Elisabeth Schimpfössl: The Super-Rich of Russia

Following on from last week’s discussion of global povertyThe 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.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Ryan Nichols: The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and Its Cultural Aftershocks

Lisbon is probably best known today as one of the cultural capitals of Europe, but it is also remembered as the victim of one of the deadliest and most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in European history. The disaster struck on 1st November 1755, registering an estimated 8.5-9.0 on the modern moment magnitude scale. It triggered fires and a tsunami, in the end claiming as many as 100,000 lives. The catastrophe was not just a literal earthquake, though; it was also a cultural earthquake, as it brought simmering religious tensions to the fore, threw Portugal’s imperial ambitions into disarray and even arguably changed the course of the Enlightenment in the latter half of the 18th century.

Today on The Provocateur I interview Ryan Nichols, associate professor of philosophy at California State University Fullerton, to discuss the cultural aftershocks of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. We explore the historical context of Lisbon and Portugal before the earthquake; the immediate effects of the disaster on Portuguese politics and society; discussions of the earthquake by 18th-century philosophers including Voltaire and Rousseau; how Ryan’s research in the cognitive science of religion can help explain the aftermath of the quake; and the wider cultural reverberations of this episode for the history and philosophy of science.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Araujo, A. C. (2006) ‘The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 – Public Distress and Political Propaganda’, E-journal of Portuguese History 4(1), article 3.

Braun, T. and J. Radner (eds.) (2005) The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755: Representations and Reactions. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation.

Chester, D. K. (2001) ‘The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, Progress in Physical Geography 25(3), pp. 363-383.

Dynes, R. R. (2000) ‘The Dialogue between Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake: The Emergence of a Social Science View’, International Journal of Emergencies and Disasters 18(1), pp. 97-115.

Festinger, L. et al. (1956) When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the End of the World. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Gutscher, M-A. (2004) ‘What Caused the Great Lisbon Earthquake?’ Science 305(5688), pp. 1247-1248.

Kelemen, D. (1999) ‘Why Are Rocks Pointy?: Children’s Preference for Teleological Explanations of the Natural World’, Developmental Psychology 35, pp. 1440-1453.

Marques, J. O. A. (2005) ‘The Paths of Providence: Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon Earthquake’, Cadernos de Historia e Filosofia da Ciencia 3(15), pp. 33-57.

Neiman, S. (2004) Evil in Modern Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (For a critique see Nichols 2014, below.)

Nichols, R. (2014) ‘Re-evaluating the Effects of the Lisbon Earthquake on Eighteenth-Century Minds: How Cognitive Science of Religion Improves Intellectual History with Hypothesis Testing Methods’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82(4), pp. 970-1009.

Pereira, A. S. (2009) ‘The Opportunity of a Disaster: The Economic Impact of the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake’, The Journal of Economic History 69(2), pp. 466-499.

Rousseau, J-J. (1967) ‘Letter to Voltaire, 18 August 1756’, in Correspondance Complète de Jean Jacques Rousseau, vol. 4, ed. J. A. Leigh, trans. R. Spang, 37–50. Geneva, Switzerland: Voltaire Foundation.

Voltaire (2000 [1759]) ‘Candide, or Optimism’, in Candide and Related Texts, ed. and trans. D.Wootton, 1–83. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.

Kristy Leissle: The Cultural Politics of Chocolate

From its mysterious origins deep in the rainforests of Central America to the gluttonous foodstuff we all know and love today, chocolate (not to mention its parent cocoa) has been an integral part of human society for centuries. The Aztecs used cocoa in rituals and as a form of currency as well as for nourishment. In early modern Spain, Catholic theologians argued over whether drinking chocolate could be seen to break the ecclesiastical fast. Chocolate pioneers in the nineteenth century promoted it as an alternative to alcohol, in keeping with the temperance movement that was all the rage at the time. Even in the modern world it has provoked strong emotional perceptions, from innocent treat to sexualized indulgence to junk food. Chocolate is a symbol of global inequality, cultural mores and social anxieties about health, religion, morality, sexuality, race and gender.

