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3rd November 2011

Society Spotlight: Challenging Orthodoxies Society (COS)

By Dan Hart Here to explore controversial topics and provide a forum for progressive thought and dialogue, inviting speakers of the highest quality, it’s COS.

Written by Dan Hart


Challenging Orthodoxies Society (COS) provides a forum for progressive thought and dialogue. Our aim is to explore a whole range of controversial topics and scrutinize the practices and ideas they involve. We’ve found that the best way to do this is through public forums, so our main events are panel discussions which draw together expert speakers from across the world to share their unique insights. The panels are usually made up of a number of speakers with varying opinions, and, importantly, events are always interactive, giving the audience the opportunity to ask questions and challenge arguments. We are also very keen to go beyond opinionated argument, and really try and approach other peoples’ ideas and contributions appreciatively. There is no winner or loser, only critical open-mindedness to new ideas.

The speakers COS brings in are of the highest quality, and so the events can really delve deeply into the relevant discussions. But this does not at all mean that someone who feels they don’t know much about the topic shouldn’t come along. Quite the opposite. We want as many people as possible involved with the sorts of questions that come up in our events. So if you feel like you know nothing about whether Islam is compatible with Western Liberalism (one of our past events) or whether homoeopathy has a place in modern health (one of our upcoming events for this year), then come along to the events and listen to others – who knows, you might love (or hate!) what they have to say and feel like you want to respond. Equally, if you feel like you’re an expert yourself in a particular topic then make sure you come along to get your ideas out there…but be prepared to be challenged!

Past COS events have included: “Are Pharmaceutical Patents Throttling the Developing World?”, which saw Nobel laureate Sir John Sulstan sit on the panel, and “Israel-Palestine: a biased portrayal?” was the setting for, among others, Ian Black, Middle East editor at The Guardian, and Julian Kossof, Senior Editor at the Telegraph, to come together to discuss the media portrayal of the Middle East conflict (we ran this event in conjunction with the Manchester Israel-Palestine Forum – they’re a fantastic society too!).

As well as these flagship panel events, COS runs events with individual speakers who we believe to have particularly important new research to share. This gives the audience a chance to really engage with a quite specific topic and learn a lot about cutting-edge ideas. Recently we hosted Robert Frank, Professor of Economics at Cornell University, who discussed his as yet unpublished book The Libertarian Welfare State.

But COS also aims to do more than just these speaker-based events. We are soon launching a blog that will provide an online forum in which will be able to engage in the sorts of dialogue COS has seen in its panel discussions. We are also starting up an outreach project we’ve been working on in conjunction with M13, a youth charity in Longsight. We will be working with young people to help them engage more critically with the social forces acting on them. The end goal for each group we work with is to guide them through running a COS-style panel event on a socio-political issue (gang culture, how cuts effect them, etc.) that they themselves have identified.

We have an active social network too. After panel events we usually go to the Union bar where we carry on the discussions arising from the event and we often manage to entice the speakers to this as well (a £1.80 pint can woo almost anyone), which is a great opportunity to engage with them further and network. We run a few socials over the year so keep your eyes peeled for those too.

Our next event, “Eugenics: birth of a new generation?” is set to take place on 19th October at 4pm in the Council Chambers at the union. Details of this event will soon be up on our facebook page (‘Challenging Orthodoxies Society’), where you can also find details of many of our past events and upcoming projects. ‘Like’ the page to stay connected with developments. If you want to get more involved with COS or have any questions then email me directly at: [email protected]


Ceri Wills

Ceri Wills

Former Societies editor (2011-2012).

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