Kellogg College Design Week: Cultural Capital and Commercial Enterprise

Kellogg student Melena Meese writes about her research trip to Paris, for Kellogg’s first Design Week (1-4 December), to discover the archives of the French fabric company Pierre Frey. 

On a mission with the Kellogg based forum for Decorative Arts and Phenomenology (DAP), co-founder Maximilian Buston and I recently visited the archives of French fabric company Pierre Frey in Paris. Along with a fascinating delve into the archive collections, we also caught up with the company’s creative director Patrick Frey for a lively discussion about the company’s innovative use of archive designs in creating new collections. Pierre Frey is collaborating with DAP on the upcoming series of events being held at Kellogg College, University of Oxford, as part of Design Week: Textiles.

In tandem with the focus on scholarship in the fields of Decorative Arts and Design, one of DAP’s core aims is to reach beyond academia to engage outside cultural entities, practising designers and the broader commercial sector for the exchange of knowledge. Traditionally more prevalent in the sciences, Knowledge Exchange is beginning to gain wider currency in the arts and humanities. Knowledge Exchange can be defined as the process which brings together academic staff, users of research and wider groups and communities to exchange ideas, evidence and expertise. The DAP collaboration with Pierre Frey is an example of this process in action.

Ralph Lauren Flagship

The Ralph Lauren flagship store in Paris proudly perched on Boulevard Saint-Germain. The building in its current glory represents the culmination of a major preservation project undertaken by the company as part of its brand story. 

The revitalization of a number of heritage brands in the retail sector in recent years has prompted the mining of archives for brand history and inspiration, highlighting the vital role of archival work in shaping company communications and product development. Projects involving company archives are just one example of the opportunities for academic collaboration with the commercial sector. Designers often have the same unerring eye for detail (while simultaneously being mindful of its relationship to wider contexts) that also characterises the work of a scholar. Furthermore, successful design-led luxury brands are likely to possess the rare combination of erudition, passion, vested interest and deep pockets necessary to undertake projects underpinned by extensive research. It is worth investigating their potential as not only financial sponsors, but as collaborative partners with researchers.

The retailer Ralph Lauren often integrates historical detail into its brand and has undertaken several high profile conservation projects including a collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution to restore and display The Star-Spangled Banner. Maximilian and I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Ralph Lauren flagship store during our trip to view the company’s conservation efforts up close. The stunning building is the result of a major restoration project spanning over four years that involved artisans working with traditional materials and techniques to restore or replicate original decorative features and required prolonged archaeological work upon the discovery of a Roman well beneath the building. The company had a key role in the direction of the research connected to the project.

Ralph Lauren Dining Room

Ralph’s restaurant located in the former stables and carriage houses of the restored 17th century hôtel particulier that houses the company’s flagship store in Paris.

Kellogg College is particularly well placed to facilitate knowledge exchange projects with its vibrant mix of full-time postgraduate students, along with mature and part-time students possessing a wealth of current and past career experience and networks – many of which are in the design, heritage and cultural sectors. Kellogg’s links to the Department for Continuing Education and its architecture, decorative arts and design-related programmes are also an asset. It is hoped that the design week will not only highlight arts and culture at Kellogg, but also spark further collaborations both within and outside of the University.

Melena Meese
DPhil student in Architectural History


The annual Vincent Strudwick Lecture – Seeing Visions and Hearing Voices

On Thursday 30th October, the third annual Vincent Strudwick Lecture on an aspect of religion in public life was given by Dr Richard Holloway, author of Leaving Alexandria, former Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The lecture is entitled ‘Seeing Visions and Hearing Voices: Another look at religious experience and expression’ and can be read, in full, below.

The task I have set myself this evening is to think about the impulses and experiences that lie behind religion; and I want to begin by suggesting that religion – however widely you define the term – is one of the most uniquely human things we do.  Birds don’t do it, bees don’t do it, even educated fleas don’t do it – to mangle a famous song about sex – only humans do it. The fact that of all the animals on the planet we alone create religions points to something distinctive about us that’s worth reflecting on – and my dog Daisy can help us think about it.

When I walk in the Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh I take Daisy with me. We both love the hills but our experiences of being out on them are very different.  Her senses are keener than mine, so there is much she is aware of that I miss, but there’s one thing I am doing she isn’t: I am thinking, and it’s a curse as well as a blessing.  Unlike Daisy and the other animals whose presence she senses in their burrows and lairs, I have lost the capacity for mere being, for simply yielding myself to life and letting it flow through me.  Something has happened to the human animal that has not happened to the others: self-consciousness and the questions it prompts have made us an object of interest to ourselves.  Daisy is not obsessing over the nature of dog-hood as she trots behind me, but I am musing about the meaning of life as I trudge along, because it comes with my consciousness and the mind that expresses it.  That’s why it would not be an exaggeration to say that in us the universe is thinking about itself.  Unlike the other animals who seem to be unconsciously at home in the world, the human animal is puzzled not only by its own existence but by the existence of existence itself or the being of being or however you like to put it.  Here’s a poem by Primo Levi that captures the predicament:

