Dec 7, 2010

The Holistic and Narrative Approach

Here I would like to share an idea for a course that strives to keep together what, unfortunately, is usually held separate: human beings, societies and cultures. A society — and who lives within/outside it — cannot be understood without its culture. And I am not just talking about socio-anthropological culture (values, attitudes etc.); literature, art, high and popular culture need to be addressed all together. The sociologist (cultural anthropologist, psychologist, etc.) shall adopt what I called a “Holistic and Narrative Approach”: social sciences and humanities ought to walk again hand in hand. For instance, I cannot understand Italians, Italian society and Italian culture without historical depth, philosophical insights and, of course, geography: the Italian peninsula stretches into the Mediterranean Sea and constitutes a natural conjunction between West and East. Obviously, in this intellectual enterprise you need to be creative: imagination is fundamental. Let me give you an example: just think about the Mediterranean Sea as the “Web” of a traditional world. You need these metaphors to catch the students sitting in front of you.  Let me give you a much more articulated example with a course description.
Social &Cultural Development from the Early Modern Age to the Age of Scientific Discovery: A Traveller’s View 
The course will have a seminar format. Lectures will introduce the main topic, with the support of slides synthesizing concepts, paradigms, theories and examples extracted from the readings. Sometimes students will carry out in-class exercises (individually or in groups) and report on them. Students’ social and cultural experiences will be used to elaborate concepts raised throughout the course. Therefore I will foster the students’ capacity of linking past, present and future, à la S. Augustine: present of the past, present of the present, present of the future. At the beginning of every week — adopting a maieutic approach — I will start the lesson asking for the students comments upon a social, cultural, political theme of the present that is clearly connected with our cognitive travel in the past. Furthermore, I will use the hermeneutic framework of “travel” and a narrative style to connect all the concepts, theories, paradigms. The course clearly allow for an interdisciplinary approach —including Philosophy, History, Sociology, Psychology and Cultural Anthropology.
Conceptual itinerary
The incipit of the course will focus on the passages dedicated by Dante in the Divine Comedy to Averroes and Avicenna. Then I will move to Al-Farabi underlying his break with the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, and the passage from metaphysics to methodology (as an anticipation of modernity). Particular attention will be given to al-Farabi’s treatment of the soul’s imaginative faculty and to the realization of “true happiness” in the ideal society (and, of course, to the notion of “vicious” and “virtuous” societies). The concept of “ignorant” societies —where the pursuit of happiness is supplanted by wealth, gratification or power — will offer an interesting comparison with the present of the so called knowledge society. A brief reference to Averroes’s “gender equality” constitutes another interesting link with the present.
Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae will also be introduced by a passage of the Divine Comedy. In this section of the course I will focus on:
-     the clarification of God’s absolute power (transcending any principles of logic, see Aristotle and Averroes);
-     the concept of virtue — the statement “Virtue denotes a certain perfection of a power. Now a thing’s perfection is considered chiefly in regard to its end. But the end of power is act” will lead us toward Machiavelli’s Prince;
-     the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues.
Aquinas’s opposition to non-procreative sexual activity will also be discussed.  Macintyre’s viewpoint (After Virtue) on Aquinas’s virtue ethics (as way to avoid utilitarianism) will be briefly mentioned.
The idea of Niccolò Machiavelli (Prince) as an “originator” of modernity (Leo Strauss 1958) will be discussed and critically tackled. The importance of Machiavelli’s “realism” will be comprehended also through the conceptual lenses of Bacon, Descartes, Rousseau, Hume. Mansfield’s viewpoint on Machiavelli’s Political Science will also be discussed.
Gramsci’s inspiration from Machiavelli’s writings on ethics, morals, and how they relate to the State (Passive Revolution) will conclude this section. Finally — if we are lucky in such imaginary course — I would like to take my imaginary students to see The Mandrake.
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and his De hominis dignitate (1486) — the Manifesto of the Renaissance — will complete this part of the course.  Pico’s underlying of the importance of the human quest for knowledge, a key passage for Renaissance humanism — and the universalism of the pursuit of perfection (as moral self-discipline) — will be discussed and linked to key themes of today’s debate upon Globalization: Multiculturalism and Cosmopolitanism (Rapport 2007). A brief introduction to Utopia, and a possible interpretation of Thomas More’s masterpiece from the youngster human development point of view — a research project that I am carrying on and that is too difficult to explain in two words — will also be made.
Erasmus initial sympathy with Martin Luther’s criticism of the Catholic Church will constitute the incipit for the introduction to the Reformation. Consequently, we will concentrate on the critique contained in De libero arbitrio (1524) and the Martin Luther’s answer De servo arbitrio. The “spirit” of the Reform will be examined and linked to modernity with Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic. Another fil rouge of the course — the student intellectual growth and the vitality of these readings for his/her passage towards adulthood — will be conveyed thorough Eric Erikson’s Young Man Luther. A Study in Psychoanalysis and History (1967) and Erich Fromm’s The Fear of Freedom (1941). Late Luther’s  anti-semitism will conclude this section and, after a brief discussion of  Zygmunt Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust, we will move towards Thomas Hobbes —analyzed through the contributions of Leo Strauss The Political Philosophy of Hobbes; Its Basis and Its Genesis (1936) and Ferdinand Tönnies’s Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.
John Locke (1690) An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, will be discussed as one of the origins of modern conception of the concept of identity and self. Locke arguing against both Augustinian and Cartesian view will allow us to touch even these two fundamentals thinkers. The “Tabula Rasa” idea will be examined in profundity and be linked to the past — the influence of the 17th century Latin translation Philosophus Autodidactus of the Arabic philosophical novel Hayy ibn Yaqzan (Ibn Tufail) — and to the modern thinker  George Herbert Mead (“John Locke”, in  Oberlin Review).
Aquinas, Summa theologiae
Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy
Macchiavelli, The Prince
MacIntyre, After Virtue.
Rapport, Cosmopolitan Turn - or Return?
Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration
Pico della Mirandola, De hominis dignitate
Mansfield, Machiavelli's Political Science
Hendrix, The Controversial Luther
Thomas More, Utopia
Erasmus, De libero arbitrio 
Martin Luther, De servo arbitrio
Eric Erikson, Young man Luther
Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes
George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self and Society
Fromm, The Fear of Freedom 
Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust; Does ethic have a chance in a world of consumers
Tönnies, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.
Montaigne, Essays
Koyre, From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe
Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church
The Penguin Atlas of World History, Prehistory to the Eve of the French Revolution; From the French Revolution to the Present
… Have a nice day J

