From my last post on building an open course for #media2012, I’ve had a few really interesting conversations with people about the ways in which I go about pulling together something like this. I think this is resulted in me thinking about my role as a researcher, my role as a teacher, my role as a coordinator and my role as the “angry activist” – I am all this but not to everyone. I am going to have to be clear with each role that I play in this discussion – as although things can cross over quite substancially, there are parts where I need to be reflective (is that right word?) to what my position is and the responsibility of the influence I might play.
For example, I am never been a member of a political party (and probably never will be)- and struggle to feel part of an institution, always trying to remain on the edge of many discussions, avoiding being trapped in the centre of one. I think the PhD process is already helping me come to terms with this (because things don’t need to be granular) and keeping myself at distance from locative identities (such as being ‘from a place’ or working at a specific organisation – something I find myself having to justify more when I am back in Scotland for instance) has gifted me the chance to work through things at a very unusual position as a PhD student. Notably, when I was at Leicester, the PhD was this process that required me to live near-by, work in an office with other PhDs and communicate research through seminar and/or paperwork – much of this in isolation from the department and communication with supervisor relied on shared dates where the physical face to face is required of both of us. This is not unique to Leicester (it is probably expected at most institutions, including UWS) but the decision to move campus and work fulltime, at a distance, with a University and supervisor I already knew, has opened up all these questions about what the experience of PhD should really be. Judging on the emails that I get from the institution (such as refusal to acknowledge my gmail account and the requirement to print, sign and post physical documents rather than simply accepting a electronic response) and the communication I have had with those students who do work on campus (some of which asking me if ‘academia’ approves of what I do??) it really makes me think about the future of what a PhD might entail. Certainly, I am no average research student – going by recent history, I really shouldn’t have made it here (and have been told that I don’t ‘belong’ in academia in past), and it has been a battle of my wit to convince myself that I should. But there more I think about it, the more I believe that the space in which I can do what I do has been so very precious – something that they can’t take away from me (the ability to spend time working on something entirely of your own, a self-fulfilling trajectory – but also can be of real value to the society you are explosed to) I don’t do this because I’m after the glory of having let another qualification or being an aqua song- I am doing it because right now, I couldn’t really imagine myself doing anything else.
This is why I am scared for the future of the University – I was a dreadful student (I am also a dreadful “employee”), if it wasn’t for universities like UWS, I would have not found my escape route out of my own angst about the world, found a way to articulate it and explore ideas beyond my immediate location (because, really, it is ideal to just stay put with your school friends and neighbours – and if you don’t like it then you are nothing but a rabble rouser)- but at the same time, I am hopeful and excited about what we can achieve in this reawakening – whilst they are looking one way, or perhaps burying their heads in the sand – we can go and something with it.
I’m going to split this blog post up into four, firstly focussing on the act of teaching as protest. (And it might be a bit waffley – so bare with me!)
What do we need to do?
In terms of my own research, I see real synergy between what the recent student occupations and what I think a citizen media network for the London games could achieve. I mean, we could be all ‘Olympic values” about it – most of which are lovely words about humanity, respect and dignity (a breeze for the PR dream city machine) and I guess, through social media and a professional interface, we could generate a national spectacle (but ‘citizen-led’) which interesting symbols, associations and use the power of the (now) well oiled communication network (with infleuncial nodes) that the Internet has already provenly facilitated in the past (I could point out specific examples but then I would be taking things off tangent) – an obvious mechanism would be use the frame of resistance to provoke discussion, or to generate an obvious “alternative” narrative – this was done in Vancouver quite successfully, where the notion of ‘the alternative’ was wrapped up with the emerging power of social media. Different activism groups (with different and sometimes conflicting messages) stood together under the same banner in order to protest against the Olympics (as a symbol of capitalism, as a force of community deconstruction, as a drain on the budget – it goes on) – if it was a success, it was unsure – but there was solidarity across groups for brief passings in time.
