Steve Cooke

measuring the boundaries of our nation by the sun


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Anatomy of a terrible social sciences paper

For various reasons I’ve been reading a considerable number of social sciences papers broadly falling within the fields of global political economy, human geography, sociology, and political science. A disappointingly large number of these papers have been so astonishingly woeful I’ve begun to doubt the value of peer review. On the plus side, that also means that publishing is must be easier than many people think. As a public service, I thought I’d lay out how you too might write in a way that seems popular right now. Maybe it will help you get published too.

1. Begin with the claim that gender, race, or class has been insufficiently analysed as a factor relevant to the understanding of X. With luck, this will be the first paper on the subject of X that your reader has read, so they won’t know just how many papers in the field make the same claim.

2. Pepper your paper with undefended normative claims. Treat egalitarianism is self-evidently synonymous with justice. Assume egalitarianism means equal distribution of resources.

3. Anthropomorphise any structural elements of your analysis in order to attribute intentions and agency to class, global capitalism, liberalism or whatever.

4. In the mid-point of your paper, reveal yourself as a Marxist. Whatever factor you initially identified as under-analysed turns out to really be the material base of global capitalism.

5. Assert that neo-liberalism is terrible. Leave a definition of neoliberalism and argument for your claim for another day.

6. Surprise! In your conclusion, include an utterly unsignposted and unexpected new claim, but, don’t bother to really justify it.

7. Finish with a request for funding in the form of an assertion that more analysis is needed. Of course more analysis is needed, the one made in the paper is terrible.


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The Animal Court: animal ethics and political theory in 18th century Japan

animal court coverI’ve been doing so preliminary research into Japanese approaches to animal and environmental ethics. In many respects this has been something of a frustrating exercise. However, along the way I’ve discovered The Animal Court by Ando Shoeki, which is proving a real pleasure to read (my copy is a translation by Jeffrey Hunter). Shoeki’s work, written in the 18th century, is a rather biting satire directed at Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism. The book recounts various discussions held in each of the animal kingdoms (birds, beasts, crawling creatures, and fish), where the animals discuss how awful humans are. In one passage, he likens the Nichiren Buddhists to the Bird of Paradise, who says ‘I eat nothing but air, and do nothing but fart.’ Ouch.

Shoeki’s work is interesting for a political theorist and animal ethicist because, woven into the story, are interesting bits of normative moral philosophy (although his metaphysics is utterly bonkers). In the first chapter, he criticises the three religions above for depending upon exploitative labour relations and for exhibiting vices of greed, selfishness, and ignorance. And, he makes a claim, reminiscent of social contract theorists, that humans are born equal and thus no one possesses a natural right to rule: ‘among humankind there are no divisions into superior and inferior, noble and lowly, rich and poor.’ The three religions, he writes, have created social structures that have moved people away from their naturally virtuous selves, making them behave as animals and live in exploitative hierarchical structures. Here, I was reminded of Rousseau’s theory of human nature. Within the chapter are claims about the wrongness of inequality (because it brings suffering and exploitation), and about the badness of wars (with an implicit claim that those outside of national borders are worthy of moral concern). There’s even a notion of false consciousness sitting alongside the complaints about exploitation (only a century before Marx).

The chapter finishes by claiming that people who capture and keep millions of birds are evil. He writes: ‘What can they be thinking that they fail to understand how it would feel if they were put in the cage, if their wife and children were put in cages, and taken to be sold! No, they do not deserve to be regarded as human beings.’ In other words, to be human is to be able to empathise with non-human animals and treat them with respect and compassion.

Shoeki wasn’t exactly influential in Japanese ethical thought, which is a shame, but he provides a promising vein of thought to draw upon for contemporary theorising. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book..


