Gaining the Attention of the Wider World

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Gaining the Attention of the Wider World

Postby tsbrennan » Thu Sep 01, 2016 9:49 pm

My name is Sean Brennan. I'm not an academic, I'm a lawyer whose work involves writing bills in a variety of subject areas. I also teach English to adult immigrants to the U.S., working as a volunteer through a local community college. So how did I come to hear about Capital as Power? Well, my route was long and circuitous. I was a political science major as an undergrad and was exposed to Marxist theory then. I found it generally persuasive, but had no way to apply it to anything in the rest of my life, so I simply kept the analytical outlook as an aid to understanding the world and went on with other studies and other career plans. Cut to years later, when I wanted to get a master's degree in education so that I could teach my adult students more effectively. In the course of getting that degree, I began reading the history of education and learned about the racism and classism that attended the birth of public education in the U.S. That led me to a more focused inquiry into the origins of racism, which in turn led in relatively short order to a re-examination of classism with an updated analytical understanding, then to a look at neoliberalism and its origins and finally, to a fortuitous reading of Bechler and Nitzan's Capital as Power courtesy of the website

All well and good you say, but so what?

Well, I was instantly excited and persuaded by the Capital as Power perspective (though not without reservations -- I think there are a number of conceptual holes that need to be filled, but that's a discussion for another time). I also wondered why it took me so long to find out about this new perspective. A few weeks ago, I wondered why it should be so hard for *anybody* to find out about this new perspective.

And so I have a proposal. With the upcoming CasP Conference, I think there's an opportunity to talk about praxis. I know that's been an occasionally contentious topic in CasP studies, but as an outsider, I think it's a necessary component of developing a sociological theory and that, given Jonathan Nitzen's stated goal of having a decentralized and at least partially nonacademic set of research centers dedicated to fleshing out the CasP theoretical framework, I think it's essential. Realizing that goal means spreading the word about CasP outside the academy and trying to enlist a range of researchers, thinkers, activists and others in not just developing the CasP framework but also, ideally, applying it. Testing it empirically.

The initial form of praxis that I have in mind is simply to spread the CasP perspective outside the academy through a podcast. Why a podcast? Because podcasts are still growing in popularity, are widely available, are cheap to produce and distribute, are completely free of any restrictions on what you can and can't say and can take a wide variety of forms. The kind of podcast I have in mind should accomplish a number of things:

1. It must explain the ideas of Capital as Power in an easily digestible manner. It's important to not oversimplify, "dumb down" or distort the ideas or to get too cutesy or trendy (as I think was the case for a podcast that the New Economics Foundation produced called "A Beginner's Guide to Neoliberalism"). Instead, the podcast should explain CasP in a way that is approachable but not overly academic. There would need to be a few segments of introduction to explain the approach and how it differs in particular from our shared popular cultural understand of how "economics" works (that's where most listeners will be conceptually), and also how CasP is not Marxism. After that, perhaps it can start laying out the evidence for CasP, delving into the history of capitalism, how capital as power manifests itself in visible power structures in society, why CasP is a valuable way to look at how our society works, etc. There are many, many possible ways to structure this, but it absolutely *must* have a structure that is easy to follow. It would be a popularization, not an academic treatise for specialists.

2. It must tell a story. Listeners need a reason to keep listening, so having an episodic structure will help them follow the ideas and keep them coming back to hear more. Each episode should end with a "hook" and preview of coming attractions to keep listeners coming back. This could be in the form of a narrative history, chronological or otherwise, or another way of connecting topics together from episode to episode.

3. It must be "slick," but not *too* slick. By that I mean it should be scripted in advance, well produced, with breaks at appropriate points, musical transitions, sound effects if and when needed, and very tight editing. The kind of wandering and aimless talk you get on many YouTube channels and many podcasts doesn't hold listener attention. Listener time and attention is limited, and listeners will want the show to get to the point quickly and effectively. The podcast or broadcast should aim to sound at least as good as your average NPR or CBC news or chat show, but it should not aim to be another This American Life or Radiolab or something else that might come off as gimmicky.

