Protection of the White Continent: The Antarctic Treaty System of 1959

Written by Jack Bennett.

In the depths of the Cold War in 1959, the ice-covered landmass became a focus of international diplomacy with the three nuclear-weapon states of the USA, USSR and Britain establishing a model to ensure the nuclear-free, peaceful scientific cooperation and protection of Antarctica. This produced a new, globalised governance regime through the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS). Threatened by commercial fishing and resource exploitation due to improved scientific knowledge and more advanced equipment gaining greater access to Antarctica, the global diplomatic community aimed to ensure its sustainable, demilitarised and collaborative governance. Space was not the only frontier in which an international race was sparked: science became a collaborative enterprise with Antarctica the experimental station of Cold War scientific diplomacy. 

By the 1940s, the claimant club grew as Argentina and Chile joined two other European states; France and Norway. The USA and the Soviet Union did not recognise the legitimacy of any of these territorial claims. After the Second World War there emerged a new era of rising territorial and resource competition: in particular, the strategic importance of certain minerals created conflict arising from contested sovereignty. The issue of sovereignty over Antarctica was resolved in December, 1959 when 12 nations (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the USA and USSR) signed up to the Antarctic Treaty. This formalised and guaranteed free access and research rights so that all countries could work together for the common cause of scientific research and exchange of ideas. However, claimant states such as Australia and Argentina struggled to reconcile their own concerns about the future role of the superpowers. The treaty, which applies to the area south of 60degrees south-latitude, is surprisingly short but remarkably effective. The New York Herald Tribune reported that the treaty was a cause for ‘enduring hope’. The treaty system ensures the use of the continent strictly for peaceful purposes and promotes international cooperation to ensure the protection and sustainability of Antarctica. 

Permanent stations were established during the 1950s to commence the first substantial multi-nation research program during the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957-58. Territorial positions were also asserted, though not agreed, creating a tension that threatened future scientific co-operation and potential conflict. The USSR showed off its polar prowess when it set up several bases, including one at the magnetic south pole and another at the most difficult spot to reach on the continent, the so-called ‘Pole of Inaccessibility’. With the IGY set to expire at the end of the year, Washington worried that Moscow would carve out a menacing military presence in Antarctica. As a consequence of disputes over ownership, the Antarctic Treaty agreement was signed by the nations that had been active on the continent during the IGY in order to avoid disagreements and conflicts, resolve disputes over ownership and mining rights and establish guidelines limiting development on the continent. Critically, the treaty occurred in a brief thaw in East-West tensions that had emerged during Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to the USA in September 1959.

The treaty acknowledged that the demilitarisation and denuclearisation of Antarctica could forge a precedent for future international relations. Argentina and Chile played critical roles in the treaty as it also served as a precedent for agreements in other contested areas, such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and seven other zones free of atomic weapons. It is difficult to estimate how important the ban on nuclear weapons was alongside the prohibition on military activity. Cold War historiography demonstrates the catalytic power of science and scientific co-operation: it was the arms control element of the Antarctic Treaty that really underpinned peaceful governance. In part, the USA hoped to use the treaty to score a Cold War propaganda victory, keep Soviet missiles out of Antarctica and block communist China from gaining an unregulated foothold in the continent. However, the agreement still allowed for the peaceful uses of nuclear power, and from 1962 to 1972 the USA operated a defective nuclear reactor at McMurdo Station that contaminated over 12 thousand tons of soil. 

From the 1960s onwards the treaty confronted resource-related questions. Conventions on sealing, fishing, environmental protections and, controversially, mining were developed, with large acceptance from the international community. The proposal for a mining regulation was publicly rejected by Australia and France in the late 1980s in favour of a protocol on environmental protection. Mining was banned and priority was placed on developing an effective regime of environmental conservation. Tension was high in the 1980s as new players such as China and India began to make their presence felt in Antarctica and environmental groups such as Greenpeace demanded an end to whaling and a permanent ban on mining. This culminated in the 1991 Madrid protocol, which prohibited mining and made all continental activities subject to an environmental assessment.

Since coming into force on 23 June 1961, the treaty has been recognised as one of the most successful international agreements and a vehicle of cooperation of Cold War-era detente. Problematic differences over territorial claims have been effectively set aside and as a disarmament regime it has been outstandingly successful. Since then, the initial 12 signatories have risen to over 50, and the continent has remained largely free of military activity and has endured as a nuclear-free zone. But, the future of the ‘white continent’ remains contentious: continuing geo-political tensions, disputes over ownership and pressures from climate change all threaten it.

Bitter Weed: Tea, Empire and Everyday Luxury

Written by Jack Bennett.

Unprecedented unrest erupted in Boston on December 16, 1773 when the Sons of Liberty protested the increasing British taxes by disposing of 342 tea chests with a value of $1 million into the harbour. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 became a pivotal event in the history of a nation and an empire, reverberating across the globe. At the centre of these transformative changes was a humble commodity: tea. John Adams described the act of rebellion which sparked the American Revolutionary war as: ‘the most magnificent Movement of all…This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences and so lasting, that I cannot but consider it as an Epocha in History.’ This reveals a fluidity and development of national identity, through American conspicuous non-consumption as a political and mercantilist protest. The global production, trade and consumption of tea funded wars, fuelled colonisation, instigated political rebellion and defined cultural refinement – the effects of which are with us even today.

Tea was both a product and driver of global connections. Economic profitability determined British imperial expansionism and the manipulation of ecological space, social hierarchies and labour systems. Cultural cartographies of conquest developed alongside the practice of mapping of exoticism. The Canton system (1757-1834) in China imposed strict regulations on foreign trade, which catalysed British colonisation in order to gain a hegemony on the global trade of tea. This was conducted through the British East India Company, which ruthlessly extended its military-economic influence into India with a vengeance. This private company control of India provided the ideal landscape for the implementation of plantation agriculture using native, indentured labour, producing both a socially and ecologically exploitative economic system. Cultures of discovery, success and signification emerged with tea acquiring new layers of cultural, political and economic characteristics in local contexts. 

During the 1880s, there emerged a proto-mass consumer society throughout the British Empire, Europe and the United States related to advertisement for tea. These advertisements conveyed British imperial nationalism and the ‘orientalism’ of Indian plantation labour, emphasising the British Raj as ‘our Asia’ through reducing the exoticism of tea and domesticating tea from the Empire.  This happened while erasing the origins of tea creating a national identity through the process of naturalisation. This marked a significant shift in the representation of tea production, shifting from Chinese origins to Indian, informed by racial hierarchies which emphasised Indian purity and Chinese inferiority. Importantly, advertisements expressed individual corporations, conflict of interests and commercial imperial prosperity in the developing proto-consumer societies and rapidly globalising economic market, dominated by imperial powers in the nineteenth century. 

