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Investigating Latin American Culture in Manchester

Introduction

My name is Nicola and I’m in the third year of a PhD in Latin American Cultural Studies. I did A-levels in Spanish, English Literature and History and went on to study Spanish at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, spending my year abroad in the north of Chile. After returning to Chile for another year to teach English, and then doing a Masters in Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Manchester, I began my PhD which looks at how members of the British public engage with Latin American culture in the city of Manchester.


In Depth

The first thing to point out about studying Spanish (or any language) at university level is that it’s not just about the language! While your language skills are obviously important and will be developed, you will also spend lots of time studying foreign cultures and how other people around the world live and express themselves. This can involve studying literature, film, music, art, history, religion and indigenous cultures. And, in the case of Spanish, you don’t just study Spain, but also Latin America!

After doing my undergraduate degree and Masters, and living in Chile, I found myself particularly interested in how Latin America is perceived in Britain. Latin American culture, such as salsa classes, music, food and films have become popular in this country over the past couple of decades, yet Latin Americans are a relatively small immigrant population in the UK and not many people travel there, although both have started to increase in recent years. My research therefore investigates how Latin American culture is produced in the city of Manchester and how members of the public consume it.

My research focuses in particular on the annual ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival at the Cornerhouse cinema. I analyse how the film festival is produced, the reasons why they choose some films over others, why they choose particular images to publicise the festival. By interviewing members of the audience, I can find out whether these choices influence the way members of the audience envisage Latin America, or if there are other factors to be considered, such as how the media portrays Latin America. My research also investigates what attracts British people to Latin American culture, especially whether it stems from a cosmopolitan concern to understand others around the world, something particular to Latin American culture and/or disenchantment with contemporary British culture and society.


Going Further

See what you think of the ¡Viva! film festival at their website: http://www.cornerhouse.org/viva2014?no-redir

For information on studying Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Manchester: http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/splas

For more information on Latin Americans in the UK, you might like to read this report on the Latin American community in London: http://www.geog.qmul.ac.uk/docs/research/latinamerican/48637.pdf


 

You might be a cyborg!

Introduction

My name is Scott Midson and I'm in the third year of a PhD in Religions & Theology (R&T). In my research, I look at how technology changes the way that we think about ourselves. More specifically, I explore the idea of ‘creation’, which is an important religious idea, and ask what it means to re-create ourselves or to create things like robots.


In depth

I didn't always know I was going to be studying robots and religion, though! Going back a few years, I came to university (at Manchester) with an interest in the sociology of religion. I didn't study religion at A-Level but was given a place on the ‘BA Religions & Theology (Religion & Society)’ programme because of my interest in the subject. Here, I looked more and more at ideas about technology and how new media technologies influence our beliefs. I then took a year out and did some travelling, but when I returned to the department as a postgraduate, I came across a very interesting essay by Donna Haraway called ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, and I loved it so much that I ended up writing a PhD thesis on it!

In the essay, cyborgs are used as metaphors for the ways that we interact with technology and how we cannot separate ourselves from the technologies that we use everyday. Think about the technologies you use everyday: could you live without your computer, for example? Or your mobile phone? Or what if you had no access to a clock – how would this affect you and society? We are cyborgs, the argument goes, because we live so closely with our technologies.

But not everybody likes the idea that we are cyborgs. For some people, there is a limit to how much we should embrace technology – think here of dangerous robot-like cyborgs in ‘The Terminator’ or ‘Star Trek’. Or, imagine that a new technology becomes available that would surgically implant your phone in your body. Would you want it? Would it be any different to always having your phone with you in your pocket?

A lot of people fear invasive technologies like this, and a big part of my research is finding out why. This is where I link what I study to religion: in Christian theology, humans are described as created in the ‘image of God’. Although what the ‘image of God’ means is unclear, there seems to be a link between the ‘natural’ state of humans (i.e. when they were created by God) and the use of ‘unnatural’ technologies. I thus question religious ideas about the ‘natural’ human and the ‘image of God’ in order to look at how we can use the cyborg metaphor better and not fear it so much.

Going further

One of the best things about what I study is how frequently these themes and topics appear in popular culture. Most sci-fi films and books make reference to how technology changes the human, and you’d be surprised at how many of them involve religious and theological ideas in some way! If you’re interested in this topic, then a good place to start exploring further is to ask how technology is portrayed next time you watch a (sci-fi) film.

