Birmingham Salon

Inside the ‘’incelosphere’’


7.00 PM - 9.00 PM

Welcome back!

This is a free event for Birmingham Salon regulars to catch up after the pandemic paused our live debates, and for anyone new to Birmingham Salon to come and experience and contribute to a Salon discussion. 

Inside the incelosphere

Incels, or involuntary celibates, are an online subculture community of mostly men, who forge their sense of identity around a perceived inability to form sexual or romantic relationships. The incel community operates almost exclusively online, providing an outlet for a significant minority of incels to express misogynistic-hostility, frustration and blame toward society for a perceived failure to include them.

The “incelosphere” can be characterised as a fatalistic, misogynistic echo-chamber in which misery and failure are celebrated, emblematic of all dimensions of the victimhood-mindset. Incels take an ‘’external locus of control’’ to the extreme in perceptions of themselves and inter-sex relations. Many subscribe to what is known as the “black-pill,” a derivative of the concept of the “red-pill” from the movie The Matrix, denoting a willingness to see the world as it really is as opposed to the blissful ignorance of the “blue-pill”. The “black-pill” describes a particularly bleak “truth” to swallow; in this case, the belief that sexual-attraction is mostly fixed and that there is nothing that incels can do to improve their romantic-prospects. 

Rare individual cases have seen incels lash out in violent murderous rage. Most notable is the notorious case of Elliot Rodger, who in 2014 killed six people and injured 14 others before killing himself, referring in his manifesto to a “day of retribution” when he would kill those he was envious of – Chads (men who sleep with lots of women) and Stacey’s (the attractive women who reject him). 

In August 2021, Plymouth, United Kingdom, 22-year-old Jake Davison used a pump-action-shotgun to kill five people, including his mother and a three-year-old girl, and injure two others before killing himself. Davison’s digital-footprint revealed YouTube videos where he used incel-terminology, taking concepts from evolutionary psychology to justify his thinking without really understanding them. This case is the first alleged incel attack in the UK, and the worst instance of gun-violence in over a decade, causing the UK government to consider following Canada in designating incels as a terrorist-group. However, a comprehensive literature review found that while mental-health issues such as suicidality are prominent points of discussion on incel-forums, they have not received the same attention as themes of misogyny. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that incels as a group represent more of a danger to themselves than others.

Is the incelosphere a phenomena triggered by or reflecting other trends in society? Recent reports suggest that in the US, the number of men going to universities is falling significantly.  Morgan Stanley forecast that 45 percent of working women between the ages of 25 and 44 will be single and childless by 2030 in what they call the rise of the SHEconomy. The rise of identity politics has encouraged a pattern of group formation around grievance and oppression. Is this at all justified in the case of the incel?

Speaker: William Costello

William is a Birmingham Salon regular with an MSc in Psychology: Evolution & Culture from Brunel University London. His Masters dissertation is on the psychology of incels. William also writes about cultural issues such as polyamory, sexual violence, identity politics, Birthstrike and racism through an evolutionary psychology lens and has contributed opinion pieces to outlets such as Quillette and Areo.

Twitter: @WilliamCostello

Chair: Rosie Cuckston

Recommended reading

Step your dick up - why incels deserve better advice  William Costello, Medium, 2020

What the media gets wrong about incels Naama Kates, Unherd 2021

Why incels are the losers in the age of Tinder James Bloodworth, Unherd 2020




Saturday 28 March 2020, 11.00am to 5.00pm
Upstairs, Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY

Tickets £10 available in advance via Eventbrite
Join us for a day of debate and reflection on what it means to be a citizen. Should only citizens be able to vote? And if so, at what age? Should anyone, such as prisoners, be excluded from voting? And, how should society treat those who have broken the law and failed in their duties as citizens? What are prisons for – punishment or rehabilitation, or both?
What does it mean to be a citizen?
Modern thinking has situated citizenship within the borders of nation states. But as nation states retreat from their responsibilities to run national economies and provide for citizens’ welfare, are the ‘citizens of somewhere’ losing out to more flexible notions of global citizenship?

