Make the Most of Career Opportunity!

What does it mean to have a tactical relation to opportunity? What is an ‘opportunity’? What are the affects of ‘opportunity’?

Mel Gregg has an excellent post In Praise of Strategic Complacency over at Home Cooked Theory. In it she is critiquing of the neoliberal discourse through which most academics are encouraged to understand their careers. A key term in this neoliberal discourse is ‘opportunity’. Mel writes:

It’s not enough to have gotten the job. No, landing the job is just the first step in a constant process of planning, assessing and maximizing “opportunities”. From now on, there will be little if any time to sit back and acknowledge your achievements, and yet part of what I want to suggest today is that you must fight for this time. And beware of people offering “opportunities”!
[…]
The model of worker that is rewarded today is that which is endlessly, limitlessly productive. The university will take everything from you if you let it. There are minimum performance levels but you’ll note that there are no maximums.

Mel warns that “there is no temporal or spatial limit to the networked information economy that employs you”. Rather than the entrepreneurial grind of ‘maximising opportunity’ she challenges us to rethink academic practice on a number of levels. See her post for the details.

I’ve previously written about the ontology of opportunity. The discourse of ‘opportunity’ belongs to the master narrative of neoliberalism. From a structural perspective, the role of government, business and social institutions is to ensure that subjects have access to ‘opportunities’. The discourse of opportunity is couched in the language of self-actualisation (bordering on ‘self-help’) and entrepreneurialism. Capitalising on an opportunity requires a strategic view that locates the present in the context of a particular set of future outcomes. ‘Opportunity’ is a process, a practice and an event. More useful for thinking through the ontology of opportunity is the example of workplace relations (based on a previous post discussing Scale, Events and Object Oriented Philosophy).

‘Opportunity’ as a Mode of Neoliberal Governance

One of the central problems with the neoliberal discourse of ‘opportunity’ is that it presents an ontology of an ‘open’ future encouraging self-governance that smuggles in micro-teleologies. A useful way to think about this ‘open’ future of opportunity is in terms of a ‘contingency’. There is a ‘pay-off’ horizon where our tacit knowledge/appreciation of a given situation allows us to know what the ‘return’ (as in return on investment ROI) will be for a given opportunity. We are encouraged to seek out opportunities that push these boundaries.

Sometimes that ‘opportunity’ is one we are presented with (as Mel notes!). There is a continuum of opportunity that is differentiated by relations of futurity made possible by the character of contingency around which opportunity is organised.

1) If opportunity is presented by those in power (such as a manager/mentor to a worker/junior colleague), then the contingency is often disciplined in accordance with the outcomes of productivity demanded by the managers (or embodied institutional ‘outcomes’ by the mentor so they can be inherited via apprenticeship) and the way surplus value is extracted from the worker’s labour. This inherits the strategic relation to opportunity as reproduced by existing power relations between managers and workers, etc.

2) If opportunity presents ‘itself’, then it is because the contingency of labour relations and relations between worker productivity and the market have not been actualised. A new relation to the market can be actualised. This often happens for academics when shooting the breeze at conferences, through social media/blogging, and the like.

3) If a worker creates ‘opportunity’, then it is because he or she has critically appreciated the mechanics of labour relations and relations between worker productivity and the market in its virtuality (an example of what Deleuze called the ‘fourth-person singular’ and the practice of counter-effectuation); that is, the worker does not perceive the situation though the identity and horizon of experience of a ‘worker’ per se. The worker actively differentiates a new set of relations that can only be apprehended through action. This is a tactical relation to opportunity.

To enfranchise workers in the emergent entrepreneurial mode of workplaces organised by neoliberal discourses means equipping them with the capacity to appreciate the dynamics of managerial techniques and apprehend new conditions between labour and the market through the praxis of their own labour. It is not a matter of grasping the relations between specific individuals or objects (big or little) but of appreciating how the relations between individuals are actualised and differentially repeated in the actual conditions of experience.

Affects of ‘Opportunity’, Failure and Success: Between

I originally wrote about the event mechanics of opportunity in terms of parenting, but a similar paternalistic relationship can exist between mentors and junior colleagues. The disappointment of failing to ‘live up to expectation’ is evidence of an ‘opportunity failure’. The opportunity in these circumstances may have been produced for one person (say, a junior colleague) by others (mentor). Mentors are disappointed because the relations of futurity in part produced by them for their junior colleagues are not actualised in the way they expected. The mentors know the future in the sense they can draw on experience to produce their own expectations. If a junior colleague is talented and does not follow the relations of futurity produced by their mentors in a way that the mentors expect, then according to the mentors’ respective expectations, an opportunity is lost. Expectation here works to discipline relations of future; an expectation is a colonisation of futurity.

