The Science of Motivation and its role in changing our lives

What convictions and desires form our choices, and motivate us to take action, personal, professional and political? What incentives, arguments or punishments might cause our decisions and behaviour to change? And where does the role of morality and identity lie in the process of motivating others to alter their views and judgements? These are crucial questions in a world in which we are subject to an overwhelming stream of information and persuasion, and where there is little time for reflection about how we should respond. Robert West is Professor of Health Psychology at University College London and an Associate of UCL’s Centre for Behaviour Change. He is Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal Addiction, and has published more than 800 scholarly works including books on behaviour change and addiction. His most recent book Energise: the Secrets of Motivation, was published last year, and was written in collaboration with his son Jamie West, a writer and musician.

17th February 2020


Voices of Resistance in the Gig Economy

One of the huge changes in today’s employment structure is the rapidly growing number of workers engaged in casual and precarious work within the so-called ‘gig economy’, a term applied increasingly in differentiated circumstances worldwide but also specifically to those who depend for their pay on insecure working arrangements which provide no benefits or protection: no holiday, sick pay, parental leave, pension rights or guarantee of job security. Millions of workers, from pizza deliverers and call centre operators to those engaged in limited forms of self-employment in traditional companies or outsourced public services find themselves without unions or other organisations to protect them from routine exploitation, the pressure of loss of work, or the proliferation of surveillance and control. But battles and strategies to unionise, organise and resist both physical and mental isolation and the ever-looming threat of work degradation in a global economy has grown and developed. Jamie Woodcock, is a senior lecturer at the Open University, where his research has focused on digital labour, the gig economy, and resistance, and he is currently involved in the Fairwork Foundation, a project about online labour platforms. He worked undercover in a call centre to gather insights into the everyday experiences of call centre workers, and this experience informed his book Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres, published in 2016.   His latest book, The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction  provides an overview of the whole issue, and outlines four strategies that can produce a fairer platform economy that works for everyone.  Other publications: Marx at the Arcade is out with Haymarket. Working the Phones is available to download for free. All Jamie’s publications are available to read online

3rd February 2020


The Pharmaceutical Industry: Private wealth or public health? with Dr Panos Kanavos

While the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most profitable in the world, over 2 billion people lack access to essential medicines. Although much pharmaceutical Research and Development (R&D) in part is publicly funded, companies habitually claim very high development costs as an excuse for the often exorbitant and, for the poor, unaffordable prices of drugs. Generic versions of these vital medicines can be made available, but when a new medication is created, it is understood to be protected by ‘intellectual property’ and can be patented for 20 years. 

Additionally, the practice of ‘evergreening’ is often used to extend these patents by repeatedly making minute modifications to the product concerned. Governments attempting to override them are met by huge resistance from the corporations concerned, while other governments are often supportive of their actions. At the opposite end of the spectrum, new drug approvals have increased significantly over the past few years, which is great news, but most of the new drugs are available at prohibitive prices and require health care systems to resort to extensive negotiations to ensure affordability. 

Dr Panos Kanavos will discuss this situation with us. He is Associate Professor in International Health Policy in the Department of Health Policy at the London School of Economics, and Programme Director of the Medical Technology Research Group, which administers the Programme on Pharmaceutical issues. An economist by training, his teaching role currently includes Health Care Financing and Pharmaceutical Economics and Policy.

20th January 2020

 


Kashmir: tormented state and global flashpoint

Until this year, the state of Jammu and Kashmir nominally enjoyed special autonomy under the Indian Constitution. However, as the only state in India with a Muslim-majority population, it has nonetheless been the subject of constant friction amongst India, Pakistan, and China.

Following the Indo-Pakistani war of 1947-48, India administered major parts of the disputed territory, but turbulent relations between India and Pakistan have resulted in intermittent conflict, and the area has seen prolonged and bloody strife between India and many Kashmiris resisting Indian rule, resulting in horrific human rights abuses, including torture, enforced disappearance, extra-judicial killings, rape, massacre, and pillage.

In early August 2019, the Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government passed resolutions to bifurcate the territory, and end both the autonomy as well as the statehood, and bring Jammu and Kashmir under the direct rule of Delhi. A lockdown was imposed in the region, the internet and phone services were blocked, and political leaders were put under house arrest, and there has been no let-up in this since early August. This has gravely escalated tension, both in Kashmir, and between the two nuclear powers of Pakistan and India, with serious international implications.

