Metaphors we live by [3]

Came across, via @natasha_pulley, a remarkably thought-provoking interview with @Glamrou — especially 15:55 into the video where they were discussing “heteronormative Newtonian physics” versus quantum physics.

Unsurprisingly, the analogy has unleashed heated debates, mostly among people who are ‘doing’ quantum physics, below the line. Needless to say, my understanding of quantum physics is limited, but I am surprised that some seem more upset thinking that the interviewee has ‘defiled’ science with metaphorical language. And here I always thought mathematics and physics were born out of philosophy…

Anyway, seeing the Twitter debates reminds me of the following books.

In the meantime, I am also putting one more article up here in order for myself not to get carried away whenever anyone says a metaphor.

Blast from the past [3]

Came across this thread and memories flooded back.

RT @AskAKorean I’ve been pushing the “S Korean politics is a five year preview of the US politics,” but even I could have never imagined that US politics will follow S Korea’s “Kpop-ization of politics” trend. (21 June 2020)

Some pointers for the K Street types who are just waking up to this phenomenon:

The right way of thinking about “K-pop fandom” as applied to politics is “a mode of organization.” At least in this context, don’t get distracted by music, but focus on how K-pop fans organize.

K-pop fans gather online, around a shared interest over an idol star. Their organization is decentralized – there is no clear leadership or hierarchy, but they nonetheless coordinate smoothly to create high impact events both online and offline.

In Korea, this organizational behavior seeped into political organization. A politician plays the role of an “idol star”, and a “fandom” coalesces around him/her. This fandom has no discernible leadership, but will organize massive actions in favor of their “star.”

This may seem like a cult of personality, but it is not. The fans are not supporting the star just because they like the star. It’s more precise to say the fans are attracted to the star’s “narrative”, within which they play an active role. This is a crucial point to understand.

Consider BTS and ARMY, the most successful K-pop act and its fandom. ARMY doesn’t support BTS simply because they think BTS members are handsome or they like BTS’s music, although those are often necessary conditions for a fandom.

Ultimately, ARMY supports BTS because ARMY consider themselves to be a part of the “story of BTS”. To push the group from obscurity to superstardom, ARMY collectively worked to call radio stations, buy albums, reward positive coverage etc. They share the struggle with their star.

In Korean politics, Moon Jae-in has been a direct beneficiary of this type of fandom. Moon’s life story resonates: child of a refugee, former paratrooper, democracy activist, closest friend of a former president who tragically committed suicide. It’s a good narrative to join.

A politician gaining fandom based on a good life story is nothing new. What is new, however, is how that fandom behaves – this is what I mean by “Kpop-ization of politics.” Again, you have to think of K-pop fandom as a mode of organization.

Moon Jae-in’s fandom behaves very similarly to a K-pop fandom. They have nicknames for themselves – alternately Moonpa, Honey Badgers, etc. They have no discernible leadership and their activities are highly decentralized. Yet they organize effortlessly for rallies, GOTV, etc.

Just as much as DC lobbyists are confused now, Moon’s fandom confused the hell out of Korea’s old politicos. They were convinced that Moon must be secretly spending enormous amount of money to bribe them, for example, or an underground communist network was coordinating action.

Moon didn’t exactly plan for this; it’s more correct to say he stumbled upon it, but managed it well enough to carry him to presidency. But having seen the power of this, S Korea’s politicians now all try to recapture this magic somehow.

This, too, is an aspect of the Kpop-ization of politics – lots of idol groups (aspiring politicians) show up and they all try to drum up some kind of fandom. A lot of it feels awkward and forced. In the end, only a few emerge with a genuine group of fans.

I wrote my PhD thesis on Nosamo, the grandfather of digitally mediated political fandom we are seeing in Korea today. I would add some nuances to the remarks about the decentralised, self-organising character of Korean fandom, but otherwise I think the author is spot-on, especially about how and to what extent it differs from a cult of personality.

Has the game changed? [4]

How to safely and ethically film police misconduct (Palika Makam, Teen Vogue, 1 June 2020)

The title, the topic, the source, … everything about this article is telling us that the game has indeed changed. Pics or it didn’t happen, but can we trust the pics?

