Sociolinguistics by John Edwards. Reviewer Joe Sinclair
Mindful Therapeutic Care For Children by Dr Joanna North- Reviewer Mark Edwards
Leadership - A Critical Text by Simon Western - Reviewer Joe Sinclair
No One's World by Charles A. Kupchan - Reviewer Terry Goodwin [The review promised in last month's "trailer".]
50 Great Myths About Atheism by Russell Blackford and Udo Schüklenk - Reviewer Sep Meyer
Cyberbullying and E-safety by Adrienne Katz - Reviewer Michael Mallows
Cosmopolitanism - Uses of the Idea by Zlatko Skrbis and Ian Woodward - Reviewer Edit Kovacs
A User's Guide to Thought and Meaning by Ray Jackendoff - Reviewer Joe Sinclair (A continuation of the interim review that appeared in the last issue. Full and final review will appear in the Book Reviews New Nurturing Potential No. 4 of Winter 2013/4)
Sociolinguistics - A Very Short Introduction by John Edwards. Paperback. 143 pages. Price £7.99. ISBN No. 978-0-19-985861-3 Published by Oxford University Press
It may be an impertinence to quote one author while reviewing the work of another; but in the light of the relevance of the quotation to the dominant thesis of the book under review, and in my suspicion that John Edwards would support the Latin aphorism si parva licet componere magnis . . . here goes!
Commonly attributed to the Yiddish sociolinguist Max Weinreich is the adage “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy”. And when Graham Greene wrote It’s a Battlefield he might (although he wasn’t!) have been referring to the struggle to maintain the integrity of a language against the constant encroachments of dialect.
I’ll return to this concern later in my review, but “to begin at the beginning”, sociolinguistics is concerned with the interaction of language and society. Edwards starts his book from the premise that we learn language as a consequence of genetic preparedness. In his first chapter, entitled Coming to Terms, Edwards writes “Long before the modern terms now in familiar use, people were always deeply concerned about the social life of language.” And he means that they have this concern both as individuals and as groups.
The fact is that the interaction of language and social life is a two-way street. People tend to adjust the way they speak according to their social circumstances. A parent will talk to a child differently from the way they will talk to another adult. On the other hand, a person’s social situation will also affect the way that person speaks. Later in the book, Edwards (as all sociolinguists do) concerns himself very much with the subject of dialect and its effect on changes in language.
The second chapter is entitled Variation and Change and is concerned with historical changes in pronunciation. Edwards here makes an interesting observation of the way Queen Elizabeth’s pronunciation has subtly changed through her sixty years of Christmas broadcast messages.
In chapter three, Perception of Language, he writes of “social prejudice and stereotype” attached to “low-status speech varieties”. Here, more than dialect, the language is being considerably influenced [I almost wrote “eroded”, but that would be my conclusion and not the author’s] by its changing multi-ethnic character. Copula deletion and double negatives, the norm amongst the black English community, is more akin to the glottal stop and dropped initial “aitch” of Thames Estuary English than to the dialects that identify the speakers of north-east, north-west and south-west England.
In Chapter four, Edwards concerns himself with language conservationists. Entitled Protecting Language, Edwards writes: “There has never been a shortage of amateur ‘do-gooding missionaries’ concerned with linguistic decline and decay”.
Languages great and small, the fifth chapter, is where the author tackles the question that I promised to return to in my third paragraph. “Why do some languages become more important while others diminish in importance?” He states that “languages are components of larger cultural packages”. And in chapter six, Loyalty, maintenance, shift, loss and revival, he tells us that all languages and all dialects are bearers of identity: “Maintenance and revival efforts,” he concludes, [reflect] “the wish to shore up an important constituent of group identity.”
In Multilingualism, chapter seven, he wonders how to define bilingualism when “there is no adult that does not know at least foreign words and phrases, such as gracias and c’est la vie. And Edwards clearly equates multilingualism with culture: “There is a long historical tradition . . . that an additional language or two was always an integral part of civilized life.”
His final chapter, Name, sex and religion, is a consideration of the social acceptability or danger inherent in “religious, sexual and onomastic matters”.
In checking John Edwards' biographical details on the Internet, I came across some interesting comments he had made following a one-week long lecturing visit to China, from which I extracted the following:
“I encouraged my audience to understand that many modern treatments . . . focus almost exclusively upon arguments in favour of the maintenance of small or flagging varieties. Not an ignoble stance, to be sure, but one that is impoverished through neglect of the fuller and more Darwinian nexus in which languages mingle and rub up against one another. . . And finally, I spoke about the longstanding urge to protect languages, to keep them free from both internal and external contamination.”
