Can a Liberal be a Chief? Can a Chief be a Liberal?: Some Thoughts on an Unfinished Business of Colonialism

Prickly Paradigm #61

Olúfémi Táíwò

Across Africa, it is not unusual for proponents of liberal democracy and modernization to make room for some aspects of indigenous culture, such as the use of a chief as a political figure. Yet for Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, no such accommodation should be made. Chiefs, he argues, in this thought-provoking and wide-ranging pamphlet, cannot be liberals—and liberals cannot be chiefs. If we fail to …

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Presence and Social Obligation: An Essay on the Share

Prickly Paradigm #60

James Ferguson

In precarious and tumultuous times, schemes of social support, including cash transfers, are increasingly indispensable. Yet the inadequacy of the nation-state frame of membership that such schemes depend on is becoming evermore evident, as non-citizens form a growing proportion of the populations that welfare states attempt to govern. In Presence and Social Obligation, James Ferguson argues that …

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The Jewish Question Again

Prickly Paradigm #59

Edited by Joyce Dalsheim and Gregory Starrett

Anti-Semitism is on the rise. How is this still possible? Once again, we are witness to a surge in right-wing authoritarianism, ethnonationalism, and white supremacism, and the racist, xenophobic, and misogynist violence they spread. Like historic newsreels brought back to life, renewed waves of refugees are turned away at borders, placed in cages, or washed up lifeless on the shore.

Such striking …

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Kinds of Value: An Experiment in Modal Anthropology

Prickly Paradigm #58

Paul Kockelman

In this slim volume, anthropologist Paul Kockelman showcases, reworks, and extends some of the core resources anthropologists and like-minded scholars have developed for thinking about value. Rather than theorize value head on, he offers a careful interpretation of a Mayan text about an offering to a god that lamentably goes awry. Kockelman analyzes the text, its telling, and the conditions of …

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The Gift Paradigm: A Short Introduction to the Anti-Utilitarian Movement in the Social Sciences

Prickly Paradigm #57

Alain Caillé

In his classic essay The Gift, Marcel Mauss argued that gifts can never be truly free; rather, they bring about an expectation of reciprocal exchange. For over one hundred years, his ideas on economy, social relations, and exchange have inspired new modes of thought, none more so than what crystallized in the 1980s around an innovative group of French academics. In The Gift Paradigm, Alain Caillé …

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Making Kin Not Population

Prickly Paradigm #56

Edited by Adele Clarke and Donna Haraway

As the planet’s human numbers grow and environmental concerns proliferate, natural scientists, economists, and policy-makers are increasingly turning to new and old questions about families and kinship as matters of concern. From government programs designed to fight declining birth rates in Europe and East Asia, to controversial policies seeking to curb population growth in countries where birth …

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What the Foucault?

Prickly Paradigm #54

Marshall Sahlins

This is the long-awaited fifth edition of Marshall Sahlins’ classic series of bon mots, ruminations, and musings on the ancients, anthropology, and much else in between. It’s been twenty-five years since Sahlins first devised some after-dinner entertainment at a decennial meeting of the Association of Social Anthropologists in Great Britain, published soon thereafter by Prickly Paradigm’s first …

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Complicities: The People’s Republic of China in Global Capitalism

Prickly Paradigm #53

Arif Dirlik

As the People’s Republic of China has grown in economic power, so too have concerns about what its sustained growth and expanding global influence might mean for the established global order. Explorations of this changing dynamic in daily reporting as well as most recent scholarship ignore the part played by forces emanating from the global capitalist system in the PRC’s failures as well as its …

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Making Trouble: Surrealism and the Human Sciences

Prickly Paradigm #52

Derek Sayer

Surrealism was not merely an artistic movement to its adherents but an “instrument of knowledge,” an attempt to transform the way we see the world by unleashing the unconscious as a radical, new means of constructing reality. Born out of the crisis of civilization brought about by World War I, it presented a sustained challenge to scientific rationalism as a privileged mode of knowing. …