Nov 18, 2010

The Myth of Florence. Conflict of Identities in a Changing Urban Landscape

The Myth of Florence”, a roundtable organized by ASAUI (Association of Scholars at American Universities in Italy),  will take place Wednesday 24th November 2010, 6 PM,  at Chiesa di San Jacopo in Campo Corbolini (Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute, Via Faenza 43). Anthropologists, Sociologists, Art Historians and Architects will portray some peculiar urban, social and cultural features of nowadays Florence – and its legacy with the past. This is the abstract of my intervention “Contemporary collective representations of Florence”.

Renaissance is “the” myth of Florence, shared by people all over the world. The aesthetic appreciation of art is perhaps the main facet guiding people’s expectations in their encounter with our cultural reality. Some other social, political and philosophical aspects of Renaissance, and their relation to the present, are overshadowed. In this speech I will try to point out some possible modern myths guiding both tourists and foreigners in their decision to visit or to live in Florence (for a while or forever). Is it possible to detect some shared, collective representations of contemporary Florence? If that is the case, how are these myths “working” in the midst of the city’s everyday life? Do they differ from some other usual “made in Italy” images? Finally: can we imagine a set of typical (or archetypical) biographical motives leading foreigners to Florence and thus depict some distinctive identity traits?

Oct 23, 2010

Education in the 21st Century

The advent of the Internet allows people to engage in a lifelong pursuit of knowledge for example getting a Master's degree online or using the Internet to participate in dialogue and discussion with a community people would have never otherwise had access to. The Internet is also a place where great thoughts can be collected and distributed. To keep up with tradition, here is a collection of thoughts on the pursuit of knowledge. 

-        Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire (William Butler Yeats).
-        Principles for the development of a complete mind: study the science of art; study the art of science. Develop your senses — especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else (Leonardo Da Vinci.).
-        A man is well educated when he knows where to find what he doesn’t know (Georg Simmel).
-        All wish to possess knowledge, but few, comparatively speaking, are willing to pay the price (Juvenal). 
-        In all affairs, it is a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted (Bertrand Russell).
-        The process of scientific discovery is, in effect, a continual flight from wonder... Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world (Albert Einstein).
-        The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes (Marcel Proust).  
-        Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me (Sigmund Freud). 
-        Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties (Erich Fromm).
-        Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination (John Dewey).
-        Mistakes are the portals of discovery (James Joyce). 
-        It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows (Epictetus).
-        Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself (John Dewey).
-        Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants (John W. Gardner)
-        It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education (Albert Einstein).
-        Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself (Chinese Proverb)
-        The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him (Niccolò Machiavelli). 

The Road not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken (Robert Frost, Mountain Interval, 1916).

