Conservative thriller set against the backdrop of New Zealand's anti-apartheid movement; immportant for its emphasis on a view that saw the protest moConservative thriller set against the backdrop of New Zealand's anti-apartheid movement; immportant for its emphasis on a view that saw the protest movement as criminal and unpatriotic. And for all that, quite fun. It might make an appearance in some scholarly work I am doing on the protest movement in fiction....more
Of all the changes in sport in the last few decades, there are few that are more obvious than the growth in athlete migration, and few cases where thiOf all the changes in sport in the last few decades, there are few that are more obvious than the growth in athlete migration, and few cases where this is more apparent than élite team sport – such as football in Europe and baseball in the USA. Not surprisingly, there has been a burgeoning academic literature addressing this issue, but as Tom Carter notes in the excellent exploration of sport’s migrant labour very little of this literature tells us much about athletes and their experiences. We have quite a lot of policy analysis, exploration of sport’s structures, investigation of (post)colonial political, cultural and economic links in the migration decisions made and discussion of the seemingly opportunist national affiliation decisions by élite migrant athletes. Yet, as Carter rightly notes, there very little appearance of athlete’s voices in these analyses, and where there are those voices they tend to be fed through various media forms.
Carter, an anthropologist, sets out to address this omission (among others) and as a result has presented us with a theoretically sophisticated, evidentially powerful piece of scholarship that is a significant contribution sports studies literature and is essential reading if we are to claim any understanding of the current political and economic aspects of contemporary sport. Its first strength is the range of sport migrant voices – mainly athletes and coaches – in a range of sports including basketball, (field and ice) hockey and rugby in Northern Ireland, British-based sports labourers, Cuban baseball players and others. This is much wider range of cases and instances than is usually considered. In addition, Carter also points to sports labourers as diverse as those in factories making sports clothes and products, sport science support workers, élite and not-so-élite participants.
The second strength flows from this emphasis on individual voices within a world-networked sports system: this approach means that the case moves well beyond the usual systemic analysis of an impersonal global system to focus on individual experience. As a result, migration becomes transnational rather than global (this resonates for me, as an academic in a global labour market, I am not a global migrant but a transnational one – it is a vital experiential distinction).
The third strength is the theoretical rigour: Carter draws on Marxist political-economy to highlight both the character of work in modern sport – the commodification of athletic labour along with the performance of athlete-types (the discussion ice hockey is especially good on this) – as well as character of contemporary capitalist sport, or as he calls it New Economic Order sport (NEOsport) typified by commercialization, corporatization and spectacularization as aspects of a late capitalist economic order.
These three aspects of the book mean that we get rich analyses of tensions between nation-states and national and international NGO sport over the right to define national membership and citizenship, as well as the way NEOsport produces transnational sport migrants (to which I’d add internal migrants in the sports product industry in manufacturing sites such as China, Cambodia, and Vietnam). When added to the many migrant voices we get a picture not of a seamless global flow of sports workers, but of a spasmodic series of moves from place to place with periods of immobility, of social network development and social relations that swirl round those places where migrant sports labourers stop to ply their trade. Furthermore, rather than planned many of these moves are opportunistic cases of seizing the moment.
There are two things the book gives us that few if any of the other discussions of sports labour migration I have read explore. There is a close exploration of the role of family in migration decision-making and as migrants. In some cases this is funding and supporting migration, in others there is a concern that families left behind are at risk. All too often, sports migration decisions are presented as if there is a lone athlete involved along with a sports industry/system – so this nuanced discussion is major strength. Even more so the second addition to the discussion, flowing from Carter’s inclusion what he calls undocumented migration and ‘the production of illegality’. The focus here is on the migration of Cuban baseball players to the USA, but there are bigger points about the ways migrant athletes in the same situation may be treated differently depending on their nationality, as well as evidence drawn from those who ‘smuggle’ these athlete workers.
This is a great piece of academic sport analysis; the focus on and use of sports migrant’s stories means that there should be an audience well beyond the usual academic readership. On top of that, the theoretical sophistication (without being all that ‘scary’) means that the book should also be of use to those interested in and working around other cultural industries. It is the second excellent anthropological analysis of work I have read in the last few weeks (along with Ashley Mears’ Pricing Beauty), reminding me of the importance of socially engaged scholarship, of highlighting the voices of those who we work with as scholars and analysts and of the importance of a clear but critical grasp of theoretical frames to give our scholarly work meaning. Alarmingly, both have also sat in my to-read pile for far too long.
Mrs Mooshaber is an elderly widow scraping to get by in un-named central European dictatorship in an un-specified era of seemingly relentless, low-levMrs Mooshaber is an elderly widow scraping to get by in un-named central European dictatorship in an un-specified era of seemingly relentless, low-level constant surveillance, a process in which she, at times, seems to play a part. Her husband dead, her children ungrateful criminals, her closest friend it seems is the caretaker in her building and the managers at the Mother and Child Support Service for whom she volunteer seem to have a soft spot for her and although she seems to be given some tricky assignments she seems to get by on grandmotherly homilies and ‘common sense’. Through all of this she seems to exist in a world quite apart from the grand politics of her time and place, and for the most part separate from the daily oppressions and ignominy of her seemingly totalitarian but only tangentially present world.
