Re-thinking, re-considering, and chewing over Hildyard’s “Blood and Culture”



(c) Mark Fusco 2016. From the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative’s MultiCultural Festival 2016: ImagiNations Without Borders. See

This piece by Nicholas Hildyard, titled “Blood and Culture: Ethnic Conflict and the Authoritarian Right,” seems absolutely necessary for today.

Slate’s Jamelle Bouie and others are pushing back on the idea that the white working class support for Trump is primarily class-based, rather than rooted in racist and xenophobic resentment and fear. I’ve argued that they can’t be cleanly separated, which I’d think Hildyard would concur with. At the same time, he warned — way back in 1999! — that

Though necessary, the focus on the visible structures of economic exclusion (TNCs, neoliberal trade treaties and the like) has led to a partial obscuring of other, concurrent forms of exclusion — not least the newly-reworked ideologies which currently underpin and legitimise much discrimination.86 “Blood” and “culture” explanations of ethnic conflict are just two examples.

As a consequence, the ground on which globalisation is increasingly being challenged is ground that is as easily occupied by elements of the authoritarian but radical Right as it is by the progressive Left. The impression often gained is that the challenge to globalisation forms a platform shared by both Left and Right.

In reality, no such common platform exists: there are authoritarian responses to globalisation and there are progressive responses — and the two strands are confused at peril.

If I’m not mistaken, this is what Bouie and others (like my friend Stephen Robinson) are getting at, at least in part… that compromise and common cause cannot and must not be made with authoritarians around real and legitimate concerns and marginalization of many communities, including white working class communities.

A platform shared with authoritarian interests inevitably legitimises those interests, giving them a credibility that they might otherwise not enjoy.89 …such platforms send a public message to many groups who might otherwise be allies that progressives are prepared to set aside certain core issues (anti-racism, for example) in the fight against globalisation… the failure to place opposition to the ideologies underpinning social exclusion on a par with opposition to economic exclusion gives wider scope for authoritarian interests to shape the localisms that are emerging in response to corporate rule — scope which might not be so available if the focus of opposition was not concentrated so exclusively on economic exclusion.

Attractive — and necessary — as it might be to evolve as wide an opposition to globalisation as possible, it is surely also critical to have in mind where that opposition is likely to lead. The alliances that progressives enter into — albeit tacitly — will inevitably influence the outcome of their opposition. If they are serious in their commitment to “localisms” that are cosmopolitan, open and equitable, it is not enough to “talk the talk”. More important still is to “walk the walk” — for whom we chose to walk with ultimately plays a large part in determining where we end up walking. (emphasis added)

To elaborate on my confusion, this is a key element, to my read, of Bouie’s argument that “Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Are Screwing Up the Resistance to Donald Trump”:

It seems reasonable for Warren and Sanders to make a distinction between Trump as blue-collar populist and Trump as racist demagogue. But that distinction doesn’t exist. Supporting a Trump-branded infrastructure initiative as a discrete piece of policy where two sides can find common ground only bolsters a white-nationalist politics, even if you oppose the rest of Trump’s agenda. It legitimizes and gives fuel to white tribalism as a political strategy. It shows that there are tangible gains for embracing Trump-style demagoguery. Likewise, it seems reasonable to want to recast support for Trump as an expression of populism. But Trump’s is a racial populism—backed almost entirely by white Americans, across class lines—that revolves around demands to reinforce existing racial and status hierarchies.

Where I perhaps started getting lost with the details of Bouie’s argument was the contrast he makes with Harry Reid’s statements. He quotes Warren:

“There are millions of people who did not vote for Donald Trump because of the bigotry and hate that fueled his campaign rallies. They voted for him despite hate,” Warren said in a speech after the election. “They voted for him out of frustration and anger—and also out of hope that he would bring change.”

And goes on

Both Warren and Sanders emphasize that bigotry was part of Trump’s message. But they want to separate the “deplorables” from the larger group of more ordinary Americans who just wanted a change of pace. And to that end, they both promise to work with Trump provided he chooses a populist agenda.