On page 12 of Sociolinguistics, John Edwards also makes reference to Darwin and states that “language families came to be understood as products and reflections of evolutionary development”.
If I had to choose one thing only that I took from this book it is this application of the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest to the demise and endurance of languages.
It is axiomatic that any book published in the OUP’s excellent Very Short Introduction series will be concise but comprehensive – two words that seem at first blush to be contradictory, but are quite valid; or so my previous reviews of titles in the series have led me to believe.
John Edwards’s book has provided no exception to this belief. Within the compass of a mere 140 pages, as beautifully produced by OUP as ever, and with a modest addition of pertinent illustrations, he has given his readers a more-then-adequate introduction to a fairly complex subject that is an excellent springboard for further study, a springboard that is enhanced by the wealth of reference material suggested at the end of the book.
Mindful Therapeutic Care for Children by Dr Joanna North. Paperback. 176 pages. Price £14.99. ISBN: 978-1-84905-446-1 Publisher Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
This book states on the cover that it is aimed at professionals who work with children but can also be read by parents and carers. As such its target audience is diverse; there will be some for whom mindfulness is a familiar concept; for others it will be completely new. As one who probably falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum I found it a frustrating read at times and an inspirational one at others.
Dr North's style is conversational in tone which makes this a very accessible book. However at times she does appear to verge on stating the obvious; for example, she advises when working with a Downs Syndrome child to make allowances for slower processing. Really? The first four chapters outline the concept of mindfulness and for me felt rather like a very long introduction. It was not until Chapter Five that the book really came into its own; as a systemic practitioner myself I found that there was plenty to reflect on in my own practice due to the questions that Dr North poses.
In retrospect it is what could be described as an experiential read; the sections where the author recounts elements of her own life which have helped form her views about children is particularly impressive. She follows this by inviting us to do the same; as the she says it is not so much a book about learning techniques; rather it is about learning another way of thinking about the work we do with the children in our care.
The book is divided into chapters which have a summary at the end and there is a useful appendix on the Rights of the Child as adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. Dr North references many familiar names throughout the book and rightly stresses the importance of attachment theory. She has developed a useful model which she calls the Reflective Practice Pentagon which brings into the equation the wider influences of community, society and culture. As she says, this is merely a starting point, but a starting point for what could be a fascinating journey.
Despite my initial reservations by the end of the book I felt I had learned a lot and gained some insights which I can take directly into my practice, ironic for a book which aims to avoid being a book about techniques! I would recommend it enthusiastically to professionals, parents and carers who want to understand more about themselves and the young people they work with and care for.
Leadership - A Critical Text by Simon Western. Paperback. 384 pages. Price £21.99. ISBN: 9781446269909. Published by Sage Publications.
This book is an expanded and revised edition of Simon Western’s earlier book with the same title, with a significantly extended section on ecological and environmental connection to leadership and a final chapter inviting reflection on the current situation and “Leadership in the Aftermath”.
For a reviewer it is always reassuring, and frequently a delight, to discover a similarity of philosophy and methodology between oneself and the author of the book being reviewed.
When I was preparing for my first public address I was given the advice (still maintained in one form or another to this day) : “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you’ve told them”. I found a strong point of empathy between this advice and the method Western uses throughout this book. I suspect this may derive from the style he employs very successfully in his coaching and as a university lecturer.
Earlier in my career, when I was studying journalism, I became somewhat “besotted” with the concept of sidebars. These are sections of an article, often boxed, that may highlight or amplify the main text. I found them a wonderful aid to comprehension. Apparently Western shares my enthusiasm for this device. He calls them “boxes” and has not only expanded their use throughout the book, but has given them a list of their own (46 of them) at the beginning of the book. [“Tell them what you’re going to tell them”!]
Dr Western’s first edition received much acclaim from reviewers several of whom made free with that somewhat overused (but beloved of reviewers) adjective “accessible”. There are very few – if any – precisely suitable synonyms in the sense of “able to be easily understood”. But, in that sense, the general layout, use of “boxes”, addition of illustrations, have all made this edition “super-accessible”. Indeed, the author writes (p.xxi) “This second edition of the book has enabled me to restructure it in order to make the content more accessible, and to add new materials and new chapters.”
