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Archive for August, 2016

Remembering Sylvia Townsend Warner

By Alison Fox, on 31 August 2016

Sylvia_Townsend_Warner_Society_800pxToday’s guest post is by Peter Swaab, editor of the Journal of the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society and Professor of English at UCL.

I’m glad to report that I’ve taken on the editing of the Journal of the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society, which is now published by the expanding UCL Press and has its home in the UCL English Department. The Journal was first published in 2000 and has appeared once a year since then, until this year only in a print version with limited circulation. Under the new arrangement it will be continue to published in a print version received by members of the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society, but will also come out electronically, on open access to all. There will now be two issues each year; the first to be published digitally went live online in June and can be found at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/journal-of-the-sylvia-townsend-warner-society.

Warner has a following and a growing number of admirers – she is for instance author of the month at the LRB bookshop this month – she remains undervalued and neglected. I hope the Warner Journal, with its newly extended reach and university press base, will make her much better known and more widely read and studied.  She was versatile and she was long-lived. Her first book, a collection of poems, was published in 1925. It was read and admired by A.E. Housman and W.B. Yeats and may have been read by Thomas Hardy. Her final book, a collection of astringent fairy stories, appeared in 1977, when the Sex Pistols were in their brief prime. In the years between she was enormously prolific in several genres: seven novels, around 250 short stories, a biography, poetry, a travel book, essays, translations from Spanish and French. She was also a composer and a musicologist before she turned to literature. She was a great letter writer too (three volumes are in print), with an intellectual energy, generous curiosity and verbal flair that never abated. Her friends spoke wonderingly of her rapidity of mind. On waking of a morning she could at once carry on the conversation of the previous evening, full throttle, no coffee needed. She lived most of her life with another woman, Valentine Ackland, was a member of the communist party, twice went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War. She’d be around the table at my fantasy dinner party, along with Jean Renoir, John Keats and a few others who change from month to month.

What can literary criticism do with a writer of such fertility and scope as Warner? As yet, it hasn’t done nearly enough; there is, for instance, no critical monograph on her writing (though Claire Harman has written a fine biography). Her main genres – the historical novel and the short story – are often condescended to. Both her longevity and her versatility hinder the categorizing that helps writers onto curricula. Her career represents a challenge to current ways of thinking about literary history. Although her writing is formally audacious she does not fit readily into a story of avant-garde ‘modernism’.  Terms such as ‘intermodernism’ and the ‘middlebrow’ have been brought forward recently to challenge the straitjacketing narrative that sees experimental modernists on one side and all the rest on another. Such terms help a little with Warner, but she is too long-lived for the one, too difficult for the other. The categories, moreover, can be tendentious, with ‘modernism’, for instance, doing double service as partly a descriptive and partly an honorific category. And literary periodization is hard to apply cogently to such long-lived writers as Warner, West, Isherwood, Lehmann, or Rhys.

I’d like the Journal, like Warner herself, to have a crossover appeal within academia and beyond. There are five categories of contribution that I want especially to encourage:

  1. Writers on Warner, with (I hope) contributions from writers who are on record as Warner’s admirers (these include Colm Tóibín, Ursula Le Guin, Ali Smith, Sarah Waters, Adam Mars-Jones, Richard Howard, Wendy Mulford – and the list could go on).
  1. Works by Warner, both fugitive and uncollected pieces, and unpublished manuscripts from the extensive archives in the Dorset County Museum.
  1. Biographical accounts. Warner died in 1978, so there are many people who knew her, and she tends to be recalled vividly.
  1. Articles on Warner’s writings and also on those figures with  whom she could be associated either in her life or her literary affiliations. These include quite a range, among them the Powyses,  David Garnett, Bowen, Woolf and T.H. White in literary Britain, Proust, Colette and Huguenin in France, John Craske in the art world, Vaughan Williams, Ireland, Nordoff, Britten and Pears in the world of music.
  1. Reviews of books and editions that include discussion of Warner and sometimes of her literary or musical associates and friends.

