Titus Stahl

Critical Theory Reading Group in Groningen, starting October 3rd

This fall, I am making a new attempt to get a critical theory reading group for students going at our Groningen faculty. We will discuss literature ranging from Marx to the Frankfurt School, but also (depending on interest) include feminist or post-colonial literature. It’s open for everyone in the university (not just philosophers) and outside of academia, does not presuppose any prior knowledge and will be focused on reading original texts and having an open discussion. It will start October 3 and will take place 5-7 p.m. each week. People who are interested in joining or just want to know more should email me. Please also email me if you cannot make it on Monday evenings in case we decide to reschedule.

Edit your Zotero Notes with Vim (or any other Unix editor)

The program Zotero is, hands-down, the best Free Software academic reference management tool. As such, it is indispensable for academics who want to remain in control of their own means of production. It works together very well with LibreOffice and it’s quite doable to create any citation style that is not yet available in its big library.

Since recently, I have also begun to use its note-taking features, as it is quite convenient to have notes directly attached to references in its library; especially as you can then also share them in groups, etc. However, one downside is that the note-taking interface is slow – and by slow, I mean that it often takes up to 10 seconds for a key press to appear on the screen. In addition, the custom note-taking interface does not allow me to make use of the years of muscle memory for the vim commands that I have acquired.

As I found out now, there’s a wonderful tool called zotero-cli which lets you manage your notes from the command line.

Installation is easy (once you have pip installed):

sudo pip install zotero-cli
zotcli --configure

Once installed and provisioned with a Zotero API key, you can choose your favorite editor by setting the VISUAL environment variable (gvim -f in my case), and take advantage of all the advanced features that you are used to, like this:

zotcli add-note query-string.

A brief talk about surveillance at the Groningen Night of Philosophy

I will give a short lecture titled “Why mass surveillance is wrong even if you have nothing to hide” at the Groningen Night of Philosophy tonight (room 4, 9.30p.m.). The event is unfortunately already sold out, but if you have tickets, please drop in!

The talk is based on my recent publication about “Indiscriminate Mass surveillance and the Public Sphere” (Open Access).

For those attending and for everyone else, here are the slides (PDF download)

Slides of mass surveillance talk

Adorno on how to look at television and how to use punctuation

Although Adorno has the reputation of being highly abstract, anyone who has at least read Minima Moralia knows that this reputation is not justified – Adorno quite often uses small details of daily life to explain how the totality of social relations can be discovered by looking at such details.

Next to his more famous publications, two smaller and less well-known essays are quite interesting in this regard:

How to look at television (link goes to JSTOR) is a 1954 publication, based on the research on mass culture Adorno did in the United States:

Every spectator of a television mystery knows with absolute certainty how it is going to end. Tension is but superficially maintained and is unlikely to have a serious effect any more. On the contrary, the spectator feels on safe ground all the time. This longing for “feeling on safe ground”-reflecting an infantile need for protection, rather than his desire for a thrill-is catered to. The element of excitement is preserved only with tongue in cheek. Such changes fall in line with the potential change from a freely competitive to a virtually “closed” society into which one wants to be admitted or from which one fears to be rejected. Everything somehow appears “predestined.”

Punctuation marks (link goes to a PDF file):

Literary dilettantes can be recognized by their desire to connect everything. Their products hook sentences together with logical connectives even though the logical relationship asserted by those connectives does not hold. To the person who cannot truly conceive anything as a unit, anything that suggests disintegration or discontinuity is unbearable; only a person who can grasp totality can understand caesuras. But the dash provides instruction in them. In the dash, thought becomes aware of its fragmentary character. It is no accident that in the era of the progressive degeneration of language, this mark of punctuation is neglected precisely insofar as it fulfills its function: when it separates things that feign a connection. All the dash claims to do now is to prepare us in a foolish way for surprises that by that very token are no longer surprising.

These observations can also be useful when reading philosophy papers!

New Article: Indiscriminate Mass Surveillance and the Public Sphere

Ethics and Information Technology has published a new article of mine, entitled “Indiscriminate Mass Surveillance and the Public Sphere” (direct PDF download from this web site).

Recent disclosures suggest that many governments apply indiscriminate mass surveillance technologies that allow them to capture and store a massive amount of communications data belonging to citizens and non-citizens alike. This article argues that traditional liberal critiques of government surveillance that center on an individual right to privacy cannot completely capture the harm that is caused by such surveillance because they ignore its distinctive political dimension. As a complement to standard liberal approaches to privacy, the article develops a critique of surveillance that focuses on the question of political power in the public sphere.

The article is published under an Open Access license.

Current Affairs: Unless Sanders is nominated by Dems, Trump will be president

A highly interesting analysis on Current Affairs that argues not from preference, but from a quite convincing analysis of the facts regarding Clinton.

recently, everything about the electability calculus has changed, due to one simple fact: Donald Trump is likely to be the Republican nominee for President. Given this reality, every Democratic strategic question must operate not on the basis of abstract electability against a hypothetical candidate, but specific electability against the actual Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

Here, a Clinton match-up is highly likely to be an unmitigated electoral disaster, whereas a Sanders candidacy stands a far better chance. Every one of Clinton’s (considerable) weaknesses plays to every one of Trump’s strengths, whereas every one of Trump’s (few) weaknesses plays to every one of Sanders’s strengths. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, running Clinton against Trump is a disastrous, suicidal proposition.

I recommend to read the whole thing. Given the high likelihood that Clinton will win the nomination, it is pretty depressing.

Auswirkungen der Exzellenzinitiative auf WissenschafterInnen am Anfang ihrer Karriere

Auf dem Theorieblog diskutiert Katia Backhaus mehrere Berichte über die Auswirkungen der Exzellenzinitiative auf die Situation des sogenannten “wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchs” – wie nicht anders zu erwarten war, wird die strukturelle Prekarität der von dieser Initiative geschaffenen Stellen auf lange Sicht zu einer Verschärfung der Konkurrenzsituation führen:

Auch wenn im Rahmen der Initiative eine größere Zahl von Nachwuchswissenschaftler_innen an den Universitäten beschäftigt worden sei, habe dies „die Situation des wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchses – inklusive der Beteiligung von Frauen im Wissenschaftsbetrieb – allerdings nicht nennenswert verbessert, sondern die endgültige Entscheidung über eine akademische Karriere eher zu höherem Alter verschoben.“ (S. 29) Denn es handelt sich in der Regel allein um befristete Stellen. In Zahlen ausgedrückt heißt das, dass von den insgesamt etwa 7240 Stellen, die insgesamt durch die Exzellenzinitiative geschaffen wurden, lediglich 434 Professuren bzw. Juniorprofessuren waren (S. 28). Eine konkretere Zahl in Sachen Entfristung, bezogen auf die Exzellenzcluster, bietet der Bericht der Gemeinsamen Kommission zur Exzellenzinitiative an die Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz: Von 285 clusterfinanzierten Professuren sind 56% befristet, weitere 15% mit Tenure-Track-Option (S. 66f.).