Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

Now that I am stationed here in the Northern hemisphere I have to partake in these strange rituals. So Happy Halloween, whatever that for me I am preparing for the deluge of children who will beseige the house demanding sweets. I am going to try a mixture of fruit and sweets on them this time round, although might find the fruit comes flying back...

Monday, October 17, 2005

James Antonio Werge Hamber

Please join me in welcoming James Antonio Werge Hamber to this planet. Born on 17 October 2005 at 11:55pm, weighing 7.4 pounds and all of 55cm tall! And if anyone needs an explanation of the rather strange choice of names, I will be happy to oblige.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Fancy borrowing a homeless person?

Recently, I read that it will soon be possible to 'borrow' living people from a public library in Holland. The library, based in the town of Almelo, will 'lend out' people of various descriptions, including drug addicts, physically-disabled people, homosexuals, asylum seekers and Roma people. The idea is that you can reserve a person and meet them for 45 minutes, asking them anything you want and hearing their story. Jan Krol, the library's director running the programme, hopes it will reduce prejudice and break down barriers between groups as people learn more about the lifestyles of others. Moreover, for those of you worried you might forget to return 'your book', or perhaps 'your book' might have such a good time with you it forgets to return itself, resulting in a hefty fine, you can only meet the person in the library café for safety reasons. Also, in case you are wondering, Krol says you do not have to have a library card to take out a person.

Krol, who based the scheme on a project running in Sweden, is swamped with requests and has had to get his team of 'living books' together hastily. He told London's Telegraph, “I've got several gay men, a couple of lesbian women, a couple of Islamic volunteers. I've got a physically-handicapped woman and a woman who has been living on social-security benefits for many years in real poverty.”

Sounds like a great idea, doesn't it? Any so-called oddity you have been too afraid to approach in the street or strike up a conversation with at work is now freely available for questions and answers. Libraries have a reputation for being stuffy boring places and maybe this is just the thing to bring people back to books (or at least to library cafés). It is an indictment of our society that we are too busy to talk to one another and have to visit a human zoo to learn about each another; but, if the scheme promotes libraries as institutions that are part of communities, I'm all for it. Finding ways to bring people into the library, whether with a library card in hand or a camera to take a snap of the exotic person they're meeting, can only be positive. Obviously, in Africa, literacy and the availability of books is also a problem, even if you manage to steer the person away from their meeting into the actual library. The general anti-book culture the world over is another hurdle. Recently, I read that Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice, has never read a book in her life, despite writing a 528-page biography. Some role model there.

In addition, as sympathetic as I am towards Krol's scheme (which I know I've spent too much time thinking about, instead of reading, a good book), it does throw up several questions, such as: who is really taking out who? Who is more of a curiosity, a drug addict or a person who feels they are so deprived of chances to meet people from all walks of life that they need a library to facilitate the meeting? Also, are only minorities available for loan and does the inquisitiveness only flow one way? Can a liberal-minded person ask to meet a right-wing bigot? Can a poor black man ask to meet a middle-class white man? And, the biggest question: can you ask that certain people be removed from society and made available only on loan for all eternity? I have a few politicians in mind here.

But I'm hooked and I'm going to sign up. I've been wracking my brain all day trying to decide who I will take out on loan. And, finally, I've got it. I wonder if you can borrow a Dutch librarian; I've never met one of those before.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 14 October 2005 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

3rd International and Interdisciplinary Trauma Research Net Conference

TraumaResearch.Net has just put out a call for papers for their £rd Conference, entitled Conference theme: Trauma - Stigma and Distinction. The Social Ambivalences in the Face of Extreme Suffering (14-17 September 2006, St. Moritz, Switzerland). I have been lucky enough to have been invited to the last two. If any of you are interested, I think it is worthwhile. Deadline for proposals by e-mail: March 31, 2006. Decisions will be announced by e-mail before June 1, 2006. Provisional programme and registration information will be publishing at closer to conference time. For more details click here.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

New Research: A Place for Reconciliation?

Grainne Kelly and Brandon Hamber, OPSI consultants, recently published a study on reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The report is entitled: A Place for Reconciliation? Conflict and Locality in Northern Ireland. The report includes a definition of reconciliation that has now been adopted by the EU PEACE II Programme and it explains the definition and the research that supports it in detail. The research for the report was conducted in three case-study areas in Northern Ireland, where interviews were conducted with elected representatives, council officials and NGO representatives. It found ambivalence among practitioners on the ground towards the communalist politics of the council chamber and, amid some confusion as to the meaning of reconciliation, a willingness to embrace the definition we developed.

 To download the report click here.