What on Earth is the Eleusis Benefit Corporation?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/10/2018 - 11:00pm in

John Helsby Last year, a friend of mine studying computer science at the University of Cambridge noticed a curious poster pinned up in the William Gates Building, which houses the Computer Laboratory – the computer science department of the university. The photo was taken on the 29th September 2017. Some questions that occur: Why the emphasis on high achievers? What is the purpose of this study? Who will benefit most from understanding how the brains of high achievers respond to psychedelics? Why must they be working on a problem that is highly meaningful in the context of a professional or academic pursuit? Why must they enjoy math and/or have strong math competency? (Note the American spelling.) Why are they exclusively looking for people who have never done psychedelics before? Does “available in London for 6 days” mean they are dosing people on 6 different occasions? What are they doing at the follow-up sessions? Why is the University of Cambridge putting posters like this up in its computer science department? Did anyone vet it to make …

Saturday art blogging: some artists really do see the world differently

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/10/2018 - 3:13am in


Arts, research

Today’s art post inspiration comes from an unlikely source: JAMA Opthamalogy. The article “Evidence That Leonardo da Vinci Had Strabismus” makes the case that the artist’s exceptional rendering of 3-D in 2-D was in part thanks to his eye condition sometimes referred to as wandering eye. The author, opthomologist Christopher Tyler of City, University of London, examined six pieces thought to be depicting Leonardo da Vinci: “David (Andrea del Verrocchio); Young Warrior (Andrea del Verrocchio); Salvator Mundi (da Vinci); Young John the Baptist (da Vinci); Vitruvian Man (da Vinci) and another possible da Vinci self-portrait.” (quoted from the university’s press release). Ars Technica’s coverage of the piece has helpful visuals. There seems to be disagreement in the art community about whether all of those art pieces depict Leonardo da Vinci, but this is a topic Tyler had already researched earlier. His argument seems convincing to me and is an interesting revelation about the condition under which some artists did that work. Apparently other famous artists also had strabismus (e.g., Rembrandt) or other vision impairments (e.g., Monet, O’Keeffe). I appreciate the angle the Washington Post’s coverage takes on this at the end noting that this should give people with eye-alignment disorders some boost in confidence to counter the discrimination they sometimes face both on the job market and in social situations.

Kavanaugh v. Academic Knowledge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 09/10/2018 - 6:01am in



Many people are worried about the damage the Kavanaugh appointment will do to the Supreme Court and to American politics.  I'm worried about the new damage it did to the public understanding of academic knowledge.   Brett Kavanaugh (left, in my one personal photo of the hearings, taken September 27th) and other Republicans attacked the equivalent of basic research-- an unrestricted FBI investigation-- as nothing more than a political hit, while generating fake academic knowledge to exonerate him.  

This reduction of knowledge to partisan politics was supposedly a left postmodernist position, but it has in fact been a right culture-wars argument about the nonsense of academic research.  It has hurt academia of course, but has also torn the intellectual fabric of society.  It weakens public resistance to the political dismissal of validated knowledge about everything from the effects of sexual trauma to Trump family tax evasion to climate change.  Political dismissal supports a he said/she said deadlock on any issue, making Americans even more fatalistic about resolving differences with force instead of knowledge.

Academic knowledge rests on a few basics that we don't make explicit enough.  People may not ever expect politics to follow academic standards of evidence and argument, but they should be able to  tell them apart--and also to recognize the superiority of academic standards for knowledge to political ones. This is particularly important when politicians claim valid knowledge to justify political decisions.

As I go through these standards, I will omit breaches that come from within academia itself.  I am aware of them.  For example, the dependence of research on private money presents opportunities for bias, corruption, and neglect of the public interest.   But breaches are no reason not to compare public debate to the knowledge standards that academics struggle to adhere to--and that produce much better arguments and conclusions than what we've been hearing in U.S. public debates about pretty much everything. 

The first of these standards is that academic research cannot be coerced, predetermined or discredited in advance by direct or indirect authority.  Academic freedom includes the freedom of an inquiry from being steered or suppresed by bullying, intimidation, slander, and blanket accusations of bias and political motives. In contrast, discrediting the allegations against Kavanaugh was a key Republican strategy, and doing it with white male anger was a calculated strategy.  Here's Kavanaugh:

When I did at least OK enough at the hearings that it looked like I might actually get confirmed, a new tactic was needed.

Some of you were lying in wait and had it ready. This first allegation was held in secret for weeks by a Democratic member of this committee, and by staff. It would be needed only if you couldn’t take me out on the merits.

When it was needed, this allegation was unleashed and publicly deployed over Dr. Ford’s wishes. And then — and then as no doubt was expected — if not planned — came a long series of false last-minute smears designed to scare me and drive me out of the process before any hearing occurred.

Crazy stuff. Gangs, illegitimate children, fights on boats in Rhode Island. All nonsense, reported breathlessly and often uncritically by the media.

This has destroyed my family and my good name. A good name built up through decades of very hard work and public service at the highest levels of the American government.This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons. and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.

This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions, from serving our country.

And as we all know, in the United States political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.

Kavanaugh was marshalling the essential claim of the culture war on academia--the pretended pursuit of truth is a cover for the politically-motivated destruction of respectable people and their values--to discredit the entire second round of research.  Having refused Sen. Dick Durbin (D-WI)'s request that he call for a full investigation of the charges against him, Kavanaugh then helped convert the FBI's supplemental background check from a required to an offensive act.

