Blog and updates

Musical representations…

Josie Long’s Gambit on chess aired on BBC Radio 4 this afternoon. Not being a chess fanatic, I was only half listening. However, the second half of the programme grabbed my attention when it explored whether a beautiful game of chess could be turned into beautiful music. The composer Erland Cooper explored the sounds you can get from a chess board and pieces, and then set about combining these – with the aid of a computer, bass drum and glockenspiel – into an acoustic representation of a game of chess. You can hear the results in the programme. All of a sudden, the description of the game of chess being played in real time came to life. It had colour, excitement, and layers upon layers of musical description.

While this may not have been the highlight of everyone’s Sunday afternoon, for me this demonstrated the possibilities of describing phenomena acoustically. In fact, it was a masterclass in the potential of musical representations.

What if we use techniques like this to describe economic and legal phenomena? How could we describe economic and legal phenomena? From the example here, the possibilities are endless but also hugely exciting and informative.

Multitrack recording
Multitrack recording image exploring acoustic representations of interactions

I have recently been exploring these possibilities using basic multitrack software to “acoustically imagine” econo-socio-legal interactions. Multitrack recording allows for layering of sounds, in the same way that interactions throughout society form layer upon layer as we zoom out and take a macro look. Early renditions have taken one note to represent one interaction between two actors. However, what if we use an interval like a minor third to represent power relations in an interaction? A falling minor third might represent a detrimental power relationship, while a rising minor third might indicate a positive power relationship. Could an unstable interval, such as a fourth or seventh, indicate unease in an interaction? Stay tuned (no pun intended) for updates about acoustic representations of economic and legal phenomena.

Maps and mapping…

Sean C Jackson is an artist who draws maps and mazes. The Guardian featured his work recently, and you can see it here. His maps are mostly imaginary, but ask the viewer to dive into the world he has created and puzzle through it. Most of the works sit somewhere between 2 and 3 dimensions, which can make for some disorientation at times, and asks you to engage with the work by turning either your head or the page.

Topography and mapping can be useful ways of visualising ESL, interactions, and social phenomena. Like a map, an ESL can highlight the relevant and hide the irrelevant. Like a map-maker, the researcher using an ESL must choose what is relevant and important and why. Like a map, an ESL lens can also zoom in on areas that are more important, while identifying but minimising others. As a result, we can appreciate the whole landscape in all its complexity and understand the context of the research.

If we were to map out current mainstream approaches in law, economics and sociology, how might it look? The picture below is a (stylised) suggestion that the academic silos of law, economics and sociology would look be islands of research endeavour. They are separated by sea, and generally have their own languages, cultures, and traditions. Some brave interdisciplinary scholars traverse the seas and work on two or more islands, but many do not.

Map of current mainstream disciplines
Current mainstream disciplines as islands of endeavour

How might it look if we were to draw an ESL as a response to these islands? Would they converge? Would we need bridges, ships, or loudspeakers? Would this enable inter-island dialogue, or just increase competition? And what could a map of the topography of ESL tell us about the lens?

Visualising interactions in colour

The first GIF here imagines what interaction patterns might look like if we use yellow for economic phenomena, red for legal phenomena, and green for social, political and/or power-oriented phenomena. They are presented separately, performed between actors represented by the red dots.

The following GIF asks what this might look like when these phenomena occur simultaneously.

The colours show the various phenomena as they are simultaneously performed through interactions.

It is worth noting though that by using colour to separate out the economic, legal, and social phenomena, we are using “embeddedness-based” ESL lenses. In other words, we are accepting that legal, economic and social phenomena are separate.

As I argue elsewhere on this blog, if we really want to talk about, think about, and do the econolegal better, we need to move beyond embeddedness.

Future posts will explore what this might look like.

Visualising interaction patterns… interactively

The GIF above visualises a simple pattern of interactions between a small group of people. The latest update of the ProCreate app on iOS brings with it animation tools and some really exciting possibilities for exploring what econo-socio-legal interactions might look like.

In the GIF, each red dot represents a person. Each time they interact with another person, the link between them is highlighted. Interactions repeat, overlap, or cease.

Stay posted for updates of what happens if we pan out… or add a soundtrack asking what econo-socio-legal interactions might sound like!

The Art of Innovation (Part 1)

There’s currently a very interesting exhibition on at the Science Museum in London called “The Art of Innovation”. It’s about the links and dialogue between the (natural) sciences and the arts.

Given my interest in the dialogue between the social sciences and the arts (have a scroll through some of the other posts in this blog if you’re new), the first part of the exhibition was a little wide of the mark. The artistic side of the first few exhibits included architecture, dress-making and textiles.

