Friday, April 20, 2018

Next Talk: Department of Sociology and Social Policy, Seminar Series

Next talk is the USYD's Department of Sociology and Social Policy Seminar Series.  Details here.

Constellations of Scepticism: Contesting Climate Science and Scientists on the Blogosphere.

Discussions of the role of social media in spreading ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ often centre on misinformation. Falsehoods and conspiracy theories need to be debunked. Yet, focus on misinformation alone can suggest an arena without rules or evaluative logics. This talk engages with the case study of the climate sceptic blogosphere and how they construe, construct, and contest knowledge. Analysis of the climate sceptic blogosphere, one of the first arenas of online alternative facts, suggests that there are rules that organise legitimate knowledge. The organisation of knowledge claims in this sphere hints towards an underlying worldview that makes the arrangement of some claims and stances valued and others devalued. Missing this logic leads to an analysis that falls back into a deficit model of pubic misunderstanding of science and policy that assumes high information costs underlie rejection of stabilised facts.  This case study suggests that it is the willingness to select certain facts and misinterpret others that sociology needs to explain to understand the spread and reception of alternative facts online.

Friday, March 16, 2018

LCT Roundtable: Explanatory or Axiological Power? Determining the Basis of Cosmologies in Janus-Faced Discourses

Day of the talk. (Photo credit: Kirstin WIlmont)

I have another LCT roundtable coming on - 23rd of March, 2018. 

Title: Explanatory or Axiological Power? Determining the Basis of Cosmologies in Janus-Faced Discourses

Abstract: This roundtable will explore criteria to determine if explanatory power or axiological power is the finial basis for the selection and organization of knowledge practices on the climate sceptic blogosphere.  Climate sceptic bloggers frequently engage in political and policy discussion yet insist that the core problem of climate science and policy is the weakness of the empirical and conceptual underpinnings of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis.  Explanatory power is presented as the basis for legitimacy in climate science and climate politics, yet there is a case that the code matching of contrarian position with the mainstream position on climate science serves as a basis to contest knowledge-building and delay policy action (Toll, 2017). Glenn (2016) found that representatives from think-thanks who opposed carbon pricing did so on explicitly for ideological reasons – free market and libertarian ideals. Climate sceptics bloggers explicitly engage with the social science literature and reject these kinds of ideology driven explanations of their position and knowledge practices. On the blogosphere, the organizing principles of the climate sceptic cosmology are obscured and sensitivity needs to be paid to the construction of their epistemological and axiological constellations and how various elements are selected and evaluated.  Constellation analysis reveals tendencies that suggest axiological power and not explanatory power is the basis of climate sceptic bloggers’ cosmologies.

Glenn, E. (PhD, 2016) From Clashing to Matching: Examining the legitimation codes that underpin shifting views about climate change, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, Australia.
Toll, M. (2017) Hyper-knowledge codes: Contesting knowledge-building on the climate sceptic blogosphere, Second International Legitimation Code Theory Conference, Sydney, Australia, July.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Essay Writing Workshop

Workshop that Alexander Page and I put together for undergraduate students - also here.

LCT Roundtable

Title: Constellations of Scepticism: Contesting Climate Science with Hyper-Knowledge Codes

Mathew Toll, PhD Candidate, LCT Centre for Knowledge-Building

Abstract: Report after report assessing climate science details a growing mountain of evidence that climate change is indeed happening and that it is human caused. Considering this: how do climate sceptics maintain their scepticism? What can the LCT concept of constellations reveal about their belief systems and inform strategies of engagement with climate sceptics? This roundtable will employ constellations analysis to three central climate sceptic blogs and propose an extreme form of knowledge code that impedes knowledge-building. The climate sceptic blogosphere is a key venue for the development and distribution of climate misinformation. Recent political events have underscored the importance of understanding how climate denial is cultivated and legitimated online. Malcom Robert’s maiden speech to the Australian Senate, for instance, acknowledged the contribution to the public debate made by climate sceptic bloggers. While in the U.S. the election of Donald Trump has seen a concern with a new ‘post-truth’ politics online and an embracing of climate denial. Rather than a rejection of truth or science, central climate sceptic blogs position themselves as ‘auditors’ of climate science and demand technical competence as the basis of legitimacy, while the presence of any social features that deviate from an idealized conception of scientists is condemned. They therefore construct a form of knowledge code that establishes idealized – and potentially unattainable – standards of legitimate knowledge and knowers which provide a basis to contest knowledge without providing alternative explanatory power. Climate sceptics construct a constellation in which climate scientists are alarmist who fail to meet the norms of science, while climate sceptics defend these displaced norms with a hyper-knowledge code.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Tweeting #LCTC2

