Category Archives: research

IIB Taking a thematic approach

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The top priority for Innovation, Impact and Business (IIB) is to help Colleges increase impact and diversify income. Each College and Institute has an IIB Business Partner to advise on its ambitions and develop implementation plans with senior staff members.

We believe that the best way to deliver College plans is through a cross-college thematic approach and teams have been established in the following areas:

  • Manufacturing, Materials, infrastructure, energy.
  • Environment, Sustainability, Food security.
  • Healthcare and Biotech.
  • Culture.
  • Government and Society.

Initially targeted areas include: mining and minerals, water, cultural protection, language translation, defence and security, digital and creative industry, food security, clinical trials, medical devices, legal and policy developments, data analytics and many more.

The thematic teams will build broad engagement and market development with organisations in their themes and create networks of contacts.  They will also support specific projects between the University and industry.

This approach aims to:

  • Accelerate industrial engagement in each thematic field by developing the brand of the University as a  Centre of Excellence.
  • Build a community of industrial and governmental clients.
  • Improve pathways to impact and income generation.

The thematic approach enables teams to connect academics more effectively to the right businesses and identify multidisciplinary, cross-college opportunities.  We also have a group of around 60 External Associates who can add very specific expertise where it is needed.  We can also cluster academics to provide multi-disciplinary solutions for business  and identify stimulating research questions.

Why do we need stronger links with business?

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Over the past ten years Exeter has been hugely successful, growing research income, building student numbers, moving strongly up the league tables.  But one element has remained stubbornly fixed – our income and partnership with business. And when we talk about business we mean all the different kinds of external partners that require special approaches eg museums, local authorities, hospitals, NGOs, government departments.  That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of connections – but these are generally not turning into valued partnerships.  As a result, we rank 104th in the UK in the proportion of our research income that comes from industry; we had the lowest Impact score in the Russell Group in the last REF; our income from CPD, consultancy and intellectual property is low; and the employability of our students is suffering.

Does this matter? With flat cash for RCUK income, a threatening picture on EU funding, TEF with a strong requirement for employability and a new Government department responsible for UK research that has the words ‘Business’ and ‘Industrial Strategy’ in its title we think that we need to embrace this world or risk being left behind. Already over half of all research projects have some form of collaboration with business or other external organisations and we think this is likely to grow.  And the government’s challenges over Brexit are likely to lead to a stronger regional investment policy.

New team

We know that this kind of work can be challenging and time consuming for academics.  We have therefore established a new team – Innovation, Impact and Business – to help academics generate research impact; to connect with new partners; to help create opportunities for collaborations; and to build place-based innovation.  The aim is to enable the University’s world-class research and education to make a real difference in society.

The team will focus mainly on: building partnerships for research projects (working closely with the new Research Service); supporting impact development across the University; managing major strategic relationships with business; generating income and partnership in the region; and supporting innovation for our staff and students.

We are looking forward to working with you.

Sean Fielding, Director Innovation, Impact and Business

How to win friends and influence people – using robots

How we connect to others in public, how gestures and gaze convey information about intentions and feelings and how touch can shape the sense of trust – Professor of Social Psychology, Professor Mark Levine, explores human-robot interactions.

This post first appeared in The Conversation. Conversation logo

A male robot thinking about something. Isolated on white background.

A male robot thinking about something. Isolated on white background.

Mark Levine, University of Exeter

Despite being trapped in Moscow, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden often ambles through meeting rooms and conference halls in New York City. He does so using the same technology that lets 11-year-old Lexie Kinder, housebound with an incurable heart condition, wander around a South Carolina school and take classes with her peers.

Advances in tele-operated robots are now allowing people who are confined by circumstance to have a presence at a whole range of public events. They attend weddings and funerals, enjoy conferences and festivals and even, at a more mundane level, commute to work without ever leaving their homes.

At the moment, these robot representatives are really just screens and cameras on wheels – driven remotely by users with keyboards and joysticks. The wheels allow the screen to be moved around, and the camera allows the user to see and hear others.

However, as anyone who has ever used Skype to attend a meeting will tell you, while having your face on a screen can certainly give you a presence, it’s not the same as actually being there. At the very least, the experience is somewhat disembodied. No hands to gesture with or to touch. Limited sensory channels for experiencing a real connection with other people.

Being There, a recent research project has been looking at how we can draw on developments in digital technologies to enhance the experience of being there in public space. We have explored the psychology of how we connect to others in public; of how gestures and gaze convey information about intentions and feelings; and how touch can shape the sense of trust in humans and technology.

Our research seeks to improve the quality of interactions between the robot proxy and the humans it comes into contact with as well as to allow the user to trust robots more when they act as our representative. Using telepresence technology with the Nao robot platform that includes the capability for gesture and touch, we have been looking at how we might improve the human-robot experience in public spaces. This could work by developing technology which means the robot recognises human non-verbal behaviours, expressions and personality, picking up gestures, visual cues and body language.

