Friday, November 1, 2013

EurVoice 2013

24 hour Twitter Panel, Wednesday, 20th November. #EurVoice (or tweet @Eurvoice)

As a partner organisation in Parliament Week 2013, the European Youth Parliament United Kingdom will be running an event to give young people across the United Kingdom and beyond a chance to express their views on the issues that really matter to them. For twenty-four hours on Wednesday 20th November, they will have the opportunity to Tweet at a panel of key UK politicians and community figures. These will include:

Dr. Henry B. Tam, Director, Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy, University of Cambridge

Christina McKelvie, MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse; and Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee.

Keith Taylor, MEP for South East England

Dr. Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge

Antonia Mochan, Head of Communication, Partnerships and Networks, Representation of the European Commission in the UK

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Learning more about Cooperative Gestalt

In my talk, ‘Enlightened Learning & the Cooperative Gestalt’, at the ‘Power of Adult Learning’ conference (23 October 2013, University of Edinburgh), I gave an outline of the Enlightenment-inspired approach to learning and the distinct gestalt it engenders to help us interpret and respond to our experiences in life. Set out below are the key concepts relating to the notion of ‘Cooperative Gestalt’, and some of the resources I have previously produced, which can be of assistance in promoting progressive lifelong learning.

The Enlightenment Ethos:
The philosophical ethos of using empirically based cooperative enquiry to improve the common good.
• For more on the Enlightenment Ethos, see chapter 4 in the book, ‘Against Power Inequalities’.
• For the connections between a key inspiration for this ethos, Francis Bacon’s ‘The Advancement of Learning’, and the work of lifelong learning organisations such as the WEA, see ‘What Next for the WEA’,

Progressive Lifelong Learning:
Static authority-based teaching assumes someone has special access to unquestionable knowledge which should then be handed down to each succeeding generation as a one-off exercise. By contrast, progressive lifelong learning seeks to realise the Enlightenment Ethos by enabling every generation to learn on a continuous basis, in open cooperation with others, with the constant exchange of empirically verifiable observation and experimentation. This form of learning is provisional with no single source privileged as beyond rational criticism.
• For examples of education practices in support of progressive lifelong learning, see ‘Education for Citizens’ (chapter from the book, Communitarianism), available to download for free from the University of Cambridge’ Education Faculty
• For an example of a large scale experiment to promote progressive lifelong learning for citizens, see ‘Rejuvenating Democracy: lessons from a communitarian experiment’.
• For a critique of short-termism in education, see ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Teacher’,

The Cooperative Gestalt:
The mindset developed through progressive lifelong learning, enabling individuals to become well disposed to respecting others in reciprocal terms, cooperating with them in exploring what claims are acceptable, and involving one another in decision-making that affects others.
• For an essay on why the gestalt should be promoted, see ‘Much Ado About Cooperating’,
• For an application of the gestalt to differentiate moral attitudes, see ‘The Reciprocity Test: Pros & Cons’,
• For an experimental use of a novel to promote the gestalt, see ‘A Novel Exploration of Inequality’.

Cooperative Problem-Solving:
When the Cooperative Gestalt is applied in practice to resolving difficulties or finding answers, we have cooperative problem-solving. Having the appropriate dispositions does not guarantee the adoption of the most effective problem-solving techniques, and it is essential that through progressive lifelong learning, one discovers how to work best in reaching solutions cooperatively.
• For a general resource guide, see ‘Together We Can’,
• For a detailed exposition, see the essay on ‘Cooperative Problem-Solving and Education’.
• For a summary of what it covers, see ‘Cooperative Problem-Solving: the key to a reciprocal society’

The Inclusive Community Ideal:
Inspired by the Enlightenment Ethos, empowered by progressive lifelong learning, guided by the Cooperative Gestalt, and enabled to carry out effective actions through cooperative problem-solving, we may then attain the inclusive community ideal.
• For an introduction to the philosophy of inclusive community, see the book, ‘Communitarianism’
• For a short guide to the inter-connections between the cooperative movement and communitarian ideas, see ‘Cooperative & Communitarian: a common heritage’
• For an outline of what power distribution is necessary to realise the inclusive community ideal, see ‘The Power Hypothesis’

(The key points from my talk, ‘Enlightened Learning & the Cooperative Gestalt’, can be found in the essay, ‘The Cooperative Gestalt’)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Enlightened Learning & the Cooperative Gestalt

Dr. Henry Tam to speak at the ‘Power of Adult Learning’ Conference in Edinburgh, 23 October 2013, organised jointly by WEA Scotland, Learning Link Scotland, the Scottish Community Development Centre, Dyslexia Scotland, and Lead Scotland.

One of the greatest legacies of the Enlightenment is progressive lifelong learning. Yet this very ethos has been under attack.

