The Humanities Still Matter

Identity, Gender and Space in Twenty-First-Century Europe

by Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez (Volume editor) José Igor Prieto-Arranz (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection XIV, 326 Pages
Series: Cultural Identity Studies, Volume 31


Why are the arts and humanities under attack? And how can they fight back?
Historically these fields have suffered from a lack of prestige due to the utilitarian perspective of the «developed» world. While such utilitarian views have not been entirely fair on this branch of knowledge, the humanities themselves are partly to blame for this crisis, often not keeping pace with an increasingly changing society. It is therefore imperative that the humanities once and for all prove themselves relevant, leaving behind «departmentalized» approaches to academic knowledge and embracing the social mission that once epitomized humanistic study.
Guided by such principles, this book features fourteen interdisciplinary studies that explore exciting intersections between different areas of academic research. These studies centre around three broad topics, which function as this volume’s structural axes: identity, gender, and space and mobility (whether voluntary, as in tourism, or imposed, as in the case of migrations and persecutions). Altogether, the volume demonstrates that the humanities, far from being artificially detached from society, can actually study the enormously complex context that is contemporary Europe and crucially point the way to a better, more equitable world.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part I Identity
  • 1 Theatre as (Inter-)Cultural Responsibility: A Practice-Led Perspective on Present-Day Opera Productions
  • 2 The Brexit Challenge: Surviving the Identity Crisis with Humour
  • 3 Global Populisms in Europe and the Revival of Hard-Right Political Discourses on Immigration in Contemporary Britain: Echoes of Enoch Powell in Nigel Farage’s Discourse
  • 4 On Memorylands and Sea of Memories: Empathy and Historical Memory in Twenty-First-Century Europe
  • 5 Sins of the Fathers: Recent Crime Fiction and the Challenges of Policing a New Northern Ireland
  • 6 Postmillennial Food Narratives in the Media: Cooking and Feeding Social Practices
  • Part II Gender
  • 7 Domestic Drudges and Difficult Aunties: Older Asian Women in British Film and Television Comedy1
  • 8 Romantic Love, Drama and Self-Realization in Marian Keyes’ Postfeminist Narrative
  • 9 Transgender Communities: Shifting Gender Boundaries, Shifting Language
  • 10 Reading Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire Transculturally
  • Part III Space
  • 11 Branding Albania through Social Media: A Comparative Semiotic Analysis
  • 12 Magaluf: End Times for Mass Low Cost British Tourism?
  • 13 Tourism and the Visibility of Local Languages: Reflections on the Introduction of Catalan in the Majorcan Tourist Public Space
  • 14 Reminiscing the Holocaust: Co-Constructed Narratives of Identity
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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Generous funding is acknowledged from the Government of the Balearic Islands through Grant ‘AAEE094. 8è Congrés Internacional de SELICUP: Les Humanitats davant els reptes de la nova Europa: Cultura, llengües, identitats’.

This publication has been carried out under the auspices of the ‘Research Group in British and Comparative Cultural Studies: Identities and Representation (BRICCS)’, University of the Balearic Islands (Spain), a member of the research network “Twenty-First-Century Anglophone Literatures: Narrative and Performative Spaces” (RED2018-102678-T), and the research projects ‘Strangers and Cosmopolitans: Alternative Worlds in Contemporary Literatures’ (RTI2018-097186-B-I00) and ‘Bodies in Transit: Difference and Indifference’ (FFI2017-84555-C2-2-P), Ministry of Science, Education and Universities, Spain-FEDER.






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Introduction: The Humanities and the Challenges of the New Europe: Identity, Gender and Space


Arts and humanities suffer from a lack of prestige which is easily relatable to the ‘utilitarianism’ that has become the driving force in the so-called developed world. While the authors comment on the dangers that this approach entails, they also argue that the humanities themselves are partly to blame for this crisis, having largely isolated themselves from an increasingly changing society. It is therefore imperative that the humanities should once and for all prove themselves relevant, leaving behind ‘departmentalized’ approaches to academic knowledge, and embracing the social mission that once epitomized humanistic study.

