Declutter your cupboard if you want, but it won’t save the planet

This article was written by Professor Frank Trentmann from Birkbeck’s Department of History, Classics and Archaeology. It was originally published on The Guardian

clutterIs this the year we finally get to grips with all our stuff? If so, it has been a long time coming. Forecasters and commentators say we have entered a new era where people prefer to share rather than own, and prize experiences over possessions. Retailers worry about the implications for them of a public sated on “peak stuff”. Official figures suggest that Britons are consuming ever fewer resources. And witness the worldwide success of the rationalisation bible, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising.

It’s an encouraging thesis with which to start a new year. If only it were true. The talk is of the sharing economy, but the reality is that very little is being done on a large-scale level to reduce our high-consumption lifestyles. While it might feel virtuous to Marie Kondo your wardrobe, we urgently need to address the vast amount of often unseen resources that support our modern way of life.

To be fair, there are some signs of hope. The first repair café opened in Amsterdam in 2009. Since then, a thousand of these places have sprung up across Europe and North America, giving people a chance to share tools, materials and knowledge.

The bulk of the so-called sharing economy, however, follows a different model. On New Year’s Eve more than half a million people on the planet stayed in a home rented via Airbnb. Much of this is not about sharing but about renting and profit. It increases the demand for resources, rather than reducing it. Hotels earn less, but hosts earn more – which they spend on additional holidays. Lodgers save on cheaper accommodation and take more mini-breaks to Florence and Barcelona. Meanwhile, the total number of people owning second homes (and a second set of domestic appliances) steadily rises.

Car clubs have become a common sight. But let’s put it in perspective. In the UK, Zipcar has 1,500 cars. At the same time, Britons bought more than 2.7m new cars last year, more than ever before. Yes, perhaps, young people are less car-oriented today, but it might also just be a lag – housing costs and university fees have gone up and mean that cars are bought at 30, not at 20.

Sharing is not some new paradigm. Modern societies have done it for a long time – from the cooperatives to municipal baths and playgrounds. While growing in some commercial sectors, we are seeing it being chopped down in others, such as public libraries.

The story of “from stuff to fluff” is a similar mix of hopeful thinking and bad history. Visits to film and music festivals have sky-rocketed in the last decade. But let’s remember that more than 12,000 people flocked to the rehearsal of Handel’s Fireworks in 1749 in Vauxhall Gardens, causing a three-hour-long traffic jam on London Bridge. Experiences have been an essential ingredient in the rise of consumption over the last 500 years, from pleasure gardens to football stadiums. Nor is it wise to think of possessions and experiences as separate: since the 17th century, shopping for pleasure has been about making purchase a sensation.

Commentators have been complaining of people accumulating too many possessions since the sumptuary laws of the 15th and 16th centuries. In ancient Rome, Seneca warned the young were being corrupted by the pursuit of things and leisure, and before him so did Plato.

Today, services make up a bigger share of the world economy than ever – more than 40% in value-added terms, compared with 30% in 2008. But this does not mean the volume of goods and merchandise has fallen. It has grown in total, just a bit less fast than services. Since 1998, merchandise trade has more than doubled. More than four times as many containers travelled back and forth between Europe and Asia in 2013 as in 1995.

And a lot of leisure and other “experiential” services depend on material and resources. Zip-wiring in a jungle might feel more virtuous than buying a designer handbag, but you do not get there by teletransportation. In 2007, the French travelled 42bn kilometres to pursue their hobbies and another 12bn to eat out. That takes a lot of fuel.

A hybrid Toyota Prius might save petrol, but it eats up valuable rare-earth elements.

A hybrid Toyota Prius might save petrol, but it eats up valuable rare-earth elements.

Our love of digital services often leads to the idea that these somehow must be ethereal. But behind virtual communication there lurks a lot of physical matter: power stations, data centres, cables, batteries and cooling systems. Our mobile phones and headphones would not work without lanthanides. A hybrid Toyota Prius might save petrol but it also needs 9kg (20lb) of rare-earth elements, and that’s just for its battery. Information and communications technology already account for 15% of the service sector’s electricity consumption in France.

Adam Smith, the great moral philosopher and economist, noted in his 1759 Theory of Moral Sentiments that people spent more and more on “trinkets” and “little conveniences” and then designed new pockets in order to carry a greater number. Today, you can buy magic jackets with a dozen, even 20 pockets, to accommodate a tablet, phone and other digital devices.

We are not dealing here with a peculiarly Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. Contrary to popular image, Scandinavians are not that austere either. In Stockholm, for example, the number of electronic appliances tripled between 1995 and 2014.

The idea of peak stuff rests in part on distorted and inadequate numbers. At the Office of National Statistics’ latest count (2016), the average Briton consumed 10 tonnes of raw materials and products in 2013, down from 15 tonnes in 2001. That looks heart-warming, but is a bit of an optical illusion. For it only counts the materials used in the UK. We are considered to have used more fossil fuel and minerals if we make a car in Luton with British coal and iron and steel than if we import a car made in Brazil or Poland. We really need to know about all the materials used. In effect, since the 1980s, Britain has off-shored the environmental consequences of its own consumption.

