Holbein, The Prestige and Venice
Over the years I have taken great pride in my magic stage sets for my various shows and wanted to share a few insights for those who are curious about designing sets for meaningful magical performances.
Overall, my set design choices have been heavily influenced by particular paintings, films, and styles. The key painting has been The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger. The picture is simple and complex at the same time. It uses beautiful colours that are typical of the Renaissance period. It has symbolic references to a large set of perennial concerns of humankind. It is a large painting and it evokes mystery, wonder, other worldliness, science, travel, life, death, religion, war, politics, and power, among many other enduring concepts.
The greens and the reds have featured heavily in my use of background images (and are consistent with colours in my family’s coat of arms), while the table littered with objects has become a mainstay feature of my shows. I have learned that a table full of props (artefacts) provides curiosity as my audiences sit in wonder throughout my shows thinking about what might happen with the different objects on the table.
The most influential film has been The Prestige, both in terms of the structure of routines (i.e. the pledge, the turn and the prestige), as well as the look and feel of the Victorian stage. Indeed, I grew up with Hoffmann’s Modern Magic and have always loved the illustrations of the boxes, vases, and props in that book. Between that book, the film and Holbein’s painting, I have sought to create my own ambience on stage, which evokes mystery, intrigue and maybe even a touch of fear.
My final influences come from Italy. I taught for seven years in Venice, where as a Visiting Professor, I was given my own flat near the Grand Canal, rode the vaporetto to the Lido and lectured in the magna aula of the San Niccoló Monastery.
Our graduation ceremonies in Venice always took place in the Palazzo Ducale adjacent to St. Mark’s Square, and I used to love sitting on the dais with the other professors in our robes surrounded by the Tintorettos on the walls and ceiling. Life in Venice teaches one about real magic and the power of history, while the architecture, food, coffee, and labyrinthine streets and canals provide a feast of influences for any serious mystery entertainer.
My latest work is grounded in philosophy and imagines a ‘philosopher’s box’ that would be used to instruct pupils to think about life’s deeper questions. The show draws on political philosopher John Rawls and is called ‘Lifting the Veil of Ignorance’, which is being staged at Wivenhoe House Hotel on 17 October 2013 and the Milton Theatre at the University of Huddersfield on 26 October 2013.
‘Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth.’
On Wednesday 20 February 2013, the University of Essex sought to host the deputy ambassador of Israel, Mr Alon Roth-Snirto to speak about Middle Eastern politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict for a select number of students on degree courses in the Department of Government.
The details of the event were made public a few days before, which prompted a number of students within the student union to mobilise against his appearance. On the day, it is estimated that 50 to 100 students started a demonstration outside the lecture theatre block where the Deputy Ambassador was meant to speak. His speech was interrupted, relocated and then abandoned altogether.
The student union claimed victory for their protest action and the University claimed that the students had compromised the principle of free speech. The University argued further that the actions of some students went beyond legitimate forms of protest and may well have contravened University policy as well as student union policy. The University announced that an investigation would be started into the incident. The story is covered in the Student Union’s Rabbit Newspaper.
This event reminded me of my days as a student in the 1980s at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. At that time, the students protested the University’s investment policy in South Africa to put pressure on the Apartheid regime to leave power and bring about a democratic transition. We also discussed the principle of free speech in our constitutional law classes, our politics of Latin America classes, and our history of modern Europe classes.
In my final year at Penn (1988), Louis Farrakahn, leader of the Nation of Islam was invited to the University to give a speech, this at a University whose student body was about 30% Jewish. The event was controversial but it was not cancelled. The New York Times reports that,
‘Mr. Farrakhan’s appearance is being billed by its sponsors, a coalition of 10 campus groups, as an exercise in the defense of freedom of discourse on behalf of black students who say they believe that Mr. Farrakhan’s views have been distorted and who want to hear him for themselves.’
The 1980s had other memorable free speech events, most notably the exhibition of the publicly funded photographic work of Andres Serrano, entitled Immersion (Piss Christ) in 1987, which features a plastic crucifix immersed in a jar of the artist’s own urine, and the flag burning case Texas v Johnson, where during a communist rally in Dallas, Mr Johnson set an American flag on fire.
