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Adapting to Crisis

Migration Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Aydan Greatrick, Jumana Al-Waeli, Hannah Sender, Susanna Corona Maioli, Jin L. Li, and Ellen Goodwin

This article draws on our experiences of carrying out PhD research on migration during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all involved with the University College London Migration Research Unit (MRU), and our PhD research explores the lived experiences of migrants and people affected by migration. This is the first of two articles in this issue of Migration and Society addressing the implications of COVID-19 on migration research from the perspective of postgraduate researchers. In this article, we firstly reflect on how “crises,” including the COVID-19 pandemic, inevitably shape contexts of migration research. We then share how COVID-19 has shaped our relationship to “the field” and our formal research institutions. Finally, we share how we have adapted our methodologies in response to COVID-19 and, considering the complex ethical and practical challenges posed by this context, reflect on what it means to make methodological “adaptations” in times of overlapping crises.

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Gabriel Remy-Handfield

This article explores the aesthetic of the grotesque in Lu Yang’s recent work Delusional Mandala (2015) and Delusional World (2020). I argue that the aesthetic of the grotesque envisioned in these two works becomes a radical tool for the artist’s deconstruction and dismantling of the socially and culturally sanctioned boundaries of corporeality and normativity. My approach to Lu Yang’s aesthetic of the grotesque is based on Sara Cohen Shabot’s theorization of grotesque philosophy and the grotesque body as well on the concept of faciality proposed by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1980). Two questions guide my reflection and readings in this article: What are the characteristics of the grotesque aesthetic in Lu Yang’s films? In what ways does this aesthetic deconstruct concepts such as the human and normativity?

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Aesthetics of Futurism

Lu Yang’s Art and an Organological Redefinition of the Human in the Planetary Age

Hai Ren

Studying artworks on the human body and the brain, as exemplified by Lu Yang’s work, enables a new perspective in the debates over the redefinitions of the human, whether anthropocenic redefinitions of the human (in the scholarships of the Anthropocene, posthumanism, new materialism, and speculative realism) or a technoscientific redefinition of the human (in the scholarships of technological transformations). Not only does Lu Yang question the defining properties of the humanness but the artist also creates an organological form of the human. This organological perspective enables an aesthetics of futurism based on both a nonreproductive kinship between the human and the nonhuman, and a new regime of the future grounded in the habitability of the human as a more-than-human agent in the planetary age.

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Algorithmic Intimacy

The Data Economy of Predatory Inclusion in Kenya

Kevin P. Donovan and Emma Park

English Abstract: Kenya is a frontier market for ‘financial technology’, or FinTech. This industry – which merges mobile telephony and digital data with commercial lending – has grown spectacularly, with millions of Kenyans borrowing for household, emergency, and commercial expenses. This industry’s frenzied growth has been fuelled by not merely the pursuit of profit, but also a decidedly more developmental aspiration, namely ‘financial inclusion’. This article analyzes the curious merger of public good and private gain, the technological innovations, and sorts of knowledge work that undergird this field. It particularly examines the novel manner in which digital lenders capitalise on intimacy, converting practices of kinship and entrustment into frontiers of extraction. Personal and social data are translated into credit scores, extended family networks are mediated by financial services, and interpersonal relations subsidise risky lending decisions. In contrast to a view of capitalism as abstracting and alienating, this analysis foregrounds the sorts of personal relations, sentiments and obligations that are incorporated. Through fieldwork with borrowers, industry members and regulators, we show that digital lending relies on a conversion between different registers of wealth – in people, in things and in knowledge – and we track the ethical negotiations and anxious attachments that constitute this curious utopia.

French Abstract: Le Kenya est un marché frontière pour la « technologie financière », ou FinTech. Cette industrie – qui fusionne la téléphonie mobile et les données numériques avec les prêts commerciaux – a connu une croissanc spectaculaire, des millions de Kenyans empruntant pour des dépenses domestiques, d’urgence et commerciales. La croissance frénétique de ce secteur a été alimentée non seulement par la recherche du profit, mais aussi par une aspiration résolument plus axée sur le développement, à savoir « l’inclusion financière ». Cet article analyse la curieuse fusion du bien public et du gain privé, les innovations technologiques et les types de travail de la connaissance qui sous-tendent ce domaine. Il examine en particulier la nouvelle manière dont les prêteurs numériques capitalisent sur l’intimité, convertissant les pratiques de parenté et de confiance en frontières d’extraction. Les données personnelles et sociales sont traduites en scores de crédit, les réseaux familiaux étendus sont médiatisés par les services financiers, et les relations interpersonnelles subventionnent les décisions de prêt risquées. Contrairement à une vision du capitalisme comme étant abstrait et aliénant, cette analyse met en avant les types de relations personnelles, les sentiments et les obligations qui sont incorporés. Grâce à un travail de terrain avec des emprunteurs, des membres de l’industrie et des régulateurs, nous montrons que le prêt numérique repose sur une conversion entre différents registres de richesse – en personnes, en choses et en connaissances – et nous suivons les négociations éthiques et les attachements anxieux qui constituent cette curieuse utopie.

