Much as I enjoyed this, it does suffer a little from second book syndrome, torn as it is between driving the narrative of this mystery and setting upMuch as I enjoyed this, it does suffer a little from second book syndrome, torn as it is between driving the narrative of this mystery and setting up the characters and narrative arcs of the series. That said, the sisters Korb & Lefebvre, do well to lull the reader into a sense of smug security that we know more than the ensemble Legris doing the investigation, that is until they up the ante a little over half way through leaving us as readers about as mystified as the investigators. It’s all quite nicely done, but there is a little too much reliance on chance, the plot a little to disparate – but the longer term character development is well done, especially the problem of Kenji Mori’s mysterious young woman friend, but Joseph’s petulance-driven desire to investigate is irritating. There is much to redeem in the third of the series....more
One of the things I appreciate about Kathy Reichs is that she is not afraid to grapple intelligently and in a broadly liberal mode with problematic isOne of the things I appreciate about Kathy Reichs is that she is not afraid to grapple intelligently and in a broadly liberal mode with problematic issues – in this case, non-conventional religious/spiritual beliefs, namely Wicca and the Church of Satan as well as the religious right. She is also an excellent user of red herrings and there are more than enough in this keep me well off centre – just when I figured I had it sussed, a key clue was shown to be a diversion. Just perfect for a long haul flight....more
It is often sobering to recall that the lines on the maps marking what we now think of the USA are all fairly recent, and that only about 160 years agIt is often sobering to recall that the lines on the maps marking what we now think of the USA are all fairly recent, and that only about 160 years ago large swathes of what we now call California and Arizona (and Texas) were part of the northern regions of Mexico. All this changed in the mid-1800s, with myth-making at the Alamo and redrawing of lines on maps to shift ‘ownership’ of these tracts of land to the still developing and settling into its new spaces USA as it made and claimed those spaces and places. As is the norm with any colonial state of the kind that is the USA, this making and claiming of place and space happened with no regard for the views, interests and experiences of those indigenous to those regions.
Tanya Landman’s engaging young adult novel about a young woman Apache warrior is set against this background, of the colonial tensions with Mexico, of the arrival of US Army and Anglo settlers, of the tendency for those Anglos to bring in Mexican labourers – but this is all background, appearing in the narrative when needed but not determining it. This is a story set in and against a world defined and managed, as much as possible, by Apache; by bands whose ancestors had occupied the place since time immemorial, whose complex and sophisticated family and marriage networks wove together descent lines into a single and diverse group, even when parents disapproved of those marriages.
It is also a story set against treachery, where Siki, the young woman at the centre of the story has been orphaned and left to care for her younger brother who is then some time later killed along with many others when their settlement is attacked by soldiers from a Mexican town that had invited them to settle for trade: Siki is one of the few to survive that raid. She vows revenge and trains as a warrior, where her skills earn support of powerful leaders and the enmity of ambitious young men who she seems to outshine. There are raids to avenge the initial killings, to rescue kidnapped women and children from gold mines, to resist the incursions of the US Army, to ‘recover’ recalcitrant (rogue) band members. There are also parties of warriors who travel out to hunt and to visit other bands for discussions and planning of ways to protect their life worlds.
Landman writes with great empathy for a world far removed from hers, but the 16 item bibliography tells me she has worked effectively to present not only a (fictionally) realist set of circumstances, but one also grounded in anthropological, historical and indigenous oral evidence. She has, it seems, been successful in constructing an accurate and realist fictional world: given the romanticisation, exoticisation and denigration of the life worlds of indigenous Americans in fiction this is a fine achievement.
Equally, and probably more importantly, in Siki she has built a fabulous character, who is disciplined, who struggles with accepting praise, not because she is a woman warrior but because she is a novice. She has integrity but struggles with the obligations she is under, misreads relationships, is never quite sure when to stay quiet until it is too late and makes her own way. Siki has to wrestle with the problem of being an orphan and having no close blood kin in the band, of the problem of her young women and men peers who gather (rather than hunt/work as warriors) being unsure of how to relate to her, of struggling with how to express her views to her young ‘sisters’ who are making foolish romantic decisions. Amid all of this Landman seems to avoid the trap of anachronism in part by inventing Apache bands that did not exist, Anglo and Mexican settlements that are fictitious and engaging with a ‘frontier’/invasion that is well-known and where the risks of critique and error in a politically sensitive area are great.
