Equal Rights for All: a new path for Israel-Palestine?

A two-day international conference at Birkbeck, University of London, 14-16 March 2015

This post was contributed by Professor Lynne Segal, of Birkbeck’s Department of Psychosocial Studies.

For all those who hope to see an end to conflict, the climate of uncertainty, fear and for many, despair, grows year on year in Israel/Palestine. The collapse of every state-brokered ‘peace’ initiative, the continuing devastation from Israel’s bombing of Gaza last summer, alongside Israel’s ongoing annexation of Palestinian land and the constraints and humiliations that occupation inevitably loads on Palestinian lives daily, means that it becomes hard to see any way forward for Israel-Palestine. The horrifying terrorist targeting of Jews in Europe recently has been exploited by Netanyahu to insist more strongly than ever that he speaks and acts as “a representative of the entire Jewish people”. It is therefore imperative that the voices of Jews working for peace and justice are heard. Netanyahu has never spoken for us.

Given the gargantuan imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians, externally brokered peace agreements have proved entirely futile. Rather than simply despair, our aim in organizing this conference is to join with progressive people and governments everywhere searching for fresh ways to surmount the complex political and juridical hurdles necessary for enabling Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace. One way of doing this is to refocus on the rights and responsibilities that make co-existence possible. That is the alternative direction that this IJV conference hopes to facilitate. It means creating a broad platform for all those working together at present to promote joint Israeli-Palestinian movements for reconciling competing nationalisms, and sharing of civil and political rights across Israel and Palestine. It is an old dream, and one that we believe offers the only hope for peace.

At this conference, we will hear from others who have been venturing along this path for many years. Our sessions include politicians such as Mustafa Barghouti and Avrum Burg, scholars such as Avi Shlaim and Bashir Bashir, alongside a host of other community leaders and minority rights organizers, from Gaza, the West Bank, as well as their supporters near and far, whose voices are less often heard. Our aim is not just to learn about progressive movements in Israel/Palestine, but also to make hope possible, in what many see as this most hopeless of all conflicts. The goal is also to deepen and expand the strategies for increasing international pressure for change to end this conflict, rather than – as so often happens – allowing other issues to divert our attention from it. We hope you will join us in supporting this initiative, knowing that, as Raymond Williams always said,  ‘To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing’.

Interested? Find out more

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Shoulder to Shoulder: Female Suffrage, Second-Wave Feminism and Feminist TV Drama in the 1970s

This post was contributed by Charlotte Knowles, an intern at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities.

Thursday 15th May 2014, Birkbeck Cinema.

This film screening and Q&A, held at the Birkbeck cinema, was the first part of a two day event celebrating Shoulder to Shoulder, a BBC mini series first aired in 1974, which told the story of the early women’s suffrage movement in Britain (1890s-1919). The event began with some reflections from the event organisers on the enduring importance of the series, and a screening of the second episode entitled ‘Annie Kenny’. The episode explored the involvement of northern mill girl Annie Kenny in the suffrage movement, reflecting on the central part the working classes played in obtaining women’s suffrage.

The event enabled reflection on the representation of the historical imagination in the media, as well as considerations of the way in which women’s voices still remain unheard today. The event sought to reconnect women’s voices from across history, exploring the way in which the suffrage movement resonated with issues of second wave feminism in the 1970s when the programme was aired, as well as questions of feminist liberation still alive today.

The episode screening was followed by a Q&A with cast and crew from the original series, chaired by Joan Bakewell. The discussion explored the changing face of the BBC, as well as developments in film and production technique – not all positive. There was keen agreement about the enduring importance of this series, celebrating Shoulder to Shoulder as a key text made for and by women. The fact it has only been aired twice on British television (both screenings taking place in 1974) was lamented, and a rallying cry for the BBC to issue and distribute this landmark series on DVD was endorsed by all.

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Exploring psychoanalysis with Dr David Bell

This post was contributed by Ceren Yalcin, an intern at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research.

Following his popular lecture series about psychoanalysis, Dr David Bell, Visiting Fellow in the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research (BISR) and the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities (BIH), answered questions at a special session for students and the wider public. The event was designed to address issues that might have remained unclear, and it generated a lively discussion with participants from various academic and professional backgrounds.

The following account does by no means provide an exhaustive summary of the event – it is rather a selection of questions and answers that I personally found most insightful.

Question 1: Did psychoanalysis retreat to the clinic?

Answer: It should be emphasised that psychoanalysis is a body of knowledge about the  mind and not “just” a form of treatment. Treatment is the application of psychoanalysis within a clinical context. The British Psychoanalytic Society, for example, has created an outreach committee in the last ten years. It is involved in the annual Psychoanalysis and Film programme. The Society also has an applied section with psychoanalysts, academics, and literary critics. Over the last ten years, the Society has put a lot of emphasis on showing that psychoanalytic thinking can be very relevant to understanding other spheres of social and cultural life.  (Those interested in this question, might find Stephen Frosh’s (2010) book “Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic” useful).

