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In October 2017, Sergey Zheleznyak of Russia’s State Duma Committee on International Affairs spoke of “linguistic genocide”.  This was in reference to the Latvian government’s ruling to make Latvian the sole language of education within the country.  Zheleznyak saw this forcing of minorities into a national language as a breach of the “Europeans legal framework”, despite this exact process being currently enacted by his own government.

Last July, Putin spoke at the Council of Interethnic Relations in Mari El.  He stated his view that the Russian language “cannot be replaced with anything” and that no child should be forced to learn a language that is not native to them.  This supported the Kremlin’s abolishment of compulsory teaching of minority languages in ‘ethnic republics’.  This is part of a wider movement towards cultural homogenisation as Putin attempts to move away from the reasonably steady multiculturalism of the past twenty years.

Political support of minority identity has been put under pressure, such as checks that took place in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan that led to mass teacher firings making the topic highly politically sensitive.  Protests have followed but stringent laws on public protest have led to dissent moving online. 

The Democratic Congress of the Peoples of Russia has been formed to promote multiculturalism and federalism and the #StopLanguageGenocide has trended on Russian social media.  Online resistance has spread amongst a large part of the population and across different republics. 

Linguistics applicants can discover the differences between the local dialects of Russia and their role within their distinct cultures.  HSPS students can find more examples of resistance to cultural homogenisation.     

Fan Bingbing was in 2015 described by Time magazine as China’s “most famous actress”.  Yet she has not been seen in public since June when her official social-media account, on a solely Chinese platform, posted a visit she made to a children’s hospital in Tibet.  No official source has given any suggestion in regards to her whereabouts but many are pointing towards suspected tax evasion and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) crackdown on celebrity corruption.

The first piece of evidence to support this is the leaking of a film contract by a TV presenter Cui Yongyuan, a social media post that was soon deleted.  The state tabloid Global Times reported on it as being a dual-contract commonly referred to as a ‘yin-yang contract’.  This refers to the two contracts, one presented to the government that is therefore tax deductible and one personal contract that the government would have otherwise been unaware of.  Then in September the Beijing Normal University published a report on ‘social responsibility’ where prominent celebrities given a rating and Bingbing was ranked last at 0 out of 100. 

Ai Weiwei, China’s most famous artist, was detained for 3 months in 2011 by the government citing similar issues of tax evasion.  Upon release he had signed a confession related to tax evasion and his treatment has contributed to the suspicion surrounding Bingbing’s withdrawal. 

Many consider her disappearance and poor ‘social responsibility’ ranking to be the government making her an example of their crackdown on corruption in the Chinese film industry, in part as a result of the public nature of the contract leakage.  It is also likely that it is an attempt to divert attention from the rumoured exploitation within the government itself. 

Law, PPE and Politics students should consider the manner in which the CCP is using Bingbing’s treatment as a deterrent for others in China’s creative industries and how anachronistic their desire to promote the ‘Chinese dream’ is with the inevitable income divide that they wish to denounce.      

A new exhibition at the British Museum, curated by Private Eye editor and TV personality Ian Hislop, will explore the history of dissent, resistance, and satire in different cultures and eras. The idea for the exhibition came from art historian and former museum director Neil MacGregor, who wanted to subvert the traditional museum narrative and present art from the perspective of the underdogs and the dissenters of history. Hislop’s aim in choosing pieces for the exhibition was not so much to display art of revolutionary protest but rather to find and celebrate objects that in some subtle or whimsical way thumb their nose at authority. “Dissent allows you to cover all the motivations”, says Hislop – “from really serious people who want to bring down the state to less serious people who want to have a good laugh at someone else’s expense”.

The objects displayed cover a wide range of time periods and settings, from ancient Babylon to Trump’s America. A brick from the sixth century BC features the name of King Nebuchadnezzar, over which a cheeky bricklayer has inscribed his own name, Zabina. A small act of rebellion from a bored and underpaid worker, or perhaps a dare between friends; whatever the motivation, Zabina’s name has lived on alongside the mighty king’s.  Fast-forward to the sixteenth century and a rather more elaborate and expensive act of dissent; a salt-cellar made of fragments of old reliquaries and hidden religious symbolism that certainly looks more at home on the altar than the dinner table, owned at a time when Catholicism was illegal. Perhaps more recognisable to a contemporary audience, the exhibition also features one of the pink knitted hats worn by female protesters against Donald Trump.

