The Feminine Mystique
Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique is possibly the best-selling of all the titles analysed in the Macat library, and arguably one of the most important. Yet it was the product of an apparently minor, meaningless assignment. Undertaking to approach former classmates who had attended Smith College with her, 10 years after their graduation, the high-achieving Friedan was astonished to discover that the survey she had undertaken for a magazine feature revealed a high proportion of her contemporaries were suffering from a malaise she had thought was unique to her: profound dissatisfaction at the ‘ideal’ lives they had been living as wives, mothers and homemakers. For Friedan, this discovery stimulated a remarkable burst of creative thinking, as she began to connect the elements of her own life together in new ways. The popular idea that men and women were equal, but different – that men found their greatest fulfilment through work, while women were most fulfilled in the home – stood revealed as a fallacy, and the depression and even despair she and so many other women felt as a result was recast not as a failure to adapt to a role that was the truest expression of femininity, but as the natural product of undertaking repetitive, unfulfilling and unremunerated labor. Friedan's seminal expression of these new ideas redefined an issue central to many women's lives so successfully that it fuelled a movement – the ‘second wave’ feminism of the 1960s and 1970s that fundamentally challenged the legal and social framework underpinning an entire society.
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Black Skin, White Masks
Frantz Fanon’s explosive Black Skin, White Masks is a merciless exposé of the psychological damage done by colonial rule across the world. Using Fanon’s incisive analytical abilities to expose the consequences of colonialism on the psyches of colonized peoples, it is both a crucial text in post-colonial theory, and a lesson in the power of analytical skills to reveal the realities that hide beneath the surface of things. Fanon was himself part of a colonized nation – Martinique – and grew up with the values and beliefs of French culture imposed upon him, while remaining relegated to an inferior status in society. Qualifying as a psychiatrist in France before working in Algeria (a French colony subject to brutal repression), his own experiences granted him a sharp insight into the psychological problems associated with colonial rule. Like any good analytical thinker, Fanon’s particular skill was in breaking things down and joining dots. His analysis of colonial rule exposed its implicit assumptions – and how they were replicated in colonised populations – allowing Fanon to unpick the hidden reasons behind his own conflicted psychological make up, and those of his patients. Unflinchingly clear-sighted in doing so, Black Skin White Masks remains a shocking read today.
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Martin Buber's I and Thou
Martin Buber’s I and Thou argues that humans engage with the world in two ways. One is with the attitude of an ‘I’ towards an ‘It’, where the self stands apart from objects as items of experience or use. The other is with the attitude of an ‘I’ towards a ‘Thou’, where the self enters into real relation with other people, or nature, or God. Addressing modern technological society, Buber claims that while the ‘I-It’ attitude is necessary for existence, human life finds its meaning in personal relationships of the ‘I-Thou’ sort. I and Thou is Buber’s masterpiece, the basis of his religious philosophy of dialogue, and among the most influential studies of the human condition in the 20th century.
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A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance
Leon Festinger’s 1957 A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance is a key text in the history of psychology – one that made its author one of the most influential social psychologists of his time. It is also a prime example of how creative thinking and problem solving skills can come together to produce work that changes the way people look at questions for good. Strong creative thinkers are able to look at things from a new perspective, often to the point of challenging the very frames in which those around them see things. Festinger was such a creative thinker, leading what came to be known as the “cognitive revolution” in social psychology. When Festinger was carrying out his research, the dominant school of thought – behaviorism – focused on outward behaviors and their effects. Festinger, however, turned his attention elsewhere, looking at “cognition:” the mental processes behind behaviors. In the case of “cognitive dissonance”, for example, he hypothesized that apparently incomprehensible or illogical behaviors might be caused by a cognitive drive away from dissonance, or internal contradiction. This perspective, however, raised a problem: how to examine and test out cognitive processes. Festinger’s book records the results of the psychological experiments he designed to solve that problem. The results helped prove the existence for what is now a fundamental theory in social psychology.