Robots and high society.
PA

In doing so we have also been developing capabilities in remote emotion sensing and in tracking objects in public space. Both of these are important technologies for allowing a remote robot operator to participate effectively and to experience events to the full. If we can capture and analyse the emotions of people in public spaces in real time and convey that back through the robot to the remote operator we can enhance the experience of being there in person.

If the robot knows where it is in relation to other objects with a high degree of accuracy, it can navigate with confidence and promote safety and security. Giving robot proxies the ability to sense the environment on our behalf raises all sorts of interesting ethical and privacy questions. When we think about robots we can easily conjure up a dystopian future where autonomous machines replace or enslave us.

Controlling the controllers

However, the far more pressing danger comes from what we are prepared to reveal about ourselves. The data that can be leveraged to enhance the performance of a robot proxy can also be used in ways that threaten our privacy and security. Our robot proxies will, as a matter of course, be gathering data about us and about the environments they find themselves in. The danger comes not from the robots, but from the way the technology itself is engineered.

Perhaps the most obvious concern is the one where the teleoperation system is compromised and people use the robot proxies to wander around places that they should not be able to access. Then there is the question of the kinds of information that a robot proxy could or should be allowed to collect about others.

Finally, there is the question of what robot proxies can know about the people who use them and who that information might be shared with. This complex set of questions has been at the heart of our interdisciplinary project.

Digital technologies can be used to enhance the public realm by creating new ways to participate for those who might be excluded, and improving the experiences of “being there” in public space for all. However, each potential advance is accompanied by a corresponding question about its ethical implications.

As robot technology becomes increasingly versatile, and able to represent us in new and more sophisticated ways, so we will need to think through what the limits to the trade off between utility and privacy should be.

Mark Levine, Professor of Social Psychology, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Who picked British fruit and veg before migrant workers?

Caroline Nye is a PhD student in the Land, Environment, Economics, and Policy (LEEP) institute; her research  focuses on agricultural labour in the UK.

In this blog, Caroline looks at the history of fruit picking and how restrictions of the free movement of Europeans might have an impact on how fruit and vegetables are picked and packed.

This article first appeared in The ConversationConversation logo

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Caroline Nye, University of Exeter

As Britain tiptoes cautiously towards leaving the European Union, there is concern about the impact of Brexit on the farming industry if free movement of Europeans is restricted as part of the negotiations. A whopping 90 per cent of British fruit, salads and vegetables are currently picked and packed by overseas workers.

Yet, Britain’s reliance on migrants to do seasonal agricultural labour is not a recent phenomenon and it’s helpful to look at the history of how British workers turned away from this kind of work to understand the current predicament.

As far back as the 14th century, itinerant Irish migrants were known to travel throughout England and Scotland in search of employment. This became more prevalent by the end of the 18th century when groups such as the “spalpeens” and “tattie howkers”, large travelling gangs of Irish men, women and children, would help bring in the annual harvest. Such migration, not only from Ireland, but also from the Welsh hill counties and Scotland, coupled with itinerant English labourers, was essential to meet the labour demands that the resident workforce alone could not.

There were a number of reasons for this shortage of labour. From the end of the 18th century until the mid-19th century, labour requirements in agriculture were increasing, due to more labour-intensive crops, such as turnips and potatoes, and the adoption of a new crop rotation system. At the same time, the number of full-time farm workers was shrinking, as they were either pulled towards jobs created by industrialisation, or pushed out by mechanisation. On top of this, groups who could have previously been relied upon to help out at harvest time, such as those working in rural textile industries, began to move away from rural areas towards factory work in towns.

Child labour and gangs

Prior to the introduction of the Gangs Act in 1867, a large proportion of those performing seasonal work were women and children who provided cheap labour to both gang masters – a term still used today for individuals who organise and employ groups of workers for casual work on agricultural land – and farmers. This new law forbade children under the age of eight from working the land, after the 1860s witnessed a rise in public concern over the exploitative nature of “ganging”. A series of new education laws soon followed, making school attendance compulsory for children between the ages of five and 12, drying up a significant source of seasonal labour. As more women began to move into the service sector towards the end of the 19th century, there was also a decline in the supply of female agricultural labourers

The British Women’s Land Army cropping beetroots in World War II. British Ministry of Information/Wikimedia

But numbers of workers needed for harvesting remained high, especially following the Irish famine in the mid-19th century, which saw migrant numbers contract significantly. Some of that work, especially hop-picking, was carried out by townspeople, working class families often coming from London or the Black Country for their summer holidays. Many of these people continued to work alongside soldiers, prisoners of war or the Women’s Land Army during both world wars. In the early 20th century, agricultural gangs also employed British people, shipping them from Yorkshire to the East Midlands, for example. But gradually these workers became less willing to travel so far.

Post-war reliance on migrant workers grows

In response to labour shortages following World War II, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) was introduced in 1945, allowing foreign nationals to temporarily reside in the UK in order to harvest fruit and vegetables. The bulk of SAWS workers were Eastern European or from the former Soviet Union. Although initial quotas were low, farms quickly began to rely on these workers, causing quotas to steadily increase to 21,250 in 2009. In 2013, the scheme was scrapped due to the increasing availability of workers from within the EU.

