Arturo Escobar

 

On his book Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds

Cover Interview of April 23, 2018

In a nutshell

Designs for the Pluriverse is, succinctly stated, about the potential for redesigning design and, in so doing, contribute to redesigning the world. Why? To me, the answer is simple: because we are literally destroying the world at an alarming rate, and I am not just talking about the disappearance of species and the manifold and increasingly destructive effects of climate change. I am also talking about the disruption of basic human sociality, the breakdown of social relations, the proliferation of wars and violence, massive displacement of peoples and nonhumans, abhorrent inequality, and the difficulty many young people face today in crafting lives of meaning for themselves. So much suffering and devastation is becoming unbearable for those who are genuinely attentive to the Earth and to the fate of their fellow humans. The book argues that design is central to the current crisis and that it may be a crucial factor in confronting such a crisis imaginatively and effectively. The book is a plea for us all to look deeply into the world around us so that we perceive anew the devastation that surrounds us, near and far, reaching out to our innermost selves for the strength to face it with utmost care, courage, and hope. This is why the book is dedicated to exemplary figures of struggle for a better, and different, world.

Let me now present a more analytical description of the book. Designs for the Pluriverse offers a novel design vision, based on a reorientation of design from its largely functionalist and commercially-driven applications within globalized capitalist societies towards a view of design in tune with the radical interdependence of all life. The book’s approach is ontological, which simply means that, in designing tools, objects, and institutions, we are designing ways of being. The argument stems from two sources: trends in critical design studies emphasizing participatory, collaborative, situated, and socially and ecologically responsible design; and cultural-political mobilizations by social movements, particularly but not only in the Global South, which are responding to the crisis on the basis of deeply relational conceptions of life, such as those found among Latin American Afrodescendant, peasant, and indigenous groups engaged in the defense of their territories against extractive operations conducted in the name of so-called development. Designs for the Pluriverse brings to the fore the ecological, social, and cultural – in the last instance, civilizational – transitions called forth in order to address the interrelated crises of climate, energy, poverty, inequality, and meaning. It adumbrates a post-patriarchal and post-capitalist pluriverse (defined as a world where many worlds fit, contrary to the current model of a single, market-driven globalized civilization), beyond the supremacy of the modern patriarchal capitalist ontologies of separation, domination, and control. The book provides an in-depth analysis of the most farsighted proposals within the design profession, such as design for social innovation and transition design, and develops a framework for a design praxis intended to strengthen the communal basis of life from the perspective of territorial struggles for autonomy.




 


 

Jerry Z. Muller

 

On his book The Tyranny of Metrics

Cover Interview of April 16, 2018

In a nutshell

We increasingly live in a culture of metric fixation: the belief of so many organizations that scientific management means replacing judgment based upon experience and talent with standardized measures of performance, and then rewarding or punishing individuals and organizations based upon those measures. The buzzwords of metric fixation are all around us: “metrics,” “accountability,” “assessment,” and “transparency.”

The Tyranny of Metrics treats metric fixation as the organizational equivalent of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Though often characterized as “best practice,” metric fixation is in fact often counterproductive, with costs to individual satisfaction with work, organizational effectiveness, and economic growth. The book helps explain why metric fixation has become so popular, why it is so often counterproductive, and why some people have an interest in promoting it. It is a book that analyzes and critiques a dominant fashion in contemporary organizational culture, with an eye to making life in organizations more satisfying and productive. It’s a book about management broadly construed. But unlike most authors who write about management, it also tries to see organizations from the perspective of the managed.




 


 

Sarah E. Igo

 

On her book The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America

Cover Interview of April 09, 2018

In a nutshell

Privacy—I probably need convince no one—looms large in the United States today, sparked by concerns about NSA spying as well as social media profiling, facial recognition software as well as genetic testing. It is the vocabulary Americans reach for to mark the boundary between themselves and the society at large: the government, of course, but also corporations, researchers, marketers, employers, schools, and neighbors. Indeed, for something we think of as by definition cordoned off from public life, privacy courses through U.S. political culture.

