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Public Worlds

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Abiding by Sri Lanka

On Peace, Place, and Postcoloniality

Qadri Ismail

The lack of peace in Sri Lanka is commonly portrayed as a consequence of a violent, ethnonationalist conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority. Viewed in this light, resolution could be attained through conflict management. But, as Qadri Ismail reveals, this is too simplistic an understanding and cannot produce lasting peace. 

Abiding by Sri Lanka examines how the disciplines of anthropology, history, and literature treat the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. Anthropology, Ismail contends, approaches Sri Lanka as an object from an “outside” and western point of view. History, addressing the conflict from the “inside,” abides by the place and so promotes change that is nationalist and exclusive. Neither of these fields imagines an inclusive community. Literature, Ismail argues, can. 

With close readings of texts that “abide” by Sri Lanka, texts that have a commitment to it, Ismail demonstrates that the problems in Sri Lanka raise fundamental concerns for us all regarding the relationship between democracies and minorities. Recognizing the structural as well as political tendencies of representative democracies to suppress minorities, Ismail rethinks democracy by redefining the concept of the minority perspective, not as a subject-position of numerical insignificance, but as a conceptual space that opens up the possibility for distinction without domination and, ultimately, peace. 

Qadri Ismail is associate professor of English at the University of Minnesota. He has also been a journalist in Sri Lanka.

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American Pentimento

The Invention of Indians and the Pursuit of Riches

Patricia Seed

Americans like to see themselves as far removed from their European ancestors’ corrupt morals, imperial arrogance, and exploitation of native resources. Yet, as Patricia Seed argues in American Pentimento, this is far from the truth. The modern regulations and pervading attitudes that control native rights in the Americas may appear unrelated to colonial rule, but traces of the colonizers’ cultural, religious, and economic agendas nonetheless remain. Seed likens this situation to a pentimento-a painting in which traces of older compositions or alterations become visible over time-and shows how the exploitation begun centuries ago continues today.

In her analysis, Seed examines how European countries, primarily England, Spain, and Portugal, differed in their colonization of the Americas. She details how the English appropriated land, while the Spanish and Portuguese attempted to eliminate "barbarous" religious behavior and used indigenous labor to take mineral resources. Ultimately, each approach denied native people distinct aspects of their heritage. Seed argues that their differing effects persist, with natives in former English colonies fighting for land rights, while those in former Spanish and Portuguese colonies fight for human dignity. Seed also demonstrates how these antiquated cultural and legal vocabularies are embedded in our languages, popular cultures, and legal systems, and how they are responsible for current representations and treatment of Native Americans. We cannot, she asserts, simply attribute the exploitation of natives’ resources to distant, avaricious colonists but must accept the more disturbing conclusion that it stemmed from convictions that are still endemic in our culture.

Wide-ranging and essential to future discussions of the legacies of colonialism, American Pentimento presents a radical new approach to history, one which uses paradigms from anthropology and literary criticism to emphasize language as the basis of law and culture.

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Calibrations

Reading For The Social

Ato Quayson

Ato Quayson explores a practice of reading that oscillates rapidly between domains—the literary-aesthetic, the social, the cultural, and the political—in order to uncover the mutually illuminating nature of these domains. He does this not to assert the often repeated postmodernist view that there is nothing outside the text, but to outline a method of reading he calls calibrations: a form of close reading of literature with what lies beyond it as a way of understanding structures of transformation, process, and contradiction that inform both literature and society.

Quayson surveys a wide array of texts—ranging from Bob Marley lyrics, Toni Morrison’s work, Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History, and Althusser’s reflections on political economy—and treats a broad range of themes: the comparative structures of alienation in literature and anthropology, cultural heroism as a trope in African society and politics, literary tragedy as a template for reading the life and activism of Ken Saro-Wiwa, trauma and the status of citizenship in post-apartheid South Africa, representations of physical disability, and the clash between enchanted and disenchanted time in postcolonial texts.


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Electronic Elsewheres

Media, Technology, and the Experience of Social Space

Chris Berry

Media do not simply portray places that already exist; they actually produce them. In exploring how world populations experience "place" through media technologies, the essays included here examine how media construct the meanings of home, community, work, nation, and citizenship.

