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Dr Benjamin Bowles joins the Centre

Dr Benjamin Bowles joins the Centre as a Research Fellow working on a project looking at senior police decision making during the Covid-19 pandemic.  We were keen to find out more, so Ben kindly agreed to be interviewed….

Please can you tell us a little bit about your academic/professional background and how you came to be working at the Centre?

“My academic background is, I guess, a little atypical for someone coming to work in the Centre. My undergraduate degree was Anthropology (Biological and Social) from Durham University. After that, I went pretty much straight into a PhD at Brunel University in Social Anthropology, researching boat-dwelling communities living and travelling around the canal and rivers of South East England. As this was ethnographic field work, it necessitated my buying a boat and living aboard, something that for me continued after the fieldwork was finished. I lived on a boat for six years in the end and only moved onto dry land two years ago. I have spent most of my time since my PhD teaching in Anthropology departments, first the University of Roehampton and then SOAS University (School of Oriental and African Studies), with smaller teaching commitments at Brunel, the LSE, and Fordham University's London campus. Outside of this, my research moved slowly from boat-dwelling to the ways in which elite actors (particularly in the State) make decisions. This process began when, straight after my PhD, I worked as a Research Assistant for Laura Bear at the LSE researching changes in global marine infrastructure financing. This led directly to research where Professor Bear and I worked with the UK Cabinet Office on a project, funded by the CRUISSE decision-making network, called "Flexible and Reflexive Standards: Constructing Resilient Infrastructure in Uncertainty", where we helped to advise the CO on how to ensure the resilience of infrastructure. This is where I first met Mark Fenton-O'Creevy, the Principal Investigator on the project that has taken me to the OU. I have most recently completed a project with two SOAS economists, Elisa Van Waeyenberge and Kate Bayliss called "Trajectories of Infrastructure Financing", looking at how decisions are made on the financing of the UK's major infrastructure and what the distributional outcomes of these decisions are. I am looking forward to applying the tools of the anthropologist, including a deep interest in cultures and the ways we construct shared meanings and understandings, to a policing context. ”

Can you tell us a little bit about your research interests?

“The story of my journey to the Centre above introduces most of my enduring interests: water and its materiality and governance; alternative ways of dwelling; mobilities; decision making and the structure of power; infrastructure; finance; resilience; and the (sometimes neglected) Anthropology of Britain. People sometimes have a tendency to conflate anthropology with the far away and the exotic, and I find that the thing that I have to explain most often to non-anthropologists is that we don't just "do tribes" and that people do interesting things here too. Britain is as full of culture and society as anywhere else!”

You are working on a CPRL research project around senior police decision-making during Covid – what interested you in getting involved in that research project?

“I have sometimes worked on some rather esoteric sounding research projects, or on things that sound intensely technical and hard to understand (infrastructure finance anyone?) and so it is really pleasant to be on a project where everyone I have spoken to can both understand the questions - how did the police make decisions in the unprecedented early days of the Covid pandemic? - and are fascinated by knowing the answers. The idea that this could be useful to the police throughout the pandemic and into the future is also very important. Sometimes anthropologists find themselves writing solely for other anthropologists, and so getting deeply into "engaged scholarship" where our police partners are deeply involved throughout is exciting and refreshing.”

What has been your most enjoyable moment since being here?

“It isn't really a moment, but I am loving the fact that the OU makes time to welcome new staff, to set up induction meetings and to check in and see how I am getting on. This hasn't always been my experience as an Early Career Researcher and I have very quickly got the impression of the OU and the Centre as the kind of place where a new member of staff is supported and made to feel like they are part of a community. I'm sad to say that that amount of care and thoughtfulness can be hard to find in Higher Education jobs sometimes!”

Now, can you tell us some things about yourself:

What is your favourite film and book and why?

“Film: Casablanca or Withnail and I, depending on whether I'm feeling romantic or need to laugh. Book: Oddly police focussed actually, thinking about it! Probably Crime and Punishment is my favourite piece of serious literature, and the Rivers of London books (magic realism about policing; imagine if Harry Potter grew up and joined the MPS) for light reading.”

What is your favourite drink/cocktail?

“Behind me in my home office, carefully hidden when I'm doing interviews, is a drinks globe full of Armagnac, Greek brandy (Metaxa) and good whisky (my wife is Scottish). Also feel free to buy me a gin or a glass of red wine if we ever find ourselves back in real life pubs.”

What do you do to relax?

“My Covid project has been learning Greek and very basic piano. That's because I can't do what I normally do as a hobby, as I'm a pretty good amateur Ballroom and Latin American dancer. I haven't been able to see my dance partner for 9 months due to Covid though. Strictly being back has helped a small amount.”

And most importantly, Team Cat or Team Dog?

“Both, but we currently just have a cat, a lovely British Blue called Madeleine (pictures available on request).”

Upcoming Events

Mar 11

Membership Group Meeting

Thursday, March 11, 2021 - 10:00 to 12:00

Remote access

Apr 29

CPRL Annual Conference

Thursday, April 29, 2021 - 09:00 to Friday, April 30, 2021 - 16:00

The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA

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