The second feature of academic knowledge is that it has to be impartial. This doesn't mean that the researcher's procedure is value-free.  It does mean that the researcher may not let self-interest control the research design, such that it leads to an answer that is more likely to benefit her, her team, or her institution. Researchers control self-interest with various well-known modes of self-reflexivity.

Thanks to reporting by Peter Baker, Nicolas Fandos and others, we know that this principle was violated when the FBI's supplemental background check was structured through a series of political negotiations.

When Mr. Durbin [D-WI] asked Judge Kavanaugh to turn around and ask [White House counsel] Mr. McGahn to request an F.B.I. investigation into the charges against him, Mr. Graham erupted in a ferocious, finger-wagging lecture. Other Republican senators began channeling their inner Trump and lashing out on Judge Kavanaugh’s behalf as well.

Republican senators met that night just off the Capitol Rotunda. Ms. Collins said she would find it hard to vote yes without a sworn statement from Judge Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge denying that he saw what Dr. Blasey described. Aides to Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary chairman, got a fresh statement from Mr. Judge within three hours to satisfy her.

Mr. Graham went to dinner that night at Cafe Berlin with Ms. Collins and two other undecided Republicans, Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. They discussed whether a limited F.B.I. investigation might assuage them.

The next morning, Mr. Flake announced that he would vote for Judge Kavanaugh in committee, only to change course after being confronted on an elevator by women who told him they were victims of sexual assault. Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski were already talking by phone when Mr. Flake called them from a committee anteroom asking if they would back him in demanding a one-week F.B.I. inquiry.

Later that day, the three joined other Republican senators in Mr. McConnell’s office to discuss what the F.B.I. investigation should look like. The three undecided Republicans settled on four people they wanted to hear from: Ms. Ramirez, Mr. Judge and two others identified by Dr. Blasey as being elsewhere in the house at the time she was allegedly assaulted.

Republicans organized the investigation to get the right answers for their remaining fence-sitters.

The investigation violated academic standards in a third way.  Academic research must respond to new information or anomalies, which are facts that don't fit the guiding hypothesis. The research needs to be open to its own enlargement, complication, or refutation at each and every point.

Instead, the Republicans set aside the major new anomaly in their theory of Kavanaugh's victimized goodness by declaring that Julie Swetnick's claims were "too over the top" to be considered.  They asked rhetorical questions whose answer was predetermined, like "Why would [Swetnick] as a college student repeatedly go to high school parties where young women were gang raped?" Of course academic researchers don't have the time or money to investigate everything, but they can't rule out possible holes in their theory with one-line objections or ad hominem attacks.

Fourth, academic research has to show its data and results to the whole knowledge community. It can't give selected results to just a few people under predetermined conditions.  In the Kavanaugh case, the FBI sent one copy of their report to the Senate, which senators could view only in a secure room without the ability to copy or to take notes.  The report was not released to the full Senate to say nothing of the public.  This of course eliminates the possibility of an impartial evaluation of scope, quality, and results performed by people other than the interested parties.

Academic research is conducted by regular humans who bring their preferences, identities, hopes and fears to work, which is why a fifth feature is so important. Once findings are released, they have to achieve a decent general agreement before they are passed on to be applied in the wider world.  When they are disputed, they are re-tested, reanalyzed, and revised until most if not all researchers in the relevant fields can at least provisionally accept them.  Think climate change modeling as an example, which has over the years gathered near unanimity about the main points even as details remain disputed and methods continue to change.  Good researchers don't pitch research results to policymakers before they have won general consent. Exactly the opposite happened in this inquiry.  Nearly half the Senate rejected the validity of the FBI's findings, with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) calling it a "bullshit investigation."

Because none of these five academic standards were followed, the pivotal moment of Republican knowledge production--Susan Collins' brief for Kavanaugh--amounts to an apology for a political position that was decided in advance.   It takes the politically-framed investigation at face value, asserting non-confirmation of Blasey Ford's story even though the FBI was in no position to confirm it because they were not allowed to interview the many people who claimed to have information. Collins wrongly treats the cherry-picked interview list as dispositive.

Collins also considers no evidence contrary to her "yes" position.  She does not separate the textual evidence of Kavanaugh's (also cherry-picked) opinions from Kavanaugh's claims about himself in interviews with her.  Collins then claims, while offering no evidence at all, that Ford was deluded about her attack: "she is a survivor of sexual assault," Collins writes, but just not the one by Kavanaugh about which Ford claimed 100% certainty. 

Perhaps worst of all, Collins reintroduces a genteel version of Lindsey Graham's and Kavanaugh's smear of the inquiry itself as nothing more than a Democratic hit.

Some of the allegations levied against Judge Kavanaugh illustrate why the presumption of innocence is so important. I am thinking in particular not [of] the allegations raised by professor Ford, but of the allegations that when he was a teenager Judge Kavanaugh drugged multiple girls and used their weakened state to facility gang rape.

This outlandish allegation was put forth without any credible supporting evidence and simply parroted public statements of others. That’s such an allegation can find its way into the Supreme Court confirmation process is a stark reminder about why the presumption of innocence is so ingrained in our a American consciousness.

Collins doesn't actually know that the allegation is outlandish because her party blocked its investigation.  Rather than data she gives us a milder form of the male rage that had disparaged the investigation the week before.  Her tacit claim is that a full FBI investigation would be the tool of a Democrat political conspiracy that runs roughshod over the core American value of presumed innocence.  Then she concludes,

my fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5 to 4 decisions and so that public confidence in our judiciary and our highest court is restored.

Once you take leave of argument and evidence, its hard to return to your senses.

