Orientalism for kids – again

Orientalism for kids – again

Am gearing up for another round of kiddy tv and hoping there are new programmes since the mind worms of Iggle Piggle and Peppa Pig did their damage. This time Theodor and I are reviewing the options for Annabel’s rapidly arriving toddler indoctrination sessions. First exhibit on review is Nicklodious’s ‘Shimmer and Shine’.

Flying carpets, shalwar kameez, wayang kulit shadow puppets, princesses and dragons (with bad breath). The two genies have 3 wishes an episode to bestow, of course wishes go astray, are wasted frivolously, but a lesson is learned. Nothing new then, and some pretty standard 1001 nights fare, along with a geography-hopping sampling of almost any magical tradition anywhere. Ok, not so worried about that, but there is a dad who eats popcorn – very suspicious. He may work in films. Big eyed anime influence, suburban values and cinema in-jokes. Does the obvious fun they had making this mean the stereotypes are somehow undone? Nope, but a popcorn munching genie is better than that 60s comedy dream of Barbara Eden.

Oh damn, there’s a prince in it, daft boy in specs – and now sitar fusion cartoon songs. I preferred the Beatles cartoon trip to India bit posted on my film course blog.
This is what we do on Sunday mornings…


Coming soon: from the Capital and Cultural Studies class, this fine zine

Huge excitement building in Hsinchu East…

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Gary Hall’s essay on Academia.edu

Gary Hall interesting as always. In this article on Academis.edu, here: Should this be the last…

My own take is less well thought out, but I felt Hall’s essay was almost like an airplane safety steward performance – offering us a plastic airbag of comfort adn some nylon socks to distract as we plummet to horrific death, oh, and here are the exit lights to provide a final weird glow as you do. Except Hall’s critique is better than that, and funnier/well written/more important.

When I was invited to be one of these academia.edu editors here was my perhaps a little idealistic response (did not know of the critique by Hall then – but am still using the platform since it’s really just Facebook for dummies, no?).

Dear Academia.Edu
1) The recommend button has ‘fields’ built, I guess, into its algorithm. What mechanisms are in place, if any, to counter the inherent conservative character of this recommendation system? What I mean is, like any search algorithm, the system works on likes and similarity, when what we probably need is a way to discover not so much what we already know and like, or variations thereof, but truly things that will stretch our ideas, habits of though, disciplinary boundaries. Not just some cod-interdisciplinarity either. is it possible to build an algorithm based on something that acknowledges quality – as this recommendation system is designed to do – but does not congeal disciplines with a tendential affirmation of the centre. This, of course is also the problem with Research Assessment Programmes of Govt and funding bodies, indeed, all discipline based peer review.

2) what is the companies position on attention theory of value? For example, the 40 mins of my time I just spent, the increments of time so many users ofacademia.edu spend etc. The benefit of using the site is not exactly a wage. Like peer review for mainstream publishing houses, academia.edu seems to benefit massively from unpaid labour. What mechanisms are in place to recompense user-workers for this astonishing gift of free labour. A share scheme for example. Otherwise what differentiates academia.edu from value extraction of the most virulent kind – unpaid exploitation of willing dupes, thriving on people’s egoistic desire to check their H-index or some such? Is there a discussion within the company of public ownership, distributed ownership, or at least transparency of accounts? Uber, airbnb etc have been starting to get some bad press of late, it might be good to head that off with a share distribution scheme so that academics can make a buck out of their obviously welcome labour.

Read Gary Hall’s essay – click below:

With over 36 million visitors each month, the massive popularity of Academia.edu is uncontested. But posting on Academia.edu is far from being ethically and politically…

*** Hands On Pro! 2015 *** October 21 – November 26

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Evaluation Workplace Inquiry in the University as thousand flowers

A draft abstract for a talk:

