Archive | June, 2010

Constructions of Fathers in New Labour’s Discourse

20 Jun

My first post on this blog was a brainstorm of ideas for my undergraduate dissertation. I eventually settled on the third option; an analysis of how fathers and fatherhood have been treated in UK public policy. The full version of the dissertation is available here. I’m considering writing a journalistic version of it to make it easier to understand.

This is the abstract and should let you know the gist of the work and whether you want to read it or not: Continue reading

Covert Surveillance and the Digital Economy Act 2010

20 Jun

I wrote an essay titled ‘The Disciplining of Behaviour in an Online Panopticon: A Foucauldian Perspective on the Digital Economy Act 2010′ which is available here. I’m considering writing a journalistic version of the essay to make it more accessible.

Here are some excerpts from the introduction to this essay:

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Does Contemporary Feminism Need a New Name?

15 Jun

I am firmly of the view that the feminist goal of achieving freedom for all genders needs a widespread re-appraisal of masculinity and manhood in order to succeed. The issue of paternity and maternity leave in Britain offers an excellent example of this. Because fathers are still predominantly perceived as breadwinners and mothers as carers, fathers receive weeks of paternity leave as opposed to the months of maternity leave which mothers receive. Employers’ fears that women of childbearing age are unreliable are reinforced and this in turn contributes to the persistence of the glass ceiling for women.

If new fathers were offered the same amount of leave as new mothers, fathers would have the opportunity to make the best use of their caring attributes. At the same time, employers would have no reason to discriminate against women on grounds of their potential for their taking maternity leave because their male employees would be just as likely to take leave. This is just one small example but it gives an insight into how reconfiguring masculinity can lead to benefits for mothers and fathers.

At a recent roundtable discussion on portrayals of beauty in the media, I found the debate concentrating on how awful lads’ mags are for taking advantage of women and using the female body for financial profit. Of course, it’s perfectly correct to criticise these magazines for objectifying women. It is at least as important though to make the argument that the attitudes of lads’ mags make it normal for men to objectify women. In the words of Catherine Redfern, in her review of John Stoltenberg’s book Refusing to be a Man, ‘how can the oppressed be free unless the oppressors change?’ There are certainly good reasons then for feminism to engage not only with the lives of women but also with the lives of men.

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Uncritical History and National Identity: The Beginnings of a British Historikerstreit?

9 Jun

I attended the Republic Annual Conference last Saturday and particularly enjoyed a panel on ‘Our Republican Heritage.’ Geoffrey Robertson QC and Edward Vallance first talked about Britain’s republican and radical history. But then the Q&A session turned to a more contemporary and immediate issue, namely the teaching of history.

Vallance brought up the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s plans to emphasise the British Empire in history teaching. Gove recently invited the right-wing historian Niall Ferguson to oversee the introduction of a history syllabus which ensures pupils are aware that modern history is the history of “the rise of western domination of the world.”

Ferguson and Gove’s ideas were opposed by Vallance on the grounds that emphasising Britain’s imperialist past would relegate the history of its radicals who fought for the liberties which we so value today. In the Historikerstreit of the 1980s Jürgen Habermas criticised right-wing German historians and politicians who wanted to revise Germany’s Nazi history to create a ‘useable’ German identity. Vallance followed Habermas’s line of attack in his condemnation of Gove’s attempts to rewrite the history school curriculum for the benefit of conservative political goals.

Update — 10.6.2010

The similarities with the original German Historikerstreit are growing already. Seumas Milne has written an article for the Guardian criticising the planned reforms: ‘Part of the motivation appears to be a doomed and perverted attempt to create a sense of national identity out of a historical inheritance that should be utterly rejected.’

The introduction of the history of British radicalism into the curriculum would certainly be worthwhile. Of course, it is healthy for pupils to be exposed to radical ideas but not necessarily as a part of an attempt to increase the number of radicals in British society. The best reasons for teaching not only about the history of British radicalism but also about the less than glorious parts of Britain’s  past are that it would engender pupils with critical mindsets.

History education should not concentrate on trying to achieve a common understanding of history which can be used to achieved a narrowly patriotic national identity. Indeed, the growing embarrassment at Britain’s imperialist past originally led to the marginalisation of the Empire within history teaching and subsequently within British national consciousness and identity. Similarly, teaching of World War Two history tended in my experience to focus on the successes of the Allies and never on more questionable aspects such as the bombing of Dresden or Soviet war crimes.

History should never be an exercise in merely remembering (or should that be memorising?) Britain’s proudest moments. Nor should it be about creating a supremacist national identity built around British victories and European domination of the world. German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Kniefall at the Memorial for the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto showed remorse for Germany’s Nazi past but it also offered a more self-critical way of understanding and problematising German national identity. It is deplorable that for the most part Britain does not critically engage with its past and its national identity.

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The Tale of Two Scandals (or the Telegraph’s Missed Opportunity)

7 Jun

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the University of Birmingham student paper ‘Redbrick.’ The original is available here. To be clear, I disagree with the headline’s assertion that Laws’s practice was unethical. This article continues with some of my ideas from a previous blog post on David Laws.

The recent case of David Laws has illustrated the hypocrisy about how sexuality is often represented in Britain today. The Daily Telegraph accused Laws of illegally claiming expenses on the rent he was paying to his landlord who was also his long-term, though secret, boyfriend. Laws soon resigned from his ministerial post where he was responsible for reducing government spending. The ethics of Laws’s expenses claims are much disputed but that is to miss the most crucial aspect of the episode. If he had been open about his sexuality, he could have also claimed for his partner’s living costs and hugely increased his claims. His motives were clearly to keep his homosexuality private and the effect was to save the taxpayer money!

The Telegraph maintains it did not intend to divulge Laws’s sexuality. This is little more than a cynical attempt to deflect criticism that they were unfairly violating Laws’s privacy. As soon as Laws heard the story was soon to be published, he had little choice but to declare his sexuality. Neither his friends, nor his very traditionally Catholic family were aware that he is gay. Laws grew up in an inhibited family environment during a time typified by the Conservative government’s legislation banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by teachers. It is hardly surprising that Laws valued his privacy so highly.

Many in the media and various (mainly Labour) MPs have argued however that it is equally as unethical for a privately gay MP to bend the expenses rules to avoid his sexuality being revealed as it is for an aristocratic MP to claim for his moat cleaning bills. In many cases, the viewpoint underpinning this assertion is that there is no reason for gay people to keep their sexuality secret in modern Britain. Two tweets from Ben Bradshaw, a gay Labour MP, epitomised this stance and asked ‘why should anyone in Britain today feel ashamed to acknowledge they’re gay’ and later ‘when is “protecting your privacy” a euphamism [sic] for feeling shameful about who you are?’

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