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Book Review: Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Thriving In and Beyond the Classroom by Katina L. Rogers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/01/2021 - 10:52pm in


book review

In Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Thriving In and Beyond the Classroom, Katina L. Rogers draws on personal experience, resources and interviews to offer a refreshing look at potential career pathways for humanities graduates to explore in and beyond the academy. With particular value for graduate students and academics within the humanities as well as administrators who work with both parties, this is an empowering and emboldening book that encourages the humanities doctorate to see the world in a way that is deserving of their time and hard work, writes Kristen Vogt Veggeberg.

Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Thriving In and Beyond the Classroom. Katina L. Rogers. Duke University Press. 2020.

It is no secret that, as of the beginning of 2021, permanent, full-time, academic positions within the humanities are becoming few and far between. This is especially so in the wake of COVID-19, where the subsequent cancellation of many in-person classes and straining of resources have caused multiple jobs in higher education to vanish. While some doctorates within subjects such as science or education can easily be applied in private-sector industries, such as in research or administration, doctorates in the humanities may find themselves in more of a career bind.

That is where Putting the Humanities PhD to Work comes in, offering both personal experience and a guide for those within higher education in the humanities. Written from a first-person perspective by the author and providing a review of resources and interviews, Katina L. Rogers’s book is a refreshing look at the subsequent pathways for academics within the humanities to explore when the traditional road to success within the academy has been upended.

Rogers is very quick to point out that the humanities have, in a way, ‘always been in crisis’, even when jobs were not as scarce in academia as they are today. Whether it is funding, administration (‘Do we really need more professors within this subject, when less people are majoring in it?’) or even something as simple as a university’s organisation, the humanities are almost always the first to be cut or scrutinised by those who handle university finances. After all, what can one really contribute to society after spending many years only studying Beowulf? Do we need multiple scholars on post-modern French writing?

However, Rogers also mentions that many of the skills that would benefit an academic in the humanities would also make one an excellent professional in other settings as well. Throughout the book, Rogers states that humanities doctorates would be helpful in introducing many of the necessary skills otherwise lacking in modern office environments. From the innovation of ensuring improvements in the writing of memos and emails to efficient task management, Rogers lays out the different ways that graduate students might think of themselves in different careers if and when the ivory tower, with its current financial insecurity, stops calling.

Perhaps most refreshing is Rogers addressing the proverbial economic elephant in the room: the 2008 economic crisis and its effects on academics, including Rogers herself (19). Indeed, recognition of the socio-economic challenges within an academic environment is quickly dispatched: namely, ‘the notion that one works “for love”’. The idea that one works for what one is passionate about, rather than for money, is a challenge in the technology-ridden modern world, where working long hours and responding to emails on your phone at 2 AM is considered a badge of honour, both within and outside of an academic setting.

This concept of ‘working for love’ is mentioned as part of the issue present in current academic circles, which almost all professionals can attest to. But unlike the private sector professional, who can anticipate monetary rewards for their long hours through bonuses or vacations, academics are merely expected to undertake their work as reward for holding the job and the title itself. Rogers mentions working on a subject that you don’t need to worry about the return investment on, which is both a privilege and a prime excuse to abuse a new employee desperate to earn tenure. Some scholars may be irritated with this truth laid out in this short book, but that’s what the truth does: bring light to an issue.

Acknowledging abuse of an academic’s time and financial situation is not the only uncomfortable issue that Rogers addresses in the humanities. Systemic racism and inequality have been bound up in the historical structures and workings of education, and if a doctorate in the humanities is supposed to be a badge of equity, then the job market post-graduation, and its inequalities, should be addressed as well. Rogers mentions the issues with university diversity and inclusion movements within graduate school, and how these often relegate minority students to taking on additional roles that they receive either little training or little support to carry out.

Expansion of not only diversity, but also subsequent innovation, within the professional world is also mentioned. This is where the book especially shines, as the many ways in which graduate students have researched, presented and worked help lay out multiple paths that they can take on the road away from the ivory tower. From becoming digital mavens in presenting their research to navigating different technologies for teaching (a skill especially in demand during shelter in-place orders!), many of the skills that academics hone during their time as doctoral students can be quickly transferred to paid positions outside of academia.

This book is best suited for three categories of readers: graduate students within the humanities, professors within the humanities and administrators who must work with both respective parties. Rogers is not shy in mentioning the common drawbacks of the academic world that many are starting to talk about now—years of sub-par pay as an adjunct, nonexistent benefits and the overbearing grind of doing more as a ‘labour of love’. Indeed, to quote page 22: ‘Many persist—understandably—in wanting to do what they love despite these drawbacks.’ But this book does something special—it empowers, if not emboldens, the humanities doctorate, and encourages them to see the world in a way that is deserving of their time and hard work.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Image by McElspeth from Pixabay.


Book Review: Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide by Christopher L. Caterine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/01/2021 - 10:36pm in


book review

In Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide, Christopher L. Caterine provides practical advice for those considering changing careers. Eryk Walczak finds this book a great read for both early-stage PhD students who might want to prepare a Plan B and more seasoned academics considering working in non-academic roles.

Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide. Christopher L. Caterine. Princeton University Press. 2020.

Covid-19 has worsened an academic job market that was already tough before the pandemic. The Royal Society’s 2010 report demonstrated that becoming a professor is very unlikely for the majority of students embarking on a PhD programme in the sciences. So what are the options outside of academia and how can one get a foothold? Christopher L. Caterine, a classicist turned communication specialist, provides a new guidebook for PhD students and academics preparing to leave academia.

…there is no such thing as an “alt-ac” career: academia is the alternative path


Leaving academia can be hard for people who have never held a position outside of the university system and who have planned to spend their lives working as professors. Caterine was in this position himself and takes readers on a journey which traces his mistakes, learning processes and, eventually, how he found solutions. The author frames the process of leaving academia around six D’s: dread, discern, discover, decipher, develop and deploy. Each chapter provides a large dose of the author’s introspections which might seem familiar to others preparing for a career change.

The first feeling, dread, is probably common as the unknown awaits. Caterine suggests undertaking a realistic assessment of the pros and cons of staying in academia. He starts by dissecting his own motivations. Was pursuing the academic dream job really the best option available or was he struck by a sunk cost fallacy which made him persevere because of the already invested resources? In this case, the epiphany came when Caterine’s wife was offered a permanent position at a peripheral US college. Facing a dilemma common to academic couples, a two-body problem, where the difficulty of finding an academic position is compounded by the need of a significant other to do the same, Caterine decided to jump ship. Thus he embarked on a mission to learn about the workings of the non-academic world.

Upon leaving academia, five areas of your personal and professional life return to your control: location, people, career trajectory, salary, and meaningfulness of your work

The author discerns the thinking patterns which held him back from leaving and how he had to think about himself from a new perspective to find a position outside of academia. He guides us through his self-discovery and provides tips which worked for him. Many pages are devoted to discovering potential options, mostly through informational interviews and networking. Informational interviews are an approach that involves reaching out to unknown people to find out about their work. Once a rapport with interviewees was established, supposedly simpler than expected, the author would ask for an introduction to another person when the interview was finished. Although networking might still be a dirty word for some academics, Caterine explains that it is crucial for finding out about potential opportunities in the unknown world of businesses, non-profits or the wider public sector. Additionally, conducting these conversations served a purpose of preparing for the actual job interviews.

The book does not provide much information about defecting from fields which allow a wider range of exit options: for example, computer science or economics. Researchers in these fields are likely to find it easier to switch to non-academic roles which might resemble academia. So-called alternative academic (alt-ac) positions might be available in technology companies or governmental departments.

Even though the author admits that the context of his book was meant to be ‘internationalised’ by the editors, it still felt rather US-centric. Many developments in academic employment described in the book can also be observed in Europe. Junior academics in many European countries are offered more secure employment than their equivalents in the US, but a wide variety of academic job markets exists.

