Saturday 30 September 2023

One is not born but rather becomes old... Sonia Kruks on Simone de Beauvoir's "Coming of Age"

One is not born but rather becomes old – and to become old, like becoming a woman, is to become “the Other.” The old are cast: “outside humanity,” Beauvoir says in La Vieillesse (translated as Old Age or The Coming of Age) and they are conceived as: “sub” human (OA 4, 505; V 10, 531)1) Although there are also profound differences, for both women and the old (of any gender) their existence is profoundly shaped by alterity2.

Beauvoir had argued in The Second Sex that, their alterity notwithstanding, an authentic pursuit of freedom remains possible for women. For, “to become a woman” also involves a project of active self-making and it is not reducible to passively “being made” one. Thus:

the traps of bad faith and the mystifications of the serious are lying in wait for [women],3

and their freedom:

cannot authentically assume itself except in revolt: this is the only way open to those who have no chance to build anything; they must refuse the limits of their situation in seeking to open paths to the future. (Ibid.)

But what, then, of the old? Can they still “seek open paths to the future”? Is revolt, or at least resistance, also open to them as an authentic path to freedom? Indeed, are any authentic projects open to them? It is striking that, although Old Age is otherwise similarly organized to The Second Sex, it has no equivalent to the final part of The Second Sex on “The Independent Woman,” on the woman who struggles to affirm her freedom. So, one must ask, does Beauvoir perhaps see old age as a unique situation, in which the demands she makes of (younger) women to eschew bad faith and engage in an authentic pursuit of freedom no longer apply? Or, could it be that she has radically modified, or perhaps abandoned, her prior ethics? How far do Beauvoir’s life-long values persist, and how they have mutated or perhaps even been discarded in her book on old age?

(...) For the great majority, their final age is, indeed, a “desert.” But “if the retired man is rendered hopeless by the lack of meaning [le non-sens] in his present life, this is because his existence has always been stolen from him” (OA 541-2 TM; V 568). In a profit-oriented, capitalist, society, where costs are always measured against benefits, after a life of alienated labor they are cast aside, regarded as “mere scrap,” as “walking corpses”(OA 6 TM; V 13). They face a “sterile” future and an “unpeopled” world, and after retirement they sink into a “deathly apathy” [une sinistre apathie] (OA 451-2; V 475-6).

(...) a common defensive strategy that Beauvoir sympathetically describes is to “take refuge in habit” (OA 466; V 490). InThe Second Sex, Beauvoir criticizes women who throw themselves into repetitive routines of housework as a means to evade their freedom. “Housework,” she says, “in fact permits a woman an indefinite flight from herself” (TSS 478, TM; DSII, 271). However, Beauvoir does not similarly depict the, sometimes obsessive, embrace of habits by the old as a form of “flight.” Rather, their habits hold out promise of much-needed protection against the meaninglessness of life. Habit is how “the old person escapes from the sickening quality of excessive leisure by filling it with tasks and duties that for him take on the form of obligations” (OA 467; V 491). The rigid habits that many old people adopt offer them a the degree of “ontological security”:

Because of habit [the old person] knows who he is. It protects him from his generalized anxieties by assuring him that tomorrow will be a repetition of today (OA 469; V 493).

As well as clinging to their habits, the old often cling excessively to their possessions. Indeed, Beauvoir observes, the two traits merge, since “the things that belong to us are as it were solidified habits”(OA 469; V 494). Furthermore, ownership itself is also felt to be: “a guarantee of ontological security.” Objectifying oneself in things, and especially a self-identification with money (which is deemed synonymous with power), is a commonly attempted form of defense: “Thanks to his possessions the old person assures himself of an identity against those who see him as nothing but an object” (OA 470; V 494). This defense is likely to fail, Beauvoir says (OA 470; V 494-5). However, she does not consider such self-objectification a form of bad faith. Similarly, she does not criticize those who attempt to evade their situation by trying to escape into a frozen world of past memories. They “affirm a fixed essence,” she writes and they

tirelessly tell themselves how this being that they were lives on inside them. . . [that] they are forever this ex-serviceman, this worshipped woman, this wonderful mother (OA 362, emphasis added, TM; V 384).

Their memories cannot “resuscitate the real world from which they emanate” (OA 364; V 386), yet Beauvoir does not criticize this clinging to the past as flight from freedom.

Yet others assume the disabilities of old age in an exaggerated form in order to justify excluding themselves from responsibility for action. A frequent device is to turn to hypochondria.

For many, illness can act as an excuse for the inferiority to which they are now doomed. It can also justify their self-centeredness – henceforth their body requires all their care (OA 302; V320).

However, far from being critical, Beauvoir adds that “these forms of behavior are based upon a very real and intense anxiety” (Ibid.). Similarly, some exaggerate mild impairments. Having some difficulty walking, they “mime” paralysis; others, being a little deaf, stop listening. However, “playing at being disabled, they become so” (OA 303; V322). In such ways, some strengthen their exclusion from the world even when this has not yet been fully imposed on them (OA 303; V 322). One could say here, as Beauvoir says of (younger) women, that they are complicit in their oppressed status; indeed, that they comply in “making themselves an object” [se faire objet].(TSS 491; DSII 195), yet Beauvoir makes no such claim. To the contrary, she sympathetically describes such behavior, especially (but certainly not only) on the part of the impoverished and institutionalized old. Not only are they “despairing “ but they are: “justifiably” [à juste titre] resentful and demanding” (OA 303; V 322).

Wronged and bullied, [the old person] retaliates by refusing to take part in the game. The adult world is no longer his: he challenges its regulations and even its ethics (OA 480 TM; V 505).

(...) The notion of authentic freedom that Beauvoir offers here presumes the continuation into old age, albeit somewhat diminished, of the passions and vitality and, especially, of the forward temporal thrust, that fuels the free, transcendent projects, of younger adults. She closes the book by envisioning an “ideal society” where these can continue for all throughout late life (OA 543. V 569).

In such an “ideal” society, after enjoying life-long participation in meaningful, collective activity, individuals will remain active and valued social participants during their very last years. They will engage in authentic action until they finally die from a brief illness “without having suffered any degradation” (OA 543; V 569).

Beauvoir’s “ideal” presupposes the overthrow of contemporary capitalist society, and she closes the book with the ringing statement that “It is the whole system that is at issue and our claim cannot be otherwise than radical – change life itself” (OA 543; V 570). However, she has also shown in extensive detail, earlier in the book, that old age is far more than an oppressive social condition. Indeed, she actually begins the “Conclusion” by remarking that “it is an empirical and universal truth that after a certain number of years the human organism undergoes a decline. The process is inescapable” (OA 539; V 565). Thus, the “ideal” of old age that she proposes could also be viewed as an aversive denial on her part of the physical decline that accompanies aging in any society. A conclusion that some critics have drawn is that Beauvoir herself views the old as less than fully human; indeed, that she participates in their objectification. However, I do not think such a conclusion is justified.

