Ten voter groups: combinations of EU referendum and general election votes in the BES 2017 face-to-face survey

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/06/2018 - 10:29pm in

Like many, I read with interest Stephen Bush’s recent article on ‘The nine voter groups who are more important than Labour Leavers’. If Bush were a grant awarding institution, there would be money available for researching those groups. Well, he isn’t, so there isn’t, but I like a challenge so I’m going to make a start anyway – using open data from the British Election Study (henceforth, BES). To be more specific, I’ll be using the BES 2017 face-to-face survey, which was conducted after the election and uses what should probably be considered a more genuinely random sample than the online waves.

If we focus only on England (because the other parts of the UK have really quite different political systems), this gives us 1874 respondents, or 1839 after weighting for demographic group. Even after weighting, Labour voters are over-represented, but we’re not trying to predict last year’s election – we’re trying to understand why people made the voting choices that they did, and to use that information to derive hints about what voting choices they might make in future.

Bush’s general approach was to identify groups by how they have voted in recent years. Groups identified in this way are more or less important, if I understand him correctly, according to how much they might sway the result of future elections. And a group’s ability to do that would presumably depend upon (a) its size and (b) its likelihood of flipping from one party to another, given some sort of predictable event such as a political party coming out for some particular policy.

What sort of a policy might that be? Respondents to the survey gave a pretty clear hint of that in their responses to the open question, ‘As far as you’re concerned, what is the single most important issue facing the country at the present time?’ Although Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May largely succeeded in avoiding discussing Brexit policy during the 2017 election campaign, Brexit was clearly the most popular answer. And well it might have been, I might add, because all the other issues in the top five clearly depend on what kind of a Brexit the UK actually gets. (Note for the nerds: what I’m actually counting here is the number of respondents who gave each of these words as a one-word answer, plus the number of respondents who began their answers with one of these words, or a morphologically related word, e.g. ‘immigrants’ was counted under ‘immigration’. Also, throughout this article I’m using the BES team’s wt_demog weighting.)

The overwhelming importance given to Brexit is analytically convenient, because one of the last three important UK-wide votes was the 2016 referendum on continued membership of the EU, so if we use that referendum to define our groups (as Bush did in some cases), then the definition of the groups themselves will give us an indication of how they might feel about the policy area that their members seem to regard as most important.

 BES face-to-face survey, 2017

So now to those groups.

There are some that I’d like to come to at a later date (in particular, ‘Conservative voters in 2017’ and ‘Labour 2017, Gives An Answer Other Than “Jeremy Corbyn” When Asked Who Would Make The Best Prime Minister’). But right now I’m intrigued by the possibility Bush raises of dividing up the electorate by combinations of 2015 General Election, 2016 EU referendum, and 2017 General Election votes

Bush lists four of these: ‘Conservative 2015, Remain 2016, Labour 2017’, ‘Conservative 2015, Remain 2016, Conservatives 2017’, ‘Non-voting until 2016, Remain 2016, Labour 2017’, and ‘Non-voting until 2016, Leave 2016, Non-voting 2017’ (the latter of which he lumped together with an implied fifth group, ‘UKIP 2015, Leave 2016, Non-voting 2017’). But even if we limit ourselves to the four main parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, and UKIP) plus ‘other’ as a catch-all plus non-voting in the two general elections, plus the three possible responses to the 2016 referendum (Leave, Remain, and non-voting), there are an awful lot of potential groups: 108 of them, to be precise. Or 126 if we distinguish those who didn’t vote in 2015 from those who couldn’t vote, e.g. because they were too young. (I made this distinction in my analysis but it didn’t seem to make any difference to the overall picture.) Most of these groups are going to be too small as to be important. If voters are evenly distributed between all 108 or 126 groups, then less than 1% will fall into each, and if they are not, then less than 1% will fall into each of most of them.

With R’s dplyr package, it’s quite easy to divide up survey respondents according to combinations of votes (using group_by), and then calculate each group’s average responses to the question ‘How likely is it that you would ever vote for each of the following parties?’ (on a scale from 0 to 10) to give a sense of their probability of flipping in the next election (using summarise). Here are the ten largest:

Top ten voter groups, BES 2017 face-to-face survey

As the table shows, the largest groups are of people whose voting behaviour was the same in 2017 and 2015, regardless of what they did or didn’t do in 2016. That’s not particularly surprising, because the British electorate isn’t known for shopping around: by and large, Conservative voters vote Conservative, Labour voters vote Labour, and non-voters don’t vote.

But the table contains a very clear hint that Bush might be right in his main thesis that ‘Labour Leavers – that is, voters who backed Labour in 2015 and Leave in the referendum of 2016 – have received an outsized share of attention and analysis’. As we see from the above, the ‘Labour 2015, Remain 2016, Labour 2017’ group is much, much bigger than the ‘Labour 2015, Leave 2016, Labour 2017’ group, and – given the probability scores – the former looks much more amenable to being poached by the (anti-Brexit) Liberal Democrats than the latter does by the (pro-Brexit) UKIP and Conservative Party. Meanwhile, there was no other combination beginning ‘Labour 2015, Leave 2016’ that was large enough to make the top 10, indicating that there has been no major exodus of Leave voters from Labour to elsewhere.

When we remember the recent survey finding that ‘fewer than one third (32%) [of Labour Leavers] think [that leaving the EU is] very important’ while ‘over half (51%) [of Labour Remainers] say [that staying in the EU] is very important’, there is therefore clearly now a substantial body of evidence to indicate the greater potential for Labour Remainers than Labour Leavers to influence the result of a future general election – provided that somebody makes a bid for their support. Whoever it is, it probably won’t be the Labour leader, a lifelong Eurosceptic who called for the invocation of Article 50 before even Nigel Farage. But as I said last June, Paris might be worth a mass.

Looking further down the list, ‘Conservative 2015, Remain 2016, Labour 2017’ looks very much like a floating vote, giving very similar probability scores for all parties except UKIP, which it would seem to regard as beyond the pale. In fact, the only top 10 group giving UKIP a score higher than 3.1 was ‘UKIP 2015, Leave 2016, Conservative 2017’: the Leave-voting UKIP-Conservative switchers who decimated Paul Nuttall’s already shaky credibility last June. Those switchers might switch again. But, based on the probability scores, they don’t seem to like Labour or the Liberal Democrats very much, and right now the chances of UKIP’s winning back anybody’s vote with its current leadership and financial difficulties are looking pretty remote. And even the 3.1 came from ‘None 2015, Leave 2016, None 2017’: a small group that is, like the much larger ‘None 2015, None 2016, None 2017’, unlikely to vote for anyone in the near future (not only on the evidence of its avowedly low likelihood of voting for any of the four main parties but on the evidence of, ahem, past behaviour). Those two groups can, I think, fairly safely be written off as unimportant, at least in the sense defined above. (I know that sounds elitist, but if people don’t want to vote for anything that’s available, then they can’t influence elections.) The Conservatives might be able to attract the ‘UKIP 2015, Leave 2016, UKIP 2017’ group next time around, but it was too small to make the top ten above and therefore its departure from the UKIP fold probably won’t have much of an impact on anything now that the bulk of 2015 UKIP voters has already left for pastures new.

So it looks as if UKIP voters have had their (admittedly gigantic) effect and are now a spent force, and – all in all – the groups to watch from now on are the very large group of Labour Remainers – only a small proportion of which would need to peel off and vote for another party to make an impact at the polls – and the much smaller group of Remain-voting Conservative-Labour switchers, whose votes have migrated once and (even if we did not have the evidence of the probability scores above) might therefore be assumed to be more than averagely predisposed to migrate again. Labour Leavers are much smaller in number than one of the aforementioned, and – it seems – more likely than both to stay put.

Now to the inevitable caveat. While the approximate relative sizes of these groups are probably a robust finding (because the poll itself was so large), the average probability scores for a group become less and less reliable as the size of the group falls: for example, the averages in the final row in the table above are the findings of what was in effect a poll of 29 people, so the margin of error will be huge, and I mention the scores above only because they are more-or-less what we might expect given that particular group’s voting history.