This latter case was brought into my own after dinner discussions at home as my father, a naturalised American citizen (he had emigrated from the Netherlands in 1955) was very upset at the flag burning act itself and initially wanted the Supreme Court to uphold the rights of states to ban flag burning. I argued at that time that to allow flag burning would uphold the very principles for which flag stands. I too find flag burning morally reprehensible, but I also know that the rights for which the flag stands are far more robust than isolated incidents of anti-Americanism.
In both cases, the principle of free speech prevailed. Senators, religious leaders, and commentators have been incensed by the work and that funding from the National Endowment for the Arts had supported Serrano’s work; however, it has featured across a variety of art exhibitions and retrospectives. The work was subsequently vandalised in Avignon in 2011. The majority decision in Texas v Johnson upheld the principle of free speech, even though the justices were not happy with the result. In the concurrence with the majority opinion written by Justice Brennan, Justice Kennedy argued,
‘For we are presented with a clear and simple statute to be judged against a pure command of the Constitution. The outcome can be laid at no door but ours. The hard fact is that sometimes we must make decisions we do not like. We make them because they are right, right in the sense that the law and the Constitution, as we see them, compel the result. And so great is our commitment to the process that, except in the rare case, we do not pause to express distaste for the result, perhaps for fear of undermining a valued principle that dictates the decision. This is one of those rare cases.’
Now back to the University of Essex. A debate has ensued on campus between the leadership of the student union, dissenting members of the student union, academic staff, and University officials (although their role is not necessarily to debate but to apply University policy).
The student union leadership position can be broken down into two syllogisms. The first makes a logic of equivalence between Israel’s policy and the Apartheid regime in South Africa:
- The Apartheid regime in South Africa used oppressive force against black South Africans
- Israel uses oppressive force against the Palestinians
- Therefore Israel is an apartheid regime
The second syllogism argues why the Deputy Ambassador should not appear on campus:
- Representatives of Apartheid regimes do not have the right to speak at Universities
- The Deputy Ambassador is the mouthpiece of the Israeli Apartheid regime
- The Deputy Ambassador has no right to speak on campus
Whether such syllogisms stand up to logical scrutiny is not really relevant for this discussion. Even if they do pass a strict test of logic, there is still a very strong case to be made on the grounds of free speech for the University to allow the Deputy Ambassador to appear on campus.
The dissenting members of the student union argue that the University is meant to encourage free speech and that regardless of Israeli policy or the characterisation of the regime as Apartheid: (1) the deputy ambassador has the right to speak and (2) the students have the right to attend and engage in intellectual debate and argumentation to test the claims that would have been advanced by the Deputy Ambassador.
The university agrees with the dissenters, and so do I.
As I am teaching a course called the Comparative Politics of Human Rights, I wanted to address this issue in my class. To place our discussion in the context of the International Law of Human Rights, I began with Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’
And followed with Article 19 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
’1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.’
I then showed the Serrano picture, the Farrakahn case, the Johnson case, and added the case of a recent approval from Memphis Tennessee of a march led by the Ku Klux Klan. I then showed pictures of the student protests on campus at Essex and opened the discussion.
What ensued was a mature one-hour debate on free speech, the nature of the Israeli regime and the role of the University in modern life.
There was overwhelming support for the principle of free speech. What I do find interesting is that a small proportion of the student body was able to deny the right of free speech both to the speaker and to fellow students. Moreover, the event raises the further questions concerning what other regimes this small proportion of the student body finds reprehensible and therefore ineligible to speak on campus.
Israel has sought an audience on other campuses and run afoul of other student protests (e.g. Manchester). Further afield, the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was allegedly invited to a dinner at Columbia University (see commentary from Stanley Fish in the New York Times), while a controversial speech from Narendra Modi (Governor of the State of Gujarat) was cancelled at the Wharton School of Business at the Univesity of Pennsylvania.
These cases and the general principle of free speech intrigue me, as much of my work takes place in parts of the world where such a fundamental right is not so guaranteed (hence my quote from Liu Xiaobo above). The jurisprudence on Article 19 of the ICCPR and two general comments (GC10 and GC34) from the UN Human Rights Committee suggest that these kinds of speech events at Universities are consistent with the principles therein, and that forced cancelling of such events runs counter to the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of opinion.*
I only wish the small proportion of students that disrupted the event at Essex would reflect on this contrast and value the freedoms that are upheld in the UK in general and at our University in particular.