There is a bibliography – the book is fully enjoyable without it or without any previous knowledge. But please do take a look at the ‘note about the cover photo’. It is a photo I know as by Frank Albert Rinehart: this note tells me it is Hattie Tom (1886-1901), a Chiricahua Apache (of Geromimo’s people) and provides a brief sketch of her short life. All credit to Landman and the publishers for giving a name and story to what could otherwise have been another anonymous appropriation of an Apache woman in the interests of commerce.
On top of all this, it is a compelling story and even though we know the final outcome (for the Apache as a whole, and the rest of North America’s First Peoples) the first person narrative means we are drawn into Siki’s ways and outlooks, her uncertainties, trusts and doubts; in short, into her story. This comes with a highly recommended for young (and not so young) adult readers....more
Despite the growing body of work exploring philosophical issues in sport, the field is dominated by texts that explore two things – the ethics of playDespite the growing body of work exploring philosophical issues in sport, the field is dominated by texts that explore two things – the ethics of playing. Mumford’s engaging, insightful and impressive short book steps away from both these aspects: this is broadly metaphysical analysis of sports fans and audiences, and as such is a rarity in the field on two fronts – a focus on watchers, not players, and in its metaphysical outlook.
Mumford builds his analysis around the three aspects of the subtitle, with the first half of the book turned over to aesthetic analyses before turning to ethics and emotions. The case is based in a distinction between sports watchers as either purist or partisan, leading him to argue that purists (those who watch/like sport) are more likely to adopt an aesthetic orientation than partisans (fans or watchers of specific teams) where there is likely to be a greater orientation to ethical and emotional engagements – but these are not clear binaries and the tendencies to association between purists/aesthetics and partisans/ethics-emotion are just that, tendencies. He is careful to make clear that this aesthetic orientation does not make sport into art.
This attention to aesthetics is particularly valuable. Here is some work that adopts aesthetic approaches to particular sports (some sports lend themselves to this approach, not just the ones we think of aesthetic – gymnastics, diving, dance-based sports and so forth – but also sports such as cycling), but very little that I am aware that explores sport qua from an aesthetic perspective; in recent years Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s interesting but problematic In Praise of Athletic Beauty which is less a philosophical text than one grounded in aesthetic or art theory. This paucity of aesthetic analyses of sport, not specific sports, means that Mumford’s decision to turn over half this text to this question is especially welcome.
The intervention into ethics questions turns on two principal cases: first that the relationship between ethical questions in sport and ethics in wider society is based in these realms and their ethical engagements being continuous – that is, they are connected but not the same; and 2) that the ethical questions as such are those of a contest of virtues and vices in a real (but ultimately unimportant) setting. There is a really great discussion here of why athletes should not be role models: there is too little good scholarly work that debunks this absurd notion – making this all the more valuable.
This ethics discussion provides a valuable link to aesthetic questions and to emotional questions; another understudied aspect of sport philosophy and socio-cultural approaches. He argues forcefully that this emotional attachment to/engagement with sport is enhanced and in some cases the product of collective engagement: I really like the idea of the sports club as a plural subject – that is, the product of our voluntary but intentional collective action – that we choose to join but also that exists beyond its individual members, including across time. This allows him to conclude the discussion by asking why it is we care.
Mumford has given us a rich and exciting challenge to the ethics dominated discussions in sport philosophy (this ethics domination is in part a product of the focus on athletes, in part a product of the dominant instrumentalist orientation in sport studies and in part a product of the dominance of ethics in applied philosophy) that should force many of us to ask provocative new questions. The short chapters flow well but also may be extracted as free standing pieces for teaching purposes (I expect I’ll be using at least two of them in my sociology and cultural studies based classes). I could quibble about parts of the case (his treatment of the Charles Barkley ‘I am not a role model’ ad is rather naïve, but then analysis of that kind of cultural text is what I do: I’m sure he’d say my philosophical discussion of sport are naïve in other ways), but these are minor.
