Looking at people’s everyday behaviour, is it a good idea to put a price on nature?

Last year, the School of Global Studies (through the Centre for Global Political Economy), in conjunction with the ESRC STEPS Centre, held a conference on the Financialisation of Nature. The conference produced some exciting and thought-provoking dialogue on this important issue.


written by Lavinia Ioana Udrea

When thinking about an answer to the title question, a good place to start would be to define our common understanding of the word: nature.

nature – [mass noun] The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations. (Oxford English dictionary)

With this definition for nature, you might agree that it is quite hard to quantify the whole ‘physical world’ and objectively evaluate its qualities and characteristics.

However, a good strategy that can allow us to understand these qualities is to divide nature into small parts to make it easier for us (people) to handle it. But then, we will also need to figure out a way to separate ‘plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth’ to help us manage effectively the process of putting a price on nature. Is this practically possible?

Developing Spring- Photo: Alex Melson/ Keele University

Developing Spring (Photo: Alex Melson/ Keele University)

Nature has a price tag

It is like trying to find a balance between good and evil, and hope for the best. People nowadays seem to pay so little attention to the surrounding environment and are not aware anymore of how dependent we are on it.  Some of us isolate themselves in the houses and prefer lookingat the world through the TV screen than going outside and having direct contact with nature. How many people watched documentaries about climate change and still did nothing to change their own unsustainable behaviour?

As you all know, media is one of biggest promoters of people’s unsustainable behaviour (especially in the Western countries), which threatens the natural environment and our future as whole. In consumerist societies, decision makers find it quite easy to advocate for the financialisation of nature and prove to all of us that money can buy anything nowadays.

Therefore, pressure groups aim to convince people to see the natural world as an accumulation of material objects that can be sold, bought and replaced. It seems that there is not a genuine interest to concentrate on the fact that our surrounding environment also includes ‘living things’ which are notowned by default and cannot be considered trivial belongings.

I personally cannot see the benefits of giving nature a monetary value because I believe the physical world has intrinsic value, which people cannot put a price on. And that’s it. Period.

But how can I go about arguing for the intrinsic value of nature in front of people who see the advantages of selling and buying ecosystems to satisfy the needs and interests of stakeholders?


Mainstream ideas that emphasize the value for money over nature

We can argue against the negative effects that the financialisation of nature has on people’s behaviour. Seeing the environment as a natural capital is changing the rapport that exists between humans and the living world.

Four main stream ideas need to be discussed when putting a price on nature, which are promoted by stakeholders and media, but too uncomfortable to be raised by the wide public.


  1. Money can buy nature.

At present, we see stakeholders buying entire ecosystems, but why do we still question this fact? We need to advance the discussion and ask: Who set the price of those ecosystems? And how were they evaluated? On what grounds? Using what kind of price scale?


  1. Money can replace nature.

Can money replace nature? Looking at what it is happening around the globe, the answer is yes. However, ecosystems are not all the same over the world and change as time passes. This means that if we decide to cut down a forest and make a promise to replace it at some particular time in the future, we will not be able to restore the same forest we cut down. Moreover, the significance that a particular forest has for the people who live in it or close to it is difficult to explain to others. Ecosystems have their own life and relationship with the people who come in contact with it. Therefore, how can money replace the emptiness in people hearts and manage to restore everything that has been lost during the deforestation?


  1. Sometimes nature can be useless, and is not even worth the money.

Here I ask: With what evidence can you argue that there are useless ecosystems? I find it so disturbing to think of nature in terms of its monetary value. Why do we think that an empty land will become valuable if people give a sense to it (e.g. building a parking lot there)? The deserts are an empty land but are we right to say that they’re worthless? Why do think that an agglomerated and polluted city is more valuable than a green grass field?


  1. All nature is the same.

If we loose a small part of nature (an ecosystem that is being intentionally destroyed), no one will cry over it because we still have lots of nature available. On the other hand, people living on a ‘useless’ piece of land can be moved to a ‘better’ place, where their community will definitely strive.

These assumptions are not all the time true, as some people have a special interdependent relationship with the particular ecosystem and their life experience on that land is priceless.

