Wednesday, 30 November 2011

J30 N30 ?30 Go!

November 30th 2011 - Public Sector Strike

Well, I've just got back from the public sector strike which took us from outside Old Mining Building, at the University of Leeds, to Woodhouse Moor (see above picture) and then into Leeds city centre. The title of my blog (for those of you old enough to remember) is taken from the Bow Wow Wow single C30 C60 C90 Go! (1980), which doesn't appear to be very revolutionary on a superficial viewing, but in the song the protagonist does challenge a copper for threatening to arrest her for taping a single! My title alludes to the June 30th 2011 strike and today's, obviously, plus any upcoming ones, which I'm sure there will be!

This is where we started our protest, outside our school at the university, on Woodhouse Lane (The School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies). This is Daniel looking very determined and sporting a couple of signs saying 'strike' in different languages.

Here is one of the revolutionary dogs we met during the protest. She was wearing a bandanna and a union badge. Her owner was part of the Socialist Revolutionary Organisation who were carrying the following banner.

Above is our union's banner, the UCU (The University and College Union). But mostly our group carried handmade banners, made by the PhD students/Teaching Assistant's in the school, in an attempt to add a creative flavour to our input to the protest.

There was also face-painting carried out by Sybil, and Gail provided a performance element to the proceedings by reading out notes of support from lecturers who were unable to attend.

I particularly like the following posters which were outside one of the university entrances.

According to the lunchtime news, there were more of us than anticipated. So, it took us a while to get into the city centre. Once we got there there was not enough room for us all to gather outside the Leeds City Gallery and we flooded onto the road and consequently blocked part of the Headrow.

Today's strike was extremely heartening in terms of support, not just from those attending but also from those passing by in their cars, vans and trucks. There was a great communal spirit and plenty of fervour to take us to the next step. Watch out Cameron!

To close my blog I'd like to add a few Situationist slogans that were used in the 1960s and are still relevant today:

No replastering, the structure is rotten!

We'll ask nothing; we'll take, occupy!

Action must not be a reaction, but a creation!

Reform my ass!

Public Sector Strikes - The Situation at the University
J30: The City is on Strike

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Anti-University

While looking up the situationist Alexander Trocchi online, I came across the above super poster on Peter Watts blog I noticed the anti-psychiatry franchise are on the list (Berke, Cooper and Laing), along with some radical writers and artists of the time. What a great poster it is, not especially for its artistic aesthetic, but because it represents a moment-in-time which is connected to a place - a truly historical document which pinpoints people in space, while attributing them to a specific revolutionary action.

As Peter Watts states on his blog: "The London Anti-University was formed after participants at 1967′s Congress on the Dialectics of Liberation at the Roundhouse decided they wanted to continue to explore some of the themes and conversations that had started there (sample debates: The Future of Capitalism; Black Power; Imperialism and Revolution in America)." I love the titles of these classes. They are pretty much standard university modules in Cultural Studies nowadays, even if the titles then were much more polemic than the contemporary ones. Today we like to seduce our students with 'Postcolonial Theory' and 'Capital and Critique', in order that they don't get too scared and sign up for something more innocuous - and less revolutionary - instead.

The London Anti-University seemed like a great idea (check out the excellent film on Peter's blog at the above link). I especially like the hotch-potch of donated chairs for the students.

Notes on institutions, anti-institutions and self-institutions
Revolutionary educational practice

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Student Movement / Moving the Students

The recently published The Assault on Universities (edited by Michael Bailey and Des Freedman) contains a very up-to-the minute essay, by John Rees, on the current situation as it pertains to students and education cuts. Here I shall include a couple of paragraphs from the essay with some anecdotal commentary of my own.

The student movement of 2010 was the largest for a generation. It transformed the political atmosphere around the Tory-Liberal Democrat Coalition government’s cuts programme and popularised the 'rejectionist' argument that the deficit could be paid for by taxing the rich, the corporations, and the banks or by cutting Trident and the war budget for Afghanistan. It undermined the legitimacy of the government by exposing a larger democratic deficit: the election of 2010 had revealed an electorate that voted centre left, but the government they got was a monetarist and right wing. (page 118)

Having been, prior to this moment, someone who was questioning the general lack of engagement in political life that appeared to be happening in some of the young people in society, I was very impressed by the student protests of 2010/11. As a mature undergraduate student, and now a teaching assistant at university, I have been exposed to many young people since 2005. While I don't want to make generalisations, nor conjure up stereotypes, I was a bit puzzled by the lack of fervour in relation to current issues in some students prior to this point. And, while I would not use the term 'apathy' in the way it was being used, I didn't really understand why the young of today were different than 'we' were in the 1970s.