*For in-depth analysis of the principle of free speech and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, see O’Flaherty, Michael (2012) ‘Freedom of Expression: Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 34,’ Human Rights Law Review; de Zayas, Alfred and Martín, Áurea Roldán (2012) ‘Freedom of Opinion and Freedom of Expression: Some Reflections on General Comment 34 of the UN Human Rights Committee, Netherlands Human Rights Law Review, LIX: 425-454.
My year was topped and tailed by quality time with mother. In January I spent a week in Virginia with her catching up on life, love and politics while sampling many musical delights and taking in the southern charm of Norfolk. The end of the year saw her come to our home here in England to enjoy the best that country life in Suffolk can offer.
My mother is what I would describe as a ‘quiet feminist’ who battled against deep patriarchy in corporate America in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, first by returning to University to get a BA and then MA, and then in the world of health insurance. She worked hard, put her head down, and achieved great success despite the odds. While the glass ceiling was there, it certainly needed to be raised after her career and I am immensely impressed by her and hugely proud of her. She is a bedrock of wisdom in difficult times and a sheer joy to be with.
Family life has been a joy this as my eldest daughter continued in high school, my stepson finished primary and entered secondary school, and my youngest started in reception. Three kids in three schools makes for a hectic but rewarding schedule, while our menagerie of animals at home keeps us quite busy!
My year’s activities involved travel, publishing, teaching, business development, institution building and of course magic! In many cases, these activities were not mutually exclusive, but reinforcing and interdependent in ways that have enriched my experience.
The travel schedule was heavy this year with international obligations taking me to the United States, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Mozambique and Ukraine. In each location, I have met truly wonderful people and made new friends, while nurturing old friendships. Work involved lecturing, training, and giving key note speeches primarily on global trends in democracy and human rights, as well as the value of systematic research and evidence-based advocacy and policy making. Downtime in these venues allowed for a little sightseeing and walking as well as bit of magical entertaining.
2012 saw a lot of work come out in books and articles, with some pending publications coming out in 2013 that have been completed from my desk. These include:
- Todd Landman (forthcoming July 2013) Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals, London: Bloomsbury Academic.
- Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, and Sandford Schram (2012) (eds) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2013) ‘Tension Points: Learning to Make Social Science Matter,’ Critical Policy Studies, forthcoming.
- Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2013) ‘Political Political Science: A Phronetic Approach,’ New Political Science, forthcoming.
- Todd Landman, David Kernohan and Anita Gohdes (2012) ‘Relativsing Human Rights,’ Journal of Human Rights.
- Todd Landman (2012) ‘Projecting Liberalism in a World of Realist States: David Forsythe and the Political Science of Human Rights’, Journal of Human Rights, 11 (3): 332-336.
- Todd Landman (forthcoming 2012) ‘Social Science, Methods and Human Rights’ in Mark Gibney and Anja Mihr (eds) The Sage Handbook of Human Rights, London: Sage.
- Todd Landman (forthcoming 2012) ‘The European Union and the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights’.
- Todd Landman (forthcoming) ‘Measuring Human Rights’ in Michael Goodhart (ed) Human Rights: Politics and Practice, 2nd edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Todd Landman and Anita Gohdes (forthcoming 2012) ‘A Matter of Convenience: Challenges of Non-Random Data in Analyzing Human Rights Violations during Conflicts in Peru and Sierra Leone’ in Taylor Seybolt, Jay Aronson and Baruch Fishoff (eds) Counting Civilian Casualties, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Todd Landman (2012) ‘Foreword’ in Bethany Barratt, The Politics of Harry Potter, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Todd Landman (2012) ‘Framing the Fight: Public Security and Human Rights in Mexico’ in George Philip and Susuna Berruecos (eds.) Mexico’s Struggle for Public Security: Organized Crime and State Responses, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 99-118.
- Todd Landman (2012) ‘Narrative Analysis and Phronesis’ in Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, and Sanford Schram (eds) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 27-47.
- Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2012) ‘Introduction: New Directions in Social Science’ in Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, and Sanford Schram (eds) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-12.
- Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram (2012) ‘Important Next Steps in Phronetic Social Science’ in Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, and Sanford Schram (eds) Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 285-297.
Papers and Reports
- Anita Breuer, Todd Landman and Dorothea Farquhar (2012) Social Media and Protest Mobilization: Evidence from the Tunisian Revolution, Paper prepared for the 4th European Communication Conference for the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA), Istanbul, Turkey, 24-27 October 2012.
