Manchester is Here

Manchester is a city recognised globally – as a centre for business, football, and culture. And whilst it is, now, easy to be proud of our city and its worldly reputation, Manchester was not always like this. Before 1996, Manchester was not well known internationally, and had failed several bids to host major sporting competitions, such as the Summer Olympics in 1996. So what changed?

An IRA bomb hit Manchester on 15th June 1996 and shook the city and its identity to its very core.

Whilst nobody could claim the bomb was a positive thing, it did stimulate a rapid regeneration of the city centre, resulting in massive investment and major changes to the layout and ‘feel’ of the city centre. Manchester’s public were keen to rebuild their city and show their resilience in the face of destruction.

Since then, Manchester has changed its fabric and its ‘feel’. It has grown – in terms of its culture and its economy, as well as the two intertwined – into the UK’s second metropolitan centre. Manchester has taken its place on a global stage and become a global brand: cool, hip, cutting-edge. The arts have flourished, with the rise of the Manchester International Festival drawing crowds from around the world to sit right on the Town Hall steps. The ‘Manchester Miracle’ continues to evolve, fuelled by Northern grit in all its multicultural manifestations.

Particularly in light of Brexit, which was announced yesterday, as a city we need to consider the next steps in Manchester’s development within the UK, with the Northern Powerhouse agenda, and within the world. We explored the myths of regeneration and celebrated Manchester’s phenomenal redevelopment over the past twenty years by holding an academic symposium and a public engagement launch on 15th June to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the ‘Manchester bomb’.

The daytime symposium event featured two panels. The first was entitled: ‘20 Years of ‘Manchester Miracles? The Bomb and Regeneration’ and addressed the socio-economic and cultural regeneration of Manchester over the past 20 years, looking at how the city can best serve its citizens in the future.

Photo credit: Helen Darby

Photo credit: Helen Darby

Joanne Massey, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University, introduced the panel by exploring how capitalism and culture all affect our experience of spaces within the city. She quoted David Pinder: “to change everyday life it is also necessary to change space”. This regeneration of the city centre, then, was vital to developing the identity of Manchester and Mancunions in the years to follow the bombing. Similarly, Kevin Ward, Professor of Human Geography at University of Manchester, explained “The bomb invoked a sense of Mancunion pride: this will not beat us”.

Dave Haslam, author and DJ, delved into the cultural regeneration of Manchester, explaining that the “true Manchester Miracle” which stimulated the city’s sense of identity and culture was that it provided a platform for working-class artists, for example Joy Division and Shelagh Delaney. He explained that this is vital to maintaining the city’s reputation as a cultural hub in the future: “We need to ensure young people from Manchester are empowered and valued, and that radical creativity is supported”, even when familiar cultural venues, such as the Hacienda disappear. He concluded that we need to “be radical, be different, be open minded”.

Johnathan Schofield and Michael Taylor Photo credit: Rachael Burns

Johnathan Schofield and Michael Taylor
Photo credit: Rachael Burns

Jonathan Schofield, journalist and author, debunked the myths surrounding Manchester as a ‘working class city’, and instead of glorifying the past, he suggested that we need to consider the city as it is now. Similarly, Michael Taylor, External Engagement Advisor at Manchester Met argued “regeneration is about thinking about what young people want now”.

The second panel featured Dominique Tessier, from Café Historique, Abigail Ward, from Manchester District Music Archive, Katie Milestone, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Manchester Met, Jon Binnie, Reader in Human Geography at Manchester Met and Gary James, Lecturer in Sports History at Manchester Met. It was entitled ‘Regional Identity vs. Global Brand: Who is Greater Manchester?’ and looked at Manchester’s global identities as they relate to music, football and LGBT communities. The panel explored questions such as: To what extent do the Premier League, the Factory legacy and the Gay Village promote and complement the multitude of Manchester’s histories of success? How can we make the most of the manifold futures signposted by the city’s rich history and diverse heritage?

Artwork from A New Manchester Alphabet

Artwork from A New Manchester Alphabet

The evening celebration event, which launched the Humanities in Public Festival for 16/17 centred on the theme of Greater Manchester and Northern Identity, began with an exhibition of artwork from A New Manchester Alphabet. A New Manchester Alphabet is a snapshot of Manchester in 2015, it featured illustrations and poetry from students at the Manchester Writing School and Manchester School of Art.

The event began with a performance by Hannah and Sketch, from Factory Youth Zone, who sang a song entitled ‘A Day in Town’, which perfectly captured the danger, fear and misery on the day of the bomb: “on a day in town/a sudden noise/shook the ground”.

Dave Haslam as master of ceremonies

Dave Haslam as master of ceremonies Photo credit: Ade Hunter

Dave Haslam, who was master of ceremonies, introduced Dr Sharon Handley, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, who spoke about the Humanities in Public festival. Followed by Helen Laville, Pro Vice Chancellor for Education and Student Experience, who said “I believe very passionately in the Humanities in Public Festival. The list of events in front of us is so wonderful”. Helen explained how proud she is to tell people “I live in Manchester”.

Jaycy, Fizz and Billy from Factory Youth Zone presented two parts of their documentary Ourmanchester Ourselves, which explores the history leading up to the bombing, what happened on the day, and the aftermath of the bomb. The first part they showed was What Happened on the Day and featured interviewees sharing their experiences of June 15th 1996. One of the interviewees asked: “why our city?”.

Jaycy, Fizz and Billy from Factory Youth Zone Photo credit: Ade Hunter

Jaycy, Fizz and Billy from Factory Youth Zone
Photo credit: Ade Hunter

The second part of the documentary explored Manchester’s Regeneration, which was made possible by donations, governmental investment, and money from the European Union. Lucy Meacock, British journalist and presenter employed by ITV Granada, explained “Manchester wasn’t the same after the bomb: it was better, it was a better place to live. Despite everything that happened, Manchester thrived”.

Michael Symmons Roberts, Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, treated the audience to some poetry reflecting Manchester’s identity and spirit, even in the face of destruction. One poem imagined Salford docks as a mermaid, “the Salford mermaid and her song”. Another entitled World into Fragments features the lines: “Plate windows shiver into diamonds,/smoked office towers fold into tobacco heaps,/screens give way to white noise,/then blow”, “A world more fragile than we thought”.

Professor Berthold Schoene then introduced and launched the D/Evolving Manchester programme, of which Humanities in Public is a part. He explained that the Humanities in Public programme is all about “the work we do and how it relates to what worries you” in everyday life.

The Ordsall Acapella Choir then sung us out in true Manchester style with a beautiful rendition of Elbow’s ‘One Day Like This’.

We now find ourselves on the verge of Brexit and of Greater Manchester Devolution – the next step in the city region’s contemporary evolution. It has become increasingly important for Manchester to consider its regeneration and development for the future, so we can remain a global city with a distinct identity. In the words of Michael Symmons Roberts, we certainly do live in “A world more fragile than we thought”.

To watch the Ourmanchester Ourselves in full, please go to

Humanities in Public will return in September 2016 with a full programme of events on the topic of Greater Manchester and Northern Identity. For updates, follow us on Twitter (@mmu_hssr) and check our website for the full schedule this autumn:

This was also published on the Manchester Metropolitan University website.


Encountering More Corpses

Following the immensely successful Encountering Corpses II, Manchester Gothic Arts Group produced a creative response: Encountering More Corpses.

The Encountering Corpses symposium at Manchester Metropolitan University was based upon the research of Professor Craig Young from the department of Human Geography. Professor Craig Young is a Human Geographer with interests in the intersection of place, landscape, history, memory and the politics of identity, particularly as expressed through issues surrounding death and encounters with the dead body in the context of a range of socio-cultural, political, economic and technological contexts.


Matthew Carson and Kolyn Amor with their piece ‘The Table of Transplant Statistics’

Following the symposium, Manchester Gothic Arts Group (MGAG), who have become increasingly well-known through their engagement with the Gothic Manchester Festival, produced art-work to challenge and confront depictions of the dead body, the ethics of organ donation and the mania surrounding celebrity deaths. Their artwork explored particularly the difference between medical discourses surrounding the dead and the real lived human experience of death.
Dr John Troyer (Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath), Dr Julie Seymour (Hull York Medical School), and Dr Trish Green (Hull York Medical School) explored organ donation in the first panel at the Encountering Corpses symposium. Matthew Carson, of MGAG, described organ donation as a “big subject for the UK”. The group explored the economy, ethics and stories of organ donation through their artwork.

As a result of the event, Carson has signed up to be an organ donor. His work at the exhibition included some simple pencil sketches of organs most needed for transplantation, for example, the heart, lungs, and kidney. Carson described the sketches as “experimental”. The simplicity of these sketches juxtaposes the complicated reality of organ donation, where, as Dr Julie Seymour explained, narratives of organ donation as providing ‘the gift of life’ can often hide the inequalities behind the practice, for example who gets organs when there is a shortage of donations. Carson told me about how in his research he had discovered the story of a man in China who had been declared “legally dead”, and how this story had brought the contradictions to light for him.

Neil Watkin’s Clockwork Heart

Matt Carson and Kolyn Amor, bearing this in mind, created The Table of Transplant Statistics, taking inspiration from the periodic table. The table depicted transplant operations carried out in 2015, “including those patients still waiting for an operation and those for whom it is too late”. Neil Watkin’s clockwork heart also drew on the medical interventions used to preserve life, for example, pacemakers. He said: “Most of the time our bodies run like clockwork, but sometimes a vital component fails”.

Cultural Encounters were discussed in the second panel at the Encountering Corpses symposium. This panel included Dr Jonathan Westaway (UCLAN), Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce (University of York), and Dr Gemma Angel (UCL).


Kolyn Amor’s ‘I’m Mortal Magnetism’

Luxury in death is not given to celebrity bodies. Kolyn Amor’s I’m Mortal Magnetism featured magnets with images of celebrity corpses on, including Bruce Lee, Chairman Mao, Bela Lugosi, Elvis Presley and Edgar Alan Poe. Amor invited viewers to guess the order in which the celebrities died. This satirised the capitalist market of celebrity merchandise, and also questioned the mania and obsession famously following some celebrity deaths. Neil Watkin similarly displayed artwork connected to Ian Curtis’ death.

Liz Watkin challenged the medical definitions of the dead body in her artwork, encouraging us to look and think deeper than the physical corpse. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a ‘corpse’ as “A dead (usually human) body”, which Watkin refers to as “a short, and somewhat stark statement”. Watkin said, “Just because “life” has been pronounced “extinct”, it is not the end of how you feel about the person or the relationship you once had with them”.


Liz Watkin’s installation

The installation featured clock cases with items with a personal history inside, to encourage viewers to consider the lived reality of death as opposed to medical definitions where everything is black and white. She said “My artwork on this occasion is personal, having lost both of my parents over a recent and short period of time”. The artwork included roses, which died as the exhibition continued, and crystals in place of tears: “tears like hard sparkling crystals of emotion”. Watkin’s work beautifully contemplates the process of mourning, encouraging viewers to think, not only about the deceased, but about everyone the death will affect.

The word ‘death’ is filled with a multitude of connotations. Death is inevitably and contradictorily a part of life, and is such a concept that is impossible to understand. Manchester Gothic Arts Group, through their artwork, are not seeking understanding of death, but exploration of our lived experience of it, through medical encounters, media encounters, and emotional encounters, which are inexplicably entwined.

Carson said “organ donation struck me as one of the few occasions where artwork has a real world impact. Through our artwork we want to encourage more people to ‘tick all the boxes’ and save somebody else’s loved one”.

To find out more about the Encountering Corpses project click here.

This piece was also published on Manchester Metropolitan University’s website.

Bringing Manchester’s History Back to Life: ‘Our Manchester Ourselves’ 15th June 1996 is a day Manchester should always remember. The events of this day became vital to the city’s regeneration and growth in the years to follow. Why? Because of a bombing on Corporation street which caused widespread damage.

When Clare Molyneux, from Open the Door Theatre, and Richard March, cheif executive of The Factory Youth Zone, told the young people coming through their doors about this vital piece of Manchester’s history they found that “only one of the young people in our group knew that a bomb had ever gone off”. Twenty years ago, it would seem impossible that Manchester could forget such a vital part of its history. However, in schools now, there is little mention of the Manchester IRA bombing and how it made Manchester into the city it is today.

The young people from the Factory Youth Zone have created a documentary, funded by the Heritage Lottery, called Our Manchester Ourselves to educate others about the bombing. The documentary covers the history of the bombing and why it happened. Clare said: “This project is the fulfilment of the vision of the Factory Youth Zone’s young people, to educate their peers about the IRA bombing of the Arndale Centre in 1996 and how that event changed not only the landscape but also the heritage and history of Manchester and its people”.

The young people had the opportunity to travel to Ireland to carry out interviews. They visited Stormont, the Northern Ireland Parliament, where they interviewed Pat Sheehan, a Sinn Fein politician who formerly took part in hunger strikes. They also met with the Northern Ireland Youth Forum’s United for Change group who work to end the historic segregation and move towards a positive future for the area. Clare explained, “young people don’t want war”. Fizz, who has been a key contributor to the project, described that many had said “what happened was in our parents’ generation, we want peace”.

The documentary also explores what happened in Manchester on the day, through interviews with people who were in the city centre and some of the 212 people who were injured by the bomb. Interviews explore the aftermath of the bomb, particularly the regeneration in the city centre. Shannon who has been a vital part of the project, said “I didn’t know anything about it before. Learning about it in the places that it happened, from the people who lived it, made it real”.

Although the bomb destroyed much of the city centre, it did act as a catalyst for Manchester’s regeneration, as many parts of the city centre were rebuilt, repaired and redesigned. The documentary features interviews with Sir Howard Bernstein, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, and Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, who talk about Manchester’s architectural regeneration since the bombing. The film, according to JC shows how people worked to “bring Manchester back to life” after a period of fear, danger and despair.

We now find ourselves on the verge of Greater Manchester Devolution – the next step in the city region’s contemporary evolution. Harpurhey, the ward where The Factory Youth Zone is located, ranks second worst in England for the effect of long-term deprivation on children. In the words of Richard March, Harpurhey suffers from “a token trickle-down effect”, which results in unemployment being almost double the national rate and 56.2% of children living in poverty. Although, the Northern Powerhouse agenda will result in greater investment in the North of England, and Manchester in particular, we risk expenditure being focused in the city centre and directed away from the poorer wards who need it most.

Our Manchester Ourselves chronicles Manchester’s history in a way that is personal to its residents. The film brings to life a surprisingly ignored and untaught part of Manchester’s history by giving viewers a lived and felt version of history. This knowledge will be vital to Manchester’s evolution in the future.

From September 2016 to June 2017 Manchester Metropolitan University invites you to take part in a wide-ranging festival of discussion, exploration and debate on the theme of ‘D/Evolving Manchester’. D/Evolving Manchester Festival is designed to inspire and engage everyone in Greater Manchester, and beyond, with the challenges and opportunities that devolution offers to the region. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the ‘Manchester bomb’, we are holding an academic symposium and public-engagement launch on June 15th to celebrate Manchester’s phenomenal redevelopment over the past twenty years.

We will launch this programme on June 15th with a full day and evening of discussion and celebration, including a screening of Our Manchester Ourselves. 

Tickets for the evening celebration are free and available here.

Tickets for the day-time symposium are free and available here.

The Factory Youth Zone will be screening Our Manchester, Ourselves for the first time at HOME on 4th June. You can find out more information about the project at The Factory Youth Zone website. The film will go live on the documentary website on Saturday at 1.15pm.

This was also published on Manchester Metropolitan University’s website.

Dolly Birds and Swinging Cities?

The 1960s was a changing world for women, with increased affluence, cosmopolitanism and explosions in popular culture like never before. Following the Second World War, traditional gender roles loosened and women were given more work opportunities and more sexual freedom

We explored the impact of alleged newfound freedoms for women in the 1960s at an event entitled Dolly Birds and Swinging Cities. The event examined “whether the 60s were swinging for everyone”, in the words of Dr Katie Milestone, joint convener of the event and Senior Lecturer in Sociology. Katie argued that there was “huge inequality” between women, and some women were not afforded such freedoms until the 1970s.

Dr Joan Ormrod, joint event convener and Programme Leader for Film and Media Studies, introduced some of the “contexts and contradictions” of the decade. Many social changes acted as double edged swords for many women. Whilst more women went into work, they did not reach “dizzy heights” and the ideal feminine trope was “a woman who is professional, but a bit of fluff on the side”. Fashion gave women a freedom of expression, but also inflicted pressure to have the ideal slender body shape. The emergence of the birth control pill could offer sexual freedom, but not freedom under social conventions that still surrounded sex. Indeed the pill, which was made available on the NHS in 1961, was only available to married women until 1967. After this time however, women experienced added pressure to say “yes” to sex.

Dr Mel Gibson

Dr Mel Gibson

Comics and magazines for girls reached peak popularity during this time, and were particularly important in perpetuating messages of girlhood and what it meant to be a woman. Jackie was the best-selling teen magazine in Britain for ten years, with sales rising from an initial 350,000 to 605,947 in 1976. Dr Mel Gibson, from the University of Northumbria, spoke on British Girls and their Comics. These magazines gave confusing and often contradictory versions of girlhood, for example, one story in Bunty suggested social mobility was possible, whilst also showing that working class women would be excluded by middle class women. Surprisingly though, many stories had messages of political activism, and ultimately suggested a girl could grow up to be like anyone, even like the celebrities that covered the magazines’ centre pages.

Women emerged more than ever into the public eye and the celebrities of the day became a driving force behind developments in fashion. Dr Pamela Church Gibson, from University of the Arts, London, spoke about The Impact of New Female Icons in bringing about the social revolution of the 60s. Dr Gibson explained that the term ‘dolly bird’ has distinctly sexual connotations, as “dolly” was an 18th century term for a prostitute, and “bird” suggested sexual availability. The stars of the decade performed sexual availability through their fashions, which were much more revealing than those of the 50s.

Dr Georgina Gregory

Dr Georgina Gregory

The revealing outfits worn by women were a way they could gain power. Dr Georgina Gregory, from UCLan, looked at Go-Go dancing to explore women’s ‘erotic capital’ in the 1960s. The dance was so popular that fashion items, such as Go-Go boots, were named after the dance. Go-Go dancers typically wore exaggerated versions of the fashions of the day, for example skirts shorter than the norm. This allowed women to capitalise on their sex appeal and femininity. According to Gregory, the dance’s high energy and freeform reflected the growing individualism in post-war England. Before the Second World War, partner dancing was very much the norm; however, Go-Go dancing saw couples dancing side-by-side as young people rejected the traditional ways of living. Following WWII, women in particular were no longer cushioned by the stability of traditional roles, and sought new ways to express themselves and gain power, through fashion, dance and a “performance of sexual availability” that the women did not possess in reality.

The same apparent availability was seen in representation of women in cinema. Professor Ewa Mazierska, from University College London, spoke on Girls in Polish Cinema of the 1960s and Early 1970s. Poland was the most destroyed country in the Second World War, and consequently women in cinema following the war “had no lives as ‘girls’, but only as workers rebuilding the city”. However, by the 1960s, Poland had achieved a period of “small stabilisation” and Polish people were encouraged to lead private lives and enjoy the city they had worked hard to reconstruct. In films such as Goodbye ‘til Tomorrow, Marguerite is shown exploring the city with the help of a young man. However, because of the social conventions and restrictions that still surrounded sex, girls never fulfilled romantic relationships in movies: Mazierska explained “cities were better than sex”. By the 1970s the city became a dangerous place, particularly to working class girls: “culture sped up, and joy evaporated from life”.

Dr Vanessa Brown

Dr Vanessa Brown

Even though the emergence of the pill lead to an increased availability of sex, this was mostly afforded to men. Surprisingly, sunglasses became a way women could express their ‘erotic capital’ whilst simultaneously detaching themselves from the men who may benefit from it. Dr Vanessa Brown, Nottingham Trent University, spoke aboutCool, Sunglasses and the Ultimate Modern Woman. She explained how sunglasses originated from driving goggles. They were seen as a masculine accessory to such an extent that early advertisements for women’s sunglasses did not feature the dark lenses that they had in reality.

It was this distinctive ‘male-ness’ that made sunglasses so distinctly ‘cool’ when the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O wore them. Dr Brown defined cool as “a special form of composure signifying an idealised response to the disruptive forces of modernity”. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s Hepburn’s sunglasses allowed Holly Golightly to remain concealed even in her most vulnerable moments. The sunglasses interrupted the male gaze, and allowed the wearer to appear independent, detached, and introspective. Hence, sunglasses became a symbol of modernity, an embodiment of the way in which fashion allowed new ways of expression for women, and a rejection of the patriarchal control that had dominated the previous decades. Other celebrities manifested such a change, for example Nico. Gary Needham, from Nottingham Trent University, spoke on Performing Nico… and described how Nico started as a fresh faced girl in the 1950s but by the 70s became repellent and surly in her public image.

The sixties allowed women increased freedom and affluence, but inevitably, social conventions did not catch up until the later decades. The emergence of the pill led to women’s exploitation as much as it did their sexual freedom and the decade is rife with contradictions. Women had to seek out new forms of expression to gain power and reject patriarchy in a feminist movement which is still ongoing today.


This was also published on the Manchester Metropolitan University website.

Austerity: Local and Global

‘Austerity’ is a word which is becoming increasingly prevalent in politics, academic debate and the media in recent years. Whilst austerity is supposedly temporary, it has affected us all and will do so increasingly in the years to follow. Austerity is not merely a word in political discourse but a shared and lived experience.

On Wednesday 27th April 2016, we explored the austerity agenda at an event entitledAusterity: Local and Global. The event brought together a panel of scholars from a diverse range of disciplines to explore the origins, local and international formats, and potential trajectories of the austerity agenda. The daytime event featured a postgraduate and activist panel and the evening event consisted of presentations by Professor Raymond Tallis, Professor Sylvia Chant, and Professor Guy Standing. The event was convened by Dr Susie Jacobs from the department of sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Professor Raymond Tallis, Professor Guy Standing and Dr Susie Jacobs

Professor Raymond Tallis, Professor Guy Standing and Dr Susie Jacobs (Photo credit: Rachael Burns)

Austerity is a lived experience, affecting each one of us directly or indirectly. Sam Strong, PhD student at the University of Cambridge, explored the lived experiences of austerity at the foodbank in his talk ‘Shameful Subsistence: Encountering the Lived Experiences of Austerity at the Food Bank’. He worked at a food bank as part of his research and saw first-hand the tragic effects of austerity on normal people. He presented testimonies of those who used foodbanks, including the story of Paul and Jenny, both of whom had not received their benefits through no fault of their own, and had previously “never thought [they] would need to use a food bank”. Austerity also has indirect effects; Rowan Sandle from Leeds Beckett University explored the effects of the cuts on lone parents in her presentation ‘The Psychological Cost of Austerity: A Focus on Lone Motherhood – Experiences and Representations’. Statistics show that whilst cuts to mental health and the public sector do not affect women directly because women are more likely to be on welfare and/or working in the public sector and 92% of lone parents are women, one-parent families are ultimately drastically affected.

One result of austerity is NHS privatisation, which Professor Raymond Tallis of the University of Manchester explored in his evening lecture entitled ‘The Dismantling of the NHS: from Lord Howe’s Wicked Dream to George Osborne’s Austerity’. In his words “I’m going to talk about wickedness, we don’t talk about wickedness enough. But what is truly wicked is the vandalism of one of the greatest achievements of civilisation in the UK”. The NHS reached its highest levels of satisfaction in 2010, and 84% people are against its privatisation. However, in the past 6 years privatisation has encroached the general public through a combination of “defunding, discrediting, and devolving”. In the 1990s, the phrase ‘business plan’ became common talk within hospitals, which then had to compete for money and resources. To Professor Tallis “competition is anti-cooperation”. The Private Finance Initiative, which was embraced by the labour party, greatly increased funding to the NHS but simultaneously allowed taxpayers’ money to be directed from health-care to profits, and not redirected into the economy. Professor Tallis dubbed the initiative as “Plans for Future Insolvency”. By painting the NHS in an increasingly bad light in the media, privatisation is an ongoing process, allowing fragmentation, cherry picking of health care and inequality throughout. In 2015, the UK reported a 5.7% death increase, which was the first increase since 1970. In the words of Michael Portillo: “if we’d have told the public what we were going to do nobody would have voted for us”.

The media has a large role in perpetuating the myths enveloping austerity. Narratives of shame surround those in need of welfare who are frequently referred to as “lazy” in headlines such as “End the War On Scroungers”. Rowan Sandle described TV shows such as Benefits Street as “poverty porn”, which aim to paint the vulnerable in a negative light. However, this propaganda has little basis in reality, and the theory differs much from the reality.

The daytime postgraduate panel

The daytime postgraduate and activist panel (Photo credit: Rachael Burns)

Dr John David Jordan of Manchester Metropolitan University presented on ‘Welfare’s Austerity Regime? Exploring Ideology and Reality in the UK Government’s ‘Work Programme’. The work programme is a compulsory scheme launched in 2011 to help get people back to work, in theory the programme provides job seekers with incentive and assistance in finding jobs and long-term employment. However, in reality, staff are too busy to check the number of jobs applied for a week, and 80-90% do not get work. For the few who do find ‘sustained employment’, this often consists of many short-term jobs, after which they join the programme again. However, the real problems lie in the sanctions made by staff. Staff are expected to make 2-3 sanctions a day, including cuts to benefits. This can result in immense hardship, debt, starvation, homelessness and poverty.

The culture of shame surrounding the acceptance of welfare perpetuates neoliberal views that poverty and hunger are a result of individual failings. Feelings of shame and the experiences of impoverishment are belittled, leading fewer people to seek help. Sam Strong describes it as the “blaming and shaming of poor people”, resulting in a culture where sympathy is not offered to the vulnerable people who need it, for example, in the case of Jenny and Paul who did not receive their benefits through no fault of their own.

Emma Bimpson from the University of Leeds in her talk, ‘Moral and Political Economies of Welfare – Contesting Directions in Local Housing’, suggested that through the media and the representation of welfare “normalisation of risk is being used to govern individuals”. There is a distinct tension between support and independence. This precarity, in which anyone can be devoid of welfare, support and money has been transformed into “a normalised political instrument”, in which the blame and responsibility is forwarded onto the individual. Acknowledgement of this is necessary to achieve political change and put a stop to shame and blame.

Professor Sylvia Chant from LSE disputed the characterisation that “poverty has a female face” in her talk in the evening session, ‘Questioning the ‘Feminisation of Poverty’ in the Global South, and the Wisdom of Feminised Anti-poverty Policy Approaches’. She argued that the “feminisation of poverty in the Global South”, namely Gambia, Philippines and Costa Rica, is inaccurate and in reality gender gaps are narrowing. However, the media have relied upon an unverified and anonymous statistic that “women are 70% of the world’s poor and rising”. By perpetuating this myth, gender equality and economic growth and poverty are misaligned and misconstrued. The result is that more responsibility for ‘solving’ poverty is placed on women, who are an already marginalised group in the Global South. UN Women assured the public that “it is unknown how many of those living in poverty are women and girls” in 2015. Professor Chant suggested that if we cannot separate our problems and find accurate solutions for each, we will not achieve social change.

However, social change is not going to be achieved in the same ways and forms as in history, as the world is a different place than it was in the labour revolts of the 1930s, for example. Professor Guy Standing from SOAS explained how neoliberalism, with its privatisation, commodification and systematic dismantling of all systems of social solidarity, has given rise to a new class system, including, most notably, the precariat, who he describes as “a dangerous class”. This precariat suffers unstable labour, in which they have to work a lot for very little and with no guarantee of employment. The group rely on monetary wages, rather than state benefits. This class is unlikely to be able to practice the qualification they are trained within, and are devoid of a political voice as no party represents their needs – meaning this group do not identify as a collective. However, Professor Standing argues that we need “new forms of collective action in an age of individualisation”: “the unions just aren’t doing it anymore”.

Jon Las Heras from the University of Manchester explored the ways in which a Basque trade union have deviated from major trade union strategies developed in the rest of Spain to achieve results in his talk entitled ‘The Insubordination of a Basque Trade Union: Collective Bargaining Strategies in the Automotive Value Chain’. ELA co-ordinated with smaller trade unions, social movements and non-governmental organisations to develop an overarching platform demanding rights from the Basque government.

As Steph Pike from the Manchester People’s Assembly explains, “there is strength in numbers”. Steph believes austerity is a “political decision” as “the money is there for everything we need”. The People’s Assembly organised 5-days of protests during the Conservative party conference in October 2015, providing the party with “a barrage of Manchester style welcome”. The People’s Assembly “galvanises activists”, to bring people together to show the possibility of an alternative to austerity. Steph explained “austerity will continue unless we fight back and stop it”, and “we can fight back, together we are strong”. Similarly, Brigitte Lechner, Stockport for Mental Health Activist, explained that “solidarity”, or the “movement of people together in one direction towards one goal”, was what “saved” the Stockport Wellbeing Centre.

As poverty, inequality and precarious employment spread across the globe, ‘austerity’ is no longer merely a description or an abstract concept, but something we can see happening on the streets, in the media, and in the world around us. We live in an age where it is getting increasingly difficult to find help when you need it, and as a result, the classes are changing. However, what this event showed is that this is not the only long-term future. By “galvanising” ourselves, we can create a more equal future: “activism is a weapon of the powerless”.

Professor Guy Standing and Professor Raymond Tallis (Photo credit: Rachael Burns)

Professor Guy Standing and Professor Raymond Tallis (Photo credit: Rachael Burns)

Humanities in Public’s World strand continues this weekend with Beyond Babel: A Multilingual Film Festival. To see the full schedule of events, go to:

This event was also published on the Manchester Metropolitan University website at: 

“We tell lies, but we leak truth”

Influence of others is something we all do on a daily basis, often subconsciously. But what language techniques do we apply to encourage others to do the things we want them to?

Professor Dawn Archer shed light on ‘Influencing Others: An Explanation of “How it’s Done” from a (Primarily) Linguistic Perspective’ at an inaugural lecture at Manchester Metropolitan University. She explained the pragmatics of language influence; pragmatics is a branch of linguistics based upon finding meaning from the contexts in which language is used. We make pragmatic choices every day without even realising it.

Photo credit: Ade Hunter

Photo credit: Ade Hunter

Professor Archer explained the trick is “planting an idea and making the other person think they thought of it” – Archer refers to these as “language triggered mind-viruses”. She used the fictional example of Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello, who persuades, manipulates and deceives throughout the play. Professor Archer warned her audience to be careful of any friends who employed the “dark-side tactics” he uses, for example: mis-assigning meaning to actions, giving the impression of an unwillingness to speak ill about others, and answering questions with questions.

The negative use of influence can be detected if you know what to look for. In 2012, Mick Philpott made a public appeal on ITN, following an arson attack to his and his wife’s home that killed their six children. There was something, however, about the appeal that didn’t quite sit right, and when Dawn asked the audience who was moved by the public appeal no one raised their hand. Professor Archer highlighted the inconsistencies in Philpott’s performance that suggested it was an act of deception, for example, he was over-polite, used many credibility qualifiers, and his facial expressions did not always match what he was saying.

Philpott’s use of these tactics was an act of “impression management” – something we all do daily. Our language and body-language are “the very stuff out of which impressions are formed”.

Philpott was later found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison. He and his wife started the fire deliberately with the intention of getting a bigger house for their six children. As Professor Archer put it: “We tell lies but we leak truth”.

Influence does not have to be negative, deceitful or manipulative, however, it can be “altruistic”. Police negotiators must influence subjects in such a way to shift them into a more positive state of mind. This is particularly important with suicidal cases.

Professor Archer showed us a police negotiation gone wrong, where the negotiator overstepped the fine line between guilt and shame. According to Archer, studies have shown that feelings of guilt prompt action. However, in this case, the negotiator employed the wrong techniques, using derogatory language such as “coward” and “shut up”. This tragically led to the subject committing suicide.

The language of influence is inevitably important, and whilst for you and I it mostly means persuading your partner to do the washing up, for some it is life and death.

Professor Jonathan Culpeper from Lancaster University responded to the lecture, providing the audience with “takeaways” that Professor Archer had encouraged him to think about. He questioned the role of morality involved in having the power of influence, asking “white lies, they’re okay aren’t they?”.

With Dawn’s knowledge of all these tactics, she could be a “master manipulator” like Othello’s Iago. However, her “maxim in life” is to influence “for the good of others, as well as myself”, as her own parents, teachers and colleagues have done for her.

As Professor Archer put it “with great influence comes great responsibility”. She “plants seeds and allows them to blossom”. “Imagine how much better the world would be” if everyone used influence for the good of others.

This event preceded the Humanities in Public World strand of events. You can find more information about the full festival schedule here:


Digital Re-Enchantment: Place, Writing, and Technology

In the 21st century, technological advancements influence how we live every day. Twenty years ago, it would be inconceivable that we would hold devices in the palm of our hands capable of exploring the entire history of humanity. And even if we mainly use that device for scrolling through Facebook, technology has changed our social lives, our working lives, and our artistic lives. With this ongoing and quickening change, we need art and language to match up with our experiences.

Poetry, and the language forming it, not only help us to understand our experiences, but also construct how we perceive and think about them. As American linguist, Edward Sapir says “language does not exist apart from culture”.

Dr David Cooper, Senior Lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University, has organised an event for Humanities in Public’s upcoming World strand exploring the ever-changing relationship between nature, technology and poetry. Dr Cooper’s inspiration for the event came as a response to Robert Macfarlane’s latest book Landmarks.

Robert Macfarlane argues that we are losing the language of nature, using the Oxford Junior Dictionary’s recent omissions as an example. The dictionary has removed the word ‘bluebell’ amongst others, and included ‘broadband’ in its place. In an article for The Guardian, Macfarlane writes: “I was dismayed by the language that had fallen (been pushed) from the dictionary. For blackberry, read Blackberry”. Macfarlane’s argument is that because of such omissions throughout language due to “the simulated screen life many of us live”, we are losing an increased appreciation for nature and our experiences within it.

This was Dr Cooper’s basis for the event. He says: “When thinking about the event, I’ve had – in the back of mind – various comments that Robert Macfarlane makes in his most recent book on landscape, Landmarks. As with all of Macfarlane’s writing, I think that there’s much to admire in this publication; but I was left wondering about his assertions that digital technologies are responsible (at least in part) for disconnecting us from the natural world and, as a result, we need to encourage our children to think about blackberries rather than Blackberries”.

Dr Cooper’s project aims to combine the digital with the outdoors by moulding modern experiences and, indeed, modern technologies to equip us with new ways of perceiving, experiencing and enchanting nature. Dr Cooper wants to remind us that there is poetry within nature, and technology can help us engage with this.

He says: “I am not unsympathetic to the point that Macfarlane is making; but, at the same time, I can’t help but feel that it’s Romantically idealistic to think that people will throw out their mobile devices. Instead, therefore, I’m interested in how digital technologies can provide nodes of connection between individual subjects and the material environment”.

Part of Cooper’s project will encourage people to take photographs of the landscape, and Tweet with one word under the hashtag #EnchantThePeak to show that technology can enhance our experiences with and in nature. He says: “I’m particularly interested in how some creative writers are self-consciously and unapologetically turning towards such technologies in their own practices”.

The event, in Derbyshire, will feature an informal symposium, in which creative project co-ordinators, poets and writers will share their experiences of using technology to explore the relationship between literature and landscape, including Brian Lewis from Longbarrow Press.

Many artists have already combined use of technology with sense of place, for example Sarah Cole, who is pioneering the app Poetic Places with the British Library, and Mark Goodwin, who uses digital recording in conjunction with his poetry. Sarah Cole will be speaking at the symposium and Mark Goodwin will be giving a collaborative poetry performance with Matthew Clegg in an evening event. Sunday of the event will involve a guided artistic walk through Derbyshire’s countryside.

Modern technology, smart phones and social media mean this is not a world where language is depleting, but a world in which anyone can use such language to become an artist. Anyone has the ability to photograph nature and share his or her experiences at the click of a button. Technology and social media sites, particularly Twitter, allow a “democratising of literary production” and the ability to “take writing back out into the landscape”, which is what Dr Cooper strives for.

These technologies then, provoke a new engagement with nature, encouraging us to think differently about both nature and the artist holding the smartphone. Instead of placing landscape, literature and technology at odds, we must “harness the potential of these technologies” to create an artistic zone with nature at the forefront, even if that means seeing it through the screens of our smartphones.


You can read and listen to Mark Goodwin’s poetry here:

Digital Re-Enchantment: Place, Writing and Technology will take place on 11th and 12th June. For more details, see the Humanities in Public website:

This article was also featured in Humanity Hallows‘ print magazine, 3rd edition.HH article





Image: ‘Kinder Downfall’ by Paul Evans (from the ongoing ‘Seven Wonders’ series)

Vanilla Shakes? – Sexual Couple-dom and the Everyday

The penultimate event of Humanities in Public’s Sex strand explored sexual couple-dom and the everyday.

Dr Jacqui Gabb and Dr Jenny van Hooff

Dr Jacqui Gabb and Dr Jenny van Hooff

The modern perception is that finding love is perhaps the most important thing in life, and we will stop at nothing to find our happily-ever-after.

Little girls are surrounded with stories of finding their prince charming, and as we get older the pressures do not subside. Teenage boys are encouraged to have sex earlier and lots of it, whilst the girls they are doing it with are chastised. Going into adult life, millions of self-help books, articles, magazines, and even advertisements are telling us just how much sex we should be having and what constitutes and signifies a happy and working relationship, from children, to money, to the next must-have product.

Relationships are where we find most of our love, validation and comfort, whether that’s a heart to heart with your mother, a drink with your best friends, or a romantic dinner with your partner. And as we get older and the happily-ever-after we were promised is proving elusive, it’s no wonder self-help books are a $10 billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone.

Many books have focussed on the ‘what not to do’s, looking at the various reasons relationships breakdown, from spending enough time together to how much sex a week you should be having.

However, in Dr Jacqui Gabb and Dr Meg John Barker’s book The Secrets of Enduring Love it says “it’s clear that there’s obviously no one-size-fits-all set of rules for doing relationships”. There’s no ‘the one’ and it’s not all happily-ever-after. Instead this book encourages readers to “find their own way” and find an answer tailored to their partner and their relationship.

Dr Jacqui Gabb, Professor of Sociology at the Open University, wanted to understand how couples last, because too many self-help books focus on what goes wrong. In her study Enduring Love Jacqui invited couples to come forward and answer questions about their relationships. Couples were asked to rank their relationship quality, level of maintenance the relationship needed, their happiness with the relationship, and their happiness in life more generally. Dr Gabb presented her findings at Humanities in Public’s Vanilla Shakes? event, convened by Dr Jenni van Hooff, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University.

A key finding of the study was that it is the everyday and mundane things that help relationships to survive: “so many answers included a cup of tea!”. Couples were asked what their partner does to make them feel appreciated and answers included “takes the bins out and clears up after dinner”, saying thank you, and “makes me a cup of tea” in recurring numbers. Maybe it’s not about how much sex you should have, but how many cups of tea you should make (we are British after all).

As relationships endured into the long term, these small gestures became more important than sexual intimacy, particularly for couples with children. These routine actions allowed couples to really share their lives together.

The important thing to note is that whilst these couples may have given very negative answers in some areas of the survey, they all considered their relationship to be working on some level, whether this was because of children, friends, family, or work. Jacqui described this as the “third leg on the stool” keeping couples standing.

Many couples made their relationships work whilst still leading very individual lives, and hardly seeing each other. And although this may not appear the ideal model of a relationship we have been persuaded to expect, who are we to judge what is a good, fulfilling and working relationship?

Jacqui believes that it is vital to teach not only sex education in schools but relationship education too, so that from a young age children begin to learn that: “Just because your relationship isn’t the same as everyone else’s, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Relationships change”.

The take-home message from this event was that relationships, like cups of tea, come in many different forms. It’s about finding what works for you, whether that’s two sugars or none.

Humanities in Public continue their events with a strand all about World. For more information go to: 

Creativity: In Place of War

‘Creativity: In Place of War’, a panel discussion with In Place of War, communicated the necessity of artistic output in countries of extreme violence and conflict.

Ruth Daniel speaking about 'How to Make Something from Nothing'

Ruth Daniel speaking about ‘How to Make Something from Nothing’

In times of conflict, we often look to the past for guidance, to the work of Bertolt Brecht, Wilfred Owen, and Samuel Beckett. Even since the times of Ancient Greece, where violence was not depicted on stage but merely talked about, humans have constantly been trying to learn “what to do with violence when we live in a violent world”.

Professor James Thompson, founder and co-director of In Place of War has been working on art in sites of violence throughout his research in Applied and Social Theatre at The University of Manchester. The project aims to mobilise art and artists to achieve social change in countries of contemporary conflict. The idea for In Place of War began when Thompson was working in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in 2000 at the time of the civil war. He was met with “a vibrant, dynamic and really a very different artistic community”.In Place of War was “born out of a hunch” that this was going on in other contemporary conflict zones. The project mobilises, empowers, and connects creative communities worldwide, whilst “learning from artists living in contemporary conflict zones”. The project’s interest is in art within sites of “hot active violence, and what happens when artists are displaced”.

Since then, In Place of War has collaborated the work of over 280 artists, 300 organisations from 38 countries. Thompson witnessed a diverse range of artistic projects worldwide: “if you’re sitting in a war zone you don’t do a play about war”. Instead, the projects captured “laughter and celebration in zones of ugliness and destruction” in a remarkable and uplifting antithesis.

Art can help humans survive in the worst of situations.

However, many dangerous and conflict-ridden countries across the world have little access to resources. James explained that in some places, due to curfews and other restrictions, some dance forms have almost entirely died out due to war. Ruth Daniel, co-director of In Place of War and “global force of nature”, has worked to ensure this is not the case. Ruth has over 11 years’ experience working to create cultural spaces in over 40 countries, providing a safe place for creativity in some of the world’s most marginalised places despite limited access to resources. These places have a “blank canvas” upon which we can mark social change using Daniel’s equation: “Technology + Art + Humans = Change”. She describes herself as “activist, artist, and cultural producer”.

Ruth’s talk, ‘How to Make Something from Nothing’, took her audience on a journey around the world, first visiting her “favourite city in the world”: Medellin, Colombia. Since 1987, over 40 000 young people ages 14 to 24 have been murdered in Medellin due to drugs, gang warfare and paramilitary enlistment. This area was home to the infamous Pablo Escobar: ‘king of Cocaine’. The city’s dangerous climate has become the subject of a book by Alonso Salazar titled ‘Born to Die in Medellin’.

However, a hip-hop movement began in the city, inspired by Public Enemy, a political hip-hop group based in New York. This gave young people an alternative. Lupa, MC and producer for Sociedad FB7, a hip-hop group from Medellin, explained, “if it weren’t for hip-hop I would be dead. Hip-hop gave me another option in life, I will always be grateful for that”. This hip-hop movement allowed “identity and expression without gang violence”, and gave young men an opportunity to talk about their everyday realities. Daniel described hip-hop as a form of “grass roots resistance”, which has had a role and an impact everywhere in the world, from Colombia to Croyden: “everywhere there is a hot bed of creative talent”.

Daniel hailed social media for a similar reason, quoting Rami El Fass, who sculpts out of recycled materials, who said “without art and social media the Egyptian revolution would not have been possible”. During the 2011 revolution, Facebook was used to schedule protests, Twitter to co-ordinate and YouTube to tell the world. Daniel’s assessment of social media as a way of “galvanising people” marked the event’s place as the penultimate event in the Humanities in Public War strand, following on from the Photobomb series.

However, regardless of the technology that mobilises us, “humans are the most powerful”: “when humans work together, everything is possible”. Ruth left the audience with an inspirational quote from Ewok, a spoken word artist, who said “Can poetry change the world? Poetry can change people, and people can change the world”.

Another example of the role of art in countries of conflict is capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, dance and game. Zoë Marriage, from SOAS, gave an insight into the political economy surrounding the art-form, describing it as “the art of total resistance”. The martial art developed in slave populations in Brazil in the 19th century. The Brazilian state tried to ban the practice in the 20th century in an attempt to stamp out Afro-Brazilian identities. However, by continuing to practice capoeira players denied state power. They reclaimed identity and “retold history”. Marriage reflects that art is “where people can find themselves”, and this “is a source of strength”.

In Place of War continue to help art to become a form of strength and a political tool to people in the most destitute of places. Ruth Daniel tells me about In Place of War’s future work: “It can be split into 3 strands, creating cultural spaces, mobilising equipment, and mobilising artists”. The project will focus on Bukavu, in the Eastern Congo, West Bank in Palestine, and Mokokoba in Zimbabwe, which suffers from ‘desperate poverty’, HIV aids, and maternal and infant mortality. The project will “mobilise equipment from the UK and take it to places where this is less available”, for example in their Creative Entrepreneurial Programme, which aims to “help people make businesses out of their creativity”. In Place of War aims to unite and mobilise artists, UK and International, and will work this year to “bring over international female musicians” to meet female musicians here in an exchange of learning.

The “tentacles of war” reach from places of conflict to cities further away: contemporary conflict is a global issue. The artistic movements of the past have shown that much great art comes out of climates of conflict, trouble, and social unrest. Mobilising art even in some of the world’s most troubled places is becoming increasingly important in a world that is only becoming increasingly violent. By looking at the art of today in some of the world’s most troubled places, we can learn from each other.

In the words of Daniel, “art is powerful” – for social change, for laughter, and for strength.


This was also published on the Manchester Metropolitan University website.

This event was part of Humanities in Public’s WAR strand.

The Lost Boys

‘The Lost Boys’ exhibition will commemorate the young lads who fought for their country 100 years ago.

Just over 100 years ago, war broke out between England and Germany, and consequently the British armies recruited men to fight overseas for what they believed was a righteous cause.

Among these new recruits were boys as young as 12 years old who slipped beneath the radar to fight for their country, regardless of the laws in place that limited the age for armed service overseas to 19 years. By the end of the war, an estimated 250,000 underage soldiers between the ages of 14 and 19 had seen active service. The youngest of these was 12 year old Sidney Lewis who fought at the Battle of Somme, and survived.

The front was no place for a child: along with enemy action, troops had to contend with trench foot, a shortage of food, and rat-infested conditions. The highest influx of underage soldiers took place in 1915, when the number of adult volunteers dropped dramatically. Recruitment officers often turned a blind eye to recruits who were obviously underage: they were paid 6 pounds per recruit. However, 1 in 5 underage soldiers were sent home within a month of their recruitment due to being too small to fight or admitting their real age.

However, it wasn’t just those who fought on the front who were affected by the war. Young people throughout the country were affected by loss of family, loss of education, and loss of adult supervision as adult efforts were required elsewhere. Young people’s experiences at the time have permeated culture even today, as children’s literature is saturated with war themes.

After his success in being awarded an AHRC research grant, Professor Stephen Dixon (MMU) has curated a ceramics exhibition which commemorates the Lost Boys of WWI. Professor Dixon says “we are delighted to receive this award from the AHRC to support this timely and exciting project, and are looking forward to starting to work together on the first phase of the research, to be shown in the Holden Café space at MMU in November”.

Steve’s work has led the way in re-figuring war commemoration in the medium of ceramics, in terms of collective memory and public engagement. The exhibition will focus on individual stories in different ways, from the boy soldiers from the Staffordshire area to the young children left behind or young protesters from the North West. Book free tickets to the opening night reception here:

The Lost Boys exhibition will host a special Remembrance Day event featuring a performance by Honour Choir. Book free tickets here:

To find out more about young people during the war years, join us for an international conference to examine the effects of the First World War on children and young people, and its social and psychological legacies. Book free tickets here:

These events are part of Humanities in Public’s WAR strand. There appears to be no human society untouched by war. We present a whole range of responses to the past, present and future of war, which is as inalienably human as it is dehumanising.

Humanities in Public is a festival of events surrounding the research done within the Humanities, Languages and Social Science faculty at Manchester Metropolitan University. Many events are FREE and all events are open to everyone. Find out more and book your place here:

This was also published on the Manchester Metropolitan University website.