The introduction [“Tell them what you’re going to tell them”?] expands Box 1 - a biography of the author - then describes at some length the structure of the book, providing guidance as to how the book may be used by practitioners, students and course leaders. “At the end of each chapter”, Western writes, “are Suggested Reading and Reflection Points that can be used for an essay/assignment or exam question. Box 2 offers a brief example of how to use this text for teaching and training.” These examples are provided chapter by chapter.
This might suggest that the book is intended exclusively for, or would be of interest primarily to, readers in the academic field. But this is not so. Dr Western inevitably uses his academic background to address the perceived needs and requirements of this audience, but he also has a diverse body of work experience upon which to draw, having worked in industry, psychotherapy, family therapy, the National Health Service, and as consultant, executive coach and company director all of which expands his potentially interested readership considerably, as well as lending authenticity to his case studies.
The book comprises two main sections. Part One, occupying one-third of the book, is headed Deconstructing Leadership. In this section Dr Western has set himself the task of providing a critical theoretical framework for the theory and practice of leadership that, ultimately, has the “greater aim of creating the ‘Good Society’.”
This has set the scene for Part Two – Reconstructing Leadership – covering the greater part of the book, where he introduces his Four Discourses of Leadership.
His thesis is that social and organisational changes in the modern world necessitate a new type of leadership. These changes derive, amongst other causes, from the shortages of natural resources and climate change. The Eco-leader has thus become of paramount importance. The Eco-leader has effectively supplanted the earlier “Leader as a Messiah”; prior to whom was the “Leader as a Therapist”, who followed on from the “Leader as a Controller”.
These are the four Discourses of Leadership that Simon Western has identified. By discourse he means “an institutionalized way of thinking, a taken-for-granted (or normative) way of being, that is determined by language, communication and texts.” (p.150)
Figure 8.1 (p.150) shows these four Discourses and places them in their historical context. From 1900 to 1960 the Controller Leadership Discourse gives prominence to Efficiency and Productivity. From 1960 to 1980 the Therapist Leadership Discourse is concerned with Relationships and Motivation. Then from 1980 to 2000 the Messiah Leadership Discourse has a preference for Vision and Culture. Finally, at the present time, the prominent Discourse is the Eco-Leadership with Connectivity and Ethics as the main concern. It is to be understood that none of these Discourses supplants the others. Each was formed during a specific period of history, but remained present although less prominent when a new dominant leadership model appeared.
Chapters 9 through 12 of Part Two describe the four Discourses in detail and each ends with a case study that puts the Discourse clearly into context. Chapter 9 covers the Controller Leadership Discourse, defined as controlling resources to maximize efficiency. The boxed case study (Box 18) concerns public sector modernization in the National Health Service. “In the public sector,” Western writes, “the Controller discourse re-emerged with a vengeance in the 1990s as the modernization of services meant a transfer of power and control from clinicians to managers and other experts.” (p.176)
The Therapist Leadership Discourse at Chapter 10 is exemplified by the phrase “Happy workers are more productive workers”. This derived from the humanistic movement. Western singles out Abraham Maslow whose "work was formative and popular, leading to research in participative and democratic leadership to improve worker motivation". (p.194) Sadly he does not mention Carl Rogers, my personal "hero" of the movement. But this is a totally subjective reaction on my part. The case study (Box 25) draws on Dr Western’s own experience of working in a multidisciplinary child and adolescent mental health team. The Leader as Therapist is still much in evidence today and, indeed, humanistic approaches such as client-centred (Carl Rogers), Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of Needs) and the psychodynamic approach of the neo-Freudians are still very much a part of leaders' tool-chests for job enhancement and team-building activities.