 Other useful sources to get you started are:

Charlie Brooker’s TV miniseries ‘Black Mirror’ (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/black-mirror/) – all episodes are available online (but many do contain some shocking images and offensive language)

I keep a research blog where I post intermittently on films, programmes, and even billboards that catch my attention (http://scadhu.blogspot.co.uk) (I also tweet some stuff about my research - @scadhu)

This ‘cyborg anthropology’ site (http://cyborganthropology.com/Main_Page) gives a fairly good and accessible overview of the metaphor of the cyborg

If you’re interested more generally in the sort of stuff we get up to in Religions & Theology at Manchester (we don’t all want to be priests or vicars!), then check out this page (http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/subjects/religionstheology/). Alternatively, the Lincoln Theological Institute (LTI) page (http://religionandcivilsociety.com/lti/) shows some of the more specific work that some people in the department do. The LTI is a think-tank that does its own projects but is connected to the University of Manchester R&T department. 

 

Whose Time is it Anyway?

by YPU Admin on June 20, 2013, Comments. Tags: Humanities, Law, Philosophy, Research, and Time

Introduction

My name is Tanzil Chowdhury and I am a Ph.D researcher in the School of Law. My work lies in the field of Jurisprudence which, generally, is a fancy word describing philosophical questions about law.These, for example, can include basic questions, such as: what is a law (how is it different from the rules you have in the classroom)? What role does law have in our lives (to control us? protect us?)? Are law and justice the same thing? 

My research looks at a very specific aspect of law which is ‘time’ or temporality (the two mean roughly the same thing). A famous philosopher, St Augustine, once said: ‘What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know’. Whilst we often think of time as being what our watch or clock tells us (called objective time), we also have experiences of time, like the feeling we have of time passing slowly when sitting through a boring film or ‘time flying when we are having fun’ (called subjective time). Law, as a ‘thing’ that exists in society, also has its own temporality. But why should it matter what the law’s time is?


In Depth

Bear this in mind: that time and temporality is intrinsically linked to how we construct events.



To explain what this means, imagine this: your mother has been forced to sort out a conflict between you and your brother. According to your elder sibling, he says you hit him in the leg. You don’t necessarily disagree, only that this was not the entire story. You tell your mother that your punch was a response to years of pent up aggression at the hands of your brother’s bullying. Your mother, preoccupied with more pressing matters, looks to you both and hands down her judgement: ‘this is going to stop now! From now on, if either of you complains about the other, you shall both be grounded’.

Her justice is firm and swift; her construction of the event is directed toward guiding both your future actions.  Your focus, however, was rooted firmly in the past. Put simply, your mother and you have different temporalities (your mother is more concerned with the future, and you the past) and this directly effects how you construct the pattern of events. Lawyers, judges and law makers exercise construction in very much the same way. 

The main question, therefore, is to look at how laws construct their own time (what we might call ‘legal temporality’). The clearest way of determining this is looking at the way legal actors (such as judges and law makers) apply legal principles to facts when they are ruling on a case and how this directly affects the way they reconstruct events in those cases. Interestingly, we don’t all share the same ‘temporality’. For example, the law aims to guide future conduct but I may be preoccupied with an event in the past which affects my future conduct. Because humans and the law courts have‘competing temporalities’, it maybe that the legal system can never really work.

I hope that my work will contribute to understanding how the law is a unique phenomenon within society and allow others to criticise and discuss the law from an entirely new angle. It may hopefully help to inform how the law can be more sensitive to the temporalities of humans’ who use the courts, and also help us to understand why a person may have committed wrongdoings.


Going Further

For another explanation of my research check out my university webpage and for information about studying Law at the University of Manchester, the department's pages are a good resource.  


 If you would like to learn more about the jurisprudence, and the philosophy of law generally, Law Teacher and Princeton University's Wiki provide useful resources. The Legal Theory Blog also contains some great information. 


Sixth Form Law provides opportunities for you to explore the questions that legal philosophers ask, and Stanford University's Encyclopedia of Philosophy an interesting section on Justice as a VirtueThis website is generally good for anything related to philosophy.

Discussions about time and temporality vary in philosophy, sciences and the social sciences. A good starting point for understanding this is the video attached to an article on time in the Huffington Post, while Stanford's Philosophy encyclopedia again provides a detailed overview of the experience and perception of time

The Guardian's Law Student section is great reading for those studying, or interested in, law.

Bright Knowledge, from the Brightside Trust, has some excellent information on studying law and pursuing a career in law.