Sweet Scent (Photo: Giulia Mininni/ Keele University

Sweet Scent (Photo: Giulia Mininni/ Keele University

Hence, what are the effects of putting a price on nature on the individual?

Well, these ideas are just an artificial mechanism to enforce the common belief that human beings and money have the power over all the other living things and the entire world.

Stakeholders feel more confortable to be able to control the nature by setting prices for everything and anything, buying, selling and replacing pieces of theenvironment without looking back on their significance and others’ heritage.

Is this possible to bring us farer away from the interdependent relationship with the natural world? Yes, and putting a price on nature is an effective strategy to achieve the goal of infinite human greed and ignorance.

Why aren’t we talking too much about it? Because it is an uncomfortable subject that needs lots of time and effort to be addressed, and if in fact, nowadays we do not have too much contact with nature anyway.

Lavinia Ioana Udrea is a Philosophy PhD in the School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy at Keele University and  an Associate Editor for J.A.D.E – The Journal of Academic Development and Education.

Lavinia Ioana Udrea is a Philosophy PhD student in the School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy at Keele University and
an Associate Editor for J.A.D.E – The Journal of Academic Development and Education.

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Time to Throw out the Balance Sheet

This essay was originally published in the Snapshots of Empire project blog. It is reposted here with the permission of the author.

by Alan Lester

A bit of a departure from our standard project blog, this essay responds to the latest rehashing of the British Empire in the media (The Rhodes statue debate and a YouGov poll have both made the British Empire topical again). The Independent has called for the empire to be taught ‘warts and all’ so that the 44% of Britons who are proud of it have a little more to think about.

This is no bad thing, but the problem comes when we identify the ‘warts’. When the public are invited to consider imperial legacies, it is always in the form of pros and cons. The gifts that Britain gave the world versus the violence and destruction that came along with them. It is time to stop thinking about the empire in these terms. And it’s not enough to call for schools to teach about the empire’s bad bits as well as the good that it did, because it leads only to the same balance sheet approach. It’s the entire assumption that a balance sheet is meaningful that we need to throw out once and for all.

Why? Because the approach always makes ‘benefits’ that worked very unevenly seem universal, while it reduces ‘costs’ to specific episodes rather than systematic features of imperial rule. The good was always structural, the bad always specific. Let’s take the ‘costs’ first.

Whenever we speak of the ‘bad’ side of empire, we want a list of atrocities. The events and episodes that were patently evil. The slave trade, the Indian famines, incidents of aggression like the Amritsar Massacre, the Boer War concentration camps and the suppression of Mau Mau. We’re told the British sometimes did some pretty nasty things. But the yardstick that most people use for atrocity is the Holocaust, followed perhaps by more recent genocides. It’s pretty clear that what the British did in their empire pales by comparison. Given that we’re talking about a 400 year period and much of the world, a few episodes of violence are only to be expected.

In any case, the British often put right what they had done wrong, as with slavery, the most systematic ‘wrong’, didn’t they? And sometimes they weren’t really to blame at all. If they made the Indian famines worse, they didn’t actually cause them. The debit side of the balance sheet always appears a little light in comparison with the regimes in world history that we know were evil.

Contrast that with the credit side. Here we are not talking about random acts of violence here and there, but rather systematic, enduring things. Railways, education systems, the rule of law, the English language, free trade and democracy. All forces of modernity, all benefiting the ruled as well as the rulers, all laying the foundations for our current global prosperity. Surely any sensible person would weigh these far more heavily than the odd episode of repression and exploitation? And don’t many Indians say that their country was better off under the Raj because of such things?

Well yes, many people, white and black, in Britain and the colonies, became much better off as a result of these British investments. Let’s look at each in turn. With railways male entrepreneurs from all communities and settlers growing produce on what had been Indigenous peoples’ land were able to access ports to supply consumers in Britain and elsewhere. Colonial governments were able to put down resistance easier. But black people generally weren’t allowed to travel on the railways on the same terms as white people. Gandhi’s political awakening came when he was thrown out of a whites only carriage on a South African railway. Indigenous farmers and Indian peasants were generally denied access altogether and women were often barred from travelling.