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“Man—with Variations”: Interviews with Franz Boas and Colleagues, 1937

Prickly Paradigm #51

Joseph Mitchell (Edited and with an Introduction by Robert Brightman)

“The most interesting human beings, so far as talk is concerned, are anthropologists, farmers, prostitutes, psychiatrists, and the occasional bartender.” So wrote Joseph Mitchell, the legendary New Yorker journalist and chronicler of the full spectrum of humanity in New York City from the 1930s to the ’60s, when his last columns were published. The critic Malcolm Cowley called Mitchell “the best …

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Community of Scholars, Community of Teachers

Prickly Paradigm #50

Judith Shapiro

Academics routinely engage with colleagues in the research community as a critical part of their work. But, although many researchers are also dedicated teachers, teaching tends to be seen as a private matter between a teacher and his or her students. But why shouldn’t faculty members feel a similar impulse to be aware of what their colleagues are doing in the area of teaching? What do we miss …

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The Science of Myths and Vice Versa

Prickly Paradigm #49

Gregory Schrempp

We often assume that science and myth stand in opposition—with science providing empirically supported truths that replace the false ideas found in traditional mythologies. But the rhetoric of contemporary popular science and related genres tells a different story about what contemporary readers really want from science.

In The Science of Myths and Vice Versa, Gregory Schrempp offers four …

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Confucius Institutes: Academic Malware

Prickly Paradigm #48

Marshall Sahlins

In recent years, Confucius Institutes have sprung up on more than four hundred and fifty campuses worldwide, including nearly one hundred across the United States. At first glance, this seems like a benefit for everyone concerned. The colleges and universities receive considerable contributions from the Confucius Institutes’ head office in Beijing, including funds to cover the cost of set-up, the …

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Data, Now Bigger and Better!

Prickly Paradigm #46

Edited by Tom Boellstorff and Bill Maurer

Data is too big to be left to the data analysts. Data: Now Bigger and Better! brings together researchers whose work is deeply informed by the conceptual frameworks of anthropology—frameworks that are comparative as well as field-based. From kinship to gifts, everything old becomes rich with new insight when the anthropological archive washes over “big data.” Bringing together anthropology’s …

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2001 and Counting: Kubrick, Nietzsche, and Anthropology

Prickly Paradigm #45

Bruce Kapferer

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is widely recognized as a cult classic. Despite mixed critical reception, the dark and difficult movie mesmerized audiences at the time of its initial screening in 1968 and went on to become one the highest grossing films of the decade.

In 2001 and Counting, renowned anthropologist Bruce Kapferer revisits 2001: A Space Odyssey, making a compelling case for …

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The Culture of Ethics

Prickly Paradigm #44

Franco La Cecla and Piero Zanini

What is ethics? Is it a system of transcendent moral imperatives or can it be produced by ordinary people in everyday life? Do the daily rules of interaction constitute a code of ethics? In The Culture of Ethics, renowned anthropologists Franco La Cecla and Piero Zanini address these questions in a series of thought-provoking reflections that draw their inspiration from diverse sources, ranging …

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Pastoral in Palestine

Prickly Paradigm #43

Neil Hertz

For decades, Israel and Palestine have been locked in ongoing conflict over land that each claims as its own. The conflict is often considered a calculated landgrab, but this characterization does little to take into account the myriad motivations that have shaped it in ways that make it seem intractable, from powerful nationalist and theological ideologies to the more practical concerns of the …

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The Ecology of Others

Prickly Paradigm #42

Philippe Descola

Since the end of the nineteenth century, the division between nature and culture has been fundamental to Western thought. In this groundbreaking work, renowned anthropologist Philippe Descola seeks to break down this divide, arguing for a departure from the anthropocentric model and its rigid dualistic conception of nature and culture as distinct phenomena. In its stead, Descola proposes a radical …

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The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul: The Encounter of Catholics and Cannibals in Sixteenth-Century Brazil