See also:

— Filming and photographing the police (ACLU)

— Fact check: Ordinance makes it illegal to record Tucson police in Arizona within a “restricted area” (Reuters, 12 June 2020)

— The Whistle (led by Ella McPherson)

— Witnessing the rawness of a tragedy [2] (@yawningtree, 7 July 2016)

— Activists are using traffic cameras to track police brutality (Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Vice, 15 June 2020)

— If I go to a protest, what kinds of personal information might police collect about me? (Lauren Kirchner, The Markup, 16 June 2020)

My fangirl’s heart [2]

BTS and K-Pop fans strike a blow to support #BlackLivesMatter (R. O. Kwon, Vanity Fair, 6 June 2020, crossposted 7 June 2020; see also “Deconstructing K-pop fans“, Billboard, 16 March 2020; “Global production, circulation, and consumption of Gangnam Style“, IJOC, 2014)

I’m troubled, though, by some of the ways people seem to view activist K-pop fans—as an invading monolith, an alien body. “I’m a little saddened that we’re seen as an outside force in all of this when in reality we have been deeply involved since the beginning by sharing petition links, donating, and spreading useful information,” says @7soulsmap. “It’s less about K-pop and more about us already being a well-networked community on social media.” In addition, as is often pointed out, many K-pop fans are Black, and it’s simplistic—and racist—to imagine that the two groups are mutually exclusive.

The BTS Army and the transformative power of fandom as activism (Emma Madden, The Ringer, 11 June 2020, crossposted 12 June 2020)

Traditionally, the purpose of activism has been to challenge systemic hegemonies and corporate structures; from its beginnings, fan activism has functioned similarly—even if for nonpolitical ends. […] Then, when the internet arrived, “fans were early to embrace networked communication because they were in effect already a virtual community of people brought together around common interests without regard to geographic location,” writes Jenkins. […]

Buttressed by the advances of fandom within the past few decades—diversity, empowerment, cocreation, and participation—the BTS Army is made up of lawyers, scholars, academic tutors, graphic designers, authors, artists, marketing professionals, and very online teenagers, all of whom contribute to the overall organizational structure of the Army. As a result, they’re on equal footing with, or perhaps even surpass, BTS themselves, in terms of drawing light on charity causes […].

Surprised at seeing K-pop fans stand up for Black Lives Matter? You shouldn’t be. (Yim Hyun-su, The Washington Post, 12 June 2020)

So why did many of us not see this side of the K-pop fandom? For one, while the gamer and streamer communities have been taken a lot more seriously by the media, efforts to study the K-pop community have been scarce.

And as many female fans and beat reporters have pointed out, we must also address the elephant in the room — sexism. It’s what has demonized the word “fangirl” and other things women are passionate about, leading to bizarre stereotypes of who K-pop fans are.

TikTok teens and K-pop stans say they sank Trump rally (Taylor Lorenz, The New York Times, 21 June 2020)

RT @m_older Hi @nytimes, are you sure “prank” is the word you were looking for here? (21 June 2020)

RT @ngleicher 1/ There’s been an important debate today about an online campaign to inflate ticket sales at the Tulsa rally, and whether this constitutes deceptive behavior (cc
@persily @evelyndouek). Based on public reporting, this isn’t CIB as we define it. #thread (21 June 2020)

RT @aetherlev Okay I want to talk about the TikTok/K-pop stan let’s-troll-Trump operation and specifically about the data gathering aspect of it. (21 June 2020)

TikTokers are trying to troll the Trump campaign through its online store (Zachary Petrizzo, Daily Dot, 27 June 2020)

The civic hijinks of K-pop’s super fans (Crystal Abidin & Thomas Baudinette, Data & Society, 1 July 2020)

The mobilizing power of the BTS ARMY (Aditi Bhandari, Reuters, 14 July 2020)

Once the red pill is taken [3]

“Testimonial injustice” in action.