This is rigorous and in places demanding philosophically but clearly written (for the most part), accessible for students and a wider readership and well worth the time....more
It is becoming increasingly clear that sports mega-events are more likely to be ‘successful’, as in run smoothly, in places that suppress civil societIt is becoming increasingly clear that sports mega-events are more likely to be ‘successful’, as in run smoothly, in places that suppress civil society and public debate – look at recent Olympic games in China and Russia alongside analyses such as Jules Boykoff’s of Vancouver’s and London’s games. So when we see repeated bids from outside the North Atlantic Old World, it is always sensible to ask about what is going on. For some of us who are Olympic watchers (it’s a professional thing) the repeated Baku bid has been one of interest (even though it failed to make the IOC's candidate city short list), in part because of the aggressive way Azerbaijan has positioned itself as a global economic force (again, it is all about oil and gas) but with a desperate desire for credibility. Emma Hughes and James Marriot have provided a clear outline of what is going on in the mutually beneficial links between the Aliyev régime/dynasty in Azerbaijan and BP, the oil company.
In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 BP was within days of bankruptcy, only to be saved by a giant deal with Azerbaijan; on the back of that Azerbaijan secured the basis of its élite’s attempts to build a state on the model of the Gulf Oil states – enormous concentration of wealth in a few hands, dispersal of that wealth through close-to-sovereign funds investing in other sectors – property, cultural events and so forth. The deal, as outlined effectively here by Hughes and Marriot, has also allowed the Azerbaijani élite, and especially the Aliyev dynasty, to place a veneer of respectability over widespread human right abuses, including continuing imprisonment of political opponents, journalists and human rights advocates as well as increasingly gross financial inequalities and the destruction of the Soviet era social support system leading to a collapse of health and educational status.
A key part of the Aliyev/Azerbaijani drive for respectability is a goal of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympic games. Along the way there have been smaller ‘mega’-events – hosting the 2012 Eurovision Song contest and in 2015 the inaugural European games, the International Olympic Committee’s effort to build a regional multi-sport event in its name. The critics regularly point out that there is an extensive European sports competition network, and on my cynical days I suspect the problem is that the IOC does not control that (see my fellow idrottsforum blogger Johan Ekberg for more on this). So in Baku in June 2015 we had an almost perfect storm with a state and sports organisation desperate to prove their worth.
Hughes and Marriot are really good on the BP/oil & gas and human rights backgrounds to these events, they clearly unpack the Aliyev family as an emerging dynasty and highlight the incredible wealth differentials, the shallowness of Azerbaijan’s ‘success story’ and the perilousness of the hydrocarbon-based economy. They are well connected with the human rights movement (Hughes is an editor of the activist oriented Red Pepper while Platform, with whom they work for this, is an arts based social and ecological justice campaign group) and tell this story well.
The problem for me is one of timing: the book came out just before the European games in June 2015, and they are not as well versed in the debates around sports and mega-events as they are hydrocarbons, human rights and the Azerbaijani élite’s self-aggrandisement. The same, sadly, applies to the on-line campaign platform Sport for Rights (@SportForRights) which is really good on the human rights questions but not so strong on the place and role of sport other than to point at its mega-events as legitimating phenomenon. Also, being published just before the games they couldn’t actually discuss them…. they hadn’t happened.
The case is compelling and amounts to a call to arms for those of us who do work as critical voices in and around the world of sport to pay more attention to this Azerbaijani Olympic goal, as we should have the Kazakh bid for Almaty to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. We should be using this as the basis for more a sport-focussed analysis, alongside other mega-event explorations including Eurovision.
The book is readily available from Platform, published under a copyleft provision for non-profit uses, well produced with excellent illustrations. The challenge is how we now use it....more
Following their adventures on the south coast, Marcus Didius Falco’s extended clan are still in Britain, preparing for their return to Rome when plansFollowing their adventures on the south coast, Marcus Didius Falco’s extended clan are still in Britain, preparing for their return to Rome when plans are interrupted by the murder of a murderer. Held up in Londinium, having been recruited by Helena’s uncle and charged by King Togidubnus, friend to the emperor and important ally in Britain, with solving the murder Falco finds himself negotiating the underworld of Londinium, cAD79. It’s a tale of organised crime, vengeance, requited love and problematic ex-girlfriends, jurisdictional disputes, civil service resentment, corrupt legionnaires and protection rackets – all the fun of big city life.
