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What This Is All About

The Philosopher’s Mail is a new news organisation, with bureaux in London, Amsterdam and Melbourne, run and staffed entirely by philosophers.

It is committed to bringing you the latest, biggest stories, as interpreted by philosophers rather than journalists.

Why did this organisation start? Because today, the most attractive, charming, sexy and compelling news outlets enjoy unparalled influence over the minds of tens of millions of people. But unfortunately, they rarely put out content that might make the world a better place.

At the same time, there are lots of serious, earnest good people attempting to change things, but they put out publications full of very interesting and dense articles that only reach tiny and already-convinced audiences.

So the good ideas go nowhere and the not-so-great ideas mesmerise us from every screen. Therefore, the world doesn’t change.

The goal of the Philosopher’s Mail is to prove a genuinely popular and populist news outlet which at the same time is alive to traditional philosophical virtues.



For too long, philosophers have been happy merely to be wise and right. This has offered them huge professional satisfaction but it has not influenced the course of society. The average work of philosophy currently reaches 300 people.

Hence the challenge that explains the birth of The Philosophers’ Mail, a new media outlet rooted in popular interests, sensibilities and inclinations of the day – but that tries to read and caption the news with an eye to traditional central philosophical concerns – for compassion, truth, justice, complexity, calm, empathy and wisdom.

The site views the rolling succession of the day’s news as an occasion for the development of insight, generosity and emotional intelligence.

News is not simply information about what is happening in the world. It is one of the key places where we daily shape our underlying assumptions about life – about what is important, admirable, scandalous, normal; where we rehearse attitudes to fear, hope, good and evil. This is why the news is a major target of concern for real philosophers.

The Philosophers’ Mail makes use of popular starting points – the stories a lot of people like to read and talk about already. It is generous to our natural inclinations: to read celebrity gossip, look at erotic images and read shock stories. It is sympathetic (as a starting point) to popular biases: anxiety about whatever feels foreign, a taste for vengeance, lack of empathy for the very poor, envy of the very rich, resentment of the powerful, suspicion of those who seem clever, dislike of awkward truths…

We start by acknowledging such attitudes: it isn’t strange to be unnerved by a Romanian family begging on a French train; it would be thrilling to have sex with Jennifer Lawrence; one can empathise with the feeling that George Osborne doesn’t quite know what real life is like; it is natural to want to switch off when hearing about trouble in Africa.

We don’t start by asking what the wise or good or serious outlook might be. There are plenty of people pushing such lines already – for that one could turn to the Economist, or the New York Times.

The epochal challenge is to reach the people who don’t engage with complex news.


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17-20 May, 2012 — Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida


The conference will focus on the tensions between two dimensions of social theory: as an academic discourse with analytical intent, and as a form of political action. In particular, our goal is to highlight 
the position of social theory between:
– Theory construction—as a social-scientific practice that is both normatively oriented and historically self-reflexive, i.e. willing and able to recognize its embeddedness in the social process; and
– Progressive politics—as it is inspired by the prospect of qualitative social change, and thus, oriented toward the transformation of the object of social theory.

In order to do so effectively, social theorists need to avoid detached, unengaged, ‘un-dialectical’ conceptions of our responsibility as confined to observation, along with forms of activism that lack reflexivity and awareness of the mediated nature of modern social life—as a result constituting political practice without theory. While social practice without theory is blind, social theory without practice is hollow.  Yet when and how does social practice truly require input from social theory? As Hegel’s employment of the image of the Owl of Minerva suggests, whose flight begins at dusk, does theory have a tendency to arrive on the scene too late…when the work of revolution-nary change already has been completed? Is it not that theories are becoming outdated due to revolutionary change? Then again, is such critical self-constraint itself overly hasty? Is social theory not in fact capable of providing a robust normative standard to evaluate the status and progress of revolutions and social change? Should it not aspire to critically accompany or reflect on social and historical change? If the relation between theory and politics is an open one, how do we need to reconfigure the relation between (social) theory and (progressive) action, especially after the financial crash of 2008 and following the Arab Spring? Are recent developments within the Western world indicators for another democratic Spring? Are claims and movements for economic justice and accountability, as they currently are being articulated in the US, in Europe, in Israel, and word-wide, signs of a new revolutionary spirit and indicators of a new cosmopolitan public sphere? Or could they be the opposite—symptoms of the decline of such center-pieces of modernity as democracy and individual autonomy? After all, the Arab Spring may not lead to greater democracy, but a resurgence of Islam. At the same time, theorists like Colin Crouch and John Keane warn that we may be going through the terminal phase of western democracy, whose inability to confront 21st-century challenges is becoming ever more apparent.

The conference poses such questions, in the framework of the overarching query about the relation between theory and politics—as provocative, open, challenging inspirations for a most diverse set of 
possible inquiries:
– Theoretical and meta-theoretical essays about theory and politics are as much part of this as cultural and critical inquiries into contexts of political action and agency;
– New developments fusing theoretical traditions are as much welcome as are works that analyze the conflicting interstices between concrete local actions and the larger theoretical and symbolic underpinnings of these movements;
– Works on the grounds of normative commitments are as much needed as empirical/discursive deconstructions of existing imaginaries and socio-political beliefs and assumptions.

