The future will only contain what we put into it now

Fredric Jameson described one of the impasses of postmodern culture as the inability ‘to focus our own present, as though we have become incapable of achieving aesthetic representations of our own current experience.’ The past keeps coming back because the present cannot be remembered.

Mark Fisher: Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures

It’s hard to find traction these days. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, they slip out of your grasp or melt away to nothing. So it’s easier to cling to the past. Safer, too. If you want an aesthetic representation of our own current experience, perhaps you can find it in Bake-Off, Brexit or the latest reboot from Hollywood.

The fact that the past keeps coming back seems to be part of the post-modern condition, the sense that the present is somehow broken or inaccessible. As such, it’s inescapably bound up with the logic of advanced capitalism. Neoliberal principles are being relentlessly applied to the field of art and culture, asset-stripping recent history for bite-sized chunks that can be sold back to us. It’s a vicious circle because this then feeds into a cynical (half-assed) subjectivity which is quick to embrace lazy, cut-price nostalgia – like those never-ending “Do you remember Spangles and Spacehoppers?” TV shows. This is culture as comfort-food, an oppressive regurgitation of the same pap masquerading as something different. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that we’re running on the spot, fiddling while Rome burns.

But just as there’s more than one past to excavate, there’s also a different sort of looking back. Sometimes you need to reflect precisely in order to go forward. We’ve been raking over the bones of our own dead – writing about 1980s anarcho-punk for a new collection by Minor Compositions as a way of writing about the political impasse of 2016.

Like punk, anarcho-punk had a conflicted relationship with the past. While it liked to position itself as a rupture, a break with all that had gone before, there was also a clear continuity with many aspects of 1960s counterculture – something which Crass would make explicit later on. In The Kids Was Just Crass we argue that whatever the claims of any pop-cultural revolution, there can be no wiping out of the past, no Year Zero. Instead, “moments of excess open up the future precisely by reconfiguring the past, unclogging history and opening up new lines of continuity”.

Perhaps there are now other lines of continuity to explore. Anarcho-punk emerged some 35 years ago under conditions which seem eerily familiar – a rampant Tory government, a deepening economic depression, a grassroots Labour left under attack from its own party, a groundswell of racism fuelled by fears over immigration, etc – all played out against a backdrop of impending global apocalypse. The word ‘crisis’ loomed large then, just as it does now. Crisis? Yeah, sometimes it feels like we’re always living through a crisis – if not a crisis of the state, then a crisis of the economy, or a crisis of movement. But in the early 1980s it definitely felt like we were living at the fag-end of an era. And in retrospect that’s exactly how it turned out. There’s something similar about 2016, a sense that our world has been interrupted, put on hold.

In the years following the defeat of the Paris Commune, Stephane Mallarmé defined the era as inert time, a period when “a present is lacking.” That also seems fitting today: the present cannot be remembered because it barely exists. It’s hardly surprising that the past keeps coming back to haunt us as we try to work out how to step into the future.

future contain




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Zombie ads

A little while ago, I did some empirical research on outdoor advertising. We travelled round Nottingham photographing every outdoor ad we came across. One thing which we noticed when collecting the data was that many outdoor ads are out of date.

Time and time again we saw adverts for movie’s which opened months before and special offers that had ran out. I’ve been thinking about these and I think the best way to describe them is zombie ads. My guess is that outdoor media owners have some low value inventory where it simply doesn’t make sense to remove ads but people don’t want to use the space that much. So once they’ve put ads up, they get left in place.

This seems like a sneaky way for advertisers to get a lot more exposure for their ads than they pay for.


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The Morning after Brexit


Brendan Lambe. Lecturer in Finance and an Irish European, reflects on the meaning of the referendum.


On the morning of the 24th of June we awoke to a Britain which had changed utterly. A palpable sense of bewilderment remains with us still. In no quarter was the sting of this decision felt more keenly than among the citizens of the other EU states who have made Britain their home. Women and men who now, by virtue of this decision, have become marginalised in a country where they work, invest, spend, teach, build, create and contribute in the myriad of other ways.  I am amongst this number, as are many of my colleagues and students.


We teach, work and learn here at this University. Just like every University in the country, Leicester draws from a pool of individuals from across the globe willing to come here. Alongside what they may learn, many take back with them a sense of what it is like to live in this beautifully liberal and progressive society. For those who are not fortunate enough to come from a place that permits them to live in the way that they desire I think that they go back home with a vision of what could be. And let’s not forget that through this exercise we generate a lot of money that contributes to the prosperity of every person in our land.


