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Oct
24

An additional Cafe for November: Encounters with Energy

English: Transfer of heat to water kettle

What are the wider implications of how we use energy in our everyday lives? What does energy use tell us about our identities and our relationships with each other? What does how we use energy tell us about the collective ideas we have about the ‘good life’? How might we need to change the ways in which we use energy to achieve a more sustainable society and how can the communities in which we live work together to do this? Join us to discuss these and other issues at this special ‘Energy Café’ on 4 November 2014, which features interactive exhibits developed around research carried out by the Energy Biographies project at Cardiff University and contributions from participants in the research.

As usual for Cardiff Philosophy Cafe, the Cafe will begin at 8.00pm in the Cafe Bar. However, the event will feature exhibits from a recent research exhibition and these will be available to view from 7.00pm on the day.

This event is part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

Oct
23

Tuesday’s Cafe: Cardiff – The City of Dreadful Knights?

Cardiff castle front, as seen from Castle st.

Cardiff castle front, as seen from Castle st. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What makes a city? That was the question at the heart of Tuesday’s Cardiff Philosophy Cafe, at which Cardiff University Planning & Geography doctoral student Robert Croydon explored the origins and history of Cardiff itself through the lens of the concept of patronage. Throughout the complex story Robert told, we were asked to bear in mind the sometimes contradictory relationships between the intentions of those who pull the strings of planning and their outcomes. Robert drew attention first to unusual aspects of the history of the city in the period where most of the rest of Britain was making a transition from the feudal era proper, through the Reformation, to an era in which land owned by a military elite and the Church was redistributed. What was unusual about Cardiff was that this redistribution of land did not occur, and that feudalism effectively continued to reign until late in the Industrial Revolution.

The power of patronage over planning and architecture was exercised in the city primarily by the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Marquesses of Bute, the 2nd and 3rd Marquesses being responsible for building up the coal trade from the South Wales valleys, building Cardiff docks, and then under the 3rd Marquess overseeing the rapid expansion of the city in the latter decades of the 19th century. The 2nd Marquess was responsible both for leading efforts to put down the Merthyr Rising in 1831, and for ensuring that coal shipping moved from the Glamorganshire canal to Cardiff docks, thus giving him control over  the economic destiny of the city and indeed South Wales. He stopped the extension of the South Wales railway to Swansea, meaning that Cardiff would become South Wales’ major coal port.

Robert argued that patronage, as the example of the Butes shows, can only operate through wielding power, which in Max Weber‘s definition, means the capacity to coerce others to fall in line with one’s intentions, even when their interests would lead them elsewhere – but power which always has several aspects. It involves the capacity to deploy violence if necessary, but also economic power to buy influence and symbolic or cultural power to persuade others to change their beliefs. Power is exercised by patrons, Robert proposed, for reasons other than mere utility. Architecture is an expression of aesthetic, cultural and ideological motives as well as utilitarian ones. The influence exercised particularly by the 3rd Marquess of Bute over the expansion of Cardiff’s residential areas and its parks demonstrated in particular the influence of economic and cultural capital over planning, and the role of aesthetic intentions in shaping architectural legacies.

These legacies present a complex mixture of benign and malign outcomes. The 2nd Marquess’s  championing of the railways saw Cardiff divided into north and south by the railway spines running from east to west, with the area south of the railway associated with the docks, and the area north seeing new residential expansion. Cardiff developed as a company town, like Bournville or Saltaire, only with aristocratic estates added by the 2nd and 3rd Marquesses that reproduced styles of architecture seen in visits to Italy and Austria and later exemplified the Victorian Gothic Revival style. From the initial waves of expansion, other patterns of building followed, creating suburbs outward. In many cases, as with Roath Park, commercial motives were masked under philanthropic ones. The granting of the marshy land for the park by the 3rd Marquess meant that the council had to provide services and infrastructure to the area, which led in turn to an increase in the value of the surrounding land and the building of new houses.

The legacy of the Butes thus presents a mixed picture, with subsequent actors trying to follow in the footsteps of the patrons who decisively shaped Cardiff’s transition from a village to a major port. As the development of Cardiff Bay showed, the absence of a dominating but also guiding vision for planning was keenly felt, with commercial contingencies filling in the gaps, resulting in a miss-mash of buildings. At the same time, the spatial problem of the relationship between the south and north of the city remains unresolved, with the Bay distant from the urban centre and without strong transport or architectural links to it. New patrons have entered the scene, leading to the commissioning of architectural landmarks like the Senedd. Nonetheless, these newer developments still wrestle with the legacy of the city’s 19th century patrons and their autocratic power.

Oct
14

Next Cafe: Cardiff – The City of Dreadful Knights?