It may only be tangentially present, but it is always there, lurking and ambiance setting. As a worker for the Mother and Child Support Service, Mrs Mooshaber is a constant presence in family lives often being sent in to deal with what seems form the outside at least to be cases of playfulness and children’s independent activity, although the cases are always presented as extremely serious breaches of discipline. A more obvious presence is the intermittent visits by various police officers to her apartment to ask about aspects of her youth, often seemingly bizarre events such as the presence of a giant mouse with a mane in the forest when she was a child, or who she met during various trips to that forest – this slightly surreal component adds to the sense of pervasive state presence. An even more obvious aspect of the looming state is the cult of personality that seems to surround the Prime Minister, who rules in association with the Dowager Princess who remains unseen for many years, prompting rumours of her death or imprisonment.
Against this continual presence there is a powerful strand of solidarity, in Mrs Mooshaber’s support for the mothers she visits, in her close relationship with her building caretaker and the compassion and support shown other families in the building. This sense of solidarity between individuals runs counter to and over the pervasive sense of observation. This dialectic shapes the tone, the timbre of the novel and helps make readership unsettling; at times the narrative seems clear and obvious, at others (and often at the same time) it seems uncertain. Part of the reason for the uncertainty lies in the novel’s seeming technological paradox – the country seems technologically unsurprising, except that there is a continual shuttle service to the colony and prison on the moon, while there is a recurring highlighting of methods of communication and record keeping – television, radio, tape recorders and so forth.
The most potent aspect of the novel’s disruption of certainty that parallels the dialectic of support between individuals and state observation is the recurrence of motifs and narrative sequences, as if this is a ‘shaggy dog’ story. These motifs and sequences, these periods of repetition of often identical sets of words function as they do in an oral narrative – to ground the reader in a particular emotion or sequence, to remind us of threats, character roles and types and to allow the story to settle back into a recognisable sequence or type. This intense focus on detail and repetition adds to the sensation by calling into doubt the possibility of a conclusion to the story, shifting this to satire, albeit of a gentle form.
In short this is a novel to allow yourself to roll around in, to enjoy and relish the repetition of word sequences and narrative components; don’t expect a clear singular beginning to end narrative but do expect to feel like the story is spinning on a single point, at least in places; elsewhere that repetition is disrupted by hostile characters, mainly Mrs Mooshaber’s children. It is a novel of some structural and metaphorical power that can be read as a parable of the Czechoslovak period of cultural liberalisation in the 1960s culminating in the Prague Spring, but that is likely to be an over-reading. More especially, this is a sign the Fuks low profile as a novelist when compared to Milan Kundera, Josef Skorvecky, Bohumil Hrabal and others of his generation is unjust and he deserves to be much better known (and what is more, it is published as part of the Karolinium Press’s gorgeous hardback series of modern Czech fiction).
All in all, it is pleasure and treasure, and highly recommended....more
Herman Ungar’s short writing life produced some astounding fiction (at least on the basis of the small amount available in English), most of which isHerman Ungar’s short writing life produced some astounding fiction (at least on the basis of the small amount available in English), most of which is bleak with socially inept characters many of us would be unlikely to want to spend much time with. He straddles high modernism with an ability to develop characters for whom psychoanalysis seems to have been developed and with more than a hint of the surreal in places. This collection of short fiction – originally two collections and a series of pieces from literary magazines – is made up of justly highly praised pieces from the early 1920s. They are in many cases intensely moral tales of retribution, of hubris that falls; most are not an easy read – but then this is high modernism with a dash of the surreal…..
As is the case with Ungar’s other title from Twisted Spoon Press, The Maimed, most of the characters in the opening two stories – almost novellas – are damaged, but without (The Maimed's) Polzer’s neuroses. The narrator of ‘A Man and a Maid’ learns that not only can he not control others but attempting to do comes at an unexpected cost that is, in this case, not financial or moral but in being outmanoeuvred. In the similarly strong ‘Story of a Murder’ (these two make up the ‘Boys and Murderers’ section) ambition and hubris combine to be manipulated with profound consequences much worse than those that drove the pride. These are beautiful, elegant and decidedly unsettling stories that show the potential of the novella as more than a short story of idea and less than the complexities of character and plot of a fully developed novel.
Other stand out pieces include the superbly surreal, grotesque ‘Reasons for Everything’ and ‘Colbert’s Journey’ in which Colbert quite simply fails to notice what is going on around him. Several of the ‘Uncollected Stories’ display a subtle sense of pathos – in ‘Letter to a Woman’ a man writes to she who was the holiday romance after passing her in the street while in ‘Biba is Dying’ a father experiences the limits of his control and influence. The other high point is the superb ‘The Wine-Traveller’ in which an ambitious young man over extends himself and experiences the kinds of uncontrolled life change that comes with a snap decision at the lowest point; it’s a powerful tale of the need for a fall-back plan. There is also a link to the fantastical ‘The Caliph’, the volume’s final piece.
