Not anonymous enough? Research data and issues of anonymity.

by Carol Robinson, doctoral researcher, University of York.

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Recently, I settled down to enjoy an article by one of my favourite academic writers. It was everything I’d hoped it would be: well written, thought provoking and interesting. It took a new approach to its subject and had a campaigning edge that I sympathised with.  And then, towards the end of it, I realised that I knew one of the people who had participated in the study being reported. Not that I knew them in terms of recognising a type, but that I actually knew them. My first response was one of disappointment. I want my academic heroes to be flawless. My next thought was along the lines of ‘will anyone else know them?’ followed quickly by the question ‘does it matter?’

A quick search on-line resulted in a Wikipedia page that confirmed other people would be able to identify the participant if they wished. The academic had not revealed their interviewee’s age or location, but from the context it was clear that they were referring to a member of a small group and once more specific information was given, anyone with a curious mind and an internet connection could produce a name. From my knowledge of the individual, further details in the article then confirmed what I had found.  Anyone else would be able to identify them, even if they lacked my certainty.

So, does it matter? The article probably won’t be widely read, even in academia, and it’s therefore doubtful that anyone else will do the searching to put a name to this participant. It’s possible the participant wouldn’t mind if they were named, although the author gave no indication that they’d consented to this. The encounter that was described didn’t include anything particularly controversial or personally revealing. If they read it, the person might not like some of the ways they were portrayed but there was no obvious information that could be used against them. But shouldn’t the participant have been assured of anonymity regardless?

Anonymity is one of the things I have to think about in my own research, which is around deaths in prison, two subjects with particular sensitivities. It is one of the hallmarks of ethical conduct, together with confidentiality and informed consent, necessary not least because twentieth century history has too many examples of exploitation and damage occurring in the name of ‘research’. Anonymization arguably has a value in its own right.  Attempting anonymization, even if we secretly admit we may fail, is a way of preserving the idea of academic integrity, of seeking to avoid the exploitation of other people’s generosity that would taint our work. It is evidence of academic vigour. This links back to my initial disappointment that an experienced academic had made a mistake. If the anonymization was ineffectual, were there other aspects of this article that were in some way dubious?

Demonstrating that we have followed the conventions of academic research, whether by correctly referencing our sources or by using recognised methodologies, is part of staking our claim to be academics. It shows a respect for the traditions of our particular discipline, and in the case of techniques such as anonymization, establishes our research as ethically valid. And if ethical validity is lost, it is arguable that other forms of credibility are lost too.

Research ethics committees usually insist on anonymity and confidentiality for people participating in any research, especially vulnerable participants, as a way of protecting them. It is assumed that some harm or loss may befall an individual if their identity is known, if the stories and experiences they share and which become the researcher’s data are in some way linked backed to them as a person living in the real world, beyond the study report or academic article. Sometimes, as in my own research, this is associated with taboo subjects or criminal activity, where there may be very real consequences if anonymity is not maintained.

In seeking ethical approval for research involving prisoners, deemed to be vulnerable because of their incarcerated status, I am encouraged to think through how I will record and store my data in a way that protects their identity. The specific threat is rarely stated. Although it may be poor practice, is failing to anonymise a person really putting them at risk of harm? In many cases, there is perhaps no direct link between a possible failure to anonymise effectively and a harmful consequence for the participant; the information revealed has to have the potential to be used in a way that would confer harm. However, there is often a simple presumption that all people participating in research should be protected, which ignores the question of whether harm is likely to follow from identification.

In all aspects of our lives, most of us share personal information continually.  We willingly offer up personal information all the time, giving our names, addresses and even bank account details to near strangers, trusting without evidence that they will be used for the purpose we intend. We share our views in conversations that can be overhead by others and via on-line discussions with unknown interlocutors. We post pictures on social media, link them to others without their consent, and live surrounded by cameras. Why do we persist in thinking we can anonymise research participants?

Researchers may use pseudonyms, but often a participant’s gender, age, nationality, race or class are pertinent to the research and so cannot be hidden. We can limit access to some findings, but that poses its own ethical dilemmas. And when the research needs to focus on participants from a small group, as in the case of the article I was reading, anonymization becomes so much harder to achieve.

I have experienced this in my own research. Last year, I interviewed uniformed prison staff with experience of working with terminally ill prisoners, in a prison where there were few female officers. The interviews gave really useful insights into the work prison officers perform with dying prisoners but I was painfully aware that the female interviewees may be identifiable by other staff in the prison, despite my best efforts at anonymization, simply because they belonged to such a small group. Even with a wider pool of participants, in a tight-knit world such as a prison anonymization is hard to maintain. Surely we should not abandon useful research because it involves a small group or close-knit communities?

Indeed, should we even try to anonymise our research participants? Most of the time I would say yes, but there are times when far from protecting our participants, doing so actually risks inflicting a harm.  As researchers, we promise anonymity to ethics committee on behalf of other people, who may not wish for it. Very often, participants may have offered to help the researcher because they too care about the issue that is driving the research and want to have an impact on the situation. They may want to have their voices heard, and by extension, themselves credited. When we anonymise them, we keep their voices, but hide their faces. For vulnerable participants in particular, this is potentially a misuse of power. It is a way for the researcher to exert their positional power and claim control. Nicely anonymised, our participants may not even be able to spot themselves in our final reports and presentations. They can’t see how they are represented, and so they can’t hold us to account. There are ways round this, involving them in the production of the final report, but in my discipline at least, few researchers seem to opt for these approaches.

Lastly, I found myself thinking ‘what does one do if one spots that an academic has not sufficiently anonymised their data?’. It is not easy to be certain what responsibility we have when we spot something problematic with someone else’s work. In the case of the article I read, the peer reviewers had been content with the text, the editorial board satisfied and the article is now published. The damage, if there were any, is done and in an age of on-line journal access, probably un-doable.

I asked colleagues, and was struck by two responses in particular, widely divergent but both from science faculties. One, coming from a discipline where the professional accountability of practitioners is paramount, felt strongly that I should contact either the author directly to alert them to the problem, or the journal anonymously to suggest they review their procedures. From another department, a colleague suggested I keep quiet, and not draw attention to the problem or myself. For them, raising the matter with the author would only make things worse. Each response of course reflected the culture and values of the particular academic disciple. In some academic disciplines, where the use of human participants is rare, the question of the quality of participant anonymization may rarely come up. But for many disciplines, including my own, where the involvement of human participants is so often essential to a research project, this is an issue that can occur at any time. Do we as academics have a collective responsibility to revisit anonymization?

 

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Emotion Rules in Feminist Book Reviews: An Inroad to Improving Feminist Relationships

By: Lisa Kalayji

WAB 2Swimming through the endless tidal wave of demoralising political think pieces and scholarly jibber-jabber in my mostly academic Twitter feed, I came upon an account called ‘ShitMyReviewersSay’, which features the cruelly scathing comments that anonymous peer reviewers write about the hopefully-to-be-published academic journal articles of their colleagues. The account’s handle? @YourPaperSucks.

Its purpose, other than to give us an opportunity to chuckle at what, under different circumstances, makes us want to either cry or set a university building ablaze, is to highlight the absurd magnitude of the viciousness that peer reviewers will direct at their colleagues when given a chance to do so anonymously.

It’s cathartic to have a laugh at this sort of thing, but when it doesn’t come in the form of a satirical Twitter account, our reaction is a lot different. ‘What the hell?!’ we wonder incredulously. ‘Couldn’t you express your criticism in a less ruthless and petty way? What good does it do you to ruin someone’s day and treat their carefully nurtured brainchild of a paper like garbage?’

ShitMyReviewersSay reminded me of the book reviews in Trouble and Strife, the radical feminist magazine I’m doing my PhD research with.

Trouble and Strife published a fair number of book reviews – feminists write a lot of books! – and over the course of my research I’ve found that there’s a vast deal we can learn about a group of people, be they academics, radical feminists, or any other group, from the way they review each other’s writing.

My research is about emotion culture: the system of rules and social norms that prevail in a society or social group which affect how people feel emotionally and how they express those emotions. Book reviews contain a treasure trove of clues about the emotion culture of the social group that the reviews come from, but in order to see those clues, you need to know some of the things sociologists have learned over the last few decades about how emotions work.

Emotions are relational

As the term ‘relational’ suggests, emotions come up in relationships between people. Because psychology dominates the popular lexicon we use to talk about and make sense of emotions, we tend to think of emotions as states which exist inside of us, are linked to our neurochemistry and our personal histories, and are mostly governed by things like innate human needs for social bonding. All of those things are partially true, but what the sociological study of emotions has revealed is that emotions are actually relational.

Why we feel the way we do in any given situation is constituted by our relationships to the people and things around us and what we understand those things to be and mean.

There isn’t anything in our genetic code that makes us get annoyed when a friend we’re supposed to meet for lunch shows up half an hour late (though our biology is necessary for us to be able to experience feelings), and the feeling of annoyance isn’t something inside of us that emanates outward through the things we say or do (though we do express emotions in that way). We’re annoyed at someone (that’s the relation), and the reason for that annoyance is what we think the lateness signifies. We’re busy people! Don’t they think we have better things to do than sit around waiting? We have to be back at work soon – now we’re going to have to rush through lunch! Our awareness that our friend knows that it’s considered rude to keep someone waiting and that it’s an inconvenience to us is what makes us annoyed – their indifference to our needs and to the agreed conventions of how keeping a lunch date with someone works creates our feeling. Likewise, though, if we found out that they’d been delayed because a stranger attacked them on the street and nearly broke their jaw, our annoyance would quickly give way to concern – what their lateness showed about our relationship to them would have changed, and with it, our feelings about it.

Emotions are subject to rules

Much like there are social rules about how we’re supposed to behave in different sorts of situations, there are also rules about how we’re supposed to feel and how we’re supposed to express feelings. If an adult is audibly crying at, say, a fancy restaurant or a business meeting, that would seem inappropriate, and probably make everyone around them quite uncomfortable. If they were at a funeral, however, that would be considered normal and appropriate, and no one would be bothered.

Even if feelings aren’t expressed, there are rules about how we’re supposed to feel.

