Occupying the Olympics: The Future of Education and #OccupyLSX

#occupylsx (photo credit: @andymiah)

Reposted from the Creative Futures Research Centre blog:

On Saturday 19th November, cf. Associate Jennifer Jones will give a talk at Tent City University, a space within the #OccupyLSX where people can “learn, share knowledge and develop skills through a wide series of workshops, lectures, debates, films, games, praxis and action.”

The Occupy movement has captured the attention of the world’s media in the last few months, drawing attention to the need for governments to reconsider how they organize the global economy. cf. Director Professor Andy Miah said:

“At the cf. we are committed to thinking of more responsible ways to redistribute resources in order to create a more just society. To have one of our Associates contributing to this programme is very important for us, as it highlights the need for academics to re-consider their positions within society, the possible impact they can have on communities and, even more crucially, their role in re-thinking Higher Education in a time of radical and controversial change.

“Jennifer’s work on the Olympic Games is perfectly aligned to some of the big questions that we face in society today, such as the overwhelming dominance of corporations within cultural affairs. There’s no doubt that cultural activities like the Games need private investment, but it’s crucial that these associations do not jeopardize the integrity of the things that really matter to people”

Speaking in advance of her workshop, Jennifer said

”Since the brutal enforcement of the Browne review, the changes to the UK’s higher education funding structure, I’ve been exploring radical alternatives and critical safe spaces within which to discuss the future of the university. As academics and educators, we need to have the courage to bring such discussions to the forefront of our research and teaching practice – especially at a time when the mainstream focus on higher education is only on debt and employability skills. We need to remember that the role of the university within society is greater than just awarding qualifications.

“For many people, the Occupy movement provides hope that there is still a politically engaged civil society out there. It also reminds people that they are not alone in these difficult times and that there is a lot that people will still do for free, given the right incentives. This is why critical spaces such as Tent City University is as important as the bricks and mortar of any other university. Indeed, many of its lecturers work in precisely these more traditional institutions.”

“The London 2012 Olympic Games will be a focal point for the kinds of debates that have circulated around the Occupy movement, as it is made possible largely by corporate sponsorship. At all recent Games, protests and activism have taken place and I expect there to be comparably more in London, due partly to the culture of Londoners, but also due to the extraordinary economic times within which we are living”

Jennifer’s talk is due to take place at University Tent, St Pauls, London on November 19th at 12pm and is titled ‘Occupying the Olympics’ (unless they are evicted before).

Q&A with Jennifer Jones

What will you be talking about at Tent City University?

I will be facilitating a discussion about how the internet has been used by activist groups at previous Games to subvert the dominant message of the Olympic Games. As we are already seeing, the Olympics is a complex, multi-faceted machine, built on carefully controlled messages, corporate relationships and the essence of soft power. However, what London 2012 has that previous games have not is the influx of both social media technologies and the potential for a critical mass of users to challenge the messages projected by essentially a 20th century mega-event phenomena.

Do you think that protests are inevitable at the London 2012 Olympic Games?

Yes, and I think they should happen. It would be a sad day if the right to protest was withdrawn at the behest of a 17 day sports competition. But stranger things have happened. What I would like to contribute, through the tent city university and several other alternative education collectives that I align with – Third University, really open university and the social science centre, lincoln – is a little myth-busting around the Olympic Games, so that those who resist the Games are aware of what has happened before 2012. This may help strength their arguments and allow them to work together more effectively – bringing singular campaigns under a common banner. This is where citizen media/social media can come in, making it easier to share these issues and to work together in solidarity against the wider neo-liberal context that phenomena like the Olympic Games is situated within.

What should be the role of conventional universities within this programme of activities?

Many of those who participate in alternative educational spaces often also work or study within existing universities. What they should do – if they aren’t already – is also have the courage to bring that critical pedagogy back into their ‘day’ jobs – there is no inside/outside here, it is just people, trying to challenge and resist changes brought on by the government, that are being enforced in an non-demoncratic manner. The way I see it, I’d do this anyway, but it’s even better when I can embed this way of thinking into my work. The conventional university can help by supporting this, instead of suppressing it, by acknowledging the dialogue.