Hislop is passionate about satire and is keen to distinguish it from revolution or overt political clash. He argues that by and large it is “ small-c conservative”, influencing the landscape of conversation by mocking or undermining rather than turning up outside parliament with placards. Ultimately, Hislop hopes that visitors will get a sense of the long history of satire and dissent. “We tend to patronise the past and imagine we’re much cleverer and braver than anyone has ever been”, Hislop comments; “I think [visitors] will be surprised at how long and in how many different cultures people have felt sufficiently bold to say ‘No’”.

Applicants for History of Art, Politics, or HSPS might be interested in learning more or attending the exhibition which opens on the 6th of September 2018. Students may wish to think about how art and artefacts play a part in political or social conversations and how art can be used in protest, whether overt or covert. Applicants could also consider the nature of satire; is is effective? Is Hislop right to say that it is by nature conservative?

Facebook has recently been the subject of criticism and derision for deciding to remove a series of adverts featuring art by the Flemish painter Rubens. The artist, famous for his depictions of particularly voluptuous nude women, is considered a master of the Baroque period; his works were being used as part of an advertisement for the region of Flanders. These were deemed not compliant with Facebook regulations about sexual content. In response, the Flemish tourist board has written to Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg with a tongue-in-cheek complaint, even releasing a video making fun of the “nude police”. The social media site is not the first to see a particular sensuality in Rubens’ work; even in a gallery full of nudes his art still has the power to raise an eyebrow, whether in disapproval or amusement, and the 19th-century American artist Thomas Eakins considered Rubens “the nastiest, most vulgar, noisy painter that ever lived”.

This is not the first example of Facebook cracking down on artistic nudity. Notably, a French teacher took the website to court for allegedly taking down his entire account in 2011 for posting a picture of L’Origine du Monde, an 1886 painting of a woman’s genitals. Perhaps the most laughable example occurred earlier this year, when a user was banned from posting a photo of the Venus of Willendorf, a 29,500-year-old prehistoric figurine of a rotund naked woman thought to be an early symbol of fertility. In response, the Natural History Museum of Vienna (home of the Venus) protested in a Facebook post, “let the Venus be naked!”

According to Facebook, the banning of the Venus was a simple error on their part. Nevertheless, questions about what Facebook deems appropriate and inappropriate are particularly relevant now given the highly controversial decisions to lend a platform to the alt-right and to not remove posts denying the Holocaust or a US congressman’s call for the slaughter of all “radicalised” Muslims; meanwhile, a post by activist Didi Delgado stating that “all white people are racist” was immediately taken down and her account temporarily deactivated.

Applicants for History of Art may wish to think about the history of nudity in art and how it has been received. Is Facebook’s censorship valid, or does it represent an over-sexualisation of a woman’s body? How do concepts such as the “male gaze” in art contribute to this conversation? Students wishing to study Politics or those interested in concepts such as freedom of speech should consider the question of censorship and freedom. Do private companies or government agencies have the right to censor opinion, and if so where is the line to be drawn?

We’re all aware of the negative effects of human activity on the environment on Earth. But what about in space? Increasing and largely unregulated activity from various states and corporations is filling up the space around our planet with orbiting trash and threatening the future of space exploration.

The Outer Space Treaty, formulated in 1967, states among other things that bodies such as the moon and asteroids cannot be used for private development and that nations must monitor the space activity of private companies.However, the problems of this current era were not foreseen or covered by the treaty. There are now over 17,000 satellites orbiting Earth, and it is increasingly cheap and easy to get in on the game. As the space industry develops, there may well be other kinds of clutter jostling for space as well. Collisions between these objects could create a barrier of debris preventing further travel. There is as yet no way to deal with these issues, and no overarching authority to regulate activity.

However several space scientists, lawyers, and policy experts are collaborating on the first Institute for the Sustainable Development of Space. The Institute sees space as common property and therefore a common responsibility. They aim to implement long-term strategies and to find solutions to the growing problems so that people around the world can continue to explore space and to use it fruitfully but sustainably. A comparable example would be the oceans, where the cumulative actions of corporations and nations can have enormous implications for the environment and for humans around the globe.