Kavanaugh's confirmation showed the extent to which power politics depends on invoking academic-style knowledge, even as it violates academic standards.  The default scenario for the next year is a continuation of culture war gridlock. Journalists and social media will continued to investigate Kavanaugh. The White House will denounce any new evidence as a politically-motivated lie.   Fewer and fewer people will see the Supreme Court as politically neutral, even as bad evidence for its neutrality will be advanced.  In the deepening cynicism about knowledge itself, universities will continued to be viewed as the Democrat's propaganda arm, their pale imitation of Fox News.

Why can't universities do a much better job of explaining standards of academic knowledge?   The country that isn't sure what real knowledge is, is doomed not to have it.

The ABC of Trust

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 26/09/2018 - 9:51pm in


ABC, research

With Australians trusting media platforms less than do people in just about every other country, why would you set about dismantling the one institution they trust the most? The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, our 86-year-old taxpayer-funded and constantly beleaguered public broadcaster, regularly tops surveys as one of the country’s few remaining […]

Public Square Academy Seeking Program Collaborators

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/09/2018 - 10:30pm in



The Public Square Academy (PSA) is looking to develop educational and civic online programs. NCDD member Michael Freedman shared the announcement that they are looking for those with civic and educational expertise to develop programs across broad topics areas of education, community engagement, government, and more. There is an opportunity for free 4-weeks training while developing the program, which you can learn more about in the post below and find the original on PSA’s site here.

The Public Square Academy Program Designers

The Public Square Academy (PSA) is building a catalog of civic and consumer education programs. These programs differ from typical online programs in that they will emphasize student interaction, cohesive group learning, and active mentoring. This model results in deeper learning and a more rewarding experience for the participants.

We are looking for designers, teachers, subject matter experts (SMEs), authors, and influencers who have civic or consumer education expertise and passion, to develop programs for the Academy. These will be narrow topics in a broad area of programs: from policy and advocacy to government structure and operations, personal and community development, school and workplace engagement, consumer training in financial literacy, healthcare, and consumer rights.  Come on. Rise up!

Programs are remote, based on an LMS, and use video conferencing. We offer the following program models:

Classes – Led by teachers

  • Synchronous Class – These are group-based courses for complex learning with a focus on interactivity: discussions, case studies, and projects. This is our primary course model and provides the best learning experience by using active mentoring, dynamic groups, and interactive learning experiences. Synchronous courses have scheduled group meetings using video conference or in person.
  • Asynchronous Class. Short DIY courses for foundational knowledge. These are equivalent to typical online programs. These programs are good as short courses for a basic introduction to a content area but do not provide deep learning. These programs are not group-based but will include active mentoring.

Workshops – Supported by Guides / SMEs

  • Workshops are supported, content-rich skill or capacity-building programs where individuals or groups work on guided, but self-directed projects to learn and develop specific skills to develop actionable results. Workshops are a good follow up to a course where new skills can be put right into practice.

Forums – Guided by Moderators

  • Topic-focused program with rich background material and guidance focused on generating solutions to problems. These may be continuous learning communities or time / event-bounded.

Candidates will receive 4-weeks training in program design at no charge while they refine their program proposal.

Compensation will be royalties based on revenue earned when a mentor uses your program (you will retain the I.P. rights to the programs you build). If you mentor your program directly, then you earn a greater share of the revenue. So, if you have a great program and/or are an exceptional teacher, you will be able to earn a respectable income. To be clear, income is based on student revenue, so won’t be earned until the programs are up and running. Here are some program ideas we think are worthwhile.

For starters, please send a short – one-page proposal for a program(s) you want to build/offer along with a resume. Include a brief outline/description, identify the target audience/participants and the program’s learning goals.

Here are design guidelines to work with:

  • Select one or more program models from the above list, define your audience (be as defined and narrow as you can be) and learning objectives.
  • Our programs are for adult learners (individuals, groups, or within schools or organizations)
  • Incorporate highly interactive elements: discussions, projects, collaborations, scripted role plays, simulations, and games/competitions.
  • Optionally, develop a turnkey curriculum for students and mentors, make it customizable and localizable. This option enables program owners to scale their programs and income.
  • Commercially viable: people will want to participate because it’s meaningful and enjoyable. It will provide participants with a transformative experience.
  • Proposed programs must be in alignment with the Academy’s mission.

Please feel free to ask questions or ask for a phone call or video chat. This program emphasizes relationships, so why not start with a conversation.

For more information, contact Michael Freedman at: Michael (at) ThePublicSquare (dot) Academy

You can find the original version of this announcement on PSA’s at

Democratic Learning Exchanges with NCL and Kettering

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/09/2018 - 10:30pm in



NCDD member and partner – the National Civic League has been working with the Kettering Foundation on “learning exchanges” with city managers. The two organizations have a long working history over the last several decades, which has sought to explore how to further democratic practices, particularly within local government. This is the most recent effort in this work to continue to shift deeper government collaboration with the community. You can read the article in the post below or find the original on NCL’s site here.

Learning About Democratic Practices with City Managers

The National Civic League is working with the Charles F. Kettering Foundation to organize “learning exchanges” to explore the ways professional city managers engage with members of the public to foster democratic practices in communities.

These twice-a-year exchanges, which have been held at the foundation’s campus in Dayton, Ohio, have facilitated wide-ranging conversations about civic engagement efforts and examples of complementary public action—everything from an experiment in participatory budgeting in Chicago’s 49th ward to dialogues about community-police relations in a small southern city.

