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Camouflaging Culture symposium 18th June

14 May

A new and subtle form of militarism is colonising our culture, from TV dramas that ‘wokewash’ disastrous, illegal wars to the covert funding of higher education by the arms industry. An urgently needed critique will be provided by Camouflaging Culture: Soft Power and the Forever Wars, a free online one-day symposium on June 18th brought to you by the Culture and Conflict Research Group at UoP. I am one of the co-organisers and will be chairing a panel called Theatres of War.

The keynote speakers are Prof Vron Ware, author of Military Migrants, and the veteran peace activist Milan Rai. There will also be presentations from able colleagues Marius Kwint, Stephen Harper, Malak Mayet, Paul Flenley, Matthew Alford, Claire Bear, Louis Netter and Olly Gruner.

Please book via Eventbrite here: Camouflaging Culture: Soft Power and the Forever Wars Tickets, Fri, Jun 18, 2021 at 10:00 AM | Eventbrite

Travel Writing Event at University of the Arts, Bournemouth

12 Apr

Mike Manson, Ben Aitken, Amanda Garrie and I will be appearing at a webinar on travel writing at University of the Arts, Bournemouth this Wednesday 14th April at 10.30am. (Only misnomer on the poster is that there will be a filmmaker – there won’t be now). All welcome to join through this link here:

On the Road, Off the Page: Travel Writers Share the Tricks of the Trade

The Guyanese jungle. A fish and chip shop in Poland. The slums of the Philippines. The folkloric topography of rural England. These are just some of the places that have inspired this quartet of travel and travel-inspired writers. In this fascinating event, they discuss their unique, often bizarre and sometimes dangerous experiences on the road, and share what they have learned about researching, writing and producing travelogues, travel-informed novels and journalism. Using specially designed exercises, they’ll help you finesse the tools of the trade. Whatever you want to know about the form – voice, style, structure, drafting, pitching, filming, production, publishing, promotion – the panel can assist.

Ben Aitken is the author of A Chip Shop in Poznan: My Unlikely Year in Poland, which recounts a year spent in Poland working, travelling and integrating. Paul Ross called it ‘the funniest book of the year.’ Ben also wrote Dear Bill Bryson: Footnotes from a Small Island, which was featured in The GuardianThe Times and on BBC Radio, and was described by the Manchester Review as a ‘poignant comment on the state of the nation’ and a ‘highly accomplished homage’.

Amanda Garrie is co-founder and facilitator for T’Articulation, Portsmouth’s spoken-word troupe and a director of Portsmouth’s Writers Hub, Amanda Garrie is in the final stages of a PhD in Creative Writing. She received Arts Council funding via Portsmouth City Council’s Library and Archive Service as their Poet in Residence (2019). She is published in a number of anthologies, including with The London Magazine. A part-time lecturer, she recently turned her hand to writing the pilot for a tourist app, alongside Tom Sykes and other colleagues. Her work, including poetry and prose, is centred on place and the folklore invested in it.

Mike Manson’s new novel, Down in Demerara, concerns an Englishman who is plucked from his humdrum job and dispatched to the forbidden rainforest of Guyana on a mysterious assignment. Fay Weldon calls the book ‘fast-moving and wonderfully funny (I laughed aloud a lot) vigorous and intelligent tale of an innocent abroad.’ The Jamaica Gleaner described it as ‘storytelling at its best’. Mike’s previous novels are Rules of the Road and Where’s My Money, which was featured on the BBC’s Books that Made Britain series. 

Tom Sykes is the author of The Realm of the Punisher: Travels in Duterte’s Philippines which, according to the Times Literary Supplement, ‘conveys in an affectionate, unpatronizing tone the many layers of injustice that run through the Philippines, and uses interviews and site visits to try to explain the eccentric ways and popular appeal of its more muscular leaders.’ Tom is also the author of Ivory Coast: The Bradt Guide and his travel journalism has appeared in The Telegraph, Private Eye, New Statesman, New African, The Scotsmanand many other titles. He is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

Determining Duterte: Imperialism, Neoliberalism, Stalinism

26 Mar

Get along to this free webinar on the 22nd April offering alternative perspectives on the rise of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. It’s a joint effort between Ateneo de Manila and Portsmouth Universities. Book here.

