Evacuation from Regent Street: All in it Together?

Evacuation from Regent Street: All in it Together?

In an extract from Mark Clapson’s new book The Blitz Companion: Aerial Warfare, Civilians and the City Since 1911 the experience of Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster) students leaving London for the countryside are described. The book is available open access in all digital formats.

The illustration marks another theme of the book – the belated recognition of the sacrifice of women within the UK’s war effort; the monument in Whitehall to ‘Women of World War Two’ unveiled in 2005.

“The declaration of war on Germany by Chamberlain on 3 ­September 1939 was preceded by a mass evacuation of children from London and other large cities. Over four thousand children went overseas, but most were moved elsewhere in Britain to so-called ‘reception towns’ in safe areas away from bombing routes. In all over 3.5 million people, most of them children, were dispersed from the largest cities. From 1–2 September already rehearsed plans for evacuation were put into place across the country. Local authorities were responsible for organising this mass movement, coordinated from schools and other places of education.

The experiences of young men and women at the Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster) in the heart of London provide a fascinating case study of evacuation, and glimpses into the everyday perceptions of evacuees. The auxiliary Secondary School and Craft Schools at the Poly, located in other sites close to the base at Regent Street, provided occupational training and apprenticeships for children and teenagers. A breezy report in the Polytechnic Magazine for September 1940 on the evacuation of the Craft Schools was both proud and relieved at the safe removal of children, but it was clear the process was not as straightforward as it could have been:

From various sources, chiefly the wireless, the staff and pupils of the Craft Schools heard that at last it had happened, and that the once hypothetical evacuation was to be carried out. We duly assembled at the Great Portland Street Extension on Friday, September 1st, completely equipped with luggage and gas masks, the boys having been previously well informed as to the amount of luggage, etc., required. The boys were very cheerful and there were obvious signs of disappointment when we learnt from the LCC Evacuation Officer that it would be impossible to move us on that day. We were therefore told to go back home and return on the morrow at the same hour—8.30 a.m. The next day, Saturday, the numbers in our ranks had increased, and we moved off in earnest by bus from Oxford Circus to the Holborn Underground entrance. There were a few mothers to see the boys off, but the partings seemed quite cheerful, and in spite of the serious international situation quite a holiday spirit prevailed. At Holborn we were compelled to wait for some time, and in order to avoid congestion at the railway station we spent this time at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in Southampton Row. We eventually entrained for Ealing Broadway, and on arrival, were speedily transferred to the train for ‘somewhere in England.’ We had a comfortable journey with plenty of room and you can imagine our delight when we learned that we were going in the vicinity of the famous Cheddar Gorge and right into the ‘Heart of Mendip’. We got out of the train at Cheddar Station, and after waiting some considerable time were conveyed by buses to our destination—Winscombe, a beautiful village nestling at the foot of the Mendip Hills.5

A later report on the experiences of the boys and girls coming to terms with life a long way from London, while generally upbeat, admitted that some schooling time was being lost. Young people in country towns or urban areas had more to stimulate them in common with the types of lives they had led in London, while those in small villages or hamlets had to make their own fun, and become more self-reliant, something viewed as a positive consequence of evacuation. The report then made a claim about social class mixing that became a key theme in the so-called ‘myth of the Blitz’:

Some of the boys are billeted in palatial homes, whilst others may be living in homes not quite up to the standard of their own, but all are fortunate in having comfortable dwellings with fairly modern conveniences. This will have the effect of showing how different classes of people live, and should be invaluable to them in later life, whether or not they become leaders in industry, professional men, or members of the working classes.5

Denied a normal full-time education, this was a kind of ‘Polytechnic of Life’ experience, increasing sensitivities across class divisions, while preparing the young for their future occupational roles in the British class system.

The nationwide evacuation scheme was voluntary, and ­working-class parents such as those of the young students at the Poly took advantage of the local authority educational schemes and the arrangements offered by the Poly itself. Middle-class parents, by contrast, sent their offspring to live with friends and relatives elsewhere in the country. The lack of compulsion in the evacuation process was symptomatic of the strength of democracy but also an internal weakness. By December 1939 many young people from all across Britain, not only from the Poly, had returned home for Christmas, often to the annoyance and frustration of the authorities who wished to keep them in the relative safety of the reception areas. The so-called ‘Phoney War’, a distinct lack of military action on the Home Front, explained why many people wanted to go back home. So too, of course, did homesickness and a longing to be with family and friends in the old neighbourhood. During the early months of 1940 many evacuees trickled back home. It would take the sea-borne heroics at Dunkirk in May, and the Battle of Britain in the spring and summer of 1940, to shake them out of their complacency”.