Tracing how media reconfigure the boundaries between public and private-and global and local-to create "electronic elsewheres," the essays investigate such spaces and identities as the avatars that women are creating on Web sites, analyze the role of satellite television in transforming Algerian neighborhoods, inquire into the roles of radio and television in Israel and India, and take a skeptical look at the purported novelty of the "new media home."

Contributors: Asu Aksoy, Istanbul Bilgi U; Charlotte Brunsdon, U of Warwick; Ratiba Hadj-Moussa, York U (Toronto); Tamar Liebes-Plesner, Hebrew U; David Morley, Goldsmiths, U of London; Lisa Nakamura, U of Illinois; Arvind Rajagopal, New York U; Kevin Robins, Goldsmiths, U of London; Jeffrey Sconce, Northwestern U; Marita Sturken, New York U; and Shunya Yoshimi, U of Tokyo.

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Hong Kong

Culture and the Politics of Disappearance

Ackbar Abbas

On June 30, 1997, Hong Kong as we know it will disappear, ceasing its singular and ambiguous existence as a colonial holdover and becoming part of the People’s Republic of China. In an intriguing and provocative exploration of its cinema, architecture, photography, and literature, Ackbar Abbas considers what Hong Kong, with its unique relations to decolonization and disappearance, can teach us about the future of both the colonial city and the global city. The culture of Hong Kong encompasses Jackie Chan and John Woo, British colonial architecture and postmodern skyscrapers. Ironically, it was not until they were faced with the imposition of Mainland power—with the signing of the Sino-British Joint Agreement in 1984—that the denizens of the colony began the search for a Hong Kong identity. According to Abbas, Hong Kong’s peculiar lack of identity is due to its status as “not so much a place as a space of transit,” whose residents think of themselves as transients and migrants on their way from China to somewhere else. Abbas explores the way Hong Kong’s media saturation changes its people’s experience of space so that it becomes abstract, dominated by signs and images that dispel memory, history, and presence. Hong Kong disappears through simple dualities such as East/West and tradition/modernity. What is missing from a view of Hong Kong as merely a colony is the paradox that Hong Kong has benefited from and made a virtue of its dependent colonial status, turning itself into a global and financial city and outstripping its colonizer in terms of wealth. Combining sophisticated theory and a critical perspective, this rich and thought-provoking work captures the complex situation of the metropolis that is contemporary Hong Kong. Along the way, it challenges, entertains, and makes an important contribution to our thinking about the surprising processes and consequences of colonialism. Copublished with Hong Kong University Press

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Metaculture

How Culture Moves through the World

Greg Urban

It is one thing to comprehend how culture makes its way through the world in those cases where something old is reproduced in the same physical shape-where, for example, a song is sung or a story retold. It is another thing altogether, as Greg Urban demonstrates, to think about cultural motion when something new is created-a new song or a new story. And this, the creating of new culture, is the overarching value of the contemporary world, as well as the guiding principle of the capitalist entrepreneur. From the Declaration of Independence to the movie Babe, from the Amazon River to the film studio, from microscopic studies of the words making up myths and books to the large-scale forces of conquest, conversion, and globalization that drive history, Urban follows the clues to a startling revelation: "metaculture" makes the modern, entrepreneurial form of culture possible. In Urban’s work we see how metaculture, in its relationship to newness, explains the peculiar shape of modern society and its institutions, from the prevalence of taste and choice to the processes of the public sphere, to the centrality of persuasion and hegemony within the nation.

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Modernity, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey

Bodies, Places, and Time

Alev Cinar

What would an Islamic modernism look like? The question is a pressing one, as cultures rebel against modernity in its almost exclusively European forms. Alev Cinar's groundbreaking examination of contemporary Turkey, which stands at the threshold of East and West, of religious and secular nationalism, explores modernity through daily practices and the social construction of identity and political agency in relation to nationalism, secularism, and Islam. Focusing on developments of the 1990s, Modernity, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey argues that Islamist ideology generated an alternative modernization project, which applied the same strategies and techniques as that of the modernizing state to produce and institutionalize its own version of an equally thorough nationalist program. Using local details and debates - including a fascinating discussion of veiling as symbolic of both the "liberation" of Western appearance and the Islamists' struggle to rescue their nation's culture - Cinar reveals modernity as a transformative intervention in bodies, places, and times.Bringing a much-needed critical theory approach to bear on the politics of an Islamic nation, Cinar's work introduces a new way of conceptualizing modernity based on the analysis of a non-Western context.

