“My disability does not have to halt my career options in the way I thought they would”

After an accident left Esther Adegoke with a disability she sought to complete her studies in Politics at Birkbeck. Last week, she graduated with a First.

Esther doesn’t recall exactly what sparked her interests in studying politics. Just that her sisters who had studied politics at AS level would come home and discuss topics from their classes, topics that piqued her interest more than any of the GSCE subjects she was studying at the time.

After completing her A levels she opted for a degree in Politics at the University of Leicester. In the beginning of her third year she was involved in an accident that left her using a wheelchair and in need of a full-time care team, meaning she could no longer study in Leicester.  Determined to continue her degree, Esther looked for options in her home city of London where she came across Birkbeck, “what gave Birkbeck the winning edge for me was the evening classes, it was more practical having lectures at 6pm because it fit my routine as opposed to morning lectures and seminars.”

At Birkbeck, Esther found new topics that sparked her interests in Politics further and in different ways. “My favourite course, funnily enough wasn’t a module taken under the politics department but actually the psychosocial department called, ‘racism and antisemitism’. I found it interesting because it did something unique in that it challenged us to investigate the commonalities and differences between anti-black racism and antisemitism. Of course, I had seen instances of the two racisms being studied separately, but never together.”

Fortunately, Esther had the support of her family and friends who were pivotal in helping her complete her work.  “My mum accompanied me to every lecture and seminar I attended and my sisters often read my essays.” The College’s Disability team were also instrumental in allowing her to complete her course. She recalled: “My disability officer Mark Pimm and scribe Yvonne Plotwright were a massive support to me. Mark went above and beyond to ensure that my points were taken seriously and Yvonne was extremely thorough in her note-taking, ensuring I didn’t miss any vital information from my lectures and seminars.”

The accident left her unable to speak for long periods of time before her voice became exhausted so she used EyeGaze to help her craft her essays. EyeGaze is software that enables the individual’s eye to control the mouse and keyboard of a computer. She explained: “I took to it rather quickly, I used to use it recreationally and even then I was told the hours I would spend on it were unheard of. Without Eye Gaze I wouldn’t have been able to complete my degree. “

Now Esther has graduated with a First Class degree, recognition for all of her determination and resilience. She says of her achievement, “It felt amazing, I was over the moon with my result and without sounding arrogant it was even more rewarding because I knew I deserved it. I worked so hard for it so it was special to know my hard work had actually paid off.”

Unsure of what she will do next, Esther still feels positive about her future. “My experience at Birkbeck with the assistance of Eye Gaze has really given me the confidence to say that my disability does not have to halt my career options in a way I previously thought they would. I have often said that I have no plans to return to study after my undergraduate degree but never say never; at least I know it’s a case of if I want to go back as opposed to I can’t.”

Dr Ben Worthy, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics said: “Here at the Department of Politics, we are all so proud of what Esther has achieved and honoured to have been able to help her in her studies. She’s not only been a model student but an inspiration to us all. We also want to say a big thank you to everyone around her, especially the disabilities office and her family and friends who supported her along the way.”

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”With the right motivations you can shift your life for the better”: young father works nights to achieve degree success

Marco Murdocca’s ambition to change his career led him to pursue a degree in Psychology at Birkbeck. Like many students he juggled a full-time job, working night shifts throughout his four year degree. Now with a new job and a young family, he reflects on how his hard work paid off.

After deciding on a career change Marco thought that Birkbeck’s evening taught degrees would enable him to fulfill his ambition while supporting his family. He was impressed by the quality of the teaching in the psychology department and inspired by the original mission of the College’s founder, George Birkbeck who he said, “intended to give an opportunity to the working class to gain further education and better lives. That really resonated with my situation and further convinced me to choose Birkbeck.”

Like most students, Marco faced the challenge of fitting in his studies with an incredibly busy schedule. During the week he worked in The Victoria, Grosvenor Casino and for the last two years of his degree he looked after his pregnant wife and eventually their son, Dante. Marco reflected: “Four days a week I would have been at university by 3pm to prepare for the lecture, and then I attended the lecture from 6pm to 8:30pm and after that I would go to work for a 10pm to 6am shift to finally end up in bed at 7am. For four years.”

Marco progressed well through his studies finding support from his lecturers, particularly his project supervisor, PhD candidate Isabella Nizza, who he said “has been great supporting me and pushing me over my limits and made the project a very formative journey.” But also from his fellow classmates whose varied backgrounds meant that as a group they pushed each other to get things done.

Ultimately, Marco’s source of inspiration was his family. “At the start of my journey, changing my career and upgrading my life was the leading drive. Towards the end, it became my wife and my son.”

His hard work has paid off as soon after completing the course Marco got a job as a consultant at The Business Transformation Network, a company that provides brand amplification to businesses from the HR tech landscape, where he is involved in attracting new partners to the network and sustains relationships with those already a part of it. He has not ruled out a Master’s degree in the future, but understandably for now he will be focusing on his new job and his family.

Marco’s parting words of advice for anyone thinking of a career change: “I would say, go ahead and get a degree and take ownership of your future. London has a wealth of educational opportunities to take advantage of, irrespective of age, gender, religion, sexual orientation and life commitments. What I realised is that with the right motivations and mindset you can achieve big and shift your life for the better. A bit of luck also helps!”

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“Birkbeck’s policy of not requiring specific grades and instead assessing my ability meant I had the chance of getting a degree”


Godlisten Pallangyo received a limited education in his home country of Tanzania. Despite not having an abundance of resources at his disposal in his early life, he demonstrated a will to finish school and study politics at university.

