Off to Maynooth and Dublin – talks on Terrain, publishing and Foucault

Foucault in Ireland 1-01It’s a little difficult to treat today as just another day, after the events in London yesterday, but I’m just about to head to Ireland for a couple of events.

This evening at 4pm I’ll be giving a talk entitled “Terrain: The Materiality of Territory” to the Department of Geography seminar, at the National University Ireland, Maynooth. I will also be participating in a discussion about publishing over lunch that same day with postgraduate students. My seminar is a version of the talk I’ve given over the last few months in Gießen, Durham, London, and Oslo.

Tomorrow I’ll be taking part in the Foucault in Ireland event at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. It begins with a roundtable on my two recent Foucault books, and is followed by a  workshop with a wide range of papers on Foucault and the use of tools from his work.

Posted in Foucault's Last Decade, Foucault: The Birth of Power, Michel Foucault, Publishing, terrain, Territory, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Alexander Vasudevan, The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting – Verso

VERSO_Autonomous City_Mechanical_FINAL.inddAlexander Vasudevan, The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting forthcoming with Verso in April.

A radical history of squatting and the struggle for the right to remake the city
The Autonomous City is the first popular history of squatting as practised in Europe and North America. Alex Vasudevan retraces the struggle for housing in Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Detroit, Hamburg, London, Madrid, Milan, New York, and Vancouver. He looks at the organisation of alternative forms of housing—from Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiana to the squats of the Lower East Side—as well as the official response, including the recent criminalisation of squatting, the brutal eviction of squatters and their widespread vilification.

Pictured as a way to reimagine and reclaim the city, squatting offers an alternative to housing insecurity, oppressive property speculation and the negative effects of urban regeneration. We must, more than ever, reanimate and remake the urban environment as a site of radical social transformation.

Posted in Politics, urban/urbanisation | 3 Comments

Marcelo Hoffman, In the Shadow of Dictatorship: Foucault in Brazil

Ensaios-sobre-Michel-Foucault-no-Brasil-CapaMarcelo Hoffman, In the Shadow of Dictatorship: Foucault in Brazil at the Theory, Culture & Society website.

Review of Heliana de Barros Conde Rodrigues, Ensaios sobre Michel Foucault no Brasil: Presença, efeitos, ressonâncias  (Lamparina 2016), 176 pages

Michel Foucault visited Brazil five times from 1965 to 1976 yet the details of his overall presence in the country have remained largely unexplored even in Brazil. Heliana Conde’s Ensaios sobre Michel Foucault no Brasil has the great merit of introducing readers to these details through a reliance on wide range of sources, including interviews with his interlocutors and the archives of the former secret police. While her book covers various aspects of Foucault in Brazil up to his effects and resonances in our present, she compellingly illuminates how the military dictatorship cast a long and ominous shadow over each of his visits to the country.

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Lorraine Daston ed. Science in the Archives – new from University of Chicago Press

Lorraine Daston ed. Science in the Archives: Pasts, Presents, Futures – new from University of Chicago Press.

9780226432366.jpgArchives bring to mind rooms filled with old papers and dusty artifacts. But for scientists, the detritus of the past can be a treasure trove of material vital to present and future research: fossils collected by geologists; data banks assembled by geneticists; weather diaries trawled by climate scientists; libraries visited by historians. These are the vital collections, assembled and maintained over decades, centuries, and even millennia, which define the sciences of the archives.

With Science in the Archives, Lorraine Daston and her co-authors offer the first study of the important role that these archives play in the natural and human sciences. Reaching across disciplines and centuries, contributors cover episodes in the history of astronomy, geology, genetics, philology, climatology, medicine, and more—as well as fundamental practices such as collecting, retrieval, and data mining. Chapters cover topics ranging from doxology in Greco-Roman Antiquity to NSA surveillance techniques of the twenty-first century. Thoroughly exploring the practices, politics, economics, and potential of the sciences of the archives, this volume reveals the essential historical dimension of the sciences, while also adding a much-needed long­-term perspective to contemporary debates over the uses of Big Data in science.

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Why I prioritise writing books over articles, even in an era of research assessment

There is a widespread perception that the UK higher education system emphasises quantity over quality in terms of publications, and that there is a constant need to write and submit journal articles. Yet in a six or seven-year research cycle, academics have – until now – needed to submit just their best four pieces. Only four pieces, which for most people is a fraction of what they have actually produced. It is worth noting that there is a possibility, following the Stern review, that the number will change, possibly downwards and perhaps to an average number, which may require some people to submit less, and some more. While there is, and will continue to be, a need to get that right number of pieces, the question of the perceived quality of those pieces is much more significant. Pressure to publish more often comes because of a perception that what has been published is not of sufficient quality.

