300 episodes

Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

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    • Society & Culture

Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

    Classics and class

    Classics and class

    The classics have never been solely the preserve of the British intellectual elite, according to the classicist Edith Hall. In A People’s History of Classics, Hall and her co-writer Henry Stead examine the working class experience of classical culture from the Bill of Rights in 1689 to the outbreak of World War II. This history challenges assumptions about the elitism surrounding the study of ancient Greeks and Romans, and Hall hopes it will expand the debate around the future of classical education for all.

    An understanding of the classics could also help people reinvigorate cynicism: from the jaded negativity of today, back to its initial idea of fearless speech. In his latest book, Ansgar Allen, returns to the Greek Cynics of the 4th century BCE, a small band of eccentrics who practised an improvised philosophy that challenged all social norms and scandalised their contemporaries. In the centuries that followed this exacting philosophy was hugely watered down. Today’s cynics, who lack social and political convictions, would be barely recognisable to their bold and shameless forefathers.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 28 min
    Richard Ford, writing from the edges

    Richard Ford, writing from the edges

    The prize winning writer Richard Ford talks to Andrew Marr about his latest collection of short stories, Sorry for Your Trouble. Irish America is Ford’s landscape, and his characters contemplate ageing, grief, love and marriage: ‘great moments in small lives’. Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi and has spent many years living in New Orleans – his characters, like himself, live far from the political centre of America.

    Professor of 19th Century Literature and Thought, Ruth Livesey, is also interested in life away from the centre in her study of provincialism in Britain. Condescension towards small town life can be traced back to the Victorian period. But the writer George Eliot, who spent her early life in Nuneaton in the Midlands, argued that ‘‘art had a responsibility to show a provincial life could be just as full of insight and moral courage as one on the great world stage.’

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 28 min
    Art in an emergency

    Art in an emergency

    The writer Olivia Laing has long used art to make sense of the world. Over the last five years she has written a series of essays using art and artists to understand different political crises and emergencies around the globe. She tells Tom Sutcliffe how art can help to change the way people see the world, and how it can be a force for resistance and repair. In a new collection , Funny Weather, Laing presents her own idiosyncratic guide to staying sane during the current coronavirus pandemic.

    The novelist James Meek set his last book, To Calais, In Ordinary Times, in 1348 as the Black Death swept into England from Northern Europe. In his medieval universe, aspects of society that had once appeared fixed and natural – faith, class and gender – are upended and challenged, as the plague destroys more than just lives. Meek looks to see if such cataclysmic moments of human history have any lessons for us today.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 28 min
    Globalisation

    Globalisation

    Andrew Marr discusses the origins and growth of globalisation, and the impact of the coronavirus on the global world order with Valerie Hansen and Gideon Rachman.

    In her latest book, The Year 1000, the historian Valerie Hansen challenges the idea that globalisation began in 1492, the year Columbus discovered America. She argues that it was 500 years earlier when for the first time new trade routes linked the entire globe. New archaeological finds show how goods and people travelled far and wide from this earlier period, marking the beginning of an era of exploration, trade and exploitation.

    The last 500 years or more has seen an explosion in global interactions, with a huge growth in multi-national companies, as well as international trade, ideas and culture. But the economist Gideon Rachman says today’s worldwide pandemic has seen the nation state making a comeback. The emergency has revealed the fragility of global supply chains and increased demand for local production and tougher border controls. Rachman also believes that the geopolitical effects of the coronavirus on the world order will linger long after travel restrictions have been lifted.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 28 min
    Changing behaviour, from bystander to actor

    Changing behaviour, from bystander to actor

    Why do some people get involved while others stand by looking on? What makes people act for the sake of others? Kirsty Wark discusses the psychology of behaviour with Catherine Sanderson and David Halpern.

    In the Bystander Effect, Catherine Sanderson argues that the question of why some people act badly while others are heroic is not simply about good and bad. Our brains are hard-wired to conform and to avoid social embarrassment. But there are practical measures that can help create a sense of personal responsibility, turning a silent bystander into a model of action.

    The psychologist David Halpern is also interested in how to change behaviour. He is advising the UK Government on its response to the coronavirus pandemic, focusing on how to get the public to adopt new social norms, including increased hand-washing and social distancing. Halpern is the Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, unofficially known as The Nudge Unit.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 28 min
    Crisis in Europe from Notre-Dame to coronavirus

    Crisis in Europe from Notre-Dame to coronavirus

    A year ago French people looked on with horror as the great Notre-Dame went up in flames. The journalist Agnès Poirier tells Andrew Marr that the cathedral with its 800 year history represents the soul of the nation. Even before the fire was out President Macron was promising that it would be rebuilt. But in Notre-Dame: The Soul of France, Poirier recounts how its current reconstruction has been mired in controversy – political, social, artistic and religious. Poirier also looks at how the French government and people have reacted to the coronavirus pandemic.

    In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s government has been voted sweeping new powers to rule by decree for an indefinite period, to deal with the coronavirus crisis. The academic Martyn Rady is keeping a keen eye on how different countries in Central Europe respond. He argues that the region has been shaped by the formidable power and influence of the Habsburg dynasty. In his latest book, The Habsburgs: The Rise and Fall of a World Power, Rady shows how from modest origins in the 9th century the family soon gained control of the Holy Roman Empire, stretching from Spain to Hungary and beyond.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 28 min

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