Laura Madokoro: The History of Humanitarianism in Canada (Canada 150 Miniseries)

This episode of The Provocateur kicks off a special month-long miniseries to coincide with Canada 150: a series of celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. While it is frequently derided as the backyard of the United States, Canada possesses a rich, complex and colourful history; today it is rightly celebrated as an outward-looking and multicultural nation. Yet its spirit of progressive pluralism belies the stinging legacies of both indigenous dispossession and the oppression of racial and ethnic minorities. Some of the darkest episodes of Canada’s recent past can be found in the Chinese Exclusion Act, as well as Japanese internment during WWII. Though Canada sought to establish itself as a humanitarian power in the postwar period, it continues to be haunted by the injustices of history.

To discuss the history of humanitarianism and immigration in Canada, The Provocateur is joined today by Laura Madokoro, who is assistant professor in the department of History and Classical Studies at McGill University. We explore the history of anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese sentiment in nineteenth and early twentieth century Canada, the relationship between humanitarianism and settler colonialism, the significance of the Indochinese refugee crisis for Canadian foreign policy and the amazing story of the first official refugees from China to Canada in 1962. Finally we bring our discussion up to the contemporary moment, with the provocative question of whether Islamophobia is the new yellow peril.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Correction: The episode is mentioned as being the second in the Canada 150 miniseries, as it was still scheduled as such at the time of recording. However due to unforeseen circumstances, it will now be broadcast as the first episode. Apologies for the oversight.

Further Reading:

Gatrell, P. (2013) The Making of the Modern Refugee. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Madokoro, L., F. McKenzie and D. Meren (eds.) (2017) Dominion of Race: Rethinking Canada’s International History. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Mar, L. (2010) Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada’s Exclusion Era, 1885-1945. New York: Oxford University Press.

Roy, P. (2010) The Triumph of Citizenship: The Japanese and Chinese in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Yu, H. (2015) ‘Conceptualizing a Pacific Canada Within and Without Nations’, in Dubinsky, K. et al. (eds.) Within and Without the Nation: Canada’s History as Transnational History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Domhnall Iain MacDonald: The Biology of Pain

Pain is arguably one of the most central features of human experience. Many of us routinely experience pain in our lives, from the smallest cut to the most traumatic injury. Chronic pain, too, poses a serious challenge to our public health institutions. Philosophers have even argued that pain is morally bad: John Stuart Mill, for one, famously described happiness as “pleasure and the absence of pain”; the purpose of government, Mill thought, was to maximise the former and minimise the latter. Yet some individuals spend their entire lives feeling absolutely no pain at all and scientists are hoping to discover a breakthrough painkiller through analysing the genetic mutations that make people unable to feel pain.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Domnhall Iain MacDonald, a PhD student in neuroscience at UCL, to discuss the biology of pain. Among other things, we cover the biological usefulness of pain to humans; whether non-human animals feel pain and the ethics of testing painful sensations on animals; and the latest frontiers in clinical pain research.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Hiyasaki, E. (2017) ‘End Pain Forever: How a Single Gene Could Become a Volume Knob for Human Suffering‘, Wired, 18 April.

Kiesel, L. (2016) ‘All Pain is Not Equal‘, Relief, 28 June.

Sutherland, S. (2016) ‘Pain Research in Animals: Why Do It, and What Can It Tell Us?‘ Relief, 10 January.

____ (2017) ‘Taking Aim at New Pain Drugs‘, Relief, 19 January.

Tim Grayson: God Without Religion

Religious freedom in an age of cultural diversity is an extremely pressing issue of our times. But perhaps we would be better off if we moved away from institutionalized religion while still retaining the concept of a divine or higher power? This week on The Provocateur, I talk to poet and author Tim Grayson to discuss his conception of God without religion.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Loubna El Amine: Hierarchy, Status and Order in Classical Confucian Political Thought

