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PIR Festival

PIR Festival 2016

About the Politics and International Relations Festival 2016

The annual Festival of Politics and International Relations (PIR) is a four day event running from 14-18 November 2016. It features a programme of engaging talks, debates and workshops led by academic staff, students and high-profile external speakers, all of which focus upon a wide range of current and engaging social and political issues.

The festival – which reflects the range of our undergraduate politics, international relations, peace and development studies – is organised by our PIR group which is part of the University’s School of Social Sciences. Festival events are free and open to students and staff, as well as members of the public interested in engaging with these issues. The festival will also feature an appearance, via Skype, by Ben Wozner, the lawyer of Edward Snowden.

For further information and to book your place on one of the sessions please visit our booking page.

Festival Programme

Monday 14 November
  • Visit to International Slavery Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool
  • Guided tour 11:30 - 12:30
  • Coach departs from Leeds Beckett 9:00
    (Leeds Beckett Politics & International Relations students only)
Tuesday 15 November
  • Volunteering Opportunities
    9.30am – 10.30

    Oriel Kenny
    Identify appropriate volunteering opportunities in the UK, in readiness for the Level 6 Volunteering module.
    (Level 5 / Year 2 Politics & IR students only)

  • Dissertation Supervision Cafe
    12:00-13:30 BPA 103, Broadcasting Place

    With the deadline looming for Assessment 1, this drop-in session is an opportunity for you to meet your supervisor and discuss your proposal.

    Refreshments will be provided.

    (Level 6 students only)

  • What is critical engagement?
    13:30-15:00 BPA 102, Broadcasting Place

    Tom Purcell & Robin Redhead

    Critical thinking and engagement is an important element of studying Politics and IR, and a key criterion in assessment. This workshop will help you to understand what is meant by critical engagement, how you can be a more critical thinker, and how you can demonstrate this in your work

      (PIR students only)

  • Making Sense of the Syrian Conflict
    15:30-17:00 Woodhouse Lecture Theatre 3

    Federico Venturini, Leeds Friends of Rojava

    Javaad Alipoor, co-author 'Khiyana: Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution'

    Ben Leonard (Chair)

    The ongoing civil war in Syria has left many of us in the West bewildered due to claims and counter-claims in the press about the nature of the uprising and the existence of moderate rebels, and the seemingly unfathomable and constantly shifting web of allegiances involved. As a result, most people think the conflict is simply too complex to understand, never mind work out who is worth supporting, what the West’s role in the conflict should be or how it can ever come to an end.

    Too often the conflict is viewed from the ‘top-down’, with much focus on the tension between the US, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and their allies on the ground. In this session, Javaad Alipoor and Federico Venturini (more panellists TBC) will tell a different side of the story, looking at the civil war from the ‘bottom-up’, with a focus on those in Syria who are struggling for peace and social justice in the face of unimaginable adversity.

    Javaad Alipoor is a writer, director and activist based in Bradford. As well as being artist-in-residence at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, he co-authored ‘Khiyana: Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution’ in December 2015. You can read some of his writing on Syria and other issues here: attheinlandsea.wordpress.com

    Federico Venturini is a member of Leeds Friends of Rojava - the de-facto autonomous Kurdish region of Northern Syria currently under the administration of revolutionary Kurdish forces. He travelled to the region last spring as part of the International Imrali Peace Delegation, and recently finished a PHD on Social Ecology - one of the guiding principles of the Kurdish project in Rojava.

  • Should universities be ‘safe spaces’?
    Robert Sharp, Head of Campaigns and Communications, English PEN.

    ‘No platform’ policies adopted by student unions are justified on the grounds of ensuring that universities are ‘safe spaces’, but critics argue that they are unacceptable restrictions on free speech.

    Robert will provide a strong defence of free speech against ‘No Platform’ policies which, he will argue, are counter-productive. Robert will also criticise as reactionary and equally counter-productive the response of some of those who seek to defend free speech. He will also address the problem of universities ands and student unions threatening legal action or expulsion to student journalists that criticise them, and the government measures to tackle extremism that could lead to a chill on the discussion of radical ideas.  

Wednesday 16 November
  • Undergraduate Focus Group
    12:00-13:00, BPA104 (Broadcasting Place)

    Jess Gifkins & Tom Purcell

    Provide feedback to help us to improve your course and your experience as a student. Refreshments will be provided.