The participants have also explored issues such as assets-based community development, relational organizing, social media and technology and the role of public deliberation in addressing “wicked problems,” that is, persistent problems for which there are no obvious technical solutions.

In many of the exchanges, participants have identified tensions between the job of professional manager and the idea of public engagement and democratic governance. Traditionally, managers have been trained to view themselves as technical problem-solvers who advise elected officials and manage city departments to implement the policies adopted during public meetings.

In effect, local elected and appointed officials made the tough decisions and handled the strategizing, prioritizing and long-range planning efforts that allowed municipalities and counties to flourish.

But managers are in some ways uniquely positioned to foster collective problem-solving efforts and grassroots community initiatives, especially when there is a continuity of effort by public managers over a period of years. Some city governments, in fact, have developed detailed protocols to help staff-members think about how and when to engage the public in decision-making and public deliberation.

The National Civic League’s involvement with the Kettering Foundation goes back many years. In the early 1970s, the two organizations worked together to conduct research on what was then described as “citizen participation.” With support from the foundation, the League developed a series of books and videos, highlighting how winners of the All-America City Awards had come together to address pressing issues.

The Kettering Foundation’s primary research question is, “What does it take to make democracy work as it should?” For Kettering, one aspect of this mission is to look at ways professionals can “align their work” with the work of ordinary members of communities.

The League’s various research agreements with the Kettering Foundation have offered unique opportunities over the years to develop new ideas and new relationships with individuals and organizations, some of which have led to other initiatives and projects.

The city manager exchange, for example, led to the development of the Richard S. Childs Fellowship, a project that offers editorial assistance and guidance to working city managers seeking to write about their experiences with democratic practices in their communities. Some of these writings have already appeared in the National Civic Review as case studies and essays.

The fellowship was named for the political reformer and long-serving member of the National Civic League board of directors who played a leading role in developing the 1915 Model City Charter, the original blueprint for the city council-city manager plan for local government.

These research exchanges have become an important part of the League’s efforts to learn more about community-based efforts and address challenging issues. They also serve as a bridge between the organization’s historic mission of promoting professionalism in local government with its more modern focus on civic engagement, collaborative problem-solving and social equity.

You can find the original version of this on National Civic League’s site at

Humanities Graduate Education After Avital Ronell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/08/2018 - 3:49am in

I yearn to return to my beloved topic of truth and fantasy in university budgeting.  But last week it was impossible to avoid the Ronell affair.  There's all sorts of good (and terrible) stuff out there.  The Daily Mail?  Et tu New Zealand? (photo credit).  More links below--though I won't link to the trolling of Ronell's non-condemners, some of which sounds like it was written by a GRU cyberwarfare unit.  

The Ronell case has become for me a case study of the interaction between perm-austerity in the academic humanities and graduate student mental health.  It questions the existence of graduate student academic freedom.  It also shows a systemic failure of faculty governance that, in spite of everybody's pessimism, needs to be fixed.

For anyone just back from deep vacation (or not in the humanities): Avital Ronell is a prominent professor of German and Comparative Literature at NYU.  One of her former graduate students, Nimrod Reitman, filed a complaint with the University charging her with sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other misconduct. An 11-month NYU investigation found Ronell to have committed sexual harassment (but not the other charges); the University has suspended her for a full academic year without pay.  It confirmed that her behavior was "sufficiently pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of Mr. Reitman’s learning environment.”  Case closed?-- investigation conducted, individual offender identified and punished, behavior  sanctioned as violating professional standards.  Message received by that university community and others. In fact not-- the public case was just getting started.

The turning point was a New York Times story on August 13th that refocused the issue around the superficial contradiction between being a harasser and being a lesbian and/or queer woman and/or feminist: "What Happens to #MeToo When a Feminist is the Accused?"  The article also focused on a letter of support for Ronell sent privately on May 13th to the NYU administration.  Signed by an all-star roster of senior faculty in or near Ronell's discipline, it has been widely viewed as demanding leniency for Ronell's conduct on grounds of her elite status, and following an old-school patriarchal practice of casting the complainant into disrepute. Although the signers moved too quickly because they were apparently afraid NYU planned to fire Ronell, they seemed to let their own authority outweigh their lack of knowledge about the case.

The literal answer to the NYT title question is straightforward: nothing happens to #MeToo.  Of course women can harass, queer women can harass, and lesbians can harass--although mountains of international data show that they do it much less frequently than do men.  Ronell's harassment of Reitman (a gay man) doesn't say anything literal about the #MeToo movement except what we already knew: gay men can be in it, women can be at odds with it, and no social movement requires uniformity or purity of victimhood. In a lucid piece, Nisha Bolsey concluded, "The approach of feminists should be clear: to believe Reitman. To attempt to discredit him in the name of feminism is not only wrongheaded, it undermines the cause of feminism."

Such statements weren't enough to resolve anything, once the group letter of support for Ronell went viral.  The philosopher Judith Butler's apology for key elements in the original letter wasn't enough.  Complex analyses on the widely-read queer site Bully Bloggers by Ronell non-condemners Lisa Duggan and Jack Halberstam were definitely not enough.  The reason was that the letter disparaged the graduate student while defining Ronell's mentorship of students as"no less than remarkable over many years." If these fifty prominent senior faculty would take no action against one of their own in this kind of case, then by extension graduate students in general could expect faculty toleration for harassment.   