What’s needed is a level of thinking and a scale of action commensurate to the problem. By all means, buy fewer gifts next Christmas, but don’t fool yourself that this will accomplish much. Shopping is part of it, but our entire lifestyle is using up resources at unsustainable levels. Consumers carry a big, heavy “ecological rucksack” on their shoulders full of all the materials needed to service their lifestyle. It amounts to between 45 and 85 tonnes a year per person, depending on where you are in the rich world. This includes leisure, travel and comfy homes with central heating.

Changing that lifestyle must be the fundamental focus. This is not impossible; modern history is one rich story of successive lifestyle changes. But these have rarely been the result of individual choices. States and social movements played critical roles, harnessing the power and moral authority of collective opinion. If we are to bridge the gap between aspiration and achievement, this must be their task again.

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Farewell to John Berger


Framegrab from A Song for Politics, the third essay in The Seasons in Quincy

On 2 January 2017, John Berger died. Below we offer a reflection on John from The Seasons in Quincy director and producer Colin Maccabe. This article was originally published on the Derek Jarman Lab website

John Berger was an extraordinary individual, extraordinary in the range of his creation and his criticism. But also extraordinary as a presence. He had the least sense of hierarchy of anyone I have ever known. And he was uniquely interested in the present moment. So whoever he was with, young or old, rich or poor, famous or unknown, man or woman, had his complete attention. This was in its way unnerving: you had to think about what you were saying because you were being listened to with quite unusual concentration. And you had to listen with real intensity because what was being said was being said for you and, it felt, for you alone. But if it was unnerving it was also immensely invigorating. You became more intelligent and more consequent, more insightful and more amusing. And what John said stayed with you and you felt transformed by it.

This may all sound quite pious. John could well have been an actor and there was something of the ham in his performances. He was also a seducer and you were seduced. But neither of these facts detract from the wonderful pleasure of his company, indeed they were an essential part of it.

He was the best and most reliable of friends – always willing to lend a hand, to encourage, to enthuse, and, very important, to criticise when it was necessary. His range was extraordinary: major art critic, great novelist, gifted film-maker. He even with his close friend Jean Mohr invented a genre: the committed use of photography and prose to render invisible elements of the social visible. They started with A Fortunate Man in 1967 but developed further with A Seventh Man (1975) which John thought his best book. It is 40 years since A Seventh Man was composed but the analysis of the crucial role of migrant labour in contemporary capitalism could have been written tomorrow.

It is foolish to predict reputation into the future, but I hope that people go on reading and watching John, because he joined the demand for social justice to the recognition of the centrality of desire and the importance of form. His death brought to me three quotes which touch on each of these emphases.

‘To be desired is perhaps the closest anybody in this life can reach to feeling immortal.’

John Berger ‘The Museum of Desire’ (2001) published at latimes.com, p.1

‘The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied … but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.’

John Berger ‘Keeping a Rendezvous’ published in Linda Spalding and Michael Ondaatje eds. The Brick Reader Toronto: Coach House Press, 1991, p. 330.

‘What makes photography a strange invention – with unforeseeable consequences – is that its primary raw materials are light and time.’

John Berger and Jean Mohr Another Way of Telling New York: Pantheon, 1982, p. 85.

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Criminal justice reform in the US: ‘So much to be done… but moving in the right direction’

Catherine Heard, Director of ICPR’s World Prison Research Programme, discusses Barack Obama’s recent article in the Harvard Law Review.

CopyRight : F. van den Bergh

CopyRight : F. van den Bergh

In an article published in the closing weeks of his second term, President Barack Obama has published detailed reflections on his criminal justice reform achievements and the challenges still to be met. To highlight America’s shockingly high prisoner numbers, Obama uses World Prison Brief data published and compiled by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at Birkbeck (ICPR). His article also refers to a recent report by the White House Council of Economic Advisors, which contained several references to ICPR’s World Prison Population List 2016.

In ‘The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform’ (Commentary, Harvard Law Review, 5 January 2017: 130 Harv L Rev 811), Barack Obama charts a lifetime commitment to criminal justice reform, from his early work as a community organizer through to promoting legislative reform to some of the sentencing laws underpinning America’s failed experiment with mass incarceration. Pointing to the capacity of criminal justice to exacerbate inequality and social divisions, Obama argues that by asking criminal justice to solve problems it cannot solve, we risk undermining public trust in law and jeopardising public safety.

The scale of the problem

The first sitting president to set foot inside a federal prison, Obama visited El Reno, Oklahoma in 2015, speaking with inmates about their personal journeys to incarceration. He describes being struck by the way the justice system traps young people in an endless cycle of marginalisation and punishment – including some who had ‘made mistakes no worse than my own’. Though proud to be the first president in decades to leave a federal prison population smaller than it was when he entered office, Obama stresses the scale of the problem still to be tackled. 2.2 million of America’s citizens are imprisoned today – compared to less than half a million in 1980. US citizens now bear the burden of a prison system costing US$ 80 billion a year. With crime now close to historic lows, Obama sees this as a vital opportunity to press on with reform.