Prickly Paradigm #41

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

In the mid-sixteenth century, Jesuit missionaries working in what is now Brazil were struck by what they called the inconstancy of the people they met, the indigenous Tupi-speaking tribes of the Atlantic coast. Though the Indians appeared eager to receive the Gospel, they also had a tendency to forget the missionaries’ lessons and “revert” to their natural state of war, cannibalism, and polygamy. …

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The Great Debate About Art

Prickly Paradigm #40

Roy Harris

In this lucid and insightful essay, renowned linguist Roy Harris reflects on the early nineteenth-century doctrine of “art for art’s sake.” This was attacked by Proudhon and Nietzsche, but defended by Théophile Gautier and E. M. Forster. It influenced movements as diverse as futurism and Dada. Over the past two centuries, three main positions have emerged. The “institutional” view declares art to …

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Pacification and its Discontents

Prickly Paradigm #38

Kurt Jacobsen

As George W. Bush’s Iraq mission unravelled, US policy elites revived counterinsurgency doctrines. The new edition of the Counterinsurgency Manual defines pacification as “the process by which the government assert[s] its influence and control in an area beset by insurgents,” which includes “local security efforts, programs to distribute food and medical supplies, and lasting reforms (like land …

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The Science of Passionate Interests: An Introduction to Gabriel Tarde’s Economic Anthropology

Prickly Paradigm #37

Bruno Latour & Vincent Antonin Lépinay

How can we make economics genuinely quantitative? This is the question that Gabriel Tarde tackled at the end of his career. His solution was in total contradiction to the dominant views of his time: to quantify the connections between people and goods, you need to grasp “passionate interests.” Capitalism is not a system of cold calculations, but, rather, a constant amplification in the intensity …

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Are the Humanities Inconsequent?: Or, Marx’s Riddle of the Dog

Prickly Paradigm #36

Jerome McGann

A spectre is haunting literature today – the spectre of patacriticism. Nowhere is the threat more evident than in the dog riddle propounded by the late Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” This book, which explains for the first time what Marx meant, works from two assumptions: 1. That the riddle conceals an …

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The Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual

Prickly Paradigm #35

The Network of Concerned Anthropologists

At a moment when the U.S. military decided it needed cultural expertise as much as smart bombs to prevail in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s Counterinsurgency Manual offered a blueprint for mobilizing anthropologists for war. The Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual critiques that strategy and offers a blueprint for resistance. Written by the founders of the Network of Concerned …

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American Counter-Insurgency: Human Science and the Human Terrain

Prickly Paradigm #34

Roberto González

Politicians, pundits, and Pentagon officials are singing the praises of a kinder, gentler American counterinsurgency. Some claim that counterinsurgency is so sophisticated and effective that it is the “graduate level of war.” Private military contract firms have jumped on the bandwagon, and many have begun employing anthropologists, political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists …

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Time and Human Language Now

Prickly Paradigm #33

Jonathan Boyarin and Martin Land

What can you say after you say that the world-or at least human life on it-looks like it’s nearing its end? How about starting with wonder at the possibility that dialogue and subjectivity-the bases of human language-are possible now? In Time and Human Language Now two lifelong friends share, in the form of a long-distance e-mail correspondence, a conversation about the relation between …

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The Western Illusion of Human Nature

Prickly Paradigm #32

Marshall Sahlins

Reflecting the decline in college courses on Western Civilization, Marshall Sahlins aims to accelerate the trend by reducing “Western Civ” to about two hours. He cites Nietzsche to the effect that deep issues are like cold baths; one should get into and out of them as quickly as possible. The deep issue here is the ancient Western specter of a presocial and antisocial human nature: a …

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Pasta and Pizza

Prickly Paradigm #31

Franco La Cecla

Pasta and pizza, in all their infinitely delicious and universally appealing varieties, are inextricably connected to Italian identity. These familiar foods not only represent Italy’s culinary traditions, according to anthropologist Franco La Cecla, they have unified the Italian people and spread Italian culture worldwide. Pasta and Pizza tells the story of how cuisine born in the south of Italy …