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The Prison Notebooks
Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks is a remarkable work, not only because it was written in jail as the Italian Marxist thinker fell victim to political oppression in his home country, but also because it shows his impressive analytical ability. First published in 1948, 11 years after Gramsci’s death, Prison Notebooks ably demonstrates that the writer has an innate ability to understand the relationship between different parts of an argument. This is how Gramsci manages to analyze such wide-ranging topics – capitalism, economics and culture – to explain historical developments. He introduces the idea of “hegemony,” the means by which ruling classes in a society gain, keep hold of and manage their power, and, by carefully looking at how society operates, he reveals the manner in which the powerful deploy a combination of force and manipulation to convince most people that the existing social arrangement is logical and in their best interests ­– even when it isn’t. Gramsci shows exactly how the ruling class maintains power by influencing both political institutions like the courts and the police, and civil institutions, such as churches, family and schools. His powerful analysis led him to the conclusion that change can only take place in two ways, either through revolution or through a slow but constant struggle to transform the belief system of the ruling classes.
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Max Weber's Politics as a Vocation
German sociologist Max Weber’s 1919 lecture Politics as a Vocation is widely regarded as a masterpiece of political theory and sociology. Its central strength lies in Weber’s deployment of masterful interpretative skills to power his discussion of modern politics. Interpretation involves understanding both the meaning of evidence and the meaning of terms – questioning definitions, clarifying terms and processes, and supplying good, clear definitions of the author’s own. As a sociologist accustomed to working with historical evidence, Weber based his own work on precisely these skills, solidly backed up by analytical acuity. Politics as a Vocation, written in a Germany shocked by its crippling defeat in World War I, saw Weber turn his eye to an examination of how the modern nation state emerged, and the different ways in which it can be run – interpreting and defining the different types of rule that are possible. It is testament to Weber’s interpretative skills that Politics is famous above all in sociological circles for its clear definition of a state as an institution that claims “the monopoly of legitimate physical violence” in a given territory.
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The Location of Culture
Homi K. Bhabha’s 1994 The Location of Culture is one of the founding texts of the branch of literary theory called postcolonialism. While postcolonialism has many strands, at its heart lies the question of interpreting and understanding encounters between the western colonial powers and the nations across the globe that they colonized. Colonization was not just an economic, military or political process, but one that radically affected culture and identity across the world. It is a field in which interpretation comes to the fore, and much of its force depends on addressing the complex legacy of colonial encounters by careful, sustained attention to the meaning of the traces that they left on colonized cultures. What Bhabha’s writing, like so much postcolonial thought, shows is that the arts of clarification and definition that underpin good interpretation are rarely the same as simplification. Indeed, good interpretative clarification is often about pointing out and dividing the different kinds of complexity at play in a single process or term. For Bhabha, the object is identity itself, as expressed in the ideas colonial powers had about themselves. In his interpretation, what at first seems to be the coherent set of ideas behind colonialism soon breaks down into a complex mass of shifting stances – yielding something much closer to postcolonial thought than a first glance at his sometimes dauntingly complex suggests.
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Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet
In this book, Sedgwick examines texts from Europe and America such as Wilde, Nietzsche and Proust and considers the historical moment when sexual orientation came to be as important a signifier of personhood as gender had been for centuries. In doing this, Sedgwick provides a history of sexuality that contends that the dualistic homo/heterosexual model is as much a basis for modern culture as it is an outcome of it. Thus, Sedgwick laid the foundations of Queer Theory, contributing to the contemporary debates regarding the relationship between desire and normative structures of power, the question of empirical sexuality, and the intricacies of the relationship between sexuality and gender.
