How has British Imperialism shaped the modern world?

Posted on: June 11th, 2024 by mlpEditor

We’re delighted to welcome back acclaimed author, journalist and broadcaster Sathnam Sanghera for this special in conversation event with eminent historian Professor Alan Lester.

Sathnam’s seminal 2021 bestseller Empireland revealed how Empire continues to shape life in Britain today. Its inspired sequel Empireworld, published in 2024, takes a significant step further in examining the wider global significance of British Imperial power. Sathnam and Alan’s conversation will reflect on just how deeply British Imperialism remains baked into our world today.

Together, they will look at how the effects of Empire continue to be felt globally, shaping cities, cultures, and societies in profound ways. Alan Lester, a Professor of Historical Geography, will share his own and other specialist historians’ profound insights into the intricate relationship between colonial legacies and the contemporary debates surrounding them.

The event will offer a critical look at Empire’s lasting impact, both negative and positive, on the 2.6 billion inhabitants of former British Colonies. From the spread of Christianity by missionaries, to the shaping of international law, to possibly being the single most significant incubator, refiner, and propagator of white supremacy in the history of the planet.

Through their conversation, Sathnam and Alan will explore why a nuanced understanding of colonial history, clearly important for Britain today, has become so politically controversial – engendering backlash from the right and often taking a personal toll on writers and academics entering the debate.

We are at a point of unprecedented social change. Does this moment offer an opportunity to acknowledge and embrace Empire’s contradictions and paradoxes? Can we move beyond sterile monologues and embrace meaningful dialogues about history, identity and global legacies? Can Britain hope to have a productive future in the world without acknowledging what Empire did to the world in the first place?

Sathnam and Alan will discuss all of this and more. Don’t miss this very special event.

Rest as a Radical Act – We Invented the Weekend

Posted on: June 4th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Rest is sometimes seen as a luxury by those who want to ‘get ahead’. We are being asked to do more, to achieve more, to live ‘fuller lives’. But many of us are experiencing burnout. Something needs to change. We need to reframe rest – to see it as an investment in our wellbeing; as an antidote to burnout culture.

If you’re feeling frazzled, this panel discussion promises some incredible insights from people whose stories you really need to hear. What does ‘self-care’ actually mean or look like? What’s the difference between physical rest and creative rest? How can we make space for rest? Inspiring panellists will talk about their personal journeys towards greater wellbeing, and share insights into what they have learned along the way.

Kya Buller is joined by Scottee of Wonkee Yoga, Emma Campbell from the podcast Open, and Business Psychologist Liam Brodigan.

It’s going to be an impactful discussion, so don’t miss out.

Good Enough Life – We Invented the Weekend

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

What did anthropologist Daniel Miller discover about the role community and place plays in making our lives more fulfilling when he spent time living in a small Irish town?

Dr Sheila McCormick interviews Daniel to explore his findings, and encourage us to reflect on the idea of living a ‘good enough’ life. Professor Daniel Miller’s latest book Good Enough Life tackles the age-old question: ‘what is the purpose of life?’.

By turning to the ‘ordinary’ lives of people in a small Irish town, Miller explores the ways the smaller things in life can lead to fulfilment. Professor Daniel Miller, in conversation with Dr Sheila McCormick (University of Salford), discusses the inspiration behind the book and his methods in beginning to measure happiness. Together, McCormick and Miller prompt the audience to reflect on what creates fulfilment in their own lives.

These Boots Are Made For Walking – We Invented the Weekend

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

Walking or hiking are highly popular with many in Greater Manchester. Surrounded by hills in all directions, it’s no wonder.

The hobby has undergone a massive resurgence in recent years with large numbers of us heading to the countryside on weekends to spend time in nature or explore the city on foot. What do we get out of walking?

While walking and access to nature are, in theory, free, are they spaces we all feel able to access?

Has the rise in working from home seen less people engaging in active travel?

Is the rapid increase in younger people hiking driven by the ‘gorp core’ or ‘granola girl’ aesthetic, a product of lockdowns, or something else?

We explore these topics and more with Ebony Hikers, Girls Who Walk Manchester, and GM Moving, hosted by outdoor industry creative Neil Summers.

