Friday, March 27, 2009

Previous Publications

It's been so long since I've done anything on this site, that I'm forgetting to show off:

Power Moves: I contributed to a case study for the Carnegie UK Trust, exploring decision-making processes in Britain (See page 20 ff).

How to Grasp Power: Some notes from my presentation at the now almost world famous 'Big Ideas' from April 2008. This represents a point at which my development of an integrated theory of power was at a fairly embryonic stage.

Are Political Parties Dead?: Podcast with a number of Big Ideas regulars - including Squares of Wheat blogger, Danny Birchall - tackling the question of whether political parties have any meaning in our day and age, or indeed a future.

New Paper Published

This year I am presenting a paper at the Political Studies Association conference on developing a 'topography' (i.e. a kind of theoretical map) of power in political parties. A copy of the advance written paper can be found here.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Back to the Future...?

I haven’t written on this for almost a year, largely because on the thesis front it has been a bit rubbish. I have gone over and over this ‘third chapter’ and not got very far.

I am starting to feel that I started from the wrong angle – For example, I did not review party literature in which I was interested, or search for a question in the empirical literature, identifying interesting phenomena that might benefit from a different approach

I had an instinct that there might be a way of connecting Weber and Foucault’s work because they seem, in different ways, to address similar concerns about modernity and rationalisation.

I have an interest in political parties and in the Labour Party in particular, how it has changed, its affects on politics and policy in general.

However, these two things have very much been sitting in silos and I have since struggled to connect them all up properly. I thus have three ‘lumps’ of research:

One: on Weber, rationalisation and bureaucracy, with Michels thrown in as ‘weberian’ (although I am less convinced of this – what is my evidence?).

Two: on Foucault, his approach to history, power and the concept of discipline, attempting to draw parallels with Weber.

Three: on main theoretical party literature from Duverger through to Katz & Mair (although I am told that the latter have moved on considerably since their idea of the ‘cartel party’ which I have elaborated).

I am not certain what the connections between these are and I need to find some somehow.

I am therefore going through the 30,000 words of text that I have written in order to try and a) find the theoretical connections, tensions, problems etc; b) have some theoretical points that I would wish to discuss in a case study.

However, mainly the point of doing that is so that I can put aside what I have done so far and start to look at something more concrete. Otherwise I am going to keep going round and round in theoretical circles. To that end, I am also going through some Labour Party texts to try and identify some possible case studies. They will be very small, detailed, possibly quite banal things, but they might just help to crystallise this amorphous mass of dislocated theoretical mush I have got so far.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A thought: a potential difficulty?

F & W perhaps have different ways of seeing the same thing, especially in their respective conceptualisation of discipline as a modern expression of power. However, it is more than just a difference in the ‘level’ of their analysis perhaps? W saw the individual that existed disappear in the machine like organisation of discipline (eg in the factory or the army), whereas F sees that the ‘individual’ was artificially produced where s/he did not before exist (through knowledge, examination, analysis). This is quite a key tension, I think, and where they in some way diverge. I will have to see what implications this thought might have for the rest of my work. However they do agree that discipline has integrative effects too.

Self referential, but important

‘…the benefit of bringing the approaches of Weber and Foucault together is that we can develop a more rounded view that takes into account institutional settings whilst understanding the interrelations that circulate within institutions and across its boundaries…

…Political parties, it must be remembered, are specific sites of power’s operation that intersect and interact with other spheres, in the state, the economy and society more generally. By providing an arena for power’s operation, institutional practice can give shape to, or at least influence, the context of the relations which produce power. If institutions are crystallisations of a strategy of power relations, understanding the institutional context of power, and how relations within it operate with and against structures and rules, will surely reveal something of the nature of power itself.’ (from my second chapter, pp.23-24).

Some contextual notes that won't mean anything to anybody except me (sorry)

Power contructing and constituting the individual in Foucault (though don’t get too mesmerised by this) – [point is relations of force that exist in the minutiae]

How things happen, rather than why – this is an historical perspective

Herkunft – what does Herkunft have to say about class and the development of parties out of organised communities?

