Saturday 27 September 2014

Saturday Interview: Evan Smith

Evan Smith is a Vice-Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Flinders University, South Australia, and works at the intersection between contemporary history, politics and criminology, with a little bit of cultural studies thrown in. He has written widely on the British far left, immigration, anti-racism and political activism. He currently runs his own blog Hatful of History and tweets from @hatfulofhistory. He has recently co-edited a volume of the history of the British far left, Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956 (Manchester University Press), and co-written a book on British immigration control, Race, Gender and the Body in British Immigration Control (Palgrave Macmillan).

- Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging in August 2012. I was working in the public service and wanted a site that showcased all the different research projects that I was undertaking, so I started Hatful of History for that purpose. My research is very politically focused and quite contemporary so I tried to highlight the links between current political events and the recent past.

- What's been your best blogging experience?

I'm not sure, but I have had some big name academic types (who I had read for years) contact me and say that they've enjoyed my blog. That's pretty cool.

- Have you any blogging advice for new starters?

Be sure that you can dedicate enough time to it. Blogs need attention and there's nothing worse than a sparsely updated blog.

- Do you find social media useful for activist-y and scholarly-type things?

Yes for both. Twitter and my blog have helped me connect to many new academics and I've made some wonderful friendships through them. I've also been able to disseminate my publications much more widely through social media than before. Twitter's also great for asking questions and getting access to journal articles that you don't have a subscription to.

I'm not heavily involved in political activism day to day, but I think social media has helped activists get their message out and reach new audiences. The internet is not a substitute for face-to-face interaction and people on the streets, but it's a handy tool for organising these traditional forms of activism.

- Who are your biggest intellectual influences?

​Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, David Garland, John Solomos, Imogen Tyler, Philippa Levine, Gilles Deleuze, Eric Hobsbawm, Natalie Zemon Davis, Peter Fryer, A. Sivanandan, etc.

- What are you reading at the moment?

The INLA: Deadly Divisions by Henry McDonald and Jack Holland. I'm looking forward to reading Bernard Sumner's autobiography when it arrives.

- What was the last film you saw?

Generation War - a German mini-series about five young adults during the Second World War. It was well produced, but a bit problematic.

Do you have a favourite novel?

- I know it's a wanky art student classic, but Albert Camus' The Outsider would have to be my favourite novel. I don't have time to read much fiction so bleakness and brevity make it a great read.

- Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?

​Postmodernism. Like a lot of people with a Marxist background, I used to be very sceptical of postmodernism, but I started reading Richard J. Evans' In Defence of History alongside Foucault and Althusser in third year, and my thinking was transformed.

Along similar lines, I came across the idea of intersectionality as I was finishing my PhD. I wish I had been introduced to it three years earlier - it made sense of so many concepts that I had struggled to make sense of!

- How many political organisations have you been a member of?

Only one. I was a member of Resistance (the youth wing of the Democratic Socialist Party) for six months in 1999 (I was 17). I joined them on a Sunday afternoon before going to see the Beastie Boys.

As a historian of the far left's various groups, I am very wary of political organisations now.

- What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?

​Something akin to a Marxist understanding that nearly all progressive ideas are interconnected - economic equality, the fight against racism, feminism, environmentalism, same-sex equality, etc. I am just not convinced that the economic base determines everything else.

- What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?

​Neoliberal capitalism, racism, fascism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, climate change denial etc. One of the ideas that I am most passionate about fighting is the idea of the 'need' for immigration control in any form. I am strongly committed to the idea of no borders and the idea that no one can be 'illegal'.

- Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major influence on how you think about the world?

​This would largely correlate with my intellectual influences listed above. But it was Rius' Marx for Beginners that I read in year 11 that really kick started my whole political/historical trajectory.

- Who are your political heroes?

This is a difficult question, because I don't really have political 'heroes'. But inspirational people for me include Stuart Hall, David Widgery, Jayaben Desai, Anwar Ditta, E.P. Thompson, Claudia Jones, H.V. Evatt, Ruth First, Billy Bragg.

- How about political villains?

Too many to mention.

- What do you think is the most pressing political task of the day?

As I said above, all things are interconnected, so it's difficult to isolate one issue that is 'most pressing'. I guess addressing climate change is the most pressing in the long-term, but my energies are usually focussed towards the 'no borders' argument and fighting the hysteria around refugees in Australia (and in the UK).

- If you could affect a major policy change, what would it be?

The end of mandatory detention for asylum seekers in Australia.

- What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?

Economic inequality and the scarcity of resources that capitalism creates. Probably.

- What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Life's too short to be a conservative.

- What is your favourite song?

It changes, but probably in my all time top 10 would be stuff like Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards by Billy Bragg, The Queen is Dead by The Smiths, Big Time Sensuality by Bjork, La Pastie de la Bourgeoisie by Belle & Sebastian and Deutschland (Has Gotta Die!) by Atari Teenage Riot.

- Do you have a favourite video game?

Arcade: Point Blank, NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, Super Street Fighter
NES: Super Mario Bros 1,2 and 3, Kung Fu, Excitebike
SNES: Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II (Hyperfight)
Nintendo 64: Goldeneye
Megadrive: Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog
PC: Civilization II
Playstation: Tekken 2 and 3, This is Football

You can tell that I haven't played video games in a while! But used to read Mean Machines magazine devotedly in 1990s.

- What do you consider the most important personal quality?


- What personal fault do you most dislike?


- What, if anything, do you worry about?

Everything. But I try to keep it under a cool, calm exterior.

- And any pet peeves?

The pettiness of The Australian newspaper.

- What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?

Try harder at undergraduate level. You'll appreciate it when you're on the other side of the classroom.

- What do you like doing in your spare time?

Apart from family stuff, watching British crime drama, football, record collecting and enjoying Australian cafe culture. You miss a good coffee when you're in the UK.

- What is your most treasured possession?

You can't say that children are possessions, so it would be my record collection. I especially like my Australian 2xLP edition of The Smiths' The World Won't Listen.

- Do you have any guilty pleasures?

I have every Gilmore Girls series on DVD. I downloaded two Iggy Azalea singles recently.

- What talent would you most like to have?

Excellent football skills.

- If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true - apart from getting loads of money - what would you wish for?

A permanent academic position.

- Speaking of cash, how, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money?

Get a bigger place for the family, move closer to rest of the extended family and beach, get a new(ish) car, pay off debts.

- If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?

Luis Bunuel, Tony Wilson and Alexei Sayle.

- As a non-Labour labour movement person, do you think Labour will win next year?

Yes, the Lib Dem vote will shift towards Labour and the UKIP will siphon off some Tory votes, I reckon. Labour will get over the line with a small majority, so maybe another election will be called, like 1951 or 1966.