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October 24th, 2014

B*E*R*K*S*H*I*R*E — The Values of Warren Buffett



Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathway

The following is a post by Lawrence Cunningham, author of Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values:

Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values tells the stories of Berkshire’s 50 significant direct subsidiaries, which define the company today, representing 80 percent of its value.

As I examined each, through archival research plus interviews and surveys, a pattern emerged: the same traits began to appear repeatedly, nine altogether. These intangible traits translate into financial gain. They also secure the company’s future, hence the book’s sub-title: The Enduring Value of Values.

Those nine values define the book’s central chapters, each chapter telling the stories of four or five subsidiaries that exemplify given values. After I organized and wrote the book, I played around with the nomenclature to form an acrostic from these values that spells out the company’s first name, as seen below, which also captures the essence of each and notes an illustrative subsidiary. The book then weaves these stories and values together to reflect what amounts to a profound succession plan.

B*E*R*K*S*H*I*R*E

Budget-mindedness
Essence: A penny saved is a nickel earned
Illustration: GEICO

Earnestness
Essence: The value in promise keeping
Illustration: Gen Re

Reputation
Essence: Results benefit from reputation
Illustration: Clayton Homes

Kin-like
Essence: Wealth can last more than 3 generations when families value identity and legacy
Illustration: Ben Bridge Jeweler

Self-starters
Essence: To the entrepreneur go the spoils
Illustration: Dairy Queen

Hands-off
Essence: Delegate everything but reputation
Illustration: Pampered Chef

Investor savvy
Essence: Price is paid, values are exchanged
Illustration: BH Energy

Rudimentary
Essence: Impossible dreams are impossible, so stick to your knitting
Illustration: Fruit of the Loom

Eternal
Essence: Berkshire as a permanent home, a Boys Town for the corporate homeless
Illustration: Brooks Running Shoe

October 24th, 2014

University Press Blog Roundup: From Antarctic Cuisine to Zombies



University Press Roundup

Welcome to our roundup of posts from the world of university press blogs:

Jefferey A. Krames discusses his new book Lead with Humility: Lessons from Pope Francis. (AMACOM Books Blog)

Michael Patrick McDonald, author of All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, on Whitey Bulger, Boston Busing, and Southie’s Lost Generation. (Beacon Press)

The University of California Press announces plans to roll out two open access products. (University of California Press)

… And another university press announces the creation of a unit dedicated to Open Access publishing. (Cambridge University Press)

Meanwhile, Matthew Cockerill asks has open access failed? (Oxford University Press)

The Carrot and the Candy Bar, an excerpt from Packaged Pleasures: How Technology and Marketing Revolutionized Desire, by Gary Cross and Robert N. Proctor. (The University of Chicago Press)

An interview with the new editors of French Historical Studies. (Duke University Press)

Why wait? A holiday gift guide. (University Press of Florida)

A symposium on the future of publishing in the humanities and social sciences. (Georgetown University Press)

An appreciation of the monarch butterfly and restoring the monarchy to Cabin John. (Island Press)

Zombie Week will include Edward Comentale and Aaron Jaffe discussing The Year’s Work at the Zombie Research Center. (Indiana University Press)

Read the rest of this entry »

October 23rd, 2014

What Will Happen to Berkshire afer the Buffett Era? — Lawrence Cunningham



“What will enable the great company to endure beyond the Warren Buffett era, is Berkshire’s corporate culture.”—Lawrence Cunningham

Berkshire Beyond BuffettThe following post is by Lawrence Cunningham, author of Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values.

What will happen to Berkshire Hathaway after the Warren Buffett era? The answer to that multi-billion dollar question lies in my book, Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values, which lays out in detail Berkshire’s five-pronged succession plan with all its nuances and complexities. Here is a thumbnail sketch.

At most companies, succession planning focuses on grooming a senior manager who can assume the role of chief executive. Today you hear about who should succeed Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan and 15 years ago about who should succeed Jack Welch at General Electric. The personnel aspects of Berkshire’s succession plan are a bit more involved—although, despite enormous attention, they are also the least significant parts of its plan.

Buffett’s management roles will be divided into an executive function (CEO) and an investment function (CIO). The next CEO will come from among existing Berkshire executives, probably one of its 50 significant subsidiaries. This successor will get responsibility for Berkshire’s acquisitions and allocating capital. Chapter 9 of the book shows how many Berkshire managers excel in these areas, providing a wealth of managerial talent.