Number of SAWS work cards issued by nationality, 2004 to 2012. For 2012, data are only up to September 30. Migration Adivsory Committee analysis of UK Border Agency Management Information

Despite this, it was only after the 1990s that British agriculture became heavily dependent upon international migrant workers. This was sparked by power becoming more concentrated among a small number of large corporate retailers. This meant that the bargaining power of farmers became greatly reduced, resulting in fast declining margins.

This power shift largely transformed agriculture as an industry, rapidly moving away from farming as a “culture” to a more intensive industry. Where technology has not stepped in, many farms have had to extract greater efficiency from their workers, at a lower cost, just to survive. This has resulted in a move away from the more paternalistic role of farmers to their workers, to one that is more distant and bureaucratic, further dissuading locals from wanting to do the work.

Back to the land?

Positions left empty if EU migration is restricted following Brexit could theoretically present a solution to high unemployment rates in the UK. But the fact is that many British people simply do not want to carry out seasonal labour because incentives for doing so are very low. Changes in the composition of rural populations mean that areas of high unemployment are often located at significant distances from the farms offering work. Seasonal jobs are also known to be low-paid, hard work, with long hours, and are often associated with unfavourable conditions and diminished social status. Domestic residents prefer permanent employment or complete withdrawal from the labour market onto the social security system.

Migrant workers are less likely to perceive the work as “dead end” and rather see it as a temporary step allowing them to earn an income that has more worth in their home country.

Schemes to encourage British workers back to the land have largely failed. Where they have tried, some farmers state that after several days of work, many do not return. But question marks hang over rhetoric arguing that Brits are too lazy, unavailable, or incapable of doing the work, or that they have an inferior work ethic to overseas workers.

The use of technology so far has proved challenging in the harvest of fragile soft fruits and vegetables, but it is likely that the future will see a gradual move towards the use of robots. Until then, unless food prices change or new systems emerge encouraging domestic workers to pick our fruit, British farms are likely to remain highly dependent on overseas workers.

The Conversation

Caroline Nye, PhD candidate, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How Ross Poldark was a victim of Cornwall’s changing industrial landscape

Dr Joseph Crawford, English lecturer in College of Humanities, takes a look at hit BBC series Poldark. He asks if the main character, Ross Poldark, was victim of the changing face of industry in the South West.

This post first appeared in The ConversationConversation logo

Joseph Crawford, University of Exeter

In July 2016, the BBC announced the commissioning of a third season of costume drama Poldark, months before the second series was even due to be broadcast. This represents an impressive vote of confidence in the series, especially as season two will apparently not be repeating the famous “topless scything” scene which won the National Television Awards’ prize for TV Moment of the Year.

The real pivotal moment depicted by Poldark, however, is one of historical change in south-west England. In the mid-18th century, Cornwall and Devon were major commercial and industrial centres. Cornwall’s tin and copper mines were some of the largest and most sophisticated in Europe, while the profits from the Cornwall and Devonshire wool trade helped make Exeter one of the biggest and richest cities in England.

By the mid-19th century however, much had changed. The rise of the mechanised cloth industry in England’s North and Midlands sent the south-western wool trade into serious decline. And while Cornwall’s mining industry survived well into the 20th century, it experienced repeated crises from the 1770s onwards. This was primarily due to newly discovered tin and copper mines elsewhere in the world, leading to the large-scale emigration of Cornish miners to countries such as Mexico, Australia and Brazil.

The era depicted in Poldark shows the region on the very tipping-point of this transition. Ross Poldark’s struggles to keep his mine open and profitable are symptomatic of the economic difficulties experienced by the region as a whole during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

As south-western towns lost their traditional role as centres of trade and industry, their focus shifted increasingly to tourism. This was especially true during the long years of the Napoleonic Wars which form the backdrop to the later Poldark novels. Cut off by war from their favoured resorts in France and Italy, a generation of English tourists began taking holidays in Devon and Cornwall instead.

By the late 18th century, writers in Devon were praising their native county for its natural beauty and its ancient history, rather than for the wealth and industry of which their parents and grandparents had been so proud. By the mid-19th century, the same was increasingly true of Cornwall.

This economic shift led, in turn, to the development of the Victorian mythology of the “romantic South-West”, still beloved of local tourist boards today.

This mythology is built upon a version of the region’s history which emphasises its remote and wild character, playing on associations with Merlin and King Arthur, druids and witches, smugglers and wreckers and pirates.

Like most costume dramas, Poldark’s primary concern is with the travails of cross-class romance. But it is also a narrative about de-industrialisation, and about the struggle of local businesses to remain competitive and economically viable within an increasingly globalised economy – a story which has some resonance in early 21st-century Britain.

The poverty of the Cornish miners with whom Ross Poldark identifies is not simply the result of gratuitous oppression. Instead they are the victims of a new economic order which has little interest in preserving local industry for its own sake.

Wild West

The show has certainly not been shy about making lavish use of the beauty of its Cornish setting, and has already triggered something of a tourism boom, with visitors flocking to the region to see for themselves the moors, cliffs, and beaches which Poldark employs to such dramatic visual effect.

Industry by the sea.
Shutterstock

But it also depicts the historical struggles of the region’s inhabitants to preserve the South West as something more than just a pretty place for other people to visit on holiday. In this sense, it is rather symbolic that season one of Poldark ends with Ross being falsely accused of wrecking. The legend of the Cornish wreckers, which reached its definitive form in Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, is founded on extremely slender historical evidence, but it persists because it fits in so neatly with the Victorian mythology of the South West in general, and Cornwall in particular: a mythology which viewed it as a lawless and desperate land, filled with crime and adventure, and remote from all true civilisation.

In Poldark, the looting of the wrecked vessel is motivated by hunger and poverty, which have in turn been caused by the economic depression besetting the region. But after spending the whole season struggling against Cornwall’s industrial decline, Ross finds himself in danger of being absorbed into a new kind of narrative about the South West – one which will have no place for men like him, except as picturesque savages.

Of course, in this respect, Poldark rather wants to both have its grain and (shirtlessly) reap it, too. Ross Poldark and Demelza appeal to their audience precisely because they embody the kind of romantic wildness which, since the Victorian era, has been the stock-in-trade of the south-western tourist industry.

They are passionate, free-spirited, and dismissive of class boundaries and social conventions: hardly the kind of people that the self-consciously respectable merchants and industrialists of the 18th-century South West would have wanted as their representatives or champions. But by setting its story of class antagonism against the backdrop of this crucial turning-point in the history of the South West, Poldark does serve as a reminder that the quietness of the region, which has proven so attractive to generations of tourists, is not the natural state of a land untouched by commerce or industry. It is the silence which follows their enforced departure.

The Conversation

Joseph Crawford, Lecturer in English, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is Katla crying wolf? Icelandic volcano’s rumblings don’t mean airspace chaos is imminent

Physical Geography lecturer, Dr Kate Smith reflects on the 2010 eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, and the recent rumblings of its close neighbour Katla.

This post first appeared in The Conversation.Conversation logo

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Kate Smith, University of Exeter

There have been rumblings in Iceland recently.

But given its position in the North Atlantic, this is perhaps no surprise. The location makes the country a notorious volcanic hot spot, regularly hit by seismic activity.

Two recent earthquakes in August 2016 have now led to international reports of imminent eruption risk of Katla volcano. They both occurred within the 9km by 14km central crater – or “caldera” – of the volcano in southern Iceland, and were the two largest earthquakes at the volcano since 1977.

So how worried should we be? Will there be a repeat of the chaos in the skies after an ash cloud drifted over Europe in 2010 caused by an eruption at Eyjafjallajökull, Katla’s close neighbour?

In historic terms, we’ve certainly been waiting for an explosive eruption of Katla, one of Iceland´s most active volcanoes, for quite some time. Lying beneath an icecap up to 700 metres thick, over the last 1,100 years explosive eruptions large enough to melt through the ice have occurred on average every 50 years. The last such eruption was in 1918, and the current pause of 98 years is the longest on record.

Katla in 1918.
wikicommons

In the past earthquakes were felt two to 10 hours before Katla erupted through the ice. Since June, earthquake activity in the caldera has been elevated. The large earthquakes on August 29 marked the peak of this seismicity, followed by a series of more than 100 smaller events, finishing early on August 30.

Meanwhile, the rivers that drain from the ice-capped volcano have been smelling of rotten eggs. This smell comes from hydrogen sulphide (H2S), a volcanic gas found in fluids within the caldera beneath the ice. Unusually high H2S levels near Múlakvísl river have prompted official advice to avoid the immediate area. Changes in levels of volcanic gases around volcanoes and enhanced seismic activity can be signs of increased movement of magma and a future volcanic eruption.

So does all of this physical evidence point to an imminent eruption? Well, probably not. This activity is not actually unusual. Since the 1950s, periods of enhanced seismicity and increased gas pollution have not been followed by explosive eruptions, and there is no sign of swelling of the volcano or harmonic tremor (continuous rhythmic earthquakes) suggesting magma movement.

Earthquake activity at Katla also regularly increases in summer and autumn. As the summer progresses, more glacial ice melts, and small floods can occur. These larger volumes of melt water also increase pore pressure in the crustal rocks and can trigger earthquakes. Changes to water flow can also alter how much geothermal fluid is in the rivers, hence the smell.

Land of fire and ice.
Chmee2/Valtameri, CC BY

In winter the melting reduces and water exists only in small pockets at the base of the ice, which reduces pore pressure in the crust and reduces seismic activity.

After effects

However, volcanoes can change rapidly and in unexpected ways. We can’t say for sure that Katla will not erupt in the near future. A 98-year repose period is long, and twice before eruptions of Katla have followed Eyjafjallajökull in the 1820s and in 1612.

So what would happen if Katla did erupt? Eruptions from this volcano over the last 120,000 years have been varied, but the most likely eruption would be from the central caldera. A very small eruption wouldn’t melt through the ice, but a larger one could melt through explosively. Explosive Katla eruptions typically involve ash clouds and large floods (jökulhlaups) of meltwater, ice and sediment that flow across the surrounding lowlands. Lava is not usually seen since most eruptions are subglacial.

A small explosive eruption from Katla is the most common eruption type and would last from days to a couple of weeks, produce a plume up to 14km high, ash fall in Iceland and a large flood, but would be unlikely to affect anywhere outside of Iceland.

A larger-scale event could last weeks or even months. In this case the plume would be up to 25km in height and could impact air quality and air travel in the UK and Europe within two days if the wind blows ash in that direction. Iceland could expect heavy ashfall, with implications for travel, agriculture and air quality, and a large flood. Such floods can have peak discharges (water flow rates) greater than the Amazon, and cause major landscape change and local tsunamis.

If there is an eruption, both Iceland and the UK should be well prepared. Evacuation plans exist for local communities and information is available in several languages. The UK Meteorological Office monitors ash in the atmosphere and is able to predict what areas could be affected.

Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud of 2010.
PA

When I began studying Katla in 1999 I was told she could erupt any time. This remains true today and with every day that passes, we get closer to an eruption. But I wouldn’t bet on it happening right now.

Icelandic and international scientists work hard to investigate Katla´s past and carry out 24-hour monitoring with sophisticated equipment to understand its present and future. We study volcanic ash, rocks, jökulhlaup deposits, river levels and gas emissions on the ground. Earthquakes and GPS records are analysed remotely and we use satellites and overflights to examine the ground and ice surfaces from the air. An eruption may not be imminent – but it is exciting that we can detect and interpret these clues to assess Katla’s next move.

The Conversation

Kate Smith, Lecturer in Physical Geography, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The social life of sea mammals is key to their survival

Biosciences PhD student, Philippa Brakes, looks at the diversity in behaviour of our ‘oceanic cousins’. From the tool using sea otters to the ‘bubble netting’ strategy of the humpback whale.

 This post first appeared in The ConversationConversation logo
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Philippa Brakes, University of Exeter

The beguiling behaviour of marine mammals in their natural environment is fascinating to us human observers. Watching dolphins leap gracefully through the surf, or whales making waves with their massive tale flukes is the stuff of countless bucket lists and high definition wildlife documentaries.

Perhaps part of the appeal lies in marine mammals behaving a lot like we do. They share many of our biological characteristics, such as bearing live young, suckling them with rich fatty milk and investing time and energy into rearing them into adulthood.

Studying their behaviour, what makes them tick as complex social creatures, is essential for their conservation in an aquatic environment which remains almost entirely alien to us. And while it may be alien, it is an environment with a massive human footprint.

For unfortunately mammalian attributes are not all we share with our oceanic cousins. There is arguably now no marine habitat that remains unaffected by human activities. Prey depletion caused by humans, noise, temperature changes, chemical pollution and entanglements in fishing gear have all changed the place in which marine mammals evolved.

Our research shows that this simple reality makes the need to understand their behaviour and social structures all the more urgent, a call which is being echoed by the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

In recent decades there has been a strong emphasis in conservation circles on understanding the population size and distribution of marine mammals, as well as their genetic diversity.

Conservation is principally obsessed with conserving genetic diversity, which is exactly as it should be, as diverse gene pools help ensure resilience against environmental change. But genes may not be the whole story.

Marine mammal behaviour, just like ours, is partially determined by genes and the environment in which they live. However there are also social factors at play, and what makes marine mammals behave the way they do is potentially as complex as the processes which drive human behaviour.

In some cases, nurture may play just as important a role as nature for marine mammals. Almost 20 years ago, renowned conservation biologist Bill Sutherland examined how the behaviour of different species could be used to improve conservation efforts. He concluded that behavioural ecology needed to be better integrated into conservation science and policy making. But to what extent has this message from 1998 been taken on board?

Marine mammals exhibit a wide range of fascinating behaviours, from the complex cooperative bubble-net feeding of humpback whales, to ice-cave building polar bears and tool-using sea otters. They also have a great diversity in their social structures and changing social dynamics, which range between the complex third-order alliances of bottlenose dolphins, close relationships between non-related males, to the more solitary lives of beaked whales.

As well as having innate behaviours, which they acquire through their genes, these species, like humans, can learn individually and from each other. Social learning may be of particular importance to conservation efforts, because it can influence the resilience of a population to changes in their environment.

Killer whales learn foraging strategies from their social group and tend to stick to them. As a result, if there is a decline in their preferred prey, they may be less likely to switch to other species, or use alternative foraging tactics. Such a behaviourally conservative species is likely to be more vulnerable to change.

Survival skills

But learning is only part of marine mammal social dynamics. Social structure, and the various roles played by individuals may also be important for how a population responds to change. The loss of individuals that hold key information on the location of critical habitat or a food source may have significant consequences.

Humans live in many different types of cultures, environments and circumstances. We make important choices about what to eat, who to socialise with, where to live and how many offspring to have. These factors can strongly influence our fertility rates, survival, and even our evolution. It is certainly plausible that many of these factors influence the success of marine mammals as well.

A better understanding of the behavioural ecology of marine mammals is therefore hugely important. It is difficult to envision an approach toward conserving a population of modern humans which merely preserved their genetic integrity and did not also consider their socially learnt behaviour.