- Todd Landman, Alejandro Quiroz-Flores and Dorothea Farquhar (2012) Democratic Governance and Sustainable Human Development, United Nations Development Programme, Oslo Governance Centre, Oslo.
I was honoured to teach a methods course in Vienna for human rights students, a comparative methods course for the Essex Summer School in Social Science Data Analysis, and my course The Comparative Politics of Human Rights.
My work as the Director of the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex has me engaged with partner organisations from the public and private sector as we seek to generate new high value content for a wide range of users. We developed a pilot mediation training course, and delivered other forms of training as part of our work in parliamentary strengthening. Our research capacity was used for a wonderful UNDP project on democratic governance and sustainable human development and we engaged with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance on staff training. Our work with the Mackman Group has been excellent and culminated in the launch of our ESRC-funded Human Rights Atlas.
The year has seen continued development of Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolutionand Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers. The IDCR goes from strength to strength as we engage in a variety of challenging and rewarding projects across training, research and policy analysis. Psycrets has expanded its international network and celebrated its 5th Anniversary with an amazing volume entitled Liber Mentis, edited by Steve Drury.
Finally, the world of magic continues to inspire me and push my capacity for creativity and innovation. I have enjoyed performing with Pool Voodini in our show The Edge of the Unknown. I have performed around the UK and further afield as I never leave home without a little magic. The highlight of the year has been my appointment as a Visiting Professor of Performance Magic at the University of Huddersfield where I conducted a drama workshop entitled The Magician, the Mentalist and the Mystic. I have joined the editorial board of the new Journal of Performance Magic, which will have its inaugural issue in Spring of 2013.
While 2011 was the year of the Arab Spring, 2012 featured the prolonged and inclusive struggle in Syria that has taken so many lives, a regression in the positive steps taken by Egypt, and another unfortunate conflict between Israel and Palestine. A large proportion of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief with the re-election of Barack Obama in the United States, but he faces many challenges not least of which his increasingly worrying drone policy, the fiscal cliff solution (which may or may not happen tonight), and the on-going battle over gun control after yet another mass shooting (this time in a primary school).
Life under austerity will continue and the struggle in the Eurozone will continue for 2013, as European democracies search for long term solutions for failed economic models. I have stressed this year and will continue to stress that the financial crisis in Europe is a problem for democracy not a problem of democracy.
On a positive note, we all survived the Mayan Apocalypse and as 2013 marches on, may we agree with Daniel Pinchbeck and see a shift in global consciousness towards more peace, more understanding, and empathy for our fellow humans instead of over self-centred egotism and maximisation of material self-interest. The New Year brings many challenges, but the human spirit and capacity for overcoming adversity is strong. My new book Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Idealsis guided by a simple belief that humans have incredible desire and capacity for demanding a better life and to challenge oppression wherever it may manifest itself. While 2011 saw the election of Dilma Rousseff the first female president of Brazil and former prisoner of the military regime, 2012 saw the election of Ayn San Suu Kyi to the Burmese Parliament. These examples and others serve as positive reminders of what is possible, which is why I welcome the new public and open letter from 73 Chinese academics calling on the new regime to accelerate the much needed political reforms to complement the otherwise impressive economic progress that has been achieved.
No doubt 2013 will be another roller coaster ride, but let’s hope the net experience is a positive one!
Happy New Year!
It is my honour and pleasure to have been invited to Mexico City to take part in two exciting activities. Next week I will lecture to the Circle of Magicians in Mexico and share my thoughts on how to make magic meaningful. The lecture draws on my three stage shows and development of metaphysical magic over the last few years.
The international network of magicians, mentalists and mystery entertainers is supportive and highly welcoming. As a Founder of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers I have been pleased at the growth of our organisation over the last five years to include members from all over he world, including Mexico.
The second event is a two-day workshop on measuring human rights and the application of measurement frameworks to Latin American democracies over the last 30 years. The event is funded by CONACYT and hosted by the faculty of social sciences (FLACSO). Seemingly unrelated, these two events are very much linked in my own mind and in practice as I address philosophical and pragmatic issues surrounding human rights through my magical performances.
I have studied Mexico for many years and have had the honour of supervising many Mexican PhDs over the last 15 years. I visited Mexico in 2010 and I am really looking forward to my return, especially under these delightful circumstances that allow me to bring magic and measurement to such a wonderful country
Now that we have survived the Mayan apocalypse it is fitting to return to Mexico to carry on with work from both sides of my life!
