Blog Round Up!: March-April 2019

Tom Shillam

Round Up March/April 2019

Britain, Protest, Colonialism

As the beleaguered British government lurches from one constitutional fracas to another, it seems apt again to begin with Brexit. Despite the appearance of torment – in a recurring theme for this month’s round up – the political actors involved are perhaps behaving more rationally, for better or worse, than imagined. Aaron Ackerley notes the disturbing proximity of leading ‘Brexiteers’ to ostensibly independent think tanks and brings to light a deeper history of hapless British politicians forming influential pressure groups behind the scenes.

The British government has overlooked a recent petition to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU, which garnered over 6 million votes. But are petitions as contemporary and ineffective as we might think? As the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre approaches, Richard Huzzey and Henry Miller contend that petitioning acts ‘as a tool for building a broader campaign and an enduring instrument for popular politics beyond and outside elections’. Ruth Mather explores the contributions of female reformers to early 19th-century protest, emphasising their ingenuity in negotiating with a ‘tyrannical government’ which was claiming to ‘offer paternal protection to its citizens’ while actually behaving violently towards them.

Shirin Hirsch sets this violence within a broader imperial context, reminding us of how black revolutionary Robert Wedderburn drew comparisons between atrocities abroad and the oppression of the working class at home. Similarly, on the anniversary of another colonial atrocity – the Amritsar Massacre of 13 April 1919 – Oliver Godsmark remarks on how political actors today continue to treat such violence as an aberration rather than a means through which to initiate difficult conversations about Britain’s past.

Anti-Colonialism, Decolonisation, Memory

A number of writers have considered how scholars of different backgrounds and disciplines can help begin these conversations. Eva Schalbroeck – perhaps offering a model for historians of other regions – explores how students of Belgium and the Congo can write revisionist and challenging histories which help establish ‘more culturally diverse post-colonial relationships’. Meg Foster highlighted the problems that can result from the uncritical portrayal of the histories of indigenous societies. In her review of an exhibition of Oceanic art held at the Royal Academy of Arts in London last year, Foster argues that such exhibitions often index indigenous artworks as objects of intrigue, distracting us from reckoning with their continued affective importance for the producers.

Speaking of the imperial mind and its affinity for ‘exotic objects’, Tom Harper of the University of Surrey studies how China has been variously depicted in the Western world as ‘a uniform mass with little or no individuality and prone to extreme cruelty’ and more recently as a neo-colonial power comparable to ‘the Great Powers of the Past’. Today, China is using its growing geopolitical clout to try and reshape these depictions.

Mark Fathi Massoud and Hussein Omar both offer hope in the face of authoritarian retrenchment. Omar shows how uprisings which occurred across North Africa and the Middle East 100 years ago comprised not isolated protests but an early ‘Arab Spring’ in which local actors exchanged ‘slogans, ideas, ideals and personnel’ in resisting European imperial intrigue. His emphasis on how history might have turned out differently had alternative ideas entered the ascendancy is replicated by Massoud, who demonstrates that a democratic conception of Sharia – which comprises ‘a broad set of values and ethical principles’ rather than the rigid code of law implied by Islamophobes – predominated among many politicians and intellectuals in early postcolonial Sudan.

Reason and Resistance

For those more interested in modes of political control in authoritarian states, in December Elena Goukassian penned a fascinating piece in Lapham’s Quarterly about the associations between time and power. She argues that the standardisation of time zones from the mid-19th century onwards has provided a means for authoritarians across the world to assert control over populations and manoeuvre towards important geopolitical allies.

As she suggests, as political power consolidated within the state, actors on the periphery resisted. Quan Nguyen offers some context for the recent attacks of prominent politicians on schoolchildren protesting about climate change, reminding us that the ‘understanding that emotions must be tamed for the sake of rational discourse…stands in a long tradition of Western philosophy’. Victoria Brooks goes into much greater detail about this Cartesian tradition, emphasising its gendered character, and calling for new philosophies which do not ‘value ideas over bodily sensations’.

Of course, developing new philosophies of life in an increasingly authoritarian and xenophobic global political climate demands intercontinental networking. On this note, it is worth rounding off this blog with the movements and arguments of two very different but equally determined internationalist activists in the mid-20th century. Samuel Zipp argues that Wendell Willkie – a little known Republican nominee for President in 1940 who later travelled across Africa and the Middle East observing the spread of nationalist movements – engineered an egalitarian and anti-imperialist vision of international order which is worth re-examining today. Carolien Stolte looks into an anti-imperialist actor with greater affective and symbolic reach among decolonising African and Asian peoples – African-American singer and activist Paul Robeson. Despite the US State Department preventing him travelling over a period of 8 years through the 1950s, by 1958 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was calling for ‘a widespread celebration or Robeson’s sixtieth birthday’. This was thanks to the ingenuity of countless Global South activists and internationalists many of whom were inspired by Robeson’s music. Their refusal to be bowed by censorious states and a global atmosphere of growing political cynicism perhaps offers hope today.

