Society

I performed my first abortion when I was twenty-five years old. I didn’t want to: I had seen abortions performed before and knew the procedure was messy and brutal. The women were lightly anaesthetised, unparalysed, not intubated. Sometimes a woman would twitch, even flinch, under the anaesthesia as her cervix was dilated and her uterus evacuated. I wondered if any of the women knew in a visceral sense what was being done to their bodies. Being pregnant, and then not; afraid, and then less so, the immediate problem solved, the deeper concerns of poverty and violence left untouched by my team. I would see them afterwards. No complications. No, you don’t need to pay. Yes, you can go. By the way, would you like a script for the pill?

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Class in Australia edited by Steven Threadgold and Jessica Gerrard

by
May 2022, no. 442

To contemplate class in Australia is to be confronted immediately by paradox. Australia has over the past forty years become much more unequal, and yet those institutions formed to contest class inequality – the trade unions and the Labor Party – have become weaker and less militant. The labour movement has largely avoided a language of class as divisive and old-fashioned, and yet right-wing propagandists have successfully deployed a rhetoric of ‘battlers’, ‘aspirationals’, and ‘élites’ to draw support and win elections. The university system has been transformed, so that its leadership is akin to a corporate class of ‘change agents’ and much of its workforce is insecurely employed. Within the halls of learning, class analysis has not for some time been an area of vigorous research; in the humanities and social sciences, the action (and the research funding) has long been elsewhere.

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On 9 March 2022, Russian forces at war in Ukraine bombed a maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol, killing three and injuring seventeen. In a confused response to international condemnation, Russia denied responsibility, designating these denunciations ‘information terrorism’ and ‘fake news’. 

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In Australia today, many young people are actively engaged in politics. While adults often describe young people as disengaged, apathetic, or uninformed about politics, these perceptions and labels do not align with the reality. As Judith Bessant has pointed out, ‘[T]here is a long and rich history of political action by children and young people’ (Making-Up People: Youth, truth and politics, Routledge, 2020).

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As I started to read this book, right-wing extremists stormed the US Congress, spurred on by a president who was unable to accept defeat at the ballot box. It has long been recognised that Donald Trump is a narcissist, but, as Ute Frevert aptly points out in The Politics of Humiliation, narcissism and shame are closely related. Trump feels humiliated by his defeat and is therefore psychologically incapable of accepting his loss, on any level. But there is another side to Trump’s behaviour: he has been quite ‘shameless’ in the way he bends truth and humiliates other political leaders.

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In Skin Deep: The inside story of our outer selves, Australian writer Phillipa McGuinness gathers some impressive facts about skin. A square centimetre contains, among other things, six million cells, two hundred pain sensors, and one hundred sweat glands. The skin of an individual weighing seventy kilograms ‘covers two square metres and weighs five kilograms’. A YouTube channel where you can watch a dermatologist popping pimples has amassed more than three billion views. The beauty and personal care industry accrues half a trillion dollars in annual sales, while one major cosmetics company now spends seventy-five per cent of its billion-dollar advertising budget on influencers.

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The title of Gillian Bottomley’s lively study addresses both the major theme of migration and her own position as an academic anthropologist. Bottomley targets specialist studies with hard and fast disciplinary categories and attitudes and rejects the tone of impersonal scholarship which such works frequently adopt.

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Raymond Williams at 100 by Paul Stasi & Culture and Politics by Raymond Williams

by
March 2022, no. 440

The 2021 centenary of Raymond Williams’s birth was a moment of acknowledgment but also involved some assessment and testing of his ongoing relevance. Williams seemed to live many lives: son of a railway worker in rural Wales, Communist Party member, wartime tank commander, tutor in the Workers’ Educational Association, novelist, author of key texts within cultural and media studies, professor of drama at Cambridge University, founding figure of the British New Left, television reviewer and commentator, socialist activist and Welsh nationalist, cultural and Marxist theorist.

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Most people, and certainly most politicians, don’t spend much time or emotional energy thinking about whether human life on this planet will still exist in one hundred years’ time, or what efforts might need to be made right now if we and our descendants are to avoid extinction.

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In this accessible contribution to the burgeoning literature on democracy’s travails and what to do about them, Jan-Werner Müller makes a case for hard borders and fundamental principles. These are not the hard borders desired by authoritarian leaders. Instead, Müller asks us to go back to basics (he uses the concept riduzione verso il principo) to establish some hard borders in our understanding – and hence practice – of democracy. Those borders should be drawn around the fundamental democratic principles of uncertainty and equality. At its most basic, this is a call to reimagine and reinvest in the intermediary institutions of representative democracy – particularly parties and autonomous media – to restore the infrastructure of democratic politics in the developed world.

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