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Q&A’s

You probably don’t think too much about the person who copies your keys at the local shop, repairs your shoes or takes your new passport photo. But if that shop is owned by the Timpson Group, chances are their management has.  Timpson is one of a few employers in the UK actively recruiting and training people within prisons to work in their shops, which include Max Spielmann, Timpson Locksmiths and Snappy Snaps. Under an effort by CEO James Timpson, the company currently employs about 600 ex-offenders. This training and employment scheme is the subject of A Second Chance, a new full-length documentary, directed by filmmaker Rex Bloomstein and co-produced with Justin Temple. Bloomstein, who has made films on the criminal justice system since the 1970s, …

Dr Tristen Naylor, Oxford’s Lecturer in Diplomatic Studies, chatted with Tom Fletcher, the former British Ambassador and Downing Street foreign policy advisor, about his new book, Naked Diplomacy.  In this three-part series their discussion explores everything from diplomacy in the digital era to the divide between academics and policy makers — with a nod to the intertextuality of W.H. Auden and Black Sabbath along the way. For Part I, see here.    TF: In diplomacy, like any other trade, there are people who simplify and people who complicate. I tend to side with the simplifiers. TN: I can easily see that. Just taking the very start of your book as an example, you begin with W.H. Auden’s ‘The Embassy’, which so elegantly and simply …

Dr Tristen Naylor, Oxford’s Lecturer in Diplomatic Studies, chatted with Tom Fletcher, the former British Ambassador and Downing Street foreign policy advisor, about his new book, Naked Diplomacy. In this three-part series their discussion explores everything from diplomacy in the digital era to the divide between academics and policy makers — with a nod to the intertextuality of W.H. Auden and Black Sabbath along the way. See Part II here.     TN: Tom, your new book is Naked Diplomacy and your blog is The Naked Diplomat. Borrowing from Jamie Oliver as the ‘Naked Chef’, who sought to strip cooking back to its bare essentials, you’re seeking to do the same with diplomacy. Why do you think that doing so is necessary now? TF: …

Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failure and the Struggle for Political Reform testifies to the ability of African states to democratize against the odds. It effectively introduces a framework for understanding how leaders choose to respond to the pressure to liberalise their political systems, covering the recent history of African politics and providing great detail on the return of multiparty politics in Africa since the early 1990s. In this Q&A, Ian Cooper of the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at the University of Cambridge interviews Professor Nic Cheeseman, Associate Professor of African Politics, Jesus College, University of Oxford, on his recent publication.

In this Q&A, I discuss the prospects for ‘unfreezing’ the draft new constitution with Hordur Torfason, the award-winning human rights activist credited with starting Iceland’s ‘pots and pans revolution’. You’re credited as the person who started the “pots and pans revolution” in Iceland. How did the protests start? I’m 70 years old this year. I started becoming an activist around 20 years old. Not that I wanted to become an activist, not at all. But I’m gay and it tells you a story that I’m the first gay man in the history of Iceland who steps forward. When I was 30 years old I was very famous. Everybody knew my song. I was on television, radio, doing concerts, LPs. I was …

Professor Richard Caplan, of the DPIR, Oxford, and editor of the new book Exit Strategies and State Building, talks to Politics in Spires about the book itself, the practice of internationally-led state-building and strategies for exit. In this interview, Professor Caplan talks about the practical and normative changes that have taken place in the international arena which this book has responded to and deals with some of the most pertinent issues faced by the international community when attempting to undertake state-building projects.

For the past few years, Professor Rana Mitter, one of the co-editors of our China blog, has been engaged in a research project aiming to better understand the process and relevance of the Sino-Japanese War between 1937 and 1945. Recently, he published his main findings in a volume that discusses the social, political and economic repercussions of the Japanese invasion and the Chinese response. We sat down with him to discuss it in more detail. OxOn China (OC): What is the most important thing we need to know about the war with Japan? Rana Mitter (RM): What distinguishes the Sino-Japanese war is that it really provides a breakpoint for Chinese modernity. A whole variety of longstanding traditions, patterns of landholding, and economic structures, changed forever. The fact that large swathes of Chinese territory were invaded and occupied was enormously disruptive. Local elites, for example, found themselves refugees, supplanted by an alien power. The political powerbase changed very suddenly, paving the way for the Communist revolution.

Sudhir Hazareesingh talks to Gavin Jacobson about his recent book, In the Shadow of the General: Modern France and the Myth of de Gaulle (New York, Oxford University Press, 2012). Gavin Jacobson (GJ): Perhaps you could begin by telling us about what led you to start thinking more closely about Charles de Gaulle, and why you decided to write this book. Sudhir Hazareesingh (SH): When I was finishing my book on the Napoleonic legend, I concluded that since the 1980s, General de Gaulle had become France’s favourite national hero. I found this intriguing, especially as de Gaulle seemed to have been adopted by the Left, who had opposed him vigorously for much of his time as president. So I thought it would be interesting to explore how and why this situation had come about – and also how this Gaullist cult compared with its Napoleonic predecessor. So this is what the book eventually became: a study of what de Gaulle has come to mean to the French, and what his iconic status tells us about French political culture. GJ: Could you give us some idea of what you mean by ‘myth’? How is your understanding of it here different from the way people like George Sorel have previously defined it, for instance? SH: I use ‘myth’ to denote an idealized representation of a phenomenon, either by a collectivity as a whole, or within a specific ideological framework – it can refer to a historical moment, like the French Revolution; certain moral and political values (‘we are a freedom-loving people’); exemplary social groups like the bourgeoisie or the proletariat; or leaders like Napoleon or de Gaulle. Sorel’s notion is more normative, and also more narrowly focused, in the sense that he is talking about how certain political ideals can help collective mobilizations to bring about revolutionary change. I think of myths as a much broader category, and they are not just about transformation: a powerful myth can also prevent substantial change (see the monarchy in Britain today!). I think myth is a useful concept for the social scientist because it opens up new avenues for analysis. Politics is too often thought about purely in ‘rational’ terms, as a function of interests – the concept of ‘myth’ is helpful to understand what role memory, imagination, and passion can also play in politics.