With the weakening of national solidarities, is citizenship being replaced by individuated, consumerist and cultural identities? Or does it continue to be built through political solidarities and struggle? What is the relationship between citizenship and language, culture, place and participation in common goals and ideals? If citizenship is more than visas, passports, pledges of allegiance, and other trappings of state organised process, what is it? 
Claire Fox, Director, Academy of Ideas and author, 'I still find that offensive'

Mladen Pupavac, associate researcher, Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, University of Nottingham. Co-author of the forthcoming book Changing European Visions of Disaster and Development.

Christine Huebner, researcher of citizenship, Research Fellow of the Citizenship, Democracy and Transformation Research Group, Nottingham Trent University. Christine's research focuses on changing conceptions of citizenship.
Rosie Cuckston, organiser of the Birmingham Salon 
The session will be chaired by Helene Guldberg, Associate Lecturer, Open University
Recommended reading
Global citizens vs the people, Jim Butcher, spiked, 7th December 2016
When can governments revoke citizenship? The Economist, 8th March 2019
The complex world of the global citizen, Irene Skovgaard-Smith, BBC, 10th November 2017
The session is produced by Helene Guldberg

12.45pm-1.30pm Lunch
There is no lunch provided, but there's an abundant choice nearby.

Who should be able to vote?
Being able to vote in general elections is essential to democratic life. The term democracy comes from the ancient Greek term demos (people), and means that ‘the people’ rule, in distinction to monarchies, where one person ruled, or oligarchy, where a small group ruled. But who are ‘the people’? Who should have a vote?

The electoral franchise has, in different ways, become increasingly contentious in recent years. Some argue, for example, that the voting age should be lowered to allow more progressive youthful voices to decide the future. There have been denunciations of ‘low-information’ voters, who are allegedly manipulated by lies and algorithms. Should the franchise be extended to 16-year olds? And what about EU citizens and prisoners?
Greg Scorzo, philosopher, public intellectual, publisher and editor of Culture on the Offensive (COTO)

Fraser Myers, staff writer for spiked and producer of the spiked podcast
The session will be chaired by Lizzie Soden, creative director at Culture on the Offensive (COTO), freelance arts project manager, writer and digital artist/filmmaker.
Recommended reading
Labour members back proposal to give all UK residents voting rights, Frances Perraudin, The Guardian, 25th Sep 2019 
Votes for 16-year-olds should be based on wider evidence, not just a need for participation, Andrew Mycock and Jonathan Tonge, The Conversation, 2nd February, 2018
Votes for 16-year-olds is a completely undemocratic idea, Brendan O’Neill, spiked, 28th October 2019
Prisoners' voting rights: developments since May 2015House of Commons Briefing Paper, September 30, 2019
The session is produced by Helene Guldberg

What are prisons for?

Prisoners are denied many of the rights of citizenship, including being able to vote. But what are prisons for? And do prisons work? Denying their liberty serves an important function in punishing those who have broken the law. But is it not also humane to give prisoners the chance to turn their lives around?

Does the current prison system downplay people’s inherent capacity for change? Should there be more emphasis on people having the power to redeem themselves? If so, what changes need to be made to the UK prison system?
Luke Gittos, solicitor practising criminal law, legal editor of spiked.
Jo Hurlow, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist at Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust. 
Dr Anna Kotova, Prison researcher, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Birmingham. 
The session will be chaired by Pauline Hadaway, co-founder of The Liverpool Salon and has worked in the arts and education since 1990

Recommended reading
‘Whole life’ orders are not the answer, Luke Gittos, spiked, 22nd November 2019

What are prisons for? Answering that is the starting point for reform, Kathryn Snow and Lynn Gillam, The Conversation, 14 June, 2015

We know that prison doesn’t work. So what are the alternatives? Jarryd Bartle, The Guardian, 16th August, 2019

This session is produced by Helene Guldberg

Comments (1)

Home: Migration, Rootedness, Privacy

Takes place on Saturday 12th October 2019.
11.00 am - 5.00 pm
Upstairs, Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY

Please join us for a day of debate and reflection looking at the effects of migration within Europe, what rootedness and belonging look and feel like, and on how we understand the boundary between private and public life. This Salon is a satellite event of the Battle of Ideas 2019.