I was struck by the high proportion of academics who seem to agree, as one FB comment put it, that "harassment of students has always been the norm and MANY students are harassed every day by ordinary, non-star faculty."  Many were worried that fixating on Ronell would encourage the profession to "overlook all of the ORDINARY ways in which predominantly straight white men have been sexually intimidating their students, in milder and more violent fashion, ALL of the time, before and after and regardless of theory and its present standing."  Harassment is a kind of general condition of grad life because the faculty who don't do it themselves don't get involved in stopping it.

This crew was self-selecting so I don't know how representative the sample is. But the logic needs to be taken seriously, and it goes like this:

  1. Ronell is not the exception but the norm 
  2. Ronell is the norm not because most advisors of doctoral students are sexual or nonsexual harassers but because
  3. Structural inequalities of power not only condition but control all advising relationships
  4. Such that (all) graduate students live in a state of permanent quasi-subjugation or, at the very least
  5. A permanent fear of retaliation
  6. Which means graduate students have no functional academic freedom
  7. Nor do they have creative intellectual latitude of the kind that enables original thought and the value of the humanities
  8. And because the faculty are the problem not the solution, this is not going to change.


Some examples: Masha Gessen's perceptive overview in The New Yorker highlights what we might call the tyranny of the faculty member's own vulnerability, and ends citing Derrida on the impossibility of justice. Corey Robin, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, concludes, "For all the revelations of sexual harassment within academe that we’ve seen in the past few years, we continue to leave that imbalance of power to graduate students, as individuals, to figure out" -- which of course they can't. Also in the Chronicle, Lee Konstantinou notes the way that the failed humanities job market makes desperate grads ripe for abuse, and concludes that the solution is to put even less stock in your graduate advisor.  Back at Bully Bloggers, Drew Daniel, currently a director of graduate studies, notes that "Fear and anxiety are the grounding affective conditions in academia because academia is a competitive workplace under capitalism."  After quite a bit of good advice about intellectually honest mentoring and better grievance procedures, Daniel still lands here:

Now that the number of jobs has spiraled downwards while casualization of labor has risen, the carrot has withered but the stick remains. This is why professors can now seem both frightening and ridiculous in the eyes of grad students; they are seen as beneficiaries of a lost Golden Age of employment who can’t help you much but can definitely still hurt you. 

The shame-harassment spectrum will endure as long as capitalist austerity does.

On Facebook, my quanty self tried to specify just how many Ronells people think there really are--one per department? 25 percent of each  department? We seemed to converge around two per department, but many made the point that the actual number doesn't matter: it's the possibility, the fear, and the near-certainty that if something does happen, nobody short of a Title IX officer is going to do anything.  And that cure can be worse than the disease (see Laura Kipnis in The Guardian). Back to the 1 through 8 cascade. 

Facebook discussions also turned up a strong sense that public universities are more egalitarian and offer less latitude to despotism.  One person, who went from an elite private doctoral program to tenure at a large public research university, wrote   

Untie funding from individuals— ours teach their way through and advisors have no input on funding. Democratize decision-making about funding for [all departmental programs].  Lastly, on the national front, abolish recommendation letters.

All of which got many cheers.

These would help.  But also: could we not think much more about how faculty can improve graduate mental health and academic freedom by working harder to end austerity in graduate education? 

Drew Daniel and everyone else are right that the root cause is competition under austerity, and yet most tenured humanities are fine with perpetuating it by shrinking their graduate programs.  The humble project of cooperative downsizing has been going on for nearly four decades--and here we are, weaker than ever, and expecting more weakness to come. If you are not entirely sure why austerity always does this, Mark Blyth or Richard Seymour can help.   

The alternative is to increase demand for our students. That will involve increasing undergraduate enrollments, intensifying undergrad education, and enlarging and explaining the humanities research agenda. We need non tenure track positions to be converted into tenure track positions.  Obviously this cuts against current trends, but current trends will bring more of the rot we're here to discuss.

To grow the humanities and Theory, we need to wrestle with the Theory legacy.  First, most of the modern version takes the university for granted.  A great exception was Jacques Derrida.  Another has been Judith Butler: in addition to her institutional work, she has also theorized the university as a condition of critique and as one important source of social justice: this Critical Inquiry essay (2009) offers a good overview.  The university needs its own ethics of care.

Second, we need to be clear that this Ronell case (leaving her scholarship aside) should have zero impact on its future.  Research universities fund disciplines based on the intellectual value of their research topics and programs.  They fund theory across the board, in engineering and economics and art history and philosophy, because theory is about getting at invisible forces that shape or control the empirical world.  Theory is also about refining methods of study so that our study is less rather than more distorting of what we study.  This turns out to be very hard to do--in chemistry as well as philosophy.  Theory is thus the condition of all intellectual progress and also of disciplinarity--not to mention rigor and validity.  So nothing Ronell did can embarrass the intellectual project.  The point is obvious if we glance at another field: no one said the disgrace of astronomer superstar Geoff Marcy might tarnish the search for exoplanets.  The same is true of critical theory in German or in any other language and culture.  Theory's issues are quite unexhausted, even as the material conditions of their study have been slashed.  We need to hold universities accountable to their intellectual mission and not let them use marketing, liability, or financial issues to advance the under-study of core issues.

What about this term that came back from the dead last week: High Theory (HT).  It is associated with French deconstruction and poststructuralism as it crystallized in the 1960s and 1970s and migrated to American humanities departments.  Ronell is a Germanist, so closer to those complex literary and philosophical cultures that were also taken up by the original French poststructuralists.  I got my PhD in a time and place where HT was going from insurgent to hegemonic, though it didn't keep me from turning into someone who studies the university's plumbing. I offer three quick points about it.

