The Brighton Global Health and Development Community: A Case of Timing

The breadth of Global Health in its most conceptual sense, is a spectrum that encompasses every facet of human existence. Amidst the capricious complexities that come with a twenty-first century globalised world, it is our state of health and wellbeing that provides us with a powerful sense of connection and common humanity. To achieve Global Health’s ever-growing ambitions, no one or group can be excluded, however, as the discipline continues to evolve, some of its key proponents remain rooted in the conventional praxis of healthcare and development, often to the detriment of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Installed among some of the newest academic health disciplines, its essence promotes a multi-disciplinary approach to research and practice, inclusive of a wide range of stakeholders and participants. In their pursuit of tackling the political, economic, environmental and social determinants of health, Global Health initiatives act as a nexus bringing actors from an array of industries and disciplines together, combining expertise and strengths in the process. Despite some outdated methodology, increasingly Global Health organisations are reaping the benefit of sharing resources to meet health needs and untangling some of the greatest social challenges of our time, benefiting from innovation in strategy crafted by global perspectives with percipience beyond the realm of healthcare’s traditional biomedical narrative.

As collaborations between diverse areas of expertise continue to grow and find success in Global Health and Development goals, such a culture change should be considered in the way in which the next generation of health and development leaders mature, calling into question the current nature of education for the future changemakers. Indeed, the overnight eruption of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Global Health signifies tremendous progress being made, however all too often, their focus can be overly specific and incapable of engaging the mainstream.

In order to fully prepare for multi-disciplinary careers in Global Health and International Development that reflect the changing tides, is there enough broader training and collaboration at the educational level?

Global Health’s presence in higher education is still in its relative infancy, having only outstripped International Health references in the academic literature as recently as 2004. Despite this, enormous strides have been made in expanding the profile of the discipline and its integration within broader social science academic circles with increasing numbers of modules and courses available for social science and non-medical students. Within medical education in the UK, the inclusion of Global Health student selected components (SSCs) have enabled the key themes and concepts to become more accessible to student doctors with a keen interest. Whilst largely absent from mainstream compulsory curricula, this contrasts sharply with Global Health and Development activity among many higher education echelons in North America, which quintessentially comprise a more comprehensive and cross-disciplinary topography.

A critical mass of enthusiasm and demand is palpable in the UK, owed to successive generations of students who are increasingly interested in the detail of a healthy human race and of the relationship between globalisation and the broader determinants of health and wellbeing. Fostering a vibrant Global Health community at an educational level has the potential to further increase the profile of Global Health and its promotion in the wider health and development agenda. Indeed, we are at a turning point in higher education and in particular in the training of tomorrow’s doctors.

This increased interest in engaging with Global Health and International Development issues, coupled with the growing collaborative zeitgeist has inspired a nascent local Global Health and Development community at the Universities of Sussex, Brighton and Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

Recent years have been exceptionally successful for the staff and students of these institutions, and there is evidence to show that such a realisation of cross-discipline approaches are emerging. The Refugee Crisis conference which took place in Spring 2017, hosted by Friends of MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières), Students for Global Health (previously ‘Medsin’) and Sussex Lawyers without Borders – Student Division, broadened horizons and helped cross-pollinate perspectives. There has also been increasing recognition of the world-class in-house Global Health and International Development institutions, who were able to support the delivery of the 2nd Annual Sussex Global Health and Development Conference in March 2017, the largest of its kind in the UK.

Beyond events however, there is an unmet need to construct the architecture to enable a cross-disciplinary Global Health and Development community to flourish, and to provide the space for the next generation of academics, policy makers and practitioners to better understand the unique perspectives involved in tackling health inequality around the globe. The possibility of research initiatives, curriculum enhancement, student teaching opportunities, career mentorship and multi-year projects become appreciably more attainable, transforming the capabilities of what Global Health societies are able to achieve.

Installing and supporting a formal Global Health and Development community in Brighton, encompassing the diversity of student groups, reinforced by the support of leading local figures, is therefore critical to the future success of Global Health and has the potential to open up opportunities and horizons that would previously be considered unfathomable. A future that reaps the benefit of such a culture-shift hinges on our collective ability to appreciate our mutual agendas and advocate more effectively for the world’s marginalised, as a unified community.

Such a community starts here.

This post is by Amaran Cumarasamy, Co-founder of CORBIS Global Health– a multi-disciplinary consortium of global health academics, practitioners and students based at the University of Sussex.
The original post can be found on the CORBIS blog here


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Posted in Global Health, Health

Brexit, Trump and the Implications for Development- A Review

by Laura Bennett

Given the events that continue to dominate world politics, I was only too eager to attend the talk entitled ‘Brexit, Trump and the Implications for Development’, featuring a very diverse range of speakers. The discussion was chaired by Simon Maxwell, an emeritus fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). The panel itself consisted of: Michael Anderson, Centre for Global Development; Priya Deshingkar, Research Director, Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium, University of Sussex; Peter Kyle MP, Member of Parliament for Hove and Portslade (Labour); Clionadh Raleigh, Professor Of Human Geography, School of Global Studies, University of Sussex.