By the time I was fifteen years old we had been on strike twice at my school (in regards to school policy). I had also had my own one-woman revolution. We striked 'at the drop of a hat'. It was our default position. If we were unhappy about something we were going to have our say. Which is interesting, as this was a period when children had even less of a voice than they do today.

While doing my BA in Cultural Studies (2005-08) we read Mary Wollstonecroft's On the Vindication of the Rights of Women. At the time our teaching assistant asked us if we thought that women had now reached equality in society. As a 45 year old who can remember a time when there was not a law for equal pay in regards to gender, since I thought the answer was pretty much overdetermined I decided that I would not answer it and would allow someone else to offer their opinion. No-one answered the question or even made a comment until I allowed my exasperation to be expressed. After the seminar I was left feeling confused: their parents were the same age as me, had they not communicated these issues to their daughters? Was there a certain level of wealth in particular groups in society that created a buffer of comfort and therefore there was no reason to question political life? Or, was something much more disturbingly hegemonic going on?

I didn't, and don't, still have a simple answer to this. However, the recent student protests have been inspiring and I hope that students and public sector workers can come together over current government cuts, and that students will realise that education cutbacks are actually situated in a larger context of capitalist ideology, the repercussions of which don't only just effect them.

This is what John Rees says about strikes and protests in relation to students and workers supporting each other:

The students can...cause a social crisis into which workers...are drawn. But for this to happen the student struggle itself, the occupations and demonstrations, need to be sustained and spread. The trade unionists in the education unions will find it easier to become involved in the struggle if this is the case, and this can be a bridge to other workers becoming involved. Occupations are key to this because they make the campuses ungovernable for the university authorities and present the staff with the question of taking sides in a way that demonstrations alone do not. (page 122).

Public Sector Strike Flyer
The Students are Revolting
University and College Union

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Public Sector Strike - The Situation at the University

My university and school are currently preparing for next week's Public Sector Strike (Wednesday 30th November 2011). The Guardian newspaper says that Britain's three largest trade unions are backing the strike.

I have created a Situationist stylie flyer (see above). Please feel free to download, distribute and print. It is in jpg format and A5 size, so two fit neatly onto a landscape A4. Or you can enlarge it to A4 size for a poster. The stats on there are 'generic' and apply to both students and lecturers.

University and College Union
The Students are Revolting

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Students are Revolting

This week I came across the Situationist International inspired document On the Poverty of Student Life created by the students of Strasbourg University in 1966. It opens thus: "It is pretty safe to say that the student is the most universally despised creature in France, apart from the policeman and the priest." I also found a really interesting recently reworked version of this document from 2006 It comes in a handy pdf format and was reproduced and distributed at the eindexamen exhibition of the Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam.

The recent student protest in London (9 November 2011), in regards to tuition fees, spawned placards that stated "Scrap Tuition Fees" and "Free Education". And, according to the Guardian newspaper, chants included "David Cameron – fuck off back to Eton". While reports say there were 4,000 police on the streets, the protest 'passed off peacefully'.

Paris in May 1968 showed a different picture, when the students came out in support of the workers. The students and the authorities had been in conflict for months leading up to this event. Slogans said "The more you consume, the less you live. Commodities are the opium of the people." and were accompanied by Situationist graffiti.

The above is an iconic image from May 4 1970. This student, from Kent State University, was shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard along with three others. Consequently this became known as the May 4 Massacre. While this protest was over the US invasion of Cambodia, the strikes that followed involved a nationwide closure of universities and colleges.

I wasn't sure when the next upcoming student protest was in the UK, so I typed 'next student protest' into google. I found a student website where students were asking the same question. One answered: "Not sure... I hope the police know in advance so they can be ready with their water cannon and student-eating dogs." Someone else had also voted for this remark. However, I think it is the 29th January 2012 in London.

The next public sector strike is Wednesday 30th November when university lecturers will also be striking.