However the real showstopper for me was a piece designed by Theodore Olivier in 1830 (see below) in the section on “Meaningful Matter”. These were built to convey complex 3-dimensional ideas to a wide audience. The coloured strings could be adjusted using weighted beads in the frame, meaning that different surface shapes could be modelled according to the mathematical equation at question, revealing a number of surfaces and shapes simultaneously. These frames and models were eventually produced in significant numbers and sold across the world. The one in the picture below was made by French company Fabre de Lagrange.

Exploring surfaces and mathematical equations in 3 dimensions

However, as ideas progressed, these models fell out of favour with the mathematical and scientific communities. After the First World War, the models were displayed in museums as curios where they found a new audience; avant grade artists. The string models represented not the abstract thinking of the original mathematical equations, but the ability to explore shape and form in a new way.

Among those who drew inspiration from these models were Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. Hepworth modelled her sculpture on the mathematical models that she had seen at Oxford (see below).

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture inspired by mathematical equations
Barbara Hepworth sculpture inspired by mathematical equations

As a member of the St Ives set, it was therefore no surprise to see Hepworth joined on the opposite wall by a set of sketches by Henry Moore.

Sketches by Henry Moore
Henry Moore sketches inspired by equations

Moore’s sketches drew inspiration from the string recreations of maths equations that he encountered on display at the Science Museum when he was a student in the 1920s. Moore immediately recognised the structural and artistic possibilities the models presented, noting that “it wasn’t the scientific study of these models but the ability to look through the strings as with a bird cage and to see one form within another which excited me”. The sketches on display in the exhibition eventually inspired several wooden string figures of his own.

There are similarities with some of the work I’ve been doing with zentangling interaction patterns, as you can see in my previous posts. I’ve also built 3 dimensional string models using the colours of strings to represent economic, legal and “other” aspects of each interaction, overlapping these to build complex patterns. Some of the questions I’ve been pondering are how models like these could help us explore complex patterns of interaction in the context of the social sciences? How could we visualise economic and legal aspects of interactions using colour to build up overarching patterns of interaction?

Stay tuned for more from the exhibition in Part 2….

Visualising the econo-socio-legal crops up in the most unexpected of places…

A loom, for sale in Ikea

I stumbled across this bizarre object in Ikea. It’s a loom – about A3 in size. Apparently, it’s for weaving bags, or rugs, or toys. Or I’m not sure what. Suffice to say though, this is not why it caught my eye.

This little loom is a reminder of a piece I displayed at the 2017 SLSA conference, which used a frame and different coloured threads stretched across it to represent the different aspects of interactions. It is pictured below. I chose red for legal, yellow for economic, and green for social. The threads overlapped and crossed each other, representing the complexity of social interactions with all their various elements in a 3-dimensional model.

Representing the complexities of the econo-socio-legal

So while I may not take up weaving, this did get me thinking about ways of representing and visualising the econo-socio-legal using random and wonderful pieces that you stumble across unexpectedly.

Realising that economists have got it wrong – can we finally return to Polanyi?

There was an interesting post this morning in Foreign Policy, and widely followed up on social media sites, claiming that economists are “on the run”. Paul Krugman in particular has come in for criticism, and no small dose of schadenfreude given his recent admission that he got it wrong. There seems to be a dawning recognition, at least in the United States, that free market policies, neoliberal ideals and globalising aspirations have left the “have nots” much worse off than the models predicted. Of course, this becomes a much sharper problem when the prospect of a US election looms large on the horizon.

What does this mean? An end to neoclassical mainstream economics translated into pure policy? Blanchard has been cited as saying that as a self-confessed left wing economist, he now finds himself at the centre of broader debates. Will this mean a re-examination economics from soci

The problem? That free market economics, which told blue collar workers in the US that free trade and neoliberalism would not hurt their prospects, has been shown to be false. Krugman himself, one of the messiahs of free marketeering, has admitted as much in a recent article entitled “What Economists (Including Me) Got Wrong About Globalization”. He acknowledges the huge economic and social upheaval that followed as a result of policies based on his analysis.

This has been called “quite the ‘Whoops’ moment”. But this downplays the devastation wreaked on the lives of millions in the name of ideology. For anyone familiar with economic sociology, this conclusion has been long overdue. Writing in 1944, Karl Polanyi warned of the consequences of unchecked free marketism, insisting that the state was ideally placed to countermove and intervene to protect against the worst excesses of the free market. He paints a duality and constant battle between business, with their drive to lower costs regardless of the impact on workers and society, and the state, drawn in to protect the basic interests of its communities. This echoes the free market-protectionism debates playing out today. The difference now is that those advocating flavours of protectionism, who have been shut out of policy arenas over the past 20-30 years, have gradually been proven right.

This also reflects the economic monoculture described so succinctly by Earle et al in The Econocracy and “something of a guild orthodoxy” in the profession that advises policy makers of the benefits of free markets, free trade and globalisation. If this hint at regret or dawning realisation indicates an expansion of views or a heterodox approach going forwards, this can only be a good thing. We can only hope that the changes brought about do not fade with the cycles of the US electoral system.