Born into a poor family in rural Tanzania, Godlisten was limited by the lack of resources available to students who were not able to afford to pay for their education. At the end of the school day and at the weekend, Godlisten would help his parents with farming their land.

Despite these challenges, Godlisten passed primary and secondary school. However, when it came time to progress to A-Levels his family could not afford to pay for his education. He went out and supported himself financially so he could complete his studies, while also supporting his younger brother at school.  Unfortunately, Godlisten did not get the grades needed to get a place at a university in Tanzania, but he never gave up hope of getting a university education.

Ten years later, Godlisten was living and working in the UK with ambitions to study politics. He said; “I became interested in politics from an early age, as growing up in Tanzania, I wanted to learn more about how decisions were made both at global and national levels.”

Even though Godlisten’s grades would have disqualified him from some university courses, Birkbeck’s inclusive policy meant that his application was assessed on future potential, not just past attainment. He commented: “I think it is very important for universities to recognise the potential in students rather than just looking at grades as many people don’t get the same opportunities as others educationally and so don’t achieve the right grades to progress. Birkbeck’s policy of not requiring specific grades and instead assessing my ability through set assignments meant I had the chance of getting a degree, something which I never thought I would achieve.”

When he first started at Birkbeck it had been ten years since he had written his last essay so his first assignment was a challenge. He recalled: “I was not used to reading long articles and books as I am quite slow at reading and it took me a while to get used to it. Learning how to structure an essay and develop an argument, when you come from an education system that just teaches you to listen and repeat information rather than think creatively was definitely a challenge!”

Godlisten found support from his lecturers and tutors who were able to help students from non-conventional educational backgrounds and was aided by the flexibility afforded to students through evening teaching, which he said allowed him to “plan my time well ahead of each term in order to ensure I attended all my lectures and complete my assignments on time.”

For Godlisten, taking the step into higher education was a worthwhile one that will hopefully see him fulfil his ambition of influencing political change in Tanzania. His parting words of advice for anyone unsure about returning to education: “If you’re thinking about getting a degree I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It may seem like just another three years of reading long books but I gained so much more than just writing essays and achieving good grades. I got to meet people I would never otherwise have met, increase my confidence and broaden my thinking.”

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2019 Eric Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture

James Handy, a Master’s student of European History, discusses the recent Eric Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture given by Professor Chris Wickham on the topic of feudalism.  Professor Chris Wickham opened his Eric Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture with a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that Hobsbawm himself ‘was not terribly interested’ in medieval history. Among his extensive works on the rise of modern capitalism, however, Hobsbawm wrote an introduction to Karl Marx’s Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations. This year’s lecture used Hobsbawm’s introduction as a starting point in what was a highly enjoyable lecture on the economic logic of feudalism.

According to Wickham, the study of feudal society has too often been situated within a ‘meta-narrative of failure’, within which teleological terms such as ‘pre-capitalist’ are suggestive of a weakening of feudal processes. By prioritising a focus on the unique customary facets of medieval societies and how these in turn influenced their rise and decline, historians have often obscured an underlying economic logic to feudalism. Like Hobsbawm then, Wickham is wary of economic historians’ tendency to produce demarcation disputes by attempting to fit dynamic concepts into static ones. In this way, feudalism should be seen as a flexible world system rather than a fixed set of regional social relations.

Understood as a world system, feudalism enables us to begin to comprehend the medieval world as an innovative set of economic relations on its own terms, rather than as a developmental stepping stone towards modernity. ‘Different regions get brownie points’, asserts Wickham, for being most like modern society with individual regions ‘passing the baton’ to whoever looks most like us. Historical transformations – ranging from the centralising bureaucratisation of China’s Ming dynasty to the urbanisation of tenth century northern Italy – are best understood as products of feudal economics.

Generalising outwards, Wickham asserted that at the centre of this dynamic system was the peasant family – the vast majority of people between the Neolithic and twentieth century. For Wickham, the economic logic of feudalism lies in the fact that the peasantry were responsible for the surplus needed for economic growth. This necessitated an immensely costly ‘stabilising’ programme by the Church and nobility to justify the extraction of surplus from the peasantry. Elites responded by nurturing art, religion, ritual and political culture in ways that reinforced exploitative productive processes. When this failed, elites maintained a dispersed monopoly of violence. If the economic logic of feudalism was inherently on the side of lords, asks Wickham, why expend a tremendous amount of resources keeping market forces at bay?

A key theme of the lecture was that feudalism consisted of far more exchange complexity than previously thought. A key reason for this dynamism was that medieval economies were not solely propelled by lords’ economic demand. Wickham drew on archaeological surveys from across Europe and the Mediterranean that have shown a wide availability of coloured and patterned ceramics as evidence of peasants’ disposable incomes. From as early as the tenth century in Tuscany, for example, both lords and peasants could purchase professionally made ceramics imported from urban centres. Furthermore, many peasants worked with considerable autonomy such as the flax producers and merchants of Busir in Egypt, whose textiles were shipped as far as the Low Countries as part of a global network of peasant trade. We can therefore see that commerce could hold an important role among rent-paying peasantry.

Wickham concluded his lecture by rebutting the idea that there was a global systematic trend towards a weakening of the feudal process. High levels of commerce do not undermine feudalism if we concede that feudal economies logically tended towards increased peasant surpluses which lords struggled to confiscate.

The lecture challenged historical assumptions and set out new perspectives for thinking about the past, exactly as a Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture should do.

I would also like to thank the Hobsbawm Memorial Fund for supporting my Master’s in European History. It was during a previous Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture that I was made aware of the Hobsbawm Memorial Fund, whose financial support I have found invaluable.


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