That free-thinking even-handed paper of record

Even handed as always, the Guardian media ads pages today carries two ‘provocative’ ads for Torturer and Abuser. Ironic ‘sick joke’ ads that eventually ask us to log on to the website for the rehabilitation NGO Freedom from Torture. So far so transparent, a senior human rights abuser is needed for ‘A militia group in Central Africa’ and a senior torturer is needed by the ‘Government of a Middle East state’. Oh the wit. I guess the Guardian copy editor thought these would be ok, and not grotesque renderings of undifferentiated Middle East and Africa as land of despots, because the next page, or tomorrow, or all next week, there would be exposés of USA tortures in Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, etc and British abuses via deportations, immigration raids, complicity with the US and all that. But, undermining such even-handedness, today’s edition clearly ran out of space for anything acknowledging Western abuses. Only in the darker nations, where presumably irony is not lost, and prejudice excused, does Freedom from Torture want to operate its humour. When the international criminal court indicts Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy, and has already locked up the Bush boys, Gunshot Cheney and Tony Bliar, for good, will we look back and say, well done vigilant Guardian editors, your objectivity is sound, and the name of your paper not a cipher for panto.



Update: the freedom from torture website helpfully completes the geo-imperial slur framing with its third ad, for a kidnapper in South Asia. Excellent – a return to growth.











Update 2: And if you do click on the link, look for their video with its seeds metaphors and its water torture feature in their reception room. ‘Torture is bad’ – they campaign to tell people that. I can only agree.

May Day London 2012


May Day has been celebrated in London since the 1880s. The Committee has ensured this key day of international solidarity is marked every May 1st. Despite often being ignored by the mass media, the celebrations have maintained the traditions of unity and solidarity in London.

The London May Day has been a unique bringing together of trade unionists, workers from the many international communities in London, pensioners, anti-globalisation organisations, students, political bodies and many others in a show of working class unity (see our supporters list). The whole theme of May Day is unity and solidarity – across the city, across the country, across the world. Three constant calls have been made – trade union rights, human rights, international solidarity. We have been proud that a vital and major part of the March are workers from the different international communities in London – a practical expression of working class solidarity. Along with the solid support of trade union organisations, these have been the bed rocks of LMDOC

We continue the demand, adopted by the whole trade union movement in the 1970s, for May 1st to be a public holiday. The Labour Government of the time imposed the divisive decision to make the nearest Monday a Bank Holiday. This created many difficulties and separated Britain from virtually every other European country that celebrates May Day on 1st May. The anti-union laws of the Tories further pressured the movement and made participation in May Day difficult. But in the last 5 years May Day has been growing.

We have held a major march each year, whether going to Wapping in the mid-80s, supporting Sky Chef workers or Rover & Ford workers in 2001 and 2002. LMDOC also responded quickly to the fascist bombings in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho in 1999 by involving those communities in the March, showing in a clear practical way the solidarity of the organised trade union movement, an important message to the right.

In 2001 we tied up with key sections of the anti-capitalist globalisation movement who had been campaigning on May Day. The common concerns about exploitation around the world, the role of multinationals and the advocates of aggressive free trade agendas meant there was the basis for unity – the basis of May Day. In 2001 and 2002 this swelled the ranks of the demonstration and introduced new aspects of May Day. Each year May Day in London has sought to unite with different campaigns and activities to keep the action very relevant to current challenges and expand those getting involved in May Day. A key victory of 2002 was getting use of Trafalgar Square on working days and the encouragement of the Mayor to make the Square a focus of activity for Londoners, as it has been since it was created.

2004 saw the Rally followed by an anti-racist festival with ARA; a joint May Day with the TUC in 2008 against the antiunion laws; each year focussing on key issues for workers – in London and across the world.

The Alternative Art College presents; Education as Experiment 17.5.2012

Date: 17th May

Time: 10am – 6pm

Location: 47 Lewisham Way, Goldsmiths College.

The Alternative Art College is a non-profit education facility;

The AAC’s reason for being is to challenge the notion of knowledge consumers, to question the socio-economic role of education and activate a response. The AAC was a direct reply to the crisis in the higher education field of 2011/12. One year on, the College’s aim is still to engage participants in the process of education, to create the alternative now.

The ‘retrospective’ is a reflective event/symposium addressing how non-profit education is produced. Located inside the walls of the education factory that is Goldsmiths college, we explore the alternative to consumer culture. This offers the ability to redirect the conversation within the HE education field, addressing everything from teaching methods to the UCAS point scoring system. The event will include a selection of lectures, seminars and a common assembly to discuss pedagogy, art, politics and all things related to education. The outcome of this day long event will be an open source archive, as well as, a publication and touring exhibition.

The Alternative Art College presents; Education as Experiment.

Line up includes: All subject to change and more to be announced.

Mike Neary – Social Science Centre/ Student As Producer.

John Plowman – Beacon Art Project

Andre Pusey – Really Open University

Evan Ifekoya/Yasmin Lorentz  – Politicised Space & Accountability: Addressing Race in the Art School

The Knitted Jungle Collective –  Macho Versus the Feminine

Mel Donohoe – Art vs Art Education

James Ellison –  Nomadic Infrastructure

Rebecca Hartley/Kate Wiggs – International Relations Theory in a prohibition-themed party

Anna-Maria Amato – The Fibonacci Code.