Ungar has a fine short fiction writer’s skill as narrative point unravels slowly and usually out of sequence, so the shorter pieces pack in power through unsettled narrative sequence with always a flash of the freakish and the slightly bizarre or distorted in social relations or psychological state. I’ve sung the praises of Twisted Spoon Press for their recovery and publication of classic (as well as contemporary Central European fiction); this is further evidence of the quality of their work – impressive fiction, elegantly designed and presented. This is not an easy read, but it is an engaging and captivating collection of short fiction....more
We’re in a world where the American Civil War (aka, the war between the states) is still running, in 1880…… and Seattle has been destroyed by a rougeWe’re in a world where the American Civil War (aka, the war between the states) is still running, in 1880…… and Seattle has been destroyed by a rouge inventor’s drilling machine designed to extend the gold rush in the Klondike but the machine also brought to the surface a gas that turns people into zombies – so we’re asked to suspend our belief in historical and scientific accuracy as we should in any bit of steam-punk. The mother and son (Briar and Zeke Wilkes) combination at the heart of this romp through an alt-world North West are the former wife and son this rogue inventor and daughter/grandson of Seattle’s famed law keeper who died in the zombie-making-gas-provoked evacuation. It is a simple story of a mother who pursues her son into a zombie infested walled off old city, him in the pursuit of the truth about his childhood/father; her in a desperate effort to save his life.
It should be a rollicking good adventure yarn of airships (it is, after all, steam-punk, airships are pretty much compulsory), gas masks, weird rogue-inventor stuff, hordes of the really, really hungry undead and ever-so-slightly-psychotic mad men, all brought to light by the unexpected appearance of two outsiders with complex relations with the desolate Seattle. There is no doubt that the story trots along at a fair old pace, the structure – alternating for the most part between Briar’s and Zeke’s stories, with ‘cliff-hanger moments’ – is accomplished and the world richly developed; all this means that I really wanted to like this a whole lot more than I did. Aside from Briar the characters (even Zeke) don’t have much depth and the complexities of danger and social hierarchies and power of infested Seattle mean that neither protagonist ever exercises much agency: that is, a honest depiction of the vulnerability of outsiders doesn’t make for many points of engagement – and problematically, as soon as old city’s head honcho figure is introduced the narrative becomes pretty much ordained.
Relish this for its inventiveness, Cherie Priest’s willingness to play with historical narrative and to make it believable (as in the best science fiction, there is real sense of verisimilitude about the book) and her ability to build visual power; it is an ideal book for the plane…. I just wanted it to be more but suspect that the premise and difference of old Seattle requires a high degree of passivity on the part of newcomers....more
Early days in WW1 and the sinking of the Lusitania provokes anti-German riots in England, but one of the dead, a West End tailor has died of a stab woEarly days in WW1 and the sinking of the Lusitania provokes anti-German riots in England, but one of the dead, a West End tailor has died of a stab wound, not smoke inhalation as first suspected. Enter the Met in the form of DI Harvey Marmion and Sgt Joe Keedy, the first a middle aged family man with a complex moral back story, the second a dapper younger man with an eye for the ladies and fine suit. It’s a police procedural shaped by racism, anti-semitism, sexual attack, family rivalry and various degrees of envy. Marston is usually careful in his work, and although the anti-semitic element is plausible Marmion and Keedy seem a little too anachronistic in their views. Even so this is a good example of the historical detective genre, set against well-known (the events of WW1) and less well-known (early 20th century English anti-semitism) events and believable domestic conditions that only serve to enhance that plausibility, so the tendency to anachronism can be set aside. I found it perfect for the end of a long week….....more
The sport-media relationship is, in some ways, one of the most challenging to grasp. All too often we hear discussions that paint a picture of ‘The MeThe sport-media relationship is, in some ways, one of the most challenging to grasp. All too often we hear discussions that paint a picture of ‘The Media’ as some kind of all powerful force (and it is potent) out there (as if it is some kind of independent, autonomous force abstracted from our world) doing things that corrupt us and the social and cultural practices we share; the form of statement ‘the media do….’ involves a kind of blame and a presumption that the media we use and work with exist ion some kind of all powerful, god-like status surveying the world from afar, while being the cause of social and cultural malaise. This media-blaming approach, while elevating the media to an all-powerful deity, lets us off the hook. For those of us who work in sports studies, whose daily crust as social sciences and humanities academics is provided by the world of sport, this sport-media relationship is one we find ourselves working with, even when we set out to do something different; sport-media seem to have become inseparable.
For some years now David Rowe’s work, with several other scholars in the field, has helped define and refine the notion of a sport-media cultural complex, as an interwoven, inter-related set of forces and practices that are mutually dependent to the extent that, at a certain level, the survival of each depends on the health of the other. Recognising this vision of a singular sport-media complex (singular because it is diverse and uneven manifest both within countries and globally, so therefore is not single) is crucial to understanding this very good and important book: the thing that is global in this analysis is ‘media-sport’. Running through and organising much of the discussion is Rowe’s exploration of this global phenomenon that is media-sport as a factor linked to cultural citizenship. He unpacks ways that our engagements with media sport relate to forms of identity making and through that social networks, links and associations – the ways we experience media sport, the social, cultural and political learning associated with it and the practices of power that run through media sport.