Tea became a symbol of civilisation and domesticity. As the moral anti-tea indignation of the eighteenth century gave way moving into the nineteenth, and Britain’s global economic ascendancy, tea suffused social structures, becoming synonymous with progress and order; civility and industriousness. Markman argues that there was a transition from “oriental exoticism to Victorian domestication” regarding tea production and consumption. Demand for tea began to cross into the middle and urban working classes from the eighteenth through to the nineteenth centuries. Critically, this reveals a simultaneous reinforcement between the cultural economics of consumption and the impetus for creating and expanding mercantile and administrative impetus for Indian colonialism. Consequently, tea determined the very concept of luxury in everyday life in Europe as it experienced proto-globalisation, as imports and production increased under British imperial control the accessibility of tea within the lower classes flourished. Class anxieties surrounding tea, however, became prolific, as the personal sphere became progressively interconnected with the public and political. This incorporation of tea in the quotidian created a delineation of labour and leisure, domesticating exotic wildness. Tea, therefore, reveals a fluidity across class boundaries, a developing social universality as a vehicle of national character and apparatus of social routinisation. 

Rituals of tea consumption vitalised emerging conceptualisations of femininity and leisure. Crucially, a private sphere of female influence emerged defined by Chatterjee as ‘new interior worlds.’ Gendering tea as a consumptive feminine product brings into question the integrity of domestic and family life in early modern Europe, the United States and across Empires. Intriguingly in tea’s geography of origin, China, the commodity was ironically an agent of male elite sociability, compared to the female-orientation and fashionability of the commodity in Europe and the United States. Nevertheless, the associated ceramics with tea contributed to the defining of social status, reinforcing the femininity of tea. For instance, this was manifested in the literary and popular cultural ‘scandal around the tea table,’ something inherently negative during the eighteenth century. Meanwhile in Japan the tea ceremony was reinvigorated after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and became culturally valued, encapsulating the spirit and tradition of Japan in a nationalised, modernising project and global imperial assimilation. By foregrounding the interconnection between gender and tea, women assume an intrinsic role in the development and fluctuations of imperial trajectories. Fundamentally, tea encapsulated increasing modern consuming pleasures of discovery. 

Europeans adopted, appropriated, and altered Asian tea culture in order to construct an expansive consumer demand for tea in Britain and other modernising global economies, along with an intensive plantation system of agriculture and labour in Asian and African colonial territories. Development of class power structures in relation to tea consumption were distinctive, with new fashionability embroiled in discourse regarding the exploitative nature of empire. From international advertising to political lobbying, the historical emergence of tea as a commodity of global connections underpins modern frameworks of political, public and international economic interconnection. Tea is ultimately a complex social and cultural commodity, reflective of particular contexts yet interwoven with global flows; informing conflicts and national imperial identity. 

Bibliography

Image: Nathaniel Currier, The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor (1846). 

Chatterjee, Piya.  A Time for Tea: Women, Labour and Post-colonial politics on an Indian Plantation, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001. 

Ellis, Richard Coulton & Matthew Mauger, Empire of Tea: The Asian Leaf that Conquered the World. London: Reaktion, 2015. 

Ramamurthy, Anandi. Imperial Persuaders: Images of Africa and Asia in British Advertising. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003. 

Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, and Women’s Power in Sudan

Written by Lewis Twiby.

In 2019, when protests sparked across Sudan, the world seemed perplexed about the level of women’s activism during the protests. Alaa Salah, dubbed the ‘Woman in White’, became world renowned, and the iconic photo of her has been likened to the iconic photo of Che Guevara, Guerrillo Heroico. However, this ignores literal millennia of women’s resistance in the area comprising contemporary Sudan – from Mandy Ajbna carrying the severed head of her father to unite Sudanese communities against the British in the 1800s, to the Kandaka of Meroe defeating the forces of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. Just two years before the outbreak of the protests one of Sudan’s most resilient and important feminists passed away, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim. Fatima’s life shows the resistance to oppression regardless of the odds, and serves to inspire countless other women.

     Born in Omdurman in 1933, Fatima grew up in a political family – her grandfather was dismissed from the judiciary for opposing British colonialism, her mother was the first Sudanese woman to learn English, and her father was denied a teaching post for resisting the imposition of English in schools. Consequently, she inherited a legacy of resistance, and, at the age of fourteen, set up the Intellectual Women’s Association while at school to demand Sudanese liberation, and to oppose Britain’s support for conservative forces. She even co-founded a school paper called Elra’edda, under the pseudonym of ‘Daughter of Light’, focusing on women’s rights, anti-colonialism, and democracy. At just the age of eighteen she helped organise Sudan’s first women’s strike; Sylvia Clark, the head of the Omdurman High Secondary School, dropped subjects like science, so Fatima and others organised the strike. The strike ended up a success, by misogyny dashed her hopes – her father barred her from attending university. Seeking a new path, she became a teacher, and then Sudan’s leading feminist.

     The 1950s was a revolutionary time for Sudan. Across the colonised world liberation movements were throwing off colonialism, and this inspired the new young generation wanting a more equal society. Especially important for Sudan was the 1952 Egyptian coup which deposed the British-aligned monarchy and brought to power a reformist group, soon to be led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Naturally, this would inspire the young Fatima, fresh off of her protests at school. In 1952 Fatima was one of several influential feminists who formed the Sudanese Women’s Union (SWU), which still remains one of Sudan’s major feminist organisations. Quickly, Fatima became involved with radical politics. When her brother, Salah, joined the Communist Party in 1954 she did as it was the first party to allow women entry. Due to this, Fatima and the SWU would offer radical analysis of women’s place in Sudan, and would especially focus on women’s rights in the workplace. This is further seen in the SWU’s publication, formed 1955, Sawt al-Mara, Women’s Voice, and, despite its first publication being repeatedly banned, it allowed women to present themselves as the subjects, not the objects of discussion. Among the articles discussed were the rights of working women, the rights of rural women, FGM, marriage, childcare, and feminism internationally. In 1956, the same year that Sudan became independent, she became the SWU’s president, but the honeymoon of women’s activism soon came to an end.