Migration and depopulation in 21st century Europe
11.15 am - 12.45 pm

Dr Vanessa Pupavac, lecturer in International Relations - University of Nottingham
Dr Ceren Ozgen, Dept of Economics Marie-Sklodowska Curie Fellow - University of Birmingham

Chair: Dr Helene Guldberg

Since Poland joined the EU, around 3.5 million Polish people have migrated to other EU countries. In Romania, as much as 20 per cent of its working age population now lives abroad. Around a million Bulgarians work elsewhere in the EU – out of a population of seven million. These huge migration flows are usually discussed in terms of their impact on richer EU countries like Britain or Germany, but today there is a growing discussion about its impact on the country of origin as well.

On the one hand, this immigration has kept down unemployment and provided an important source of income for relatives through remittances. But on the other hand, commentators increasingly speak of ‘ghost towns’, ageing populations, and brain-drain. With dwindling working-age populations, one often overlooked feature has been the need for greater immigration into countries like Poland. For example, over two million Ukrainians have migrated since Poland joined the EU.

Another factor is that internal migration coincides with the ‘Fortress Europe’ approach to migration from outside the EU. Countries like Croatia, that are in the EU but not in the Schengen free movement area, are tasked with keeping out non-EU migrants, while at the same time losing hundreds of thousands of its citizens who’ve emigrated to other countries. Likewise, in Italy it is now illegal to rescue migrants attempting to enter the country via the Mediterranean. But this attitude exists alongside appeals from villages with tiny populations for people to come and live there.

Some expect these migration flows to stabilise or even reverse because migrants will return to their home countries once they have made a good living abroad. Others suggest that European economies will continue to demand large immigration to balance low birth rates and meet the demand for low-skilled jobs.

How does free movement within the EU affect attitudes to migration and citizenship? Should countries actively seek to reduce migration or should they accept it as a fact of the modern, globalised world? If they accept it, should they encourage immigration from elsewhere, and how? If they don’t accept it, what is needed to hold on to those attracted by opportunities abroad? And who should have the final say over this, when migration is an issue connecting so many countries and populations?

Reading material

Eastern Europe’s Emigration Crisis, Josh Adams, Quillette, 29 June 2019
The crime of aiding the wrong kind of human, Kenan Malik, Pandaemonium,16 June 2019
Migration can support economic development if we let it. Here's how, Mahmoud Mohieldin & Dilip Ratha, World Economic Forum,1 Mar 2019
EU migration policy, European Council, 7 March 2019
Central Europe: running out of steam, James Shotter, Financial Times, 27 August 2018

Produced by Rosie Cuckston

Lunch 12.45 - 1.30

Rootedness - more than belonging?
1.30 pm - 3.00 pm

Tereza Buskova - UK based Czech artist 
Niall Crowley - writer
Dr Greg Scorzo - philosopher, public intellectual, publisher and editor of Culture on the Offensive

Chair: Rosie Cuckston

‘It isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re going that counts.’
Attributed to Ella Fitzgerald

In the latter part of the twentieth century, the idea of rootedness came to be viewed as old-fashioned, undynamic and restrictive. ‘A community is something you grow up in and then get the hell out of’, said Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead. For many people, the time had come to throw off restrictions, whether of race, class, or religion, to which rootedness seemed inexorably linked. More recently the critic, writer, and TV presenter Jonathan Meades asserted that ‘roots are for vegetables’.

But one explanation advanced for the result of the 2016 EU referendum is that the embrace of liberal cosmopolitanism values has resulted in a backlash. For some critics, the importance of beloning and rootedness to people’s lives and to human flourishing has been underestimated. In David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere, ‘anywhere’ cosmopolitans are contrasted to ‘somewheres’ with a strong attachment to place. In the eyes of some, cosmopolitanism is superficial and an indulgence of the flighty well-off, although that might appear a troubling and excluding explanation to those newly arrived in the UK from other countries, hoping to establish a life for themselves and their families.

Giles Fraser, an Anglican priest and UnHerd columnist, founded and briefly ran a party called Home, focused not only on a pro-Brexit policy of taking back control nationally, but also linked to the housing crisis and people being literally unable to afford a home. There is also renewed interest in the philosopher and writer Simone Weil, who believed that a sense of rootedness was of huge importance in facing up to the human condition.