This week on The Provocateur we are joined by Kristy Leissle, a lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, to discuss the cultural politics of chocolate. We talk about the history of chocolate from the Aztecs to the present, the politics of chocolate branding (using some rather tasty examples) and the future of the chocolate industry in an age of global climate change. Hopefully after listening to this episode you will never look at a chocolate bar in the same way again!

You can listen to the podcast here: 

These are images of the chocolate bars discussed during the show, for reference:

Further Reading:

Allen, L. L. (2009) Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association.

Beckett, S. T. (2008) The Science of Chocolate. Cambridge: The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Coe, S. D. and M. D. Coe (2013) The True History of Chocolate, third edition. London: Thames & Hudson.

Forrest, B. M. and A. L. Najjaj (2007) ‘Is Sipping Sin Breaking Fast? The Catholic Chocolate Controversy and the Changing World of Early Modern Spain’, Food and Foodways 5(1-2), pp. 31-52. [See also the rest of this journal issue.]

Jones, C. A. (2013) ‘Exotic Edibles: Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Early Modern French How-to’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 43(3), pp. 623-653.

Leissle, K. (in press) Cocoa. Cambridge: Polity Press (in the ‘Resources’ series).

Mintz, S. (1985) Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Viking-Penguin.

Norton, M. (2006) ‘Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics’, American Historical Review 111(3), pp. 660-691.

____ (2010) Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Richardson, B. (2015) Sugar. Cambridge: Polity Press (in the ‘Resources’ series).

Robertson, E. (2009) Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Ryan, O. (2011) Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed Books.

Satre, L. J. (2005) Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

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).

Alexander Thom: Shakespeare’s Bodies of Law (Special Episode)

As 23rd April is traditionally celebrated as Shakespeare’s birthday, today The Provocateur brings to you a special one-off episode in honour of the Bardiversary. We are joined by Alexander Thom, a PhD student at the Shakespeare Institute (University of Birmingham), for a fascinating discussion of the role of law in Shakespeare’s work, in particular the notion of banishment. We explore the relationships between law and literature in general before going on to talk about the significance of banishment as a legal and rhetorical device in the early modern period, as well as how the concept operates in Shakespearean texts. Drawing on how 20th-century thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben have taken up the idea, we discuss banishment as a way of delineating distinctions between the human and non-human, those within the political community and those who are excluded from it. We also touch on the continuing relevance of Shakespeare’s work today, particularly in view of the contemporary plight of immigrants and refugees.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Correction: At the start of the programme it is stated that 2017 marks the 451st anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. As keen-eyed mathematicians will know, it is of course the Bard’s 453rd birthday. Apologies!

Further Reading:

Primary texts (though we mainly discuss the Shakespeare plays):

Christopher Marlowe: Edward IIThe Jew of Malta.

William Shakespeare: As You Like ItCoriolanusCymbelineMeasure for MeasureThe Merchant of VeniceRichard IIRomeo & JulietSir Thomas MoreThe Tempest, Titus Andronicus.

John Webster: The Duchess of Malfi.

Secondary texts:

Agamben, G. (1998) Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. D. Heller-Roazen. Stanford, CA:  Stanford University Press.

Elden, S. (2014) ‘Bellies, wounds, infections, animals, territories: The political bodies of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus‘, in Edkins, J. and A. Kear (eds.) International Politics and Performance. London: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (1978) ‘About the Concept of the “Dangerous Individual” in 19th-Century Legal Psychiatry’, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 1, pp. 1-18.

____ (1995) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan. New York: Vintage.

Kingsley-Smith, J. (2003) Shakespeare’s Drama of Exile. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Höfele, A. (2011) Stage, Stake, and Scaffold: Humans and Animals in Shakespeare’s Theatre. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Steiner, G. (1975) After Babel. London: Oxford University Press.