Monthly Archives: July 2008

Justice for Jean Charles

Greetings from London . It is sunny, and no doubt life is good, but today is the anniversary of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes – the Brazilian man killed by Police with a Dum Dum bullet to the head – 9 bullets – on the tube at Stockwell three years ago – killed ‘because’ he looked ‘like’ a suicide bomber and had been in a block of flats that were under surveillance… and still no cops punished for it (only a fine for ‘endangering the public’) … There will be a further inquest in September… I am trying to write on this, but the contrast between that horror of all that and Emile’s world is so vast its hard to measure the distance in words.

For a previous scrivening that should be gathered alongside those absurd t-shirt’s that warn us to “Mind the Gap”, see here.

A Metropolitan Police Authority report that came out on friday says the Police have been too slow to improve their surveillance techniques. That is pretty reassuring, huh? Another ‘Independent Police Complaints Division’ triumph – since this was their meagre recommendation ages ago. I agree with the new MPA report that the practice of officers writing up their notes together after a serious incident must end – police also write, we might note. But that this is one of the MPA’s major recommendations, according to Vikram Dodd in The Guardian (18/7/08), seems somewhat lame. This is not yet enough when those who should be held accountable have escaped – Cressida Dick, Commissioner Ian Blair, and the officers who fired on de Menezes – this sorry lot should be indited and tried forthwith before a People’s Tribunal.

Emile gurgles at the thought of that kind of justice. The world would be a better place.

Grand, just Grand.

For some time now, with varied success and certainly with lively consequences still yet to be fully implemented, we have been discussing the future of research and teaching in CCS at Goldsmiths (see the Attack the headquarters link in the sidebar). All that has been great and the enthusiasm and engagement impressive. I’ve even heard that students in other colleges in London have ‘wished’ they also had the same chance to debate research futures. Well, be careful, it seems now that we are not the only ones with such bright ideas. UCL has a rather different style and tone, and they are further able to advertise for a Senior Post (Vice provost) to implement their plan, but they are on the way towards something pretty special:

A new initiative has been launched today to engage the entire UCL community in discussion of possible future research themes for the university.

UCL Research Challenges invites UCL academic staff, non-academic staff, students and alumni to suggest and comment on research themes at the Research Challenges website. The aim is to inspire fresh new ideas for projects. A board composed of leading figures from academia and industry will review the best ideas and will award grants totalling £50,000 in seedcorn funding to the most promising. This is enough to get an idea off the ground – perhaps to a stage where a formalised project proposal can be put forward to research councils for full funding.

Professor Jo Wolff, head of UCL Philosophy, is the chair of the Research Challenges Board. He said: “We are really looking forward to seeing people’s ideas. UCL has great potential for interdisciplinary activities, and by opening this initiative up to everyone involved with the university, we are hoping to see where members of the community feel we should be concentrating our strengths.”

The project is divided into two main stages. The first, which begins today, is to explore themes for research activity. These could be anything from the environment to political reform, nanotechnology to agriculture – whatever areas people believe UCL should be focusing on in the 21st century. The second stage, in a month’s time, is to draw up a shortlist of themes and invite project proposals based around those themes.

Professor Wolff said: “This is a great opportunity for everyone to have their say in the future of research at UCL. We have funds to support the best ideas that emerge, so it’s well worth getting involved. Who knows – a vague idea in the back of someone’s mind could turn out to be UCL’s next great discovery!”

Community, interdisciplinarity, political reform, nano tech… vague ideas in the back of your mind… This is fantastic! And there is seedcorn funding of not insubstantial amounts on offer. But what are the challenges? Curiously enough, just a few months after the above call it seems the GRAND CHALLENGES have been identified. In the Times Higher Education Supplement of last thursday there was an ad for a new post as ‘Director of Grand Challenges’. Now there is a job title to impress. Ahh, I can almost see the business card with that emblazoned – in embossed gold – across the front (see the scene in the movie “American Psycho”).

Director of Grand Challenges

UCL is rated in the top ten universities in the world and generated �200m in research income last year. Our newly launched research strategy defines four Grand Challenges – namely Global Health, Sustainable Cities, Intercultural Interactions and Wellbeing.

We are now seeking a Director of Grand Challenges to lead, develop, nurture research, education, teaching and learning initiatives within each of the Grand Challenges areas, which engage broad participation within UCL.

Likely to have a background within the higher education sector, the successful candidate must be able to articulate a clear vision which will excite a diverse and multidisciplinary community both within and outside UCL. Experience of policy making and programme development is essential and you will have demonstrated success in the development of strategic responses to diverse and multidisciplinary research opportunities. Outstanding communication, interpersonal and influencing skills are essential as is the ability to deliver change through effective project management.