Government-run education systems varied hugely in time and place but were generally not extended to ‘natives’. Their education was left to mission societies able to reach only a tiny proportion of them, mostly boys. The Indian Residential Schools of Canada and many of the institutions into which Aboriginal and so-called ‘half caste’ children were forced in Australia were notoriously neglectful and abusive in their attempts to forcibly assimilate Indigenous peoples. One of the first things that some Indigenous elites did with their education was challenge white peoples’ entitlement to rule their countries.

The new ‘rule of law’ generally worked in favour of white settlers, elites and men. Even where explicitly racist legislation was avoided, proxies for race such as English language tests were used. These either imposed different standards on ‘native’ populations or kept Asian people out of settler colonies unless their labour was required. The wider adoption of English certainly facilitated more global conversations and business transactions among male elites. But it only served to heighten the exclusion of most, non-English speaking subjects and women from access to the credit and political capital that flowed through Anglophone global networks.

Much the same could be said of free trade. It benefited companies like Jardine Matheson (now a top 200 trans-national company registered in Bermuda for some reason), its stockholders in Britain and its Indian and Chinese trading partners. But one look at the purposes to which free trade could be put reminds us that the benefits were not universal. When British companies kicked up the biggest fuss about defending the principle of free trade in the nineteenth century, it wasn’t so that the restrictive practices of some oriental despot could be challenged, or so that slavery could be replaced by ‘legitimate commerce’ in Africa.

It was because Jardine Matheson and others wanted to defend the right to sell smuggled opium to Chinese addicts, at a time when the Chinese authorities were trying to ban the trade. An argument in favour of free trade that Columbian and Afghan drug smugglers might struggle to try on today was used by the East India Company and its allies to punish the Qing empire with the loss of Hong Kong and that start of China’s ‘Century of Humiliation’.

Finally, democracy: not actually a concept with which British elites were comfortable, or with which colonised peoples were familiar throughout most of the era of Britain’s imperial rule. Rather, this was something hard won, both by the working classes and women at home and by colonised peoples in the empire, largely once the British had left. Even where there were non-racial franchises, such as in the Cape Colony from the mid-nineteenth century, black participation in the vote was deliberately limited by a property qualification (Rhodes’ own Glen Grey Act was designed so as to limit Africans’ vote). In the largest democracy in the world –India – there was no universal suffrage until 1950, after independence from Britain. Women’s participation in democracy came first in the British colony of New Zealand, but partly so that white female voters could act as a racial counterweight to limited Maori inclusion.

So where does all this leave us with our balance sheets? It doesn’t mean that we simply have to shift the scales so as to weigh the two columns more evenly, or even to tip them decisively in favour of the debit column. Although, it would be a good thing to recognise that ‘structural’ benefits were actually quite specific, and that specific ‘costs’ could actually be quite structural.

What is the global racial humiliation of a colour bar if not structural? It would also be good to recognise that the commonly identified beneficial legacies of empire were often developed by colonised peoples in the wake of empire, rather than being gifted by Britons. What it does mean is that the ‘benefits’ of empire and its ‘costs’ are too both complex and too quotidian to be reduced to such a simplistic gauge. They are geographically and socially uneven, so a calculation that empire was broadly of benefit to many in Britain does not mean that it was broadly of benefit universally. The ‘benefits’ were also uneven within each colony, no matter how nostalgic some Indians are for the Raj.

We never get to hear from most of those who suffered from empire, whereas those who did well tend to be more visible. Reducing empire to a costs/benefits analysis does no one any favours. Let’s tell lots of stories of empire, with different outcomes for different people in different places at different times, instead. In doing so, let’s be aware of the demographics involved – the uneven numbers of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. And let’s appreciate that the way we might experience empire’s legacies in Britain may be very different from the way that other people experience them.





Alan Lester is Director of Interdisciplinary Research, Professor of Historical Geography, and Co-Director of the Colonial and Postcolonial Studies Network

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Insights from Inside the Idomeni Refugee Camp

Zoe Gilchrist is second-year Geography/ International Development student currently on an intermission year from Sussex. She is currently in Idomeni, Greece volunteering with the solidarity action kitchen Aid Delivery Mission. She has written the following account of her experiences there. 

The refugee crisis headlined the news all of last summer.  I read article after article describing the conditions and the difficulties that refugees were facing in their attempt to escape war and/ or search for the opportunity of a better life.  After reading all of this, I decided it was time for me to do something.