The discussion began with an opening statement from Director of IDS, Melissa Leach. Melissa noted that the growth of right wing populism we have been seeing is threatening the fundamental values and material dimensions which are essential to development. We therefore need to understand why this populism has grown by understanding the feelings of marginalisation which have led to the protest votes. Simon developed on this, arguing that we need to think about what we have learnt from populism and be analytical about the situation in order to learn from it. This is where the panelists came in.

Michael argued for the successes of globalisation. He noted that the internationalisation of the economy since 1945 has brought about successes such as human rights, movement of knowledge and trade, a facilitation of communication and travel and a reduction of conflict and violence. He noted that it was the economic recession which brought about the current situations and not globalisation. We should acknowledge the issues with globalisation but not condemn it completely.

Priya put forward the argument that the feelings we have been seeing regarding refugees and migrants in the USA and UK are not stand alone. These thoughts and feelings are much the same in the global south. It was noted that migration is viewed as a mainly negative thing as these negative aspects are overemphasised by policy makers and the urban elite. We should therefore be focusing on the reasons why people are moving and attempting to do something about that.

Peter gave an interesting contribution as he was speaking from a local level, which is rarely something which goes hand in hand with the word development. It was argued that people living in small communities are not interested in what academics and experts have to say. They are not interested in facts or evidence as they are too happy that somebody is now fighting for their team. We should be aiming to understand the small towns in Dover just as much as we want to understand wider issues.

Clionadh did not feel as strongly about the case for globalisation as Michael did. She noted that conflict and inequality have increased in places gaining from humanitarian aid from the UK and USA. It is because we both securitise underdevelopment and ignore it because of our own domestic issues that this happens. Development will never achieve what it should if we carry on this way, even without instances such as Brexit and Trump.

As you may be able to tell there were a range of differing and competing ideas about the relationship between events in the UK and USA and development. One thing which resonated in everyone’s comments however was the idea of communication. By making academic work more accessible for the masses, there may be more of an actual understanding of the implications of events such as Brexit and Trump. Only through an actual understanding of what is going on can we attempt to change it. Instead of attacking those we do not understand and who do not understand us, we need to try to communicate with one another.

I would therefore like to leave this round up with the same thing that Simon did, a glimmer of positivity. Simon noted that Martin Luther King did not stand up and say ‘I have a nightmare’, and as much as it may feel like one, we probably shouldn’t either.


Laura Bennett is an MA student in Human Rights at Sussex, where she also completed her BA in Anthropology . She has a special interest in minority groups and how their inequality can be analysed from both a societal level and a personal one.

Posted in Uncategorized

Liberia, Ebola and the Pitfalls of State-building

by Priska Dibiasi
The Sussex Africa Centre and the Institute of Development Studies recently invited Dr Robtel Neajai Pailey from the University of Oxford to discuss her latest research at a joint event. She presented her findings at the event entitled “Liberia, Ebola, and the Pitfalls of State-building: Reimagining Public Authority ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside the Post-war State”.
Dr. Pailey argued that public authority goes beyond the domain of a state and suggests that ‘public authority’ also has a horizontal and a spacial dimension. Therefore ‘Inside’ also includes actors such as communities, non-governmental organisations, and civilians, while ‘outside’ includes the diaspora – individuals as well as organisations.

Dr. Pailey giving her talk

She demonstrated her argument by providing a case study of Liberia and the recent Ebola outbreak in 2014. She found that initially traditional actors of public authority were failing in their task to tackle the Ebola crisis and argues that an extended ‘public authority’ filled this vacuum for instance by offering churches, mosques or football fields as service delivery sites, by forming tasks forces, by increasing remittances as the economy was shut down during the height of the crisis.
Finally, she pointed out that the response in Liberia to the Ebola crisis is indicative of nation-building as Liberians had for the first time a ‘common enemy’ in the disease.
I found Neajai Pailey’s argument very interesting and am looking forward to reading a more detailed account of her research once it will be published in the African Affairs journal. I am particularly interested to find out more about her argument regarding the common response as indicator of nation-building and how this might connect to Charles Tilly’s (1985) argument of war-making and state-making and its possible indications for theoretical debates about the expansion of the international security discourse to include for instance threats relating to health or the environment.