The Messiah Leadership Discourse exemplified as “Visionary leaders and strong cultures” are described as “charismatic figures [who] organise the workplace with flattened structures, utilizing culture control to influence employees”. (p.217) The case study is again based on the author’s personal experience of consultancy work for a multinational fashion retailer and is based on “my observations and the insights I gained during this work”. Elsewhere, Dr Western has stated: "As the workplace rises in importance as a site of community, replacing institutions such as the church and family, so the corporate leader replaces the priesthood as a social character of influence (Steve Jobs for example)" (1)
The Eco-Leadership Discourse (Connectivity and ethics) inevitably assumes great importance in this work. Western writes: “I named this discourse Eco-leadership to reflect the growing use of environmental and network metaphors in the leadership literature. Eco-leadership is becoming the most important leadership discourse for our times, although it is not yet the dominant discourse.” (p.244)
Western has provided an Epilogue entitled Leadership in the Aftermath. The aftermath of which Western writes is actually two aftermaths, “one immediate and the other slowly unfolding. The first is the financial crisis and its spreading impact . . . the second is the aftermath of modernity itself.” (p.324)
The financial crisis to which the writer refers is that which began in 2008 and spread with shocking rapidity. This reinforced the notion that we live in interdependent ecosystems. “Messiah leaders, rewarded in millions to run our financial institutions and global corporations, had completely failed us. Political leaders too had ignored the warnings.” (p.324)
It was Eco-leadership approaches that were lacking. 21st century needs were ignored in favour of 20th century leadership approaches. “New leadership responses must reflect and respond to our times; we live in a networked society and therefore networked leadership is required. We live in a time of environmental crisis and with limited natural resources, and therefore Eco-leadership that attends to ethics and sustainability is necessary”. (p.329)
He has written elsewhere: "Eco-Leadership is not just about the environment, it’s about leading organizations successfully, recognizing that the world has changed and that the demands of a networked society also demand new leadership. . .
"Eco-leadership means re-negotiating what success means for an organization or company. Delivering growth and short-term shareholder value is no longer acceptable as the sole measurement of success if we are to act ethically and responsibly. . .
"In fact, it is not possible to continue on the path of unlimited growth and consumption as we are reaching environmental limits: to survive we must change." (1)
After referring to the “personal catastrophe [that] occurred in my life between these two editions”, Dr Western concludes his book with a statement that the way to carry on is . . . “if we remain open to the whole of our experience, to engage with grief, sadness, loss, love, joy and beauty. What has this got to do with leadership? Everything.”
I found it provocative and instructive. But I suspect that I enjoyed it equally as much not just because I agreed with what Dr Western wrote, as because I felt he seemed to agree with me.
(1) Integral Leadership Review, August-November 2013
A User's Guide to Thought and Meaning by Ray Jackendoff. Hardback. 288 pages. ISBN 978-0-19-969320-7. Price £16.99. Published by Oxford University Press.
I ended my interim review of this book in Issue No. 6 with the following statement: "The intention behind this interim review is merely to provide an overview of what is to follow. Pity. I can hardly wait to finish reading it." Well, that statement still applies. So what follows is merely (and that is an understatement if ever i wrote one!) a further taste of the full review that will appear next month in New Nurturing Potential No 4.
In the interim review of this book, based on a cursory appraisal, I stated that it “seemed designed to appeal to a general readership much more than to the erudite, didactive audience of the author’s previous tomes on the complexities of language”. I even suggested that its somewhat simplistic style was more akin to Edward de Bono than that of Jackendoff.
So, how has that first impression fared after further reading?
Well, it has not modified my initial appraisal other than to actually endorse and enhance it. It does indeed seem to be a book intended to appeal to the “dilletante” rather than the erudite student of his subject. But the subject is not simply linguistics or even sociolinguistics, but ranges far and wide through the entire interdisciplinary domain of cognitive science. And far from making the book unwelcoming and complicated, I found this actually enticing.
It did, however, suggest that there may have been an ambivalence in Jackendoff’s intended outcome. On the one hand his pronounced intention, according to the Foreword, was to write “in a fashion that I hope will be accessible to anyone curious about thought and meaning. I trust that the specialists can forgive the informality . . . “ He chose to do this, he says, because “if I’d tried to write it as a traditional scholarly treatise, it would have been a thousand pages long.” But the intended accessibility later gets mired in those aspects of the study that simply do not lend themselves easily to this kind of informal treatment.
Nevertheless, a hearty pat on his back for trying. He’s had one or two brickbats thrown by critics, so I think a bouquet or two from me will not be amiss. “If you haven’t given up on me by now, let me see if I can put this all together.” (p. 149) – Hardly the sort of statement one would anticipate from a leading academic; but certainly effective for attracting the “average” reader (whoever that may be). What the French might describe as attirant.
And, on the same page, and in a similar vein, we find “I’m imagining that some readers won’t find this rhetorical tack very satisfying. I submit that no other approaches – aside from complacently throwing science and philosophy out the window – are very satisfying either.”
Then, in the final chapter, he writes: “Let me try to tie this all together. One thing I’ve been trying to develop here, over these many tortuous chapters, is a better understanding of the distinction between rational thinking and intuitive thinking . . .
