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July 26th, 2016

New Book Tuesday: The Conversational Firm, Love in the Dark, Carceral Fantasies, and More!



The Conversational Fim, Catherine J. Turco

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media
Catherine J. Turco

The Antiegalitarian Mutation: The Failure of Institutional Politics in Liberal Democracies
Nadia Urbinati and Arturo Zampaglione; Translated by Martin Thom

Love in the Dark: Philosophy by Another Name
Diane Enns

Jews and the American Religious Landscape
Uzi Rebhun

Carceral Fantasies: Cinema and Prison in Early Twentieth-Century America
Alison Griffiths

What’s the Use of Truth? (Now available in paper)
Richard Rorty and Pascal Engel; Translated by William McCuaig

The Metamorphoses of Fat: A History of Obesity (Now available in paper)
Georges Vigarello; Translated by C. Jon Delogu

Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach (Now available in paper)
Philip Kitcher

The Tale of Hansuli Turn
Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay. Translated by Ben Conisbee Baer

The Return of the Unicorns: The Natural History and Conservation of the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros (Now available in paper)
Eric Dinerstein. Foreword by George B. Schaller

American Mobilities: Geographies of Class, Race, and Gender in US Culture
Julia Leyda
(Transcript-Verlag)

Art Unlimited?: Dynamics and Paradoxes of a Globalizing Art World
Franz Schultheis, Erwin Single, Raphaela Köfeler, and Thomas Mazzurana
(Transcript-Verlag)

Read the rest of this entry »

July 26th, 2016

Emotions, Drives, and the Brain



Not So Different

“In this book, I discuss experiments that have revealed features of animal behavior that are strikingly similar to human behavior. These similarities, as far as I can tell, can only be explained by acknowledging that human and animal brains run some of the same behavioral programs.” — Nathan H. Lents.

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. Today, we are happy to present the books introduction, in which Lents lays out his project and explains what he hopes to achieve.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Not So Different!

July 25th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals



Not So Different

Not So Different lucidly and entertainingly reminds us just how much of us there is in other mammals and vertebrates—and how much of them there is in us. You may never think of yourself in quite the same way again.” — Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History

This week, our featured book is Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals, by Nathan H. Lents. 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.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Not So Different. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 29th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

July 22nd, 2016

University Press Roundup



Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments. (And look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do this post every Friday.)

This week, Yale University Press’s Yale Books Unbound blog shared an excerpt from Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World by Janet Polasky that highlights printed news’ surge in popularity during the French and American revolutions. Her book, which focuses on the international revolutionary exchange of ideas between 1776 and 1804 across the Atlantic ocean, explains that before the revolutions, newspapers were primarily read by individually wealthy people, and that European politics had generally only been the business of expensive international gazettes. However, circulation exploded during the revolutions, expanding revolutionary discussions and political debate from small pamphlets into the broader realm of printed newspapers.

Princeton University Press’ blog recently discussed Jason Brennan’s new book Against Democracy, which argues against the popular idea that democracy promotes equality and empowers its citizens to be more informed. In the book, Brennan explains that in a democratic society, people differ in many ways regarding what their beliefs are, how they share their beliefs, and how likely their beliefs are to be changed based on how objectively they think about social science and philosophy. According to Brennan, there are three types of democratic archetypes- hobbits, hooligans, and vulcans. Hobbits are “mostly ignorant and apathetic about politics, lack strong, fixed political opinions, and are ignorant of current events and the social science used to evaluate those events” or, according to Brennan, the typical non-voter in the US. Hooligans “possess strong and fixed opinions, are able to present arguments for their beliefs, consume political information in a biased manner, and ignore evidence that does not confirm their preexisting opinions,” which describes typical voters, registered party members, and politicians in the US. Lastly, Vulcans “think scientifically and rationally about politics”, their opinions are “grounded in social science and philosophy,” and they are “able to defend opposing points of view,” which describes a minority of people in the US. but is what supposedly democracy aims for. Thus, democracy is not working.

Johns Hopkins University press’ blog continues its Unexpected Democracy blog series with a post about shaping public opinion during the first World War. One week after the US declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, President Woodrow Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI). Under the direction of George Creel, this agency aimed to create favor for the war effort by saturating Americans from April 1917 to the end of the war in November 1918 with a deluge of leaflets, pamphlets, news bulletins, schoolroom materials, and films, in “every available medium, including the printed word, the spoken word, the motion picture, the telegraph, the cable, the wireless, the poster, the sign board.” The most significant effort of this period was the “Four Minute Men” campaign, which aimed to utilize strong speakers in communities across the country towards persuading people to support the war. These speakers would enter movie theater during intermission for four minutes, the time it took to change a film reel, to present a patriotic speech and “drum up support for the war effort.” This period of history is an interesting window into how the US government has the capacity to deliberately manipulate the way citizens think, believe, and feel.

Recently, University of North Carolina Press’ blog shared an excerpt from Us Versus Them: The United States, Radical Islam, and the Rise of the Green Threat by Douglass Little. In this important analysis of America’s persistent perception of the ominous “other”, Little explores the shift that led US policy makers to move focus over from the “Red Threat” of international communism to battling the “Green Threat” of radical Islam after the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979. This shift in the “us versus them” mentality that has historically pitted the US against “Native Americans, Mexicans, Asian immigrants, Nazis, and the Soviets” comes from the pervasive “City on a Hill” mentality that American policy has always maintained.