The second function is handling investments. Berkshire hired two people in the past half-decade—Ted Weschler and Todd Combs—for that job. They’ll face challenges ahead, including tough choices about when to sell big stakes and what to do with the proceeds. While still important, the investment side of Berkshire has greatly declined in significance in recent years, now representing only about 20 percent of its value.

Third, for board chairman, Buffett says he’d propose a member of his family, widely assumed to be Howard, his eldest son. That job would be to sustain the cultural heritage I outline in Berkshire Beyond Buffett. In an interview for the book, Howard noted that Berkshire is his father’s life’s work, and sustaining the legacy is vital to him.

Read the rest of this entry »

October 23rd, 2014

Richard Betts on the Failures and Future of U.S. Military Actions



“The United States needs to temper the ambitions unleashed by its post–Cold War dominance, not only in reaction to the setbacks it has experienced in small wars but also to prepare for bigger wars for bigger stakes against bigger powers.”—Richard K. Betts

Richard Betts, American ForceIn a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Richard K. Betts, author of American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security, examines America’s era of permanent war and what lays ahead. Citing the mixed success, if not failure, of American intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, Betts argues that the United States need to think through its strategies before committing to military action. More specifically, he suggests that half-measures tend to fail as in the case of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Obama’s surge in Afghanistan when he committed 30,000 troops instead of the 40,000 requested by the Pentagon. The United States has also become too reliant on air power, which rarely works when used without a deployment of ground troops. Finally, the U.S. has found itself working with unstable governments, who are unwilling to do what the United States wants and often can barely survive once American troops have left. Betts writes:

[The] United States should fight wars less frequently but more decisively, erring, when combat is necessary, on the side of committing too many forces rather than too few. Second, the country should avoid fighting in places where victory depends on controlling the politics of chaotic countries, since local politicians will rarely do what Americans want when that differs from their own aims. And third, Washington should give priority to first-order challenges, focusing its military planning on fighting wars with great powers and focusing its diplomacy on preventing them.

Read the rest of this entry »

October 22nd, 2014

Lawrence Cunningham — Warren Buffett and Tom Murphy on Management



“Although Berkshire is one of the world’s largest and most famous corporations, few people understand it as an institution that will be Buffett’s legacy.”—Lawrence Cunningham

Lawrence Cunningham, Berkshire Beyond Buffett

The following post is by Lawrence Cunningham, author of Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values. For more on the book you can also read an interview with Lawrence Cunningham.

While everyone knows that Warren Buffett modeled himself after Ben Graham as a stock picker, few know that as a manager, he modeled himself after Tom Murphy.

Murphy is the legendary executive whose skillful acquisitions and leadership resulted in the Capital Cities communications empire. In 1985, he engineered the acquisition of ABC, Inc. for $3.5 billion, among the largest takeovers of the time, and a decade later facilitated its acquisition by Walt Disney Co. for $19 billion.

When I asked Buffett who should write the foreword to Berkshire Beyond Buffett, he immediately suggested Murphy. Warren, an early investor in Capital Cities who later asked Murphy to join Berkshire’s board, explained that “everything I know about management I learned from Tom.”

Judging by Berkshire’s operational success over several decades, Buffett clearly knows a lot about management. Reading Murphy’s foreword together with my book, it’s clear that the management principles Murphy exemplifies animate Berkshire as well. Among those principles, three stand as bulwarks against skepticism of Berkshire’s size, governance, and durability: a commitment to permanence dismisses calls for Berkshire to shrink by divesting some businesses; a belief in autonomy explains its unusual approach to internal control; and a savvy acquisitiveness proves the track record of its deep managerial bench that will sustain its future.

Permanence: Observers ask whether it might be desirable to divide Berkshire’s 50+ direct subsidiaries into multiple corporations or spin-off certain businesses. Some argue that size is an albatross that limits growth and that vastness is a veil that obscures the real value of many subsidiaries. See’s Candies, for instance, would fetch billions if auctioned to Hershey or Nestlé, but Berkshire’s stock market price might not register such value.

The answers to petitions to shrink or break-up Berkshire are an emphatic no and no. Doing so would undermine two sources of value contributed by the bedrock principle of permanence. First, permanence elongates managerial time horizons to enable increasing long-term value in excess of short-term gain. Second, the promise of permanence offered when acquiring new businesses enables Berkshire to pay a cash price less than business value. Divisions and divestitures are antithetical to both sources of value.