In contrast, he writes

There is an alternative to the rhetoric of Warren and Sanders that gets you to the same place without the same pitfalls. Following Trump’s election, outgoing Nevada Sen. Harry Reid issued this statement.

I have personally been on the ballot in Nevada for 26 elections and I have never seen anything like the reaction to the election completed last Tuesday. The election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America.

Reid continues:

We as a nation must find a way to move forward without consigning those who Trump has threatened to the shadows. Their fear is entirely rational, because Donald Trump has talked openly about doing terrible things to them. …

If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump, a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate. Winning the electoral college does not absolve Trump of the grave sins he committed against millions of Americans. Donald Trump may not possess the capacity to assuage those fears, but he owes it to this nation to try.

Reid doesn’t preclude cooperation; this isn’t a call for blockade. What the Nevada senator does, however, is center the fears and concerns of nonwhite Americans. He essentially offers conditional terms: If you work to reduce and repudiate the fear and hate of your campaign, then there is a chance to “move forward.” Otherwise, there are no deals to make. Reid’s statement has all the room you need for a populist message to working-class whites. But it makes that message contingent on buy-in for an inclusive agenda.

(I would have made all this shorter, but I ran out of time.)

I suppose the key element where I basically got myself lost is that I see little hope, and have little interest, in the tactics of individual politicians. I have only vague interest in what Warren and Bernie do — ok, that’s not true, I find them keenly interesting, and they obviously wield incredible influence, but in terms of addressing long-term structural problems, I look to their leadership about equally as much as I look to John Oliver, which is to say, far from zero, but not as my bedrock interest. But what I mean is that, party politics does not interest me as the way forward. I’ve long been very interested in the terms of decadal-level change. And while our current electoral system is part of that — of course — I tend to see it more as the object for change than the lever for it.

So while our politicians should not cooperate with Donald Trump without demanding a repudiation of his bigoted campaign and promises, I agree there, I also think we as citizens and communities do need to find ways to cooperate with those who may have voted for Trump. (I know, some of my smartest friends disagree with this and are skeptical of the tractability–if any–there is for supporters of Trump’s racism, misogyny, and demogoguery.) On the one hand, even in the most vicious and outwardly violent conflicts, you have to negotiate with–and eventually allow empathy for–those on a different side than you. An incredible amount of fiction (and nonfiction) has written about the parallels of treating one’s enemy as inhuman. After all, an enemy who is irredeemably Other can only be killed or vanquished, not negotiated with and eventually lived beside. And of course, the accomplishments of US Civil Rights movements–efforts which are obviously, painfully incomplete–did not occur based purely on ostracization of racists. While we needed rhetoric of not one single figure, but rather the likes of MLK, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, James Baldwin, all, and more than them besides — that is, a plethora of approaches and analyses, and analysts and analyses that changed over time. While one could reasonably characterize civil rights advancements as “You’re either with [racism], or you will act with us against [it],” space must be made, at the same time, FOR this “acting against it.”

So that is where I slightly differ from Bouie’s analysis. It is not a contradiction, per se, but a difference in emphasis. While it is important how our politicians deal with Trump, to me, far more important is how we figure out how to deal with each other. We need more spaces and venues to talk — and deliberate and HAVE EFFECTS (e.g. change spending, priorities, and the like) — with those we may not already agree with. We need concrete opportunities where we can say “we are committed to supporting marginalized communities and have no place for racism, patriarchy, xenophobia, or heterosexism” but then the opportunity to show this commitment can actually lead to some kind of material effect. This work will be tricky, as it will require including, for example, Trump voters — to work with a community cannot be “work with the part of the community you identify with,” and we cannot approach it as “work with the part of the community you don’t have open contempt for.” Threading the balance–of building inclusive spaces, but requiring their foundation on shared dignity and substantive equality and recognition of difference–is INCREDIBLY difficult. But there are examples out there. And to my mind, how to create, maintain, grow, and EMPOWER them (e.g. with DECISION-MAKING power for policy and social spending) is the far more interesting, and in the long term clearly (to me) more important question than how our Senators should negotiate the important, but vastly unrepresentative and ultimately dysfunctional, halls of established power.

