University of Toronto Press Blog

  • The Right Side of History: The Political Urgency Needed in Addressing Climate Change

    Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, written by Peter Stoett with Shane Mulligan, is a comprehensive and accessibly written introduction to the policymakers and the structuring bodies involved in creating global environmental policies. The book provides a panoramic view of the issues, agents, and structures that make up the fabric of global environmental governance.

    In this post, author Peter Stoett writes about his time spent at the Planetary Security Conference in the Netherlands at the beginning of the year and why these conferences reflect the political urgency currently attached to climate change.


    Back in February, I attended the 4th Hague Planetary Security Conference in the Netherlands, where over 350 international experts, practitioners, military and government representatives gathered to discuss the threats posed to the world by climate change and other threats to planetary ecology. Mixing all these people together would have been unthinkable a mere three decades ago; now it is commonly accepted that the only way we can promote resilience and adaptation to climate change is by inter-sectoral collaboration that includes some unlikely alliances.

    Representatives from the Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East all say the same thing: climate change is not only real and happening, but is exacerbating the threat of violence in these regions where mass migration and displacement, and civil conflict are already in strong motion. Water, in particular, comes up again and again as the resource scarcity issue of our time.

    In Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, I discuss water scarcity as not only a source of conflict, but of collaborative opportunity – most transborder water disputes have been dealt with diplomatically and many in fact have led to institutional developments. But there are clear indications that climate change-induced water scarcity is heightening extant tensions and it is fairly widely accepted that the horrible civil war in Syria was to some extent prompted by a severe drought that led to political instability. One theme that has emerged is that, despite the Security Council having dealt specifically with climate security, the UN needs to step up further and establish an early-warning system for climate-related conflict, so that we can see it coming and strive to take preventive measures.

    Effects of Hurricane Irma

    I was in the Netherlands to speak at an event focused on the question of moving to a post-carbon based energy infrastructure in the Caribbean region. The threats posed by climate change in the Caribbean are existential: this is life or death stuff. Extreme weather events, rising sea levels, coral reef bleaching, fisheries affected by temperature changes, freshwater scarcity; the list goes on for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). I cover SIDS at various points in the text, as well as the gradual (some would say painfully slow) transition toward renewable energy production and consumption. Clearly, it is the way forward.

    But the transition will not be painless, and as always it may leave some people behind. While we often think of the Caribbean region as a tourist destination or a hurricane zone, the reality is that most of the population and predominant industries are located near its beautiful coasts. In many ways Caribbean citizens are on the front-line of climate change threats, much like the Inuit in northern Canada and other circumpolar communities. These communities can benefit enormously from the adoption of renewable power sources that lessen dependence on the global oil economy, providing the technological capacity and public policy is conducive.

    The shift to renewable energy will certainly affect the geopolitical structure of global ecopolitics. China is emerging as a renewable energy superpower, and will have increasing influence in areas such as the Caribbean beyond its usual economic presence. Human security is again rising as a viable concept to deal with the ravages that natural disasters inflict on civilian populations. Responsible tourism has become a genuine national security issue in the region since long-term economic development is so dependent on this sector.

    We cannot base a global security strategy on constant disaster relief. Back in water-soaked Holland, there are famous stories about the futility of trying to stop floods with stopgap measures. One of the overarching questions of our time is how relatively impoverished and highly vulnerable regions can be integrated into global strategies. Conferences like this reflect the political urgency currently attached to the climate change-security nexus, despite its denial by a few powerful actors who are, as the saying goes, on the wrong side of history.


    If you want to find out more about Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


    Peter J. Stoett is Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute Of Technology.

  • Battle of the Somme: What the Audience Saw

    Written by guest blogger Seth Feldman.

    Battle of the Somme (Geoffrey Malins and J.B. McDowell, 1916) was the most seen non-fiction film made during the Great War and in wartime Britain, the most seen film, period. For a hundred years bits of its remarkable footage have appeared in documentaries to the point where they have become iconic of the Great War itself. Battle of the Somme was the first film inducted into UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, inspiring a digitally restored print by the Imperial War Museum and a second premiere with full orchestra a new score. In recent years, some film historians have argued that it should be designated as the first true documentary.

    My problem in writing about Battle of the Somme was that to a twenty-first century audience the film doesn’t look like much. It is largely a procession of silent film intertitles, nearly one per minute, describing the shots we will see next. Almost all of these shots can be divided between preparations for the battle and its aftermath, with very few shots of the battle itself. Malins and McDowell, who worked separately, had been told to collect random shots to be used in newsreels. There was no idea for a narrative and, with wartime censorship in place, there was little mention of the bloodbath that had taken place while they were shooting.

