Thursday, January 07, 2010

In the Pipeline

Here's what's coming up:
After that? We'll see.

Reading :: Critical Perspectives on Activity

Critical Perspectives on Activity: Explorations Across Education, Work, and Everyday Life
Edited by Peter H. Sawchuck, Newton Duarte, and Mohamed Elhammoumi

I went on an activity theory reading binge recently, reading three newish collections (a fourth is in the queue). Unlike the others I've reviewed so far, this one is not explicitly centered around Engestromian third-generation activity theory. Rather, it's part of the broader CHAT tradition anchored in Vygotsky, Luria, Leont'ev, and later Russian psychologists, and it's oriented more toward issues of education than it is toward working. So it's not as intrinsically interesting to me as the last two collections, but it still had some bright moments.

In their introduction, Sawchuk, Duarte, and Elhammoumi call activity theory "the most comprehensive analytic framework for analyzing human practice and learning currently available" (p.2) and discuss how this framework can be made more comprehensive by applying it to various issues and problems. One is, of course, the "broader societal debate over the nature of 'knowledge economies' and, by now, one of the most frequently discussed policy issues of all, 'lifelong learning'" (p.2). This is the third of the three AT books I've read that focus explicitly on addressing knowledge work, as my own recent book Network has done, so I'm glad to see the trend. At the same time, the editors want "to express a type of 'critical' perspective on activity and to recover, express, and press forward many of the original Marxist elements of the Cultural Historical tradition" (p.4). After all, they say, "Marxist dialectics is not a generic theory of change. It is a theory of change that is rooted in actualities of particular historical epochs. In our current historical context, it is a theory of change within and beyond capitalism specifically" (p.8).

Marxism plays a big role in many of the contributions. In Elhammoumi's "Is there a Marxist psychology," for instance, he argues that Vygotsky is more like psychology's Feuerbach than its Marx: Vygotsky and his successors were not able to move to radical categories beyond the pre-Marxist ones (p.24). In particular, activity theory should be based on a Marxist concept of spatio-temporality (p.31) and move beyond the individual as a starting point, starting instead with the "individual-form" (p.33).

Lompscher's "The Cultural-Historical Activity Theory" reviews the three stages of CHAT, then suggests that CHAT needs a fourth stage (p.35). The chapter provides a dense account of the three stages (the third of which is Engestromian AT; p.47). Then he argues that the computer has not been sufficiently theorized in any of the stages. In particular, third-generation AT characterizes the computer as a tool (p.49).
However, over the last few decades, the computer has become the new leading productive power (Haug, 2003: 38), penetrating and transforming all aspects and domains of production, including management, distribution, consumption, scientific research, and so on, and producing a new stage and mode of capitalist production - the transnational high-tech capitalism (the title of Haug's book) with the Internet as its medium. National and international economic processes have changed and continue to change dramatically with serious and far-reaching political consequences across the globe. As a result, human activity is changing in all spheres, including the borders between men's and women's work, between outside and self-regulation, and between work and learning, as well as between work and leisure time. (p.49)
That is, the knowledge society/information society/knowledge work/high-tech capitalism poses challenges to AT, challenges that AT has not addressed well because AT has still not theorized digital technologies beyond labeling them as tools. Not surprisingly, Lompscher cites Ruckreim (p.50; not Ruckreim's recent piece in Learning and Expanding with Activity Theory, but apparently a similar piece). He ends by expressing hope that AT can be found to be compatible with systems theory and media theory (p.50).

Ray McDermott and Jean Lave take up the question of another knowledge society characteristic, lifelong learning, in their chapter "Estranged Labor Learning." Yes, "Labor" is struck out; McDermott and Lave steal a page from Marx here, rewriting his essay "Estranged Labor" with learning in mind (p.92). As they explain in their framing, Marx argued that the more wealth the worker produces, the poorer he becomes - and that labor produces itself and the laborer as commodities (p.90). Similarly, they argue, school children are alienated from their own learning because learning can be measured only relatively to others (p.91).