Fellow humans, to whom a year is a long time,
A century a venerable goal,
Struggling for your bread,
Tired, fretful, tricked, sick, lost;
Listen, and may it be mockery and consolation.
Twenty billion years before now,
Brilliant, soaring in space and time,
There was a ball of flame, solitary, eternal,
Our common father and our executioner.
It exploded, and every change began.
Even now the thin echo of this one reverse catastrophe
Resounds from the farthest reaches.
From that one spasm everything was born:
The same abyss that enfolds and challenges us,
The same time that spawns and defeats us,
Everything anyone has ever thought,
The eyes of every woman we have loved,
Suns by the thousands
And this hand that writes.[1]

Everything anyone has ever thought…And this hand that writes!  Hold that idea for a second.  Billions of years after the originating explosion we call the Big Bang, in us the universe is looking at itself, and you can divide the activity roughly into three departments.    Science explores the matter of the universe to figure out how it was formed and the laws of its operation.  Philosophy explores the best way for us to live within the human community and how to understand its complex and shifting relationships.  It may be too unsubtle to put it like this, but we could say that both science and philosophy study the universe objectively.  It is outside them, like a body on a table, and they loom over it prodding and probing it to uncover its secrets.

Religion is different because it claims to experience the universe subjectively.  Though it can’t avoid engaging with the findings of science and philosophy, its essential claim is that there is more to the universe than the objective approach can ever uncover.  It’s a bit like the difference between what a surgeon knows about the woman unconscious on his operating table and what her lover anxiously waiting at home knows about her. The surgeon knows more facts about the state of her body than the lover; but he can’t know her the way the lover does. The lover’s knowledge of his partner is, of course, partly objective: he knows things about her of the sort that could be picked up from  Face Book; but the deep knowledge he has of her as a person is a result not of his investigations but of her self-revelation as she opened herself to him in a mutual encounter.  And whether you credit it or not, that is the kind of relationship the founders of the great religions claim to have with the mystery concealed behind the facts of the universe. So following a religion is more like being in love than taking a position in an argument; which is why believers seem to be immune to the demolitions of faith that are such a feature of the scene today.  Of course, even lovers offer reasons for the state they have fallen into. They might say they suit each other or they complete each other.  And true though these explanations may sound, we call them rationalisations because they are attempts to offer reasons for a relationship that is based not on logic but on a living encounter.

Thinking about music may get us a little closer to what’s happening here. Most of us have been moved by the power of music, and we are usually content to enjoy it without thinking too much about it; but because reason is so dominant in our society some insist on having its appeal objectively explained or analysed.  I heard of a composer who played his latest piano piece for a friend.  ‘What does it mean?’ his friend asked.  In reply, the composer played it again: ‘that’s what it means’, he said.  Do you see what’s going on here?  The composer is refusing to accept that music has to be interpreted rationally before its meaning can be experienced.  Music carries its meaning within itself and should not be bullied into translating itself into another medium.

I once interviewed the famous jazz musician Dave Brubeck about his life and work.  Brubeck was composing music in his head long before he had any grasp of music theory or notation. It was instinctive to him, something he just naturally did. But when he tried to get into college to study it he was refused entry because though he composed music through his ear he could not read it through his eye – and it was the men who couldn’t make music but knew how to read it who were running the show.  The sociologist Weber coined an ugly phrase to capture this development.  He called it the routinisation of charisma,[2] the idea being that the original makers of art are succeeded by the systematisers and theoreticians who turn the creative act into a commodity of which they assume ownership.  Keep your eye open for that paradox because it comes in many forms and is particularly pronounced in the history of the art we call religion. The geniuses who started the world’s faiths did not sit for years theorising in their studies before going out into the streets to announce that they had figured out the meaning of life and the mystery of the universe.  No: things happened to them.  To give only two examples: Moses and Muhammad saw visions and heard voices that changed not only their own lives but history itself.

The question I want to discuss now is where these voices and visions came from.  One way into an answer is for us to get as close as we can to what they experienced, and that, for most of us, is probably when we are asleep in bed at night and start dreaming. What are dreams and where do they come from?  A good explanation is that the human mind operates on at least two different levels, like a ground-floor apartment with a basement or cellar underneath. During the day the conscious mind is awake on the ground floor, living its planned and ordered life; but when it puts out the light and goes to sleep, the door from the cellar swings open and our subconscious takes over and peoples our dreaming mind with memories, longings and anxieties, the result being a weird experimental movie that communicates meaning not in intelligible dialogue but through signs and symbols.

Dreams figure a lot in the oldest religious stories, and we can be certain that our distant forebears took them very seriously and read them as communications from the mysterious power that lay behind the objectively knowable universe.  At the very least they would have assumed that the dead lived on somewhere because they came back to them in their dreams; and they would have understood the vivid images they met in their dreams as communications from the world that lay hidden behind the world of their conscious experience.  Even today critics who dismiss religion as illusion continue to think dreams are significant; and there are analysts who believe that decoding what we dream when we are asleep can help us deal with difficulties we face when we are awake.