    Yet Battle of the Somme is more than just an historical curiosity. My hope was to use it as an archaeological exercise, a tool for imagining the way in which the audiences of 1916 saw it. Usually, writing about film audiences is based on reviews, newspaper reports and in some cases research by a film’s producers. And there has been some excellent writing of this kind about Battle of the Somme. But what I hoped to do was to recreate the 1916 British audience from the emotional context in which they watched the film to the way they would perceive certain shot compositions by Malins and McDowell as well as the editing credited to Malins and Charles Urban (one of the lesser sung heroes of early non-fiction filmmaking).

    Battle of the Somme’s audience was an unusually homogeneous group. All of them were embarking on the third year of an unprecedented catastrophe; most coping with anxieties about friends and loved ones at the front. They were also increasingly resentful of the conditions the War had imposed upon them. As official propaganda, Battle of the Somme intended to raise their morale by connecting their sacrifices to soldiers at the front. What they saw was the enthusiasm of the troops, the care given to the wounded and, of course, what were then the battle’s small victories. Given the timing of the film’s release – while the four and a half month battle was ongoing - it also played upon the audiences’ desires for the “big push” that would finally end the conflict. Various shots in the film as well as the film’s editing and the wording of the intertitles show how this was attempted in a subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle manner.

    My work was to scrutinize writing on the film and the film itself. This was made both more arduous and rewarding by the many publications released during the Great War Centennial. I then made notes to myself on and off for about a year before I even began to write. In all, the paper took far longer to produce than did the film. And while its distribution will be dwarfed by Battle of the Somme, my hope is that this archaeological exercise will provide readers with insight into other peoples’ as it existed a century ago.

    Seth Feldman is an author, broadcaster, film programmer and Full Professor Emeritus at York University in Toronto. His latest Canadian Journal of Film Studies article, Battle of the Somme: What the Audience Saw” is temporarily free to read on UTP Journals Online.

  • Beneath the Surface: Finding Common Ground in Canada's Most Distinctive Province

    To the outside world, Quebec is Canada’s most distinctive province. To many Canadians, it has sometimes seemed the most troublesome. But, over the last quarter century, quietly but steadily, it has wrestled successfully with two of the West’s most daunting challenges: protecting national values in the face of mass immigration and striking a proper balance between economic efficiency and a sound social safety net.

    In this post, Robert Calderisi, author of Quebec in a Global Light, and former director of The World Bank, discusses some of the issues that face Quebec, and why these challenges should be analysed in a wider, global context. 


    Books about politics and society can be timely and revealing, but they can also be complicated, as current affairs do not always stay current. Quebec in a Global Light discusses trends and challenges that transcend the day-to-day, but – like all findings – they need to sifted through the sands of new developments. A good example is the remarkable progress made since the 1970s in protecting the French language. Some would prefer that an extra half percentage point of people be fluent in French, but 94.5 percent of Quebeckers can already conduct a conversation in the language. Diehards can worry more about decimals than decades. How will the next census affect their thinking?

    Since the book was first written, some details – including the political party in power – have changed but the most important conclusions remain intact. Even under a conservative government, Quebec is the only social democracy in North America. Employment, growth, and investment are still strong. The province continues to reduce its notorious debt burden; in fact, Quebec now has a better credit rating than Ontario. The gap between rich and poor is the lowest on the planet – except for Scandinavia, which is an admirable set of countries to be lagging behind. And Quebec has set a very positive example in flighting climate change.

    But one big thing has changed. Apparently out of the blue, Quebec has once again puzzled outsiders by its decision to ban the wearing of religious symbols by certain government employees. Even under a highly divisive US President, none of the other fifty-nine jurisdictions in North America has talked about doing that. And the hospitality and common sense of Quebeckers is being seriously questioned.

    Yet Quebeckers have evolved profoundly over the last thirty years. In 1982, a number of Haitian taxi drivers in Montreal were fired because some white clients refused to ride with them. As a result, the Quebec Human Rights Commission held its first-ever public hearings. Many people today – including many Quebeckers – will find that hard to believe, not because racism has been magically exorcised from their society but rather because Quebec has become so diverse that differences of one kind or another – especially in Montreal – have become almost the norm. A third of Montreal’s taxi drivers are now Haitian and the city has the highest proportion of immigrants in that job (84 percent) in all of Canada.

    In a society which some regard as under siege, most people are comfortable with diversity. According to a 2015 Quebec Human Rights Commission survey, Quebeckers had positive attitudes to the handicapped (92 percent), people of colour (88 percent), homosexuals (84 percent), citizens of other ethnic origins (76 percent), and followers of other religions (68 percent). This openness to others is sometimes attributed to the dominant role of women and feminine values in the society. Others see centuries of intermarriage and contact with Quebec’s First Peoples as the source of such community and consensus.

