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Alienation, Ambivalence and Identity

Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words

Mohammad Shafiqul Islam

Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest book, In Other Words, is an autobiographical text that highlights the author’s journey to a new land and language. She grows up in America, communicates in Bengali with her parents during her early childhood and uses English in school; a sense of ambivalence about language dawns in her at this time. Her parents insist that Bengali be a dominant language in her life, but she falls in love with English, which later becomes her own language and the medium of her literary writing. During her doctoral studies, she feels an impulse to learn Italian and desperately strives to speak and write in that language. In Other Words, originally written in Italian, is the ultimate outcome of her aspirations to learn Italian. As the author switches from one language to another, from Bengali to English, and then from English to Italian, she forms an ambivalent sense of separation and proximity. This article seeks to explore Lahiri’s love for language, her sense of alienation and belonging, loss and achievement, and her search for identity and metamorphosis.

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The “Democracy-Politics Paradox”

The Dynamics of Political Alienation

Gerry Stoker and Mark Evans

Contemporary political scientists have observed a democratic paradox that has crystallized around the disconnection between how citizens imagine their democracy and how politics is practiced. Citizens continue to believe in the values of liberal democracy but are increasingly disillusioned with how their political systems work and the politics that are practiced in the name of democracy. This article revisits the root causes of political alienation to better understand this democratic paradox. It provides both a conceptual understanding of political alienation and its domain of action and insights into how the concept can be operationalized and measured in empirical research. It argues that while democracy itself may not be in crisis, the politics on which its operation rests is in peril.

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Re-conceptualising Political Alienation

On Spectators, Spectacles and Public Protests

Anthony Lawrence A. Borja

Politics usually takes the form of brawls ranging from the verbal and civilised, to the physical and savage, if not deadly encounters. These public engagements are political spectacles projecting narratives that are attractive to people who share the sentiments made public in these spectacles, and a following of spectators that, in sustaining their spectatorship, keeps the spectacle in its status. I note that spectators are attached and concerned with the narratives (i.e.from the causes and actors involved to the eventual results) behind and projected by such spectacles, and that this attachment in turn defines and sustains their spectatorship. Political alienation is a condition shared by both the apathetic and spectators. However the case of spectators is more complex and merits closer analysis in order to attain an encompassing understanding of political alienation. In this article, I will argue and illustrate that political alienation must be understood as a sustainable process constituted and driven by sustained spectatorship (i.e.sustained relationship between spectators and a political spectacle) made possible by a habitus of disempowerment in everyday life.

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Chiara Collamati

Through an analysis of the category of alienation in the Critique of Dialectical Reason, this article aims to shed light on the way in which Sartre attempts to think through alienation both with Marx and going beyond Marx. Sartre does not reduce alienation either to an ontological dimension of praxis or to the exclusively socio-economic determination of the capitalist mode of production. In order to grasp better the theoretical stakes of Sartre’s position, André Gorz’s analyses of the link between labour and alienation is discussed. The path via Gorz (who always insisted on his philosophical indebtedness to Sartre) is useful in order to ascertain whether it is justified to adopt the Sartrean dialectic of praxis and alienation as the basis of a critique of labour in the present configuration of the capitalist system. These questions will be taken as a starting point for an ethical and political examination of the category of need, as it is problematized by Sartre in the Critique and above all in the manuscript of “Les Racines de l’éthique” (1964).

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’Tis but a Habit in an Unconsolidated Democracy

Habitual Voting, Political Alienation and Spectatorship

Anthony Lawrence A. Borja

The electoral process can be considered as one basic component of a democracy and for this reason one way to evaluate the progress of a democratisation project is by looking at the development of this civic practice in terms of both quantity (voter turnout) and quality (voters’ preferences). Focusing on the former, specifically the impact of political alienation on electoral participation as voter turnout this article will look at the challenges to democratisation posed by electoral politics. From the case of electoral participation in the Philippines, I ask the question: What is the relationship between political alienation and voter turnout in the context of the latter enjoying relatively high and sustained rates? Through a synthesis between the notions of political spectatorship, habitual voting and the learning approach towards analysing voter behaviour, I argue that electoral participation is a disempowered mode of participation resulting from the interdependence of sustained spectatorship and habitual voting.

