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Ibtisam Ahmed

Doctoral Researcher, Faculty of Social Sciences

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Biography

Ibtisam is a Doctoral Researcher at the School of Politics and International Relations. He is associated with the Nottingham Centre for Normative Political Theory (CONCEPT), the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ), and the Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the School. He is also affiliated with the Centre for Research in Race and Rights (C3R), a multidisciplinary research centre based at the university, and is the Project Coordinator for its LGBT History Month events. His PhD thesis deconstructs the ways in which the British Raj was an attempt at a political utopia, with a focus on shifting the narrative to marginalised decolonial voices.

Prior to starting his PhD at the School of Politics and International Relations, Ibtisam completed his MA in Public Policy (with Distinction) at the University of Warwick, securing the Politics and International Studies Prize for Highest Overall Average in MA Public Policy. He also holds a BA (Joint Honours) in History and Politics from the University of Nottingham.

He is a regular contributor and former website intern for the ARI academic blog Asia Dialogue. He has worked with the Kaleidoscope Trust and the Commonwealth Equality Network as a research expert and activist for the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality in the Commonwealth, in which role he also co-organised activism at Nottinghamshire Pride in 2017. He is a freelance political columnist and former obituarist for the leading Bangladeshi daily newspaper, the Dhaka Tribune. He was also a member of University Radio Nottingham, the university's student radio station, appearing on a variety of political and cultural shows.

Expertise Summary

  • Critical utopian theory
  • Critical dystopian theory
  • Decolonisation
  • Queer theory
  • BME queer history
  • Imperialism and historiography
  • South Asian historiography
  • Politics of arts and culture
  • Politics of fiction

Teaching Summary

Present: M13023 The Politics of Utopia

Ibtisam is the lecturer for Weeks 27 and 28, dealing with utopias and colonialism. In the first lecture, he explores utopian visions that exist in the absence of colonialism, with a focus on Afrofuturism and BME liberation politics. In the second lecture, he explores ways in which colonialism was a form of utopian world-building and counters that with anti-colonial and decolonial politics and movements as a new form of grassroots utopia. He is also available to discuss wider questions of utopian theory, especially queer and post-gender utopias, indigenous utopias, non-European utopias, and utopias in popular culture.

Past: M11152 Modern Political Theory

Ibtisam was a seminar tutor for the module, covering a range of European thinkers from the French Revolution to the modern day. In this role, he incorporated modern political and cultural examples to highlight the ongoing relevance of such thinkers - as well as challenging their limits and the silenced voices in their theoretical approaches.

Research Summary

Thesis: The Decolonial Killjoy: the British Raj as a Space of Political Utopia

Utopianism and colonialism have an intrinsically linked history. Thomas More's eponymous Utopia (1516) was a settler colony after all, and the global spread of colonialism carried an ideological justification that had an implicit utopian explanation. The historiography of the British Raj is no exception to this - the Raj represented an ideal society that the colonial powers were trying to create. Whether or not the word was explicitly used when discussing the Raj and the wider British colonial project, there is strong evidence to support the utopian impulse in its implementation, as well as in its rejection.

What is lacking is an exploration of the dynamics of this political utopianism, especially using Utopian Studies scholarship as opposed to a more generic (and often misrepresented) understanding of utopia as a perfect society. In this thesis, Ibtisam embeds the history of the Raj (1857-1947) within this scholarship to interrogate and deconstruct these dynamics. Broadly spread over the three themes of Religion, Gender and Sexuality, and Language and Culture, he considers both sides of the struggle - the blueprint that was being imposed to create a colonial utopia and the grassroots responses that aimed to create an anti-colonial utopia.

In particular, Ibtisam is keen to highlight voices that are silenced in these conversations, such as religious and caste minorities, women, queer communities, and indigenous communities. He argues that their inclusion is vital if the anti-colonial utopia is to be a truly inclusive space. In doing so, he not only interrogates the past of the Raj, but also embeds decolonisation at the heart of Utopian Studies, hoping to create a killjoy moment that disrupts the status quo.

Additional Projects

Ibtisam researched and co-curated the exhibition "Threads of Empire: Rule and Resistance in Colonial India, c.1740-1840" with Dr Onni Gust at Lakeside Arts. This included delivering a public lecture on the role of clothing in creating a colonial utopia, a paper which has also been published in Sociology Study. He is the Project Coordinator for LGBT History Month at the Centre for Research in Race and Rights.

He has been actively involved in the Commonwealth decriminalisation campaign as a research expert, working to help grassroots activists move towards decriminalising homosexuality in the Commonwealth of Nations. In this capacity, he has given lectures and workshops to budding activists during the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, as well as attending policy meetings at the House of Commons. He co-organised Nottinghamshire Pride in 2017 to increase the profile of the campaign. He has given guest lectures on topics of queer liberation, utopias and decolonisation at SOAS, York St. John, Cumberland Lodge, and the Nottingham Contemporary. He is also a regular contributor and former website intern for Asia Dialogue.

Teaching

Present: M13023 The Politics of Utopia (lectures and seminars)

Past: M11152 Modern Political Theory (seminars)

Thesis Supervisors

Recent Publications

  • IBTISAM AHMED, 2018. The Commonwealth Must Decolonise The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs. 107(3), 369-370
  • IBTISAM AHMED, 2018. The Worrying Trend of Media Censorship in Bangladesh Asia Dialogue. Available at: <http://theasiadialogue.com/2018/06/21/the-worrying-trend-of-media-censorship-during-bangladeshi-crises/>
  • 2018. Memorialising the ‘world’ in World War I Asia Dialogue. Available at: <http://theasiadialogue.com/2018/11/09/memorialising-the-world-in-world-war-i/>
  • Threads of Empire: Rule and Resistance in Colonial India, c.1740-1840 2017. At: Weston Gallery, Lakeside Arts, Nottingham04/18/2017 00:00:00-07/20/2017 00:00:00.

Past Research

Ibtisam's research has always focused on the field of political utopianism and imperialism. His BA dissertation examined religious extremism in the former British Raj through a dystopian framework focusing on fear, forced identities, oppression and rebellion. An edited version of this dissertation manuscript is currently undergoing peer review for publication. His MA dissertation examined the imperial legacy of the British penal code on LGBTQ+ rights and identities in India.

He has written about the utopian implications of popular culture, including an essay on how the dilemmas represented in Spider-Man comics can be used to study morality in utopian attempts. His work has also touched on approaches to feminist and queer theory, political history, cultural studies, and South Asian democratisation.

Future Research

Ibtisam has submitted funding bids to continue research on decolonisation. He is especially keen to continue research that cuts across identities and hopes to use queer theory as a framework that can enrich decolonisation work.

School of Politics and International Relations

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