While there are some attempts to incorporate behaviour, efforts to conserve marine mammal biodiversity still focus strongly on maintaining genetic integrity and diversity. But the emerging evidence indicates that social and behavioural diversity may also be central to individual, group, and population viability. The challenge ahead is teasing out the most relevant factors and understanding how to incorporate this new knowledge into conservation efforts.

On the whole, policy makers have been slow to keep up with the emerging behavioural research. More alarming still, from the perspective of the marine mammals themselves, is that the degradation of their environment has continued apace.

The Conversation

Philippa Brakes, Post-grad Researcher, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Teen obesity caused by going into ‘power-saving mode’

As new research on the subject of teen obesity hits the headlinesProfessor Terry Wilkin – Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism in University of Exeter Medical School – looks at the evolutionary trait of ‘power-saving’ which may be trapping them.

This post first appeared in The Conversation. Conversation logo

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Terry Wilkin, University of Exeter

It is possible that modern teenagers are trapped by a trait which evolved thousands of years ago to help them through puberty, but which now leaves them vulnerable to obesity.

Adolescents need an extra 20-30% energy every day to fuel the growth and changes in body composition that characterise the six years or so of pubertal development. Energy comes from calories in the food they eat, but how could hunter-gatherers guarantee the extra calories they needed as adolescents when their food supply was limited?

We believe they may have unearthed a strategy that worked well for our ancestors, but which does quite the opposite now.

In our research, we have been monitoring a group of children as they progress through childhood from five to 16 years of age (the EarlyBird study). We found, as expected, that more energy was burnt as children got bigger. However, after the age of ten, the calories they burnt unexpectedly fell, despite the fact that they were growing faster than ever. The amount of calories burnt by age 15 was around 25% lower in both boys and girls. Only at 16 years of age, when the growth spurt was over, did the energy spend begin to increase again.

The study has three important qualities: it is longitudinal (which means that it measures the same group of children throughout), its age spread is very narrow (which means that age-related changes can be more accurately identified), and few people dropped out of the study (important statistically).

In a publication last year, we described two distinct waves of weight gain; one occurring sometime between birth and five years of age, and the other in adolescence. The early wave affected only some children – the offspring of obese parents – while the later wave in adolescence involved children generally.

Poor parental eating habits passed on to their children seemed a likely explanation for early obesity, but we had no good explanation for the later wave of obesity, until now.

Mystery solved?

Energy balance can be thought of as a bank account. Calories are deposited, and calories are spent. Body size (the balance in the account) depends on the difference between the two. So, although the explanation we offer is entirely speculative, and we will never really know because we don’t have the data on our ancestors, the researchers proposed that a downward shift of energy expenditure into “power-saving mode” might help to conserve the calories needed for the growth spurt in puberty.

The energy burnt over 24 hours has two components: voluntary and involuntary. The voluntary component is physical activity, which is easy to understand. What people understand less readily is that the involuntary component is by far the bigger one. Involuntary energy expenditure (so-called resting energy expenditure) is used just to keep alive; to keep the blood temperature at 36.8°C, fuel the brain to think and enable the organs to function.

Involuntary energy expenditure accounts for around 75% of the total calories burnt in a day, which explains why physical activity has a limited impact on obesity. A fall of 25% in resting energy expenditure makes a big hole in the calories burnt each day.

Why does all this matter, and why does it occur? It matters because it makes obesity more difficult to avoid if teenagers are trapped by a long period of low-calorie burn. We don’t know for sure why it occurs, but could speculate that it may be a throw-back to earlier evolutionary times, when calories were scarce but adolescents still needed 25-30% more calories a day to fuel growth and bodily changes.


Not as easy as buying a burger.
Nicolas Primola/Shutterstock.com

How did hunter-gatherers assure the supply of extra calories needed to reach maturity? It is possible that their bodies adapted by switching down its calorie expenditure, so as to divert the calories to the energy needed to grow. Obesity is a recent problem, and the adaptation now works adversely in a world where calories are cheap and readily available in a highly palatable mix of sugary drinks and calorie-dense foods.

The worst outcome is that adolescents and their families take these findings to mean that they can do nothing about teenage obesity. The best is that a new explanation for teenage obesity leads to better understanding, and an avoidance of the foods that are the cause.The Conversation

Terry Wilkin, Professor, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Whither anarchy: freedom as non-domination

Dr Alex Prichard, Senior Lecturer in the College of Social Science and International Studies, and Professor Ruth Kinna, Professor of Political Theory at Loughborough University, have been collaborating on a research project entitled ‘Constitutionalisng Anarchy – looking at the principles, processes, and rules of anarchy.

In this blog, they look at the idea of anarchist constitutionalism, the anarchists’ view of property, and, the non-domination of freedom.

This post appeared in The ConversationConversation logo

Alex Prichard, University of Exeter and Ruth Kinna, Loughborough University

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century. This article is the second of four perspectives on the political relevance of anarchism and the prospects for liberty in the world today.


Which institutions are best suited to realising freedom? This is a question recently asked by the republican political theorist Philip Pettit.

