Posts Tagged ‘sociology’

Conflicting logics of online higher education

Mariya P. Ivancheva, Rebecca Swartz, Neil P. Morris, Sukaina Walji, Bronwen J. Swinnerton, Taryn Coop & Laura Czerniewicz (2020) Conflicting logics of online higher education, British Journal of Sociology of Education, DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2020.1784707

The advent of massive open online courses and online degrees offered via digital platforms has occurred in a climate of austerity. Public universities worldwide face challenges to expand their educational reach, while competing in international rankings, raising fees and generating third-stream income. Online forms of unbundled provision offering smaller flexible low-cost curricular units have promised to disrupt this system. Yet do these forms challenge existing hierarchies in higher education and the market logic that puts pressure on universities and public institutions at large in the neoliberal era? Based on fieldwork in South Africa, this article explores the perceptions of senior managers of public universities and of online programme management companies. Analysing their considerations around unbundled provision, we discuss two conflicting logics of higher education that actors in structurally different positions and in historically divergent institutions use to justify their involvement in public–private partnerships: the logic of capital and the logic of social relevance.

Unbundling – the disaggregation of educational provision and its delivery, often via digital technologies

Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot’s (2006) framework of different orders of justification, connecting them to the sociological literature on institutional logics

We suggest that more explicit and nuanced national and institutional policies need to be produced around unbundled provision, which are cognisant of emerging trends in and dangers to the evolution of unbundling at public universities.

Unbundling the traditional university ‘bundle’ affects not only property, services and facilities, but also administration, evaluation, issuing credentials and even teaching (Wallhaus 2000, 22). This process involves separating educational provision (e.g. degree programmes) into component parts (e.g. courses) for delivery by multiple stakeholders, often using digital approaches (Swinnerton et al. 2018). Universities can unbundle on their own, offering individual credit-bearing modules outside bounded disciplinary curricula, or in partnership with OPM providers, offering MOOCs or credit-bearing courses or programmes. Proponents of unbundling suggest that the disaggregation of television and music production and its re-aggregation as on-demand digital content like Netflix or Spotify could represent a template for universities (Craig 2015; McIntosh 2018).

The introduction of market logic into the sector happens even if higher education is a stratified positional pseudo-market with scarce excludible resources only available to groups with access to a few prestigious institutions; its outcomes and value are difficult to measure in purely economic terms

Under accelerated marketisation, Tomlinson (2018, 714 and 724) argues, higher education is reduced to the latter frame and measured in terms of income generation, employability, consumption and performativity. Building on this framework, and relating it to unbundling, we identify the emergence of two organisational logics of higher education: the logic of social relevance and the logic of capital.

Institutional logics are ‘supra-organizational patterns of activity by which individuals and organizations produce and reproduce their material subsistence … [and] symbolic systems, ways of ordering reality… rendering experience of time and space meaningful’ (Friedland and Alford 1991, 243). Unlike new institutionalism, which remained focused on processes of institutional isomorphism or the replacement of a static single logic by another, the institutional logics perspective offers a more dynamic multi-level view: a plurality of logics coexist in complex interrelations within organisational fields like higher education

fake news hybrid war

Russia and far right spreading disinformation ahead of EU elections, investigators say

‘The goal here is bigger than any one election. It is to constantly divide, increase distrust and undermine our faith in institutions and democracy itself’
Matt Apuzzo, Adam Satariano 2019-05-12T13:13:04+01:00″

Zygmunt Bauman

Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap”

The Polish-born sociologist is skeptical about the possibilities for political change


Leeds University where he is now Emeritus Professor of Sociology.

his theory of liquid modernity in the late 1990s – which describes our age as one in which “all agreements are temporary, fleeting, and valid only until further notice” – he has become a leading figure in the field of sociology.

People no longer believe in the democratic system because it doesn’t keep its promises. We see this, for example, with the migration crisis: it’s a global phenomenon, but we still act parochially. Our democratic institutions were not designed for dealing with situations of interdependence. The current crisis of democracy is a crisis of democratic institutions.

If you want more security, you’re going to have to give up a certain amount of freedom; if you want more freedom, you’re going to have to give up security. This dilemma is going to continue forever. Forty years ago we believed that freedom had triumphed and we began an orgy of consumerism.

