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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lecture on Foucault

This week I did a lecture in Sociological Theory on Michel Foucault - Fadi and Alex did me a favour and filmed it for me.  And Fadi has posted it on his youtube channel - if you are interested in an introduction to Foucault: here it is. I have also uploaded the audio to soundcloud

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Second International Legitimation Code Theory Conference: Paper

The Second International Legitimation Code Theory Conference is happening at the University of Sydney, July 2017.  I have a paper in the conference: 
Title: Hyper-Knowledge Codes: Contesting Knowledge-Building on the Climate Sceptic Blogosphere.
Knowledge codes are not guarantees of knowledge-building; in fact, some may hinder it. This paper explores a ‘hyper-knowledge codes’ through a cosmological analysis of climate sceptic blogs. Studies of the field of production that employ Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) have principally focused on disciplines where the basis of legitimation is a knower code. Maton (2014: 38) identifies the potential of social knower codes to fragment disciplines and undermine knowledge-building. While studies of knowledge code disciplines, e.g. physics, chemistry and biology, have focused on impediments students face to educational attainment and the realization of legitimate knowledge and not the field of production.  Yet, outside knower code disciplines, LCT suggests that the relative emphasis on relations between knowledge practices and the known (ontic relations) or relations between knowledge practices and other knowledges (discursive relations) can produce divergent trajectories in knowledge code fields and impose costs on knowledge-building (Maton 2014: 175, 182).  As Maton (2014: 182) notes “knowledge codes are neither homogeneous nor royal roads to cumulative knowledge-building: stronger epistemic relations  do not by themselves guarantee intellectual progress.” Here a form of knowledge code is proposed that destabilizes knowledge-building by establishing idealized standards of legitimate knowledge and legitimate knowers which are difficult for actors to approximate.

The substantive case study for this theorization is the construal and contestation of legitimate knowledge and knowers on the climate sceptic blogosphere.  Bloggers question the core-set of experts, the assessment reports and statements of leading scientific institutions. Normative literature on the blogosphere either positions it as a positive intervention into the climate change debate as an “extended peer community” (Ravetz 2011: 149) or, more typically, a component of the “denial machine” (Dunlap and McCright 2011: 147) that echoes doubt and misinformation about climate science.  This raises the question of how to describe the knowledge practices of the climate sceptic blogosphere and how bloggers construct, construe and contest knowledge around climate change.  While the importance of the blogosphere for the circulation of climate scepticism is widely acknowledged, and the discourses of the blogosphere have affected the public debate on climate change, there has been comparatively little empirical examination of this sphere (Dunlap 2013).  LCT provides a language of description to unpack the knowledge practices of these actors and assess their engagement in processes of legitimation.  

To address this, a cosmological analysis and analysis of the Specialization codes was conducted. Cosmological analysis provides a means to see how, form a standpoint, the different practices or stances of a field can be arranged, condensed with meaning, and positively charged or negatively charged (Maton 2014: 149-150) and thus allows for an analysis of what knowledge and knowers climate sceptic construe as legitimate.  Blogposts from high-value climate sceptic blogs identified through their centrality in the hyperlink network of the blogosphere are used as the primary data in this paper.  Thematic analysis was first conducted to identify the reoccurring patterns of the climate sceptic discourse after which a constellation analysis and an analysis of the Specialization codes was applied to the themes generated from the data.  The analysis reveals a constellation of stances, from the positively charged climate sceptics, to lukewarmers, and negatively charged alarmists.  Evaluation of these relative positions in the field is based on an idealized conception of science and scientists as disinterested, sceptical and falsificationist.  Technical competence is emphasised as the basis of achievement (ER +) and indications of the gaze of scientists or potential axiology is negative evaluated (SR-).  Open puzzles, interpretative latitude, semantic density or tight social networks of scientists can become the basis of contestation.  From this idealized conception of science, bloggers critique mainstream climatologists, scientific institutions, and boundary organisations that deviate from their ideal of a hyper-knowledge code.  The trouble of maintaining this ideal, provides a basis to contest knowledge without providing alternative explanatory power, and thus aims to impedes knowledge-building. 