Priska Dibiasi is an MA student in International Security at the School of Global Studies. She completed her BA in Political Management at the University of Applied Sciences Bremen, Germany. Previously, she was an intern at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and at the Italian international development charity Help without Frontiers. Her research interests include conflict, mediation and sustainable peace (-building) and more general in the international politics of the sub-Sahara African region, the USA, Europe and Eurasia.

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Posted in Ebola, Global Health, International Relations, Uncategorized

Anthropology between Europe and the Pacific: Values and Prospects for a Relationship Beyond Relativism

by Laura Bennett, MA Human Rights

As part of the School of Global Studies Anthropology seminar series, I recently went along to hear Joel Robbins, a Social Anthropology professor at Cambridge, discuss his research entitled ‘Anthropology between Europe and the Pacific: Values and Prospects for a Relationship Beyond Relativism’. The general focus of the seminar was values, how they are used and what meaning they have to different people from different places. This discussion was encapsulated in the larger idea of the role of anthropology in communications and understandings of sameness and differences between places.

Joel explained these ideas with an ethnographic example of the Urapmin, a remote group in Papua New Guinea. The Urapmin were living on land which had the potential to become a mine due to the amount of copper and gold underneath it. In order to renew the license to keep looking for this copper and gold there was to be a meeting. In preparation for the meeting, the group prepared a performance with the central message of it being that they were simple bush people who needed developing.

Although the group could have been seen to be portraying themselves as backward and in need of help, what they were actually doing was attempting to form a relationship with the town and government. This is because in the Urapmin mind-set building and maintaining relationships is highly important. Their way of asking for something was in this way framed through ‘sorry talk’ and ‘hard talk’, both of which emphasised the value of gift giving and reciprocation in these relationships. Although the group did not get to perform they had built relationships and continued their reciprocation with the government.

With this example, Joel was conveying the following things. Perhaps most evident was the Urapmin’s focus on the value of relationships. Through a focus on this value it displays the differences in how business ventures are shaped in Europe and the Pacific and what is viewed as more or less valuable in each culture. The fact that the government and board did not stay to watch the performance displays their lesser attribution of value to the relationship between them and the Urapmin in contrast to their high level of effort. As formerly noted, what Joel was trying to show overall was the emphasis anthropology should be putting on values as a way of understanding difference and sameness between societies.

It was argued that the now somewhat unappealing notion of cultural relativism should be replaced with ‘value pluralism’. This is due to the fact that cultural relativism is something that has been ‘ill-defined’ and thus is something that anthropologists have never been able to make real sense out of. However, as a result of the abandonment of it anthropology has lost its critical lens. With values, it may be easier to understand as there is a mainly consensual idea of what they can mean and what they are. They therefore make societies easier to understand themselves and thus compare and critique to one another.

My own personal opinion of the seminar was that it brought forward many interesting and intriguing ideas. I believe that values do have more of an impact in understanding commonalities and differences among places than they are perhaps given and maybe there should be a shift in the way we think about these things. Some of the questions asked at the end are quite pertinent and are where I will leave this overview. I think that leading on from this discussion we need to ask if anthropology will be able to accommodate such a large shift and how the values of the anthropologist themselves factor in. I would also ask, as a student who has now spent the last four years of learning with cultural relativism being at the forefront of many of this, whether the ‘sun has (truly) set’ for good on the concept.

Laura Bennett is an MA student in Human Rights at Sussex, where she also completed her BA in Anthropology . She has a special interest in minority groups and how their inequality can be analysed from both a societal level and a personal one.

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Posted in Ethnography, Rights

Proving Torture

Demanding the impossible- Home Office mistreatment of expert medical evidence

by Rosa Jones

Empathy is a complex emotion. It is not always readily elicited when the matter in concern is torture. The subject disturbs our natural sense of justice to the point that most will want to shield themselves from the details. It challenges us emotionally, to look someone in the eye and know that they have experienced the most horrific action that one human can inflict on another, and that this experience now exists in their memory to be relived relentlessly. But it is becoming increasingly apparent in my work with Freedom from Torture, that it is the role of empathy, in conjunction with professionalism and determination, that will make change happen.

Freedom from Torture will launch its ““Proving Torture” campaign in Parliament on the 21st November. This event is centred around research that has investigated 50 cases of gross mistreatment of the medical reports that are required for survivors of torture when they are claiming asylum in the UK. Bad practice that contravenes the Home Office’s own policy means that instead of finding protection in the principles of the British justice system, torture survivors continue to live in constant insecurity. At best the psychological torment of survivors is prolonged and their social integration impeded, at worst, they are at risk of being returned into the hands of their torturers.

Intimate forensic examinations and psychological assessments are carried out by Freedom from Torture’s expert clinicians, who are trained in line with the international standards of the Istanbul Protocol. Yet this research suggests this expertise is being picked apart by Home Office caseworkers who see medical evidence as an obstacle to be “got around”. In 30% of cases they have disputed the expertise of the clinician, and in 74% they have substituted their own opinion for that expertise. The overturn rate of 76% when the appeal has then been taken to a specialist immigration tribunal indicates serious mistakes in the handling of the asylum claims of torture survivors.