If, for example, you’re a bit off your game at work because your sister died last week and you’re in grief, and while not actually admonishing you for it, you get the sense that your boss is annoyed with you for not being your sharpest self right now, you might get upset or angry at them. When someone is in grief, we expect others to respond with compassion, even if that grief peripherally causes some inconvenience to others – it’s a violation of the social norms of compassion and empathy to get annoyed at someone for being grieved, even if the annoyance is mostly hidden and not openly expressed. The rules are also different depending on what the characteristics of the people involved are. If that person crying in the restaurant is an infant, while people might still not be pleased about the noise, it wouldn’t make them feel awkward and uncomfortable, because we consider it normal behaviour for babies to cry regardless of time or place.

These are all some general aspects of how emotions in social life work in ordinary social situations. What my research is about, though, is the specifically political dimension of emotions in social life.

Social norms about emotions are deeply political, even in most seemingly innocuous daily interactions like those I described above. Rules about who is allowed to feel or express what feelings towards whom divides along a lot more political lines than the differences between adults and children. Anger is generally considered more appropriate in men than in women (and in women is more likely to be characterised as histrionics or emotional instability), and vulnerability more appropriate in women than in men (with men’s abilities to be ‘proper’ men called into question if they cry, especially in public). Rules about emotions are also racialised – even very slight expressions of anger from black men are interpreted as very threatening because black men are culturally conceived of as inherently threatening, while much stronger expressions of anger from white men (or women) are regarded as less threatening and are more likely to be considered justified. Our prevailing cultural conceptions about what characteristics different kinds of people innately have give rise to specific, and often strictly socially enforced, rules about who can feel what and how their feelings can be expressed.

Emotions in feminist book reviews

Feminists do a lot of writing, and a lot about how emotions work in feminism can be learned from examining the books, magazines, pamphlets, manifestos, and websites they write. I’m researching radical feminism, a specific type of feminism (there are a lot of them) which emerged during the ‘second wave’ of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s, and continues today. From 1983-2002, a radical feminist collective the UK published a magazine called Trouble and Strife, and a lot of radical feminist political thought from that period can be found there.

WAB 1Because feminist politics is so substantially borne out through reading and writing, one of the central strategies that feminists use to think through politics is by reading and debating one another’s writing. For that reason, unsurprisingly, Trouble and Strife published quite a few book reviews, wherein contributing authors to the magazine reviewed books authored by other feminists. By comparing these reviews, and the responses to them that readers communicated to the magazine through letters to the editors, we can see radical feminist emotional politics in action.

What I’ve found is that the emotion rules in radical feminism are different for relationships between radical feminists than they are when dealing with someone outside that political community. When dealing with fellow radical feminists, they’re more considerate of one another’s feelings, express their criticisms more hesitantly and gently, and are more appreciative of the aspects of the work that they agree with. On the rare occasion that someone breaks this rule and is harshly critical of someone within the radical feminist community, there’s a strong backlash, with others writing letters to the magazine to express strong objections to those criticisms having been published, and some questioning the political identity of the magazine as a whole in light of their decision to publish exacting reviews.

This will ring true for many feminists who currently engage in online activism, who are familiar with the more receptive audiences within their own political communities, and harsher (and sometimes outright vitriolic) criticism from feminists who have a fundamentally different set of political values.

This has profound implications for the future of feminism: if feminists who disagree on crucial political issues are more willing to upset one another, and less desirous of understanding where others are coming from, then we’re likely to see a continuation of the entrenched infighting that has plagued feminism for decades. I’m not suggesting here that we should return to the ‘happy sisterhood’ of yesteryear (which, as many feminists have pointed out, never actually existed). What I do want to highlight, though, is that if we want to understand why conflicts between feminists get so heated and can be so divisive, understanding the emotion rules which give shape to feminists’ relationships with each other is a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Once we become more aware of these rules and how our own feelings are shaped by them, we can act to change them, and while this won’t solve all of feminism’s problems, it can go a long way toward generating more fruitful dialogues between feminists who belong to different political communities.

This strategy can be extended to other social movements as well, and it has rarely been a matter of more urgency than it is right now for social movements to be able to prevent the breakdown of their political projects due to irreconcilable conflicts from within their communities. During the currently ongoing period of rapid and disorientating social and political change, understanding the emotion rules of social movements can help us to ensure that efforts to enact positive social change are successful, and examining the way we speak to, speak of, and write about one another is one tool we can use for making sense of our emotion cultures.

You can find all issues of Trouble and Strife on their website at troubleandstrife.org.

The view from here: fighting disillusionment as an American expatriate

by Cindy Withjack

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You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés. –Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

 

I was wearing an Esmeralda crewneck sweatshirt the first time I heard someone say the President should be ashamed of himself. I was either reading or spinning around in circles, and I liked Esmeralda best because she looked most like me. There were at least three adults, perched like gargoyles on the couch edge and they, along with a sizeable portion of America, were all at once captivated and scandalized; the 42nd President of the United States had brought shame upon all our kettle black homes. I had yet to understand the difference between peaches and impeachment, and in twenty years time I would be an expatriate.

I was an expat before America changed hands, before Bernie Sanders was officially out of the running, before Hillary Clinton was deemed a ‘nasty woman.’ America felt to me considerably far away during my Master’s program in England where I was writing a short story collection and finalizing PhD applications, still trying to decide if it was weird to put milk in my tea. In the postgraduate pub or university café, I was often asked how I was allowing this to happen—‘this’ being the rise of Donald Trump—and I responded, with my significantly less charming accent, that I held much less clout than they assumed. And yet, it was unnerving how guilty I felt, how relieved, to be so far away from America. I busied myself with PhD applications asking that I demonstrate my intentions: my plan to contribute something new and significant to academia and why. This portion of the applications felt timely; in my case wanting to contribute something significant meant being present, from afar, in the matters of America. While the critical and creative aspects of my proposed novel materialized, I returned again and again to that awareness of guilty-relief, which did not add to my work as much as it hindered it.

During my Master’s program, in spite of American news and Brexit, I produced a sizeable portfolio of more than twenty short stories. This output created in my mind, alongside minor paranoia, an almost mystical idea of how my novel would come together. Compared to the struggles I had faced in my life to date, I felt confident in my ability to go into any PhD program with squared shoulders. There was, I believed, a surge in Intersectional Feminism, morality, and accountability. In my belief that I would change the world, I assumed the world was changing with me. Not so quietly, there was a disconnect forming, a disillusionment that would burrow its way into my studies and my writing.

I watched Donald Trump become elected the 45th President of The United States on five screens. Receiving the news this way, five different times, each one on a slight delay with varying accents and facial expressions, was both remarkable and necessary; my brain wanted to understand absolutely, without cushion or crutch, despite the disappointment that followed. America, the grassy place my immigrant parents felt was best, had let down so many of us in just a few hours. As a devoted academic I wanted precise control over the way my brain absorbed and processed the information, which meant having an early morning Q&A with myself: How did we get here? (We were always here.) Who let this happen? (We did.) What happens next? (Go to sleep.) Still, the idea of this particular President dictating what happened next with my freedom, my body, and my future was unfathomable.

My Master’s program had recently ended; I decided on a PhD program, but it was still several months away. I was appreciative that I had nowhere to be, no deadline, no expectations. I allowed myself time to wallow, stayed inside for 24 hours after the election, wondering how long I could go without disclosing my nationality as to avoid being forced into discussing what had just occurred, finally leaving to pick up a pizza. Mumbling as few words as possible while paying, I gave myself away.

            ‘Where are you from?’ asked a man to my right.

            ‘Is it that noticeable?’ I stalled.

            ‘You’re definitely American.’

            I sighed feeling both embarrassed and defensive.

            ‘What a huge mistake,’ he said. ‘How could you let that happen?’

Here I considered laughing, but truthfully I cannot remember how I actually responded. I was sleep deprived and hungry, and in hindsight, I can only imagine all the best possible retorts forming one giant metaphorical middle finger.

What followed were several months of cyclical social media overload followed by social media blackout, before I returned my attention to books, having distractedly cast them aside and, for the first time in my life, I found no comfort there. The abundance of news easily became overwhelming despite my feeling that remaining informed was a requirement. Wouldn’t it be negligent and irresponsible to distance myself from the news, both good and bad, and to potentially find myself ignorant about the state of the world? The anxiety of activism—attempting to quell my resentment by becoming more involved, and sharing important articles, and signing petitions felt at times like two steps forward followed by one very long backslide—left me exhausted and unfocused. Fighting disillusionment proved difficult following Donald Trump’s first week in office, and I went into day one of my PhD program feeling completely derailed.

Roughly two months into Donald Trump’s presidency, and a rough two months it has been indeed, I still feel derailed, but I am listening to Purple Rain on repeat. I am writing less but reading more, and since my Master’s graduation I have been skeptical of the idea that I can contribute something of real significance during such a tumultuous time; those twenty short stories seem so very long ago. It is in our nature, people like to generalize about writers, to be self-deprecating and melodramatic, and I totally agree. Writing as a profession is hard all on its own; add to that a complete upheaval of the things a writer holds dear—freedom of speech, reproductive rights, racial justice, issues of immigration, LGBTQ rights—and things get a bit more complicated. However, ‘[t]his is precisely the time when artists go to work,’ Toni Morrison’s words try to remind me. ‘There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.’ The year is only just beginning, so there is still time for me to latch onto Morrison’s words and follow through. I have no immediate plans to return to America, and as my program is the same length as one presidential term, I have at least four years to read, spin around in circles, and write a novel. It only took a year for me to genuinely enjoy black tea. A lot can happen in four years.

 

“Dr. Kearney or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Impostor Syndrome”

by Eve Kearney

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I was at a family gathering recently, when as I was stuffing my face with free, home cooked food, an aunt approached me and said the words that all research students dread: “How’s being back at school going?” Apart from making it sound like I’m back wearing a uniform and taking my Junior Cert again, that question makes me stifle a sigh of despair.  I only started my PhD in English in September, and am still struggling to define what my actual research project will be on, so condensing it to a party-friendly sound bite is definitely not on my radar at the moment, nor is answering the follow up question that always comes: “And what are you going to do with that?”  In short, Aunt Jen, I don’t know how my research is going, and I sure don’t know what I’m going to do in four years with another diploma in my hand and a few more letters after my name.