     In 1958, General Ibrahim Abboud came to power via a military coup, toppling the multi-party council which, albeit poorly, governed the country. Aligning Sudan with the United States against Nasserism and socialism, Abboud cracked down on worker’s and women’s rights. Sudan’s post-independence history saw periods of democratic rule followed by tyrannical military rule, which undertook genocide in the Darfur and south. Despite being banned by Abboud, the SWU continued campaigning and publishing Sawat al-Mara underground, and, just like in 2019, women like Fatima provided the backbone which resulted in the 1964 October Revolution. With Abboud toppled, progressives seized the new opportunity and women won the vote, something which allowed Fatima to become the first woman MP in Sudan, the Middle East, and Africa. Her position in parliament allowed her to use the state to bring women’s rights to the forefront of society demanding equal employment, equal pay, and equal access to higher education. However, there were limits to progressive politics. In order to be respected Fatima was forced into presenting herself as family-oriented and traditional. Then, a second coup happened.

     In 1969 Jafaar Nimeiri seized power and started reversing many of the progressive reforms enacted by the October Revolution. For publicly denouncing Nimeiri she was incarcerated for two years, and her husband, who was also a trade unionist, was murdered. Women were expelled from the administration, barred from traveling, and colourful clothing was banned. After her house arrest, Fatima continued advocating for human rights with the, now clandestine, SWU, and was repeatedly arrested for doing so. A revolt in 1985 deposed Nimeiri, but in 1989 Omar al-Bashir, who ruled until 2019, seized power with the National Islamic Front. As al-Bashir used Islam to justify his rule, proclaiming Sudan an ‘Islamic state’, he feared the influence of Fatima. She used Islam to undermine his rule proclaiming that ‘In the Qu’ran, God tells the Prophet “You have no power over people…”. And if the Prophet has received no power over people, what over Muslim could claim the right?’. Arrested again, Amnesty International intervened allowing her to form a new branch of the SWU in exile.

     Abroad, Fatima became one of many exiled and proud women who fought for the rights of the oppressed. In 1991, she was elected president of the Women’s International Democratic Federation speaking at conferences across the world, and her high standing allowed her to return to Sudan becoming a deputy in parliament in 2005. Her legacy lives on. Just as in 1956, 1964, and 1985 women were at the forefront of the protests of 2019. Western media often depicts the Islamic world as leaving women utterly crushed, requiring foreign intervention to ‘rescue’ them from men. However, Fatima’s life shows the resilience and resistance of women worldwide.

Netflix’s ‘Troy: Fall of a City’

Written by Justin Biggi.

Released in 2018, the BBC-Netflix adaptation of Homer’s Iliad was met with mixed reviews, both from Classicists and internet trolls alike. The former had gripes with the characterisations, plot inconsistencies and (unsurprising) historical inaccuracies, while the latter were mostly angry that David Gyasi and Lemogang Tsipa, two black actors, had been cast in the roles of Achilles and Patroclus, respectively, and that they were shown as having an explicit sexual relationship on screen.

But there are things, despite the criticisms, that Troy: Fall of a City does differently and arguably better than other Iliad adaptations. In addition to a solid “colorblind” cast, which, alongside Gyasi and Tsipa, includes Alfie Enoch as Aeneas and Hakeem Kae-Kazim as Zeus, Fall of a City attempts to bring to the forefront not just the complexities of human interactions, but the inherent awe and terror that the gods carry in the epic.

This isn’t to say, however, that, in its attempts at complexity, the show doesn’t encounter a number of pitfalls. The show misunderstands who the true protagonists of the Iliad are, and more generally speaking, does not trust that the plot, characters, and events portrayed in the Iliad, and the surrounding corpus, will be enough to captivate a modern audience, often inventing plotlines or dramatically changing characters. 

The show casts Paris as its entry-point character: a poor pig farmer, he is taunted by the princes of Troy and goaded into participating in a contest of strength, where he is recognised as the lost son of Priam and Hecuba by a birthmark. His elevation to prince is what leads to his meeting of Helen while on a diplomatic mission. The rest, of course, is history. 

Unfortunately, Paris’ plotline in the show is, by far, the least interesting, and the show’s insistence on having him as the protagonist doesn’t do it any favours. The goddess he is seen interacting with the most is Aphrodite, who is portrayed as entirely benign – a far cry from the capricious goddess of the Iliad

During a conversation between Paris and his adoptive father, Aphrodite and Zeus stand aside, unseen, and discuss what’s happening. Aphrodite asks Zeus to leave Paris alone, as the boy has “suffered enough.” Zeus refuses, claiming that “forgiveness isn’t [their] way.” This is not the only instance where Aphrodite is portrayed as overwhelmingly positive towards Paris, her protégé. She weeps when he dies. She often tries to intervene in his favour, speaking to gods and mortals to help him.

In the epic, Helen attempts to refuse Aphrodite’s order to go and sleep with Paris, whom the goddess has just spirited away from a fight he would have otherwise lost. Enraged, the goddess drags her there by force, berating and threatening her: “Don’t provoke me: as much as I love you, I can hate you just as much, and leave you to your fate”. The relationship shown between the two is far from the smooth sailing of Paris and Aphrodite’s’ in the show, and, in good hands, may have made the show interesting, giving Helen a complexity that most adaptations do not allow her. Perhaps, she could have even been the protagonist. 

Conversely, the show is at its strongest when it chooses to portray mortal and divine relationships which are already in the book and surrounding mythos. Arguably the most intense, gut-wrenching scene in the show is when Agamemnon, aided by Odysseus, tricks his wife Clytaemnestra and his daughter Iphigenia into believing the girl is to marry Achilles. Instead, the goddess Artemis has decreed Iphigenia must be sacrificed in order for the Achean fleet to reach the city of Troy. 

The episode features some of the best acting on the show, mostly thanks to Johnny Harris’ performance as the Greek king and general, transformed into a grieving father when placed face-to-face with the cruelty of his gods. Once his daughter is dead, killed by his own hand, he howls, asking the wind that has just risen and, it is implied, the gods, if this was enough. Artemis, of course, does not answer. 

Had Fall of a City been written and directed by braver minds, the potential of a largely unimpressive show may have been fully realised, delivering a modern, intelligent retelling of the epic, more aware of the strengths of its source material. 

Red Dawn Rising: Global Communism, Anti-Colonialism and Freedom in India

Written by Jack Bennett.

The twentieth century in the shadow of the 1917 Russian Revolution became a century of communist revolution, conflict and collapse. From the formation of Communist China in 1949 under Mao Zedong, following a long conflict with nationalist forces; Castro taking control of Cuba in 1959, providing communism with a foothold in the western hemisphere; to the fall of Saigon in 1975 marking the high-tide mark for communism globally. By focusing on the emergence of communism in India, in relation to anti-colonial independence movements during the first half of the twentieth century, both indigenous and global currents are revealed which produced international conservations and deep engagement across state structure, operating in transnational networks.   