Tom Shillam is PhD student at the University of York who holds a Departmental Scholarship from the Department of History. His research considers how mid-20th century South Asian intellectuals synthesised anti-authoritarian ideas of their own with those of writers elsewhere to propose a different decolonising politics to the dominant developmentalist dogmas of the time. Catch him on Twitter @tomshillam.

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Blog Round-Up!: January-February 2019

Tom Shillam

The beginning of 2019 has seen much commentary on authoritarianism, political violence and student activism across the academic blogosphere. Here, I summarise some pieces that draw on new research by promising scholars, which will hopefully offer food for thought and debate!

A fitting place to start might be Brexit and the political wrangling, factionalism and jingoistic posturing it continues to unleash. Not only are leading Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg becoming more strident; those who oppose Brexit in the major parties are splitting away to form an ‘Independent Group’ which straddles both.

This brings to mind Andrew Heath’s piece for History Matters, based at the University of Sheffield, on whether the American Civil War can teach us anything today. Heath proposes that the splits we are seeing in 2019 Britain resemble those wrought by the ‘slavery question’ in the 1850s United States – dominated similarly by two political parties – though he is careful not to elide today’s Europe question with slavery in scale or moral consequence.

What is clear is that domestic political discourse around Brexit is deeply imbued with authoritarian and violent undertones which speak to the importance of submerged, brutal histories. Karis Campion, observing the bitter hostility and ridicule meted out to Labour MP Diane Abbott on the BBC’s Question Time of 17 January – and the routine sexist and racist abuse directed at her on social media – employs the concept of  ‘misogynoir’ in considering how ‘both sexism and racism manifest in black women’s lives to create intersecting forms of oppression’.

The history of British colonialism explains this. Noting that lighter-skinned black women such as Meghan Markle receive comparably less abuse, Campion explores the histories of Caribbean plantation societies. Here, while black slave women were routinely raped, mixed-race women were used as an ‘intermediary between black and white’, sometimes becoming part of new managerial classes. Campion proposes that these ‘historical societal structures’ explain ‘misogynoir’, which ‘systematically devalues darker-skinned women’.

At the same time as history excludes some, it serves others. Kojo Koram focusses on the irony of Brexiteer MPs employing the language of national liberation in a country which historically understood itself to be too ‘civilised’ for ‘overt nationalism’. In the recent past, the language of national liberation was an anti-colonial one which paternalist British elites scorned; but Koram observes a parity of intent between today’s Brexiteer elite and certain postcolonial elites of the 20th-century, whose rhetoric sometimes concealed lust for newfound political and cultural power. Understanding where such political languages come from, Koram suggests, is one step to exposing dishonest latter-day adherents.

Other interesting pieces on the themes of race, resistance and authoritarianism in colonial history include Marlene Daut’s article on the Kingdom of Hayti, and Teju Cole’s article in the New York Times on the camera as an instrument of imperialism. Daut’s is a readable and informative piece on ex-slave Henry Christophe who became king of the first free black state in the Americas. Cole’s thorough and profound piece makes powerful arguments about how photography and photojournalism – which, when paired with a ‘political freedom of movement’, has often served to ‘aestheticize suffering’ – practiced more carefully can catalyse public action on key issues.

Ayona Datta, writing in The Conversation about how young women living on the outskirts of Delhi are using selfies to challenge standard orderings of public space, agrees with Cole that photography can be both a liberating and dangerous act. The locations where young women snap selfies, and their immediate surroundings, provide insights into control over women’s bodies in contested urban settings. Datta suggests the selfies express deeper yearnings and anxieties than ‘a simple rendition of a millennial trend’.

Indeed, studying the political arguments and expressions of the young matters to understanding contemporary politics on several continents. Dan Hodgkinson and Luke Melchiorre highlight the agency of radical students in 1960s and 1970s Africa in pushing alternate pan-Africanist and socialist decolonisation projects which authoritarian postcolonial states combatted.

Elsewhere, Associate Professor of History Elspeth Brown explores the history of Canada’s first gay student organisation, the ‘University of Toronto Homophile Association’, founded in 1969. The body prefigured today’s LGBT liberation movements in the region, and Brown includes audio clips from lead activist Jearld Moldenhauer which shine a light on the challenges – including unemployment – Moldenhauer faced for his agitation.