What would be a genuine radical example of the university evaluating itself? I propose that this would not be the blunt branding exercise of metrics, quality assurance, REF and league tables. This is a bureaucratic beauty contest of merely cosmetic interest, no intellectual merit and ethically corrupt. Instead, assume three things: 1) the university is its entire population, students, academic teaching and research staff, administrative, support, and infrastructure staff, and users, stakeholders, vested interests. 2) all these constituent groups are capable, and can be supported, probably for less cost than the current evaluations, to look at their own work and be researchers tasked, from day one, with participation in workplace inquiry and 3) a variety and proliferation of research styles, report modes, and transparencies are compatible despite their possible non-commensurability – that a thousand flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend need not add up to a single algorithm but can exceed present evaluations many fold. Drama Therapy, ethnographic film, counter-mapping, workplace inquiry – all these trading on resources already inside and outside the university and foregrounding the self-critical DNA of what the university mission should be all about. Not mere rhetorical support for the humanities or increased public understanding of science through promotion of a few media friendly dons, but a genuine radical effervescence of ideas, creativity and questioning of what the abundant potentiality of the social production if knowledge might be.

So I want to make three points.

1) That the university crisis is a consequence of a monetization of the university in the interests of industry and this is disguised in a pervasive, but wholly inadequate, discourse of accountability that does not have the resources to really account for the situation. REF, Hefce visit, SWOT analysis and audit surveys are ill suited to the extent of the crisis.

2) the departments and sections of the university have, each of them, been remodeled for pecuniary gain. A typology of the ways the commercial imperative can be presented, but is no pretty sight. A deep critical re-evaluation of the university is demanded, but any criticism or questioning of the path of managerialism is rapidly undermined.

3) solutions to this predicament already lie within the university and its communities, but it requires a radical transformation of all roles in the university to include self-auditing as robust research component of all jobs. Time for this must be allocated, funded from gains available once senior executive positions and moneys spent on consultancy and pointless audits are redistributed. Training of the workers in the sections for the new deeper critical auditing can be provided from budget lines freed up by departing executives.

Everyone agrees the crisis in higher education is never far off, but a strange kind of complacency looms. All manner of statistical and anecdotal evidence can be deployed to underline this proximity to crisis. Yet, the number of times the crisis has been forecast exceeds plausibility and is topped only by the excessive statistical data and ‘analysis’ that purports to explain it away. Discuss.

See also here and here for long forgotten past versionings.


BCI – business university links

Possibly of interest apropos discussions about internships and corporate involvement with Universities, this BCI report was just released. I won’t say much about the content, but there are interesting bits on the employer spokesperson’s view of internships and students working with Rolls Royce etc. I will however note in passing the beginning and end images of stylised ‘talk bubbles’. The BCI is the ‘voice of business’, but by the time the conversation bubble – talk metaphor – gets to section five of the report the détente is silenced and the WAR metaphor takes over. And at the end, the CEO from Glaxo Smith Kline – Andrew Witty – considers the university an integral part of his ‘supply chain’. No response from the other side of the conversation – the final talk bubble is empty, left speechless in the face of a militant enthusiasm. Rhetorical friendly fire shooting off its mouth again.

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Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 18.31.28 Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 18.34.53the report is available here if you must.



What would happen if a university, or an individual staff member, declined to take part in Prevent or refused to refer students showing specified personality traits to local authority panels? Kennedy pushed Brokenshire repeatedly on this and eventually got her answer: a charge of contempt of court and, perhaps, prison.

Really? Really?! Really.

THES. Article originally published as: Teacher, tutor, soldier, spy: towards a police state of mind (8 January 2015)

The counter-terrorism bill will co-opt academics into the ‘securocrat’ and chill debate on campus – it must be fought, says Martin Hall

Imagine this. You’re teaching a course on current affairs and decide to have your class debate the merits and demerits of fracking. The debate is passionate and gets out of hand, with students on both sides getting personal. You calm them down, and the session ends. But you’ve noticed that one student, a passionate environmentalist, is sullen and withdrawn, not engaging with others, and obviously anxious. You are under a standing instruction from your dean to report all such symptoms to the faculty administrator. Next week, the student is absent. You learn that, based on your report, she is now under the supervision of your university’s local authority, with a support plan to help correct her radical tendencies.

Now consider this. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill 2014-15 being considered by Parliament proposes that all university governing bodies have a statutory duty to implement measures that prevent radicalisation that could lead to acts of terrorism. In addition to barring radical advocates from speaking on campuses, the new law will require every local authority to set up a panel to which the police can refer “identified individuals” who are considered to be vulnerable to radicalisation. All universities are identified as “partners” with their local authorities in this process of referral.

