Archive of Research stories

Oxford Brookes to host workshop on ‘Vulnerability and the Politics of Care’

On 21-22 January 2016 Oxford Brookes University will host a workshop on the topic ‘Vulnerability and the Politics of Care’.
The two-day intensive workshop will explore vulnerability and its ethnographic, historical, aesthetic, and political manifestations. Ten invited presenters and five respondents will initiate discussions and link across disciplinary boundaries, challenging prevailing notions of power, gender, corporeality, infrastructure and security.

Confirmed speakers from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes include Tina Managhan (International Relations), Beverly Clack (Philosophy), Emily Cousens (Politics) and Jason Danely (Anthropology). In addition, there will be six other speakers from the UK and Italy.

There are a limited number of additional places available for other participants so if you are interested in attending please contact Doerthe Rosenow on the email address supplied below by 31 December 2015,  specifying whether you would like to attend the whole workshop or select parts of it.

For more information or to register please contact Doerthe Rosenow directly at or see the event listing


Elites, Legality and Inequalities of Power: State Capture in Comparative Perspective

Francisco Durand's paper on state capture in Peru

Francisco Durand’s paper on state capture in Peru

On 7 October the Centre for Global Politics, Economy and Society at Brookes staged a one-day comparative workshop on state capture across the developing world, with papers on Latin America (Bolivia and Peru), the Balkans (Montenegro), the Central Asian Republics, India and South Africa. The conference sought to provide a definition for what is meant by ‘state capture’ and to provide links between a range of different sorts of regimes which, in one way or another, have been characterised in this way.

Those giving papers included researchers at Oxford Brookes as well as other invited participants. The keynote address was given by Professor Neil Robinson from the University of Limerick, and the concluding remarks were provided by Laurence Whitehead, Official Fellow in Politics at Nuffield College, University of Oxford.

Robinson sought to go beyond the definition of state capture provided in 1998 by Joel Hellman from the World Bank with relation to elite corruption in the countries of the former Soviet Union which he considered limited in its use. Indeed, he sought to go beyond simple institutional explanations (such as presidentialism as opposed to parliamentarism) in fostering state capture. Institutions, on their own, he maintained, failed to promote the liberal virtuous circle so desired by proponents of the Washington Consensus. Taking Russia as an example, he argued that state capture is not a permanent feature of a political system, since under President Putin it was more a case of the state recapturing business after the oligarchic capture witnessed under President Yeltsin.

Robinson saw the need therefore to distinguish different types of state capture and different stages of market reform, and for these to be placed in their historical context. He also pointed to the need to highlight degrees of state autonomy and the extent to which elites can appropriate rents through their influence over state decisions. In Eastern Europe, liberalisation had been essentially technocratic, focusing on how to get the state out of the way, though this was less evident in some countries than others. A paper by Alex Finnen (Ministry of Defence/Oxford Brookes) on Montenegro highlighted a society in which clans and smuggling mafias (often foreign) had effectively seized power.

Two papers – one by Chris Hesketh (Oxford Brookes) and one by Jeffrey Webber (Queen Mary University) stressed class domination of contemporary states and the limited autonomy of state action. Both highlighted the contribution of Gramscian thought to understanding the processes of state capture. Looking at the case of Peru, Francisco Durand (Catholic University, Lima) concentrated more on mechanisms of state capture, both at national as well as local levels, and going beyond analysis of the executive to reflect on other nuclei of power. Both Alex Beresford (Leeds) and Rico Isaacs (Oxford Brookes) stressed neopatrimonialism as their preferred analytical framework for looking at elite control in South Africa and the Central Asian Republics respectively. Prittam Singh (Oxford Brookes) looked at India since Independence, stressing the role of nationalism in limiting the remit of business elites, at least until recent times.

Summing up the proceedings, Laurence Whitehead came back to the need to historicise experiences of state capture, recognise limitations and to focus attention on those parts of the state most readily captured by modern business elites. In reviewing the Bolivian experience, he showed that state capture is an unstable and unpredictable process. Successful state capture tends to happen when an economic model combines with a connected political project and an effective discourse combining the two. However, similarities between case studies make it possible to make meaningful comparison across geographies and over time. Depending on levels of abstraction, what we need to focus on is (i) what parts of the state? (ii) capture by whom? (iii) for what purpose? and (iv) to what degree?

Panelists for the morning session

Panelists for the morning session

Brookes historian unearths scandalous divorce for BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?

Photograph of Frances de la Tour courtesy of Wall to Wall Productions

Photograph of Frances de la Tour courtesy of Wall to Wall Productions

Joanne Begiato (Bailey), Professor in History at Oxford Brookes University, is going to appear in the final episode of the current BBC 1 series Who Do you Think You Are? (Thursday 22 October) helping Frances de la Tour discover more about her ancestors.