#LCTC2 on the final day
The Second Legitimation Code Theory Conference finished yesterday - for those who weren't there, here is the social media buzz on Twitter and Instagram around the conference (& here):

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sociology of Deviance and Difference

Camperdown Memorial Rest Park, Church St Newtown, Sydney. (14th, June,2017)
Alex Page and I are coordinating a Unit for Winter School, the Sociology of Deviance and Difference, and we wrote a brief note for the Unit of Study to convey the ethos and importance of such a topic. Here it is:

A Brief Note From Your Course Coordinators:

We would both like to formally welcome you to the Winter School version of Sociology of Deviance and Difference for 2017! In this intensive unit over the next two and half weeks we – Mathew Toll and Alex Page – will be working with you to unpack the nature of deviance and difference and ask questions like:  what is deviance? Is it socially constructed? And if so, how and why is it constructed in certain ways? Who gets to set the rules? Who gets to label someone a deviant? How is deviance and difference experienced? And, what are the relations of power at play that determine constructions of normalcy? Why this way and not another? These questions will inform the discussion of various social fields of practice to see who wins and who is deemed bad/mad/different and in need of sanction, disciplining, or exclusion.

From the outset, we want you to understand the direction this course through three kinds of stories:
  • Kinds of People Stories: deviance as rooted in the biological and psychological attributes of people.     
  • Kinds of Society Stories: deviance as norm-breaking, labelling processes, and the social construction of deviance and difference.  
  • Kinds of Power Stories: deviance and difference as an operation of power and struggle over who is considered normal.
Durkheim established a sociological understanding of deviance, kinds of society stories, and argues that norm-breaking rather than being a pathological aspect of society serve a set of key functions, not least norm-making. We always need to think about how the construction of deviance and difference are integral to a society, because even in a society of stains there are deviants: 

“Imagine a community of saints in an exemplary and perfect monastery. In it crime as such will be unknown, but faults that appear venial to the ordinary person will arouse the same scandal as does normal crime in ordinary consciences. If therefore that the community has the power to judge and punish, it will term such acts criminal and deal with them as such. It is for the same reason that the completely honourable man judges his slightest moral failings with a severity that the mass of people reserves for acts that are truly criminal. In former times acts of violence against the person were more frequent than they are today because respect for individual dignity was weaker. As it has increased, such crimes have become less frequent, but many acts which offended against that sentiment have been incorporated into the penal code, which did not previously include them.” 
- Emile Durkheim (1983, 100), Rules for a Sociological Method.
Foucault takes us further and argues that the disciplinary powers that act on people who are deviant or different are found in many institutions in modern society beyond formally punitive institutions.   He makes us think about how disciplinary and normalizing power spreads throughout the social body and impacts everyone: power is in all relations, forming and reforming people’s bodies and souls:

“The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social worker’-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behaviour, his aptitudes, his achievements. The carceral network, in its compact or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observation, has been the greatest support, in modem society, of the normalizing power.”

 – Michel Foucault (1995, 304), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Our final quote comes from Vaneigem, who pushes us beyond the textbooks and into the reality of our own worlds:

“People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints - such people have a corpse in their mouth.”

- Raoul Vaneigem (2001, 26), The Revolution of Everyday Life.

This sentiment is vital for the Sociology of Deviance and Difference – vital for sociology. Vaneigem demands of us to connect theoretical tools and frameworks down to the social realities of lived experience. Not only is this a good use of your sociological imagination, we strive to do this because it also means you develop the skills to pull apart complex social phenomena in your own day-to-day lives! We believe is this the very foundation of a good sociological education. Maintaining norms and sectioning ‘deviants’ is a key way we ourselves exert power over others and this course aims to make us conscious of our own use of power.  

We would like to acknowledge Prof Karl Maton, Dr Nadine Ehlers, and Fadi Baghdadi for their help in constructing this course. Finally, we wish you the best throughout Winter School 2017, and are here to assist you in any way we can.

Mathew Toll and Alex Page