Not all PhDs are seen as equal by employers, but the prestige of universities is glossed over in the book. Research shows that obtaining a PhD from a highly reputable institution leads to better chances of landing an academic position. There is a hint in the book that leaving a research-intensive institution might lead to more promising careers in the private sector as well. I wish that more hard numbers were provided, but the author’s take is rather qualitative, based on interviews with a number of ex-academics. This approach might suit some readers, but I would prefer to see the data about the state of the academic job market and the alternatives.

Caterine writes that his process of searching for a non-academic job made him realise the peculiarities of academia, especially the working conditions that would not be acceptable in a non-academic professional context. Caterine’s passion for the issues faced by the precarious faculty is evident on the pages of this book. Before leaving academia, the author was also a representative of a contingent faculty. He offers unorthodox advice on quitting an academic job even mid-term if an outside option appears, believing that this is the only way to improve the working conditions of the academic precariat. Short-term contracts and low salaries of the junior faculty seem to have finally been noticed even outside of academia.

Caterine explains how PhD students possess skills that are already valued outside of academia but these need to be packaged correctly. Pursuing a PhD should provide a preparation for careers involving writing, presenting or project management. These are skills highly valued in non-academic settings, but they should be presented as such by adjusting the format of the CV or cover letters.

This brief book is aimed at everyone considering leaving academia, but I think that those in the humanities might benefit the most from it, given the similarity of potential career options and shared background with the author. This book should be an eye-opener for junior researchers and PhD students alike and I would recommend reading it early in graduate school. Leaving Academia can prepare its readers for a potential career change at a later stage.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Header image credit: Photo by Michael Jasmund on Unsplash.

In-text image credit: Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash.


Book Review: Markievicz: Prison Letters and Rebel Writings edited by Lindie Naughton

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/01/2021 - 11:37pm in

In Markievicz: Prison Letters and Rebel Writings, Lindie Naughton offers a new edition of the collection of letters written by Constance Markievicz, who was a political activist, an Irish revolutionary and the first woman MP. Originally published in the 1930s as The Prison Letters of Countess Markievicz, this new edition presents the letters as they were as well as previously unpublished letters, mostly written to friends and family, including her sister, Eva Gore-Booth, during and in between periods of imprisonment. Alongside offering Markievicz’s perspective on early-twentieth-century Irish politics, the collection provides sometimes surprising insight into the interior life of a figure often overshadowed by her controversial reputation, writes Sharon Crozier-De Rosa. 

Markievicz: Prison Letters and Rebel Writings. Lindie Naughton (ed.). Merrion Press. 2018.

‘Dearest Old Darling’, Constance Markievicz (1868–1927) wrote to her sister, Eva Gore-Booth, ‘It was such a heaven-sent joy, seeing you. It was a new life, a resurrection, though I knew all the time that you’d try and see me, even though I’d been fighting and you hate it all so and think killing so wrong.’ So begins a series of almost 100 letters between the sisters while Constance was incarcerated in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison for her leading role in the failed insurrection against British rule in Ireland in April 1916.

In many ways, this was an unremarkable utterance on the part of a quite remarkable woman to her similarly remarkable sister. Here were two female activists connected by the intimate bonds of sisterhood, as well as by their dedication to intersecting political causes of their time – suffrage and labour being among these. Yet, these were also activists who diverged markedly on the issue of political tactics. Whereas one eschewed violence, the other promoted it.

Constance Markievicz (née Gore-Booth) was born into the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and grew up at her family’s estate in County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland where, among other things, she learnt to hunt. She was presented at the court of Queen Victoria in 1887. Following that, she pursued life as an artist in Paris where she met and later married the Polish writer and artist, Casimir Dunin-Markievicz. After they moved back to Ireland in the early 1900s, Constance, who had already undertaken feminist activism, embraced Irish nationalism and socialism.

By the second decade of the twentieth century, she was renowned as a soldier, as well as a politician. Markievicz trained boys and young men for armed combat, doubtless drawing on her hunting skills. She fought in the failed nationalist uprising in 1916 and was sentenced to be executed; because she was a woman, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. When Ireland was partitioned into two legislatures in 1922 – Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State – she opposed their legitimacy and continued to agitate for an Irish Republic on the whole island of Ireland. Further revealing the complexities of her values, while she viewed violence as essential in some contexts, she also lamented it in others – as she wrote in a 1922 letter to Eva contained in this volume, the killings in the lead-up to the Irish Civil War (1922-23) were simply ‘awful’.

Violence aside, this was also a woman who was renowned internationally for her pioneering political achievements. She was the first woman ever elected to both the Irish and British parliaments (although she did not take up her seat at Westminster, in alignment with the stance of her party, Sinn Féin), and was the first Minister for Labour in the Irish parliament, the Dáil Éireann. She was also a founding member of Fianna Fáil, successfully standing for parliament in their inaugural campaign.

This series of letters is reprinted in Lindie Naughton’s edited collection, Markievicz: Prison Letters and Rebel Writings, alongside a swathe of others covering numerous periods of Markievicz’s life, some before, but most during and in between, bouts of imprisonment. Indeed, most of the letters were written while Markievicz was in jail – from May 1916 to July 1917 in Mountjoy and Aylesbury, June 1918 to March 1919 in Holloway, June to October 1919 in Cork, September 1920 to July 1921 in Mountjoy and November to December 1923 in the North Dublin Union. What results is a sometimes surprising insight into aspects of the interior life of an iconic figure whose notorious reputation – for example, as a ‘a snob, fraud, show-off, and murderer’– has worked to overshadow the ‘actual’ or ‘real’ woman.

This is not the first time that Markievicz’s letters – most of them to Eva – have been collated and presented to the public. They were first gathered together and published in book form in the 1930s as The Prison Letters of Countess Markievicz by Esther Roper, Eva’s companion. This was re-issued by Virago in the 1980s. In between, the originals were moved about with some being lost. When accessing the letters that had since made their way to the National Library of Ireland, Naughton found that previous published versions of this collection had ‘skirted around some sensitive issues’, as well as left out the names of some people who may still have been alive. This 2018 edition presents the letters as they were (although it does not point out the sections that were previously omitted, which would have presented a fascinating insight into censorship practices and priorities), while also providing updated introductions to each section to contextualise Markievicz’s experiences.

In her introduction to the collection, Naughton asserts that the letters themselves ‘breathe life into the story of one of Irish history’s most fascinating characters, with all her foibles and enthusiasms’. Constance, she writes, was not perfect; rather ‘she could be overbearing and bossy’ (surely accepted, if not lauded, leadership qualities in men). Like many before her, even sympathetic commentators, Naughton almost apologises for Markievicz’s seemingly eccentric nature when there is no need. Indeed, the overwhelming sense that Markievicz’s letters communicate is of a woman who is lonely, self-effacing, practical and stoic, while also indulging in humour and irony – no doubt a mean feat given the deprivations to which she was subject. One passage plucked from a 1924 letter to Eva explaining her feelings about her prison hunger strikes helps exemplify this quiet stoicism and so is worth quoting at length: ‘I always rather dreaded a hunger strike, but when I had to do it I found that, like most things, the worst part of it was looking forward to the possibility of having to do it. I did not suffer at all but just stayed in bed and dozed and tried to prepare myself to leave the world. I was perfectly happy and had no regrets. It is all very odd and I don’t understand it but it was so.’

This collection is an invaluable resource for those keen to explore the emotional and physical experiences of a female revolutionary who, until recent decades of feminist recovery work, was not treated well by history. It offers insight into this activist’s take on early-twentieth-century Irish politics, both enthusiastic and cynical. It allows us to access an imprisoned sisterhood’s concern for each other as harsh conditions took their toll. Perhaps most poignantly, it offers us a rare insight into the intimate relationship between two sisters – both devoted to revolutionising social and political culture – as they navigated the often painful and oppressive consequences of that devotion.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Header image credit: Detail of a bronze statue of Countess Constance Markievicz by Elizabeth McLaughlin (1998) on Townsend Street, Dublin. © O’Dea at Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.