Thriving Communities – We Invented the Weekend

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

A celebration of the vibrant cultural communities that have been created on our doorstep, to help us lead fuller, richer and more creative lives.

Weekends offer many of us the chance to spend time pursuing interests with others. Being a part of a cultural community enriches our lives and allows us to explore different aspects of our identities outside work. And these shared passions and interests ultimately make us happier and healthier.

This panel discussion will feature some incredible local people who have fostered very special communities right here in Greater Manchester. From cycling, to crafting, to running to chanting. Whatever your passion, coming together, getting out there together, and creating together is one of the best aspects of the weekend. Let’s celebrate that.

Universally Manchester Festival: Lit & Phil Salon

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

We’re hosting an absorbing afternoon as part of the Universally Manchester Festival, with three speakers set to challenge your mind and really get you thinking – about artificial intelligence (AI), enzyme engineering and 3D printing.

Lit & Phil speaker Dr Emily Collins, expert on AI, robotics, psychology, ethics and more will delve into the ethical parameters of AI – the reliability, trustworthiness and transparency of it. She’ll be framing her talk around the social history of The University of Manchester, and how it was founded in part as a response to the Industrial Revolution.

Dr Richard Obexer will speak on the amazing world of enzyme engineering, and its future use. And Brian Derby will provide insights into the wonders of 3D printing.

There’ll be time for questions and discussion will be encouraged – so get involved, learn some unexpected facts and come away with a deeper understanding of these compelling, important subjects.

Visit the Universally Manchester website to book tickets

Interview with Professor Daniel Miller

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

Daniel Miller’s book ‘The Good Enough Life’ is an original exploration of what life could and should be, based on his study of the residents of Skerries. We had the chance to ask him some questions ahead of his appearance at the We Invented the Weekend Festival on Sunday 16 June.

 

Q: Does the ‘good life’ as typified by the residents of Skerries represent a transplantable model or framework that might be applied elsewhere? Or must a truly happy community reach an equivalent equilibrium independent of outside influences?

A: In my book I detail the many factors that have come together to explain why people praise their town as the basis of a good life. For example, it is a town large enough that people feel some autonomy and small enough to expect to greet friends when they go out for a walk. I show why it was important that the community was largely created by migrants (blow-ins) rather than its historical population. I examine their deep commitment to family and the community. There is an egalitarian ethos and for the retirees I worked with, a freedom from obligations that may last now for decades. I assume that other places favoured by their residents share some of these traits and lack others. While entirely other factors may be relevant.

In considering outside factors, for Skerries, as an Irish town, this includes a relatively stable government, and a sense that they have benefited considerably from the EU. I also noted a marked desire to differentiate themselves from what they see as the divisive politics of Northern Ireland, as opposed to their highly consensual local politics. So yes, an equivalent place elsewhere is likely to require its own equilibrium of both inside and outside influences.

 

Q: How should we measure success and happiness in a society that often equates these concepts with wealth and consumption? What alternative metrics could be more meaningful?

A: The key point here is that we should not be imposing our criteria for what makes a good life onto another population. My book is not based on my judgment that this was a happy place. I wrote this book because the people of the town went on and on about how much they loved living there and saw it as the source of their happiness. My job was to find out why?

With regard to wealth and consumption, the standard of living in this average Irish town is now slightly higher than the UK and it may be significant that most of the people I worked with were born in poverty and appreciate the benefits of living what they would call a comfortable life. But status in the town today comes almost entirely from public commitments to environmental welfare and sustainability, while conspicuous consumption is scorned.

“For these reasons the key metric is whatever the people themselves use to measure their sense that they are living the good enough life, and then the task is to explain why they favour this measure.”

 

Q: How do different cultures define and pursue a ’good’ life? Are there universal principles, or is it highly context-dependent?

A: I have worked as an anthropologist in places ranging from India and London, to the Caribbean and Ireland. The universal that lies behind my book comes from the observation that many societies have a similar term to our word good. A word that links being a morally upright (good) person to the idea of having an enjoyable (good) time. Linking these two seems to be an ideal, irrespective of whether one does in fact depend on the other.

But both senses of this word, what makes a person moral and what makes life enjoyable, will be highly context dependent. The farmers I lived with in an Indian village would look aghast at the criteria that I found in secular Skerries.