Read the rest of this entry »

October 22nd, 2014

Interview with Andrew Nathan on the Hong Kong Protests



“The protests reveal that Hong Kong young people are much more pro-democracy than we had any way of knowing. It’s fascinating to see the youth, who have grown up under this system, demonstrate how little they believe in the Chinese government.”—Andrew Nathan

China's Search for Security, Andrew NathanIn the following interview, originally published in Columbia News on October 8, Andrew Nathan looks at recent events in Hong Kong and the possible future of the protest movement there. Andrew Nathan’s China’s Search for Security, co-authored with Andrew Scobell, is now out in paperback:

Q: What is at the root of the Occupy Central demonstrations?

Andrew Nathan: When China took over Hong Kong in 1997, it agreed that Hong Kong could preserve its way of life for 50 years. The Chinese government also agreed to provide universal suffrage for the election of the Hong Kong chief executive at some point. China recently announced that in the next election, which will take place in 2017, all eligible voters will be able to vote. But it turns out that the nominees for the post will be chosen by an election committee appointed by the Chinese government. The people in Hong Kong had expected real democracy. The Occupy Central protests are the result.

Q: Is there any chance the demonstrators will prevail?

AN: Most of us have long believed that most of the Hong Kong population is pragmatic and passive, because they know what they’re up against with China and they can’t afford to be terribly political. As soon as the Chinese government decision was announced the students—many in high school—jumped in and they were ahead of the adult leadership who had been planning a protest. But it’s very unlikely Beijing will yield on the core question. China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, has an image of being tough and inflexible. And China has a lot at stake in keeping control of the situation in Hong Kong. The more they sense opposition there, the less they are likely to allow democracy.

Read the rest of this entry »

October 21st, 2014

Interview with Lawrence Cunningham, author of Berkshire Beyond Buffett



“Berkshire practices a philosophy of capitalism that does well by doing good, is sensitive but unsentimental, lofty yet pragmatic, and public-spirited but profitable.”—Lawrence Cunningham

Lawrence Cunningham, Berkshire Beyond Buffett

Question: What inspired you to write this book and what are some of its key implications?

Lawrence Cunningham: People have been asking for 20 years what happens to Berkshire Hathaway if Warren Buffett gets hit by the proverbial bus; the question now has added urgency since the billionaire businessman is 84. The popular answer became paradoxical: Buffett tried to build an enduring institution at Berkshire and yet even great admirers doubt that the company can survive without him. My book demonstrates how Berkshire’s corporate culture is designed to make the company outlast any one person, making the culture part of its succession plan.

Q: How did you research this book and what did your research reveal?

LC: Background research dates to the 1990s when I published The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, based on a symposium with Buffett and Berkshire vice chairman, Charlie Munger. In that era, Berkshire looked like a mutual fund, primarily owning stocks. Today, the company is instead defined by its 50+ wholly owned businesses and so my immediate research focused on them. In addition to traditional archival material, I interviewed, with Buffett’s permission, many Berkshire insiders, including numerous subsidiary CEOs. I also surveyed 500 Berkshire shareholders. The result is, I hope, a comprehensive portrait of Berkshire Hathaway.

Q: Who is Tom Murphy and why did he write the foreword to your book?

LC: Tom Murphy is a legendary manager who built Capital Cities/ABC into a broadcasting powerhouse in which Berkshire invested. When I saw Warren during the weekend of Berkshire’s 2014 annual meeting, I asked him who he thought should write the foreword. He immediately named Murphy, explaining that he learned most everything he knows about management from Tom. Readers will discover that Murphy, now a Berkshire director, fostered the same culture at Capital Cities/ABC that characterizes Berkshire today. Tom writes, “From afar, it may look like Berkshire’s wide-ranging businesses are very different from one another. In fact … they span industries, they are united by certain key values, like managerial autonomy, entrepreneurship, frugality and integrity.”

Read the rest of this entry »

October 21st, 2014

New Book Tuesday! Waking, Dreaming, Being, and More!



Our weekly listing of new titles now available: Waking, Dreaming, Being, Evan Thompson

Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy
Evan Thompson

Visions of Dystopia in China’s New Historical Novels
Jeffrey C. Kinkley

Uncertainty, Expectations, and Financial Instability: Reviving Allais’s Lost Theory of Psychological Time
Eric Barthalon

Baby Boomers of Color: Implications for Social Work Policy and Practice
Melvin Delgado

The Great Civilized Conversation: Education for a World Community (Now available in paper)
Wm. Theodore De Bary

China’s Search for Security (Now available in paper)
Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell

October 20th, 2014

Herve This Is Bringing Note-by-Note Cooking to the USA!



Herve This, Note-by-Note Cooking

After spending a week reading about Herve This’s Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food, now’s your chance to see the dynamic chemist as he comes to New York and Boston for a series of great events, beginning this Friday!:

Friday, October 24 at 6:00 pm
Boston University Jacques Pepin Lecture Series in Gastronomy and Experiential Food Studies

Saturday, October 25, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Boston Book Festival/Alliance Francaise de Boston

Monday, October 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm
Columbia University Maison Française
Columbia University’s Maison Française presents Herve This, Michael Laiskonis, and Adam Gopnik in conversation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 6:00 pm
Albertine Bookstore at the French Embassy
The discussion will be followed by a tasting prepared by Chef and Creative Director of the Institute of Culinary, Michael Laiskonis.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 1:00 pm
Institute for Culinary Education

Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 5:00 pm
Experimental Cuisine Collective at New York University

Friday, October 31, 2014 at 12:00 PM
Culinary Institute of America

October 20th, 2014

Book Givewaway! Berkshire Beyond Buffett



This week our featured book is Berkshire Beyond Buffett: The Enduring Value of Values by Lawrence Cunningham.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook. You can also follow news about the book on the Columbia Business School Publishing twitter page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Berkshire Beyond Buffett to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, October 24 at 1:00 pm.

Berkshire Hathaway, the $300 billion conglomerate that Warren Buffett built, is among the world’s largest and most famous corporations. Yet, for all its power and celebrity, few people understand Berkshire, and many assume it cannot survive without Buffett. This book proves that assumption wrong.

In a comprehensive portrait of the distinct corporate culture that unites and sustains Berkshire’s fifty direct subsidiaries, Lawrence A. Cunningham unearths the traits that assure the conglomerate’s perpetual prosperity. Riveting stories recount each subsidiary’s origins, triumphs, and journey to Berkshire and reveal the strategies managers use to generate economic value from intangible values, such as thrift, integrity, entrepreneurship, autonomy, and a sense of permanence.

October 17th, 2014

Video: Herve This takes us into His Lab to Show Us Note-By-Note Cooking



We conclude our week-long feature on Note-by-Note Cuisine: The Future of Food, by Hervé This, with this great video via the BBC. This takes us into his lab/kitchen to discuss and show us how to cook using the principles of note-by-note cooking and how to employ compounds into your dishes! Happy viewing and Bon Appétit!

October 17th, 2014

Around 1948 with Khalidi, Liu, Moyn, and Nelson



An event last week at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute brought together a fascinating panel to discuss the advent and the global impact of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Fittingly titled “Around 1948: Human Rights and Global Transformation,” the panel discussion included four prominent authors from a variety of fields (they also all happen to be Columbia University Press authors): Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University; Lydia H. Liu, Wun Tsun Tam Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University; Samuel Moyn, Professor of Law and History, Harvard University; and Deborah Nelson, Associate Professor of English, University of Chicago.

Here is the video from the panel discussion:

October 16th, 2014

Herve This on Why Note-by-Note Cooking Is Good for the Future of Food



“Thanks to note-by-note cooking, we have a whole new slew of cooking possibilities in front of us as well as new consistencies, new odors, new tastes, and new flavors.”—Hervé This

Herve This, Note-by-Note CookingThe following is a post by Hervé This, author of Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food. (For more on the book, you can also read an excerpt or an interview with Hervé This):

Fittingly, Columbia University Press added “the future of food” on the cover of my new book since note-by-note cooking is truly the future of food and more and more chefs are exploring and employing its techniques in their cooking.

If you look to the current developments of culinary art, you don’t see much novelty except note-by-note cooking. Wild plants? The eminent French chef Michel Michel Bras has been cooking them for decades. Molecular cooking? Even if you call it “science-based cooking”, or “modernist cooking”, or “techno-emotional cooking” (what is this need to give more names when one was already given?), that was proposed as early as the 1980′s!

Yes, there is no newer proposal for culinary art than note-by-note cooking, and we are living a very exciting time. Thanks to note-by-note cooking, we have a whole new slew of cooking possibilities in front of us as well as new consistencies, new odors, new tastes, and new flavors.

Read the rest of this entry »

October 15th, 2014

Meet Eric Schwartz, Our New Editorial Director!