Small small events and their effects (see my Ch. 2 p.8) – even things like drink, sleep, diet, misunderstandings etc can be important.

Enstehung – states of play, not final moments or culminations; continuations of violence via rules (these are not settlements – which, incidentally, is how I have up to now seen stable political regimes…)

History not a handmaiden to philosophy, and neither can it be made one to politics (see my Ch. 2, p.10).

Therefore I cannot examine the development of political parties in the context of the party as it looks now. It has to be as it is at each point, each crystallising moment.

NB - Some interesting parts in Panebianco’s preface to challenge.

Power is not held but it is produced & reproduced in relations – it operates through people and within institutions, although it does not actually reside in either. It produces strategic situations and individual subjectivities. It should not be understood in the terms of an institution, but once understood it can be used to analyse an institution (which is a strategy of power). [Q – what are the particular practices that emerge in political organisations…? That may also have spread & swarmed in some way? Or have spread from elsewhere… in fact probably from the places that F saw disciplinary power emerging from.]

Resistance is part of the process: pluralities, mobile and transitory

The tension between F & W is the level of analysis and this can be used creatively.

In particular F leads us away from the ‘negative’, prohibitive, juridical approach to power that is deep-rooted in the Western tradition and in Weber too. Power is in the latter’s work a restriction, a censor on human action. It is anti-productive.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mild Panic Sets In After A Procrastinating Summer

OK. I am getting worried now. Since I have started this blog, I seem to have done less and less actual work on the blimming thesis. A great deal of that is because I have spent much of the summer doing up my flat and working on a few songs (more of this another time) amongst other things. Now I have two weeks to get something presentable together to put before my supervisor. I have always needed the pressure of a deadline, but this is ridiculous!

This morning, then, I have set aside to plan how I can get where I need to be in such a short time. Thankfully, I have lots of notes which I wrote last year and then discarded from earlier chapters which will actually be useful for this one, plus the reading I have done in the last couple of months. What I lack at the moment is the creative hook on which to hang all of this and which supports the direction I had started to see for this work. Here goes...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Future of Literature....

In the meantime, I feel I need to tell someone that I have been getting an enormous amount of junk e-mail recently. Since there is no-one here but me right now, however, I will rattle on about it here where no-one will ever see it. I never used to get much of this stuff at all because it seemed I had some good filters set-up. I was puzzled about this sudden new development, blaming my service provider etc. Very soon, however, whilst weighing up the respective benefits of five cent shares in some five cent company, a £200,000 loan and 'improved squirting' (I kid you not), I discovered the phenomena of inserting random text from novels, stories and other sources into the e-mail to confuse the filtering system. Far from being annoyed, I now look forward to seeing what bizarre and wonderful gems I have along with my investment recommendations, viagra sales-pitches and various other suggested medical solutions to normal human sexuality. It may also have worrying consequences for the future of literature and the publishing industry (hurray!).

Rosabel Greene was the first I noticed, who confided in me that she had 'a premonition that some day I'll throw the teapot at him.' At who, she didn't say.

Shoufty Wasalty has been following a Burroughsian line: 'Jazz Goodbyes Saddest Falling Beast Been Misled Vous Oublie Pour Maimes Encore Think Twice Sais'. Hasn't anyone told him/her that the cut-up method is sooo twentieth century. Mind you, perhaps William B was just way ahead of his time... (this is not an attempt to start a discussion).

Nina MacDonald was telling a worryingly scatalogical story: 'He turned as he sat, and pulled a stool from under the caravan for Yvette. Come, would you like to go in the caravan, where nobody hears? Yvette knew that the old woman was telling a cool, barefaced lie.' Strange that one of the protagonists seems to change gender half way through. Is this about a meeting between Mark Oaten in drag with an elderly Pre-op Transexual?

Susie Berreira has interesting theory about the human impact of monetary policy: 'On the contrary' she says (contrary to what, I am not sure) 'appearance, voice, and manner combined to give an impression of calmness and poise. This was chiefly due to foreign exchange difficulties.'

