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Archive for the 'Author Interviews' Category

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

How Expectations and Uncertainty Affect the Economy — An Interview with Eric Barthalon

Uncertainty, Expectations, and Financial Instability

The following is an interview with Eric Barthalon, author of Uncertainty, Expectations, and Financial Instability: Reviving Allais’s Lost Theory of Psychological Time.

Question: What is your book about?

Eric Barthalon: Uncertainty, Expectations and Financial Instability is about what we call “expectations” and the pro-cyclical responses they trigger. I argue that, under uncertainty, we infer the future largely from our experience of the past, and I show how Allais’s lost theory of psychological time gives an operational and testable content to this intuition or hypothesis.

Q: What exactly do you mean by uncertainty?

EB: When we throw four dices repeatedly, we cannot tell the outcome of each throw, but experience as well as mathematics tell us very precisely what we should expect: there will not be many instances where the sum of the four dices is either 4 or 24; most of the throws will yield a result close to 14. This is a situation of “known unknowns” or risk, in which it would be insane to expect a throw to yield either a 2 or a 30, and—even if the first throws are not close to 14—it would be equally insane not to expect the average of the throws to converge toward 14. In such risky situations, our expectations should be identical to the model’s forecasts. This is the very definition of rational expectations. (more…)

Monday, December 15th, 2014

A Q&A with Janet Poole on Modernist Literature in Korea

When the Future Disappears

The following is an interview with Janet Poole, author of When the Future Disappears: The Modernist Imagination in Late Colonial Korea.

Q: Your book deals with an extraordinary group of writers working in Korea at the height of Japanese occupation during the Asia-Pacific War. How did you first become interested in their work?

JP: When I was first studying Korean and living in Seoul, there were these uncanny ways in which the colonial past seemed to exert an ongoing effect in the present. For instance, old people would come up to me in the street, when I was standing at a bus stop for example, and start talking to me in Japanese. Luckily I had learnt Japanese and could answer! But what really intrigued me was that they would not be surprised when I answered them in Japanese, but would just carry on having a regular conversation with me. This had never happened to me in Japan. I became interested in the history of colonialism and especially the ways in which it left traces in language and language use. Naturally—as a fiction lover—I started to read novels and short stories from that time. I had learnt that colonial occupation had been brutal and, most of all, that it had prevented Koreans writing in Korean, especially as the Asia-Pacific War intensified. But when I picked up books of canonical short stories—the best loved in the nation and the like—so many of them were written in the late 1930s. It seemed such a contradiction that the stories most heralded still today had been written when supposedly Koreans had the least possibilities for expression. That’s what got me interested. (more…)

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Francisco Varela and Waking, Dreaming, Being

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. In today’s post on the final day of our feature, we are happy to post an excerpt from a fascinating interview of Thompson conducted by Joy Stocke at the Wild River Review. In the interview, Stocke and Thompson discuss the importance of his upbringing to his work, the influence of Francisco Varela, and the Dalai Lama, among many other topics, though we’ve chosen to focus on the discussion of Francisco Varela for this excerpt.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

WRR: Your book, ultimately, is a meditation on consciousness. Is consciousness wholly dependent on the brain or does it transcend the brain

Thompson: That’s the fundamental question of the book. I felt compelled to write about it because it kept coming up for me in different ways, some of which were personal and some intellectual. On a personal level I thought about the question a lot when I was working intensely with my friend and mentor, Chilean neuroscientist, Francisco Varela, just before he died. He was terminally ill and we knew that at some point soon he was going to die.

I write about the last real conversation I had with him, how it centered on consciousness and the question of its transcendence. It was fall of 2000 and Cisco and I were in my dad’s apartment in New York on the Upper West Side, writing a scientific article about consciousness and the brain. We weren’t raising that question at all in the article but we were talking about it a lot when we weren’t working. Cisco was a Buddhist, and knew that he was going to die soon, so transcendence was something he was contemplating. From a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, consciousness is the most fundamental luminous nature of awareness, underlying more ordinary cognitive forms of the mind, and it’s not considered to be brain dependent. Cisco took this perspective very seriously, but he was a neuroscientist, so he was also skeptical and doubtful.

