Research

New post at History & Policy on controlling Cypriot migration to UK

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History and Policy has published an opinion piece by Andrekos Varnava and I on our research into the controlling of Cypriot migration to the UK in the 1920s-30s. It is based on our article in English Historical Research last year and some of the research we have been doing as part of our ARC project on border control in Britain and Australia. You can read the piece here.

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Precarity and overwork in academia

In December last year, I stopped work on all of my research projects. The following week, I compromised with myself and said no primary research (reading archival documents) or writing for the next month, only secondary source reading. I had one conference paper to present at the end of January, so for the week leading up to that, I got back into the swing of things slowly and wrote a 2,500 word paper, but nothing more. For a co-authored piece that needed revising, I asked my co-author to take the lead. I said no to working on a project with a colleague that had an interim deadline of February 2018 (then a major deadline of June). I declined a request to submit an article for a special issue.

For me, this was really hard. A combination of a slightly obsessive personality and the academic culture of ‘publish or perish’ had meant that for nearly decade, I had been unable to switch off. Thinking, researching, writing, publicising, engaging – every waking hour saw academic research creep into my consciousness. Over the past few years, I had been, for all intents and purposes, quite prolific in my field (history), with books, edited collections, articles and book chapters published as both single author and co-authored pieces.

However, my employment was precarious. A series of longer and shorter fixed-term contracts, as well as bouts of casual teaching and research work, meant that I had had to publish profusely in order to be competitive, while doing work for others, writing job applications and sometimes working outside of academia in a 9-to-5 job. This means that except for a 3-year window, all of my research over the past decade had been done in my own time. This is, of course, on top of all the normal life stuff, such as family and friends. During this time, my very understanding partner and I had two children and moved three times.

My experience is far from unique. Informal discussions with my colleagues in Australia, as well as overseas, has revealed that the pressures of publishing and maintaining an active research profile, while at the same time working casually or in a fixed-term position, are felt by many. Overwork by those in precarious work and at the edges of academia is very much the norm.

And it comes as a huge price for those experiencing this, as well as academia as a whole. For many, the pressure, the anxiety and the relentlessness of it is too much. Burnout and disillusionment is a regular occurrence for many of those academics not in permanent employment. While some kind of permanency doesn’t absolve academics of all the pressures they face, those working in casual or fixed-term employment are amongst the most vulnerable.

For my own mental health, I resolved myself to saying no to things and pushing back against both internal and external pressures to publish. However this culture is not something that individuals can overcome by themselves. Institutional pressures may be internalised by the individual, but the solution can’t just be personal resilience. We must recognise that overwork and the compulsion to constantly be working is pervasive within academia. Furthermore, it is those at the margins of academia who are possibly most likely to be unable to resist these compulsions, especially if the outputs of this overwork are held up as desirable for permanent employment. In no way do I put any blame for this on the individual – overwork and the internalisation of this culture is not their fault. There’s enough to feel bad about without the burden of feeling that you need to just absorb the pressure.

Nothing I have written above is new and I certainly don’t have the solutions to this. A discussion of overwork and the pressures on early career researchers and other academics in precarity seems to be emerging in academic circles, particularly after the USS strike in the UK. I just thought I’d publicise my own story and my own struggle with overwork and the internalisation of the ‘publish or perish’ mentality. The more we talk about these issues, the more we can talk about their solutions.

Solidarity with my precarious comrades!

Archives of political extremism in Australia: A short guide

Recently I was emailed asking about the archives of the political extremes in Australia and what archives had I come across in my research. I sent the following reply, which I think is a concise (but obviously not complete) survey of the various collections around the country. I thought others might be interested, so enjoy!

CPA ML

For my research on Australian political extremism, the predominant archival sources are those of the Communist Party of Australia. The Mitchell Library in Sydney has the largest collection of materials belonging to the CPA and the Aarons brothers, as well as a number of other CPA members. The University of Melbourne also has a substantial archive of CPA material, as well as that of Bernie Taft, Ralph Gibson and George Seelaf. UQ has a smaller collection of CPA material.

