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.
Home to more than a billion people, modern India is at once a thriving tourist destination, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and a hive of social, religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity. Spend a few days in India and at various points you will probably encounter speakers of Hindi, English, Sanskrit, Bengali or perhaps even all of the above. Yet it would be practically unheard of to find a Persian speaker in India today, despite the rich cultural influence of Persian on the South Asian subcontinent. The forgotten story of Persianate India is part of a much bigger picture of the Persian-speaking world, which is far from being limited to just Iran. In its heyday, as the language of the Mughal Empire, Persian could be considered a lingua franca as much as Latin in the Renaissance or French in the 18th century. It united millions of people across a wide swathe of Central and South Asia, stretching from as far west as Turkey to as far east as the fringes of China.
On today’s episode of The Provocateur I talk to Arthur Dudney, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge, to help me piece together the history of Persianate India. We start by talking about the idea of a ‘mother tongue’ and its relationship to the concept of a lingua franca, before exploring the context of Persian and its role in Mughal India. We also discuss the place of Persian in the wider history of lingua francas and the implications for the ways in which we might think about lingua francas and the politics of language today.
You can listen to the podcast here:
Dudney, A. (2015) ‘Introduction’ and ‘Chapter 1: Beginnings’, in Delhi: Pages from a Forgotten History. New Delhi: Hay House.
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:
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.
In the final episode of our month-long miniseries for LGBT History Month, The Provocateur travels to Brazil, arguably one of the most important emerging markets at the moment as well as being a vibrant and dynamic country in its own right. While it may have hit the headlines most recently for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff – and the subsequent return to power of the main conservative faction in Congress, led by Michel Temer – Brazil also has a long and complicated history of colonialism, decolonisation and dictatorship. This has inevitably impacted on the ways in which LGBT people express their sexuality and how they are perceived by mainstream Brazilian society.
Today I talk to Bryan Pitts, a lecturer in history at the University of Georgia, for a fascinating look at the interplay of race, sexuality, nationality and democracy in contemporary Brazil. We discuss the historical context of the dictatorship years of 1964-1985 and the transition to democracy, the legacies of Portuguese rule, the thesis that sexual liberalisation has gone along with political liberalisation and the particular challenges facing transgendered people. We also talk about Bryan’s research on Brazilian gay magazines and gay sex tourism.
In the second of a short run of episodes focusing on LGBT topics for LGBT History Month, The Provocateur talks to Philip Freestone, a PhD candidate in Linguistics at the University of Reading, about discourses of marriage and sexuality among men who have sex with men (MSMs) in contemporary mainland China. In particular, we focus on Philip’s interest in the recent explosion of matchmaking websites that set up marriages of convenience between non-heterosexual men and women and the ways in which this phenomenon reflects culturally ingrained understandings of homosexuality. Among other things, we discuss Confucian ideals of marriage and how they restrict non-normative sexual expression; the tension between public indifference towards homosexuality and private shame; the consequences of the one-child policy for the marriage market; and the potential for homosexual and bisexual men to exploit the traditional archetype of the effeminate scholar in Chinese conceptions of masculinity in order to contest heteronormativity.
You can listen to the podcast here:
If you are interested in getting in touch with Phil, feel free to email him at: P.J.Freestone@pgr.reading.ac.uk.
Altman, D. (1997) ‘Global Gaze/Global Gays’, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 3(4), pp. 417-436.