Dissidence, Compromise and Submission in Higher Education Today

by Scarlett Baron

It is risky to teach or conduct research in ways that depart from certain modish formulae. To teach in ways which do not fit the assessment-focused, packaged-learning formats that are currently in vogue is to risk jeopardising one’s own standing within a department, but also, via the National Student Survey, to damage that department in the eyes of the faculty, the school, the university, and of course the media and its league tables. And to carry out research into areas of thought or knowledge that are not currently fashionable (that is, easily convertible into mercantilistic political clichés), is drastically to reduce one’s chances of obtaining external funding, the securing of which is key to the realisation of major scholarly projects. So by and large we muddle on, teaching in ways we hope are worthwhile whilst also (or despite) satisfying fee-paying students; and writing often preposterous research proposals which make promises about ‘impact deliverables and milestones,’ gush about ‘leadership development plans,’ and detail unique ‘project management skills.’ [read full essay]

A New Social Contract

Andy Merrifield, The New Urban Question

reviewed by Daniel Whittall

If we are to believe the McKinsey Institute, ‘the growth of cities in emerging markets is driving the most significant economic transformation in history.’ A growing ‘consuming class’, especially to be found in the cities of China and India, are the drivers of future economic growth. Over the course of the next 15 years, cities in the USA alone will contribute fully 10% of global GDP growth, though that fact might be met with some disbelief by the people of Detroit in particular. 600... [read more]

'Unless One Thinks, Unless One Changes This Structure'

Jacques Derrida, trans. Peggy Kamuf, The Death Penalty, Volume I

reviewed by Niall Gildea

The Death Penalty, Volume I is the third of Jacques Derrida’s seminars, or ‘teaching lectures’, to be translated into English, following Volumes I and II of The Beast and the Sovereign (the seminar series which directly followed Derrida’s Death Penalty seminar) in 2011 and 2012, respectively. In all cases, these translations have arrived very shortly after the publications of the French volumes. The present text records the first year of Derrida’s seminar on the Death Penalty at the... [read more]

A Poor Rate of Return

Thomas Piketty, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

reviewed by John P. Merrick

In May 1968, graffiti on the walls of Paris held the now famous declaration ‘BE REALISTIC, DEMAND THE IMPOSSIBLE.’ Fast forward nearly 50 years and a new book has taken the English speaking world by storm (written by a ‘Balzac-loving French intellectual,’ as every major newspaper has yet to tire of declaiming), which seems to have taken the opposite route in offering what seem to be rather timid, liberal, and realistic proposals which, it constantly states, are in fact ‘utopian’... [read more]

The Principle of Hope

Mark D. White, The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-Day Lessons from a World War II Superhero

reviewed by Jeffrey Petts

You can’t help but like a man who punched Hitler in the face. That was Captain America, right from the start (Volume 1, No.1, 1941). But two things made it easy for frail, young Steve Rogers to be transformed into the moral saint, ‘Cap’: Professor Reinstein had injected him with superhero serum, and the enemy was Nazism. As thought experiments in ethics go, it doesn’t reveal much, if anything, about human moral character and the problems of choosing the right thing to do. But the Cap... [read more]

The Medium is the Message

Steven Fielding, A State of Play: British Politics on Screen, Stage and Page, from Anthony Trollope to The Thick of It

reviewed by Alexis Forss

The third series of The Thick of It aired late in 2009, as Twitter neared its fourth birthday. Notice how, in the third episode, when Malcolm Tucker broaches the matter of another character’s ‘tweets ... on Twitter’ as the potential source of a leak, it sounds like he’s talking Estonian (earlier in the episode, Nicola Murray also needed to have the microblogging service explained to her). Nearly five years later Tucker’s bemusement threatens to date the show. At the time of writing... [read more]

A Matter of Life and Death

Göran Therborn, The Killing Fields of Inequality

reviewed by Andrew Blackman

Inequality kills. With these two powerful words, Göran Therborn opens his latest contribution to the equality debate. What follows is an avalanche of statistics from all corners of the globe, detailing the ways in which millions of people’s lives are stunted, damaged and prematurely ended by the crushing effects of inequality. To pluck a few from the huge number offered: life expectancy is 46 years longer in Japan than in Sierra Leone; a college-educated 50-year-old white man has 6... [read more]

Stranger Than Fiction

Paul French, North Korea: State of Paranoia

reviewed by Stephen Lee Naish

My Google news feed is often set as to prioritise news stories that emerge from the socialist wasteland that is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea as we refer to it in the West. The slow trickle of internal news and rumour, that comes sourced via China and South Korea's gossip bloggers, and from more serious academics, can last for months at a time and provoke bursts of laughter at the absurdity of some of the content (a recent example, the discovery of a unicorn... [read more]

Being 'Another Philosopher'

Andrew Benjamin, Working with Walter Benjamin: Recovering a Political Philosophy

reviewed by Joel White

Already in 2000, with the second publication of the co-edited Walter Benjamin’s Philosophy: Destruction and Experience, Peter Osborne wittingly remarks that ‘Benjamin’s prose breeds commentary like vaccine in a lab.’ Despite the incessant and industrial abundance of this commentary, the pile of books still grows. The ‘Benjamin Industry’, as it has aptly been called, shows no sign of halting. The only difference at present is that the commentary of yesterday is now the blotting paper... [read more]

The Last Laugh

Slavoj Zizek, Zizek's Jokes

reviewed by Marc Farrant

The American scholar, Barbara Johnson, once said of the philosopher Jacques Derrida that his writing traces the movement of desire without reaching its fulfilment. In contrast, Slavoj Zizek’s notoriously joke-laden prose fails to even hint at the possibility of seduction, and generally prefers instead to prance out of the dark like a molesting arm, punch you in the genitals and scuttle away. Zizek’s Jokes is overly brimming with examples of these peculiar verbal grope attacks (‘nicely... [read more]

Grief Like Environmental Disaster

Andrés Neuman, trans. Lorenzo Garcia & Nick Caistor, Talking to Ourselves

reviewed by Matt Lewis

One critique often made of postmodern fiction is that it lacks heart. As if by appealing to the brain and intellect of the reader, the visceral emotions are somehow overlooked; it is one academic making another academic smile wryly over a demitasse of espresso. However flawed or short-sighted that logic may be, the power to move people is, at least in the reviews one finds in the pages of the NYRB, TLS and LRB, an oft-overlooked skill in fiction writing. Well, literary-fiction writing anyway.... [read more]