Saturday, December 13, 2014

Field Notes

[Updated with new URL]

I haven't paid much attention to this blog, lately. I am likely to come back around to it, from time to time, but I'm now shifting my attention to a new website/blog: "Field Notes of an Experiential Ethicist" -

I'll pick up some of the themes from this page, but range much more widely in identifying particular ethical values in particular circumstances, and I'll have a lot more to say about teaching and learning.

You can also follow me on Twitter @EthicsNotes

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Origin Myth

I returned to the spoken-word open-mic, this past Sunday, with a piece I wrote on July 4, 2014.

It picks up on themes already taken up in this blog, starting with my response to Wendy Brown's book, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs - which I review here and here - and my subsequent discussion of the notion of self-sufficiency, here.

As post-apocalyptic narrative goes, I can't claim what I've done here is terribly original or ground-breaking. Really, it was just a chance to work through some things in a format other than academic prose or even prosaic blog posts.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


I've been trying something new, lately.

There is a spoken-word open-mic on Sunday evenings at a coffee shop a short walk from where I live. I attended a few times, then decided to try standing up and speaking something.

There are a number of things I've been trying to put into words - regarding ethics, teaching, urban sustainability, hope - that have eluded me when my aim has been to produce academic prose, or even blog posts.

I have discovered that if I turn sideways and address a different audience in a different form, I can begin to connect things together.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Oil Liberation!

A longtime friend posted a link on Facebook to an article bearing the headline:

Vast oil trove trapped in Monterey Shale formation 

The article describes the difficulty of extracting the oil while still turning a profit, with passing mention of some of the environmental and social concerns associated with the extraction processes that might be involved.

This is not a blog post about hydraulic fracturing, per se, but a brief comment on the use of language: the headline reveals a way of framing the meaning of shale oil that cuts off any debate about the advisability of extracting the oil before it can get started.

It comes down to a matter of metaphor.

To trap something is to confine or limit it when it would otherwise move freely.

To say the oil is trapped is to suggest that oil in its natural state is free. The oil would be free, could be free, and should be free but for the damned, cruel, oppressive shale formation holding it back!

What's proposed then is not "fracking" - such an unpleasant word, "fracking" - it's Oil Liberation!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Value Compression

I have been reading an account of a research project in urban planning, an effort to develop a more adequate model of human travel behavior in response to particular urban forms.

As part of the pilot test for the project, which ultimately involved a survey administered to a rigorously stratified sample distributed across a major world city, the researcher conducted interviews with a number of city residents selected from the same sample. The idea was to refine the survey instrument to capture more subtle gradations in travel behavior.

As the researcher described it, the interview subjects seemed eager to tell their own stories of living in and moving through the city and, according to the researcher's account, some became quite animated in the telling.

But the researcher had taken a particular attitude toward the subjects, and the theory to which the researcher appealed made very specific, very stringent demands as to the kind of data that would be acceptable.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Urban Apocalypse!

Coming back around to the ethics of metropolitan growth, I have just submitted the abstract of a new paper for an urban affairs conference next year. It draws together some earlier threads from this blog and incorporates some further threads from the work I've been doing lately in curriculum development.

(More on that curriculum work another time.)

Here is the abstract:

or, What We Can Learn from Imagining the End of the City

It is not difficult to find stories about the end of the city. Weisman’s thought experiment, “The City Without Us,” is especially provocative, as is Kunstler’s tragic outlook for the next few hundred years; preppers produce guides for surviving the collapse of civilization, and any number of summer blockbusters have featured scenes of empty streets and crumbling buildings. But is there any real use in telling so many stories about the end of the city, aside from the illicit thrill of theoretical rubber-necking or any tactical advantage to be had from fear-mongering?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Transitory Places, part 3

Ethics in Transitory Places
What does it imply for the conservation project at Karori if the place in which it unfolds is, in some meaningful sense, transitory? What does the possibility of transitory places imply for projects in general, and for our evaluation of their means and ends? It seems to me there are at least three important lessons for environmental ethics to be derived from an acknowledgement that time and change can be unidirectional.

The first lesson is that the ends of the project at hand, not just its means, should be informed by a deep understanding of a particular place and the dynamics that shape it.  It may be obvious that the means for reaching a projects’ ends should be selected on the basis of what is available. That is just a matter of prudent, practical thinking. But that the ends should also be so shaped is less obvious. In this, the goals adopted by the Karori Sanctuary Trust are instructive.