Guided by such principles, this chapter introduces the fourteen remaining chapters in this volume, all of which showcase interdisciplinary studies that explore exciting intersections between different areas of academic research. These studies essentially address three broad topics, which function as this volume’s structural axes: identity, gender, and space and mobility (both voluntary, as in tourism, or imposed, as in the case of migrations and persecutions). Altogether, the volume demonstrates that the humanities, far from being artificially detached from the enormously complex context which is contemporary Europe, can actually study it and crucially point the way to a better, more equitable world.

‘El que vale, vale, y si no, a letras’ [If you’re good, you’re good; if not, study humanities], goes a popular Spanish adage. In spite of timid attempts to the contrary – La Vanguardia, one of the main Catalan dailies, recently ←1 | 2→featured an article suggesting that students with increasingly competitive academic records are beginning to choose arts and humanities degrees at Barcelona’s main universities (Farreras 2018) – the fact remains that arts and humanities suffer from a severe lack of prestige in Spain and most other countries in the Western world. Spain being home to the editors of this volume, which has a pan-European focus, this introductory chapter will open with further data on the Spanish context, thereby inviting comparisons with other European countries covered in the book.

Ironically enough, while the percentage of university graduates in the country (currently at 37.3 per cent) falls within the OECD and UE means (OECD 2019), that of arts and humanities undergraduates (10.1 per cent) is significantly lower than those in other fields like health sciences (18.8 per cent), engineering and architecture (17.9 per cent), and social and legal sciences (46.9 per cent). The scenario is even more worrying if the focus is placed on the number of graduates, as the number of university students that successfully complete an arts and humanities degree currently represents only 8.17 per cent of all graduates from Spanish universities (Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades 2019: 36–7).

In the face of this situation, it is absolutely essential to inquire into the main reasons behind such figures. One may well be employability. As is well known, Spain’s youth unemployment rate (11.3 per cent in 2018, exactly two and almost three points higher than Greece’s and Italy’s, respectively) is by far Europe’s highest (Eurostat 2019). This means that Spanish university graduates find it more difficult to enter the labour market than those from other European countries. Unfortunately, this is not a transitory situation that occurs when graduates land their first jobs; according to INE (2019a), 30 per cent of Spanish graduates are unable to access a qualified job, which has contributed to a severe brain drain in the last decade, exporting arts and humanities graduates to Europe (32.1 per cent) (INE 2019b). This notwithstanding, being in possession of a university degree seems to boost employability in Spain – although, once again, arts and humanities degrees do not seem to aid as forcibly as others when it comes to seeking a job. Indeed, arts and humanities graduates seem to find it more difficult to enter the Spanish labour market in the short and mid-term, although not significantly so. Crucially, the main difference lies in the kind of jobs they land, as their ←2 | 3→chances of working in areas directly related to their field of expertise are definitely lower (Álvarez 2018). This is not, however, the case of the higher education offer in the fields of engineering or health sciences, which are amongst the most sought-after by university candidates in Spain – mainly because there is virtually no unemployment among graduates in these fields and, last but not least, because such graduates may aspire to much-better-paid jobs – when the best hope for large numbers of arts and humanities graduates is to develop a not-very-well-paid teaching career in state-funded secondary schools. Additionally, arts and humanities graduates perceive their degree as barely worth the paper it is written on. According to INE (2019b), 44.5 per cent of graduates with a bachelor’s degree conclude that their diploma is insufficient in the job market, a tendency that plummets to 7.3 per cent in the case of health sciences graduates.

