The gentrification of the media

23 October 2013
Only in en
Esprit follows the new feminist movements; openDemocracy considers the role of women in journalism no trivial matter; Vikerkaar establishes just who’s guiding guided democracy in Russia; New Literary Observer gets to grips with the anthropological turn; Krytyka imagines a Ukrainian Man Friday and his two Robinsons, Poland and Russia; Merkur lifts the lid on the illusion of consensus in the age of social media; Reset acknowledges Michael Walzer as publisher and left voice; La Revue nouvelle attends to a dance of death and of life; and in Syn og Segn, Sofi Oksanen explains how literature can change the world.


Esprit (France) focuses on new feminist movements, with critical discussion of women and their bodies in view of the latest developments in reproductive technologies, as well as an apparent growth in the appreciation of individual rights and the dignity of women.

Abolitionism vs. pro-sex: Matthieu Lahure addresses the challenges that pornography poses for feminist voices and legislative bodies alike, posing the question as to whether pornography is merely an instrument of oppression. Whereas for “abolitionist” feminists, pornography constitutes an attack against women’s dignity, for “pro-sex” feminists it can have an emancipatory effect regarding alternative forms of sexuality.

Feminists who wish to see pornography banned discern a “society structured in accordance with a visible and invisible masculine domination that is revealed and entertained by pornography. […] The diffusion of sexist representations have consequences for women beyond those of which they are conscious”. However, it’s precisely the way in which abolitionists frame the unconsciousness that irritates “liberal” feminists, who object that the “abolitionist approach repeats the archaic representation of women as victims incapable of autonomous choices”.

American mommy wars: Alice Béja asks if the struggle for women’s professional emancipation has already been won; or if, as Nancy Fraser has suggested, a new battlefield has opened up as feminism increasingly tends to coalesce with neoliberalism in “encouraging the employment of women ‘at all costs'”:

“Rather than painting the picture of a ‘war’ between housewives and working women, rather than promoting a few women who have ‘made it’ to give the illusion that their success is available to all, one should question the notion of ‘work’ itself, and analyse its evolutions.”

The full table of contents of Esprit 10/2013


Plenty of women are working as correspondents and reporters, but relatively few as opinion writers and editors. And while the gender gap in print is insidious, in broadcast media it’s glaringly obvious, Dawn Foster writes. Meanwhile, the gentrification of the media continues apace:

“Particularly worrying is the march towards freelance working and, especially on the web, free labour in journalism. […] With freelance work often depending on contacts and being able to get an editor’s ear, if staff jobs dwindle as paper revenues continue to fall, it’s unlikely the people to lose out will be the more affluent and connected men.”

Among other major hurdles, Foster also draws attention to ageism: “Women are finding doors closed to them at the exact point men are still developing their careers and entering the most senior levels of journalism”.

Intergenerational schools: Neurologist Peter J. Whitehouse confronts the “unholy alliance between scientism and capitalism” at the root of the “dementia industry”. Focusing on Alzeimer’s in particular, he takes a dim view of “medicalization”, that is, “the dominance of medical science and economics in debates over aging and its associated challenges”, which Whitehouse believes “limits our imagination about how memory loss in older people can be addressed in families and communities”.

He therefore advocates “reinventing community, re-distributing responsibilities for caring for one another and finding better ways to finance the support structures required to ensure that these responsibilities are shared by everyone and not simply ‘expected’ of women”.

A case in point being the “Intergenerational School”, in which “people with ‘dementia’ volunteer and read or tell stories from their lives to children. A few years ago, the school’s ‘Volunteer of the year award’ was given to someone who couldn’t remember that she came to the school each week – but why should that matter? In the moment of her relationship with the child, she was very much present”.

Also: Günes Tavmen, Yagmur Nuhrat and Karabekir Akkoyunlu on the latest developments in Turkey, from feeling betrayed by Facebook to Erdogan’s new “democracy package”; and Paul Lashmar contends that “the mass surveillance state now has the tools and the ability to prevent effective investigative journalism when it chooses”.