My book charts how and why privacy became a fixture—even fixation—of the U.S. public sphere in the twentieth century. The growth of the central state and social institutions is part of the answer, along with the creation of ever-more sophisticated technologies of surveillance. But the larger story I tell is the emergence of a “knowing society,” one that sought to understand, govern, and minister to its members by scrutinizing them in fuller and finer detail—often with the support and cooperation of those same citizens. By pursuing the problem of how Americans would, and should, be known by their own society, I hope to offer a new angle on the contentious career of privacy in modern life.

A knowing society, after all, carried rewards as well as risks. New techniques for rendering individuals legible, from credit reports and CCTV cameras to psychological testing, promised opportunity and security, even self-understanding. But being known too well—through the monitoring of one’s sexual or consumption habits, for instance—could threaten personal autonomy.

This was a delicate calibration. To remain unrecognizable to society’s authorities was in some contexts a sign of privilege. In others, it was a form of disempowerment, with recognition basic to enacting one’s membership in society. Being traceable in a national criminal or DNA database was a different matter than being identifiable to a benefits-granting program like Social Security. In this way, the question of whether one could be known accurately and authentically—and on one’s own terms—animated privacy’s prominence in American public life.

I track American debates over the known citizen, from the era of “instantaneous photography” in the late nineteenth century to our own age of big data. Across the last century and a half, tabloid journalism and new technologies, welfare bureaucracies and police tactics, market research and personality testing, scientific inquiry and computer data banks, tell-all memoirs and social media all posed profound questions about how to fix the line between the modern person and the collectivities to which she or he belonged.

These practices could not help but alter Americans’ ideas about privacy. In entertaining new understandings of what could be asked and what could be said, what could be exposed and what should be disclosed, citizens shifted the contents of “public” and “private.” By the twenty-first century, I contend, they had fundamentally redrawn the borders separating the private from the public self (for the whole story, you have to read the book).




 


 

Warren I. Cohen

 

On his book A Nation Like All Others: A Brief History of American Foreign Relations

Cover Interview of April 01, 2018

In a nutshell

A Nation Like All Others is a history of American foreign relations from 1776 to the present; it also a critique of the idea of American exceptionalism; and it laments the absence of moral imagination in most of the nation’s leaders. It begins with a description of the origins of empire in the 18th and 19th century, as Americans drove Native Americans out of their lands, just as ancient Chinese had overwhelmed their weaker neighbors in the creation of the Chinese Empire thousands of years before. In the course of reviewing the subsequent history of American relations with the rest of the world, I describe the United States as a frequent force for good—more so than any other nation—but demonstrate with regret the evil committed—against Native Americans, Mexicans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Iraqis, and others—as our leaders gave priority to their concerns for the national interest over American ideals. Therein lies my conception of “a nation like all others.” I did not think that way when I enlisted in the U.S. Navy 62 years ago.

Readers, much like reviewers for the Press, will find many of my interpretations “argumentative.” I trust that will stimulate some fresh thinking about some of the actions (or inactions) I analyze. My rejection of the idea of American isolationism in the 1920s, my description of the enormously important role the United States played in world affairs from the end of World War I to the onset of the Great Depression, will probably surprise some, but my work on that subject has gained acceptance over the years among most professional diplomatic historians. My discussion of the Cold War is unavoidably long, but a bit more sympathetic to Ronald Reagan than some of my earlier books. I continue to see Mikhail Gorbachev as the key figure in ending the Soviet-American confrontation. My analysis of current Chinese-American relations, critical of those who imagined the emergence of a friendly democratic China, reflects the principal focus of my life’s research, writing, and activities.




 


 

Francesco Duina

 

On his book Broke and Patriotic: Why Poor Americans Love Their Country

Cover Interview of March 25, 2018

In a nutshell

America’s poorest citizens are among its most patriotic. Their love of country—and indeed, their sense that the United States is superior to other countries in the world—is according to most measures unmatched by wealthier Americans. It also exceeds the patriotism of poor citizens in most other advanced nations in the world. At the same time, America’ s least well-off have access to fewer benefits, work longer hours, face more inequality, and their chances of upward mobility are worse than is the case for poor citizens in other advanced countries. Why, then, are they so patriotic? If anything, one might expect poor Americans to feel a sense of dissatisfaction, if not outrage, towards their country. Why do they think so highly of their country?