PLEASE CLICK THE POSTER TO ENLARGE
The post was launched on 13 October with a performance workshop with drama students in the Milton Theatre on the main campus of the University. The evening featured my show with Paul Voodini, The Edge of the Unknown to a sold out crowd who were taken on quite a mysterious journey influenced by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The workshop is entitled The Magician, the Mentalist and the Mystic, and explores different performance styles that are popular today in what Prospect Magazine has called ‘The New Magic’ (see my blog post The New Magic is the Old Magic). The participants experienced three very different short performances at three different ‘tables’:
- The magic table involved classic close-up illusions using cards, coins, cups and balls, and a series of locked boxes;
- The mentalist table used nothing more than a few envelopes, some dice, and a drawing pad to create hard hitting mind reading with numbers, names and choices that were seemingly divined out of thin air;
- The mystic table was replete with books, crystals, boxes and a discussion of all things metaphysical as a route to quite a different set of experiences.
After each performance, participants were able to discuss their impressions and the impact of what they saw and experienced. In keeping with the Magician’s Oath* methods were not discussed, but the time was used to reflect on the framing of each performance experience and the different contract that was established with the audience.
The rich qualitative data gathered during this event will be combined with other results of research that I have been conducting on magical performance over the years and will appear as a scholarly article in the near future.
The workshop participants then attended the evening performance, which begins with the question:
‘Is it deduction, deception, or something more?‘
The question is never answered, but the audience is asked to ruminate on it as they experience over 90 minutes of uncanny demonstrations involving mind reading, coincidences, alienism, psychology, visualisation, past life regression, and spiritualism among other enduring mysteries.
The Professorship is also associated with the new Magic Research Group and the Journal of Performance Magic also based at the University of Huddersfield. There is a dearth of scholarly study of performance magic as an art form and a key aspect of popular culture. The public figure of the magician has evolved from the Rennaissance ‘magus’ and ‘cunning folk’ to sophisticted stage magician and now the ‘new’ magician embodied in such fugures as David Blaine and Derren Brown. The group and the journal are dedicated to the scholarly study of this popular art form in all its many guises and permutations.
In additon to the roles and responsabilties associated with this new post, I am also pleased to be working with Marina Warner and Elizabeth Kuti at the University of Essex on a board to supervise fellow Magic Circle Member Will Houstoun (consultant on Martin Scorcese’s Hugo) on his PhD thesis that explores the social history and impact of one of the most famous magic books: Professor Hoffmann’s Modern Magic.
*“As a magician I promise never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician, unless that one swears to uphold the Magician’s Oath in turn. I promise never to perform any illusion for any non-magician without first practicing the effect until I can perform it well enough to maintain the illusion of magic.”
I just had a superb few days in Brussels visiting colleagues in the European External Action Service discussing issues around democracy promotion, democracy training, and new areas of research that will be supported by EU funding. The highlight of the trip was giving a keynote presentation at the Representation of the North Rhine Wesphalia to the EU for an event on the Arab Spring and the diffusion of democracy. I was joined by Nabila Hamsa from Tunisia and President of the Foundation for the Future (FFF), a pan-Arab NGO working to secure peace and democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. The panel also included Joerg Faust from the German Development Institute in Bonn and Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, MEP, who was Head of the EU Election Monitoring Mission in Libya. Our audience included Egyptians, Iraqis, Syrians and others from the region, as well as representatives from many EU institutions and other organisations.
Here is a summary of my presentation:
The Arab Spring: Democratic Diffusion and the European Union
I am really pleased to share this new paper that I co-authored with Dr Dorothea Farquhar from the IDCR and Dr Anita Breuer from the German Development Institute in Bonn entitled ‘Social Media and Protest Mobilization: Evidence from the Tunisian Revolution’. The paper will be presented at the 4th Annual Communication Conference for the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) in Istanbul 24-27 October 2012.
One of the hallmarks of the Arab Spring uprisings has been the role of social media in articulating demands of the popular protesters and broadcasting dramatic events as they unfolded, but it is less clear whether social media acted as a catalyst for many of the movements in the region. Using evidence from the popular protests in Tunisia between December 2010 and January 2011, this paper argues that social media acted as an important resource for popular mobilization against the regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Drawing on the insights from ‘resource mobilization theory’ (RMT), we show that social media (1) allowed a ‘digital elite’ to break the national media blackout through brokering information for mainstream media; (2) provided the basis for intergroup collaboration that facilitated a large ‘cycle of protest’ to develop; (3) overcame the collective action problem through reporting event magnitudes that raised the perception of success for potential free riders, and (4) led to an additional element of ‘emotional mobilization’ through depicting the worst atrocities associated with the regime’s response to the protests. These findings are based on expert interviews with Tunisian bloggers and digital activists conducted in October 2011 and a revealed preference survey conducted among a sample of Tunisian internet users between February and May 2012.
