Humans of Bristol University

Humans of Bristol University: Jamie Lawson (BoB edition!)

After winding our way through the Hogwarts-like corridor of the Arch & Anth building, we met Jamie Lawson in his office. An Anthropology lecturer, Jamie was nominated by his students to give a Best of Bristol lecture last year. We caught up with him to see what he’s been working on since, as well as talk about his experience with Best of Bristol and his thoughts on giving students opportunities to explore topics outside of their disciplines.

Tell us a bit about what you’re researching at the moment…

Most recently I’ve been researching the Puppy Play community, which is a socio-sexual, queer community of practice – or subculture – involving people who take on the persona and mannerisms of dogs for a period of time. We gathered data over a period of two or so years and we’re currently outputting papers from that. We have had a couple published, and there’s a couple more in the works once I get round to writing them! That’s where I’ve been focusing mostly and we’ll see what happens next.

That’s pretty unique! You must be one of the only researchers looking into that, is that exciting?

Yeah sure! There’s me and my co-author, and there’s only two other papers that are published on the topic by academics working elsewhere. Other than that, nothing has been written about Puppy Play so yeah it’s very exciting to be on the leading edge of something…not quite sure what!

It’s good to be working in something that’s quite niche and I guess that’s reflective of queer subcultures in general. That community has gone through a process from being quite a niche group to be something that suddenly had a lot of public attention, so there’s some parallels there with the way research has played out.

Your Best of Bristol Lecture last year also looked at the LGBTQ+ community. Could you tell us some more about that?

My BoB lecture was called: “Over the Rainbow: A Brief Social History of Queer Resistance”. I took the opportunity to talk about the historical origins of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.

I began by talking about the black and brown stripes that have recently been added to the rainbow flag to represent the people of colour who have been left out of a movement that was, to a noticeable extent, started by them. Queer and trans people of colour were integral to the early LGBTQ+ rights movement. The addition of the stripes caused a really strange amount of resistance from within LGBTQ+ groups, particularly from white gay men, although not exclusively, some of whom objected quite strongly to the inclusion of some new stripes.

People were saying things like ‘race/ethnicity/skin colour were never part of the original rainbow flag so why should they be now?’. But that’s precisely the issue. LGBTQ+ people should know very well if you don’t include people then they get automatically excluded – you have to actively push against processes of oppression and exclusion.

My lecture then stepped back to look at the origins of modern homophobia and heterosexism in colonialism and Victorian attitudes in particular to sex and sexuality. This touched on the idea that as European Powers, and Britain in particular, conquered and colonised other parts of the world, they exported certain ideas with them.

This includes white supremacy and the idea of European civilisation being superior, alongside really rigid gender norms that underpin how a lot of European societies function. I was trying to draw a connection between anti-queer and anti-trans rhetoric and racism, all wrapped up in this idea of a colonial world view.

So I guess that’s quite a lot. I covered quite a lot of things. It was fun though, I enjoyed it and people seemed to get into it. It was a nice opportunity to be able to talk about that sort of stuff in a public facing lecture.

Was it something that you had lectured about before?

In bits and pieces. I had a few of my students come along and one of them said that they had seen me talk about components of it in various different lectures over the years but it was really interesting for them to see it all together in a single story.

How different was the experience of lecturing for a much broader audience, as opposed to lecturing students with a view to future exams or assessments?

I’d done a certain amount of public engagement before – I enjoy it very much. This particular lecture was a challenge because it was a mixed audience: students, members of the public, friends and academics. So, it’s a challenge trying to pitch the lecture appropriately for people who have different levels of knowledge or engagement. But it’s always fun, I quite enjoy lecturing without the assessment hanging over the top of everything.

Do you enjoy teaching through lectures? And, as part of that, do you think that lectures are a good way to educate people?

I enjoy a lecture. I think it’s a very powerful way of putting across information. I enjoy giving lectures – it’s not the only way of delivering information for sure. In my time I’ve taken part in many different forms of public engagement including showing some short films based on research, panel discussions, less formal sort of things.

It was really nice and personally very gratifying to have my skill as a lecturer recognised.

Having being recognised for how good your lectures were, has it affected how you’ve given them since?

It was a nice feeling of… validation, is that the word? It made me feel more confident that I’m doing things well, particularly the fact that it was a student-led award. That made it all the more meaningful because students are my primary audience. I think lectures should be engaging and entertaining and informative. And I guess my audience thinks I met at least some of those aims. So it was a nice confidence boost certainly…and I got this nice paperweight!

When we’re shortlisting lecturers and topics for BoB this year, do you think it’s important that we try to ensure the lectures cover topics that people might not be exposed to otherwise, like yours last year?