Now, if we can forget questions about the mystery of the universe for a moment, and whether there is more to it than meets the objective eye, we can at least acknowledge that there is more to us than the conscious mind we live our daily lives within.  The conscious mind may be the ground floor of our existence on which we pass our waking time, but there is also a basement in the human psyche, and when we sleep its door opens and through it flood the images and voices we call dreaming.  The next thing to note is that there have been remarkable people in history in whom the door between the conscious and subconscious mind seems to be open most of the time, and in their waking hours they are visited by forces that come to the rest of us only in dreams.  Critics may dismiss these experiences as evidence of disturbed minds; but the fact to note is that those who do what their voices tell them sometimes create movements that change history.  Moses obeyed the voice that spoke to him out of a burning bush, and one of the world’s most influential religions was born. Mohammad heard the Archangel Gabriel whispering in his ear, and from that encounter came the formation of the Qur’an, a document whose existence could affect what you hear on your television news tonight.

In thinking about religion, therefore, we have to make up our minds about the nature of these experiences; and it won’t help to dismiss them as ‘fraudulent’.  A life-changing power of some sort undoubtedly encountered these people; but what was it and where did it come from?  Let me offer an approach that may help us steer a path through the issues, adapting the metaphor of the door I have already used in thinking about dreams.  To repeat myself: I have said that when we fall asleep the door between our conscious and subconscious minds opens and images and voices flood into our dreams.  And I have gone on to suggest that religious visionaries are people for whom that is a constant, waking experience.  Like great artists, they are open to these constant irruptions from the subconscious, but rather than giving them life in great fiction or painting or music, they embody them in a message that converts millions to belief in what they have heard and seen.  That’s why the sacred texts that evolve to embody or routinise these experiences are full of imperatives such as: go, warn, submit, follow, repent ­-  and here we sit this evening thousands of years later pondering the consequences of those commands.

Keeping hold of that metaphor of the door, the next question to ask is whether our subconscious is an enclosed basement with a single door onto the ground floor of our conscious minds or whether it may have another door that opens onto some other dimension of reality.  Let’s use Moses to explore what’s going on. Say you find yourself in the Sinai desert one afternoon about 1300 BCE where you come across a bearded, bare-foot man oblivious to your presence.  He is kneeling before a thorn bush ablaze with red berries.  He is listening intently to the bush; then he speaks to it; then he listens again; and finally he gets to his feet with a purposeful air and strides away. The story that will be written about this incident will say that it was from a burning bush that Moses heard God commanding him to lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt into freedom in the Promised Land of Palestine.

To you, the dispassionate observer, the bush is not burning with a fire that does not consume itself; it is ablaze with red berries.  And while you notice how intent and concentrated Moses is, you can’t hear the voice addressing him though you hear his replies. But you are not surprised by any of this because you are familiar with the sight of patients from your local mental hospital sitting on the wall outside your local Tesco’s having passionate conversations with unseen speakers; the difference being that Moses founded a great religion whereas the man outside Tesco’s is defined by us as having mental health problems.

If you are not prepared to dismiss the story of the Burning Bush as a psychotic episode, another way to account for it would be to say Moses had a waking dream, propelled by struggles within his subconscious mind, which gave him the strength and resolution to become the liberator of his people from slavery in Egypt.  This way of interpreting what happened sees religious experience as an example of the power of the subconscious mind to change actual lives and events in the world.  From this angle, the experience is genuine, it happened; but it came entirely from the human world, albeit from that mysterious area we call the subconscious.  So studying religion is studying the complexities of our own psychic nature in all its light and darkness.

Now, you can stop there and conclude that religion, like all other art forms, is a work of the human psyche; or you can accept that account of the matter and take another step.  This is where the great psychologist William James made an interesting suggestion.  He said that while religion was undoubtedly the fruit of our own subconscious minds he hinted that there might also be more to it than that.  He believed that our subconscious mind could be open to dimensions of reality that allowed what he called higher energies to filter in.[3]  So without changing a single detail of the scientific description of a religious experience, could it not also be possible that it came from God as well, using the mechanism of the dream to achieve the desired end?  I call this the theory of the two doors: our subconscious basement can be thought of as having one door that opens into our own conscious mind and another that opens onto the transcendent mystery that lies behind the being of the universe.

And a further twist can be given to the idea of the second door.  Knowing how prone human beings are to misunderstanding ordinary, everyday encounters, we should be particularly wary about the claims we make for supernatural encounters and approach them with even greater scepticism and modesty.  This means we will apply our critical faculties to the analysis of religious experience and not just take it at its own self-evaluation.  That leaves us with at least three ways of interpreting religious experience for you to choose from.

You can be a One Door Believer for whom religion is a work of the human imagination that starts and ends in the subconscious mind.  You can be a Two Door Believer who holds that religious experiences are propelled into our subconscious by God and then into conscious human experience and out into history.  Or you can adopt a mediating position between the two and be a Two Doors Half Open Believer who thinks that while God does reach out to us you are doubtful about how well humans understand the divine vocabulary, so you are cautious about how to interpret God’s overtures.

And if you don’t fancy my doors metaphor you can swop it for John Hick’s threefold typology of religion into Realism, Critical Realism and Non-Realism, which comes to much the same conclusion.

To religious Realists or Two Door believers, those visions and voices are the promptings of a real god imparting real and trustworthy knowledge of enduring and unvarying power that must be obeyed to the letter.