It is true that Beauvoir herself undeniably shares in the profound terror of old age that pervades modern society. In a well know passage at the end Force of Circumstance she writes of herself that old age “has got me now. I often stop, flabbergasted at the sight of this incredible thing that serves me as a face… when I look [in the mirror] I see my face as it was, attacked by the pox of time for which there is no cure.”5 However, her aversion to her own old impending age does not lead her to flee it by casting the old as “Other.” To the contrary, her goal in writing the book is the very opposite: to disclose the humanity of the old by breaking what she calls the: “conspiracy of silence” that surrounds them (OA 2; V 8). In the “Introduction” she states that she aims to make the voice of the old heard. She writes: “if their voice was heard, one would be forced to acknowledge that this is a human voice. I shall force my readers to listen to it” (OA 2 TM; V 8 emphasis added). (...)

by Sonia Kruks (2022)

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-  Kruks, S. (2022). "Old Age and the Question of Authenticity", Chére Simone de Beauvoir, link
- photograph of Simone de Beauvoir (by Michele Banchilhon) via

Friday 29 September 2023

Niklas Frank. The Unforgiving Son of the "Butcher of Poland"

"I am against the death penalty, but not in the case of my father."

On 19 December 1918, Hans Michael Frank (1900-1946) wrote: "Lord God, send us now the man who will bring us order ... I wish for our nation men who can once again restore it to universally acknowledged prominence (...)" Soon after, he heard Hitler and was impressed by his anger, aggression, self-confidence and passion, by Hitler expressing Frank's own fears and desires. Everything Hitler said seemed "absolute, uncommpromising, irrevocable, undeviating, final"; he was the Chosen One with the divine mission. Hans Frank joined the German Workers' Party (DAP) which in 1920 beame the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). There is an early photograph showing Frank in his Storm Division (SA) uniform, looking proud (O'Connor, 2013). Frank joined the Nazi Party, participated in a failed coup, became Hitler's personal attorney, ascended to the Minister of Justice in Bavaria, became the head of the National Socialist Jurists Association and President of the Academy of German Law, obtained the position of Reich Minister without Portfolio, of the Chief of Administration to von Rundsted (a military official overseeing the Nazis' rule in occupied Poland), was soon promoted to Governor-General of the newly "acquired" Polish territories. Hans Frank was ambitious and powerful. In the Nazi system, he made one career move after the other (via) and sort of became Hitler's vice-king (via).
R.C. Lukas agrees Poland was ‘a laboratory’ in which National Socialism tested its methods of administration and exploitation with a view to applying the results elsewhere in its Lebensraum empire. Analysis of the events at stake here cannot be carried out in terms of economic utility and institutional functioning alone. A vibrant variable underwrote the unity and trajectory of the system. A racism burned at the top of the Third Reich which was so thorough and uninhibited that it implicated the subordinate institutional hierarchies deeply. It was like a flame running along a system of fuses towards explosives. Poland experienced the ‘purest expression’ of National Socialism and mass murder grew up there as deliberate policy. It became ‘a trial ground for the extermination and enslavement policy’ planned for the Soviet Union. (via)
Hans Frank was the one responsible for tearing Jewish people from their homes and sending them into death camps. He oversaw six death camps in Poland (in Belzec, Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibór). Frank, the accomplice to genocide known as the "Butcher of Poland", later testified at the Nuremberg trials that he had had no idea what was had been going on in the death camps and had only heard of rumours (see: testimony from 18 April 1946). 
Frank was indicted for his war crimes and stood trial in Nuremberg in 1945 where he was one of only two Nazi officials to show guilt and remorse. After eleven months, the trial came to an end on 1 October 1946. He was declared guilty and sentenced to death. On 16 October, Hans Frank was executed by hanging (via).

This guilt he showed at the trials was, according to his son Niklas Frank, all lies. Niklas Frank was born in 1939 as the youngest of five children. In 1987, he published an accusatory book about his father; more books followed. Chronicling his father's crimes was not appreciated by his siblings and a great many others in Germany. Within his family, the reception to his father's book was, in fact, negative. Some of his siblings sent letters to newspapers saying: "This is not a proper son". One day, his older brother told him: "I hated your books, but I am grateful that you wrote them." (via). Not only in his books does Niklas Frank attack his father. The reactions are not always positive since there seems to be a disturbing element in this son despising everything about his father:
Reactions to what was said that evening varied but one strong theme did emerge. Widespread sympathy for Niklas’s attacks on his father was tempered by discomfort at the sheer level of vitriol and apparent absence of filial warmth. His father was a “big coward”, Niklas said, a man who “knew everything about the Holocaust” yet “went on and on and on”; a man who refused to take responsibility for the crimes he had committed. (via)
Niklas Frank's book "The Father: A Revenge" is irritating, from the very beginning (see excerpts below). According to Dahlke (2007), Frank forces the reader to take a voyeuristic position. Frank imagines a dialogue with his father, addresses him; the dialogue is doomed to fail since his dead father can neither respond nor listen. Dahlke asks the question whether Frank forces his readers to take over the dead father's role. With his hatred, the author tries to distance himself from his father but fails to do so. His emotions, in fact, are not under his control. The father is defeated but still has an enormous impact on the son who is turned into a stuttering, self-hating adolescent without self-reflection, an attempt to judge his father becomes a failed attempt to save himself, so Dahlke. 
You told me once I should make peace with my father. I have peace with my father because I acknowledged his crimes, and so I could lead a really good life, and also a happy one.
Niklas Frank

> This is how the book starts:

Top Nazi sperm enters a top Nazi egg.
She had no orgasm when you came - when I came.
She had no lofty sensations when you were lying on top of her, fat as you were - not even at the time you were siring me. You never knew that. I got it from Aunt Margot. "Can't imagine what men find in all that," Mother would say in astonishment - and then she would have one pregnancy after another. (Were you always the father?) Yet she bore me for you, the Minister of the Reich without Portfolio, the President of the Academy of German Justice, the Governor General of Poland and today a bloody footnote to the history of our times - executed, thank God, cremated and scattered in the Konwentz Brook at Solln near Munich, your ashes mixed with those of Göring, of Streicher and Ribbentrop, of Jodl and Kaltenbrunner, of Frick, Keitel, Seyss-Inquart, of Sauckel and Rosenberg - a nauseating water-soluble Nazi mess.