Finally, returning to the theme of the language and concepts employed to stigmatise disadvantaged groups and populations, Kate McAllister of the University of Sheffield writes about the history of mental health treatment in Britain. Charities like Mind are currently calling for ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical health conditions as politicians move painfully slowly – if at all – to recognise the country’s ongoing mental health crisis. McAllister investigates how in early 20th-century welfare legislation, the concept of the ‘unconscious’ was used to brand mental health problems imaginary. Again, the detailed study of history and its organising concepts and narratives offers crucial insights into today’s problems.

Tom Shillam is PhD student at the University of York who holds a Departmental Scholarship from the Department of History. His research considers how mid-20th century South Asian intellectuals synthesised anti-authoritarian ideas of their own with those of writers elsewhere to propose a different decolonising politics to the dominant developmentalist dogmas of the time. Catch him on Twitter @tomshillam.

An Emotional Break-Up: Historical Pathos Rhetoric in the Brexit Debate

London_June_13_2016_Vote_Leave_in_Islington_Brexit_(27576083301)

By Liz Goodwin

In an impassioned speech to assembled campaigners in Leeds on the eve of the EU Referendum, Ukip leader Nigel Farage tried to convince his audience to #Vote_Leave. His argument was not new to the campaign as a whole – focused on encouraging ordinary people to make a stand against the lazy European elite – but the way in which he phrased his case was even older.

In suggesting that ‘this is our chance as a people to get back at a political class that has given away everything this nation has ever stood for, everything our forebears ever fought for and everything we want to hand to our children and grandchildren’, Farage employed one of the most deep-rooted and consistently utilised rhetorical talents – that of pathos.[1]

In this roaring speech, intended to invoke and elicit feelings of patriotism, love and loyalty to family, and anger at a sense of disenfranchisement and anti-elitism in his audience, Farage used language to appeal firmly to the heart – yet his linguistic mode of doing so is inherently linked to a pan-European intellectual tradition going back millennia.

Both campaign sides were characterised by emotional rhetoric: the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were frequently criticised for lacking passion in presenting their Remain case.[2] Leave financial backers like John Caudwell of high street retailer Phones4U denounced ‘Project Fear’ on the opposite side, branding such claims made by experts as ‘subjective’ and ‘hysterical.’[3]

Even campaign tweets were aimed at provoking emotional responses – in an analysis of language used in both camps’ social media, ‘fear words’ relating to immigration and the economy were shown to be demonstrably more frequently in use than across Twitter as a whole.[4]

I’ve just started work on the use of pathos as a rhetorical tool in Reformation debates in sixteenth-century Germany, and it strikes me as appropriate, following a campaign so imbued with emotionally-charged language intended to move the voter to action, to examine the context of this tried-and-tested rhetoric device. Emotional rhetoric is something that, somewhat ironically, connects politicians and political regimes across the spectrum – it’s a linguistic tool that works for the authoritarian and the liberal.

Pathos was theoretically recognised and utilised by some of the greatest European minds of the Medieval world. Aristotle established it as one of the three modes of persuasion: alongside ethos (a kind of charismatic authority on behalf of the speaker) and logical explanation (or proof), it was the emotionally-charged pathos, appealing to something in the listener, that was the most highly valued.[5]

In a highly Farage-esque move, Cicero advised the orator ‘to prefer emotion to reason’, so that the audience is ‘so affected as to be swayed [by emotion]… rather than by judgement or deliberation. For men decide far more problems by hate, or love, or fear, or illusion… than by reality.’[6]

Caritas
Abbess Caritas Pirckheimer frequently employed pathos in her writings

St Augustine would justify this rhetoric concept for the Christian Middle Ages, stating that emotionally-laden language appeals were key to ‘moving the minds of listeners, not that they may know what is done, but that they may do what they already know should be done.’[7] He even used pathos to explain that fundamental, Medieval theological issue, the Fall of Man – it was an emotional appeal from Eve that caused Adam to be persuaded, rather than that of logical reason.[8]

 

Throughout the Middle Ages, pathos can be seen within preaching, aimed at moving the audience through emotionally-loaded language to be better Christians. In his thorough and influential preaching ‘manual’, near-anonymous fourteenth-century writer Robert of Basevorn defined the role of Christian sermonising to be to move the listener ‘to meritorious conduct.’[9] Fire-and-brimstone preachers like Savanarola in Florence would frequently incite audiences with apocalyptic visions of Godly judgement if they didn’t change their ways – surely the most emotive of language is that which threatens Hellish punishment to listeners.

