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Activities and Outputs

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Political Studies Association Schools Day

On January 17th 2020 I delivered the keynote lecture at the Political Studies Association Schools Day at the University of Warwick. The theme of the event was the politics of imperial legacies. My talk was entitled 'How should we deal today with the legacy of the British Empire', and it focused specifically on how young people position themselves in relation to the British Empire, when their history curriculum at school tells them one thing and their consciences often tell them something else entirely. In particular, we discussed how a number of British universities are attempting to confront their own history of benefiting from donations from slave traders, plantation owners, tobacco merchants and the like. Technology was used for the lecture which enabled the students to engage through anonymous voting, sometimes in relation to questions of fact (where they had to guess the most likely answer, as they could not have been expected to know it) and sometimes in relation to questions of opinion (where they could also guess how everyone else had voted before the answers were revealed on the screen).

Political Economy for the End Times Podcast: Brexit, Empire, and the 'Let Down'

I was interviewed by Jack Copley and Javi Moreno for their Political Economy for the End Times podcast series. My episode is called 'Brexit, Empire, and the 'Let Down'', and it appears on the podcast website. I was asked to reflect on the implications of Brexit for progressive political strategy in relation to European integration, and I was also asked to reflect on the way in which images of Empire have now routinely come to shape the prevailing political discourse concerning Brexit.

Fri 12 Jul 2019, 12:26 | Tags: Brexit, Political Economy for the End Times, Empire, podcast

Talk to the Historical Association

On November 14th 2018 I gave a talk to the Nuneaton Branch of the Historical Association. The ttile of my talk was 'Adam Smith, Enlightenment Sceptic of Empire'. In it, I suggested that the qualification 'Enlightenment' is important. There should be no doubting the fact that Smith, contrary to the position taken by the vast majority of his contemporaries, was opposed to Empire. Some of the most energetic performances recounted in his Glasgow Lectures came when he was outlining his attack on Empire; the same was also true of some of the least guarded passages in The Wealth of Nations. But Smith's scepticism of Empire was definitely of its time. He had overwhelmingly an economic critique of Empire, perhaps for the first time showing how it was possible to turn the image of economic inefficiencies into a political argument. It is much more usual today to think badly of Empire for the way in which it infringed upon all reasonable assumptions about human rights. Interestingly, such an argument can be reconstructed from the sympathy procedure that forms the cornerstone of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, but it was one that Smith did not make for himself. Moreover, he raised to the position of role models in his Wealth of Nations the Glasgow tobacco merchants who he knew quite well. Yet they benefited from the economics of Empire in exactly the same way as did the East India Company, the real focus of his critique. And they created monopoly conditions from which to benefit in exactly the same way as did it. Moreover, the tobacco merchants made themselves rich on the back of a system of plantation that relied upon the labour of enslaved people. Smith was also a critic of slavery, but once again this was really only an economic argument. The system of slavery can never be as efficient as the system of free labour, he argued, because enslaved people simply do not have the incentives to work hard that free labourers do.

Thu 15 Nov 2018, 18:11 | Tags: Nuneaton, public talk, Empire, Historical Association, Adam Smith