Your final photograph is on the table in front of me. There you are, still fresh in your death, at rest on your blanket, with your neck broken, your eyes closed, your mouth half open, your full lips maybe just a touch too pale - did you bite your lips under your black hood at the moment of your plunge?

> Some more excerpts:

(...) The suit in which you dangled out your life is really quite becoming. Or did they dress you in it after the fact? Was this when they also wiped the blood from your lips? As you were falling through the trapdoor, did you strike your chin on its wooden edge on the way down? Was that the reason for the blood? How unfair it would have been if the blow had knocked you out. You deserved to enjoy, in full awareness, every last millietre of rope, right up to the final shock. (...)

As a child I made your death my own.
The nights just before 16 October became sacred for me. I took pleasure in your death. (...) Maybe you have one more thing to tell me? Here is your opportunity. For even in your case the executioners insist on honouring that foolish tradiiton and letting you - you dreadful chatterbox - say a few final words. Well, get on with it, then: give me your final greeting. maybe now is the time for that word of advice about paper clips; or maybe very loudly you could shout, "My God, how you have all pissed on me!"; or "Hello, Herr Hoegner - my wife will never forgive you for being here!"; or: "What a life that was and what a death!" But no; you had to remain a smarmy bastard to the very end, for the present and for the hereafter. And so you say: "My thanks for the kind treatment shown to me during my imprisonment. I beg the Lord to accept me mercifully."
That sentence is only gramatically in order, Father.
(...) Were those words your ticket to Paradise?
The rope took your breath away even before the fall - the very second before, when you were standing up there, high above the others, your head in the black hood, your heart a high-pressure pump, your body stiff with the frenzy of fear. Yes, Father, it is a goddamned shitty shame to die completely awake and fully conscious, fit a as a fiddle, having been tested and declared by the officials at Nuremberg to belong to the top third of Nazi criminals, well-fed while all of Europe is starving - and then for you to give in and in a loud whisper say, "Jesus, have mercy"!
"I heard him say it very clearly. Before the snapping sound. That, you see, was the terrible thing about your father's death, that sound of his neck cracking. You could hear it all over the gymnasium." I weep, Father, I weep. Why do I weep? What was the snapping like? Like a cork being pulled from a bottle? Like the sound of a willow walking stick breaking? Like the splitting  of a log? Like the clicking of your tongue against the roof of your mouth?
It was the last sound you made; the only thing that followed it was your death fart. You are hanging. You are left there hanging. You are swaying gently back and forth. (...)
The end of a criminal, a big shot gets hanged, a thoroughly cultivated German, someone who had known the truth of poetry and music and who sold out for a Horch, a Mercedes and a luxury private railway carriage with mahogany and decadence on all sides.

(...) Well, Father, I've got to congratulate you on the creation of a post-war Germany, a new country in your spirit. (...) a raped land (...).
Once again, a choking, suffocatig, putrid mantle of political self-glorification has settled down over Germany. The arrogance of power is on the march just as you were then. They have your same shameless, sordid manner; they manipulate the law, they disdain the average citizen. No, your ties were not swept away with your ashes in the waters of the Konwentz at Solln. Your goddamned sahses fertilised far too many plants along the edge of that brook; they germinated again. Because of people like you, your Eternal Germany is threatened more from within than from without and its conscience is like yours - which is to say, it does not exist. One fateful initiative, one evil impulse, coming from almost anywhere and you can take over the reins once more, you and a thousand others like you. (...)
I have wicked fantasies lodged in my brain, one of them an image of millions of gallows erected along the autobahns right after the war; of the American Hangman Woods driving slowly past them in your confiscated Maybach and releasing the trapdoors one after the other. What a wholesome chorus of cracking necks would have resounded over Germany, the snapping neck bones of all those judges, lawyers, industrialists, guards, wardens and informers. (...)
Imagine a second that you survived, you the prototype of the German criminal (...). After a bit of de-Nazification, your metamorphosis from Nazi to good Christian Democrat would have taken place without a hitch. (...) your inspiring voice would reflect your ardour for the new democracy and your condemnation of the brownshirt dictatorship, to which, alas, you had falle a helpless victim (...).

The snapping of your neck spared me from having a totally screwed-up life. You certainly would have poisened  my brain with all your drivel, the fate of the silent majority of my generation who did not have the good fortune of having their fathers hanged.
That's why I'm happy to be your son, How poor by comparison are all the millions of other children whose fathers spouted the same rubbish filled with deceit and cowardice, with bloodthirstiness and inhumanity, but who were not so prominent as you. Their tirades were not worth recording, their journals not worth preserving. I have it good. (...)

There is no doubt about it: you will also lose the second Nuremnberg trial, this mini trial with your son as prosecutor, judge and hangman in one. (...) Almost every person who has ever spoken with me about you has had a remarkable urge to defend you to me (...). They told me this was utterly appalling and kept insisting on the virtue of filial piety - a virtue that evidently is meant never to be consumed, not even by the flames of the ovens that were packed with Jews. (...)

(...) you were a real arsehole of a human being. (...) And only after I die will I let my inner swine loose; will I let loose of you, you swine. (...)

When was your death? The first time you heard Hitler speak? (...)

(...) Your mother had run off to Prague by this time, a fabulous woman. Did she perhaps have an inkling that she had given birth to Rosemary's Baby?

(...) and I sit there in the Philharmonic Hall like an evil little sprite on your rounded shoulders (you already had that greasy look that came upon you with the years, already fat and paunchy) - I sit like a sprite on your shoulders with not a thought in the world for Meister Furtwängler; and I whisper in your ear:
Father, you have only nine more years to live. This neck of yours that I'm holding tight between my little legs... in exactly 3,567 days the sound of its snapping will reverberate through the gymnasium at Nuremberg. (...)
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- Dahlke, B. (2007). Familienpornographie. Niklas Franks Abrechnung mit dem Täter-Vater. In. I. Stephan & A. Tacke (Hg.) Geschichte(n) erzählen. Nach-Bilder des Holocaust (53-65). Böhlau Verlag; link
-  Frank, N. (German original published in 1987). The Father.: A Revenge. A Son's Judgement on His Nazi War Criminal Father. Biteback Publishing.
- O' Connor, G. (2013). The Butcher of Poland. Hitler's Lawyer Hans Frank. History Pr.
- photographs of Niklas Frank via and via and via and via

Thursday 28 September 2023

Alice (II)

Alice was born with Down’s syndrome, but she is no different to any other little girl. She feels what we all feel. She needs what you and I need. 
We hadn’t been planning on another baby, and I was not prepared for how I would respond after Alice was born. She did not feel like my other children, and part of my instinct was to pull away from her. I was fraught with anxiety; I once dreamt Alice was swaddled in a blanket and I had forgotten all about her. Alice was so small, but I knew she could feel my rejection. I was deeply sad that I could not immediately love my child – I wanted to make our relationship better, and the responsibility lay with me.