The past few months have shown me that despite what I was preparing myself for, a PhD is hard.  Sure, it’s not as hard as being a real doctor and saving lives, or starting a family, or moving to a brand new country like so many of my friends are doing right now, but compared to a BA, or even a Masters, it is hard.  Gone are the days of going to class and having your ideas validated, or being graded, or even being able to discuss ideas with your friends – if I want to discuss contemporary masculinities, my fellow PhD friends will want to talk about the Victorian bestseller, or medieval syntax discrepancies.  My supervisor has been nothing but helpful and supportive, but every time I re-read an email draft, making sure it hits the right tone of humour and intelligence, I internally cringe as I hit send, fearing that I’m being too needy or bothering her with my questions – after all, I am a strong, independent, researcher who don’t need no hand-holding…right?

My whole academic career, I knew I wanted to do a PhD – I knew that coming up with original ideas and contributing to my field was for me, and even after I took a year out after my Masters, moving to Canada and starting a new life, the decision to come back to Dublin to work with some incredible people was never difficult. I have been encouraged by countless members of the department that my research ideas are good, and heck, I got As through all of my undergrad, but yet, to this day I’m still not convinced that my thesis is worth dedicating four years of my life to.  Impostor Syndrome is a very real part of academia, and a study as early as 1978 showed that it’s more likely to affect high-achieving females than any other group[1].  Even writing that last sentence made me pause: am I a high-achieving female?  Impostor Syndrome tells me that I’m not, and it tells me that I’ve only gotten this far through luck, or charm, or by fooling everyone around me. Likewise, comparing myself to everyone in the department is a trap that I often fall in to.  It seems that every day, someone is getting a grant, or having a paper published, or jetting off to an exciting conference, while I sit at my desk and try to put together an abstract so that I can keep up.  It’s a real struggle to remember that I am good at what I do, that my research matters, is original, will be a benefit to those who read it in the future.  It feels boastful to say that, but it’s the truth, and I shouldn’t be doing a PhD if I didn’t actually believe it.  I’m only in the third month of my research – papers and conferences will come, and hopefully the feeling of success will come with them.

Wait.  If a PhD is so hard and terrible, why am I even sticking with it? Why do I get out of bed every morning and put in the 9 – 5 on campus?  Because if something is hard, it’s worth doing.  And because I really do love every moment of it. Before I started in September, I pictured the next four years of my life as drinking martinis in the staff bar and using fancy words in conversations with other research students.  While it’s turned out that I’m not actually allowed in the staff bar, and I mispronounce most of the words other people around me are using, it’s turned out better than I imagined.  That feeling you get when everything you’ve been thinking about for weeks just clicks, and suddenly you’re typing a couple of thousand words of inspired greatness is unparalleled, even if it turns out that you end up deleting most of it the next day!  The community I’ve found in UCD and beyond of similarly terrified individuals has been a constant support to me – sure, we’re all quietly competing for publication and funding, but if I’m ever freaking out about something, there’s a list of people I can talk to or grab a pint with, and I know I’m on a lot of lists, too.  The challenge of self-discipline and self-motivation is something I’m finding most difficult, but again, when something goes right and everything makes sense, all the wailing and gnashing of teeth suddenly seems worth it.  And the most important thing I’ve learned so far is that drinking on a weeknight or during the afternoon isn’t irresponsible – it’s “networking”!

I was actually “networking” with one of my friends a couple of weeks ago, an amazing researcher in Trinity working on parasites, and we were lamenting about how none of our research was going how we were hoping.  For me, that’s not being motivated enough, for my friend, it’s none of her experiments going as planned – I definitely have it easy compared to a science PhD!  There was a pause in the conversation, and as I looked around, the thought hit me.  “You know what?” I announced. “To everyone else, the fact that we’re doing a PhD is pretty impressive.  Maybe we just need to be impressed with ourselves?”  We laughed and had another pint, but that idea has stuck with me since.  To answer your question, school is going great, Aunt Jen.  And when I’m finished in four years, I don’t know what I’ll do.  But I know I’ll be impressed with myself.

Maybe.

[1] http://www.paulineroseclance.com/pdf/ip_high_achieving_women.pdf

Space weather – predicting the future

by Aoife McCloskey

Early Weather Prediction

Weather is a topic that humans have been fascinated by for centuries and, dating back to the earliest civilisations ’till the present day, we have been trying to predict it. In the beginning, using the appearance of clouds or observing recurring astronomical events, humans were able to better predict seasonal changes and weather patterns. This was, of course, motivated by reasons of practicality such as agriculture or knowing when the best conditions to travel were, but additionally it stemmed from the innate human desire to develop a better understanding of the world around us.

Weather prediction has come a long way from it’s primordial beginning, and with the exponential growth of technological capabilities in the past century we are now able to model conditions in the Earth’s atmosphere with unprecedented precision. However, until the late 1800’s, we had been blissfully unaware that weather is not confined solely to our planet, but also exists in space.

Weather in Space

Weather, in this context, refers to the changing conditions in the Solar System and can affect not only our planet, but other solar system planets too. But what is the source of this weather in space? The answer is the biggest object in our solar system, the Sun. Our humble, middle-aged star is the reason we are here at all in the first place and has been our reliable source of energy for the past 4.6 billion years.

However, the Sun is not as stable or dependable as we perceive it to be. The Sun is in fact a very dynamic object, made up of extremely high temperature gases (also known as plasma). Just like the Earth, the Sun also generates its own magnetic field, albeit on a much larger scale than our planet. This combination of strong magnetic fields, and the fact that the Sun is not a solid body, leads to the build up of energy and, consequently, energy release. This energy release is what is known as a solar flare, simply put it is an explosion in the atmosphere of the Sun that produces extremely high-energy radiation and spits out particles that can travel at near-light speeds into the surrounding interplanetary space.

The Sun: Friend or Foe?

Sounds dangerous, right? Well yes, if you were an astronaut floating around in space, beyond the protection of the Earth, you would find yourself in a very undesirable position if a solar flare were to happen at the same time. For us here on Earth, the story is a bit different when it comes to being hit with the by-products of a solar flare. As I said earlier, our planet Earth produces its very own magnetic field, similar to that of a bar magnet. For those who chose to study science at secondary school, I’m sure you may recall the lead shavings and magnet experiment. Well, that’s pretty much what our magnetic field looks like, and luckily for us it acts as a protective shield against the high-energy particles that come hurtling our way on a regular basis from the Sun. One of the most well-known phenomena caused by the Sun is actually the Aurora Borealis, i.e., the northern lights (or southern lights depending on the hemisphere of the world you live).

aurora-1

Picture of the Aurora Borealis, taken during Aoife’s trip to Iceland in January 2016.

This phenomenon has been happening for millennia, yet until recent centuries we didn’t really understand why. What we know now is that the aurorae are caused by high-energy particles from the Sun colliding with our magnetic field, spiralling along the field lines and making contact with our atmosphere at both the north and south magnetic poles. While the aurorae are actually a favourable effect of space weather, as they are astonishingly beautiful to watch and photograph, there are unfortunately some negative effects too. These effects here on Earth range from satellite damage (GPS in particular), to radio communication blackout, to the more extreme case of electrical grid failure. Other effects are illustrated in the image below:

My PhD – Space Weather Forecasting

So, how do we predict when there is an event on the Sun that could have negative impacts here on Earth? Science, of course! In particular, in the area of Solar Physics there has been increasing focus on understanding the physical processes that lead to space weather phenomena and trying to find the best methods to predict when something such as a solar flare might occur.

It is well known that one should not directly view the Sun with the naked eye, therefore traditionally the image of the Sun was projected onto pieces of paper. Using this method, one of the first features observed on the Sun were large, dark spots that are now known as sunspots. These fascinated astronomers for quite some time and there is an extensive record of sunspots kept since the early 1800’s. These sunspots were initially traced by hand, on a daily basis, until photographic plates were invented and this practice became redundant. After many decades of recording these spots there appeared to be a pattern emerging, corresponding to a roughly 11-year cycle, where the number of spots would increase to a maximum and gradually decrease again. It was shown that this 11-year cycle was correlated with the level of solar activity, in other words the number of solar flares and how much energy they release can also be seen to follow this pattern.

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Sunspot drawing by Richard Carrington, 01 September 1859

Leading on from this, it is clear that there exists a relationship between sunspots and solar flares, so logically they are the place to start when trying to forecast. My PhD project focuses on sunspots and how they evolve to produce flares. For a long time, sunspots have been classified according to their appearance. One of the most famous classification schemes was developed by Patrick McIntosh and has been used widely by the community to group sunspots by their size, symmetry and compactness (how closely packed are the spots) [1]. Generally, the biggest, baddest and ugliest groups of sunspots produce the most energetic, and potentially hazardous, flares. Our most recent work has been studying data from past solar cycles (1988-2010) and looking at how the evolution of these sunspot groups relates to the flares they produce [2]. I found that those that increase in size produce more flares than those that decrease in size. This has been something that has been postulated before in the past, and additionally it helps to answer an open question in the community as to whether sunspots produce more flares when they increase in size (grow) or when they decrease in size (decay). Using these results, I am now implementing a new way to predict the likelihood of a sunspot group to produce flares and additionally the magnitude of those flares.

 

Space weather is a topic that is now, more than ever, of great importance to our technology-dependent society. That is not to say that there will definitely be any catastrophic event in the near-future, but it is certainly a potential hazard that needs to be addressed on a global scale. In recent years there has been some significant investment in space weather prediction, with countries such as the UK and the U.S. both establishing dedicated space weather forecasting services. Here in Ireland, our research group at Trinity College has been working on improving the understanding of and prediction of space weather for the past ten years. I hope, in the near future, space weather forecasting will reach the same level of importance as the daily weather forecast, but for now – watch this space.

