Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Moving on from Essex

After 22 years at the University of Essex, I have decided to move on to pastures anew. I am excited to have been appointed the new Pro Vice Chancellor for Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham from 1 September 2015.

This opportunity would not have been possible without the many and incredible opportunities that I have had at the University of Essex. I came to Essex to work as a senior research officer on a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council on the comparative analysis of social movements and citizenship rights in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Spain.

Armed with a large duffle bag, a trombone, and a few magic tricks, I arrived at Heathrow in September 1993 and began a journey that I never dreamed would have been possible. I was originally invited to stay in the UK for one year and what transpired was a full academic and professional career, family life, and an adventure that has seen me travel to over 35 countries around the world working on development, democracy and human rights.

The original project yielded a book with Oxford University Press and a journal article in the British Journal of Political Science, a comparative textbook with Routledge (three editions, a Spanish edition, and a 4th edition on the way), and a career path that has focused on the measurement and analysis of human rights. Since these early years at Essex I have continued to publish books, articles, and reports, as well as engage in a wide range of international consultancy projects and commissioned research.

The intellectual environment at Essex combines attention to the rigorous analysis of the social and political world with larger normative concerns over the good life and human well being. Before becoming the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Essex in August 2013, I worked for years in the internationally renowned Human Rights Centre, directed the Centre for Democratic Governance, and directed the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution.

I had incredible mentors and colleagues who helped me develop my thinking and writing in ways that allowed me to produce scholarly and practical work that addresses real world problems that continue to confront the world today. From advanced statistical analysis to the finer points of international law, colleagues at Essex have been generous with their time and sharing of their spirit for advancing cutting edge research that really matters.

In addition to the fantastic research pursuits at Essex, I have also had the opportunity and privilege to teach and work with so many students who have gone on to successful careers in academia, government, IGOs, NGOs and private corporations. The alumni community is huge and globally dispersed in ways that never cease to amaze me. I arrive in a country and there always seems to be an Essex graduate there doing something amazing. I have taught ex Soviet military officers, activists from Chiapas, government officials from Thailand, and NGO staff from Mongolia, among many others too numerous to count.

Since August 2013 when I took up my role as the Executive Dean, I have witnessed and taken part in an extraordinary transformation of Essex. Embracing the vision and values set out by our founding Vice Chancellor Albert Sloman, our new Strategic Plan crafts a new direction for the University that combines growth with excellence in research and education. Our colleagues are working at a level that it is hugely impressive with superb REF 2014 results that have placed us in the top 20 in the UK for research intensity (4th in the UK for the social sciences), a growing number of Fellows of the Higher Education Academy, great student satisfaction and the construction of fabulous new buildings for our staff and students. Essex is really going places, and I have been proud to have contributed to its recent success and renewed vigour.

Without this latter experience of working with academic and professional services in the Faculty and the wider university community, I could not have developed the knowledge and skills to take on the role at Nottingham. Partnership working and drawing down expertise from the academic staff and professional services lets us plan and grow for the future in ways that should be a model for other universities in these challenging times of change.

Essex also gave me the space to be The Academic Magician with many opportunities to share my approach to magic, which sees it as an apt performance medium to engage our minds in life’s fundamental questions. The pinnacle of my magic at Essex came in this academic year, our 50th year, with my celebratory show Then and Now, which I performed for over 450 people in the wonderful Lakeside Theatre in the autumn term of 2014. From its radical past to its amazing future, the University and its departments provided the perfect substance for an engaging evening of coincidence, synchronicity, mind reading and inexplicable predictions, all couched in my own transatlantic mirthful sense of irreverence.

I now join a university that has a remarkable number of fundamentals in place, campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia, and an array of intellectual capacities that are aligned with my own interests. The schools in the faculty include politics and international relations, sociology and social policy, geography, law (with a human rights law centre), economics, Chinese studies, education, and business. I have made the UK my home and I am excited to move to the heart of England to work at a truly global university, whose aspirations are exciting and motivating.

I would like to extend a very warm and heartfelt THANK YOU to all at Essex and to all who have passed through Essex with whom I have engaged in some way. It has been truly life changing.