"What we experience as rational thinking consists of thoughts linked to language. The thoughts themselves aren't conscious. Rather, what's conscious is the "handles" of pronunciation that are linked to the thoughts, plus some character tags that lend the pronunciation a sense of meaningfulness and conviction. And the conscious sense that one sentence logically follows from another--that your reasoning is rational--is itself an intuitive judgment. So rational thought isn't an alternative to intuitive thought--rather, it rides on a foundation of intuitive thought." (p. 243)
But what about the meat (or quorn if you find that more to your taste) sandwiched between these two wrappers.
Well, for now I actually propose to skip over much of Part II of this book, which some consider to be the "core" of his work. This is the section dealing with the Uncommon Meaning Hypothesis and, to my mind, is the content that Jackendoff has found it most difficult to treat in "an informal fashion". So, the review will now be completed in the full Book Review section of New Nurturing Potential which will appear at the end of December 2013. The publishers are getting a lot for their "money". But, hey, that's the way it crumbles sometimes, cookie-wise. (The informality is apparently contagious.)
In the course of his peregrinations, he has touched on such diverse matters as optical illusions that he employs to demonstrate his sections on perspectives and the differences between cognitive, neural, and ordinary perspective. He invokes Wittgenstein’s ruminations on the duck-rabbit illusion as a “visual surface” and concludes that “the fact that the same visual surface can be linked to two ways of understanding it shows that the mind is adding something to what the eyes alone provide”. (p.115)
[I must say that some of the diagrams Jackendoff has used to illustrate his theses and to encourage reader-participation have re-stimulated my earlier comparison with Edward de Bono. But this, of course, is only superficial.]
In the first two illustrations, Jackendoff has used optical illusions to demonstrate how our brains may be confused when offered two options for the interpretation of visual inputs. The other illusions are intended to demonstrate how our brains will deal with seemingly illogical considerations - "any small part makes sense, but you can't put all the parts together". (p.118)
Earlier, in his discussion of perspectives, he describes the different types of perspective that relate to the study of language, thought and meaning. He distinguishes between the ordinary perspective, the cognitive perspective and the neural perspective. "It's also common", he says, "for linguists to shift freely among perspectives . . . This is what I did . . . when I moved to the cognitive perspective in order to explain certain properties of the ordinary perspective, such as how languages change over time." (p. 16) But this seems to be something he does regularly which is, perhaps, a little surprising from one who has a reverence for Noam Chomsky. Indeed, in a footnote (p.15) relating to Chomsky, he writes "In the cognitive perspective, the system that constitutes English actually has a number of layers because it draws on everything else going on in the head. So we can ask: How much of what governs our speaking English is due to English specifically, or to language more generally?"
As I commented earlier, the core of Jackendoff's arguments are based on his hypothesis that thought and meaning are effectively unconscious.
But - as I also suggested earlier, consideration of the Unconscious Meaning Hypothesis will be reserved for the final, detailed review that will appear in New Nurturing Potential Issue 4, in December 2013.
No One's World by Charles A. Kupchan. Paperback. 258 pages. ISBN 978-0-19-932522-1. Price £12.99. Published by Oxford University Press.
In my article in the business section of the last issue of New Nurturing Potential* it was my intention to point out how neo-dependency theory was being demonstrated and supported by United States' policy and activity in Latin America, and China's behaviour similarly in Africa.
I wrote that “Subsequent developments and my own consequent research had turned that belief on its head”. American influence in Latin America had waned, while China’s major sphere of influence has expanded to include Latin America in addition to Africa, politically, socially and economically.
Now here comes Charles A. Kupchan with a thesis that, if true, will once again set my beliefs on their head. Although he starts off from the same historical perspective: the dominance of the West and the more recent ascendency of countries such as China, India and Brazil, his thesis is that the world will ultimately belong to no one country or group of countries, but will be “No One’s World”. A world that is totally interdependent, that Kupchan describes as the global turn.
During the Middle Ages the “world’s centre of power moved from Asia and the Mediterranean Basin to Europe and, by the end of the nineteenth century, North America.” There were unique historical reasons for this, with economic development being driven by the scientific and industrial revolutions, while religious and political liberalism allowed freedom of development and growth that was denied to the peoples of the Ottoman Empire, China, Japan and India. Britain assumed world leadership until after the First and, particularly, the Second World War, when the mantle of leadership was transferred to the United States. The Soviet Union competed for this title until the collapse of communism and the fragmentation of the Russian empire.
