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Graham Holderness

Shakespeare's interest in ancient Rome spans the whole of his dramatic career, from Titus Andronicus to Cymbeline, while Roman history and Latin culture permeate the whole of his work, well beyond the explicitly ‘Roman’ plays and poems. Critical interest has to some extent shifted from the historicist Roman plays based on Plutarch, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, and the pseudo-historical Coriolanus, to the outlying Roman plays that evidence greater generic diversity and stylistic innovation, the early Senecan tragedy Titus Andronicus and the late ‘British’ romance Cymbeline. In these latter plays, the complex interactions between past and present, that are the main subject of the formal histories, are presented with even more aesthetic flexibility and creative improvisation than the ‘Roman plays’ proper.

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Lukas Ley and Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov

As we all know, ‘urgent’ is a frequent subject heading used for emails and documents. It is also ubiquitous in calls to action against climate change and ongoing wars. In many ways, the word draws our attention to imminent crises, such as humanitarian disasters or the outbreak of diseases. Yet, the ethnographic contours of said urgency and imminence are far from self-evident. As this special issue's guest editors Andreas Bandak and Paul Anderson put it, urgency is always a claim of urgency. What is at stake in such claims, they submit, are not just the necessary resources, rights, expertise and power to ‘act now before it is too late’, but also a specific temporality. By separating the ‘now’ or ‘imminent’ from ‘before’ or ‘always’, time gets measured differently: it turns from being a quantitative entity to a qualitative and even incommensurable process. Indeed, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic marked the year 2020 as the dawn of a ‘new era’ in human biology and biopolitical governance (Bermant and Ssorin-Chaikov 2020). In a similar vein, other events turned out watershed moments in history: the 2008 financial crisis inaugurated the ‘age of austerity’, while 9/11 claimed the new ‘normalcy’ of living with terrorist threats and permanent war on terror – even if in many places around the world living with terrorist threats was rather normal for a long time before 9/11. If modernity can be viewed as a stretched-out present producing ‘newtime’ (Neuzeit, see Koselleck 2002), including irregular crises, it is no surprise that new eras keep appearing and supplanting each other all the time. What makes the temporality of urgency distinct from ‘modernity as time’ (Ssorin-Chaikov 2017) and particularly from its twentieth-century teleological futurism of capitalism, state socialism or neoliberalism, argue Bandak and Anderson, is its ‘presentism’ in the sense of François Hartog (2015).

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Penny Welch and Susan Wright

Welcome to this special themed issue of Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences in which a set of authors from Ethiopia, China, Indonesia, Finland and South Korea explore the internationalisation of higher education from the periphery and another group from Italy, New Zealand, Australia and the UK analyse market-making in higher education institutions. The articles in this special issue represent some of the collaborative results from an ‘Initial Training Network’ project funded by the EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme that analysed ‘Universities in the Knowledge Economy’ (UNIKE) in Europe and the Asia-Pacific Rim.1

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Benjamin Abrams, Giovanni A. Travaglino, Peter R. Gardner, and Brian Callan

Wrapping up Contention's tenth volume feels like something of a milestone for all of us. After a decade of work, a journal that was once a small, punchy entity is now thoroughly established in its field. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the contributors, reviewers, editorial board members, and publishing staff who have helped this journal grow and who we look forward to continuing our work with in the decades to come.

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Ken Parille, Kenneth Kidd, Jay Mechling, Victoria Cann, and Edward W. Morris


Reading Characters, People, and Properties

In this piece, I reflect on superhero comic books I read in my childhood and adolescence, noting that as I collected and read stories featuring the character known as the Silver Surfer, I slowly began to realize that the character's traits, as established in the first comic in which he appeared, seemed to change in comics published later. In searching for explanations for these changes, I began to pay attention to a comic's credits, recognizing that different writers and artists understood the character in different ways and often felt no obligation to maintain a consistent approach. I eventually realized that a comic's credits sometimes misrepresented the labor invested by each of the story's creators. This long process led to an ongoing interest—in both my writing and teaching—in the ways that our interpretation of a story and its characters can be enriched by understanding the conditions under which it was produced.

Books of the Heart

What might reflecting on favorite books from our childhood tell us about our past and current selves? This short meditation on that question first considers reading memoirs and experiments in rereading, and then reviews some favorite books from the author's own childhood, speculating on their appeal and potential significance for identity consolidation.

The Fantasy of the Boy Scout Handbook

Born and raised in Miami Beach, Florida, I opened my new Boy Scouts of America Handbook for Boys in the summer of 1956, at age 11, in anticipation of moving from the Cub Scouts to the Boy Scouts that fall. I found in those pages a fantasy that moved me deeply, a romantic fantasy of hiking and camping in the wilderness with a band of boy buddies. That fantasy has deep roots in fiction for boys and in books like the Handbook, appealing to the boy's desire to escape the surveillance and control of adults and to fashion a community of “lost boys” in a wilderness setting ideal for strong male bonding in friendship.