“My discipline of anthropology is committed to reminding people of just how distinct each population remains with regard to such judgments. We need to respect the degree that things we assume are obvious and neutral are actually nothing of the kind.”

 

Q: How does our environment, both natural and built, shape our happiness and quality of life? Are there particular types of environments that are universally beneficial?

A: I have lived in several places where people depended mainly on what they grew as farmers or fished and had very few commodities. Some were mainly content and others mainly miserable. I don’t romanticise the condition of peoples who have limited access to medicine and education, whose economic security depends on the weather and whose lives are generally shorter than ours. In turn I suspect you have been to cities you really would rather not live in and some you find attractive propositions. Clearly living in a city is no guarantee of a good life either.

One thing about the environment is for sure –  if Skerries is a happy place, it’s certainly not because of the weather (!). There are elements of the environment most of us enjoy, such as beautiful landscapes while few find inspiration in an industrial wasteland. But more generally I think it is social and cultural values that have much more influence on happiness and the quality of our lives.

 

Q: How has technology changed the way we form and maintain communities? Can virtual communities offer the same depth of connection as physical ones?

As with many populations, people in Skerries tend to be very negative if you ask them about social media and smartphones in general. But the same people can be quite positive when I discuss particular apps, or how Facebook has become a community platform. Older people suffer greatly from a digital divide if they feel unable to use these technologies but may then enjoy a reconnection with their youth if they do subsequently master them.

What we need right now are not quick judgments suggesting these technologies are good or bad, but long-term scholarly observations of the hundreds of ways these technologies impact our lives.

That’s why I lived in Skerries for 16 months before thinking that I had any understanding of this question.  Dividing the world into the physical and the virtual doesn’t work either. Hardly anyone lives just online or without any online. It a constant blending of the two.

Our team has written thousands of pages based on our observations around the world. You can read about the results of this research through our free books, such as The Global Smartphone, or How The World Changed Social Media. The point is that discussion of this question needs to be evidence led.

 

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

Professor Daniel Miller will be interviewed by Dr Sheila McCormick from the University of Salford as part of the We Think Big talks at the We Invented the Weekend festival, on Sunday 16 June 2024. Visit the festival’s website for more information.

How should we pay for driving?

Posted on: May 20th, 2024 by mlpEditor

This talk explores a fairly simple but hugely contentious question: how should we pay for driving?

As a society we have become accustomed to paying fuel duty and an annual tax on maintaining a vehicle. To varying degrees, we also pay for parking and, in a very small number of places in the world, for driving in the busiest or most congested central areas or on bridges and motorways. The principles behind what we pay, what we pay it for and how it eventually gets used have not been clearly stated or consistently applied.

The economic principles behind the ‘optimal pricing’ of driving have been understood for many decades but remain largely stuck on the bookshelves. Major protests in the UK and, more recently, in France and Germany have shown that rising fuel prices can be a flash point for wider political unrest. Change, at a local scale as shown in London, Nottingham and Stockholm is possible – but by no means inevitable or easy as referenda in places like Manchester and Edinburgh have shown.

Professor Greg Marsden (Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds) will argue that whatever you think of the current arrangements for paying for transport, there is a need for a new way forward because of the change to electric vehicles. The transition – where part of the population is driving electric and part fossil fuel vehicles – will become increasingly unfair.

If we do not take any decisions to change the way we pay for travel, then we can also anticipate greater congestion as electric vehicles are cheaper to run than their fossil fuel counterparts. We will both drift further away from the economic principles of the allocation of scarce resources (road space) and from a major source of tax revenue which, in part, funds the transport investments of the day.

Some of the main questions facing us are: What principles should guide any transition from paying at the pump to paying at the plug? What is the relationship between what we pay for driving and what gets spent on transport? How should this debate be resolved? Who gets a say in this? And what is the role of elected representatives at local levels?

Using examples from around the world, Greg will discuss options and opportunities and advance the debate. Doing nothing is an option…But not a good one.

 

Humanising Trust in the Age of AI

Posted on: April 23rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

To human beings, trust is very personal, often domain specific, and influenced by lived experiences. Traditionally, trust has been focused around human to human relationships based upon a person’s integrity, honesty, dependability and the belief that a person will not cause harm. But what about Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence? How can we assess that? This topic which will be discussed in Dr Emily Collins’ Manchester Lit & Phil talk on 2nd May 2024, framed around trustworthy and responsible robotics.