The answer matters a lot. So much depends on their patriotism: social cohesion, military recruitment, voting behavior, political parties’ platforms (just consider, for a moment, the success of Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again!’), the nation’s sense of self and place in the world, and more.

This book offers insights into this puzzle. During 2015 and 2016, I spent time in laundromats, bus stations, homeless shelters, used clothing stores, streets, and other venues in Alabama and Montana and conducted 60 in-depth interviews with poor and patriotic Americans; I also spoke with 3 poor but unpatriotic individuals. I was eager to hear their answers, give them a voice, and learn from their perspectives. I spoke to people in rural and urban settings, and of various races, genders, political orientations, religious beliefs, histories of military service, and ages.

Broke and Patriotic reports on the findings. Three primary narratives emerged. First, many of the people I met spoke of America as being the last hope for themselves and, more fundamentally, humanity. The United States represents deliverance from many of the ills that have plagued humanity from time immemorial. It celebrates the worth of each person (“Here, I am as worthy a human being as the President of the United States!”, I was told by more than one person). As such, America gives everyone a sense of dignity. For many of the people I met, this promise holds extraordinary value. Second, America is the “land of milk and honey”. Everyone wants to come here, the “roads are paved in gold”, and anyone can make it. Failure, I was reminded, is one’s own responsibility. Third, America is the land of freedom—both physical and mental. Where else, one person in Montana asked me, can one choose to be homeless? While other countries repress their people and punish them with undo process, Americans are allowed to come and go wherever they wish, and to think whatever they wish. This includes freedom of religion—a major reason why America, several people reasoned, holds a special place in God’s heart. And if the government is increasingly intrusive, this is because it has simply strayed away from the social contract. In this context, freedom means also owning guns, which is not only a means of self-defense but a necessity for hunting and therefore feeding one’s family.

While in many cases misconceptions of other countries abounded (“Only Israel and the United States”, I was told for instance, “are democracies in the world”), it became very clear to me that most of the people I met felt a genuine and reasonable sense of ownership toward their country. Americans do not belong to the country; it is the country that belongs to them. This is a bottom-up sort of patriotism. And for those who otherwise struggle so much in their daily lives such an attachment offers them a very precious psychological lifeline.





 

Andrea Komlosy

 

On her book Work: The Last 1,000 Years

Cover Interview of March 19, 2018

In a nutshell

In contrast to earlier, more inclusive ideas about work, the Western conception of work was, by the end of the nineteenth century, reduced to gainful employment. Labor studies from liberal, conservative, reformist or radical-socialist perspectives all promoted the idea of an ongoing transition towards paid, socially secured work relations. Labor movements fought capitalist exploitation, but stuck to a very narrow concept of work. Housework and subsistence work were not included in their definition of work or their conception of exploitation and appropriation. This optical illusion was due to a Western-centric perspective that equated the colonized world with backwardness, as well as to a family ideology that equated (not only female) unpaid work with nature; natural duties associated with biologically defined roles (motherhood, care for husband, children, elderly), denied non-paid, household and care activities the character of work.

This limited perspective contrasted sharply with the personal experience of most people in the world—whether in colonies, developing countries, or in the industrializing world. Reducing work and the production of value to remunerated employment is hardly convincing, not only from a feminist perspective. During the last 1,000 years, work has always consisted of paid and unpaid, free and unfree, voluntary and forced labor relations that people combined during their life-course within households and in the framework of local, regional, or global divisions of labor.

Based on historical and cross-cultural experience, this book therefore pleads for a broader understanding of work. It offers an analytical framework that categorizes work according to the beneficiaries of the product: Commodified labor produces for the market and it includes the labor power that is sold on the labor market. Reciprocal or subsistence labor is performed within family households or local neighborhoods without money as an intermediate; it delivers goods and services for immediate use. Tributary labor consists of those duties and taxes, in kind or in money, which are contributed to a landlord or to a tax-collecting polity. This framework allows us to include all types of work and labor, and compare them across history; such an approach does not reveal a linear development from reciprocal to commodified labor, but different combinations, varying across time and space.

