I am a British/Canadian writer and academic—British by birth, Canadian by choice—who has become increasingly troubled by what contemporary academia on both sides of the Atlantic does to scholarship. I started this blog mostly to sound off. Thankfully it has wandered off the straight and narrow from time to time.
Educated in the UK at the Universities of Essex and Durham, I began my career writing on social theory (Marx’s Method, 1978; Society, with David Frisby, 1986; The Violence of Abstraction, 1987; Capitalism and Modernity, 1990) and historical sociology (The Great Arch: English State Formation as Cultural Revolution, with Philip Corrigan, 1985). I taught sociology at the University of Glasgow from 1978 before moving to the University of Alberta, Canada in 1986. I was Chair of the U of A Sociology Department from 1996-2000 and held a Canada Research Chair from 2000-2005. I co-founded the Journal of Historical Sociology (Wiley-Blackwell) in 1988 and have been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 1994.
Since the 1990s the core of my work has been a trilogy of books published by Princeton University Press that take the city of Prague (where I lived from 1991-1993) as an alternative vantage point from which to excavate what Walter Benjamin called the dreamworlds of modernity.
The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History (1998) used modern Czech experience to explore questions of national identity and historical memory from the mid-18th through the mid-20th centuries. Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History (2013) zoomed in on modernism in the Bohemian capital during the earlier twentieth century, with a particular concern with the fraught relations between avant-garde art and revolutionary politics. I am now working on the final volume of the trilogy, Prague at the End of History: Postcards from Absurdistan, which will concentrate on the period from 1938 to the present and focus centrally on issues of power and the subject. I hope it will be finished before I am.
Full details of my publications are listed on my CV. I also have a page at academia.edu with copies or links to many of my writings, including the full (downloadable) texts of Marx’s Method, The Great Arch, The Violence of Abstraction, extracts from my books on Prague, and the original draft of my 2004 “memoir in search of a subject,” Going Down for Air.
I moved back to the UK in 2006 to take up a Chair in Cultural History at Lancaster University, where I was Head of the History Department from 2009-12. In 2013 I got diverted by the UK’s comically misnamed Research Excellence Framework (REF) into writing Rank Hypocrisies: The Insult of the REF. I retired from Lancaster and returned to Canada in June 2016. Two days later a narrow majority of the Great British public decided to turn its xenophobic back on the European Union, confirming that the UK was a place people like me were better off out of. Je ne regrette rien.
My post-retirement publications include a short book, Making Trouble: Surrealism and the Human Sciences, in the Prickly Paradigm Press pamphlets series, a lengthy article on Brexit and Trump, and a popular history-cum-travel guide, Prague: Crossroads of Europe, which was published in Reaktion Books’ Cityscopes series in Fall 2018.
I do have a life besides. It includes a lot of travel, especially road trips in rented SUVs (though the USA, which I love, will have to remain off-limits so long as the disgusting Trump occupies the White House); wine and food (growing, cooking and eating it); art and photography; a lifelong love affair with music, ranging from dead operatic sopranos to cacophonous jazz to the weirder shores of Americana; and family and friends on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as a good deal further south and east.
I live in Calgary, Alberta, with my beloved partner Yoke-Sum and our loopy brioche-and-Basque-cheese-eating standard poodle Luci.
Luci was named for Lucinda Williams but on reflection she should probably have been called Dolly.
Update, April 2021
I still live in Calgary, Alberta, with Yoke-Sum though we are likely to head across the mountains to Vancouver if Jason Kenney’s Trumpist grifters masquerading as a provincial government are returned in the next election. I delivered the manuscript of Prague at the End of History to Princeton University Press last month and it is currently going through the review process. Down south the former guy is mercifully gone but travel is still off-limits. Still not missing post-Brexit UK, but can’t wait to see family and friends there and across the world if and when it opens up again.
Our much-loved Luci passed away on March 17, 2020 at the age of 13 years, the first blow in a year that kept them coming.
Meet Alice, our big-boned girl from Southern Alberta who has helped us through the pandemic. She was named for Alice Coltrane and Alice B. Toklas. She will celebrate her first birthday tomorrow.