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Oxford Brookes lecturers to convene 2017 British Academy Conference

Carrying child news sizeAn interdisciplinary team of lecturers from the Department of Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes University has been selected to convene one of the prestigious British Academy Conferences, to take place in London in 2017. The theme of the conference will be ‘Vulnerability and the Politics of Care’, a subject that has broad academic and public appeal.

Over the course of the two-day conference speakers will present research and engage in discussions about vulnerability in contexts ranging from eldercare to the war on terror, from epigenetics to phenomenology.

The organisers are Doerthe Rosenow (Senior Lecturer, International Relations), Victoria Browne (Lecturer, Politics), Tina Managhan (Senior Lecturer, International Relations), and Jason Danely (Senior Lecturer, Anthropology) – all of whom are first-time applicants to organise the event. They decided to move forward with their British Academy proposal after a successful two-day workshop on the same topic held at Oxford Brookes University in January 2016, which included participants from across the UK and Italy.

For the British Academy Conference, the four organisers have built upon the success of January’s event and invited even more world-class speakers – not only from the UK, but also the US, Germany, Australia, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and Lebanon. One highlight of the conference will be a talk by Professor Judith Butler (University of California Berkeley), widely recognized as one of the most influential voices in contemporary social theory today. Butler, who is best known for her work on politics, gender and queer theory, has been at the center of developing a politics of vulnerability over the past decade, and was a key supporter of the conference proposal. More information on the conference will be available later in the year.

Oxford Brookes Historian receives Nobel Fellowship

Dr James Cooper speaking at the Nobel Institute in Oslo. Photograph credit: livestream.com/aktivdebatt/events/5319724

Dr James Cooper speaking at the Nobel Institute in Oslo. Photograph credit: livestream.com/aktivdebatt/events/5319724

Dr James Cooper, senior lecturer in History at Oxford Brookes University, joins the Nobel Institute in Oslo this month as part of the Nobel Peace Prize Research and Information (NPPRI) visiting fellows programme.

The NPPRI is run as part of the research agenda of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, which has a special interest in the fields of modern history and international affairs.  In 1992 the Institute set up a fellowship programme offering research grants to established and younger scholars. Nearly 100 visiting fellows from over 25 countries have spent periods at the Institute, including a number of world-leading Cold War historians and experts on international relations.  Fellows participate in, and lead, regular research seminars, which are open to the public.

Dr Cooper, who is primarily interested in contemporary American history within a global context, spoke as part of the Nobel Fellowship research seminar programme on ‘The Politics of Peace Making: US Presidents and the Northern Ireland Conflict, 1964-1998’. The talk stems from his current project on the response of U.S. Presidents to the Northern Ireland conflict during the Troubles and will contribute to the historiography of the American dimension of the Anglo-Irish Process. Dr Cooper will also release a book on this topic early next year with Edinburgh University Press.

Speaking about his fellowship, Dr Cooper said:

It’s a real honour to be given a fellowship at the Nobel Institute.  It’s been an invaluable opportunity to complete my monograph and share my broader research agenda with some of the leading scholars in the field of international relations.”

To see a podcast of this event, please follow this link http://livestream.com/aktivdebatt/events/5319724

For more information on NPPRI visiting fellows programme please visit their website http://www.nppri.org/

Theories of Globalization Workshop

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Panelists reflected on the book’s contribution to global studies and research on the global. A recurrent theme was the extent to which globalization scholarship has yet to fully embrace the promise of global theory as a game changer in how the world is understood and knowledge about it accrued. In this regard Theories of Globalization was seen as providing a very welcome forensic critique of existing scholarship and some important, if tantalizing, pointers to how a theory of the global can embrace interdisciplinarity and multidimensionality when describing and explaining new worlds.

Each panelist applauded the book’s scholarship and its contribution to a more theoretically refined global scholarship. All agreed that a book with this scope and ambition would always suffer from the “not invented here” kind of critique and from charges that such-and-such a theme or topic ought to have been included. As such their reviews of the book picked up on different facets of the analysis and highlighted a number of interesting issues about coverage and whether and how these might be addressed in subsequent editions.