The pressures of quality have tended to mean that conference proceedings, book chapters, review essays, etc. have not been deemed to be suitable submissions, and so the journal article has become, by default, the ‘gold standard’. This is in part reinforced by the way things are counted – articles are ‘one’, so too are books. The complete insanity of this is supposedly mediated by the idea that a ‘big book’ could, potentially, be submitted as a double-weight piece, counting for two. In any sensible system, a research book would be counted as some multiple of an article by default, and a ‘big book’ a greater multiple. But the current system is stacked against books in this way, and even though I’ve made the case some of my books are suitable for this double-weighting, this was never accepted. Even The Birth of Territory – 500 pages, 200k words, to my mind the best thing I have done in my career, with a major university press and recipient of a couple of prizes – was not deemed to be suitable. To which my reply was: if not this, what would be? It’s even worse with book editing – collections of colleagues’ work are a non-starter, and even the co-edited and co-translated State, Space, World collection of Lefebvre’s work, with a long co-authored introduction, notes etc. was not deemed suitable as a submission at all. Early in my career I was told that the department I was in thought a book was equivalent to an article: my response was to laugh, and say they had clearly never written a book. They hadn’t.

So, by these criteria, it is not surprising that the pressure or incentive is to write articles, and well-meaning advice is given to say these should be the priority. Early career scholars are encouraged to see their PhD thesis as a resource which can be cut up and positioned in multiple journals, rather than as an early draft of a book manuscript; some departments have a strict requirement of one article in a ‘top’ journal per year; career prospects are heavily weighted to these kinds of publications. I am well aware of those kinds of pressures and constraints. Earlier in my career I largely followed this advice, making sure there was a constant stream of articles being written, submitted, revised and published. The books I wrote were alongside these, as parallel projects, or ones that developed out of articles.

But I’ve reached a point in my career where I don’t feel a need or accept the pressure to write articles as a default position. I’m much more interested in writing books, and tend to think much more in terms of book-length projects. So, for a while now, this had been my number one priority. This doesn’t mean that I’ve given up writing articles, just that I don’t see this as the key thing I need to be doing. In the next research assessment, whenever it is, whatever it is called, and whatever the rules are, I see that books will form the bulk of my submission, even if each is counted as ‘one’, and that the balance will be made up of articles. I have enough faith that there will be articles along the way – either a piece I give as a lecture which is committed to the journal or institution which invited it, a side project that doesn’t fit in a book, a chapter cut from a book manuscript, or, in odd occasions, an early version of a part of a book. (Though for the UK research assessment you can’t submit an article if it forms part of a book you intend to submit.)

I am fully aware that this attitude of prioritising books over articles is made possible by the privileged position I am in, in terms of academic role, seniority, institution and so on. I am not looking for promotion, to move institution, or any other advancement. The research assessment is one of the things on my mind, but only one, and other factors, such as what I want to say, the format in which I want to say it, and the contribution I want to make are, for me, much more important. My experience is that books travel between disciplines much more readily, and are much more widely read, as well as being the kinds of research statements that I want to make. I have no wish to chase journal publications in the way that I used to, and in the way I and others are advised to, when the bulk of them are barely read and largely forgotten, as well as not being used for research assessment. I’m certainly not saying that I’ll never write articles again, and I don’t want to suggest that books are objectively better than articles. In some disciplines or sub-disciplines, for certain kinds of work, or certain kinds of people, articles are better or preferred outlets. I edited and then co-edited a journal for several years, and serve on the boards of several journals. This is nothing against journals, those who edit them, write for them or read them. It’s against the constant pressure to turn every thought into an article, every conference presentation into an article, and then move on to the next.

Books are not quick options. Certainly not the kinds of books I write. Perhaps some people look at the frequency of my books and think they must be. I work hard, certainly, but I’m not sure more quickly or effectively than others. I do think I am good at making the most of opportunities which are given to me, which I acknowledge and for which I am grateful. I make writing part of my daily routine, and I make book-writing the priority within that time. It seems to me to be essential to do that – otherwise it is the first thing that gets squeezed out of a busy schedule. Sometimes I might move right from one discrete book to another, completing one before beginning the next. But more often, book projects figure in the background while I am doing something else; projects overlap, with manuscripts being worked on in parallel instead of in sequence; things lie dormant for some time before being picked up and developed further. Often I am constrained by availability of materials, access to texts, archives or libraries; other things get in the way.

I should also say that there are important decisions about where I publish books. I signed my first contract with Athlone, who were bought by Continuum before the book came out. My second book was also with them. When my editor at Continuum left, I felt there were good reasons to go elsewhere. They are now part of Bloomsbury. Other authored books have either been with university presses, or more recently with Polity. I chose these presses, in part, because their books are affordable, and I usually insist on immediate paperback or one within a specified timeframe. I’ve said before about the regret about not insisting on this being in the contract for one book – it was agreed verbally, and then changed. With edited books, I’ve worked with either small publishers like Ashgate (now unfortunately swallowed by a behemoth), Continuum, Polity or University Presses. (The only book I lead-edited with a different remit and pricing was a major-reference work, not intended for an audience beyond a small number of research libraries.) I’ve so far declined working with the major trade publishers, as author or editor, though I do have some chapters in books with them. This was often when I was committed to a project, and its editors, before the press was agreed.

Books are not for everyone – either as readers, or as writers. But they suit me. If I read a good article I go looking for the books the author has written. Most of my ideas seem to take on a book-like shape. Where I am able, I devote other research time to editing a book series, to bringing works into English, either as editor, occasional co-translator, or as advocate with presses.