Orientally yours

A new blog by Karen Tam updates trinketization, but with Chinese characteristics:

An example of her interests would be this scenario below by British photographer Grace Lau, but Karen’s own opium dens and faked antiquities are treasures themselves.


Other Blog: Pumpkin Sauce

Photograph booth, and photo, by Grace Lau

Manifesto manifestation 28.4.2012 Clapham Common Bandstand

Freee’s Manifesto for a New Public will be at Clapham Common bandstand this Saturday (tomorrow 28.4.2012) at 2pm!

Print this, underline the bits you agree with, and join where you wish, and disagree where you must – for the collective (for example, that second last para about not pointing at the rich… I dunno. Got a big stick?)


Anyway, generalize this (not just ‘artists)…





Terror as Usual

‘Terror as Usual’ – Media cultures in an age of terror


Media@LSE and Birkbeck College with London Screen Studies Group

Friday 25 May 2012

Venue: Clore Management Centre, Torrington Sq, Birkbeck, University of London


10.00 Arrive

10.15 Introduction to the day

Session One 10.30-12.00

John Hutnyk, Goldsmiths – ‘Sexy Sammy and Red Rosie’: from burning books to the war on terror

Mina Al-Lami, LSE – Members to martyrs: crossing the line from online to offline jihadism

12.00-13.00 Lunch

Session Two 13.00-14.30

Marc Hobart, SOAS – ‘Terror As Performance’ The Bali bombing on the news

Cristina Archetti, Salford – A communications perspective on terror

14.30-15.00 Coffee/Tea

Session Three 15.00-16.15

Guy Westwell – Queen Mary – Terror and conspiracy in post 9/11 US film

Open Discussion: all speakers – What’s old and what’s new?

Registration: Registration is Free but places are limited, so please pre-register by May 23rd at terrorasusual[at]

Value, Price and Profit – old beardo


‘At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not  changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the *material conditions*and the *social forms* necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the *conservative* motto: “*A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!*” they ought to inscribe on their banner the *revolutionary* watchword: “*Abolition of the wages system! *”‘

Lara Choksey

from The Statesman, Kolkata


Targeting a ‘videshi mahila’


19 April 2012

ravindra kumar

IT is not unusual for the media to occasionally embark on flights of fancy. But for the past two days, a section of the Kolkata media has occupied itself with identifying a reporter on the staff of this newspaper as a red-headed American “who had worked extensively with the ISI in Bangladesh” and who was seen clad in green trousers and brown top in Nonadanga on 13 April, apparently masterminding anti-India activities in collusion with Maoists.

Lara Choksey marked her 25th birthday on Wednesday, the day a television channel identified with the ruling party first named her as an American ISI agent who had worked extensively in Bangladesh (the previous evening’s telecast had merely described her as a “videshi mahila”). She does own green trousers and a brown top, and she was assigned by this newspaper to cover the problem at Nonadanga (which she has done with concise and balanced reports). She was at the place on 14 April (not the 13th), which she would have been required to be in order to complete her assignment.

But she is not an American; she is British and since September 2011 an Overseas Indian Citizen. Her grandparents were close friends of my predecessor, late CR Irani, and I too have known them for several years. She couldn’t have worked for ISI or for anyone else in Bangladesh, quite simply because she has never been to that country. And if she was recruited by the ISI, it wasn’t in Pakistan because she assures me she hasn’t visited that country either. Finally, she isn’t a redhead.

Lara completed her MA in Cultural Studies with distinction from Goldsmiths College, London last year. Her thesis project was “urban development, architectural rehabilitation and their human costs”, an appropriate area of study considering the assignment she was given at Nonadanga. From 2006 to 2010, she did a BA in English Language and Literature at the University of Leeds. Before that she was in school. She came to India last October and joined The Telegraph’s t2 section. Since early this year, she has been on the staff of The Statesman. A Google search of her name would yield most of this information, and more.

Strange things happen in the world of espionage, but based on the evidence Lara might have found it difficult to fit sleuthing and sabotage into her rather busy academic calendar, which included being a research assistant to her professor at Goldsmiths College and being a researcher and writer for the university newspaper

Why am I sharing this with you? I am doing so quite simply because over the 33 years of my life spent in journalism, I have seldom come across such paranoia-fed, breathlessly fatuous, incompetently researched reportage aimed at defaming a young journalist. The reports claim to be based on Central and state intelligence inputs, and if indeed they are questions must be asked about the intelligence of those who fed this nonsense and of those who swallowed it without so much as a cursory check.

I have a larger concern. Both media houses that reported this story are linked to the ruling party in West Bengal; this might grant to them an exalted status within the bureaucracy and police. Someone in authority might get it into his head that it would be safer to act on these stories than to ignore them. I have offered to Kolkata Police any assistance it might want to arrive at the truth, but have been assured that Lara Choksey is not the subject matter of any investigation

But these are strange times and, whether with or without adequate reason, the state government has allowed suspicion to grow that it is capable of acting before it thinks a proposition through. The best cure to such dark fears is the light that only exposure can provide. The Press can’t function if it is required constantly to look over its shoulder.


Alpa Shah talk at LSE 17.5.2012

The Malinowski Memorial Lecture this year is by Goldsmiths own Alpa Shah.

Title: ‘The Muck of the Past’: Revolution, Social Transformation and the Maoists in India

Date: Thursday 17 May 2012, 6.00-7.00pm

Venue: Old Theatre, LSE

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception.

