Salons 2014

Resilience: The Governance of Complexity

Date: Monday 17 November 2014

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speaker: David Chandler

Respondents: Katy Wright & Mark Davis

Resilience has become a central concept in government policy understandings over the last decade. In our complex, global and interconnected world, resilience appears to be the policy ‘buzzword’ of choice, alleged to be the solution to a wide and ever-growing range of policy issues.

In his latest book, Resilience: The Governance of Complexity, David Chandler is concerned with precisely these questions of resilience as a governing agenda, investigating how resilience-thinking adds new insights into how politics - both domestically and internationally - is understood to work and how problems are perceived and addressed: from educational training in schools to global ethics, and from responses to shock events and natural disasters to how resilience has been discussed in the context of international policies to promote peace and development.

But can ‘resilience’ really be the policy solution to such a wide range of problems? And how does resilience-thinking reflect and influence and the way we understand the world, our relationship to it, and the possibilities of transformative change?

Hunger in the UK? The Food Banks Phenomenon

Date: Wednesday 8 October 2014

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speakers: Dave ClementsAnne DanksRichard Bridge 

Chair: Justine Brian

Battle of Ideas 2014 festival of debate satellite event

As the economic crisis has made itself felt, increasing numbers of people have resorted to food banks. According to The Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest provider of food banks, the number of parcels it has handed out has risen from 61,468 in 2010/11 to over 900,000 in 2013/14. Supporters of food banks argue that this increased uptake is a result of a steep rise in food poverty.

But if so, what has been the cause? The government’s critics argue that the rise of food banks is a consequence of changes to the benefits system, welfare reform and austerity. Indeed, statistics from the Trussell Trust seem to bear this out, with well over half of requests for emergency food coming from people affected by benefit changes, sanctions or unemployment.

However, the Department for Work and Pensions claims that the rise in food bank use is a matter not of increased need or demand but of supply - that as the number of food banks has risen sharply, so there is more opportunity to use them. A claim backed up controversially by Welfare Minister Lord Freud and former minister Edwina Currie.

The government’s own attitude to food banks is ambiguous, too. While Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, has accused the Trussell Trust of political manoeuvring and exaggeration, others in government seem to welcome food banks as a good thing - the ‘Big Society’ in action.

But is there something else going on too? Has something changed in our communities that makes some people more open today to accepting charity? And while all seem to agree that food banks don’t solve the problem of poverty, are the proposed solutions any better?  What does the increase in food banks really say about the UK’s economy and society?

What Does Authority Mean in the 21st Century?

Date: Tuesday 9 September 2014

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speaker: Frank Furedi

Critical Panel: Kim Knott & Jane Rickard

Leeds Salon Fifth-anniversary event

In the 21st Century authority appears to have become “an elusive force”. While the issue and contestation of authority has been a central concern throughout human history, today the very idea of authority seems to be viewed in an almost entirely negative light. While every contemporary scandal or crisis creates a demand for authoritative solutions, this aspiration for authoritative answers seems to coincide with a cultural sensibility that is profoundly suspicious of the exercise of authority. In fact, it appears that we have become far more comfortable questioning authority than with affirming it.

But is today’s constant questioning of authority really such a bad thing?  After all modernity was born in revolt against authority, manifest in church and state. And it was through the questioning of traditional authority and moral norms that people gained greater freedom and autonomy over their own lives. So today when powerful institutions and individuals are constantly “exposed”, or their motives constantly questioned, isn’t this just a positive continuation of past struggles against the corrupt and arbitrary use of power?

Yet while historically the questioning of authority was always linked with a desire for freedom, the current demise of the status of authority has not been paralleled by a greater cultural affirmation for freedom or for the autonomous individual. Instead the opposite seems to have occurred. As western elites struggle to appear authoritative and gain public trust, they have created more laws and bureaucratic rules to regulate everyday life. However, does this regulation actually exacerbate the problems of authority, as well as undermine the freedom and autonomy we have traditionally fought against those in power for? And what is the relationship between freedom and authority anyway: are they antithetical, or is the erosion of authority and autonomy mutually reinforcing?

World War I: Origins, and Warnings for the 21stCentury 

Date: Tuesday 17 June 2014

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Room 1

Speaker: James Woudhuysen

The origins of the First World War are variously attributed to the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, the complex system of international alliances that developed before 1914, the way in which Germany's Schlieffen Plan depended on its army sticking to strict railway timetables, or the unreadiness of old dynasties to move with the times.

In fact, James will argue, it was the very 2014 phenomenon of Foreign Direct Investment that, before 1914, bound all the eventual participants in the conflict into a system of long-run, spiralling tensions.