Papers are invited that speak to the topic from:
– Classical & contemporary social theory: working with our inheritance
– Methodology of Critical Theory
– Literary methods and Social Theory
– The interpretive tradition, depth hermeneutics & analysis
– The performative aspects of public life
– Media power and image magic
– Psychoanalytic method and social theory
– Phenomenology, hermeneutics, and critical hermeneutics
– Epistemologies and philosophies of knowledge today
– Asian philosophies and methods
– Socrates, Plato, and working with the Greeks today
– Political anthropology and reflexive historical sociology

Mel Barber – Convener Associate Professor of Sociology, Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida
Harry F. Dahms Sociology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (
Kieran Keohane, Sociology, University College, Cork, Ireland (
Bert Koegler, Philosophy, University of North Florida, Jacksonville (

Please submit abstracts by March 1, 2012 to Mel Barber at:





‘I believe in the afterlife.

It starts tomorrow,

When I go to work’

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Uncertainty in Higher Education



Universities as Knowledge Institutions in the Networked Age


The journal Policy Futures in Education (PFIE) – available online at – will publish a special issue on the impact of information technology and the Internet on universities: to keep and develop their role as knowledge institutions, how should universities reshape in this new environment? Sub-topics, such as open access to scientific literature and distance learning, have an established track of studies and proposals. However, it has not been common so far to aim at an integrated analysis of how universities will and should change to accommodate the changes brought by cyberspace in their specific role of knowledge user, processor, producer and disseminator.

One topic to be addressed is how the process of learning within universities will change because of the Internet and digital devices. For centuries, college student were educated by listening to their professor read aloud selected books taken from the university library (‘lesson’ comes, in fact, from ‘lectio’, Latin for ‘reading session’). Gutenberg changed that by making books cheaper and therefore more amenable to individual ownership and private reading, but the typical university lesson ended up not changing much anyway. Thanks to technology, we are now experiencing, at least potentially, a Renaissance of learning methods: from e-books to podcasts, from virtual worlds classrooms to streaming, from computer-assisted learning to videogames, the avenues of learning have increased dramatically. Are we heading towards purely technology-mediated learning strategies? Is the old Socratic professor-student direct approach completely obsolete? Doesn’t the wider spectrum of approaches offer the opportunity to educate those students who have always been uncomfortable with the traditional approach? What about the impact on lifelong learning?

A second topic is how research will be affected by the Internet. A major potential impact will be on the way research results will be communicated in the future. The scientific paper as a rhetorical device is increasingly under pressure in favour of more flexible, digitally-enabled forms of communication, mostly based on semantic web technologies. How would the decline of the scientific paper affect science? What about the role of search engines in the future of research? Will the Internet enable new forms of evaluation of scientific results? How would that change the centuries-old mechanism of recognition and promotion within the scientific community? Moreover, the transition towards digital knowledge seem to affect trends towards commercialization of knowledge at universities and knowledge institutions, and the impact those trends have on knowledge generation. Additionally, the Internet seem to be increasing the tension between the growing specialization of research activities and the aspiration towards increased interdisciplinarity.

The third topic regards how should universities use cyberspace to best implement their mission with respect to society. In recent years society has been asking universities to do more than simply – albeit crucially – educate students and produce new academic knowledge. The list of new demands include life-long education, open access to scientific papers and educational resources, and encouragement and support for spin-offs and start-ups. But is that it? Of course not. Public education, at all levels, was born with a clear mandate to educate citizens and to increase social mobility, not simply provide students with marketable skills and bookshelves with new scientific journals. Moreover, in our age the increasingly complex problems that we are facing as society, from global warming to water supplies, from the environment to energy issues, from the challenges (and opportunities) presented by bio-genetics and nanotechnology, don’t call for a renewal of the concept of University as Public Institution? In other words, don’t universities – as institutions as well as through their individual researchers – have a duty to engage more frequently in the public sphere, placing their super skills and knowledge at the service of citizens – and their representatives – to allow them to properly deliberate? If so, how? What would be appropriate and what would, instead, constitute a deontological breach of professorial decorum and integrity? If it is indeed important, shouldn’t universities allow/favour internal organizational changes to better implement such social role? How is that social role linked to freedom of research? Is the growing need of universities in many countries to court potential private investors (or governments) affecting it? If so, what could the consequences be for our societies? Doesn’t the Internet offer extraordinary tools to empower the public sphere presence of universities, professors and students, and to help to reduce social and cultural divides?

The special issue builds upon the COMMUNIA 2010 Conference on University and Cyberspace – Reshaping Knowledge Institutions for the Networked Age, held at Turin, 28-30 June 2010.

Submitters can visit the conference site and access material originating from the conference at

Possible issues relating to the above topics include:

– Digital Natives: how will the characteristics of the new generations of students, faculty and staff shape the future of universities?
– The Spatial Infrastructure: physical and virtual spaces for higher education
– The Use of Digital Technology in the Classroom
– Open Access to Scientific Results (papers, data, software)
– Open Educational Resources
– Educational Videogames
– Digital Devices as Platform for Learning
– Non-formal Education via the Internet
– Digital Divide and Higher Education
– Long-term Knowledge Preservation in a Digital Age
– Academic Production and the Knowledge Commons
– Digital and Physical Social Networks
– Intellectual Property and Academic Production
– Physical and Digital Library
– Semantic Web Technologies Applied to Scientific Results and Educational Resources

Papers should be sent as email attachments:

Deadline for submissions: 15 January 2011

All papers submitted will be evaluated using the PFIE’s normal peer review process. Please also see the Journal’s information for authors:


Dr Philippe Aigrain
CEO, Sopinspace
4, passage de la Main d’Or
F-75011 Paris

Professor Juan Carlos De Martin
Co-Director, NEXA Center for Internet & Society
Politecnico di Torino – DAUIN
Corso Duca degli Abruzzi, 24
I-10129 TORINO

Urs Gasser
Executive Director
Berkman Center for Internet & Society
23 Everett Street, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138

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