Since his election as President of the Philippines in 2016, Rodrigo Duterte has been waging a bloodthirsty “war on drugs” that has so far killed an estimated 30,000 mostly poor, working-class Filipinos.

The four scholars on this panel examine several important long- and short-term determinants of Duterte’s rise, amongst them the recent complicity of Stalinist groups inside the Philippines, the longer-term impacts of Western neoliberal economic policy on Philippine society and the legacies of US colonialism.

The Political Economy of an Authoritarian Insurgency – Prof Walden Bello, University of the Philippines

This paper will discuss the roots of Rodrigo Duterte’s triumph in the 2016 presidential elections and the 2019 mid-term elections in the neoliberal economic policies and elite electoral monopoly of the so-called EDSA Republic that reigned from 1986 to 2016.

Dutertismo: Empire’s Veritable Wet dream or Perfumed Nightmare? – Dr Oscar V. Campomanes, Ateneo de Manila University

Around 1908, Philippine Commission member W. Morgan Shuster acknowledged the extreme difficulty of attracting Americans to settle in the Philippines, and expressed anxiety over the unpromising future of US colonial administration of the islands. (Contrast this with the urgent appeals of Hong Kong Consul-General Rounsevelle Wildman to the State Department, in early 1898, for directives on how to handle the constant stream of ordinary Americans heading for the Philippines, on the mistaken notion that the Philippines was an American ‘territory,’ at that point.)

Although Shuster does not state it, it was the grisly Philippine-American War, which Theodore Roosevelt had ended by presidential fiat in 1902 but continued to rage in various parts of the archipelago, that might significantly explain this alarming development. Shuster, in the grip of developing American imperialist and orientalist ideas about their new ‘natives,’ did not particularly relish the prospect of handing the fledgling colonial bureaucracy to an emergent native elite. As the problem persisted, the US, ever the ‘pragmatic empire,’ eventually formed and heavily relied on this emergent comprador class to rule the Philippines as its surrogates.

In my remarks, I argue that Rodrigo Duterte is only the latest (although iconoclastic) spawn of the ‘cacique democracy’ fostered by the USA in the Philippines as a consequence of this major policy shift. I critique certain historical blindspots (concerning the US colonization of the Philippines) in the continuing orientalist rhetoric on, and imperialist representations of, the ‘postcolonial’ Philippines as recently constellated around Duterte as mutational symbol and sign.

Call of Duterte: Complicity, Moral Inequivalence and the Limits of Western (Neo)liberal Media Discourses – Dr Tom Sykes, University of Portsmouth, UK

The chaotic and contradictory nature of the Duterte regime is matched by confusion, hypocrisy and inaccuracy in its coverage by establishmentarian British and American journalists on all points of a narrow political spectrum (conservative at one ‘extreme’ through to left-liberal on the other) that is delimited by market pressures and elite ideological assumptions.

The result is that most so-called journals of record in the West offer partial, unreliable explanations for Duterte’s gruesome necropolitics, and their vocabulary is bereft of catalyzing phenomena such as neoliberalism, Western ethnocentrism and US imperialism past and present. While certain Western writers reach for the timeworn trope of ‘Oriental despotism’ (Grosrichard) in their constructions of Duterte and to denounce the fear, populism, political divisiveness, summary executions and administrative catastrophes he is no doubt responsible for, they are oblivious to the contribution of decades of Western neoliberal policy to the social conditions that fomented ‘Dutertismo’, not to say the complicity of the Western armaments industry in Duterte’s oppression of his own people.

Such analyses are further hampered by chauvinistic double standards, from the assumption that Duterte’s mass-murder of 20,000 drug addicts and pushers is qualitatively worse than the millions killed by recent Western wars of choice, to the notion that Duterte’s crimes are more deserving of Western ire than those of other (hazily defined) ‘authoritarian populists’ around the globe such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s connivance in communal massacres and political assassinations.

