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Thinking Together in Turbulent Times
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In this engaging and original book, John Clarke is in conversation with 12 leading scholars about the dynamics of thinking critically in the social sciences. The conversations range across many fields and explore the problems and possibilities of doing critical intellectual work in ways that are responsive to changing conditions.

By emphasising the many voices in play, in conversation with as well as against others, Clarke challenges the individualising myth of the heroic intellectual. He underlines the value of thinking critically, collaboratively and dialogically.

The book also provides access to a sound archive of the original conversations.

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Chapter 4 explores how a new language – managerialism – enabled the transformation of power and authority in universities. The processes of managerialisation are explored through the changing regime of English Higher Education, drawing on vignettes from practice and other case study materials. At stake is how the internal architecture of power is remade to enable the ‘right of managers to manage’, while the language of managerialism simultaneously enables the translation of emergent external political objectives and programmes into the ‘business’ of the corporate and competitive university. The chapter takes up translation in a very specific sense: the capacity of a specific way of thinking and speaking within what appears to be a common language (English) to transform institutions, rework social relationships and remake forms of power and authority into new assemblages.

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Neoliberalism, in its many variants, has involved a sustained attack on ideas, institutions and formations of the ‘social’, including those of traditional social welfare systems and more recent movements towards social reform. This disposition is pungently described by Wendy Brown (2018: 16) as ‘the neoliberal attack on the social, which includes an attack on equality, social belonging and mutual social obligation, and also an attack on the replacement of traditional morality and traditional hierarchies (including racial hierarchies) by social justice and social reform’.

But does this mean that neoliberalism is simply ‘anti-social’? As Brown indicates, there are certainly arguments for treating it as such, not least the impacts on health, wellbeing and longevity that have followed in the train of neoliberalism’s inequality-generating policies and practices in many places. The turn to ‘austerity’ that was the dominant response to the global financial crisis intensified such consequences (see, for example, Stuckler and Basu, 2013). Nevertheless, this chapter will argue that the view of neoliberalism as ‘anti-social’ risks reifying a particular conception of the social and misses critical ways in which neoliberalism not merely contests but has sought to reconstruct older conceptions and institutions of the social. Instead, we might take a more conjunctural view of the processes of neoliberalization, highlighting three questions in particular:

What conceptions of ‘the social’ has neoliberalism promoted (rather than attacked)?

What has happened to older conceptions of ‘the social’ (expressed in social welfare and wider notions of public-ness)?

What are the ‘emergent’ possibilities through which people lay claim to the idea and sensibility of ‘the social’?

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The political conflict over the United Kingdom’s relationship to Europe was dominated by projections of sovereignty, particularly the ‘restoration’ of political sovereignty from Brussels to Westminster. This chapter explores two different aspects of this projection of sovereignty as a desire to take back control and regain ‘people’s agency’. The first aspect concerns its role as collective fantasy in which the chapter traces the ways in which the image of sovereignty was constructed and deployed in the campaign to Vote Leave. In particular, it considers how the conception of the nation as a sovereign people was central to the political mobilisation of Brexit and has persisted as a key reference point for continuing conflicts over Brexit. The second aspect concerns the emergent disjuncture between the political temporality implied in the Leave campaign and the return of governmental temporality. In doing so, the chapter draws on and develops Taguieff’s insight that populist political discourse suspends time in favour of a continuous present. In the process, the fantasy of the sovereign people has continued to play a central role in the denunciation of delay, doubt and dissent.

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Second unsupervised inteMy diary of participating in the Citizens Advice training programme is littered with these experiences. Notes on Debt Relief Order procedure are followed by my own worries about forgotten credit cards or the Council Tax Bill – debt in the abstract intertwining with debt as personal anxiety. We are used to thinking of debt as a question of morality (I am frequently reminded by friends that both Swedish and German hold the same word for ‘debt’ as for ‘guilt’), or of time: debt as the purchasing of today’s consumption with tomorrow’s labour. It is unusual to think of debt as a legal question. Yet it is through debt that many people will become enmeshed within the reaches of law, whether being forced to engage with the power of a contract or to question the nature of ownership. What defines different debts, as opposed to debt generally, are the legal framings that shape, among other things, how, when and by whom they can be enforced and collected.

I will explore here what debt advice tells us about how ‘law’ and ‘life’ are intertwined in the practice of advice. This intertwining, I argue, has important implications for the ongoing role of advice in the context of an assumption, presented in a Ministry of Justice paper that preceded the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), that volunteer advisers merely provide the public with ‘practical’ information (MoJ, 2010). I will focus on the question raised by this assumption: is there a difference between the advice they give and formal ‘legal advice’, and does this difference matter?

From our interviews and diaries of the Citizens Advice training programme, trainees noted that, compared to the perils of negotiating the labyrinthine intricacies of the UK benefits system, debt advice appears reasonably straightforward.

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This closing chapter reflects on some of the different ways in which the book has brought geography into conversation with social policy. In particular, it draws attention to the different sorts of geographical understandings that are mobilised in this project, from Philo’s view of Foucault as a critical spatial analyst to Pykett’s engagement with ‘neurogeographies’. Each of the chapters contributes something important to the challenge of making space and place visible as dynamic elements in the world of social policy. Too often, social policy studies view place as a passive context for policy rather than a formative or constitutive force. The chapter aims to deepen the critique of social policy’s limited attention to space and place. It ends by considering ways in which policy might be seen as an active ‘place making’ process, and how topological approaches to geography and the concept of assemblage might contribute to such possibilities.

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The chapter opens with a conversation about the demands and difficulties of theory, before turning to a reflection on the pleasures of seductions of discovering theory. We then reflect on the spaces between theory and politics before turning to issues of intellectual and political ambivalence.

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The conversation begins with an exploration about what it means to think with multiple resources (in theoretical and disciplinary terms). It then turns to the importance of seeing political subjects “behaving badly”. It then explores the productive problems of defining NGOs, before ending with troubling thoughts.

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The chapter opens with reflections on some of the paradoxes of popular politics. It moves to a discussion of our relative political trajectories. It ends by considering the relationship between certainty and ambivalence in political terms.

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The conversation begins from reflections on place and being ‘out of place’ in intellectual work, before turning to puzzles about studying policy. It then considers the practices of making things up (imagining and assembling) and the place of agency in studying such practices. It ends with a discussion of the fear of being found out.

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