Students at the Heart of the System by Anna Chism
Guardian Blog - Student Tuition Fees
Situationist-inspired animated strike map

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Students at the Heart of the System

UK Higher Education Government Strategy

by Anna Chism

I'd like to comment on the use of the word 'heart' in the UK government higher education strategy in light of the recent student protests (November 9th, London)

In June 2011 the Higher Education White Paper was released. How the coalition can pinch Browne's soundbite from his 2010 report and use it as the title to this document is beyond me! Only somebody who has no access to the media, or lives in another solar system, could possibly think that the government are putting students at the 'heart' of the education system. The only thing at the heart of the education system, as far as the current government is concerned, is £££££££s!

This frankly disturbing use of the word 'heart' is also used again in the conclusion of the government document Higher Ambitions: The Future of Universities in a Knowledge Economy The conclusion is subtitled: 'The heart of a knowledge economy and a civilised society'. The word 'heart' also appears in another part of the document, in this context: "How we will further strengthen the role of universities at the heart of our communities and shared intellectual life, and as one of the key ways in which we engage with the wider world." (italics author's own) This is clearly intentional and must be some kind of ameliorating tactic to lessen the blow of all the education cuts - which don't only extend to students but also lecturers in the form of redundancies, cuts in pensions and in greater workloads.

This is what the verb 'heart' means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary:
a.trans. To give heart to, put heart into (a person, etc.); to inspire with confidence, embolden, encourage, inspirit, animate; = hearten v. 1. arch.
While I appreciate that the government are using the term 'heart' to represent 'centre', they are, however, not using the word 'centre' but the word 'heart', with all the connotations attached to that. Hello government! Using the word heart does not inspire future students with 'confidence', nor does it 'encourage' or 'embolden' them. You are expecting them to be in debt for decades to come, with little prospects of getting a job or EVER buying a house. This has got nothing to do with 'heart' nor has it got anything to do with putting them at the centre OF ANYTHING! The only thing it puts them at the centre of is the capitalist economy, while at the same time marginalising those who cannot afford to go to uni, which is 'technically' the opposite of the centre, I would say!

Students are out on the streets protesting again, as they were in 2010. And, applications for places are already down for next year. How many future young people are going to be effected by this before the government rethinks its 'selling out' of higher education. I predict even more disenfranchised young people, and I don't mean of the demographic of those on the streets over the summer of 2011, but a new group of disenfranchised middle-class young people, in-line with the May 1968 Paris students.

So, coalition, put that in your pipe and smoke it to your hearts content!

Bureaucracy in the Corporatised University
The Semiotic System of Capitalism
Input/Output at the University of Excellence
The Scene of Teaching

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Bureaucracy in the Corporatised University

I would like to look at the activity and ethos of the corporatised university as it pertains to bureaucracy by first providing a definition of the corporatised university by Henry Steck:
the corporatized university is defined as an institution that is characterized by processes, decisional criteria, expectation, organizational culture, and operating practices that are taken from, and have their origins in, the modern business corporation. It is characterized by the entry of the university into marketplace relationships and by the use of market strategies in university decision making. (1985: 74)

Bill Readings explains that it is excellence in its manifest bureaucratic forms - for example, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) formed in 2007 - which is the driving force behind harnessing the university function of the past and in postmodernity placing it under the forces of the market (1999: 38): "Like the stock exchange, the University is a point of capital's self-knowledge, of capital's ability not just to manage risk or diversity but to extract a surplus value from the management." (1999: 40)

The decentralised movement of capital from its original position in the nation-state into what in postmodernity appears in the form of globalised flows, also recapitulates the process for the postmodern individual: what once was the centred humanist subject oriented in their singular culture, now becomes one with a capital-oriented consciousness, a worldview that is legislated to the level of a norm. Jean-François Lyotard explains that this is done through "formulat[ing] prescriptions" which appear in the form of utterances that legitimate particular statements. (2004: 31) This means that it is difficult for those who operate in the institution to not take up these narratives and continue to promulgate them. Readings explains that in capitalist society we are no longer citizen-subjects but "operatives" that take part by adopting a "corporate identity". (1999: 48) Felix Guattari says that we all have a number of different subjectivities available to us, depending on our relationships with other individuals, groups and specific social processes. However, he sees capitalist subjectivity as being the most extensive.