Almost all critics  thought  the  sigh  to  indicate  regret: “is not  a sigh  of  regret  over  a right  choice;  it  is a  sigh  of  regret  that  both  choices  were  not  possible” (Laurence Perrine, Explicator,  XIX, Feb.,  1961,  Item  28.); according to Eleanor  Sickels  the  poem  is  about  "the  human  tendency  to  wobble  illogically in  decision  and  later  to  assume  that  the  decision  was,  after  all,  logical  and  enormously  important,  but  forever  to  tell  of  it  'with  a sigh'  as depriving  the  speaker  of  who-knows-what  interesting” (Explicator,  Item  28); the  speaker  of  the  poem  is  "one who habitually  wastes  energy  in regretting  any  choice  made: belatedly  but  wistfully  he  sighs  over  the  attractive  alternative  rejected."  (Lawrance  Thompson,  Robert  Frost. Minneapolis, 1959). Then Frost answers to a young girl (Finger 1978)…
"SOMETIME IN  APRIL  of  I925,  while  teaching  at Amherst  College, Robert  Frost  answered  a letter  he had received  from  Crystine Yates,  a young  girl  in Dickson,  Tennessee. According  to  her,  she wrote  Frost  to  inquire  about  the  "sigh"  in  the  last  stanza  of  "The  Road Not  Taken."  Assuming  the  speaker  of  the  poem  to  be  Frost  himself,  she  wanted  to know  whether  the  sigh  meant  that  he regretted  having  chosen  to  be  a poet.  The  following  letter  Frost  wrote in  response  to Ms. Yates's…
Dear  Miss  Yates:
No wonder  you  were  a little  puzzled  over  the  end  of  my  Road  Not Taken.  It  was  my  rather  private  jest  at  the  expense  of  those  who  might think  I would  yet  live  to  be  sorry  for  the  way  I had  taken  in  life.  I  suppose I was  gently  teasing  them.  I'm  not  really  a very  regretful  person,  but  for your solicitousness  on  my  behalf  I'm
your  friend  always
Robert  Frost" 

Finger, Larry L. (1978) Frost's "The Road Not Taken": A 1925 Letter Come to Light, in “American Literature”, Vol. 50, No. 3: 478-479.

Oct 22, 2010

International Conference: Young and the Challenges of the Future

Young & Future
The International Conference Young and the Challenges of the Future will take place November 3 and 4, at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”.
Inauguration greetings on behalf of the institutions from: Catherine Margaret Ashton (Vice-President of the European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy), Androulla Vassiliou (European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth),  Giorgia Meloni (Italian Minister of Youth). Among many leading European scholars in the field, Marisa Ferrari Occhionero and  Olivier Galland – Director of the “Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique” (CNRS) – will deliver the lecture Adolescence: a new age group? (Social-political Participation and Communication Workshop). In the Workshop  “Consumption, Lifestyles and Cultural Patterns”, I will address my lecture Playing as reality: youngsters experience in late modernity.

Oct 21, 2010

Internet connects and isolates… Who you are and where you are still matters (a lot).