Today's commentators on the First World War often miss three other forces that mediated and accelerated the catastrophe.

First, Britain's newly privatised military-industrial complex - the forerunner of GCHQ today - heightened frictions with Germany, even if it didn't cause them.

Second, the Entente between Britain and France was based on fear not just of Germany, but of losing colonies everywhere. The First World War was, in tendency at least, a global war. It was as much about Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America as it was about Verdun, or America's eventually decisive role in Germany's defeat.

Third, class relations before, during and after the war were much more polarised than they are today. The 'social question' was key to the very fate both of Russia, and of Germany. In the final stages of the war and after it, France, Italy, the US and even Britain encountered significant strikes and militant class struggles.

Today, some see the US guarantee of Japan’s security against China as the potential trigger for a dangerously titanic conflict. In this scheme, a rising China today is analogous to an ascendant Germany before the First World War. The re-emergence of Russia as a world power, two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, also suggests parallels with developments 100 years ago.

It may however not be accurate to see contemporary conflicts in the East and South China Seas, and nearby, through the lens of 1914. Nor may it be helpful to view Myanmar as a new Serbia.

In this talk, James will explore the parallels and the differences between 1914 in Europe and 2014 in East Asia. He will ask whether a 'pointless' war over the Senkaku Islands might in fact emerge as the extension, by other means, of today's anxious, precautionary politics.

Tequila Night: Has Lad Culture Gone Too Far? 

Date: Tuesday 20 May 2014

Venue: HEART Centre, Shire Oak Room

Panel: Neil Walshaw (Labour Councillor), Georgia Greenfield (SARSVL), Dan Clayton (Film Maker)

As part of the Headingley Festival of Ideas 2014 Leeds Salon premiers a short documentary, followed by a discussion, examining the recent high-profile campaign by Leeds' students against 'Tequila Night' at the Mezz Club

The 1990s saw the rise in 'lads mags', lap dancing clubs, and the boom of on-line porn, leading to the creation of what has become known as 'lad culture'. Students have created popular websites such as 'Uni Lad' and 'Lad Bible' which focus on sex, drinking, football and 'being a lad'.

Lad culture has been blamed for promoting a sexist and degrading attitude to women, leading to sexual assault and harassment, and being a barrier to healthy relationships between the sexes.

In response, the last decade has seen the formation of activist groups such as Object and Feminista, who have run high profile campaigns such as 'Lose the Lads Mags' and 'No More Page Three', backed by student unions and the NUS, which has commissioned a report into lad culture.

Student theme parties, pub crawls, and club nights have also sparked outrage and captured media attention. In Leeds, a promotional video for 'Violate a Fresher' night at Mezz Club led to outrage on-line. TequilaUK, the club promoter, was accused of promoting sexual violence against women. Student protests calling for Mezz Club to stop hosting Tequila Night led to a police investigation and a licence hearing.

This documentary examines the campaign against Tequila Night and features the views of those involved in the campaign, as well as Leeds students about their experiences of Tequila Night and asks: is there a problem with 'lad culture'?

The European Union and the End of Politics 

Date: Monday 31 March 2014

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speaker: James Heartfield

Critical Panel: Simon Lightfoot & Jim Buller

Europe is in crisis, but the European Union seems to go from strength to strength. While some see it as positive that the Eurozone crisis has “strengthened the original case for Europe – as a means of keeping the peace”, especially with the rise of far-right parties, others argue it further exposes the “democratic deficit” at the heart of the European Project. So far, the budget crisis has not only ended up with the “eurocrats” grabbing new powers to dictate terms to country that default on their debts, but also resulted in the elected government of Greece and Italy being replaced with EU officials in what has been termed a “soft coup”.

The growing power of the EU is often interpreted by its critics as due to simply the rise of a powerful EU elite in Brussels bent on a federal Europe and colonising national political life.  However, according to James Heartfield, the forward march of the European Union has been widely misunderstood. Rather than the EU being driven by grand visions of a “United States of Europe”, it is driven more by the decline in political participation within the leading European nation states themselves.

Without political contestation national parliaments have become empty shells. Where once elites drew authority from their own people, today they draw authority from the European Union, and other international summits. And as national sovereignty is hollowed out, technocratic administration from Brussels have filled the void; allowing Europe’s political elite to conduct increasing areas of policy free from democratic accountability. But is the European project inherently anti-democratic? Or are objections to the EU mainly driven by prejudice, and the very nationalism it was founded to overcome? And what is the alternative: is it possible to be anti-EU but pro-European?



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