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The University of Southampton
Economic, Social and Political Sciences

Annual postgraduate conference at Cumberland Lodge 2011

Published: 27 February 2011 Origin:  Politics and International Relations

One of the highlights of our academic life in Politics & International Relations is our postgraduate weekend conference at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park.

This is a stunning retreat located in beautiful countryside which provides a superb setting for debate and discussion, and for our staff and students to hear about the remarkable range of research being conducted in our department. We hold our conference in the wonderful library in the Lodge, which provides for a supportive, intimate and relaxed environment. Our 2011 conference was attended by around 20 students working on PhD and MSc degrees as well as members of staff. When we were not listening to colleagues delivering papers on their research, we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality at the Lodge (including some terrific food and a couple of lovely evenings in each other’s company in the bar) as well as some terrific walks in the surrounding Park.

Dr Chris Armstrong , a Senior Lecturer in the department, got proceedings underway on the Friday by delivering a paper on Water, rights and global justice. Political theorists have not had much to say about water, despite it’s being a key natural resource and an essential for human life. The paper set out a research agenda which theorists could follow in order to make a more profitable intervention, focusing on the three key elements of a human right to water; trans-national governance of shared waterways; and the international trade in ‘virtual’ water.

On the Saturday morning, Rafaela Brito , one of our a PhD students, gave a paper on Climate change and security governance in the EU. The talk examined the emergence of climate change as a ‘security’ issue. Climate change could be thought to threaten the security of citizens both directly (through extreme weather events, for example) and indirectly (in its role in encouraging conflict and migration). But it is not entirely clear just what has changed as a result of viewing climate issues through the lens of security. Rafaela discussed a methodology – including elite interviews, document and discourse analysis – which would enable us to assess the practical implications of the shift to a model of ‘climate security.’

After coffee another PhD student from PAIR, Tim Bridger, presented a paper entitled Basic rights: a political luxury or a human necessity? Tim’s PhD project centres on the empowerment of citizens at the local level. But there are challenges to using the language of rights to forward such a project. Is ‘rights-talk’ divisive and destructive of solidarity? And do rights have a specific enough content to be politically useful? In his engaging presentation he answered no to the first question and yes to the second, and in so doing attempted to rehabilitate the language of basic rights as a tool of empowerment for individual citizens.

Our final paper on the Saturday was delivered by Emma Thompson , who is currently conducting a PhD in PAIR on the theme of apathy and political disengagement. Her paper, entitled Does political apathy exist, and if so, how can we explain it? delved into the shifting patterns of political participation in contemporary societies. Emma suggested that existing explanations of apathy within politics were not wholly adequate, and set out a research agenda for tackling the issue, primarily by way of quantitative statistical analysis.

Angelos Katsaris , another of our PhD students, presented a paper on Sunday morning under the title: Governing climate change in the Mediterranean. Angelos’s talk unearthed the fragmented nature of policy-making on climate change within the area of the grounds of Cumberland Lodgethe Mediterranean. Despite an apparent need for concerted action to adapt to the impact of climate change, bilateral and ad hoc agreements have tended to substitute for genuine regional cooperation on climate-related issues. The lack of cohesion over these issues provides an obstacle to good policy-making, but a fascinating topic for political analysts.

Finally, Dr Lena Rethel, a Lecturer in political economy within PAIR, delivered a paper entitled Islamic finance and the global financial crisis. Lena has previously published work suggesting that commentators may have exaggerated the degree to which Islamic principles and practices of finance offer a genuine ‘alternative’ to the Western practices which led to the financial crisis. But this fascinating talk presented a more complex picture, according to which some elements of Islamic finance appeared to hold out a genuine contestation of some of the dominant practices of global finance.

This year, the conference was led by Dr Bona Muzaka , who said that "we had a really terrific range of papers, and the quality of research generated by our PhD students was really quite remarkable. It is clear they are going to make significant future contributions in their fields, and I’m glad they were able to begin developing their conference presentation skills with us at Cumberland Lodge."

A beautiful retreat located in stunning countryside and an excellent setting for academic debate and discussion.
Cumberland Lodge

I have been privileged to enjoy this weekend at Cumberland Lodge a number of times and this year's trip was excellent. We are very lucky in Southampton at the moment to have such a wonderful and amiable group of postgraduate research students and staff. It was fantastic, not just because we had plenty of time to socialise and relax, but also it allowed us to become more familiar with our colleagues’ work and to try and help each other along with whatever advice we could.

Matt Ryan - MSc & PhD student

Cumberland Lodge is definitely the highlight of the academic year. Not only because of the wonderful settings but because it provides an excellent opportunity to get to know your academic colleagues better, both with regards their research and personally. We are lucky to have such a vibrant and lovely community in PAIR to make this weekend a guaranteed success.

Emily Rainsford - MSc & PhD student
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