The second number of the Journal to be digitally published is in preparation now, scheduled for publication in December 2016.

About the Author

Peter Swaab is editor of the Journal of the Sylvia Townsend Warner Society and Professor of English at UCL. Prior to joining UCL in 1990, he was Research Fellow at Queens’ College, and Director of Studies in English at Corpus Christi College.

Join Why We Post for an Online Book Launch

By Alison Fox, on 22 August 2016

We are delighted to invite you to join Professor Daniel Miller (UCL Anthropology), Xinyuan Wang (UCL Anthropology) and Tom McDonald (HKU Sociology) for a live and interactive discussion about UCL’s groundbreaking Why We Post project. The discussion will take place on Tuesday 13th September 2016 at 3pm BST/ 10am EDT / 7am PDT / 10pm HKT.

Register today: http://bit.ly/2b1mVuA

Streamed on Youtube, and hosted by HKU Sociology, this exciting discussion will mark the launch of two brand new Open Access volumes Social Media in Industrial China (UCL Press) and Social Media in Rural China (UCL Press), which detail the key findings of the Chinese section of the UCL Why We Post project.

Put your own questions to the authors, and hear them discuss their experiences of conducting ethnographic fieldwork on social media use in China, writing their books, and how the unique case of China has implications for understanding social media use around the world.

Register today: http://bit.ly/2b1mVuA

Un Manjar: Viral Chilean slang

By Alison Fox, on 22 August 2016

manjarsh-496x330Today’s guest blog is by Nell Haynes, Visiting Assistant Professor at Northwestern University and author of Social Media in Northern Chile.

In Chile, “manjar” is a kind of sweet sauce, similar to dulce de leche or caramel. It’s often used as filling in layer cakes or atop pancakes. It is almost universally loved for its smooth rich flavour. But ‘manjar’ is also used in slang to mean ‘rich’ or ‘sweet’ in other contexts as well. One may refer to a delicious holiday meal as ‘un manjar’ or equally to their love interest.

I had heard these uses of the word in Chile, and also being a fan of the sweet sauce, it made sense that it stood in for something to be savored. Yet when I attended a concert by American rock band Faith No More in Santiago, I was bewildered by the crowd’s repeated chanting of ‘un manjar! un manjar!’. Sure, the music was good, something to be savoured in the moment, but the food metaphor just didn’t seem apt to me. And the fact that it was being chanted in unison by thousands rather than whispered with a wink as that especially attractive acquaintance passed by, puzzled me even more.

But then I realised it was simply the buzz word of the moment. And not because of some fluke, but because, as is usual these days, social media had set off the trend, much as I explained for the resurgence of The Rhythm of the Night in Chilean night clubs in 2015.

In this instance, ‘manjar’ was thrown into heavy circulation when a youtube video surfaced of a Chilean campesino [person from the countryside] taking a long swig of very cheap wine, and then in a slow gruffy voice, proclaiming ‘un manjarsh’. Because of his accent and stereotypical campesino look, the man’s drunken proclamation was hilarious to young youtube viewers and as the video was passed around, use of the word ‘manjar’ shifted from occasional to self-consciously inserted into any possible exchange. Not only in spoken language, but Whatsapp messages, Facebook posts, Tweets, .gifs, memes, and even parody videos flooded Chileans’ internet. After a week or two the joke subsided, though when casually used, even several months later, the word still conjures the video of the campesino and his wine.

So, sure, this is just another story in grand quantity about how a word, idea, or image goes viral, has a short-lived moment in the spotlight, then fades from memory. But in this case, it also tells us something about nationalism and popular culture. Because manjar is considered something of a staple food in Chile, to call a person, food, or drink ‘un manjar’ not only says that the object is desirable, but that the person speaking about it does so from a particular position of being a ‘true Chilean.’ In some ways, urban youth may be lampooning the campesino with wine, but they are also identifying a similarity between him and themselves as Chileans. And when shouting it at an international rock concert, it claims the space and music as Chilean, not foreign, appropriating such rock music into a ‘true Chilean’ repertoire. I suppose it would be something like Americans chanting ‘apple pie’ at a U2 concert, claiming them as their own.