I think, however, there needs to be a real focus on the occupation of space and the physical action of doing so. Although the motivation to occupy space is different, there is much to be learned by how the occupation of Universities (and the non-occupation of some Universities – such as those that didn’t happen in Leicester, for instance – or BCU students joining University of Birmingham students because of the growing media attention around the great hall) came about, how they were critiqued and they connected/supported each other (and how the momentum gathered support online and off) – this is more than a carefully crafted media campaign, distruption or spectacle – but the act of using a context to pull together in the purest form. It’s not what happens online that matters, it is what it does to the lifes of the people involved and focus on the experience that they want to have. There is nobody really telling you what you can do here.
Teaching as protest
I can across this excellent post by PhD Student Guy Aitchison via Jamie Potter this morning, reflecting on the lessons learned from the UCL occupation and how they can help the movement progress. There were 4 points that rung true with me – but also have helped me articulate some further thoughts as teaching as form of protest (as in, the day job will be subjected to the commodification of the experience of education – and the expectations of those fast approaching this growing attitude are validated by the cycle that by doing/paying for a degree, they will get a well paid job at the end of it – and perhaps by raising the fees, will improve the quality/value of the degree but you have to be “really serious” to invest in that debt- therefore they already know what the benchmarks of what they need to know in terms of what they require a degree experience to be.) So what happens if you remove the commodity – by doing it anyway – the students who are there, are there for experience, not the commodification of the experience.
“Educate each other, disseminate skills.”
Guy believes that it is important that we must educate each other and disseminate skills – something I agree with profoundly. In the attempt to share my work with my peers,I have had PhD students bite off my hand in order to be ‘taught’ how to use social media as part of progression of their academic career. They want the step by step process of building, maintaining and projecting an academic career online – but still have expectations of it being delivered in a certain way. Of course, you could teach people how to do things step-by-step, formally, where you are the teacher and they are the students – a uniformed approach where by the end of it, they all have a collective idea of what their using social media should be. I have to deliver it in this way due to the expectations set by the University and those who signed up to the course – at the same time, I have to reduce my work into a managable chunks that be delivered to a general audience with their own set of experiences with the technology, purely descriptive – when really, the best way to do it is to just go and bloody do it. If you need to go on a course on the act of doing – then is it really worth exploring? It would probably make more sense to give them a project to do and to get on with it than it would be to attempt to lecture for 3 hours on generating “engagement” online. If you have a context worth fighting for/writing about (even if that context is just yourself!) then that’s half the battle.
So, if instead I share my skills (and learn from) people who have no expectations about what I can give them or what I can get from them, there is something more powerful happening there. By putting my thoughts in this space, for instance, there is hope that I can open dialogue with those who are interesting in furthering these conversations. This is the point where I would like to think more about how to reassess the education space/expectations.
“Keep it adventurous and creative.”
I recently went to a meeting with the Autonomous DMU group – which very much a meeting format – it wasn’t until after that I realised that we could have had a bit of impact if we gate crashed the DMU question time event in the other building. It felt a little bit like that we are conditioned to treat timeframes and spaces in such a way, so it is rude to not follow through with set plans and set expectations.
I love the University for Strategic Optimism and their hijacking of spaces such as Tesco and Lloyd TSB to give a public lecture. I was already brewing up ideas up ideas of holding seminar in the Walkers stadium about sport as a sin (but not yet) – The UfSO are already working towards “open” courses such as the forthcoming cultural studies and capitalism, where Goldsmiths are going to provide the space to bring on a semester long course on Marx’s Capital (Humanities is cheap lol) – there is also a call of papers to “Reimagine the University” – taking advantage of the collective resistance to the marketisation of Higher Education.
“The recent response to the marketisation of higher education has given a voice and a collective identity to a discontent stretching beyond funding constraints. It is now time to respond as well as create, looking for new action and dialogue for the future. We want to open up debate, not close it down.”