The good: as I already noted, theory studies foundational issues and HT got literary criticism past its Cold War positivism into new depths.  HT works on the relations between language, reason, consciousness, affect, the unconscious, objects, other people's subjectivity, and various related factors. It is preoccupied with invisible causes of visible things, and with their intractability.  It attracts the kind of people who, if they were in physics, might study the evidence for the possibility that our curved universe, the brane, sits in a bulk of multiple higher dimensions.   I've had a debate with some university studies scholars about whether intellectual Bildung is really compatible with democracy.  I think it is: difficulty is the lesson of theory for democracy.  Ronell by all accounts has among other things tried to disrupt linear narratives and common sense. Intellectual conventions do need to be tested and violated, or else nothing new ever happens. This not too sympathetic Martin Jay review of Ronell's Fighting Theory is a good reminder of disruption's positive side (h/t Helen).

The bad: in my experience, HT never figured out how to teach the full background you needed to understand the immediate ideas and texts.  Some people didn't really try.  But most did, with mixed success.  If you are in a course on Wordsworth and post-structuralist theory, how do you read enough Derrida to understand the professor and your classmates while also covering the Wordsworth carefully along with canonical Wordsworth criticism?  If you are in a seminar on Derrida and poststructuralism, how do you learn enough linguistics to understand his critique of Saussure, and enough Husserl to understand his critique of phenomenology, or enough Levi-Strauss . . . you get the idea.   Maybe 10-20% of the grad students were solid enough in three background areas to scramble to master the fourth or fifth that you needed to understand one of the major authors in your course.  My cohort did okay because of nearly-ideal funding conditions, but to my knowledge HT overall never solved the basic curriculum problem.  And here's my real point: because HT never faced the curriculum problem, it never faced the resources problem--more time, more collaboration, more archives, better searching, more depth.  The political economy of research has been put of until tomorrow, for decades.

The ugly. The gaps in student attainment were filled by a status Darwinism.  There were the truly smart who could follow the masters and the not smart enough who couldn't.  The New York Times piece reported, "Maybe, Professor Ronell suggested, [Reitman] was frustrated because he just wasn’t smart enough." This essentialism has again become a major grievance, and it has been hurting HT's reputation and dampened interest in learning it for going on 40 years.  

In reality, the source of different levels of performance is different levels of education. Ronell would naturally try to recruit graduate students with B.A.s from Yale rather than Oberlin or Cal State Fullerton--not because  all the smart people are at Yale but because Yale's philosophy, German, French, and other departments offer years of intensive training in seminar conditions in her exact tradition.  HT never denaturalized the foolish discourse of smartness, and in addition to wreaking psychic violence it has kept tenured faculty from pushing relentlessly for the economics that can fund the difficulty. 

Fund the difficulty!  When will humanities faculty address the basic political economy of their fields? TT faculty teach twice as many courses as their counterparts in the sciences, and have grads who do still more teaching while trying to learn research.  Hum faculty mostly mentor grads as an overload.  Extramurally-funded science labs give their doctoral students systematic training and experience in research and not just teaching (though they have problems of their own). The humanities have no equivalent: their grads operate in a semi-DIY environment in which it's easy to think, "my diss project has no structure because I am not smart enough."  I think that more structured and intensive research training would help grad mental health--and help re-professionalize some regressed faculty-student relationships. The economics will take some time to solve, but we'll never get started if we don't want it on academic grounds. 

This gets us to faculty self-governance.  My sense is that the helplessness of tenured faculty towards academic financing has been leaking for years into their relations to the departmental structures they actually do control.  In the Ronell case, there seems to be general agreement that she long felt entitled to evade professional standards.   Where was the DGS, the department chair, the other faculty?  Apparently not creating a support structure that grads felt could protect them from tyranny and retaliation.  

I don't mean that funding shortages are ever an excuse for tenured faculty inaction, especially at NYU where comparatively speaking there aren't any.  But faculty not confronting political economy is part and parcel of not confronting abuses of power, which are paired traits of neoliberal subjects. Writing in punctum, Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei put it this way:

what group analysis . . . teaches us is the crucial importance of what D.W. Winnicott calls the “holding environment,” a space in which emotions can safely be contained. Ideally, the classroom or professor’s office provides such a holding environment. This has nothing to do with “trigger warnings” or “safe space” stickers, but with the proper consideration of a set of external conditions, what S.H. Foulkes called “dynamic administration”: anything from the contract between analyst and analysand, spatial and climatic conditions, scheduling, payment, and so forth. And it is precisely this dynamic administration at which the modern neo-liberal university miserably fails, with as a result the creation of an environment in which toxic relations between teachers and students are able to take root.

I agree: and this "dynamic administration" of the "container" of doctoral programs is entirely in the hands of faculty and students, starting very much with tenured faculty.

I would very much like us--again, especially the tenured--to focus simultaneously and persistently on fixing the psychological and financial conditions of the humanities' theory projects in all their forms. That will mean growth and depth of graduate programs, i.e. anti-austerity.

for them:

I'm happy to help with the plumbing.

IAP2 Seeks Input for National Dialogue Effort on P2

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/08/2018 - 10:30pm in



The International Association for Public Participation launched their 2018 IAP2 USA National Dialogue at the Skills Symposium in Austin, Texas, earlier this year on engaging the public in highly technical and complex projects. They are seeking input on how public participation (P2) is currently being used on these complex engagement efforts and what are some techniques for better engaging the public in the future. Learn more about what they have found so far and check out the toolkit IAP2 created for organizing an event in your community. They are looking to compile the responses for this and share it at the upcoming 2019 Skills Symposium next year. You can read some of the highlights below and find even more information on the IAP2 site here.

