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Wolfgang Merkel and Jean-Paul Gagnon

Democracy, says Wolfgang Merkel, is not in as deep of an acute crisis as many today think it to be. An examination, for example, of OECD democracies over the last 50 years does not reveal democracy’s wholesale crisis but rather crises in certain sectors of democracy – ones that change over time as the state institutions affected by crises adapt to them and in some manner resolve them. Take, for instance, the improvements made in Western democracies to civil liberties, women in business and parliaments, gay rights, and the protection of minorities. These improvements happened in the last 50 years. Almost simultaneously, however, almost all established democracies developed a crisis with globalized capital that blackmails its governments with the threat of capital flight and a crisis with economic inequality which has resulted in approximately the poorest 1/3rd of most democratic societies dropping-out of each form of political participation. Merkel’s reconsideration of the crisis of democracy reveals that democracies can decline and improve at the same time because crises are sectoral.

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Aspiring to alterpolitics

Anthropology, radical theory, and social movements

Riccardo Ciavolella and Stefano Boni

This theme section inquires into the contribution of political anthropology to radical theories, social imagination, and practices underlying political “alternatives”, which we propose to call “alterpolitics”. The issue of an alternative to contemporary powers in globalization is a central topic in social movements and radical debates. This sense of possibility for political alternatives is associated with the desertion of the belief in “the end of history”: the current economic crisis and the decline of Western hegemony presumably announce a radical transformation of the neoliberal world, opening space to alternatives. Actually, the reconfiguration of twentieth-century capitalism is associated with a growing mistrust of political institutions, the crisis being “organic”, in the Gramscian sense (Gramsci 1975). Recent social movements and insurrections around the world—from the “colored revolutions” in Central Asia to the Spanish indignados, the US Occupy movement, the Arab Spring, uprisings in Bosnia—have raised the issue of alternatives as a reaction to the incapacity of capitalist political institutions—from electoral democracy to dictatorships—to deal with people’s problems and meet their aspirations for emancipation and a better future.

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The Mill Girl and the Cheeky Chappie

British Popular Comedy and Mass Culture in the Thirties

Simon Featherstone

In May 1931 the comedians Gracie Fields and Max Miller appeared together at that odd English institution, the Royal Variety Performance. Both had already defined their public personae and audience appeal. Miller’s character was cocky, garrulous and, in non-royal contexts at least, obsessed with sex; Fields played a dizzy, warm-hearted Rochdale ingenue; Miller’s patter was shaped in the speech patterns of the South-East and his manner was alternately brash and seductive, whilst Fields communicated a version of the values and language of Lancashire mill-towns. Their careers were to follow different trajectories as well. Fields headed to Hollywood and early post-war retirement in Capri, whilst Miller, after his greatest stage successes in the later 1930s and 1940s, worked in the terminally declining variety theatres throughout the 1950s, dying in his native Brighton in 1963. But the contrasting performances that George V witnessed in the Spring of 1931 together provide a guide to a popular dynamic of 1930s social history, touching on the sensibilities and vulnerabilities of a mass audience, and the contexts and media of the production of British popular entertainment.

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Canadian Citizens as Postcolonial Subjects?

Reading Robert Kroetsch's The Lovely Treachery of Words

Bronagh Clarke

Many of the critical essays of the Canadian novelist, poet and theorist Robert Kroetsch, as collected in his 1989 anthology The Lovely Treachery of Words, explore the issue of how Canadian writers attempt to establish a cultural nationalism in the face of the decline of the British Empire. They are an initial expression of ideas about place and language, the problematic discourse of the 'New World', and the reinscription of First Nations peoples into the literature and culture of the Canadian nation. These are concerns which later came to be regarded as 'postcolonial' with the burgeoning of the term in the late 1980s through to the present day. However, his essays are due for reassessment in the light of recent responses to postcolonial subjectivity which critique the 'colonizer-colonized' binary as used in settler-invader contexts. This 'colonizer-colonized' binary has a troubling tendency to efface indigenous peoples. It conceals the imperialistic, land-grabbing aspects of settler-invader history by positing the settler as the true postcolonial subject, searching for a stable national identity – an authentic Canadian sense of citizenship and belonging – in the face of a cultural heritage largely defined by European imperialism.

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Gergely Rosta

This essay analyses the changing religiosity of the Hungarian youth population between the ages of 15 and 29 after the millennium. The basis for this empirical investigation is provided by the three waves (2000, 2004, 2008) of the National Youth Study. From their results, a similar picture emerges on the religiosity of the youth as from other nation-wide surveys, in relation to the whole adult population. Since the first Youth Study a slow but steady decline has been witnessed in different dimensions of religiosity (practice, faith, self-classification). It is especially salient for institutionalised religiosity. At the same time, the vast majority of the Hungarian youth confess to believing in some kind of supernatural instance, though not necessarily a traditional Christian one.

The socio-demographical background to the differences in religiosity can be partly explained by the secularisation theory, but the effects of an expanded religious education are present too. In contrast to the secularisation thesis, however, the transmission of traditional religious conviction is much more likely in families with better educational backgrounds than other parts of the society, a phenomenon which points to a more and more elite type of church religiosity in Hungary.

