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Discourse of Decline

Local Perspectives on Magic in Highland Jambi, Indonesia

J. David Neidel

Scholarly studies of magic, sorcery, and witchcraft have differed in their conclusions about the empirical efficacy of such practices and the persistence of related concepts. Often marginalized in these accounts, however, are local commentaries that address those same issues. Drawing on two years of ethnographic research in the highland Jambi region of central Sumatra, this article examines magical practices found in the region, the modes through which they are acquired, and connections to a set of ethereal beings that lie at the source of those supernatural abilities. While the belief in and practice of magical powers remain widespread, there exists a general 'discourse of decline'. This article analyzes several elements of that discourse, particularly declining potency, practice, relevance, and believability, showing where local perspectives converge and diverge with those that underlie alternative scholarly frameworks.

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Ibanga B. Ikpe

The debate as to whether the humanities is in decline is almost over. Statistics on declining enrolments, shrinking job prospects, dwindling funding and growing condescension from society add up to show that all is not well. Humanities scholars have, in the recent past, tried to discover what is wrong as well as do something to demonstrate that the humanities is still relevant to society. In this regard, many have suggested that the humanities should change to accommodate the needs of the marketplace, while others have argued that to do so will change the humanities so drastically as to render it unrecognizable. This article is about the current state of affairs in the humanities and the different views that have been expressed on it. It argues that rather than the humanities, it is actually society that is in decline, and as such changing the humanities to suit the needs of the marketplace would be a disservice to our long humanistic tradition. It acknowledges that humanities scholars need to engage more with society even as they continue in activities that have defined the humanities through the years and argues for humanities therapy as a way for the humanities to engage with a world that is increasingly enamoured with technê.

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Raymond Geuss

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair has appealed to the other members of the European Union to engage constructively with the Bush administration as a means of working towards peace in a perilous world. The combination of highly developed destructive capacity, relative economic decline, diplomatic incompetence, and continuing political divisions among a frustrated and resentful population that is deeply ignorant of the wider world and subject to recurrent bouts of collective paranoia does indeed make the United States a dangerous international agent. One of the main ways, in particular, in which the U.S. represents a particular menace to world peace at the moment is that it has come to be in Washington’s short-term interest to make the world a place in which the quick recourse to violence, and the constant threat of violence, is accepted as part of normal practice in international relations. The use of military power presents itself as an increasingly attractive option primarily because the U.S. is becoming weaker and weaker economically and politically, and force is one of the few means U.S. politicians can deploy that offer any hope whatever of allowing them to advance or protect what they think are their vital interests.

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Decline as a Form of Conceptual Change

Some Considerations on the Loss of the Legal Person

Douglas C. Dow

Conceptual decline has been one of the least examined forms of conceptual change. This essay explores some of the methodological and interpretive problems that have arisen through a study of the declining use of the concept of legal personhood in Anglo-American juridical discourse over the first half of the twentieth century. Such effort will generate a number of significant methodological questions: 1) How does identifying conceptual decline challenge an author-centered approach to a history of conceptual change? 2) How might the decline of a concept in one discourse affect the ways in which the term operates in other discourses; and how does the study of concepts operating across multiple discourses complicate the dichotomy between basic and technical concepts? 3) How might a once active, but now silent, concept continue to impact political discourse? Do lost concepts have an "afterlife"? The study of conceptual decline benefits from an interaction between Begriffsgeschichte and Cambridge School methods of studying conceptual change, while at the same time questioning some of the foundational assumptions of each approach.

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The Prime, Decline, and Recalling of Rural Cycling

Bicycle Practices in 1920s' and 1930s' Finland Remembered in 1971-1972

Tiina Männistö-Funk

The article studies rural cycling in Finland in the 1920s and 1930s through a folklore survey conducted in 1971-1972. Written memories enable a rare insight in the disappeared practices of bicycle use in the countryside. Comparing the role of the bicycle in the remembered time and the time of remembering, the article furthermore scrutinizes the role of historical narratives in the cultural constructions of the bicycle. Instead of demonstrating a linear, universal decline in the face of motorization, changes in bicycle use and redefinitions of the bicycle are linked to fundamental societal changes.

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The Decline of Rome

The Never-Ending Crisis in the Capital

Giada Zampano

The first female mayor in Rome’s history, Virginia Raggi, is faced with a dual challenge. First, she must try to solve the chronic problems of a city mired in debt and struggling with an ongoing emergency caused by chronic traffic problems and chaotic waste disposal. Then the young mayor must experiment with new ways of exercising power to establish the transparency required to restore the reputation of a political class that has led Rome to become known as the “Mafia Capital,” with its own “in-between world” made up of corrupt politicians, business people, and criminals. Since assuming office, Raggi has faced a political impasse, and her administration has suffered an embarrassing string of resignations and judicial scandals that have brought into question the city’s future prospects. Rome is now at a crossroads that may lead to either a much-awaited renaissance or a definitive meltdown.

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How Do Religions End?

Theorizing Religious Traditions from the Point of View of How They Disappear

Joel Robbins

What does it mean for a new religion to arise or take hold among a group of people? What does it mean for a religious tradition to endure? These are questions that are quite commonly addressed, at least implicitly, in the study of religion. Less frequently asked is the question of what it means for a religious tradition to come to an end. This article addresses this question, paying particular attention to the ways people actively dismantle a religious tradition that previously shaped their lives. I also consider what studying the process of religious disappearance can teach us about what it means for a tradition to arise and endure, arguing that a grasp on processes of religious dissolution is necessary for a fully rounded approach to the study of religious change. Throughout the article, I illustrate my arguments with material from the study of Christianity, Judaism and indigenous religious traditions, particularly from Oceania.

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“Communists” on the shop floor

Anticommunism, crisis, and the transformation of labor in Bulgaria

Dimitra Kofti

This article discusses perceptions of continuity and change as viewed from the shop floor of a privatized postsocialist factory. Neoliberal templates have reshaped the organization of production and resulted in a fragmentation of the workforce and new inequalities. These shifts, which have become main topic of everyday workplace conversation, have not generated critical commentary on wider encompassing neoliberal inequalities. Instead, critique has centered on the inequalities of “communism”. Workers talk about radical upheavals and successive crises but also emphasize significant continuities of power that have bridged socialism and neoliberal capitalism. Thus, even pro-market, neoliberal practices and forms of power are often described as “communist”, situated within an entrenched establishment that originated in the socialist era. Therefore, criticisms of neoliberal transformations are often framed in terms of an anticommunist rhetoric.

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William W. Darrow

Public health in the United States has lost its edge. It made a significant impact on human well-being, capacities, and potential in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Now it takes a backseat to biomedical research and therapeutic medicine. Population health with its traditional emphasis on preventing harm has been displaced by an exorbitantly expensive and continually expanding medical care system devoted almost exclusively to restoring or rehabilitating the health of patients – no matter the cost. The failure to control the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the United States can be attributed to adherence to an inadequate biomedical model that ignores the social. Social quality theory, designed to further social justice, solidarity, equal value, and human dignity, can contribute to identifying and correcting deficiencies in biomedical approaches to HIV prevention and other public health problems that continue to plague the people of the United States.

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Lucien Gubbay

The Ottomans were descended from one of the many clans of Turkish nomads who swept westwards from the steppes of Central Asia and decisively defeated the enfeebled Byzantine Empire at the battle of Manzikert in 1071. The tribesmen converted to Islam and then slowly expanded their grip on Byzantine territory in Anatolia.