The experience of talking to Cisco about this and watching him die and feel the loss intensified the question for me. It was a question that I had always thought about, having studied Asian and Western philosophy, but also having grown up in the New Age and yoga world where it was just taken for granted that people had multiple lives and that consciousness carried on after physical death. (more…)

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Evan Thompson talks to Tricycle Magazine

Waking, Dreaming, Being

This week our featured book is Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, by Evan Thompson, with a foreword by Stephen Batchelor. Recently, Thompson spoke to Tricycle Magazine about his book, his view of the mind, and mindfulness as an object of scientific scrutiny. We’ve excerpted parts of this interview below.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Waking, Dreaming, Being!

Almost two and a half decades ago, in The Embodied Mind, you critiqued a notion of mind that was already prevalent then and that continues to frame much of the current neuroscience research on meditation. What is that view, and what is wrong with it?
We criticized the view that the mind is made up of representations inside the head. The cognitive science version says that the mind is a computer—the representations are the software, and the brain is the hardware. Although cognitive scientists today don’t think the brain works the way a digital computer does, many of them, especially if they’re neuroscientists, still think the mind is something in the head or the brain. And this idea shows up in the neuroscience of meditation. But this idea is confused. It’s like saying that flight is inside the wings of a bird. The mind is relational. It’s a way of being in relation to the world. You need a brain, just as the bird needs wings, but the mind exists at a different level—the level of embodied being in the world.

What’s your alternative view of the mind?
The alternative view we put forward is that cognition is a form of embodied action. “Embodied” means that the rest of the body, not just the brain, is crucial; “action” means that agency—the capacity to act in the world—is central. Cognition is an expression of our bodily agency. We inhabit a meaningful world because we bring forth or enact meaning. We called this view “enaction” or the “enactive approach.”

In the enactive approach, being human is a matter of inhabiting the human world of culture and shared bodily practices. Of course we need our brain to do this, but we also need that world to be in place in order for the human brain to develop properly. The brain is what philosophers call a necessary “enabling condition” for mind and meaning, while enculturation is a necessary enabling condition for the brain. What’s important is not just what is inside the brain but what the brain is inside of—the larger space of the body and culture. That is where we find mind and meaning. (more…)

Friday, 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. (more…)

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Video: Wendy Law-Yone Discusses “A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma”

In the following video, Wendy Law-Yone discusses her new book A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma at the Frontline Club in London. (Please note, the British title for her book is Golden Parasol: A Daughter’s Memoir of Burma):

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Philosophy as Narrative, Dialogue, Disruption: An Interview with Paul W. Kahn

Finding Ourselves at the Movies: Philosophy for a New Generation, Paul W. Kahn

Next up for our feature on Paul Kahn’s Finding Ourselves at the Movies, we highlight excerpts from the author’s recent interview with Critical Margins. Here, Kahn details some of the themes found in his book, as well as touches on some of the problems faced by philosophy today and how film can help to address them.

First of all, Paul, one of the first statements in your book is the following, “philosophy begins with narrative, not abstraction.” Could you give us some examples from both ancient times and our own day?

While there are fragments preserved from the pre-Socratics, Western philosophy begins its written tradition with Plato. Plato, however, wrote nothing that we would identify as a philosophical text. He wrote something that looked considerably more like drama. They were dialogues that addressed particular questions in a dramatic context.

The tradition of writing dialogues continued for some time in classical thought. Cicero and Seneca, for example, wrote dialogues. In modern philosophy, David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion may be the most famous. The narrative form of reflective inquiry is rooted for Westerners in Christ’s use of parables. Modern philosophers have sometimes used a narrative form – most famously in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In popular culture, I am reminded of the very successful work Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

You say, “Increasingly, what we have in common is the movies.” Is that mainly because so many movies now are of the blockbuster type that millions flock to whereas other forms of media that we once shared (e.g., the evening newscast) have declined?