4. It should be varied, with different voices and different perspectives. It should include interviews with academics and other practitioners in the field. It should also provide for some means with which listeners can interact with the show -- perhaps by calling in (if it's a broadcast, for example) or by leaving recorded questions on a voicemail system that can be replayed and answered during the course of the podcast. Perhaps it would include interviews with ordinary people about their jobs and how capital and power manifest themselves in peoples' lives. It might be useful to have an occasional civil debate between proponents and opponents of the Capital as Power perspective or among adherents of the Capital as Power perspective who have differing takes on a given issue. Listeners shouldn't see CasP as some sort of Sermon from the Mount, but rather as something they can understand, interact with, critique and apply to their own lives and situations.

5. Taking the previous point into account, I think it would probably work best to have a single host or a duo (male and female to make differentiating among the voices easy) for all of the episodes. Listeners need an anchor that can help them become familiar with the podcast as a show -- as an ongoing presentation with trusted guides to take them through this new world. The hosts should have engaging personalities and a delivery style that sounds relatively informal, I think. Having a consistent tone, editorial voice and identifiable personalities would make it easier for listeners to relate to and identify with the podcast or broadcast.

6. It should be relatively short. Episodic listening would be best. If it's a podcast, it might tax listeners' attention if each episode is longer than half an hour. People who start listening to podcasts often feel an obligation to listen to the end, but won't do so if the podcast is too long or too dull. If it's a broadcast show, it can be about an hour -- people will feel free to tune into and out of a broadcast in a way they might not when listening to a podcast. That said, it might also be worth producing a "season" at a time for those inclined to "binge listen" (assuming it ends up being that riveting to listen to).

7. It should have some call to action. At first, that can mean directing listener attention to the BN archives to find out more, but later on there might be other calls to action, such as forming Meetup groups in various cities to get people treating the podcast and the ideas as something they can discuss among themselves. The call for additional CasP research centers might start with something like this -- people who are interested in the topic getting together and figuring out how to use these ideas constructively. From there, perhaps other possibilities will present themselves.

The biggest challenge in all of this will be getting any kind of attention in an already overcrowded podcast and broadcast market. That's why I think it's essential for a podcast or broadcast to stand out for not just the quality of the ideas, but also the quality of the production.

Obviously this would require a lot of collaboration and coordination among a range of people, but I think the effort would be worth it. I don't know what general opinion on this question would be, however, so that's the reason for the post -- is it premature to do this? Is it useful? Is it workable?

I know all of us, particularly the academics among us, already feel as though we have a lot on our plates, but I think that if we can brainstorm on this proposal during or after the conference, we can come up with a number of good ideas and ways to share the burden of producing a good podcast. Ideally it would be an ongoing project, updated frequently (at least monthly, if not more often) with segments that highlight new research, call attention to new papers, share stories of new people brought into the CasP fold, etc. I have a broadcast background from more than a decade hosting a music show on the radio in Portland, Oregon, so I have some skills I can bring to the table in hosting and production. Others will undoubtedly bring a menu of useful skills with them as well. In Portland, there is also a community radio station, KBOO, that could potentially be persuaded to broadcast a show like this proposed podcast. This is something I would be happy to look into if there is sufficient support for the idea.

So, thoughts?

Thanks very much for your attention to this long post.

Sean Brennan
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Re: Gaining the Attention of the Wider World

Postby stanr » Fri Sep 02, 2016 11:20 pm


Very interesting, thanks for this. I've been thinking about a social science podcast for years, one aimed at interviewing researchers who are doing what I consider theory near the core of the social sciences. Power is definitely one of those "forces" that is core social science theory. I've studied social power extensively throughout the literature of the social sciences and I've been trying to put most of my spare time into developing a framework for social power. I'm saying this not because I want to use to show to talk about my view, but because I could come up with a list of podcast guests--very solid academics--across social science disciplines. I mean right now, I could give you a list, that all touch on power in key ways.

Full disclosure: my interest in CasP is as one piece of a much larger map of power theory, and power theory as one aspect of core social science theory. However, CasP is one of the only places where researchers of an economics bent seem to have the guts to actually look at economics as a zero-sum game as a core consideration, and to see how that makes sense of the facts. Everywhere else economists like to pretend that since technology or quality-adjusted-life-years go up (for some) across the state spaces of the real sociopolitical simulation we're all living in, that means any particular state isn't zero-sum. Or they just very politely ignore the zero-sum nature of things because it's just too radical to utter. Perhaps I'm being unfair to Post-Keynesians. I could certainly interview a few and ask them.