Anarchists, by contrast to republicans, argue that the modern nation-state and the institution of private property are antithetical to freedom. According to anarchists, these are historic injustices that are structurally dominating. If you value freedom as non-domination, you must reject both as inimical to realising this freedom.

But what is freedom as non-domination? In a nutshell, by a line of thinking most vocally articulated by Pettit, I’m free to the degree that I am not arbitrarily dominated by any other. I am not free if someone can arbitrarily interfere in the execution of my choices.

If I consent to a system of rules or procedures, anyone that then invokes these rules against me cannot be said to be curtailing my freedom from domination. My scope for action might be constrained, but since I have consented to the rules that now curtail my freedom, I am not subject to arbitrary domination.

Imagine, for instance, that I have a drinking problem and I’ve asked my best friend to keep me away from the bar. If she sees me heading in that direction and prevents me from getting anywhere near the alcohol, she dominates, but not arbitrarily, so my status as a free person is not affected.

Republican theory diverges from liberal theory because the latter treats any interference in my actions as a constraint on my freedom – especially if I paid good money for the drink, making it my property.

Neither republicans nor liberals suggest that private property and the state might themselves be detrimental to freedom, quite the opposite. By liberal accounts, private property is the bedrock of individual rights. In contemporary republican theory, property ownership is legitimate as long as it is non-dominating.

Republicans further argue that a state that tracks your interests and encourages deliberative contestation and active political participation will do best by your freedom.

The special status of property and the state

But why should we assume that property or the state is central to securing freedom as non-domination? The answer seems to be force of habit. For republicans like Pettit, the state is like the laws of physics while private property is akin to gravity. In ideal republican theory, these two institutions are just background conditions we simply have to deal with, neither dominating nor undominating, just there.

While anarchists don’t disagree that property and the state exist, they seek to defend a conception of freedom as non-domination that factors in their dominating, slavish and enslaving effects. Anarchism emerged in the 19th century, when republicanism, particularly in the US, was perfectly consistent with slavery and needed the state to enforce that state of affairs.

Anarchists denounce the institutions of dominance under industrial capitalism. Quinn Dombrowski/flickr

The abolition of slavery and the emergence of industrial capitalism were predicated on the extension of the principle of private property to the propertyless, not only slaves, who were encouraged to see themselves as self-possessors who could sell their labour on the open market at the market rate.

Likewise, in Europe millions of emancipated serfs were lured into land settlements that left them permanently indebted to landlords and state functionaries. They were barely able to meet taxes and rents and frequently faced starvation.

The anarchists uniformly denounced this process as the transformation of slavery, rather than its abolition. They deployed synonyms like “wage slavery” to describe the new state of affairs. Later, they extended their conception of domination by analysing sex slavery and marriage slavery.

Proudhon’s twin dictums “property is theft” and “slavery is murder” should be understood in this context. As he noted, neither would have been possible but for the republican state enforcing and upholding the capitalist property regime.

The state became dependent on taxes, while property owners were dependent on the state to keep recalcitrant populations at bay. And, by the mid-20th century, workers were dependent on the state for welfare and social security because of the poverty-level wages paid by capitalists.

As Karl Polanyi noted, there was nothing natural about this process. The unfurling of the “free market”, the liberal euphemism for this process, had to be enforced and continues to be across the world.

Republicans might encourage us to think of the state and property like the laws of physics or gravity because this helps them argue that their conception of freedom as non-domination is not moralised – that is, their conception of freedom as non-domination does not depend on a prior ethical commitment to anything else.

But as soon as you strip away the physics, it appears that republican freedom is in fact deeply moralised – the state and private property remain central to the possibility of republican freedom in an a priori way. Republican accounts of freedom demand we ignore a prior ethical commitment to two institutions that should themselves be rejected.

Anarchists argue that private property and the state precipitate structures of domination that position people in hierarchical relations of domination, which are often if not always exacerbated by distinctions of race, gender and sexuality. These are what Uri Gordon calls the multiple “regimes of domination” that structure our lives.

Looking to constitutionalism as a radical tool

Anarchists are anarchists to the extent that they actively combat these forces. How should they do this?

Typically, the answer is through a specific form of communal empowerment (“power with” rather than “power over”). This would produce structural power egalitarianism, a situation in which no one can arbitrarily dominate another.

But is this realistic or desirable? Would a reciprocal powers politics not simply result in the very social conflicts that anarchists see structuring society already, as Pettit has argued?

Even anarchists need rules to guide group decision-making – such as these ones at Occupy Vancouver. Sally T. Buck/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

And what about radical democracy? Perhaps anarchists could replace engagement with the state with radical practices of decision-making? The problem is that anarchists haven’t even defined the requisite constituencies or how they should relate to one another. What if my mass constituency’s democratic voice conflicts with yours?

There is one implement in the republican tool box that anarchists once took very seriously and which might be resurrected: constitutionalism. Without a state to fall back on or private property to lean on, anarchists like Proudhon devised radically anti-hierarchical and impressively imaginative constitutional forms.