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Quick, quick analysis of recent events: Throwing a penny at the moon


Whaddaya think? This crown too understated? Anyway, our war with Guilder is gonna be YUGE. I will MAKE FLORIN GREAT AGAIN.

To say that post mortems/analyses of the recent US election are thick on the ground is like saying that throwing a penny at the moon is unlikely to move it — a bit of an understatement. But that’s not going to stop me from wading in as well.

Like many, I have lots of thoughts on the whole thing, many of which are contradictory. I’m not nearly as surprised as some, nor particularly peeved at (which I’ve read religiously the past months, and which predicted a Clinton win — but only at odds that gave her a 2 out of 3 or so chance of winning; in other words, a highly plausible forecast that still seems plausible from here!). But I am surprised. And while I felt like I could make some sense of the results, and support for Trump to a certain extent (e.g. “Why the impulse to vote for “That dude/tte I can have a beer with” makes sense: a progressive perspective“), there was some element of it I still couldn’t get. Why, no matter how “un-PC” he was, was Trump seen as a dogged, consistent truth-teller when his points were obviously improv’ed to calculatingly give himself whatever advantage? Why were his every vacillation allowed for, even while others were hammered for straying from their past stances and promises? Why was his obvious mendacity for his own ends not seen as reason to doubt that he was out “for the little guy”? And how could his sales pitch of bringing help to Whites feeling downtrodden work when they were also seemingly deeply skeptical of elites, when not only is he an elite, but his mantra is obviously “screw ’em if it suits me”?

Part of all of this, to be sure, is the difference in perception, media consumption, background, values, and attention between me and many of his supporters. But something more fundamental and, with regards to specific political issues, inchoate may be going on, something that comes out in this Guardian article, among many other pieces. That is simply this:

Humans have a deep-seated tendency and drive to punish breaches of community contracts, and are often willing to pay rather steep costs just to punish those they see as having transgressed and in danger of getting away with it.

In other words, we deeply want the “bad guys” to get it in the end.

Grandson: Who kills Prince Humperdinck? At the end. Somebody’s got to do it. Is it Inigo, who?

Grandfather: Nobody. Nobody kills him. He lives.

Grandson: You mean he wins? Jesus, Grandpa, what did you read me this thing for?

The Princess Bride (1987)

While many on the Left might immediately associate Trump with Humperdinck, before his run brought all the attention his way (which is obviously his favorite thing ever and always), many on the Left and Right could continue to agree that Much Was Broken in Washington, D.C., if not U.S. democracy more broadly. Trump, who is the most hated major party candidate (and now President-elect) in the history of modern polling, managed to beat out Hillary Clinton, who is the second-most hated major party candidate in the history of modern polling. While I do believe some portion of the hate for her is misogyny, there is also much to detest within her own record (though I personally rated the verdammt emails pretty far down on that list, waaaaay after, say, her partial responsibility for the assassination of Honduran activists as a result of US support the Honduran coup during her tenure at State).

Without getting further into the details: beyond Sanders and Trump, there was plenty of evidence that many, many people are fed up with the political system as is, with business as usual, with the paralysis in many elements in our national government (leaving aside the source of this), with the perception (and reality) of corruption, special interests, rampant lobbying and cronyism, and lack of direct accountability.

Something like a quarter of his own voters reportedly viewed Trump as unqualified and of questionable temperament, and 17% of his voters said they were concerned or scared at the prospect of him as President. Further,

“The majority of voters had unfavorable impressions of both. Twelve percent of Clinton voters and 20 percent of Trump voters had an unfavorable opinion of the candidate for whom they opted. So despite their misgivings about the candidates, something still compelled them to support one of them.