The common cause and solidarity between subordinated groups fighting for self-determination and independence from dominant international powers reveals the correlation between international communism and transcolonial anti-colonialism. Kris Manjapra argues that this highlights the ecumenicalism of communism during this period. Traditionally, historiography regards Indian communism as intrinsically related to the USSR’s economic and intellectual support. Manjapra, rather, posits that communism provided a collection of symbols for interpretation, creating a global intellectual melting pot. This effectively breaks down the dichotomy between global and local political and social revolutionary impulses. 

The Communist Party of India was established in 1925, having been initially composed in exile in 1918 under M.N. Roy, influenced by Communism experienced in Mexico in 1917. M.N. Roy advocated the international universalism of working-class struggles rather than national concerns. Alonso analyses Roy’s political work in Mexico from 1918 to 1920, arguing that the intellectual revolutionary climate of Mexico not only saw Roy become a communist, but he and his colleagues, concerned with the universal struggle of the working class, dismissed ideas about national identity brewing during the Mexican Revolution and its aftermath.  Attending the second Congress of the Third International in Moscow in 1919, Roy came into conflict with Lenin over the attitude that the Communists should have to the Indian National Congress. This left Indian Communism in disarray during the 1920s, revealed by the ability of the British to conduct a show-trial, the Kanpur Conspiracy Case in 1924. It was not until the 1930s, with the dissolution of Gandhi’s campaign of civil disobedience that Communism truly took hold and became a political force in India. From its inception, the nucleus of communism in India was incapable of exploiting the currents of revolutionary sentiment and the crisis that enveloped India following the First World War. 

International communism during the 1920s, it is important to emphasise, was not in fact a single monolith, but composed of greater fracture and controversy, that influenced global colonial politics. This provides a cosmopolitan vision of South Asia moving beyond geographic borders. International communism fundamentally becomes a transnational intellectual concept, but one focused less on universalism than on the spaces between ideas that operate on local, national and global scales. Manjapra sees in Roy’s work a form of cosmopolitanism that sought both ‘autonomy and solidarity’. In 1922, Roy penned India in Transition, bridging and amalgamating Russian, German and Bengali discourses about temporal progression and eruptive change within a global context of post-war avant-gardism. Illuminating Roy’s belief in a ‘radical notion of solidarity that aimed at radical identification – not just affiliation – with other liberation projects worldwide’. Roy did not see a contradiction in championing independence and interdependence, swaraj and solidarity within a larger global community. 

Between 1919 and 1925, WES in Berlin provided a de-centralised, metropole upheld by Soviet communicative and organisational infrastructure, providing political legitimation, and becoming a laboratory for anti-colonial, revolutionary experimentation and coalescence of independent movements. For example, 400 Indians utilised the network from 1921 to 1923; the League Against Imperialism and the Indian Independence League were established in 1928, while Indian communist envoys were sent to China during the Civil War in 1927. In response to this developing Indian communist revolutionary landscape, Britain launched a global campaign of counter-insurgency in order to eliminate anti-colonial radicalism. However, as the USSR dissolved international involvement under Stalinist authoritarianism from 1928, with global meetings banned in 1935, there was a reconfiguration and new direction towards both Indian communism and anti-colonial internationalism, in a process of sustained recognition, negotiation and competition with state nationalism. 

Revolutionary activist undercurrents existed in India before the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Swadeshi movement from 1905 had roots in Bengal but extended overseas where communities of Indian radicals attempted to court German support during the First World War. In the United States, a group of Indian expatriates, predominantly labourers and students raised funds and organized in support of the Ghadar movement. At this time the nationalist movement was on the upswing, starting from a campaign against a British decision in 1905 to partition the province of Bengal. This was seen as a move to break up a strong centre of opposition to British rule, as the new province of East Bengal would be dominated by the collaborationist Muslim aristocracy. The movement was soon extended into the Swadeshi campaign, which was a campaign to boycott British goods in favour of Indian ones. This generated Indian capitalist support for the National Congress. Nevertheless, this became the first moment of many in which Indian workers demonstrated large-scale, collective action. Strikes occurred on the railways and in the Punjab and in the textile mills in Bombay, as well as in many small workplaces. These were determined by self-organisation rather than union powers. However, this movement collapsed in the face of factional splits inside the Congress and British imperial repression. 

Imposed British control after 1908 was undermined by the First World War. The tussle between imperial powers encouraged nationalist organisation, this time through the Home Rule League, inspired by Irish nationalism. The reactive constitutional reform introduced by the British in 1917 failed to fulfil the Indian demand for self-governance, illustrating the shortcomings of imperial powers in upholding the vision of self-determination. This coincided with the rise of the working class within India. In 1918 and 1919 there were strikes in almost all the Bombay textile mills, the heart of Indian industry at that time. In the first six months of 1921 a series of strikes against the Rowlatt Act, a new piece of oppressive legislation introduced by the British, involved over 1.5 million workers, leading to the All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) in October 1920. Despite these advances, the demoralisation and defeat of the Ahmedabad textile workers strike of 1919 demonstrates the limited impact of the Russian Revolution in India, due to the dominance of the labour movement with bourgeois nationalists from the Indian National Congress. This reveals the disjunct between ideals and reality: the Russian Revolution’s democratic pursuit of dismantling autocracy and freedom; came into conflict with Indian commitments to capitalism. For example, Gandhi, with his non-violent reactionary religious fanaticism and anti-industrialist stance, ensured worker and peasant support for nationalism while maintaining the Indian bourgeoise, in order to prevent a socialist movement. Thus, indigenous influences of anti-colonialism, prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917, provided the foundations for the transplantation of communism. 

Communism would indeed gain a foothold in India. Producing distinctive leaders, labour unions and mobilisation and political parties. But revolution of the oppressed did not rise in India, communism was not the determinant in the dissolution of British imperial power. It became a movement of internal factionalism and nationalist domination. Freedom was defined by struggle against imperialism, indigenous dissatisfaction with Gandhism and global revolutionary currents, but the internal authorities of Indian remained unwilling to completely rid the country of imperial, industrial and economic systems in the pursuit of independence. 

Bibliography 

Barry Pavier, ‘India and the Russian Revolution’ International Socialism 103 (November 1977): 24-26. 

Isabel Huacuja Alonso (2017) M.N. Roy and the Mexican Revolution: How a Militant Indian Nationalist Became an International Communist 

Kris Manjapra, M.N.Roy: Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism (Delhi: Routledge India, 2010), chapter 2, pp. 31-62.

Kris Manjapra, ‘Communist Internationalism and Transcolonial Recognition’ in Cosmopolitan Thought Zones: South Asia and the Global Circulation of Ideas, ed. Sugata Bose and Kris Manjapra (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 159-77

Image of Indian communist, Manabendra Nath Roy with Lenin, Moscow 1920. 