It is true that the movies that we most share are the blockbusters, which link us to audiences around the world. There is nothing else quite like that, except perhaps some television series that endlessly rerun, and maybe the Oscars. Movies with less popular appeal than blockbusters often link the members of smaller groups. We share the viewing habits of those with whom we are likely to find ourselves. I suspect that whatever we see, we want to talk about with our friends, partners, coworkers, and associates.

One of the aims of your book is to discuss the relationship between film and philosophy. On that note, could you please tell us what films you think reflect this statement from your book, “To imagine the possible is to construct a narrative?”

Every movie imagines the possible through the construction of a narrative. An account of natural development does not include the possible. We don’t say that an earthquake was one of several possible events. We say it happened and it had to happen because of shifts in the tectonic plates that preceded it. A narrative does not work that way. A narrative always sets the actual against the possible. We are interested in human stories because of the choices made, but choice requires a belief that other possibilities were present – the choice could have been different.

(more…)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Does Multiverse Theory Bring Theology Into Science? An interview with Mary-Jane Rubenstein

Worlds Without End

In a recent interview with Andrew Aghapour at Religion Dispatches, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, author of Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse discusses her inspiration for studying the history of the idea of the “multiverse,” the complex philosophical and religious underpinnings of the idea of many worlds, and how religious thought is present in modern scientific multiverse theories.

What initially inspired you to write Worlds Without End?

Five or six years ago, I was clamoring to find something to write for a conference on energy, a topic about which I knew nothing at all. One morning, I came across a feature in the New York Times Magazine on “dark energy”: the negative pressure that’s accelerating the expansion of the universe, causing galaxies to race away from one another faster and faster as time goes on.

I was struck not only by the metaphorics of this substance (it’s said to be “dark,” “mysterious,” “strange,” “creepy”) but by the psychological instability it seemed to be causing among the researchers who discovered it (“no one expected this,” “it’s like hell without the fire,” “we’ll never understand this thing but we can’t not study it”). This was my entry point: as someone who studies the history of philosophy and theology, I was fascinated by a group of scientists professing a freaked-out, studious devotion to an inscrutable darkness. (more…)

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

The Post-Book

Permission

As close readers of our blog might have noticed in our recent New Book Tuesday posts, we are now distributing Dalkey Archive Press. Needless to say, we are very excited to be working with one of the leading publishers of avant-garde fiction and literature in translation. Today, we have a fascinating excerpt from a conversation in BOMB Magazine’s BOMBlog between S. D. Chrostowska, author of Permission, and Kate Zabreno. The two “discuss Permission, the vagaries of readership and publicity, rag-bags, and the transgressive novel as essay, commodity, and monster.” You can read the interview in its entirety here.

The Post-Book
S. D. Chrostowska

… By semi-public I did not mean small presses and poetic novels. I am not arguing for writerly oblivion, for self-mortification for the sake of Literature, unless as a ritual of asceticism. The existence of this literature is, as you point out, largely funded, dependent on grants and academic support. I am not romanticizing this. And I share what I take to be your concern over the increasingly public nature of writing as encouraging automatic over-sharing and self-indulgence. I think the book industry still keeps a tight rein on this, but not for long as literary publishing continues its transition to the digital. The blog and the book each have something to offer us. The blog is great for unlacing, for defining oneself by overstepping limits normally in place or, in the way you conceive it, as a counterattack against self-censorship, against the self-discipline that leads to partial self-erasure. The idea that no one reads us does, as you say, liberate, and publicness constrains. Anonymity is not the answer because we identify with Anon too. Nor is the answer to the problems that come with publicity to be found in the handwritten diary—not, anyway, for the self-aware writer who expects his/her private work to fall into the hands of others. As the standards relax thanks to the fluidity of written communication, professionalism and relative formalization catch up with us in the permissive online environment, which is neither a womb nor a solipsistic mind.

