Review

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” – Aristotle (the reviewer’s favourite Aristotle quote)

“John Russon is one of the best phenomenologists in contemporary philosophy. He uses the phenomenological method to cast light on some of the most important issues in our lives. In this book, Russon offers a sensitive description of what it is like to navigate the world as an adult, displaying the ways in which adulthood involves a development of our relations with the world, one another, and ourselves. In doing so, he allows us to see afresh the ways in which our lives unfold over time.” – Todd May

In the appendix of the book, Russon writes: “This book, Adult Life, completes the Human Life trilogy, begun in Human Experience (2003) and continued in Bearing Witness to Epiphany (2009). Like those works, it is not intended as a work of academic scholarship but as a traditional form of philosophical reflection. As such, it relies not on specialized knowledge but on insight, reasoning, and the evidence of experience, all of which are resources that any reasonably well-informed and reasonably self-reflective reader can in principle bring to it.”

In other words, the book is one that non-philosophers will benefit from reading – it requires no special philosophical training to understand the journey – much like life itself.

Read Bob’s review.

Comments welcome.

CFP: One Hundred Years of the BBC

In 2022, one hundred years will have passed since the formation of the British Broadcasting Company, later to become the pioneering public service broadcaster best known as the BBC. The BBC has had an enormous impact on television culture in its first one hundred years, providing a blueprint for independent publicly funded broadcasting. The BBC has been a testing ground for new developments in broadcasting technology and infrastructure. It has provided space for programme makers to innovate new forms, as well as to display national traditions – and invent some of its own. It has offered important public space to playwrights, scientists, politicians, musicians, historians, performers and many more thinkers to enlighten, to amuse, to infuriate. Its formative mantra of ‘inform, educate, entertain’ has undergone many modifications over time but these aims remain core to its contemporary ethos. Its goal of providing impartial and balanced news, current affairs and analysis has been tested numerous times in divisive political climates. It was born of a patriarchal, colonialist and elitist view of cultural uplift. How has it changed over its long life?

Critical Studies in Television will be marking the centenary of this television institution with a series of themed special issues throughout 2022. Each will explore a distinct feature of the BBC and its work in television, providing historical contextualisation, critique and new debates on the output, culture and influence of this important televisual institution.

We are looking for contributions to these themed issues in one of these formats:

Original research articles (6000 – 8000 words): articles that present fresh textual analysis of BBC programmes or content, empirical research that can provide a new perspective on the history or culture of the BBC, or innovative methodologies or theorisations for understanding the historic and contemporary influence of the BBC.
Provocations – (up to 3000 words) pithy essays that stimulate debate on an aspect of the BBC’s television programming, history or culture. These do not have to present new research but should inspire new ways of thinking about the BBC.
Interviews – (up to 5000 words) an edited interview with industry professionals who have worked within or alongside the BBC, past or present.
Publishers and authors who are planning to publish books relating to the BBC in the run-up to and during 2022 can contact Christine Geraghty, editor of the book review section, about possible reviews.

The themes for the issues will be as follows:

Volume 1: BBC Nations and Regions

In the BBC’s current charter, one of its five public purposes is to ‘reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the United Kingdom’s nations and regions’. The recent combination of Brexit and a global pandemic have revealed deep divisions between the nations and regions of the UK. In this febrile context, how might we assess the BBC’s current and historical reflections of these diverse communities? We are particularly interested in contributions that explore the BBC’s role in serving (or not) underrepresented communities within the UK.

Volume 2: BBC Channels and Brands

The BBC’s creation of programming and channel brands has been a long-term feature of its survival strategy, spreading its public purposes further and wider than its original broadcast contexts. This volume will explore the ways in which BBC brands are meaningful and functional in both UK and in global contexts. We welcome contributions that focus on BBC channel brands, or analysis of other forms of branding across the BBC, within and between programming.

Volume 3: Women and the BBC

Recent controversies around equal pay, misogynistic abuse towards BBC personalities and a lack of female representation at the top of the corporation suggest that the institution has far to go in matters of gender equality. How might we characterise the relationship between corporate and on-screen representation of women? And how has the BBC responded to changing socio-cultural attitudes and discourses defining women over time? We are particularly interested in contributions that address the historical and contemporary stories of female workers at the BBC, analyses how BBC programming give representation to women’s lives and serve female audiences, or explore experiences or representations of genders and sexualities at the BBC.

Volume 4: The BBC In the World

The fifth public purpose in the BBC’s current Charter is that the institution should ‘reflect the United Kingdom, its culture and values to the world’. This volume will cast a critical eye over this facet of the BBC, critically appraising its global reputation. For this volume, we are especially interested in submissions that explore the BBC’s historical and current relationship with television cultures outside of the West. We welcome submissions that explore and critique the BBC in post-colonial contexts and in BRICS nations.