The Blitz Companion – here 3rd April

The Blitz Companion – here 3rd April

A new title by Mark Clapson is to be published on Wednesday the 3rd of April. We are welcoming its arrival at the University, 309 Regent Street, Boardroom from 18.00. The work of a number of years teaching and research, the book is uniquely comparative in looking at the experience of civilians in a number of countries. A fuller description is below.

The Blitz Companion offers a unique overview of a century of aerial warfare, its impact on cities and the people who lived in them. It tells the story of aerial warfare from the earliest bombing raids and in World War 1 through to the London Blitz and Allied bombings of Europe and Japan. These are compared with more recent American air campaigns over Cambodia and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, the NATO bombings during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s and subsequent bombings in the aftermath of 9/11. 

Beginning with the premonitions and predictions of air warfare and its terrible consequences, the book focuses on air raids precautions, evacuation and preparations for total war, and resilience, both of citizens and of cities. The legacies of air raids, from reconstruction to commemoration, are also discussed. While a key theme of the book is the futility of many air campaigns, care is taken to situate them in their historical context. The Blitz Companion also includes a guide to documentary and visual resources for students and general readers. 

Uniquely accessible, comparative and broad in scope this book draws key conclusions about civilian experience in the twentieth century and what these might mean for military engagement and civil reconstruction processes once conflicts have been resolved. 

Mark Clapson was Professor of Social and Urban History, at the University of Westminster and is the author of Working-Class Suburb: Social Change on an English Council Estate, 1930–2010 (2012) and An Education in Sport: Competition, Communities and Identities at the University of Westminster since 1864 (2012). 

Event March 21st – Peer to Peer: A Commons Manifesto, book launch seminar

Event March 21st – Peer to Peer: A Commons Manifesto, book launch seminar

There is another way. Peer to peer and the commons …

A forthcoming CAMRI Research event this Thursday, for Peer to Peer: A Commons Manifesto by Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis and Alex Pazaitis researchers and activists in the world of P2P (Peer to Peer). Participants will discuss what is needed to create the transition to a commons economy and society and how it relates to the past and present as the book’s description outlines:

Not since Marx identified the manufacturing plants of Manchester as the blueprint for the new capitalist society has there been a more profound transformation of the fundamentals of our social life. As capitalism faces a series of structural crises, a new social, political and economic dynamic is emerging: peer to peer. What is peer to peer? Why is it essential for building a commons-centric future? How could this happen? These are the questions this book tries to answer. Peer to peer is a type of social relations in human networks, as well as a technological infrastructure that makes the generalization and scaling up of such relations possible. Thus, peer to peer enables a new mode of production and creates the potential for a transition to a commons-oriented economy.  

Peer to Peer will be available open access from the 21st of March on the University of Westminster Press website – DOI: 10.16997/book25. It is the latest title in the Critical Digital and Social Media Studies series from UWP.

To register for the event and view details see eventbrite.

Social Media Counters and Metrics: Measurement at all Costs?

Social Media Counters and Metrics: Measurement at all Costs?

‘The one question I keep returning to is whether we can dispense
with social media counters entirely’.

 Kane X. Faucher’s new book Social Capital Online (available open access in the CDSMS series from UWP) considers the dominant role of quantification in social media environments and how we end up competing for dubious forms of digital ‘social capital’. He explains:

An obsession with metrics pervades much of the private and public sector, and is paralleled on popular social media. It is the promise of metrics that see so many place an inviolable faith in their ability to increase efficiency, effectiveness offer ready tools for benchmarks and box-ticking. Worse still is the promise that metrics will facilitate better prediction and can be used as a directional planning tool. There is no doubt that measurement is indispensable in the sciences and engineering. There measurement is essential. The problem arises when metrics are applied widely to domains such as social media. When it comes to metrics, what we measure, how we measure, and why we measure it are equally essential questions. With social media, we have an abundance of metrics – some visible, others requiring some digging, and still others entirely invisible to the public.