We could find greater numbers of people falling within each group from the BES online panel, but that has representativeness problems of its own, and what we’re coming to here is an essential problem of the approach of splitting survey respondents up into discrete groups of successively smaller size. I’ve done some more analysis that takes a slightly different approach in order to mitigate that problem, but I’ll save it for a future post.


Book Review: Cultivating Creativity in Methodology and Research: In Praise of Detours edited by Charlotte Wegener, Ninna Meier and Elina Maslo

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/06/2018 - 8:47pm in

The collection Cultivating Creativity in Methodology and Research: In Praise of Detours, edited by Charlotte Wegener, Ninna Meier and Elina Maslo, is comprised of short essays that offer imaginative detours from conventional academic wisdom to reflect on lived experiences of research. While the volume at times risks emphasising the unhappy aspects of academic life over and above the potential for creativity, writes Ignas Kalpokas, many of the chapters contain interesting reflections and will serve a therapeutic function in giving voice to shared struggles and experiences in the academy. 

Cultivating Creativity in Methodology and Research: In Praise of Detours. Charlotte Wegener, Ninna Meier and Elina Maslo (eds). Palgrave. 2017.

Find this book: amazon-logo

As far as methodology books are concerned, Cultivating Creativity in Methodology and Research: In Praise of Detours is completely in a world of its own. In fact, it is entirely faithful to the second part of the title: it is composed of 19 detours from conventional academic wisdom, even though they differ in the extent to which the contributors distance themselves from the mainstream (they vary greatly in their quality as well). Significantly, this is also an insight into the collective psyche of some very troubled researchers – a kind of academic autoethnography that can, at times, read a bit like the comics about frustrated (usually postgrad) researchers circulating on academic social media.

It must be stressed that the term ‘methodology’ in the first part of the title might be somewhat misleading: even though there is an occasional take on methodology as such (and, even then, mostly in terms of reflecting on a method), the main focus of the book appears to be on research as a lived experience, and a largely traumatic one, judging by the contributions. However, that might be exactly the case – representing the pressure and challenge to abide by the highly formalised requirements with which today’s researchers are burdened, including the necessity to always know one’s exact topics, questions and methods, quantify impact or follow strict language and content rules. In fact, the essence of this volume is perhaps best captured in the opening paragraph of a chapter by Rasmus Hoffmann Birk: ‘I will […] give no instructions of tips on how to be creative, nor how to produce innovative, ground-breaking or novel research’ (93). Rather, in this chapter, as in the entire volume, the author intends to ‘tell a story about wrestling with feelings of anxiety and worry about not producing innovative, novel and creative research’, while also implying that such personal struggles are typical of the contemporary academia as such (93) – and they, in this reviewer’s opinion, truly are.

Image Credit: Infinite Spiral Well (Benjamin Esham CC BY SA 2.0)

It must be made clear that the chapters, for the most part, do not aspire to tell the reader anything immediately useful, at least not in the sense of immediate takeaways or detailed instructions that can be applied straight away in the reader’s own research. In fact, there is a more likely therapeutic function, since there might be consolation in discovering how universal the pains and frustrations that one is facing actually are. However, there often also is a deeper layer that has to be discovered through reflecting back on what one has read. Chris Smissaert’s account of talks with his daughter is characteristic here: while banal on the surface, it is both a reflection on responsibility (through the use of the classic technique of a child interlocutor who is simultaneously naïve and, though such naivety, more insightful than the adult) and an appraisal of basic research practices.

Lene Tanggaard’s contribution on boundary crossing, meanwhile, directs our attention towards the permanence of an academic’s working life: contrary to many other professions, an academic’s ‘work’ is not confined to formal settings, such as their office or a classroom – rather, the thought process goes on all the time. And while that is often vilified by academics themselves, Tanggaard puts at least a partially positive spin on this: it is those spaces outside formal bounds that stimulate and inspire creativity. The chapter therefore urges us to consider possibilities for an academic’s freedom to roam instead of confining them to a workplace (e.g. an office) for clearly defined working hours in the manner of a traditional employee. In terms of crossing boundaries, art also features heavily in the contributions: one immediately encounters detours to art as an instrument in research (Lone Grøn) or artistic practices as an escape from the shackles of formalised academic research (Christina Berg Johansen).

There are also interesting reflections on what could loosely be called the setup of research. Karen Ingerslev, for example, questions the privileged position of scientific research in knowledge creation, advocating instead a much more hands-on real-life engagement, while Birk, in his abovementioned chapter, explores the trends that preclude such immersion – the quantification of science through outputs, impacts and other metrics that herd academics into a permanent publishing mode without leaving any time to stop, think and do something else.

However, the publishing process is rarely straightforward, and this is addressed in one of the most interesting and important contributions to the volume, by Sarah Gilmore and Nancy Harding. Their chapter debunks the idea of a journal article as a result of a straightforward linear process in which the researcher always knows what they are doing. Instead, the authors claim in describing their own writing process that a journal article is constructed haphazardly as a result of various changes of heart and mind and, of course, detours. A similar story about ‘the façade vs the real’, here in relation to fieldwork, is conveyed by Ninna Meier and the chapter by Constance de Saint-Laurent. While many experienced researchers will probably have discovered this the hard way already, for those at the beginning of their research journey this chapter will undoubtedly be encouraging: even if your own research seems to be a bit of a mess, this is how it tends to be anyway.

The volume itself is true to its title in the sense that there is little coherence in subject, scope, methodology or substance: it is composed of multiple detours instead. However, this endless reiteration of personal struggles and frustrations can ultimately become frustrating in itself. There are some immensely interesting and useful contributions, but there are also others that could have easily been edited out. The most prominent example would probably be the chapter by one of the editors, Charlotte Wegener: moving between the epistolary and the autobiographical while also minimally referring to the birth of a book, this chapter leaves a reader with few takeaways except for some snapshots from the author’s personal life. Hence, perhaps the most significant contribution of this chapter is the demonstration of the difficulty of self-editing.

Elsewhere, Ken Gale and Jonathan Wyatt describe relatively straightforward collaborative processes in unnecessarily difficult language that involves, among other things, detours to Friedrich Nietzsche as well as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, leaving one wondering whether this is a form of self-indulgence. To an extent, therefore, the volume can be considered overdone: fewer contributions that actually pack a message (which, perhaps with the exception of Noomi Matthiesen’s reflection on procrastination, would mean discarding Part Four) would leave the entire purpose of the book clearer and more coherent while still conveying how miserable life in academia can be (without leaving the reader utterly depressed).

All in all, this book is a must-read for anyone contemplating the option of joining the academy, but one that has to be read selectively: some chapters will leave one better informed while the whole book will make one run away as far as possible from the very possibility of contemplating academic life. It is also a useful therapeutic tool for those already doing research who need reassurance that their troubles are not due to individual deficiency while perhaps learning a few tips from others’ experience. However, the final paradox of the book is this: despite the nominal celebration of creativity and detour, the volume manages to even reinforce the stereotypical and highly uncreative image of the academy (and of PhD studies in particular) as overwhelmingly stressful and of academics as perpetually victimised individuals. Which, in the reviewer’s opinion, is not fair: there are joys even in academia.

Ignas Kalpokas is currently assistant professor at LCC International University and lecturer at Vytautas Magnus University (Lithuania). He received his PhD from the University of Nottingham. Ignas’s research and teaching covers the areas of international relations and international political theory, primarily with respect to sovereignty and globalisation of norms, identity and formation of political communities, political use of social media, political impact of digital innovations, and information warfare. He is the author of Creativity and Limitation in Political Communities: Spinoza, Schmitt and Ordering (Routledge, 2018). Read more by Ignas Kalpokas.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

What SSRN Means When We Talk About Data Integrity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/06/2018 - 3:00am in



In the aftermath of GDPR going into effect “data integrity” might sound like a casual phrase tossed around a conference room to explain why companies cannot or should not send emails to lists scraped off the internet (among other things).

By the estimates of SSRN’s senior staff members, however, data integrity is something we’ve been working to ensure for approximately 15 years. To SSRN, data integrity is neither a new concept, nor one having to do with email harvesting. It has everything to do with ensuring the download statistics and other analytics available to our authors are accurate.

