Archive for May, 2024

Interview with Professor Rachel Bowlby

Posted on: May 30th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Rachel Bowlby has written several books about the history and theory of shopping, including Back to the Shops: The High Street in History and the Future. We had the chance to ask her some questions ahead of her appearance at the We Invented the Weekend Festival on Saturday 15 June.


Q: Historically, shopping has often been done in groups, with people participating in the activity with both friends and family. Today, internet shopping is an increasingly individual activity, with people browsing and purchasing alone. In this context, has the decline of the high street and the rise of internet shopping decelerated, or accelerated, consumer culture?

A: There are lots of questions here! To begin with, it could be said group shopping is a modern phenomenon, related to trips into the town centre or, more recently, the weekly shop at the supermarket. The core shopping encounter was one on one, a seller and a buyer across the counter, or at the market, or on the doorstep (the pedlar).

“What’s distinctive about internet shopping is that there’s no salesperson there – it’s not one on one so much as just one. That solitary situation began with self-service: just the shopper and the shelves, you pick out your items yourself.”


Q: Are there any historical parallels to today’s changing retail experiences that might inform the future of high street shopping?

A: One example is home delivery, which we associate with big chains but which was rediscovered during the Covid lockdowns as not necessarily large-scale or distant when local shops, small shops, started to do home deliveries, ordered online.  In other words, the tech and the the small scale aren’t mutually exclusive. And until the 1950s and 1960s – until supermarkets came in – that was standard for food shopping, all over the country. The local butcher or baker or greengrocer delivered to your door.


Q: What innovations in retail do you see as most promising for the future of shopping? How can these innovations address current challenges faced by the high street?

A: The rapid development recently of online platforms for second-hand buying and selling of clothes is a really exciting development.

“It’s a practical challenge to the culture of fast fashion which also transfers the initiative to consumers (who become sellers as well)…it’s a return to a one-on-one type of exchange.”


Q: Is ethical consumption possible? What might ethical consumption look like, and how might current examples serve as models for wider adoption amongst the public?

A: There has been a huge shift in perceptions of shopping over the past ten years or so. It can be seen in the way that every company now presents its environmental credentials, to show how it’s encouraging good consuming (recycling) or good production practice, from farming practices to the sourcing of materials to employee working conditions. That’s a sign of how norms have shifted. The other side of this is that everyone – we are all consumers – is much more aware of these issues.


Q: Many people today derive satisfaction from cultivating relationships with certain brands that ‘define’ their personhood. In this sense, can consumption be empowering to the individual? And, if so, should consumption be empowering?

A: This is another vast topic. Instead of empowering, it can just as much be said that brand loyalty is infantilising, encouraging us to troop along faithfully as the supporters of this brand rather than that one. A slogan like ‘The power to lower prices’ (a current Tesco slogan) is manifestly patronising. It’s obviously not customers who have that power!

The question of consumption being empowering or not has an interesting history in terms of gender.

“Back when ‘the consumer’ was imagined as a woman – a housewife – she was the opposite of empowered. She was passive, manipulated, brainwashed  (those were standard words in arguments against advertising in the middle 20th century).”

Then the image shifted, just when men started to be seen as shoppers too. The new consumer was no longer an idiot but a model of rational behaviour, someone with rights and choices. This was the ‘rational’ consumer, weighing the options and calculating the best option: the reader of Which?  magazine, say, or the user of comparison websites.


Q: How can consumers be encouraged to take more responsibility for their shopping habits in terms of sustainability and supporting local businesses? What educational or incentive programs could be effective?

A: By learning about the history! Which can be done in all sorts of ways. Reading about it.  And also talking to people with different experiences (different generations, especially). Everyone has theories about, and knowledge of, the history of shopping, because we all shop (or avoid shopping): we can’t not have a relationship to it.


Thank you to Rachel for taking the time to answer our questions. Rachel was interviewed by Isabella Parkes on behalf of Manchester Lit & Phil.

Professor Rachel Bowlby will be a guest panellist at the We Think Big talk, ‘We’re Still Shopping?!’, at the We Invented the Weekend festival, on Saturday 15 June 2024. Visit the festival’s website for more information.

Message from our President – June 2024

Posted on: May 30th, 2024 by mlpEditor

June 2024


There’s lots to look forward to this month

As we approach the end of the academic year and enter the last months of this year’s program, we want to end on a high.

