Salons 2015

Multiculturalism and its Discontents

Date: Monday 5 October, 6:45pm (for 7pm start) to 8:30pm

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speakers: Adrian HartPaul ThomasYunas Samad

A satellite event for the Battle of Ideas 2015*

Multiculturalism has come in for increasing criticism lately. Policies that were first posed as a solution to the racial conflicts of the 1980s have come to be seen by many as the cause of ‘myriad social ills’.

Recent comments by UKIP leader Nigel Farage in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre that multiculturalist policies ‘wilfully segregate us’ and Prime Minister David Cameron that they have encourage ‘different cultures to live separate lives’, echo those of the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, that such policies are out-dated and have legitimised ‘separateness’ between communities.

In particular, such separateness, some argue, is reflected in both the increasing disengagement of both Muslim youth and the growing attraction of ‘radical Islam’, and of sections of the white working class and the growing popularity of right-wing and anti-immigrant parties such as UKIP.

However, many would argue that not only have such policies helped make Britain a fairer and more tolerant nation, but to do away with them would risk taking Britain back 30 years - pointing to the rise of UKIP and racist incidents on social media and in sport as evidence of the ‘unwitting racism’, if not outright prejudice, that still lurks just below the surface of British society making the promotion of multiculturalism as necessary as ever.

So are the criticisms of multiculturalist policies fair? Do they threaten to re-create and reinforce a more divided Britain? Or are they still essential to delivering a fairer, more tolerant and egalitarian society? And if multiculturalist policy is a problem, what would we put in its place?

Eleanor Marx: A Life

Date: Tuesday 14 July 2015, 6:45pm (for 7pm start) to 8:30pm

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speaker: Rachel Holmes

For this year's 'Summer Salon' we welcome cultural historian Rachel Holmes to discuss her recent biography, Eleanor Marx: A Life.

Unrestrained by convention, lion-hearted and free, Eleanor Marx was an exceptional woman. Hers was the first English translation of Flaubert's Mme Bovary. She pioneered the theatre of Henrik Ibsen. She was the first woman to lead the British dock workers' and gas workers' trades unions. For years she worked tirelessly for her father, Karl Marx, as personal secretary and researcher. Later she edited many of his key political works, and laid the foundations for his biography. But foremost among her achievements was her pioneering work on 'The Woman Question'. For her, sexual equality was a necessary precondition for a just society.

Drawing strength from her family and their wide circle, including Friedrich Engels and Wilhelm Liebknecht, Eleanor Marx set out into the world to make a difference - her favourite motto: 'Go ahead!' With her closest friends - among them, Olive Schreiner, Havelock Ellis, George Bernard Shaw, Will Thorne and William Morris - she was at the epicentre of British socialism. She was also the only Marx to claim her Jewishness. But her life contained a deep sadness: she loved a faithless and dishonest man, the academic, actor and would-be playwright Edward Aveling. Yet despite the unhappiness he brought her, Eleanor Marx never wavered in her political life, ceaselessly campaigning and organising until her untimely end, which - with its letters, legacies, secrets and hidden paternity - reads in part like a novel by Wilkie Collins, and in part like the modern tragedy it was.

Rachel Holmes has gone back to original sources to tell the story of the woman who did more than any other to transform British politics in the nineteenth century, who was unafraid to live her contradictions.

Tequila Night: Is lad culture really a problem?

Date: Saturday 2 May 2015, 3:30pm to 4.30pm

Venue: Black Swan, 37 Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 7BT

Speaker: Dan Clayton, Documentary film-maker

Chair: Jack Simpson, The State of the Arts

Part of the Symposium: Live at Leeds Black Swanfringe

Leeds Salon is re-showing the documentary film, Tequila Night, exploring the debate over ‘lad culture’ and free expression in the aftermath of a controversial Tequila club promo video.  The video - dubbed a 'rape promo video' in the national media - sparked online outrage in 2013, and led to student protests, a police investigation and council licence hearing, and the eventual closure of the popular Mezz Club.

In the same year as the Tequila Night protests, Leeds University Union, along with other student unions, banned the Robin Thicke song Blurred lines and The Sun from campus as part of a clamp down on lad culture. And last year the NUS even held a conference into the issue, and has begun a national audit into lad culture on campus.

The film explores the arguments behind the protests and the police and council action, as well as the reaction of student club goers. It also raises the questions: Is lad culture really a problem? And what is behind the impulse to ban and censor in contemporary student politics?

