Affordable Civilization: Education Reform, Textbook Piracy, and the Question of ‘New Knowledge’ in Modern China

Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, as the intensified Western aggressions expedited the Qing Empire’s decline, Chinese sociocultural elites started to question the value and relevance of their traditional knowledge system. Believing knowledge to be the secret behind the rise of the Western powers, these elites avidly consumed so-called New Learning (xinxue), that is, general, mostly Western knowledge that was new and foreign for China.1 Importing, translating, and reading books containing Western knowledge were deemed urgent tasks, crucial to the survival of China. As the renowned reformer Liang Qichao (1873–1929) put it, “if a nation wants to strengthen itself, it should translate more Western books; if a student wants to stand on his own feet, he should read more Western books.”2 Continue reading “Affordable Civilization: Education Reform, Textbook Piracy, and the Question of ‘New Knowledge’ in Modern China”

Hygiene Propaganda and Theatrical Biopolitics in the Soviet Union in the 1920s–40s

The Bolshevik Revolution strove to create a “new man,” a morally and psychologically superior human being. This new man required a complete physical and mental renewal, including, among other measures, the hygienic literacy of the masses. A wide range of media were employed for the Revolution’s ends, including not only various forms of print but also mobile cinemas and theatrical productions. A theater movement aimed at instructing the masses gained strength in the early years of the Revolution, and many theatrical performances addressed prevailing problems in public health. The hygienic awareness of the population was especially crucial during World War I and the Russian Civil War that followed, when diseases flourished in conditions of hunger and claimed millions of lives. In the 1920s, the performances came to local clubhouses and reached even the kolkhoz fields to entertain and educate workers and farmers. Beginning in 1925, theatrical hygiene propaganda was centrally managed by the newly founded Moscow Theater for Sanitary Culture (1924–1947). Continue reading “Hygiene Propaganda and Theatrical Biopolitics in the Soviet Union in the 1920s–40s”

Russian Information Politics and the French Revolution

Russia’s support for right-wing politicians around the world has been in the news a lot in recent years. From Ukraine to France and the United States, Vladimir Putin has aligned Russia with political groups that oppose immigration, LGBT rights, and secularism. But this isn’t the first time a Russian leader has been the figurehead of world conservatism.1 After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Russia was known as the “gendarme of Europe” for its interventions against revolutionary forces all over the continent. Before that, Russia stood alongside Britain in leading the worldwide reaction against the French Revolution. Continue reading “Russian Information Politics and the French Revolution”

Education for a Free Society? Ancient Knowledge, Universities, and the Neoliberal Disorder

Often remembered as a critique of Keynesian economics, Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944) contained two other important assertions about the future of liberalism. Buried in the thirteenth chapter—”The Totalitarians in Our Midst”—of Hayek’s bestseller was a discussion of the fundamental relationship between knowledge and liberalism. Hayek posited there that the humanities represented the road to freedom, whereas science represented the road to totalitarianism: “serfdom.” In particular, he singled out the idea, common among socialists at the time, that science could serve as a basis for new moral laws and social betterment. He called this idea “German” and labeled it anti-liberal. Only insights from the humanities, he claimed, could provide an ethical culture for the liberalism of the future. Hayek depicted a progressive science as authoritarian and the traditional humanities as freeing. Continue reading “Education for a Free Society? Ancient Knowledge, Universities, and the Neoliberal Disorder”

An Alternative History of ‘Alternative Facts’: Postmodernism and the Center-Right Knowledge Ecology

Long a matter of academic attention, the very criteria of what makes a fact now circulates as a matter of politics. Indexing the increasingly widespread concern about what makes a fact, the Oxford dictionary selected “post-truth” as the 2016 word of the year. Continue reading “An Alternative History of ‘Alternative Facts’: Postmodernism and the Center-Right Knowledge Ecology”

Is Neoliberalism Biting Its Own Tail? From the Economics of Ignorance to Post-Truth Politics

In our infinite ignorance, we are all equal.
—Karl Popper
 

In a recent column in Dissent, the historian Daniel T. Rodgers takes issue with how the word “neoliberalism” has become “a linguistic omnivore” in present-day scholarship. Deeming its success “a measure of its substantive hollowness,” he untangles its various meanings (“market fundamentalism,” “commodification of the self,” “finance capitalism,” and so on) and appeals for a return to a descriptive language closer to social reality. I argue the contrary here. Neoliberalism owes its success to its distinct ideological shape, which functions thanks to, not in spite of, its paradoxes and contradictions. Although the original agenda of neoliberalism has been revised many times over, its scope and reach have steadily increased. Its commonly overlooked scientific dynamism, sponsored by private individuals and foundations, relayed by think tanks, and embedded in a growing, yet problematic “marketplace of ideas,” remains at the very heart of the neoliberal project today. Continue reading “Is Neoliberalism Biting Its Own Tail? From the Economics of Ignorance to Post-Truth Politics”

Exploring Knowledge in Political History

A century ago, World War I brought devastation and violence to Europe and other regions of the world, in many cases upending previously dominant political, social, and cultural orders. For women in large parts of the Western world, the end of the war saw a historical achievement, the right to vote.1 Suffragist activists had fought for this right for the better part of the previous century. They employed a wide range of tools, organizing rallies and marches, founding political organizations, and even conducting hunger strikes and rare acts of violence. Newspapers and magazines such as The Suffragist in the United States were common tools for spreading information and knowledge, building networks, and encouraging and motivating readers. Part of a broader history of the politicization of women and their bodies, the history of the suffragist movement was local and global, national and transnational.2 Female political activism did not end with the right to vote or with standing for and holding office, however. It took up voter mobilization and women’s political and civic education. Continue reading “Exploring Knowledge in Political History”