Who are the rootless anywheres? Are there still places where communities of the truly rooted can be found? This discussion will look what we mean when we talk about rootedness, and at its social, psychological, cultural and political aspects. 

Reading material

Why I left my liberal London tribe, David Goodhart, Financial Times, 17 March 2017
Clinging to our roots, Christy Wampole, New York Times, 30 May 30 2016
I Watched the Neighbourhood I Grew Up in Get Gentrified, Malakai Sargeant, Vice, 12 July 2019
In defence of gentrification, Niall Crowley, Spiked, 16 March 2016
If You Believe You are a Citizen of the World, You are a Citizen of Nowhere, Intelligence Squared, (recording of panel discussion)

Produced by Rosie Cuckston

Whose home is it anyway?
3.15 pm - 4.45 pm

David Vincent, Emeritus Professor of History - The Open University, and author of Privacy: A Short History (Polity Press, 2016)
Dr James Panton, Associate Professor of Philosophy - The Open University, and co-editor of From Self to Selfie: a critique of contemporary forms of alienation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019)
Chair: Chrissie Daz

“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it. The rain may enter. The storms may enter. But the king of England may not enter. All his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement." – Pitt the Elder

The foundational principle of liberal democracies, that a strict line be maintained between the private and the public, largely revolves around the sanctity of the home. But is it that straight forward?  John Locke applied the principle of domestic privacy as a defence of private property in general, even when such property is more social than personal in character.  And in the nineteenth century it was argued that only householders could be trusted with the vote.

Feminists have argued that the sacred character of a man’s home causes women’s oppression. But the translation of domestic violence as an issue into the mantra that the ‘personal is political’ has been used to attack privacy in many ways.  The Labour Government’s ‘Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act’ of 2004, for instance, gave to the authorities the power to enter your home in connection with unpaid fines.

From the right to smoke in prison cells and psychiatric wards to the erosion of tenant’s rights, the autonomy of the home has been eroding for some time. But when cohabiting adults and children are involved, how should we decide how much state interference is acceptable? How free should we be to interfere in the private affairs of our neighbours? And what are the implications when it is not our neighbours or the authorities but we ourselves who freely expose our domestic shenanigans to the likes of Facebook, YouTube and Alexa?

Reading material

Glass Houses: How much privacy can city-dwellers expect, Leo Benedictus, The Guardian, February 2019
We must barricade our homes against the state, Josie Appleton, Notes on Freedom blog, September 2017
Apple sends home workers who listened to intimate Siri recordings and apologises for privacy breach, Anthony Cuthbertson, The Independent, August 2019

Produced by Chrissie Daz

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.What Does It Mean to Be Human in the 21st Century? A day of debate

Takes place on Saturday 30th March 2019.
10.15am - 4.30pm
Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY

Admission fee is £10. Buy your ticket on Eventbrite or pay on the door.
10.30am - 12.00pm: Can we be spiritual without religion?
Is a materialist life enough? Past generations looked to religion for a shared faith and outlook, helping us live a good life as part of a much greater whole, negotiating the complexities of human life and the prospect of our own death. Have we travelled so far from religion, are we so estranged from spirituality, that we lack even a basic lexicon for grasping and articulating what it gave previous generations?
Today, spirituality might be redefined as a yoga retreat - but does its fleeting sense of relaxation compare with the shared rapture and enlightenment of religious faith and ritual? It’s hard to know whether people are satisfied with the spiritual dimension, or lack of it, of 21st century life. After all, most people are decent - they know the difference between right and wrong, and have meaningful relationships around them. We have not retreated to the dog-eat-dog existence of the animal kingdom.