Radicalisation & Security

Date: Monday 27 April, 6:45pm (for 7pm start) to 8:30pm

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speakers: Bill DurodieIan CramKate Wicker

Recent atrocities in Paris and Copenhagen and the sight of young Muslims travelling abroad to join jihadist groups have led to a renewed emphasis by Western governments on the need for greater security and to tackle what they see as the problem of ‘radicalisation’ - the process by which young Muslims are supposedly ‘groomed’ and get drawn into jihadist circles.

As part of the “Prevent” strategy, set up following the 7/7 London bombings, the UK government has recently passed the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill. This aims to disrupt the ability of people to travel abroad to engage in terrorist activity and increase state surveillance. It also places a duty on public bodies - including local authorities and education sector - to “prevent people being drawn into terrorism”, and targets those deemed “vulnerable” to extremism - defined as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”.

While some rightly question the civil liberties implications of such measures, as well as their practicality, a more important question is what motivates such actions in the first place? Is ‘radicalisation’ the best way to understand why a significant minority of often bright, young Muslims has developed such a powerful sense of hostility towards the societies in which they were born that they’re willing to commit terrorist acts and join Islamist groups? Or does it detract from examining a more fundamental crisis of confidence and meaning within Western societies themselves – of a failure to uphold any values worth defending?

So do simplistic narratives about ‘radicalisation’ miss the complex roots of homegrown terrorism? What should our response be to the threat posed by Islamist, and other, groups and individuals? And may the proposed solutions not just betray the very liberties that are meant to define us but promote the very fear the terrorists want?

Tea & Cake with Oscar Wilde: A Vagabond in Leeds

Date: Saturday 21 March, 3pm to 4:30pm

Venue: New Headingley Club

Speaker: Geoff Dibb

As part of the Headingley LitFest 2015

A Vagabond with a Mission gives a vivid picture of Oscar Wilde lecturing throughout Britain and Ireland on his way to becoming one of the most famous writers of the time. This is the first study of Wilde's lecture tours of Britain and Ireland. Using letters, memoirs, biographies, previously unpublished information and thousands of contemporary newspaper accounts, Geoff Dibb gives us a portrait of Wilde which we have never seen before.

Wilde lectured on important artistic and social topics of the day and he drew audiences of thousands of people. These lectures had significant implications for his artistic development and they also gave him an opportunity to re-enter the world of journalism. This book shows how Wilde began to distance himself from John Ruskin, promulgated the ideas of Walter Pater and William Morris, and famously fell out with James Whistler.

These were very important years for Wilde: he became engaged and married Constance Lloyd, he took a new home in Chelsea, became a father to two sons and was an increasingly active homosexual. Wilde travelled from Cornwall to Scotland, and from Norfolk to the west coast of Ireland, visiting almost every town of any significance in between. In particular, the book looks in detail at Wilde's visits to West Yorkshire, the North East of England, the Lake District, Scotland, Ireland and the West Midlands. “I have been,” said Wilde, “civilising the provinces by my remarkable lectures...lecturing and wandering - a vagabond with a mission!”

Big Data: Big Hope or Big Hype? 

Date: Monday 9 March, 6:45pm (for 7pm start) to 8:30pm

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speakers: Timandra HarknessMark BirkinGraeme Tiffany

In recent years, with advances in data-storage capacity and accessibility, more and more information about us is being captured and analysed by government agencies and private companies. While there is some nervousness about this, the proponents of ‘Big Data’ argue that the benefits outweigh the risks to privacy.

For example, the benefits of having huge pools of data from medical records to examine - allowing hitherto unrecognised relationships to be identified and new hypotheses to be formed - are said to be worth the risk that medical confidentiality will be breached. While we’re also told that if the police and security services have access to mobile phone, credit card and travel card data, then it will be easier to prevent crime and terrorism. However, concerns are not only raised over confidentiality, but civil liberties and political judgment.

There are fears that data may be used preemptively – leading to premature or unnecessary state intervention. Will it be harder, for example, to hold to the principle that people should be free to drink alcohol as they please if opponents have stats that seem to confirm a strong link between alcohol and violent crime? Also, the way that scientific data is used now as a replacement for political principle is already troubling. Will politicians also try to justify policies using the supposedly unimpeachable evidence of Big Data rather than political arguments?

Should we question the hype around Big Data? Is it really true that the benefits of Big Data outweigh the dangers? Should we place limits on data collection to protect individual liberties? Even in areas where data is put to benign use, could over-reliance on algorithms impede the process of human judgment? Is it time to recognise the limitations of Big Data and put the stats in their place?



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