In-text image: 1954 bust of Countess Markievicz in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin (William Murphy CC BY SA 2.0).


Book Review: Deporting Black Britons: Portraits of Deportation to Jamaica by Luke de Noronha

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/01/2021 - 10:47pm in

In Deporting Black Britons: Portraits of Deportation to Jamaica, Luke de Noronha weaves together the personal histories of four men who have been deported from the UK to Jamaica. Showing how their migratory journeys and experiences have been shaped by state-based racial discrimination and criminalisation, de Noronha explores what these accounts reveal about racism, migration and citizenship in the UK as well as the broader global (im)mobilities regime. Privileging the voices of de Noronha’s interviewees and guided by a strong activist orientation, the book’s persuasive writing style succeeds in offering a vivid depiction of lives impacted by deportation,  writes Natalie Dietrich Jones.

Deporting Black Britons: Portraits of Deportation to Jamaica. Luke de Noronha. Manchester University Press. 2020.

In Deporting Black Britons: Portraits of Deportation to Jamaica, Luke de Noronha weaves the (at times interlocking) personal histories of four men involuntarily returned from the United Kingdom. De Noronha’s objective is to emphasise ‘the connections between punitive criminal justice policies and aggressive immigration restrictions’ in order to ‘develop a more expansive account of state racism’ (4). Through these accounts, and the accompanying theoretical discussion, he offers a twin contribution to Race and Border Studies. It is a timely work in light of the unfolding of the Windrush Scandal, anti-deportation protests and campaigning, the Black Lives Matter movement and a 2019 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in the UK. It adds to a well-established canon, which has seen recent reinvigoration due to the increase in expulsive practices by an example of what Daniel Kanstroom refers to as ‘the deportation nation’.

The book is organised into nine chapters. The Introduction accomplishes several things. It provides an overview of one of the author’s primary field sites, contextualises the study, introduces and qualifies the use of key terms and briefly describes the format of the text. It also positions de Noronha, a UK citizen and a PhD student at the time of the study, in relation to his interviewees. Finally, it also provides a preview to de Noronha’s main concept and argument regarding ‘multi-status’ Britain. This he describes as a nation shaped by an institutionally racist agenda that distinguishes between different categories of citizens and non-citizens. De Noronha understands citizenship as a mode of being which falls outside the parameters of legality. He therefore frames these deported (afro-descended) men – who all immigrated to the UK as minors and, with the exception of one, were all undocumented prior to their incarceration – as Britons. This explains the book’s title.

The introductory chapter is followed by four empirical chapters, which each portray the life histories of Jason, Ricardo, Chris and Denico (two of these names are pseudonyms). To add layers and complexity to these life histories, the narratives of their family members and friends have also been included in these and later chapters. The book does not centre the deportation moment for each of the men discussed; rather, it traces their migratory journeys, which are characterised by exclusion based on experiences of state-based racial discrimination and criminalisation. De Noronha solidly grounds his arguments regarding the extensive reach of the border into migrants’ everyday lives. It is a familiar discourse. He draws on several established scholars such as Nicholas De Genova, Susan Bibler Coutin and Les Back to make his arguments throughout the text. De Noronha’s unique contribution is providing academic analysis of ‘what these stories [of deportation] reveal about racism, migration and citizenship’ (165) in the UK.

Two men with backpacks walking up the side of a road

The portraits are followed by three sections, which present theoretical arguments concerning hierarchies of non-citizenship (Chapter Six); the racist world order (Chapter Seven); and deportation as foreign policy (Chapter Eight). Together these chapters argue that in Britain, black and brown peoples from formerly colonised places have daily, sometimes violent, encounters with the border. These experiences emphasise their liminal status. Heavily policed, their eventual incarceration sets the stage for their deportation and return to a country they no longer consider home. This expulsion practice is not unique to Britain, which is part of a ‘racist world order’ that continues to be defined by (capitalist) exploitative tendencies. With this argument the research locales are connected to other deporting nations in the global (im)mobilities regime.

In large measure the text privileges the voices of the men interviewed. The book closes with an emotive afterword from Chris. There is extensive use of interview quotations and incorporation of photographs, some taken by the interviewees. This is one of the main strengths of the work, which provides a voice and a degree of agency to an otherwise forgotten and neglected demographic. The second strength relates to its activist orientation and its clear politics. De Noronha proposes that ‘anti-racism becomes necessarily the struggle against immigration controls and citizenship, which fix people in space and in law, and reproduce the racist world order’ (236).

However, there are several key points missing from the text, the inclusion of which would have generated a more nuanced argument. The first is the absence of a gendered perspective of racism and deportation. Given the emphasis on deported men, de Noronha acknowledges this as a potential weakness. Secondly, because he is ‘not concerned with representing ‘‘a culture’’’ (34), he does not delve into a fulsome discussion of the sociology of afro-Caribbean families. For uninitiated readers, this would have explained their fractured nature and the role of migration (and deportation) experiences in alienation. It would also have clarified how household decisions around, and expectations of, migration shaped interviewees’ relationships with their parents and extended family members.

The omission of a discussion on migrant decision-making, including decisions resulting in clandestine migration, is even more glaring, given the unidimensional representation of Jamaica. The island is described as a poor debt-ridden country where ‘almost everyone would ‘‘go foreign’’ if they could’ (75). This is a gross overgeneralisation and oversimplifies the argument by linking migration solely to escapism from poverty. The danger of this view is that it feeds into the very rhetoric of ‘invasion’ of developed nations by the poor that undergirds racist crimmigration policies, which de Noronha criticises throughout the text.

In addition, the book underscores the shortcomings of the outsider gaze. This categorisation is accompanied by implicit and explicit misrepresentations of Jamaica and its communities. For example, the text refers to Harbour View, a mixed working- and middle-class community, as a ‘ghetto area’ (174); here, it is not clear if the term is used by de Noronha or his interviewee, Chris, and the description is left unexamined. Finally, the book does not provide lengthy discussion of the methodology, in particular the challenges of interacting with and reporting narratives of an obviously vulnerable group (deported individuals, some of whom had mental health challenges). This would have been of significant benefit to students engaged in research with similar populations.

Notwithstanding, de Noronha’s descriptive and persuasive writing style succeeds in offering a vivid depiction of lives impacted by deportation. Though grounded in the discipline of Anthropology, the book should be of interest to Sociology, Political Science and Development Studies students and academics. However, the book will also appeal to non-academics, which is the author’s objective. The book’s 318 pages merely scratch the surface of deeply complicated lives. Those who wish to learn more about the individuals with whom de Noronha interacted in Jamaica, via alternative media, may also consult this artistic work.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.


Book Review: The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic Reform by Stefan Bauer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/01/2021 - 10:17pm in

In The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic ReformStefan Bauer provides a new addition to English-language offerings on papal historiography, presenting a clear and detailed introduction to Onofrio Panvinio, an Augustinian monk and one of the most important historians of the late Renaissance and early Catholic Reformation. This study of Panvinio’s complex contribution and intellectual legacy should be praised for its clarity, in-depth research and useful reflection on the complicated past, writes Jennifer Mara DeSilva.

The Invention of Papal History: Onofrio Panvinio between Renaissance and Catholic Reform. Stefan Bauer. Oxford University Press. 2020.

This volume is a useful addition to the relatively slim English-language offerings on papal historiography. Stefan Bauer of Royal Holloway, University of London, presents a clear and detailed introduction to Onofrio Panvinio, an Augustinian monk and one of the most important historians of the late Renaissance and early Catholic Reformation. During his short lifetime (1530-68), Panvinio composed a prodigious number of texts, reflecting the growing interest in Catholic Church history between Martin Luther’s death (1547) and the end of the Council of Trent (1545-63). His focus included genealogies of the Roman nobility, a treatise on the office of the papal vice-chancellor, another on papal primacy, the first examination of conclave procedures (the process for choosing the pope), biographies of Popes Sixtus IV through Pius V (1471-1572), a large-scale ecclesiastical history with sources and many other less well-known works. This breadth speaks to Panvinio’s access to archival materials, broad contemporary interest and the patronage opportunities that allowed him time to write.