Keep on challenging convention…

Some of the World I have seen…

Todd Landman’s Travel Map

The past 21 years at the University of Essex have allowed me to explore the world in ways that were never imaginable when growing up in the United States. Work in the Department of Government, Human Rights Centre, and the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution has sent me to over 35 countries for keynote speeches, capacity building, workshops, seminars, conferences, and some down time. I am very grateful for all these opportunities and for all the wonderful people I have met. This nice web-based piece of software allowed me to map my journeys and take stock of the parts of the world I have seen. I am also aware of the remarkable changes in the politics of these places that has allowed such engagement, and the nearly 140 countries that are represented on our University campuses. I take heart from this level of mobility and engagement; an increasing degree of connectedness can only be good for enhancing mutual understanding, shared experience, and dampening down of the kind of intolerances that lead to convict. As I catalogue in my recent TedX talk, the world has seen a secular decline in conflict and military coups, and a gradual improvement in the protection of civil and political rights.

Todd Landman has been to: Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Vatican. Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

TEDxESSEX

Yesterday 21 October 2014, the University of Essex was host to an independently organised TED event, known as TEDx. The theme of the day was ‘Promise through research’. In following the TEDx guidelines, the format was for our speakers to present an accessible talk on a key theme from their own research that addresses the question of promise or offers promise on some issue.We also had a selection of pre-recorded TED talks that fit our chosen theme.

Todd Landman, Neli Demireva, Pam Cox

Todd Landman, Neli Demireva, Pam Cox
TEDxEssex 21 October 2014

Scheduled across four clusters, we had talks on human rights, multiculturalism, a working women’s charter, technology and the regulation of war, modelling complex and big data, public faces and new technology, the breakdown of authoritarian regimes, solutions for dyslexia, feeding the world, brain drain, moral disagreements and citizenship, and equality in the world. It was fantastic to see Essex colleagues participating with a live audience of Essex students and a live streamed audience across the internet.

The cross cutting themes of humanity, opportunity, constraints on authoritarianism, liberation, struggle, and promise were all on display with timely examples and provocative claims based on firm research and analysis. The University of Essex will in due course will be releasing some of the talks on line as per the TED guidelines and practice. An excellent day featuring amazing individuals.

The full video recording for the talk is here:

 

Academic Magic comes to life!

Yesterday I had the honour and privilege of performing my show Then and Now as part of the alumni weekend and launch of the 50th Anniversary of the University of Essex.

I performed twice yesterday for a total audience of 400 people in the magnificent Lakeside Theatre. The show was designed around the idea of highlights of our academic strengths over the last 50 years, including politics, mathematics, memories, history, literature, human rights, and philosophy. The show covered a wide terrain of ideas reminiscent of times at university, as well as enduring themes and concepts that have importance in our everyday lives.

then-now-stage-set

The audiences comprised Essex alumni from the last 50 years, staff and colleagues (current and past) and current students. We had wonderful interactions, laughter, surprises, uncanny demonstrations of mind reading and precognition, and downright magic which will be hard to repeat. The atmosphere was electric and filled with what has become known as The Essex Spirit.

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By combining academic thinking with magical performance I have sought to challenge convention, create a platform for metaphysical plurality and bring edutainment into the lives of the Essex community. It was superb to learn of people’s experiences at Essex, the subjects they studied, their friends and their favourite professors and lecturers.

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I have been at Essex since 1993 and it has been a wonderful foundation and steady firmament for an academic career that has taken me all over the world. The University was founded as an experiment with ‘fierce’ architecture filled with open squares, tall towers, and a research mindset that provides an extraordinary educational experience for all our students.

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We continue to expand and improve the University (with the highest recruitment to date) while strengthening our commitment to excellence in eduction and excellence in research.

I am grateful for our newfound confidence and the popularity of our offer to students. Celebrating our history through magic gave me a great opportunity to reflect on my time at Essex (42% of its history as I mused last night) and look forward to a very bright future indeed!

I know it will be bright, I am a mentalist after all!

Then and Now: A Magical Celebration of Essex University at 50!