  1. McIntosh, Patrick S (1990), ‘The Classification of Sunspots’,  Solar Physics, p.251-267.
  2. McCloskey, Aoife (2016), ‘Flaring Rates and the Evolution of Sunspot Group McIntosh Classifications’, Solar Physics, p.1711-1738.

Women in Irish Ghost Stories

Where our witches at? Women Are Boring is donning its Hallowe’en hat for the weekend and getting SPOOKY. This piece, by Dr. Clodagh Tait, looks at women in Irish ghost stories, and is the second in our two-part Hallowe’en series (read the first one, on the origins of Hallowe’en, here).

In 1937, Mrs Maggie Gallinagh told Mary Anne Gallinagh a ghost story.

One evening round about Halloween, one of the Harvey sisters of Inver, Co. Donegal, was putting in her ducks at twilight, when she saw a woman dressed in grey ‘looking through the kitchen’. When Miss Harvey spoke to the woman she vanished, but then appeared to the other sister the next evening. The sisters sought the help of Fr George Kelly, parish priest of Inver, who advised them to carry holy water, and when the apparition returned on the third evening the sister who saw her addressed her with the question Fr Kelly recommended: ‘In God’s name what is troubling you?’ The woman replied ‘I am your mother and I am twenty years dead, I am on my way to heaven, and I want three Masses said one from each of you. You three [the girls and their brother] are the only ones living belonging to me, and I want you to pray for me and I will keep you out of danger…when you are on your death bed I will come down and bring you up into the glorious kingdom of heaven, where we will live happy for ever.’ The woman then disappeared, and was never seen again.

It may come as a surprise that ghost stories like this one can be taken seriously by historians. The fact that they are usually written at a distance from their supposed occurrence, passing meanwhile by word of mouth, means that the researcher will look in vain in them for objective ‘facts’ (even if that researcher believes that such events could have happened in the first place). But to dismiss such tales as hearsay, fiction or delusion is to miss the point. People in the past have always reported sighting of ghosts and other supernatural beings. Therefore it is the historian or folklorist’s role to attempt to understand what work such stories did in communities, and to listen for what they express about ideas held about the relationship between the dead and the living and about ‘world-views’ more generally.

The beliefs of Irish people in the past

From my point of view, the tale of the ghostly Mrs Harvey reveals several things, about the beliefs of Irish people in the past and other aspects of their thinking. We learn something, for example, about expectations of the behaviour of the returning dead and interactions with them. It seems to some degree that actions performed by ghosts, the circumstances in which they were encountered, and reactions to them, were gendered. Female ghosts often appear in or near domestic spaces, and female percipients of ghosts likewise tend to encounter them in familiar places close to home. Due to greater restrictions on their movements, especially at sunset and after dark, women were less likely than men to report meeting the returning dead further afield. When they saw the ghost of their mother, the Harvey girls were engaged in the routine activity of putting the ducks into their house for the night; the ghost appears at a widow of door ‘looking through the kitchen’.

The episode of ‘haunting’ (if we could even call it that) in the Donegal story is limited. While nowadays we seem to expect ghosts to be trapped endlessly – and usually mutely – in a specific place to be encountered again and again, Mrs Harvey’s ghost reflects the kinds of revenant who tended to be more commonly reported prior to the twentieth century. Those ghosts usually returned in a purposeful way to deliver a single message, and their haunting was limited in duration. The appearance of Mrs Harvey’s ghost is also notable. She arrived dressed in grey, and until she disappeared the first percipient seems to have believed her to be real. This solidity of appearance is quite common in Irish ghost stories: ghosts can be touched, and touch (even hit) others; they need to open gates to pass through; they even eat and drink.

We might also remark on the way the Harvey girls react to the ghost. While clearly initially somewhat afraid, they stand their ground and challenge her. This would have been a usual course of action in medieval and early modern accounts of haunting, when it was believed that ghosts brought messages, but could not speak until they were spoken to. In cases of ghost-seeing in the Irish past, we find percipients did not usually need professional intermediaries like exorcists or mediums to communicate with ghosts on their behalf: while the Harvey’s consulted a priest, they did not require his aid, though it does seem that in the cases of some particularly troublesome spirits the special skills of a priest might be called on.

Ghosts and Irish christianity

The story of Mrs Harvey very definitively places ghost belief in a Christian framework: Fr Kelly arms the girls with holy water and holy words. The ghost is on her way to heaven but needs the intervention of the church to get there – three masses for her soul, in return for which she offers her own prayers and the promise of heaven to her children. Such a story thus performs a dual purpose: to grapple with the possibility of returning spirits, but to house them securely within Christian teaching. For this reason, the Catholic church in particular was happy enough to accept stories of haunting. Sightings of ghosts fitted in with the doctrine of souls working off the penalties due for their sins in Purgatory, and the possibility that their time there might be shortened by the prayers and other assistance of the living.

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Another underlying theme of Mrs Harvey’s story is motherhood and women’s domestic roles. Supposedly twenty years after her death, the deceased Mrs Harvey continues to exhibit care and concern for her children. Very many Irish stories of the supernatural describe female revenants visiting their own homes, caring for children and carrying out domestic chores. In one Co. Roscommon story , an aunt charged with taking care of an infant whose mother had died experienced a shape passing her at the door and found that the baby would not drink any of the milk she prepared for her. The next day in the bedroom ‘whom did she see sitting on the bed but the dead mother and she combing her hair. She faded away out of sight.’ The mother in this tale is definitively dead, but often similar revenants are patently not actually ghosts, but women who had been stolen by the fairies. One the informants cited in Lady Augusta Gregory’s folklore collection Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland stated ‘I believe all that die are brought among them [the fairies], except maybe an odd old person’. However, others seem to have believed that only a certain category of the supposedly dead were with the fairies. Numerous stories told of how young women stolen by the fairies could be rescued by their husbands and loved ones, or recalled those who had been released after a period of time and returned to their families.

 Lady Gregory’s informants told several stories of mothers either returning from fairy captivity or appearing as ghosts, including this unsettling one supplied by Mrs. Farley:

‘One time myself I was at Killinan, at a house of the Clancys’ where the father and mother had died, but it was well known they often come to look after the children. I was walking with another girl through the fields there one evening and I looked up and saw a tall woman dressed all in black, with a mantle of some sort, a wide one, over her head, and the waves of the wind were blowing it off her, so that I could hear the noise of it. All her clothes were black, and had the appearance of being new.’

Her companion could not see the spirit which so frightened Mrs Farley that she did not attempt to question it and fled ‘and the woman seemed to be coming after me, till I crossed a running stream and she had no power to cross that.’

This revenant, implicitly identified as the Clancy children’s mother, was so ‘present’ to Mrs Farley that she could assess the quality of her clothes – they have the appearance of mourning rather than grave clothes – and even hear the sound of her headdress flapping in the wind. Perhaps Mrs Farley’s terror responded in part to the rawness of the dead mother’s mourning for the children to whom she had been lost. After all, one of the things we learn from ghosts, even if we believe that they are only figments of imagination, is about emotion: about grief, anger, disappointment, remorse, and compassion. Most of all we recognise the longing for the loved dead – and the mingled hope and dread that they might in some way long for us – that persists as strongly now as it ever did at the Halloween firesides of the past.

Select bibliography:

Irish Folklore Archive, Schools Folklore Collection: www.duchas.ie

  1. Davies, The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts (Basingstoke, 2007).

A.Gregory, Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland (Gerrards Cross, 1992 [1920])

  1. Narváez (ed.), The Good People: New Fairylore Essays (Lexington, 1997).

 

 

 

What now for UK academia? Twelve academics on Brexit

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Photo: Dave Kellam
by Catherine Connolly, co-founder of Women Are Boring

We put a call out on our Twitter and Facebook accounts on Friday afternoon asking for contributions to this special feature on what the EU has meant to women working in academia in the UK, and their thoughts on the referendum result. We received a huge response. But first, some background – I was in London last week, and woke at 6am the morning after the UK’s EU membership referendum to hear Nigel Farage’s voice coming from my friend’s radio, hailing a ‘historic day’ for the UK. My immediate reaction was one of shock – going to bed the night before, it had seemed to all of us in the house that “Remain” was going to take it, albeit by a slim margin. Following the disbelief came the sadness and worry for the friends I have living all over the UK – what would happen now? Four women live in the house I was staying in, located in south London – two of whom are Scottish, one English and one Welsh. All are devastated by the referendum result.

I would not know any of these women had I not gone abroad to Paris on Erasmus during my third year of undergraduate study. One of the Scots was the first person I met when I moved to Paris, and today she is one of my best and closest friends. My Erasmus year set me on my career path and opened up so many opportunities for me, from studying for my MA in London, to living and working in Brussels, and then returning to work in London again in the year before I began my PhD in Dublin. Without the EU, much of this would not have been possible, and so many of the friends I have I would never have met. I am lucky to be from Ireland and to be researching in Ireland – my Irish passport means I don’t have to worry about my freedom of movement or any of the other many benefits which EU membership affords me. But my friends, and many academics around the UK, no longer feel so lucky.

EU funding is vital to the UK’s higher education institutions, as are EU and international citizens. EU and international citizens, whether as students, researchers or lecturers, along with EU funding, have made the UK’s higher education sector one of the most lively and exciting environments to work in, and study at, in the world.

What follows are the words of twelve female academics in different fields, from the UK and elsewhere in the EU, working in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. They demonstrate the massive importance and influence that the EU has on academic research, and elucidate the doubt and worry that many now feel, both in and outside academia.

Professor Fiona de Londras, Chair in Global Legal Studies, University of Birmingham.

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“Trying to understand security and counter-terrorism on a national level alone has value, but misses so much of what happens to shape the national story as a result of transnational dynamics and institutions such as the EU.”

All of my university education was in Ireland. In fact, all of it was in UCC where I studied law for seven very happy years. And so, it was a (not unwelcome) shock to the system when I moved first to a chair in Durham and then to my current post at Professor of Global Legal Studies in the University of Birmingham to discover, be challenged by, and ultimately relish in the intellectually diverse and internationally-oriented world of UK higher education. While international and European law had been important in my education and work in Ireland, the richness that Europeanism brought to the student body, my academic community, and the vision and ambition in legal research of the institutions in which I have worked in the UK was energising, challenging and enthralling. That is the first way in which the EU has impacted my career in the UK. It has been a force for diversification of the people, ideas, institutions and challenges with which I try to pursue the key question in which I am interested: what happens to power, law and politico-legal institutions when crises put them under pressure?