But, I have to get used to not referring to any of this as ‘ours’, because it’s not ‘ours’ anymore, is it? The country where I have made my home, spent my energy, applied my skills, built friendships and gave everything I have to appears to no longer welcome me or others without UK passports. ‘Our’ beautiful creation might fade into history, but are we to let it?


At the time of writing over 4.1 million people have signed a petition to hold this referendum again, under terms which would ensure a proper majority of the electorate. The argument for this approach is reasonable and is not without precedent. In 2009 the Irish electorate were asked to vote for a second time on a referendum to accept the Lisbon treaty, they did so after 17 months of deliberation and informed rational debate, and the second response was resoundingly in favour. The reason for the difference between the two sets of results was that the second time the electorate were more informed of the implications of their decision.


Parallels can be drawn between the Irish situation and ‘our’ own. Arguably the performances of this country’s politicians did little to help the electorate arrive at a fully considered decision. I use the term politician loosely because the two leading figures in the leave campaign were unelected to the House of Commons and therefore are unaccountable to the electorate either for the promises made or the validity of the invective used against their opponents.  Already the backtracking has begun with the £350 million has now been exposed for the empty claim that it was. More promises are doubtless to be rescinded as each morning we wake up to a reality more stark and grim that that of the day before.


Enough has been written about the holes in the Leave campaign’s argument. Few of the two million strong group of teachers, nurses, doctors, builders, designers, university professors, factory operatives and businesspeople who work here and who hold EU passports were convinced by them. None of us truly believed that we were surplus to requirement and perhaps more poignantly, we didn’t believe that you did either. Few could imagine that the British people, whom we count amongst the closest of our friends could engage in what amounts to an act of collective xenophobia.


And yes, we have heard that we will get to stay, that all we need to do is to fill out whatever point scoring cards which will help us determine whether we are worthy to work for, not with, you. You forget, we have already given you our skills and experience and this has contributed to the relative prosperity that together we enjoy. Britain never would have reached the economic strength that it has without us or the generations of immigrants who came before us. We have enriched this society and continue to do so, make no mistake about that. Yet, we, like you, want to believe in the society to which we give everything, but how are we do this now?


In Economics, the Latin phrase ‘Ceteris Paribus’ translates roughly as ‘all things remaining equal’. Predictions through economic modelling are often made on the assumption that all other conditions remain as they were.  The predictions for future prosperity put forward as the economic rationale to leave relied heavily upon all things remaining as they were. The promised benefits through Brexiting were to be added to the existing economic strengths enjoyed here.


But, things have not remained as they were. On the morning of the referendum 2 million EU citizens living and working here believed in the collective project of the UK, an endeavour based on strength through togetherness. The very next day that belief had vanished. We may continue to live and work amongst you but how can we be ‘for’ you, how can we be ‘for’ Britain when you have shown that you are not ‘for’ us?


There is some hope, the referendum is advisory not binding.  Everything can go back to how it was, we are ready to believe in you again if you will do the same for us. Add your name to the petition for another referendum, add your voice to those who are calling on parliament to debate the legitimacy of invoking Article 50. Join the protests that are being held across this land that may somehow convince this nations politicians to have the strength to call for a rethink. We have stood alongside you every day as together we have worked to produce a society that we can all be proud of. Now, stand with us.

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Leicester – A Champions League City


Martin Quinn discusses the urban policies and strategies which have made the city of Leicester so successful in recent years.


Leicester has made the headlines in a number of ways of late, home of the champions of English Football as well as highly successful basketball and rugby union teams. Even the cricket team started the 2016 season with a win. Coming shortly after the discovery of Richard III in a City Centre car park its been quite a period in the limelight for a City once described by Terry Wogan as “often mentioned in traffic reports but otherwise unknown to mankind”. However as the ‘Economist’ has recently picked up on there’s a lot more to Leicester than sport and dead kings, as scholars of regional economic development show us.


In many ways a classic example of a small to medium sized second tier city, Leicester has grasped the development opportunities presented to it by a succession of devolution and decentralisation policies put forward by Government since the mid 2000s. In doing so it offers a series of pertinent lessons for economic policy makers. Starting with the sub-national review of economic policy in 2007, Leicestershire put in place one of the first Multi-Area Agreements (M.A.A.) in the Country between the City and County Councils. The other Cities in the East Midlands struggled to put similar agreements in place. Indeed as a whole the East Midlands was not successful in creating networked governance between the public and private sectors.