I am trying to highlight that there is no escape from publicity if you are a dedicated writer. Giving it up is not an option. One can resist some of it, discipline oneself spiritually for being overly invested in one’s public self, distracted from core concerns. And one can certainly fight against its pernicious systemic effects. This is what I find so refreshing and valuable in your work.

Isn’t it possible for the tide to turn? For certain writers to become semi-private without feeling they are sacrificing something—ambition, praise, recognition? For writers to go underground, where it is safe to say that with the aid of modern technology their work will be preserved for those who come later when the tide turns again? For writers to embrace ephemerality, not as preparatory for the real work of writing, not as a means of working up to the world of the book, but as valid in itself? For writers—some writers at least, or for some of the time—to self-semi-publish? (more…)

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Joseph Cirincione talks Iran with Fareed Zakaria

Nuclear Nightmares

This week our featured book is Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late by Joseph Cirincione. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page. Today, we have a video from Joseph Cirincione’s recent interview with Fareed Zakaria

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Nuclear Nightmares!

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Antonio Negri in conversation with Gabriele Fadini

Spinoza for Our Time

This week our featured book is Spinoza for Our Time: Politics and Postmodernity, by Antonio Negri, translated by William McCuaig and with a foreword by Rocco Gangle. We’ve excerpted brief parts of a longer conversation between Antonio Negri and Gabriele Fadini from the journal Rethinking Marxism, in which Negri discusses the role of political theology in relation to his own political philosophy.

Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Spinoza for Our Time!

Materialism and Philosophy

Gabriele Fadini: … [T]heology can be seen as a constituent element of revolutionary process even without knowing it as such. Thomas Muntzer and his political theology ofthe revolution gives us an example, and nowadays some of his ‘‘descendants’’ like Camilo Torres and the liberation theology movement continue the struggle for liberation in Latin America, leading us to reflect on these themes. What are your thoughts about this tradition?

Antonio Negri: At times there is a certain type of theology that intersects with revolutionary events. It is necessary, however, to clearly designate exactly what kind of theology we are speaking about. We must be clear here because it is equally certain that not all theologies cross revolutionary phenomena but, on the contrary, there are some theologies that cross the opposite of revolution: namely, pure ideological reproduction of Empire.

Theology becomes important for revolutionary thinking when charity and love (agape and amor) are assumed to be unrestrainable powers–where, in other words, the same logos, the same rationality is placed at love’s disposal. From this point of view, amor has first an epistemological, and then soteriological, importance. That is, it is love that individuates which are the forces and the powers that can develop the common and, through the common, realizes more and more charity. This epistemological power of love is joined to a power of liberation. Liberation here emerges as a thorough materialism, which moves from a focus on soteriology to all-out revolution. In this sense, it is necessary to try to understand what is the relation between charity and poverty, love and poverty–that is, the relation between theology and history, theology and politics.

There are two paths. The first is one in which poverty is equated with power, and so the relation between theology and politics is possible because poverty is the capacity to express different forms of love, the organization of passions, and ultimately the unfolding of desire. In the second, poverty is that flat and desperate situation that only the transcendental can redeem. It is clear that it is only the first conception of poverty that can make amor operational. That is, it is clear that only the nonmystical determination of poverty can give love a political role.

(more…)

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Interview with Writer and Filmmaker Zhu Wen

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

In keeping with our featured book this week, Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, we cover today a 2011 interview of Zhu Wen, conducted by the Wang Ge of Timeout Beijing.

In the interview, Wang discusses the multitude of Wen’s creative personas, namely as a novelist, engineer, philosopher and film-maker and he interviews Zhu about his upcoming movie release, Thomas Mao.

Wang first heard of Zhu Wen in 2002 when the bad-boy writer-film director was a guest on a radio talk show where the interviewees had been asked to bring along a book, a film and an album to represent themselves. According to him, Zhu was automatically painted as some kind of anarchist:

Ge: In 2002, he [Zhu] was still better known as a novelist, having quit his factory job in 1994 to become a writer. He didn’t join the directorial ranks until 2001, with cultish debut Seafood. The film chronicles the story of a Beijing prostitute who travels to Beidaihe to kill herself, and it flew under the radars of most film lovers. It wasn’t until his second feature, South of the Clouds (2003), the tale of a doleful-eyed retiree’s journey of self-discovery to Yunnan, that Zhu announced himself to the world. Then he disappeared. Many thought the director had quit filmmaking for good, but now he’s back with Thomas Mao – and it’s every bit the head trip you’d expect.

The film [Thomas Mao] is divided into two parts. The first half shows the cultural clashes between an Inner Mongolian yurt owner (played by artist Mao Yan) and a foreign artist (played by Thomas Rohldewald), who shares his tent for a night. The twist comes in the second half, where fiction transforms into ‘documentary’, and Zhu turns his camera on the real-life Mao Yan and his working relationship with Rohldewald, a long-time artistic collaborator.

Zhu: Both of them are good friends of mine, but it all came together when I finally figured out how the two artists are connected in their own separate realities. There was this ancient Chinese philosopher called Zhuangzi, and he dreamt of becoming a butterfly. Then he woke up and was confused as to whether he had dreamt he was a butterfly, or if he was a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. The boundaries between reality and dreams can blur together so easily that I can only explain them through their different incarnations.

The plant I worked in was built to produce machine parts, but then the Soviet Union was gone, production was stranded. So I spent my days and nights gathering my colleagues together to play poker. The factory authorities found out about this and threatened to fire me for gambling, which is illegal. Then, all of a sudden, the plant recovered, production began and skilled engineers were needed. So they called me back when I’d already packed my bags. But one day, when I finished work for the day, I looked at all these assembly lines and thought: What am I doing here?

(more…)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

An Interview with Translator Julia Lovell

The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan: More Stories of China, by Zhu Wen

In keeping with our featured book this week, Zhu Wen’s The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, we cover today an interview with the book’s translator Julia Lovell, conducted by the Los Angeles Review of Books.

In the interview, Lovell discusses the compelling points of translating The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan, especially as the book compares to both Zhu Wen’s previous collection of short fiction, I Love Dollars, and other prominent contemporary Chinese writers.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Matchmaker, the Apprentice, and the Football Fan!

On Zhu Wen’s Stories and Other Works of Chinese Fiction: A Q & A with Julia Lovell

Jeffrey Wasserstrom: In an endorsement of the new collection, Jonathan Spence, who praised I Love Dollars in the London Review of Books, says that this “second volume of short stories” is “both darker and denser than the first.” Does that fit with your feeling about the new book or would you characterize the contrast differently?

Julia Lovell: I think that’s a perceptive comment by Jonathan Spence. There was plenty that was shocking and dark about the first collection – in particular, the kind of careless amorality that some of the stories diagnosed in 1990s China. But there was also, I think, a strand of humor, a strong appreciation of the farcical, running through some of the pieces. That’s less dominant in the new collection. Two of the stories that take a more conversational, absurdist take on life in the People’s Republic – “Da Ma’s Way of Talking” and “The Apprentice” – are also overtly tinged with sadness. The relaxed, humorous narration of the first story contrasts with its ending; in the second piece, the lightly sardonic tone blurs into the narrator’s sense of despairing melancholy as he feels increasingly trapped by his future in the socialist economy. At the same time though, I think that the new volume offers more thoughtful insights into human relationships, and into the impact of political pressures on day-to-day life.

But I’m still very drawn to work that showcases the more relaxed side of Chinese culture. At the moment, I’m working on a new abridgement of Journey to the West, a book from the imperial Chinese canon that fizzes with humorous irreverence. Stodgy Neo-Confucians, covetous Buddhists and libidinous Taoists – all are mocked in the novel; at one point, the book’s hero, the Monkey King, even urinates on the hand of the Buddha.
(more…)

Friday, August 30th, 2013

An Interview with Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen

The Ethical Economy

As we continue our week-long feature of The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis, by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen, we look to the authors’ interview with Zoe Romano at Digicult as they discuss the ideas of productive publics, economy reputation, and their joint role in the plausible shift toward an Ethical Economy.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Ethical Economy!