 

 

Then and NowThe University of Essex is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. The year launches on our Alumni Weekend 12-14 September 2014.

As part of the celebrations I have been honoured to develop a magical celebration of our history in a dedicated stage show with music, visual images, and a wide range of uncanny demonstrations of coincidence, synchronicity, precognition, predictions, and direct mind reading.

The show explores topics such as politics, math, history, and philosophy which are wrapped in a magic carpet ride of highly interactive fun. The show runs from 4pm to 5pm (public show) and again from 6pm to 7pm (for alumni). It will also be staged again in December.

The University’s Lakeside Theatre is the perfect venue for the show as it allows raked seating, a huge performance area, and state of the art audio visual equipment.

This potted history of such a special University is serious fun with an academic twist and enjoyable for all. Tickets are FREE and can be booked by clicking HERE.

From Oz to Suffolk: Blog Hop on The Writing Process

Today’s blog is the result of a wonderful invitation from science writer, spider expert, and magicienne Lynne Kelly, who among many fantastic offerings, wrote an intriguing essay called ‘Feminine Magic’ for my book, The Magiculum. We had the good fortune of spending a day together in Suffolk England last year when she visited the UK from Australia. We met virtually years before through a magic forum and have corresponded ever since.

Lynne’s invitation is for me to reflect on the writing process, share my blog and invite others to make a similar submission.

So, here goes!

What are you working on?

This year I finished several articles, a critical response to human rights book for Amnesty International, a book chapter on social science methods and human rights, and a paper on an experiment we ran at the University of Essex that addressed questions of framing, human rights advocacy, and the trial of General Efrain Ríos Montt in Guatemala, which will be presented in Washington DC next week at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association.

ICMP

This summer I am writing the Fourth Edition of Issues and Methods in Comparative Politics for Routledge. The book was first published in 2000, then 2003, and then 2008. It has been translated into German and Spanish, and the the new edition updates the content and provides more insight into and contemporary examples for the methods that are outlined and discussed.

I am also writing an unusual book that is part auto-biography, part novel and part magic manual for magicians, mentalists and mystery entertainers who perform what has been called ‘theatrical mentalism’. The project is exciting and will be an exclusive offering to the magic community in early 2015. Until then, its contents remain top secret!

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Over the past twenty years or so, I have sought to bring the study of human rights into the discipline of political science and to bring the theories and methods of political and social science into the world of human rights. My work differs in the sense that it is problem-based and focusses on large normative and value-based questions, but uses systematic methods of inquiry and analysis to address the problems. I have worked on social mobilisation and rights demands under conditions of authoritarian rule, transitions to democracy, development and democracy, democracy and human rights, measuring human rights, the growth and effectiveness of the international human rights regime, and the application of phronetic social science to real world problems.

Throughout this period of work I have tried to remain open minded and to embrace a plurality of methods while remaining committed to the link between evidence and inference. I am keen to undertake research that collects and analyses evidence in the fairest and most intellectually honest way possible to take account of the natural uncertainty that comes with the scientific process of discovery. This approach has taken my around the world to work with scholars, advocates, partitioners, and policy makers in over 35 countries ranging from Peru to Mongolia.

The substance of my work has had an uneasy reception in political science (i.e. mixing normative and empirical approaches) and human rights (mixing statistics and law); however, students and participants in my classes, seminars, and workshops have taken value from my approach and enjoyed my blend of theory, philosophy, method, and activism.

Like my academic work, my magical writing has sought to bring the world of magic into academia and the world of academia into magic. My shows are grounded in a certain sense of metaphysical plurality, where different accounts of what is being experienced in the theatre are equally plausible. My current show is entitled ‘Lifting the Veil of Ignorance’, which tips its hat to the work of John Rawls, but explores a wide range of philosophical concepts and topics through the genre of mentalism and bizarre magic. In this way, I see a synergy between my academic work and my magical work.

Why do you write what you do?

I had a number of formative experiences growing up that made me turn my attention to the politics of authoritarianism, democracy and human rights. We had frequent visitors to our house in the 1970s and 1980s from Latin America, which turned my attention to the politics of the region while a student at the University of Pennsylvania (1984-1988).