Kupchan has written: “Due to its sluggish politics, energy-centric economy, and continuing population decline," [my italics] "Russia, in contrast with China, is not poised to offer the world a business model that others will rush to emulate,” (p.110) – although it “may be uniquely poised to help build bridges between the Western order and whatever comes next.” (p.111)
And what is most interesting about this is his perceived demographics, particularly the effect of the reducing populations in, for example, Russia and China.
But history is now moving on. “East Asia has been anointed as the candidate most likely to assume the mantle of leadership. It is doubtful, however, that any country, region, or model will dominate the next world. The twenty-first century will not be America’s, China’s, Asia’s, or anyone else’s; it will belong to no one.” (p.3)
The author says that his book has two goals. The first is to explain the causes and the consequences of the coming global turn; the second how the West should prepare for and adjust to the world of the 21st century. He also makes the case for the need of the West to recover its economic and political vitality if it is to survive the global turn. This vision for survival is set out in his final chapter.
Before this happens, and somewhat reassuringly, albeit temporarily, supporting the points I made in my neo-dependency article, he forecasts (Chapter 4) that China will overtake the United States to become the world’s largest economy, having already surpassed Japan to become number two. But, moving on from that, he suggests that “rising states, rather than taking the Western way, will follow their own developmental paths and embrace their own views about domestic governance and how best to organise the international system of the twenty-first century.” (p.87)
By the strangest of coincidences, during the typing of these words, I happened to spot a news item relating to China. On November 15, 2013, the BBC news service announced: “China is to relax its policy of restricting most couples to having only a single child, according to state media. In future, families will be allowed two children if one parent is an only child, the Xinhua news agency reported.”
So, one can’t help wondering - if this relaxation is sufficient stimulus to the Chinese to start doubling their family size - will this reverse Kupchan’s theory and restore China to the position of number one contender for the title? Actually it seems doubtful.
For while Kupchan’s book propounds a very interesting theory, that is really all it is: a theory. It describes a line of development that, if maintained, would possibly result in his conclusions. But, as history has shown time and again, lines of development have a habit of changing course as a consequence of shifts of attitude, responses to challenges, or the impact of unexpected new ideas or personalities. Demographics are influential, but not exclusively so.
The feeling I was left with after finishing the book was one of disappointment. Kupchan’s “second goal” didn’t do it for me. I felt I had enjoyed an excellent first course (his introduction) setting out an interesting thesis, and main course (his historical analysis), that presented a quite masterly description of the way the West had achieved its supremacy and the rest of the world had failed to keep up. But I wished I had skipped the dessert. The trouble was the first two courses didn’t “fill me up”, and the final course failed to “plug the gap”.
*Dependency Theory reconsidered
50 Great Myths About Atheism by Russell Blackford and Udo Schüklenk. Paperback. 288 pages. ISBN: 978-0-470-67405-5. Price £14.99. Published by Wiley-Blackwell.
A lot of tommy rot is talked about atheism, generally by people who have not taken any time or trouble to find out what atheism really is. This should not surprise us, since “believers” habitually fail to study their own religious concepts and beliefs, mainly having been born into a faith and adopting it by default. Accordingly, since they can’t be bothered to study what they themselves believe in (or profess to believe in), how much less incentive must they have to learn about what others may believe in? And how much easier it is in the case of what they consider to be a “non-belief” to simply discount and disparage it.
But atheists, for the most part, have not been “born into atheism”, but have taken the time and trouble to think it out for themselves. In that respect, if in no other, an atheist is more of a believer than the great majority of those who proclaim themselves as members of one faith or another. Belief, said Blaise Pascal, is a wise wager. Just in case there really is a deity who may control our destiny, why not hedge our bets? But if we’re going to think about it, I like what Stephen Roberts says in his Wildlink website “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one less god than you. When you understand why you dismiss all the other gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
Russell Blackford and Udo Schüklenk, two academics from, respectively, Australian and Canadian universities, have collated a host of beliefs about atheism that are not based upon scientific evidence, but “old wives’ tales”. I don’t know why they have chosen the fifty, other than it's a nice round number, but I found several of these “myths” to be somewhat thin in content. They might as well have been omitted from the book without any noticeable loss of efficacy, but that’s a very minor quibble. At least they have a great Google niche alongside 50 Great Curries of India, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, 50 Great Movies and 50 Great Cities to Visit in America.
But, for the approach to and description of the myths themselves, I have nothing but praise.