Obama’s key milestones

Legislation to reduce overlong sentences was signed in 2010 (Fair Sentencing Act). This aimed at ending disparity in sentences for drug crime, which was disproportionately affecting African Americans. The ‘Smart on Crime’ initiative led to changes in federal charging policy and practice, designed to stop prosecutors having to bring charges that would result in the longest possible custodial terms.

Up to 100,000 of America’s prison inmates are held in solitary confinement, around a quarter of them on a long-term basis. Obama directed a reduction in the use of solitary confinement, introducing guiding principles for its use in federal prisons, which could also serve as a model for change in state and local institutions. The Department of Justice recently directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to phase out the use of private for-profit prisons. These have been shown to produce worse conditions for inmates, while creating no meaningful cost savings.

Prison reforms have placed a new emphasis on education and rehabilitation, recognising the importance of investing properly in preparing people to return to society and get their lives back on track. Around three hundred companies have signed a pledge to ‘ban the box’, to ensure people with criminal records – a staggering one in three Americans – have a fair chance at employment.

Although thwarted by conservative Republicans in many other areas of reform, Obama succeeded in building a strong political consensus for much of his justice reform agenda. Even traditionally ‘red states’ like Texas managed to make lasting changes, reducing prison sentence lengths as part of ‘justice reinvestment’ schemes to plough savings made from shorter custodial terms back into substance abuse and family support programmes.

The road ahead

There was a limit, however, to the extent of Republican support that Obama’s administration could secure for sentencing reform; and more recent reform initiatives have been blocked or shelved. These proposals would have seen mandatory minimum sentences for some non-violent drug offences cut (Smarter Sentencing Act 2014 and subsequent more limited versions of it). In calling on the next administration not to shirk the task of further reform, Obama highlights the degree to which punitive drug sentencing policies have disproportionately impacted poorer communities and those struggling with racial inequality and drug dependency.

Calling for America’s ‘tragic opioid epidemic’ to be re-characterised as a public health problem rather than one requiring a criminal justice response, the President notes that four out of every five first-time heroin users in the USA transitioned from misuse of prescription drugs. Another key challenge Obama identifies is to confront the racial bias in the policies of harsher law enforcement and longer prison sentences still seen in America today. For example, while levels of drug use do not vary significantly by race or ethnicity, African American arrest and conviction rates for drug crimes are significantly higher.

Understanding and reducing the resort to imprisonment

ICPR is engaged in a new international research project looking at trends and patterns of imprisonment in the USA and nine other contrasting jurisdictions across all five continents. The project asks what transferable lessons for reducing resort to imprisonment can be learnt from the ten jurisdictions’ differing approaches to, and experiences of, criminal justice. America’s recent history surely offers lessons too important to ignore.

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Will Britain’s new definition of antisemitism help Jewish people? I’m sceptical

This article was written by Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism. It was originally published by The Guardian

Hackney, London. Credit: kafka4prez

Hackney, London. Credit: kafka4prez

Antisemitism is anathema. From Ken Livingstone to Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi, no one has a good word to say for it. For some there has been a crisis in 2016, for others there has been a witch-hunt. Everyone is against antisemitism: we just can’t agree on how to recognise it.

This year there have been no less than three inquiries and reports on antisemitism: Janet Royall’s presented in May, Shami Chakrabarti’s at the end of June (I served as one of the vice-chairs to this inquiry, although the resulting report was Chakrabarti’s alone) and the home affairs committee report published in October. All dealt exclusively or significantly with the issue of antisemitism in the Labour party.

Now, at year’s end, the prime minister has announced that the government has adopted the definition of antisemitism recommended by an inter-governmental body, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Theresa May heralded a single standard with which we can identify and call out antisemitism. The Labour party quickly fell into line and British Jewish leaders welcomed the initiative. Does this promise a new year in which the politics of antisemitism will be less divisive? Or are the issues bound up in antisemitism too complex to be solved by fiat?

Much of the rancorous debate around antisemitism this year has circulated around three disputed terms: antisemitism, Zionism and anti-racism.

Credit: Ron Almog

Credit: Ron Almog

The term antisemitism was first popularised in Germany in the late 1870s. It is closely bound up with the experiences of Jews as a minority group. It carries memories and knowledge of discrimination, violence and genocide. Yet now the term also operates in a context created both by the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the consequence of its military victory in 1967. Israeli Palestinians possess citizenship rights within the country’s internationally recognised boundaries. Nevertheless, Israel’s relations with the Palestinians have also been characterised by discrimination and occupation, annexation and expropriation. Those who make Israel the target of criticism for these actions are now denounced as antisemitic by Israel’s leaders and by their supporters around the world.

In this way antisemitism is a term that does service both as a defence of minority rights, and in the context of support for a discriminatory and illiberal state power. Little wonder the word provokes so much disagreement.

At times the debate over antisemitism has been a surrogate for another quarrel: whether the Labour party should be a comfortable place for Zionists. In parts of the left the terms “Zionism” and “Zio” have become part of the lexicon of invective. Zionism and anti-Zionism encompass a range of positions, but in debate they get defined by opponents according to their maximalist connotations: religious and ethnic privilege, occupation and settlement are ascribed to one side, refusal to assent to the legitimacy of the state of Israel by the other. The facts provide a different picture. Many people who think of themselves as Zionists are at the forefront of protest against Israel’s policies. Many who conceive of themselves as anti-Zionists accept the state’s right to exist while they oppose its objectionable laws and policies.