Darren O’Byrne noted that what is particularly striking about Axford’s efforts is that they demonstrate a respect for the complexity of globalization theory. It is no easy task to start from a position of such complexity and translate that into a clear and understandable text. Global change is clearly not one-dimensional or one-directional. Multiple processes occur at multiple levels. They co-exist and sometimes collide. They are both happening and not-happening at the same time. From the standpoint of organizing a work of exposition and critique this makes for a daunting task.

O’Byrne stated that Axford presents us with a framework for mapping theories of globalization that distinguishes (for analytical but not empirical purposes) between five core logics (his term) of globalization. Axford does not seem to be attempting to ‘compare and contrast’ these five logics (in the way that one can compare and contrast hyper-globalizers, transformationalists and sceptics, or long-term and short-term theorists, or Marxists and non-Marxists). This is an understandable strategy, given his concern with the complexity of global change. Axford’s five dimensions of globalization – spatial, cultural, historical, political, economic – are akin to Bourdieu’s ‘fields’, each driven by its own logic, disagreements over which produce the rich theoretical debates captured in these chapters. Finally, O’Bryne pointed to the absence of any real engagement with the gendered dimensions of globalization.- an omission acknowledged by the author. He suggested that perhaps this is an unfortunate reflection of the state of globalization theory, rather than a deliberate omission from an author obviously sensitive to such dynamics.

David Inglis also pointed to the danger of adopting a “not invented here” mentality to any critique of this book. He extolled the virtues of the book for teaching and research purposes. In particular the book was not neglectful of the need for a historical dimension in all studies of globalization to balance the overweening presentism of much early theory and empirical research. At the same time he suggested that, in any future edition, Axford might afford more attention to the ways in which classical theory and classical thinkers have much more to say about contemporary forms of globalization than is often credited.  He posed the question “what makes good globalization theory?” and how should that inform the making of intellectually challenging and socially useful global studies?

Ray Kiely applauded a hugely impressive critique of a wide range of literature from across the disciplines – Political Science, IR, Sociology, Cultural Studies, geography, Political economy. This is testimony to the notion that Globalisation studies is at its best when it is interdisciplinary and he agreed that Axford does an excellent job discussing global issues across and between these disciplines.

He also suggested that the work needs to be seen, in part at least, as an extended response to Rosenberg’s post-mortem. Rosenberg argued that globalisation theory was guilty of circular reasoning, so that a set of processes called globalisation (global governance, migration capital flows etc) were explained by something called globalisation – thus conflating description with explanation. like Axford, Kiely think Rosenberg lumps too much diverse work into the globalisation mix and overstates the issue of causality. Taking up Axford’s approbation of complexity theory as a relatively uncontaminated way of thinking about globalization, Kiely offered some support for that view, but expressed the reservation that complexity theory might be stuck at the level of appearances, with the result that anti-reductionism simply becomes non-explanation and/or description. All of which reintroduces Rosenberg’s structures about globalization theory.

Barrie Axford thanked the panellists for their considered and supportive comments. He acknowledged the challenge and the difficulties of writing “a” book about the vagaries of globalization theory and reiterated his hopes that the approach adopted does 3 things. First, it identifies the strengths and weaknesses of global scholarship; second, it highlights similarities and differences in approach to what are often the same puzzles as these appear in scholarship out of various intellectual traditions; third, it points to a jobbing interdisciplinarity in some areas of research and theorizing and thus, fourth, goes some way to demarcate a social science of globality that has always implied the absence of boundaries, but needs a scholarship that is dedicated to the same ends.  He noted the qualifiers offered by the panellists and promised to bear these in mind when (if) a second edition is on the cards.

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The rest of the session was taken up with a lively Q+A session led by the audience in which issues as diverse as the treatment of colonialism in globalization theory, the continued Euro-centrism of many accounts and the still powerful grip of disciplinary traditions and concerns were rehearsed.