Skipping ahead, in the chapter "Contradictory Class Relations in Work and Learning," Livingstone focuses on learning organizations in the knowledge society (p.149). "Dominant claims for the emergence of a knowledge-based economy remain suspect in terms of the restricted power most workers have to develop their knowledge and skill in capitalist workplaces, but most potential workers appear to be making concerted efforts to develop them nonetheless" (p.149). Yet "The socialization of the forces of knowledge production" is "a continual challenge to private capitalist efforts ... to control the social relations of knowledge production" (p.150). He argues that "This opposition between socialized forces and private relations of knowledge production is the fundamental contradiction of knowledge development and learning in advanced capitalist societies" (p.150). In response, he says that unions "continue to represent the most sustainable organizational sites for collective development of independent working-class consciousness" (p.158).

Paul Adler's "From Labor Process to Activity Theory" compares the two theories, using a case involving the rationalization of software development. Labor theory, based on Braverman, has recently lost ground to postmodernist theories (p.160), and Adler argues that one reason is that whereas LPT predicted mass deskilling, capitalist development has involved upskilling (p.160). Adler promises a more dialectical reading of Marx to explain this development.

Engestrom contributes the chapter "Values, Rubbish, and Workplace Learning," in which he draws on rubbish theory - which follows the nature, paths, and steps of movement that transform objects from products to rubbish to durables (pp.194-195). After all, Engestrom says, in AT "values at work are embedded in the object of the activity" and "being embedded in multiple activities simultaneously, objects have lives of their own and resist goal-rational attempts at control and prediction. Negotiations of objects are always also negotiations of values and motives - not just of 'what' but also of 'why,' 'for whom,' and 'where to'" (p.194). So Engestrom draws on rubbish theory, interprets it in third-generation AT terms, and applies lessons back to AT.

As a whole, the collection is solid, but I had a hard time getting enthusiastic about it. For me, the most interesting parts were the ones that focused on developing activity theory to address knowledge society challenges. But much of the book looked back to the past, burrowing deeper into Marx's original work, grounded in early industrialism, rather than aggressively adapting AT for the present.

Reading :: War and Anti-War

War and Anti-War: Making Sense of Today's Global Chaos
By Alvin and Heidi Toffler

Reading through the network warfare literature some time ago, I was a little startled to see that Alvin and Heidi Toffler wrote the foreword to Arquilla and Ronfeldt's In Athena's Camp and that their own book on war, War and Anti-War, was mentioned. I had heard of their other books, but not this one. But as I subsequently learned, David Ronfeldt was influenced by the Tofflers' work early on. I soon picked up this book and read it over Christmas break - and spotted some familiar themes.

Just as their later book Creating a New Civilization focused on applying Third Wave concepts to politics, this book applied those concepts to warfare. That is, the Tofflers have latched hold on a big idea and have explored various permutations in their later books. In this particular instance, they were inspired to write the book after learning that "a group of American generals were busy reading our 1980 book, The Third Wave" (p.8). They argue that the shift from second- to third-wave civilizations means a shift to a new kind of economy and a new kind of warfare (p.3, 9). Indeed, they say, we get a military revolution only when a new civilization challenges the old and changes occur at every level simultaneously (p.34).

They develop these themes, postulating that "Throughout history, the way men and women make war has reflected the way they work" (p.35). First Wave warfare was about agriculture: annexing more land and labor, or else devastate the agriculture of the enemy (p.38). Second Wave warfare involved standardizing everything - military training, organizational doctrine, weapons, people - and massing for the counterpart of mass production: mass destruction (p.43). But third-wave warfare is about knowledge. That means de-massification, heterogeneity, speed. More specifically, it means activating the entire battlefield instead of sweeping linearly, and it means closely integrating air and ground forces (p.60). Exhibit A is the Gulf War, in which the US used both Second-Wave and Third-Wave actions to defeat a Second-Wave force. For instance, the US used both Second-Wave attrition bombing and Third-Wave pinpoint bombing (smart bombs) (p.76). The US deepened the battlefield in all dimensions: distance, altitude, time (p.78). The emphasis was not on hitting the "front" but on hitting command and communication points, sidelining backups so that they couldn't get to the point of battle, synchronizing the US' combined operations, and establishing total battlefield awareness (p.78). (For a discussion of how the Iraqis learned from this encounter, see John Robb's Brave New War.)

