Posted on 4 March 2024 in roundup, the conversation

Roundup: Ten Recent ISRF Articles Published by The Conversation

Over the last few years, ISRF Fellows have published widely on The Conversation. Here is a roundup of 10 recently published articles.

Adam Smith

Universal Impact Writer

Original image by Susan Q Yin (via Unsplash).

This article was written by a team member of Universal Impact.

From decolonisation to drill music, the ISRF supports a diverse range of research driven by independent thought, innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Over the last few years, its Fellows have published widely on The Conversation, a media platform that specialises in communicating research to a global audience of tens of millions. Exploring topics including AI narrators, arms fairs and the military lawyers who wield “almost divine power” over life and death, the Fellows’ articles offer an insight into the independent big ideas the ISRF funds.

Here are 10 of the best published during this time:

Crackdown on drill

Drill music originated in Chicago’s South Side before migrating to London, where it evolved its own distinct identity. This rap sub-genre often reflects the daily realities – and hardships – of those who perform it. But it has also been blamed by the authorities for encouraging violent crime, and some young black musicians have been criminalised for expressing themselves. Take the London group 1011, which was banned from recording music or performing without permission from the police. No matter the genre, says Joy White, making music should never be a crime – and the scapegoating of drill music must end.

Undercover at arms fairs

They’re essentially supermarkets for those seeking to invest in the latest weapons. So artist and activist Jill Gibbon conducted a decade-long undercover exploration of international arms fairs across Europe and the Middle East. She accessed restricted areas by posing as a security consultant from a fictional company and donning a corporate disguise of suit, heels and a string of fake pearls. Once inside, she found missiles showcased under spotlights, “tester” guns, and salespeople handing out grenade-shaped stress balls. One gas mask company had thought of everything – offering condoms labelled “The ultimate protection”. Her atmospheric caricatures, sketched in secret, further illuminate how international arms sales are normalised at these shadowy events and the “strange amorality” that hangs over them.

Sex trafficking through the ages

You’d be forgiven for not having heard of Lydia Harvey, a 16-year-old sex worker who turned star witness to help prosecute the criminals who had trafficked her across the globe. While her shocking tale sounds like something from the present-day international sex trade, it actually took place in 1910. In fact, sex trafficking, though often thought of as a modern problem, was considered an equally pressing social issue a century ago. Tragically, however, little has changed in the last 110 years. “Despite a century of attempts to ostensibly build a better world,” says Julia Laite, “Lydia Harvey would find our present-day all too familiar.”

Lawyers with‘almost divine power’

Over the past few decades, and particularly since the 2001 launch of the “war on terror”, lawyers have been playing an increasingly central part in modern warfare. Trained in both law and soldiering, these specialist legal advisers often have the power to determine who lives and who dies. Indeed, as one said, they may be “the sole remaining impediment to a sentence of death”. Craig Jones interviewed many of these military lawyers, revealing how commanders have increasingly come to rely on their ability to “interpret the myriad rules of war”. But he also uncovered the personal price they can pay. Many are uneasy about wielding “almost divine power” and tell of the intense strain it puts on their mental health.

Political gambling

Over four billion people will be eligible to vote in a national election in 2024 – an historic record. Polls are often considered the best way to cut through the noise and the spin and discover what’s likely to happen in the latest political dust-up. But they can often be slow to respond to fast-paced political shenanigans. This is where political gambling comes in, explains Anthony Pickles. Gambling markets are highly reactive to news, moving “faster than the snappiest snap poll”. And as politics becomes “more tumultuous and data-heavy”, it may well be that the “highly reactive odds” from political gambling offer the most accurate glimpse of the future we have at our disposal.

Gandhi in London

Between 1930 and 1932, Indian delegates travelled to London to negotiate the constitutional future of India in the British empire. Gandhi was among them. When the Round Table Conference took place, London was still an imperial capital. There were cocktail parties at Buckingham Palace and maharajas residing at the city’s most exclusive hotels. During his time in London, Gandhi visited Quakers in Euston and stayed in the east end. He endured political and media scrutiny – with the press referring to his dhoti as a “loincloth” and others bristling at his bare knees – as he attempted to reconcile competing Hindu and Muslim demands. Though Gandhi was ultimately unsuccessful (this time), Stephen Legg’s article paints a fascinating portrait of a time when the sun was starting to set on the British empire and dawn on a soon-to-be independent India.

From Windrush to Notting Hill

In the 20th century, the United Kingdom was transformed by the “Windrush dance revolution”. The African Caribbean generation that migrated to Britain between the 1940s and 1980s helped usher in a cultural shift. Parties held in basements, abandoned buildings, churches and school halls were the birthplace of black clubs, paving the way for major international events such as the Notting Hill carnival and the Mobo Awards. Despite the oppression they faced, H Patten reveals how the Windrush Generation has long played a dynamic and pivotal role in British culture.

Europe’s egg donation capital

In Spain, egg donation is big business with thousands of people travelling there every year to take advantage of its relaxed rules around fertility treatments, which can be accessed regardless of civil status, sexual orientation or age. A whole industry has sprung up to meet this demand, with donors offered financial compensation of around €1,100 (£945) for a successful cycle – one of Europe’s highest rates of financial compensation for donors. Anna Molas carried out interviews and visited clinics to find out more about the thousands of “invisible” women who donate their eggs every year and face risks including medication side effects, infection and other health problems. As the demand for egg donation booms, she explains how action is needed to ensure women are properly informed, cared for and insured.

AI audiobooks

Artificial intelligence is transforming society, not least the media and how we consume it. Now, AI narrators – or digital voices – have been introduced to read our audiobooks. Bridget Vincent explains how these voices sound “warm, natural, animated… real”, and that many listeners may be unaware they’re not human. Enthusiasts promote the tech as democratising audiobooks by making them quicker, easier and cheaper to produce. But there are costs, too – not least for the human voice actors who may soon be out of a job and whose dulcet tones may even have been used to train the tech that threatens their future.

Colonial legacy

This timely critique of the Western view of human rights in post-colonial nations was published on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence in 2017. India – and many other post-colonial nations – are frequently lambasted by the West over their human rights records. India’s record is dire and deaths in police custody and torture, sexual violence and disappearances at the hands of the military are commonplace. These abuses should always be condemned. But the West’s human rights record is “not as rosy as is generally made out”, argues Deana Heath, with the horrific abuse of prisoners by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, giving lie to the belief that torture is a “barbaric remnant of the history of the West, long since abandoned”. We should also remember that Western critiques of post-colonial states are “often spurred by, and help to reinforce, underlying assumptions about the incivility of racial ‘others’”.