Three main lessons can be drawn from the experiences of both the East Midlands and Leicestershire. I have discussed these elsewhere (Quinn 2013, Quinn 2015) but, briefly, they are that place has an important impact on policy outcomes, the role of local government is critical and that strong leadership is essential. Without the pull of regional identity or an obvious area of economic functionality to draw together the private sector the East Midlands Development Agency (EMDA) struggled to attract private sector involvement in its governance initiatives, especially outside of its Nottinghamshire base. For Leicestershire however this was not the case. Businesses in the City and County tend to have a clear sense of place and belonging and there are obvious economic advantages to be had from collective efforts to grow the Leicestershire economy.


Leicestershire was also in a position to take advantage of two other inter-related factors that the other cities in the region were not. Firstly, local government can play a crucial role in governance at the sub-national tier. The local authorities in Leicestershire understood the need to work together despite their political differences. The involvement of the Councils in the M.A.A. gave it a sense of legitimacy and power that EMDA’s efforts simply could not achieve. Secondly, and related to this, Leicestershire has benefited from strong political leadership throughout the last decade. Initially through the political leaders of the City and County Council in putting together the M.A.A., and latterly the Elected Mayor of the city. These individuals have driven the economic agenda in the redevelopment of the city and without similar such strong leadership other areas of the country have lagged behind.


A major element of the physical regeneration of the City has come through a focus on the cultural, arts and heritage industries. This was a bold move by the authorities as the City and County had little or no reputation as places with strong arts industries. The City Council and then the Elected Mayor pursued the creation of a new Cultural Quarter which transformed a previously derelict part of the City. This included the building of a multi-million pound theatre (CURVE) and independent cinema and arts centre (Phoenix) at a time when local authorities were under increasing pressure to reduce spending. Alongside this the City also tapped into the discovery of of Richard III by creating the Leicester Heritage Trail emphasising the Cities rich, if largely ignored, history.


As the Economist points out, Leicester was at one stage the second richest City in Europe behind Vienna and has the building stock to reflect this fact. The innovative reuse of old building stock and imaginative reworking of the City’s infrastructure has seen a growth in the number of small entrepreneurial businesses being set up with Leicester now having the fastest business growth rate outside of London according to the economist.


This is discussed in new book chapter written by myself and Dr Richard Courtney of the Enterprise and Public Policy research unit that is due to be published later this month. Much of the focus of research into the use of culture and heritage focuses on Richard Florida’s seminal work on the creative class in large metropolitan areas, which may sometimes seem out of reach to smaller Cities. We argue that Leicester’s use of heritage and culture should be viewed through the lens of the work of Lindeborg on the ‘Cinderella Principal’ in small Danish towns and Cities. Here places with little or no background in arts and culture use it to create an image from scratch which attracts new investment.


The development of the office of the Elected Mayor has also produced some interesting results, especially the extent to which the local population has become engaged in the process. The concept of Elected Mayors is a relatively new one in England with even London only establishing its in 2000. Several Cities in England have rejected the opportunity to establish such a role and where ones have been put in place turn out in elections has been disappointing. In Leicester however the elections to date have seen turnouts of 41% in 2011 and 59% in 2015. The office also attracted one of the local MP’s to relinquish his seat in the House of Commons to stand for election, a reverse of the usual trend which has seen impressive local leaders leave local politics to take a place on the national stage.


The credibility that Sir Peter Soulsby lent to the office of Mayor has allowed him to establish a clear role as the leader of the Cities economy. There are echoes here of the manner in which first Ken Livingstone and then Boris Johnson have established the role of mayor for London as a much more powerful position than the legislation actually intended for. With rumours emerging that Andy Burnham is considering a run for the new position of elected mayor for Greater Manchester England could soon have a series of powerful political figures whose authority derives from their locality rather than Westminster. Leicester, as it does with sport, is at the forefront of these developments, and might be a model for others to follow.

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Cyborg’s shopping list p1

The cyborg’s shopping list.

Marketing is not science. It is not art. It is science fiction.



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Who Cares for Academics?


In this blog, Eda Ulus and Charlotte Smith ask us to think about academics and whether they are allowed to express emotion.


