Warwick’s top 5 shittest conferences

The Hoar is not back. Theodora remains entombed, but today we pumped her full of amphetamines and asked her to plug the Central Asia Forum.

What’s the difference between a conference, a summit, a congress, a forum and a symposium?

Don’t know? Neither, it seems, do the organisers of Warwick’s manifold CV-dusting sub-academic get-togethers.

But if we’re to put etymological pedantry aside, what makes a student-led conference? Certainly not the archaic academic colloquium of actually advancing knowledge. Dodging deadlines and avoiding difficult courses is the remit of undergrads, not foraging in the frontier regions of the academy. Judging from the excruciating inanity of attendees’ questions, student engagement also looks to be of little concern. Moreover, with enough corporate funding (and concomitant logos smattered over every available surface), even an audience seems to be unnecessary.

Perhaps, the secret lies in assembling an overly porous and broadly unnecessary exec, and in summoning minions onto the piazza in the freezing dawn to stand shivering behind a flatpack table, a banner, and an incomprehensible ‘competition’. In pillaring people’s newsfeeds with incoherent profile picture frames and ego-massaging pics of the proud ‘team’ (the Facebook equivalent of patting your own back); in hiring a stale lecture hall and filling a timetable with sub-household names on the self-promotion circuit; and in gleefully ticking off another box in your unabating pursuit of a perfect CV.

An added bonus is the ‘exclusive networking event’, wherein Warwick’s unctuous (and overwhelmingly male) city slimers can shake sweaty hands with the saponaceous Fiat Puntos of the corporate world — Daddy’s hard-earned money isn’t going to protect itself.

Except for those who’re there as a favour, attendees are fresh, young students, innocent and unaware that the three-year academic voyage on which they’re embarking is, in reality, a helpful opportunity to be a lazy, borderline-alcoholic, of whom everyone — incongruously — is still awfully proud. A very small minority may, genuinely, be interested in the topic — yet will likely find that the idea of being there was much more scholar-chic in their minds than in reality.

Student conferences, it seems, are run for people who don’t want to be there, and by people who feel self-important enough in their moneyed mediocrity that organising a conference is the only thing they could have done.

Shaking off the shackles and raising the hackles, as befits a rare indulgence in critical writing  — and breathing some semblance of sentience back into the rotting corpse of The Hoar — creates a temptation to turn an introduction into a toothy diatribe. But to do that would be to leave you all bored before the substance of this substance-less listicle had even taken root. This preamble has outstayed its welcome. As such it will amble back to its ordained tomb.

5. Central Asia Forum

The conference nobody was crying out for. 

For the past decade, Kyrgyzstan has often been mentioned in the same breath as the BRICs. Well, it hasn’t, but we can still easily imagine Stuart Croft tossing fitfully in his bed fretting over when Uzbek neopatrimonial identity will finally arrive under the student microscope.

You might be surprised to hear that Warwick University is a world leader in Central Asian studies. That would be because it is not. So why has an area twice the size of Russia with the population of the UK has leapfrogged North America, South America, North Asia, Russia, Oceania or even fucking Antarctica in securing a continent-based Warwick conference? Aside from a few shiny rocks and liquid dinosaur bones, is the world desperate to learn more about an expanse of ex-Soviet space nestled south of the steppe? Most likely not.

Even the forum’s slogan — the vapid alliterative triple, ‘Crossroads, Challenges, Change’, sounds like something an unpaid halfwit lackey would come up with on a smoke break. The whole affair reeks of an inside joke gone too far.

The CAF (redeemed only by being said like an east-Londoner pronouncing the word café), brags of being the first student-run Central Asia conference in the Western World — if this is true (it isn’t) — then it may also be the last.

On another note, as one of the coordinators of the above conference, please do me the immeasurable favour of getting a ticket. Your attendance may well double the audience headcount.

4. Warwick Economics Summit

Auto-erotic confabulation

Academics never use the word summit for their learnèd gatherings. A summit implies a meeting of leaders, wherein executive policy decisions are debated and enacted. Since Paul Volker’s 1979 Warwick speech (nothing to do, of course, with the oleaginous sycophants of Warwick Econ Summit), nothing of note in the realms of economic policy has been either announced or initiated at Warwick University. The term summit, then, is a neat label for those who think their time at Warwick University is a dull purgatory between their fee-paying international schools and roles as incoming summer analysts at their uncles’ arms-investing fintech-heavy hedge funds.