The situation in Catalonia, as in Scotland or Lombardy, is a contradiction between tribal identity and citizenship. They are Europeans, but they don’t want to talk to Brussels via Madrid, but via Barcelona. The same logic is emerging in almost every country. We are still following the same principles established at the end of World War I, but there have been many changes in the world.

Q. You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called “armchair activism,” and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people?

A. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control.

Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice

more on sociology in this IMS blog

Identity Politics New Tribalism and the Crisis of Democracy

Fukuyama, F. (2018). Against Identity Politics: The New Tribalism and the Crisis of Democracy. Foreign Affairs97(5), 90–114. Retrieved from

For the most part, twentieth-century politics was defined by economic issues. On the left, politics centered on workers, trade unions, social welfare programs, and redistributive policies. The right, by contrast, was primarily interested in reducing the size of government and promoting the private sector. Politics today, however, is defined less by economic or ideological concerns than by questions of identity. Now, in many democracies, the left focuses less on creating broad economic equality and more on promoting the interests of a wide variety of marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities, immigrants and refugees, women, and lgbt people. The right, meanwhile, has redefined its core mission as the patriotic protection of traditional national identity, which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity,
or religion.

Again and again, groups have come to believe that their identities—whether national, religious, ethnic, sexual, gender, or otherwise—are not receiving adequate recognition. Identity politics is no longer a minor phenomenon, playing out only in the rarified confines of university campuses or providing a backdrop to low-stakes skirmishes in “culture wars” promoted by the mass media. Instead, identity politics has become a master concept that explains much of what is going on in global affairs.

Democratic societies are fracturing into segments based on ever-narrower identities,
threatening the possibility of deliberation and collective action by society as a whole. This is a road that leads only to state breakdown and, ultimately, failure. Unless such liberal democracies can work their way back to more universal understandings of human dignity,
they will doom themselves—and the world—to continuing conflict.

But in liberal democracies, equality under the law does not result in economic or social equality. Discrimination continues to exist against a wide variety of groups, and market economies produce large inequalities of outcome.

And the proportion of white working-class children growing up in single-parent families rose from 22 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2017.

Nationalists tell the disaffected that they have always been core members of a great
nation and that foreigners, immigrants, and elites have been conspiring to hold them down.

Tinder dating privacy

I asked Tinder for my data. It sent me 800 pages of my deepest, darkest secrets

The dating app knows me better than I do, but these reams of intimate information are just the tip of the iceberg. What if my data is hacked – or sold?

Every European citizen is allowed to do so under EU data protection law, yet very few actually do, according to Tinder.

With the help of privacy activist Paul-Olivier Dehaye from and human rights lawyer Ravi Naik, I emailed Tinder requesting my personal data and got back way more than I bargained for.

Some 800 pages came back containing information such as my Facebook “likes”, links to where my Instagram photos would have been had I not previously deleted the associated account, my education, the age-rank of men I was interested in, how many Facebook friends I had, when and where every online conversation with every single one of my matches happened … the list goes on.

Reading through the 1,700 Tinder messages I’ve sent since 2013, I took a trip into my hopes, fears, sexual preferences and deepest secrets. Tinder knows me so well. It knows the real, inglorious version of me who copy-pasted the same joke to match 567, 568, and 569; who exchanged compulsively with 16 different people simultaneously one New Year’s Day, and then ghosted 16 of them.

“What you are describing is called secondary implicit disclosed information,” explains Alessandro Acquisti, professor of information technology at Carnegie Mellon University. “Tinder knows much more about you when studying your behaviour on the app. It knows how often you connect and at which times; the percentage of white men, black men, Asian men you have matched; which kinds of people are interested in you; which words you use the most; how much time people spend on your picture before swiping you, and so on. Personal data is the fuel of the economy. Consumers’ data is being traded and transacted for the purpose of advertising.”.

In May, an algorithm was used to scrape 40,000 profile images from the platform in order to build an AI to “genderise” faces. A few months earlier, 70,000 profiles from OkCupid (owned by Tinder’s parent company Match Group) were made public by a Danish researcher some commentators have labelled a “white supremacist”, who used the data to try to establish a link between intelligence and religious beliefs. The data is still out there.


more on social media dating in this IMS blog

Social Democrats in Disarray

What’s Left?: Social Democrats in Disarray

Alan Johnson Summer 2015

Why has the right, including the populist right, rather than the left, been the main political beneficiary of the anger and bitterness that has roiled Europe since the 2008 financial crash, the eurozone crisis, and the resulting deep recession and brutal austerity? After all, these events surely proved the relevance of the left’s critique of capitalism.