But is the weakening of organised religion an opportunity to build a more progressive model of spiritual life, one that is both rational and fulfilling? Maybe faith was a dogma that only blinded us from the deeper dimensions of life, after all. Now we are more freed up from its monopolistic power over spirituality, we can maybe plumb the depths of human existence in new and genuinely fulfilling ways.
Piers Benn, an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University London Centre whose academic research includes Philosophy of Religion.
Adrian Bailey, Birmingham Humanists
Rania Hafez, Director of the professional network Muslim Women in Education. Rania is a researcher, commentator and consultant on teacher education and the Islamic philosophy of Education.
12.00pm - 1.00pm: Lunch
There is no lunch provided but there’s an abundant choice nearby.
1.00pm - 2.30pm: Self-sacrifice R.I.P.?
In the wake of the centenary commemorations of the end of World War One, now is a good a time to reflect on self-sacrifice as the guiding principle of western ethics.
In previous times, wars were powered by the voluntarism of ordinary men, who signed up in their millions to risk their lives for a greater cause. Christianity was founded on the very notion of self-sacrifice. People would devote their lives to the building of a cathedral, with no expectation that they would live to see its completion.
How has the idea of self-sacrifice been used and abused, and what is its legacy in today's secular world? From the London Bridge attacks to the sacrifice of Arnaud Beltrame, we are seeing examples of modern-day heroism, but how do we understand them?
We all witnessed firefighters risking their lives to save the residents of Grenfell Tower, putting themselves through harrowing experiences. Were they only doing what we would all do in the circumstances, or are such people now few and far between?
Does the idea of sacrifice need to be renewed? Is it fit for purpose in the 21st century?
Vincent Gould, writer, artist, actor and satirist.
Matt Lamb, Executive council member, Fire Brigades Union (FBU)
Kevin Rooney, teacher and co-author of Who's afraid of the Easter Rising 1916-2016 and The blood-stained Poppy: A critique of the politics of commemoration.

Rosie Cuckston
2.45pm - 4.15pm: Transhumanism and the past, present and future of humanity
What makes the human animal different from other primates? It is our ability to transcend our nature using evolved features such as theory of mind, language, abstract reasoning, delayed gratification and an ability to cooperate en masse around norms that can be perpetuated- forward through generations.
Transhumanism is the belief in and aspiration to transcend certain limiting elements of our biology and nature. Recent scientific advancements suggest we have more control over our biology than ever imagined, with CRISPR genome editing enabling us to make precise alterations to our DNA.
Which parts of our human nature are worth transcending? What implications do transhumanism and gene editing have for inequality?
We will look to go on a journey through our own evolutionary story, exploring the essence of what makes us distinctly human, and considering the point at which we may no longer considered to be human.
Does transhumanism represent a confident belief in and promotion of human potential, or does it underestimate the extent to which humanity has always transcended natural limitations?
Sandy Starr, Communications Manager at the Progress Educational Trust (PET), a charity which improves choices for people affected by infertility and genetic conditions.

Steve Fuller, August Comte chair in social epistemology at the University of Warwick. Between 2011 and 2014 he produced a trilogy relating to a transhuman future published with Palgrave Macmillan under the rubric of Humanity 2.0.
William Costello

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Birmingham Salon Discusses Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

Takes place on Thursday 22nd November 2018, 7.30pm at The Woodman, New Canal Street, Birmingham B5 5LG (near Millennium Point)

Our final event of 2018 will be a discussion of Jean-Paul Sartre’s, Nausea. The novel is seen as a fictional exploration of free will and responsibility, and the burden of both on the individual human being.

What do you think?

Join us for an hour of informal discussion and share your own thoughts.

At 8.30pm we will go down to the bar for drinks. Hope you can join us. There is no charge for this event.
Comments (1)


Saturday 29th September

11.15 am - 5.00 pm

The Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham, B2 5NY

Admission fee is £10.  Buy your ticket on Eventbrite.

Diversity and Social Class in 21st Century Britain

11.30 am - 1.00 pm

Despite the current tendency to discuss people with reference to a group identity, those identities are more usually in relation to gender, ethnic origin, sexuality, or religion, rather than social class.  In fact we might be said to be a bit disorientated about class.  The 2011 Great British Class Survey carried out via the BBC generated a huge response, but the respondents were the more affluent in society, whilst since then, in further surveys, large numbers of Brits have declared themselves working class.  

There are more women and ethnic minorities in work and treated equally at work than ever before. This contrasts strongly with the picture of 1970’s UK where social class and class conflict was much more evident through trade union membership and industrial action but women and ethnic minorities experienced significant discrimination.  

Yet today the diversity agenda arguably creates new in and out groups, gives employers and certain institutions a new mission, purpose, and power, and enables some to set themselves up as unelected spokespeople on the basis of sex or race.

This discussion will explore this change in detail, considering what the impact has been on the concept of social class and relations between the classes. Does it matter that social class doesn’t feature so much today? Should class be another strand of diversity or is it something that doesn’t really fit with the diversity agenda, or perhaps with the views of its proponents?


James Heartfield, writer and lecturer on British history and politics, author “The Equal Opportunities Revolution”, Repeater Books, 2017.

Ben Cobley, journalist, author “The Tribe: The Liberal Left and the System of Diversity”, Societas, 2018. Ben blogs at A Free Left Blog.

Chair: Rosie Cuckston, Salon organiser and HR professional

The March of the Robots

1.30 pm - 3.00 pm

The world’s first industrial robot went into production in 1961. Since then opinion has been split as to whether they would throw many of us onto the dole or free us up to enjoy more rewarding work and shorter hours; but no one doubted that their impact would be immense, and yet the robotics revolution never seemed to happen.  Today it is estimated that there is one robot for every 135 employees globally. Some speculate that this figure is set to rise significantly in the near future and the debate has been re-invigorated. 

Some of the biggest naysayers are not the sort of the people you might expect to be down on new technology and their fears are deeper and more existential in scope.  Billionaire high tech CEO Elon Musk has said that ‘… what's going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us. ... I mean all of us’. Bill Gates, and others, have proposed that robots should be taxed and the revenue used to finance universal basic income: at once slowing down their development and easing the pain as they gradually put us all out to pasture.  Stephen Hawking went even further predicting that AI could help robots to replace humanity completely.

Will the march of the robots be like a genie in a bottle: an unstoppable force that once unleashed will be beyond our capacity to moderate?  Or, if we can remain in control, should we work to encourage or suppress their development?'


Phil Mullan, writer and business manager, author “Creative Destruction”, Policy Press, 2017.
Dr Hector Gonzalez Jimenez - Lecturer in Marketing, University of York, with a research interest in human-robot interactions

Chair: Chrissie Daz, Salon organiser and writer

The NHS@70 - does it meet the needs of everyone?

3.15 pm - 4.45 pm

At a recent NHS birthday celebration in a hospital professionals and patients sang, danced, and beat drums together. Nurses and behind the scenes technical employees were cheered. Attendees found the atmosphere uplifting and motivating. It evoked memories of the London Olympics opening ceremony and its focus on the National Health Service as a source of British pride.

However the NHS ambition to meet everyone’s health needs has long been problematic, with its founder, Nye Bevan, resigning from the cabinet as soon as 1951 over the introduction of charges for spectacles, dental care and prescriptions, although he also protested about the amount of spend on medicine. Although it does very well on some health outcome scores, overall the NHS lags behind some other comparable European health systems such as those of Germany and Ireland, and the British government’s own analysis points to inequality impacting health outcomes, for example child mortality rates and life expectancy.

NHS England’s five year plans aspire for safety from danger, effective interventions for the journey from cradle to grave, and experiences to enhance your individual wellbeing. With these Utopian aspirations who isn’t the NHS serving?


Dr Simon Murphy, former MEP, mental health trust non-executive board member and expert on public-private partnerships.

David Somekh, Forensic Psychiatrist, member of European Health Futures Forum, founder of independent sector hospitals.

Rosie Cuckston, Salon organiser and HR Professional

Chair: Dr Jonathan Hurlow, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist

This Salon is a satellite event of the Battle of Ideas 2018 which will be held at The Barbican, London, on the 13th and 14th October.



What Place for the Novel in the Century of the Boxset?

Takes place on Thursday 14th June 2018, 7.30pm to 9.00pm at The Woodman, New Canal Street, Birmingham B5 5LG (near Millennium Point)

Having dodged any number of mortal threats from the cinema to the Internet, the novel finally seems to be losing its central position in cultural life. The novel has a ‘watercooler’ problem: it is gradually disappearing from everyday conversation and we seem much keener to discuss the latest season of Game of Thrones or Walking Dead.