As we’ve come to expect, Davis creates a cracking yarn in the hard boiled loner tradition of the detective tale. Falco and his trusty best mate Lucius Petronius Longus wrestle with protection racket enforcers, sex slaves, women gladiators (there is good archaeological evidence of a reasonable number in Londinium) and the weather. Along the way, they are aided in key moments by Helena, free thinking senatorial daughter and mother of Falco’s children, distracted by femmes fatale (cross-reference said gladiators) and demonstrate hearts of gold and a fine sense of justice at odds with the law. The organised crime narrative has Davis return to form after the problematic complexity of A Body in the Bathhouse allowing her to run parallel domestic narrative arcs (will Petro and Falco’s sister Maia finally recognise their mutual attraction or not?) and allow Falco to show his domestic powerlessness despite being ‘head of the family’. This is a very modern satire of urban life.
Davis is a fine practitioner of the inter-textual reference to other in the crime genre, delights in slightly anachronistic social commentary while building on a sound base in Imperial Roman history and society, and in this case drawing on recent (when this was first published in 2002) discoveries in London’s archaeological record. Sharp, witty and extremely entertaining, familia Falco remains a pleasure to visit. ...more
Scholarship, like many other things, cannot keep up with social media; the rate of change in our on-line worlds is just too great. What is more, they’Scholarship, like many other things, cannot keep up with social media; the rate of change in our on-line worlds is just too great. What is more, they’re new – Twitter was developed in 2006, Facebook in 2004 while platforms such as MySpace have been and gone – and underpinned by what we used to call Web2.0 allowing user interaction that replaced the now static world where the form was predominantly one-to-many communication. In the life of these platforms we’ve seen the emergence of Big Data drawing heavily on social networks, ‘clicktivism’ and communicative capitalism and a near continuous moral panic about what is going on in social media settings. Academia is running well behind the developments, in part because our conventional publication practices mean it can take a year or more for a piece of writing to get into print. Mind you, most other traditional institutions – the law, the state, business, corporate civil society and the like – are further behind than much of academia.
Part of the issue is that many of these social networks are firmly grounded in popular culture with its fast a fluid forms, identities and praxis. A vital aspect of the social media related moral panic relates to the dangers they seem to exacerbate – bullying, racist, sexist and other forms of discriminatory discourse – dangers at the core of this useful but limited exploration of racist discourse in on popular cultural context – sport. The analysis, grounded in journalism studies, sets out to explore and explain racist expression in social media settings, focussing primarily on Twitter and Facebook, but looking also at YouTube and newspaper comments sections.
After outlining their definition of social media for this publication, looking at régimes of social media management and meanings of ‘race’ and racism in digital worlds, the analysis explores sport specific cases – football, cricket and boxing in the UK and the NHL and NBA in North America; most of these cases should be well known to readers – they have, in most cases, had a high legacy media presence. Here’s where we get to the problem of academia’s long publication lead time – most of the cases are several years old (I’m reading the book within a year of its publication) and the case law rapidly changing. This rapidly changing context means that we need to find ways to read this carefully and critically: the case studies then are primarily useful for the ways that they illustrate the structural issue identified in the opening sections, but any implications in the case studies should even now be treated with caution.
The three opening chapters, however, are a really useful introduction to the issues and topic, exploring the rise and meaning of social media, efforts by the state and social institutions to manage and regulate the phenomenon and discriminatory digital discourses. The authors are suitably eclectic in their theoretical and analytical frames, drawing on social psychology, media law, sociology and politics to help develop their case. The problem with this approach, in a book of only 130 pages (and £90, who on earth does Routledge think will buy this – libraries only!), is that these discussions are theoretically and analytically shallow, skipping across key questions – readers with a background in sociology or cultural studies may be frustrated by this. The effect is that we’ve got a good introductory text that I know I’ll be able to use with my undergraduate sport studies students, and I expect will be useful in sports journalism programmes to focus discussions on journalism in social media settings. I hope this stimulates more, and more theoretically rich and sophisticated, analyses that help us develop new lines of thought and theory to better understand the dynamic field. For all their exploration of the issues, however, the recommendations for action are fairly predictable and a bit bland.
The authors work primarily in journalism programmes and manage to avoid some of the density and tendentiousness of some academic in these areas, but perhaps have done so at the expense of rigour. The effect is a text that may not push us as far as it could/should. That said, it should be a useful resource for undergraduate classes – I hope so; I’ll be making at least one chapter required reading for my sociology, management and journalism students....more
Besźel and Ul Qoma, two cities in some central European location, interwoven and interlinked but hostile, at war in the past, at high-degree-of-tensioBesźel and Ul Qoma, two cities in some central European location, interwoven and interlinked but hostile, at war in the past, at high-degree-of-tension now, maintained as distinct by the places that abut but are of the other – Besźel and Ul Qoma are grosstopically (a term invented for the novel along with topolganger) inter-related and mutually present but distinct. The setting for this murder mystery turned thriller is the star of the book, two cities – or maybe four, depending on which character we believe – as one.