For much of my career I have explored this question in the very particular context or counter-terrorism and security, including leading a major cross-national, inter-disciplinary and empirical project entitled SECILE (Securing Europe through Counter-Terrorism: Impact, legitimacy, and effectiveness). With generous funding from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme I led a consortium of researchers, NGOs and SMEs in the UK, Ireland, Norway and Latvia in a project that both mapped and analysed EU counter-terrorism and, through interviews with major stakeholders in the EU’s institutions and the member states, tried to understand their real world impact on everyday operations and the experience of living in the European Union. This could not have been achieved without EU membership: that created the opportunity to secure the funding, the relationships that underpinned and made possible our consortium, and the access to high level officials in Europe that helped us both access information and gain traction for our findings.

Trying to understand security and counter-terrorism on a national level alone has value, but misses so much of what happens to shape the national story as a result of transnational dynamics and institutions such as the EU. If Brexit brings us out of these funding structures our ability to ask ‘big questions’ in ‘big contexts’ will be sharply constrained. And what, then, will incentivise the very best researchers who have other possibilities through EU or other citizenship, to remain with the UK’s universities? Will national funding structures, already so stretched, step in to compensate? Will the UK retain sufficient influence in Europe to secure access to these key actors and institutions? Will our colleagues from other EU countries, whose impact on law schools all over this country has been such a key part in diversifying our enquiries and deepening our intellectual ambitions, move on? Will possibilities for staff and student exchange shrink, impoverishing our everyday intellectual environment? And if so, what will be the motivation for people who, like me, have Irish citizenship to stay?

For now many, like me, will be committed to staying and to contributing to the task of thinking our way out of the corner Brexit has placed higher education and legal research in, but one suspects we will also remain deeply aware of the Irish passport that leaves open possibilities for mobility that we may, reluctantly, find ourselves exercising in coming years.

Dr. Diletta De Cristofaro, Teaching Fellow in British Studies, Harlaxton College.

Diletta

“Waking up to the Leave result on 24th June felt like a punch in my stomach.”

A few months ago, I was walking on Brighton beach with a fellow EU academic migrant. Reflecting on our academic lives, he observed that mine was a “very European trajectory”. I replied that indeed it was, and I was proud of it.

I feel strongly about my European identity. As part of the Italian diaspora, my family has been scattered in North America, South America, and Australia for generations. My own parents were living and working in the US when my mother got pregnant with me. However, they decided to move back to Italy because they wanted me to be born there – and, thus, in Europe.

Like many others, my academic “European trajectory” began with an Erasmus. I studied for one year of my master’s in Paris, and, thanks to the EU Erasmus Programme, the credits I gained at Paris IV Sorbonne were recognised by my Italian home Institution, Università degli Studi di Milano. Today, 26th June 2016, the homepage of the largest student-led online resource on the programme reads:

Erasmus

EU mobility programmes, to and from the UK, would be a huge post-Brexit lost opportunity for future academics. The idea for my PhD project – temporality in contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction – was born in Paris, when I discovered Michel Houellebecq’s La possibilité d’une île in a second-hand bookshop near my university. The project was then developed in another European country, the UK, where it was funded by the University of Nottingham’s European Union Research Excellence Scholarship. My research also benefited from a period, funded by Erasmus Mundus, spent at the Centre for the Humanities at Utrecht University. In short, my scholarship was nurtured by the EU and by the education systems of four of its countries.

Waking up to the Leave result on 24th June felt like a punch in my stomach. My visceral reaction was that I would go back to Europe – but even typing this sentence feels odd: the UK is still, technically, part of the EU and is certainly part of Europe geographically and historically. Yet it is undoubtable that the country is moving in a direction I am uncomfortable with, a sentiment shared by that 48% which voted Remain, including friends and colleagues. I have a life in the UK and a three-year teaching fellowship starting on 1st August, but uncertainty looms large: what rights will I have in this country? Can my new institution renege the contract if/when the UK leaves the EU? What happens with my UK-based job applications in the supposed two-year period needed to negotiate Brexit: will they be immediately discarded, as my right to work in this country remains unclear? This is all very imponderable, disempowering, and scary – especially as an Early Career Researcher.

When I was offered my new job at Harlaxton College, I was struck by the irony of a European teaching a module on British identity to US students coming to the UK. Post-referendum, this is a much stronger feeling. And so, in the face of uncertainty, I am working to incorporate in the syllabus Rupert Thomson’s Divided Kingdom, a dystopian novel in which the UK has been divided into four Quarters, each one based upon different humors and personality types. How appropriate.

Diljeet Bhachu, doctoral student, Reid School of Music, University of Edinburgh.

Diljeet photo (c Vivek Vishwanathan)

“I have to ask, will there be anything left to research? If we lose diversity in our music and music education, will I want to be researching it?’

As a very early-career researcher  − mid-PhD − the impact of the UK leaving the EU on my future plans and job prospects hasn’t quite sunk in yet.  I can’t say I’d done much planning, because on Wednesday I felt like the world was my oyster, I could look for post-PhD jobs anywhere, there were options both in and out of the academy. Now? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find work abroad. I don’t know if there will be jobs outside of academia.

While I haven’t looked at the details, I imagine it’ll likely be more difficult to get research funding, travel for fieldwork and conferences, and it’s quite possible that the diversity of staff and students at UK HEIs will also suffer. I don’t yet know exactly what Brexit means for university funding both through core and research grant funding, and income from tuition fees. What I do know is that there will be inevitable change in the demographics of our student bodies, if not from changes in access to opportunity, but from the indirect effects of removing the UKs status as a place where non-UK students are welcome. While Universities and other HEIs have been quick to release statements showing support for all students, particularly those from EU countries, and pledging no change to terms of study in the near future, can we guarantee that the cities and towns in which these students will live will be as supportive?  Never mind the economic impact of living in a country where the currency has faced its biggest drop in value for 30 years.

With the growing visibility of the far-right, xenophobic, racist views in UK society, my concern now turns towards my research interests.  As a #proudchildofanimmigrant (of two immigrants, actually), I question how research that attempts to embrace all cultures, and cater to the increasingly diverse classrooms created by immigration over the past century or so, fits in a country where many, albeit not all, Leave voters are clinging onto an idea of British Nationalism that reads as White British Nationalism. Where is the space in this new reality of an “independent” Britain for post-colonial critique – following a campaign that laughed in the face of many British citizens who are here as the very result of Britain’s colonial past. Why is my curriculum white?  Is this a question “independent” Britain still wants to ask? Only time will tell, maybe I’m over-reacting, but is it really unrealistic to consider that some of this might be a possibility?

This may represent the views of a few, but their fires have been fuelled by this “victory” and I’m not sure they can be extinguished.

As I’ve said, it’s early days – who knows what will happen.  But while I’ve been writing this, a few bits of information have come to light. Education research gets 43.13% of its funding from the EU. This is a sector that already bore the brunt of cuts.  Add to that my position as a researcher of music education. I have to ask, will there be anything left to research? If we lose diversity in our music and music education, will I want to be researching it? We can’t pretend music and music education are separate things. Without the ability to tour easily, are we going to see a decline in the music profession in the UK?

Dr. Jessica Meyer, University Academic Fellow in Legacies of War, University of Leeds.

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“24th June 2016 was a very bad day for me indeed.”

February 2015 was a good month for me. On the 3rd I was offered a permanent job at the university where I had been working on a temporary contract for the previous four years.  Two weeks later I received a European Research Council Starting Grant, worth €1.07 million, to undertake a project examining the medical and social care provided to disabled British ex-servicemen of the First World War.  Within a fortnight, I had not only achieved a measure of professional and personal security, but I had also been given the opportunity to pursue a project that I had conceived as a PhD student ten years earlier, a project which I never thought would ever be funded.

This project involves creating a database of information held in 22,8289 personal pension files created by the Ministry of Pensions and now held at the National Archive.  The goal is to make analysis of this archive easier and the archive itself more searchable. In creating the database, my team and I (there are four of us altogether) are also identifying files which contain material suitable for further close reading, including letters from pensioners and their friends and family, medical reports and official documentation. We are particularly interested in the stories that these files have to tell about the roles that families, particularly women, played in providing care to these men, and how these women’s work shaped cultural understandings of medical caregiving as a gendered practice. Eventually, I hope to expand the project to include comparative discussions of the care provided to ex-servicemen in other European nations in the aftermath of the Great War.

This is a huge project, and one which no British grant making body would fund. Neither the AHRC nor the ESRC allow for postgraduate funding to be built into grants, and the remits of even their large individual grants are relatively narrow.  The Leverhulme Trust, which funds projects with a similar sort of boundary-pushing ambition as the ERC, does not have a scheme that enables team building on the scale necessary to complete this project.  If I were not funded by the ERC, this project would not happen.

So 24th June 2016 was a very bad day for me indeed.  The Vice Chancellor of my university put out a reassuring statement to the effect that ‘We also believe that the University’s study abroad programmes and our involvement in Horizon 2020 [which includes the ERC] … will remain unchanged during this period of transition.’ But belief is not certainty, particularly not in a period where nothing feels certain, and the period of transition may not cover the entirety of the period of my grant. The money has been committed, I am told, and so I email my team members to reassure them that their post-docs and PhD studies will go ahead as planned. I hope I am right.

And even if the funding remains, what about the terms?  ERC grant-holders are expected to spend 6 months of every 12 in an EU member state.  Will I have to relocate to Ireland for 6 months of every year after 2018?  I have a young family.  What are the implications for that hard-won personal security that seemed so sure 15 months ago? Everything that I have worked for in my academic career feels directly threatened by the referendum result.

For the moment I carry on, trying to believe that the work I am doing, which I believe passionately in, will be funded for the term and at the terms agreed.  But I don’t know, and that insecurity will shape my research for the foreseeable future.