The workshop which took place on Tuesday 18 February at Oxford Brookes University. It brought together a panel of leading academics of globalization to discuss Barrie Axford’s recently published book Theories of Globalization (Polity, 2013). The workshop was chaired by Chris Rumford (Royal Holloway, University of London) and the panel was made up of Darren O’Byrne (University of Roehampton), David Inglis (Exeter University) and Ray Kiely (Queen Mary, University of London). The audience was made up of members of the GSA, GPES and graduate students at Brookes.

Organized by the Global Studies Association (GSA) and the Centre for Global Politics, Economy and Society (GPES), Oxford Brookes University

 

 

 

 

 

Internet security and Big Data considered by panel of experts during seminar hosted by Oxford Brookes University

In the third of a series of three seminars on ‘Networks and Society’ organised by Brunel University and the Centre for Global Politics, Economy and Society at Oxford Brookes University, the theme was ‘Data-bases and surveillance’.

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The proceedings were opened by Professor Barrie Axford (Oxford Brookes) who reminded participants that while everyone knows that the Internet has changed how we live, are governed and conduct business, a new, perhaps less visible technological trend promises or threatens greater transformation.  It is known as “big data.” Big data is not coterminous with the Internet, although the Web makes it much easier to collect and share data. Big data is about more than just communication:  we can learn from a large body of information things that we could not grasp, or even conceive, when we had access to and used only smaller amounts.  Big data is also characterized by the ability to turn into data many aspects of the world and everyday life that have never been quantified before. Some call this process  “datafication.”, and unlovely as that term is, it does service. As we all know, even friendships and “likes” can be datafied, most obviously on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Lest this appear as rather benign, or merely descriptive, arguably, it is increasingly clear that citizens are, or may be, vulnerable to the increasingly routine use of big data, and thus in need of protection.  Big data in the guise of Big Brother sounds rather clichéd, but is far from impossible. In all countries, but particularly in non-democratic ones, big data can exacerbate the existing asymmetry of power between the state and the people and between powerful corporate interests and citizens. This asymmetry could well become so great that it leads to what has been described as big-data authoritarianism.

He ended by saying that the seminar affords insights into the aims and mechanics of big data construction and use, into the costs and benefits so visited and the propriety – the democratic propriety – of everything being “datafied”.

In his paper Stephen Coulson stressed that the UK Government in fact has a long track record of successfully implementing Big Data projects. This record extends back at least to 1086 with the compilation of the Doomsday Book. More recently, the first regular, national census in 1801 was launched with the aim of collecting reliable data for social and defence planning as well as to inform the private sector by making the information available to life insurance companies. That the information in the Doomsday Book and the 1801 census is still being actively used today is testament to the success of both these projects.  It may be no coincidence that both projects occurred before the advent of IT and the term Big Data. Delays and lack of clarity of purpose in current Big Data projects have created the impression that the concept of using large data sets for predictive modelling is at best inaccurate and at worst a danger. Attempts to investigate the truth of this impression by studying current Big Data projects are complicated by the fact that the projects that use Big Data such as the human genotype and NHS Patient Records tend to be large, high-profile projects. The size and duration of these projects (both examples are still running) makes it difficult to assess the future benefits of their work and their impacts on the perceptions (sense of threat, predisposition to resist) and behaviour of citizens.

Alex Finnen gave a detailed comparative analysis of the vicissitudes in implementing systems of population movement control by way of biometric ID cards, digital passports and other state-of-the-art population management technologies. His paper outlined the current state of affairs from the point of view of managers attempting to effectively use ICTs in these areas. Most population management control mechanisms are subject to rigorous national and international legislative control, but in order to work effectively in a mobile world they require international agreements on the formats in which data is to be stored and presented.  Nowhere is this more so than in Europe where it is possible for a citizen to move by car between five or six different states in one day.  Such agreements are not in place and are not likely to be so in the near future.  While this remains the case, the United Kingdom and the EU have a brief window to introduce appropriate legislation to manage these still nascent technologies. His basic premise is that “big brother is not here yet” in global terms but that we should use this window of opportunity to develop the national and international legislative framework for the day when it is a real global prospect.

