All inaugural lectures are held at 5.30pm in the Portrait Room, Grove House.
Invitations and full details will be sent out approximately one month before each event.
Inequalities of various kinds characterise our world. My intellectual project, derived from my lived experience as a white, Jewish, girl growing up in a left-wing family in apartheid South Africa has been to understand such inequalities and the processes that hold them in place. In his posthumous memoir, Familiar Stranger: Life Between Two Islands, Stuart Hall (2017) traced the connections between his lived experience – growing up in Jamaica, coming to the UK on a Rhodes Scholarship and living here – and his theoretical and political thinking and activism. In this lecture, I emulate Hall’s purpose (though probably not achieving it so well). In particular, I examine the processes and influences that have contributed, and continue to contribute, to my intellectual and political work. In tracing my shifts, I raise questions about the dangers of identity politics and the accompanying solidification of identities, combined with individualisation, that characterise many political divisions in various parts of the world, including the UK. The feminist slogan was ‘the personal is political’ but now, it seems, only the personal matters. Materialist analyses and politics, which paid attention to systemic, structured inequalities, are struggling to reappear in the 'post-truth' world in which we are now said to live. One important feminist tool has been the idea of intersectionality – that different inequalities intersect with each other. I argue that this idea has become closely attached to the individualism of identity politics in ways that can make it difficult to use analytically, while it remains useful politically in certain circumstances. However, we need something that remains historically located, situated in the time and place, and for this I turn to Hall’s theory of articulation – where domination and oppression are joined in ways that move, can be taken apart (disarticulated) and put back together (re-articulated) differently.
Neoliberalism is a political philosophy promoting individualism and personal choice. It is also a policy model aimed at rolling back the state and minimizing regulation so that entrepreneurs and financiers may create capital more freely. Neoliberal economics has arguably led to the emergence of new socio-economic categories including Generation Rent, the precariat, mumpreneurs and the ‘self-employed’ workers of the gig economy. For these, and many others, stability, security and life-long work in a single organization is increasingly unlikely. We have been told that we’re moving from a job for life to a lifetime of jobs and that we need to ‘step up’ to become the heroes of our own lives. Workers are required to take responsibility for updating skills, adapting to change and even self-branding.
As we negotiate the tricky terrain of our future hopes and plans who will guide us? Where are our maps and compasses? What lessons are there to be learned about living a successful life and who are our teachers? Reality TV, the self-help and career-coaching industries all purport to have the answers; offering us guidance on securing a job or client contract, getting a promotion or pay rise and developing a positive mindset. This presentation will critically explore some of these messages and reflect on the ways in which they skew the public conversation about social mobility and social progress.
14 May 2018
Professor Michael Witt
Media, Culture and Language
18 June 2018
Professor Stephen Drinkwater