The Tofflers emphasize that Third Wave warfare resembles its work: the workforce and war force change in tandem (p.87). For instance, decision authority gets pushed to lower levels, which in the Gulf War meant field commanders. (See John Arquilla's argument in Worst Enemy that command could be pushed even lower.) But they also expect a radical diversification of kinds of wars (p.95) and niche threats, just as we have niche products (p.104). For instance, they mention terrorists and narco-warlords, against which a country cannot massively retaliate (p.122); spoofing satellite information to make it impossible for Third Wave forces to distinguish between friends and enemies (p.121); and robot wars that automate the battlefield just as they have the factory (p.125), leaving human soldiers as the "varsity squad" of war (p.128). All these scenarios have either come true or are in the works.

Third Wave armies, like Third Wave workers, must emphasize de-learning and re-learning as well as using knowledge to substitute for other resources (p.172). "Spin" or propaganda becomes incredibly important (p.194; see Arquilla's Worst Enemy again, as well as Bullets & Blogs). In particular, they foresee decentralized media (which are realized today in blogs and tweets) and "telecomputers" (which are realized in today's smart phones) could vastly multiply a Rodney King moment (p.199; see Bullets & Blogs for a concrete example).

And like Castells, Drucker, Arquilla & Ronfeldt, and others, the Tofflers caution that the state will not be the only player in Third-Wave security. Althoughe the UN is a club of nation-states, world events will be influenced by non-national players (p.250). The nation-state has lost its monopoly on violence (p.270), so the kinds of conflicts multiply, and military forces must be tailored - and must partner with nonstate actors such as non-governmental organizations (p.271; 291).

Overall, like many of the Tofflers' books, this one concentrates on the grand sweep rather than the details. At points it is quite speculative. But it syncs surprisingly well with the networked warfare literature of the time and of the present. If you've developed an interest in how warfare is practiced, especially beyond nation-states, check this book out.

I'll be speaking at UT's iSchool on January 26

If you're in Austin, please consider coming to see me speak at UT's School of Information on January 26. I'll be discussing some of my more recent research.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Reading :: Creating a New Civilization

Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave
By Alvin and Heidi Toffler

Okay, let's talk about the most striking part of this book's cover first. Under the authors' name, the cover tells us: "FOREWORD BY NEWT GINGRICH." The word "GINGRICH" is in exactly the same type and size as the authors' last name.

Does this mean that Creating a New Civilization, published in the same year that Gingrich's Contract With America swept in a Republican majority, (1994) is a Republican text? No. The Tofflers hurriedly deny that they are Republicans, produce their bona fides of the day (they're pro-choice and against school prayer, p.9), and argue that today Left and Right have less meaning; political power is being transferred "away from our formal political structures - the Congress, the White House, the government agencies and political parties - to electronically linked grassroots groups and to the media" (p.8). Gingrich, they say, gets this point (p.10). And in this, the slimmest of all the Tofflers' books, they try to make sure that we get it too. They essentially take the concepts from their 1980 book The Third Wave, review them, and apply them to politics with updated examples.

Some of these examples are startling. Recall that First Wave civilizations are based on agriculture; Second Wave civilizations are based on industrialism; and Third Wave civilizations are based on knowledge. Third Wave civilizations to grow and make things, but they do them so efficiently that the output is greater and the number of people involved in those activities is smaller. (For instance, US farmers are a vanishingly small part of the economy, yet are much more productive than their predecessors.) The real growth is in knowledge and services. Fresh from the first Gulf War, the authors argue that "One of those services might well turn out to be military protection based on [US] command of superior Third Wave forces" (p.31).

The rest of the book makes arguments that are familiar if you've read Castells (although Castells wouldn't be caught dead talking to Gingrich, I suspect) or Drucker. For instance, just as Castells argues that any work that can be routinized (generic labor) will be either outsourced or programmed, Toffler and Toffler argue that "any task that is so repetitive and simple that it can be done without thought is, eventually, a candidate for robotization" (p.57). They argue that therefore the feared practice of "deskilling" is actually trailing-edge, an application of obsolete Second Wave thinking. Like Drucker, they point out that service workers are not well respected, and we must find a way to give them the same respect as we have given to those in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors - and we must get them to increase production (p.53). Also like Drucker, they point out that the rise of knowledge work means heterogeneity and difficulty in finding people with the right skills - "a gynecologist can't do brain surgery" (p.44) - and on the next page they emphasize the role of innovation in the knowledge economy as Castells does (p.45). Finally, like Drucker, they believe that the argument between capitalism and socialism is obsolete (p.67). Although the global economy is unstable, state enterprises are too bureaucratic and slow to adapt, and their performance undermines the legitimacy of the state (p.67). This is a point that seems very fresh just days after the latest failure of our enormous Homeland Security bureaucracy.

