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Violence, the state and civil society in Mexico

ucyow3c14 November 2014

pencil-icon Written by Anna Tyor, International Relations MSc

Javier Trevino-Rangel, a professor at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City, went from city to city in Mexico interviewing middle class residents about violence in their communities and heard the same responses over and over again, all over the country: “The media blows things out of proportion”; “We need more reliable information”; and “I just skip this section in the newspaper”.

As we shifted chairs to make room for a growing audience, five distinguished speakers anxiously looked around the room hoping to address these issues by explaining challenging topics in Mexico including drug trade, militarisation of the state, rural violence, social media and human rights.

Following the disappearance of dozens of student teachers in the southern state of Guerrero, Mexico and the world cried out in protest after the discovery of mass shallow graves filled with their singed bodies. This poignant talk convened by the Radical Americas Network at the UCL Institute of the Americas came in light of these recent murders and attempted to shed light on who is to blame for such atrocities.

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Churchill, his physicists and the nuclear bomb

Oli Usher22 October 2014

Churchill wrote extensively in the mainstream press

Churchill wrote extensively in
the mainstream press

Winston Churchill was not the nuclear naif he has sometimes been made out as. Rather, he was a visionary who grasped the impact of nuclear power and nuclear weapons as early as the 1930s and who lost sleep over nuclear proliferation. But his achievements in the field were as a writer in the 1930s and in his largely forgotten second term as PM in the 1950s, not as Britain’s wartime leader.

This is the argument of Graham Farmelo, who spoke on “Churchill, his nuclear physicists and the bomb” in a public lecture at UCL’s Physics department on 8 October. Farmelo, a physicist and popular science writer, is the author of Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Science, War and Politics, published last year.

Churchill’s involvement with nuclear research does not begin in May 1940, when became prime minister. Rather, Farmelo said, we need to look at Churchill in the preceding decade.

By 1930, Churchill’s political career was in the doldrums, he had retreated to the backbenches, and any return to ministerial office seemed unlikely. He occupied himself with what he had always done: writing. Churchill had a lucrative sideline in journalism, including articles in mass-market publications like the News of the World, writing on a broad range of topics, including science.

Even before his political career tanked, Churchill had shown a keen interest in science. Among the books he read while posted to India in the army was Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and a primer on physics. And in 1926, while Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had even taken time out from writing the budget to dictate an essay on particle physics to his secretary.

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Race: confronting myths and deconstructing colonial concepts

ucyow3c16 June 2014

By Foluso Williams

The August 2011 London riots “were not about race: the perpetrators and the victims were white, black and Asian”. It would seem from Mr Cameron’s comment that Britain is made up of three distinct ‘races’: ‘white’, ‘black’ and ‘Asian’.

However, many would argue that two of the ‘races’ that he has identified represent colours and the other denotes the population of a particular continent. Is Mr Cameron right? Surely, he has painted the best picture of 21st century Britain?

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Not according to some academics, who believe that he is just as perplexed with the notion of ‘race’ as the rest of Britain.

This year at UCL, a remarkable array of scholars from various academic disciplines across the globe convened to discuss and challenge many of the misconceptions and complexities associated with the notion of ‘race’.

All speakers, which included staff and students, deconstructed the outdated myths that have lingered throughout different historical contexts and illustrated just how these constructions have become widely accepted in our society.

Two events, the Joint Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies (Figs) Friday Forum on ‘Race’ and Critical Philosophy of Race: Here and Now, revealed through revolutionary research how we can begin to understand and challenge the notion of ‘race’, which is essentially a “colonial construct” that has been imposed on us by misinformed thinkers.

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What corrupts independence and trust?

ucyow3c21 March 2014

pencil-iconWritten by Professor Richard Moorhead (UCL Laws)

Money’s influence on knowledge and politics was at the heart of the Centre for Ethics & Law’s annual lecture, March 14.  “The Place of ‘Institutions’ in the Idea of ‘Corruption’” was given by Laurence (“Larry”) Lessig, Professor of Law and Leadership and Faculty Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University.

US Capitol, an institution that needs public trust

US Capitol, meeting place for the US Congress.

His intellectual aim was to explore notions of corruption broader than the popular conception of backhanders, and to illuminate how institutions are subject to a more subtle but potentially insidious corruption through ‘dependence corruption’: the deviation from the purpose of an institution.

Such corruption can either directly weaken the effectiveness of the institution or it can weaken the public trust in the institution.

‘Independent’ institutions cannot and should not avoid dependence altogether. Indeed, institutions have ‘a proper dependence’ (democracies should depend on the views of the people; courts on the neutral interpretation of the law).

Independence is compromised when that dependence deviates from its proper root.  Just as when a magnet is placed next to the needle of a compass, an institution is corrupted when it is steered away from its intended aim. Professor Lessig’s second point was that trust is a function of independence. (more…)