In the first episode of The Provocateur‘s miniseries for LGBT History Month 2018, we travel to Russia to explore the country’s hidden history of sexuality. In contemporary Russia, the church and state have conspired to suggest that LGBT identities are not part of Russia’s supposedly ‘traditional’ culture. At best, they are seen as subversive and non-traditional; at worst, they are perceived as damaging Western imports, where progressive views on homosexuality are a form of moral neo-imperialism. These attitudes are most clearly expressed in the 2014 law forbidding the promotion of ‘gay propaganda’. However, new research is challenging the ‘otherness’ of Russian homosexuality, arguing that an undercurrent of same-sex desire has long been embedded in Russian culture.
To discuss the history of sexuality in medieval Russia, I’m joined today by Nick Mayhew, who has just finished his PhD in Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge. We open by talking about Nick’s initial interest in the subject, before moving on to discuss the kinds of same-sex relationships and identities that existed in pre-modern Russia and the medieval period in particular. We also touch on the difficulties Nick has faced in doing this kind of research in a society rife with state-sponsored homophobia.
Australia is a vast and diverse country, with a culture to match, but its literature has traditionally been underrepresented in academic institutions and it remains marginal to the literary canon. When Australian literature is studied, it typically tends to date from the mid-20th century onwards, not from before the country’s federation in 1901. However, in order to get a fuller sense of the modern Australian condition, it may be valuable – or indeed necessary – to turn to the culture of the pre-federation era, such as early Australian poetry. In the writings of Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, Henry Kendall and their contemporaries, we can trace themes which continue to preoccupy Australian writers and artists today, such as the tension between civilisation and wilderness, the horrors of colonialism and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, and the search for a uniquely Australian mode of cultural expression.
This week, The Provocateur is joined by Jason Rudy, associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, College Park, to discuss the history of Australian poetry in the 19th century. We pick up some of the themes of his book Imagined Homelands, discuss a selection of the major writers of the pre-federation period and uncover what 19th-century Australian literature can offer to readers of contemporary writing.
Following on from last week’s discussion of global poverty, The Provocateur turns its attention to the other end of the social scale: the super-rich, who have often been neglected in sociological studies of inequality. In Russia as in other post-Communist countries, capitalism is a relatively new phenomenon, creating in some cases a backlash from older Soviet-born generations against the burgeoning rise of mass consumption. Philanthropy is also becoming trendy among Russian multi-millionaires and billionaires, apparently in response to major disparities in income and wealth.
In this installment of The Provocateur I talk to Elisabeth Schimpfössl, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at UCL, about her intriguing work researching the lives of Russia’s 0.1%. We discuss the historical context of Russian inequality in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods, before zooming in on the super-rich themselves. We investigate the gendered dynamics of Russian elites, their attitudes to the current regime and their motivations for charitable giving. Towards the end of the episode we also explore the future of Russian politics and the viability of comparisons with another highly oil-dependent country, Venezuela.
It is widely recognised that global inequality is a serious problem. For instance, according to a Credit Suisse report in 2015, half the world’s wealth is owned by the top 1% of the world’s population. More than 60% of humanity, or 4.3 billion people, live below the realistic minimum standard of a decent life. And yet it is also widely recognised that there are ecological limits to material prosperity. In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day – the date when human resource consumption for the year exceeds the Earth’s biocapacity for the same year – occurred on 2 August, compared with 19 December when the concept was first introduced 30 years ago. With Trump vowing to exit the Paris agreement on carbon emissions, it looks like the picture of our planet’s ecological health is also getting worse and not better. How to reconcile the objectives of development with the objectives of sound environmental policy is a complex and pressing matter. How did we get here? And what can we do about it?
On this episode of The Provocateur I talk to Jason Hickel, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at LSE, to discuss how we can bridge the gap between rich and poor on a finite planet. We first talk about Jason’s interest in the subject as an anthropologist before moving on to Jason’s case for his argument that global poverty is getting worse not better. We explore the history of development politics in the era of the Washington Consensus, the limitations of GDP as a measure of growth and new strategies for development in an age of both economic and ecological crisis.
You can listen to the podcast here:
Chang, H-J. (2007) Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. London: Bloomsbury.
Easterly, W. (2006) The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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_____ (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Toronto: Knopf Canada.
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Tandon, Y. (2015) Trade is War: The West’s War Against the World. New York and London: OR Books.
Skyscrapers are distinctly modern symbols of our urbanized planet. Their verticality represents not only the possibilities of technological progress and the limits of the human imagination, but also the challenges of city inequality. The idea of high-rise living first took hold in the 1880s in Chicago before the skyscraper was exported to New York, spread to the rest of the United States and eventually conquered the entire world. The first skyscraper on the planet is generally considered to be the Home Insurance Building in the Windy City; though, at a mere 11 stories, it would pale in comparison with the Petronas Towers or One World Trade Centre, it marked a turning point in the development of cities. As the experience of Chicago and later New York showed, skyscrapers are an answer to an economic problem of resource allocation: how to fit dozens, even hundreds, of people in a fairly small space. Yet going taller is not a perfect solution: even as they solve the conundrum of how to cope with urban population booms, skyscrapers also pose other problems such as congestion, overcrowding, rising land values and an intolerable cost of living.