This photograph was taken last spring, in the midst of a virus. Alice is vulnerable to sickness, and when she is ill, she becomes very ill, very quickly. She has had pneumonia twice this year, which means the whole family is consumed for the duration with anxiety over her health. Life comes to a standstill during these periods. I can spend an entire week just sitting with her, tense with worry. The moment the illness breaks, life returns to the house. 

She had been sleeping on the sofa. For a very brief moment, she sat upright and looked right through me. I remember the spring light and a strand of hair against her skin; I wanted to move it, like an irritation. I felt what it must be like to be Alice in that moment.  

You get a sense in this picture, I think, of Alice’s ease in making meaningful contact with other people. It is uncomfortable for most of us to be seen or witnessed by others; we can be fearful of what we think others will see in us. Alice is oblivious to that. She is free of judgment. Sometimes, it can feel like she is all-seeing.

Alice is wilful and determined, like me. She thrives on physical intimacy and is not afraid of giving or receiving it. She demands connection with people. She’s often very capable of choosing someone to connect with deeply. She usually has a strong impact on them.

When I was pregnant with her, we got a call from the hospital informing us our baby had a one in 30 chance of having Down’s syndrome. The language of risk was used as a matter of course, the underlying assumption being that we would want to have further tests; that, inevitably, we would want to terminate our pregnancy. There was not a single positive conversation with doctors or staff at the hospital, no discussion about Down’s syndrome, of how things might work out or how we might prepare.

Once Alice was delivered, the mood worsened. She was talked of as a medical condition, a diagnosis, a statistical failure of medical practice. I’ve learned since that 92% of babies with Down’s syndrome are terminated at the pre-natal screening stage. Prior to the introduction of such screenings, many children like Alice were severely marginalised, and often institutionalised, with little or limited medical care. 

I no longer see Down’s syndrome. I just see Alice. I still have to manage my expectations. Having a child like Alice means I can’t assert my authority as a parent. Alice is Alice. She will develop in her own time, and if anyone wants her to be anything other than who and how she is, they will achieve nothing at all. This can feel frustrating at times, but then parenting any child has its frustrations. 

Photographing Alice has helped me shine a light on why I struggled to love her, all the fear and uncertainty I felt. She has guided me to what needed to be expressed. I always knew she loved me, it was never about that. It was about me needing to fall in love with her – and I did, unconditionally.

by Sian Davey (2015)

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photographs by Sian Davey via and via

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Alice (I)

This series is an illustration of family life — all the tensions, joys, ups and downs that go with the territory of being in a family. My family is a microcosm for the dynamics occurring in many other families. We are no different. As a psychotherapist I have listened to many stories and it is interesting that what has been revealed to me, after fifteen years of practice, is not how different we are to one another, but rather how alike we are as people. It is what we share that is significant. The stories vary but we all experience similar emotions. We are all vulnerable to feelings of anger, grief and depression. The list goes on…  

My daughter Alice, born with Down’s Syndrome, is no different to any other human being. She feels what you and I feel. However, our society does not acknowledge this and her very existence is given little or no value. Alice has entered a world where routine genetic screening at twelve weeks gestation is thrust towards birth prevention rather than birth preparation. Whilst we make our selection and decisions in private, the effect on society is that 92 percent of Down’s Syndrome babies are terminated at the pre-natal screening stage. Indeed, prior to the introduction of screening, children such as Alice would have been severely marginalized and ultimately institutionalized and given little or limited medical care. 

I was deeply shocked when Alice was born as an ‘imperfect’ baby. It was not what I had expected. Our first experiences in hospital did little to diffuse this. The pediatrician pulled back her legs, pushed her thumbs deep into Alice’s groin, and promptly announced that we should take Alice home and treat her like any other baby. But she didn’t feel like any other baby, and I was fraught with anxiety that rippled through to every aspect of my relationship with her. My anxieties penetrated my dreams. I dreamt that Alice was swaddled in a blanket and that I had forgotten all about her. I unwrapped the tight bundle that she was nestled in, to feed her, only to discover her body was covered in a white fluid — a fluid of neglect; and yet I was unable to feed her, unable to respond to her basic needs. 

On reflection I saw that Alice was feeling my rejection of her and that caused me further pain. I saw that the responsibility lay with me; I had to dig deep into my own prejudices and shine a light on them. The result was that as my fear dissolved I fell in love with my daughter. We all did. 

I wonder how it might be for Alice to be valued without distinction, without exception and without second glance. 

This project is for her, for Alice.

by Sian Davey, series "Looking for Alice"

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photographs by Sian Davey via and via and via and via and via aand via 

Tuesday 26 September 2023

The Family Transmission of Ethnic Prejudice

Generally speaking, research on the intergenerational transmission of ethnic prejudice is rather scarce. According to current socialisation theories, the transmission is a bidirectional process involving both parents and children as active persons influencing the outcomes. Transmission becomes a negotiation process. In the context of values, it was suggested that children do not imitate their parental values but interpret them in innovative ways. During adolescence, asymmetrical constellations of earlier periods are renegotiated and relationships outside the family become more important. Adolescents start considering diverse categories and become quite active in the transmission process (Zagrean et al., 2022).

Studies concerning the transmission of ethnic prejudice have unfortunately focused almost exclusively on childhood, thus leaving the adolescence phase under-investigated (Crocetti et al. 2021). Around the age of seven to eight, children begin to consolidate a preference for their ethnicity and progressively reach an identification with their ethnic ingroup. The research involving parents and pre-school- and school-age children (up to 12 years) showed mixed results. Indeed, some of them found a high degree of similarity between the parents’ and the children’s ethnic prejudice (e.g., Epstein and Komorita 1966; Katz 2003), while others reported only a moderate or low similarity (...). Castelli et al. (2009), in their study involving Italian parents and biological three- to six-year-old children, found that the parents’ explicit and implicit negative attitudes1 towards immigrants predicted those of their children, but only in the case of the mothers.