China remains one of the world’s oldest, richest and most enduring civilisations, stretching back thousands of years. Among its many contributions to the world history of ideas is the Confucian school of thought, which could arguably be said to be the cornerstone of Chinese culture. Even as Mao strenuously repudiated Confucian ideals in the 20th century, the legacies of Confucius and his followers can still be found in Chinese society today: for example, the emphasis on filial piety, harmony and social stability. Confucianism has even been claimed to be the bedrock of a ‘pan-Asian’ identity, as part of the debate on Asian values. These currents might suggest that if we want to understand the Chinese mindset both then and now, we should try to examine Confucianism more closely.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Loubna El Amine, assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University, to discuss her take on Classical Confucian political thought. We start by thinking about why Confucianism matters in the context of studying non-Western thought, before going on to discuss more specifically the work of Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi. Then we talk about Loubna’s radical new interpretation of Confucianism, which stresses the importance of hierarchy, status and order in the Confucian worldview, as opposed to the standard account which argues for the centrality of virtue. We also touch on the complexities of defining Confucianism and what it means to Chinese society today.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Primary texts:

Confucius (1979) The Analects, translated by D. C. Lau. London: Penguin.

——— (2003) Confucius: Analects with Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Translated by Edward Slingerland. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Ivanhoe, Philip and Bryan Van Norden (eds.) (2005) Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, second edition. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Mencius (1970) Mencius. Translated by D. C. Lau. London: Penguin.

——— (2008) Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries. Translated by Bryan Van Norden. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Xunzi (1988-1994) Xunzi: A Translation and Study of the Complete Works, 3 vols. Translated by John Knoblock. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

——— (2014) Xunzi: The Complete Text. Translated by Eric Hutton. Princeton University Press.

Secondary readings:

Angle, Stephen C. (2017) “Social and Political Thought in Chinese Philosophy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/chinese-social-political/>.

Brindley, Erica (2009) “‘Why Use an Ox-Cleaver to Carve a Chicken?’ The Sociology of the Junzi Ideal in the Lunyu.” Philosophy East and West 59 (1): 47–70.

Hsiao, Kung-Chuan (1979) History of Chinese Political Thought. Translated by Frederick Mote. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fingarette, Herbert (1972) Confucius: The Secular as Sacred. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Pines, Yuri (2009) Envisioning Eternal Empire: Chinese Political Thought of the Warring States Era. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Salkever, Stephen G and Michael Nylan (1994) “Comparative Political Philosophy and Liberal Education: “Looking for Friends in History,” Political Science and Politics 27:2, pp. 238-247.

Schwartz, Benjamin (1985) The World of Thought in Ancient China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Aarti Jagannath: The Mysteries of the Body Clock

It is difficult to overstate the impact that technology has had on us, transforming our ways of life and making us more connected than ever before. Where once you had to take days or months to reach the other side of the world, now you can fly from London to Hong Kong in a matter of hours. Where not so long ago in human history we could only rely on candlelight, now artificial lighting is so ubiquitous that we take them for granted. The demand for ever faster connectedness is having unprecedented effects on our circadian rhythms: jet lag is perhaps the best known example of one way in which the body clock gets disrupted, but the problems associated with electricity are arguably even greater, precisely because our 24/7 society is completely dependent on it in order to function. Body clock disruption has been implicated in a whole range of diseases, from depression to cancer, so it is now more urgent than ever before that scientists try to understand the mechanisms of the body clock, so we are in a better position to fix it when it does go wrong.

In this episode of The Provocateur I talk to Aarti Jagannath, a research fellow at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford, to help us unravel the mysteries of the body clock. We discuss the fundamentals of the body clock and what happens when it gets disrupted in a whole range of scenarios, from shift work to divers undergoing decompression to students pulling the occasional all-nighter. We also talk about the ways in which neuroscientists are trying to figure out how to reset our natural circadian cycle and even how some biologists are coming up with innovative treatments that exploit the body clock to better target cancer cells.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Jordan Girardin: The Alps as Transnational Space (25th Episode) / Les Alpes comme un endroit transnational (25ème épisode)