2018 IAP2 USA National Dialogue

How and Why the Public Should be Engaged in Highly Technical and Complex Projects

At a time when highly technical and complex projects such as natural gas pipelines, electricity transmission projects and multimodal transportation developments are on the rise, more stakeholder groups are clamoring for a greater role in planning, problem-solving and decision-making. In the 2018 IAP2 USA National Dialogue, we hope to learn what P2 practitioners and other community engagement professionals say about the P2 practices currently being used in these projects and how the public can be engaged more successfully in the future.

IAP2 USA kicked off its 2018 National Dialogue in Austin, Texas, this past February. Over the coming year, we want to learn how the revived spirit of “localism” in large and small communities across the country is impacting decision-making where we live and work. What ideas and suggestions can P2 practitioners and others make to better understand and respond to the growing tension among individual stakeholders, advocacy groups and project managers?

Get the conversation started in your area!

To help IAP2 USA chapters, member organizations and others hold national dialogue discussion in your community, IAP2 USA has created a toolkit to make it easy. Everything you need to plan and organize an event is right here at your disposal, including thought-provoking conversation starters such as a YouTube video documenting a real-life project and an online survey about how project managers engage the public. The ideas generated during these discussions will be collected and shared across IAP2 USA’s network of over 2,000 members and friends, as well as wrap-up discussion at the 2019 Skills Symposium in Austin, Texas. We also plan to share the practitioner knowledge and expertise with our government regulators and IAP2 affiliates around the globe.

At-a-glance: 2018 National Dialogue Kick-off Summary
The 2018 National Dialogue began at the Skills Symposium in Austin, Texas, with an introduction by IAP2 USA President Leah Jaramillo and emerging Lone Star Chapter representative Tina Geiselbrecht. Event sponsor and Outreach Experts CEO Jay Vincent then opened the discussion on the role of the public in highly technical, complex projects. Sharing his experience in the energy industry, Vincent highlighted the growing tension between the regulatory agencies responsible for approving energy development projects and the public.

Using card storming and focused conversations, participants were led through a series of tabletop exercises on the following questions:

  • What are the barriers to engaging the public in highly technical and/or complex projects?
  • Why are regulators/project sponsors/clients/internal staff afraid (fear) of engaging the public in highly technical and/or complex projects?

Table reps posted each group’s tops ideas to a sticky wall and grouped the responses into subthemes. After reviewing the subthemes group members returned to their tables for a focused conversation on two follow up discussion questions.

  • DQ1: Discussion How might we overcome these challenges?
  • DQ2: What might IAP2 USA do to help? (have a volunteer take notes on the flip chart

Major Themes

  • Diversity of agency processes
  • Inability to understand community interests
  • Lack of understanding
  • Diversity of stakeholders
  • Lack of clarity around expectations
  • Time (whose frame of reference is relevant to setting time boundaries)
  • Preparing technical challenges
  • Managing technical information
  • Managing resources

Before closing, some participants completed a short survey on the role of state and federal regulatory agencies in project permitting processes. The results begin to help us understand what experts think of the overall effectiveness of the three levels of government in relation to IAP2 Core Values and how these entities interact with the public in relation to the P2 spectrum. A civic engagement and demographic battery provided insight on the civic and community engagement practices of participating P2 professionals.

Now it’s your turn to host a National Dialogue discussion in your community. The carefully planned toolkit will make event planning quick and easy.

You can find the original version on this announcement on the International Association for Public Participation at

Participatory Budgeting Lessons Over Last 30 Years

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/08/2018 - 10:30pm in

Participatory Budgeting has been rapidly growing across the world for the last 30 years, in all levels of government, in organizations, and in schools. There was a report released by the Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network on the current state of PB and its future; and NCDD member org, the Participatory Budgeting Project, recorded a webinar with the report authors, Stephanie McNulty and Brian Wampler. You can listen to the webinar in the article below and find the original on PBP’s site here.

Lessons from 30 years of a global experiment in democracy

The Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network recently funded a major new report on the lessons learned from 30 years of participatory budgeting (PB). In July, we hosted a webinar about the state and future of PB with report authors Stephanie McNulty and Brian Wampler.

Check out the webinar recording, slides, and key takeaways below.

We asked Stephanie and Brian about what it meant to write this report in 2018, a time of great change for PB and for democracy.

Stephanie spoke to how PB has grown since beginning in Brazil in 1989: “It’s sort of exploding, and happening all over the world in places that are very different from Brazil… It’s taking place faster than we can document and analyze.”

Brian shared about experimentation in PB happening with a variety of focus areas and in new contexts. Part of the power of PB is in how adaptable it is. Many folks experiment with how to design PB to best serve their community. And so, PB looks different in the more than 7,000 localities it exists in around the world.

“PB is probably the most widespread public policy tool to undertake what we consider democratizing democracy.”- Stephanie McNulty

In 30 years, PB has created significant impacts. Doing PB and studying it need more investment to further impact democracy. We’re still learning about the ways that PB can transform individuals and communities.

Early research suggests PB strengthens the civic attitudes and practices of participants, elected officials, and civil servants. Beyond changes at the individual level, the report documents changes at the community level. Changes at the community level include greater accountability, stronger civil society, improved transparency, and better well-being.