    On the surface, other provinces have an even greater challenge making newcomers feel at home. While almost 40 percent of Montreal’s population were born in another country or to parents who immigrated to Canada, that number is much higher in Toronto (76 percent) and Vancouver (68 percent). But absorbing such a large number of people in Quebec, which is so determined to protect its language and culture, is particularly difficult.

    Despite the proposed law, the common sense and humanity of Quebeckers remain obvious. In Montreal, teachers and students have surrounded schools in human chains promising to disobey the law. The city council has passed a rare unanimous resolution opposing the legislation. The two authors of the original idea that such symbols should be banned – the philosopher Charles Taylor and the sociologist Gérard Bouchard – have both come out against the bill. Behind closed doors, the governing party itself was highly divided on the subject. And the second largest opposition party (Québec Solidaire) has revised its own policy in the opposite direction. Instead of backing a compromise, they have now decided that any legislation on personal dress is a violation of individual freedom and an invitation to more general discrimination against minorities. It is just possible that the legislation will collapse under its own contradictions. No one has been able to explain how it will be enforced and no penalties are proposed under the law. In the meantime, the history of the issue – set out in Quebec in a Global Light – remains as relevant as ever.


    If you want to find out more about Quebec in a Global Light, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


    Robert Calderisi was a Quebec Rhodes Scholar and is a former director of The World Bank. He is the author of The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn’t Working (2006) and Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development (2013). He splits the year between Montreal, New York, and Paris.

  • From Zombies to Christ, Bringing Darkness to Light

    Written by guest blogger James R. Crooke.

    Zombies, as we know them in pop-culture—apocalyptic, cannibalistic, infectious-plague monsters—were first depicted in George A. Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, which pioneered an entirely new horror genre: the zombie apocalypse. This was the first time zombies communicated, and they have been communicating meaningfully ever since.

    A typical trope of their message is the indictment of human societies and, consequently, human nature. Philosopher-filmmakers aim to scare us with our nature and prick our consciences by bringing darkness to light, exposing what is evil and ugly.

    Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002) exemplifies this par excellence. Its sufficiently zombie-like rage-monster was inspired partly by his objections to the social intolerance and distemper of the nineties, when rage was all the rage. It provoked him to ask: why are we like this?[1] One purpose of the movie, then, was to shine a spotlight on the audience, so that they might reflect on this predicament and ask the same question. Among other things, he achieves this by using two staple cinematic devices of the genre, disfiguration and comparison.

    Disfiguration concretises the human spirit, fashioning a monster in our image. Generally, it externalises some particular sub-rational, aberrant trait in order to give definite form to it. Boyle’s monster externalises rage, which mirrors our own rage back at us, so we might see it for what it is. Comparison reinforces disfiguration when survivors’ behaviour conforms to the monsters’. This blurs the lines between human and zombie, signalling the real monster: us. Boyle’s narrative develops so that one protagonist, Jim, eventually behaves so indistinguishably from a rage-monster that another protagonist almost dispatches him. Most startling is that his behaviour, whilst monstrous, is so recognisably human.

    Anyone who agrees with this comparison will recognise how relevant Boyle’s critique is to a culture wherein rage is still so pervasive that, since 2014, various media outlets have judged every year a year of outrage.[2] We are behaving like a horde of zombies biting and devouring one another. Zombies, then, cut through the philosophical fog of postmodernist agnosticism to expose boundaries, distant and hazy horizons recollected. Whatever intellectual doubts we might have about normative humanness, Boyle’s zombie reassures us that we know that rage is not it. Frozen in its headlights, we are exposed, and yet enlightened that rage dehumanises us. The corollary of this realisation is the sense that we are, or should be, greater than this; that our capacity to rage and our succumbing to rage indicate the loss of a significant stature or dignity.

    As my article, “Zombies! ‘They’re Us’”, demonstrates I am not only interested in cultural exegesis but in how a Christian theological hermeneutic of culture interacts with pop-cultural phenomena, their worlds and their transcendentals. With respect to the analysis above, Christian anthropology has continuities with Boyle’s representations. It affirms that rage-monsters tell the truth about ourselves: rage is a dehumanising, destructive evil, not a rational, creative good, and our capacity for rage is indicative of a ruined state. It affirms the desire for dignity this assumes, and the paradoxical juxtaposition of darkness and dignity in the human condition. But it wants to fill the conspicuous silence of his representation—and indeed in zombie movies generally—concerning the cause of this darkness. The Christian faith answers Boyle’s question by shining a light on an even darker, sub-rational force then rage: sin. Explanations of sin differ in Christian discourse (e.g. self-incurvature, pride, self-love, idolatry, enmity against the Creator, transgressing the Creator-creature distinction), but whatever the preferred term, this radical corruption at the centre of our personhood is the Christian answer to Boyle’s question, rejecting merely social explanations or justifications for rage.