Karl Harrison gave a close-grained portrayal of the ways in which the capacity to gather large quantities of data from numerous types of mobile devices has become a commonplace of major crime investigation in the UK. Such ‘high-tech’ sources of intelligence have become progressively more established and systematised within major crime investigation. He argued that There is an implicit challenge for police in recognising the distinction between ‘data’ and ‘intelligence’ in the context of the interrogation of mobile devices; this is not dissimilar to the conflation the persists between concepts of forensic intelligence and evidence, and the tendency to regard only certain specific forensic evidence types as being suitable providers of intelligence (most specifically PACE DNA samples). As a consequence, complex enquiries that might be led in some part by forensic intelligence, are sometimes hamstrung by a syndrome of tunnel vision that directly equates the term ‘intelligence’ with biometric identification.

Jonathan Joseph, spoke to the wider and contested theme of ‘resilience’ applied to a host of policy areas and bearing on the ways in which systems and actors react to, manage and ‘bounce back’ from external shocks.  A resilience approach to development, security and disaster protection focuses on risk awareness, preparedness and assessment. Using EU policy on monitoring crisis situations in the Horn of Africa, he revealed how the resilience discourse allows actors such as the EU to portray itself in a way that is consistent with its image as a facilitator of better governance and normative forms of power. It also allows the EU to project itself as a strong actor in a complex and uncertain global environment.  His position is that while resilience encourages a view of the bigger picture as more complex, uncertain and yet inter-dependent, this in fact legitimates more mundane practices at the micro level that relate to monitoring and evaluation of performance of individuals and institutions, including forms of data gathering and storage. Here, under the resilience motif, routine surveillance of individuals and populations can be parlayed into a a cost-effective way of dealing with interdependency crises.

In the final paper of the day, Anthony Barnett turned directly to the potential and actual consequences for democracy carried in the routinisation of big data generation and usage. Big data is a wonderfully powerful tool in many areas, in the sciences in particular, but also in surveillance, because it changes the way the intelligence services work and the way citizens – and journalists – must relate to them. Where there were once specific targets, everyone is now under automatic surveillance, the information ready to be accessed by an agent if so desired. Where suspects where once placed under surveillance by human judgment, computers looking for patterns of behaviour will flag most suspects for the intelligence services in the future, most of which will be false positives. The copious amount of metadata we leave by living normal 21st Century lives mean we can be mapped in the smallest detail with a minimum of effort. Activists, journalists and their sources will need to be much more careful and courageous than ever before, and a self-censorship mentality is a likely outcome. These changes should be problematic also to those who place much trust in the state’s intentions – with the huge size of the intelligence services in Britain and its allies, and the information sharing amongst them, leaks for profit and other motifs is inevitable. How are we to deal with this brave new world?

The day closed with a lively discussion on the propriety of big data generation and usage; on its liberating and oppressive effects. In this, and throughout the day, a number of themes and issue-areas were apparent:

  1. In what could otherwise be presented as a managerial or simply technical solution to, for example, crime investigation, population movement or consumer marketing, underlying principles are at stake; not least the legitimate extent and appropriateness of state and private-corporate surveillance or monitoring in a democratic polity and society?
  2. At heart we are dealing with the changing nature of power in contemporary societies and whether the digital revolution is entrenching or fundamentally altering past configurations.
  3. So, rather than trade only in discussions on the technical capacity of states and other actors to carry out such surveillance / monitoring, or on their relative efficiency when doing so, we should be examining the objectives of data gathering in the first place.
  4. Insistence on clarity of purpose is essential to ensure democratic accountability, along with the expectation that the institutions charged with oversight of intelligence and other kinds of data gathering are fit for purpose.
  5. Clarity of purpose also bears on the sensitive area of data sharing. Where this occurs – as it frequently does – lists of “customers” for shared data must be publicly available and their intended uses made known.
  6. At the same time, it is necessary to distinguish between data willingly and knowingly surrendered by individuals and data – perhaps metadata – gathered from individuals and populations ‘behind their backs’, as it were, as a result of them going on line to further a line of inquiry or personal connection.
  7. This is a tricky area for students of democracy weighted, as it is, with matters of trust and / or a sense that in a highly digitized and interconnected world, citizens and consumers may be relatively uncaring – rather than ill-informed – about the possible dangers of identifying and revealing themselves online.
  8. As such, the different motivations underlying citizen/consumer resistance to data gathering have to be canvassed and understood. The world is not  ordered, or is not just ordered, by principled or ideological cyber-enthusiasts or sceptics.