At its core, The Invention of Papal History is a study of texts produced by a distinct combination of ideas and encouragement that was slipping away even as Panvinio toiled furiously. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of his life is the fact that he was an Augustinian monk, dispensed from living at a monastery, who composed works for noble clients as well as the printing press. Late in his career, he employed three scribes, an illustrator and a cook, and was in constant communication with current and potential patrons. The king of Spain, Phillip II, Ferdinand I and Maximillian II, both Holy Roman Emperors, and the wealthy banker and bibliophile Hans Jakob Fugger were all Panvinio’s patrons at various times. Paradoxically, the quest for Catholic patrons, financial resources to ransom his brother and support his mother and sister and permission to print were constant concerns in a period that envisioned learned seclusion as a monastic ideal.

Bauer begins his study with a detailed biography in Chapter One, exploring Panvinio’s origin in Verona, his admission to the Augustinian Hermits and his education in Naples and Rome. Panvinio benefitted from cultivation and mentoring by the Prior General of his order, Girolamo Seripando, and its cardinal-protector, Marcello Cervini, who became Pope Marcellus II. The latter man had been a tutor to the grandson of Pope Paul III before becoming a cardinal. Not only did Cervini introduce Panvinio to important Roman scholars, but he also facilitated his admission to the household of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Cervini’s former charge. Although he faced political disagreements with certain popes that required him to leave Rome for several years, Farnese would become one of the greatest patrons of sixteenth-century Rome. His name can still be seen on the façade of Il Gesù, the Roman Jesuit church, which he largely funded.

While patronage is one of the constant themes in this book, it is difficult to know the impact of Panvinio’s work, either on his patrons or on early modern readers. Bauer’s study focuses on his life and relationships as seen through his manuscripts, but mostly avoids theorising about their role in the larger intellectual landscape. Censorship of Panvinio’s work is one of Bauer’s central concerns, and in keeping with the close focus on the papal court and influence.

While Chapter One’s biographical narrative introduces many of Panvinio’s works, Chapter Two uses his final decade (1558-68) as a lens for understanding his legacy. At first this was a tumultuous time in Rome, with the war with Spain coming to a disastrous end and the pope banishing his own nephews, while Farnese and Panvinio lived in self-imposed exile. However, after Pope Paul IV’s death in 1559 both men returned to Rome and began a period of great production. Readers learn more about how Panvinio came to his projects, his (and posthumously his brother’s) efforts to bring works to press as well as what remained unfinished at his death. Although Paolo Panvinio’s biography of his brother is used throughout the study to support the narrative, a dedicated discussion of this text would have been beneficial.

Chapter Three explores the development of Panvinio’s interest in papal and imperial elections, which allows discussion of ecclesiastical and secular patronage, and offers a chance to consider his originality. Bauer compares Panvinio’s works with other texts, including some by Angelo Massarelli and Alfonso Chacón. This is quite an extensive and complex chapter that incorporates large-scale analysis of Panvinio’s texts with an effort to situate his identity as a scholar amid changing intellectual practice and ecclesiastical politics. His work on conclave procedure benefitted from four comparatively short pontificates from 1550-72. After his death a series of four conclaves in quick succession (1590-92) would prompt Pope Clement VIII to take an interest in his work with an eye to reforming papal practice.

Chapter Four shifts to considering Panvinio’s larger ecclesiastical history and papal biographies. These texts filled a need, rebuking the Protestant Magdeburg Centuries (1559-74) and continuing Platina’s Lives of the Popes (1471-75). However, as Panvinio’s works articulated visions of the Catholic Church in periods of tension and evaluated papal actions, inevitably they came under consideration by the Roman Inquisition. Panvinio’s even-handed treatment of the eleventh-century Investiture Controversy, which pitted Pope Gregory VII against Emperor Henry IV, endeared him to Protestant scholars but attracted suspicion from Catholic censors. Similarly, the papacy’s continuing endorsement of the Donation of Constantine (the emperor’s supposed transfer of the Western Roman Empire to the pope’s control in 315), which Panvinio criticised, became a test case for scholarly orthodoxy. Finally, the growing expectation that clerical authors would support the evolving work of confessionalisation, by describing a homogenous and virtuous past stretching forward from St. Peter, was at odds with the document-based style that Panvinio and other humanist scholars used. Modern readers might be surprised that historians supported their arguments by inserting extensive portions of earlier authors’ works (as some classical historians did), but censors saw it as endorsing dangerous narratives written in less stringent times.

Notably, during Panvinio’s lifetime, history writing was not as propagandistic as it would become from the 1580s onward. As Bauer reveals, Panvinio was an intermediate figure, whose lifestyle and scholarship – as a monk living in a cardinal-nephew’s household writing both noble and papal biographies and humanist histories – placed him between phases of intense Catholic-Protestant conflict and an increasingly severe confessionalisation campaign. Perhaps because his short life occurred in that transitional period, ultimately Panvinio’s work was overshadowed by his longer-lived contemporary Cesare Baronio. Moreover, as political need pressed the Catholic Church, papal biography and ecclesiastical history became tools used by the polemicist to protect the Catholic vision of immutable doctrine. Panvinio’s freer evaluation of clerical virtue and less dogmatic historiographical style seemed impious to some censors. After his death there were few printed editions of his work, and shortly Baronio’s Ecclesiastical Annals (1588-1607) became the official Catholic response to Protestant conceptions of Christian history and Catholic theological evolution. What began as a promising and productive career was unexpectedly ended and sidelined by more attuned authors.

Stefan Bauer’s study of Onofrio Panvinio’s complex contribution and intellectual legacy should be praised for its clarity, in-depth research and useful reflection on the complicated past.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: St. Peter’s Basilica (Randi Hausken CC BY SA 2.0).


Book Review: Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man by Joshua Bennett

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/01/2021 - 10:18pm in

In Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of ManJoshua Bennett explores how African American writers have forged a tradition that works through the figure of the non-human animal in order to assert and enact radical challenges to oppressive structures, contesting the violence of anthropocentrism and antiblackness and providing tools for conceiving of interspecies relationships anew. Carefully constructed with a lyrical lilt to its sharp analyses, this book is an important contribution to the emerging space in which black literary studies, animality studies and ecocriticism converge, writes Lydia Ayame Hiraide.

Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man. Joshua Bennett. Harvard University Press. 2020.

Joshua Bennett’s debut book of literary criticism, Being Property Once Myself, is a gripping work which examines works of black authors from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The book is framed through an interdisciplinary approach which embraces black studies, affect theory, ecocriticism and animality studies. At 189 pages excluding notes and acknowledgements, it is relatively short, and Bennett’s lyrical lilt in his sharp analyses makes for a thorough yet accessible read.

The careful and artistic construction of the text makes it obvious that alongside his academic work, Bennett is also a poet by trade. The work boasts beautiful yet lucid rhetorical flourishes, such as when he asks what black authors create ‘when they are willing to engage in a critical embrace of what has been used against them as a tool of derision and denigration, to leap into a vision of human personhood rooted not in the logics of private property or dominion but in wildness, flight, brotherhood and sisterhood beyond blood?’ (4). Throughout the entire book, the author’s reading of the literature he engages with is itself brilliantly literary in style.

The central argument of this interdisciplinary study locates the violence of anthropocentrism and antiblackness within each other, arguing that African American writers have forged a tradition which works through the figure of the non-human animal in order to assert and enact radical challenges to oppressive structures. In his introduction, Bennett sets out to elucidate ‘the ways in which the black aesthetic tradition provides us with the tools needed to conceive of interspecies relationships anew and ultimately to abolish the forms of antiblack thought that have maintained the fissure between human and animal’ (4), a goal firmly achieved by the text.

