Salons 2016

Does a 'Culture of Conformity' Threaten Academic Freedom?

Date: Tuesday 11 October 2016

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speaker: Joanna Williams

Critical Panellist: Nick Emmel

A satellite event for the Battle of Ideas 2016

There are numerous threats to academic freedom in higher education today: from the government’s Prevent Strategy to the increasing marketization of education. However, for Joanna Williams, author of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity: Confronting the Fear of Knowledge (2016) the biggest threat to academic freedom is an increasingly stifling culture of conformity that is restricting individual academics, the freedom of academic thought and the progress of knowledge – the very foundations upon which universities are built.

Once, scholars demanded academic freedom to critique existing knowledge and to pursue new truths. Today, while fondness for the rhetoric of academic freedom remains, it is increasingly criticised by students and academics alike as an outdated and elitist concept used the further the view of the already powerful, and called into question by a number of political and intellectual trends such as feminism, critical theory and identity politics.

Joanna argues that a challenge to this culture of conformity, and a defence of academic free speech, are needed for critique and the pursuit of knowledge to be possible and meaningful. But shouldn’t there be limits to academic free speech, as there are in wider society? Or should students and staff have no protection from controversial or potentially sensitive material? Is academic freedom really an outdated concept or an elitist privilege?

Brexit: What Next For The UK?

Date: Wednesday 20 July 2016

Venue: Carriageworks Theartre, Room 1

Speaker: Claire Fox

Over seventeen million people voted to leave the EU on 23rd June, making it the biggest democratic mandate in British history. Yet there’s clear unease amongst many about what this means, what happens next, or if the referendum should stand.

On the Remain side, many are claiming that the people were fooled by the “lies” of the Brexit camp, and are looking to overturn the result. Millions have signed a petition urging a second referendum; some MP’s want a parliamentary vote on the result; others threaten the vote with lawyers and bureaucratic challenges. Meanwhile, on the Leave side, after being urged to vote, many are now angry with the way in which they have been castigated and criticized by some Remainers as ignorant or xenophobic. Worse, they fear their vote will be fudged, if not overturned, and have also signed a petition calling for Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to be enacted immediately, triggering the process of leaving the EU.

This is the most important moment in British politics for decades. It should be a moment that feels pregnant with possibilities. And yet many feel scared — genuinely scared – both of the consequences of the Brexit vote, and the implications for democracy if that vote is not implemented. How should we interpret the vote for Brexit? And what should happen next? 

Traveling for a Change? The Merits of Ethical Tourism 

Date: Wednesday 15 June 2016

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Panel: Jim ButcherDavina StanfordSimon Woodward 

From the 1960’s, tourism was encouraged as an unquestionable good. With the arrival of package holidays and charter flights, tourism could at last be enjoyed by the masses. The UN even declared 1967 ‘International Years of the Tourist’, and recognised tourism as ‘a basic and most desirable human activity, deserving the praise and encouragement of all people’s and all governments’.

Today, however, tourism is no longer seen in such a positive light. Since the 1990’s there’s been growing criticism of the tourist industry, and tourists themselves. Mass tourism is deemed to have wrought damage to the environment and host societies, while many tourists are seen as caring little for the countries they travel to. To remedy this, new forms of tourism have developed that proclaim themselves to be ‘ethical’ or ‘responsible; that can help make a positive difference to the world, or at least minimise our negative impact.

However, in recent years responsible tourism has also face criticism. On the one hand, ethical tourists are often regarded as naïve, patronising and more interested in salving their own guilty Western consciences than genuinely helping people. On the other, some argue that such tourism constitutes a burden that actually hinders progress and development in countries that need it the most. It is also claimed that, while such tourism may have the language of responsibility, it is really about restricting travel for the masses and keeping it for the privileged ‘ethical’ few.

So is tourism an innocent pleasure, or is there a need to curb the excesses of the holiday industry, and even holiday makers themselves? Should holidays be solely about enjoyment, or do we have a responsibility to the places we visit to ‘tread lightly’ or even ‘put something back’? What is ‘ethical tourism’ and who does it benefit?

Who Benefits from the ‘Vulnerability Zeitgeist’?

Date: Monday 9 May 2016

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speaker: Kate Brown

Critical Panellist: Ken McLaughlin 

The concept of ‘vulnerability’ is becoming increasingly popular as a way of describing people who need or ‘deserve’ special care and attention. The term is applied to widening sections of the population, often to justify more intervention from the state. Such intervention may seem supportive in nature, but can also have controlling or paternalistic undertones. With social policies increasingly aimed at addressing the vulnerabilities of certain group or populations, what are the implications of this?

The University of York’s Kate Brown argues in her new book Vulnerability and Young People: Care and social control in policy and practice that we should pay more attention to how vulnerability is discussed, defined and addressed in society. In this salon Kate will discuss her research into lived experiences of vulnerability, bringing this together with academic and practical applications of the concept in order to explore the repercussions of a 'vulnerability zeitgeist' in UK policy and practice.

Through a focus on the voices and perspectives of 'vulnerable' young people and professionals who support them, she questions how far the rise of vulnerability serves the interests of the most disadvantaged citizens. Ultimately, who benefits from the ‘vulnerability zeitgeist’?

What Welfare State Do We Want?

Date: Monday 4 April 2016

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Room 1

Speakers: Ruth PatrickAndrew Dunn 

Once celebrated as a keystone of post-war Britain, the welfare state is today accused of fostering a ‘dependency culture’ that traps people on benefits and encourages ‘intergenerational worklessness’. Successive governments have sought to address this through a broad programme of welfare reform, including changes to welfare-to-work schemes, cuts in the real value of many benefits, and increasing conditions placed on the receipt of welfare. However, is this the best way of tackling the problem? And is the discussion about ‘welfare dependency’ entirely the right one?

The original notion of welfare was as a ‘safety net’ to help people cope with hardship, and return them to a situation of independence as soon as possible. In other words, it was premised on a view of people as capable. Today, however, out-of-work welfare provision seems to start from either an assumption of general incapacity, or that claimants are passive dependents who require tough measures to get them back to work. But does the notion of ‘dependency’, and widely held assumptions about welfare claimants cynically manipulating the system, actually miss the extent to which individuals have been encouraged to view themselves as in need of state assistance, as well as the realities of unemployment and poverty?

Shouldn’t the welfare system simply help people to live as independently as possible, rather than impose conditions on those claiming benefits and blame them for their predicament? Or is there a moral imperative to reform welfare? And, if so, how do we protect those who are genuinely dependent and in need of state support? Ultimately, what kinds of social provision do we want in society?

Is 'Rape Culture' a Dangerous Myth?

Date: Wednesday 2 March 2016

Venue: Carriageworks Theatre, Millennium Room

Speaker: Luke Gittos

Critical Panellists: Kate BrownHannah Bows

Today it is often said that we live in a 'rape culture'. Panicked headlines tell us that rape is on the increase and that the police are failing to deal with it. Our courts are said to be incapable of delivering justice in rape cases, with the rate of convictions remaining consistently low. Sexism and misogyny in wider society have created a culture in which rape is pervasive, under-reported and often ignored by an uncaring public.

But in his controversial new book Luke Gittos argues that not only are these claims built on myths and misunderstandings, but that the belief in a rape culture is seriously distorting our discussion of sexual violence. For Gittos the laws around rape have expanded significantly in recent decades, giving the state a far greater say in the most intimate areas of our lives. The drive to prosecute more and more people has damaging implications for our legal rights and basic freedoms and our ability to live intimately with one another.



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