In their systematic review of research articles (four databases: Ebsco, Scopus, PubMed, Web of Science), a study carried out in 2021, Zagrean et al. (2022) addressed the following research questions:

(a) To what extent is there a vertical (between parents and children) and horizontal (between siblings) transmission of ethnic prejudice within the family?
(b) Is the family transmission of ethnic prejudice unidirectional (from parents to children) or bidirectional (between parents and children)?
(c) Which individual and/or relational variables influence the transmission of ethnic prejudice within the family?
(d) Can adolescents’ intergroup contact experiences affect the family influence on adolescents’ ethnic prejudice?

The findings show a moderate bidirectional transmission of ethnic prejudice between parents and adolescents which was influenced by variables such as the adolescents' age, their birth order, their and their parents' gender, the parents' income and the quality of the family relationship (in terms of warmth, closeness, parenting style). The parents' influence and the adolescents' ethnic prejudice were reduced by the adolescents' positive (and frequent) contacts with peers of different ethnicities.

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- Zagrean, I., Barni, D. Russo, C. & Danioni, F. (2022). The Family Transmission of Ethnic Prejudice: A Systematic Review of Research Articles with Adolescents. Social Sciences, 11(6), link
- photograph by Joseph Szabo (1978) via

Monday 25 September 2023

Recruiters Getting Ageist Guidelines

In a survey, 105 hiring professionals were asked if age discrimination was a problem they encountered. 92 of them (88%) said yes and 87% knew of other hiring managers or recruiters who had not considered a candidate because of their age. 58% said that they had experienced ageist guidelines from their clients or from managers and that they had been instructed to pass on a candidate because of age. When advocating for older job seekers, they often see hiring managers turning these candidates down citing stereotypes such as "culture fit, lack of drive, and outdated skillsets" as reasons. The recruiters reported anecdotally that, at times, they were asked to source "young and pretty" candidates or, in one case, a "blonde and attractive female" (via).

photograph by Joseph Szabo (1975) via

Sunday 24 September 2023

Ingrid Pollard, Black Diaspora and the British Landscape

“Look at that landscape. It’s a managed landscape, the trees have been taken away, there are dry stone walls, there are sheep. Everything about it is fabricated for industrial rural use. The barbed wire, the telegraph pole, the tarmac. Stereotypes about Black people are constructed in exactly the same way.”
Ingrid Pollard

Photographs above and below from the series "Self-Evident", "a series of eight portraits of black men and women posed in English countryside scenes. Each of them holds an object associated, with the Afro-Carribean diaspora. These range from tropical flowers and a conch shell to objects with more stereotypical connotations such as fried chicken and watermelon." (V&A)

The British pastoral landscape has been an ongoing fascination. The degree to which black people are made to feel "other" when they appear in the countryside, anywhere in the UK, was explored first in the 1980s, with Pastoral Interlude. (via)

Pastoral Interlude (1982-1987) is, in fact, Pollard's most famous work. In this series of images and texts, she pairs photographs of Black people in rural English environments "with words that sit in uneasy tension with the images", pointing towards histories of empire and slavery with words such as: "I wandered lonely as a Black face in a sea of white" or "searching for sea-shells, waves lap my wellington boots, carrying lost souls of brothers and sisters over the ship side". The texts are no captions, on the contrary, text and image are in opposition.

People immediately say [about Pastoral Interlude]: ‘It’s about alienation. It’s about white landscape, Black people. It’s eerie,’. It gets bashed into whatever shape people want to put it in. People want me to say that I'm alienate because then they can say: 'Oh, I understand that. Black people should be in the Caribbean or Africa, that's where they came from.'
Ingrid Pollard

"When I left my parents, I used to go with friends to the Lake District. I wouldn’t see another black person for a week, and you would notice. It was hard. My white friends would be going to relax, and it would create anxiety for me. I appreciate the countryside, but it wasn’t particularly relaxing. I just wanted to do something about that. 
In England there’s a very specific way of viewing the rural, with land ownership, and the colonial aspect of Britain where they went around clearing land. It’s a long, complicated history. People later came from overseas seeking opportunity in England, but it’s the repercussions of colonialism, and the way it has affected particular countries, that people are feeling now. 
It has changed over time—there are a number of organisations encouraging black people to visit the countryside, and the National Trust are using pictures of black people in their properties. Things are changing slowly, and it’s never quick enough. My work came out of that, but I was looking at very specific areas like Cumbria, not just the general countryside. It’s still very relevant."

Ingrid Pollard

I was working as a screen printer as well as doing photography, and I was working with a number of people. The politics were very different, with Thatcher in power, and it definitely impacted me. I didn’t come from a middle class route of going straight from school to university. I had ten years between school and getting to university. I was a cleaner, a gardener and I was unemployed for a while. My parents were immigrants, and I was dyslexic. I didn’t know anyone who was an artist, so I didn’t think about that as a career. Being an artist is about resilience, but that starts from age eleven. It wasn’t my route.
Ingrid Pollard

At school they had low expectations of black kids, and I didn’t have any black teachers—even in terms of just setting an example. That makes an impression.
Ingrid Pollard

Ingrid Pollard is a British photographer, media artist and researcher. She became active within the London lesbian scene at a time it was still a "white feminist world", then as part of a Black lesbian breakaway group. The first conference of the Organisation of Women of African and Asican Descent was held, which was, as Pollard says "mind-boggling" since there were "like a thousand Black women here who called themselves feminists". It was out of this social and political context, that she created series such as "Pastoral Interlude" or "The Cost of the English Landscape" (via).

I look at how in terms of representation, in paintings, in prints, how they've represented black people outside those metropolitan areas– or in the rural areas. You think of the industrial revolution, the 1800s, that was a splitting point for the majority of people who stopped being in the rural areas. They came to be in the metropolitan areas. The machinery took over in the rural areas, but in cities particularly. When we talk about the rural, I'm thinking about hundreds of years. So it's that about England– who is pictured where doing what in particular pieces of work or who is associated with class, money, land ownership and how that's been represented in paintings.
Ingrid Pollard

Photography was being impacted from the very beginning, how they saw other lands, what reflection was on power, class, etc because there's never one without the other. I'm interested in those binary oppositions– here and there, them and us, before and after. I'm interested in the history of photography– now things suddenly jump into the digital not knowing its relationship to class, discoveries, colonialism, etc.
Ingrid Pollard

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photographs via and via and via and via 

Saturday 23 September 2023

How does it feel to be a problem? W. E. B. Du Bois on the unasked question.

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

And yet, being a problem is a strange experience, -peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys' and girls' heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards -ten cents a package -and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card, -refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the world I longed for, and all its dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head, -some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The "shades of the prison-house" closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly watch the streak of blue above.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the N*gro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, -a world which yields him no self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, -an American, a N*gro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.