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Understanding Media: A Popular Philosophy

Prickly Paradigm #30

Dominic Boyer

Why do we understand media the way we do? In their simplest forms, media are means of communication and instruments of human creativity. But on another level, media are powerful technologies that govern how we think and act in the world, and they can even take on a sinister character, with media conglomerates working in opposition to freedom of information. Dominic Boyer grapples with these …

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Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror

Prickly Paradigm #29

Bruce Holsinger

Far from an unfortunate cliché, medievalism has become a dominant paradigm for comprehending the identity and motivations of America’s perceived enemy in the War on Terror. Yet as Bruce Holsinger argues here, this cloying post-9/11 rhetoric has served to obscure the more intricate ideological machinations of neomedievalism, the global idiom of the non-state actor: NGOs, transnational corporate …

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Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Hatreds Old and New in Europe

Prickly Paradigm #28

Matti Bunzl

The apparent resurgence of hostility toward Jews has been a prominent theme in recent discussions of Europe; at the same time, the adversities faced by the continent’s Muslim population have received increasing attention. In Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Hatreds Old and New in Europe, Matti Bunzl offers a historical and cultural clarification of the key terms in this debate. Arguing against the …

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“Culture” and Culture: Traditional Knowledge and Intellectual Rights

Prickly Paradigm #27

Manuela Carneiro da Cunha

Increasingly today, intellectual rights over traditional knowledge are fiercely contested. But how should we make sense of the politics and meaning of tradition? As the Brazilian anthropologist Manuela Carneiro da Cunha highlights in this pamphlet, it is no easy task. The indigenous rights movement seems beset by contradictions and impossible demands of cultural purity. Consider, for example, how …

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Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism

Prickly Paradigm #26

Danny Postel

Although Iran dominates today’s headlines and figures centrally on the geopolitical chessboard, the most dramatic development in Iran has gone virtually unnoticed: what one Iranian thinker calls a “liberal renaissance” taking place in the country. In Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran, Danny Postel charts the contours of this intellectual upheaval and ventures arguments about its potential …

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The American Game: Capitalism, Decolonization, World Domination, and Baseball

Prickly Paradigm #25

John D. Kelly

It is easy to mistake the United States for an empire. But as John D. Kelly explains here, the American approach to global relations is best understood as a competition—one in which the United States, through the reshaping of economic theory and the global economy itself, imposes its own rules on a game played to win. How and where the United States implements these rules can be tracked through …

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Phantom Calls: Race and the Globalization of the NBA

Prickly Paradigm #23

Grant Farred

In the twenty-first century, the idea of race in sports is rapidly changing. The National Basketball Association, for instance, was recently home to a new kind of racial conflict. After a recent playoff loss, Houston head coach Jeff Van Gundy alleged that Yao Ming, his Chinese star center, was the victim of phantom calls, or refereeing decisions that may have been ethnically biased. Grant Farred …

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Neo-Liberal Genetics: The Myths and Moral Tales of Evolutionary Psychology

Prickly Paradigm #22

Susan McKinnon

Evolutionary psychology claims to be the authoritative science of “human nature.” Its chief architects, including Stephen Pinker and David Buss, have managed to reach well beyond the ivory tower to win large audiences and influence public discourse. But do the answers that evolutionary psychologists provide about language, sex, and social relations add up? Susan McKinnon thinks not. …

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Museum, Inc.: Inside the Global Art World

Prickly Paradigm #21

Paul Werner

Has corporate business overtaken the art world? It’s no secret that art and business have always mixed, but their relationship today sparks more questions than ever. Museum, Inc. describes the new art conglomerates from an insider’s perspective, probing how their roots run deep into corporate culture. Paul Werner draws on his nine years at the Guggenheim Museum to reveal that …

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The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo: How the Democrats Can Once Again Become America’s Dominant Political Party

Prickly Paradigm #20

Rick Perlstein

A majority of Americans tell pollsters they want more government intervention to reduce the gap between high- and lower-income citizens, and less than one-third consider high taxes to be a problem. Yet conservative Republicanism currently controls the political discourse. Why?