All this is highly symptomatic of a ‘utilitarian’ approach to knowledge that seems to have been the driving force in the country for quite some time now. In other words, only that knowledge perceived as leading to safe short-term yields seems to be of any importance. This largely accounts not only for the different amount of admission requests that university degrees receive (in turn, undoubtedly influenced to some extent by the candidates’ parents, who naturally wish the best for their children); it also affects research funding, and this has become a major issue in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that virtually brought the country to a standstill. Generally speaking, as Rodà (2018) has poignantly claimed, funding for research in the arts, humanities and social sciences has been mostly relegated to a secondary position in the country’s R+D+I strategy, making it difficult for research in these fields to receive the economic boost that other areas benefit from. At all events, this situation is not likely to change in the years to come, as the European economy seemed to be heading for a major slowdown in late 2019 and a major crisis is once again on the cards as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last but not least, this misconceived utilitarianism also seems to be one of the main defining principles of Spain’s private sector. While in countries like Britain or the United States it is not uncommon for private businesses and industries to hire arts and humanities graduates (Ruggeri 2019) – the underlying philosophy being that, once provided with the necessary in-house training, employees with ←3 | 4→this background demonstrate skills that other employees generally lack (like creativity, critical thinking, soft skills, multilingualism or a transcultural approach to life) – such graduates seem destined to either enter the teaching profession or else risk carrying out jobs which are entirely unrelated to their academic background and skills.

Another challenge worth considering is technological disruption, which will lead to the disappearance of many jobs and the emergence of new occupations. Recent data from the OECD (2018) indicate that 14 per cent of jobs in advanced economies present a high risk of automation, a percentage that rises to 21.7 per cent in the case of Spain. Job automation risks will also vary widely across different areas of expertise. How technological progress in the twenty-first century will impact on the labour market remains to be seen. Throughout history, ‘technological progress has vastly shifted the composition of employment’ (Frey and Osborne 2017: 255), from agriculture to manufacturing, from service to management occupations. Ironically, scholars tend to agree that the automation risk in the next decade will invariably affect the social and legal sciences (80–95 per cent) more than the arts and humanities (0.61–7 per cent) (Frey and Osborne 2017). In this sense, there is a broad consensus that those soft skills generally acquired by arts and humanities graduates will be decisive for employability in a near-future scenario of accelerated technological change, the irony lying in the fact that neither education policy makers nor society at large seem to have yet come to this realization.

Indeed, the fact remains that, after centuries of almost universally acknowledged respect, the humanities are now widely perceived to be in crisis not only in Spain but all across the world (Xian 2016), causing students to ‘[flock] to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines because, unlike the humanities, they are forward looking’ (Jay 2014: 7). At this point, a certain dose of self-criticism is due since, just as the increasingly economy-driven Western societies have largely ignored the valuable contribution to knowledge that the arts and humanities can make, it is equally true that the latter could be accused of having lived a self-centred existence for many decades, isolating themselves from an increasingly changing society. This brings to mind the birth of the inter- (or even anti-) discipline now commonly known as cultural studies. As Stuart ←4 | 5→Hall recalled in an emotive article (1990), cultural studies emerged as a response to what a group of scholars identified as a crisis in the humanities in Britain. Hall believed that the British arts and humanities scene in the late twentieth century largely resulted from an Arnoldian (and later Leavisite) approach to culture which turned it into a beautiful yet elitist construct completely isolated from the deep transformations British society had been undergoing, especially after the Second World War. The first cultural studies scholars, then, took it upon themselves to bring culture (understood in the widest possible sense) back to the people, attempting to elucidate ‘how the world worked’ (S. Hall 1990: 17) and manifested itself through all kinds of cultural expressions. In order to achieve this aim, cultural studies adopted an interdisciplinary approach (anathema to Academia back then, and still frowned upon in many contexts today) and dug into theories and concepts emanating from continental Europe which have since become mainstream in Academia. Interestingly, Hall, writing in 1990, felt that the humanities were still in crisis, insisting on the preservation of a canon increasingly detached from a country, Britain, undergoing a major social and national identity crisis in the wake of its diminishing influence as a world power and the major problems resulting from mass immigration as a result of decolonization.