The history of the American N*gro is the history of this strife, -this longing to attain selfconscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa; he does not wish to bleach his N*gro​ blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he believes -foolishly, perhaps, but fervently -that N*gro blood has yet a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a N*gro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without losing the opportunity of self-development. (...)

W. E. B. Du Bois, excerpts from "Strivings of the N*gro People" (1897)

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photograph by Gary Winogrand via

Friday 22 September 2023

Cursed by Night. By Hannah Price.

Cursed by Night is a series of photographs taken between 2012 and 2013 in Brooklyn, Harlem, Harford, CT, and Philadelphia, PA. In it, my lens portrays a world of darkness to which black males are unfortunately tied, and by which they find themselves cursed. Together, these images form a narrative in which the aiblity to perceive the subject of each portrait is disrupted by the fearful projections of those who understand the world in rigid terms of black and white. This narrative finds its basis in reality: advancements in mobile photography and video have allowed the disturbing frequency of racial fear and its consequences highly visible. We all know how this story often ends.

The darkness of nights acts as both a backdrop and a shroud in my portraits. The subjects belong to it, but in this context they are visually and conceptually obscured by it. A famliar visual language dominates the images: the sharp shadows cast by street lamps, the empty sidewalk, the atmosphere of foreboding. We recognize this as the sterotypical landscape of danger, of menace, of black and everything associated with it. In these photographs, the darkness distorts the representation of its subjects, rendering them as threats, or as invisible. We recognize this as the stereotypical landscape of danger, of menace, or the absence of light and everything associated with it. In these photographs, the darkness distorts the representation of its subjects, rendering them as threats, or as invisible.

"Black" is inseparable from a dense web of figurative connotations, all of them negative: impurity, sin, death, evil. These associations make up the lens through which blackness is perceived by many, and ultimately they are inherited as the burden (the curse) of black men. By using this black and white mode of seeing and following its conventions, Cursed by Night aims to challenge and reveal its power. 
Hannah Price

My role as a photographer is to communicate visually. And personally, for Cursed by Night, I want to document life and politics along with adding the concept of horror. Black men being racially profiled has existed forever in America. Using visual techniques to force a conversation on this particular social issue was my personal goal. Mostly, I hope to just make people think about how they themselves react to black men, even though the work is dark and projects innocent black men in a negative light (which is what racial profiling does). This blatant imagery allows me to talk about the concept and how it affects innocent people’s lives –sometimes by taking their lives.I am also proposing that reaching an understanding of the difference between reality, and the perceptions maintained by non-black people, is the only way we the people can help end this curse.
Hannah Price

photographs by Hannah Price via

Thursday 21 September 2023

Born this day ... Ellis Haizlip

Ellis Haizlip (1929-1991) was the creator, executive producer and host of the TV show Soul! The vision was not to just entertain but to display and promote the variety of Black American culture and  to self-critically reflect various aspects (via) offering viewers "radical ways of imagining - of hearing, feeling, and seeing - black community". For instance, Haizlip refused to divide Black arts into high and low culture and made room for both. The show was extremely successful. In 1968, more than 65% of Black American households watched it regularly (via).

(...) the hour-long variety show was nominally meant to showcase an intrinsically Black perspective on art and politics. In practice, it proved to be something far more radical. (via)

Before Oprah, before Arsenio, there was Mr. SOUL!” On the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, one fearless black pioneer reconceived a Harlem Renaissance for a new era, ushering giants and rising stars of black American culture onto the national television stage. He was hip. He was smart. He was innovative, political, and gay. In his personal fight for social equality, this man ensured the Revolution would be televised. The man was Ellis Haizlip. The Revolution was SOUL! (via)

In the late 1960s, the federal government "sought to redress the grievances of Black communities by giving Black people a louder voice (or simply a voice at all) in publich media". In this very atmosphere, "an unusual show" with the mission to present "a panoramic display of Black artistic sensibilities and political expression" was born: Soul!. (via)

Most pivotally, “Soul!” was a hub of candid, ranging, and often radical Black social and political discourse. Melissa Haizlip explained to me that the show’s producer, host, and creative architect—her uncle Ellis Haizlip—had “an expansive approach toward Black culture.” At a time when a burgeoning Black nationalist movement called upon Black Americans to coalesce under a single ideology of liberation, Haizlip said that her uncle saw to it that “Soul!” presented the true “fluidity of Black thought and Black identity.” (via)

The primary function of Soul! is to give alienated black people a voice. And since TV probably is the most popular medium today, Soul! tries to fill the void for blacks who aren't urned o by any other medium. With this black priority, we don't have to become a multi-purpose program. Black people turn us on every week because they know they will see an undiluted black show. (...) I feel that RB music, especially with many of its new lyrics, forms the floor for black pride. It is totally ours and cannot be purchased or properly imitated by anyone else.
Ellis Haizlip, 1968 (cited in Ebony, March 1972)

(...) unrivalled music, dance, and poetry programming weren’t being deployed just in the service of making good television. Week by week, show by show, segment by segment, Ellis knew that he was helping shape notions of what being Black in America could even mean for hundreds of thousands of people. (via)

When accused of reinforcing stereotypes of "happy folks who just love to sing and dance", Haizlip responded:

Our job is to present black culture, and R&B music is a vital part of that. Entertainment can be a deep business, it's not all just finger-propping time. We give exposure to black artists of all types - people whom you practically never see on 'white' TV, and I feel good about what we're doing. 
Ellis Haizlip (cited in Ebony, March 1972)

We've actually presented black poets from the very beginning of Soul! and that has been revolutionary. Just name one other consistent TV outlet for those black poets who have been playing such a major role in helping black people deal with today's reality.
Ellis Haizlip (cited in Ebony, March 1972)

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photographs (Haizlip in his office at Channel 13, 1970, by Alex Harsley) via and via

Wednesday 20 September 2023

The Times of Hyper-Masculine Car Adverts are Over

An online car sales site combined data gathered from a survey carried out among 2.000 car buyers with a study by a panel of 12 drivers (from all over the UK, age 18 to 64). The panel looked at adverts and reviews of brands such as BMW, Bentley, Ford and Jaguar and came to the conclusion that so-called hyper-masculine marketing is turning off both female and male consumers (via).