“Attacks on atheism” say the authors in their introduction “are often driven by strong emotions.” And then quote an old saying that “a falsehood repeated often enough will eventually be taken as truth”
A very useful and interesting history, the final chapter entitled “The Rise of Modern Atheism”, occupies the better part of 50 pages. The Introduction to the book states that this final chapter “does not claim to defeat theism once and for all”, but allows the authors to be more opinionated, having debunked a chunk of popular myths, and to “convey the reasonableness of atheism and suggest the problems with religious alternatives.”
I enjoyed the history, but question the validity of the last myth (No. 50) “Atheism is doomed in a post-secular age” which, to my mind, is more a conjectural analysis of where atheism may be headed rather than a revelation of a falsehood that has spread from the past. But perhaps they were short of the final myth to reach the magical 50. (Okay, so that’s just another minor cavil, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek!)
Certainly the other 49 myths, starting with “Atheism is just another type of religion”, although varied in their appeal, are quite valid in their relevancy. Here are a few chosen at random: Atheists are intolerant, Atheists don’t understand the nature of faith, Evolutionary theory is a form of atheistic religion, Atheists turn to god when death is near, Atheists want to ban teaching religion to children.
The authors’ treatment of these statements wanders far afield from simple answers, to encompass history, sociology, science, theology and jurisprudence – amongst others – making this a didactic read regardless of its relevance to the truth about atheism. Furthermore they have enlivened the pages with a number of splendid Jesus and Mo cartoons from the pseudonymous Mohammed Jones.
An excellent final 30 pages encompasses a list of International Atheist and Related Organisations, an extensive reference section, and an impressively comprehensive index. The reference section could, in fact, be used as an alphabetical guide to historical and present day atheists – from Epicurus to Dawkins. But, of course, not all the people referenced are atheists. If, however, you would like to see a list of acknowledged atheists, while retaining the “50-great” motif, you might try http://brainz.org/50-most-brilliant-atheists-all-time/, but be warned: these are not "the most brilliant", despite the nomenclature; just "some of the more interesting". Nevertheless, a nice eclectic mix.
Even though I may have revealed a slightly lukewarm reaction to some aspects of this book, and some minor criticisms, my overall conclusion is favourable. I recommend it as useful reading both to those who are freethinkers (whatever they call themselves, be it atheists, agnostics or secularists) and to "believers", particularly the hard-core religious ones, though it might prove "heavy-going" for them at times, and they are unlikely to be able to suspend belief and permit scepticism to intrude into their "blind faith". On the other hand, I suppose they might just enjoy the light-hearted cartoons. No. Scrub that. My experience of "people of faith" suggests they are more likely to be offended than amused.
Cyberbullying and E-Safety, What Educators and Other Professionals Need to Know - by Adrienne Katz. 256 pages. Paperback. Price £18.99. ISBN: 978-1-84905-276-4. Published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
This book offers a wealth of information, statistics (some very alarming), case studies, and issues that need to be addressed - some people consider that cyberbullying is the single biggest issue currently facing those who are determined to challenge bullying in the 21st Century.
That we can be logged on/ online 24/7 means that youngsters can be 'got at' any time of the day or night, and that it's easier for the bullies to hide their true identity, for example by borrowing or stealing a phone and using it to send texts, images, threats either to a specific target, or broadcast to all their 'friends' or cronies.
The 250 pages are an excellent resource that will be of considerable benefit to social workers, teachers, youth workers, and all those working with young people who are concerned about the terrible, and oft-times lethal impact of bullying in general, and, in particular, the pernicious and pervasive risks of cyberbullying.
The author's prodigious research draws on a survey of over 9,000 children and teenagers. The perceptions and experiences are described of those young people who are adjusting to a world where new and powerful technologies require radically different and relevant responses to e-safety and cyberbullying.
The author's response to the problem of cyberbullying is a youth-led, age- and gender-appropriate model for cyber-education in a changing world.
Adrienne Katz was previously a regional advisor for the Anti-Bullying Alliance, and helped to develop guidance on bullying of pupils with special educational needs for the UK Government.
Topics covered include:
The kinds of bullying young people experience,
Meeting the needs of both boys and girls,
Meeting the needs of the most vulnerable students,
Cyberbullying: Prevention and response,
Presenting a New three tier structure,
Protecting teachers and staff.
There are more than 50 pages of useful tools:
Example of an acceptable Use Policy,
Strategies to minimise risks,
Recording a Cyberbullying incident,
Various lesson plans,
Cases to use in Staff Training sessions,
Staff training needs questionnaire (adaptable)
Communication tools for children with special needs.
And a great deal more!
I highly recommend this book!