#Embracing a Fascist: How the Communist Party of the Philippines Facilitated and Endorsed Duterte’s Rise to Power – Dr Joseph Scalice, Nanyang Technological University

This talk will examine how the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the various organizations that follow its political line, made possible Duterte’s rise to national prominence and stabilized his hold on presidential power. While they now denounce the president as a “fascist”, they campaigned for him in 2016, declared him to be a “progressive” and even offered to assist in the prosecution of his murderous war on drugs. I argue that the programmatic roots of this endorsement rest in the party’s Stalinist nationalism. I will explore the character of this program, its political ubiquity, and the vicissitudes of its development over the last four years.

Talk on ‘Human Life Exchange Rate Mechanism, 15th March

11 Mar

As part of UoP’s Global Week, I’ll be riffing on the cheery, springtime topic of “The Human Life Exchange Rate Mechanism: Hypocrisy, Human Rights and the West’s ‘Liberal’ Media Representations of the Rest” alongside Dr Matthew Alford, who will be bringing some rigorous media analysis to the table. The gig’s free and only an hour long, so please do look in… but you’ll need to book here first:

The Human Life Exchange Rate Mechanism Tickets, Mon 15 Mar 2021 at 17:00 | Eventbrite

Imagining Manila virtual book launch

9 Feb

You are cordially invited to the online launch of my new book Imagining Manila: Literature, Empire and Orientalism. Thrilled to be joined by esteemed colleagues Deborah Shaw, Oscar V. Campomanes and Roderick Galam.

It’s on at 19.00 British Standard Time on Thursday 8th April 2021.

“This book examines British and American writing on the city, situating these representations within scholarship on empire, orientalism and US, Asian and European political history.

“Through analysis of novels, memoirs, travelogues and journalism written about Manila by Westerners since the early eighteenth century, Tom Sykes builds a picture of Western attitudes towards the city and the wider Philippines, and the mechanics by which these came to dominate the discourse.”

Please register here: Book Launch Imagining Manila Literature Empire and Orientalism | University of Portsmouth

‘Creating Worlds’ planetary modelling event

7 Feb

I will be introducing this intriguing event on February 28th:

David Angus is an expert on world geologies travelling to locations to explore unusual features in the landscape and beneath. He uses this to inform not only his planetary model-making but his writing as well. When it comes to researching planetary landscapes, or knowing how far down you go before reaching ‘The Gates of Hell’, David’s your man. So, whether you’re into serious reportage-style writing or creating fictional worlds, above or below the surface, you’ll be fascinated by what David has to say. He’s also an excellent photographer so the talk will be a wonderful visual experience at a time when we may still be staying near to home.

The event is entirely free, brought to you in association with T’Articulation and Portsmouth Bookfest 2021. But please book here:

Creating Worlds: below the ground up, travel with David Angus (+ Open Mic) Tickets, Sun 28 Feb 2021 at 19:00 | Eventbrite

Traipsing with Travel Writers Workshop March 5th

14 Feb


An eclectic backpack of well-travelled writers will discuss the different forms of writing they produce from those adventures – and how you can use your own experiences to create original pieces of work.

Thu, March 5, 2020, 5:00 PM – 7:15 PM GMT Add to Calendar

Eldon Building, Middle Street, Portsmouth PO1 2DJ



5.00 – 5.45pm: An interview with two of our celebrated travel writers.

6pm – 7.15pm: Themed readings from the collected writers and discussions about the various techniques used.

7.30pm – 9.00pm: Hands on workshop. Please book on the separate listing

Our speakers

Ben Aitken is the author of A Chip Shop in Poznan: My Unlikely Year in Poland, recounting a year spent working, travelling and integrating. Paul Ross called it ‘the funniest book of the year.’ Ben also wrote Dear Bill Bryson: Footnotes from a Small Island, featuring in The Guardian, The Times and on BBC Radio.

