But they said it would open doors

Recent times have been pretty tough for those with advanced degrees:

Stein Bagger – Danish business man with a PhD and an MBA from “San Francisco Technical University”, yet so much professional turbulence.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg – German Defence Minister with a PhD from the University of Bayreuth, yet so much spare time.

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi – Dictator in the making with a PhD from the LSE, yet so little public backing.

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Launch of ‘These Young Minds’

Because you have nothing better to do on January 26th you should come to Leicester and take part in the event ‘Stakeholders Unite Against the Environmental Crunch‘. This has nothing to do with yours truly giving a talk on emerging issues on the sustainability radar:

As words such as ‘sustainability’, ‘climate change’ and ‘responsibility’ have climbed to the top of political and corporate agendas, it is time to assess what the future might hold. In my talk, I would like to draw out a few trends and challenges that are bound to change the landscape further, as sustainability continues its journey towards the mainstream. In the face of adversity, we need to use our imagination to envisage scenarios that are not just ‘likely’ but, more importantly, ‘desirable’.

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Another rant

I wrote a piece for the Guardian’s online sustainability section, Sustainability questions the media needs to answer:

An exploration of the media’s CSR journey and its role in influencing audiences on climate change and measuring its sustainability impacts.

On the topic, I am giving a talk next week – do join if you are in the area. Seminar Abstract:

In debates around what constitutes an ethical (sustainable, responsible, etc.) company, it is often assumed that we know and agree on what these terms mean. That is rarely the case, though. Like ‘globalisation’ and ‘culture’, ‘ethics’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘CSR’ have thus become residual categories. Based on detailed work studies within three avowedly sustainable businesses – a property company, a consultancy and an oil company – I argue that organisations produce their own rights and wrongs. Responsible behaviour then emerges as multiple and often conflicting ways of doing things. In coming to grips with the idea of a sustainable company, I identify three mechanisms by which professionals manage to cope with such complexity: by producing an infinite number of standards, by using only certain technologies and rejecting others and, lastly, by creating sophisticated vocabularies to describe the inferiority of other companies/people with ethical aspirations.

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What use are acknowledgements when they’re not made public?

My thesis as a whole may be confidential, but all those great people who helped me deserve some praise. Here are my acknowledgements (pdf). And, as a little bonus, I have added the Examiners’ Report (pdf).

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A new chapter begins

Pre viva

The black cloud that has been hovering above my head for the past four and a half years has finally disappeared. This may sound like a trivial anecdote to some, but the damning feature of a doctoral thesis is that it never escapes you. This is something you can never understand unless you go ahead and write one. I certainly had no idea about it when I – as a matter of coincidence – started out.

It has been a marvellous time and I am happy and proud to have worked with some of the best brains around the globe at Oxford, Berkeley, CERN and in the Hague. The backside has been the inevitable frustration, solitude and sometimes petty politics of the academy.

The picture, featuring my colleague Linsey and I, was taken just minutes before my long walk to the School of Geography where the viva took place. And no, before you ask, I tend not to walk around with a red carnation in my button hole.

I was too nervous to arrange for celebrations in advance, but Sam took control, sorted out the weather and organised a champagne and strawberries get together in the University Parks.

The result? A pass and virtually no corrections. Hell yeah.

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Due to unspecified intricacies of funding and research policy, my academic home turf – aka the institute formerly known as the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization (JMI) – is changing its name to the Oxford Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (what can I say, they like simple names around here). We will mark the day on March 16th with an open event entitled “Can we steer social and technological innovation?

I am not sure whether it is a good or a bad sign, but it means that the JMI, in one way or the other, started and ended with me! It has certainly been an important epoch in my life.

In other news, I was a bit sad to learn that Bent Flyvbjerg, one of the few world-class social scientific scholars ever to come out of Denmark, will join SBS exactly as I leave the building; officially, I stop being a DPhil candidate on March 31st whereas he will take up his chair on April 1st. Talk about sliding doors…

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Baby DPhil arrives

The delivery

After four years and three months in labour, I am happy to announce the arrival of D. Phil Thesis at 3.45pm on Friday 16th of January. Green in colour, he weighed some three pounds at birth and covers a staggering 350 pages. As it happens, he was passed on to his temporary parents right away, with whom I shall meet and discuss his future in March. The birth itself was relatively uncomplicated, but it took me a good 16 hours of sleep to get up and running again.

Drinks. Tonight (9pm). The Gardener’s Arms. All Welcome.

Check out the magnificent cover work by Rune ‘Get a Friggin’ Website‘ Brink from the Bottega.

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T minus 20 hours and 30 minutes

T minus 12 hours and 25 minutes.

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Calling all linguists

In the course of writing my conclusion, I stumbled upon the following claim:

The word ‘sociology’ itself was recorded in English as early as 1843 to describe what was otherwise known as ‘social ethics’ and by the 1850s seems to have been quite current;

(full piece here, look at page 4).

If this is the case, it provides me with a very convenient entry-point to making an argument about the relevance of studying ethics as practice for sociological theory. My only problem is that I have been unable to confirm the proposition above elsewhere.

Would anyone know where to look or, even better, have an ‘answer’ (and sources at hand)?

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Oxford on iTunes U

Admittedly, Oxford University is no MIT in terms of putting curricula and other stuff online, but the new site on iTunes is an excellent resource for those who cannot attend the many talks and lectures in person. The Light Blues are there, too.

Posted in Academic, Media 2 Comments »