In order to address dishonest activity in the early years of SSRN, wherein download counts were inappropriately inflated, we quickly implemented a safe-guard to protect SSRN rankings and the authors and organizations listed there. We use cues for irregular activity to ensure downloads are being accurately counted. We know from experience that inaccurate data can be detrimental to authors who rely on that information to prove impact.

Over the years we’ve received a variety of feedback from SSRN researchers regarding our data integrity message. Rest assured that our commitment to researchers has always governed our decisions on how SSRN is run. That is why we don’t allow data integrity to interfere with a researcher’s access to SSRN’s eLibrary. Instead, it dictates the legitimacy of a download in the author’s count, which contributes to ranking.

Anonymous Downloads

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that as a research repository we want people to take advantage of our eLibrary. We’re extremely proud of the volume of papers we hold, the diversity of those papers, and the number of authors we attract; by constantly growing we know we have something for everyone. That’s why we don’t refuse downloads. Even a user who absolutely does not want to create an SSRN account will have the option to download anonymously.

The anonymous download button will allow you to make a download without logging in, even if there does happen to be some activity that our site relegates as “suspicious”. However, in this case, the download won’t count toward the author’s total downloads or the downloads for that paper.

We take these precautions to create a fair environment for authors. While we know that the vast majority of SSRN’s site visitors are browsing the eLibrary to take advantage of the open access papers hosted there, the harsh reality is that some people will skew the data if they can.

We’ve seen bots sent to auto-download papers , authors repeatedly downloading their own paper, and people who make random downloads trying to rig the rankings. In a world driven by data there’s always someone who wants to tip the scale. Our data integrity system prevents these attempts from counting among legitimate downloads, while ensuring that any user who clicks for the full text is not denied.

Yes, We Want You to Log In

Our commitment is always to researchers, but that doesn’t mean we’re disinterested in anything beyond the basic “here’s your paper. Now on your way.” Of course, we want users to create an account to make downloads. We want to instill enough value in our services that you choose to come back again. By using a free account on SSRN you give us the chance to provide you with a more customized research experience that we would otherwise be unable to provide.

Your free account lets you subscribe to eJournals of your choosing. That way we can deliver new papers to your inbox and help keep you updated on new research in your field. You can save papers to read later with your “My Library” feature.

Maybe you’ll even upload a paper of your own with the account! Those papers can be added to the rankings and the papers can be distributed in eJournal. Yes, we want to know who our site users are so that we can count them toward legitimately boosting authors’ rankings, but it’s more than that! We want everyone to get the most out of an experience with SSRN.

The Take Away

Data has become a buzz word in the academic community, but to us it’s much more than that. Rankings aren’t just a vanity; they provide valuable information for measuring that all-important impact factor. Our early response to inappropriate skewing of metrics is still serving SSRN and our users well after more than a decade.

With the same goal in mind, we’ve gone on to include even more analytics per paper that can help researchers. In the world of scholarship, there is simply too much at stake to mess around with meaningless downloads.

So, when SSRN gives you your download count you can rest assured that those downloads don’t merely represent the casual glance of of a phish. They represent interested readers, contributing to author impact. We didn’t need any other reason to pay attention to the integrity of data available on SSRN; it’s is just our integrity at work.

What do you think of the Anonymous Download feature? How do you use SSRN downloads? Let us know in the comments or with #SSRN on Twitter.

Submit an Idea


Hidden Common Ground Initiative Findings on Health Care

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/06/2018 - 10:30pm in



The second report of the Hidden Common Ground Initiative has been recently released by NCDD member org, Public Agenda, in collaboration with fellow NCDDer the Kettering Foundation. This report focuses on how people in the US feel towards health care; and it shows that while people seemed to be divided over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there was much common ground to be found over health care, in general. Explore the public’s view on this issue by checking out the full report here. You can read the announcement from Public Agenda below and find more information on the Hidden Common Ground Initiative here.

Where Americans See Eye to Eye on Health Care

This report from the Hidden Common Ground Initiative focuses on hidden or otherwise underappreciated common ground in health care. How do people talk across party lines about the problems facing our health care system? What do people think should be done to make progress?

Finding Common Ground on Health Care

Health care has long been controversial and is certainly among the more partisan problems in American politics today—at least among political leaders. In 2017 alone, the American public witnessed endless debate among leaders over whether and how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and also witnessed Republicans’ inability to devise and pass new health care legislation—all part of leaders’ age-old ideological disagreements about how health care should work in this country.

Despite such a bleak picture, does the intense partisan division over health care among elected officials and pundits actually reflect partisan divisions among the public at large? Survey research does indicate continuing partisan divisions among the public on the favorability of the ACA. But despite these and other divisions along party lines on the direction we should go to improve health care in the United States, Public Agenda’s research and engagement experience over the past 40 years indicates that even seemingly divided groups may share or be able to find significant common ground.

When people from different walks of life sit down and talk about health care, how do they process the problem and think about solutions? Our approach to exploring the public’s views on the topic began with a review of existing survey data and proceeded to three focus groups in diverse locations with ordinary Americans, with roughly equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats and Independents in each group. This report concludes with implications and reflections on the solutions that are most and least likely to garner public support and with ideas for productively engaging the public on the topic of health care.

About the Hidden Common Ground Initiative

It’s taken decades for our national politics to become as ideologically polarized and gridlocked as they are today, but it’s only recently that pundits and pollsters have started to converge on a narrative that blames the general public, instead of a flawed political system and culture, for this state of affairs. Especially since the 2016 election, a storyline has taken hold that portrays our dysfunctional national politics as a reflection of our profound divisions as a people. In this account, we’re an alienated society with no ability to understand one another, let alone find common ground or work together toward common ends.

For example, a 2016 series published by the Associated Press, Divided America, argued:

It’s no longer just Republican vs. Democrat, or liberal vs. conservative. It’s the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent, rural vs. urban, white men against the world. Climate doubters clash with believers. Bathrooms have become battlefields, borders are battle lines. Sex and race, faith and ethnicity…the melting pot seems to be boiling over.

Such rhetoric about divisions among the public has proliferated, and surely it captures something important about the contemporary United States. We are fragmented in many ways, with consequential differences, divides and disagreements that are important to acknowledge and address. But our divisions are hardly the whole story, and this rhetoric can be dangerously self-reinforcing, exacerbating the divisions it chronicles, stunting our political imagination and playing into the hands of those who would manipulate and intensify our differences to their own advantage.

The Hidden Common Ground Initiative explores a different hypothesis and possibility— namely, that as far as the broader public is concerned, there is often enough common ground to at least begin forging progress on many of the problems we face. Moreover, with some nurturing quite a bit more common ground can emerge. The initiative is concerned with locating the common ground that exists on tough issues and giving it greater voice and currency in public conversations and policy debates. And it is concerned with generating insight into how more democratically meaningful common ground can be achieved.

We believe that dispelling the myth that we are inescapably divided on practically everything can not only help fuel progress on a host of issues, but also help us better navigate our real, enduring divisions, from differing philosophies of governance to racial tensions. Hidden Common Ground aspires to tell the story of what unites us by way of concrete, actionable solutions that can make a difference in people’s lives and the fate of their communities—and eventually, perhaps, in our national politics as well.

You can read more about the Hidden Common Ground Initiative on Public Agenda’s site at

Calling All D&D Showcase Presenters for NCDD2018

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/06/2018 - 10:30pm in



NCDD is excited to announce that we’ll once again be holding our popular “D&D Showcase” during the 2018 National Conference on Dialogue & Deliberation, and we are looking for presenters!

The D&D Showcase is a lively cocktail networking event that provides an opportunity for select individuals and organizations in our field to share some of the leading ideas, tools, projects, and initiatives in dialogue & deliberation with conference participants all in one space. It’s a fun way for conference-goers to meet some of the movers-and-shakers in D&D and hear about the projects, programs, and tools that are making waves in our work.

How the Showcase will work

Showcase presenters display simple “posters” about their work, tools, or projects and bring handouts and business cards to share with participants who are interested in learning more or following up. Showcase presenters will be ready to succinctly express what’s important for conference participants to know about their resource, method, research, program, etc. and to elaborate and answer any questions people may have.

During the 90-minute Showcase event, conference participants will stroll around the ballroom, chatting with presenters, and checking out their displays and picking up handouts. We’ll also have finger foods and beverages available as well as a cash bar, adding to the social atmosphere of the session.

