Salons 2011

Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder

Date: 12 December 2011

Venue: The Carriageworks, Millenium Room

Speaker: Rob Lyons

Critical Panel: Ursula PhilpottJo Barcroft and Nick Copland

The availability, range, cost and quality of food in Western societies have never been more favourable, yet food is also the focus of a great deal of anxiety. There are concerns that our current diets will mean we will get steadily fatter and more unhealthy while consuming junk food', with consequences for our quality of life, our children's behaviour and even the environment.

Rob Lyons' new book, Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder challenges these ideas and places the food debate in a wider context.

As the political imagination and the scope of social policy have narrowed, the focus on the personal and corporeal has filled this gap, creating an inward, individualised perspective that breeds a personal sense of vulnerability and distracts from issues of broader social importance. The book also examines the current use of food as metaphor the way that bad food and obesity, for example, have become code words for an elite disdain for the masses, implicitly promoting the idea that the consequences of poverty are the fault of the poor, and that a solution to the problems of social inequality lies in the consumption of five fruit and veg a day.

The author also discusses how health fears around food are used as a lever for greater official control of our everyday lives, from lunchbox inspections and school food crusades, to endless media health advice and scientifically-dubious healthy labelling initiatives. The upshot of these connected trends is misplaced anxiety and wasted effort fixing what, for the most part, does not need to be fixed. Our modern food system allows us to be healthier than ever before, while transforming food from fuel into a source of entertainment, pleasure and choice. 

Big Society: A Clean-up for the Charity Sector?

Date: Saturday 26 November

Venue: University of Leeds Union Building

Speaker: Dave ClementsRichard JacksonSteve Crocker and Maurice Glasman

Part of The Leeds Summat Gathering, organised by Together for Peace.

The Big Society is the Conservative Party’s flagship policy, designed to ‘fix Britain’s broken society’. The aim is to roll back ‘big government’ and ‘empower’ and ‘activate’ citizens and local communities to solve problems for themselves, and even run local amenities. Through the Big Society, public services are to be delivered ‘cheaper … while bringing communities together’, while the state itself assumes ‘a new role as an agitator for social renewal’.

Crucial to the Big Society agenda is the role of the voluntary and community sector. According to a source close to Cameron during its re-launch in February this year, ‘the Big Society is about personal morals, in terms of charities and volunteering’. Amongst its proposals are to train up to 5,000 community organisers to inspire and encourage people to volunteer and get involved in a wide range of community activities, and to create a National Citizen Service for 16 year olds to ‘make a difference in their community’. But two years on – and, in particular, post the August riots - where is the Big Society agenda now? And what is the role of the charity sector?

Does the Big Society represent a challenge to ‘big government’ and freeing people from an overweening state; or rather a new rationale for state-led activity into local communities and family life? Is it, as a recent Leeds-based report states, a ‘real opportunity … for the voluntary and community sector to take a lead in developing creative solution to local needs’? Or does it risk compromising their independence, their purpose, and very spirit of voluntarism itself? And can and should charities the voluntary sector even be running public services at a time of public spending cuts?

Post the August riots, the Big Society rhetoric of empowerment and solidarity seems especially appealing. But what does it mean and who will it really empower: citizens and communities, or ‘platoons’ of government ‘volunteers’ who will decide what’s in their interests? The clean-up campaigns that emerged in the aftermath seemed to suggest that the decline of community was overstated. But did the riots also bring into doubt the notion that people need official support and volunteering schemes to get involved in the Big Society? Or did the response of so-called vigilantes defending their neighbourhoods suggest that we're not to be trusted after all? 

The Olympics, Doping and the Meaning of Sport: Performance enhancement technologies and the changing boundaries of human nature 

Date: Wednesday 5 October 2011

Venue: The Carriageworks, Millennium Room

Speakers: Dr David JamesProfessor Andy Miahand Professor Jim Parry

This event is a Battle of Ideas 'battle satellite' event

With only a few months remaining before the London 2012 Olympic Games, British athletes are preparing hard in pursuit of a record haul of medals. To help them better the 47 won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, an army of coaches, doctors and psychologists is at hand, along with a thriving sports technology industry, all backed by an unprecedented level of public and private investment.