But, in the end, good PB doesn’t just happen; it has to be built. It requires intentional effort to ensure that PB practice lives up to its promise. It can yield benefits for those who participate in the early stages, but it takes time for those to expand to broader areas. PB is growing faster as more people learn about it’s potential. We need further research to  learn from what advocates on the ground know about PB’s impact—as well as it’s areas for improvement. The future of PB will require effort and sustained resources to support new ways of placing power in the hands of the people.

The report documents key ways PB has transformed over 30 years.

  • Scale. PB started at the municipal level in Brazil, and now exists in every level of government, and even within government agencies. PB is now being done for schools, colleges, cities, districts, states, and nations—places where people are looking for deeper democracy.
  • Secret ballots to consensus-based processes. When we spoke about what was most surprising or unexpected while writing the report, Brian talked about the shift in how communities make decisions in PB often moving from secret ballots to consensus-based processes.
  • Technology. New technologies are used for recruitment, to provide information, and to offer oversight. We don’t fully understand the benefits and limitations of this particular transformation, and look forward to more research on this question.
  • Increased donor interest. More international donors are interested in promoting and supporting PB.
  • A shift away from pro-poor roots. PB in Brazil began as a project of the Workers Party to pursue social justice and give power to marginalized communities and the disenfranchised. This is a core reason why many look to PB to solve deeply entrenched problems of inequity in the democratic process. Unfortunately today, many PB processes around the world do not have an explicit social justice goals.

We’ve learned that focusing on social justice actually makes PB work better. PB processes that seek to include traditionally marginalized voices make it easier for everyone to participate in making better decisions.

To wrap up our webinar, Laura Bacon from Omidyar Network, David Sasaki from the Hewlett Foundation, and our Co-Executive Director at PBP, Josh Lerner shared takeaways for grantmakers.

They discussed what we need to make the transformative impacts of PB be bigger and more widespread.

  • Medium and long term investment is important for PB success. One off investments don’t create the impacts of PB and can lead to a decline in quality.
  • Government support is crucial. PB works best when it complements government—not opposes it.
  • Watch out for participation fatigue. If the conditions for successful PB are not fully in place, residents and advocacy organizations can grow weary of continued involvement.
  • Funders should focus PB grantmaking in areas that have conditions in place for it to be successful. They should look at political, economic, and social contexts before funding the process.

Want more updates on the state and future of PB? Sign up for PBP’s Newsletter

You can find the original version of this article on the Participatory Budgeting Project site at

‘ “Hitler had a valid argument against some Jews”: Repertoires for the denial of antisemitism in Facebook discussion of a survey of attitudes to Jews and Israel’ (now in print)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/08/2018 - 5:52pm in

My article ‘ “Hitler had a valid argument against some Jews”: repertoires for the denial of antisemitism in Facebook discussion of a survey of attitudes to Jews and Israel’, which was published online in April this year, has now appeared in the August issue of Discourse, Context & Media. It explains the background to the antisemitism crisis that has now engulfed the Labour Party leadership, then analyses some of the ways in which Labour supporters deny the existence of antisemitism before looking at how the largest unofficial Labour Party Facebook group makes the problem worse by readily expelling those who challenge antisemitism but only expelling antisemites for extreme transgressions.


The version of the article that was printed is now the version of record and can also be read online (where it replaces the earlier ‘online first’ version). If you do not have a subscription to Discourse, Context & Media, you can read the accepted manuscript draft on this website or contact me to request a legal copy of the version of record.

Bibliographic details

Allington, D. (2018) ‘ “Hitler had a valid argument against some Jews”: Repertoires for the denial of antisemitism in Facebook discussion of a survey of attitudes to Jews and Israel’. Discourse, Context, and Media 24: 129-136.


Anti-Semitism; Anti-Zionism; Denial of racism; Attitudes; Zionism; Israel; Jews; Labour Party; Facebook; Social media


  • Antisemitism may be simultaneously expressed and denied
  • Antisemitism is often expressed in statements about a Jewish or ‘Zionist’ elite
  • Research and policy should recognise the ways in which antisemitism is expressed
  • Left wing Facebook groups do not effectively police the expression of antisemitism
  • Group members who challenge antisemitism may face exclusion


Existing research suggests that, in contemporary liberal democracies, complaints of racism are routinely rejected and prejudice may be both expressed and disavowed in the same breath. Surveys and historical research have established that – both in democratic states and in those of the Soviet Bloc (while it existed) – antisemitism has long been related to or expressed in the form of statements about Israel or ‘Zionist’, permitting anti-Jewish attitudes to circulate under cover of political critique. This article looks at how the findings of a survey of anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli attitudes were rejected by users of three Facebook pages associated with the British Left. Through thematic discourse analysis, three recurrent repertoires are identified: firstly, what David Hirsh calls the ‘Livingstone Formulation’ (i.e. the argument that complaints of antisemitism are made in bad faith to protect Israel and/or attack the Left), secondly, accusations of flawed methodology similar to those with which UK Labour Party supporters routinely dismiss the findings of unfavourable opinion polls, and thirdly, the argument that, because certain classically antisemitic beliefs pertain to a supposed Jewish or ‘Zionist’ elite and not to Jews in general, they are not antisemitic. In one case, the latter repertoire facilitates virtually unopposed apologism for Adolf Hitler. Contextual evidence suggests that the dominance of such repertoires within one very large UK Labour Party-aligned group may be the result of action on the part of certain ‘admins’ or moderators. It is argued that awareness of the repertoires used to express and defend antisemitic attitudes should inform the design of quantitative research into the latter, and be taken account of in the formulation of policy measures aiming to restrict or counter hate speech (in social media and elsewhere).