In recent years, the British state has spied on law-abiding environmental activists, democratically elected politicians, victims of torture and police brutality, and hundreds of journalists. With the development of new and emerging technologies, this often lawless use of sophisticated surveillance is becoming increasingly alarming. In 2016 a law called the Investigatory Powers Act was passed in the UK, enabling the British state indiscriminately to hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population, making it the most intrusive system of any democracy in history. The prospect of a free trade agreement in mass surveillance between the UK and the US has exacerbated the situation, with the US President committed to monitoring all mosques, investigating Black Lives Matter activists, and deporting two to three million people. Silkie Carlo will discuss this critical issue with us. She is the Director of Big Brother Watch, a non-party, non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting privacy and civil liberties in the UK. She is a passionate campaigner for the protection of human rights and freedom, and after working for Edward Snowden’s official defence fund, became the Senior Advocacy Officer at Liberty, where she led a programme on Technology and Human Rights, and launched a legal challenge to the Investigatory Powers Act. She co-wrote the handbook “Information Security for Journalists” which was commissioned by the Centre for Investigative Journalism. See also article on Apple´s monopoly on free speech.
21st January 2019
Across the west, there is a rising tide of people who feel excluded, alienated from mainstream politics, and increasingly hostile towards minorities,immigrants and neo-liberal economics. Elections in America and across Europe have shown that many of these people have turned to national populist movements in a revolt against liberal democracy and the rationalism of the enlightenment. Their ideas can be seen as anti democratic and in some cases fascist, but support for this right wing populism has grown inexorably over the last five years. How should we engage with and respond to a set of ideas and values which which appear so alien to mainstream political thinking in the west in the post war decades?
Matthew Goodwin is Professor of Politics at Rutherford College, University of Kent and a Senior Visiting Fellow at Chatham House. He is the leading authority on nationalist and far right politics and has written extensively on this topic. In 2015 he won the Paddy Power Political book of the year for ‘Revolt on the Right’. His most recent book ‘National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy’is due to be published in October and signed copies will be available to purchase on the evening of his talk. He will look at the background and ideas of national populism, the challenge that it presents to western democratic systems and will suggest ways in which we should respond to that challenge.
Monday 3rd December 2018
Detention and confinement, both of combatants and large groups of civilians, have become fixtures of asymmetric wars over the course of the last century, with a huge increase in the employment of detention camps, internment centres, and the enclosure or isolation of groups of people. Laleh Khalili is professor of Middle East Politics at SOAS, and will discuss this development with us. She has written and lectured widely on the politics and political economy of war with specific focus on the Middle East, and her most recent book Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies investigates the two major liberal counterinsurgencies of our day – the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the U.S. War on Terror. She argues that although practices of incarceration have been defended by the assertion that they constitute measures to “protect” populations against violence and terrorism, liberal states have in fact consistently acted illiberally in their confinements, and that this has increasingly encouraged policymakers willingly to choose to wage wars.
19th November 2018
Japan has the third largest economy in the world by GDP and is a military power of great significance. It also has the highest life expectancy in the world and public debt which at 230 percent of its annual gross domestic product is larger than any other nation. The country’s constitution renounces the right to use military force in international disputes but in recent years governments have indicated that they wish to take a more active role in regional security particularly in view of the challenges Japan faces in its relations with China, North Korea and Russia and long standing disputes with these countries.
Christopher Hughes is Professor of International Relations at the LSE and a former Director of the Asia Research Centre. He specialises in the Asia Pacific region and has been a visiting fellow at two Japanese universities. He will talk about the current political and economic situation in Japan and the geopolitical challenges it faces in the Asia Pacific as it pursues a more interventionist foreign policy.
29th October 2018
The provision of social housing in the UK has declined dramatically in the last twenty years. This is part of a global phenomenon in which neoliberal urban policies fuelled by quantitative easing have led to social cleansing of cities, a crisis in the provision of affordable housing and a rise in homelessness.
Anna Minton author of ‘Ground Control‘ and ‘Big Capital’ is Reader in Architecture, in the School of Architecture and Visual Arts at UEL. She will talk about the crisis of social housing in the context of the impact of globally mobile capital on urban populations worldwide and the policies that are necessary to provide affordable urban housing. See Guardian articles.
1st October 2018
The four major global accountancy firms – Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG have developed into vast multinationals, showing multi-billion profits and paying huge salaries to their high-ranking staff. Their part in the 2008 financial crash effectively forgotten, they are now regarded as ‘too big to fail’, and ruthlessly exploit the financial system, encouraging tax avoidance, propping up anti-democratic movements, pushing sometimes damaging deregulation, and even infiltrating the machinery of state. By 2016, they employed 890,000 people across 150 countries, more than the five most valuable companies in the world combined. In their oldest markets, the UK and US, they are growing at over twice the rate of the countries’ economies, auditing 97% of the largest US companies, and all the UK’s top 100 corporations. Richard Brooks is an author, journalist and former tax inspector. He has twice won the Paul Foot award for campaigning journalism, and has worked closely with the BBC Panorama Team on several programmes. His new book Bean Counters: The Triumph of the Accountants and how they broke Capitalism examines the evolution and current practice of a profession that is no longer marked by financial probity, but has become an exploitative and damaging industry that reinvents global regulations for its own benefit. See article on Carillion scandal & Guardian Long Read 29 May 2018
17th September 2018
The growing lack of job security, including intermittent employment or underemployment, which has arisen from the global spread of neoliberal capitalism, has led to the emergence of a social class – the ‘precariat’ – whose lack of a reliable income leads not only to poverty and lack of time control, but also to a damaging insecurity of identity. This development has become a serious issue in the 21st century.