National ambitions aside, we all want to see exceptional performances from the world's best athletes, such as Usain Bolt’s record-smashing sprints. Yet sometimes we are uneasy when athletes shatter old records, fearing it is artificial aids, and not the athlete’s individual effort, that accounts for the achievement. We seem to be hanging in a precarious balance between expecting a superhuman performance and fearing the crossing of nature’s boundaries.

When particular technologies have been 'too successful', such as Graeme Obree’s bicycle and riding position, or polyurethane-coated swimsuits, they have been banned for giving an unfair advantage. Some, like Rebecca Adlington refused to use the new swimsuits for ethical reasons even before they were banned, claiming they are a form of ‘technological doping’. And with such high stakes to play for and constant advances in medicine, the temptation of actual chemical doping looms as large as ever, and it is hard to demarcate precisely the line between legitimate medical treatment and unfair artificial advantage.

Many take such a hard line against doping, calling for life bans from the Olympics for athletes like Dwain Chambers, who has long served his sentence. Others point out that sport is a very unnatural pursuit, and the intensity of training and competition has become such that no doping techniques are as dangerous for the athlete’s body as the sport itself, many ‘doping’ techniques being necessary to restore the athletes’ body to a healthy state. Some argue that, as enhancement technologies become part of everyday life and the line between medicine and body enhancement is blurred, it will become increasingly difficult to keep them out of sport. They believe we should allow all sorts of enhancement technologies provided they are safe.

So where should we draw the line between the artificial and the natural in sport, between effective sports equipment and ‘technological doping’, between legitimate medical therapies and illegitimate, performance enhancement treatments, between the struggle to excel and the need to have fair and balanced competition, between the urge to go beyond the boundaries of human nature and the fear of losing our humanity? 

Sylvia Pankhurst, Everything is Possible

Date: Thursday 29 September 2011

Venue: The Carriageworks, Room 1

Leeds Salon is showing a documentary by the charity WORLDwrite about suffragette and revolutionary Sylvia Pankhurst, followed by a short discussion of the film.

In feature length essay form, Sylvia Pankhurst, Everything is Possible traces Sylvia Pankhurst's ideas, campaigns and political life. Researched and filmed by over 100 volunteers, the film is packed with facts from primary sources, rare images from museums and archives, interviews with historians and compelling testimony from Sylvia's son Richard Pankhurst and his wife Rita.

Sylvia was imprisoned more than any other suffragette for her tireless campaigning and unlike her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel, who dropped the fight for votes for women to support the war effort, Sylvia refused to sacrifice the fight for universal suffrage until it was won. Her opposition to the war and her internationalism were and remain exemplary and her bravery in fighting for equality and opposing all misanthropic trends puts her, as one interviewee says, "up there with the angels". 

Should Art be Judged or Measured?

Date: Saturday 24 September 2011

Venue: The Carriageworks, Millenium Room

Speakers: Tiffany JenkinsDavid O’BrienJavier StanziolaPaul Taylor

LIPPfest 2011 event

At a time of scarce resources the arts sector finds itself obliged to make a better and better case for public funding. Under pressure from policymakers, and unsure about aesthetic judgment, arts organisations are increasingly justifying what they do in terms of socio-economic impact rather than artistic quality. Economic and statistical methods — such as Social Return on Investment, and surveys asking the general public to place a monetary value on arts exhibitions and events — are used to measure the value of the arts.

Some in the arts sector accuse the government of philistinism and point out it is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the value of art objects and performances in terms of monetary or social benefits. For them, culture should be judged, not measured, however difficult and controversial the attempt to find public agreement on the quality of artistic products.

Policymakers retort that aesthetic judgment is elitist in that it relies on experts in ‘high art’ who impose their personal preferences on the wider public. Measuring the socio-economic value of the arts relies instead on more objective and democratic criteria. The arts sector, they maintain, would be better off if it understood the need for government to allocate public funds following a democratic, transparent and impartial process.