When Christopher Yanov was a substitute teacher at a middle school with a student body that spoke twelve different languages and “gang wannabe’s ruled the courtyard”, he saw that many of the students had the same determination and inherent intelligence and ability as many of the middle-class kids he had grown up with. The only roadblock for them to go on to earn college degrees was the family and social support that middle class students take for granted, an ambitious vision of what they are truly able to accomplish, and a community of peers and adults who help them reach their goals. In a guest post on University of California Press’ blog, Yanov discusses his new book Grit and Hope: A Year with Five Latino Students and the Program that Helped Them Aim for College
, which tells the stories of five Latino students in his Reality Changers program, a college readiness program which aims to support disadvantaged youth in San Diego.

On Stanford University Press’ blog, Renee Ann Cramer, author of Pregnant with the Stars: Watching and Wanting the Celebrity Baby Bump , discusses Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s pregnancy as an act of feminist resistance. As Cramer has observed, “Women, especially women in the public eye, are expected to perform pregnancy and motherhood while men do not have the same demands placed on them to perform their fatherhood. Men are celebrated for their moments of paternal work; women are simply told they are doing as expected-or, where they deviate from expectations, are criticized.” It is expected to publicaly display your pregnancy, because women must conform to their function in the public eye. By refusing to be public in her pregnancy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists, is making a feminist statement that actively confronts unfair gender expectations by staying out of the public eye.

What does suicide have to do with the first amendment right to free speech? Can a college student be disciplined for sending text messages suggesting that another student commit suicide? Can a young women be prosecuted for repeatedly texting her boyfriend, insisting that he commit suicide? Susan Steffan, author of Rational Suicide, Irrational Laws: Examining Current Approaches to Suicide in Policy and Law, asks these questions, and more, in a blog post on Oxford University Press’ blog.

Thanks for reading! As always, we hope that you enjoyed the links. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

July 21st, 2016

M. Pilar Opazo at elBulli



Appetite for Innovation

This week, our featured book is Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli, by M. Pilar Opazo. Today, we are excited to present a slideshow of photographs taken by Opazo in her time researching elBulli on site at the restaurant itself and at the elBulli test kitchen.

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

July 20th, 2016

Conjectural Thinking in Oncology and the Classics



States of Nature, Stages of Society

The following is a post by Frank Palmeri, author of State of Nature, Stages of Society: Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse:

Conjectural Thinking in Oncology and the Classics
By Frank Palmeri

Conjectural history, beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century, sought to provide plausible accounts of periods for which no documentary or material evidence existed; it primarily depicted the earliest stages of society and the succession of those stages. Such speculative thinking enabled reconstructions of what might have happened in times about which no certainty was possible. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, conjectural history provided a model for the early development of the social sciences, especially anthropology, sociology, and political economy.

Today, conjectural thinking is experiencing a resurgence in fields as diverse as oncology and the classics. It is proving more productive than the positivist and scientistic notion that either we have certainty through knowledge of facts, or we know nothing of the matter in question. The alternative is not belief, but speculation, conjecture, trial-and error.

For example, in a recent piece, Siddhartha Mukherjee discusses a movement in the treatment of cancer in the last decade that is turning away from the standard protocols of chemotherapy developed in the late sixties and seventies. These forms of treatment attacked each kind of cancer, depending on where it was first located, with a certain mixture of toxic, indiscriminately cell-killing drugs. Although most cancer patients are still treated that way, oncologists now realize that every cancer is characterized by distinctive marks, by an individual combination of gene mutations. They are increasingly seeing a need to find more discerning medicines, molecules that can attack the cancer and cut off its growth by various pathways. Read the rest of this entry »

July 20th, 2016

Organizational Creativity and Radical Innovation



Appetite for Innovation

“The research for Appetite for Innovation was conducted when Adria’s organization was undergoing its most profound transformation, from a restaurant to a research center for innovation, “elBulli foundation”. The book, therefore, takes advantage of this unique moment in time to retrace the story of a restaurant that became a legend and to explore underlying factors that led to its reinvention in 2011 into a seemingly unparalleled organizational model.” — M. Pilar Opazo

This week, our featured book is Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli, by M. Pilar Opazo. Today, we are happy to crosspost a short article by Opazo, originally posted at orgtheory.net, that contextualizes her book within the field of sociology.

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

How is it possible for an organization to systematically enact changes in the larger system of which it is part? Using Ferran Adria’s iconic restaurant “elBulli” as an example of organizational creativity and radical innovation, Appetite for Innovation examines how Adria’s organization was able to systematically produce breakthroughs of knowledge within its field and, ultimately, to stabilize a new genre or paradigm in cuisine – the often called “experimental,” “molecular,” or “techno-emotional” culinary movement.

Recognized as the most influential restaurant in the world, elBulli has been at the forefront of the revolution that has inspired the gastronomic avant-garde worldwide. With a voracious appetite for innovation, year after year, Adrià and his team have broken through with new ingredients, combinations, culinary concepts and techniques that have transformed our way of understanding food and the development of creativity in haute cuisine.