Mark Fisher makes direct reference to university bureaucracy, including providing an extensive list of documents a module leader has to complete for each module they oversee. (2009: 41) Fisher says that the constant checking, monitoring and production of figures does not provide "a direct comparison of workers' performance or output, but a comparison between the audited representation of that performance and output". (2009: 42) We no longer have a system focused on knowledge (learning and teaching), instead we have a system that concentrates on measuring performance and output, and disseminating that data: “The true goal of the system, the reason it programs itself like a computer, is the optimization of the global relationship between input and output – in other words, performativity.” (Lyotard 2004: 11) It is essential for the functioning of the bureaucratic university that this system is open, even if its process of self-defining (for example, in using terms like 'excellence') is internal and closed. The university needs to reduplicate itself internally, and also express that reduplication externally, in the form of representable data. What this means for the university is a spectacle-like appearance in the form of signs that appear as representable data, the output of the excellence process. These signs present the university in the guise of what Guy Debord would describe as "commodity as spectacle". Debord explains that the spectacle is "where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as the tangible par excellence." (2005: 36) This is problematic for the university because it means it can become removed from its original idealised functions - the pursuit of knowledge, high quality academic research, education for all - meaning that others might also see it in purely economic terms too (anyone who works in the university knows that some students see their degree only in the form of exchange value: a degree for a job)

Bureaucracy, as a measure of excellence in the corporatised university, as Fisher describes, "floats freely, independent of any external authority" (2009: 50). It produces a style of surveillance culture for academics that is rather like an invisible postmodern semblance of the time and motion study that constantly hovers over them in the form of a bureaucratic superego.

Input/Output at the University of Excellence
Schizoanalysing the University Campus
Austerity and the University of Excellence

Debord, Guy. 2005. The Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red).
Fisher, Mark. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Winchester: Zero Books).
Lyotard, Jean-François. 2004. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester: Manchester University Press).
Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).
Steck, Henry. 'Corporatization of the University: Seeking Conceptual Clarity', Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 85 (2003), 66-83.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Walk Around St Chads Church

To take advantage of today's sun, following the scuppering of yesterday's planned outing due to the bad weather, I decided to take a walk around the ground of St Chads Church in Far Headingley, Leeds. I really liked the gold fish gate to the entrance of the church itself.

There were two information boards telling you about the wildlife in the graveyards. Interestingly, they share a similar nature demographic as the graveyard down the road at St Michaels. It seems that the redwings visit both graveyards in the winter, on their trip down from Scandinavia. Early this year I watched a number of redwings spend a good few days in St Michaels graveyard, before heading down south.

This is my favourite image of the day. The light catching some of the leaves makes them look really bright green in places. Also, you can see the red holly berries piercing through the green on the top right of the image (click on the photo and zoom in to take full advantage of the colour).

Above is the Garden of Rest which has a message at the entrance saying it is a place for contemplation. Much of the graveyard is slowly deteriorating, as you can see in the image below. This is quite similar to St Michaels. I am assuming there isn't enough money to maintain them nowadays. The fronts of both graveyards looks fine, i.e. the part that faces the street and entrance. However, venture further in and you can see that they require a lot of work and care. Nevertheless, I find the higgledy-piggledy gravestones and creeping undergrowth much more interesting than a well manicured cemetery.

I found this strange switch panel out at the back of the church, near the boiler room (well, it was near some cellar entrance where a sound of humming machinery was emanating). I think it must have belonged to an organ. While you can't tell from the image, it did have buttons which had the word 'pedal' and 'soft', etc, printed next to them.

I like this stone detail on the church (see below). It says anno dom and a date which I can't work out. I don't think it's the date of its consecration though (1868), as I typed that into a Roman numeral converter (how fab that we can can do that online) and it definitely wasn't that date.

I had a really nice stroll around the church. You get the sense that you are soaking up the social history of the lives of all the people interred there. Also, they are peaceful, relatively secluded places where one can - just by taking a few steps away from a busy high street - get away from the buzz of traffic and contemplate the fragility of life.

I only saw magpies and wood pigeon's though - pretty much everyday cemetery birds in Headingley. I didn't get very good shots of the whole of the church, due to the position of the sun in the sky, shading caused by trees, etc. However, I did get a nice picture of the spire against a lovely crisp, blue autumn sky (no photoshopping done here!).