Dr. Kate Wicks, postdoctoral researcher, University of Manchester.

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“Through Erasmus and therefore because of the EU, I learnt my very first lessons about what it means to be a scientist.”

I work on inflammation. To put it simply, that’s one process by which the body restores the status quo when it detects that something’s amiss, whether that’s a cut to the hand or a cold virus in the nose. An army of white blood cells is mobilised to deal with the problem, and when it’s resolved, it stands down again. Except sometimes it doesn’t, and the inflammation becomes chronic. That’s what I’m interested in: uncontrolled inflammation, how it starts, and what happens when it doesn’t end.

Back in 2004, though, I was a second-year undergraduate, and I didn’t have research interests yet.Not really. I was studying Genetics with German (‘Did you pick it for the alliteration,’ people asked), which allowed me to combine studying the finer points of gene regulation with German language, literature and history, and I was about to go off on my year abroad through the Erasmus scheme. A rite of passage for modern languages students, for me, it would involve a year working in a German lab. The application form asked what kind of lab I wanted to be placed in. ‘Genetics. Please not plants,’ I wrote. I ended up at the University of Heidelberg, working on the genetics of diabetes-related kidney disease, and that was my future career settled. Ten and more years later, I’m still researching the complications of diabetes, albeit from a different angle.

Through Erasmus and therefore because of the EU, I learnt my very first lessons about what it means to be a scientist. By that, I mean the lab and analysis skills that I use every day – how to plan, perform, analyse, evaluate and write up an experiment – but also about the importance of the international community to which I belong. The lab I worked in was funded by the EU; we had collaborators in the Czech Republic; I trained a student from Slovakia; my boss was Dutch. My friends in another lab spanned a multitude of nationalities. In the UK, being a British scientist who spoke fluent German was a novelty; in Germany, every scientist had a good command of at least one extra language, usually more.  I suddenly realised how inward looking the UK could be, and that if I wanted to be a successful scientist, I mustn’t be like that. I needed to connect with people, with as many people as possible from as many places as possible, and discuss ideas and plans and visions. That was how to grow.

I am upset about the referendum result for many reasons, but a big one is the thought that future generations of UK-born scientists won’t have the chances that I had. I had the freedom then to go off and study abroad; I have the freedom now to go and work in a lab anywhere in the EU. I worry about what that means for the development of young scientists. I worry too about the future of science in the UK: how attractive will our universities be to the very best, when our immigration policies grow ever more restrictive? And I worry for my country, which has just seen victory for a campaign based on the idea that shrinking our horizons is a positive thing. It isn’t.

In a month or so, my research is taking me to Heidelberg again, this time for a conference. I am sadder than I can say that this might be the last time I go as an EU citizen.

Dr. Arianna Andreangeli, lecturer in Competition Law, University of Edinburgh.

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“After the vote just a couple of days ago, I feel that all of a sudden the country where I chose to build my career and my family has edged away from the Europe I love and was born in.”

The result of the Brexit referendum caught a lot of people by complete surprise.  It left many of us in tears, in deep uncertainty and has led us to question our life choices.  This surely happened to me. I am Italian by birth, live in Scotland now, having moved there in 2011: my husband is Scottish but we actually met in England. I am a proud graduate from University College Dublin, in Ireland, where I read for a Masters’ degree in European Law, and of the University of Birmingham, where I gained my PhD in Law, and my first lecturing post was in the University of Liverpool, in the beating, anarchic heart of the North West of England (sorry, Manchester, but the Scousers win it hands down with me). It is not an exaggeration to say that the “EU made me”, personally, professionally and in some of the aspects of my deepest being. I am a strongly minded European: my birth in Italy has given me the passion for the Classics, the Opera and the boundless love of my wonderful family, yet Ireland and the United Kingdom formed me as an academic.

My area of expertise is also deeply imbued by the European project: I am a competition lawyer. I research market dynamics and how the law ensures that they remain genuine, unhindered by outside pressures, such as monopoly positions that may be abused or concerted behaviour aimed at reaping higher, unjustified profits to the detriment of citizens. Yet, I am not, in the best European tradition, a free-marketer: I think that markets should be protected and cherished to the extent that, and because, they secure best outcomes, in terms of quality and of prices, for individuals and for the societies that they touch with their functioning. Ultimately, they must work to nurture individual freedom, not the pockets of the few: they must function in harmony with the environment, not to destroy it; they must uphold the needs of the communities they affect, not secure lower levels of protection for them.

The health emergency of alcohol abuse in Scotland prompted me to embark on my most recent piece of work: the controversy on whether the Scottish Parliament can enact rules setting minimum prices for the retail sale of alcoholic beverages with a view to pricing out of the market the cheapest, strongest and thus most dangerous drinks seemed to me perhaps the best example of evidence-based policy. Backed by a number of independent studies, this legislation was poised to make a true contribution to addressing alcohol misuse, especially among the poorest and most disadvantaged.  Yet, the snag, which was picked up by none other than the Scotch Whisky Association, who have eventually taken the Scottish Ministers to court in Scotland and also in Luxembourg, was that setting floor prices can actually interfere with the flow of trade among Member States… by making imported goods instantly not as attractive as they could otherwise be in their country of origin, where lower prices than the statutory minimum can be applied.

This instantly made me wonder whether competition on grounds of prices is after all so important: at the end of the day, do the EU treaties not say that achieving goals of high levels of, among others, public health protection is central to the European project? This is what I have been trying to find out, and on Friday, namely the fateful day after the referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU, I finished the second draft of this paper. Yet, is it still going to be relevant? Surely, competition law is very much part of domestic law in the UK, and these issues will always remain alive.  They say that the UK economy is an open and market-minded one: yet, it was only thanks to the impact of the European project that mechanisms for the enforcement of the competition rules and the avoidance of the creation of harmful position of market powers eventually were legislated for; the UK Competition Act is also fundamentally influenced by the EU Treaties.

I sit here in Edinburgh, a city with a strong European heart: Mary Stuart lived literally ten minutes away from my front room, and she was French.  Yet, after the vote just a couple of days ago, I feel that all of a sudden the country where I chose to build my career and my family has edged away from the Europe I love and was born in, just that tiny bit more for me to feel comfortable and serene personally, as well as confident in my academic outlook, on the way in which I look at and study markets and try to contribute to public debate with my scholarship.  I had so many plans as to how to bring this agenda forward: the impact of the new EU rules on tobacco trade on competition within the internal market, as well as on the freedom to express “commercial ideas” was up next, yet I am now unsure whether it is now a viable project.  All of a sudden, being on a tiny island does not make it fun for me anymore.

Lucy Greenhill, researcher, Scottish Association for Marine Sciences.

Lucy Greenhill

“Oceans do not respect national boundaries.”

As a researcher into how governance of our oceans can adapt to enable society to respond to the complex challenges of sustainable development, I can only see ‘Brexit’ as a huge backwards step. Simply put, addressing big challenges requires co-operation, openness, long-term thinking and integration, particularly when dealing with issues that are transboundary. These progressive features were supported by the EU, and will be extremely compromised outside of it.

Sustainable development is, by its nature, a complicated concept, and is interpreted differently by individuals according to their values, culture and what they represent in society. How do we protect the environment, but still enable economic development and gathering of resources to support communities? Should we conserve ecosystems for their intrinsic value, or is it acceptable to treat nature as a service-provider for humanity? What if our market-based economy is incompatible with maintaining a healthy natural environment? These questions are not easy to grapple with, but what I have learnt is that we need to talk about it to get anywhere. In my research I am exploring how we start to address these issues on a smaller scale, and related to our use of the seas.

I focus specifically on an increasingly utilised governance tool called marine spatial planning (MSP), which provides a ‘real world’ situation, where we (as a society made up of the state, NGOs, scientists, communities and others) can look at ‘sustainable development’ in the context of activities that relate to our own situation – our jobs, our view from the house, the fish we eat. Briefly, MSP provides a process of planning ahead for various marine activities and ecosystem protection in a particular region of sea, in an integrated way. This has the benefit of moving away from fragmented management of different industries and interests and explore the most ‘sustainable’ combination of development in an area and involving civil society in the process. Using social science, I am looking at the methods that we can use to explore future possible scenarios through MSP, identify how we manage potential conflicts for space or resources and debate how ecological and social limits are respected. At least that’s the idea…

Conceptually, MSP makes sense, but it faces key challenges, made harder following a vote by the UK to leave the EU. Oceans do not respect national boundaries. Our human activities (shipping, tourism, etc.) and habitats and species operate across boundaries hence the committed drive to increasingly co-operate and integrate between countries of the EU. This includes sharing data and information, aligning our processes, sharing experience and knowledge, collaboratively funding the science essential to improving practice, developing joint ‘visions’ to drive national policy and motivate industries and stakeholders, and many, many more. It saddens me greatly that the UK may now not be a leading participant in such co-operation and which compromises our ability to progress in answering these fundamental questions which define our future. But I am determined to fight for ensuring support for science, to improving the voice of scientists in the political arena and maintaining co-operation with European institutions and organisations on these issues.

Dr. Lauren Redhead, composer and Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Lauren Redhead Photo 1 Richard Lee-Hair

“Free movement and the right to work has been an essential part of enabling the collaborative relationships that form my work.”

I am a practice-researcher: my research includes performing and composing both as its methodology and its outputs. This type of research is different from written research because it can’t necessarily be enacted without its public-facing and collaborative dimensions (this is not to say that these aren’t important to other researchers, but that they are more often central to practice research). My personal research directions involve the performance of sound in space, iterative processes of composition, and the enactment of extended open notation by partly improvising musicians. As my career has progressed this research has taken place on a global, and particularly European stage. I have recently returned from a tour of performances in Germany and Scotland, working with musicians from the UK, Germany, America, and Iceland. My most recent commission has come from an international contemporary music festival in Belgium; the piece will be performed alongside music by other composers from the UK, Belgium and Portugal by a pianist, Ian Pace, who has made his career on the international stage, performing music from most continents.