In late 1989, I was working in the photographic laboratory in the Lauinger Library at Georgetown University when a Jesuit Priest arrived one morning with a roll of film that he wanted us to develop. He asked that we make ten copies of the pictures on the roll. In these pre-digital days, my boss and I stood in the darkroom shaking the can, drying the film, and then printing the pictures. We were not prepared for what we were about to see.

The pictures had been smuggled out of El Salvador and were of the scene at the Pastoral Centre of José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA) where six Jesuit priests along with a maid and her daughter were killed.[1] The images that confronted us were not what was reported in the mainstream press (i.e. that they were shot). Rather, we saw the brutal end results not only of a ‘simple’ set of extra-judicial killings, but the result of a manner of killing that has left an indelible mark on me ever since.

The official truth commission in El Salvador strong evidence that not only had the military had given the orders to carry out the murders but that the officers involved also engaged in cover up.[2] The facts of the case and the images that I developed those many years ago illustrate a basic point about the capacity of human beings to horrible things to one another, which lead to a deontological conclusion that what I saw was morally wrong and which has galvanised my commitment to a lifetime of human rights research.

My magical writing has been much more free and open to creativity, but also contains attention to theory and method. I have been inspired by the great magicians from the past, and have sought to carve out a personal pathway for my own style of performance that uses magic as a medium to explore larger questions and problems confronting humanity, including the persecution of women during the witch hunting period in Europe, the social injustice of Victorian mental asylums, the foundations for human rights, motivations for people to act justly, the instability of language, the power of family history and inheritance, and psychological profiling and alienism, among many others.

How does your writing process work?

As a problem-based researcher, I respond to the developments in global politics and human rights with an open mind and explore different ways in which I might study a problem and provide answers to particular questions. I read widely and formulate plausible explanations for what I observe that suggest ways in which such explanations may or may not be supported by evidence. Substantive research projects have ancillary subjects around methods and measurement about which I have written many books and articles.
Thus, I am inspired to write about contemporary problems in the world as well as the ways in which such problems can be studied. I begin with a problem or theme, work out the structure of how I will address them, and then write in ways that populates the structure with content and the development of a well grounded argument. If I see holes in the argument I continue to read and research until I feel satisfied that a particular area has been covered comprehensively. For larger research projects that rely on the collection and analysis of primary and secondary data, I have a meta strategy that structures the project, imagines the types of evidence that will need to be collected and analysed, and the type of outputs that will be made possible.
I am currently working on a project that seeks to measure values in organisations both from the personal importance individuals place on values and the ways in which they think their organisation demonstrates those values through day to day practices. The meta structure sees the need for defining values, operationalising values, collecting data from different organisations, analysing the data, and then planning a number of different outputs based on that analysis. My project team has developed the measurement tool and carried out a pilot study which is allowing us to refine the tool and map out the kinds of things we would like to publish.
For my magic writing I settle on meta themes that I want to explore through magic and then I script and design stage shows around these themes using props, slides, music and the methods of performance magic. My stage shows have included ‘An Evening of Metaphysical Magic’, ‘An Evening of Enchantment’, ‘Edge of the Unknown’, ‘Lifting the Veil of Ignorance’, and my latest creation ‘Then and Now’, a magical celebration of 50 years of the history of the University of Essex.
I hope I have addressed the questions adequately and that readers take value from what I have shared. I am pleased to pass the baton to Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold working in Brazil.


[1] The victims included Ignacio Ellacuría, Rector of the University; Ignacio Martín-Baró, Vice Rector; Segundo Montes, Director of the Human Rights Institute; Amando López, Joaquin López and Juan Ramón Moreno (teachers at UCA) and Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina Mariceth Ramos. See Vanity Fair (1990) ‘Letter from El Salvador,’ Vanity Fair, November 1990: 110, 115-116, 118, 120, 123.

[2] United States Institute for Peace, Truth Commissions: Reports: El Salvador.

