Work, Sex and Power: The Forces that Shaped our History

February 19, 2015

A encapsulated version of the new sweeping history of humankind

by Willie ThompsonWork, Sex and Power

The current crises with mass casualties and associated horrors in Ukraine and the Middle East naturally have their own twenty-first century character. But they also illustrate forms of social, ideological and power relations that reach centuries and even millennia into the past. The deep past extends its tentacles into the present and, in Work, Sex and Power I aim to demonstrate how this affects our species.

Professor Kevin Morgan commented on the driving force behind the book. He remarked, ‘It’s so important that we don’t all get stuck in our particular historical byways’. Indeed in recent years such approaches, covering lengthy stretches of time and continents, have taken on greater prominence, with terms like ‘Deep History’ and ‘Big History’ entering the vocabulary.

This approach is represented in English–language texts by such widely-discussed volumes such as Daniel Lord Smail’s On Deep History and the Brain, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel and Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus’s The Creation of Inequality. It’s likely this approach was stimulated by a deepening awareness of the apocalyptic threat to humanity caused by runaway global warming and species destruction. The inability of the small-scope historiography favoured in previous decades to generate much illumination regarding this crisis has proven its limits.

My volume is part of this new tendency but with a differing emphasis in important respects. It begins with argument on humans’ place in the universe and where they stand in the evolutionary process. It is concerned to emphasise both the continuity of humans with the animal kingdom and the wider biosphere, but also the categorical difference of their existence as social creatures equipped with language and, in their forelimbs, manipulative abilities possessed by no other creature. One early chapter discusses the evolution of conscious thought and the unique attribute of humans, in that through a developed form of consciousness they envisage their future selves, and their future projects, unlike any other species.

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How Corrupt is Britain? – David Whyte talks about his new book

February 17, 2015

In this short video, David Whyte, editor of How Corrupt is Britain? (Pluto, 2015), explores the nature of corruption in Britain, and how it affects a number of our most venerated institutions. David discusses the public sector, big business and the police, as well as giving an overview of the endless litany of political scandals and incidences of high profile corruption that the book covers.


How Corrupt is Britain? is released on March 20, 2015. To pre-order the book for just £15 including free UK P&P, go to

Anthropology and Development: Challenges for the Twenty First Century

February 9, 2015

Katy Gardner and David Lewis discuss the new edition of this enduring classic of anthropology.

‘Whatever happened to the Anthropology of Development and its ‘post-modern challenge’? After nearly twenty years since the first edition of our Anthropology and Deveopmentbook, we decided that the time was ripe to revisit the issues. What we found was both a huge amount of change and not very much at all. It depended where you looked. Whilst there were new players in ‘Aidland’ – corporations touting ‘social responsibility’ and billionaire philanthropists, for example – and with the emergence of BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and ‘the Next 11’ some notable shifts in Development’s geopolitics, in other ways the issues were resoundingly familiar. The collapse of the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh during 2013, for example, reminded us that the issues that framed the earlier edition of the book remained horribly pertinent. As we had argued then, anthropological questions of access, control and effects were core to the academic critique of development and contributed to progressive policies which attempted to make it better. Yet as the biggest industrial disaster since Bhopal reminded us, lack of rights, weak and corrupt states, poverty and entrepreneurial criminality combined in a toxic mixture to bring about the deaths and grave injuries of thousands of factory workers in a country that was being hailed in some quarters for its accelerating economic growth. Those that died had no access to safe working conditions or employment rights and the building, which the day before was showing large cracks, was controlled by a member of the criminal underworld associated with land grabs and illegal construction. The Rana Plaza’s horrific collapse materialised the effects of rampant neoliberal development.

What, then, of the ‘postmodern challenge’? As we had documented, in 1997 Development was under sustained theoretical fire. Discredited for its evolutionary and Euro-American centrism, and attacked by writers such as Wolfgang Sachs (The Development Dictionary, 1992) and Arturo Escobar (Encountering Development, 1995) for its role in the maintenance of postcolonial power relations, it seemed possible that in the next ten or twenty years Development might expire altogether and that new framings of progressive change might arise. Even if reports of its death were greatly exaggerated, the era of ‘post-development’ thinking seemed to be upon us. Within anthropology post-modern critiques were also causing significant disquiet. Accused of creating exoticised representations of ‘the other’ and methodological techniques in which anthropologists subjugated and objectified the people they researched, the discipline seemed, for a while, in danger of losing its confidence, or even turning into a sub-field of literary critique.

