Posts by author:

Chris Bertram

Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas house

by Chris Bertram on February 11, 2018


Sunday photoblogging: crane

by Chris Bertram on February 4, 2018


Should academic books exist any more?

by Chris Bertram on January 28, 2018

Ingrid wrote a post about academics writing “trade” books. I’m not all that keen on such categorizations, but the idea seems to be that these are books that are and aim to be accessible to a wider, non-academic, public. In the past, of course, may scholarly works by academics have spoken to such wider publics, and some still do. To give some examples from off the top of my head E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, Barrington Moore’s The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Bernard Williams’s Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, and John Mackie’s Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, were all works of scholarship and rigour that were sold to and were read by people other than specialists with academic jobs. In my own area, political philosophy, one could argue that taking seriously one’s democratic commitments even requires that arguments are shareable with an educated public (as I argued long ago … ironically behind an academic paywall).

More mysterious to me is the continued existence of purely “academic” books, written for specialists by specialists. Except for those written by a few megastars or academics with crossover into nearby disciplines, there are few purely academic volumes that are likely to sell enough copies to be commercially viable at the price they need to break even. So why do they continue to exist as bound paper entities (which is what I’m talking about) ? Two reasons, I guess. First, we continue to supply them and tenure and promotions committees continue to be impressed by them (so they are a professional necessity in many fields), and second the demand for them is heavily subsidized by buyers such as university libraries (presumably libraries are the only purchasers of many of the theses that publishers like Routledge recycle into books). None of this is necessary any more for intellectual exchange and argument. Exactly the same content (too rigourous or dull for the lay reader) could be supplied at the same length free of charge and online. Only prestige and subsidy is keeping purely academic books alive.

Sunday Photoblogging: Chicago, L

by Chris Bertram on January 28, 2018

On the L

FT Alphaville has a really insightful interview with Jarrett Walker on public transport, cities, space, geometry and elite projection. The pleasure of reading this is the one you get when you encounter someone who is really smart, who knows some really detailed empirical stuff, who is not a “theorist” in an academic sense, but who can illuminate things about the world in a way that good theory sometimes can. The basic messages: that getting people from A to B ultimately involves dealing with physical space and you can’t change that; that cities have to work for everyone in order to work for anyone (because even if you are privileged you still need the underlings you depend on to turn up); and that elites tend to project fantasy solutions without considering how untypical they are of the general population. There’s bonus discussion of Elon Musk towards the end, which underlines a point Harry made in comments on my Smith post, namely that the entitled wealthy are the real snowflakes who are very resistant indeed to people challenging their opinions and preconceptions. Read the whole thing.

Adam Smith against nativist immigration policy

by Chris Bertram on January 21, 2018

Paul Sagar has a very nice piece at Aeon about Adam Smith, his legacy, and his contemporary relevance. Towards the end of his essay, he quotes a famous passage from Smith’s Theory of the Moral Sentiments:

[The man of system] seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chessboard. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chessboard have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chessboard of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

An arresting passage when considered against the background of the nativist immigration policies of countries like the United Kingdom and the United States and one that underlines the utopian (in a bad way) nature of natonalist projects. At present our governments are conducting a war against migrants. In the UK, “foreign criminals” (who may or may not have been convicted of actual crimes) are deported to countries they may be utterly unfamiliar with, landlords and employers are threatened with fines if they house or employ people without the right of residency (and deprive many others of opportunities because they look or sound as if they might be “foreign”), asylum seekers are deported to war zones like Afghanistan (a “safe country”) and thousands of people are separated from partners or children because they don’t earn enough for a spousal visa. Brexit Britain has now cast this shroud of insecurity over EU nationals too. In the United States, Trump is still going on about his wall, thousands of young people who are functionally Americans can’t rest secure because politicians can’t agree how to regularize their status, whilst others who came as children are ripped from their families and deported.

And yet we will win. The “game” is going on “miserably” and human beings who have principles of motion of their own, altogether different from those that polticians seek to impress on them, will carry on moving, fleeing, working, associating, trading with, and loving those of nationalities other than their own, because human beings always have and always will. When we talk of freer movement, of more open borders, of a global order that works for everyone and isn’t just in hock to nativist anxieties in wealthy countries, the conventional wisdom is that this is unrealistic and utopian. Yet the true unrealism and utopianism is the project of keeping human beings in self-contained political orders with others “like them”.

My book, Does the State Have the Right to Exclude Immigrants, comes out with Polity on May 25th.

Istanbul - Medusa Head in the Basilica Cistern

Sunday photoblogging: each to his own

by Chris Bertram on January 14, 2018

From nearly a decade ago.

Each to his own

Sunday photoblogging: the ‘hood

by Chris Bertram on January 7, 2018

Cannon Street, BS3

Sunday photoblogging: Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

by Chris Bertram on December 31, 2017

Happy New Year everyone!

St Guilhem-le-Desert

Sunday photoblogging: door

by Chris Bertram on December 17, 2017

I was going through my archives looking for black and white photos (for a competition) and this one stood out, despite its dull subject-matter.

Door, Welsh Back

Sunday photoblogging: Newport transporter bridge

by Chris Bertram on December 10, 2017

Newport Transporter Bridge

Sunday photoblogging: St David’s Cathedral

by Chris Bertram on December 3, 2017

St David's Cathedral

Sunday photoblogging: I left my heart in the Grand Palais

by Chris Bertram on November 26, 2017

Paris: Grand Palais

Sunday photoblogging: Paris, Rue Bonaparte

by Chris Bertram on November 19, 2017

Paris: Rue Bonaparte