Moreover, an unattainable level of certainty in the medical evidence in being demanded, contra to the Home Office’s policy as well as international protocols. Caseworkers have repeatedly rejected medical evidence on the grounds that the expert clinician cannot categorically attribute the claimant’s injuries to torture.  Such definitive conclusions are generally unusual in forensic medicine let alone in regards to injuries sustained from something as clandestine as torture. As the risks of a wrong decision puts refugees in potentially catastrophic danger, it is clear in UK law and policy that only a reasonably low standard of proof needs to apply to asylum claims. However, this policy is not being adhered to by caseworkers despite an excellent training programme that the Home Office has designed but has never even rolled out.

It seems there is little room for empathy in the way the UK has been dealing with survivors of torture. Nevertheless, empathy is politically realised as obligation. It is the obligation of the decision-maker to honour all of the material facts of an asylum claim on the basis of the available evidence, and to establish whether the claim falls within the protection of the Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. But while obligations are reneged by mishandling the survivor’s reports, their welfare and psychological health remains in a jeopardy that should have been ended on the day that they escaped to the UK.

On the 21st of November, we will be in Parliament alongside survivors of torture, MPs, Peers, medical professionals, legal experts, therapists and policy makers, to request urgent action be taken to improve the asylum decision-making process. We will be calling for the existing Home Office policy to be stringently followed and the established case worker training programme to be made wholly compulsory. The “Proving Torture” campaign is an essential statement that whatever the political agenda of the Home Office staff, it cannot be allowed to undermine professional expertise when it is human lives that are hanging in the balance.

Please go online and sign the petition to demand that the Government correct the injustices in the treatment of survivors of torture. Visit the , and follow them on Facebook  and on Twitter  to keep up to date on the progress of the campaign.


Rosa Jones is a part time MA student of Human Rights, having completed an undergrad in Politics at Exeter. Her specific interest is in refugees and migration, and looking at domestic policies that breach international refugee law. She is currently working in the policy and advocacy department of Freedom from Torture, an internationally esteemed organisation that provides survivors of torture with medical treatment, counselling and therapy, as well as medico-legal documentation.

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Posted in Policy, Rights, Torture, Uncategorized

Black holes and revelations

Global Studies alum Pip Roddis, a youth delegate to the UN climate talks in Marrakesh (COP22), reflects on the first week of the negotiations. Despite frustrations about the slow nature of the talks, Pip reminds us that climate action also takes place far beyond the conference halls.

by Pip Roddis

Week 1 of COP22 has come to an end. Listening to music, musing over the experience of being a youth delegate to a UNFCCC conference, familiar lyrics took on a new meaning:

“Our hopes and expectations, black holes and revelations…”

Hopes and expectations

Being the first COP since the Paris Agreement was forged at COP21 (and ratified just the week before COP22 opened), there has been a lot of expectation for this conference to be the ‘COP of Action’ – setting the treaty agreed in Paris into motion. Hopes were high that long-standing divisions between countries (such as those between the US and China), which acted as stumbling blocks for years, would be diminished given the new political paradigm – in which all countries have agreed to take action to reduce their emissions.

Young people in particular expressed high expectations for COP22, building on the momentum created by the Paris Agreement. For example, YOUNGO (the official youth constituency of the UNFCCC) have been calling for enhanced pre-2020 action to close the ‘emissions gap’ left by current INDC pledges, a better policy response to loss and damage to protect the most vulnerable, and improved climate education to build the capacity of young people to respond to the climate crisis. Many people I spoke to seemed to hope that in this new era of climate governance, the negotiations would move more quickly and swifter progress towards solutions could be made.

Black holes

Sitting in some of the COP22 negotiation sessions, ‘action’ was not the word that sprang to mind… By nature, negotiations between 196 countries are slow and tedious and involve governments (Parties) making long-winded interventions referring to articles and paragraphs that you’ve never heard of. Despite reports that the technical negotiations at COP22 are largely going smoothly, the nature of the talks can leave them feeling like a black hole of endless policy discussions that poorly reflect the urgency of limiting temperature rise to 1.5C.

Image resultA black hole – as seen in Interstellar (not a massive London Underground sign in space…)

In some cases, it does indeed seem that Parties have been dragging their feet; for example, in the negotiations on the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), which were reviewing progress on the UNFCCC’s work on loss and damage, a common position was that Parties needed more time as they hadn’t been able to reach agreement within their negotiating blocs.

