This is the website and blog of Dr John Lever.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The genealogy of the academic paper that changed my career

In 2003 I was working for Oxfam. I had just completed an MSc in Applied Social Research in Bristol and I had a forthcoming interview for 3 year PhD bursary. At the time I was reading a new collection of essays - The Civilized Organization: Norbert Elias and the future of organization studies - and I decided to base my interview presentation on a chapter in the book. The chapter by Tim Newton - Elias, organisations and ecology - fused insights from Actor Network Theory (ANT) with Figurational Sociology in what he called an Interdependency Network Perspective (INP).

I was offered the bursary but dropped the theoretical model during my PhD for a pure figurational approach. Yet I was always intrigued by the fusion of ideas and I continued to use an INP in talks and presentations. During 2007 and 2008, I worked on a project of Ian Smith's, which set out to explore how planners and built environment professionals changed the ways they worked in order to meet the challenges of New Labour's Knowledge and Skills Agenda on the building of sustainable communities. I decided that an INP framework offered a useful way to present our findings and we subsequently submitted a paper to a prominent planning journal. This was the start of a long and at times tortuous process. In general, academic planners were keen on ANT, but not so keen on Figurational Sociology - this did not sit easily with me.

The ideas next resurfaced in my first post doc position at Cardiff, where I developed a greater knowledge and understanding of ANT through work with Mara Miele. In 2009, I presented a paper - Farmers vs. animal scientists: an assessment of welfare quality - based on an INP at the British Sociological Association Annual Conference in Cardiff. Still frustrated by my continuing inability to get the ideas into print, in 2010 I sent the origional paper to a new colleague for review, who subsequently used the ideas (if not the theory) to get a paper published. This increased my determination to get our initial paper published.

In subsequent years, Ian adopted the approach for teaching purposes. Work pressures meant that he also took the lead on the first paper and Mara and I began the process of fusing our ideas in various publications. But we still had no luck getting the original paper into print. Earlier this year, with my new job as a lecturer in sustainability at the University of Huddersfield in sight,  I decided to give the paper another go. The final published version is available here.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Learning to build sustainable communities: an interdependency network perspective

People, Place and Policy On-line, Volume 7 (3)

Abstract: This paper explores the production of sustainable communities from an interdependency network perspective (Newton, 2001). Drawing on fieldwork that examined how planners worked collaboratively with other professionals to address the challenges of delivering New Labour’s Growth Point Initiative, the paper fuses insights from Actor Network Theory with Figurational Sociology to examine the requirements of the skills agenda for building sustainable communities (ODPM 2004). Through an exploration of the ways in which planners adapted their working practice to facilitate the dual task of delivering growth and sustainable development, we argue that the learning and skills agenda is problematic for understanding how new knowledge and learning emerges.

Keywords: interdependency network; networked agency; knowledge; learning; sustainable communities.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The postliberal politics of halal: new directions in the civilizing process?

Human Figurations: Long term perspectives on the human condition, Vol 2 (3) November 2013

Abstract: This paper examines the emergence of postliberal halal politics in European societies. Building on research undertaken during the EU funded Dialrel project, it examines how the Malaysian state is inserting hegemonic claims into transnational space in order to dominate the international halal market. Moving beyond the idea of horizontally aligned networks of transnational power as the dominant framework for understanding social and economic change, the paper explores the complex interweaving of the large-scale macro processes and everyday micro practices underpinning the rise of Malaysia’s postliberal halal strategy. It is argued that the processes of social and economic differentiation emerging as a result of these processes have the potential to be an important step in the global civilizing process. In conclusion, the paper discusses the implication of these developments for figurational sociology.

Keywords: civilizing process; halal; identification; knowledge; postliberal; transnational