The book consists of two parts: Part I depicts the changing perceptions of work and labor within Western discourse that resulted in the reductionist understanding of work and labor in the nineteenth century. It contains a historiographic re-evaluation of Western narratives of work and labor history, both Marxist, liberal and conservative. Instead, it develops a methodological model to assess appropriation and transfer of value, combining surplus value from paid labor with values appropriated from non-paid work. Part I also provides the analytical framework and proposes a terminology that allows assessing the different manifestations of work. Part II offers six historical cross-cuts from the thirteenth century to the twenty-first century, showing the different combinations of labor relations on a local, the European, and the global level. It offers a very short history of the interregional and international division of labor that includes the contributions of non-paid work to the making of global capitalism. Readers are encouraged to read Part I and then to proceed to Part II, if they are interested in historical examples.




 


 

Maha Nassar

 

On her book Brothers Apart: Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World

Cover Interview of March 12, 2018

In a nutshell

When people hear the term “Palestinians,” they usually think of people living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, or in refugee camps and small communities scattered around the world. My book focuses on a group of Palestinians, who remained within Israel’s borders after the end of the 1948 War, and are not talked about as much. Most of them were granted Israeli citizenship in 1952, making them a small minority (about 13%) in the new Jewish state. However, their citizenship was not of equal status to that of Jewish Israelis, and they faced a host of discriminatory measures.

While other studies have rightly placed these discriminatory practices within the framework of settler-colonialism, I focus on how Palestinians—especially intellectuals—linked their position in Israel to larger global developments. The 1950s and 1960s were a time when colonized and semi-colonized people in the Arab world and beyond were contesting the various forms of subjugation they faced, and these larger global forces had a distinct impact on Palestinians in Israel.

Brothers Apart places the cultural and intellectual history of these Palestinian citizens of Israel within this global landscape and examines their relationship with the decolonizing world of the mid-twentieth century. I adopt a transnational framework that de-centers the Israeli state and centers instead on these intellectuals’ own worldviews. In doing so, I show how they saw the links between their conditions and those of other subjugated peoples, as well as how they drew inspiration from decolonizing movements around the world.

One remarkable aspect of this intellectual movement is that it occurred at a time when Palestinian citizens of Israel were quite isolated geographically and politically. They could not travel to Arab countries, and they could not freely import newspapers or periodicals. Brothers Apart reveals several strategies of resistance that Palestinian intellectuals in Israel adopted in their situation of isolation, such as sneaking Arabic texts across the border from neighboring countries, then surreptitiously reading and exchanging them with one another. They also developed a small but increasingly vibrant local press scene that connected them and their readers to broader intellectual and cultural developments. The most active group in this period was the Communist Party of Israel, whose publications were also the most critical of Israeli policies. As a result, they faced a great deal of censorship, which they struggled to overcome.

On one level, readers will recognize Brothers Apart as a historical study that sheds new light on the history of Palestinians and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On a broader level, I hope readers will also see in this book a fascinating case study of how marginalized intellectuals can use cultural and journalistic writings—including newspapers, literary journals, and poetry—to not only resist the oppression they face at home, but also to reach out to (and sometimes challenge) their fellow intellectuals abroad.





 

Greg L. Warchol

 

On his book Exploiting the Wilderness: An Analysis of Wildlife Crime

Cover Interview of March 05, 2018

In a nutshell

I set out to provide the reader with a detailed overview of the global illegal trade in African wildlife. The illegal trade involves the poaching, trafficking and consumption of common and endangered species. These include mammals, marine species, reptiles, birds and plants. I based my book on 12 years of fieldwork I did in Africa and the United Kingdom, and current research literature. I worked in nine east and southern African nations interviewing hundreds of individuals involved in monitoring and preventing different aspects of the illegal wildlife trade. I also did research in the UK as it is a destination country for African wildlife. The result is a book that provides a contemporary description of the nature of the wildlife trade including the species; the poachers, traffickers and consumers; the causes of these crimes; and past and current efforts to control and prevent the illegal trade.