Guy Standing is Professorial Research Associate at SOAS, and a founder and co-President of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN). He describes the precariat as an agglomerate of several different social groups, notably immigrants, young educated people, and those who have fallen out of the old-style industrial working class, and he has been at the forefront of thought about Basic Income (a regular cash transfer from the state, received by all individual citizens) for the past thirty years. His latest book covers in authoritative detail its effects on the economy, poverty, work and labour, and dissects and disproves the standard arguments against it.
Professor Standing has held Chairs at the Universities of Bath and Monash (Australia), was previously Director of the Socio-Economic Security Programme of the International Labour Organisation, and is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. He lectures in many countries, and is the author of numerous books, including A Precariat Charter: from denizens to citizens, and most recently The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers Thrive and Work Does Not Pay (London, Biteback, 2016) and Basic Income: And How We Can Make It Happen (London, Penguin, 2017). See Guardian articles.
Monday 4th June 2018
Our global food system has serious inherent problems. Our production, distribution and consumption patterns are responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and are the main cause of deforestation, and of unsustainable use of irrigation systems. They cause soil and water pollution, and bio-diversity loss. Nor are they efficient: in a world where there are enough resources to feed the population, and 641 million adults are obese, hunger is on the rise again. Over 800 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life, and suffer from multiple forms of malnutrition. Around 9 million actually die of hunger and hunger-related diseases every year. All these issues most urgently need to be addressed.
Tara Garnett initiated and runs the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN), based at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, and is the principal investigator at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food. Her work focuses on the contribution that the food system makes to greenhouse gas emissions and the scope for emissions reduction, looking at the technological options, at what could be achieved by changes in behaviour and how policies could help promote both these approaches. She is particularly interested in the relationship between emissions reduction objectives and other social and ethical concerns, particularly human health, livelihoods, and animal welfare.
Monday 14th May
North Korea is portrayed in the media as a dangerous and irrational military power that represents the greatest current threat to world peace, with its arsenal of nuclear weapons and a stated intention to use them against the United States. In addition the North Korean state is seen as uniquely repressive driving its population to untold levels of poverty and deprivation, and heavily involved in international criminal activity. North Korea is, allegedly, a criminal state because state representatives systematically abuse diplomatic immunity to smuggle counterfeit currency, narcotics, counterfeit cigarettes, endangered species and other illicit goods across borders and state companies are manufacturing counterfeit currency, goods and narcotics in a system which is designed to enhance the personal fortunes of the leadership.
This picture obscures the fact that the North Korean state is, sadly, hardly unique and its 25 million population, whose priorities are economic survival in one of the world’s poorest countries, face complex and diverse challenges shaped, importantly, by generation, gender, occupation, social class and geographical location.
Professor Smith discusses the complex realities behind the conventional caricatures of North Korean society; identifying what we can say we know, because we have the evidence to support our knowledge claims, and what we can only guess at. Guardian article 2015. Guardian panel discussion 2017.
Professor Hazel Smith is a leading authority on North Korea and Professorial Research Associate in the Centre for Korean Studies at SOAS. She has written extensively about North Korea over many years, including her most recent book ‘North Korea: Markets and military rule’ (2015). She is regularly called on to advise governments, including the UK and the US and is a frequent broadcaster for the global media on North Korea, where she lived and worked for United Nations humanitarian organisations for two years and from where she earned a (still valid!) North Korean driving license.
Monday 30th April 2018
In a country ravaged by a war that has still not drawn to a close, the erosion of women’s rights has received little international publicity. But although in 1959 the law in Iraq was considered to be the most protective of women’s rights in the Arab countries, in 2014, the Iraqi council of ministers approved a new personal status law called Ja’afari, named after the sixth Shi’ite imam Ja’afar al-Sadiq. Many of the new Bill’s articles, including marriage at age nine, the legalisation of marital rape, and unconditional polygamy, are in breach of existing Iraqi laws, international agreements, and UN conventions on human rights, in particular those relating to women and children. If enacted, the bill will have disastrous consequences for the women of Iraq who are already suffering the devastating consequences of years of conflict, resulting in serious education, health and displacement problems.
Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi novelist, author, artist, and political activist, will discuss all these issues with us. Haifa grew up in Baghdad where she graduated at the School of pharmacy in 1974. She was imprisoned by the Baath regime, and on her release remained in Iraq to continue her studies. As a member of the PLO, she was the manager of the pharmaceutical unit, moving between Syria and Lebanon. She has written numerous books, the best known being Women on a Journey: Between Baghdad and London, and City of Widows and is also a contributor to European and Arabic publications such as The Guardian, Red pepper, Al Ahram weekly and Al Quds (weekly comment). She was a founding member of the International Association of Contemporary Iraqi Studies and a member of the advisory board of the Brussel’s Tribunal on Iraq.
Haifa Zangana – 18.45 on Monday 16th April