Dr Alpa Shah teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is the author of ‘In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India’ and co-editor of ‘Windows into a Revolution: Ethnographies of Maoism in India and Nepal.’

For more information please see:

Anderston talk 14.3.2012 (north of the river I’m afraid)

The Raya-esque IMHO are putting on this event:

Karl Marx and the Present Moment: Beyond “Resistance” and Toward Human Emancipation

A talk and discussion: with Kevin B Anderson, author of Marx at the Margins

2 p.m. Saturday 14 April 2012 at The Lucas Arms, 245a Grays Inn Road, King’s Cross, London, WC1 (5 minutes from Kings Cross Tube)

The Arab revolutions and the Occupy movement have placed both revolution and anti-capitalism at the forefront of global social consciousness. While many are again evoking Marx, the legacy of decades of postmodernism and postmodernized postcolonial thought has left us, at best, with a politics of resistance rather than one of full human emancipation. This talk will explore Marx’s thought in light of this legacy. It will be argued that his multidimensional dialectical vision encompassed both “totalities” like capitalism and the specificities of nation, ethnicity, gender, and anti-colonial resistance. Moreover, his philosophical dialectic, rooted in Hegel, theorized precisely this type of “concrete totality.” And finally, his critique of capital was accompanied by an always implicit — and sometimes explicit — vision of a radically humanist future beyond the exploitative, alienating, and reified world of the capital relation.

Kevin Anderson’s most recent books are Foucault and the Iranian Revolution; Gender and the Seductions of Islamism(with Janet Afary, 2005), Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies(2010), and The Dunayevskaya-Marcuse-Fromm Correspondence, 1954-1978: Dialogues on Hegel, Marx, and Critical Theory(coedited with Russell Rockwell, 2012). He is also the author of Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study(1995) and the coeditor (with Peter Hudis) of The Rosa Luxemburg Reader(2004)

Forensic Oceanography

Please find below (and at the following link) the latest news release from Goldsmiths, University of London announcing a report from the Forensic Oceanography team which has shed light on the fate of the ‘left-to-die’ boat which saw 63 migrants die while trying to flee the war in Libya last year:

Goldsmiths research sheds light on ‘left-to-die’ boat tragedy

Research carried out by the Forensic Oceanography team at Goldsmiths, University of London has shed light on the fate of the ‘left-to-die’ boat which saw 63 migrants die while trying to flee the war in Libya last year.

The report was carried out by Charles Heller, Lorenzo Pezzani and Situ Studio, and is part of the European Research Council (ERC) project ‘Forensic Architecture’ carried out at Goldsmiths’ Centre for Research Architecture.

The report, which employs a wide range of emerging mapping and visualisation technologies, has been provided to a coalition of NGOs that have been demanding accountability for these deaths.

Today, with the support of these NGOs, several survivors of the ‘left-to-die’ boat have convened in Paris to file a legal case, supplemented by this report, against the French Army for non-assistance to people in distress at sea.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 1,500 people died in the Mediterranean while trying to leave Libya in 2011, and among these incidents the ‘left-to-die’ boat case, reported by the international press, provoked widespread public outrage.

A boat of 72 migrants fleeing Tripoli by boat in the early morning of 27 March 2011 ran out of fuel and was left to drift for 14 days until it landed back on the Libyan coast. A distress call was sent out via satellite telephone but the migrants were not rescued, and with no water or food on-board only nine of them survived.

Over the past four months, the Forensic Oceanography team provided technical expertise in the form of maps and visual material to Senator Tineke Strik, Rapporteur for the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) who has released an in-depth report on the issue.

The Forensic Oceanography report that is being made public today supplements the written documents produced by these organisations by bringing a wide range of emergent technologies together. It focuses specifically on the spatial analysis of the ‘left-to-die’ case, combining the testimonies of the survivors with several different kinds of data including Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery, geospatial mapping, and drift modelling.

Lorenzo Pezzani, PhD candidate and Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, said: “The research included a series of visualisations and maps that reconstruct, as accurately as possible, what happened to the vessel, and assess the involvement of a number of parties the vessel encountered during the time it was at sea. Using digital tools that have seen limited applications in the field of international law and human rights advocacy suggests new possibilities for documenting violations of human rights at sea, and increases the likelihood for greater accountability in the future.”

Notes to editors:
       The report can be downloaded here:

       The link to the Forensic Oceanography page can be found here:

       The link to the Forensic Architecture website can be found here:

       Images available on request (images to be credited to Forensic Oceanography: Charles Heller, Lorenzo Pezzani, and Situ Studio. Part of the European Research Council Project ‘Forensic Architecture’, Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London).

new (old) reviews on NXRB

Disarm DSEI

Confront “Counter Terror Expo”: Confront the real terrorists!

Posted on Friday 23 March 2012

April 25 2012, 6.30pm
at the Royal Garden Hotel,
2-24 High Street Kensington:
nearest tubes High Street Kensington and Knightsbridge.

As “counter-terrorist experts”—many better known as armament companies—gather at the Royal Garden Hotel to guzzle champagne followed by four course dinner. Pausing only to gaze over Kensington Gardens. (At a mere £156 a ticket—guess who isn’t suffering from “austerity”?)

Join Disarm DSEi as we confront exhibitors at the so-called Counter Terror Expo—an event showcasing the latest equipment used by states to spy on, restrict and murder their citizens under the guise of “preventing terrorism”. Let’s help them choke on it! (Remember the DSEi dinner demo at the National Gallery!)