You really laid your proposal out on the table, and I like that. And I appreciate it. I mean, you didn't do it for me, but I appreciate the honesty and transparency. While I think we should collaborate, I don't agree with all the points of your podcast proposal. Just to be specific: I'm not big on calls to action; plenty of those already. CasP-related researchers are great, but in my view, CasP shouldn't be the focus. I know, that's sort of ridiculous considering the forum I'm posting in. I want to make sure that we include lesser-known top-notch researchers doing good stuff, across the social sciences, and harder-science stuff if possible. It would be interesting to see what guests had to say about creating kernels of CasP-friendly research. I know with the PKEs out of UMKC I've heard several podcasts where it was really clear they had to keep their economics under wraps. It would certainly be fun to have a podcast where people from those groups, and others like the heterodox crew out of UMass Amherst, give their thoughts on how academics can seed those institutions. You know they think about it.

If you have a broadcast background, and are still in the Portland area (as I am), we can begin this sooner than later. And by this, I mean a podcast on the social sciences that starts with a (potentially very extensive) series on power that will include CasP. (Btw, Troy Cochrane interviewed Nitzan, and the podcast is in the archives somewhere.) I would actually start with someone like Jennifer Overbeck, if she was willing, because she wrote the overview of power theories that begins The Social Psychology of Power, a collection of papers from across social science. However, I would be more willing to compromise on my vision of such a thing to be guided in podcasting and set to pursue something more core-social-science-theory down the road. I think I'd be a good host, if I could work on my vocal variety a bit. I was once asked if I'd be an anchorman, and I have been working on public speaking.

Hit me up through private message, let's have a drink, if you're in the area still.

Everyone else that isn't Sean:

I made that a public reply because it seems more sensible than doing it privately.

I'm not really "one of you" but it seems to me that having some mainstream social science, that has some conceptual link with CasP, could do a lot to bring the best qualities of CasP into the minds of young researchers (and also, the growing "knowledge worker" set). This is even true of "less compatible" more mainstream economics. Let's say you're doing institutional economics related to the management of some common with public-private partnerships. It still seems like considering CasP is going to make for better research, even if the perspective isn't as CasP-ish as some of the researchers here.

It seems, to me, to make such a podcast CasP-focused would be straying a bit into making it seem ideological. That might also make it seem less credible. Overall, it might lead to the wrong selection pressure: the skeptical don't give it a fair shake, and the more "glommy" use it more like an answer to a question than an important method of questioning. (And to be fair, how many core tenets of the framework could everyone here actually agree on? I suspect it's best not to dwell on that until more people are trying to apply it.)

Please let me know if I'm full of crap here. Sorry for the long post.
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Re: Gaining the Attention of the Wider World

Postby tdimuzio » Sat Sep 03, 2016 10:07 pm

Sounds like a great idea Sean - we can discuss further at the conference.

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Re: Gaining the Attention of the Wider World

Postby DT Cochrane » Sun Sep 04, 2016 7:05 am

Thank you for putting so much thought into this matter, Sean.

I think it is a good idea. We definitely need to be exploring more ways to get people's attention. Unfortunately, you note the main issue right off the bat: lack of time. This is merely compounded by a lack of expertise in audio matters. We're currently having a difficult time putting posts into the blog on a regular basis. The idea of regularly producing a podcast is well beyond my current abilities.

If you decide to move forward with this, I am more than happy to contribute and participate. But I certainly could not take any kind of lead.
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Re: Gaining the Attention of the Wider World

Postby tsbrennan » Wed Oct 05, 2016 2:18 am

First off, I'd like to thank everybody who participated in the discussion about the idea of doing a podcast during the last conference session. It was gratifying not only to see the level of support that the idea has attracted but also to hear so many thoughtful and useful suggestions for how such a podcast might come about and how it could be structured. I know that we'll have a video record of the discussion available at some point, but I would very much appreciate it if those who contributed to the discussion could post their suggestions and comments, along with any amplifications or refinements they would like to make, about the topic.

For me, the next step is to post a simple and very high-level outline of what I would anticipate as the "introduction" episodes for a CasP podcast -- a series that would introduce the CasP framework to a potential audience and prepare the ground for future episodes that would discuss more specific applications, especially applications based on findings from various CasP researchers.

Thus far, the suggestions for structuring the introductory episodes (and perhaps later episodes) have focused on two general lines of thinking, the first of which Suhail raised during the discussion and the second of which Jonathan proposed in a later discussion we had.