These are some the reasons why I prioritise writing books over articles, even in an era of research assessment.

Posted in Publishing, Uncategorized, Universities, Writing | 9 Comments

Wyl Menmuir – How to finish a novel: tracking a book’s progress from idea to completion

Although it is a very quantitative model, and suggests quite a linear mode of working, this is an interesting reflection which should be useful beyond just writing fiction.

Wyl Menmuir, ‘How to finish a novel: tracking a book’s progress from idea to completion’, The Guardian. Thanks to Juliet Fall for the link.

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Research hacks #7: Read everything, but not in the same way – Christopher Watkin

If one thing is non-negotiable about academic research in the arts and humanities, it is that there will be a lot of reading. In fact, there will almost certainly be too much reading, so you’d better have a strategy to cope with the bibliographical tsunami headed your way.

You can’t read every word that has been written about your subject in the same way, or ponder every word with the same depth, so you need to develop different reading strategies for different types of text. Here are four different strategies to get you going.

Continue reading here; for the others in this useful series see here.

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Foucault in Ireland, March 24th, Dublin

Foucault in Ireland 1-01.png
Friday March 24th, ‘Foucault in Ireland‘ conference at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

This one-day symposium reviews the engagement of Irish Studies with the work of Michel Foucault. It begins with a roundtable on the recent work of Stuart Elden: Foucault’s last decade (Polity 2016), Foucault: the birth of power (Polity 2017). This is followed by papers on Foucault’s influence in various areas of Irish academic study including: criminology, literary criticism, historical geography, international relations, philosophy, sociology, and others.

Free, but requires a ticket – available here. I’ll  be giving a department seminar on ‘Terrain: The Materiality of Territory‘ at NUI Maynooth the previous evening.

Posted in Foucault's Last Decade, Foucault: The Birth of Power, Michel Foucault, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Shakespeare’s Roman Tragedies by Toneelgroep Amsterdam at the Barbican

19668romantragediesleadlgfmt.jpgYesterday I attended one of the best theatrical experiences of my life – Shakespeare’s Roman Tragedies at the Barbican by Toneelgroep Amsterdam, directed by Ivo van Hove. In the last couple of weeks I’d already seen the first two instalments of the RSC’s Rome seasonJulius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. Both were good performances, classic dress with a range of intelligent performances and an impressive stage design.

But Roman Tragedies was something else entirely. The concept is to compress CoriolanusJulius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra together, for a performance that lasts six hours. There are several short breaks of three to five minutes, and one of ten minutes. It is in Dutch, with surtitles in English. It sounds brutal, but it wasn’t, and the time went by quickly. I only started to get tired in the last long act of Antony and Cleopatra, but that was far more to do with me than the performance.


This was a revival of a 2009 production, which I’d missed but of which I’d heard great things. The same group did Kings of War at the Barbican last year – Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III – which I’d really liked (some thoughts here). It was only on for three nights this time, and I’m glad I got to see it.

It was an outstanding evening – the quickest, spontaneous standing ovation I’ve been part of. Many highlights, but Hans Kesting’s Antony was excellent, especially in Julius Caesar. Bart Slegers was very good in two supporting roles as Aufidius and Enobarbus. Enobarbus ran outside the theatre at one point, into the service road outside the Barbican – handheld camera followed and the feed came back to the auditorium. I can imagine this works better on a less quiet street. Chris Nietvelt was a powerful Cleopatra; and there were several other excellent performances. Cassius and Octavius were both converted into female roles, which worked very well. The absence of the servant Lucius was an intriguing way into Brutus’ conflicted character; the use of video and music was excellent. Although the audience was encouraged to move about the theatre and join the actors on stage, I mainly stayed in the same place, in part because I had a good seat and I wanted to be able to see as much as possible – live action, video screen, surtitles, news feed – rather than have a restricted view. If I was to see it again, then I’d be more inclined to get closer; and if it was on again tonight, I’d be there.

Peter Kirwan has a much fuller review at The Bardathon – he saw the first run too, so compares the productions a little. Steve Mentz has a good discussion of the version he saw in Brooklyn at The Bookfish. There are mainstream reviews at The Stage and The Guardian.

Posted in Uncategorized, William Shakespeare | Leave a comment

Impact of Social Sciences – Google Scholar is a serious alternative to Web of Science

Impact of Social Sciences – ‘Google Scholar is a serious alternative to Web of Science’

An interesting piece, challenging some of assumptions about Google Scholar (some of which doubts I share). Of course, deciding which of the alternative ways to count publications and citations is a bit like deciding how to be measured for your coffin.

Many bibliometricians and university administrators remain wary of Google Scholar citation data, preferring “the gold standard” of Web of Science instead. Anne-Wil Harzing, who developed the Publish or Perish software that uses Google Scholar data, here sets out to challenge some of the misconceptions about this data source and explain why it offers a serious alternative to Web of Science. In addition to its flaws having been overstated, Google Scholar’s coverage of high-quality publications is more comprehensive in many areas, including in the social sciences and humanities, books and book chapters, conference proceedings and non-English language publications.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments