VOLUME I ISSUE II, MAY 2014 Revolutionary: the Rise of Social Media - Our Modern Waste Land: Food, Facts and the Future - Outside of the Box: Bahaâ€™is and Education in Iran David Shrigley: Artist of the Absurd - Changing the GM Climate - An Indie Wind Blowing: Theories about the Cultural Impulse of the Decade The Two-State Solution: Distribution of Natural Resources for Mutual Security and Prosperity - A Farewell to the Old Keynesianism? - Is student politics dead?
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EDITORIAL TEAM Editors-in-Chief
Emily Fitzell Mossy Wittenberg
Outside of the Box: Baha’is and Education in Iran Nahim von Sangsar
Revolutionary: the Rise of Social Media Oli Wettern
Our Modern Waste Land: Food, Facts and the Future Tom Evans
David Shrigley: Artist of the Absurd Leaf Arbuthnot
Changing the GM Climate Charlie Whittaker
The Two-State Solution: Distribution of Natural Resources for Mutual Security and Prosperity Sophie Gill
An Indie Wind Blowing: Theories about the Cultural Impulse of the Decade Lucy Wark
A Farewell to the Old Keynesianism? Jamie Parker
Is student politics dead? Flick Osbourne
Editors Politics Arts & Culture Economics Science &Technology
Omar El-Nahry Jospeh Voignac Tiara Letourneau Tom Evans
Zoe Liu & Sophie Ashford
Website Publicity Designer
Alasdair Phillips-Robins Ella Jackson www.ella-jackson.com
Find us online at: www.cambridgeglobalist.org @tcglobalist
All pictures used in this edition are licensed under the Creative Commons License 3.0. The original images can be found on Flickr.
A WORD FROM THE EDITORS What might it mean in 2014 to call yourself a Globalist? Thanks to tablets and smart phones, almost every pocket now holds a portal to the world wide web of information. The Internet is our Babel, an infinite library through which all may access a global bank of knowledge, and with it, a “globalist” perspective. However, like the media, the Internet is ultimately a social filter, one whose transparency and reliability can at times be highly questionable. In a compelling article on the imbalanced reportage of popular uprisings, Oli Wettern highlights both the advantages and dangers of treating social media sources as fact. In this digital age, information makes its way to us faster and in far greater quantities than we are personally able to vet. Overexposure can prove challenging as well as liberating. Through detailed, discursive and highly discerning social analysis, our writers therefore seek to maintain a critical eye in the face of unregulated information, and are diligent when it comes to presenting their findings to the world. Their articles challenge the assumption that modern-day attention spans crave nothing more than instant gratification in the form of headlines, tweets and hits. Here at The Cambridge Globalist, what the term Globalist actually affords is passage through a changing world into pioneering territories for student-led journalism. In this issue, we celebrate our aim to provide a platform for those wishing to insightfully question and reconsider the polemical undercurrents of our increasingly interconnected world. Our Globalist is a free-thinker who embraces the Internet-library in its immensity, and takes on the task of unearthing its most crucial narratives. Our Globalists join the ranks of journalists unafraid to tackle important global issues- even those which lack the glamour of a front page scoop (see Tom Evan’s article on the growing issue of waste). They have the courage to suggest alternative perspectives on topical international issues, as demonstrated by Sophie Gill’s innovative research on resource sharing in the Middle East. Our Globalists have the insight to dissect the past, and the foresight to think ahead. They look inwards and outwards, incorporating elements of student life into far-reaching and attention-worthy instances of international dialogue: Nahim von Sangsar highlights the positive response that Cambridge University could make to the persecution of Bahá’ís in Iran, whilst CUSU president Flick Osbourne concludes by considering the future of student politics. Here at The Cambridge Globalist, we are committed to engaging our readers across a variety of media platforms. Alongside our website and radio show, our guest speaker events and debates, our weekly editorial meetings, and alas, our Twitter and Facebook pages, we believe that there is a continual place in print for honouring the enduring power of words. Emily Fitzell & Mossy Wittenberg
OUTSIDE OF THE BOX: BAHA’IS AND EDUCATION IN IRAN NAHIM VON SANGSAR PHOTOGRAPH by CHRISTIAAN TRIEBERT
“Indicate religion: a) Muslim, b) Christian, c) Jewish, d) Zoroastrian.” One of several multiple-choice questions which faced Nabil, a young Iranian, when he applied to university in his home country. Three times he applied, and three times he was rejected. Each time, he drew an additional box next to the question on religion and wrote the word “Bahá’í” on the side. You see, Bahá’ís – Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority – have a long history of persecution. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, their situation became even worse. In 1993, the United Nations Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights revealed the content of a circular issued by the Iranian Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council on 25 February 1991. It ordered that “when a student is known to be a Bahá’í, he shall be expelled from university, either during the admission process or in the course of the academic year.” This document was signed by Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, who is still in power. But back to Nabil’s application form. (His real name, and the names of all those interviewed here, have been withheld to protect their identities.) When he complained, a well-intentioned official suggested, “Why don’t you just check the option ‘Zoroastrian’ if you don’t want to be a Muslim?” I asked the same question to Morvarid, a young Bahá’í who grew up in Iran and is now at Cambridge University: “Why don’t Bahá’ís just check an alternative box?”
She said that Bahá’í identity has a deep religious meaning. Many Bahá’í families have members who were tortured and killed in the past for not denying their beliefs, and Bahá’í youth today feel responsible for that memory. Some years ago, after being pressured by international organisations, Tehran made a move in the direction of allowing Bahá’ís into universities. Negar was one of the many Bahá’ís who took the university admissions test that year. But, predictably, she was not admitted. When Negar travelled from her hometown, Sari, to Tehran, to ask what had been the problem, the official who saw her was clear: “You are Bahá’í and we will not accept your application.” And she was not alone; most of the Bahá’í applicants were denied admission that year. “Of the 500 Bahá’ís that applied,” estimates Darya, a Bahá’í from Shiraz, “maybe 50 were allowed to pursue higher education, and only five lasted to graduation without being expelled.” A friend of hers was expelled just a few months before finishing her degree.
“The Golden Age” Bahá’ís have not always been excluded from education. In the 1870s, individual Bahá’ís established a few modern schools in rural villages in northern Iran, and after the 1899 foundation of the Tarbiyat school of Tehran, the number multiplied exponentially across the country. These schools proved popular. According to estimates, no less than ten percent of the student population attended Bahá’í educational institutions at the start of the twentieth-century, despite Bahá’ís forming less than one percent of the Iranian population. As well as being popular, Bahá’í schools were the best academically. For instance, in a 1913 government examination, 30 of the 33 students of the Tarbiyat School passed, while only ten of the 300 students from other institutions of Tehran did so. In his book, The Forgotten Schools, the Iranian-Israeli scholar Soli Shahvar indicates that due to the schools’ good reputation, and the fact that Bahá’í religion was not taught to non-Bahá’í students, families of different religious communities sent their children to these schools. Bahá’í schools thus became a space for
integration in a highly fragmented society. Bahá’í schools also had a huge impact on women’s education. Indeed, they set the basis for the emergence of the first generation of professional women in Iran. What’s more, Bahá’í sources indicate that virtually all Bahá’í women under forty were literate by the 70s, in contrast the national average of less than 25%. In 1934 Bahá’í schools refused to open their doors during a Bahá’í religious holiday, so the Shah of Iran ordered their closure. The “Golden Age” of Bahá’í education ended abruptly. But three decades at the forefront of educational modernisation in Iran left a deep mark. Bahá’í communities still organise their religious education in a very structured way and provide a supportive environment for their members’ formal education. Not surprisingly, then, Iranian Bahá’ís tend to do well academically. The Bahá’ís I spoke with were adamant that their culture is good for education, but this point was also made by a rather unexpected individual: Shaykh Mehdi Daneshmand, in an anti-Bahá’í sermon which went viral on YouTube. The Shaykh scolds his audience because the majority do not meet the standards of Bahá’ís in school. He illustrates with the example of a Bahá’í student who obtained the highest mark in one of his courses, because other than being a Bahá’í he couldn’t find any problem to justify a lower mark. His Shi’i student, on the other hand, obtained a two, “and the two was only because I knew the father,” he recognises. One reason why Iranian Bahá’ís do well in school is the status given to education by the Bahá’í religion itself. A child’s schooling is supported by the entire community, who also often organise complementary classes for children and youth. This is referred to by Amy Chua, an American lawyer at Yale, in what she calls the “triple package of success.” This is characteristic of members of certain minorities who have successful role models within their communities and at the same time are aware of being observed because of being different. This makes them work harder in order to do well (often at the expense of fun).
BIHE: “The only thing that remains” Boshra was a brilliant school student in Yazd at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. She was determined to follow an academic career in physics and studied hard to achieve her goal. She was lucky that she wasn’t there on the day when the Revolutionary Guard summoned all Bahá’í students of her school and expelled them. A teacher, nevertheless, advised her to stop studying so hard because she was running directly into a wall. There was no future for her as a Bahá’í. When Boshra graduated from secondary school in 1985, she had, indeed, not a single chance to continue studying – let alone achieve her dream of becoming a physicist. In that situation, she and a group of her friends organised study groups to keep their minds busy and acquire some skills. In 1987, a door opened for Boshra: the Iranian Bahá’í community created the Bahá’í Institute of Higher Education – BIHE. Staffed with professors who had been expelled from Iranian universities, this university began its programme of studies in people’s homes. Since then, BIHE has grown to involve a combined faculty and staff of hundreds of members and several undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. It still relies on face-to-face classes but has increasingly adopted online methods of education, which allows it to work with faculties across the world. BIHE’s short history has not been without trouble. Boshra remembers that during the most critical periods of persecution, students would turn off their mobile phones and remove the batteries for fear of being traced by government forces. Police could raid people’s homes, confiscate computers and even imprison students and professors just for being involved with BIHE. In 2011, for example, 13 students and professors were arrested and laboratory material was confiscated. Seven of the arrested individuals were sentenced to between four and five years in prison. Nevertheless, BIHE is resilient: the Iranian government has, one by one, eliminated all expression of Bahá’í institutional life. “BIHE is the only thing that remains,”
Boshra asserts, “and we will not let it go.” What’s more, so are its students, who turn out well-equipped for academic success. Boshra recalls that during her studies at BIHE she used to read any book that fell into her hands as if it was the last time she would see it. Not surprisingly, then, BIHE graduates tend to do well in postgraduate programmes abroad. Nabil recently finished his PhD in Computer Science at UC Berkeley and feels that BIHE was much more taxing than the Californian institution.
What does Cambridge have to do with all this? The Bahá’í community of Iran has a rich history of involvement in education and has proved to be strong in the context of severe conditions up to this day. Despite Bahá’ís being victims of their political context, they are a remarkably optimistic, determined people with a strong sense of purpose. They are part of a proud community that, even in the context of persecution, has been capable of forging its own history. Institutions like UC Berkeley, the University of Chicago, University College London, the University of Sheffield, and Anglia Ruskin, have all admitted BIHE graduates. There is at least one notable exception: the University of Cambridge. Senate House doesn’t recognise degrees issued by BIHE - because, they say, BIHE is not recognised by NARIC, the National Agency which provides information on academic qualifications from across the world. Some might argue that the University of Cambridge has a moral obligation to consider applications from very capable students who are oppressed in their home country. But there is also a much more practical reason for considering BIHE applicants. Cambridge has much to gain from embracing students who are among the brightest and most determined that Iran has to offer. In failing to recognise BIHE qualifications, both Cambridge and the persecuted Baháí’s are missing out. Nahim von Sangsar, a postgraduate student in sociology.
THE RISE OF SOCIAL MEDIA OLI WETTERN ARTWORK by ANDREAS ELDH The Falklands War of 1982 was described as ‘the worst reported war since the Crimean War’. It took 54 days for the first pictures of the conflict to make it back to the UK. In the 2003 Iraq War, reporters embedded in coalition combat units reported the fast-paced advance as best they could, whilst journalists in Baghdad brought night-time shots of the bombings and tracer fire over the Euphrates. By 2011 it seemed that everyone with a camera phone had become a reporter, uploading pictures and videos of conflict across the Arab world. In places like Egypt, this was used to augment traditional journalism on the ground, but in Syria social media rapidly became the primary source of information for journalists. This trend will not be reversed, and adapting to the change is key to the future of journalism across the globe. The use of social media in the Arab Spring was unprecedented in providing direct coverage of the situation on the ground. However, although it provides unparalleled access to events as they unfold, there are problems with this new usage of social media, especially when coupled with a lack of traditional journalists in situ. The sources and motivations behind YouTube videos and Twitter posts often cannot be investigated. Material on Syria is not produced by international news organisations with at least some commitment to unbiased reporting, but factions in an increasingly bitter conflict. Content is often selected and edited by “curation hubs” to push particular narratives, and sometimes would be better classified as amateur propaganda. The sheer volume of videos and posts means news editors have to be selective, often focusing just on what is “trending”. Simply finding ways of authenticating such material is not enough: the international media must develop an
understanding of the structural biases inherent to activist curation. Social media coverage in Syria differs from that of previous popular uprisings, or even contemporary ones like Egypt. In Egypt, although analysis may have been inaccurate at times, incidents could be observed and verified by third parties. The relative lack of a media presence in Syria has meant a much heavier reliance on social media, with TV reports full of grainy YouTube videos. International aid and intelligence agencies have been similarly reliant on the torrent of online material in order to form responses and policy, making the development of effective analytic tools one of their top priorities. These
“Given the steady rise in the number of people able to access the internet, the handling of the Syrian information overload will be a template for future protests and revolutions ...”
are slowly appearing: the “Blogs and Bullets” report released in January 2014 by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) used new software to analyse over 38 million tweets from the three years of conflict. Given the steady rise in the number of people able to access the internet, the handling of the Syrian information overload will be a template for future protests and revolutions, particularly given media cutbacks and the decreasing number of foreign correspondents. In time, organisations like USIP hope to be able to pick up tell-tale signs in social media when unrest or conflict is imminent. It is undoubtedly true that amateur footage offers unparalleled insight into conflict zones, with a far wider scope than any journalist could hope to attain. Bias, however, remains a huge obstacle to the use of social media for effective reporting. This is exemplified by the contrast between Arabic and English Twitter output regarding Syria. The recent USIP
report highlights a major shift from English to Arabic usage from January 2012: whilst in January 2011 only 20% of tweets about Syria were in Arabic, by January 2012 the figure was around 70%, a proportion which has remained broadly stable as the overall number of posts increases. In March 2011, only about 25% of the 250 most re-tweeted posts were in Arabic; by September 2011, only 25% were in English. When relying on the internet as a major source, the Anglophone international media thus risks confining itself to a subset of the full picture. This point is especially significant because the subject matter of English posts, as compared to those in Arabic, is so markedly different. These are not parallel conversations in different languages, but completely different spheres of discussion. In March 2012 campaign hashtags like #prayforsyria and #stopassad were among the most popular English tweets, whereas Arabic tweets had a far higher number of pro-Islamist hashtags like #jihad and #fatwa. The fading of a pan-Arab discourse, and movement towards a more insular and religious language set, is notable in Arab social media. It raises questions over the broader narrative of the Arab Spring as a concept ‒ but it is a story that Anglocentric analysis risks missing out on. This Arabic‒English content split is also strikingly obvious in other social media, notably online videos. “News” is often created by material crossing from one sphere to another, such as the video of a lung-eating rebel commander whose actions, whilst relatively common knowledge on Arabic sites, undermined the stress of the English narrative that Opposition actions were essentially defensive. This insularity can lead to content being “narrowcasted” online so that, for example, pro-jihadist messages reach one audience and pro-moderate messages another. In addition to this, structural biases in the way social media works can mean that popular content eclipses more common but less popular material. One video of a larger scale attack by government forces may go viral, whilst multiple videos of attacks on government positions by opposition forces may go unnoticed. Journalists and analysts should take this over- and underrepresentation of viewpoints and data-types into account. In line with this is the fundamental problem of reporting from a distance, and the inherent difficulty of comparing online material with the offline situation. Even with reporters on the ground, as was the case in Egypt, it is difficult for international media to connect online trends to real-world developments. One need only consider the very different narratives of the BBC, al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera on whether the ousting of President Morsi by Army-backed protesters was a predominantly democratic or authoritarian move. Without
“In March 2011, only about 25% of the 250 most re-tweeted posts were in Arabic; by September 2011, only 25% were in English...” corroboration it becomes difficult to pitch reports with any certainty. All this is complicated by the illusion that the internet provides an unmediated flow of information. Mainstream media reliance on online activism risks the wide propagation of partial or misleading information. The motivation behind social media posts is often ignored; individual videos can be verified, but deeper biases are harder to account for. Curation by key individual hubs is a major part of this. Twitter material channelled by the UAE columnist Sultan al-Qassemi, for example, was very different to that selected by al-Jazeera personalities like Faisal al-Qassem. Those involved in the conflict are inevitably motivated to support certain narratives. The reliance of news editors on a small selection of hubs is understandable given the sheer quantity of content available, but it leads to yet more cherry-picking. YouTube might be thought of as a more direct information source, but here again problems arise, not least over the authentication of footage. The sheer volume of material also masks editorial processes within Syrian groups, which aim at putting across particular narratives (e.g. a pro-western anti-Assad moderate stance that stresses government atrocities while minimising coverage of dubious opposition activities). Of course, traditional journalism comes with its own set of problems. Access for journalists to northern Syria from Turkey improved in 2012, but the reliance on opposition groups for information and freedom of movement introduces the possibility of manipulation, analogous with the problems caused by embedding journalists within coalition forces in the Iraq War. There is a risk that the story shifts from a varied online perspective to what journalists can see with their own eyes. In Egypt the centre of action was Cairo, particularly Tahrir Square; but in Syria the action predominantly happens outside of the areas journalists are able to access. Shocking footage continues to emerge online of the violence in Homs, but the lack of a media presence there means that it is now often ignored in favour of stories that journalists can witness themselves. Against this, however, is the argument that social media coverage
“In March 2012 campaign hashtags like #prayforsyria and #stopassad were among the most popular English tweets”
is skewed towards violence and accounts of fighting because mass media prioritises conflict. If social media activists feel they have to produce a certain type of material in order to get noticed, then coverage risks entering a cycle of distortion. This highlights once again the difficulty of striking a balance between social and traditional media in reporting on situations like Syria. The developing situation in Venezuela provides a snapshot of the evolution of social media. As in the Ukraine, the app Zello has been a key contributing factor in popular protests. The US-based app, created in 2011, allows individuals to use their mobile device like a walkie-talkie, via the internet. Pressing a button to speak, one broadcasts on a preselected channel to other users. Up to 600 active users can be on one channel at any one time, and the most popular Venezuelan channels have 450,000 subscribers and counting. Intended as a casual communication network, Zello took off during last year’s unrest in Turkey and has now been downloaded more than 50 million times. In Venezuela it has been used to coordinate protests and to thwart the actions of security forces. Channels can be password-protected, reducing the possibility of interference. Recently the Venezuelan government internet provider blocked access to the app, and whilst Zello responded quickly, using Twitter to crowd-source a solution, the action highlighted governments’ awareness of the power of social media to precipitate and coordinate popular protest. It also reveals the trend of social media away from easily traceable mediums like Twitter towards systems which leave no personal footprint. As the conflict continues to unfold, the use of social media in Syria will undoubtedly develop in the spirit of these changes in the Ukraine and Venezuela. However, so far as journalism is concerned, we should remain extremely cautious of trusting social media as a news source. The overwhelming volume of material and the ease with which it can be manipulated suggests a continued place for traditional journalism and third party coverage of conflict, as well as a need for increasingly sophisticated analytical techniques such as those employed by USIP. The social media revolution has been hugely valuable to the Syrian people in raising and maintaining awareness of their suffering. But mainstream media must be discerning and critical when assessing content in socially mediated revolutions. Social Media Revolution: handle with care. Oli Wettern, a theologian at Peterhouse
OUR MODERN WASTE LAND: FOOD, FACTS AND THE FUTURE TOM EVANS PHOTOGRAPH by ROBERT SANDER
“Waste isn’t exactly the most charming of matters. We efficiently hide all the unwanted by-products that civilisation spews out, in part because of the diseases it harbours, but also because of how unsightly trash is to our eyes.... Just like our rubbish, we have tucked the matter out of sight and out of mind.”
When doomsayers warn of the various ways that humanity is expediting its own demise, they tend to focus on the twenty-first century trinity of overpopulation, food and water shortages, and climate change. And to some extent, they’re right. There’s no denying that these looming issues are desperate for attention from researchers and the public, both of whom must unite if anything effective is to be done about them. But more often than not this approach is simplistic: each constituent hogs the spotlight in isolation, as stand-alone problems that are being dealt with as such. The grim reality is that not only are they entangled in a nightmarish network of self-reinforcing tragedy, but they also breed more subtle problems that compound the entire situation – an ageing workforce, the treacherous rise of biofuels as an alternative energy source, extensive deforestation, or intensified economic inequality, just to name a few examples. But one particular problem that these three issues spawn is less talked about, and for good reason. Waste isn’t exactly the most charming of matters. We efficiently hide all the unwanted by-products that civilisation spews out, in part because of the diseases it harbours, but also because of how unsightly trash is to our eyes. And this discreet compartmentalisation of garbage is mirrored by a widespread ignorance of the imminent management problem it presents not just locally, but across the globe. Just like our rubbish, we have tucked the matter out of sight and out of mind.
...BUT WHAT EXACTLY IS THE BAD NEWS ABOUT WASTE? As the world’s population climbs ever higher – the latest prediction by the UN estimates that we’ll be just shy of
10 billion by 2050 – our waste production is anticipated to escalate with it. A 2012 analysis from the World Bank’s Urban Development department quantified the magnitude of this increase. Presently, world cities produce roughly 1.3 bn tonnes of waste a year. By 2025, that volume is set to almost double to 2.2 bn. This garbage, or “municipal solid waste”, is the focus of the report, because it’s the world’s cities that are the primary generators of rubbish. Citydwellers make twice as much refuse as those living in rural areas. In fact, waste generation is growing faster than the rate of urbanisation, so as more and more people flock to the cities (about 1.3 bn more people will live in cities in the next twelve years), the situation only looks bleaker. But whilst right now the upward trend is getting steeper, we will, eventually, reach a stage when it ceases. The point in time when global production of waste reaches its maximum rate is called ’peak waste’. The idea is that as living standards progressively rise across the world, waste output concomitantly slows, so eventually the global production of waste will climax. After peak waste, its production curtails. It’s analogous to the more familiar concept of ‘peak oil’, the moment when oil production enters terminal decline. Unlike peak oil, however, the aftermath of peak waste is a very good thing. It heralds the beginning of the end of our steady accumulation of rubbish, and it’s a sign that we’re no longer on a trajectory to a Wall-E-esque scenario of an Earth saturated with our waste. In essence, the sooner we peak, the better. Unfortunately, the peak is a distant speck on the horizon. Models forecast that it’s not going to happen this century – a depressing and sober prophecy. If we don’t change our ways, by 2100 we’ll be generating waste at more than three times today’s rate. So what exactly can be done?
This is another area where the waste problem differs from your typical global dilemmas. Whilst individuals feel divorced from responsibility for crises like overpopulation, climate change and food security, when it comes to waste, everyone, at least in the UK, shares the blame. At the start of November, the government’s waste advisory body, WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme), issued a report on the amount of food and drink wasted. Every year, UK households throw 4.2m tonnes of avoidable waste away, worth approximately £12.5bn. A similar report last month by the supermarket giant Tesco released data on the huge amount of food thrown away every day. The statistics are nothing short of shocking. They estimate that 32% of food is wasted along the value chain, the sequence of activities that a company performs in order to deliver their product to market. And, according to their report, consumers waste 16% of the food produced for UK consumption, with another 16% loss due to the producers; interestingly, the retailers themselves waste less than 1%. A detailed examination of what exactly is being wasted unveils the severity of the problem: 40% of the total production of
apples is unused; 47% for bakery; 68% for bagged salad. In each case, the largest proportion was due to the consumer. Food waste, perhaps more so than other forms of refuse, has a profusion of profound and harmful consequences, and unlike other forms of waste, it seems that individuals are the cause. The stats do not lie. It us who are at fault. Evidence like this puts the issue firmly on the public’s shoulders. We can’t avoid this responsibility any longer. And the amount of food waste we are accountable for doesn’t just delay peak waste, but has a multitude of negative consequences. When we throw away food, we dispense with our money, too. In the UK, families waste £700 a year on binned food. On a larger scale, binning usable food drives the price of food up. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the price of cereals, central to both human diets and those of our livestock, tripled between 2000 and September 2012. Increasing food prices means more people struggling to eat. The Trussell Trust, a charity that runs a network of food banks in Britain, claim that the number of people using food banks has tripled to 350,000 this year. They pin the
“... 40% of the total production of apples is unused; 47% for bakery; 68% for bagged salad. In each case, the largest proportion was due to the consumer... “
increase down to above-inflation prices, though they also claim a significant factor is the current squeeze on benefits due to the global recession. And whilst there’s no doubt that spikes in food prices aren’t entirely due to food wastage and are much more significantly determined by factors such as drought and other climactic phenomena, it’s obviously illogical and perhaps even unethical to treat a limited and expensive resource as a readily available, cheap commodity. The message is stark and clear: unnecessary food waste must end. As if the unforeseen consequences of extravagant attitudes to food weren’t severe enough, excess food waste also causes staggering damage to the environment. The WRAP report revealed that in 2012, greenhouse gas emissions from avoidable waste was equal to roughly 17 million tonnes of CO2. And if we prevented all that waste forming in the
first place, it would be equivalent to taking one in four cars off the road. Worldwide, GHG emissions associated with scrapped food are so significant that if they were a country, they’d be the third largest polluter, after China and the USA. There’s enormous environmental incentive for change. The volume of water squandered on growing food destined for the rubbish dump is equivalent to the world’s households’ water needs. The land required to make all the food and drink that is subsequently thrown away by UK households covers an area almost the size of Wales – and as food prices escalate, efficiently utilizing what land we have to maximize crop yields is going to become increasingly crucial. There’s no doubt about it: waste is a waste of space. That last factoid harrowingly illustrates the convoluted nature of these problems. The buzzwords that define our modern era - overpopulation, agriculture, food security,
“The WRAP report revealed that in 2012, greenhouse gas emissions from avoidable waste was equal to roughly 17 million tonnes of CO2. And if we prevented all that waste forming in the first place, it would be equivalent to taking one in four cars off the road.”
Photograph by epSos.de greenhouse gases, water shortages, and climate change – all are enmeshed in an interconnected web, and a disturbance in one impinges upon the rest, which makes bringing peak waste forward ever so more complicated. And yet the data is unequivocal: the public is to blame, and thus the public is the cure. It is down to society, not just as a collective of individuals but also in tandem with government policy, to engage with the problem of how to reduce their waste output and advance peak waste. The paltry actions an individual can take to combat food wastage may sound trivial, but when summed across entire populations, they accumulate, and they’re capable of real change. Awareness is key. If people are taught the ways in which they can minimize waste, such as learning which foods are still good to eat past their supposed “sell-by” date (and for the record, that’s an awful lot of produce – eggs, milk, chocolate, to name a few), then progress can be made. Furthermore, companies need to work alongside
the public to engage them in this aim. Earlier this month, pharmaceutical company Janssen, in collaboration with plastics manufacturer Symphony Environmental, has developed a bag with anti-microbial chemicals embedded into the plastic, thus preventing the food inside from going mouldy. Similar technologies in this vein that are conceptually simple and target ubiquitous, everyday problems are ingenious and effective ways of mobilizing the public to reduce waste with minimal extra effort on the part of the consumer. Critically, this is not an overnight revolution. Change on this grand a scale will always take time – but regrettably, time is not on our hands. We have immense environmental and economic benefits to gain by reducing waste, and the burden is on the individual. It would be madness to toss this issue on the rubbish heap. Tom Evans, a Biological Natural Sciences student at Fitz
DAVID SHRIGLEY : ARTIST OF THE ABSURD LEAF ARBUTHNOT In his landmark book The Theatre of the Absurd, Martin Esslin argues that a cluster of playwrights from the 1960s dramatised the theories of Camus and Sartre more coherently than they had expounded them themselves. Beckett, Ionesco and Genet didn’t just describe the absurdities of the human condition, they made them palpable, evacuating characters of mappable personalities, blasting the landscapes through which they moved and mashing up plot until it resembled scrambled eggs. Rather than endeavouring to sound out the void using Flaubertian sentences replete with mots justes, the Absurdists sounded it out using silence, barking laughter, hashed phrases and tautological questions. Instead of portraying man’s alienation from himself in novels, they put flesh-and-blood actors through real pain, squashing them into urns, rhino heads and dustbins. Yet the Absurdists’ work was never quite taken up in the visual arts arena, which turned its attentions elsewhere. David Shrigley might just be the Absurdists’ long-awaited continuator in the visual arts world. Best known for his flat, morose little drawings, Shrigley rose to prominence in the 2000s with weekly cartoons for the Guardian. In 2012, he held a retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London, to fervent public and critical acclaim. The iconic image of the show – a stuffed Jack Russell standing on its hind legs, holding a placard reading ‘I’m dead’ – became ubiquitous. You couldn’t take the tube without seeing the dog and his sign, staring placidly out of a Hayward Gallery advert – and yet the image managed to retain much of its freshness, remaining grim, witty, disturbing and outlandish despite its omnipresence. I first discovered Shrigley’s works in a museum shop in Spain, when I chanced upon a collection of his postcards. Some featured human beings in jolting conversation; others showed inanimate objects or pared down landscapes. All were intriguing and most witty; provoking if not a belly laugh, then a flashed ‘Ha!’ I was hooked and bought the lot, cherishing them far too much to send to friends.
Shrigley’s style has been diversely described as “childlike”, “naïve”, “intentionally crap”. Such definitions are hard to counter – for he is indeed, by classical standards, a bad draughtsman. His black marker line is fragile and faltering, with erratically spelled words scribbled and then crossed out. His human figures too are unrealistic and disproportionate, even for cartoons. Heads are bigger, hands smaller, eyes tiniest of all. Shrigley’s is the world of the potbellied, in which the human form is not exalted as divine, but shown rather bashfully for what it is – bulging and bizarre. Though Shrigley trained as a fine artist in Glasgow, he always had trouble with photorealist techniques and was frustrated by the negative feedback he received at art school. His contribution to the Turner Prize last year was, he said, his ‘revenge’ against those early naysayers – he provided a large sculpture
“The iconic image of the show – a stuffed Jack Russell standing on its hind legs, holding a placard reading ‘I’m dead’ – became ubiquitous.” of a naked man who intermittently blinked and peed into a bucket. Easels were arranged around the ‘life-model’ and visitors were encouraged to draw it before sticking their interpretations onto the surrounding walls. But the figure was so improbably proportioned that realism could only aspire to the grotesque. When asked what the piece meant, Shrigley replied “It’s about taking part”.—above all, the work offered a golden ticket into his own worldview, an immensely enlightening crashcourse on how to “Shriglify” the everyday. Much to his fans’ displeasure, Shrigley is now mainstream, a familiar sight on magazine covers and recognisable voice on Radio 4. Though he missed out on the Turner Prize, he won the competition for the much coveted space on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. His brass sculpture, Really Good, will be placed on
PHOTOGRAPH by LUX & JOURIK the podium sometime next year and represents an enormous thumbs-up sign whose thumb has been comi-phallically extended in a wry mirroring of Nelson’s Column. Different interviewers get different answers when they ask the artist what the sculpture represents – which is in itself a clue, for at the heart of Shrigley’s work is a reluctance to subscribe to easily-identifiable “points”. What is it, then, that makes Shrigley so powerful? Humour certainly comes into it. All his best works, whether three-dimensional or flat, are funny, in a deadpan sort of way. They have the Alice-in-Wonderland about them; they force viewers to remove their specs and see things differently. Yet Shrigley’s mastery lies less in the fact that he can make us smile, than in what our smile covers up. The nature of that, I would argue, is similar to the truths gestured towards by Absurdist dramatists – namely, a godless, brittle universe in which relationships crystallise and shatter with darkly humorous banality. By stuffing a dog and making him speak, Shrigley summarises in one sweep whole swathes of Beckettian chitchat. For the more you think about it, the more the terrier captures mortality in a post-God, postideological universe. In death, Shrigley quietly suggests, we become ventriloquists’ dummies, living on in perverse forms in the memories of others, outperforming ourselves or being ridiculed by our upholsterers at one and the same time. If Shrigley’s art has been criticised as lightweight and banal, it is precisely because it exposes that “unbearable lightness of being” anatomised in Kundera’s novel in which love is presented as haphazard and ungainly. Shrigley’s art spins its nest in a world in which good and evil are separated by a cigarette paper, and in which relations are as featherlight and shaky as the cack-handed line of his pen. His is truly the art of the absurd, as life-destroying and life-affirming as the best Absurdist plays. Leaf Arbuthnot, a Modern Languages student at Magdalene
CHANGING THE GM CLIMATE
CHARLIE WHITTAKER PHOTOGRAPHS from DFAT PHOTO LIBRARY
At the end of last year, a leaked draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changeâ€™s fifth Assessment Report emerged on the Internet. Its official release was scheduled for this March â€’ but it was the content of the document, not the timing of the leak, that concerned policy-makers. The focus of the report was the effect of climate change on agriculture, and it clearly outlined the threat posed to global food supply. Over the next few decades, it predicts that climate change will lead to decreases in total crop yields worldwide and will drastically alter the areas of land viable for farming. In total, the IPCC estimate a 2% decrease each decade in yields of staple crops globally. This is a serious issue in itself, but it becomes even more urgent when considered alongside the projected 14% per decade
increase in crop yields which will be required to feed an everincreasing world population. The maths of this imbalanced situation is scarily simple: the world will have too many mouths to feed. More striking is the asymmetry with which climate change will affect different nations. America currently ranks first for global food security; the US and the UK have undernourishment rates at 5% of their respective populations. At the other end of the spectrum, in Burundi, the rate is 73%. Developing nations already have overstressed agricultural infrastructure and more primitive farming practices, but it is these countries which will be most severely affected by climate change. Few have the necessary redundancy and technological capacity to mitigate the effects of increased climactic variability on agricultural
output. Additionally, their low per capita income means that members of the general populace are far more vulnerable to fluctuations in the cost of staple foods; and pricing volatility is set to escalate in the face of climate change and increasing climactic unpredictability. In food-insecure regions, large numbers of farmers use the crops produced on their land both as a source of income and as their own food supply. This further exposes them to the effects of climactic variation: decreased yields not only impact their income, but drive up the cost of basic foodstuffs. Millions of people across the world, too, subsist only on what they produce themselves. In short, if our increasingly variable climate causes decreases in production whilst populations continue to grow, there will be more hunger.
IS GM THE ANSWER? There are ways to mitigate the consequences of climate change, and maintain or improve food security globally. A 2008 opinion piece in Science by two world-leading climate scientists, Molly Brown and Christopher Funk, outlined the importance of avoiding climate determinism and embracing technology: “Technological sophistication determines a farm’s productivity far more than its climatic and agricultural endowment. Food insecurity can be therefore […] addressed by improvements in economic, political and agricultural policies at local and global scales.” What does this mean? It means modernising and optimising current agricultural practice. This could range from the
implementation of alternative irrigative techniques which ensure a proper supply of water without salinizing the soil, to purging the agricultural practice of monocropping to avoid the development of disease resistance; to name but two. And as well as improving upon existing practice, technology could aid significantly in improving future yields in the face of climate change. GM crops offer a substantive way to generate the yields necessary to sustain the world’s burgeoning population. “GM” is an umbrella term encompassing a number of projects currently in progress worldwide. These range from supercharging the photosynthetic pathway in rice (the C4 Rice Project), to genetically modifying rice to produce a precursor of Vitamin A (it is estimated that 675,000 children under the age of five die each year from Vitamin A deficiency), to crops with increased tolerance
to abiotic stresses like drought and high temperatures. Utilising genetically modified crops globally thus has the potential to mitigate the effects of climate change, and make a substantial positive change to food security worldwide.
THE PROBLEMS WITH GM However, although now in widespread use in certain parts of the world, the implementation of GM crops has been met with significant international resistance. Reception has been variable, with a number of groups, including Greenpeace, condemning their use. The scientific basis for such condemnation is, however, tenuous: a 2012 publication appeared to demonstrate that rats fed on a GM diet had a higher chance of developing certain cancers. But this paper has now been retracted and the science shown to be misleading and entirely false.
More significant is the concern about the potential for GM to facilitate the domination of the global food market by large biotechnological corporations, which possess the patents for the new technologies. Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Monsanto and DuPont currently control more than 60% of the global commercial seed market and 76% of the agrochemical market. However, current efforts by certain organisations, including the EU, have not helped to shift power away from this oligopoly. The reasons for this might not be reluctance about GM itself, but bureaucracy. Professor Sir David Baulcombe, Regius Professor of Botany at the University of Cambridge, argues: “the EU approval and regulatory process is so long and costly that only large agricultural corporations have the necessary financial clout to invest and develop these technologies. In this way, what we have is something of a self-fulfilling
prophecyâ€?. We have a monopoly on GM food because only the richest and largest companies can afford to overcome the red tape.
NOT-FOR-PROFIT GM There are ways around this issue. The C4 Rice Project, which aims to implement the C4 photosynthetic pathway in rice (which typically uses the C3 pathway which is less efficient at higher temperatures) is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the Department for International Development. It is run as an international consortium of university-based scientific researchers working alongside the International Rice Research Institute. The result is a non-profit organisation aiming to develop a technology that, if successful, will have far reaching ramifications and drastically increase rice yields worldwide. By circumventing the
traditional, corporate approach to technology development, patenting and the protection of intellectual property becomes less of an issue. It is important to note however, that GM is only one side of the story. To meet the nutritional needs of an increasing population in the 21st century â€’ and one with more demanding tastes â€’ a variety a holistic approach to agriculture is required. With GM crops as one of the cornerstones, a modernisation of agricultural practice, whether it be altering irrigative techniques, phasing out monocultures or deterring herbivores with novel planting arrangements, must be implemented.
related damage has already cost upwards of a trillion dollars worldwide, a sum which will only increase if we maintain our current trajectory. We cannot forget the human aspect of this: across the world people depend on a predictable climate to plant and cultivate crops, often for their own consumption. Continued climate change will significantly alter their ability to do this, with serious, perhaps deadly consequences.
Most importantly, political will is needed. Political will to do more to combat climate change, because unequivocally, not enough is being done. Global commitment to decreasing fossil fuel emissions, and investment in agricultural practice, is essential. Climate-
Charlie Whittaker, a Biological Natural Sciences student at Jesus
There is still time to mitigate the damage. But it is fast running out. And we are not prepared. Not yet.
THE TWO-STATE SOLUTION: DISTRIBUTION OF NATURAL RESOURCES FOR MUTUAL SECURITY AND PROSPERITY SOPHIE GILL PHOTOGRAPH by DANIEL WEBER
The borders of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are highly contentious, and Palestine is not (yet) an internationally recognised state. From these facts alone, it is obvious that allocation of natural resources between Israel and Palestine in the event of a two-state solution would be problematic. But when you throw in the fact that this region is arid, and heavily dependent on seasonality which controls the productivity of its natural resources, this just reinforces the complexity of that challenge. Natural resource distribution in the region is linked to issues of control over access. Water is the most important natural resource for Israel-Palestine in many ways. It influences other natural resources such as agricultural land, and in such an arid region it is relatively scarce and valuable. The main water sources for the area are as follows: within the West Bank’s pre-1967 borders lies the mountain aquifer, from which groundwater can be extracted for domestic and agricultural consumption. Gaza has access to the coastal aquifer for the same purposes, and Israel has Lake Kinneret (also known as the Sea of Galilee). The approach to resource sharing seems simple – surely all three should extract from their respective aquifers? This is not the case. Israel’s National Water System, run by governmentowned Mekorot, comprises a system of pipelines and desalination plants running from Lake Kinneret in the north to the Negev desert in the South. This enables extraction by Mekorot from the coastal and mountain aquifers for Israeli use, as well as extraction led by the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) for Palestinian use. In a region which suffers a chronic water shortage problem due to its aridity, the potential for over-extraction is very real. Mekorot controls around 42 wells allowing extraction from underground aquifers in the West Bank, and in fact Israel extracts more water than was agreed in the 1995 Taba Agreement (also known as the Oslo II accords).
While Palestinian extraction via wells does occur, the water extracted by the PWA is insufficient to supply domestic and agricultural water consumption in the West Bank. Therefore, some water must be “bought back” from Mekorot to meet demand, but the amount of water Mekorot can sell to Palestinians is subject to approval by Israeli authorities. Also, the water which is “bought back” can be up to three times more expensive than that which is directly extracted, putting a strain on the finances of West Bank households. As a result, Palestinians do not have as high a degree of autonomy over their water resources as Israelis. Over-extraction from aquifers has left the groundwater within them highly saline. Seawater floods into the coastal aquifer through the porous underlying rocks beneath it. As a result, much of the water extracted from these aquifers is unsuitable for drinking or agricultural use. The sad reality is that just 5-10% of Gazan water is safe to drink, and that 12% of child deaths in Gaza are water-related. The responsibility for over-extraction lies with both Israelis and Palestinians – as discussed, the Palestinians do have a certain degree of autonomy over their water extraction. However, Israel is able to avoid many of the problems associated with over-extraction by desalinating much of its water, and by gaining drinking water from recycled sewage. Palestinian areas suffer significantly more from the effects of over-extraction due to their lack of desalination and recycling technology, and of the financial means needed to implement and exploit these technologies. A vast gulf exists between Israeli and Palestinian areas in the use of technology to manage natural resources. This same gulf exists in other areas too. Israel has been able to overcome some issues of dependence on seasonality in agriculture: advanced agricultural techniques and irrigation have turned the hot, sunny, arid region below the Dead Sea into an almost ideal region for producing out-of-season fruit and vegetables. As a result, Israel is impressively able to produce 80% of its
own food. However, the same cannot be said for the West Bank and Gaza- 33% of Palestinians are food insecure. Due to this technological gulf, Palestinians are also unable to benefit from the Dead Sea’s tourism industry, and from a potential mineral extraction industry. Many Palestinian areas simply do not have the materials or the money necessary to implement these technologies. As such, they cannot experience the full economic benefits available from the natural resources within their (however hotly debated) borders. Imbalanced access persists for the emerging offshore oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea. Maritime borders in this section of the sea remain unclear, but the Gaza Marine Gas Field (discovered in 2000) technically lies just off the Gazan coast. Despite this, Israel decides which companies can extract from this field- Noble Energy was given the go-ahead to explore it in 2011 by Israel’s Ministry of National Infrastructure.
BREAKING OUT OF THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT It is almost impossible to draw lines in the sand to delineate natural resources, due to the fact that they do not follow political boundaries - rain which replenishes the mountain aquifer may fall on the occupied territory of the West Bank, but the water does flow down into pre-1967 Israel. However, relative need should provide the framework for natural resource distribution between the different political entities in the region, and could be combined with local and regional arrangements based on foundational formal agreements. Dissemination of technologies from Israeli to Palestinian areas within this framework could also help establish the premises of equal citizenship needed for a two-state solution to work. While the practicalities of future distribution of natural resources
in Israel-Palestine are unclear, what is clear is that natural resource distribution is a highly contentious issue, embedded in political and territorial history. Solutions to achieve fair distribution are constrained by their situation within their historical context. Yet the concept of historical rights to land and resources must be transcended in order to ensure those who need the resources most have access to them.
FOCUSING ON RESOLUTION So how can Israelis and Palestinians move towards fairer distribution of and access to natural resources? When beginning to examine formal past negotiations, what is immediately evident is how natural resources are rarely considered in potential two-state solution agreements. This seems strikingly counterproductive. The two-state solution is the official stated aim of many key political figures like Netanyahu and Abbas from both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict (with the notable exception of Hamas in Gaza). It is also the dominant narrative sustained by the international community, through institutions like the UN and EU. This runs alongside the fact that natural resources are necessary for states to operate. So surely natural resource distribution is a crucial component of the establishment of two equal states? Despite this, agricultural land and mineral resources are ignored almost entirely in formal documents. Water is mentioned only very briefly in the 1992 Madrid Conference and 1993 Oslo Accords, and in one article of the 1995 Taba Agreement which states: “Israel recognises the Palestinian water rights in the West Bank.” Statements in these formal negotiations have been mainly grandiose claims that do not result in practical solutions for civilians on the ground. What can be far more useful are projects of collaboration on a regional
and local level, as they can present more practical solutions to the problem. The Middle East Desalination Research Project (MEDRC), the Eco-Park to be built at Kishon and the recent Red Sea-Dead Sea deal serve as key examples of this productive form of collaboration, all of which advocate the dissemination of technologies from Israel to Palestinian areas. If technologies are developed in the Palestinian areas to allow more equitable, sustainable management of natural resources, then their distribution (particularly of water resources) might become less of a contentious issue in the overarching conflict. This due to the fact that any solution must be built on the premise of equal citizenship; and equitable, sustainable access to natural resources could provide the foundations for a resolution based on equality and compromise. International external mediation cannot always provide specific enough solutions to the problems faced by each local area, as a deep understanding of local realities is needed for external interventions to yield positive results. As such, direct collaboration and negotiation between the two sides is essential, as they are the ones best equipped to achieve such levels of specific local understanding. Hopefully this will in turn lead to the fair and sustainable preservation and distribution of natural resources. Having said this, multilateral communication in the context of formal international agreements does have its place in the conflict’s resolution, due to the fact that it can externally ensure a more level playing field. Al-Haq, a human rights group operating in Ramallah in the West Bank, advocate the role of the international community in redressing the unevenness of the negotiating positions between Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, without formal agreements, the regional and local projects would have no foundational basis in international law. Therefore, both international and local initiatives are needed to solve the natural resource distribution problem. In the context of a two-state solution, giving rights to natural resources
within agreed borders could be a way to move forward. Yet this should be done from the perspective of relative need of the resources, rather than historical ownership claims. Reasons for the required perspective of relative need stem particularly from the current situation in Gaza, where a very real humanitarian crisis is brewing; it has been predicted that by 2020, without intervention, the Gaza Strip could become uninhabitable. However, this is not to say that Israeli and West Bank areas are in any way not as entitled to natural resources. Citizens from all three areas in the region should have the right to access the natural resources they need to sustain a good quality of life. This serves to merely highlight that at the moment, because natural resources are not currently divided up on the basis of relative need, there are people suffering, which is under no circumstance acceptable from a humanitarian perspective. A plethora of methods could be used to establish which areas of Israel-Palestine have the largest relative need; just two suggestions are the UN’s recommended daily quota for personal consumption of water (100 litres per day), and the Human Development Index. Combining these indicators would build up a layered, comprehensive understanding of how natural resources should be distributed based on who needs them most. This would ensure equitable access for inhabitants of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. If decisions are made in the context of who needs the resources most, then political and historical bias can in many ways be avoided, which is essential for a conflict so rooted in religion, politics and history. Sophie Gill, student researcher for CUIPF, 11th March 2014 For more information, please view the full report (“Natural Resources distribution in the event of a two-state solution.”) co-written with Joe Young at www.cuipf.wordpress.com.
AN INDIE WIND BLOWING:
THEORIES ABOUT THE CULTURAL IMPULSE OF THE DECADE LUCY WARK PHOTOGRAPH by JULIETTE QUENTIN
“Indie” is something of a cultural punching bag. Everyone loves to hate a loosely defined version of it, and though the music genre has many fans, few would introduce themselves as ‘indie kids’. The steady drumbeat of magazine articles and blog posts criticising the indie outlook as arrogant, content-less and paradoxically conformist is proof enough of this, although relatively few such critiques are actually free from these problems themselves. That hobby horse has been flogged enough; neither the knee-jerk critique nor the Kool-Aid response are interesting anymore. This is, instead, a series of thoughts on indie as a wider impulse in twenty-first century Western culture. Indie has been, if not the defining influence, at least one of the most significant drivers of the last ten years of Western cultural output, and it’s important to analyse why.
INDIE IN THE BEGINNING First, a brief introduction. The word “indie” was originally associated with independent rock music, appearing first in the US and UK in the 1980s. Indie music initially relied on small independent labels, underground venues, touring, word-of-mouth and college radio to make alternative music without creative controls and avoid the corporate side of the industry. There is some disagreement as to whether indie should be defined by its independent production and the total creative control of the artists, or by the specific aesthetic of ‘indie rock’. For our purposes the first definition– the anti-commercial ideal of artistic autonomy‒ is more important. Kaya Oakes’ excellent history of the evolution of indie culture (Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture, 2008) identifies as key elements independent D.I.Y. production, creative control, community and collaboration. It was this antimainstream manifesto of indie which spread to other creative fields and influenced the beliefs, identities and behaviour of a generation.
INDIE AS GENRE VERSUS INDIE AS PHILOSOPHY A quick caveat: I’m not an expert on indie as a film or music genre, and I’m not aiming to pronounce on their merits. As a genre, indie has a big following, though like any it is not without its detractors. The complaint emerges at the level of the individual, where the indie approach to life - the pathological avoidance of the popular - is generally ridiculed. Using the website Urban Dictionary as a definitive guide to sub-cultures can be dangerous…but one entry sums up indie’s its most irritating extreme quite well.
“… THE STATE OF BEING “INDIE”: 1. 2.
Being unable to talk to anyone about your music. But knowing that, in the process, you’re way cooler than the kids you try to talk to about it.”
There is a clear difference in society’s level of tolerance for the indie genre of cultural products and “indie” as a personal attitude. Both are elements of the wider cultural trend being discussed; each feeds into society’s positive and negative associations about the concept and the knock-on effect this has on our culture. They are closely related; indie people have a preference for indie products, but enjoying the first does not have to mean embracing the second. You can think Built to Spill are great without making a point of avoiding the mainstream in everything you do.
THE CO-OPTING OF INDIE The interesting thing is our complex relationship to the indie attitude of superiority. It’s not a case of straightforward condemnation. We are annoyed by the improbably obscure musical preferences, the charity
shop beanies that should have been put down long ago, and the arms race to project the greatest nonchalance. But the co-optation of the indie aesthetic by high street fashion and popular music in the last ten years shows that we are simultaneously buying into it in record numbers. We (or at least large enough numbers of us) think the indie attitude, however annoying, is a signal of good taste. For proof of this, look no further than the boy band One Direction. Created in a brilliant and entirely cynical manner by Simon Cowell, their only purpose is to sell records and merchandise: they had nothing to say before he brought them together. They have become an incredible barometer of certain sort of mainstream ‘cool’. They exist to reflect the most middle-of-the-road taste, with every release calibrated to include just the right amount of PG-edginess to keep the fifteen-year-old girls screaming. Their recent single “Story of My Life” is telling: its ‘edge’ comes from copying the look and sound of bands like Mumford and Sons, who shot to fame in the late 2000s with palatable indie-folk songs like “Little Lion Man” and “Awake My Soul”. Interestingly, Mumford and Sons have lost indie cultural capital with remarkable speed, moving from “decent” to cliché in less than two years. Another powerful example of the successful co-opting of indie credibility is the reinvention of a bland American pop singer after her first album sank without a trace. Lizzy Grant vanished for a while, then signed with major industry label Interscope and worked with respected producer David Kahne to create a beguiling, intelligent song cut with home video footage. That song was “Video Games”, and her new stage name (chosen by her management) was Lana Del Rey. “Video Games” garnered critical acclaim and a popular following– a win for Interscope in its project of constructing, from scratch, a profitable indie artist. But the backlash from music fans when the truth got out was furious - they felt that “Video Games”
was irrevocably altered by Interscope’s commercial manipulation. It was no longer the work of a gifted lyricist who got her break through “democratic” popular acclaim on Youtube. Their anger was based in the feeling that they had been duped, which points to an important aspect of indie culture: the premium it places on authenticity. Indie and the atomisation of authenticity The indie resistance to commercial influence comes from a fear that our preferences are not actually individualised and authentic, but can be manipulated through top-down structures of commercial control. The crucial question which follows is this: Why is having similar taste to other people such a big deal? Why has the indie ideal of avoiding the mainstream achieved so much traction? Obviously there are many factors at play and indie’s success is a complex phenomenon - but I would like to explore one possible contributing influence. The twentieth century discredited many collective identities, which had previously allowed individuals to connect to something larger, and by so doing, endowed life with a sense of meaning or authenticity. Imperialism, nationalism, fascism, communism; the great political ideologies were stained by their terrible human consequences. The end of the Cold War heralded a period of Western dominance in the 1990s and 2000s, and with it came something of an ‘end of history’ feeling with regard to ideologies. Religious belief, trust in political leaders and obedience to parental authority all declined significantly. Collective identities were also created by rebelling against such power structures: the anti-materialist hippie counter-culture, for example, which reacted against the US political-military complex in the sixties and seventies. But even these responses have become clichés; ‘peace, man’, ‘fight the power’ and ‘save the world’ are perceived as naïve attitudes by today’s more cynical younger generation. There are problems with capitalism, but we don’t see social solidarity as the
solution. The disenchantment of the world which Weber described at the turn of the twentieth century seemed to have arrived, and music reflected a retreat into the concerns of the private sphere– themes like fitting in, self-actualisation and hedonism came to the fore. “Teenage Dirtbag” is a very different beast to “Blowin’ in the Wind”. So how does this connect to the indie ideal and authenticity? At a very basic level, we want to feel that our lives matter. One route is through larger, collective identities, but these have declined in recent decades. Another option is convincing ourselves that we are unique, special, and therefore significant. This means we must seek out ways of distinguishing ourselves from seven billion other individuals: the atomisation which accompanies the decline of social identities forces us to construe our individuality by means of the accessories of the private sphere, like our cultural preferences. A unique blend of likes and dislikes – an independent set of tastes – makes us authentic. Cultural consumption becomes a quest for the ever more alternative and unknown. The hilarious footage of fake vox pop interviews at music festivals, where people nod enthusiastically and exclaim “yeah they’re amazing” upon being asked whether they’ve heard of nonexistent band, is proof. Another aspect of this search for uniqueness is the fetishisation of the style and sounds of past decades. The tendency to nostalgic sampling is more the territory of hipsters (a similar but separate sub-culture), but it is linked to the broader indie impulse. Overall, the indie attitude fills a psychological void. This is why business ventures which manage to imitate the indie style successfully do well. American Apparel, which sells over-priced faux-grungy clothes, is just one example. It is also why the revelation of Lana Del Rey’s “artificiality” provoked such outrage; listening to “Video Games” was not simply about the music, but was a way of demonstrating discernment. Discovering you have been fooled is an affront to your identity.
INDIE AND EARNESTNESS The most resented aspect of indie-ness is probably the ironic, “too cool to care” persona. In its extreme form, this involves avoiding earnestness and sincerity, especially when speaking about music and films. It is an almost zen-like state where no piece of art, no matter how brilliant, can cause ripples of genuine appreciation to break the imperturbable surface. It can be annoying because the attitude implies a credulousness on the part of those who are ‘taken in’, and a superiority of taste in the indie kid (/monk/ninja). In some ways this attitude has been exacerbated by the way critical academic approaches to culture developed during the twentieth century. The humanities are a very broad church, but that said, several influential ideas are reflected in the indie movement: the importance of deconstructing and critically analysing works of art, the deliberate mixing of earlier styles and conventions, the notion that all interpretations are subjective (at the expense of the idea of inherent or objective worth in art). All of these threads incline towards a scepticism and detachment in discourse about art- and given the university-educated are disproportionately represented among the indie population, it is possible that this shaped the antiearnest tendency. There’s also a convenient social dynamic at play in avoiding earnestness. Expressing a strongly favourable opinion of an artist, film or book is an invitation for others to deconstruct or dismiss your preferences. Conversely, by never taking a position, one never risks being out-indied.
