Propaganda, Modern Day Slavery, and the Fashionable Body: APSS Research Café II

The three speakers at Research Café II: Arts, Professional and Social Studies were excellent representatives of the diverse and rich research being carried out in three of the different faculties within APSS.  Dr Guy Hodgson, a senior lecturer of journalism from Liverpool Screen School, challenged the mythology of Edith Cavell; PhD candidate Akilah Jardine from the School of Law, outlined her research on human trafficking;  and Carol Ryder, senior lecturer of fashion and illustration, challenged the current ideals of the fashionable self in this intriguing lunchtime series of talks.

The first speaker was Dr. Guy Hodgson and his talk, ‘Edith Cavell: Best of British Propaganda?’ He set the scene surrounding the myth of Edith Cavell, describing the actual events in October 1915 and her confession of being involved in wartime acts of espionage.  He then outlined the changes in the reporting of her death, how initially her passing was simply reported, but as the days went on, the language to describe her death and the actions of the German military was increasingly inflammatory with phrases such as, the ‘merciless execution of Nurse Cavell.’

Guy then went on to describe the impact of this propaganda machine, how what was originally one war-time death subsequently began to influence both Allied and German public opinion, in one example, increasing enlistment by 10,000 recruits in one day.  Still, it wasn’t just the impact on the war effort, it was also her historical significance then and now that persevered.  Dr. Hodgson described the ‘fresh impetus of interest’ that occurred once the war was over surrounding the myth of Edith Cavell: she has schools, buildings and in 2015, even a £5.00 coin with her face on it.

Though Cavell was heroic, and she undoubtedly helped to rescue British soldiers and distribute wartime intelligence, she was, as former MI5 Director-General Stella Rimington admitted, a spy and quite rightly could have been executed for these war crimes (as at that time, deserters were often killed, conscientious objectors were imprisoned and other enemy soliders were also executed by the British military).  Dr. Hodgson’s talk is also relevant to today’s conflicts and wars; what we can or should believe and also questioning the propaganda of both our own country but others, too.

Our second speaker was Akilah Jardine, a PhD candidate in the school of law and her talk, The Ugly Face of Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery.  Akilah was first interested in this area when she started her undergraduate law degree.  She began her talk by explaining that the average human being costs $90 and by breaking down different aspects to the human slave trade, explaining the movement of slaves both within and across borders.  Akilah also explained the important distinction between human trafficking, consent through deception and human smuggling, complete consent to the facilitation of movement.  This dissimilarity is then also manifested when people arrive at their ‘destination’ as within human smuggling the person in question is more or less ‘free’, whereas with trafficking, the person in question will be faced with increasing and unlimited demands for more money or work, with ultimate freedom unattainable and exploitation ever-present.

Akilah also explained the sheer enormity of the problem of human trafficking.  Recent estimates suggest that there are between 20-27 million people that are currently enslaved, more now than at any time during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  The difficulty with these numbers is that they are a guesstimate and that itself is part of the problem.  Human trafficking is often difficult to identify and far more prevalent and insidious a problem that makes it difficult for law enforcement, lawmakers and the international community to combat.

Her research is looking into ways that current international law can be more effective.  The United Nations enacted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children in 2000. This specifically addressed issues with women and children and as Akilah pointed out, human trafficking impacts on both genders, and legislation needs to be changed to address that. Human traffickers are adept at preying on people that are desperate and vulnerable and with money to be made, use increasingly savvy and changing methods to ensure their trade can continue. Akilah believes that while law enforcement and international law can change, it is also necessary for corporations to behave more ethically and support social responsibility so that traffickers do not see opportunities to exploit others.

Our final speaker was Carol Ryder, a senior lecturer in fashion and her talk, Animating Fashion Illustration: Promoting the Diverse Fashionable Body via fashion film. Carol began her talk describing how the Westernised fashion ideal that is spreading worldwide and is incredibly homogenised: tall, thin, young, white, European and able-bodied, showing us a cover of Vogue India with these exact ‘ideals’.  She explained that as this very prescriptive ideal spreads worldwide, it promotes the impression that all women should conform or should work towards achieving it.

This conformity manifests itself not just with airbrushed images within various forms of media but also tangible physical changes that women ascribe to: skin-whitening, and changing the shape of eyes.  Carol believes that in our goal to become whiter, thinner and younger, we are attempting to become ‘normal’ and instead of being right, this is actual detrimental and wrong.  Through her work with fashion illustration, she is hoping to promote greater diversity exploring the ideal of the ‘unfashionable body’.  She cited recent research that shows as consumers we are more likely to buy products if the image even slightly reflects ourselves.

Carol creates her vision by painting layers and using movement and sound to create films where the final image is not apparent until the end.  She was particularly inspired by Latvian singer Viktoria Modesta, who wears futuristic prosthetics to challenge what being disabled means.  Enlisting the expertise of Manchester Metropolitan University lecturer and filmmaker, Zoe Hitchen, they created a film to illustrate her sequenced scanned images.

As each layer is applied to the film, the overall image and understanding of both fashion and the body modelling the clothing, changes.  In this way, through Carol’s drawings and Zoe’s film, this challenges the viewers’ initial expectations but also questions why we ‘expect’ certain things from fashion.  Carol finished by briefly explaining their manifesto on the fashionable body and highlighting the belief that our ‘imperfections’ are what make us beautiful, human and interesting.  Moreover, by using imagery to alter our perceptions, we will promote diversity.

This fascinating afternoon was just a brief reflection of the work that goes on across APSS and the diversity of research within different faculties.  If you are interested in speaking or attending the next Research Café, please contact Katherine Stephan:


This entry was posted in Humanities and Social Sciences, Liverpool Business School, Liverpool School of Art and Design, Liverpool Screen School, Primary and Professional Learning, School of Law, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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