French version below / Version française ci-dessous

The Alps might be most familiar to us as ‘the playground of Europe’ and indeed in modern times it is a vibrant hub for mountaineering, skiing and snowboarding. As many as 120 million people visit the Continent’s most famous mountain range each year and the tourism industry generates almost 50 billion euros in annual turnover, supporting around 10-12% of jobs in the Alpine economy. But this image of the Alps as a winter haven is a fairly recent invention. In the eighteenth century, the Alps were seen as a barren, even threatening, wilderness and it took many decades for the region to evolve into the tourist destination we know today.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Jordan Girardin, who has just completed his PhD in History at the University of St Andrews, to explore the transnational history of travel in the Alps from the 1750s to the 1830s. We discuss the attitudes of both scientific explorers and leisure travellers to the Alps in this period; the varied and sometimes amusing reactions of locals to the new wave of mass interest in the Alps; and the implications of considering the Alps as a transnational space. The episode marks a mini-milestone for The Provocateur as the 25th show in the series, so I thought I’d stay true to the transnational spirit of the topic and record a French interview with Jordan as well, which you can hear below.

You can listen to the (English) podcast here: 

Version française

Dans l’image populaire, les Alpes sont ‘le cour de récréation de l’Europe’ et c’est vrai que, de nos jours, elles sont un centre dynamique de l’alpinisme, du ski et du snowboard. Chaque année, les montagnes les plus célèbres du Continent attirent jusqu’à 120 millions personnes et l’industrie touristique amène jusqu’à 50 milliards d’euros, ce qui soutient 10-12% des emplois dans l’économie de la région. Mais cette image des Alpes comme un paradis hivernal n’est qu’une invention assez récente. Dans le 18ème siècle, on perçevait les Alpes comme une étendue sauvage, même menaçante, et il fallait attendre des décennies avant que la région se soit transformée à la destination touristique du présent.

Dans cet épisode du Provocateur je parle avec Jordan Girardin, qui vient de finir son doctorat en histoire à l’Université de St Andrews en Écosse. Ensemble, nous allons explorer l’histoire transnationale de la voyage alpine des années 1750 aux années 1830.  On va discuter les attitudes aux Alpes des scientifiques ainsi que des passagers de loisirs durant cette période; les réponses variées, même drôles, des gens locaux à cette nouvelle vague d’intérêt aux Alpes; et les implications de la considération des Alpes comme un endroit forcément transnational. J’ai fait cet entretien bilingue anglais-français avec Jordan en vue du fait que ceci est le 25ème épisode du podcast!

Vous pourriez écouter au podcast (en français) ci-dessous:

Further Reading / Lectures supplémentaires:

Bourdon, E. (2011) Le voyage et la découverte des Alpes : Histoire de la construction d’un savoir (1492 – 1713). Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne.

Gugerli, D. & D. Speich (2002) Topografien der Nation: Politik, kartografische Ordnung und Landschaft im 19. Jahrhundert. Zurich: Chronos.

Mathieu, J. & S. Boscani Leoni (eds.) (2005) Die Alpen! Zur europäischen Wahrnehmungsgeschichte seit der RenaissanceLes Alpes ! Pour une histoire de la perception européenne depuis la Renaissance. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Pyatt, E. (1984) The Passage of the Alps: from Hannibal to the Motorway. London: Robert Hale.

Reichler, C. (2013) Les Alpes et leurs imagiers: Voyage et histoire du regard. Lausanne: Presses Polytechniques et Universitaires Romandes.

Ring, J. (2000) How the English Made the Alps. London: John Murray.

Viazzo, P. P. (1989) Upland Communities: Environment, Population and Social Structure in the Alps since the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Chris Foye: Housing and Happiness

There is rarely a moment when house prices are not in the news and many working people can relate to the experience of buying that first house. Housing can be incredibly personal because it reflects to some extent your lifestyle and life choices, but it also serves as a marker of social status. The difference between living in a council flat and living in a semi-detached house with a garden and a garage tells you many things about differences in income, wealth and class. But the differences in size of living space between the council flat and the semi-detached could also be important because they impact on your sense of subjective happiness. This clearly has implications for urban planning but also for other areas of public policy such as health, education and social care.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Chris Foye, who has just completed his PhD in Real Estate and Planning at Henley Business School at the University of Reading, to explore the relationship between housing and happiness. Among other things, we discuss the reasons why it is important to examine the relationship in the first place, the difficulty of measuring people’s happiness or subjective well-being and why home ownership is so popular in the UK.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Foye, C. (2017) ‘The Relationship Between Size of Living Space and Subjective Well-Being‘, Journal of Happiness Studies 18(2), pp. 427-461.