Modernisation Theory: Challenging British Exceptionalism and the Unilinear Model

Written by Ella Raphael. 

Modernisation Theory refers to a model of societal transition, originally meaning the movement from a ‘traditional’ society to an ‘advanced’ society. Since the seventies it has been a topic of contentious debate. Revisionists have challenged traditional theorists, such as Walt Whitman Rostow and Marion Levy, and have criticised their narrow rubric of modernity, which has been based on Britain’s economic success in the Industrial Revolution. Recent historiography has raised the following questions: what constitutes modernity, who’s rubric are we following and why? The new wave of debate has reiterated the benefits of extending the theory, incorporating the ideas of multiple modernities and economic efflorescences, for example. Despite this, moving forward, historians must navigate the risk of making the theory too broad, and must ensure it maintains its sense of structural cohesion. 

Rostow’s 1960 theory of modernisation was incredibly influential, yet vastly criticised. He argues in The Stages of Economic Growth: A non communist manifesto that all societies go through five stages of development, starting in a Pre-Newtonian state and ending in an age of mass consumption. He uses industrialising Britain as a recipe for economic success for “developing” countries. He does not hide his political agenda, explicitly calling his model an “anti-communist manifesto” stating that the Soviet Union can achieve modernisation once it abandons the marxist model of development. Levy, another early theorist writing in the sixties, argued that as the level of modernisation increases, so does the structural uniformity among societies. Since the revival of modernisation theory in the nineties this unilinear model has been adapted. 

The two main criticisms of Rostow’s model of modernisation are that it is eurocentric and teleological. Historians now recognise that there are multiple paths to “modernity”, which in this case means economic maturity. Jack Goldstone argues that within modernisation theory there is too much emphasis on the heroic narrative of the “Rise of the West”. He argues that many early modern and non-European societies experienced “efflorescences” of economic growth, and steady increases in technological change. He also challenges British exceptionalism by arguing that Britain’s industrial success was a historical anomaly which resulted from the lucky conjuncture of an economic efflorescence and a growing culture of engineering. His research on Qing China and Golden Age Holland weakens the unilinear vision, and proves that countries do not all follow the same economic trajectory. 

The enlightenment ideology that every society inevitably develops a similar set of ideas, customs and institutions is a simplification. Adam Smith, an early influencer on modernisation theory, used the framework of the ‘Four Stage Theory’ to suggest that given enough time, every society would converge towards one homogenous form. Sanjay Subrahmanyam, David Porter and Joseph Fletcher address the issues with comparative exercises. There is a tendency to use categories derived from a European experience, and these then shape the questions comparative historians ask. Western modernity has been given a privileged position, and has been set as the benchmark against which all other societies are inferior. Condorcet, another enlightenment philosopher epitomises this Eurocentric idea; he believed that the rest of the world could look to Western European societies and see its future. The rubric of modernity is rooted in the idea of European superiority. As Matthew Lauzon argues, this rigid outlook has provided a “theoretical justification for European cultural and imperial hegemony”. The teleology is problematic because it puts modern European society as the pinnacle of civilisation and human development. 

Additionally, historians now recognise that as well as many paths to modernity, there are many different destinations too. Shmuel Eisenstadt’s concept of “multiple modernities” has helped discredit the notion that modernisation is synonymous with Westernisation. He argues that forms of modernisation across societies are not homogenous because of their varied cultural and historical backgrounds. He looks at fundamentalism and argues that this should be seen as an alternative branch of modernisation rather than as a traditionalist form of governance. He says ‘the distinct visions of fundamentalist movements have been formulated in terms common to the discourse of modernity; they have attempted to appropriate modernity on their own terms.’ Tu supports this through his idea of “Confucian” modernity, in Japan for example. He states that East Asian modernity focuses more on soft authoritarianism, paternalistic polity and government leadership in the market economy. Both Tu and Eisenstadt prove that modernity is not uniform and is also not just derived from Western Europe. Although this adaptation succeeds in addressing the teleology and Eurocentrism of the original theory, there is the risk of it becoming too broad, losing its core meaning and thus being made redundant. Volker Schmidt urges multiple modernists to create a core meaning of the term, so that their claim can be appropriately measured. Nevertheless, the idea provides a potential framework through which future historians can compare levels of development. 

The adaptations made to modernisation theory have helped redefine what ‘modernity’ means. They have brought into question whose rubric we chose to follow and they have helped us understand alternative economic and political trajectories. Eisenstadt’s multiple modernities theory and Goldstone’s concept of economic efflorescences have challenged British exceptionalism and Rostow’s unilinear model. Nevertheless, the adaptations are not perfect and pose a new set of methodological issues. It is now the task of current historians to create a standardised, core meaning of modernisation, in order to fully assess whether societies have reached this stage. 

Bibliography: 

Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. & Schlechter, Wolfgang (eds.), Daedalus 127.3 (1998), special issue: ‘Early Modernities’. 

Fletcher, Joseph, ‘Integrative History: Parallels and Interconnections in the Early Modern Period, 1500-1800’, in Studies on Chinese and Islamic Inner Asia (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1995) pp.1-35

Goldstone, Jack A., ’Efflorescences and Economic Growth in World History: Rethinking the “Rise of the West” and the Industrial Revolution’, Journal of World History 13, no. 2 (2002): 323-389. 

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Image source: https://www.thoughtco.com/rostows-stages-of-growth-development-model-1434564

Teach-Out Review: Indigenous Politics and Revolutionary Movements in Latin America

Written by Anna Nicol.

In solidarity with the UCU strikes, there have been a number of organised Teach-outs which aim to create new spaces for learning and to explore alternative subject matters. In doing so they deconstruct traditional formats of learning and show that learning can take place at any time, in any format. On Tuesday 3 March, Dr Emile Chabal, the Director of the Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History, organised a Teach-out led by Dr Julie Gibbings (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Nathaniel Morris (University College London). Focusing on Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua, Dr Gibbings and Dr Morris aimed to provide a short overview of indigenous participation in these revolutions over the twentieth century, highlighting various similarities and differences across borders and dissecting indigenous identity and affiliation within each. 