Anti-racism too has generated conflict, not least in the Labour party. Chakrabarti provided a cautious assessment of the extent of antisemitism within Labour. But it is not only the proven incidence of antisemitism that should concern us but also the well of support that exists for people who reveal prejudice or callous insensitivity towards Jews. The last year has been punctuated by a handful of headline-grabbing incidents of this sort.

These incidents provoke debate over individuals. However, the problem also lies in political culture. The commonplace idea that racism expresses relations of power too often leads to the belief that it expresses only that. But racism can inform acts of resistance and solidarity as well as domination. If we fail to recognise this we will be poorly equipped to identify racism when it is directed against a group that is relatively affluent, coded as “white”, and most of whose members feel attached to the strongest power in the Middle East. It will increase the chances that we are blind to bigotry and myth when it is directed against British Jews.

So does the IHRA definition that Britain has adopted provide the answer? I am sceptical. Here is the definition’s key passage: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.” This is bewilderingly imprecise.

The text also carries dangers. It trails a list of 11 examples. Seven deal with criticism of Israel. Some of the points are sensible, some are not. Crucially, there is a danger that the overall effect will place the onus on Israel’s critics to demonstrate they are not antisemitic. The home affairs committee advised that the definition required qualification “to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse on Israel and Palestine”. It was ignored.

The IHRA definition has been circulating for over a decade and has already been buried once. It is almost identical to the European Union monitoring commission’s working definition, formulated in 2005 as part of the global response to the second intifada in the early 2000s. The definition was never accorded any official status by the EUMC and was finally dropped by its successor body, the Fundamental Rights Agency.

The definition has been resurrected just as we are moving to new times. David Friedman, who will soon become President Trump’s ambassador to Israel, has denounced the “two-state” solution. The prospect of continued Israeli dominion over disenfranchised Palestinians, supported by a US president whose noisome electoral campaign was sustained by nods and winks to anti-Jewish prejudice, is changing the dynamic of Jewish politics in Israel and across the world.

In this new context, the greatest flaw of the IHRA definition is its failure to make any ethical and political connections between the struggle against antisemitism and other sorts of prejudice. On behalf of Jews it dares to spurn solidarity with other groups who are the targets of bigotry and hatred. In the face of resurgent intolerance in the UK, in Europe, the United States and in Israel, this is a luxury none of us can afford.

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Social justice must be at the heart of a renewed strategy for integration and cohesion

This article was written by Dr Ben Gidley from Birkbeck’s Department of Psychosocial Studies and Prof David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck

It’s not unusual, when a major government report is published – not least on a contentious topic such as integration and cohesion – that the content of the report bears little relationship to how it is spun by ministers and reported in the media.

In the case of the report earlier this month of the Casey Review into Integration and Opportunity, sensationalist media reportage has amplified the elements of the report which demonise particular – mainly Muslim, migrant and Roma – communities already feeling under pressure in Brexit Britain, promoted a message that integration is somehow the solution to the problem of politically-correct multiculturalism, and highlighted the most gimmicky recommendations.

Civil society activists, academics and the liberal commentariat have understandably focused on the same problematic elements from a critical angle, while also highlighting the unevenness in the use of evidence in the report (heavy on official statistics, thinktank reports, attitudinal surveys and anecdote, light on the use of scholarly literature and in particular on qualitative research on how integration works in practice).

And so, once again, an excellent opportunity for a meaningful national debate on this important topic is slipping out of reach.

The Casey Review makes three major political interventions. The one that has been highlighted in the public debate so far is elaboration of integration as a panacea for the alleged failures of multiculturalism, with a focus on migrants’ and minorities’ responsibility to integrate and sign up to “British values”, tested, for example, through a heavy-handed integration oath on entry. In this sense, the report follows the orthodoxy embraced by New Labour, Coalition and Conservative governments since the 9/11 attacks and milltown riots of 2001.

The other two interventions, however, have received less attention, and deserve more acknowledgement. First is the insistence that, while integration happens locally, it is not enough to devolve all responsibility to it for under-resourced and under-equipped local authorities and their civil society partners. What is needed is a national strategy and national guidance – and nationally ring-fenced funding.

Second, we cannot talk about integration without talking about what Casey generally refers to as inequality of opportunity – the structural iniquities which block the path to integration of some groups. Casey is admirably clear that discrimination and racism (intensified by irresponsible media), alongside class injustice, is one of the primary barriers to integration.

These are points we made in a 2014 report to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, Integration, Disadvantage and Extremism, based on a thorough review of the evidence.

market-778851_1280There, we showed that many in Britain’s diverse population – including both minority ethnic and majority ethnic citizens – face a range of disadvantages, several of which are shared. These disadvantages give rise to both real and imagined grievances – whether about the war on terror or about rapid demographic change. We showed that social disadvantage and racial injustice, alienation and disempowerment, generate divisive social relations and political movements that feed on hate.