I guess it’s up to you really, what you want to see portrayed. For me personally, I’m a queer researcher, I work on queer subcultures and I’m a gay man and that’s something that I bring into most work that I do. It comes up in lectures not infrequently. It was nice to assert that identity publicly with the university and the student support behind me, that felt very powerful. I think showcasing diversity and giving minority voices some volume would be a worthwhile aim for the Best of Bristol awards.

There’s a lot of sentiment within Bristol that the curriculum needs to be decolonised, and I don’t think, outside of the Best of Bristol, a lot of students get the opportunity to hear the sort of things you covered in your lecture.

Yeah. One of Anthropology’s big things is critiquing colonialism, so yes I agree, it’s notoriously absent in the university setting, you don’t hear a lot of people at higher levels talking about colonialism, although Bristol has made a lot of positive moves recently, with the work of the Centre for Black Humanities, and the appointment of the first Professor of the History of Slavery. And notoriously or mind-blowingly, and I say this as somebody who was at one point at school in this country, we don’t educate our children about Britain’s role in Colonialism really. You learn about the empire and you learn about the dissolution of the empire and you learn that this thing exists. But you never quite appreciate the systematic violence that Britain was complicit in. You never really learn about Britain’s role in the slave trade; that’s always taught as something that was an American thing.

When I teach that sort of stuff to students here it often comes as a bit of a shock. And I think what I tried to do in my lecture was to demonstrate the impact of colonialism: that the racism which comes directly out of colonialism connects to the heteronormativity, homophobia, transphobia and cis-normativity that comes out of colonialism as well.

The struggles of minority groups are distinct; everybody faces their own distinct lines of oppression, but nevertheless they are connected. Best of Bristol was a nice opportunity to be able to put all of that together for an audience that was outside my degree program so might not have heard that sort of stuff before.

You mentioned that you’re able to bring your identity into the research and lectures that you do. Do you think then that your research is valuable not just to the wider research community, but to you as an individual?

It’s an important question. Another option I could have chosen for my Best of Bristol lecture was to present a talk I’d given before which is a story charting my personal history – how I moved from being a very biologically, evolutionarily focused academic working on sex and sexuality, to much more sociological, phenomenological research. A move from quant to qual, from numbers to interviews, from a really strongly heteronormative discipline to being a queer researcher. That talk is called “How I became a queer Anthropologist”.

I think this is sort of the opposite of what you said to me. Because as researchers we’re often encouraged to leave ourselves out of the work we do. And one of the big things that happened to me was a realisation that my personal identity was inextricably connected to the work I do – I think that’s true of all researchers. People aren’t encouraged to reflect on that.

It’s not so much about what my research does for me, it’s about what I bring to my research.

Would you like more opportunities for students to be able to go and see lectures in other departments?

Yeah, absolutely. Unequivocally yes. I think it would be really lovely to be able to offer some sort of general education for students. Some universities do general 1st years, where you specialise in 2nd or 3rd year on their actual degree course. That’s a nice idea, but at the same time it’s really useful to have students specialise in their discipline. Swings and roundabouts on that.

It would be really cool, for example, if people doing science degrees did learn a bit about colonialism because it’s really important in the way science develops. It’s something we discuss in anthropology – the really complex but very important connections between colonialism and evolutionary theory itself, how those things are intertwined and reinforce one another to some extent.

And vice-versa it would be handy if students could head out from anthropology and encounter all sorts of things. I think being able to approach knowledge for the sake of knowledge would be wonderful. But that is a privilege, having time, resources, money to spare to be able to do that, I’m aware.

The Best of Bristol is a really nice opportunity for students to be able to encounter things outside of their discipline in an engaging lively way, with nothing riding on it either. As you said at the beginning, no exam, no assessment; let’s just talk about some stuff.

Toby Roberts and Emily Kinder – Student Fellows

Security Online: Defence Against the Dark Arts

Speaker: David Bernhard

Abstract:

Barely a week goes by without another story in the news related to cybersecurity. Passwords are stolen, credit card details hacked, personal information leaked. Our own university is regularly a target for phishing attacks. Meanwhile the government has been making noises about ‘banning encryption’. In this talk we’ll have a look at some examples and try not to despair.

Bio:

David is a Teaching Fellow in Computer Science.

 

 

 

Find out more about the BoB lectures
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Email: bob-lectures@bristol.ac.uk

Website: www.bristol.ac.uk

Medieval Romance: Unexpected Journeys and Meetings

Speaker: Bex Lyons

Abstract:

The experience of reading medieval – and indeed any – literature can open windows on to new worlds and novel encounters for the reader, with occasionally surprising consequences. This talk considers the ways in which reading medieval romance changed the life of a working class academic from a council estate, and presents some examples from medieval romance to show what this genre is capable of: fantasy, magic, love, chivalry – but most of all offering meetings with people from the past. It highlights the value in finding common ground with those from different contexts to our own, and how medieval literature can – perhaps unexpectedly – point us in the direction of shared human experience.

