2021-22 Open for Discussion Series
Freedom of Speech and academic freedoms have attracted renewed public and political interest. Debates often emphasise the importance of freedom of speech to democracy and democratic freedoms, while international organisations continue to monitor censorship and the free press across the world. Key questions continue to exercise scholars, politicians, the press and the public: should there be limits to freedom of speech? How should freedom of speech be recognised in the law? What are the implications for freedom of speech posed by new technologies and digital platforms? What are the barriers to having multiple voices heard, respected and acknowledged, now and in the past? How do we have open debates in polemical times?  

Speaking Freely is an events series that explores the legal, cultural and historical dimensions of these questions, both within the UK and internationally. The series brings together experts from across the world and from different sectors to debate and discuss these critical issues.

'Open for Discussion’ is an annual series of conversations convened by experts at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London that brings multidisciplinary humanities perspectives to bear on critical social issues -- issues with human dimensions frequently overlooked in current policy debates.

Each conversation features thought-leaders and humanities researchers in wide-ranging discussions that present questions of policy, practice, and opportunity. In the tradition of the School’s approach to humanities research, the series experiments with new ideas and formats. Each conversation generates a range of provocations, interventions, and/or policy papers to spur further discussion.

2021-22 Series Details

Session 1: 19 January 2022 | Speaking Freely: Finding Words

19 January 2022 | 18:00-19:30

This online panel conversation will examine the importance of opportunities to speak freely and be heard across time. It will consider the human and social capacities that underpin such freedom, as well as the material conditions that can hinder or enable its exercise. It takes both a historical and a contemporary perspective, exploring the role of archives in facilitating expression across time, and showcasing contemporary arts and humanities projects that empower individuals and groups to find words. The event will pay particular attention to marginalized groups who may find it difficult to speak, or whose voices may not be recognized, valued or recorded, such as refugees, children and prisoners. We will address the importance of finding words for individuals and for society and think critically about who gets to speak and who doesn't.

The participants include:

  • Dave Carey and colleagues from the pioneering theatre company, Chickenshed, who will explain how they bring together people of all ages and from all backgrounds to produce theatre that celebrates diversity and inspires positive change through expression.
  • Arlene Holmes-Henderson and Tom Wright of the multi-disciplinary Speaking Citizens project which brings together educators and researchers to promote citizenship and education through talk. They will focus particularly on the role of oracy in schools.
  • Suzanne Rose, education and outreach officer at the Mass Observation Archive who will talk about the Beyond Boxes Project - a partnership with Blind Veterans UK, the Brighton Housing Trust and HMP Lewes, which has developed new ways for participants to share their life experiences. It has also addressed the barriers that prevent people from engaging with, and contributing to, archives of everyday life. 

The panel will be collaboratively chaired by Katherine Harloe, Director of the Institute of Classical Studies and Claire Langhamer, Director of the Institute of Historical Research. Audience questions and comments will be particularly welcome. 

Session 2: 16 February 2022 | 18:00 - 19:30

Details TBC

Session 3: 16 March 2022 | Writing Freely

16 March 2022 | 18:00 -19:30

Drawing on expertise and experiences from around the world, this roundtable discussion explores the power of literary writing to contribute to and lead oppositional movements and initiatives against political oppression. In movements as diverse as the Arab Spring and resistance against authoritarianism in Nicaragua, examples of literary writing have managed to avoid censorship, expressed resistance in subtle but powerful ways and acted as a coalescing force to galvanise revolt. For refugees from oppressive regimes, too, writing has become a means to continue oppositional activities and to gather forces of resistance. In many cases, this has led to unexpected alliances, strengthening the lateral networks of resistance across national and geographical borders.

Addressing these issues in an exchange of experiences over a wide geographical range, this event allows us to draw out a transnational and cross-cultural understanding of what ‘writing freely’ means.

Confirmed speakers:

  • Malu Halasa (co-editor of Syria Speaks)  
    Malu Halasa is an author, editor and exhibition curator specializing in the Middle East. She is co-editor of a number of anthologies, including Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline (2014). Her novel, Mother of All Pigs (2017), depicts life in Jordan; and her exhibitions include Culture In Defiance, on the art of the Syrian uprising (for the Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam).
  • Anna-Louise Milne (academic, University of London’s Institute in Paris ) 
    Anna-Louise Milne is a Professor at the University of London’s Institute in Paris (ULIP). University of London Institute in Paris. Her research focuses on comparative literature, cultural translation and contemporary migration studies. She is one of the co-founders of the Paris Centre for Migrant Writing and Expression.
  • Sergio Ramírez (author, Nicaragua) 
    Sergio Ramírez is an acclaimed Nicaraguan author who received the Premio Cervantes in 2017. He is the founder of the literary festival Centroamérica Cuenta. Sergio was part of the junta that led Nicaragua after the Sandinista Revolution and Vice-President of Nicaragua between 1984 and 1990. In 2021, censorship of his latest novel and charges against him by Nicaraguan authorities led him into exile.

The panel will be chaired by Daniel Gorman​, Director of English PEN. Before taking up this post in 2019, he was Executive Director of Shubbak , Europe’s largest festival of contemporary Arab culture. Daniel is also a co-founder of Highlight Arts, who have organised UK-based international arts festivals and events since 2007 including projects working with writers in Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

Session 4: 26 April 2022 | Global Conversations. Speaking Freely and Academic Freedom: International Perspectives

26 April 2022 | 18:00 -19:30

With the proposal to introduce a Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom at the Office for students in the UK, there is a temptation to view debates over academic freedoms purely in national terms. Yet, these debates are international, whether centred on how to navigate an increasingly fraught landscape on campus or how academic freedoms are to be protected when scholars are openly persecuted by regimes intent on silencing opposition. This event will bring together scholars to discuss both how we ensure academic freedoms and reasoned debate on campus and how we support scholars facing persecution across the world, through schemes such as CARA and the Scholars at Risk programmes.

Speakers TBC

Session 5: 18 May 2022 | 18:00 - 19:30

Details TBC