 

 

 

Memorialising atrocity – Marcelo Brodsky

1er año, 6ta división, 1967 (1996) - Marcelo Brodsky

1er año, 6ta división, 1967 (1996) – Marcelo Brodsky

Many times the strongest messages come from the power of an everyday object. This piece is an incidental photograph that could have been taken in any high school in the world. Well-aligned and smartly dressed students sit together, smiling, and wearing expressions that are full of hope for the future. The context and reason for this piece from Marcelo Brodsky, however, stands in stark contrast to the ebullient feeling communicated through the young faces in this simple photograph.

Of the 32 students in the picture, two were dead and one was ‘disappeared’ as a result of the ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina between 1976 and 1982. Four of the students suffered prolonged trauma from this period, while others had moved away from Buenos Aires to other parts of Argentina; from Argentina to other parts of Latin America; or from Latin America to countries further afield. While the cohesion of high school classes is always beset with changes and possible tragedies, the scale of the impact of authoritarian rule on the young people of Argentina has been immeasurable.

My father was engaged in business for DuPont in Argentina during this same period. His slide collection shows a bucolic Buenos Aires with tree-lined boulevards, cafes, and bright sunny days without a soldier or a victim in sight. Because of his Latin American experiences, I have spent my whole academic career researching the politics of authoritarian rule, transitions to democracy and the patterns of human rights violations that emerge during these periods of profound political transformation. Like the photograph, the case of Argentina (and I would argue other cases of post-authoritarian politics) is one of deep issues that remain unresolved and the absence of closure. Public acknowledgement of past wrongs have been made, attempts at justice partially achieved, and the scars from the period are a visible reminder of the repressive policies that destroyed the social fabric of the country, the privatised violence to the point that families and friends stopped talking about politics, and the profound dislocations of human lives that have ruptured any sense of national identity.

Some years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Marcelo Brodsky and hosting him for an afternoon discussion of his work in London. After two hours of stories about the period from Marcelo and audience members, an Argentine woman who left her country for Madrid in 1978 claimed that this occasion was the first time she had ever heard of any of the atrocities committed by the regime. At that time, we were shocked at her revelation, but over the years I have learned that like this photograph, the real story is not evident to all observers. Indeed, as the case of Argentina shows, that which is immediately observable can hide a much darker truth.

The image is held by ESCALA at the University of Essex and will be on display in the Forum in Southend as part of the University’s 50th Anniversary.

 

Quantitative Methods for Human Rights Research

landman books

This week I will be teaching four sessions on Quantitative Methods for Human Rights Research as part of the Essex Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods coordinated and run by the internationally renowned Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex. I first came to Essex as part of an ESRC-funded project on citizenship rights and social movements in 1993 and have since worked on the measurement and analysis of human rights, so it is a great to be able to take part in the summer school, which in its first year has attracted 50 participants.

I thought I’d share some of the content for my sessions:

  • Designing Quantitative Research
  • Counting Human Rights Violations
  • Standards and Surveys
  • Socio-Economic & Administrative Statistics
My approach is guided by the idea that any good research project in human rights must founded on a well specified set of research questions. The ways in which the research questions are formulated have a direct bearing on the type of methods that ought to be adopted; a basic point that applies equally to qualitative and quantitative approaches. For me, all good research projects should be guided by following three key questions:
  • What do you want to know?
  • How are you going to find it out?
  • How would you know if you are wrong?
The last question is crucial since it implies a set of conditions that ought to be met if the main proposition of the research is in fact true. The research should be designed in such a way to test the main proposition and to identify ways in which evidence supports the argument. As researchers, and especially as human rights researchers, we have to know when we might be wrong. With this basic set of principles in place, a good project should have the following components:
  • Defining the scope of the research
  • Developing propositions
  • Collecting evidence
  • Analysing evidence
  • Presenting findings
  • Discussing implications
These components naturally suggest ways in which quantitative indicators and quantitative analysis are used to provide evidence in a human rights project and can answer questions pertaining to historical trends, patterns of development in human rights protection between countries, and the testing of hypotheses concerning the ways in which human rights are violated (or could be better protected). The sessions will also take advantage of the ESRC-funded Human Rights Atlas, which collates basic country statistics, legal commitments and human rights measures for all the countries of the world between 1980 and 2008 (now being updated to 2012).
The sessions will finish with my own summary as follows:
  • Problem definition is paramount
  • There are multiple categories and dimensions of human rights
  • There are multiple measures of human rights
  • There are multiple methods for analyzing human rights
  • Quantitative methods provide certain kinds of answers to certain kinds of questions
  • Evidence of intentionality is hard to establish
  • Evidence of tendencies, differences, and disproportionality support human rights-based approaches
  • Multivariate analysis can show attribution and contribution
  • Law and statistics can be mutually reinforcing for human rights advocacy

