The Battle of Ideas (BOI) is an annual two day celebration of free speech, and features over 400 international speakers, actively engaging with delegates in public debates. In line with their 2005 slogan, “Free speech allowed”, this year the Barbican hosted up to 23 debate panels under the theme, “The Art of Change”. The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholars were spoilt for choice as we explored the Academy of Ideas’ thought-provoking debate.
The topic for debate at one of the talks that I attended was, “From Windrush to Yarls Wood: The Immigration Debate today”. Coming from Africa, I have always been curious to learn about the issues I only read about or watch on the news, and so it was interesting to listen to the exchange between the speakers and the audience. The discussion was centred on what ‘Brexit’ means for the future of immigration in the United Kingdom, and the dynamics of privilege and instability in the world and their role in determining which populations choose to migrate.
The following talk I attended was titled “Let’s talk about sex baby”. The contest was what sex had become after the #MeToo movement. Some argued that there has been a loss of the learning process to relationships, claiming the need for ‘room for mistakes’. It was stated that technology presents a threat to intimacy and has created a lot of anxiety in relationships. One of the speakers, Madeline Grant, stated, ‘…We go to bed with our partners and our phones at the same time…’ However, the #MeToo era has undoubtedly awakened the desire to speak up about social problems and created a modern day model for standing up against such injustices. This is probably why one of the debates, “Power to the People, the Art of Thinking about Protest”, moderated by Dr Greg Scorzo, provided the movement as an example.
Fellow Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar, Ayushi Agarwal (2019, India, BCL, Oxford-Hoffmann), who also attended the event, stated that, “it was a great opportunity to learn about world changing ideas in a discipline I have no interaction with”. Another Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholar, Jane Weiner (2019, South Africa, BCL, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening), said she was encouraged to question how she felt about particular matters, not only academically, but on a personal level too.
The event showed how a diverse group of people can critically discuss issues that affect the world through debates, even outside the confines of seminar rooms and the Barbican itself. The 2019 Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholars hope to live up to this standard with our Battle of Ideas Satellite event, ‘Democracy Under Siege’, on the 14th of November at 17.30, St Anthony’s College. Here, two of our scholars will be speaking about democracy and populism, alongside two speakers who were at the BOI event in London.