The award-winning actress, acclaimed for roles on stage and screen such as Alan Bennett’s The History Boys and numerous Shakespeare plays, recently starred in Vicious with Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, and will always be fondly remembered as Miss Ruth Jones in Rising Damp.

As an expert on the history of marriage and family life Professor Begiato helped uncover the scandalous divorce for adultery of Frances’s great-great-great grandmother Maria Gardner in 1805. One of only a few very rich men able to obtain a divorce and remarriage at the time, Maria’s husband, Alan Gardner, a royal naval captain, sued his wife for infidelity when he discovered her she had conceived a baby after he had sailed to the West Indies on a ship of war in 1802.

Joanne helped research Maria Gardner, described in court as ‘one of the most beautiful creatures that the eye of man can contemplate’ and explained to Frances what happened when Captain Gardner took Maria’s lover to court to sue him for ‘criminal conversation’. These law suits allowed a cuckolded husband to seek financial compensation from his wife’s lover for the loss of her sexual, maternal and economic services. With a successful case a husband to go on and obtain a parliamentary divorce from his unfaithful wife.

Long fascinated by criminal conversation suits, Joanne observes:

I enjoyed talking to Frances about her sexually-daring ancestor Maria and showed that Alan Gardner’s court case against Maria’s lover depicted her as so beautiful that she was too great a temptation to other men. It was also fun to see that the lover was defended by the famous lawyer Mr Garrow, immortalized in the BBC television series Garrow’s Law.

The episode airs on BBC 1 at 9.00pm, 22 October. More information about the series can be found on the BBC website. Join in the conversation on Twitter at #WDYTYA.

Oxford Brookes lecturer acts as guest editor for sociology journal


Oxford Brookes sociology lecturer Professor Tina Miller has guest edited a special issue of the journal ‘Families, Relationships and Societies’ alongside Professor Esther Dermott (Bristol University), which is now available online. This special issue focuses on contemporary fatherhood in Europe, with contributions from Denmark, Italy, Sweden, France and the UK.

Tina Miller set up the Oxford Network of European Fatherhood Researchers (ONEFaR)  following a British Academy Grant award in 2011. Since its inception the Network has organised research events in the UK, Italy and Sweden and presented in panel discussions at several European conferences. The Network is currently working on a book proposal with Policy Press on researching fatherhood and family lives, and will next present their work at the University of Roskilde, Denmark in November 2015.


PhD studentships of up to £14,000 a year available now for January 2016 start


To mark its 150th Anniversary, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes University, is pleased to offer a number of full-time PhD Studentships across a range of subject areas in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, starting in January 2016.

Each Studentship award will include an annual maintenance payment of £14,000 (with no inflation increase) for a maximum of three years, subject to the candidate making satisfactory progress. Students will be required to pay the annual fees at the Home/EU rate, currently £4,152 for 2015/2016 academic year.

The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences spans a diverse range of disciplines that include social sciences, history, philosophy, religion, education, law, English and modern languages.

The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has a long tradition of producing world-class research. The REF 2014 results confirm our ‘world-leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’ research status in a range of subjects, and serve as official recognition of the expertise, dedication and passion of our academic community.

We welcome applications with proposals for PhD research projects in distinct and multidisciplinary areas related to the Faculty’s wider research themes.

Some examples of our research strengths are, but not limited to:

  • Leadership and management within education, special educational needs (SEN), pedagogic practice, and school subjects and curricula
  • Early modern drama, nineteenth-century poetry, modernism and post-colonial literature
  • History of medicine, social and public health, eugenics and biopolitics, as well as the history of welfare and governance
  • Human rights, equality, international security, migration, law and religion
  • European politics and social change, gender, and critical international studies.
  • Cultural anthropology, Human origins and palaeo-environments, primates and wildlife conservation


Oxford Brookes Anthropologist receives Early Career award from the Enhancing Life Project

DSC_8191 Danely 2

Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, Jason Danely, was one of only twenty scholars from around the world to receive a two-year $50,000 Early Career award from the Enhancing Life Project, a collaborative research group funded by the John Templeton Foundation in collaboration with the University of Chicago and Ruhr University, Bochum.

Danely plans to use the award to conduct research on compassion among family carers of older adults in the UK and in Japan. More developed countries like the UK and Japan are already experiencing major strains to the capacity of their social care systems to handle the growing number of older adults in need of care, and depend heavily on volunteers, charities, and family members. Danely has found that these carers are less likely to experience carer exhaustion when they see themselves as practicing compassion, and yet little is known about the differences in the meanings, practices, and experiences of compassion across cultures that have very different linguistic, religious, and cultural contexts. Danely plans to use ethnographic observation and interviews with carers to explore ways of cultivating compassion in order to help people around the world who may be struggling with the emotional burden of caring for an older family member.