Salary will be circa �85k,

Heady well-remunerated stuff – dare we ask what the Grand Challenges facing Goldsmiths might be?

*******

One of them could turn out to be childcare. It seems that there are moves afoot to outsource Goldsmiths nursery. I’m concerned by this in general, but also subjectively by dint of being a likely user of the nursery service, for the beautiful Emile (here pictured by popular demand, he’s a week and a day old in this one). Why post on this though? Well, no-one will be surprised that we suspect the rampant monster of privatization seems set to twist its knife yet again. Sure, there is no doubt subsidized childcare is far too grand a privilege in these times, but I know its not just me that sees a continuity between these micro-moments of power and the creeping routinization of every aspect of all life in the teaching factory. From the corpororate-speak that invents Challenging Directorships, to the managerialist tinkering with local services that blink blink blink: from a Union missive sent yesterday:

You may also be aware that management have decided to put out to tender Goldsmiths nursery provision. It has been decided that it is not possible to sustain a viable nursery on-site and it appears that management have identified a local council nursery off-site that may provide an additional nine places. However, many questions remain unanswered about both process and provision: did management explore all options? Did they fully consult with all user groups? Will we have guarantees about fees and places from an external nursery? UNISON (whose members work in the nursery) has now launched a petition (that UCU is supporting) that calls on Goldsmiths’ management to reconsider the future of the nursery. Copies of the petition are available in the Nursery and at the reception desks of the Richard Hoggart Building, the Library and Loring Hall. Please take a minute to go along and add your signature, and encourage colleagues to do the same. (From Goldsmiths UCU)

Cross Border

I am rereading Eyal Weizman’s really excellent book “Hollow Land“, and I’m taken by his comment that the border is not always symmetrical. Of course, some are blocked, some pass freely, Capital flows through, commodities glide on by, others stand in line or have to sneak under the wire (if lucky). What else crosses the border, and how? Can this symmetry be tampered with in innovative ways, so as to support… Add this to the street as the border right here right now, and the ubiquity of border controls in our every move (for and against) and … Anyway, this below just had to be elevated from the comments of this post here, with dates amended, since its now time to start thinking out loud how to implement the thing. Get in touch if interested:

June 25 2008: I have been awarded some money from September for a network on the theme of ‘Beyond Text‘, and propose to use it for work on border activism and creativity – music, theatre, film. AHRC in their wisdom and generosity have included money for people from India to come to Berlin London Copenhagen – and possibly Barcelona, this year and next.

The project: we are gathering Border Activist/artists from a couple of organizations and propose to meet together over a week X 6 in the next two years – some casual meetings, some workshops, some public talks – to work out some ways to break with conventions of border arts, pursue border activisms – and of course tamper with Border Patrols. The thinking needs to be furthered as its pretty sketchy as yet, but I want that to happen in concert with others. Migrant Media London, Clandestino music festival Gotebourg, Re:Orient theatre Stockholm and friends in Unis at Barcelona, Berlin FU and Copenhagen Doctoral School.

The times are not yet fixed, but I wanted to give advance notice….

A slightly better outline of the plan: The money I have is small, and specifically for events in Berlin, London and Copenhagen and for visitors from Calandestino festival, Re:Orient theatre, and Migrant Media film, and various people from Kolkata. It is to run a series of week long laboratory-workshops. These will be variously on music, theatre and film. The focus is on border crossing activisms in some way, I hope. Nothing is worked out yet, but at a guess the dates would help – approximately, a week each in:

early November 08: London (music)

end feb 09 Berlin (theatre)

May 09 Copenhagen (Film)

Sept 09 London (film)

Feb 10 Berlin (music)

May 10 Copenhagen (theatre)

The people involved will be working on border activism, transnational, diaspora, streets as borders, the border between ourselves, everywhere, everyday…mainly, but specifically with a film, theatre and music angles. Any ideas welcome…

The first meeting at least will be music focused. A week long ‘laboratory’ on ’sonic diaspora’ to be held in London in November. There would also be a big music night at the Amersham Arms pub. The laboratory would involve various practitioners in music, and academics from Europe, in a series of workshops (no idea exactly on what yet) in the week.

So, these are just preliminary ideas, but get thinking of border again… and have a look at your calendar. – John

At-HQ – Cristobal Bianchi: Three attacks to the Headquarters

One

If you read the booklet of the Centre for Cultural Studies after being at the college for more than one year, you can understand why the institution has invested in developing an image that wallpapers the reality of the college. When one finally sees the gap created by our confused expectations, the university –the institution- looks like a factory and the students become clients.