About the Author

Nell Haynes is Visiting Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, and author of Social Media in Northern Chile. Previously, she was Post-Doctoral Fellow at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, and  received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from the American University in 2013. Her research addresses themes of performance, authenticity, globalization, and gendered and ethnic identification in Bolivia and Chile.

Anything but selfies…

By Daniel Miller, on 15 August 2016

different-genres-of-selfies-768x1000In every respect we are delighted with the launch of our project. We now engage in daily interaction with the thousands of students registered on our FutureLearn course, plus many thousands more on the translated versions on UCL eXtend. The almost 20,000 downloads of our books is a real boost for Open Access.

But there has been one element that I found rather irritating. Here is a project that dealt with tensions on the Syrian-Turkish border, 250 million Chinese factory workers, the nature of Englishness, transformations in human communication, politics, gender, and education. Yet almost every single media enquiry, and we are happy that there were so many, seemed to focus upon the selfie and almost inevitably mentioned a specific kind of selfie taken in Chile of people’s feet. Which is why, given the choice, I would love to answer questions about our project on any topic under the sun – other than bloody selfies.

But as an anthropologist I have to transcend any personal feelings and always ask ‘why?’. My explanation is going to be as benign as I can make it – what I would like to believe to be the case – though certainly it may be otherwise. My supposition is that the selfie is iconic of social media because it speaks to the single dominant story we want to tell ourselves and which, by creating anxiety, also sells newspapers. We tend to argue that social media is the latest stage in an inevitable journey from the kind of intense kinship-based sociality studied by anthropologists to the fragmented narcissistic individualists studied as a kind of modern pathology by sociologists and psychologists. So the media and others find it strange that it is anthropologists, the group who are supposed to represent the other end of this story – kinship and tribes – who are talking about the selfie. Perhaps this represents a kind of profound disconnect.

It may then follow that the best way anthropology can be presented as a repudiation of this simple story is by noting that as anthropologists we have refused to regard the selfie as this icon of the fall of humanity from the graces of proper and intense sociality. A photo of unpretentious feet is the opposite of the self-absorbed look-at-me selfie of the face. If this explanation is correct it would be parallel to my early blog post about the ‘no-make-up selfie’ where adults in my fieldsite only started posting selfies when they found a cancer charity-based model which seemed to repudiate the association between the selfie and supposed teenage self-centeredness.

We do indeed repudiate the simple story of a decline in humanity and indeed we try and show why even these teenagers are more complex, mature and social than this story implied. If this is the case then I should be happy that the media has made our point so succinctly. Hopefully once that point has burst the selfie boil, this then clears the way for the media and others to focus on the way we tell a hugely different story of highly socialised and diverse social media that has important consequences for almost every other aspect of our lives. For example, the way we use our analysis to critique the very concept of ‘superficiality’ which is the premise of much of this discussion of the selfie. Perhaps now we can argue that in most respects social media takes society in the opposite direction: more social, less individual, closer to the way society is represented by anthropology and less close to the pathologies of the individual studied in psychology. At least that is the story I hope we will eventually be allowed to tell.

About the author

Daniel Miller is Professor of Anthropology at UCL and author of 37 books including How the World Changed Social Media,  Social Media in an English VillageThe Comfort of Things, Stuff, Tales from Facebook and A Theory of Shopping.  Find out more about the Why We Post series at  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/why-we-post.

This post is an updated/adapted version of a post that originally appeared on the Global Social Media Impact Study blog, using the title ‘Anything but Selfies’. It has been re-posted with permission.