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Post-doc position in animal studies, Queen’s University Canada

Queen’s University in Canada is currently advertising the post-doc position below – it’s a great opportunity for scholar interested in animal studies to work with Will Kymlicka (who’s asked me to publicise the postdoc). Last year’s fellow was Zipporah Weisenberg – you can see details of her research here: http://www.queensu.ca/philosophy/People/postdocs.html

THE ABBY BENJAMIN POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP IN ANIMAL STUDIES

The Department of Philosophy at Queen’s University invites applications for the Abby Benjamin Postdoctoral Fellowship in Animal Studies. This is a one-year non-renewable 12-month fellowship. The successful applicant will have a demonstrated expertise in animal ethics, law and public policy, show evidence of teaching potential, and be able to participate constructively in departmental and collegial activities. While we interpret animal ethics, law and public policy broadly, and welcome applications from various disciplines that study human-animal relations including political science, law, philosophy, sociology, geography, and environmental studies, we are looking in particular for research that critically examines the moral, legal and political dimensions of how human-animal relations are governed. A recipient of the Fellowship is expected to reside in Kingston, to teach a University course in animal studies, and to collaborate in developing initiatives related to the promotion of the analysis and understanding of animal rights (such as workshops, conferences, public lectures, etc.) The Fellow will work under the supervision of Prof. Will Kymlicka. The 2014-15 fellowship will start on July 1, 2014. Applicants must have submitted their doctoral dissertation by that date, and must be within five years of having received their doctorate. The salary for the postdoctoral fellowship will be $40,000, which includes remuneration for teaching a half-course in animal ethics or a cognate subject. Applications are due by February 1st, 2014. The fellowship is one of several new initiatives regarding Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law and Ethics at Queen’s. For more information, visit http://www.queensu.ca/philosophy/Jobs.html, or contact Prof. Kymlicka (kymlicka@queensu.ca).


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Measuring the boundaries of our nation by the sun

When I first started this blog I needed a pretext to get writing. I forced my self to write by working through a few of those big philosophy books we all buy and then only read snippets of, and then writing reflections on those readings. I learned a lot doing this, but it turned out that writing summaries of other people’s summaries wasn’t all that interesting. I chose the blog’s title (The Thrifty Philosopher) on the basis that I was making good use of the things picking up dust on my bookshelf. I’d like to spend more time writing about my research, my teaching, and current affairs, so I think it’s time to change the name. I also need a full-time job (I’m having to be far too thrifty with more than just my book collection for my own liking right now), so I’m going to advertise myself whilst doing my best to live the life of theõria.

The strapline is from a quote from Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca: ‘measure the boundaries of our nation by the sun. Seneca was a cosmopolitan and his quote entreats us to give ethical consideration to all humans regardless of national boundaries. Seneca wasn’t just a cosmopolitan, he was also a vegetarian (at least until he feared people would think that made him a Christian and so persecute him for it). Given that I’ve written on a cosmopolitan approach to animal rights the quote seems fitting: you can read my paper on a cosmopolitan animal rights theory here: Perpetual Strangers: Animals and the Cosmopolitan Right.


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Getting the most out of Google for academic research

Many students (and academics) waste time and get frustrated because they aren’t using search engines like Google as well as they could. In a previous life I worked for many years as a web developer and lecturer in web design, so I’ve learned a few tricks when it comes to researching on the web. Rather than keep them all to myself, I’ve created a little online guide to help you find what you need quicker and easier. The link below will teach you how to access some powerful features of Google and get the most out of search engines for your research.

search-icon-mdHappy Googling!


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Animal Rights and Environmental Terrorism

My paper ‘Animal Rights and Environmental Terrorism’ just been published in the Journal of Terrorism Research. In the paper, I argue that not only are many paradigmatic, putative acts of animal rights and environmental terrorism such as illegal animal liberation and tree-spiking not terrorism at all, but also that even those that are terrorism may justified nevertheless (or at least are not straightforwardly wrongful). In the paper, I also lay out a taxonomy of animal rights/environmental direct action, separating acts into civil disobedience, rescue acts, sabotage, and terrorism.

The Journal is Open Access and operates with a Creative Commons licence, so there’s no pay-wall to negotiate. Link: http://ojs.st-andrews.ac.uk/index.php/jtr/article/view/532

The paper was written while I was employed as the Society for Applied Philosophy‘s 30th Anniversary Research Fellow, so thanks are due to them for funding my research.

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