To Critical Realists or Two Doors Half Open believers, those visions and voices  came from God but they were mediated to the world through fallible humans whose capacities we should be wary of. Knowing how prone we are to getting human messages wrong, we should be doubly wary of those who claim to have heard divine messages and approach them with a critical rather than an uncritical reverence.

To the Non-Realist One Door believer there is no transcendent realm that is knowable by us; and even if we think we have been in touch with such a realm, and can describe the encounters we’ve had with it, it is the forces of our own subconscious mind we have experienced not objective reality: so religion is best understood as a work of human art that emanates from the deep wells of our own complex minds.  This is not to demean it, but to humanise it and use it as a way of analysing our own capacity for good and evil, kindness and cruelty.  According to this way of looking at things, God has finally abandoned heaven and become fully human on earth.

Now I don’t want to tell you how to navigate your way through these different understandings of religious experience, mainly because I have spent my life wrestling indecisively with what they mean and can’t claim to have anchored permanently at any of them.  I have to admit, however, that in recent years I have been more aware of religion’s stumbling blocks than of its consolations and challenges, so let me mention a few of them before offering an uncertain postscript to this lecture.

Human culture has always been marked by disagreement and dispute, as we have argued with each other about different versions of the good life. Unfortunately, Two Door Realist religions transcendentalise these disagreements and make them even harder to resolve. Let me offer a single example to make the point, the status of women: the liberation of women from dominant male hierarchies has been the biggest revolution of my lifetime.  It was hard fought everywhere and is far from over anywhere, but it has a particular intensity in religious institutions that see gender relations not as adventitious social constructs but as eternally decreed divine imperatives.  Other examples suggest themselves, but the issue is always the same: by freeze-framing the cultural norms of the time of the originating encounter with the divine, realist religions put themselves on a collision course not with the worst aspects of modern societies but with the best, both in their scientific understanding and in their moral commitment to an ethic of liberation from oppressive and demeaning authority structures.

And even Two Doors Half Open Critical Realists, who are better at adapting themselves to the equality of women and other elements of today’s progressive moral agenda, undermine their credibility by having to find religious reasons for doing the right thing rather than doing it because it is the right thing to do; the implication being that morality has to be authenticated or branded by religion before it can command our consent. Which calls to mind Plato’s question: is an act good because God approves it or does God approve it because it is good?

An even greater stumbling block for me is the way religion, because of its inherent uncertainty, lends itself to cruelty and fanaticism. While the most current forms of this are found in tensions within Islam, it has been a characteristic of most religions at some time or other. In trying to understand the psychology of fanaticism I have been helped by the psycho-analyst Adam Phillips’ book On Balance where he offers this reflection on religious fanaticism.

…excessive belief is called up to stifle excessive doubt, as if the fanatic is saying to himself: If I don’t continually prove my belief in this extreme way, what will be revealed is my extreme faithlessness, or despair, or confusion, or even emptiness.  Supreme conviction is a self-cure for an infestation of doubt.  We could call this ‘excess as reassurance’; where there are excessive acts there are excessive uncertainties.[4]

That feels right to me because I have been aware of it in my own soul down the years as I have struggled with the pain of uncertainty and doubt and excoriated in others what I was unable to face in myself.

So I am wary of the harsh certainties and incipient fanaticism of Realist religion; and I am depressed by the cowardly equivocations of Critical Realist religion.  But that does not mean I am entirely comfortable with Non-Realism, with religion understood as humans talking – and talking endlessly – only to themselves.  I am still haunted by the possibility of a presence behind this universe in which I find myself mysteriously awake.  To be accurate, I should describe it as the presence of an absence, the sense of something latent never quite encountered.  R.S.Thomas captures it best for me, and not only in his poetry.  Here’s a bit of his prose:

One of the advantages and the challenges of living in a country parish as a priest is the silence and loneliness. And one has spent a lot of time in small churches on one’s knees, seeking for God, trying to establish contact and being rewarded by silence and a feeling of absence. Being something of a naturalist myself, I know I have found a hare’s form on the hillside and I’ve been able to put my hand on it and feel it still warm. And this is my feeling of God, that we don’t find him, but we find where he has been. And we find his footsteps, his footprints, but we never actually come upon him. We find the place still warm with his presence but he is absent. [5]

Paul Tillich said that, ‘Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers even if the answers hurt’.  It is in that sense I remain religious. And one of the answers that hurts me is that there was never any meaning to our existence or to the existence of this little blue planet in which we briefly find ourselves. In his great book, The Tragic Sense of Life, the Spanish philosopher Unamuno expresses this answer in a quote from Leopardi:

A time will come when this Universe and Nature itself will be extinguished.  And just as of the grandest kingdoms and empires of mankind and the marvellous things achieved therein, very famous in their own time, no vestige or memory remains today, so, in like manner, of the entire world and of the vicissitudes and calamities of all created things there will remain not a single trace, but a naked silence and a most profound stillness will fill the immensity of space.  And so before ever it has been uttered or understood, this admirable and fearful secret of universal existence will be obliterated and lost.[6]

But even if Leopardi is right and the experiment of being was empty of meaning from the beginning; even if the absence that felt like a presence was conjured by our longing and was always just an absence; even if the warm impress of the hare on the hill was never real only imagined; and even if the universe is indeed destined to fly back into the abyss whence it came and be succeeded by a naked silence and a most profound stillness; then we  humans will have proved ourselves better and more interesting than the void that spawned us, because we will have spoken words of purpose into it and will have dreamed that behind it there lay an unimaginable love. And won’t it be strange that from such emptiness came forth such beautiful imaginings?  That is why I want my last word to come from Unamuno.