Both candidates were seen as not being honest or trustworthy by more than 6 out of 10 voters. However, among white voters, 57 percent said Trump was not honest and trustworthy while fully 70 percent said the same of Clinton. Almost 3 in 10 white voters said neither candidate was honest and trustworthy. Among this group, Trump won 52 percent to Clinton’s 32 percent.”

Trump, in other words, won decisively among white voters who thought both choices were dubious.

Prominent institutional economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis wrote, nearly two decades ago, that

It is little surprise that people are more generous than economics textbooks allow; more remarkable is that they are equally unselfish in seeking to punish, often at great cost to themselves, those who have done harm to them and others…

…[people] are willing to incur a cost to punish those whom they perceive to have treated them, or a group to which they belong, badly. In everyday life, we see people consumed with the desire for revenge against those who have harmed them or their families, even where no material gain can be expected…

…the self-serving behavior of [a] minority… when it goes unpunished, unravels initial generosity and cooperation

The perceptions that some groups–minorities, immigrants, wealthy elites, and political power-brokers and politicians–have been the beneficiaries of self-serving policies and identity politics is powerful, persistent, and hard to counter, especially with the profound social distance (lack of contact with differing sociocultural communities) often observed in the U.S. Without direct, and perhaps sustained, social contact, it is hard to convince someone who thinks they’re being fleeced for others’ benefit that the “others” have not gotten undeserved consideration.

So while a lot is going on, and we’re still learning and understanding a lot of it, it seems to me that the narrative of “I’m going to punish Washington/politicians/undeserving Others” is an important part of it, and the lack of understanding on the part of some doesn’t just stem from being out of touch, but from the fact that human psychology tends towards over-active punishment impulses; impulses that may go beyond what is proportionate; are exacerbated by the sense someone “continues to get away with it”; are difficult to modify with evidence; are increased when leveled against an abstract “Them”; and may be undertaken even when risking costs outweighing benefits. In such a context, the apoplexy and disbelief of The Establishment on “both sides” is a feature, not a bug; and the fact that “their candidate” (Trump) may not even be dependable to bring benefits poses little obstacle if a big part of the point, alongside “shaking things up,” is to punish those who are perceived to have benefitted from resisting all attempted shake-ups before.

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Quick post: Not-so-deep thoughts on ecosystem services (and their possible folly)

Tons of ink — virtual and literal — have been spilled (spent?) on the term “ecosystem services,” its meaning, its potential, its value (rhetorically and economically). The original premise, as far as I understand it, is that we can’t easily manage that which we don’t value, and we can’t (at a large scale) value what we haven’t measured.

Thus, the cottage industry of analyzing the monetary values (usually) of various “services” provided to us by natural systems. Once we realize that we are running down our “natural capital,” we can begin to wisely manage it, goes the theory. After all, economics is the science of scarcity, no?

Well, I would say “no” to that last sentence in any case, but that isn’t even where the problem comes in. Consciously or not, I think many of the formulators and promoters of ecosystem services have perhaps taken market capitalism’s view of itself at face value. That is, one of capitalism’s many virtues is supposedly balancing supply and demand based on the cost of producing certain things, and the collective willingness to buy them at various prices. So if we can “get the prices right” we can create incentives for environmentally beneficial actions and systems, because people will see the value of natural ecosystems, and the dollar amounts we’re losing with various activities, and the system will come to a more appropriate balance, where we’re not tearing down our house to get materials to build an extension to it. (That is, so we won’t be expending our natural capital on further denuding and destructive ventures, but rather finding a way to balance the ability of “nature” to provide things we like, love, and need with the rate and type of things that can be provided indefinitely.) Richard Norgaard wrote a fantastic critical analysis of some key premises of ecosystem services a while back, while Vatn and Bromley emphasized that we can make “Choices without prices without apologies,” and Richard Wilk has some interesting things to say about the dynamics of supposedly renewable and non-renewable resources. But leaving aside these detailed critiques, let’s go back to the simple starting premise: if we know the value of ecosystem services, we can appropriately incorporate these values into our economic systems.