Beyond this paternalistic relation is more of a symbiotic or even quasi-parasitical relation between colleagues in a single workplace or distributed across the virtual ‘office’ (virtual in both Deleuzian and popular ‘online’ senses). I’ve focused mostly on the unknown dimensions of ‘opportunity’ and how these are transformed through practice into ‘outcomes’. An experienced-based knowledge of the topology of ‘opportunity’ is therefore produced through this experience. The striving required on behalf of a subject to actualise opportunities in practical ways has an explicitly affective dimension. Mel discusses this in terms of having a baby: “We have amnesia about how painful it is, because the end product is so amazing. To push the analogy: try to remember the pain, and that it can be very hard to make happen by force!”

There are multiple ‘activation contours’ which the subject of opportunity is mobilised by and passes through complex co-assemblies of affect. Here is a list of related affects-as-poetics; a beginning:

1. Hope. The wandering (Spinozist) joy of possible futures combined with a pragmatic investment of desire to realise these ideals.

2. Manic waiting. When you feel like you’re overwhelmed by a desparate unactionable urgency to act. Nervous, anxious, but forthright and awake at 3am.

3. Impassage. Portmanteau derived from Lyotard’s analysis of Kant’s ‘enthusiasm’. There is an impasse that serves as a passage; the impasse is at the dawn of Rumfield’s unknown unknowns. (I can’t go on, I’ll go on. The two I’s straddle the impasse; they are differential repetitions, etc.) Affirmation; joy, but in the trenches.

4. Grind. The end is in sight. Warding off hope, but allowing it to inhere or subsist just beyond the horizon of apprehension (the possibility of possibility, actualised as a virtuality). Steady as it goes, this is a hug from a modernist sculpture suffering from angles.

Herald Sun’s Logies Leak and How Google News Works

The Herald Sun leaking the 2012 gold Logie winner is useful for understanding how Google News works differently to regular Google.

The Herald Sun/Logies incident is very useful for pointing out the different ways Google approaches the indexing of general websites as compared to the indexing of news websites. For those unfamiliar with Google’s ranking algorithms, the big shift Google introduced in the 2000s was to rank web pages based on the number of inbound links. Of course, there is no point trying to rank news website content on the number of inbound links as the point of news is to be ‘breaking’ therefore it won’t have any inbound links at all. News website publishers can either let Google figure out their news content or they can submit a sitemap.

How Google News Works

Google ranks news websites based on a number of factors. Google says: There are no human editors selecting stories or deciding which ones deserve top placement. Ranking in Google News is determined based on a number of factors, including:

•Freshness of content
•Diversity of content
•Rich textual content
•Originality of content

It makes me wonder about whether there are alternative strategies for maximising traffic within a single news-based website. Do news website designers think about how much traffic they think they’ll get from Google News searches as compared to the traffic from Google ‘search everything’ searches? Why is this important? The design strategies for maximising user activity and time on site will be different for a regular website as compared to news website when both are trying to maximise ranking on the search engine results page (SERP). Over the weekend I asked on twitter if any news websites have a hybrid approach, with some sections (‘channels’ or ‘verticals’) classified as ‘news’ and optimised for Google News and other sections designed to cluster or curate ‘news’ content and SEO for Google ‘search everything’. I’m very interested to find out if anyone has approached the Google everything/news problem like this. For example, the Guardian sometimes has ‘project’ pages that bring together a series of different stories about a single topic, but I am not sure if this is designed as a hybrid SEO approach. Here is the Reading the Riots series page.

The other possibility is that Google indexes news content as general web content after a certain period of time, but I have not found any information about this in Google’s support information.

Last week in Online News we discussed the tension that exists between editorial judgment based on ‘journalistic gut feeling’ and a publishing strategy organised around search engine optimisation. Students were introduced to Google Analytics and I went through a brief history of online metrics. The history is a brief but important one and tracks the development of online metrics from early use of ‘hits’ (up to mid-2000s) to slightly more sophisticated appreciation of ‘unique visitors’ to the contemporary approach that draws on both ‘website analytics’ combined with ‘user analytics’. The two main ways that ‘editorial quality’ is judged with online media enterprises is in terms of the number of ‘unique visitors’ or ‘time on page/site’. I am sure both are tracked by most online publishers, but ‘time on page/site’ is more important for a super-niche market media outlets. ‘User analytics’ relies on users logging into unique accounts so specific activity for individuals can be aggregated into marketable chunks for ad sales teams.

