Recent Updates

Here we publish the minutes of speakers events – so if you miss out you can catch up on what was said!

First Speaker Event of Epiphany: ‘Perspectives on Democracy: Twenty Years of the Republic of South Africa’ (5/2/15) 

Last Thursday, PolSoc was very pleased to welcome Richard Hamilton, Editor for the BBC world service Africa, and Allison Drew, leading academic in Apartheid and post-Apartheid South Africa from York University, for our first speaker event of Epiphany Term.

The evening was centred on six questions, with Durham’s own Dr Rachel Johnson as chair. Primarily, we asked our guests what they thought had been the main challenges to democratization for South Africa. Richard gave us a brief insight into the existing political parties in South Africa, before citing unemployment and poverty, as well as power struggles since Mandela’s retirement, as the main challenges. He did state that the media was a valuable counterweight to keep the government in check. Similarly, Allison believed that challenges included poverty as a challenge, yet also highlighted socio-economic factors such as the handling of healthcare for AIDS as a central issue.

Secondly, we asked for the speakers’ views on race as a dividing line in South Africa. Richard believes that there is still an informal economic apartheid on racial lines in South Africa. There are still crimes against black South Africans, yet Richard did claim that relations were improving. Equally, Allison agreed that there are still socio-economic divisions along a racial line. She also noted that residential segregation was a factor, but that with the stronger Black African middle class, there is movement towards change.

Next, we were eager to know the speakers’ thoughts on how corruption affects politics in South Africa. Richard stated that politicians such as Zuma benefitting ostensibly from economic scandal caused a negative perception from the people. If they feel let down by their leaders, the feeling of disappointment is damaging for these leaders. Allison very much agreed with this point, and added that there was a considerably high expectation of the state from 1994. However, she was keen to emphasise that there had been corruption pre-1994 also.

The next question asked why constitutional promises of gender equality had failed to be fully implemented in practice? Richard chose not to comment on the question at hand, whereas Allison began by answering that nowhere in the world has the promise of gender equality been fulfilled. Black South African women do have a history of militant activity, and especially in 1980s moved towards obtaining greater education and more job roles. There is still a long way to go before promises of gender equality in South Africa are fulfilled.

Our penultimate question asked the speakers what they expected to be the main focal points of South African development in the future. Richard believed that this would be the issue of gang culture, particularly in suburban ideas. Equally, the police militarization would also be something to tackle. Allison thought that as well as crime, the infrastructure needed attention: the country would benefit from more jobs and education.

Finally, we asked our speakers whether they though that there had been severe consequences of Mandela’s death. Both Richard and Allison thought that his resignation had more of an impact than his death, since he was mainly a figure of inspiration following the abolishment of the apartheid.


Third Speaker Event of Michaelmas 2014: ‘Arab Militaries in the wake of the Arab Spring’ (25/11/14) 

(Summary by Tom McGivan, PolSoc secretary)

On Tuesday 25th November, Robert Springborg spoke to Durham University Politics and International Relations Society about ‘Arab Militaries in the Wake of the Arab Spring’. It was a pleasure to welcome such an established expert on the Middle East region to speak about the recent uprisings and his thoughts on the future.

Springborg emphasised how the Arab Uprisings should be considered as a case in their own right due to the complexities of the region. He then went on to divide the region into monarchies, bully states, bunker states and then democracies.

Springborg explained how the Arab upheavals and reactions to them have resulted in a profound militarization of the Arab world.

In the republics this has taken the form of remilitarizing Egypt, further entrenching the power of Algeria’s military and possibly preparing the Tunisian military for an unaccustomed role in the future. In the other republics a Hegelian dialectic has pitted the kata`ib of regime supporting militaries against militias emerging from protest movements, with both sides attracting external support, including additional militias.

In the monarchies ruling families have bolstered their militaries by increasing their capabilities and by roping them together in collective commands. They have done so primarily to confront and put down further upheavals, wherever in the Arab world they might occur, but probably also as part of intensifying intra-family power struggles.

Lying atop this militarization is the U.S. presence in various forms, included as primary supplier and trainer, operator of autonomous bases, and/or orchestrator of counter terrorist campaigns.

This is a novel and dangerous development for the Arab world. The very existence of several of its key states is now in question as civil wars and insurgencies rage on. Those conflicts have already sucked in external forces and threaten to draw in more, while destroying whatever cohesion once existed in their militaries and other state institutions.

Militaries that in the past were either parade ground forces, such as those in Tunisia or several GCC states, or which had through peace lost their raison d’etre, such as in Egypt, are now being reinvigorated not only to combat internal threats, but as possible expeditionary forces to confront “terror” and instability in neighboring countries. This growth of military power may in many if not all cases be at the expense of whatever civilian control, whether royal or commoner, now exists.