Ecologists and biologists conducted much of the early research on poaching and trafficking with a focus on species survival and habitat preservation. I approached the problem as a criminologist, that is, one interested in the causes of crime, the behavior of offenders and solutions. I provide a detailed description of poachers including their methods and motivations. I also examine the role of intermediaries in the illegal trade. These are the key actors who move the illegal wildlife products from poacher to retailers. They are involved in a range of activities including recruiting poachers, supplying firearms, paying bribes to government officials, and smuggling wildlife to the end user nations. Finally, I describe the consumer nations for wildlife since their demand for these products influences the market. The focus is mainly on markets in Africa, Asia and the European Union—all major destinations for African wildlife.

In a chapter on causes of this crime, I start with a description of the impact of game parks and game laws established during the colonial period in Africa on traditional wildlife use practices of indigenous populations. I also examine what occurred in wildlife conservation following the end of the colonial era when many African nations transitioned to self-rule. In this next section, I provide the reader with a review of the application of modern criminological theory to wildlife offenses. These include the contemporary work on data-driven anti-poaching efforts based on situational crime prevention theory.

In a chapter on policing wildlife, I describe those individuals charged with protecting wildlife: the game or field rangers in Africa. My book offers a description of how African rangers are recruited, selected, trained and how they operate in the parks. I also compare and contrast the public sector rangers working in the national parks with their private sector counterparts who work as security in the private game reserves and farms of South Africa. As a comparison, I write about the U.S. model of conservation officers and game wardens at the state level.

I would like the reader to come away with a sound understanding of the nature of this problem, the actors involved in this crime, and the threat it poses to wildlife in Africa. I want to reach a broad range of readers interested in wildlife conservation Besides university professors and graduate students, I also want this work to encourage undergraduate students interested in conservation to pursue a career in the field, and to serve as a foundation for other criminologists to build upon with their research.




 


 

Peter T. Leeson

 

On his book WTF?! An Economic Tour of the Weird

Cover Interview of February 25, 2018

In a nutshell

WTF?! is a tour through a museum of the world’s weirdest practices—guaranteed to make you say, “WTF?!” Did you know that “pre-owned” wives were sold at auctions in nineteenth-century England? That today, in Liberia, accused criminals sometimes drink poison to determine their fate? How about the fact that, for 250 years, Italy criminally prosecuted cockroaches and crickets? Do you wonder why? Then this tour is just for you!

You’ll be joined on the tour by a cast of colorful characters, led through the museum by me—your tour guide and resident economist. From one exhibit to the next, you’ll overhear my exchanges with the other tour-goers and learn how to use economic thinking to reveal the hidden sense behind seemingly senseless human behavior—including your own. I’ll show you that far from “irrational” or “accidents of history,” humanity’s most outlandish rituals are in fact ingenious solutions to pressing problems—developed by clever people, driven by incentives, and tailor-made for their time and place.






 

Inderpal Grewal

 

On her book Saving the Security State: Exceptional Citizens in Twenty-First-Century America

Cover Interview of February 18, 2018

In a nutshell

Empires wax and wane, and what we are seeing today is the slow and gradual waning of U.S. empire in the new century. I call this phase of U.S. empire the “security state,” a phase in which the U.S. turns to war as the only means of maintaining its status as the superpower. This book examines, through research in American popular culture, media and law, how Americans, based on race and gender, are dealing with this change as they try to both protest and shore up the power of their country.

The American empire is waning because it refuses to support those in need, citizens and non-citizens. The government is challenged by those who see that it will not come to their aid in times of danger. In particular, this failure is most striking when it comes to citizens of color, and it was clearly visible, for example, in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the Bush Administration failed to help its citizens. It was not just people in the U.S., but many around the world who saw that failure, adding to the global change in attitudes towards the United States.

I argue that this waning of empire is a consequence of decades of neoliberal policies enacted by U.S. administrations since that of Ronald Reagan. Many scholars have found that neoliberal policies have led to reduction in social safety nets, increases in military and the use of military methods to repress insurgencies and protests internationally and domestically. In addition, privatization of public goods and reduction of taxes have increased inequalities. I argue that this neoliberalism is now at a different stage: governments are now repressing restive and protesting groups by means of authoritarian policies. This moment, which I call “advanced neoliberalism,” is then about both protest and repression, as inequality leads to uprisings among people.

