Featured post

More Posts you might have missed on the other site

Here, in order from oldest to most recent are the not-exactly-numerous posts that have appeared on the other site in the past two and a half...

Monday, 16 May 2011

Where is the RHS? Humanities learned societies take a stand against the AHRC and The Big Society (with one rather notable exception...).

I reproduce, below, an e-mail sent around by James Ladyman, one of those spearheading the attack on the AHRC's craven peddling of Cameron's vacuous Big Society idea.  It is very good and I urge you to support it and the petitions referred to.  As Prof. Ladyman says at the end: "If we do not take a stand on this matter we will be betraying academic integrity, freedom and standards."

"The number of learned societies who have signed the statement printed in THE, The Observer and sent directly to Rick Rylance (Chief Executive), Sir Alan Wilson (President AHRC), and Shearer West (Director of Research AHRC) stands at 32. Here is the list:

Architectural Humanities Research Group
Association for Legal and Social Philosophy
Association of University Departments of Theology and Religious Studies
Association of University Professors and Heads of French
Association of Social Anthropology
Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy
British Philosophical Association
British Association for American Studies
British Association for Jewish Studies
British Association of Slavonic and East European Studies
British Association for Study of Religions
British International Studies Association
British Society for 18th-century studies
British Society for the History of Science
British Society of Aesthetics
British Sociological Association
Council of University Classics Departments
Economic History Society
English Goethe Society
Marx and Philosophy Society
Modern Humanities Research Association
National Association for Music in Higher Education
National Association of Writers in Education
Political Studies Association Media and Politics Specialist group
Royal Musical Association
The British Society for Ethical Theory
The Council of the British Association for Korean Studies
The Philological Society
The Society for French Studies
The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies
The Social History Society
The UK and Ireland Association for Political Thought
The UK Sartre Society

This represents a very wide range of disciplines. I have received no response whatsoever from the AHRC officers. The number of other learned societies whose membership disapprove of the AHRC in respect of this matter but whose leaders were unwilling to take a public stance on the matter is probably even higher. That the AHRC officers have chosen to ignore our collective correspondence is symptomatic, but is nonetheless even more deplorable than the first order matter. The AHRC leadership are arrogantly ignoring their 'stakeholders' despite their endless waffle about consultation and engagement with us.

There is a piece by Rick Rylance in THE here:

It is astonishing in its sophistry. He says that funding research into something is not the same as promoting it. Imagine a science research council saying 'we are not promoting creation science just funding research into it'. Imagine the AHRC saying we are not promoting revisionist history of the holocaust just funding research into it. These are extreme examples but the point stands. Declaring 'the Big Society' one of two top priorities is clearly promoting the idea.

It gets worse when Rylance quotes Nick Clegg as follows: "we've been using different words for a long time and actually mean the same thing: 'Liberalism'; 'Big Society'; 'Empowerment'; 'Responsibility'. It means the same thing."

Have you got that?: these words all mean the same thing. Presumably, ignorance is strength and freedom is slavery too.

Rylance repeatedly claims that the AHRC is not explicitly endorsing particular policies or decisions but we have never claimed it did. The point is that political slogans of any stripe have no place in research plans produced by the research councils. Note also that Rylance refers to working with 'other government departments' thereby forgetting that the AHRC is not a government department but is rather supposed to be one step further removed from government like HEFCE etc.

I think we have no choice but publically to call for Rylance's resignation and to petition the Minister and the relevant parliamentary committee, MPs and Lords to press the government on this matter.

There is another petition here that I urge you all to sign and to spread the word about among your colleagues:


If we do not take a stand on this matter we will be betraying academic integrity, freedom and standards. The academic world has been watching this story unfold and I have received correspondence from all over the world about it. This is fight for the heart and soul of academia. Words matter, ideas matter and reason matters, and defending clarity of thought and expression and the political independence of research is our true strategic priority. Please consult with your colleagues and let me know what you think our next steps should be.

Take care


Professor James Ladyman
Head of Department
Department of Philosophy
University of Bristol"
Now, you may or may not have noticed (as I had not until today) one rather glaring omission from the list of learned societies and that (in spite of the presence of other history societies on the roster) is The Royal Historical Society.  This is particularly disappointing since Professor Colin Jones, president of the society, was one of the first to come out and criticise the idea.  So what is going on?  Has the RHS just been accidentally left off Prof. Ladyman's list?  Is there just some sort of oversight?  Were the RHS just not told about this?  Or has it just been spectacularly slow off the mark given the presence of senior historians in the Observer article that sparked the whole affair?  Does the RHS consider its job done once some headlines and quotes have been garnered?  Is it bottling out again, like it did with Impact?  Does it think that it, or that 'History', can work with, or spin, 'The Big Society' to its own interest, and so damn the rest of the Humanities?  "This could work for us; we could get money out of this." Or "This is not the time for history to suggest that it has no input into the Big Society project"? (The 'cells' at work again.)  I think we deserve to be told and, if there isn't a decent explanation forthcoming for the society's absence from this roll-call of protesting bodies, then maybe (just maybe) Rick Rylance isn't the only one who should be reconsidering his position.

I repeat: "If we do not take a stand on this matter we will be betraying academic integrity, freedom and standards."