Organised into six chapters, each title is given by the non-human animal the chapter concentrates on. Bennett thinks through the figures of the horse, rat, cock, mule, dog and shark. Each animal is located in key contemporary African American literary texts, ranging from the works of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) (Chapter Three, ‘Mule’), Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977) (Chapter Two, ‘Cock’) to Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) (Chapter One, ‘Rat’). It is this latter chapter focusing on black death and suffering which provides the most forceful and convincing black ecocritical literary analysis of the book.

Rejecting a politics of propriety or respectability, the first chapter uses Wright’s work to draw out the significance of black life, death, suffering and sociality through the figure of the rat. Bennett begins this discussion by engaging with R.J. Putnam’s Mammals as Pests (1934). He convincingly deconstructs the notion of rat as ‘pest’, as he exposes this ascription of undesirability to be rooted in capitalist logics of ownership and private property. In Wright’s text, the rat is thus identified as a figure with the capacity to disrupt white capitalism, and it is for this disruptive force and energy that the rat is deemed undesirable. Bennett articulately draws links between this energetic ‘ratness’ and the radical dynamism of blackness and black fugitivity. This link between the rat and blackness serves to emphasise the puissance of black sociality and black fugitivity, forces which are rooted in how ‘black folks survive even when they are outcast and outgunned and outlawed and outstripped, how they nonetheless go about living through the everyday’ (57).

Considering the pervasive construction of the rat as undesirable, Bennett’s choice to discuss blackness through, rather than against, what he calls ‘ratness’ signifies his capacity to critically lean in to the problematic. It would be easy to maintain the figure of the rat with the objectionable and thus call for a divorce in associating black life with such an animal. Yet, the analysis follows a complex route that thus proposes a ‘poetics of persistence and interspecies empathy’ (5), which ultimately rejects the human-animal divide through a radical model of blackness. This creative yet careful leaning in ultimately foregrounds the propensity of black authors to imagine and construct alternative worlds to the one in which we live, the one in which both the black experience and non-human animal experience are constantly permeated by violence. In this sense, then, the author is clearly not afraid to, as Donna Haraway might put it, stay with the trouble. Bennett’s insistence on black fugitivity points to a spirit in which other futures are possible, that can be arrived at by identifying and moving through ‘alternative models for thinking blackness and personhood […] in the present day’ (13).

In other chapters, especially ‘Mule’ and ‘Cock’, Bennett develops what can be seen as an intersectional analysis of black literary engagement with animality. He sensitively brings aspects of class and gender into his analysis. In his engagement with gender in particular, Bennett rejects the use of ‘gender’ as a synonym for women. Instead, he carefully examines the construction and function of both black masculinities and femininities as co-constituted. For example, Chapter Two looks at Morrison’s use of birds and flight in Song of Solomon as a provocation that sparks reflection on how black men are constructed in a social world and the tricky relationship between this construction and the inner yearnings of black men themselves. These reflections are always situated in relationship to black women and black femininity, emphasising the co-constitutive relationship of gendered difference and commonality.

In the same chapter, an interview which took place in 1984 between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde is brought in. Bennett observes that they ‘do not and perhaps cannot fully comprehend each other’s struggles at the level of experience, largely because there is a fundamental difference at play in terms of how their respective battles against patriarchy are structured, a difference that requires something other than an uncomplicated vision of black empowerment that would elide gender particularity in the name of racial uplift’ (109). This insight frames Bennett’s approach to marginalisation, which he understands as multiple and complex. He rejects the homogenisation of black experiences in the same spirit of the Combahee River Collective, of which Audre Lorde herself was a part. It proves to be more interesting and more generative to engage in this simultaneously gendered and raced analysis, for this approach allows us to reflect on the complexity of intersecting structures of violence in perceptive and expansive ways.

Particularly towards the end of the book, there are brief moments in which Bennett’s engagement with theorists such as Jacques Derrida or Jacques Lacan can feel a little dense, particularly if the reader is not familiar with postmodern ideas. This is at no detriment to the book’s overall argument, however, and is rather a reflection of the controversial debate around the accessibility of postmodernism more generally.

Crucially, Being Property Once Myself treats each text of the US black literary canon with a profound respect. In the context of our era, Bennett’s book is important. It adds to a growing body of critical work that tackles social issues in relation to the realm of ‘nature’, pushing back simultaneously against the whiteness of both literary studies and ecocriticism. Putting forth a strong argument which articulately locates antiblackness within the discursive treatment of non-human animals and the environment, the book is a significant contribution to the emerging space in which black literary studies, animality studies and ecocriticism converge. Certainly, the work is an important cultural text which engages with the junctions of the climate and environmental crisis, anthropocentrism and the violence of social marginalisation upon which US society, amongst many others, is founded.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: ‘African American cotton plantation worker, hired as a day laborer, riding a mule and holding down a sack of cotton in the cotton field at Nugent Plantation, Benoit, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi, October 1939.’ Image courtesy of New York Public Library (Public Domain).


8 of the best books of 2020 recommended by LSE blog editors

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/12/2020 - 10:47pm in


book review

Many of the LSE blogs regularly feature book reviews of the latest publications emerging across the social sciences and humanities. But which books have LSE blog editors found particularly compelling in 2020? In this list, five LSE blog editors recommend some of their favourite reads of the year.

We are only ten months into the pandemic. So it is remarkable that Zadie Smith’s short collection of essays, Intimations, written as long ago as June, is such an evocative take on how our lives changed. It conveys the utter claustrophobia of lockdown and the suffocating offensiveness of the notion that ‘we are all in this together’: ‘Older people, surrounded by generations of family, dream of exactly the same empty couch that is […] the purest torture for some lucky, desperate, fortunate, lonely, selfish, enviable, self-indulgent, privileged, bereft student’. In short, it is not at all like the fun quarantine of Boccaccio’s Decameron, though I recommend that too.

Paul Behrens’s achievement with The Best of Times, The Worst of Times is to have written a book about the climate emergency that is not utterly despairing. He does this by alternating hopeful and pessimistic chapters, which is a boon for encouraging the public understanding of science – something that’s been at the forefront of many scientists’ minds this year. The book will defamiliarise and radicalise you in the best way. It makes much media coverage of the environment look predictable and dated.

Ros Taylor, Managing Editor, LSE COVID-19 blog

My book of the year combining interests – both personal and professional – in the history of London, women and LSE is Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars. Through the lives of five women writers who all lived in Mecklenburgh Square in the 1920s and 1930s, the book explores what it meant for a woman to live a purposeful life. The book examines the lives of the poet HD, novelist Dorothy L. Sayers, classicist Jane Harrison and the writer Virginia Woolf. The fifth figure is the economic historian Eileen Power who first came to LSE in 1913 and became its second woman professor in 1931. Power was an internationalist, campaigning for the League of Nations, a pioneer of social history with her book Medieval People and a popular historian working on BBC children’s programmes alongside her sister, Rhoda Power. Wade manages to approach some big topics in an accessible style, making the book a perfect Christmas present.

During lockdown my guilty pleasure has been the Chronicles of St Mary’s fantasy books by Jodi Taylor – these inhabit a parallel universe in which brave, intelligent and reckless historians time travel through history, dispelling any idea that historians (or indeed archivists) might be careful, reticent or boring.

Sue Donnelly, LSE Archivist. Sue also writes on LSE History: Telling the Story of LSE blog and has curated several exhibitions on the School’s history.

If there’s a time to read fiction, the time is now, when a catastrophic pandemic has awakened the little demons that live inside each one of us, forcing us to deepen our relationship with digital technology, distracting us to smithereens and now blending work with family, virtual work with our already excessive social media and news consumption. Fiction can be an antidote to distraction, allowing us to look inward by vicarious means, through the eyes and perspectives of fictionalised others. Mieko Kawakami’s new book, Breasts and Eggs: A Novel, does just that. Natsuko is a woman living in Tokyo who has experienced family dysfunction from an early age and goes through life asking questions about marriage, the bonds between mother and child, the role played by men, romantic love and sex.