Since the start of car advertising, women have consistently been patronised, derided, or seen as merely objects for men to acquire, or an accessory. In the ’50s, Ford made coats and handbags designed to match cars, but only last year, Renault brought out nail polish to match the car – oh, and bonus, you can use it as a touch-up paint too. Us silly women are always scratching our cars while parking! Some of it may be slightly more subtle now, but it’s still there. Men go on epic adventures, winding along cool roads on exciting mountain passes in car adverts… women, they drive the kids to football practice, or go shopping in their pyjamas.
Rachael Hogg 

73% of Brits agree that car advertisements either personify gender stereotypes or only address men; luxury sports car brands are found most guilty (by 82%) of being presented as "too masculine" in ads. Small cars (including Fiat 500), on the other hand, are perceived to have the least masculine advertising. 68% of car buyers (77% of women, 58% of men) find gender stereotypes in car ads off-putting, 83% feel disconnected from car marketing, 76% of female drivers do not believe car brands understand women's car buying needs.

Asked about advertising in general, i.e., in all industries, 52% said they found hyper-masculine advertisements patronising, 45% thought the ideals of men and women portrayed were impossible to live up to, 59% believed that they reinforce gender stereotypes that no longer reflect how men and women see society (via). The times of hyper-masculine car adverts are - or should be - over. 

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photograph by Claude Nori via

Tuesday 19 September 2023

“Helpless and a cripple”: the disabled child in children’s literature

For more than a century, children described as "cripples" were part of children's literature. Othered and constructed as objects of pity, they were there for other child characters and child readers to sympathise with them. Only the child who was disabled as a result of disobedience was not an object of pity. That way, authors sent the clear message that you shall always obey your elders otherwise this horrible fate might be yours. A great many nineteenth-century books asked child readers to either pity the disabled child or to see the temporary disability as a sort of punishment and lesson since suffering would turn them into better persons.

The able-bodied characters and able-bodied readers were superior to the disabled child. A physical norm was communicated, the disabled child was a deviation from the ideal. The Romantic Child was "innocent, unspoiled", often physically attractive and rather contrasted the child whose disability was described in detail.

In Evangelical writing, the attractive innocent often served as a role model for the reader. "Daisie's Pocket Money" from 1902 is a good illustration: 

Daisie is described as ’a dear little creature, with flaxen hair and blue eyes’ – wouldn’t all readers want to be like her - and, if they couldn’t be like her physically, they could emulate her goodness. She saves her pocket money in order to pay for an operation for her friend Edith, who ‘fell and hurt her spine’ and cannot sit up. Her money, of course, is not enough but the ‘great doctor’ is touched by Daisie’s innocent appeal and visits (and cures) Edith anyway.

According to Perry Nodelman, "children's literature represents a massive effort by adults to colonise children to make them believe that they ought to be the way adults would like them to be". Hugh Cunningham sees a manipulation of the public using sentimental appeals on behalf of children, of the homeless, of the disabled. Both, in fact, children's and adult literature did this equally. Robert Pattison points out that these books are political since the child character and the child reader are used "to expose the imperfections of the world" around them and to foster the author's ideologies.

Many of these writers for children were thus doing as Peter Hollindale points out Charles Dickens did for adults, in using the child as ‘a lens or measure by which adult practices can be socially and morally exposed.’  Authors wanted to develop compassionate (and generous) children, but they wanted this to continue into adulthood; the compassionate children of today were to become the child rescuers of tomorrow. (Hillel, 2005)

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- Hillel, M. (2005). "Helpless and a cripple": the disable child in children's literature. In (eds) R. Finlay & Salbayre, S. Stories for Children, Histories of Childhood, Volume 2, (127-137), link
- photograph by Simon Pope (London, 1973-1975) via

Monday 18 September 2023

There is no such thing as western civilisation. By Kwame Anthony Appiah.

"(...) Someone asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of western civilisation, and he replied: “I think it would be a very good idea.” Like many of the best stories, alas, this one is probably apocryphal; but also like many of the best stories, it has survived because it has the flavour of truth. But my own response would have been very different: I think you should give up the very idea of western civilisation. It is at best the source of a great deal of confusion, at worst an obstacle to facing some of the great political challenges of our time. I hesitate to disagree with even the Gandhi of legend, but I believe western civilisation is not at all a good idea, and western culture is no improvement.

One reason for the confusions “western culture” spawns comes from confusions about the west. We have used the expression “the west” to do very different jobs. Rudyard Kipling, England’s poet of empire, wrote, “Oh, east is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet”, contrasting Europe and Asia, but ignoring everywhere else. During the cold war, “the west” was one side of the iron curtain; “the east” its opposite and enemy. This usage, too, effectively disregarded most of the world. Often, in recent years, “the west” means the north Atlantic: Europe and her former colonies in North America. The opposite here is a non-western world in Africa, Asia and Latin America – now dubbed “the global south” – though many people in Latin America will claim a western inheritance, too. This way of talking notices the whole world, but lumps a whole lot of extremely different societies together, while delicately carving around Australians and New Zealanders and white South Africans, so that “western” here can look simply like a euphemism for white.

Of course, we often also talk today of the western world to contrast it not with the south but with the Muslim world. And Muslim thinkers sometimes speak in a parallel way, distinguishing between Dar al-Islam, the home of Islam, and Dar al-Kufr, the home of unbelief. I would like to explore this opposition further. Because European and American debates today about whether western culture is fundamentally Christian inherit a genealogy in which Christendom is replaced by Europe and then by the idea of the west.

This civilisational identity has roots going back nearly 1,300 years, then. But to tell the full story, we need to begin even earlier.

For the Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the fifth century BC, the world was divided into three parts. To the east was Asia, to the south was a continent he called Libya, and the rest was Europe. He knew that people and goods and ideas could travel easily between the continents: he himself travelled up the Nile as far as Aswan, and on both sides of the Hellespont, the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia. Herodotus admitted to being puzzled, in fact, as to “why the earth, which is one, has three names, all women’s”. Still, despite his puzzlement, these continents were for the Greeks and their Roman heirs the largest significant geographical divisions of the world.

But here’s the important point: it would not have occurred to Herodotus to think that these three names corresponded to three kinds of people: Europeans, Asians, and Africans. He was born at Halicarnasus – Bodrum in modern Turkey. Yet being born in Asia Minor didn’t make him an Asian; it left him a Greek. And the Celts, in the far west of Europe, were much stranger to him than the Persians or the Egyptians, about whom he knew rather a lot. Herodotus only uses the word “European” as an adjective, never as a noun. For a millennium after his day, no one else spoke of Europeans as a people, either.