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Dorothee Heisenberg

This article tries to assess the likely trajectory of Angela Merkel's policies toward the EU in contrast to her predecessor's. With Germany taking the European Council Presidency in the first half of 2007, Merkel will have had a year to put her stamp on the Presidency. By contrast, Gerhard Schröder, who took office in October 1998 had only two months before the German Council Presidency of 1999 began. I argue that Schröder's years will be remembered at the EU for a new emphasis on Germany's interests, and the decline of Germany's interest in and willingness to fund "European Grand Projects." Schröder had no great ambitions to follow Helmut Kohl's footsteps in being "reflexively European." Merkel, by contrast, shows signs early in her tenure to follow more closely her mentor's approach to the EU. I examine Germany's EU budget policies, as well as statements and policies toward the Stability and Growth Pact as the main support for the claim Merkel is different in policy not simply rhetoric.

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The Fate of Fishing in Tsarist Russia

The Human-Fish Nexus in Lake Baikal

Nicholas B. Breyfogle

This article explores the history of fishing on Lake Baikal in an effort to understand the fish-human nexus, to expand our understandings of the Russian relationship to the environment before the twentieth century, and to think about the colonial encounter in Siberia from an environmental angle. Fishing has long been a crucial, life-sustaining, and culturally important component of life at Baikal; and fish and people have long existed in mutually influential and intertwined webs of relations. Fish populations declined markedly in Baikal from the late eighteenth century on-a drop with which Soviet fishers and policymakers continued to struggle throughout the twentieth century. The fate of Baikal's fish was the result of 1) the tax-farming, market-based economic structures of tsarist colonialism and 2) the new fishing technologies that Russian settlers brought with them to the practice of fishing-both of which were "revolutionary" transformations from the pre-colonial Buriat and Evenk fishing methods and systems. Notably, this massive fish population decrease came about before any industrial change affected the area. Humans, this story shows, do not need to have industrial machines with their extractive capabilities and pollution by-products in order to bring about systemic ecological and evolutionary changes.

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Abject Bodies

The Politics of the Vagina in Brazil and South Africa

Lisa Beljuli Brown

This article looks at ideas and practices around female virginity in Brazil and South Africa. In South Africa, virginity testing of girls as young as six occurs. In Brazil, speculation about female virginity can have a devastating impact on young women's lives. In both contexts the intactness of the vagina becomes a symbol of a woman's worth as well as a reflection of national well-being or decline. I use feminist psychoanalytic theory to connect such valuations and practices to a perceived threat to the symbolic order of language, culture and law. I argue that during times of social upheaval the vagina comes to represent the abject, or a threat to the subject, and is policed in order for dominant meanings to remain intact. As women's experiences in both contexts demonstrate, these meanings are implicated in a violent economy of women's body parts, which render women symbolically homeless. Yet in Brazil, women subvert these valuations in an ongoing struggle for subjectivity, which involves the creative appropriation of soap operas, and the conversion of suffering into pleasure.

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Jakob Rigi

On 22 October 2003, Michael Khodorkovsky, the richest man in Russia and the director of Yukos, one of the largest Russian companies, was arrested at gunpoint in Novosibirsk airport and transferred to Moscow. A few months earlier, one of his deputies, Platon Lebedev, had been arrested on 3 July 2003. In the months that followed the arrest of Lebedev, the general prosecutor raided the offices of Yukos and Menatep, a major shareholder of Yukos. On 17 October 2003, Vasily Shakhnovsky, a Yukos shareholder, was detained for tax evasion. Another major shareholder, Leonid Nevzlin, was accused of conspiracy to commit murder and fled to Israel. One of Yukos’s security guards was also accused as a culprit in this conspiracy and was imprisoned. The general prosecutor subjected the company to a series of raids and restrictions that led to the decline of the value of its shares and brought it to the verge of bankruptcy by the middle of August 2004. Officially, all of these actions occurred because of Yukos’s illegal economic dealings and tax frauds, but the real reasons were that Khodorkovsky had dared to criticize publicly the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin; that he had funded rival political parties; and that he had also toyed with the idea of entering politics himself and becoming a presidential candidate. Since the conflict between Yukos and the state is a good illustration of the contradictory relation between state and capital in Russia, let me give a brief description of Yukos’s history.

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Editorial

Social Quality, Environmental Challenges, and Indicators

Laurent J. G. van der Maesen

The first three articles of this issue are dedicated to aspects of the current debate about and the praxis of environmental questions, and thus of the ecosystems. The fourth article concerns the application of social quality indicators in China. The gaining hypothesis is that a disconnection of the social quality approach of daily circumstances in Japan, Russia, China, Europe, the Americas, Africa, or India from environmental processes results into anachronisms. Without a global consciousness of the unequal consequences of these environmental processes, people in rich countries may be tempted to positively judge the nature of the social quality of their localities or country “as such.” Unknown remains that, seen from a global perspective, macrodetermined reasons for the positive outcomes in rich countries may go at the expense of ecosystems. They may cause, also because of the exportation of substantial elements of problematic (and partly environmental) aspects of the dominant production and reproduction relationships, serious forms of exploitation. Under the same conditions (ceteris paribus), this attack on ecosystems, as well as this exportation and exploitation cause increasingly declining social quality of daily circumstances in poor countries and regions. This will also result into an increase of “climate refugees.” Because of advancing technologically driven transformations—especially regarding communications systems—the interdependencies of countries between the West and the East, as well as between the North and the South, accelerate. Autarkic situations are becoming, or have already been for a long time, a myth.