In the middle of December I arrived in Idomeni, Greece with very little knowledge of what to expect or what was occurring on the first official border crossing for refugees arriving on the islands of Greece.  This is the beginning of the so called Balkan Route, the point at which refugees begin their journey through the Balkan countries and up to Austria, Germany or other Western European countries.

photo: BBC

Idomeni Camp, Greece (photo: BBC)

Idomeni camp is located right on the Macadonian- Greek border and is the initial checking point for whether refugees are allowed to continue north or not.   Refugees mostly arrive by bus (a small number in taxis) from the Athens port of Piraeus or from the port of Kavala where all boats from the islands arrive. Once in the camp the buses are unloaded and groups are directed through a metal corridor to pick up food, blankets and water, before being allowed into large Rubb hall tents.

After a small rest the group is then directed towards the border, and allowed to continue through a small gate in the 12 foot, 20km long fence ‘protected’ by roles of razor wire.  Those rejected turn around, lost hope deflating their posture, to return by bus to Athens either for deportation or to begin the Greek asylum process.

Well, this is how the camp is supposed to work.  However, in the two months that I have been here continuous complications and changes to the system have meant that it rarely works in this way.

When I arrived in December, one week after Idomeni was violently evicted, the whole camp was still in shut-down, and it stayed that way until mid- January.  Heated tents sat empty, doctors’ offices not accessible and refugees stuck on freezing buses, not allowed to get off until it was their turn in line.  Sometimes buses would be parked just outside the camp for up to 9 hours waiting their turn.

Waiting at the border to cross

Waiting at the border to cross (photo: Aid Delivery Mission)

These long waits were mostly caused by temporary closures on the Macedonian side of the border, often due to factors such as the Gevgelija camp being full, trains not leaving, taxis striking (and therefore parked on the train tracks) or push-backs coming through in the opposite direction.

Once people were finally let off their buses, the Greek police structured them into a line and rushed them down towards the border.  In the 100m walk food, blankets, hats, gloves and jackets were quickly handed over and then they were gone. By this point most people had been travelling nearly non-stop for 5 days since Turkey, no chance to rest or gather their emotions before being hurried along towards the next leg. The camp remained in this state for a number of weeks, with people passing continuously throughout the day and night.

There is however another part to journey that is rarely ever publicized or hidden from the media.

About 20km away from the border lies the infamous EKO gas station.

At the EKO gas station (photo: Aid Delivery Mission)

At the EKO gas station (photo: Aid Delivery Mission)

Here buses would be forced to wait before it was their turn at camp, sometimes buses were kept here for up to 48 hours.  At this point there is no food distribution, no warm clothes available, a mere 4 tents with a capacity of 35 people each, and not enough blankets to go around.

The date that remains in my mind is the 3rd of January 2016.  Temperatures were low, wind was high and the snow was coming in sideways.  Seventy buses (about 4000 people) were haphazardly parked in the gas station parking lot and people swarmed around them confused and unable to remain warm.  Many of the drivers decided it was too cold for themselves to remain on the buses so got out, removed everyone and went to spend the night in a warm hotel, leaving passengers outside and exposed to the elements. At one point I came across a small family, one month old baby and all, looking like a group of grey rocks huddled up in UNHCR blankets.

Sleeping outside at camp (photo: Action Delivery Mission)

Sleeping outside at camp (photo: Action Delivery Mission)

All I had to offer were thin plastic ponchos. The mother turned to me and then pointed at her baby. ‘Doctor’ she said, her face a cry for help.  There was no doctor, no support.

When camp finally reopened people were allowed into the warm tents, and given a chance to rest. However, the situation at the EKO remained and people were still forced to wait for days without proper attention or knowledge of what was occurring. Only 1200 people can be in the camp at once and there are days when up to 4500 people arrive.  A collective kitchen (Aid Delivery Mission) began operating down at the gas station, cooking for up to 5000 people, providing often the only warm nutritious food that people would get each day.  (Recently, escalated efforts have resulted in food provision for 8000).

refugee volunteers

Volunteers discuss a plan of action

Everyone tried their best to support but it was hard to reach everyone and the most vulnerable (pregnant women, the sick, disabled) would often be missed.

