University of Toronto Press Blog

  • Adventures in Blogging: Doing Public Anthropology in the Twenty-First Century

    To mark the publication of Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media, author Paul Stoller takes to the medium of blogging (again) to provide some background on the purpose of his new collection as well as the importance, at this particular historical moment, of anthropology and the sharing of anthropological knowledge.

    Our troubled world is in desperate need of anthropological insight.

    We are today witness to widespread political dysfunction, social disintegration, and ecological devastation. In the near future, this set of cumulative processes is likely to produce massive social dislocation, cultural chaos, and political disruption.

    Will we be able to survive the ravages of human-induced climate change?

    Our times require anthropological intervention. Anthropologists have long been the guardians of core social values. Since Franz Boas, we have been more than scholars who seek to unravel the mysteries of the human condition. Indeed, throughout the history of the discipline we have been advocates for social justice who have critiqued the scourge of racism, ongoing social inequality, and persistent ethnic and religious intolerance.

    Adventures in Blogging demonstrates how we can use anthropological insights to find our way through the turbulence of contemporary social life. In my research among the Songhay people of the Republic of Niger I had the great fortune of being the apprentice of a great healer, Adamu Jenitongo. He was a short, slight man who lived in a grass hut at the edge of the town of Tillaberi. What could such a man, whose title was sohanci, teach me—us—about living in the contemporary world?

    He taught me a great deal about the vicissitudes of life. He impressed upon me the value of slow learning. When I asked him about the sohanci’s central obligation, he responded without hesitation.

    “I am the spiritual guardian of this place,” he said. “If someone abuses their authority or subverts our core values, I use power to set things straight.”

    Above and beyond his reservoir of knowledge and practice, the sohanci is first and foremost a keen observer of social and political relations. Anthropologists are also keen observers of social and political relations. Like the Songhay sohanci, we, too, attempt to use our knowledge to make the world a better place. In these troubled times, it is crucial that we engage in one of anthropology’s core obligations—cultural critique—an informed, sustained, scientifically rigorous, and public assessment of our social and political life.

    In Adventures in Blogging, I try to show how this media format is a particularly powerful way to practice contemporary cultural critique. Originally published in The Huffington Post, the entries in Adventures in Blogging are short, punchy, and accessible texts. Taken together, these blog posts, which cover a six-year period (2011-2017), show how anthropologists can use this form of social media to produce a sustained cultural critique that underscores again and again the following values:

    1. Climate change exists and failure to recognize this fundamental fact condemns our children to climatic hell;
    2. Income and social inequality are not socially sustainable and failure to rectify them is a historically proven prescription for social and economic devastation;
    3. Corporatization will ruin the university;
    4. Ignorance is our enemy and hate has no place in society;
    5. Science is our friend and a pathway to the future; and
    6. The quest for well being is the source of human resilience.

    This list, of course, is far from exhaustive. In Adventures in Blogging, I have much to say about “fixing the truth” in our media, about manipulating false images and narratives for economic and/or political gain. I have much to say about how fewer and fewer people read books and/or articles. I have a great deal to say about the cluelessness of our public officials. Adventures in Blogging demonstrates how a socially mediated and sustained cultural critique is a powerful way to construct a strong alternative to social, cultural, and political dysfunction.

    In the end, this book is a clarion call for the next generation of anthropologists to become cultural critics. We need your sustained, rigorous, and accessible insights to mark a path to a better future. We need you to share your knowledge in the public sphere. Indeed, in the classroom Adventures in Blogging can be read as a guide for doing the important work of twenty-first-century public anthropology.

    Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University.

  • European Union Governance and Policy Making: A Canadian Perspective

    To mark the publication of European Union Governance and Policy Making: A Canadian Perspective, the editors, Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, Achim Hurrelmann, and Amy Verdun, reflect on what led them to produce the first textbook on EU politics designed specifically for students who are unfamiliar with the EU, many of whom are from outside the EU.

    Achim Hurrelmann: “One thing that I found fascinating in producing our textbook is that our book is itself the product of European integration, having been edited by scholars who grew up in three different EU member states: Emmanuel in France, Amy in the Netherlands, and myself in Germany. And of course, the book also reflects on Canada as the country where we all moved to teach European politics, and which welcomed us with open arms. You both came to Canada about twenty years ago, ten years before me. How was it to teach your first courses on the EU?”

    Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly: “When I started teaching, we actually did not focus on the EU as much as on Western European politics. At the time, we used a text that focused on four European countries and the construction of the European Community and the European Common Market. Because the European construction is so much a project in the making, it is hard to understand and follow how it is progressing. As a result, the process of European integration is really obscure for many people outside of the EU. What I found fascinating was to approach this textbook on the EU from that perspective, which is also our students’ perspective. Being in Canada, and having less exposure to EU politics than most of their European counterparts, our students have a knowledge gap. Hence, having the view of an outsider peeking into the European project, I thought, was just a wonderful idea.”