And that gets us to politics. In Chapter 7, the authors argue that the Left-Right divide is also obsolete, and the real news is Second vs. Third Wave politics, and both political parties have elements of both: Second Wave politics emphasize "preserving the core institutions of industrial mass society - the nuclear family, the mass education system, the giant corporation, the mass trade union, the centralized nation-state and the politics of pseudorepresentative government" (p.73). In contrast, Third Wave politics recognize that the most urgent problems "can no longer be solved within the framework of an industrial civilization" (p.73). They particularly single out "the Democrats' reflexive reliance on bureaucratic and centralist solutions to problems like the health insurance crisis" (p.75) and they praise the Republican efforts to deregulate, to privatize governmental operations, and to embrace market economics (p.76). Yet the Republicans have their own problems. Both parties are mainlining nostalgia (p.77).

So, in the next chapter, the Tofflers lay out principles for a Third Wave agenda. First, questions for distinguishing Second from Third Wave proposals:
  1. Does it resemble a factory?
  2. Does it massify society?
  3. How many eggs are in the basket?
  4. Is it vertical or virtual?
  5. Does it empower the home?
And in the next chapter after that, the Tofflers provide suggestions for reconstituting democracy in Third Wave terms. In a demassified society, they say, we are all in a minority and our feedback systems (voting, polls) are consequently too crude. We need to rethink and reconfigure them, the Tofflers argue (p.95). We also need to find ways to represent ourselves - to institute semidirect democracy (p.96). Third, "we need to divide up the decisions and reallocate them - sharing them more widely and switching the site of decision-making as the problems themselves require" (p.100). This recommendation reflects other calls to push power to the edge - say, empowering CIA representatives who talk to a terror suspect's father to communicate directly with counterparts at the TSA. This distribution of power and decision-making is vital, since the decision load is now too high for the elites to handle (p.102). The Tofflers, in fact, believe that democracy becomes an "evolutionary necessity" in a highly complex society because the decision load must be distributed enough to be bearable (p.103).

In sum, this is a highly readable and skimmable book, and unlike the Tofflers' other books, it's only 112 pages. You might think of it as Cliff's Notes for The Third Wave. And the Tofflers restrain themselves from speculating too much about the future. Like the Tofflers' other books, it also sketches an overall vision for the social and organizational changes our globe is facing. On the other hand - again like the Tofflers' other books - some of these concepts are underdeveloped and undertested, and particularly in the sections on politics, I would have liked to see more detail and less glossing. But if you're interested in this line of inquiry, I highly recommend the book.

Reading :: Rules for Radicals

Rules for Radicals
By Saul Alinsky

Saul Alinsky tells this story about organizing the African-American community against Kodak, which at that time dominated Rochester, NY. What tactics could they use?
I suggested that we might buy one hundred seats for one of Rochester's symphony concerts. We would select a concert in which the music was relatively quiet. The hundred blacks who would be given the tickets would first be treated to a pre-concert dinner in the community, in which they would be fed nothing but baked beans, and lots of them; then the people would go to the symphony hall - with obvious consequences. Imagine the scene when the action began! The concert would be over before the first movement! (If this be a Freudian slip - so be it!) (p.139)
Alinsky reasoned that (a) the protest would ridicule the "prize cultural jewel" of the establishment; (b) it would be entirely legal, so "the law would be completely paralyzed" (p.139); (c) the protesters would enjoy the tactic (p.140).

But he also reasoned that the tactic was proof against the protesters getting cold feet: "But we knew that the baked beans would compel them physically to go through with the tactic regardless of how they felt" (p.141). And here's the striking contradiction in Alinsky's book: yes, its advice involves manipulating the establishment and public opinion, but it also involves manipulating the communities Alinsky organizes. It's a rather pragmatic book, ostensibly bent toward empowering the "Have-Nots," but in implementation it involves empowering the community organizer the most, leading eventually to his or her relinquishment of the reins to the movement leaders.

Rules for Radicals has been in the news a bit lately. Alinsky has been credited as an influence on Barack Obama, who served as a community organizer himself and later wrote a chapter in the edited collection After Alinsky. More recently, freelance investigators on the right have adopted Alinsky's tactics, bringing heat on the organization ACORN. So my interest was piqued, apparently along with everyone else's: I had to wait a while for UT's library to free up a copy.