Loyd is a man after my own heart: 'My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.' he says. He should patent those eyes.

Needless to say, I have saved the best until last. This sheer poetry arrived from my good friend Madge as she promises me ‘an improved tool’. Great, I could do with a new electric screwdriver, I thought. It appears she was being metaphorical. ‘Just imagine’ she says ‘how wonderful your life would become… with such a huge gun down your pants you will be able to conquer any female fortress!’. Quite. And she should know. She adds - rather appositely I thought - in the now customary anti-spam confusing post-script, and with a weariness clearly born of experience: “They Brag Most That Can Do the Least”. And as if to remind customers to act responsibly with their new found hardware: “Although the Sun May Shine, Leave Not Thy Cloak at Home”. Extra large, please.


Just reading now. Always forget that this takes time. Ostrogorski is actually quite entertaining. If you like that sort of thing. It is a good history of the development of the Conservative and Liberal parties into modern organisations more like political parties as we understand them today. It was written in 1895 or thereabouts - before the rise of the Labour party and the schism and then collapse of the Liberals, so one therefore gets a different kind of perspective compared with later works on parties. Good stuff with some good detailed history that might be useful for charting contingencies and concrete events that were crucial in the development of disciplinary organisation. I have been marking pages with post-its vociferously. I will write something up on this very soon...

Monday, August 14, 2006

The next stage of research

Now that I have the broad outlines of my theory, I think I need to begin a review of the major literature on political parties, which will form the basis of a third chapter. This chapter will examine the development in thought on political parties over the years since Ostrogorski and Michels and suggest that a new development is needed which keeps the best of the 'Weberian' approach and develops his ideas in a later modern context using Foucault. I have gone over Michels' work two or three times by now and have more notes to work from. Definitely included on the list should be:

Ostrogorski (ugh dreading this one: huge book, small print, written by a Russian)
von Beym


In addition, I will also consult some specific academic Labour Party histories for examples. Especially Shaw, Russell, Hayter.

Other sources will no doubt arise as I go along. The good news is that I have done quite a bit of work on the general party references already - about a year ago.

Serious work begins tomorrow afternoon, with an update possibly appearing here tomorrow or certainly within the next two or three days.

Where Am I and Where Am I Going?

Not an ontological question, but a practical one. So, to reiterate, I am here:

1. Power becomes apparent in action, interaction and relations between people and networks.

2. Actions congeal into practice and thence into procedure and process.

3. This becomes the basis of (a) social organisation and what Foucault refers to as 'instutional crystallisations', providing a context for future action.

4. Modes of organisational power emerge out of actions beneath the surface of these crystallisations or congealments that reinforce, challenge and cut through existing states-of-play. This is the aspect of relations of power that is constantly shifting and circulating.

5. Relations affecting the shape of organisational power may also be ones that run over the boundaries of particular institutional crystallisations. This is particularly important for political party relations with the state, the electorate, the media and so on.

6. These modes of power develop through concrete, specific and contingent events rather than historical imperative or ontological necessity.

7. A specifically modern form of power, as related by both Foucault and Weber (albeit with slightly different points in mind) is 'disciplinary' power, which has had particular affects on the organisation of political parties and thus the practice of formal politics.

And I am going here, I think:

1. To define this specifically modern form of power.

2. To trace its emergence in the formal party political context, making use of examples.

3. To discuss how it has changed or how it is different from the definitions respectively set out by Weber and Foucault.

4. To assess its impact on the practice and the investigation of party politics and government.

Now all I need is the beginnings of a route there....

Easing Myself Back In...

So, after a month of almost completely ignoring my thesis and giving my time over to tiling the bathroom and doing up the kitchen, it's time to continue. I must say it has been useful to have this site to revisit and remember where I was all that time ago. My next steps are:

1) To tighten up my theory a bit (though I should leave room for iteration);
2) To plan the next stage of research in the light of that - this is likely to be a closer investigation of the more directly political science and historical texts about parties and political organisation. After that, and assessing its implications for my theoretical work so far, I suspect that I will want to investigate more of the detail whether through memoirs, interviews, archive research etc. or perhaps some combination of all three.

