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February 01 2012

Where In The Tunnel Are We? – By Ehsani | Syria comment - 2012-01-31

Why is the Syrian opposition so divided? Here are some of the main divisions running through Syrian society:

Sunni versus Alawi
Poor versus rich
Rural versus urban
Homs and Hama versus Aleppo and Damascus
Baathists versus Non-Baathists
Religious versus Secular
Saudi Arabia versus Iran
USA versus Russia

Welcome to the cocktail of the new Syrian revolution.

I returned home to Syria two weeks ago. Many of my friends were surprised that I would make the long trip at this time of gathering war.

For two weeks, I traveled (flew) between Aleppo and Damascus. I talked to rich and poor: bankers, taxi drivers, young protestors from Idlib, rank and file army soldiers stationed in Homs, senior Alawi officers, Christian and tribal Sunni families. I did my best to get a comprehensive view of what people were thinking and how they saw the future.

In what follows, I will present a raw interview-type account of three different encounters that I had. Two were with Taxi drivers. One with a soldier. Even though I had my own car and someone to drive me around, I preferred the taxis to get a better feel.


[...]

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Defining a social subject: Weber | understandingsociety.blogspot 2012-01-31


How does a sociologist define and conceptualize a subject for research and investigation? And how does a research tradition -- a group of scholars linked by training, scholarly interaction, and mentorship -- do the same thing?  What is the intellectual work that goes into framing an empirical and theoretical conception of a group of related social phenomena -- cities, racism, economic growth, feudalism, or power?

The most evident problem this question raises is the fact that any given social phenomenon itself has multiple aspects and sets of characteristics; so the way we define a research subject is in some important way an expression of what we find "interesting." Let's say that I'm interested in cities.  "How do cities work?"  This might be an economic question; a regional geography question; a cultural question; a question about poverty and segregation; a question about architecture and planning; a question about municipal governance; a question about population characteristics; a question about religion; a question about civil disturbances; and so one, for indefinitely many aspects or features of urban life.

These questions force consideration of several different intellectual acts: selection, conceptualization, and explanation.  Selection has to do with singling out one domain of phenomena for extended empirical and theoretical study.  Conceptualization has to do with providing some intellectual structure in terms of which we can analyze and characterize the phenomena in this domain.  And explanation has to do with discovering meanings, causes, structures, processes, and active social relationships, through which the features of this aspect of the social world takes on the empirical shape that it displays.

I have always thought that Weber had a particularly advanced understanding of this fundamental problem of the social sciences.  His essays on methodology, collected in Methodology of Social Sciences, provide some very interesting thoughts about this set of questions. His essays are primarily aimed at laying out the program of the group of "social economists" who were in the process of defining the research agenda of the Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik.  But his analysis has general relevance to the problem of defining a social-science research agenda.

One question that Weber raises in these essays is the role that the scholar's values play in his or her selection of a subject matter and a conceptual framework.  "The problems of the social sciences are selected by the value-relevance of the phenomena treated. … Together with historical experience, it shows that cultural (i.e., evaluative) interests give purely empirical scientific work its direction" (21, 22). And again: "In the social sciences the stimulus to the posing of scientific problems is in actuality always given by practical 'questions'. Hence the very recognition of the existence of a scientific problem coincides, personally, with the possession of specifically oriented motives and values" (61).