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The Lucifer Effect
What makes good people capable of committing bad – even evil – acts? Few psychologists are as well-qualified to answer that question as Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor who was not only the author of the classic Stanford Prison Experiment – which asked two groups of students to assume the roles of prisoners and guards in a makeshift jail, to dramatic effect – but also an active participant in the trial of a US serviceman who took part in the violent abuse of Iraqi prisoners in the wake of the second Gulf War. Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect is an extended analysis that aims to find solutions to the problem of how good people can commit evil acts. Zimbardo used his problem-solving skills to locate the solution to this question in an understanding of two conditions. Firstly, he writes, situational factors (circumstances and setting) must override dispositional ones, meaning that decent and well-meaning people can behave uncharacteristically when placed in unusual or stressful environments. Secondly, good and evil are not alternatives; they are interchangeable. Most people are capable of being both angels and devils, depending on the circumstances. In making this observation, Zimbardo also built on the work of Stanley Milgram, whose own psychological experiments had shown the impact that authority figures can have on determining the actions of their subordinates. Zimbardo's book is a fine example of the importance of asking productive questions that go beyond the theoretical to consider real-world events.
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Susan Sontag's On Photography
Susan Sontag's On Photography is a seminal and groundbreaking work on the subject. Susan Sontag's groundbreaking critique of photography asks forceful questions about the moral and aesthetic issues surrounding this art form. Photographs are everywhere, and the 'insatiability of the photographing eye' has profoundly altered our relationship with the world. Photographs have the power to shock, idealize or seduce, they create a sense of nostalgia and act as a memorial, and they can be used as evidence against us or to identify us. In these six incisive essays, Sontag examines the ways in which we use these omnipresent images to manufacture a sense of reality and authority in our lives. 'Sontag offers enough food for thought to satisfy the most intellectual of appetites'The Times
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The Wretched of the Earth
Frantz Fanon is one of the most important figures in the history of what is now known as postcolonial studies – the field that examines the meaning and impacts of European colonialism across the world. Born in the French colony of Martinique, Fanon worked as a psychiatrist in Algeria, another French colony that saw brutal violence during its revolution against French rule. His experiences power the searing indictment of colonialism that is his final book, 1961’s The Wretched of the Earth. Fanon’s account of the physical and psychological violence of colonialism forms the basis of a passionate, closely reasoned call to arms – a call for violent revolution. Incendiary even today, it was more so in its time; the book first being published during the brutal conflict caused by the Algerian Revolution. Viewed as a profoundly dangerous work by the colonial powers of the world, Fanon’s book helped to inspire liberation struggles across the globe. Though it has flaws, The Wretched of the Earth is above all a testament to the power of passionately sustained and closely reasoned argument: Fanon’s presentation of his evidence combines with his passion to produce an argument that it is almost impossible not to be swayed by.
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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, neurologist Oliver Sacks looked at the cutting-edge work taking place in his field, and decided that much of it was not fit for purpose. Sacks found it hard to understand why most doctors adopted a mechanical and impersonal approach to their patients, and opened his mind to new ways to treat people with neurological disorders. He explored the question of deciding what such new ways might be by deploying his formidable creative thinking skills. Sacks felt the issues at the heart of patient care needed redefining, because the way they were being dealt with hurt not only patients, but practitioners too. They limited a physician’s capacity to understand and then treat a patient’s condition. To highlight the issue, Sacks wrote the stories of 24 patients and their neurological clinical conditions. In the process, he rebelled against traditional methodology by focusing on his patients’ subjective experiences. Sacks did not only write about his patients in original ways – he attempt to come up with creative ways of treating them as well. At root, his method was to try to help each person individually, with the core aim of finding meaning and a sense of identity despite, or even thanks to, the patients’ condition. Sacks thus redefined the issue of neurological work in a new way, and his ideas were so influential that they heralded the arrival of a broader movement – narrative medicine – that placed stronger emphasis on listening to and incorporating patients’ experiences and insights into their care.
