The Tyranny of Emergence: Modernity’s Romance of the Game

Games, Governance, Institutions, Philosophy, Politics, Social Theory

[Cross-posted to Terra Nova.]

This is a dusty space by now, but after some tumultuous times that got me out of the habit of putting my working papers up on ssrn and pointing to them here and at Terra Nova, I do have a piece that I wanted to share (I’ll be cross-posting to TN, as I do with all game-related stuff).

Last year I had the opportunity to give the keynote address in February at the Ray Browne Conference on Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, as well as to participate in a symposium in April convened by the Potomac Center for the Study of Modernity on Modernity and Chance. Both venues seemed apt arenas for developing some ideas about game as a cultural form, one that we could place alongside ritual and bureaucracy in our understanding of institutions and the techniques for control at their disposal. The core question I’m asking is: What might we learn by examining the increasing use of games by modern institutions in the digital age through seeing it as analogous to their longstanding and effective use of rituals and bureaucracy?

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Miami University Job Opening

Social Theory

I am posting this because it is still somewhat difficult to get news of these job openings around to all the possible candidates, given how spread out work in this area is across disciplines. It’s also because word on the street is that they would be interested in hiring an anthropologist. :) The listing on higheredjobs.com is here.

One or more tenure-track assistant professor positions in comparative media studies, beginning August 2010.  We welcome applicants from a range of disciplinary backgrounds; the position will be a joint appointment in a developing program in comparative media studies and another program or department in the humanities or social sciences. Expertise in one or more of the following areas is desirable: history of media; technology and culture; creative non-fiction, documentary, and journalism in digital contexts. PhD by date of appointment required. Candidates should submit a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, three letters of reference, and a sample of recent scholarship to Professor Richard Campbell, c/o College of Arts and Science, 143 Upham, Miami University, Oxford, OH 45056.  Review of applications will begin on October 26 and continue until the position is filled.

Miami University is an EOE/AA employer with smoke-free campuses. Campus Crime and Safety Report – http://www.muohio.edu.righttoknow/. Hard copy upon request.

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Calculated Risks Conference, London, Thursday Sept. 17th

Social Theory

I have the great pleasure of giving the keynote lecture for the Calculated Risks Conference on the Anthropology of Gambling, Goldsmiths College, London. Rebecca Cassidy is leading the way for a new generation of anthropologists studying gambling, and the conference program is chock-full of exciting papers. My keynote’s title is ”Beyond the Gambling Den: Games and Capitalism in a Digital Age,” and kicks off the conference on Thursday Sept. 17th, at 10:00am.

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IDEA Conference Toronto, Tuesday Sept. 15th

Games, Governance

I’m speaking at the IDEA Conference in Toronto on Tuesday at 11:00am. Many thanks to Russ Unger for the invitation and the conference looks to have a terrific lineup of speakers. My talk is titled, “Making Virtual Worlds: Games and the Human for a Digital Age.”

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Making Virtual Worlds Book Launch at State of Play VI

Games, Governance, Institutions

mvw-coverMaking Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life comes out tomorrow, June 20th. Hurray! Even more exciting, the State of Play VI Conference in New York is very graciously throwing a book launch party for me there. The party is open to conference attendees, and runs from 5:15 to 8:00pm. Copies of the book will be there for sale, and I’ll be signing for anyone who asks. Many, many thanks from me to Dan Hunter and the State of Play folks for making this happen, and to Cornell University Press for supporting the effort from the start. Also, and not coincidentally, the book is now “In Stock” at Amazon. /cheer

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Humanities NOW: Game On! The Culture of Video Games, Monday 6pm

Social Theory

I will be chairing a panel at a special event on video games and culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this coming Monday the 13th at 7pm. It is sponsored by the Center for the Humanities and details are here.

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Burke the Pragmatist?

Governance, Philosophy, Politics, Pragmatism, Social Theory

edmundburke1771We are in the midst of a fascinating moment, when much seems up for grabs for one of the United States’ political parties. As the GOP looks to right its ship after the disastrous adventures of the Bush administration, a number of conservative writers have understandably begun to re-examine what conservatism is. Meanwhile, the success of Obama has raised the stock of the word “pragmatic,” even if for the most part the word is tossed about in a pretty vague fashion, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has noted.

So it should not be a surprise to those like me who admit to some schadenfruede at the right’s current predicament to see that one move currently gaining ground is an attempt to claim that conservatism was pragmatic all along. Thus is conservatism to be kept well clear of the rising toxicity levels of the word “ideology.” Of course, to make this move to higher ground stick, one must aim to make a pragmatist of the granddaddy of all conservative thinkers, Edmund Burke. And while Sam Tanenhaus, Andrew Sullivan, and most recently David Brooks have all jumped on board to re-chart this territory, there is only one problem: what Burke actually wrote.

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Frucht Memorial Lecture Tomorrow, 7pm

Social Theory

I will be giving a public lecture at the University of Alberta at 7pm tomorrow (Monday) evening. Details are here. If you’re in the area I’d love to see you there!

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The Market, in the 4th Dimension

Governance, Philosophy, Politics, Social Theory

adamsmithThere is no shortage of opinion, much of it from folks more knowledgeable than I, about how we might make sense of the recent financial catastrophe. Still, I continue to be struck by the way in which a recollection of Adam Smith is apt. By this I mean Adam Smith in his actual writings, not in his mythicized persona – Smith seems to share with Charles Darwin the indignity of massive and sustained misunderstandings of his core ideas. This makes it all the more remarkable that, for us today, Smith’s vision of the market 230 years ago was so clear that he can help us understand even its recent, science fiction-like, turn.

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These Great Urbanist Games

Games, Governance, Institutions, Politics, Social Theory

[Cross-posted to Terra Nova.]

Constant and New Babylon. Photograph by Bram Wisman, originally posted at http://members.chello.nl/j.seegers1/situationist/constant.html

In a recent post I raised the idea that, like religious experience for William James, play may best be thought of as a mode of experience. Less foregrounded in that discussion was a further lesson from James: that we should expect to find this disposition in as many varieties as there are times and places for human life, rather than in some universal form. I’ve recently posted a paper to ssrn that aims to get us thinking about how play may be distinctively configured in different times and places, specifically in Europe directly after WWII and in the United States through the present day. In it I consider “New Babylon,” the fascinating project of Unitary Urbanism by Constant Nieuwenhuys (aka Constant), who through it sought to make a city for Homo ludens. I set Constant’s vision against Linden Lab’s Second Life, a world also deeply informed by ideas about games and play. In both, though in quite different ways, architecting for play held the promise of post-bureaucratic sovereignty.

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