This seems like a simple misapprehension of, as I say, how capitalism actually works, and how it says it works. For example, studies in soccer (football) have led to some fairly compelling evidence that soccer team owners are essentially willing to pay a cost for racism (whether subtle/institutional/unconsciously or intentionally/consciously) because minority players are not recruited, paid, and retained commensurate with what they add to the teams they’re on. More to the point, it is clear that slavery did not persist as long as it did simply because slaves and slaveowners didn’t appreciate the price of slavery; women weren’t denied the vote and legal equality, and aren’t paid commensurate with men in many cases, not because markets don’t exist that could (in theory) accurately gauge their market value, but because of biases, the benefits to, and the power of certain people with biases and getting benefits to maintain such a system that incorporates them.

In other words, although folks like economist Noah Smith seem to increasingly be recognizing that there is life (and reality) beyond the realm of modern orthodox economics, there is still a skepticism that the raw workings of power are really a major factor “distorting” economic systems. But it would seem both no coincidence and not an exception that many people remain poor (or are made poor, i.e. “development” may cause “underdevelopment”) despite the fact that the vast majority would clearly desire not to be, and clearly would “pay” for a better quality of life if they had the means to.

And there’s the rub, no? The market allocation idea, insofar as it works, seems to only work if people (or other entities) have the resources to evince their demand. We can expand this beyond the market and say that, insofar as equality across groups and based on merit occurs, it seems to be when marginalized groups have the (sociopolitical) power to evince their demands. In economics, how much you can pay for what you want is “effective demand.” If you have zero dollars, then you have zero economic demand for food, all things being equal, no matter how much you want it.

So where does this leave us for ecosystems? Are they devalued, denuded, and destroyed because we didn’t realize they were valuable? With an exact price, can we better conserve them?

Ah, well, of course, we need markets to do that. Okay, so if we create markets, can that happen? Well…. let’s just say that the “markets” for slaves didn’t work so well at providing freedom, no matter how much the enslaved wanted it. The raw workings of power (which includes, but is not limited to money) made sure that slavery lasted despite the sincere desires of the enslaved to not be so. One imagines that if “true” markets for freedom had been established, that is, where any slave could buy their freedom, that still would not have provided a morally satisfactory result — e.g., the end of slavery — for a large number of real-world reasons.

What I’m trying to point out by evoking the powerful spectre of slavery, happily extinct as a large-scale institution in much, but hardly all, of the world, is that even having a market isn’t empirically enough to provide sincerely desired goods. As hard as it was for enslaved peoples and abolitionist allies to gain universal statutory freedom (de facto equality and freedom had another century or so to go in the U.S.), how much harder will it be for non-human actors — ecosystems — to achieve a right to life? A right to exist? They are paid, directly, nothing, and cannot demand pay in return for their value. Slaves were unequivocally providing immense economic value, but lacked not only the resources but the power to demand freedom, much less fair working conditions, and fair pay (in significant part because of barriers to collective action–which is to say, I’m not saying slaves were powerless to resist, or that they did not do so in important fashions). It required a major sociopolitical shift in the U.S. to end legal slavery; it required years and further shifts to end legalized discrimination and exploitation.

In what possible world is adding $ signs to the value of nature going to change the raw workings of power such that those profiting from environmental destruction will simply decide to make less profit?

It is not that the concept has no value, and certainly not that changing our current systems has no hope. It’s that I don’t know that we can reasonably hope that the reason for our environmental problems is inadequate market signs of value, rather than the sociopolitical power some have to maintain this system, and therefore we cannot reasonably hope that “appropriate” valuation of environmental problems and services will significantly convince, coerce, or co-opt those currently benefitting the most into change.