Bio:

Dr Bex Lyons, Executive Assistant and Teaching Associate in English and Personal Development, Department of English. Bex is a late medievalist with research interests in book and reading history, particularly female owners and readers of Arthurian literature in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century England and their interactions with this corpus. Bex also has research interests in digital academic publishing – an area in which she has a professional background as an editor. She is especially interested in the production of modern editions and translations of medieval texts, and the effects of the digital on modern academic research and publishing. Between 2015-2017 Bex was the Research Associate at University College London on the two-year AHRC and British Library funded project, The Academic Book of the Future.

 

 

 

Find out more about the BoB lectures
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Email: bob-lectures@bristol.ac.uk

Website: www.bristol.ac.uk

What is a sustainable future?

Speaker: Prof Chris Willmore

Abstract:

It’s easy to see sustainability as being about guilt, about stopping doing things. This lecture looks positively at sustainability and the future we want to inhabit. This is about what we want, not what we don’t want. How can we make it fun and achieve a real difference to our university, our city and the world. It will look at how we can change our curriculum, change the campus and learn to tread lightly on the planet. It will reveal why some of the habits you develop at university will stay with you for life- and why some will get ditched. And pose the question – what can you say?

Bio:

Professor of Sustainability and Law, University of Bristol Law School, Chris Willmore qualified and practised as a barrister, before becoming an academic. Her work particularly focuses upon education for sustainability and the concept of a sustainable university. Her UK award winning work on student engagement in city transformation for sustainability won the International Green Gown for Student Engagement in 2017. She is a fellow of the EAUC and of the RSA.

 

 

 

Find out more about the BoB lectures
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Email: bob-lectures@bristol.ac.uk

Website: www.bristol.ac.uk

Alexander Hamilton and the development of the American single market

Speaker: Gervas Huxley

Abstract:

The Broadway musical “Hamilton” celebrates the life of Alexander Hamilton. More than any other founding father Hamilton understood the implications of creating the ‘United States of America”. One of his objectives was to promote trade between the 13 Colonies believing that “commercial enterprises will have much greater scope, from the diversity in the production of different states.” He then asks the following question: “Whether the states are united or disunited [would there not] be an intimate intercourse between them, which would answer the same ends? In other words do we need political union to promote trade? His answer what that if the states were disunited “intercourse would be fettered, interrupted, and narrowed, by a multiplicity of causes.” Hamilton’s ‘multiplicity of causes’ are the eighteenth century version of what today we call non-tariff barriers. Hamilton argued that “unity of commercial… interests, can only result from an unity of government.” This argument resulted in the Commerce Clause of the US constitution.

The lecture will examine the history of the Commerce Clause its role in creating the American Single market and the opposition the Commerce Clause has attracted for more than two hundred years from supporters of states rights. The lecture will compare Euro-Scepticism from Enoch Powel to Jacob Reese Mogg with the Anit-Federalist and States Rights tradition in American history.

Bio:

Gervas Huxley is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Economics.

 

 

 

Find out more about the BoB lectures
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Twitter: @BoB_Lectures
Email: bob-lectures@bristol.ac.uk

Website: www.bristol.ac.uk

Are drugs of abuse the solution to treating depression?

Speaker: Prof. Emma Robinson

Abstract:

Depression and anxiety are the most prevalent psychiatric disorders in modern society and yet treatments are still poorly understood and many patients fail to respond to current therapies. The first antidepressant drugs were developed in the 1950s but their discovery arose from serendipitous observations of drugs developed for other conditions. Psychopharmacology has sought to use these drugs to better understand the causes of mood disorders but progress with developing better treatments has been challenging. This lecture will discuss the history of antidepressants and how we have used these early treatments to better understand mood disorders and develop new drugs including the SSRIs, some of the most widely prescribed drugs used today. However, many patients still fail to respond to treatment. The final part of the lecture will consider new avenues of research and why drugs of abuse, such as ketamine and the psychedelics, are providing a new strategy for treating mood disorders.

Bio:

Emma Robinson Professor of Psychopharmacology, School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience

 

 

 

Find out more about the BoB lectures
Facebook: @boblectures 
Twitter: @BoB_Lectures
Email: bob-lectures@bristol.ac.uk

Website: www.bristol.ac.uk

Can Mathematics Improve Your Baking?