Students interested in space travel and technology, law, international politics, or environmental issues may wish to think about what problems we may face in the future and how we can tackle them, with reference to analogous environmental or legal situations on Earth.

Esperanto, literally “one who hopes”, was first proposed by Ludwik L Zamenhof in 1887, and was intended to be the second language of the entire world. Built from only 16 basic rules, Esperanto was made deliberately easy to learn.

Word soon spread, and the language became popular among Parisian intellectuals who saw in it a reflection of their own modernist ideals of improving society through rationality. From the beginning, Esperanto was not merely a linguistic experiment but reflected a greater idealism; the official flag was designed to include the colours of hope and peace, and Zamenhof argued that if everyone in the world shared a common language, “education, ideals, convictions, aims, would be the same too, and all nations would be united in a common brotherhood”. His vision spread throughout Europe, and he himself was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 14 times. After WW1, Esperanto was even proposed as the official language of the League of Nations.

But WW2 dealt a crushing blow to the thriving language, with both Hitler and Stalin outlawing it. Since then, it may seem that Zamenhof’s project has been a failure—only about 2 million people currently speak the language. But more people than ever are now trying to learn it, aided by modern technology. Today’s speakers can connect across the globe via the internet, practising the language every day. In fact, Esperanto has a surprising internet presence with around 240,000 Wikipedia articles written in the language, almost as many as Turkish and Korean. When the language-learning app Duolingo was released, Esperanto speakers pushed for the language to be included and convinced the creators that there was sufficient demand; since the release of the first Duolingo Esperanto course in 2014, the language has continued to thrive and gain new advocates.

Applicants for Linguistics or PPL would do well to familiarise themselves with the history and structure of Esperanto, as the most notable example of an artificial language, and to consider what makes a language effective and easy to learn. Students wishing to study History or Politics may wish to think about the links between the Esperanto project and pre-war idealism, and why the dictators of the Second World War felt it necessary to punish its speakers.

Marvel’s superhero sensation Black Panther has thus far grossed almost $1.2 billion worldwide, and is the first film since James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) to top the box office for 5 weeks straight. The film focuses on Wakanda, a fictional African state whose unique natural resources have allowed them to hide away from the outside world, avoiding the impact of colonialism and developing technology superior to that of any other nation. It has been widely praised for its diverse casting and its representation of black women in particular, in an industry dominated by white actors and white stories.

However, despite its commercial success, many have taken issue with the politics and message of the film, deeming it too conservative. The film’s main villain, Erik Killmonger, is a bloodthirsty but idealistic revolutionary who wants to lead Wakanda in a war against the West, using their technology to crush oppressive powers and help black people across the globe. He is eventually defeated by the Black Panther, who rejects Killmonger’s vision in favour of a less radical approach. Critics of the film have expressed disappointment at its lukewarm message which seems to vilify active resistance to oppression—a particularly relevant issue given the media focus on police brutality since the Ferguson protests in 2014. Others have argued that a Hollywood blockbuster cannot be expected to advocate radical politics, and that too much criticism of Black Panther may dissuade producers from making black-centred films in the future.

English Literature students or those interested in film may wish to consider the impact of fiction on political and social views, and whether writers have a moral responsibility towards their audience. Applicants for History should think about what Black Panther has to say about African history, colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade, revolution, and the history of race relations in the United States, with reference to the real-life Black Panther Party of the 60s and 70s.

With overworked NHS ambulance crews enduring 15-hour shifts and ambulances in Wales now restricted to attending three types of emergency (choking, cardiac arrest and pregnancy), we have explored the role of the ambulance throughout history.

It might seem impossible for us to believe with our modern day reliance on ambulance services, but it wasn’t so long ago that doctors still came and visited their patients at home.

Medical transportation methods have been around since ancient times, however they haven’t always been that that fast. The concept of the ambulance first came about on the battlefield, as a means of removing injured soldiers from the line of fire. Chariots were used by the early Greeks and the Romans to move wounded away from more danger, however, in the 9th Century the less effective method of hammocks suspended between two wagons was introduced. The safe transport of an invalid passenger relied on both hammocks keeping the same slow, steady pace, especially down hills and around corners. The horse litter, devised in the 11th Century, used a similarly ineffective method.