This serves to illustrate that research in the arts, by its nature, crosses borders. The collaborations that I have made have been central to the development and dissemination of my ideas. Music cannot be realised without musicians and practice research can’t exist without its practice. But these collaborations are not arbitrary either: the musical tradition that I work in (often called New Music (Neue Musik, derived from a definition made by Theodor Adorno) is, essentially, a Central European tradition, albeit one that draws musicians from America, Australia and Asia. The contemporary musical traditions in the UK, outside of key institutions like the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, have not historically supported this music as other EU countries have done.

Free movement and the right to work has been an essential part of enabling the collaborative relationships that form my work: the ability for me to travel to Europe, to have the right to work and play there, and to be able to invite European musicians to work and perform in the UK means that this work can take place without administrative hurdles that would obscure the research aims. I am worried about the future possibilities for my collaborators in the UK, and for the future potential for me to continue to develop my work in Europe. The potential for the arts to flourish without our European partners is narrow, and this will also impact the development of the arts and therefore the development of research in the arts. As a postgraduate student of composition I was advised by my supervisors to look to Europe as my workplace, and this is advice I’ve continued to give my postgraduate students. I now wonder what the future for their work, as well as mine, will be.

Dr. Rita Singer, Research Assistant for the AHRC-funded project ‘European Travellers to Wales, 1750-2010’.

“Without the opportunities given to me by the EU, my life would look very different today.”

Rita photo cropped

Just a little of under three years ago, I moved to the UK as a freshly recruited researcher working on a major project between three Welsh universities investigating 260 years of travel from mainland Europe to Wales. Since then, this all-female team of researchers have unearthed an unanticipated amount of accounts from 17 countries, written in 15 languages. Needless to say, if I coloured in a map according to the countries of origin for each of these travellers, I’d look at something that would not be much different from the EU. We are still in the middle of evaluating our sources, but one thing is clear: the reasons why people come to Wales were as diverse two hundred years ago as they are today. There are holiday makers scrambling across rocky mountain terrain in all sorts of weather; there are refugees escaping political persecution and wars; there are lovers who establish their family lives in this country; there are engineers who marvel at the great bridges and industry of Wales; there are the artists who have painted and sketched every inch of this country; and – this is where I find myself coming into the picture – there are the scholars investigating Welsh literature, history and language. Two-hundred and sixty years of all these different paths of life connecting the mainland with these islands and as of Friday morning, it seems like this proud tradition is coming undone.

My own history as a German in this country is not exclusively tied to this research project but took off in a roundabout manner in Berlin during a night-time press conference in November 1989. That night, a high-ranking East German politician ‘miss-spoke’ in front of dozens of cameras when an Italian reporter pressed him on the status of the East German border. Less than a year later, the GDR was wiped off the face of the European map as it reunited with West Germany and thus joined the European Community.

Fast-forward sixteen-years to my time as an MA student at Leipzig University where I was enrolled in British Studies as my first major and German as a Second Language as my second subject. When I was given the opportunity in 2005 to apply for the ERASMUS programme, I jumped on the opportunity for one of two precious placements available at Bangor University. Never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated studying abroad, let alone studying in the UK with its tuition fees way beyond my financial means. If it hadn’t been for the EU, studying English Literature and teaching German to undergrad students at Bangor University would have forever remained a pipe dream. It probably would have also meant that I would not have been introduced to the rich and beautiful literature coming from Wales which formed the basis for my later PhD research.

Without the opportunities given to me by the EU, my life would look very different today. The freedom of movement guaranteed by the EU allowed me to return to the UK during my time as PhD student when I dug my way through the Bangor University Archive and Special Collection, the National Library of Wales and the British Library on multiple occasions. The freedom of movement also meant that I could travel to conferences across Europe while being spared the exasperating experience of applying for visitors’ visas, like my German colleagues who travelled to Russia for their research.

Without the EU, I would most likely not have felt encouraged to pursue work as an academic and I would have missed out on this great international network of intellectual exchange and the building of cultural bridges. Learning Welsh would have been much more difficult, too, as schools providing classes for adult learners are heavily dependent on EU funding. So is the National Library of Wales, one of the main collaborators for the current project, or the museums in Wales with whom I teamed up over the course of the previous two years to create a free travelling exhibition. With the Brexit on all of our doorsteps, it seems these institutions, who already struggle for survival owing to chronic underfunding during these years of austerity, will fade into the inevitable cultural twilight.

I am not a politician and can therefore make no predictions about my future in this country. All I know is that as of Friday, all bets are off and I am looking at setting up a ‘Plan B’ down the road which does not rule out a return to Germany, hoping that I may be able to continue with my research on the culture and history of Wales.

Rena Maguire, Doctoral Scholar, Queen’s University Belfast.

Rena Maguire

“It didn’t take a great deal to convince me, like many involved in higher education, that remaining within the EU was the most beneficial option.”

Had there been a more stable and competent government, I may have voted for an arrangement similar to that of Norway and the EU. I initially kept an open mind on Brexit, and did my research on what the key issues would be for my career, family and quality of life. It didn’t take a great deal to convince me, like many involved in higher education, that remaining within the EU was the most beneficial option. Archaeologists are the international wanderers of academia, with constant global collaboration on shared projects. It’s a facet of the profession I’ve loved – learning and being accepted on a world-wide basis. If anything, all the travel and research has reinforced just how much we all have in common across Europe.

The EU has reciprocated that constant interaction of archaeologists by offering funding to heritage and research sectors. The Times Higher Education supplement of June 24th 2016 placed that funding contribution to UK archaeology as around 28%. Leaving the EU means that effectively we have almost a third less available finance to stimulate new projects, consolidate old ones and create employment. It’s obvious that the Brexit vote will have an extremely negative influence on the education sector of the UK, although with statements from people like Michael Gove, there’s a strong feeling of anti-intellectualism or academic specialisation within those who voted to leave the EU. I can only presume they don’t realise that new research stimulates employment across all sectors, not just academia. Universities have already accepted too many cut-backs and perhaps I am being pessimistic, but cannot see a Far-Right Brexit-led government being far-sighted enough to replace the 28% funding we shall lose from Europe.

I worked in the media before entering academia and if I’m capable of any talent in this, it’s translating the past into something relevant and vibrant for the present, making academic issues accessible to all. People love heritage and archaeology because it is fascinating. But it’s also so important to show how much we have in common. The entire heritage sector feels exceptionally apprehensive at the moment, that we will have no fiscal value under such a Far-Right government. I am lucky in that I am Irish/Northern Irish; my passport is Irish and as such I remain a member of the European Union. I can still work with colleagues in Europe, though I fear I may never be employed in the UK. That 28% will take a terrible toll in jobs, and I suspect my own future waits for me on the Continent – I’ll be one of the new breed of Wild Geese which this political event will generate. I am overwhelmingly sad and angry for UK colleagues who do not have this option. However, I know that universities in the UK will do all they can (especially my alma mater of QUB), so am hopeful – academics are an altruistic lot, and resourceful too. I reckon we just need to keep hoping and teaching to overcome all the vitriol.

Dr. Viviane Gravey, Senior Research Associate, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

Photo VGravey

“Overnight, the UK is suddenly not such a great place to build a research career anymore.”

As a political scientist working on EU policies and politics, the European Union is not only a potential funder for both my research and that of my colleagues but also the object of my study. As a French citizen living and working in the UK, the European Union not only shapes my professional life but also my private life: rights to work, access the health service, protection against discrimination, right to vote in local and European election. A Brexit puts all of these in question. It will also cast a long shadow on my teaching EU politics in the UK: how will my students, some of whom won’t have been old enough to vote on Thursday, engage with the EU in the coming years and months?

In the last few months I have been involved in efforts by social scientists across the UK to provide facts to voters, trying to raise the profile of environmental issues in this campaign – I am one of these “experts” Michael Gove argued the public is tired of hearing from.  We studied different Brexit scenarios.  We will now have the dubious privilege of seeing whether the environmental protections and rights which we identified as at risk in case of a vote to Leave, will indeed be weakened or removed.  Great for our research, potentially not so great for the environment in the UK…

That someone like me – studying the European Union – is to be affected by Thursday’s vote is really a no-brainer. And while the impacts on my private life and rights will be negative (if I stay in the UK I will be disenfranchised, lose some protections), the vote could open interesting avenues for further research for public policy scholars, as the UK will have to renegotiate so many international agreements and revise so many of its own laws.

I am far less sanguine for my colleagues working in other fields, both hard and social scientists, both from the UK or long-term residents in this country. On Friday, two senior colleagues shared what would normally have been very good news: they had both secured EU Horizon 2020 funding for their research. These grants would effectively pay their wages for part of the year for the next three years. But then, what next? Would these grants be the last EU funding for which they’d be eligible?

The full force of a Brexit impact on research in the UK won’t be felt for many months or even years. For permanent staff, this could mean losing out on cutting edge research funding. For early career researchers on short-term contracts, for PhD students trying to get their first post-docs, this means an even smaller pool of jobs to compete for in the UK. Overnight, the UK is suddenly not such a great place to build a research career anymore, and as we discussed the referendum over coffee, many started openly contemplating continuing their work abroad, be it to the rest of Europe, the US or Commonwealth countries.

Dr. Roberta Guerrina, Reader in Politics, University of Surrey.

roberta_guerrina

“The outcome is likely to have long-term implications for women across Europe.”

One of the big silences in the recent EU referendum has been the impact of a possible Brexit on British women and European women residing in the UK. Now that the verdict is out, many of us have been left wondering what Brexit actually means for us. Gender equality was never one of the key issues in the Referendum. Now that the UK is facing a new political and economic environment made up of economic and constitutional challenges, it is unlikely to surface at the top of the political agenda. Yet, the outcome is likely to have long-term implications for women across Europe.

 I completed my PhD on the UK and Italian implementation of the 1992 Pregnant Worker Directive many years ago. My understanding of the relationship between national politics and European institutions seems more relevant now than ever. I spent the next twenty years looking at the development of the European equality agenda, and like many others I focused on the shortcomings and unfulfilled promises. This year’s Referendum campaign, however, forced me to look at the EU’s role as a gender actor in a completely different light.

