New and noteworthy – 21 March 2019

Phone habits of the developing world; the cult of the cute; problems on the home front; game theories; and beggar thy neighbour

March 21, 2019
Source: iStock

The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West
Payal Arora
Harvard University Press

There are as many mobile phone subscriptions in Nigeria and South Africa as there are in the US. But although development agencies would like the poor to use digital networks mainly to improve their economic prospects, in reality – just like people in rich countries – they are far more interested in social media, pornography, dating and gaming. This powerful book explores actual online lives in China, India and Brazil and asks why many of us in the West are surprised and sometimes offended by the fact that the impoverished are just as committed as we are to the search for “moments of pleasure and joy”.

The Power of Cute
Simon May
Princeton University Press

Why are we so obsessed with Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty and the art of Jeff Koons? We can hardly avoid the many forms of cuteness all around us, yet it has seldom attracted serious academic attention. In this dazzling new book, philosopher Simon May explores everything from Kim Jong-il to the Cabbage Patch Kids; carefully distinguishes “cute” from “kitsch”; and points out just how weird and even uncanny cuteness often is. Today, he suggests, most of us live in a highly pressurised world where we are constantly expected to be effective and sincere – a world from which cuteness offers us a strange, ambivalent refuge.

Urban Warfare: Housing under the Empire of Finance
Raquel Rolnik; translated by Felipe Hirschhorn

From 2008 to 2014, Raquel Rolnik served as UN special rapporteur on adequate housing – and was subjected to much sexist and racist tabloid abuse when she came to evaluate housing policy in the UK. In this comprehensive survey of a global crisis, she demonstrates how a single model of “privately owned homes bought via mortgage credit certificates” is in the ascendant everywhere. Although this plays out differently in different contexts, it has led to “processes of dispossession of the poorest and most vulnerable” all around the world. Urban Warfare concludes by surveying both the scale of the problem and the scope for “porosities and resistances” within the dominant paradigm.

Fun, Taste, & Games: An Aesthetics of the Idle, Unproductive, and Otherwise Playful
John Sharp and David Thomas
MIT Press

What do we mean by “fun” and what would happen if we took it seriously? Those are the central questions addressed in this striking book by “a games journalist turned scholar of fun” and a former art historian who is now “a games studies scholar, educator, and designer”. After setting out their fundamental philosophy of fun, Sharp and Thomas consider why the artist Marcel Duchamp devoted most of his later life to chess, why Monopoly is such an unsatisfactory game and what it would mean to “make friends in a robot playground”. The result is a revelatory account of an essential element of our lives.

Living Well at Others’ Expense: The Hidden Costs of Western Prosperity
Stephan Lessenich

The inextricable links between the wealth of the most affluent countries and individuals and “the working, living and survival conditions outside the world’s economic and political centres”, argues Stephan Lessenich, remain “a ‘secret’ to which only Marxist groups, development policy organizations and Pope Francis I are privy”. Yet although many in the West “don’t want to hear about our lives being led at the expense of others” and “prefer to conveniently ‘forget’ any feelings of unease this might cause us”, justice demands that we face up to these uncomfortable facts. Living Well at Others’ Expense sets out boldly to “confront this forgetting”.

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