What would you think if I suddenly started crying?


How would you respond?


These are questions that Eda asks students, to introduce a lecture on emotions in working life.  We reflect on the responses as a way of learning about emotion rules – these are the spoken, and unspoken, rules about which emotions are acceptable to show to others, and expectations about how to manage, express, or hide emotions at work.  We discover that we sometimes follow these rules without consciously deciding to do so. We may struggle to locate where these rules come from, and why they are deeply settled as the right way of working.  Of course, we consider the significance of social settings – seeing Eda cry at a sad movie is OK, but how about in the lecture hall? Most of the responses are: Definitely not!  Unprofessional! Inappropriate!  (with some exceptions, like a student who said the first response would be to comfort Eda/the lecturer and ask: What is it all about?….)


We talk about how emotion rules are gendered – when Eda asks students to think of a male academic, suddenly crying, there is often embarrassment among some individuals.  Why? Because of a fiction, masquerading as normative, that men should not cry?  A macho outlook that men can’t possibly be feminine, gentle, or open with emotions of pain?  Are people supposed to have emotions according to their externally assumed biological sex?  We like to discuss these assumptions, and consider how intersections of race, age, social class, and lived experiences influence our interpretation of emotions at work.


And we consider emotion rules of the profession – the academic.  Do academics have feelings?


To understand our response when emotion expectations are violated, psychoanalysis – that is, a study of our unconscious desires and fantasies – provides a striking resource.  As Professor Yiannis Gabriel notes, ‘To see a person of authority (and lecturers in the classroom do have authority in the eyes of the students, no matter what they themselves think) cry, represents a collapse of the fantasy of a leader as being above others, one who is not affected by the same afflictions as ordinary mortals’.


So we reflect on these fantasies, and their potentially dangerous effects – for, are academics allowed to be human? To be vulnerable?


If we allow academics to be human – then what is their purpose?  Is an academic a neutral knowledge-conveyor?  Is an academic’s purpose to satisfy today’s student?  What makes academics happy in higher education today?  Is academic happiness and wellbeing even relevant for discussing with students and other groups in higher education?


Charlie and Eda have been thinking about academic wellbeing. What does academic wellbeing mean in UK Universities? What does it look like? What supports it or undermines it?  Who cares about it?  We are particularly interested in individual wellbeing in connection to social and cultural contexts, such as ideas about student satisfaction, the valorisation of consumer choice, and judgment of performance, with metrics biased against women and ethnic minorities.  We wish to understand the individual struggles and triumphs, the stresses and joys that can affect anyone in academia, while also analysing the entrenched disadvantages that undermine opportunities for wellbeing.


This means considering academic wellbeing through a wide range of possible experiences – from the pain of emotional health struggles, to the joys of making a difference in student learning, feeling inspiration from talks and seminars, and having support from colleagues.


And how about love, and the consequences when love is damaged or cannot be found?  Are today’s University spaces nurturing of love for the job, love for learning?


In these reflections, we are building upon recent research publications about the experiences of academics, as well as sensitive disclosures in the media.  A recent Times Higher Education survey indicates a range of academic responses about today’s higher education experiences – both uplifting and dispiriting. We would like to bring more closely together these findings in the press about the emotions of academia, with academic analyses of work conditions, by learning about the feelings and encounters that give breath to, or damage, individual wellbeing.


We often hear clichés like “You are only as good as your last publication”, but how is this  embodied and carried around? How does it feel to dare to take a break from the inbox, only to return and see that email has gone beyond its normal relentless flow and is now approaching a full on flood? How does the body feel when receiving that “Manuscript decision” letter, that grant notification letter, that conference submission decision letter – the list grows – thanking you for your submission, but unfortunately also notifying you of your rejection, perhaps amplified by biting reviews?


We want to create a research space that shatters the stigma of talking about human emotional struggles as academics, with whatever labels are used or preferred for these difficulties. We would also like to explore more explicitly any links between the increasing frequency of reports about student problems and academic ones, and learn if higher education changes may be shaping both.  The presence of stigma can conceal the fact that the line between dealing with an externalised crisis and falling into a personalised one is precarious. Afraid to show any chinks in their armour (to use masculine imagery), individuals may turn to internalised coping strategies such as the use of recreational illegal and legal drugs. For some individuals this usage moves beyond a recreational activity, shifting to one that is characterised by class A drugs and battles with addiction.