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Urban Railways in Buenos Aires

Spatial and Social Alienation in the Documentary Film El tren blanco

Benjamin Fraser

Mixing transportation studies, film analysis, and urban geography, this article looks at El tren blanco (The white train), a documentary film from 2003 by directors Nahuel García, Sheila Pérez Giménez, and Ramiro García. In light of work by train theorist Wolfgang Schivelbusch and urban geographer Henri Lefebvre, the documentary's interviews with cartoneros—cardboard workers who ride daily into central Buenos Aires to pick up recyclable goods—speak to the alienation and spatialization of class that characterize the contemporary urban experience. Following an urban cultural studies approach, attention is balanced between the social context of Buenos Aires itself and the film as an item of aesthetic value. In the end, it is important to pay attention both to the train car as a space in itself and to the historical and contemporary positioning of the train in larger-scale urban shifts.

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Marieke Mueller

As an attempt to formulate epistemological boundaries (“que peut-on savoir d'un homme, aujourd'hui?”), for which Gustave Flaubert becomes a test-case, L'Idiot de la famille (1971-1972) can be seen simultaneously as the exemplification of a method and as a re-assertion and further development of Sartre's theory of subjectivity. This article proposes to approach the issue of Sartre's notion of human subjectivity in L'Idiot from the particular angle of the idea of “destiny.” It will be argued that the term “destin” provides a focal point for multiple visions of subjectivity as it contains at least three layers of meaning: firstly, Sartre's representation of Flaubert's idea of his life as predetermined destiny; secondly, Sartre's analysis of destiny as a situation created by others; and finally, an understanding of destiny which is close to the notion of the project. It will be argued that precisely the mutual interdependence of these terms is an expression of Sartre's conception of alienation and the possibility of freedom.

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Megan Thiele, Yung-Yi Diana Pan and Devin Molina

Karl Marx’s revolutionary call, ‘Workers of the World Unite’, resonates with many in today’s society. This article describes and assesses an easily reproducible classroom activity that simulates both alienating, and perhaps more importantly, non-alienating states of production as described by Marx. This hands-on learning activity gives students the opportunity to experience and process these divergent states. In reflecting, students connect their classroom experience to societal forces surrounding wage labour. A quasi-experimental design implemented across eight sociology classes at two U.S. university campuses – one two-year and one four-year college – points to the effectiveness of the activity. Evidence suggests that students are better able to grasp Marx’s theory of alienation, retain the knowledge over time and apply it to their own lives with this experiential learning activity.

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The anthropology of human-environment relations

Materialism with and without Marxism

Penny McCall Howard

What are Marxists to make of the new wave of materialism that has become influential in anthropology and across the social sciences and humanities? An ethnography of fishing in coastal Scotland and an analysis of Tim Ingold’s ecological anthropology demonstrates both the usefulness and gaps in contemporary ecological and materialist anthropology. It finds that the reduced role for political economy, human intentionality, and material results in this literature significantly reduces their explanatory power. Efforts to unite analysis of humans and nonhumans have led to a lack of attention to the divisions within human societies, particularly the alienation of labor and therefore of ecological relations in capitalism. Understanding these dynamics is essential to contending with the current planetary ecological crisis.

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The Continent Behind

Alienation and the American Scene in George William Curtis’s Lotus-Eating: A Summer Book

James Weaver

George William Curtis was a popular travel essayist and lecturer during the mid-nineteenth century, but his work has seen limited critical attention. This article examines Curtis’s 1852 book Lotus-Eating, an account of his summer trip visiting numerous tourist destinations throughout New York and New England. Situating Curtis’s narrative against the literary nationalism of his contemporaries, the article examines how Curtis’s prior four-year tour of Europe intrudes upon his experiences of the American scene, resulting in a sense of alienation and melancholic yearning for Europe. Curtis’s text engages central questions of national identity as it intersects with the emergence of nature tourism, but contrary to the dominant rhetoric of his time, during his tour Curtis articulates not a triumphal belief in American manifest destiny but a mournful nostalgia for the scenes and sensations of Europe.