“I Never Had Any Friends Later on Like the Ones I Had When I Was Twelve. Jesus, Does Anyone?”: Reflections on Learning about Boyhood through Stand by Me

This piece offers reflections on the 1986 movie Stand by Me, drawing on some of the main themes and contextualizing them in relation to my own childhood as a girl growing up in the 1990s. I reflect on how in my rewatch of the movie, I was struck by the ways that the class positions of the boys echoed my own experiences of transition and liberation through education. I also reflect on the significance of seeing boys cry and be scared—feelings that the boys at my school were policed out of performing in public.

Boy Genius: Reflections on Reading The Great Brain

Based on reflection and analysis of a formative childhood text, this essay disentangles the relationship between reading, intelligence, and masculinity. The author argues that although reading fiction appears to encourage empathy, books written specifically for boys may contain detrimental messages about masculinity. The analysis reveals that the popular Great Brain series reinforces notions of whiteness, ableism, and masculine superiority. These messages are reinforced by the books’ emphasis on pragmatic “genius” and the savior trope in boyhood.

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Constance L. Mui and T Storm Heter

Readers will recall that we devoted a special issue to anti-Black racism in 2021, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement which gained momentum following the 2020 murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police officers in Louisville and Minneapolis. The present issue continues to address the problem of racism from a Sartrean perspective, with an interview of the pioneering Black Existentialist thinker Lewis R. Gordon, followed by articles that take up related themes in freedom and oppression.

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Oded Haklai and Adia Mendelsohn-Maoz

The current issue features a special section dedicated to the study of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. One would be hard-pressed to identify issues that currently stir more passionate contestation and stronger emotions in academic circles than the BDS campaign in the groves of academe. Views on this issue vary considerably and have been keenly articulated in multiple and diverse outlets. Some view BDS as a legitimate, nonviolent campaign in support of the Palestinians; some find it threatening to academic freedom; and some identify the singling out of Israel as an expression of antisemitism.

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Émigrés and Migrations during the French Revolution

Identities, Economics, Social Exchanges, and Humanitarianism

Lloyd Kramer

The French Revolution profoundly influenced many of the ideas and institutions that created the modern world. This far-reaching revolutionary upheaval drew widely on eighteenth-century Enlightenment culture to construct and spread modern ideas about human rights, republicanism, legal equality, nationalism, and the value of scientific knowledge. At the same time, France's revolutionary leaders began to create new institutions that France and other modern countries would use to develop large state bureaucracies, mass conscription armies, centralized monetary and taxation systems, nationwide legal codes and police surveillance, carefully orchestrated public rituals, and new plans for public education.

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Engaged Lingering

Urban Contingency in the Pandemic Present with COVID-19 in Denmark

Mikkel Bille and Mikkel Thelle


This article explores the intensification of contingency in an urban setting during the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Denmark. Based on interviews with fifty-one residents in the two largest cities in Denmark from the very first day of lockdown, it explores how the respondents expressed a friction between adapting to isolation, powerlessness and feelings of being out of time on the one hand, while simultaneously also being confronted with urgency through media and the immediacy of urban encounters on the other. Drawing on the works of François Hartog on presentism and Ben Anderson on terror preparedness, the central argument in this article is that with COVID-19 we see parallel negotiations of unknown futures near and far, in which urban contingency intensifies an already presentist sense of time. As one way of coping with the situation, people are actively lingering in a present without clear connections to past or future, fostering a form of stasis and hesitancy. In what we call an engaged lingering, urgency unfolds in seemingly contradictory ways to become simultaneously an everyday of frantic motion and paralysis.

Cet article explore l'intensification de la contingence dans un cadre urbain pendant la propagation rapide du COVID-19 au Danemark. Basé sur des entretiens avec trente-trois résidents de Copenhague dès le premier jour du confinement au Danemark, il explore comment les répondants ont exprimé une friction entre l'adaptation à l'isolement, l'impuissance et le sentiment d’être hors du temps d'une part, tout en étant simultanément confronté à l'urgence à travers les médias et l'immédiateté des rencontres urbaines d'autre part. S'inspirant des travaux de François Hartog sur le présentisme et de Ben Anderson sur la préparation à la terreur, où “l'ici et maintenant est suspendu entre le présent et un futur ‘comme si’ (2010), l'argument central de cet article est qu'avec COVID-19, nous assistons à des négociations parallèles de futurs inconnus proches et lointains, dans lesquelles la contingence urbaine intensifie un sens déjà présentiste du temps. Pour faire face à cette situation, les gens s'attardent activement dans un présent sans liens clairs avec le passé ou le futur, favorisant une forme de stase et d'hésitation. Dans ce que nous appelons un “attardation engagé, l'urgence se déploie de manière apparemment contradictoire pour devenir simultanément un quotidien de mouvement frénétique et de paralysie.

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Entrenched provisionality

Struggling for public electricity in postapartheid Johannesburg

Hanno Mögenburg


 This article explores practices of community-based energy justice activists in Johannesburg. Against the background of municipal corporatization of electricity delivery in the wake of the postapartheid state's neoliberal policy turn, residents of the urban periphery organize to ward off cost-recovery measures and illegally (re)connect to the grid. Informed by theories of critical urban studies on the South, this article situates activists’ practices historically and discusses the limits of their strategic claims with a view to their inextricable relation to the state.