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, June 13, 2018

In Praise of the Butterfly

How can I tell what I think, unless I see what I write?
EM Foster (1927)

Most serious blogs I glance at have a theme – be it British literature; Marxist Economics; paintings; Brexit; French politics; policy analysis; left politics or…Scottish mountains - which the authors stick to fairly religiously with the only relief being the occasional bit of music…(eg Boffy’s Blog; or All That’s Solid)
One of the distinctive things about “Balkan and Carpathian Musings” however is its “butterfly approach” to subjects…..That’s usually a derogatory term – used to indicate a shallow person who wanders from subject to subject. It’s true that I have a fixation about strange things such as democracy, government policy-making and institutions, turgid academic writing…. but – like a butterfly – I alight wherever my senses are attracted by a book cover; striking painting; a wine etiquette; a piece of music; or the ambiance of a town or encounter…..        

After all, the blog started as I knew I was phasing myself out of the job market……but conscious of the unusual variety of roles and places I’ve been lucky enough to work in.
After all, the blog started as I knew I was phasing myself out of the job market……but conscious of the unusual variety of roles and places I’ve been lucky enough to work in.
I was first elected to political office when I was pretty young; and focused my energies respectively on community action; municipal corporate management and multiple deprivation in the 70 and 80s; and “institutional development” in ex-communist countries in the period after 1990. 
I remember, for example, going to the 2 Universities in Glasgow in the mid 70s and challenging them to produce any research which could help us - in the newly established Strathclyde Region – establish some coherent policies on deprivation…..Result? Zilch

Each of these issues now has a huge literature - but, when I came to them, it was difficult to find reading material. For example Marris and Rein's Dilemmas of Social Reform (1967) and Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals (1970) were the bibles in the early days of community action and deprivation strategies; Donald Schon's Beyond the Stable State (1971) for organisational studies; and Linz and Stepan's Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation (1996) and Elster and Offe's Rebuilding the Ship at Sea - Institutional Design in post-communist Countries (1997) for transitilogy.....  

I had started at an early age this rather odd habit of writing (and publishing) papers and article trying to make sense of the experience – which I have continued for coming up for half a century. 
The blog has been my channel for my thoughts about these issues – talking with other people can often box you into a corner (particularly in Gallic cultures!) but writing forces you to pose questions about what you thought you knew. That’s why I use so often the saying about the “best way to understand an issue is to write a book about it”….and why I love the EM Foster quote which starts this post      

The most interesting question is not whether this blog will continue…..It will (Inshallah!!)!
The most interesting question is whether its focus should change – and if so, in what way?
Its three aims still seem to stand – but perhaps could do with some slight “tweaks” – eg
·         I am perhaps using posts even more deliberately these days as a means of getting inspiration to help me express better my thoughts on reform and social change issues….When I click open text I have been working on for some time, my creativity tends to freeze – but when I move my mind to the blog (or a blank piece of paper) the words come together to form a new perspective……
·         The world seems confronted with new problems which apparently require new thinking…….and make obsolete writings before (say) 1990?…Because I’ve kept a good record of my wide reading since 1960, I would dispute this and have therefore become more conscious of the importance of my role in giving annotated reading lists (and, even more passionately about the need for clarity of expression!!)
·         As I move through my “autumn days” and feel the approach of winter, the “settling of final accounts” (in the spiritual sense) becomes perhaps a more dominant theme 

Last year I wrote about my mother’s little “commonplace book” which we found amongst her possessions. It’s odd that, with the onset of the new technology, the idea of a commonplace book has not become more popular….one person’s record of favourite sayings of sages over the ages…….
Perhaps they were more laconic in those days - not feeling the need we apparently do these days to embellish the core of the wisdom with a lot of explanations? My posts of 2016 were collected and put in the logical order in The Slaves’ Chorus and came to 120 pages (the following year there were double the number of pages). Of course these are “musings”….they don’t try to compress and distil the components into a basic “essence”……which, in a sense, the tables I started to use last year have started to do……Now there’s a thought!

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