INDIE AND REDEMPTION? The most popular criticism of indie culture is that it’s internally contradictory. Precisely by avoiding cultural conventions made
popular by market forces, it loses its independence, because its content is still dictated by an external force. It is about form, not substance; it fails to engage with orthodoxy on the merits of the question; it mistakes independence of production for independence of analysis. There is certainly a problem with the notion that the majority/minority divide in culture is identical to skilled/unskilled or innovative/ derivative. There are better criteria for evaluating cultural output. Oakes sees a crisis in the mainstream co-optation of indie culture; but an equally dangerous prospect is that, unchecked, the fixation with the alternative over the good (wherever it is produced) risks turning indie into a shallow cliché. And yet, while the causal link from ‘popular’ to ‘poor quality’ isn’t necessarily true, there is frequently a correlation between major labels or studios and the creatively cautious. There are various reasons why this is the case: the profit motive, institutional sluggishness and inertia, the need to satisfy a wide common denominator amongst consumers overriding artistic freedom, a fear of taking risks because relatively more money is at stake. For all of its arrogance and excesses, the indie movement still has a point. As Oakes writes: “The word ‘indie’ may have lost much of its lustre, but… [a]s popular culture turns again and again to mass production and passive acceptance of the status quo, art that evolves outside of corporate America can and does make a difference in the way people think. That is what indie was once all about and what it will continue to be in the future… To make something on your own, regardless of its potential to bring in money, lends the end product an inherent sense of value that would be absent if it were a copy of a copy of a copy.” It is possible to make a legitimate argument about the value of independent production and avoid alienating the majority by painting all commercial output with the same brush. If the indie movement can find that sweet spot, it still has a vital role to play. Lucy Wark, a politics student at Trinity
A FAREWELL TO THE OLD
KEYNESIANISM? PHOTOGRAPH by WILLIAM WARBY With Budget Day a recent memory, Jamie Parker offers a perspective on four turbulent years of Coalition economic policy. Little over a year ago now, and after yet another quarter of GDP flat-lining, the Coalition’s mandate for fiscal austerity looked increasingly fraught. As George Osborne sat in Whitehall reflecting on 2012, there was little to offset the gloom. In April, his ‘Pasty Tax’ Budget had been awash with disastrous U-turns and was overshadowed by a downgrading of Britain’s AAA credit rating. Not even the country’s gold medal haul in the Olympic Games could create the “feel good” needed to dispel the dark clouds hanging over Britain. When the Chancellor actually went on to blame the poor weather for dismal growth figures, one could not help but feel the argument for spending cuts was becoming a rather desperate one. For the duration of this period, at least, it seemed that the combined forces of economic stagnation and a public wary of further cuts had handed the initiative to Keynesian expansionists on the Labour front benches. Indeed, Ed Balls’ warnings against cutting “too fast and too far” and kicking the economy while it was flat on its back seemed to be gaining currency. The picture today is, for ministers in the Treasury anyway, undoubtedly a rosier one. It is amazing just how quickly the initiative can change hands: it is now those on left, the advocates of ‘Plan B’, who must explain why, in spite of their predictions, the government is running down the deficit and at the same time the economy is achieving growth figures of 2.7%. Of course this is made little easier given how the alternative is playing out across the Channel. Hollande’s crippling “Robin Hood” tax policy and fiscal expansionism, far from promoting growth and prosperity, has sent unemployment soaring and the country’s top talent packing for London. The mantra of “tax and spend” appears as unattractive an alternative as ever. The advocates of fiscal
JAMIE PARKER expansion are in retreat whilst ministers in the Treasury mutter “I told you so”. For the Treasury, the past 12 months have played out as well as they could have hoped. Recent data suggests that all sectors of the economy have been expanding rapidly and the Confederation of Business and Industry argues that growth has become “entrenched” in Britain. This is supported by record numbers of people are work, with full-time employment showing the greatest increases. Such overwhelmingly positive headlines, appearing in quick succession, give reason for optimism and are likely to put a smile back on the Chancellor’s face. The question going forward is whether austerity has won out, and if this recovery is as balanced and sustainable as the treasury claims. Moreover, can we believe Ed Balls when he argues that the “three wasted years” of “damaging flat-lining” were suffered needlessly? Before government supporters get too excited, the first thing to concede is that the economy is far from fixed. There are clearly some green shoots: the labour market, which has remained fairly robust throughout, seems to be showing signs of further strength – any week now the unemployment rate is likely to fall below that elusive 7% target the Bank of England is so interested in. This is supported by strong, slightly above trend growth figures, stable inflation and increased consumer confidence. But several factors still threaten a sustainable recovery – I share Vince Cable’s “cautious optimism” about what we are seeing in the economy at the moment. Many, rightly or wrongly, remain unsettled by the kind of recovery the country is experiencing. The first concern relates to the notion of a “balanced” recovery, something on which economists are particularly fixated. A return to growth in the long-neglected manufacturing sector is of course a welcome diversification from the country’s decades-
long reliance on financial services. However, the strong performance we are seeing in these industries is coming from a very low base and exports are still far from sufficient to eradicate, lesser still exceed, the nation’s hunger for imported goods. What this suggests is that Britain’s economic success continues to rest precariously on an uneasy compromise between consumer spending, cheap credit and the City of London. All, of course, are vital elements of the economy. It is important that they continue to flourish. However, it is also important that mistakes of the past are not repeated. It would be foolish to lay all our eggs in one basket, only to have them all break if something goes horribly wrong as it did in 2008. The easy solution now would be to let financial services and credit cards do all the hard work, and not accept that sustainable, long-term growth lies in business investment, productivity gains and competitiveness in our exporting industries. Now that the demand-side of the economy is recovering, it is important to remain focused on the more intractable weaknesses in Britain’s supply-side. Successive governments have cowered away from making firm commitments to invest in long-term capital spending projects. These are needed if the UK is serious about modernising and revitalising its infrastructure. If London is to remain a destination for business and investment, aviation capacity must be able to meet demand from China and the Middle East. If the North East and Midlands are to share in the country’s prosperity, they must be well-connected and receive investment to facilitate growth. Schools and colleges must adequately provide young people with the skills and competencies required for success in competitive, globalised labour markets. This may require a reassessment of the subjects students take, orientating back towards more traditional disciplines such as maths and science. With a competitive tax regime, a pool of skilled labour and modern infrastructure,
Britain will be far better placed to address the gap in productivity which has emerged between her and European competitors. What is more, these issues have become compounded within a wider criticism of the government over the “cost of living”, which is Labour’s new strapline now that the economy has returned to growth. Hard-working people have been squeezed by rising utility bills, rail fares and commodity price fluctuations, in the context of stagnant, or even declining, real wages. The 2008 recession did enormous damage to the country. It would be wrong not to expect a pinch in the pocket as a result. However, what people are asking, six years on, and at a time of public pay freezes and stagnating living standards, is why is it that bankers in Canary Wharf continue to enjoy such generous bonus packages while we, the innocent victims, pay the price? There is a widespread feeling that the taxpayer is carrying the burden of risk and private enterprises are enjoying the profit. The government may well stress the need for London to remain “competitive” and “open to business”, but defending the practices of the City is becoming more and more difficult. Many feel we should be more concerned with issues of fairness and morality than mere profit. This is not helped by alarmist fears that there is an asset bubble being reflated in the housing market. According to some commentators, the market is being fuelled artificially by the government’s Help to Buy scheme; accelerating foreign demand, and severe supply constraints. While I think there is reason to be wary of the fragile nature of this recovery as it takes hold, media headlines warning of “double digit” rises in house prices do not tell the whole story. House prices have started to rise again, as we would expect. Indeed, in some places they have done so quite spectacularly. However, giving the impression of an “asset bubble” or a “crisis of liquidity” is unhelpful when we are talking about a phenomenon almost entirely exclusive to London. Furthermore, the construction sector has remained in the doldrums for six years now. As private building firms return to pre-recession levels of investment, the supply of new housing will restore equilibrium in the market. It is comforting too to see that it is the Bank of England that is overseeing the Help to Buy scheme, and not a defunct regulatory authority like the FSA: perhaps we are starting to learn some lessons from the past.
