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A Festival of Critical Thought: 29 February – 1 March 2020

Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, in partnership with the London Review of Books, is hosting a weekend of talks and critical thought about the times we are living in.

Over the past few years, events such as Brexit, the Trump presidency, the increasing visibility of gender-based violence, the rise of the far-right and climate change have cast a shadow over the world.

On 29 February – 1 March 2020, Birkbeck’s Clore Management Centre will be opening its doors for ‘Dissent in Dark Times – A Festival of Critical Thought’, offering the public the opportunity to join leading thinkers in their fields for a stimulating two days of talks and conversation about how to think and resist the crisis of the times. Attendees can book to attend. Tickets include lunch and receptions on both days.

Professor Jacqueline Rose, Co-Director and Professor of Humanities at Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, and scheduled speaker for the event, said: “At a time when genuine critical thought across the world finds itself increasingly under siege, our weekend offers the space for analysis, reflection and resistance.”

Saturday speakers and themes:

'Reporting wars, reporting peace' Patrick Cockburn, journalist 

Reporting wars has become much more difficult over the last half century. Access is less and official propaganda more professional, pervasive, and influential. Why has this happened and what can be done about it?  Drawing on his extensive decades of reporting across the globe, Patrick Cockburn asks: How far does reporting armed conflicts simply mirror in an extreme form the mounting problems of journalism in peace time?

'Race, Law and the Air we Breathe' Nadine El-Enany, Senior Lecturer in Law at Birkbeck School of Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Research on Race and Law

Racialised populations are at greater risk of exposure to air pollution, making them disproportionately exposed to health risks and premature death, in part because they are more likely to live in places where emissions are particularly high. The law is quick to find that victims of racial state violence died of natural causes. In a context in which the law cannot account for racial state violence, how can we mobilise against climate change and its racialised effects?

‘Picasso and Kollwitz, Mothers and Death’ Anne Wagner, art historian

War, especially war carried out on ‘modern’ scale and with technology to match, makes women and children particularly vulnerable, not merely to hunger and displacement, but also to instantaneous or lingering death. Anne Wagner will look closely at Picasso’s drawings of women’s wartime suffering in relation to the drawings and prints of Käthe Kollwitz, who addressed the subject of women, maternity and war throughout her career. 

'Work in the Age of the Device' Esther Leslie, Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck and Co-Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

Devices do work for us, but we work for them, and never more so than now, when they and we are never really ‘off’. Esther Leslie will present a genealogy of the device – from its first emergence to its dominance in and of the present, when the device captures our gestures and hears all our words.

Sunday speakers and themes:

‘Political Protest on Campus: South African students take the lead’ Jacqueline Rose, Co-Director and Professor of Humanities at Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

Over the past few years South African university students have erupted in protest against the persisting racial inequalities of the post-apartheid era demanding free education, the removal of all monuments to apartheid, and a decolonization of the university. What light does literature cast on some of the most intractable dilemmas of our time?

‘Exploring the World Picture of the English in the 21st Century’ James Meek, award-winning novelist and journalist and a contributing editor to the London Review of Books

Drawing on a decade of conversations across England for The London Review of Books, Meek asks if the most troublesome rift in modern democracies like Britain’s is not so much between the `elite’ and the ‘less-educated’ as between academic and more personal, immediate, ways of reaching out to different social landscapes and worlds.

No man’s land - No, nor woman’s neither: Is there a refuge in words?' Marina Warner, Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, President of the Royal Society of Literature, a Professorial Research Fellow of SOAS, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy

Marina Warner will explore ideas of place as established by imagination and narrative. She will ask if the rich storytelling traditions of literature can offer ways of confronting and resisting contemporary displacement and stigma.

'Standing with Palestine' Karma Nabulsi, academic, writer, and political organizer

The story of the Palestinian revolution can only be conveyed through the eyes of those who created it - who made their own history. Known as ‘the Nakba Generation’, the injustice of their dispossession forged a remarkable revolutionary response. These young men and women, who went on to create a landmark revolution in the anti-colonial era have much to teach us.

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