Thursday, January 30, 2003

There are lies, damned lies and management textbooks. Some people actually do good work at management schools. For example, both Debora Spar and Steve Kobrin have done interesting work on the implications of e-commerce. But both of these are real social scientists, who maintain strong connections back to the field. People in management schools who write for the mass market, generally produce pretty foul stuff. As do people in management schools who write for academic management journals. When I was hunting for a job a couple of years ago, I joined the Academy of Management (the main professional organization) a couple of years back; I still get their journals in the mail every once in a while. The articles in them manage to be both completely frivolous and utterly tedious at the same time; a hard double act to pull off.
In true blogger fashion, I am going to sound off about something vaguely on-topic that annoys me; de-basing of the intellectual coin. Or the way business writers / management gurus pick up phrases from, e.g. political science, and use them in a really superficial way to explain that large category of human phenomena; The Bleedin Obvious. Here, from the Wharton School is a piece about how 'social capital' is a good thing in the workplace (from the employees' point of view) because it means employees' relationships with eachother are of value to many firms and lost when people are let go, so companies with higher 'social capital' are more likely to re-train than churn people during an economic down turn. No shit sherlock.

I'm not an enormous fan of Robert Putnam (I think social capital is less decisive and less benevolent than he claims), but I pity the poor man whose defining contribution is reduced, by management-speak to the following; "What is social capital? It’s a tight network of relationships within a workplace, Cappelli says. “It’s where you and I work together in ways that are idiosyncratic enough that we need to know a lot about each other. Imagine dancers. There, the social capital is significant. In order to perform well, dancers have to understand their partners’ personalities and movements.”

Do we really need big (albeit fashionable) ideas to tell us that widget makers are more easily fired in tough times and later replaced than creatives?
Are ideas much use at all when dragged out of the rich network of inter-related references and context of their birth into the arid churn of management-speak? ;-)
How many other examples are there of this phenomenon? I can think of 'groupthink' as another trendy catch phrase that went from the political science literature to the mainstream and even more quickly back to obscurity. Anyone talking about US trade policy in the Uruguay round was overcome at the cleverness of playing a 'two level game' (another Putnam innovation).

These expressions, or this sort of meme, share the characteristics of being novel, intuitively easy to grasp, and explaining a lot less than they seem to. Just like memetics then.

by the way, an unintentionally good resource on EU member states' policies and aspirations on data retention is Report of the European Council of Justice Ministers on EU member state data retention policies This is the findings of a questionnaire sent by the Council of Ministers (Justice and Home Affairs - JHA) to member states last summer. It was leaked in late November and published by, amongst others, the Radical Party MEP Marco Cappato. this link is to the Finnish EFF though.
Just a couple of links I meant to add yesterday - stupid work computer won't let me access blogger;

Story in the UK Guardian about wiretap warrants having doubled under Labour, even though new counting methods greatly under-state the actual number. The current number per year is 3427, more than double the average during WWII. A lot of fuss is often made of the fact that the UK has an Interception Commissioner to scrutinise this stuff - fewer people seem to know that the role consists of one person (a senior judge) who, according to reports in Parliament a year or so ago, doesn't even have the administrative support to open envelopes, let alone oversee the functioning of a national surveillance system.

This story also mentions the publication by the UK All Parliamentary Internet Group of its report following an inquiry just before Christmas into communications data retention and access in the UK. Here is the definitive PC Plod position - 'retaining data on the communications of the entire population is absolutely essential, whatever the cost to privacy and to communication service providers. But, no, we don't want to pay for it.' or words to that effect.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

It looks as though Maria and I will be doing a panel (with others as yet to be announced) on data retention at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in New York. Most blogwatchers probably know what this is - for those who don't, it's the annual gathering of the Great, the Good and the Hairy of hackerdom/infotech policy. Neither of us have ever been to one of these before - more as this unfolds.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

By the way, a generally good though sometimes inconsistent resource on goings on in the european 3rd pillar is statewatch

dipping the toes in.

I'm one of Henry's sisters. Having followed big brother into at least half of my big interests (SF, dodgy music, political ecomony, & various issues of how governments interact with the internet), I'm going to take part in this blog with him too.

Full disclosure. Hmm. Well, obviously Irish too, but not an academic. I work on these internet related issues from the public policy perspective - I work for a trade association based in Europe and I cover e-business policy issues. And I think my personal interests / obsessions will probably manifest themselves as this blog goes on.

the main issue I'm interested in at the moment is traffic data retention, in the European context primarily. here is a document I helped write about a year ago, chapter 5 explains what traffic data retention is and gives some ideas about how the issue was playing out in the UK context early last year.

Clearly this issue has human rights implications - not least regarding Article 8 of the European Human Convention on Human rights. Essentially, my take on this issue is that governments need to be able to effectively investigate and prosecute crime and gather intelligence. However, the current political context means that adequate safeguards and protections are being over looked, and law enforcement / justice and home affairs ministries are making a power grab in a sometimes rather opportunistic fashion. Meanwhile, within the EU, there are some really significant developments happening in the 3rd Pillar - the decision-making structure for Justice and Home Affairs policy - which seem to be tending towards greater co-operation and less accountability. Traffic data retention is one part of that trend.

Well, that's just a brief summary of what I'm working on right now. While I personally worry about what's happening in electronic surveillance, I think it's also a fascinating issue which throws into relief some very interesting things happening at the institutional level in the EU. I'm doing a conference presentation on this issue in a few weeks time so I'll be posting my thoughts on that as we go along, and hopefully big bro may have some dazzling theoretical insights to add to the mix. cheers.