Scholars Stuart Ward and Robert Saunders explore the complicated relationships among Brexit, the British people and the British Constitution
Wednesday April 27, 2022 • Virtual
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM
Please join us at noon CDT on Wednesday, April 27, for the final installment in our spring virtual speaker series, Brexit One Year On: “The Will of the People: Did Brexit Break the British Constitution?” Scholars Stuart Ward of Copenhagen University and Robert Saunders of Queen Mary College University of London will delve into the complex relationships of Brexit, the British people, and the British Constitution. Marc-William Palen of Exeter University will chair.
Today activists in Pakistan, particularly ethnic Pakhtuns and Baluch, evoke the idea of colonial governance when criticizing the Pakistani state’s abuses in their war-torn and marginalized homelands. Take the words of leading Pakhtun activist Manzoor Pashteen: “When we demand our rights, equal rights, and protest against this colonial-like treatment of our people, we’re thrown [in]to jails indefinitely.” Colonialism’s legacy continues to dominate the lives of millions. ‘Pathan,’ or more properly Pakhtun or Pashtun, soldiers’ experiences in British service during the First World War are seldom given dedicated coverage. However, they can illuminate important developments in the formation of this colonial legacy in modern Pakistan: both its consolidation through indigenous allies, and resistance to it.
Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), a father of the modern Olympic Games, framed his philosophy of sport around elitist principles. The French baron considered aristocratic white males as the “only true Olympic hero[es].” While ignoring the blatant racism and classism of his beliefs, de Coubertin insisted that athletics transcended social concerns. Ironically, he lamented that “politics is making its way into the heart of every issue,” though he maintained that the competition’s purity derived from its supposed apolitical nature. Soon after the death of de Coubertin, South African poet Dennis Brutus (1924-2009) intuited the contradictions of the Frenchman’s Olympism. Discriminatory laws showed Brutus how governmental affairs plagued athletics in his homeland. Over his decades-long campaign to ban his country’s participation in the Olympics, Brutus struggled to win justice while disputing de Coubertin’s logic. In dismantling the Frenchman’s tenets, he pioneered a novel Olympism, one that pursued connection among humans rather than distinctions along racial lines.
This piece intersects with the historiographies of sports, civil rights, and apartheid in South Africa. To start, this essay draws upon the work of leading specialists on South Africa such as Saul Dubow. In particular, his Racial Segregation and the Origins of Apartheid in South Africa, 1919-1936 and Apartheid, 1948-1994 have informed this blog post. Dubow’s studies on the roots, and the persistence of Apartheid, throughout the twentieth century provide insights on the system against which Brutus struggled. In addition, this piece takes inspiration from critical interdisciplinary perspectives on the Olympics. Sidonie Smith, Kay Schaffer, Kevin Wamsley, and Kevin Young have dissected the dynamics of symbols, power, and politics in the modern games. Of course, this piece also seeks to engage with existing literature on Brutus himself. In recent years, academics have devoted more energies to evaluating the South African’s career and legacy. Edited volumes such as Critical Perspectives on Dennis Brutus as well as Poetry and Protest: a Dennis Brutus Reader attest to the richness of this subfield. Even more, Tyrone August released a monograph in 2020 that deals with Brutus’s early years in South Africa before his 1966 exile. On the whole, this piece seeks to complement these scholars who have provided such lucid surveys of South Africa, the Olympics, and how Brutus blended poetics and activism.
As students on the British World module at Exeter we recently discussed why the place of the colonial past has become so contentious over the last thirty years. In doing so, we considered the concerns of the ‘new museology’ in seeking to make museums fora for public engagement and discussion of this past. We also considered recent attempts to raise awareness of the region’s connections with colonialism, such as the ‘In Plain Sight’ exhibition at the RAMM in Exeter, which traces Devon’s connections with the Atlantic slave trade. The exhibition does an excellent job of providing a new understanding of the overlooked connections between places we see everyday and one of the darkest episodes in history. In particular, Joy Gregory’s commissioned work, ‘The Sweetest Thing’ highlights the connections between local wealthy families and slavery in the Caribbean. The tapestry includes compensation figures, which were awarded to claimants by the British government following the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. Knowledge of the huge sums awarded to former slave owners has become more widespread over recent years through the digitisation of records by the Legacies of British Slave Ownership project but it is still rare for a regional museum to feature this history prominently.