Is the boxset poised to displace the novel?

Ofcom reports that Britain is now a binge-watching nation, with 40 million viewers watching episodes ‘back-to-back’. Meanwhile spending on novels dropped by 23% between 2012 and 2017, the Publishers Association reports.

In what is termed the ‘new golden age of television’, the epic-length boxset drama can deliver long-range development of characters such as Breaking Bad’s Walter White – whose Shakespearean-scale moral descent has entered mainstream understanding – through complex plotlines that keep us hooked, season after season. How does the novel’s unique claim to open up the interior of the human mind stand up to Breaking Bad?

Does the novel continue to offer something special or is it at least strong enough to coexist with newer narrative formats, as it has up to now? Do novelists lack the confidence that David Simon, creator of The Wire, displayed when he famously declared “Fuck the casual viewer”. Are today’s novelists too busy chasing the cultural agenda to take the lead?

And if the novel loses its foothold in mainstream culture, what do we stand to lose as humans?

The speaker and producer of this event is Sarah Bartlett.

Although there is no charge for the event, we strongly recommend you to book a place in advance on Eventbrite.

Recommended Readings
Have boxsets killed the novel? - BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, 2017

[If you read nothing else, try to read this one]


Identity and Equality – A Day of Debate

Takes place on Saturday 21st April from 11.30am to 4.45pm, upstairs at the Old Joint Stock, 4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY

What do disputes between identity-based groups such as women and transsexuals really mean today? Do they have a genuinely progressive dimension in society, or are they simply about conformity and hollow etiquette?

Admission fee is £10. Buy your ticket on Eventbrite.

The day’s itinerary:

11.30am to 1.00pm. Session 1 – What do women want?

Months after American actress Alyssa Milano’s tweet gave birth to the #MeToo social-media movement, the fascination with alleged sexual harassment scandal shows no signs of abating.

#MeToo has opened up a conversation about sexual harassment, we’re told. But is this a one-sided conversation, in which women who fail to toe the #metoo line are labelled misogynists, patriarchs and rape apologists?

And when men have lost their jobs for everything from accusations of knee touching to attending men-only events, is the meaning of sexual harassment losing clarity? Or does metoo mark a significant step forward, with outmoded sexual behaviour exposed and made unacceptable?

Is feminism preoccupied with frightening women about sex? Is the #MeToo movement a positive change for women's freedom? Or is today's sex panic an example of how reactionary feminism has become?


Ella Whelan – Ella is a journalist and a campaigner for free speech.
Additional speakers to be confirmed


Feminism has become obsessed with victimhood. Irish Times, 2018
Parents reckon feminism 'is not relevant'. The Scotsman, 2018
Banning F1 grid girls is a distraction from the wider workplace war. Spiked, 2018
Policing pregnancy: The new attack on women's autonomy. Spiked, 2017


13.00-13.45. Lunch

Lunch is not provided but is available from the bar downstairs.

13.45-15.15. Session 2 – Race and racism today: what can we learn from Martin Luther King?

To mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, we reappraise the legacy of his most famous dictum. In his iconic speech, King stated: ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’

But for all our reverence for this magnificent vision, King’s positive aspirations to eradicate racial difference and his commitment to equal treatment are now under severe strain.

Identity politics seems to have seized the reins from the civil rights movement – but how well does it align with King’s call to judge people by the ‘content of their character’? If judging people by their skin colour ever went away, it seems to be back with a vengeance.

Today’s social justice warriors – many of whom invoke King’s name – demand racially-segregated safe spaces on campuses and espouse ideas that are diametrically opposed to the universalist philosophy that informed King’s work. Are they more preoccupied by biological features than by character?

What would Martin Luther King make of today’s intersectional politics of identity? What can we learn from Martin Luther King?