The development of global ethical Artificial Intelligence (AI) principles and guidelines, followed by the explosion of generative AI in the public domain in 2021, has led to a scramble to legislate AI based around core ethical principles. The EU AI Act – the first comprehensive legalisation based on a risk-based approach – was formally adopted in March 2024.

At the heart of the UK’s pro-regulation approach, five cross-sectoral principles based on Safety, security and robustness; Appropriate transparency and explainability; Fairness; Accountability and governance; and Contestability and redress, were adopted. Currently, these principles are down to individual regulators to interpret – but what will this practically mean for a human within society, the wider public and marginalised communities in terms of their rights?

Human trust is at the heart of responsible and ethical AI in society. In March 2024, The UK Government published its guidance on AI Assurance which emphasises the importance of trust, defining the context of justified trust as “where a person or group trust the use of an AI system based on reliable evidence”. The guidance provides a toolkit for organisations for measuring, evaluating, and communicating AI Assurance supported by some practical guidance. Some progress in this area is certainly being made.

However, to the person on the street who may have little awareness of the use of AI in their everyday lives and how it impacts them, understanding the risks and benefits of AI elements of a particular product or service prior to using it, may be overwhelming, and potentially lead to an increase in the digital divide in society.

So how do we ensure that humans have the confidence and trust in AI and that it is accessible to everyone?

The Peoples Panel in Artificial Intelligence was a project first funded by The Alan Turing Institute in 2022, and has since been adopted by Manchester City Council as part of Doing Digital Together. The original Peoples Panel was first established from community volunteers within Salford and Stockport through a series of community AI roadshows designed to reach and engage with traditionally marginalized communities and develop a common language and understanding around AI.

Community volunteers undertook two days of training, practically exploring ethical AI principles and learning techniques to consequence scanning how AI and data was used. They then scrutinised researchers and business in a series of live panels around new and emerging AI products. Confidence was shown to increase, and volunteers became advocates of debating and discussing AI in their own communities.

A second project, PEAS in PODS, trained up researchers as Public Engagement Ambassadors (PEAs) across three universities on public engagement and co-production. The PEAs are currently emersed in three co-produced AI related projects at Back on Track (Manchester), Inspire (Stockport) and The Tatton (Ordsall) led by the communities themselves. One such project is currently co-developing a Peoples Charter for AI – focused on what assurances people want from those organisations that adopt AI.

There is hope for the future: peoples voices – especially those that are hard to reach – are being heard.

And a bill on the regulation of artificial intelligence is currently making its way through the House of Lords. It is significant as it specifically mentions the role of meaningful public engagement and states “AI and its applications should…… meet the needs of those from lower socio-economic groups, older people and disabled people”.

As humans are unique, how we build trust in AI is also unique. But first, we need a mutual language of understanding about AI for everyone.

How can we best help those in need during and after a Humanitarian Crisis?

Posted on: March 19th, 2024 by mlpEditor

What does it take to save lives in war, disaster, and disease?

Tony Redmond has over 30 years’ experience of responding to wars, disease outbreaks, and sudden onset disasters all around the world. In this recording of his highly engaging talk, he details the lessons learned, the improvements that have been made in the international response, and how we can continue to ensure the assistance provided is both effective and focused on those most in need.

He describes the type of medical assistance that is needed across the various types of humanitarian emergencies and how international support can best complement, and not compete with, the work of others and that of the affected country itself.

Delivering medical assistance during humanitarian crises, especially during conflicts, can be incredibly dangerous. Tony outlines how we can attempt to mitigate these risks, though never eliminate them. He describes his personal experiences of practicing medicine under fire.

A particular focus of the presentation is his work in Ukraine and that of his colleagues in UK-Med. He explains how the programs they are running there been shaped by their experience of delivering emergency medical aid to Sarajevo and Kosovo for the duration of the wars in the Balkans.

Helping those in need during a Humanitarian Crisis is not without personal cost. Tony discusses how we can look to reduce this amongst team members. He also gives an insight into the physical and mental challenges he has had to deal with – the legacy of over 30 years of committed work.

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