On the surface, this is form of police procedural – a murder of an archaeology graduate student leads a detective to a cross border collaboration, wrangling with forces of the state, of power (but not necessarily of the state), of political dissidence – with a hard-boiled loner aspect to it. Tyador Borlú of the Besźel Extreme Crime Squad finds himself working alongside Senior Detective Qussim Dhatt in a setting, Ul Qoma, where he does not know the customs, the people, the subtlety of the rules and especially who to trust; behind it all lies the threat of Breach, the force that maintains separation when the barriers between the interlinked cities are subject to unauthorised breach. But ‘breaching’ is rare; the inhabitants of both cities avoid contact and engagement not because they don’t see each other, but because they have learned how to unsee.
The case itself is fairly conventional; it is not the thriller aspect that matters but the world Miéville has created, and to my mind most especially the politics of that world. Coincidentally, I read this at the same time as Nick Mizroeff’s Introduction to Visual Culture which draws on work by Jacques Rancière to make the case that ‘the sensible’ – what we’re aware of – can be divided into those things that are seen and those that remain unseen: Miéville’s world is a case-in-fiction of Mizroeff’s argument about the ways cultures and politics of power shape the ways we see, what we see and how we see it; here people ‘unsee’ so ‘breach’ is avoided not by not seeing but by no longer seeing what has been seen. In a sense, this novel can be seen as a parable for the politics of vision.
But we don’t need a grasp of contemporary cultural studies theory or one strand of contemporary leftist French philosophy to enjoy the book – it remains a thoroughly enjoyable police procedural where the hero is not so much Borlú (although in narrative terms he is, even in his confrontation with the problem of continuing given what he knows about both cities) as the city/cities he resides in, occupies or finds himself negotiating, one of which sounds like Budapest, the other perhaps North African but in their topolganger forms could be read as resembling Budapest with and without the defeat of the Ottomans. This is sharp, inventive writing that leaves itself open to multiple readings and grapples with some of the key issues of our times. Highly recommended....more
Nick Mirzoeff’s valuable charting of visual culture’s landscape draws together both a very long view incorporating ancient Greek and Arabic science, tNick Mirzoeff’s valuable charting of visual culture’s landscape draws together both a very long view incorporating ancient Greek and Arabic science, the global transformation that was the colonisation of the Americas, patterns of colonial racial and gendered power in central Africa and the development of computing technology from the early 19th century onwards. His philosophical frame is derived from Jacques Rancière’s division of ‘the sensible’ into those things that are seen and those that remain unseen, exploring the ways cultures and politics of power shape the ways we see, what we see and how we see it. His approach to visual culture as politics is therefore able to be seen as part of the statements of authority: “Move on, there’s nothing to see here” (p291) – or in the earthier language of the British police, Fido (‘Fuck it, drive on).
Consequently, this is not visual culture as a synonym for ‘art history’ or any of its off-shoots, but a visual culture that
has to claim the right to look, to see the migrant, to visualise the war, to recognise climate change. In reclaiming that look, it refuses to do the commodified labour of looking, of paying attention. It claims the right to be seen by the common as a counter to the possibility of being disappeared by governments. It claims the right to a secular viewpoint. Above all, it is the claim to a history that is not told from the point of view of the police. (p15)
That is, Mirzoeff’s visual culture is dissident, resistive and seeks to subvert the established order. The case is rich and in its repeated visits to the Kongo/Congo highlights a vibrant indigenous visual culture alongside an oppressive and violent colonial culture where the visual became a powerful for the maintenance of colonial power and for the justification of racialised and gendered hierarchies.
It is in the final four chapters that Mirzoeff shifts tone from the developmental and the historical to the contemporary analytical in discussions of forming and reforming digital worlds, of the place of photography (and claims of its death) in the contemporary visual, through an exploration of the British Royal family as markers of the tropes of celebrity and finally through a discussion of watching war. These are strong chapters, evidentially potent and theoretically sharp while wearing their theory lightly. Mirzoeff is, however, on a hiding to nothing here – the challenge with these contemporary chapters is that the issues they deal with, virtual worlds (the book close to predates Twitter) and celebrity especially, shift so fast that their shelf life is limited, so these final chapters need to be read in the context of what we knew and what was happening about 2007/8 (the book came out in 2009). This is crucial for students: they’ll need to update the information.