Dunlap, R. (2013). "Climate Change Skepticism and Denial:  An Introduction." American Behavioral Scientist 20(10): 1-8.
Dunlap, R. E. and A. M. McCright (2011). “Organized Climate Change Denial.”, The Oxford Handbooks of Climate Change. J. S. Dryzek, R. B. Norgaard and D. Schlosberg. London, Oxford University Press: 144-160.
Maton, K. (2014). Knowledge and Knowers: Towards a Realist Sociology of Education. London, Routledge.
Ravetz, J. (2011). "‘Climategate’ and the maturing of post-normal science." Futures 43(2): 149-157.
Giving the talk at #LCTC2, 7th of July, 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Alex Page's Top 10 (or so) Tips for Doing A PhD

Alex garbing together a gang, Fadi and I  (Melbourne, for TASA2016)

A guest post from Alexander Page on 'doing a Phd'. Alex is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney looking into 
Indigenous community organisations in Western Sydney and their interactions with government. - Mathew. 

The Tips!

     You v The Thesis – it’s up to you to take control of your thesis, it’s a training period and it will be hard, but you’ve got that will power to get here – make sure you maintain it throughout)
     “What’s next?” – a key question to ask yourself at all times. You always need to keep moving forward in the PhD, otherwise you’ll not only feel worse, but you may drown! Ask yourself, “what’s next?” and then “how much can you do in 3.5 years?” – this will keep you moving, no matter how small
     Chip away / The Marathon Mentality – this is not a sprint, it’s a long slug. Chipping away, everyday, whether it be a book, 3 journals, 1000 words or whatever, just make sure you’re moving every single day
     Look for diamonds in everything / collect, don’t hoard – whether it is inside your field, in other areas of study, or through art, music, film, fiction whatever! Steal great ideas from everywhere, get creative, make them yours. Also, is reading all of Foucault totally necessary? Grab the diamonds.
     Recharge and recalibrate – while you might not guess it from my aura, it’s important to take the time to cool down, and let enough fuel build up for the following day. A journal rejection, a tough student, an idea that’s not getting into your brain fast enough – these will all take a toll. Make sure you give yourself the space to recharge and recalibrate when you need (and to let your family and friends know if necessary)
     Exercise, now – I’m not joking. Swimming, walking, jogging, power lifting, whatever. Keep your body moving so you don’t get a sore back, feel stuck, whatever – it’s interesting the way pushing a little thing in one direction a bunch of times will calm you down. It’s simple, and repetitive, and doesn’t require a detailed theory of action behind it (unless you’re a sports physicist, which you’re probably not). Clear the head.
     Healthy diet, lots of water – seems simple, but wait til you’re in 3rd year reaching for the free Tim Tams and wondering why your sugar crashes at 2pm, you losing a day with an impending due date. Be smart about it – the healthy body is not an obstacle, it’s another get recharger in the service of the mind. Also, water is key for all aspects of your health, and will help dilute the inhuman amounts of caffeine you’re about to consume.
     You Will Drown and This Is Good – you will feel overwhelmed at times. In the first year, heaps of my mates have described feeling totally adrift. Drowning. No land in sight. That’s great – that’s immersion. But what you have to do is swim, it doesn’t matter in what direction, but work through it and eventually you’ll hit land. If you accept drowning you won’t move.
     Family (chosen & biological) as vital for rest – your family and friends should get a PhD Program starter pack too – especially your partner if you’re that way inclined. Be as open in communicating about the process as possible, because time with them is invaluable for healing yourself up after a week of reading Foucault for 60 hours up in the theory clouds rather than in the ‘real world’. Your family will ground you and keep you on the path.
     Mental health (diarize, constant reflection; CAPS) – as a person who has had experience with the health of the mental, and the absence thereof, keeping yourself in reflection and check is vital. The PhD will be heavy weight for a few years (the feeling of ‘I haven’t done my homework, I haven’t read/written/listened to enough’ does not leave). Therefore, outputting through a research log/diary, outputting in different ways, and making sure you know the services on offer around you is important. CAPS is free on campus, and they’ve been amazing for myself and heaps of my friends and students – keep them in mind if you think someone could use a hand up and some strategies for dealing with the stress of the PhD.