Even today, when constitutionalism is almost uniformly associated with bureaucracy and domination, anarchists continue to devise constitutional systems. By looking at anarchist practices like the Occupy movement’s camp rules and declarations (We are the 99 per cent!), we can revive anarchist constitutionalism and show how freedom as non-domination may be revised and deployed as an anti-capitalist, anti-statist emancipatory principle. You can see more about this here.


You can read other articles in the series here.

The Conversation

Alex Prichard, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Exeter and Ruth Kinna, Professor of Political Theory, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The long history behind the power of Royal Portraits

Professor Andrew McRae, Head of Department and Professor of Renaissance Studies in the Department of English and PhD candidate, Anna-Marie Linnell have written a blog which looks at the risks and rewards of Royal portraits.

This post first appeared in The ConversationConversation logo

Andrew McRae, University of Exeter and Anna-Marie Linnell, University of Exeter

Queen Elizabeth family portrait

The royal portraits released to mark the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II deliberately emphasise her status as the matriarch within a flourishing family. The oldest and newest generations of royals smile together for the camera, projecting the Windsor line as safely secured into the future.

These well choreographed and well publicised pictures blend longevity and authority with an appreciation of renewal and dynastic security. Across British history, however, the idea that the monarch’s nuclear family is necessarily a unit of stable authority has been hard won.

While of course there have been royal families for as long as there have been monarchs, spouses and offspring haven’t always shared the limelight. The pivotal era of change is that of the Stuarts (1603-1714), who reigned when print culture exploded and new forms of visual media emerged.

Successive Stuart monarchs quickly grasped the value of royal imagery, keenly sponsoring portraits of themselves or holding lavish events which promoted their reign and policies. In turn, authorised images were disseminated more extensively through cheaply printed pamphlets.

Sharing the royal image with their subjects was a new and powerful tool – but it also carried risks.

Promoting his family held advantages for the first Stuart monarch, James VI of Scotland, who assumed the English throne in 1603, becoming James I. After the turbulent reigns of the early Tudors, and decades of rule by a Virgin Queen, James brought his subjects a healthy royal family. While he perhaps had little affection for his wife, Queen Anna of Denmark – and rather more for his succession of male royal favourites – he appreciated the importance of dynastic continuity and placed his three young children clearly in the public eye.


James I and his royal progeny.
Wikicommons

London’s printers devoted much attention to the king and his family. Genealogical charts and portraits of the family were disseminated in cheap printed form. James’s great book of political theory, Basilikon Doron, was also rushed into print in London in 1603. This text was an extended essay on dynastic continuity, addressed to his eldest son, Prince Henry. And while James’s family experienced more than its share of upheaval, with Henry dying suddenly in 1612, and his sister Elizabeth being sucked into the morass of the Thirty Years’ War, royal imagery stressed the continuity of Stuart rule.

Charles I, James’s second son, went on to exploit even more fully the potential of the royal family image. Charles’s marriage to the French princess Henrietta Maria coincided with his father’s unexpected death in 1625, meaning his reign began at the same time as the start of a stable and happy marriage. His image as a ruler was virtually indistinguishable from his profile as a husband and father.

Scholars have even argued that Charles only established an identifiable and independent reputation as a ruler from around 1630, when Henrietta Maria gave birth to the first of a succession of seven children.


Charles I, family guy.
Royal Collection

All the media of the age were mobilised to celebrate the family. Volumes of poetry were published to mark each royal birth, while the greatest court artists were commissioned to paint portraits. One portrait of Charles, Henrietta Maria and their first two children, by Anthony Van Dyck, hangs to this day in Buckingham Palace. Yet the risks of this approach also became apparent, as the perceived influence of a foreign, Catholic queen became a focus of resentment in the 1640s.

Traditional gender roles

Set against a more traditional model of masculine authority, Charles was derided by his critics as weak and vulnerable. The publication of secret correspondence between the couple, in The King’s Cabinet Opened (1645), fuelled the flames of civil war.

The royal family remained a source of tension in the second half of the Stuart era. Charles II’s childless marriage to Katherine of Braganza lacked the intensity of his parents’ union. For his brother and heir, James II, the birth of a Catholic son in 1688 in fact precipitated his downfall. While his subjects were prepared to tolerate James II’s leadership, they were anxious about the prospect of a future line of Catholic Stuarts.

His opponents challenged the maternity of the child, James Francis Edward, alleging that he was an imposter smuggled into the Queen’s rooms in a bedpan. Hundreds of pamphlets, histories and even plays were produced about this “warming pan plot”.

Months later, James’s son-in-law, William of Orange, capitalised on discontent and invaded England to seize the crown. Thereafter, images of the Stuart royal family tended to be divisive, often associated with the “Jacobites” who sought to restore James to the throne.

Today, the Windsors can congratulate themselves on their evident success in creating an image suited to the times. Yet a glance back in history, to the very century when the royal family was invented as a media product, underlines the challenges that they face in promoting – and maintaining – the positive royal image in a digital age.

The Conversation

Andrew McRae, Head of English, Professor of Renaissance Studies, University of Exeter and Anna-Marie Linnell, PhD candidate, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.