Ethical Economy. The New Distribution of Value

Zoe Romano: How do you see ethical phenomena like the signal of the emergence of a new way of production (what you call ‘Ethical Economy’) in addition to the emergence of a market niche, a term often used and abused to clean up the image of a company? Are we really facing a substantial change?

Adam Arvidsson & Nicolai Peitersen: The reason why these phenomena do not represent only a market niche is because they are companies’ and brands’ rational response to a deeper structural change. This deep transformation is made of two main elements: On one hand there is the rise of what we call “the productive publics,” and on the other hand the growing of the economy reputation.
In the book we show how the “productive publics” are becoming increasingly important for the organization of both the immaterial and the material. The “productive publics” identify collaborative networks of strangers who interact in a highly mediatic way (which often doesn’t need the use of informatic networks or social media) and who coordinate their interactions through sharing a common set of values. By coordinating production in such a way, the productive publics are different from markets and bureaucracies, not only because they allow one to consider as good reasons a wider range of issues, but also because they tend to be highly independent in conferring a value to the productive contribution of their members. In the book, we suggest that the productive publics are becoming increasingly influential in the information economy, not only in alternative circuits like Free Software, but also within the corporate economy itself, especially around the immaterial assets that in some sectors reach two thirds of the market value. As a result, there is recent growing emphasis on ethics and social responsibility in corporations which can be understood as an attempt to accommodate the orders of worth promoted by the productive publics.
(more…)

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

On Being a Sports Statistician: more interviews with Ben Alamar

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar, with a foreword by Dean Oliver. Today, the last day of our book giveaway, we have an excerpt from a couple of print interviews with Ben Alamar on his book, the use of statistics in organizations, and how one should prepare for a career as a sports statistician. The first of these two interviews can be found in its entirety on the Sports Analytics Blog, and the second at STATtr@k.

Sports Analytics Blog Interview

SA Blog: What made you decide to switch from “Corporate America” (where you worked for PwC) to the sports industry?

Ben: I switched careers as soon as I realized that I might be able to create a career in sports for myself. I grew up as a sports junky, but not a baseball fan, so it was not until after I had finished graduate school that I became aware of Bill James and the use of statistical analysis in baseball. Once I saw what was happening in baseball, and I had the good fortune of working with Aaron Schatz, Roland Beech and Jeff Ma at Protrade, I was sold. The possibility to apply these tools in football and basketball were too exciting to me to pass up.
(more…)

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Interviews with Ben Alamar

Global Intellectual History

This week our featured book is Sports Analytics: A Guide for Coaches, Managers, and Other Decision Makers, by Benjamin C. Alamar, with a foreword by Dean Oliver. Today, we have a couple of great interviews with Ben Alamar, one with Grantland’s Zach Lowe and one with BBall Breakdown’s Coach Nick.

Enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of the book!

Zach Lowe and Ben Alamar: “The Thunder Almost Drafted Brook Lopez Instead of Russell Westbrook”

Coach Nick and Ben Alamar: “NBA Chat With Ben Alamar – Analytics Consultant for the Cleveland Cavaliers”

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

A Q&A with Peter J. Steinberger

The Problem with God

This week our featured book is The Problem with God: Why Atheists, True Believers, and Even Agnostics Must All Be Wrong, by Peter J. Steinberger. Today, we have a Q&A with Professor Steinberger, in which he addresses objections to his argument, discusses the “reassurance” offered at the end of his book, and explains why his conclusion should be as troubling to atheists and agnostics as to theists.

Be sure to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Problem with God!

Question: In The Problem with God, you seek to understand the psychology of god-belief, and, in doing so, you explore the beliefs of ordinary folk. But is that the best approach? If we want to ask questions about god’s existence, why should we rely on ordinary folk? The question of God’s existence may seem unanswerable to me, but, then, so do questions about theoretical physics. Just as questions of physics are best decided by experts, by physicists, why shouldn’t we look to relevant experts when addressing questions of ontology?