(...) What matters for our purposes is that the first recorded use of a word for Europeans as a kind of person, so far as I know, comes out of this history of conflict. In a Latin chronicle, written in 754 in Spain, the author refers to the victors of the Battle of Tours as “Europenses”, Europeans. So, simply put, the very idea of a “European” was first used to contrast Christians and Muslims. (Even this, however, is a bit of a simplification. In the middle of the eighth century much of Europe was not yet Christian.)

Now, nobody in medieval Europe would have used the word “western” for that job. For one thing, the coast of Morocco, home of the Moors, stretches west of Ireland. For another, there were Muslim rulers in the Iberian Peninsula – part of the continent that Herodotus called Europe – until nearly the 16th century. The natural contrast was not between Islam and the west, but between Christendom and Dar al‑Islam, each of which regarded the other as infidels, defined by their unbelief.

(...) We have, then, a clear sense of Christian Europe – Christendom – defining itself through opposition. And yet the move from “Christendom” to “western culture” isn’t straightforward.

(...) But the golden-nugget story was bound to be beset by difficulties. It imagines western culture as the expression of an essence – a something – which has been passed from hand to hand on its historic journey. The pitfalls of this sort of essentialism are evident in a wide range of cases. Whether you are discussing religion, nationality, race or culture, people have supposed that an identity that survives through time and space must be propelled by some potent common essence. But that is simply a mistake. What was England like in the days of Chaucer, father of English literature, who died more than 600 years ago? Take whatever you think was distinctive of it, whatever combination of customs, ideas, and material things that made England characteristically English then. Whatever you choose to distinguish Englishness now, it isn’t going to be that. Rather, as time rolls on, each generation inherits the label from an earlier one; and, in each generation, the label comes with a legacy. But as the legacies are lost or exchanged for other treasures, the label keeps moving on. And so, when some of those in one generation move from the territory to which English identity was once tied – move, for example, to a New England – the label can even travel beyond the territory. Identities can be held together by narratives, in short, without essences. You don’t get to be called “English” because there’s an essence that this label follows; you’re English because our rules determine that you are entitled to the label by being somehow connected with a place called England.

So how did the people of the north Atlantic, and some of their kin around the world, get connected to a realm we call the west, and gain an identity as participants in something called western culture?

t will help to recognise that the term “western culture” is surprisingly modern – more recent certainly than the phonograph. (...)

So the very idea of the “west,” to name a heritage and object of study, doesn’t really emerge until the 1890s, during a heated era of imperialism, and gains broader currency only in the 20th century. When, around the time of the first world war, Oswald Spengler wrote the influential book translated as The Decline of the West – a book that introduced many readers to the concept – he scoffed at the notion that there were continuities between western culture and the classical world. During a visit to the Balkans in the late 1930s, the writer and journalist Rebecca West recounted a visitor’s sense that “it’s uncomfortably recent, the blow that would have smashed the whole of our western culture”. The “recent blow” in question was the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683.

If the notion of Christendom was an artefact of a prolonged military struggle against Muslim forces, our modern concept of western culture largely took its present shape during the cold war. In the chill of battle, we forged a grand narrative about Athenian democracy, the Magna Carta, Copernican revolution, and so on. Plato to Nato. Western culture was, at its core, individualistic and democratic and liberty-minded and tolerant and progressive and rational and scientific. Never mind that pre-modern Europe was none of these things, and that until the past century democracy was the exception in Europe – something that few stalwarts of western thought had anything good to say about. The idea that tolerance was constitutive of something called western culture would have surprised Edward Burnett Tylor, who, as a Quaker, had been barred from attending England’s great universities. To be blunt: if western culture were real, we wouldn’t spend so much time talking it up. (...)"

by Kwame Anthony Appiah, 2016, via The Guardian, full article: LINK

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photograph by Raphael Albert via

Sunday 17 September 2023

Women Are Teachers. Men Are Professors.

Abstract: Sociology students' perceptions of their instructors' educational attainment levels are examined empirically. We find gender disparities: students misattribute in an upward direction the level of education actually attained by male graduate student instructors, while they misattribute in a downward direction the level of formal education attained by women, even when the female faculty member is a full professor.

The misattributions are linked to the imputed statuses "teacher" for women, and "professor" for men, regardless of the actual positions held or the credentials earned by faculty members and graduate student instructors. We suggest that a process of marginalization explains the empirical findings--a process that is attributed by others, but chosen by the self, regardless of the social and economic costs incurred. Consequences for students and sociology professors are discussed. (Miller & Chamberlin, 2000)

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- Miller, J. & Chamberlin, M. (2000). Women Are Teachers, Men Are Professors: A Study of Student Perceptions. Teaching Sociology, 28(4), link
- photograph by Joseph Szabo via

Saturday 16 September 2023

Lunar Geisha. By Michelle Watt.

When Michelle Watt was four, her family left China and moved to the US where she grew up. As a young woman, Watt bar-tendered for a couple of years in New York and experienced what it means to be turned into the fetishised Asian woman. 

It happens still to this day, but you know how you’re treated as a young woman behind a bar. You’re like a baby sheep in a pack of wolves. And my Asianness kept coming up as a way in for them. Michelle Watt

Michelle Watt's reaction was to create "Lunar Geisha", surrealistic compositions, a portrait series of a Geisha, the metaphor for the hypersexualised Asian woman. In her photographs, Watt also symbolises the "good daughter" within Asian society and the object of desire within the US-American one (via). The series explores how Asian women "are thrust into playing certain roles, the ways in which they become complicit in those stereotypes and the ways in which they rebel against them" (via).

It’s not really an inspiration as much as it’s a compulsion to work it out. Deconstructing it through staging and storytelling and narrative in these symbolic ways ends up being a really healing way of dealing with those things.
Michelle Watt

“I wanted to show how, even within Asian society, women are forced to play roles in ways that they may not necessarily want to; roles that may often be silencing them. And how – in order to fit in, in order to find a sense of belonging – we betray ourselves, and we play along.”
Michelle Watt

“Am I being hired because I’m being used as a token? Is that okay? Am I going to fight that? It’s complicated. I always feel like I’m asking these questions.”
Michelle Watts

“I crave things like belonging and love. I want to feel like I’m attractive and to have that validated by men — or by anyone. And so I’ve been complicit in fulfilling these stereotypes in order to gain the favour of others. But the first step of breaking any sort of bad behaviour or habit is to recognise it. So making stories like this helps me address that.”
Michelle Watt

“It’s complicated because you want to play that part because you want to belong somewhere. But you also don’t really like that part, so you don’t really want to play the part. That’s kind of confusing. Codependency is a huge theme there.”
Michelle Watts

photographs via and via