Immigration and The Human Other

Photo credit: UK Home Office on flickr

Photo credit: UK Home Office on flickr

Ahead of her book launch and panel discussion at the Festival on Friday, Lecturer in Culture, Digital Humanities & Creative Industries Btihaj Ajana explains why it’s time we reconsidered our approach to immigration and asylum issues:

Immigration is a hot topic at the moment. Over the last few months, the UK Home Office has been running a series of controversial schemes including the immigration arrest adverts, immigration spot-checks targeting ethnic populations in London, and most recently the ordering of gay and lesbian asylum seekers to ‘prove’ their sexuality. There is nothing new about the fear-mongering attitudes and negative sentiments currently surrounding immigration issues in Britain and elsewhere. Historically, immigration has always been a sensitive topic as it inevitably calls into question issues of identity, difference, belonging, entitlement, race and so on.  These recent schemes, however, are representative of a larger socio-political shift in which a new kind of imaginary is emerging; an imaginary that is shaped by an increasing sense of suspicion towards the ‘other’ and the ‘normalisation’ of various illiberal practices. Fear is becoming a powerful tool of governing and regulating the population. Whether in public discourses, political debates or news media, immigrants and asylum seekers are increasingly being constructed as an existential threat to the well-being and security of the nation. As such, reactions to immigration and asylum issues are currently caught up in a vicious circle whereby governments are responding to public anxieties with more fear-driven measures which, in turn, only ends up fuelling more anxieties and negative attitudes. Fear seems to be, at the moment, a dominant relational affect and a major binding force between citizens and the State.

At one level, the problem is undoubtedly that of (mis-)representation and decontextualisation. Within mainstream political discourses and news reports on issues of immigration and asylum, there is a marked deficit in positive representation and constructive media reporting, coupled with a lack of factual analysis that is capable of addressing this misbalance. Moreover, these debates and reactions often tend to tear issues of immigration and asylum away from their historical and political context. One should not ignore the fact that the enduring legacies of colonialism together with a rising neoliberal globalisation are all some of the undeniable factors that have been deepening the world’s staggering economic inequalities and socio-political problems, and thereby feeding into the wider contextual backdrop of asylum and immigration issues. Staging these issues as if they were stand-alone and decontextualised problems, that only concern ‘others’, is rather irresponsible and misses the bigger picture.

It is about time that so-called citizens begin to question whence their rights and privileges come and to what extent these privileges might be oppressive to others. Parenthetically, this is not about fostering a culture of blame or guilt but a call for a collective and more informed, responsible, accountable and ethical response to issues that do not only touch those who are portrayed as others but the entire fabric of humanity.

More on these issues will be discussed during the event Human Others taking place this Friday (18 October) at 6.30pm in the Safra Lecture Theatre. Book your tickets here

Arts@Work: Converting Degrees into Careers

A challenge that besets many idealistic arts and humanities graduates is how to translate their degrees into real working careers. How does a talent for creative writing blossom into becoming a playwright, or a passion for reading into organising a literary festival? To help address these quandaries, King’s College London’s English Department, the Film Studies Department with the help of the Careers and Employability Service and a special grant from the College Teaching Fund, offered a two day careers workshop entitled Arts@Work, running from 28th-29th June 2012. Its aim was to use interviews, talks and workshops to give students the chance to quiz a range of arts professionals on how to use their degrees in future careers. Continue reading

Olympic Legacies – Cultural Transformations

How can the legacy of the Cultural Olympiad be documented and maintained?

A keyword of the London 2012 Olympics has been ‘legacy’ – that notion of securing a longer-term impact for the Games, which both LOCOG Chair Sebastian Coe and IOC President Jacques Rogge stressed in their speeches during the Opening Ceremony last night. (It is also the concept that has been so brilliantly lampooned by the BBC‘s Olympics mockumentary “Twenty Twelve”, in which the Head of Legacy and Head of Sustainability fight tooth and claw over the vagueness of their remits.)

Legacy is also a central issue for the Cultural Olympiad – both for the programme as a whole, designed as it was to bring culture to the masses, and for the individual artists and organizations involved. It involves both the documentation of the Olympiad itself – a way of preserving its artistic legacy – but also an attempt to continue the public engagement and idea of cultural citizenship promoted by the season of events.

For Shakespeare’s Globe the first step in securing the artistic legacy of the Globe to Globe Festival was to digitally document the season. This involved filming all the productions, which are now available online on thespace (a portal documenting many aspects of the Olympiad, and designed to transform the way people connect with culture), as well as undertaking company interviews for the Globe Archive (also available online) and capturing the festival in photographs.

A further feature of the digital documentation was the Globe to Globe blog – instantaneous responses to the shows written by a group of academics, including staff from King’s. Dr Sonia Massai, from the Department of English and the London Shakespeare Centre, wrote on the Italian production of Julius Caesar, while Professor Ann Thompson, also from English and the Shakespeare Centre, wrote on the Lithuanian version of Hamlet. As a German Studies specialist, I wrote (together with my colleague Jeannie Farr) on the Bremer Shakespeare Company‘s German-language production of Timon of Athens. These blogs in turn mark the first step towards a book project, Shakespeare Beyond English: A Global Experiment, edited by Christie Carson and Susan Bennett. You can read my blog review of Timon of Athens on the Globe’s website here.

Yet legacy means more than just the documentation of the events, and the academic discussion derived from this. The Globe to Globe season relied heavily on volunteers, as did so many elements of the Olympiad, including last night’s Opening Ceremony. ‘Globe Ambassadors’ were sought for each of the 37 languages represented in the festival, and ultimately a group of over 80 Londoners were formed who promoted the season, bringing its message to groups it might not have reached otherwise, and acting both as ambassadors for the theatre, and for their own linguistic communities and the wider London 2012 Festival. City, national and international identities were activated through participation in a cultural event like the Globe to Globe season – and now organizations like the Globe are working out how to capitalize and build on the volunteer networks, and the cultural activation of local and global communities, that have been a product of the Olympiad.

