Virtual reality, magical thinking - and another election? Goldsmiths academics share their predictions for 2017

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2016 is unlikely to be mourned by many. But as a new year dawns and we look hopefully to the future, are there any grounds for optimism? Five of our academics aren't so sure. But one thing is certain - 2017 at least promises to be interesting...

Professor French: resist magical thinking and seek the truth

Professor of Psychology Christopher French hopes that truth will be on trend again

In light of Brexit, Trump and other worrying developments 2017 will be a very good year for psychics, astrologers and prophets - as evidence shows that magical thinking of all kinds increases at times of political and economic uncertainty. Although there is no convincing evidence that these practitioners can actually foretell the future, many people find even an illusory sense of control comforting.

2017 will be a bumper year in terms of the spread of wild conspiracy theories such as "Pizzagate". When the most powerful man in the world admires and respects the likes of Alex Jones, the king of conspiracy theorists, who claims that Hilary Clinton is literally a demon from hell who smells of sulphur, we are justified in being somewhat concerned.

Dare we hope that there will be a gradual realisation in 2017 that "truth" really does matter and that it makes more sense to listen to those who are well-informed on a topic (sometimes known as "experts") as opposed those who don't?  Sadly, there are no signs of such a change in the air at the moment. But unrealistic optimism is a sign of mental health so I'm sticking with it!

Course leader for PGCE Secondary English Dr Francis Gilbert says Goldsmiths will fight educational inequality

The “backdoor” privatisation of education will continue apace with many more schools becoming part of academy chains or forming their own “multi-academy trusts”: these chains although nominally “non-profit” organisations have covert means of making profits, including employing connected sub-contractors and awarding bosses high salaries.

The introduction of new higher education providers with the ability to award degrees into the system will mean that a system similar to the “free schools” scheme will be set up at HE level.  So once again, public institutions will be run by unaccountable companies who will view their own private interests - rather than the public good - as primary.

Grammar schools are back! More selective schools will be established in the coming year with the result that educational outcomes for poorer children will suffer, since they fare badly in grammar-school systems.

The educational attainment gap between rich and poor students will widen.   The school system will entrench and exacerbate existing social, ethnic and religious divisions because the power of local authorities to set up fair systems for admitting students will have been further eroded by the drive towards selection.

I predict mass confusion over new exams. There will be a great muddle about the reformed GCSEs with a system of grading from 1-9 (with 9 being the top grade) replacing the A*-G grades in GCSE English and Maths. I predict parents, teachers and students will find this system difficult to understand and there could be many complaints about the new system in the summer when the results are published. University admissions tutors will struggle to deal with the new A levels, because AS Levels are no longer mandatory: admissions’ tutors have previously relied on AS grades to admit students to university.

Goldsmiths will head the “fight-back” against educational inequity and sterile teaching with exciting developments: its teacher-educator programmes remain the most creative in the country and are growing in popularity, while its Masters degrees such as the MA in Children’s Literature, headed by Professor Michael Rosen, and the MA in Creative Writing and Education are the most innovative in the country, educating teachers, writers and other interested professionals to be more original in their approach.

Lecturer in Virtual Reality Dr Sylvia Xueni Pan fears that virtual reality fans will lose their fear of danger

VR is a tool, and its impact on society rests on how we  decide to use it.  In this respect, the next year will be crucial.

In some respects Virtual Reality will bring people together and contribute to training, education, and therapy for all sorts of neurological and psychological disorders. For others, VR will become another mechanism for escaping from reality: having the thrill of visiting places without having to leave their living rooms, or playing games with friends without feeling their physical presence...

"VR Experience" stores are already opening, but I expect to see more health and safety issues that may call for new regulation of the industry. There are already hygiene concerns over the sharing of HMDs. 

Perhaps a more profound health and safety concern is that because VR is really immersive, exposing oneself to apparent danger in VR without any real physical risk of being injured might encourage risky behaviour in real life at a subconscious level.  For instance, if you enjoy the thrill of jumping from the top of a building in VR and get too used to it, your body learns to suppress the "inhibition" signal that it naturally sends in similar situations in real life.  So this weakens the defence mechanisms that help us stay alive - and there are obvious practical and ethical concerns here!

Lecturer in Urban Sociology Dr Alex Rhys-Taylor says London could lead the way in a testing time for cities

In 2017, British and American cities will be increasingly fraught with pain, as austerity and xenophobia combine to make the worlds of the city’s most vulnerable residents increasingly uninhabitable. Rough sleeping in London has doubled over the last five years and does not look set to decrease. Despite the city electing a Muslim to Mayoral office, Islamaphobic hate crime in London soared 58% over 2016. While the number may dip, the national rhetoric looks likely to keep the figures high. 

While difficult places to live in, cities will nonetheless be increasingly important sites for identifying resources and developing strategies with which to mitigate the fall-out from increasingly hostile, illiberal and introspective political centres.  

While it is also tussling with its own national government, Barcelona’s new municipal authority is leading the way in demonstrating the changes a progressive mayoral office might be able to achieve. And Sadiq Kahn is making very positive noises about the dire state of housing in London. Such developments offer a small glimmer of hope in what, for the British and American cities that voted resolutely for a different future, looks likely to be another dark year.

Professor of Caribbean Literature Joan Anim-Addo hopes to see more breakthroughs for black writers

2016 closes for me with Paul Beatty’s swingeing satire, The Sellout, which now dominates my Christmas present list. But has any one else noticed that Beatty’s Man Booker award winning novel represents the second in-a-row such award to a black male author? This is certainly a phenomenal breakthrough for writing across the African diaspora and readers across the world.

I know that I cannot be the only one celebrating this historical moment for the winners and trail-blazers, Paul Beatty and Marlon James. It is also unmistakably a moment of huge importance, marking a signal change in reading practices away from disingenuous habits of acknowledging, through reading, the narrowest ideas of a supposed ‘universal’.

I wait, now, with bated breath for the first black woman Man Booker prize winner.

Senior Lecturer in Politics Dr Simon Griffiths says predictions can't tell us much

The one thing that the last couple of years has shown is that experts are not very good at making predictions. People who work in politics made the wrong calls over the 2015 general election, the vote for Brexit and the result of the US presidential election. 

With this in mind, it seems foolish to make any more predictions.  Experts might know more about the past and have a clearer idea of trends, but there is no telling which of those trends will carry on into the future. 

Having said all this, there are a few things that seem likely in British politics. Brexit will be a complicated business that will cause numerous headaches for Theresa May. She will come under increasing pressure to rip up the Fixed Term Parliament Act and hold an early election to capitalise on Labour's disarray and her shortening honeymoon period. The great unknown is how the Lib Dems and UKIP would do come a new election. Would we see a Lib Dem revival? Would UKIP push on into the Labour heartlands in the North or are they done now that their reason for being is achieved and their best known politician, Nigel Farage, is busy across the pond promoting the president elect?