Dinner guests include:

General Dynamics
British arm of US-based firm agreed deal to upgrade military equipment for an elite Libyan government security brigade.
Chemring Defence
British contractor produced CS gas canisters fired at civilians by Egyptian security forces in Tahir Square.
L-3 Security & Detection Systems
A division of $15bn surveillance and communications giant L-3 Communications.
French aerospace and defence company paid fine of €630m in 2010 over bribes to win contract for 1991 sale of frigates to Taiwan.
Northrop Grumman
US global aerospace company, world’s fourth largest defence contractor.

(Check out the full list of exhibitors)

Across North Africa and the Middle East, dictatorships have, and still are using equipment supplied by UK companies to spy on and attack demonstrators, and yet some of these countries will be shopping for more equipment at the Counter Terror Expo, along with other repressive regimes from around the world.

The UK is a major market, where police are widening their surveillance and repression to even the mildest dissidents. As the government relentlessly destroys the welfare state and drags our wages to rock bottom, it continues to subsidise and promote the arms and “security” industries

The event hosts hundreds of exhibitors, not only leading arms companies, who make huge profits from conflict and repression. It is officially supported by a vast range of military, police and private security organisations, and is endorsed by state agencies such as the MoD and NATO.

Surveillance systems will be a major focus, with companies again promoting biometric and data gathering/mining technologies; promoting “freedom” through ever greater control and documentation of our daily lives, not to mention drones (coming to a demo near you shortly!)

The event is organised by Clarion, which also runs DSEi—the world’s largest arms fair. What with governments everywhere looking to increase control of their citizens, and the industry exaggerating threats to increase their profits, Clarion must think they’re onto a winner. Let’s show them they’re not. /

The UnReality of Fiction or Banks

A Fictional Character in the Dock

Thomas no longer uses the surname Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech. Following a ruling in the High Court last year, the name belongs to a fictitious person acting in Peter Lund’s novels. This was what he tried to explain Danske Bank and the Copenhagen City Court yesterday.

Photo: Jakob Dall
Thomas claims that he is no longer Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech due to a High Court ruling
By Pauline Bendsen

30 March 2012

Keywords: Authors, publishing, identity, human rights

People: Peter Lund, Thomas Altheimer

Institutions: Danske Bank, Eastern High Court

It is really about 197,721 Danish Kroner. This is how much Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech owes Danske Bank. The bank wants a ruling in support of their claim. Thomas wants the District Court to acknowledge that he is no longer Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech and thus not the proper defendant. He just wants to be left alone.

In the small courtroom 3 in the District Court a handful of spectators are gathered to witness the main proceedings in the case. Danske Bank is represented by lawyer Saeed D. Khanlo. He is dressed in a suit with case documents neatly arranged in plastic folders laid out in front of him. Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech arrives a few minutes late – without a lawyer – and hurries to put his arsenal of annexes on the table: piles of transcripts, newspaper articles and novels by Peter Lund and Dostoyevsky. And a camera.

“Before we begin the proceedings, I will just ask you: “Are you filming with that camera? It is not allowed,” notes Judge Stine Andersen.

No more reality-based fiction is to be spun in the case of Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech.

A Defendant called Thomas

It all began when Peter Lund published the novel The Sovereign in 2008, which carried pictures and detailed information about Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech – without his consent. Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech took Peter Lund and his publisher Gyldendal to court. Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech lost the case in the High Court, and was subsequently beset by financial problems due to the sizeable legal fees.

Danske Bank’s attorney begins his presentation with the one fact that the adversaries seem to agree on: “We agree that the defendant is named Thomas. But from there it seems somewhat unclear what the defendant is actually asserting.”

The lawyer refers to email correspondence and conversations between the defendant and his bank adviser, and he uses the defendant’s identification to adduce that the “defendant is the proper person.”

Thomas uses a different kind of reasoning. He references last year’s High Court ruling, which found The Sovereign to be a fictional work.

“The copyright to Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech belongs to Gyldendal Ltd and Peter Lund. This is not just my absurd claim but a legal reality established by the High Court last year. Therefore I cannot answer for Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech’s actions.”

But the lawyer does not appreciate this interpretation of the High Court’s ruling.

“It’s regrettable if the defendant feels that he has been deprived of his identity. But I must emphasise that the High Court has never said that Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech no longer exists as a physical person.” He then goes on to address a question to Thomas:

“Now I would like to hear from you if you are able to remember anything from before the ruling in the High Court last March? Do you remember spending the money?”

“What I am trying to explain here is that I cannot speak for Thomas Skade-Rasmussen Strøbech,” he responded despairingly.


“Today, I am the man without qualities, and I say with Herman Melville’s Bartleby: ‘I prefer not to.’ In this context I prefer not to have to answer for another man’s deeds,” says Thomas, instead referring to Peter Lund and Gyldendal A/S as the proper defendants.

After the proceedings, Thomas describes what he learned after going through two court cases.

“What you realise is that the individual is so radically alone with his truth.”

Today’s hearing was a clash of cultures.

“I wasn’t sure whether to bring Bartleby into my final statement. Do you think the judge knows who Bartleby is? Well, now she has it in writing. There is always google…”

– What do you expect from the ruling on 27 April?

“I expect that justice will be done,” says Thomas and elaborates:

“This is a problem, which the court itself has created, and a problem only the court can resolve.”

– Do you intend to make art out of this case?

“Everything is art … I don’t really subscribe to distinctions between art and life.”