This point about selectivity and the role of values in the definition of a topic of study applies as well to a research tradition: an orienting set of values lead researchers in the tradition to adhere to a given definition of the topics and approaches that their tradition will pursue.  This adherence can be put clearly as a statement about "importance": "These problems are important for us; we need to better understand these problems." Here is how Weber characterizes the "orienting values" that define the approach taken by the new journal:
In general, they were men who, whatever may have been other divergences in their points of view, set as their goal the protection of the physical well-being of the laboring masses and the increase of the latter's share of the material and intellectual values of our culture. (62)
Selectivity applies to the singling out of an area of social phenomena for study.  But it also applies to a singling out of the specific aspects of this area that the researcher will examine.  And this, in turn, raises the possibility of there being indefinitely many different "scientific studies of X."  Here is a typical formulation of Weber's about this form of selectiveness:
The cultural problems which move men form themselves ever anew and in different colors, and the boundaries of that area in the infinite stream of concrete events which acquire meaning and significance for us, i.e., which becomes an 'historical individual,' are constantly subject to change. The intellectual contexts from which it is viewed and scientifically analyzed shift. The point of departure of the cultural sciences remain changeable throughout the limitless future as long as a Chinese ossification of intellectual life does not render mankind incapable of setting new questions to the eternally inexhaustible flow of life.  (84)
The quality of an event as a "social-economic" event is not something which it possesses "objectively." It is rather conditioned by the orientation of our cognitive interest, as it arises from the specific cultural significance which we attribute to the particular event in a given case. (64)
Here is another statement that implies the open-endedness of the social sciences in their definitions of the topics of research:
The fate of an epoch which has eaten of the tree of knowledge is that it must know that we cannot learn the meaning of the world from the results of its analysis, be it ever so perfect; it must rather be in a position to create this meaning itself. (57)
I take this to mean that assigning meaning to events, processes, or structures is a human activity rather than the discovery of an objective fact about the world. So it is open to social scientists of various generations to reevaluate prior interpretations of the world -- whether of capitalism or feudalism, or of rational behavior or religious identity.  In Weber's own context:
Undoubtedly the selection of the social-economic aspect of cultural life signifies a very definite delimitation of our theme. It will be said that the economic, or as it has been inaccurately called, the "materialistic" point of view, from which culture is here being considered, is "one-sided." This is true and the one-sidedness is intentional. The belief that it is the task of scientific work to cure the "one-sidedness" of the economic approach by broadening it into a general social science suffers primarily from the weakness that the "social" criterion (i.e., the relationships among persons) acquires the specificity necessary for the delimitation of scientific problems only when it is accompanied by some substantive predicate. (67)
Or in other words: there is no general or comprehensive or synoptic approach to defining the social; there is only the possibility of a series of selective and value-guided approaches to defining specific aspects of the social world.  And these one-sided and selective approaches have an enormous epistemological merit: they can allow us to discover specific, concrete forms of interconnection among social phenomena as we have defined them.
The justification of the one-sided analysis of cultural reality from specific "points of view" -- in our case with respect to its economic conditioning -- emerges purely as a technical expedient from the fact that training in the observation of the effects of qualitatively similar categories of causes and the repeated utilization of the same scheme of concepts and hypotheses offers all the advantages of the division of labor. (71)
There is no absolutely "objective" scientific analysis of culture -- or put perhaps more narrowly but certainly not essentially differently for our purposes -- of "social phenomena" independent of special and "one-sided" viewpoints according to which...they are selected, analyzed, and organized for expository purposes.  The reasons for this lie in the character of the cognitive goal of all research in social science which seeks to transcend the purely formal treatment of the legal or conventional norms regulating social life. (72)
All the analysis of infinite reality which the finite human mind can conduct rests on the tacit assumption that only a finite portion of this reality constitutes the object of scientific investigation, and that only it is "important" in the sense of being "worthy of being known". (72)
For me, all of this comes down to a rather straightforward and compelling conclusion on Weber's part: there is no social topic or problem for which we might provide a complete, final, and comprehensive analysis.  Rather, we are forced, and we are entitled, to always bring forward new perspectives and new aspects of the problem, and arrive at new insights about how the phenomena hang together when characterized in these new ways.

Or in other words, whether he ever actually said it or not, Weber was forced to believe that the history of Rome is never complete; each generation is free to create its new frameworks and perspectives on Rome, and telling its story according to a different set of concepts and insights.

(In the course of thinking about this topic I came across this very interesting paper by Richard Swedberg on "Max Weber's Vision of Economics" (link). The paper presents a very compelling critique of the way that neoclassical economics defines the subject matter of "economics," and gives a strong statement of how Weber's broader and more historical understanding of the subject -- which he referred to as "social economics" -- is of contemporary importance.)
Reposted from02myhumsci-01 02myhumsci-01
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[...]

