BOOK REVIEW: Introducing Cultural Studies: A Graphic Guide by Ziauddin Sardar

Introducing Cultural Studies: A Graphic GuideIntroducing Cultural Studies: A Graphic Guide by Ziauddin Sardar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars Page

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Culture is a deep and fascinating topic, but a dirty little secret of academia is that there are two words used to signal subjects and courses for the not-so-bright kids: one is “Studies” and the other is “for.” (As in “Math FOR Economists,” a course that I once took that was – I’m sure of it – greatly dumbed down from what Math majors learned. “Economics FOR Business Majors” is a more widely known example; it’s Economics for people who are afraid of equations and who can’t figure out which way is up on a supply and demand curve.) So, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a guide to “Cultural Studies,” as opposed to a book about, say, Cultural Anthropology, which I believe is the big-boy pants version of the discipline under discussion.

The author is forthright that cultural studies is a bit amorphous and that it struggles to find its place amid the established disciplines that touch upon culture from varying perspectives (i.e. psychology, philosophy, anthropology, etc.) The book begins before there was a “Cultural Studies,” per se, discussing competing definitions of culture and related precursor disciplines, e.g. semiotics. It then describes the evolution of the subject and its varied points of focus and ideas across its major epicenters: Europe, North America, Australia, and South Asia. It investigates colonization and its influence on indigenous cultures, and it looks at how a range of concepts intersect with culture, including: science, technology, race, gender, sexuality, and media. It concludes by reflecting on globalization and the discontents who wish to end or replace this homogenizing force.

I did learn quite a few new things from this book, and if you’re looking to understand culture as a landscape of academic study, it’s worth having a look at it.

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BOOK REVIEW: Introducing Chaos: A Graphic Guide by Ziauddin Sardar

Introducing Chaos: A Graphic Guide (Introducing...)Introducing Chaos: A Graphic Guide by Ziauddin Sardar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

This book provides a brief overview of the mathematical and scientific concept called “Chaos” (as opposed to the colloquial definition.) Chaos theory is most popularly associated with “the butterfly effect” in which small changes in initial conditions can result in large and / or unpredictable variations in outcome (e.g. the Houston butterfly that causes a typhoon in Hong Kong.) Chaos profoundly changed the landscape in many domains of science. Before Chaos, it was generally assumed that if one had a relatively simple model without random elements that one could make short work of developing predictions. Scientists working in Chaos discovered that this wasn’t necessarily the case, despite the intuitive appeal. In fact, one could have a relatively simple model without random elements that still resulted in irregular behaviors / outcomes.

Chaos overlaps with a number of subjects including the science of Complexity and Fractal Geometry. The book explores these connections, and gives the reader a basic understanding of how those subjects differ and what they share in common with Chaos. The book also draws examples from a number of different disciplines including meteorology, biology, city planning, etc. This is a beneficial way to broaden one’s understanding of this fundamentally interdisciplinary science.

I’ve read many titles in this series because they are available on Amazon Prime and provide readable overviews of subjects that are suitable for a neophyte reader. I found this to be one of the better titles in the series. I thought the author did a good job of explaining the concepts in clear, approachable language, aided by graphics. If you’re looking for a non-mathematical overview of Chaos theory, this is a fine book to consider.

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