Frank, R. H. (2007) Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Layard, R. (2011) Happiness: Lessons from a new science. London: Penguin.

Nakazato, N., U. Schimmack and S. Oishi (2011) ‘Effect of changes in living conditions on well-being: A prospective top–down bottom–up model’, Social Indicators Research 100(1), pp. 115-135.

Jennifer Rushworth: Bringing Proust’s Imaginary Music to Life

Many of you will doubtless have heard of Marcel Proust and his monumental masterpiece À la recherche du temps perdu (often translated as In Search of Lost Time or much more loosely as Remembrance of Things Past). A substantial part of the novel is given over to an imaginary sonata by the fictional composer Vinteuil, which figures prominently in the relationship between the central characters Swann and Odette. Various attempts have been made in film versions to reconstruct what the sonata might have sounded like, but the piece has never before been imagined as a standalone composition, without a surrounding cinema or stage adaptation. Moreover, the ways in which composers of such a sonata might read the novel differently from literary critics have yet to be fully investigated.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Jennifer Rushworth, a Junior Research Fellow in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford, about her groundbreaking project bringing together undergraduate translators, composers and musicians at the university. One group of students were given extracts from the novel to translate into English, before feeding the results to a second group of students who used the translations as inspirations for new work. I discuss with Jennifer the challenges and rewards of this highly interdisciplinary exercise. Among other things, we explore issues of French-English translation, the specificity of the Anglophone context and what this research might suggest more generally about the relationship between music and literature in Proust.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

To learn more about the project, visit proustandmusic.wordpress.com, which hopefully will be updated soon with recordings of the finished pieces!

Further Reading:

Coeuroy, A. (1923) ‘La musique dans l’œuvre de Marcel Proust’, Revue musicale 3, pp. 193-212. Reprinted in Coeuroy, A. (1938) Musique et littérature. Paris: Gallimard.

Costil, P. (1958) ‘La Construction musicale de la Recherche du temps perdu (I)’, Bulletin de la Société des Amis de Marcel Proust et des Amis de Combray 8, pp. 469-489.

____ (1959) ‘La Construction musicale de la Recherche du temps perdu (II)’, Bulletin de la Société des Amis de Marcel Proust et des Amis de Combray 9, pp. 83-110.

Dayan, P. (2006) ‘How Music Enables Proust to Write Paradise Lost’, in Music Writing Literature: from Sand via Debussy to Derrida. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Goodkin, R. E. (1991) ‘Proust and Wagner: The Climb to the Octave Above, or, the Scale of Love (and Death)’, in Around Proust. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Labarthe, P. (2001) ‘Vinteuil ou le paradoxe de l’individuel en art’, Revue d’Histoire littéraire de la France 101(1), pp. 105-122.

Kaltenecker, M. (2010) ‘L’Écoute selon Proust’, in L’Oreille divisée: Les discours sur l’écoute musicale au XVIIIe et XIXe siecles. Paris: Editions MF.

Nattiez, J-J. (1989) Proust as Musician, trans. D. Puffett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Newark, C. and I. Wassenaar (1997) ‘Proust and Music: The Anxiety of Competence’, Cambridge Opera Journal 9(2), pp. 163-183.

Piroue, G. (1960) Proust et la musique du devenir. Paris: Editions Denoël.

Ross, A. (2009) ‘Imaginary Concerts‘, The New Yorker, 24 August.

Rushworth, J. (2014) ‘The Textuality of Music in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu‘, Romance Studies 32(2), pp. 75-87.