Henry Tam will explain why this form of learning is so critical to the advancement of human wellbeing with reference to its role in nurturing what he has termed the ‘Cooperative Gestalt’. By learning to interpret and respond to experiences through this gestalt, people become better able to live in terms of their moral, intellectual, and collective decision-making dispositions.

He will set out the main types of opposition directed at Enlightened Learning and how they threaten to undermine the development of inclusive community life. His talk will conclude with three suggestions on how we can engage the head (thinking), the hands (doing), and the heart (feeling) in giving new impetus to education that focuses on the sustained cultivation of the Cooperative Gestalt.

Details of the conference:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Notes on the Reciprocity Test

In my essay, 'The Reciprocity Test: Pros and Cons’, eight propositions are formulated on the basis of the Golden Rule of Reciprocity. The extent to which people agree/disagree with each of them would define their Pro or Con position in relation to the ethos of reciprocity and exhibit their underlying political differences. I have added further notes below to explain what each may entail.

• As we would want others not to act in a prejudiced way against us (because of our ethnicity, sex, religion, etc), we should avoid acting with prejudice towards others.
[One key issue concerning prejudiced behaviour is the validity of assuming that a particular negative quality applies to all, or most, members of a given group. There are cases where such an assumption would be valid if part of the definition of membership requires the individuals concerned to possess certain negative quality. For example, it is reasonable to be suspicious of a member of the Mafia that he may harm an innocent person. But it would be unreasonable to treat someone as a member of the Mafia just on account of him being an Italian-American]

• As we would not want any punitive sanction directed at us without due process, we should not impose any arbitrary sanctions on others.
[‘Due process’ is itself a complex concept. In general, however, people would be alarmed that they could be punished just because an unknown accuser claims they have done something wrong without needing to produce any reliable evidence. Some of the people who vocally support ‘fast track’ prosecution against suspects may think twice if they realise it can be applied to them.]

• As we would want to be protected from the dangers posed by transgressors and high-risk activities, we should back the protection of others from similar dangers.
[Transgressors may not just be criminals or enemy countries in a state of war, but individuals or organisations who use their power to promote harmful addictions or destroy the environment.]

• As we would want others to help us in desperate times, we should ensure others are helped in desperate times.
[There may be different interpretations of what constitutes ‘desperate’, but few would dispute that when there are far fewer jobs than the number of applicants, when many of the jobs don’t pay enough, when families are left cold and hungry, and at risk of becoming or have already become homeless, people desperately need help.]

• As we would want others to support collective action where it can improve our common wellbeing, we should be prepared to contribute to such collective action.
[A reliable transportation system, decent standards for sanitation, secure water and energy supply, support for health improvement are all examples of where the pooling of some of our resources can collectively deliver much greater improvement to our wellbeing than can ever be achieved with fragmented actions, which would inevitably be undermined by free-riders who want to take advantage of others’ hard work without contributing themselves.]

• As we would not want anyone to amass such wealth and power that would leave us at their mercy, we should not allow anyone to have so much wealth and power that would put others at their mercy.
[Both the ancient Roman Republic and the early American republic were acutely aware of the need to prevent any individual from amassing so much wealth and power that others would have to bow down to their might. But they both became complacent about the need to prevent power inequalities from widening across society. The Roman Republic fell to the autocratic rule of the Caesars. America is in danger of being overtaken completely by plutocratic rule.]

• As we would not accept any claims put forward by others without the backing of adequate evidence and coherent arguments, we should not expect others to accept unjustifiable claims.
[This is most notable when religious authorities insist they have a uniquely infallible position that others must not challenge. But by the same token, conflicting religious claims made by other faith organisations cannot be challenged either. The only viable option is for all sides to rely on objective forms of evidence and argument to settle disputes, or else, there would be perpetual deadlock]

• As we would want to have a say about any important decision that can affect us, we should not make key decisions affecting others without giving them a say.
[Democratic procedures can take many forms, and not all may be sufficiently inclusive or effective to give a meaningful say to those concerned, but at least there should be a recognition that to give those affected by a decision no say at all is an affront that people would not in general welcome themselves. Some decisions, because of the expertise involved or the emergency situation, may have to be entrusted to a few to take, but there would still be issues regarding how they account for their decisions, how their judgement and integrity are kept under review, and what those affected by their decisions can do to avoid any mistake or impropriety from being repeated in the future.]

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Archived Biographical Note: Henry Tam (2013)

[This is an archived biographical note of Henry Tam; for the most up to date information, go to the Home Page]

Henry Benedict Tam is a political writer, novelist, and advocate for the development of inclusive communities. He is the Director of the Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy, University of Cambridge, and Visiting Professor at Birkbeck College, University of London. His best known works include Communitarianism: a new agenda for politics and citizenship (1998), which was nominated by New York University Press for the 2000 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order; and Against Power Inequalities (2010), described by Professor Charles Derber as “an intellectual tour de force, an erudite romp through the history of civilization that highlights the origins of power and the never-ending effort to democratize hierarchical systems through mobilized participatory communities.” His novel, Kuan's Wonderland (2012), "an unmissable page-turner" (President, the Independent Publishers Guild), is available from amazon.

He is also a patron of AOPM, the association of youth justice volunteers. He was appointed the UK Government’s Head of Civil Renewal in 2003 and led on national policies for community empowerment up to 2010. The ‘Together We Can’ programme he developed was showcased at the 2008 international meeting of the Global Network of Government Innovators (Harvard University). His pioneering project for citizen engagement, ‘Working with Communities’ (1995-1999) won a Best Practice Award from the Prime Minister in 1999. During 2010-2011 he was the UK’s Head of Race Equality.


Henry Tam’s essays on politics and society regularly appear on Question the Powerful. His published books and articles include:

• 'Cooperative Problem-Solving & Education', Forum journal (forthcoming, 2013)
• 'Communitarianism', in the Encyclopedia of Action Research (Sage Publications, forthcoming, 2013).
. 'Cooperative Problem-Solving: what it means in theory and practice', FYPD, University of Cambridge (download article here).
Kuan's Wonderland (a novel), available on and from 2012.
. ‘Citizen Engagement and the Quest for Solidarity’, in After the Third Way: The Future of Social Democracy in Europe, ed. by Olaf Cramme and Patrick Diamond (London, I.B. Tauris, 2012).
• ‘Rejuvenating Democracy: lessons from a communitarian experiment’, Forum, Volume 53, Number 3, 2011.
Komunitaryzm, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikolaja Kopernika, Torun 2011 (Polish translation of Communitarianism, by J Grygienc & A Szahaj).
• ‘Through Thick & Thin: what does it really take for us to live together’, in Ethnicities, ed. by Dina Kiwan, Volume 11 Issue 3 September 2011.
• ‘The Big Con: reframing the state-society debate’, PPR Journal, March-May 2011, Volume 18, Issue 1.
Against Power Inequalities: reflections on the struggle for inclusive communities, Birkbeck, London University, 2010. Book available as a free download from the Equality Trust.
• ‘The Importance of Being a Citizen’, in Active Learning for Active Citizenship, ed. by John Annette & Marjorie Mayo, (NIACE, 2010)
• ‘Civil Renewal: the agenda for empowering citizens’, in Re-energizing Citizenship: Strategies for Civil Renewal, ed. by Gerry Stoker, Tessa Brannan, and Peter John, (Macmillan Palgrave, 2007).
• ‘The Case for Progressive Solidarity’, in Identity, Ethnic Diversity & Community Cohesion, ed. by M. Wetherell, M. Lafleche & R. Berkeley, (London: Sage, 2007)
Progressive Politics in the Global Age (ed.) (Cambridge: Polity, 2001).
• ‘The Community Roots of Citizenship’, in Citizens: Towards a Citizenship Culture, ed. by B. Crick (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001)
Communitarianism: A New Agenda for Politics & Citizenship (Macmillan, 1998)
Punishment, Excuses & Moral Development (ed.) (Aldershot: Avebury Press, 1996)
• 'Education and the Communitarian Movement', Journal for Pastoral Care in Education, September 1996.
• 'Crime & Responsibility' in B. Almond (ed.) Introducing Applied Ethics (Blackwell's 1995)
• 'Communitarianism & the Co-operative Movement', The Co-op Commonweal, Issue 2 1995.
Marketing, Competition & the Public Sector (ed.) (Harlow: Longman, 1994)
Serving the Public: Customer Management in Local Government (Harlow: Longman 1993).
• 'How Should We Live?' The Philosopher, October 1993.
• Responsibility & Personal Interactions: A Philosophical Study of the Criteria for Responsibility Ascriptions (Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990).
• 'What is Philosophy?' series of articles in the South China Morning Post, 1983.
• ‘The Fox’, a short story (The South China Morning Post, 4th September 1982).
• 'Whose life is it anyway?', Axis (Oxford: OUSU, 1980).

Policy Development

Henry Benedict Tam has since 2011 been the Director of Cambridge University’s Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy, established to draw together policy makers, young people, practitioners and researchers from Cambridge University and around the world to explore the challenges facing young citizens today, and develop collaborative research and new policy thinking in response to these problems. In 2012 he established a national network to promote learning in the value and application of 'Cooperative Problem-Solving'.