There are many ways to change the actions, limits, and distribution of power. Academic declarations and elucidations of the market economic value of ecosystems, say, without socio-political will, organizing, collective action, and persistence to change our governing systems isn’t… well, it isn’t worth the paper (much less the computer screen) it’s written on. (And if you want my opinion on academics saying “that’s not my department” and leaving all that wholly to others, see two posts ago.)

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Scicomm is not new

Nice piece briefly pulling together the long history — and inherent importance — of science communication.

Ecology is not a dirty word

‘Scientists shouldn’t have to do scicomm’ is a thoroughly modern misperception.

Communicating science has been ‘normal’ for centuries, from painted messages on cave walls, to classical orators and beyond. From ancient times, scientists took their responsibility to share science with people very seriously.

Yet today, mastery of language and the art of non-scientific communication are rarely taught or encouraged in modern science degrees. History isn’t taught much either.

Instead, many science students and graduates train to be skilled data collectors and ‘facts’ wranglers. Scientists are consistently bombarded with rigid anti-eloquence ‘rules’ that only succeed in suppressing the power of language – never use passive voice, don’t use big words, shorten your sentences, simplify your message etc. etc. God forbid you should sound like you care about your subject matter.

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Ethical requirements for advocacy by scientists

Noodling around on my nascent book (stay tuned!), I saw this note and felt it was worth posting, although I’ve quoted Nelson & Vucetich several times here before:

Michael Nelson and John Vucetich (2009) noted “All citizens have a moral obligation to actively promote in their society that which they are justified in thinking is right or good and to actively oppose that which they are justified in thinking is wrong or bad. Consequently every scientist has an obligation to be a just and transparently honest advocate… When scientists reject advocacy as a principle, they reject a fundamental aspect of their citizenship. Rejecting one’s responsibility as a citizen is unethical.”

I’ve yet to hear a counterargument that did not fall into either (1) “but advocacy risks my standing as a scientist,” or (2) “but I don’t want to.” Nelson and Vucetich cover both of these. (And numerous other arguments for and against advocacy.)

Long story short, if one accepts that citizens have moral obligations as citizens, there is no simple escape to their logic. Having other priorities or desires does not expunge ethical obligations (N&V point out that most of us would agree that obligations to one’s scientific career does not, for example, excuse one from obligations to care for one’s children).

Let me be the first to say that all decisions should not be purely based on one’s conception of cold, hard logic. But given that many scientists claim to want more decision-making based on evidence and logic, I am still awaiting good arguments gainsaying N&V’s point that depend on some kind of systematic/evidence-based reasoning rather than feelings. And of course, even then, one’s feelings can’t exclusively determine our obligations, otherwise, when we don’t feel like it, we could skip reasonable suggestions for revisions to our papers; we could not pick our children up when we were feeling too tired; we wouldn’t have to run that fourth replication or re-calculate our statistical tests. “I don’t want to have to be a responsible citizen” should be no more compelling than “I don’t want to reconsider my paper’s conclusions based on this new evidence.”

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And then … there was a state of emergency

Somber and sad reflection on the state of things and their implications in Ethiopia. [[]]

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

An eventful week in Ethiopia lies behind me. Months ago, protests started in Ethiopia, initially relating to the expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, into surrounding land. Protesters argued that farmers had been insufficiently compensated. The latest level of escalation was reached yesterday, when the government declared a state of emergency for the next six months.

Ethiopia has long been seen as one of the most stable countries in Africa. Outsiders have often commented that it might not be quite as democratic as it could be, but at least it was stable, and experienced impressive economic improvements.

The latest unrest stems, at least in part, from a sentiment in the population that “development” did not seem to be benefiting everyone equally. Especially in Oromia, more and more people started to protest, initially against further plans to expand Addis, but more recently also for the release of political…

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A social-ecological perspective on food security and biodiversity conservation

Highlights from our recent paper together by Joern Fischer at Ideas4Sustainability.