As part of the award, Danely joined 34 other scholars, from theologians to neuroethicists,  from universities around the world last summer in Banff, Canada for a week-long workshop on what it means to “enhance life”. This fellowship, and Danely’s research on compassion, will form the basis for a new module at Brookes titled “Culture and Care,” in which students will be able to study care across the life course and in different societies around the world.

Professor showcases research in week-long feature on BBC Oxford

Tina-Miller_Bio_Pic_2015Tina Miller, Professor in Sociology at Oxford Brookes University will be taking part in a series of short radio features all next week on BBC Oxford to highlight her research into managing modern family lives (21-25 September)

Tina was awarded a one year British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship in 2014 to carry out a project entitled Managing modern family lives: public understandings and everyday practises of caring and paid work.

Professor Tina Miller said: “Societal ideas about who cares for children have often assumed that women are naturally more able to care than men. These ideas arise from arguments about women’s biology and destiny, and men’s historical association with paid work.

“But as more women contribute in significant ways to the workplace and may decide not to have children, ideas of biologically-determined capacities to care come under scrutiny and provide opportunities to think in new ways about men as carers too.”

As part of the project, Tina has collaborated with BBC Radio Oxford to put together a series of short features on managing work and family life, with a particular focus on family experiences in Oxfordshire.

The live features will be included in BBC Oxford’s mid-morning show with presenter Kat Orman starting Monday 21 September and concluding on Friday 25 September with a phone-in from listeners on their experiences of managing work and family life, child care issues and so on.

The features will take the listener through the social, political and historical changes which have led to the family configurations and patterns of paid work and caring responsibilities that are seen today. The ways in which other countries, such as Sweden, support families organising care and paid work will also be explored as well as the current, often complicated, child care arrangements that working families in the UK have to negotiate.

She continues: “This is a fascinating opportunity to share topical research findings with a large audience of radio listeners, many of whom will have first-hand experience of the daily challenge of combining paid work and caring responsibilities. Is a balance possible, who’s involved in providing care and could new policies support families in more helpful ways? These are some of the questions we will be exploring.”

Guest contributors will also include Professor Lars Plantin of Malmö University in Sweden and the historian Professor Joanne Begiato (Bailey) also from Oxford Brookes University.

Tune in to BBC Radio Oxford from 10am all next week. You can also listen online and listen again to any features you miss via their website.

Rare footage of young orangutan and gibbon’s playtime captured by Oxford Brookes postgraduate student

InterspeciesPlayBlogPotential4Rare video footage of a young wild orangutan and gibbon playing together has been captured by an Oxford Brookes postgraduate student. The two youngsters can be seen enthusiastically tickling, wrestling and chasing each other in the canopy of the rainforest.

Tom Lloyd captured the footage in the Borneo jungle while taking part in a long-term research and conservation project by the Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project (OuTrop) in the Sabangau peat-swamp Forest in Indonesian Borneo.

The intelligent primates are normally competitors, sharing habitat and food in the jungle, but usually preferring to stay out of each others way. When they meet they are far more likely to fight than to play, so researchers were surprised to discover these two young apes – affectionately known as Fio the orangutan and Chilli the gibbon – apparently having such a great time together.

Tom, who is studying a master’s degree in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes said: “What started off as a typical day in the forest, turned into something special when an Indonesian field researcher and I came across the pair play-fighting. We stood there in awe; amazed by these two individuals from different species just doing what youngsters do…having fun!”

Dr Susan Cheyne, OuTrop Director of Gibbon Research, has worked at the Sabangau research site for over 10 years; “Having spent so much time studying these apes you would think you’d have seen everything that the forest has to offer, but it never ceases to surprise us! We believe this is one of the first times that play between these two primate species has been videoed in the wild. It is an exciting discovery. It reminds us that we still have a lot to learn about these popular species, particularly orangutans which some may think are well-studied.”

One of the most important rainforests left of the island of Borneo, the Sabangau Forest is home to the world’s largest population of orangutans and many thousands of gibbons. Both these species are highly endangered because of the rapid destruction of their forest home for the international trade in palm-oil and timber. Despite legal protection, the forest is threatened by dry-season forest fires that are expected to be especially fierce in 2015. Left unchecked, these fires will put all of Sabangau’s wildlife in danger.

Dr Cheyne is mindful of the threats: “Fires in tropical rainforests aren’t a natural occurrence, but are the result of human activity from clearing adjacent land for development. Fires get out of control and spread quickly, so all of our efforts right now are going into supporting a local community fire-fighting team to find and put out these fires. At times like this, when we are facing serious threats, we worry about the orangutans and gibbons like Fio and Chilli who we have come to know.”