    Amy Verdun: “My experience was similar, and this is how the idea for this textbook was born. I first had the idea fifteen years ago, when I started coordinating a course on the EU that was multidisciplinary. I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a book specifically for this course?’ Then, as EU scholars in Canada started to cooperate more with each other through various projects, the broader contours of what such a book might look like started to emerge. In September 2009, I approached the University of Toronto Press with the idea for this textbook and they were immediately interested. I invited Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly to join me as co-editor. In May 2010 we organized a workshop in Victoria, BC where we presented the first versions of the chapters. In 2015 we invited Achim Hurrelmann to join us as the third editor.”

    Achim Hurrelmann: “In addition to the three editors, our contributors include many leading scholars from the EU studies community, which is very vibrant and active in Canada, but also exceptionally collegial. In this sense, producing this book was really a collaborative endeavor. It was not difficult to get our contributors to buy into the main objectives of the book.”

    Amy Verdun: “For the longest time, our shared experience with EU textbooks was that they were not really ideal for students whose primary experience has been outside the EU. Most textbooks are quite detailed and provide comprehensive overviews of its history, theories, institutions, governance, and policy making. We thought that a book that reduces complexity, hones in on the key issues, and does not demand much prior knowledge would be great for the courses on European integration that we teach here in Canada. We also chose a writing style that was very ‘light’ on references and refers instead to a list of references for further reading at the end of each chapter. Also, each chapter compares the issue at hand with what the situation would be in Canada—which as a federal state has some overlapping features with the EU polity. Furthermore, we have organized the text around three major themes: that the EU was created on the ashes of World War II in order to prevent another war; that the EU today has considerably more powers than a typical international organization but it falls short of being a state; and that the legitimacy of the EU is increasingly subject to debate. With all of these features, we hoped to be able to provide a text that students from outside the EU would find more digestible.”

    Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly: “The core of our project is a text that allows students to learn about the EU with the added feature that it is written from the perspective of, and in comparison with, Canada. In each chapter, we provide a text box that details a similar process or policy in Canada. This provides students with direct references to another federal state, giving students an insider-view of the European Union from-the-outside.”

    Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly is Professor and Jean Monnet Chair in Innovative Governance at the University of Victoria.

    Achim Hurrelmann is Associate Professor at Carleton University.

    Amy Verdun is Professor at the University of Victoria.

  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Sexual Violence, Korean Cinema, and the “Me Too” Movement

    Written by guest blogger, Marc Raymond.

    Our Sunhu

    My essay in the most recent issue of the Canadian Journal of Film Studies, “Women Stripped Bare: Rape in the Films of Hong Sang-soo,” seems to be particularly timely given the current “Me Too” movement, which has recently spread into South Korea as well, including the film industry. This was, as is often the case, almost completely accidental, as I first came up with the idea for the piece many years ago. However, I qualify this with an “almost” because I do think there is an overlap between my reasons for thinking of the topic and the eventual cultural upheaval we are witnessing, especially here in South Korea.

    One of the most disturbing stories to emerge from the local industry is the case of Kim Ki-duk, the director of the massive art house success Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring back in 2004 and a regular of the international festival circuit ever since. Domestically, Kim has always had a much more problematic reputation, in part because of accusations of misogyny, but he has also been defended as an authentic, working class artist who bravely deals with aspects of Korean society that the genteel middle class would prefer to ignore (see Hye Seung Chung’s 2012 monograph for the most elaborate articulation of this position). However, recent allegations of multiple and widespread sexual assaults on Kim’s sets have made this position much more difficult to defend and caused many to reconsider and re-evaluate their relationship to his work (for example, see this review of Kim’s most recent film by critic Pierce Conran). I have always found Kim’s work overrated and have been frequently critical of his films, but the revelations did cause me to think about my own relationship to film artists and how this will be impacted going forward.

    The original idea for my essay on rape in Hong’s films did not come from one of his works; rather, it was from the 1999 film Lies, directed by Jang Sun-woo, a controversial filmmaker who was in many ways Kim Ki-duk’s predecessor, although one with a much more refined social conscience. There is a scene in which an 18-year-old high school student is asked by her older lover why she decided to start an affair with him. She responds that she would probably have been raped soon anyways, so she decided to choose to have sex first. It is a darkly humorous line, seemingly hyperbolic, but one which resonated. Indeed, sexual violence seemed omnipresent in Korean cinema, both currently and going back over the previous decades. I had just completed a stylistic analysis of Hong’s films and was looking to write about something more thematic. So, I began to wonder if the subject of sexual assault was worth exploring. I had noticed that representations of sexuality had disappeared from his work after featuring prominently earlier, and once I began to think about the role of rape in his narratives, the more striking and even pervasive it seemed. It even seemed slightly perverse that it had not yet been discussed.

