New and noteworthy – 19 May 2016

Just deserts, theatres of war, hearting Hayek and the best lust-free years of your life: must-read academic books

May 19, 2016
Young people gathered together using smartphones
Source: iStock

By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism
Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik and Arely M. Zimmerman
New York University Press

Kids today: far from being the apathetic culprits behind the erosion of democracy, they’re wired for hope and meme-ing of a bright new day. Or so argue this volume’s authors, a group of US- and Israel-based academics and an educational media expert, who look at the state (or rather States, given its resolutely US focus) of what was once called culture jamming, and is now all about transmedia mobilisation and “fannish civics” (Nerdfighters, the Harry Potter Alliance and their ilk). Key subjects of interest are the storytelling traction of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 documentary, young Muslims, and school-age libertarians who “heart Hayek”, served up in feistily titled chapters (“It’s Called Giving a Shit!”).

The Arid Lands: History, Power, Knowledge
Diana K. Davis
MIT Press

All those lone and level sands that stretch far away: poetic metaphors at best, but mostly just parched, useless, woeful wastelands crying out for development. Or so centuries of colonial rulers, savants and sundry pontificators had it, anyway, despite indigenous knowledge and ecological reality to the contrary. In this fascinating account, geographer and historian Diana Davis traces a thread from Christianity’s association of arid lands with sin to 18th- and 19th-century Anglo-European initiatives to “reclaim” deserts from the nomads who had “ruined” them, and she calls for us to acknowledge drylands as healthy, natural systems.

Forms of Conflict: Contemporary Wars on the British Stage
Sara Soncini
University of Exeter Press

The horror, the horror – and the staging choices: in a fresh look at a much-studied field, Pisa-based scholar Soncini deploys keen close readings and historical and political context in her focus on “the political ambitions and response capacity” of recent British-staged war plays from the perspective of “the theatre-makers’ cognitive investment in form”. She finds “discursive friction” in playwrights’ scrutiny of official narratives, and considers the dystopias of Caryl Churchill and Sarah Kane in which scenic representation of war is banned, verbatim theatre’s “supposed hardline realism”, and what she sees as a shift toward the “post-dialogic”.

Reengineering the University: How to Be Mission Centered, Market Smart, and Margin Conscious
By William F. Massy
Johns Hopkins University Press

Massy, microeconomist and former president of the Jackson Hole Higher Education Group, trains his view on the “warts and flaws” of America’s “traditional” universities. Via analytics that he warns may be “daunting”, he addresses “presidents, provosts, faculty, financial people, members of governing and coordinating boards, state and federal policymakers, and students in higher education programs”. Taking in both Japanese “kaizen” (change for the better) theory and financial planning, Massy ends with a tribute to a university president whose senate chair admitted that he “finally wore us down” as he transformed a near-bankrupt institution into a model of “market prowess and fiscal responsibility”.

How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life
Marcus Tullus Cicero, translated and with an introduction by Philip Freeman
Princeton University Press

Frugality, vine-tending, “peaceful and restrained” public speaking, dice and knucklebones: don’t fear the years just before the Reaper, folks. Freeman, scholar and leading light in the Chicken Soup for the Soul-isation of classical wisdom, enlists Princeton’s help in this covetable little translation of Cicero’s 44BC hit On Old Age. It’s said to have delighted everyone from St Augustine, who doubtless nodded at its “enough with the lust already” theme, to Thomas Jefferson, who may well have picked out favourite lines about gardening to share with the, erm, help.

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