More information about primate conservation postgraduate courses or research can be found on the Department of Social Sciences webpages.

You can read Tom’s blog post about this amazing encounter and see the video footage at

Image credit: Tom Lloyd, OuTrop

Research finds honey is a sweet treat for chimps during food droughts


New research by an Oxford Brookes academic has found that wild chimpanzees eat honey from wild beehives as a ‘fallback food’ during lean months when forest fruit is in short supply.

Chimpanzees observed in Bulindi, Uganda, over a period of 22 months, were also found to make stick tools to help them retrieve the highly nutritious food source.

Dr Matthew McLennan from the Department of Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes recorded the eating habits of chimpanzees between 2007 and 2014 and found that the chimps were using sticks to dig-out underground bee nests to get to the honey and larvae.

In human foraging societies, honey can make up a substantial portion of the diet during ‘honey seasons’ and people can devote hours every day to procuring honey. By contrast, honey is only an occasional food item for chimps and the amount eaten is overall, small.

Dr Matthew McLennan, Oxford Brookes University

Regular diets of chimps are mostly composed of fruit but they occasionally eat insects and insect products like honey; however, it wasn’t clear if the chimps were simply eating honey when it was most available or if they exploited this resource during times of food scarcity.

The research found that honey-feeding by the chimps was unrelated to peaks in flowering, when a diverse range of nectar and honey sources are available to bees and when local people harvest beehives. Instead, the chimps ate more honey when less fruit was available and when they ate less fruit overall.

Honey is rich in carbohydrate sugars and therefore it is not surprising that many wild animals like to eat it. Dr Matthew McLennan said: “The problem facing any would-be honey hunter is how to overcome the bees’ defences to gain access to the stores of nutritious honey.
“African honey bees are notorious for defending their nest through aggressive stinging – the stings are too painful for most animals to withstand for long. Smaller, sting-less bees fortify their nests with thick walls of mud and wax or by building their nests up to one meter underground, making them extremely difficult to access.

“Chimpanzees have found a way around this problem by using stick tools to overcome the bees’ defences, for example to break open or dig out a nest.”


Because chimps are our closest living relatives, it seems certain that honey was a regular food for ancestral humans, including Australopithecus and early Homo lineages, who probably also used tools to access it.

Matthew continues: “There’s a fundamental difference between honey use by chimps and people.

“In human foraging societies, honey can make up a substantial portion of the diet during ‘honey seasons’ and people can devote hours every day to procuring honey. By contrast, honey is only an occasional food item for chimps and the amount eaten is overall, small.”

Honey therefore best qualifies as a nutritious sweet treat for chimpanzees – but one that provides a welcome energy boost during lean times.
With the development of more sophisticated tools during the course of human evolution, as well as the use of smoke to subdue the stinging bees, people were able to exploit honey more efficiently and in much larger quantities, than is possible for chimps.

Like many populations of great apes, the Bulindi chimpanzees live in an environment increasingly impacted by human activities. Over the course of a decade more than 80 per cent of their forest home has been cut down for farming. Matthew hopes that by researching the lives of these chimpanzees, and drawing attention to their plight, solutions can be found to enable these fascinating beings to coexist with their human relatives.

Image credit: Matthew McLennan

Professor appointed to key role on conscientious objectors by Lord Chancellor

Peter EdgeProfessor Peter Edge has been appointed as a lay member of the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors (ACCO).

The ACCO is an arm’s length body of the Ministry of Defence with lay members appointed by the Lord Chancellor.

It’s tremendously exciting to be involved in an area so important to the development of the relationship between religion, belief, and law in the United Kingdom

Professor Peter Edge

Professor Edge was named alongside three other new members who will assist in the conduct of ACCO hearings by providing a lay view and feeding in to subsequent decision making.

The committee conducts its hearings in public and tenders its advice to the Secretary of State for Defence’s representative.

A successful appeal to the ACCO is invariably accepted by the Department as decisive on the question of conscience and the applicant will immediately be granted a release from military service.

The ACCO was established in 1970 to hear appeals from service personnel whose application to leave on grounds of conscience has been rejected by the Service Authorities.

Commenting on the announcement Professor Edge said: “Even where the military is composed entirely of volunteers, difficult issues can arise when serving personnel claim to have developed a conscientious objection to continued military service.

“Since 1970 the ACCO has made an essential contribution to fairly resolving such claims. It’s tremendously exciting to be involved in an area so important to the development of the relationship between religion, belief, and law in the United Kingdom.”

Peter is Professor of Law at Oxford Brookes University. He publishes widely on the interaction of religion and law, both in the UK and internationally.