The book is interesting and provocative, beginning with the dedication: "an over-the-shoulder acknowledgement to the very first radical ... Lucifer." Later, Alinsky compares the book to Machiavelli's The Prince, arguing that while that book was written for those in power, this book "is written for the Have-Nots on how to take [power] away" (p.3). Specifically, the problem is
how to create mass organizations to seize power and give it to the people; to realize the democratic dream of equality, justice, peace, cooperation, equal and full opportunities for education, full and useful employment, health, and the creation of those circumstances in which man can have the chance to live by values that give meaning to life. (p.3)
This is not an ideological book, he argues (p.4) (and perhaps Breitbart's Big Government is a testament to how the book's tactics can be applied by different ideologies). Indeed, Alinsky seems to assume that transferring power to the Haves is a context-free plus, and he frames the struggle as a simple contest between Haves (and their allies, the Have-a-Little-Want-Mores) and the Have-Nots. In this way, Alinsky is a more limited thinker than Machiavelli, who addressed multiple power centers with competing interests and alliances. Alinsky also sweeps under the rug the obvious next question, which is what to do when the Have-Nots are successful in taking power away - becoming the Haves - or when evenly matched groups take each other on.

In fact, Alinsky's musings on the nature of power itself are unfocused, making a hash out of the term, eventually exclaiming that "life without power is death; a world without power would be a ghostly wasteland, a dead planet!" (p.53). These musings are hardly great philosophy, but that's all right: Alinsky's genius is not in philosophy nor in ideology, but in amoral bare-knuckle political tactics.

Although the "rules" that have been popularly cited reside in the chapter "Tactics," let's start with the earlier rules of Means and Ends in the chapter "Means and Ends." These rules purport to be descriptive of all conflict rather than prescriptive, and they include the following:
  1. "one's concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one's personal interest in the issue" and "varies inversely with one's distance from the scene of the conflict" (p.26)
  2. "the judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment" (p.26)
  3. "in war the end justifies almost any means" (p.29)
  4. "judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point" (p.30)
  5. "concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa" (p.32). Side note: here, he tells a story in which he had the chance to "out" a gay opponent, and he refused to do so - but he declares that if that had been the only tactic he could have used, he would have done so "unreservedly" (p.33)
  6. "the less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means" (p.34)
  7. "generally success and failure is a mighty determinant of ethics" (p.34)
  8. "the morality of a means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory (p.34; Alinsky points to dropping the A-Bomb on Japan)
  9. "any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition to be unethical" (p.35)
  10. "do what you can with what you have and clothe it with moral garments" (p.36; he argues that Machiavelli's greatest weakness is his blindness to the necessity of moral garments, p.43)
Given these rules, which are taken as givens that all parties will follow and rationalize, Alinsky wants to put aside any pretense of strict ethics or morality and build strong organizations that will win. The name of the game is building a large organization - and here, Alinsky's approach is more like Maoist guerilla warfare than asymmetrical warfare. It shows its roots in the 1960s and 1970s (the book was written in 1973 and is sprinkled with slang of the time: "Who's the cat?" "What's his bag?" (p.98)). Alinsky argues strongly that single-issue organizations are by their nature small and transient, too small and transient to do much good; rather, community organizers should concentrate on building multi-issue organizations in which people support each others' goals (p.77). So the emphasis is on establishing the organizer as a feared adversary of the establishment (p.100), then crystallizing a core group that accumulates members through defining grievances and mutually supporting redress of those grievances (p.105). The only issue at the beginning of the movement is to bring in more recruits (p.113).

Alinsky warns that community organization is always preceded by community disorganization: attacking the prevailing patterns of organized living in the community (p.116). The function of the community organizer is to compel negotiation. "In the beginning the organizer's first job is to create the issues or problems," Alinsky tells us, clarifying that everyone has a plight, but "what the organizer does is to convert the plight into a problem," which is "something you can do something about" (p.119). And he acknowledges here that "in a highly mobile, urbanized society the word 'community' means community of interests, not physical community" (p.120). So the community organizer creates a problem, identifies or creates a community that shares it, crystallizes and organizes that community by disorganizing the current patterns governing the actors' relations, then grows the organization in a way that it learns - because "without the learning process, the building of an organization becomes simply the substitution of one power group for another" (p.125). In other words, Alinsky is describing something that sounds a lot like interessement.