We concluded therefore that integration policy must be aligned with the realities of disadvantage: rather than tackle intolerance and extremism in isolation, the debate about achieving racial equality, social mobility and social justice must be at the heart of a renewed strategy for integration and cohesion.

By reviewing the evidence of what has worked at a local and national level, we concluded that the continued national abdication of responsibility for integration strategy is untenable. Crucially, a national strategy requires national guidelines for its implementation. It should set out detailed, concrete, substantive actions and a coherent methodology for measuring progress, based on robust data: such a “smart” approach is the only cost-effective approach to doing social policy in a time of austerity.

The urgency of these tasks has been amplified by the evidence presented in the Casey Review. But they will fail if the debate continues to be dominated by the shrill voices of panic and isolationism, if a rigorous analysis of disadvantage continues to be obscured by a mantra that equates the working class with whiteness and sees the white working class as some kind of ethnic group, and if the evidence required for smart interventions is dismissed in the Brexit age’s retreat from expertise.

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What will happen to arms exports under Brexit?

This article was written by Prof Ron Smith from Birkbeck’s Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics, with Maria Garcia-Alonso, (University of Kent) and Quentin Michel (Université de Liège). It originally appeared on The Conversation

The decision by the UK to leave the EU will have many implications, including consequences for the control of arms exports. Exports of weapons and dual-use equipment, which can have both military and civilian applications, raise major security concerns: you don’t want to arm your enemies and you don’t want your allies to arm your enemies either.

Most states have arms export control regulations and supplies are also restricted – to some extent – by international regimes like the Wassenaar Arrangement on export controls for conventional arms, as well as by UN embargoes and the Arms Trade Treaty that entered into force in December 2014.

European states are major suppliers of military equipment and close competitors in the export markets. But they have different economic and security interests, so a sale that seems problematic to one country may not seem so to another – see, for example, the disagreements about the supply of arms to various players in the Syrian civil war or the supply to Saudi Arabia of equipment used in the Yemen. However, the EU’s rules do not allow other states to block UK sales to Saudi Arabia.

So what are those rules? To avoid exactly this sort of problem, in 2008 the EU defined common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment which replaced an earlier code of conduct on arms exports. This EU Common Position is presently the sole example of a group of states that have agreed to coordinate conventional (usually interpreted as not nuclear, biological or chemical which are covered by different rules) arms exports with a supranational constraining mechanism.

While producer countries have individual incentives to control the quantity, quality and use of the arms they export, these incentives are affected by the interactions with other exporter countries who have their own security and industrial objectives. In such situations, coordination among exporters is required to ensure a better outcome for everyone involved.

However, uncertainty regarding the implementation of controls and fear of noncompliance are a barrier to the implementation of multilateral controls. In particular there needs to be a mechanism to stop “prisoner dilemma” situations in which countries think: “If we don’t export, others will.” To deal with the uncertainty, the EU has a list of items subject to control and a no-undercutting mechanism to stop the fear of noncompliance by others.

Finding common ground

The EU Common Position says that member states are determined to set high common standards for the management of – and restraint in – conventional arms transfers, and to strengthen the exchange of relevant information with a view to achieving greater transparency.

The criteria that govern export control include the respect for the international commitments of EU member states (including any UN sanctions). They also take into account the situation in the buyer country, which includes its respect of human rights, its internal security situation, its respect for international law and its technical and economic capacity. The common position is also concerned for the preservation of regional peace, security and stability and the existence of a risk that the equipment will be diverted into the wrong hands within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions.

Who gets the weapons? Yui Mok PA Archive/PA Images

To make sure all states interpret these criteria in the same way – and to avoid the risk of unfair competitions between member states’ defence industries, several mechanisms have been adopted. These include strengthening the exchange of information by requiring the notification to all EU member states of the denial of a licence, together with the no undercutting rule. This rule has been respected and member states have almost never undercut a licence denial without the consent of the state which has issued it.

There are many difficult areas where exchange of information is valuable. These include dual-use equipment – where countries may differ over whether it is going to be used for civilian or military purposes – and brokering – where a firm facilitating the transaction may be outside the control of national authorities. There has been discussion in many countries about the extent to which arms brokers should be registered.

Britain’s role

Britain plays a central role in this process, currently drafting the list of items subject to control. But when it leaves the EU it will lose access to this mechanism. This increases the risk that its defence industry will not face the same trade rules as its EU competitors. While the UK will no longer be constrained by EU rules, the converse is also true and – given the breadth of UK security interests – this may not be to its advantage.

Other EU states will be able to supply weapons for which the UK has denied a license and may not include on the control list items that the UK regards as sensitive. So given the value that countries attach to the sharing of arms export information, it may be in the interests of the UK and the other EU countries to maintain joint participation in these arrangements even in the post-Brexit era.

The Conversation

 

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Behind Birkbeck’s new visual identity

pocket-guides-etc-croppedIt’s an unusual position for an organisation to find itself in: on the brink of its third century and still no signature style. Imagine Apple without its elegant designs and simple use of space; or Google minus its primary-colours and clean white canvas.

So, just a few years shy of our 200th birthday, we thought it was time such a unique and vibrant university had the coherent and contemporary look it deserved.