The paper can be accessed from the Social Science Research Network by clicking HERE
In a recent article in Prospect Magazine (May Issue 194, pp. 79-82), Laura Marsh argues that the world is witnessing a new kind of magic that is ‘far removed from the circus-style trickery of sawing women in half’, where the cutting edge performers (of which I am pleased to be one) seek to use the methods of magic and mentalism to address larger issues and deeper meanings in people’s lives. This ‘new magic’ is contrasted to the stage and TV magic that features ‘sparkly shirts’ and ‘rabbits being pulled from hats’.
While it is highly flattering to be included in this new category alongside such performers as Derren Brown, David Blaine, and Luke Jermay, I wonder if what I (and a few of my selected magical colleagues) are trying to achieve actually harks back to a much earlier period in the history of magic.
A little over a week ago, on his Radio 4 programme ‘In Our Time’, Melyvn Bragg featured a number of academics talking about the neo-Platonists who sought to rescue Platonic thought of the kind found in Timaeus, where he built a complete theory of humankind, the world, and the universe, with all its correspondences and underlying mathematical foundations.
The neo-Platonists spanned a huge period in history but had great influence on Renaissance magic, as well as the ‘scholar magicians’ of the time, such as Pico de Mirandola, Cornelius Agrippa and John Dee. These great minds engaged in ‘metaphysical plurality’ as they embraced scientific inquiry, philosophical reflection, and esoteric explorations.
Their work sought to address the working of nature and the world, as well as explore the human psyche as it relates to larger ‘unseen’ forces. Their tradition was to be carried forward by other such luminaries as Sir Isaac Newton, who in the latter years after he formulated his Principia Mathematica engaged in alchemical explorations and experimented with the idea of ether; and Jung who developed a large portion of work on psychoanalysis through the study of alchemy (physical and spiritual).
Throughout this period, magicians in many ways were displaced either by science or religion, and were cast out as evil, unacceptable, heretical or irrational. Magicians, witches, cunning folk, and ‘popular magi’ were ostracised, persecuted and even put to death.
In the middle of the 19th Century, a lawyer named Angelo Lewis published a book under his pseudonym Professor Hoffmann called Modern Magic. This book provided encyclopaedic coverage of all manner of magic tricks and led to the creation of the ‘gentleman magician’ who donned a top hat and tail coat, performed in respectable urban theatres, and made sanitized allusions to ‘darker forces’ in their stage shows.
Many have celebrated the advent of the gentleman magician, since it rescued magic from its ridiculed form and made it a respectable art. As stage magic, and its counterparts of close-up and street magic, have evolved, however, less savoury features have developed that culminated in the very trappings of the ‘Old Magic’ to which the Prospect article refers. Gone were the top hats and tuxedos, dinner suits and bow ties. Sparkly tops, glamorous assistants, and cheesy patter took over.
The ‘New Magic’ to which Prospect refers seeks to recapture meaning, substance and mystery. But in my view, it is tapping into the much older tradition of the Renaissance scholar magicians. It is an axiom of the New Magic (or my own sense of the real Old Magic) that audiences are concerned with themselves that they want to learn about things that affect them, and want to explore deep questions and concerns that they have at the forefront of their minds.
There is a wonderfully creative and inspirational set of magical practitioners that are part of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers doing the kind of performances that achieve this kind of depth. Through the use of simple objects and a variety of different means, they engage their audiences in ways that go deep into perennial concerns such as nostalgia, fear, memory, childhood, travel, love, health, among many others.
They have a huge variety of substantive interests beyond mentalism, including philosophy, social constructivism, social science methodology, psychology, law, history of the book, Russian, drama studies, acting, horror, design, computer programning, motivational speaking, coaching, among many others. The intellectual and practical formation of such people means that they engage with their audiences in completely different ways than the mainstream magicians popular on television programmes of the kind referenced in the Prospect article.