At the same time, individuals in the U.S. believe that as individual Americans they can uphold and maintain U.S. power and their global stature. They do this in several ways that I describe in the chapters of the book.

First, they become humanitarians, voluntourists, and missionaries, hoping to show that Americans are still “good” and want to help others even as the U.S. is waging destructive and dubious wars around the world. The U.S. government supports some of these projects and uses humanitarianism to further its military goals.

Second, individual Americans take on the task of surveillance of their fellow citizens in order to maintain state security. Technology plays a role here. Digital media technologies enable us to surveil our friends, family and neighbors, and even parenting is now more focused on surveillance. Women find empowerment through participation in surveillance and participate in government anti-terrorism projects to protect the security state. Women in the CIA, FBI and police are now staples of television and cinema as empowered agents of the government.

Third, white men are given a special sort of power, that is, the sovereign power to kill that is normally one that only the state can exercise in liberal countries. By virtue of gender and race, white, mainly Christian males are able to possess and use guns in ways that others cannot, while Muslims and men of color are targeted by police if they possess guns. White males are protected by police, politicians, laws and can use guns to kill strangers, intimate partners and even themselves.

Despite all these efforts to protect the U.S. and its power, I argue that citizens often end up becoming more insecure, and that U.S. power continues to decline. War seems to be ongoing, gun violence is pervasive, and women and people of color are often rendered more vulnerable by their participation in the security projects of the state. Security is an ongoing and endless project with no end in sight, yet it remains powerful because it is an engine of capitalism and state power.




 



 

Jim Igoe

 

On his book The Nature of Spectacle: On Images, Money, and Conserving Capitalism

Cover Interview of February 12, 2018

In a nutshell

The Nature of Spectacle is a book about capitalism and the environment. Its central concern, and unique perspective, is with the ways in which capitalist worldviews have become environmental over time. Specifically, it explores how money and exchange value are sensually enhanced by images and spatial arrangements, so that they can even be explicitly represented as inherent to nature.

The creation of American nature parks, in the late 19th century, accompanied an explosion of exchangeable consumptive experiences, in the form of elaborate exhibitions and fairs. Over the course of the 20th century, touristic nature destinations proliferated as a particular type of exchangeable consumptive experience, bolstered by nature films and television. By the turn of the millennium, productions of spectacular nature collided with increasing public awareness that consumerism and economic growth seem implicated in a socio-economic crisis that threatens our collective future.

The first part of the book explores these transformations in northern Tanzania. The creation of the Serengeti National Park, in the years following WWII, entailed the abstraction of landscapes into images, which generated money, which in turn could be used to further transform landscapes according to ideals of spectacular nature. This was accompanied by promises to newly independent governments that tourism would become the basis of their national economies, all of which was spectacularly conjured into existence. By the late 20th century, refinements to these techniques, in relation to the rise of interactive media, enabled the production of nature “cyberscapes,” at once actual and virtual, in which economic growth and ecosystem health could appear optimally aligned. These productions reflect and support a global policy zeitgeist, in which financializing nature is cast as its salvation. It also figures in consumer interfaces, through which the swipe of a plastic card or the push of a virtual unbutton appear to initiate a chain of events, ending in the protection of an acre of tropical rainforest or a family of arctic polar bears. These are the focus of the latter part of the book.

I have kept this book concise, to be read from cover-to-cover with relative ease. Chapter 5 (on policy) and Chapter 6 (on green consumerism) are both designed so that they can be read on their own.

My understanding of nature that is developed in the book is fundamentally informed by anthropologist Tim Ingold’s argument in Perception of the Environment (2000) that “the world can exist as nature only for a being that does not belong there” (p. 20). This point is highly consistent with popular presentations of nature as a panoramic spectacle, existing somewhere distant and exotic, and best appreciated at a distance. At the end of his groundbreaking essay, “Getting Back to the Wrong Nature (1994),” environmental historian William Cronon opines that relating to nature in these terms will not serve us well in finding meaningful solutions to the pressing environmental problems in which we are all entangled. My book also takes up that point through explorations of the ways in which spectacular nature has been refined to appear and feel like the most promising solution to these very problems.