Writing the Academic Book of the Future

By uczcrly, on 8 August 2016

The Academic Book of the Future is a two-year AHRC and British Library-funded project investigating the academic book in its current and emerging contexts. The Project has worked closely and collaboratively with a wide range of community partners, including individuals and groups from academia, publishing, bookselling, libraries, and other areas invested in the academic book in order to explore its possible future(s).

For the inaugural Academic Book Week (9-16 November 2015) we worked with Palgrave Macmillan on an innovative publication – a Palgrave Pivot called The Academic Book of the Future. It was innovative for the incredibly ambitious deadlines involved; the interdisciplinary (even experimental) nature of the content; the fact that most of the authors are not academics; and that it is Open Access, which makes it completely free to download.

The Project found the process of collaboratively creating this publication incredibly fruitful, not just in terms of the partnerships formed or the content created, but also for the new directions for working that were suggested by the entire process. It was a successful experiment in Practice-as-Research: the Project had dipped its toe in the water of one of the possible futures of the academic book, and had found the experience hugely rewarding.

Now, co-editors Dr Samantha Rayner and Rebecca Lyons are building upon this experience and working with UCL Press on an exciting new publication project called The Academic Book of the Future. As with the Palgrave Pivot, the spirit of innovation and collaboration – as well as academic rigour – is key. This new peer-reviewed publication will take the form of a BOOC (Book as Open Online Content – a term coined by UCL’s Professor Melissa Terras), which means that the content will take a range of forms and formats – traditional and otherwise – including textual pieces such as chapters and reports, but also videos, blogs, and even Storifies and curated email conversations.

We are delighted to be working with UCL Press on this project – they have fully embraced the spirit of innovation involved, and have offered both flexibility and dynamism in terms of the technical aspects of this new type of publication (the BOOC), as well as the consummate professionalism expected from a university press. Added to this, half of the Project team is based at UCL, and we are thrilled to work with this bright new internal partner.

We have written more extensively about why we’re publishing this BOOC with UCL Press on the LSE Review of Books blog, here: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2016/03/23/feature-the-academic-book-of-the-future-practice-as-research-by-rebecca-lyons/

About the authors

Samantha Rayner is Director of the Centre for Publishing and Senior Lecturer in Publishing at UCL. In addition, she is Principal Investigator on the AHRC/British Library Academic Book of the Future Project. Rebecca Lyons is Research Associate for the AHRC/ British Library Academic Book of the Future Project. Find out more about their publication, The Academic Book of the Futurehttp://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/academic-book-of-the-future

People behind the press: meet our Admin Assistant

By ucyless, on 3 August 2016

elliIn a semi-regular blog series, we’ll introduce you to the people behind the press.  Today we’re introducing you to Elli Sullivan, our Admin Assistant.

What is your role and what does it involve?

My role within UCL Press is Administration Assistant.  My role involves supporting all of the UCL Press team members.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I’ve been at UCL Press since December 2015. Before landing the job at UCL Press,  I was an Administration Officer for a charity back home in Perth, Australia. Our mission was to optimise the lives of people living with disabilities.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

The working achievement I’m most proud of is getting a great job in the UK. After all the stories I’ve heard from friends/family it seemed that it would be a long and hard journey. But I did it, and within a short time frame of arriving, I’m very proud of my persistence and motivation.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of you to-do list?

The top of my to do list at the moment is making sure that everything is in place for our new title management system.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album – Watch the Throne (Jay-Z and Kanye West)

Film – this is a huge tie between the Shawshank Redemption and the Wedding Singer

Novel – The Messenger (Markus Zusak)

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

What’s green and has wheels? The grass, I lied about the wheels.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Elvis Presley

My parents (Mum & Dad cook a great BBQ!)

Kim Kardashian

Kanye West

Karl Lagerfeld

Jennifer Lawrence

Marc Jacobs


J.K Rowling

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t let negativity get you down, and don’t let other people’s opinion stop you.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I was a West Australian State Ice Hockey player. I’m also pianist.

What is your favourite place?

That’s a tie between New York and Coogee Beach back home in Perth.