Friday, 4 November 2011

Bonfire Night on Woodhouse Moor - 4th November 2011

Above is a photo of the bonfire, still under construction, at 2.30 today (4th Nov) in Hyde Park, Leeds.

This is what the University of Leeds Student Union says:

"Bonfire and firework display will be taking place on Woodhouse Moor from 6.30pm. The Terrace and Old Bar are wellie friendly so pop in and enjoy the sausage and ale festival in the Old Bar or have a few post fireworks drinks in the Terrace.

Date: Friday 04 November 2011
Time: 6:30pm - midnight
Location: Woodhouse Moor"

Have fun students, and other locals! Also, I do hope the nutkins, and all the other Hyde Park critters are not too scared!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Existential Affects as a Catalyst for Personal Transformation

In ‘The Autonomy of Affect’, Brian Massumi describes affect as “intensity owned and recognised” (2006: 221). Because it is different from emotion, and because it best describes the sensations felt in the event of a personal transformation, I shall adopt this term for what I understand to be the sensation experienced prior to existential change.

Massumi explains that language operates on two levels which resonate with each other: these are “suspense” and “expectation” (1996: 220). Every expression culminates in an event enacted upon by suspense and expectation, in always differing proportions (ibid.). We see parallels with Gilles Deleuze’s description of the resonance between the signifier and the signified in The Logic of Sense, and Massumi acknowledges Deleuze in his essay. For Massumi, affect is this two-sidedness (2006: 228). And, I maintain, it is in these oscillating moments that the individual has the opportunity for a greater awareness, a self-mastery attained from self-reflection brought about through some kind of conflicting state.

Félix Guattari, in his essay ‘Ritornellos and Existential Affects’, discusses affect within the framework of the aesthetic. He explains how expressions of an aesthetic nature can become catalysts for the individual. Guattari believes, in special circumstances, that this can induce “aesthetic ecstasy, a mystical effusion” (1996: 165). In Chaosmosis he uses the phrase “poetic-existential catalysis” (1995: 19) to explain a trigger operating within a particular enunciative domain. This can be considered as a “molecular rupture, an imperceptible bifurcation capable of overthrowing the framework of dominant redundancies, […] the classical order.” (1995: 19-20).

Massumi alludes to Deleuze’s folded subject when talking about self-reflection: “Conscious reflection is a doubling over of the idea on itself, a self-recursion of the idea that enwraps the affection or impingement, at two removes.” (2006: 225). And, if the subject is always folded, then it seems that the individual always has this capacity available to them, whether they choose to utilise it in any profound way or not. But, maybe the individual needs to be reminded of this ability, shaken from their self-forgetting, by receiving a kind of shock, a jolt, which will take them out of their familiar everyday frame of reference. The individual can be so caught up with the daily routine of just surviving on a subsistence level or instead tangled up in playing whatever game society deems appropriate for them, that active self-reflection is a luxury. We can see this elucidated in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with self-actualization (B-cognition) offered as a potential only after all basic needs are met.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2004a. The Logic of Sense. Trans. by Mark Lester (London and New York: Continuum).
Guattari, Félix. 1995. Chaosmosis: An ethico-aesthetic paradigm. Trans. by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press).
Guattari, Pierre-Felix. 1996. The Guattari Reader. Ed. by Gary Genosko (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers).
Massumi, Brian. 1996. ‘The Autonomy of Affect’, Deleuze: A Critical Reader. Ed. by Paul Patton (Oxford: Blackwell) pp. 217-239.

Schrödinger’s Box or the Purloined Letter

letterbox flaps
document falls
doormat cradles
letter lifted
envelope torn
words read
person cries
letter stored
box confined

With mischief-making on his mind
he finds the box hidden behind
the dolls thrown in so carelessly
all broken…twisted. Secretly
he fumbles in the quiet house
to carry out his mission of revenge
of which his sister’s punishment will end
the hurt he feels.

Upon returning from church Flo brushes Sunday off her hat and places it back in the box.
The green-felted brim smiles up at her, alluding to future outings.
Replacing the lid she notices the fragment of a stamp lying in the corner of the box and goes downstairs to make some tea.