What we wanted was a clear, well-considered look and feel that stands for Birkbeck, which is fortunate to possess two rare things: a real Unique Selling Point (as the UK’s only evening university) and a heritage to die for (a core mission which has remained unchanged for 200 years, of educating working Londoners).

So, where to start? We had a 20 year-old ‘lockup’ – a logotype and crest, always seen together on a burgundy panel; and a blue theme inherited from a decade-old advertising campaign. We didn’t want to change the lockup (the burgundy has been darkened and the crest reversed to give greater contrast). But the older and newer looks didn’t always sit together favourably and the visual identity void led to a variety of styles that were not always recognisably ‘Birkbeck’.

new-pop-up-exampleThe challenge, then, was to create an identity – typefaces, colour palette, ways of presenting information – that would live happily alongside the lockup and work across digital and printed channels and products for years to come.

Importantly, the identity needed to be easy for people across the university to put in to practice. We have a small central design team, but many others across the organisation have some responsibility for design, stationery or leaflets, for instance.

We hired Pentagram, the world’s largest independent design consultancy, after a competitive process during which we were wowed by their careful understanding of Birkbeck, creative problem-solving and knowledge of the Higher Education sector having worked with the University of the Arts and the University of Sussex.

A cross-university steering group of academics and professional staff were convened to discuss Birkbeck’s personality and how it might be portrayed visually. This group became essential arbiters throughout the process, helping to define and refine ideas and schemes.

And together we came up with a visual identity that is both beautiful and practical that reflects Birkbeck’s ‘attitude not age’ approach to higher education for all – inclusive, vibrant and world-class.

Domenic Lippa, partner at Pentagram, said: “We wanted to create a visual identity that used the heritage of the existing logo.  To do this, we anchored all information off of the logo, thus creating a strong hierarchy. Once we established this, the ‘heart’ of the identity, we started to introduce new typefaces, colours and imagery to support and counter-point that heritage.”

social-mock-up-croppedThere is enough flexibility to give people across the university room to ‘play’ with the identity, for instance by an unrestricted colourful palette and playful new ways of using our crest’s iconic owl – signifying our evening study. But brief, user-friendly guidelines gently help people stay within a ‘safe space’, ensuring Birkbeck always looks the part.

Needless to say the list of products queuing up for an identity make-over is long – from signage and stationery to websites – so the process of switching our look will take some time. We’ll take it gradually. We wanted to share the design with staff and students first, of course and there will be face-to-face briefings for people who work with design and on-going support from the central design team.

Externally, the new look will be debuted by our new marketing campaign which launches after Christmas with advertisements across the London underground and buses. Our annual magazine BBK will be sent to our alumni and friends shortly afterwards, sporting the new identity. And thereafter, as we proceed throughout 2017, e-newsletters, stationery, Open Evening livery, the 2018-19 prospectus, a new website design and many other products will follow on.

Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, said: “I am delighted that Birkbeck is getting its first ever visual identity. As we move towards our third century this colourful, modern look helps communicate with the vitality, passion and professionalism of our world-class university.”

–  Julia Day, Head of Communications at Birkbeck

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Did the London 2012 Olympics boost the British economy and make us all happier?

This blog was contributed by Mark Panton, a researcher from the Department of Management at Birkbeck, in reaction to a recent publication by the ONS, which links GDP to special historical events. Mark tweets at @MarkLPanton

olympics-227178_640As a researcher of the use of sport events and stadiums in regeneration projects I was interested in a   recent graphical representation of how special events are linked to UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) put out by the Office for National statistics (ONS). The representation showed a sharp spike in GDP at the time of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

There has been a long-running debate within sport management about whether or not hosting major sporting events can have an impact on local or even national economies.  At first sight this ONS graphic, together with its accompanying text, sets out a very positive case for the 2012 Olympics.  The highest growth for nearly seven years in the UK was recorded in the third quarter of 2012 when it increased by 1.1% over the previous quarter.   This included increased output in the food and beverages industries, accommodation, employment agencies and creative arts and entertainments.  Was this conclusive evidence for the economic impact of a major sporting event?

Further explanatory details were provided by a separate ONS document.  Due to an additional day of holiday in June for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, there was one fewer working day than usual in the second quarter.  This was estimated to have shaved 0.4% off growth in that period with a ‘bounce-back’ of the same amount in the third quarter.  Another relevant aspect was that the sales of Olympic and Paralympic tickets, clocked up over a long period before the start of the Olympics and totalling £580 million, were all allocated to the third quarter of 2012.  This figure contributed 0.2 percentage points to overall growth.  It should also be noted that the same document details a drop in tourism in this quarter, with a significant dip in numbers visiting London.  Far from the conclusive evidence that might have been imagined from the graphical representation.

However, there was some good news for those looking to stage major events and the local communities. A detailed report by Oxford Economics on the impact of the London Olympics suggested the event may increase residents’ happiness, which could translate into increased consumer spending. This claim was based in part on research linked to the 1996 Euro Championships in England. The report acknowledges that the evidence for such effects is mixed and no figures for increased spending around the London Olympics based on happiness have been found.