Deleuze and Ryle: Ontogenetic Dimension of Knowledge?

In Peter Kügler‘s recent essay titled “Sense, Category, Questions” he compares Gilbert Ryle’s concept of ‘category’ to Gilles Deleuze’s concept of ‘sense’ in an analogical way. I am interested in Kügler’s essay because I am just about to finish an article on ‘know-how’ coming from a very different perspective, but which touches on Ryle’s book Concept of Mind and draws heavily on Deleuze’s empiricism. Using a Deleuzian terminology, Kügler compares the virtual dimensions of Ryle’s ‘category’ and its relation to language and Deleuze’s concept of ‘sense’ and its relation to language, although Kügler does not frame it as such. The closest Kügler comes to this is in his explanation of the relation between sense and the singular (virtual) problematic actualised through/as expression (sense):

the idea is a problem, and the problem is a set of questions. Strictly speaking, ‘The problem is a set of questions’ is a kind of slogan that we may use for the sake of convenience. It would be more precise to say that the problem is an entity in its own right whose various parts or aspects can be grasped by asking appropriate questions.

Kügler continues the explanation in related footnotes:

The term ‘event’ belongs to this list, too, as sense is said to be ‘an incorporeal, complex, and irreducible entity, at the surface of things, a pure event which inheres or subsists in the proposition’ (Deleuze 2004b: 22). Another ‘surface entity’ is the concept, which ‘speaks the event’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 21). ‘All concepts are connected to problems without which they would have no meaning [sens]’ (16). Except that concepts are supposed to be solutions of problems, they have much in common with the latter. In particular, they are ‘not propositional’ (22). To keep the discussion simpler, however, I refrain from considering these notions of event and concept. I will reserve the word ‘concept’ for Ryle who uses it for a linguistic entity.

As indicated in the previous note, sense inheres or subsists, but does not exist. Furthermore, it is a dual entity on the border between world and language: ‘It is rather the coexistence of two sides without thickness, such that we pass from one to the other by following their length. Sense is both the expressible or the expressed of the proposition, and the attribute of the state of affairs. It turns one side toward things and one side toward propositions’ (Deleuze 2004b: 25). Thus, sense is something very peculiar, to say the least.

It is fascinating to read Kügler’s analysis as he is clearly far more familiar with Ryle’s work and the tradition of linguistics to which it now (in part) belongs. I’ve also been reading some contemporary engagements from logical epistemologists re-engaging with Ryle’s arguments.

My interest is that I am trying to think through a given situation where ‘know how’ is developed through experience; it is a form of knowledge that actualises a problematic (and in a sense provides a ‘solution’) without becoming explicit as such. In other words, it is knowledge that cannot be expressed in language as a proposition in any normative sense. ‘Know how’ inheres or subsists through bodies-in-action (or as Massumi might argue bodies-in-motion), and can be ‘read’ by others who can appreciate the ‘know how’ in terms of an embodied/material/machinic regime of signification (or what Deleuze and Guattari, and in particular Guattari, call a-signifying semiotics). Theorists of organisational studies have grappled with this problem in terms of ‘tacit knowledge’ (following Michael Polanyi).

What is interesting in terms of Ryle’s account, and what most contemporary readers of Ryle’s argue is incorrect, is that every form of ‘knowing that’ requires ‘knowing how’ too. From my Deleuzian perspective, this is uncontroversial. It basically means that there is a situationally specific emergent dimension to all knowledge. Kügler explains he does not want to engage with the ontological dimensions of Deleuze’s argument, which means this ontogenetic part of Deleuze’s concept of sense (or as I am extrapolating it into knowledge) is not engaged with. I argue that ‘knowing that’ requires the production of ‘know how’ (however miniscule) as an apprehension of any given situation and this is developed in experience. From apprehension to application and the ‘possibilization’ (cf Massumi) of a field of virtual singularities. From application to the expression of what most people would recognise as ‘know how’ and the reconfiguring of the habitus belonging to the subject of ‘know-how’. ‘Know-how’ inheres or subsists in bodies(-in-action) in the same way ‘sense’ inheres or subsists in propositions.

To a certain extent, all this seems a little bit obvious. Except when it comes to the question of signification, as the transmission of ‘know-how’ is a special problem if it necessarily belongs to ‘tacit knowledge’ and cannot be codified in conventional ways. Then the rather laborious path through a complex appreciation of experience described above becoms very useful. My article directly tackles this problem as the first step in a genealogy of ‘know-how’.