All Reviews

Sketching Theory

Terry Eagleton, The Event of Literature

reviewed by David Winters

‘Literary theory,’ the historian Gerald Graff has remarked, ‘is what is generated when some aspect of literature … ceases to be a given and becomes a question to be argued in a generalised way.’ Graff’s definition might look like a platitude, but its prosaicness is its strength. It’s surely the case, as Graff implies, that any systematic account of literature is always already ‘theoretical.’ With this in mind, theory should be understood less as a phase in the history of... [read more]

Cottage Industry

David Berry (ed.), Revisiting the Frankfurt School: Essays on Culture, Media and Theory

reviewed by Andy Murray

There are few categories in the history of Marxism as indeterminate as that of ‘Frankfurt School’. Since this term came into common parlance in the 1960s to refer to the associates of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, it has often been used simply to refer to Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. These two have become the subject of an academic specialisation that produces a massive output of publications and symposia, a cottage industry its own right. The bright light... [read more]

The Next Distraction

Paul Virilio, The Great Accelerator

reviewed by Paul Ennis

This short little book, coming in at less than a hundred pages, is perhaps Paul Virilio’s most compact expression of ‘dromological’ reasoning to date (dromology being the logic of speed). The French cultural theorist is best known for his writings on technology and visual media, but the battlefield he addresses in The Great Accelerator is vaster. It is now a religious, planetary, and cosmological warzone. He has been building toward a universal statement on the state of our planet many... [read more]

Quite Ordinary Men

David Leeson, The Black and Tans: British Police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence, 1920-21

reviewed by John Newsinger

Early reviews - including one particularly scathing piece in History Ireland magazine - portrayed DM Leeson’s new book as yet another revisionist work, re-writing Irish history for the benefit of the British and on this occasion, actually, rehabilitating one of the most hated British exports to Ireland: the Black and Tans. In some quarters this has led to it being welcomed, in others condemned. In fact, this is a serious misreading of what is a well-researched and thoughtful study that... [read more]

The God That Failed

Simon Critchley, The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology

reviewed by Benjamin Noys

The current obsession with religion in contemporary theory is hard to miss – what had seemed a secular enterprise has turned out more books concerning Saint Paul than the average theology faculty. Simon Critchley’s new take on religion is, like many of these efforts, also an attempt, or as he prefers experiment, in ‘political theology’. At the heart of the work is God-envy; an envy of believers for the motivational power of religion, which is not dissimilar to those annoying reports... [read more]

The Battle for Higher Education

Michael Bailey and Des Freedman (eds.), The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance

reviewed by Tom Steele

Do we need universities? The radical educational critiques of the 1960s and 1970s, most associated with the philosopher Ivan Illich but carried forward by other ‘deschoolers’, argued that universities were only the end point of an educational system bent on producing conformist individuals, pruned of critical and imaginative capacities, for the capitalist workplace. The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu went on to show how the university functions as the finishing stage in the reproduction... [read more]

Eurocentric Angst

Jűrgen Habermas, The Crisis of the European Union: A Response

reviewed by Tony Norfield

Jűrgen Habermas is one of Europe’s prominent sociologists and philosophers. As he correctly points out, the economic troubles in Europe are of critical importance to the European Union as a whole, rather than simply members of the Euro currency area. Were the Euro project to fail, it would not only be a major economic event; it would represent the destruction of decades of political planning by Europe’s major powers, Germany and France, and throw into turmoil the relationships between all... [read more]

Secular Moralism

Michel Wieviorka, Evil

reviewed by Belinda Webb-Blofeld

Evil is not a subject often included in course modules; it belongs more to tabloid headlines, teen-speak (that's ee-vILL) and the religious - although it is to be found in philosophy. It is non-rational, and non-scientific, both in its activity, and in how we react to it. In his new work, Evil, Michel Wieviorka, Professor of Sociology at Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, lays out the case for thinking about 'evil' as 'social', as opposed to theological. He develops a... [read more]

The Neglected Modernist

Volker M. Welter, Ernst L. Freud, Architect: The Case of the Modern Bourgeois Home

reviewed by Luke White

Histories of modern architecture tend to accord Ernst Freud (youngest son of Sigmund, and father in turn to celebrity sons Lucian and Clement) only a marginal place, in spite of the high profile of his practice in 1920s Berlin, and then in London, where he moved in 1933. At the core of Volker M Welter’s excavation of this neglected figure, is an argument about the structural reasons for his marginalisation from such histories. These understand modernism’s importance to lie in the... [read more]

Home Economics

Helma Lutz, The New Maids: Transnational Women in the Care Economy

reviewed by Zoe Williams

The stated questions of Helma Lutz’s book, The New Maids: Transnational Women in the Care Economy, are these – ‘whether and how domestic / care work changes when it becomes commodified; whether gender transformations take place in the employers’ households as a result of the “new maids” working there, and if so, in what direction; and finally, what consequences this transnational service employment has for family and gender relationships in the countries of origin’. The breadth... [read more]