Appetite for Innovation is an organizational study of the system of innovation behind Adrià’s successful organization. It reveals key mechanisms that explain the organization’s ability to continuously devise, implement and legitimate innovative ideas within its field and beyond. Based on exclusive access to meetings, observations, and interviews with renowned professionals of the contemporary gastronomic field, the book reveals how a culture for change was developed within the organization; how new communities were attracted to the organization’s work and helped to perpetuate its practice, and how the organization and its leader’s charisma and reputation were built and maintained over time. The book draws on examples from other fields, including art, science, music, theatre and literature to explore the research’s potential to inform practices of innovation and creativity in multiple kinds of organizations and industries.

The research for Appetite for Innovation was conducted when Adria’s organization was undergoing its most profound transformation, from a restaurant to a research center for innovation, “elBulli foundation”. The book, therefore, takes advantage of this unique moment in time to retrace the story of a restaurant that became a legend and to explore underlying factors that led to its reinvention in 2011 into a seemingly unparalleled organizational model.

Appetite for Innovation is primarily intended to reach and be used by academic and professionals from the fields of innovation and organizations studies. It is also directed towards a non-specialist readership interested in the topics of innovation and creativity in general. In order to engage a wider audience and show the fascinating world of chefs and the inner-workings of high-end restaurants, the book is filled with photographs of dishes, creative processes and team’s dynamics within haute cuisine kitchens and culinary labs. It also includes numerous diagrams and graphs that illustrate the practices enacted by the elBulli organization to sustain innovation, and the networks of relationships that it developed over time. Each chapter opens with an iconic recipe created by elBulli as a way of illustrating the book’s central arguments and key turning points that enable the organization to gain a strategic position within its field and become successful.

You can read the post in its entirety at orgtheory.net.

July 19th, 2016

Introducing “Appetite for Innovation”



Appetite for Innovation

“Months prior to my visit to elBulli in 2011, Adrià had announced the transformation of his mysterious restaurant into a think tank of creativity, which would reopen in 2015. Yet, when reading about elBulli’s reinvention from my office at Columbia University, I had realized that there was something puzzling about this new organization too. Despite my efforts, I hadn’t been able to understand what the elBulli Foundation was going to be about—an interesting fact in itself. And when searching the Internet, I had come across the vast amount of historical records and detailed accounts of elBulli’s creations, which, for the most part, were made available by the organization itself.” — M. Pilar Opazo

This week, our featured book is Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli, by M. Pilar Opazo. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present Opazo’s Introduction, in which she explains how she first encountered elBulli and Ferran Adrià, and what she hopes people will take away from her book.

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

July 19th, 2016

New Book Tuesday: Warren Buffett’s Investments, A World of Medicinal Plants, Friendship Reconsidered, and More!



The Book of Value

Our weekly listing of new titles now available:

Book of Value: The Fine Art of Investing Wisely
Anurag Sharma

Nature’s Pharmacopeia: A World of Medicinal Plants
Dan Choffnes

Inside the Investments of Warren Buffett: Twenty Cases
Yefei Lu

For Nirvana: 108 Zen Sijo Poems
Cho Oh-Hyun. Translated by Heinz Insu Fenkl. Introduction by Kwon Youngmin.

Friendship Reconsidered: What It Means and How It Matters to Politics
P. E. Digeser

July 18th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli



Appetite for Innovation

“Opazo has written a fascinating organizational and business analysis of the restaurant and, in the process, produced an insightful account of how a culture of innovation can be achieved and sustained.” — Forbes.com

This week, our featured book is Appetite for Innovation: Creativity and Change at elBulli, by M. Pilar Opazo. 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.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Appetite for Innovation. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 22nd at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

July 17th, 2016

Writing “Social Work Science”



Social Work Science

The following post is an interview with Ian Shaw, author of Social Work Science:

Right through its history there have been those who believe social work will be all the better for being regarded as in some sense as a science. I guess you are adding to this debate?

Well, I feel uncomfortable with this way of seeing things. Is social work a science? I believe for various reasons that will surface through the book that this is an unhelpful question. No social work is free from science. The ambiguous implications of these words permeate all I have written. I am not offering incorrigible assertions. For example, I distinguish evidence, understanding and justice but I do not seek to separate them. I am engaged much in defining, distinguishing, and connecting. In so doing I do not aim for some lowest common denominator. This I find of little use. It would be a poor social work science that contented itself with distilling what all statements about it have in common. While it is of undoubted use to identify what social work science in its varied manifestations has in common, it is equally, maybe more important to identify and describe its particularities. Thus I doubt it is feasible to find in a single statement (or even two or three) some way of capturing the essential meaning of social work science.

So how have you tried to approach this?