The subtitle is essential to the overall case: we have flows – from west to east and back again, for instance – that result in a recalibration of sporting institutional and cultural power, but also flows that work in the close to anarchic manner of digital media with its many to many distribution networks. These flows are linked to and shaped by media sport forms, including the obvious legacy and digital media distinctions, but also the less obvious form that the local (be that geographical or sport-based) media sport complex takes where a not insignificant factor is its institutional form – consider the difference between media-sport basketball dominated by images and relations drawn from the NBA in comparison to media-sport Australian Rules Football that is to a large degree nation-state specific and even then unevenly distributed within that nation-state. Rowe is particularly good at drawing out the fluidity and complexity of the various forms a media-sport complex can take; he does this in a way that seems to emerge from discussion and examples being drawn on so that when he makes the point explicitly it comes as a crystallisation of what has already gone rather than an ‘intimidating’ theoretical point yet to be explained.
The case builds well and clearly from the media sport complex as an economic dimension through legacy media – the vital role television continues to play in media sport – to new and digital media as institutions and forms bringing about a networked sport media complex. This leads to global flows between old and new power centres and questions of image, scandal and the tactics used by and in elements of the sport media complex to manoeuver themselves into and maintain positions of power, including against the resistive politics of those outside as well as those ‘served by’ the complex (as consumers). Summing the book up in 100 words like that makes it seem dense and complex, and while it is theoretically rich it is also an excellent undergraduate text – demanding but not intimidating or alienating.
Rowe’s Australian-derived perspective (he is based in Sydney) means that this global view is much more global than the one we often get from an Anglo-American, North Atlantic perspective. Even so, Rowe recognises that one of the major weaknesses we have in global sport studies is its Euro-American starting point, and especially its Anglo-world dominated approach, so he is cautious but clear, rigorous while resisting being definitive, in part because of his recognition of the gaps but equally because he recognises that the area of study is fluid and changing rapidly. As a result, his approach has been to resist the definitive in favour of outlining a framework for analysis, a way to ask and find answers to questions about the global media-sport complex. As such, this is a liberating and exciting book, so much so that he ends by engaging in a debate that has been running about some of his work, not to refute his critics, but the continue the debate through an approach we can think of critical concession – yes, but… and that but opens up new questions as well as refines answers to the old. I’ll be making sure this is on my students’ reading lists....more
George Sage is one of a small group of sociologists who encourage me to shout hallelujah, in this case because of his ability to integrate impressiveGeorge Sage is one of a small group of sociologists who encourage me to shout hallelujah, in this case because of his ability to integrate impressive original research and sophisticated theoretical concepts into a well-developed and clear discussion of a complex issue in a way that seems suited to both general readers and undergraduate students. This is especially so this exploration of sport as a globalizing phenomenon. The subtitle belies to impressiveness of the book, in that it is not built around organizations, corporations, media and politics as if they are factors beyond sport as a cultural practice; instead he builds them into a model of sport-as-an-industry with three elements – sport performance, sport production and sport promotion. Rather than seeing these as unified and monolithic, he shows how ‘globalization from above’ as institutionally developed and ‘globalization from below’ as people’s struggles run across these three segments; in doing so he builds into the approach a sense of sport as contested, as a site of political struggle and of cultural dispute. It is an impressive achievement.
The issues and questions associated with globalizing sport are explored through global sports governance, the migration of sports labour, the production and promotion of sports good, global media and international politics in and through sport. Each of these, in themselves, could be several books, so there is no way these issues can in any be comprehensive – which means that I will resist doing the ‘it would have been better had he discussed issue X’ (where, of course, issue X is my pet issue/problem). Rather, I note that Sage as been able to step beyond many of the confines of a national outlook; this is rare in many commentators from the North Atlantic, Anglo-American world who seem unable to get far beyond their reading position and an outlook shaped by being in the traditional centre of global sporting power (both cultural and economic). That said, his emphasis on the International Olympic Committee as an exemplar of a global sports organisation, while correct, does not draw out (or even seem to recognise) the extent to which the IOC is distinctive in political, cultural or structural terms. My problem here is that the IOC appears in several places as the exemplar, and almost quintessential, global sports organisation. That said, the model he uses to make sense of global(izing) sport and structure his case outweighs this limitation.
The result is a book that, although a very good introductory textbook, should have appeal beyond academic settings (even if it is likely to be slightly more useful in North America that elsewhere). I have been using bits of it in my teaching for several years (it has been available for about 4 years – I am late to this review and reading the book cover to cover) and will continue to do so for some time. It is an invaluable text for undergraduates....more
To suggest, as the contributors to this useful but frustrating collection do, that the economy is a cultural system is to fly in the face of the one oTo suggest, as the contributors to this useful but frustrating collection do, that the economy is a cultural system is to fly in the face of the one of the powerful claims of contemporary scholarship, politics and economics – that is, the myth that ‘the’ economy is a technical phenomenon, with a high degree of autonomy from its cultural context. Under this dominant myth, ‘the’ economy is a self-regulating market mechanism populated and operated by and in the interests of homo economicus, an equally mythical entity also known as Rational Economic Man (sic) who acts in its own economic self-interest. To see ‘an’ (the shift in article is essential) economy as a cultural system is to see it as constructed, and an artefact of human existence, as a real, living, organic set of social relations made up of the actions of organic, imperfect human beings many of whom reject self-interest…. or at least that is one version of cultural perspectives on economies.