Translated from the Danish. Original on:


[wrote this in January and it got set aside – I wasn’t as angry then I guess]

They have something of which they are proud. What do they call that which makes them proud? Education they call it; it distinguishes them from goatherds’ – Nietzsche.

I do not want a life as a last ditch manager of depressed casualisation, directing coal-face grunt teaching, organising free labour placements for narrow option celebrity-culture-industry hopefuls who were taught x, y and beta-tested open source contrition at the nether end of abstract short-term extortion with sub-cost-of-living remuneration. That ghost of past, present and future does not appeal at all.

And I say this with me settled into a permanent job. True, I was for many years what Emma Jackson has called a ‘peripatetic academic’,[i] moving house for work, with multiple short-term and fractional appointments in 6 different cities in 3 countries over 12 years. In the mid 1990s I did not assume having a PhD would secure me employment, and was not sure I wanted it in place of the political career at which many student activists naively aimed. But I had become adept at survival by stitching teaching appointments together like some serial offender. Plenty of the kind of low-pay grind that Marx compared to a sausage factory, where it does not matter if the worker is making sausages or teaching so long as we enrich the proprietor.[ii] I did more than my share of mass processing of essays, stand-in seminars, back-to-back tutorials and one-year replacements that meant starting to apply for new sausage-line work from the first month in any post. Time passed. I applied for 35 jobs in the year before Goldsmiths hired me, and I’m thankful for the chance and still love the College. I even had some luck with the three key indicators that, as I will discuss later in this text, shape the parameters of academia and also, now, are sites of conflict, reaction and recidivation of conditions – harming higher education and contradicting its raison d’être. Teaching, Research and Governance are my topics here, but I want to think these in a wider context, and acknowledge, as far as I can make it clear to myself, that others also tread a difficult path through the institutions.[iii]


 I agree with Emma that the situation for what the Research Councils call, with no intended irony, ‘early career researchers’ is precarious. Post-doctoral appointments which allow time to research are few and far between. More common is the exhausting high-contact teaching replacement post, which candidates are assured over and over, will be an important step forward, a line on a CV, crucial experience; ‘Learning and Teaching’ as cultural capital. I see up close what sessional-rate work at three separate institutions in the same term does to a neglected PhD project. I am continually amazed at the capacity of such ECR’s to endure. I also see these researchers, and a great many other students, and some colleagues, engaged in debates over conditions in ways that have not been prominent for 20 years: discussions of ‘Really Free Schools’, of teaching ‘free at the point of delivery’, of reconfiguring academia to allow access for all, of occupations which include public lectures, of interventions in teaching formats that involve relocating into public spaces; and more acutely of refusing the imperative to teach as part of the war machine, the immigration restriction, the culture industry, the administered society, the police state. What I see is that something impressive is emerging to confront the Conservatives with another plan for education, another potential, a re-imagination.

There is a cautious optimism that defies circumstances here, and an awareness of the need to deflect any rhetorical compact with austerity too. The ‘Free Schools’ are not simply a progressive twist on the Big Society, nor a realpolitik compromise with career path that prepares ‘apprentices’ for later gainful employ, calibrated with economic requirements and self-serving need. There is enthusiasm in occupations where ‘teach-in’s include ‘teaching-out’ by touring local schools, pickets, other occupations and activist sites and there is a welcome challenge to the hierarchical formats of academic conferences, publishing and writing in the renewed demand of students to have a say in their (paid for) degrees. Yes, there is a sense in which all this still adds to cultural capital for the self-styled ‘activists-academics’ and there is an aspirant careerism in the very idea of going to university or even wanting to run an ‘alternative university’ – perhaps in a tent. There is always some ego investment here. But the conditions do need to be challenged, and apprentice or no, the path towards institutionalisation is a kind of benighted gift. Some of its conditions include:

–       Few scholarships, hard to get

–       trainee academic, on piece rates

–       marking, sessional pay, no preparation fee

–       low union representation, part-timer issues overlooked

–       no holiday pay, no sickness leave,

–       learning and teaching certificates (a paid-for license to perform)

–       PhD, postdoc, initial teaching year, junior faculty, hierarchy

–       probation and discipline, hierarchy entrenched

–       demand to publish early (and often)

–       research Assessment-driven conformism

–       diminution of approved places to publish

–       limit on research funds, travel budget, conference budget

–       less responsibility, less access to committees, promotion

–       no access to the mysteries of management’s grey world

–       cuts, anticipated cuts and more cuts anyway.