Let us now fast-forward to 2020s Spain, and the panorama that unfolds is not very different from that described by Hall concerning Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. Although there are cultural studies practitioners in the country, this field of critical inquiry was almost institutionally invisible at the turn of the century (Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas 2000: 9), and the cultural studies practice that gets done comes almost invariably from scholars with an English studies background (Carrera 2005). The interdisciplinarity and re-evaluation of non-canonical cultural materials cultural studies stands for makes it sit uncomfortably with the highly conservative and departmentalized Spanish arts and humanities Academia. While lack of institutionalization may not be necessarily a bad thing – the ‘Birmingham School’ consciously avoided this so as not to departmentalize it (S. Hall 1990, 1999) – the current situation of cultural studies in Spain is to say the least complicated. Cultural studies has undeniably infected the research produced within, for example, literary studies (many literary ←5 | 6→scholars no longer study literature per se, focusing instead on its intersections with gender, social issues or national identity, to name but a few) or second language acquisition (Byrnes 2002). However, research focusing on non-canonical materials or produced in co-authorship – which naturally results from interdisciplinary approaches – may still be punished by Spanish Academia (e.g. when it comes to undertaking research assessment exercises, even if both Spanish and EU calls for research project funding ironically foster interdisciplinary approaches). And all this is taking place at a time when Spain is experiencing critical, social and national identity problems (mass immigration, social injustice, separatist movements) that are remarkably similar to those described by Hall in Britain decades ago. In fact, such problems seemed to be commonplace all throughout Europe in the second decade of the twenty-first century, and even more so at the time of writing, with Europe hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak, governments imposing tough restrictions on the movement of people (thereby shaking the very foundations of the European Union and, most especially, the Schengen Area) while EU nationals reflect, perhaps more clearly than ever, upon the role of the Union in all this. It is therefore clear that this complex context calls for some reflection on the so-called crisis of the humanities in the new Millennium.

As stated elsewhere (Prieto-Arranz 2013), this may be seen as a twofold crisis, coming from both within the humanities themselves – no longer, if they ever were, exclusively centred on ‘the study of the human’ (hence what in some quarters is referred to as ‘posthumanism’) – and from the world outside – no longer universally acknowledging the value of humanistic thought. Therefore, as Summit suggests, the humanities need to prove themselves relevant. And this could be achieved should they (i) stop looking at themselves as guarantors of disciplinary knowledge; and (ii) go back to the original spirit of humanistic study, which had ‘aims, effects, and [a]; social mission’ (2012: 668).

Inspired by such principles, the editors – members of both the University of the Balearic Islands’ BRICCS (British and Comparative Cultural Studies) research group and SELICUP (Spanish Society for the Study of Popular Culture) – have brought together an exciting collection of essays by well-established scholars from across Europe whose research ←6 | 7→has attempted to bring the humanities closer to society. Earlier versions of some of the chapters were presented at the 8th International SELICUP Conference (hosted by the University of the Balearic Islands in Majorca in October 2018), while others have been especially commissioned for this volume. What they have in common is that they have all been written by authors with a strong connection with SELICUP and/or the BRICCS group, and whose main aim has been to address some of the main challenges of contemporary European society. This seemed to be a timely occasion, as there is strong evidence that a new paradigm is beginning to visibly alter the principles regulating cultural sensibilities.