The protracted nature of the talks left many young people feeling frustrated, and I heard several people commenting that the negotiations felt ‘slow’ or even ‘calm’ compared to what they were expecting. (This may change in the second week of COP with the arrival of Heads of State and Ministers, which always makes the talks more dynamic and political.)

It’s also hard to ignore another black hole that appears to be opening up on the other side of the Atlantic, with the election of Donald Trump and the potential that the United States may withdraw from the Paris Agreement. This is a significant threat to the political order established at COP21, and the trust built up between countries that all Parties will begin to transition towards low carbon economies.  Whilst it’s too early to know the exact implications of Trump’s election for the climate, it’s undeniable that this cast a dark shadow over COP22.


So, the COP negotiations are slow. But does that mean that ‘action’ isn’t happening?

For me, one of the highlights of COP22 was learning about the many projects and initiatives that are being implemented around the world to address climate change. For example, the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative is a fund which aims to install 10GW of new and additional renewable energy on the African continent by 2020, and 300GW by 2030. It also aims to secure universal access to energy across Africa by 2030, and to leapfrog high carbon development strategies.

Other examples of concrete action were showcased in a side event co-organised by UKYCC and Make It Real International – a youth-led organisation which aims to turn young people’s ideas about climate change into reality. Young delegates from China, Kenya, the Seychelles, France and Japan presented what they are doing in their communities to implement the Paris Agreement to an audience of around 150 people (including some UNFCCC negotiators). The aim of the event was to empower other people to take climate action at the local level, and to connect them to other people by creating a space to share their stories and experiences.


COP22 side event co-organised by UKYCC and Make It Real International

Particularly after the frenetic energy of COP21 in Paris, I think it’s only natural to expect that this COP would be full of ‘action’. But I think it’s also important to remember that COPs are not really where the action happens; this takes place in the real world, in another dimension, on the other side of the black hole (stretching the metaphor to its limits… it helps if you’ve seen the film Interstellar…!) The policy agreed at the UNFCCC sends signals to the rest of the world about the collective political and economic direction, and then it’s up to a whole host of actors – governments, businesses and young people included – to act upon implementation.

Civil society, and young people in particular, play a key role in reminding the negotiators of the moral issues at stake and the reality of climate change for people around the world. Many of us pour our heart and soul into these conferences, and it can be devastating when the COP process does not live up to our hopes and expectations. But we must not be disheartened if the UNFCCC does not provide all of the solutions, or to criticise it too much for failing to do so. The power to act on climate change lies within people and communities, as well as within institutions.

The next dimension

The COP is also a valuable space in terms of generating personal revelations, particularly for young people. Attending a conference of this nature is a unique experience, and it helps you to better understand your motivations, your passions, your niche within the climate movement and how you can take action outside of the annual COP meeting. It’s vital that we don’t let what we learn disappear into its own black hole, but pass on our experience in order to transform this privilege into other people’s hopes, expectations and revelations. In my view, this is how we will genuinely achieve climate action.

This post originally appeared in the UK Youth Climate Coalition website.


Pip Roddis is an alum of the MA Environment, Development & Policy program at the School of Global Studies. She is currently a youth delegate to the UN climate talks in Marrakesh (COP22), and is also a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Leeds.

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Posted in Alumni, Climate, Climate Change, Policy

Global Eyecare Workshop Discusses The Future of Eyecare Provision

by Lora Cracknell

According to the World Health Organisation, 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide; 39 million of these are fully blind. This past month, Sussex DevSoc, in collaboration with the School of Global Studies, hosted a vibrant and interactive workshop; Innovation in Global Eyecare.

The workshop gave insights into contemporary issues of health care provision, innovations under development, as well as assistance being delivered globally by NGOs and governments. The main driving force for the gathering was trying to answer the question “what more can be done, and how can we do it?”

Daniel Hajas, a visually-impaired student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Sussex, opened the workshop by introducing us to Grapheel, his initiative to bring easy access to visual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) data to blind and visually impaired students.  With its roots in a research and development project that Daniel undertook for his course, Grapheel’s iOS app, currently under development, will allow users access to a network of volunteers with STEM knowledge, who can quickly identify and describe visual resources for them.

In addition to this, the Grapheel team is working on a device which ‘will act as a kind of interactive braille tablet, allowing blind and visually impaired users to access visual data through touch and sound.’ Daniel and Grapheel’s belief is that everyone should be afforded the same access to such data, regardless of physical barriers.

Also speaking was Tom Rosewal, CEO of Vision for a Nation, a UK-based charity that supports local governments to provide their citizens with affordable eye care. The enigmatic CEO spoke about his time in Rwanda, where Vision for a Nation launched their pilot programme, with great success.

By 2017, Vision for a Nation will have changed the landscape of eye care in Rwanda entirely. Not only will they have screened over 1 million people, provided glasses for 300,000 people and referred 250,000 more serious cases onto hospitals, but will have created a nationwide eye care service that is fully resourced and integrated into the national healthcare system.