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Nomadic Identities

The Performance Of Citizenship

May Joseph

In a modern world of vast migrations and relocations, the rights—and rites—of citizenship are increasingly perplexing, and ever more important. This book asks how citizenship is enacted when all the world’s the stage. Kung Fu cinema, soul music, plays, and speeches are some of the media May Joseph considers as expressive negotiations for legal and cultural citizenship. Nomadic Identities combines material culture and historical approaches to forge connections between East Africa, India, Britain, the Caribbean, and the United States in the struggles for democratic citizenship. Exploring the notion of nomadic citizenship as a modern construct, Joseph emphasizes culture as the volatile mise-en-scène through which popular conceptions of local and national citizenship emerge. Joseph, an Asian African from Tanzania, brings a personal insight to the question of how citizenship is expressed—particularly the nomadic, conditional citizenship related to histories of migrancy and the tenuous status of immigrants. Nomadic Identities investigates the metaphoric, literal, and performed possibilities available in different arenas of the everyday through which individuals and communities experience citizenship, successfully or not. A unique inquiry into contemporary experiences of migrancy linking Tanzania, Britain, and the United States, this book blends political theory, performance studies, cultural studies, and historical writing. It offers vignettes that describe the official and informal cultural transactions that designate citizenship under the globalizing forces of decolonization, the cold war, and transnational networks. Crossing the globe, Nomadic Identities provides fresh insights into the contemporary phenomena of territorial displacement and the resulting local and transnational movements of people.

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Politics Of Selfhood

Bodies And Identities In Global Capitalism

Richard Harvey Brown

In bodies and selves, we can see politics, economics, and culture play out, and the tensions and crises of society made visible. The women’s movement, lobbies for the elderly, pro-choice and pro-life movements, AIDS research and education, pedophilia and repressed memory, global sports spectacles, organ donor networks, campaigns for safe sex, chastity, or preventive medicine—all are aspects of the contemporary politics of bodies and identities touched on in this book. Three broad themes run through the collection: how the body is constructed in various ways for different purposes, how the electronic media and its uses shape selves and sensualities and contribute to civic discourse, and how global capitalism acts as a direct force in these processes. By taking a distinctly cross-cultural and comparative approach, this volume explores more fully than ever the political, economic, institutional, and cultural settings of corporeality, identity, and representation. Contributors: Antonella Fabri, John Jay College and New York Academy of Medicine; Eva Illouz, Hebrew U of Jerusalem; Philip W. Jenks, Portland State U; Lauren Langman, Loyola U; Timothy W. Luke, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State U; Timothy McGettigan, Colorado State U, Pueblo; Margaret J. Tally, SUNY, Empire State College.

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Race And Reconciliation

Essays From The New South Africa

Daniel Herwitz

Justice, truth, and identity; race, society, and law—all come into dramatic play as South Africa makes the tumultuous transition to a post-apartheid democracy. Seeking the timeless through the timely and trying to find the deeper meaning in the sweep of events, Daniel Herwitz brings the vast resources of the philosophical essay to bear on the new realities of post-apartheid South Africa—from racial identity to truth commissions, from architecture to film and television. A public intellectual’s reflections on public life, Herwitz’s essays question how the new South Africa has constructed its concepts of reconciliation and return and how its historical emergence has meant a rethinking, reimagining, reexperiencing, relabeling, and repoliticizing of race. Herwitz’s purpose is to give a philosophical reading of society—a society already relying on implicitly philosophical concepts in its social and political agendas. Working through these concepts, testing their relevance for reading society, his book itself becomes a part of the politics of definition and description in the new South Africa.

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