I see the work of science as a form of social action marked by a complex interplay of choice, action, and constraint. In principle I am not opposed to the idea that science in its relation to social work may be expressed rationally and, I would possibly say, systematically. But this is not in any exhaustive sense the organizing purpose of how I see their relationship, which frequently is more occasional, historical, and contextual. Augustine spoke of the doctrine of the Trinity as a fence around a mystery – i.e. it tells us what it is not and not quite what it is. I might say likewise of this essay. I am trying at best to offer not an entire body but a skeleton without which the social work science body will be flabby and misshapen. But this is some way from saying that social work as such is a science. This book is called Social Work Science to capture the multifarious ways in which, for good or ill, social work is never free of science, and to bypass the miserable connectors, ‘and,’ ‘in,’ ‘of,’ and even ‘for,’ that seem to duck out of some of the important questions. Read the rest of this entry »

July 15th, 2016

University Press Roundup



Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best articles from the blogs of academic publishers! As always, if you particularly enjoy something or think that we missed an important post, please let us know in the comments. (And look back at our University Press Roundup Manifesto to see why we do this post every Friday.)

Recently, University of Chicago’s blog shared an excerpt from an article by Natasha Kumar Warikoo, author of The Diversity Bargain and Other Dilemmas of Race, Admissions, and Meritocracy at Elite Universities. This book, which publishes this fall and examines how both white students and students of color understand race and privilege at three top-tier universities, explains “the diversity bargain”, in which white students approve of affirmative action as long as they can see how they can personally benefit from it. In her article written in The Boston Globe, she explains, “The sole emphasis on benefits to themselves also leads many white students to fear that affirmative action may in the future limit their opportunities. Affirmative action becomes an easy scapegoat when they fail in competitive processes like graduate school admission, summer internships, and jobs.”

Earlier this year, Harvard University Press published Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum. This week, Harvard University Press’ blog shared additional findings that Kirschenbaum has uncovered since publication of the book. 1981, an important year for word processing, saw the debut of the Osborne 1 and IBM PC and when Isaac Asimov had his first home computer delivered to him. It was also the year that Gay Courter published her best selling novel, The Midwife, which she wrote on an $18,000 IBM System 6 word processor. Kirschenbaum’s post examines the significance of one of the first female author’s contribution to the history of word processing and how she influenced other authors to write using a word processor as well.

As part of Johns Hopkins University Press’ blog series Unexpected America, The Perils of Overpromising: Boosterism in the Twenties and Now links patterns of turmoil within the Republican party in the United States and in the United Kingdom following the Brexit vote to patterns seen in the response to the New Economy of the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Phillip G. Payne, author of Crash!: How the Economic Boom and Bust of the 1920s Worked, shares how during the 1930s, it is “easy to find victims of a poor economy, but before that not everyone won in the New Era economy of the twenties, regardless of the bullish promises of boosters and technocrats. Similarly, the bullish promises of globalization and free trade have not included all, and those who were left behind have demonstrated their discontent at the ballot.”

Between 1819 and 1845, as veterans of the Revolutionary War were filing applications to receive pensions for their service, the newly-formed government learned that many of the soldiers were not men, but boys, many of whom were under the age of sixteen, and some even as young as nine. This week, University of North Carolina Press’ blog shared an excerpt from Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution by Caroline Cox, which explores the life of a boy soldier and considers how “a strong desire to enlist” led him to join the army at the age of sixteen.

On From The Square, New York University Press’ blog, Derek W. Black, author of Ending Zero Tolerance: The Crisis of Absolute School Discipline explains a new position taken by the National Education Association (NEA) about school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline. The school-to-prison pipeline disproportionately places minority students, those with disabilities, and those who are English language learners into the criminal justice system for minor disciplinary infractions that could easily be dealt with by school administrators, subjecting them to harsher punishments than their white peers would receive for the same behaviors. Overall, the school-to-prison pipeline drastically diminishes students’ educational opportunities and positive outlook about their futures. The new policy, which aims to end this trajectory, will focus on five major points: “Eliminating Disparities in Discipline Practices; Creating a Supportive and Nurturing School Climate; Professional Training and Development; Partnerships and Community Engagement; and Student and Family Engagement.”

Stanford University Press’ blog shares a post about redefining what “organic” food means through the USDA’s current proposal to transform the treatment of poultry and livestock on organic farms. Michael A. Haedicke, author of Organizing Organic: Conflict and Compromise in an Emerging Market, shares how the proposed rules would include increasing the minimum size of dairy cow pens, require farmers to allow chickens to roam free-range, and prohibit physically altering animals, such as poultry de-beaking. These changes, according to Haedicke, are a double-edged sword. He thinks that these actions could move large-scale food production businesses in a positive direction, while at the same time the marketing techniques of large companies may eclipse the efforts of small, local farms. “If a consumer who is concerned about farm animal treatment believes that the chickens who produce conventional eggs for Wal-Mart are treated as well as (or even better than) organically-raised chickens,” he writes, “why would she buy pricier organic eggs?”

Thanks for reading! As always, we hope that you enjoyed the links. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

July 15th, 2016

A Media Roundup for “Exhaustion: A History”



Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

“To my surprise, I found that ours is far from being the only age to have perceived itself as the most exhausted—many people in the past have felt exactly as we do now…. anxieties about the exhaustion of our energies is a concern that reaches back all the way to the age of classical antiquity.”—Anna Katharina Schaffner

We conclude our week-long feature on Exhaustion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner with links to some of the reviews of the book and interviews with and posts by Anna Katharina Schaffner:

First, you can read her essay in Aeon Why exhaustion is not unique to our overstimulated age:

Analyzing the history of exhaustion, one can find historically specific theories of what causes exhaustion, as well as a tendency to look back nostalgically to a supposedly simpler time. However, the continual production of theories about the loss of human energy is also an expression of timeless anxieties about death, ageing and the dangers of waning engagement. Theorising about exhaustion, and proposing cures and therapeutics for its effects, is a tactic to counteract the awareness of our helplessness in the face of our mortality. It is, in other words, a terror-management strategy designed to hold at bay our most existential fears – fears that are in no way peculiar to today.