The Showcase is a great chance to strike up conversations with leaders in the field and other conference participants who are strolling around the room, perusing the “wares.”

You can get a good sense of what the Showcase is like by watching this slideshow from our 2012 conference in Seattle.

You can also see Janette Hartz-Karp and Brian Sullivan presenting at the 2008 Showcase event here (back when we called it the “D&D Marketplace”), and check out the video of Noam Shore, Lucas Cioffi, and Wayne Burke presenting their online tools here.

Becoming a Showcase Presenter

The conference planning team is hard at work planning NCDD 2018, and one of our upcoming steps includes selecting people and organizations who are passionate about sharing tools and programs we know will interest our attendees as presenters during the Showcase. If you are interested in having your tool, project, idea, or work being featured in the Showcase, please email our conference manager Keiva Hummel at and include: what it is you would like to showcase, a brief description of it, any links to where more information can be found, and any questions you have.

Please note that these slots are very competitive, and we will be favoring Showcase presentations that relate to the conference theme, Connecting and Strengthening Civic InnovatorsSo if your work, project, or tool focuses on helping to better bring the work of the dialogue, deliberation, and public engagement into greater visibility and widespread practice – we definitely want to hear from you!

If you are selected as a D&D Showcase presenter, you’ll be expected to:

  • Register for NCDD 2018 and attend the conference.
  • Prepare a quick spiel or “elevator speech” about your Showcase topic that will get people interested in learning more. Practice it until it comes out naturally. We suggest you prepare several introductions of different lengths (30 seconds, 1 minute, etc.) so you can adjust quickly to different circumstances during the Showcase.
  • Prepare a simple, visually interesting poster and bring it with you to the conference.
  • Bring handouts about your program, method, online tool, publication, etc. that include further details.
  • Have any laptop-dependent pieces of your Showcase presentation finished, functional, and ready to share (you’ll need to bring your own computer).
  • Show up for the Showcase session about 20 minutes early so we have time to make sure everyone is set up and has everything they need.

You can find more information and advice for Showcase presenters on our Conference FAQ page here.

We are looking forward to having another informative and inspirational D&D Showcase this year, so we hope you’ll consider applying to be a presenter or urging your colleagues who are doing ground-breaking and critical work in the field to do so. We can’t wait to see all of the cutting-edge projects showcased in November!

“When Tables Speak”: On the Existence of Trans Philosophy (guest post by Talia Mae Bettcher)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/05/2018 - 10:28pm in

“Once we ask the question of what a woman is, things immediately become more complicated philosophically… I am actually quite willing to have a discussion with gender critical feminists about these issues. I would love a genuine conversation to determine whether bridge-building is possible. After all, non-trans and trans women alike face oppression. Sometimes the oppressions are the same, and sometimes they are different. But this is just the “nature of the beast”…

The following is a guest post* by Talia Mae Bettcher, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at California State University, Los Angeles.

[Lili Elbe – “Le Point Sur Loire”]

“When Tables Speak”: On the Existence of Trans Philosophy*
by Talia Mae Bettcher

A few days ago, when I was frantically grading, I received the following request from Daily Nous:

As you may be aware, a series of posts by Kathleen Stock (Sussex) on issues regarding transgender women has been getting a fair amount of attention from the philosophical community. These posts have raised philosophical questions about transgender women from a “gender critical” perspective and have also commented on the perceived difficulty of raising such questions (that is, some people feel they are too riskily “politically incorrect” to discuss). The latest of these is here.

The reception of Stock’s posts appears to be largely of three kinds: (a) triumphalism about Stock breaking through a Stalinesque, anti-philosophical, PC ban on raising “common sense” questions about transgender persons; (b) surprised disappointment or anger that Stock’s lines of argument and questioning seem to ignore relevant but unnamed/unexplained literature that either refutes her points or conclusively answers her questions; (c) appreciative curiosity, mainly from non-specialists who are interested in learning more about the subject but who are genuinely worried about making harmful missteps.

I think that what’s missing is informed, substantive, and sincere engagement with Stock, and what I’d like to be able to do is put some of that in front of the philosophical community. An argument about these issues could be a useful learning experience. Would you be willing to write something that fits that bill?

My first response was “Ugh.” I needed to get my grades in. And then I wanted to get back to working on my book. More importantly, I had deep political and philosophical reservations about responding in the way that Daily Nous had requested (i.e., a sincere engagement with Stock). If these concerns aren’t evident to you now, I hope they will be by the end of this essay.

I finally decided to write something for two reasons. First, I am an educator and I do think that this is a good opportunity to educate. You see, I’m “old school trans”—and that means I’m willing to go to really painful places, even though I don’t really need to: I suspect I lack the self-respect that the young trans and genderqueer scholars possess. (I’m both envious and proud of them!) Second, and most importantly, I think this is an excellent opportunity to raise uncomfortable questions about the profession of philosophy. I guess that’s what really sold me on the idea of writing this post. So there are two parts. The first constitutes my engagement with Stock. In the second part I dive into the actual issues that are of deep concern to me.

 ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Part One: An Engagement with Stock

As I was pondering Stock’s arguments, I couldn’t help reflect on the grading I had just completed for the course “Trans Feminist Philosophy.” I wondered whether her essay would have received a passing grade in it.

In this course, we paid particular attention to (non-trans) feminist engagements with trans people, issues, and theory. We used my Stanford Encyclopedia entry “Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues” as a guide. It served as the starting point for my lectures and our inquiries. I’ll note that this entry is almost like a little book, coming in at 23,000 words. It also has an extensive and, in my humble opinion, highly useful bibliography that includes literature from the late 1800s until around 2014.

In our discussion of feminist/trans interactions, we began with the expulsion of Beth Elliott (a trans woman, lesbian feminist) from the Daughters of Bilitis San Francisco chapter in late 1972 and then considered the infamous West Coast Lesbian Conference (1973) during which Elliott survived a vote that would have expelled her from the conference. We examined all of the feminist perspectives that were at play at the time—including the pro-trans ones. We then went on to examine Janice Raymond’s Transsexual Empire (1979), easily the most important work in “gender critical feminism” (although it wasn’t called that at the time). We looked at the emergence of trans studies through the work of Sandy Stone (1991), Kate Bornstein (1994), and Leslie Feinberg (1992). We examined the development of Queer Theory—especially the work of Judith Butler (1990, 1993) and its relation to trans studies and politics. We looked at trans phenomenology (Rubin 1998) and we looked at the FTM/Butch border wars of the nineties (Halberstam 1998, Hale 1998). We looked at more recent feminist perspectives on trans issues (e.g. Cressida Heyes 2003, Gayle Salamon 2010) by non-trans women, and we discussed the development of trans feminism through the work of Emi Koyama (2003, 2006) and Julia Serano (2007). Unfortunately, we ran out of time. We were going to look at some of the more recent debates with regard to gender critical feminism (e.g. Lori Watson 2016, Sara Ahmed 2016, myself). But we had to stop.

In considering Stock’s essay in relation to this course, I have to say that it wouldn’t have received a very good grade. Unfortunately, her work fails to display any sensitivity to the existence of a robust literature on these issues, it makes highly dubious assumptions that undermine much of the discussion, and, finally, it simply does not seem to be thought through very well.

Let’s see why.

Stock invites trans women to prove that we’re women. She sees this as a “metaphysical” issue distinct from the moral issue of whether trans people should be treated in accordance with our identities. Unfortunately, I’m unclear what I’m supposed to be proving. It’s hard to hit the target when there are multiple targets to choose from!

I’ll be more explicit. Once we ask the question of what a woman is, things immediately become more complicated philosophically. Are we supposed to be proving we’re women according to the ordinary meaning of the term ‘woman’? Or are we defining ‘woman’ amelioratively? That is, rather than giving an analysis of the concept attached to the ordinary meaning of ‘woman,’ are we trying to get clear on what concept we should use—for the purposes of promoting a feminist project? A third way of approaching the question is to recognize that dominant meanings of political terms are contested “on the ground” through practices that give them different, resistant meanings. For example, given that the ordinary meaning of ‘woman’ includes sexist content, feminists have tried to redeploy the term in resistant, empowering ways. (This is similar to the idea that the originally pejorative ‘queer’ has been taken up with a new, resistant significance.) Indeed, one of Janice Raymond’s most interesting arguments is precisely that trans women can’t take up the term ‘woman’ or ‘feminist’ or ‘lesbian’ in any way that would be resistant to sexism (1979, 116). I actually spent a lot of time on this argument in my class much to the annoyance of my students, who felt that the argument should be taken less seriously. Beyond these three options, I’m not entirely sure what Stock might be inviting us to prove.