This myth of the economy as a technical entity only is maintained by powerful theoretical and conceptual ideas, and crucially by a sustained practice régime that takes for granted and thereby reinforces this basic myth. Many of the contributors to the collection set out to explore and critique some of those ideas, while others set out to critique some of the language and discourses of these ways we discuss and conceive of contemporary capitalism. Included in these explorations are discussions of the notion of financialization as a key motif in the operation of capitalist economies, of the pursuit of happiness, of the place of metaphor in discussions of (Marxist) political economy, of the character of work in contemporary capitalism and of the techno-cultural dimensions of the production of consumption. The authors are, for the most part, humanities scholars with a smattering of social scientists – which gives the collection a very specific hue.
This composition of the group of authors has resulted in a theoretically rich collection of essays that should provoke readers to go on a ride into some of the intellectual infrastructure of the current ideas framing economic thinking. Much as I enjoyed many of the pieces and found some of them quite engaging, this emphasis on ideas means that something is missing from some of the papers: these ones lack a clear sense of social engagement. It may well have been that I came to the collection with different expectations, but these more conceptual essays disappointed me. I enjoyed Matthew MacLellan’s essay on the metaphor of the vampire in Marx’s and Marxist writing, and in particular his critique of the broad ways Marx’s specific uses of the metaphor have been used, but was left slightly frustrated that he did not develop the significance of the point and of the changing meaning of the metaphor; that is, I found it a fine piece of textual analysis but was left wondering, so what?
This disappointment shifted to frustration in other cases, driven mainly by a failure to engage with debates in heterodox economics. For instance, Joe Faflak’s (for me the most obvious absence of this engagement with critical economists) intriguing discussion of the notion of the pursuit of happiness that weaves together psychoanalytic approaches and the terms of the US constitution, among other things, failed to explore or even mention developments such as the work by the UK’s New Economics Foundation on issues such as happiness studies using tools such as analysis of the social returns on investment which although quantifying provides a means, one of several, to help us take some of the issues Faflak discusses and explore them in an applied setting.
Despite these frustrations, several of the papers are explicitly grounded in social analyses that mean that the ‘so what?’ question is not an issue. Tim Kaposy’s discussion of needs, crisis and social engagement (as I hope we’d expect) is profoundly socially grounded, as is Justin Sully’s welcome analysis of finance and aging and Mark Kingwall’s exploration of key issues in contemporary labour process analysis (and by implication the notion of the bullshit job as argued by David Graeber). Equally useful is Dufresne and Sacchetti’s cautious critique of Richard Florida’s work on creativity and economic development – although I would have been much more scathing, their more guarded critique remains one of the better evaluations of Florida's work.
I suspect my problem with the collection as a whole is that I was hoping for, or expecting, a more anthropological sense of a cultural system and so was frustrated by the more abstract, conceptual character of some of the essays. Setting aside that expectation and noting that the collection is more oriented to the philosophical than the anthropological allows a more generous reading that makes a case for the conceptual significance of the collection as part of the beginning of a wider debate that might help us conceptualise a new way of doing things and a new economic order. In this sense then, this is a valuable collection that hints at some of the ways we could or should begin to rethink the current economic order and the terms of its justification – but mainly for those of a more conceptual than activist orientation....more
The ‘Great Financial Crisis’ (GFC), ‘Great Recession’ or whatever we choose to call the current state of global capitalism has spawned all manner of cThe ‘Great Financial Crisis’ (GFC), ‘Great Recession’ or whatever we choose to call the current state of global capitalism has spawned all manner of critique, analysis and commentary, most of it narrowly framed by the same narrative to toxic mortgages, obscure (and frankly perverse) financial instruments producing a bank liquidity crisis that spread out from the USA to take in the rest of the world (of course, if we take ‘the world’ to be the major and wanna-be major capitalist states). The result, in this narrative, has been austerity, continued irresponsible and greedy banking and an intensified crisis (or, if from a commentator on some version of the middling to neo-liberal right, green shoots of recovery). Now, this narrative is not necessary wrong (except for the recovery bit), but it is ingrained, repetitious and not telling us much that is new (neither is it giving a decent sense of the systemic character of the crisis). Alongside this (pop)journalist economic narrative is a less widely known story of response where the alienated and dispossessed are taking control of their own solutions and hunting out new ways of operating in a hostile economic environment, while the emergence in Europe at least of growing support for anti-austerity forces such as Podemos (in Spain) and Syriza (in Greece) suggests and emerging anti- or alter-capitalist options.