In this book, words come together effortlessly to express powerful insights. Kawakami seems to understand she is gifted with a special talent when she writes that ‘you need to be predestined to touch the hearts of people through the written word. It’s like finding a water spring in the desert: pure casualty, something that happens once in a lifetime, and certainly not to everyone’. Note that these are not her exact words. The book is written in Japanese, and I read the beautiful Italian translation, translated by Gianluca Coci. Natsuko is forced to grapple with the fundamental question, why have children? Why do we keep doing it, just like our parents did, when living is hard as hell? ‘Giving birth is a unilateral act,’ since the child has no way of consenting. Kawakami reminds me of Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard in her ability to describe everyday actions like lying down, taking a shower or having small talk with a niece while both anxiously wait for Natsuko’s sister, who should have been home hours before. These may seem like mundane actions, but your mind doesn’t wander off even for a minute. I make Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s words mine, when he says that Breast and Eggs ‘took my breath away’.

Helena Vieira, Managing Editor, LSE Business Review blog

The view has become commonplace that outgoing US President Trump, the man and his movement, is less a cause and more a symptom of socio-economic afflictions. But to many, the 2016 electoral results came from nowhere; complacency had set in, slow progress in Democratic clothing would inevitably prevail. The angry white man, pushing back, has since become integral to the image of indignant Trumpian support, an almost religious devotion to rhetoric as gospel.

Immersed in 1990s debating championships, Ben Lerner’s third novel, The Topeka School, situates the force of today’s anger among those who would manipulate its causes: the educated middle-class boys who would later, as men, nurture the White House’s linguistic acrobatics. These are wealthy kids from a red state relishing the power of their vocals, playing fast and loose with blatant untruths in the name of competition. Centring on Adam, a state-level debate champion, thoughtful, intelligent, masculine toxicities in tow, we see white affluent America as argumentative for its own sake, because without obstacles, how else can a teenager rebel?

In the well-rehearsed spirit of American literary fiction, the comforts of wealth in The Topeka School offer no protection from spiritual emptiness, and more so when that supreme tool for human connection – language – becomes subverted for domination: whether of the debating opponent or the well-intentioned yet suffocating parent. Lerner presents a young generation fatally ignorant of its privileges, yet somehow anxious these are being lost.

During a period of transition, the usual adage is to reflect on the recent past. Yet at the core of The Topeka School is a stark confrontation of the present, the type of truth the state-level debater would dispute without hesitation: that the angry white man’s privilege is most destructive when it feels attacked.

Laurence Radford, Managing Editor, Africa at LSE blog

2020 has sadly been a significant year for thinking about expertise and COVID-19 has brought these discussions directly into the mainstream. Written before the pandemic, Gil Eyal’s The Crisis of Expertise adeptly situates debates about expertise within a historical and political context and outlines how different strands of this debate, often perceived to be irreconcilable, actually intersect and have become closer over time. Where these ideas differ, as Eyal makes clear, is in their politics and the fixes they propose to legitimate different kinds of expertise. Eyal paints a vivid picture of expertise as a vortex, where actions taken to shore up expertise in one area repeatedly spiral back on themselves, leaving experts and institutions open to critique from other directions. Given the massive shifts brought about by COVID-19 for science, scientific communication and academia, I can’t help but think we are currently undergoing another twist in this vortex, one that Eyal’s book can help us to better understand.

Another book that greatly influenced me this year is Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire, a sweeping history of colonial dissent throughout the British Empire and the reverberations of these acts of resistance at the heart of empire, Britain, and its capital, London. The book is highly accessible and deeply illuminates the web of connections between anti-colonial thinkers, intellectuals and mass movements in Britain. It provides a compelling account of how anti-colonial ideas were repeatedly re-litigated in the face of fierce opposition and shows the tireless work of these groups and individuals in slowly constructing and deconstructing concepts of liberty and equality.

As editor of LSE Impact Blog, I found Insurgent Empire’s focus on media, networks and voices especially engaging. Amongst others, Chapter Seven emphasises how journals, magazines, books and editors were integral to assembling people and ideas and providing a platform to engage wider audiences. This has clear resonance in 2020 where the Black Lives Matter movement has refocused public attention on issues of racial equality and representation. The book led me to reflect further on how scholarly communication and the impact agenda remain deeply structured by colonialism and a centre-periphery model of knowledge exchange that flows along a Global North-South axis. Insurgent Empire makes an inspiring case for the power of dialogue and cross-cultural thinking that seems more important than ever.

Michael Taster, Managing Editor, LSE Impact Blog

Note: This reading list gives the views of the contributors, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Banner Image Credit: Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash.

In-Text Image Credit: Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash.


LSE RB Year in Review: 12 Most-Read Book Reviews of 2020

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/12/2020 - 9:16pm in


book review

What were you reading in 2020 on LSE Review of Books? At the end of an unprecedented year, we count down the top 12 most-read new book reviews published in 2020 on the blog.

12. What is Digital Sociology? Neil Selwyn. Polity. 2019.

Neil Selwyn offers a new overview of digital sociology, advocating for its mainstream acceptance as a valuable expansion of sociological inquiry, while dispelling the misconception that it is an entirely new or radically different form of sociology. Huw Davies recommended the book as an excellent introduction to digital sociology that will be particularly helpful for students and any sociologist curious about the field’s scope and purpose.


11. The Anthropology of Epidemics. Ann H. Kelly, Frédéric Keck and Christos Lynteris (eds). Routledge. 2019. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, this collection provides timely insight into how ethnographic studies of epidemics might challenge the central assumptions of not only anthropology, but social theory writ large. Sophia Goodfriend found that the volume offers a rich exploration into how, and to what end, ethnographic attention to epidemics can extend social theory today.


10. Why Free Will Is Real. Christian List. Harvard University Press. 2019.

Christian List makes the case that free will is real by responding to the three key objections typically put forward in the philosophical literature,  proposing the central insight that free will should be considered a ‘higher-level’ psychological phenomenon. Ellie Lasater-Guttman praised this carefully crafted book for its accessible, clear and convincing argument for the existence of free will.


9. Feminist City: Claiming Space in the Man-Made World. Leslie Kern. Verso. 2020.

Leslie Kern delves into the interlocking inequalities and systems of oppression that take concrete shape in cities, using an intersectional feminist approach to explore the gendered aspects of urban space. Reha Atakan Cetin welcomed the book as an enjoyable and accessible read that not only contributes to urban feminist geography, but to urban planning and policy more broadly.


8. Revisiting Marx’s Critique of Liberalism: Rethinking Justice, Legality and Rights. Igor Shoikhedbrod. Palgrave Macmillan. 2019.  

Igor Shoikhedbrod shows how Karl Marx’s work does not simply repudiate liberal ideology from the outside, but rather tests its internal limits, setting it against its own presumptions and ideals. Nader Andrawos found this an excellent and timely book that makes a persuasive case for including Marx in the canon of the great theorists of liberalism and democracy.


7. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. Jenny Odell. Melville House Publishing. 2019.

In a frenetic world obsessed with deliverables and results, Jenny Odell makes the case for the potential we create by refusing productivity and redirecting our attention to active modes of listening and contemplation. As the book shines a critical light on the ways in which our identities have become entangled with our occupations and advocates modes of reclaiming the power of our own curiosity, Christine Sweeney recommended this book to all those who feel off-kilter in the attention-seeking economy.


6. Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events. Robert J. Shiller. Princeton University Press. 2019.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert J. Shiller argues for the significance of narrative when it comes to understanding the drivers of economic events, arguing that contagious narratives not only play a causal role in their unfolding but also that such events transform our narratives. David Tuckett found that the book raises important issues, but questioned whether narrative imaginaries and fictional expectations might play an even more fundamental role in shaping how economic agents plan their futures than Shiller suggests.