Editor for the volume is Dr. Hannah Andrews; if you have any questions, then please contact her at hannah.andrews@edgehill.ac.uk. For initial expressions of interest in contributing to any of these issues, please send a short (250 words) abstract and biographical note to Dr. Andrews by 18 December 2020. Please make sure you indicate which format (see above) you would like your contribution to take. As part of CST’s ongoing commitment to publishing new voices, we are particularly interested in expressions of interest from Early Career Researchers who would like to submit work from PhD projects completed or nearing completion.

Screenworks

Dear Colleagues,
We are delighted to announce the first entry in Screenworks Volume 11.1, Dr. Iakovos Panagopoulos’ Flickering Souls Set Alighthttps://doi.org/10.37186/swrks/11.1
Flickering Souls Set Alight is a visually arresting fiction film following the life of a Greek family during the toughest years of the financial crisis. With her husband on a life support machine, the film depicts Persephone’s financial and emotional struggles, drawing attention to a lack of support for people suffering from ALS. This practice-research enquiry asks how modernist techniques, such as Brechtian alienation, can comment on contemporary Greek social issues. Highlighting the cinema of Theo Angelopoulos, Andrei Tarkovsky and Abbas Kiarostami as references, Panagopoulos’ research statement details his production process through the lens of a total filmmaker approach and proposes a new wave of political cinema in Greece.
Volume 11.1 is an open “rolling” volume which means we are accepting practice-research submissions on any subject through to August 2021. More information and guidelines can be found online at our submissions page: http://screenworks.org.uk/submissions
Please feel free to get in touch directly if you have any questions about the journal or submission process.

Alex Nevill

Associate Editor of Screenworks

Is “Sex is Determined by Biology” a Philosophical Belief?

In light of the targeted headlines asking me to boycott the new Harry Potter game over JK Rowling’s alleged transphobia, I decided to go down the rabbit hole of how it got to this.

It all began in 2018, when UK tax professional Maya Forstater tweeted her concern that the decision to amend the Gender Recognition Act to expand the definition of “woman” to include those with male bodies would undermine women’s rights. It was a thoughtful thread inviting discussion; exactly the kind of surface-scratching discourse of controversial topics that does not go down well on Twitter. She was slapped with the transphobe label and lost her job.

The thread.

So she took it to the employment court, asking the judge not to rule on whether sex is determined by biology, but whether the philosophical belief that it is is protected by law. 

“The Claimant believes that “sex” is a material reality which should not be conflated with “gender” or “gender identity”. Being female is an immutable biological fact, not a feeling or an identity. Moreover, sex matters. It is important to be able to talk about and take action against the discrimination, violence and oppression that still affect women and girls because they were born female” 
Para [5], section [5.1] of the judgment.

The judge ruled that this “did not have the protected characteristic of philosophical belief” and she lost the case.

This is where JK Rowling came out in support, starting by tweeting that no one should lose their job for saying that biological sex is real. The focus then shifted to Rowling as public transphobe #1 (more specifically a TERF: trans-exclusionary radical feminist) and all hope for discussion of what the original ruling meant was lost in the ensuing storm.

So let’s think about it. The ruling had nothing to do with biology’s role in what makes a woman, or whether self-identifying without HRT or surgery is sufficient to be a woman, or whether the company was right not to renew her contract over those tweets. It was all to do with whether her opinion that biological sex is real (ok) and therefore trans women aren’t women (yikes) counts as a protected belief, akin to religious belief, and thus one that cannot be discriminated against by employers. 

There are five criteria that determine if a belief has the right to be protected by law: 

(i) the belief must be genuinely held; 

(ii) it must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available; 

(iii) it must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour 

(iv) it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and 

(v) it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others. 

Summary from para [50] of the Forstater judgment

It was the fifth point where the judge ruled against Maya and says that her belief that a trans woman is still a man is a violation of human dignity in this democratic society, and therefore cannot be protected.

If I’m being honest, and I really haven’t felt free to be on this topic with my own friends, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around why the likes of Forester or Rowling, who are adamant that anyone should feel free to identify as whatever gender they feel and will use preferred pronouns out of politeness, should be labeled transphobes.  That biological sex is real and not to be conflated with gender seems as self-evident as it gets. It seems more like a battle over the definition of words than a desire to deny one’s identity (If only we could all just define our terms and agree on those definitions before using them going forward, but not everyone is lucky enough take Philosophy 110….)

But when it comes to understanding this ruling under the law, I think the “democratic society” part is the operative term here. Trans people exist. That’s undeniable. Whether or not they are “valid” in their transness is totally irrelevant when deciding whether to acknowledge their existence. It is the responsibility of a democratic society to protect the rights of their most vulnerable members, which trans people certainly are, and so the purpose of this ruling is to makes that statement. 

I could also see how someone as influential as Rowling to bother tweeting anything about trans people that isn’t supportive is irresponsible given the sensitive time we are in where anything can be used to stoke the fires of hate, even if those things are technically true.

But it’s also very apparent that the democratic values we lean on to uphold vulnerable people’s rights are suffering from a double-standard that is preventing well-meaning people from saying anything “wrong” lest they suffer the consequences. So swings the pendulum.