Welsh Assembly

Welsh Assembly (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this month’s Cafe, we examine Cardiff – capital of Wales, seat of the Welsh Assembly – through the lens of its economic and political history. How did Cardiff become Cardiff? In this Cafe, Robert Croydon invites us to consider this question and reflects on the role of political and economic power, and especially patronage, in shaping the city in the relatively short span of time since its meteoric rise from a village by the Taff to a wealthy port city. What sort of bargains are involved in patronage? Is it compatible with democracy? When does patronage become paternalism and patronisation? Where is power concentrated now and what are the implications for Cardiff’s future?

We begin at 8.00pm next Tuesday evening, 21 October, in the Cafe Bar at the Gate as usual.

Robert blogs at R. H. Croydon

Sep
17

Last Night’s Cafe: Who owns my genetic information?

A Single Nucleotide Polymorphism is a change o...

A Single Nucleotide Polymorphism is a change of a nucleotide at a single base-pair location on DNA. Created using Inkscape v0.45.1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night’s CPC featured a topic suggested by Louise Gillies, ‘Who owns my genetic information?’ Chris Groves introduced the session with a short talk covering the nature of genomics, together with some of the ethical issues raised by the nature of genomic information and the technologies which may help us exploit it. The genetic code, consisting of molecules of DNA each formed of some 3 billion base pairs of 4 kinds of nucleic acids, is found in the chromosomes within each cell of a living creature. Around 0.2% of these base pairs are ‘coding’ DNA, which influence how cells make proteins and thus reproduce themselves and thereby the bodies and characteristics (the ‘phenotype’) of living things. The rest is ‘non-coding’ DNA, which was once thought to be functionless (‘junk’) but is now thought to have other regulatory functions within cells. Thanks to its functions in shaping individual development, DNA is often described metaphorically as a ‘blueprint’ or ‘recipe’ for making individual living creatures.

In humans, the advent of sequencing technologies and powerful computers in the 1990s made possible for the first time a complete sequencing of the human genome as part of the Human Genome Project, a ‘map’ of the base pairs that make up human genetic material. Among the hopes expressed for how genomic science could change the world, many geneticists and clinicians spoke of a new era of preventative medicine, based on population studies that would yield knowledge of the links between genetic variants (‘genotypes’) and medical conditions (‘disease phenotypes’). Clinical genetic tests had been around for a while for single-gene conditions (like Huntingdon’s disease) and also for ‘high-penetrance’ genes that were strongly associated with particular conditions (as in the case of the links between the BRCA1/2 genes and breast cancer, for example). But the capability of fully sequencing individual genotypes (or, alternatively – and less expensively – looking for single nucleotide polymorphisms [SNPs] in regions of the genome known to be significant for particular diseases) meant that genomic components for common conditions (such as diabetes or heart disease) involving perhaps thousands of genes could also be identified.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sep
09

Next Cafe: Audience Vote

Vote icon

Cardiff Philosophy Cafe returns this month after a summer break with a new approach. As well as featuring sessions led by researchers on philosophical and social-scientific topics, we will also be featuring more sessions focusing on topics submitted and chosen by audience members, beginning this month on, as usual the 3rd Tuesday, which is September 16. During the session, which will take place as usual in the Cafe Bar at The Gate, up to five topics, questions or problems will be presented for the audience to choose between. The topic which garners the highest number of votes will be the subject of the evening’s discussion.

Anyone can submit a topic, question or problem for consideration. To do so, please use either Facebook or blog  comments facilities below. This allows others to see which topics have been suggested thus far. Questions or problems – rather than broad topics such as ‘relativism’ or ‘mind’ – work best as suggestions. Why not give it a try? We look forward to seeing you at 8.00 pm on the 16th.

UPDATE: the topic for this session will be ‘Who owns my genetic information?’

May
21

Last Night’s Cafe: Heidegger vs The Mobile

What is your relationship with your mobile/smartphone like?

“If I don’t have my mobile with me, I feel as though I have lost something. I’m not OK. There’s something missing. I turn off the ring tone when I take the bus, or when I’m in the mosque. But I never turn the mobile off.” (Afghan Student, Peshawar, from Sadie Plant (2002), On the Mobile [PDF])

Our dependence on mobile phones is, for many people, very marked: they make us feel part of the ‘safe world’ through being connected to people we care about, emergency services, and increasingly through smartphone technology, to the shopping, information, banking and other services available through the internet. Their relatively speedy introduction and spread through societies globally is, for some, accompanied by slower, pervasive and unwelcome shifts in our social behaviours, our relationships with others, and even in our sense of what it means to be human. Mark Fisher writes that