When this confused experience happens I understand two things. First, why new students-and sometimes old ones- complain about everything and try to articulate their experience of lack and frustration. Second, why the priorities –I mean, what comes first, what comes second- between teachers and students are unbalanced. The members of the staff, most of them teachers and intellectuals, need to write books, apply for funding, write and gives lectures, attend conferences, send emails and among all these duties they have to give feedback and supervise the work of their students. The teacher’s working process affects the students, who have the feeling of being isolated and with no support or guidance. Even worse, the student can sometimes feel that members of the staff do not give proper feedback. In theory, supervision and our own writing/work are intertwined. So the writing operates as a platform that defines the intensity –the quality- of the feedback.

It is still not clear to me if the lack of time or unsettled of priorities is an innovation in methodology or is just a symptom of the excess of work, lack of funding or the inevitable competition among the different department of the college to get more overseas students who pay three times more than local and Europeans ones.

However, I could understand that the Centre for Cultural Studies is in a process of development. Things are improving and will become better.

However, I suggest that if we are client-students, and the staff, teachers-managers, this double role can allow us to think and ask all the questions regarding what the Centre for Cultural Studies might be. The excess of work, confused priorities, lack of time, money and space, consumes our practices and work. Therefore, any question about the Centre for Cultural Studies and our commitment and responsibility towards our research and practices, can not be answered if the excess that we face within Goldsmiths is not considered.

Two

I heard that in this workshop there is a concern regarding the dichotomy between theory-practice. On the one hand, how is it possible to re-think and return to new ways of action (e.g. activism); and on the other hand, consider the shift that practice is thought as production of theory. I mean, that action is related to the creation of new concepts.

Considering this discussion I propose the creation of a laboratory of minor poetics that will be able to face the tension of this struggle, in order to deal with the following paradox: vita contemplativa (action as thought) and vida activa (action as production of strikes).

Basically, this laboratory could be a way to deal with the questions about agency when thought in relation to the tension between contemplation and action. I suggest that to think this tension will move us to the sources of what commitment means. Not only related to our own practices and work, but rather to the contexts that we are facing every day e.g. being busy manager-teacher-intellectuals and clients-and full-part-part time survivors students in London.

I do not have a clear answer as to how to give room for this laboratory. However, I like to think this possible space in the articulation of a value -rather than proposing a new seminar, another activity, a new event- that can give room to some aspects of life that give agency to our thought and practice. These aspects of life should not be assumed and reduced to a social category that would distance itself from the notion of everyday life and informal spaces.

May be this should be think thought as an articulation of new principles for the Centre for Cultural Studies. I mean to add the latter in the booklet and the postgraduate programmes of the Centre.

Three

To conclude, I do think that we need to build new platforms. But, every new platform should be defined considering the real conditions of our system, the Centre, the staff and students. Basically, taking into consideration the excess that we have to deal with.

I think that the writing workshop was a good idea and allowed to raise questions about how to write an essay and a dissertation. How to structure the sections and chapters of a thesis. Models of writing. I know that if we define too much, you close possibilities. However, we do not have to be afraid to define creative guides and encounters to facilitate and open up our work.

I was thinking of the edition and production of an experimental platform that could be a journal, magazine or a website. For me, this means a platform that allows us to articulate better how to listen and read our own work. I mean a space that creates a dialog first among us, then a dialog with others. A platform is not an open collage to paste our work randomly. Rather, it is a space that has to be able to dramatize and unfold who we are. I see this platform in minor terms, like a gym to exercise our thoughts. I was thinking of a place that includes different languages, that gathers what is collected over a period of time, I mean not with a schedule, like numbers per years, and also edited in different formats, depending on the material that we have: it could be a DVD, a CD room, a newspaper, a proper journal.

For me it is very important that every step in relation to the production of new spaces should be negotiated with the headquarters, because this sort of projects requires funding, management and different types of support.

Cristobal Bianchi - London, 3rd June 2008

Ashis nandy – troublemaker (yay)

This just in from Meeta:

Date: Wed, 2 Jul 2008 13:43:34 -0700
Subject: [Awaazlist] Enraged Modi seeks arrest of renowned social scientist Ashis Nandy

Gujarat government intolerant, says Supreme Court
Tuesday 1st July, 2008 (IANS)

The Supreme Court Tuesday rebuked the Gujarat government for being ‘intolerant’ and stalled its bid to arrest political commentator Ashis Nandy.

A vacation bench of Justice Altmas Kabir and Justice G.S. Singhvi castigated the state government while hearing a lawsuit by Nandy, challenging his impending arrest by the Ahmedabad police on charges of inciting communal hatred by writing an article criticising Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

‘If a journalist can’t write what he wants to, who will write?,’ asked the bench, expressing surprise over the state government’s action of registering a criminal case against Nandy in May for writing an article published in the Times of India in January.