One of the main features of the late twentieth century was globalization, while the so-called postmodernism was very much the cultural system underlying late capitalism. However, the social and economic environment in the 2010s is (or at least seems to be perceived as) different: capitalism, the driving force behind globalization, has shown its weaknesses, plunging a good many countries into the deepest recession in decades. As a result, life and work conditions have been substantially altered. Likewise, the geopolitical order has also changed: political and economic power seems to be shifting eastwards (especially to Asia) while the perception exists that Europe cannot manage crises (international politics, immigration, Brexit, COVID-19) efficiently enough. Other factors should be added to the mix, and these include the digitalization of culture and the very human experience, automation risks in developing countries due to the transition towards digital modernity (Baldwin 2019), the impact of tourism as an economic force (Smeral 2019), the growing perception of immigration as a social problem and the widespread fear resulting from globalized terror (Olsen 2019). In short, these seem to be ‘fractured times’, as Hobsbawm would probably put it: ‘an era of history that has lost its bearings, and which in the early years of the new millennium looks forward with more troubled perplexity than I recall in a long lifetime, guideless and mapless, to an unrecognisable future’ (Hobsbawm 2014: ix). As perceived by this illustrious historian, the bourgeois civilization that was built and came to dominate the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ‘could not resist the combined triple blow of the […] revolution in science and technology, […] of the mass consumer society generated by the explosion in the potential of the ←7 | 8→Western economies, and the decisive entry of the masses on the political scene as customers as well as voters’, while the twenty-first century has only further complicated things by ‘demonstrat[ing] the defects of the political systems identifying democracy with effective universal suffrage and representative government’ (xiii). The combination of such crucial variables seems to have resulted in a general feeling that old certainties have become irredeemably lost, an era of ‘social darkness’ in which ‘secular theology’ can no longer satisfactorily answer a crucial question: ‘[w];here did we belong, on a human scale and in real time and real space?’ In short, these are times characterized by an acute identity crisis (221).

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that this changing environment, as Vermeulen and van den Akker partly suggest (2010, 2015), should result in a new sensibility, which might even become a new cultural paradigm. Thus, as opposed to postmodern a-historicism, fragmentation and de-centralization, this new context seems to have fostered a return to historical memory and conscience in the arts scene – see Todorova (2004) on the Balkans or Keen (2006) on the so-called historical turn in British fiction. Likewise, it is difficult not to relate all this to current social and political developments. On the one hand, many countries have experienced a surge in right-wing nationalist movements – for example, in the United States, United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, some countries of the former Eastern Bloc and, most recently, Spain, where Vox ‘has become the third-biggest force in Congress’ (El País 2019). On the other hand, the anti-systemic Syriza, Five-Star and Indignados movements in Greece, Italy and Spain, respectively, have gained notoriety, and the same goes for positions questioning hegemonic national identity discourses, as can be seen in Spain (Borgen 2010), the UK (Guibernau 2006) or the countries of the former Yugoslavia (Bieber 2015).

While this new sensibility is beginning to draw academic attention in the field of the plastic arts – Vermeulen and van den Akker (2010), for instance, have reviewed a plethora of art forms and objects, covering an immensely wide range of styles, media and techniques, many of which have been exhibited in museums and galleries on both sides of the Atlantic, having more recently (2015) focused on visual and multimedia artists like David Thorpe and Ragnar Kjartansson – research is badly needed in other ←8 | 9→areas. It is because of this that the present volume aims at analysing this changing context and its effects on all kinds of cultural manifestations, including (the use of, and attitudes to) language. Titles such as The Challenges of the Humanities, Past, Present, and Future (Classen 2015) or The Impact and Future of Arts and Humanities Research (Benneworth, Gulbrandsen and Hazelkorn 2016) have explored the potential future of humanistic disciplines and cultural manifestations. However, this critical literature has been usually targeted to policy makers. On the contrary, this volume aspires to inspect transient humanist ideals in this interconnected and rapidly changing world, but in the light of what has been canonically understood as human. Historical approaches equally abound when dealing with gender and space in Europe, Kulawik and Kravchenko’s Borderlands in European Gender Studies: Beyond the East-West Frontier (2019) being one of the most recent and significant exceptions to this tendency. In a way, this volume continues with this tendency by narrowing the gap between gender studies and cultural geography in Europe and providing evidence from a wide range of contemporary materials. As for space, memory and intangible cultural heritage, previous literature also abounds in the European context. However, not so many titles feature case studies across Southern, Western, Central and Eastern Europe. All in all, what this volume brings together is a collection of timely contributions implementing cross-disciplinary approaches that explore exciting intersections between, on the one hand, traditional areas of humanistic research (like language and literature) with others generally understood as covered by other disciplines (like semiotics, sociology, history, philosophy, psychology, political science) and interdisciplines (cultural, gender, media, food and post-colonial studies, to name a few).