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The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
The end of the Cold War, which occurred early in the 1990s, brought joy and freedom to millions. But it posed a difficult question to the world's governments and to the academics who studied them: how would world order be remade in an age no longer dominated by the competing ideologies of capitalism and communism? Samuel P. Huntington was one of the many political scientists who responded to this challenge by conceiving works that attempted to predict the ways in which conflict might play out in the 21st century, and in The Clash of Civilizations he suggested that a new kind of conflict, one centred on cultural identity, would become the new focus of international relations. Huntington's theories, greeted with scepticism when his book first appeared in the 1990s, acquired new resonance after 9/11. The Clash of Civilizations is now one of the most widely-set and read works of political theory in US universities; Huntington's theories have also had a measurable impact on American policy. In large part, this is a product of his problem-solving skills. Clash is a monument to its author's ability to generate and evaluate alternative possibilities and to make sound decisions between them. Huntington's view, that international politics after the Cold War would be neither peaceful, nor liberal, nor cooperative, ran counter to the predictions of almost all of his peers, yet his position – the product of an unusual ability to redefine an issue so as to see it in new ways – has been largely vindicated by events ever since.
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Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger
Mary Douglas is an outstanding example of an evaluative thinker at work. In Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, she delves in great detail into existing arguments that portray traditional societies as “evolving” from “savage” beliefs in magic, to religion, to modern science, then explains why she believes those arguments are wrong. She also adeptly chaperones readers through a vast amount of data, from firsthand research in the Congo to close readings of the Old Testament, and analyzes it in depth to provide evidence that traditional and Western religions have more in common than the first comparative religion scholars and early anthropologists thought. First evaluating her scholarly predecessors by marshalling their arguments, Douglas identifies their main weakness: that they dismiss traditional societies and their religions by identifying their practices as “magic,” thereby creating a chasm between savages who believe in magic and sophisticates who practice religion.
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The Second Sex
The Second Sex
wysyłka: 48h
Simone de Beauvoir’s 1949 book The Second Sex is a masterpiece of feminist criticism and philosophy. An incendiary take on the place of women in post-war French society, it helped define major trends in feminist thought for the rest of the 20th century, and its influence is still felt today. The book’s success owes much to Beauvoir’s brilliant writing style and passion, but both are rooted in the clarity of her critical thinking skills. She builds a strong argument against the silent assumptions that continually demoted (and still demote) women to “second place” in a society dominated by men. Beauvoir also demonstrates the central skills of reasoning at their best: presenting a persuasive case, organising her thoughts, and supporting her conclusions. Above all, though, The Second Sex is a masterclass in analysis. Treating the structures of contemporary society and culture as a series of arguments that tend continuously to demote women, Beauvoir is able to isolate and describe the implicit assumptions that underpin male domination. Her demolition of these assumptions provides the crucial ammunition for her argument that women are in no way the “second” sex, but are in every way the equal of men.
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The Road to Serfdom
Friedrich Hayek’s 1944 Road to Serfdom is a classic of conservative economic argument. While undeniably a product of a specific time in global politics – which saw the threat of fascism from Nazi Germany and its allies beguilingly answered by the promises of socialism – Hayek’s carefully constructed argument is a fine example of the importance of good reasoning in critical thinking. Reasoning is the art of constructing good, persuasive arguments by organizing one’s thoughts, supporting one’s conclusions, and considering counter-arguments along the way. The Road to Serfdom illustrates all these skills in action; Hayek’s argument was that, while many assumed socialism to be the answer to totalitarian, fascist regimes, the opposite was true. Socialist government’s reliance on a large state, centralised control, and bureaucratic planning – he insisted – actually amounts to a different kind of totalitarianism. Freedom of choice, Hayek continued, is a central requirement of individual freedom, and hence a centrally planned economy inevitably constrains freedom. Though many commentators have sought to counter Hayek’s arguments, his reasoning skills won over many of the politicians who have shaped the present day, most notably Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
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Manias, Panics and Crashes
Perhaps the most peculiar feature of a financial bubble – one that Charles Kindleberger's classic work Manias, Panics and Crashes draws particular attention to – is the inability of those trapped inside it to grasp the seriousness of their predicament. They know in principle that bubbles exist, and they know that the financial crashes that result from them are capable of destroying individuals' wealth and entire economies. Yet whenever and wherever a bubble begins to form, we're told that this time things are different, that there are sound reasons to continue to invest and to presume that prices will continue to rise steadily forever. Kindleberger's achievement is to use the critical thinking skill of evaluation to examine this strange mindset and the arguments advanced in support of it. He harshly judges the acceptability of the reasons used to create such arguments, and highlights the issues of relevance and adequacy that give us every reason to doubt them. Kindleberger also uses his powers of reasoning to effect an unusual achievement – writing a work soundly rooted in economics that nonetheless engages and convinces a non-specialist audience of the correctness of his arguments.