The question set by the workshop was, what can we do to turn the tide on the staggering amount of the world’s population being diagnosed as visually impaired or fully blind? Splitting into groups to reflect on the afternoons presentations and to share our own knowledge enabled us to come up with the following:

  • There is a great need to raise more awareness. The discussion groups collectively identified a number of ways this could be achieved; worldwide and national awareness days, education in schools, and increased media attention all pave the way for discussion and innovation.
  • Emphasis must be placed on early-intervention strategies. 80% of all visual impairment can be avoided or cured, but not enough resources are being channelled in the right direction.
  • Finally, programmes like the one piloted by Vision for a Nation will only work if local governments and relevant ministries are fully on board.

Speaking more about this final suggestion, Rosewal highlighted that Rwanda has only enjoyed such success through Vision for a Nation because of good governance, strong and progressive leadership, broad and effective infrastructure, and intolerance of corruption.

He also warned against donor countries becoming too dependent. Vision for a Nation’s attempt to counteract this has been assistance with capacity-building, with the eventual goal of full withdrawal from Rwanda so that government there can work to achieve the same results on their own.

What is left for us to do, then? The workshop was a great example of how, when thoughtful heads come together, results can be achieved. Vision for a Nation and Grapheel both show that through forward thinking and collaboration, vast change can be made where it was not always believed possible. We must learn to think critically to fill in the gaps, to work effectively without creating dependency, and to continue to push eye care to the forefront of the global health arena.


Lora Cracknell is a 2nd year International Development student at the School of Global studies, with a particular interest in global health.

Posted in Global Health, Health

Britain is right to celebrate the abolition of slavery, but must acknowledge excesses of empire

As the UK celebrates its role in the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, it’s important to recognise that Britain’s humanitarianism was ultimately cut from the same cloth as imperial expansion.

by Alan Lester

Britain’s Anti-Slavery Day should remind us that – despite the country’s abolition of the slave trade in 1807 – the global trafficking and enslavement of people is still very much with us. When the country celebrated the bicentenary of its abolition of the slave trade in 2007 the government explicitly linked the celebration with reminders of the continuing problem of slavery and human trafficking.

But for most people in Britain it was seen as an occasion to celebrate the fact that Britain – then the world’s most powerful country – had played the leading part in rendering slavery unacceptable across the world. The dominant narrative was that of a benevolent empire leading the globe in the establishment of humanitarian principles.

And, while aspects of this narrative are true, 19th century British policy also laid the foundations for the more troubling aspects of our modern humanitarian scene – an often patronising endeavour to meddle with the customs and belief of others, to make “them” more like “us”.

When you take a closer look, Britain’s humanitarianism was part of the very fabric of imperial expansion – and reflected all its ambivalence.

Spreading the message

Britain’s anti-slavery campaigns enlisted activists who were encouraged to feel responsible for the plight of enslaved strangers in distant countries. These enslaved people were almost always depicted as helpless, passive and in need of help from more “advanced” Westerners.

Theresa May recently paid tribute to pioneering anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce (Bridgeman Art Gallery)

These developments have been claimed by historians of both humanitarianism and human rights as a foundational moment – and yet this was far from a rights-based project and it was far from globally projected. The word “rights”, as in Tom Paine’s “Rights of Man”, in which individuals are entitled to rebel against governments which do not respect their natural rights, was anathema, both to British imperial officials and to most anti-slavery campaigners throughout this period.

These were rights that had been associated with revolutions in France and America and which Britain’s imperial officials – who were mainly drawn from the military – had directly fought against. More fundamentally the expression of these rights implied a rejection of the crown and the church as the foundations of the state.

When revolutionary sympathisers spoke of the Rights of Man, British officials saw only the threats to individual liberty promised by the rule of the revolutionary mob. Evangelicals saw only a tendency towards atheism. So while it was seen as humanitarian to resist the actual enslavement of people, the idea that those people were entitled to “human rights” which classed them as fully functioning agents of their own destiny with all that this implies had yet to gel.

Emancipation and dispossession

After the abolition of the slave trade, those already enslaved remained in that state until 1833 and were even then subjected to a further four years of “apprenticeship” to their former owners. As apprentices they were subject to new policies of amelioration intended to prepare them for freedom. These policies restricted the hours they could be made to work and the punishments that “masters” could inflict upon them, but still bound them to work for their former “owners”. At the same time, policies of “protection” marked the globalisation of Britain’s humanitarian government, appointing officials whose job was specifically to look after Indigenous peoples in the empire.