We don’t wish to question the benefits received by individuals from approaches to supporting academic wellbeing, like prescribed medicine or therapy. Rather, what we are questioning is whether there is sufficient attention given to the experience of academic wellbeing in the first instance. We wonder whether there is adequate energy given to exploring the social and political aspects of higher education today that may exacerbate pre-existing struggles or create new ones; and whether there is space to explore the experiences and spaces that enable love of academic work to flourish.


So we would like to generate more discussion in the manner of the students who responded to Eda’s question, by asking openly, with empathy, what do we feel, and who cares?


Alongside hoping to acknowledge a range of academic experiences including joy, we also wish to be sensitive to some difficult and painful topics included here.  Hence, some resources that may be useful to contact are Samaritans or Nightline.



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Brexit: How Does it Look from Gibraltar?


In April 2015, in the run-up to the British general election, I predicted that, counter-intuitively, the best outcome for the UK overseas territory of Gibraltar might well be a Labour or Labour-SNP coalition government.  True enough, the Conservative Party has traditionally been seen as a more resilient defender of Gibraltar’s sovereignty, whilst the Labour Party, drawing upon a history of anti-colonialism, has been more receptive to either an accommodation with Spain or else a repudiation of the British claim.  But for Gibraltar’s economy, my analysis was that the Conservative Party manifesto pledge to hold a referendum over membership of the European Union, Brexit from which would also see Gibraltar leave, could be disastrous.


In the immediate aftermath of the election, with the date for a referendum still undecided, and the sentiments of the British electorate towards the European Union still woolly, some Gibraltarian commentators were happy to pin their flag to the Conservative mast; “It seems to be a non sequitur that Britain can thrive outside of the EU”, “I just don’t see a Brexit coming”.


One year later, panic is clearly setting in.  In the UK, the confidence of the currency markets in sterling has been considerably dented; in the event of a Brexit, banks have threatened to remove parts of their operations to mainland Europe; and the United States of America has cast considerable doubt over whether or not it would negotiate a free trade deal with a Britain that was outside of the European Union.  If Keynes were here to comment, he would probably say that we are facing ‘a financial Dunkirk’.


The UK economy may well be waiting for a moment of  in June, but until then Gibraltar’s economy is facing Armageddon.  There were dramatic scenes as the Chief Minister of Gibraltar offended the pro-Brexit chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar by declaring that true friends of Gibraltar would be campaigning to remain in the EU.  The Gibraltar Stronger in Europe Campaign is backed by all of Gibraltar’s main political parties and economic and political interest groups.


Gibraltar’s economy is predicated around trade within the European Union and dislocation from this would be disastrous.  And just as uncertainty in the UK is having economic consequences, uncertainty over Gibraltar’s future role in the EU is having serious political consequences in regards to the Spanish claim to sovereignty.  In a threat reminiscent of Franco’s closure of the Gibraltar frontier between 1969 and 1985, some Spanish ministers have suggested that if Gibraltar were not in the European Union, Spain would be well within its rights to seal the border, cutting off Gibraltar from vital markets, food supplies, and labour.


All of this stands in sharp contrast to the spirit of recent events held in Gibraltar to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.  During an evening lecture, myself and Gareth Stockey, with whom I co-authored Gibraltar: A Modern History, spoke alongside officers from Gibraltar’s branch of UNITE the Union, Candido Mendez, the retiring Secretary General of the Spanish trade union the UGT, and Ignacio Fernandez Toxo of the Spanish Workers’ Commissions, the CCOO.  Regardless of nationality, all of the speakers at the lecture emphasised that, in June 1936, refuge was given in Gibraltar to Spaniards fleeing persecution from the nationalists. They emphasized the cordial relationship, at a local level, between Gibraltar and its neighbours.


Gibraltarians will be voting in the EU referendum, but it is hard to imagine that many votes for a Brexit will be cast on the Rock.  If the UK does leave the European Union, I cannot help but feel that it will not be Scotland alone, but Gibraltar too, which will look to redefine its constitutional relationship with Westminster.  And if the UK remains, one wonders to what extent, in the process of campaigning, Gibraltar’s relationship with those politicians who are sympathetic to Gibraltar’s interests might be weakened by a strident ‘stronger in Europe’ campaign that alienates members of the UK parliament who are both pro-Gibraltar and pro-Brexit.

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