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The Bell Curve
Herrnstein & Murray's The Bell Curve is a deeply controversial text that raises serious issues about the stakes involved in reasoning and interpretation. The authors’ central contention is that intelligence is the primary factor determining social outcomes for individuals – and that it is a better predictor of achievement than income, background or socioeconomic status. One of the major issues raised by the book was its discussion of 'racial differences in intelligence,' and its contention that there is a link between the low observed test scores and social outcomes for African-Americans and their lack of social attainment. While the authors produce and interpret a great deal of data to back up their contentions, they ultimately fail to tackle the problem that neither 'intelligence' nor 'race' have widely accepted definitions in biology, anthropology or sociology. In consequence, the book has been termed both ‘racist’ and ‘pseudoscientific’ thanks to what its critics see as both its faulty reasoning and its uncautious interpretation of evidence. The debate continues to this day, with academics on both sides engaged in fierce arguments over what can be argued from the data that Herrnstein and Murray used
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Blue Ocean Strategy
In Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne tackle the central problem facing all businesses: how to perform better than your competitors? Their solution involves taking a creative approach to the normal view of competition. In the normal framework, competition is a zero-sum game: if there are two companies competing for the same market, as one does better, the other has to do worse. The authors’ creative leap is to suggest one can beat the competition by not competing. Companies should avoid confronting competitors in crowded marketplaces, what they call “red oceans,” and instead seek out new markets, or “blue oceans.” Once the blue oceans have been identified, companies can get down to the task of creating unique products which exploit that market. Chan and Mauborgne argue, for example, that a wine company might decide to start appealing to a group previously uninterested in wine. This would be a “blue ocean” market, giving the winemaker a huge advantage, which they could exploit by creating a wine that appealed to the tastes of a beer-drinking demographic. A classic of business writing, Blue Ocean Strategy is creative thinking and problem solving at its best.
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Religion and the Decline of Magic
Keith Thomas's classic study of all forms of popular belief has been influential for so long now that it is difficult to remember how revolutionary it seemed when it first appeared. By publishing Religion and the Decline of Magic, Thomas became the first serious scholar to attempt to synthesize the full range of popular thought about the occult and the supernatural, studying its influence across Europe over several centuries. At root, his book can be seen as a superb exercise in problem-solving: one that actually established "magic" as a historical problem worthy of investigation. Thomas asked productive questions, not least challenging the prevailing assumption that folk belief was unworthy of serious scholarly attention, and his work usefully reframed the existing debate in much broader terms, allowing for more extensive exploration of correlations, not only between different sorts of popular belief, but also between popular belief and state religion. It was this that allowed Thomas to reach his famous conclusion that the advent of Protestantism – which drove out much of the "superstition" that characterised the Catholicism of the period – created a vacuum filled by other forms of belief; for example, Catholic priests had once blessed their crops, but Protestants refused to do so. That left farmers looking for other ways of ensuring a good harvest. It was this, Thomas argues, that explains the survival of what we now think of as "magic" at a time such beliefs might have been expected to decline – at least until science arose to offer alternative paradigms.
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