Nitasha Kaul will discuss this alarming situation with us. She is a Kashmiri academic, economist, novelist and poet, and has spoken and published widely on varied themes including social theory, democracy, and postcolonial critique, with particular focus on Bhutan and Kashmir. She has held teaching posts in many international universities, and is currently Associate Professor in Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster

Her work over the last two decades is linked on the cv page of her website.

2nd December 2019

 


The French Insurgency: What is the significance of the Gilets Jaunes?

The ‘Yellow Vests’ or ‘Gilets Jaunes’ are a movement of protest in France that since it started in November 2018 has operated outside the framework of political parties and trade-union organisation and has shaken the political establishment. It has brought together waged workers, the self-employed and other popular strata in a protest against the state and has highlighted the injustices and exploitation of French society. Surprisingly it has maintained high levels of popular support throughout months of confrontation with the state, in spite of escalating levels of police repression and it has succeeded in extracting concessions from the government. However, this movement appears as inherently contradictory. Some of its demands and its discourses  seem to have elements of the programme of the far-right (nationalism, belief in conspiracy theories and anti-migrant feelings) as well as an emphasis on justice and redistribution of wealth associated with the left.

Dr Stathis Kouvelakis is a Reader in Political theory in the Department of French at Kings College, London. In his research interests he specialises in Marx’s political thought, contemporary French politics and the history of social protest in France. His recent publications include an article in the New Left Review: The French insurgency: Political Economy of The Gilets Jaunes.(110/ May 2019).  He will look at the background to the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ protest,  the key elements of their programme and  their impact on the French political system and the Macron government.

18th November 2019


Iran & the West: A conflict without resolution?

The relationship between Iran and the West appears to have reached a new low point. The nuclear agreement with Iran is on the point of collapse following US reimposition of  sanctions and the naval build up and the standoff over oil supplies in the Strait of Hormuz is dangerous. The potential for  armed conflict is very real and there are powerful interests in the US and elsewhere, keen to promote such a conflict. But  the history of the fraught relationship between Iran and the West is complex and goes back a long way. The present situation must be seen against this background.

Yassamine Mather is the Acting Editor of the Academic Journal ‘Critique’ and is a regular contributor to  TV and radio  programmes on BBC Persian. She is a member of the Senior Common Room of St. Anthony”s College, Oxford and undertakes research within the Middle East Centre at Oxford. Her research interests encompass the Middle East with particular emphasis on Iranian politics. She will look at the background to the current crisis both from the perspective inside Iran and the geopolitical forces at play in western policy towards Iran. She will also discuss how the present crisis could be resolved and prospects for developing a  future more positive relationship between Iran and the West.

28th October 2019

 


Venezuela in Crisis

Nicolás Maduro was elected President of Venezuela in 2013, winning a second term in May 2018 with 67.7% of the vote. From the start, the US has mounted a relentless campaign against him, calling openly for regime change and threatening military intervention. Trump’s government recognized Juan Guaidó, of the conservative opposition, as ‘interim president’ in January, and backed his spectacularly ill-conceived coup attempt at the end of April. Venezuela is heavily dependent on its oil revenues and relies on these to import food and medicines. The collapse of global oil prices in 2014 accelerated the country’s profound economic crisis. From 2017 Trump’s policy has been to impose severe economic sanctions on the country, hitting the petroleum industry as hard as possible, including preventing the state’s energy company—PDVSA — from receiving payments for its export of petroleum products. By one estimate, the US sanctions have contributed to the deaths of 40,000 Venezuelan civilians between 2017 and 2018

Alongside anti-imperial opposition to violations of Venezuelan sovereignty, socialists must also offer a full analysis of the class character and nature of the Maduro regime and an assessment of its role in the crisis. It is not at all self-evident that the Maduro administration represents the interests of Venezuela’s lower orders, with the economic and political power of the military, a self-enriching state bureaucracy, and sections of private capital growing considerably under his watch. In some ways, the present conflict between the right-wing opposition and the Maduro government is a political confrontation between different fractions of Venezuelan capital, the former backed by the imperial power of the United States and international financial markets, and the latter backed by the Venezuelan state (and to some extent, Chinese and Russian imperialism), which has retained its rentier-capitalist character throughout the Chávez and Maduro eras. The difficult but necessary task facing independent socialists has been to navigate an independent struggle against imperial intervention, total separation from the Venezuelan right, and simultaneous independence from the Maduro government. 