 



 

Ethan Tussey

 

On his book The Procrastination Economy: The Big Business of Downtime

Cover Interview of February 05, 2018

In a nutshell

People check their mobile phones over 80 times every day, and while that frequency may alarm us as we survey a crowd of people hunched over their phones, it is less disturbing when we look at why and where people use their phones. Most of the time, when we check our mobile devices, we engage them for less than thirty seconds. While we can use our phones most anywhere, research shows that we are most likely to use them at home, in transit, at work, waiting in line, and in a public space. My book, The Procrastination Economy: The Big Business of Downtime, delves into mobile device use and describes the vibrant “procrastination economy” found in those spaces.

The procrastination economy is a term I give to efforts by media companies to design mobile apps, platforms, products, and hardware that monetize our in-between moments. My book argues that mobile devices, and our experience of much of the Internet, is determined by the spaces of the procrastination economy. The traditions and behaviors associated with these spaces shape user behavior and media company strategies. For example, Facebook’s 2006 redesign, replaced the personal-profile landing page with “News Feed,” a scrolling timeline that made the social network easier to use while checking in with friends during a break at work. YouTube put their “background playback” functionality behind a subscription paywall because people like listening to streaming video while multitasking on their phones on the commute. Casual games, like Candy Crush, offer short bursts of entertainment ideally suited to filling the time while we wait in line.

Film developed in relation to the experience of watching movies in a theater. Television was shaped by the cultural and spatial politics of the domestic sphere. Readers should remember this history as they learn about the spaces of the procrastination economy and the ways mobile devices have amplified activities that were previously marginalized. The office breakroom television, the waiting room pile of magazines, drivetime radio, and the crossword puzzle we did during commercial breaks, are all a part of the procrastination economy. The strategies and assumptions that informed these cultural objects are now shaping our use of smartphones, tablets, and the Internet of Things.




 



 

Éloi Laurent

 

On his book Measuring Tomorrow: Accounting for Well-Being, Resilience, and Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century

Cover Interview of January 29, 2018

In a nutshell

Measuring Tomorrow is about ending our passion for growth and engaging in the well-being and sustainability transition. Growth of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, captures only a tiny fraction of what goes on in complex human societies: it tracks some but not all of economic well-being (saying nothing about fundamental issues such as income inequality); it does not account for most dimensions of well-being (think about the importance of health, education or happiness for your own quality of life); and it does not account at all for sustainability, which basically means well-being not just today but also tomorrow (imagine your quality of life on a planet where the temperature would be four degrees higher or where there would be scant drinkable water or breathable air). This book’s essential argument is that well-being (human flourishing), resilience (resisting to shocks) and sustainability (caring about the future) should become the collective horizons of social cooperation instead of growth. And it offers powerful tools, dozens of examples from all corners of our world, and practical ways to achieve this goal.

To put it differently, while policymakers govern with numbers and data, they are as well governed by them, so they better be relevant and accurate. It turns out, and I think that’s a strong argument of the book, that GDP’s relevance is fast declining in the beginning of the twenty-first century for three major reasons. First, economic growth, so buoyant during the three decades following the Second World War, has gradually faded away in advanced and even developing economies and is therefore becoming an ever-more-elusive goal for policy. Second, both objective and subjective well-being—those things that make life worth living—are visibly more and more disconnected from economic growth. Finally, GDP and growth tell us nothing about the compatibility of our current well-being with the long-term viability of ecosystems, even though it is clearly the major challenge we and our children must face.

Since “growth” cannot help us understand, let alone solve, the two major crises of our time, the inequality crisis and ecological crises, we must rely on other compasses to find our way in this new century. In my view, the whole of economic activity, which is a subset of social cooperation, should be reoriented toward the well- being of citizens and the resilience and sustainability of societies. For that to happen, we need to put these three collective horizons at the center of our empirical world.




 



 

Philip Lieberman

 

On his book The Theory That Changed Everything: “On the Origin of Species” as a Work in Progress

Cover Interview of January 22, 2018

In a nutshell

Charles Darwin’s 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, is often cited but hardly ever read. My book presents the observations and the concepts that he actually proposed because they continue to guide research in the twenty-first century; and suggests how we should deal with issues of general concern.

