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?

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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.

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Exploring genre on SoundCloud, part I

(Cross-posted from

One of the problems you’re always going to face when studying electronic music is the need to decide what you think ‘electronic music’ means. It’s a question of genre, and as Paul DiMaggio acknowledged in one of his most influential papers, genre is at once a formal and a social concept:

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Big data and the study of reading

By Daniel Allington and Andrew Salway

[Cross-posted from Comments disabled here; enabled on the original.]

We’re really looking forward to running the workshop on big data and digital reading on 6 March 2014. Here is your required reading… just kidding, but we’ve selected two discussion pieces that we think could be interesting to talk about, so if you could have a look at them ahead of the workshop and post any initial thoughts below, that would be brilliant.

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Cultural capital, social capital, symbolic capital: what do we gain from an economic metaphor?

In an essay written in response to Colin Mills’s (2013) critique of Bourdieu’s use of the terms ‘cultural capital’ and ‘social capital’, I discussed the use of the word ‘capital’ as a metaphor for forms of resource other than capital in its literal sense (Allington, 2013a). As I argue in that piece, such usage is by no means as unorthodox as some of Bourdieu’s critics have implied, since it dates back to the early 19th century and has entered common parlance. But it should be admitted that there is a difference between loosely figurative senses of ‘capital’, such as are to be found within the 19th century examples I drew from the Oxford English Dictionary, and the more tightly defined (but still metaphorical) sense of the word as used by some social scientists in recent decades.

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Capital as metaphor: a few notes on usage and history

There’s a new piece on Colin Mills’s Oxford Sociology blog on the terms ‘cultural capital’ and ‘social capital’ (Mills, 2013a). These terms and others like them – such as ‘linguistic capital’ – were influentially used by Pierre Bourdieu (1984 [1979]) to describe intangible resources conferring social and often economic advantage upon those who possess them in greater measure. It seems that Prof. Mills has been attacking these terms, apparently with such devastating ferocity that those who still cling to their use have been reduced to a state of desperation. ‘One desperate last move that their defenders try to deploy,’ he writes, ‘is the old “its only a metaphor” ploy, as though that was some kind of answer.’ (Mills 2013a, parag. 1) Mills is very good at picking questionable interpretations of data apart – his open letter (Mills, 2012) to the authors of The spirit level was a thing of beauty, for example – so perhaps those of us who persist in muttering the term ‘cultural capital’ from time to time ought to be scared. But I’m not sure he’s on such strong ground here – and by an interesting coincidence, the ‘ploy’ he decries bears a distant resemblance to something I said a couple of weeks ago, in a discussion occasioned by an essay I had written on the topic of ‘cultural value’ (Allington, 2013):
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Intrinsically cultural value: a sociological perspective

Cross-posted from the #culturalvalue Initiative. [EDIT 13 Dec 2013:] Reposted by request on the London School of Economics Impact of Social Sciences blog on 13 December under the heading, ‘”Intrinsic value” understood as a dynamic social process offers a productive alternative to defensive instrumentalism’.

[EDIT 13 Dec 2013:] [Introduction to the Impact of Social Sciences re-posting]: Drawing from Pierre Bourdieu’s work on symbolic capital, wider network analysis frameworks and his own research into the production of cultural value, Daniel Allington outlines how the value of a cultural form is ultimately and fundamentally a social process. While this piece was originally written to engage with cultural policy research and practice communities, a sociological perspective on the production, transmission and propagation of ‘intrinsic value’ demonstrates the complexity of impact and the interdisciplinary potential of understanding these social relationships.

This originally appeared on The #culturalvalue Initiative under the title of ‘Intrinsically cultural value: a sociological perspective’ and is reposted with permission.

[Introduction by Eleonora Belfiore to the original #culturalvalue version]: The #culturalvalue initiative has been exploring the form of the mini-essay for those contributors who want to contribute a longer, more complex or elaborate set of reflections to the debate around cultural value. The mini-essay has proved a popular format and it especially lends itself – I would argue – to guest posts such as this one, kindly contributed by Daniel Allington of the Open University, which aim to bring new methodological perspectives to the debate. Daniel’s piece combines a set of premises derived from Bourdieu on what symbolic capital is and how it works to then merge it with insights from network analysis. These are two set of sociological approaches that do not always mix, and therefore there is a very exciting, experimental flavour to Daniel’s argument. Part of the excitement is also that these sociological insights are still relatively unexplored by my own ‘cultural value research community’, which is that broad and variegated area of research that goes under the label ‘cultural policy studies’. And yet, there is much in this post that is of relevance to the cultural policy research and practice communities, and this is why it’s very exciting to be able to encourage a wider disciplinary exchange on a topic of shared interest.

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