The LaTeX fetish (Or: Don’t write in LaTeX! It’s just for typesetting)

It’s that time of year when students are signing up for study skills classes. One of the skills that science students are likely to be encouraged to develop is the use of LaTeX. Other people may come to LaTeX for other reasons: people who want to typeset their own books; people who’ve heard that LaTeX may have something to do with Digital Humanities; etc. I’ve written this essay as a sort of pre-introduction to LaTeX. It won’t teach you how to use it (I’m not qualified!), but it will try to give non-users a clear understanding of what LaTeX is really for, which may help them to make their minds up about whether the effort of learning it (not to mention simply getting it to work) is really going to be worthwhile. Why such a long essay? Because many of those who evangelise for the use of LaTeX fetishise it to the extent of spreading misinformation about its true benefits and I want to clear some of that up. Continue reading “The LaTeX fetish (Or: Don’t write in LaTeX! It’s just for typesetting)”


‘You can’t stop me’: Militant, Momentum, and the new entryism

Last month, I came out to my friends as a non-supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party. Since that time, I’ve been public about it in my own small way. It took me a while to admit that my party was led by someone who did not have its voters’ interests at heart, but the key moment came when I was delivering leaflets for the Labour Party’s In for Britain campaign and I ended up talking to a man who had voted both for the Labour Party under Tony Blair and for the Conservative Party under David Cameron. A man – in case this isn’t obvious – from outside my middle class bubble in which people will express solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn even while being unsure that they really agree with him, and in which there are probably more anarchists than conservatives. I picked up that he wanted a Labour Party that he could vote for again. For Jeremy Corbyn, he had two devastating words: ‘Student politics.’ Those words stuck with me.

It wasn’t just that he was a swing voter in a marginal constituency, and therefore exactly the kind of person that Labour needs to be reaching out to if it ever wants to be in government again (if it ever wants to be in government again… a point that I’ll return to).

It was that he was right – and I knew it.

Continue reading “‘You can’t stop me’: Militant, Momentum, and the new entryism”


Impending doom and media effects

In a few days’ time, my country will hold a referendum on whether to stay inside the European Union or to leave it. I am fairly convinced that the outcome will be a victory for the ‘leave’ camp.[1] London and Scotland will vote to stay in, the UK as a whole will vote to leave (led by those parts that have benefited most from EU membership), and a second referendum on Scottish independence will probably follow, in which case Scotland will almost certainly vote to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU. England will be left behind with the relatively impoverished Wales and Northern Ireland – both of which will lose their EU funding, as will the economically marginal parts of England that the London-based government will continue to do its best to ignore, as it has done for many years.

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Why blog?

Okay, so I’ve posted only twice in the last six months, and both times I was posting my grief over dead rock stars. Posting it late, as well – I did the ‘oh man I’m so sad’ thing first on commercial social media sites, then turned up here long afterwards to make a more public statement that fewer people are likely to read.

On the other hand, I’ve had a big internet hit (as academic internet things go) with an article I published on another site with a couple of people I’m lucky to know.[1]

So the question is, why bother with a blog? A few years ago, when I started this thing, I thought I knew the answer: putting all my writing here, I could show how various parts of it fitted together. Does that work?

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Management, ‘leadership’, and academic work

[Cross-posted on‘leadership’-and-academic-work]

In a powerful essay cheekily posted on the website of what may be the UK’s most obsessively corporate university, Suman Gupta bluntly asserts that ‘[t]here is no place for leaders in academia.’ (2015, parag. 1) As he observes, once academics-turned-administrators begin ‘imposing some Great Order… by managing and strategising and propaganda, seeking compliance and exercising opaque executive prerogatives, they start killing off academic work’ (2015, parag. 2). With its recent series of questionable management initiatives, from concentration of resources on bureaucratically-selected ‘strategic research areas’ to development of a (second) free MOOC platform on its paying students’ tab, Gupta’s employer must certainly have provided him with ample opportunity to judge the truth of this proposition. But the relevance of his critique is much wider than a single institution, as we see from the tragic case of Stefan Grimm: a highly successful medical researcher who committed suicide whilst being threatened over his failure to meet arbitrary funding targets (see Parr 2014). While the killing off of scholarly work does not invariably mean the killing off of scholarly workers, it is clear that, across the UK, the term ‘academic leadership’ is ‘now unequivocally taken [to mean] “management of academic workers and institutions from above”’, and those that practise it have come to be ‘regarded as being worth more than academics of any sort.’ (Gupta 2015, parag. 5) In his last words to his colleagues, the late Prof. Grimm put it more forcefully, describing his employing institution in terms that at least some readers of this article may find resonant: as he saw it, it had become ‘a business with very few up in the hierarchy… profiteering and the rest of us… milked for money’, wherein the ‘formidable leaders’ that do the milking ‘treat us like shit.’ (Grimm 2014, parags. 12, 10, 16, reproduced in Parr 2014) It hardly needs pointing out that there has never been an attempt to demonstrate that academic work benefits from ‘leadership’ in the sense described by Gupta and Grimm: top-down control by target-setting, HR-sanctioned procedural bullying, and ‘strategic vision’. The drive for ‘leadership’ is, rather, part of an ideologically motivated investment in management at the expense of labour, clearly seen in the ballooning of executive salaries, both inside and outside educational institutions, during an age of so-called ‘austerity’.

