The Domestication of Competition

My new book (title above) is now out with Cambridge University Press.  See: I reproduce the description from that webpage: Book description Competition is deeply built into the structures of modern life. It can improve policies, products and services, but is also seen as a divisive burden that pits people against one another. ThisContinue reading “The Domestication of Competition”

Conservatism, tradition, and ‘the canon’

Increasingly in these disorienting times labels of left and right, liberal and conservative, don’t seem to mean what they used to.  I see myself as fairly tradition social democrat, supporting liberal democracy from a ‘left’ vantage point, and believing in a need for a balance between public and private power in society.  But when encounteringContinue reading “Conservatism, tradition, and ‘the canon’”

On Respect

We talk a lot about ‘dignity and respect’ these days, and large organisations usually have ‘dignity and respect’ policies that seek to regulate conduct among staff in regard to things such as harassment and bullying.  For instance, the University of Edinburgh Dignity and Respect Policy states: Integrity, collegiality and inclusivity are central to the University’sContinue reading “On Respect”

Moral Responsibility, History as Rhetoric, and Henry Dundas

A few months back a piece I wrote for The Spectator (9 January 2022) provoked a stream of negative and hostile reaction on Twitter from Professor Geoffery Palmer.  I was objecting to the approach and basic assumptions of the Edinburgh City Council’s Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group, as revealed in a recent publicContinue reading “Moral Responsibility, History as Rhetoric, and Henry Dundas”

Cutting the corpus callosum

I remember one of my graduate school teachers, Eric R. Wolf, describing anthropology, the discipline I was studying, as ‘the most scientific of the humanities, and the most humanistic of the social sciences’ (this was a recurring theme in his writing).  I always identified with this characterisation, refusing a strong boundary between the sciences andContinue reading “Cutting the corpus callosum”

Foucault, Marx, and pervasive power

One frequently hears the complaint about ‘identity politics’ and ‘critical race theory’ that they are obsessed with power and reduce all social relationships to power, and that this is a fundamental error, and overgeneralisation of power (see for instance, Lindsay and Pluckrose’s Cynical Theories, 2020).  On the contrary, I would argue that the thesis ofContinue reading “Foucault, Marx, and pervasive power”

US Presidential Election 2020: a failure of competition?

As I write this the US is in a strange limbo.  Joe Biden has been declared the winner of the November 3rd Presidential election by news media and poll analysts, and has been recognised as the President-Elect by many foreign heads of state.  All that awaits is formal confirmation through the reporting of the electoralContinue reading “US Presidential Election 2020: a failure of competition?”

The Problem of Imaginary Agents

I have often pointed out to my students a kind of conceptual error endemic in the social sciences, a tendency to imbue names for large and complex processes with an imputed agency.  A familiar example is when we talk loosely about ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘globalisation’ being the cause of some result we decry.  For instance, ifContinue reading “The Problem of Imaginary Agents”

Marxists or Jacobins?

One of the most disconcerting things about public discourse these days is the running together of ideas of ‘marxism’ and ‘postmodernism’, as though they are equivalent, or that latter grows directly out of the former.  This can be found, for example, in statements by YouTube pundits Jordon B. Peterson (Prof. of Psychology at U. ofContinue reading “Marxists or Jacobins?”