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The Legacy of King Abdullah

January 29, 2015

by Andrew HammondIslamic Utopia

Hagiography of the deceased Saudi king Abdullah has piled up at a surprising rate, reflecting the desire – the desperate hope – among Western policy-makers to present Saudi Arabia as on a path to “reform” that justifies their continued investment in the regime. Astoundingly, the UK government has even ordered flags to be put at half-mast. In reality, the Saudi government’s political repression, economic plunder, improvised regional interventions and cradling of religious obscurantism and zealotry is of a scale arguably unique in modern times and the late King Abdullah did little to improve matters.

The legacy of Abdullah as a “reformer” had dissipated long before his death. Abdullah rose to prominence in the late 1990s at the beginning of his predecessor Fahd’s long incapacitation – a time of collapsing oil prices and high government spending. In 1998 the then crown prince told Saudis, both the population and the ruling family, that they would have to tighten their belts. The catastrophe of 9/11 created a further imperative for domestic reform and an array of political activists spanning reformist clerics, Jeddah liberals, Islamists, leftists, Arab nationalists, Eastern Province Shia and women, came together to formulate those demands in a series of petitions; liberals in particular felt that their time had come. The cult of Abdullah was born.

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The Troika saved banks and creditors – not Greece

January 26, 2015

On the eve of Syriza’s resounding victory in the Greek general election, Thomas Fazi wrote the following article, published on OpenDemocracy. We have reproduced it here with the kind permission of the author.

With most of the bailout money going to banks and creditors, Greece doesn’t just need debt relief, it deserves it.

The Battle for Europe, Thomas FaziAlexis Tsipras’ decision to put the write-off of a large part of the nominal value of Greece’s public debt and a moratorium on the repayment of the remaining part of the debt at the centre of his electoral program has sparked a lively debate on whether Greece ‘deserves’ debt relief or not. This is a mistake. As Paul Krugman has often pointed out, ‘economics is not a morality play… in which virtue is rewarded and vice punished’.

The issue is not – and should never be – whether a country deserves to see its debt forgiven or not, but only whether it needs it or not, as Jeffrey Sachs recently wrote in The Guardian. And as far as Greece is concerned ‘the answer is unequivocal’, says Sachs. ‘Anybody who does the Greek debt arithmetic (and it sometimes seems that in Berlin nobody actually does) knows that it cannot repay its external debts, now around 170% of GDP, without a level of pain that is simply beyond the tolerance of democratic societies’.

There is an almost unanimous consensus among economists regarding this point (with rare exceptions, such as Andrew Watt and Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, whose attempts to prove that Greece’s debt is in fact sustainable are unconvincing in my opinion); see for example Paul De Grauwe, Simon Wren-Lewis, Thomas Piketty, Philippe Legrain, Dani Rodrik and Wolfgang Münchau, just to name a few. Read the rest of this entry »

Team Pluto picks their highlights for 2015

January 19, 2015

2015 is set to be a very exciting year for Pluto Press, with a wave of original and adventurous books, as well as a return to some old classics. Here are some of team Pluto’s highlights from the upcoming season -

Rotbard White City, Black CityEmily Orford, Marketing Manager

Being a sucker for that beautiful Venn Diagram where architecture meets politics, I could not wait to crack open the spine of one of Pluto’s most eagerly-awaited books of 2015: White City, Black City by Sharon Rotbard. Reading the story of the aspirational yet darkly prophetic Bauhaus wave which transformed Tel Aviv into a ‘white city’ for the state of Israel was a revelatory experience. For me, reading books which describe public and private spaces and the buildings which populate them always transports me directly to their various locations. In this instance, the idea of walking the cool, paved avenues of Tel Aviv left me with a sickly feeling in my stomach. The second half of the book, ‘The Black City’, revealed why: it uncovers Jaffa, the original Arab city which was negated by Jewish colonisation in the 1930’s. Today, it remains only in traces, hidden behind the ‘mental iron-curtain’. And I hope, as Victor Hugo remarked, ‘The book will kill the edifice’, for a few of us, at least.


Rebel FootprintsChris Browne, Marketing Executive

Of all the books we have coming out in the new season, I’m anticipating David Rosenberg’s Rebel Footprints the most. This is not merely because I have had a hand in its creation (specifically, the maps), but because the author’s enthusiasm for his subject is completely infectious. Having spent a fair bit of time with David, photographing the book’s walks, and listening to him talk about Chartists, anarchists, suffragettes and early trade unionists, I am now utterly captivated by the people and the struggles which have defined the very fabric of London.

As the book demonstrates, this radical history is all around us, but risks being lost or forgotten amidst an ever changing physical landscape. As part history and part self-guided walking tour, Rebel Footprints is the perfect remedy. It is a wonderfully written, and – if our proof copies are anything to go by – a beautiful book. I will be counting down the days until its publication in March, and if you’re looking for the perfect outdoors activity this Spring, a walk down Cable Street (chapter 10), or a trip to Clerkenwell Green (chapter 2) would certainly fit the bill.