Peter Steinberger: For the most part, in questions of science, the problem is not simply or primarily, or not really, conceptual/logical. The problem is largely a lack of information. So we do experiments or field investigations or calculations in order to get more and more information about how things operate in the world. The problem with God is not like this at all. The problem is not that we lack information. The problem is that our thinking is confused, in the sense of being self-contradictory.
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Thursday, July 11th, 2013

August Turak Unplugged

Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks

This week our featured book is Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO’s Quest for Meaning, by August Turak. Turak is a successful entrepreneur, corporate executive, and award-winning writer. He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Selling Magazine, the New York Times, and Business Week. He is also a popular leadership contributor at Forbes.com. His website is www.augustturak.com. Today we have a collection of some recent interviews by Mr. Turak. First, we have a short video in which he speaks about some of the ideas contained in Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks.

Next, we have an interview with Mr. Turak from WNYC’s The Takeaway, in which he tells us “why we should pay closer attention to the motivation behind our work and the business skills you can learn from examining the principles of Trappist monks.”

And finally, you can click here to watch Mr. Turak speaking with Jordan Goodman at The Money Answers Show on why success in business does not necessitate sacrificing ethics or happiness for profit.

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Part 2 of a Q&A with Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White, authors of If A, then B

If A, Then BIn If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic, Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White track the emergence and expansion of logic as a field of study. Today we have the second half of a Q&A with Shenefelt and White, who both teach Great Books at NYU’s Liberal Studies Program (read the first half here). In today’s half, Shenefelt and White explain their claim that, throughout history, the development of logic has reflected larger social changes happening in the world. And be sure to check out the book’s website!

Q: All your discussion of the historical roots of logic makes it sound like logic is all a consequence of the ancient world’s history.

Michael Shenefelt: It’s also a consequence of the modern world’s history. Consider the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries. That’s what finally generated the logic that runs your computer—symbolic logic. The first fully symbolic systems came from George Boole and Augustus De Morgan in England in 1847, just as the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Both thinkers said explicitly that they were seeking a way to make reasoning “mechanical.” Industrialization showed a whole generation of thinkers the immense power of mechanical operations, especially in the manufacture of cloth, and some wanted to achieve a similar effect in reasoning. A similar impulse also led to the development of abstract algebra, and this so-called mechanical effect in algebra was much stressed by John Stuart Mill. Later in the century, when Germany industrialized, you see the eminent figures of Gottlob Frege, George Cantor, and Richard Dedekind—great names in logic and mathematics. And when the Fiat automobile company was manufacturing cars in Turin, Italy, Giuseppe Peano started working at the University of Turin; Peano’s notation still underlies a lot of symbolic logic. Industrialization and symbolic logic were intimately connected. And then there’s the case of the United States. When the United States industrialized in the wake of the Civil War, Charles Sanders Peirce worked out a symbolic logic of his own and pointed out that logic problems might be solved using electrical switches.
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Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Part 1 of a Q&A with Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White, authors of If A, Then B

If A, Then BIn If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic, Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White track the emergence and expansion of logic as a field of study. Today we have the first half of a Q&A with Shenefelt and White, who both teach Great Books at NYU’s Liberal Studies Program, in which the two authors discuss the origins of logic, look at some of logic’s many uses, and give a convincing case for why studying logic is a valuable thing to do. And be sure to check out the book’s website!

Question: Why do you say logic comes out of politics?

Heidi White: Formal logic began as a reaction to political failure in ancient Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. Many Athenians blamed the city’s defeat in the long war with Sparta on tricky and deceptive reasoning in the Athenian Assembly; they believed demagogues had misled the voters into endorsing a disastrous military campaign. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? The philosopher Plato complained about this tricky and deceptive reasoning all the time. He was relentless in insisting on the difference between persuasion that relied on dubious reasons or a lack of evidence and persuasion that was well reasoned and well supported. And in the end, he came to the view that good government had to rely on genuine knowledge, and knowledge had to be based on sound argument. His student Aristotle then zeroed in on formal deductive logic as a crucial part of sound reasoning.
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