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‘As a Stranger Give it Welcome’

Foreignness and Wonder in Jacobean London

Lois Potter

The two early modern meanings of the word ‘stranger’ (someone one does not know; a foreigner) have become separated in modern English. This article looks at attitudes to the ‘stranger’ both as pathetic victim and as someone outside Anglophone language and culture, with special reference to the arrival of a Scottish king and his followers in 1603–04. Horatio’s ‘wondrous strange’ (here, referring to the apparent ubiquity of the Ghost’s voice) is as metatheatrical as Hamlet’s later jokey comment on ‘this fellow in the cellarage’. The language of ‘wonder’, a particularly Jacobean phenomenon, suggests that intense artistic experiences, like experiences of shock and horror, can make the spectator or listener – as Milton put it – ‘marble with too much conceiving’.

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Barbara Pollack

Climbing, climbing the circular staircase of a decaying art deco apartment house, a throwback to Old Shanghai’s grandeur in the 1930s, I felt like I was stepping back in time. It was fall of 2011, and I was accompanied by a twenty-seven-year-old artist named Lu Yang who led me on this upward trek to a studio. As Lu Yang opened the green door to the space, I was immediately thrown forward from the past to the future. The darkened room was packed with computer monitors flickering with the running text of chatrooms. Aquariums, filled with dead frogs floating in formaldehyde, gave off an eerie green light. There were no sketches or paintings or anything like traditional art making. What an awakening! I realized that this was the kind of art I had been searching for on my trips to China since 2004. I was looking for an artist whose work reflected the enormous upheaval of the Reform era, the influx of Western goods, the possibilities of the internet, and the shock to the psyche that these changes had wrought. Lu Yang completely fit the bill.

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Between Science and Utopia

Physical and Astronomical Notions within French and Polish Fourierism

Piotr Kuligowski and Quentin Schwanck

This article investigates the role of physical and astronomical notions in the formation process of transnational political ideologies. It does so by focusing on the striking example of nineteenth-century early socialist movements, particularly Fourierism. Indeed, Fourier’s bold cosmogony enabled him to connect many fields of knowledge, and soon became a powerful vehicle for his ideas on the international scale. The article likewise analyses the ideological process through which Fourierist astronomical conceptions were adopted by foreign socialists, focusing on examples of Polish thinkers such as Jan Czyński and Stanisław Bratkowski who, in drawing on Fourierist ideas and usage of scientific terms, tried to embed his vocabulary in the ongoing nineteenth-century debates about Polish history and, more generally, the burning issue of the independence of the Polish state. Our comparative analysis highlights the contextual influences which contributed to re-shaping such ideas within a new absorbing context.

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Between Tyranny and Self-Interest

Why Neo-republicanism Disregards Natural Rights

David Guerrero and Julio Martínez-Cava Aguilar

The first contribution of this article is a politico-philosophical map that, drawing upon two common sets of arguments against modern natural rights, might help to explain the prevailing neo-republican position on natural rights. Under the label ‘abstraction argument’, we explore the view that natural rights are a metaphysical construct that usually ends in a violent application of speculative principles to society. Under ‘self-interest argument’, we discuss the notion that natural rights endorse an atomistic and selfish conception of the human being. Second, we show how Cold War authors replicated these two arguments, conveying a biased, largely anti-republican and anti-democratic view of natural rights to the twentieth century. Third, drawing on these two arguments, we critically assess the narrow view of natural rights inherited by neo-republican scholars.

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Beyond debt and equity

Dissecting the red herring and a path forward for normative critiques of finance

Aaron Z. Pitluck

A recurring theme in academic, moralizing, and religious discourses laments the individual and societal perils of debt and praises equity. Contemporary Islamic banking and finance is one conspicuous example. This article recontextualizes this conversation by demonstrating that since the 1980s financial practitioners have been interpreting debt and equity as increasingly illegible cognitive schemas that nonetheless retain their historical and moral connotations. This line of argumentation suggests that normatively contrasting debt and equity is a red herring—a literary device and theoretical construct that misleads and distracts from the fundamental discussion of what constitutes salubrious or odious finance. Little will change in social life if we seek to replace “debt” with “equity.” Rather, since all financial instruments describe social relationships, our conversation should turn to normatively proscribing the kinds of financial instruments that match our normative values for contractual relationships.

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Beyond Deliberative Systems

Pluralizing the Debate

Hans Asenbaum

Normative democratic theory with a focus on civic engagement is increasingly interested in how participatory instances connect into democratic systems (Dean, Rinne, et al. 2019; Elstub et al. 2018). The deliberative perspective has pioneered this debate and proposes a systemic view that observes how everyday talk and media discourses connect deliberative forums including parliaments, mini-publics, and protest formations (Mansbridge 1999; Mansbridge et al. 2012). While various approaches within the deliberative systems debate can be differentiated (Owen and Smith 2015), they commonly understand deliberative qualities as distributed within a broader system and focus on scaling up democratic deliberation through the transmission from the public to state institutions (Chambers 2012; Dryzek 2009).