Second Speaker Event: ‘Future of the US Democrats’ (4/11/14) 

Last Thursday, PolSoc were very pleased to welcome Dr Jon Herbert from Keele University, and our own Professor John Dumbrell for our second speaker event, ‘The Future of the US Democrats’. The event was in a spacious chemistry lecture theatre, and this week was in the format of a discussion, in which Dr Herbert and Professor Dumbrell were invited to discuss 5 questions posed by PolSoc on the topic.

  1. To what extent did the results represent a referendum on Obama’s presidency?

Prof. Dumbrell suggested that the results did not display a hugely uneven split, and that the Democrats’ popularity was not too outweighed. Dr. Herbert then replied with the suggestion that the Democrats’ popularity varied from state to state, depending on the effect of factors such as immigration and healthcare in each individual state.

  1. What do midterms mean for the rest of Obama’s term as President?

Prof. Dumbrell and Dr Herbert implied that both the Republicans and Democrats would attempt to change their image. Instead of radical policies from the Republicans, and the aim of undercutting the rivals, both parties will try to improve their own party, and in that way undermine the opposition. Dr Herbert added that the Republicans would be in danger of tearing themselves to pieces, with many very conservative and thus radical members elected.

What are the significant policy areas that are likely to cause tension over the next two years?

Prof Dumbrell was adamant that with Obama thinking about his legacy, he is most likely to focus on his foreign policy. Dr Herbert suggested that Obama would pick up on issues such as healthcare, immigration and economy, as it would benefit him to be seen to be taking action in these areas.

  1. To what extent to the results show an increasingly unbalanced US between North and South?

Both Prof Dumbrell and Dr Herbert agreed that the division between the north and south had always been profound, and that now the south was resolutely Republican. Dr Herbert implied that this was due to low wages since the recession, and also a spilt between rural and urban areas regarding economy.

  1. How has this changed the playing field for the 2016 Presidential election?

Prof Dumbrell proposed that the election will have a larger turn out than in 2014, and hinted at the controversial thesis of the ‘emerging Democratic society’, which suggests that the Democrats will most likely take the lead in future. Dr Herbert commented on the fact that Obama offered something “fresh” and more diverse, whilst the choice of Hilary Clinton would potentially be falling back a generation. He also observed that the potential of the growing Hispanic vote would be a large factor in the next election.

We hope that all of those who attended enjoyed the evening, and please note our next speaker event is Thursday 25th November.

Our next social is Thursday 20th November at Whisky River (see Facebook group for details and event).

First Speaker Event Michaelmas Term 2014 (14/10/14)

On Tuesday 14th October we hosted our first speaker event of the academic year 2014/2015, and welcomed Dr Daniel Hammond from Edinburgh University and Dr Oliver Hesengerth from Northumbria Univeristy to speak on ‘China and the rise of the East.’

We had a absolutely brilliant turn out, with almost 100 PolSoc members attending the talk in room 102 Al Qasimi building. Dr Hammond spoke to us first about the process of forming domestic policies in China, and how the ideas for these are subsequently manifested in foreign policy making. He made the point that due to democratic censorship and socialist aims, there are significant boundaries in policy making. Although the fundamental concern when making policies is to maintain social stability and avoid upheaval, the underlying mission of the Chinese government is the drive for wealth and power. He also spoke about Beijing’s implementation of policies on the self-governed provinces and smaller rural regions, and how this system causes a varied interpretation of these policies in different provincial governments. The layers of government cause a fragmentation of the Chinese state, which has still not been unified: China needs to be a responsible power regarding foreign policy, yet the states’ fragmentation makes this difficult.

Dr Hesengerth then said a few words about the China’s role internationally, in foreign investment and infrastructure. He told us that China had no generic strategy for foreign development, but that there are some strategies currently in development. Each system needs to be considered and adapted to the country with which China works with, bearing in mind the resources and political conditions of each country. In the second half of his talk, Dr Hesengerth focused on the different factors affecting China’s foreign investment. Foreign investment is supported by concessional loans funded by Chinese foreign aid system, which are separate from commercial and profit orientated investment. In particular, environmental sustainability in industrial countries affects policy making: the Chinese government must comply with environmental protection. If companies do not adhere to global policies on investment, and begin construction before environmental approval, they risk being black-listed, and this has indeed happened to various companies involved in Chinese foreign investment.

Overall, we were able to enjoy an insight two incredible interesting areas of research, and we hope that those of you who managed to get a seat enjoyed yourselves, and are looking forward to our next event (6th November).



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