5. The Cosmopolitan Tradition: A Noble but Flawed Ideal. Martha C. Nussbaum. Harvard University Press. 2019.

Martha C. Nussbaum offers a set of essays that take their cue from the Cynic and Stoic traditions to explore the tensions within the cosmopolitan ideal through the works of Cicero, Hugo Grotius and Adam Smith. Questioning the book’s positioning of the nation state as the practical and moral site for realising cosmopolitan goals, Alex Sager argued that far from being a ‘noble but flawed’ ideal, cosmopolitanism may be our best hope of survival.


4. The Force of Non-Violence: The Ethical in the Political. Judith Butler. Verso. 2020.

Judith Butler challenges the prevailing ways in which violence and nonviolence have been understood, arguing that the distinction between the two has been founded on a harmful individualist paradigm. Hesham Shafick found that the book inspires a cautious yet hopeful optimism as it calls for a new interpretation of violence, and with it, a new imagining of nonviolence as a collective form of political action.


3. The Meritocracy Trap. Daniel Markovits. Penguin Press. 2019.

Daniel Markovits argues that rather than aiding social mobility, the concept of meritocracy has become the single greatest obstacle to equal opportunities in the United States today. While suggesting that the book’s diagnosis is more compelling than the proposed solutions, Phil Bell nonetheless found that it marshals extensive evidence to show the tenacity of meritocracy’s narrative pull and how easy it is to get entangled in its logic.


2. The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company. William Dalrymple. Bloomsbury. 2019.

William Dalrymple gives a new character-driven account of the ascent to power of the East India Company following the collapse of the Mughal Empire and the resulting ‘anarchy’ that followed. As the book tracks the Company’s ruthless profiteering and territorial conquests, Thomas Gidney found that it is not only a fine addition to Dalrymple’s studies of the emergence of British rule in India, but also prompts reflection on the dangers of corporate excess in our present.


1. The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy. Stephanie Kelton. PublicAffairs. 2020.

Stephanie Kelton dispels six key myths that have shaped the conventional understanding of deficits as inherently bad, instead arguing that deficits can strengthen economies and lead to faster growth. In the most-read new LSE RB review of 2020, Hans G. Despain deemed the book a triumph, as Kelton shifts the normative grounds of government spending away from the unproductive idea that deficits are inherently irresponsible and ruinous towards the productive political activity of deciding which spending programmes should be prioritised.

Note: The reviews in this reading list give the views of the authors, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Image by Biljana Jovanovic from Pixabay.


Book Review: Embedding Young People’s Participation in Health Services: New Approaches edited by Louca-Mai Brady

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/12/2020 - 10:50pm in

In Embedding Young People’s Participation in Health Services: New ApproachesLouca-Mai Brady brings together contributors to explore the potential for inclusive and diverse approaches to young people’s participation in health services. This collection will be relevant reading for academics, professionals or involvement officers who would like to learn more about how to embed young people’s participation in their work. 

Embedding Young People’s Participation in Health Services: New Approaches. Louca-Mai Brady (ed.). Policy Press. 2020.

Public and patient involvement have been embedded in the United Kingdom in recent years. Research shows that participation benefits both patients and health services, and it is included within the UK’s legislation. Yet there still exists a gap between theory and practice. This is especially visible in engagement with children and young people. Involvement has no age limit and in her recent edited collection, Louca-Mai Brady brings together contributors to explore the potential for inclusive and diverse approaches to young people’s participation in health services. Brady is an expert in the involvement of young people, and this book builds on her PhD research.

What makes this book stand out among the growing literature on young people’s participation in health services is its diverse range of contributors. These include not only researchers and practitioners but, most importantly, young people themselves. The book provides an insight into what participation means to young people. Lizzy Horn, one of the young authors, explains why participation is important to her:

Knowing that I could be a part of preventing some of the struggles I had within services, for the next young people coming through them, was what motivated me to get involved in participation. Not only did I want to see changes, but I myself could be part of that change. (1)

Reading this book during the COVID-19 pandemic is timely. Public and patient involvement was often lacking in the first months of the pandemic, as there was a need for a quick response. However, Brady points out in her postscript that ‘the challenges of COVID-19 have highlighted the potential to do things differently, and develop more participatory and inclusive practice in collaboration with young people’ (18). Thus, this book is not only an example of pre-COVID engagement with young people, but should also encourage a reader to reflect on how to utilise these lessons in future work during the pandemic.

The book is structured around four related sections: young people’s participation in individual decision-making (Chapters One and Two); examples of involvement in national projects and programmes (Chapters Three to Five), collaborative research in NHS services (Chapters Six and Seven); and cases of young people-led participation (Chapters Eight and Nine). These are well-linked, and all themes are brought together in the concluding Chapter Ten, which proposes a new participation framework. Each chapter is worth an in-depth read. In this review, I look in detail at three chapters which perfectly exemplify the underlying message of embedding young people’s participation in health services. I could not put the book down once I began reading them.

Some of the contributors share personal experiences which make reading this book both powerful and inspirational. In the second chapter, Zoe Picton-Howell draws on her research and lived experience as mum to Adam Bojelian, a poet and healthcare advocate who had a severe physical impairment, in order to discuss disabled young people’s participation in end-of-life decisions. Her study is based on a survey and in-depth semi-structured interviews with paediatricians. She discusses guidance on young people’s involvement and then explores how it is applied in practice. The findings show that some paediatricians were reluctant to recognise a young person’s right and capability to take part in decision-making:

As Adam’s life and death showed, and as senior paediatricians from around the UK in my research confirmed, fulfilling young people’s rights to participate in decisions about their healthcare is not just a legal obligation, it is a matter of life and death (70).

Thus, Picton-Howell finishes with a recommendation to provide more teaching opportunities for healthcare professionals. This chapter highlights the importance of involving young people in healthcare. More information about Adam’s life can be found here.

In the fifth chapter, Lindsay Starbuck, Kirsche Walker, Jack Welch, Emma Rigby and Ann Hagell discuss how to involve seldom-heard voices among young people. They use the experience of youth engagement projects run by the Association for Young People’s Health, which is the UK independent voice for youth health. Each project engaged with one seldom-heard group, including young people affected by child sexual exploitation, young people living with HIV and young people who had weight issues. This chapter is full of quotes and case studies from young people that provide a lot of insight into the process. One of the participants of the Be Healthy project, which aimed to allow young people to discuss the health needs of youths affected by child sexual exploitation, described some of the challenges for seldom-heard groups:

One of the huge difficulties for young people getting and staying involved in projects like this is that we become known for our past experiences. I found it extremely hard to talk about my experiences and deal with the attention that it brought to me. (145)

The chapter concludes with practical pieces of advice on involving seldom-heard youth. The most important one is to check directly with young people what their needs are and then implement them. Building a lasting and trusting relationship can be a long process. Other tips include paying young people’s costs in advance (as not everyone can wait to be reimbursed) and working in partnership with local organisations who could assist in reaching diverse voices. Furthermore, the authors recommend using distancing techniques such as fictional characters for discussion. Also, creative methods such as storytelling or film can facilitate the group in raising issues while protecting the identity of participants.

In the final chapter, Brady builds on both her previous research and the work in earlier chapters to propose a practical new framework for embedding young people’s participation. She argues that successful participation must be youth-centred, and so places young people in the middle of her model. Youth participation is enclosed by what she calls ‘scope’ – ‘a series of interconnected dimensions […] all of which play a part in determining both what young people will participate in and how they will participate’ (261). These include the structure of participation, its process, frequency, where it takes place, inclusion and diversity of youth voices, power and control and learning from participation. Key questions to consider are suggested with each dimension. This model will be especially helpful for anyone who would like to embed young people’s participation in their services. The model’s design does not suggest one way to engagement but encourages users to reflect on how to involve young people ‘in ways that are meaningful, effective and inclusive’ (262).