Black patients half as likely to receive pain medication as white patients, study finds (Holpuch, The Guardian, 11 August 2016)

Stop the office AC overload: Study shows women are more productive when it’s warmer (McGregor, The Washington Post, 24 May 2019; see also danah boyd’s opinion piece on Oculus Rift, 3 April 2014)

Key findings from Public Health England’s report on Covid-19 deaths (Siddique, The Guardian, 2 June 2020)

‘I was fed up’: How #BlackInTheIvory got started, and what its founders want to see next (Diep, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 June 2020)

— RT @DiscoverSoc GPs recognised women’s rightful feelings of frustration (12 June 2020)

The precariat of academia

Saw the following thread keep coming up in my timeline yesterday, and found it resonating, so this post is to archive it for my own re-read. Why don’t people blog any more, instead of leaving these beautiful remarks in the ephemeral streams of microposts, but that is my problem.

RT @DrSudaPerera My contract finally arrived. It took a threat to quit unless it happened, and 10 years of being undervalued and underpaid at 5 different institutions. This moment is not one of joy. It’s one of relief and finally having the security to actually rage against precarity. THREAD (5 June 2020)

Long-term precarity is exhausting & humiliating. It’s a constant conveyor belt of toxic productivity. It’s not being able to put roots in one place. It’s never being able [to] plan for the long-term because of fluctuating salaries and never having savings.

It’s never getting a promotion or pay rise and spending your salary on house moves and train fare. It’s constantly having to adapt to new systems, rules and procedures. Of living that “hellish first year” writing new courses again and again.

It’s not saying “no”, or calling out exploitation, in case you burn bridges or get ‘a name’. Being unable to say “I don’t know how to do that” and having to learn. It’s always showing goodwill in the hope that you’ll be in good stead when a permanent job comes up.

It’s the kick in the teeth when the job you’re basically already doing gets advertised as a permanent role and you’re not even shortlisted. It’s having to take that kick with good grace because you still need a job and there might be a next time (but ‘next time’ never comes).

Trying to get out of precarity means spending your free time applying for things. It’s the Kafkaesque feeling of being excluded from funding calls because your contract doesn’t last long enough, then having that held against you when you apply for permanent roles.

In precarity you document all the work you do as lines in your CV and displays of competence for your next job application, to keep being paid, so you can make your next rent. Your permanent colleagues put their work on their promotion applications for higher pay.

Precarity is having to hide your precarity from students and networks because it might undermine your expertise. It’s realising that your knowledge is judged on your position rather than what you know and you’ve got fake it till you make it (knowing you might never ‘make it’).

I got out of precarity because my colleagues @SussexDev fought for me. Because my Head of School had the savvy to use the Uni trying to cut staff that weren’t “business critical” to frame me as such. I’m good value for money. The Uni accept my worth as a number not as a human.

I’m still cheap labour, but at least now I can make a fuss. For all those precarious staff still dealing with this shit, I will fight for you. I can’t promise I have the power for change, but now I at least have the power to try. And I’ll keep banging on about your disadvantage.

I’ll speak up for the hardships you face. I’ll explain that we don’t have diverse faculty because we don’t value diversity of experience. I’ll speak up about how valuable you are because you’ve taught widely, sat on committees, run social media accounts and written blogs.

I’ll promote the emotional labour of caring for students, of the pressure to be collegiate and never say ‘no’. I’ll argue that your experience shows versatility and adaptability not a lack of expertise. That your string of shitty contracts shows resilience not mediocrity.

I’ll call out when permanent staff don’t value that and get seduced by research superstars who never contribute anything that doesn’t advance their careers. I only got to this point because some really great permanent staff did it for me, and my HoS & HoD used their power for me.

So today, as I sit with my new permanent contract, I’m not going to celebrate my ‘success’. I’m going to reflect on how much it took out of me to get here. I’m going to remain angry I had to go through it. I’m going to acknowledge my new privilege, and use it as best as I can. ❤

Since we are on the topic of a “constant conveyor belt of toxic productivity”, in academia, here are a few more that have weighed on me.