The left is increasingly marginal to political life in Europe despite the fact that, in the words of Owen Jones, an important voice of the British left, “Living standards are falling, public assets are being flogged to private interests, a tiny minority are being enriched at the expense of society and the hard-won gains of working people—social security, rights in the workplace and so on—are being stripped away.” And the radical parties and movements to the left of the social democratic parties have been faring no better. In the brutally honest assessment of the British Marxist Alex Callinicos, “Nearly seven years after the financial crash began, the radical left has not been weaker for decades.”

But the European left’s inability to forcefully meet the crisis is not due to a failure of individual political leaders, but the fact that it has not developed, in theory or practice, a response to the three great waves of change—economic, socio-cultural, and politico-intellectual—that have crashed over it since the late 1970s.

The fruits of this radical transformation of European social democracy into a political force pursuing a slightly kinder and a slightly gentler neoliberalism—which some dub “social neoliberalism”—have been bitter.

While capital is global, mobile, and regnant, organized labor is increasingly deindustrialized, indebted, and precarious; often temporary, part-time, insecure, and, quite frankly, unorganized.

an explosion of inequality, relative poverty, and acquisitive individualism.

The manic, pathological quality of neoliberal consumerism has produced an explosion of personal debt.

the crisis of the European left is also intellectual.


Lin Chun China expert

Chun, L. (2017). Discipline and power: knowledge of China in political science. Critical Asian Studies49(4), 501-522. doi:10.1080/14672715.2017.1362321

Lin Chun or ResearchGate:

p. 501 – is political science “softer” than the other soft social sciences?
thus…  political science “may never live up to its lofty ambition of scientific explanation and prediction. Indeed, like other social sciences, it can be no more than a ‘ science in formation’ permanently seeking to surmount obstacles to objectivity.”

p. 502 disciplinary parochialism
the fetishes of pure observation, raw experience, unambiguous rationality, and one-way causality were formative influences in the genesis of the social sciences. the ‘unfortunate positivism” of such impulses, along with the illusion of a value-free science, converged to produce a behavioral revolution in the interwar period Behaviorism was then followed through an epistemological twist, by boldly optimistic leaps to an “end of ideology” and ultimately to a claimed “end of history” itself.

p. 503
early positivism was openly underpinned by an European condescension toward Asians’ “ignorance and prejudice.” Behind similar depictions lay a comprehensive Eurocentric social and political philosophy.
this is illustrated its view of China through the grand narrative of modernization.

p. 504
Robert McNamara famously reiterated that if World War I was a chemist’s war and Word War II a physicist’s, Vietnam “might well have to be considered the social scientists’ war.”

Although China nominally remains a communist state, it has doubtlessly changed color without a color revolution.

p. 505
In the fixed disciplinary eye, “China” is to specific to produce anything generalizable beyond descriptive and self-containing narratives. The area studies approach, in contrast to disciplinary approaches, is all about cultural, historical, and ethnographic specificities.

If first-hand information contradicts theoretical conclusions, redress is sought only at the former end (my note – ha ha ha, such an elegant but scathing criticism of [Western] academia).

The catch [is] that Chinese otherness is in essence not a matter of cultural difference (hence limitations of criticizing Eurocentrism and Orientalism) and does not merely reproduce itself by inertia.
Given a long omitted self-critical rethinking of the discipline’s parochial base, calling for cross-fertilizing alone would be fruitless or even lead only to a one-way colonization of seemingly particularistic histories by an illusive universal science.

p. 506
political culture, once a key concept of political science’s hope for unified theorization, has turned out to be no answer
Long after its heyday, modernization theory – now with its new face of globalization – remains a primary signifier and legitimating benchmark. To those, who use it to gauge developments since 1945, private property and liberal democracy are permanent, unquestioned norms that are to be globally homogenized.
Moreover, since modernity is assumed to be a liberal capitalists condition, the revolutionary nationalism of an oppressed people remaking itself into a new historical subject noncompliant with capitalism cannot be modernizational.