Kurz darauf öffnete Amazon seinen Shop in Spanien, wo ich auch relativ schnell ein paar spanischsprachige Werke fand, die mich interessierten und die es bei Amazon.US nicht zu kaufen gab. Wenn man mit einem in den USA registrierten Kindle in einem der anderen nationalen Amazon-Läden etwas kaufen will, dann bekommt man als erstes eine Dialogbox serviert, die einen darüber aufklärt, dass man zum Kauf irgendwelcher eBooks dort seinen Kindle zu eben diesem Laden umregistrieren muss. Wenn man dem zustimmt, sieht man eine zweite Informationsbox, die einen darüber informiert, dass man damit sämtliche vorhandene Subskriptionen beendet - und zwar einschließlich des Rechts, auf zurückliegende Ausgaben zuzugreifen. Das fand ich einen geradezu haarsträubenden Eingriff in meine informationelle Freiheit - und das habe ich natürlich abgelehnt.

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Probe aufs Exempel

Daraufhin schrieb ich dann an den Amazon-US-Kundendienst, um zu erfahren, was sie sich denn wohl dabei gedacht haben, mich mit ihrem Ladenkonzept von einem Großteil der verfügbaren Bücher abzuschneiden - und zwar egal, bei welchem Laden ich mein Gerät registriere. Die Antwort war höflich, aber leider keine Hilfe. Daraufhin erläuterte ich in einer Rückantwort noch einmal etwas eindringlicher, dass eine solche Beschneidung meines Zugangs zu weltweit vorhandenen Informationsquellen für mich überhaupt nicht akzeptabel ist. Schließlich setzt sich im worst case dieses Geschäftsgebaren durch und am Ende wird es unmöglich sein, irgendwelche Bücher zu kaufen, die außerhalb der eigenen Landesgrenzen auf den Markt kommen - die Horrorvorstellung einer intellektuell parzellierten Welt, in der es womöglich ein ernstes Vergehen sein wird, Bücher zu schmuggeln. Ansätze dafür sind ja vorhanden und werden stetig ausgebaut.

Da ich gesehen habe, dass es absolut nichts bringt, die Entscheidung hinauszuzögern, habe ich also die Probe aufs Exempel gemacht und im spanischen Amazon-Laden die Kindle-Version eines Buchs über die Gründung von Kooperativen gekauft - was nur möglich war, indem ich meinen Kindle in Spanien registrierte. Daraufhin entzog Amazon mir - und den Herausgebern - meine Subskriptionen des 2600 Magazins und des gerade frischen Analog SF&F. In Spanien gibt es beide einfach nicht, und somit für mich keine Möglichkeit, sie neu zu bestellen. Das mehrmalige Wechseln ist ebenfalls versperrt:

[...]

Adieu, Kindle | Telepolis 2012-02-01 

Interview with Honneth in Swiss TV

On Sunday January 22, Barbara Bleisch interviews Professor Axel Honneth in "Schweizer Fernsehen" (SF)

"Axel Honneth: Der Kampf um Anerkennung"
11 - 12 a.m.

Update:
See the interview here (podcast: video + audio) - or here.

Axel Honneth is Jack C. Weinstein Professor of the Humanities, Department of Philosophy, Columbia University.

------------------------------

// oAnth - sf.tv (link given above)

Axel honneth

Axel Honneth

Axel Honneth: Der Kampf um Anerkennung

Axel Honneth im Gespräch mit Barbara Bleisch

Der Frankfurter Philosoph Axel Honneth ist einer der wichtigsten lebenden Vertreter der Kritischen Theorie, die in den 1930er Jahren von Horkheimer und Adorno begründet wurde. Während die Kritische Theorie unter dem Eindruck des Nationalsozialismus ein düsteres Bild der Zukunft zeichnete, ist Axel Honneth zuversichtlicher. In seinem neusten Buch «Das Recht der Freiheit» behauptet er gar, unsere Welt werde immer gerechter, da die Menschen nicht müde werden, Unrecht anzuprangern und Anerkennung einzufordern. Der Kampf um Anerkennung wird damit für Honneth zum ethischen Fortschrittsmotor – er verändert unser politisches System, unsere Arbeitswelten und letztlich auch unsere Liebesbeziehungen zum Guten hin.