If Stock’s interested in any of these three options, I’d like to suggest that she read some of the literature. For example, with respect to analyzing the ordinary meaning of ‘woman’, there are different positions to consider. One is that ‘woman’ is a cluster (family-resemblance) concept (for discussion see Hale 1996, Heyes 2000, McKitrick 2007, for critique see Kapusta 2016, Bettcher 2012, 2017, etc.). Another is “semantic contextualism”—the view that the extension of ‘woman’ changes according to context in a rule-governed way (see Saul 2012, Diaz-Leon 2016, see Bettcher 2017ab, for critique). If Stock’s interested in the ameliorative approach, then she had better read Sally Haslanger (2012). She should also read Jennifer Saul (2012), and Katharine Jenkins (2016). If she’s interested in the third option, I would propose that she read some of my work (Bettcher 2016, 2017ab). And I would strongly recommend that she read Lori Watson’s excellent “The Woman-Question” (2016).

Now, to be fair, Stock, merely means to offer us “an attempt to work through some of these arguments, and get them out of the way.” “With this done,” she boasts, “the field will be clear to have a proper adult discussion that, wherever it ends up, will with a bit of luck fully acknowledge and attempt to accommodate both sets of interests at stake in redefining the concept of woman.” What Stock fails to appreciate, apparently, is that this adult discussion has actually been going on now for almost fifty years! With respect to philosophy specifically, it has been going on for at least twenty. Stock’s certainly welcome to the conversation. But she does have some catching up to do. And she surely needs to check her breathtaking hubris before she makes a contribution.

I don’t mean to be mean (I’m Canadian). I do, however, wish to hold Stock accountable for her philosophically questionable strategies of engagement. And I wish to do this starkly, possibly harshly. Let me be clear, then, that I am actually quite willing to have a discussion with gender critical feminists about these issues. I would love a genuine conversation to determine whether bridge-building is possible. After all, non-trans and trans women alike face oppression. Sometimes the oppressions are the same, and sometimes they are different. But this is just the “nature of the beast” when it comes to coalition building. Sexisms are complex, interblended with other oppressions such as racism, homophobia, ableism, and transphobia. That said, I can’t have an in-depth discussion with somebody who shows no signs of familiarity with the literature, no familiarity with the complex, nuanced issues at stake.

That said, perhaps she’s isn’t really interested in engaging with us philosophers in the first place. It may be that she’s only taking issue with the mainstream trans discourse that seems to her dogmatic, political, and unquestioned, and the trans activists who promote it. If so, it seems a little unfair to expect all trans people to do the theoretical work. Philosophical work seems better allocated to those of us who get into that stuff. More importantly, she can’t bring “philosophical” and specifically, “metaphysical” concerns against mainstream trans discourse, as if she were bringing new philosophical enlightenment to issues that had never been thought about before. She can’t trot out her philosophical views entirely abstracted from, and apparently oblivious to, the deep theoretical work that has been going on now for half a century—as if she’s the sole philosopher to shed light on these questions, finally clearing away the dogmatism that has no philosophical depth to it. This strategy of hers lacks philosophical integrity.

Stock then proceeds to pit the interests of trans and non-trans women against each other, claiming that there is much to be lost by non-trans women in the legal recognition of trans women as women. Here, I’d simply like to point to three presuppositions that undermine her analysis from the get go.

First, Stock gives the impression that the only reason for letting trans women use female designated restrooms and so forth, is to help alleviate our gender “dysphoria.” Our needs then appear frivolous in light of the many bad consequences she enumerates for non-trans women. However, one of the reasons I prefer to use the women’s restroom is that if I used the men’s restroom, the men would either laugh at me, yell at me, or go to the mall cop (or, my Dean). Not only would I be at risk of sexual harassment (the same harassment any woman would), I’d be at risk for trans bashing. Crucially, the dangers faced by trans and genderqueer people (and even non-trans women who pass as men) in using the restroom are bizarrely ignored. Try being a (non-trans) woman who passes as a man! What restroom to use? Try being gender “unreadable.” Good luck! Consider being a trans woman placed in a men’s prison. That sounds like fun! Surely you see what I’m getting at here.

Second, many of the things that non-trans women are supposed to lose through the legal recognition of trans women as women, are also things that trans women themselves sacrifice. For example, if we exclusively used gender-neutral restrooms, no woman would be able to go pee without some worry about a guy being around. No woman. Why would this be any less disconcerting to me than it would a non-trans woman? Worried about men trying to pass themselves off as women to hurt us? Well, guess what? I’m worried about that too. Even the concern that on-line dating sites for lesbians don’t or won’t provide information about whether a potential date has a penis or a vagina, can be of equal concern (or lack thereof) to both trans and non-trans women alike. (As an aside, I think the forced advertisement of our genital status is abuse—but that’s for another time).

The final assumption, apparently, is that trans men do not exist. Consider: She wants a private space for “female-bodied people” where this refers “to a body that has XX chromosomes, and for which the norm is to be born with female genitalia (vagina, labia, clitoris), and a female reproductive system (ovaries, uterus, vagina).” She complains, “WNT are losing access to some formerly female-body-only spaces, where they get naked or sleep.” Stock’s okay with a big, hairy trans guy using “female body-only spaces”? Even if he’s had phalloplasty and a hysterectomy? Just so long as he’s got xx chromosomes? The problem, of course, is that the very existence of trans men has been erased from the discussion altogether. Once they are brought into existence, however, the absurdity of some of Stock’s claims become apparent. Obviously, we don’t see each other’s chromosomes (any more than we see each other’s “brain sex”—as she herself notes). So the concern around private spaces has a lot more to do with our intimate appearances than it does anything else. In any event, her erasure of trans men infects much of her discussion—particularly around her “female body experience.” I’d like to see the whole thing re-written in such a way that recognizes the existence of trans men.

Of course, even once we’ve rejected her false assumptions, we could still proceed with her proposed adversarial approach. For example, now that we understand that many of the harms that non-trans women face are also faced by trans women, we could argue that since trans women are going to be vulnerable regardless of whether we broaden the legal definition, we might as well just kick them to the curb.

Alternatively, we could recognize that what trans women are subject to is a “double-bind.” We could also remember that, as Marilyn Frye argued, the double-bind is a hallmark of oppression. By recognizing our common interests as feminists, we women could then work together to find the best solution for all. And we would do this, of course, by taking seriously the interests of trans men, genderqueer and other non-binary people. I honestly don’t understand an approach that starts off in such an adversarial way, pitting the alleged interests of non-trans women against everybody else. It just doesn’t seem very feminist to me.

I could go on. For, example, I could address Stock’s allegation that trans women often exhibit male energy while in a lesbian space. This allegation is old as dirt. And it’s been discussed by a slew of trans writers. Now at this point, I suppose you’ll want the references. Another strategy, however, would be for you to actually explore the literature on your own. Typically philosophers aren’t so disempowered about learning something new! We go ahead and search! For example, how hard is it to go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy? Okay. I’ll give you a hint: Pat Califia (1997), Julia Serano (2007), Talia Bettcher (2009/2014), Lori Watson (2016). Just a few examples!

To segue into the next section, I’ll conclude this one with some reflections on the burden of proof. Why is it, exactly, that trans people have the burden of establishing who we say we are? It seems to me that we’re already in highly controversial philosophical territory. Certainly in my everyday life, it’s generally taken for granted that I’m a woman. I would go so far as to say that it constitutes a bit of “common sense” knowledge. Now, I’m guessing that in the worlds Stock inhabits, this isn’t the case. But I’m not clear why I can’t proceed from the common-sense assumptions that operate within my “everyday.” Why should I have to proceed from hers? Why should I have to proceed from yours?