Once the buzzword for everything stomach-churning about the culture of Warwick Business School pseudo-elites (who tarry with a bottle of Grey Goose in a meaninglessly expensive private booth in Altoria, the sad substratum of the lifestyle they feel befits them), the Warwick econ summit has since been out-Warwicked by the arrival of Warwick Congress, and so can’t even top this list anymore. Sad.

3. Warwick ASEAN conference

What is your deal with Amazon?

South-East Asia is the world’s most populous region. It contains a full tapestry of political and economic systems, characters, successes and failures. The conference is a slick affair. It doesn’t use an inappropriate title and it’s part of a wider network of conferences. It aids people with region-specific interests and helps to foster community links in the world’s ASEAN community. They run an interesting blog with genuinely engaging articles that do more than name-dropping. Everything is done to the book, and it all functions smoothly, despite pumping out less than half of the braggadocios bravado of its corporate counterparts.

Aside from potentially being a touch unoriginal, superficially at least, there seems to be nothing wrong the Warwick ASEAN conference. That is until one sees the meaningless Amazon voucher competitions.

It’s easy to get over the vacuous logo and the treatment of South East Asia as a generic economic tool-shed, but the assumption that the sole means of interacting with students is the promise of Amazon vouchers for participation is both perturbing and perplexing. Who did what to Jeff Bezos to facilitate this arrangement? And how can we make it stop?

2. Effective Altruism (EA) Symposium

Delusions of scientific grandeur. 

Symposium (noun) — a meeting for experts to exchange specialised scientific knowledge.

Unless the philosophers-cum-econ dropouts at EA honestly believe they are mechanically putting the world to rights by way of engineering moral inputs from the Chemistry Lecture Hall 4 (L4), then we need to go no further than their choice of the word symposium. Why call something that is ostensibly a conference, a symposium? Either misplaced self-confidence or wilful nomenclatural abuse to the end of sounding prestigious.

EA, Effective Altruism? More like Etymological Arseholes. 

1. Warwick Congress

Warwick imitating Hoar; Initiate, Exaggerate, Irritate.

Those of you acquainted with the world of online satire will likely have come across the phenomena of life imitating onion or #nottheonion. The Onion is the largest satirical publication in the US, and its amusing alternate reality has a funny habit of coming true — much like Jones and Brooker’s prophecy of prime-ministerial procreative pastiming with pigs.

The Hoar worked very hard (and spent a great deal of time twiddling its thumbs as it worked through successive hangovers) painting Warwick as a cesspool of self-interested narcissists without an ounce of social awareness or a moment’s thought to spare for their privilege.

Warwick students, whether right-wing, left-wing, British, foreign, activist, slacktivist or simple-minded ‘market-solver’, are phlegmatic middle-class, not-sufficiently-bright and not-sufficiently-oligarchic for Oxbridge, but pine all the same for the comfortable bourgeois security of their well-connected parents. They pepper their CVs with meaningless positions. Scramble to waste their youths on gap-filling spring weeks and summer internships, and arrive at university eighteen-years-old with their whole lives behind them.

University is an unfortunate formality wherein they acquire a piece of paper to prove that they are sufficiently systematised to not cause a fuss in the workplace. Their thoroughly average intelligence is buried beneath a pile of pointless qualifications. Do they know the weight of their existence? Or has the allure of security buried their individuality so deep that it would take months of mining into their cognitive dissonance to denote the wobbly foundations of their being?

Warwick Congress is the paroxysm of this caricature. Warwick congress is a parading parody of Warwick. It is a preened poltroon progeny that neatly combines Siberian blood money with Californian smiles. WC’s diversity page quotes Malcolm Forbes. Its keynote speaker, an oil-based energy firm executive, appears as a blurry picture badly superimposed onto an even blurrier view of wind turbines in the early stages of a solar eclipse. Around half of its website is devoted to different caste-recognition of sponsors. It seeks to combine economics with law and business and finance.

Is there enough hair oil in the world to sustain this disposal heap of dreams? Even at the most exorbitant fringes of my imagination, I cannot picture a sequence of events in which a contributor to Warwick Congress will ever exert a net-positive impact on either the earth or the human systems it hosts. My blood pressure is reaching dangerous levels as I approach the end of the whisky bottle, and self-immolate in anti-congress vitriol. Everything that is wrong with our university is embodied in Warwick Congress. But my (quite genuine) disgust is not enough. Why not look at their own words and find in it a litmus test that asks ‘how Warwick is your spirit’s fibre?’.

I like the fact that you put together Politics, Economics, Law and Finance, because they are all interacting and integrated together for the solution of for what I think is going to be proper innovation for the future.

Roberto Casoni — Otus Capital Management

Peace and love,

Theodora Hoar (& the CAF)