There was an excellent interview with Anna Katharina Schaffner in Psychology Today in which she ties the concept of exhaustion to our current environmental crisis:

The concept of exhaustion means that a limited quantity of something—usually something non-renewable—is used up in its entirety. In the context of mental and physical exhaustion, the entity that is being depleted is human energy. Current ecological debates about sustainability center around the idea that our planetary resources are being depleted at an ever more rapid rate, and that a critical point is being reached such that the planet will not be able to replenish them or repair the ecological damage. The greatest threat now is a terminally exhausted planet, a habitat that has become uninhabitable because it has been stripped of its vital resources, just like a worn-out human body. What is unique to our age is that the fear of exhaustion has for the first time been extended beyond the individual or the social to the environment. And unlike other anxieties about exhaustion, the threat of the irrevocable exhaustion of our environmental resources is one that would include everyone, young and old.

The book also received a very positive review in Psychology Today. In the following excerpt, the reviewer looks at Schaffner’s treatment of the fear and pride we associate with exhaustion:

Schaffner highlights not just what we’ve known about exhaustion at various points in history but why we’ve feared it, epitomized in her discussion of Bram Stoker’s symbolism-laden Dracula of 1897 and other Victorian vampire narratives. The villainous protagonists of these stories, she reminds us, were aligned with necrophilia, homosexuality, polygamy, fetishism, gynophobia, and oral sex, but their aristocratic mien and ability to suck the precious life energy from their victims led many observers, including Marx, to link them to capitalist exploiters.

Exhaustion astutely focuses on one particular wrinkle of energy depletion that modern readers will immediately recognize—the pride certain people have long taken in their alleged burnout symptoms. We all know people who insist on telling us every time we meet how worn out they are, how much they have to do—and, implicitly, how important and in demand they are

July 15th, 2016

Writing “States of Nature, Stages of Society”



States of Nature, Stages of Society

The following post is an interview with Frank Palmeri, author of State of Nature, Stages of Society: Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse:

What did you find most interesting in the course of your research for State of Nature, Stages of Society? Did you find anything that surprised you in the documents and texts you consulted?

I was able to consult many fascinating texts in my research—including scores of articles from the earliest anthropology journals in the 1860s. But the documents I found most compelling were the notes Charles Darwin made when he was preparing his thoughts and materials for writing the Descent of Man, which was published in 1871. Darwin left all his papers to Cambridge University, and they are still kept in the library there, in the boxes in which they originally arrived. I needed to go through box numbers 81-83 for his notes and papers from 1868-69.

In the first place, Darwin’s writing is extremely difficult to read, so it took me a couple of weeks to learn how to make out what he was saying in these notes. I was trying to see if there was any record that he was thinking of the conjectural historians as he wrote his own history of the early transition of mankind from our ape-like ancestors to human beings. As soon as I began looking, I was actually surprised to find that he had indeed been thinking about the conjectural historical thinkers, some of whom he had read earlier in his education—for example, in his time at Cambridge. He referred many times to Bernard Mandeville, David Hume, and Adam Smith, as well as the eccentric Lord Monboddo, who believed that chimpanzees (he called them orangutans) were the same species as humans and were capable of speech. Read the rest of this entry »

July 14th, 2016

When the Empire Struck Back



Nation at Play

“Mid way through the discussion, the moderator asked how many in the audience had heard about the historic victory in 1911 of an Indian team over a British regimental team in the final of what was then India’s premier soccer tournament, the IFA Shield. To my surprise only a few hands went up.”—Ronojoy Sen

The following is a post by Ronojoy Sen, author of Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India:

When the Empire Struck Back
By Ronojoy Sen

It was a crisp winter afternoon and the setting was Asia’s, if not the world’s, largest literary festival. I was one of the speakers for the panel titled, India at Play, at the 2016 edition of Jaipur Literary Festival. The panel’s title was borrowed from my new book, Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India. My co-panelists included two former captains of the Indian soccer and cricket teams. Not surprisingly, it was standing room only at the open-air venue where the event was being held. Mid way through the discussion, the moderator asked how many in the audience had heard about the historic victory in 1911 of an Indian team over a British regimental team in the final of what was then India’s premier soccer tournament, the IFA Shield. To my surprise only a few hands went up.

