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: 

Jason Hickel: Bridging the Divide: Ending Poverty on a Finite Planet

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: 

Further Reading:

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.

Escobar, A. (1995) Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

George, S. (1976) How the Other Half Dies. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Harvey, D. (2005) A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hickel, J. (2017) ‘Aid in reverse: how poor countries develop rich countries’, The Guardian, 14 January.

Klein, N. (2007) The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Toronto: Knopf Canada.

_____ (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Toronto: Knopf Canada.

Pearce, F. (2012) The Landgrabbers: The New Fight Over Who Owns the Earth. London: Eden Project Books.

Perkins, J. (2004) Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Pollin, R. (2005) Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity, updated edition. London: Verso.

Shaxson, N. (2012) Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World. London: Vintage.

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalization and its Discontents. New York: W. W. Norton.

Tandon, Y. (2015) Trade is War: The West’s War Against the World. New York and London: OR Books.

Arthur Dudney: Languages of Everywhere and Nowhere: Persian as Premodern Lingua Franca

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: 

Further Reading:

Dudney, A. (2015) ‘Introduction’ and ‘Chapter 1: Beginnings’, in Delhi: Pages from a Forgotten History. New Delhi: Hay House.

You can contact me for a PDF of the above; Indian listeners may wish to purchase a hard copy via Amazon.in or Flipkart.com.

Brian Bird: Freedom of Conscience in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada 150 Miniseries)

Today we continue our Canada 150 miniseries with a look at perhaps the most significant piece of Canadian legislation since Confederation: the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section two of the Charter lists what are called the “fundamental freedoms,” including for example freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of expression and – importantly for our purposes – freedom of conscience. Many constitutional disputes in Canadian jurisprudence have tested the limits of freedom of religion. But as Canada becomes more and more secularized, the focus may well shift to freedom of conscience, which would thereby rise to greater prominence in Canadian politics.

In this installment of The Provocateur I talk to Brian Bird, a DCL student in the Faculty of Law at McGill University, to explore the history and theory of freedom of conscience, which he dubs “the forgotten freedom.” We discuss what freedom of conscience is and how it can be distinguished from freedom of religion; the nature of freedom of conscience before and after the Charter came into effect; the limits of freedom of conscience; and the future of “the forgotten freedom” in Canadian society.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Brownlee, K. (2012) Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Waldron, M. A. (2013) Free to Believe: Rethinking Conscience and Freedom of Religion in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Vischer, R. K. (2010) Conscience and the Common Good: Reclaiming the Space Between Person and State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jennifer Hayter: Métis Identity and the Politics of Canadian Confederation (Canada 150 Miniseries)

We continue our month-long Canadian miniseries, in honour of Canada 150, with a critical assessment of one of the most important dynamics in the country’s history: the relationship between the indigenous and European peoples of present-day Canada, which remains a source of ongoing injustices. Though orthodox Canadian history might stress the nation’s relative youth – being traditionally created in 1867 – the story of Canada arguably begins centuries before, when humans first migrated into North America. Contact with European explorers in the 18th and 19th centuries led almost inevitably to interbreeding between indigenous and European people, which in turn resulted in the category of  “Métis”. Yet the apparent simplicity of its definition belies a host of anxieties around race, assimilation, integration and Canadian identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as Canada engaged in a process of nation-building.

On today’s episode of The Provocateur we are joined by Jennifer Hayter, who is currently completing a PhD in History at the University of Toronto, to discuss the history of the relationship between the Métis and the Canadian state. We cover the origins of the term “Métis” as a category; the rise of Métis nationalism in the late 19th century (especially the role of Louis Riel); the significance of the Métis in Manitoba and British Columbia; and the continuing ramifications for Métis politics today.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Ens, G., and J. Sawchuk (2016) From New Peoples to New Nations: Aspects of Métis History and Identity from the Eighteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Gaudry, A. (2016) “Métis”, The Canadian Encyclopedia. Available at: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/metis/.

St-Onge, N., C. Podruchny and B. Macdougall (eds.) (2012) Contours of a People: Metis Family, Mobility, and History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Ray, A. J. (2011) An Illustrated History of Canada’s Native People: I Have Lived Here Since the World Began. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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.

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.