The Noel Butlin Archives at ANU has a wider labour movement collection, donated by several academics and labour groups. The National Library of Australia has some records relating to different radicals, such as Guido Baracchi, and Ralph and Dorothy Gibson.

The State Library of Victoria has digitised over 100 CPA pamphlets, which can be viewed via their catalogue and Trove has digitised the newspapers of the CPA until the mid-1950s.

There is a website called Reason in Revolt which has digitised a bunch of Australian radical materials, but it is far from complete and needs updating. But it does have extensive copies of the materials of the various Trotskyist groups in Australia, especially the ISO and the SWP/DSP.

The Encyclopaedia of Anti-Revisionism Online has the best materials relating to Maoism in Australia, sharing some with the Reason in Revolt page. The current CPA has an archive of the Socialist Party of Australia’s Australian Marxist Review journal back to the 1970s.

On the other side of the extremes, there is little on the Australian far right outside of the National Archives of Australia’s security files. There are papers dedicated to the New Guard in the Mitchell Library, as well as at the NAA. Former ALP and anti-communist activist Frederick Riley has two collections – one at the NLA and one at the SLV, but these are quite wide and varied. UQ also has a collection of material relating to the Australian League of Rights, as part of the papers of Jack Harding and Raphael Cilento. At this stage, the Searchlight archive at the University of Northampton (UK) might have the best collection of post-1945 Australian far right material, other than the declassified ASIO files.

Obviously there are other archives and resources that I have missed. If you can suggest any, please comment below!

Some highlights from the CIA’s recent document dump online

This week, the Central Intelligence Agency uploaded more than 12 million documents onto its online library, allowing access to previously unavailable declassified material ranging from the 1940s to the 1990s. There is a lot of interesting material for researchers to wade through, but here are some of my initial highlights:

  1. A 1949 report on the communist movement in Australia.
  2. A 1949 report on the communist movement in New Zealand
  3. A June 1956 report on the fall out amongst Western Communist Parties after Khrushchev’s Secret Speech in February 1956
  4. A 1957 report on Titoism and World Communism
  5. A 1958 report on the Afro-Asian Solidarity Conference held in Cairo in 1957 (just after the Suez Crisis).
  6. A 1976 report on the emerging ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ regime in Cambodia
  7. A 1981 report on the states that supported terrorist movements in Europe and North Africa/Middle East
  8. Two reports on the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party from July and November 1983
  9. A 1984 report on the relationship between Australian Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke and the trade union movement.
  10. A 1985 report on terrorism in Western Europe

These are just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, so if there’s any documents you think are particularly interesting, leave a comment below and I might try to compile a further list soon.

New article published in TCBH on CPGB and gay rights

This is just a quick post to let everyone know that Daryl Leeworthy and I have just had an article published in Twentieth Century British History journal on the Communist Party of Great Britain and gay rights. The title of the article is ‘Before Pride: The Struggle for the Recognition of Gay Rights in the British Communist Movement, 1973-85′ and is available here.

Here’s the abstract:

This article examines the role of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and its youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL), in the advancement of gay rights in the 1970s and 1980s. Although the CPGB was the first major organization of the British labour movement—and the British left—to advance a policy of gay rights, its participation in the gay liberation movement has tended to be neglected by scholars. In contrast to the general perception of the CPGB in the last decade (or so) of its existence as a party of declining influence and cohesion, easily ignored by the mainstream of the labour movement, we argue that the embrace of gay rights provided communists with a means of pushing for a diversification of labour politics. This coalesced in the mid-1980s with the co-founding of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) by the communist activist Mark Ashton. With the recent scholarly and public interest in the LGSM and its impact upon the Labour Party’s attitude to gay rights, this article aims to reveal that the ‘pre-history’ of the group is firmly rooted in the CPGB/YCL and the Eurocommunist section of the British communist movement.

If people cannot access the article, let me know and I can send a pdf.

