what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, January 21, 2011

academic amnesia


I mentioned some time back O Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias – whose entire book I had downloaded (for free). I had read the first few pages; (literally) skimmed the rest to get a sense of its coverage (Mondragon and Port Alegre looked worthy case studies) and kept it on desktop rather than placing in my „alternatives” file to encourage reading. But it has not, since, drawn me in – and a very tough review on what should be a sympathetic site – Dissent - tells me that my laziness has saved me from wasting my time! Apart from the other faults listed in the review, the book’s 287 pages have apparently less than 40 pages on the 4 case studies (whose haphazard selection is not justified); even worse, desite the title, there is no referencing to other writing on „realistic”utopias! The book apparently reflects the incestuous, self-referencing world of an academic (American) sociologist.
We are so overwhelmed by books and learned articles that one of the first things I look for in such works is an indication that the author is familiar with and references what has gone before – as Google Scholar puts it – „stand on the shoulders of giants”. Otherwise we are reinventing the broken wheel - going round in circles – letting the blind lead the blind – whatever metaphor you care to use. I criticised Will Hutton’s most recent book for this weakness in relation to recent discussions about inequality. A recent article in Political Quarterly (by an Australian Professor – Ian Marsh) displayed the same amnesia. I can't give a link to the article but you can get a sense of his particular intellectual baggage here. His review looked at the change mechanisms behind the „deliverology” of the last New Labour Government as justified in books by Michael Barber and Julian le Grand. Le Grand (who has the better pedigree) suggests there are 4 basic mechanisms - professional trust; targets; voice and markets. Barber has three - command and control (targets); quasi-markets; and devolutiona and transparency.
The three authors seem unaware of two classification schemes produced 15 years ago by the 2 key writers about public reform – Guy Peters and Chris Hood.
Peters suggests that administrative reform can be reduced to four schools of thinking - "market models"; "the Participatory State"; "Flexible Government"; and "Deregulated Government". Like Peters, Hood attempts to reduce the whole literature on admin reform to four basic schools. He uses grid-group theory (“grid” denotes the degree to which our lives are circumscribed by rules – “group” indicates the extent to which we are governed by group choice) to give a matrix of -
- Hierarchist (high on both)
- Individualist (low on both)
- Egalitarian (high on group; low on grid)
- Fatalist (high on grid; low on group)

Marsh seemed to think that the answer lies in the work of C Sabel whom I vaguely remember writing in the 1990s about the modern northern Italian craft complexes and who is now into deliberative discourse stuff which again makes little or no reference to the theories of administrative reform and organisational change (Gerry Stoker is much better on this.)Instead it gets us into the highly incestuous and opaque field of European studies – many of whose contributors seem to be young, with no experience of life and living off European Union grants.

I realise that, by now, I should know better than to bother with Google Scholar and the academic turds it fishes up. But (like consultancy) there are so many hundreds of thousands of robots being churned out from the academic factories that some of us have to keep track of the poison. And yes - I will admit to some prejudice here (!) – and would be happy to be persuaded out of my cynicism. But I am happy to have the chance to use a (1940s Port Glasgow) Stanley Spencer painting so quickly after mentioning the series he did. It's "Riveters" - and so appropriate!

1 comment:

  1. On 'deliverology' this may amuse

    Deliverology destroys service

    http://www.thesystemsthinkingreview.co.uk/index.php?pg=18&backto=1&utwkstoryid=257

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