activist in residence

I’m feeling the need for a new grand scheme. The Centre for Cultural Studies provides a pretty good environment for all sorts of projects, but perhaps sometimes our pursuit of grants-funds/programme outcomes and all that edu-com™ routine is just not ambitious enough. So – pop-quiz: what do you think Goldsmiths really needs? Shall we build an Social/activist/Politics and arts Centre?

Theatre-Music-Video-Cabaret-Protest-Voodoo-Dada-Opera-Poetry. Include the Rubbish Fairy and New Cross music scene, squatters mobs, Left, anarcho and other campaign groups with events and space for wild dance performance comedy trapeze artists, exploding cinema, dub poets and more. “Circus Academica”. And all in a funky new building on the New Cross Road, open to the public (shock). Or we could turn the old Laban site into something mad?

Just doodling about – I am not really looking for more to do. This is partly provoked by someone recalling a talk I gave at an Oxford music conference about 7 years ago about setting up an ‘activist-in-residence’ project. If the Politics department can have an artist-in-residence (which is a fine thing) then why not compulsory allocations of a percentage of all that money we waste on form filling time, spent on an activist-in-residence? They would carry on their activism – anti-war, migration law reform (abolition), workplace rights, transgender, sex workers union, drug legalization, Palestine, water, Environment recycling, bike paths, independence for Peckham, or whatever – and contribute a little to teaching, put on a workshop or two, and leave some sort of documentation… Let’s say, something like a six month rotation? Give people a kind of reflection time/break/support from the, lets face it, draining and low paid activist scenarios that prevail within so many groups, and do so without having to turn activism into an adjunct component of corporate style NGO fund-raising… Only funds would have to be raised I guess. Agenda item 3.

Here is the old thing from 1999. It was written with the anthropology department in mind, but things have moved on obviously. They have not moved on enough though – so, in the meantime, if anyone can adapt and update this thing, feel free to adopt it in whatever form. [But truly I am not so silly as to still think this can fly, its more like this is for archive purposes. I used to think like this a lot. Yet, if by the Lords of Cobol…]

Brief: This is a pilot research project to examine the feasibility and methods currently available to substantially extend and to facilitate the viability of indigenous and community rights based research by anthropologists in several departments at Goldsmiths.

In the first instance this project will involve staff at Goldsmiths College where there is existing expertise in a number of key areas – indigenous rights, environment, Amazonia, South Asia, Europe, visual and popular culture. The plan is to examine modes of access to anthropological research in relation to indigenous and community campaign work, building upon already existing strategies of research and communications technology databases, but with a view to facilitating increased flow of communication between public media and the discipline. It is proposed that the viability of establishing a specifically user-oriented project within the department be subject to practical evaluation.

The work envisioned would be not be exclusively indigenous and community rights oriented but this is foregrounded because such anthropological work has the most practical and widely applicable value to potential ‘users’ of teh work of such researchers. Current thinking on anthropological research method has explored some practical innovation, but as yet only in a limited way. This project would investigate new technologies (internet, telematic media) and innovative institutional initiatives (activist-in-residence) with the dedicated purpose of extending the relevance and applicability of anthropological research. This requires significant understanding of innovation at the level of planning and method, and this should be pursued in a participatory and practising form. A particular focus will be to explore new uses of, and possibilities for, research using sophisticated documentation technologies, modes of information provision and active intervention-education research.

In the first instance this research would be based at Goldsmiths College and involve a member of staff as researcher (one day per week) and a full-time Research Officer (activist, to be recruited). The intention would be to intervene within the process of research projects underway in the department with a number of colleagues (who have agreed to participate) with a view to extending anthropological work towards provision of resource and information materials of use to user groups such as media, public and other bodies. The particular focus would be on indigenous and community rights campaigns where research and activism intersect. A Project room would be equipped to foster telematic communications and explore non-conventional modes of information provision and creative dissemination.

Research investigation in the first instance would be to examine the viability of public activity of this kind leading to a larger Project emergent across the discipline and extending to the provision of in-house published briefing folios – collections of articles and news items on various campaigns, and or internet and media presentation of research and informed campaign issues. The idea is that with a planned practical dimension incorporated into research methodology at the level of project formation, materials collected by anthropologists would feed directly into media and campaign work, providing journalists, interested bodies, the public and other researchers/students with relevant information and perspectives. Such materials might be presented in the form of ‘dossiers’ containing background and documentary material and commentary informed by anthropological and critical perspectives not usually readily available in a ‘sound bite’ culture.

Examples of campaign materials collected by anthropologists at Goldsmiths which could make available in ways that extend and influence public debate:

Hindmarsh bridge land Rights campaign in Australia
The Malaysian MultiMedia Super Corridor, technology Parks, Science Parks;
Water use, farming, land rights;
Indigenous movements, self-determination (Sth Asia, Bougainville;
Mining issues – the Moody collection;
European Union urban redevelopment;
European Asylum Policy; Immigration;
Health Awareness; HIV etc;
Hydro-electric dams-Bakun, Narmada, Kariba;
Tourism, sustainable tourism, tourism and change;
Microcredit – critique of Grameen Bank etc;
NGOs – local and international;
Environmental movements- ASEED, FOE, Pollution;

Activist-in-Residence: An ‘activist-in-residence’ programme similar to established ‘artist-in-residence’ initiatives would be a component of the project. The initial research would establish the ways such placement would enable relevant people to work in collaboration and parallel to grant holders and other staff members in anthropology as a means of ensuring the involvement of a ‘practical’ orientation at the level of methodology and research planning. The participation of campaign workers within the department in discussion and planning would compliment and enhance the established character of the department. In later years the project might separately consider recruiting activist-in-residences for particular schemes or major areas of work – Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America. A possible recommendation of the research might be that future funding applications by members of staff and others might consider such a position as an additional budget line structured into applications from the start.

Website: The research project would establish a corresponding internet website presence (server and technical expertise provided within Goldsmiths) that would promote Goldsmiths research work and the relevance of the project. All pages and documentation would carry the stamp of Goldsmiths and the sponsor (though without necessarily endorsing contents – a formula statement to be decided in consultation with grants providers).

Governance: The management of research would require some exploration in terms of best practice and established models of incorporation of such practical requirements and ‘-in-residence’ formats. A part of the research officer’s brief would be to recommend on best structure for ensuring research flow, web structure and management, for example by a committee possibly comprising, three staff, one PhD, one MA, one UG student, plus one external member. Annual meetings etc, an executive committee or similar.

Personnel: The principal researcher would undertake responsibility for the management of the project and executive decisions in consultation with the other members of the host department. Internet and methodology research would be undertaken by this researcher. A weekly allocation of eight hours teaching release is required for this component.

A full-time Research Officer would be recruited for one year to research and report on the body of the project, its longer term viability and its resource requirements. Initially this researcher would be placed in the post that would become the ‘activist-in-residence’. The general parameters of the project, results of the research, and recommendations to the department would be compiled in a report by this researcher and the principal researcher at the end of the year. This report would then comprise the main outline for future work and offer the basis for a larger programmatic initiative”


One thought on “activist in residence

  1. Oh John what a beautiful idea. Don’t forget the Applied Anthropology course which already links anthropological research with activism in a youth and community work context.


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