Hello “Eclatdesign (do not know your real name). I believe your comment (that I am reporting below) to my post about internet and old people living in the Apennine Mountains deserve a new section.
“There are not only old people living in little towns such as San Marcello, Maresca or maybe... Gavinana. Anyway I know old people that look for cooking recipes on the web, or simply surf the net to read the news or whatever they are looking for.... Internet is useful, it's a big window on the world and what happens there. It doesn't matter where the access point is located or how old is the surfer.... They (even the "olds") are able to use PC! and, finally, internet won't EVER replace direct experience but it is, actually, a quite good compromise...”
Having acknowledged that also young people live in small town such San Marcello, Maresca, Gavinana — although I strongly believe that demographic indexes describe a progressive ageing of the population — and that probably there are both females and males, the public policy in question was directed precisely toward such a limited part of the universe: old people living in the Apennine Mountains. That is what I understood during the TV roundtable. I could have used ‘elder’, I agree with that; for sure I would not employ the quotation mark: age difference — as any difference: social, cultural, political, ethnical, gender, religious etc. — is not a “problem” to bracket out to me, otherwise I should immediately quit my work as professor of sociology.
You stated that elder people, in general, can definitely use the web. I do not have empirical data to support neither your opinion (do you?) nor mine; nevertheless, my experience tells me that, still in general, they cannot (especially in Italy). Then, the point of the post is precisely if old people in the Apennine Mountains can navigate in the internet, which is sure a useful resource for anyone. My question is: who implemented such a policy (with public money I suppose, that is: mine, yours, etc., drawn from the heaviest taxation on labour in Europe), thought about a kind of digital literacy program? Once the digital highway is constructed, do they have the car (PC) and do they know how to drive it? Is there any money left (kind of important point in a time of economical crisis, isn’t it?) in such a policy plan to train older people?
Internet is not “replacing” reality, however it sure has influences on how people experience everyday life that deserve to be studied. Just think about a person who is walking, trying to relax a bit, in the street of Florence, Rome (or Gavinana, Maresca etc.; it does not make a difference: wrong, it does!) with his/her IPhone, constantly “connected” and receiving calls, sms, emails, fakebook etc. Is such instrument influencing the stroll? I believe so; and the point is not whether this is “good” or “bad”, but “how”: we need to interpret reality, virtual reality and the web of meanings and relations spun around the two. And, at the same time, it is opportune to put aside the debate “apocalyptic of integrated intellectuals” (Umberto Eco, Apocalypse Postponed, 1964/1994), towards mass culture and communication, but this is another story.
Internet can be a “big” as well as a “narrow” window open (closed) upon the social world; it depends — as for any communication instrument — on the usage. If, for instance, a person surfs the web not looking for “cooking recipes”, but mainly to watch porn movies (many people do), it sure becomes a huge window, which opens a limitless horizon limited to porn: postmodern pornoscapes, I would name them. Moreover, how is such a practice influencing the socialization process of a 13 years old boy or girl? How is this shaping the development of sentiments, passion, sex, and the relation with otherness in general? Furthermore, the web can connect as well as isolate people. I can think, using some sociological imagination, to social networks and at the same time to a-social networks. I can see web connections as means to promote sane and respectful encounters with otherness, to “love thy neighbor”. However, I can see the web also as an inhibiting apparatus promoting a vicious circle instead of a virtuous one. I can interpret being on line as an active experience or as a passive one, leading to self-absorption, egotism, or (see above) to an “onanistic” attitude toward otherness and reality.
Finally, it does matter a lot where “the access point is located or how old is the surfer”. It makes a huge difference being connected to the web in Sub-Saharan Africa or in Beverly Hills. And it does matter a lot if you are 13 or 80 years hold. This, of course, if: 1) we do agree that reality still counts — apparently (apparently) we do “internet won't EVER replace direct experience”, but I am not sure at all; 2) the “good compromise” you are mentioning is not just your or mine com-promise, dealing with your or mine reality, but if it is a “promise”, a oaths/vow for many people around the world. That is: to transcend oneself to really meet Otherness…

Multiculturalism is a ‘total failure’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking to the conservative youth organization of her Christian Democratic Union at an event called the "Deutschland Assembly", said that multiculturalism in Germany had been a total failure: “the notion that we would become 'multiculti' that we would live next to one another and be happy about one another, failed”. Polls indicate that a growing number of Germans believe that too many of the country's foreigners live in what are often referred to as "parallel communities" with little or no connection with German culture. Merkel declares “We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don’t accept them don’t have a place here” and adds: “Subsidizing immigrants isn’t sufficient; Germany has the right to “make demands” of them such as mastering the language of Goethe and abandoning practices such as forced marriage”.

Sep 2, 2010

Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research (University of Connecticut) is a social science data archive specialized in opinion surveys. The majority of surveys regard United States, but you can find data from over 50 nations. This is one more useful link to find data for your research papers (see older posts). Useful… Every conceptual tool has limits. Therefore, it is necessary to interpret data both from a theoretical and methodological point of view. Pierre Bourdieu’s famous essay “Public Opinion does not exist” tells us about "some" of those limits and the “rethorical” use of public opinion surveys. According to the scholar ‘public opinion’ is like a mirage and politician many times invokes it in order to implement already decided policies. In this sense, polling becomes a mean and a field for political struggle: “The politician who yesterday said ‘God is on our side’ today says ‘public opinion’ is on our side’” (Bordieu 1979, 125). The scholar also criticizes the fundamental assumptions of opinion polls: everyone has an opinion; all opinions have the same value; there is a consensus about problems.
Bourdieu, P. (1979). Public Opinion Does Not Exist, in A. Mattelart and S. Siegelaub (eds.) Communication and Class Struggle, New York: International General.

May 27, 2010

Internet Communication and Old People: Canto al Balì (TVL)

I was invited to a television debate, TVL - Canto al Balì, about communication, internet etc. Pistoia Province (Tuscany) seems to be one of the best equipped in Italy. Now that internet highways can reach even little towns in the Appennini Mountains, how old people living there will take benefit from such a revolution? Are they able to use PC? Internet? What is the philosophy of such a social-communicative policy? Secondly, can a internet highway substitute the real street, the real participation to civic life?