This was because the transition from slavery, via apprenticeship, to emancipation in the Caribbean coincided with the mass emigration of British settlers to dispossess the Indigenous peoples in North America, Australasia and southern Africa. The same reformers who had mobilised against slavery now turned their attention to the plight of Indigenous peoples who were being dispossessed in this era of colonisation.

Captain Arthur Phillip claims New South Wales for the British Crown

Protectors of Aborigines (modelled on the protectors of slaves) were sent to Australian colonies and New Zealand and officials elsewhere were instructed to protect the lives and preserve what was left of the landholdings of Indigenous peoples. On these landholdings (reserves, mission stations, protectorate stations) peoples whose lands were being invaded by Britons were allowed to maintain some of their own customs and practises until such time as they were ready – like the apprentices of the Caribbean – to be subjected to the same laws as the settlers around them.

During this moment of protection, the settler colonies of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa became just as important as the Caribbean had been beforehand in establishing the principles underpinning modern humanitarianism. With policies for the protection of individual Indigenous peoples from harm at the hands of settlers – and the assignment of magisterial powers to protectors of Aborigines, so that they could, in theory at least, prosecute murderous settlers – we might even discern the origin of an early “human rights” principle.

But very few settlers were ever convicted by the protectors – and accompanying the protective impulse was a “civilising mission” that would in time lead to invidious policies such as taking Indigenous and so-called “half-caste” children away from their parents and subjecting Indigenous peoples to the neglect and abuse of the residential schooling system in Australia and Canada.

The principle of protection failed to protect indigenous peoples from British invasion, demographic decimation and dispossession – just as freed slaves in the Caribbean found it largely impossible to compete in a free market without land or capital.

Indigenous people at the receiving end of protection nevertheless used this form of humanitarian governance, despite all its limitations and flaws, to retain control of significant sites as reserves, to become farmers competing in settler economies, and to articulate a critique of settler colonialism in each of the settler colonies. Former apprentices and their descendants in the Caribbean similarly used humanitarian language to defend newly articulated rights.

British prime minister, Theresa May, was right to identify Britain’s pioneering role in ending the transatlantic slave trade, when she recently spoke about William Wilberforce in Westminster Abbey. But we should also remember the stories of those who have actually experienced and resisted enslavement – the Indigenous peoples from the outposts of empire, whose worlds were turned upside down and whose ways of life were had to be reconstructed as recipients of British imperial “humanitarianism”.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

Alan Lester is a professor of Historical Geography at the University of Sussex

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Unearthing the senses in our experience of woodlands

by Karis Jade Petty

This blog post originally appeared on the Woodland Trust News and Blog.

Have you ever stood in a woodland and closed your eyes, even for a few moments? Could you hear the rummaging of the squirrel, smell the familiar pungency of the damp musk that follows the rainfall, or feel the movement of the wind as it danced through the trees?

I have often found myself watching the woodlands, those beautiful, radiant colours that turn and change with the moods of the seasons. Tracing the contours of the twisting limbs which rise towards the sky to finally burst with offshoots of green. But there is so much more to the woodlands than what is seen. So often the beauty of the woodland is a scene to behold with the eyes alone.

The presence of trees

My research has explored how woodlands are perceived and experienced by people who have impaired vision. I walked one-to-one as their sighted guide, wandering the woodlands of the South East for over two years. In this time I learned how people perceived and engaged with woodlands through senses other than sight.

Something that really struck me in this research was how so many of my companions described trees to have a “presence”. Approached as giant, “wise” anthropomorphic beings and acknowledged to have lived for as many or more years than you and I put together. As we arched our necks back and extended our arms to explore the textures of the trunk with confident hands, my companions often described how much of the tree was “out of reach”. Many times our height, the full felt presence of the tree was unknown.

Listening to trees with echolocation

As we stood beneath a tree, in the shadows of the canopy, I was often invited by my companion to listen. The breath of the wind that whistled through the tree revealed the contours and textures of the foliage high above us. The brittle rattle of beech in autumn, with leaves refusing to fall; hearing the creaking boughs of the ancient cedar, revealing its height.

But there were ways of listening to the woodland that was a mystery to me. Echolocation is an activity of listening to the way that sound echoes – how sound bounces off surfaces. Listening to this echo, the way that the woodland became more open or enclosed, thinned and thickened, was audible. The sounds of our footsteps upon the beaten path and the resound of our chattering voices bounced off the trees, revealing their presence.

When it rains, the woodland sings. Each leaf sounds a note in this symphony, and the contours of the body of trees reveals itself. Rain gives a voice to everything that it touches. No tree is out of reach with the fall of rain, and the fullness of its breadth is heard. Dripping leaves sound the heights of trees, water runs down the bark bodies to gather in small pools around exposed roots. One can listen to the expanse of the woodland all around, listening to the form of each tree that is revealed in rain.