    (Leeds Beckett Politics & International Relations students only)

  • Political book club discussion
    13:00-14:00 CL211, Calverley Building


    A Better Politics: How Government Can Make Us Happier by Danny Dorling

    In an age of disillusionment with our political system and low levels of trust in politicians, the desire to define and realise a better politics is widely felt. In his most recent and highly acclaimed book, Danny Dorling’s conception of a better politics is ‘one that will enable future generations to be happier’. His approach is based on evidence of what matters most in affecting people’s happiness. He argues that ‘there are many policies that we could adopt if we really want to be collectively happier and healthier. We could have a government that makes our lives happier, if we win the argument for it.’ So, read the book here and join the discussion, with Paul Wetherly.

  • How studying Politics and International Relations can make you employable
    15:00-16:00 Lecture Theatre F, Rose Bowl


    Professor John Craig, Dean, School of Social Sciences

    Graduate employability has become a key issue for students, universities and government. While there is often a focus on the development of generic and transferable skills, the intellectual and practical skills that come from studying a discipline are also important. This session will examine how studying politics and international relations can contribute to your employability. It will explore how employability has always been an aspect of studying politics and the social sciences, and how governments and local authorities have long recognised the value of education in this area. It will examine some of the particular skills that politics and international relations students develop during their studies and help you to think through how these might be presented to potential employers.

    (PIR students only)

  • Making Sense of the Syrian Conflict
    17:30-19:00, NT118 (Northern Terrace)


    Javaad Alipoor, Federico Venturini & Muzna Al- Naib

    The ongoing civil war in Syria has left many of us in the West bewildered due to claims and counter-claims in the press about the nature of the uprising and the existence of moderate rebels, and the seemingly unfathomable and constantly shifting web of allegiances involved. As a result, most people think the conflict is simply too complex to understand, never mind work out who is worth supporting, what the West’s role in the conflict should be or how it can ever come to an end.

    Too often the conflict is viewed from the ‘top-down’, with much focus on the tension between the US, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and their allies on the ground. In this session, Javaad Alipoor, Federico Venturini and Muzna Al-Naib will tell a different side of the story, Looking at the civil war from the ‘bottom-up’, with a focus on those in Syria who are struggling for peace and social justice in the face of unimaginable adversity.

    Javaad Alipoor is a writer, director and activist based in Bradford. As well as being artist-in-residence at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, he co-authored ‘Khiyana: Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution’ in December 2015. You can read some of his writing on Syria and other issues here: attheinlandsea.wordpress.com.

    Federico Venturini
    is a member of Leeds Friends of Rojava - the de-facto autonomous Kurdish region of Northern Syria currently under the administration of revolutionary Kurdish forces. He travelled to the region last spring as part of the International Imrali Peace Delegation, and recently finished a PhD on Social Ecology - one of the guiding principles of the Kurdish project in Rojava.

    Muzna Al-Naib has an MA in media and International development. She writes for children and she is a documentary filmmaker. Muzna lived in Damascus during the revolution and was involved in peaceful activism on the ground. She left Syria in 2014 and came to the UK to do her MA. She is a spokesperson for Syria Solidarity UK.






Thursday 17 November
  • Talking about Immigration
    12:30-14:00 CL311, Calverley Building


    Paul Wetherly

    Immigration and its economic and cultural impacts, positive or negative, has been a key political issue in the UK for several years. The vote to leave the European Union has been interpreted by the government primarily as a vote in favour of controlling, and reducing, immigration. Some people who are anxious about immigration may feel that evidence of its benefits does not reflect how it has affected their lives. Many people, on the other hand, are relaxed about immigration, feel it has brought benefits and worry about the anti-immigration sentiment that the Brexit vote seems to express. So, immigration is at the heart of political divisions in Britain today.
    This session will take the form of a conversation, to discuss and explore attitudes to immigration and the mixture of hopes and anxieties people feel about its impacts.