This precarity is not lost on me. But I am concerned that this turns into active denial when that elusive ‘secure’ job finally becomes a reality, and the institutionalised scholar finds an ongoing precariousness which enforces complicity with the reaction. This seems most evident when well-meaning established scholars must constantly innovate new projects, albeit under duress. Quite unlike the ‘Free School University’ and Tent-based teach-in’s of #occupy, a massive growth in new programmes, often Masters degrees geared to overseas students from China and East Asia, has been underway for several years. This inevitably now extends to all levels of teaching. Budgeting for fiscal constraint saw a relentless commercial drive to refit education as export earner in overseas markets, with product delivery to short-term visa, high tariff students here, client-seeking degree-fair 5-star accreditation junkets there. No doubt some of these programmes are excellent and of course benefit the students that come, but there are significant problems. On the one hand we can often hear a shallow and largely unsubstantiated lament for the loss of education standards that these international programmes might effect (as if it’s somehow the international students’ fault, or that they have not themselves excellent reasons to come[iv]). On the other hand, the rarely examined and not even guilt-ridden alacrity among those few academics prepared to defend higher education from neo-liberal austerity assaults, to willingly, and more or less efficiently, set up yet more courses for overseas students and hastily renovate undergraduate home offers so as to appeal to market demand and the full-fee terrain. Certainly opening education to wider participation, locally and globally, remains a goal, but these programmes are often referred to as ‘cash cows’ and this opportunist criteria overrides any suggestion that incoming students might have a say in how things are run and why. As it happens the new ‘full-fees’ have not yet hit MA and PhD programmes for home students, but we are several years into charging extortionate level fees for overseas candidates, with detrimental results in terms of debt load and ongoing stress. In these circumstances we must always ask what it is that these programmes do? The aim of course is to preserve the income stream in the face of austerity. Here to enrich the proprietor is the only criteria, though just renovating the buildings seems more than enough for which many hope. On the other hand, these courses have an often under-examined relation to class recomposition, both locally and globally. Globally, where different constituencies see education as a ticket to reconfigure options and constraints via migration and accreditation (as cultural capital), locally as a creeping credentialism and cretinization where a demand for an ever more qualified employee pool is matched with an ever more routinized and uncritical employment sector. Plenty demand for jobs that aren’t there, jobs a-plenty for those who are not too demanding – the stick and carrot of neoliberalism that the Precarious and Carrot Workers Collective so rightly skewers.[v]

Over a period of thirty or forty years, the university student has been reduced in circumstances and privilege so as to now be quite a bit closer to the proletarianised worker, themselves increasingly digitised as precarious labour, data input, call centre workers or shopping-till operators. This foreshortened trajectory of worker-student concurrence occurs while at the upper echelons an administrative demarcation ensures the non-convergence of previously highly-privileged professionals with the non-productive wealthy and rich in business. Indeed, the Professors look set to become little more than petty-bourgeois shopkeepers, and their departments more like merchandise stores, while University management heads, and no doubt in other service sectors the upper managements as well, become robber barons paid six figure sums with benefits. We are not talking social class here, since cultural aspirations in each fraction are shared, but we are talking class formation nonetheless. And a vast gulf in circumstances and understanding or attitude to the coming changes opens up. While it is true the services that universities provide are so much more than this too-easy polarisation into proprietors and sales clerks, it repays consideration to look to the injunctions under which we work. The social battle to retain privilege and hierarchy on the part of the petit-bourgeois professor is belied by actual diminution in economic resource, conditions of work and disarticulation from power and authority. Good riddance to all that. But to add value to another’s labour capacity is one thing, to provide fodder for commerce and profit for the bosses of all the other sectors is quite another.

Theodor Adorno wanted university education to be a constant vigilance that insured against any resurgence of authoritarian thinking in Europe after World War II. He meant a teaching that worked against genocide and related this not just to Auschwitz, but also to the atomic bomb. Research would be undertaken into the authoritarian subject and the ‘tendencies towards disintegration’ that lurk beneath the surface of an ordered and ‘civilized’ life.[vi] Elsewhere, he said to speak of education is also to speak of administration and warned of research that models it’s training on administrative categories,[vii] even though in the difference between reified institutions and the complicity of ‘critique’ there remained a chance to realize something different – a hope.[viii] Ten years after September 11, this seems all the more an implausible lament now: in the context of current cuts, commercialisation of research, privatisation of university services, marketisation of teaching delivery, alignment of pastoral care with UKBA border surveillance and decay of infrastructure, the opportunist retooling of programme content towards vocation runs alongside a reconfiguration of education as a resource utility rather than a promise. Critical thinking has become merely a course option, not an alternative. It is even productively a part of the kind of education encouraged by perceived ‘national’ needs, now focused on the gamble of vocational programmes and contract research for corporate ends. In this context a reified ‘criticality’ offers a limited acclimatisation training that prepares students to wait in line for ever-fewer jobs. This is not education but rather a dormitory holding system, unable able to fend off the cuts and constraints that keep us ducking and diving for survival.


 So let me come to the meat of this rant and try to set out the parameters of this reaction under the three headings that are usually used to evaluate academic appointments and promotion: Teaching, Research and Governance. This survey is of course not exhaustive.

Everybody knows teaching is under threat in the UK, with departmental closures, uncertainty and constant counter-productive time-wasting, rarely instructive ‘quality’ reviews, overworked lecturing staff, underpaid adjunct staff, commercial drive to commodify teaching infrastructure (Google deals to outsource course-packs, library collections digitised). A scramble to place bums on seats and still take teaching seriously sees a tireless quest by a few quixotic souls to face down a phalanx of dedicated entrepreneurial zealots who would sell their own mothers for recognition by the Senior Management prefecture. The proliferation of short courses and team teaching by necessity hastens the routine of instruction, and concedes a ‘sanctioned ignorance’[ix] that no longer rewards the time taken to learn and write. The merits of team-teaching are not the problem, it is rather the imperative to team-teach that ensures that a kind of mass-market stupidity prevails.[x] Survey courses and one-session-one-thinker introductions are the easiest options for mass-market education with diminished resource – longer, slower rhythms of learning are unsuited to a market-profit model. In the face of resource clawback, alongside managerialist ‘quality’ control hardly worth the name, the formularisation of teaching (aims, outcomes, course templates) means we become ever more learnedly dumb ever more quickly (two year degrees from McDonalds for example, BBC 25 November 2010[xi]).