Amanda Garrie is in the final stages of a PhD in creative writing, where she’s writing a novel, at The University of Portsmouth. She was Portsmouth City Library and Archives Service Poet in Residence for 2019 and is a founder member of T’Articulation spoken word troupe. Much of her poetry and prose-fiction reflects the cultural curiosities discovered on her travels in Spain, Eastern Europe and India.

Mike Manson’s new novel, Down in Demerara, concerns an Englishman who is plucked from his humdrum job and dispatched to the forbidden rainforest of Guyana on a mysterious assignment. Fay Weldon calls the book ‘a fast-moving and wonderfully funny (I laughed aloud a lot) vigorous and intelligent tale of an innocent abroad.’

Richard Peirce, a co-founder of T’Articulation, is well-known on the local spoken-word circuit. His poetry, often connecting emotionally with the people, landscapes and situations, of his travels in the Philippines, Russia and Africa, has been published in a number of anthologies.

Tom Sykes is the author of The Realm of the Punisher: Travels in Duterte’s Philippines which garnered positive reviews in the Times Literary Supplement and the London Magazine. Tom is also the author of Ivory Coast: The Bradt Guide and his travel journalism has appeared in The Telegraph, Private Eye, New Statesman, New African, The Scotsman and many other titles.

Tickets are free but you will have to book them in advance here.

A three part experience in collaboration with Star & Crescent, T’Articulation and the University of Portsmouth.

Converting Your Academic Research into Popular Books and Articles

13 Feb


Modern universities recognise the importance of disseminating their research to audiences beyond the academy in discourses that non-specialists can understand. For some years, CCI Senior Lecturer Dr Tom Sykes has led a ‘double life’ as an academic theorist and as a professional author, editor and journalist. In this workshop, he reveals how to use your academic research as a springboard for writing newsworthy and impactful feature articles, op-eds, reviews, reportage and popular non-fiction books. Using specially designed writing exercises, Tom will discuss structure, style, drafting, editing, the all-important journalistic ‘angle’ and how to devise an eye-catching proposal sure to grab the attention of editors, agents and publishers.

Book here. 

Appearance at Bristol Festival of Literature on 23rd October

18 Oct

‘Everyone has been nearly everywhere’, wrote Jan Morris. This has provided a new challenge to the travel writer: how to find a new angle on a familiar destination? The answer lies with alternative travel writing.

Two alternative travel writers discuss their very different work. They talk about what they’ve written, how they write, their influences and what they’ve learnt.

Doors open at 6.30pm.

Over the last nine years, British writer Tom Sykes has travelled extensively in the Philippines to write Realm of the Punisher, the first major travel book by a Westerner to explore Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency of the country. Tom, to understand the Duterte phenomenon, attended crime sites, met with dissidents on government ‘death lists’ and interviewed friends and enemies of ‘The Punisher’ – as he’s known – in politics, the media, the arts and the third sector. Sykes witnesses anti-government demonstrations in the capital Manila and visits the provincial city of Davao, where Duterte began his draconian crusade against crime using police and vigilante death squads.

Mike Manson’s most recent novel Down in Demerara, (Tangent Books) features Felix Radstock, a man plucked from his humdrum job and dispatched to the forbidden rainforest of Guyana on a mysterious assignment. Set in 1999, Down in Demerara is a funny, charming and quirky tale of self-realisation through love, friendship and fear.

Book tickets here.

Walden Bello on the Rise of the Global Far Right

22 Sep


The world renowed sociologist, environmentalist and political activist Walden Bello will be discussing the global rise of the far right in the context of the climate emergency, globalization, imperialism, dependency and world capitalism. A veteran of movements protesting the Vietnam War, the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines and the US campaign against Chile’s Salvador Allende, Prof Bello has been described as “one of the most articulate and prolific voices on the international left” who “has devoted most of his life to fighting imperialism and corporate globalization.” His latest book is Paper Dragons: China and the Next Crash (Zed Books).

Prof Bello will be hosted by the Culture and Conflict research group at the University of Portsmouth and introduced by Dr Tom Sykes, Senior Lecturer at UoP and author of The Realm of the Punisher, a ‘political travelogue’ of the contemporary Philippines.

Admission free but please book a ticket through Eventbrite here.