Man is perishing; that may be; but let us perish resisting; and if it is nothingness that awaits us, let us so act that it will be an unjust fate.[7]

So even if it is nothingness that awaits us, let us perish resisting, because we dreamed such dreams, didn’t we, such dreams….

Dr Richard Holloway, 2014

[1] Primo Levi: In the Beginning. Modern Poems on the Bible.  Ed. David Curzon. The Jewish Publication Society. Philadelphia and Jerusalem. 1994. p.29

[2] Max Weber, Essays in Economic Sociology, Princeton University Press 1999. p.106

[3] William James, The Varieties of Religious Belief, Longmans, Green and Co. London 1928. pp.512ff.

[4] Adam Phillips, On Balance, Hamish Hamilton. London 2010. p.46

[5] Furrows into Silence.  BBC Sound archive, July 31 1981

[6] Giacomo Leopardi, Song of the Wild Cock, as cited in Tragic Sense of Life, by Miguel de Unamuno, Trans. J E Crawford Flitch, Dover Publications Inc, New York, 1912

[7] Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life, Fontana, London 1962, p.256

Kellogg College Design Week – Visiting the Pierre Frey Archive

Kellogg College’s inaugural Design Week is taking place in College from Monday 1st to Thursday 4th December. In the first of our Design Week blog posts, DPhil student and Junior Dean Maximilian Buston writes about his recent trip to Paris in search of the textiles that will be showcased in an exhibition during the week. 

Sinking into luxury at the Pierre Frey Showroom, 27 rue du Mail, Paris

Sinking into luxury at the Pierre Frey Showroom, 27 rue du Mail, Paris

“Hail, the patrimony lives” (Sophie Rouart) – everyone knows that Paris is a magical delight, especially for the designer. Not only are there the principal showrooms of Charles Burger, Lelievre and Edmond Petit, but also the Musée du Louvre where many original designs of fabrics now produced can be found.
One little known treasure house is the archive room of the celebrated French textile house, Pierre Frey. Both eclectic and classic, Pierre Frey was founded in 1935 and now includes the historic brands of Braquenié (1824), Le Manach (1829), Fadini Borghi (1947) and Boussac (1933). Visiting their head office, Melena Meese (Consultant) and I met with Sophie Rouart (curator) and Patrick Frey (President & Creative Director) to discover how Pierre Frey uses their archive to inspire their new collections.
Melena Meese speaks with Patrick Frey in the archive room at the Pierre Frey headquarters.

Melena Meese speaks with Patrick Frey in the archive room at the Pierre Frey headquarters.

Sophie Rouart opened drawers of treasures (there are some 25,000 original fabrics) including well-preserved damasks over 400 years old, still rich and vibrant. Amongst the collection is the original Les Monuments d’Égypte designed in 1808 at the Oberkampf factory at Jouy-en-Josas. At this time cotton came to be the most important commodity in Europe, fuelling the industrial revolution. The Oberkampf factory printed 1.5 million metres of fabric in 1818 alone. It also gives the name to Toile de Jouy, synonymous to the fabulous printed cottons with narrative scenes.
18th Century Documents, one of which is Choiseul, now available as a wallpaper in the Braquenié collection. Pierre Frey has adapted the colours and scale of the original design for its use today.

18th Century Documents, one of which is Choiseul, now available as a wallpaper in the Braquenié collection. Pierre Frey has adapted the colours and scale of the original design for its use today.

Maximilian Buston and Sophie Rouart examine Les Travaux de la Manufacture c. 1783-84, a toile depicting the complex stages of production at the Oberkampf factory at Jouy.

Maximilian Buston and Sophie Rouart examine Les Travaux de la Manufacture c. 1783-84, a toile depicting the complex stages of production at the Oberkampf factory at Jouy.

Pierre Frey is now known for it’s unrelenting eclecticism, not only do they champion 18th Century toiles but reinterpret them in new materials and colours. Their new fabrics always push at the boundaries and Patrick was keen to mention an upcoming collection, Origins, inspired by the aboriginal art of Australia that is due to be launched in 2015.

Sophie Rouart described the important collection as a “conservatory of fabrics and patterns… that inspires new designs by understanding what came before. Customers from the States like to come to us to discover this… It’s like a dancer who learns the classical positions and creates new combinations for the performance.”

Pierre Frey, in association with Distinctive Interiors, are exhibiting a selected collection at Kellogg College, University of Oxford, in December 2014. This venture is part of DAP, the Decorative Arts and Phenomenology Forum, that was co-founded by Maximilian Buston and Melena Meese in May 2014 as part of their DPhil Research and Distinctive Interiors’ 30th Anniversary Celebrations. To find out more visit the DAP Page.

Maximilian Buston.

“I’m not in Kansas anymore, but I feel at home”

Amanda Shriwise at the Gaudy Dinner, September 2014

Amanda Shriwise at the Gaudy Dinner, September 2014

Kellogg student Amanda Shriwise is studying for a DPhil in Social Policy. In this article, Amanda shares her experiences of life in Oxford and what it means to her to be a student at Kellogg College.