In this light, the volume will be divided into three main parts, each addressing a key ingredient in contemporary European society. Thus, Part I addresses identity issues as reflected in a variety of cultural products. To begin with, Sabine Coelsch-Foisner discusses highly innovative ways to study theatre and theatrical performance so as to bring forth cultural or – better still – intercultural dialogue. In this chapter, the author vindicates the concept of (inter-)cultural responsibility as applied to theatre, favouring a holistic approach that privileges the performance and its surrounding ←9 | 10→context over the text itself. By drawing on the archival work required to launch a highly innovative digital humanities project, Coelsch-Foisner provides an analysis of a selection of recent operatic performances, not only demonstrating the productiveness of her holistic methodology but, most importantly, evidencing how present-day performances of (sometimes centuries-old) works can actively contribute to ‘keeping Europe’s imaginary alive’. As a result, this study – a fine example of what Hutcheon might probably refer to as ‘interdisciplinary opera studies’ (2006) – offers an insightful analysis of a varied selection of staged productions drawing on Klein’s concept of ‘role responsibility’ to present theatre’s ‘cultural responsibility’ as a pact between the stage and the audience that is re-negotiated every time a particular production is staged, and alluding to the powerful consequences this may have, especially when it comes to connecting the past (re)presented by Europe’s imaginary to the historically, socially and politically committed present.

Present and past are also closely intertwined in Elizabeth Woodward-Smith’s Chapter 2, although in ways that are not always readily apparent. Woodward-Smith looks into Brexit, a highly contemporary issue currently shaking the political and economic foundations of the Western world, and which largely results from the revival of conservative nationalism that has come to dominate the current British political scene. The author addresses this issue by using humour theory to analyse a representative sample of cartoons published by the British daily press chronicling the Brexit process since the 2016 Referendum. National newspapers have played a crucial role in the outcome of the EU Referendum, becoming, in effect, organs of propaganda since, ‘had Britain opted to remain in Europe, it might have signalled the beginning of the end of the British press as a political force’ (Khabaz 2018: 80). The influence of media reporting on the British public mood has been extensively studied (Schuck and de Vreese 2009; Daddow 2012), but what Woodward-Smith’s contribution successfully tackles by deconstructing Brexit graphic narratives goes beyond present studies. For instance, it problematizes how likely graphic humour may impact on EU-UK negotiations when Eurosceptic movements are gaining momentum not only in the UK but also across the EU. In the age of Instagram and Twitter, such humorous (imagined) representations are very much in line ←10 | 11→with Adler-Nissen, Galpin and Rosamond’s (post-)Brexit scenario imagined outside the UK (2017). What transpires in Woodward-Smith’s analysis is the ultimately cultural nature of the problem, pointing to (conflicting) national identity discourses as the primary reason behind the UK’s desire to leave the EU as well as the enormous political difficulties it is experiencing before the country finally agrees on how this exit will materialize.

