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Posts Tagged ‘Impact’

I’ve just discovered this blog post lurking in my ‘Drafts’ file, having apparently been created in mid-March; I can’t remember why I never got round to finishing it – unlike another post I started back in the autumn, which perhaps needs to wait for an appropriate moment – but that’s probably revealing in itself. Anyway, in a number of ways this unfinished discussion connects to what I was planning to write this morning, so I’ll post it here and then add current thoughts underneath…

If what you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If what you have is a copy of Thucydides, everything looks like the Melian Dialogue. (more…)

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This week is especially heavy on travelling, which is terrible for doing all the writing I imagined I’d get done once marking was out of the way, pretty terrible for my waistline as I resort too often to coffee and cake to keep going, moderately good for starting to work through the long list of overdue book reviews, and very good for blog posts. I’m currently, in theory, on my way to Zagreb for a doctoral workshop on pre-modern economics [update, three hours later: finally on the move…] On Tuesday I was in Manchester, and on Wednesday in London, for teacher-training sessions for the ‘Understanding Power’ project – aka ‘Thinking Through Thucydides’, but that name isn’t going to pull in the punters – that Lynette Mitchell and I have been developing with the Politics Project.

This was tiring, a little stressful – and finally a joy. (more…)

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The Thucydides Paradox is the way that all the authority of a complex, ambiguous author is used to legitimise a simplistic, reductionist account of his work. The high reputation of Thucydides in historical, political and strategic thought was founded on the opinions of people like Thomas Hobbes or Leopold von Ranke who had meditated long and hard on the intricacies of his account and its relevance to the present – but it’s largely used to confer truisms and dubious sound-bites, like “the strong do what they will”, “there is justice only between equals” or “a rising power always threatens an established power”, with an undeserved gravitas. It’s as if the whole weight of David Bowie’s cultural significance was presented in terms of Let’s Dance; yes, it’s part of the oeuvre, and not exactly unrepresentative, but it’s not the central point or the only thing you really need.* Those Thucydides quotes are likewise genuine enough (unlike some), but at best (the last one) they offer a drastic simplification of his understanding of events, and at worst (the other two) they make the basic error of confusing the artist with his characters. (more…)

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For all that I spend quite a lot of my time critically analysing the deficiencies of modern claims to ‘learn’ from Thucydides, or simply throwing rocks at them, I do firmly believe that his work has enormous potential as a source of insight into the way the world works, not only in the past but today. There are continuities as well as dramatic changes in human behaviour across time; we can draw from Thucydides’ account understanding of the ‘human thing’, the way that people think and behave. Yes, I tend to think of this in terms of tendencies and persistent mental habits rather than ‘laws’ of ‘human nature’, but it’s part of the same general project to read the work as Thucydides’ intended it, a ‘possession for ever’ from which readers can learn valuable things for the present. (more…)

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I’ve just spent a fascinating morning at a workshop on Creative Pathways to Impact, splashing around well out of my depth and comfort zone, in search of further inspiration and possible creative collaborators for some of the ways I want to make use of Thucydides as a genuine ‘possession for all time’, a means of opening up questions about the complexity of the world, politics, power, rhetoric etc in the face of post-truth and post-democracy. One of the activities was the random drawing of cards, giving a research finding, a location and a form respectively, and then discussing as a group how one might enable the first of these of have an impact via the other two. So: Thucydides as a means of understanding the dynamics of power; phone box; street theatre. (more…)

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Apologies for the lack of posts recently; partly, the usual effects of the beginning of term crossed with a series of cold/flu bugs, and partly because I’ve spent the last week as guest tweeter for the @WeTheHumanities account, attempting to demonstrate the continuing vitality of the humanities. I’m not sure what it may mean that the comments which got the greatest level of response were those focused on artisan foodstuffs, followed by complaints about the difficulty of combining domestic chores and the academic life, while carefully crafted provocations about the possible limitations of the sorts of knowledge our disciplines can produce, compared with the apparently solid and practical findings of the sciences and social sciences, apparently fell on deaf ears – or, people just didn’t want to go there.

Still, I benefitted from thinking through some of these issues, and I’m delighted to announce that I’ve developed a completely new approach to the ‘impact’ of my Thucydides research. This is an area that has often made me feel rather uneasy (more…)

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Certain strands of contemporary ancient economic history have a tendency to suffer from economics envy, rather as some social scientists suffer from science envy: partly it’s the apparent solidity and certainty of the knowledge that it generates, and the confident assertions of its practitioners, unconstrained by the sorts of wishy-washy historicist doubts that plague humanities scholars; partly it’s the fame and the money; and partly, at least some of the time, it’s about the possibility of direct engagement with the world, the fact that ‘real’ people (i.e. policy makers and governments) will actually listen to economists now and again. This envy is then one of the drivers of the adoption of economic theory in the study of the ancient economy – by no means the only driver, as there are entirely sound reasons why some economic ideas can be useful, but it’s surely a factor; hence (again, if we’re being pedantic, among other reasons) the popularity of the New Institutional Economics, which allows ancient historians to align themselves ostentatiously with contemporary (well, only slightly dated) economic approaches without actually having too abandon too much of the complexity and historical specificity that is our bread and butter. It also fuels the ongoing disparagement of alternative approaches to pre-modern economies as naive primitivism, obsessively raking over the fruitless debates of the 1970s rather than facing up to post-1989 reality. As I’ve argued elsewhere – can’t for the moment remember whether it’s here or in a forthcoming publication, or possibly both – the neoliberal agenda is pretty unmistakeable in ancient economic history as elsewhere. (more…)

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