Smugglers also started to operate in the gas station, telling people to hand over their papers and pay for transit to the border.  Bus drivers also got in on the game and would demand 30 euros per person for the bus to skip to the front of the queue.  Many buses that refused or couldn’t pay would be stuck at the gas station for longer, their turn skipped.  Luckily most people from here would make it to camp eventually and be able to continue their journey.  There are however the ‘illegal’ refugees or migrants who are forbidden from continuing their journey.

Syrian refugees sneaking through a barbed-wire fence

Syrian refugees sneaking through a barbed-wire fence

If you’re not from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan (SIA) there is no way you can get through the tough border controls.  This has led to people trying to find alternative ways to cross into Europe.  In the forest located 5km away from Idomeni smugglers ask for extortionate prices to get people across the border.  One Iranian man with whom I’d spoken had paid $800 to get across with 200 others, only to be caught by the Macedonian army 3km across the border.  He was lucky though – although he was sent back, no beating had occurred at the hands of the army or police.

Non-SIA asylum seekers denied entry Macedonia

Non-SIA asylum seekers denied entry Macedonia

Many of the non-SIA people who try to cross illegally are not so lucky; they are subject to excessive amounts of violence.  Over the last couple months I have seen multiple broken legs, dislocated shoulders, purple eyes and bloody ears or noses, all of which I have been told come from the Macedonian army or police (for more information see this report by Human Rights Watch).

We work to support those living in the forest attempting or preparing for their journey to Macedonia. We provide food, clothes, sleeping bags, information and solidarity from the Greek side.  Many people have no idea of the difficult journey they are about to embark on, which is over 200 km and either very mountainous or overly exposed.  Most individuals are very ill-equipped to make such a journey.   Some wear broken shoes or flip-flops, and most have no sleeping bags, carrying only a small backpack with some tinned food and bottled water. We give them what we can, but it’s never enough.

Asylum-seekers walking to the Greek-Macedonian border

Asylum-seekers walking to the Greek-Macedonian border

There is a small amount of support on the other side of the border and along the way. Every 30km, there is a small plastic box that volunteers in Macedonia fill up daily with food, medical supplies, socks and information but not everyone can be provided for and not everyone takes the route laid out by the boxes.  Furthermore it is illegal to support illegalized people in Macedonia and locals can be subject to anywhere from 6 months to 2 years in prison for giving food.

To make matters worse, the police and army locate themselves along the major routes and at bridge crossings, catching, returning and often beating those making the journey.  But people don’t stop trying.  This is, in their eyes, their ‘only chance’ to find a better life.

Soldiers monitor refugees

Soldiers monitor refugees

There is so much to describe of the situation at Idomeni, that I have only given a small overview. Things are changing all the time.  NATO as of recently has begun stopping boats in the Aegean Sea, as is the Turkish coast guard (with water cannons and circling them with speed boats, a dangerous practice which could easily result in small inflatable boats capsizing).  New ‘relocation camps’ are opening up, as are ‘hot spots’.  NGOs are not allowed to access these areas, and on a trip we recently made armed police prevented us from getting anywhere near the Sindos Relocation centre, blocking off over 1.5km of the road around the army run camp.

Those of us supporting from the border can only do so much, we are at the mercy of bureaucracy and EU decisions.  What do we say to refugees when they ask ‘Okay now?’, ‘Germany, Austria good?’, I don’t know, maybe, maybe you will get all the way through, find asylum and a new life but maybe you will be sent

Syrian refugees sneaking into Hungary

Syrian refugees sneaking into Hungary

all the way back again.  But often you won’t find hospitality. Reports of Denmark taking jewellery, Neo-Nazi Germans stopping buses, months of waiting for registration, accusations of false identity, deportation of minors in the UK and borders becoming even more likely to close don’t make a difficult situation any easier.

Even if you are from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq it’s not guaranteed you will be allowed to stay. One slip up in your papers could result in a return ticket to a place that is now too destroyed to be called a home.

Who knows what will come next, but it doesn’t look so positive at the moment.  Just please don’t forget a refugee is first and foremost a human.