A side note. Alinsky valorizes the community organizer considerably, and himself in particular. He tells a number of stories that follow this pattern: Alinsky meets with representatives of a community that are suspicious of him (Mexican-Americans in California, First Nation in Canada); he gratuitously insults them; they respect him because they believe he is treating them as equals rather than patronizing them. He exhorts would-be community organizers to do the same. And here's a key similarity that Rules for Radicals shares with The Prince: so much of this advice boils down to "it depends." How do you gratuitously insult your hosts while conveying that you are doing it because they are your equals? How do you apply tactics in a particular situation? Like Machiavelli, Alinsky puts forth a number of working principles, but doesn't - can't - provide hard guidance on how to implement them (see p.138).

And that brings us to the famous chapter on Tactics. "Tactics means doing what you can with what you have," Alinsky declares (p.127), and lists the now-famous rules:
  1. "Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have" (p.128)
  2. "Never go outside the experience of your people" (p.128)
  3. "Whenever possible go outside of the experience of your enemy" (p.128)
  4. "Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules" (p.128)
  5. "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon" (p.128)
  6. "A good tactic is one that your people enjoy" (p.128)
  7. "A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag" (p.128)
  8. "Keep the pressure on" (p.128)
  9. "The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself" (p.129)
  10. "The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition" (p.129)
  11. "If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside" (p.129; example: passive resistance)
  12. "The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative" (p.130)
  13. "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it" (p.130)
Here, sounding like George W. Bush, he quotes Christ: "He that is not with me is against me" (p.134). And he offers these points:
  • "The real action is in the enemy's reaction." (p.136)
  • "The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength" (p.136)
  • "Tactics, like organization, like life, require that you move with the action" (p.136)
The chapter winds down with miscellaneous advice. For instance, he advises that the organization should always have two or three stool pigeons for controlled leaks (p.147) and he encourages organizers to induce cannibalism among the Haves, since they will fight for power among themselves when the status quo is destabilized (p.149). He also encourages every organizer to do a stint in jail so that they can engage in reflection, synthesis, and philosophy - like a prophet in the wilderness (p.156). He confesses here that without such periods of isolation, he would not have been able to write a book.

Moving on, Alinsky comes to a new tactic about which he is rather excited. In "The Genesis of Tactic Proxy," he describes how he "[asked] Eastman Kodak stockholders to assign their proxies to the Rochester black organization or come to the stockholders' meeting and vote in favor of FIGHT [a relevant community organization]" (p.172). This tactic snowballed and became successful, not just for community organizations, but because it
showed a way for the middle class to organize. These people, the vast majority of Americans, who feel helpless in the corporate economy, who don't know which way to turn, have begun to turn away from America, to abdicate as citizens. They rationalize their action by saying that, after all, the experts and the government will take care of it all. They are like the Have-Nots who, when unorganized and powerless, simply resign themselves to a sad scene. Proxies can be the mechanism by which these people can organize, and once they are organized they will re-enter the life of politics. (p.178)
And Alinsky looks ahead to making this tactic work. "What will be required is a computerized operation that will quickly give (1) a breakdown of the holdings of any corporation, (2) a breakdown of holdings of other corporations that own shares in the target corporation, and (3) a breakdown of individual stock proxies in the target corporation and in the corporations" (p.180).

In sum, the book was fascinating. It has a lot of flaws, of course. For instance, its means-justifies-the-ends approach assumes a bipolar world in which the Have-Nots should always triumph - and it doesn't describe how to wind down a conflict or call a truce, how to compromise outside the organization, or how to develop a lasting settlement among competing organizations. Finally, its assumption that organizations must be big and multi-issue to make a difference is dated: the Zapatista netwar is one example of how many single-issue organizations can be temporarily networked to have a much bigger impact than they could have individually, but that didn't involve creating an umbrella organization, it involved leveraging communication technologies. Yet, like The Prince, this book provides a set of (take your pick: nasty, underhanded, effective pragmatic) tactics that I imagine will work.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Practicing UX in Austin

If you're in Austin and working in interaction design or user experience design, a former student of mine is starting a group for practicing your skills. First meeting is at Genuine Joe Coffeehouse this Monday. It sounds like a great opportunity to practice, to network, and to develop ideas.