This is in turn closely linked to Chapter 3, in which Eduardo de Gregorio-Godeo provides an insightful Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) approach to the phenomenon of the new conservative nationalism in England/Britain. The chapter provides rich textual evidence clearly anchoring UKIP’s political discourse to an overwhelming feeling of longing for an irretrievable past. The analysis is complemented with well-documented contextualizing information that makes it easy for the reader to understand that British neo-nationalism is only part of a larger phenomenon affecting both Europe and North America, thus clearly pointing to changing times in Western culture. As Olsen (2019) has recently indicated, Trumpism is not going away, and other recent CDA studies seem to confirm this tendency. Gregorio-Godeo’s analysis of UKIP’s political discourse is in line with other recent CDA analyses of alt-right movements in France (Mondon 2015), Estonia (Kasekamp et al. 2019), the Netherlands (Pauwels 2014) or Finland (Ruotsalainen 2018), to name a few, as well as the recent surge in CDA-based research that the era of ‘tweet politics’ (Kreis 2017: 607) has resulted in, bringing Donald Trump’s political discourse (more often than not disseminated through his Twitter feed) to the fore (see Mohammadi and Javadi 2017; Ott and Dickinson 2019). However, Gregorio-Godeo’s contribution is not only relevant – considering the implications of Brexit in (and for) Europe – but also original, as research on UKIP’s political discourse remains scant.

In Chapter 4, Jane Ekstam addresses the role that historical memory plays in the development of twenty-first-century European identities by providing a close reading of Fiona Valpy’s recent novel Sea of Memories (2018). Ekstam’s contribution, therefore, is probably the first academic analysis of the novel in question and, more generally, the work of this upcoming literary author. She approaches literature as a memorial of the past, with its unique power to arouse empathy, reflexive appreciation of ←11 | 12→others’ intentions and emotions being at the core of the Theory of Mind. Indeed, ‘[t];hese abilities are adaptive because they are essential to forming strong, enduring social bonds, which in turn enhance reproductive success’ (Wellman 2018: 728–9). In this sense, the arts and humanities must play a crucial role in promoting such social bonds. The key term in Ekstam’s analysis is Sharon Macdonald’s concept of ‘past presencing’, which refers to the diverse ways through which individuals understand, re-visit, reconstruct and make sense of the past, the underlying presumption here being, therefore, that the past is central to the experience of the present. Memory is presented as a process, and therefore as fluid, subject to change, which problematizes the concept of history, past presencing thus coming out as a liminal space on which, it is suggested, both (subjective) memory and (supposedly objective) history draw. Using Theory of Mind to conceptualize this particular reading experience, Ekstam manages to capture one of the essential ingredients of good historical fiction, namely synecdoche: in evoking the drama of the Second World War, Ella, the main character in the novel, emerges as a kind of British, even European, everywoman, thereby making her very personal drama relevant to a vast audience.

For its part, Chapter 5 by David Clark explores the challenges of post-Good Friday Agreement Northern Ireland through a thorough review of recent crime fiction, focusing on the oeuvre of commercially and critically successful authors Derek Fee and Catriona King. Crime fiction has always been inextricably linked to notions of identity and the procedural ‘whodunnit’ points to such an aspect. But with the advent of the Nordic and Celtic noirs by the 1990s and 2010s respectively, criminal identities have also served as a pretext to interrogate other social scenarios and cultural practices that may or may not be perceived as legally or culturally acceptable. In other words, recent crime fiction has been used ‘as a vehicle for a philosophical enquiry into the epistemological possibility of restoration and order’ by means of affirming or undermining national identities, religion, sexuality or gender (Krajenbrink and Quinn 2009: 3). In this volume, David Clark discusses the ‘Troubles’ in crime fiction, emerging as a local subgenre. Clark points to the existence of a dichotomy in the genre – novels that may reinforce the already fixed cultural perceptions on religion, politics and sexuality, and novels that question such aspects. A complex ←12 | 13→meditation of both positions is reflected in Clark’s contribution. What is most important, however, Clark intersects the ‘Troubles’, crime fiction and the local in the age of globalization. According to Clark, this local subgenre not only resists homogenization, but also contributes to rewriting the genre. More specifically, the author revises the long-standing political and religious divide in the country by comparing the literary representation of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to that of its predecessor, namely the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC, the police force in Northern Ireland from Partition in 1922 to 2001). While the RUC has been traditionally presented as the armed force of the (Protestant, Unionist) established order by historians and fiction writers alike, Clark dissects the vast catalogue of works under review to conclude that, differences between authors aside, the PSNI, although still plagued with ‘the weight of the past and the “sins of the fathers”’, seems to come out as a symbol of the younger generations’ potential to heal the wounds that have historically divided Northern Irish society.