What has been missing from much of the ‘debate’ and almost all of the scholarly analysis has been rigorous sociological engagement – not that this is new; as the editors note in their introduction to this engaging and important collection of paper, there was very little serious sociological analysis to emerge from the depression of the 1930s, except Marie Jahoda et al’s exploration of the Austrian town of Marienthal (there were a good number of more journalistic exploration of the Depression, but little in the way of ‘scientific’ sociological study). This collection is a good start to begin to change that gap in contemporary analyses. There is a coherence to the collection – most of the authors were members of a single international research group largely but not exclusively working in a framework provided by notions of the network society that has emerged from work by Castells and various of his collaborators over the last 15-20 years. The collection’s five sections explore ideas of crisis and aftermath in social science traditions, considering the extent to which the crisis has changed over the period from 2008-12 (when it was initially published), looking at various responses to the crisis by business and political and social groups, looking at ways to transcend the crisis and asking the question whether it is really global.
For the most part these are significant pieces that demand that social scientists look much more carefully at what is going on around us and analyse the current crisis through our own disciplinary lenses rather than getting hung up on obtuse and obfuscatory economic approaches that seem to make sense of the crisis while perpetuating the mystique. Essays here include Rosalind Williams’ excellent exploration of the ways terms such as ‘crisis’ and ‘aftermath’ are used in both mainstream political and analytical discussions as well as in the social sciences revealing the potential of theoretically and historically aware analysis, João Caraςa’s essay considering the shift from modernity’s separation of cultures to postmodernity’s individualising cultures of separation (it is short, elegant piece) and crucially Joana Conill et al’s empirically rich discussion of responses to the economic crisis in Catalonia that reveals a very high level of trust-based non-capitalist economic activity. There are extremely valuable discussions of corporate branding of the crisis through a close reading of advertising campaigns by Chrysler and Levis, of the place of a range of nationalist approaches to the crisis, of ways that the welfare state features in responses and the range of network society responses associated with increasingly widespread digital media. More difficult for more general audiences are the two papers discussing aspects of change in both the form of the crisis and aspects of socio-cultural change associated with its effects.
Perhaps the most unsettling piece is a close reading of China, often presented as a place bucking the trend of the crisis, that suggests that the economy may not be as strong (taking the full range of neo-classical measures) as is presented but more importantly pointing to the deep seated social crisis that is emerging. This essay is paired with the least convincing piece in the collection, Ernesto Ottone’s discussion of the limited but highly uneven impact of the crisis (at least in 2012) in Latin America; the problem with this essay is primarily that it does not sit comfortably with the theoretical perspectives running through the rest of the collection and that Ottone’s role in Latin American pan-state institutions means his discussion is the most statist and the most closely linked to the orthodoxy of state and pan-state approaches.
This is a really useful book both for scholarly analysts and for those looking for ways to make sense of the crisis, responses to it and its sociological effects. Its usefulness is enhanced by its conceptual coherence and its close focus on the form, character and effects of the crisis. I didn’t find this as invigorating as Andrea Fumagalli et al’s Crisis in the Global Economy: Financial Markets, Social Struggles, and New Political Scenarios despite being written 3 years later; I suspect this is partly because of the tighter focus and narrower theoretical framing. That said, there is important work here that is, in current circumstances, essential and that poses an important challenge to contemporary scholars who do not seem to have effectively focussed on the crisis as part of their investigations of the here and now. There is much here for many of us working in sociology and other social sciences and trying to make sense of the world of the present....more
The time of day when we get home from work is often a source of great relief, of a promise of rest and relaxation and a moment when we begin to settleThe time of day when we get home from work is often a source of great relief, of a promise of rest and relaxation and a moment when we begin to settle into non-work mode…. or at least that’s what we’d like to think. Instead, in our 24/7 working world our arrival home from work is more likely to be a marking of a new phase of work, perhaps a little less structured but very much a working world. Our living labour is never far away; according to Marx it was the very thing that bosses and corporations set out to harness and control, so that in more times capitalism can bring us all under its thumb, by making us the agents of our own oppression. Work and labour are fluid, shifting in form and meaning and increasingly pervasive, almost omnipresent.
This collection, a catalogue from the Living Labor show at Norway’s Henie Onstad Kunstsenter in 2013/14, explores these issues of the contemporary significances of work, but through a blending of pieces from the show, original and reproduced essays takes us into labour movement archives, the representation of workers in and around Oslo’s Town Hall, concepts of work and time, work/employment as/in an art practice and the refusal of work. When taken alongside the art works reproduced here, the collection delves into the meaning and practice of work, precarity, artistic practice and the changing character of work and labour as it pervades nearly every aspect of our lives and beings. It is an exploration of the changing meanings of the living labour including but also beyond employment; beyond in that the exploration of the refusal to work (in extracts from Kathi Weeks The Problem of Work and Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming’s Dean Man Working) is an essential aspect of the discussion ranging around the question of work and labour.
