Along with my Department's Widening Participation Officer, Shahnaz Akhter, I launched the Colonial Hangover project at a Schools Day event we ran for Year 12 students on January 17th 2017. The project will run for the whole year and will invite the participating students to reflect on the images of empire that they continue to find around them on a day-to-day basis. It picks up on an increasing sense that the British Empire might well have been formally disbanded, but that assumptions about empire continue to shape our everyday experiences. This has perhaps never been more amply demonstrated than in the vision of Britain's place in the world that animated the Leave campaign at the 2016 EU referendum and that now provides the dominant imagery for Theresa May's preferred account of what a post-Brexit Britain might look like.
Assisted by our undergraduate student research assistants Taznema Khatun and Jonas Eberhardt, we also put on a Colonial Hangover conference on June 30th 2017. This was designed to allow our schools competition winners to present their work - both essays and spoken word pieces - in an environment in which they could interact with our undergraduates and learn more about university life from the latter's presentations. It proved to be an exhilarating day in which all of the students took the opportunity to really talk about themselves, their experiences of the legacies of empire and what it means to live in a society that continues to be dominated by assumptions of white privilege. Recordings from the day will shortly be available.
On December 7th 2016 at the invitation of the C2G2 Centre I delivered a paper to the General Departmental Seminar of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton. The paper was entitled, 'The Politics of Silence in Liberal Economic Theory: What David Ricardo's Theory of Global Free Trade Still Does Not Tell Us 200 Years On'.
Abstract: David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage is now two centuries old, but it remains at the heart of economists’ theories of international trade. It also continues to provide the underlying economic ethics for liberal IPE. Ricardo’s numerical illustration of the mutually shared gains from specialisation and trade featured a productively superior hypothetical ‘Portugal’ and a productively inferior hypothetical ‘England’. Yet the historical back-story of actual eighteenth-century trading relations between the two countries reveals Portugal’s repeated struggles to meet its treaty obligations to the English in the context of the European struggle for empire. Those difficulties persisted even when it harnessed its (less profitable) commercial trade to (much more profitable) slave trading practices. Ricardo’s account of the purely market-based logic of comparative advantage writes out of economic history the centrality to the early English and Portuguese experience of ‘free’ trade of both imperial wars and African slavery. Given this historical back-story, the debates about international trade that will follow in the wake of both the Brexit vote and Trump’s victory are unlikely to ever tell the full story. There is a very good chance that they will continue to revolve around assertions and counter-assertions related to Ricardo’s original claims in favour of free trade. Equally they are also likely to remain silent on the historical experiences that Ricardo wished away in saying that England and Portugal would be best advised to continue their existing commercial relationships as a matter of pure economic logic. This paper will explore where those silences came from and also explain why they remain so important today.