This week on The Provocateur we are joined by Jason Barr, professor of economics at Rutgers University (Newark), to explore the economic history of skyscrapers. We begin by discussing skyscrapers as an economic problem, before moving onto talk about the history of the modern Manhattan skyline from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth centuries. We close with a brief discussion of newer players in the skyscraper game such as Dubai, Shanghai and Taipei and speculate on future directions in the evolution of skyscrapers.
You can listen to the podcast here:
Barr, J. (2016) Building the Skyline: The Birth and Growth of Manhattan’s Skyscrapers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clark. W. J. and J. L. Kingston (1930) The Skyscraper: A Study in the Economic Height of Modern Office Buildings. New York and Cleveland: American Institute of Steel Construction.
Gifford, R. (2007) ‘The Consequences of Living in High-Rise Buildings’, Architectural Science Review 50(1), pp. 2-17.
Glaeser, E. (2011) ‘How Skyscrapers Can Save the City’, The Atlantic, March 2011.
Hsu, J. and C. Chan (2014) ‘The Emergence of Asian Supertalls’, CTBUH Journal IV, pp. 28-33.
Landau, S. B. and C. W. Condit (1996) Rise of the New York Skyscraper: 1865-1913. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
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Parker. D. and A. Wood (eds.) (2013) The Tall Buildings Reference Book. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.
Willis, C. (1995) Form Follows Finance: Skyscrapers and Skylines in New York and Chicago. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
Billions of people use the Internet every day for all sorts of activities, from shopping to gambling to dating to academic research. For the vast majority of users, a browser is the primary interface between them and the world wide web. Yet the very fact that browser features are so ubiquitous makes them extremely vulnerable to privacy and security compromises. Not only browser history, but all sorts of data such as browser size, location and time of day could become extremely invaluable to third parties, whether they are Internet giants like Google, Facebook and Apple or more nefarious users. Companies such as Microsoft and Mozilla have tried to combat consumers’ privacy concerns by introducing private browsing modes, but it seems that even these may not be entirely foolproof ways of surfing the Internet anonymously.
You can listen to the podcast here:
Eckersley, P. (2010) ‘How Unique is Your Web Browser?’ in Atallah, M. J. and N. Hopper (eds.) Privacy Enhancing Technologies: Proceedings of the 10th International PETS Symposium. Cham: Springer.
Snyder, P. et al. (2016) ‘Browser Feature Usage on the Modern Web’, Proceedings of the 2016 Internet Measurement Conference.
Today’s installment of The Provocateur concludes our month-long Canada 150 miniseries with a trip to Québec. Québécois culture has a strong claim to being the foundation of modern Canadian society, since the first European settlers north of Florida were French explorers in what is now Canadian territory in the 16th and 17th centuries. Jacques Cartier first sighted the St Lawrence River in the 1530s; Samuel de Champlain, ‘The Father of New France’, founded what would become Québec City in 1608. As Québec society moved into the 20th and 21st centuries along with the rest of Canada, it had to engage with the questions of gender and sexuality that all liberal democracies have had to confront in recent decades.
In this episode I talk to Loic Bourdeau, assistant professor of French at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, to discuss gender and sexuality in Québécois literature and film. We first look at milestones in Québécois literary history, from the farm novel to the Quiet Revolution and beyond, before exploring the themes of independence and sovereignty, motherhood and sexuality. We also reflect on the future direction of Québec society and what that might mean for cultural developments.
You can listen to the podcast here:
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Barrette, Jean-Marc (1996) L’univers de Michel Tremblay. Montreal: U of Montreal Press.
Boucher-Marchand, Monique (1997) “Michel Tremblay et l’autobiographie du Nous.” La création biographique. Rennes: U of Rennes.
Bourdeau, Loic (2012) “F.O.L.L.E. société: déconstruction et reconstruction identitaire dans C.R.A.Z.Y.” Nouvelles Etudes Francophones. 27.1: 130-144.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1998) La domination masculine. Paris: Seuil.
Chapman, Rosemary (2013) What is Québécois Literature? Liverpool: Liverpool UP.
Dickinson, Peter (1999) Here is Queer: Nationalisms, Sexualities, and the Literatures of Canada. Toronto: U of Toronto Press.
Eribon, Didier (1999) Réflexions sur la question gay. Paris: Fayard.
Foucault, Michel (1976) Histoire de la sexualité. La volonté de savoir. Paris: Gallimard.
Green, Mary Jean (2011) Women and Narrative Identity. Rewriting the Quebec National Text. London: McGill UP.
Lacoursière, Jacques, Jean Provencher, and Denis Vaugeois (2011) Canada-Québec 1534-2010. Quebec: Septentrion.
Lamoureux, Diane (2011) “The Paradoxes of Quebec Feminism.” Quebec Questions. Don Mills: Oxford UP.
Lévesque, Andrée (1994) Making and Breaking the Rules: Women in Quebec, 1919-1939. Trans. Yvonne M. Klein. Toronto: U of Toronto Press.
Marshall, Bill (2001) Quebec National Cinema. London: McGill UP.
Muñoz, José Esteban (2009) Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: New York UP.
Richer, Jocelyne (2015) “Le CSF dit craindre un retour au foyer.” Ledevoir.ca. 29 Jan. 2015.
Schwartzwald, Robert (1993) “‘Symbolic’ Homosexuality, ‘False Feminine,’ and the Problematics of Identity in Québec.” Queer Politics and Social Theory. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press.