Should we judge or measure the arts? Is it possible to reach public agreement on the quality of artistic production through aesthetic judgment or does it necessarily mean imposing the values of a cultural elite on to the wider public? Is it possible or desirable to measure the socio-economic impact of the arts? Is this a more democratic, transparent and objective process? 

QUANTUM: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality

Date: Wednesday 13 July 2011 

Venue: Blackwell’s Bookshop (opposite Leeds University)

Speaker: Manjit Kumar (author QUANTUM: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality.)

Quantum theory looks at the very building blocks of our world, the particles and processes without which it could not exist. Yet for 60 years most physicists believed that quantum theory denied the very existence of reality itself. In this tour de force of science history, Manjit Kumar shows how the golden age of physics ignited the greatest intellectual debate of the twentieth century.

While Quantum sets the science in the context of the great upheavals of the modern age, Kumar's centrepiece is the conflict between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr over the nature of reality and the soul of science. 'Bohr brainwashed a whole generation of physicists into believing that the problem had been solved', lamented Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann. But in Quantum, Kumar brings Einstein back to the centre of the quantum debate.

Quantum is the essential read for anyone fascinated by this complex and thrilling story by the band of brilliant men at its heart. 

Valuing the Arts in an Age of Austerity

Date: Wednesday 22 June 2011

Venue: The Carriageworks, Millennium Room 

Speaker: Angus KennedyAdam Ogilvie and Andy Abbott.

Part of the Emerge Leeds Festival 2011

With the current economic crisis and widespread cuts in public spending budgets, things are even more financially precarious for the arts than usual; and many have been forced to reappraise how they argue the case for funding.

The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) is investigating techniques to assess the economic value of the arts — what it terms non-market goods — in terms of what people feel they would be willing to pay if they were not free.

The February 2011 Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) pamphlet, Arts Funding, Austerity and the Big Society: Remaking the case for the arts, states: "The Commission on 2020 Public Services at the RSA has called for more public investment to be evaluated in terms of a ‘social productivity test’: whether it builds individual and community engagement, resilience and reciprocity."

The pamphlet attempts a bold response to the challenge presented by the funding cuts, but is there something wanting in the solutions offered?

This discussion aims to challenge the participation approach of chasing audiences, in favour of more compelling reasons why the arts should receive public funding, and ask some difficult questions such as: how should we value the arts? Are the arts a luxury or a necessity? Do they have intrinsic value or are they best assessed in terms of outcome and impact? Does what the public think they want or like matter or should we fund the arts regardless? Do the arts even need or deserve public funding at all? 

Claire Fox on the Politics of Happiness

Date: Thursday 5 May 2011

Venue: The Carriageworks, Millennium Room

Speaker: Claire Fox (Director, Institute of Ideas and panellist on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze)

In April 2011, the Office for National Statistics started measuring 'happiness'. The decision of the coalition government to create a 'happiness index' follows increasing debate about whether governments should concern themselves with our happiness, as well as criticism of the narrow focus on measures of economic output (such as Gross Domestic Product) as a measure of national success.

In 2005, New Labour’s 'Happiness Tsar', Lord Layard, argued that "Happiness should become the goal of policy, and the progress of national happiness should be measured". Layard and others cite the ‘Easterlin Paradox’ — while we may have got richer year by year, we haven’t got any happier — in support of their stance that governments need to develop policy goals more orientated towards the achievement of happiness. As such, the aim, for Prime Minister David Cameron and the coalition government, is to address happiness and wellbeing as part of its economic policy.

But while few would deny the desirability of happiness, it doesn’t necessarily follow that its promotion should be the concern of government. Can and should the aim government be to promote happiness? Indeed, can this even be measured? Could a government really be an expert on what makes us happy? Or are individuals entirely responsible for their own happiness? Should happiness even be the point of life anyway — or might a focus on happiness as an end devalue choices that may be discomforting, but worthwhile, such as hard work, sacrifice, struggling to better oneself and/or society? 