This episode is dedicated to the memory of Benjamin Frederick Pedley (1991-2017).

Ross Keller: Fighting the War on Cancer

It is difficult to find someone whose life has not been touched in some way by cancer and indeed ‘the big C’ is probably one of the most well-known public health concerns. Ever since American scientists officially declared war on cancer in the 1970s, millions of lives have been saved through increased awareness, early detection and vast amounts of investment into research and development. But it seems we are no closer to the original target of eradicating cancer by the 2020s. According to the National Cancer Research Institute, the disease continues to kill more than eight million people worldwide every year, with 60 per cent of new cases occurring in the Global South. Overall cancer deaths are expected to increase by 60 per cent by 2030, largely due to an ageing global population. There is some hope however, as researchers around the world are racing to find the Holy Grail of cancer biology: a completely foolproof cure.

This week on The Provocateur I am joined by Ross Keller, a PhD candidate in Biomedical Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, to discuss the ways in which he and other cancer biologists are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the fight against cancer. We first briefly talk about what cancer is before going on to cover the traditional weapons used to tackle cancer, the ways in which cancer can outwit us and the startling new frontiers in cancer treatment. Ross has also written an excellent blog series covering the War on Cancer: the first part can be read here.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

To donate to Cancer Research UK, click here.

Further Reading:

Journalistic articles:

Begley, S. (2017) ‘Most Cancer Cases Arise from “Bad Luck”‘, Scientific American: STAT, 24 March.

Keller, R. (2015) ‘Why is Tanning Dangerous?’ Lions Talk Science, 13 April.

____ (2016) ‘Immunotherapy: Awakening the Immune System to Fight Cancer’, Lions Talk Science, 13 September.

____ (2017) ‘What is Radon? And How Does It Impact Health?’ Lions Talk Science, 15 February.

Scientific reading (assumes graduate level biology):

Hanahan, D. and R. A. Weinberg (2011) ‘Hallmarks of Cancer: The Next Generation’, Cell 144(5), pp. 646-674.

McGranahan, N. and C. Swanton (2017) ‘Clonal Heterogeneity and Tumor Evolution: Past, Present and the Future’, Cell 168(4), pp. 613-628. 

Max Price: Pork, Prohibitions and Power: A Short Cultural History of the Pig in the Ancient Near East

As with many other animals in society, pigs have occupied an ambiguous status throughout human history. On the one hand, we are highly dependent on them because of their importance as both a domesticated creature and a source of food; on the other, they are reviled even to the extent that in the Abrahamic religions it is considered sacrilegious to eat pork. The pork taboo as expressed in Leviticus has been a constant source of fascination to anthropologists, as well as scholars of religion, and various explanations have been put forward for how and why this taboo came into existence in early Mesopotamian civilisations.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Max Price, a postdoctoral fellow at Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Germany, to discuss the pork taboo in the context of the cultural history of the pig in the ancient Near East. We explore the uniqueness of the pig as a domesticated animal; the reasons for pig domestication; and the origins of and reasons for the pig taboo. Towards the end of the programme, we also touch on the continuing significance of pigs in Middle Eastern societies today. Max is also contracted with Oxford University Press to write a book dealing with these issues from 1 million years ago to the present, which will certainly be worth looking out for in the near future!

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Albarella, U., K. Dobney, A. Ervynck, and P. Rowley-Conwy (eds.) (2007) Pigs and Humans: 10,000 Years of Interaction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Diener, P. and E.E. Robkin (1978) ‘Ecology, Evolution, and the Search for Cultural Origins: The Question of Islamic Pig Prohibition’, Current Anthropology 19: 493-540.

Essig, M. (2015) Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig. New York: Basic Books.

Hessler, P. (2014) ‘Letters from Cairo: Tales of the Trash’, The New Yorker October 13, 2014.

Ottoni, C. et al. (2012) ‘Pig Domestication and Human-Mediated Dispersal in Western Eurasia Revealed through Ancient DNA and Geometric Morphometrics’, Molecular biology and evolution: mss261.