During the religious upheavals of the Reformation, Abbess Caritas Pirckheimer utilised pathos throughout her Journal, detailing what happened to her convent amidst Lutheran attacks. She was one of many active, Classically-inspired, highly educated Humanists to engage with this emotional language as a form of defensive Catholic argument; her work aimed to move the reader to empathy and compassion for the plight of those in the religious life, threatened by new Protestant doctrine.

The use of emotional language in the construction of political argument, then, is nothing new. Nor is it the preserve of the right, or those with more ‘authoritarian’ worldviews. Whether this altered the vote outcome or not – and many media think pieces have claimed one way or the other – the fact remains that the moving rhetoric that broadly characterised the Brexit debate was built on the linguistic practice of pathos.

In light of Michael Gove’s assertion that ‘the British people have had enough of experts’ in the run up to the EU Referendum, it seems worth pointing out that the language used and the arguments utilised were actually built on centuries-old, highly intellectual, philosophical and, crucially, pan-European rhetoric tradition. Then again, our charismatic and Classics-educated new Foreign Secretary could probably have told you that already.

Liz Goodwin recently completed an AHRC-funded PhD at the University of Sheffield on the impact of reform on female monastic communities in sixteenth-century England. Find her on Twitter @ElizMGoodwin.

[1] Nick Gutteridge, ‘Nigel Farage: Vote Brexit to take UK back from ‘contemptible’ Cameron and his rich cronies’, The Telegraph, 1/6/2016.

[2] Andy McSmith, ‘Brexit: Project Fear had reason on its side, but anti-experts caught public mood’, The Independent, 24/6/2016.

[3] ‘Project Fear gets personal: Cameron equates Brexit to ‘self-harm’, RT, 5/4/2016. 

[4] Ashley Kirk, ‘EU referendum: Remain uses Project Fear more in tweets than Leave’, The Telegraph, 22/6/2016.

[5] Gary Remer, Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration (Pennsylvania, 1996), p. 20.

[6] Ibid., pp. 20-21.

[7] Ibid., p. 21.

[8] Eric Jager, The Tempter’s Voice: Language and the Fall in Medieval Literature (London, 1993), p. 114.

[9] Cheryl Glenn, Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance (Illinois 1997), p. 91.

Image credits

Banner: Wikicommons

Abbess Caritas Pirckheimer: Wikicommons

 

Me avergüenzo de ser británico: Como ciudadano británico y ciudadano de la Unión Europea (aún) me avergüenza escribir esto

Written by Matthew Kerry, this post originally appeared on ctxt.es on June 24, 2016, reproduced with Matt’s permission.

Polling_Station_Brexit
Way in? (Image found on WikiCommons)

 

A mis amigos españoles,

Como ciudadano británico y ciudadano de la Unión Europea (aún) me avergüenza escribir esto. Me avergüenzo de ser británico.

Ante todo, quiero enviar mi solidaridad, dolor y disculpas a todxs lxs trabajadorxs europexs que, por las islas británicas, curran en los hospitales, fábricas, hoteles y el campo por mencionar unos pocos –muchas veces en condiciones pésimas– para levantar este país y que contribuyen muchísimo más al Estado de lo que reciben. Muchos de ellos condenados al exilio económico forzado de sus propios países.

La clave de este referéndum ha sido la inmigración. El 52% de votantes ha votado a favor del Brexit. Circulaba durante la campaña en Twitter un lema que rezaba “no todos los de Brexit son racistas, pero los racistas votarán al Brexit”. Creo que tiene algo de verdad esta frase, pero me niego a pensar que más de la mitad de la población británica es racista. Votar para salir de la UE fue votar en contra del statu quo. La política migratoria ha logrado focalizar ansiedades de diversa índole en las antiguas zonas industriales azotadas por el neoliberalismo, las costas y regiones rurales en declive económico y sin salidas laborales desde hace años, y también debidas a los recortes, las políticas de la austeridad y los efectos de la globalización y un mundo que está evolucionando cada vez más rápido. Las fronteras abiertas se han convertido en un símbolo de la falta de control. De allí el Brexit, y el poderoso mensaje de take back control.

El horizonte es negro pero pienso que los británicos somos mejores que esto. Yo soy del 48%, pero también soy del 99%.

En solidaridad, amor y respeto,

Matthew

Matthew Kerry has a PhD from the University of Sheffield on  radical politics in the Spanish Second Republic. You can find him on Twitter at @guajeingles