So, this works well as an introductory text. Its usefulness is enhanced by the concept/image insets between each chapter – the ‘keyword’ discussions of networks and of modernity are specifically useful for the stuff I do and teach. Kudos also to Routledge for printing this on high gloss paper and being will to use lots of colour images throughout, not in special inserts: this adds to the price but is well worth it.
This, then, is a valuable and important introduction to the field, a fine textbook and well complemented by Mirzoeff’s more recent and mass market How to See the World. Six years after its first appearance as this second edition, it remains a key text for the field. ...more
Even those who most despise sport would probably find it hard to argue that sport doesn’t matter – whether it should matter is a different question, bEven those who most despise sport would probably find it hard to argue that sport doesn’t matter – whether it should matter is a different question, but that is a moral, ethical or political question, not an empirical one. It is precisely this moral/ethical/political question that Matt Hern sets out to argue the case for sport as a site of liberatory potential, in this directing his argument to those of us on the Left – not the liberal, soft left gang celebrating their nations and hosting mega-events but those that in British political terms would be known as the ‘hard left’.
It is easy to take a critical view, an argument that sport is vital agent in the production and reproduction of a classed, gendered and racialized social order that maintains a vigorous and violent system of oppression, hierarchies of control that sport allows powerholders to naturalise and in doing so undermine resistance, because those hierarchies are justified by something as mundane and ubiquitous as sport. So, of course sport matters – as something to resist, to destroy and to rip apart, in an anti-sport jeremiad of the kind we see in Marc Perelman’s highly problematic Barbaric Sport so loathed by many of the pro-sport voices on the political left.
Hern is not in this camp; he is a sports fan, he enjoys getting amongst it all – the rumble at the football (soccer) or (ice) hockey, soaking up the atmosphere at the fights; his is a visceral sporting world that he uses well to show just what it does. His insider’s view gives him a secure space from which to critique the body fascism of sport (my term not Hern’s, well, Brian Pronger’s term although I don’t mean the same thing as his Foucauldian deployment) as well as it violent, sexist, racialized model for making the world. This, by the way, is a big part of my problem with this book – Hern lapses into reveries of the world he is critiquing from the inside, his running lists of insider references and celebrations of the viscerally shaped and framed sporting existence.
This world of Hern’s is a challenge to the Left – it is bodily, not cerebral; it sees the sporting world as one that is disciplined but also is one where that very discipline provides space for creativity, for solidarity and for building a space to belong. In this, his work resonates with some recent trends in academic writing – here I am thinking of Susan Cahn’s essay in Dan Nathan’s recent Rooting for the Home Team or several of the essays in a collection I recently had a hand in editing exploring Philosophical Perspectives on Play or some of the recent work that has explored left-wing fandom or a broadly punk/anarchist underground dimension in European football (soccer). Despite all our celebration of work and labour, much of the Left is generally contemptuous of the body as a site of struggle or liberation (leaving aside things such as reproductive rights or workplace struggles). Again, these are not Hern’s words – but he is making the case for sport as a space to resist and overcome alienation (in the way Bertell Ollman has Marx talking about ‘species-being’).
My problem isn’t any of these things, although the celebration of the viscerally violent world of fandom is part of the issue; my problem with the book is its wild swings, from sharp, savvy incisive critique leading to a clear case for sport as a site of struggle and as a vital site for the liberation of human potential to an insider, alienating (not in Ollman’s sense, but in the numb-the-reader sense), sport nerd/obsessive tone. It’s this tone that is the problem, in the way it says well ‘to hell with you if you’re not a sport follower, this is the way I am’ it expresses contempt for its intended audience – sympathetic lefties why might be convinced that sport could and should be a space for liberation struggle and a place to find our wholeness, our un-alienated (in Ollman’s sense) selves. Hern sees this problem, he apologises for it in a note on pp44-5 and notes he might lose a few readers with his penchant for long lists of athletes – but it is not the lists that are the problem, it is the continuous and uneven deployment of a blokey, sport-insider ‘fuck-you-if-you-can’t-follow-this’ writing style alongside some work that has great educational components.