More about openDemocracy


Kadri Liik traces the rise and fall of Vladislav Surkov. The former deputy head of the Russian Presidential Administration played a lead role in branding the Russian strain of “guided” or “sovereign” democracy born “in response to the complete freedom of the 1990s, untrammelled by laws”.

With Surkov as the puppet-master, the Kremlin secured the right to guide “guided democracy”, and “Russian politics became a peculiar mixture of illusionism, reality show, and theme park. The masses were cynically and mercilessly manipulated – which, however, they didn’t mind, since due to high oil prices there was no shortage of bread and the merry-go-round of virtual politics created an illusion of movement, of political drama, with the ‘good guys’ always coming out on top”.

Liik suspects that the historical roots of the situation lie in “the age-old mistrust between the Russian elites and masses, servile relations with the tsars, the tsars’ lack of self-confidence, a shared fear of revolutions. The distrust of one’s people and its judgment. Distrust of life in general, and naive and desperate attempts at controlling it”.

Come the European financial crisis and the collapse of oil prices, Surkov failed to present Putin’s return to power in 2011 entertainingly enough to the people and was swiftly dispatched with. Nonetheless, “it is whispered that before long, Surkov will be back in the Kremlin, where his next challenge might be keeping the CIS states away from the European Union”.

Also: In an article first published as part of the Eurozine focus “Russia in global dialogue”, Peter Pomerantsev provides more on the matrix of managed democracy that underpins postmodern dictatorship in Russia.

The full table of contents of Vikerkaar 9/2013


In the latest issue of New Literary Observer (Russia), the “anthropological turn” is viewed as a potential tool for helping to resolve the crisis faced by the arts in Russian, American and European universities.

Macro vs micro: Olga Breininger goes so far as to urge a radical restructuring of the Russian academic world. She analyses two previously published manifestos that helped launch the present discussion – one by NLO founder and editor Irina Prokhorova (“A new anthropology of culture”, NLO 100″), the other by US academic Kevin Platt (“Why study anthropology?”, NLO 106). Prokhorova argues that outdated methodologies and lack of contact with western professionals are preventing new theoretical discourses from entering Russia. Russian historiography sorely needs a shot of multiple modernities to dispatch with the stale recurrence of motifs of Russian exclusiveness and foster an anthropological perspective in humanities research.

Both Prokhova and Platt wish to bring the humanities and social sciences closer. But whereas Platt seeks the roots of the anthropological in the political turbulence in Europe in 1968, Prokhorova looks to the political transitions in Eastern Europe from 1989 to 1991. And while Platt would wish to see change at the macro-level, Prokhorova considers the anthropological turn an opportunity to focus on the micro-level and develop a more flexible, detailed and individualized approach to the study of cultural phenomena.

Prophylaxis: As part of a discrete focus on cultural and social aspects of medicine, Natalya Tamruchi covers the transformation of the Russian medical profession into an instrument of state repression such that, in the Soviet Union, health and medical treatment were reliable indicators of social status. Medicine became largely prophylactic, serving the Party elite, but was also seen as a closed profession with apparently limitless powers.

The full table of contents of New Literary Observer 122 (2013)


A special issue of Krytyka (Ukraine) focusing on two decades of social transformation in Poland reveals some home truths about the journal’s own country and incorporates an essay on one of the towering figures of Polish intellectual life.

Civilizing Friday: If Poland and Russia were two antagonistic Robinsons, then Ukraine could easily be thought of as their “Man Friday”. Mykola Riabchuk employs the metaphor in order to reflect on relations of colonial domination, the implied civilizational superiority of the former and the submission of the latter. Robinson Crusoe regarded his companion Friday “as something of a good pet”. But should Ukrainians “refuse to recognize Robinson’s superiority” and insist on respect for their culture, the stability of these relations is quickly undermined.

In Riabchuk’s view, today, the Ukrainians are on the whole better disposed toward the two Robinsons than vice versa. However, the problem resides in Ukrainians themselves, he continues. So long as their “political, legal and socio-economic modernization” remains incomplete, Ukrainians “will still be considered in the First World as unfit Fridays of no interest to the figure of Robinson”.