Several of the essays are innovative contributions to discussions of these issues, notably Annette Kamp’s ‘New Concepts of Work and Time’, and I enjoyed Olivia Pender and Hester Reeve’s ‘Open Letter to Tate Britain’ arguing for an understanding of Sylvia Pankhurst as a key figure in the combination of art and activism (she was a fine artist and designed many of the suffrage movement’s iconic images) and lamenting the absence of her work from the Tate’s collection. Some of the pieces reproduced, both contemporary and historical, are superb pieces of critically and social engaged art with a powerful political edge, although it is frustrating that several important pieces in the collection were video and film so the best we get is some still.
So, richly illustrated throughout with pieces from the show and others, often historical activist images as well as the more 'art' type works, the collection raises several important issues. Ole Martin Rønning discusses the Norwegian Labour Movement Archives and Library, which is a single collection for the Norwegian workers' movement and Left, unlike others in much of Europe where there are disparate collections divided by political orientation, and raises the question of the function, coverage and responsibilities of labour movement archives in the current climate where the movement has become much more diverse, less obviously trade union based and includes a much wider range of social movements. On top of these changes, the management of archives has become much more difficult with the rise of on-line publishing and networking, which only adds to the challenge. Alongside this set of questions, Michaela Paludan's photographic 'essay' (I am not entirely sure how to classify it) highlights issues in Danish women's socialist-feminist groups and activism/organisation.
Sitting alongside these more 'art' focussed essays are the more obviously sociological work – Kamp, Weeks and Cederström and Fleming – that draw on a range of academic literature – much of it based in autonomist Marxisms, although Kamp more than others has an orientation to literatures of performance and performativity (but not Butler), to pose challenging questions about work, labour, autonomy and the tension between the frozen labour of commodity production and the living labour of human existence. Particularly useful here is Kamp's discussion of types of time in work – that is, of different ways workers experience time by what they are doing. Meanwhile, the images extracted from the exhibition tease those of us unable to make it to the gallery with what looks like an excellent show.
In short, this is a case for resisting the increasing boundarylessness of working life, for retaining ownership and control of our own labour and for the usefulness of engaged exhibitions and critically, academically and politically engaged catalogues. It is a welcome and valuable collection....more
It is becoming increasingly common for a wide range of work to be seen as collaborative or participatory. In my world I see it in community developmenIt is becoming increasingly common for a wide range of work to be seen as collaborative or participatory. In my world I see it in community development work where it is increasingly expected that communities will work with experts to develop programmes that meet their needs (although this is seldom meaningful participation); I see it in academia where in my paid job I am expected to work in increasingly interdisciplinary modes; in applied sport studies, my paid job, we see it in programme development, community and sport development activities and the like – although increasing credentialisation means that levels of community input and control are less than we often profess. I come to this exploration of issues in the development of joint creative work from this set of concerns, not the specific art and design projects Huybrechts and her co-authors work in. That said, I also find that I learn an awful lot from stepping outside my specific area of work to see what is happening in cognate areas; it turns out, there is quite a bit going on and much of it is really useful.
Be warned though, this is not a practical, how-to book, and the authors repeated make clear that in their view good participatory practice is not the result of a recipe to be used with a sure outcome, but is the outcome of open, flexible, hybrid practices designed to generate options for participants through a planned stepping back from controlling power by the programme ‘makers’.
Huybrechts has drawn together a group of author-art-design-practitioners to make three key points. The first is that to be effective any collaborative project must entail risky trade-offs on the part of all participants, including ‘makers’; this is not a risk assessment/minimisation approach that is essentially quantitative but is a qualitative assessment of the kinds of compromises and judgements that need to be made to develop a fully participatory and inclusive project. The second key point focusses on what they call ‘project-time’; that is when the project is being designed and developed, and in some cases implemented, which is seen as a time of hybrid knowledge and practice. In this stage participants bring to the project a range of knowledges (forms and content) to build a distinctive approach to the work based on the specifics of those knowledges within a hybrid mindset. Finally, they turn to ‘use-time’ as a way of talking about what has, elsewhere, been called durational projects where success turns on the principle of generativity, the product of project openness where ‘users’ may take a project well beyond the time and actions intended by the ‘makers’.
This is not just a theoretical discussion: the case is bolstered by good evidence drawn from seven case studies designed to show risky trade-offs, hybridity and generativity in practice in different art and design contexts. In each case the studies are well chosen although it a sign of the times that some many of them turn on digital activity, be it digital games or digital disruption of space through to collaborative hardware design and manufacture. Despite this focus, an open reading of the cases reveals the three key issues in operation, with all their dangers and benefits. There is an awful lot we can learn about the risks, dangers and opportunities of participatory work, but more importantly about factors to consider in designing hybrid, generative projects, including advantages and disadvantages of giving up on authorial autonomy, setting aside expert mindsets and the problem of balancing art/design with ‘social work’. Moving from project- to use-time the discussion then delves into issues of shareability, modularity and acceptance of deviation from the ‘makers’ intentions – remembering that this is not a recipe or handbook.
Of course, it is not all ideal. It seems that the authors struggle with the balance between reporting on the projects they explore and a more academic text, so in places the format (especially with the repeated summarising of the case) feels a bit clumsy; I would have liked a little more flow and perhaps a bit more of the poetics of some of the projects. Unusually for a Valiz title, the proofreading is in places weak, but this is minor.