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What does Zika mean for sexual and reproductive health and rights?

by Maya Unnithan, Hayley MacGregor & Jackie Cassell

The lightning emergence of Zika virus as a World Health Organization (WHO) designated global emergency comes just as the Ebola crisis in West Africa appears finally to be under control. There is no doubt that re-emerging infectious diseases are here to stay on the global health priority list.

The Zika story brings to mind other accounts of changing disease ecologies and shifts in interactions between humans, organisms and vectors such as mosquitoes. At present there is much speculation about factors behind the spread of the Zika virus into new regions.

The rapid response in Latin America has been to intensify eradication measures against a mosquito species already associated in this region with diseases such as dengue. There has also been focus on the development of vaccines, on rapid and reliable testing, and the need for fast tracking of research and trials. However, as highlighted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights we wish to draw attention specifically to issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights raised by this outbreak.

A broader view of disease outbreaks

The Zika outbreak brings to the fore the importance of understanding the social and political environments in which (re)-emerging infections spread and which influence policy and the effectiveness of responses, as emphasised also by research in the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium. Aspects of the political economy that attracted considerable interest in the case of Ebola were the backdrop of post-conflict settings, and fragile health systems.

Zika brings to the surface questions about how to sustain basic public health measures in terms of  control of the mosquito vector and coordinate these across a region – mosquito eradication is not a simple task, for instance, in large, urban informal settlements. Heavy spraying with powerful insecticides potentially carries its own health risks.

The sexual hinterland for Zika problematises control of a mosquito-borne disease and sharply highlights questions of sexual and reproductive health and rights and the ways in which social, cultural and political environments shape epidemics and public health responses to them. How might Zika shift the debate about thorny questions such as the right to abortion in Latin America, and societal controls on sexual behaviour more generally?

Zika virus and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

A seemingly unprecedented number of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil gave us the first clue of Zika, as the symptoms manifested by those infected by the virus tend to be non-specific. The microcephaly link is suspected though not yet proven. It has meant, however, that pregnant women are seen as uniquely vulnerable due to the risk Zika presents to the developing foetus. The majority of countries which have active Zika transmission in Latin America are where abortion is either illegal or illegal with exceptions. The number of unsafe abortions and related maternal morbidity following the microcephaly scare is set to rise according to reproductive health campaigners in the region, prompting urgent calls for reviewing restrictive abortion laws.

Sexual transmission – previously documented for Zika but now also believed to have occurred in Texas – raises new fears and challenges for control.  “Sexually transmitted infections” is a term used where infections can be maintained in populations only through sexual contact. These have a familiarity and characteristic apparatus of control.  However “aberrant” transmission, where infections such as Zika, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, measles and others  are occasionally sexually transmitted, but maintained through other routes, challenges the borders between established control measures.  Sexual transmission of such infections tends only to be noticed in low incidence settings, when it can be distinguished from the predominant route.  So it is unsurprising that sexual transmission is suspected in Texas which is not an epidemic area and where acquisition from mosquitoes is implausible.  Similarly, sexual transmission of Ebola came to light late in the epidemic at the point when other routes could confidently be excluded, creating new forms of stigma for survivors as suspected long term transmitters of the disease.

As in other contexts of previously emerging disease such as HIV, the effects of weak state support make the burden of disease heaviest for the poor and marginalised. Should poor families or single women have to bear the additional economic cost and stigma of bringing up a disabled child? These dimensions of the current situation and the implications for public health messaging should be considered alongside the speculation about the micro-level dynamics and spread of organisms, or the reduction of mosquito populations.

This blog was written by members of the Centre for Cultures of Reproduction, Technologies and Health (CORTH), University of Sussex

Posted in Global Health, Health, Reproduction, Rights

Questioning, and Deepening Our Understanding of, ‘Truth’

The Glass Bead Game connects personal realities to big issues in its quest to question, and to search for a deeper understanding of, the truth. 

Will Hood is the creative mind behind the innovative new audio documentary series, The Glass Bead Game, funded in part by the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex. A Sussex alum and a seasoned documentary film maker, Will gives an overview of the motivations behind, and vision for, this ground-breaking new series:


In all honesty I think I’ve always struggled with telling the truth…

The idea for The Glass Bead Game podcast series came from an amalgamation of my professional life with a decision to undertake an MA in Anthropology at the University of Sussex.  The challenging and revelatory nature of the course led me to think more about the similarities between ethnography and the type of documentaries I had always aspired to make.