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

At last, a paper we started to think about at a SESYNC workshop in Maryland finally got published in Regional Environmental Change. The paper lays out a conceptual foundation for how to think about food security and biodiversity conservation from a social-ecological perspective. In this blog post, I’d like to highlight two key features of the paper: (1) the conceptual framework as such, and (2) its empirical basis.


First, the conceptual model recognises that both biodiversity and food security outcomes are influenced by phenomena at different scales. For convenience, we propose to consider local, landscape, regional and global scales — but depending on the example, this might be adjusted. We argue that one particularly useful scale for analysis is the “landscape” scale. Here, the biophysical landscape is composed of patches, whereas the social landscape is analogous to a community of people, composed of a series of households. Both food security…

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Deep Thought (on the moral/utilitarian relevance of strong reciprocity)

With apologies to Cosma Shalizi (and an inability to be equally pithy):

If strong reciprocity is indeed an important, if not fundamental, part of the social character of humans, then scientists wishing members of any given community to expend resources on issues the scientists consider of highest priority, will need to expend their resources on issues that community considers high priority.

And no, attempting to convince a community that your highest priority should be their highest priority doesn’t count.

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An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn: ‘ontology’ is just another word for colonialism

As scholar Juanita Sunberg writes of this 2014 piece by Indigenous scholar Zoe Todd,

“A thoughtful and insistent piece about the necessity of thinking and pursuing decolonial practices.”

As political ecologists maintain, ignoring the kind of critique that Todd makes, this lacuna in prominent Western thought, makes our analyses and science less rigorous. The can be no apolitical ecology; the alternative to political ecology is ecology that willfully ignores the real and existing politics and power present in all of our work.

Source: An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn: ‘ontology’ is just another word for colonialism

Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî

Personal paradigm shifts have a way of sneaking up on you. It started, innocently enough, with a trip to Edinburgh to see the great Latour discuss his latest work in February 2013. I was giddy with excitement: a talk by the Great Latour. Live and in colour! In his talk, on that February night, he discussed the climate as sentient the climate as a ‘common cosmopolitical concern’ [thank you to commenter Philip for pointing out my error in my recollection of the nature of Latour’s assertion about the climate — discussion of this in the comments below]. Funny, I thought, this sounds an awful lot like the little bit of Inuit cosmological thought I have been taught by Inuit friends (friends who have taught me that the climate is an incredibly important organizing concept for many actors). I waited, through the whole talk, to hear the Great Latour credit Indigenous thinkers for…

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Making progress in the hardest science

I’ve been using this idea a lot recently, but he got there (7 years) before me!

I haven’t extensively read other blog posts, but this one at least left out one extra point that I think is interesting/important: the traditionally termed “hard” sciences (physics et al.) are also called in some cultures “exact sciences.” In other words, “hard” sciences get their extra science-y sheen in significant part because they *are* easier [to get exact answers/confirmation/disconfirmation] for. In other words, the snottiness some evince is really a way of saying “This science is more rigorous *because it is easier*.”

Ok, two things: the other one is that insofar as critiques of social science are of the “but you can’t make generalizations” type, the person who says this is essentially saying *it is better or equally valid for us to use our own often uninformed instincts and gut to understand social dynamics over systematic, if challenging, study.” Not only is this a silly point of view for a scientist, it is also something that SOCIAL SCIENCE has shown is demonstrably untrue: our instincts are *not* the best possible indicators of real social dynamics….

The Hardest Science

The name of this blog comes from a talk I gave at the SPSPconference.

The talk was in a training symposium for people starting out in academic psychology. People at various stages of their careers were invited to talk about how we approach research. I titled my talk “Making Progress in the Hardest Science,” and the first third of the talk was a half-serious, half joking explanation of the title.

The idea is that you often hear people arrange the sciences on a continuum from “hard” to “soft,” with physics at the hard end and psychology at the soft end. The implicit message is that the “hard” sciences are more scientific. But that’s not based on anything fundamental or substantive. As best as I can tell, it’s about scienciness. We have these preconceptions and stereotypes about what science is supposed to be about — big fancy equipment…

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