Having decided to discuss the revolutions chronologically, Dr Morris began with the Mexican Revolution which spanned from 1910 to 1920. Here, Dr Morris highlighted an important element of discussing indigenous history: historians come into contact with differing, and occasionally competing, definitions of “indigeneity”. While 80%-90% of the population in Mexico had indigenous ancestry, only 40-50% continued engaging with indigenous social structures, histories, languages, and interrogating their position in the world; therefore, focussing on indigenous revolutionary participation already presents obstacles in how we engage with and define indigenous identity itself. He argued that indigenous groups initially supported the revolution, in part as a result from pressure from landowners and the desire to reclaim their lands as well as with the aim to increase power and respect for their communities. However, Dr Morris noted that the leaders of the revolution perpetuated similar ideas and values of the old state in that they did not factor indigenous people into the “new Mexico”; instead, they aimed to solidify a population of mestizos (an individual with both Hispanic and indigenous heritage) which created fertile ground for indigenous uprisings against mestizo national versions of the revolution until 1940, when the revolution became less radical. Throughout the revolutionary transformation of Mexico, the concept of “indigeneity” closely followed the values of indigenismo, which prioritised maintaining the “traditional” and performative aspects of indigenous identity, such as native dress, while eradicating cultural values and practices which defined their “otherness” within Mexican society.

Dr Gibbings continued on from Dr Morris by describing how there were frequent intellectual exchanges across the Guatemala-Mexico border; for example, Miguel A. Asturias noted Mexico’s process of mestizaje after his visit in the 1920s but did not believe it could be applied to Guatemalan society, instead encouraging European immigration to Europeanise Guatemalan society. She then explained that after becoming independent in the nineteenth century, the western part of Guatemala became the political and economic heart of the country because of the growth of the coffee economy in the highlands. The growing economy resulted in widespread migration into indigenous highlands and mobilised indigenous communities as a labour force for coffee planting. Similarly to Mexico, the 1944 to 1954 revolution was largely led by the middle class and urban students which aimed to go to the countryside and “civilise” indigenous groups through education indicating, Dr Gibbings argued, that it was a revolution from above. The contentious issue in Guatemala was the unequal distribution of land – such as these coffee-plantations, which moderates believed could be tackled by redistribution amongst the campesinos. This process would be headed by the elites as top-down agrarian reform; this change provoked revolution from below as it encouraged indigenous labourers to petition for land. Dr Gibbings argued that these petitions became a vehicle for historic restitution, because completing the required sections of the petitions allowed for indigenous groups to write about how the land had historically belonged to them before it was stolen and colonised. These petitions posed a threat to the landed elite and companies like the United Fruit Company thereby leading to a CIA-supported military coup in 1954 to overthrow the revolution. 

Dr Morris concluded the presentation by describing the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1980s. Similar to Guatemala, the Somoza dictatorship was backed by the United States and oversaw the unequal division of land, of which a small elite owned 90% that was frequently leased to American companies in industries such as mining, fishing etcetera. A guerrilla movement emerged during the 1970s and successfully overthrew the Somosa dynasty in 1979. The revolution was seen as a “beacon of hope” by many who hoped it would be an anti-imperialist, left-wing (but not authoritarian) revolution that would end socioeconomic and political disparities and institute social reform. In order to understand the reception of the revolution, Dr Morris took time to note the geographical divides within Nicaragua, outlining htat the Caribbean coast was never fully conquered by the Spanish, and so the coastline became known as the Miskitu territories, where the Miskitu and Mayangna communities lived. While the Miskitu and Mayangna were not entirely opposed to the revolution when it initially reached the Caribbean coast, they soon believed that the dictatorship, although oppressive, had generally allowed for their ethnic and cultural differences to continue undisturbed. Therefore, as the revolutionaries attempted to assimilate Miskitu groups into the “new nation” through education, similar to policies in Mexico at the beginning of the century, the Miskitu found their cultural autonomy challenged and attempted to resist. The disturbance led to rumours that the Miskitu were separatists and wanted to break away to form their own state. The tension between the revolutionaries and indigenous population culminated in the former forcing the latter to leave their villages and into camps in the jungle, further alienating the communities. As indigenous people escaped these camps, they often fled to Honduras where the Contra army was organised and supported by the CIA, who were providing arms to counterrevolutionaries – the Sandinistas did not see a difference between distinct indigenous groups and so everyone was treated as pro-American counterrevolutionary subversives. The civil war continued through the 1980s into the early 1990s when the Sandinistas were defeated at the ballot box by centrist-right wing liberals. 

Having provided a brief yet comprehensive overview of the three revolutionary countries, the floor was open to a discussion which cannot be justly reproduced here. The discussion allowed for the speakers to further develop earlier points and for other members of the Teach-out to ask questions. Themes covered included the failure of left-wing revolutionaries to successfully incorporate indigenous movements into their cause, without they themselves denying indigenous rights to autonomy, and also explored the gendered dimension of the revolutions, which saw the inclusion of women but no substantial launch of a women’s liberation movement. However, for me the most interesting part of the discussion was circling back to the concept of “indigeneity.” Dr Chabal asked how the development of indigenous identity has challenged neoliberal ideas, such as multiculturalism. In response to this question Dr Gibbings referenced Charles Hale’s argument on the indio permitido, or “permissible Indian”. Indio permitido is a term borrowed from Bolivian sociologist Silvia River Cusicanqui who argued that society needs a way to discuss and challenge governments that use cultural rights to divide and domesticate indigenous movements. Hale therefore concluded that indigenous communities are allowed to build rights and establish platforms of culture so long as they do not hinder or challenge government schemes. Indigenous communities thereby become “permissible” if they act within the economic framework that the government establishes, but are then discredited if they disagree or attempt to act outside of those state frameworks. He writes “governance now takes place instead through distinction…between good ethnicity, which builds social capital, and dysfunctional ethnicity, which incited conflict.” Understanding “permissible” and “impermissible” notions of indigeneity can therefore help us to better understand indigenous participation within these revolutions: indigenous groups were accounted for within the “new nations” when they adapted to the values of the forming nation-state, be it conforming to the national education system, learning Spanish or allowing for a top-down redistribution of land. If indigenous communities resisted or attempted to construct a communal identity outside these values they were then deemed counterrevolutionary or “subversive”. Dr Morris closed by connecting neoliberal ideas of indigeneity at the end of the twentieth century to the perception of indigeneity at the beginning of the century; he argued that neo-liberal recognition of indigenous groups is not that dissimilar to indigenismo in that indigenous “traditional” practices, such as dress, dances etc. are seen as acceptable but there is no space made for linguistic difference or political representation. 

Grappling with the notion of “indigeneity” and representation left me challenging my own perceptions of indigenous identity. Discussing indigenous narratives within history and competing perceptions of indigeneity urges us to interrogate our own approach to talking and writing about indigenous history, and understanding how we incorporate an indigenous perspective into the narrative of revolution. Perhaps this final thought is the most productive part of a Teach-out: to have individuals leave examining their own approach to research and education with the hope that new spaces will continue to form to re-evaluate and develop multiple narratives and perspectives.

Teach-Out Review: How Slavery Changed a City: Edinburgh’s Slave History

Written by Lewis Twiby.