Suhail's suggestion was to structure each episode around a question that an audience member might have or that a subject might have raised during a research project in order to make the episode immediately relevant to listeners, under the supposition that the listener or subject could stand in for or represent the audience and the likely questions a typical audience member might have.

Jonathan's suggestion was that the podcast tell a story that revolves around the steps that he and Shimshon took in first posing, then gradually finding answers to, questions they had with regard to how the economic world actually worked.

I think both approaches have merit and would help listeners relate to the framework in ways that an academic discussion of the issues and ideas would not. But I certainly welcome other suggestions and would very much appreciate everybody who contributed to the discussion at the conference also memorializing that contribution here in the forum. I'd also like those who were not able to be there for the discussion to weigh in with your own ideas and approaches.

I'm particularly interested in hearing from people who can contribute time, energy, expertise and anything else that would make a podcast like this successful, since this could not possibly be a one-person or even two- or three-person effort. I know most people have other commitments and most people who have expressed interest so far have just as quickly declined taking a lead role in the project. Hopefully, however, once we get the ball rolling, we can attract a critical mass of people to make it work.

I think, as I said during the conference discussion, that a pre-production lead time of a year would be realistic, after which time we'd be ready to begin producing episodes in earnest. I would foresee spending time during the next year on tasks like these:

1. Researching what is involved in producing a successful podcast, including production, distribution and marketing. There is plenty of information about this and I don't anticipate this would take long.

2. Deciding on a structure for the introductory episodes and outlining the content that we hope to include in those episodes.

3. Deciding on a structure for future episodes (those after the introductory episodes) and outlining content for those episodes as well. This would include trying to assemble various research projects and their findings into a coherent whole that would lend itself to a narrative.

4. Outlining each episode iteratively in more and more detail and finally beginning to draft scripts for each episode, along with any relevant production notes.

5. Circulating the outlines and scripts for review, fact-checking, vetting for general accuracy, and similar editing. Here we would need a reliable group of well-versed volunteers -- ideally those who have the necessary expertise, time, energy and commitment to follow through in adherence to reasonable deadlines.

6. Beginning production -- choosing and rehearsing voice talent, recording and assembling interviews, inserts, host segments, music, sound effects and the like.

This would be the barest and roughest outline of the direction we'd like to take over the next year. I'm sure there will be many more details that will become apparent in coming weeks and months.

I hope this gives an accurate depiction of what we discussed. Please feel to chime in with additions, corrections, amendments and the like. I look forward to hearing from everybody.


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Re: Gaining the Attention of the Wider World

Postby Jonathan Nitzan » Sat Oct 08, 2016 3:24 pm

The following working paper and radio interview offer a useful summary of the CasP project and its analytical underpinnings. Perhaps they can help in conceptualizing the CasP podcast series:

Article: "The CasP Project: Past, Present, Future" (2015)

Radio interview with CS Soong: "Rethinking Capital" (2012)

Jonathan Nitzan
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Re: Gaining the Attention of the Wider World

Postby max gr » Sat Oct 22, 2016 10:43 pm

Hi Sean,

For the sake of memorialization, my input in the discussion was as following:
I think the podcast is a good idea and hopefully I could find a way to contribute at some stage along the way.
In general, thinking about the potential audiance and relevancy of the subject, it might be good to orient the talks toward specific socio-political issues and struggles with which CasP research has direct connection. To tap into resistance and demonstrate the potential of the approach as a tentative base for a full political project (in a wide sense).
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Re: Gaining the Attention of the Wider World

Postby max gr » Sat Oct 29, 2016 11:50 am

It looks like Steve Keen just got his own new podcast. First 2 episodes and a few hundred downloads already. Though not so impressive content wise, in my opinion. They're keeping it short and dumb down for now.
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Re: Gaining the Attention of the Wider World

Postby tsbrennan » Mon Oct 31, 2016 4:49 pm


Thank you very much for your last two replies -- they've been very helpful to me as I continue to think about what next steps should be for a podcast. I do want to assure people who were reading about this idea and people who contributed to it at the conference (particularly Jonathan, who has had a previous experience with someone who offered to bring more attention to CasP, then subsequently disappeared, never to be heard from again) that I am continuing to work on it. Unfortunately, when I returned from the conference, more than 70 draft requests were waiting for me on my desk at work, which will keep me pretty busy until about mid-December, after which I should have a short break.