“the insatiable urge to check messages, email or Facebook is a compulsion, akin to scratching an itch which gets worse the more one scratches. Like all compulsions, this behaviour feeds on dissatisfaction. If there are no messages, you feel disappointed and check again very quickly. But if there are messages you also feel disappointed: no amount of messages is ever enough.” (The Privatisation of Stress)

So, is ‘the mobile’ changing us? Rupert Jenkinson provided us at last night’s Cardiff Philosophy Cafe with some ideas we might use in thinking about the answer to this question. Read the rest of this entry »

May
15

Next Cafe: Heidegger vs the Mobile

Communication

Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

What sort of relationship do you have with your smartphone? The mobile revolution promises a future in which global communication is possible for all, affirming ideals of individual freedom. But what does technologically-mediated communication really mean for human relationships? Does it inevitably dehumanise us, or open up new possibilities for human interaction?

In this Cafe, Rupert Jenkinson (Cardiff Classical Education Forum) explores this issue with assistance from the theories of human communication developed by Martin Heidegger, Martin Buber and Jürgen Habermas.

We meet in the Cafe Bar at the Gate on Tuesday 20 May, from 8.00 – 10.00pm.

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Apr
16

Last Night’s Cafe: A Resource-based Economy?

Money

Money (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

In recent CPCs, we’ve explored how whatever future we collectively want, we have to deal with a present in which over-consumption and economic inequality go hand in hand. In particular, the role of the monetary system in shaping how society is organised and in determining whose priorities are supported and promoted has been discussed receently. The function of debt (mortgages, consumer credit, student and business loans and so on) not only in managing economic activity but also in shaping power relationships has been the focus of broader interest in recent years. The effective creation of money by commercial banks in making loans, in particular, has been presented by movements like Positive Money as a central stumbling block to democratic reform, given the ways in which the power of banks allows them to direct resources in particular (and often environmentally and socially damaging) directions.

One radical proposal for addressing all these factors is to change the very basis on which resources are allocated, moving from an economy that uses money as a means of allocating resources and coordinating desires with goods to a ‘resource-based economy’. Various ways of interpreting this concept exist. At last night’s CPC, Dan Lloyd set out some of the ideas that are central to one of these interpretations, promoted by the Zeitgeist movement. Dan argued that there are four interlinked problems which global society faces.
Read the rest of this entry »

Apr
11

Next Cafe: A Resource-Based Economy?

Futures

Futures (Photo credit: LendingMemo)

Last year’s series of The Future for Wales events at CPC culminated in November 2013 with a discussion of the nature of money and its role in creating scarcity. This month we examine the idea of a ‘resource-based economy‘, in which all goods and services are produced and allocated without the use of money, credit, or barter. The use of debt as an organisational principle for economic relations is seen as enforcing servitude. The bottom line of such a proposal is that resources become the common heritage of all people, rather than the property of those who happen to have the power (economic or otherwise) to acquire them.

Would such an economy help us solve the problems we collectively face, or would it create new ones?

Ruffstylz AM (Dan Lloyd) explores the key concepts behind this idea and leads the discussion.

This Cafe will take place on 15 April. As usual, we’re in the Cafe Bar at The Gate from 8.00pm

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Feb
19

Last Night’s Cafe: What can science tell us about the future?

English: Floods on the Somerset levels. This w...

English: Floods on the Somerset levels.

To what extent can science tell us what to do about the future, especially in relation to novel phenomena like climate change. Flooding across the Southwest since early January and now across the south and some areas of the Home Counties saw a link being made last week in the mainstream media for the first time with human-influenced – or ‘anthropogenic’ climate change – ACC for short. A resident of a village on the Somerset Levels was widely quoted as saying

‘I’m used to seeing floods on the Levels, but this is just something else,” he said, noting that when the area flooded less severely last winter “we were told it was a one-in-100-year occurrence”, but that ‘the following year it happens again — only worse!”’

Several climate scientists were quoted as suggesting that we have found ourselves in an entirely novel situation. Myles Allen from Oxford University stated that:

What is clear is that just looking back at the historical record to plan flood defences or set insurance premiums is increasingly misleading.

Nigel Arnell from Reading University said that:

We have long been exposed to risk from flooding, but climate change is loading the dice

The implication of these statements is that the future will not be like the past, that the probabilities of flooding and other events will change, perhaps radically. The implications of this are important, both for understanding the role and limitations of scientific knowledge in helping us prepare for this future, and for thinking through the moral significance of the resulting uncertainty. Dr Chris Groves (Social Sciences, Cardiff University) explored these implications, and suggested that, even if scientific knowledge faces crucial limitations in what it can tell us about the future, this should not prevent us drawing firm conclusions about how we should act.

Read the rest of this entry »

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