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26 JULY 2016

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom?

"Individual freedom is the dream of our age. It's what our leaders promise to give us, it defines how we think of ourselves and, repeatedly, we have gone to war to impose freedom around the world. But if you step back and look at what freedom actually means for us today, it's a strange and limited kind of freedom.

Politicians promised to liberate us from the old dead hand of bureaucracy, but they have created an evermore controlling system of social management, driven by targets and numbers. Governments committed to freedom of choice have presided over a rise in inequality and a dramatic collapse in social mobility. And abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the attempt to enforce freedom has led to bloody mayhem and the rise of an authoritarian anti-democratic Islamism. This, in turn, has helped inspire terrorist attacks in Britain. In response, the Government has dismantled long-standing laws designed to protect our freedom.

The Trap is a series of three films by Bafta-winning producer Adam Curtis that explains the origins of our contemporary, narrow idea of freedom. It shows how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today's idea of freedom. This model was derived from ideas and techniques developed by nuclear strategists during the Cold War to control the behavior of the Soviet enemy."

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2007 • A Beautiful Mind (2001) • Adam CurtisAfghanistan • anti-democratic • authoritarianismBBC Two • bloody mayhem • cold war • contemporary idea of freedom • controlling system • deterministic logicdocumentary seriesexplicit objectivesfreedom of choicegame theory • goal-oriented agenda • government policygrand political dreamhuman behaviourindividual freedomindividualismIraqIslamism • John Nash • limited kind of freedom • mathematical modelmetricisation • narrow idea of freedom • neoliberalism • nuclear strategists • operational criteriaoversimplificationpersonal freedom • point of equilibrium • rational self-interest • Ronald David Laing • self-monitoring • simplistic model • social inequality • social management • social mobility • Soviet Union • state control • systems theory • target-oriented agenda • targets and numbers • the dream of our age

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
22 JANUARY 2016

Humanities aren't a science. Stop treating them like one.

"I don't mean to pick on this single paper. It's simply a timely illustration of a far deeper trend, a tendency that is strong in almost all humanities and social sciences, from literature to psychology, history to political science. Every softer discipline these days seems to feel inadequate unless it becomes harder, more quantifiable, more scientific, more precise. That, it seems, would confer some sort of missing legitimacy in our computerized, digitized, number-happy world. But does it really? Or is it actually undermining the very heart of each discipline that falls into the trap of data, numbers, statistics, and charts? Because here's the truth: most of these disciplines aren't quantifiable, scientific, or precise. They are messy and complicated. And when you try to straighten out the tangle, you may find that you lose far more than you gain.

It's one of the things that irked me about political science and that irks me about psychology—the reliance, insistence, even, on increasingly fancy statistics and data sets to prove any given point, whether it lends itself to that kind of proof or not."

(Maria Konnikova, 10 August 2012, Scientific American)

Bruce McLean, "Pose Work for Plinths 3", 1971, 12 photographs, black and white, on paper on board, 75 x 68 cm (Tate).

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appropriately complex representation • attempts to quantify the qualitative • Carol Tavris • easy empiricism • erroneous • error in reasoning • fallacious arguments • faulty reasoning • generalisable simplicity • hard science • Herbert Gintis • humanities • ignorance • imperative of generalisable simplicityimperative of proof • irreducible elements • Isaac Asimov • Italo Calvino • Jerome Kagan • Maria Konnikova • metricisation • nonsense • over-reliance on empirical methods • over-reliance on science • overly reductive • perils of reductionism • post hoc explanations • post hoc hypotheses • pseudoscience • psychohistorical trends • psychology • qualitative phenomena • quantifiable certainty • quantification • quantitative analysis • reduced to scientific explanation • reductionist perspective • Richard Polt • Scientific American (magazine) • scientific-seeming approaches • scientification • scientism • unquantifiable • unsound judgement

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
09 JUNE 2015

Living with the H-Index: metric assemblages in the contemporary academy

"This paper examines the relationship between metrics, markets and affect in the contemporary UK academy. It argues that the emergence of a particular structure of feeling amongst academics in the last few years has been closely associated with the growth and development of ‘quantified control’. It examines the functioning of a range of metrics: citations; workload models; transparent costing data; research assessments; teaching quality assessments; and commercial university league tables. It argues that these metrics, and others, although still embedded within an audit culture, increasingly function autonomously as a data assemblage able not just to mimic markets but, increasingly, to enact them. It concludes by posing some questions about the possible implications of this for the future of academic practice."