The 1911 event is one event that I highlight in my book. The two teams that battled it out in the final were Calcutta’s Mohun Bagan and the East Yorkshire Regiment. Under the stewardship of Sailen Bose and the captain, Shibdas Bhaduri, a remarkable student of the game, Mohun Bagan formed a team that could challenge the best of the British teams in India. Curiously, the team played precisely eleven players in the IFA Shield; that is, it had no bench strength in case of injuries. This was a real gamble, since ten players of the Mohun Bagan XI played barefoot, with, oddly enough, the only non-Hindu in the team, left back Rev. Sudhir Chatterjee, wearing boots. It is tempting to link Chatterjee’s religion and his boots, but it was more likely that he picked up the habit when studying abroad. Besides, if popular accounts are to be believed, every effort was made to deter the Bagan players, working in British-run organizations, from training for their team. Read the rest of this entry »

July 14th, 2016

Is Not Ours The Most Exhausted Age in History?



Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

We continue our week-long feature on Exhaustion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner, at the beginning with the introduction to the book (see below).

Schaffner argues that while today’s world might seem particularly stressful or pressured, we have felt exhausted throughout history. The introduction lays out some of the key questions she considers in the book:

There is no doubt that the specter of exhaustion shapes both public debates and lived experience in the early twenty-first century, chiming eerily with our weary zeitgeist. Is not ours the most exhausted age in history? And does the current epidemic of exhaustion not threaten the very future of the human animal? There are many who believe this to be the case.9 Yet before simply assenting to this assessment of our times, there is another question that needs to be asked: What do we really mean when we speak of exhaustion? In spite of the ubiquity and the metaphorical potency of the term, and its many applications in medical, psychological, economic, and political debates, exhaustion is a slippery concept, one that borders on, and often overlaps with, various others. How can we define exhaustion, and how can we demarcate it from related ideas and diagnoses? Is exhaustion a state that we can quantify scientifically, or is it a wholly subjective experience? Is it primarily a physical or a mental condition? Is it predominantly an individual or a wider sociocultural experience? Is it really the bane of our age, something that is intimately bound up with modernity and its discontents, or have other historical periods also seen themselves as the most exhausted?

Schaffner also examines the central contradiction that makes exhaustion so central and difficult to avoid both as a state and a concept, particularly in today’s world:

Finally, exhaustion is bound up with two contradictory desires: the concept chimes with us because, on the one hand, we all long for rest and the permanent cessation of exertion and struggle. A part of us wishes to return to an earthly paradise, from which work is banished—a state that resembles childhood, in which we are relieved of all responsibilities, and where everything revolves around pleasure. Yet, on the other hand, work is crucial not only for our survival but also for the shaping of our identity. It is bound up with self-realization and autonomy. In our age, moreover, work is particularly overdetermined: boundaries between public and private selves, between work and leisure, and profession and calling, are becoming ever more blurred.

July 13th, 2016

When Movies Were Theater — William Paul



When Movies Were Theater, William Paul

“If we can now divorce movies from any specific architectural space, we still need to see the extent to which architecture in the past not only shaped our individual experience of movies, but helped shape the movies themselves.”—William Paul

The following post is by William Paul, author of When Movies Were Theater: Architecture, Exhibition, and the Evolution of American Film:

I open When Movies Were Theater by describing my own experience of movies: “What does it mean to say, ‘I saw a movie last night’? When I first began teaching film studies about four decades ago, students and I shared a common understanding of this phrase. Nowadays, I’m uncertain. Where my imagination still determinedly conjures up visions of a theater at night, lights, lobbies, crowds, the student was more likely domestic, snugly ensconced in a dorm room with, in the not too distant past, a VCR, a DVD player, or, most recently, a laptop, tablet, or even a phone.

Previously, the actual experience of seeing a movie always meant something more than just seeing the film itself. In first-run theaters in the United States, it meant a luxurious waste of space, ornamentation and opulence in excess; it meant a full proscenium stage and curtains; and it meant balconies, loges, sometimes second balconies, and a sea of seats. In short, viewing a movie in the past was also an experience of architecture, an experience of both the film image and the grand theatrical space that contained it.

This primal experience of movies in a specific architectural context inevitably conditioned how I thought about them subsequently. This is most evident in a personal quirk: while I can easily forget the plot of a movie, I never forget where I saw it. More recently, the moving image seems to have liberated itself from a specific architectural space to float freely through every conceivable space. This change has made me ponder how context might determine text, the central concern my book.

When I was a child, downtown New Haven had four picture palaces. Dating back to the 1920s or earlier, all were fairly large-scale for a small city and designed for stage-show presentations as well as movies. These cavernous spaces held a special fascination for a small child, somewhere between formidable and embracing. The very size of the theaters made movies seem all the more magical, originating as an intense stream of cold white fire from some distant blinking star that could never be approached. The space of each theater created its own drama as every interior possessed its own character: the Italianate style and eerie purple lighting of the two Loew’s theaters, the burnished white and gold deco surfaces of the local Paramount, the looming dark brown Gothic of Warner’s Sherman (named after Roger), a complement to the Yale buildings only a few blocks away.

Like most people of my generation, my brightest moviegoing memories are inescapably attached to these large, luxurious spaces, making it easy to be¬come nostalgic over what today’s audiences are missing. The sheer scale of the architecture made these theaters quite simply more theatrical than our current movie venues. And it was scale that ignited a movie experience that remains brilliant in memory: when Bill Haley began to sing “Rock Around the Clock” under the opening title of Blackboard Jungle (1953), the first time rock music was heard in a Hollywood movie, the entire Loew’s Poli set to rocking, more than three thousand teenagers cheering, clapping, bouncing in their seats, and dancing in the aisles. Something of this sort might happen now at a rock concerts and sporting events, but here it was preamble to a dramatic narrative and shaped our experience of the narrative, creating a primal theater, theater as communal ritual.

