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Comment and talks


A forward motion 'No Platform' debate at Sussex University, 1-2 May 2008
Two campaigners reflect on two days spent arguing for the motion to abolish 'No Platform' at Sussex University.
Abigail Ross-Jackson, Luke Gittos

Radical Oxford Blues Oxford Radical Forum, Wadham College, Oxford, 29 February - 2 March 2008
Marx wrote in the 18th Brumaire that revolution cannot take its poetry from the past, but only from the future. The speakers at the Oxford Radical Forum too frequently ignored both the poetry of the past in contextualising the relevance of Marxism today, and the radical potential of talking seriously about the future.
Maria Grasso, George Hoare and Lee Jones

What is (Jewish) literature? 'In Praise of Diasporas', Jewish Book Week, London, 2 March 2008
Adam Thirlwell argued that, rather writing than for the reader, great writers always write against the reader, meaning that expectations based on identity or ethnicity are bound to be confounded, except perhaps in mediocre literature. Might it even be said that Jewish writing is an attempt to escape Jewishness?
Dolan Cummings

Obfuscating accountability Intelligence Squared debate:‘Britain should have a referendum on the EU Treaty’, Royal Geographical Society, London, 5 March 2008
European political elites are retreating into the EU because of the shrinking of any kind of domestic political engagement which can, one way or another, give them a political project and engagement with their societies. The broader problem is at home.
Tara McCormack

Risk and Childhood RSA, London, 31 October 2007
The stranglehold of ‘risk management’ on much of public life is perhaps even more worrying than the risk averseness that it seeks to counter. It provides the rationale for a particularly stifling policy orientation to every issue it touches.
Dave Clements

Is there a new global working class? ICA, London, 20 November 2007
The speakers at this debate all agreed that there is a new global working class in terms of rising percentage of the population and occupation. However, they disagreed as to the details, the causes of this rise, whether the new class expressed itself politically and what the future holds.
Tessa Mayes

Immigration: which way forward? America at a crossroads
Perhaps it is time to replace the rhetoric with an honest and open debate about what immigration means today - and why residents do not get the same treatment all round as citizens and, shockingly, immigrants are presented as 'illegal' because they come to work where they are needed.
Alan Miller

Compulsory voting: a smokescreen for disengagement Fabian Democracy Day, London, 8 September 2007
For the political elite today, the issue of low turnout centres not around why people do not want to vote but how they can be made to vote. I asked Fiona Mactaggart if she was comfortable with overruling people’s decision not to vote. 'I don't care about that,' she said, 'people ought to vote'.
Suzy Dean

A hot-button issue The changing politics of abortion in the USA
Interestingly, where once those who were clearly pro-choice argued their case from the point of view of women’s rights and the freedom to retain individual autonomy and control over one’s body, it seems to be increasingly the case that arguments are being reposed in therapeutic terms.
Alan Miller

Fast Food Nation The pre-cinema meal
Actually, Mickey D's burgers are a bit boring. They should put some of the fat back. They're dry and bland at the moment. I mean, it's a burger for christ's sake. The ones you get from Iceland, you know, four for a pound, they're actually surprisingly tasty.
Rob Lyons

Antony Gormley in conversation with Will Self Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, 24 July 2007
The role of the artist, Gormley believes, is to move away from drawings, towards drawing up from deep within the global hub a glowing source of light into our darkened bodies. He believes in public art because ‘art is inherently political, trying to make the world different’.
Aidan Campbell

Theoretical fix? Launch event for Reclaiming Marx’s ‘Capital’, by Andrew Kliman, SOAS, London, 6 July 2007
Blaming the contemporary distortions of Marxism on the machinations of the ‘academic Marxists’ of the 1970s is dubious enough, but to have a panel of leading ideologues effectively say ‘not me guv!’ en masse really stretches credulity.
Robin Walsh

Andrew Keen on the Cult of the Amateur ICA, London, 25 June 2007
In reality, Keen is not challenging the ‘nethusiasts’, to coin a term, on the basis of their naïve, utopian pseudo-radicalism, but rather is just lambasting the internet. In this, Keen makes the same error as his antagonists – he places far too much emphasis on the technology itself.
Alex Hochuli

Slaves to the Past Institute of Ideas debate for Museums and Galleries Month, National Portrait Gallery, London, 21 May 2007
Historical parallels are tricky beasts and in this case complicated the issue unnecessarily. It seems to me you need to get into the issue of slavery in the 19th century and get a grasp of human trafficking in the 21st century before any meaningful parallels between the two can be made.
John Dennen

From Star Wars to the Battle of Ideas Is sci-fi good for public debate?, Sci-Fi London Festival, 3 May 2007
While the panel came to no firm conclusions about the question at hand, it was clear that science fiction does not have to be mainly about science, but at its most excellent it provides an arena to engage imaginatively in the implications of science and to explore the positive and negative consequences of ideas.
John Dennen

A Night of Crime Spit-Lit Festival, London, 6 March 2007
Perhaps fiction editors need to reconsider a world beyond the bounds of literary taste, or the constraints of dubious literary theories. Because today, crime seems to be leading the field when it comes not only to reader popularity, but to exposing the skull beneath society’s thin skin.
Nicky Charlish

Is the BBC institutionally biased? ICA, London, 22 February 2007
In an era when 'left' and 'right' have less political purchase in society than ever before, it seems strange to be proclaiming that 'left-wing' as opposed to some other kind of bias, such as a preference for particular issues like the environment, crime policy or the Iraq war, dominates the BBC's output.
Tessa Mayes

The New Left and its influence ICA, London, 19 February 2007
The New Left was necessarily fragmentary, because while it promised freedom, it was just as much a flight from previous forms of radical politics, be it in some cases the Communist Party, or in others a long-held attachment to old left pieties. For all the talk of liberation, disillusion lay at its root.
Tim Black

What's Left of the Left? ICA, London, 12 February 2007
Martin Kettle and Hilary Wainwright tried to distance themselves from Nick Cohen’s extravagant militarism, but couldn’t accept Mick Hume’s point that intervention always makes matters worse both for those on the receiving end of Western militarism, and for the political culture in the metropolitan countries.
Kirk Leech

Medical Marijuana: should the sick be able to smoke? DPSFF, New York, 18 January 2007
Bob Barr stressed his larger concern was with how the government uses the War on Drugs rather like the very 'gateway' it presents drugs as - and then proceeds to make other laws which are attacks on citizens.
Alan Miller

Fabian New Year Conference: 'The Next Decade' Imperial College, London, 13 January 2007
The consensus was that if people feel no affinity with Labour policies, it is because they have not been 'sold' correctly. Political 'renewal' thus was approached in the same way one treats a pair of old shoes that have served one well up to now - give them a bit of a shine and they'll be as good as new.
Alex Hochuli

Anti-Academies Alliance conference Institute of Education, London, 25 November 2006
The simplicity of 'a good local school for every child' makes the notion particularly attractive in today's climate of parental confusion and frustration at the number of different schools supposedly on offer, when that choice is quite clearly only a façade.
Charlynne Pullen

Marxists v Feminists on education Marxism and Education: Education and Social Class, London, 25 October 2006
Whilst the intention of this conference was to discuss the relationship between education and social class, it was clear very soon that the real issue up for discussion was whether Marxists or feminists had the greatest claim to represent the Left.
Charlynne Pullen


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