    Thus, I do think there is an incidental connection between my interest in writing this article and the current revaluation of the film industry. Looking at the essay now, I am thankful that its claims for the potential progressiveness of Hong’s early depictions of sexual violence are exclusively textual and not part of a broader attempt to defend him as an artist. I am also glad that there is a critique of the later films, especially in the professor-student relationships of Oki’s Movie and Our Sunhi, although it is likely that this will seem too weak if this aspect of Hong’s films (and its connection to his personal behaviour) becomes more of an issue. Ultimately, I hope it provides a contribution to the debate around not only Hong’s work or Korean cinema, but also in the analysis of sexual assault in texts more generally, especially in those cases where this violence is hidden in plain sight.

    Marc Raymond is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Kwangwoon University in Seoul, South Korea. He is the author of Hollywood’s New Yorker: The Making of Martin Scorsese (SUNY Press, 2013) and has published essays in the journals Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Film Criticism, Film History, Jump Cut, New Review of Film and Television Studies, and Style. His article “Women Stripped Bare: Rape in the Films of Hong Sang-soo” can be found in the latest issue of the Canadian Journal of Film Studies. Read it here: https://doi.org/10.3138/CJFS.26.1.2017-0003.

  • March Round-Up

    Highlights from the month of March.

    Awards:

    Conferences:

    • Mark Thompson, acquisitions editor, represented the press at the annual meeting of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies.
    • Natalie Fingerhut (acquisitions editor) and Suzanne Rancourt (executive editor) attended the annual conference of the Renaissance Society of America in New Orleans, LA.

    Media Highlights:

    New Releases:

  • On 'Undoing Babel', a Guest Post by Tristan Major

    Tristan Major is the author of Undoing Babel: The Tower of Babel in Anglo-Saxon Literature and an assistant professor in the Department of English Literature and Linguistics at Qatar University.

    The origins of my book began with bewilderment over a single sentence. While reading a sketch of biblical history written by the Old English author Ælfric of Eynsham, I was struck by his brief statement that idolatry had come into the world immediately after the fall of the Tower of Babel. In this account, the lack of any further explanation or elaboration gives the impression that such a claim was relatively commonplace and that it would not be attested or cause any confusion. But for me, an account of the origins of idolatry located so specifically after a definitive moment in biblical history raised questions. Why would Ælfric think that idolatry occurred only and immediately after the Tower of Babel? Was this unique to Ælfric or was it a more widely held belief that he is simply repeating? What does idolatry have to do, if anything, with the multiplicity of languages that the Tower of Babel is better known for?

    After spending more than a decade chasing these questions, I now have a better understanding of the issue. While conducting the research for my book, Undoing Babel, I soon became aware of a need to trace the multifaceted strands of interpretations of the Babel narrative across time. They first appear with early Jewish adaptations of the narrative, which then form the basis for the interpretations of the Latin-speaking Christians of Late Antiquity, who also read and commented on the story in new ways—more suitable to their own contexts and concerns. In turn, these interpretations formed the basis for how the authors of Anglo-Saxon England, and finally, Ælfric himself, read and understood the narrative.

    My initial query on the the origins of idolatry was answered, but it also gave way to the many other unique intellectual developments that slowly developed over time until becoming part of an accepted range of interpretations and implications of the story. By examining these developments closely, I began to see how literary communities are themselves not stable but rather full of potential that allows new interpretations of a text to emerge, form, and then eventually fade out of acceptance. But by applying the findings of this research more generally outside of literary communities of the past, it also became apparent to me how new interpretative traditions continue to develop and form. As I spoke to people curious about my research, I would hear how variously the Tower of Babel narrative continues to produce diverse understandings and new significance. Interestingly, while many people were well aware of the fundamental elements of the story, especially its connection to multilingualism, others exhibited fairly original interpretations, often dealing with religious or political resistance. On one occasion, I was told an elaborate (and totally idiosyncratic) account of the narrative which involved a renewed rebellion from Satan and his followers that attempted to use the tower to attack an indifferent God and free the people of the earth. On another occasion, I discovered that the Tower of Babel could signify a celebration of diversity that ultimately aims overcomes the monolithic tyranny of our contemporary, globalized, consumerist culture. In both instances, the original condemnation of the builders is turned into something positive, and the destructive results of the tower’s construction, as implied in the original text of the Bible, are eschewed and turned back into something altogether constructive.

    These “folk” interpretations will likely not gather any kind of traction among the general literary communities that will determine their viability. But they do indicate how creative interpretation can be and how far it can stray from the original understanding of the text. Despite a temptation to disregard communities of the past as less sophisticated that our own, the freedom for interpretation of a literary text to develop persists across all times and readers.

    As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my research began with confusion over a single sentence, which eventually led me to trace the development of interpretation over a millennium of literary sources. Now that I understand why Ælfric wrote what he did, I am certainly looking forward to the next time I find myself confused over some small, seemingly insignificant point.

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