It’s worth reading this, especially if you’re a ‘hard’ lefty because Hern makes some really important case about sports potential as a site of liberation; if the blokey sports fan bits of it piss you off (as they did me) bear with them, treat them as Hern’s idiosyncratic mode, slough of the contempt they imply – it’s the failure of the fan to recognise the limits of their world (in the same way as many music writers use their insiderness in a way that leaves most of the rest of us perplexed). You don’t have to join that sport obsessive world to treat sport as a site of vital political struggle: some of us even make a job out of it while actively resisting becoming a fan-boy-insider. Four stars might be a bit generous – maybe 3½ is closer to the point....more
This svelte, and gorgeous, novel with its five characters recounts the history of the 20th century. It tells the story of the birth and death of natioThis svelte, and gorgeous, novel with its five characters recounts the history of the 20th century. It tells the story of the birth and death of nations, of cosmopolitanism collapsed into fickle sectarian rampage, of a utopian vision brought to its knees by sociopathic greed, mistrust and fabricated histories: this is the story of the death of Bosnia….. One of the greatest tragedies of the contemporary past, this was a death that justified social mistrust and gives succour to those who would have us believe that we can only survive through mono-cultural introspection and the fictions of social and cultural purity.
Of course, this isn’t what happens in the novel. Here we have five only tangentially interconnected lives dealing with the end of the Bosnian War and a return home: Safet Sulejmanović whose attempts to recover his property are hindered because not even the town he fled, let alone the street he lived on, now has the same name; Amela Filipović, expelled from her house in suburban Sarajevo when the Serbs took it over and who now works in the office that manages rehousing; Bruno Vasilj, formerly a carpenter but now in charge of property allocations in Mostar; Azer Milavić, trying also to recover his apartment, which Bruno now occupies, and whose family has been taken in by an unnamed elderly woman on the other side of the river, where the Bosniaks now live; and Slobodan Bošković, who just wants to stay in his apartment even though it is not in a Serb part of Sarajevo.
In telling these five stories, Mulić has beautifully humanised the post-war experience, the disruption of the everyday, the corruption that gave shape to post-war Bosnia-Hercegovina and petty power exercised by many, in some cases only because it was the only power they had. She also reminds us that as much as anything else the war was shaped by and shapes symbols – who lives where and who has the power to shape those places, which alphabet they use or which iconography fills their church, what their children may be named or what needs to be accounted for by the papers claimants need. In perhaps the most wonderfully absurd moment, Amela insists that Slobodan will only be able to claim his property if he can prove he is not a Jehovah’s Witness, and in the most vindictive Bruno agrees that property may be returned to Bosniak former owners from current Croat occupiers, but in doing so almost entirely remodels the apartment building so only one of the apartments resembles its pre-war form: would that these were absurdist excesses of Mulić’s fictional world.
There are times when Mulić allows her characters to shake us out of our distancing empathy: “It was better during the war. It was easier thinking of how to survive, than now, figuring out how to live.” The scars of the Bosnian war (as I learned recently, it is often colloquially called The Last War), lie deep. Yet, while this is a novel about the end of the modern nation state (not a nation state, but the nation state) as an inclusive, liberal, thing that we voluntarily join by way of a ‘daily plebiscite’ (as Ernst Renan called it in 1882), it is also a powerful reminder of the human in and humanity of the stories in and around that martial murder of a cosmopolitan dream, a murder that results in the continuing assertion of a blood and soil based ideology of some form of exclusive ethnic singularity. To do that so well, to humanise not the horror of war but the getting-on-with-life of post war is a rare skill, and Mulić does it wonderfully.
The book is published in English by a Sarajevo publisher in a compact edition lavishly illustrated with Yves Faure’s photographs of the Bosnian war, which serve as a powerful reminder of the events behind these small, engaging and potent tales of getting on with life that are Safet’s, Amela’s, Bruno’s, Azer’s and Slobodan’s existences in the now. All these things make it superb....more
A longer review will follow but for the time being; this is in part a chilling exposure of the economic, political, class, gendered, medical and sociaA longer review will follow but for the time being; this is in part a chilling exposure of the economic, political, class, gendered, medical and social forces that place serious limits on the rigour of injuries research in rugby union (and I'd suggest many other sports) and threaten academic freedom in the increasingly commercialised world ofl sports studies and science as well as higher education more generally; this section includes chiling correspondence between Pollock's university employers and the Scottish Rugby Union. the second half reports on a series of systematic reviews of rugby injuries framed as a set of 16 questions parents should ask of their childrens' schools and clubs, with the last 3 being action oriented.