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July 13th, 2016

On Exhaustion and Human Energy



Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

The following is a post by Anna Katharina Schaffner, author of Exhaustion: A History:

Exhaustion is frequently represented as a distinctly modern phenomenon caused by acceleration, new modes of communication and transportation, and changes in the nature and organization of work. Our own age, many commentators claim, is the most exhausting in history: having become slaves to our gadgets and victims of neoliberal techno-capitalist competition, more people than ever suffer from exhaustion-related syndromes such as burnout, stress, and depression. Commentators arguing that our levels of exhaustion are unprecedented in human history imagine the past as a much less energy-draining time in which people lived life at a slower pace in harmony with nature and the seasons.

However, I asked myself whether that was really the case, and decided to research other historical periods in search of exhaustion discourses. To my surprise, I found that writers in virtually every period have reflected on exhaustion and theorized its causes. The mental and physical symptoms of exhaustion feature prominently in a range of historical diagnoses from classical antiquity to the present day. These diagnoses include acedia in the medieval period, melancholia in classical antiquity, the Renaissance, and the eighteenth century, neurasthenia in the nineteenth century, and depression, stress, burnout, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Exhaustion, it seems, is in fact a perennial human concern, related to our anxieties about illness, ageing, the waning of our engagement with the world, and death.

Yet in each period the causes and effects of exhaustion are theorized in radically different ways. The kind of exhaustion in which I am interested (not merely physical exhaustion resulting from exertion or somatic illnesses that can be alleviated by resting) involves the mind, the body, and the social. In each period, the interplay between these three forces is imagined in different ways. Sometimes, a biological explanation is privileged, sometimes the explanation is psychological or spiritual, and sometimes it is psychosocial or cultural.

The causal explanations of exhaustion are diverse, ranging from biochemical imbalances, somatic ailments, and viral diseases to spiritual failings (monks suffering from acedia were seen as weak in their faith). In the past, exhaustion has also been linked to loss, the alignment of the planets, a perverse desire for death, and socio-economic disruption. Being exhausted has also frequently been associated with individual exceptionality, and qualities such as sensitivity, creativity, high intelligence, and, more recently, a strong work ethic. To say that one is stressed or burnt out implies that one works hard and is much in demand. To be exhausted can thus become a badge of honor.

Each theory of exhaustion also involves conceptions of agency, willpower, and responsibility for one’s state of well-being. In the Middle Ages, for example, giving in to exhaustion was considered a grave spiritual failing, a result of weak faith. Often, the causes of exhaustion are thought to be external, such as the hustle and bustle of urban life, over-stimulation of the senses, stressful working environments, or viral diseases. Frequently, it is also assumed that one’s mental state plays a major role in states of exhaustion, either as a cause or as a consequence of exhaustion. Hopelessness, weariness, disillusionment, and lack of engagement can all be both symptoms and exhaustion-generators. Social factors, too, can impact on an individual’s energy levels, such as optimism about the political future of a country or wide-ranging cultural pessimism.

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July 12th, 2016

Interview with William Paul, author of “When Movies Were Theater”



When Movies Were Theater, William Paul

“How to arrange a movie theater might seem a fairly simple matter: a projector at one end, a screen at the other, seats in between. But it turned out not to be so simple after all.”—William Paul

The following is an interview with William Paul, author of When Movies Were Theater: Architecture, Exhibition, and the Evolution of American Film:

Question: Nowadays, we are used to watching movies anywhere and everywhere. Why should the space in which we view a movie make any difference?

William Paul: Beginning with the rise of television in the 1950s, the moving image became progressively divorced from architecture, but before that movies were for the most part associated with a specific architectural form. Given that early movies ran for less than a minute, showing a collection of them in a row could fit very nicely into the modular programming of the vaudeville theater. And so, in the United States, movies initially became associated with vaudeville, with each of the short films in the collection chosen for the sake of variety. Consequently, variety became a strong concern in American film exhibition. With the decline of live performance in the sound period, variety nevertheless continued to be an important concern in movie exhibition: programs of short films and double bills, two features for the price of one, made up in variety what was lost in live performance. And variety might well have been a governing aesthetic in American film production, leading to odd things like song numbers in gangster films or in film noir.

Q: So, theater programming at the time had an impact on film exhibition, but in what ways did the space of the theater impact on movies?

WP: How to arrange a movie theater might seem a fairly simple matter: a projector at one end, a screen at the other, seats in between. But it turned out not to be so simple after all. Vaudeville theaters in the 1890s, for example, were built on the dominant horseshoe form, which put a large proportion of the audience at extreme angles to the movie screen. The early design for purpose-built movie theaters recognized the problem of side-view distortion by an understanding that long and narrow was the best configuration for viewing a flat image.