It was rather hard not to be aware of Oxford’s history  of academic excellence  when I applied to read for an MPhil in Social Policy  over four years ago.  However, I began to realise how truly special this place is when a friend of a friend  at Oxford sent me a book in the post upon hearing that I was offered a place. The book was entitled ‘Oxford: an architectural guide’, which
seemed like a sensible reading suggestion before turning up in the ‘city of dreaming spires’. But the connections run deeper than that. The book was written by Geoffrey Tyack, a fellow of Kellogg College. As fate would have it, Kellogg became my college home for both my MPhil and now my DPhil studies. Further still, I have had the pleasure of meeting Professor Tyack and following him on a tour of both Oxford and Kellogg’s grounds, and the friend of a friend who sent me the volume is now a dear friend of my own. I could not have foreseen any of this when I received the book in the post, but I sensed that my life had changed when I opened the package.

During my time at Oxford, Kellogg has been the point of origin of many such connections. Just a few weeks ago, I reminisced with a fellow Kellogg alum at a conference in San Francisco over the whereabouts of those who attended an American-style Thanksgiving dinner in what
was then my basement flat in Kellogg’s accommodation at No. 7 Bradmore Road. Every time I walk by Christ Church, I remember meeting other Kellogg women (more than one of whom has now rowed for the University) at Tom Gate for an early morning rowing outing. While submitting paperwork at Oriel College last spring, I opened an office door and was pleasantly surprised to find the first person I met at Kellogg upon arrival several years before. Over dinner at Kellogg, I met the Vice-Chancellor, who happened to know a couple of chemistry professors from my undergraduate home in Kansas. Experiences like these have presented opportunities to repeatedly connect my past with the present, which makes me feel at home.
Serving as Kellogg’s MCR President in 2011-12 gave me the opportunity to aid in facilitating these connections, which I believe are at the heart of why Kellogg is such an outstanding community. It was a pleasure and privilege, topped only by how rewarding it has been to watch the student body continue to thrive under strong leadership in the years to follow. While I realise that 25 years amounts to a rather miniscule amount of time in the life of an Oxford college, my experience serving in this capacity made me realise just how much we have to celebrate in this year’s anniversary. Some might be inclined to attribute this overly celebratory (and dare I say emotional) instinct to my American roots. While this may not be an entirely unreasonable assessment, I believe the cause for celebration is based in something more substantial. Since 1990, the College has moved to its current site and has continued to expand, accommodation has been added and refurbished, the number of fellows and students, both full and part-time has increased, research and financial support for students has grown, and it has continued to further its commitment to life-long learning – all while holding seminars, conferences, formal meals, and even an annual ball!

As the college grows in numbers and years, I hope that it continues to deeply value and foster the connections that it facilitates by remaining organised around the notion of home: a place open to all of its family members both past and present; a place where we thrive, make mistakes and continue to learn and grow as individuals; a place that encourages curiosity and an eagerness to make a contribution to something bigger than oneself. I am very grateful for the rich connections, friends as dear as family, and the home I found at Kellogg, and I look forward to seeing how it carries on in the years ahead.

Amanda Shriwise

The best lunch in Oxford…

Carolyne Culver, Kellogg fellow and Head of Communications in the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, reminds us of the need for effective and timely communication in order to ensure that the University of Oxford remains a leader in global higher education. 

Kellogg serves the best lunches at Oxford. That’s what we should say to anyone who jests about cornflakes! And it’s true. Having visited a number of other colleges for lunch – and enjoyed the company of the colleagues who kindly invited me – there has sometimes been a hint of school dinners about the experience.

Last week a number of fellows and staff gathered to discuss how the college ought to communicate with its various audiences, from prospective students to alumni. We agreed that the sense of community we enjoy, not least because we all eat together informally, was an important message to convey to those wondering which college to choose.

We hope that new members of college are enjoying the current packed programme of welcome events, and that it provides them with a reassuring insight into the community that they can enjoy being a part of over the coming years.

Our role in the community and making a contribution to society beyond our walls is also important, College staff and the MCR raised money last week in support of Macmillan Cancer Support as we took part in the charity’s World’s Biggest Coffee morning. You can see photos from the event on the College Instagram and Twitter accounts.

I have recently ‘defected’ from the central University offices at Wellington Square to the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division to be their first Head of Communications. This is a fantastic opportunity to indulge my interest in science and work more closely with the academics and researchers in the Science Area. It’s also a good excuse to have meetings in the cafe at the Natural History Museum, opposite our offices, and gaze down on the T-Rex and dodo. I’m still close to college too!

There are many challenges that we face, for example sustaining and improving facilities in the Science Area, but there is also much to celebrate. Research income and philanthropic gifts continue to grow, as do the number of spin outs. MPLS spin out Natural Motion resulted in more than £30 million in cash and shares for the University. The work of many academics, researchers and graduate students has been recognised by national and international bodies, and our success in securing funds for several Doctoral Training Centres means we can train the researchers of the future.