Anthropology as a discipline has a tradition of methodology known as ‘participant observation’, the central conceit being that you can learn more about a culture from being inside it and subjectively looking out – than you can from objectively studying it from a distance.

Owing primarily to it’s sometimes embarrassing colonial past, this approach raises all sorts of messy questions about the true motivations behind the labeling of people and behaviours.  Even more so, ethnography can often say more about the values and priorities of the observer than any objective ‘truths’ about those being observed.

Documentaryalthough largely understood to be observational and often presented as impartial, is in reality, highly constructed.  Real life drama, although perhaps genuinely happening to the subject, is often scripted to the degree that the ‘conflict’ is story-boarded and from the hundreds of hours filmed, 58 mins (if it’s a TV hour) is selected against a criteria that directors and producers find most meaningful/insightful about their subjects life.

The Glass Bead Game is interested in the documentary medium and its promise of a ‘true’ story.  I’m intrigued by the messy and ‘difficult to label’ experiences of people as they attempt to make sense of social issues that have produced a great deal of academic research.

An audio-only format allows me to spend time with contributors in a way that facilitates honest dialog about contradictory positions without the pressure for them to perform in front of cameras, lights and large crews of people.

Likewise an interview with an academic can at its best be a glimpse of where that discipline and/or academic has arrived at through their extensive research.  Often disciplines such as IR and economics have very different understandings of the same issue (Climate policy in Episode 2).

The varying expertise in framing the important questions (offered by the International Relations, History, Psychology departments) is essential in understanding the breath of the debate possible (such as  in Secrecy and the States of Surveillance in the upcoming Episode 3).

The podcast series is still finding its feet as a format but I do believe in it’s exciting untapped potential to meaningfully explore academic research through the prism of real people’s lives.

Have I solved the problem of telling a true story? Absolutely not.  I’m editing down 40mins from hours of conversations for each episode.  I’m cutting and pasting orders of conversations and encouraging an emotional response through music and sound design.  I also have my own agenda.  I’m fascinated by certain things, not so much by others.  My relationship with the interviewee will undoubtable be completely different from the one which you may have had.

What’s more, above all, I’m aware that I need to tell a story well and make it entertaining or I can’t hope to attract an audience – in which case I would fail to achieve a communication of any sort.

The truth is that you may wish to experience the podcast as a simple radio documentary and it is my hope that you can.

If however you are interested (as I am) in the complex connections between academic disciplines and the contradictions of people as they grapple with big social issues then the Glass Bead Game website is an online resource where you can explore these interests further.

However, as I struggle, fail and (hopefully) achieve moments of a ‘true’ story through these audio vignettes of complex social connections, I hope you will be inspired to think about these subjects in a different way; that you will have made a connection with the academics that have dedicated the hours of their life to being expertly informed about these subjects.

I also hope that you get a glimpse of a real human condition in the context of big subjects like climate change, economic crisis and privacy that are so often over simplified by the press and stereotyped by the interests of corporate media.

Will Hood (2.02.2016)

Episodes 1 ‘Syriza, A Love Story’

Episode 2 part 1 ‘Indigenous Oil’ Feat.  David Attenborough

Episode 2 part 2 ‘Direct Action’ Feat David Attenborough and Naomi Klein

Episode 3 ‘Privacy and States Of Surveillance;’ (coming soon)

can be found at http://www.theglassbeadgame.co.uk/archive/



Will Hood completed his MA in Anthropology at the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex in 2015. He is a producer, film maker and founding member of Animal Monday. Will is the brains behind, creator and voice of The Glass Bead Game.

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We’re Back!

After a months-long hiatus, the Sussex Global blog is back with a bang.

Sussex Global is a space for students, faculty, alumni and staff to make their voices heard. We want to hear your pespectives on what you you have done, are doing or are going to do, your opinions on life at Sussex or on things going on in the world today, ANYTHING that will give us your valued perspective on life within and outside of global studies.

Write us at globalcomms@sussex.ac.uk (or mr396@sussex.ac.uk) to pitch your post, or to chat more generally about posting here. We look forward to hearing form you!

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