How this process might be managed, and whether the Olympiad can have a legacy beyond the first step of documenting the artistic events involved, are just some of the issues that will be discussed at the German Department’s event in the Arts and Humanities Festival 2012, on ‘Staging German Culture: The Representation of Germany in the Cultural Olympiad’.

Dr Ben Schofield, Department of German

What’s happening at this year’s Festival?

We are delighted to announce some of the exciting events taking place at this year’s festival…

Michael Morpurgo and Maggie Fergusson will discuss ‘The Spoils of War’. Will Self and Patrick Wright will examine contemporary society, and the notion of a shrinking England. Arts group Lone Twin will be ‘mooring’ their extraordinary Boat Project in the Strand Quad for its London premiere, which will include talks by the artists about the stories behind the boat, and a concert.

Simon McBurney of Complicite theatre company and writer Lisa Appignanesi will discuss the Brain and the Mind with experts in neuroscience and philosophy of mind. The Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins will discuss ‘Fakes, Mistakes & Fantasies in Roman Britain’. There will also be a virtual tour of the Strandlines project, featuring its ‘Cabinet of Artists’. Crime writer Jim Kelly will discuss transforming landscapes.

There will be concerts including a performance by The Opera Group, and a world premiere of new work by King’s composer Silvina Milstein, performed by Lontano. One evening will include ‘Theatre by the Hour’ performances.

The Festival also features events on Feminism; Proust’s Magic Lantern; the conversion of the Emperor Constantine; how art and neuroscience represent auditory hallucinations; the transformation of film from celluloid to digital; Religion in American Politics; the controversial Christian Gospel of Marcion; the use of digital technology to reconstruct lost architecture; William Blake’s spiritual city; the graffiti of the Arab Spring; and many more.

The full programme for the festival, which runs from 13th – 27th October, will be available on the website soon – watch this space!

“But Shakespeare is German!”

Where does national identity fit into a ‘World Shakespeare Festival’?

One of the most high profile strands of the Cultural Olympiad has been the World Shakespeare Festival. In planning since 2007, the festival was designed to “celebrate Shakespeare as the world’s playwright”, and has been a central feature of this summer’s London 2012 Festival. A highlight of the programme was the Globe to Globe season at Shakespeare’s Globe: a remarkable attempt to stage thirty-seven of Shakespeare’s plays in thirty-seven different languages over just six weeks. In many respects, the season can be seen as a form of cultural analogue to the sporting Games that will begin in just eight days time – celebrating the ‘Yard Olympians’ (the 117 dedicated audience members who were brave enough to stand for every show) and the ‘Olympic stamina’ of the actors and companies involved.

My interest in the Globe to Globe and World Shakespeare Festival is two-fold. On the one hand, I’m keen to examine the ways in which Shakespeare becomes the focus for cultural transfers and transformations, especially in the framework of the Olympiad, with its double prerogative of celebrating both UK and global culture. What event could better respond to this need, you might think, than a World Shakespeare Festival? On the other hand, I’m also fascinated by the ways in which the rhetoric of a ‘global Shakespeare’ potentially elides or replaces national narratives. Where does nation fit in to our image of a ‘World Shakespeare?’

Working in the German Department at King’s, my particular interest is in the relationship between Shakespeare and Germany, not least since Shakespeare is often called an honorary German (something that regularly comes as a surprise to those used to thinking of him as the ‘British Bard’). In the words of Patrick Spottiswoode, the Director of Globe Education, “there has been a strong love of Shakespeare in Germany amongst actors, scholars and writers since the late 18th century”. Given that Shakespeare arguably belongs as much to a German cultural tradition as an English one, perhaps we should begin to question whether German interpretations of Shakespeare can even be read as ‘appropriations’ of English culture, or whether Shakespeare has truly ‘gone native’ in Germany?

This is just one of the issues I consider in my podcast on the Globe to Globe Festival and the German production of Timon of Athens by the Bremer Shakespeare Company, which you can find below. Click on the player to listen, or visit the podcasts page of the King’s News Centre and iKing’s to discover more lectures and podcasts from King’s College London academics.

Dr Ben Schofield, Department of German

The Arts & Humanities Festival 2012

The Arts & Humanities Festival 2012 will explore the theme of Metamorphoses: Transformations and Conversions in the Arts & Humanities across an immense time-span, from antiquity to the present.

October 2012 marks the 1700th anniversary of a momentous transformation that changed the course of history, when the Roman Emperor Constantine I was said to have converted to Christianity at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.

Besides touching on religious themes of conversion and transfiguration, the 2012 Arts & Humanities Festival will also mark a more tangible conversion: the College’s renovation of the East Wing of Somerset House, including its magnificent new cultural spaces of the Inigo Rooms, where some of the events will take place.

Metamorphoses are the mysterious changes that have inspired awe, wonder, and terror in the arts and sciences: caterpillars transforming into butterflies; Classical gods turning men and women into plants; even the shape-shifting of science fiction aliens.

Metamorphoses have appeared as themes in art and culture, from Ovid to Kafka and beyond. But they are also the processes of change essential to the Arts and Humanities: the energies and evolutions without which stories, paintings, theatre, films, or poems would be impossible.

In a time of massive change in education, we also want to use the theme to explore how the arts and humanities are themselves changing, in response to new technologies, new funding regimes for teaching and research, and new forms of knowledge and knowledge-exchange.

The Arts & Humanities Festival at King’s College London runs for two weeks from 15 to 27 October 2012.