Big Picture Politics: Democracy And The Making Of The Modern World

Joe FowerakerOn Tues 7 September 2021, we begin a series of discussions (or perhaps seminars) led by distinguished academic Joe Foweraker (see below). These are for everyone – of any age, and no experience necessary. All you need is curiosity, and an interest in how the world works. The aim is to make these as open as possible, so there’ll be a suggested donation of £5 or £2 per session, with a free option as well – all of which can be booked here or by email to, or you can just turn up on Tuesday 7 Sept at 7.30pm, or the other dates which will be listed below.

Nowadays, many – perhaps most – of us tend to associate politics with the twenty-four-hour news cycle or the endless barrage of social media. These easily become annoying and intrusive, so we eventually tune out and turn off. Yet politics is plainly important; when the politics isn’t right, then other things rapidly go wrong. There are many examples beyond our shores: Belarus, Iraq, Syria, Libya – the list is long; while deeper inequalities and growing poverty blight our own green and pleasant land.

It may be worthwhile to come together and pursue a more reflective approach to politics. We need to find the words – a set of tools, if you like – to make more sense of it. This may prove attractive if – for instance – you have ever asked yourself:

  • What is the point of politics?
  • How did democracy arise?
  • What is the real reason for voting?
  • Is democracy always everywhere the best form of government?

Have you ever wondered what is human about human rights? What is social about social protest and mobilization? Is the personal truly political? Or why populism suddenly seems so popular?

Would you like to know why democracy can only ever be partially democratic; why the modern state is not so very modern; why there is no such thing as a free market, or why capitalism routinely destroys capital?

To answer these questions – and many more besides – Joe Foweraker has conducted research across Europe and the Americas and studied and taught at leading universities and research institutes across the globe. He has also acted as a political consultant to governments and international NGOs, and supervised the research of advanced students, including a cohort of US Marine Corps officers…

Joe is currently an Emeritus Fellow of St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford, where he was the Professor of Latin American Politics and Head of the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, and an Honorary Professor at the University of Exeter. His extensive list of publications includes ten books and some fifty articles and essays in top academic journals, as well as an Encyclopaedia of Democratic Thought. And now – for your entertainment and delight – he is ‘bringing it all back home’ to the Ashburton Arts Centre.

Why is he doing it? It’s not for the money – what money? It’s not for the fame – he is after all quite modestly vain. No, it’s all about the passion for politics and the joy of sharing ideas. And he needs your help! He needs you there with your experience, your curiosity, and your questions. No prior study of politics is required. Just a spirit of inquiry and an open mind.

Each week we will address a BIG question that may serve to provide an initial direction for the conversation, as follows:

  1. What is the point of politics? When did it all begin?
  2. What is the most successful mode of political rule, always and everywhere, and why?
  3. How did democracy begin? And how far does it depend on agreeing a constitution?
  4. State, nation, regime, civil society – where does politics take place?
  5. How can a republic coexist with large – and often increasing – inequalities of income and wealth?
  6. What distinguishes civil and political and social and human rights? And do the differences matter?
  7. What does social mobilization and protest have to do with individual rights?
  8. What is populism and why is it suddenly so prevalent?

…and winding its way through every session, the big question, “Can Politics Save the World?” These topics are not fixed. On the contrary, they can change over the course of the talks – in response to popular demand.

Joe’s recent books can be found at:

Oligarchy in the Americas – Comparing Oligarchic Rule in Latin America and the United States | Joe Foweraker | Springer

Polity: Demystifying Democracy in Latin America and Beyond

More books and background to his work can be located on: and Fulbrighter | Snapshot: ‘Oligarchy in the Americas’ (2021) (

One thought

  1. This sounds extremely interesting and I look forward to joining the discussion
    Peter Villiers
    BA (government, Essex University, 1970 – lots of Latin American studies)
    Army service – Ulster, Cyprus, Hong Kong
    Police staff college, Bramshill, Hampshire
    And so to Torrington and Ashburton in Devon…

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