Research is now driven by a commercial imperative and the prospects of innovation are barely disguised as impact. Research is ruled by evaluation and quantity of publication in ‘quality’ first-rate journals. These are largely owned and managed by private publishing houses taking large profits for work done without fee by college scholars. Manuscript review, proposal evaluation, cover citations and procurement all done without remuneration is free labour; a tax-payer funded subsidy for commercial press (there are still some progressive publishers, but a way forward via small-scale and independent seems only a bulwark that will soon be acquired by the larger houses). Alongside this, not unrelated, the Research Councils continually flip their funding calls into the language of Security and Intervention: community cohesion as a code for profiling; care for the future and heritage as gentrification; value performance as a deployment to work on the geo-political outcomes of crisis, credit and debt; translating cultures and global responsibility as cipher for neo-colonial interference and intrigue (see the RCUK ‘delivery plan’ 2011[xii]). There is some opposition, for example from anthropologists concerned that a £2million Engineering and Physical Science Research Council-led programme for research on ‘counter terrorism in public spaces’ by studying ‘radicalisation’ in faith groups amounted to a compromise with civil liberties,[xiii] or from Arts and Humanities researchers when the Conservative Government’s ‘Big Society’ was touted as a priority.[xiv] But the RCUK strategy still looks shaky and its language perpetrates a systemic social delusion along the same lines as the false coin of quantitative easing so quickly adopted to manipulate both money markets and cultural-national propaganda during the ‘crisis’.

Governance. The quality assurance and blue-skies, white paper, options taskforce world of weirdness mints obscure new terminologies. Renaming collegial forums and replacing accountability and transparency with an opaque ‘Corporate Governance and Information Management’ miasma as cover for the ongoing putsch to refashion all university decision-making into a proliferating middle management. At the same time, the individualising-isolation of those who might critique this – ‘it’s all bad, but if I keep my head down and get on with my research I’ll be ok’ – is both a futile aggrandisement of self, and a failure of co-operative responsibility. There is a contradiction here which sees a radical ‘new times’ sensation seeking managerialism prospect about for a guarantee of future placement at the table reserved for the select ‘old-school’ few. An arid landscape throws up super-power mandarins, but with no support base, or at best an exhausted one. We are doomed if the few small examples of collective action (mostly led by students) are not generalised. The defence of pensions or critique of fees is a tip-of-the-iceberg strategy that cedes too much to Trades Union consciousness and head office directive. No-one in the demonstrations of 2010 said it was only about the tariff-hike; it was also about betrayal, by Clegg, by Labour, limited opportunities, perceived and real decline, privatisation, vocationalisation. A mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of workers is impressive, and there are signs that more is to come as the financial forecasters back-track and prevaricate in confusion (a promised ten years of austerity, with super profits!), but a one-day strike and a walk from A-to-B does not yet a revolution make.

The fancy that there can still be something like an education that would be separate from a system of objects, a vast network of gadgets, devices, protocols, items and orders of communication is a dream. Product placement is not the be all and end all of instrumentalism, but its sway extends deep into the heart of the school. Bringing all this together in the new media, high profile, digital humanities, rapid response, surveillance and security agenda should come as no surprise at a time of commodity glut and innovation slump. A stagflation of ideas, an immobilisation of creativity. By which I mean that the rhetoric of innovation is high, but the outcomes and – yes – impact of thinking is constrained such that the coming together of people through the facilitation of gadgets remains only a latent co-operation. This is a general intellect in abstraction, and education is displaced by untapped potential because caught in a trap, students are led into a servitude of gifting thought for rent or mortgage, ready and willing to work, but for inconsequential gain.

Underlying all this, as Marx pointed out in Capital, there is the expectation by Capital that it has the right to tap a resource of already trained-up labour power without charge to itself. Indeed, user pays, except where the key words of university – teaching, research, administration – condition inmates of the sheltered workshop to the imbrication of knowledge with a more or less stratified corporate need. Infrastructure costs, preparatory materials, regulatory oversight, and reproduction of the workforce have never been more readily conscripted so cheaply for the employers. We even arrange unpaid internships so as to proffer up our graduates for free to the market. Voluntarily gifted labour where there once was a wage, and of course that wage did not adequately calculate the necessary costs of reproducing labour: the home, domestic support, snotty noses wiped, basic skills learned, language, community, general health, compliance, national allegiance.

Is this resource that we call education a social good? If it reproduces the class relation, returns no gain to those it cracks on the wheel of capital, if it subjects all to a cretinisation and a lowest-common denominator extortion, then there is little reason to still call this education. Rather, it is not hard to see, it is training, and control. The reduction of education to training, skills, vocation and business – the sausage/teaching factory – is readily denounced. But if the institution remains a place for a rampant intelligence[xv] as a place where a critical consciousness still chances to contradict the system, there could be a reason to side with Marx, Adorno et al., and imagine another education. One that tries to transmute value extraction into some collective and collaborative sharing of knowledge, with a utopian ideal of the future fulsome development of each and all, even if we are not there yet, if at all. In this there might be something worth fighting for, as the University.