Slávka Tomaščíková’s Chapter 6 brings this volume’s Part I to a close by entering the upcoming field of food studies to discuss the construction of the meaning of food in contemporary media discourses, using the theoretical framework of metamodernism to highlight the role that food plays as a cultural construct in contemporary society. Undeniably, food and taste are crucial markers of identity which, at the same time, are connected to place, tradition and the past (Berger and Conrad 2014), as food and taste ‘embody sensorial memories imbued in nostalgia, and nurture the feeling of belonging together’ (Porciani and Montanari 2019: 207), not far away from Anderson’s imagined communities (1983). It is thus not surprising that, well before the ratification of UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2011), the EU should have progressively turned food into commodity heritage, ‘a political artefact, on its way to [also] becoming a tourist artefact’ (Mintz 2003: 26). In this sense, Tomaščíková’s analysis is insightful in two main ways. To start with, it clearly repositions food as a cultural element, thus justifying a new avenue of interdisciplinary research for the humanities, food studies, which provides a holistic approach to issues that had hitherto only been explored partially and separately by different disciplines like anthropology, ←13 | 14→economics or the health sciences. Secondly, Tomaščíková explicitly associates the rising importance and visibility of food in twenty-first-century cultures and societies as symptomatic of the rise of a new cultural sensibility which scholars are currently attempting to describe and define under different labels. One of its key features – Tomaščíková argues – is ‘a strong tendency to look back to the past’. While the author illustrates this with examples from the realm of food, this chapter provides a fitting conclusion to this volume’s Part I, as it provides a cultural rationale for the key elements identified in the diverse cultural products analysed in Chapters 1 to 5.

Part II analyses cultural manifestations through the prism of gender in contemporary Europe. Feminism and gender studies have historically used the wave metaphor to indicate that such movements are constant and fluid, like the water in the ocean which, on the surface, is moving in the form of waves, and below the surface moves in great currents. Feminism sloshes up and down, back and forth, as an ocean full of many splinter movements, and so do the critical theories that accompany such a liberating movement. If first-wave feminists advocated for the suffrage and property rights of white, cisgender, middle-class women (1850s), second-wavers (1960s) tackled not just political equality but de facto inequalities, broadening an activist debate, which was characterized by changes towards sexual attitudes in an expansive movement that was facilitated by many – gay rights campaigners, African-Americans, hippies or feminists, to name a few. Intellectually, the third wave (1991-) revolutionized the hegemonic discourse by denouncing how different forms of oppression intersect. With Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectionality, along with Judith Butler’s performative acts, third-wavers embraced all individuals who had struggled and were still struggling with hegemonic binary impositions.


XIV, 326
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (January)
Cultural studies in Europe Interdisciplinary humanities Identity and intersections The Humanities Still Matter Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez José Igor Prieto-Arranz
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2020. XIV, 326 pp., 7 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez (Volume editor) José Igor Prieto-Arranz (Volume editor)

Rubén Jarazo-Álvarez is Lecturer in English at the University of the Balearic Islands (Spain), where he teaches courses on British cultural studies and American culture. His research interests focus on British cultural studies and the influence of Anglophone cultures in Spain, from William Shakespeare in twentieth-century Spain to British telefantasy. His recent publications include The Cultural Politics of Harry Potter: Life, Death and Transition (2020). José Igor Prieto-Arranz is Associate Professor of English at the University of the Balearic Islands (Spain), where he teaches courses on British history and culture and critical theory. His research in the fields of second-language acquisition, translation and, most especially, cultural studies, has appeared in edited collections as well as high-ranking international journals.


Title: The Humanities Still Matter
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342 pages