New and noteworthy – 23 February 2017

Philosophical Gallic charm, modern slavery, top tips for managing research projects, when man meets machine and the loss of hope

February 23, 2017
Woman in workshop
Source: iStock

The True Life
Alain Badiou, translated by Susan Spitzer

“I am hesitant as I approach this issue,” says the French philosophe in a chapter on “girls” in an exhortation to the young, fuelled by Socrates, Rimbaud and Lacan and the view that a new generation is “on the brink of a new world”. His girl-talk is sharp on bourgeois feminism’s “reserve army for triumphant capitalism” and opaque on ladies as “symbol of the new One”; he waxes Charles Aznavour-ish with “A woman is always herself the earthly proof that God doesn’t need to exist”, and shrugs “I don’t know what women will invent, given the predicament they’re in. But I trust them absolutely.” Eighty years old, and still with the Gallic charm.

What Slaveholders Think: How Contemporary Perpetrators Rationalize What They Do
Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick
Columbia University Press

South Asia is home to 10 to 20 million people who live, in effect, in chains; in rural India, the author meets “everyday oppressors…whose relationship with bonded labourers has been culturally sanctioned for as long as anyone can remember”. Polite, welcoming interviewees speak fondly of their care for those who are, as one says, “my cash machine”. “The terms used here – slavery and slaveholders – never crossed the lips – nor perhaps even the minds – of the men I spoke with,” says Choi-Fitzpatrick. “Should we believe…these men, human rights violators, criminals? In their own minds they play the leading roles as victims and heroes in turn.”

How to Manage a Research Project: Achieve Your Goals on Time and Within Budget
Ruth Belling
Evaluation Works

Gantt charts are your friends; scope creep is not. Belling’s Cranfield University School of Management background is put to good use in this concise guide for early career researchers, with words of reassurance (“every project is a trade-off between scope, quality, time and cost”) and dry understatement (“Human beings are surprisingly poor at estimating how long things will take”). The final chapter, “Top 10 Research Project Management Challenges”, turns usefully to clear communication and the eternal verities of the SMART test. Recommended.

Being Bionic: The World of TV Cyborgs
Bronwen Calvert
IB Tauris

Humans (or others) who have encountered even one monograph on popular culture will take promises to delight “scholars and fans of futuristic television alike” with a pinch of silicon. Here, Star Trek, Terminator, Doctor Who et al enter the Tardis of theory to do battle with troubled boundaries, redefined corporeality and bionic creatures as “sites of” this and that. Happily, this book’s many and often striking insights are clearly the product of the author’s passion for her subjects, backstory by backstory. Cultural studies, try as it might, can never quite drain the magic from Jean-Luc Picard’s frown.

Happiness for All? Unequal Hopes and Lives in Pursuit of the American Dream
Carol Graham
Princeton University Press

The “new inequality”: bigger and not better, in which material deprivation may (arguably) be less, but stress, insecurity and lack of hope are everywhere, and in an era when poor whites, not poor blacks or Hispanics, are the least optimistic people in America. Public policy scholar Graham begins modestly – “there are many scholars who know much more about U.S. poverty and inequality than I do” – but her determination to give shape and context to “what I have been seeing, experiencing, reading, and finding in my data in recent years” fuels a persuasive and well-supported study. Highly recommended.

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