Communicating the strength of Oxford research and getting the recognition it deserves is something that the departments, divisional offices, Begbroke Science Park and Isis Innovation work hard to achieve. However, we must never make the mistake of thinking the outside world understands and acknowledges our research strengths and our stature, and that we have nothing to learn from others. We face some almighty competition, within this country and globally, and our strength – academic freedom underpinned by the principle of subsidiarity – is also our weakness when it comes to communication. In such a complex organisation it is a challenge to find out what who is doing what, and where, and ensuring that this information is shared with the people who need to hear about it.

Information about researchers, their projects and their publications are spread across many websites. This is something that we need to resolve for the sake of members of the University who wish to collaborate with one another, and outsiders who want to find out more about our research and how they might be able to benefit from, and fund it. So this is a plea that we remember that effective and timely communication – upwards, downwards and sideways – is a challenge for all of us, and is necessary for any university to remain cutting edge.

If any fellows or students based in MPLS departments would like to meet and share ideas, I would be happy to do so – and we can enjoy the best lunch in Oxford at the same time!

Carolyne Culver, September 2014

“The biggest difference between those that attend Oxford and those that don’t ….”

amy price

Amy Price at her graduation, with President Jonathan Michie and Kellogg’s Senior Tutor Carl Heneghan

Kellogg alumna Amy Price tells us about her experience studying for the MSc in Evidence Based Healthcare and also what it means to her to be a part of Kellogg College.

To graduate from Evidence Based Health Care with an MSc is a special honour and I count this as one of my life accomplishments. My friends dared me to apply to Oxford and so I did. I have never looked back. My progress and the award would not be possible without the wonderful people I encountered on this journey.  In Oxford and at Kellogg (my college) there is a vibrant and supportive community that develops from people who want to make a difference. I have made friends here that will last a lifetime.

My experience at Oxford has helped me bridge the gap between caregivers and care seekers with real information and tools to help. I am intimately familiar with this gap due to a personal event that could have been a tragedy but instead has turned into a vehicle for influence in the corner of the world in which I communicate.

In 2003 I was advised that I was incapable of working or learning due to extensive damage to my body and brain. Pre-crash I tested in the top 2% for IQ and post-crash the lowest 3-5%. My former travel into low-resource environments to provide assistance was no longer possible. I decided to rebuild my destiny. After two years of neuro-rehabilitation, I enrolled in Open University and later at Oxford. It was challenging but daily I worked towards my goal of building a bridge between the public, science and healthcare. My experiences in a varied spectrum of settings (from low-resource to developed nations) are infused in the way I approach projects and interact with people.

I was recently accepted into the DPHIL for EBHC and I am excited to be able to develop my project PLOT-IT with the guidance and expertise of my excellent supervisors Professor Amanda Burls and Dr Su-May Liew. The Public-Led Online Trials Infrastructure and Tools (PLOT-IT) is a ThinkWell project supervised by Professor Burls that is creating an infrastructure and the processes to enable people to set up and participate in their own online trials of interventions people can do for themselves.

PLOT-IT turns the current model of health research on its head by crowdsourcing research ideas and health data (with academic health researchers providing a support service to ensure that the research is ethical, methodologically sound, clinically safe and that personal data is protected). Research trials conducted over the internet are experiencing exponential growth with little methodological research to inform their conduct.

Oxford and Kellogg College have been very good to me. Here I have received the best teaching and training in the world and as a research student at Kellogg College I am profoundly grateful for being able take advantage of the College’s excellent facilities. This is a learning and mentoring climate where there is room to follow your dream. In the MSc for Evidence Based Health Care at Oxford you will be equipped with the tools and knowledge to do the job well and to expand your horizons. You can learn to analyse the literature and to put evidence into practice. Most importantly, I want others to know that when you do your best you can make it farther than others believe that you can go and as my wise daughter said to me before I applied to Oxford, “Mom, The biggest difference between those that attend Oxford and those that don’t is that those that do filled out the application!”

From our President – Two Contradictory Principles

I try to live by two contradictory principles, firstly to say what you do and do what you say, but also to over-deliver, so I’m pleased to say I accomplished both on our summer holiday. Having reported in my previous blog post that my holiday reading would be the two books by fellows Tara Stubbs on Ireland and American authors (American Literature and Irish Culture, 1910-1955: the politics of enchantment. Manchester University Press, 2013), and Martin Ruhs on migration (The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration. Princeton University Press, 2013), I set a new personal ‘holiday reading’ record by not only completing those two, but also reading Thomas Piketty on inequality (Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Harvard University Press, 2014), and Saïd Business School professor Colin Mayer on the need to reintroduce trust into corporate behavior (Firm Commitment: Why the corporation is failing us and how to restore trust in it, Oxford University press, 2013).

Dr Tara Stubbs’s book is a masterful analysis and exposition of the way in which Ireland – or at least how it is perceived – influenced American authors of the 20th Century. One point I hadn’t previously appreciated, although now that it’s been pointed out it is rather obvious, is that although the image of American ‘Irishness’ today is associated with the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York, and support for republicanism, the Irish heritage in America – and hence in American authors and literature – of course included that from the North, and Protestantism.  However, some authors from that cultural background may still have tried to have the best of both worlds, conjuring up an image of Ireland that also incorporated the whole island.