The word ‘ambulance’ was first coined in the 14th Century from the Latin word ‘ambulare’ – ‘to move about’. These early ambulances were first used in Spain and were not transport methods, but medical tents that could be erected a safe distance away from the fighting. Solders would not have be transported to these ‘pop-up’ field hospitals until after a battle, which could last several days.

It was not until Dominique Jean Larrey, the famous French Napoleonic military surgeon, that the ambulance (in cart form) was used as fast and effective way of saving army lives. Larrey realised that men stood a better chance of survival if they received medical attention immediately. Another great advancement in the development of the ambulance came with the work of Jonathan Letterman, who came up with the notion of the army doctor or field medic during the American Civil War, and created the U.S. Ambulance Corps act.

It was former military servicemen that fought for an extension of the military ambulance service to serve a public need. This service ultimately replaced the doctor who made house calls with his little black bag. In 1895, Cincinati, Ohio was the first city to a hospital-based ambulance service.

Future Oxbridge Historians might gain from exploring the history of Medicine and medical practices. ‘Wannabe’ Medics could benefit from exploring if our health service is now regressing and how the NHS will be impacted by a severely reduced ambulance service.

The Chinese government plans to launch its Social Credit System in 2020. Many recent news reports have looked into exactly what this means for the inhabitants of China and whether it is a force for good or bad.

The scoring of this system is fundamentally wrapped up in the increasing technological world that China has come to represent.

The online website ‘Wired’ has explained that ‘The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance “trust” nationwide and to build a culture of “sincerity”. As the policy states, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”

The result of this social credit system and the rating an individual is given could then be used by employers to decide whether to offer you a job, by banks to decide whether to give you a loan, or even by prospective partners.

However, many other news outlets have argued that this is draconian and poses a threat due to being far too pervasive into individual liberties. Students that are hoping to study HSPS may want to look into the tension and judgement shown by western news outlets on their opinion into these changes within Chinese society. Furthermore, are these comments truly reflective or understanding of Chinese society and showing it in a truly holistic picture, or merely placing western views onto the new system?

Students hoping to study Sociology or Computer Science may want to think more closely about the potential effects, risks and potential power that technology can have in the 21st Century world. China has shown control over what its citizens see (with the banning of sites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter) and also know is using forms of technology to track and monitor citizens thoughts and movements.

In the past couple months, we have seen many events and exhibitions to mark 100 years since legislation was passed in the UK which allowed (some) women the democratic vote.

Despite this step, and many more since then, women are still paid less than men for doing the same job. Nowhere is this more apparent than in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) related careers.

The New Scientist has recently undertaken a large-scale survey of science and engineering salaries, showing women are paid an average of a fifth less than men in these fields (£33,000 compared with £41,200). The World Economic Forum has bleakly predicted that gender parity in pay will continue for another 217 years (Treanor, 2017).

Sociologists and Anthropologists have long analysed culture to investigate female subordination. One influential paper by Sherry Ortner (1974) argues that one of the reasons behind female’s universal subordination is that humans consider ‘culture’ as superior to ‘nature’ and, by aligning men with the former and women with the latter, consider women as inferior to men.

This ‘structuralist’ approach presupposes that universal patterns in cultural systems are derived from invariant structures of the human mind. There are problems with her argument, several of which she anticipated. Henrietta Moore has criticised her generalising approach, arguing that the way in which ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are mapped on to gender relations varies widely between different contexts (Moore, 1994).

One of the more valuable insights in her paper, however, is that two approaches are necessary to address the issue; we need to not only change social institutions, but also challenge cultural assumptions.

‘STEMettes’ is a wonderful organisation that seeks to show ‘the next generation that girls do Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths too’. Girls and young women who are interested in Sciences, Maths, and tech-related subjects are encouraged to investigate some of the resources they offer. If you are within the STEM industry (any gender) and would like to volunteer or contribute, we also encourage you to get in touch.

Gender studies is a multi-disciplinary area which spans the Arts, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences. Oxbridge applicants who are interested in Philosophy, Law, History, Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, Politics, (Human) Biology, and Archaeology will find more subject-specific recommended reading in this reading list for Cambridge University’s MPhil. 

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