And through their performances they are returning magic to its former self: an experience that is crafted to bring about transformation in an audience. Such a transformation can be unsettling and disruptive, but for the audience member (or participant as we prefer to call them) it is guaranteed to be magic with meaning.
edited by Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram, Cambridge University Press.
Now Published! Click HERE to order!
Real Social Science presents a new, hands-on approach to social inquiry. The theoretical and methodological ideas behind the book, inspired by Aristotelian phronesis, represent an original perspective within the social sciences, and this volume gives readers for the first time a set of studies exemplifying what applied phronesis looks like in practice.
The reflexive analysis of values and power gives new meaning to the impact of research on policy and practice. Real Social Science is a major step forward in a novel and thriving field of research. This book will benefit scholars, researchers and students who want to make a difference in practice, not just in the academy. Its message will make it essential reading for students and academics across the social sciences.
Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman, Sanford Schram, Arthur W. Frank, Stewart R. Clegg, Tyrone S. Pitsis, Corey Shdaimah, Roland Stahl, Leonie Sandercock, Giovanni Attili, Steve Griggs, David Howarth, Tricia D. Olsen, Leigh A. Payne, Andrew G. Reiter, Virginia Eubanks, Paul William Simmons, Ranu Basu
Develops the idea of a phronetic social science beyond the original formulation
Will appeal to methodologists working in research traditions that combine different analytical techniques
All contributions, introductory and concluding chapters have had the benefit of three editors with long and active research backgrounds and have been written with one ‘authorial voice’
Table of Contents
1. Introduction: new directions in social science by Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram
2. Phronetic social science: an idea whose time has come by Sanford Schram
3. Phronesis and narrative analysis by Todd Landman
4. The feel for power games: everyday phronesis and social theory by Arthur W. Frank
5. Phronesis, projects and power research by Stewart R. Clegg and Tyrone S. Pitsis
6. Why mass media matter, and how to work with them: phronesis and megaprojects by Bent Flyvbjerg
7. Power and conflict in collaborative research by Corey Shdaimah and Roland Stahl
8. Unsettling a settler society: film, phronesis and collaborative planning in small-town Canada by Leonie Sandercock and Giovanni Attili
9. Phronesis and critical policy analysis: Heathrow’s ‘third runway’ and the politics of sustainable aviation in the UK by Steve Griggs and David Howarth
10. Amnesty in the age of accountability: Brazil in comparative context by Tricia D. Olsen, Leigh A. Payne and Andrew G. Reiter
11. Feminist phronesis and technologies of citizenship by Virginia Eubanks
12. Making the teaching of social justice matter by Paul William Simmons
13. Spatial phronesis: a case study in geosurveillance by Ranu Basu
14. Important next steps in phronetic social science by Bent Flyvbjerg, Todd Landman and Sanford Schram.
Praise for the Book
‘Built on Flyvbjerg’s commitment to social science that ‘matters’, Flyvbjerg, Landman and Schram’s volume enriches the field with theoretical and methodological arguments and case studies extending and contending with each other in diverse locales and levels of social intervention. Anyone interested in socially-transformative social science will gain from it.’
‘A splendid collection that demonstrates the possibilities of a social science praxis that is contextual, reflexive, normatively engaged and yet also well-theorized and powerfully illuminating. A bracing step toward social understanding that is not straight-jacketed by the nomothetic cannons of laboratory science.’
‘This book and this mission are of utmost importance and urgency. Phronesis, only phronesis, can save social science. We have no other hope.’
‘What an important book! Bent Flyvbjerg and his collaborators have taken a decisive step forward in developing social scientific enquiries informed by an Aristotelian concept of phronesis. Their case studies disclose how much has remained invisible to other modes of enquiry.’
Professor Bent Flyvbjerg is Founding Chair of Major Programme Management at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and Director of the Oxford Centre for Major Programme Management. He works for better planning and management of megaprojects and cities, plus he writes about phronetic social science and case study research. Bent Flyvbjerg has served as adviser to the United Nations, the EU Commission and government and companies in many countries.
Professor Todd Landman is Director of the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex. He is a political scientist and has carried out numerous projects on the analysis and synthesis of data and complex governmental information as well being the author of several books and articles.
Sanford F. Schram has taught social theory and social policy at the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, Bryn Mawr College for the past 14 years. He is an affiliate to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. As well as being author of ten books he sits on the editorial boards of a number of journals, including the Social Service Review.