Apr 29, 2010

Young Americans in Florence

A journalist of Corriere della Sera reconstructed the business of organized pubs tour in Florence. The main point of the article, if I got it right, was not alcohol consumption, but the systematic business developed around American students in Florence (around 8.000 students per year is a big business). The article raised a huge debate in town. Directors of American colleges reacted to such a depiction of American students. Local authorities said they will monitor the situation. Believe me, the debate is huge. I will not enter into this debate. I will, in the future, try to write a book about the cultural experience of American Youngsters Abroad. In the meantime, I would like to share with you some passages upon youth, written by giants. I believe Newton was right: “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. And before him John of Salisbury, in Metalogicon, wrote: “Bernard of Chartres used to say that we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size”. The astounding thing is that commentators (journalists or whoever has the power to speak in the public opinion), never stand on the shoulders of giants. Do they think “I am a Giant”? Is it a matter of narcissism? Or — a simple thought is starting to run in my head — is it just because they are not aware, they did not read the giants? Who knows…

Jung, C.G. (1933) The stages of life, in Modern Man in Search of a Soul. New York: Harvest.
“The biblical fall of man presents the dawn of consciousness as a curse. And as a matter of fact it is in this light that we first look upon every problem that forces us to greater consciousness and separates us even further from the paradise of unconscious childhood. Every one of us gladly turns away from his problems; if possible they must not be mentioned, or better still, their existence is denied. We wish to make our lives simple, certain and smooth — and for that reason problems are tabu. We choose to have certainties and no doubts — results and no experiments — without even seeing that certainties can arise only through doubt, and results through experiment. The artful denial of a problem will not produce conviction; on the contrary, a wider and higher consciousness is called for to give us the certainty and clarity we need” (96-97).
“Whoever protects himself against what is new and strange and thereby regresses to the past, falls into the same neurotic condition as the man who identifies himself with the new and runs away from the past” (102).
“Whoever carries over into the afternoon the law of the morning must pay for so doing with damage to his soul just as surely as growing youth who tries to salvage his childish egoism must pay for this mistake with social failure” (109).

Joseph Conrad (1917) The Shadow Line: A Confession. New York: Doubleday (incipit, first 6 lines of the book).
“Only the young have such moments. I don’t mean the very young. No. The very young have, properly speaking, have no moments. It is the privilege of early youth to live in advance of its days in all the beautiful continuity of hope which knows no pauses and no introspection. One closes behind the little gate of mere boyishness — and enters an enchanted garden. Its very shades glow with promise. Every turn of the path has its seduction. And it isn’t because it is an undiscovered country. One knows well enough that all mankind had streamed that way. It is the charm of universal experience from which one expects an uncommon or personal sensation — a bit of one’s own. One goes on recognizing the landmarks of the predecessors, excited, amused, taking the hard luck and the good luck together — the kicks and the halfpence, as the saying is — the picturesque common lot that holds so many possibilities for the deserving or perhaps for the lucky. Yes. One goes on. And the time, too, goes on — till one perceives ahead a shadow-line warning one that the region of early youth, too, must be left behind".
If you want to understand better (everything needs to be interpreted, and it takes time!), you shall read the books. These are just cut flowers:“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants” (John W. Gardner).

Apr 9, 2010

The Hero of Our Time!

What gives meaning to the work of a professor are students. Each year a new class starts and each student that I meet enriches my life. It’s always a wonderful journey of knowledge. And some students surprise me for their thoughtful and visionary capacity to understand the social world. Let’s thank Chris for this precious gift to the world of knowledge: he discovered The Hero of Our Time! Sympathy, humor, irony and smiles are vital features for teaching and learning!

Mar 23, 2010

Follow up: “The iPhone Mom: Applications for Educating, Distracting, and Multitasking”

I am not even going to comment this. The picture is already enough. If you cannot catch the evident and disturbing symbolic implications of the image, here is a quote for you: “Now I’m not ashamed to admit that I have apps on my iPhone for the sole purpose of keeping my five year old distracted while I navigate Costco. But on the other hand, I also have apps that have helped him learn how to read. My ten year old has used apps to gain a better grasp on her multiplication skills and my seven year old has become a better speller through word games”. If you need more read this blog. If you need more… I really do not know how to help you.

Laptops in class

Some professors in the U.S. are (finally) realizing what was evident since the beginning. Laptops and Wireless, for obvious reasons, are distracting students and constructing an "inappropriate" learning environment — now I am waiting for some brilliant psychologist demonstrating that multitasking reduces concentration, inhibits creativity, etc. David Cole, professor of law at Georgetown, in 2007 (a pioneer) banished laptops from his class. When he raised the idea of cutting off laptop access with his colleagues, some accused him of “being paternalistic, authoritarian or worse”. And, of course, these “masters” added: “We daydreamed and did crosswords when we were students, so how can we prohibit our students, who are adults after all, from using their time in class as they deem fit?”. Comparing a crossword to Google, Facebook, YouTube etc… How can anyone possibly make such a comparison? Furthermore, who is the genius of pedagogy who thought that students would benefit from wireless connection in class? You can read Cole’s articles in the Wahington Post, and check an interesting video showing professors frustration about laptops in class, some other reactions to the use of cell in class (usually breaking them in pieces or similar and another interesting experiment during April 1st 2008 that summarize lots of things, laptops, evaluation etc.  I leave it up to the student’s sense of responsibility what to do with the laptop. I do, anyway, have a dream, a tiny but significant dream… May be one day a student — the average price for a private four-year university in the U.S. is around $28,000 (see this Report) — will tell to the colleague sitting next to him: “Could you please stop surfing the web, you are distracting me. I am not paying so much money to follow your Fakebook conversations”. Along with the freedom to surf the web — let’s put it this way — it exists also the freedom not to waste money and get a good education.

