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!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Diaries, Memoirs and Blogs

Amongst my most treasured possessions are some notebooks of my grandfather and father from the 1930s as they trekked and camped in north-western Scotland (these came to me in 1990); and my mother’s tiny common place book (extracts accompany this post) which came to me on her death in 2005…..
She was the wife of a Scottish Presbyterian Minister from the late 1930s and the friendship and hospitality which I remember at our home (as well as the stringencies of the times) are evident in the quotations chosen by my mother….they express sentiments which profoundly affected my upbringing (the photo below is from her 100th birthday celebrations. 
Although I know that both of my parents were very proud of the distinctive path I chose for myself, I’m not sure if they would altogether approve of the element of egocentricity which a blog implies….    

My first ever diary (which I rediscovered recently) was about a bike trip from London to Toulon but I started the habit only in my 40s when I was a reforming politician in Europe’s largest Region. For 16 years I actually held down a position at the heart of policy-making and, in the 1980s, kept a large A4 diary into which I would paste relevant cuttings, papers and articles and scribble my thoughts on project work.
I still have 5-6 of these diaries - others I donated to the library of the urban studies section of Glasgow University (when I was a Fellow there for a couple of months in the early 90s) in the fond belief that some researcher of the future might find these jottings about the strategic management of Europe’s largest local authority of interest (!).  

Memoirs have been given a bit of a bad name by the egocentricity of politicians - although some time back I identified some 20 life-accounts which gave superb analyses of times and lives. And I failed to include such things as Count Harry von Kessler’s amazing memoirs from the 1880s through to the second world war (he was an amazing cultural figure) and the rather more depressing ones of Viktor Klemperer covering the Nazi period.…I suppose the best contemporary exponent of the Diary in the UK is…. Alan Bennett who is excerpted from time to time in the London Review of Books….
Nowadays the energy people used to devote to their diaries tends to find its outlet in blogging…..although books made from blogs do tend to be frowned upon
Not that this discourages me as you will see from the list at the top right corner of this blog…….
I personally have made a good living from words – both spoken and written – although the balance between the two changed significantly after 1992. In the 70s and 80s it was the spoken word which earned my modest keep (as a social science teacher) - although the papers, journal articles and even a small book I wrote from my experience as a political manager also helped develop a wider reputation.
From the 1990s, the written report was the lynchpin of the project management system which lay at the heart of my work universe - as a well-paid consultant in the EC programmes of Technical Assistance to ex-communist countries. My job was to transfer experiences – and perhaps lessons – from government systems and agencies of Western Europe to those in Central and Eastern Europe and central Asia. 
Fortunately I had a bit of preparation for the role – being a member in the last half of the 80s of various European working groups working on urban issues.
The work in “transition countries” the 90s and noughties was a real eye-opener - giving me a vantage point to identify the various patterns in systems of local government and Civil services. Suddenly I was seeing similarities in the powerful influence of informal processes in Austrian and Dutch systems – let alone Italian and Romanian!

Even so, switching roles and developing new skills wasn’t easy – and it took me almost a decade before I was able to produce the coherence of In Transit – notes on Good Governance (1999) and essays such as - transfer of government functions; civil service systems;  decentralization; and Training that works! How do we build training systems which actually improve the performance of state bodies?. This material forms the “Lessons from Experience” section of my website - Mapping the Common Ground

As I was starting to phase out my project management work in 2010 or so, I started blogging - using my work experiences and reading since the 60s as the main focus of posts which now number almost 1,200. Some of these I’ve used to produce E-books – on such topics as “crafting more effective public management”; and cultural aspects of Bulgaria; Romania; and even Germany;

But for some time I have been trying to produce a little book from the many posts I’ve done which bemoan global social, economic and political trends….It was actually in 2000 I first wrote an essay expressing concern about global trends and asking where someone of my age and resources should be putting their energies to try to “make a difference”….
Seventeen years later I’m still not sure what the answer to that question is – although it’s clearly in the area of mutuality …….but rereading and editing the posts (which cover a decade) has made me realize that it’s actually quite useful to see the process of one’s thinking “longitudinally” - as it were. Tensions between lines of thought can be seen – if not downright contradictions. Far from being a nuisance, these help to clarify and develop…And one post tried to put a lot of the economic books into a typology – allowing me to see gaps in coverage….
On the other hand, blogging requires a very different set of skills from that of writing a book which flows and has coherence…..

At the moment the book bears the title “Dispatches to the post-capitalist Generation” (an early version is here) and has sections entitled “Our Confused World”; “How did we let it happen?”; “The Dog that didn’t bark (covering the decline of the political party); and “What is to be done?” (a question I’ve used for quite a few of my papers in my lifetime)    

The other thing I’ve realized as I reread the draft is that my blog is at least partly a tribute to those writers who have kept me company at one time or another on my journey of the past 60 plus yearsMy earliest memory of what I might call “seminal” books are those of Bertrand Russell – and then the titles of the 1950s – Tony Crosland’s revisionist “Future of Socialism” (1956); and two New Left counterblasts - Conviction (1959) and “Out of Apathy” (1960). 
University – particularly the political and economics streams I opted into from 1962 – was the profoundest influence on my mind. The key influence may have been Karl Popper’s The Open Society – but there were others such as historian EH Carr and scholar of religion Reinhold Niebuhr….

A couple of years ago I listed the 50 or so books which have made an impact on me here – and here
In what I call the “restless search for the new”, we would do well to pause every now and then and cast our minds back to such books and try to identify the “perennial wisdom” embodies therein…. Intellectual histories are quite rare - notwithstanding the great efforts of people like Russell Jacoby, Peter Watson, Mark Greif, George Scialabba and even Clive James..... perhaps the direction in which I should be taking this draft??????

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