Looking at the relationship between UK equality policies and the EU draws attention to the role and influence of the transnational feminist movement and the importance of finding a platform for women’s rights advocacy beyond the state.  The UK’s withdrawal clearly poses additional obstacles to women’s right organisations seeking to expand the equality agenda at the national level.

The recent economic crisis of 2008 had a detrimental impact on women’s position in the labour market. Austerity policies have weakened women’s position in the public sphere and the official labour market. Key services aimed at women’s activation have been depleted by various rounds of austerity measures.  The crisis allowed policy makers to side-line gender equality in the pursuit of higher political and economic goals.

 The result of the Referendum brings into question the longevity of key equality policies, e.g. maternity rights, introduced to fulfil the requirements of European legislation.  Focus on cutting red tape during the campaign did not address one key issue: equal rights, maternity rights and equal opportunity policies are often seen as red tape by those seeking to liberalise the market.  The UK has a well established body of equality legislation, but in a post-Brexit environment it not clear which institutional structures and mechanisms will be put in place to ensure basic standards are maintained.

 The EU’s role as a gender actor has not lived up to feminists’ expectations. Equality is one of its fundamental values, but there is a growing gulf between rhetoric and reality. The kind of equality agenda produced has been largely driven by economic imperatives. However, it has produced a body of legislation that normalised the idea of gender equality in the labour market. It has provided a platform for feminist organisations to lobby beyond the Member States. It has given space to Femocrats (feminist bureaucrats) to promoting far reaching legislation in the area of pregnancy protection.  The question now for women is: can UK actors/policy agencies fill the void left by European institutions?

MINA LOY’S DECORATIVE, DOMESTIC MODERNISM

by Lottie Whalen

‘On or about December 1910, human character changed’ Virginia Woolf famously suggested, as she considered the radical changes in art, everyday life, and human consciousness and perspective that appeared at the start of the twentieth century.

Likely 1910 stood out to Woolf as this was the year of Roger Fry’s exhibition ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’, which showcased work by Cezanne, van Gough, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso to a largely unimpressed London audience. However, many other dates stand out as significant moments in the cultural shift that we now broadly define as modernism – that radical, experimental turn taken by artists determined to break with the past and ‘make it new’. Three years after Fry’s exhibition, in 1913, the first Armory show – or International Exhibition of Modern Art – caused shockwaves in New York and marked a true watershed moment in the history of modern culture. The show brought works of Post-Impressionism, Cubism, and Dada to America for the first time, including ‘shocking’ pieces such as Henri Matisse’s Blue Nude and Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. Art critics, the media and the general public were all utterly baffled, bemused, and captivated by the spectacle. For literature, 1922 proved to be the crucial moment that high modernism truly came into its own: that year saw the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned, and the first English translation of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

LoyManRay

Portrait of Mina Loy, by Man Ray

We might also add 1915, the year when Others: a Magazine of the New Verse was first published in America. A modest edition at just 18 pages long, the first Others may have gone largely unnoticed if not for an experimental and daring sequence of verses by a certain Mina Loy: ‘Love Songs’.

Loy had already begun to make a name for herself, after her innovative poetry had appeared in a various notable avant-garde little magazines. Yet this poem provoked a scandal that propelled both her and the new forms of ‘free verse’ poetry into the public consciousness; suddenly everyone was talking about – and puzzling over – modernist poetry. Loy’s ‘Love Songs’ was variously praised and parodied in the press, and it even prompted the noted poet Amy Lowell to withdraw her involvement with Others in disgust. Unsurprisingly, Others’ editor Alfred Kreymborg was delighted with this publicity. The opening of the poem may have lost some of its shock value over the century since it first appeared, but its mix of earthy eroticism and sublime lyricism remains striking:

Spawn of fantasies

Silting the appraisable

Pig Cupid    his rosy snout

Rooting erotic garbage

“Once upon a time”

Pulls a weed    white star-topped

Among wild oats sown in mucous membrane

I would   an eye in a Bengal light

Eternity in a sky-rocket

Constellations in an ocean

Whose rivers run no fresher

Than a trickle of saliva

These are suspect places

Two years later, in 1917, the New York Evening Sun newspaper declared Loy to be the archetypal ‘modern woman’: intellectual, sexually liberated, well dressed and cosmopolitan. She had arrived in New York via several stop offs at various European cities. Born in London in 1882, she left to study art in Munich, and then Paris. After moving to Florence, she became involved with the Futurism movement and had affairs with their leaders F. T. Marinetti and Giovanni Papini. When she moved to New York in 1916, she was already known to avant-garde circles thanks, in part, to the ‘Love Songs’ scandal; as such, she quickly found herself mixing with the likes of Marcel Duchamp and William Carlos Williams in the art collector Walter Arensberg’s Greenwich Village salon.

She would leave the city to marry the enigmatic Dada poet Arthur Cravan in South America (in 1918) and, after his mysterious disappearance the same year, spend the 1920s in Paris, a regular face among the avant-garde crowd. As the outbreak of World War Two became inevitable, she returned to New York, where she wrote poems and made assemblage artworks inspired by the homeless bums who congregated around the Bowery.

Loy&Guggenheim

ca. 1926, Paris, France — Peggy Guggenheim (standing), well-known American society girl who recently joined the ranks of young American business women in Paris, opened a lamp shop with famous British artist Mina Loy (seated) in the heart of the French capital. — Image by © Underwood & Underwood/Corbis

Over the course of her travels through the capitals of modernity, Loy mixed with everyone who was anyone: Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Djuna Barnes, Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Ezra Pound, Peggy Guggenheim, Man Ray, and Joseph Cornell – to name just a few. Yet Loy was much more than a beautiful and witty guest at modernist parties and salons: as well as her talent for poetry, she was a skilled painter and a member of Paris’ prestigious Salon d’Automn, she made clothes and hats, wrote a novel, acted as a gallery agent, and designed lampshades, objet d’arts, and household objects. In 1920s Paris, she ran a short-lived but successful lampshade design business, with the financial backing of Peggy Guggenheim.

This leads me, finally, to my own research, which takes as its starting point the response to Loy’s ‘Love Songs’. In his autobiography, Kreymborg reflects on the scandal that the poem provoked, and suggests:

‘Had a man written these poems, the town might have viewed them with comparative comfort. But a woman wrote them, a woman who dressed like a lady and painted charming lampshades’.

He felt that the question that had perplexed the disgusted public was simple: ‘if [Loy] could dress like a lady, why couldn’t she write like one?’. Kreymborg’s comments reveal much more than simply the public’s reaction to a poem by Mina Loy. By highlighting the seeming incompatibility between the writer of sexualised, masculine free verse and the well-presented lady decorator, Kreymborg highlights the dichotomies that increasingly began to define the arts in the twentieth century. Applied arts and interior design were understood to be quaint, staid feminine activities, linked to bourgeois housewives and those concerned with taste and fashion – far removed, then, from the serious business of masculine high-art. It was not, Kreymborg suggests, the words on the page that offended people; after all, the same poem attributed to a male poet would have been accepted with ‘comparative comfort’. As modernism began increasingly to define itself, in critic Christopher Reed’s words, as ‘an heroic odyssey on the high seas of consciousness’, critics, artists and writers rushed to distance the defining work of the period from domesticity and the decorative. The serious business of modernism was men’s work and it did not happen at home.

Kreymborg’s patronising adjective, ‘charming’, also clearly points to the inferior status of the applied arts. Loy’s lampshades are seen as pretty trifles, the result of a quaint feminine hobby that one would expect a lady to engage in. This critical attitude has persisted: in a 1997 review of a biography of Loy and a new edition of her poems, Mark Ford claims that her ‘dilettantish approach to the various arts that appealed to her’ – that is, poetry, painting, collage, novels, and a ‘commercially successful’ design business – make ‘assessing her work a hazardous business’.

Loyhousehunting-3

Assemblage by Mina Loy titled “Househunting” c.1950

Although Loy was by no means unique in her experimentation with different media, here the combination of gender and commerce prevent her from being considered a serious artist. Ford appears to fall back on the traditional stereotype that connects feminine craft to the trivial, the superficial and the merely decorative. Eighty years on from the ‘Love Songs’ scandal, Loy is still the beautiful, well-dressed creator of pretty lampshades who, consequently, cannot be assimilated in to the modernist canon.

However, this view overlooks the significant ways that these two creative practices (writing experimental poetry and making lampshades) interact with and inform one another. In Loy’s vision, light was synonymous with modernity: her early manifesto ‘Aphorisms on Futurism’ declares that ‘the Future is only dark from outside / Leap into it – and it EXPLODES with Light’. Her lampshades functioned like magic lanterns or cinema screens; they harnessed the power of electricity in order to transform domestic spaces in to the strange, enchanted scenes created in ‘Love Songs’, or the ‘stellectric’ illuminated cityscapes described in later poems. More than simply a way of making money, Loy’s lampshades expressed her creative vision in a different medium. In this way, we begin to see how Loy’s various activities (writing, painting, designing) form part of a wider aesthetic project that cuts across high art and middlebrow culture in an effort to bring art in to everyday life.

Through the process of reassessing Loy’s body of work, my research aims to reveal the peripheral spaces of female creativity – and the alternative strains of modernism – that existed outside of the dominant, masculine realm of high art.

Alongside Loy, I consider women such as Anni Albers and Sonia Delauney, pioneers of textile art, whose work influences aesthetics and art practises to this day; and the surrealist artist and writer Leonora Carrington, whose subversive work disrupts typical ideas of domesticity and homeliness, and foregrounds powerful forms of female creativity, collaboration and magic. Perhaps just as significant are the countless ordinary women who brought modernism and modern art in to everyday life through the clothes they wore and the way they decorated their homes. Although it continues to be an overlooked and underappreciated area, interior design and decorative arts provided women with an opportunity to shape the spaces of modernity and, in the process, forge new artistic identities. Understanding Loy’s transgressive artistic identity allows us to understand decoration and domesticity as vital yet hidden facets of modernity, and to move towards a greater appreciation of the female contribution to twentieth century art and culture.