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Online networks and the production of value in electronic music

Daniel Allington, Anna Jordanous, Byron Dueck

[Cross-posted from]

This project began with Pierre Bourdieu’s argument that cultural value is a form of belief. Drawing on Marcel Mauss’s work in the anthropology of religions, Bourdieu (1993 [1980]) argued that a painting or a poem is a sort of fetish: that is, a ‘magical’ artefact whose special status derives from the fact that believers hold it to be magical. So, for Bourdieu, cultural production involves not only the production of artefacts, but also the production of belief in the value of those artefacts. It’s easy to see how this would apply to what Bourdieu called the ‘field of large scale production’, i.e. the commercial culture industries: big businesses such as major record labels and Hollywood film studios invest both in the production of what is now called ‘content’ and in advertising and other forms of publicity through which to generate demand for that content. But what most interested Bourdieu was what he called the ‘field of restricted production’ or the ‘field of art and literature’, which puts little emphasis on the audience, is embarrassed by excessive commercial success, and appears to operate on the principle of ‘art for art’s sake’.

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The geography of SoundCloud: who’s following whom?

[Cross-posted from]

Wanting to find out what was typical SoundCloud behaviour – as opposed to what our case study users were doing – we took a random sample of 150000 SoundCloud accounts earlier this year and downloaded their profile data, plus the profile data of everyone they were following (plus some other stuff, but that’s for another time). One of the things we did with this data was to construct a social network graph showing ‘follow’ relationships at city level: every time our computer program found that a sampled user self-identified with city A followed a user self-identified with city B, it created an ‘arc’ (represented with an arrow) from city A to city B. We then combined all the arcs so that instead of, say, 2000 arcs from city A to city B, there would now be a single arc with a ‘weight’ of 2000. We then imported this data into Gephi, sized the nodes representing cities to reflect the total weight of all the incoming arcs, positioned them with the Force Atlas algorithm, and used the Louvain community detection method to identify ‘clusters’, where a cluster is a group of nodes that are better connected to each other than they are to nodes from outside the group. And here’s the result, with five colours to represent the five clusters.

Cities on SoundCloud: who's listening to whom?

Continue reading “The geography of SoundCloud: who’s following whom?”


Choices, choices in the UK’s two-tier scholarly publishing system: Open Access and Creative Commons Licences for funded and unfunded research

I’ve written on Open Access in general terms before (Allington 2013a, Allington 2013b; see Anderson 2013 for further discussion), but now the issues are personal for me in a way they didn’t use to be. RCUK policy on Open Access is creating a two-tier system for research publication, and I’m about to find myself on both sides of the artificial divide. It’s like this.

It just so happens that there are a couple of proposed special issues of scholarly journals that it looks like I’ll be contributing to (once as myself, once as first among equals in a team of three), and that both are likely to see print at about the same time. One of the papers in question arises from research I did in my own time, and is therefore unaffected by Research Councils UK (RCUK) policy on Open Access (RCUK 2013). The other arises from research supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council or AHRC (though come to think of it, much of the work was again done in my own time), so it is very much affected.

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Exploring genre on SoundCloud, part II

[Cross-posted from]

In my previous post on this topic, I introduced a problem – how to understand the work that explicit genre categorisations are made to do by people uploading tracks to the SoundCloud audio-sharing website – and a potential solution – identifying the three categories most frequently used by each individual in a sample and studying regularities in the ways in which pairs of categories tend to pop up within the same group of three. I also presented some partial and preliminary findings in the form of a matrix comparing co-occurrences of the five genre categories most frequently used by people within an initial sample. And I either glossed over or left unmentioned a slew of problems, some of which we’ve been more successful in addressing than others at present (because these are only blog posts, and we haven’t finished the research yet). The biggest problem is the sample itself: the analysis was done on the basis of a snowball sample, when a random sample would be more appropriate. Hence the provisionality of all this. The analysis will be redone soon on the basis of a sample that will enable us to make more robust claims, but in the meantime I wanted to share our thought processes and working methods with the world because – quite apart from anything else – I’m excited about the patterns that are emerging.

Continue reading “Exploring genre on SoundCloud, part II”