Another problem is “the civil Cold War” in Ukraine, “the war of memories, symbols and identities”. Riabchuk therefore concludes that it may be beneficial to continue “the process of civilizing Friday”, however troublesome and slow this may be.

The frailty of the whole: The late Krzysztof Michalski reflects on the legacy of Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, focusing on the idea of myth in his works; for one cannot do without objective truth, absolute goodness and binding values. Michalski shows how Kolakowski perceived the resulting need for myth “as an expression of our denial of a world ruled by chance alone, our unwillingness to accept the fundamental fickleness of human destiny and our repudiation of absolute freedom”. In short, “myth makes of the world a home”.

However, myths cannot eliminate the fragility of human existence and “the meaning that myths offer will always remain uncertain, non-finite”. Thus the genuine depository of the myth and the keeper of the foundations of our culture is not philosophy or metaphysics, but religion. With which Michalski draws the lesson from Kolakowski that only a weak and broken-hearted person “can separate good from evil, truth from falsehood, and properly respect the dignity of another person”.

The full table of contents of Krytyka 5-6/2013


Merkur (Germany) publishes its annual double-issue under the title “We? Forms of community in liberal society”. When dealing with community, the European Union can hardly be ignored, and so Rainer Hank chips away at the myths of a continuously anti-fascist, liberal narrative of the foundation of Europe, pointing out that national socialist elites propagated a united Europe as the post-war order of choice. “Europe’s blind spot is just that: the failure to deal with its own history”, Hank writes, citing Julia Kristeva: “For as long as this hidden shadow remains unstudied and goes without being subjected to scrutiny, Europe will not make any headway. On the contrary, it will be condemned to regress.” Hank concludes:

“In view of the European narrative’s continuity during the decisive years between 1940 and the Treaty of Rome, it is clear why the idea of Europe quickly found acceptance among nations otherwise so disparate in political, economic and cultural terms. Equally, the widespread ignorance of this problematic continuity hints at why mutual trust within Europe could vanish so swiftly, just as it did in the wake of the eurocrisis.”

Passig: Netizen Kathrin Passig looks at the collective confusion as to just who “we” are in the face of “growing contextual ambiguity” and the “disappearing illusion of consensus” that the world wide web has triggered. While the professional use of social media like Facebook and Twitter compromises one’s ability to convey one’s opinion in what would otherwise be discrete contexts – among friends, colleagues and clients, let’s say –, the illusion of conformity at least among friends is slowly vanishing:

“In spite of the magic of the filter bubble, which, thanks to the homogeneity of circles of friends is supposed to reliably filter out all controversial topics, absolutely nothing can be depended upon in social networks. No matter how self-explanatory a particular view on same-sex marriage, religion or wearing a cycling helmet may seem to the person holding it, on the margins and often even at the centre of a circle of friends there is always someone who disagrees and makes no secret of doing so. No sooner than one has succeeded in taking the trouble to imagine a collective ‘us’ based on consensus concerning certain essential questions, it soon becomes apparent that half of that ‘us’ is in reality ‘the Others’.”

The full table of contents of Merkur 10-11/2013


In spring 2012, Reset (Italy) announced that they would abandon print for the web (see the Eurozine Review from 23 May 2012). In the meantime it has established itself as a web journal just as interesting as the print edition. The current “dossier” (number 145) focuses on Michael Walzer, founder and long-time editor – he resigned earlier this year – of one of America’s leading journals Dissent. Intellectuals involved in Walzer’s work as a publisher and leftist voice pay tribute.

Decency: In Walzer’s article of 2002, “Can there be a decent Left?”, he accused the Left with reference to 9/11 of failing “to register the horror of the attack or to acknowledge the human pain it caused, in the schadenfreude of so many of the first responses, the barely concealed glee that the imperial state had finally gotten what it deserved”. Michael Kazin, current editor of Dissent takes this controversial article as an impulse for discussing the concept of the “decent intellectual”:

“The concept of ‘decency’ had been discarded from the political lexicon; it’s often understood as a simple synonym of grace and decor. But the ‘decency’ of Michael Walzer is something more fundamental and profound; something that leads him to explain, with plenty of examples, […] how to discuss a controversial question, to indemnify an obvious injustice or to avoid, declare or put an end to a war.”