Rick Perlstein probes this central paradox of today’s political scene in his penetrating pamphlet. Perlstein …

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The Law in Shambles

Prickly Paradigm #19

Thomas Geoghegan

It’s an enduring axiom: before there is democracy, there is rule of law. Thomas Geoghegan argues here in his lively pamphlet that as the pillars of the American legal system are crumbling, so too is the American democracy.

Geoghegan convincingly explains how the 2000 presidential election was only the first sign that justice is now driven by party politics. He notes how even lawyers are …

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The Hit Man’s Dilemma: Or Business, Personal and Impersonal

Prickly Paradigm #18

Keith Hart

“It’s not personal; it’s just business,” says the professional killer to his victim. But business is always personal, and even though modern business corporations have been granted the legal status of persons, they are still part of the impersonal engines of society that operate far beyond human reach.

Keith Hart explores in his thought-provoking pamphlet The Hitman’s …

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The Empire’s New Clothes: Paradigm Lost, and Regained

Prickly Paradigm #16

Harry D. Harootunian

Empire and imperialism have returned with a vengeance—not as a set of ideas and practices to be exhumed by the historians, but as paradigms for twenty-first-century living. Harry Harootunian turns his unrelenting gaze to signs of the new imperialism in the world—from the United States’ occupation of Iraq to other supposed terrorist enclaves around the globe.

The arguments being made today for …

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Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship

Prickly Paradigm #15

Lindsay Waters

Why should books drive the academic hierarchy? This controversial question posed by Lindsay Waters ignited fierce debate in the academy and its presses, as he warned that the “publish or perish” dictum was breaking down the academic system in the United States. Waters hones his argument in this pamphlet with a new set of questions that challenge the previously unassailable link between …

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Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology

Prickly Paradigm #14

David Graeber

Everywhere anarchism is on the upswing as a political philosophy—everywhere, that is, except the academy. Anarchists repeatedly appeal to anthropologists for ideas about how society might be reorganized on a more egalitarian, less alienating basis. Anthropologists, terrified of being accused of romanticism, respond with silence . . . . But what if they didn’t?

This pamphlet ponders what that …

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What Happened to Art Criticism?

Prickly Paradigm #13

James Elkins

Art criticism was once passionate, polemical, and judgmental; now critics are more often interested in ambiguity, neutrality, and nuanced description. And while art criticism is ubiquitous in newspapers, magazines, and exhibition brochures, it is also virtually absent from academic writing. How is it that even as criticism drifts away from academia, it becomes more academic? How is it that sifting …

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The Root of Roots, Or How Afro-American Anthropology Got Its Start

Prickly Paradigm #12

Richard Price and Sally Price

Anthropological iconoclasts Richard and Sally Price have spent the last two decades not only creating an unparalleled oeuvre of scholarship in several areas of anthropology but also unabashedly calling foul on any untenable or patronizing concepts of “us” and “them,” “primitive” and “modern,” that cross their path. For this pamphlet, they crack the …

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The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, the Death of Teddy’s Bear, and the Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo

Prickly Paradigm #11

Magnus Fiskesjö

Each Thanksgiving, the president of the United States symbolically pardons one turkey from the fate of serving as a holiday dinner. In this pamphlet, anthropologist Magnus Fiskesjö uncovers the hidden horrors of such rituals connected with the power of pardon, from the annual turkey to the pardoning of the original Teddy Bear. It is through these ritualized and perpetually remembered acts of …

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On the Edges of Anthropology: Interviews