Poetry and the Tyranny of Relevance

Date: Monday 4 April 2011

Venue: Bank Street Arts, Sheffield

Speakers: Michael SchmidtGeorge SzirtesMichele Ledda & Chair: David Bowden

To celebrate 25 years devoted to the promotion of poetry, the Poetry Business will invite the audience to debate these questions with a panel of teachers, poets, and literary critics.

The appointment of Carol Ann Duffy – well known from her place on the curriculum - as Laureate and the controversies over the next Oxford Professor of Poetry have kept the sullen art in the headlines. Christopher Reid picked up the 2009 Costa Book of the Year for his collection, while Bright Star saw John Keats join Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg and Sylvia Plath as recent stars of the big screen. Poetry performances are increasingly popular at music festivals and at gigs, and pop stars such as Mike Scott (of Waterboys fame) and Rufus Wainwright have even recorded musical interpretations of W.B. Yeats and Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Yet it increasingly feels as if poetry’s renaissance is built on a constant rebranding of its relevance to our daily lives. Last year Andrew Motion accused Britain’s schools of patronising students by failing to challenge them with poetry which wasn’t “a poem about football for a football loving boy, a rap for a fan of Eminem, and so on”. Yet he himself famously wrote a ‘Birthday Rap’ for Prince William. Similarly whilst many others praise the therapeutic qualities of poetry in helping us cope with the stresses of the hectic, 24-7 modern world but recoil when poems such as Duffy’s ‘Education for Leisure’ have an apparently more disturbing message.

Where can you draw a line between opening up difficult and complex works of literature to an unfamiliar audience, and being patronising? Is seeking relevance a response to the challenge to ‘make it new’ for another generation, or can it risk losing some of the original value and meaning? In a climate where so much of academia and education is encouraged to demonstrate its impact, can or should poetry justify itself? What is poetry for and how should it be taught? 

The Middle East Uprising: Why now? What next?

Date: Wednesday 16 March 2011

Venue: Old Broadcasting House, Woodhouse Lane, Leeds

Speaker: Karl Sharro

The events in Egypt have come as a surprise to most, with even President Obama questioning US intelligence agencies’ failure to predict the uprisings in the Arab world. The drive behind the January 25 revolt is a genuinely popular democratic movement, but its outcome is still unclear. Who are the main players determining events – the military, the Muslim Brotherhood, young protesters, workers, the elite? And how should we characterise what Twitter calls #Jan25 in the absence of obvious leadership of the movement?

The uprising seems also to put paid to the idea that democracy is exclusively Western, and not a universal aspiration. Yet the reaction from Western elites has been ambivalent at best: can Egyptians bring about a ‘stable democracy’? Fears about an Islamist takeover are voiced as much by Westerners as by President Mubarak. What do we make of calls from foreign ministries for an ‘orderly transition’, especially in light of Western powers’ history in the region? What does the revolt mean for the balance of power in the region, and for American hegemony? 

What is the future of Leeds?

Date: Wednesday 23 February 2011 

Venue: West Yorkshire Playhouse, Congreve Room

Speakers: Irena Bauman, Neil Owen, Martin Dean, Rachael Unsworth

After two decades of growth and change, Leeds is now at something of a crossroads, in search of direction and identity. While other northern cities have had massive investment and public attention as ‘cities of culture’, hosting international athletic events, and the building or renovation of iconic buildings as national cultural venues, Leeds seems to have been left behind. Development and regeneration seemed to have stuttered even before the recession hit.

So where does Leeds go now, and how does it move forward? Does Leeds have anything unique to offer? Is the answer more of what it does already: attracting financial services and promoting itself as Yorkshire’s premier shopping destination? Or could Leeds be the economic hub driving the future success of a huge city-region and attracting new and innovative industries? And what about the arts and culture? Does Leeds have the facilities and resources to attract cultural entrepreneurs, creators and innovators? And how does Leeds keep and promote its own creative talent?

What will, or how will, Leeds define itself as a city in the 21st century? How could it be the great regional capital it aspires to be? And, ultimately, what makes and defines a city? 



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