We have numerous and varied events on the calendar, with there being something for everyone.

Alongside our programme of talks we are also involved in several new partnership initiatives. These are aimed at increasing awareness of Manchester Lit & Phil’s offer, hopefully encouraging people to join the mailing list and attend future events.

We are hosting a Salon on June 7 as part of the Universally Manchester Festival. Held in a relaxed atmosphere, the salon will offer the chance to explore AI, sugar, and enzyme engineering and to mix with a diverse group.

One of the most exciting partnerships this year is with the University of Salford for the We Invented the Weekend festival. We’re co-hosting a series of We Think Big talks as part of this very popular free festival at Salford Quays. It’s a huge event with a vast array of activities on offer. I am particularly looking forward to Manchester Lit & Phil’s Poetry Boat with Oliver James Lomax.


How you can support us going forward

The Lit & Phil was formed in 1781. We need your help to keep the Society thriving, growing, and evolving. As you know from my previous posts, the trustees are looking at how we need to adapt for the future.

Your support can take many forms – from talking to your social circle, to using social media to promote or review one of our events, to volunteering your time and skills.

We will be asking for more volunteers over the next few months and would welcome interest from both members and non-members. We will also look for specific skills and small groups to take ownership of various areas of the society’s activities by committing a few hours a week.

Two areas of focus now are the Memoirs and recruiting an Honour Secretary.

As our Memoirs Editor has retired, we are faced with the challenge of finding and mobilising a team to review the Memoirs’ content to ensure it evolves, maintains its core essence, and meets privacy laws. Currently, we are unable to make progress.

We also seek an Honorary Secretary, as Cigdem Balin and Charlotte Lanigan have asked to step down from this position.

I want to thank them for helping transition the role back into the membership and for their support over the last twelve months; they will continue to be active and influential in the Lit & Phil.

The position of Honorary Secretary is critical in any organisation; part of its role at Manchester Lit & Phil is to ensure we comply with all the Charity Commission requirements, run the statutory meetings and manage all motions presented to the AGM.

However, as we are looking to refresh the Articles of Association, the incumbent will have to lead a large piece of work and be a member of the Operating Committee, helping to define and implement the strategic priorities.

If you are interested in support the Lit & Phil on either a project or ongoing role please email

In closing, please share our program with your friends and family, bring them as guests, or treat them to an annual membership. It’s the ideal gift for someone who has everything.

I look forward to seeing you at one of the following events. Please stop me and say hello. I’d love to hear about your experiences with Manchester Lit & Phil and your ideas on how we can improve.


Peter Wright 


Interview with Oliver James Lomax

Posted on: May 29th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Q: How were you first introduced to poetry? Did a particular poet inspire you?

A: It must have been 1995, studying Seamus Heaney at Secondary School. I remember my English Teacher Mrs Gaffney asking me to read out loud to the class his poem Mid-Term Break. I mumbled through it, embarrassed, my voice half-breaking at the time, but those ending lines did something to me emotionally that a piece of writing had never done before. The feeling and connection seemed to take over my whole body, that experience has never left me. Both ‘Death of a Naturalist’ and ‘North’ by Heaney remain some of my favourite collections of poetry.

As a teenager I became more than a little obsessed with Bob Dylan. Dylan references Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud in his song ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’. I was so curious when I heard this that I headed out to buy my first ever book of poems, ‘A Season in Hell’ by Rimbaud. It certainly illuminated those early days living on a Bolton Council Estate. It was inspiring and overwhelming to me that he had written those poems when he was maybe only fifteen or sixteen years old.


Q: When you arrive at a new idea, do you ever find that poetry, in its pithy precision, can be a difficult way of communicating your thoughts? Why did you choose the poetic format?

A: Almost never. Poetry has become something of a verdict for me. I believe I lost the power of choice a long time ago. Of course, there are times when writing the work, that it is more difficult to come to terms with the theme and find the resolve. But that is the beauty of the journey, I never really know where the poem is going to take me, and I embrace this. I have tried to paint and sing but both of those moments are best left unsolved.

“I believe the oldest known poetic text dates back almost 3000 years, and for me poetry is more relevant than ever, as the most immediate expression of someone’s truth.”