Anne Beech – Managing DirectorFriends of Alice Wheeldon

Reading Adam Hochschild’s magisterial counter-narrative To End All Wars last year, I came across a reference to a play by Sheila Rowbotham, Friends of Alice Wheeldon – and recalled that this was a book that we had acquired back in 1987 when Pluto Press changed hands. While we had kept Sheila’s early landmark publication Hidden from History in print ever since, Friends had slipped into the shadows – unremarked and almost forgotten. But now that we are commemorating the horror of the First World War, what could be more fitting than a new edition – as one of Pluto’s correctives to the general triumphalism of other publishers’ offerings? Would Sheila agree? Did she think it would be worth it? Fortunately, she responded with enthusiasm and set about adding, correcting and updating, incorporating subsequent research findings – as part of a continuing campaign to clear Alice Wheeldon’s name. Alice’s granddaughter even checked the proofs in Australia: a reminder that historic injustices can continue to resonate, maybe even more powerfully, a century later. I’m proud to have been able to help revive Sheila’s work, and to understand just how important history from below can be.


CurationismSolomon Lamb, Office Manager

Curationism is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. Despite its necessarily critical stance I found it remarkably even-handed and, far from a simplistic denunciation of contemporary art practice, infused with real passion for its subject which held my attention even where I disagreed with the book’s judgement of exhibitions or artists. Balzer is an able and engaging writer who does not presume anything from his reader above a basic literacy in matters pop cultural and yet manages a depth of discussion which can still impress a regular reader of the arts press.

Alison Alexanian, Publicity Manager

Of all the books in 2015, I’m particularly excited about Curationism by David Balzer. As soon as I heard about this project I was intrigued because it taps into a phenomenon that we’re all familiar with but haven’t looked at closely. Balzer, in a clever and entertaining way, looks at curating in the art world and how it has penetrated popular culture. He also writes with biting wit and fresh insight which makes this an especially enjoyable read.

Obituary: John Gurney (1960-2014)

January 19, 2015

It was with great sadness that we learned earlier this year of the death of John Gurney, early-modern historian and author of the Revolutionary Lives biography Gerrard Winstanley: The Digger’s Life and Legacy (Pluto, 2013).

The following obituary, written by John’s father-in-law Martyn Hammersley, was first published in the Guardian.


John GurneyMy son-in-law, John Gurney, who has died aged 54 of cancer, was an early modern historian and leading expert on Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers, a radical agrarian movement of the late 1640s.

The son of Joyce (nee Wilkins) and Dick Gurney, who was working for the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, John spent his childhood there, and in Geneva, before attending Highgate school in London. He studied history as an undergraduate at the University of Sussex in the late 1970s, and later went on to do a PhD there. That institution was then in its early prime, offering a stimulating interdisciplinary environment, with many inspiring teachers – Willie Lamont and Stephen Yeo were particularly important for John.

In these years, the history of the civil war period was being rejuvenated through detailed investigation of local communities. John’s PhD work focused on Surrey, including the area around Cobham where the Diggers set up an encampment. He examined the ideas of Gerrard Winstanley, their leader, the nature of the movement and how it drew on the local community, the story of their brief stand for land justice, and the events that followed.

After many years of meticulous investigation, this work was published as Brave Community: The Digger Movement in the English Revolution (2007). It was the first full-length modern study of the Diggers. He then wrote a life of Winstanley, in which he also examined the influence of Digger ideas on later generations, in both political and cultural terms (2013).

These were very well-received by academic historians: one review of Brave Community declared that so much of it was new that historians could not fail to recognise their debt to him. His work was also much appreciated by those on the left inspired by the Digger movement, and he was invited to speak at the Wigan Diggers’ festival in 2013.

John was initially a lecturer at the University of Sussex, later working for the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, and then for the Historical Manuscripts Commission, now part of the National Archives. He wrote articles for journals on a variety of topics relating to the political, social and intellectual history of early modern Britain, covering literature, radical movements, architectural history, regional history and archives.

In 2004 he moved to Newcastle, when his wife, Rachel, a fellow historian, obtained a university lectureship there. The couple had met at a regicide and republicanism conference in March 1999 at Keele University and were married in 2002. He taught at the university too.

John was a quiet and unassuming man who delighted in sharing his knowledge. He was also a talented photographer and an excellent cook. He is survived by Joyce and Dick, by Rachel and their children, Thomas and Anna, and by his sisters, Janet and Helen.


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