I find one of the great things about Oxford is that it continually reminds one – or at least, it continuously reminds me, of just what a small proportion of human knowledge I have a grasp of or could even aspire to understand. And in my case, no-one manages to remind me of this better than Tara.

Dr Martin Ruhs has written the definitive book on the relationship between rights afforded to migrants to enter countries, and the rights they are entitled to once they arrive. (His book was launched at a joint event with Tara at Kellogg, where they introduced each other’s books; there is of course an obvious link given the importance of migration to both Ireland and the U.S. – indeed, one of my grannies was American, although of German origin, whereas the other was Irish, although moved to England. My American granny recounted being on holiday in Germany in 1936 when the SS Officer came round the restaurant tables collecting for their ‘youth summer camps’, to which she responded no, she had already donated to the Jewish Defense League.)

Martin argues that the obvious and common appeal to have ‘migrant friendly’ liberal policies, that enables people to migrate, and affords them full rights, may sound worthy but is intellectually lazy and actually rather worthless. Because if one does the empirical work – which Martin has done – one finds that affording full rights post-arrival is likely to be accompanied by rather small numbers being allowed in. So if one wants to provide migrants with the opportunity to move to other countries, you may need to settle for a less than full set of rights in order to facilitate this. This has not been easy or popular to argue, but it does appear to be correct, at least in terms of the evidence. Of course, there are some rights that should not be negotiable, and Martin includes a careful and sophisticated discussion of the ‘hierarchy’ of rights in this context. The work reported in this book was the subject of two of Oxford’s REF ‘Impact Studies’. And his book has deservedly won a prize from the American Political Science Association. Indeed, Martin has not only written the definitive book on the subject, he has pretty well established the subject itself, which previously had been largely avoided.

Piketty’s book on Capital in the 21st Century details the huge inequalities up to the time of the First World War, followed by major ‘capital destroying’ events in the form of the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War, which led to a reduction in inequality. The ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’ from 1945 to the mid-1970s was generally accompanied by the development of welfare states, commitments to full-employment, and a conscious attempt to create and maintain a degree of equality, along with taxation on the wealthy and high earners which both helped to deliver the desired degree of egalitarianism, and helped pay for the welfare state commitments. However, from the 1980s onwards, these commitments have been largely abandoned, especially following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of faith that there was any alternative to capitalism, however unequal or unjust capitalism might become, hence removing the political requirement to deliver on welfare or employment – or on egalitarianism. Piketty documents the rise in inequality that seems set to re-establish pre-World War One degrees of ‘Downton Abbey-esque’ economic and social stratification.

Piketty also claims that with the return on capital set to exceed the general global rate of growth over the coming decades, the rich are set to get richer, and inequalities of wealth and income seem set to widen. He argues that this will be unsustainable – that something will have to give. But rather than wait to see what form that might take, he urges that action should be taken now, in the form of a wealth tax and the return to more rigorously progressive income tax systems to prevent any further exacerbation of inequality.

It took me back to my PPE days of reading The Wealth of Nations, Capital, and The General Theory. None of those publications would, perhaps, have been deemed admissible to the REF, but it is great to have some ‘big picture’ theorizing combined with detailed empirical work and thoughtful policy discussion. For Piketty’s 600-page, heavily footnoted tome to have become an instant international best seller is quite something.

Piketty briefly touches on the role of inequality in creating the 2007-8 global financial crisis and subsequent global recession of 2009 from which the world economy is still only uncertainly recovering five years later – a far weaker recover than in the Great Depression, when five years after the 1929 Wall Street Crash recovery was generally more established. Another take on where it all went wrong is presented by Colin Mayer, a Professor and former Dean of Oxford’s Said Business School, whose book argues that companies should exist for a purpose, namely to produce goods or services, and that companies should have long-term commitments to do this with the best combination of high quality and cost effectiveness that their customers seek. With those goals in mind, companies will deliver for their customers, their employees, their owners and the communities in which they operate. The diversion down the ‘shareholder value’ road of the past 30 years, with increasing focus on short-term decision making to boost share-prices, with Executives often being rewarded with stock options that pay out more the higher the share price has been engineered, has been disastrous corporately, economically, and socially. That short-term financial engineering fuelled much of the pre-crash hubris which proved ultimately value-destroying rather than enhancing – but then, much money was made along the way, and the winners generally kept their winnings, whilst others were suffering the consequences or paying the price.

Colin Mayer’s conclusion about the need for trust, including the actual formation of ‘Trusts’ that would give legal form to positive visions, resonates with some of my own work on non-shareholder corporate forms of co-operatives, mutuals and employee-owned companies. I’m pleased to say that Colin is leading a major research programme funded by the Mars Corporation (of chocolate fame) whose founding charter incorporates ‘mutualism’ as a core principle. It is still a family-owned business, and the project will research the nature of mutualism in business, with Kellogg College’s Centre for Mutual & Employee-owned Business participating in the project, and Kellogg Fellow Ruth Yeoman leading the project along with Colin. I was looking forward to working with Colin (with whom I collaborated during an ESRC Programme in 1992-97) even before reading his book. Thank goodness for holidays – I’ve now discovered that we share more thinking than I had appreciated, and I’m more excited than ever about getting started on the research.

Jonathan Michie, September 2014