This is an important methodological issue. We philosophers (especially analytic ones) rely quite a lot on folk intuitions and on what we take to be common-sense. But once we get into a politically charged discussion, we must recognize that these folk intuitions vary across subcultures. Now what? Well, to settle on mainstream intuitions and common-sense is to make a political decision to further marginalize what Kristie Dotson called “diverse practitioners” in the field. I await the argument that this is a good way to go.

 ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Part Two: The Moral of the Story

How did it come to pass that Stock’s blog-posts should be so widely discussed in philosophy? In order for her work to be taken seriously, it would have to be the case that most people involved in the discussion were not familiar with the extant literature. I suspect that lurking behind this lack of familiarity was the suspicion that there wasn’t even a literature in the first place (people didn’t know that they didn’t know). Otherwise, wouldn’t folks ask about it? What could be at the basis of the assumption that there was no literature (or, perhaps, that the literature was of poor quality)? Why didn’t people look? Or why assume that the literature just doesn’t matter? I don’t know. But there’s clearly a disturbing intellectual laziness at work here.

And I suspect there’s a deeper assumption that says that trans issues (and perhaps gender issues more generally) are philosophically “light weight.” I suspect the same is true with respect to race and disability. The stuff is easy to think about, once we bother to turn our minds to it! Ah, there’s the rub. Once we turn our minds to it! But trans philosophers (and other trans thinkers) turn our minds to it a lot more often. We have to. Our existence depends upon it. Some of us have thought about this stuff a lot. And it’s more than a little heartbreaking to find an entire literature, a rich domain of philosophy, all of one’s own hard work, completely erased—due to nothing but arrogance, dismissiveness, and laziness. Ironically, by paying attention to substandard work—by making it matter—folks only perpetuate the idea that these issues have never been discussed before. Folks can then turn around and accuse trans people of being PC, of not wanting to engage in discussion, and so forth. Our own refusal to engage is then taken as a lack of arguments (“aha, the emperor has no clothes!”), when it may simply be sheer exhaustion coupled with the unwillingness to risk further erasure by participating in the discussion of a substandard paper and by further enabling philosophers who suddenly want all the answers spoon-fed to them.

I conclude my reflections by pointing to the painful performative contradiction in Stock’s posts. On the one hand, she claims to respect the right of trans women to self-identify, to be treated as women, in most spaces (save restrooms and other private environments, etc.). On the other hand, she invites trans women to prove that we’re women. Of course, inviting a woman to prove that she’s a woman isn’t a great way to treat her as one. Oddly, she fails to notice that her posts and any engagement with it constitute a social space in which trans women are precisely not treated like women. Or perhaps she’s forgotten that we’re still in the room. The fact is, the so-called metaphysical question Stock raises can’t be abstracted from very real social contexts in which we philosophize.

I’m afraid there’s a tendency among some philosophers to suppose that philosophical investigations into race, gender, disability, trans issues, and so forth are no different methodologically from investigations into the question whether tables really exist. One difference, however, is that while tables aren’t part of the philosophical conversation, trans people, disabled people, people of color, are part of the conversation. Or at least, we think we are. We’re here. In the room. And we’ve suffered from life-long abuse. I’ve helped a friend die of AIDS, fending off the nurses who misgendered her, watching in horror as the priest invalidated her entire life at her funeral by reducing her to a man. I’ve been personally assaulted in public to prove that I was a man. I’ve had a friend trans-bashed. And as this beating was gang-related, she then lost her home. I’ve had a friend stripped by police-officers, forced to parade back and forth while they ridiculed and harassed her. So please understand that this is a little bit personal.

When we battered tables show up and start philosophizing, only to find these same erasures and invalidations perpetuated within a philosophical context, we can become more than a little upset. To repeat, as philosophers, we simply cannot assume that the methodology must be the same across the board. To invite me to a philosophical forum in which I prove my womanhood is to do something far different from inviting me to share my views on mathematical Platonism. Do you understand the risks? It’s one thing to spout views about the composition problem with both arrogance and ignorance. It happens. It’s annoying. But it’s quite another thing to do this when we’re talking about people—people who are in the room, people trying (and succeeding) to philosophize themselves.

For the longest time, I was one of the few trans scholars working in the profession. But times are changing. There’s a young crop of trans and genderqueer scholars doing the work. But they’re also in precarious situations. Some are still in grad school, some are looking for work, some are trying to get tenure. Nothing is helped by perpetuating such a hostile environment for them. Surely this is an issue we need to take seriously. Philosophers need to start taking responsibility for themselves, for their beliefs, for their intellectual laziness, for their lack of care, and for their simple unwillingness to pursue the truth. The search for truth surely requires a modicum of intellectual humility. It’s time to recognize the literature, recognize the possibility of different starting points, recognize the high stakes for those of us who dare to speak back.

I conclude by acknowledging that nothing I say here is at all original. What I share are simply thoughts that have already been shared by many trans theorists and philosophers. It’s just that I was given the opportunity to speak on a blog that could reach more philosophers than usual: somebody handed me a microphone (thanks, Justin!). With that in mind I want to sign-off with something old and something new. The old is C. Jacob Hale’s “Suggested Rules for Non-Transsexuals Writing about Transsexuals, Transsexuality, Transsexualism, or Trans” (1997). It’s from the nineties, but it’s still horribly relevant. The new is from Amy Marvin’s comment on a recent post at Feminist Philosophers. I’ll leave the closing remarks to her:

Asking people who want to do critical scholarship on this subject to “read the literature” seems to often get dismissed as a near-ad hominem, or as a tactic for uncritical dismissal without any engagement (and thus intellectually shallow)… I worry that the difficulty of having a conversation about whether or not trans women are women (it stands out to me, by the way, that this yet again focuses on trans women rather than trans men) amounts to a suggestion that the conversation should not include our scholarly and personal voices, and continue to cast us as people who scholarship should be about rather than with. In a way, I wish that I could remain silent about this as well… but I have no choice in having my existence debated, with unavoidable consequences for me, both before I was born and likely after I am dead.

 ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

*Thanks to Mark Balaguer, Ann Garry, Amy Marvin, and Perry Zurn for their helpful comments.

References (not included in my Stanford Encyclopedia entry “Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues”)

Bettcher, Talia. “Trans Feminism: Recent Philosophical Developments,” Philosophy Compass (2017):1-11.
—–. “Through the Looking Glass: Transgender Theory Meets Feminist Philosophy” in Routledge Handbook of Feminist Philosophy (eds. Ann Garry, Serene Khader, Allison Stone) Routledge, 2017: 393-404.
—–. “Intersexuality, Transsexuality, Transgender,” in Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory (eds. Lisa Jane Disch and Mary Hawkesworth) Oxford University Press, 2016: 407-427.
Diaz-Leon, Esa. “‘Woman’ as a Politically Significant Term: A Solution to the Puzzle,” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 31:2 (2016): 245-256.
Haslanger, Sally. Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Jenkins, Katharine. “Amelioration and Inclusion: Gender Identity and the Concept of Woman,” Ethics 126: 2 (2016): 394-421.
Kapusta, Stephanie. “Misgendering and Its Moral Contestability,” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 31:3 (2016): 502-519.
Saul, Jennifer. ‘Politically Significant Terms and the Philosophy of Language: Methodological Issues.’ Out from the Shadows: Analytical Feminist Contributions to Traditional Philosophy. Eds. S. L. Crasnow and A. M. Superson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Stryker, Susan and Talia M. Bettcher. ‘Editors’ Introduction.’ Transgender Studies Quarterly 3.1-2 (2016): 5–14.
Watson, Lori. “The Woman Question,” Transgender Studies Quarterly 3:1-2 (2016): 248-255.

Daily Nous Comments Policy

The post “When Tables Speak”: On the Existence of Trans Philosophy (guest post by Talia Mae Bettcher) appeared first on Daily Nous.

Materiality of Research: Can imaginative projects complement (and not displace) more critical research? by Davina Cooper

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/05/2018 - 8:55pm in



Can projects of reimagining complement more critical research? Writing in response to comments on her recent work on reimagining the state, Davina Cooper addresses the challenge of developing transformative methods, the value of institutional play in academic research and the relationship these may have to more overtly ‘critical’ accounts.

