academics


How often do you hear a leader of a world power, a socialist one at that, say this? ‘It is time for philosophy to flourish’. The People’s Daily reports that Chairman Xi addressed a gathering leading philosophers and social scientists on 17 May.

President Xi Jinping held a rare, high-profile symposium on Tuesday on building up philosophy and the social sciences, marking Beijing’s latest effort to beef up its soft power and push for a larger say on the world stage.

He called for ‘more independent and innovative theories and ideas’ that will take root from China’s reality. ‘While China undergoes the most extensive and sophisticated social reform in its history,this is an era that needs theory and gives rise to theory, this is an era that needs thought and gives rise to thoughts’.

And you have to love this: he urged the scholars to follow the guidance of Marxism, to base their work on national conditions, and to draw on achievements from foreign countries and history.

 

In October, I am off to one of the great places in the world: Transylvania. It is for a conference in Baia Mare, but the experience is much more than merely a conference. If you can go, go. I’ll be talking on socialist theory and practices concerning nationalities, with China as a case study.

The International Conference of Cultural Studies

 “Multiculturalism and the Need for Recognition”

Baia Mare, 14-16 October, 2016

 

Baia Mare

Key note speakers:

Professor Roland Boer, Newcastle University, Australia

Professor Paul Cliteur, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Professor Otoiu Adrian, Tech Univ of Cluj-Napoca, North Univ Centre of Baia Mare, Romania

Mohandas K. Gandhi once said “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive”. This adage surely favours the ethics of multiculturalism placing the accent on the acceptance and integration of different cultures in a given society. And indeed, the basic objectives of multiculturalism have always been to assist cultural groups in retaining and fostering their identity, at the same time overcoming barriers to their full participation in society, to promote creative exchanges among all cultural groups, and to assist immigrants in coping with the inherent processes of cultural adaptation, mixing, and mélange.

In spite of all these, there are still voices which claim that multiculturalism does, in fact, undermine the main cultural identity of a state, endangering social unity and cohesion, and being a constant cause of conflict. Although there are voices which tend to emphasise the benefits of McLuhan’s “global village”, there are also pessimistic previsions which incline to the belief that the universe we now inhabit is nothing but a global dystopia in which various ethnic groups are engaged in asserting their need for recognition.

The idea that we are all in each other’s back yard is not so easily digestible. Not if we have in mind countries that see and understand the concept of nation in terms of ethnicity, placing the accent on the role of the ethnic group.

Presently there are countless voices that have expressed their reluctance and resistance against multiculturalism. The best example in this respect is the answer given by Central and Eastern Europe to the refugees’ crisis, an answer based exactly on the previously mentioned idea of the ethnic based national state.

The global pattern seems to have lost the contest, although there is still a lot of evidence which can testify to homogenization in global media, tourism and many other aspects of consumption. There is, nevertheless, plenty of evidence of the opposite, i.e. a constant, gradually increasing interest in ‘ethnic’ products and a need for recognition translated into a search for local authenticity.

Multiculturalism also makes reference to political correctness which can be easily translated into the efforts of previously marginalized groups to construct new identities, based on the questions of “Who am I?”, “What is my cultural heritage?”. The advocates of political correctness underline the necessity that the language employed in dealing with various ethnic groups be consistent with the principles of multiculturalism, thus avoiding stereotypes of all kinds, at the same time enhancing minorities’ self-esteem. However, there are voices which claim that political correctness and consequently multiculturalism threaten free speech, being contrary to reality and human nature.

In view of the already mentioned ideas, we invite scholars from all fields of research to explore issues related to the concepts of multiculturalism, globalization, glocalization, political correctness, politics of identity and their impact on our everyday life in the larger context of present day migrational movements.

The questions we invite you to answer are:

  • What are the lessons of multiculturalism?
  • To what degree can they be implemented?
  • Should the recent negative wave of reactions against multiculturalism mean something?
  • Are the ethnic based nations ready to be initiated in a multicultural spirit?
  • Is this tentative project of a multicultural Europe going to survive?
  • Are the former colonizers going to be colonized?
  • Can we erase the identity/alterity opposition or is it more prominent than ever?
  • Having in mind Milton Bennett’s six distinct kinds of experience spread across the continuum from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism (denial, defense, minimization, acceptance, adaptation and integration) where would we situate ourselves?
  • Is politically correct language an imposition meant to distort reality and human nature or a way to protect cultural groups?

The organizers welcome papers in, yet not limited to, the following domains: science and technology, arts (literature, linguistics, theatre, visual arts, music) and sociology, politics, business and education, human rights and philosophy. The languages of the presentations might be Romanian, English, French and German.

Submit a 250-word abstract by May 1st, 2016 along with your professional details (name, title affiliation) to lect. dr. Tomoiaga Ligia (ligiatomoiaga@gmail.com) and lect. dr. Falaus Anamaria (anamariafelecan@gmail.com).

The time allotted to the presentation of a paper is 15 minutes, followed by 10-minute sessions of questions and answers.

For registration please visit our website:  http://litere.cunbm.utcluj.ro/multiculturalism/

Participation fee:

  • 40 Euros for international participants paying by 1 June 2016 and 50 Euros for the rest of them;
  • 100 lei for Romanian participants paying by 1 June 2016 and 150 lei for the others

Participation fee shall be paid to the account bellow, with the note:

“International Conference of Cultural Studies”

Beneficiary:
Technical University of Cluj Napoca – North University Centre of Baia Mare

Address:
62A Victor Babes Street, 430083 Baia Mare, Maramures, Romania
Fiscal code: 3825886
Bank: Banca Comerciala Romana
SWIFT: RNCBROBU
IBAN: RO 21 RNCB 0182 0341 4879 0026

The peer-reviewed papers of the conference are going to be published in a Cambridge Scholars Publishing volume.