Q: Much of your work looks to broadening literature’s reach and reappropriating it as a form of expression for the people, by the people. Why do you feel this is important?

A: I’m honoured to be able to connect with so many amazing young people every year when delivering poetry workshops, and I believe through sharing our experiences and writing poems we create a map of empathy.

“I see first-hand how poetry creates a sense of community, improves wellbeing, and offers young people the opportunity to find their own voice in what is a very challenging world.”

I’m proud to deliver sessions in collaboration with The Working Class Movement Library – their rare and beautiful archive inspires unique creativity, and importantly has the power to raise their class consciousness. It’s a privilege to be a part of this poetic journey and see young people become empowered by language.


Q: The Northern landscape, belonging and identity, are themes that run throughout your work. Can you explain why this is a pulse of intrigue for you?

A. I suppose these are just the things and places that happened to me, all I can do is respond poetically. Anything written in the landscape of memory is written here, and I’m not sure if my poems have a destination other than a sense of belonging.

“The ruins of Ladyshore Colliery on the banks of the River Irwell close to my childhood home continue to be a rich mine of spiritual and poetic connection for me. I find a real sense of otherness and elsewhere as I wander the site and it has offered the beginnings to many poems.”

My Nan, Margaret, is a recurring presence in my work. Her love, humour, and sadly her passing through dementia, are themes explored in my latest collection, ‘Burial of The Cameo’. I write about many things, but she is often the anchor. When I open the dialogue with her memory, I feel I can write with such honesty and vulnerability, that the poetic landscape seems to become vast and limitless. As Borges said, “Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time.”


Q: And lastly, as a mentor, if you were to hand down a book of poems to a pupil, which Greater Manchester poet would you chose and why?

There are so many wonderful Greater Manchester poets to choose from, but I would have to say Clare Pollard. Her first collection of poetry the ‘Heavy-Petting Zoo’ was written whilst she was still at school, and her most recent book ‘The Untameables’ is such a beautiful thing. Claire is an astonishing poet and writer, and like myself, a native of Bolton.


Thank you to Oliver for taking the time to answer our questions. Oliver was interviewed by our Trustee, Charlotte Lanigan.

Oliver James Lomax will be performing some of his poems on Manchester Lit & Phil’s Poetry Boat Cruise at the We Invented the Weekend festival, 15-16 June 2024. Visit the festival’s website for more information.


*The Percival Lecture* – South Africa’s Modernism, Modernism’s South Africa

Posted on: May 1st, 2024 by mlpEditor

When and where does modernism begin?

Is it in Paris in Spring 1907, when Pablo Picasso, inspired by the African masks he has seen on display in the Palais du Trocadéro, returns to his studio to paint Les Demoiselles d’Avignon?

Or, is it in the semi-desert region of South Africa in the 1870s, when teenage governess, Olive Schreiner, writes her first novel: The Story of an African Farm?

In the first origin story, Europe is the site of modernist innovation. Here, African art is viewed as little more than a repository of “primitive” imagery, in need of reinvention by the European artist in order to become truly “modern”.

In the second origin story, a South African writer produces a highly experimental, already-modernist novel that establishes forms and ideas that would later appear in, even influence, the development of English modernist literature.

One of these origin stories is more widely known that the other because modernism is primarily associated with early-twentieth century European and American artists and writers. Familiar figures from literature include James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. And writers associated with the Bloomsbury Group, such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster.

Yet Schreiner wasn’t alone amongst her countryfolk in using innovative literary techniques to engage with conditions of modernity. Others came in her wake. These pioneers included Solomon Plaatje, the first black South African to write a novel in English. Others were H.I.E. Dhlomo, a pioneering poet, playwright, essayist and journalist; poet Roy Campbell, who became embroiled in friendships and feuds with members of the Bloomsbury Group; and novelist William Plomer, one of the most prolific writers for the Hogarth Press, run by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

In this recording of Jade Munslow Ong’s talk – the 2024 Percival Lecture – she discusses a range of South African origin stories, taking in both South Africa’s modernism and modernism’s South Africa. She offers an account of the modernist aesthetics and politics established and promoted by South African writers. And she explores the debt owed by English modernists to the South African innovators that preceded, coincided with, collaborated on, and influenced their work.

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