Scenes from Islington North

The view from our flat on Tollington Way, HollowayI was hunting through an old diary for possible date confirmations of when I last applied for a particular fellowship – this is really uninteresting to everyone, including me, though it is a small detail in something that could be very interesting for me. And I came across this passage, during our family visit to London to attend a friend’s wedding. We took the opportunity to visit old haunts, including our stretch of Holloway near the North Library in Islington, and a small park nearby. For our kids – at the time 4 and 2 – a perfect park.

Here’s what I wrote:

(Interlude. Went to follow [Plum] in his stomping by the hill and came across a delightful Australian woman cutting grass with scissors. I tell her there’s a more effective way, but she’s snipping and bagging it for her guinea pig. “It’s lovely when it’s long. When I see it like this, I grab it, because when the council comes a long, they just butcher it.” So, not just a civic duty, then. “All the kids think I’m crazy when they see me.” But I bet their eyes just light up when you say “guinea pig”. [Beangirl] mentions Panda + Patch [guinea pigs of Edinburgh neighbours of ours] who, not being London pigs, have their own patch of grass to nibble. She asks if she can help; the woman says no. Her scissors squeak like a rodent. Do pigs squeak?)

(Found: at North Library: Usborne level 3 – Wuthering Heights, based on the novel by Emily Brontë.)

Learn something new

It’s a new year, and we’re supposed to be improving ourselves. The news tells me about studies that allow me to eat a hamburger a week whilst saving the planet and my own health. The host of the open mic at my local has been on ginger beer this January. And our national politicians have learned to put fractious party politics and petty point-scoring aside to work together for the national interest.

Uhm, anyway…

I thought I’d get enough laurels for posting my “what I’m reading” blog on schedule at the beginning of the month, but maybe I need to do better than that. I made a killer batch of Seville marmalade (what, already? Well, I didn’t force the oranges to grow so quickly. Yes, I was shocked to see them at the greengrocer already on January like the third. But since they’re there, I do.) However, that is most certainly “something old”, and resolving to make marmalade this year is like resolving to breathe. No points awarded.

Whiteboard with a weekly schema for improving courses - stats, German, and bike repairI have therefore taken it upon myself to learn something new. Even put my super duper office whiteboard to work on getting myself organised. Its job since September or so has been to hold my monthly to-do list – not the daily one that fills up scratch pads on my very cluttered desk but the medium-term deadlines that I need to actually monitor but not necessarily actually complete before I go home each day. Now, its bottom half has a new purpose: to keep track of my progress on improvements.

The first one was easy. I’d already digitally committed myself to it. Edinburgh University (my alma mater… <sigh>) has a MOOC on statistics, and I clicked the “yeah, alright” button some time in November. I in fact clicked that same button last year, much more enthusiastically. I’m a quals guy by training, and it is commensurately what I train others in as part of my job. But ignorance repays no one, and this MOOC looked like the right thing to give me some baseline familiarity. I was very enthusiastic in saying “yeah, alright” last year.

You can see where this is going. Continue reading

Muslims Like us is more Geordie Shore than a real challenge to stereotypes

Honest and proper reblogging. I wrote this piece for The Conversation, which is a news analysis site that is free to read, written by scholars all over the world. No, we’re not paid for it, but it is an extension of our research and teaching interests, so like with journal articles and whatnot, we’re already paid for what we do. This is just one way of doing it. And it’s Creative Commons licensed, so it can be used all over the place.

This article responded to a BBC programme that also aired this week. It’s right up my alley: media representations of Muslims in Britain. I took a little umbrage at the reality TV aesthetic getting credited as a documentary, but I do realise that a lot of thought went into its creation, just as it might for someone doing… er… a PhD on the topic. Can TV deliver in the same way? Read on – no spoilers. Except to note that more people watched this programme than would ever, I mean ever, read my thesis. So, choose yer poison.

Muslims Like Us is more Geordie Shore than a real challenge to stereotypes

Michael Munnik, Cardiff University

In my filter bubble, the diversity of Muslims in Britain is already a given. It certainly doesn’t merit a two-part “constructed documentary” that brings ten Muslims with a liquorice all-sorts of dispositions together in one house, complete with camera crew and a producer who asks questions periodically to provoke interesting television.

But my bubble, as 2016 keeps reminding me, is not the only bubble.

Muslims Like Us wears its social importance like an ironic t-shirt slogan: many people in Britain are still uncomfortable with Muslims, and the programme is handcrafted to challenge stereotypes and make people think again. Continue reading

Shrove Tuesday, or On the Plasticity of “Fixed” Culture