It is essential reading for anyone involved in rugby including the parents at whom it is aimed. It is also essential for those of us who teach coaches and trainee teachers. It is one of the most important piece of sport-focussed public health work I have read in a very long time. I must find a way to weave it into my teaching programme this year....more
Contemporary corporate sport is often seen as predominantly politically conservative, and for many on the left it remains a diversion from the world oContemporary corporate sport is often seen as predominantly politically conservative, and for many on the left it remains a diversion from the world of ‘real’ politics. Even for those on the left who are fans or supporters (or those of us who recognise its power and worth, while being neither fans nor supporters) are acutely aware of the role it plays in maintaining and enhancing class, gendered, racialised and other forms of oppression. One of the delights of the rediscovery on the left that it is OK to consider sport as something important, not a diversion (the reasons for this are complex and worthy of considerable research in themselves) has been that we’ve begun to revisit and recover stories and histories of sport-related activism.
As a result, there is much in this short, fully colour illustrated book to celebrate. There are, for the most part, sharp very short (usually no more than a couple of hundred words) introductions to a wide range of sport focussed political campaigns, highlighting the worker’s sport movement in the first half of the 20th century, the sport focussed campaigns for civil rights and the right to play, and the resurgence of self-organisation outside the structures of corporate sport. Each of these brief essays has a short list of further reading and several pages of illustrations. The book is good on class issues and race/(anti)imperialist struggles, but problematically weak on women’s and feminist struggles in sport, including the right to play.
When I first saw this advertised, and having cautiously enjoyed Kuhn’s previous book about political activism in and around football (soccer) I had high hopes; alas they were not met. I should have remembered the problems I had with Football Against the State. It is not that this book is wrong, or error strewn – there are refreshingly few – but that it has not lived up to its potential, for three reasons.
The first is the textual content. The ‘essays’ are so short that in many cases they do little more than identify that there was an issue – about the 1936 Workers’ Olympics in Barcelona for instance, of that Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente or Lester Rodney engaged in intensely activist ways as athletes or journalists with the sporting world – but tell us little more. This makes it hard to identify who this book is for – the leftist anti-sport crowd is unlikely to be interested; the leftist interested-in-sport crowd is likely to know most of what is here. The brevity also means that the essays seldom develop the contemporary (as in, of the era) or current (as in, of the now) relevance of these struggles.
The second problem is to do with what is covered: I say this fully aware that if I wanted a different book I should have written it, and that I get grumpy with those who say of my work ‘but MacLean did not deal with x or y’. In keeping his focus on workers’ sport for the period up to the 1940s (I think I understand why, it is a little discussed area) many important civil rights/right to play issues are missed, such as the women’s Olympics/World Games of the early 1920s.
The third problem is most significant: the book’s design lets it down, and in this it is primarily the format. This is a small format (180mmx130mm) not much deeper than a mass market paperback, meaning that anything other than a full page illustration is cluttered and difficult to make sense of, and even those could be better in a different, larger, format. I presume this is a cost question and an effort to keep the volume accessibly priced (I paid £10.99 for it – a small format 160 page title; this is slightly more than I’d expect to pay for a literary paperback novel) but it has come at the expense of the number and usefulness/quality of illustrations. When this is added to the short essays this looks very much like an opportunity missed.
That said, this is a useful and important book that takes what have, for the most part, been fairly exclusive debates in either my academic world or the partisan world of the activist left and turned them into issues that are appealing – short briefing notes-cum-essays and some usually attractive images – in a way that will hopefully encourage readers to look at the ‘further reading’ and to recognise the place and potential of activism based in and around sport settings and contexts. It also has the advantage that each issue is 3-5 pages only, so easy to delve into for casual readers as well as those of us for whom this is an issue of significant interest (or in my case, work).
Just because it is an opportunity missed does not mean it is not an important and useful text with some really good and useful illustrations that show an impressive international(ist) outlook and reach – I’m just disappointed at the production decisions that mean it is not as good or useful as it could be. Kuhn and PM Press are to be celebrated for the project, but that celebration comes with a ‘could do better’ report card, sadly…… My 3 stars is probably 3 ½, but only just....more