The bench asked Nandy’s age and when told that he was 71 year old, it said: ‘Then what investigation? You are prosecuting him for what? For writing an article? You cannot be so intolerant.’

‘The people coming from the state of Mahatma Gandhi are behaving like this,’ the bench rued.

Castigating the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for prosecuting a journalist, whom it described as a ‘soft target’, the bench asked: ‘Have you ever caught a politician in this manner?’

The bench Monday asked the state government if it was ready to pledge before it that it would not arrest Nandy for writing the column. Wahi promised the bench she would apprise it of the government’s mind over the issue after taking instruction from it.

On Tuesday, she, however, sought to wriggle out of the situation by saying that the case registered against Nandy was different from those registered against some other scribes of the newspaper.

The bench, however, said that it does not want to keep Nandy’s petition pending and directed the state government not to arrest Nandy. The bench also annulled summons issued to Nandy by a police station in Ahmedabad directing him to appear there on July 8.

Nandy, a commentator and social scientist of international renown, had held Gujarat’s middle class responsible for the BJP’s electoral victory in December polls.

Trinketization before the letter (vignettes)

[random detritus - This was excised from an early draft of 'Jungle Studies', in 1995. I'm sure you can see why]:

It is probably important not to allow the vignette to replace analysis, the two are tied together, but we don’t want the story to provide an alibi for those who would avoid the implications of the theory. Here, elegance of prose can camouflage politics. This is particularly the case amongst those who would emphasize the post in post-colonialism, and use this as an opportunity to pretend colonialism has past, and in effect to write as if it never happened. This does happen, and is the modern equivalent of those anthropologists who benefited from the infrastructural facts of colonial power but claimed to have no part in the project. Staging opposition. The founding myth of fieldwork – of Malinowski almost accidentally ‘shipwrecked’ in the South Seas – rehearses this deceit.

There are several versions. The idea that missionaries – or anthropologists – were not also participating in the colonial order, however much some revisionist apologist (anthr-apologists) might want to complicate the position, cannot be ignored. Definitely, looking at the ways the ‘West’ travelled and was transformed in travel, is something that deserves more attention, but should not be taken as some sort of alibi for the violences of that travel (as sometimes happens with such work – I consider Dick Werbner’s various citations of the ‘anthropologists were not always complicit in colonialism’ routine to be in very poor taste/bad faith). The descendants of Gluckman may revere his little run-ins with the colonial authorities in Africa as ‘proof’ that he was not part of colonialism, when of course he was etc.

Why does it matter that telling stories clarifies the colour of politics? – perhaps because the slippage is the hinge of reaction. At the pomo workbench the maintenance of ongoing colonialisms slips past on the palanquin of narrative – even where the analysis oscillates between anecdotal evidence and the illustration of capitalist violence, the too-easy take up of only the storybook gems from the colonial scene rehearses again the Raj extraction process. Violence of partial explanations that serve the conquest (which of course does not mean we dream of a ‘full’ explanation, but that there are some less credible than others and we know which ones serve masters and which lead elsewhere).

Think for a moment of the way selective listening forges the subjectivity of oppression (perhaps in this telling the Emperor’s new clothes is not so much a story of the sycophantic courtiers as an exposure of the necessary blindness of naked power). As ever, the complexities of the circumstance can be recruited to tell another tale, more amenable to capital. The Emperor’s new clothes also tells of transition to the social relations of contemporary production – the young boy who exposes it all is nothing if not a culture hero of a brutal reality we face and embrace for good and bad.

Anthropologists who were recalcitrant and troublesome for colonialism may still unwittingly (or not – so often wittingly) be those best placed to extend colonial hegemony and power. This can be seen to happen through several modes; through the promotion of culture, through the mechanisms of inscription (cf. copies of the book of Nuer prophets in the hands of contemporary Nuer – Johnson), through focus on identity, and identifications, through reification and so on. It is important not only to see this in anecdotal terms, even where the anecdotes are so compelling, but rather to recognize the vignettes as examples of a web of institutionalized power (persuasive AND coercive force) deployed systematically across the globe. That the term post-colonialism has one part of its heritage in literature has enabled some to make the anecdotal narration of post-modern anthropology into a methodological doxa, and along the way renounced any theoretical specificity and ushered in a still more reactionary politics than ever before. The other more explicitly political sources for the term post-colonial require a more nuanced comprehension of the ironic and restricted way in which the term was used to refer to a certain betrayal of anti-colonial struggle on the part of national elites and the comprador classes after the so-called fact of decolonisation (Spivak). Within the horizon of this conception of the post-colony anecdotal post-modernisms appear as spurious frivolity.

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