? Wow, that would be too wild. A bad idea. (And sticking something in one’s ass is a form of love, after all).

Counter-blasphemy is a difficult political technique.

The Test Society blog proudly presents the first of a series of qualitative indicators on pre-fascist tendencies. This one, still in development, consists in spotting books displaying the notion of “vampire” to refer to any collective instance of the Great Oriental Menace, and openly getting a mainstream media nod. For today’s indicator hit, the vampires are the Chinese:  Philippe Cohen and Luc Richard’s Le Vampire du Milieu: comment la Chine nous dicte sa loi (advertised here, here, here or even here).

A more refined version of the indicator shall include in the future a correlation between the use of “vampires” and the use of political deictics, in particular of the resourceful “them or us” thing (today’s finding is a gem in that sense: the title reads “The Middle Vampire: How China Imposes its Law upon Us”).

Some new guys on the block, Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi, just let us know that the GDP doesn’t represent the economy correctly: it may be leaving out the world.

Choices between promoting GDP and protecting the environment may be
false choices, once environmental degradation is appropriately included in our
measurement of economic performance.

“Choices between promoting GDP and protecting the environment may be false choices, once environmental degradation is appropriately included in our measurement of economic performance.”

Indeed. So once a controversy is “appropriately” built into the measuring device, beyond politics, no arguing is necessary. Same old game.

Readers interested in observing the behavior of historians of economics massively engaged in a collective endeavor can have a look at the thread on “Very famous economists who have died in the last 30 years” (second week here) initiated by the very entrepreneurial and astute David Colander in the discussion list of the Societies for the History of Economics (SHOE). It’s for a calendar, apparently. Anyway, it’s very interesting.

Latour’s rehabilitation of the title ‘actor-network theory’ (including the hyphen) points to the parallels between the acronym ANT, the English word for the insect ‘ant’, and the work of those using ANT that resembles (or should resemble) the activities of ants. Whether one is favourably or negatively predisposed towards ANT and/or Latour, it is understandable to react to this about-turn with a wry smile, appreciating the skill of the manoeuvre but finding it also slightly underhand. The kind of reaction one has to a skilful magician or card trickster.

Like the cavalry in cowboy films coming over the hill to save the hero, an army of ants has now come to dispel any residual irony surrounding Latour’s rehabilitation of ANT. One of the lead stories on the flagship BBC Radio 4 Today morning news programme this morning concerned the invasion of Northern Europe by a new species of ant, Lasius neglectus. While the detailed sociologics of the effectiveness of Lasius neglectus as an invader are explained in more detail on the BBC website and the PLos One research article on which the news story was based and have to do with the sexual habits of the colony queen, one of the authors, Dr Sylvia Cremer, explained that in effect what made Lasius neglectus such an potent invader was its ability to propagate across rather within the boundaries of established social units. Who needs Big Brother when there are ants to watch? And what’s more, when ants have sex, it really matters!

That’s a blatant call for research in social network analysis! Take this piece from Bloomberg news, draw some graph over the nodes in blue, match with some good old alumni database (ENA, Polytechnique, Mines, and the like) and you’ll get the sociological meaning of the word “viable” in the following quote:

“The fund won’t invest in companies that are not viable, Sarkozy said” (Sarkozy Fund to Raise EU6 Billion for Investments”,, November 20th 2008)

Ah, good old sociology.

Most people, even those who study and work at the LSE, tend to ignore — or find annoyingly cumbersome — the full title of the School which is ‘London School of Economics and Political Science’. One felt that it was inevitable that the implosion of economies being witnessed at present would have implications for a place that most people call only ‘London School of Economics’. Nobody would have expected, however, that the first shot in an epistemic assault on it would have been fired by HM the Queen during her visit to open the School’s latest building in its relentlessly street-by-street colonisation of Aldwich and Holborn. In a moment that brings to mind the well-known childrens’ story about the emperor’s new clothes, Simon Jenkins of the Guardian describes in a hilarious way here how Her Majesty, talking about the credit crunch asked one of the LSE economics professors ‘Why did nobody notice?’ Her Majesty put into a nutshell an issue that others such as Nassim Nicholas Taleb have spent much more time, text, and effort articulating, sometimes also with hilarious results as the recent priceless BBC TV clash between Taleb and Kenneth Rogoff shows. The difficulty in answering this simple question on the side of economists might force them into a re-assessment of the epistemic toolkit of economics. And it is not just a case of the analytical tools but also about how the economic can be known, accessed, but also discussed. Payback, the latest book by Margaret Atwood described in a recent Guardian review as an ‘intellectual history of debt’, and the project by German film maker Alexander Kluge to make a feature film of Marx’s Das Kapital, might provide some inspiration. The LSE marketing people might be better off re-arranging its name to something like ‘London School of Political Science and Economics’. Then again, LSPSE is not so catchy and LSE is such a well established brand. Maybe, as someone at the LSE itself had commented in the recent past, they might want to consider changing what LSE stands for to something like ‘London School of Entertainment’.

The “nazional-conservatore” politician Alfredo Mantovano, now in office in Berlusconi’s Italy, recently said the following in an interview with Il Tempo:

“As both statistical figures and sociological reality demonstrate, the Roma people are an ethnic group connected to some types of crime. Robbery, assault and, sometimes, as in Ponticelli, kidnapping.” (from “Rom, Mantovano: etnia connessa con certo tipo reati”, Reuters Italia, May 31 2008)

Of course, this can be rightly seen as yet another neo-ex-fascist call for a little pogrom, which was what happened in the Naples district of Ponticelli, incidentally, where the Camorra joined the cops into an attack on Roma camps (see “Italian tolerance goes up in smoke as Gypsy camp is burnt to ground”, The Independent, May 16 2008).

But, on another level, the excerpt exemplifies also a most outstanding evolution of the sociological epistemology of ethnic identity. No need for cumbersome explanations anymore. Sociological reality now self-demonstrates. After decades stretching out the idea that people should naturally behave in certain ways (e.g. prefer this sort of food or that sort of crime) because they have this thing called ethnicity or culture or whatever, and adding to that the clever intuition according to which correlation is not that far from causation, now Mantovano can go straight to the point (the cleansing part).

Except that, in order to have a perfectly convincing and fully sociological demonstration in that line of analysis, the following proposition should be added to Mantovano’s statement: “as statistical figures and sociological reality demonstrate, Italian fascists are a cultural group that like to fool around with gangsters and to set people on fire”.

Quants think that the word “phynance” refers to a sophisticated mixtures of rocket sciences and financial devices (“physics” + “finance”). But in his blog “La pompe à phynance” (in French), economist Frédéric Lordon aptly explains that, in reality, this is a genuinely ubuesque concept.