Jeffery Webber will discuss this situation with us. He is a Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy at Goldsmiths, and has written and spoken internationally on Latin American Politics, international relations and social theory.  He sits on the editorial board of Historical Materialism  and writes regularly for non-academic  publications, including JacobinViewpoint, and NACLA Report on the Americas. The most recent of his five books The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left was published in 2017.

7th October 2019


Film & Panel discussion – The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade

Shadow World is directed by Johan Grimonprez and is in part based on Corruption Watch UK founder Andrew Feinstein’s globally acclaimed book The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade.  Andrew, who will be chairing our Q & A, is a former ANC MP in South Africa, who resigned in protest at his own government’s refusal to allow an unfettered investigation into a massive, corrupt arms deal with BAE. 

The film reveals how the international trade in weapons – with the complicity of governments and intelligence agencies, investigative and prosecutorial bodies, weapons manufacturers, dealers and agents – fosters corruption, determines economic and foreign policies, undermines democracy and creates widespread suffering. 

The film suggests peaceful alternatives through the experience of an activist and war correspondent, as well as through the voice of the author Eduardo Galeano who contributed selections from his stories for the film.

The UK arms trade is amongst the most corrupt and deadly in the world. BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, amongst others, have been involved in corrupt arms deals across the world for decades. The UK has sold Saudi Arabia almost £5 billion of weaponry since the Saudi-led coalition first invaded Yemen in a conflict that has cost over 15,000 civilian lives, and rendered millions homeless and vulnerable to starvation and disease. According to UK law, multilateral and international agreements, such arms sales should not be happening. But they are, and at an ever increasing rate.

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has committed to suspending arms sales to non-democratic countries and those engaged in conflict. The party has also committed to a comprehensive review of British arms sales and the mechanisms for concluding weapons contracts. In addition, the party has indicated support for some diversification from the defence sector.


Trade Treaties and their Global Impact: who makes these rules, and who benefits?

We have heard a great deal about trade agreements ever since the UK Brexit Referendum, but the actual contents of these suggested treaties have remained opaque. What exactly are World Trade Organisation rules? How have they operated internationally in the past? Whose interests do they serve? In their absence, how do bilateral or group arrangements function, and what determines the power relationship between the participants? These issues are crucial to national and international prosperity, and to the political and economic balance of our increasingly globalised world.  John Hilary has worked on international trade issues across a range of NGOs, including for 12 years at the international campaigning organisation War on Want, where he was Executive Director. He has lectured and written widely about trade matters, and his introductory guide to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has been translated into 12 European languages. His book, The Poverty of Capitalism, Economic Meltdown and the Struggle for What Comes Next was published by Pluto Press in 2013, and he co-edited the Routledge publication Free Trade and Transnational Labour the following year. He is Honorary Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at Nottingham University, and has recently served as Head of Trade Policy for the Labour Party. He will discuss the background and content of current trading deals in the context of Brexit and beyond, and the implications they hold for the future.   Guardian Articles.   Blog on TTIP.

13th May 2019


Reforming the Drug Laws to Improve Health

The destructive consequences of drug abuse and addiction are a matter of grave concern. They cause great individual suffering and societal damage, and punitive regulations and legislation have been imposed in an effort to control the problem. Professor Nutt will argue that although the drug laws are designed to reduce drugs use and harms, they do neither – if anything, prohibition based approaches increase harms. Moreover they have had a nearly fatal impact in stopping research into many important brain treatments. His talk will cover these topics and reveal more rational and evidence based approaches to the problem of the use of alcohol and other drugs. David Nutt is currently the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology in the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London. He is also Chair of DrugScience (formally the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD). He is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a member of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. David broadcasts widely to the general public both on radio and television. He has edited the Journal of Psychopharmacology for over two decades and has published over 500 original research papers, a similar number of reviews and book chapters, eight government reports on drugs, and 32 books, including Drugs Without the Hot Air (UIT press) which won the Transmission Prize for Communicating Science in 2014.

29th April 2019