I am really looking forward to meeting everyone this week and getting to learn more about the projects that they are working on with a view to making them stronger.

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UPDATE

Here are some pictures from the event:

Demonstrating the Human Rights Atlas

Demonstrating the Human Rights Atlas

 

Events data on human rights violations in Peru

Events data on human rights violations in Peru

 

2013: An Intense Year

kiev-2Last year in December I was in Kiev working with a citizen group wishing to improve the quality of democracy in Ukraine. The members of the group were very motivated, energetic, and excited about the prospects of making a difference in the future of their country, as well as the prospects of Ukraine making closer ties with the European Union. This December, the Government of Ukraine has turned its back on Europe, which has provoked popular outcry and unrest from pro-European groups. Many see any gains from the Orange Revolution as being finally extinguished.

The trip to Kiev was part of my work as the Director of the Institute for Democracy and Conflict Resolution at the University of Essex, which I maintained until 1 August when I became the new Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. The new role has meant an expanded set of responsibilities, deeper engagement with campus life across all aspects of the academic endeavour: education, research, finance and people. I work with superb team in the Faculty and other colleagues who make the job exciting, engaging and rewarding.

The higher education sector is going through profound and unprecedented change at the moment here in the UK. The government rolled out a liberalization process that has culminated in expanding the student market during this recruitment cycle by 30,000 and then by opening up the market completely from 2015.

fss-1My work involves creating the kind of value proposition for our students that is attractive, competitive and meaningful. Our strategies are geared toward achieving excellence in education (‘a transformational educational experience’) and excellence in research (maximise our performance in the research excellence framework 2014 and beyond). The Faculty of Social Sciences features top social science departments in the United Kingdom with a critical mass of academic staff carrying out cutting edge research that is data rich, methodologically rigorous, and practically applicable across many different policy sectors.

The early part of the year involved work on The Westminster Consortium for Strengthening Parliaments and Democracy, and other projects associated with the IDCR, including the wonderful joint project with the Mackman Group, Thomson Reuters Foundation, The Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO-Mexico), Human Rights Centre and ESRC: The Human Rights Atlas. The Atlas work involved a wonderful visit to FLACSO-Mexico for a workshop on measuring human rights, as well as a visit to the Circle of Mexican Magicians!

After Mexico, I found myself in Brussels for a series of meetings with the EU’s External Action Service with some of my colleagues from Kiev. I also had the opportunity of a lifetime to finally go visit Christian Chelman, one of the world’s most foremost bizarre magicians at his famous Surnateum.

 

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In April I went to San Francisco for the annual meeting of the International Studies Association and spent a great day with Christian Cagigal, a bay area bizarre magician who showed me the Mission area and the Castro. I saw my friend and colleague Edzia Carvalho marry Sam Mansell in Sheffield. I also had the honour of lecturing to the MA in Sustainable Leadership at the University of Cambridge.

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In May I got the new job and started with the preparations almost immediately. I also made my annual sojourn to Whitby for the Doomsday bizarre magic convention where I had the honour of performing in the Gala show and running a workshop on the final day. June and July were spent getting up to speed on all matters in the faculty.

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After a lovely visit from my amazing mother, I had the pleasure of presenting a full day workshop on democracy for staff at the EU’s External Action Service in Brussels, where we looked at stylised facts, concepts and definitions, theories and explanations, and implications for EU policies in the area of democracy building.