Details of the outputs from this and the first 2 seminars in the series will be advertised on these pages in the coming months, along with notices about future events.

  • The panel of expert speakers comprised:  Dr Stephen Coulson (Buckingham University and Apsley Analytics), Dr Alex Finnen (Ministry of Defence), Dr Karl Harrison (Cranfield), Professor Jonathan Joseph (Sheffield) and Anthony Barnett (openDemocracy).

Senior Lecturer in Politics, Sarah Whitmore, publishes article about the political situation in Ukraine

Senior Lecturer in Politics, Dr Sarah Whitmore, has published an article on the Political Studies Association blog about the political situation in Ukraine.

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The article, published on 6 December, is intended for a wide audience who perhaps don’t know too much about Ukraine but are interested in understanding why hundreds of thousands of people have been out on the streets demonstrating for almost two weeks.

Sarah Whitmore is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at Oxford Brookes University and an honorary research fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Birmingham.

 

 

Professor Barrie Axford to give keynote address about the digital revolution and global society

Axford_B_p0054569Professor Barrie Axford has been invited to give a keynote address at the Institute for Humanities and Social Science Research (IHSSR) at Manchester Metropolitan University. He will give the 3rd lecture in a series devoted to  ‘Making Global Society’ and will talk on the theme ‘The digital revolution and the making of global society: limits and possibilities’. The lecture will take place on 18 November 2013.

Professor Barrie Axford to be international reviewer for Hawaii International Conference on Information and System Sciences

Axford_B_p0054569Professor Barrie Axford has been invited to be a member of the international reviewer panel for the E-Government Track at the 47th Hawaii International Conference on Information and System Sciences (HICSS-47). The conference, the largest and most prestigious in Information Sciences, will be held on the Big Island Hawaii in March 2014

Centre for Global Politics, Economy and Society Launch event

To celebrate its launch the Centre for Global Politics, Economy and Society (GPES) will hold a workshop on January 17-18, 2013 on the theme of “The Borders of Global Theory: views from within and without”

The workshop will be held in the University’s Buckley Building, on its Gipsy Lane campus and will commence at 1:45pm on Thursday January 17; finishing on Friday, January 18 at 2pm.

There is no charge for the workshop, but if you would like to attend so that we can estimate seating and refreshments, please contact Dr David Hughes on david.hughes-2010@brookes.ac.uk

The Centre is an interdisciplinary body with a remit to encourage reflection on and research into social transformations of global scope, which are impacting on the world today. For further information visit www.social-sciences.brookes.ac.uk/research/centres/gpes/

The workshop will examine the current state of global theory, assess its contribution to the transformation or modification of social-scientific knowledge and reflect on its future. A body of work with the idea of the global at its core can be traced back to the 1980s and despite the narrowing of the research focus seen in the shift from broad-brush and often ideologically – inflected tracts, to projects with a rather middle-range cast, arguably there remains the promise of a two-way transformation immanent in global scholarship. The first is a transformation in the ways in which the world is ordered and lives conducted; the second a transformation in how knowledge about the world is garnered and evaluated. In both cases, our frames of reference either have changed, or may be changing.  Nearly 3 decades on it is apposite to take stock and look forward; all with a critical eye.
The final programme for the workshop will be published on January 5 at: www.social-sciences.brookes.ac.uk/research/centres/gpes/

Speakers include:

Roland Roberston: “Beyond the Global? Potential Directions for ‘Global Studies'”

Chris Rumford: “Strangeness: theorizing a particular experience of globalization”

Jan-Aart Scholte: “Global Democracy Research: A Methodological Reflection”

Grahame Thompson: “Should we be worried about global quasi-constitutionalization?”

Heather Widdows: “Public Goods and the Possibility of Theories of Can theories of Justice ever being Global?”

Gillian Youngs: “Virtual Globalization: Directions in Digital Thinking”