Literaturtipps:

Das Recht der Freiheit. Grundriss einer demokratischen Sittlichkeit. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2011.
Das Ich im Wir. Studien zur Anerkennungstheorie. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010.
Pathologien der Vernunft. Geschichte und Gegenwart der Kritischen Theorie. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 2007.
Umverteilung oder Anerkennung? Eine politisch-philosophische Kontroverse. Hg. von Nancy Fraser und Axel Honneth. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 2003.
Theodor W. Adorno: Minima Moralia. Reflexionen aus dem beschädigten Leben. Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1969/2003.
Jonathan Franzen: Freiheit. Rowohlt, 2010.
Reposted from02myhumsci-01 02myhumsci-01
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Schundkampf 1 | differentia.wordpress - 2012-01-31

Aus der Neuen Hamburger Zeitung vom 24. November 1906:

In der letzten Zeit haben grauenvolle Raubmorde in der Eisenbahn, in der Stille des Zimmers, Kinderentführungen und andere schwere Delikte die Frage aufgeworfen, welche Ursachen haben diese, trotzdem ein Wohlstand und eine Beschäftigung … herrscht, wie nie zuvor? … Ich glaube schlechte Beispiel verderben auch hierin die Sitten, denn die Theater lebender Phtotografien, die Bioskopbilder usw. verführen direkt dazu, diese Untaten nach den gebotenen … Vorbildern zu vollbringen. Manch schwacher resp. halbstarker Charakter sieht in diesem sogenannten lebenden Photographien und aus dem Kitzel und Sensationslust berechneten Vorführungen das Vorbild zur schreckensvollen Tat.

Reposted from02myhumsci-01 02myhumsci-01

January 31 2012

Little Ice Age was caused by volcanism

Some of the iconic winter landscapes by Pieter Bruegel the Elder are more than just fine examples of sixteenth-century Dutch art. Paintings such as Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow (1565) also serve as vivid evidence for the ‘Little Ice Age’, a period of cold climate conditions and glacier advances in Europe and elsewhere that lasted from the late Middle Ages until the nineteenth century.

There has been quite some debate over the years about the precise onset and the physical causes of this extended cold spell, with one school of thought favouring low solar activity during the ‘Maunder Minimum’ and another the cooling effect of big volcanic eruptions.

A paper published today in Geophysical Research Letters may put the solar-trigger hypothesis at rest. Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado in Boulder and his colleagues suggest that the Little Ice Age began abruptly between 1275 and 1300 AD following four large sulfur-rich explosive eruptions, most likely in the tropics, over a mere 50-year period.

Sulfate particles hurled high up into the atmosphere by the massive eruptions would have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the ground and caused a series of cold summers. The found that ice-growth records from Baffin Island and Iceland indicate that glaciers and Arctic sea ice did advance abruptly at the time.  The resulting climate feedbacks seem to have maintained cold conditions for centuries.

“What is new in this study is that the authors have data on the growth of small icecaps in Canada and Iceland, showing a rapid increase in ice volume at the end of the thirteenth and close to the middle of the fifteenth century,” says Georg Feulner, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research in Germany.

“These periods coincide with phases of strong volcanic eruptions, but a mechanism is required to produce cooling on longer timescales as the temperature drop after volcanic eruptions typically last only for a few years. In climate model simulations, the authors find that the persistent cooling observed in the climate records can be explained by expanded sea ice resulting in cooling by the ice-albedo feedback mechanism, and cooling in large parts of the North Atlantic by sea-ice export from the Arctic.”

Over at the New York Times DotEarth blog, Jennifer Francis, a climate and sea-ice researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey, comments on the importance of the findings:

During the past several decades we have seen the enhanced warming of the Arctic owing to a variety of feedbacks involving snow, sea ice, and water vapor, but Arctic Amplification also works in the reverse direction, as in the case of the little ice age.

If a similar series of strong volcanic eruptions were to happen in the next few decades, we would likely experience global cooling with an amplified response at high latitudes. As long as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, however, the cooling can only be temporary.

Reposted fromSigalontech Sigalontech
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