Speaker: Thomas Jordan

Abstract:

Going way back, bakers have had to concoct various ways to efficiently mix dry fruit through dough so it is evenly distributed. How can we describe ‘even distribution’ mathematically and can we find a mathematical process which simulates the baker’s technique? And finally, how could these ideas connect to current research in dynamical systems? Come on down to find out more.

**This lecture will also be live streamed on the BoB lectures Facebook page.**

 

Bio:

Dr Thomas Jordan Senior Lecturer in Pure Mathematics, School of Mathematics, Thomas’ research focuses on dimension theory in dynamical systems.Thomas’ interests include connections between multifractal analysis, large deviations and the thermodynamic formalism, self-similar and self-affine sets, non-conformal dynamical systems and Fourier transforms for invariant measures.

 

 

Find out more about the BoB lectures
Facebook: @boblectures 
Twitter: @BoB_Lectures
Email: bob-lectures@bristol.ac.uk

Website: www.bristol.ac.uk

Café Cosmopolitanism in a Pre Starbucks Age: Paris Internationalism pre WW1

Speaker: Tricha Passes

Abstract:

The lecture will consider the importance of Café life as a meeting place for the exchange of art and ideas in early twentieth century Paris. Focusing on photographs and paintings that depict the cafe La Rotonde in pre First World War Paris, the paper will argue that café life continued to be integral to the exchange of artistic ideas as well as the cultural development of Paris. La Rotonde was a cornerstone in the genesis of what later came to be known as L’Ecole de Paris. Alongside La Dome, Le Select, Le Cloiserie des Lilas, and later La Coupole these cafes provided an important function in the artistic and intellectual life of Paris and were signifiers of Paris as a cosmopolitan magnet during an era that witnessed a crescendo in nationalist tensions.

Photograph of La Rotonde on the corner of the Boulevard Montparnasse and Boulevard Raspail in Montparnasse.

Bio:

Tricha Passes Teaching Fellow, Department of History (Historical Studies) Tricha’s research interests include: avant-garde modernism in France, Britain and the U.S.A; class, race and gender in the visual culture of France, Britain and the U.S.A; art and environmental awareness and the transitional period from late modernism to postmodernism; and the history of the United States in the nineteenth century and the art and visual culture of nineteenth century U.S.A. She is a member of the Visual Culture Research Group at the Faculty of Creative Arts, UWE and has conducted research for The Cabot Project on the historical reception of Bristol’s voyages of exploration.

 

 

 

Find out more about the BoB lectures
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Email: bob-lectures@bristol.ac.uk

Website: www.bristol.ac.uk

Folding the Future: How Origami is Transforming Engineering

Speaker: Dr Mark Schenk

Abstract:

Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, is finding surprising applications in science and engineering. No longer restricted to folding paper planes, engineers now use origami to create self-assembling robots, designer materials and large deployable structures in space. In this talk we will explore how origami is transforming science and engineering, and reveal some of the elegant underlying principles of origami.

Bio:

Dr Mark Schenk, Lecturer in the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Mark held a position as post-doctoral researcher in deployable structures with the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, and with the Advanced Structures Group at the Cambridge University Engineering Department. His PhD in Structural Mechanics was at the University of Cambridge, under supervision of Professor Simon Guest, and his BSc and MSc degrees in Mechanical Engineering are from Delft University of Technology.

 

 

 

Find out more about the BoB lectures
Facebook: @boblectures 
Twitter: @BoB_Lectures
Email: bob-lectures@bristol.ac.uk

Website: www.bristol.ac.uk

Over the rainbow: a brief (social) history of queer resistance

Speaker: Jamie Lawson

Abstract:

Designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978, The Rainbow Flag was intended to be a symbol of unity, hope and identity for the LGBTQ+ community, associated with the new wave of political activism that had followed the Stonewall Riots in 1969. It exists today alongside other symbols, and as a single component of a longer history of queer activism and resistance. This lecture will cover the history of the Rainbow Flag, and its relationship to other symbols of queer identity, before moving on to discuss the historical origins of the oppression of queer people, both here in the UK and around the world. Along the way we’ll discuss the birth of the gay leather scene, the sociohistory and impact of the HIV epidemic, and the long reach of Victorian attitudes towards sex.

Bio:

Teaching Fellow, Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, Jamie’s major research interests are in sex and sexuality, with a particular focus on identity, embodiment and power. Jamie is an interdisciplinary, queer researcher with a background in quantitative and qualitative research. Jamie is currently running a project on the BDSM practice of puppy play, and was recently involved in the Art of Relationships project at the OU.

 

 

 

Find out more about the BoB lectures
Facebook: @boblectures 
Twitter: @BoB_Lectures
Email: bob-lectures@bristol.ac.uk

Website: www.bristol.ac.uk