Researchers from the LSE did find that Londoners were significantly happier during the Games compared to Parisians and Berliners, but that levels of happiness returned to normal the following year. More critically, researchers in the USA have argued against the use of “psychic income” (emotional and psychological benefits for residents related to sporting events) to support public subsidies for stadiums or events, with the concept being used as the “new frontier in subsidy apologias”. The arguments over the economic and psychic benefits of holding major sporting events are likely to continue.

Listen to Mark in a discussion on Sports stadiums on the Birkbeck Voices podcast.

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Trump trolls, Pirate Parties and the Italian Five Star Movement: The internet meets politics

This article was written by Andrea Ballatore, Lecturer in Geographic Information Science, and Simone Natale, Loughborough University. It was originally published on The Conversation

We blame the internet for a lot of things, and now the list has grown to include our politics. In a turbulent year marked by the U.K.‘s decision to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, some have started to wonder to what extent the recent events have to do with the technology that most defines our age.

In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, commentators accused Facebook of being indirectly responsible for his election. Specifically, they point to the role of social media in spreading virulent political propaganda and fake news. The internet has been increasingly presented as a possible cause for the post-truth culture that allegedly characterizes contemporary democracies.

These reactions are a reminder that new technologies often stimulate both hopes and fears about their impact on society and culture. The internet has been seen as both the harbinger of political participation and the main culprit for the decline of democracy. The network of networks is now more than a mere vehicle of political communication: It has become a powerful rhetorical symbol people are using to achieve political goals.

This is currently visible in Europe, where movements such as the Pirate Parties and the Italian Five Star Movement, which we have studied, build their political messages around the internet. To them, the internet is a catalyst for radical and democratic change that channels growing dissatisfaction with traditional political parties.

Web utopias and dystopias

The emergence of political enthusiasm for the internet owes much to U.S. culture in the 1990s. Internet connectivity was spreading from universities and corporations to an increasingly large portion of the population. During the Clinton administration, Vice President Al Gore made the “Information Superhighway” a flagship concept. He linked the development of a high-speed digital telecommunication network to a new era of enlightened market democracy.

President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore joined volunteer efforts to wire schools to the internet in 1997. AP Photo/Greg Gibson

The enthusiasm for information technology and free-market economics spread from Silicon Valley and was dubbed Californian Ideology. It inspired a generation of digital entrepreneurs, technologists, politicians and activists in Silicon Valley and beyond. The 2000 dot-com crash only temporarily curbed the hype.

In the 2000s, the rise of sharing platforms and social media – often labeled as “Web 2.0” – supported the idea of a new era of increased participation of common citizens in the production of cultural content, software development and even political revolutions against authoritarian regimes.

The promise of the unrestrained flow of information also engendered deep fears. In 1990s, the web was already seen by critics as a vehicle for poor-quality information, hate speech and extreme pornography. We knew then that the Information Superhighway’s dark side was worryingly difficult to regulate.

Paradoxically, the promise of decentralization has resulted in few massive advertising empires like Facebook and Google, employing sophisticated mass surveillance techniques. Web-based companies like Uber and Airbnb bring new efficient services to millions of customers, but are also seen as potential monopolists that threaten local economies and squeeze profits out of impoverished communities.

The public’s views on digital media are rapidly shifting. In less than 10 years, the stories we tell about the internet have moved from praising its democratic potential to imagining it as a dangerous source of extreme politics, polarized echo chambers and a hive of misogynist and racist trolls.

Cyber-optimism in Europe

While cyber-utopian views have lost appeal in the U.S., the idea of the internet as a promise of radical reorganization of society has survived. In fact, it has become a defining element of political movements that thrive in Western Europe.

In Italy, an anti-establishment party know as the Five Star Movement became the second most-voted for party in Italy in the 2013 national elections. According to some polls, it might soon even win general elections in Italy.

The Five Star Movement’s Virginia Raggi, 37, was elected as Rome’s first female and youngest mayor in June. AP Photo/Fabio Frustaci

In our research, we analyzed how the Italian Five Star Movement uses a mythical idea of the internet as a catalyst for its political message. In the party’s rhetoric, declining and corrupt mainstream parties are allied with newspapers and television. By contrast, the movement claims to harness the power of the web to “kill” old politics and bring about direct democracy, efficiency and transparency in governance.

Similarly in Iceland, the Pirate Party is now poised to lead a coalition government. Throughout the few last years, other Pirate Parties have emerged and have been at times quite successful in other European countries, including Germany and Sweden. While they differ in many ways from the Five Star Movement, their leaders also insist that the internet will help enable new forms of democratic participation. Their success was made possible by the powerful vision of a new direct democracy facilitated by online technologies.

A vision of change

Many politicians all over the world run campaigns on the promise of change, communicating a positive message to potential voters. The rise of forces such as the Five Star Movement and the Pirate Parties in Europe is an example of how the rhetoric of political change and the rhetoric of the digital revolution can interact with each other, merging into a unique, coherent discourse.

In thinking about the impact of the internet in politics, we usually consider how social media, websites and other online resources are used as a vehicle of political communication. Yet, its impact as a symbol and a powerful narrative is equally strong.