A quick rundown makes this clear:

  1. Visible Metrics: On Facebook or other networks, it may seem easy to assign a value to any user by the number of friends or likes accumulated. It can be an easy way of determining popularity or relevance in a socially competitive field – a process not dissimilar from casting ballots regularly. Motives for why users assign a ‘like’ will vary widely as the reasons why people support a politician in elections. And yet, because of the presence of these visible metrics there are notable behavioural changes in the way some people operate on social media, being conspicuous in their online production, reputation management, and effectively campaigning for the most ‘votes’ on their content. But, unlike an election, there is no end date to the campaign; any sense of victory is fleeting. Users’ behaviour may adopt more risky behaviour in order to garner more attention, a higher ‘score.’  Businesses, try to increase their social media score believing that this will convert to customers, then sales. As a metric, this may be flawed or merely correlation.
  2. Less Visible Metrics: Services (some free, others paid) will provide loads of metrics on number of impressions, clickthroughs, etc. Google Analytics provides a welter of data on the demographics of visitors to a site, what operating systems they use, the flow-through of the pages users visit, and for how long. This quasi-cybernetic affordance can provide a website operator guidance by which to reconfigure parts of the website to optimize visits, longer stays, and improve the ‘experience.’ YouTube provides similar metrics notably CPM (clicks per thousand).Other metrics can also be calculated such as providing a dollar value on a social media account. Klout and other companies may tell us how much a person’s tweet is ‘worth’ and the overall value of the account itself. These are potential values, but it is unclear what they mean. Assigning a dollar value to a collectible item is usually a reflection of the market and what others are willing to pay; on social media, there is no sense of true exchange value whereby a user can sell their account or tweet. Sure, there are plenty of celebrities like Kim Kardashian who will charge a set fee for promoting a product or service on their social media accounts, and so perhaps that lip service endorsement can result in sales. But this is little different from traditional forms of celebrity endorsement in other media venues apart from it being digital and potentially reaching a wider audience.
  3. ‘Invisible’ Metrics: Facebook is able to automate the process of counting interactions and drill down into data that compares what you mention to your demographic information. These result in the creation of ‘buckets’ that businesses can access for money to better refine their target marketing. Algorithms simplify this process, but it is not an exceptionally sophisticated one despite the conspiratorial chatter about how we are being ‘controlled’ by social media. Obviously there are behaviour-shaping elements on social media that strongly resemble conditioning. There is also a strong availability heuristic at play in how these social media sites decide on our behalf what content we will see in the newsfeed, which may keep us sequestered in our filter bubbles. It was not long ago when Facebook conducted its own behavioural experiment in selecting a number of users (without their knowledge or explicit consent) and showing them positive or negative posts while observing the behaviour of those users.

Figures – Donald Trump to name one – may have tens of millions of followers on Twitter, but it would be a mistake to believe every one of them endorses his views or supports him. A good number may follow his tweets out of public interest, for comedy, to troll him, or because their job (such as being in the media) requires it. Sentiment analysis on engagement may help to understand if those followers are supporters or not. Despite all of this assigning a value on the basis of a raw score is flawed because there is no consensus on what we mean by value. It is as rough and ready as saying another human being can be given a value on the basis of how much money they have in her or his bank account.

Algorithms: Mystery but no magic

As a predictive tool, social media counters are far from perfect. What is popular now will not necessarily remain so. At one point #Kony2012 was the top trending hashtag on Twitter, but the fortunes of that organization changed quickly. And yet metrics are considered an essential ingredient in recommender systems to get us to purchase similar products based on the purchasing habits of those who have been placed in a similar data bucket. When the term social media algorithm is mentioned there is a kind of magical understanding, that it occurs in a black box heavily guarded by complex streams of code.

Worse, it isn’t even scientific, but a kind of pseudoscience. The sorcery involved is really covering the fuzziness of the operation. It also completely disregards the old GIGO principle (garbage in/garbage out) as it does not measure or produce anything all that meaningful. There is absolutely nothing mysterious or magical about algorithms. Running your finances through a spreadsheet would quality as an algorithm. A simple Turing Test is an algorithm. A good algorithm is a feedback loop that does not require human intervention. It would be an exercise in futility to task a human being to calculate on the fly the trajectory of a missile in order to shoot it down. GPS operates as a feedback system, whereas the ABS on your car is a feed-forward system using actuators.

The algorithms in use by those like Facebook are not feedback loops, but feed-forward. They will assume some models of human behaviour, but they cannot fully calculate the variance between groups. What they sell in terms of data is limited and not a feedback tool for making useful predictions. As such, it is unstable and its results hit and miss. The dream of predicting the behaviour of crowds is an old one, and it continues to thrive in excitable statements such as Google’s that human beings are programmable. Our behaviour can be shaped through persuasive techniques, but the outcomes are not foolproof.