Michell Chresfield – Michell is a lecturer in US History at the University of Birmingham

Vincent Gould – Vincent is an artist, actor and satirist

Cheryl Hudson – Cheryl is a lecturer in American History at the University of Liverpool


On MLK Day, stand against identity politics. National Review, January 2017
The ignoble lie: How the new aristocracy masks its privilege. First Things, 2018
Identity politics - What is to be done? Huffington Post, May 2017
Identity politics is killing college life. Spiked, September 2013

15.15-15.30. Drinks break

15.30-16.45. Session 3 – Exploring equality

We live at a time when the question of equality is polarising our political landscape. This talk will examine equality of opportunity, equality of outcome and equality of treatment. These are three markedly different areas of equality, each with distinctive implications for the way we organise society.

The passion and anger that tends to accompany equality activism today can obscure the conflicts that arise between different forms of equality. Activists demanding one form of equality (such as outcome) fail to see that this very equality might negate another form of equality (such as treatment). There is also a worrying tendency to see equality as a categorical imperative that trumps other social values, including difference, diversity and competition.

Equality is often used to justify demands that express irrational resentments and entitlement, hindering attempts to tackle genuine discrimination where it arises. This talk will explore these problems and attempt to offer some solutions that prioritise the flourishing of individuals, rather than groups.


Dr Greg Scorzo – Greg is a director and editor of the online magazine Culture on the Offensive.


Does Free Will Really Exist?

Takes place on Thursday 8th March 2018, 7.30pm to 9.00pm at The Woodman, New Canal Street, Birmingham B5 5LG (near Millennium Point)

When you make up your mind to do something – whether it be trivial or life-changing – is it really you who decides?  

Free will is at the core of our being.  But aren’t some events in the universe simply caused by earlier events rather than happening of their own accord? 

In what sense then do we have free will to make our own independent choices? Philosophers and scientists have spent more than 2,000 years debating this question and no definitive answer is in sight.  Are their debates just a pointless exercise in philosophical navel gazing, a waste of intellectual energy, or does the free-will debate have deeper implications in our lives? 

From the 18thcentury Enlightenment onwards, Western thinkers saw free will as distinguishing us from other animals, and gave all of humanity a common identity.  However constrained one person’s freedom might be compared with another, we all must make choices. This allows us to recognise all people as beings who share the same sort of internal lives as ourselves. 

Recent surveys show up a widening gulf between professional philosophers, scientists and graduate students on the one hand and the general public on the other. Less than 14% in the first group believe in free will, whereas over 70% do. Are we commoners deluding ourselves by holding on to a belief which implies that we are special, or it is the experts who have got it wrong?

Chrissie Daz is a school teacher, cabaret performer and author on transgender and gender variant identity. 

Dr Greg Scorzo is a director and editor of the online magazine Culture on the Offensive. He has a PhD in meta-Ethics, and has taught a wide range of philosophy seminars between 2008-13, including Plato, political philosophy, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind.

We thank the Woodman for hosting this event, and look forward to seeing you there.

Slavery and Anti-Slavery in British History

Takes place on Thursday 30thNovember 2017, 7.30pm to 9.00pm, at The Island Bar, 14-16 Suffolk Street, B1 1LT

Entrance fee: £5

For centuries Britain’s record as the leading opponent of slavery has been part of the country’s identity, and its claim to stand for justice and liberty. Indeed, groups and individuals in Birmingham played a prominent role in the anti-slavery movement. But more recently historians have been pointing to Britain’s history of slave-trading rather than that of anti-slavery. Once-lauded British heroes like Admiral Nelson and Cecil Rhodes are today pilloried as enslavers. Cities that once made their wealth from slave-trading, today get the tourists in to museums and exhibits decrying the slave trade. 

Though the slave trade has long been abolished, modern-day campaigners keep re-discovering it. 
‘Slavery’ today is used to mean all kinds of coerced work, from that of prostitutes to live-in maids – a powerful rhetorical device in framing contemporary campaigns. In the arts, the appetite for films, plays and novels about slavery is stronger than ever. Something about the slave as a figure seems strikingly relevant today. In this Salon, historian James Heartfield will try to shed light on the appetite for slave histories in the present day. 

James Heartfield is the author of a number of historical books about the British Empire, the most recent being The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society: A History

Recommended Readings:
Olugosa, David. Black and British: A Forgotten History. Macmillan, 2016
Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. Nabu Press, 2011