Eric Schwartz, Editorial DirectorWe are pleased to announce that Eric Schwartz joined the Press as Editorial Director on Monday, September 29. He replaces Jennifer Crewe, who was promoted to President and Director of the Press in June.

Eric was Senior Editor for Sociology and Cognitive Science at Princeton University Press, a job he has held since 2008. During that time he established a new list in cognitive science and revitalized the sociology list, turning it into one of the top lists in the field. Before moving to Princeton he was psychology editor at Cambridge University Press. He started his career at Springer as a manufacturing assistant and Oxford University Press as manufacturing controller. He became production controller at Cambridge and moved into the editorial department in 2006. Along the way he earned a Ph.D. in political science from the New School for Social Research. His BA, in international relations, is from the University of Delaware. Eric has been active with the Association of American University Presses and the Bookbinder’s Guild of New York.

Eric will start a sociology list at Columbia University Press and build upon the existing list in neuroscience, which was created by the Publisher for Life Sciences.

Eric says, “I am thrilled by the opportunity to work for New York City’s premier university press. It has an engaged and enthusiastic staff, starting with its new President and Director. I’m looking forward to collaborating with Columbia University’s wider academic community on publishing great books. Let’s get started!”

Jennifer Crewe says, “I am delighted that Eric will join the Press to lead our already strong editorial team to even greater heights and augment our lists in two areas of strength at the university.”

October 15th, 2014

Interview with Herve This, author of “Note-by-Note Cooking”



Herve This, Note-By-Note CookingThe following is an interview with Hervé This, author of Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food:

“All food is ‘artificial’! Do you think that barbecue meat hangs ‘naturally’ on the trees of the wild forest?”—Hervé This

Question: How does note-by-note cooking differ from molecular gastronomy?

Herve This: Molecular gastronomy is a scientific activity, not to be confused with molecular cooking. Indeed, molecular gastronomy, being science, has nothing to do with cooking. In other words, science is not about making dishes. Science looks for the mechanism of phenomena. That’s all. And technology uses the results of science to improve technique. So, note-by-note cooking is a technique.

Another question could be, how is note-by-note cooking different from molecular cooking? And here the answer would be that the definition of molecular cooking is “to cook using modern tools” (such as siphons, liquid nitrogen, etc.). But you still use meat, vegetables, etc. However, with note-by-note cooking, the instruments are not important, and the big revolution is to cook with pure compounds, instead of meat, vegetables, fruits, eggs, etc.

Q: Where does the name Note-by-Note Cooking come from?

HT: In 1999, when I introduced the name “molecular cooking,” I was upset, because it was a bad choice, which had to be made for many complex reasons. Unfortunately, people now confuse molecular gastronomy and molecular cooking. So, For note-by-note cooking, I wanted a name that could appeal to artists and it’s fair to say that note-by-note cooking is comparable to a term such as electro-acoustic music.

Q: Won’t not-by-note cooking produce artificial forms of food?

HT: Yes, but all food is “artificial”! Do you think that barbecue meat hangs “naturally” on the trees of the wild forest? Or that French fries appear suddenly from potatoes? No, you need a cook, to make them. In ordinary language, “natural” means “what was not transformed by human beings”, and “artificial” means that it was transformed, it was the result of human “art”.

Instead of “artificial,” it is better to think of “synthetic”, and again in this sense, note by note is synthetic in a similar way as electro-acoustic music. But just listen to the radio and synthesizers are everywhere, often with sometimes beautiful sounds. Moreover, in art, the scope of what is possibile increases with more choices. And more choice is better!

Read the rest of this entry »

October 15th, 2014

New Book Tuesday (Wednesday Edition): The New Censorship, The Philosopher’s Plant and More!



Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

The New Censorship, Joel SimonThe New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom
Joel Simon

The Philosopher’s Plant: An Intellectual Herbarium
Michael Marder

Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites: Religion, Politics, and Conflict Resolution
Edited by Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey

Paving the Great Way: Vasubandhu’s Unifying Buddhist Philosophy
Jonathan C. Gold

Community Economic Development in Social Work
Steven D. Soifer, Joseph B. McNeely, Cathy Costa, and Nancy Pickering-Bernheim

The Cinema of Clint Eastwood: Chronicles of America
David Sterritt

October 14th, 2014

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “Note-by-Note Cooking” by Herve This



Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food, Hervé ThisThis week our featured book is Note-by-Note Cooking: The Future of Food by Hervé This.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Note-by-Note Cooking to a lucky winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, October 17 at 1:00 pm.