  • Brexit
    16:00 – 17:30, WH135 (Woodhouse Building)


    Sophia Price & Mark Langan



  • Responding to the Refugee Crisis. What can be done locally and nationally?
    17:30-19:00 NT118, Northern Terrace


    Jon Beech, Director, Leeds Asylum Seekers’ Support Network (LASSN)

    “The largest movement of people in modern times has prompted questions about all aspects of our lives, and our rights and responsibilities as citizens. These issues include travel, citizenship, foreign policy, democratic accountability, border controls, human rights, labour markets and welfare, and they are being raised at a time of unprecedented austerity and increased local responsibility.

    This talk will look at local action - how citizens of Leeds have responded to events, and how local and national Government have attempted to keep up.

Friday 18 November
  • Should ‘killer robots’ be regulated? You decide.
    11:00-13:00 BPA 102, Broadcasting Place


    Jess Gifkins, Steve Wright

    Autonomous weapons systems (aka 'killer robots') can select and engage targets without any human involvement once they are activated. This technology is being explored by many countries and weapons manufacturers. The 'benefits' of this technology could mean less harm to soldiers and greater precision. The 'risks' of this technology are the possibility of terrorist use, dehumanisation of war, and the possibility of malfunctions. So should this technology be used? You decide.

    This session will begin with an overview on the current state of development and regulation of killer robots, led by Dr Steve Wright. Then you will be assigned to represent a country in a mock-United Nations negotiation over how the technology could be regulated, led by Dr Jess Gifkins. In this simulation you will have the opportunity to negotiate with your fellow UN Ambassadors (aka 'students') and to see if you can reach a global agreement on whether to regulate this technology. You will then also have the opportunity to reflect on your own position regarding the use of killer robots (This session ties directly to Steve's modules and Jess's International Relations modules).

  • Bringing Mass Surveillance in Europe Under Democratic Control – Is it Too Late?
    14:00-15:30, BPAG02  (Broadcasting Place)


    Tony Bunyan, Editor of Statewatch, and and Ben Wizner, Attorney for Edward Snowden (via Skype)

    As Editor of Statewatch Tony Bunyan has done more than any other researcher or Journalist to keep the issue of democratic accountability, freedom, justice and security on the European political agenda. In that context, mass political surveillance has always been a core issue and Tony and his colleagues at statewatch have put more documents into the public domain tracking changes in surveillance tactics, technology and targeting than any other NGO. This work has been accomplished with dedication and slender resources and yet many European politicians will go to statewatch when they want to understand the complexities of modern surveillance and the chicanery involved in expanding the scope of mass surveillance. And much of this was started 30 years before Edward Snowden was leaking just how far the technology had gone to track everyone’s telecommunications.

    It is Statewatch’ s meticulous research which is its defining brand and we have moved on significantly since Snowden described specific mechanisms and algorithms to create universal surveillance. Recent official inquiries have concluded that much of this snooping has been illegal. But successive governments have looked the other way and said so what. It has been down to NGO’s such as Statewatch and Privacy International to alert a largely somnolent public to the dangers. Tony will Addressing the topic of have we lost meaningful human control over mass surveillance or are there political ways of ensuring proper accountability over targeting and data retention in Europe.

    Ben Wizner (@benwizner) is the director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. For nearly 15 years, he has worked at the intersection of civil liberties and national security, litigating numerous cases involving airport security policies, government watch lists, surveillance practices, targeted killing, and torture. He appears regularly in the global media, has testified before Congress, and is an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law. Since July of 2013, he has been the principal legal advisor to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Ben is a graduate of Harvard College and New York University School of Law and was a law clerk to the Hon. Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

    Few surveillance lawyers have Ben’s expertise and knowledge and he is uniquely qualified to address the issues of bringing mass surveillance under democratic control, post the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. This will be amongst the first public speeches of Edward Snowden’s lawyer in Europe, following the presidential election.



  • Can Labour Win Under Jeremy Corbyn?
    18:00 – 19:00, Rose Bowl Lecture Theatre C


    Richard Burgon MP (Labour, Leeds East)
    Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

    Jeremy Corbyn has achieved decisive victories in two leadership elections and, in the process, inspired a huge growth in membership of the Labour party. But can the party now be united under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership? Can a social movement also be a successful electoral party? And can Labour defy the conventional wisdom that parties only win elections when they occupy the centre ground? Richard Burgon, a key figure in the transformation of Labour, will argue that the answers to these questions are positive.