Mar 3, 2010

Max Weber: Science as a Vocation; Politics as a Vocation

Excerpts from Weber, Max (1918) Originally a speech at Munich University. Published in 1919 by Duncker & Humblodt, Munich. Eng. Trans. Science as a Vocation and Politics as a Vocation in (Eds. H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press 1946.
Science as a Vocation
What is the meaning of science as a vocation... Tolstoj has given the simplest answer, with the words: “Science is meaningless because it gives no answer to the only question important for us: what shall we do and how shall we live?”... Politics is out of place in the lecture-room. It does not belong there on the part of the students. If, for instance, in the lecture-room of my former colleague Dietrich Schaefer in Berlin, pacifist students were to surround his desk and make an uproar, I should deplore it just as much as I should deplore the uproar which anti-pacifist students are said to have made against Professor Foerster, whose views in many ways are as remote as could be from mine. Neither does politics, however, belong in the lecture-room on the part of the docents, and when the docent is scientifically concerned with politics, it belongs there least of all... The true teacher will beware of imposing from the platform any political position upon the student, whether it is expressed or suggested. “To let the facts speak for themselves” is the most unfair way of putting over a political position to the student... One can only demand of the teacher that he have the intellectual integrity to see that it is one thing to state facts, to determine mathematical or logical relations or the internal structure of cultural values, while it is another thing to answer questions of the value of culture and its individual contents and the question of how one should act in the cultural community and in political associations... If he asks further why he should not deal with both types of problems in the lecture-room, the answer is: because the prophet and the demagogue do not belong on the academic platform... To the prophet and the demagogue, it is said: “Go your ways out into the streets and speak openly to the world”, that is, speak where criticism is possible. In the lecture-room we stand opposite our audience, and it has to remain silent. I deem it irresponsible to exploit the circumstance that for the sake of their career the students have to attend a teacher’s course while there is nobody present to oppose him with criticism... The task of the teacher is to serve the students with his knowledge and scientific experience and not to imprint upon them his personal political views. It is certainly possible that the individual teacher will not entirely succeed in eliminating his personal sympathies. He is then exposed to the sharpest criticism in the forum of his own conscience... I ask only: How should a devout Catholic, on the one hand, and a Freemason, on the other, in a course on the forms of church and state or on religious history ever be brought to evaluate these subjects alike? This is out of the question. And yet the academic teacher must desire and must demand of himself to serve the one as well as the other by his knowledge and methods... The primary task of a useful teacher is to teach his students to recognize “inconvenient” facts — I mean facts that are inconvenient for their party opinions. And for every party opinion there are facts that are extremely inconvenient, for my own opinion no less than for others. I believe the teacher accomplishes more than a mere intellectual task if he compels his audience to accustom itself to the existence of such facts... In practice, you can take this or that position when concerned with a problem of value... If you take such and such a stand, then, according to scientific experience, you have to use such and such a means in order to carry out your conviction practically. Now, these means are perhaps such that you believe you must reject them. Then you simply must choose between the end and the inevitable means. Does the end 'justify' the means? Or does it not? The teacher can confront you with the necessity of this choice. He cannot do more, so long as he wishes to remain a teacher and not to become a demagogue... The error [of youth] is that they seek in the professor something different from what stands before them. They crave a leader and not a teacher. But we are placed upon the platform solely as teachers. And these are two different things... The qualities that make a person an excellent scholar and academic teacher are not the qualities that make him a leader to give directions in practical life or, more specifically, in politics...The professor who feels called upon to act as a counsellor of youth and enjoys their trust may prove himself a person in personal human relations with them. And if he feels called upon to intervene in the struggles of worldviews and party opinions, he may do so outside, in the market place, in the press, in meetings, in associations, wherever he wishes...
Politics as a Vocation
He who is active in politics strives for power either as a means in serving other aims, ideal or egoistic, or as ‘power for power's sake’, that is, in order to enjoy the prestige-feeling that power gives... What kind of a man must one be if he is to be allowed to put his hand on the wheel of history? One can say that three pre-eminent qualities are decisive for the politician: passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion. This means passion in the sense of matter-of-factness, of passionate devotion to a ‘cause’, to the god or demon who is its overlord. It is not passion in the sense of that inner bearing which my late friend, Georg Simmel, used to designate as ‘sterile excitation’, a ‘romanticism of the intellectually interesting’ running into emptiness devoid of all feeling of objective responsibility. To be sure, mere passion, however genuinely felt, is not enough. It does not make a politician, unless passion as devotion to a ‘cause’ also makes responsibility to this cause the guiding star of action. And for this, a sense of proportion is needed. This is the