Cosmopolitanism - Uses of the Idea, by Zlatko Skrbis and Ian Woodward. Paperback. 152 pages. Price £22.99. ISBN 9781849200646. Published by Sage Publications.
It is hard to imagine that there is anyone who has not come across the concept of cosmopolitanism; but what does it actually mean? The word itself comes from Greek: cosmos as the world and polites as citizen: citizen of the world. Wikipedia defines it as an ideology, where all human beings belong to the same community, based on a shared morality. In my mind, cosmopolitanism is everything that involves modern migration, cultural diversity, humanity and tolerance. While these modern concepts are correctly associated with it, this book offers a wide overview of the current theories, results of empirical research and every day examples.
The authors, Zlatko Skrbis and Ian Woodward are both from the academic field of Sociology in Australia and their research is mostly focused on connecting mobility, hospitality, technology and community with the classical social theory and cultural sociology.
The book is divided into eight chapters, and each of them explores a dimension of the concept and the relevant research and theory. The presented examples help to make it less difficult to understand and analyse the concept. Cosmopolitanism is a continuously evolving process, it cannot be approached as an end result which might “save the world”, but rather as a project which may well improve it, the authors say. We need to think of small, ordinary things where cosmopolitanism manifests itself.
What is understood by cosmopolitanism in the social science discourse? The authors agree that it often implies openness, inclusiveness, respect and freedom. The idea of cosmopolitanism is that we are open to new experiences, people or places and actively engaging with its effect on us. To engage with the new things, we also need a set of cultural competencies. Putting it simply, it helps us to understand the world and get along better in it.
The authors emphasize the lack of exclusivity or the absolute, in that every person and social pattern is different, just as every situation or culture is different and needs to be appreciated just as it is.
The beginning of the book walks us through the historical background of cosmopolitanism and explores its four dimensions: the cultural, political, ethical and methodological ones. The history started with Diogenes’s “citizen of the world” concept and later in the book Hegel, Kant, Derrida, Bourdieu, Arendt, Rorty and Simmel are also referred to. This is followed by current cultural approaches: “disposition of openness to the world”, letting go of one’s unique cultural identity. The ethical dimension goes back to the hospitality towards strangers and it’s discussed through current humanity and refugee issues and the debates on the veil in Western societies.
Where to find the manifestation of this concept? The authors say, most likely in food markets, open spaces in towns just like the ancient market place, airports, rail terminals and cultural festivals are all where likeminded, open and curious people tend to cross paths. Anyone familiar with the hospitality exchange and social networking services of the Couchsurfing initiative, will understand that being interested in other cultures, people and their hospitality make up the core concept of cosmopolitanism.
The mediated cosmopolitanism, as much as the media, television, music or art, conveys various forms of cosmopolitanism and it could encourage and nurture it, as it did in the case of the “Occupy the Wall Street” initiative or the events of the Arab spring of 2011.
Finally, the book is well written, clear and concise, demonstrating clear directions and plenty of social scientists’ accounts, but not hiding problem points and the limitations of the evolving processes of the global society. The book also refers to current, global encounters from the tragedy of Rwanda to the Western habit of “transnational adoptions of children”. It is clear that more research is needed with non-Western societies and working class people. According to their research evidence, it is accepted that the cosmopolitan discourse and disposition might lead to the increased level of tolerance and openness, which will make the world a better place.
BIODATA OF REVIEWERS
Joe Sinclair is Managing Editor of New Nurturing Potential as well as the publisher of Potential Unleashed. He is the author of ten books including An ABC of NLP and co-author of Peace of Mind is a Piece of Cake.
Mark Edwards lives in Exeter and works as a Primary Mental Health Worker in South Devon. He has a developing interest in working systemically and the focus of his work is with children and families. He runs a successful course for parents on Managing Challenging Behaviour
Michael Mallows coaches individuals and trains teams and groups in the voluntary, public and private sectors. He is the author of The Power to Use NLP and co-author of Peace of Mind is a Piece of Cake.
Terry Goodwin was a senior marketing executive at Finexport Ltd in London and Bangkok until his retirement in 1992, since when he has been in private practice as a marketing consultant.
Sep Meyer is a graduate of the London School of Economics and, since his retirement from a commercial life, has occupied himself with writing poetry and drama, as well as articles in the area of sociology, politics and current affairs.
Edit Kovacs comes from Hungary where she used to run an international service desk and is currently a business consultant specializing in Service Management based in England. She has a Master’s degree (MA) in Sociology, specializing in Business Process Offshoring.