(Roger Burrows, 2012)

Burrows, Roger (2012). "Living with the h-index: Metric assemblages in the contemporary academy". The Sociological Review, 60(2), pp. 355-372. ISSN 0038-0261 [Article] : Goldsmiths Research Online. Available at: http://research.gold.ac.uk/6560/

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2012academic identities • academic value • Aidan Kelly • analytic error • Anne Kerr • audit culture • bibliometric measures • bygone era • campus novel • citation-based measures of impact • economic criterion • Frank Parkin • Full Economic Costing (fEC) • Goldsmiths Research Online (GRO) • governmentality • h-index • higher education • incommensurable kinds of value • Key Information Set (KIS)knowledge economylaissez faire capitalismleague tables • magniloquence • managerialism • market economic imperatives • marketization of education • Mary Holmes • metricisationMichel Foucault • monetary value • neoliberal state • neoliberalism • Nick Gane • ordoliberalism • page rank • Paul Wakeling • professionalisation • proletarianisation • public sector • publish or perish • quantified control • quantified measurementquantitative analysis • quantitative criterion • RAEREFRoger Burrows • Ros Gill • Science Citation Index • Scopus • Simon Parker • university life • work stress • workload planning

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
28 OCTOBER 2014

Questioning the goal of efficiency in contemporary culture

"Efficiency in human behavior is a goal that is rarely questioned in contemporary culture. This course will study and draw connections between disparate fields to trace the development and influence of this view. The course, drawing a mix of humanities and engineering students, will include readings and lectures on 19th and 20th century philosophers with discussions of new technology and team experimental projects.

Frederick Taylor, the father of industrial engineering, analyzed human motion to optimize industrial productivity, which had great influence on Henry Ford, military logistics, and Stalin. Michel Foucault traced the history of the minute analysis of human motion from Napoleon's methods for transforming peasants into soldiers to modern methods for reforming prisoners. Martin Heidegger claimed that 'efficient ordering' was the defining characteristic of modern culture. Through the course, students will learn to recognize how this obsession with efficiency for its own sake relates to technology and to their daily lives."

(Questioning Efficiency: Human Factors and Existential Phenomenology, UC Berkeley course syllabus, Fall 2006)

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Albert Borgmann • Anson Rabinbach • Anton BragagliaBerkeley (University of California)capture a moment of timechronophotographycooking in the kitchen • critique of technology • Dale Huchingson • dematerialization of objects in space • Eadweard Muybridgeefficiency • efficient ordering • Eliot Eliofson • Emily Fox • engineering students • Etienne-Jules Marey • everyday life • existential phenomenology • fotodinamismo • Frank Gilbreth • Frederick Taylor • geometric chronophotograph • goal • golfer • Henri BergsonHenry Ford • homemaker • Hubert Dreyfushuman behaviourhuman bodyhuman factorshuman factors in designhuman motion • Idris Khan • increased productivityindustrial engineering • industrial productivity • infinite continuity of time • James Gleick • Joseph Stalin • Ken Goldberg • kitchen • kitchen studies • lecture programmeLillian Gilbrethlong exposure • management science • Marcel DuchampMartin Heideggermeasure performancemetricisationmetricsMichel Foucault • military logistics • model kitchen • modern culture • modern homemaker • motion studiesNapoleon Bonaparte • Nude Descending a Staircase (1912) • objects in motion • obsession with efficiency • philosophy of technologyproductivity • reconstruction of movement • schematic phases • scientific goalssimultaneityslow motion photographystudying motiontechnologyThe Kitchen Practical (1929) • time and motion studies • time savingtime-motion studies • Umberto Boccioni • wasted motion

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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