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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Trump, trans, and threat

On 26 July, 2017, President Trump tweeted his plan to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military. Besides the “tremendous medical costs” that he cited (which is actually less than a thousandth of 1% of the Defense Department’s annual budget), Trump referenced the idea of “disruption.” When I read the tweet, a thought crossed my mind: What exactly is being disrupted?

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Love and hate politics

‘Love versus hate’ has become a standard frame for describing today’s primary political divide. In the face of the world-wide rise of right-wing movements and governments, and especially since the demonstration of fascist and white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, it is generally taken for granted that hatred is the prime motivation for the most horrible and destructive political forces.

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Cultural shifts in protest groups

Protest and counterculture in America have evolved over time. From the era of civil rights to Black Lives Matter, gatherings of initially small groups growing to become powerful voices of revolution have changed the way we define contemporary cultural movements. In this excerpt from Assembly, authors Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri examine how some minority protest groups have adapted over time to be more inclusive in their organizational models without having a sole defined leader.

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The trouble with elite cities

The transformation of the city into a pricey commodity for sale is one of the most profitable ventures in the current phase of capitalism. This is why private players and local governments are eager to invest monumental resources in the production and promotion of this ever more sophisticated, ever more seductive money-making machine: the city.

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The morality of genocide

Among the thousands of pictures displayed in that monument to human depravity which is the Tuol Sleng Centre outside Phnom Penh —now part of Cambodia’s “dark tourism” circuit—, one stands out. It is the picture of a middle-aged man, eyes wide open, his identity reduced to a plastic sign bearing the inmate number “404” pinned to his collar. The image is conspicuous not because of any sign of violence—unlike other images at the former school turned-into-torture-centre, and then museum—but because of the man’s facial expression.

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After Mosul, are borders and state sovereignty still an issue in the Middle East?

After three years of ISIS occupation, the Iraqi army reconquered most of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in July. As the self-declared caliphate—the world’s richest terrorist organization—has been losing considerable territory over the last two years, and with the international borders of most states in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) still intact, is the survival of the state system in the region still an issue of concern?

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Aesthetics and politics: Donald Trump’s idea of art and beauty

President Donald Trump’s description of Confederate statues as “beautiful” merely mirrors his previously-mentioned objects of aesthetic preference. Before the statues, there was the “beautiful wall,” an oddly-conceived barrier prospectively bedecked with a “beautiful door.” But it’s not just about walls and buildings. Mr. Trump’s most frequent references to beauty have had to do with women.

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How to fight climate change (and save the world)

The ice caps are melting. Within a few years the North Pole will likely be ice-free for the first time in 10,000 years, causing what some call the “Arctic death spiral.” In the following excerpt from A Farewell to Ice, Peter Wadhams explains what we can do today to fight climate change. What can we do, both individually and collectively, to try to save the world? There is a massive list, of course, but I will pick out a few actions that might make a real difference.

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The three principles of democracy [excerpt]

Whether or not true democracy can ever be achieved remains uncertain. Historian James T. Kloppenberg argues that while democracy can be defined as an ethical ideal, the practical definition of democracy is too contentious to be adopted as a political system. The following shortened excerpt from Toward Democracy analyzes three contested principles of democracy: popular sovereignty, autonomy, and equality.

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Rebuilding New York City

In the weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, New York City’s position as the center of the financial world came into question. Now, 16-years after the day that could have permanently changed the course of New York’s history, downtown Manhattan rebuilt both its buildings and status of importance. Lynne B. Sagalyn examines the economic impact of the World Trade Center’s fall and rise in the following excerpt from Power at Ground Zero.

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Allen Ginsberg and Ann Coulter walk into an auditorium…

Ann Coulter, a controversial right-wing author and commentator, was tentatively scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley on April 27 until pre-speech protests turned into violent clashes, and her speech was canceled. In response, Coulter tweeted, “It’s sickening when a radical thuggish institution like Berkeley can so easily snuff out the cherished American right to free speech.”

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A new view of authoritarianism and partisan polarization

Democrats and Republicans are increasingly polarized. Partisan strength is up, feelings toward the two parties are more extreme, and partisans are more intolerant of the other side. What gives rise to the partisan divide in American politics? One prominent theory is that Democrats and Republicans are polarized today because they differ psychologically. Republicans have become more authoritarian and Democrats less so.

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Don’t play politics with the debt ceiling

It must be frustrating to be a Congressional Democrat these days. The minority party in both the House and Senate and having lost the White House, the only thing keeping the Democrats relevant is a dysfunctional White House and a disunited Republican majority in Congress. There is, however, one area in which they should drop any obstructionism and play ball with the Republicans—raising the debt ceiling.

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What drives displacement and refuge?

Global refugee numbers are at their highest levels since the end of World War II, but the system in place to deal with them, based upon a humanitarian list of imagined “basic needs,” has changed little. In this excerpt from Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World, authors Paul Collier and Alexander Betts explain the cause and effect of mass violence, a far too common pre-cursor to refugee crises and global displacement.

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The steeples of Essex and Tyrone: Irish historians and Brexit

One of the glib accusations levelled against Irish history is that it never changes–that its fundamental themes are immutable. Equally, one of the common accusations against Irish historians is that (despite decades of learned endeavour) they have utterly failed to shift popular readings of the island’s past. Yes, the Good Friday Agreement and its St […]

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