“The kettle of course seeks to divide the space of the city into spaces inside and outside the kettle and to isolate and manage disorder within a defined site in order to maintain it elsewhere. But what needs to be understood is that this spatial strategy of physical containment is also a media strategy which seeks to concentrate the spectacle of violent protest into a defined space precisely for the media. Thus the physical terrain of the kettled site is marshalled to produce violent spectacle for media consumption. “
Partly the spectacle of action is important in terms of making the presence visible with the media – but it is currently, and will always be, in the hands of those in power – the act of protest, although very important, has potential to react against this predefined construct of the media. The post suggests ways in which to break down the expectations of ‘the mob’ and seperating movement (instead of a group of 10000 – 10 groups of 1000) in a clever, targetted way would do so – but so would be a clever way of taking on the media at its own game. This is what the ‘professionalism’ of a citizen media network could achieve – where education (such as how to break down media spectacles, to seek alternative sources and reject the mainstream media as nothing but a money making device – but perhaps in a way that is without my anger all over it ;)) where there are alternatives – and not only are there are alternatives, there are routes in which through knowing how these images and stories are constructed and told – as well as learning how to operate the tools requires to help rebuild “the alterative”, can also provide a social value to those involved. Again, a cataylst.
“Convince the wider student body.”
I think we not only have to convince the wider student body, but more the wider population – if only the issues that are emerging were just about the raise of tutition fees. It surprised me last night during #phdchat that there were postgraduate students were unsure about how the changes were going to affect them (some thought it was just an undergraduate issue.) I guess one solution would be to begin to consider a PhD in the same way MAs are being considered now – as a qualification that adds a bit of edge to your existing degree in order to help you get a job and be a better part of society. And if it is your money – as a self-funded route normally is – then what you choice to do as a PhD project does give you slightly more freedom that of those who are funded (I think that’s a myth at the moment – I’ve been both). But I think there is a major point being missed here – do we be progress down a route of academic research because we want to make loads of money? Do we even deserve an academic role at the end of our research journey? As far as I’m concerned, I need to be in this space – I need to be able to say these things in order to work things out. There are no right or wrong answers here.
Simply, there is a great issue ahead of us. There is a wider narrative being painted- those in education just now who are not convinced, are probably not going to think about education again until their kids need to go. They’ve got through the door before the shit really hits the fan (this was a general attitude when I was an undergraduate in Scotland – what with our free education and everythik, why should we protest against top up fees in England..) No really, we do need to care – and I’m glad there is an emergence of those who do. As I said previously, I have NO political party alliance – I will not buy a copy of the socialist times nor will turn down invites to meet with civil servants to talk about digital media policy – therefore I will try my best to remain open and respectful to anyone who behaves in the same manner. Thanks to the internet, I can find my like-minds – although, it’s difficult to find them any other way – so as Guy suggests there needs to be a level of facing outwards (that damn public engagement rhetoric that PhD students need to be thinking about – make you work accessible and on multiple levels and disiplines) Public talks, workshops and informal persuasion – much of which requires cracking stereotypes (some of which laid on by the media, some of which picked up generationally and/or as identity) This part will be hard, as already I feel this post is far too ‘academic’ for a general audience – but sometimes you need to be ‘academic’ and fluffy with things before you can untangle it further and beyond. Plus – I await being told that it is 2 days before xmas, why don’t you switch off and stop being so serious.
“Become a networked participant.”
I’m currently reading Joss Hand’s new book @ is for Activism – which is already stirring up much about the dicussions around online activism (a lovely xmas read) – there is also a good interview with Joss on New Left Project – I could ramble a lot about this (especially as my background is in New Media) but I think I’ve already touched on the importance of being a networked participant – and I think there is a wider debate to be had (where ironically, the value of the debate – therefore the digital part – comes from a meta space where you are using it to engage around.) I get my news and my judgement from my network – sometimes it brings me down, most of the time it keeps me afloat – and I find myself far more plugged in these days in order to avoid what is being said in the mainstream media. This can only continue – and I think by ending here, I can pick the next post up at the point of social media coordination and critiquing the discussion around the online environment.
Although I still don’t feel that I have reached a point where I am satisfied with this writing, I think it is a process in which by doing so, I can help myself unwrap that what I intend to do.