     Communication with supervisor – be honest, succinct, clear
     Supervisors should be supportive, not competitive/combative – very simple. Supervisor relationships are messy, complex, and varied. The best are supportive, collaborative and hope-filled. However, there are a minority of cases where it can go the other way. The best advice I can give you here is to talk openly with your supervisor, and let people know if it’s not going the way you think it should be going, as early as possible. There is no award for surviving passive aggression.
     Budgeting $ – be smart with your money as best you can – libraries exist, free online PDFs exist, scanning and printing is free here. There’s also a student loan service on campus if you need.
     Write, write, write. Every single day, even 100w is good – get synthesizing early, and marinate those heavy ideas as quickly as you possibly can.
     Plan, plan, plan. What do you want? When? Why?
     File, file, file. What goes where? Why? Your admin is vital here. I can find my student feedback from 2013 in an instant, for example, along with my notes on the work of Giddens from Honours. However, make sure you back-up your material across 5 different sources! (The story of someone’s computer crashing and losing 6 months work is pure heartache I promise you)
     Time and how you use it – management and planning is key here. Break it down from year goals, to a monthly breakdown, into a week-by-week planner, which then gets broken down further into a daily timetable. With this, you can do any of those chapters, interviews, and publications with mental clarity, rather than feeling an immense pressure to do everything all at once all the time.
     Say yes to everything – journal invitations, conference, admin roles, speaking opportunities, collaboration; all of these are great, as long as you’re realistic about fitting them in…
     BUT have a ‘No Committee’ – people you trust that you can explain the opportunity to in a rational way, and then respect them if they say “No, don’t do that, stay on the path”. I cannot overemphasise this, and it leads to my next tip…
     Grab your people, start a gang, get tattoos – This is something I said to one of my best mates, another PhD here, in a moment of total success (they come rarely, so embrace them, trust me). He’d just secured a new teaching role in his second year, and his win felt like my win and vice versa. I highly recommend saying hello, reaching out, and meeting people you can hang out with. All wins are shared, all obstacles are shared, all challenges are discussed and reassessed and all success is glorious. Uglier hues in the tattoo the better.
     Teaching as learning/grounding – if you get the opportunity to do some teaching, I highly recommend you do so. It will not only teach you so much more about your own subject area, but will also remind you as to its importance. The moment a Youth pulls apart something recently in the news with the insight of a fellow PhD is a glorious one, and rejuvenating. Trust me.
     Six days a week / fluctuations in hours – sometimes 60 hours a week will be necessary. Sometimes 3 books need to be read this week. Othertimes you’ll have to mark 120 assignments, teach those 6 tutorials, and somehow hold together a relationship – there are fluctuations in having such a self-centred timetable, make sure you’re allocating your time and keeping on top of it. Weeks can fly by really quickly.
     Ethics application – a fantastic refinement process (can be arduous, but so important to both your participants, and your own research direction and clarity)
     Call/email your heroes – why not? How many times would some of your favourite academics get a lovely ‘thank you for the book’ note? Ten bucks it’s not very often. Give them a call!
     A bad first draft is still a first draft (edit, rather than perfect)
     Get as much feedback as possible (show your work) – send it to those people you are reading a lot of; all they can do is say no! Never be scared to show your work, nothing is every perfect and you’re training.
     Admin are saints – say hello, offer a hand
     Essential apps: Word v Scrivener; Endnote; Evernote; Hourglass; Google Scholar/alerts
     Essential ‘presence’: publish, conferences, online (Researchgate,, ORCID), uni website
FINAL TIP: START TODAY – No time to waste on this project, so maximise your days and get stuck into it. Feel free to email me any questions, see you in the trenches!

By Alexander Page.