But, as I said, I'm continuing to think about it. I would like to try to produce an overall outline for the project that maps out the direction I hope we can head in, but when I last started to do that, what emerged instead was more of an introductory narrative, a fragment of what I imagine would become a longer script. I'm reproducing it below mainly as a way of giving a bit of a voice to the kind of narrative tone I have in mind. But I'm not entirely happy with it myself, so I'm sure it would change quite a bit in its final form. I think this would require a bit more rigor and research, for one thing, and I definitely want to avoid making it "dumb," as Max described another podcast and as I described a podcast about neoliberalism that I mentioned in an earlier post.

Given the shallow know-nothingness that has characterized most of this election year in the US, I think a CasP podcast is more necessary than ever. People really do need a reliable and well-constructed framework with which to intelligently evaluate and discuss what is happening to them and their societies.

In any case, poor as the effort has been thus far, here's a partial draft of what might serve as an introduction to the series. It's incomplete and would need to be revised, and it doesn't really point to the longer arc that the podcast series would embody. I would welcome any comments about its tone and accuracy and any suggestions for improvement. For example, is this something you think you'd want to continue listening to? That you think anybody you know would want to listen to if they were not already familiar with CasP?

I hope to spend more time on this when I get a chance to breathe a bit more...

Thanks very much,



We begin with a question.

It's a simple question, but an important one. It's one of those kinds of questions that nobody seems to think to ask because the answer seems obvious. Or settled, in that everybody thinks this question was answered a long time ago.

The question is, "What is capital?"

Already I hear you saying, first, who cares? What kind of question is that? *This* is the question you want to begin a podcast with?

OK, so maybe it's not on the same level as "What is life?" or "Why are we here?" - two more of those simple yet important questions that people might think to ask from time to time, but probably not every day.

But when you think about it, the question is actually important. Really important. Not so much because it will give you the answers to life, the universe and everything, but because there hasn't been a good answer to the question "what is capital" in the more than 200 years that we have used the term to refer to something elemental in the way we organize our society. What we produce and consume. How we distribute and allocate resources. Who gets to be rich. And who has to be poor.

But now I hear you say, sure we do. We all know what capital is. It's what we learned in our high school or college economics class, or what we read in the business section of the newspaper when it talks about things like "capital-intensive" industries - it's factories, it's machinery, robots and whatnot, it's all of those basic things you need in industry to produce things to sell. If it's a farm we're talking about, it's things like land, seed stock, farm equipment, tractors, harvesters and all that stuff. Even today, when we produce things like services and software more than ships and steel, it's still all the spaces, equipment and raw materials you need to make each of those things. What's the big mystery?

Well, it turns out that your high school or college textbook might have skipped over a few things on the way toward settling the question of just what capital is.

For one thing, there's history. About 300 years or so ago, when people talked about capital --and by people, I mean merchants, the kind of people who would trundle large bundles of goods from one place to sell somewhere else -- when these people talked about capital they usually meant something like money. Just money, nothing more. Money that you could invest in some venture like, say, building a ship and sailing it to a distant port in India to bring back cotton that you could then sell in a market in London or Lisbon. Because those were really the only people, apart from kings or aristocrats, who really talked about or concerned themselves with capital. It was money you had on hand to invest in the hope of getting a good return, a profit, which meant more money to invest, and so on, until someday, barring war, piracy, theft, bad weather, spoilage or the thousands of other risks that went into long-distance trade in those days, you got rich and retired to some country estate.

So, mystery solved, right? Capital is money to invest. Money buys all those other things we talked about earlier, like land, factories, machinery and the like, so what the merchants were talking about was just the first stage of all that, the first step in a process that today ends up producing everything from soybeans to iPhones.

Well, not exactly. You've probably heard of Adam Smith, the author usually credited with coming up with the familiar phrase "the invisible hand of the market" to describe how all of us, pursuing all of our separate interests somehow manage to produce an abundance that benefits all of society. Well, among his other innovations in thinking about what we call the economy today, Adam Smith changed how we thought about what capital is. He was among the first to use the term capital to describe those factors of production that we talked about earlier, the land, the factories, the machines. Smith broke away from the way that merchants had been thinking about and describing what they had in mind when they talked about capital. For Smith, it wasn't money to invest, it was the factors of production themselves that were capital.

It turns out that this was actually a bigger and more important distinction than it seems....

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