p. 507
Political scientists and historical sociologists… saw the communist in power as formidable modernizers, but distinguished the Maoist model from the Stalinist in economic management and campaign politics.
Their analyses showed how organic connections between top-down mobilization and bottom-up participation cultivated in an active citizenry and high intensity politics. My note: I disagree here with the author, since such statement can be arbitrary from a historical point of view; indeed, for a short period of time, such “organic connection” can produce positive results, but once calcitrated (as it is in China for the past 6-7 decades), it turns stagnant.

p. 510
the state’s altered support base is essentially a matter of class power, involving both adaptive cultivation of new economic elites and iron-fist approaches to protest and dissent. By the same weight of historical logic, the party’s internal decay, loss of its founding ideological vision and commitment, and collusion with capital will do more than any outside force ever could do to destroy the regime.
That the Party stays in power is not primarily because the country’s economy continues to grow, but is more attributable to a residual social reliance on its credentials and organizational capacities accumulated in earlier revolutionary and socialist struggles. This historical promise has so far worked to the extent that cracks within the leadership are more or less held in check, resentment against local wrongs are insulated from central intentions, and social policies in one way or another respond to common outcries, consultative deliberations, and pressure groups.

p. 511
The word “madness” has indeed been freely employed to describe nations and societies judged inept at modern reason, as found in contemporary academic publications on epi- sodes of the PRC history.
My note: I agree with this – the deconstructionalists: (Jaques Derrida, Tzvetan Todorov) linguistically prove the inability of Western cultures to understand and explain other cultures. In this case, Lin Chun is right; just because western political scientist cannot comprehend foreign complex societal problems and/or juxtaposing them to their own “schemes,” prompts the same western researchers to announce them as “mad.”

p. 513aa
This is the best and worst of times for the globalization of knowledge. In one scenario, an eventual completion of the political science parameters can now seal both knowledge, sophisticatedly canalized, and ideology, universally uncontested – even if the two are never separable in the foundation of political science. In another scenario, causes and effects no longer rule out atypical polities, but the differences are presented as culturally incompatible. In either case, the trick remains to let anormalies make the norms validate preexist- ing disciplinary sanctions.

p. 514
Overcoming outmoded rigidities will nurture a robust scholarship committed to universally resonant theories.

more on China in this IMS blog

middle class in developed countries

Middle Class Fortunes in Western Europe

From 1991 to 2010, the middle class expands in France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, but, as in the United States, shrinks in Germany, Italy and Spain

The role of the middle class in developed economies

The size and the well-being of the middle class are intertwined with some of the key economic challenges facing the developed world this century – income inequality is rising in many countries, economic growth is anemic, and economic mobility is lesser than in the past.

A smaller middle class or a relatively less well-off middle class often reflects a more unequal income distribution. In turn, increases in income inequality present an adverse climate for economic growth. A relative decline in the incomes of lower- and middle-income families may create a drag on overall consumption in the economy, lead to excessive borrowing by these families, or provide disincentives to invest in education.

middle class in the US is smaller than in Western Europe

A more vibrant middle class may also improve the economic outlook for future generations. In the U.S., for example, communities with larger middle classes offer a greater likelihood that children will experience upward mobility relative to their parents’ status in the income distribution. A similar relationship has also been found to exist across countries, whereby intergenerational mobility is greater in countries with less income inequality.

Many countries in Western Europe have significantly larger middle classes than the U.S.

The U.S. has larger lower- and upper-income tiers than the selected countries from Western Europe

Income inequality is related to the size of the middle class in a country



davos class

The Davos Class

State of Corporations – The rise of illegitimate power and the threat to democracy (PDF, 902KB)
Susan George

State of Davos – The camel’s nose in the tents of global governance (PDF, 308KB)
David Sogge

State of Surveillance –The NSA files and the global fightback (PDF, 778KB)
Ben Hayes

State of Empire – How failed foreign policy, new emerging economies, and peoples’ movements are undermining US power(PDF, 526KB)
Phyllis Bennis

Zygmunt Bauman Social media are a trap

Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap.”The Polish-born sociologist is skeptical about the possibilities for political change

Since developing his theory of liquid modernity in the late 1990s – which describes our age as one in which “all agreements are temporary, fleeting, and valid only until further notice” – he has become a leading figure in the field of sociology.
Q. You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called “armchair activism,” and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people?
A. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.

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