New and noteworthy – 6 October 2016

Must-read monographs serve up chicken, the history of drama, gender equality in class and the mixed fortunes of Mad Men and Hollywood moguls

October 6, 2016
Review: Chickenizing Farms & Food, by Ellen K. Silbergeld

Chickenizing Farms & Food: How Industrial Meat Production Endangers Workers, Animals, and Consumers
Ellen K. Silbergeld
Johns Hopkins University Press

The grandchild of farmers, Silbergeld is an environmental health sciences scholar who notes that “before I was a scientist I studied history”, and here she explores the 20th century’s industrialisation of agriculture and makes an urgent call for reform. A sobering, vivid tour of people and places covers the far-reaching impact of Arthur Perdue’s chicken empire, animal-feed antibiotics and MRSA, worker safety at a hog-slaughter megaplant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, and Brazil and China’s recent “chickenization”. Its exploration of the limits of alternatives to the industrial model, such as organic farming, is especially valuable.

The Story of Drama: Tragedy, Comedy and Sacrifice from the Greeks to the Present
Gary Day

“Without a sense of death, we have little sense of life, for death is what makes it precious,” observes Day in the conclusion to a concise, valuable survey. Tracing the theme of sacrifice through Greek, Roman, medieval, Renaissance, Restoration, Victorian and modern drama – via a largely sympathetic reading of James George Frazer, a shrewd eye on Cordelia’s self-interest in King Lear and a fine analysis of Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House – its warm, conversational tone suggests that students on the De Montfort University course whose lectures informed this volume had a fine teacher indeed.

Impossible Languages
Andrea Moro
MIT Press

From Broca’s area to Babel and Noam Chomsky to copular sentences, syntax meets neurology in an eminent Italian linguistics scholar’s exploration of whether genuinely impossible languages (so, no, not Dutch) could exist. The object is to find the “fingerprint” of human language – in other words, the properties that all tongues share – and Moro’s delight in the intricate structure of syntax is infectious. His conclusion, comparing language to light, constellations and symphonies and arguing that “nothing, illuminated by another nothing, becomes for us, something”, is persuasively poetic.

Writing for Hire: Unions, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue
Catherine L. Fisk
Harvard University Press

The Mad Men should have been fuming, suggests this account of the divergence in the 1930s of protection for authors’ rights in film and advertising. Screenwriters such as Dalton Trumbo formed the Writers Guild, whose norms would carry over into television, and they saw the benefits. Advertising writers didn’t, and lost out. Legal scholar Fisk shows the subject is no historical curio: concluding with a nod to today’s Uber drivers, she notes that solidarity “was hard for Hollywood writers to develop, and it may be hard to maintain, but solidarity, and its absence, has been the key to the attribution and compensation regimes described here”.

A Feminist Manifesto for Education
Miriam E. David

Gender equality in our time? Not in education, argues David in this important work, drawing on her participation in a European Union-funded project on strategies to challenge gender-related violence among children by working with educators, and building on work by Beatrix Campbell, Melissa Benn and others. Sweden, the United Nations, globalisation, gender equality policies in the post-war era, scholarly journals and universities, curriculum development and local activism all feature. Why a manifesto? “We need to transform the way misogyny rules to ensure that women and girls are afforded dignity and respect in all aspects of their/our lives,” David argues.

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