On 22 July, I was delighted to host an evening of mentalism at the prestigious Magic Circle in London, which featured many of the talented members of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers. We had mind reading, memory stunts, tests of suggestibility, and a packed house with over 70 people.

In September I was delighted to publish my new book Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals with Bloomsbury. The book charts developments in democracy and human rights over the last 60 years, and reflects on my last 20 years working with democracy assessment, human rights measurement, and capacity building around the world.

The month also saw the roll out of an experiment run in our Essex Lab, which tested over 150 respondents on their attitudes to transitional justice through direct reference to the trial of Rios Montt in Guatemala. The results are promising and will be written up in 2014, and preliminary results presented in a talk at the University of Dundee in February.

This year saw the debut of my new stage show ‘Lifting Veil of Ignorance’, which is a show inspired by John Rawls and includes an exploration of deep philosophical questions through the medium of mind reading. I did parts of the show in Whitby in May, and then the whole show in Bath in September, Wivenhoe House and University of Huddersfield in October, and Southend in December.

lifting the veil-1

At the November Tabula Mentis meeting of Psycrets: The British Society of Mystery Entertainers I was presented with the Chancellor of Mystery award by the membership for service to organisation as one of its founders and the main organiser for 14 Tabula Mentae meetings since 2007.

In research terms, I was awarded two new grants, one from the Economic and Social Research Council for the extension of our Human Rights Atlas project and one from the Technology Strategy Board for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Glowinkowski International.

As an exciting year closes out, I am really looking forward to 2014. My academic work continues at Essex with the Faculty and with new research endeavours on authoritarianism and human rights, while in the magical world, I am pleased to announce the forthcoming book The Magiculum, which will be published by EyeCorner Press. The book is a wonderful collection of essays from lifelong magicians reflecting on the different ways in which magic has been part of their lives.

Finally, I wish to thank my lovely family Melissa, Sophia, Oliver, Briony, and all our furry friends for making home life so wonderful, full of love, and never short of surprises. This is where the true magic lies.

 

 

In the Comfort of Books

bookseller

I am the first to adopt all sorts of new technology and have benefited greatly from working on-line, with large and complex data sets, on the iPad, the iPhone, and any other piece of time saving technology available; however, I have a lifelong love and commitment to books. Their sheer physicality can never be replaced with technology. They have history, a special smell, a feel, and each one is associated with a different moment in my life.

I particularly like old books. There is something about the way books were produced 100 years ago that makes them more attractive than anything that is on the market today. I grew up with Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Alan Poe, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, Roald Dahl (especially James and the Giant Peach), and the Hardy Boys. Now, I am more prone to dip in an out of Plato, Aristotle and Descartes (the nice, small and natty Everyman editions), as well as some intriguing fiction.

My office is jam packed with books (even after a very painful purging) and my little monastic cell at home has a few hundred more tomes about everything from politics and philosophy to mathematics and magic.

This holiday season, I shall be delving into books on oligarchy, authoritarianism and human rights, along with some escapism through some fiction that is still sitting on the shelf, and even Dalrymple’s monumental Return of the King (funny how history repeats itself).

Nothing beats the satisfaction of holding an old book and appreciating the wafer thin pages, font, look, feel, and size as you curl up with your favourite hot beverage (mine’s a large cup of strong Lavazza) and lose yourself in the words.

I will also be writing and editing a new book called The Magiculum, which is an new exciting project that brings together lifelong magicians from all over the world, who are reflecting on what magic means to them. The essays are all fascinating and all different. Thanks to Enrique Enriquez and Camelia Elias, this book will come to fruition in 2014 from EyeCorner Press!

I also gravitate toward bookshops, especially second hand shops or those that value the magic of books. Wooden floors, shelves bursting with unusual titles, and the sumptuous smell of coffee wafting in the air. These are increasingly rare venues these days, but I hang on to the ones left and approach each new one I find with anticipation and excitement, like Shakespeare and Company in Paris, WatkinsDavid Drummond, Foyles and Skoob in London, Kramer Books in Washington DC, The Bookworm in Beijing, and many more.

As time slows down a bit this season, I hope we all get a chance to pick up a book and get lost for a while. I know I will…