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!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The future of the blog

This blog stuttered recently but has hit the 1250 post mark – a reasonable time to review its objectives and indeed it’s very future. The three objectives I gave it in 2009 are still there on the masthead –

My generation believed that political activity could improve things - but that belief is now dead and cynicism threatens civilisation. This blog will try to make sense of the organisational endeavours I've been involved in; to see if there are any lessons which can be passed on; to restore a bit of institutional memory and social history (let alone hope).

I also read a lot and wanted to pass on the results of this to those who have neither the time nor inclination - as well as my love of painting, particularly the realist 20th century schools of Bulgaria and Belgium.

A final motive for the blog is more complicated - and has to do with life and family. What have we done with our life? What is important to us?

I remember the disappointment when I went through my father’s papers after his death. He was a very well-read and travelled man who composed his weekly sermons with care; gave his time unstintingly to people with problems; latterly giving illustrated lectures throughout the country on his travels in the 1970s to off-beat places in countries such as Spain, Austria and Greece.
Surely, therefore, he would have left some diaries or comments behind to give a sense of his inner thoughts?
But there was little beyond his jottings about some books (for some lectures he gave) and a diary about a camping holiday in the 1930s with his father. The same silence when I looked at the papers of a charismatic political colleague who was struck down in his prime.
I couldn’t hold a candle to these two men – but we are all distinctive in our way. I have been very lucky in the positions I have occupied, the places I’ve been, the people met, the range and number of books read – and, not least, gifted with a reasonable facility with and love for words and language.
The least I felt in 2009 that my blog could do was to try to mix together these ingredients of experiences and insights and create a new stew which might be attractive even to those not normally inclined to eat stew?

Six years ago I went back to these objectives to explore how they compared with my original intentions – or indeed whether they were still useful for me and/or my readers. In 2012 I decided they did. It seems like only yesterday that I conducted that exercise and I got a shock when I discovered today how long it has been  
I know that quoting some of the conclusions I wrote 6 years ago in that review of the blog might be felt to be self-indulgent - but the future of the blog is an important question for me and I would therefore ask for the reader’s patience….

Lessons from my own institutional endeavours
The early part of the blog covered the Scottish policy initiatives with which I was associated between 1970-90 such as social dialogue, open-policy-making and social inclusion – which were excerpted from a long paper available on my website.
It then moved on to my concerns about the technical assistance and institutional building work I had been involved with in transition countries from 1991 – which are captured in the paper I gave at the 2011 Conference of NISPAcee.
However my more ambitious venture to bring all of this together in one paper is not yet realised. A very early draft can be seen on my website
  
Sharing the insights of others
………I’ve been lucky – in having had both the (academic) position and (political) incentive for more than 25 years to read across intellectual disciplines in the pursuit of tools to help the various ventures in which I’ve been engaged. I belong to a generation and time which valued sharing of knowledge – rather than secreting or mystifying it - which has become the trend in recent decades.
And I am lucky again in now having gained access to the technical facility which allows sharing (with a copy and paste) the website references of useful papers.
Most of the blogposts contain several such links – in a single year probably 1,000 links. That’s not bad!
Indeed I have realised that this feature of my writing makes it more convenient to have my papers in electronic rather than paper form.

Life’s passions
Clearly the blog has shared several of my passions – eg painting, places, reading and wine – and has given a good sense of the enjoyment from simple activities such as wandering.
Originally the Carpathian reference in the title was to location only – it did not promise any particular insights into this part of the world. But, in the past year, my musings have broadened to give some insights into life in Bulgaria…

So?
So far, so good. But perhaps the blog objectives are no longer relevant? Or a blog no longer the appropriate format? The first two blog objectives are rather altruistic – a reasonable question might be what I get out of the effort involved in drafting a significant post. The answer is – more than you might think!
Writing is (or should be) a great discipline.
The recent Nobel prize-winner, Herta Mueller, expressed this very well in an encounter she had in Bucharest – 

“It is only when I start a sentence that I find out what it has to say. I realise as I go along. So I have to somehow make words help me and I have to keep searching until I think I have found something acceptable. Writing has its own logic and it imposes the logic of language on you. There is no more "day" and "night", "outside" and "inside". There is subject, verb, metaphor, a certain way of constructing a phrase so as to give it rhythm – these are the laws that are imposed on you. On the one hand, language is something which tortures me, doesn't give me peace, forces me to rack my brains until I can't do it any longer; and on the other hand, when I do this, it actually helps me. It is an inexplicable vicious circle……”

A daily blog makes you focus more. I’ve made the point several times that the absence of newspapers cluttering the house and (for the most part) of television over the past 20 years has been a great boon for me. It has created the quiet and space for reflection. And the requirement to put a thought or two in writing on the blog makes me think more clearly.
A second benefit is archival – I can retrieve thoughts and references so easily. I just have to punch a key word into the search engine on the blog and I retrieve everything.

OK…that’s long enough for the moment…..The next post will hopefully give a brief answer to the question of the future of the blog……..

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