For any additional information do not hesitate to contact us:

lect. dr. Tomoiaga Ligia (ligiatomoiaga@gmail.com)

lect. dr. Falaus Anamaria (anamariafelecan@gmail.com)

 

I have been to more conferences than I care to remember and have often listened to old, old fogeys spouting forth. But one of the more fascinating experiences is when some very old man or woman ends up delivering a mish-mash of odd ideas, if not simply rambling on incoherently. I have wondered about knowing when to stop, when your mind and mouth are no longer what they used to be. I guess it requires someone else to tell you.

But over the last few days another idea hit me: an old fogey panel or series of panels. This would be reserved for exactly such garbled presentations, full of vague and wandering ideas. How would it work? The inspiration comes from China. A couple of years ago I attended a large conference, where one particular very old invited speaker was less than impressive. In fact, it was pure rubbish. Yet, after his presentation, countless people came forth, shook his hand, wanted photos taken with him and so on.

Puzzled, I asked the person next to me, ‘How can people be so impressed when what he said was so bad?’

‘Oh’, said my colleague. ‘We deeply respect old people, especially the very old. We show them the utmost respect. But we don’t listen to a word they say’.

Exactly why there should be old fogey panels.

An interesting report from the Grattan Institute on higher education funding for teaching and research has just appeared. Among a number of points, I enjoyed these the most:

1. There is little direct connection between research and teaching. I suggest it is because the courses taught usually have little if anything to do with the research undertaken. This busts the myth, propounded again and again, that teaching and research go hand-in-hand.

2. Universities in Australia already make about 3.2 billion in surplus from university fees, mostly from international students. And this is with a system that has significant government input. This money goes directly into research, since universities are keen to climb the dubious league tables that do the rounds these days.

3. Funding for research has increased exponentially since 2002.

However, what the report does not say is that research is typically over-funded with minimal expectations for output. That is, they give too much money for too few results. Each year people ask for more and more money, and fellowships increase their pay levels. Yet the expected results of research are ludicrously small. This situation creates a conundrum: a researcher has to spend grant money on research activities when less than half, if not a quarter, would be more than enough for the proposed research. Why give so much money? University research standing is also assessed on the basis of research money earned. It gets even better, for now we are expected to provide a return (at 2, 3 or 5 times) on the money ‘invested’ – the creation of a pseudo-market. Perverse? Of course. Australia has the dubious reputation of leading the world in such practices. This curious situation has brought me to the point of not applying for research money any longer. As one who has managed to get a few modest grants, I find I can get more actual research and writing done without them.

两 岸   啼 不 住

Liang an yuan sheng ti bu zhu:

The monkeys on both banks are still gibbering.

That should probably be ‘my slide into deeper disappointment’ – with Stephen Kotkin’s ‘biography’ of Stalin. Yes, scare quotes, since the effort is more like Kotkin’s rambling notes on the history of Russia – and much of the rest of the world – in the 20th century. My gut feeling about this book was confirmed with Kotkin’s take on the argument that the Bolsheviks actually managed to pull off the impossible: rescue, reestablish and refound a state in a country that was well on the way to becoming a collapsed state. For Kotkin, this state was nothing more than a criminal network:

This was a very peculiar state: an armed political police that resembled criminal bandits; a sprawling food procurement commissariat, which bested numerous rivals in a battle for bureaucratic aggrandizement; a distribution apparatus to allocate the spoils and to feed off them itself; an immense desertion-beset Red Army; an inefficient but – thanks to the aura of emergency – increasingly hierarchical party hydra, which absorbed and deployed personnel; and a propaganda machinery … wielding newspaper, posters, skits, films and agitation trains (pp. 289-90)

Apart from the rabid anti-communism of such a caricature – a bloated hydra feeding off spoils – I should add that for Kotkin there really was no ‘counter-revolution’, since it was the creation of the propaganda machine. Oh yes, the Red Army did not win the civil war; it simply stood by while the White Armies collapsed around them.

Is it possible that one may have special insight into the soul, whether living or dead? The ‘deep’ thinker is able to plumb the depths of truth, of the human condition, of life itself. When discussing a philosopher’s complex and controversial reasoning, the thinker barely pauses to observe, ‘he was an evil man’. All discussion stops, stunned by the revelation – or perhaps flabbergasted, for I can never tell. Immediately, the philosopher’s thought is worthless. Or in a debate over different cultural traditions, their intersections and alternative paths, the thinker comes straight the point and says with utmost gravity, ‘we’re all different’. Strange how no-one had thought of that before. No need for further debate. Or when discussing the fundamental issues of how to bake bread, when to take out the garbage, whether the windows need cleaning, or whether picking one’s nose or blowing it is better, she will point out: ‘there is a little goodness within’. Yes, of course; somehow I had not realised such a truth until now.

I must admit that I am slower than most in divining the nature of the ‘deep’ thinker. At first, I too am taken in by such insight, such wisdom. But eventually I too realise it is all a sham. The thinker attempts to mask stunning superficiality with the pretence of thought. Forget scholarly tomes, careful study, the struggle with formulating one’s thought. A cliché will do, anytime and every time. Such a cliché is particularly useful when discussion reaches a level – usually rather quickly – in which the thinker feels out of depth. Thus, Plato or Adorno or Lenin or Mao can be summed up in a one-liner, without ever reading a word they wrote. The thinker need not write anything, for he or she already knows the truth and can impart it, like a guru, in pithy statements. Others will of course pick up these morsels of wisdom and convey them to the masses.

The ‘deep’ thinker aspires to be a guru. No, he is certain that he really is a guru. The paradox of the guru is that in the very act of eschewing the trappings of superficiality, the guru is the most obsessively superficial of all.

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