HOW WOULD THE ALTERNATIVE TO FISCAL TIGHTENING HAVE FARED? Counterfactuals are always dangerous: circumstances change and naturally this affects the decisions which would have originally been made. Ed Balls has anyway admitted that a Labour government would
have had to make cuts. I suspect we would also have seen more interventionist initiatives, such as jobs programmes, aimed particularly at young people. Taxation would likely have been more progressive – both on income and also possibly in the form of an inheritance or a bankers tax. What is more, the public applause for Ed Miliband’s Conference pledge to freeze energy prices tells a story. Laissez faire policies, which allow unregulated markets to do as they please, generate a climate of discontent. Energy prices have been steadily increasing for years now. In the meantime the ‘Big Four’, mostly foreign owned, energy companies have been making record year-on-year profits. The public want a fair solution and the Labour Party have offered one. This is not to say that what they have suggesting is necessarily right, or indeed, feasible. From the opposition benches it is easy to criticise and offer hypotheticals. In reality, breaking up the energy market would be hard. The high fixed and sunk costs of production and distribution necessitate large scale operations. Freezing prices for a year may provide respite for squeezed households in the short term, but if investment seizes up, what are the medium and long-term prospects for our, and future generations? The core issue here is that the energy industry has become cartelised, with a few large firms able to maintain profit margins by exploiting their share of the market. The solution must address the cause, that there is a private monopoly in operation, and not the symptom, which is that prices are rising. Opening up the energy market to greater accountability and transparency would help to ensure that prices fairly reflect wholesale costs. It would also offer a more sustainable solution than a price freeze; as too would exploring and investing in alternative sources of energy. It is important that the government follow up on the findings recently published in the Wood Report, which lay out the prospects for North Sea Oil. They must also remain open to negotiation regarding to the potential nuclear power and renewables offer. The energy problem faced by the UK is intractable, and ultimately requires a more considered, long-term solution than regulation can provide. This is not merely a case of fat cat directors at EDF and British Gas exploiting helpless consumers. In reality, these concerns run deep into the ideological differences which separate the two major political parties. The Labour Party argues the need for greater government intervention to address structural weaknesses in the economy, such as youth unemployment. Nobody wants to see large numbers of young people out of work. However, subsidising labour markets when the national debt stands at 86% of GDP and is set to grow further still, is difficult to justify. Last month, a Shadow
Treasury Minister conceded that Labour’s Job scheme could only be supported for one year after a student leaves school or college. In reality then, the only way to sustainably improve work prospects for young people is to channel resources into education and training. Forcing firms to take on school-leavers, who lack sometimes even the most basic skills and competencies, passes the buck unfairly from government to business. This will have either the effect of eroding competitiveness in the UK or will simply drive employers to America and the Continent. Again, the causes and not the symptoms must be addressed. The causes of youth unemployment lie in the inadequacy of the education system to provide young people with relevant and useful skills. This is what creates occupational immobility and bottlenecks in the labour market. Given that the government spends roughly £4000 per year per pupil in England, it is concerning that some young people are leaving secondary school unable to read and write. That is a damning indictment not of businesses and labour markets, but of schooling in the UK. The public’s enthusiasm for government intervention is quite often matched by an enthusiasm for redistributive taxes, particularly targeted at wealthy bankers and property-owners. Nick Clegg’s proposed Mansion Tax on millionaires carries a strong political message. It ties in well with the party’s organic vision, of a society founded of equality and fairness. However, taxes such as these must be considered within a wider perspective. As argued above, one need only look to France to realise the impact ‘Robin Hood’ scare taxes are likely to have on national wealth. What appears on the surface to be a well-intentioned levy on the assets of the very rich may adversely affect the interests of the nation as a whole. Driving away wealth and talent to safe havens overseas discourages investment, employment and opportunities at home. Last year, Senior Liberal Democrat officials conceded that the party’s tax proposal would derive “in the grand scheme of things… relatively little revenue.” Creating a political culture which is opposed to wealth creation and ambition is damaging for all. The key is to strike the balance between doing what is right out of principle, and doing what is needed in practice to make British people more prosperous. In many ways, presenting a false dichotomy between fiscal expansion and ‘austerity’ is unhelpful. An eclectic approach is needed here. On the one hand, this means rolling back the frontiers of the state where it has become bloated and bureaucratic. On the other, it means recognising that government has an immense capacity to restore the economy to more normal levels of output and demand. Jamie Parker, a historian at Corpus Christi
IS STUDENT POLITICS DEAD? FLICK OSBORN PHOTOGRAPH by MANOS SIMONIDES What is student politics and what does it mean to be politically engaged? Is student politics an activity reserved for members of popular parties, or should it provide a space for objective review, revision, and innovation? What is the reality of student politics currently in the UK? And how do students’ unions fit into all of this? Flick Osbourne, the President of the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) gives her thoughts.
In my current position, these questions provide a cause of daily concern. I want to use this article to interrogate the world of student politics by looking from the inside out at what student politics really means today.
now has over 600 member students’ unions representing more than 2 million students, and the 1994 Education Act saw students’ unions enshrined in UK law, establishing their powerful position in the arena of national politics.
Student Unions were originally designed as open organisations and vessels for the student voice. Their purpose was, and still is, to campaign actively and vocally for students’ rights and opportunities. They provide services from students, to students, and bring them together as powerful agents of change. Theoretically, they ensure the national political representation of the student body: founded in 1922, the National Union of Students (“NUS”)
Students’ unions have long played a central role in Scottish universities -St. Andrew’s and Edinburgh established students’ unions in 1864 and 1884 respectively- and in England, most were founded in the 1960s during a wave of activism and vocalism. It was at this time -in 1964- that the Cambridge University Student Union was founded. Now celebrating our fiftieth anniversary, we represent between 18,600 and 22,000 students.
However, with the days of ‘60s protest now long behind us, I find myself forced to confront the observable symptoms of a so-called “death” in student politics- at least from the perspective of a university student union. In Cambridge, our Student Union-General University elections saw a very low turnout this year: 14.1%, a figure mirrored at a national level by the 2012 NUS survey which declared 14% to be the average national turnout in a student union election. We also saw a decrease in the number of candidates standing for election: currently, two CUSU positions and the one General University position remain unfilled.
A recent survey in Cambridge revealed that one fifth of the 127 students eligible to attend our Student Union Council were regularly not taking up their seat. Earlier this academic year, fears of growing apathy and disengagement from the students’ union were realised through the disaffiliation of a college in November- Gonville and Caius voted with an overwhelming majority of 69% in their referendum. Yet despite these harrowing statistics, I maintain that student politics is far from dead. Gonville and Caius may have turned their back on a centralised Cambridge university student union, but their vote nonetheless demonstrated a form of political consciousness, awareness and action within a section of the student body. This form of political action is not a million miles away from what was seen on a national level back in 2010: students took to the streets to protest against hikes in tuition fees in a way which was anything other than apathetic. What we are dealing with is not a death of student politics, more a general disillusionment with the governing bodies who are failing to respond effectively to the needs of students. Despite the national protests, the rise in fees went ahead. Both the Institute for Fiscal Studies and students across the country have expressed serious concerns surrounding the sale of the student loan book before the next general election; yet despite this, the sale is set to continue. The current Immigration Bill charges international students to use the NHS and mandates landlords to check students’ visa paperwork before offering accommodation, or face a large fine. Students are clearly not a priority for the current government and other political parties have so far made no assurances for students as we approach the next general election. Issues affecting students frequently remain unchanged. All of this causes apathy, frustration and disillusionment among the student community; maybe students across the country are just throwing in the metaphorical towel? This is not to ignore or find a scapegoat for the signs of apathy and disillusionment seen specifically with CUSU. I am acutely aware of Cambridge students’ criticisms of what we do, but I am also acutely aware of the incredible work the CUSU Ethical Affairs team has done with the Positive Investment Campaign, which has just re-launched, and the CUSU
BME campaign’s amazing “I Too… Am Cambridge” initiative. If, like me, you think that student politics isn’t just about being a member of a political party or coming to CUSU Council, then you’ll agree that it clearly isn’t dead.
WHAT NEXT? So what are we at CUSU doing to deal with the signs of apathy we have encountered? Last term we consulted with CUSU Council members and reviewed and reformed our procedures. We’ve seen Council attendance more than double during Lent term. We employed a Strategic Communications Coordinator this year and we have seen a 6000% increase in our output on social media. We have been doing a weekly radio show; next term we’d like to start a newspaper column. After the elections, I spoke to around 200 students to hear their feedback and ideas. As I spoke to them, I saw that student politics doesn’t fit the same pattern everywhere. It is simply active students, doing what they love, and students speaking out to ensure those opportunities remain in place. Sometimes that will mean applying for society funding or campaigning against fees, but ultimately it is all part of student politics. Ultimately, to some extent, everything is political. Working at CUSU has shown me more clearly than ever that student communities are highly diverse and highly active, whether in volunteering, studying, playing sport or being part of a society. I believe that being an active member of this community of students makes you a political agent. I do not see student politics as narrow or exclusive. I do not think it involves only a tiny minority or even just the activity of students’ unions. We are all equal partners in the dialogue of student politics. Too often students are caricatured as one homogenous group, but we know that we are many and we are different. And that’s the power of recognising our influence; together, students can articulate an impressive breadth of experience, and out of that, we can affect change. Frequently, decisions are made both at our institution and nationally which affect so many areas of our lives; this is a fact. Student politics is simply speaking up for our own and other students’ interests to influence those decisions. It is no more and no less than that.
“What we are dealing with is not a death of student politics, more a general disillusionment with the governing bodies who are failing to respond effectively to the needs of students.” Whether that means applying for funding to better resources for the society you and other students love, reinforcing the importance of sport in the community or campaigning against cuts to bursaries – all of that matters. It is up to us to make our voices heard, whatever it is we care about. And that is where students’ unions come in. There is a reason why every single student in Cambridge is a member of CUSU individually. As is the case at universities up and down the country, the central students’ union is there for you. Students’ unions are designed to advocate and campaign for students as a community, to empower you as an individual and to offer opportunities which no other part of our institution can. That is why I am certain that student politics is not dead, and nor will it ever be. Student communities will continue to be active. It is up to CUSU as your students’ union and the NUS nationally to pay attention to students’ voices. We have to learn how to reach out better. We have to continue striving to provide you with better opportunities; that is why we have just started offering staff support for university societies and we are campaigning for a city centre SU building. If CUSU keep listening and resourcing and supporting students, we will see our community and student politics thrive. CUSU is doing something different, and the only way it will be powerful enough to continue doing this and to cause real change is if students unite behind it. Students are their unions, and unions are their students: we need to reach out to hear your voice and you need to talk to us. That is what student politics is all about. Are you a Cambridge student? You can respond to Flick’s ideas and opinions by getting in touch with CUSU. Flick Osborn
“We are all equal partners in the dialogue of student politics. Too often students are caricatured as one homogenous group, but we know that we are many and we are different. And that’s the power of recognising our influence ...”
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Published on Apr 28, 2014
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