Liberal vs. social democrat: Philosopher and regular contributor to Dissent Avishai Margalit lauds Walzer for deepening the political analysis of the Left and offering a rubric for liberals and social democrats to evaluate questions of both war and peace. As such, the liberal focus on individual, procedural liberty and the benefits of a free-market economy does not dispatch with the need to help those whom the latter leaves poor. In contrast to which, the social democrat focus is on equality and substantive freedom guaranteed by access to basic material goods.

Also: In Reset-Dialogues on Civilizations (Reset-DoC), the Finnish journalist and political analyst Liisa Liimatainen looks at “Saudi Arabia’s other face: Stories of women, activism and dignity”.

The full table of contents of Reset 145 (2013)


As the autumn nights draw in, La Revue nouvelle (Belgium) focuses on suitably crepuscular topics: euthanasia and, more broadly, cultural responses to the end of life. Marie-Luce Delfosse opens with a discussion of Belgium’s legalization of euthanasia in 2002, arguing that the subject forms part of a wider debate on all aspects of death, occasioned not least by ever-increasing medicalization and a simultaneous mistrust of an associated, overarching paternalism.

Danse macabre: Paul Thielen’s discussion of the biology of death includes an account of the role of apoptosis – programmed cell death – a phenomenon only fully recognized in 1972. On the basis of which, he argues that the individual is shaped by a constant cycle of growth and decay: the danse macabre is a dance of death and of life.

A good death: Albert Basteiner‘s contribution deals with the ever-changing cultural considerations and paradoxes surrounding the idea of “a good death”: from secularization to new expectations concerning both the preservation of life and the avoidance of suffering. The whole subject, he argues, brings individual freedom of choice into conflict with society’s belief in the inviolability of the body.

Slipping away: On a scarcely less weighty matter, Paul Löwenthal writes on “Democracy and consensus: truth and wisdom”. Rousseau wanted democracy to express the will of the people but, insists Löwenthal, the fact that neither “will” nor “people” is a real singularity results in compromises such as party rule, communitarianism and lobbying:

“Given that economic powers are ever mindful of their own best interests, for nearly forty years they have sought to diminish the size and power of the state and the influence of citizens outside of elections. So they are quite happy to see de facto power slipping away from public debate towards caucuses that are both more discreet and less bound by socio-political or moral considerations.”

Löwenthal advocates instead a form of participatory democracy based less on representation and more on the skills and commitment of organized civil society.

The full table of contents of La Revue nouvelle 10/2013


When Finnish-Estonian writer Sofi Oksanen’s bestselling novel The Purge, a twentieth century epos exploring political terror and sexual violence against Estonian women across three generations, was published in Estonian, it was less enthusiastically received than elsewhere. In an issue devoted to the novel, Vikerkaar noted its ambiguous status between fiction and history, suggesting it is too biased to qualify as history and too popular to be great fiction (see the Eurozine Review from 23 February 2011).

It was therefore no small thing when Oksanen earlier this year was awarded the Nordic Prize of the Swedish Academy. In her acceptance speech, published in the new issue of Syn og Segn (Norway), she describes the long-term “de-colonialization process” that Estonia entered into after (the second) independence in the beginning of the 1990s. This entails not only structural and political changes but a fundamental reformulation of social and personal identity:

“It was necessary to build a national conscience anew, to collect and archive life stories, create the basis for new research and historiography; oral narratives would have to be transformed into writing. Books restored the national memory that had been erased by the occupation and gave a written form to stories in which people could recognize themselves.”

It is very much in this tradition that Oksanen sees her own books, Purge included; this is the “mission” that makes it possible for literature to “change the world”:

“Events should be described using words that correspond to the experience of Estonians themselves. The euphemisms of Soviet times were rejected, replaced by words such as occupation, repression and deportation.”

The full table of contents of Syn og Segn 3/2013

Published 23 October 2013

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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