At best, these algorithms aim to recognize patterns, and then take action on the basis of those patterns. This is little different than actuarial tables to determining insurance premiums on the basis of past data where someone who is of a certain age, gender, location, etc., is matched against comparative mortality statistics. Such tables require frequent adjustment, but they assume in advance a set of conditions in order to calculate the premium. In the case of social media assumptions are applied to groups who share some characteristics but the process is akin to throwing something at the wall to see if it will stick. If, say, the algorithm detects a pattern where 20 year old females are more likely to purchase a Mac as opposed to a Microsoft computer, the ads in the sidebar will aim to reflect that pattern in order to produce that result by increasing its probability. It is a little like adjusting the controls of an experiment to arrive at the result one desires.

One analogy that may serve to illustrate this operation would be an assembly line where, for example, every 10th widget is inspected for quality control. There is a ‘model widget’ that is applied, and if a defective one is found the assembly line is shut down and then the cause of the defect is investigated. Applied to social media, if the ad is not resonating with the targeted group, the algorithm is reconfigured. This process can be better refined by getting user input, such as with Google Ad choices where we have the opportunity to say whether the ad was relevant to us. The algorithms at play on social media assume we conform to the model widget, pending which bucket we’ve been placed in. There is nothing sinister or spooky about this kind of machine learning. What is objectionable is how all our interactions are logged, tabulated, and then syndicated across our networks behind a gamified environment where our labour is obfuscated as leisure activity in a high trust milieu. Rather than a McLuhan ‘global village,’ the glowingly optimistic pronouncements about social media in its shining ubiquity is more aptly viewed as a Potemkin Village where so much social activity and connectedness obscures the very real power dynamics of capitalism, data capture, and cutthroat competition for attention and value determined by sheer numbers alone.

Only a Numbers Game

The one question I keep returning to is whether we can dispense with social media counters entirely. As much as it may provide a temporary ego-boost, jockeying for more ‘points’ seems to undercut the true value of generating online social capital: the ability to organize, mobilize, share, and connect with others in a social venue.  To run up our scores is really to do the work of social media sites, with these scores as the token payment for our labour. Can we not appreciate the intrinsic value of sharing our content without judging it by the number of people who clicked or tapped their approval? Can we make use of social media without so quickly rushing to commodify and brand ourselves? The answer to those questions is certainly yes, but it is something we would have to elect to do while putting pressure on popular social media platforms to simply remove these counting features.

Whenever we engage in the games of online social capital on a purely numerical basis, we may be feeding egos with token scores, but we are also feeding the machines to better refine its pattern recognition to restrict our choices and persuade us to support particular viewpoints or purchase a product or service. It becomes clear that the incentive for including these counters serves the purpose of increasing the time we engage in social media, while masking the labour we perform behind a kind of competitive game.

Dr Kane X. Faucher teaches at the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University, Ontario, Canada

 

Setting up a University Press in the Digital Age Revisited

Setting up a University Press in the Digital Age Revisited

One of the questions we have been asked about establishing a new university press is ‘how long does it take’? So we have recently reviewed on our history and experience detailing the University of Westminster Press timeline below. Here was the view in September 2015, four months after UWP’s website launch about what might be involved, which seems a lifetime away now that our second and rather substantial 2019 catalogue has recently been released in April 2019.

Some tentative conclusions to the question are presented below – based also on anecdotal evidence from our peers – as well as UWP’s experience. They suggest some pointers for others considering setting up a comparable operation and one overall conclusion: early stages take a long time (and the wheels can grind a bit here) but then momentum grows.

  1. The early stages of a new UP tend to take a long time. We’d hazard a guess that 18-21 months+ would not be unusual.
  2. Governance and internal procedures may need to be reconsidered at an early stage and then clarified again in the light of actual experience.
  3. There should be alignment between budgets and academics’/stakeholder expectations and that relevant linkages between the two (ideally) should be clearly made at operational and strategic levels, not just one of those.
  4. It is useful to have publisher and librarian experience to tap into but harder to ensure in practice that both are available in one person or across a team.
  5. Universities (like all operations) frequently restructure and this can affect (2) or be really crucial in moving things forward (in our case) or holding them back.
  6. Once out of first gear where considerable push may be needed, progress can be rapid.
  7. Never underestimate the importance of tangible products (aka books) in manifesting a presence that colleagues and external parties see. Not even a gleaming and functional website can do this.
  8. Plans need to be revised on a regular basis. And even six months is currently proving to be a long time in the world of scholarly communications and digital-first open access publishing.