The Conversation

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Majority avoidance: one of the few holes in Casey’s strong report

This post was written by Professor Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck’s Department of Politics. It was originally published on the Policy Exchange blog

Dame Louise Casey’s lengthy, evidence-based report is to be commended for its rigour and steadfast defense of liberal principles. It calls out illiberalism, not shrinking from addressing this problem in conservative Muslim communities, while also highlighting racism and discrimination against Muslims by the majority. It asks for a reinstatement of budgets for teaching English and for mitigating the impact of immigration on rapidly-changing communities. There is little to quibble with here. Later in the report, Casey reviews initiatives since the 2001 Cantle Report. This makes it abundantly clear her report is in line with previous work, albeit based on more extensive and detailed quantitative evidence. The failure, it is suggested, is in the execution more than in our knowledge base.

But in two interrelated respects, the report misses a big story. The first concerns the fact that while minority groups are becoming considerably less segregated, segregation between majority and minorities (taken as a whole) remains stuck at a high level. This is a point I made in my report in 2014 and which Ted Cantle and I reiterated recently in our OpenDemocracy report.

The second – related – point, is that white British ‘avoidance’ is the principal driver of this pattern and yet white British attitudes to integration are only lightly addressed in the report. Insofar as this concern is just emerging in the UK academic literature, one cannot fault the report’s authors. Nevertheless, this is an important area that needs a great deal more research and attention.

Third, and also related to the above, is that there is very little grasp in the academic literature of what can be done in free societies to mitigate segregation. No wonder little is said about this in the report. Singapore is a statist society where housing is largely public and the government has few qualms about telling people where to live. As a result, minorities like the Malays and Indians are prevented from clustering and there is no segregation.

We cannot and should not do that in free societies, but what can be done? The report mentions a study which found that when British council tenants were offered a choice in where they would be located, this increased segregation. This gets to a fundamental reality: the more choice people have in where they are housed, the more like tend to live with like. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if segregation is considered a problem for minority upward mobility and majority attitudes toward minorities, we need to consider unobtrusive ways to address it.

Let’s return to majority withdrawal, or ‘white avoidance.’ Imagine there were no illiberal Muslims, Hindus or ultra-Orthodox Jews in Britain and everyone signed up to British values. This may lead to less segregated ethnic communities, but would have little impact on the overall interaction between majority and minority. Instead we would simply see even more expansion of ‘superdiverse’ areas such as Luton, Newham and the like, which white British families largely avoid when searching for a place to settle down or send their kids to school. More than this, they avoid even moderately diverse communities. For example, when we examine schools and places with growing populations, white British absolute population growth is significantly higher in schools and neighbourhoods over 80-85% white British, in a rising curve.

Even if ethnic concentrations disperse, if Britain were to become two nations – one superdiverse, the other remaining White British – this would still represent an important source of division. Indeed, as the Brexit vote revealed, this split is already re-configuring the electoral map in Britain and moving the country in the geographically polarised direction of the United States. Diverse urban areas and homogeneous exurbs or rural districts increasingly see each other as alien. Because white British are so numerous, what they do matters a lot more for the total picture than the actions of small minorities, so white British movement demands more attention.

My own work with Policy Exchange will focus on retaining white residents in mixed areas, which is a major challenge in urban Britain not considered in the report. I hope to examine three ‘nudges’ that could improve white-minority integration: a) correcting whites’ misperceptions about the actual minority share in mixed schools and areas; b) providing accurate information to minorities lacking knowledge about relatively white areas; and c) designing new homes in diverse areas to appeal to white British preferences so as to retain whites in diverse communities.

Recent research suggests white Americans tend to overestimate the share of minorities in moderately diverse areas, and so avoid them and wind up living in whiter areas than they would prefer. I intend to test whether this is also the case in Britain. Using a computer algorithm, survey respondents will be asked whether they have heard of a set of neighbourhoods and schools in their area, and if so, to guess their ethnic composition. We are interested in understanding whether whites have a distorted view of the ethnic composition of mixed areas and schools, and whether minorities have heard of many largely white areas. If so, a policy recommendation might be to construct an online neighbourhood facts database with accurate ethnic (as well as socioeconomic, amenities and housing) information to help people make more informed area choices. Also, it may be worth trialing a system of listing the ethnic composition of schools on their website, as is true, for instance, in some US public school districts like Boston.

A second strand of experiments will focus on new housing, which is in high demand in London and other urban areas. We know that most of the public prefers traditional designs while planners and architects favour the modernist aesthetic which currently prevails in new housing construction. However, Experian MOSAIC data also hint at important ethnic differences, with white British prioritising period designs and gardens while minority groups may be more open to modernism and favour driveways as well as larger numbers of rooms to accommodate extended families. In this manner, it may be possible to design new housing to appeal to different groups and thus ‘nudge’ integration in an unobtrusive way. My work at Policy Exchange will consist of examining the preferences of members of different groups for alternative housing designs controlling for neighbourhood ethnic composition. In other words, might White Britons be more willing to move to a new housing development in an ethnically diverse area if these are designed in a traditional manner?

Overall then, while there is much to commend in the Casey Review, there are large and important omissions which can only be addressed through new research.

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