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Editorial

Brexit, Sustainability, Economics, Companies’ Responsibilities, and Current Representations

In the first article of this issue, Steve Corbett examines the 2016 Referendum on the United Kingdom’s (UK) European Union (EU) membership. The author presents the outcome of the referendum, the British Exit (Brexit), as a new EU phenomenon with implications that go beyond the UK’s relationship with the EU. It is an expression of the wider rise of right- and left-wing populism across Europe, including the Freedom Party of Austria and the Netherlands, Front National, Podemos, and Syriza political parties. These parties and their outriders articulate popular anger—among right-wing populists, anger at the perceived preferences given to some minority groups (e.g., immigrants) over others. However, both right- and left-wing populists express anger about disconnected and gilded political elites, about the privatization of profit, and about the socialization of risk for financial institutions and major corporations.

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Peter Vale

Higher education reform has a particular character in the United Kingdom as Stefan Collini points out in his book, What are universities for? Margaret Thatcher's assault on social institutions put the university, as an institution for the common good, under particular economic pressure. As a result, British-oriented higher education systems world- the legacy of Empire - have suffered similar mounting pressures. This includes South Africa where the debate has been strongly influenced by the idea that university, in the name of democracy, should be more accountable and transparent. But, this purported shift towards openness masks the powerful hold of market-driven economics on the contemporary university and poses a threat to its immediate purpose and the long-term future of higher education.

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Contemporary citizenship debates

The search for firm footing on shifting terrains

Harlan Koff and Carmen Maganda

In many ways, the sociopolitical events of 2016 and 2017 have brought to life many of the conceptual debates surrounding the nature and importance of citizenship. The election of President Donald Trump in the United States (US), the rejection of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC, and the vote on Brexit in the United Kingdom (UK), amongst other significant world events, have in many ways indicated a “crisis of citizenship” as disenchanted voters rejected their countries’ political establishments as much as they rejected specific policy proposals or platforms. Even the 2017 election of Emmanuel Macron as president of France over the nativist/populist candidate Marine Le Pen (which may have saved the European Union) represented an important realignment of the French political system.

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Sarah Amsler

This article considers the role of experiments in learning in movements to democratise higher education ‘under the rule of capital’ (Gutierrez, Navarro and Linsalata 2017). It focuses on the emergence of a new generation of ‘free universities’ in the United Kingdom, situating these in a historical tradition of educational experimentation and a current context of global movements for autonomy from the state, capital and dominating epistemologies. It argues that free universities can contribute to transforming the relationship between knowledge, university and society, but that these contributions are often invisible within the logic of the dominant institutional systems. Conceptualising the projects as struggles for autonomy renders these contributions visible and valuable for educational reformers working both within and independently of the university.

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Unreasonable rage, disobedient dissent

The social construction of student activists and the limits of student engagement

Jessica Gagnon

This article explores the limits of student engagement in higher education in the United Kingdom through the social construction of student activists within media discourses. It scrutinises the impact of dominant neoliberal discourses on the notion of student engagement, constructing certain students as legitimately engaged whilst infantilising and criminalising those who participate in protest. Exploring media coverage of and commentary on students engaged in activism, from the 2010 protests against university fee increases and from more recent activism in 2016, the article draws upon Sara Ahmed’s (2014) Willful Subjects and Imogen Tyler’s (2013) Revolting Subjects to examine critically the ways in which some powerful discourses control and limit which activities, practices and voices can be recognised as legitimate forms of student engagement.

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Stephen Thornton

Information literacy, the concept most associated with inculcating the attributes necessary to behave in a strategic, thoughtful and ethical manner in the face of a superfluity of information, has been part of the information specialist scene for many years. As the United Kingdom’s QAA benchmark statements for Politics and International Relations highlight, many of the competences associated with this concept are vital in the honourable struggle to become a successful graduate of those disciplines. This article presents a longitudinal study of a survey used to expose the information literacy levels of two groups of first-year Politics/IR students at a British university and, using the logic of ‘most similar design’, make informed inferences about the level of students’ information literacy on coming into tertiary education.

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'Being in Between'

Art-Science Collaborations and a Technological Culture

James Leach

Recent experimental collaborations in the United Kingdom have brought artists and scientists together in order to explore new possibilities for research. There is a particular sense of timeliness felt by organizers and participants of these projects that, in part, mirrors concerns about the trajectory and implications of scientific research more generally in society. Faith in the transformative power of technology is combined with explicit concerns over how much control humanity is able to exert over the dynamic of technological development. Highlighting an analogy with Papua New Guinean ritual, I suggest that the scheme discussed here is one of a number of ways in which people attempt to take control over powerful forces beyond their everyday experience—in this case, the apparently 'runaway' character of technological development and the implications that this development has for social change. The article is framed by a discussion of the role of social-scientific evaluation in the scheme.

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“[A] British Social Institution“

The Visitors' Book and Hotel Culture in Victorian Britain and Ireland

Kevin James

The visitors' book occupied a central place in the hotel and inn culture of Victorian Britain and Ireland, reflecting intertwined legal regimes and leisure practices that created distinctive space for inscription in, and reading of, the volume—acts that were portrayed as unique to the travel cultures of the United Kingdom. Contemporary commentators, while playfully critiquing vulgar “inn verse,“ nonetheless lamented its displacement by prescriptive regimes of guest registration, which marked intensifying corporate and continental influences over what they regarded as singular practices associated with British and Irish traveling culture. Indeed the social and cultural history of the visitors' book offers a window onto travel performances, the liminality of hotel and inn space, distinctive features of the Law of Innkeepers in the Anglo-American legal tradition, and contests over status and taste as guests placed their imprimatur on places of high physical circulation and social fluidity.

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It Was Not Meant to Be This Way

An Unfortunate Case of Anglo-Saxon Parochialism?

Tom Frost

In June 2016, the United Kingdom’s electorate voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. This article examines ‘Brexit’ from the perspective of British, or English, exceptionalism. It argues that the Leave vote was caused by a number of factors: underlying myths and exceptionalism about the U.K. and its relationship with ‘Europe’; the fallout from the 2007–2008 financial crisis; the austerity policies undertaken in the U.K. since 2010; and the increased migration into the U.K. after the financial crisis, in particular from other EU Member States. The article concludes by arguing that Brexit should serve as an important lesson to listen to all people who feel abandoned by the EU, austerity and globalisation, to hear their stories and perspectives. Only then can we start to think about whether there are shared values and principles which could form the basis for a European politics of the future.

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Playing with Teaching Techniques

Gamelan as a Learning Tool Amongst Children with Learning Impairments in Northern Ireland

Jonathan McIntosh

This article examines gamelan as a community musical tool in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. In particular, the article demonstrates how traditional pedagogic practices are changed in order to suit the needs of those who learn gamelan. A gamelan is an orchestra that includes metallophones (large glockenspiel-like instruments), gongs and drums. Originating from Southeast Asia, particularly from the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali, gamelan ensembles have long been used in the teaching of ethnomusicology in academic institutions and for purposes of applied ethnomusicology, as a musical tool, in the wider community. In these contexts, a gamelan instructor acts as a 'mediator' (Naughton 1996: 16) in the transmission of gamelan knowledge; mediating not only between the music and the learners, but also between the role of gamelan in its original sociocultural context and its newly adopted milieu. Drawing upon my experiences as a gamelan instructor, in particular, teaching children with visual and hearing impairments, I demonstrate how traditional teaching techniques are adapted to facilitate the learning of gamelan in the Northern Irish context.