Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Monthly Archives: August 2006

The Falling Man

Reading the news this morning, I stumbled across a review of Henry Singer’s documentary 9/11: The Falling Man, which centres on Richard Drew’s iconic, but apparently quickly suppressed, photograph of a person falling from the Twin Towers. Read more of this post

Planning History and Theory: Course Renewal

As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I taught an undergraduate History and Theory of Planning course last term – my own (somewhat rushed) design. This term, I’m teaching into the postgraduate version of the history and theory course, which now therefore shares many of the same readings and some of the organisational elements of the undergraduate version. As it happens, the postgraduate version is also due for “renewal”, and I’ve been offered a postgraduate student’s dream job: being paid to read, so that I can refresh the reading list and reconceptualise the organisation of concepts presented in the course. While I’m at it, I’ll also rethink the reading list for the undergraduate version, if only to make my life easier if I happen to be the one who teaches that course next time around…

Course readings are intended to be refreshed every few years but, in this case, the course renewal process is also driven by the introduction of a new postgraduate planning history course – the hope being that the history course can provide basic factual knowledge that will enable the theory course to delve into more complex territory when exploring the relationship between planning theory and the broader historical context.

If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to post them here. For reference, I’ve posted the undergraduate Course Guide and PowerPoints below the fold. (The postgrad syllabus and lectures aren’t “mine”, so I won’t reproduce those here.) My temptation is to use the historical structure of the undergraduate course in rethinking the postgraduate one – with perhaps a bit more “hard” philosophy at the outset to give a firmer understanding of core concepts – romanticism, liberalism, Enlightenment, capitalism, etc. – that can then be traced through the course. Read more of this post

For That, You Get a Gold Star!

I just sat down to my current stack of grading, and realised that my son must have found it some time yesterday. On one of the assignments – one that, as it happened, had received a high distinction – he has placed the sticker of a large gold star.

Bad Motherswyvere

One of the strangest reviews of Snakes on a Plane you’re likely to read (hat tip Scott Eric Kaufman at The Valve)… It begins, though, with the following warning for those of us who have not yet seen the film:

Spoyler alert: If ye haue nat yet sene the performaunce of ‘Serpentes on a Shippe,’ rede nat of the romaunce, for it doth telle of the manye suprises and straunge eventes that happen in the course of the storye, and thus it mayhap shall lessen yower enjoiement of the performaunce yt self.

Visit Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog: Serpentes on a Shippe! if you’d like to be spoiled…

Arsenic and New Homes

With the much-appreciated volunteer assistance of a colleague, I conducted a few pilot interviews in the Laurimar community centre yesterday, testing questions about the local knowledge and use of adult and child education facilities, child care services, travel patterns, and similar issues. This work will eventually feed into the development of a survey that will be administered in a more systematic fashion, in this and other developments in the region.

The community centre also hosues a Maternal and Child Health facility, which was closed the day we were interviewing, but which posts fliers and brochures in the hallway for people to browse. Most of the material was what you would expect to see in any MCH facility – information about immunisation schedules, numbers for after-hours health hotlines, tips on feeding, advice for getting young children to sleep. One brochure, however, warned of a more local health concern: arsenic from mine tailings left behind by Victoria’s gold mining industry. According to the brochure:

“Mine tailings that contain arsenic are spread over large areas of land, including land now used for housing… In many gold mining areas, mine tailings have been used for landscaping instead of normal soil.” From Arsenic and Health: Are You Living in an Area with Mine Tailings? – State Government Victoria, Department of Human Services, pp. 1-2

The publication then goes on to note that arsenic does not tend to build up in the body over time, and that small daily exposure therefore appears to have no ill effect, but that long-term health effects can result from higher levels of exposure over a long period of time, and that immediate acute poisoning can occur if a child consumes a handful or so of mine tailings. The publication offers practical advice for recognising mine tailings – they “look like clay or sand”, and “are usually white, pale yellow or grey in colour” (p. 2). It then warns you not to allow babies or small children to put dirt or sand in their mouths, as this could result in arsenic poisoning, to wash children’s hands often to clear away traces of arsenic – oh, and, while you’re at it: “Do not put mine tailing sand in your child’s sand pit” (p. 6).

If you’ve already made the mistake of filling your child’s sand pit with mine tailings, however, be sure to contact the EPA before removing the offending substance: there are special rules you’ll have to follow in the disposal process.

A toddler contemplates whether to sample the mine tailings...What struck me most about the publication, though, were the illustrations. The publication features a cheerful nuclear family – parents, four children and a dog – all demonstrating the right and wrong ways of dealing with mine tailings. The idea, I think, is to present the information in a non-threatening way. Maybe it’s just because I have a toddler myself, but some of the images seemed unintentionally macabre… This image, for example, portrays a smiling toddler contemplating a handful of sand. It was captioned in red bold ink in the text: “Eating small handfuls of mine tailings containing high levels of arsenic could be dangerous.” (p. 5)

I’ll never look at a sand pit the same way again…

Capital Ideas

I’m currently working on fleshing out the conclusion to a paper, essentially trying to demonstrate that it is possible to derive Habermasian norms from shared contemporary historical experiences, without having to assume a common human nature. Much of the paper covers ground already discussed often on this blog, but the conclusion does touch on some new ground – basically, on how we might try to understand the concept of “capitalism” in a way that avoids generating endless dichotomies between states vs. markets, regulation vs. freedom, and similar concepts. I’ll post the current, very rough, version of this section below the fold.

The section needs fixing in so many ways I’ve lost count, but what I’m mainly worrying about at the moment is whether the core definition I suggest for capitalism makes any sense. I’ll then need to do a lot more work than has been done in this sketch, to explain how you might actually put this definition into play, to explain why it is historically and socially plausible that certain political ideals should emerge at particular historical moments… Read more of this post

Well, That Was Exciting…

Apologies to anyone who tried to reach the site earlier today – my web host has been experiencing technical difficulties (of the sort that cause pages to be replaced with l33t messages…). They have been working valiantly to get everything back to normal, but the site may continue to experience slow response times and other random errors for a bit. Unfortunately, I have one of those days when I will be unable to road test the site properly until very late tonight. If you notice specific problems, please don’t hesitate to make a post here or send me an email – it will be extremely helpful.