Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Too many (foot)notes!

Catching up with Laurie Taylor’s sociology programme on BBC Radio 4, I was struck by a very uncharacteristic interview. In the main, Taylor interviews academics who describe their research in fairly accessible everyday terms. But in a discussion of how consumerism itself motivates and causes crime, Dr Steve Hall from Northumbria University peppered his (otherwise actually quite interesting) account with a ludicrously large series of names –

Disreali, Dick Hobbs, Weber, Bourdieu, Veblen, Thomas Frank, Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, Zygman Bauman, Nikolas Rose, René Gerard, Steven Cohen, Adorno, Horkheimer, Žižek

– as though footnoting a paper. In the (surprisingly) informal context of a conversation with Laurie Taylor, however, rather than substantiating his claims, it had the strange effect of making them sound very much less plausible.

This reminds me of a strange feature of giving excuses, for example, for not attending a dinner party. If there are a number of reasons one might offer for not attending a dinner, reasons that all individually pull in the same direction or have the same ‘valence’ (in Jonathan Dancy’s helpful word), then it might seem that putting them all together in the same note might produce a better, more plausible excuse. But strangely if I am told by someone that they have a family visit, a work deadline and that they are not feeling well, that seems much less plausible than any one of them would have been in isolation.

By the way, I hear that (my friend) Dr Havi Carel (pictured), Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of the West of England has been successful in an AHRC network bid on ‘The Concepts of Health, Illness and Disease’. Well done her!