Question 2: How does psychoanalysis understand the ‘the normal’ as opposed to ‘the abnormal’?

Answer: Psychoanalysis finds the normal in the abnormal. It sees abnormality as a perversion of normality, as revealing what is immanent inherent (is this right?)  in all of us. As Freud beautifully puts it, a breakdown is like a crystal smashing. If you drop a crystal it fragments but it does not fragment along random lines. It sheers along the lines of force that are already within the crystallized structure. In other words, the shattering shows inherent(?) immanent forces within the crystal like the breakdown.

Question 3: What is transference and why is it important in psychoanalytic treatment?

Answer: The concept of transference is not just relevant for the psychoanalytic setting (i.e. the consulting room). As Freud states, it occurs in classrooms when students develop feelings about their teachers or their peers who become like their siblings. The original metaphor Freud used to describe transference was that of a template.

We carry around templates and mould the objects around us to fit into templates. All of us have our particular tendencies. Some of us tend to idealise people, some of us tend to denigrate people, some of us tend to see things in people that other people do not see. We all invest significant people around us with powerful feelings that have their origin in our past.

These templates, called internal objects, exist within us and we project them on to other people. In the clinical setting the patient projects onto the analyst. The analyst tries to maintain neutrality without asking ‘why are you treating me like this?’. On the contrary, the analyst lets transference develop in order to understand the patient’s internal objects. Those interested in transference might want to read Freud’s papers “On Transference Love” and “The Dynamics of Transference”.

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Waste, Luxury and Excess

This post was contributed by Bryony Merritt of Birkbeck’s External Relations Department.

The final round-table of the Surplus symposium at Birkbeck looked at examples of waste, luxury and excess in London and New York.

Simon Choat (Kingston) began by exploring ideas about capitalism, excess and transgressions. He argued that the way we focus on capitalism often reduces everything to commoditisation. He identified excessive acts of transgression as a way to break out from the constraints of capitalism, noting that a riot is in itself an act of transgression that can’t be recuperated by capitalism, as it can’t be harnessed to the profit motive. The threat to capitalism posed by riots is what led to such an authoritarian backlash after the UK riots of 2011, he argues, but due to the disorganised nature of a riot they cannot be used as an ongoing challenge to capitalism. He posited that if capitalism is going to die it will be through its own excesses, as it is itself transgressive and constantly breaking down limitations.

Joel McKim (Birkbeck) explored with the audience the significance of Freshkills Landfill site in Staten Island. This 22,000 acre site is one of the only man-made structures visible from space, yet remains largely invisible to the majority of New Yorkers, whose rubbish it contains. The site was closed in March 2001, and then briefly reopened in September of that year to house the debris from the Twin Towers, including human remains. The site is now being landscaped to provide a public park and wetlands. A memorial was quickly incorporated into the designs following 9/11. However, this has left New York with no landfill site and no incinerators, so the city now transfers its waste to sorting stations in the poorest areas of the city, before shipping it to poorer states in the south under a largely privatised system. Joel described the park project as ‘redemptive’ – a way for New York to “overcome the limitations of our over-consuming society and change our garbage into parks”.

The project is designed to ‘immunise’ the site against its past, but Joel reminded us that the risk of leakage remains. Leachate and methane gas could break through the engineering of the landscapers, and New York now ‘leaks’ its rubbish into other, poorer states.

Joel then moved on to look at digital waste, the fastest growing waste stream in the developed world. Eighty per cent of digital waste goes to be recycled and ends up in the developed world where it is stripped for valuable metals, while simultaneously exposing the workers to dangerous levels of harmful materials such as mercury. Companies use their multinationality to evade legal restraints and create a “network of invisibility”. Currently these digital products have a structure of obsolescence built into them but Joel said that the notion of Extended Producer Responsiblitity (EPR) is now gaining traction, with the idea that producers need to be responsible from the creation to the destruction of these items, rather than passing responsibility onto consumers.

Emma M. Jones (Queen Mary’s) rounded up the day by looking at a very local issue: the paradox of London’s high-quality, reliable water supply, in contrast to the difficulty of accessing water in public spaces and the thriving bottled water industry in the city. Emma’s forthcoming book, Parched City, is a history of the water industry in London. She explained that she used drinking water as a lens to look at what she sees as an inherently political issue. Although we don’t require vast quantities of drinking water to survive, when we are forced to spend £1.60 to access 500ml, the issue of access becomes very pertinent.

Anna says that there was no significant bottled water industry in London until 1983, when the UK’s first and only water strike took place for one month, disrupting water supplies in Manchester and London and opening the gate for the bottled water industry. Anna showed a picture of an advertisement for Schweppes Abbey Well water: the official water of the Olympic Games 2012, and highlighted a further paradox – that the Thames Water treatment facility is less than one mile away from the Olympic Park and could easily have met the water needs of all the visitors.

The panel brought to an end a day of wide-ranging and pertinent debates about how globally, nationally and locally we are all tied into cultures of excess, and raised many questions about how we can and should respond to this.

Listen to the podcast of this round-table.

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