A longer version of this essay was originally posted on Davina Cooper’s blog. If you are interested in this topic, the author has explored conceptual methodologies and the use of play in reimagining the state further here.

This essay is part of a series examining the material cultures of academic research, reading and writing. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact the Managing Editor of LSE Review of Books, Dr Rosemary Deller, at

Can imaginative projects complement (and not displace) more critical research?

Image Credit: (Chillsoffear CCO)

The task of the critical academic is often seen as one of exposure – revealing relations of exploitation, exclusion and domination; analysing their social conditions, consequences and patterned logics; and more generally demonstrating what is masked and enacted by taken-for-granted modes of thought and activity. Academic work – and I use this term loosely to include activist writers and other commentators – can do this well. Critical writing does not simply expose the bedrock and shadows of injustice conventionally ignored, but also offers eloquent, powerful descriptions with language and concepts (power-geometries, intersectionality, the prison-industrial complex, to name a few) that make particular wrongs thinkable, talkable – and thinkable through being talkable.

But as this form of writing comes to dominate left scholarship, some commentators have expressed concern about the limits of a certain kind of ‘negative’ critical approach. Rita Felski, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and others have questioned the reliance placed on exposure and what it can accomplish. Among the many arguments made is the concern that critical work treats oppression as so tightly patterned its spores or DNA emerge ‘perfectly’ in all sorts of surprising places (rather than being more contingently joined-up); that it risks paying too much attention – a critical attention but still attention nonetheless – to what is dominant and mainstream (at the expense of what is innovative and marginal); and, more normatively, that it entrenches polarities of friend and enemy or else treats all social and political forms as (equally) dangerous.

Subjecting critical analysis to its own critical tools can be useful, but it’s not the approach I want to pursue here. In part because doing so remains within the realm of distrust and displacement; in part because it can erase the nuance, diversity and political complexity of critical work; and in part because it suggests other (preferred) methods are less vulnerable or flawed. All methods can be subject to critical analysis – transformative methods as much as others. I want to avoid the ‘weaponising’ of theory which, in its focus on particular methods’ failings, diminishes and loses sight of what different approaches can offer.

Naming, describing and analysing patterned forms of coercion, oppression and exploitation, particularly where they are least expected and suspected, remains important – vitally so. Critical work doesn’t just show what is wrong, it also scoops out space (destabilises a settled landscape) for other kinds of work as well.

At the same time, there is a need for writing that faces in other directions. What we might call it remains unclear: hopeful, transformative, experimental? These terms are only partially right, and indeed can apply to critical work also – which is good: my aim is not to set up a dichotomy between hopeful and critical orientations. Still, if we want to orient ourselves in our writing to more hopeful worlds, what kind of methodologies might support this task – not as blueprints or recipes but, in more provisional and fragmented ways, as suggestions, questions, resources, challenges and paths?  In some fields, such methods exist; indeed, in many cases, they have long existed. Elsewhere, they are less developed or have been battered by methodological skirmishes between critical and reconstructionist approaches.

In their critique of critical analysis, Sedgwick and Felski argue for readings that are reparative, generative, collaborative and bridging. Their work, and many of the interesting responses generated, foreground literary and related texts. I want here to look at what such reimagining could mean for practice-oriented political and socio-legal studies by briefly tracing one of two methods I have recently been exploring: reimagining the state through institutional play (the other method of reimagining concepts, and the methodological challenges it poses, I discuss elsewhere (see, for instance, Everyday Utopias)).

Image Credit: (Barni1 CCO)

Can we play at being a different kind of state? 

Among critical writers engaged in exposing patterns of domination, there is often scepticism about the seemingly ‘heroic’ academic, advancing ahead with their new imaginaries, at a distance from the ‘real’, everyday life to which they believe (naively, arrogantly?) their conceptual thoughts will trickle down. Imaginative academic work, though, doesn’t have to take –or be read as taking – a lone, individualistic form. It can be far more modest, collaborative and horizontal. This is usually recognised when writers engage in bridging work, giving voice to radical practices already in existence (or being trialled) in experimental spaces, everyday utopias or traditional communities. But the academic developing new conceptual ‘lines’ is also collaboratively engaged. Not only is their work shaped by wider conversations; reimagining the economy, state or gender can also be seen as a tracing or path, within a shared landscape, that others may, in turn, develop, revise, track alongside or reject.

Reimagining concepts highlights the place of different kinds of practice. One form I have become interested in, in part because it remains underexplored within political and socio-legal analysis, involves mimetic institutional play. Mock parliaments or mock UN meetings might be an example. They do not make laws with ‘real’ effect but nevertheless work pedagogically to induct children into existing political systems.

Mimetic play, however, does not have to affirm the status quo. As a way of practising the imagination and putting the imagination into practice, it can also be used to explore how states and state institutions might become more democratic, egalitarian and caring. Examples here include the establishment of micro-nations, simulated constitutions, feminist judgment writing as well as some local currencies, peoples’ tribunals and free universities. Calling these initiatives ‘play’ doesn’t mean they are trivial or light-hearted – far from it. While play suggests subjects’ willingness to engage in creative, open-ended practice, what is also important is the aspirational surplus play identifies.

Take the crowd-sourced constitution developed through the LSE (2013-15). This was an ambitious project to produce a new democratic constitution. As such, it demonstrated a readiness and ability to undertake a task normally seen as the responsibility and prerogative of parliament, even as the university-led process was unable to give its constitution legal effect. Likewise, the still ongoing, globe-crossing feminist judgments project, where feminist academics, simulating judges, write judgments on already decided cases, demonstrates how legal judgments could give greater priority to equality and relations of care (among other feminist values) even when constrained by the terms of legal and social knowledge governing the original decision. At the same time, while feminists can produce new judgments, these cannot do what judgments are expected to do – as authoritative decisions held up through a complex matrix of institutional power.

Play, then, can be understood as a register of action that involves actualisation (or doing), but where, at any given moment, a space remains between what is done and what is realised. I have called this space one of aspirational surplus rather than failure deliberately, because it identifies play’s capacity to reach beyond what is materially possible in other registers at any given moment.

What counts as play (or not-play) can change. It is also often contested as participants disagree over whether a particular form has been realised – for instance, are local currencies ‘real’ money or ‘pretend’ money? – particularly when they involve reimagining what money is and can do. Yet, while we can get caught up with questions of effect and what experiments can accomplish, what is important about mimetic institutional play is the practical space it provides for progressives (and others) to develop social ambition – exploring what legal judgments and money, but also universities, tribunals, states, constitutions and embassies, could be like in ways that refuse to be dissuaded and disempowered by the notion that forging institutions and institutional imaginaries is the exclusive terrain of elites.

I am not arguing for critical academics to switch gear – to move from describing and analysing social harms, from uncovering domination and control in unexpected places, to engaging in practices (conceptual, utopian, mimetic) that simulate (and stimulate) new hopeful imaginaries. At the same time, I do think we need a clearer, stronger, more confident space for the latter within the broad auspices of contemporary critical work.

Discourses of play have generated much mistrust in left academic quarters with their apparent orientation towards, and investment in, light-hearted, mischievous amusement, valorising (it would seem) a refusal to commit; where play’s unsteady and endlessly shifting form means there is always slippage or something else going on. We might think of Gregory Bateson’s description of the playful nip, which signifies a bite but not what is signified by a bite (feminist judgments likewise might signify legal rulings, but perhaps not what is signified by a ruling). Play then seems like an accordion – stretching in and out, and refusing to be pinned down to a single, stable consistent form.

This mutability, the ability to be and not be simultaneously, supports forms of institutional mimesis-with-revisions (such as feminist judgments, new constitutions and currencies). It also reveals qualities of play which are helpful for thinking more positively about the relationship between critical analysis and more hopeful reimagining. While each produces its own endless spiral of reflexivity – critique leads to more critique; transformative imaginaries produce new, ‘improved’ aspirations – both simultaneously depend upon, and in a sense enact, the other. Critical accounts matter because other ways of living are possible; hopeful reimagining is motivated by, and anchored in, a critical dissatisfaction with what is. This is not an argument for their fusion or side-by-side placing, but for understanding their interrelationship in more complex, tangled, playful ways.