From 2003 to 2010 he was the Head of the UK Government’s Civil Renewal Unit (which he set up in the Home Office and continued to direct its work after it moved in 2006 to the newly established Department for Communities & Local Government). During this time, he worked with successive Secretaries of State and Ministers, partners from community organisations, and colleagues in central and local government to introduce a wide range of new policies and practices to empower citizens to have greater influence over decisions concerning their common good:

• ‘Active Citizens, Strong Communities – progressing civil renewal’, an outline of the core objectives and policies.
• ‘Together We Can’, the cross-government action plan with commitments in all key public policy areas.
• ‘Together We Can’ 2005/2006 review, with reports from the Secretaries of State and Ministers on progress in 12 Government Departments.
• Developed Active Learning for Active Citizenship, and ‘Take Part’.
• Introduced Guide Neighbourhoods.
• Developed Civic Pioneers., and
• Set up and implemented the Quirk Review (on community management and ownership of assets).
• Set up the Asset Transfer Unit.
• Promoted Participatory Budgeting.
• Set up the Councillors Commission and developed the Government’s implementation plan (including the Duty to Promote Democracy).

Other key positions he held include: the UK Government’s Head of Race Equality (2010-2011); Home Office’s Head of Correctional Services Standards Unit (2002-2003); Government Office (East of England)’s Director for Community Safety & Regeneration (2000-2002); Deputy Chief Executive, St Edmundsbury Borough Council (1992-2000), where his work on ‘Working with Communities’ won a Best Practice Award from the Prime Minister in 1999; and Head of Marketing & Economic Development at Braintree District Council (1989-1992).

Other Civic Activities

Over the years he has been invited to share his ideas on reciprocity, democracy, and the development of inclusive communities at events convened by many different organisations such as Workers Educational Association; Church Action on Poverty; Urban Forum; the BBC; National School of Government; Metropolitan Police Authority; South Place Ethical Society; and Community Service Volunteers.

He has also been a guest speaker at the Institute of Sociology (Warsaw, Poland); the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation (Harvard, USA) ( from 33.40 on); the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (12th annual conference); the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies (Washington, USA); the Society for Applied Philosophy; the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation (Ireland); the London Business School; the Oxford Centre for Advanced Study of the Social Sciences; and other research institutions.

He is a long-standing supporter of Amnesty International and Oxfam, a patron of AOPM (the association for youth justice volunteers), and a member of the United Nations Association (UK), and the British Humanist Association. He was co-founder and trustee of Philosophy in Britain (1989-1996), and Chair of the Communitarian Forum, UK (1995-2000).

Academic and Professional Recognition

• Affiliated Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge (appointed 2011).
• Visiting Professor, Social Policy & Education, Birkbeck College, University of London (appointed 2008).
• Fellow, Globus Institute for Globalization and Sustainable Development, University of Tilburg, the Netherlands (appointed 2000).
• Fellow, Chartered Institute of Marketing (1993-2011)
• Research Fellow, Centre for Citizenship Development, Anglia Polytechnic University (1992-1995).
• Diploma in Public Relations & Marketing, CAM (Communication, Advertising & Marketing) Foundation (1988).
• Ph.D in Philosophy, (Swire Scholar) the University of Hong Kong (1981-1984).
• BA/MA in Philosophy, Politics & Economics, (Neale Scholar) the Queen’s College, University of Oxford (1978-1981).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Problem with Plutocracy (2 Cambridge Talks, May 2013)

Announcing two public talks to be given in Cambridge by Dr. Henry Tam (Director, Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy, University of Cambridge) this May:

7 May, Tuesday
(7.30 pm – 9.15 pm)
Left with a Hard Choice: the contest of democracy v plutocracy
Cambridge Fabians & Anglia Ruskin GradSoc
Room 006, Ashcroft Building, Anglia Ruskin University, East Road, Cambridge

“In recent decades, plutocracy has become hegemonic in its dominance. Supporters of the left are repeatedly told that no one can win power without deferring to the deregulatory, small state, low tax, privatising agenda of the corporate advocates. Must democracy concede to plutocracy? Or can progressive changes be achieved through the development of a more radical, communitarian democracy? The key, as Henry Tam will explain, is to draw from the evidence of successful participatory engagement and build a reform movement with citizens to secure better outcomes for everyone, and not just the wealthy few.”

13 May, Monday
(1.30 pm – 3.30 pm)
Will this be the Plutocratic Century?
Cambridge CRASSH (Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences & Humanities)
Alison Richard Building, Cambridge University, West Road, Cambridge

“The 20th century was meant to have witnessed the triumph of democracy against all odds. But the early 21st century is exhibiting many symptoms that citizens no longer have an equal say in how they are to be governed. As the plutocratic form of politics spreads its influence, all those concerned with this development may wish to join in the exploration of three questions.
First, what historical lessons can be drawn from shifts in power distribution in the past?
Secondly, on what theoretical and empirical basis can we argue for an alternative to current trends?
And finally, what new means should we experiment with to connect with disengaged citizens in any attempt to revive democracy?”

[If you’re interested in attending either of these talks, please confirm by emailing There is no charge for participants.]

Follow @HenryBTam on Twitter