Really, do I know what I am doing? I feel like I am making this up as I go along. Although, perhaps this is the point. A thesis like this (of any kind?) is a creative act. Certainly it is not entirely free. I am bound by rules and discipline myself. I am restrained by practice, supervision, method and assessment. But in not being 'free' (what does this word really mean anyway?), I have room to be creative. How can I say what I want to say within the boundaries that are set me? How can I use the structures built around me to push outside and beyond them, just a little? Structure is useful because it gives us something to work with or against, to reinforce or to pull down. In any case, there is little choice in the matter because a) we cannot escape from forms of order or structure or power [and would we in any sense want to? what would we be without it?]; b) I want to get a PhD; c) I am being unnecessarily pretentious and really ought to get on with some work rather than speculate like a sixth form philosophy student. Just easing myself back in...

Will London ever be finished?

Been away a while, taking a break. While I write at my desk there are workmen outside cutting up slabs of paving stone with circular stone cutters, replacing the old mess of tarmac and concrete with a decent looking pavement. I have to ask the question, when will London ever be finished? I am truly grateful that they are smartening up what was once a very spooky East End street (although that is what attracted me to the place to start with!), but nonetheless this has been going on for months now and it's driving me crazy! Most mornings I wake up to drilling, digging, buzzing...

Anyway, enough. I'm not complaining. Really. Back to work...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Slight Return

On another subject, I have been thinking again today about power, as I am wont to do.

A major point of departure between the two theoretical mentors I have chosen is the fact that whilst Weber’s ideas of power are inextricably tied up with ideas of (political) ‘legitimacy’, Foucault specifically rejects such notions. However, the idea of ‘legitimacy’, if not the fact of it, offers us useful ways of thinking about power in a formal political context. Weber himself details how different ‘types’ of legitimate authority are appropriate in different times and places (charismatic, traditional, legal-rational) and serve as a means of reinforcing modes of power. Thus, if the dominant mode of power is the production of a series of force relations in tension with each other, the idea of ‘legitimacy’ might be seen as an additional instrument of power, a technique by which power extends its reach. Process, procedure is a potent expression of power in modernity and it is in these techniques that legitimacy in ‘civilised’ societies is claimed: from democracy, rule of law, due process etc etc to particular cultural rules of engagement. It is another channel through which individuals may become produced as subjects.

Not sure if that makes sense at the moment. May have to come back to it, but there’s a germ of an idea in there.

On Philosophical Objections

A number of people have said to me that the argument against the government's foolish ID cards scheme cannot be won on a philosophical basis. We ought to oppose them on the basis that they will not achieve the things claimed and that they will be, at best, an expensive folly. This is probably true, but my objection is philosophical. Regardless of what the latest proclaimed 'benefit' is (which changes more often than John Reid changes jobs), the ID card scheme - or more specifically the National Identity Register [NIR] (which is the real objectionable part of this scheme) - is designed so that the state can link all our information, track our movements, habits etc. and, more importantly, effectively sanction our right to an identity. On what level should this be objected to if not 'philosophically'? The state and various authorities already know plenty about us, but at least we notionally have some kind of choice at the present. The NIR appears only to be a small step to some, but to me it appears a giant leap towards an insidious 'soft' authoritarianism.

Henry Porter might be accused of ranting about this over-much (and often is) but his article in today's Guardian is a good summary of almost every objection to this evil folly, from the philosophical to the financial.

Philosophically, he says:

"In a free country I believe that every human being has the right to define him or herself independently and without reference to the government of the time. This, I believe, is particularly important in a multicultural society such as ours. The ID card and NIR require and will bring about a kind of psychological conformity, which is utterly at odds with a culture that has thrived on individualism, defiance and the freedom to go your own way."

Spot on. What's more he is right about useful idiots like David Goodhart ('philosophically' in favour - see his recent Prospect article), who seem to become more and more authoritarian in their outlook every day. For the rest of Porter's Guardian article, click here.