decisive psychological quality of the politician: his ability to let realities work upon him with inner concentration and calmness. Hence his distance to things and men. ‘Lack of distance’ per se is one of the deadly sins of every politician. It is one of those qualities the breeding of which will condemn the progeny of our intellectuals to political incapacity. For the problem is simply how can warm passion and a cool sense of proportion be forged together in one and the same soul? Politics is made with the head, not with other parts of the body or soul. And yet devotion to politics, if it is not to be frivolous intellectual play but rather genuinely human conduct, can be born and nourished from passion alone. However, that firm taming of the soul, which distinguishes the passionate politician and differentiates him from the ‘sterilely excited’ and mere political dilettante, is possible only through habituation to detachment in every sense of the word. The ‘strength’ of a political ‘personality’ means, in the first place, the possession of these qualities of passion, responsibility, and proportion. Therefore, daily and hourly, the politician inwardly has to overcome a quite trivial and all-too-human enemy: a quite vulgar vanity, the deadly enemy of all matter of-fact devotion to a cause, and of all distance, in this case, of distance towards one's self... Ultimately there are only two kinds of deadly sins in the field of politics: lack of objectivity and — often but not always identical with it — irresponsibility. Vanity, the need personally to stand in the foreground as clearly as possible, strongly tempts the politician to commit one or both of these sins... The mere 'power politician' may get strong effects, but actually his work leads nowhere and is senseless. What the cause, in the service of which the politician strives for power and uses power, looks like is a matter of faith. The politician may serve national, humanitarian, social, ethical, cultural, worldly, or religious ends... He may claim to stand in the service of an 'idea' or, rejecting this in principle, he may want to serve external ends of everyday life. However, some kind of faith must always exist. Otherwise, it is absolutely true that the curse of the creature's worthlessness overshadows even the externally strongest political successes. The ethos of politics as a 'cause'... What calling can politics fulfil quite independently of its goals within the total ethical economy of human conduct — which is, so to speak, the ethical locus where politics is at home? Here, to be sure, ultimate Weltanschauungen clash, world views among which in the end one has to make a choice. Let us resolutely tackle this problem, which recently has been opened again, in my view in a very wrong way... We must be clear about the fact that all ethically oriented conduct may be guided by one of two fundamentally differing and irreconcilably opposed maxims: conduct can be oriented to an 'ethic of ultimate ends' or to an 'ethic of responsibility'. This is not to say that an ethic of ultimate ends is identical with irresponsibility, or that an ethic of responsibility is identical with unprincipled opportunism... However a man who believes in an ethic of responsibility... does not feel in a position to burden others with the results of his own actions so far as he was able to foresee them; he will say: these results are ascribed to my action. The believer in an ethic of ultimate ends feels 'responsible' only for seeing to it that the flame of pure intentions is not quenched: for example, the flame of protesting against the injustice of the social order. To rekindle the flame ever anew is the purpose of his quite irrational deeds, judged in view of their possible success. They are acts that can and shall have only exemplary value. But even herewith the problem is not yet exhausted. No ethics in the world can dodge the fact that in numerous instances the attainment of 'good' ends is bound to the fact that one must be willing to pay the price of using morally dubious means or at least dangerous ones — and facing the possibility or even the probability of evil ramifications. From no ethics in the world can it be concluded when and to what extent the ethically good purpose 'justifies' the ethically dangerous means and ramifications...The ethic of ultimate ends apparently must go to pieces on the problem of the justification of means by ends. As a matter of fact, logically it has only the possibility of rejecting all action that employs morally dangerous means — in theory! In the world of realities, as a rule, we encounter the ever-renewed experience that the adherent of an ethic of ultimate ends suddenly turns into a chiliastic prophet. Those, for example, who have just preached 'love against violence' now call for the use of force for the last violent deed, which would then lead to a state of affairs in which all violence is annihilated. In the same manner, our officers told the soldiers before every offensive: 'This will be the last one; this one will bring victory and therewith peace.' The proponent of an ethic of absolute ends cannot stand up under the ethical irrationality of the world. He is a cosmic-ethical 'rationalist.'... However, it is immensely moving when a mature man — no matter whether old or young in years — is aware of a responsibility for the consequences of his conduct and really feels such responsibility with heart and soul. He then acts by following an ethic of responsibility and somewhere he reaches the point where he says: 'Here I stand; I can do no other.' That is something genuinely human and moving. And every one of us who is not spiritually dead must realize the possibility of finding himself at some time in that position. In so far as this is true, an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility are not absolute contrasts but rather supplements, which only in unison constitute a genuine man — a man who can have the 'calling for politics.' Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth — that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say 'In spite of all!' has the calling for politics.