Note-by-Note Cooking is a landmark in the annals of gastronomy, liberating cooks from the constraints of traditional ingredients and methods through the use of pure molecular compounds. Hervé This clearly explains the properties of naturally occurring and synthesized compounds, dispels a host of misconceptions about the place of chemistry in cooking, and shows why note-by-note cooking is an obvious—and inevitable—extension of his earlier pioneering work in molecular gastronomy.

Read an excerpt from the introduction, “Why the Need for Note-by-Note Cooking Should be Obvious”:

October 10th, 2014

Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald discuss the idea of a learning society



Creating a Learning Society

In a recent event at the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald discussed the ideas from their recent book, Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress. You can read the Heyman Center’s description of the panel and view a video below.

It has long been recognized that an improved standard of living results from advances in technology, not from the accumulation of capital. It has also become clear that what truly separates developed from less-developed countries is not just a gap in resources or output but a gap in knowledge. In fact, the pace at which developing countries grow is largely a function of the pace at which they close that gap.

Thus, to understand how countries grow and develop, it is essential to know how they learn and become more productive and what government can do to promote learning. In Creating a Learning Society, Joseph E. Stiglitz and Bruce C. Greenwald cast light on the significance of this insight for economic theory and policy. Taking as a starting point Kenneth J. Arrow’s 1962 paper “Learning by Doing,” they explain why the production of knowledge differs from that of other goods and why market economies alone typically do not produce and transmit knowledge efficiently. Closing knowledge gaps and helping laggards learn are central to growth and development. But creating a learning society is equally crucial if we are to sustain improved living standards in advanced countries.

The Disciplines Series: The Idea of Development The Learning Society with Joseph Stiglitz and Bruce Greenwald from Heyman Center/Society of Fellows on Vimeo.

October 10th, 2014

Interview with Amrita Pande, author of Wombs in Labor



Wombs in LaborThe following is an interview with Amrita Pande, author of Wombs in Labor: Transnational Commercial Surrogacy in India:

What made a sociologist choose a topic like surrogacy?
Well, it started with a short newspaper article I read in 2006. Surrogacy was still at its infancy in India and the article – just about 400 words – described it as India’s new form of outsourcing. This newsarticle really unsettled me. Flashes of Canadian feminist Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale passed through my mind, where a class of women is valued merely as breeders of children of the privileged race and class. I was then a doctoral student at UMASS Amherst and I have to confess the idea that my country would now be stereotyped as a land of not just child laborers, and “slumdogs” but also baby farms made me very queasy! After some quick digging around, I realized that there was no research (academic or otherwise) on this rather critical issue. So began my ethnographic journey into the first country in the global south to have a flourishing industry in both national and transnational surrogacy. Read the rest of this entry »

October 9th, 2014

Interview with John Roberts, author of Photography and Its Violations



“Photography violates, precisely, because social appearances hide, in turn, division, hierarchy and exclusion.”—John Roberts

John Roberts, Photography and Its ViolationsThe following is an interview with John Roberts, author of Photography and Its Violations:

Q: What do you mean by photography and its violations? How is photography violated?

John Roberts: Well, the title is deliberately ambiguous. By violation I do not mean the capacity of photography to objectify its subjects, nor am I referring directly—although it is implied—to those cultural and political forces lined up against its interests. Rather violation refers here to what photography is able to do in an expressly productive way, given what I call in the book, its social ontology or “unquenchable social intrusiveness and invasiveness.” By this I mean, what makes photography worth returning to as a philosophical and political problem is, in fact, the thing that has always threatened its desire to be thought highly of as an art or would be “objective” medium: namely its unstable and destabilizing character. That is, photography is not just a medium of report or an aesthetic transformation of the world, but a specific act of disclosure, in which its rebarbative powers—of disruption, denaturalization and the ruination of self-identity—secure photography’s infinite capacity for truth telling.

Hence when I talk of violation I’m addressing how photography’s intrusive “pointing to” opens up a space of conceptual reflection on the relations between the photograph’s subjects and objects and the social world in which they are embedded. As such, my understanding of violation takes an interrelated form: violation is what the act of photography does in the world as a consequence of the fact that photography’s relationship to its depicted subjects and objects is an effect of power relations and material interests external to the act of photography itself. The truth-claims of photography, therefore, are a condition of this conceptual articulation. As I say: “Photography violates, precisely, because social appearances hide, in turn, division, hierarchy and exclusion.”

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