This is a useful contribution to the excellent Valiz Arts and Society series, and is packed with stimulating ideas that can be applied well beyond the art and design settings. It is a useful supplement to the more scholarly work in Paul de Bruyne’s welcome Community Art: The Politics of Trespassing so that between them we have a valuable contribution to the scholarship and practice of collaborative and participatory art and design projects with relevance in many other areas.
Go out and create participatory projects, but don’t be surprised if they go ways that you don’t intend....more
The flip-flop, in Australia the thong, in New Zealand the jandal, in China the slipper, is one of those ubiquitous items – cheap, disposable and replaThe flip-flop, in Australia the thong, in New Zealand the jandal, in China the slipper, is one of those ubiquitous items – cheap, disposable and replaceable; it is just the thing for that unexpectedly hot context. And yet its very ubiquity makes it hard to observe as its’ taken for granted state means it becomes close to invisible – yet we can see it nearly everywhere, which just goes to reinforce its suitability for an exploration of the global condition. In asking a seeming simple question – how is a flip flop made, and what happens to it after that, Caroline Knowles has opened up a complex tale of global supply chains, manufacturing, sales, disposal and labour migration, of ambition, poverty, dependency, labour force security in some parts of the supply chain and insecurity in others. In doing so she has given us a superb analysis of that condition often simplistically referred to as ‘globalisation’ and shown the potential of material cultural analysis.
She starts her story in Kuwait, in the oil fields of a small Gulf state that could, quite possibly, be any of them – Qatar, the UAE or elsewhere – before moving on to Korea where the oil is transformed into plastic. From there she moves us to coastal China where the plastic balls shipped from Korea are transformed into plastic sheets that become the base of the flip-flop, waiting for the thong element to be added. The bags of flip-flops then make their way across the globe to the Horn of Africa and into a market in Addis Ababa, finally being disposed of in the city’s rubbish dump. This excellent narrative is topped and tailed by two explicitly theoretical chapters exploring the relation of this discussion to globalisation theory (these chapters are important, but I suspect the book would work well for readers who passed them by).
Knowles is careful to do two things in this discussion. The first is to set aside the all-too-common metaphor of ‘global flows’, with its implications of smooth movement, in favour of the idea of journeys, with their tendency to be interrupted, side-tracked and redirected. At each point along her journey tracking the flip-flop from desert oil well to Ethiopian rubbish dump she builds an image of the journeys of workers that circle around the node in the life story of the rubber footwear. This model of a the flip-flop circling the globe while each of the nodal points of its manufacture and consumption acts as the hub of another set of mobilities and circulations means we meet the South Asian oil workers and Anglo and Arabic site managers in the Kuwaiti desert, as well as have their working and domestic lives traced and tracked to their city house or occasional journey home to see their kinfolks. Elsewhere we meet (internal) migrants from rural China, stamping out flip-flop soles from plastic sheets, or Korean factory in their company housing. We are introduced to the local gender, racial and ethnic politics, the demands they make on social dynamics, the expectations workers and bosses share (or not) and the social support mechanisms that develop around workplace, origin and family networks.
By the time we make it to Ethiopia, the dynamic has become more complex as the narrative shifts its emphasis from production to distribution and consumption. We meet the flip-flop smugglers who carry them across the Somali-Ethiopian border to avoid taxes and tariffs, the market stall owners who retail, the poor who buy and the rubbish pickers who might (rarely) find them worth trying to resell. In these cases, Knowles once again takes us into these peoples’ ambitions, dreams and efforts taken to make their lives a little more bearable. We also find ourselves in the world of academic management, with a fabulous discussion of her University’s limits on what she could do in the field, limits based in their concerns about safety and insurance (a concern that resonated for me as chair of my university’s research ethics committee, where one of our concerns is researcher well-being in the field: these are at times difficult balances to strike and her case the limitation was on entry to Somalia) – it is a telling and informative section.
Telling a story of globalisation through an exploration of the supply chain of a disposable and ubiquitous product is an inspired move, in part because (as she notes) a very large proportion of us have owned and still own flip-flops; there is a visceral recognition of the product – as rubbing blisters on our feet on early summer, protecting those same feet from the hot, hot sand, providing a layer between a damaged or swollen bandaged foot and ground or their myriad other uses. There is another way in which the choice of the flip-flop is inspired – its reliance on petrochemical industries, an off shoot of our oil obsession and reliance, and therefore as a way to take a peek into one of the major forces shaping, framing and driving globalization.
On top of all this, Knowles has a fabulous narratorial voice – she packs a sophisticated set of concepts into what seems like the simple story of cheap plastic footwear items, but she also carries a narrative with ease. The human and humane in the book keeps the global story and the personal level providing moments of recognition and insight that I only wish more of us in academia could provide.
This is an outstanding discussion of the global, of supply chains, of human stories inside the politics of global manufacturing. It is also a superb piece of material cultural analysis that deserves a very wide academic and general audience; it is one of the best things I have read in years....more