7 May 2014. University agrees basic arrangements to establish a new open access digital press.

10 September 2014 A University Steering Group approves the governance structure and principles for operation of the University of Westminster Press including peer review protocols and the composition and remit of its Editorial Board. UWP is founded as a department within the University.

23 February 2015 UWP’s first and only employee starts.

12 May 2015 UWP’s website goes live for the first time.

15 September 2015 First journal issue from UWP published, Vol 10.1 of Westminster Papers in Communication.

10 October 2016 UWP publishes first book title: Critical Theory of Communication

14 November 2016 UWP becomes part of a new Research and Scholarly Communications team; on 1 August 2018 this with UWP becomes part of Library and Archive Services, within the Student and Academic Services directorate in the university’s new structure.

17 November 2017 UWP issues first catalogue. 

14 December 2017 Revised terms of reference for the UWP board and governance of UWP are tabled and shortly after formally approved.

8 October 2018: 250,000 views and downloads of books, chapters and journal articles reached.

8 April 2019 UWP issues 2019 catalogue with 19 books and 11 journal issues published and with 15 new titles forthcoming previously unannounced . By this time over 350,000 views and downloads had been achieved.

Event to mark launch of Destination London: The Expansion of the Visitor Economy

Event to mark launch of Destination London: The Expansion of the Visitor Economy

Destination London: The Expansion of the Visitor Economy will be published and launched on the 22nd of May at 18.00, the Boardroom, University of Westminster 309 Regent Street London W1B 2HW.

This book provides a fascinating account of tourism development in London, one of the world’s most visited destinations and a place where the visitor economy has grown in recent years. It explores how tourism has extended into new areas beyond the city centre, but also how it has expanded into new spheres (e.g. private homes) and new time periods (winter, and the night). A collaboration between University of Westminster staff members, drawing on their strengths in the fields of city tourism, sustainable tourism, air transport and the night time economy, and their unique position in the School of Architecture and Cities with particular focus on tourism and events.

For full details and signing up see eventbrite.

UWP 2019 catalogue out

UWP 2019 catalogue out

Delighted to announce the arrival of UWP 2019 catalogue. Forty-six pages of books and journals. All UWP published titles are open access.

Following our first book title published in October 2016 Critical Theory of Communication by Christian Fuchs, we are now listing 44 with over 13 titles published or firmly scheduled in our flagship Critical and Digital Media Studies series.

There are books in Media Studies, Politics/Theory, our Law and the Senses series, Geography, History and Education. And some details of our published two journals Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture and Entertainment and Sports Law Journal.

You can download, then view the catalogue here.

uwestminsterpress.co.uk

A Manifesto for 2019 and Beyond?

A Manifesto for 2019 and Beyond?

With the UK media running features on Rutger Bregman, his call for tax tax tax and Utopia for Realists UWP has published a manifesto proposing commons-based peer production as the surest way to harness technology for the benefit of all.

P2P it argues is a new system of value creation.

It is offers the virtues of new forms of social relations and new technologies in a way the downsides can be restricted.

And that P2P could head a major transformation in economic, political and social production that would represent a major departure in world history.

How to make the transition to a commons-orientated society to deal with environmental challenges and scarcity concludes the book.

Read alongside Bregman’s ‘possibilist’ positive take on opportunities for human flourishing and perhaps also Christian Fuchs’s suggestions for a public service internet to rebalance social media and the web towards the public interest, Peer to Peer: The Commons Manifesto argues that there are positive and practical solutions to the post-2008 financial crisis to be considered very seriously. Open coops can be the means to reimainge the world’s economies for example.

The work of authors activist Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis of the P2P Foundation and researcher Alex Paizaitis it is hoped that this short book’s influence will be enhanced via sharing and its open access form of publication from UWP’s own website at https://www.uwestminsterpress.co.uk/site/books/10.16997/book33/

The Blitz Companion by Mark Clapson, published

The Blitz Companion by Mark Clapson, published

UWP’s latest history title is published. A great resource for lecturers, students and general readers Mark Clapson reflects on civilian experience of that now dominant form of warfare, bombing, from the point at which it was feared and anticipated to recent times including efforts of memorialisation and reconstruction.

He discusses the debate around the ‘myth of the blitz’, the experience of London’s suburbs and the mythologies and actuality of civilian response. And there are useful links to the best sources for further study.