In short, we need to get out of the game of determining whether it is critique or hopeful reimagining that is most worthy of our time and attention, and instead develop richer ways of thinking through their interconnections. This is a project to which the language of play can, I think, helpfully contribute.

Davina Cooper is Research Professor at Dickson Poon School of Law, KCL. Her most recent book is Everyday Utopias: The Conceptual Life of Promising Spaces (Duke UP, 2014). She is currently completing a project exploring the state’s reconceptualisation for a progressive transformative politics. Davina Cooper would like to thank Antu Sorainen and Didi Herman for their helpful suggestions for this piece.

This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Use SSRN to Improve Your Resume

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/05/2018 - 6:59am in

I’ll never forget the moment after presenting at my first conference as an undergrad when my professor, who was also my carpool driver, said “Now you can add a ‘conferences’ section on your resume.” Young and inexperienced, the thought had never occurred to me that all that writing and citing I was doing could actually add a new heading on my resume. I understood that what I was doing was valuable, yet the idea of adding it to an actual document that could actually represent me after college had never occurred to me!

To this day, I really don’t see a way around it- no matter how you dress it up, writing/updating a resume is a chore. The pressure kicks up a notch if you are an academic trying to get into a competitive PhD program, vying for an assistantship, or applying for a teaching position. Your resume is one of the only tools you have to garnish some precious attention from decision makers.

If, at some point during the application process, you want to just melt into a puddle of stress goo… we’ll just keep that between us. The good news is that your free SSRN account can give you an advantage as you build a credible resume to share with the academic community.

Submit a Paper to an SSRN Network

How, you ask?

The academic community wants to see your research. You’ll have to prove you have experience researching and that you know how to support a thesis. That means having a “research” heading on your resume. If that intimidates you, read on. You probably have more work to share than you think.

For most qualifying applications you do not need to be a published author in a related field. If you went to college, or have an interest in pursuing an academic career chances are you’ve written a research paper or two in your life. If it is work that you are proud of, don’t just ask application reviewers to believe you that you can do the work. Show them!

Keeping a paper hidden in a word doc on your computer is like keeping a light under a basket. By posting it open access on SSRN not only can you start to curate an author profile, but it opens the door to sharing those preprints with interested readers.

Each paper you share in SSRN’s eLibrary receives a unique link, which can then be pasted under the Research portion of your resume to prove your skill. Qualifying papers may even be disseminated in SSRN’s eJournals, which may boost downloads and give you impressive metrics to add to the resume. Anytime you can measure the impact of your work be sure to include it in your resume. Our integration with PlumX makes measuring those numbers simpler and more effective.

SSRN papers can also be added to web pages and even your LinkedIn account. By establishing yourself in this open community of collaborators you open the doors to being discovered. Your research goes to work for you as you network.

Remember that author profile I mentioned earlier? That is going to be a nice highlight on your resume too. Even if you cannot boast a published dissertation (yet), you can still show off your intentions as a serious academic. Customize your author page with a professional profile image that characterizes you. Resume readers who take the initiative to go to that author profile will be impressed, and with digital resumes becoming more common they may be only one click away.

Your author profile also houses any and all of the papers you choose to upload there. This offers another chance to prove your work and show examples of your writing and your successful research.

If you’re looking to collaborate, or have research plans that haven’t quite taken shape you can even share ideas on SSRN. Use this feature on your “My Papers” page to show initiative to the people you want to impress. If fact, use it for the sake of scholarly discourse regardless of who you are impressing. If you are serious about following a long-term path in academia you’ll be glad you engaged in early-stage sharing.

Applications can be emotionally exhausting to complete. Don’t leave the research heading off your resume. Your available work can advocate for your skill. Including robust content and samples in this field will make your resume stand out.

At SSRN we are committed to author success! Take advantage of our free author accounts to build the research portion of your resume and to prove your merit as a scholar and member of the academic community.

Submit a Paper to an SSRN Network

Share Hosts Democratic Learning Webinar Series

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/05/2018 - 10:30pm in



NCDD is excited to share one of our partner organizations, has recently announced their first ever webinar series on Democratic Teaching and Learning starting in June. This free four-part series is open to anyone and will be a great opportunity to connect with Participedia researchers and collaborators around participatory democracy. We are proud to see many folks from the NCDD network collaborating on the sessions and we encourage you to register at the link below! Read the webinar schedule in the post and find the original on’s site here.

Democratic Teaching and Learning: A Webinar Series

Participedia proudly presents its first webinar series on Democratic Teaching and Learning, developed by Co-Chairs of our Teaching, Training and Mentoring Committee, Drs. Joanna Ashworth & Bettina von Lieres! Open to anyone interested in the field, this four-part webinar series will connect Participedia researchers and collaborators with shared interests in teaching methods, theories, and cases that support democratic participation. Join us and our rotating panel of experts for a lively exchange of knowledge about challenges and successes in the evolving field of participatory democratic innovations.


Session One – 8 am Pacific Time June 6, 2018 Teaching and Learning from Cases

Graham Smith (Westminster University) and Tina Nabatchi, (Syracuse University)
Moderator: Bettina von Lieres (University of Toronto).

  • What and How Do We Teach Using Questions, Cases, and Opportunities?


Session Two – 8 am Pacific Time September 26, 2018
Understanding the Practice of Democratic Pedagogy

Tim Shaffer  (Kansas State University), Bettina von Lieres (University of Toronto).
Moderator: Joanna Ashworth (Simon Fraser University)

  • What is Democratic Pedagogy? Schools of Thought and Practice in Canada, US, UK and Beyond

Session Three – 8 am Pacific Time October 31, 2018
TITLE TBC What Works: Coaching and Mentoring Professionals in the Uses and Research of Public Participation.

Matt Leighninger (Public Agenda) and Julien Landry (Coady International Institute).
Moderator: Joanna Ashworth

  • Insights into working with seasoned and mid-career professionals from the public sector, NGOs and more.

Session Four – 8 am Pacific Time November 28, 2018
The Global Context of Participation

Lawrence Piper, (University of the Western Cape), John Gaventa (Institute of Development Studies) and Archon Fung (Harvard Kennedy School; Co-Founder Participedia).
Moderator: Bettina Von Lieres (University of Toronto).

  • How context shapes the teaching of democratic pedagogies: Reflections on Politics, conflict and power in South Africa, the Philippines and Beyond

Save the Date:
RSVP on Eventbrite:
RSVP on Facebook:

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

Research on Public Attitudes Towards Philosophy & Philosophers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/05/2018 - 12:01am in

“Science communication is a profession in its own right with journals, higher degrees and careers paths,” notes philosopher Brendan Larvor (Hertfordshire). Yet there does not appear to be much of a “philosophy communication” analog. He notes, “so far as I know there is no research on public attitudes towards philosophy and philosophers.”

These remarks appear in a brief post at Professor Larvor’s blog in which he discusses, among other things, some ideas of Gail Cardew (Royal Institution) regarding the public understanding of science. He describes some of Cardew’s thoughts on the matter:

Can the public be expected to understand science, in any meaningful sense? Perhaps not, so replace ‘understanding of’ by ‘engagement with’. But engagement is a rather undemanding term that sets low and vague success-criteria. It was evident that she regards this as an unsolved problem.

She said two things that stuck with me:

  1. Science communicators are trying to move away from a deficit model in which the public are taken to be in a defective condition of ignorance and unrigour, and the role of the science communicator is to repair this deficiency. This model fails because many of the public are experts and in any case no-one likes to be patronised.
  2. Science communication bodies such as the Royal Institution do research into public attitudes towards science and scientists. For example, there is research on the extent to which the public trusts scientists.

So what is the public thinking when they think about philosophy and philosophers? How would we classify the methods that philosopher-communicators tend to use while engaging with the public? Are such methods supported by any research about their efficacy? And what are the goals of such engagement, anyway? Should we encourage the development of “philosophy communication” as a field of study?

Comments welcome, especially from those familiar with the field of science communication and those who know of any research on public attitudes about philosophers and philosophy.

from Alan Stamaty, “Who Needs Donuts?”

The post Research on Public Attitudes Towards Philosophy & Philosophers appeared first on Daily Nous.