SOAS University of London

Harriot Beazley

I found every course and lecturer to be more stimulating and thought provoking than the next.

I graduated from History of the Modern Third World in 1993. SOAS was the best thing I ever did.

After two and a half years of travelling around the world – South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific islands, the US, Central and South America – I had returned to Britain in early 1990 to try to find focus and direction for my new-found interest in the developing world. I went to SOAS as a ‘mature’ (25-year-old) student. I found every course and lecturer to be more stimulating and thought provoking than the next. Ian Brown, Professor Chaudhuri, Terry Byres (a brilliant and inspiring development economist), William Clarence Smith (who was responsible for conceptualizing our degree programme) and Ralph Smith are responsible for developing my scaddled brain and ideas into some sort of coherence. Shula Marks was another who had a life-changing influence on me and my friends.

Harriot Beazley, 1993_alumni image 1

Thirteen years on I still reflect on how exceptional that experience was, and how very privileged I was to have such close access to such brilliant minds. We were most privileged, being the last intake before Tory reform and mass student numbers, and we were still able to have individual consultations and feedbacks on our essays. And the SOAS bar was a dark and smoky haven, 10 am or 10 pm, vibrant with discussion, aided by coffee, beer and whatever! I am quite certain that many brilliant ideas germinated there.

My ‘gang’ on the same degree in the same year as me included James Sanders (chief researcher for Anthony Sampson’s biography of Nelson Mandela), Miranda Pyne (Ralph Smith called us his ‘three musketeers’) and Lara Pawson (who became a BBC foreign correspondent and producer of Africa Desk, and who was friends with David Lammy, now an MP). I have also had contact with Keene King (now at the Foreign Office), Chris Hak (journalist in the Middle East) and Patrick Jay (big-time bookmaker).

Harriot Beazley, 1993_alumni image 2
Harriot Beazley (right) conducting PRA surveys with local people on a DEFRA-funded study of the impact of wetland restoration in the Mekong Delta

After completing my degree at SOAS, which included the best Indonesian-language training from the Language Department and an SOAS travel award to go to Indonesia to research my thesis on Indonesian ideology, I won a Commonwealth scholarship to study for an MA in Asian Studies and a PhD in Human Geography at the Australian National University. The subject of my PhD was an ethnographic analysis of street children in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. After this, I worked on a development project (infant and maternal health) in eastern Indonesia (AUSAID) I am now a lecturer in Community Development and Youth Issues at the University of Queensland and a consultant for UNICEF and Save the Children. None of the above would have been possible without the rigorous training I received at SOAS. I have to say that I owe it all to Professor Ian Brown, who believed in me and encouraged me.

This interview originally featured in the book SOAS: A Celebration in Many Voices, first published in 2007 by Third Millennium Publishing Limited.