The increasing dominance of the feature film throughout the teens coincides with the building of the great movie palaces. Architecturally these invoked live-performance theaters, but on a scale that went far beyond anything used for drama. While the theaters built in Times Square in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century ranged from about 600 to 2,000 seats, the palaces ranged from 2,500 to 6,000 seats. These enormous sizes were based on the belief, actually mistaken, that the optics of the motion picture image presented the same view to every audience member and democratized theater in the process. While early film theory sought to distinguish movies from theater, the architecture of these spaces announced that movies were an extension of theater, drama for the masses. These theaters stressed the continuity between movies and live drama in one other regard: the screen was located upstage, anywhere from twelve to twenty feet back from the curtain line, and placed within a theatrical set rather than the now familiar black cloth surround. The set was often a variation on a window in a garden, with the window being replaced by a screen when the show began, but it also might be a set specifically related to the content of the feature film. So, for example, performances of Quo Vadis (1913) had the image surrounded by a set that invoked ancient Rome. Although the image would be the brightest area on the stage, the set would be visible throughout the show and necessarily had an impact on how movies were shot.

Q: Does this mean that the theaters impacted on film style?

WP: There is ample evidence, from contemporary observers as well as the films themselves, that these palaces did have an impact on the development of American film style. Even as the architectural spaces kept getting bigger and bigger, the screen itself remained fairly small in order to keep the image sharp and brightly illuminated. In the early store theaters and nickelodeons that preceded the rise of the feature film, the screens generally ran from twelve to fourteen feet wide. In the palaces the screens grew somewhat larger, ranging from twenty to twenty-four feet wide, but they would be located on stages with proscenium openings from about forty all the way up to one hundred feet. Aside from emphasizing the theatricality of movies, one of the functions of the “picture settings,” the theatrical sets that surrounded the film image, was to make the image seem less small by expanding the visual field. Locating this small image on a very large stage had a number of consequences, but let me isolate the most obvious one here: as the architectural spaces got progressively larger, the camera throughout the teens got progressively closer in. The resulting style which became dominant in the twenties privileged close-ups as a way of making story points or revealing character. Clearly this style was in part a consequence of the grand spaces in which these movies were shown.

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July 12th, 2016

3 Questions for Anna Katharina Schaffner, author of “Exhaustion: A History”



Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

“To my surprise, I found that ours is far from being the only age to have perceived itself as the most exhausted—many people in the past have felt exactly as we do now…. anxieties about the exhaustion of our energies is a concern that reaches back all the way to the age of classical antiquity.”—Anna Katharina Schaffner

The following is an interview with Anna Katharina Schaffner, author of Exhaustion: A History:

Q: What inspired you to write a book on exhaustion?

Anna Katharina Schaffner: Like many people, I have experienced exhaustion in its various mental and physical modalities first-hand. I understand exhaustion as a state of being that can be broken down into a range of mental and physical symptoms, including weariness, hopelessness, and disillusionment; and weakness, lethargy, and fatigue. Exhaustion can also be manifest in behaviors such as restlessness, irritability, and the waning of engagement. In my book I am not so much concerned with purely physical exhaustion that is the result of bodily exertion and that can be alleviated by resting, but with chronic, less straightforward cases of exhaustion that are caused by a combination of mental, physical, and wider social phenomena.

A few years ago, I also noticed a significant increase in media debates about stress, burnout, and depression—diagnoses which are all structured around core exhaustion symptoms. Most commentators on exhaustion-related syndromes argue that modernity and its discontents are responsible for our collective exhaustion. They blame acceleration, the spread of new communication technologies such as the Internet, our 24/7 consumer culture, and a radically transformed neoliberal working environment for the vampiric depletion of our energies. They all seem to believe that ours is the most exhausting period in history, and tend nostalgically to glorify the past as a less energy-draining time in which people lived less taxing lives in harmony with nature and the seasons.

I wondered whether that was really the case, and started researching other historical periods in search of earlier discourses on exhaustion. To my surprise, I found that ours is far from being the only age to have perceived itself as the most exhausted—many people in the past have felt exactly as we do now. In fact, I found that anxieties about the exhaustion of our energies is a concern that reaches back all the way to the age of classical antiquity. The causes and effects of exhaustion are theorized in medical, theological, philosophical, popular, and literary sources in virtually every historical period.

Q: Why is the idea of the exhaustion of our energies so disconcerting?

AKS: Fears about the depletion of our energies are related to deep-seated and timeless anxieties about ageing, the waning of our engagement with the world, and death. These fears remain constant through history. What differs is how the causes and effects of exhaustion are explained. Exhaustion is a phenomenon that involves the mind, the body, and socio-political factors, and narratives about exhaustion can reveal very interesting insights into how the interplay of these forces is theorized at a given historical moment. Moreover, the theorists of exhaustion often blame very specific social, political, or technological developments for the perceived rise in exhaustion symptoms. In the eighteenth century, the consumption of exotic foods, spices, and other luxury goods was held responsible for an increase in exhaustion among the people, while in the late nineteenth century, it was attributed to a faster pace of life as a result of trains, steam boats, electricity, and telegraphy. Today, we tend to blame our exhaustion on the erosion of the boundaries between work and leisure brought about by smart phones, which render us perpetually reachable and which make it impossible for us properly to “switch off”. The technologies that were supposed to make our lives easier and to save our energies have brought in their wake a whole new range of psycho-social stressors that undo their benefits.

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