  • @ryancordell on the vicious circle of academic overwork (13 July 2018)
  • @sophiephilpott1: “Y’know how on the London Underground you’re never more than 10ft from a rat? In Higher Education you’re never more than 2 years from a restructure.” (4 July 2019)
  • @zeyneparsel on academia as third shift (15 January 2020)
  • @wishcrys on microaggressions against junior, women, and PoC scholars (22 May 2020)

Makes you think

Naturally, I have been consuming a lot of reports, analyses, and opinion pieces about the COVID-19 pandemic — or rather, consumed by them — lately. The pieces listed below are ones that I do not necessarily agree with but that I can’t stop thinking about since. As always, I am placing them all in one place for my own convenient reference.

Othering the virus (Marius Meinhof, Discover Society, 21 March 2020)

The overwhelming racism of COVID coverage (Indi Samarajiva, Indica, 10 September 2020)

The hypervisibility of Chinese bodies in times of COVID-19 and what it says about being British (Aerin Lai, Discover Society, 12 April 2020)

The whiteness of public space (Tom Trevatt, Discover Society, 2 July 2020)

From exotic to ‘dirty’: How the pandemic has re-colonised Leicester (Bal Sokhi-Bulley, Discover Soceity, 16 July 2020)

Why are Africa’s coronavirus success being overlooked? (Afua Hirsch, The Guardian, 21 May 2020)

Asian universities offer lessons to West in Covid response (Joyce Lau, THE, 17 September 2020)

The COVID-19 “success story”: Why has the world singled out New Zealand for praise? (Houssem Ben Lazreg & Adel Dhahri, ABC, 24 June 2020)

Does global health still have a colonial mindset? (Jack Grove, THE, 15 July 2020)

Walmart workers say they face a choice: Their safety or their paycheck (Betsy Shepherd, New Orleans Public Radio, 9 April 2020)

“We’re not essential. We’re sacrificial.”

Food delivery companies share staff’s temperature readings (Madhav Chanchani, The Times of India, 10 April 2020)

Zomato and Swiggy, who are aggregators of restaurants, over the last few weeks have started highlighting restaurants that do temperature checks regularly more prominently on their applications. Rebel Foods rolled out the practice of sharing temperatures of everyone involved in making the meal last week and also plans to share a medical certificate of those involved from next week.

Covid-19 pandemic shines a light on a new kind of class divide and its inequalities (Robert Reich, The Guardian, 26 April 2020; see also: “I’m a nurse in a deprived area of the UK. Here’s the sinister truth about Covid and inequality“, 18 June 2020)

Sure, the velociraptors are still on the loose, but that’s no reason not to reopen Jurassic Park (Carlos Greaves, McSweeney’s, 6 May 2020)

The non-tactile world (Alex Sayf Cummings, Tropics of Meta, 5 April 2020)

The reason Zoom calls drain your energy (Manyu Jiang, BBC, 22 April 2020)

Put to the test — The sociology of testing (Noortje Marres & David Stark, special issue of the British Journal of Sociology 71(3), June 2020)

Thank God for calm, competent deputies (Sam Walker, The Wall Street Journal, 4 April 2020)

Why America can make semiconductors but not swabs (Dan Wang, Bloomberg, 7 May 2020)

How Asia’s clothing factories switched to making PPE — but sweatshop problems live on (Alessandra Mezzadri & Kanchana N. Ruwanpura, The Conversation, 29 June 2020)

Women’s research plummets during lockdown — but articles from men increase (Anna Fazackerley, The Guardian, 12 May 2020; see also: Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, Katrine Marçal, 2016; “She divorced me because I left dishes by the sink“, Matthew Fray, HuffPost, 25 January 2016; “It’s so much more than cooking“, Zoe Fenson, The Week, 2 October 2019; “Pandemic lockdown holding back female academics, data show“, David Matthews, 25 June 2020)

The underlying sexism of the conversation about cleaners and Covid (Sarah Ditum, The Spectator, 14 May 2020)

How a 15,000-year-old human bone could help you through the coronacrisis (Remy Blumenfeld, Forbes, 21 March 2020)

코로나19가 드러낸 ‘한국인의 세계’ — 의외의 응답 편 (천관율, SisaIN, 2 June 2020; see also my earlier post on “the moral policing power of the notion of 민폐“)

The Bluestocking: Woke Capitalism (Helen Lewis, 28 June 2020)

RT @mgwalks Every day, the internet picks a hero and a villain, and you just hope neither one is you. (6 June 2019)