From Powell to Brexit: My interview with the Weekly Worker on ‘race’, anti-racism and the British left

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This week, the CPGB’s Weekly Worker (see here for more info on its background) conducted an interview with me about my forthcoming book, British Communism and the Politics of Race, as well as on my research in general and the anti-racist movement in Britain since the 1960s. You can read the full interview here. It was an interesting experience and some challenging questions!

Turning that blog post into a journal article: A quick guide

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It feels like this sometimes…

One of the popular blog posts for academics that I have seen over the last year has been on turning your journal article into a blog post. I am assuming this is aimed at academics who don’t blog regularly and may be considering contributing to multi-authored blog as an opportunity to showcase their research. This post is on the opposite and probably the more likelier scenario for those who actively blog – how do you transform a blog post into a journal article?

As a blogging academic, I have often used one or several blog posts as the framework for a journal article, with the blog serving the purpose of working out my ideas by getting them down onto the (electronic) page and getting feedback. The following post is a general guide to how I go about this process and some of the key things that I consider when trying to shape a blog post into a workable draft article. In many ways, it is similar to transforming a conference paper into a fully fleshed article, but it also differs, especially as a blog post caters for a general audience and a conference paper is probably already in more formal academic language. I don’t aim for this post to be definitive in any way, but thought that it might be helpful to some…

  • Does the blog post have a clear and explicit argument? What is the purpose of the blog post?

Blog posts obviously have a variety of functions. I often use my blog posts to discuss a particular research document or archive, using the post to highlight the research potential of something quite discrete. Other times it is to try to relate something historical to contemporary occurrences or debates. Then other times it is fleshing out a new analytical idea. These, although they don’t happen that often, are the best for transforming into a journal article. While they may be a bit rough in their analysis, they probably have a clear enough argument to serve as the framework for the article. From there, you can start to take the more practical and straight forward steps to transforming the blog post into that journal article.

  • Proper introduction and conclusion

Blog posts don’t need much introduction and may need to be snappy, bold and condensed to grab the attention of the general reader. Often with my historical blog writing, I will try to work in some link to the present or try quickly to frame it within some wider contemporary debates. However a journal article needs a proper introduction, outlining the main points of your argument and often placing the article within a broader academic context.

Blog posts need to be much more brief than a journal article and a conclusion is usually a quickly tied up affair. A journal article conclusion needs a lot more care and needs to reinforce the argument already made. No cliff hangers or meandering final sentences!

  • More formal or specialist language

Although primarily intended to facilitate communication between academics in your field across the world, academic blogs also, for the most part, try to engage with the general reader and therefore the language and terminology used may be toned down for greater accessibility. In my academic writing, I also try to eliminate all the personal pronouns, such as ‘I’ and ‘we’, which crops from time to time in my blog writing mode.

  • Insert relevant sub-headings

This is something that I will do with most articles that I write, but I find that blog posts are quite stream-of-consciousness in their composition and are likely not to have the structure required for a journal article. Inserting relevant sub-headings sign posts to you (and to the eventual reader) what you’re doing to do and where you’re going to go argument-wise. It also helps break the article up into manageable chunks. In some cases, I have put together several blog posts into one journal article, with each sub-section being a blog post in itself.

  • Expand/insert literature review

Even when engaging in a debate in a blog post, there isn’t the space to delve into a deep and systematic literature review – especially as most literature reviews would bore the pants off the general reader. But part of a journal article is situating your research and arguments within the broader academic context, which means at least a nod to the existing literature.

  • Insert references

Depending on the blog’s audience, you may or may not have references included in your blog post. If I am writing on my own blog, I often do include footnotes (and sometimes in-text citations). However some more general blogs do not use references at all, relying only links to relevant material. This can be one of the more tedious exercises in transforming a blog post into a journal article, but it has to be done (and done properly).

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With these tasks done, you should have a framework to work with and the blog post should look more like an article – all you need to do is flesh it out. I hope this post is helpful. I am sure many people can ably write both a blog post and a journal article, but I find these steps easy to remember and handy list to check off as I go.

Good luck writing comrades!

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