Explore your own multi-sensory woodland

I share these brief accounts with you as an invitation, or inquisitive reminder, to listen to the woodlands. To place your hands on the body of the oak, as well as cast your eyes about it. I ask, what are the qualities of a tree – or an entire woodland – that are revealed when we attend with our whole bodies? I hope that you will join me in exploring this question in your own experiences with trees and woodlands.

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Risk, Property, and the Politics of 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 Kelly Kay

During March of this year, I was very fortunate to attend ‘Critical Perspectives on the Financialization of Nature—Theory, Politics, Practice’, a two-day workshop which was jointly convened by the Centre for Global Political Economy, the STEPS Centre, and the Doctoral School at the University of Sussex. The workshop brought together researchers and activists from around the world to discuss the pressing issue of the ongoing privatization, commodification, and now, increasingly, financialization of the biophysical environment, ecological processes, and more-than-human natures.

The highlight of the conference for me was a keynote speech by Jutta Kill, an activist who has worked with forest communities around the world in resisting market-based approaches to managing climate change, including voluntary certification schemes, payments for ecosystem service programs, and UN REDD projects. The talk was very inspiring, powerfully asserting that ‘consensus is the death of democracy’ and encouraging all who were present to speak truth to power through their research and practice.

Kill made two points that were, for me, particularly salient. The first flags one of the biggest differences between financialized approaches to environmental management and those which came before: the ascendance of risk. In the not-so-distant past, uncertainty was anathema to markets, which relied on predictable weather patterns, steady flows of natural resources, and regular rates of effective demand. Uncertainty makes populations and natures unruly and ungovernable, presenting obstacles for both state and capital. Michel Foucault’s lectures on biopolitics and James Scott’s work on legibility, as two examples, demonstrate the enduring desire to produce manageable and predictable environments.


But, as Kill notes, through finance, uncertainty is transformed into risk, a metric which is calculable, and in some instances, even desirable. So long as uncertainty can be translated into risk through securitization or insurance, increasing volatility—both economic and climatic—becomes an opportunity for increasing rates of profit in financial markets. This mirrors what geographer Chris Knudson has referred to as ‘risk as resource.’ For Knudson, risk, once something to be avoided, has become a resource to be cultivated, as severe weather, crop loss, and other socio-natural hazards can now be translated into something which is lucrative for global finance; as he puts it: ‘financialized risk management is a kind of alchemy, turning the dangers to many into the profits of a few.’

This shift from uncertainty to risk is novel, and is something which researchers and activists should take seriously as global finance increasingly comes to play a role in global environmental governance and localized environmental risk management efforts.

The second point is about how we, as researchers, activists, and advocates, should be talking about the myriad approaches to market-based governance. Kill insists that the one commonality that these projects have, across locales, and regardless of if they are actually generating profits or not, is that they alter property rights regimes. Rather than arguing about if commodification is happening or not across specific cases, we should recognize that almost without exception, these market-based forms of management and governance alter, as well as create, rights to land and resources in ways have measurable impacts on the lives and livelihoods of peoples around the globe. By utilizing the language of property, we draw attention to the linkages between the creation of new assets, the enclosure of common lands and resources, the alteration of regimes of access and ownership, and the extraction of rents.


Struggles over property relations are as old as time, having endured through colonialism, imperialism, and economic globalization, and offer a familiar and powerful unifying terrain. By trying to see these global projects as part of longstanding land-based struggles around the access to and control of resources, we are able to emphasize continuity, rather than change, and to work with activists and community organizers in terms that are familiar to them: land grabbing, enclosure, and exploitation.

This is not to say that we should ignore heterogeneity and local specificity for the sake of locating a singular homogenizing narrative, or that we shouldn’t practice conceptual precision with the terms that we use and the observations that we make (another major theme of the conference). Kill noted that she has had great successes in her own work with forest communities around the world by forgoing the language of commodification, marketization, financialization, and instead focusing on market-based governance as an affront to property and access rights. I think that it is certainly worth considering the ways that we might reframe our work, build coalitions, and forge resistance by recognizing the centrality of property relations to our research, activism, and policy work.


Kelly Kay joined the Department of Geography at LSE in 2015 as an LSE Fellow in Environment. She completed both her MA and PhD in Geography at Clark University, and holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Lewis and Clark College. Her work is concerned with the political economy of the environment, with a focus on the changing structures of ownership and governance of protected areas, and the changing nature of the North American timber industry.

Kelly Kay joined the Department of Geography at LSE in 2015 as an LSE Fellow in Environment. She completed both her MA and PhD in Geography at Clark University, and holds a BA in Environmental Studies from Lewis and Clark College. Her work is concerned with the political economy of the environment, with a focus on the changing structures of ownership and governance of protected areas, and the changing nature of the North American timber industry.

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