Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cottage Economy or Collective Farm? English Socialism and Agriculture Between Merrie England and the Five-Year Plan

My contribution to the special issue of Critical Quarterly on food is all about how British writers thought about Stalin's collectivisation of agriculture in the Soviet Union. Here's the abstract:
The cottage economy and the collective farm are two alternative models of socialist agriculture that relate broadly to the traditions of Romantic and utilitarian socialism and embody diametrically opposed attitudes to food and its production. In the decades following the Russian Revolution of 1917 – at a time when collectivised agriculture was being implemented on a previously unimaginable scale, with disastrous consequences – the case for such a model was made enthusiastically by British Stalinists such as George Bernard Shaw, Jean Beauchamp, Margaret Cole, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. This fed into a wider shift in British society where responsibility for securing the food supply was increasingly seen as a function of the state rather than the market. During the inter-war decades the centre of gravity for British socialists’ thinking about food production shifted from the cottage economy to the collective farm. Yet there were those – like Chesterton, Belloc, Orwell and Muggeridge, as well as the emerging thinkers of the organic movement like Louise Howard and G. T. Wrench – who in various ways held on to the cottage economy ideal and the peasant smallholder as a bulwark against the vast, industrialised mega-farms of the Soviet Empire. They were often seen not as socialists but as cranks. This paper explores the debates around this issue and considers their continuing relevance to our own thinking about the ways food is produced.
Lucky institutional subscribers can access the piece here, anyone else is welcome to contact me for details.

Some tractors. Sergei Eisenstein, The General Line (a.k.a. Old and New)

Critical Quarterly 53:3, a Special Issue on "Food", edited by Matthew Taunton and Lucy Scholes



The new issue of Critical Quarterly (53:3) is a special issue edited by me and Lucy Scholes, on the subject of food. The issue includes contributions by Alex Mackintosh and Laura Salisbury, as well as by Lucy and me. As we put it in our editorial:
The media today is food obsessed. Our television schedules are packed with food programming, cookery books sell like hot cakes, and questionable nutritional advice is everywhere. Celebrity chefs are the philosophers of our time.
There has also been a significant increase in academic interest in the histories and cultures of food, spanning a number of disciplines. This issue of CQ does not attempt to provide a comprehensive survey of this material. It seemed to us, however, that the general emphasis of much of the existing work has been on consumption, and part of our aim was to redress the balance by putting production back into the picture. So we have brought together four essays that address aspects of food culture, from agricultural production and animal slaughter to contemporary food-media and finally the bodily – and psychological – processes of ingestion, digestion and excretion. Although it was not our original intention to produce an issue that was primarily concerned with the abject side of food, this has turned out to be a significant feature of the collection: among other things, these articles discuss famine, slaughter, cannibalism, vomiting, and Jamie Oliver.
 Institutional subscribers can access the full issue here. Anyone else is welcome to contact me for details.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Anglo-Russian Research Network

The Anglo-Russian Research Network has its inaugural meeting from 5.30-7.30pm on Friday 4th November at Pushkin House. It is a reading group focussing on the work of John Kenworthy, a leading British Tolstoyan who established a utopian Tolstoyan colony at Purleigh, Essex. The reading will be circulated in digital form soon - please let me know if you would like to attend. We will also be discussing possible future texts and subjects for the reading group.

Co-organised by Rebecca Beasley and me, the Anglo-Russian Research Network brings together scholars with an interest in the influences of Russian and Soviet culture and politics in Britain in the period 1880-1950. We are getting started with a termly reading group, but hope that the network will provide a context for developing future events and publications. The reading group benefits from the generous support of Pushkin House and the Leverhulme Trust.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Literature and Music, 10-12 May 2012, Sibiu, Romania

This international conference about the interaction between music and literature is a collaboration between Roehampton University and Lucian Blaga University, Sibiu, Romania, and I'm on the organising committee. Please email me if you are interested in giving a paper or being involved in any other way. Full details are up here and here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Distributism and the City

There's a symposium on 'Chesterton and the Paradox of the City' at UCL tomorrow, Thursday 22nd November. I'll be giving a paper called 'Distributism and the City', all about how Chesterton's social and political thought can be applied to the problem of the modern city (if it can at all!). The full programme for the event is up here. It should be an interesting day.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fictions of the City Reviewed in Screen

Malini Guha has written a perceptive review of my book in Screen. She takes issue with a few aspects of the book, but overall decides that
In moving away from flânerie to contemplate its underside in relation to the often static nature of social class, Taunton shows us that dwelling spaces can sometimes tell a very different story of the city than can be found on its streets.
You can read the full text of the review here. I will respond to the criticisms raised by Guha and others in a separate post, when all the reviews are in.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What Did Orwell Ever Do For Us? 17 September 2011

George Orwell festival 2011, 9th-18th September 2011

I'm speaking about 'Orwell on the Farm' at this festival, in a symposium called 'What Did Orwell Ever Do For Us?' Is should be a great event. You can see the programme here. Here's a brief summary of what I'm going to be talking about:

Animal Farm is one of Orwell’s most enduring works, and it is rightly read as an allegory of the Russian revolution. But was it only an allegory, or was Orwell also interested in book’s more ostensible subject, the proper management of a farm? Various evidence from Orwell’s life and work suggest that he was indeed deeply interested in the ethics of agriculture – from his patient attempts to establish himself as a smallholding farmer, recorded in his domestic diaries, to his hatred of industrialised food: ‘making sausages out of fish, and fish, no doubt, out of something different’, as George Bowling puts it in Coming Up for Air. Orwell was expressing concerns about the industrialisation of agriculture both in the capitalist West and – perhaps crucially – in Stalin’s brutal collectivisation drive in the USSR, which he heard about in detail from his friend Malcolm Muggeridge. Agriculture is a key political issue for Orwell, and this paper will show that he shares some of the concerns of the organic movement, whose first theorists were his close contemporaries.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Science Fiction Study Day - 16th September

I'm giving a talk about J.G. Ballard's early short stories at this Science Fiction Study Day at the British Library on Friday 16th September. Details are here. And here's what the BL has to say about the event:

To support the Out of this World exhibition we’re hosting a study day to explore the ways in which science fiction has inspired and had impact upon research and study across a wide range of disciplines.

Like the exhibition itself, the day will challenge popular perceptions of the genre, by bringing together a host of acclaimed academics and researchers from fields ranging from English literature and visual arts to social and cultural studies, geography, science and medicine.

From utopian to dystopian visions, Futurism to Futurology, the participants will talk about recent projects that feature various aspects of science fiction discourse. Learn about the most recent research trends, methodologies and applications, and get inspired by the ideas and questions examined during the day.

The event is open to all, but will be of particular interest to postgraduate researchers.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fictions of the City Reviewed in the International Journal of Housing Policy

When I was working on Fictions of the City it was my hope that as well as providing a new perspective on certain films and novels it would make a useful contribution to thinking about public policy in the area of social housing. I was therefore very pleased to see the book reviewed (and praised for its 'very original approach') in The International Journal of Housing Policy. You can read the review here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Flâneur and the Freeholder: Paris and London in Julian Barnes's Metroland

My essay "The Flâneur and the Freeholder: Paris and London in Julian Barnes's Metroland" is coming out in Sebastien Groes and Peter Childs (eds.) Julian Barnes: Contemporary Critical Perspectives (London; New York: Continuum, 2011). You can look at a preview and buy the book using the links below.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Contemporary Women Novelists: University of Roehampton, Thursday 14th – Friday 15th April 2011

I'll be giving a paper about Andrea Levy at this conference at Roehampton in April - it should be an interesting event, and all the details are here. My paper is called 'Council Housing and the Politics of the Welfare State in Andrea Levy's Never Far from Nowhere'. Here's an abstract in case you're interested:


In Andrea Levy's second novel - a story about two sisters, Olive and Vivien, coming of age on a council estate - the characters are frequently defined by the spaces in which they live. We read that Maggie lived 'in a council house, not a very nice place', that Carol lived 'in a big house, but her family only seemed to occupy a little bit of it', that Georgina lived in an 'old', 'big' house with 'fitted carpets and cushions scattered around', while Eddie lived in 'a block of flats made of pale concrete slabs looking like the council had left it there to upset architects'. Levy draws attention to these markers of social class in order to raise questions about the contrasting experiences of the two sisters.

The estate in which they grow up initially appears as a 'fairy-tale kingdom of white concrete, radiant in the sun', combining the utopian ideals of architectural modernism with the cradle to grave provision of the British welfare state. Levy's novel shows, however, that the estate 'held the promise of decent living but didn't fulfil it'. Olive becomes a teenage mother who survives on benefits, while Vivien escapes to art college in Canterbury, feeling that 'I had grown too big for our council flat'. Olive encounters racism, while Vivien (who has a paler complexion, and tries to conceal her Caribbean parentage) is almost unaware that she is black. The novel uses the divergent experiences of its two narrators to explore the ways in which race, class and housing can determine our existence. Vivien believes that coming from a council estate had little bearing on her destiny: 'We had the same chances, we started from the same place and you chose to lead your life and I chose to lead mine'. Olive, by contrast, emphasises the paralysing stigma that attaches to council estate dwellers, perhaps especially black ones: 'I didn't have a choice, I never had any choices'.

Levy puts these divergent stories and opposing attitudes into the context of a political debate about the welfare state. The novel is set in the 1970s, when the social-democratic consensus that had prevailed since 1945 was starting to come apart and Thatcherite conservatism was being formulated in explicit opposition to it. Nigel argues that 'if you give people money it encourages them not to work' (p.203), and similar views are expressed by Olive and Vivien's mother. Levy's novel seems to defend the values of the welfare state from these attacks, but it is also alive to the ways in which well-meaning state institutions can intrude into our lives and cause alienation. This chapter will show how Levy's novel engages with the spatial politics of council housing, setting this into the wider context of state education, unemployment benefits, healthcare and youth centres, all of which feature in the story. In doing so, it will show how the novel intelligently reflects on a period in which the relationship between state and individual was being redefined.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lunchtime Seminar, UCL City Centre

I'm giving a paper in the UCL city centre's lunchtime seminar series on Tuesday 22nd February. I'll be talking about 'Class, Culture and the Council Estate in London', looking at several representations of council estates in fiction and film and relating these to the history and politics of the British welfare state. Details of the series are up here. All are welcome as far as I know!