As part of the teach-outs currently happening in solidarity with the UCU Strike, the History Society and the African and Caribbean Society hosted a very informative talk on Edinburgh’s connection to the slave trade. Chaired by two History undergraduates, Jamie Gemmell and Isobel Oliver, three experts – Sir Geoff Palmer, professor emeritus at Heriot-Watt, Lisa Williams, the director of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association, and Professor Diana Paton, our own specialist in Caribbean slavery in HCA – gave short speeches, and then answered, questions about Edinburgh’s slavery connections. In keeping with the ideals of the strike, of resistance and hope for a future, the speakers aimed to move away from traditional narratives of subjugation, instead focusing more on rehumanising enslaves peoples, discussing resistance, and how we can educate others on slavery.

     Sir Geoff Palmer was first to speak, beginning his talk on how he moved to London from Jamaica, and eventually up to Edinburgh in 1964. He discussed how, where Potterrow is now, was where the Caribbean Student Association was located, and how this talk would never have happened in 1964. Sir Palmer then went on to discuss the economic and ideological ties Edinburgh had to slavery. This included how David Hume used slavery as evidence for Africans being of lower intelligence, which, in turn, became a justification for the enslavement of Africans. He further highlighted how the literal structure of Edinburgh is partially built upon slavery. Scots owned 30% of Jamaican plantations, amassing to around 300,000 people, and the staggering wealth which was made through slavery helped built the city. 24 Fort Street, 13 Gilmore Street, York Place, and Rodney Street all had slave owners living there – Rodney Street is even named after an admiral who defended Jamaica from the French. The person who received the largest government compensation following the abolishment of slavery in 1834, John Gladstone, lived in Leith and received £83 million in today’s money. Despite the dark history of exploitation, Sir Palmer had some hope. He emphasised how having these talks was a step towards a brighter future, and stated ‘We can’t change the past, but we can change the consequences’.

     Professor Diana Paton continued after Sir Palmer, and wanted to look at the everyday aspects of slavery, and the rehumanisation of those enslaved. She explained that many of those who had plantations in Edinburgh actually inherited them – the horrors of slavery meant that plantation owners had biological children, but they were fathered by on enslaved women in an exploitative system, and many were barred from inheritance. As a result, inheritance subtly spread the influence of slavery in Edinburgh. For example, the Royal Infirmary in the 1740s received £500 from Jamaican slaveholders as a donation, and in 1749 was left in a will a 128-acre plantation with 49 enslaved people. Margareta McDonald married David Robertson, the son of HCA’s ‘founder’ William Robertson, and then inherited a plantation from her uncle, Donald McDonald. The callous attitudes they held towards people showed the dehumanisation of slaves, according to Professor Paton. The infirmary, a place of healing, rented out slaves earning £20,000 a year in today’s money, and a letter in the 1790s from Margareta asked whether she would get money from selling her slaves. However, Professor Paton also wished to rehumanise those enslaved and try to piece parts of their lives back together. For example, using the inventory of the McDonald’s, she found out about the life of Bella, born in Nigeria she was around 30 in 1795, and tragically passed away in 1832 – just two years before emancipation. Professor Paton stressed that by looking for people like Bella we can remind the public that those enslaved were not just nameless masses, but real, breathing people.

     Lisa Williams then began her speech, stating that her own Grenadian heritage, and the works of figures like Sir Palmer, inspired her to create the Edinburgh Caribbean Association. Williams wanted to break the exploitation of black historical trauma by creating the Black History Walks – specifically it was not a walking tour of slavery, although slavery is covered. Instead, it traces the forgotten history of Edinburgh’s Caribbean and African population since the sixteenth-century. In the 1740s, where the Writer’s Museum is today, a black boy worked as a servant and was baptised; Malvina Wells from Carriacou was buried in St John’s Kirkyard during the 1887; and how the mixed-race Shaw family even inherited slaves. Williams further emphasised the ideological impact of slavery, both in the past and today. Some white abolitionists, including William Wilberforce, exposed racist beliefs, so non-white abolitionists, like the Robert Wedderburn, challenged slavery and racial bigotry. Meanwhile, John Edmonstone from Guyana taught Darwin taxidermy and biology, something now believed to inspire him to go on his journey where he began developing the theory of evolution. She then discussed how the impact of slavery in Scotland today impacts education. Pride in the Scottish Enlightenment, a lack of teaching in the past, and racism in present society, a by-product of slavery, meant that this has been forgotten by society. However, she further argued that shifts in public opinion over reparations, including Glasgow University’s recent announcement that they would start looking at reparations, opens the doors for new educational opportunities. She concluded saying that the first look at African history and slavery should not be through the slave trade, instead it should be with African civilisations being taught in schools and the events of the Haitian Revolution.

     The question section, split into two with set one by the hosts and set two from the audience, cannot be adequately summarised here. This section of the teach-out allowed the speakers to elaborate on ideas they had wanted to discuss earlier, and the intellectual and emotional impact from this cannot be accurately represented here. Instead two themes cropped up throughout the discussion: education and decolonisation. Even then, these two themes were interconnected and can be best described as education through decolonisation. Sir Palmer, for example, spoke of how more research was needed to trace the economic and intellectual connections institutions had to slavery. Old College was partially funded through plantation profits, and how graduates from the medical school went to work on slave ships and plantations. This was echoed by Williams and Professor Paton – Williams cited how UncoverEd literally uncovers the forgotten history of the university, and how this was needed to be done elsewhere, not just in universities. Professor Paton echoed that the study of the Scottish Enlightenment had to be radically challenged, how their views on race helped justify slavery and the emergence of racism how we know it today. This further raises the question of should we even be naming buildings and raising statues of these people? The passion of the speakers is one thing to take away from this – Williams’ drive to challenge heritage sites in Scotland to acknowledge slavery and abolition, and Professor Paton’s description of education and public memory in Scotland about slavery as ‘insulting’ highlighted their desire for change. A direct quote from Sir Palmer remains with me, and shows why we need to study the past and decolonise, we have to ‘find out what is right, not do what is wrong’.

Casualisation, Contracts, and Crisis: The University in the early 21st Century

Interviews conducted and written by Jamie Gemmell.

From the University of Edinburgh’s various prospective student webpages, you would conclude that teaching lay at the heart of the institution. In their words, Edinburgh offers “world-class teaching” and is “always keen to develop innovative approaches to teaching.” Whilst the quality of Edinburgh’s teaching may not be in doubt, it is apparent that, judging by the way the institution treats staff, teaching is near the bottom of the university’s priorities. Over the past few months I have conducted interviews with Dr. Tereza Valny (Teaching Fellow in Modern European History), Dr. Megan Hunt (Teaching Fellow in American History), Dr. Kalathmika Natarajan (Teaching Fellow in Modern South Asian History), and Professor Diana Paton (William Robertson Professor of History). This piece aims to give voice to some of their experiences, putting a face to some of the more opaque problems raised by the ongoing industrial dispute between the UCU and Universities UK.