The government’s focus is, of course, on the acute threat posed by the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But one of the objectives of extreme and unpredictable violence is to create a syndrome of responses that, in themselves, promote ever more violent reactions. Will this new act achieve its immediate aim of preventing Islamic radicalisation? Or will these new statutory duties of referral push those who are singled out down a path that they may otherwise have rejected? The new law is not directed at Muslims alone, but at anyone with radical views, including views that are non-violent but that might open up a road to violence. Could these new statutory obligations on universities be used against opponents of fracking, or animal rights activists, or anti-nuclear movements, or any radical opposition to the status quo? And where would that leave the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech in universities, and elsewhere?

Here is Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws’ summation of one of the key issues, in her questioning of James Brokenshire, the minister for security and immigration, on 3 December: “The nature of the university is to develop the mind. It is about the whole business of freedom of speech. Freedom of exchange of ideas is at the heart of the university. By challenging orthodoxies, people grow in ideas. Inevitably, some of those ideas will be bad ones, but the best way to deal with them is in debate and by challenging them in the process of learning. No university has created a fundamentalist who has gone to Syria to take part in what is going on there. Yes, people may have been influenced, probably more by other students. That can happen in a cafe in Birmingham as much as in any university. You are introducing a chilling effect on the whole thing that universities are about, which you and I benefited from, as did most people who went to university – and 40 per cent of our young now go to university. You are doing this when we know that universities up and down the land are already considering these issues and thinking about how they might deal with them and how they might create the debate, without having a statutory duty to do so. That is what concerns people: the statutory duty with a power to give directions from the state. The state will be able to tell universities what they ought to do, and they will be punished in some way if they do not fulfil the requirement set by the state and government…I want you to explain to us why it needs to be a statutory duty.”

Universities, then, already work extensively with the police in the context of the existing Home Office policy for countering radicalisation, known as “Prevent”. The new law will make Prevent a statutory responsibility rather than a voluntary programme.

But there is a significant counterargument: that Prevent, in itself, angers and radicalises students. This is because of the implication that, simply by virtue of holding Islamic beliefs, a person is more likely to become a terrorist. The same assumption is not made about, say, Catholics. Given that the 2011 census recorded 2.7 million Muslims living in the UK and that the Home Office is currently concerned about 500 individuals, there is a question of effectiveness and proportionality for the Prevent strategy as it is, let alone for the draconian expansion of powers contemplated for the new act.

The draft legislation also proposes processes of referral for students considered at risk of succumbing to radicalisation. Universities will be required to train all staff who have contact with students to recognise what Brokenshire called being “withdrawn and reserved, and perhaps showing other personality traits”. Where these traits are identified, the university must refer the student to a panel set up by the police and the local authority. This panel will oversee and administer a safeguarding programme, which may include referral to the health services.

This aspect of the bill has alarmed Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of the Greater Manchester Police and the national lead for Prevent. “If these issues [defining extremism] are left to securocrats then there is a danger of a drift to a police state,” he told a national newspaper last month. “I am a securocrat; it’s people like me, in the security services, people with a narrow responsibility for counter-terrorism. It is better for that to be defined by wider society and not securocrats. There is a danger of us being turned into a thought police. This securocrat says we do not want to be in the space of policing thought or police defining what is extremism.”

Both the bill and the current government consultation make it clear that these measures will also apply to “non-violent extremism, which can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and can popularise views which terrorists exploit”. This means that the statutory responsibilities to be introduced in the act could be used by the police and local authorities in circumstances such as those recently faced by Canterbury Christ Church University, which was asked for a list of those attending a debate about and discussion of fracking.

What would happen if a university, or an individual staff member, declined to take part in Prevent or refused to refer students showing specified personality traits to local authority panels? Kennedy pushed Brokenshire repeatedly on this and eventually got her answer: a charge of contempt of court and, perhaps, prison.

The bill was due to have its third reading in Parliament this week and is open for public consultation until 30 January. It raises issues that must be taken seriously.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Article originally published as: Teacher, tutor, soldier, spy: towards a police state of mind (8 January 2015)

Martin Hall was vice-chancellor of the University of Salford from 2009 to 2014.