Profile with Vicki Spencer
Vicki Spencer (South Australia & Nuffield 1986) is a senior lecturer at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and was previously a lecturer at the University of Adelaide. Her research interests include 17th and 18th century European thought, Johann Gottfried Herder and contemporary political theory focussing on multiculturalism, nationalism, communitarianism and concepts of recognition and toleration. Vicki received her DPhil in Political Theory from the University of Oxford, and her MA and BA (Hons) from Flinders University in Adelaide.
Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?
Vicki Spencer: Adelaide, South Australia, is where I was born and grew up, and where I worked before I came to New Zealand. I still have my best friends, family and my house there and I intend to return when I retire. If I stay away too long, I get terribly homesick for everyone and the warm weather so it is definitely still home for me.
Rhodes Project: What is your favourite film genre?
Vicki Spencer: I’ve never thought about that. There’s so many - I don't have a particular genre I like. I like comedies, suspense, Sci-fi, thrillers, most things really but it is rare to find me going to anything not in an alternative cinema unless it is to see the latest Star Trek movie.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favourite memory of Oxford?
Vicki Spencer: It’s a while back ago now. I think one of the most wonderful things about Oxford is when it’s a sunny day and the limestone is glistening in the sun and it just looks gorgeous, especially in the older part with the cobblestone roads by the philosophy library and you feel like you’re back in the 16th century.
Rhodes Project: When did you first become interested in political theory?
Vicki Spencer: It was when I started doing postgraduate work at Flinders University and I’d been working on Marx and political economy but I then started getting more interested in theory and the new theorist in the department suggested I read various books and articles, and I became increasingly interested in it from that point and that’s when I decided to do a PhD in it overseas, if I could.
Rhodes Project: What is your favourite paper to teach?
Vicki Spencer: Out of current courses I teach I think my favourite is a third year course about power and liberty. It’s a history of political thought course and it goes from early modern, Machiavelli through to more contemporary theorists like Foucault.
Rhodes Project: Is there an area of political theory that you think should be compulsory for all students, regardless of their academic focus?
Vicki Spencer: I think everyone, especially if they’re doing politics, should understand the basic concepts in political theory: what is a human right? What do we understand by freedom? What do we understand by equality? These basic concepts that have a lot of different meanings and are utilised in different ways by politicians. I don’t know how anyone can be an active citizen without understanding the language they’re actually using and what they mean by that.
Rhodes Project: Given the shortcomings of multiculturalism, as a public policy – the risk of validating intra-cultural inequalities and essentialism, should it be dropped from political language?
Vicki Spencer: I think you’re coming from a perspective of the UK and Europe in saying that multiculturalism has so many problems, it’s still very active policy in Australia and Canada. And I definitely think it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater in the sense that multiculturalism is about giving public recognition to cultural differences and doing the utmost in terms of, when you actually have a culturally diverse state, making people feel a part of the state and welcome to be a part of that state. That’s actually what multiculturalism, in terms of policy and theoretically, is about. It’s about giving recognition as opposed to trying to make people assume some other kind of identity that’s dominant within the state, that you accept immigrants and indigenous people for who they are.
Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to address any one issue, global or local, what would it be and why?
Vicki Spencer: The answer is probably similar because I think New Zealand suffers from a great deal of inequality and that, I think, is the most important issue globally, as well. So if I could fix that, if I had a magic wand, that’s what I would fix.
Rhodes Project: If you could have lunch with one famous female figure, who would it be?
Vicki Spencer: Oh there’s number of female politicians like Helen Clarke and various professors that spring immediately to mind but I can't differentiate between them to choose just one. Thinking about it more deeply, however, if there is only one woman with whom I can have lunch, it would be Pema Chödrön. She is a Western Buddhist nun who has written a great many books. I found her work on compassion incredibly insightful and invaluable when I was going through a very difficult period of my life and I plan to write a book on Fear and Compassion in the future. So it would be incredible to have lunch with someone who has so much wisdom on the topic.
Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy?
Vicki Spencer: Now that one’s easy. It’s a combination of two things and I was, in fact, doing it yesterday. Two years ago I inherited my mother’s dog she’s a Shih Tzu Maltese cross and she absolutely knows how to have the greatest fun in the world and when we go to Aramoana which is a beach about half an hour away from Dunedin (and I think one of the most beautiful places in the world) and when we go there and we’re walking on the beach and she’s having the time of her life and I’m surrounded by this absolute beauty I’m just totally full of joy.
Back to Scholar Profiles O-S