Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Argument: Spat'll Be Ninety Quid

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Argument: Spat'll Be Ninety Quid

Article excerpt

Tony Barnett seems a quiet, understated academic. Knowledgeable? Certainly. He is an expert on the social and economic effects of HIV. Challenging? Could be. But contrary, factious or spiky? Surely not. However, we can reveal that this London School of Economics professor is indeed quarrelsome. Asked to donate something to a charity auction he was persuaded by his wife to offer an hour's ding-dong as a prize--albeit on a strictly once-only basis.


"Are you itching for an argument?" asked the auction brochure. Professor Barnett offered a variety of types of row: "friendly disputation; imperious teacher-student, angst-ridden soul searching; the traditional guilt trip around some personal issue of your choice; irritating evasion of the issue; austere intellectual logical examination; or just old-fashioned discussion".

So, even given the chance of bidding for a week in Miriam Margolyes's seaside home, a case of fine wine, even a rather nice drawing by actor Antony Sher--I put my money on a spat with a professional contrarian.

After some fairly confrontational bidding, I won my prize and was presented with contact details for the professor. The next day I sent him an email. It read: "Dear Tony, I've bought the right to row with you. Oh yes I have!"

We couldn't agree on which subject to argue about but nevertheless arranged to meet in a place for ever associated with the disputatious, Lincoln's Inn Fields, one of London's legal centres.

In the end we ranged widely over several issues: the importance of argument as a means to learn, the uselessness of my degree, the fact that I hadn't read enough books, pickled genitalia, how Foucault screwed up social sciences, Iraq ... the subjects rattled by. The Oxford English Dictionary defines argument as "a connected series of statements or reasons intended to establish a position . …

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