Three of my interviewees are “Teaching Fellows,” a position frequently defined by its contractual vagueness. On the surface, this short-term position is designed to provide opportunities for early career scholars, with an emphasis is on teaching and other student-facing activities. Often, the role is financed when a permanent member of staff acquires a large research grant. Theoretically, it’s a win-win: a more senior scholar can dedicate more time to their research, whilst a more junior scholar can gain some of the necessary skills and experience required for a permanent position. The reality is very different. In Dr. Valny’s words, the Teaching Fellowship is “extremely exploitative and really problematic.” In her experience, it meant being “plunged into an institution” to run modules and “figure[ing] it out as you go along.” Similarly, Dr. Natarajan referred to the contract as “precarious.” She finds the contractual obligations “so overwhelming, that I often … need a bit of a break,” leaving her unable to conduct research in her, unpaid, spare time. 

One of the primary issues around the Teaching Fellowship is the workload. Whilst Dr. Hunt’s contract stipulates that she should be working around twenty-nine to thirty hours per week, in reality she works “easily double that.” If she doesn’t have “specific plans on a weekend” she “will work.” Even then, she remains in a “cycle where you never quite get on top of it.” Dr. Natarajan puts it a bit more diplomatically, suggesting that her hours “definitely stretch more than the average work week.” Under the department’s carefully calibrated workload framework, five hours of one-on-one time are given to each tutorial group for a whole semester and forty minutes for a typical undergraduate essay – that includes engaging with work, writing up feedback, and discussing it with the student. Obviously, this is not sufficient. Dr. Hunt concludes that if she worked the hours laid out by the workload framework, her classes “would be turning up and saying let’s have a chat.” Even as a Professor, these issues do not fall away. Whilst working to contract as part of the UCU industrial action this term, Professor Paton has been able to spend much less time preparing for teaching than she normally would, only “scanning over primary sources” and “relying on long-term knowledge” when it comes to the secondary literature. By focusing on quantifying time so precisely, the institution has failed students completely, relying on the goodwill of the University’s employees. It hardly reflects a desire to introduce “innovative approaches” to teaching. 

With workloads so high, it is common for early career scholars to become trapped in teaching positions. Advancement in the sector relies on putting together a strong research portfolio – that means articles in highly regarded journals and respected book publications. As one of the University’s primary sources of income is research funding, scholars with reputable research backgrounds are crucial. However, Teaching Fellowships, by their very nature, stipulate little to no time to research. When I asked Dr. Natarajan how many hours she dedicated to research she laughed and said, “absolutely none.” Despite developing many of her key ideas through her teaching, Dr. Valny has never had the “space to take those ideas” and transform them into a book proposal. This can lead to anxiety and stress. Dr. Natarajan’s PhD is “constantly at the back of my mind,” yet she rarely finds significant time to transform the piece into a monograph. Without the adequate time allocated to research, these scholars can never advance. Dr. Valny, rather depressingly, concludes that if she continues within a Teaching Fellowship she will become “unemployable” in any other position. With her contract expiring in August this year, it appears that this possibility could become a reality. Her situation reflects a broader problem where staff dedicated to their students and teaching are not rewarded for their work.

The emphasis on research has led to pernicious discourses that have devalued teaching, further demoralising many early career scholars who find themselves ensnared in these roles. In contrast to her time in Prague, where she was rewarded for producing popular courses (although still employed only temporarily), Dr. Valny finds herself suffering from feelings of “imposter syndrome” and “guilt, or inadequacy” when confronted with suggestions that she need only apply for research grants to escape her role. For Dr. Hunt, being “respected for what I already do quite well,” would be more appreciated. She claims that “institutionally it (teaching) doesn’t matter.” By being “a good teacher,” she has risked her career being “put on hold, if not completely stalled.” Similarly, Dr. Natarajan has found her teaching being treated as “a side-line” or a “side-note” to research. Performative professionalism has often defined these scholars’ teaching approaches, hiding an institution that disregards teaching and actively encourages academics to move away from teaching. This is despite some Teaching Fellows, such as Dr. Valny, accepting that a permanent teaching position would be “actually fine.”

These issues around workloads and casualisation intersect with the brutal policies of the Home Office, frequently referred to as the “hostile environment.” Home Office regulations stipulate that only “highly-skilled migrants” can live and work here, meaning those on short term contracts face another level of instability. For Dr. Natarajan, this has been a major source of precariousness. Dr. Natarajan can “only stay as long as I have a job or, rather only as long as I have a visa and the visa depends on my job.” If Dr. Natarajan or her husband fail to secure another job, after their current contracts expire, they risk deportation. Within the sector more broadly, advertisements for short term jobs often assert that only those with a pre-existing right to reside can apply. This issue throws cold water over criticism that stereotypes strikers as middle-class whites. Demonstrably scholars of colour, often, in the words of Dr. Natarajan “have their own very different set of precarious circumstances.” 

Many of these issues reflect deeper structural problems within the higher education sector.  Scholars frequently cited the removal of the student cap and increase in tuition fees, reforms from 2010, as exacerbating pre-existing issues and transforming education into a commodity. Dr. Natarajan has suggested that the university has become a “business venture,” whilst Professor Paton claims that there was an “almost instant” change in the way students and management conceptualised higher education after 2010. Over the years, under Professor Paton’s analysis, this “quantitative increase has become a qualitative change,” putting pressure on staff and students. Despite student numbers and tuition fees increasing, Dr. Hunt suggests that “the service that people are paying” for is not being provided. Rather, money flows into marketing and big projects that elevate the positions of senior management figures.

The university sector appears to have reached a tipping point. On a micro level, staff are under increasing pressure, with workloads increasing and casualisation becoming more widespread. A two-tier system has developed, with early career scholars expected to teach more and research less. Goodwill and professionalism appear to be the only things preventing university teaching coming to a standstill. On a macro level, the sector has become partially commercialised with fees privatised and universities encouraged to compete for students. This has occurred without a concomitant provision of consumer rights, leaving students forced to accept higher levels of debt without safeguards in place to demand improvements or changes in the service provided. These institutions have been left in some middle ground between state-funded institution and privately-funded business venture, to the detriment of academics and students. Demands being made under the ongoing industrial dispute are hardly radical. Many academics are simply requesting greater job security and more respect for the work they do. If universities aren’t designed to support students or academics properly, we are all left asking who on earth are they designed for?