    The Christian response, however, is not merely an epistemological claim, but a soteriological claim. Christianity responds to the human darkness and longings for human dignity exposed in ragemonster representation by reassuring us that all is not lost and inviting us to bring this darkness to the light, to a dignity restored in the image of the one, who said, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness”[3]—Jesus Christ.

    James R. Crooke is an independent scholar and contributor to the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. His latest article, “Zombies! ‘They’re Us’” is temporarily free to read here.

    Notes

    1 Boyle, Danny and Dunham, Brent. Danny Boyle: Interviews (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011), 72.

    Hollywood Archive. “’28 Days Later' Danny Boyle Interview”. youtube.com, YouTube Video, 4:25, 27 July 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grm1oJYR25k (accessed February 15, 2019), 0:27-0:30

    2 Turner, Julia, et al. “2014: The Year of Outrage.” Slate.com, Slate Magazine, 17 Dec. 2014, www.slate.com/articles/life/culturebox/2014/12/ the_year_of_outrage_2014_everything_you_were_angry_about_on_social_media.html (accessed February 15, 2019).

    Berlatsky, Noah. “The Year in Outrage: Our Constant Indignation Is Wearying, but Often Necessary.” Latimes.com, Los Angeles Times, 22 Dec. 2015, www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/laoe-1222-berlatsky-year-in-outrage-20151222-story.html (accessed February 15, 2019).

    Hislop, Ian. “The Age of Outrage.” Newstatesman.com, New Statesman, 5 Dec. 2016, www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/12/age-outrage (accessed February 15, 2019).

    Hewitt, Hugh. “2017 Is the Year of Outrage at Anything and Everything.” Businesstimes.com, The Business Times, The Business Times, 1 Jan. 4200, www.businesstimes.com.sg/life-culture/2017is-the-year-of-outrage-at-anything-and-everything (accessed February 15, 2019).

    Friedersdorf, Conor. “Reflections on a Year of Outrage.” Theatlantic.com, Atlantic Media Company, 30 Dec. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/12/year-of-outrage/579100/ (accessed February 15, 2019).

    Williams, Rob. “2019 Looks Like Another 'Year of Outrage' For Publishers. Mediapost.com, MediaPost, 23 Jan. 2019, www.mediapost.com/publications/article/330913/2019-looks-likeanother-year-of-outrage-for-publ.html?edition=112568 (accessed February 15, 2019).

    3 John 12:46 (ESV).

    Images Caption

    A shot of me finding light in the darkness.

  • The Origin and Development of “Strange Bedfellows”

    Written by guest blogger Wayne Batten.



    Readers may well wonder how I became interested in this topic. When I somewhat belatedly realized how the internet had changed the conditions under which pornography is accessed and viewed, my reaction, particularly in light of my concern for young people who would likely encounter it, was a combination of shock and, to be truthfully melodramatic, heartbreak. At some point, it occurred to me that these are not far removed from Aristotle’s tragic emotions, fear and pity.

    Since the prurient genre is not likely to go away or lose its appeal, I decided that I would make an effort to enculturate it, to domesticate the threat by exploring its tragic potential. A second impetus came in June of 2015, when I returned to the Victoria and Albert Museum and encountered Canova’s statue of Theseus and the Minotaur. Here was obscenity hiding in plain sight, melded with high art. Consequently, I became even more intrigued with the possibility that pornography too held something of great value, which needed the discipline of tragic theory to bring to light.

    The resulting article has made me feel like Blanche Dubois: very much indebted to the kindness of strangers. In its original sprawling state, it brought one rejection without substantial comment. A second effort at submission resulted in an explanation from the editors that they did not consider “free lance” or over-the-transom work; however, they included an extensive list of film journals that would. From one of these, I received lengthy, astute, and very helpful comments and suggestions, which made me recall a comment that Charlotte Brontë (if I recall correctly) once made about receiving a letter of rejection so illuminating that it was more beneficial to her than a terse acceptance would have been. The present, revised article is thus the result of a good deal of professional kindness, which I may be fortunate enough someday to extend to other scholars.

    Wayne Batten holds degrees from the University of Wyoming and Vanderbilt University. After a postdoctoral appointment in the Vanderbilt department of English, he served on the teaching faculty of Montgomery Bell Academy, an all-boys preparatory school in Nashville, Tennessee, for thirty years. Having retired in 2015, he has been researching and writing full time, largely in nineteenth-century literature. He has published articles on Kate Chopin, Jesse Hill Ford, and Charles Dickens. His current research extends to the art of adaptation and cinema. He resides with his partner of thirty-seven years in Nashville.

    Read his article “Strange Bedfellows: Tragedy and Pornography” in Canadian Journal of Film Studies 27.2, free to read for a limited time here.

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