In over 250 pages, contributors cover a wide range of examples of how to involve young people in health services. Still, the book’s insights are transferable to other areas which aim to involve young people: for example, social work, education or youth democracy. Thus, this book is relevant reading for academics, professionals or involvement officers who would like to learn more about how to embed young people’s participation in their work.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash.


Book Review: Legal Protection for Traditional Knowledge: Towards A New Law for Indigenous Intellectual Property by Anindya Bhukta

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 10:22pm in

In Legal Protection for Traditional Knowledge: Towards A New Law for Indigenous Intellectual Property, Anindya Bhukta underscores the value of traditional knowledge and argues that legal systems need to ensure better protection of this knowledge, with a particular focus on India. This book is an ideal primer for readers looking to find out more about the laws concerning traditional knowledge, writes Gayathri D Naik, and Bhukta’s proposals for a new legal approach embody his in-depth research and knowledge of the subject. 

Legal Protection for Traditional Knowledge: Towards A New Law for Indigenous Intellectual Property. Anindya Bhukta. Emerald Publishing. 2020.

No one forgets the story of early humans who discovered fire by banging flint stones together. This was the first revolution in human civilisation. Since then, humans have processed the information, discoveries and inventions of their predecessors that have inspired every generation to better their potential. We have also inherited extensive information from our ancestors on medicinal plants, songs, music and traditional arts, amongst others. This ‘traditional knowledge’ has been passed along generations, mostly through oral transmission. However, once components of this traditional knowledge are regarded as ‘merchandise’ over which rights can be claimed, particularly by big multinational corporations (MNCs), the rights of many communities, including indigenous people, are threatened.

Through his book Legal Protection for Traditional Knowledge: Towards A New Law for Indigenous Intellectual Property, Anindya Bhukta discusses traditional knowledge and argues for its adequate legal protection. Traditional knowledge (hereinafter TK) – collective community-based knowledge – can include anything with transgenerational characteristics that has passed along generations verbally. It may be either tangible or intangible, ranging from cultural expressions to medicines.

TK has been a subject of bio-piracy discourse for quite a long time. Bio-piracy, as Bhutka explains, is the unauthorised use of the bio-resources of a country either by the individuals, institutions or companies of other countries. Bhukta points out that even though TK has been in existence for many centuries, it was after the development of patent regimes, concerns over bio-piracy and the rights of biodiverse countries over their natural resources that TK has gained greater attention.

This book is based on the premise that since TK is multidimensional and region-specific, it demands its own legal framework for its governance. The book takes the reader through the issues of bio-piracy, existing international treaties and domestic laws referring to TK and its drawbacks, access and benefit-sharing mechanisms, its lacunae and the need for new comprehensive legal protection. The author suggests a model law based on the premise he has adopted. However, although the author points to several loopholes and criticisms regarding inadequate protection of TK in international treaties and domestic laws, the book only offers a descriptive compendium of existing treaties and laws and lacks a critical approach in its analysis.

Had the author approached treaty provisions and definitions through a more critical angle, it would have made this book more attractive to an advanced audience already familiar with the subject matter. Instead, the book’s audience is likely to be non-specialists and lay readers. Yet, this book will appeal to readers due to its coherent arguments and detailed analysis of all legal provisions on TK; this would make this book an ideal primer for readers looking to find out about laws on TK.

Turmeric powder

The author is successful in convincing the reader to support his arguments for the legal protection of TK.  Illustrating the benefits that such protection bestows on medicine, scientific development, environmental conservation, biodiversity protection and the cultural identity of a nation, he discusses various current international conventions and their provisions applicable to TK. Throughout the book, Bhukta tries to highlight the influence of MNCs, lobbyists and pressure groups from rich countries like the US on international treaty-making and domestic law-making processes. Additionally, the book presents several instances of bio-piracy and attempts to patent TK in the US and Europe that have been vehemently opposed by developing countries: for instance, the famous cases of Turmeric and Neem Patent.

In 1995, the use of turmeric in wound healing was patented in the US following an application from two researchers at the Mississippi Medical Centre. This was challenged by the Government of India, which contested the novelty of the invention and successfully defended its case. Similarly, the European Patent Office patented a neem-based product following an application from a US MNC. Here too, the Government of India was successful in its application to revoke this patent. In both cases, submission of evidence of the use of these natural resources as TK, as inscribed in many traditional documents in Sanskrit and Ayurveda,  helped India to defend its traditional knowledge from bio-piracy. Unfortunately, there are many other examples of TK around the world without written sources that are being misused by MNCs, demanding effective legal interventions from governments to prevent such instances.

The rights of indigenous communities and biodiverse developing countries, from where mother species or seeds are transported, are typically sidelined in most international treaties whose provision instead supports MNCs and economically stronger countries. Highlighting this discriminatory approach and pointing to some notable benefit-sharing agreements like Jeevani, Hoodia and InBio-Merck, the author argues for recognition of the rights of indigenous communities in preserving TK.  To give one example, the Jeevani agreement is considered the most renowned example of benefit-sharing in India, signed between the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute and the Kerala Kani Samudaya Kshema Trust. By this agreement, signed in the 1990s and the first of its kind in the world, it was agreed that royalties would be shared with the Kani Tribe for use of a TK owned by the Kani Tribe concerning ‘arogyapacha’, which was used to make an energy drink called Jeevani.

By focusing on bio-piracy, the author also examines various provisions of intellectual property rights (IPR) that could be extended to TK.  Protective measures where TK-holders enjoy rights to act against the misuse of TK and defensive measures that safeguard and prevent its illegal use by others are discussed. Here, efforts in different countries, including the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library, the Traditional Chinese Medicine Database and the Korean Traditional Knowledge Portal, are introduced to the reader.

After discussing international legal mechanisms on IPR, which constitute the major legal protection used across the world, the book moves to analyse domestic regulations. IPR is insufficient to extend coverage to all biological resources. Hence, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) promotes the adoption of protection for plant variety, necessitating domestic measures customised to its local conditions. The chapter on initiatives to protect TK thus provides a discussion of various provisions of domestic laws on TK. This chapter confines its major discussion to India, though it provides a glimpse of three other nations or regions: the Philippines, Panama and Africa. Unfortunately, the author does not provide reasons for choosing these particular jurisdictions, leaving this question unanswered for readers. This is also applicable to its title, which seems general, but in most chapters the discussions are based on India.

These uncertainties extend to the chapter analysing the limitations of existing legal provisions. Here, the author examines Indian laws, but on certain occasions his arguments are mixed with international treaties without emphasising statutes. Nevertheless, the author has put considerable effort into providing a detailed analysis of the insufficiency of present legal frameworks on IPR, which leads to the conclusion that there is a need for a new law for TK.

In this regard, the book mainly focuses on the need for new framework legislation in India. The author comprehends all characteristics of TK to draft a model law. The uniqueness of this book lies in this draft law, through which Bhukta argues that since TK is transgenerational, oral and community-owned, the main focus of the recognition of rights-holders should be the community, and the duration of protection should be beyond what is currently provided by IPR laws. He also calls upon the establishment of a trust upon which these rights and duties to protect can be entrusted.  The model law is based on the principle of the registration of TK and benefit-sharing based on prior informed consent between TK-holders and other stakeholders. Inspired by international legal principles and incorporating these values, this model law is an embodiment of the author’s in-depth research and knowledge of TK and his passion for the subject.

In Legal Protection for Traditional Knowledge, Bhukta has successfully illustrated the need for comprehensive protection of TK that crosses the boundaries of IPR and laws on patents, Geographical Indicators (GIs), trademarks and copyrights. The book shows how TK is significant in human life and history, and how it is extracted from richly biodiverse countries of the Global South. However, the discussions in this book are more descriptive than critical, which makes it useful as a short handbook rather than as a reference book. Yet, through the simplicity of the analysis, this book will be helpful to students of law and other related subjects as well as general readers, providing the first stepping stone to understanding TK and the relevance of its protection.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: (Steven Jackson CC BY 2.0).