Prickly Paradigm #10

James Clifford

Since the publication of Person and Myth: Maurice Leenhardt in the Melanesian World, James Clifford has become one of anthropology’s most important interlocutors. A key figure in theory and criticism, he has written seminal essays on topics ranging from art and identity to museum studies and fieldwork. This collection of interviews captures Clifford in exchanges with his critics in Brazil, …

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9/12: New York After

Prickly Paradigm #9

Eliot Weinberger

In a series of snapshots after the attack on the World Trade Center—from a day, to a week, up to a year and beyond—Eliot Weinberger offers thoughtful and provocative reflections on his city, the country, and the state of the world. Originally published only outside the United States, these essays are now available together, and for the first time in English. Taken as a whole, they constitute a …

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The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness

Prickly Paradigm #8

Donna Haraway

The Companion Species Manifesto is about the implosion of nature and culture in the joint lives of dogs and people, who are bonded in “significant otherness.” In all their historical complexity, Donna Haraway tells us, dogs matter. They are not just surrogates for theory, she says; they are not here just to think with. Neither are they just an alibi for other themes; dogs are fleshly …

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Revolt of the Masscult

Prickly Paradigm #7

Chris Lehmann

We live in an age of “popular culture”—another term, to some, for an organic mess of marketing strategies aimed at giving us the illusion of choice. From Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club to presidential politics, however, distinctions of taste are more accurately understood to be “blunt instruments of antidemocratic elitism.” So argues Chris Lehmann, in a discussion that …

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Talking Politics: The Substance of Style from Abe to “W”

Prickly Paradigm #6

Michael Silverstein

If politics as practiced is talk, then how does a political figure—especially an American President—talk politics? If someone can be all style and no substance, is there any actual political substance to style? Talking Politics looks at the alpha and omega of presidential image, its highs—Lincoln at Gettysburg—and lows—“W” at any microphone—demystifying the spun mists of political …

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New Consensus for Old: Cultural Studies from Left to Right

Prickly Paradigm #5

Thomas Frank

Thomas Frank has been sending wake-up calls to just about everyone within reach over the past decade, in venues from The Village Voice to Harper’s. His takes on labor politics, advertising, the virtues of the Midwest, and how un-cool you really are have won him a wide audience, and in this piece, Frank gives us a reading of cultural studies—viewed by some as an important new perspective in …

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The Secret Sins of Economics

Prickly Paradigm #4

Deirdre McCloskey

Deirdre McCloskey’s work in economics always calls into question its reputation as “the dismal science.” She writes with passion and an unusually wide scope, drawing on literature and intellectual history in exciting, if unorthodox, ways. In this pamphlet, McCloskey reveals what she sees as the secret sins of economics (there are two) that no one will discuss. In her view, these …

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Against Bosses, Against Oligarchies: A Conversation with Richard Rorty

Prickly Paradigm #3

Richard Rorty, Derek Nystrom and Kent Puckett

Nystrom and Puckett’s pamphlet gives us the most comprehensive picture available of Richard Rorty’s political views. This is Rorty being avuncular, cranky, and straightforward: his arguments on patriotism, the political left, and philosophy—as usual, unusual—are worth pondering. This pamphlet will appeal to all those interested in Rorty’s distinct brand of pragmatism and leftist …

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War of the Worlds: What About Peace?

Prickly Paradigm #2

Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour is best known for his work in the cultural study of science. In this pamphlet he turns his attention to another worthy pursuit: the project of peace. As one might expect, Latour gives us a radically different picture of this project than Kant or the philosophes, asserting that the West has been in a constant state of war both with other cultures and its own—although unwittingly so. …

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Waiting for Foucault, Still

Prickly Paradigm #1

Marshall Sahlins

First devised as after-dinner entertainment at a decennial meeting of the Association of Social Anthropologists in Great Britain, and first published by Prickly Pear Press in 1993, this expanded edition of Waiting for Foucault represents some of the brightest anthropological satire—mixed in with some of the most serious intellectual issues in the human sciences. Whether he’s summing up the …

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