Critique, rebellion, a rampant intelligence, mass participation, everyone must write, poetry, aesthetics – the refuge of romantic ideals can be extended, even while on the run. The family resemblance between education and training does not make the latter illegitimate, only a danger if it holds sway and cedes ground to elitism, and the alpha-class specialists that receive a ‘good’ teaching, as opposed to the beta-through-delta models that prevail for the rest. Rote-learning, historical amnesia, political myopia and a State-sponsored apathy are simply not suited to the circumstances that led us to teaching. The calls to reassert teaching as critical thinking are an indication that a merely corporate-feeder education will no longer be tolerated. Who will hear these calls? There is a groundswell resurgence and disaffection, yet with no significant recognition from the senior staffers or the management. Not one administrator seems ready to acknowledge the coming change. The self-protection of unexamined complicity cannot secure the monastic scholar forever, there must and needs be a time when the isolated walks out into the open to join with others: I nominate that we all become peripatetic, even, and especially (while) in secure jobs.

How do we convince our comrades to look up from their desks and step out and turn up, marching towards a new university compact, with optimism? My college, Goldsmiths, with half a glint in its opportunist eye, and half a lack of nerve, rebrands itself as ‘radical’ (there are badges) and critical; despite an advertising campaign that traduces ideas into cheap slogans there is little sense that management ‘gets’ that they are out of step. There is a massive allegiance on the part of teaching staff to the college, even while a relentless attack on conditions and process erodes possibilities. Escalating corporatisation sees decision making side-tracked into specialist finance-led commissions; Academic Board is reduced to a toothless talking shop; the Senior Management Team an ensemble unable to respond to fast-changing circumstances, and a process barely fit-for-purpose. Yet at a time when there seems to be ever more cogent student and ECR recognition of the weighty cultural capital that exists at Goldsmiths, and indeed across the sector, the possibility of building a platform for revolutionary transformation is beleaguered. The support of the students for UCU strike actions has been impressive, but it sometimes appears to be the ambition of management to undermine and contain any enthusiasm for something outside of the market – the antiphrasic suggestion that student occupiers be offered a designated space for ‘occupations’ is only the most absurd of the developments.

On campuses across the world, the proliferation of activist groups, small zines, alternative publications, blogs, discussion groups, collaborations on research, cross-departmental alliances, drinking games and general conviviality suggests that the fight is not lost to the mandarins just yet. Over the last year the University for Strategic Optimism, to name just one local example, has run a series of samizdat lectures in banks, supermarkets, inside the police kettle and outside the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (responsible for ‘universities’, go figure). The UfSO[xvi] is another form of precarious peripatetic academy, and it is not without its problems, and its tactics are hotly contested within the collective. The classroom of course is also not something to be abandoned to the vocational-privatised alpha-beta and drone streaming system. In the occupation at Goldsmiths in November/December teaching continued in the occupied space, adjacent to the finance offices, with the quite reasonable proviso that any lecture be open to the public and a brief statement to this effect be made at the start of each hour. Sadly, some colleagues could not abide by this small condition – as if they were not already operating under many others. Still, many classes went ahead as scheduled, and only the finance office was forced to relocate, with some scabbing management figures getting overly excited and trying to barge their way through picket lines on the strike day.

Sure, the movement to re-imagine education remains embryonic, slandered as obstreperous by some, hysterical by others. The slow work of building a radical critical alternative is of course hindered and delayed by those with much to lose. But no-one doubts that a battle for space and ideas is underway, nor that an alternative to business-as-usual is at least on the table for discussion. This text itself was written in close contact with the #occupy movements’ Bank of Ideas in central London and the Goldsmiths occupiers. Asking there, alongside enthusiastic ECR readers of Capital, how long it takes to sweep aside the blockages to a new kind of university seems like a live question. I continue to seek signs of life and find them in class, never in committee. Walk around and take a look at the peripatetic academy as it generalises struggles globally: there is something to learn here if you look up from the paperwork.

– John Hutnyk (1/2012)

[i] Emma Jackson announced her departure from London to take up an appointment to a post in Glasgow in a recent article in the Huffington post: – accessed 31.12.2011

[ii]  ‘A schoolmaster is a productive labourer, when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of a sausage factory, does not alter the relation’ – Marx, Capital Vol 1,Ch 16

[iii] for example, in Australia: – accessed 3.1.2012

[iv] see Liz Thompson and Ben Rosenzweig, 2012 ‘Guest Consumer, Multicultural Patriotism and International Economy in Australia’ in John Hutnyk (ed) Beyond Borders, London: Pavement Books (forthcoming).

[vi] Theodor Adorno, 1969/1998 Critical Models, Interventions and Catchwords, New York: Columbia University Press. P.192-3.

[vii] Theodor Adorno 1991 The Culture Industry Reconsidered: Selected Essays on Mass Culture. London: Routledge. p105.

[viii] Ibid. p113.

[ix] Gayatri Chakravory Spivak, 1999 Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

[x] Avital Ronell, 2002 Stupidity. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

[xiii] – last accessed 2.1.2012

[xv] Peter Sloterdijk, 1988 Critique of Cynical Reason. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Back from New York with this haul of bargain (some full price) booty. Especially pleased to have the Cesaire, the Draper, the 50th Anniversary Naked Lunch, Ronnel’s ‘Loser Sons’ and all the Fitzgerald. Ahh, just noticed FSF’s ‘On Booze’ is not there – I also snapped that up for reading on the plane, in between watching flicks and laughing at Branson trying to be Mr popular coming back (down?) to economy to wave and be snapped on the camera phones of travelling Welsh schoolkids from I forget which school (far too well behave for schoolkids – where was the hootin and hollerin they shouldsta learned in America?)