Feb 10, 2010

Naïve.Super… No mentors in sight for youngsters

The twenty five year old protagonist loses interest in life. He sells his books and TV; he moves out of his bedsit into his brother's flat whilst he is away on business. He quits college in search of a raison d'etre. The unnamed protagonist begins to write lists of the things he used to like, become friends with a 5 year old boy, dates with purity a girl, throws a ball against a wall for hours. He finally decides to visit his brother in New York. This deceptively simple, highly enigmatic novel answer to the question: “Can youngsters (worldwide) count on mentors, masters?”. No!
“What I really need is an older man. A Mentor. One who could tell me what is the meaning of things. One asking me to perform tasks that I consider meaningless. I would become impatient and complain, but I’ll do them anyway. And finally, after many months of hard work, I would understand that there was a deeper meaning behind it all, and that the teacher had a circumspect plan from the beginning. Suddenly I would be able to see large correlations. To penetrate beyond the appearances. To draw conclusions about the world and humans. I would also be able to control myself and bring out the best in others, and so on. That’s the way it should go. Damn! It is obvious, isn’t it? It should never have gone otherwise. But teachers like these do not grow on trees. I've never met a single one. Everything makes me think that I'll get away alone” (Erlend Loe, Naïve.Sup, 1996/2002, 43-44).

Feb 7, 2010

I giovani italiani tra famiglia e scuola. Una cultura della dipendenza

L’analisi di 60 autobiografie di giovani italiani e i risultati di un questionario somministrato a 110 adolescenti mostrano la vischiosità dei rapporti tra giovani e adulti, riassunta da due espressioni: cultura della dipendenza e collusione intergenerazionale. I giovani italiani non vengono trattati dagli adulti significativi (genitori e insegnanti) come soggetti autonomi e responsabili. Essi così permangono in uno stato di dipendenza materiale, affettiva e talvolta cognitiva: non riescono a produrre pensieri nuovi sul mondo sociale; sono allineati alle idee e ideologie del passato, di precedenti generazioni. L’autore tratteggia una possibile nuova figura d’identità: l’adulto-Lucignolo. Puoi visionare pagine scelte del libro e/o acquistarlo visitando il sito dell'editore Aracne.
Roma: Aracne 2010, ISBN: 978-88-548-3046-2

Jan 30, 2010

Il futuro del Distretto

Qual è il futuro del distretto di Prato? È ancora presente un clima, un’atmosfera che favorisce l’impresa? L’autore tenta di fornire risposte sociologiche a questi interrogativi. Partendo dalle percezioni della realtà locale, dalle aspettative e dalle linee di azione di un gruppo di imprenditori, evidenzia forti discrepanze tra il mondo dell’economia e quello della politica. È un’indagine snella che mette a fuoco pratiche di concertazione tanto diffuse quanto inconcludenti. I cosiddetti tavoli tematici o di lavoro — con un felice neologismo “il tavolismo” — e “l’effetto matrioska”, cioè il proliferare di gruppi, agenzie, coordinamenti, etc., hanno come principale effetto quello di rimandare nel tempo la scelta e la conseguente assunzione di responsabilità politiche. In questo quadro i guru della conoscenza (studiosi e consulenti à la page) non paiono essere stati di grande aiuto né per l’am­mini­strazione pubblica, né per gli imprenditori. Puoi visionare pagine scelte del libro e/o acquistarlo visitando il sito dell'editore Aracne.
Roma: Aracne 2010, ISBN: 978-88-548-3038-7

Jan 15, 2010

Open Access Journals Directory

The Directory of Open Access Journals, managed and partly funded by Lund University (Sweden), lists free scholarly journals that meet high quality standards (peer reviewed or editorial quality control). DOAJ includes publications from around the world and in many languages. A similar source is Open J-Gate.

Behind the Name

What’s defining my self-identity? Before venturing into complex psychological, philosophical, anthropological and sociological coordinates, we should not skip “simple” features. Open your wallet and take out your identity card: age, gender, nationality, the city you where you were born and the one you’re living and… Your name and last name! In Public Profiler you can discover your surname statistics and location on a world map; Surnamedb tells you the meaning of your last name, and Behindthename shows you the etymology and history of your first name.

Jan 13, 2010

Mediated Cultures

Michael Wesch (Kansas State University) is a cultural anthropologist and media ecologist exploring the effects of new media on human interaction. He launched the Digital Ethnography Working Group and created a short video Web 2.0.. The Machine is Us/ing Us (one of the most popular video in the blogosphere, viewed over 10 million times). You shall see also the video: “A vision of students today”.