Darwin’s explanation of Natural Selection, the key mechanism of his theory, cannot be improved on. Darwin wrote:

[A]ny variation, however slight, and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to its physical conditions of life, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally by inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving […]. I have called this principle, by which each small variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection. (On the Origin of Species, p. 61)

Darwin thought that Natural Selection acted slowly. The facts that demonstrate that it can act rapidly were not then known. However, he knew that abrupt transitions had occurred. His solution was “recycling”: an organ that had evolved for one purpose could be modified to serve a new end. Swim-bladders that allowed fish to hover had turned into lungs. Current studies show that brain mechanisms that evolved for motor control now enhance human cognition and language. Neural structures involved in the early stages of vision play a part in recalling memories.

Darwin borrowed from his grandfather Erasmus the premise that the development of an organism could provide insights on its evolution—the basis for current “Evo-Devo” studies. Although the role of genes was then buried in an obscure journal and DNA was discovered a century later, Darwin proposed that the environment could directly produce heritable effects. “Epigenetic” DNA that does not specify genes, govern the processes that yield brains and bodies. These processes explain why we don’t look like or generally act like chimpanzees though we share almost 99% of our genes with them. Some epigenetic processes are directly affected by environmental factors; your grandmother’s diet can lower your lifespan by 30 years.

The opening scenes of documentaries showing lions tearing apart their prey have little to do with Darwin’s “struggle for existence.” He devoted chapters to describe how different species profitably interact to enhance survival. Darwin stressed the interplay between ecosystems and biological evolution as well as the unintended consequences of human intervention. And he was one of the first practitioners of the modern “scientific method”—running experiments to confirm, modify, or reject a theory. His pigeon breeding experiment showed that “fancy” pigeons, thought to be distinct species, had descended from the common rock pigeons you see on city streets.

Darwin’s theory will become clear in examples drawn from his work, On the Origin of Species, what’s on the shelves of your supermarket, and current research including my own. And there will no need to google to decipher jargon.




 


 

Lynn Keller

 

On her book Recomposing Ecopoetics: North American Poetry of the Self-Conscious Anthropocene

Cover Interview of January 15, 2018

In a nutshell

Recomposing Ecopoetics examines 21st-century poetry by a dozen Americans and Canadians who are engaging in their poems with the environmental challenges we currently face. It is, then, a work of environmental literary criticism—or ecocriticism, as it is called in academic circles.

Earlier ecocritical work on poetry focused almost exclusively on nature writing. In the contemporary American context, it attended to poems by Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, and others that depict a seemingly timeless solace found in tranquil rural landscapes or sublime wild ones. Such poetry can connect readers with natural realms that we should indeed value—places worth preserving for their aesthetic or spiritual value as well as their biological importance. However, such poetry’s vision of an essentially unchanging natural world to which one may always escape is in crucial ways inadequate to our present situation of dramatic and often irreversible environmental transformation.

Consequently, my ecocritical study focuses not on soothing or celebratory nature writing but on poetry that reflects a keen awareness of human impact on the planet and of nature’s entanglement in culture. The poetry examined here confronts the homogenization of landscape by extraction industries across the world, explores the impact of toxic chemicals on human and non-human animal bodies, considers the emotional and intellectual challenges of coming to grips with human-induced climate change, attempts to approach the perspectives of the nonhumans with whom humans share an increasingly uninhabitable planet, reminds readers of the inequitable distribution of the benefits and costs of environmental changes associated with industrialization, or juggles a fear of impending environmental apocalypse with hope for its prevention.

Much of this poetry is experimental in its approaches to poetic form and language. Its experimentalism reflects the poets’ hopes that expanding the conventions of literary form or linguistic intelligibility may help push us toward new conceptual structures alternative to the ways of thinking that got us into the environmental mess in which we find ourselves. If I have a particular gift as a literary critic, it is in reading difficult poetry, and my hope is that this book will make difficult yet intellectually and emotionally rich poems accessible to my readers, generating in them an appreciation for this poetry that mirrors my own.